Recovery in a Day of Failure
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - Departure from the Full Thought of the Lord

Reading: Judges 4; 5:1-9.

Spiritual Judgement

One of the greatest needs of our time is that we should know what are those factors which make for the recovery of the Lord's people to His full thought, in a day when that thought in its fulness has very largely been lost. You will, no doubt, understand and agree that one of the factors of greatest importance is that of spiritual judgement, or spiritual administration.

We might approach it by recalling the opening chapters of the proph­ecy of Isaiah. The early chapters have to do, on the one hand, with the judgement of the nations, including Israel, because of apostasy, idolatry and failure to recognise the rights of God; on the other hand, with the bringing into view of a remnant. Much is said about the remnant of the Lord's people who will come to the place where His full thought has an expression, who will be the vessel and means of the expression of His mind in greater fulness. When that is borne in mind as to the nature of the early chapters of Isaiah, you find connected there with those remarkable Messianic prophecies, among them these familiar words: "And there shall come forth a shoot out of the stock of Jesse, and a branch out of his roots shall bear fruit. And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord" (Isa. 11:1-2). Just prior to that there are those other, even better known, words in chapter 9: "For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there shall be no end, upon the throne of David, and upon his kingdom, to establish it, and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from henceforth even for ever" (Isa. 9:6-7).

You will recognise the connection. The Lord has been disappointed as to all that He desired and intended in this earth in and through a people, and failure marks everything here that is supposed to represent the Lord. The causes of the failure are brought into view for judgement. Out of the judgement there arises a new state in a purged remnant, and in connection with that new state this One is seen; the Child is born, the Son is given, and upon His shoulder is made to rest the government. Among His titles there is that of Counsellor, and then it is said that the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon Him, the Spirit of wisdom, understanding and knowledge. Thus it becomes perfectly clear that administration by judgement is vested in Him as Head. What follows is that that judgement, that administration, is to be expressed by the same Holy Spirit in and through a spiritual instrumentality, a vessel, a remnant.

When we carry that away from Israel, and see the other side of that prophetic foreshadowing, this is what arises. Christ, invested by the anointing with the Spirit of government, judgement, counsel and might, is exalted to God's right hand, and all rule and authority is made subject to Him. Then, by means of the same anointing an instrumentality - the church, His body - is brought into association with Him for the purposes of that spiritual administration.

Note that it is spiritual administration, or spiritual judgement. There is all the difference between natural judgement and spiritual judgement, between what we would call administering as here on the earth among men, and that which is by reason of spiritual understanding resulting in a ministry which is able to point out the difference between that which is man's mind and that which is God's. It is being able, by reason of spiritual understanding to check, arrest, and bring back those drifts, departures, declensions which are the result, not only of wilful and determined rejection of the Lord, but of the imposition of the mind of man into the things of the Lord. Look at the history of the things which bear the Lord's Name, and you will see quite clearly that the departure from the full thought of the Lord, and subsequent failure and weakness on the part of the people of God, has this one thing as its cause; that man, with every good intention and desire to further the interests of the Lord, has become the Lord's counsellor in His things, and the Lord has ceased to be His own counsellor.

Let us put that in another way. Man has sought to carry on God's work by his own (as he would call it) consecrated judgement, under­standing, thoughts, ideas and intentions. And all unconsciously and imper­ceptibly, the Lord, as to the immediate and direct government of His own affairs, has been edged out, set back. In the course of time there comes a consciousness of weakness and failure, of paralysis, of arrest, of im­potence, and the Lord's people awaken to the fact that other powers, with which they can no longer contend successfully, make it impossible for them to go forward triumphantly with the Lord's interests, and they are brought largely to a standstill. When the thing is investigated, what is the invariable result of such an enquiry? "We need a greater fulness of the Holy Spirit." That is how it is put. "We need the Lord to come in in a new way. We need to bring the Lord in more than we have been doing." These are only ways of expressing it, and these could be multiplied, but what is felt and recognised is this, that the Lord is not there in evidence, in fulness, as He ought to be. You ask, "Why?" If you are honest you will say, "He has been edged out. Man has taken His place. Man has become His counsellor."

Let the ultimate issue determine if that is so. When you come up against a situation of spiritual weakness, failure and defeat, against forces with which you cannot cope in the work, the interests and testimony of the Lord, what is the conclusion of the whole matter? What is the judgement that is passed? Well, we need the Lord in a way in which we have not had Him. That is a simple way of putting it. Why should we need the Lord in a way in which we have not had Him before? Why should that need exist? Is it because the Lord was not willing to be with us as fully as was neces­sary? Can we for a moment lay it to God's charge? Never! Then what is the cause? Somehow the Lord's place had been taken by something or someone else. How? What? We have been carrying on the things of the Lord with our own resources of mind, strength, and will, and it cannot be done. Sooner or later we are bound to come up against the fact that unless the Lord Himself is really on the Throne in full command, with all His re­sources being projected into His interests, deadlock is inevitable.

What then does that mean? It means that which we said at the beginning, that the great need in such a time of weakness and failure, in a time when God's fullest thought concerning His people and His work is not found in expression, is a ministry of judgement, of spiritual adminis­tration. What is needed are those in such a relationship with Him as to be able to discern what is and what is not the Lord's thought.

You will not, of course, allow yourself to sit in judgement of one another, but there is such a thing as a people being clear in spiritual perception, who are very clear as to how the Lord would do things, and how the Lord would not do things; when the Lord would do things, and when the Lord would not do things. That is discriminating between well-intentioned activities of His people for Him, and what is the pure, original, immediate mind of God about His own things.

I believe that the book of Judges has to do with that whole matter, and I think the Lord will say something to us out of that book as we turn to it. Before we do so we must be quite sure that we see what we are getting at, because it is so easy for the Scriptures to become an interesting study and for us not to be gripped by the real issue on hand. Have we grasped what has already been said? It is difficult to express it in few words. Are we im­pressed, in a day like this, with the need for a ministry of discrimination in the things of the Lord for the people of God, so that they have available that discernment, perception and judgement of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians 2 concerning "he that is spiritual" judging all things? That judgement, that insight, will deliver from the inevitable and subsequent failure of all that is done in the best of intentions for God, as over against God doing His own work in His own way. It is a very important differ­ence. The Bible is full of that difference, and to provide Himself with an instrument for that purpose is a matter of very special concern and care on the part of the Lord.

If the Lord is to have a vessel like that, that vessel will have to go through the depths. The Word of God divides between soul and spirit. That division represents very largely this discrimination: what man does out of his own soul, reason, will, his feeling for God; and what man does in his renewed spirit as directed immediately by the Spirit of God. They are two entirely different realms, and the consequences of each are as different as two worlds can be. In the end, one is bound for failure, the other is bound to be effective.

The Lord needs an instrument, a ministry through a people, which is of this character, so that it can, because of its understanding in the things of the Lord, call back the Lord's people to the true, pure basis of God's own way of doing things. Such an instrumentality will go through the fire, through a very deep way in order that it may have such perception. It means that that which is of the natural life, its judgements and its ideas, will be pulverised. Attempts, efforts, activities, enthusiasms in the things of God will meet such a smiting that there will be no hope for those who go that way to do anything more for the Lord. They will come to the place where unless the Lord does it, it is no use attempting it, and if they are going to be His instruments they will know what the Lord wants done and how He wants it done. We need spiritual understanding in the things of the Lord.

Dealings of the Lord

This will explain the Lord's dealings with those who will really put themselves into His hands. He will take them through experiences in which they are able, in their own history, to see the tremendous difference. He will allow them a history of the most utter devotion to Himself with the results of that devotion, but nevertheless springing from themselves. He will allow them a great deal of experience of work for Himself, activities in the name of the Lord, perhaps bring them into a very large place of what men would call "usefulness to the Lord", and then smash the whole thing, shatter it, like a potter's vessel, to smithereens. These people will see their work go, and all their capability to do any more, and then the Lord will begin to do something else, a different thing. It will not be any­thing that can be written up like before, or that can be talked about; noth­ing that men can take account of, nothing of a purely public character, but He will be getting right down to the place where every bit is of Himself, and they know it. While they may be used, nevertheless their deepest con­sciousness is of being spectators of what God is doing through them; it is God doing it, and not their doing it for God. There is a tremendous differ­ence between those two things, and those two sides of a history are two sides which the Lord allows, in order to prepare such a vessel of spiritual understanding. We do not really spiritually understand without experience; we do not come into these things without going through something; we are battered into them. It is regarding this that the Lord wants to speak to His people, and we must listen to what He has to say.

Perhaps we shall get a little nearer to the matter if we turn to the book of Judges. We must first of all remember the connection between the books of Joshua and Judges, because the connection is maintained, and it is important to recognise that the connection is maintained, although the situation is so different.

Joshua - Ephesians

We may say that Joshua in the Old Testament corresponds to Ephesians in the New Testament. Joshua is the passing over Jordan and coming into the land, and going from strength to strength in victory, in the power and energy of the Holy Spirit. It is, in the language of Ephesians, in the heavenlies in Christ, warring a mighty warfare by the equipment which God gives against principalities, powers and world-rulers of this darkness and spiritual hosts of wickedness. It is the people of God through union with Christ in death, burial and resurrection coming into the realm of His sovereign triumph. That is Joshua. It states the position of the Lord's full thought for His people; they have tasted of it, they have some experience of it, they know the meaning of it. In the beginning, before the Epistle to the Ephesians was written, the church was known; that is, it was expressed. In the first days, the days of Pentecost, there is this thing in a living expression. They had to have the explanation in doctrine as God's thought presented to them in a concrete and crystallised way, so that they should always know from whence they had fallen, and that to which the Lord would have them come. But in experience they knew Ephesians at the beginning, victory over the powers of darkness, a living in spirit in heavenly union with Christ, blessed fellowship, a Holy Spirit ordered ministry, and all else that is in Ephesians.

Judges - Timothy, John's Epistles, Revelation

When you come to Judges you have a drop from the Ephesian's plane, and come down to much that you find in Timothy, and in John's Epistles, and in the book of the Revelation at the beginning. The people of God have dropped out of their heavenly position and come down on to an earthly position spiritually, with disastrous consequences. That is how you find it in the book of Judges.

When we remember that, and then read this book of Judges, it is difficult for us to fail to be impressed with similarities between that time and our own time; this dispensation since the days of the apostles. The book of Judges is a long period of over three hundred years, and only with big gaps between do you find anything of Joshua or Ephesian conditions. If you study the technique of the book of Judges you will be very much impressed with that. It is difficult when reading such a short book, with the very brief accounts of things there, to realise the time factor. You have to spread the thirteen judges over more than three hundred years, and have to crowd into a simple statement like this a period of probably forty years: "And the children of Israel did evil again... and the Lord delivered them into the hands of...". The range of these times of subjection to other powers is from six to forty years and is very often crowded into a single sentence. Then when it says the Lord raised up a deliverer, a saviour, and these judges were instrumental in bringing them out of those conditions, it only lasted a little while or for a longer period of perhaps forty years, but you can see that the Joshua conditions were spasmodic over a long time.

Is that not true of this dispensation? At the beginning you have Joshua conditions, Ephesian conditions: victory, heavenly life, glory and power; the power of the enemy broken; then a change, and at intervals spread right over this age, a glorious break of recovery, and for a time the testimony glowing again, triumphant conditions, then a lapse again, and a long period of declension and paralysis. That is the story of the church through this dispensation. If we look at things today as a whole, how do they appear to us? Would the most sanguine and the most optimistic, and the one who wanted to say the best thing today, say that the church as a whole is in Joshua or Ephesian conditions? The most evangelical minded today are saying this is impossible. It is no use aiming at such a high standard as Ephesians today for the church. We had better content ourselves with things as they are, and make the best of a bad job. No one would argue that we are more in a Joshua state than in a Judges state in this time, and we are being pressed more and more to that position. Everywhere leaders among the Lord's people are confessing to paralysis, defeat, arrest, to the impossibility of just going right on in glorious triumph. There is a state of defeat and weakness like that today, and we are going more and more to have to recognise it.

We do not assume the role of prophet, but we do feel very strongly that the time is not far off when organised Christianity will have to own itself defeated before this world order. There will be retrenchment, there will come about in the heart of the mass of God's people a cry for recovery of original conditions. And is not this cry already going out from so many parts of the world among the Lord's people for a new visitation of the Holy Spirit coming from the consciousness that that, and that alone, can meet the need? Is it not a confession? It is a confession of failure. We need not force this thing, that the Judges condition is very largely the condition today; mainly weakness, mainly defeat, broken by periods of power and patches of victory.

Two Glorious Things from Judges

What does the book of Judges bring up before us for such a time? It brings up two glorious things. One is a very glorious thing, and the other is a glorious thing inasmuch as it is God's key to the situation. The first thing is this, that the Lord is always ready to give to His people the Joshua or the Ephesians state of things if they will turn to Him with all their heart. You are impressed as you read this book. It does not matter how far they have gone away. Terrible things are said about Israel in this book, about turning to idols, all that they did against the Lord, and it only says: "But when the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, the Lord raised them up a deliverer...". It seemed that God was standing right there ready to do it. Why? (Now this is why we said that the link between Joshua and Judges is maintained). Because God has secured that position for them. He has it, as it were, in His hand, and He is saying: I have that position. It is yours. You have only to come to it. Jordan has secured this. The cross has secured it. It is here already. I have not to do anything to give it to you, but you have just to come to it; it is ready for you. That seems to be what the Lord says. If His people come on to His ground, then His ground is that of Joshua conditions, victory at once.

See how these men led out their feeble, crushed, despised armies, things which were not of this world: Gideon and three hundred, Deborah and Barak and their little army compared with Sisera; and how mighty a victory. How much the Lord took of this matter in His own hands to see it through! That speaks for itself. Let us remember that there is no need to struggle towards what we call an Ephesian position. This is not something that has got to be achieved, agonised unto; it is ours. The life of heavenly union with Christ is ours; God has secured it by the cross for us. All we have to do is to come on to God's ground and we have it. What is God's ground? Well, that is just the whole purpose of the book of Judges.

Another thing which the book says is that there must be this ministry of discrimination in the interests of the Lord's people, that they should come on to the Lord's ground of victory and heavenly fulness. The Judges represent those principles of spiritual recovery in a day of declension, and they are this inclusive principle, that they judge in the things of the Lord.

It is necessary to understand what these Judges were doing. It was not just to judge for man. That was not their business at all. When they gave judgement it was not just in the trivialities of ordinary daily life among people, to get them out of difficult and inconvenient circumstances.

Their business was to judge for God, not for men, in the first place. There was a revealed mind of God in existence, there were the statutes and the laws of the Lord governing the life of His people. That was laid down, and there could be no departing from that. That was to govern. Now the Judges sat to determine everything in the light of the revealed mind of God. They judged for God. They said: "That is not of God, it must go; this is what the Lord requires, it must be established." They judged for the Lord on the basis of a revelation of God's mind. That means that they had understanding in the things of the Lord, they had a spirit of judgement, a spirit of understanding, a spirit of knowledge, a spirit of counsel in spiritual things. They were able to say, "That is not the Lord's mind"; "The Lord would not have that"; "The Lord requires this, and in this way." That was the work of the judges. They were, in effect, spiritually minded people to judge all things. "He that is spiritual judges" (or examines; the word in the Greek cannot be fully translated into English, it is a word which means the ability to look into a matter, dissect it, and discriminate as to the right and the wrong of it, and pass the verdict). The spiritual person is divinely given a faculty for that. That is what Paul is saying in this passage from 1 Corinthians 2:15. The spiritual man has a divinely given faculty for looking into a matter and dissecting it, and seeing what is of God and what is not of God in that thing, and passing a verdict from God's standpoint on that matter.

These were the Judges in Israel, equipped by the Holy Spirit for that work, and they saved Israel in a day of declension. They were the deliverers of Israel in such a time. Now is not that an important matter? Does the Lord not need something like that in a day like this? That is what comes out in this book.

We close this meditation by mentioning one other general thing in the book. These judges were very ordinary people in themselves. They had no title to their position, they had no rights, status or lineage, it was not an hereditary thing. It seems the Lord went anywhere, and put His hand on anyone and the people taken up were usually the most surprised. Gideon said, "I am the least in my father's house". Jephthah was an illegitimate child, cast out by his people because of illegitimacy and driven away, then brought back and made judge. Deborah was a woman. That is not to despise her, but it was not the usual way of God, but something quite unusual. What was governing all this? These very ordinary people in themselves, out-of-the-way people, despised among men, were constituted the judges of the Lord's people upon a basis which was entirely spiritual, nothing natural, not what they were in name or title or position. It was a purely spiritual thing, and the Lord dealt with them entirely upon that basis. The Lord never for a moment covered their natural and human weaknesses and defects, but told the whole story. We grieve to read of Samson the Judge of Israel, but God does not cover it up. He lets it be seen in clear light what they are by nature. It was their relationship to Him which determined everything. If they failed in their spiritual fellowship with God, they did not stand just because they were in office.

God does not spare Samson. You would say: "Oh, here is Samson, the judge of Israel, the one man in all the world representing God: surely God will cover Samson and all his defects. If Samson goes wrong God must be specially lenient with him because of the special responsibility resting upon him." Not a bit of it. If Samson goes wrong he will be caused to bear the results of his wrongdoing, and he will go out of his position. God is dealing with people this time entirely upon a basis of their spiritual relationship with Him, and that is spiritual government; it is never official. It is never given to anybody because of what they are in themselves, it is never by some official appointment of God. Anybody who among men may be worthless, outcast, rejected, who has a relationship with God spiritually becomes a part of His instrument for correcting the things which are wrong among the Lord's people, and bringing back to the full thought of God.

By this we are seeking to emphasise that God needs a spiritual vessel, not a great, public, official thing. He will pass by the traditional thing, He will pass by the official thing, He will look for spiritual men and women. He will take pains to make us spiritually minded because of the value of this. There is a larger meaning than lies on the surface. Its full ministry is not going to be fulfilled here in this dispensation. These various judges (leaving out Abimelech, who was altogether wrong), represent aspects of that full-orbed government which is gathered up eventually in the king. The last of the judges, and the fullest of them, was Samuel, and it was as though he gathered up all these in himself and handed it all over to the king, brought in the king. It is remarkable that the end of the book of Judges is: "In those days there was no king in Israel...". And Samuel brought in the king. But Samuel took up all these spiritual things in his own person. Samuel was a glorious judge.

The King is coming, and He is coming into His position of universal administrator. He will need an instrument through which to administer, and that instrument will have to have spiritual understanding, a spirit that has been developed in the understanding of the Lord. So the Father of our spirits is busy with us now to bring us to a place where spiritually we understand for the purposes of administration later on.

That is a little extra word. It does not come immediately into our consideration, but otherwise it is difficult to explain why, when we reach any little measure of spiritual maturity, the Lord takes us to glory. Just at the time when a saint has become mature and is needed by the church, has insight and perception, then he is taken home, and the church here says, "Why did the Lord take all those pains to get a man there, and then take him away?" Because his ministry is yet to be fulfilled. The King is coming, and the King will need those who are around Him sharing in His counsel, also clothed with a spirit of counsel and understanding.

This is all very general and imperfect, but it may help us to begin to see why the Lord deals with us as He does, and perhaps what the Lord is after in a day like this.

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