The Cross of Our Lord Jesus Christ

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - The Cross and the Battle for Sonship

For now may I just remind you of two things: the possibility (at least the possibility) that the Lord may be speaking in this place tonight. If our prayers are answered, it will be so. And, if it should be so, we have accepted a solemn responsibility in allowing ourselves to hear the Lord speak. It may be a very blessed thing to have the Lord speak but it is a very responsible thing, for we can never be the same before the Lord should He speak. And we together Lord, have said: speak. Speak Lord, in the stillness while I wait on Thee... Give us then hearts that are wholly touched with the precious blood of Jesus, minds that are guarded, and grace that we may receive and obey... We ask in the name of the Lord Jesus, amen.

As there are quite a few who have joined us since last evening, it might be helpful if I were just to hurriedly review the course that we have been following in these evening hours under the general title, "The Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ". Our object has been to see how the Cross is presented to us in the letters of the apostle Paul and what each letter sets forth as a particular application and meaning of the Cross.

With the letter to the Romans we began noting how comprehensive and all-inclusive the Cross is. And then out of the all-inclusiveness we began in the second place the break up, so to speak, and the application to particular and peculiar situations and needs; the first of which was in the first letter to the Corinthians. And we noticed that in that letter there is a great divide made: the divide between the situation and the condition of the Corinthians as they were when Paul wrote, and the situation and condition to which he sought to bring them by way of the Cross - repeatedly emphasizing that the Cross was the way of transition from the one to the other. And we headed that consideration with the two humanities, even where Christians are concerned, that type of Christian which Paul describes as the natural man... which literally, in his own language, was and is the man of soul, the soulical man, the type living wholly upon the basis of the soul. And then on the other side, the other kind of humanity: the spiritual man, the man of spirit and governed by the Spirit. The letter falls apart into those two categories, the two humanities within the compass, mark you, of the Christian community. And we saw what a difference there is between the two, even as Christians, and of how the Cross cuts clean in there to make the division between soul and spirit. I’m going to say just a few extra words in that particular connection.

You must remember that with the apostle Paul, being the man that he was with his very thorough Jewish training and knowledge of the Hebrew Scriptures, what we call the Old Testament, there would always be that background to his mentality. The Holy Spirit would be taking of that background and although perhaps not quoting always the Old Testament or referring to any particular book in the Old Testament, it is there all the time. If you look beneath the surface you will find it. And in this particular connection of which we are thinking of now, it is so evident that there is a background of that kind to what the apostle wrote in the first letter to the Corinthians.

Here in this letter he brings into view that phase of Israel’s history which was in the wilderness and its tragic issue. In chapter 10 of the first letter he brings that forward as a warning to the Corinthians.  You remember it, he speaks about their failure and falling in the wilderness after having come out of Egypt, after having been redeemed with precious blood. This is not my interpretation; this is exactly what Paul said. They fell in the wilderness, they died in the wilderness, and they did not go through to that for which God brought them out. And I say again, he used it as a very solemn warning to the Corinthians and says in effect: Be careful! You are now in exactly the same position as Israel was in at that time and I’m warning you that your destiny can be the same as theirs. You may fail to go through to what God has called you unto. You may (using his own word) perish, in the wilderness.

I know that will raise some questions in your mind, and I expect you would want to ask me those questions if you had the opportunity, if I gave you the chance, about final perseverance and being once saved and lost and all that. But don’t forget, we are not talking about salvation. That is settled with the Corinthians. We are talking about inheritance; the purpose of salvation. And Paul will make it very clear that you may be on the foundations, he’s saying it here in chapter 3, you may be on the foundation which is Christ but when you are on the foundation you may put up a superstructure which will be entirely lost with all your life work going up in smoke. And that’s only another way of interpreting Israel in the wilderness.

Now then, what was it that lay at the root of that tragedy of Israel?  And you have the answer in the fourth chapter of the letter to the Hebrews. Now you know, men have struggled all through the centuries to get Paul out of the letter to the Hebrews! We’re not going to argue about the authorship, but there’s something here that is very similar, if not identical, in this tenth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians and the fourth chapter of the letter to the Hebrews. You notice in that fourth chapter, the writer (whoever he was) the writer is speaking about this very same thing: "So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief..." and he enlarges upon the tragedy of Israel perishing in the wilderness and not going in to possess. And then he uses that conjunction to which I drew your attention the other evening without enlarging upon it as I am now:  For! "For they entered not in because of unbelief... they perished in the wilderness." "For the Word of God is quick and powerful, sharper than any two-edged sword piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit." There are your two characters again. Two humanities: the soul people perished in the wilderness. The spiritual people which were raised up, went over and went through. Very impressive isn’t it?

That little "for..." That mighty little "for"... "the Word of God divides between soul and spirit". The implication of the actual statement is: soul... that’s the cause of all the trouble in the wilderness. If you remember the history of those years, those decades in the wilderness, oh how much soul! The soul was always this: what am I getting out of it? How do I benefit by this? "I..." In Corinth, "every one of you says I"; what am I getting out of it? The spiritual... and you remember the change over, the transition, with Joshua: "If the Lord delight in us then He will bring us in". Oh, it’s the Lord’s delight not mine!  The difference between soul and spirit...  I – Thou. And we are to come on that very definitely as we come into the letter to the Galatians presently.

I want you to notice that that is the big issue amongst the people of God, redeemed by precious blood, brought out of the world and bondage to satan, and yet... And yet failing to go right through to the purpose of that redemption and all that God meant. And the Cross comes in to save us from falling in the wilderness, by the way, and missing the inheritance, by acting like a two-edged sword dividing asunder between soul and spirit. That’s the Cross in first Corinthians. And then we saw afterward, last night, that when that issue is fundamentally settled (because these issues are not settled all at once you know, they are only fundamentally settled, there’s a lot yet to be done) we’ll find there's a lot more in second Corinthians to be done in that connection. But the root has been touched. The axe has been applied to the root, something has been done.

You look at the seventh chapter of the second letter to the Corinthians, you hear the apostle speaking about what happened after they got his first letter. Oh, what humiliation! Oh, what tears! Oh, what sorrow! They’re a broken people. They were not broken before, now they’re a broken people. They are weeping and they are sobbing over what had happened. I say the axe is being planted at the root and something fundamental has been done and therefore they can come over Jordan, so to speak, come over or get through and start on new ground altogether: the ground of the open heaven, the ground of the unveiled face. Remember? The unveiled face... "when he shall turn to the Lord the veil shall be taken away. Now the Lord is a spirit and where the Spirit is Lord, there is liberty." You’re over on the other side. There’s a different atmosphere isn’t there in the second letter to the Corinthians from the first? Quite a different atmosphere. And it seems now that there are possibilities now, and so they come into the good of the unveiled face which, in other words used by the apostle, is "God who said: Let light shine in darkness has shined into our hearts". It is the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. You can’t say that in letter number one, but you can say it in number two! "Therefore having this ministry..." the ministry of the unveiled face.

I’m not going over all that we covered in a full hour last night, but the point is they are now represented in their spiritual position and you’re noticing the spiritual sequence of these letters aren’t you? The spiritual sequence is to move forward, with new prospect and possibility, new potentiality, the new testament, a new atmosphere. So when the people got over Jordan that’s how it was, you breathe more freely.

While you’re reading the first letter to the Corinthians, especially those early chapters, you are not breathing freely at all, not at all. But now the atmosphere is fuller and freer and there’s a move forward. It is a great move forward, they are over. And as I have said, something fundamental, although not final, has been done. It's been done. Jericho, the inclusive thing... because you know Jericho did represent in its seven-foldness the seven nations that were to be conquered. Seven is the dominant number there of Jericho and that is spiritual fullness or spiritual inclusiveness. When you’ve got Jericho you have, in figure and in spirit and in spiritual position, you’ve got the land. You’ve got everything, that is, in the sovereign will of God. So, being over into the second letter to the Corinthians you are over and you have compassed Jericho. That is, the foundation is dealt with.

Now what? And now what? Yes, not now soul or soulical people, but spiritual people. You do not need me to go back do you, to the beginning of the book of Joshua, the man standing with the drawn sword, captain of the host of the Lord and to which Joshua capitulated the campaign... Well, you don’t need me to tell you that that is the representation of the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit taking charge of the campaign; no, leave all these details.

This is where we are in the second letter; everything looks wonderfully promising doesn’t it? New atmosphere, new prospects, and new potentialities... what next? What next? Ai. Galatians. A hold up. Arrested progress. Brought to a standstill, even reverse. A stepping back onto the old ground. The whole thing is in jeopardy. That is Galatians isn’t it? Oh these cries of the apostle, "Oh foolish Galatians! Who has cast the spell over you, the witch’s spell over you? You were running well, you had compassed Jericho, what has happened to you?" An arrest. That’s Galatians. Ai - old ground touched. What our brother Watchman Nee, when he was with us, used to call "the earth touch". It’s an earth touch, going back onto the old ground of death.

The apostle in this letter to the Galatians puts it strangely enough into two words or a phrase: the world. The world! And now how he finishes the letter to Galatians, "God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ whereby the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world" and he links that very phrase or that very phrase is linked in the spiritual sequence of things to this Ai business.

Of course we know what Achan did at Ai, the Babylonish garment, and the wedge of gold... A touch of the earth, a touch of the world you see; the world’s system. You touch that and even God cannot deliver you from the prince of this world, he’ll take full advantage of every contact that you make with this world to arrest your spiritual progress. He does that. Paul calls it "the world". We shall see what that meant as we go on, for it’s a very comprehensive and inclusive thing again. It was the arresting hand of something. Leave the book of Joshua for the moment and come to this letter to the Galatians. What was this arresting hand, this spell that brought this beautiful movement to a standstill, to cause rather a reverse than a going on? What was it? Oh, of course you say, "You’ve told us: getting back onto soul ground again". Yes, alright. But what is that? What is that?

Dear friends, if you look again at this letter to the Galatians which you know so well, you’ll find it is in the little suffix: an "ism". An "ism"... in this case: Juda-ism. Judaism. That was it. And tonight in this connection of Galatians I am speaking about the battle for sonship.

The Battle for Sonship

Remember the three major words in this letter: Liberty, Spirit (with a capital S), Son. And we come back to that. The battle for sonship... and the battle for sonship raged around, or on, the ground of an "ism". And it was that "ism" that brought the Galatian Christians to this standstill, to this arrested progress and called out this terrible heart cry from the apostle, a terrible heart cry: "My little children! For whom I am again in travail till Christ be fully formed in you..." It is a pity they (the translators) haven’t given us the whole word, they just put "till Christ be formed in you". No, till Christ be fully formed in you. That’s the issue.

It was a beginning of the formation of Christ arrested, and the full formation of Christ to sonship has come under a change and all because of an "ism". A mighty "ism", it was Judaism. I need not, I think, spend any time in explaining and defining Judaism. You’ve read the letter. I trust that you’ve read it before this meeting. What Judaism is... what we’re going to say will perhaps define it best as we enlarge this thing, but what I’m saying is it was an "ism", an "ism" that did it. Are you noting that? You’ve really got a hold of that? An ism did it all! Spoilt it all. And "isms" always have the same effect, they always do... isms.

Recently I came across something written by a very well known Christian leader and teacher, a man who over half a century ago wrote a standard on the lives of Christ and the apostle Paul, who were the great vogue of that time. We don’t hear so much about them today. He wrote this, allow me to read it to you because it is so closely related to what we are saying:

"In the craft and subtlety of the devil and man, Christianity has ever tended to wither away into Judaism, into Rabbinism, into scholasticism, into ecclesiasticism, into Romanism, into sectarianism, into dead schemes of dogmatic beliefs, into dead routines of elaborate ceremonial, into dead exclusiveness of parties and party narrowness, into dead formulae of church parties, into dead performances of dead works or dead assent to dead phrases..."

That’s pretty good isn’t it? There are all your "isms"... but if he lived today I wonder how many more "isms" he would have had in it! I’m not going to be so unkind as to give you the extended list but think, think of the "ism", this thing which has become defined as an "ism" and that, and that, and that. Sometimes it is a distinct error. We should mention the errors. Sometimes it is a mixture of truth and error. Sometimes it is truth itself which is become an "ism". Yes, the truth! Quite right, the New Testament, but it has become an ism.

And what is the effect of an "ism"? What do we mean by an "ism"? Well, that thing has had a fence drawn round it and has in itself become the beginning and the end of everything. And that fence says, "Unless you tow this line, accept this ground, come onto this ground, there’s no fellowship with you. Fellowship is not possible. Only if you accept this interpretation or this experience..." or whatever it is that you can put in the place of circumcision; "except ye be circumcised ye cannot be saved..." Remember that? A thing! It might be right in itself but it has been crystallized into a finality and the wall and door of exclusivism has been set up so that unless you come onto this ground you are excluded.

And that, as Dr Farrar (of whom I’ve just referred and given quotation) that is what he meant by the subtlety of the devil. You’ll realize dear friends, that God has never done a new thing in Christian history, brought forth something that was intended to lead His people further on to that ultimate fullness, but what? Sooner or later, and usually sooner, men have fastened upon that and made an ‘ism’ of it, crystallized it into a teaching, a manner of practice in Christianity, with its own laws and ways and rights, and that thing has brought arrest to the fullness that God intended in Jesus; almost stopped there, the Ai... after Jericho.

One of the most pernicious things that the devil has ever done in Christian history has been to make men crystallize living truth into dead formula. And you know, he’s clever. He’s clever, Paul took the two-edged sword to that Goliath of Judaism and cut off its head and robbed the devil of his most potent instrument in the days of Paul, which was Judaism. Everywhere, everywhere that the apostle went, that was either waiting for him or on his trail; to discredit, to bring in the arrest of spiritual life and progress. A continuous battle. At last it headed up to this Galatian situation and with this Galatian letter of what Paul did as here recorded, that Goliath of Judaism was slain for the time being, it didn’t lift its head again at that time. The devil lost a great instrument, a very serviceable means, when he lost Judaism. But do you think he takes that lying down? Well, I have quoted from Farrar twelve "isms" and I have said we can add many more.

The Lord Jesus said when the unclean spirit has gone out of a man it wanders in empty places. If something better and other does not take its place in that man, in that house, and it comes and looks in through the window, comes back from his wanderings and looks as a specter through the window and sees the house is empty, he goes off and brings seven others worse than himself. And the last state of that man is worse than the first. When the devil lost Judaism he looked to see what was going to take its place. And because of this vacancy in Christianity, this not going on to sonship, he brought back scores of others worse than himself: the "isms".

The "Isms"

Now, I’m not trying to be either humorous or just making up something to pass on to you. Dear friends, make no mistake about it, there are very fascinating and attractive "isms", New Testament "isms", and non New Testament "isms". And, in a somewhat extended life and ministry, again and again I have seen dear people of God who were out in the open going on with the Lord in the liberty of the Spirit with great promise and then they’ve been caught in some "ism". They simply are helpless to escape themselves from the tenets of that "ism". Again and again I’ve seen it! Tragedy.

British Israelism... whether it’s right or wrong, it’s a side track! It’s something with a fence around it and you can’t get anywhere with those people beyond that thing. That’s the obsession. I take that as an illustration, but I mean many others, there’s many others.

There’s a great "ism" sweeping right over America and over Europe in these last years. I can dare to mention this one, well I’m going to at any rate: Universalism. It’s an "ism" which has captured multitudes! And you just can’t get anywhere with these people once they’ve got it. But I have known them, oh so promising... so promising and then this thing has come subtly along their way, attractive and fascinating... so appealing: everybody, ultimately, including the devil himself, will be saved. What are you going to do with that? Willy-nilly they’ll be saved, undercutting so many of the very vitals of the Gospel.

I’m illustrating, I’m not just making attack, I’m trying to show what I mean. You may call these things gross errors, but there are things that are not such errors. Not such errors, indeed in themselves they’re quite true, but they have become the beginning of all and the end of all to the people who have taken them on. You can get no further, no further. They have lost the great ground, the vast ground of God’s full purpose for this dispensation and become stuck on some thing that is only partial at best. Arrested... like Judaism; come to a standstill, or going round and round in a circle, the circle of this particular thing.

It should be a warning to us because, you see, this is the thing that has been the enemy of the fullness of Christ all through the centuries - this sort of thing. The Lord does something; it’s right, the Lord does it, then before long it is crystallized into a system governed by men and unless you come that way, you’re out, you’re not accepted, no fellowship. You must stand on this ground, this ground, or you’re not included at all in the whole compass of things. You understand what I mean? Isn’t this true?

The liberty of sonship goes on without considering personal interests, without asking any questions as to how much must I, and how much can I not. Do you see the difference? And we are all in peril of some kind of "must", and drive, even in the things that the Lord has done with us, the blessed things that the Lord has done, if we’re not very careful, we will bring them into a systematized form and they will become our prison and it’ll be the bondslave. Sonship is God’s goal for the Christian.

Oh, the point is, keep out in the open with the Lord! Keep out in the light of the Spirit, the Spirit will not let you go wrong. The Spirit will make known to you all that is intended for you, but don’t begin to say to other people when you’ve got that experience, or that light, “Now, unless you accept this and take this ground... you see, you’re outside the pale, we are the people! We are the people, the truth begins and ends with us.” Oh, God save us from the spirit of it... the spirit of it. For you to go and think about the "isms", whether denominations are right or wrong, I’m not going to argue. But I will say emphatically denominationalism is wrong. When it becomes an "ism", something that binds you, controls you, sets the boundaries for you, then it's wrong. And whatever other things it may be, whether it is right or wrong, as soon as the enemy succeeds in making that the limit, however good, he’s defeated the end. There will be an arrest and a reverse.

And I can only take you back to close by reminding you of how Joshua handled the situation. Yes he sifted this thing down at Ai, sifted it down, down, down... to a tribe, a family, a unit in the family: Achan. “Achan come out, stand here”.  One man... an ism, brought in arrest not only to himself, but to the Lord’s people. “Achan, you must go”. And they stoned Achan. And it was a very drastic thing that was done, because of the principle involved you see, the principle involved.

But whatever Joshua did with Achan, I don’t think it compares to what Paul did with Judaism in Galatians. Listen: “If anyone, be he an angel from the heavens, preaches any other gospel than that which we preach, let him be accursed”. The curse was pronounced upon Achan and he died under the curse. Let him be accursed! And I say again, I repeat it with Paul: “Let him be anathema, let him be accursed”. It was the curse upon “excepted”... of any kind of loose legalism, “Except you be circumcised you cannot be saved...” Except! Except... oh, be careful of these “excepts”. There are other kinds of excepts which are quite alright, “Except a man be born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God” that’s alright; but not a Judaistic one.

You see how strong the Holy Spirit, the Word of God is upon this matter of keeping out in the open with the Lord as your Government, the Holy Spirit as your Control, your Teacher. And it is safe when the Holy Spirit really is Lord. There’s liberty, but it’s safe, it’s safe.

Remember again what John said about this, “Ye have an anointing and the anointing which you have received abideth in you and you need not that anyone teach you anything, the anointing teacheth you all things...” Oh be careful! Be careful... “I’m quite independent! I don’t need anybody to tell me anything!” that is not what John is saying at all; at all. What is John saying? There are many antichrists in the world and an antichrist is not a spurious, fearful creature, you know, with a tail and a pitchfork. No, an antichrist is something that assumes the place of Christ. The devil himself is transformed into an angel of light, there are many. And with the natural judgment, natural powers, you are not able to distinguish between the true and the false. The Christ and the antichrist seem to be so much alike. You can’t discern the difference but the Anointing will tell you! The Anointing which you have received, when you come into touch with something false, will tell you if the Anointing is really governing, saying “be careful”, not in words but inside. You have a feeling there’s something not quite clear here, not transparent here, not safe here... “I don’t feel happy about this, I can’t tell you why but I just don’t feel quite happy about this... there’s something in me that says: beware”.

The Anointing will teach you, it’s perfectly safe when the Anointing is in charge you see, and here you are: there’s your other humanity isn’t it? The spiritual man, says Paul, discerneth all things. And I would close with just saying this, dear friends, that in my judgment the greatest need in Christianity among Christians today is spiritual discernment. I could not say anything beyond that. I am convinced that in a day like this of deceptions and misleadings and all that, the great need is our spiritual discernment; of knowing the Holy Spirit in this way, that He’s able to warn you, just to warn you! Not in words, it might be by words of Scripture, but in your own spirit where He dwells He says, “That’s alright, go on”.

The arbitrator is Life and Peace, but people say, "No, be careful there’s danger there". Then it is for us in our spiritual sensitiveness to take note of that and let me tell you that it’s not my experience that the Holy Spirit speaks with a shout. I’ve very rarely known the Holy Spirit to speak out in a way that there’s no mistaking it. It’s been such a gentle thing... Such a gentle thing, it’s just something that I could miss if I didn’t pause and learn. That’s the voice of gentle stillness that is so often the voice of the Spirit. That is sonship you see, growing to discern, to sense, to understand; the spirit of sonship.

Well, I’ve said enough, may the Lord help us to understand. And if you’re praying, in all your praying for whatever you’re praying, ask the Lord that by the Holy Spirit He will develop in you a spirit of discernment, give you spiritual discernment so that you, as Paul put it in another place, can discriminate the things which are excellent. Remember that? The difference in things - good, bad, indifferent, best, excellent - that you may be able to discern the things that stick out. The original is, "the things that are excellent". The Lord make us people like that.

Now Lord, there may not have been very much entertainment or fascination or attractiveness about all this, but we know that Thou wouldst be very faithful with us, and we want Thee to do it. And if warning and enlightenment as to peril is Thy mercy and Thy grace and Thy goodness, then we’ll be very grateful if such a light, a warning light has been shown; something to save us. Oh Lord, how we want to go on and go through and come out into the ultimate consummation, sons in glory, never arrested, never having our path shortened, never brought short... Oh Lord, we want to go on to full growth, to all that Thou hast called us unto. Now give us understanding, interpret to us Thy meaning in what we trust has been Thy word. Guard our hearts and our minds through Christ Jesus and may grace and mercy and peace from Father, Son and Holy Spirit be with us evermore, amen.

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