God's Instrument of Deliverance in a Time of Death

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - The Overcomer in a Time of Death

Reading: 1 Sam. 8:4-10,21-22; 17:38-39,49.

In our previous meditation we were allowing a little phrase in Esther chapter 4 to guide our thoughts - "Who knoweth whether thou art not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?" "Such a time as this". We were seeing that that last clause can be taken and fitted in at various points in the history of the things of God in this world with its attendant and connected features and elements, that is, the features and elements of a specific time, such a time as that in which Esther is brought into view. Again and again such a time has arisen and in principle God has moved on the same lines, by the same means, to meet the conditions of those particular times.

The Battle with Worldliness

Here is another such time, and the principles are all very much the same, only changing in outward form of expression. We may be helped again to note how the Lord moves in such times, realising how much our own time is a time like Esther's time, David's time, and the specific times of others.

You notice the situation when David was about to be brought on to the scene. It was a time when the Lord's people, that Divine seed in the earth, had become very greatly conformed to this world, when worldliness had overtaken them. We are very superficial in our mental interpretation of that word or term, "worldliness". We usually limit it to something like going to theatres and playing cards and doing things like that. It is very much more subtle than that. So subtle is it, that even a David gets perilously near being caught by it. It is found expressed in this request - "Make us a king like unto the nations." That is what Paul would call being conformed to this world or this age - like unto, conformed to, the nations. Bluntly and plainly it amounts to this - doing things as other people do them, having your life on the same level and basis as other people, the people of this world. It means arranging your affairs, organising matters and running things as they do among men, accepting and adopting the recognised way, method and means; not being different, singular, peculiar, extraordinary, not being too heavenly. And sometimes the subtlety of it is in an appeal to be practical (and we have always to be very careful that we are practical in our Christianity, but that being practical does not mean that we lose the heavenliness of our Christian life). For many, being practical means just to come right down to earth and do things as other people do, and that may be worldliness. It may be the abandonment of a position because that position is a very difficult one; and worldliness can just be compromising because of the difficulty of the situation.

That is exactly what happened in Samuel's time. The difficulty for Israel from the day when God took them out of Egypt, as He Himself indicates here, unto the day of Samuel's old age and afterwards, was to have an invisible King, with whom the relationship was entirely spiritual, out of sight, in heaven. They would argue that this was not practical. What they asked for was to have things down here with their feet solidly on the earth, something that you could see and handle, a basis of life capable of being apprehended by the senses. Anything above or beyond that is too difficult. Heavenliness is too difficult, spirituality is too difficult, invisibility is too difficult. "Like unto the nations" meant the contrary to the Spirit and the heavenly, and the easier way for the flesh, and we cannot stand in judgment upon those people.

We are in this all the time. Our battle may not be with the temptation to go to a bridge party or to the cinema or a theatre or something like that, but I venture to say there is no one who has no battle with worldliness in the subtle form of wanting to have life on a more tangible, practical, more rational basis; and what the whisperings of the flesh are! That is the battle with worldliness in its essence.

Israel succumbed; their spiritual life weakened so much that they could not stand up to that high demand and requirement to have the Lord unseen, intangible, in heaven, as King alone. It was too hard, too high, too difficult to go on with the Lord alone when He was out of sight, out of physical touch, on a purely spiritual basis of relationship which meant sheer, pure faith. "Let us come down to something more obvious!" And that is what is in this request - "like unto the nations", conformed to this image. The Lord makes it perfectly clear that that is spiritual declension. He knows their hearts, and while registering His own attitude towards it in causing Samuel to let it be known without any doubt or mistake how contrary to the Lord's mind it was, the Lord knew that their hearts were set. The only way in which they could learn otherwise was to allow the outworking of that which they demanded. So often that is the way. We will not have it the Lord's way so the Lord has to let us have it our way, and in the long run we wish we had had His way.

"Make us a king like unto the nations..." so that king was given, and he himself was the embodiment of the spiritual state of their hearts, the embodiment of the vision of their own worldliness. He was something big, imposing, impressive, head and shoulders above all in Israel, something that the flesh could really take account of and glory in. That is being conformed to this age. That is what conformity to this age means: having something that you can look at with satisfaction, pleasure, and gratification, something you can take account of and call it big, a success, something that makes an impression, something that you can write about. That was Saul.

Here is an interesting thing, tremendously impressive: we were much further on in history in our previous meditation with Esther, but we were dealing and are dealing with the same fact all the time. What was Saul's downfall? At what point did Saul and this line of things come to their tragic disasters? It was with Amalek. The word of the Lord to Saul was, "Smite Amalek and utterly destroy him" (1 Sam. 15:3), and Saul compromised. The Lord said through 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 hath also rejected thee from being king"; the kingdom is taken from you, you have lost your crown! He came down over Amalek.

Do you know that Haman, the Agagite, was of Amalek? Agag is only another name. Where has this come from? It is a thousand years of history. Where did it arise? Why, it is the fleshly, natural side of Abraham. Abraham had a spiritual seed and a natural seed. The natural seed worked out through Esau, Edom, Amalek; the spiritual through Isaac. Out of one source: the flesh and the spirit; from one father the flesh and the spirit. That fleshly, natural, earthly line withstood the spiritual for a thousand years, headed right up to Esther, and we never hear of it after Esther. Esther finished the history of Amalek. That is what the overcomer is going to do - finish the history of the prince of this world.

Now I leave that, but is it not interesting that here Israel with Saul chooses the line of the flesh, the earthly? Israel chooses Esau, Edom, Amalek, Agag, and loses the throne, loses the crown.

The Antagonism of the World to the Anointed One

And just then David, the one who is anointed and has been paying the price of the anointing, is brought in quietly, steadily, to occupy the throne. But the two things in spirit and in principle are found in antagonism from the beginning. It is most interesting to note the different forms in which that antagonism showed itself.

Firstly, subtly, and apparently kindly and solicitously, there is Saul's armour, a kind of protective provision, a feigned assumed concern for David's well-being. How subtle is the working of the Evil One through the flesh! "Save Thyself, this shall never come to Thee!" (Matt. 16:22). It is the voice of Saul, it is the voice of the world, it is the voice of the flesh. A very long history, and not hesitating to attack the very Son of God Himself. "This shall never come to Thee, save Thyself! Put on this armour! Take the way that other men take! Do it as the world does it! The other way, this spiritual way, this heavenly way is too risky, uncertain, and precarious!"

David was nearly caught. He put it on, but David was a spiritual man in heart and when he got into that position he knew inwardly that he was in a wrong position. A spiritual person will know inwardly when the Spirit of God does not agree with any proposed course or method, and it is such people who are the overcomers. The tragedy of the church is that it has not got spiritual perception and discernment as to exactly what the Spirit of God agrees with. The church has become so insensitive to the Spirit of God that it can be worldly and believe it is spiritual. It can go in the way of the world and be conformed to this age and still claim to be spiritual and not know that the Spirit of God is not in agreement in that. That is the tragedy of today, and if there are those who in spiritual sensitiveness know that the Spirit of God does not agree with this and that and they act accordingly, woe betide them! They will be hunted in the wilderness as David was for years, and their lives will be pursued by the murderer. That is the history of the overcomer.

Now in this situation of conformity to this age, and lost spiritual sensitiveness, and the quest for the way in which other people do things, God reacts and brings in, as almost from nowhere, a David. David is God's reactionary instrument against this trend, and with the bringing in of David the hidden antagonism, hatred, malice, murder, begins to come to light. It is not very long after this before javelins are being flung about by Saul. For what reason? This is perfectly irrational from any ordinary standpoint, but perfectly rational when you understand the spiritual things involved. There are other forces and intelligences which recognise the significance of David. That anointing portends the throne. There may be a long way to go, there may be a suffering way to be taken, it may be very costly, it may seem as though it is never going to materialise, but there are spiritual intelligences who know enough to know that that anointing is as good as though the thing were done.

The Significance of the Anointing

I would urge you to contemplate the tremendous significance of the anointing. Paul says that God has chosen us and anointed us in Christ (2 Cor. 1:21); that is the Spirit. John says, "The anointing which you have received abideth in you" (1 John 2:27). Oh, thank God for that! "The anointing... abideth in you", and if you look carefully you will see that anointing relates to vocation and destiny. The anointing is something which points us to a Divine purpose and it abides, and the upshot of anointing is that God has predestined for something, and the Spirit is the security of the predestined purpose. By the Spirit you come there. "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit" (Zech. 4:6). The Spirit is the guarantee, the Spirit is the power, the Spirit is the energy, the Spirit is the assurance; the anointing is the basis upon which God will realise His end. It will not be because of our persistence, our ability, and not because we are so good, not because of our high level of life, but because of the anointing. Oh, a tremendous thing, the anointing!

There is the anointing on David and the devil fears that anointing. All the powers of evil know what that anointing portends and points to, and thus begins the history of violent, murderous assaults and antagonisms. The very instrument of the devil is very often acting contrary to his better sense of judgment. See those violent reactions in Saul where he decides never to do it again, calls David back, but does it again. The thing is never rooted out of his heart. Why? He is not a spiritually-minded man; he is governed by other concerns and interests; his life is not rooted in God, it is rooted in himself, and what a difference that makes! Any life which, after all, is rooted in itself is going to be a life like Saul's. On the one hand, many things fair and fine and good; on the other hand a strange contradiction, full of reactions and inconsistencies. "Is this thy voice, my son David?" - the crooning of a mother, yet his heart murderously intending to destroy David if only he gets the chance. He is not his own master. That is a life rooted in himself, giving Satan all the ground he wants to play with, making it a life full of contradictions. A life rooted in God is different.

Into this situation God brings David as His reactionary instrument and then the violent conflict begins and it is the conflict between the flesh and the Spirit, between heaven and earth, between God and the devil. It is being fought out in their representatives here: in Satan's representative on the one hand, in Satan's instrument, a worldly people of God. Satan has far greater advantages through a worldly church and worldly Christians than he has through the out-and-out worldling. I am up against that every day. What am I finding? I am touching the world, going out to those ships, [most likely referring to World War II] touching men, and as far as possible getting contacts. What comes back? The one thing, nine times out of ten, is this: "We have no room for the churches, we have no room for the parsons, they are only concerned about their own interests!" There is a lot in that. It is a worldly Christianity that is a greater hindrance to the Lord than anything else. Oh, a great strategic thing it is to the devil, which means that God's strategy is in the opposite: a David, an Esther, a spiritual people, having no compromise.

David represents that which at heart (with many outward weaknesses, faults and imperfections all calling for the grace of God, as we were seeing in our previous meditation) is set upon God, a heart without compromise, a heart knowing the Lord. And what were the features of David that made him such an instrument of God and made it possible for the Lord to secure the throne, the dominion, the triumph of life through him here on this earth?

The Overcomer: One who has Proved God

The first thing was that David was a man who had proved God in the secret of his own life. You know what he said when he came to Saul; the giant was there. Well, he simply testified as to how the Lord had come into his experience in difficult times, how he had proved the Lord with the lion and the bear. "The Lord who delivered me... will deliver me out of the hand of this Philistine" (1 Sam. 17:37). The Lord who delivered! Can you hear over the ages another man saying, "Who delivered us out of so great a death, and will deliver: on whom we have set our hope that He will also still deliver us" (2 Cor. 1:10)? Proving God as the God of deliverances. Our God is a God of deliverances. And that is the overcomer's testimony.

But to have a testimony like that and to have proved God like that, you have got to be in positions where only God can deliver you, and so we can say about the overcomer that the overcomer is a man, a woman, a people, who have been in tight corners and proved the Lord. That is simple language, but that is what it amounts to - in positions where none but the Lord could deliver, but they proved the Lord. "I have not proved them. And David put them off him" (1 Sam. 17:39). But he could have said, I have proved the Lord! And he did in effect say that. "I have proved the Lord and I put Him on!" An overcomer is one, then, who has proved the Lord, who does not speak out of a book, who does not prepare his testimony, but in whom it has been wrought. The knowledge of God has been wrought in deep experience and he speaks out of a conflict and a contesting with the lion and the bear. Like his Master, he has been in the wilderness with the wild beasts and has proved the deliverance of the Lord.

Someone preached a sermon once on words which were trimmed down - "And He was alone with the wild beasts and the angels." Of course, the complete statement is, "And He was with the wild beasts; and the angels ministered unto Him" (Mark 1:13). The preacher trimmed it down and said, "He was with the wild beasts and the angels." But there is something in it. We are not allowed to do that sort of thing, but there is something in it. Alone with the wild beasts and knowing the Lord; alone with the forces of destruction and death, and the Lord. It is out of that kind of thing that the overcomer comes: God's instrument for meeting a situation like this, for recovering the heavenly, for bringing in Life where death is so mightily at work. David had proved the Lord.

We need not make many words of it. That is where you and I are at this time. Many of us are being put where it is simply a matter of proving the Lord as our Deliverer; we are shut up, there is no other way, no explanation to be given, no one else can help us, explain or save us. We are shut up to the Lord; we are going to prove the Lord as the Deliverer, as the God of Resurrection. And so God shapes and frames His vessels for meeting a need which exists among His people.

The Overcomer's Weapons

David not only had proved the Lord, but had proved his weapons. "Girding Saul's sword on his side, he assayed to go, but he said, I have not proved it!" I leap from that statement right to the next. "David put his hand in his bag and took out a stone..." - "I have proved this! This is something I have proved!" The point is that it is proved weapons, not official supplies, not traditional means, but spiritually proved weapons. You and I are being taught surely, the means of spiritual effectiveness and spiritual deliverance. We are being taught something of the meaning and value and virtue of the Name, the Blood, the word of our testimony. "They overcame... because of the blood and the word of their testimony" (Rev. 12:11); proved means.

We need not dwell upon what the stones may represent. We have heard lots of interesting things about those stones. The point is, they are proved means. The Lord really does shut His people up to prove the weapons. "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal but spiritual (mighty through God)" (2 Cor. 10:4). An overcomer is one who has proved his weapons and uses proved weapons.

And then, "You come to me with a sword and with a spear, but I come to you in the name of the Lord of hosts." An overcomer is one who knows the Name, the power of the Name, the virtue of the Name. I am not going to dwell more upon this, but I point it out to you. The Lord must have people of this kind in a time like this. Whether it be David's time or Esther's time or Paul's time or the time of the Apocalypse, He must have a people like this who have proved Him, who have proved weapons, who know the Name.

The Path of the Overcomer the Path of Suffering

But to close, remember that the people who know suffering, testing, and cost are those who serve the Lord in this way most highly; it is they who know the cost. Oh, some of us when we were younger and beginning, read a lot of things and heard a lot of things said and we got a mentality which has been the ground of a good deal of our sorrow and suffering. And I wonder why it is that men have so misinformed. Is it because they do not know? I wonder if you have any corresponding experience with myself, as a younger man in reading what men have said, I formed this mentality: If you will be utter for God and a man full of the Holy Spirit, God is going to do tremendous things with you and through you, and God is going to be very utter with you! And all this in the sense that you are going to know that God is using you, blessing you and that you are going to have a wonderful career; if only you will be out and out for God, you will be a great man in God's hands, a wonderful instrument. A lot of that has been said and written and young Christians can get that idea.

The fact is that the more utter you are with God, the more utter your faith has got to be, and very often the more hidden are God's ways with you and the more perplexing are His dealings with you and the greater the measure of suffering you go through. I hope I do not take the heart out of anybody. I am not saying that there is not going to be any blessing, any joy in the Lord, any satisfaction, any glory. I am saying this: what stands to be seen by anybody who has eyes is this, that men like Paul and many others who have so mightily abandoned themselves to God for His fullest and have served the Lord as no others have served Him, have been the greatest sufferers. They have had to pay the greatest price and go by the most utter way and know the strangest perplexities and seeming contradictions. Perplexed, cast down, despairing of life, they overcame. And David - anointed for the throne, for so high and great a calling and destiny, anointed to save Israel and bring Israel to glory, anointed - chased, hunted like a flea, like a partridge, among the rocks and mountains, pursued for his life, till one day even he said, "I shall now perish one day by the hand of Saul" (1 Sam. 27:1). "I may as well give it up"; that is what it amounted to. He despaired of life - a man anointed! The path of the overcomer is a costly one, a suffering one, a perplexing one, but we have to take the long view and see the end.

A little phrase about Job is always very comforting - "seeing the end of the Lord" (James 5:11); the end. If we take any one phase or any part in itself, if we take suffering as the sum total, if we take this present experience of darkness as everything, we are done for. It is only as we take the long view and see the end of the Lord that we can overcome. Well, David was hunted, chased and pursued, many times in imminent peril, but he came to the throne and saved Israel.

Now, we are in "such a time as this" (that is the point) when the Lord needs a vessel and vessels of this kind, people who will so abandon themselves wholly to the Lord, who fairly and squarely face the cost and say, "If I perish, I perish! It is not a matter of whether I perish; the point is whether the Lord's people live. If my life goes for theirs, it is all right! So long as the enemy does not triumph; so long as His people are not swallowed up and engulfed; so long as Life can be ministered to them; so long as the power of His resurrection can be ministered through me; so long as they are delivered from death, it does not matter about me! If I perish, I perish!" That is an overcomer. It costs everything, but the Lord needs that. He has always reacted in that way.

Joseph was His overcomer. Joseph had to go a suffering way to the throne in order to minister Life. If Paul was an overcomer, then Paul had to go the suffering way to minister Life, and we are still getting Life because of Paul's suffering! How much do you owe to Paul in the Lord? I owe an enormous amount to Paul. Through Paul the river of Life has flowed down these many centuries and oh, how many have been helped through Paul! What a loss it would be if Paul were lifted out of the New Testament. And I think that that is really the heart and core of the very meaning of the phrase "the Body of Christ" in that connection; "joints of supply", "uniting bands" are referred to. What is the purpose of the body if it is not to be the vehicle and vessel of the transmission of Life? And that is what the Body is for - to be the sphere and vehicle of transmitting His Life. May the Lord give us grace!

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