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T. Austin-Sparks : The Great Distinguishing Mark Between a Legal System and a Spiritual Life is by Direct Revelation of Jesus Christ
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We covered so much ground in more than an hour yesterday morning that it is quite impossible to go over it all again. All we can do is just remind you of the great matter which is engaging us at this time. We have said that this matter is one which had been the most vital question in the history of Christianity. It is no other question than "What is true Christianity?" In other words, "What was it that invaded this world with the coming into it of Jesus Christ?" Around that question, an immense battle raged in the time of the apostles, and in the nature of that question, the battle still goes on! It took a peculiar form in the days of the apostles; then, it was a matter of Judaism or Christianity. Since that time it has not been a question of Judaism and Christianity. But all along, and today, in principle it remains the same. The question is, "Is Christianity a legal system or spiritual movement from heaven?"
We saw that battle and that question was concentrated by the Apostle Paul into his brief letter to the Galatians. And the Letter to the Galatians is concentrated into one phrase, a phrase with which the apostle begins the letter, that is, "The Gospel which we preached." And we saw that phrase, "The Gospel," is not something just for unsaved people, but comprehends everything that is in the New Testament. That is the first basic thing to be taken account of. It is the comprehensive meaning of the Gospel. Not only Good News for the world and the unsaved, but the Good News of God concerning His Son for the people of God. So we spent some time on the nature of the Gospel.
And then we said there was a second basic thing before we could consider the content of this letter. Because this letter is very largely based upon this particular thing - that is, Paul himself, and the basis of his apostleship. I would like to think that this letter is fresh in your minds. I would like to think that since yesterday, you have read it right through again, and I would like to suggest that every day this week you read this letter. That will help me a lot in what I have to say.
Now, if you are familiar with this letter, you will know what a large place the Apostle Paul himself takes in the letter. He speaks very much about himself, and about his apostleship. There is a sense in which it is the man behind the letter. And that means, the man behind the Gospel. There is such a large place occupied by the apostle himself personally, but that is for a purpose. And the purpose is certainly not that Paul is seeking to glorify himself. It is not to magnify Paul; but it is to MAGNIFY JESUS CHRIST. That is proved by the fact that in what is quite a short letter, the name "Christ" occurs forty-three times. We shall refer to that again.
Now the reason for the prominence of the apostle in this letter is the whole question of the great change which was made in his time. This immense historic and spiritual change in the ages was very largely turning upon this man, Paul. It was not his desire that it should be so. Certainly Paul would have wished it otherwise. He did not want to be the prominent figure in this controversy. But it was his opponents that were making him the central figure. They were opposing Paul's right to teach what he was teaching. They were setting Paul over against Moses, or Moses over against Paul. In effect, they were saying, God always referred to Moses as "My servant." So by the Scriptures, Moses was the accredited servant of the Lord, and as the accredited servant of the Lord, Moses gave the whole Old Testament system. Moses gave the system of the law. And Moses wrote the Scripture at God's dictation. God verbally told Moses what to write. So that the Old Testament was verbally inspired by God. That means that the Jewish system was inspired by God. It was through Moses that God gave the great system of worship which we have in the Book of Leviticus.
Now you see how it seemed that these opponents of Paul had a very strong case against him. They said, Paul denies all that. And Paul says, all that is finished with. For instance: They concentrate upon the question of circumcision. They say, now in the inspired Old Testament, circumcision is a very important thing appointed by God. The Bible, as they had it, said circumcision is something. This man Paul, deliberately says, circumcision is nothing. Therefore, Paul is contradicting the Scriptures; Paul does not believe in the inspiration of the Scriptures. They went further than that. Not only did they attack his teaching, but they attacked him. You know, that is always a bad weapon of a bad cause, wherever there is a people who attack persons. They turn from what the person teaches to the person himself; and they try to discredit the person. And that is what these enemies of Paul did. They said, Paul is not a true apostle, at most, he is inferior to the other apostles. He is a false teacher. He is unsound in his doctrine. And he is a dangerous man. So they sought to undercut the ministry of Paul.
You will see by this, how prominent the place was that Paul occupied in this great issue - the great historic and spiritual issue as to the true nature of Christianity. And because these powerful enemies focus their attention upon Paul himself, it all drew from Paul a personal testimony; and it is in that testimony that we have the very essence of true Christianity. It is in that testimony that we have the new wine which will burst the old bottles, and we have the new garment which Paul will not try to patch up. In this testimony, we have the thing which constitutes the new heavenly order in which we live. By the way, we have to thank the enemies of Paul for a lot. We have to thank these enemies for the great light which emerged from his sufferings. We have to thank these enemies for the great emancipation of Christianity from a dead legal system. God turned the persecution of Paul into a wonderful advantage for this whole dispensation. It is very often like that. God gets out of the winepress, the pure wine. But that which goes into the winepress has to be crushed and broken; and then the pure wine of the Kingdom flows out. And that is how it was in this case.
Now it must be clearly understood, that the battle was not between Paul and Jews, but it was between tradition and spirituality. Paul only comes into it because he has seen the difference, and is speaking that which he has seen. So we come to understand Paul's personal answer.
Before we pass on, let me add this: it is very important in this great matter for us to settle this same issue: was the Apostle Paul a peculiarly chosen vessel for this purpose? Does the Apostle Paul stand in a particular relationship to this whole dispensation? Ever since those days, Paul has been a subject of violent attack. The liberal and modernistic theologians have attacked Paul. And the thing which they have said is this, 'Paul is not a true interpreter of Christ.' Of all the men in the Bible, there is no more controversial personality than the Apostle Paul. Even those who will accept Jesus, with limitations, will not accept Paul at all. And we have to settle this question. What relation does this man Paul stand to the whole dispensation? Until we are clearly able to answer that question, we cannot understand his ministry. Because all of Paul's ministry focuses down upon this one issue. That is, the spiritual and the heavenly nature of the dispensation, which came in with Jesus Christ.
So we must spend the rest of our time this morning in considering Paul's apostleship. But do remember that in all we say, we are really thinking of this particular issue: THE SPIRITUAL AND THE HEAVENLY NATURE OF THIS DISPENSATION. The principles of Paul's apostleship lie at the very foundation of this dispensation. Well, let us look at it in just two fragments. The Letter to the Galatians, chapter one, and verses eleven and twelve: "For I make known to you, brethren, as touching the Gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ."
Chapter two, and verse six: "But from those who were reputed to be somewhat (whatsoever they were, it maketh no matter to me: God accepteth not man's person) - they, I say, who were of repute imparted nothing to me."
All right then, these two fragments settle the question. The source of Paul's apostleship, 'not from men, neither through a man. I received nothing from men, it came to me by revelation of Jesus Christ.' What does that amount to?
I must pause here to put in parenthesis just this request. We are having these morning meetings, and perhaps you are looking upon them as meetings for teaching, and you will perhaps remember them in the future as some special meetings in which a special subject was considered. Well, of course, there is teaching, and it is focused upon a special matter. But I do want to say this to you earnestly, that what I am saying is not only a statement of truth, it is a 'testimony' of your foundation. It is a test as to the ground upon which you individually stand. So that this is not just a series of special meetings for teaching, this is a vital challenge to our spiritual position. If what we have said is true, that the whole dispensation in a sense focuses upon the spiritual experience of the Apostle Paul, that is, in a fuller way than in any other case except the Lord Jesus Himself, then what we have said about Paul's apostleship is basic to our own spiritual lives.
So what does this source of Paul's apostleship mean for us? It means that the basic reality of this dispensation is a personal, direct encounter with Jesus Christ. I want to repeat that. It is perhaps the most important thing out of which everything else will come. The basic reality of the dispensation in which we live is a personal direct encounter with Jesus Christ. It is personal between Christ and ourselves personally. It is direct because it is not through man. It is not through a priest or any other kind of intermediary. It is not through a ritual; it is not through a system; and it is not through man. It is directly between Christ and ourselves. We shall fail in the very purpose of this dispensation, unless we can say, 'that is how it is with us.' The method in which it happens may differ between Paul's experience and ours, but every one of us individually must be able to say: 'I have met Jesus Christ and Jesus Christ has met me directly. Men may have helped, but I did not receive it from men. I did not even receive it from those great men in Jerusalem. I did not receive it from the great representatives of Christianity. I received it personally and directly from the Lord.'
What a searching thing that is! How that will find us out. It just raises some questions. How did we get what we have got? Are you prepared to go home with that question? How did I get my Christianity? How did I get what I have got? How did it come to me? Did it come to me by thinking it out? I reasoned out this matter of Christian life, and I came to certain intellectual conclusions, in comparing it with all other things I saw that this was the best thing, so that in my mind I decided that this thing is right. Is it just an intellectual conclusion? Is that how I got it? Is that the ground on which I stand? Or, did it come to me by the impact of some strong personality? Some teacher, or some leader, with a very forceful personality and I came under the impact of that personality. So I received it through a man's strong personality. Is that the ground on which you stand? Was it through the persuasion of other people? They said you ought to come to Christ, and they kept on saying that, and at last I yielded to them, I gave way to their persuasion, and so I profess Christianity, and I got baptized, and that is the ground on which I stand.
How did we get what we got? That is going to decide everything for the future. Sooner or later the stresses of life will come upon our position. The Lord will allow our position to be tried in the fires. And His object in so doing will be to find out exactly what we are resting upon. So Paul said, "I received it not from men, nor from a man. Peter may have been a very important man, but I did not get it from Peter. James may have been the Lord's Own brother in the flesh, and he ought to know, but I did not receive it from James. John was a very loving devoted disciple, he was one of the first three, but I did not get it from John. These men gave me nothing. I RECEIVED IT BY DIRECT REVELATION OF JESUS CHRIST. That is the basis of this dispensation. That is the basis of true spiritual Christianity. And that is the great distinguishing mark between a legal system and a spiritual life.
Now in the next place, for a few minutes, we have to consider the crises behind Paul's apostleship. You see, we are keeping close to this letter. And for the time being, we are keeping close to Paul's testimony, which testimony is the basis of things. Behind the apostleship of Paul was a tremendous crisis. Chapter one, and verse thirteen, "Ye have heard of my manner of life in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the Church of God, and made havoc of it" (ASV). You must say that with very strong emphasis, because that is how Paul said it. "My life in the Jews' religion," fancy Paul saying a thing like that; a man who was a Jew by birth and upbringing, a man who was just kept in Judaism, I would have liked to see the look on his face when he said this - "In the Jews' religion. In the Jews' religion," that is how I lived in time past. I persecuted the Church of God, and I made havoc of the Church of God. And I advanced in the Jews' religion, beyond many of mine own age among my countrymen, being more exceedingly zealous for the tradition of my fathers. Unless you put sufficient emphasis upon all that, and realize what all that meant to Paul or to Saul of Tarsus as he was called before, you cannot appreciate the tremendous crisis in his life; the immense crisis behind his apostleship.
Note, it was a crisis, not a development. It was a crisis, not an evolution. It was a clear-cut thing that happened at a certain time. There was a crisis in this man's life. And that crisis meant the dividing of his whole life between what was in the past and what was in the future. For him it was the finishing of a whole system and the beginning of an altogether new heavenly order of things.
The next thing to note is this: That while it was the Sovereign Act of God, as we said yesterday, Jesus Christ rose from His throne in glory and came right down to this man. It was therefore A SOVEREIGN ACT FROM HEAVEN. Yet at the same time there was something upon which God could act. There was something in this man which gave the Lord the ground for acting. It was not merit, but there was something there. What was that something? Now I ask every one of you here to take note of this, God had ground on which to act in this man because he was a man who meant business with God. You must remember that although Saul of Tarsus was doing the wrong thing, he was doing it according to the light of his conscience. He afterward said that he did it in ignorance, that he thought that he was doing God's service. And however darkened his mind was, and however wrong his conduct was, he was a man who meant business with God. In his ignorance, he was doing it for God. He thought that this was what God wanted. There is a sense in which he had a heart for God. And there was no mistake in that. His zeal, as he calls it, was very great for what he believed to be for the Lord. That was a ground upon which God could work.
Listen to this, brethren, those who are indifferent, and do not care very much, will never get very far with the Lord. If things do not matter very much, then the Lord does not matter very much. There is an Old Testament word which says, "To the upright Thou will show Thyself upright; to the pure Thou will show Thyself pure; but to the froward Thou will show Thyself froward." God is going to be to us what we are to Him. If we are indifferent, if we are careless, if we do not care very much, the Lord will not come to us in this way. If you look at the men and the women who had counted most for God, you will know that at the beginning there was a very serious crisis. What was the Lord doing? He was getting this ground of reality. He was testing them as to whether they wanted Him just for their own good and pleasure or whether they wanted Him for Himself.
A young man who had great wealth came to Jesus, and he said, "Good Master, what must I do that I may inherit eternal life?" And it looks as though Jesus played with him, first of all, He said, 'Why do you call Me good? There is only One that is good, and that is God.' There is a real test in that. Well, you know what is written in the law, 'Thou shall love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and thou shall love thy neighbour as thyself." Still the Lord is drawing him out. And the young man said, "All this have I kept from my youth." All right then, we will bring it right to the test. "Go, sell all that you have, give to the poor and come follow Me, come and follow Me without anything. Follow Me without a penny, follow Me without a reputation." Is eternal life more important to you than all that you can have in this world? And you see, the Lord had found the spot, "What must I do that I may inherit eternal life?" Why do you want eternal life? Is it more important to you than all things in this world? Are you prepared to let go of everything in this world for eternal life? The young man dropped his head, dropped his hands, turned quietly round and walked away. You see the point?
The Lord wants to know whether we really mean business. We shall get nothing unless we really do mean business with God. We may be wrong in our way of life. Our minds may be very blind and darkened, but even so we can mean business with God. And although it was a Sovereign Act, yet the Lord had ground upon which He could work. That zeal, although it was misdirected, meant something to God. What is our attitude toward the Lord and the things of the Lord? Are we only half alive to this matter? Are we asleep? Or are we on full stretch, saying, "What the Lord wants for me I am going to have, if it can be had. No matter what it costs me, my heart is set upon what the Lord wants for my life." So we have considered the crisis behind this man, and we must leave it there this morning. And if the Lord wills, take it up from there tomorrow morning.