The Ways of God

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - The Way of Wisdom

"When the woman saw that the tree... was to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof" (Gen. 3:6).

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Prov. 9:10).

The Way of Wisdom the Way of Salvation

It is quite clear that that first quest and bid to be wise and to obtain that kind of wisdom, was a most disastrous and calamitous thing. The result - and I have no doubt that Adam often sat in judgment upon himself as to that very matter - was that he had played the fool; when he sought to be wise, he was a fool. It was a disastrous thing and contradicted the very meaning and essence of wisdom, for the function and value of wisdom is to save us from disastrous mistakes. That is very simple and lies right on the face of things. If ever we make big mistakes, we blame our lack of wisdom. So wisdom is that which is intended to save from and prevent mistakes and calamities resulting from such mistakes, so that the wise one would not have to say, 'I made a terrible mistake, and as a result, there is nothing but trouble, calamity and tragedy.' The wise one does not have to look back with those regrets. If we could therefore find the way of wisdom, we should find the way of salvation, the way of deliverance, the way of light, the way which will never bring any kind of regret, but instead real gratification. At the end we should say, 'Thank God I took that way.' That is wisdom in its very nature, therefore the kind of wisdom which Adam got was not the true wisdom, and, as I said, it just contra­dicted the very meaning and essence of wisdom.

The Way of Wisdom the Long-term Way

But while that is true, the way of wisdom is often the long-term way; that is, the true wisdom is often only revealed in the long run. It is not always that we see the wise step immediately justified. Wisdom often waits for its justification a long time, and it is only well on the road that the wisdom by which we have been guided, the wisdom which we have chosen, is really proved to be the highest wisdom, and it will wait until the end for its full justification. Only at the end shall we know how wise was the wisdom by which we were guided and what a lot we have been saved from by going in wisdom's way. Not always early in the course can we say, 'I am glad I took that step, I am glad I took that way, I am glad I chose that course.' It is only as we get on that we begin to see the wisdom that was there, but surely it will be.

The Inscrutability of Divine Wisdom

And because it is so, we find ourselves in the presence of something which to the world and to our worldly minds, in the eyes of what is according to worldly standards, is incomprehensible and inscrutable, for Divine wisdom is that. It would hardly be Divine wisdom if all at once we could understand it, if we could bring it immediately within the range of our own comprehension. Divine wisdom is incomprehensible, inscrutable to this world. Seeing that there still remains very much of this world about our standpoint, we are greatly influenced by this world's considerations in great issues and decisions.

This matter of Divine wisdom is a matter of faith. We have to commit ourselves to the Divine wisdom in faith. All these things that I have just mentioned are wrapped up in that first great instance. Adam was not prepared to wait; he had to have it all at once. Adam was not prepared to trust; he had to understand immediately and have the wisdom in himself at once. Therefore the way of true wisdom is folly to this world. It cannot comprehend it; it cannot understand it. It is folly to the natural man.

These are the things which you and I, in practical life, are really up against in different ways. If you are out in the world, you know that these are issues which concern you - what the world calls wisdom and what it calls folly. Whether there will be a swift realisation and justification of the step you have taken, the course you are following, or whether you have to wait, seeming to be suffering loss. Will you be quiet, and close your ears to the arguments of those around you who would advise this and that contrary to the step that you have taken or the position in which you are because you belong to the Lord? Well, those are everyday practical questions for people in this world, especially for young men and women. But it is true that all the time in spiritual work you are up against these things: the whole question of policy and diplomacy, and what is called worldly good sense. This whole range of Mr. Worldly-Wiseman is with us in the most spiritual matters. These issues are ever present.

The Upshot of Wisdom

What is wisdom? What is folly? There are two far separated standards of judgment about those. One is the earthly and the other is the heavenly, and these two never meet. Let it be said very strongly, the matter that counts is whether in the long run we are able to say: "I have made a mistake which has confused my whole life and course. I have done the wrong thing; I have blundered and created complications; I regret that I ever took that course; it has made a difference to my whole life!" It does matter whether that is the issue. That is the long run view and it counts more than anything else. That is the upshot of wisdom.

The Folly of Adam's Wisdom

And that is bound up in two persons. One is the first Adam, who, in trying to be wise, became a fool and made a blunder which not only involved himself but the whole race in untold trouble. And the thing that could be written upon the whole history of Adam is: "I have played the fool; I have made the most terrible mistake; I have complicated everything by not choosing for true wisdom".

The Wisdom of the Last Adam

The other Man who embodies this true wisdom is the Last Adam, and what should we say if we were summing up His history? We should say, "You took the right course, You did the right thing, You made the right decision; there is no doubt whatever as to the wisdom of Your way". We surely, every one of us in Christ, are a vindication of Him and His wisdom in His decisions and choices. Does it not come naturally from our hearts to say Jesus was right! We should not be here but for that conviction, and it all amounted to this question of wisdom.

The Beginning of Wisdom

The Word here says in direct statement and by way of application and implication as to what we read in Genesis 3:6 - "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom", or, literally, the first part of wisdom. That is where wisdom starts. Now, while this word 'fear' has the element of being afraid, that is not the whole truth. This fear mentioned here is really born of love, not dread or terror, but of love. There may be one held very highly indeed in affection and regard. That love, that affection, is not free from a kind of fear lest that one should be in any way grieved, hurt, injured, or have reason to feel that they were distrusted. It is fear all the same. That is the kind of fear here. It is more the fear of a child for a beloved parent in the realm of love itself than of someone under the awful dread of a tyrant.

In the first place this fear of the Lord rests upon the mind of God having been made known, that we stand in the realm where God's will is revealed. You see the difference very clearly at once in the two Adams. God had spoken His mind to the first Adam; but Adam never said, 'We know God's mind about this, we know what God said about it, we cannot plead ignorance; we are fully informed as to His attitude; we are informed that such is His will.' Adam never said that. But the Last Adam said: 'It is written... It is written... It is written..." (Matt. 4:1-10). "God has said, God's will is made known", and the fear of the Lord rests upon that. Now what are you going to do about it? The heart relationship to the Lord, this kind of fear, the fear of affection, takes the position of the son and the father. The Lord Jesus said, in effect, this: "My Father has left Me in no doubt as to what He wants, that is the thing that matters". We cannot plead ignorance as to the mind of God in general, and in a good deal of the particular; it is made known to us. And the knowledge of the mind of the Lord is available to us so that the wisdom which is the fear of the Lord is expressed by a fundamental and complete consecration to the Lord.

Complete Consecration to the Lord

That is where the Lord Jesus was. He had a fundamental consecration to the Father and to the Father's will. It was a thing which dominated Him from His childhood: "My Father's business" (Luke 2:49); "My Father's house"; "The will of My Father". It was fundamental, settled. This has to be settled basically right there in the foundation as to whether it is going to be the Lord or something else; or the Lord and something else; or whether it is going to be the Lord and the Lord only who has the complete acknowledgment of our hearts. We must have complete consecration; no double heart!

The outstanding illustration in the Old Testament of the double heart is Saul. When the Lord directed Samuel to say to Saul, "Smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not" (1 Sam. 15:3) Saul used his own judgment over against the known mind of the Lord. He said, "I feared the people" (1 Sam. 15:24), not, "I feared the Lord." You remember the terrible words of Samuel: "To obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams... Because thou hast rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected thee from being king... The Lord hath rent the kingdom of Israel from thee this day, and hath given it to a neighbour of thine" (1 Sam. 15:22-24,28). Saul was the man who used those words l have used once or twice here: "I have played the fool" (1 Sam. 26:21). He had a double heart. On the one side, there was devotion to the Lord of a kind, perhaps, meaning well, but weak, not strong enough. He considered how he would stand with other people, how he would appear before their eyes, thinking what a pity it would be to let this go, sacrifice this, instead of saying, "Well, that is how it appears to me and I know it is going to get me into trouble with the people and there are going to be consequences, but the Lord has indicated this to be His will and that is what matters".

The Test of Consecration

Remember that we shall always, like Adam, like Saul, like Judas (who is the great outstanding New Testament example), be put to the test by being given opportunity. The Lord does not step in and make us go His way, or leave us with no option or alternative. He is all the time allowing us to be in the presence of opportunities to compromise, to take another road, an easier way, to put our judgment over against His pronounced will, to do any of these things. He left Adam with an opportunity and a warning. Saul had his opportunity with a possible alternative. There is the opportunity and that is the test as to the fear of the Lord, the utterness of our consecration, the completeness of our heart relationship to the Lord.

The Ultimate Vindication of True Wisdom

But this wisdom is eventually and eternally vindicated. It always is, though it be through faith, patience, and suffering. This way of wisdom is the stranger way in this world, strange wisdom to this world, which says to the follower of Christ, 'Look here, young man, young woman, you are a fool, you are jeopardizing all your prospects, you are taking the way that will not get you anywhere. If you were wise, you would do this or that which would make you secure concerning reputation, position and so on.' Very often the way of heavenly wisdom proves to be the way of the wilderness of our Lord, which has to put back the kingdoms of this world for the time being, with their popular applause and acclaim. It means the Cross and suffering the loss of all things, the reproach of men, and the ostracism of brethren, for even His brothers did not believe on Him (John 7:5). Those were His brothers in His own family. Why did they not believe on Him? The probability is that they were ambitious men. They were brought up in poverty, adversity and difficulty, and for them the way of an earthly kingdom, of a great popular Messiah, weighed more than the way of this despised brother of theirs who was all the time doing things which brought Him up against the powers that be on this earth, and jeopardized His and their future. They did believe on Him afterwards, thank God. (James, the Lord's brother, came to believe on Him and others also.) But, for the time being, until through patience and faith and suffering He was vindicated, it was the way of loss, and that is often the very nature and essence of the fear of the Lord. Has the Lord indicated that this is the way for us, this is the course for our lives - a costly one, a suffering one, a way which, to others governed by this world's standards, is a way of utter folly, a way for our own disadvantage? I am not suggesting to you that you go and be silly, that you unnecessarily cause prejudice and all that, but you know the realm of which I am speaking, the way of spiritual business. This is the way, the way of absolute foolishness in the eyes of this world.

Will you choose it? You know all that the wise man writing these Proverbs said about wisdom: "With all thy getting get understanding" (Prov. 4:7); wisdom "is more precious than rubies" (Prov. 3:15); "Wisdom has built her house, she has hewn out her seven pillars" (Prov. 9:1). The fear of the Lord is the very first thing in wisdom, and the fear of the Lord is an utterness of consecration to Him, never to be bribed, never to make compromises, never to be double-hearted. It is difficult, it is costly, it is painful, it is bitter to this soul-life. It may apply to all sorts of issues and crises. It all hangs upon this: not, "How is it going to affect me?" Not what I stand to lose or to gain, but, "Where is the Lord in this? How is the Lord going to be satisfied? How is the Lord going to get what He wants?" Or if I can see nothing as to what may be a good outcome, my attitude must be: I have no doubt at all that if I went the way of the Lord it would be this way; I cannot see any other way as answering to what I know of the Lord and that settles the whole question, that brings the battle to an end. I am going on with the Lord, no matter what it costs. "My goal is God Himself, not joy, nor peace, nor even blessing" - no bribes, but Himself. That is fundamental, and that must be an issue of our love, our devotion to the Lord, our sense of what we owe to the Lord; how much the Lord is to us. On any other ground it can only be a hard, cold, legalistic relationship. May He find us in that position where we love Him and we keep His commandments for that reason only.

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