Austin Sparks, Christian Ministry, Christianity, Daily Devotional

October 13

13 OCT – The Frown of God’s Goodwill

Strangely enough, the very goodwill of God is often hidden behind a frown. I turn to my friend John Bunyan. You know that he had a man called Goodwill. He lived at the wicket gate, and Christian’s first contact with Goodwill was when he came to the gate. He saw the notice written up, “Knock and it shall be opened”, and he knocked and the man opened. It was Goodwill. But how is he described? “A very grave person called Goodwill”.

We often think God’s goodwill in terms of being boisterous, hilarious, hearty, and a jovial sort of person who was just falling over you with beneficence and everything light and helpful and cheerful. But in John Bunyan’s story it was a very grave person that Christian met when he met Goodwill at the wicket gate. And, the gate having been opened to him somewhat, and seeing this very grave person and being asked what he wanted and giving his reply, he was suddenly laid hold of by Goodwill with a terrible grasp and pulled in so strongly that he might almost have been torn to pieces. Anything but goodwill, it seemed! Christian did not expect that, and he turned to the man and said, ‘Why did you do that?’ ‘Oh’, he said, ‘Beelzebub has a castle just over there, and he is always watching for pilgrims coming, so that he can shoot them down before they get through the gate. He was going to shoot you down, so I pulled you in.’ Sometimes we need rough handling, and it does not mean it is not goodwill.

This is the marvelous shrewdness and honesty of Bunyan. Why was Goodwill a very grave person? Because of the aspects of the wicket gate. It looked down the way to the city of Destruction; and Goodwill had constantly in full view all that was going on down there – the souls perishing and going to perdition. He saw the castle of Beelzebub, and the malignant eyes watching for pilgrims, to shoot them down before they could get through; he knew this hatred, this malice of the Evil One; and with all the goodwill in the world he could not but be a grave person in the light of that. And as he saw on, he saw the way the pilgrims were going. He knew what they would encounter. He knew all that they had to meet. He knew all the rest of the story contained in that wonderful Pilgrim’s Progress, which was not always progress as we think of it, for we make progress very often by falls, by mistakes. There are Giants of Despair, and there are deep and dark valleys, and there are many other things. Goodwill stands looking in all directions, taking in everything, but he is still Goodwill.

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Austin Sparks, Christian Ministry, Christianity, Daily Devotional

October 12

12 OCT – Getting Hold of the Impossible

There is a greater fact than ourselves and than our circumstances: it is the fact of Christ. And so you and I will have to seek from the Lord this grace, morning by morning, and day by day, perhaps even hour by hour, as we face our own inability and disability, our own utter futility and helplessness, to have the grace to say: ‘Nevertheless, I can through Christ.’ I say again, it is not just a psychological reaction, or fillip (stimulus), which will make us ignore facts. No! This is the act of faith; this is the link of faith; this is the plank of faith, across which we pass right over from ourselves and our condition to Christ. And today, when we are as weak, as helpless, as overwhelmed, as perplexed, as distracted by things as ever, nevertheless, today and tomorrow, and all the days, I CAN – I CAN THROUGH CHRIST! If it is real faith in Christ, you will find that the Spirit comes in, and enables you to do what you never would have done, or could have done, but for that positive attitude. May we be helped to find the way of deliverance from the ‘I cannot… I cannot… I cannot…’ into the ‘I can do all things through Christ.’

No doubt, with many this represents a very practical situation. As we look on ahead, we dread some things, for we know that those things are beyond us altogether; but we have got to take this position. We must look at our situation today, and say: ‘This situation holds something. The Lord is not answering my prayer and getting me out of it; He is not changing it, He is just not doing all that I am longing for, and praying for, and craving for. I pray, and there is nothing; there is no getting through; He is not doing it. Therefore, I must look at it in another way. There is a secret in this, and I have got to get hold of that secret. What does the Lord intend to teach me and to give me in this situation, that I can bring out of it as fruit, as stock-in-trade for the work in the days to come? What is it? I must get it!’

If we take that attitude toward things, I think we shall probably find that that is our way of deliverance, our way out, our way through. Let us ask for grace to do this, not only now, in our present situation, but as to everything that the Lord may require of us in the future – perhaps things that we never thought of. While we may never rise to such eminence, or become great historic figures, nevertheless, through Christ things can be, which would go far beyond any dreams that we ever had, more than we ever thought.

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Austin Sparks, Christian Ministry, Christianity, Daily Devotional

October 11

11 OCT – Looking At Christ and Not At the Situation

You see, it is a question of a positive attitude toward things, is it not? It makes such a difference, the attitude that we take. “I have learned…” I have learned the secret; I have made everything yield something of a positive character. The result is: “I know…” I know how to be abased, to be set at nought, to be walked over, trampled upon, ignored, regarded as worthless; I know how to take hold of that, how not to go down under it, but to make it serve spiritual ends. I know how to abound: when people are kind and good when, as you Philippians, they send me gifts, so that I can say, “I have all things, and abound” I do not get proud and uppish, and conceited and self-sufficient, and think myself something: I know that is ruination! I have learned the perils of prosperity just as much as the perils of adversity; I have found the secret. And so, come what may, for or against; be as I may be and I am today in prison at the end of my life, I can! I do not say after all this, I cannot bear any more; but I can do all things, through Christ who strengtheneth me.’

I pass on this message, not as an elaborate address or discourse, but as a word from my heart. It is a challenge to us all as to our attitude. Our natural condition which is not mere imagination, but undoubtedly something very real would so often argue: ‘I cannot! The situation is utterly disconcerting, utterly devastating, both inside and outside. Naturally, it is the end: it is paralysis; I cannot, I just cannot.’ That is the situation, if we just look at ourselves, if we in ourselves represent the sum-total of everything. If we look at the situation, that argues finality; we may as well give it up and say: I cannot, I cannot! But what about Christ? Is there not another off-look from ourselves to ‘Christ who strengthens me’? This is not a question of a psychological effect upon ourselves in trying to be more cheerful, and to make ourselves believe something that is not true. There are the facts in ourselves, and perhaps in our circumstances: they ARE the FACTS, they are stark facts, and there is no getting away from them.

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Austin Sparks, Christian Ministry, Christianity, Daily Devotional

October 10

10 OCT – Learning the Secret as Paul Learned

“Not that I speak in respect of want: for I have learned, in whatsoever state I am, therein to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound: in everything and in all things have I learned the secret both to be filled and to be hungry, both to abound and to be in want. I can do all things in him that strengtheneth me.” Philippians 4:11-13

If there is one statement in Scripture that finds us out, it is this one. It was Paul who said it; but I wonder how many of us could say it, with the same positive affirmation? You will notice, however, that the Apostle is stating it as the result of a life-long schooling. ‘This’, he says, ‘is the issue of my schooling with Christ. I have learned the secret. “I have learned… I know… I can do…”!’

The course of things is learning through experience, and thus coming to knowledge – knowledge which is not theory at all, but which works out in practice: “I can do”. That is the meaning for us of life with Christ. If we, His children, want to know the meaning of our experiences in this very exacting school, for it is an exacting school: we don’t get away with anything; nothing escapes; we are held to it, severely and strictly, though behind all is wisdom and love. The meaning of our experiences in the exacting school which the Christian life is, and is intended to be, it is that we may LEARN, that we may KNOW, that we may DO. God’s end is always a practical end, and the end is DOING. ‘I have learned… I know… I can do!’

And, of course, the way to that end is learning that you CANNOT do, and that you do NOT know. I suppose that that is the truest thing that could be said of anyone in the School of the Spirit. The thing that they are learning is that they cannot do, and they do not know. That is the way. It does seem, on the one hand, a negative process; it does seem to be an undoing experience; but God’s ends are always positive. And an absolute necessity to our arriving at the position, “I can do all things” – a tremendous statement! – which is His will for every one of us. It is a deep, fundamental consciousness and realization of how bankrupt we are of knowledge and of ability apart from Christ. For the all-governing clause or fragment is: ‘in Him that is, in Christ who strengthens me’.

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Austin Sparks, Christian Ministry, Christianity, Daily Devotional

October 9

9 OCT – The Flesh and the New Nature

“And they that are of Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with the passions and the lusts thereof.” Gal. 5:24

What Paul is saying, in effect, is this: It is all very well to accept the law; all very well to get back into the externals of religion; but does that deal with the moral issue? The sin question was a thing kept perpetually in view in the old order; it was never finally dealt with. If you had watched Israel round that tabernacle, and seen the continuous stream of sacrifices, and the veritable river of blood daily flowing in the court of that tabernacle, you would have known that sin was not once and for all dealt with. You would have known that the sin question was always in view. It does not deal with our very natures. It is a false peace that is merely based upon a system of outward religious activities. It is a false peace if it is not found in the precious, eternal efficacy of the Blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, which cleanseth us from all sin.

By way of the cross there is a new nature, a nature introduced which gets the upper hand of the old. The old is there, but it is not now reigning. Sin has not dominion. There is another nature which rises up and meets the old. Something has happened, and in that something a position has been reached which is just this: that old nature is no longer the master. It has been crucified. It has been put into the place where it no longer dominates. It has come under the veto of the cross. How does it work? By the positive fact of a new nature introduced, the divine nature in Christ. It is not a constant effort to suppress the old, a struggle to say, ‘No!’ It is that there is a positive factor which is working for us against the old. It does not mean that never at any time do we make a mistake, perhaps a slip, but we do know that there is a reactionary power at work within us now, which registers upon that old a veto and says with strength: “Thou shalt not”. It is a new law, not imposed from without but the law of an inward power, a new nature within. As we walk in the Spirit that new nature grows and increases, and more and more gets the ascendency over the old. Conformity to the image of God’s Son is going on: a growing, an increase in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

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Austin Sparks, Christian Ministry, Christianity, Daily Devotional

October 8

8 OCT – Has the World Been Crucified to You?

“But far be it from me to glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world hath been crucified unto me, and I unto the world.” Gal. 6:14

The cross again is in the forefront. The apostle is saying here that his glorying is in the cross of the Lord Jesus, and that cross has represented for him his being crucified to the world and the world to him. Of course, that is a very inclusive, comprehensive statement, and embraces a very great deal, but there is a particular application of it, or a particular usage of the statement here. These Judaisers had gone to Galatia, and had sought to make Jewish proselytes of these Christian believers by having them circumcised, so that they might append these Gentile believers to the Jewish church.

As we have noticed, the point of their approach was this: If you do that, a great deal of persecution will cease. You will come into a realm of tolerance; at present you are outside everything that is recognized and accepted, and all the world is against you. Come into the fold. Come into the accepted system of things, and you will have an easy time.

What was behind it? Paul says their object is simply to count heads, to “glory in your flesh”, to say: See how many proselytes we are making! See how many converts we have got! No wonder Paul writes with heat, lest these Judaisers should glory on their side in their success, and then that these Galatians should discover that these people were only glorying on the ground of their having forfeited their high position.

What does Paul mean? It does not matter to me what the world thinks! It does not matter one wit to me the attitude the world takes! Let it persecute! Let it say what it likes! Let the world defame. Let the world misrepresent. Let the world lie. Let the whole accepted religious system say what it likes. I have been crucified to this world! I am dead to all that, and that is dead to me! The cross of the Lord Jesus means the emancipation from the world in that sense.

We shall have to decide, once and for all, as definitely as Calvary was a once and for all thing, that we are not going to be influenced or deterred one little bit in our utterness of abandonment to the Lord by what the world (even the religious world) says and does. When we recognize that, there will be triumph.

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Austin Sparks, Christian Ministry, Christianity, Daily Devotional

October 7

7 OCT – The False and the True Life

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I that live, but Christ liveth in me: and that life which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” Gal 2:20

What is the declaration contained within that statement? The essence of the utterance is this: There is a life which is not man’s natural life, which is not original human life, but is a peculiar, particular, unique life; it is the life of God Himself. That very life of God, eternal, incorruptible, indestructible, divine life, is the life which it is the Lord’s will for every one of His children to possess. There the whole of the Christian life has its beginning, its spring. What is the Gospel? What is the Christian life? It is not Judaism taking on the title of Christianity. It is not Christianity taking hold of Judaism. It is the possessing of God’s own divine life. Anything short of that is not the Gospel! Paul here says that this life is the very foundation and basis of a true Christian experience, and it means this: It is no longer I, but Christ living in me.

That is set right over against Judaism, which was all external, outward. This is inward. “Christ liveth in me: and that life which I now live…” Well, Paul, how did you become possessed of that life? In what way did you come into that great reality of Christ living in you? “I have been crucified with Christ!” What did that mean, Paul? That meant that Judaism had to go: I was steeped in Judaism, far more than any other of my brethren, the apostles, Jews as they were. I excelled in my zeal for the Jewish faith; but when I saw the Lord Jesus, and when I saw the meaning of Christ crucified, that which had been my very life (Judaism) became as nothing. He became my life, and that other ceased to have any meaning for me! Paul is here setting the life of Judaism, which is no life, over against the life of the indwelling Christ, which is the life.

What is it to be a Christian? It is to receive God’s very life in Christ into the innermost place in our being. “Christ liveth in me, and that life which I now live…” You cannot substitute that. There is nothing which can take the place of that. And yet there are those who think that if they go to meetings, and keep up their religious forms and observances, it is all well. It is not all well! That is the devil’s lie! Any religious system which is a substitute for the indwelling Christ is an accursed thing, by reason of its very effect.

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Austin Sparks, Christian Ministry, Christianity, Daily Devotional

October 6

6 OCT – Refusing To Compromise with the World

In the very first chapter of the book of Daniel, he and his brethren determined that they would not defile themselves with the king’s dainties, nor with the wine from the king’s table; and that is how they spoke of it when they went to Arioch, the king’s representative, to plead their case. They asked – you would think hardly tactfully or diplomatically! – ‘that they might not defile themselves’. It is hardly complimentary, at any rate, to speak so of food from the king’s table. They pressed this matter of defilement. They had seen the principle that by this means they and their testimony would in some way be compromised. It was a link with this world and with Satan’s kingdom as in this world, and the effect of it would be – oh, how inclusive and comprehensive this is! – that they would be denying in their very persons the all sufficiency of the Lord. If they were to go the way of the world and look like the people of the world, where would be the testimony of the Lord? If they did not go the way of the world and were to refuse to have any kind of compromise with the world, there would be great opportunity for the Lord to prove that He can go one better than the world, and is more than all the world put together.

This is the challenge. On various grounds and by various arguments, young people especially are tempted to compromise on this point. They think they will gain influence with people of the world by coming down to their level and doing as they do, thus getting on an even footing with the world; but they do not recognize that such a course so often involves compromise. More rarely still do they recognize that when God’s people are going to the world for their sustenance and nourishment and pleasure and gratification and so on, it results in a question being cast upon the ability of the Lord to prove how far greater He is than this world. The bad spiritual state of the people in Daniel’s day was wholly due to their being in bondage to the world. Daniel and his brethren would have none of it. They stood apart in complete separation from the world, its standards, its ideas and all its resources, to give God the opportunity of proving that He is better than the world, and His servants, by His grace, better than the men of the world. That is the testimony, and until that is true, we have no authority, no ascendancy, no real testimony. Separation therefore, unpleasant and hard as the word may sound, is a very fundamental matter if we mean by it that we are separated unto the Lord, that He may show by means of us that this world is a poor thing compared with what we have in Him.

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Austin Sparks, Christian Ministry, Christianity, Daily Devotional

October 5

5 OCT – The Faith That Takes Us Onwards

Twice in Chapter 11 of Hebrews it is said that by their faith they received a good report. The elders received a good report (v. 2). Then, toward the end, it says they all received a good report (v. 39). What is a good report? You know in the next chapter, Chapter 12, we are children at school, children of a family. Father is dealing with us as with sons, and it is all part of this whole argument: My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord and so on. It is all for this good report. I do not believe that it is true in the case of those referred to in Chapter 11 that the good report related to what they achieved, what clever people they were, what they were able to do in their lifetime. That was not the good report. What is the report for? No, it was not because they achieved so many wonderful things. The good report was this: they trusted in the Lord and did their utmost through faith.

They did not say, ‘Oh, well, this will never be realized in our lifetime; we shall never be able to see this done; it is no use! It needs better people than we are!’ No, they faced the whole thing, and saw that, in the main, the thing was humanly impossible. Only God could do it. But that did not make them sit back and say, ‘Oh, I can never be in this, and never have a part in this: I can never be of any use in this!’ No, they believed God, they trusted the Lord, and then they put themselves right into it with all their hearts and lived in a positive trust in God. They did all that faith could lead them and make them to do. Faith is always an active thing. The good report was that they trusted the Lord and got down to it, gave themselves to it, however difficult things were.

Faith is going to determine which of two things is going to characterize us. This is the real point. It is either going to be that we are living under a terrible paralysis, as altogether petrified through confusion, perplexity, inability to understand, being unable to disentangle, to sort things out, to see straight and see clearly, to know what is meant by happenings. That means utter paralysis, simply standing with our hands on our hips, helpless and hopeless. That is the effect of the absence of a positive faith. The only way of life and deliverance from such a paralysis is a deliberate faith in God which causes us to take the attitude that we are going on with God, understanding or not understanding, explaining or not explaining, having light or having no light; we are going right on with God on the basis of what God has done in us, made real in us, of what God Himself is to us by what He has effected in us. We are going on!

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Austin Sparks, Christian Ministry, Christianity, Daily Devotional

October 4

4 OCT – The Faith of the Saints of Old

Hebrews Chapter 11 gives us a remarkable account of the Old Testament saints. As a result of their faith they came to a place where they could and did believe for something which must eventuate, though in many cases, in the majority of cases, it never did eventuate in their lifetime. But the great statement here in this chapter is that this made no difference. They had come to such a position with the Lord, in this knowing of Him, that they could all die not having received the promises. All died in faith. You see, they did not even at the last have the stimulus of seeing the thing materializing; but they were able to die in faith. It may be somewhat easier to live in faith, if by that you mean that you expect the thing to be realized in your lifetime. But the essence of faith is ‘This must be! It is a part of God, it is God Himself, and whether I live to see it or not, that makes no difference to faith; it will be! And I live now, not to see it in my lifetime, but I live now in relation to it to be realized at some time in the purpose and intention of God’.

Then we have a further wonderful statement. They received not the promises, they died in faith, but they looked on, they looked on to us. Faith carried them beyond their own lifetime, and the statement is that they could not “be made perfect”. That word ‘perfect’ is very interesting. It simply means they could not come to the consummation, the full growth of their faith. That thing could not reach its ultimate end until we came in. It demanded us. They, apart from us, could not reach the consummation of their faith; and faith goes on and sees that there are yet things to be brought in by God for the realization of that which is in our hearts, for which we are living, for which we are laboring, for which we are suffering, for which we are being patient. Faith goes right on to the end and says, ‘It may not be in my time; there may be more things to be brought in yet to make the consummation possible, but eventually, my faith in God will be vindicated, and the thing will be realized!’

Faith is a big thing, a comprehensive thing, and a real purity of faith means we do not just live to see things in our time, so that, should there be any doubt about our seeing them in our time, faith would go out. That is not the essence of faith at all. We have to have an after-life faith, a long view faith, which is not made less active because the prospect of a full realization in our time begins to be overshadowed. That is the basis and nature of faith here.

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