The Cup and the Fire (Transcript)

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4 - The Testing of The Fire

We return again to our basic passage of Scripture, the twelfth chapter of the gospel by Luke, at verse 49: "I am come to send fire on the earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished! Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. They shall be divided; father shall be divided against the son, and the son against the father; the mother against the daughter, and the daughter against the mother; the mother in law against her daughter in law, and the daughter in law against her mother in law."

I confess to you that is one of the things that the Lord said that I least like, that I find myself most unhappy to speak about. But there it is. If anyone else but He had said it, perhaps we should have found a way. I'm quite sure that if that had originated with me or with any of us here, it would have caused very great offence. But He said it. And it seems to me to be all of a piece with the beginning of that statement.

And I think perhaps you have noticed that this is a very abrupt change in the whole course of the narrative. You get to the end of verse 48 and you seem to have been on one thing; and then quite abruptly there is this change. I can only think that there was a pause on His part. He said that; and then He was quiet for a moment, and His mind ranged the future - the future of His own influence and effect upon the world. And then He began this part of His utterances, in quite a different frame and realm: "I came to cast fire upon the earth. That is why I came; that sums up the meaning of My coming. Why did I come? For what did I come? What is to be the outcome and the issue? I came to cast fire upon the earth... and how am I pent up, straitened, limited! What do I want? What is it that is necessary? Well, I have a baptism to be baptised with, and I wish that were over! I wish that were accomplished and then I should be free of this straitness and this limitation. And the purpose for which I have come could be realised. Oh, that it were already accomplished - this baptism of the Passion, of the Cross!" So He thinks and so He speaks.

Now, this morning we took one fragmentary implication of this casting of fire upon the earth, noting of course that the meaning of that was the coming of the Holy Spirit, the baptism of fire, the Spirit of fire. And that fire is a positive thing, there's no mistaking fire: when it touches you, you know it. Now this afternoon we are just taking one other aspect of this. I think probably, for the time being, the last.

I have said that this paragraph, from verse 49 to verse 53, seems to be all of a piece: the effect of the fire, and it is very terrible here. It introduces the element of judgment. And there is no need to argue with anybody who knows anything about the Bible at all that fire in the Bible is very often, so often, the symbol of judgment - and here it is here, but we want to comprehend the meaning of that word 'judgment'. We so often limit it to one of its aspects, and perhaps that's the final one.


You just 'bring to judgment' - and we mean by that, to punishment - the final, perhaps the final effect of judgment. But judgment in the Bible is a more comprehensive word than that. In the Bible judgment (and this can be clearly seen in terms of fire, or fire in terms of judgment) it is to begin with a trying of things, a trying of things: putting them to the test. Now Scriptures will leap to your mind to bear that out. Fire tests, the fire tries, the fire finds things out, doesn't it? It finds out. That is the first effect of fire and that is the first meaning of judgment: to put everything to the test, to try it.

And having done that, it discriminates: that is, it divides, it shows to which category things belong, and it puts them there. Fire has that effect. It says that that is of that kind, and it belongs to that kind; it belongs to that category, or that realm, or that kingdom - this belongs to another. Fire finds out: it discriminates, and it divides, and then it relegates. Finally, it says, that has been found to belong to a certain realm; it has been designated, it has been discriminated; we put it there, it belongs there, we put it there. And that is the final effect of the fire.

That is the content of the word 'judgment'. We must always keep that full meaning in mind when we use the word. We will not dwell upon it in application more fully at the moment, we get on with the message.

We are shown in the Word of God that this judgment - which would come with the coming of the Holy Spirit, mark you - the effect of Christ's release through the Cross, in the coming of the Holy Spirit, was to cast fire. In other words, the effect of Christ's release would be the coming of the Spirit as the Spirit of fire; and as the Spirit of fire His presence would always be in terms of judgment in this threefold sense of the word. The Holy Spirit's presence is like this and it has this effect. And we are led by that into the Word to see the realm in which that operates.

Now here in chapter 12 of Luke's gospel we have it operating in one realm. We read those terrible words: "Think ye that I am come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, Nay, but rather division." The old word in the old version is "a sword". Division! It sounds terrible, and we are on very delicate ground, we have got to be very careful. He goes on to explain what He means by division: "Henceforth there shall be five in one household divided, three against two, and two against three." And then the division in the family. Here the fire is at work in the realm of human relationships.

Now let me here in parenthesis say at once, and with considerable emphasis, that this has nothing to do with divisions within the Church, divisions amongst those who are in Christ. That is not what the Lord is speaking about nor is it what He is pointing to. He is thinking in a totally different realm, He is speaking in the spiritual realm. This division takes place entirely upon a spiritual basis. The divisions, the divisions as we have them in the first letter to the Corinthians are because of other things amongst believers that are not spiritual, but this is a spiritual division essentially and basically.

Perhaps the classic illustration or example of the one that we have way back there in the early part of the Old Testament, is the case of the Levites. You will call to mind when they had reached the wilderness, Moses was called up into the Mount. He was there so long that the people came under a very severe test - I think deliberately, placed under a very severe test as to really where their hearts were: whether they really were after their own interests or after God's, their own ends or His; whether their hearts were in this matter with the Lord, or whether their hearts were set upon their own gratification and pleasure. They were put to the severe test of that probationary period of the forty days and the forty nights in which Moses was in the Mount, and they broke down under the test. When Moses came down, hearing the noise in the camp, you remember what had happened - the calf and the dancing. "These be thy gods, O Israel, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt."

And Moses took the tent and moved it right outside of the camp, and stood in the door and cried: "Who is on the Lord's side? Who is on the Lord's side, let him come unto me." And all the sons of Levi went over to him. And he said, "Gird every man his sword upon his side, and go in and out and slay every man his brother, every man his friend." The thing, the sword, the fiery sword, has come into the realm of human relationships. It is finding out where the heart is, it is testing the heart; it is discriminating between motives, "intents and the thoughts of the heart" you know where I am quoting. And it is putting in the category to which these people belong. Well, here are the Levites, who have been put to the test and have come through it triumphantly, and for evermore they represent God's thought for His people. They stand as representing the full, pure thought of God for His people. The point is that this work of judgment, of the fire, of the sword, came into this realm of human relationships, to find out the heart; the motive of the heart.

And you can take that into Luke 12, just that, that is what it means. The divisions, even within the family, and the home, the household, will be made by the Holy Spirit on this matter of the relationship of the heart. We can see, can we not, as we read the story of Israel in the wilderness, that that nation in the wilderness, that generation, that their hearts, as the Psalmist said, "were not steadfast toward God". In their heart they lusted after Egypt - the fleshpots of Egypt. Their heart was back there, even while they were in the wilderness; and that generation never did go in because its heart was not with the Lord. It is a matter of inward division isn't it, it's:

The Division in the Heart.

Now, the Holy Spirit is always a divider in that way; it is a work of the Holy Spirit to do that. In a sense - not in the wrong sense, and be careful how you take me up - in a sense the Holy Spirit is the cause of divisions. There is a realm in which He is the divider.

Now let us take our Bible and go right back to the beginning. The Spirit of God brooded upon the chaos, the darkness, the void. What was the first thing done by and through the Holy Spirit? Dividing between things, a process of division between light and darkness. "And God divided the light from the darkness. And the light He called Day, and the darkness He called Night". God divided and God said, "It is good!" It is good - there is a division that is good, you know, it's something that the Holy Spirit makes between light and darkness.

And then God divided between the heaven and the earth. He put them asunder, they got too near; one was right down on top of the other, that you could not discern or discriminate between the clouds of the heavens and the earth. And He put the firmament between, He divided between the heaven and the earth, and the one He called Heaven and the other He called earth. And it was very good. It's good!

Now these are Old Testament things which have, as we know, a New Testament meaning. These are found in their counterpart in the new creation. And when you come to this book of the Acts, it is the book of the Holy Spirit at work in relation to the new creation. And so you'll find all the way through this book divisions are taking place as a result of the action of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, you can say that is the characteristic of the Spirit's work right through the New Testament: a dividing between light and darkness; a judging of this and saying: "That is darkness - that is one realm, and that is Light - and that is another realm; and these two can never, in the right and proper way, obtain together, they cannot co-exist. They are separated and belong to two entirely different categories." And the Spirit of God has done that.

Interpret that spiritually, and you'll see what it means. What a tremendous amount there is bound up with that in spiritual life! It works out in this way, dear friends, that anyone who really has the Spirit (and this is the test) this is the test: anyone who really has the Spirit is very sensitive to Light and very sensitive to darkness. They know quite well that there is a big division that God has made; and when they touch anything that belongs to the darkness realm, they feel the darkness in their own spirit, they know they have touched darkness, they know they've come into another realm. That is the work of the Spirit, and a very important work of the Spirit.

On the other hand, anyone who has the Spirit will be equally sensitive to Light. When there is true, true Light (we will define that in a moment) when there is true Light, the spiritual man or woman at once leaps to it. Why? Because this kind of Light is not cold light: it is the light of fire - it is living Light that has energy in it. You can have light, but it's cold. You can have imitation fire, but it's cold. We've got one of those things at home that you switch on, you know, and there's the imitation of coal, but it doesn't make any difference, other than psychologically! You see the thing, and perhaps you imagine something, but really it's all an illusion. And you can have that kind of light, but it's imitation, it's artificial, it's false. You can switch it on and equally quickly switch it off. But that is not the light of fire, which is energetic.

And the Light of the Spirit, the Light of God, the Light of Christ, is always living Light, energetic Light. And when you and I who have the Spirit come into touch with Light, it is not that we become mentally and intellectually interested, fascinated, charmed or captivated. It is that something within us leaps up and responds; we have met energy.

These are marks of the Spirit, judging which is which and what is what, and what belongs to this realm and what belongs to that; and these things are put aside so that it is something quite abnormal if darkness comes into the day or light into the night. It's not the ordinary course of things at all. Do you see the point?

You can have those differences of kingdom or realm within your own family, your own household, and there can be no fellowship at all because there is the division which is made by the Holy Spirit Himself. Now, many of you know how true that is and some of you are suffering because of that. But the point is this: that is how it will be if the Holy Spirit comes in, and you can't avoid it. The Lord Jesus was faithful and honest enough to let it be known that that is how it would be. You can't get over that, you can't bridge that. There it is. It's painful, but it is a mark that the Spirit has done something. And oh, that we, as the Lord's people, were more and more sensitive to what belongs to those different realms which are put apart by the Spirit of God! It's a mark of growth in the Light of the Spirit to become more and more sensitive to what belongs here and what belongs there.

You know, Paul on two different occasions used that phrase: "the things which differ" and he said it to believers - once to the Roman believers, and once to the Philippian believers. "Things that differ" he would have them know, Christians know, the things that differ. That was the true kind of division that ought to have existed at Corinth. The other was the false and the wrong divisions; but this is where things had got mixed up: day and night had been all mixed up together and the things which belonged to the night were present, and they were not sensitive to that. And so the first letter to the Corinthians is so much about the Holy Spirit, isn't it? The real effect and work of the Holy Spirit.

We must leave that for the moment, I think it's perhaps too obvious even to spend all that time with, but let it be recognised that the life of the Spirit is a life of spiritual dividing and the course of the Spirit-governed life is that of discerning, discerning, being sensitive to the things that differ.

We pass to the next application of this, as it comes to the whole matter of:

Christian Work.

You know that is given to us in the first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 3. Here it is: "According to the grace of God which was given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder I laid a foundation; and another buildeth thereon. But let each man take heed how he buildeth thereon. For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ. But if a man buildeth on the foundation gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble; each man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed by fire; the fire itself shall prove each man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work shall abide which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire".

And we place alongside of that a passage from Hebrews, chapter 12, verse 26: "Whose voice then shook the earth: but now He hath promised, saying. Yet once more will I make to tremble not the earth only, but also the heavens. And this word, Yet once more, signifieth the removing of those things that are shaken, as of things that have been made, that those things which are not shaken may remain. Wherefore, receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken...".

Here, you see, we come into the realm of values in life, in life's work, and the discrimination is brought in by the fire. The fire tries "of what sort it is". And remember, this is addressed to Christians. It is not addressed to people of the world who are doing their work, following their profession. This is addressed to Christians, and it is speaking about Christian work: Christ as the foundation, and the work that you do on that foundation. It is Christian work. And it says about Christian work that there is one realm which will abide the fire, and in Christian work there is another realm which will go up in smoke and it will be proved that all that was for nothing and the worker will just get into heaven, and that is all! Saved - "yet so as by fire".

Here is a division in the realm of Christian work which the Holy Spirit makes. And if we want to sum it all up, and really get to the heart of it, it just amounts to this: only what is really done by and through the Holy Spirit Himself will remain, will abide the test, will be "found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ". There can be a tremendous amount of activity and energy, and work and works, engaged in by Christians in relation to Christ, intentionally, which comes into this category of disappearing in the flames, standing for nothing and leaving the worker at the end with nothing for all his toil.

This is what was happening in the book of the Acts. Look through this book and see the discrimination that is being made. Yes, the discrimination is being made. Oh, how those Judaisers laboured! How they laboured! How they travelled and compassed sea and land on their long journeys! It must have cost them quite a lot to do it, their movements were far and wide. And you have to conclude that they were men who not only meant business, but so far as they understood themselves and their position, they were what we would call sincere men. I don't see any difference between these Judaisers who pursued Paul wherever he went, and gave their lives, their very lives to this sort of thing, I see no difference between them and Saul of Tarsus as he was. It is just exactly what he was doing; exactly what he was doing, he was one of them.

Now then, listen to his whole summarised verdict upon that whole thing: "I verily thought... I verily, I truly..." if you like, "I honestly thought within myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus Christ". That is the utterance of an honest man, the utterance of a sincere man. "I verily thought that I ought... I considered this thing, this was no mere impulse, this was no mere fanaticism. I thought" - we know that Paul was a man who thought - "I thought that I ought... it was a matter of conscientious conviction with me that this was what I ought to do, it was the right thing to do, I was called upon to do it. It was a matter of conscience with me to do it. I verily thought within myself that I ought...".

Yes, but how possible it is to be as utterly sincere as that and as utterly mistaken! The Judaisers were like that. But their work, their work didn't last. Here is the work of the Spirit going on, the work of the Spirit going on and it has gone on, and it is still going on; that work of the Spirit! It has stood all the testing and all the trying out. It has proved itself to be the work of the Spirit and it survives the fire - the fire of judgment, the fire of testing. It survives! It's the key to this entire thing: the importance, the supreme importance - not of being sincere, not of being enthusiastic, not of acting on the basis of conscientious conviction - but of being governed by the Holy Spirit. That's the important thing! It's just that that lasts.

This whole thing comes into the realm of Christian work. Perhaps some of you had a little catch just now about the Judaisers: but you have got to cede them quite a lot, you know. These Judaisers were not anti-Christian. What they really wanted was Jewish Christianity - a Christianity with a Jewish complex. They are prepared to have Christianity, if only, if only Christianity would conform to the Jewish order, to the Jewish pattern. I am not going to argue that out, but we could bring in quite a lot to show that that is so. You see, Paul shows by his letter to the Galatians that that is not the work of the Spirit. It is not the work of the Spirit, it is something quite different.

Let us pass to the next thought here, and that takes us into the realm of Christian testimony.

The Fire at Work in the Realm of Christian Testimony

We turn to a very well-known passage in the second letter to the Corinthians, the second chapter verse 14: "But thanks be unto God, which always leadeth us in triumph in Christ, making manifest through us (note) the savour of His knowledge in every place. For we are a sweet savour of Christ unto God, in them that are being saved, and in them that are perishing; to the one a savour from death unto death; to the other a savour from life unto life".

There is the dividing effect of the fire. You know the picture, I need not relate it all to you again, but Paul's thinking is in terms of that background of the Roman procession, the triumphant General leading his prisoners in his train, holding celebrations of his victory from place to place. And at every such place the fire was lit, the fire was lit: the altar was erected, the fire was lit and the flame leapt up, and the incense filled the air. And that had a double effect. There were some who were in the way of perishing, and that was the place where they'd perish; they will be sacrificed there. There are others who are not in the way of perishing and they will pass that fire and go on; they will be saved. The background, you see, is very vivid. Very vivid. The fire is discriminating and determining here.

But Paul says this is the dual effect of the Holy Spirit in our life and ministry, as we go from place to place. As we go from place to place, something happens everywhere and every time. One or both of two things happens in every place. On the one hand, those, those who refuse the Light, who persist in fighting against the victorious Lord, who resist the Holy Ghost, they are brought to condemnation: they are put into the category to which they belong - condemned. On the other hand, those who believe, those who accept are, by the same Holy Spirit who does the one thing, brought into liberty. They pass the testing fire and go on in Life: "To the one a savour from death unto death; to the other a savour from life unto life."

Now the point is this: Paul is saying that this is the effect of the Holy Spirit in our ministry, in our testimony. In other words, the Holy Spirit never leaves things as they were. The presence of the Holy Spirit always brings about some kind of a crisis and verdict. If the Holy Spirit is present, speaking, we cannot be the same afterward as before. Something has happened. We are either more hardened or more softened; we are either more condemned or more saved. Something happens in the presence of the Holy Spirit; the fire does this work of judging.

This is what the Lord Jesus said. 'Casting fire upon the earth', what will it do? What will it do? Well, it will make this division, it will bring this judgment; it will determine things and people and their destiny. Well, we know how true that is in history. That is the effect of the Holy Spirit. But all I want to underline in that particular connection is this, dear friends: if you and I are men and women who are really governed by the Spirit and filled with the Spirit, the effects of our presence and our passing this way will not be to leave things like they were before. There will be eternal verdicts reached by our having gone this way. And that is the object of ministry, you see: 'Thanks be unto God who leads me on from place to place to celebrate His victory.' And the effect is this: one thing or the other; things are not as they were before, afterward. The Holy Spirit's ministry must be like that: it must produce something, it must effect something, it must make a difference. It does! It does that, it does that!

The fire is cast, and we can see as we go through this book of the Acts, all these things happening: they are happening all the time. All the things I've said, they're just happening, you can see them! The fire is doing it: the fire is finding out, the fire is testing, the fire is discriminating, the fire is relegating. The end of the story is that you have got two realms set aside and shown for what they are and what they belong to.

Now, there is very much more, of course, that I could say on this matter of spiritual discrimination; the things that belong to the different categories, that essential spiritual difference. But I think I can sum everything up by saying this: that if really, if really we are governed by the Holy Spirit, we'll all belong to one category. That's the point. There will not be so many different categories, or realms, in which we live: there will not be two - there will not be two there will only be one. The Holy Spirit seeks to secure one category of people, and that is a people wholly governed by Himself and led by Himself. And if you have to say: "I fundamentally disagree with you" on anything, then either you're right and I'm wrong, or it's the other way round. If it's fundamental like that, if it's fundamental like that, one of us is not in the Spirit. It's up to us to find out where the wrong is, because the Holy Spirit is not fundamentally of two different minds. He never can be that. To be really in the Spirit means, may I repeat, to be of one kind, of one category.

And so the apostle wrote so much to these churches about this oneness of mind, this oneness of heart, this oneness of spirit, this 'all speaking the one thing'. Well, he said it again, he asked for it again, he was pleading for it; therefore it is possible. The solution to all those problems and difficulties is Life in the Spirit. Life in the Spirit! And that, of course, as we said this morning, is based upon the Cross, where we have an infinite capacity for letting go to the Lord. If we forget all the rest, remember that.

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