God's Method and Means in Times of Special Peril

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - The Spiritual Basis of Everything

We have before us as the basis of our consideration the two letters of Paul to Timothy, not for exposition of their contents in particular, but by way of noting that those letters represent a crisis and turning point in the whole course of Christianity. The imminent departure of the apostle Paul, the growing change of things in the church generally: decline, departure, the encroachment of false teaching, of bad behaviour, and much more; and the shadow of an altogether new system of Christianity fast creeping on. These were the things which constituted the burden on the heart of the aged apostle and which led, under the Spirit, to his writing these two letters.

And what lies behind these letters is one inclusive thing by which the Lord always seeks to meet a time of spiritual crisis, a turning point in the history and life of His people, both individually and locally and universally, and that is: a reinforcement of spirituality, a bringing back to the essential spiritual nature of everything in the Christian's life, the Christian's history, the Christian's very being as a Christian, and in the life of the church.

The departure which was taking place and which became so fully or largely crystallised at the end of the first Christian century was a departure from the spiritual, the essentially spiritual nature of everything, and the change from the vital and the organic, to the formal and the organisation and the ecclesiastical; from the inward life, to a merely outward framework of things; from the spiritual, to the natural; from the Holy Spirit, to men. That covers a lot of ground and includes a great deal, but in brief, that was the nature of the course of things.

So I repeat, that all that was in these letters, those well-known fragments, those favourite texts, and everything else, relates to the Holy Spirit's reaction, His endeavour to bring things back onto a purely and wholly spiritual basis. There is the re-call through the apostle here to remember Jesus Christ and how comprehensive that is! And then to Timothy, to remember where he began, and on what basis, and what were the spiritual principles which constituted him both a Christian and a servant of the Lord. In effect the word is: "Let's get back to where we began, let us be very careful of all this that is coming in".

Now, dear friends, we today as Christians live in the full development of that which Paul feared. It's present in Christianity very largely, though thank God not wholly, but it is very necessary to recognise that this is always a persistent tendency in all Christian life. You and I can fall into this peril as easily as anyone else, indeed, to avoid it constitutes the greatest difficulty that any Christian has, and certainly any body of Christians have: to avoid decline into a merely formal system, a merely outward order, into something organised and institutional. And all unconsciously, so often imperceptibly, to move away from the essential spiritual nature of everything. And I am sure with those few words you will recognise that it is a message that has a place today as protective and as recovering.

Well, that is the realm in which we have spent five gatherings, and those who are here for the first time will appreciate that five hours and more on a matter would contain a very great deal, but we've only touched the fringe of it. I'm very conscious there will be more than five baskets full over, that we are launched into a tremendous realm and you have got to follow on and not let it close tonight, for I shall be able to say only a very little more about this matter.

Now then, let us, through these letters to Timothy, broaden our horizon a little or widen our horizon a little, and be led out into the larger realm of this very thing. Today we shall find ourselves moving in a very large sphere in this particular connection. These letters will lead us there as they do lead on, quite naturally, to the so-much-more of this matter. We take then, this retrospective feature in Paul's letters to Timothy, that look back, that review, that throwback to the beginnings, to the foundations, to the essentials. We spoke yesterday afternoon on the throwback to Jesus: "Remember Jesus Christ". Now we are going to look back this morning to the real basis of the Christian life as Jesus showed it; but let's go through Timothy.

As you look into this, these letters, and you find Paul reminding Timothy - yes, reminding him very forcefully - of certain things which lay right at the very root of his own life and of his own service to the Lord, you have fragments like this: 1 Timothy 1:18: "the prophecies which went before on thee" - or literally, "the prophecies which led the way to thee"; or in modern language, "in accordance with the prophetic intimations concerning you". If you look at the context, you will see that it was at the time when Timothy was coming under the anointing for service, for ministry, for his active part in the Gospel. The Apostle is calling to remembrance the great principle, and great truth, and great foundation, of his life and work. Further, chapter six of the first letter and verse twenty: "That which was committed to thee, guard" - that which was committed to thee. 2 Timothy 1:6: "Keep constantly blazing the gift of God which is in you..."; and again it's dated back, as you see, to a particular time. 2 Timothy 2:2: "The things which thou hast heard...". Chapter 3 verse 14: "Abide thou in the things which thou hast learned...". You see, all this takes Timothy back. Paul is calling up the past, calling up the foundation, calling up what has been. He is, in effect, saying: "Now, Timothy, this has got to be reinforced, this has got to be consolidated, this has got to be confirmed, in the presence of the present tendencies and perils, the present course of things, all this has got to be brought up in a new way, and re-established. We are going round a bend in the road, and it's always a dangerous place and time, and we need at that time and that place to be reinforced with what has been of God in the past".

I am not going to dwell upon these passages, I am simply taking out this factor of retrospect and résumé, which means confirming what has been, with the future, this perilous future, in view. What does it all amount to? Well, if you look again more closely, you will find that it all relates to the Holy Spirit. It all relates to the Holy Spirit. All this, in effect, means that everything at the beginning came by the Spirit. Shall I use the other word? Everything is by the anointing. "Timothy, you stand where you are because of that original anointing, because at the beginning the Holy Spirit did something in you and with you. Timothy, your ministry of service so far has been because of the Holy Spirit. Now the threat and the tendency at this time is to depart from that basis, and for another basis of things to come in which is not essentially spiritual - it is something else." It is very important, dear friends, that you should recognise that.

And I do want to say, if I may, in parenthesis, that I am not a little bit concerned in just giving a lot of teaching. I could say a lot about this, but never before in my own life have I seen this tremendous contrast amongst Christians, and in Christianity today. And it is really the cause and root of all the trouble - a difference, a difference not between the Christian and the world, but inside of Christianity itself, a difference between what is spiritual and what is natural. And it's that that we must look at.

Now, in order to be helped, we must take our retrospect much further back. We must go right back to John's gospel. I said that Timothy naturally leads us there, and yet, you see, Timothy doesn't lead us back only. He does that, but you know that John's gospel was written long after the letters of Paul to Timothy, although his second letter to Timothy was the last that ever he wrote, it was years after that John wrote his three books or his three writings: the gospel, the letters and the Revelation. So that Timothy really leads us right into the full development of this other thing. I wonder if you have ever really grasped this, seen it? We take up our New Testament, you see, as we have it compiled, and we say, "Well, of course, the first things in the New Testament are the four gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, that's the beginning of the New Testament". But have you recognised that the fourth of those was written at least, the fourth of those was written long after everything else in the New Testament was written?

If you were compiling the New Testament chronologically, you would have to put John's gospel right over near the end. Now do you see what that implies? Why did John write his gospel, his Letters, and the Revelation, as the last writings of the New Testament age, the apostolic age? Why were they written? Why was the gospel of John written? When was it written? The gospel of John was written when this other kind of Christianity had become almost full-grown - this other kind of Christianity that is not spiritual, but natural. You've got to read John's gospel in the light of the situation existing in the church when it was written, otherwise you can't really get its message, its value. It's a great call back to spirituality. This gospel of John is, as we know, the spiritual gospel. This is not just the earthly life of Jesus; everything here is of spiritual, heavenly, and eternal significance; not of time and earth at all. Note how it begins. Well now, we are coming with that in mind. Do keep it in mind.

When John, the third chapter was written, the third chapter of John's gospel was written when the church had left its first love, when the church had left its first position, when Christianity had taken on an altogether different complexion, was a different thing from what it was at the beginning. And so the third chapter of John's gospel is the enunciation of a fundamental principle of the Christian life which needs to be recovered. Well, look at the third chapter of John's gospel; you know it - or you think you do. Of course, you know the words, you're almost wearied with that name, "Nicodemus". And yes, dear friends, I do not exaggerate; please believe me - I speak the truth when I say I come back to that gospel of John after having known it (well, I wouldn't like to tell you how long) and read it, and studied it, and spoken on it, and I come back and feel, "We've not grasped this; we really have not grasped this - the church has not grasped what is here". It would be impossible for the present situation amongst Christians and in Christianity in general to exist, if what is in the third chapter of John really obtained! I do not exaggerate; I cannot be too strong about that.

And so, at the risk of saying things which you think you know, look at it again. These words, (I'm not going to read the whole chapter and I'm not going to read the whole context) but look here: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Marvel not that I said unto thee, ye must be born anew." (The margin says 'from above'.) "The wind bloweth where it listeth, thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth..." "And knowest not..." this thing is a mystery to you, you don't know: "so is every one that is born of the Spirit." SO is every one that is born of the Spirit!

First of all, you've got:

An Entity.

Well, it's not difficult to understand that on the natural side: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh." That's an entity. Every little new-born baby is an entity of the flesh: it's something quite concrete, something quite definite, and you don't find two, in every respect, exactly alike. It's a peculiar entity. Well, however, we need not labour it, we know it so far as the flesh is concerned and the natural, that which is born is a definite, concrete entity. "That which is born of the Spirit" is a distinct, definite, concrete entity, altogether different, but absolutely real. That, that, that entity, born of the Spirit, is something quite definite and altogether distinct from that which is born of the flesh. A spiritual entity has been brought into being in the case of every new birth of every child of God; different entirely from the entity and the constitution of the natural, but just as real, just as definite.

I repeat: very, very few Christians understand that; they seem to know it - "we've joined something", "we have joined Christianity", "we have gone into the Christian religion" - "we..." put it how you will. It is something objective: "We have come over into some other sphere of interests and activity and life and conduct". That's the idea about Christianity. The Lord Jesus here is saying what the New Testament confirms through and through: that this is an altogether new thing; and this is an altogether different thing; and this is not one bit of the order of the natural; this is spiritual. The natural and the spiritual belong to two different orders and kingdoms. That's the context of these words. And therefore every born-again child of God is, in the innermost truth of their being, a different entity - not that they have taken on something, or gone into something - they are a different entity; I have often used the word 'species' - a different kind of person in their very being; another constitution, another constitution: something constituted by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of God; born from above.

You know, they are talking in our papers now about visiting the moon. At the end of the century men will have landed on the moon - but not with their earthly constitution! No man, just as he is, will ever do that. You have to have an apparatus which constitutes him, in effect, a different kind of person, to live out there. To go into that realm as he is, would be disaster, calamity, oh, destruction. Well, it's artificial in that realm, but the principle is here: you and I will never be able to go to heaven without a new constitution - and not an artificial one! No make-up about this: it has got to be constitutional. There's a clear cut line, broad and unbridgeable, between what we are naturally and what we are as children of God.

Well now, this is explaining what has happened to you if you are really a child of God, if you have really come to the Lord, if you have really had the experience of salvation, you know something's happened to you. You may not know what it is that has happened, but this is what's happened. This is what's happened. The Holy Spirit says, "Look here, we've got to get back there. Things have got off that basis." We have got to again recognise this broad line of difference and division between what is natural and what is spiritual in Christianity. We've got to get back there: a new constitution, a different constitution, by the Holy Spirit.

Dear friends, there are few things more important than that we as Christians should be able to recognise the fundamental difference between what is natural and what is spiritual. You see? And then that's dependent upon your knowledge of things, of course, are you to be able to corroborate and for me to carry my point? (Not many of you will be able to follow.) The natural man is always trying to bring things on to a natural basis. He must bring things on to a natural basis. Reason - he must bring everything on to the basis of natural reason! He must be able to reason the thing through, to comprehend the thing with his reason; he must bring everything within that compass of his own natural reason. And a very great deal of Christianity is just man naturally taking hold of the Bible, of Christian truth, Christian doctrine, Christian things, and interpreting and applying by natural reason. And the Word of God is as distinct as anything can be: the door is closed to that, the door is closed. God's closed the door. You're not going to get into anything through the power of your reason, however big it is - not a bit!

Very well, look at our friend, Nicodemus. He stands for all time as an example. Reason... "How can a man be born...? How can these things be?" A good man, a clever man, an intellectual man, a religious man, but outside the door! The door is absolutely closed to him. Now, you can carry that fact everywhere. Man may be most devout, most devoted, most religious; he may be a red-hot fundamentalist, a champion of Christian doctrine and yet all being in the realm of his own intellectual power and grip, there is a world that is closed to him, of which he knows little or nothing. He has heard the voice, but he "knows not". He has heard the sound, and taken the sound as the sum: but there's a mystery that is still outside of his kingdom. And the result of this is that there may be good, yes, devoted, earnest, sincere people, who, living in that realm in Christian things, cannot understand spiritual people, cannot understand the things of the Spirit, and think that people who really are in the spiritual good of things, are all wrong. Enough said on that; there it is. The natural man must reduce things to the natural basis. Spiritual things will always be a mystery to the natural mind, an enigma; they always will be. That was Jesus; "Remember Jesus Christ".

The difference between Jesus and the Jewish leaders, in their radical and almost fanatical devotion to religion, was not a degree of religion at all. It was not that He was more religious than they, it was the difference between the spiritual and the natural in religion. And He was an enigma, He was a mystery - and, of course, He was all wrong! He could not be right, for, you see, you see natural reasoning says this and that; but how off the mark they were. Now do you get it, do you get the point? It is an exceedingly important one, is this. A real walk with God in the Spirit - while, of course, never contradicting Scripture, but always being consistent with the Word of God - is very often a lonely thing amongst Christians. It's a tragedy that it should be so, but it is very often like that.

What then, is Spirituality?

It is first of all a fundamental constitutional change in the being; a fundamental constitutional change in the entity, in the person, in the being: that's spirituality. After that, it has many outworkings. "The wind bloweth where it likes... and thou hearest the voice thereof, but knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit." What is that? A sovereign act of the Spirit. That takes us back to this other fragment here: "That which is born of the flesh is flesh", and to that earlier fragment in this gospel by John, which makes it so clear, so emphatic: "which were not born of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God". This is something in the sovereign hands of the Holy Spirit and taken right out of the hands of men. You cannot convert yourself, you cannot convert anyone else; you cannot make yourself into this other creature, and you can never make anyone else this. And you can never say when it is to be, for yourself, or for anyone else. All that is a matter of the sovereign Spirit. If the wind decides to blow, it doesn't give you notice a day before that it's going to! It just blows, and when it blows you can't say, "You are out-of-date, you are out of time - this is not a convenient moment!" He blows; and that's all there is to it; He is sovereign.

Now here you are touching a principle: the sovereignty of the Spirit, as represented by the sovereignty of the wind. And you know quite well that it seems useless to stand up against the wind when it really decides to blow. Carry that over further into the New Testament, the principle, and you will read three times: "And the Lord added to the church those that were being saved...", "there were added unto them...", "they were added, they were added to the Lord..." Who added? Who added? Did the apostles add? Not at all. The Lord added!

There is all the difference between our being told to go and join a church, and the Lord adding to Christ; or our joining what we call a church, and being added to Christ. We cannot join Christ at our own will, when we want to, or think we will decide to. We can't do it, because being added to Christ is this thing: being re-constituted on a different principle, and that is not in our power at all. It's the Lord that must do it, so that the adding is His sovereign act; and when He decides to do it, my, it's wonderful, isn't it? And if He doesn't decide to do it, well, you can work yourself to death, and nothing will happen. This is with the Lord.

With the day of Pentecost, the wind blew - a mighty rushing wind. Was it sovereignty? "And there were added... a great multitude." The wind blew - the sovereignty of the Spirit! Oh, how wide and far-reaching is the application of that! Oh, that Christianity were on that fundamental basis today - wouldn't it make a difference? The absolute sovereignty of the Holy Spirit! Why is it not so? Because of the present sovereignty of the natural, because of the intrusion into Christianity of the natural, the natural man. That's all the difference. But we must go on.

Read again John three. Here we have:

A New Constitution.

"That which is born of the Spirit" - a new entity. Here we have the sovereignty of the Spirit: "He blows as He will", and there's always a mystery about Him, always a mystery about Him and about His work; a glorious mystery, glorious mystery. But then further, notice: it's a matter of capacity. It's a matter of capacity. To Nicodemus the Lord says: "Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things? We speak that [which] we do know... If I told you earthly things..." and you've not understood. What? "If you can't understand the secret of the wind - and that is a natural phenomenon, that is an earthly thing, that belongs to your world of reason - if you can't cope with that, what about it when I tell you heavenly things?' "We speak that we do know". Do you see the point?

Here is a difference of capacity: a new faculty, and a different faculty, and of knowledge, and of apprehension, and comprehension, and understanding. Another faculty, it's one; a spiritual faculty, for spiritual things. Oh, I know how familiar this is to many of you, it's not new; but dear friends, we have got to bring this again to the whole realm of our Christianity. I am sure that it has not been yet grasped by Christians, many of long years of Christian life, that, by their very constitution as children of God, they are supposed to have a faculty which makes them capable of comprehending and understanding spiritual things which no natural mind can understand. The youngest child of God is supposed to have the faculty; it may not be fully developed, but it is a constituent of their very entity. Have you grasped that? And the very presence of that faculty is the basis upon which everything in the Christian life is going to be built.

The Holy Spirit only builds upon His own foundation, upon what He Himself puts down as a basis. And that is spiritual: that which is of the Spirit is spiritual. He only builds upon the spiritual basis in us. All our growth, therefore, is going to be along the line of spiritual understanding, spiritual knowledge, not the accumulation of a vast amount of truth, and religious, Christian information, but what the Spirit teaches us. It'll be through the Word, but what the Spirit teaches; He has come for that very purpose.

But you see, there must be a link between us and the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit and us which is in correspondence with Himself. And the link between the Holy Spirit and the born-again child of God is the renewed spirit of the child of God, with this new capacity, so that the child of God, over against, over against the whole world of merely intellectual knowledge, says: "We do know, and we speak that we do know". It may be very little, but you know, you know now. As far as you've gone, it is a knowledge which is yours, which is altogether new and different and you are able to say: "I don't know very much, but what I do know, I know; and the way in which I have come to know it is because, not that it has been presented to me, but because it has happened in me. Something has been done inside; and, although I cannot put it into words or into any theories, I cannot compose it into a set of ideas, I know - I know!" "Therefore I know... We speak that we do know". You know. There's something about spiritual knowledge which is so strong, so settled, so satisfying, so rest-giving. It's like that; a new capacity. What is the difference? "If I have spoken unto you earthly things..." That is one realm: what about the heavenly things? "Now, Nicodemus, with all your wonderful outfit of birth, upbringing, training, education, you are still in the realm of earthly things, and even there they are beyond you. You haven't yet come into the realm of heavenly things. Therefore, marvel not that I say unto you, you must be born from above."

Dear friends, that is a very, very great need with safeguarding the whole Christian situation and in the recovery of spiritual effectiveness in this world - a fresh discernment of the fundamental difference between the natural and the spiritual - yes, even in Christian things, in Christian things. No one thinks that I am speaking about something that is extra to what is in the Word of God. I am speaking about the necessary faculty given by the Holy Spirit, and the necessary work of the Holy Spirit, in order that we should rightly know the mind of the Spirit in the Word of God. And all sorts of things will happen, which will be very sad and very distressing and very wrong if we get on to any other basis than that; as it has been. So, the Holy Spirit who says through Paul to Timothy: "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God..."

(If you prefer the Revised Version you can have it, it doesn't make any difference: "All Scripture given by inspiration of God" - drop out the "is", what difference does it make? Is there such a thing as Scripture in the sense in which it is meant there which means purely the written Word of God? Is there any such written Word of God that is not inspired by the Holy Spirit? It seems a contradiction in terms when you use the word "scripture" rightly, as applying to the written writings of the Bible, it's a contradiction in terms to say "Scripture... some scripture is not inspired by the Holy Spirit and other is" but that's a purely technical point that you needn't worry about.)

It's true, after all, it's true, all Scripture, all the written Word of God is inspired by the Holy Spirit. Now Paul is saying that to Timothy, and in effect he's saying, "Look here, we must get back to what the Holy Spirit has given, what has come from the Holy Spirit, and what, therefore, is spiritual. Get back to that; what God means by things."

John 3 is a tremendous offset, not only to the world of the unconverted and un-born-again, but an offset to a great amount of Christianity as we know it - it is not the Christianity of a different entity, of a different capacity, of a different constitution. Let us be sure that it is with us the right thing, the right thing, and not the false and the imitation.

Now you see, this is not necessarily a special revelation that is given to us or to anybody. Be very careful there. It may sound a fine point, but it's a very important one. It does not mean that, because we are so reconstituted and have this faculty, this other faculty, that we get a special revelation. No, it is not a special revelation, but it is a special faculty for knowing what has been revealed.

And so I'm going to close now by reminding you that that is the inclusive and comprehensive meaning of the advent of the Holy Spirit. What took place on the day of Pentecost was that in the history of the church which corresponded to what took place in the personal life of the Lord Jesus at the Jordan. At the Jordan He was baptised, He was buried - signifying and representing that something is put out of sight. In type, in figure, the natural man goes out of view. He rises, in type, another man, or another vessel. And then what? Heaven opened - the Spirit! And from that point everything is by the Spirit. "Then was Jesus led of the Spirit into the wilderness..." And then to Nazareth: "And He opened the roll, and said, The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me..." "The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me"; everything by the Spirit.

Come to Pentecost. Has the church in its representation or nucleus been baptised into His death? Well, look at them! Look at them! Before, before they were re-established on resurrection ground they are baptised into His death right enough. And they have come to an end of all natural resource, for understanding anything, for seeing through anything, for being able to do anything. They are as good as dead and buried - no prospect, no future. "We had hoped..." - we had hoped, in the past tense - "that it had been He which should redeem Israel... that hope has gone now, nothing". Yes, baptised into His death. But now, the day of Pentecost! What? Raised, a vessel, and now have a look: the Spirit is coming and filling, and from that time everything is by the Spirit.

[Unfortunately the recording stops here, but the following portion is from the messages printed in the book version of these messages.] They had a new knowledge - and how their knowledge grew, even in the Word of God! The Word of God, which was for them the Old Testament, had been so largely a closed book, spiritually. They had only got it in the letter, and they were all wrong in their interpretation of it, as it came to be proved. Now the Bible is new for them, because they are on new ground; potentially in the new day of the Spirit.

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