by T. Austin-Sparks
First published in "Toward the Mark" magazine, May-June 1976, Vol. 5-3.
"And the Lord God called unto the man, and said unto him, Where art thou?" (Genesis 3:9)
"Behold, the word of the Lord came to him, and he said unto him, What doest thou here, Elijah?" (1 Kings 19:9)
"I John, ...was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus." (Revelation 1:9)
There are times when we are called upon to give an account of where we are and why we are there. This is what happened on the three occasions which are described in our texts. The two in the garden were so challenged by God Himself, as was Elijah when he fled from Jezebel. Then there was John who commenced his book of the Revelation by declaring where he was when he received that revelation, and why he was there.
The Lord's purpose in the case of the garden at the beginning was represented and symbolised by the tree of life. Everything circled around it, as may be verified by the reference in the final book of the Bible, the Revelation. So the original man's position was challenged as to its relationship with the Lord's testimony of life.
Elijah was the great prophet of life. How much he had to do with the meeting and overcoming of death! Eventually he went up in a whirlwind, untouched by death and triumphing gloriously over it. Here, however, we read of his being questioned as to his position, and pressed by the Lord to state just why he was where he was at that time.
There can be no doubt about the spiritual position of the apostle John. His whole ministry had been concerned with the testimony of Christ's triumphant life, and it was for that testimony's sake that he found himself in the isle of Patmos. There was no need for the Lord to ask any questions as to the whereabouts of His faithful servant, for He Himself had permitted the banishment, but others might ask and, if they did, John had his answer. He was where he was for the sake of the testimony.
Each of these three men had a different relationship to the testimony and each had to declare just what his position was. Which immediately confronts us with our own personal feelings. Where do we stand? We have church associations and activities, we have doctrinal beliefs and Bible teaching, but the real question is whether we are in the good of a real and effective testimony to triumphant life in Christ. This is not just a matter of orthodoxy or sound evangelism, but rather of the impact of victorious life upon the kingdom of spiritual death.
Adam and Eve had lost their living, God-appointed testimony. They hid themselves from the Lord. This means, of course, that there had awakened in them a conviction as to their maladjustment to the will of God. There was something gravely wrong with Adam's position. When the Lord asked: "Where art thou?", it was not because He did not know Adam's whereabouts so much as a stern challenge concerning his departure from the spiritual relationship with Himself which the man had previously had.
In the first place Adam was in a wrong relationship because of disobedience. He had been given light, had been instructed as to his proper procedure, but he had wilfully disobeyed. Perhaps he thought that he could get something better by taking this wilful way, or conversely that he would have lost by not taking it. This latter was certainly the suggestion made to him by the tempter. In any case, though, the point of the story is that, having been given light by God, he had disobeyed it and so fallen out of vital relationship with the Giver. So far as he and Eve were concerned, the door was now closed, and it would require another and a different 'Adam' to re-open it. It is a very serious thing to be shown the Lord's purpose and then to reject the light and sin against it. Adam tried to make excuses, as we so often tend to do, but the Lord cannot be put off in that way. No excuses will pass with Him. Adam is out of touch with God, that is where he is, and the inevitable consequence is death.
Elijah, of course, is in quite a different category, and yet, for the moment, we sense a certain peril in his position. His difficulty was not disobedience but unbelief. This man who had maintained such a glorious testimony of victorious life, was longing to be quit of it all. 'It is no good. Please take away my life, Lord', was what he said, although he was the one man in the whole of the Old Testament who could be expected never to succumb to such a death-wish. Yet here he was, the man who had proved the power of God's life in miraculous ways, now pleading with God to let death have its way with him.
I am not criticising Elijah. Far be it from me to reproach God's servant, for under much less trial, I have sometimes been tempted to feel that it was not worthwhile to go on. Under such Satanic pressure, it was no wonder that the prophet lost heart, became discouraged, and longed to get away from it all.
God, of course, would not accept Elijah's proffered resignation. He first challenged him as to why he was where he was, and then listened while Elijah poured out his mournful story. So often when we do that, there is not much in it, and even the telling of our tale makes us realise how wrong we are in our hasty reactions. With Elijah, God went on to point out that his assessment of the situation was quite erroneous: "I have yet seven thousand...". It was as though the Lord said to him: 'Your claim to be the only one is quite wrong. Go back again. Prove once more that the testimony which you bear is one of triumphant life. You are not finished yet, but when you are, the testimony will still go on.'
With John the story is quite different. Adam had perfect surroundings, but he lost his testimony. In his cruel banishment John had just the opposite; but he was where he was both because of and in the good of this testimony of triumphant life. It is not environment which decides this issue, it is not circumstances, but rather personal relationship with the Lord. Adam in Paradise departed from the testimony: John in Patmos maintained it. Think of his situation, his position, and then remember how he sat down and wrote Spirit-inspired words about the river of the water of life. This victim of Roman persecution, exiled and oppressed, penned his book of Revelation which abounds with references to life. There can be no reproach about John's location; he was in the right place and was there for the Lord.
Some of us may complain about our situation or surroundings, feeling that where we are and in our circumstances there is no opportunity for an expression of victorious life. The best remedy will be to re-read Revelation 1:9, and to get inspiration from this old warrior who could sing so triumphantly even in the midst of outward opposition. Here was a man who could answer the challenge as to his whereabouts by declaring that he was in the good of the testimony of throne life.
Really the matter resolves itself into a matter of being or not being in the will of God. Adam's position, even though at that time he was still in the garden, was that he was out of the will of God. Elijah's location was due to doubts and questions about the will of God. John could claim that for his part he was in the centre of God's will. Men would call his situation unhappy and unjust, but he was able to rejoice as he accepted God's overruling permission of the tribulation which had overtaken him. That explains the flow of living ministry which went out from Patmos to Asia and to the world, from that day to this. He knew where he stood, and God was with him.
Now in each of these three cases, the element of Satanic power and guile was very obvious. The Devil is one who deals in death, and he is the fierce opponent of the testimony of life. He saw that if Adam ever became a partaker of incorruptible life, he would forever have lost his chance with the human race, so he made his supreme bid to get in between man and God, and he did so by deception. By this he tricked Adam into a break with the will of God, robbed him of his birth-right, and spoiled the purposes of God for that first humanity.
In Elijah's case it was Jezebel who was Satan's agent in putting intolerable pressure on God's servant. Elijah withstood and overcame this enmity so well and for so long, but then in physical weariness and soul disappointment the prophet temporarily succumbed. So it was that Elijah felt unable to withstand the pressure any longer and decided to ask God to relieve him of any further responsibility for the testimony. This can happen to us all. It is not a matter of the kind of deception which defeated Adam and is not a direct temptation to flagrant disobedience, but the sheer pressure of doubting whether we can go on any more. Satan never lets up in this unceasing endeavour to get a man out of the place where he ought to be, either geographically or spiritually. He knows that only those who abide in the will of God are any match for him.
There is no question about the evil nature of the powers which made John a prisoner on Patmos, and it is specifically stated that it all arose from John's faithfulness to the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. The apostle, however, refused to capitulate. Adam might defy the will of God. Elijah might doubt it, but he would glory in it. This is the way of certain victory; to accept God's will, however painful it may be, and to trust Him in the certain faith that His will must triumph in the end. John stood his ground, maintaining his testimony in the face of every foe, and as a consequence has exercised a mighty ministry of life right down the centuries.
For us it must be the Lord's testimony that determines our position - not things, not people, not arguments and not apparent failure. There is, of course, a battle. It is never easy to maintain that testimony of life, but it is all important that we should do so. At any point we may be challenged as to why we are where we are, and we can always face that challenge if we keep true to the Lord in every circumstance. Any sense of question, any lack of assurance, any capitulation to the tempter, will rob us of our testimony; but provided we can affirm that we are standing for God where we are, then we need fear no challenge.