The Centrality and Universality of the Cross (1927)

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4

In our consideration of the main theme of this Conference - The Centrality and Universality of the Cross - those of you who have been present will remember that we concluded, so far as our present consideration is concerned, with that phase which specifically relates to the church which is the Body of Christ in itself, as to its nature; and the one all-inclusive statement which we gathered that up into was that the church which is the Body of Christ is the sphere and the vehicle of all the content and issues of Christ, crucified, risen, ascended, exalted. In other words, all that Calvary means from its acceptance on the part of Christ through its experience, leading right up to the throne of His transcendent exaltation, that is for, and in, and through, and by the church, which is His body - unto the knowledge and the revelation and demonstration of all that the church was eternally elected to be for Him, the medium of His expression, or of His fullest expression - that Christ needs, requires, demands, according to the eternal ordering of God, His Body for His self-manifestation.

Now, we have dealt with that in various and numerous ways, showing the nature of the Body of Christ, and many of its privileges and its responsibilities. One is constrained to just pause at this point for one moment to utter one word of solemn warning, and that against the sin of presumption in relation to the Body of Christ. The New Testament has much to say about the sin of presumption - presuming upon this great truth. Paul calls it "not discerning the Lord's Body." The oneness of Christ and His members as forming the "Body of Christ" is a basic revelation and declaration to much that took place in the nature of a judicial ministry of the Holy Spirit in New Testament times.

The Master said such things as "He that heareth you, heareth Me, and he that rejecteth you rejecteth Me." "In as much as ye have done it (or done it not) unto the least of Mine ye have done it (or done it not) unto Me."

The first glimmer of the revelation of the Body of Christ was one which Paul had when the Lord said to him "Why persecutest thou Me?" He might have retorted that he was not persecuting the Lord, but these followers of the Nazarene. The Lord, however, made it clear that it was one and the same thing on this occasion.

Now the case of Annanias and Saphira, of the Corinthian fornicator, of other Corinthians many of whom were sick and some died, and other cases, are examples of the danger of failing to recognise and discern the Lord's Body. "The loaf which we break is it not a participation in the Lord's body? The cup which we bless, is it not a participation in the Lord's blood, seeing that we who are many are one loaf, one body?" Therefore the Lord's table is a testimony to the oneness and spiritual reality of the Body of Christ. To set this testimony - not merely an ordinance - aside, or to enter into it in a spirit of schism, unforgiveness, dissimulation, partiality, etc., is to be guilty of presumption in a spiritual sense. The Lord's table is not the only form of testimony to incorporation into Christ or of the corporate oneness of Christ and His members, and to neglect or violate any of these is to issue in confusion, strain, loss; sometimes it results in delusion, sometimes in physical suffering, and we have known it to result in the Lord having to take such out of the way.

David prayed, as we have it in the 19th Psalm: "Keep back Thy servant from presumptuous sins, then shall I be kept from the great transgression." In His conception of spiritual and eternal verities, the great transgression was presumption, and the New Testament clearly defines and sets forth the nature of that presumption, and this presumption in relation to the corporate nature of the Lord Jesus Christ, and our incorporation into that. Now I dare not turn aside from the main line to deal with that further.

You recognise that the anointing of the Holy Ghost is through and by the Head upon the Body of Christ. We have so often pointed out that it is not upon the individual as an individual, but upon the individual by reason of the individual's relationship to Christ in His Body. The anointing is for all members, not in a scattered and detached sense, but in a corporate and united sense, so that in this way the oneness of the Spirit, the unity of the Spirit is realised through the Head in the whole Body. Now the sin against the Body of Christ is sin against the Holy Ghost, for it is that which violates the anointing of the Head as upon the Body. You notice how the appeal, which always brings God into judicial action through the Holy Ghost in the Word of God, is "against the Lord and His Anointed." They are one, and the Anointed One is Christ corporate in the Body, so that touching a member of the Body of Christ is as touching "the apple of His eye." Now against the Lord and against His Anointed in this corporate sense, when an appeal is made on that ground then God, through the Holy Ghost, judicially moves. He rebuked kings for their sakes, saying "Touch not Mine anointed - and do My prophets no harm." Take that in New Testament interpretation, and you will find that it relates to the oneness of the Lord with His members under the one anointing. But one is not saying it on this occasion in order to especially emphasise the touching of the members of Christ, but one is saying it now to emphasise this form of presumption, lest we might presume upon the rights, the inheritance, the privileges of our membership of the Body of Christ and exclude, or reject those specific discernings of the Body.

Believe me, beloved, if ever the Lord in any way whatever gives you the slightest degree of spirit uneasiness about any kind of testimony by which the Body of Christ is discerned, and you do not come into line with that, accept, obey, fulfil, all your talk about the Body of Christ from that time onward - will fail of its spiritual value to you in the hours of deepest crisis, and although, for the time being, it seems that nothing happens in many cases, something does happen sooner or later. Although it seems that nothing happens, and there is a sense of being able to go on, even a sense of the Lord, and blessing upon a certain level within a certain limited sphere, there is in the path of such an one, sooner or later, such a mighty upheaval as will bring them to a state of arrest and disaster and will fling them right back upon that testimony to the Body which they rejected or neglected and they will say - "I see the cause of all this as being my disobedience to that about which the Lord touched my spirit on such and such an occasion." You cannot get past that. The slightest disobedience to a touch of the Holy Spirit issues in your becoming uncovered and unsheltered in the spiritual house of God - the cover of the Lord's children, the corporate o'ershadowing and encircling of the Body of Christ which is indispensable to the members. They dare not go on alone, uncovered, without spiritual co-operation, and if we fail to recognise the oneness of the Body of Christ, or are disobedient to any movement of the Spirit in our spirit with regard to such testimonies in the Body and to the Body, the issue will be, believe me, that at some time we come up against the issue of a sin of presumption. We have presumed upon the rights and privileges and resources of the Body of Christ and been disobedient to the testimonies thereof. That issues in the Holy Spirit, by reason of His obligations, bringing us up with a start. It is a thing which well-nigh wrecks our whole career, and in the meantime we are on a second line of spiritual service and effectiveness, when we might be on a first.

At an early point we cited the case of Moses and saw that the Lord met him and sought to kill him because of his failure to discern the testimony to the covenant, and Paul distinctly says that baptism is a testimony to a corporate union with Christ (Col. 2:11,12; Romans 6:4, etc.).

When the Lord speaks to us about anything and we go on and count on the Lord's cover and protection in and through His Body which is His instrument, be sure that cannot be, unless we are absolutely obedient to every means of discernment. Now, I speak out of a good deal of experience in this matter. I have seen spiritual lives wrecked on that, not because anybody has said anything of that to them. Whatever has been said by men has been subsequent to something which was said in them by the Holy Spirit, and then they began to equivocate. The Spirit of the Lord led them to a discerning of their identification with Christ and a testimony thereto in the waters of baptism, and they were disobedient. The Lord pressed it, and they discussed it, and argued and debated it, and consulted unsympathetic people about it, and were very glad when they found someone who did not agree with it, and so they let it go. Oh beloved, the wreckage of such is strewn on the face of the earth. Their spiritual lives have from that time been narrowed in their range of usefulness and serviceableness to the Lord. I could tell you some tragic stories about them, and other forms of testimony - testimony only - to spiritual facts which the Lord requires and a failure to face the issue through disobedience; and yet these, all the time, still claiming the rights and privileges and resources and means of Christ in the Body of Christ. But disobedience! And sooner or later the Holy Ghost has had to come in and judge.

Now we come to say a little, as the Lord enables us, about the church, the Body of Christ in its instrumentality beyond itself. We see its nature, its content, its intent in the mind and purpose of God, and its first sphere of course, of ministry, is to, and in, and among the nations of this world, as the next circle indicates, which requires one further word to define its nature; and the Holy Spirit, through Peter, says of the church, "Ye are a holy nation." It is a nation within the nations but super-national; not denominational, or undenominational, or interdenominational but superdenominational, a nation apart from the nations and above the nations, and yet in the nations. Concerning the nucleus of that church the Master prayed, "I pray not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst keep them from the evil one," and the man who wrote those words by inspiration later wrote, "The whole world lieth in the evil one." "I pray not that Thou shouldst take them out of the world, but that Thou shouldst keep them from the evil one." They are not in the lap of the enemy, although they are in the world. In a sense they are apart from it; though in it, not of it - "translated out of the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son of His love" - a holy nation. What is a nation? Well, a nation is that which is of common blood with an identity of life; and that is true - in a peculiar sense - of the church as a nation. An identity of life, a life which is unique and peculiar, which is the Life of God Himself - a common seed, the seed of God. And a nation is not only one in identity of life, a common seed, but it is one in its identity of purpose and in its unity of effort. These things are specifically true of His holy nation.

Now the church, as a nation, is called to bear a testimony within the nations, the strength of which testimony is found in its separation from the nations, and in its difference of life. And what is its testimony unto? Its testimony is that which has the effect of the magnet to the steel, and the steel to the magnet - all the fragments in the church with the magnetic force of the Cross, in which the drawing power of the love of God is resident to gather out from the nations to itself, to complete itself out of the nations. The church is out of every nation and tribe and kindred and tongue, a great multitude which no man can number. Now, beloved, there are one or two specifically vital matters in this connection I want to hand on.

Let us recognise and settle it once and for all that the church, the Body of Christ, or members thereof are not here in this world to have anything to do with the systems of this world, as such, and in so far as we become involved in the matters of the kingdoms of this world, we lose our magnetic vocation, and we shall involve ourselves in chaos from which it will take a very great deal to extricate us. That has been the historic tragedy of Christendom, it has in various ways become linked up with the kingdoms and interests of this world, and that is the secret of its spiritual ineffectiveness. The Church which is Christ's Body is a heavenly thing since Christ its Head has ascended, and all that comes down into and through His Body is heavenly in source and nature. This is utterly different from the things of earth, and cannot even be known by "the natural man."

Moreover, the church is not here now to establish or extend the Kingdom of God universally in the earth. It is here to testify to the sovereignty of Christ, to establish a testimony to it in the nations, and to gather to itself all the elect members. The universal Kingdom is for a later time. Everyone who has a revelation of the Body of Christ will find themselves being detached from tradition, from organised religion, and that they are being brought to the place where there is no alternative but to come out from a thing which is a system, and an order, though religious, though claiming to be in the name of the Lord, and according to the word of the Lord, but which is a thing of this earth. The Holy Ghost always leads out from that, and of course He has got to do it. Don't you do it until He does it in you, until you can do nothing else. You stay until the thing is so plain to you that your whole spiritual life is in jeopardy unless you do it. Mark you, the Holy Ghost is going to do that in order to give to you, and put within you the magnetic power of the Cross of Jesus Christ, in order to gather unto Himself a people from the nations for His Name. You have got to stand clear in order to fulfil that ministry, but stand clear in the Holy Ghost, not by any personal exclusiveness, or detachments, because that can be organised, and that can be prompted by fleshly ambition and subtle motive, desiring recognition, and such things.

This gathering out of the Body of Christ must be the work of the Holy Spirit on the basis of a revelation and an inward withering of our concern for, and interest in, all that is not heavenly in its concept. We have tried to build up, to organise, and to increase "the Church." Advertisement, policy, attractions, schemes, devices, appeals, to draw and to hold to "the Church." Titles, names, and special items; who can exhaust the resource to realise things which, after all, is a caricature of the Divine reality. The Lord's method is firstly to hear "the testimony of Jesus" in every place, and then to gather to that testimony such as He has foreknown and therefore foreordained as those who would respond to His call. The Holy Spirit is strategic. "Pentecost" was a wonderful example of this strategy. "Every nation under heaven" was represented in Jerusalem on that day, and that in itself was another demonstration of the Divine strategy, in using Judaism - now rejected - to head up to the Church by gathering people out of every nation in one place on this occasion. No flaming posters emblazoned the advertising spaces of Jerusalem announcing that at a certain time in a given place eleven great men would preach, or that the Rev. Dr. Peter would preach a pentecostal sermon. They came together, and everything was carried through from first to last by the Holy Spirit Himself.

You see how wide of the mark organised Christendom is! This is a Holy Ghost business, and you are delivered from all the other load, deadweight of work and organisation, and everything else when the Holy Spirit takes things in hand like that. The testimony of Jesus is to be in the hands of the Holy Spirit, and He shall gather those foreknown. You need not that I stay to define, and to safeguard that last clause. Now on the one side, there is that, that glorious truth of the Spirit gathering out a people for the Name of Jesus, and Himself being Sovereign in the gathering out, and the gathering together. It is perfectly wonderful what the Holy Spirit can do, where the people come from, how they hear of the thing, but it gets out. That is the way we put it - that the Spirit has in hand this business of completing the Church of the Lord Jesus.

Well, there are other aspects to that one glorious truth, and this is another - that the Holy Spirit is also strategic in the placing of His church as represented by members. He places them here and there, and makes them the magnet, as it were, to which He may draw elect souls, not elect by favouritism of God, but elect according to the foreknowledge of God, that is all, not because they are elected to Life, as against others who are elected to death, but because the Lord foreknew who would believe "Whom He foreknew, them He predestinated" - their destiny was settled on the ground of His foreknowledge of their faith, and is on the ground of His own grace. Well now, such the Lord knows - "The Lord knoweth them that are His," and He will put His Body representatively down here and there, in order that they may be a magnetic force, that unto them He may bring those who, through their testimony, will find the Holy Spirit giving them a response.

It is most remarkable how in a place there are those who find at once that this is the thing for which their whole being has been crying. Now you want to be saved from your hustle and feverish rushing about to try and get people who ought to come. Let the Holy Ghost move you in those matters, because you will be getting a lot of people to come, and they will be so upset with the whole thing that they will be quite disgusted and disappointed, and you will be making a mess all the time. Do we not pray here continuously that the Lord will keep away those who in coming will not come into His purpose, will not see His will, and accept it? It is just as important to pray that as it is to pray the other way - it may be that many of these will come on later. The Lord has His times as well as His purposes.

This aspect of truth seriously touches the question as to whether it was ever the Divine purpose and method that commodious permanent buildings should be erected in numerous places and the success of "the Church" be determined by whether they are full or otherwise. This is surely not the New Testament conception, and may it not be that the present system with all its organisation, machinery, advertisement, expenditure, and burdensome-ness, but comparative spiritual ineffectiveness, is the inevitable issue of a false conception? It is a tremendous thing to say, but we do not hesitate to say it, that spiritual emancipation from the present system of organised religion and of what is called "the Church" and "Church life," with its methods, institutions, officials, governments, etc., is the necessary way to the maximum of spiritual effectiveness and fruitfulness. And the Lord would lead many out if only they had the courage and faith to leave their support and vindication to Him. The tragedy of so many, and the paralysis of the real work of God, is the earthboundness of vision and the tyranny of a system. Never would we urge anyone to come out until the matter had become to them one of inward revelation, but we do urge upon you that you should earnestly ask the Lord to give you a revelation of the true nature of His Church which is His Body.

Our meditation would lack something very important if we failed to remember that while the Church in the nations by its testimony is as a magnet to draw, it will also repel and make impossible the access and taking hold on the part of flesh and of carnal men and women. In the wild unenlightened lust for members and increase this has been overlooked with disastrous and ruinous consequences. There must be that in Christ and His Body which is forbidding to all but the consecrated and sanctified. The fire of God to safeguard the glory of God is in the Holy "Tabernacle" or "Temple" or "House," and this must break out upon the intrusion of "flesh." It is no sign of God's acceptance of our presence in any system, local, national, or international, which claims to be the Church, in which manipulating, controlling, influencing, and officiating, are unconsecrated men and women. Such would find judgment beginning at the house of God if this were truly His spiritual house in which the Holy Spirit was sovereign.

"For the rest, no man durst join himself unto them."
"The LORD added to the Church."

Can we not be satisfied with this on both sides, and make it our business to see that the testimony is clear and pure.

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