From the Wilderness to the Land
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - The Purpose of the Wilderness

Reading: Deut. 1:2-3, 8:2.

In our previous meditation, we were almost entirely on the negative side of this matter, namely, the distance which is the difference between ourselves and Christ. Forty years were taken when eleven days alone were necessary from the divine standpoint, because of the great expanse which lies between what we are, even as the Lord’s people, in ourselves, and what the Lord is. This expanse of wilderness was bounded, as we know, at both ends by death; by the Red Sea and by the Jordan respectively. It was a space locked up in death, and, from one standpoint, it is that place in the life of the Lord’s people where death has to be applied and made to operate.

Now we rather desire to strike a more positive note and aspect of the matter. It is true that one of the great lessons in the life of the Lord’s people is that of the other-ness, the complete other-ness of Christ from what they are; a lesson to be learned in every respect, and along the line of undoing so largely, our undoing. But what is the Lord after? What is the positive outcome of it all in the Lord’s mind and will? What issued from the forty years, or what issued from this company of the Lord’s people? At the end of the forty years of this wilderness journey, what have we really in hand, so far as this particular company and journey were concerned? We have only two men in hand at the end, Joshua and Caleb. We know that another generation went in, but that is another thing. So far as this particular generation is concerned, all that we have at the end is two men; but what two men! Those two men, one of them perhaps in particular, represented and embodied all that there was to be. The future hung upon them. The Lord’s interests for His people were bound up with them. And they were the fruit of this school of the wilderness.

The Lord’s Need of Men and Women of Stature

But let us come to it immediately, without any further delay or going round. What is the Lord after? This came to me with very real force recently in a time of indisposition, and when it seemed that everything on the outside was being narrowed down and the prospects for anything very much of the Lord seemed to be so limited. I was driven very much on the Lord about the whole situation, to inquire very earnestly what it all meant and what it was the Lord was really after, and I can say to you that it came to me, in the way that things do just now and again in a lifetime, as the Lord’s own message to the heart; and it amounted to this: “What I am after at this time is men and women of spiritual stature, I am going to need them”. That is how it came to me with great strength. When it so happens, it is as though something has been written inside, and you know when you get something like that from the Lord it is life, it is salvation, it is release. And so it was; there was a new sense of meaning, real meaning, in things. Men and women of spiritual stature — I am going to need them!

The whole of this work in the wilderness for forty years was found in two men. You may say, that is a poor issue. Not when you recognize the value of those men and how many there were afterwards who owed everything to the spiritual stature of those men.

You pass on in the Word and you find that fact coming up again and again. You go to 1 Chron. 21, and you know what you have there. David is in the wilderness. All that in a public way is of the Lord is in the hands of a man who had been chosen — representation. Saul holds the public position, but he is man-chosen, and he embodies everything that is man, man in the things of God. But God’s anointed one is there outside for the time being, and he is in the wilderness. In that chapter you have three secessions to David. There is the secession to Ziklag, the secession to the stronghold or cave, and the secession to Hebron; and if you look you will find that those who seceded to David in each and every case are described as men who were able to wield the sword and the spear, men who were able to keep rank and to lead. They of that sort came finally to David at Hebron to turn again the kingdom and make David king over all Israel, and these are they who were needed when the kingdom was turned. When David came to the throne, he needed men of stature for the constituting of the kingdom, for its carrying on. The men of stature had been found in the wilderness. They had come to him, not when all was going well, when there was any appeal to the flesh, when coming to him would have meant popularity, influence in the world. No, everything was to the contrary. They had to leave that realm and come out to the place where everything was in disrepute, in rejection, under ostracism; to be the enemy of what was public religion, the established and acknowledged and recognized thing; to come out and be tested there with David in the wilderness, men of stature whom he was going to need in a coming day.

We need not follow the principle through. You know that it comes up so frequently. The Lord finds a little company, speaking generally, amongst His people and brings them into the difficult school of a spiritual wilderness, to increase their spiritual measure in the light of a need which is coming. We, I think, are not mistaken and wrong in saying that the Lord is not giving a great deal of encouragement in these days to great public movements and efforts and activities in Christianity. That is not His line at the moment. Many who are honestly burdened with the need are straining after something like that, a great movement amongst Christians and in the world, but the Lord has not yet set His seal to anything like that in any very real way. He is not doing it just now.

But I think we are just as right in saying that the Lord is very intensely occupied in an inner, hidden, secret way with many of His children along the line of deep discipline and trial. I do not think there is any doubt about that. This is a time in which the work of God is very much hidden, and is of a very intense kind, with a company within the main company of Christian people. Not all Christian people are going the same way, but there are those who are. To secure men and women of spiritual stature in the light of a need which is coming — that seems to me to be the explanation.

We do not know what that need is. It is useless to try to forecast, to shape, the future. All sorts of things are possible and probable. It is not difficult to imagine — though I think it goes beyond imagination, mere imagination — that the horrors of peace will be greater than the horrors of war. You may say, that is strong speaking. I have used a strong word — horror — but I do not think it is too strong, I do not think it is the wrong word. Perhaps the difficulties and sufferings and trials of peace will be very much greater than those of war. We do not know. I say it is useless to try to forecast the future, but there are such prospects, and if that is so, a very great need is going to exist spiritually. Things are not going to be easy for a long time; they are going to be difficult, hard, tight, perhaps severe. A need is going to arise, and that need is only going to be met by people who know the Lord in a peculiar way, who have proved and come to know the Lord in a wilderness, a spiritual wilderness.

The Measure for which the Lord Looks

What is this stature of which we have spoken? Well, if you investigate the life of Israel in the forty years, you can see something of the meaning of it. Take it, for instance, from the standpoint of reactions, reactions to the situations into which the Lord brought them. The Lord said, I led thee these forty years in the wilderness to prove thee, to try thee, to know what was in thine heart. Really the words there mean more than that; to make thee know what was in thine heart, to bring it to light. It is not as though the Lord did not know their hearts. He knew before the trial was applied, but He put them into a situation to bring it out, to make it manifest. “It was in thine heart”! That could be stated thus, To manifest natural reactions to situations.

Today the situation is one of lack of bread, or tomorrow lack of water, at another time a different situation; and so difficulties, trials, arise along the way of different kinds. What is the reaction? There is nothing wrong with a reaction that is perplexed. There is nothing wrong with a reaction that feels the stress of things. There is nothing wrong with a reaction that says, I do not know what the Lord means by this, I do not know what the Lord is doing with me; I am bewildered! There is nothing wrong with such a reaction at all. But what actually took place was that they were embittered against the Lord. The New Testament way of putting it is, that they hardened their hearts in the day of trial (Heb. 3:8). They were embittered, they allowed themselves to be soured by trial, they turned in their hearts against the Lord. They lost their concern for the things of the Lord. The way was hard, very hard, but the effect which they allowed the difficulties to have upon them was just that — Oh well, if the Lord does not please me, I have no interest in His affairs; if the Lord does not do what I want Him to do, well, I am just going to let go! That is a state that is nature, a state of the human heart. It is a wrong interpretation of the Lord’s way, the Lord’s dealings and experiences. That sort of thing can drag on until the heart becomes stony and the life is lost entirely as a positive thing to the Lord.

The spirit of grace produces another kind of reaction. It does not take the sting out of trial, it does not prevent the trial being a trial and fire being fire, it does not make us insensitive to difficulty, but the spirit of grace, the spirit of faith, says, Well, it is hard, it is difficult, the Lord is not doing what I expected, what I would like; He is doing just the opposite, and in every way He is emptying me and breaking me, and withholding what I in my heart would like; but He knows what He is doing. “He knoweth the way that I take; when he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” He knoweth! And, beloved, that is stature, that is measure, that is growth, that answers to Joshua and Caleb whose hearts did not turn back, but who wholly followed the Lord.

Oh, I know this must not be a hard word, and it is not said harshly at all. There is not one of us who has not suffered in this way. We have all got confessions to make about our reactions to the Lord’s dealings. Maybe there are some here who have lost the flame, the warmth, who have lost zeal, who are letting go, who are not concerned about the Lord’s interests so much as they were, because the Lord has not taken them up along the line of their own desires and expectations and ambitions, but has frustrated all that again and again. If you are there, I want you with me to try to recognize the seriousness of the crisis of that position. My dear friend, whoever you may be, if you are in that particular state or peril just now, a coming need is the strength of appeal for you to stand up and seek to trust the Lord in your dark day in a new way when you cannot understand, to have confidence in Him in this time when you feel that, so far as His ways with you are concerned, they are calculated to undermine all confidence. The Lord has a need which is going to arise, and He is going to need men and women of measure, of stature, and He has been trying to make you such in the light of that coming need.

I do believe that the ordinary Christian resource and Christian life and Christian measure of today is not going to meet the need of a near tomorrow. It is already failing. Leaders, if they only would be honest and confess it — and some have already done so — would say: We are failing, our methods have not succeeded, we are not meeting the situation; the need is beyond us, we have not got what is required! That is more or less recognized by responsible people today, and there are many who are deeply aware of that need, but they do not know what to do, where to turn, which way to look: so they just have to stay where they are. If only they knew where to find what they sense to be necessary, they would be there. Is God going to take no account of that? Is He not true to His word, “Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled”? Is He not going to satisfy the hungry soul? Is there going to be real need, and the Lord be indifferent to it?

But the Lord’s way is not to meet it direct from heaven. He needs you, He needs me, but we have to have it to give. We are “stewards of the manifold grace of God.” And what is a steward? A steward is one who knows what His Lord has, has an entrée to it, a right to it, and knows what to bring forth for the specific case: a steward, one of understanding and resource. The Lord is needing stewards, He is wanting to make stewards, and that is what He is trying to do with many today. He has cut off a great deal that was good. There was nothing wrong with it in itself, but as the good was the enemy of the best, it had to be cut off. We had to be separated unto something. We are not going to judge anybody who may still be in things we have felt we must leave behind; we thank God for every measure there is of Himself however limited. But the Lord in His sovereignty does so work as to deal with a people in the light of a greater need, and that is His message to us today. I have less doubt about the truth of that than about anything else. If I am speaking in the name of the Lord at all, that is His word to you. A need is growing, it exists, and it is coming into manifestation, and for this a stewardship will be necessary, men and women of stature, Joshuas and Calebs, and such as those who came out to David, such as have wholly followed the Lord.

Trial is Meant to Yield Measure

Well, what is our reaction to the Lord’s dealings with us? Are we less concerned than we once were? If we become petulant, peevish, displeased with the Lord, anything like that, that proves beyond any doubt that we have interests of our own: nature was in this thing, it was not all the Lord. And so it has had to be exposed, we have had to know what was in our hearts.

But there are two ways, you see, even of coming to the place where it does not matter to us what happens to us. Under trial we can come to the place where at length we break away, saying, The Lord does not care, does not hear; oh well, it does not matter; if the Lord is not concerned about it, I’ll just let it go! We can drop out like that, petulant, disappointed, soured by trial and adversity: it does not matter, we have lost interest. That is one position; and you will acknowledge that is not right, there is something wrong with that.

But there is the other position. It does not matter what happens to me, it does not matter what happens to my interests, it does not matter at all whether I myself am used or not in this thing that the Lord wants to do: all that matters is that the Lord gets what He is after, and gets it in His way. So far as I am concerned, what happens to me is quite a secondary matter! That is stature, that is measure, that is Christ. “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life” (Mark 10:45). It does not matter what happens to me, so long as the Lord gets what He is after. Does it matter to you? How does it matter? Why does it matter? The answer to that determines our spiritual measure, and it determines whether the Lord is going to be able to meet His need by means of us when that need is manifested. I do not believe the Lord will ever have spiritual measure in a life without using it, without finding a way for it. But oh, so many of us have come to the place where our one cry is, Lord, do not draw upon me beyond my measure, do not put me into a position for which I am not fitted, do not involve me in responsibility for which I am not qualified!

And what is qualification, what is fitness? It is simply Christ.

The Measure of Christ

Well now, we come back to this wilderness, and you see everything was on that basis; nothing whatever was of man in that wilderness from God’s side, nothing at all. Everything was forbidding from one standpoint. Take that tabernacle, the outer court with its curtain stretched right round, and so high; there is no getting through, and no looking over. It all says, Keep out! Everything says, If you come inside here, you die! Keep out! There is but one way in, and that is through sacrifice; and that is your death representatively. You come in here, and your life is taken. It is all so forbidding, from one standpoint.

And yet from the other standpoint, there is the representing of the people in the presence of God. But how could it be? Well, from the first word to the last, it is all Christ. The whole of that structure of the tabernacle came from heaven. Not one idea was allowed to come from man’s mind. It was not left with man to produce one thought as to the manner of that tabernacle, or how it should be built; from start to finish, it came from heaven. That is the other-ness of Christ. The ideas are God’s, not ours. Though we may be the Lord’s people, it is still not a case of our ideas, but God’s. Not a single thought from us is allowed. The fellowship, the access, the communion — oh, you cannot come in there save on the ground of Christ. It is by sacrifice. That sacrifice is Christ. It is by priesthood. That priesthood is Christ. The very garments all speak of Christ. It is Christ, only Christ, and you cannot come in except as Christ, so to speak. You are only accepted in the Beloved. You are never accepted in yourself, not even as the Lord’s child.

And what of service? “Let my people go that they may serve me”, the Lord had said to Pharaoh (Ex. 9:1). But what is the service in the wilderness? It is priestly service. The Levites represent the service of the Lord’s people. Priests and Levites — what are they? Why, their very adornment, their very clothes, are all types speaking of Christ. Everything about these priests and Levites is symbolical, representative of Christ. So that service is Christ, and you and I are shut out, even as the Lord’s people, shut out in our own natures. Everything is God’s thought here. All access in God’s thought is Christ. All service is Christ, and only as you and I learn Christ, put on Christ, walk in Christ, and live Christ, have we any place, and the measure in which that is so determines the measure of our value to the Lord, our usefulness to Him.

And for this present moment the increase of Christ in us is by that ruling out, putting aside, thrusting back of our own encroachments and impingements, even in the things of God, the pushing back by the Lord saying, I do not want you! That is how it seems. That is how we feel rebuffed so often. But there is another interpretation. WE are wanting to get in. The Lord says, No, there is no place here for you, keep out; this place is reserved for My Son; your appreciation of Him is the measure in which you come in here; your abiding in Him is the measure of your standing here; your being hidden in Him, covered by Him, is the measure of your acceptance!

And for the coming need the Lord is intensifying the process, taking us deeply and soundly into this in our experience. Presently, perhaps, we shall thank the Lord for it all. We have been able to meet a need which was too deep for anything ordinary to meet. If we had not been that deep way, we could not have met that deep need. If we had not known those bitter fires, we could not have served that divine purpose. Whatever else the Lord is doing — and I am not saying this is the only thing He is doing — whatever else He is doing, He is doing this, and whether it be for this life here or for His Kingdom afterwards, there is no doubt or question about the truth of this principle. For the kingdom now in this life spiritually, and for that kingdom which follows the Lord must have at hand men and women of stature. May we find the grace to follow Him wholly.


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