by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1

Reading: Psalm 11:1-7 (Note verse 3); 1 Cor. 3:11; 2 Tim. 2:19.

“If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”
“For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.”
“Howbeit the firm foundation of God standeth...”

In referring to this eleventh Psalm we cannot be sure exactly as to when it was written; that is, as to exactly what the incidents were, or the historic events which gave rise to it; but whenever it was written, it was clearly written in a time of very severe stress, when the circumstances were very difficult, and the Psalmist’s position from man’s standpoint was a very precarious one, full of peril, and as man judged, full of pending disaster. It was a time when whatever those foundations were literally, the foundations were assailed; the very foundations had become subjected to a bitter assault; and again, from the human standpoint the foundations were destroyed; as man looked at things, the foundations had been destroyed. David was in the vortex of that tumult with which we are not unfamiliar, made up of all external things seeming to prove that the situation was hopeless. Yet inwardly there was something holding which would not give consent to that, simply an unexplained, undefined reality in the heart which in effect said: It is not so. Because of the appearances and all the external evidences which would go to prove that it was so, David was counselled to flee, to abandon the whole situation to save his face, to save his very life; to flee to the mountain, to take refuge in some earthly place of security. A mountain sometimes appears to be a very secure place. It is not always so from the spiritual standpoint, and here is one of those occasions when however substantial a refuge a mountain may appear to be, it is a place of weakness if hiding in it is the result of fear. They advised him to flee to the mountain, to take refuge in the mountain, and David refused the counsel and said: “In Jehovah do I take refuge.”

We gather from the Psalm, and the one preceding it, that a wicked one, or wicked men occupied position and power. The tenth psalm contains some half-a-dozen references to the wicked, the wicked one. Whoever this was, or whoever they were, they occupied a place of great power and were menacing the heritage of God, and striking at the very foundation of God’s inheritance. Now in the midst of it all one question arose. It is the only question; and the whole situation is gathered up into this one question: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” That does not mean that David consented to the suggestion that they were destroyed: although there is a marginal rendering which would make this verse a part of the advice and counsel of his fearful friends. The marginal rendering would make it follow on as a statement: “For the foundations are destroyed”; if so, “what can the righteous do?”

Well, if that is the right way to read it, it all the more exempts David and shows that he is not involved in it. But if it is a question into which David enters simply as a matter of consideration—for it is perfectly clear that he does not yield to it—it gives us some very valuable basis for a very important consideration. “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The answer, of course, is obvious; there is only one answer to that question: “Nothing.” If the foundations are destroyed the righteous can do nothing, the situation is utterly hopeless; then the advice of these men is good advice. Abandon the situation and take some ground of earthly security, give it all up, abandon your vision, your vision is a false one, it offers nothing. Now that is one line along which consideration must be pursued for a little while. The other line is by placing a very strong line underneath the note of interrogation. That is, it is still a matter of question: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” “If the foundations be destroyed...”. Are they after all, in spite of all appearances, are the foundations destroyed? No matter how things seem to be and what men say about things as to the hopelessness of the situation, and as to the great power as well as the treachery of the Evil One, are the foundations destroyed? Is there reason for abandoning the vision? Should we take what men would call a safer course, and find ourselves some line of greater security in this very precarious situation?

I am quite sure that those of you who are thinking, and looking with your inner eyes into things as they are today, have already caught the meaning of this psalm, and of this verse. There is undoubtedly a tremendous onslaught from the Evil One upon the foundations; the foundations of God’s heritage are assailed bitterly, fiercely, and treacherously—for you notice in the Psalm the elements of treachery associated with the activity of the enemy, of the Wicked. He shoots in the dark. He does not come out into the open, and his is not warfare, his is murder. He is hiding himself. He does not give a fair and square chance of battle. He keeps out of the way and shoots in treachery from dark places. And his antagonism, his treachery is directed at the very foundations of the life of the people of God.

Now there are two ways in which we have to look at this question of the destroying of the foundations. In a sense, and in the deepest sense, that is an absolute impossibility. It is impossible to destroy the foundations. The other two passages have been drawn in to support that side of things. “For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” Can that be destroyed? Never! Everything has been allowed to test its power of destruction upon Him, every hammer of satanic bitterness and treachery has fallen upon that anvil and the anvil has broken the hammer and remains itself without a scar: “Howbeit the firm foundation of God standeth.” So that from one standpoint, the true standpoint, the foundations cannot be destroyed.

But there is another standpoint from which this has to be regarded which does amount to a virtual destruction of the foundation, not an actual destruction, but a virtual destruction, it amounts to it in effect. I mean this, that the enemy is so against the foundations for their destruction, that he is doing everything he can to get the people to put up a superstructure of profession, of a supposed Christian life, of an assumed relationship to God without any foundation at all. And that is a treachery in the train of which will come unspeakable disaster, because all those who do that are bound to come down, they are bound to collapse, and then they will blame God. The enemy will rush in at once into their minds and say: You put your trust in God; He has let you down. In that sense the foundations are destroyed, they are nullified by being kept out. There is a great deal of that going on today.

Now it is from those two standpoints that we for a moment have to look at this primary proposition: “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” That means that right at the outset we have to give very special attention to the matter of having God’s foundation. That foundation will become impregnable and indestructible once it is established, but it is of importance beyond any other importance for you and for me that we have God’s foundation, and that foundation well and truly laid. The whole situation is entirely hopeless unless that is so.

We are fast entering into the period of this world’s history when the foundations of faith are to be subjected to the ultimate test. God’s great emphasis today is being brought to bear upon the state of His own people. He is centering His attention upon His people. There have been great periods when His whole attention was directed through His people upon the multitudes of unsaved; they were great days of ingathering through the evangel. There may yet come in the ordering of God’s purposes still further emphasis of that kind when again He will reach out in a special way to gather in lost sheep. He is not entirely ignoring that work today, and He will not have us ignore it. But anyone who knows the present situation will see that God’s main work today, for which He is giving Himself, is not for the ingathering of multitudes of unsaved souls; but you do find that everywhere there is a growing movement of God in stirring the hearts of His own people, deepening the hunger, making manifest weakness and need, and putting Christians everywhere to the test. Are you facing times of spiritual trial and testing? Are you finding it easier today to live the life of the saint than it used to be? If we are honest in our hearts we will say: No, it is certainly more difficult and our spiritual lives are very rarely out of the fire. We seem constantly to be brought back to the place of testing, and every testing seems to be a deeper one than that which preceded it. The Lord is centering upon His people and the effect of it all is to get down to foundations, and, in a day when God is focussing upon foundations, the Devil is particularly concerned to get people without foundations, and that explains great movements of today which have no foundations. We are passing swiftly into a time of the ultimate test of our foundation. The question for every one of us will be as to really whether we have God’s foundation adequately, sufficiently laid as the basis of our faith. We have to see, of course, what those foundations are, or what that foundation is inclusively, but I simply now draw attention to the necessity. Superficiality of spiritual life will not last long; it will go. The winds of God are going to blow and then we shall discover how deep our roots are. Therein then is the need for considering the question of foundations.

Then on the other hand, the other point of view: the foundation being laid, whatever may be the appearances, the circumstances, the human vortex, man’s opinion, there is no reason whatever to abandon the vision. It is just there that I want to place my finger for a minute or two, not intending to go into the nature of the foundation at present, but just to point out what is raised by this question.

There is a counsel of despair today over spiritual conditions, and David was not exclusive in this sense, one by himself; we all know what that counsel is. I mean that we all know what it is to have the suggestion made to us: “You are seeking to realise an impossible thing, your standard is an impossible standard; that which you have set up as your goal is impossible. Your vision is the vision of an idealist, but it is altogether impracticable, impossible of realization. Look, look at the havoc that the enemy has made. Wherever there was that which represented something extra, something fuller, something larger, deeper, greater of Christ, whenever there was that which aimed at the ultimate end of God and went beyond what obtained in its day, the enemy made an awful mess there, the enemy assailed and made havoc. History has repeated itself again and again and again in that way, and look at the mess that the enemy has made on the earth amongst the Lord’s people. Look at the situation, the power, the cunning and treachery of the enemy, and how he is in the place of power, how much he has things his way, how hopeless, how weak you are in the presence of this. Look at the spiritual state of the Lord’s people today. By far the greater majority of them are without real spiritual hunger, are content with their merely formal religion, and even where there are any who are spiritually hungry and honestly want to go on with God, when they are put to the test they will not pay the price. Somehow or other that hand of tradition, long standing acceptance, that hand of a historic system, reaches out just as they are beginning to move out with the Lord, and although they have indicated their desire, their wish, their longing to go on with the Lord, and have really honestly intended to do so, just at the moment when some step is to be taken which will lead them out and lead them on with the Lord, something happens, some subtlety of the enemy, some treachery of the Adversary, some fear within them at the consequences of their step, and that hand brings them back. You had better abandon your vision, you had better take some lower ground. You had better find some place of greater assurance, some mountain of a more normal and natural course of things. You are aiming too high, the situation is hopeless, abandon it!”

I suppose most of us know something of that counsel from within and from without. The Lord Jesus knew something about it. That was the sum total of His temptation for forty days and forty nights in the wilderness. He had stepped out into a realm which was the highest that this world had ever known, and the enemy’s whole object was to bring Him down—by suggestion, by treachery, by argument—to take a lower level. He would say: Your course is an impossible one. Have more sure ground under your feet than that. He would turn the Lord Jesus aside. The whole question arises in the presence of such arguments: “Are the foundations destroyed?” If they are, well then the counsel is good advice, we had better give it all up; if they are not, then there is no reason for abandoning the vision. Are the foundations destroyed? Let us press that in this practical way. Has God laid a foundation? We may lay many foundations and find that they are no good. The question is: Has God laid a foundation? The Word tells us quite clearly that He has. Does God lay a foundation without intending a superstructure? Surely that would be folly, and who would charge God with folly? Then if God has laid a foundation and His foundation is indestructible, He intends that foundation to be built upon, and intends to have a building upon it. Can God’s intention eventually and ultimately be frustrated by the enemy? No more than His foundation can be destroyed! He will have His object. What is God’s foundation? It is Jesus Christ. He is now beyond reach of all the forces of destruction. What is God’s superstructure? It is Christ. Call it by other names if you like: the Church which is His Body, the Company conformed to the image of His Son; but whatever you may term it, it is in the intention of God, Christ developed to fulness in the saints. That can never be destroyed. That can never be overthrown. God will have it.

If we are thinking of the superstructure as some movement, some organisation, some formulated system of Christian work and enterprise, well, we have a wrong conception of God’s superstructure. God’s superstructure is saints growing in the image of His Son, and while Christ remains, the purpose of God concerning those who are Christ’s remains, and God’s purpose can never be defeated. If we have abandoned ourselves to see something on the earth achieved, accomplished successfully, well then we shall come to the place where the counsel will be quite good counsel to let it go, and we shall be very unwise to hold on to it. But if we have abandoned ourselves to presenting every man perfect in Christ, we are not on a hopeless line. That is God’s intention, fixed and settled before ever this world with all its changes and its Devil came into being. “...The works were finished from the foundation of the world.” Are you trying to make work for the Lord? Are you trying to increase the Lord’s work? Give it up. Enter into the works that have already been finished and you have got a clear way right through.

If you are contemplating some call which the Lord has given you to ministry, let me tell you the secret of getting through, coming out at the other end in triumph, with fruit. Yes, certainly—you may not see it—but you will do so. Start by saying: “Lord, this was all done before the world was; I am coming into the things done and I am working with You in the realisation of the accomplished thing. I am going to enter into the thing that has been done in eternity, in the counsels of God, which relates to this specific ministry. I enter into it by faith; working out from the settled purpose of God in eternity past.” And you will come out of that ministry with fruit. God will never send you anywhere by His Holy Spirit, where there is not fruit. You may not see it now, you will later; God knows. He works upon a known accomplishment. He says to an apostle, leading him into a heathen city of wickedness and pollution: “ not afraid... for I have much people in this city.” Not, “I am going to get much people”, but “I have much people in this city.” “Lord, when did You get them?” “Before ever you came into being, before this world was!” That is the principle of God. The necessity for doing the works of the Lord and for a Spirit-governed and directed life. That is to get right on to the foundation concerning which there need be no argument of despair and abandonment; it is standing upon something solid which cannot be destroyed.

Oh, to have our life founded upon that; our faith for salvation, to have all our service, our ministry founded upon that. Oh, to be delivered from things which being of man, even religiously, will not stand the test; and to be brought into the things which are of God and which will go through all the testing. “...the firm foundation of God standeth.” It cannot be destroyed. To be on that there is no need to give up. There will be times of sore trial and testing when the counselling of our own hearts will suggest a fleeing, abandoning, giving up, but that is the counsel of fear. There is one thing about the counsel of fear you may always bear in mind. Fear never sees everything. Fear only sees one thing. Fear only sees the present thing and is blind to all the other factors. Fear, on the part of the spies who first went out into the land, made them see just one thing, the difficulties, and blinded them to the asset, God. Faith sees all the difficulties and, while faith does not see God perhaps as imminent, it always sees Him as transcendent. Fear is short-sighted. Fear is very limited in its apprehension; and this was a counsel of fear: “Flee... to your mountain.” Why? “Well, look at things, look how they are. Isn’t it obvious that you are on a wrong course and the enemy is just doing as he likes?” Fear could say that well enough, but David had another side. It was the side of faith, and he said: “In Jehovah do I take refuge. How say ye to my soul, Flee as a bird to your mountain.” Faith sees that God’s foundation cannot be moved, cannot be destroyed, and whatever the appearances may be, faith looks beyond the appearances, beyond the circumstances, cleaves to the Lord and makes Him the refuge, and comes through.

Some people have suggested that the 11th Psalm was written by David in the day when Saul was pursuing him. I cannot see how that can be because when Saul persecuted David he fled, and here he is saying he will not flee. Others say it was in the day of Absalom’s treachery and the advice given to David was to flee. Well, he did flee then, but here he is saying that he will not flee. You have to find some other historic setting for it. He did not flee, that is the point. Why didn’t he flee and abandon that situation, and say: “Yes, you are right, he is making a mess, he has struck a blow at the very foundation of things; I had better find some line of less resistance.” Why did he not take that attitude? Simply because the eyes of his heart were fixed upon the Lord and he had no personal interests to serve; no organisation, no society, no movement to which he was so attached that if it were blown to pieces his whole life would go with it. No, it was the Lord. It is a great thing to be with the Lord and to be delivered from lesser things, to be one with the Lord in His purpose. What if all the other goes up in smoke? You were not in that at all, that is not the thing upon which your heart was set. What you were after was not a temporary thing, something on the earth; it was a spiritual and eternal thing and nothing can destroy that.

Now, beloved, you see the issue of this. You and I have got to be founded upon God’s objective. The thing which has got to be the thing which determines all our life, all our activity has to be God’s end. And what is God’s end? Let it be settled once and for all that God’s end is not to have something anchored to this earth, even with His Name upon it. Everything anchored to this earth will go with the earth. God’s object is to have a spiritual thing in the life of His people; something which relates them to His Son in a growing and increasing way—the increase of Christ. It matters nothing about all the rest. All the merely temporary aspects of the work are of very little importance at all. The thing that matters is that men and women are being perfected in Christ. We are not here to put something down and then try and get men and women to join that, attach themselves to that—not even a “testimony”, as we might call it. Let us be careful that we start at the right end. We are not here on this earth to set up a teaching, and then try to get people to come into that teaching. If you go to your New Testament you will find people came together because they were in it already. They did not come to join it. The testimony is not something that you join. You are joined by being in the testimony. Do you get that? That is a tremendously important thing in connection with this whole matter which we are now considering. We shall be disappointed, and will have a hard time if we try to get people to adopt something, take it on, accept it. Let us, in the power of the Holy Spirit, give our witness, let the Lord do the work in our hearts, and when He does His work in our hearts we will cleave to one another. You will have the expression of the Church here on the earth as a result of the work done inside and not in something you have brought together, even in a teaching, a testimony, or a system even called a “fellowship”. Let us be careful in thinking we can join a fellowship. Fellowship is a thing that is; it is the result of something inward.

Now I gather up all I have said into this law. The objective is to have an inward life in God, and if we are on that line we are on something that can never be destroyed. If your objective is anything else, to have some outward form or order, you are on a line that will be destroyed, it will suffer, it will be broken up. That is why we find so many splittings up in things. Here is a pure thing which has been wrought into a few lives, and because the same thing has been done in that little company they are together in a beautiful oneness, and there they do represent something very much of God; but then others begin to join it, to attach themselves to it, or to accept the teaching. Then another generation comes along and takes up the teaching of that generation, and the thing has not been done in those who adhere or succeed, and so you get the carrying on of a teaching, or a tradition, without the inward thing. What happens? Before long the thing is divided, and the divisions are endless. You cannot divide a thing which is the one thing of Christ in each heart; that makes for fellowship, that is indestructible. But if it is anything external merely, historical, traditional, doctrinal, it can be split into as many fragments as there are people in it. The foundation is Jesus Christ; and Jesus Christ in the heart, growing, developing, being fully formed in the saints. That is an indestructible line—Christ as the foundation within us.

I think that we want to be far more concerned with the spiritual growth of one another. Everything must come within that object. The spiritual growth of one another. Everything else will come that is good and right; any kind of outward expression will be a result of it, but this is the basic thing, our mutual spiritual development, the increase of Christ, and that all hell’s activities and treacheries can never destroy. It is God’s foundation in us which stands.

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