Christ - All, And In All, (continued)
by T. Austin-Sparks
4. The Explanation Of Christian Growth
What is spiritual growth? What is spiritual maturity? What is it to go on in the Lord? I fear we have got mixed ideas about this. Many think that spiritual maturity is a more comprehensive knowledge of Christian doctrine, a larger grasp of scriptural truth, a wider expanse of the knowledge of the things of God; and many such features are recorded as marks of growth, development, spiritual maturity. Beloved, it is nothing of the kind. The hallmark of true spiritual development and maturity is this, that we have grown so much less and the Lord Jesus has grown so much more. The mature soul is one who is small in his or her own eyes, but in whose eyes the Lord Jesus is great. That is growth. We may know a very great deal, have a wonderful grasp of doctrine, of teaching, of truth, even of the Scriptures, and yet be spiritually very small, very immature, very childish. (There is all the difference between being childish and child-like.) Real spiritual growth is just this: I decrease, He increases. It is the Lord Jesus becoming more. You can test spiritual growth by that. Then again this word is:
5. The Explanation Of All Service
What is Christian service according to the mind of God? It is not necessarily our having a very full programme of Christian activities. It is not that we are always busy in what we call 'things of the Lord'. It is not the measure and amount of our activity and business, not the degree of our energy and enthusiasm in the things of the kingdom of God. It is not our schemes, our enterprises for the Lord. Beloved, the test of all service is its motive. Is the motive, from start to finish, that in all things He may have the pre-eminence, that Christ may be all, and in all?
You know the temptations and the fascination of Christian service; the fascination of being busy, of being occupied with many things; having your programme, schemes, enterprises; being in it, and always at it. There is a peril there which has caught multitudes of the Lord's servants. The peril is that it brings them into prominence, it makes the work theirs; it is their work, their interests, and the more they govern the thing and run it the more pleased they are.
No, there is a difference between going the round of the clock in Christian service as the mere enjoyment of activity, with the fascination of it and all the advantages and facilities it provides for ourselves, and its gratification to our flesh - there is a great difference between that and this, "Christ all, and in all". Sometimes this latter is achieved by our being put out of action; and then is the test, as to whether we are, or are not, quite satisfied to be altogether put out of work if only the Lord can be the more glorified thereby. If only He can come into His own, it does not matter a scrap whether we are seen or heard. We are getting somewhere, in the grace of God, when we are quite content to be put up in a corner, unseen and unnoticed, if thereby the Lord Jesus can come into His own more speedily and fully.
Somehow we have got caught up into this thing and think the Lord can only come into His own if we are the instrument. The rivalry on platform and in pulpit; sensitiveness because one is put before another, because the address of one is given more attention than that of another; the favourable remarks all made in one direction, etc! I know all about it. After all, what are we after? Are we seeking to impress our audience by our cleverness or to make known our Lord? A great difference! Sometimes the Lord gets more out of our bad times than we think, and it may be that when we have had good times He has not got the most. Therein is the necessity for our being set aside, kept weak and humble, that He might have the pre-eminence.
The challenge of service according to God's thought is just this - What are we doing it for? Do we want to be in the work, because we like to be busy? Or is it utterly and only that, by any means, He may come into His own, that God's end may be realized? If He can be all, and in all, by our death as well as by our life, have we come to the place where we truly desire "that... Christ may be magnified in my body, whether by life, or by death"? (Phil. 1:20). That is the explanation of service from God's standpoint. Of course, this is the explanation of many other things. It is:
6. The Explanation Of The Whole Of The Old Testament
We will not tarry to examine in detail how this is so, but just indicate and pass on. What is the old Testament? It is all gathered up in great representations of Jesus Christ. Take the two main ones, the Tabernacle and the Temple. These are comprehensive representations of the Lord Jesus both in His person and in His work, and these occupy, as such, the central place in the life of a chosen people, whose life is bound up with them. The two are one, and while that elect people are in right relationship to that central object, the Tabernacle or Temple: while they give it its place of honour and reverence, and maintain it in its place of highest holiness: while they are true to its spirit, and its laws, and its testimony: though they are amongst all the peoples of the earth the least capable, naturally, of looking after their interests, yet they are the supreme people of the earth; there is not a nation or a people in the earth able to stand before them. They have never been trained in the art of war, they have no long history behind them of arms and military strategy, and are in themselves a defenseless people: yet they take the ascendancy not only over individual nations greater and mightier than themselves, but over a combination of nations; and though all unite against them, while true to that central object they are supreme. That central object is a representation of the Lord Jesus in His person and work. The spiritual interpretation of it is that when the Lord Jesus has His place there is supremacy; there is absolute supremacy when He in all things has the pre-eminence in and through and by His people. "Christ is all, and in all." When that is true in His people there are no forces capable of withstanding them. The secret of absolute supremacy and sovereignty is the Lord Jesus having His place in the lives and in the hearts, in all the affairs and relationships, of His own people; and the gates of Hades cannot prevail then. Further, it is:
7. The Explanation Of The New Testament
And the New Testament brings in little companies, small among the peoples of the earth, despised, cast out, hardly allowed to speak without being bitterly molested, and upon whom eventually comes the organized wrath and hatred of the nations of this world until all the resources of a great iron empire are exploited and put into operation to blot out the remembrance of these humble, despised people. The story is just this, that the empires have broken, the world powers have ceased to be. We go round the world now looking at the relics and ruins of those great empires; but where is that people of the Way of the despised Nazarene? A great multitude that no man can number! Heaven is full of them, and here on earth there are tens of thousands who know and love the Lord Jesus, who are of this Way. The explanation is that God determined that His Son should be all, and in all things should have the pre-eminence. Come into living relationship with God's Son, and men and hell may do what they will - God will reach His end and such a people will be triumphant. One word more. This is:
8. The Explanation Of The Church
What is the Church? God's thought is not Christianity; it is not churches as organized centres of Christianity; it is not the propagation of Christian teaching and enterprise. God's thought is to have a people in the earth in whom, and in the midst of whom, Christ is all, and in all. That is the Church. We have got to revise our ideas. In the thought of God the Church begins and ends with this - the absolute supremacy of the Lord Jesus Christ: and what God is always after is to get together those of His people who will most fully realize that thought of His, and be unto Him the satisfaction of His own eternal desire, the Lord Jesus in all things having the pre-eminence, and being all, and in all. He passes by the great institution, the so-called 'Church' and He is with those who in themselves are of a humble and contrite spirit and who tremble at His word, and with whom the Lord Jesus is the one and only object of worship and adoration. Such satisfy the heart of God. Such, for Him, are the answer to His eternal quest.
You notice the word of God says that. Look at it again in Col.3:11: "Where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bond-man, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all." There they have "Put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of Him that created Him." Look closely into that and you will find this is the corporate man, the Church, the Body of Christ, "The fulness of Him that filleth all in all", (Eph. 1:23), and there, in that corporate man, there cannot be Greek and Jew. Note the words. It does not say, where Greek and Jew come together in blessed fellowship. No, you have not got nationalities in the Church; you have got rid of all nationalities, and you have now one spiritual new man, a new creation, where there cannot be Greek, Jew, bondman, freeman. All earthly distinctions have gone for ever - it is one new man. The right arm is not a Jew and the left arm a Greek!
No, they have gone out. In that Church there is one new man - not a combination where Anglicans, Wesleyans, Baptists, Congregationalists and all the rest come together and sink their differences for the time being; that is not the Church. In the Church these differences are not merely covered up for the time being; they do not exist; there is one Body, one Spirit. The Church is this, "Christ is all, and in all". Get that, and you have the Church. Call anything else the Church and let it be without that, and it is a contradiction. Test it by that.
If it is true that the Christian life according to the thought and mind of God is just this, "Christ all, and in all" are you and I true Christians? For we have seen that by the Cross we went out to make room for the Lord Jesus. Now, if we profess to have come by way of Calvary to the Lord, the implication is that we have gone out by that Cross, that Christ may be all, and in all.
What about this? Do we want a little bit of the world? Do we still voluntarily cling to this thing and that thing outside the Lord, because the Lord Jesus has not wholly satisfied us and we must have a make-weight? A worldly Christian is a contradiction in title. To have a little bit of something outside Christ is to deny Calvary and to stand right in opposition to the eternal intention of God concerning Christ. Will you take that responsibility? God determined this from all eternity concerning His Son; and can we profess to belong to the Lord Jesus and yet at the same time it is not true that He is all, and in all to us? If so, there is something wrong, there is a denial, a contradiction. We are opposed to God's thought and purpose. Is it true that He is all, and in all? He will be that if we will go all the way.
Oh! those subtle suggestions that are ever being whispered in our ears, that if we give up this and that we are going to lose, and life is going to be poorer, and we are going to be narrowed down until we have nothing left. It is a lie! That is the thing that is countering God's great thought for us. God's thought for us is that one, no less than His Son, Jesus Christ, in Whom all the fulness of the Godhead dwells in bodily form, should be our fulness. All the fulness of God in Christ for us! You never attain to that by rejecting Him. Life must be much less than it need be if you are not going all the way with the Lord; and what obtains in the matter of our consecration to the Lord, our entire and complete abandonment to Him in our life and our complete cut with all that is not of the Lord, obtains in the realm of service. This flesh loves to sport itself in Christian work, and tells us that if we are going to be dependent upon the Lord we are going to have an anxious time. But a life of dependence upon God can be a life of continual romance. It is there that we make discoveries which are a constant wonder.
You may be nearly dead one minute and in the next the Lord gives you something to do and you are very much alive, dependent upon Him for every breath you breathe. But thus you come to know the Lord. Then after that experience you are just as helpless and dead again for a while, but you remember that the Lord did something. Then He does it again; and so life becomes a romance; yet no one would ever guess you were depending on the Lord for your very breath. It is a very blessed thing to know the Lord is doing it, when you could not do it at all; it is, humanly, naturally, impossible, but the Lord is doing it!
Follow on, beloved, in the matter of the Church. Apply the test. I am not speaking judgingly, censoriously, nor do I intend to be discriminating in a wrong sense, but let me be faithful - for us, our fellowship must be where the Lord Jesus is most honoured. Our fellowship must be where God gets His own most fully, where Christ is all, and in all. We must not be tied by traditions, by things which make the claim and take the name. Where the Lord is most honoured, that is where our hearts must be; where everything else is made subservient to this one thing, Jesus Christ all, and in all. That is God's thought of the Church, and that must be the place where for us is the gravitating of our hearts. The place where God is going to register His testimony and bring the impact of that testimony upon others will be found where the Lord Jesus is most honoured; and you may take it that where there are hungry ones you will not be at a loss for an opportunity of ministry if you are fully in accord with God's purpose concerning His Son.
Remember that everything in relation to the Christian is experimental. Everything in relation to the Lord Jesus is essentially experimental. It is not only doctrinal. This is not a matter of creed. It is not that we accept certain statements of doctrine or creed, and by that fact alone are brought into relationship to the Lord Jesus. We are not made Christians by the acceptance of doctrinal statements or orthodox creeds, or things about the Lord Jesus. The Church is not constituted on that ground at all, though the Church stands for certain things. Experience has to be wrought in the life and you have to become a part of it and it has to become a part of you. It is not sufficient to believe that Christ died on the Cross. That has got to come down here into our lives and become an experience, a mighty, operating force and factor in our beings. The Church is not set up on a basis of doctrinal statements. You cannot gather people together and say this is perfectly sound, we will constitute our Church upon this basis. You cannot do it.
The Church is that in which the truth has been wrought, in which it has been made experimental. Creeds cannot hold you together when hell rises to split you. No, the most ultra-fundamental creed has not succeeded in holding people together. The unity of the Spirit is a thing inwrought. Unless that is so there is nothing that can stand against the divisive, schismatic spirits that are abroad. Everything must be experimental, not merely doctrinal, not credal. Now that is where you get to God's reality. It is one thing to sing hymns about Christ being all, and in all, to look at it as an objective thing and agree with it; but it is another thing to be brought experimentally to the place where the truth actually works. There are many who will say today 'yes, that is right, Christ is all, and in all', and tomorrow morning, when you touch them upon some trifling thing where their preferences are involved, you find that Christ is not all, and in all. We have to come to it through experience. May the Lord give us grace for that.
The final appeal I make is that we all should seek anew the enthronement of the Lord Jesus as supreme Lord in our hearts, in every part of our life, in all our relationships; that if there is anything we have been holding back, we should let go; if we have had any reserves, we should break now; if we have been less than wholly committed to Him, from now this should be no more, but He should be all, and in all, from this time. That should be our understanding, our undertaking with the Lord. Will you do it? Ask the Lord to break even every tender tie that is in the way of His being all, and in all. Are we prepared for that? The Lord give us grace.