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The Cross and Deception

by T. Austin-Sparks

The Cross and Deception

Reading: 1 Corinthians 1:18-31; 2:1-5.

1 Cor. 1:18: “The word of the cross… is the power of God.”

1 Cor. 1:23,24: “We preach Christ crucified… unto them that are called… Christ the power of God.”

1 Cor. 2:2: “I determined to know nothing among you save Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

In the KJV it says “The preaching of the cross”, instead of the word of the Cross. That is quite an unfortunate translation, for here it is the Logos of the Cross; the same word and title as given to the Lord Jesus in the beginning of the Gospel of John: “In the beginning was the Word” (the Logos). You will also have noticed from the context and the other passages that we have read, that what is in view is Christ crucified, Jesus Christ and Him crucified. It is not a doctrine, a teaching; it is a Person, and that Person crucified is the power of God and the wisdom of God; the word of the Cross. That is comprehensive and includes a very great deal, but there is one specific emphasis in my own heart for this particular hour in relation to the times in which we are living.

It is said in the Word that “in the last days perilous times shall come”, and I think most of us, certainly those who have spiritual perception, will agree that these are very perilous times. Perilous times spiritually, perilous times for the people of God, and a very special word from the Lord seems to be necessary for His own people in these times to secure them, to establish them, to hold them, to make them safe, and bring them into a place where they are established, because the peculiar nature of the peril of these days is that of deception, delusion. What is delusion? Well, it is to lead from truth into error. It is to mislead the mind or the judgment, to beguile, to lead astray, to cheat, to frustrate, to disappoint, to impose upon. It is something that is not the truth. These are days peculiarly marked by that peril. There is a sense in which we may say that the gospel itself has as one of its main features, the deliverance of man from deception. Of course, it is delivering them into the truth, into the light, but in a very real way it is for their deliverance from deception, and we shall see in a little while how true that is. I feel, beloved, that the Lord has a very great need of a ministry by which His own people will be safeguarded in a day when deception and delusion is so widespread, many-sided, persistent, and so extremely subtle. The Lord surely would serve His Body by such a ministry, and so it may be that we gathered here are in line with that desire of His, both to safeguard us, make us sure, put us in a safe position by light, and through us minister to others who are in peril of making shipwreck of their faith and being led astray by what is abroad today as the imitation of the truth.

In that connection it is necessary to see exactly what happens at the end of the dispensation. We find at the end that a great angel descends having a great chain and he lays hold of the dragon who is the Devil, and Satan, the Deceiver, and casts him into the abyss that he shall deceive the nations no more. There you have the titles of the adversary: the Dragon, the Serpent, the Devil and Satan, and the Deceiver, and his work of deceiving the nations. Now such words occur more than once in the book of the Revelation if you care to look them up, almost the identical words occur on two occasions. You have it in the twentieth chapter, the other occasion is in the twelfth chapter where, the man-child reaching the throne, the Dragon is cast down and there is no more place found for him in heaven. He is again designated Dragon, Serpent, the Devil, Satan, the Deceiver.

We could gather a very great deal of Scripture containing the very same thought and expression, as to the universal activity of the Adversary as being the work of deception and delusion, and the Lord Jesus related to that activity in a special and intensified form to the end time. “Many shall come in My Name saying, I am Christ; and shall deceive many.” “There shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall show great signs and wonders so as to deceive, if it were possible, the very elect.” “He doeth great signs, that he should even make fire come down from heaven upon the earth in the sight of men, and he deceiveth them that dwell upon the earth.”

Now these are marks of the end time. It is but one strong emphasis and stress upon this, that the end times (and we believe that we are in those times) are going to be marked particularly by an intensified activity on the part of the enemy along the line of deception, and deceptions are deceptions. That is, they are with very great difficulty detected, and require a very keen, clear insight and perception to be recognised. This, of course, is, while true in a special way at the end, true of all times. The chief peril of all ages has been deception. Paul tells us that it was so. In a reference to what happened at the beginning he said: “For the man was not deceived, but the woman”. Deception was the first weapon of the enemy against God, and the first method of the enemy by which he would secure his end, attain his object, accomplish his purpose. As the result of man’s complicity and sanction, or failure to resist what he knew to be contrary to the express will of God, the whole race has become a deceived race. The race is deceived universally. Deception is not something now that is out in the air, objective, apart from man. Deception is now something in man as a part of him. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.”

Beloved, deceitfulness was not a constituent in the man that God made. Deceitfulness is something that has come into the nature of man, a foreign something, and it is in the race. It is in man. It is a part of his very nature. God’s greatest opportunity is always with the honest in heart, and God never stands a chance when there is not honesty of heart. His beginnings are there. He wants a contrite heart, an honest heart, an open spirit, where there is no covering things over; for that was the very first thing that happened when deceitfulness entered the race. Man went to hide himself, and deceitfulness is always that which is hiding something, keeping something under cover, not transparent, clear, open before heaven. God always demands absolute openness and honesty before He begins negotiations. God can always get on very rapidly when He has an honest heart to deal with, and that life with an honest heart will go ahead with God by leaps and bounds, and those who will not be honest with God, meaning business whatever it costs, will make no progress. (That is somewhat aside, we want to get to the real main factor in all this.) We have said that deception is a universal method of the Deceiver. It is universal, but it is adapted to the special realm in which he may be active. That means, his deceiving work is suited to those with whom he has to deal, and there are, I think, mainly three realms.

Three Realms of Deception

There is the realm of the ungodly, the realm of the religious and the realm of the spiritual. In every one of these realms the Deceiver works projecting his deceptions, but he adapts his deceptions to suit the realm.

We touch lightly upon the first and the second in order to come to the third more specifically.

1) The Ungodly

But first we want to say something about the deceiving work among the ungodly. “The whole world lieth in the Wicked One”, and “the god of this age hath blinded the minds of them that believe not”, they are in the “kingdom of darkness”, they are utterly deceived though they know it not. They are so utterly deceived that this letter to the Corinthians in its earlier passages tells us that the world in its very wisdom, at the very height of its wisdom, slew the Lord of Glory, killed the Prince of Life, so blind was it. Saul of Tarsus was an excellent specimen of the wisdom of this world in setting his hand against the Lord, and the Lord’s own, to hound them to death. When the light came and he was undeceived, how completely he saw the blindness in which he had been. But the ungodly are even more deceived than that. Many of them before they close their earthly course wake up to the fact that they have been deceived. You find in the end of their life so frequently they realise that they have been out full stretch in quest for something to make life complete, to make it full, to satisfy themselves. Now in some cases disaster has overtaken them, calamity has befallen them and all that they set their hearts upon has been lost. They have nothing left of time or ability or strength or any kind of resource to begin again, and life has gone and now laughs back at them. Everything was put out to reach an end which has eluded them, which they have missed, and the only thing that they can honestly say is, that they have been deceived. On the other hand many reach their goal, accumulate wealth and possessions, position, influence, power and still heart-hungry they end their lives.

Well, we have had many instances of late. We have read of one who took his own life, not because things had gone wrong, for he had accumulated his wealth, but he turned his hand upon himself because he had nothing more to live for, and if that is not deception what is? Indeed, the ungodly are in the grip of a mighty deception and in the end the Deceiver is going to laugh at them whether they succeed or whether they fail in what they set their hands to in this life. In the end they are going to discover that the thing for which they were given a being has been missed and life has been just one delusion. That is the meaning of the commission given to the Apostle Paul. He had had his eyes opened and the Lord said to him “Thou shalt stand before kings and rulers, and nations to whom I send thee to open their eyes, that they may turn from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God.” Turning from the power of Satan unto God, from darkness to light, is the result of having eyes opened; thus becoming disillusioned, undeluded by having eyes opened. They are blind and the blindness is the work of one who has got them in his grip. Kings, rulers and people, yes, many of them repudiating any such suggestion that they are blinded or deluded, but the Lord knows how “to open their eyes”. That is what we meant when we said that the Gospel in a sense is peculiarly for delivering men from deception, universally. That is all we have to say about the ungodly.

2) The Religious

Next we want to say a word about the religious, for the same thing holds good here, adapted by the Deceiver to the realm in which he is working, the type of people with whom he is dealing, the religious. Yes, religiously deceived, to put it in another way, deceived by their very religiousness, and that is a strong and a mighty delusion. There is power in that delusion that seems so often to defy every kind of attempt to deal with it. The religious are deceived by religiousness! What more can be expected than the recognition of the fact of God and the giving to God of reverence, acknowledgment, and recognition: of taking active interest in things which relate to God, attending religious services, and being very busy in religious activities and interests, and finding your chief interest in religious things and the religious realm? What more can be expected? What is the matter with that? Be patient, bear with me if I say with very great emphasis: that may be one colossal delusion. So often that very thing obscures one fundamental thing, a true and living relationship with God. “Ye must be born again”, and religion very often obscures that issue. Oh, religion is no argument for salvation. Religion can be found in the darkest places of the earth. Universally there is religion; depraved and very low in many places, but universally there is the consciousness of standing in relationship to some supreme object of worship, demanding worship. Then men’s minds or imaginations get to work to give some kind of expression to that consciousness, of that supreme object of worship. The imagination produces that sometimes out of a tree, a stone, or in the heavenly bodies. Somehow it is expressed, but it is the thing that is there, behind all the forms of expression which is universal. All the highly civilised forms of that brought into the realm of Christendom are only the same thing developed. It does not say that Christendom’s more intelligent, civilised, educated interpretation of God, even though it gets its ideas from the Bible, is salvation. It may be a mighty delusion and very often is.

I have asked people if they have been born again, and they have said “It is not necessary; I have been confirmed.” Such may be an extreme case, and I do not take it up for criticism but by way of illustration. You may take on religion because you have got a religious temperament and that does not mean that you are saved. The Devil may be holding you just as firmly, tightly, in the grip of an unsaved state by your religion as he does the worldly by his pleasures. He does not mind how he holds you. By the most aesthetic religious activities, self-denials and such like, so long as he can keep you from the main thing. This is mentioned in passing, as deception is our subject. There is a vast difference, beloved, between vital union with God in Jesus Christ and religious formalism, and as we said at the outset, there is a very great need for a ministry by which deception, even amongst religious people, shall be shattered and broken and the fact of an essential, vital union with God by new birth shall be brought home to religious people. Along that line the enemy is destroying the whole testimony of the Church by packing it full of active, energetic, unconverted people. That is where he is sapping the strength of the Testimony of God.

3) The Spiritual

Now we come to the third realm, the spiritual people, and we are now dealing with the truly born again children of God, the spiritual people. The enemy will adapt his work of deception to this realm as cleverly and even more cleverly and ingeniously than to any other realm. But he does not give up the children of God as incapable of being deceived, for it is here that we find delusion and deception in its finest, its most acute forms. It is here that so often dear children of God have been utterly led off into error by something which bore all the semblance of absolute Gospel truth. It is in this realm, amongst the Lord’s own children, that the deceptions of today are most rampant and active.

What is the mark, the peculiar mark of the Deceiver’s deceiving work for the Lord’s own people? It is the counterfeit of all that is of God, the counterfeit system which includes anything that is of God. Now if you will study your Bible you will be able to trace that counterfeit system as it moves into every connection with God. First of all you will see that there is a counterfeiting of the very Godhead. That is saying a terrific thing, but it is true. A counterfeiting of the very Godhead: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The counterfeiting of the first Person in the Trinity: God. What does the Scripture have to say? “The god of this age hath blinded…” The god of this age, and Satan is seen in the Word of God to set himself up all the way through as the supreme object of worship to draw away from God Himself. You have not to go very far into the Bible to see that. It is implied in his very first act. “Hath God said?” Well, “I am a greater authority than He is.” That is what is implied in that. “You listen to me”, and so by subtle insinuation he captured God’s place of reverence, of fear, of acknowledgment, in the heart of man and in so doing became man’s god obtaining worship. The subtle insinuation by which he did it was, “God knows if you do that, you will be as God knowing good and evil, and God forbidding you to do that is simply robbing you of something which, being yours, would make your life fuller and larger and greater; and so God after all is not favourable to you, and is keeping something back. He is making life smaller and narrower than it need be, and if you will only do as I tell you, you will have a life higher than that.” Yes, become a Christian, give your life to God, and life will become a narrow, mean thing, and you will have to give up this and that. That is always the insinuation of the enemy. He never lets you know what you are going to gain by going on with God, and the deception works, that instead of gaining you lose, when you give heed to the enemy. “The god of this age hath blinded.”

When Israel came out of Egypt, the supreme object of their coming out was not the coming into the land or the wilderness, but that they should come out to the Lord, belong to the Lord, be His people. “Let my son go”; that was the word: coming out to, belonging to, the Lord. They had not been in the wilderness very long before Moses went up into the mountain for a period with the Lord, and the enemy broke into the company. What was God saying to Moses in the mount? “Let them bring me gold and silver and brass and precious stones and fine linen, and let them make me a sanctuary.” The enemy broke in at that time and said in effect: “Not if I can help it”. He provoked the people to bring their gold for a molten image, taking the gold away from God. What is gold? That which is representative and typical of God Himself, of His divine nature. This theme runs all the way through the Bible. The god of this age is seeking to get the worship due to God, and he simulates the first Person of the Trinity. He imitates and counterfeits along the line of religion to get worship. Then the second Person of the Trinity (you realise that we cannot make a thorough study of each one of these) is the Lord Jesus, God Incarnate in the Son. We read: “Many shall come in my name, saying, I am Christ, and shall deceive many.” Antichrist is the simulation of God Incarnate: taking the place of god amongst men in human form to capture the worship of men’s hearts; sitting in the temple of God giving the impression that he is God. “There shall come false Christs.” The Deceiver is out to counterfeit Christ, simulate Him even to the point of incarnation, the Devil incarnate, Antichrist. As far as possible he takes all the semblance of Christ.

Counterfeiting the Holy Spirit

Then, there is the third Person in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit. The enemy is out certainly along this line to counterfeit the Holy Spirit. There is no doubt about it. If this is the dispensation of the Spirit, it is also the dispensation of the counterfeit of the Holy Spirit. What is the work of the Holy Spirit? Well, it is many-sided, but, beloved, the enemy can give false signs, which are an imitation of the signs of the Holy Spirit. The enemy can give false guidance which is an imitation of the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Experiences? Yes, you can have experiences, supernatural experiences, which are a counterfeit of the Holy Spirit. Teaching? Yes, teaching from the Bible: doctrines of demons, false doctrine. But they would not be deceptions, delusions if they were not based upon biblical content.

There is also imitation of the Holy Spirit by miracles, working great signs and wonders, calling down a fire from heaven to deceive them that are on the earth. Miracles, signs, wonders, power, yes, and even life, to give life unto the image, power to give life unto the image, and, even conversions. Apparent new birth, changing lives. Here we are on perhaps the most terrific ground when we say that. Questions would at once arise: “Does the devil make men pure and turn men from godlessness to a life of God-interest?” “Does he really change men for the better?” Is that true? He will stand at nothing if he can get his ultimate end. Which is to give you a false baptism of the Holy Spirit so that you have a wonderful experience, full of wonderful sensations, sublime sensations, and accompanied by remarkable gifts, powers, supernatural abilities. His purpose is to give you that and let you glory in that for a time and then withdraw it, and with the withdrawal suggest to your mind at once “you have sinned against the Holy Ghost”, “you have committed the unpardonable sin.” Thus he has cut from under your feet the ground of any hope whatever. The power of the precious blood of Jesus Christ is no longer of any value to you because there is no more pardon. What is the good of the blood if there is no more pardon? All the atoning work of Christ is no longer effective for you if once you take that suggestion on. Christ and His Cross have lost their value for you.

Yes, Satan will stand at nothing if only he can really strike a vital blow at faith in Christ, and he has done that with many, and he is doing it. There are many dear children of God who, if only they knew, if only they had light and the knowledge, would be saved from the most awful state of mental hell today under that pressure of accusation from the enemy that they have sinned beyond forgiveness, that they have grieved the Holy Spirit so that He has left them. There are many dear children of God like that today. I say we need help in these days for the people of God to be made secure, to be saved from these awful deceptions. And in many other ways the Deceiver is imitating. He can use Scripture as much as anybody. He can provoke worship, he will set up his own church, “the synagogue of Satan”, imitating. He will teach wonderful teachings, biblical truth, to get people in a corner and bewildered and eventually get them into such a mess that they do not know where they are, and they get into a place of fatal inertia and wonder if they can ever believe anything again. You see, delusions!

The Ground of Deception

Well, now, that is the position. Unfortunately, having said all that, I only get to the beginning of my message because at this point, beloved, we have to say that not one scrap of that deceiving work of the Devil has the vestige of a chance apart from something in man himself. There must be some ground for all this in man or it could never, never work. It would stand no chance of success. Deception is not something out there that is put upon us willy-nilly, or in spite of ourselves. All deception has its own ground in man. What is that ground? It is the fact that man is now a psychical being. Now if you can get to the bottom of that, if you can apprehend that, you will understand the whole thing.

The ground of all this is in the fact that man is a psychical being, and when Satan interfered with man at the beginning and man consented along the line of his own soul-life, Satan made man suitable to his own government. It was not that he came and set himself up as man’s ruler and subjected man by sheer force to his own government. How did he do it? By breaking into that realm in man’s being where man was linked with God, and that was in the realm of man’s spirit. “He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit”, and man was in fellowship and communion with God by means of his spirit, not his soul, not his body. These two were under the government of his spirit. The enemy, the Deceiver came to man’s soul, and instead of man reacting by his spirit-fellowship with, and knowledge of, God, he dropped down on to his soul, came out of his spirit and reacted in his soul. What is soul? It is reason, emotion, feeling, desire, and then, of course, choice, will. And the enemy reasoned through the desires and captured the will by deception. You see what happened when man violated the very organ of his union with God, his spirit. He was in the deepest sense, in his unfallen state, a spirit having a soul and a body, but he violated that with the result that it was severed from God, and, as a means, an instrument, a vehicle of divine fellowship, it died. It does not mean that it was annihilated, or it ceased to have an existence, but it fell out of fellowship with God, and that is spiritual death. It fell out of union with God with the result that the soul has taken ascendency, and from that time man is another species from that which God created. He is now a man of soul, and in securing that the enemy had adapted man to his own government. So the enemy governs man, and the whole of the race now through the nature of the soul-life. What is the basis of deception? It is just that! How do you get a counterfeit Holy Ghost operating? By reason of your psychical nature. You can become mediumistic in your very psychical nature and open all the avenues of your being to supernatural guidance and come under the power, the sway, dominion, of deceiving spirits operating in a multitude of ways. You can so suspend your soul and come into a state of utter passivity that you are open to everything to play upon you. You can have your quiet hour in your soul, which is the most perilous hour of your life. That happens by suspending all spiritual activity and becoming utterly passive and opening your psychical being, which is a most dangerous thing.

God never asks you to become spiritually passive. Waiting upon God is not being spiritually passive. God wants us active in spirit even when waiting on Him in silence. You see what I mean. It is the very nature of man, now adapted by the enemy to his government, that has made possible all this mighty system of counterfeit in its success. Now leaving a whole mass of evidence I come to the point.

What Christ Did at Calvary

What did the Lord Jesus do in Calvary? He took that man to death and made room for a spiritual man. In Christ Jesus we are no longer soulical men, we are spiritual. That is the whole argument of the first Corinthian letter. Now, says the Apostle, “the soulical man (he is the ‘natural’ man) receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them.” “The spiritual judgeth all things.” In the new birth of a man his spirit is brought back from the realm of spiritual death and banishment from God, into new creation union with God, joined to the Lord in one spirit. The right organ of divine government is re-established to bring man’s soul and his body under divine control, and the Holy Spirit takes up residence within the born-anew spirit of a man to govern his desires, his thoughts, his reasonings, his decisions.

What I want to close with is to remind you of the tremendous thing that Christ did in His Cross. We have never fathomed Calvary yet. It is a blessed thing to see Him taking our sins and bearing them in His own body on the tree, but even more blessed to see that He took the whole ground of satanic activity in man. He took that to the Cross and put that aside, and the deep meaning of the Word of God is just that we were crucified, we were buried with Christ. He did not deal with sins alone, He dealt with man, the race, and put it aside; not just to bring a race to an end, but to bring the sphere of the Devil to an end; not to end man in his fallen state, but to break the power of Satan and destroy his work as Deceiver. He did that in the Cross.

It is a tremendous thing to see that the Lord Jesus was not just striking a fatal blow at man in dealing with the flesh, but in dealing with the whole body of the flesh He was striking a blow at the satanic activity in man. That is the word of the Cross. What is the bedrock truth for the people of God in perilous times? That they should come to that and recognise the fact that the backbone of nature has got to be broken by the Cross of the Lord Jesus. It is that every one of us in Christ must come to the place where we know that the backbone of nature has been snapped and that no longer can we, dare we, follow nature in things, reasonings, desires, affections, choices and decisions. All must now come out from God, to be given by the Holy Spirit to govern our lives, and we must not in any way lean to our own understanding.

Nature’s backbone has got to be broken and we have to be men who, like Jacob, go for the rest of our days leaning upon our staff because the sinew of our natural strength has been touched, broken, dried, withered. Yes, to carry the testimony of Calvary all the days of our lives to the fact: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I…” I have been met and smitten and there must be no insinuating of “I” any more. It is no longer “I”. We have perhaps thought of the Cross, death-union with the Lord Jesus, in the hard light of having to let go, having to give up and having to die; being crucified, and all the pain of it. However, beloved, it is to translate us out of the kingdom of darkness into that of the Son of His love; from the power of Satan, to deliver us from deception. Now unless our soul-life is met in the power of the Cross, and subjected to God, and we know what it is to live in and walk after the Spirit, we are exposed to deception. You will find where the counterfeit Holy Spirit works, there is a tremendous amount of soul-excitability, soul-emotion, lack of soul-control and sometimes indecency: and yet supernatural things. Yes, but that is not the Holy Spirit. There has been a reaching out of soul in an intensified quest for some kind of experience, a supernatural experience. That has opened the being to the other and you can get anything. You can get guidance, you can get miracles, anything along that line; but beware! The counterfeit, beloved, has its ground of success in our very nature, and nature must be broken. That, of course, must be applied more carefully, but do take the truth of that. If the Lord is going to save His children in these days from delusion and deception, He has got to bring them back to the bedrock truth of identification with Christ in death, burial, and resurrection, and what that means as to the passing of one kind of man and the coming in of another kind of man.

In this matter, as amongst many others, we see that Christ crucified is the power of God and the wisdom of God.

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