Life in the Unsearchable Riches of Christ

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - The Riches of Sonship

Message given on July 22, 1966

Lord, Thou knowest our reticence, how afraid we are of just heaping on words, ideas, information, priming the mind and thereby blocking the channel to the Spirit. But we can do nothing but appeal to Thee and trust Thee that the Spirit of Truth will Himself pierce through the mind, the brain, the head, and right down into those innermost recesses and make the Word of God what it is said to be: sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit. Lord, let this be the effect of the ministry already today, and now, and onward. We look to Thee in our need, in our helplessness apart from Thee. Do Thine own work for Thine own Name's sake. Amen.

You will remember that yesterday morning in our consideration we stopped short and broke off before we were finished with what was on our heart when we were considering this other of the unsearchable riches of Christ: the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints. And so we simply proceed with that this morning and do not follow on to a fresh aspect.

But I want to say here at the outset that this is going to be probably the most difficult thing to grasp, to understand, and perhaps to accept of all that is being said this week. Peter, referring to all the letters of the apostle Paul, did say: "Our beloved brother Paul..." but in the next breath he said, "in all of whose letters there are some things hard to be understood". Now, whether Peter meant that for himself, he hadn't grasped it all, or whether he was speaking about other believers, I don't know. But I'm not Paul, and I am not asking you to read my letters, but I do feel that about what is on my heart this morning, it will be difficult to understand. And you will be required to give very close and careful attention, almost to every sentence, because every sentence has a so much wider context than we can mention and refer to.

Well, having said that, and I trust, prepared you for some hard work, and I'm sorry that it comes at this time, I was waiting and working for the opportunity to just get to my brother this morning, "Go right on over the second session!" I could have come on this afternoon alright, but I didn't get the chance, he didn't do it. You will suffer that, will you.

So, we will come to this: the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, and again we are going to let Solomon help us as our interpreter, or our pointer. The corollary of inheritance is, of course, heirship, and that of heirship is sonship. In the Bible heirship means sonship with a particular connotation.

At that point we will read - just to refresh our memories on this matter - from the first book of the Chronicles, at chapter 28. 1 Chronicles 28, we will just take out two verses from this larger setting, verses 5 and 6:

"And of all my sons..." this is David speaking, "And of all my sons - for the Lord has given me many sons - He has chosen Solomon my son to sit upon the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel. And He said unto me, Solomon thy son, he shall build My house and My courts; for I have chosen him to be My son"; (this is the Lord speaking): "and I will be his father".

The Lord is leaping right ahead of David, isn't He? Of course, as we have said, with Another in view - the Greater Son of David, the Greater than Solomon, as Jesus said, who is here. So then, sonship is the focus of this hour.

And you will notice that in these verses, as in others in this context, there was a selectiveness about this matter of sonship. "The Lord has given me many sons" - but - "but He has chosen, He has selected, selected Solomon my son". We know that David had many sons. We don't know very much about most of them. One or two come right out conspicuously, like Absalom and Adonijah, but of all his sons, God selected Solomon - the son of David's old age. At the point of ripeness and maturity, sonship came into full view. The principle and reality of sonship emerged from a long history of maturing, of ripening, of bringing to spiritual fulness. And we are so much on one line this morning without any collaboration, this maturity in David, out of which this sonship sprang forth, sprang into being, sprang into life, this maturity was through a long history of deep discipline, a long history of deep and often bitter experience, of suffering.

First, there were the sufferings from without, and it's here where you must bring to mind more than I say, here's a brief statement, but oh, how much gathers around it. No sooner was David anointed as a youth, than trouble started in his life. Suffering! Oh, what a long drawn-out period of suffering and discipline under that man Saul, from the day that Saul spied him, eyed him with a jealous eye, and hurled his spear at him to transfix him. David evaded the spear and fled. Right on though those years of being hunted amongst the rocks, in the hills, and in the desert, so that he cried: "I'm like a pelican in the wilderness, like a sparrow upon the housetop... and dost Saul come out to seek a flea?". You know it all - the long, bitter history of suffering coming upon him from without because of the anointing.

Here you have got to do some changing of your thinking: "Oh, the anointing, if only we have the anointing, oh, the Lord will anoint us, won't that be wonderful? Oh, that will be power!" Alright, from the day of the anointing, trouble began, suffering began from without; persecution of the usurping, envious, jealous forces. That's their nature, from without. And then that second period of suffering, for it didn't stop when Saul was out of the way. I think perhaps David might have thought at one time: 'Well, if only Saul is out of the way, then life will go smoothly', and that is why, on more than one occasion when Saul was at his mercy, David would be, would befriend, "Now you've got your chance, God has delivered him into your hand, this will be your deliverance from all your trouble. Smite him!" but David refrained; didn't think himself worthy of being a prince. But when Saul was smitten in battle, David's troubles didn't cease, but they changed, and now the period of suffering is through his own faults. Formerly it was not the suffering through his faults at all, but now it is through his own fault, if you remember.

We spoke of Absalom. Absalom, the murderer, was brought back by David to Jerusalem without repentance, without contrition, in pride. And we know the story of what David suffered because of that weakness on his part - the weakness of sentimentality as over against Divine principle. Oh, he suffered! I think that David never really did get over the effect of that episode with Absalom. I believe it registered something in his life forever after.

Then that great mistake of numbering Israel; the uprising of conceit, pride, of arrogance, commanding that there should be a numbering. One narrative says that satan provoked him to do it. The other doesn't say that, but he did it. And even this carnally-minded, unspiritual man, Joab, saw through it: 'The Lord make the people ten thousand times more, but should my lord do this thing?' Nevertheless, David brushed aside Joab's judgment and went ahead and numbered. Do you remember the consequence? The angel of the Lord with his sword drawn offering David alternatives: pestilence, plagues, and so on, and the mowing down, the mowing down of thousands in Israel. This is, this is reaction to his pride - reducing, isn't it? Where he wanted to multiply for his own glory, but what suffering this was, through the exposure of himself - suffering coming out of his own mistakes and faults.

Again, when he would bring the ark to Jerusalem, sending to fetch the ark and bringing it on a new cart, carrying the Testimony of the Lord on a bit of mechanical contrivance, a bit of organisation which had its origin and inception amongst the Philistines. And as they came to the threshing floor, the oxen stumbled, the ark was in peril, and Uzzah put forth his hand to steady it. And the Lord smote Uzzah, it was there that he died before the Lord. So David was offended with the Lord, was angry with the Lord, he turned the ark aside into the home of Obed-Edom, where it stayed for a long time. It says 'the time was long', and we can only imagine something of what David must have been going through for that mistake. That mistake. Policy in the place of principle! Have you got that? This world is run on policy in the place of principle. Policy! Politic - what is politic; what is diplomatic, not principle. How much there is of that even in Christianity! But here it is written large and clearly, for our warning; God doesn't hide the failures of His best servants. But David must have suffered intensely over this mistake.

And then what about Bathsheba? We started with that, and we need not go over that sad, dark story again. Oh, the suffering that weaves itself through these Psalms: "My, my sin is ever before me... Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean". The suffering through his own mistakes!

Let me say this at once: if you are ever looking for a man - be he a man of God of the highest status and standing - who is faultless, you are going to be disappointed. And the Lord is going to allow you to be terribly disappointed because there is only one, no one is going to take His place; the faultless One.

But again, there is this about sovereign grace. You know, if we were not believers, if we were not the Lord's, if we were not under the hand of the Lord, these things, these mistakes that we make, these blunders that we make, these wrong things in our lives, would be our entire undoing. We should be sorrowing as those who have no hope. But while it is true that in the life of believers very often there are these shocking mistakes, God sovereignly has hold of them for training. That is what we are coming to; the sufferings that come because of our own foolishness and weakness.

And then, I think it must have been a poignant night when, after storing and stocking all the materials for the house of the Lord, to realise his life-long ambition to find a place for the Lord, Nathan was sent by the Lord to him: "Thou shalt not build Me a house". That must have been a stunning blow and I think through the hours of that night David must have had a very, very deep, dark time. All his life's ambition and all his preparations for its realisation were struck down with one blow: "Thou shalt not build Me a house, but thy son after thee".

But here are the sufferings through which this man went which brought him to maturity, to spiritual maturity, which made him the man to whom the Lord can refer again and again, and yet again, with pleasure and with delight. The New Testament has nothing in it about the dark side of David's life, and yet it mentions him over thirty times. How wonderful the Lord is! How gracious! All his sufferings of every kind were used by the Lord to bring this man to the place where the Lord could look upon him as, "A man after My own heart, a man after My own heart." That's unsearchable grace!

Now, out of all that suffering, emerged sonship. Emerged sonship. It wasn't until that day when that story was completed, and David had rest, that the Lord spoke about his son and brought Solomon into view as the selected one. I do want you to keep your finger on that word "selected" and hold it as we go on and watch as we come now from Solomon, from David, over to David's later Son, to the New Testament; to the New Testament.

We have said that here sonship has a peculiar connotation. Sonship in the New Testament is not just the birth into the family of a male child. Sonship in the New Testament is something more than birth into the family and it is something different. Watch this closely, because I feel this to be one of the most vital issues, perhaps of this conference. Yes, sonship in the New Testament is more than birth into the Lord's family. Of course, birth, childhood is potential sonship. We are sons of God through faith potentially, but not absolutely. Not absolutely.

There is a special word in the New Testament related to sonship, not to childhood, but to sonship, and that word is 'adoption'.


You are familiar with it, aren't you? You can look it up, I can't give you all the references now and quote all the scriptures, but there it is - adoption. And adoption in the New Testament is something different from birth, from being a child in the family.

I was talking to a Hebrew scholar last week and I raised this question with him. I said: "As far as I can discover, this idea of Paul's about adoption has no place whatever in the Hebrew economy. I can't find it at all in the Mosaic economy, in the Old Testament".

He said: "You're right." And I said, "I'll go further" - because this Hebrew scholar was also a Greek scholar - "I'll go further: I cannot find it in the Greek world, this idea that Paul has about adoption. I can only find it in the Roman world, as a part of the Roman system and economy".

He said: "You're right", and then I got this and wrote it down illustrating Paul's acquaintance with Roman law, with Roman law: "The process of legal adoption by which the chosen heir became entitled not only to the reversion of the property, but to the civil status, to the burdens as well as the rights of the adopter, became, as it were, the other self of the adopter. The heir, by adoption, became the other self of the one who adopted him; one with him." This was a principle and a practice in Roman law. It was the placing of one, who was already a child in the family, in the position of responsibility to represent and act for the father who adopted his own child for that purpose. There was a ceremony of adoption of his own child, the boy who had been with him through the years, in the family, his own child came to the day of adoption, when he was placed, placed and given the father's honour, the father's responsibility, the father's trust that wherever that son, or that child, that son went, it was in effect the going of his father.

Now Paul has lifted that right out, you see, of the Roman economy and brought it into Christian teaching, truth, and he uses it again and again. And dear friends, I would want, I would ask you to note with that word 'adoption', it is usually in the future. Romans 8: "Waiting for the adoption, to wit, the redemption of our body... the manifestation of the sons of God" - future. This thing, adoption, is future. It's something more than being a child of God. Adoption is child-placing, and that is Hebrews 12, if you like to read it carefully: "And scourges every son whom He places". "Whom He places", that's the original, not "whom He receives". Adoption is child placing, or placing in the meaning of sonship.

Now, is that difficult to understand? Let me say then that sonship in the New Testament is the highest and greatest thing that ever God has revealed to man. The greatest thing that ever God has revealed to man is this destiny to which He has called him: to be sons. You know that the letter to the Hebrews is wholly based upon this. It begins with: "God has spoken Son-wise". At the end of all His speaking, He has now spoken "Son-wise". The original does not say: "in His Son", although of course, it means that. It says just this: 'Son-wise', Son-wise and then the whole letter goes on on that basis. I will come to that again in a minute.

'Sonship' means the full concept of God in creating man - the representation of God. "Let us make man in our own image, after our own likeness". What is that if it is not representation of God? That when you will see the man perfected, you will see God in expression. That's what we've been hearing this morning, whether it be the City, or the Bride, or Body, or whatever it is, when the work is finished, it will be that man is an expression of God.

Representation - that's the destiny for which God called and created man. Responsibility! I know, I think, what our brother would have gone on to say this morning if he had more time, I think he would have come to the real meaning of the City, not only its nature. What is a city? Well, what is Washington? What is London? It is the administrative centre of the whole realm, the governmental focal point. The City, the new Jerusalem, is only a type and figure after all, a symbol of the church glorified, but in its predestined position to govern the nations that walk in the Light thereof. But this is something special, something specific, something different: a governmental position, a responsibility through the ages to come.

When the Lord put His hand on Solomon: "Solomon, thy son", "The Lord has chosen Solomon of all my sons", it was with the throne immediately in view. The throne immediately in view: a governmental position and responsibility was there at once. You notice that, don't you? And here you are: sonship emerges in this great trust for God throughout the ages to come in government.

We have often said it and I believe it is quite true, that just now the world rulers of this darkness are the evil powers in the heavens. I don't think there's any doubt about that, the evil powers, with satan at their head, in the unseen in the heavens, the principalities and powers and the world rulers of this darkness, hosts of wicked spirits in the heavenlies. They are governing this world. They are influencing this world, they're having a great deal to do with the course of this world. That does not set the Lord aside as supreme Lord, He is, He is using all that, He is making it subject to His end, but there they are. He has not annihilated this other rule, it is there.

And I confess to you that one of the most difficult problems that I have in the New Testament, I have wrestled with this problem a good deal, I don't know that I have finally got the answer yet, is Paul's saying, "But satan hindered". This Paul who speaks about Christ, "far above all rule and authority and principality and power in this age and in that which is to come" and here is the servant of God seeking to pursue the course of his Divine vocation, to fulfil the eternal purpose of God, and he says, "And I, Paul, once and again would have come to you, but satan..." Now, you can get down to that one and give me the answer if you can, but there's the statement that satan is very active. He does have powers of frustration, interfering - he's always interfering. Well, that's another line by itself, but it's a statement of fact. These evil forces are the forces which are so much influencing men and things on this earth. They are going to be displaced for the government of the new creation, the new heavens, and the new earth - they will be wiped out, put into the abyss. But God never believes in vacuums, and their place is going to be taken by the church. "Know ye not that the saints, the saints shall to rule the world?" Do some reading with me! What? That again in a moment.

This, dear friends, is what is inherent in sonship. It is the throne, the rulership, the great trust and honour God conferred upon the sons, the sons. And this, to take up what our brother has been saying, is the explanation of the child-training.

The Child Training

Hebrews 12, as you know: "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord... Whom the Lord loves He chastens... God dealeth with you as with sons ... We had the fathers of our flesh who chastened us... as it seemed good to them, as it pleased them". I don't know that it's always a pleasant thing for a father to chasten a son, however, that by the way. "We had fathers of our flesh who chastened us... shall we not be more in subjection to... the father of" what? "Our spirits!" Oh, that has a big context; hasn't it? The Father of our spirits, that which was born again. Not our body certainly, and not our souls, our spirit. "The Father of our spirits", and this child-training, this discipline it goes right to the depth of our inner being. It's a spiritual thing, it focuses upon our spirit, He has spiritual sons. That's where it is really.

You see, you may have a lot of trouble, all sorts of things, you may have rheumatism, or you may have this or that infirmity in the body and you may just write it off as that, "Oh, my rheumatism is bad today..." or whatever it might be, your outward form of something. If you do that, your only recourse is to the doctor - to the doctor to ask if they can help you. But if you realise that this is a spiritual [touch], that it's touching me deeper, touching my relationship with the Lord, it's touching my walk with the Lord, it is just touching me in the realm of my spiritual life, ah, you've got the key, got the key then to the discipline! Then it is not just your physical or bodily infirmity, it is your spiritual training. And it's wonderful, isn't it, what the Lord can do!

I've often told of an incident of many years ago, I was speaking at a Keswick convention in the south of England, and after the meeting a brother came to me. I hadn't met him before, I discovered that he was a doctor. He said: "Mr. Sparks, my wife is an invalid she has been confined to bed for twenty years. I wish you would come along and pay her a visit, and have prayer with her. I think it would be a help to her". So I said I would come that afternoon. I went home and prayed about this: "Oh, Lord, make me a blessing to this dear woman..." and so on, and so on. I put myself in that position of somebody going, you see, to help somebody in trouble and difficulty. I arrived at the house and the doctor opened the door and said: "Come in, come upstairs". And I went up and he showed me into the bedroom. Well, I was expecting to find a poor, suffering woman in distress, and bowed down, but I saw in that bed something radiant! Something radiant, the very room was full of the peace of God. And I sat down, I didn't kneel down, and she began to talk with me. And if ever there was a flowing out of a stream of Life, of glory... do you think I could pray for that, that dear woman, to be a blessing to her? I went down in utter shame. "I, minister to that? I don't know anything about that. I don't know anything about that, I've never been in that place!" I remember it, you see, to this day. No, she could have lain there and moaned about her suffering, long, drawn-out, and all that; instead of that, it was the glory of the Lord because she was taking it in the right way, as her spiritual training. I expect to find people like that in a very high place in the City, in the Kingdom, carrying responsibility.

My last touch with Miss Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur, I know many of you know that name and know her books and every wonderful work God used her to do in India. My last touch with her was when she was not far from the end. She had been lying for several years in complete helplessness and much suffering. I was shown into the room, and I went in very quietly, and thought perhaps, what was I going to say to this person that would be helpful to her at a time when I was being very much persecuted and ostracised. And she'd heard all about it, she had heard all about it, all the bad reports about this man coming in, and I thought: 'What am I going to meet here?' She smiled beautifully: "Do sit down," she said, "I am so glad to meet you because you are a fellow-lover of my Lord, and that's all that matters". And the fragrance of Eden was in that room. The beauty of holiness, peace, and joy, and she went quietly away to be with the Lord like that. It registered!

Oh, you see, there are sufferings and sufferings. The Lord's intention in our sufferings is our spiritual maturity, and rightness, with a purpose. And this purpose is to reign with Him, "lf you suffer with Me, you shall reign together". You see? It is the throne that is in view. Not just to get into heaven, not just to get in, but to have an abundant entrance into the everlasting kingdom. That means being brought into a great responsibility, because we are qualified to take it through the work of God in us.

Now, in the few remaining moments, let me bring you right up against it see, because you may be thinking this is some particular teaching. I've got into a lot of trouble with this. I suppose one would expect it. But dear friends, this is not a teaching, and this is not something I have read or concocted. This is something which has come to me along the lines of a very big implicit challenge. It's the challenge of the New Testament. Of course, the Old Testament is implicit, but particularly the challenge of the New Testament. And when you are brought face to face with what I have said and am saying, you are really brought face to face with your New Testament.

Take it on the broadest basis. I ask you, why is it that more than ninety per cent of the New Testament was written for Christians? If you're a Christian, if you're born again, if you have accepted the Lord Jesus as Saviour, haven't you got everything? Haven't you arrived? What more is necessary? Why the New Testament, then? Even the gospels were written for the believers, remember. Why all this: the New Testament, with all its entreaty to believers, its admonitions of believers, its exhortation to believers and its warnings to believers. Why all this? Well, some have resolved it, you see, in systematised doctrine, and that is the strength of Arminianism: "Because, because your salvation is in danger, because it is possible, having once been saved, to be eternally lost; once having received the gift of eternal life, to have it taken away!" Well, I'm not going to argue that. Believe it, if you like. I don't believe that's the answer to the New Testament any more than the other extreme is the answer - which our brother spoke of - the ultra-Calvinism, which is only another word, ultra-Calvinism, another word for fatalism. Fatalism: "Well, what is to be will be..." you see, and it wipes the floor of all of this.

Well, why all this New Testament, with its appeals and its warnings and its urgings, if there is not something more than being saved? That's the question: if there is not a difference between a child and a son, or between being in the family and obtaining the inheritance - the inheritance!

Well, that's the broad basis, what about Paul - Paul personally? I came up against this, you see, and you will, you must; you cannot put on blinkers over this matter. You must look it straight in the face.

Paul in his letter to the Philippians: "Brethren..." oh, this man is at the end of his long life of devotion, and service, and suffering; there is no man more utter for the Lord than this man. Here he is in his prison in the last days of his life, and he is saying: "Brethren, I count not myself yet to have attained, neither am I already complete, complete, full, but this one thing I do, forgetting the things which are behind, I press on toward the prize of the on-high calling". The prize of the on-high calling! Do you believe that Paul was afraid of losing his salvation at that time? Oh, it would involve the righteousness of God, wouldn't it? And a lot of other things, too. Oh no, he has seen something, he has seen something beyond being saved; marvellously saved, wonderfully saved and fully saved, but something more... that is: why he was saved! Unto what? In God's mind? Hear him saying to the Corinthians: "Lest having preached to others, having held it to others, I myself should be rejected". For what? The prize! "Lest I should be rejected, cast away, when it comes to the prize". No, Paul's fear was not the fear of losing his salvation. I can't believe it at all.

You come to this letter to the Hebrews and, as I have said, it is built upon this very thing, sonship, from beginning to end. And in the end this sonship is set forth in the figure of a race with 'so great a cloud of witnesses' in the gallery, the heavenly gallery, and we down here in the race: "Let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking away unto Jesus, the author, yes, and the perfecter of faith; who for the joy that was set before Him..." remember the original says: "Instead of the joy set before Him". When was that? On the mount of transfiguration. He could have gone right in, as far as His own rights were concerned, into the glory. Glory had come, and He could have gone up with the glory so far as He Himself was concerned. He came down the mount, and instead of the glory then, He endured the cross and despised the shame - for us! That's the letter to the Hebrews: for us, to bring us in to sonship. Sonship, to sonship it was undertaken.

Well, you know, this sonship can be sabotaged by many things, and if there is one thing the enemy will try to do, it will be to come in between Christians and their being saved, and their attaining unto the full purpose of their salvation. He'll stop the way, as clearly as the nations stood to thwart the path of Israel when they were moving over into the land, in effect saying "You shall not inherit, you shall not go". So these forces in the heavenlies stand to thwart our path and purpose in coming to the inheritance. That is why the Christian life becomes a conflict, a battle! To use our brother's language, "Cheer up! It's going to get worse!"

Yes, yes. It is getting more and more intense for believers to go right on, to stand fast and go on. Oh yes it is. You ask some of our brethren in the Far East about that, in Siberia and China, and other places! Oh, it is becoming intense and difficult to hold on our way. It's a battle but, you see, the prize is there. And I do not understand the first two chapters of the book of the Revelation unless what I have been saying is quite true. "To him that overcometh..." is the word to Laodicea, "will I grant to sit with Me in My throne". Well, if I don't overcome, what is thwarted? My salvation? You see, this thing has been sabotaged by certain interpreters and commentators who say those people to whom the letters in Revelation were addressed, were not Christians; there were only professing Christians. I don't believe it! I don't believe it! You read it again, and there is no logic in what was in those letters if they were not believers. But here to believers: "Let no man take thy crown," he says, "Let no man take thy crown" - to believers. "To him that overcometh", and the high point of overcoming is "to sit with Me in My throne", whatever that be.

Now, this is a matter of vital consequence, dear friends. Really, perhaps, what the Lord would bring to us as a challenge. It is what the letter to the Hebrews again says: "Let us go on - not laying the foundation, but let us go on! Let us go on!", everything... not for our being saved, but the purpose of our being saved is bound up with our going on.

It is going to be costly, but I am quite sure, though sometimes even this kind of assurance and glorying becomes enshrouded in clouds, but I'm quite sure that when you and I go through, right through and come to glory and are placed in that great day of adoption, are placed, placed where God eternally intended us to be, in that responsibility, great responsibility, for governing the nations that will walk in the light thereof, governing the earth, we shall say then: "It was worth it brother, it was worth it! Often I was tempted to just sit down, and be satisfied with being saved and getting into heaven, but I am glad I never did compromise. It is worth it!"

The Lord help us to go on!

In all this we need that touch of Thy finger, oh Lord, where we see, we understand. Oh, and how much we shall need Thy grace to accept to go on a lonely way, not understood by perhaps the majority even of Christians, ostracised by even leaders amongst Thy people; a lonely way, a difficult way. Help us, Lord, oh, help us not to cast away our confidence which has great recompense of reward, but to stand, withstand, and having done all, to stand. So help us God, in the Name of the Lord Jesus, amen.

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