The Christian Life

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4 - The Eternal Prospect of the Christian

Really try to get to understand what the Christian life really is. In the first place, to show that it is not a petty, small, trivial thing to be a Christian. Hence our first evening was occupied with the immense significance of the Christian life. Then that it is not a superficial thing of passing, changing feelings, sensations, emotions, impressions, but that it rests upon some deep and radical changes in our very constitution. Thus our second evening was occupied with what happens when we become Christians - that is, what happens to us and in us. Then that it is not something which is exhausted in its initial experience, however wonderful and great that may be. It is not all limited to its beginnings, but it is inexhaustible, it is boundless. So our third evening was occupied with the Divine purpose and principles governing the Christian life. And finally, it is not by any means a matter of this life alone, be it short or be it long, but it relates more to what follows, to the life to come. Hence this evening we are to be concerned with the eternal prospect of the Christian life: its relation to the eternal future.

We saw at the beginning that the Christian life is dated back to eternity past; it is not something which just springs up in this particular Christian era, as it is called, but that it was designed by God in His eternal counsels. The New Testament has quite a lot to say about that - and that that eternal Purpose and design is pressing in to this special dispensation in a very definite and particular way.

The past eternity is pressing and pressing up in this age in a particular way. Now we are to see that the future eternity is also pressing into this dispensation. The future eternity is governing the present, is shaping the present, and explains the present. God is not only working onward, really, the onward aspect of Divine activities is our side of things. God is working backward; His side of things is always backward to His full thought in eternity past. He is bringing us on, but He is really bringing us back.

Now to come to this matter of:

The Eternal Prospect of the Christian.

We have to realise - and there's so much of it, it's not difficult to realise - that there is a very large prospective element in the New Testament. That is, the New Testament is always looking on. In the New Testament everything is dominated by the ages to come. The conception was an eternal one, not just a time one. And that conception is far, far too big to be realised in fullness in any time. It is much bigger than all time; it certainly, therefore, cannot be realised in any lifetime of any person. It outbounds time. This is "from eternity to eternity", and it requires timelessness for its full realisation.

This, of course, explains a great deal. It explains the very nature of the Christian life and of Christian service. A very big factor in the ways of God with His people, with Christians, is that of experience. God puts a great deal of value upon experience. It's just when we are beginning to profit by experience, the end comes, and others are beginning to profit by our experience, that the end comes and we are called away, and all the long and full and deep experience has really had no adequate expression. And there is something about that, that would be a problem if God puts so much value upon experience, and then when we have got it we can't use it; it's like a contradiction. It requires an extension somewhere, somehow, to make good all that deep experience which God has taken so much pains to produce. It explains God's ways with us in the path of deep and deepening experience.

Then as to the work of God. Well, the work is difficult, it's hard; the progress is all too slow. And though you may do much, and fill your life, when you have had all the days that can be allotted and have spent yourself to the last drop, what have you done? What have you done, after all, what does it amount to, at most? We have to say - little, comparatively little. There is so much more to be done, and every successive generation of Christian workers has the same story to tell. On we go, on we go, and we never overtake, we never reach anything like fullness in this life. Something more is required to make perfect both our imperfect lives and our imperfect work.

And then another factor, which is not a small one, that God seems (I put it this way, "seems") to be so much more concerned with the worker than even with the work. This, of course, creates the perplexities of Christian life and service. If God were only concerned with our Christian work, well, He ought never to allow us to be laid aside from it, especially either repeatedly or for long periods, and He certainly ought not to allow us to die "prematurely", as we would say. If the work is everything, then He ought to keep us at full strength all our days and extend our days to a full period; but He does not. So many of His choicest people are not able to serve in the way in which Christian service is thought of, be in action; and even those who are fully in action are conscious that the real need, the real need in the work of God is for their own deeper knowledge of God Himself and that God is concerned with them very largely, even more than He is with their work.

What does this say? If all that discipline, chastening, trial, testing, all that we go through under the hand of God, is all that just for now? Surely He is preparing people for something more. People! He is concerned with men and with women - with people - quite as much, if not more than with what they do for Him. This, of course, will never be taken as an excuse for not working to our full degree, but it is all a case for something more. There is nothing perfect or complete while death remains. You'll remember the argument about the priesthood of the Old Testament which the apostle develops in the letter to the Hebrews. The priest of the old dispensation could bring nothing to finality because they died and had to hand on to another; and he never brought anything to finality, he died and had to pass it on to another; and so it went on. And the argument is that nothing was made perfect because of death. But He - Jesus, our High Priest - does, and has made things perfect, because He "ever liveth". The principle, of course, is just this principle: that while death remains nothing is completed or comes to finality. It requires an endless life, the power of an endless life, to reach fullness. That is clearly shown in the Scriptures.

You see, the picture of immortality which the Bible gives us, is a very wonderful one, and one, of course, which we cannot understand in our present order of things. The picture of immortality which the Bible gives us is that of new productions without the dying of the old. Our order at present is that everything new comes out of the death that precedes it. Trees, flowers, everything has to die to produce something new. That's the order of this dispensation! The heart of this dispensation is the great truth of Jesus Christ, the "corn of wheat", falling into the ground and dying, that there should be a production on a larger scale. That's the order of this dispensation, but that is not the order of the coming eternity. The picture of immortality there, as given in the Word, is trees, yes! And new branches, new leaves, new fruit, and the old never dies. The old never dies! Its fruit is brought to perfection without any death at all. I think that's rather wonderful, don't you?

And then when you come to the Word again regarding this prospective factor and element, what a lot there is in the nature of an urge and an imperative to utterness! All the time the apostles are urging us, bringing upon us the weight of this great imperative to go on - go on - go on! By exhortation, by warning, they are constantly saying to us, "Go on and ever on!" This urge and this imperative in relation to being utter, utter for God, having no margin of life that is not burnt up for God, and the point of that argument, that urge, and that imperative, is the coming eternity. All that is in the light of the afterward. Why be utter for God? Ah, the answer is to be found afterward! We must, they say, we must be utter for God because of what is going to follow, because this is not the end, because there is that which, coming afterward, will show the justification for having been utter for God.

Now, that leads us to the next thing in this connection:

The Comparative Element in Eternity.

There is (I think we agree) there is a prospective element in the Christian life which occupies a great deal of the New Testament all of which has to do with the Christian life. Cut out that prospective element from the New Testament and see how much you have got left, whether it be Gospels or Epistles. You won't have very much left if you take that out. It's there and it's mightily there. But in addition to it, there is what I am calling the 'comparative element' in relation to the coming eternity. And again, there is in the New Testament such an element. What I mean by the comparative element is this: that things are not all going to be on one 'mass production' level hereafter. There are going to be differences where the children of God are concerned, and very great differences.

It was to this, of course, that the apostle was pointing when writing to the Corinthians. Speaking about foundations and superstructure, he said: "The foundation is laid. Now let every man take heed how he build thereon. If any man build thereon wood, hay, stubble, gold, silver, precious stones, every man's work shall be tried by fire". And if, if, he implies, it's wood, hay or stubble, it's all going up in smoke. And then he brings in this tremendously forceful word: "If any man's work suffer loss: but man may be saved; yet so as by fire." He may be saved, yet so as by fire; that is, well, the man may just scrape through, as a kind of emergency thing - just managing to get in, as we say, 'by the skin of his teeth'. But everything's gone. The argument surely is that is not what God intended. Over against that we have a phrase like this: "For so an abundant entrance shall be ministered unto you into the everlasting kingdom". On the one hand the possibility of just getting in with your life and nothing more; on the other hand, an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom. You see, there are differences, there are comparisons afterward.

What about those messages to the seven churches in Asia, which we have at the beginning of the book of the Revelation? Now, I do not agree that the people in those churches are only professers and not true Christians. If you grant that, then you have got to face this, that between Christian and Christian there's a difference, and there are certain very distinct promises given to certain Christians there. "To him that overcometh..." "to him that overcometh..." "to him that overcometh will I grant..." See? Surely logic implies: "If you don't, then you won't. If you don't overcome, then you won't get what the Lord offers." There are differences. I don't believe that this is a matter of loss of salvation, but this is something more than just being saved, getting in.

What is the nature of the difference or the differences? Some people will say, "Well, of course, it's reward!" All right, let's leave at that, it's reward if you like. But what reward do you want? What is the reward that you're looking for? You want wealth? Is that the kind of reward you want, riches? Well, a lot of people say it's going to be without them. I don't think that can be looked upon as the sort of thing that will bring us what we need, and really what we want. Do you want honours? Do you want titles? Do you want an armchair for all eternity? What is it you want by way of reward? Let's put the question in another way:  what does the New Testament show to be the nature of the rewards if we're going to hold to that word "reward"? And the answer is this, quite clearly if you'd like to look again. The reward is vocational - it is always vocational. "And His servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face". Service, without all that is associated with service now, service to Him without limit, without restraint, without opposition, without suffering. Service. To be able to serve Him! Well, how does that appeal to you? I can think of nothing that would be a greater joy than just to be able, without all the straitness, and limitations, and difficulties of the work now, to serve the Lord in fullness.

Now, that's where the New Testament puts its finger. It's vocational! And this, it goes on to show, is a matter of related positions, that is, positions in relation to the Lord - different positions for service. Take one illustration, an instance, from one of those messages to the churches. "To him that overcometh, will I grant to sit with Me in My throne". "To sit with Me in My throne..." there you have two ideas. One is a very close relationship with the Lord, a very intimate nearness to Him; and the other, royal service - call it what you will, it's the service of the throne. Again, what's your conception of sitting with Him in a throne? Let us put our mentality right about all these things, thrones and what-not, don't get pictures of sitting on golden or ivory thrones, and that sort of thing. It simply means union with the Lord in the administration of His eternal kingdom. That's the service! But that is said to be a special gift to certain people - if you like, it's their reward. But the point is that it is vocational, and it's a matter of relationship to the Lord.

The final picture that we have in the New Testament, while being so full of symbolism, is an embodiment of these spiritual principles. It's the picture of the City. Now again get your mind clear, and don't think of a literal city. It's only an illustration, a figure, a symbol. This City undoubtedly is the Church. Need I argue that? "The Jerusalem which is above... is the mother of us all...". "Ye are come unto the heavenly Jerusalem". "Ye are come..." we are not coming later on, afterwards, but "Ye are come... to the heavenly Jerusalem... to the church of the firstborn ones", identical: Jerusalem - the Church. So that that City which is said to be the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, is the Church. Now it is put into a particular and peculiar position, like a city, and the idea of a city is that it is the administrative centre. And then we are told that "the nations walk in the light thereof". You see, there is something at the centre for government, and there is much more that is not at the centre. Here is proximity to the Lord, relationship with the Lord for eternal vocation in an administrative way in His kingdom.

That, surely, is enough to bear out what I am trying to say, that there is a comparative element in the eternity to come. And that, that is the point of the urge and the imperative, that is the force of the constraint: "Let us go on unto full growth" - not looking back, but pressing on; with the warnings - not that you lose your salvation, but, but, but there are positions and there is a vocation to which you are called in eternity; you may miss that - you may miss that. I think Paul saw that in what he called "the on-high calling" he saw something of this reigning life in the ages to come.

Now, with God, nothing is just official. God never appoints officers in His Kingdom. It doesn't matter, they are not politicians - officials politically in His Kingdom, neither are they officially, officially ecclesiastical. With God, I repeat, there is nothing just official. You know, God doesn't appoint officers in His Church. God's principle of appointment is always, always according to spiritual measure. God indicates those who are even now in the Church where it is a spiritual thing, where it is according to His mind - He indicates those who are to have oversight as being men of spiritual measure; not selected, chosen and voted in by popular vote or unpopular vote. But according to spiritual measure, that's the principle of the New Testament, and in the Kingdom it's like that. No one is going to have any position just because they are appointed officially to it. Not at all! Every position will be according to our spiritual measure.

Hence again repeatedly:

"Let us go on to Full Growth"

And you know that connected with that phrase "full growth" (in the Authorised Version 'perfection', an unfortunate translation) full growth, it is always the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. It's the measure of Christ! It's just how much of Christ there is, how big we are according to the standard of Christ. That is God's basis of appointment, it will always be with God, it is now, and in the ages to come, it will always be that vocation is settled upon how much of Christ there is in those concerned. God's whole thought, as we saw at the beginning of these meditations, is that Christ shall fill all things.

Now that explains our discipline, for our discipline now is our training for then; and the nature of our discipline now is just to increase the measure of Christ - as we have seen: decreasing the measure of 'I', of ourselves, in every way; setting aside the one man that occupies the place of Christ, and putting Christ in his place. The one all-inclusive object of the Holy Spirit in this dispensation is to make Christ everything, and to get as much room for Christ as He possibly can - and where we are concerned, as much as we will let Him have. Now, that throws us back, of course, upon: are we, are we really going to be utter? The measure of our utterness will be the measure of our usefulness in the ages to come. It's going to be governed by spiritual measure and by no other principle.

Some people find difficulty - a purely mental one - in reconciling reward and grace. It is possible that some legalists are coming back on me in their minds while I'm talking and saying, "Oh, it's all of grace, and you're making it a work. After all, it's all of grace!" Well, of course, you've got to, you've got to somehow explain the place of rewards, haven't you? And how you can't reconcile rewards and grace, but, but it's not so difficult as all that. It's all of grace that we have a chance to be 'utter' at all! It's all the grace of God that I can be a Christian and that I can go on with the Lord, that I can serve the Lord a little bit. It's all of grace. And if suffering is going to lead to glory, and the measure of the glory is going to be according to the suffering, then it will require all the grace of God for that. You can never get outside of grace! And if ever there should come a reward - if you like to visualise such a thing literally now, a reward being offered, I tell you, dear friends, when we get to that point of full understanding and knowledge of all the forbearance and long-suffering and patience of the Lord, we fall on our faces and say, "Oh, I can't take any reward - it's all of Your grace!" It will be all of grace.

But then remember that grace is spoken of in more than one way in the New Testament. There is grace which gives us access and acceptance. "This grace wherein we stand..." all the favour of God, without merit, that we are saved at all, that we belong to the Lord. Yes, that's grace. But then grace is also spoken of as strength - strength beyond salvation - what the Lord meant when He said to Paul in the presence of his affliction and suffering: "My grace is sufficient for thee: My strength is made perfect in weakness". Grace is acceptance without merit, but grace is strength to labour, serve and suffer. It's all grace, however you look at it.

So now we have to focus down upon this: that there is a large place in the New Testament for our meaning business with God. It's not all willy-nilly: you believe, you accept Christ, and that's the beginning, that's the end of it; you get everything now. Well, there's this large place for what I call, "meaning business with God". Here it is, all these entreaties, exhortations, beseechings, which bear down upon this: don't leave anything to chance. Don't leave anything to chance! Don't say, "Oh, well, this doesn't matter very much, this won't hurt, there's not much wrong in this; I've got salvation, and the grace of God will cover all these things and imperfections. I can do this and that, and it won't make much difference; God is a God of love..." The New Testament says, "Don't take any risks." If it doesn't mean about your salvation ultimately, it does mean about something. Something! The whole force of the Word is: "Look here, you be utter!" and God doesn't make provision for anything else.

You go all the way with the Lord, for it's that to which you're called. The Lord has never said anything about, "Well, you only need go so far, and I'll excuse you the rest." No, it's always fullness that God keeps in view, and He's challenging all the time, if we mean business, if we will mean business with God. There will be no place, at last, for our boasting in our endurance, our success, our utterness. Even though we pour ourselves out to the last drop, at last we will be the worshippers - we  will be the worshippers, we shall be the ones who are down before Him most. The most utter people are the ones who are most conscious of their indebtedness to the Lord. It's like that.

And now, we must draw to a close. The great crisis which determines everything, it's always there in the Scripture, always kept in view: a great crisis: the coming of the Lord.

The Coming of the Lord

It's there, it's then, that everything will be determined, though we may have passed on before He comes, the Word makes it perfectly clear that that makes no difference - we'll be there when He comes. We'll be there when He comes and those who are alive when He comes will not get ahead of us. Together we'll be there, and so we'll all be on the common footing and then it will be determined what the future is going to be - just exactly what our place will be, what our function will be. This is the big factor in the prospective aspect of things, it's always that in view: the prospect, always keeps the Lord's coming in view. When we are saved, we receive a new hope, but when we are believers we find that that hope becomes something very definite and concrete, and it becomes, called in the New Testament, "The hope". The hope, and the hope is related to the coming of the Lord.

So that all the appeals, and all the warnings, and all the entreaties are focused down to this: the Lord is coming, and at His coming everything will be decided, everything will be settled. Then the future eternity will be decided upon where we're concerned. And you know all those appeals in the light of His coming, for watchfulness, for being fully occupied till He comes, being on full stretch, and serious warnings that if we're not, something's going to happen - something's going to go wrong. I am not putting this into any system of doctrine, crystallizing it into any form of teaching; but these are the facts; pure, simple facts. At the coming of the Lord, great decisions will take place, and if we are not watching, if we are not occupying, if we are not on full stretch, something's going wrong. The Word makes that perfectly clear in various ways. Something's going wrong! I put it like that, I mean that something's going to be missed.

So we bring the eternity that is ahead right into the present, and see that this is a tremendous motive. It gives a tremendous motive to the Christian life. Oh, the life hereafter, "going to Heaven" or however we may speak about it, is not something that is just out there, in a kind of objective, detached way, and we are looking forward to that day, waiting for that day to come. My dear friends, that day has pressed right into the present! That day is here now in all its implications! I have often put it like this: there is little hope of our going to Heaven, if Heaven hasn't already come to us! Our place then, at any rate, and our vocation then, will depend very largely, if not our salvation, upon the measure that Christ has in us in this life.

Well that, again, explains a lot of things, doesn't it? How the Lord does press into a short time very often, a great deal that produces a measure of Christ in a wonderful way: much suffering, much suffering, much affliction, much trial. And you can see the growth in grace. You discern the patience, the forbearance, the kindness, the love of Christ coming out in this suffering child of God. Why, there's preparation for glory, there's preparation for service. It explains a lot! We can go round it, and look at it from so many different standpoints, but after all it amounts to this: the New Testament keeps the future in view as the great governing thing for the present. The New Testament says that it's going to make a difference in the eternity to come just how far we have gone on with the Lord, and how much room the Lord has gained in our lives now. It's going to be different. It's going to be different and the New Testament says the Lord is coming.

This is no time matter at all. You may die, it makes no difference. You may live, it makes no difference. The Lord will come in His own time, and then all will be decided. See, so many people are interested in the second coming of Christ purely from perhaps a prophetical standpoint - events and happenings in the world and so on - and so few Christians are alive, fully alive, to this fact that the coming of the Lord in the New Testament is always brought to bear down upon this: your spiritual state! "He that really hath this hope" not, "he that hath this prophetic interpretation of the second coming", but "he that hath this hope purifies himself"; he gets ready, gets ready. He seeks that his state is all right, as well as his standing. It matters, it will matter a very great deal.

So we must open the door wide in our Christian lives to that far greater, far greater life that is before us. At most this is a brief one, a small one, but it's only the beginning and all its meanings are going to come out then in fullness.

But will you hear the appeal? The Christian life, as we have said, is a tremendous thing, an immense thing. We are called with an eternal calling, unto an eternal vocation. Here we are just brought into relationship with the Lord, and then are dealt with by the Lord. We are allowed to serve the Lord, but, even in our service we are in school, we are learning, more than anything else. Don't you think that that really is how it ought to be? Not just doing a thousand and one things, but learning a lot. The school of experience... and it is all related to the calling on-high, and the great vocation afterward.

The Lord move our hearts to be utter for Him, leave nothing to chance whatever, take no risks, but like His servant Paul, go for the highest prize, the fullest thing that the Lord ever intended.

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