During a recent visit to the Far East I was told by a responsible servant of God of the influence and value of a little book which was our first publication, and has long been out of print. Strangely also the question has recently come up from other directions as to whether this booklet could be reproduced. On reading it through again, while there are some things which we would not publish in exactly the same words today, there seems to be much that is very up-to-date and may very well have a message for this time - more than thirty years after its first issue.
I therefore propose to give the substance of some of the chapters in a short series of Editorials or Leaders. The title of the book was -
Here then is the first part.
Isaiah 61:1-3 (Lev. 25:10); Luke 12:49,50; 4:18,19; Acts 2:1.
"The Spirit of the Lord God is upon Me; because the Lord hath anointed Me to preach good tidings unto the meek; He hath sent Me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound; to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all that mourn; to appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified."
"And ye shall hallow the fiftieth year, and proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof: it shall be a jubilee unto you; and ye shall return every man unto his possession, and ye shall return every man unto his family."
"I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!
"The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, because He hath anointed Me to preach the gospel to the poor; He hath sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord."
"And when the day of Pentecost was fully come, they were all with one accord in one place."
The book which is known to us as
"The Acts of the Apostles," and sometimes "The Acts of the Holy
Spirit," might truly be named -
The Release of Jesus Christ.
Luke introduces it with the observation that he had earlier written the beginnings of the acts and teaching of Jesus; implying that continuation is now his object and purpose. But what a change! The former activities were bounded and limited by time and space, and, at best, covered but a few square miles of Syrian soil. For the most part Omnipresence was in chains, except for a few breakings through of power at a distance. The activities and teaching were almost entirely limited to a people of one nation and tongue. Then, by outward urge, persuasion, and encouragement, He caused His wishes to be carried out; and to the dull minds of the spiritually unquickened He gave His spiritual treasures; explanations and reasons being necessary to confidence. Then, the necessity was laid upon Him of a very slow disillusionment and unfolding as to what form the end of the phase would take, because of the controlling personal interests, even in the inner circle. Pride, ambition, doubt, malice, self-assertiveness, self-confidence, self-realization, self-defense, like barbed wires, circled around and wounded Him whenever He sought to move forward. Ever conscious from the beginning that world-dominion was His as "Heir of all things," yet He had not a place to lay His head, and to be "crucified through weakness" was to be His portion.
What a change! Now He has shaken off all His chains. Time and space no longer have any power over Him. Geography, the material things, Satan, demons, men, nations, thrones, all have been fully stripped off by Him. Now, by an inward dynamic, in spite of every threat and peril, men and women are moving out in every direction with a passion for the glory of His Name. Now, not as an historic figure, 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 has supplanted pride; selfless, disinterested sacrifice takes the place of ambition; a mighty energizing faith - not their own - has destroyed doubt; they lay down their own lives gladly and suffer the loss of all things for that Name.
In one strategic stroke He begins with a multitude representing "every nation under heaven." See how this fire spreads without artificial and forced agencies.
In the year 33 A.D., a few Galilean fishermen were seeking liberty of speech in Jerusalem, and were severely handled as men poor and ignorant.
In the year that Paul died, how did the matter stand? There were churches in Jerusalem, in Caesarea, in Antioch and all Syria, in Galatia, in Ephesus, Sardis, Laodicea and throughout the west coast of lesser Asia, in Phillippi, Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, Rome, Alexandria, in the chief cities of the islands and the mainland of Greece, and the western Roman colonies.
A Sad Comparison
There are some significant omissions from this record of conquests. We never read of the organizing of a missionary campaign.
Such things as deputations, lecturers and lectures, exhibitions, appeals, advertisements, and so on, with all their cost and expenditure of time, money, energy, all to try to get Christians interested in the souls of the unsaved, are never hinted at. Any reporting of what God had done in the regions beyond was never by way of propaganda or advocacy. Statistics as mental stimulants; pathetic, tragic, sensational stories as emotional stimulants; urge and drive as volitional stimulants had no place here, so far as we can discern. The thing was firstly of the Spirit, not of the soul. The endeavour to reverse this order is undoubtedly the reason for a tremendous amount of the weakness and breakdown of today.
Speaking generally, this whole matter of the world-mission of the Church is on pre-resurrection ground today. The Lord is not straitened in Himself, but He is straitened in His people.
On the one hand, there is a need of workers, for almost half the human race is without the knowledge of Christ; and on the other hand workers are often ready to go forth, yet there are no means to send them. A third condition, almost more tragic, abounds, that of the spiritual breakdown of many who do go, so that 'converts' are not really and genuinely born from above with the Spirit of sonship becoming truly resident within. Demon powers persist in dominion and challenge. A policy of slow absorption of 'Christianity,' through education, familiarization, and so on, as a compromise between failure to work upon the basis of genuine regeneration and an honest acknowledgment of the same with its practical implications, has been adopted. Finally there are the many who return home with lost assurance.
Surely all this stands in direct contrast to the spirit and experience of the New Testament. It is not difficult to go on at great length making distinctions between the two standards, that of the New Testament and that which has largely been since, but the more important thing is to display the secrets of that former glory.
We are convinced that He Who is "the same yesterday, and today, and for ever," desires to have, and can have, His work on the same plane to the end of the age, and that in some parts of the world it is happening in a way very similar to the early days.
Here then begins an enquiry into the nature of the work of the risen Lord in "the Church, which is His body."
We ask, first of all, is there any phrase which embodies the conception, the motive, and the dynamic of this spontaneous world-conquest at its beginning?
We think that there is such a phrase, and it is this:
The Testimony of Jesus.
This accounts for everything when possessing as it possessed them. Let us look it up.
"Who bare witness of the Word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ" (Rev.1:2).
"I was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 1:9).
"I saw underneath the altar the souls of them that had been slain for the Word of God, and for the testimony which they held" (Rev. 6:9).
"And the dragon waxed wroth with the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 12:17).
"I am a fellow-servant with thee and with thy brethren that hold the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 19:10).
"And I saw the souls of them that had been beheaded for the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 20:4).
"Even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you" (1 Cor. 1:6).
"They will not receive of thee testimony concerning Me" (Acts 22:18).
"Our testimony unto you was believed" (2 Thess. 1:10).
"Be not ashamed therefore of the testimony of our Lord" (2 Tim. 1:8).
"Ye shall be My witnesses" (Acts 1:8; same root in Greek as 'testimony').
"Must one be ordained to be a witness with us" (Acts 1:22).
"This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we are all witnesses" (Acts 2:32).
"Raised from the dead; whereof we are witnesses" (Acts 3:15).
"Not to all the people, but unto witnesses" (Acts 10:41).
"With great power gave the apostles their witness of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus" (Acts 4:33).
"And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the Word of their testimony" (Rev. 12:11).
The New Testament, read in the light of these passages, shows very clearly that the remarkable story which it recounts is that of a testimony. It remains for us to ask what this testimony was. To clear the way for the positive answer we must say something as to what this "testimony" was not.
1. "The Testimony
Was Not a Teaching
There is nothing in the whole story upon which to rest 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. The teaching resulted from the acceptance of the testimony, the expounding of its content followed that acceptance and was kept for believers only. It was a result, not a cause. The most they ever did was to substantiate their testimony from the Scriptures, and affirm certain facts concerning the Person of Christ.
2. "The Testimony
Was Not a New Religion
'Christianity' was not set over against or alongside of other religions and made 'comparative.' It was some time before some of the Apostles themselves realized the implications of their testimony in the matter of their being emancipated from Judaism. Great as the change was, they did not at first realize that they had been taken out of their 'religion.' Later they found that they were out and committed in spite of their own prejudices, and had to do their thinking and discussing after the thing had become a fact in embarrassing experience. See Peter in the house of Cornelius, and the events of Acts 10, 11, 15, etc.
3. "The Testimony
Was Not a New 'Movement'
No plans were laid. There was no policy. Organization was entirely absent, and any which subsequently had to be admitted was forced upon them by the embarrassment of the very vitality of things, and then it was of the simplest.
A thought-out campaign did not exist. To set up, launch, form, bring into being, or found a new society, sect, 'church,' community, was not in mind. They did not set out for such, and although their testimony gave distinctiveness to all who believed; although outsiders labelled them and misinterpreted their motive and purpose; the distinguishing feature was life.
What then was "The Testimony of Jesus"?
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 the resurrection from the dead.
This testimony has two sides. The objective and historic fact, of which they had many infallible proofs, had become demonstrated in the power of that resurrection by the Holy Spirit in "the church, which is His body" - in all its members, in all its activities. That life, which in Him had conquered sin, death, hell, Satan, and had carried Him from "the lowest part" to the "far above all heavens," had been implanted in them by the Holy Spirit sent down from Heaven.
The "testimony of Jesus," then, is that Jesus lives universally triumphant, and the Church is the "pillar" (or monument) of that truth. It is His resurrection Body, possessed of His risen Life and administered by the Holy Spirit, as the repository of that Life.
The testimony of Jesus is in effect a life - His Life. Not a mode of life, but a vital, infinite force; indestructible, irresistible, incorruptible; a vital force mediated to the spiritually dead wherever there is a readiness and willingness to believe on the Lord Jesus.
It burst the old molds, "wine-skins" of tradition, worn-out systems, man-made orders and forms.
It sets aside even those things which were once raised up and greatly used by God, but which have ceased to be living, and are only past history. Even Judaism ceases to count here. The testimony of Jesus liberates captives, and a word spoken by its power is as an irresistible challenge to "let My people go." Lazarus must come forth when He, "the resurrection, and the life," commands through His Church. This life, issuing forth from the risen Lord as within 'the Body' by the Eternal Spirit, is the compelling power of the world-mission and testimony of Jesus.
There is no precedent in the New Testament for appealing for workers or missionaries. This is at best but a sorry alternative or necessity. When the Holy Spirit is really in possession and the life is manifested, then He takes the initiative in all work and workers, saying, "Separate Me... for the work whereunto I have called them."
Great emphasis is laid in the New Testament upon receiving the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of the universally Sovereign Lord - "the Heir of all things." His mission is world-wide, cosmic. World-vision, world-passion, world-vocation, are the inevitable, immediate result of the establishment of His Lordship within. It cannot be otherwise. Then what is the matter that this thing is not spontaneous with so many? Why do not the Lord's people spread the Testimony by simply talking out of a full heart? Is this also the indictment of Acts 19:2–5?
Is the cost a deterrent by which the Spirit is quenched? It will cost. To no place did the New Testament witnesses go with the "Testimony" but what the enemy - the dragon - made war. It was up to him to do so, for he stood to be a very great loser. It was the battle for dominion. This was his unwilling compliment, his unintentional congratulation. They represented something and possessed something which made hell angry and afraid.
The Lord's purpose and method in this age is to bring into resurrection-union with Himself two or three in every place and to 'add unto them such as are being saved.'
It is an accretion of life, not enticement, 'attraction,' advertisement. Here again the Holy Spirit takes the initiative when a true testimony is borne.
The greatest need of the hour is a revitalizing of the Lord's people with His risen life by the Holy Spirit. May we soon see this, and come to the place where everything - tradition, system, common acceptances, forms and molds, prejudices, personal interests, reputation, prestige, compromise, the opinions of others, policy, and so on - will be sacrificed, if needs be, for LIFE, and the true and living TESTIMONY OF JESUS. So shall He find His release again and scatter the fire anew.