Rivers of Living Water

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 7 - The Victory of Life

"I am... the Living one; and I was dead, and behold, I am alive unto the ages of the ages, and I have the keys of death and of Hades" (Revelation 1:17,18).

"...In the midst of the throne, and round about the throne, four living ones..." (Revelation 4:6).

If you look at those passages in their immediate context, and in the whole context of the book of the Revelation, you will see that they represent a tremendous triumph. Of course, the book of the Revelation, which forms the climax of the Bible, is the book of the ultimate triumph of the Lamb. Here is absolute victory in every realm. But the particular connection of the triumph, in the case both of the One who says, "I am... the Living one", and of the four living ones and all that they represent, is, quite obviously, that of life. It is the victory of life.

The statement of the Lord Himself is the statement of an immense triumph. "I am... the Living one; ...I was dead" (or: "I became dead"), "and behold, I am alive unto the ages of the ages, and have the keys of death and of Hades." That is a victory, and it is the victory of life by the Living One. The same is true in the case of the four living ones. At last we are in Heaven, at last we are in the throne! That is a tremendous victory: it is the issue of an immense and long-drawn-out conflict - the controversy of life, which began in the garden and is finished here in the Revelation.

The Central Issue of the Bible - Life

The Bible can be divided into a number of sections, each one following in spititual sequence upon the other, and they all, from beginning to end, centre upon that one thing, they all focus upon that one issue - life. All the trouble, all the challenge, all the controversy, all the difficulty, is about this. These different sections of the Bible are only different aspects of that one issue and that one controversy.

1. In the Old Testament

a) Aspects of Life

There is first of all a short introductory section, comprising the first three chapters of the book of Genesis, introducing this whole matter of life and the controversy about it. That is the heart of the account in those chapters. What happens in the garden has to do with that life, that eternal life, and it is symbolically presented in the tree of life. And so, this battle begins; this contention has started; and it is a long-drawn-out controversy right down the ages, all through the Bible, until we get to the end. But the end is: the tree of life triumphant! The life is there.

(1) Atonement: The Priest

The first main section of the Old Testament, running from the fourth chapter of Genesis to the end of Deuteronomy, presents a new form of this same issue. It is the test concerning life, not now in the case of individuals, but in a collective form: firstly of the race, and then the nation. The greater part of that section is taken up with the record of a special forty years in the life of Israel - the forty years in the wilderness. The number forty, as we know, always indicates a period of testing, probation, trial, and this section is the record of a nation on trial in relation to the matter of life. But here, life is connected with atonement; that is the central theme. The symbols of this period are the priest and the altar. The great feast, the great sacrifice, the mercy-seat, the sprinkled blood - all these are central. The whole question of life focuses down upon atonement, it rests upon atonement; and the people are on test as to that. The end of that section finds the people in death: the whole nation, save two, perish in the wilderness. They have failed under the test; they have not inherited the values of the great atoning work.

(2) Authority: The King

The second section runs from Joshua to Esther, and the test of life is now connected with something else. While it takes up the matter of the altar, the priest, the blood, the atonement, the predominant note and element now is that of authority. It begins right at the beginning of the book of Joshua, when Joshua sees a Man standing with a drawn sword, announcing himself to be the Captain of the host of the Lord, to whom Joshua is bidden to submit everything. In that moment the whole question of authority is brought in, the symbol of the period being the throne and the king, and life is connected with that. The issue of life is now bound up with Divine authority amongst the people of God. Heavenly government is established in their midst in a definite order.

(3) Recovery: The Prophet

Passing over, for the moment, the section from Job to the Song of Songs, we come to the last section of the Old Testament, from Isaiah to Malachi, which brings in another aspect of this same thing: the test of the appeal of the prophets. And what is that appeal? The nation has gone wrong: there has been departure from God, declension in the spiritual life. The appeal of the prophets is the appeal to return unto the Lord, and the people are tested under the appeal, the call of the prophets. The symbol here is the prophet, the man. And the test issues again in death, because the principle of life as therein embodied and represented has again been violated.

(b) The Cross Basic to Life

Now, putting all these elements together, we see that what the Old Testament teaches about the matter of life is this: that life in its fulness, as God would have it in the experience of man, rests basically upon the work of the Cross, the great sacrificial atoning and representative work of the One who became dead and is alive again. It cannot be too strongly emphasized that there is only one thing in all history that matters with God and with man, and that is the matter of eternal life. Life in its fulness, then, rests firstly upon the Cross and what the Cross means. You and I will only know that life, possess that life and increase in that life, as the Cross is a basic and primary reality in our lives, as an applied thing; not merely a doctrine which we accept and assent to, but something which has an operative power in us.

For the Cross stands over against what happened at the beginning. In the garden man's whole nature was changed. He became a different creature from what God made him and intended him to be. Everything went wrong with the man, and the man cannot be remedied, he cannot be cured. If he is to have that life which he has forfeited and missed, and from which he is now shut out, he must die, and the new man must come in -  another man constituted according to God's mind. That is the message of the Cross: the sin atoned for, the sinner put out of sight, and the new man brought in.

(1) The Altar

Life rests upon that for its initial reception and possession, but it always rests upon that progressively for its increase. We have pointed out how, in Ezekiel's temple, the river comes down by way of the altar. Life is always closely associated with the altar, and in principle it never leaves it. Just in so far as you and I have the law of the death of Christ wrought in us, on the one side, in that degree, and in that degree only, will the law of the resurrection of Christ work in us, on the other. The two things are always kept balanced. More death means more life - deeper death, deeper life. The Spirit of God keeps that balance, and is very practical about it.

(2) The Throne

But then this matter of life does not stay there. It rests further upon the absolute authority of the Lord in the life, where the throne comes in as well as the altar  - where there is a complete subjection to the Lordship of Christ. During rhe whole period of kingship, as far as the people were concerned everything circled round the monarchy. When that was as God meant it to be, what life was there! Think of the last days of David and the forty years of Solomon's reign. What a time of life! What a time of fulness! What an object-lesson - what a parable! What a demonstration in history of the glory that follows when God has His throne in its place and rightly occupied, when things are according to His mind as to government, when the people are delighted to have a king, and honour him as that, and are utterly subject to him!

But when the throne becomes corrupt, when the kingship becomes dishonoured, everything changes. Take one illustration, so well known - King Uzziah. At the beginning of his reign things were good, everything was wonderful; and it continued wonderful - until what? Until he was prospered! Oh, the peril of prosperity! And then his heart was lifted up, and he became something: self and the 'I' asserted themselves; and the end of Uzziah, a great king, was that he died, smitten by God with leprosy. The throne was corrupted, dragged down into the mire. But then - "In the year that king Uzziah died," wrote Isaiah, "I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up". Over against the corrupt throne, and the state of the people following suit, there is a heavenly throne brought in. The test of life is now connected with the throne.

Without entering into too much detail, I think it is clear that that has a very practical application. The government, the authority, the throne of the Lord is no mere abstract conception and idea. It is a very practical thing, and it is brought right down into the temple, into the House of God. Life is bound up with our complete subjection to the authority of the Lord as found in His House - an exceedingly real principle. Oh, the benefits that are attached to our being subject to the Lord, in a practical way, in His House, which is His Church; in His Temple, which is now a spiritual Body. There are tremendous blessings of life. How often does one hear people say: 'I cannot thank the Lord enough for the blessing that has come to me amongst His people' -  where He is Lord. On the other hand, look at Christendom, where there is no real king and every man is doing that which is right in his own eyes. There is no authority, and no one knows what they ought to do; it is a terrible and deplorable state. That is not life. Life is bound up with this matter of Divine authority, which is established by the Lord Himself.

And so with Israel, in this section of their history, the end was death. Even Solomon went wrong. And what tragedies followed as to the throne, and the thrones of Israel and Judah! What a dark end to the kingly period! - all because the throne was violated, set aside; because the principle of authority was rejected.

(3) The Prophetic Ministry of Recovery

Then the period of the prophets: what does it say? It says this. Here are the men who have the message of God to recover the people of God - to instruct them, to constitute them, to build them up, to make them a people who are in the good of the knowledge of the Lord. Perhaps we shall see this best if we move over into the New Testament.

2. In the New Testament

In the New Testament, from Matthew to Jude, we have these three elements in their spiritual counterparts, and then in the book of the Revelation all is gathered up in fulness.

(a) Aspects of Life

(1) The Cross: The Priest

First of all the Gospels. What is the issue of the Gospels? They have their different messages and their different aspects, but they have one issue in common: that is, the atoning Lamb offered; Christ offered to men as the Sin-bearer, as the Sacrifice for sin; and not only as the Sacrifice, but as men's Mediator - the Priest. And they all have to do with life: life in relation to the One who offers Himself as the Sacrifice, as the Mediator, as the Redeemer. The Cross gathers up the Gospels at last.

(2) The Throne: The King

We pass into the Acts: what do we find? The throne is introduced, and the King is on the throne: He is exalted, He is set down at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens. The King is there. And what life we see n the book of the Acts because Jesus is on the throne! The battle? Yes, terrific battle, and many battles - but victory because He is on the throne!

(3) Instruction and Recovery: Prophetic Ministry

Then, from Romans to Jude, we have everything by which the Lord's people are to be built up. All the teaching, all the instruction, all the light, all the revelation, crowded into those letters, is for building up. And it all relates to life: life based upon the Cross; life related to the absolute authority and sovereign headship of Christ; life bound up with our growth, our development, our coming to maturity by instruction, by teaching, by the full Word given. That is the issue of all these epistles. It is a matter of life or death. That is quite obvious, for instance, in Romans, is it not? And it is true of all the others.

But let us not think that we are going to have an increase of life willy-nilly - that it is just going to happen. It will only come as we become instructed in the things of the Lord, and respond to light that the Lord gives. If the Lord's Word is there and we do not conform to it, we are strangling the very life in us. And all teaching, all instruction is intended to result in our coming into more life - it is to be living teaching. No amount of teaching or meetings or conferences has any meaning or value if there is not more life resulting from it.

This corresponds to the prophetic section of the Old Testament: it is to recover God's former full thought for His people, and to bring His people into that full thought, and, by so doing, to increase His life in them.

(b) The Three Bases of Life

Life, then, is based upon those three factors. Let us be very clear about that. It is a very big thing, this matter of life - indeed, it is the thing.

It rests, firstly, upon the great active reality of the Cross in our experience.

It rests, secondly, upon the absolute sovereign headship of Christ being made very practical in our lives. It is not just a matter of calling Jesus Christ 'Lord': He said that some called Him 'Lord', and did not the things which He said (Luke 6:16), and that was utter hypocrisy. No, Lordship means absolute subjection and submission to Him, and He makes that very practical, in many quite simple ways.

Thirdly, life, this great issue, is bound up with our knowing all that the Lord wants us to know and that He has provided for our knowing. Can we not confirm this, in some measure, from our own experience? Suppose we are waiting before the Lord with His Word, perhaps meditating in some very familiar passage - and then, quietly or suddenly, there comes a seeing of something that we had never seen before, and that seeing brings life. It does something! I have known that to happen again and again as I have been meditating in the Word. Something that I had read repeatedly has suddenly come with a fresh force, a fresh meaning that I had not seen before, and it is tremendously helpful. It sets the river going, for the Lord intends it to mean life to us.

Life, then, is bound up with our knowing, and so we have all these letters to make us know. Paul tells us quite definitely, again and again, that the Lord's purpose is that we should come to the full knowledge of His Son. In our versions it is not translated like that: it generally stands simply as 'knowledge'; but sometimes the Greek word is a bigger word than our word 'knowledge' - it is 'full knowledge', 'acknowledgement', 'recognition'. There is the initial knowledge which is life. "This is life eternal, that they may know thee the only true God, and him whom thou didst send, even Jesus Christ" John 17:3). That is the beginning, but it is only the the beginning. There is a further, fuller knowledge, which is far greater than that initial knowledge, and which means much more life; and all that is centred in these letters.

The Revelation: Life Triumphant

And when we come to the book of the Revelation, it is all there. Genesis and all else is there, all gathered up. Every test is answered. The Devil is answered and he is put out of court. Sin is answered by 'the Lamb that was slain' (Rev. 5:12). Anarchy and insubjection is answered  - the King is on the throne. And the full light is shining clearly before the throne. There are seven lamps of fire before the throne - the seven spirits of God; and the four living ones, full of eyes, symbolizing all-perfect knowledge, perfect sight, perfect revelation, are triumphant here, round the throne (4:5,6). There is the victory of the Son through the Cross; there is the lordship of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of life. It is all here in the Revelation; the whole Bible is summed up. It is now life - life in fulness, life triumphant. The last picture is: "He showed me a river of water of life, bright as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb" (22:1).

The Lord's People Must Embody Resurrection

Now, in conclusion, let us bring that still nearer home. If this is true, and not all theory, not all ideas, then it involves us in something very great. It involves us in this tremendous controversy, over which all the trouble rages. If he can possibly do it, the Devil is going to prevent men from having this life, and to strangle and quench it in those who have it. In any way conceivable to him, in his vast, diabolical wisdom, he is going to counter this life, if he can. God is going to be triumphant at the end, but this is the battle, this is the issue now.

This, then, being the issue, and this being the testimony of Jesus, it is something in which we are involved  - that that very testimony of life triumphant should be embodied in us. Do you understand that? The one issue for us, for the Church, for individual Christians, is just this: that we shall become an embodiment of the absolute triumph of Christ in resurrection - that the resurrection of the Lord Jesus should not be a part of the Christian creed, but a part of the Christian's very being. That is why the Lord has never protected His people or His Church from very, very serious adversity and opposition of every kind: for the simple reason that it is the Church and the people of God who have to embody the testimony of Jesus and be the expression of the power of His resurrection. That is why, if we are spiritual people, if we are those who are really in the way of the Lord's purpose, we have repeated and many-sided experiences of what looks like death - a final end.

Paul's Experiences of Life Out of Death

Now, if you do not understand just what I mean, do not worry - it will come soon enough! But there are many who know all about it. Something, either in ourselves or outside of ourselves, may bring us to utter despair, to an end. If any man ever had anything to do with this matter of fulness of life, it was this man Paul - a man who could talk about resurrection as no other man. If you want to sum up all that Paul had to say, first about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and then about that resurrection as a living experience of believers, here it is: "that ye may know what is... the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to that working of the strength of his might which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead, and made him to sit at his right hand..." (Eph. 1:18-20).

"The exceeding greatness of his power" - in resurrection, raising Christ from the dead - "to us-ward who believe". That is tremendous, as a statement. The man who says things like that ought never to know anything else. And yet that man is saying: "We despaired... of life... We... had the sentence of death within ourselves..." Ah, but he did not leave it there. The completion of his statement is: "...that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raiseth the dead" (2 Cor. 1:8,9). From despair into a new experience of resurrection; from the place where everything seemed to be at an end and he would have to give up, into another mighty experience of resurrection. And mark you, this man never stopped at that experience. Right at the end of his life, with all that he had known of the power of His resurrection, he is still saying: "that I may know him, and the power of his resurrection" (Phil. 3:10). Here is this man, who all through his life has been in deep, terrible ways - read the catalogue of his experiences where it looked like death (2 Cor. 11:23-27): "in deaths oft", he says, and he tells us how - and yet he is the very embodiment of triumph over death - of resurrection.

Now my point is this: whether we like it or not, that is the way of the testimony; and that is why the Lord allows His people to have such experiences. That is why He has at times allowed His Church to be subjected to what has looked like the overflowing, the overwhelming of death. And yet, when it looks to have disappeared, when it looks as though Satan has absolutely triumphed and the Church is drowned, up it comes again, and not only comes up, but comes up stronger than ever. It is the old testimony about Israel in Egypt: "the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied" (Ex. 1:12). That is the principle of resurrection: not merely resuscitation, but mighty increase. It is the Lord. Everything with God is kept in the closest relationship with this primary issue, life, so that it shall be manifested as what it is. It is indestructible life, and it must be manifested as that; and you and I have to be the embodiment of it, and the Church has to be the embodiment of it. That is the testimony. The testimony is not a certain set of doctrines and teachings; the testimony is, 'Jesus is alive from the dead!'

That is demonstrated in the history of God's people, from beginning to end, in many, many ways. Are you the Lord's, have you received His life? You may come more than once to the place where you despair of life, where it looks as though everything has come to an end and there is no more. But - believe it - God does not mean it as an end; God means that there shall be more life than ever. That is His way of bringing out the testimony. It is all very well to challenge the Devil, to fight the Devil; but do not forget that the real answer to him who is the prince of death, is laying hold on life. It is not language, it is life; it is not phraseology, it is life; it is not the way we attack the Devil in words, it is the life that is in us that is the answer. So the book of the Revelation sees everything that has ever come out against the Lord drawn out to its last ounce of strength, and then broken and shattered, as life rises triumphant. Yes, it is serious business: it involves in many a conflict, many an hour of distress and trial and despair; but that is the way of the testimony of life. We should not know what this life is, if it were not set over against everything that is to the contrary. That is the testimony. So John in his letter says: "The witness (the testimony) is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son" (1 John 5:11). This is the testimony: God has given unto us eternal life. The testimony is the life.

Heavenly Forces in Action for Recovery of Life

That is the essence of all that we have been seeking to say in these meditations. For, when we have said everything, the "living ones", with all that they symbolically represent, in their different aspects, are, after all, living ones. Their chief characteristic is that they are alive - they live.

Moreover they live to mighty effect. I am so glad of the significance of Ezekiel's vision in this connection; he has greatly helped me in this matter. You see, in Ezekiel's day everything had gone wrong. The people of God had gone away from Him, repudiated Him; they had attached themselves to other gods - idolatry was rampant; and the glory of the Lord had gone up and removed from them. It was a terrible picture. And at that point the "living ones", the Cherubim, come right into view.

What is there about them at this point that we do not find anywhere else? In Eden, they are stationed at the door of the garden, to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen. 3:24). In the Tabernacle and the Temple, they are quietly reposing upon the mercy-seat, upon the veil and the curtains, and elsewhere, and it is all rest (Ex. 25:18, 26:1,31; 1 Kings 6:23; 2 Chron. 3:10,14). But when you come to Ezekiel, they are all disturbed, they are all worked up; they are in a turmoil, a tumult. Everything here about this vision in Ezekiel speaks of something needing to be done. There is no rest here; it is all movement - a tremendous picture of energy. There is a spirit almost of anxious concern because of the situation. This whole matter of life has been precipitated into a terrible conflict. Here is a situation that must be met. All this that now obtains amongst the people of God must in some way be overcome, because it spells death. And so the living ones come into tremendous activity - they are all action.

I am glad it is like that: that, when things go wrong, the Lord does not, so to speak, just sit down and give up; say, 'It is no good, we cannot do anything about it.' That is the time when the Lord reacts. I may be wrong, but I have the sense that that which is represented by the living ones is getting very much into action just now. There is a new sense of God being on the move, in relation to the existing state of things. He would say to us, that He is not just accepting this, He is not sitting down under this, He is not defeated by this. This is not too much for Him. He is going to answer; it is not the end. The end is going to be better than this!

Do we believe that? If we do not, we may as well give it all up. But God is a God who is on the move, and He is on the move with this one thing in view: the full flood of the river of life, absolutely triumphant, in you, in me. Over against our despair of ourselves, and the hopelessness of things as we see them - over against it all, however dark the picture, let us believe that God is yet going to have, in full glow, His testimony that He raised Jesus from the dead - and that in human vessels, and in the great corporate vessel of His elect. The Lord help us to believe it.

"He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of him shall flow

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