austin sparks, book ministry, christian ministry, daily devotional

May 29

29 MAY – Seek to Know God’s Principles Behind the Law

The Lord never just lays down laws in order to set up a system of laws. His laws are always the embodiment of His own thoughts; His laws are principles. It is a tremendous thing to be able to put your finger upon principles. Very often when precedent is not in existence, principle comes in with the power of law. You may not have a precedent for something, but there is a principle, and the principle is the precedent. Do you understand what I mean? You get the principle of a thing and you have the key to it all, and God is moving on principle, and anything that He says is not something just said to have things in a certain legal order, but because they are the embodiment of some great spiritual principle, because God is Spirit and everything that comes from God is spirit. When God says, “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together” (Heb. 10:25), He does not mean keep your meetings going. “Forsake not the assembling of yourselves together… and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching”. What day? The day of fullness, the day of consummation. Unto that you have to grow, and growth is corporate.

You know quite well, if the Body is more than a metaphor and it is that if you detach a member from the rest it will not grow any more. It is a simple law of corporate life. It depends entirely for its own increase upon its vital relationship to the rest, and otherwise any development of it will be entirely artificial. You might perhaps sever a member or organ from the body and give it some artificial stimulant and get some kind of growth, but it would be artificial because it is not governed by all the other governing functions of the body. The Body is no mere metaphor. It is a Divine thought embodying Divine principles and spiritual realities. The Body is not something that you can join, take up, discuss. This is not something of special truths, the Church for instance, the Body of Christ. No, it is not doctrine just as truth. … The teaching of the Church which is His Body will not get us anywhere as teaching. We might well have meetings and circles and classes to discuss that, but that is not it. It is the spiritual reality of this, and you can only come into this organically. That demands the corporate, relatedness, the fellowship. It begins with us individually and ends with us corporately.

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May 28

28 MAY – Joint-Heirs with Christ through Suffering

“Heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified with him” (Rom. 8:17).

This is not just an official thing, something that is a gratuitous gift in a mechanical way, as much as to say, ‘Well, you have done a bit of work; here are your wages’. That thing has been wrought in us through the suffering and the cost and the warfare and the labor, and there is this sense of an inward co-heirship with Christ, if we suffer. It will be a very blessed thing, to us who know how much we are dependent upon the grace of God, how little we can even bear without the support of His grace; it will be a wonderful thing when at last He says, ‘This is the reward of your suffering’. We shall say, ‘Well, after all, it was our light affliction in the light of the far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory. How have we earned this?’ But there will be some gratification in recognizing that the Lord has taken account of what we have gone through, and has brought us into a sense of His own gratification, and given us to feel ‘Well, it was not in vain, it was not for naught’.

Why did I read those passages in the Old Testament from Numbers and Joshua? They both have to do with inheritance. I read them for this reason, that here were people who, in the first place, were concerned, were jealous, for the inheritance. And then they were people who were prepared to enter into the cost of the inheritance, after which, when they had got it, it was theirs. Yes, it was the Lord’s, but it was theirs. Do you see what I mean? It is theirs. And many of us have gone through the years in toil, in suffering, in labor and warfare in the Lord’s interests, and if there is anything that comes out of that at all, it is ours, in this sense that we are jealous over it with a right kind of jealousy. It belongs to us in the Lord. Yes, it is the Lord’s, but it belongs to us in the Lord, the fruit of suffering and of travail and of cost. Your faithfulness in prayer, and in prayer-gatherings – it is not without cost that you continue like that. Your faithfulness in the upholding of those who go out, it costs. Taking the years over, it is not without price if there is anything. The Lord has given it to you as your inheritance; that is yours. All that eternal spiritual value is yours in Christ.

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May 27

27 MAY – Inward Relationship through Suffering

The very heart of suffering, the very heart of co-heirship with Christ, is this wonderful sense of inward relationship to the object in view, inward relationship to the inheritance, inward relationship to the result, the reward. And that is the explanation of suffering, of labor, of conflict. The Lord does not just give to us without cost. He always brings us into the cost of that which He is going to give. It will be grace all the way through, but He brings us into the cost of the reward. In the end, let us repeat, we shall acknowledge that any part we have had in it of suffering, labor, warfare, has been infinitely outweighed by what He has given and that is where grace will always be our theme; but I do believe that mingled with our gratitude will be this sense that the Lord enabled us to achieve, that He did not act without us and apart from us. He brought us into it, and there will be this deep, inward, heart-relatedness to the result, that we share with Him the gratification. That is the very heart of suffering, I believe.

What we have labored for, suffered for, travailed for, becomes something over which we are very jealous. Suffering for anything is a very purifying thing. Take the matter of the child for which there has been suffering, travail. Well, other people who have not so suffered and travailed and gone through for the child can see all the defects and pass all the criticisms and arrive at their judgments, good or bad, about that child, and just stand apart and say their say about the child. But the mother may see very little of that. There is something for the mother which transcends all that.

There is nothing that is precious to the Lord, and which He would make the property of His people, but there will be suffering for it. It will only become their property in that sense as they suffer for it, and then woe betide who criticizes that! If you are detached from a thing, if you are detached from a testimony, from a work of God, you can do all the criticizing you like. You have no inward heart-relationship to it, and so you pass your judgments upon it. But if you are in it and you have suffered, if it has been a costly thing where you are concerned, then you are seeing more than all the failings, more than all those faults. The people who can criticize like that and judge and point out faults are the people who have not suffered.

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May 26

26 MAY – An Inheritance of the Suffering of Christ

Little need be said, I think, as to the fact of the sufferings. We know the people of God are not exempt from sufferings. That, I think, need not be labored. But there are many sufferings into which they enter because they are the people of God; and that, perhaps, needs a little thinking about. There are sufferings we may bring upon ourselves, sufferings which need not be, but I am not thinking about those. I am speaking about the sufferings of Christ, of the fact of these, and that they are the common lot of the people of God, and that when they come upon us, there is nothing wrong in that.

But when you think about these sufferings, with Paul as the great example and interpreter, you are led to see that these are not just incidents, local or earthly things. Even when they take legal and earthly form and coloring by reason of situations and circumstances and events, they have a far greater range than anything incidental, local, temporal, earthly. The range of these sufferings is no less than the spiritually universal. They reach out beyond ourselves, our circle, our lives, our time, and beyond anything here and now. I would use the word ‘dispensational’ but for its being perhaps misunderstood. Paul’s sufferings comprehended the dispensation and are virtuous today after so many centuries, and have touched every realm of the celestial and the diabolical. These sufferings are more than just incidents in life, painful as they may be. They are set within a vast realm of significance and effectiveness. They are, in the main, the ‘kick-back’ of a vast and mighty system of antagonism to everything that is of Christ.

We must therefore accept the fact of such sufferings, and adjust to the spiritual significance of it. If you and I ever do get the idea that the Christian life is to be a perpetual picnic, we shall get ourselves into all kinds of difficulties and perplexities and disappointments. If we seek to escape from the sufferings of Christ, we are going to cut the very vitals of our spiritual worth-whileness. Take heed to that. We have to accept the fact that, being the Lord’s here, our inheritance is an inheritance of the sufferings of Christ, and we must not seek to avoid them.

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May 25

25 MAY – Paul’s Spiritual Suffering

Here is a spiritual suffering for Christ’s sake; and that which Paul speaks of as “the sentence of death”, though beyond our explanation, yet does seem to suggest that he got into a terrible state spiritually because of certain conditions. If I were to try to reshape this situation, I should say Paul had received this terribly bad news about the state of things in the church at Corinth, with more perhaps from other directions as well, and he had gone down under his suffering and said, ‘Is it worth it? Is it not all in vain? Is it not an utterly hopeless situation? Am I not wasting my life in pouring it out for such people?’ When you start like that, there is no end. You can go down and down until waters of despair gradually close over you. You try to pray and you cannot, for a doubting man can never pray. He may cry, but he cannot pray. A man who has let go to that sort of thing cannot pray; heaven is closed. And Paul, so to speak, interrogates himself and says, ‘What is the meaning of this?’ The answer is, ‘It is death; along that line it is death; if you get down there, there is no way through and no way up; that is the end of everything – death!’

My point at the moment is that death here was spiritual, not physical. He was tasting something of the real nature of death. Death is a sense of being excluded from God, of heaven being closed, of there being no way through and no way out, shut up and shut in, at the end of everything; and that registered in or upon your soul. That is more than physical death. Some of us more than once would have been glad to die physically. But this other thing is spiritual death, and it is terrible, it is awful; there is no gladness about that. To taste that is to know something of the sufferings of Christ. Those sufferings may be known along other lines, but we are not attempting here to define in detail the whole range of Christ’s sufferings, but only to stress the fact of them.

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May 24

24 MAY – The Suffering Within the Sufferings

There are sufferings and the suffering; the plural and the singular – the suffering – that is, the suffering which is within the sufferings. Sometimes it is the suffering which brings about the sufferings. Take Paul, for instance, and the suffering to which he refers in II Corinthians 1:8-10 “our affliction which befell us in Asia”. The word ‘affliction’ there is from a Latin root which means ‘a flail’, and it pictures the wielding of a flail upon the naked body of a bound man, bruising and breaking and battering; it is a strong word. Paul says that is what happened to him in Asia. “Weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power, insomuch that we despaired even of life: yea, we ourselves have had the sentence of death within ourselves…” ‘We had the answer to our enquiry; the answer was “It is death!”’ Now, that is the suffering within the sufferings.

Do not think for a moment that that was just a physical matter. A man who could go through all those experiences which are recorded of Paul, and who could say that to depart and be with Christ was far better, was not afraid of dying. Not at all! There must have been some suffering within the sufferings. ‘Weighed down exceedingly, beyond our power’ – that was something inward; it was not because he was desperately ill and might die at any moment. What then is this? It may have been due to the report that came to him of conditions in Corinth, for it was at this time that he received the news of the terrible state of things in Corinth recorded in these letters, and he speaks of “that which presseth upon me daily, anxiety for all the churches” (2 Cor. 11:28). Even if it was physical sickness that assailed him, we know that sickness in the body is very often caused by grief of heart; the outward sufferings are sometimes the result of inward distress. Thus we have the suffering within the sufferings.

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May 23

23 MAY – Growth and Ability by Suffering

Progress and growth are also secured by sufferings. All nature declares it. Growth, development, increase, is by that expanding power which creates a creak and a groan and an ache within the organism; and in the spiritual life it is like that. We speak about growing pains. I believe that is considered to be unscientific now, but it is a very useful phrase. Yes, there are growing pains, and the sufferings of Christ in the members of His Body are related to growth. The difference is this, that in what we have called growing pains it is the growing that is actually taking place which causes the pains, while here, in what we have before us, it is the pains which produce the growth afterward. We grow by means of suffering, there is no doubt about it. Show me a mature spiritual life, and you show me the embodiment of much suffering of some kind – not always physical – a life which has gone through things. Paul found his turning point there “that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God who raiseth the dead”; a new discovery from the depths. Where he touched bottom, he discovered God in a new way-”God who raiseth the dead”. Such knowing of Him comes along that line. The values of suffering are there.

But then note what he says again “God… who comforteth us in all our affliction, that we may be able…” Oh, there is a lot in that! That speaks of stock in trade, the means for service, does it not? We may often have bad times about our lack of ability in many ways, comparing ourselves with other people and deploring our lack of ability in this and that. Oh, for ability! But what is the greatest ability after all? The best and most fruitful ability is to be able to help people in the deep experiences of spiritual life; to be able to explain to them the meaning of God’s dealings with them, to be able to show them what is intended to be the outcome of it all, to be able to give them some support by counsel which comes from real knowledge – some of that comfort which we ourselves have received of God. That is real service, that is, building up the Body of Christ, the House of God – being really able, in a spiritual way, to strengthen the sorrowing. That comes through suffering.

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