The Cross, and the Unity of Vision and Ministry in the Church
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - One Vision

FEBRUARY 4, 1928

Reading: Ephesians 3.

The theme of our Conference is, as you are aware,

THE CROSS, AND THE UNITY OF VISION AND MINISTRY IN THE CHURCH,

and we are made to see in the passage we have read how the apostolic ministry of Paul was to the effect that he might bring this vision to bear upon the spirits of God's people. When we say "apostolic" we are not thinking of some ecclesiastical office, but of a functioning of the Holy Ghost through a member of the Body who does not think anything of himself but who calls himself in this very passage, as in the 8th verse - "Less than the least of all saints."

It is very important that we do not get "heady" ideas about office and position in the church, otherwise it will be fatal to our life and ministry. "If any man think himself to be something when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself." In this life we have nothing possessive, as such, but rather we are possessed. It is not for us in the church to think ourselves to be anything, but rather to recognize that we are possessed of God unto an Eternal Purpose; and you get, therefore, the revelation of the humility of the Apostle, his essential humility, as he only ventures to speak to the church "As less than the least of all saints."

But as he himself has said (in the 7th verse), he has been made a minister according to the gift of the grace of God given unto him according to the "effectual working" of His power. As you know - this is a very common expression of the Apostle's - "the effectual working"; a word which is best translated "energising." It was an inward energising of the Holy Ghost that enabled him to serve. It was not something that he could go forward in as his own possession. He could not go about and be advertised as an Apostle; he could not speak as one who had authority in the realm of personal assertion. It was by the in-working and energising of the Holy Ghost, and for this he was very dependent; he depended upon the prayers of saints; he went about in weakness, in fear and much trembling; his speech was not in the persuasive words of men's wisdom, and there were places where he could not speak very much, for various reasons. There were other places where the word of God ran and had free course, and God was glorified; but he recognised that the source of his ministry was not in himself at all; it was in God, and only as it came forth from the Eternal Spirit, through the co-operation of other members of the Body, could he have that utterance, which is the utterance of God.

It is well for us to recognise these principles of ministry. There is nothing in which the Cross so operates as in Holy Ghost ministry. In the ministry of the flesh, the flesh, of course, is exalted; but in the ministry of the Holy Ghost the flesh is abased. That is to say, you are continually reduced to absolute impotence and weakness, and thrown back upon the resources of God, the Spirit. It would be well for us always to keep this in mind when we read the words of the Apostle, lest we get a false vision of him, and make him sometimes to look as a great figure, a master of assemblies; whereas the actual facts of the case are essentially different. He is an insignificant man among men, as far as the world is concerned. The Holy Ghost has preserved his epistles so that they come down to us making us to realise that he was the mightiest instrument Christ had in that early church; but he was among the people of his time as unknown, led of the Holy Spirit from town to town, labouring with his own hands. In the sight of men, not to be esteemed, nevertheless speaking in the power of the Holy Spirit. His ministry was chiefly with ones and twos and threes, or at the most with small and insignificant assemblies. That was the method in which the Body was being builded up in those days. One is led to say that, and to dwell upon it, because our imaginations so run away with us that we paint false pictures, and get wrong ideas of the way in which the Body is being built up. You will discover, as you go on, that it is in the hidden work of the Spirit that the glory of God is found, not in that which is seen and advertised among men.

Well now, his ministry is none other than this - it is to speak that word of the new creation whereby the light of God can shine in upon human hearts, and, as he himself has said in the second epistle to the Corinthians, it requires the same omnipotence of God to speak the word that breaks through into the heart to give the revelation of Jesus Christ, as was needed to speak "Light" in the first creation. God Who spake the light out of darkness, it is He who has shined in our hearts. It is the same omnipotence of God; but this ministry is only made possible by the weakness of our flesh, as we are reduced to ineffectiveness. It is thus He gets His opportunity of speaking His creative word of the new creation. In the 9th verse he says it is his especial work to enlighten all; to make all see.

You cannot make people see. We discover that more and more. We feel like shaking people sometimes to make them see and we are constrained to talk with great vehemence of spirit, and yet you feel somehow that words are not sufficient, and our cry is Oh, that God would make them see! But you cannot make them see except by the unction of the Holy Ghost. It is He, He Himself, makes people see; because these things are not seen by the natural mind at all. They are foolishness to the natural mind, and it is the natural mind coming into the things of God that creates confusion, which is why you have the chaos of today. This is very obvious, though perhaps in some directions, not so obvious; but the confusion today in vision is due to the fact that the natural mind comes in to speculate upon the things of God; and if there is one thing we need to learn, it is that the natural mind must not come in to speculate upon the things of God. I refer to those who are really born again, and who in the first place were enabled to see the Cross by the Spirit, but who afterwards have not recognised that God's thoughts are not our thoughts, as our ways are not His ways, and who still think they can talk about the infinite on a finite level. You cannot.

When God the Holy Ghost breaks in upon your spirit to reveal, not the historical Jesus, but Jesus in the Godhead, Jesus as God Himself in the throne - when the Holy Spirit does that amazing work in you - you cannot go on then to have a mental system of truth built upon or around that first revelation; but that revelation must continue to become, all the while, an increasing revelation of the Son of God. You find in the next chapter a reference to the climax of this process of revelation (13th verse) - "Until we all arrive at the oneness of the faith, and at the oneness of the full knowledge of the Son of God." That is to say there is a progressive revelation of the Christ, and that progressive revelation is all the while by the Holy Spirit. Now, one of the reasons for confusion in the church is because, after people have been born again, they still bring to bear their natural minds upon the interpretation of truth. This is why there are these endless schools of thought. We ought to be all saying the same thing; preaching the same thing; instead of that you have numbers of earnest Christians - one admits their earnestness, their spirituality of life - bringing the natural mind to bear upon the Bible, and upon interpretations, teachings about the Body, the coming of the Lord, translation, etc..

The Holy Ghost will give to us the certainty of truth constantly, but the great danger is that you may commence to preach in the Holy Ghost, or you may commence to prophesy in the Holy Spirit in forth-telling the mysteries of God, but afterwards bring your own mind in. That is the tragedy of many a figure in the history of the church. Those who have been raised up by God, commenced in the Spirit, and whether the devil or "I" got in we do not know (they both go together: where egotism begins the devil is at your elbow) they went on in their own mentality, they began to bring their own mind to bear upon the infinite things of God. That was where disaster came in. It is very well to recognise this principle at the beginning. You cannot know anything in the realm of the Spirit, except by the Spirit. You cannot know anything of the things of the Christ, except by the Holy Ghost; and we, who have commenced to speak, of all men, need to recognise our responsibility before God that we should not begin to go on in the energy of our flesh, in the energy of our intellect, or in any kind of thought of our own to interpret the things of God and thus to create special schools of teaching. And so you see how the cross must operate here in the mental realm to keep the messenger continually in the place of death; and the Apostle gives good reason why the stake should be driven through him, that he might be kept there crucified constantly, lest he might be exalted, so that God could have the opportunity of speaking that broken word through him right unto the end.

Now this is, you see, the marvellous functioning of the Holy Ghost, in that here is one, a sent one, who gives out from God, by the Spirit, His utterance, and is thus able to make all men see. Not that he is able, but that the Holy Spirit is able, through him, to make men see what is "the fellowship of the mystery which from the beginning of the ages hath been hid in God."

And here you have stated "The Vision." The vision is the fellowship of the mystery which has been hid in God; and all the children of God should have that one vision. The Holy Spirit should be able to so break in upon the heart as to present this one vision - "the fellowship of the mystery which hath been hid in God."

Now, what is the fellowship which hath been hid in God? We could give many explanations of that. We could get into far-reaching ranges of truth about that; but it is well to ask ourselves if "the fellowship of the mystery which hath been hid in God" is anywhere clearly denied; if it is focal anywhere; if it is reduced to an issue in our minds where we can clearly see it as one thing, centralised, gathered into a single revelation? Well you have only to turn to that very familiar passage in the 1st chapter of the first epistle of John, which we have turned to again and again in successive conferences. Now this is what John saw: this is what Paul saw, and this is what Peter saw all by one Spirit. They all came to this. Paul saw it perhaps first the most clearly, and then others accepted the revelation of the Holy Ghost through him. John came to the same vision, and Peter at last we know came to it in clear vision as he testifies to his agreement with his "beloved brother Paul." But here it is! - "That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes; which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Logos of Life (and the Life was manifested, and we have seen it, and bear witness, and announce unto you that Eternal Life which was with the Father, and was manifested unto us), that which we have seen and heard announce we unto you that you also may have fellowship with us (the fellowship of the mystery): and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ."

So we see the fellowship of the mystery hid in God is the fellowship of a life, not the fellowship of a truth. This is very important to recognise. If you begin to think of fellowship about a truth you will soon find that Satan can attack that. It is the fellowship of a life hid with Christ in God, a life that is not your own in a possessive sense, but a life out of which you are born, and into which you are baptised by the Spirit. It is the life of the Son of God. It is the fellowship of the mystery which hath been hid in God. It centralises then in Christ: it is not separate from Him. It is life through a Person and life in a Person; and remains so. It is never divorced from Jesus. It is the truth as it is in Jesus, in those dimensions, of course, of Jesus of which we are speaking now. We are not speaking of Jesus local and finite. We are not speaking of Jesus geographically and historically, we are speaking of Jesus in the Godhead. We are speaking of the infinite God revealed in Christ Jesus, of Him who fills the heavens.

Now the Apostle John, as we have often seen, is filled with the amazement of this vision; he is lost in wonder. You never lose your sense of wonder if you have seen Jesus. You never lose your worship in the Spirit, if you have seen and retain your vision of Jesus. I mean this vision. I do not mean geographical vision, the vision over your shoulder we speak of - "the vision that fades in ancient shades of far-off Galilee" - but the vision of your heart's eyes lifted up in to heaven so that you have come to see through, because the Light has broken through. You see God in Jesus Christ; and you see what He has come into the world to do. Not only to die for our sins - for He died for the sins of the whole world as such - but because we have accepted, in this age, the full meaning of that Incarnation, and therefore what identification with Him in death is; so we have come to see that He has risen from among the dead into the Father in order to give to us that Life which He now shares with the Father as Man. It is that Life!

This is the vision of John, now an old man, but broken in heart with amazement and wonder and worship as He sees this Life so manifested. That is the fellowship of the mystery, the mystery of this Life which was hid in God and which was manifested in Christ here on earth first of all as in the days of His flesh, then when He had passed through the way of His passion, was further manifested to His disciples in His out-resurrection; then in His ascension Glory, and as He was afterwards manifested to Paul, and to others through Paul. He was seen received-up into the heavens, and the Apostles by the ministry of the Holy Ghost, manifested the Life as in the risen Lord, the Life of the Godhead in the Man, which we are now asked to come into and share. This is the marvel of the new birth. The new birth is not merely your own birth, but Christ's new birth. The Father declared: "Thou art My Son, this day have I begotten Thee," and it was then made possible for you to be born again. It is not your personal new birth, therefore, but it is a birth out from Him whereby you are made one with Him to share a Life in the Christ of God. That is the fellowship of the mystery.

We have before seen how at the end of this epistle of John in the 5th chapter the Apostle has spoken with great emphasis about the testimony, "The testimony that God hath borne to us concerning His Son" in His resurrection, through His passion. He says finally as we have seen, in the 11th verse "And this is the testimony that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He that hath the Son hath the Life; he that hath not the Son hath not the Life!" It is very marvellous as we dwell upon these points to see that the testimony which God has given to His Son is a testimony that includes the church. It is not the testimony to the Son of God personal in Christ Jesus our Lord only but it is the testimony of God through the Spirit, and through the water (or word) and through the blood to the Son of God as now He shares His Life in His church. This is the testimony - that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. That is to say it is not a life to be possessed personally. It is not life that you have merely as in yourself; it is a life that you share in Him with others. That is the fellowship of the mystery.

Now the vision of that is one vision; and it is first of all objective, or without yourselves, and so if you ask what is the vision of the church? The answer is, The vision of the church is Jesus. The vision of the church is not the Body. The vision of the church is not the cross. The vision of the church is Jesus. If you have a vision of the Body without the vision of Jesus remaining supreme in your heart, you will become mystical and theoretical. You will be talking about the Body all the time, but you, yourself, will not be an example of what it is to be a member of the Body. You may talk about the cross, and get a doctrine of the cross, but unless the cross is seen in the supreme light of the Person of Jesus your doctrine will be hard. It will be without love, and without worship, and people will wonder why you, who preach so much about the cross have so little of the love which is revealed in the cross. People will be saying that you are talking about the Body as something mystical in the heavens, and the love that should be manifest in you as a member of the Body is not revealed. But all this is because there is an absence of the vision of Jesus. That explains a great many things, and brings us back to simplicity. The reason why so many people come into advanced truth, as it is called, and manifest so little of the true grace of God is because they have lost the vision of Jesus. The vision of Jesus in the Godhead, that is the testimony of the church - We behold Jesus!

You find this oneness of Vision right through the Word of God - for instance in the epistle to the Hebrews, which we have already quoted - We behold Jesus! And the vision by the Holy Ghost is the breaking through to see Jesus in the Godhead. Take Paul. He is brought to where he is by a revelation of Jesus Christ. But it is always by a revelation of Jesus Christ that men are saved. Whatever other vision Paul had, all is found in this supreme vision of Jesus Christ. Who He is! And you find, as we have seen, that the Apostle is crying all the while for a deeper and fuller knowledge of Jesus. It is the personal knowledge of Jesus as God. It is the entering into all that infinitude of fellowship with Himself; the thing that draws you more and more toward Himself. And you and I discover in the Christ of God all our experience. Whatever experience we have had which is of any value, it was found in some unveiling of the Person of Christ in Jesus. If you lose that, you wander, you go into side-paths. You may be taken up with this school of teaching and interpretation; then you enter into another; and many of us may have created theories, schools of thought and teaching, and wandered away from the Central Testimony. We lost the supreme value of Jesus - the oneness of the faith which is bound up with the full knowledge of the Son of God. Peter said "Thou art the Christ." "Well, this is the Rock upon which I will build My church." And we must not think that foundation is something it is not - static, stationary. "Upon this living foundation of the vision of the Christ I will build My church." You are being built up into Him as you see Him. You are being built up into Him as you behold Him, and so you help to build others up. That is "holding fast the Head." Each member has to so hold fast the Head, wrestle to retain that singleness of vision.

You remember, when Jacob was wrestling at Peniel, he said, "I have seen God face to face." Well, in Jesus Christ you see God face to face. That is the revelation, and you are to wrestle to hold that. The devil would try to get your mind taken up with other things, but that is the thing to hold on to. To behold God face to face in Jesus Christ; to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. You find John saying, "We beheld His glory." That is the sum total of their experience. You find again the Apostle Paul saying that the gospel is "The gospel of the glory of God in Christ - Who is the image of God." (In the Authorised Version it is given as "The glorious gospel of Christ," but the correct reading is "The gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God").

Now this is objective. It is outside yourself, and you must retain that. It is the vision of the Person. Nothing must obscure that. Now subjective vision is that which you have as within yourself. But without this objective vision of Jesus you will find that subjective vision becomes obscure, misty, misleading. You will find you will begin to exclude this or that essential because of certain interpretations of truth, if you do not retain the vision of Jesus in the Godhead. As we have said, a doctrine of the cross minus that is without power; and a doctrine of the Body without that is unpracticable. I am emphasising this because one has seen a great many of God's children taken up with truth, they see truth; it becomes crystallised in their imagination, and they lose sight of the throne of God. If you and I keep the vision of Jesus we shall never become "heady"; we shall never become heretical; we shall never become divisive, schismatic; and so the unity of vision will be preserved in the objective vision of Jesus in the Godhead, oneness of vision for the whole church.

Healthy, subjective vision therefore depends upon the retaining of the objective. It is the overmastering, overwhelming breaking in of the Light of God in the face of Jesus Christ that keeps you and me in our place, so that we live in the glory of that vision.

But now there is another side to the truth - it is not only without ourselves, but, praise God, it is within ourselves. You find the Apostle turning to the other side when he speaks about, "The Son of God being revealed in Him." It is very wonderful when you get the true objective vision of Jesus, and believe Him, for upon that moment you are born again. I cannot explain it, but I know it happens. It is then that that which you see in Him is made true in you. You find it happened with the Apostle Paul. First of all there was the amazing revelation of God in Christ, and then he speaks about that synchronising with the revelation of the Son of God in him - "When it pleased God to reveal His Son in me." The Son of God revealed to you by the Holy Spirit and then the Son of God revealed in you by the Holy Spirit as you are born out from Him. That is the subjective side. You find you have a Life now, but that Life is joined to Him. It is His Life. It is not your Life, but His Life in you. Of course, when you speak of Christ being in you, you do not mean the totality of Christ - the totality of Christ is not even in the entire Body, but His fulness is.

Nevertheless He remains God over all, blessed for ever. The Church does not become God. We need clear thinking here. When Paul speaks, therefore, of the Son of God being revealed in him, he does not mean the totality of the Son of God; but, that by the Eternal Spirit, he has been born out of that One Whom he has seen, and he has been made one with the One he has seen; and then he begins to recognise that He is the Sovereign Lord of his life, not only as outside of himself, but as within himself; and it is the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus working in him. Oh, once we get this revelation, this subjective revelation, this revelation within, what a blessing it will be as it makes us to cease from all self-effort, as we see that having seen Him He is then begotten in us by His Spirit; that we are a part of Him, an integral, essential, vital part of Him; and we live now by an inworking. As we are born by a begetting, we live by an inworking.

Of course, these are very simple things; but let us repeat them - we are born by a begetting. You cannot beget yourself. You are begotten out from God as you get the vision, as you see Him, recognise Who and what He is and accept Him. And then, just as you are begotten by a begetting, so you live by an energising. You do not live then as self-sufficient; you do not live out of anything that you have control of entirely. It is nothing possessive. You live by an energy, and Paul has been praying in this epistle, "That we might know what is the exceeding greatness of His power to usward who believe, according to the working of His mighty power." Well, we behold Him, but that is not sufficient. The everlasting God is by His Spirit working in us, energising us, making us one with Himself in fellowship of life and ministry.

So the subjective side of the truth is this, that Christ is in you, the hope of glory. And the hope of glory is not the hope of your attainment; the hope of your being able at last to climb to some heights of merit where you can break through and somehow be acceptable to God by reason of all your wrestlings and determination. It is not that; it is by an energy within yourself as you yield to and acknowledge your Life. It is the presence of the Spirit of Him inworking, operating within you. The very power that raised Jesus from the sepulchre into the Godhead is the power that is working in your spirit to raise you into oneness with Himself.

Well, as we recognise we live by a subjective experience on the one hand because of an objective vision on the other - as you see Jesus by the Spirit so you find the Life of Jesus is being wrought out in you by the Spirit. Then you come to the truth of the "Body." And I want to point out very definitely and seriously that the truth of the body is not objective, but subjective. If I may make plain what I mean.

You may get visions about the Body and not be contributing very much to the Body. The only Heavenly vision that you must have is the vision of God in Jesus Christ; but the truth of the Body, or the vision of the Body is subjective. It is something working in you. It is something that is functional; something that is essential to your Life; something that is a part of you. You cannot hold it, so to speak, as a mere objective truth. In one way it is you, the new man, and you find the life now in you is a constituent life that belongs somewhere else than in you only. It belongs to Him, and it belongs to others; and you find the truth of the body is subjective. It is working in you.

Now in the course of my ministry I have found that a great many people are trying to discern the Body as a mental objective fact. It is not that at all. You cannot visualise and you are not asked to visualise the Body. The Holy Ghost makes you visualise the Lord Jesus - to behold Him - to worship Him - to adore Him - to love Him. That is your vision; but the vision of the Body is subjective. That is, it is being wrought out by the Holy Ghost within you. It is an inward realisation of unity. It is not an attempt to create unity, but an inward realisation that I am one with all other members of the Body because I am one in Him with them. I share His life and they share His life then in Him we are one; and because I now derive all my life from Him and worship Him and love Him, and am constrained by Him, you see the vision of the Body implies something working in me. It is not because I talk about it, and preach it, I must live it!

Oh beloved friends, I stress this - that we must live the truth of the Body. It is not an automatic mental thing to try to bring upon others as a truth that is merely to be conceived as something outside ourselves. The truth of the Body, if it is at all with you, is in you working as a passion, something of God Himself, by His Spirit, working in your heart. Oneness is not an ideal; oneness is a fact. There are ideals, and there is the consummation of God's purpose. There are wondrous things in the throne that we may see, but the oneness of the Body is a fact - a fact in God, and a fact in you - "Which thing is true in Him and in us." What we have to ask for is that we may behold Jesus more and more in the glory of the revelation the Spirit gives, and then we shall find, as the Apostle Paul says, "The love of Christ constraineth us." We are being exercised, energised, driven onward, embraced, constrained as by a mighty power, burning as in a consuming fire. "The zeal of the Lord of Hosts shall accomplish this." And so the vision of the Body is not an objective vision but a subjective vision, and the unity in that sense is brought about by a necessity of life. We cannot live without the Body. We come to the place where we must have fellowship with one another in the Holy Ghost.

The Cross then comes in here because you see it rules out the personal. We have spoken about the Cross and the oneness of visions of ministry. The cross comes in in ruling out the personal here, and that is why the Body is the very means whereby God works out the cross in you and me. You will find that when you come into the true subjective truth of the Body of Christ, where we have to live together in any kind of fellowship, that there you have the very means which the Holy Ghost uses to see that the cross shall be operative. It is very easy to talk about the cross from the platform, and it is very easy to sometimes pray about the cross, but when it comes to laying down your life moment by moment and day by day for others; that is the cross.

So you see Life in and for the Body rules out the personal, and that is why the instrument of the Cross, that death of His whereby He died to self in every detail of self-assertion that He might live wholly unto God as Man, is the principle that has to be wrought out in you and in me. You and I are to live unto Him in His Body, and that means the ruling out of the personal in the old creation. Thus all mental conceptions of the Body have to go, all mere emotional conceptions have to go, and even the self-will to this end has to go, and you find that the self-life in all its detail has to be continually stripped. As you seek to live for the church you will find that the cross will operate; the cross will bring to bear its impact upon your life, the self-life.

It is very easy to live a holy life alone. That can be a superior kind of Pharisaism; but live together with Christians in intimacy, and you know the irks, you know the way temperaments clash, you know the way possessive things come up in us, even in our zeal for truth. Why, we even talk about translation and get divided upon spiritual truth! Oh, you see, when you come to live truly in the Body of Christ you will find the vision is functional in us. This cross becomes subjective. But it is Jesus Who is seen as God and Whose pure burning gaze upon you causes you to know the terror of the Lord - the fear of God - beholding Him - recognising His sovereignty - His deity - as the impact of His Presence is turned upon you, you find that in the Body the vision has to be functional, an essential of life, and so it is made the very means whereby the Cross works out death in you. Your mental conceptions won't suffice, your conceptions of the Body so far as you are going to will the thing through won't suffice, and even those emotions and feelings that you may have won't suffice. It must be by the Holy Ghost functioning in you the Life of God so that you are able to lay down this miserable self-life, as it is stripped more and more in its antagonism before God.

Now, Christ died that we might live, and we have to die daily that we may live in Him and others may live also. I have to die. That is the principle of the Body. But only the Holy Ghost can work that out in you; and you see on the two sides the unity of vision is only made possible by the Cross first of all. To behold Him in the throne, and then to recognise it is His life that has to be wrought out in us, and that is only possible as the self-life is continually laid down at His feet that He may arise within us and manifest His glory, His multifarious wisdom before the principalities and powers. Of course the degree in which the truth of the Body is revealed in us, the degree to which the Life of Christ is present in us, is what is the devil's estimate of it! What is he thinking about it? What do the principalities and powers see, they who are enabled to judge, allowed by the Lord to scrutinise? What do they see by way of the love of God shed abroad in our hearts? That is the test.

May the Lord make us each one true members of that Body in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, in the oneness of that life which is hid with Christ in God for His Name's sake.

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