God's Method and Means in Times of Special Peril

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4 - Remember Jesus Christ

We shall proceed with our consideration of the message of the letters of Paul to Timothy. And you will have recognised that our method is that of arriving at the import and the significance of these letters, not necessarily going through them in the way of exposition. Of course we keep closely to what is written here, but what we are seeking to do, is to derive the inclusive import; that is, the spiritual message. We are leaving out quite a lot of technical data; we're not discussing problems which are purely technical in relation to the letters. We're saying nothing about the controversy as to whether Paul wrote those or not. We're saying nothing about the time and space between the two letters, or the first and second imprisonments. Such like things are just being left out of our consideration; there are a number of them, but they really don't affect the purpose that is in view. We want to get right to the resultant message of these letters having been written at all - why they were written, and at what time in the history of the church.

I'm going to take you back again to the point where we commenced yesterday afternoon [see chapter 1] in our reference to the boards of the Tabernacle in the wilderness, where we saw God's provision for reinforcing the turning-points, the corners, with an extra board because turning-points, angles, corners are always danger spots. The Lord has always made special provision for such points, turning-points in the course of His people's history. It's something to be taken up, if ever you are disposed to do so, in the Bible, and you will see how true that is. I have only to remind you, by way of instance, of the first chapter of the book of Joshua. You could not have any chapter in the Bible which is a greater reinforcement of everything, taking up the past to carry it on to the future, and you'll know that that was a big turning-point, from the wilderness into the Land, but it certainly did want strengthening, or it wanted strength to turn that corner and negotiate that crisis safely.

Well now, in using this illustration of the type again, the point that I want afresh to indicate is this: that the corners of the Tabernacle did set forth the arrival at a certain point which had a past; that point had a past. Things moved up to that point, and from that point there was a future, a new phase, a new course in the road, so to speak, as illustrated. And the reinforcement at the corner was a taking up of what had been up to that point, and saying, "Now, look here; we must safeguard that, we must conserve that, we must ratify that; we must be quite sure that that does not suffer loss or is allowed any weakness, in order that everything that is yet to be, shall take up those values and continue them in strength." For God does not intend a fundamental change in things, a change of character, a change of nature at any point; He just means that all that He has done and given shall be carried on safely and in strength to the next and through the next phase. You see the point. If you'll just grasp that, you will see what we are going to say this afternoon, how it is just that being done in the history of the church.

Now, when you come to these letters of Paul to Timothy, recognising them to be the last writings of the apostle - which in itself is a corner being turned, one phase closing and another phase coming. And you know, it was like that when Paul went; things changed when Paul went, things changed. And Paul himself was conscious of things changing, and because of that he wrote as he did to Timothy. These letters are therefore a reinforcing of things, a taking up of what has been, and confirming and consolidating for the future. At any rate, that is what God meant by these letters. And so, when you take them up, you find what we may call a large retrospective feature in them; a look back and a taking up of the past. A taking of Timothy back, right back to the beginning: the beginning of Christianity, and the beginning of Timothy's work and ministry. Paul takes him back to both of those things. Whether we shall be able this afternoon to speak of both will remain to be seen. But we'll take one: the retrospect as to the beginning of Christianity, which is Christ.

The Retrospect to Christ

Here is a very strong and a very comprehensive throw-back of Paul to Christ in two fragments - and are they fragments? One just a recall, and the other a very inclusive statement. One in the second letter, chapter two, verse eight: "Remember Jesus Christ..." we could leave it there, that's enough, you can add if you like, "risen from the dead, of the seed of David, according to my gospel". "Remember Jesus Christ". We have come to a crisis, we have come to a turn, we have come to a point where things are changing. What is our safeguard at this point? "Remember Jesus Christ". It is only a way of saying: "Bring Him into view again". So you've always got a method at any crisis: bring Jesus Christ into view again. Whether it's a personal crisis in our own spiritual lives, "Remember Jesus Christ". How often the apostle resorted to that means and method of dealing with difficult situations! Philippi, for instance, where there was some trouble, some disagreement, some lack of singlemindedness; Paul resorted to this method: "Remember Jesus Christ, have this mind in you, which was in Christ".

Now, I dare not enlarge upon that, gather up all the material upon that point, but you look again. The big turning-point which we come to in the beginning of the book of the Revelation; oh, what a turning-point in the church's history was the book of the Revelation! Remember that the beginning of that book is a re-presentation of Jesus Christ, comprehensively and matchlessly: "Remember Jesus Christ". It is always like that. You're having a bad time - your time is so bad that it's creating a real crisis for you - "Remember Jesus Christ". It's the greatest help in every such time. Is there some trouble between you and another Christian? "Remember Jesus Christ". Is there trouble in the assembly? "Remember Jesus Christ". The greatest corrective is to remember Jesus Christ.

But here is this other great statement, in the first letter, chapter three, verse sixteen: "And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness" (or 'God-likeness'); "He who was manifested in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, received up in glory." That is Christianity in a nutshell, as we say, it's a comprehensive and inclusive re-presentation of everything upon which Christianity rests. There are other fragmentary retrospective features in these letters, but that's enough. The first great throw-back of the apostle at this point of crisis and danger, is back to Christ; back to Christ. For Christ is ever the standard; backwards and forwards. Christ is ever the standard. At any given point where there are dangers, where there are certain changes, we have to refer back to Christ, and from that point we have got to carry on what has been from the beginning, of Christ.

Here it says that Christ is the embodiment of godliness, the embodiment of godliness or Godlikeness. It's a mystery, it's a mystery: "great is the mystery of God-likeness". That is enough to dwell upon at the moment, that is another time, but here Christ is said to be the inclusive, comprehensive embodiment of God's likeness. Now, that has a very practical application in this whole letter, for the real, the real purpose of God in the church is God-likeness, or conformity to the image of God's Son. It's the great dominating purpose and objective of God in our very lives as His people. Godliness. Godliness or God-likeness. But what is it? Explain, define Godliness: it's Christ, it's Christ - it's the reproduction of Christ, it is the expression of Christ. It is bringing Christ now, into the present situation.

The Embodiment of Godliness

Now we want but to look at Christ. I am sure, dear friends, that we, many of us Christians, have not really understood Christ. And we do need to understand Him.

You see, Christ was more than one man among many, albeit better than the rest, a real improvement on all other men. You might find somewhere a man or men of a very high moral character, of unimpeachable integrity, well, you'd say, "A splendid specimen of moral uprightness and goodness!" and then Jesus goes one better. No, He is not just one better than the best. He is not one man amongst many, although better than all. Let me put that another way. The goodness, the goodness of Jesus was not just that He was better than other men, His goodness was Divine goodness, and not human goodness. It was by Him, Jesus, that Life and incorruption were brought to light, through the Gospel; Life and incorruption. And the very best specimen of mankind that you can find, nonetheless is still corruptible; he can still be corrupted - he has the seeds of corruption in his nature. But not so Jesus Christ.

There is no corruption in Him, there are no seeds of corruption; it is incorruptible Life that comes with Him. And the Life that He gives to the child of God is incorruptible Life. That is, not ourselves, in what we are, but it is a distinct gift which, while being in us, is apart from us. And mark you, that is the key to our spiritual survival, in spite of a world of corruption, and a nature of corruption. He has given to us His own incorruptible Life. And through the gospel Life and incorruption have been brought to light through the gospel.

I need not perhaps to say to most of you, but for some of you young Christians: you want to be very, very aware of an insidious deception through perhaps unfortunate mistranslations in the Scripture, but more through common language and phraseology about immortality, the "immortality of the soul". The Bible does not teach it! The Bible does not teach it, our souls are not immortal. The Bible word, really, where the translators have put "immortality", is "incorruption" and incorruption is quite a different thing from what men may mean by the immortality of the soul. They, they lump us all together in this and by their word 'immortality' lift us all on to a level to which we do not belong, and to which we can never come naturally.

Incorruption is an altogether different thing from what is generally called immortality, incorruption is the true immortality. But, mark you, immortality is thought to be continuity of existence. Alright, we will allow you that for the soul if you like; but there is a very great deal of difference between continuity of existence and incorruption, incorruption: an incorruptible life. Eternal life is a different thing altogether from just continuity of life. It's a kind of life, a character of life. It's the Life which we have in Christ. Does this sound too technical, too difficult? You see, it goes to the root of this whole matter. We have got to get back, we've got to get right back to Jesus Christ. Christ is different from all men, all other men, in the essential nature which is in Him. And when He gives us His own Life, we as Christians are different essentially from all other creation, yes, and the biggest difference is possible because it is an eternal matter.

Now then, corruption. Corruption is coming into the church. Here it is in this letter, we pointed it out yesterday: corruption, moral laxity, all sorts of things which belong to this fallen creation and to this evil world, creeping into the church in Paul's day. Corruption manifested itself in the life of God's people. What are you going to do about it? "Remember Jesus Christ"!

Look here, dear friends, you have another Life, you have another Life by Christ, and you've got to live on the basis of that Life, you've got to remember that it is not necessary for you to be corrupted. Not necessary for you to be corrupted. You have in you a Life, the mighty Life of God, which in Christ has overcome death and corruption for man. Remember Jesus Christ. Remember that in Jesus Christ, there is that which went through all corruption untainted, and it is still possible, oh blessed be God, it has proved actual again and again for a child of God to walk in white raiment in the midst of Sodom and Gomorrah. Where Satan's very seat is, you may find saints walking in purity. It's the marvellous miracle of the Christian life that we can be subjected to all the filth and all the horror, all the corruption and pollution of this world around us, and still go on unstained, untainted. It's a miracle! The miracle of the Christian life.

So, when corruption is assailing, is seeping in, remember: your Life is a different life from that. You know that is not your life, that is not for you; that is not your way, that's not the way of Christ. And it is not something imposed upon you by law, it's something in you by power. Thank God for this miracle. When a young man or young woman, without a great deal of knowledge, instruction, teaching, experience, have to go out into this world in that way, and be surrounded by men without another Christian anywhere near, men of the lowest kind just pouring out their filth day after day, and that young man can be kept by the power of God unpolluted. It's very practical is this incorruptible Life. Jesus is different. Jesus is different; He is not just better than the rest; He's different, basically different from the rest. And that's the truth about Jesus, and that is the truth about the child of God - not only a bit better than other people, but different; different. The life-principle is different. Is that important? Surely it is, we negotiate through the course safely to the end.

"Thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments". That is a testimony: "even in Sardis" there are a few even there in Sardis. "Even in Sardis... they have not defiled their garments". What is that? That's a throw-back to chapter one of Revelation, where the robe of Jesus is seen, clothed with a robe down to His feet, the white robe of incorruption. "I am He that liveth and I became dead, and behold, I am alive unto the ages of the ages". So He says as clothed in this white garment down to the feet. What does it mean? Well, He has been thrown in His death into the cesspool of human iniquity, for us - "He was made sin for us, He who knew no sin" thrown into that cesspool of iniquity and has come out undefiled, triumphant, in a white robe. "And thou hast a few names even in Sardis which have not defiled their garments..." what is that? It is just His victory in Sardis, in the lives of these people where things were indeed very, very black morally. "Remember Jesus Christ".

Young men, are there any here going to get that call-up into the Army, Navy? Well, you are going into it. You may not find another Christian near to help you. You may be out of touch with all means of grace outwardly; it may be a crisis for your spiritual life. Many have lost out at that turning-point. "Remember Jesus Christ". Remember that Christ in you is there as the power of an incorruptible Life. It is possible for you to go through it and come out triumphant because of Jesus Christ. And what is true in that connection is true in all others. It's true in all others; we are not good enough. And that's the difference, you see, between Jesus Christ and all, even the best, of men; His goodness was a different goodness.

Take a move around to another angle from which to look at Him: His knowledge.

His Knowledge

Now, no one will question or dispute that Jesus had a very wide knowledge, was tremendously well informed, was very rich in His understanding. Everybody in His day had to both recognise it and acknowledge it. Even His critics and enemies raised the question: "Whence hath this man this knowledge? Whence hath this man this knowledge?" He spoke as one having authority, and not as the very knowledgeable men, the Scribes. But His knowledge was not the knowledge of the schools. He never went to college or to university. He had to work at home, hard and long, for that pittance to keep mother and brothers in food and raiment. He was not able to earn in order to put aside a nest-egg against a rainy day (if that's not mixing metaphors!) for when it came to going out on His life's work, He couldn't afford a lodging, He had nowhere to lay His head. He had to work a miracle to pay His taxes.

No, "Whence hath this man this knowledge?" Knowledge which has extended and exhausted all the brains ever since His day? And they're still at it; still at it. Look at all the libraries that have been written on Him and His sayings! And still we come back and wonder what He meant when He said that and that; we still have not fathomed it! Everybody will acknowledge that He had a very, very large knowledge: but whence was it? We say again: It was not the knowledge of the schools; it was something other and something different and something else. Well, we Christians of course have got the answer; we know. But, mark you, that difference is the difference between Christ and all other "knowledgeable" people, and the difference between every simplest child of God and the wisest amongst men.

"Remember Jesus Christ..." oh, there is a source and kind of knowledge, by which we can be got through, which all the princes of this world's knowledge do not possess. It is a kind of knowledge. I do want to enlarge upon that sometime in this conference, but I am making the statement here. I want you to understand that unless we have, we have this kind of knowledge, this spiritual understanding, this spiritual intelligence, this intelligence which is different, which is other, this mind which is the mind of Christ - we are not going to negotiate these critical corners in Christian life, and experience, and in the work of God.

We need, we need understanding more than the best understanding in this world to get round these crises. How are we going to negotiate this situation? It may be that you are facing such things. You are exercised; you are wondering, "How are we going to get round this, how do we get through this? How is it going to be?" Well, there is a kind of knowledge available to the child of God, a kind of understanding, a kind of spiritual intelligence, that will get us through. And that is very true in experience and in history. If we didn't know the Lord at certain times, where should we have been, if we didn't know the Lord? That's only a comprehensive way of saying this: we've got a knowledge, a knowledge that saved us; our knowledge of the Lord saved us. And many times our knowledge of spiritual principles has saved us; our knowledge of how God does things has been a tremendous standby in times of crisis and need. Do you see what I mean?

Yes, remember Jesus Christ. He had a knowledge which was more than all the knowledge of this world, and different: it was that which He had by the Spirit. Well, these letters from Paul are proof positive of this: here is the new situation arising, and the big question is, "How is the church going to get around this without disaster, get through this crisis without calamity?" Well, the letter is just full of a knowledge, isn't it which meets the need, and it is the knowledge of Christ. Do you know that Christ is mentioned twelve times in each of these letters? They are very brief letters; you can read them through in a few minutes, both of them; and 24 times Christ is referred to and I always feel that when you get any word dominant like that anywhere, that's what it's about! And that's what it is all about. And so Paul is coming back with Christ, with Christ, with Christ - He is the One upon whom we should draw.

So much, then, for this matter of His knowledge.

A word about:

His Influence.

And again it is indisputable that He had a tremendous influence. His presence, His presence always made itself felt. He could not be anywhere without it being known that He was there. He had not to speak, and things began to come out; His presence was a powerful presence. Well, that does not need proving or enlarging upon. This mysterious influence and impact - what was it? Well, of course, of course some people have tried to explain it psychologically, that He had a tremendous psychic effect upon people. Others use one word by which they sum it all up: a tremendously strong "personality". Well, you can think that if you like, but that isn't the answer, that is not the answer. His influence, His impact, was something other than the psychic, and something other than just a strong personality. It was essentially spiritual. You see, this embodied, or embodied spirits, recognised His presence - spirits. Demons cried out in His presence. There's a registration upon the spiritual world, this is not psychic; these are actual entities and intelligences. I'm not going to say a lot about that, but what I want to say is this, what I'm getting to is this: that influence, influence is not just a matter of your having a strong personality, or being able to make a strong psychic registration wherever you are. That is a false conception of influence.

You may be, so far as men and this world are concerned, without the training of the schools and all the values of a rich education, you may have had nothing in your birth and inheritance and upbringing to make you an important person, or a strong character, and yet, dear friends, you may exercise a tremendous influence, a tremendous influence. You may count for something more than all that. It is true again (and here is the miracle of it all) that "God hath chosen the weak things... the weak things... and the things which are not", that He may destroy, may nullify, may bring down the things that are wise, the things that are strong, and the things that are. When you think of it, it's so often a, humanly speaking, very insignificant little person who is counting, counting tremendously for God. There's a difference, a great difference, between human influence, natural influence, and spiritual influence.

The Testimony is beginning to lose out, to lose its influence, so we find it in the churches in the book of the Revelation. The Testimony had lost its power and its influence in the world; and so it is today, so largely. What is the remedy? It is, as we have been trying to say all through this conference, it is the recovery and the reinforcement of spirituality. A spirituality! Spirituality is a tremendous power! Really spiritual people, be they what they may from this world's standpoint, really spiritually people are the people that count, the people of influence. And they are the people that are needed in this world - spiritual men and women - God needs them for the preserving and carrying on of His Testimony - reinforced spirituality. "Remember Jesus Christ" because you can only account for Him - in His knowledge, in His influence, as in every other way - you can only account for Him by the anointing of the Spirit. "God anointed Jesus of Nazareth who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with Him". The anointing. And we have the anointing; we are supposed to have the same anointing. And so His authority, to use the word of Scriptures, His authority was not that of personality; it was spiritual authority. And oh, how we need that! His judgment, His judgment of things, His power of discrimination, His insight was not just human sagacity, not just a high level of human shrewdness; no, His judgment is spiritual wisdom. I have only to mention it, and you will call so much to mind. This is just what Paul argued out so thoroughly in his first letter to the Corinthians; all these points, all these points.

And so we could go on, but the point is this: Jesus Christ, Jesus the Anointed (for that's the meaning of Christ - the Anointed), is different, and superior. What was true of Him then is true today. He needs, in these ways to be brought, shall I say, up to date and to be brought right into every spiritual crisis - wisdom, understanding, power, judgment, and everything else - "Remember Jesus Christ". Yes, it is all by the anointing.

And dear friends, surely you do feel about all this, if your hearts beat with Paul's, if you have any, any sense whatever of the real need today in the church, amongst God's people - yes, and in yourselves - because, because of things as they are, as they have become, or as they are threatened, you, you can take up Paul's concern. You see, this man just poured out his heart in these letters. There is something of a yearning, if not a breaking heart, in the way in which Paul here says: "Oh Timothy... oh Timothy, guard that holy thing, oh Timothy". That cry, that ejaculation, that bursting forth of his heart which is found through the letters in other forms, if not in that language, is just Paul tremendously concerned about this matter of spiritual Life, the, yes, the reinforcing of spirituality - that's what it is.

We all share that concern with Paul today; we all feel like that. Here is a man, tremendously concerned. Are you concerned about spiritual things? Are you? Are you concerned about the way that things have taken, speaking generally? The declension, the departure, the diversion, the dropping down, the differences, since the beginning? Are you concerned? Well, remember that it must be an intelligent concern, an intelligent concern, not just a sighing and groaning over it, but knowing what the cure is; what the remedy is, what the solution is. And what is it? The reinforcement of spirituality in ourselves and in the Lord's people. That's what we are here for - that's all; in this conference and what this place is for, is to seek, by the grace of God to bring about an increase of spiritual stature and measure in the people of God - no other object. May the Lord give us the concern of His servant in this matter.

In keeping with T. Austin-Sparks' wishes that what was freely received should be freely given and not sold for profit, and that his messages be reproduced word for word, we ask if you choose to share these messages with others, to please respect his wishes and offer them freely - free of any changes, free of any charge (except necessary distribution costs) and with this statement included.