by T. Austin-Sparks
Before we proceed, I feel led to put in a parenthetical word, because it is so easy for us to just come and to hear a great deal of Bible teaching and for it not to really head us up to any kind of practical result or crisis. And so we just stop a little while to try and get this definite application of all that is being said. It still arises out of our great basic Scripture, Luke 24, and verse 15 -
"And it came to pass, while they communed and questioned together, that Jesus himself drew near, and went with them. But their eyes were hold en that they should not know him. And he said unto them, What communications are these that ye have one with another, as ye walk? And they stood still, looking sad" (Luke 24:15-17).
I want to link on with that three other passages from other parts of the Bible.
"And they heard the voice of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God amongst the trees of the garden. And the Lord God called unto the man, and said unto him, Where art thou?" (Gen. 3:8-9).
"And he (Elijah) came thither unto a cave, and lodged there; and 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, your brother and partaker with you in the tribulation and kingdom and patience which are in Jesus, was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 1:9)
There are times when we are called upon to take account of where we are in relation to the Lord's testimony and to say why we are where we are. That is what arises in the four passages we have just read. The two on the Emmaus road were challenged and interrogated as to where they were and why they were where they were. The two in the garden were likewise challenged as to where they stood where they were, and compelled to divulge why they were there. Elijah was also called upon by the Lord to declare himself as to where he was and what he was doing there, or why he was there. And under the constraint of the Holy Spirit, John declared where he was and why he was there, and in every case the interrogation or challenge or demand, related to the Lord's testimony.
The Lord's purpose in the case of the garden at the beginning was symbolised and represented by the Tree of Life. That was the thing that governed and dominated everything. It was the issue, and quite clearly it proved to be. It was the whole question of Life, and it was centred in that tree, the Tree of Life. Everything circled round it. All that is there in the story was bound up with it. We are not going to analyse that more fully. We make the statement. If you have any doubt about it or desire to have that proved, you have to go to the other end of the Bible, right at the end of the book of Revelation, and it is the Tree of Life in the midst of the city of God. And that dominates and governs everything. It is the Lord's testimony. And man's position therefore, right at the beginning, was challenged as to its relationship to the Lord's testimony of Life.
The Government of Life
Elijah was the great prophet of Life. How much he had to do with death and the overcoming of death, the vanquishing and nullifying of death! It was his great ministry. Eventually he went up in a chariot of fire and death had no power over him - the great victory over death. His life stood related to that testimony with which we are occupied in this conference - victory over death. But here in the passage from his life which we have read, we find him being challenged as to a position in which he is found where that testimony was concerned, and compelled to say where he was and why he was there. We come to that again.
Those two on the Emmaus road were most certainly involved in the testimony of the Lord, the testimony of death and its conquest, but they were anything but in the good of it and were challenged as to their position. It could be put in another way. The Lord Jesus could be represented as having said, 'Why are you here? Where are you really? Why are you where you are?'
And there is no doubt about it in the case of John. Why, John's greatest word in all his writings is Life, and it is John who at the end sums up the testimony and says, "The witness is this, that God gave unto us eternal life, and this life is in his Son" (1 John 5:11). That is the Bible in a nutshell, and John is here declaring where he is and why he is there - for the testimony of Jesus.
It is then, in every case, the government of that testimony of Life. That is the criterion in every case. Now, each one of these had a different relationship to that testimony, and each one of them had to state what that relationship was, had to divulge and to come out with it, if we may put it like that. They had to come right out into the open and declare themselves as to their position and why they were in it.
Let us take it up there first of all. Are we seeing, or have we seen, that after all, our Christianity and all that comprises Christianity as we know it, all our Bible study and knowledge, all our Christian activity, work and organization, all our Christian institutions and everything that goes by the name of Christianity, after all the criterion is this - "Is it a death destroying reality, is it a real testimony, a living effectual testimony to the fact that death is vanquished and where you touch it where you are, that is the effect; that death is overcome?" I say that is the test. We have more to say about some aspects of that perhaps at another time. But it is not all that makes up Christianity that proves it to be the thing that God is after, it is whether the testimony of the Lord is really there, and the testimony of the Lord is that there where we are, there is an effectual expression of the fact that death is overcome; not our orthodoxy, not our soundness of doctrine, not our evangelicalism but the impact of a life which conquers death, or the Life which has conquered death being where we are. If that is true, that is the testimony of the Christ. Now then, what is our position, where are we, and why are we where we are?
Adam was out of a living, God-appointed relationship to the testimony of the Lord. There is no doubt about that. They hid themselves when they heard the Lord, when they heard - our translation says 'the voice' the margin says, the sound of the Lord - they hid themselves. That means, of course, that there had awakened in them that consciousness which made them inwardly know that they were out of adjustment with what the Lord meant, that their position was not a right one. There was something gravely wrong with their position. The Lord came and said, 'Where are you?' meaning in relation to the place where I intended you to be, the position I intended you to occupy. 'Where are you? Are you where you should be or are you somewhere else?'
That is capable of very wide application. It is the sort of question that is challenging people all round and making them uneasy. I am in some position in myself or in some relationship outside of myself. Well, it is Christian, but there is a doubt about it, there is a reservation about it, there is a sense that it is not all right that I should be as I am or where I am. That is the first thing.
And in the case of Adam, he was in a wrong relationship to the testimony because of disobedience. He had had light, he had been shown by the Lord where he should be and what he should do, what the Lord's will for him really was, and he had not obeyed the light that the Lord had given. Rather he had disobeyed. That is quite simple, but that sort of thing - just for some reason he had refused to go the Lord's way, he had rejected the light the Lord had brought to him and had taken another course. For some reason he had just been disobedient. Maybe, as in his case, he thought he would get something better by taking another way, or he was going to lose something by taking this way. That was the suggestion made to him. Whatever the reason, personal interests or anything of that, the point is that he had had light and had not followed it and it put him right out of vital relationship to God's testimony and he did not follow through. So far as Adam and his line is concerned, the door is closed and the Lord takes up His testimony with others. It will require another Adam to reopen that door. That man cannot open it. It is serious to sin against light, to reject light. It is a very serious thing to see what the Lord is after and not to follow through.
However, there it is: disobedience to light, and that is the explanation. We have to come back. No excuses will pass with the Lord. Adam tried to excuse, he tried to find a way out of his predicament, but that does not do with the Lord. The Lord just closed right down on him and said, 'You know quite well that when it comes to the last word, you knew what I wanted and you did not do it, you did the opposite: into the dark, into the death, out of the testimony of the Lord.
Elijah was not in the same category at all, and yet in the same position or in the same peril. This man who had so gloriously upheld the testimony, a prophet of the Lord's testimony of Life over death, and here he is away... having cast himself down. Here is the man who had proclaimed Life and who had practised Life, in whom and in whose ministry this testimony of conquering Life had been demonstrated. If there was one man in the Old Testament you would expect never to talk in this way: 'Take away my life, it is no good', that man was Elijah. But there he is. 'It is no good, Lord, take away my life'. Here is another aspect of the same peril.
Oh, we do not blame Elijah, do not for one moment read into anything I am saying any reproach of Elijah. If anybody is to be reproached for this very thing, it is the one speaking to you. Yes, after all, sometimes the pressure becomes so intense that we wonder if it is worth going on. Here is the man who, under the tremendous onrush of the evil forces, has lost heart, become discouraged, become afraid of the future, and has allowed himself to yield to that pressure known to you and to me so well. 'Get out of it all, get away from it all, run away.' Have you never felt you want to run away? But suppose I said to you, "What are you running away from? Why are you where you are? Now then, declare it!" That is the thing that pulls us up, when we begin to explain, even to ourselves, to say nothing of going and telling the Lord, but explain to ourselves our own position. You see what I mean. How many of us have felt this drive to run away for a few days, to do something to get some relief, to get out - and when we have got there we have found we had better get back as soon as we can, we are out of the way of Life, for, however much the pressure, that is the place of the testimony of Life and here it is death.
Poor Elijah - did he gain anything by running away? No, not at all. Yes, discouragement, disheartenment, perhaps disappointment, perhaps fear of the future, the awful drive of the enemy to get us out... and the Lord uses those tactics with His servants of which we were speaking. He says, 'Now then, explain yourself! Explain your position, and why you are in that position', and as we begin to tell Him our mournful story, we find there is not much in our story, it does not hold water after all. There is something even in our telling of our tale that does not satisfy our own hearts, and then, when we come to know the Lord's facts, we find that we were all wrong. 'I have yet seven thousand in Israel which have not bowed the knee to Baal, your position is utterly false, it is not true'. Where are you and why are you there so far as this mighty thing of His Life is concerned?
Those two men on the Emmaus road are quite conspicuous instances of this very thing, but let us pass on to John. What a different story with John. Adam was in a lovely garden and was out of touch with the testimony. John was in a horrible island, in Patmos, and was in the testimony. It is not your environment that settles the issue, it is not circumstances. You may be in Paradise, if there is such a place on this earth, and be out of the testimony of Life. You may be banished by men, by the great arch-enemy, to Patmos, and be right in the good of Life. John had his pen in his hand, and presently he will be writing - think of it, where he was, his situation, his position - he will be writing about the river of the water of Life and the Tree of Life, and how many times in the book of Revelation does that word 'Life' occur! It is all living.
The word 'Life' is scattered over the whole of that book, and it is the final great issue. And it is a man who is one of Nero's exiles and banished ones who is writing that. His relationship to the testimony calls for no reproach. I think there is some glory about his introduction when he says, "I was in the isle that is called Patmos". It is not - 'Oh, I was in the isle called Patmos, having an awful time...' "I was in the isle that is called Patmos" and all that that meant "for the Word of God and the testimony of Jesus". Some of you may be complaining about your situation, your circumstances, your surroundings, your association. You are saying, 'I cannot know anything about this testimony in my position. I do not expect there to be any real manifestation of this Life triumphant over death in my home, in my business, in my surroundings.' Well, go to John and go to Rev. 1:9 again, and hear this man triumphantly singing in the midst of such a situation. Read it again in the light of all that which he was saying.
Now, you see, this divides itself into two things. Are you where you are in the will of God, or out of the will of God? That decides it. Adam was where he was out of the will of God. Elijah was where he was out of the will of God, and it was death. John was where he was in the will of God, a difficult situation, but it was in the will of God, and it was Life. If you are in the will of God, no matter what the situation is, it can be Life. If you are out of the will of God, though you might be in a most glorious garden on this earth, it is not Life, it is death. That, of course, applies first of all to your own spiritual position, where you are spiritually, and then it relates to your relationships where you are. Are you in or are you out?
You can see in every case that I have instanced the tremendous force of that sinister power behind. There was that testimony represented and symbolised in the garden, and lurking in the vicinity of that testimony is this untrue, this evil one, and he is against that testimony. He sees (and it is all so highly symbolical) he sees that if that man ever becomes a partaker of incorruptible Life, he has forever lost his chance with that man. The only thing to do is to get in between that man and his partaking of that eternal Life, and with Adam his method was deception. He deceived him, and deceived him out of his birthright, deceived him out of what God intended. But it was the enemy, this enemy who from then on all the way through has been set against only one thing, in a thousand ways, but one thing, which is this that God intended.
Through Jezebel it is the same enemy after Elijah. She is in a spiritual relationship with the evil powers, and the evil powers through Jezebel brought this pressure, this terrible pressure and drive upon the prophet, and he for a little while succumbed to it. The enemy's drive is always very much more difficult to resist when you are tired. Oh, tiredness is an awful thing in the spiritual realm, what opportunities it provides for the enemy. Always be alive to reactions. Well, there it was, but it was the enemy. And the enemy's method with this man was not so much to deceive him and get him out of position, but it was by any means to detract, to draw away, to get out. You know the enemy is very often busy like that in the method of detracting so that you find yourself out of touch. If I may just say here, I do not think I have ever known a conference quite like this one for that very thing. It seems to me that the enemy has been trying to detract from this conference; draw away, drive away, keep out, in any way to bring about a sense of looseness, disintegration, loss of cohesion, a scattering, for very many reasons, drawing off or driving off. That is how it was. Whatever was the method, the means and the object was to get this man out of his place, out of the place where he ought to be, away from where he ought to be, and, being away from where he ought to be, he left the place of Life, the place of the testimony.
It is the enemy, and there is no question about it, with John through that fiend Nero. The evil forces were seeking to destroy this man because he represented this testimony of the Lord. But because he stayed in the will of God and he did not capitulate to his circumstances and say, 'It is impossible for me to go on with my ministry here, it is impossible for me to stand my ground here, it is impossible for me to talk about Life in this situation', because he refused any such position, and there, though so difficult and humanly impossible, he stood his ground for the testimony, the enemy was vanquished. All his destroying power was brought to nought, and for all these centuries we have this marvellous book and John's ministry.
The upshot of this is that it is the Lord's testimony that has to determine our position - not things, not people, not arguments, not seemings, not the hard time, the difficult situation, but the Lord's testimony of Life has to dictate where we shall be. Oh, take that as something to be applied in every connection: your position determined and dictated by the Lord's testimony of Life.
There is a battle, of course. You will not be able to be there easily. Of course there will be everything that will make it difficult for you, nevertheless you are not being governed by those things, nor by your own interests. You are being governed by this - where does the testimony of the Lord in Life require that I shall be? - that is where I will be, by His grace. 'Where art thou?' What are you doing here? What is this conversation of yours? Why are you talking like this? Why are you in this state? Explain it! - and perhaps the very defining and explaining will be the first big step back to recovery and open the door for the Lord if we will be honest and not excuse ourselves. I think that is the word the Lord wants to say at this moment. It is apparent everywhere. We can go on after that, but it is very necessary for us to face the practical issue. You hear all about it, but then the challenge is - where am I regarding it? Here I am, and why am I here? Oh, how I would like to press that and apply that in many ways. Why are you where you are? Can you really give a reason for being in your position, your present connection, association and state? Have you a reason for it? Do you have to say, 'I do not know why I am here. I think perhaps it is the right thing to do, the right place, but I really could not tell you'. That is not good enough. We can never meet the enemy's opposition and pressure unless we have a reason and a good ground. The Lord give us that.