The Centrality and Universality of the Cross (1927)

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3

(In reading these addresses it will be found profitable to consult the chart of the August Number.)

We shall continue where we left this theme. The point at which we broke off was at the conclusion of the four-fold revelation and content of the Cross in its centrality. That is, we dealt with all that is within the first circle, which circle represents the Body of Christ. As we have been led to say, all that which centres in and issues from the Cross in its first and immediate application and significance is in and for and to the Church, which is His Body, as the instrument, sphere, the vehicle of its own revelation and manifestation beyond the Church and through the Church. We shall not go over that ground even a little bit this afternoon, but go on immediately to speak for a little while about the Church, which is His Body; for we see how all this is through the Church. One might just make a very inclusive statement in this connection - The Church, which is the Body of Christ, is the sphere and the vehicle, and all the content and issue of Christ crucified, risen, ascended and exalted. To use the word with which the first chapter of the Ephesian letter closes:- "He is the Head of the Church, which is His Body: the fulness of Him that filleth all in all."

The fulness of Him that filleth all in all is the Church which is His Body. Let me repeat that statement because it is so important, basic and inclusive. The Church, the Body of Christ, is the sphere and the vehicle, or channel of the full content of Christ crucified, risen, ascended, exalted. It is His elect instrument from all eternity for His Self-manifestation in final fulness. The Church, the Body, is required and demanded by Christ in order that Christ might fully and finally reveal Himself. He is determined not to be manifest apart from His Church, but to bind Himself in His ultimate infinite self-manifestation to the instrumentality of His perfected Body. His fulness is relative fulness. Our fulness is also relative fulness and we can never know the fulness of Christ only relatively to all the members of His Body, and we shall find our fulness corporately and relatively and progressively toward the final realisation of that perfect instrument.

Now, everything we have said has led up to this point. We have seen how in the Person of Christ the Cross is basic and essential to make known What and Who He is in Power; but the Church is the channel through which, by the Cross, the real nature of the Person of Christ is revealed in all the universe. What is true concerning the Person of Christ is true concerning the Holy Spirit who binds Himself to the revelation of the Person, or Logos of the Cross, and that to and in, and then through the Body, the Church. The Holy Spirit is sent to the Body to make the Christ of the Cross real in the Body, in order that the Body of Christ, knowing experimentally the meaning of the Cross, may preach an experimental gospel out to the uttermost bounds of the universe; not a theory, not a doctrine, but a thing which in itself has been wrought out to its depths and its fulness. The Holy Spirit is here to do that; He is sent to secure the Body and to secure the Body of Christ as an instrument and sphere in which Christ, crucified - in all the infinite content of those words - becomes a living manifestation by experience unto farther reaches of ministry in the So Great Salvation. You have the outworking of that through all the stages, and phases and meanings of the So Great Salvation in the Church, the Elect Body; but it is to be revealed in all its wonder as the infinite wisdom of God, far beyond the ranges of the Church; and so, in that fourth section, the Second Coming of Christ, as we saw it, you will have the consummation of the gospel by the Holy Ghost in the Person of Christ as in the Body of Christ.

The Body of Christ is the Person of Christ revealed. All that Christ is in His Person and all that He possesses is brought into action and expression in the Body of Christ in the Church. That carries you a tremendously long way - even to take a fragment; and a familiar fragment - as the exceeding greatness of the power of God was manifested and expressed in raising Him, the Head, from the dead, even so, that same exceeding greatness of His power has got to bring the Body into resurrection union with Christ, and there you get the exceeding greatness of the power of Very God wrought in the experience of the Body of Christ, and what is true of that, is true of everything else in the Person. Is He Life so He is Light; and if He is Life and Light; so He is Power; and if He is Power, He is also Glory; and you may expand that unto all the ranges and realms of the content of the Divine Person and find that that content is being mediated by the Holy Ghost to, and through the Church, which is His Body, unto that timeless day when all that Christ is will be revealed in, and through His Body for ever; so that we may truly say that the Church and Christ, the Body and the Head are One in content and expression.

The Person of Christ is bound up with this elect instrument of His manifestation. We have often put it in this way, that He has chosen that this new form of His incarnation is the Body, and He, in essence, is at the very centre of that Body, and if you touch the Body you touch Christ - if you touch a member of the Body you touch Christ. "He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of God's eye" is an Old Testament word with a New Testament significance of very great importance. We have so often pointed that out. It was here that Paul, the Apostle, got His first glimmer of revelation concerning the Body of Christ when the voice said to him - "Why persecutest thou Me," and but for some perception and insight, which probably came by that action of the Spirit upon him, he might have answered "But I am not persecuting You, I am persecuting these heretics, these apostates, these followers of the Nazarene." But he saw that the two were one, and to touch them was to touch Him Whom he there and then called "Lord," to Whom he submitted himself for instruction and direction from that moment. That was his first inkling of the Body of Christ, the oneness of Christ and His members. From that the thing grows until one day he is caught up in peculiar circumstances and shown this thing in its greater fulness. But there it is, the Cross is in that thing, and the Person of Christ is inseparably bound up with the Body of Christ, and the Body of Christ is Christ in that sense.

Now, that is reiterating things which you have often heard, but here we are being led to cover the whole ground of this testimony which we feel has been deposited with us to bear before the world. So then the Body of Christ is Christ in content and expression. There is much to be done, we know, by sanctification, by the continuous working in and working out of the Cross in the Body before the full revelation of Christ is possible. There are many yet to be gathered by the Cross and added into that ultimate and consummate revelation of Christ, but if it is only the nucleus of that Body, there He is. He is implicate, He is present.

Now having said that, there is another thing which grows out of it, or another thing to be said which is but the defining or explanation of it more fully. It is a very interesting thing to notice how truly this is revealed right through the word of God - the oneness of the Lord and His temple. In our recent considerings of the Testimony of Jesus, we saw on the last occasion what the word says about the tabernacle of the testimony. We saw first of all the pure testimony as within the ark, and then the ark as containing the testimony (the ark of the testimony), and then we moved out, and saw that beyond the central testimony and the ark of the testimony there is the tabernacle of the testimony. Now, if the testimony is that central reality of the Person of Christ, and the ark represents that instrument by which He personally and individually brings that testimony into the world in His own personal incarnation as separate, then the tabernacle of the testimony is the Church which is His Body, and with it all the congregation is gathered together. There is the innermost thing in the type where the people do not come; but they do come into the tabernacle of the testimony and are one with it, and you notice that all that takes place there is on the ground of identification with it. Now we are not going to yield to the temptation to show how truly that is so, but there it is.

Now as to the tabernacle of the testimony. The tabernacle and its counterparts, in the later temples, the temple of Solomon, the temple of Zerubbabel, the temple at Jerusalem, and the temple of Ezekiel are the representations of the full ministry of Christ. They are the instruments, the vehicles of the revelation of the whole and entire ministry of what Christ is. Will you turn to the Book of the Revelation - here is a remarkable thing (4:7) "And the first creature was like a lion, and the second creature like a calf, and the third creature had a face as of a man, and the fourth creature was like a flying eagle." - Chap. 4:7.

"And when He had taken the book, the four living creatures and the four and twenty elders fell down before the Lamb, having each one a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints. And they sang a new song, saying, Worthy art Thou to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for Thou wast slain, and didst redeem us unto God with Thy blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation" (v.8).

Now go back from that. You know that the whole congregation, or church of God in the wilderness was gathered under four main standards, or banners. In the Book of Numbers they were divided into four great sections each of which had a banner or a standard. Issachar, Judah, and Zebulon under the standard of Judah, and upon their banner or standard there was the figure of a lion. Manasseh, Ephraim and Benjamin were gathered under the standard of Ephraim upon which was inscribed the figure of an ox. Then Simeon, Reuben and Gad were gathered under the standard of Reuben upon which was inscribed the figure of a man. Asher, Dan and Naphtali under the standard of Dan which bore as its insignia the figure of an eagle. When you come to Ezekiel's visions of the temple you find that this four-fold figure is there - the lion, the ox, the man and the eagle. The tabernacle - the temple.

Now the Revelation, and you notice that it is not Christ Himself in any separate way, but under this four-fold similitude, a congregation singing a new song - "Worthy art Thou for Thou wast slain," so that the two are one, here is the church united to Christ. But what is the implication of this four-fold insignia? Well, this is the implication of the four-fold revelation of Christ in the church. He is the lion of the tribe of Judah. The lion, of course, is always the symbol of royalty, sovereignty, and it is the sovereignty of Christ in the church that is the revelation here. He is Sovereign Head, say the Apostle. The sovereignty of Christ, the monarchy of Christ, the regality of Christ is over the Church and upon the Church, and it is gathered under His supreme authority - "Wherefore God hath highly exalted Him and given Him the title of sovereignty above every title of sovereignty both in this age and in that which is to come in every realm, things in heaven and earth, things under the earth," and that sovereignty is to be resident in the church and demonstrated through the Church which is His Body.

Now you note how in the case of Israel this was true by reason of their identification with this central thing of their life - the Testimony of Jesus - Jesus there at the centre of their national life - their oneness with Him: there was not a nation that was able to stand before them all the days of their faithfulness to that central thing. While their faithfulness and allegiance were maintained, while they were true to it, while they were unswerving in their discerning of the Lord in the midst, while all the meaning of the Cross as there presented in its manifold expression in the altars and the sacrifice and the priesthood was forever governing their lives, keeping sin out and ruling out their own personal interests and ruling in the glory of God, though humanly and naturally they were altogether at a discount (they were not a people who could have stood against the Midianites and the Amalekites and all the children of the East, and against those mighty world forces of Egypt and Babylon), yet while they are true, and it is a poor kind of allegiance that they show, nevertheless, wheresoever there in an expression of faithfulness, the great world forces go down before them. The sovereignty is manifested; the power of their sovereign Head is shown through them to all the nations round about. There it is in foreshadow, in prevision. And these are only types and illustrations, and if that was true in the case of the church in the wilderness with all that it was not which it ought to have been, and all that it was that it should not have been, how much more ought this to be true of that which stands upon the ground of justification in full and final acceptance with God, through the Cross, having perfect access, without a question. But, beloved, first of all the Cross is the basis of the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus, and just as that Cross becomes central in the experience, not in the doctrine, not in the theology merely, but in the experience of the church, so the sovereignty of Christ, by the Cross, is resident within the Church by the Holy Ghost, and manifest through the Church. There is the Lion.

The ox we know is always a dual symbol of service and sacrifice, and here is Christ in another phase of His ministry and activity - the Servant of Jehovah - the Sacrifice of God. Is it necessary for me to even use time, very precious time, in covering the ground which sets Him forth in that two-fold capacity - serving, suffering - "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life a ransom for many". There you have the two things in one statement, as in many other statements. Beloved, that which is true of the Head (bear with me in my continuous repetition) must be true of all the members. That we are to be baptised into His sufferings and to make up that which is lacking of the sufferings of Christ for the Body's sake. And that is service, you see, taking our share in the suffering in order to serve, as that wonderful passage which the apostle writes to the Corinthians in the second letter [says] "Death worketh in us, but Life in you." "Our sufferings are on your behalf." "Baptised into His sufferings!" "Can ye drink of the cup that I drink? Can ye be baptised with the baptism that I am baptised with? And they said - We can, and He said - You shall." And they knew it, and to this one who had been for a time the blind instrument of Jehovah, and yet in the hands of the Devil, to cause them to drink of that cup, even Saul of Tarsus had had said concerning him at the time of his claiming as an elect vessel, "I will show him how great things he must suffer for My Name's sake," and he speaks about that in the fourth and sixth chapters of the second Corinthian letter - sharing and tasting of the sufferings of Christ. But listen, put the emphasis here: suffering which is service.

You suffer in your relationship to the Lord Jesus. Do you turn your eyes in upon yourself? Why am I suffering? Why should I have so much? Why should it always be I who get it? What have I done? What is wrong with me? Don't always turn your eyes in like that. Remember that the sufferings of Christ come upon some above measure not because they are sinners more than other sinners, but because they are elect instruments for the Body's sake unto a service, and if you are going to be an instrument of the revelation of the fulness of Christ, you have got to be chosen in the furnace of affliction, a sharer in His sufferings. Take comfort from that.

There has never yet been a man, or woman, who truly in the experience of things by the Holy Ghost has been a living revelation and manifestation of the content of Christ crucified, risen, ascended, exalted, who has not tasted of His cup, tasted deeply of His sufferings. Believe that. We have a little way of saying amongst ourselves here, "Yes, the Lord will never be able to use them until they have suffered." There is a great deal more in that than you realise, but if you are (and I expect many of you are) sharing His sufferings, remember it is unto something, and it is unto something which need not be merely related to the short span of your remaining years. This Body of Christ and its members are timeless in their ministry; it only begins here, it is going on in eternity. "And His servants shall serve Him, for they shall see His face."

Oh, that we knew the true nature of spiritual service. We think to serve the Lord means to be rushing around all the time taking meetings, organising religious movements, and doing a thousand and one things externally and feverishly and excitedly and having a full programme of engagements. The Lord undeceive us! Spiritual service is not that, beloved. You may take it that spiritual service in reality, every ounce of it is an ounce of blood, of passion. It is out of the Cross of Christ, and nothing that is not born out from that Cross ever achieves the mighty ends of Calvary, and that has got to be born out from Calvary in the Church, at the centre of which the Cross is planted. Service and suffering: that is a ministry of Christ entrusted to the Church and fulfilled through the Church to reach the utmost limits of God's intention and purpose, through Calvary, and the rim of the universe, to reach that. Your service will be through suffering, and therefore, the deeper you are baptised into His death, the fuller you are raised into the power of His effective service. Have you got that? If you forget a lot else, remember that. So, then, there is the ox, and that is Christ and the Church.

And then the man. You know how often the figure of a man and the word "Son of Man" occurs in the Old Testament, and then you come in the New to the all-inclusive Son of Man. "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." Now the man figure, the man reality in the divine presentation always means representation and speech. The one who stands to represent another and to utter the mind of that other. So it was with the prophets - "Son of man, go, speak." "Son of man, stand, speak!" Representation and speech, that is the man. Well, now, that is so obviously true in the case of the church, that the church is the voice of the enthroned Christ, representing Him. It is His representative to speak for Him. Beloved, you need in all your visions to restrict them to this one thing, for the Lord will only make His voice heard. That is all surely we want, we don't want personality. We do not want a great deal of human power, and wit, and wisdom and genius, all we want to be is a voice, and that the voice of the Lord, representing Him and speaking for Him.

Finally, the eagle as over the camp, the head of which was Dan; and the eagle throughout the word of God represents heavenly glory and divine mystery - that is a phase of the expression of the Lord Jesus. He, Himself, is a mystery in that scriptural sense of it. He always was a mystery when He was on the earth. "There standeth one among you whom ye know not." "The world hath not known Me." "Which none of the princes of this world knew." They knew Him not because (as He said) "the world seeth Me not, but ye see Me." There is something veiled, something hidden. He is the mystery, says Peter, which God fore-ordained to be a propitiation for our sins.

In reverting to the Tabernacle of the Testimony we see how that tabernacle was a mysterious thing to the nations round about. It had no beauty that they could see, no enchantment for them, nothing they would covet, and yet there was something about it in their consciousness mysteriously mighty; they had no entrée to its secret, no share in its meaning; it was only those who were one with it, only those who lived by it and knew it who knew its secrets, the secrets of its glory, the secrets of its power. Now here are the two things - the mystery of God, the mystery which has been hid from ages and generations, what is it - "Christ in you." Not Christ in isolation, but in you and in you corporately, the Church, the Body.

Christ in you, that is the mystery which has been hid from the foundation of the world, and the church in its spiritual nature and reality is a mysterious thing to the world. One has so often pointed it out, it becomes more and more mysterious even to the religious people of the churches of the day. The true church cannot be appreciated, or understood; the real spiritual people of God who form His Body are beyond the ken of the religious natural man who is always talking about "the church" nevertheless, and making much of "the church"! Oh, but this thing is a thing which is neither understood, nor appreciated; it is a mystery, and its deepest reality is its deepest mystery.

Christ in you! There is the four-fold ministry and presentation and revelation of Christ the heavenly glory. You ask the average religious person today to come on a Bank Holiday to a meeting in a tent in a garden like this and see what he will say! He will see no heavenly glory in that, and to listen to addresses by the hour! No heavenly glory in that. We smile because we know the heavenly glory in a mystery. The multitude of holiday makers will go home empty of heart tonight, and we shall go, I trust, with full hearts and eternal treasures. But that is the heavenly glory in a mystery, which none of the princes of this world knew - "Christ in you" "the fulness of Him that filleth all in all."

Now you see that leads you right through the Old Testament - the tabernacle - the four-fold symbol on the standards in the revelation of that great temple given to Israel, the same symbols; out then when you come to the higher form of realisation here in the ultimate Revelation in this book, the four living creatures they are Christ in the church, and the church worshipping the Lamb because this four-fold thing has been wrought in them, "Thou hast redeemed unto Thyself, Thy sovereignty through service and sacrifice in Thy church and by Thy church, Thy representative, unto Thy heavenly glory, which is a secret glory and a mystery. Thou hast redeemed unto Thyself." And all these elements turn to worship the Lamb, all these elements of divine expression and manifestation provoke the Song of Worship - "Worthy art Thou." It is the church triumphant singing "Worthy the Lamb," because the Lamb has become the dearest possession to the church, and all His ministry has been fulfilled in her.

At this point, of course, we ought to go right on without a break to show that by the church, out of the church you do reach to the nations, so that out of the nations He is redeeming to Himself a people of every tongue and tribe and nation, but there we must stop for the present.

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