THE LORD IS RISEN INDEED!
which is known to us as "The Acts of the
Apostles", and sometimes as "The Acts of the
Holy Spirit", could well be truly named: "The
Acts of the Risen Lord". Luke - the writer -
introduces it with the observation that he had earlier
written the beginnings of the acts and teaching of Jesus
Christ, implying that his aim is now the continuance
But, what a change! In the former Jesus was bounded and - to use His own word - "straitened" by time and space. At most, a few square miles of Syrian soil, and, for the most part, Omnipresence in chains, except for a few breakings-through of power at a distance. Then, almost entirely to a people of one nation and tongue. Then, by outward urge, persuasion and constraint, He had His wishes carried out. Then, to the dull minds of the spiritually unquickened He gave His spiritual treasures; explanations and reasons were necessary to gain confidence. Then, a non-committal necessity was laid upon Him in the nature of a slow disillusioning of His followers' minds as to what form the end of His earthly life would take, because of the controlling personal interests. Pride, ambition, self-assertiveness, self-assurance, self-preservation were like barbed wires circling Him around and wounding whenever He sought to break through their narrow mental horizon and exclusiveness. Ever conscious from the beginning that He was appointed for world-dominion as "Heir of all things", yet at present 'not a place to lay His head' and destined to be "crucified through weakness". But, what a change!
Now He has shaken off all His personal chains. Time and space no longer have any power to limit Him. Material things and spiritual forces cannot stand in His way. They are now the agents of His sovereignty. Now, by an inward dynamic, in spite of every threat and peril, men and women are moving out in all directions with a passion for the glory of His name. Now, not as "the Jesus of history", "known after the flesh", but by an inward revelation of transcendent magnitude He is known "after the Spirit". Now, the once-dreaded, unacceptable, offending Cross is all their glory. Now, suffering reproach for His sake has supplanted pride and shame; selfless disinterested sacrifice takes the place of worldly ambition; a mighty energising faith has destroyed doubt; they gladly lay down their lives and suffer the loss of all things for "the excellency of the knowledge of Him". With one strategic stroke He begins with a multitude representing "every nation under heaven". See how the fire spreads without artificial agencies! Dr. Fairbairn has given us a classic record of this spreading flame:
"In the year 33 A.D. a few Galilean fishermen were seeking liberty of speech in Jerusalem, and were hardly handled as men poor and ignorant.
"In the year that Paul died, how did the matter stand? There were churches in Jerusalem, Nazareth, Caesareans in all Syria, Antioch Ephesus, Galatia, Sardis, Laodicea, in all the towns on the west coast throughout lesser Asia, in Philippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, Rome, Alexandria, in the chief cities of the islands and the mainland of Greece, and the western Roman colonies."
Surely the exclamation of our title is true: "The Lord is risen indeed!"
What we have to do, then, is to recover the principles which accounted for this phenomenal expression of the glorious truth in that exclamation. The Book of the Acts contains all the Divine principles for the world of the risen Lord for this dispensation. Whenever those principles have been honoured and governing, there has been a fresh expression of the wonder of His risen power. This we are going to see. But, first we have to dismiss false ideas which have become accretions to Christianity. It is a matter of being quite clear as to what Christianity is not.
I. The first Apostles and messengers of the Gospel did not consider themselves to have been charged with a new teaching.
There is nothing in the whole story upon which to build an argument or affirmation that the Apostles went out to the world with "the teaching of Jesus". They were not propagating new doctrines or a system of truth. It was not a new ideology, i.e. system of ideas. The teaching came after the acceptance of their testimony and was the explanation of the fundamental facts of experience or faith. It was the expounding of the contents of the basic truths. The most that they did, to begin with, was to announce facts and substantiate their testimony from the Word of God, and affirm the facts concerning Jesus Christ.
II. Christianity was not conceived by the Apostles to be a new religion.
It was not set over against, or alongside of, other religions and made "Comparative". It was only gradually that some of the first Apostles themselves realised the implications of their new position as being emancipated from Judaism, but that did become real and clear, even if their former allegiance had a carryover in their constitution and emotions. They found themselves out and committed even against their own former prejudices, and they did their thinking and arguing after the thing had happened in them. The inward reality may have been an embarrassment sometimes, but they never thought in terms of having changed one religion for another. See Peter in the home of Cornelius, and the events in Acts 10, 11, 15, etc.
III. Christianity was not thought or spoken of as a new "Movement".
No plans were laid. There was no "Policy". Organisation was practically nil, and any little bit which subsequently had to be admitted was forced upon them by the embarrassment of the very vitality of things, not to secure success!
A thought-out campaign did not exist. To set up, launch, form, bring into being, or found a new "Society", sect, "Church" or community was not considered or visualised. They did not set out with such ideas, although their testimony gave distinctiveness to all who believed; distinctiveness of life, character, and behaviour, and outsiders did what they always do, that is, gave them a label: "Christians". This was a misapprehension and misinterpretation of their motive.
What, then, was their testimony? All-inclusively it was the proclamation and affirmation of a Fact. That Fact was - and is - The Universal Sovereignty and Lordship of Jesus Christ as the Son of God established and vindicated by His resurrection from the dead.
It is, however, very important, as an abiding law, to remember that this was a testimony, not just a creed. That is, it came out of a tremendous experience. What had happened objectively and historically had had its counterpart in them; it had a tremendous and revolutionising effect in their own being. The resurrection of Jesus was an inward power and dynamic. A new and other life had been put within them by the Holy Spirit. That life in Him which had conquered death as the all-inclusive enemy, the sum of enemies, had been implanted in them on the Day of Pentecost. Their testimony then was - not only in word, but in power - that Jesus lives triumphantly and universally as "Lord of all". That life, given them when Jesus left death and the grave behind as conquered foes, was not just a new mode of life, it was a vital force which had burst all the old wineskins of tradition and formalism, and systems which had served their purpose. It was irresistible, indestructible, and "eternal"; the life of a new creation. It was this vital energy which initiated and dynamited 'missionary' activity. No appeals for missionaries, workers, or missionary propaganda are found in the New Testament. The Holy Spirit was the Custodian of the world-purpose of God, and concern that Christ should have His inheritance in the nations (Psalm 2:8) was the evidence that the Holy Spirit had been received and given His full place. The testimony registered in the kingdom of Satan, and it was impossible for this testimony to come into any new part of his domain without hell rising up to defend its territory. The Lord's indictment of churches later on was because they had settled down and lost their impact!
We have now laid our foundation, and we can proceed to see how, when the principle has been operative, something spiritually vital has resulted, and something very much akin to the first years of Christianity has issued.
SOME NOTABLE EXAMPLES
before us the records of some movements of God that have
been effectual and fruitful in the world testimony of the
Lord Jesus. One is the amazing story of those great days
in the beginning of the Moravian mission. In the first
twenty years they actually sent out more missionaries
than the whole Protestant Church had done in two hundred
years. Of the closed lands entered, the sufferings gladly
endured, the range covered, the lives lived and laid
down, the grace of God manifested, it stirs wonder and
shame to read. Someone has said that "if members of
the Protestant churches went out as missionaries in
corresponding numbers there would have been a force of
missionaries more than the number estimated as necessary
to achieve the evangelization of the world."
Our purpose is not to tell that whole story, but to ask what lay behind it? In the first place, the Cross had been deeply wrought into the very being of those people. Their country had been made a very field of blood by massacre. They were driven from their homes. They were reduced from three million to one million in population by persecution for their faith. Indeed, it sometimes appeared as if they would be entirely extinguished. Out of this fire of affliction there arose a company purified with another fire burning in their bones. It was the fire of a passionate love for the Lord Jesus. The meetings of these brethren, when later possible, breathed the atmosphere of "The Upper Room" in Jerusalem. Covenants were made that self in all its forms should be entirely banished: self-will, self-love, self-interest, self-seeking. To be poor in spirit would be their quest, and every one would give himself to be taught by the Holy Spirit. A prayer-watch was set up which would burn day and night, and in relays an entire twenty-four hours was occupied in seeking the Lord. "To win for the Lamb that was slain the reward of His sufferings" was their adopted motto. All this is its own argument. Here that deep, inwrought work of the Cross issued in a mighty personal love for the Lord Jesus.
That is the first principle which we recognize as being basic to the early New Testament power and spread of the Gospel.
We pass to a second example to note another principle. We refer to the early days of the "China Inland Mission", as it came to be named. Let us say at once that that work was born of a spiritual truth, a fundamental truth of New Testament Christianity. It was the vital reality of union with Christ. With all his vision and passion for Christ to be known in inland China, it is well known that as he went from place to place in this and other countries, addressing Christians, Mr. Hudson Taylor said comparatively little about China, and often nothing at all. He poured out his spiritual message to bring the Lord's people to the fuller knowledge of what union with Christ means. The central and supreme thing in this fellowship with the Lord was the universal efficacy of prayer. Listen to him:
"In the study of the Divine Word I learned that to obtain successful workers, not elaborate appeals for help, but earnest prayer to God... and the deepening of the spiritual life of the Church, so that men should be unable to stay at home, were what was needed."
Were we to put the inner history of this work - the original spiritual background - into a few words, we should say that it was not the history of organization, advocacy, propaganda, appeals, or advertising, but of a man with a deep knowledge of God born of the Cross being deeply inwrought, with a spiritual ministry to the Lord's people as to fullness of life in Christ and the practical outworkings of such a life in prayer. Everything in him and in that work turned upon the real meaning of union with Christ. This is revealed in a letter to his sister printed in the second volume of his "Life".
Is it not perfectly patent how this - in principle - corresponds to what we have in the Book of the Acts?
To use the words of the writer of the Hebrew Letter: "And what can we more say? For time would fail to tell of..." In distinguishing the Divine principles and methods in beginnings we could instance quite a few more.
Take the case of "The Christian and Missionary Alliance". There are very few instrumentalities of God since apostolic times which have ministered spiritual blessing over a large area of the world more than has this agency. I came into touch with this ministry in the latter part of the life of Dr. A. B. Simpson and the years since. My purpose is not to narrate the story of the Alliance, but to do two things. One, to say that the spiritual enrichment to the Church of God has been exceptional through this vessel. The other, to emphasise the apostolic or Divine principle which accounts for that spiritual seed-plot of intrinsic values. Anyone who has read the life of A. B. Simpson, either in the official and original record, or in Dr. Tozer's "Wingspread" will know that all the work and worldwide ministry sprang from a deep, radical, and utter abandon to the Lord Himself. Through much stripping, devastating, and desolating experience, that servant of God came into a very intimate knowledge of his Lord. Dr. Simpson, although so thoroughly brought up and trained in Presbyterianism, outgrew all the confines of denominationalism. There was no "wineskin" strong or large enough to retain the new wine of his spiritual measure and vitality. His Christian conferences, especially at Old Orchard, were a way of enriching many with spiritual measure. The phrase which became characteristic of Dr. Simpson, and uniquely so, was "the Fullness of Christ". In those days that phrase had a newness and music which registered; but it is a term which, by reason of familiarity, has lost some of its impact now. It was out of that spiritual measure that the world vision was born, and that passion for "the Fullness of Christ" accounts for the "Alliance". Here we are back again at the principle of all God's new beginnings.
The same principle can be noted in so many other instances. It was the rich, deep ministry of Dr. Andrew Murray that accounted for the South Africa General Mission and its early spiritual strength. The Keswick Convention, with its original purpose of "the deepening of the Spiritual Life", based on Romans 6, has been no small means of missionary enlargement and spiritual support.
The evidence is overwhelming that God moves by way of a deep and full knowledge of Christ; it is not just theory or academic knowledge, but a knowledge born out of a deep work of the Cross in spiritual history with God. Such are His beginnings, and to have God's "New Thing" those principles must be recovered. 'Recovered' implies loss. It is sadly true that even in the last days of the Apostles Paul and John there are evidences of incipient change toward a systematizing and crystallizing of Christianity with loss of the purely spiritual character and nature. So it is that men will make a movement from heaven into a form and institution on earth. In speaking to the most responsible man in one of these "Missions" about the decline in spiritual power since their beginning, he fully agreed, and then asked: 'But what can we do?' When I said that perhaps much recovery would take place if all the responsible leaders were called together for two weeks of prayer, heartsearching, and consideration of the spiritual principles of their beginning, he said: 'Yes, I believe that would be of great value, but it cannot be; all our men are too busy.'
Too busy to recover the full impact of "The Lord is risen indeed"!
- T. Austin-Sparks