The Testimony of Jesus

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - The Conflict in Relation to the Testimony

We are all very conscious of our being in a time of intensified spiritual pressure. No doubt it has a great deal to do with the world situation. [Note: although we don't know the dates for this series of messages, it seems they were given during World War II.] I mean that with such a tidal wave of hatred, malice, evil intent, with murderous thoughts unto wholesale destruction, there is bound to be a saturation of the very atmosphere with evil and antagonism and death which will itself be registered very much upon the sensitive spirit of every truly spiritual man and woman, and we are bound, if we are such, to feel the impact of such conditions. But behind all that there is something more.

Undoubtedly there is an increase of spiritual antagonism by the forces of evil which is really only recognised and sensed as to its true nature by spiritual people. I mean that everybody will feel the effects of a long-drawn-out war sooner or later - feel it in body and in soul. But not everybody will register that evil thing in spirit as being what it is, or have any perception as to what it means. But I think I can take it that most of us are something more than war-weary in this sense, that we are aware of an intensification of spiritual antagonism, a determination to destroy what is of God.

We want to discriminate between the two things. In this consciousness of things, I was just making this analysis, asking, "Now, how much of this of which we are so conscious is just war weariness, and is the result and effect of the world conditions in general? How much of it would go were the war to cease, were what men call 'peace' to be declared? Should we be out of it then?" Is there not something more in this, and for us we should find the war goes on whatever happens outside, for this is not something which came with the war. This is something that has been going on all our spiritual life and long before that. The conditions of the world may give a good foundation for our feeling the spiritual war, and may give a very good background for the evil powers, but this spiritual conflict is something in itself.

So may I run back over the history of God's people, taking in a great deal more than I can even mention at the moment; but I can indicate by one or two very simple instances what I mean.

When the Lord was about to deliver a people out of the bondage of the kingdom of this world, to emancipate them and bring them out to be His own people, Moses was born. And at the time of the birth of Moses there had just come into existence, seeming to anticipate his birth, a state of terrible hatred unto murder. We know the story - Pharaoh's command for the destruction of all the male children. It was a going forth of malice, evil, hatred, prompted by fear, and an awful determination to destroy, engulf, swallow up and wipe out that which was of God. That was what lay behind Pharaoh's command; though Pharaoh may not have gone all that way in his understanding of it, he was moved by other forces. I think that is clear from all the subsequent instances of the same kind. He was moved by other forces to anticipate this movement of God and to engulf that instrument and vessel for God's new thing. And that world in which the sons of Jacob were, into which Moses was born, was a dark world, saturated with evil, evil intent, malice, hatred and murder.

We move on a little and you see conditions in the days of Eli. Evil again is in the very atmosphere. It is a bad state of spiritual darkness and spiritual death. There was no peace to him that came in and to him that went out. And Samuel was born.

We pass on to that time in the life of Judah when things again are very dark. Through Jezebel into the house of Ahab had come Athaliah, and Athaliah, prompted by these same forces of evil, determined to wipe out all the seed royal, that which was of God, and to engulf it. So she commanded the destruction of all. One babe was rescued by the priest and hidden in the house of God for six years - Joash.

So you go right on to the Lord Jesus and this other move through Herod: hatred, evil, murder, to engulf this movement of God.

The point is this - whenever the end of a specific period in the goings of God was being reached and God was about to take a fresh step in His purposes, you have a situation like that arising every time right on to the end, right on to Revelation 12. From beginning to end it is like this: a crisis in the goings of God, the end of one period and a new step going to be taken in line with the full end, and at that time spiritual iniquity intensifies, there is a terrific determination to destroy that which is of God that can secure that fresh movement of God; that with which the further purposes of God are bound up.

My question, and I think the answer to it, is just there - this intensification of spiritual evil which is being sensed so much by truly spiritual people, does it not mean and imply that we are coming to the end of a phase in the ways of God and coming to the beginning of a new phase? We are all aware that the phase that has been cannot meet the new situation. Many people, not only spiritual people, are aware of that. What has been is not good enough for what now is. I do not mean God's provision in the foundation is not good enough for the future, but I mean the methods of God, the means that He has blessed, have got to give way to something new to meet the new situation. He must do a new thing. Well, He has passed on like that many times in the history of His goings on this earth. He has moved from one phase to another, from one instrumentality to another, from one kind of means to another, and with the passing from the one to the other there has usually been this terrific uprising of spiritual antagonism in which and out of which He has brought His new instrument or vessel.

You will have noticed that in the cases I have cited, that which was brought in by God in such a time was a very small thing. Moses is a babe, Samuel is a child, Joash is an infant, the Lord Jesus a babe. It is something quite small, but with tremendous, unspeakably great potentialities and intentions bound up with it. It does not do to despise such days of small things. They mean something very great and Satan has a different standard of weighing and measuring values from us. We think a thing is great by its bulk. Satan can recognise the tremendous stature of a babe Moses; of a child, Samuel; of an infant, Joash; the babe, Jesus Christ. Out of the intensified conflict and antagonism and hatred and murder of the powers of evil, God brings something which, looked at from any natural, earthly standpoint, is small, but with that is bound up all the meaning and value of His next phase in His goings from eternity.

I will not say anything about the test of faith that that produces, because it does demand such an amount of spirituality to recognise the values of what men would despise and set at nought and count as nothing, for the whole of this soul life of the natural man is looking for the thing which is manifestly, obviously to be taken account of: big, successful. And if you see none of the signs of success and prosperity and greatness, as judged from man's side, then there is nothing in it. But faith sees otherwise. However, that is something in itself, my point at the moment is this: that the passing from one phase to another in the goings of God, the change-over from a phase which is no longer His way to another phase which is His new way, that transition is a time of intense spiritual conflict in which the new vessel is born, but which is the occasion of all the conflict. It may be that the spiritual pressure that the true and wholehearted children of God are sensing today, from which they are suffering so much, indicates that we are passing from one phase of things to another in the economy of God, in the methods of God, in the means of God, and that the truly spiritual people in that crisis who are the sufferers are the key to the new situation.

I just pass that on to you for what it may be of help to you, as I am seeking always to get the Divine interpretation and explanation of the times and conditions in which we find ourselves.

Overcomers in the Conflict

There is another thing I might say. As I was passing my eye over this whole course of things, I noticed how many of those who served God in relation to the recovery of what was precious to Him, and whose lives were at a time marked by something very outstanding as of value to Him, passed out under a terrible shadow and cloud of failure.

Take some of those later kings who did serve the Lord in a peculiarly valuable way in their lifetime. Asa, Jehoshaphat, this Joash of whom we have spoken, Uzziah; there is no doubt about it that those men stood for something and what they stood for is recognised. But every one of them went out under a cloud. They failed at the end for some reason. In different ways they compromised at the end. They did great things, but they did not remove the high places. They made an alliance with something that was out of the Lord's favour. The point is that the enemy got them in the end - that is the point. They stood for something and counted for something at a time when everything was in decline. They stood against the force of evil and broke it, and there was that which was glorious about their lives, but the enemy got them in the end and they went out under a cloud.

What a glorious contradiction to them is such a man as Paul! He not only stood for something in his lifetime, but how he ended his life: "The time of my departure is come, I have fought the good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith" (2 Tim. 4:6-7). That is a glorious finish. What about Peter? Well, Peter has stood for something and Peter was going to finish gloriously, "...knowing that the putting off of my tabernacle cometh swiftly, even as our Lord Jesus Christ signified unto me" (2 Pet. 1:14). He is acting deliberately in relation to the end. He is not overcome, not being forced out; he is co-operating with the Lord, he is in it to the last.

This is the point - these others were raised up to serve the Lord in a day of great spiritual need. The force of the enemy was withstood by them. They broke it in general, but the enemy got them in the end, and he got them not by a frontal attack, but by coming round somewhere to secure a compromise. What a warning that is.

Now the Lord has called us to be here on this earth to meet the full power of that antagonism. When I say 'us', I mean His true children, His spiritual ones; to be here to stand for Him against the full force of spiritual antagonism, to be His link with the next phase of His goings. Well, we must take that position, we must rise up and recognise the meaning of the spiritual evil we encounter. But we must remember that if the enemy cannot get us by frontal attack, if we are too much awake to be caught by open onslaught, he will always be seeking a back-door way of catching us by some compromise, something unjudged in our lives, some high place not destroyed, some alliance with what is out of the Lord's favour. It is all a great urge, exhortation, and warning about failing in the tremendous thing that the Lord has called us, His people, into in a time like this.

May the Lord find us strong. You know that the word of which we are very fond was said by a prophet to Asa: "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards Him" (2 Chron. 16:9). Asa made one of these alliances with Syria. The prophet went to him and reminded him, "Were not the Ethiopians and the Lubim a huge host, with chariots and horsemen exceeding many? Yet, because thou didst rely on the Lord, He delivered them into thine hand. For the eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards Him". When Asa's heart was perfect towards the Lord, then Asa could say, "What is a huge host of Ethiopians to the Lord?"

We may be in a very small minority. What is that to the Lord? Then it is that the Lord shows Himself mighty, when the heart is undivided; but when Asa's heart was divided and he made that alliance, a thing not according to the Lord's mind, his enemies were in power and he was afraid. "The eyes of the Lord run to and fro throughout the whole earth, to show Himself strong in the behalf of them whose heart is perfect towards Him." And the heart that is perfect towards Him can say, "What does it matter?" - "There is no restraint to the Lord to save by many or by few" (1 Sam. 14:6).

Let us extract whatever values there are for us in this word.

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