Covenant Renewal and the Testimony of Jesus – part 1

During a week in August 1933 a Christian conference was held in Kilcreggan, Scotland. T. Austin-Sparks was one of the speakers. He conducted a series of meetings with the title “Jeremiah — a Child over the Nations”. He reflected on Jeremiah’s twofold ministry to expose Israel’s idolatry and unfold God’s plan of universal restoration in Christ. The two aspects are strongly connected. Israel was God’s elected vessel to bring about the cradle of the Saviour of mankind. It was the prophet’s task to call God’s people to return to His Covenant with them. The burden of the conference was that a similar ministry is needed again in our days, now with regard to the Church as God’s chosen vessel to spread the Gospel of the Kingdom of God.

To understand Jeremiah it is helpful to know some historical background and this will also help Christians to apply Jeremiah’s message to their lives. Since the publications of the Babylonian Chronicles, especially the one by Donald Wiseman in 1956, and the excavations of Ashkelon in 1985 it has become clear that it was not Nebuchadnezzar’s original plan to destroy Jerusalem and that his target was Egypt. From a Biblical perspective this conclusion underscores that the Chaldeans were God’s means of disciplining His people. It is His judgement, but with a promise. A part of the people stubbornly adhered to the notion that election meant infallibility. Those who understood God’s plan of redemption accepted God’s judgement. Was God’s plan frustrated by the failure of His people? Not at all. Israel’s mission had to fail so that it would become obvious how utterly miserable humanity is and that the whole of mankind needs the Saviour. And yet, Jesus was born in the city of David and crucified and risen in Jerusalem. This is the wisdom of God Paul is trying to point out in his letter to the Romans and for which he can only bow in worship and wonder (Rom. 11:33-36). God acts on the basis of one universal law, the law of grace.

Covenant Renewal
Throughout the series of eleven chapters of this conference T. Austin-Sparks focuses on two of three major events that took place during Jeremiah’s ministry, the reinstallation of the Passover feast by Josiah and the burning of Jeremiah’s scroll by Jehoiakim. The editors briefly dwell on the third event, the international summit organised by Zedekiah. The reinstallation of the Passover feast sounds positive, but a significant part of the population in Judah kept on practising idolatry. Thereby the very basis of election was neglected. T. Austin-Sparks shows how fundamental this abandonment of the Covenant is and how this sin relates to our present spiritual condition, as the Church of Jesus Christ in general. Grace is, by definition, free, but it has moral implications. It ensures the presence of God, both in the believers’ individual hearts and in their communities. Furthermore, grace provides the power to persevere and increase spiritually, having the hope of the resurrection in view at the return of the Lord Jesus. This all-inclusive package of grace in Christ demands a proper response. How precious is the blood of Jesus to those who have been redeemed by it? Does our gratitude show appropriately? This is the question Paul has in mind in Romans 12.

We do not know exactly why the manuscript of “Jeremiah — a Child over the Nations” was never published. It clearly needed a thorough redactional operation to make it more readable, but what is more important is that over the years T. Austin-Sparks developed more balanced views on some of the subjects he dealt with at this conference. His daughters, therefore, have asked the Golden Candlestick team not to publish their father’s material dated before 1940 or at least to be careful about this. Now that they are not among us anymore, we cannot check if we take the right decisions. By selecting some precious passages from the manuscript that can probably stand the test of all doctrinal criticism and weaving these excerpts together with editorial comments, we hope the Church of Christ can still benefit from these older writings.

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May 2021
On behalf of The Golden Candlestick team,
Hugo de Jong