by T. Austin-Sparks
I am sure that it is the Lord's will that this whole time should be gathered up in some concise and definite and practical word; not any further laying foundations or presenting subject matter, but seeking to reach a clear conclusion, and, by His grace, a clear position. I am going to turn you again to Rev. 1:9, "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."
I want to begin by cutting that statement down to this - "for the testimony of Jesus". The whole conference has been occupied with the testimony of the Christ, and we have seen, I trust, that the testimony of the Christ is the testimony of His complete conquest of death through His Cross in His resurrection; the testimony of Life's triumph over death.
Now here is this verse - "for the testimony of Jesus". It is not just abbreviated to "the testimony of Jesus", I attach the word 'for', "for the testimony of Jesus" because that gives me the point, the specific point, of contact with you at this time.
Identification with the Testimony
Now let us add something more to it. "I John... for the testimony of Jesus". John is identifying himself here with the testimony of Jesus, and saying that it is the testimony of Jesus which gives significance and meaning to himself. It is as though he were saying, "My existence is represented by the testimony of Jesus. I come into the picture because of the testimony of Jesus. I have my place for the testimony of Jesus. My name is mentioned, and only to be mentioned, because of the testimony of Jesus." "I John... for the testimony of Jesus".
I am sure the Lord would like the outcome of this conference to be that each one of us should just write our name in the place of John. There may be some Johns here. Well, put a ring round it and underline it, but if your name is not John, just write it in, or ask the Lord that in the future when you read Rev. 1:9 your name is there in the place of John's. "I... for the testimony of Jesus. If I am going to be identified at all, singled out, there may be many names, but, having a name of my own, I am singled out by my name because of the testimony of Jesus. The testimony of Jesus is the thing that brings my name in at all." You see what I mean.
"I John for the testimony of Jesus". That is the true starting-point where this testimony of the Christ, as we have been looking at it through all the Scriptures, should become a personal and individual thing which justifies our having a name at all, that it could be said at length that "So-and-so for the testimony of Jesus". It would be a grand thing if that could be the record in heaven and earth - John (or whatever name you like) for the testimony of Jesus. Those two things go together and you can never think of the one without the other. When you think of him and of her, you have a plus to that name, and that is the testimony of Life triumphant over death in all the difficult circumstances in the Patmos situation and what that may mean for everyone nevertheless, for the testimony of Jesus. There is no doubt about it. If we said no more than that, it is a challenge enough, that that which gives meaning to our being and what we are and where we are, is the testimony of Jesus. "I John, who I am and where I am" - that is what he said - "I, John, identify and am positioned here for the testimony of Jesus." It is very simple but full of challenge and full of meaning.
A Concern for the Church
Now go back. "John to the seven churches that are in Asia". John is saying: 'Yes, as an individual I am committed to this, I am bound up with this, my very life is wrapped up in this, but it is not only a personal matter - it is that, it begins there, but because of that it becomes something related.' "John to the seven churches". 'This to which I am committed has got to be passed on and reproduced, has got to be represented by the church of God. So far as can be, this testimony in which I stand, which gives meaning to my life, must be found in the church of God, in that far wider realm of things. And the church in its entirety - sevenfold - must take its meaning from this very thing from which my life takes its meaning.' That, of course, is just what is here. John is going on to challenge the churches as to the testimony of Jesus. It is the risen Christ Who is doing it, but the risen Christ here has taken up this man for doing it. It is through this one that the church is being challenged as to this very testimony, and John is entering into it, not just as a tool or a machine, but entering into it in the travail of his own soul and sharing the sufferings of the Christ in order that the church might truly express this testimony of Life. For, as I understand it, the key to these seven messages to the churches is just this - 'Not your orthodoxy, not your works, not your fundamentalism, not this, not that, but the triumphant testimony of Life; that which overcomes all these other things which speak of death, of decline, of limitation'. It is a life which overcomes, a mighty life.
So, from the individual it moves out. It is not just something wrapped up with me, but my concern and my business is to see that the church of God comes into it so far as it is possible by my instrumentality. That means not only that I am standing for the testimony as an individual, but I am standing for the church. This is not only an individual matter, but I have got the church on my heart in this matter.
You can see how true that was of John, how true that was of Paul, how true it was of all here, that their stand was to be reproduced in the people of God. That would take us back to the beginning because John's is a recall to what was made so evidently the Lord's intention at the beginning. There is no doubt about it. You begin the history of the church in the book of the Acts with the testimony of Jesus in fulness, in glory. It was a wonderful thing then. Life - oh, what Life! And what that Life was leading to and resulting in, because of the very divine vitality in the church then. How much happened within their own compass, amongst themselves, and what it led them to: loss of self-interest, earthly interest, worldly interest. And what a lot happened in the world because of that. Yes, it is a mighty testimony. But, by the time John is in Patmos, loss has been sustained, declension has taken place, and it is a call back. He is standing now not for the establishment in the first place of the testimony, but the recovery of it amongst the Lord's people. He is committed to that, but he knows, as we know, what the Lord wanted, because there it was, there was that testimony in real expression originally constituted by the risen Lord Himself through the Holy Spirit and on the principle of Life. It was not bringing in some great organization to propagate some truths. It was the bringing of a great organism to propagate a Life. There is a lot of difference between those two things. To propagate a Life - thus was it constituted and that was what it fulfilled in the beginning.
Things which are Necessary for the Triumph of the Testimony
But that Life became the subject and the object of a tremendous battle and necessitated a deep and continuous work. And so the rest of the New Testament, or the days of the book of the Acts, (that is, the beginning of the book of the Acts on to the Revelation) is a presentation of those things which have to be taken account of in order that this testimony shall fully triumph. And I want very briefly and concisely to point out some of those things without necessarily taking you to the Scriptures. I leave you with your New Testament to verify what I am going to say.
1. The Absolute Sovereignty of Jesus Christ
First of all, we have in the book of the Acts the laying down or the establishment of this one all-inclusive truth and principle and law - that of the absolute sovereignty of the Lord Jesus. That is essential and indispensable to the full testimony of Life. While there is any kind of limitation or reservation as to His absolute sovereign Lordship, then there is a limitation of Life proportionately. It was because at the beginning He was so utterly Lord by the Holy Spirit that there was so utterly a testimony of Life. That was their testimony, that was the thing that they were saying all the time, that was the thing which was uppermost with them. He is Lord and He is Lord of all! And it was being applied. It was not just an objective truth in heaven, but applied truth within and around in all matters. The testimony of Jesus flows out of the Lordship of Jesus, and the testimony only flows out in the measure in which He is Lord. That Lordship does not just mean that He is officially established upon a throne in heaven. That Lordship becomes a matter of practical consequence in ten thousand little ways in the lives of His own people here. In all our affairs, in all our matters, and in all that we are, in all our make-up, it is a matter of whether He is Lord. As we have said about John, "I John for the testimony of Jesus" meant "I John under the absolute Lordship of Jesus".
2.The Total Setting Aside of Man
The next great revelation of the meaning of the testimony is the total setting aside of men. That is the letter to the Romans. Man is there called "the whole body of the flesh", man in Adam, the first man, the I, the inclusive I of the Adam man is totally set aside and crucified with Christ. We were crucified together with Him. The testimony of Jesus requires that, that is an established fact. Do not let there be any mistake about it, it is the most practical thing with which we have to do, and until we have come to recognize the reality and the meaning of Romans 6, until that becomes something that we have read with our inner eyes opened and recognized as to its real meaning where the totality of our Adam life and constitution and make-up is concerned, until then the testimony of Jesus cannot be. Oh, how true it is that such as have really come into the light and into the good of that have really commenced to move marvellously into the great realm of heavenly Life. It is something that we have got to come to.
We say on the one hand that Jesus is Lord and we want Him to be Lord. We are most concerned that He shall be Lord and we will sing with every ounce of the strength that we have "Crown Him Lord of all". All right, the first thing that means is that you go out and go out totally, and you have no place. He occupies all the place, He takes our place and we have no existence. Our name only obtains as here with John in relation to the testimony of Jesus, not otherwise. Accept that for the very first meaning of the testimony of Jesus or of the Lordship of Jesus is - 'out we go'. That is God's position and we must commit ourselves to that. We have to take that chapter in that letter away to the Lord and say, "It says here that I was crucified with Christ, I was buried together with Him in baptism. Now, Lord, that is what Your Word says, and that is what Your mind is, and I take my position there. And I count on You in all faithfulness to make that real, and I am going to believe that you are going to do it." It may take some time, but He will do it. It is the way of the testimony, it is our exit. That is the negative side.
3. All Things By the Spirit
The positive side follows that in the sequence of the New Testament, the positive side of things is in, and by, and of the Spirit. From then everything is to be by the Spirit: not I myself, not my energies, not my heart or will as such, but only as energized by the Holy Spirit. My thoughts are to give way to Him, my reasonings to Him, my intellect to come completely under His sovereignty. We shall discover that the Holy Spirit has an altogether different mind from ours but "all things of the Spirit" (that is 1 Corinthians) everything now is from the Lord, by the Lord, and in the Lord. I have gone out - that is the negative. He has now, by His Spirit, taken charge. The Spirit has come in and is now going to do everything. I may be instrumental, He may work through my mind, He may work through my will, through my heart, through my body, but it has to be the Lord and it shall be the Lord. That is what the Lord requires, and when it is like that, you see what you have of a testimony. Again this is all included in the first great book of the Acts, and when all things were by the Spirit and man was out of the picture, well, what wonderful results there were! Such things as every Christian organization craves and longs for. Oh, that it were like that! It is so spontaneous, it is so unforced, so unorganized, it is just happening. The Spirit of God has taken on the work. All things by the Spirit.
4. Ministry by Revelation
Then service or ministry is all by revelation. The testimony of Jesus relates to the revelation of Jesus. We saw that when He opened their eyes, they saw Him. The tremendous transformation that took place when their eyes were open to see Him and to understand the Scriptures, that was revelation. They knew all about Moses, they knew all about the letter of the Scriptures. I expect in some sort of way they knew Isaiah 53, but they did not know, otherwise they would not have gone to pieces when it was being fulfilled. When it came by revelation they were delivered, they were saved, they were rescued, they were brought out into a very large place of Life. Their ministry became not the ministry resultant from studying or accumulating data, it came on the basis of the Scripture with the Holy Spirit's revelation of the Scripture in their hearts. There is a big difference between those two things. And so we find that the next thing in the New Testament is - "God... shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4:6). We have this ministry, this ministry of a great revelation, by the fiat of God in our hearts. Oh, that all our ministry were like that! But this is the testimony; this is the impact of Life. There is little impact of Life in just giving a Bible study, but if the Spirit of Life is revealing through the Bible study that which no human mind unaided by the Spirit can ever see, then it is light - by revelation.
5. Everything of an Organic Nature
The next law is that everything has to be of an organic nature. Progress has got to be always organic and not by legal control. That legal control, that is always putting the strait-jacket of 'Thou shalt' and 'Thou shalt not' on people, always tying them up with law and the bondage of law, the driving force being the imposition of some system or systematized religious conception. Over against that, the law here is progress by the organic principle of Life. "Ye were running well; who hindered you...?" (Gal. 5:7). 'You have stopped going on - why? Because you have come under the awful bondage of law'. "I am perplexed about you", "I am again in travail till Christ be fully formed in you" (Gal. 4:20,19). How will that be? By the principle of Life. What the apostle means there, as he makes clear, is that when the Lord is sovereign within, you will not have to be told what you should do; you will know. That is a better kind of Christianity. You will know how you ought to dress and how not to, you will know whether you ought to use make-believe or not! The Spirit of Life in you will begin to tell you lots of things. You will not need the law to come along and say, 'That is wrong.' You will know, Life will do it, and you will make progress. If people begin to lay the law down to you, you will begin to resist, and you will stop spiritual progress. That is not the way. Progress is on the organic principle of Life, and that is the law here.
6. A Heavenly Life - No Touch with Earth
The next thing that is brought so clearly to view is this: that this church and everyone who comprises this church, must keep off earthly ground and must not attach themselves or itself to this earth; must not touch this earth in a spiritual way. You will not misunderstand me. I am not speaking literally and physically. I am talking of inwardly, spiritually, of having an inward link and association with this cursed earth, and it is cursed and it is in death. You touch it and you know, or you ought to know, that it is death to touch it, and you shrink back. That terrible reaction in a truly spiritual person and a truly spiritual company of the Lord's people, that shrinking back when you touch a certain realm is tremendously real. And that is exactly the whole meaning of the letter to the Ephesians - in the heavenlies in Christ. Do not touch things here and should you touch them you ought to realize that you have touched death and at once flee from it for what it is. The law of a heavenly Life and heavenly relationship and everything in heaven, is the only way to overcome this world. Physically and in your soul you have got to touch this earth, this cursed earth now and you are up against that curse. At almost every turn, you feel the death of it, feel what a downgrade there is in it, what a resistance... how hard it is to live, to make progress or to get anything moving there. It is truly under the curse and the only way to live here at all in this world and overcome the world is to have a Life in heaven and to stay there. Come down and you are beaten. Come down and you are defeated.
7. Suffering that Others May Come into the Good
And now the last thing I am going to say is this - the outworking of this. "I John for the testimony of Jesus... was in the isle that is called Patmos", "John to the seven churches". See what that is. That is suffering for the testimony, resulting in the far reach. I am in Thessalonians now. The letters to the Thessalonians have two major notes. The suffering of these people... how much the apostle spoke about their sufferings. Evidently the Thessalonian church suffered much. "The same sufferings" he says, "which you have seen in your brethren in Judea are accomplished in you." What suffering! Ah, but "from you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith to God-ward is gone forth" (1 Thess. 1:8). "They are speaking of you everywhere, of your faith, I need not to say anything, they are all talking about your faith." Suffering and a far reach. Life through the winepress for others. The testimony is that. We suffer for the testimony's sake: others derive the benefit. "Death works in us, but life in you" (2 Cor. 4:12). That is it.
The test of the testimony is just how decentralised we are in our influence and value. Oh, this turning in on ourselves, turning in on our own spiritual life, nursing ourselves, watching our own spiritual changes and alternations, the rise and fall of temperature... and it is death. Is it not strange that suffering usually makes people occupied with themselves, but the Thessalonians were just the opposite? They had all this suffering and everybody else was getting blessing! They were delivered from Self, even through suffering, and the testimony of Life was going out.
These are seven laws of the testimony, briefly, imperfectly, insufficiently stated. But they come back here.
"I for the testimony".
"I for the testimony" - Jesus absolute Lord.
"I for the testimony" - then I am out of the picture.
"I for the testimony" - then all things by the Spirit.
"I for the testimony" - seeing Him by revelation of the Spirit within.
"I for the testimony" - cut off from any voluntary association and touch with this cursed earth and maintaining a heavenly life.
"I for the testimony" - suffering that others may come into the good.
Those are the laws of the testimony. Now, are you going to write your name in? Are you going to have that phrase - the testimony of Jesus - to justify you having a name? "I John" and... what name is it? Your name... "for the testimony of Jesus", and this is how it is to work out, and you may be quite sure that if the first thing is true, all the rest will be true. You see in the book of the Acts that the first thing was true. Jesus was Lord, and all the things that I have said just followed, and it will be like that. Absolute Lordship... and the rest comes about spontaneously.