Austin Sparks, Christian Ministry, Christianity, Daily Devotional

December 31

31 DEC – The Divine Order in Christ

In the light of the situation in the world, and in the Church, and churches, I have been very greatly exercised about one thing. I have put it aside as being too difficult, but I am compelled to face it. It is concerning Divine order. Of all the ways in which Christ is to be known unto life and unto growth, there is one way in the Word of God which, we might be tempted to say, is supremely important – though we could say that of every way in which He is to be known. However, that one way is this: To rightly understand Christ is to see that He relates to a heavenly and eternal order of things.

That word ‘order’ lies right at the back of everything in the Bible. Everything that the Bible has to say to us is related to an eternal order that God intended to obtain in this universe. And His key to that order, without which nothing of all His glorious purpose is possible, is Christ. The Person of Christ is the very embodiment of all the principles of a universal order. If we could comprehend, discern, understand and know Christ, we should see that in that one universal Person are gathered up all the laws of a great heavenly order.

We are told that ‘in Him, through Him, by Him, and unto Him were all things created’. His creative activity at work is marked by a marvelous order, and we shall say more about this as we go on. Creation, as it comes from His hand, as it is projected by Him, is a marvelous system of coordinated forces and objects in a wonderful relatedness and harmony. Everything is in its own place, everything is in its own time and everything has its own function. And so you could go on, but, I repeat, we will come back to it.

His redemptive work, the whole of the redemptive work of the Lord Jesus has this one thing in mind: the recovery of a lost order. He stands in His Person, in His creative work, and in His redemptive work, related to this whole matter of an eternal, heavenly order.

God is a God of order. But there is a personal evil intelligence in this universe who is God’s arch-enemy and, as such, is the instigator of all disorder. He is called “the god of this world” (or age) and “the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience”. The hall-mark of all satanic rule and influence is disorder. That rule is rapidly moving to its fullness and final judgment.

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December 30

30 DEC – Our Glory Lies in Knowing Christ

God has placed supreme importance upon knowing Him. Hear His Word: ‘Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth Me.’ Above all other things in which men do or may glory, God puts this, with His tremendous emphasis: Thus saith the Lord. The supreme thing with Him is to understand and to know Him.

We have read how the Lord Jesus put this matter in relation to the most vital thing, even that of eternal life, and there is no more vital thing than that. In one sense eternal life is the key to the Bible. “And this is life eternal, that they may know thee, the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, Jesus Christ” (John 17:3). Life eternal, with the Lord Jesus, is placed upon this basis of knowing Him. That man Paul, Paul the aged, with a long life of learning Christ, and of perhaps incomparable revelation of Jesus Christ, is now standing at the gate of eternity and crying: “… that I may know Him …”. You might say that that was the cry with which Paul entered into heaven. And alongside of that, you remember, he said: “I count all things to be loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). Not to be learning, dear friends, is to stop growing, for growing is along that line.

The knowledge of Christ is the beginning of salvation; the knowledge of Christ is the whole meaning of the Christian life; the knowledge of Christ is God’s motive in all discipline and training. All the dealings of God with us have but this one thing in view: our education as to Christ, the knowledge of Christ. The very essence of glory will be the knowledge of Christ. Perhaps that sounds a strange word, but it is not so difficult to understand. When at last we see in Him the answer to all our questions and our problems, and He becomes the answer to every cry of our need and heart, we see Him as He is, and He fills all the vacuum of our longing, that will be glory. It is so now in the smallest ways, is it not? If, after a very difficult time when we have been brought through deep and terrible suffering, we have our eyes open to see something of Christ that meets our need, that is glory! He becomes our glory. Glory is not just something of an external, shining radiance – it is a state of heart, it is full satisfaction, full gratification, and possession of a full explanation and understanding. That will be wonderful! So the knowledge of Christ will be the very essence of glory.

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December 29

29 DEC – The Knowing of Christ

Everything related to the great destiny for which man was created is bound up inseparably with the knowledge of Christ. You have tremendous things there: the greatness of the destiny for which man was created – and the Bible has a very great deal to say about that. That destiny, that great Divine purpose in creation, demands for its realization the knowledge of Jesus Christ; it is bound up with the knowledge of God’s Son. Within that compass of Divine purpose we have man’s creation, man’s redemption and salvation, man’s transformation, man’s glorification, and then man’s eternal vocation. None of it is possible without knowing Him.

We look at a little child from the day that it comes into this world, and the one thing the parents are watching for continually, and waiting for, is the sign of intelligence. For the normal development of a human life is marked by growing intelligence, that is, in the first place, the ability to identify objects. It is very simple, but very real, when, first of all, the parent is able to recognize that the child knows him or her – the child identifies. And so its development of its very life is marked by this growing intelligence, this ability to identify objects, and then to interpret and grasp their meaning. It comes so slowly, and yet it is there. To apply those recognized, identified objects to practical value, to turn them to account, to know that they mean this, and that they are meant for this or that; the application of their intelligence to practical needs or situations – I say these are the indications of normal development and it is along the line of growing intelligence.

If that is true in the natural, it is equally true in the spiritual. The mark of spiritual growth, the growth of the spiritual life, is this power to recognize the meaning of Christ; to identify Him in things; to interpret Him – the power to interpret Him and to explain Him; and then to apply Him to practical situations, our own and others. That is, ‘knowing’ the Lord. And I say again, that is the way of spiritual growth to full manhood, to the fulfilment of the ultimate vocation. And let it be recognized at once that what is true in the natural is true in the spiritual in this sense – God created man with an object. A life has missed its way and purpose if it fulfils no vocation and if it becomes an end in itself. Vocation is the object, the end, of all life and all development. That is true in the spiritual life. The Bible reveals progress toward eternal vocation, and essentially along the line of spiritual intelligence, or the knowing of Christ.

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December 28

28 DEC – The Bondslave of the Lord

What is service? What is the meaning of being the servant of God? Can you put your finger upon it? Go to Mary again. What is the law? To bring God back into His world, and that is the only service of God. Service is comprehended in that one thing – making a place for God, bringing God back into His right place, seeing that He is not excluded from His world. The presence of God is the great law of everything in service. Mary brought God back into this world, so she was “highly graced”, supremely honoured. It was not just an angel or a little cherub that was sent to her, but the archangel Gabriel was sent from God to this woman Mary, because she was to be the vessel and the channel of bringing God back into this world. Is that not tremendous? Is Mary redeemed now? Has she got a new place? But it is not Mary herself. It is Mary as the bondservant of God. And it is not what we are in ourselves, but just a matter of how much of God is brought back to this world by our being here.

There is a link between that which happened in heaven with the Son of God when He emptied Himself, and Mary. Do not make any mistake! Mary had to make a great renunciation, for she knew what it meant to have a child without a husband. Is that not the deepest shame that a woman can know? Does that not mean that she has sacrificed all that is noble and honourable about womanhood? Supposing it became known that this child was born and Joseph was not the father! Who was the father, then? That is something for people to talk about! I am not sure that the people in wicked Nazareth had not already spread a rumour, because at one time some of the enemies of Jesus Christ threw this thing at Him, when they said: “We were not born in iniquity” (John 8:41). Is that not horrible, terrible? Ah, Mary knew what it meant! She knew that if this thing got out into the world she would be counted as one of the world’s most disgraceful people. Everyone would look down upon her. She was afraid, and, more than that, “greatly troubled”.

The angel Gabriel read what was going on in her soul and said: “Fear not, Mary.” Never in all history did a woman need that word more than Mary did that day! The angel Gabriel said: ‘Mary, you are a very specially favoured woman. God has favoured you more than other women.’ and she said – note! – “Behold, the bondslave of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.” I put a mighty emphasis upon that word ‘bondslave’! Did Mary empty herself of a woman’s glory? That is what it meant naturally. Did Mary humble herself to be obedient unto death? For, you know, a woman like that would have been stoned in Israel, and she knew it. Did she humble herself and become obedient unto death? Oh, yes, she did. She went down to the lowest place. But what is the word? “Bondslave of the Lord” – the servant of God.

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December 27

27 DEC – True and False Life

In the Garden Satan appealed to *Adam’s feelings, and, pointing to the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he said: ‘You see how lovely and full of juice that fruit is! How much it is to be desired!’ So Adam looked at the fruit and said: ‘How lovely! I think I would like some of that.’ His emotions went out to it, and when Satan has got your mind and your emotions, it is not far to your will! The next thing was that Adam took the fruit. He used his will, and the damage was done.

It is all symbolic, but, you see, it contains eternal principles. The whole kingdom and reign of Satan are built upon that basis. The mind, the heart and the will of humanity are captured by the devil, but it is false life. What about all the emotion in the world, even in Christianity? There is a vast difference between spiritual, eternal life, and soul life. There is such a thing as false life, and that thing is the master-stroke of Satan! You will remember that there was a time in the history of Israel in the wilderness when certain sons of Aaron brought false fire and offered it upon God’s altar. You know what happened! You know all about God’s jealousy. There is a vast amount of false fire in this world today. It looks like true life, true fire, what is of God, but there is a lie in it, and the fruit of that tree is bitter fruit in the end.

How can we discern the difference between the true life and the false life? Well, I think John is the great messenger of this, because his writings were particularly in this connection. He wrote in a time when everything in Christianity was being falsified. There was Christ and anti-Christ. In fact, there were many antichrists, for many false spirits had gone abroad. It was a time when Christians were being deceived, and John, writing for that time, said: “The anointing which ye received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any one teach you” (1 John 2:27). In effect, John was saying: ‘By the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of the true life, you will be able to discern between the true and the false.’ Even when they look so much alike, the Spirit in you will say: ‘There is something not true about this!’

I think that one of the things that indicate whether it is true or false is whether man made it or not. You see, those sons of Aaron made their incense, and they did not make it of the same ingredients as those with which the true incense was made. It was something which looked like the true, but it was false, and the Spirit of God knew the difference. We have to be very careful that we do not create false fire, for that is the danger of strong personalities.

* Satan tempted Eve, but God held Adam directly accountable for their sin. Ed

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December 26

26 DEC – Life Is At the Center of Everything

Eternal life governs the history and destiny of humanity. Without that eternal life, there is no hope; humanity is in a hopeless position. The destiny of those without this gift of God is a very hopeless thing, for it is eternal death. That does not mean annihilation, nor extinction, but it does mean eternal separation from God; and if you want to know what that means, look at the Lord Jesus in the last moments on the cross and hear Him cry: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”! But this other side, eternal life, is the basis of eternal hope, so it is just exactly the opposite. Thus eternal life is the governing factor in history and in destiny.

That is indicated in two ways in the Bible. In the beginning it is indicated in the tree of life in the Garden; at the end it is indicated in the tree fully grown in the city – the tree of life in the midst of the paradise of God.

As to that tree in the Garden at the beginning (and, of course, it is only a figure, or type), it is the centre of life, so God indicates that this thing called life is at the centre of everything. Life is centred in that tree representatively, and you notice how very jealous God is about that tree. He is so jealous that, when man sinned against it, He set a wall of fire around it, and took every precaution against man touching it. He said: “Lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life”, and put a cherubim there with a flaming sword. It would be a very dangerous thing to touch that unless man was in full fellowship with God! God is very jealous over this matter of eternal life! That tree, symbolically, is a test of man’s relationship with God. It is a challenge to man as to his relationship with God, or, in other words, as to whether he is in right standing with God. The whole issue hung upon man’s fidelity to God, for that was the test. You see, man was put on probation. This life was to be given on one condition only: was man going to be faithful to God, or not?

That tree is a type of the Son of God, Jesus Christ, for He is the tree of life, and our attitude towards the Lord Jesus is going to determine our destiny – whether we have eternal life or eternal death.

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December 25

25 DEC – The Subjective Apprehension of Salvation

The subjective side of God’s work demands for its effective outworking that we are settled once and for all as to our salvation; that comes first! If you have only the one side, the objective, and all your emphasis is upon that, you may be shallow and you may not grow spiritually. If you dwell only on the subjective, you become introspective and begin to doubt your salvation; your eyes are always turned in upon yourself, and the result is that you begin to look for something in yourself that can commend itself to God; and therein lies a denial of the perfect work of salvation accomplished by the Lord Jesus. You see it is an undermining and undercutting of the whole of the work of Calvary. These two things must go together. On the one hand – fully and finally in Christ we are as perfect in the hour when we believe as ever we shall be. On the other hand – all that is in Christ is going to be made, not THEORETICALLY true, but ACTUALLY true in us by the Holy Spirit. But the second demands the first, and we must keep the balance. We must rejoice always in the fact that our names are written in heaven, that we are saved with a perfect salvation; but, on the other hand, we must remember that there is something that the Lord wants to do – not to make salvation true, but to make the image of Christ an inward thing. That is the outworking of salvation.

So this balance is necessary, and we must give equal emphasis. If we over-emphasize the subjective we take something from the glory of Christ. If we over-emphasize the objective we take something from God’s purpose. It is a matter of the work of God in Christ, and the purpose of God in Christ: and these two things must both have their place.

May the Lord give us understanding, so that we come into a place of rest and are delivered from the perils which lurk in the vicinity of every Divine blessing.

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December 24

24 DEC – Our Defense against the World

The altar was the great defensive against the enemy. If you look in the Book of Ezra in chapter three, at verse three, you have this: “so they set up the altar on its foundation, for they were terrified because of the peoples of the lands…” Because fear of the peoples of the lands was upon them, they put the altar in its place. The Cross is a great defensive; the Cross defends us from the world. The world is the great enemy of the Church. The spirit of the world has always been the Church’s great enemy. Satan has always tried to get the world into the Church and so wreck the Church and its ministry, to destroy the influence of the Church in the world.

It is a very clever and subtle move of the enemy to destroy the influence of the Church in the world by bringing the world into the Church. For Paul said, “God forbid that I should glory, save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal 6:14).

A truly crucified people are never in danger of the world. It is only when the Cross has not done its work that the world has a place. The world has no place with a crucified man or woman, or a crucified company of believers. IF YOU WANT TO KEEP THE WORLD OUT, PUT THE CROSS IN ITS PLACE. If the Cross is truly in its place in fullness, then everything else will come into order. THE CROSS is the great defensive against the world. THE CROSS is the great defensive against evil powers. THE CROSS makes everything safe; it makes everything safe for the Lord.

You see, the Lord wants to commit Himself. He wants to trust Himself to His people, but if the Cross is not there at work, the Lord cannot trust Himself to them. The Lord says, “It is not safe for Me to give Myself there, or I should be involved in their un-crucified condition.” The Cross makes everything safe for the Lord, and the Cross makes everything safe for the Church. If the Cross is really at work in all of us, we can trust one another. It is quite safe to trust yourself to a crucified man or woman. THE CROSS GOVERNS EVERYTHING.

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December 23

23 DEC – The Days of the Plough

At the beginning: “Doth the plowman plow continually to sow?” Well, the answer of common sense is, No, of course he does not! He would be a madman if he ploughed, and then went on ploughing all through the year; if he did nothing else but plough, or harrow his ploughed ground. Does he do that continually? No; it is a job that has got to be done – the breaking up, the turning over, the exposing to the elements, the harrowing – it is an essential operation, but it is not continued indefinitely. It is something to be done, but it has its time and place, its beginning and its end.

The Lord is speaking to His faithful people who are feeling that they are under the plough; furrows are being cut deep into their souls; they are being turned up and turned over, laid bare, exposed, broken, harrowed. The Lord says, even to faithful people: ‘This is necessary; we are looking ahead to a harvest, to real values; this is an essential aspect of the work. But… take this comfort: this is not going on forever.’ Under the hand of the Lord it is periodic, and it is timed. It comes into the individual life of the child of God; it comes into the life of a company of the Lord’s people; and, as history shows, it comes into the experience of the whole Church. From time to time, down through the centuries, it seems that the action of God once more is cutting deep, overturning, breaking up. It is the hard way toward some fresh harvest. But the word of the Lord is: ‘My dear people, remember this: I am the Man with His hand on the plough: I have this whole thing in hand, it will not go on forever.’ It is something necessary – everybody will agree with it in nature; we agree with it, surely, in grace, but it has its time limit; and when that phase is accomplished, the Lord terminates it, and says: Now, that is done and we can get on with the next thing.

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December 22

22 DEC – The Urgency of His Purpose

So long as we are in line with God’s purpose His work can go on in us. What matters is not first of all our activity. God is more concerned with what is done in us than what we do for Him. He often reaches His end with us much better when we are in a state of inactivity than in times of much work. The hand of the Potter was upon Moses when he was in the wilderness where he could not do much. During forty years he was just looking after a few sheep. That is not very grand. No doubt he wondered sometimes to what purpose he was there, whether his life had any value. But principalities and powers saw something and wondered at God’s wisdom. God knew how to equip this man, how to get His way in that life. That is true in the case of many a servant of God. God is working for good, He is shaping His vessel. There is wisdom in all His dealings with us. But we have to see to it that we have no plans or personal ambitions of our own. The clay has to be completely in His hands. If we are really here for God, we can be assured that He will reach His end, that He may work out His purpose in us. And there we shall find strength.

Are you sure you are in the great purpose of God? Everybody has some part in it. Paul, when speaking of the church, illustrates it thus: “that all the body is fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplies”. No part of the body is without function. Each and every one has to be in God’s purpose. Some parts may be very small, they nevertheless are equally important. We have to remember that God has called us for a purpose which will be realized as we abandon ourselves to Him. Whatever it may be to which He has called us, let us be ready and do it. A Holy Spirit possessed life is always marked by purpose. Nothing can be lost in such a life; let us not believe in mere generalities. That is not good enough. There is something far more definite in God’s thoughts for our lives.

Let us abandon all personal desires, and be filled with the Spirit of urgency — “straight away”. Those who know that they are called of God, and who definitely recognize the purpose of their life, will be wholly given up to it. Such no longer have any interest for the things of this earth. They have no time to lose. They must buy up their time.

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