The Faith of the Overcomer
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - Further Features of the Sevenfold Fruit of Faith

We have the Letter to the Galatians especially present in our minds, and the verse in that letter which summarizes the whole, namely, verse 20 of chapter 2, together with the last clause of verse 19. We have seen what a large place Abraham has in this letter, and therefore what a large place faith has. I think it would be right to say that, in writing this letter, the Apostle set out to deal with the matter of faith, and brought in Abraham as the great example. As we have already said, Paul joined hands across the ages with Abraham and stood with him on the same ground.

We proceeded to note seven things into which faith brought Abraham, and likewise Paul, and the same applies to us. We briefly referred to three of these. The first thing to which faith brought Abraham was oneness with Divine purpose, that purpose being a heavenly seed in union with God's Son. The second thing was oneness with Divine method, namely, separation from the earth and nature and union with heaven. The third thing was oneness with Divine means, which is the Spirit of Sonship through the Cross. Now we go on with the fourth.

(4) Oneness with the Divine Time

Galatians 4:4, touches upon this: "When the fullness of the time came, God sent forth his Son..." When the fullness of the time came! It is not difficult for us to see in the case of Abraham how his faith was brought into relation to God's time. The time factor with Abraham was a very real one, and was perhaps one of the keenest and most acute factors for his faith.

Now, that time factor in the case of Abraham affected many points in the significance of his life. Abraham received a very comprehensive representation of Divine truth and a very full revelation, and therefore by its significance his life affected many things, and again and again we come upon a test of Abraham's faith along the line of the timing of God. Indeed, from one standpoint, we may summarize the whole of his life and say that it headed up at last to the triumph of faith upon that particular factor. In the full Divine sense he never received the promises in his lifetime. At the end of his life he was still looking for the fulfilment of the promise, and if his faith had given way he would naturally have taken the attitude that, since the thing had not been fulfilled in so long a time and in his lifetime, it all represented perhaps a big mistake on his part, a false expectation, some misguidance, and so on. But right at the end, if the letter to the Hebrews is to be taken as revealing the actual position, he still believed. He believed, therefore, that God had His time for fulfilling His purpose, and that, although it might not come in his own lifetime, it nevertheless would come. But during his lifetime, within the compass of the whole range of Divine purpose, there were instances of testing on the time factor, and having been tested on that factor the promise was fulfilled.

It is the principle that we want to get hold of. We have it illustrated perhaps supremely in connection with the promise of Isaac. You remember how, in the fifteenth chapter of Genesis, the Lord came to Abram and gave the promise that in his seed there should be universal blessing, and how that the battle then commenced, and how Abram prepared a sacrifice, and himself, from his own side, entered into a covenant with God by faith. When he had made his side good, that is, the side of his faith, that he believed God, and ratified it with a covenant from his side by the sacrifice, then we are told, when all that was done, God made a covenant with Abram.

The incident seems to indicate a very thorough belief in the promise of God concerning the seed; that Abram took a position over it, and a position which was utter and which involved him in going all lengths by faith. It involved everything, and that is only understood and recognized when you see what God committed Himself to on that day; for God never made a covenant, only in relation to His own Son. It is important to remember that God's covenants bear upon His Son. They are bound up with the Lord Jesus. When God that day made a covenant with Abram in blood by the altar, God on that day committed Himself to all that He had, all that He could give, all that He could do. He committed Himself to the extent of His only and well beloved Son, and that unto death; for that altar and that sacrifice foreshadowed God's fullest and uttermost gift in covenant. From his side Abram entered into that. Whether he knew what was coming or not we may not know, but he must have known that, from his side, the covenant involved him in being as utter as God was committing Himself to be that day. That which followed some years afterward was the demand being made by God upon Abram to fulfill his part of the covenant. "Take now thy son, thine only son whom thou lovest..." Abram was really tested on that subsequent day concerning what had taken place on that particular day, and it is the one faith which receives the son and gives the son.

The Purpose of Delay

Now in chapter 15 you have the promise, and although it does not look like it, since the story is so quickly got over, it seems that it was at least fifteen years before the promise was fulfilled. It was fourteen or fifteen years at least, but how much more we cannot say as the Hebrew is very uncertain in this matter. You remember when the men came to Abram's tent and ratified the promise, their words in our translation are something like this: "at the time" or "about the time", or "in the season" (Gen. 18:14). The words are very indefinite. Some have translated it, "This time next year it shall be", but we cannot render it so with certainty. All we can say is that it was a definite ratification of the promise, that in God's appointed time it should be fulfilled. That ratification in the tent was some fourteen or fifteen years after the events of chapter 15 when the promise was given. Now, taking every other circumstance into consideration; promise, age, and so on, you can see that this was a real matter of faith, this time factor. The time is getting on. We are getting farther and farther away from any possibility of fulfilment. Abram was ninety and nine years old when this ratification of the promise was made. You see the time factor was a real test. Moreover it was a deliberate and definite movement of God. Why did not the Lord, knowing what He would do, wait until He was about to do it and just come and say, Abram, this shall be! and bring it about? But no! He came, announced it, and went away, and year after year passed by. Then He came again, ratified His promise, and upon that there was still more waiting. The Lord has strange ways. He deals with us like that. He must bring His instruments into oneness with Himself. There is a little phrase in the New Testament which runs like this: "When once the long suffering of God waited in the days of Noah". If that word means anything it means that delay, in a case like that of Abram's, is not a pleasant thing for Abram, not a thing that he would choose for himself. It would at least imply that if the Lord could have His way He would perfect His purpose at once. Long-suffering, forbearance, patience, endurance; these things on God's part are not the things that He would choose in carrying out His purposes, seeing all the suffering, and the distress and the pain that there is. But He suffered, and suffered long, and His instruments must come into oneness with Him, oneness with His heart.

The point is that it lifts this thing on to a certain level. It is not that the Lord is just dealing with you and with me like a schoolmaster, trying to get something in us. It may be the Lord wants moral qualities developed in us; patience, longsuffering, and so on; there is no doubt that is true, but it is not just that. The Lord is saying, I am not going to do this until you show signs of certain qualities. The Lord is lifting us right up on to the same level as Himself, bringing us into actual oneness with Himself, so that we have the same feeling towards others and toward the situation, toward the need, that He has. I believe that when the Lord can get a corporate cry in His Church which is His own cry, then His time has come. The Lord is not just waiting for a time. There is something bound up with that time, and He is seeking to produce in the heart of His instrument that which is in His own heart, so that it cries one cry with Him. The Church has to cry, and it has to cry God's cry, and that one cry is not yet in the Church. There are many voices, conflicting voices; and by the agony of delay, and the agony of the growing impossibility of the situation, and by the agony of the need for that which is of God as over against all this other, the Church will be brought to cry that cry. At midnight there shall be a cry! Now that is oneness with God in His time.

Yet it is true that God has His time. There is a fullness of the time in respect of every Divine movement, and we cannot take things out of God's time. Perhaps we have learned that. We cannot precipitate things, we cannot hurry God, we cannot bring things about for which the time is not ripe. This knowledge is with the Lord, and He would bring us in spirit into oneness with Him on that point, to be one with Him in His time, that when His time does come He has us ready to His hand as those through whom He can move. Whatever be the purpose that is bound up with His time, the Lord must have an instrument through which He may move to its accomplishment. And when the Lord's time comes how we know it in our hearts! I think we all know something about this. Oh, how we have cried, and groaned, and agonized, and striven, and done all that we could do to get God to do certain things; but His time had not come. We have been tested in faith, and we have come at length to the place where we definitely and strongly stand with God for that thing and hold on, and then God's time comes, and we know in our hearts that the time has come, and in a wonderful way it just happens. All that it has cost of prayer and anguish would perhaps lead us to expect that, when it happens, the world will know all about it; but it just happens, and you hardly recognise from the outward indications that the thing has come about. God's time came, and it was so easy; it just transpired. But we can never say - we are forbidden to say - that our holding on to the Lord, our prayer, our standing with Him, our getting through on that matter was unnecessary; that it would have happened in the appointment of God at His time, whether we agonized or not. You dare not take that position over anything in the way of God. Isaac may have been pre-determined before ever there was a world, and yet Abram's faith was the essential factor to the bringing in of Isaac. The whole Word of God bears down upon that, that God Himself demands the co-operating faith of His own people, even to bring through the works which were foreordained.

Now, we might spend a good deal of our time on that, in tracing it through the Word, but we shall not do so now. But I would suggest to you that the time factor in the Word of God is a very helpful thing to know.

(5) Oneness with the Divine Basis

We pass, then, for a minute to number five; faith bringing into oneness with the Divine basis of purpose, namely, resurrection. We are noticing how all this is implicit in the letter to the Galatians, and especially emphatic in the verse before us: "I have been crucified with Christ; yet I live, and yet no longer I, but Christ liveth in me: and that (life) which I now live in the flesh I live in faith, the faith which is in the Son of God..." You see, resurrection is implicit there, and so it is throughout this letter to the Galatians, and it is God's basis for realising His purpose; and if there must be the patience of faith; indeed, if there must be all these other things which we have mentioned as expressions of faith, it is just as essential and indispensable that there shall be resurrection as God's basis. Now broaden that out and you will see that God demands that basis, and all God's purpose and purposes are fulfilled upon the basis of resurrection. Now, there is a wide field, but it is summed up in the case of the Lord Jesus, because all the Scriptures are gathered into Him: He is the total of everything in the Word of God; it all meets in Him, and all the other types and symbols and foreshadowings are just gathered into Him. All the purpose of God for all the ages centres in Him, and not one wit of it can be fulfilled, only on the ground that He is raised from the dead. Leave Him there crucified, and the purpose of God is entirely lost. It is by the resurrection from the dead that everything is realised, and that is a law which governs. For the Lord's people this means that He must so work with them as to have resurrection as a definite and positive basis in them. Of course, there is no resurrection where there is no death, and therefore unto the resurrection the death must take place. But I prefer to regard the death as the negative side and the resurrection as the positive, and would prefer not to emphasise the Cross on the death side, only in view of that to which it leads and which it makes possible, the resurrection. God is always on the positive side. So the Lord would seek to find faith in us unto resurrection.

Now Abram, again, was tested with reference to faith on that matter. It was resurrection power, both in his case and in that of his wife, that in the very first place brought Isaac. You remember Sarah laughed. The Lord said to Abram, "Wherefore did Sarah laugh? ...Is anything too hard for the Lord?" Resurrection faith was required, because, as Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans, "he (Abram) considered his body now as good as dead..." In his faith he believed God for resurrection in the first instance. Again, when it came to the offering of Isaac, he believed God. We are told that he obeyed because he believed God could raise him from the dead. It was resurrection faith, providing God with what was necessary for the fulfilment of His purpose.

How we are tested on this very thing! The Lord allows things to go to very great lengths sometimes, both in our individual lives and corporately. He allows those phases when it all seems as though death has the victory. And we never seem really to get to the place where faith is never tried on that matter. However many may be our experiences, however often we may have come through and come up again in resurrection and in triumph, it does seem that we never get to the place where we cannot be tried. Every new assault of death, every new experience in which things seem to go right out, finds us very tried. That is all there is to it: we are very tried, and that means that we are in a position where it is quite possible, to say the least of it, for us to have questions about everything; questions about the Lord, questions about those things concerning which we have made the most tremendous declarations of assurance. No one who really knows will ever say, I will never doubt again! But I think there is some progress made. The Lord is securing a growing foothold in us. His work with us through the trial of faith is to bring us (though our response is all too slow) to the place where we trust Him as the God of resurrection, and where we shall be able to let go to what seems like death, with assurance and confidence that the end is not death but resurrection.

Again, this is the ground the Lord must have, faith in Him as the God of resurrection. When in any given matter it is a question of life and death, then you get to that uttermost word, Impossible! It is on that point that testing arises - Is nothing too hard? Is anything impossible? You notice that the word "impossible" is peculiarly linked with the question of resurrection. Faith finds its deepest testing over the question of resurrection, wherever death is. That means that where there is faith over the point of resurrection, there is the greatest victory, a greater victory in that realm than in any other realm. It is the final triumph - faith in the God of resurrection.

(6) Oneness with the Divine Passion

Faith brought Abraham into oneness with the Divine passion. We have said that already, but it may bear a word or two more. It is strange, and yet it is true, that the Lord calls for His people to be one with Him in the passion of His own heart. I think there is no instance in all the Word of God where language is more identical than in the case of Abram being called to offer Isaac and God giving His Son. "Take now thy son, thine only son, whom thou lovest..." (Gen. 22:2) - "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son..." (John 3:16). The son of his love! That brings Abram very near to God, and God very near to Abram. It is at that point that we have the greatest oneness between Abraham and the Lord. We said that Paul joins hands with Abraham on the same ground, and that great servant of God had many things to say which indicated that he was entering in a measure into the Divine passion. "I... fill up that which is lacking of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church" (Col. 1:24). "That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings..." (Phil. 3:10). That is oneness with the Lord in His passion. "Are ye able to drink of the cup that I drink? ...And they said unto him, We are able. And Jesus said unto them, The cup that I drink ye shall drink..." (Mark. 10:38-39). The Lord calls to that in relation to His purpose. The great eternal purpose of God requires that those who are bound up with that purpose, as instrumental for its realisation, shall by it touch - but very lightly - His cup, shall sip the cup of His passion, come to oneness with Him in that passion, of suffering, of sorrow, of heartbreak. The enemy so often touches the most holy, the most sacred things with his defiling hand, that when some child of God is just tasting a little of the fellowship of His sufferings, the enemy gives a twist to those sufferings and puts upon them the complexion of the Lord's anger, the Lord's displeasure, when really it is a touch of the most sacred oneness with the Lord, the deepest honour.

I am always very hesitant to say the slightest thing in the manner in which Paul could speak; as, for example, this word: "Most gladly, therefore, will I glory in my infirmity..." I glory in infirmity? Perhaps this craven, coward heart will not let go enough on that, but I do feel that there is a place to which we can get where we do regard suffering as a great privilege, a great honour; that is, that suffering which is going to mean something for the Lord, and for the Lord's purpose. Evidently Paul saw that with clear eyes. It is true that the Lord has gained very much, and the Lord's Body has gained very much through the fellowship of His sufferings on the part of many of His own children. I think we have often said that those who have not suffered have very little to give. Well, we will not make much of our sufferings, but we note the law: God must have those who are in oneness with His passion.

(7) Oneness with Divine Fullness

If you like to use the word enlargement instead of fullness you can. Faith tested, tried along many lines. "Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to tell them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be" (Gen. 15:5). "In thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed" (Gen. 22:18). That is enlargement, that is fullness, and faith brought Abram there.

The faith of the overcomer breaks down the limiting things of time, of this world, and leads right out into the full expanse of the range of Divine purpose from all eternity. The Church is called into that purpose, which, as we have said, is universal.

What is true of the Church as a whole is true in our individual lives. The way of enlargement is through the test of faith as to God's time, the test of faith as to God's passion, the test of faith as to God's basis, God's means. When the Lord gets His people proved in faith on these matters, then comes enlargement. We only get to fullness that way. It is in pressure we are enlarged, through suffering we come to fullness, through faith being tried on every point, in every direction, that the increase comes; and there is no increase in any other way.

So the promise has been fulfilled unto Abram. You notice what Paul says in this letter to the Colossians: "That the promise made to Abraham might be fulfilled in us..." What was this promise? It was the gift of the Spirit.

Now we can gather that all up in one familiar statement of the Lord in Luke 12:49: "I came to cast fire upon the earth; and what will I, if it is already kindled? But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" He was straitened, and was groaning in that straitness for the enlargement, for the release. How shall it come? "I have a baptism to be baptized with." What is the baptism? The Passion, the Cross. What will be the result? The scattering of fire in the earth; that is, the Spirit. Pentecost was the result of the Passion. That was the enlargement from straitening, and it was through the Cross. We have to come that way to oneness with God in His fullness. But let us remember that fullness is His end for us. It is as much a part of God's purpose to enlarge as it is a part of God's way to test faith. Oh yes, we sometimes feel that it is all testing, it is all trial, God has nothing else for us. No! He is as definitely set upon enlargement as He is upon any phase of our experience, and enlargement is through the Cross. He is seeking to bring us through the trial of faith into that which fully answers to His ultimate end, and that will be when His Son fills all things. We are called unto that fullness.

May the Lord use these words to encourage us in the way, strengthen us, and keep before us always the fact that faith is the victory.


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