The Centrality and Universality of the Cross (1927)

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5

"Now unto the principalities and powers."

At length we come to consider the meaning of the Cross in its vaster ranges and its initial and final impact which is back of the universe and of history. It requires but little spiritual insight to recognise that the whole background of what is recorded from Genesis to Revelation is spiritual and not merely historical. The historical is but the effect in a limited degree of what is going on behind. This earth after all only receives a faint echo of what is taking place beyond. The more spiritual the Lord's people become the more they realise the true nature of the battle (Ephes. 6:12), the more they feel the impact of a super-kosmic conflict, and the more possessed of the secrets of spiritual effectiveness they become. Moreover, the more spiritual they become in all their conceptions of the methods and means by which the ends of God are to be obtained or attained unto.

The Church which is Christ's spiritual Body is a heavenly organism, not an earthly organisation. While it is represented here on the earth, it is universal in its range (Heb. 12:22-24).

The whole Church in heaven and on earth is interested and concerned in the battle which rages. The issue is the outworking of Calvary's triumph. It is not a matter of whether Calvary is victory, that was settled in eternity past and transacted literally on this earth by the Son of Man. It is the progressive realisation of all the content and implications of the Cross which is being challenged so fiercely.

Now this brings us to the deep significance of spiritual truth, and we must seek to keep clearly before us the difference between a mental enquiry which may be merely speculative, and a spiritual understanding which is essentially practical and potent in its effect. Firstly as to this earth. It must be remembered that this earth is not isolated and self-contained. It is part of a system. While this is true in other respects it is especially true spiritually. How far this is so is not revealed, but it is made clear that other realms and orders unto the "heaven of heavens" and the "far above all heavens" encircling "the heavenlies" where "principalities, powers, world rulers of this darkness, and hosts of wicked spirits" have their present abode are all interested in and have their eyes directed toward this earth because of some special vocation which rests upon it relative to all these. It does not make much difference to the essential truth whether there be material worlds involved, and it would be going beyond our present specific purpose to discuss it. The truth is that some mighty, eternal, and universal purpose has been related for its decision and outworking to this earth, and this earth is central to a purpose which is as wide and inclusive as God Himself.

Then as to man. So far as we know, man is an unique creation and the only being in the universe who combines in his own nature the intuitional faculties of a spirit with the reasoning powers of a mind. "God is a spirit," and the angels are spirits. In creating man God determined to have a race at the centre of whose being, as the supreme and dominating reality, was Himself in life and nature. The life of His creation when it attains to His intention is a reproduction in finite form of the elements of His own life and being. To this end He gave man a spirit, in order that He, being a Spirit, might reside within man and reproduce Himself in the human spirit. Thus in carrying out and perfecting His purpose in the creation of man He subjects Himself for a time to the limitations of humanity, but by the incarnation of Himself in the Person of His Son He will lift humanity out of those limitations with which we are familiar into greater infinitudes of spiritual capacity.

But our theme holds us especially to the other phases of man's being. This is the psycho-physical (physical and soulish) body with the power of procreation ("Be fruitful and multiply"): the man who thinks and loves and determines. The entire government, and therefore all the issues of this man should, according to the Divine intention, be in and through his spirit and spirit faculties which linked him with the spirit or spiritual world, and it all depended upon how faithful he was to this law of his spirit as to what the result would be immediately. If his spirit walked after "The Spirit" Who is God there would be spiritual growth in the Knowledge of God and in the capacity for fulfilling the purposes of God. His seed would also have been a spiritual and God-controlled seed. By this course he would have held Divine and spiritual sovereignty in the earth.

But there were other possibilities and this really brings us to the main point of our theme.

The spirit as the "inner man" could listen to the psycho-physical or outer man and conduct himself accordingly and not after his spiritual Head. In this case all the issues would be psychical or soulish and not spiritual. This possibility made room for another element and this is the key to the whole situation.

At this point the theme opens out in several directions or along several lines. In all, however, we accept without discussion the presence of Satan in the universe and especially interested in what is taking place on this earth.

Satan now approaches in the knowledge that if he can fertilise this beginning of the race with a seed from himself, he can capture and be the God of the race. This seed, which is known throughout scripture as "the lie," of which Satan is the father, he presents to the psycho-physical man, the man who reasons, loves and determines. Instead of in turn testing it by the spirit at the court of God, the inner man capitulates and the outer man takes ascendency. Do we see what has happened? The lie has entered by consent in the place of the truth. The false word has taken the place of the true. The seed of Satan has been sown in the race, it has its lodgment in the psychical man, it is a blinding and paralysing and fatal lie, and the blindness and paralysis and death have slain man's spirit Godward, that he cannot know God's mind or will or purpose or fellowship.

But this is not all, there is a positive as well as a negative element. Man thus incapacitated is called "the natural (psychical) man."

There is, however that which is called "carnal." This is the flesh principle, not mere incapacitation, but positive enmity to God and His Things. It only requires a sufficiently divinely spiritual presentation to make it manifest as being in every member of the race. This is the Satanic element as in the entire race in Adam. Those most conscious of this element are those who have been spiritually quickened, and such know best the warfare of flesh against spirit and vice versa. Before following this line further, let us return to take up another, which really is not another but only a different aspect.

This interference of Satan with the psycho-physical man had to do - as we have seen - with the power of procreation and therefore in the covenant of life in blood. Blood was from the beginning recognised as life, its outpouring as the pledge and gift of life, its interchange as a life covenant between those who shared its substance. The function of procreation could only be fulfilled by a shedding and encirclement of blood. Thus the shedding of blood became the door or threshold of life by a covenant in blood on the part of the first parents. From that time onward the significance was given to all kinds of thresholds. The threshold of life and death in sprinkled blood is one of the most familiar things of the Bible. We have the shedding of blood to secure a covering for the fallen pair doubtless at the gateway of the garden. God's answer to Cain's complaint is that "if thou doest not well a sin-offering is at the door." Then we have the encirclement of blood at the door of Israel's national life; the passover being to them "the beginning of months." This was not only a covenant of life against death on the ground of judgment and the threshold of their national life, it was also a spiritual marital covenant, between Jehovah and Israel by which He would propagate a race for His own glory. He that day betrothed the virgin daughter of Israel unto Himself (Jer. 31:31, etc.). Judgments were always "in the gate," in Israel. And so from the time when first a twain were made one in a covenant of blood, thresholds, doors, gates, were places of altars and a spiritual significance was attached to them. The altar was at the door of the Tabernacle and there the blood of the covenant which was taken into the holiest was shed. All this is very important when we come to consider Christ's work in the Cross by which He was indeed the "Door" and place of the covenant of life. We leave this, however, till later.

The covenant sign with Israel was circumcision, an encircling of blood at the beginning of life. It represented a cutting off from all the uncircumcised and a cutting off unto Jehovah for His peculiar possession and purpose. It pointed to a spiritual truth, even the putting away of the whole body of the flesh by the Cross - even the flesh in which Satan had actual and judicial place and hold (Col. 2:11). Circumcision took place on the eighth day. Eight is the resurrection number in Scripture. By the resurrection of Christ it has become the first day of the week. It is in the resurrection of Christ that there is a specific Divine declaration as to His Sonship - see Rom. 1:4, Acts 13:33, etc. Our sonship is on the ground of resurrection union with Christ as begotten from the dead, the whole body of the flesh having been cut off.

What we want to see is that the nature of sin and the nature of the fall, the basis of Divine judgment, the ground of the awful wrath of God, and the background of all, is spiritual fornication. Satan had a hand in the functioning of procreative capacity and inoculated the race with evil, his own nature. It is not difficult to trace the fact by its fruits, although many might find difficulty in understanding the term "spiritual fornication." All forms of Satan worship have had a sensual element strongly developed.

In Israel the constant deviation from spiritual loyalty to Jehovah was marked by the setting up of groves with "pillars" or obelisks, male symbols, and Asherah, female symbols (Exodus 34:12-15; Deut. 16:21-22, etc.). This was a projecting of the Satanic system on one of its sides. Jehovah never treated these or any other forms of idolatry as just acts of innocence or ignorance, and smile at the foolishness of it all. He took it very seriously and destroyed the people with their idols if they forsook them not. He knew what was behind all this and what this implied on Satan's part. It was an abiding testimony to what Satan had done at the beginning, and of his footing in the nature of the race.

Without accumulating the vast evidence in the Word of God as well as outside of it we are surely by this able to see that by reason of an interference to which Adam gave way, Satan has in a very real sense captured the race and propagated a seed with his own nature. In what we have said about spiritual fornication in Israel we have only intended to illustrate the truth. The issue is the same without any Obelisks and Asherah. To summarise this - to the soulish-physical man possessing pro-creative powers, Satan presented a false gospel, a system of lies beautifully and attractively adorned with a view to obtaining an opening for himself to capture the race and by men's consent hold judicial and actual ground in man's nature. The offer of Satan being entertained and acted upon brought about the immediate rupture of fellowship with God in spirit and the suspending of the Divine intention through Adam. This act of spiritual fornication slew man's spirit in its relation to God, and deadened his capacity for the spiritual interchange with God by which all the purposes of God could be realised. God was infinitely removed from man in fellowship, knowledge, likeness, and co-operation.

Man became another species than that intended. A foreign and sinister element leavened the race. Satan installed in man that which would be suitable to his government and which would answer to his suggestions (the entire range of deception), and which would make possible his entrance into man for his own incarnation. All this does not necessarily mean that man realises or believes it. He may have highly developed religious feelings and sublime ideas and conceptions. He may even be given much to religious activity and service, and yet he is still the natural man, repudiating the demand for being born again, and becoming "a new creation." However fine a specimen a man may be of this species the word still holds that "that which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the spirit is spirit." It is the nature of man, not his positive attitude which is enmity. It is in the light of this interference in the propagating powers of the first parents and the result in polluted, tainted soul in the blood that the true nature of those new born sons of God are said to be "begotten, not of bloods, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God" (John 1:13).

Now we are ready to see how initially and basically the Cross is central to the spiritual universe. There God in Christ, incarnate with a sinless human soul, by the Eternal Spirit poured out that soul in His blood unto death. On the one hand He took on His soul all the pollution of the race - as only God could do - and carried it away into a land of forgetfulness. Only a sinless soul could do this voluntarily and effectually, for corruption by pollution has no native inherence there, therefore it can be flung off as not constituent.

So the works of the devil are nullified and for man by the Cross in the power that is in that blood, even the fleshless, enmityless, sinless soul of the Son of Man, there is

"Remission." - "This is My blood shed for remission." - Matt. 26:28.
"Redemption." - "In Whom we have redemption through His blood." - Eph. 1:7, Col. 1:14, 1 Peter 1:19.
"Reconciliation." - "Peace through the blood of His cross, to reconcile all things unto Himself." - Col. 1:20.
Justification. - "Being now justified by His blood." - Rom. 5:9.
Purging. - "How much more shall the blood of Christ purge." - Heb. 9:14, Rev. 7:14.
Nearness. - "Made nigh by the blood of Christ." - Eph. 2:13.
Access. - "Boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus." - Heb. 10:19.
Liberty. - "Loosed from our sins by His blood." - Rev. 1:5.
Sanctification. - "That He might sanctify with His own blood." - Heb. 13:12.
Cleansing. - "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin." - 1 John 1:7.

But there is more. On the other hand not only Satan's works but Satan himself met the impact of Christ. The whole Satanic hierarchy was dealt with when "He stripped off principalities and powers and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in His Cross," Col. 2:15. It is in that reality that the supreme significance of the Cross is found and its transcendant power is felt.

Back of Egypt and the Egyptians were "the Gods of the Egyptians." Every judgment was ultimately against the deity represented by the symbol. The "sacred" Nile, the frog, the beetle, the lice, polluting altars, priests, and sacrifices, etc. Jehovah went behind the symbols to the spiritual system. "Against all the Gods of the Egyptians." So with the Canaanites. They, like the Egyptians, knew of Jehovah, and recognised His supremacy, but continued in a system which was spiritualistic at root. There were the rites of initiation into occultism as in "passing through the fire," the worship of demons, all working out in the grossest uncleanness.

In like manner the events of Daniel 3 are the challenge of the false spiritual system through the great image - the symbol and representation of the fire God Isbah. It is not Nebuchadnezzar, or Babylon as such, but Satan behind, and the tenth chapter exposes the real seat and nature of the conflict. "World rulers" of this darkness are behind, and these marshalled and directed by him who was - before calvary - called "the prince of this world," and is still "the god of this age," "the prince of the power of the air."

The whole mighty thundering of God against idolatry has as its reason this false and antagonistic system of Satan whereby he would "be as the Most High," worshipped as God, sitting in the Temple of God, swaying the race and the world.

The persistence of the forces of Satan by every conceivable means - in prosperity or adversity, in false prophets in whose mouths were lying spirits, by bribe, by fear, by impatience, by subtle and almost imperceptible assimilation, by false charity and sympathy, by fleshly passions, to institute idolatry was ever with a view to necessitate Israel's casting off by God and the ruin of their witness and testimony to His sovereignty.

Keep this well in mind, for the device did not cease with Israel after the flesh.

Such as work in heathen countries know only too well the truth of this. The idol or fetish is not the ultimate, it is the spiritual system behind which the heathen are held in chains of iron. It is not such a far cry from this to the cultured, educated, civilised capitulation to the revival of spiritualism and occultism.

The whole subject of total abandonment and utter consecration to Christ is not merely something extra to "Christianity" or the Christian life. Its appeal has its strength in the tremendous fact that anything which limits the Lordship, Sovereignty, Proprietorship of Christ in any life is an ally to him whose eternal quest has been to capture the place of the Son as given by the Father, and at least to divide the honours. This is idolatry. Not necessarily acute forms of devotion to other objects of worship, or initiation into occultism, but a divided heart, a reservation from Christ. In the long run it will be manifest that such gave the enemy his ground for wrecking the whole Christian life, drawing right away from the Lord.

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