The Condition Of Things In The Church Today

What is the condition of things? At rock bottom there is the loss and absence of a distinctive something. It is deficiency in respect of a certain distinctiveness. Everything is there but that. Things have degenerated into indefiniteness, vagueness, uncertainty, ambiguity, as to real meaning, life, and purpose spiritually. The original meaning of things is no longer there. Things said and done do not mean what they did at first. Terms have come to be applied to, and be used of, that which is not permissible in the realm of their original and Divine employment. There is a difference of meaning, and the tragedy is that so many have gone on with the form and fail to see that the power is not there.

The Wonder Of Christ

If we take the Book of Acts as the model, and the Epistles as revealing the truth intended by the Lord to be the abiding basis of that which sprang into being in Acts, we cannot fail to be impressed with the presence of a certain something which made everything very much alive and superlative. As to what was individual and personal in salvation, service, and suffering ... and as to what was corporate in fellowship and practice ... there is only one word that expresses the effect of that great something: the word is "WONDER" or "WONDERFUL." There is hardly a chapter in this book but -- when you have read it -- provokes the spontaneous ejaculation, "Wonderful."

Now, what was it that produced this atmosphere and spirit of wonder? What was it that made everything so wonderful to those concerned? There is only one answer: it was THE LORD JESUS HIMSELF.

The Lord Jesus had been glorified and the Holy Spirit had come as the Spirit of the glorified Lord to glorify Him on the earth. Was it the matter of salvation? Well, it was not salvation as such; it was not being saved, either in what it was from or what it was unto, but it was the Saviour. The message of salvation was all focussed in Who the Lord Jesus was.

Look at the preaching. "They ceased not to preach Jesus and the resurrection." Find a discourse anywhere in the Acts that "got through," and you will see that it is -- not a treatise on Evangelical Theology but -- a presentation of the glorified Lord Jesus. If it was Christ crucified, it was not Christ dead, but Christ risen and glorified.

Whether it be to individuals or to companies, it is always the Lord Jesus who is in full view.

It is the same in the matter of service. In the Acts service is never something appended to salvation as a further consideration. One of the striking omissions in this record is that of exhortations and urgings to propagate the gospel. Service here is never the result of organisation or special pleading and appeals; it is free, spontaneous, eager, "natural." It was not of constraint from without. It was not by an appeal to a sense of duty or obligation. It was not something which was special in its connection and time. It was at all times, in every place, under all circumstances, irrepressible testimony -- proclamation -- in direct public manner and in ordinary conversation. "They were all scattered abroad (by persecution), and they that were scattered abroad travelled ... preaching" (Acts 8:1,4; 11:19).

Glorifying Christ

Well, what was it that created and produced this? It was the Holy Spirit's glorifying of the Lord Jesus in their hearts! He -- the glorified One -- was so real to them, and the wonder of who He -- "Jesus of Nazareth," the Crucified One -- really was, as now revealed and manifested to them and in them, was so great that even these "new bottles" were finding that unless they let it out, this new wine would burst them.

This was also the secret of their ability to suffer. There is no doubt that it cost dearly in those days to take sides with "The Nazarene." This was amongst men; but to take sides with "The Son of God" was something which provoked hell. Put together, there is -- in the record -- not a little which indicates this suffering; but it seems all to have been accepted "joyfully": "Took joyfully the spoiling of goods"; "Received the Word in much affliction with joy."

This cannot be attributed to obtrusion, sanguineness, or merely human good temper; it was not a "make-the-best-of-it" resolve.

Worship, praise, prayer, the ministry of the Word ... sprang spontaneously out of this. It was living, and fraught with "great joy." It was to those who thus gathered and worshiped that "the Lord added daily those who were being saved." What, again, was the secret? It was the appreciation of the Lord Jesus. Yes, it was a time of great glorying in the Lord -- the Lord was there!

A New Vessel

What is needed? Well, our conviction is that -- whatever may or may not be recognised to be needed by that which ostensibly stands to represent God in the world today -- His own need in the earth is that which lifts all the phases and aspects of the Church's life and work into the realm where this glorying in, and glorifying of, the Lord Jesus is the dominant characteristic -- where formalism yields to life, where all is aglow with His wonderfulness, where His train fills the temple, where "ordinances" are living testimonies, and where all is vital, dynamic, and effectual.

No one will disagree with this, but he may with the next. What is necessary to the Lord to bring this about? It is a new cruse, a new vessel.

There is so much mixture in the make-up of the vessels today. The world has got in on the one hand, and the natural man has so much taken hold on the other. Tradition, formalism, ecclesiasticism, and mechanicalism are like chains and fetters upon the Lord. Things are given different meanings today from what they had at first under the sanction of the Holy Spirit.

A new cruse is needed, and it must be that which has been made like unto the Lord's vessel at first -- that which stands upon an absolutely New Testament basis; that which marks the point where God has a clear way because the Cross has brought to zero all the personal interests and resources and confidence of such as formed that vessel; that which recognises and fully yields to, and glories in, the absolute government of the Holy Spirit in every detail of life and service; that which recognises the utter Lordship of the Lord Jesus; that which sees in Him all the fulness of wisdom, power, knowledge, grace, and everything needed ... and draws only upon Him; that which is completely selfless and has only one object in view, and that ... passionately ... the glory of the Lord Jesus.

His Instrument

When the Lord gets it -- and He is getting it -- He will make it the instrument for the restoration and preservation of His testimony in the earth. This newness may be costly, but then ... special usefulness to the Lord is always costly.

The Lord must have an instrument which He has formed in the fire and to which He has given peculiar revelation of Himself. This instrument will have to stand upon a peculiarly pure basis of life in God. Whatever the rest may do, it dare not take its lead from them. Its methods, means, and standards are those which have shed the less mature elements. Of some, it would stand as God's plummet to reveal crookedness -- to show shortness of God's best, or God's better (Who would claim to have reached God's best?). A much greater cost will have to be met by such an instrument, and there will be little place left for spiritual pride if it is spiritually constituted, as against mentally apprehended.

Now the chief difficulty, as history has shown, is how to have such a ministry -- constituted by revelation of the Lord through suffering -- and hold it in relation to ALL the Lord's people, avoiding separation in spirit, schism in the "Body," exclusiveness, and "watertightness." It is the easiest thing to withdraw to some given point and look down on all others, and to make it a matter of "We are THE people -- you must come to us."

The Lord will lose much in this way. No; while in practical matters for consistency's sake there may have to be withdrawal, as also where error pre- dominates, yet the preservation of what there is of God must be diligently sought in spirit. While there can be no official link with what is wrong, there can and must be a reaching out in spirit to keep the door open for the more excellent way.

God's Special Resource

He would have that which cleaves a way through for others. So it ever was in battles of old. The specially trained and disciplined broke through for others. There must be that which gives the Lord His point toward which to work. As He creates a sense of need in His people and leads them on thereby, He would have that which can be His means of meeting that need in spiritual knowledge. That the Lord directs hungry ones to such as know Him through special dealings is a principle not far to seek in the Divine record: a Cornelius and a Peter, an Apollos and a Priscilla and Aquilla, etc. There is such a thing as election to special service, and there ought to be mutual recognition of this.

When the Lord Jesus took Peter and James and John into the more inward activities and revelations of His life -- especially up to the Mount of Transfiguration -- He was not ... in principle ... guilty of an act of schism in the Body. What the others thought or felt we do not know, but in the long run we know that it was ministry in view, not personal preference or the making of them a specially privileged and separate company. A great need was coming, and this was His method of providing for the need which would one day be created.

The appreciation of what He did and what they knew had to tarry until that need arose. There will never be an appreciation of special resource without conscious need, but such need will justify God's methods and prove His wisdom sound.

God has from the beginning of the world always had His escape ready before the fire broke out; His lifeboat, before the wreck; His store, before the famine; His Cross, before the curse. His peculiar ways with some are in view of a coming need that will give them a peculiar ministry. There are those who are out on a general basis of activity with the Lord, going all the time in a continuous stream of good works. There are also those who are cut off from much in measure and reserved for what the other cannot do -- less in bulk, but perhaps of indispensable worth and service in emergency ... and beyond a certain general point of attainment. The latter have to bide their time in patience, but when their time does come it is their time in the Lord ... and no one else can do the work.

We must keep clearly and strongly before us the fact that, while the Lord must have His testimony maintained in the earth, and while He desires all His people to enter into the fulness of light and truth, and while there is clearly seen to be different companies of His people in heaven -- both as to time and position -- the main characteristic of any company which may be termed "a remnant," or "overcomers," is that of vocation; that is, they stand in a vocational relationship to all other really born anew children of God. It is something which they are called to be and to do which is preparatory for the rest. They have, amongst other things, to "pass over fully armed before their brethren," to cleave a way and take the first shock of spiritual antagonism.

Preparing Forerunners

It is clearly seen in the Scriptures that all the reactionary instruments of God are of a relative character; that is, that they are related to, and in behalf of, a body larger than themselves. This is an underlying principle in the progressive activities of God. The point which we feel needs to have this extra emphasis is that in securing all the elect territory, habitation, and inheritance -- whether as His first choice or as of necessity by reason of so general an apathy and worldliness on the part of His people -- the Lord uses what might be termed advance parties.

It is not necessary, in this connection, to present or argue for any theory or "teaching" concerning "selectiveness" or "partial" or "firstfruits" in the matter of "rapture." The historical, literal, and time aspect is of secondary importance. What is of primary account is the spiritual fact ... and this, we believe, is incontrovertible. It is a principle in every realm of creation and Divine method. There are harbingers in every sphere.

Originally a harbinger was one who went before to provide lodgings, but the term has now come to be applied to any forerunner. Let us repeat with strength: there is undoubtedly an advance party in every movement of God. This is spiritual before anything else, and it is vocational rather than meritorious. That there will be special rewards for such seems quite clear and without doubt.

When we contemplate the churches in Asia as presented in the "Revelation," it is undoubtedly a case of declension and failure to go on with the Lord. They represent the majority in every age. But what about the others -- the "overcomers," the "remnant"? Surely it is more than being different from the rest ... and getting a better reward.

Yes, the point is that the Lord must and will have His testimony according to His own mind in the earth, and such as provide Him with the instrument for this testimony fulfill a special mission, not only in the earth but in the heavenlies now.

T. Austin-Sparks (1930)