by T. Austin-Sparks
"And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him... And said, By myself have I sworn, saith the LORD, for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee, and in multiplying I will multiply thy seed as the stars of the heaven, and as the sand which is upon the sea shore; and thy seed shall possess the gate of his enemies" (Genesis 22:1-3,16-17).
"My servant Moses is not so, who is faithful in all mine house. With him will I speak mouth to mouth, even apparently, and not in dark speeches; and the similitude of the LORD shall he behold: wherefore then were ye not afraid to speak against my servant Moses?" (Numbers 12:7-8).
"But now thy kingdom shall not continue: the LORD hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the LORD hath commanded him to be captain over his people, because thou hast not kept that which the LORD commanded thee" (1 Samuel 13:14).
"...he raised up unto them David to be their king; to whom also he gave their testimony, and said, I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after mine own heart, which shall fulfil all my will" (Acts 13:22).
"...being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8).
"For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, ye are God's building" (1 Cor. 3:9).
"Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ" (2 Cor. 10:5).
The Man Conceived
Each of the above passages has some bearing upon this matter. Perhaps the one which touches most immediately upon the particular thought is that which refers to David, Acts 13 (quoted from Samuel and from Psalm 89): "I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after my heart, who shall do all my will." Such a word clearly expresses God's heart as related to a man, that God has in His heart the man whom He desires. Already the life-size portrait of the man of His own desire is in the heart of God. It may seem a simple method of approach, but I think it is helpful and expressive to think of God as having locked up in His heart the picture of a man who completely satisfies His heart, and God in quest of the man to answer to that picture, looking for the man after His heart. It is a tremendous thing to be able to say, even in a limited way, of David, that He was a man after God's heart. But the point is that God ever had in His heart an ideal man, a man fully satisfying Him, and He was determined to have that man, bent upon that man, in quest of that man, and more, that eventually He would have all men conformed to that picture, to that standard. That is clearly what is taught, by the Word of God. That is clearly the ultimate object of God. In spite of how things are now, that is what will be. All men, men after God's heart!
We are occupied with the kind of man that is. What kind of man is he who is in the heart of God? What is it that characterizes that one of whom God will say, "A man after my heart"? I think that the man after God's heart is characterized and distinguished by one thing, and that one thing in God's sight includes all else. What is the one thing, including all else, from God's standpoint which marks out the man after God's heart? I have very little doubt whatever in my own heart but that I am right when I say that the one thing, which includes all else from God's standpoint, is obedience.
We mention some of the men who stand out in the history of relationships with God as the most conspicuous instances and illustrations, men of whom God said the biggest things which have ever been said to and of men.
"By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord" (Gen. 22:16). You cannot go beyond that. When God swears by Himself, neither He nor any other can swear by a greater. "By myself have I sworn." That means, I, God, the Lord, commit Myself, with all that I am and all that I have, to this undertaking! I stand into this with every bit of My being and resource! "By myself have I sworn, because thou... hast not withheld thy son, thine only son..." It is impossible to fail to recognize the implicit, instant, unquestioning obedience of Abraham. Look again at the record. "And it came to pass after these things, that God did prove Abraham, and said unto him... Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest, even Isaac, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of. And Abraham rose early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Issac his son: and he clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went..." I venture to say that you and I, if confronted with a demand like that, would stay in bed on such a morning as long as we could. We should not be up with the sun, busy, active, making preparation as though this thing were urgent, and no time was to be lost. The whole atmosphere and spirit, is that of an unquestioning obedience, resulting in this, "By myself have I sworn..." Be utter for Me, and I will be utter for you! The man after God's heart.
"My servant Moses is not so; he is faithful in all mine house: with him will I speak mouth to mouth..." (Num. 12:7-8); directly, not in dark speeches, not in parables, not in mysteries, but with the open face.
"...the Lord hath sought him a man after his own heart, and the Lord hath appointed him to be prince over his people..." (1 Sam. 13:14). Whatever we may have to say of human shadows in the life of David, there is this one thing which, from the Divine standpoint, covers a multitude of sins, that David was unhesitating and unreserved in his obedience to God. There may be many weaknesses in the life, but given obedience, God finds His ground.
This is what is meant by the fear of the Lord. That is not a dread of the Lord, and the word "fear" is not used here, as so often amongst us, of being afraid of the Lord. The fear of the Lord here means the regarding of the Lord's will as the first, the primary, the preeminent,the predominant thing, and being abandoned to it. That is the fear of the Lord.
Obedience is Always a Matter of Faith
God never explains why He asks for a certain course. God never explains Himself, when He calls for obedience, whether it be in a specific matter or in the whole life. Neither does He give the issue of our obedience in advance. He simply requests it. He simply makes His will known, intimates that a certain course is according to His mind, and leaves it there. Our hearts immediately begin to seek for an explanation.
Why does the Lord want this and that? Why does the Lord desire to lead us in this way or in that? Why does the Lord request this? Why? Our obedience is so often tardy, slow, behindhand, because all the time we are seeking to be satisfied in our minds with an explanation as to why the Lord would have it so. Often, indeed, we go further than that, and want to have already in hand the blessing, the result, the issue of obedience. We want to come into the state of satisfaction about the whole matter, before we start out on it. The Lord never gives us either of those things, neither explanations nor issues. He makes known to us His desire, and, leaving it there, gives us the very highest possible ground of faith in Himself.
I was reading early this morning the exploits of David's mighty men. You are familiar with that great chapter. When I read it, I did not begin at the beginning of the chapter, I read the last part, the prowess, the mighty deeds of certain of his mighty men. What mighty deeds they were! One man to slay three hundred: to go down into a pit in winter and take a lion by the beard at close quarters and slay him outright; and many other things did these mighty men. But of all of them it was said that they did not attain unto the first three, and I was driven back again to have another look at what it was that put these three in such a superior position. If none of these other deeds resulted in the doers of them attaining unto the first three, then the first three must be wonderful men. I did not find much said about the three, but noted this one outstanding thing: One day David breathed a desire: "Oh, that one would give me water to drink of the well of Bethlehem, which is by the gate!" (2 Samuel 23:15). Just a desire, and the three broke through the host of the Philistines and drew water and brought it to David! My answer was found there. It was but a desire expressed: not a command given, not an expression of will that it should be done, but simply a desire of his heart, perhaps spontaneously, impulsively expressed. Men standing by heard David express a desire, and that was enough. They transcended all the rest, because there was no question of order, command, nor reward; all they needed was to know that their leader had an inclination in a certain direction, and, no matter what it meant, that was the direction for them.
The highest level is gained, when the Lord offers no rewards, gives no explanations in advance, nothing which might seem like solid ground under our feet, but simply indicates to us that a certain direction is the direction of His heart, and then we are left to the choice of what ground we will take. Will we take it on that ground alone, or will we wait for explanations, will we wait for assurances, will we wait for promises, will we wait until we have double assurance that, if we take this course, it will be all right? Obedience is always a matter of faith.
The Way into the Foreordained Works of God, and into the Larger Life of the Lord
We are told that we were created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God foreordained that we should walk in them, and we are always stretching out in some way or other to get into the foreordained works; asking what they are, where they are, how they are, praying that we might be led into the foreordained works; it is our desire to be in them. If it is true that "known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world" (Acts 15:18), the whole plan is made, the whole programme is arranged, everything is already prepared; God has foreordained the works. There is nothing incidental, nothing casual, nothing springing up as in time, but already before the foundation of the world the works have been prepared and foreordained. Oh, to be in that! How can it be? Simply by obedience of faith. Do the next thing that the Lord tells you, without asking any questions, and you will come into the works foreordained. If God came along and showed you the complete plan, you would leap into it. If He were to say, Here is My great pattern, arranged, mapped out, all completed before ever you came into being, before this world was created! Look at it! You have a place in that! Will you take your place? you would not hesitate. Seeing the whole thing you would leap to it. The Lord does not do this, and often He approaches in some veiled way, some mysterious way, and intimates to you and to me that a certain course would be according to His mind, if we would but take this step or that step, be obedient in this detail or in that detail, hand up to Him this thing or that thing. Now, if only by His grace we would bring an end in our life to this or that which is not pleasing to Him - an end for which He, on His part, is very ready to enable - if only we would do that, it would be like the door into what is eternal, and vast, and universal. But because the thing seems to be something so small in itself; insignificant, and not related and personal; because we discern no grand vistas in relation to it, and it seems to be something apart by itself, and we do not see that it can lead to anything, our obedience is reserved; we want more to go upon than just the simple word to be obeyed, "Go, show yourselves to the priests and as they went they were healed."
You see the principle. Just take one step, and that step will bring you into something larger, but it is the step of faith's obedience. There may be for us some vastness of Divine design and intention hanging upon a single act of obedience, which may seem to be very insignificant, so much a thing in itself, and yet the Lord has put His finger upon it, and perhaps He has come back with that finger again and perhaps again, and said: "Yes, I do not forget that there is something which you have to take back, or something which you have to give up" something where a matter of obedience to the Lord has not been thorough, something that He has asked. I wonder if we are in the place where we are going to have the Lord hammer us until we cannot get out of it, and then, because we cannot get out of it, simply break under it, and give that kind of obedience to the Lord; or whether we are of the first three - Lord is that Your desire? I only want to know it, that is enough! If that is the direction of Your will, I want nothing more than that! What is the order of obedience?
Such obedience leads, then, into the way of the foreordained works, and the larger life in the Lord. If you have been in danger of falling into the snare of wanting to have the whole of God's purpose for your life brought into clear view, or if you have fallen into that snare, and you have not moved because the presentation to you has not been big enough to draw you out, please remember that it is a snare, and seek to get out of it very quickly. Remember that perhaps the whole of your life is hanging upon some habit of which the Lord has said, I would rather not that! A reservation of obedience, it may be, as to some part of His Word. It is dangerous always to begin to catalogue possibilities, for it is easy to miss the one that applies. But remember that upon what may seem to you a very small matter of the Lord's will, the Lord's desire, there may be hanging everything of God's desire and God's purpose. Nothing is small, when it is a matter of obedience to the Lord. Everything hangs upon it.
God Allies Himself with the Utterly Obedient
"By myself have I sworn..." Notice the repetition of the "I will" of God in relation to the man of obedience. The Lord has committed Himself, the Lord has allied Himself, the Lord has put Himself in line with the man of utter obedience. It is no small thing to have the Lord allied, committed, bound up with your life.
The Obedience of Faith May Lead into Deep Trial
There follows this, that the obedience of faith may lead into deep trial. In faithfulness we must say that. People very often think that if they are but utterly obedient to the Lord, then the sun will begin to shine at once, and all the shallowness will disappear from the path, and things will be wonderful. Oh, what a comfortable path is the path of absolute obedience! Not always! There is something within which is more than all that may come, but we must be faithful and say that the path of obedience, the obedience of faith, may, and very often does, lead into deep trial. And because trial follows our obedience, when we have abandoned ourselves to the Lord and said we will go utterly after Him, because fiery trial sometimes becomes our lot upon such a step, often the enemy springs in at that point and seeks to make us believe that we have been mistaken, that, after all, this is not the way of the Lord for us, we really have not taken His way, we have gone another way. You know the perplexities and the difficulties which often arise in the realm of doing His will. There is conflict over every step that is taken in the will of God. Very rarely do we take a step of obedience, the obedience of faith, but what instantly we find ourselves in terrible conflict on that very thing, tested by the step we have taken. That is quite in order. It always has been. I expect it always will be. But there is this: it is vindicated at length. "For we have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise" (Heb. 10:36). You have need of patience after you have done the will of God. Surely that implies that, even when you have done the will of God, you do not always come immediately into possession of the good, the blessing, the reward. But in the end all obedience of faith is fully vindicated, and you cannot find it otherwise in the case of anyone of those who have taken that course.
The Obedience of Faith Signifies the Dominion of the Lord over the Life
It indicates how much He is Lord, how much we have become abandoned to Him, how much He dominates our whole being, our whole life, our whole course here, all our interests. This is indicated, signified, by the obedience of faith. Where the Lord is not utterly Lord, obedience and faith are limited, are divided. Obedience is proportioned to abandonment to His dominion. It may prove a serious test as to where we are. Are you holding something back? Are you not responding in some matter? Have you got a controversy with the Lord? Have you been arguing? There is no harm in it! Other good people do it! Are you finding a back-door way out of something that the Lord has presented to you? It does not matter about other people. "Why call ye me Lord, and do not the things which I say?" See where He puts things. "If you are honest in what you say, when you call Me, Lord, then it needs be that you do all that I say!" The two things go together; otherwise there is a contradiction. The obedience of faith is that by which His Lordship is signified as a reality.
A man after God's heart! The glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ! Here is the Man after God's heart. Notice those two passages to which we have referred: "...found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, becoming obedient even unto death, yea, the death of the cross" (Phil. 2:8); "...bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ..." (2 Cor. 10:5). That is but another way of saying, being made conformed to the image of His Son. "...Obedient unto death..."; "every reasoning into captivity to the obedience of Christ" (R.V.M.) - Is there a vindication? "Wherefore also God highly exalted him..." That is the Man with Whom by faith and the Holy Ghost we are joined.
The Lord give us obedient hearts, Christ-likeness. May we come into the place where all the fullness of the Lord's desire for us is possible of realization, because He has a clear way opened in our hearts by the obedience of faith.