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

Chapter 5 - Taking God's Ground of Faith

Reading: 1 Thess. 1; 1 Tim. 1:4; Heb. 11:32-34.

It is not particularly the book of Judges which is the matter of our concern, but the burden of the Lord is bound up with that little clause at the end of 1 Thessalonians 1:9, "a living and true God".

"Remembering without ceasing your work of faith..." (1 Thess. 1:3).

" serve the living and true God" (1 Thess. 1:9).

Knowledge of the Living and True God

If we were to read through the first and second letters to the Thessalonians, we should be greatly impressed with the fulness, richness, strength, victory, fruitfulness and effectiveness of these Thessalonian believers. We have often remarked upon it, and it is certainly something which calls for remark, for some of the grandest and choicest things said to believers were said by the apostle to those at Thessalonica. He was able to say of them that they were exemplary; that is, that throughout a whole region their faith was spoken of and they were talked about; and that they were an example; and by means of them the Lord became known in a very extensive and effectual way. It means the Lord was known to them in no small and weak way. Their knowing of the Lord was a very effectual and fruitful thing over this wide region. They have been preserved by the sovereign work of God as a testimony right down the ages, and are before us now as a monument. When we come back to the root of this matter, and ask how this was, what the secret of the matter was, what lay behind it, the answer is found in this statement with two fragments brought together: "...your work of faith"; " turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God".

Therefore, there must have been a point at which these Thessalonians abandoned idols on the ground that they believed, without any previous history and experience or without being in possession of proof that there was a living and true God. Here were their idols, and there was this God of whom Paul had spoken, to whom Paul was a witness. They had no experience of that God, and they had nothing at present in themselves to prove that He was such a God as Paul had said. But they believed that He was a living and true God, and without anything in their own history to go upon they just took the step of faith in what God presented to them. Abandoning their idols they turned from them to serve a living and true God. That all sounds very elementary, but there is no doubt about its being basic to every discovery of God, to every fragment of knowledge that He is a living and true God.

In the first place, witness is borne to you that there is a living and true God. You have heard proclamation made, you have heard a declaration that God is. There is witness borne to God as Paul witnessed to these Thessalonians. It has been found to be so by a multitude who would give their lives for that testimony. It is presented to you from the outside. How are you going to prove it? How are you going to know it? How is He going to become to you a living and true God? There is only one way, and you are pinned down to it, but if you will accept it, you will know as truly as these Thessalonians, and your knowledge of it may be just as fruitful as was theirs. "Your work of faith", in turning to serve a living and true God! Simple as it is in words, it concludes the whole matter. There is no getting out of it. There is no getting round it. The slightest fragment of personal knowledge that God is a living and true God demands an act of faith towards Him on your part; not proof, not evidence, not the answer to all your questions, not argument, nothing whatever but an act of faith towards Him, to serve Him. To serve Him is the giving of a very definite, active aspect to faith. You have got to act in faith, and faith is always faith if it is true to the Word. God never, in this dispensation, comes out and projects for us a kind of gangway across to Himself in proofs and evidences. This is a dispensation of faith, a dispensation appointed and fixed by God. It is as though God had said at the beginning of a certain period of this world's history: "From this moment up to a certain time which I shall fix, covering so many ages, so many generations, the whole character and nature of things is one of faith! I do not depart from that a hair's breadth, nor for an instant! The character, the nature, the governing law of this dispensation is faith. Try as you will, you will never get Me off that ground." God has fixed it. No one will ever find Him on any other ground, by any other means. The past dispensation was different! You had only to do certain things and you discovered Him.

Go back to that time in the day of Israel and it seems that they almost walked by sight. It seems that the response of God to them was so instant, and so demonstrative, so manifest, that they almost walked by sight. But this is not that dispensation, this is a dispensation of faith; fixed, immovable, unalterable by God Himself. But, inasmuch as God has fixed it, and will not move from it, He will meet you on His own ground, He will answer to His own condition, and if you come on to the ground of faith you will know that God is a living God and a true God.

You may batter yourself against the door to know God in any other way, and you will batter yourself to pieces, but once you take God's ground of faith you discover Him. You turned to serve One of whom you had no experience, no personal history, but whom you believed to be. It has been proclaimed to you, but the evidence of those who say they know and have proved is all you have to go upon. You believe that He is a living and true God, and you turn, and in turning you discover God, and you have to say: "It is true! God is, and God is a living God, and God is a true God!" Then a history of knowing God has commenced.

Let all who are within the realm of what we have just said about the initial stage of knowing God lay it to heart. It is the only way to know God in a living and saving way in this dispensation. It is the sure way. Whether we have believed or not, whether we have turned or not, whether this work of faith has been in us or not, we shall wake up in the end to know that He is a living God, and that He is true - but then it will be a different discovery. Ultimately you cannot get away from the fact that God is a living and true God. Let that fact be laid to heart by any who are arguing, struggling, battering themselves in the dark to find God. You never will, until you exercise faith in God, until you believe that God is, and that "He is a Rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." If He is that God that you are looking for, He must be that. You do not want a God who is not a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. You may have your idea of the kind of God that He must be, but He transcends all your highest ideas. You will never discover that He is, and you will never discover what He is, until there is a definite turning to Him in faith, which says, without knowing, without anything to go upon: "Oh God, I do not know You, but I believe that You are! I abandon myself to You, that You may make Yourself known to me!" That is very simple, but that is the way in.

The principle applies all the way along. You and I are still called to know the living God. That is going to be our history all along, to discover that He is a living God, and it is, of course, one of the elements of glory in our Christian lives that we do again and again come into the (shall we say) surprise: we make discovery again and again that the Lord is a living God.

That sounds as though we have been doubting that the Lord is alive, but it is not that. In some pressure, in some trouble, we have needed to know the Lord. We have been going round and round that ‘Jericho', but not in faith. We have been trying to get to know the Lord in this way, in this matter, to be assured; perhaps pining and repining, groaning and moaning, struggling and agonising; everything but believing. Then one day the Lord shows us that an attitude of faith in Him, calling for an act of obedience, without any history, without any precedent, through faith in Him in this connection, is required, and when we turn and take that step of faith's obedience, that step of faith in the Lord over this thing, we discover He is a living God in that connection. That is the romance of the Christian life, that even those who know the Lord, and have very good reason to know the Lord, and have a lot of history with the Lord, of whom you might say that they are established in the knowledge of the Lord, again and again wake up to the fact that, after all, the Lord is alive. That sounds strange, but it is true. The discovery of the livingness of the Lord in multitudes of different ways comes by fresh steps of faith in Him in this dispensation of faith.

God locks us up to this, because this is a dispensation of faith. It is as though He said, "If you want to know Me in a living way more, and still more, in new discoveries, every fraction of this depends upon some fresh gesture of faith in Me. So I bring you into all kinds of conditions which demand faith in Me." It seems to me that the older we grow, and the more we know of the Lord, the more difficult do the tests of faith become. And it seems as though the nearer the end of the course we get, the easier it is for faith to give up from one point of view, because the tests become so much greater and deeper, yet they lead to something which is so much ahead of all that has been as to the knowledge of the Lord.

Knowledge of God Based on Faith

Faith is the law of this dispensation and God demands it for the know­ledge of Himself in every way, if our relationship with Him is a true one. It is not necessary, though it might be of help, to touch on different ways in which this is so. The fact is that you may be holding back from the Lord in some matter of obedience for a long time, exercised about it, and while you delay you are circumscribing and limiting your knowledge and enjoy­ment of the Lord. All the time witness is borne that if only in faith you take that step of obedience you will find the Lord in a new way; and then eventually you yield, and in the obedience of faith in the Lord, because you believe it is the Lord's will, you do it, and almost immediately you make a discovery. The Lord is more alive to you than ever He was before. There is a livingness about your relationship with the Lord which is new, which is fresh, which is added to all your past knowledge of Him. All you have to say, the only way you can put it, is that the Lord is a living God.

We are not dealing with doctrine. We are not dealing with laws and regulations, which are optional. We are not dealing with things being im­posed upon us as a system to which we must adhere. We are dealing with a living God, and what we discover is not some new gratification because we have got over a difficulty; we discover the Lord.

For the testimony to Himself, God more and more needs those who know Him as a living and true God. That knowledge is going to be promoted by God by way of tests of faith, and all those who are going to be of the greatest value to God on this earth, in conditions such as they are, will be those who have come to know God by way of faith exercised in Him in the midst of the most acute difficulties! We give our lives to the Lord; in all honesty of heart we declare ourselves as being on this earth for God and there is nothing which has any place in our interest, consid­eration, desire or ambition beside the Lord's interest. So far as we know our own hearts, that is our position before God: complete consecration to Him. Then we move as we believe God leads us to move. The course of our history finds us taking such steps, moving in such directions, in such matters, as we believe are God's will. We have prayed over them, committed them to the Lord and then we have acted after prayer in a way which we believe to be God's way. Then concerning these very things we come into the greatest troubles of our life, very often a terrible tangle seems to come about because of those things. Everything seems to say it was all wrong; God was not in it, had no place in it. What are we going to do? How can we go through life like that? We have trusted God, we have been honestly here for God, and now in the things about which we prayed, in which we had no personal interest as far as we knew our own heart - and we challenged God to root out anything that we did not know - as a result of all our trusting God, and all our committing to Him, we have come into this horrible mess, and everything says that it was wrong, and God was not in it. How are we going to get through life like that?

The issue is clear. If you are going to be honest, if you are not going to hedge, you are going to take one of two courses: abandon a life of trust in God and take things into your own hand, or (and there is no middle course), stand to it that God is faithful, and eventually you will see a divine plan brought out of all this confusion.

Humanly it looks like a hopeless situation. There seems no redeeming it. We cannot record it as being of God! Are we going to capitulate to that? Or we may as well give it all up! If we take that position we may as well say, "It is vain to trust the Lord" and not do it any more. That is the honest course to take if you are going to accept that level of things. The alternat­ive is this other thing: "I seem to be in the most awful mess, and every­thing seems to have gone wrong. My steps of faith and trust in the Lord have brought me into an awful confusion, and everything seems to be a contradiction that God ever had anything to do with me at all, but I believe God!" Out of this there will come something which will make it perfectly clear that, although it may not have been altogether God's first directive will, it was His permissive will; and something for Him, for His glory, comes out of it which justifies it, and does not condemn the whole thing. Take that ground and you will discover that God is a living and true God, that in all this God is not dead, He is not a false God, and not unfaithful.

Some of us know that this means an utter attitude. We are either going under or we are going to take this attitude. Such as are brought into that position most deeply and severely, where they think they have an overwhelming mass of seeming evidence that God has failed, that God has let them down, God never honoured their trust in Him, God never took responsibility for their ignorance when they acted before Him in perfect honesty, are those who, in the intention of God, are to make the greatest discovery of Him, and to know Him in such a way as to be of tremendous value.

An Illustration

Take a simple illustration of this in the case of the apostle Paul in the storm on the Mediterranean. If Paul had wanted apparent proof that he had made a series of mistakes, that storm provided him with all those apparent proofs. If Paul had sat down and said, "I was a fool to appeal to Caesar! If only I had not appealed to Caesar we should not have been in this, and I have made an awful mistake! They tried to persuade me not to go to Jerusalem and I insisted upon going to Jerusalem, and now it is because of my folly and my mistake that I am in this condition! This is an ignominious end! The Lord has left us to our own devices, the ship is going to pieces, and we shall all be lost!" There was any amount of evidence to prove that he had been wrong. What was his attitude? "I believe God, that it shall be even as He hath said" (Acts 27:25). I believe God! When? When neither sun, nor moon, nor stars appeared, when a great tempest lay on them, when the ship already was creaking and its timbers parting one from another, when all hope that they should be saved was given up. I believe God! What was the result? The ship's company was captured. We do not know how it was carried out, but we are told that the Lord said that He had given Paul all them that sailed with him. The Lord had put them into his hands in some way. There was a trail of results, not the least of which was the letters to the Ephesians and Colossians, and one or two more, lasting over the greater part of a thousand years in building up saints, and causing us to continually believe in God.

Two ways were open to Paul. One was that he could believe that God was failing him, to lose faith in God, to capitulate to the appearances, which were grim. Get into a Mediterranean storm and see that there is no myth about it. I have seen ships in the Mediterranean which seemed to disappear from sight, and after what seemed like minutes have seen their masts appearing again and coming up; mighty war ships seem to have gone down with the waves. Now in the midst of that Paul said, "I believe God."

We know something of that in our spiritual experience. All hope that we should be saved given up, neither sun, nor moon, nor stars appearing. There is a spiritual counterpart. We know what it is when the tempest is upon us. What expressive words they are; " small tempest lay on us...". A long-drawn-out conflict with spiritual elements, and all the time the whisperings of the devil, "You have made a mistake! You have gone wrong! You have taken the wrong way! God has left you to your own devices!" What is going to be our attitude?

Do not think that in speaking like this, with this emphasis, we for a moment claim to be in the position we say we have to be in; that is, the alternative to abandoning everything. God needs that which is a know­ledge of Himself which is not a meagre knowledge. And that knowledge is to be possessed only through faith towards Him, which is tested and main­tained through these deep and dark experiences.

It could frighten us, but we will not be frightened. We know that God will not put upon us more than we are able to bear. We know that we shall be inwardly strengthened in the day of the test. The point is this, that it is the definite, active faith in God in the midst of all that seems to contradict which is the way of discovering in a new way that He is a living God.

Sometimes it seems that God is not living in some matters, as though God were not livingly associated at all. It is all a big test of faith. Then when faith which has been tested takes a deliberate attitude towards God, you discover that in that particular connection, where God seemed to have no interest, no concern, no relationship, He is, after all, a living God. In that particular thing God seemed to be away from you, and you have been tested. Now you have discovered in a new way, in a specific connection, that He is a living and true God. That underlies everything.

It gives the key very largely to the book of Judges again. Here are the representative members of the judges mentioned, the men who stand out perhaps most conspicuously: Gideon, Samson, Barak, Samuel, and Jephthah. These are the judges, and it says that these men did all that they did in the delivering of God's people through active faith in God, when everything seemed to have gone. Oh, what recovery it was because, as we have pointed out, there was a state of things where a great difference had taken place as to God being in evidence. In the days of Joshua, God was so marvellously in evidence all the time. Now, because of this declension, God is not in evidence in the same way. He is not right on the spot taking the initiative. He is allowing circumstances, in a sovereign and providen­tial way, which are exceedingly bitter and adverse. Then these men exercise faith in God in the midst of those conditions, with wonderful results. They discover that God, after all, is not dead, as He seemed to be, but is a living and true God, but always and only living and true to nothing else but to faith.

Faith does not make God living, but faith discovers that God is living. Let us not mix faith with psychology, that if only you can believe a thing is, it is. That is not the point. We do not make God alive by faith; we do not make God true by faith; He is infinitely more than we know Him to be. We shall discover Him by faith, and we shall discover far more as faith increases. The Lord make us men and women of faith, not for our own deliverance, satisfaction, justification and vindication, but because God needs the knowledge of Himself here among men, and God needs a vessel prepared with that kind of relationship to Himself for administering in His coming Kingdom.

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