The Overcomer

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - The Testimony of the Overcomer

"They overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb, and because of the word of their testimony; and they loved not their life even unto death" (Rev. 12:11).
"...John, who bare witness of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 1:2).
"I John... was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 1:9).
"When he opened the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of them that had been slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held" (Rev. 6:9).
"And the dragon waxed wroth with the woman, and went away to make war with the rest of her seed, that keep the commandments of God, and hold the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 12:17).
"I fell down before his feet to worship him. And he saith unto me, See thou do it not: I am a fellow-servant with thee and with thy brethren that hold the testimony of Jesus: worship God: for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy" (Rev. 19:10).

In our previous meditations we have been seeing that there are three aspects to be noted in connection with the overcomer. One is a condition or state, and another a position, and a third a testimony. The condition or state is that of righteousness which is through faith in Jesus Christ, the righteousness which is represented by the Blood, the incorruptible life and nature of the Lord Jesus which is ours through faith, a state essential to overcome the Evil One in all his forms and works. A position results from the state, a heavenliness of life, and from that a testimony. We come to this third aspect in our present meditation.

The Overcomer's Testimony

These are not three separate things, as we have pointed out. Not one of them can be had without the others, but each leads on to the other. That is to say, the state of righteousness by faith, when rightly and adequately apprehended, results in a position, a heavenly position spiritually, and the position leads to the testimony. If you look at it in the reverse order, the testimony is essentially in virtue of a position, and the position is in virtue of a condition. It is very important to see fully in our hearts the significance of that. The testimony of Jesus is not a statement of truth, not just a declaration of facts, of certain truths about the Lord Jesus, His Person and His work. It may be expressed in language, it may include those facts, it may be something verbally declared, but the testimony of Jesus is not merely that. It is not a formula, a confession of faith drafted in words. The testimony of Jesus which provokes the great red dragon and draws him out in every form of his activity as here set forth - the old serpent, who is called the Devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole earth, the accuser of the brethren; representing the manifold activity of the ferocious dragon in his antagonism - the testimony of Jesus which provokes him and brings him into this posture and attitude in which we see him in Rev. 12, I say again, is not a testimony of mere words. It is nothing less than the very embodiment of all those facts in a living spiritual way which registers with such tremendous effect as this in the realm where Satan holds sway. It is the spiritual effectiveness of things which determines whether it is the testimony of Jesus or whether it is some mere statement of truth. The effect that it has upon the enemy is always a fairly safe manner of judging whether it is the true testimony or not. It is a case of the fact or the facts being an inward reality in a person or in a company of the Lord's people. It is the thing which is borne out: not the thing which they say, profess or claim, but the thing which is borne out by their very existence. They are that. This is the testimony of Jesus.

It is because that is so that, in those first chapters of the book of the Revelation, where the victorious, living Lord is challenging the churches concerning their testimony, many commendable things which are mentioned are seen not to be adequate. In some directions, there was no departure from the truth as a statement of doctrine. There was no letting go of the confession of faith, there was still a standing tenaciously to the facts about the Lord Jesus; yes, and many other things quite commendable, and acknowledged as such by the Lord, and yet bringing from His lips that word expressing His dissatisfaction in view of what they stand for - But: "but I have this against thee"; "but thou hast there..."; but! You see, the Lord Himself, when He is taking into account the very object for which His Church exists, can never be satisfied with the most orthodox and sound statement of doctrine. What He is looking for is the effect of that in the spiritual universe, the power of it as a registration in that realm. It is that which is the testimony of Jesus.

The Nature of the Testimony of Jesus

Well then, we must come to see what this testimony of Jesus is in its nature, that is, its effect. What is the nature of it? What is the testimony of Jesus? Well, comprehensively, it is that Jesus has vanquished Satan, Jesus has overcome the world, and Jesus has destroyed the power of death. That is the testimony of Jesus comprehensively. In His case, that is a fact. In His case, the prince of this world has been cast out, and he that had the power of death has been nullified, and the works of the Devil have been destroyed. In His case, He has overcome the world.

Now the testimony of Jesus is not just a declaration of the facts which are true in His case, but these lampstands on the earth, here and there and there, are the vessels, the very embodiment of that in a living way. That is why the lamp was never to be allowed to go out in the sanctuary, but was to be trimmed night and morning that its flame might be kept clear and triumphant. Therein is typified the embodiment of those facts which are facts in Him, and their being livingly, glowingly expressed here in the Church. That is the testimony, and there is one word which embraces all that. You want to know what the vanquishing of Satan is, the overcoming of the world, and the destroying of death? There is one word which goes right to the heart of it, and it is this, life. Life is the sum total of all Christ's being and of His work. He is the life. He comes into the world as the life. He is the offset in His very person to that condition which is universal, namely, death, spiritual death. He is life. His presence is life. Everything about the Lord Jesus now is life; there is no death in Him. In Him death is swallowed up in its entirety. In His very person He is the fullness of that life of God which has nothing in it whatsoever that can be touched by death. His work is that. All the work of the Lord Jesus is related to one thing, and one thing only, and that is life. In Him life and incorruptibility have been brought to light - marvellous revelation of a thought of God! Incorruptibility! What a world, what a universe it will be, when that is the reigning law in everything, everywhere! Incorruptibility! Think of it! Consider how easy it is to corrupt people nowadays, and to corrupt things, and to corrupt procedure. Consider too the result of it. But there is coming a world, a creation, a new heaven and a new earth in which will dwell righteousness which is incorruptible. Incorruptible life will be the reigning law of God's new universe. That is the effect of Christ's work. It is life; just as the sum of all Satan's being and work is death. The presence of Satan is death. The very person of Satan is death. He is death. I do not mean that he is an abstract thing, but he is the very embodiment and personification of death and the effect of all his work is death. He has brought in death. Everything that Satan touches dies. He carried with him the very breath of death.

The testimony of Jesus, then, is this that is seen right at the beginning of the book of the Revelation, where He is presented as the Living One who became dead, but who is alive unto the ages of the ages, and has the keys of death and of Hades. The testimony of Jesus is the testimony of death swallowed up in victory, destroyed, as the sum of all Satan's person and work, presence and influence.

Now, that is carrying things right to the ultimate, to the end - the testimony of Jesus! And the overcomer is set for that testimony. The Church was brought into being on the ground of that. Always remember that it was when that had been perfectly accomplished in Christ, and He was installed at the right hand of God as the acknowledgment of the fact that all this was done in Him and through Him and by Him; it was when He was there and the thing was perfect, accomplished, that the Church began, the Church was born. The very life of that new creation, in the person of the Holy Spirit, entered into the Church and made it a living thing. The Church was born when the life came right out from heaven, that life which had conquered death, and the Church's very existence is by reason of the "testimony of Jesus". The overcomer only comes into view when the Church as a whole has fallen short. The overcomer comes in to make up that which is lacking, to recover, to represent and express that which has been lost, to stand for the fullest thought of God. The one thing which is to characterize the overcomer, be it the overcomer individual or collective, is this testimony which is expressed in life.

Now we see why it is important and essential that a position should be occupied for a testimony like that. You have to have a position to be able to express that. You have to be in the position of spiritual ascendancy represented by Paul's word "heavenly", and, in order to occupy that position, you have to be in that state or condition represented by the value of the Blood, the incorruptible nature of the Lord Jesus; and that, of course, through faith.

The Blood the Ground of Life

Now, the ground of all this is the Blood. "They overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb." I am not going to take anything for granted and I am going to run the risk of wearying you with repetition of things so well-known. When we quote this passage, Rev. 12:11, "They overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb", let us get our minds completely free from the idea that this overcoming because of the Blood was a matter of using phraseology; that is, that they took hold of the word and began to hurl it in some objective way at the head of the enemy. I know there are times when we must on our knees plead the virtue and value of the Blood against the enemy; but that cannot be done in the same way that a doctor will write out a prescription and apply it in sort of a mechanical way to a certain diagnosed trouble. It cannot be done like that. You have to be in a position for the Blood to be effectual when you appeal to it, a spiritual position. You have to be there in faith, where you in the first place stand utterly upon the ground of His perfect righteousness by faith. That means that every question, doubt, suggestion of being out of fellowship with God has to go. Anything whatever that raises the slightest doubt about your full fellowship with God will cripple you before the enemy. You and I have to be able to take this position before God through faith - ever in faith, knowing as much as we do about the vileness and iniquity of our own hearts: nevertheless, to be able to take this position before God - that even as Christ is there, so are we. His righteousness is the measure of our righteousness. It is a tremendous position, and something that no mortal would ever dare to assume were it not in the Word of God. That is the foundation, and anything whatever upon our conscience which interferes with that is a paralysing thing in the presence of the enemy. We have to get that cleared up first of all on the ground of what the Blood is for us before God, as speaking of an incorruptible life, and equally of course anything upon which the Spirit Himself puts His finger and says, Look here, that is something in which you persist, something in which you act voluntarily of your own volition, and knowingly, which is not according to the mind of God: you must put it away. Otherwise we are defeated in the presence of the enemy and he has the advantage. It is a condition through faith, and walking in the light, which brings us to a position of ascendancy over the enemy, which is the only sure and right ground of testimony, issuing in the testimony. The testimony has that underneath it.

The Blood Effectual through the Cross

So do not let us think of using phrases at the enemy. It is occupying a position which paralyses the enemy, an impregnable position, and all that he can do is to walk round and round trying to find some way in. The Blood is the ground of the testimony. "They overcame him because of (and I think that translation is so much better than "by") the blood of the Lamb." That translation just gets us that much further on in understanding. It is not by using something in an objective way, it is because of something in a subjective way; because of the Blood of the Lamb. Well, you see, that means that the Cross must have become an actuality. The Blood becomes released and effectual by way of the Cross. I mean, that the Cross must have removed all the ground of death for the testimony of the Blood in life to be established. The ground of death is dealt with in the Cross. You see, the specific significance of the Cross in this matter is that there we, in all that we are by nature, have been taken and set aside. That is the Cross. After that you have the living testimony of the Blood. It is another nature; not the nature which has been put away in the Cross, but another nature, His own nature, which goes on in glory - testimony. After the sacrifice has been offered, the Blood is carried through into the Most Holy Place to be an abidingly living testimony, and it is there as witnessing to the fact that all that ground of death in the old nature has been abolished, put away. This Blood in the presence of God says, There is another nature which triumphs over that, triumphs over death, over sin, over the flesh: and therefore over all the power of Satan. That is the present testimony of the Blood.

The Cross, then, must have been appropriated by us. We must have come to the place where we accept our union with Christ in His death to all that is of nature; otherwise there is no living testimony. Any attempt at testimony will be very soon countered by the enemy.

You remember the very familiar story of David, how in his zeal and enthusiasm, and in true devotion to the Lord, he one day called the elders of Israel and the people together, and said, If it seem good to you... let us bring again the ark of our God to us. Yes, it seems quite good; we agree! It is a good thing to do and we are quite sure it will please the Lord. So they arranged the whole matter. They had a cart made for the ark, and they got the ark and put it on their new cart and started on their way with a great deal of enthusiasm and zeal, sure that they were serving the Lord: and on the way the oxen stumbled - for that sort of thing is sooner or later bound to come up against difficulties - and Uzza put forth his hand to steady the ark; and the anger of the Lord was kindled against him and he died there before the Lord. David was grieved with the Lord that day and said, "How shall I bring the ark of God home unto me?" And the ark was turned aside into the house of Obed-edom and was there a long time. Then the next chapter opens in an altogether new realm. David calls for the sanctifying of the Levites and says, "None ought to carry the ark of God but the Levites; for them hath the Lord chosen to carry the ark of God..." Later in the chapter we read that David said, "Because (the Levites) bare not the ark at the first, the Lord made a breach upon us, for that we sought him not after the due order."

Well now; what do the Levites represent? Just the opposite of what Uzza represents. What is Uzza doing? Well, Uzza is one of the custodians of a nice little programme of work for the Lord. The first thing is, We will have a conference and discuss how to do this nice thing for the Lord! We have got our cart, our nice bit of mechanical contrivance; we are going to work for the Lord! But hardly have they embarked upon the proposition before death breaks in, death in something that has been done with the best of motives and greatest enthusiasm for the Lord. The end of that thing is death. It bears all the marks of nature, conferring with flesh and blood about the Lord's interests, to begin with; of having man's conceptions put into some shape for the carrying out of the Lord's work, and then of man taking responsibility and having his hand upon things. It is the realm of death even in the service of the Lord.

The Levites came in as exactly the opposite of that. They carried the ark upon their shoulders, not upon a cart. Levites are those who represent the fact that all the ground of nature has been put aside as being the ground of death. The testimony represented by this work is the testimony of Jesus, which is essentially the testimony that death has been swallowed up in victory. It is a contradiction of that testimony if you bring in a cart, if you bring in human counsels, if you bring in Uzza's hand. That is nature, that is man, that is the old creation. Bring that alongside of the testimony of Jesus and you have a contradiction, and God will not stand by a contradiction. Death will smite that thing.

If you are to have the testimony of Jesus established, everything has to be consistent with that testimony. You will remember that in the consecration of the Levites there were three offerings; the sin offering, in which it is declared that this old creation is destroyed from the presence of God; and then the burnt offering, with its meal offering mixed with oil, declaring that here is another nature, the perfected sinless humanity of the Lord Jesus, and His service and sacrifice, which is accepted by God; and that is the ground of Levitical acceptance, consecration and service, and it is that principle that comes in. It is what the Lord Jesus is that is the ground of service, not our nice counselling and conferences about how to do the work of the Lord, not our contrivances for the Lord's interests: it is Christ conducting everything, governing everything. That is life. The testimony of Jesus is the testimony of life, and everything must be consistent with that, which means that all that we are by nature must have been put out by that sacrifice, that offering, that Cross, slain and consumed, and it is only Christ that is here.

It was just upon that point that the Lord was lighting all the time in His dealings with the seven churches in Asia. "Not what you are doing for Me, beloved Ephesus: I know your patience, your labour: I know. But it is not a matter of what you are doing for Me, even in your enthusiasm, your devotion, your patient labours; it is whether I Myself, in the power of My risen life, am transcendent in your midst, whether in the realm of Satan the effect is felt of the testimony that I have defeated him and destroyed his power in death". That is the thing that matters. That, is all in the Blood, and that is the ground of life.

The Lesson of the Candlestick

Now a word in closing. Do remember that, while there is a change from the candlestick or lampstand of the Holy place in the tabernacle to the lampstands in the churches in Asia, the principle is the same. The principle is the testimony of Jesus, the same in both cases. Now, when you go back to the tabernacle and look in the Holy place at that lampstand or seven-branched candlestick, what have you there in type? First of all, in the case of the lampstand, you have the light thrown upon itself. That was one thing very definitely prescribed or said about it, that the light of the candlestick would illumine the candlestick itself; it would stand in its own light, in its own testimony. Then, in addition, the light would be thrown upon the table of shewbread, and, further, on the altar of incense. It would illumine its own vessel and it would illumine all else there.

Now, here is something very precious, because, let us note, the principle is carried over to Revelation. It is the same thing in testimony. That lampstand or candlestick, with its central stem and its six branches, that seven-branched candlestick, is a figure of Christ and His Church. The New Testament designation is the Body of Christ, of which He is the Head, the centre and supreme factor. His Church is of one piece with Him, one Body, all sharing His One Spirit, the one oil - one testimony, the testimony of Jesus. But this living flame of the candlestick, which is to be preserved clearly, and continuously, falls upon the whole candlestick or vessel itself, and says that the testimony of Jesus must be in a living Body, and the Body itself must be in the light of the testimony, radiant with its own testimony. It must not be holding up a light for other things and other people and itself be in the dark. It must not be declaring in words "Jesus lives" and itself be dead. It is the livingness of the Church itself which is the testimony; that it is not only found holding out truth to the world, but is in the good of that truth itself; that it is not only saying, Jesus has conquered death and lives, but also saying, I am in the good of that, I am here as a living witness to that, for the light can shine upon me. The Church must be able to bear the light of the testimony itself; to take that light, draw it on itself and say, I am not saying things which are not true with regard to myself, I am the living expression of that doctrine.

Beloved, when we speak of the Church, let us remember that we are members of His Body and that what is true in the whole has to be true in every part. This is the overcomer. I have to ask myself in the light of this, Am I an overcomer? You have to ask yourself the same thing. Are you an overcomer? Can the light of this testimony fall upon you and find you able to stand up to it? Can we say, He lives, He has conquered death! not only as a statement concerning the Lord Jesus in heaven, but as a testimony that is sustained in each of us in what we are? Can we each one say, The power of that risen life is working in me; I know the power of His risen life? Has God made me know it through experience in the depths? Have I known what it is to come up in the power of His resurrection again and again? Do I know what it is for the onslaughts of death to be vanquished by the life of the risen Lord in me? Can we say that? That is the overcomer. No church can have that testimony beyond the measure in which the individual members thereof have it. One thing you and I, as members of any local church, must have our hearts continually set upon is this: O Lord, keep us from becoming merely a vessel or vehicle of doctrine: make us to be characterized by the life, so that others coming in, whether they understand what is said or not, exclaim, I do not understand it all, but there is life: I met the living Lord there! I would sooner people went away without their ever having understood a word but able to say that, than for them to have grasped things mentally and to have felt no impact.

Let us pray that the Lord will make us overcomers individually and as a company, in this sense, that the testimony shall not be merely something that we are holding out to the world, to the Church, but a testimony whose light can fall upon us and we can stand in the light of our own testimony unashamed.

That light fell upon the table of shewbread, and it declared the testimony of Jesus as to a living humanity, a Man after God's own heart, who is our sustenance, our life, our support, our food. We live because He lives. That is the signification of the shewbread: we live because He lives. Thus the light falls upon the shewbread, and testifies of Christ our life. Then the altar of incense testifies to our having a clear way through to God, an open heaven, communion with God in the risen living Christ. That is the testimony of Jesus. There is nothing merely doctrinal about that. To live because He lives, to live upon Him, and to have a way through Him unto the Father of clear access livingly; that is the testimony of Jesus, and it needs to be recovered in greater fullness amongst the Lord's people. Do pray about this, and about your own participation in it, that the life whereby Jesus conquered death shall be a reality in you and through you.

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