"By My Spirit"

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 6 - The People of the Testimony

Reading: Hag. 2:1-5,20-23; Zech. 3:1-4; Hag. 2:13-14; Zech. 4:1-9; Rev. 11:3-4,7; 12:11.

We have seen that out of all these passages there arise a number of quite distinct broad issues and with these we have been occupied. The first, and that which governs all else, is the Divine testimony, the testimony of God, represented or typified by the candlestick all of gold - the testimony of God being the glory of God, the thing which governs everything from eternity to eternity and is the issue of all things in which God is active and interested.

Then the second of these broad issues is the vessel of that testimony represented by the house, the temple, the church, and ultimately the overcomer.

We saw that in the first place that testimony was bound up with man in general, that is, that God created man for His glory and that the very purpose of man was for the testimony of God, the glory of God, but man in the first instance failed. Then the testimony was taken up by a thin line of witnesses. First the antediluvians: Abel, Enoch, Noah. Upon these single links in the chain in their time rested the full responsibility for the testimony of God and the glory of God. Then in the next series of individuals, the patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph; and David is called a patriarch by Luke in Acts, these were individuals with whom the testimony of God, the glory of God, specially rested in their time.

Then Israel was brought in to be the corporate vessel of that testimony as a nation among nations, a corporate instrument for the glory of God to preserve that testimony in the earth among the nations. Israel eventually failed and the glory departed but was taken up and brought back into the church. And at Pentecost we see the glory returning, and the Divine testimony once more coming in in a greater fulness. But then again that testimony in its full pristine glory is lost and even the church, generally speaking, fails. With the book of the Revelation we find the church in general without the testimony in its full beauty and strength and the Lord judging the church because of that.

And then the testimony of God's glory is taken up in the overcomer company in the church and that overcomer company is seen to carry the testimony to final triumph in Revelation 12. That is the story of the testimony of God, and what we have just said brings us to the point for our present consideration.

A People Governed By A Particular State of Heart

We come to the third of these main issues from the Word of God, that is, the people of the house and the testimony. We have remarked already that out of the millions who went into exile, only some forty-two thousand three hundred and sixty came back, so we are told in Ezra. The great mass had settled in, had become very largely a part of the life of Babylon, had found their interests there, had become tied up with things, and their life was now in that realm. For them it meant a tremendous work of upheaval and extrication to come back to nothing, to be in the land a poor and afflicted people, to be in a minority, to start all over again, and in this world seemingly to be nothing. So the mass would not pay the price, and only a small remnant returned. The Lord called it a day of small things, but something not to be despised.

When Cyrus made his decree that the house should be built again in Jerusalem and that every facility should be granted to those who went back to build, he did not make it a command that the Jews should go back. Otherwise, whatever it had cost, they would have had to go. But he made it a heart matter, "Whoso is of a willing heart, whose heart inclined him". It was pre-eminently a heart matter and it must always be that. It always has been that, it always will be that, for only so can it correspond to the object in view. The object in view is a vessel for the glory of God, and if you have any personal interests then you are entirely out of keeping with the object in view. The glory of God, the testimony of God, must of necessity be a heart matter.

The end is standing in closest and fullest relationship to the executive ministry and administration of God's Kingdom, and you know quite well from all that the Lord has said about the Kingdom that it is a heart matter. Much will come into your hearts as you think of what the Lord Jesus said about the Kingdom, how it was always a heart matter: "Coming after Me, being My disciple, following Me, being with Me". If the heart is divided, then oneness with Him in His Kingdom is impossible. Unless there is a denying of self, a taking up the Cross, a following daily, the Kingdom is not possible. It is the little flock to whom the Kingdom is given, but that little flock is the little flock that follows the Lamb whithersoever He goes, and it is all a heart matter.

I do want again to remind you forcibly of the great end which is in view. The end which is in view is this relationship with the Lord of a peculiar kind in an administrative capacity, the executive administration of His Kingdom, not just to be in the Kingdom, but to be with the King in responsibility for the Kingdom. And if that is the great end, that is going to find us out, that is the thing by which our hearts are going to be tested continually. Such a people or vessel will be entirely governed by a particular state of heart.

We have said that it ever has been so. To understand Abel we must see that it was sheer jealousy for the glory of God which prompted his line of conduct. Such a line involved everything for him and he had to pay that price and love not his own life even unto the death. It was a heart matter. We can say the same of Enoch. If Enoch walked with God, we may take it that that in practical meaning meant that Enoch had a heart undividedly for the glory of God in a day when that glory was so terribly hidden by sin, and the ways of men, and the power of Satan. And it is not difficult to see this in the case of the rest; of Abraham, of David, a man after God's own heart. "God looks on the heart" is the word which governed David. "Man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord looks on the heart" (1 Sam. 16:7). With these the testimony of God rested in a peculiar way.

And so with the prophets. It is clear with Samuel; Samuel was a man whose heart was wholly set upon the glory of God. Elijah, Elisha, Jeremiah, Daniel and the rest - they stand in their day as those with whom the testimony of God's glory is peculiarly invested, and we follow on in the New Testament and we see how true this is with Paul and other apostles and at last with the overcomers. It is all a heart matter.

And is not that the real key to the messages to the churches? Where the Lord has to speak in strong and stern language of rebuke and disappointment, it is not because they were failing to carry on in His work and with many activities in His Name, not because they were not jealous for fundamental truths and doctrines. The trouble was here: there was something wrong with their hearts. Take Ephesus as the key; "I know thy works" and then follows a series of things to be commended; "but I have this against thee, that thou hast left thy first love" (Rev. 2:4). There is something more than work, something more than patience, something more than zeal for Christian testimony, something deeper. It is that thing that we have to get to now - that something deeper for which the Lord is looking and which is the ultimate thing with Him. It is this heart matter.

Truth in the Inward Parts

David said, "Thou desirest truth in the inward parts" (Psa. 51:6). What is that, what does that amount to? There are many dear children of God, multitudes of them, about whose devotion to the Lord in a certain way we may have no question, and we have no right to judge. They are devoted to Him along certain lines of activity and have a certain inward relationship with Him of love and sacrifice, but while that is quite true, there is still some place in them where you will find that there is not truth in the inward parts. They are not willing to pay the ultimate price and it amounts really to a matter of utter honesty.

Beloved, it is true that there is a good deal of dishonesty of heart deep down amongst many Christian people. If I can get that clear to you, I have succeeded in indicating what this company is that is to be the ultimate vessel for the glory of God. It is not an easy thing to do, but it is an important thing. There are many people, beloved children of God, who are not prepared to lose their reputation amongst Christians, their position in the Christian world, their "opportunities for usefulness", as they put it, in Christian service, their open doors of advantage for Christian activity and witness. They are not prepared to risk it for something which, in that realm, lies under a cloud of suspicion and question, and they are not even prepared to investigate directly and personally, to prove for themselves. They have a reservation. They excuse themselves by all manner of means, they excuse what they are doing and what they are unwilling to do with very good excuses. They are keeping on the safe side of the road. What they are not doing is to search out diligently and commit themselves utterly to that which is supremely God's concern. Yes, these other things are the interests of the Lord, but are they supremely God's concern? They are not giving themselves with all honesty of heart to enquire and to search out as to what God's supreme concern is. You will find many Christians - and you must not question that they are the Lord's and you must not question that they are, in a way, devoted to the Lord and to His interests, but you will find them who will hedge, who will put on blinkers when it comes to something more utter which means some cost - not in the world, but in the realm of Christian circles and relationships and opportunities and activities. They hedge, and that is a lack of downright honesty of heart, for honesty of heart means that you take this position: nothing matters, no cost matters, whatever it is, whatever may be involved, so long as I am right at the very heart and centre of God's supreme concern, and for that I am prepared to pay any price, by the grace of God! That is the heart that God is looking for.

Look at it all the way through the Bible. Cain and Abel - both worshipped the same God, both built an altar to the same Lord, both apparently devoted in their worship of the same Lord. But one in the very nature of his worship, his sacrifice, was so utterly without self-interest. All the principles of Abel's sacrifice are the absence of self-interest. This is judgment and death, the utter and ultimate letting go. With Cain there is the gratification of his soul; "the offering of the fruit of my hands, the work that I have done, the splendid achievement of my labours!" And he brings with his offering the insinuations of self-satisfaction, self-pleasure, self-gratification, even in his service for God. The self-element is there even in his service to God. The letting go utterly unto death is not there and God looked on the heart. God saw in Abel's offering the foreshadowing of the eternal features of the sacrifice which He Himself made of His own Son and of His Son's sacrifice. "Who, existing in the form of God... emptied Himself" (Phil. 2:6), let go everything of self-glory, of personal position, let go right unto the death. And from Abel to Rev. 12:11, "they loved not their life even unto death." That is the principle: to be for the glory of God even if it costs everything, even if you lose everything, not only in this world but in your own family, in your own spiritual family. It is true from Abel onward always.

Take the case of David. He stands over against Saul and Saul is there in Scripture as the man who represents the terrible tragedy of a self-interest in the Kingdom of God. If there is one thing about David that is true, it is that there was no self-interest in David in the Kingdom of God. I need not take up case after case. That is what God is looking for and that is going to be the vessel, the testimony, the glory of God eventually.

This will discriminate even among Christians. We must be careful. There is this one thing that we have to recognize, of course without criticism, that there is much that is of God and blessed by Him which does not reach His fullest desire. Let us always bear that in mind and never let us be critical of anything, however small it maybe, which is of God, which He owns and blesses. Let us ask the Lord ever to save us from anything but an attitude of appreciation toward anything that is of God, anything that He has owned, but at the same time, while that is true, and being free from any mentality of judgment and criticism, let us recognize that even there there is much that will not pay the full price and go right on to God's fullest desire. There is, and there must be, that which does relate to the ultimate and consummate purpose of God. There is that still and that has got to be dealt with in a peculiar way.

Let me say here at once that this is not a matter of adopting special teaching. You do not become an overcomer by adopting overcomer teaching, nor by adopting a certain position, nor by a special form or practice in Christian procedure. This vessel is constituted by an overpowering sense that God has something more. It has not stopped anywhere on the way. It still has a deep, mighty sense of God having something more.

You can see how that does discriminate today. That is not just a legal discrimination between Christians. You know quite well that there is a great mass of Christians who are pretty well satisfied and content. They do not want much more. Their realm, their measure, their line of things fills their bill. They are not characterised by a real quest for something which they are sure is in the thought and purpose of God, but which still lies beyond their knowledge. There are those who are marked by that; it is something in them, they may not be able to explain what it is they are after, they may not be able to define the longing of their hearts, but they have it. They are marked by this - not that it is just a discontentment with things, but deep down in them they are sure that God has something more than they have yet seen and they must come to that, and that is how such a vessel of testimony, the testimony of God, the glory of God, is constituted - by that thing.

You find that this is true of Christians. I do not want to bring into view those people who are eternally disgruntled and full of criticisms, there are plenty of those people about who criticise everything and anything and can never be contented anywhere at all. Let us leave them out of our consideration, out of account, and ask the Lord that we may never be just that. But at the same time there is that company of people in the earth whose hearts are groaning against the small measure that there is, who are inwardly in travail for something more of God. They sense that there is such and their hearts are reaching out for that, for God's fullest and utterest, and it is a very blessed thing to come across those people, to meet them, to be able to say, "Here is one who is really on full stretch for God's best; for them nothing matters, tradition does not matter, association does not matter, what people think or say does not matter. They are not a bit governed by what other Christians say, by the attitudes of other Christians towards them. They really are seeking for, and stretching out to God's best". Yes, God has a people like that in the earth amongst His own people and it is that thing which really does constitute this overcomer company. They are an offset to this general condition in the churches of something wrong with the heart.

I wonder if you have been able to follow more than I have said, been able to see through what I have been saying. It is a difficult thing to say, it looks like criticism, it looks harsh, it looks extreme, but if it is not put to you very well, very clearly, there is in this something very vital. It is the result of a deeper work of God in the heart that produces this candlestick all of gold, and the lot of such is a peculiarly difficult lot, so that the abiding peril or temptation is always to compare their lot with the lot of other Christians; the numerical lot: the other Christians have the crowds, the members - or the experiential lot: the other Christians do not have to go through the same fires, difficulties, intense sufferings. But let it be understood that this candlestick of gold is going to be made such by fires of sevenfold intensity. So the lot of the people of the house and the testimony is a much more difficult one spiritually than is that of any others.

The fact is - and I am speaking to those who are taking responsibility in the things of the Lord - that we shall not find but one in a great number who will go right on. We must not turn our backs on the rest and cut them off from our Christian interest and appreciation as children of God, but we must recognize the fact that it will be but one in many.

Now, the point is this: that while there is all that which is of the Lord and comes under His blessing and must be recognized and acknowledged as being of Him and blessed of Him, the fact is that God has a ministry to these others to bring them into that consummate position, and that ministry is a very necessary thing. It is a thing in itself and a very vital thing. It relates to the ultimate desire of the Lord.

Now we have to look this thing squarely in the face. Is it a fact? If it is, we have to decide whether we are in the matter and we have to decide whether we are going to pay the price, and further, we have to keep continually in view what our ministry really is. I am only putting before you the position. You have to know whether in your heart God has been doing that thing. You have to say, "This is not something that I myself have raised up, have created, but I know deeper than I know anything else in my spiritual history that God has planted in me something which can never be satisfied with anything less than His fullest. It is something God has done in me. He has apprehended me in that matter and He has dealt with me accordingly and is dealing with me accordingly and as I look at His dealings with me, often as I have revolted and felt the strain and longed for relief and wished that it could be otherwise, I have to confess that His dealings with me are consistent with the thing for which He has called me. That is, I see that an utter, consummate thing means a consummate work in those concerned, and God is doing a consummate work, something not ordinary, where I am concerned. He is doing a very deep and thorough work with me; He does not let me off".

The Opposition of the Enemy

And then as to the active side of that, in testimony outwardly. Of course, it is going to make many go away. Of course it is going to lose a great deal of popularity, it means many closed doors, it means a narrowing sphere in this world, but "who hath despised the day of small things?" That is only another way of saying, "Don't you despise this that looks so small, it is far greater than those millions back there in its intrinsic worth to God". The greatness of an apparently small thing is the measure of essential satisfaction to the Lord, and not the measure of its recognition by men.

There is so much lying behind what I am saying in the Word. One of my difficulties is to get it concentrated. If you read all the Scripture which lies behind this of which we are speaking - Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, the later chapters of Isaiah, parts of Jeremiah, then Haggai and Zechariah - you will see a mighty confederacy against this thing. In Ezra 4 we are told about the various rulers, Cyrus, Darius, Ahasuerus, Artaxerxes, and it says there that through all these reigns, the enemies of Judah sought to frustrate this thing. Frustration has become a very prominent word in our language. Through all these reigns the enemies of Judah sought to frustrate this thing. There was a mighty, persistent confederacy and conspiracy to frustrate; then the thing must be important, it must signify something, if these powers set themselves so persistently against it. Oh yes, you know what they said when they wrote their letter advising the king to intervene - "If they build this city, if they build this place, you know what it will involve for you, you stand to lose everything if once this thing goes up!"

Ah, that is it; get this vessel of testimony and there is immense loss represented to those other powers, to that other kingdom, and surely that stands for something with the Lord.

I wonder if you have been able to follow what I have tried to say with such difficulty. To me it is perfectly clear.

"By My Spirit"

The final word is here: The whole thing is impossible, and the Lord knows it, unless He Himself does it, "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts." We cannot pay the price and we cannot go through, we cannot fulfil this ministry. It is all impossible except for the Spirit of the Lord, the Lord of hosts. Well, how good it is that that does come in there with the candlestick all of gold and what that means, this house to be built as the vessel for that testimony to God's glory and all the price to be paid, the suffering to be endured. The Lord says that it is impossible by might and power, but "it is possible and will be by My Spirit". And that is our hope, our confidence, our assurance - by His Spirit, the Spirit of the Lord of hosts.

I feel we have just to be quiet with this for a little and weigh it up and really ask the Lord to bear home to us its significance, for it is the ultimate thing. There is no doubt about it. I say again, we must seek to be delivered from any spirit of criticism in the direction of anything at all that is of the Lord. At the same time, we must recognize that a very great deal of that stops short and does not go right on to that full and consummate thing that the Lord is after and very largely because the price will not be paid, the cost is too great, and often because there is a lack of downright honesty of heart. It is a terrible thing to say about any Christian, I know, but there is honesty and honesty, and while there may be real sincerity of heart before the Lord, so often there is the lack of that utter honesty which will tear off all blinkers, which will refuse all hedging and which will say, "Though it costs everything, no matter what other people say or think, no matter what it means to me, I am going to find out for myself before God what He is really after and not take the present standard, even of the best I know, as necessarily being the final standard of God". Such utterance is something for which the Lord is really looking and which does very much relate to the thing which He has as His end.

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