by T. Austin-Sparks
"And He said unto them, These are My words which I spoke unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must needs be fulfilled, which are written in the law of Moses, and the prophets, and the psalms, concerning Me" (Luke 24:44).
This great twenty-fourth chapter of Luke's Gospel has been the basis and the key to our time together in this conference, and this chapter has led us to see that throughout the whole Bible there is one all-governing point at issue. It is Life being triumphant through the Cross, that is, through death and resurrection. And we have been seeing God's dealings with a chain of men with this matter, this particular matter, explaining all those dealings of God with them and explaining all their strange and oft-times bewildering experiences. We have seen these men - Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph - taken into the most perplexing situations, the most bewildering conditions under the hand of God, and then we have seen afterwards the issue of it all, and the issue was this - Life triumphant over death through what, in their respective experiences and histories, was a working of the principle of the Cross - death and resurrection. Now we dwell upon that in a somewhat general way without taking up any further particular fragments for the moment.
The Trial of Faith
When God had these men, these people, in His hands with the thought always in His mind of bringing out by means of them this great testimony of Life overcoming and vanquishing death, He never told them what He was doing and very often He never told them that He was doing anything. All that they knew was that they had come into some relationship with God, God had become the great reality in their lives. Somehow or other between Him and their inner being a strong link had been formed, a strong tie had been created that they were somehow bound up with Him and He with them, and that their destiny hung upon that relationship. Beyond that, more than that, very often they knew little. It was a strong hold upon them inwardly. Sometimes they were more conscious of it; at other times they were less conscious of it. And I repeat, although they were going through such big, and to them very real and deep and often terrible experiences, God did not tell them what He was doing, and I say again: He very often did not tell them He was doing anything. That is, of course, the place where the whole principle of faith was found.
They were called upon in their relationship with God to believe without any explanation and believe without any sensation; just to believe God. The death - for it was that really in principle - the death into which they were repeatedly plunged and which demanded resurrection and nothing short of a resurrection, so often and usually took some form that did not seem to contain a great spiritual meaning. It was just an experience. It was very real and very terrible, but it did not always seem to circle round some great spiritual issue. It often seemed more to be as though God had forgotten them. At some times they felt that God had abandoned them and everything seemed to say that. The things seemed to say that. You remember the prophet puts those words into the mouth of Israel - "Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and the justice due to me is passed away from my God?" Isa. 40:27). You look into the lives of these men and you find it was often like that. There was no evidence at the time that they were being very, very carefully thought of by God, and that He was really with them.
We were speaking about Joseph. Up until the time that the word of the Lord came and Pharaoh sent and brought him up out of the dungeon, until that time there was no evidence that the Lord was with him. Indeed, he might well have concluded that he was forgotten, out of mind, abandoned, forsaken, and yet the one thing that is said about Joseph, not only at the time when he came up into the place of resurrection and exaltation, but throughout - "The Lord was with him". If you had told Joseph that, he would have said, 'Well, there is not much proof of it and not much evidence.'
The language that might well have expressed the feelings of these men would have been formed of such words as 'misfortune', 'fate', 'my fate', or, in modern language 'bad luck', or 'strange calamity'. "There seems to be some evil design back of my life, nothing seems to go right". That is the human side, and such language, if looked at only from that side, was justifiable. It was like that. These men were writing a story, a story composed of happenings, and most of the happenings were unfortunate happenings from the human standpoint, and they had not a clue to the meaning of the story. It is we who have the sequel. Most of them did not get the sequel to their story. "These all died in faith, not having received the promises" (Heb. 11:13). They did not know the meaning of the story they were writing. It was a story of happenings which to them had at most a very limited explanation. Yes, we have the sequel, the sequel is ours in many cases. It often seemed to those men, I am sure, that some evil destiny had got them into a trap and there was no way out. Look at them, call them to mind.
Israel a Corporate Vessel of the Testimony
Take the last and cumulative one - Joseph. He could have said "Some evil destiny seems to have got me into a trap; here I am down here in this dungeon, forgotten and alone, and there is no way out". Now this chain of individuals handed on that legacy to the nation. Joseph, the last link in the chain of individuals, gathered up all their experiences and passed them into the nation so that the nation inherited this legacy of trouble, as it seemed, a legacy of something that God was working out by such means and in such ways. The nation took up that kind of experience, the nation became the corporate vessel of the deposit of this that God was doing, the meaning of which we are now able to see, which they could not see. So Israel the nation, the family nation, in the wilderness became the corporate body of this very testimony which had been working out in the individual.
See them in the wilderness... constantly brought into situations which were altogether out of their depth, out of their depth for coping, for understanding, for explaining, for enduring, for life itself. Their cry again and again when they looked at it and took account of it from the merely human earthly standpoint was "brought us forth into this wilderness, to kill this whole assembly", to die... impossible to live... Out of their depth in every way, and out of their depth to live. In the wilderness all natural and all acquired qualifications meant nothing. They may have qualified in any of the academies and taken the best degree, graduated and become tremendously efficient in that realm, but it was no good here. They may have been something in themselves in that world, but they are nothing here. It is no use to them here at all. No, whether they have natural abilities, qualities, or whether they had acquired such, here in the wilderness these things did not stand them in stead at all, they were of no value. They might have been the most qualified agriculturalists, but what is the good of that in the wilderness? So you might pass round the whole compass of qualifications in the schools and the colleges and the institutes.
Luke 24:44 speaks of men who were very full of Bible knowledge and it stood them in no stead because of their experience. The Lord said, "These are the words which I spoke unto you when I was yet with you, in Moses, the prophets and the psalms - that is your whole Bible. You have got it, it is no use to you, in your present situation it does not do you any good, you are out of your depth." Something more than academic knowledge, even of the Bible, is required for this testimony. It may be a foundation and I am not setting aside such values, but it does not carry you through. Something more is required.
National Existence Based on Death and Resurrection
Now let us get to this. This nation had come into being as a nation upon a basis, a great basic truth, the great basic truth of death and resurrection. You know all about the exodus. There is no doubt about it that it was a question of death and resurrection; that emancipation from Egypt. Their very national existence had been placed upon the great basic truth of death and resurrection. Now that truth was being worked into them. They had got it objectively, positionally, but they had not got it intrinsically, and that is the focal point of everything. It was being worked into them and they were being worked into the testimony, so that the testimony was not a matter of truth, of doctrine in the Bible, in the Scriptures; it was a matter of Life in themselves which conquered death.
That truth was that death is the common lot of all, not only all Israelites, but all the others, the Egyptians as well. The Israelites did not escape death because they were different from the Egyptians. They got their escape through the blood of Another. It was Another's life that got them out. They did not stand on any other ground naturally than that of the Egyptians. Death was the common lot of all, but when it comes to God's people a new situation is set up. They come into experience and that experience has two aspects.
Firstly, the fact that death is the common lot of all is brought home to them. You know that those who are not the Lord's people are not alive to the fact that they are dead. Death is not the great reality to them until they come to their body dying. But in their ordinary life when things are going on and there is health and provision, death is no reality to them. But death is brought home to the child of God. Immediately we get into God's hands this thing begins to be brought home to us - that we are not much good, we cannot stand up to things, we cannot go through. Our natural life and resources do not count here. The course of a true Christian life in the hands of God is that of being more and more brought to the experience of helplessness. Is that not true? Yes, of helplessness, of the impossibility of everything. Do not think things have gone wrong if that is becoming your consciousness. You may take it that you are in an immature spiritual stage if you have not come to that realisation that in the realm into which you have been introduced in your relationship with God, you have no resource. You are as a dead man. The death fact is brought home to you, is made real.
Ah, but on the other side, resurrection is taking a certain form over against that. With that background and with that basis, more and more the child of God is being brought to the position where he or she has to say: 'That was the Lord, it is the Lord; I cannot account for that, I am not the one who accounts for that, it is all of God', and you know quite well that resurrection is all of God. You can go a long way in many clever things and inventions, but you have not got as far as raising the dead yet. That is God's prerogative. That is only God. And so in the hands of God the child of God is being brought progressively more and more, and still more, to the place where they have to say, 'It is of God, it is all of God' and that is the testimony coming out. The Lord did that, the Lord is doing this. Is that not in Israel's history in the wilderness? See how again and again they were brought to an end, which did seem to be an end... nothing beyond this, and then they had to come out with a new song - "The Lord did it!" It is victory over death, it is the power of resurrection Life.
Have you noticed one thing, that the two lines of men in those early chapters of the Bible, the divine line, the God line, and the line of the godless, the ungodly, do you notice how often the line of the ungodly, the men of the ungodly line, are set forth as very capable men in their realm? Yes, Cain was a very capable man in his realm of cultivating the ground and producing fruit. Esau was a very capable man, and these godless men built great cities and constituted a wonderful civilisation. The other line - well, nothing is said about their natural qualifications and greatness. Very often you might despise them and think they were the weaklings, that sort of thing that has so often, even in our day, been said - 'The Christians are the poorest type of people; the men of the world - that is where you will find capable, efficient and fine men'. I say that with a certain amount of reservation. That does not mean that no child of God can be efficient, but I am saying that God has taken pains all the way along to have a setting for His own glory. He takes pains for that, and the pains that God takes have in view this one thing - that man's ability can explain nothing, it is by the ability of God alone. You may be this or that, as I have said earlier, you may have qualified in the institutions of learning, you may have taken the very best degrees and honours; you come into the realm of the things of God, and you have to say, 'Well, I have been trained for this, but I cannot cope with it, it is beyond me; I have got all that men can give me of counsel, advice and knowledge about this, but I cannot cope with it, it is beyond me, I am beaten.' There are spiritual factors that account for that.
If you were not a child of God, you would cope, you would manage, you would do a fine job. You come into a realm where there are adverse spiritual forces and God is seeing to it that a testimony is going to be built up in your realm because you are a child of God, a testimony that you will have to say, 'The Lord enabled me to do that; with all my knowledge and my natural qualifications I could never have done it, the Lord is helping me at my job'. That is how we are called upon to face things. When you face a situation, a demand made, you say, 'I have no qualifications for that, I cannot do that.' You must not say that. Or, on the other hand, 'I can tackle that, I am qualified for that' - you are going to come up against a situation, if you are a child of God, where all that is going to be knocked out of you, all that self-sufficiency is going to be very hardly hit. We are going to come to this place, if we are really in God's hands and wanting to be there and related to God's interests, where God takes pains to see to it that the testimony is: 'It is the Lord, and it is impossible apart from the Lord; there is no explanation apart from the Lord'. It is important to recognize that, that when God is going to do His great thing, the thing that He is after, that is to bring out this age-long testimony of the conquest of death, spiritual death, by divine Life, He makes the situation impossible for all but Himself. We must recognize that. It will help us to turn right round again and face things in a different way altogether. 'This is impossible so we will give it up'. No! That is just the thing that the Lord wants it to be, to get glory to Himself.
Well, I ask you to come back and look at the lives of these men again. They were the men who triumphed, they were the men who carried forward the testimony. But oh, the impossible situations, the helplessness of these men in positions into which they came and in which they found themselves! But the issue - yes, Abel "being dead yet speaks". He is still alive, he has triumphed, and the others. And Joseph, though plunged in such deep depths of utter helplessness, Joseph cannot turn a hand to get himself out of that predicament. If he had some slight hope that that butler would speak well for him when he was released, his hopes were disappointed. The butler was elated and he forgot about Joseph. He could not do anything, he could pull no strings to get his own release. He was left there. It had to be God, only God, but Joseph came to the throne and was second in the land. He preserved life... for the testimony of Life to be handed on to the family.
That is a word of interpretation. Let me remind you of some little parts of it. God does not tell us what He is doing when taking us through dark experiences. If He did, it would be all right. If He said, 'I am going to lead you into a bad time, it is all going to be dark and strange and perplexing and bewildering and helpless, but it is all right, I am working a tremendous thing, this is what I am going to bring out of it', if He said that the faith element would fade out. If only He would tell us He is doing something, and what He is doing, instead of leaving us in the dark and seeming to be so far away and without any interest in us! If only! Ah yes, but He did not do that, and we know He does not do that, He does not explain. But here is the challenge. This is what is meant by Heb. 11 and the men of faith, that is what it means. And thank God we have the heritage, we have a great heritage, we have more than they had. These men did not have a Bible, it was not written when they were going through it. We have their story and so many more. We see the issue, we have the sequel, but is it really helping us? When you are having a bad, dark time and feel that all has gone wrong, read the story of Joseph again. As I said yesterday, starting on it you will not want to put it down. Take its great lessons. The God of Joseph is our God and He is doing the same thing, and we know that that is true to life. What I have been saying is so true to life. We have that evidence. That, at any rate, is very much like my experience, and therefore I have reason to think and believe that the same thing is involved. The God of resurrection is working this to glory.