The European Prophetic College
Ravenhill presenting Theodore Austin-Sparks
Ask any minister "Where's a good place to eat around here?" and he will quickly list off a plethora of options-from his favorite steak house or Chinese buffet to the best Italian or Mexican restaurant in town.
My late father, Leonard Ravenhill, was not a connoisseur of fine cuisine. He did however have a keen nose for finding the "finest of the wheat" from which to satisfy his spiritual hunger for solid revelation and insight into God's word. When I was a young man on the mission field, my father would send me boxes of books that included a variety of writings from T. Austin Sparks. These are now a cherished part of my own personal library.
After 35 years of ministry, I too can recommend to the next generation, that these writings are a "must" if they are going to effectively "serve the purpose of God in their generation."
Several years ago, my wife and I gazed in awe at one of the greatest art works in history, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. This incredible fresco by Michelangelo had just been painstakingly restored by a process that had taken many years. Prior to this restoration, art historians had declared Michelangelo to be one of the greatest sculptors of all time, but said that he was an artist who "painted with a dark palette." Following its completion in 1509, this incredible masterpiece had suffered the devastating effects of carbon soot that had ascended from the numerous candles and lamps used to light this magnificent chapel. The November 1991 issue of Life magazine carried this headline on its cover: "First pictures of Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel as it hasn't been seen in five hundred years - A CLEAR VIEW OF HEAVEN." The restoration, finally completed, revealed for the first time in centuries the blaze of brilliant and vivid colors. Suddenly, this once drab fresco now confounded and embarrassed the experts who had concocted their own theories of its dark look.
Likewise, the writings of T. Austin Sparks strip away the centuries of misunderstanding that have caused us to accept the Church in her present condition. In these spiritual masterpieces, the writer seeks to recover God's original intention for His Church. This, says Sparks, is the true essence of prophetic ministry. What we have in his writings is an insightful look at the true nature of the prophetic - that of "recovering the Lord's testimony in fulness."
How I long for this day of restoration, when once again God reveals His workmanship in all her radiant glory, as the world watches in embarrassment and awe. I pray that the eyes of your understanding will be opened afresh and you will never again be satisfied to make the excuse that God painted "with a dark palette." Reserve for yourself a quiet corner in the "restaurant of the Spirit" and feast at this succulent table of wisdom and revelation. Allow the strength of this meat to sustain, strengthen, and enliven you as you seek to co-labor with Christ in "recovering His testimony in fulness."
T. Austin Sparks, 1888-1971
THEODORE AUSTIN SPARKS was a native of south London, educated there and in Scotland. His father moved in the musical world and had little time for God, but from his mother's side he inherited a long tradition of evangelical Christian faith handed down among Baptists of a Suffolk farming community. He himself however remained unmoved by the Spirit of God until one night, at the age of 17, he was suddenly arrested by the earnest preaching of the gospel in the cold open air of a Glasgow street. That night he went back to his room and gave his life to the Lord. It was a committal from which he never withdrew.
Started in business in Glasgow he engaged also in children's missions and slum work, and gathered a group of friends for Bible study in his home. Soon also he felt the call of God to proclaim the good news of redemption in several small mission halls, there and in and around London. Sensing that he might have a gift from God in this field, but lacking the means to secure a formal training for the ministry, he did the next best thing; he began to read widely, and used his free time to go and hear some of the last of the great turn-of-the-century preachers and Bible expositors. Notable among these were Dr. G. Campbell Morgan of Westminster Chapel, London, and F.B. Meyer, who was to become a firm friend and counsellor.
His devotion to God had begun to be recognised and at the age of 25 he was unanimously called to serve a congregational church in Stoke Newington, north of the Thames. He accepted the pastorate at a time when the church was at a low ebb, and was to leave them nine years later, "well-instructed and firmly founded on the ever-enduring truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ." While there, in 1915, he married Florence Rowland, daughter of godly parents, who from then was to prove his life- long support and spiritual companion.
From Stoke Newington he moved on in 1921 to the charge of Honor Oak Baptist Church in an undistinguished south-east London suburb. It " was while here that he began to be more widely known as a gifted and original minister of the Word. His health was never good, but backed by a faithful praying group in his own church he began to travel more widely in Britain.
In 1925 he paid a first visit to the United States as speaker at a Victorious Life Conference in Keswick Grove, New Jersey. He had begun to see, perhaps more clearly than many of his contemporaries, that the cross of Christ is central, not only to world history but also to human experience. To "lose his life" is the disciple's safe but costly way of entry to a service that is marked by eternal gain, and the discovery of this fact explains and gives meaning to so much in life that the Christian otherwise finds difficult. One day in his study, while waiting on God for the t needs of His flock, the truth that "it is no longer I, but Christ who lives in me" dawned freshly upon him with compelling power. Afterwards he often spoke of the "open heaven" beneath which, from that day on, he ministered.
The Baptist congregation grew, but, with his emphasis on the Christian's walk of faith, so too did dissatisfaction with what his deacons began to see as materialist methods of fund-raising favoured at that time by the British Baptist Union who held the church property. Thus it came about that in 1926 they, together with almost the whole congregation, supported a move to a vacant rented property - a school hall and residence - in the same general locality of Honor Oak. His lately redesigned church magazine A Witness and a Testimony continued from the new address to be issued bi-monthly, free of subscription, with a modest but increasingly worldwide circulation through until his death in 1971.
The New Christian Fellowship Centre, with its thriving local church and regular week-end conferences and its occasional longer training sessions for young men, became a place of pilgrimage for many. In 1931 this was supplemented by a Scottish summer Conference Centre on the Firth of Clyde at the well-situated house of Heathfield, Kilcreggan.
Meanwhile others of like vision had joined him in the ministry. He had dropped the title "The Reverend," and they shared an ideal of ministers and elders working "together in unity"; though always his unquestioned gift of preaching set him a little apart. A small press was started for publication of the magazine and of collections of his largely unedited spoken messages.
Down the years there were developments in emphasis in the ministry of the Word, "as", in his words, "there should ever be where there is life and growth, provided that the essential foundation remains true and unchanging." So the gospel was faithfully preached, but with it there was a strong emphasis for believers on the life in the Spirit, the eternal purpose of God in His Son, the Christian's spiritual warfare, and the heavenly nature, vocation and destiny of the Church, the Body of Christ.
This last emphasis on a Church-based witness worldwide meant effectually that the missionary vision of the local church at Honor Oak found strong encouragement from, and sympathy with, the rising indigenous movements of the Spirit of God overseas that, for a while during the thirties and forties, seemed a problem to leaders of the old-established missionary societies.
As a consequence church prayer meetings, always a mainspring of the local testimony at Honor Oak, now ranged in vision over a wide area of the work of God in the earth. Missionaries went forth to work in fellowship alongside such movements, and Mr. Austin-Sparks himself was privileged to travel widely in ministry, not only in Europe and North America but also further afield in India and the Far East. Such opportunities for fellowship with those in whom the Spirit of God was doing His own original work were to afford him lifelong joy.
From his early years he had believed in the power and significance of the spoken Word of God, and that all developments of its exposition and application should be vitally related to the actual and growing needs of the spiritual life of representative bodies of God's people. Through His Word God would meet His own, but His way of giving to His servants was not merely through bookish, cloistered or studied matter. Rather it was made necessary, drawn out and given meaning by the call and answer of living conditions. Its value - if it was to be anything more than words - lay in its being able to touch the Lord's people at the point of experience and need which had been the occasion of its original calling forth.
Such was the special calling of T. Austin-Sparks, a man ploughing a furrow perhaps a little apart from his contemporaries, but always true to Christ Jesus his Saviour and Lord, and committed to a vision of spiritually fruitful harvests throughout the whole field that is God's world.
(As submitted by David Ravenhill, from the library of his late father, Leonard Ravenhill)
The European Prophetic College
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