Editor's Letters

by T. Austin-Sparks

September-October 1957

The Release of the Lord

In our last issue our particular emphasis was upon the nature of the "testimony of Jesus." We saw that the great, objective, historic fact, that Jesus was risen from among the dead and was in the place of supreme sovereignty and glory - which fact had been manifested by many infallible proofs - had also a subjective counterpart: namely, within the ones who were His "witnesses." That same Lord Jesus had become to them, by the Holy Spirit, an inward reality, and that inward fact was manifested as a life: "eternal life," resurrection life, life triumphant over death; Divine life in all its holiness, energy, spontaneity, might, persistence, and fruitfulness; in fact, the life which the Lord Jesus is, in Person. (See 1 John 1:2; 5:9–13,20; Acts 1:8,22; 2:32,36; 3:15; 4:33; 5:30,32; 10:40–42; 13:30,37; Rom 1:4, R.V.). The testimony to the Person of Jesus is the power of His Life in and through His "members" by the Holy Spirit.

The Starting Place of the Testimony in Every Nation

Our present object will be to show something more of what this means in experience and service, especially in connection with the age-purpose of a testimony in the nations. If comparisons and contrasts are made and disorders pointed out, it is not in a spirit of criticism, far less of censoriousness; neither is it want of appreciation of, or esteem for, the work being so honestly and sacrificially done. God forbid that any word of ours should bring a shadow upon any activity which counts even a little for Him. We have a burden - a sometimes overwhelming burden - occasioned both by the spiritual ineffectiveness (partial or complete) that we see around, and by the manifest misconception and confusion that prevails regarding Divine ends and methods. It is the need for immediate, direct, absolute spiritual effectiveness that governs the pursuance of this subject.

Let us again state the all-inclusive basis and background of all true, victorious life and service. It is the revelation of the Person of Christ crucified, in the Godhead, and in the throne of absolute sovereignty, and this objective fact becoming by the Holy Spirit a power in the life and a passion in the heart.

It is the effect of this that lies behind all the great record of conquests in many regions, through many instruments. This goes behind, and makes unnecessary, all advocacy of 'foreign' or other missions. Not that such advocacy has been fruitless, for God has come through it; but its strenuousness and its costliness are the marks of spiritual decline, and are the characteristics of a system which speaks of a bondage in which the Lord's honour is involved. We shall best explain what we mean if we illustrate from history.

Some Notable Examples of Modern Times

We have before us the records of movements and men that have been really effectual and fruitful in the world-testimony of the Lord Jesus.

Here is the amazing story of the great days 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 range covered, the sufferings gladly endured, 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 be a force of 400,000 foreign workers, which is vastly more than the number estimated as necessary to achieve the evangelization of the world.'

Only for want of space do we reluctantly refrain from giving pages from this tremendous story; but what lay behind it?

In the first place the Cross had been deeply wrought into the very being of this people. Their country was made a field of blood by massacre. They were driven from their homes. From a population of three million they were reduced by persecution to one million. Indeed it sometimes appeared as if they would be entirely extinguished. Out of these fires of affliction there arose a company purified by the fire, and 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 they later became possible, breathed the atmosphere of "the upper room." 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 everyone would give himself to be taught by the Holy Spirit. A prayer-watch was set up which should burn day and night, and by means of relays the entire twenty-four hours were 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 a deeply inwrought work of the Cross issued in a mighty, personal love for the Lord Jesus. Personal considerations were lost, and no persuasion was necessary. Shall we not say the truth when we say that souls languish by the millions in darkness and death for want of a deep baptism of the Church - the company of saved ones - into the passion and love of God in Christ?

If the China Inland Mission has been a monument to anything as to God's methods, it is supremely so to the living reality of union with Christ. With all his vision and passion for inland China, it is well known that Mr. Hudson Taylor, as he went from place to place addressing gatherings of Christians in this and other countries, said very little about China, often nothing at all. He just poured out his spiritual message to bring the Lord's people into a fuller knowledge of the meaning of their union with Christ. The central and supreme thing in this fellowship with the Lord was the universal efficacy of prayer.

Listen to him: 'In the study of that 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 a matter of organization, advocacy, propaganda, appeals, or advertisement. It centered in a man with a deep knowledge of God, born of a deeply inwrought work of the Cross, bringing to the Lord's people a living, spiritual message as to their fullest life in Him, and as to the practical outworking of such a life through prayer.

Mr. Hudson Taylor was no 'teacher' in the sense of presenting truth in a systematized form. He was not one of the great 'Bible teachers,' in the generally accepted sense of that term. His was a message which immediately led to two issues: firstly, the relationship of the believer to the Lord; and then the practical outworking of that, in prayer and other forms of service, to bring the Gospel to those whose only chance of receiving it was by means of such special endeavours. Mr. Hudson Taylor's life (and therefore, we must think, the history of the mission) turned at a given point upon a deeper realization of what oneness with the Lord really means. This is revealed in a letter to his sister which is printed in the second volume of his Life.

Not only in Africa, through the South Africa General Mission, but in all parts of the world, the ministry of Dr. Andrew Murray has been wondrously rich in its fruits. It was not, again, by advocacy of propaganda, but purely by spiritual teaching, through a ministry almost exclusively to the Lord's people, a message concerning practical holiness, the ministry of intercession, and the power of the Holy Spirit, that this fruit was born. Out of this ministry sprang the above 'Mission,' and the consecration of many lives to the Lord's service. The ministry, not the 'Mission,' was the dynamic.

We could add at great length the evidence, pointing to the influence of such lives, and to the power of the movement for the 'deepening of spiritual life.' The pages of the missionary issues of Christian periodicals; the messages of 'Keswick's' great men in those early days; and the pages of that monumental History of the C.M.S. by Dr. Eugene Stock, all bear testimony to this.

The Basic Reality

The evidence is overwhelming that from Pentecost onward the basis of the fullest, richest, and most effectual world-testimony of Jesus has been a 'holiness movement from heaven': that is, a heart-changing, life-­revolutionizing, whole-being-captivating realization of Who Jesus is - the first as to His Sovereignty in the Throne of Deity, and the second as to His Sovereignty in the life at all points. To be 'filled with the Holy Spirit' is to be filled with Holiness, Love, Humility, Joy, and a passion for securing to the "Beloved" the fruit of His travail in every nation. No 'spiritual' movement, convention, teaching, is valid without the hallmark of spontaneous concern for the eternal well-being of others. Far too often intensive movements result in morbid introspection. There is nothing more paralyzing than this. And the reaction from it is just as perilous. Enthusiasm, interest, high spirits, 'personality,' education, or enterprise, harnessed to a more or less dated 'decision for Christ,' are frequently the points of emphasis in this reaction.

The cost to a convert in New Testament times was too great to permit of anything that was superficial or merely a matter of romance or enthusiasm. The motive power must spring from a very real and deep knowledge of the Lord, balanced by an ardent passion for His satisfaction in the nations.

What Pentecost Was

We have failed far too terribly to realize what 'Pentecost,' and the 'baptism of the Holy Spirit,' really was. The external accompaniments and effects have obscured the deeper elements. We have interpreted it in terms of activity, signs, waves of emotion, excitability, and so forth. But our supreme need is to know the true meaning of this 'baptism.'

We therefore give the following all-inclusive definition. The baptism of the Holy Spirit means the enthronement of the Lord Jesus as absolute Sovereign, without reservation or rival, in the entire life, in all its interests and activities.

Within this compass there are one or two specific things which we may point out.

Firstly, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a baptism into the holiness of the Lord. It is a baptism with fire, which must be interpreted, primarily, not as zest, but as sanctification. Pentecost was a 'holiness movement from heaven.' This was the significance of the terrible incident with Ananias and Sapphira. This holiness of the Lord, established by the Holy Spirit, has to be carried into every phase and department of life: spirit, mind, body; relationships, transactions, methods, means. Anything doubtful, questionable, equivocal, and so on, is a contradiction and an antagonism to the Spirit of Holiness. It is unfortunate that it should be necessary even to mention such things in the realm of the work of the Lord, but that necessity is laid upon us.

Secondly, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is a baptism into the love of Christ. This is another element in the 'fire.' It need hardly be said that this love is something more and other than natural warm-heartedness, largeness of nature, generosity, sentiment and nice words. It is love which 'suffers long, envies not, knows no jealousy, makes no parade, gives itself no airs, is not puffed up, never rejoices in self-­vindication when opponents are proved wrong, is always slow to expose, always eager to believe the best, never seeks its own ends or interests.' This love knows how to be abased, to be set aside, to be outshone; how to have its interests crossed; how to persist when forsaken; and much more. Only the Holy Spirit can impart and maintain this love.

Thirdly, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is the baptism into the war of the ages. Not into a religious playground or sports field, but into the grim, terrific, bloody conflict with "principalities and powers," with "the world rulers of this darkness," with "the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places." Immediately upon our Lord's baptism, the Spirit came upon Him, and He was brought there and then, by the act of the Spirit, into awful contact with the leader of the opposing hierarchy. So it was with the Church. So it is with every one baptized into Christ. Thank God, the victory has been secured and the issue settled at Calvary, but the fight continues. It will take the mighty energizing of the Spirit of the Lord of hosts - "strengthened with power through His Spirit in (lit. "into") the inward man" (Eph. 3:16) - in all the efficacy of the Precious Blood, to accomplish the deepest work of God in this age. There will be times when we are unable to work, or to preach, or to do anything but 'stand and withstand.' Many are contented while they can be active and do something. This can be a real snare. It is spiritual vitality that counts, not much busy-ness.

A Practical Instance

We will conclude with an incident from the story of Uganda which carries its own significance.

In the early days of the Church in Uganda, a boy who had been baptized came to Pilkington and told him of his failure to be true to Christ in the pathetic words, 'I sin as much as ever I did.' Pilkington was cut to the quick, and the desire for fresh spiritual power was deepened in his heart. Shortly afterwards he went apart on to one of the islands in the Victoria Nyanza that he might wait upon God and receive fresh power from Him. His prayers were answered, and later he could write to Bishop Tucker as follows:

"I want to tell you that we (mission and people) are in the midst of a time of great blessing. God has enabled several of us to see that for a long­time past we have been working in our own strength, and that consequently there has been no power in our lives, and very little blessing. We have, however, been brought to see that the command, 'be filled with the Spirit,' is as much laid upon us as upon the Ephesians, and that power for effectual service is placed at our disposal if we will but appropriate it. I cannot tell you the difference it has made to us in our lives as well as in our work. Now we are full of joy, whereas a little while ago (I am speaking of myself in this) the depression was almost unbearable. As for our work, God is now using us, and a wonderful wave of blessing is passing over the land."


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