The Testimony and Its Vessel unto the Time of the End
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - The Abiding Message of the Book of Daniel

In this introductory word it will be necessary for us to take a broad view of what is before us and to be occupied mainly in a general outline. The more specific spiritual application will remain for subsequent consideration and you will understand that the peculiar nature of this present time is just in preparation for what may follow.

We shall have to take what this book ('Daniel') brings into view along a two-fold line, in the main. Firstly the historical and prophetical; and then secondly, the typical and spiritual. But I would like here immediately to say that it is not in one's thought or intention to deal with the book of Daniel in any way exhaustively along prophetical lines, that is, it is not just prophecy as contained in this book which will occupy us, although that will be latent and sometimes patent all the way through.

We are aware that prophecy by itself need not be spiritually helpful or enriching or building up. It may be very interesting, very fascinating, very educational, but it does not always have a spiritual effect, and I do not think the Lord ever intended His people just to study prophecy as a subject, but to recognise that everything in His thought is intended to reach down into the life and to make very radical changes there, and in order for prophecy to do that, you have to do a great deal more than study dates, times, seasons and signs. There has to be a spiritual interpretation and application, and it is that which we have especially in mind here. But for the present moment we just take some more or less broad view of what is here brought before us.

2,500 Years of this World's History

We know that the Book of Daniel covers and outlines that part of this world's history which was designated by the Lord Jesus Himself as "the times of the Gentiles." You will remember that He said (it is recorded in Luke 21:24): "Jerusalem shall be trodden down of the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles be fulfilled," and this Book of Daniel covers, and outlines, that period; roughly a period of some 2,500 years. It commenced when the kingdoms of Israel and Judah were entirely overthrown and Gentile powers took possession of their land; in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim, Nebuchadnezzar introduced the times of the Gentiles, the Gentile world-powers; and never since that time has there been a king of Israel or Judah. Now the outline of this period is given to us largely in the second, seventh, eighth and ninth chapters of this book.

In the second chapter we have the image of Nebuchadnezzar's dream, and the seventh and the eighth chapters are enlargements of the second, that is, a fuller account of what is contained in the image of that dream. I am not going to attempt to deal with all the details of that, but just to remind you of that image and what it pointed to.

As you will remember, the image had a head of gold, and interpreting the dream to Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel said: "Thou art this head of gold," which of course was Nebuchadnezzar and his empire, the Babylonian empire. And then the image had its chest and arms of silver; you will notice that that is inferior to gold and portrayed an inferior kingdom which would follow that of the Babylonian. It pointed on to the Medo-Persian empire. Then the trunk and thighs were of brass, a still more inferior empire following that, which was fulfilled in the great Macedonian empire. Then the legs of iron and the feet part of iron and part of clay, pointed on to a still more inferior empire, namely, the Roman, the two legs representing the eastern section and the western section of the Roman empire. The feet, the iron speaking of the monarchical aspect of that empire, that government, and the clay speaking of the democratic aspect. Over the territory covered by that fourth empire today there are monarchies and republics, a literal fulfilment in our own day and for many years past of that which was foreshadowed 500 years B.C.

Then another thing is said concerning that fourth empire, that in the midst of those kings the God of heaven would set up a kingdom which should never be destroyed, and which would never be in the hands of another people; a stone cut without hands should break those kingdoms in pieces. We have seen a very large fulfilment of that; the God of heaven has set up His kingdom in the midst of the kingdoms of that fourth world-empire, the Roman empire. Against that kingdom of the God of the heavens no world power has yet been able to prevail, although they have wielded the full weight of their might against the saints of the Most High: butchered and massacred them and determined with a diabolical determination to wipe them out; it is those kingdoms that have gone to pieces, the stone cut without hands has broken them and the kingdoms which have set themselves against the Lord and His Christ are fast becoming stories in history books of glories of past days, and the kingdom of the God of heaven goes on never to be destroyed, and never to be entrusted to the hands of any mere world-power, it is in the hands of the saints of the Most High. There will yet be a greater fulfilment of this; a literal one, and not only a spiritual one.

Well, that is the second chapter in brief, so far as Daniel's image is concerned, and then as we said, chapters 7 and 8 are an enlargement of that. In chapter 7 you have the four beasts coming up out of the sea. The sea, as we here know, represents the unorganised mass of mankind. Coming up out of the sea are these four beasts. The first was like a lion and that again represents Babylon. You remember Jeremiah, in prophesying the overthrow of Israel and Judah, and the coming captivity, spoke in typical language about the one who would come up and carry them away and destroy them. He said: "The lion is come up," and here is the lion coming up out of the sea, Nebuchadnezzar and his Babylonian empire.

The second was the bear, and that again points to the Medo-Persian empire. On its side, (you notice the detail) meaning that Persia was its strong element. It had three ribs in its mouth, speaking of three great provinces of that empire, Syria, Lydia and Asia Minor.

The third beast, the leopard, speaking of the Greco-Macedonian empire. This leopard had four wings typical of its rapid advance, fulfilled so clearly in the conquests of Alexander the Great, sweeping advances in all directions. It had four heads which pointed to the parting of the empire into its four territories of Syria, Egypt, Macedonia and Asia Minor.

Then the fourth beast, the great nondescript beast, pointing to the Roman empire. Ten horns, speaking of ten provinces, and then one small horn destroying the three; the eyes of a man, a mouth speaking great swelling things. Much of this yet awaits fulfilment.

Now we, of course, could go on with that historic, prophetical side, but a hurried look at Chapter 8 will complete all that we intend in this connection for the time being. In Chapter 8 you have the Medo-Persian empire, firstly as a ram with two horns, indicating the Medes and the Persians, the Persians the last and the stronger side, conquered in three directions, and those three directions are the three ribs of Chapter 7.

Secondly, the Greco-Macedonian empire is a he-goat; swift, that is, as the leopard kingdom of Chapter 7, with one horn, that is Alexander the Great. It is most important to realise this was all written some hundred years before Alexander the Great was born, and you see these conquests of that monarch as he leaped across the Hellespont and fought successful battles, and then moved on up the banks of the Indus and Nile and then to Shushan, the battle of the Granicus, and then the battle of Issus, and then his great battle of Arbella. He stamped the Persian to the ground and soon Syria, Phoenicia, Cyprus, Tyre, Gaza, Egypt and Babylon were all conquered. After this he conquered Bactria and defeated the Scythians. Thus he stamped upon the ram.

"But when the he-goat had waxed very great, the great horn was broken." The early death of Alexander was thus predicted. He died a drunkard at the age of thirty-two years.

Now you may be wondering what all that has to do with us at this present time, but as we said at the outset, there is a spiritual side to this. There is, of course, its value of seeing the Word of God fulfilled so minutely, and the Spirit of God being vindicated along all these detailed lines, but there is a very great deal more than that in it and we want to come to the main spiritual features of this particular age as indicated by this Book of Daniel, and we can gather those up briefly.

The Spiritual Features of this History

Firstly, we are impressed by this book with the fact that the government of the world on the human side is seen to be for this long period in the hands of Gentile rulers. That carries with it a very great deal more than is apparent on the surface, and we shall see something of what that includes as we go along.

Then in the second place, in a special and distinctive way the kingdom of God of the heavens is seen to be operating. Now put those two things together and you have something of tremendous significance. On the one hand, the fact that, for some 2,500 years of this world's history, on the human side, its government is in the hands of Gentile rulers, and on the other hand, the fact that with the introduction of that regime there is so much said about the rule, the government of the God of the heavens. I do not know whether you have been impressed with that phrase, and similar phrases, in the Book of Daniel. If you care to make a note and look it up I will just give you some of the places in which that phrase and like phrases are used. Five times in Chapter 2: 2:18,19,28,37,44. Five times in Chapter 4: 4:13,26,31,35,37; then in 5:23; 6:27; 7:13,27.

Now that has a two-fold force. It has that general force which we have mentioned, that while Gentile powers, on the human side, have the government of this world in their hands, the heavens do rule. There is a specific emphasis laid upon the government of the heavens, and the God of the heavens. We shall come back to that later on, but there is another thing which goes along with that, which carries its own significance. Daniel was a Jew, probably of the seed royal, and if not of the seed royal, one of dignity in the Hebrew race. If you read in Chapter 1 you will see that those that Nebuchadnezzar required to come in to his court were to be taken from the seed royal or those outstanding in dignity, and Daniel and his friends were chosen on that ground. Now Daniel evidently held an important place in the Hebrew race and the Book makes it quite clear that Daniel had a special concern for Jerusalem, and the Lord's interest in Jerusalem, and the Lord's people the Jews. His windows were up toward Jerusalem three times a day, and he carried his own people as a great burden upon his heart, and yet withal he never speaks of the Lord as the God of the Jews, or of Israel, but always, the God of the heavens. That is a Gentile age feature, and it brings in God's specific purpose in the age, which is not the Jews as such, though included in the purpose. It brings in a heavenly calling, not an earthly one. "Partakers of a heavenly calling." It brings the heavens in with something which specifically relates to the heavens as differing from the Jewish kingdom on the earth, and shows that in this age the heavens are interested in that; that is the thing in which the heavens are concerned, this heavenly object. The God of the heavens is always seen here; it is the heavens ruling, and we shall see in what connection more specifically as we go on.

A Person, A Testimony, An Instrument

This rule of the heavens, therefore, is related to a Person, a Testimony and an Instrument. That person is the One here called "The Son of Man." Everything is pointing towards that Person, and the issue of this book is found in that Person, everything here is moving on toward the day when that Person shall be the one pre-eminent Person. The heavens are ruling and over-ruling the world-kingdoms towards that end, toward a Person, a Testimony: that is, the Testimony of Jesus. That is the spirit of prophecy, we are told: "The testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy." The heavens are ruling and over-ruling in relation to the testimony of Jesus. And then in relation to an instrument, that instrument is the Church, and it came in with the Gentile period. That Church is represented typically and spiritually by Daniel and his three friends. It is typified by the remnant which was the issue of the testimony of these four. Now I hope you may be able to grasp that. It will leave a general impression upon you if you cannot grasp the details.

Thus, then, there are three things clearly in view in the main. One, the set course of the age, by Divine planning, heading up to Christ. That is very clear in the book of Daniel. The set course of the age - all these Gentile powers with all that was bad and wrong in them, nevertheless by Divine appointment (not bad by Divine appointment, but the power, the rule by Divine appointment) it is in the Divine plan, and in spite of the Divine planning being taken hold of by evil men and all the wrong that they introduce, God is carrying on toward His purpose and causing these things to head up to His Son: that is the rule of the heavens. It ought to come to us with fresh emphasis - (I know very well how I am covering very old ground for many of you, for myself this is very old ground indeed, but there are perhaps younger servants of the Lord who have not been taken through the prophetical school very thoroughly, and for whom, perhaps, the barest outline of things may be helpful to a closer study) - that these world empires, these Gentile empires with all the wrong and the evil and the wickedness and the antagonism to God, are nevertheless in the hands and in the plan of God, and that God has got them not only in His plan but in His authority. They may work against Him but He is compelling their very working against Him to work for Him, and it is all heading up to Christ, the Person.

Secondly, an instrument in the earth is in view which is inseparably bound up with the purpose of the age. Again, that should carry much more weight with us than it does, and if we are going on with the Lord we are going to come to that fact spiritually, perhaps along very violent lines. You and I will, if we come right into God's specific object for the age, come right in it spiritually and vitally. We are going to discover that we are people who count for something. That is not said on the natural level, that is said in that realm where we are going to discover that heaven and hell are involved in this matter of securing this instrument, and heaven will be moved to its centre and hell will be moved to its depths because of that object, that installment, that Church, or that remnant. It is inseparably bound up with the age purpose and all the kingdoms of the earth are related to it. It touches all the nations in a spiritual way, so that two mighty spiritual hierarchies are drawn in, so to speak, as to the issue, the issue of the government of those nations, and that is being determined in and by the Church. Have you ever recognised that? That the Church is the instrument for the determining of the government of the nations, because it is the instrument of the testimony of Jesus, that He is Lord; and that is the challenge. The Church stands on the side of heaven, and heaven stands on the side of the Church, the Body of Christ, and heaven and the Church confront hell and all its forces with a challenge of government for the nations in all the ages to come. And so as that instrument is inseparably bound up with the purpose of the age, this third thing comes in, that heaven and hell are actively in operation concerning that instrument. That is of immense significance. You may be a professing Christian engaged in much of the organised work of Christianity, but if you come by the Holy Ghost into God's immediate age purpose spiritually, livingly, and range yourself with Christ as Lord, to be a witness unto Him and His Lordship in this earth, you range yourself against hell and hell at once takes account of you and you become an object of significance and importance.

Now all that comes into view in the Book of Daniel because that is represented and typified by Daniel and his fellows, and the remnant which issued from their testimony.

SIMILARITY BETWEEN ENDS AND BEGINNINGS

1. The Word of God Despised

The next thing is that conditions at the beginning are particularly true of the end. Look at the beginning of this period, this age-period of the Gentile world powers as we have it in the Book of Daniel and in the other prophecies which circle around the beginning. You have Jehoiakim and his apostasy. We will have more to say about it, but remember that all that took place here in the Book of Daniel took place in the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim. Who was he? He was a son of Josiah. That makes things exceedingly serious, for Josiah was one of those good kings of the latter days of Israel, through whom a very blessed revival took place in Israel; who recovered things for God, who was true to God in a day of terrible declension and idolatry, and one of the most glorious fragments of those latter years of Israel's history was that under Josiah. And Jehoiakim was a son of Josiah; and Jehoiakim son of Josiah cut the Word of God to pieces and burnt it. He despised the Word of God. He knew that upon which God had set His blessing, His approval, he knew of days of Divine blessing and the ground upon which that blessing was given, he knew that of which God approved, history was before him in close relationships, he had a godly heritage, but he apostatised, he despised the Word of God. He let go his godly heritage. That was the beginning. He did more than that. He had a brother and he had seen his brother captivated, the King of Egypt deposed his brother and put him in his place and changed his name. He had seen the downfall of his brother because God was against the way that he was taking, and that ought to have been a warning to him. He had seen the blessing of God upon his father and the judgment of God upon his brother. That is how it was at the beginning, and I have said that the conditions at the beginning are repeated very closely at the end of a dispensation. The Word of God is despised today. There is a godly heritage, there is a history; it is clear to all who want to see where the Lord's blessing rests and upon what it rests. We have not to look back upon our history very far to see where the Lord comes in in blessing - faithfulness to the Word of God; - and yet today that which officially represents Christendom as Jehoiakim officially represented Israel, in the main, despises the Word of God, sets it aside, ignores its history, takes no account of its godly heritage, and things are in a state of declension, largely apostasy, today. Yes, as it was then so it is now.

2. Mixture

A further feature was mixture in the things of God. Why, these prophecies pointing on to the captivity of Israel are just full of that, it is mountainous. You open Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and the whole plaintive cry is about an awful mixture in the things of God. Take a chapter like Isaiah 66: "Thus saith the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: where is the house that ye build unto me? and where is the place of my rest? For all those things hath mine hand made, and all those things have been saith the Lord: but to this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit, and trembleth at my word." But this is how things are: "He that killeth an ox is as if he slew a man, he that sacrificeth a lamb, as if he cut off a dog's neck: he that offereth an oblation, as if he offered swine's blood; he that burneth incense, as if he blessed an idol. Yea, they have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations." What mixture! No discrimination, no spiritual discernment, perception, sensitiveness about holy things, but mixed up, confused. Are we not truly able to say that in our day at the end of the age there is a terrible mixture in the things of God? Yes, indeed, in the things of God all sorts of things contrary to God have been brought in. Sometimes it is literally appalling.

As you know, I travel through the country a good bit by road, and in the course of these many journeys we pass the doors of numerous places of worship - great blazing notices of whist-drives, concerts, concert parties by the most outrageously worldly names and titles. These are the programmes of these "places of worship" (?) and as you take account of Christendom, you shudder sometimes and wonder where the testimony of the Lord is. Awful mixture; so that even honest and sincere people very often do not know their right hand from their left in spiritual matters; what is of God and what is not, and you find very often genuinely sincere Christian people find it possible to do things and go to places and engage in this and that without any conscience whatever as to what the Lord approves of; things are so mixed, the whole background of their life has become so confused that they have entered into an inheritance of mixture and they do not know: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge." Mixture at the end as at the beginning, and much idolatry.

God Requires Ultimate Conformity to Original Light

One very brief word in this general outline again. Light is given at the beginning and light is recovered at the end, but with this extra emphasis, that light given at the beginning and recovered at the end is with the special object of that light being conformed to. I want you to get that, because these are abiding features of ages. The beginning of an age is marked by light always. The end of an age is always marked by that same light being brought into view, but an added emphasis of demand for conformity to the original light. Do you get that? In the Book of Daniel, isn't it marvellous, does it not strike you with great force, that the bringing in of Gentile world powers in a man like Nebuchadnezzar should be so marked by light. Nebuchadnezzar, what was he in himself? Not much as a man, and yet to that man the God of heaven gave the most remarkable and wonderful fullness of unveiling of world-history, successive dominions of this world. Nebuchadnezzar searched out all his wise men, and his magicians to give him light, to help him in an hour when he was defeated, baffled, and not one of them could give a ray of light upon his perplexity, and he ordered them all to be destroyed. Daniel heard of it and said: "Why is the decree so hasty from the king?" Then Daniel went in to the king and desired that he would give him time and he would show the king the interpretation. "There is a God in heaven that revealeth secrets." Every confidence in the Lord.

And a season was appointed, the order of execution was stayed for a period, and Daniel called a prayer meeting, they went to the Lord. In a night vision the thing was revealed to Daniel and then Daniel praised the God of heaven and went in unto the king. By direct revelation 2,500 years of history were given to a Babylonian king when none of all the wise men of the earth could give him a ray of light. The God of heaven came in. Is not that impressive? Yes, light at the beginning. Light is always a feature of the beginning of a dispensation, but as that dispensation closes that light is brought into view anew with God's double emphasis for conformity to the original light. That carries us a long way. If we are in the end, God is going to recover, and is seeking to recover for His saints the original light for His Church, but He is going to demand that the saints conform to that light, and if at an end time we come into touch with the true light, God is going to take great pains to see that we do not just handle this thing as so much truth and teaching, but He will deal with us in such a way as to bring us into living fellowship with the light.

This is just where we should finish, is it not? Light was given at the beginning: much light came in fully through the Apostle Paul. Most of it has been lost, or it has been lost in the main for the people of God through the ages, but God has been slowly recovering it, bringing it back bit by bit. And does it not strike you as significant that the Lord has so mightily recovered the testimony to the truth of the Coming Again of the Lord Jesus, and then brought in on top of that, and is bringing in on top of that, His emphasis about the Church the Body of Christ? Those two things go together. The remnant is related to the Advent.

Well, now, we just close here for the present on this. The Lord is out to perfect that instrument of and in the testimony as to the Coming Sovereign One, and to bring that instrument, as He brought the instrument in the book of Daniel, into a living and experimental relationship to Himself for the age-purpose. How practical things were with Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego - very practical. The Lord wrought the testimony in them and through them by deep, deep experiences. That is a foreshadowing, making the testimony a matter of life and death. And that is where we are. God is seeking to bring about a conformity to the light at the end.

May the Lord give you hearts that are able to hold all that is in His thought important for this time. This has only been surveying a very broad outlook in order that we may have something to work to after.


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