The Lord's Assembly - Part 2
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - The Cross, the Essential Foundation of the Church

Having had in view God's thought concerning the church, we are going to consider, as the Lord enables us, that which is the essential foundation of the church, and that is the Cross. So that we begin this morning with the foundation of the church, of Christ's church, the Cross. In a previous message one of the things which we emphasized was that the church is the object, as well as the subject of redemption; that redemption in the thought and intention of God, always pointed to the church, that redemption was not just the matter of the salvation of individual souls, howsoever many they might be, but redemption in the thought of God is always a collective thing in His intention, the church being in view. "The church of God which He has purchased with His own blood". That includes the individuals, but represents what God's main object was. That is looking on then, from redemption to the church, not as a matter of time or distance, but as the meaning of redemption.

Now we take the other view, the view from the opposite standpoint, and see that the church looks back to the Cross as the absolute necessity, the indispensable requirement for its existence. There can be no church, that is, the church of which the Lord Jesus spoke, "My church", without the Cross. The Cross is the foundation and no one can ever come into the church only on the ground of what the Cross means. We can see this principle throughout the Scripture. It is illustrated in the Old Testament. We might go back even as far as Adam and see in the type again, the slumbering man and the bride, the wife taken from his riven side, and fellowship in the church which is Christ's Body, is identification with Him in the Cross. And to bring Thomas into the fellowship from which he has been excluding himself while the Lord has been assembling with them, there must be a reaching forward of the hand and a putting it into the side, signifying identification with Christ crucified is basic to fellowship in the Body of Christ. It would take too long to cover all the Old Testament ground of illustration. We may just touch on points here and there.

Pass on to Jacob. We know that with Jacob the house of God came in Bethel. Bethel was introduced to the thought, to the mind of Jacob as he fled from his brother Esau. Bethel, "the house of God", came into view then, but for twenty years Jacob must be so disciplined under the hand of God that he is made fit for the house of God, and then at length when God said: "I am the God of Bethel... arise get thee out from this land, and return unto the land of thy kindred", he must go by way of Jabbok. And the Jabbok experience is where the strength of nature is broken, and for ever he goes leaning upon his staff, and that staff was the testimony of the Cross to his dying day: "By faith Jacob, when he was dying, blessed both the sons of Joseph, and worshipped leaning upon the top of his staff", a man whose personal, natural strength has been broken. That is the Cross leading on to the house of God, to Bethel.

You pass over many years and you come to Israel of course. As we saw yesterday, in God's thought it was straight from Egypt by redemption to His holy habitation. The song of Moses brought immediately the sanctuary into view, but that sanctuary was not reached until man was tested through that specified period of probation, forty years, and proved in himself utterly incapable of dwelling in the sanctuary, unfit for the house of God. And then by the Jordan - a type of Calvary - was set aside and a new generation which came through that Cross triumphantly in the energy of the Spirit (that is Joshua) entered into the holy habitation. It is important to recognise that the forty years of Israel in the wilderness is God's abiding testimony to the fact that the flesh cannot come into His holy habitation.

You pass over another considerable period and you come to recovery from captivity, the remnant returning,  the days of Ezra the scribe. And we are told that in the return of that remnant to rebuild the destroyed sanctuary, the first thing that they did before ever they touched the sanctuary was to put the altar in its place, and then after that they gave themselves to build again the House of the Lord. It is the Cross always before the House.

You pass to the New Testament. Is God going to tabernacle among men and have here on the earth a temple in which He dwells? He truly was in Christ from His birth, but when the Lord Jesus is taking up His official work to officially and representatively show what the tabernacle of God is, and God comes in a symbolic way to take up residence in Him, it is at Jordan, in type dead and buried and raised, and the heavens open and God delighting to dwell in Him: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased". It is the Cross again leading on to the Sanctuary, the Sanctuary of which the Lord Jesus spoke later when He said: "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up."

Then you come to Matthew 16: "I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it... From that time Jesus began to show unto His disciples, that He must go unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and the third day be raised up". "From that time" means the time when He said: "I will build My church". He can never do it until the Cross has been accomplished.

You pass from the Old Testament to the New and you pass on to Calvary literally, the gathering up of all this, and you find that out from the Cross literally came God's church. It comes in when Calvary is an accomplished fact. You pass on and see the principle, the law still operating. The man called of God and chosen of God from eternity as the special vessel of the revelation of the church, before he can go forth with his ministry, his special stewardship of the ministry, he must be a broken man. As we have often said, no one has ever yet been able to enter fully into what it meant to Saul of Tarsus to fall on his face and call Jesus of Nazareth "Lord", "Master". It was a brokenness which was so deep, so utter, it left its mark upon him through all his days, and he went forth to his ministry as a crucified man.

There are many other instances of the application and operation of the principle in the New Testament, but we take one other. As we have been speaking much of the letter to the Hebrews, we note again that the second chapter of that letter brings Christ in His Cross into view: "For the suffering of death... He by the grace of God should taste death for (in the behalf of) every man" - "The captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings". Then chapter three (there are no chapters in the original text) brings in the house of God; the house comes in when the Cross has been recognised.

Now you see how true to the whole revelation this is, that the Cross is essential to the church and there can be no church according to the Lord's mind without the Cross. We shall see as we go along how that is, in what ways that applies, but we want to get the full force of the statement to begin with. Beloved, if the house of God represents fellowship, represents ministry, then both of those things are only possible as the Cross has been applied deeply, mightily, to the life of every one who forms a part of that fellowship and has a place in that ministry.

Let us look at it then along those two lines. What is the church? It is a fellowship. It says of those who came in at Pentecost, that they continued in fellowship. Acts 2:42: "And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' teaching and fellowship." Paul, writing to the Galatians speaks of having been given "the right hands of fellowship", and when writing to the Corinthians, he is speaking of the nature of the Body of Christ, he calls it our "communion of the body of Christ", our "communion of the blood of Christ". The loaf is our communion, our common participation or our fellowship; the cup, our communion, our common participation, our fellowship in the blood of Christ. And you will be able to trace that more fully, and the other mention of it will bring much Scripture to your mind along the line of fellowship: "God is faithful, through whom ye were called into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord". It is the communion of the Holy Spirit that makes the church the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. So the church is a fellowship, but how necessary the Cross is to a fellowship of this kind. You see here in this fellowship everything of nature which divides must surely be set aside.

The apostle gives us a very great deal in his writings about the Cross and its effect upon national distinctions and divisions, and he says, here in this fellowship, this church, this one Body "there cannot be Greek and Jew". It is not the agreement of both to drop their differences, to make no mention of them, to have fellowship together on things which are of mutual concern and interest and leave the other things out. It is not bringing Jew and Greek together still as Jew and Greek, it is the slaying of both Jew and Greek and the rising of one new man where there cannot be Jew and Greek. The Cross has to come in on these differences if there is to be the one Body and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit.

And what is true of the national differences and dividing factors, has to be true also of the social. And there were one hundred and twenty as one company gathered to whom the Lord appeared on one occasion. I do not know how far we would arrive at the truth if we allowed our imagination to dwell upon that hundred and twenty. I wonder if we could make it up with names? You might find Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea on one social scale; blind Bartimaeus and a few other blind, or once blind, lame, deaf folk, beggars, on another social scale; probably Zaccheus, who would be in a place by himself, would be there. There would be women of different orders, it says: "with the women". Social outcasts, as we call them, and then others in an altogether different position, all there.

And when you go through Paul's letters alone and see how all these positions and links and settings are brought together in the fellowship, the bonds of the one Body, it represents the matchless triumph of the Cross. And the high socially, do not look down upon the low, and the low do not criticize the high; the learned do not allow their learning to make them despise the ignorant, and so on. Well, all these social, educational distinctions go when the Cross does its work. And what is more, the temperamental is triumphed over, and perhaps here the Cross has its supreme triumph. Probably this explains why it is that the Lord allows so many funny people in the assembly. He has got a strange family! To us, it is a very difficult family. Why does the Lord allow certain kinds of people, troublesome, annoying, awkward, difficult people all to make up His family? And why doesn't He deliver us from some of them? And why doesn't He shut them up, some of them? It is to give an opportunity of proving what the Cross can do. It seems the Lord very often deliberately brings opposites to live with one another to show what the Lord can do, what the Cross can do. I think perhaps the explanation is there. There has to be a testimony in this realm.

Now, this has not to be a general observation, this has got to be a challenge to our hearts. Fellowship, and that is the church, is impossible without the Cross, it demands the Cross, its very being testifies to the Cross, it is a constant reflection upon what Calvary has done. And as intelligences look on and take account, celestial and diabolical as well as human, they have got to magnify the manifold wisdom of God in the church, and say: "Well, it is wonderful how these people of different nationalities, social positions, educational advantages, temperamental constitutions, they love one another and they go on together". That is the testimony to Calvary. That is the testimony unto principalities and powers. That is the proof that the God of peace has brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, through the blood of the everlasting covenant.

Now, you see, if what is of nature asserts itself then the work of the Cross is set aside and the church is destroyed. The Lord has made a certain provision within His rightly constituted assembly for that, for if what is of nature really asserts itself against the good of the assembly of the saints, it has been given by the Lord spiritual ones in authority to rebuke that soundly. Titus was to rebuke soundly those who asserted themselves with their doctrine which was injurious to the saints. We read that has to be done in love. I do not know whether we have risen to the Lord's requirements in that way always; if it is an asserting of what is of nature in the assembly to the injury of the saints, then those that are in spiritual authority must rebuke that, and rebuke it sharply, but in love because that can prove a ground for the devil to undo Calvary's work and be one of His methods of again getting rid of the church in its real spiritual power and effectiveness. But that is not a work that can be done very easily.

Now, worldly principles introduced among the Lord's people will always work toward disintegration because the whole law and principle of this world is self. It is self; it is self-will. The principle of this world is self, and mainly self-will, and it was along that line, of course, that the Lord Jesus met His temptation. His temptations from the evil one were, in general, temptations to adopt worldly principles. The temptation to turn the stones into bread was in essence the temptation to take Himself out of the Father's hand and act for Himself without reference to the Father. That is all, that is the worldly principle of self-direction, self-interest and self-will, and the evil one knew enough to know that Christ's triumph absolutely depended upon His obedience to the Father's will. Self-will is a worldly principle. The temptation to cast Himself down from the pinnacle of the temple, with Scripture to support His action, was a temptation to gather a following on a worldly principle with a semblance of truth without the right foundation.

Now I want you to get this. Follow this closely. The same principle of course, was in the third temptation to worship Satan and receive the kingdoms of the world and all this power by again acting out of correspondence with the Father's will, in self-will; world dominion along the line of self-will. The principle involved is the principle of the Cross all the time. Here was the Enemy saying: "You can have a following if you like. To use the other word, you can have a fellowship which has the Scripture apparently behind it - the semblance of truth with God's Word supporting it but without the foundation of the Cross". That is a very searching thing. There is no fellowship which is the fellowship of the Body of Christ, the fellowship of the Holy Spirit, the church which is His Body, that is not founded upon Calvary, the Cross as having set man in self-will by nature, entirely aside. You may have a good deal of Scripture supporting things, and the enemy supported his proposition by Scripture, but if the Cross is not there, as having dealt with man by nature and put him away, the result is not that which God is seeking.

True fellowship is upon the foundation of the death of Christ. The death of Christ is the foundation of the fellowship, the foundation of the church, which means that when Christ died we died, and all those things which belong to man by nature, and to the world, and to religion as a formal thing, were died to by Christ in His Cross. He died to sin. He died to the flesh. He died to nature, representatively, He died to the world, and He died to formal religion, and that is the foundation of the church, and we should test everything by that.

Although we may not come into the full meaning of that experimentally at once, although we may have very little light about that at the beginning when we first became joined to the Lord in new birth, that does not say for one moment that because the Lord has accepted us and brought us into fellowship with Himself, that the light is unnecessary. A good many people argue like that: "Oh, this is extra teaching and it does not make any difference to the foundational fact that we are saved, we belong to the Lord, we have a knowledge of the Lord and therefore all that is quite unnecessary, as long as we have got the end, all the teaching is quite superfluous." We must recognise this law, that the Holy Spirit knows everything when He regenerates us, and He regenerates us only on the ground of our being willing to go on with Him in the full knowledge of what He meant by our regeneration. And you will notice that any fragment of new light which the Lord gives which is not obeyed immediately, interrupts the life of the spirit and the Holy Spirit says: "I can go no further with you", and you not only stop there, but you decline, you lose your life, you lose your power. The Holy Spirit gives us life initially, only with the thought that we will go on with all that that involves, and the full truth is necessary so far as it is possible for us to have it. It is important to know that, and to tell the Lord's people that.

The Holy Spirit in every one of His acts, acts prospectively. He has something in mind, in view, and in every one of His acts there is bound up all the other acts that should follow, and if there is not a following on with the Spirit, we have simply strangled the first activity of the Holy Spirit and robbed it of its intention. That is only explaining spiritual experience. And that is all bound up with this, that to go right on means that self-will goes, for everything to which Christ died has also gone for us; we have died to that. The church is founded upon the death of Christ in its meaning for us, and fellowship in this sense is only possible on that ground. So that every fresh crisis, perhaps in a disorder, a breach of fellowship, an upset, a disturbance will only be got over as there is tracked down the bit of flesh, the bit of self, the bit of "I", the bit of nature which rose up and occasioned that, and being tracked down is taken back to the Cross. You cannot put a plaster over things and make out it is alright, nothing has happened. There has been something of the poison of the old nature there and it has to be taken and ruled out; you cannot just smooth over things because it is a violation of the Cross.

Now I want to follow on, not with dealing with the phase of service and ministry but with the fact of it in relation to the Cross. It is just as important for us to be crucified ministers and workers as it is to be crucified sinners. I expect all of us here would accept the position taken so far, that as in Adam, as members of the Adam race, as parts of that old creation, we accept our death in the death of Christ; as sinners we readily have taken our place there. But that thing in a practical, experimental, mighty way has got to come into our ministry. It has got to come into our lives as Christian workers. It has got to touch us in nature in this realm.

There are no lords in God's heritage, there is only one Lord; there are no masters in God's house, there is only one Master: "One is your Master, even Christ; and all ye are brethren." I believe this is behind the truth of the New Testament, that there is no assembly with just one Elder. You cannot find an instance in the New Testament where there was one Elder in the assembly; it is always plural - elders. The Lord has never had over His church any few dominating individuals, and the ordering of His assembly is so clearly laid out that the prophet must give place himself to another if another has a word from the Lord to speak, and that they are all in ministry themselves to be subject one to another. It is the governing of a great principle. The ruin, the wreckage of what is called the church has come about by that law having been set aside by dominating individuals, dominating personalities, aggressive people taking hold.

Now for us, we recognise that, I think, in principle. But the question comes back, have you and I been defeated not only as sinners but as ministers and workers? It is not enough to accept the truth of identification with Christ. That thing has got to be applied truth in the reality in which it was applied to Jacob, so that Jacob knew, not as theory, not as something he had learned, but knew in his own being that he could not walk as he had walked before, he could not do as he had done before, now there was a part of his being which represented his strength, the thigh, which was crippled. Now he was a dependent man, and take away that staff and he goes down, cannot stand up, there is something outside of himself which is not himself, upon which he is dependent for all his goings. He is a crippled man. Is that you? Is that me? That is essential to ministry in the Holy Spirit. You lose nothing by it, but gain. We gain one hundredfold, one thousandfold by it.

There is one thing that this nature of ours dislikes more than anything else and that is weakness. To be weak, and to feel weak, and to know that we are weak, and for other people to know that we are weak is terrible for us. Oh! But that is where the Lord Jesus accomplished His triumph. "He was crucified through weakness, yet He lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in Him, but we shall live with Him by the power of God". It is the way of power. But we are dealing with fellowship for a moment, fellowship in the ministry.

What I am getting at is this: that we have got to be crucified men in ministry; in our relationships to our brethren; we have got to be crucified men in the work of the Lord, otherwise we will have to stand by ourselves. I do not mean to stand alone, to stand by ourselves. But when we come there the Lord stands by us. Oh you can afford to let go, to take all the risks of men taking account of your weakness and your acknowledged dependence, and what they see of your helplessness, taking a mean advantage of it, and God will stand by you if you are a man with a mandate, there is no man that will be able to stand against you. They may take account of you as being weak but they will meet God. They will have to reckon with God; you are weak in the Lord, it is the Lord they have got to reckon with, and isn't it a thousand times better for them to reckon with God than with us? What is going to be the result of them reckoning with us? We may 'defeat' them and what is there in that but desolation. There is not much gratification when you have beaten your last opponent; you are on top, but what does it mean? Think of Saul of Tarsus talking of himself as the off-scouring of all things; something has happened, but God stands by that man. Let them do what they will but they have to reckon with the Lord. We do not lose anything of position, of influence, of prestige and so on by being crucified men. The flesh hates it. It is the way.

"Behold My servant whom I uphold"; who is that? Behold Him: "He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not". "Whom I uphold", says the Lord. Well, it will be good to be crucified men and women as workers, as servants of the Lord. It must be. The ministry in the church, which is the Lord's ministry, is crucified ministry. It must be. And we must know it. You will ask your own heart how true this is. You must answer to the Lord this question: "Have I been smitten, broken in the whole strength of nature as a servant of the Lord as well as a sinner? Have I? Am I a broken man in nature?"

A vessel of fragile clay has to be broken for His light to shine out. That is the ministry of the church. It is a crucified ministry through a crucified minister. That is the fellowship in this ministry. The fellowship in this ministry is the fellowship in the sufferings of Christ. And the sufferings of Christ are not the physical sufferings of Christ merely, they are those soul sufferings which for the most part came along the line of being subjected to trial and temptation where the will of nature is tested in the light of the will of God. The sufferings of Christ commenced in the wilderness, and they went right on and were all gathered up in the Cross. It was a constant setting aside of the human will for the will of God, and what that involved for man.

I close with this word, bringing it up into its real place. The word of the apostle is: "Ye were called into the fellowship of His Son Jesus Christ our Lord." Fellowship which is ours with and in God's Son presupposes and involves His absolute Lordship: "Jesus Christ our Lord". It is Christ as Lord, and absolute Lord that makes for fellowship. You have a great illustration, which is familiar to most of us, of David when all Israel came to make him king at Hebron, and then they all brought their food supplies and for three days they were eating and drinking, a scene of wonderful fellowship, great joy and rejoicing because the object was David as king. It was that that gave character to the feast, David as king. The one whom God had chosen was their king and when they made him so, they had a most wonderful season of fellowship, and it is just that again. It is Jesus Christ our Lord who is in view collectively, mutually and corporately. That is, when the assembly comes together under the absolute leadership of Jesus Christ, then you know what fellowship is. That has to apply to the assembly as such and it has to apply to the ministry of which we have been speaking. He is Lord. Absolute Lord.

Now may the Lord give us grace to receive His word. If He is going to have what His heart is set upon even in the local representations of His church, it must be upon the basis of the Cross as applied to us as the Lord's servants. May we have grace to accept it.

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