God's Instrument of Deliverance in a Time of Death

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - The Time and the Instrument

"Then Mordecai bade them return answer unto Esther, 'Think not with thyself that thou shalt escape in the king's house, more than all the Jews. For if thou altogether holdest thy peace at this time, then will relief and deliverance arise to the Jews from another place, but thou and thy father's house will perish: and who knoweth whether thou art not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?'" (Esther 4:13-14).

The message could very well be gathered into two words in that last sentence of verse 14 - "thou", "this". "Such a time as this", "Thou art come to the kingdom". The last clause is a very significant one - "such a time as this". It represents what God does at given and particular times and what He needs and how He works. We might very well take that clause and set it down at different points in history. We could do that in both the Old Testament and the New and find how it fits in with its connected features and elements, going back many years in time and history and noting "such a time as this".

We move on - "such a time as this", and yet again - "such a time as this". And we shall eventually arrive at our own time and find that the features are very similar, the situation is very much like these others into which this fragment so aptly fits with its own particular associations. God had a peculiar method, a peculiar vessel with a peculiar object. It was apt, fitting, necessary, vital, just at this and that particular time. You could not always fit this particular word into the situation. There have been times when it would not be apt, that is, things were not in that condition which made this a fitting means and method of God. What is here, therefore, does represent something for a particular time and the thing which should strengthen us and help us is this, that such times, having recurred not infrequently through the course of the ages, God has always come into that time in exactly the same way; that is, in principle. He has come into that time in the same way, with different vessels, but always with the same object and the same governing principle: "Such a time as this".

"Thou". The 'thou' can apply to this one and that one and another one, always representing God's instrument of reaction to a situation which has constantly recurred in the history of His dealings with men. What is the nature of "such a time as this", and then what is the nature of the means sovereignly chosen and appointed by God to meet that situation?

"Such a Time as This"

I think the first thing that we can say about these times is that they have always been, and are always, times when there is a particular and peculiar uprising of the forces of evil in terms of spiritual death. That has not always been. There have been the great days of power and aggression and glory among the Lord's people, but there have constantly recurred times when the Lord's testimony seemed almost to be lost, and the forces of evil, working by spiritual death, seemed to be well-nigh triumphant.

You can see how true that was in the day of Esther. The Lord's people had spiritually fallen very low, had gone far out of the way of His thought, had become enslaved by the world powers, were in a position remote from that which was the Lord's choice for them, and in a condition very much other than He would have had - captivity and exile. And being there, the enemy determined his final stroke and having got them so far, he wanted to complete the work and wipe them out altogether. He wanted to bring them wholly and utterly and finally under his weapon of death. It was a day when the hatred for what is of God, the hatred for that seed of God in the earth, the hatred for what that meant, implied, and represented as being here in the kingdom of this world, when that hatred was making itself known and felt, manifest in a very intense and a very utter form. The issue here is undoubtedly one of finality. You are going to die or you are going to live, and whichever you do, you are going to do it thoroughly this time. It is forced up to that.

And I have no doubt that some of you are feeling that that is very apt, at any rate, that we are individually sometimes brought pretty near to that position; it is one thing or the other now, no shadows about it, it is black or white, it is life or death this time. We are facing the final, the ultimate, and not one of us is prepared to accept anything less than something utter in this situation. The situation is such that it is now one thing or the other. We are not prepared to just go on in a state of far greater defeat and bondage. We know that we cannot accept anything less than victory, than liberty, than life. We are right up against a situation so that we must have a knowledge of the mighty deliverance of the Lord and we can accept nothing less or else we are finished. Is that not how you feel about it? One of the results of the Lord's sovereign dealings with His people is really to bring them there. In a certain sense, it is not a bad position in which to be, (yet very bad for those who are experiencing it), but from the Lord's standpoint, He is striking for a position in which there are no half measures where it is one thing or the other, where there is no mixture, no compromise, and no uncertainty. The issue is perfectly clear. He forces up to that position, He allows things to precipitate that crisis: "such a time as this".

That is how it was in Esther's day, that is how it was in all the other similar days in Scriptural history and since, and if I am not mistaken, that is how it is today. I think that more and more of the Lord's people are steadily progressing towards situations like that where they are no longer able to accept a position which is only in some measure satisfactory, in some measure victory, in some measure knowing the Lord, but where they have got to know as they have never known. What has been will not, cannot, support them for the future; there has got to be something more. I think there is a steady movement in that direction. It may be comparatively small, but we are coming to a day like that. There has got to be a new knowing of the Lord because it is a question now of no less significance than life and death.

Well, such a situation has arisen from time to time, and the Lord has, at all such times, moved in His own way, by His own means, to meet that situation. But let us be quite clear about this: it is a time, not when new conditions are created or brought about, but when what has been there all the time becomes more manifest and more felt. That is, the abiding, the age-long hatred of Satan for that which is begotten of God, because of the significance of what is begotten of God. It is of immense significance, more to Satan than perhaps to any other, that there is something begotten of God. We might dwell much upon that, and I would beg of you to think much about it - begotten of God, a Divine seed in this universe. That is of immense, immeasurable consequence and of ultimate consequence to Satan and his kingdom. His final doom and utter overthrow is bound up with that Divine seed as surely as Haman's was in the case of the Jews. From time to time that seed becomes aware of that hatred. That hatred will fill the very atmosphere; the spirit of death will be breathed everywhere and you will be environed by this sense of an evil, inimical antagonism of a spiritual kind which has precipitated this situation. You have got to know the power of life triumphing over death in some way which you have never known before. God, the God of Life, has to come in as you have never known Him coming in, because of this outbreak of the forces of evil and death, this manifestation of naked malice and hatred from hell against that Divine seed. That is the nature of this little phrase, "such a time as this".

Maybe some of you are having a thoroughly good time, all is going well. If so, then my word is not for you - carry on with your good time; I would not have you come under any cloud. But maybe some of you know (in your experience) what I am talking about. You know that this is such a time when the force of hatred from the enemy is being sensed very intensely, very acutely. The power of death to quench and finally quench, seems to have come out with determination, and sometimes there is a very narrow, very thin point between the going under and a deliverance from the Lord. Those two things are not very far apart, you seem to be getting very near to the edge, "such a time as this". Well, let us recognise these things and perhaps they will help us, that there is, as there has always been from the beginning, this deep and awful malice and hatred against that which is begotten of God and against anything that can produce that begetting of God.

We are begotten by the Word of God, and that hatred is against the Word of God. That the very Word of God should be given is a matter of conflict, something withstood and challenged. It is a begetting thing. Whatever has in it the possibility of bringing into being something begotten of God, whatever there is that has already been begotten of God, is the object, the focal point of this continuous and awful hatred of the enemy. And the more potent or the more calculated to effect spiritual life, the more that hatred will be sensed and known. If we are really going to count at all in this matter of the survival of what is of God here, we are going to be the objects of that hatred all the more. I mean that if you are content with an easygoing, superficial kind of Christian life, you will not be bothered very much by this wrath of the enemy, this fury of the oppressor, this hatred of the dragon. If you are going on, if you have set God's ultimate as your goal, then you are going to know "such a time as this", the uprising of the forces of death and evil to finally quench, if possible, to put right out and bring to an end, if that can be. That is the first thing about "such a time as this".

The Nature of God's Instrument to Meet the Situation

That in itself sets forth immediately the method and means of God's reaction. Esther is such a clear and simple illustration of God's method. There are two things about Esther which gather up everything else in this movement of God at such a time. One is: chosen of God in relation to the throne; and the other: the spiritual power of that relationship is throne life.

You see, Esther does so beautifully show forth the sovereignty of God in this. There is nothing of merit or claim, but just the sovereignty of God in grace. If it had been known, now speaking in the purely natural realm, who and what Esther was, she would not have stood the slightest chance of coming to that throne. You notice she had to keep hidden what her relationships were. She did not tell that she was a Jewess, but kept it hidden. If it had been known, her chances of ever coming to that throne would have gone at once, but the sovereignty of God is working, triumphing over natural handicaps, making nothing of disadvantages here, altogether setting aside things which would have thwarted and hindered one triumphing. The strategy of God is seen in the fact that here is a realm in which the plans of evil against that which is begotten of God are being formulated and are intended to be executed, yet right in the very heart of things God puts an instrument by which He is going to destroy those plans. That is sovereignty, and it is all of His Divine choice. "Ye did not choose Me, but I chose you" (John 15:16); "chosen in Him before the foundation of the world" (Eph. 1:4). Chosen in grace; for what? Not just to be saved, not just to know the blessings of the Lord in a saved life, but chosen in relation to the throne. That is the goal, that is the object.

But that throne is not to be visualised mentally as something material in an objective way. This throne is dominion; this government, this power, this regality, is a spiritual power. It is the power of Life, the Life which issues from that throne, and it is a Life which is mightier than all the other forces known in this universe. Your Bible begins with it and your Bible ends with it, and in between the beginning and the end this is the one issue. It is this Life, this mighty Life, this tremendous Life, this greatest force in God's universe; His own Life. When we think of reigning, we must think of reigning in Life, not reigning in some throne of a material order, but reigning in Life, the mighty dominion of a power, an energy, an ascendancy of influence coming right out from God Himself. It is that Life which is begotten of God that makes hell tremble and afraid and wrathful, but which is the key to the whole situation and which is the strategy of God. Now, Esther stands for that, those two things: the throne and what that throne represents - a Life, a mighty Divine Life, a throne Life.

It is the double principle of the overcomer everywhere throughout the Bible. Wherever you come upon "such a time as this", you find always it is that - the Throne and Life. Joseph is just that, the Throne and Life. With David it is that, the Throne and Life. Paul, passing out of the historical, now into the heavenly and spiritual, is just that: the Throne and Life. Revelation 2 and 3, all heading right up to that, the ultimate, the Throne and Life. The final chapters of Revelation, it is the Throne and Life; the Throne, and out from the Throne a river of Life. The Throne and Life, two things. Regard them as two principles, two sides of a mighty energy of a mighty fact that is the dominion of Divine Life, and that is God's means and method of coming into "such a time as this" whenever "such a time" arises. "Thou" and "this".

Well, are you satisfied that we are in "such a time as this"? As you think about it and as your experience teaches you, you feel we are in a time very much like that. Spiritually our time is very much like Esther's time, very much like Joseph's time, very much like David's time in the first years of his life. We are very much in that position; or perhaps we are better able to see it in the first chapters of the Revelation or the twelfth chapter of Revelation now. Are you satisfied it is like that? In other words, have you any reason to believe by looking both outwardly and into your own spiritual experience, that this is a time when, on the one hand, the hatred of the enemy for what is of God is being manifested with a new intensity, and on the other hand, the issue for us is very acutely and in a certain final sense one of Life or death? Do you feel it is like that?

If so, then what about the other side? "Thou - for such a time as this". What about God's coming into "such a time as this"? What will He do? How will He do it? What does He require for this? The first thing, as we have tried to point out, is this recognition of the object of His sovereign choice, that we have been chosen; His people have been chosen by Him in grace to be His means of meeting that situation.

What I want to stress in that particularly is this, that overcomers are not some particular favourites of God. They are not some elect among the elect, some spiritual aristocracy singled out. They are just among the ordinary people of God, if the people of God can be called ordinary. If we can settle that in our own hearts, it is going to save us a lot of trouble. The disciples fell to the idea at one time that, because they had given up all, they should stand in the special favour of the Lord and get something special. The fact is that those who have let go most and suffered most and been most utter for God, have not experienced particular favours from the Lord. It has rather been the other way. They have been called upon to walk with the Lord in the dark as few others have ever had to do.

These hearts of ours, this human nature of ours, is always on the bargaining line with God: if we are utter for God, then God is going to show us particular favours - and it does not happen. It seems rather the other way. We want to be special favourites of the Lord because we have been particularly good to the Lord; that is what it amounts to. No, there are no special favourites of the Lord in that sense. We just have to get rid of that thought. I will say something more about that in another connection later. If there are going to be any special rewards, they will come afterwards; the Lord will be debtor to no man. He will see to all that afterwards. But for the present, the overcomers are just people among His people. They may be going on with Him more than others, but it is as much of grace with them as it is with anyone else. You must realise that.

The Grace of God in the Instrument

What is the history of those who have been most useful to the Lord, who have served the Lord in a peculiar way spiritually in spiritual things? It is just the history of His peculiar grace. How is that shown? In this way, that the Lord does not do what the biographers do. If you go to the library and get the biography of anybody who has been peculiarly used by God, you will usually, with some very rare exceptions, find a volume which extols their excellencies, says much about their strong points, what good people they were, what great people they were, how outstanding was this and that and another characteristic on the fine side. The biographer relegates to a very back place, if ever is given a mention at all, the imperfections, faults, failings, weaknesses, and certainly the sins of such. God never does that. Take up the biographies that God has written. Oh, there are great and glorious things said about these men and women, but they are always a marvellous revelation of the grace of God.

Where will you begin? Take Abraham; has God covered the faults and weaknesses of Abraham? Oh, there are some dark, some heartbreaking things in the life of Abraham. Why did God have that incident with Hagar and Ishmael put down to be kept alive for centuries, thousands of years? Why record the two occasions on which Abraham deliberately told a lie to get himself out of difficulties?

What about David? Are there not some dark patches in the story of David? Why was not God kind enough to cover all these over, seeing what this man suffered, endured, and how utter he was for God; why mention them? The kindly biographer of today would not mention those things, or would not make much of them. God writes them all in their dark colours.

Moses - yes, grand things said about Moses, but Moses' weaknesses and failures are there and anybody can read them and see them and there is no mistaking them.

Was Paul infallible? We have a way of thinking that if a life is in the hands of the Holy Spirit, it will be an infallible life, that if a man is filled with the Holy Spirit, he will never make a mistake. Do not think that. God has reserved infallibility to One and only One, and that is His Son, and He will never allow another to come into the place of being infallible.

Whether David, Abraham, Moses or Paul, or any other, save that One, it is the story of infinite grace using men in a peculiar way, but letting you know that it is God, and it is God in grace and in mercy. These men are weak, fallible, imperfect men with faults, who are capable of making terrible mistakes and slipping up here and there in terrible ways. It is simply God in grace. There may be a secret (this is not a brief for moral weakness, it is not to excuse our faults), but here in these facts the story of the overcomers is not the story of some moral elite. No, it is the story of the grace of God, perhaps more than in any other realm. Let us take heart from that. We are not going to be overcomers because we are such wonderful people. It is going to be because of His wonderful grace. And the overcomers who will serve the Lord in this more particular sense will be kept in a place where they are the people upon whose lips this word 'Grace' rests more than upon any other lips.

You look at the letter to the Ephesians, and you know what sublime heights you have reached of Divine purpose and calling. Oh, you know what a vast revelation you have in Ephesians. But have you noticed that in Ephesians grace is mentioned more than anywhere else? Go back to those chapters and underline the word grace and see what you get. That is not a great wonderful realm and level of life to which some wonderful people are called; it is the grace of God that makes possible the highest.

Well, Esther comes to the kingdom for "such a time as this". But it is the sovereign grace of God, and you and I who need the grace of God so much, are qualified to be of such vital account to the Lord in a time like this. I have said that, in case any might think, 'Oh, that calling to the throne and to be of such value to the Lord is for some, not for me; better people than I, people of greater capacity and merit than I have. Why, my very existence depends every moment upon the mercy and grace of God!' Ah, you are the one, the very one. That is the background of the overcomer. "Thou!"

That is what is meant by this - "Thou art come...". There is a sense in which Esther had a skeleton in the cupboard. That door had to be kept closed. We may have a skeleton in the cupboard, such as some handicap, disadvantage, something which would disqualify if it prevailed, but God in mercy and grace keeps the door closed upon our disqualifications and looks upon other qualifications that are in His sight.

The Life of God in the Instrument

Through grace, then, she was brought into fellowship with the throne and that throne was the throne of grace but also the throne of Life, a mighty Life. What the Lord will do in "such a time as this", what He seeks to do, is to find a people, a vessel in the midst of His people, the majority of whom are in spiritual declension and far removed from what He would have and where He would have them in such a time, an instrument knowing Him in the power of His mighty Life in a spiritual way in the very presence of death. Let me emphasise: to know that Life in a spiritual way. It is there that we have to know it first. In a spiritual way it can be known right in the very presence of death, right in the very activity of death and right in the very triumph of death in other connections. That is the marvel.

Have you not known in your experience - I may be perhaps going deeper than some have gone - have you not known times when it did seem like that, you could easily conclude that death has actually triumphed in a certain realm, but your spirit has not been involved in that triumph? A strange kind of contradiction! Here it looks as though the enemy has gained the day, but in your spirit there is that which will not allow you to believe that, to accept that, which stands against that; and it is not that you are simply pugnacious, strong-willed and minded and you are not going to have that. It is deeper down than that. Your reason is bewildered; death in every other realm, but in your spirit you are held; you cannot capitulate, you cannot accept it. Right at the centre of your being there is the holding in Life while everything else says it is death. Well, that is what I mean by Life being of a spiritual kind, something to be known right in us, right at the centre of our being which is a contradiction to every other argument and appearance.

God needs an instrument like that, knowing right in the very centre of their being the power of His Life when everything argues that death triumphs, the enemy is on the throne, but you cannot accept it. If you went out in the realm of your reason, you would have to accept it and capitulate, but while you keep in touch with God, you cannot. You have no argument, no explanation. If you begin to have an altercation and a controversy with God, you begin inwardly to lose it. But while you take the position, 'I do not understand it, I cannot explain it, I am utterly defeated in the realm of reason and understanding, but the Lord knows what He is doing, the Lord is going to bring something out of this for His glory' - you have peace, inward rest and Life. Believe me, that is going to count against the enemy tremendous­ly. It is going to count for the Lord.

Is not that the principle? Have I gone too deep? I hope not, I do not want to be mysterious for anybody, but is that not exactly what has happened in the overcomer every time? The situation to all appearances was lost, but they did not accept it inwardly, they stood inwardly against that, and in the long run they were proved right. Hebrews chapter 11 is just that story, things outwardly all going contrary and seeming to be the triumph of evil and the triumph of death, but "these all died in faith". They did not die in controversy with the Lord, they did not die in capitulation to the situation, they did not die in a state of utter bewilderment and despair; they died in faith. They died in faith. It is not our mental strength. It is something spiritual deep down in our being. It is that that makes the overcomer and it is that that God is seeking to get hold of in "such a time as this". I know how difficult a situation that presents, but - "thou" and "this". We cannot get away from that, we are being hedged up to it. "Thou" is that kind of thing for a situation which is like "this".

We must ask the Lord to make clear to us what it is He is really after.

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