The Faith of the Overcomer
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - The Call to Stand Fast

"But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were enlightened, ye endured a great conflict of sufferings... For ye both had compassion on them that were in bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of you possessions, knowing that ye have for yourselves a better possession and an abiding one. Cast not away therefore your boldness, which hath great recompense of reward. For ye have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise. For yet a very little while, He that cometh shall come, and shall not tarry. But my righteous one shall live by faith: And if he shrink back, my soul hath no pleasure in him. But we are not of them that shrink back unto perdition; but of them that have faith unto the saving of the soul. Now faith is assurance of things hoped for, a conviction of things not seen. For therein the elders had witness borne to them" (Heb. 10:32,34-39; 11:1-2).

"Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Heb. 12:1-2).

You will have observed that these words are addressed to those of the Lord's people who were in danger of departing from the way of faith, and the recall here was to faith, the way of faith.

In these closing chapters there is a gathering up of the main features of the letter; that is, we get those things which are the main and primary implications of the letter, what the letter is intended to imply, what the force of it is; and if there is one word which summarizes this letter more perfectly than another it is that word faith. You can take it right back to the beginning of the letter and carry it right through to the end, and find that it is the governing word. It stands over everything that this letter contains; for now, as the letter shows, everything for the life of the believer is out of sight. There was a day in the life of the Hebrew when everything was in sight, and all those things of his belief as seen are mentioned, a whole system as manifested on the earth in the tabernacle service; the priesthood, the sacrifices, the tabernacle, the whole order. That has passed, and now all that is removed from sight, is gathered up into Him who is at God's right hand, out of the sight of the believer, and therefore everything becomes a matter of faith. But by reason of their trials and afflictions, and of the adversity which they encountered, and all the stress and the pressure, these Hebrew believers were in peril of departing from that life and way of faith. It would appear that they had already commenced that departure. Thus here is the strong call, or recall, to faith. They are reminded of the faith which possessed them and actuated them at the outset of their confession, and how they took joyfully the spoiling of their possessions, knowing that they had a better possession, an abiding one. Now that better and abiding possession has become somewhat obscured, at least in it's clear definition and outline, its vividness, and they were in danger of casting away their boldness.

These are very significant words: "...a better possession and an abiding one" - "...a great recompense of reward". You have to link that with these words a little further on, "Faith is the giving substance to things hoped for..." If faith becomes weakened, the better possession, the great recompense of reward recedes, becomes weaker in the heart.

The Possessing of a Hope through Faith

That is the backward glance in respect of this letter; but look forward. "Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the proving of things not seen, for therein the elders had witness borne to them". Then begins the great line of elders; Abel, Abraham, and so on. Do you catch the suggestion or indication? All these men had something for which they hoped, an object of hope. It was something better than that which was here on the earth. They had an object of hope, and they believed God concerning that object, and their faith led them to let everything else go with that object in view. They endured, they suffered, they persisted toward an object of hope which had been laid hold of by faith.

When you recognise that, then you look at these men and say, What was their object? What was the object of their hope?

Abel had witness borne that he was righteous. Was that what he was after? Was that the longing of Abel's heart, to stand as justified before God? Well, everything would point to that as being Abel's object, and faith brought him to his great recompense of reward: "He had witness borne that he was righteous", through faith. I am not going through the chapter taking up every one of the persons mentioned, but you will see that they all had an object of hope, and that they reached their object through faith.

Why did Enoch walk with God? He had faith unto an end, and it was his faith to possess that great recompense of reward that caused him in his day to walk with God as he did. He walked with God: he had to walk with God in his own heart as every man does. Whether there be few or whether there be many others walking with God, a walk with God is always a lonely thing. One of the marks of a real walk with God is this, that it seems that no one else has ever gone that way before, or knows anything about it. A real walk with God is always a personal thing of one's own personal faith, and it is always a lonely thing. It is finding out God for yourself, and that is pioneer work whether there be millions doing the same thing or whether you are having a lonely walk. No one else can find out God or walk with God for you. No one else's faith can serve you in that full sense of bringing you to know what they know about the Lord. We have to walk with God alone. And Enoch walked with God. We must believe, when we are told that, that his walk with God meant something very real, something peculiar, something special. It was a very real walk with God, a very utter walk with God. But he did it with a hope, and his walk being in the faith that his hope would be reached, God took him. We must believe that Enoch's was faith which was set upon that which we would mean by translation, by rapture, by not going the ordinary way of life but having an extraordinary consummation of his course, a triumphant consummation of his walk with God here. He believed that was possible. His heart was set upon it, and he walked with God and received the great recompense of reward, and faith gave substance to the thing hoped for. I think we might go deeper than that and say it was faith that conceived of such a possibility. I doubt whether there was another one on the earth who had conceived of such an idea as being translated. He had an object in view; that is the point. It was his hope, and faith caused him to act in the light of the object of his hope, and he received the recompense of reward.

Thus it was with every other one: there was an object. That object was their recompense of reward, the object of hope, and in relation to it they accepted, adopted, pursued a course of faith, and by faith the elders had witness borne to them. They had God's witness.

Patience and the Perfecting of Faith

Now, having surveyed that whole ground, the Apostle comes back in thought and, as you notice, he uses the word patience: "For ye have need of patience, that, having done the will of God, ye may receive the promise" (verse 36). "Therefore (with the whole range of these witnesses before us) let us run with patience..." These three things are brought together, hope, faith and patience. Very often faith needs a buttress, and faith's buttress is patience. "Having done the will of God" - that is your act of faith; you have acted in faith in the light of that which has been born in you as God's object in your case. Yes, you might well say, I have stepped out in faith, I have adopted the faith way, I have done the will of God in the matter of believing God and acting in faith. Yes, but that does not always get us to the end; there is the patience of faith. Very often we have to support that patience which suffers long.

These believers stepped out at the beginning in faith, out from the whole system of things seen, out on to the basis of the unseen, the heavenly, and in so doing they had suffered very much: "Partly, being made a gazingstock... for ye both had compassion on them that were in bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your possessions..." (Heb. 10:33-34). Well, they had stepped out in faith and done the will of God, but a long period had stretched out before them after that. Thus the force of chapter 11 is this, that not only did these people accept a course of faith, not only did they obey God in the matter of faith, but they persevered with their hope throughout their whole life. Many of them never in their lifetime reached the hoped-for end nor obtained the great recompense of reward. All they had was witness borne to them, and patience, therefore, was a constant necessity to go hand in hand with faith. This is the faith of God's elect.

We are thinking at this time of the faith of the overcomer, and when you turn to the Book of the Revelation, which is the summary of it all, you know what a tremendous place the patience of Christ has for the overcomer: "...hast kept the word of my patience..." (3:10): "...the patience of Jesus Christ" (1:9). Now bring that back to the beginning: "Run with patience the race that is set before us, looking off unto Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith". Faith and patience are exemplified by the Lord Jesus as, shall we say, the twin virtues and factors in overcoming. "Who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is set down..." (Heb. 12:2); overcoming through faith and patience.

The Disciplining of the Soul

Now one more word in this meditation: "...have faith unto the saving (or the gaining) of the soul" (10:39). That is not the object of hope, that is not the great recompense of reward, but that is put in there to show where our difficulty is. It is our own souls that are the difficulty in that way of faith and patience. If you have a soul that believes and trusts and has faith quite easily, and you do not in your own human nature have any trouble in the matter of faith, then the Bible was never written for you. If the same should be true of patience and you are one of those people who never find it difficult to be patient, you have all the patience that is ever required of you, well then, you are a monstrosity. You see what I mean. Here mention is made of faith to the gaining of the soul. You have to bring that soul over on to your side. A better word would be the winning of the soul. That again is not a perfect translation; gaining is not perfect, and certainly saving is not the best word. It is that this soul of ours has to be brought into line, possessed and brought into line, so that our souls are made to serve us in this Divine end, that our whole being is there. That is a matter of progress. That is not done all at once, but it is a course in our lives where all the doubting, unbelieving, questioning, natural, human life is being brought over on to the way of faith.

Now this is a very important thing for us to recognise. What is the Lord doing with us? I do not believe that the Lord is going to cut us up into water-tight compartments and put our spirit in one compartment and take our spirits on without the rest of us; and He is certainly not going to isolate our souls and rule them out. Do not get that idea with all that you hear about the difficulty of the soul, and soulishness. Do not get the idea that the Lord has cut off the soul and relegated it to a place where it is altogether disregarded. He is dealing with our spirits in order that through our spirits there may be a gaining of the soul, a mastering of the soul, a bringing of the soul over. That is the very nature of spiritual education.

You may come into any test in this matter at any time. On the one hand there is the call and necessity for faith in God, trust in the Lord, and probably the action of faith in taking some step. Now your soul rises up: you know in your spirit what is true, what is right, what the Lord's mind is, but here you have an enemy in your own soul that rises up and begins to question, to doubt, to pull back. What is the Lord going to do? He is not going to annihilate your soul, put your soul out of action: and don't you try to put your soul out of action. What is the position to which one comes who has had experience, who has walked with the Lord for any length of time, who knows a little of this walk of faith? The position is just this: Yes, I know all about those doubts and fears, those questionings, that swirl of confusion, that conflict of forces which rises up in the face of the known will of God, and I have many times suffered; suffered because I have been disobedient, suffered because I have not trusted the Lord: I have had a bad time inside because I allowed my own soul to have the upper hand and the stronger word and to cause a hesitation, a standing still. I have known that it does not do to allow that sort of thing. But what I have to do now is that when that thing rises up - that doubt or that natural tendency of mine to doubt, or to fear, or to question, or to quarrel, or to hesitate - I have to say to my soul, No, I am going on with God and you have to come with me!

I have put that perhaps rather crudely, but I am sure you will see what I mean. That is a position to which we come after a time of walking with God. We come to the place where we begin to get a bit knowing about our own souls. Yes, that got me into trouble before, that natural tendency of mine to argue the matter, to discuss it at length, to walk round it asking questions; that simply gets nowhere. God's mind about the matter is this and though there are all the arguments against it, seeing I know that to be God's mind, well, the arguments for the time being must go by the board, and I must go on with God. That is the only way through. Thus, little by little - oh, so slowly! - we gain our souls, we bring our souls over, and we progressively approximate to the position which contradicts the idea of the soul being ruled out: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength". That is putting the soul in its right place with God; not ruling it out but bringing it in. But we are slow in coming to the place where the soul goes on with God: " unto the gaining of the soul".

You see how all of a piece this is when you come to chapter 12. "Consider him that hath endured such gainsaying of sinners against himself, that ye wax not weary, fainting in your souls" (verse 3). Here in the hands of the Father the spirit is being instructed, trained, and one of the objects of that spiritual training is this gaining of the soul. A truly spiritual person is not one whose soul has the upper hand, but who, having a soul, really having a soul, has that soul in hand. That is a spiritual person. That is what God is after. We must remember that the soul has the distinctive mark of our humanity, and God is not going to make us other than human at any time in this life or afterward. Humanity is not an evil thing: it is a Divine thing. It is a peculiar and unique conception of God. Angels are lower than man as God means man to be: "Not unto angels did he subject the world to come, whereof we speak. But one hath somewhere testified, saying, What is man, that thou art mindful of him... Thou didst put all things in subjection under his feet" (Heb. 2:6-8). Man is a peculiarly noble conception of God, not as he is but as he will be and as Christ is, "the Man Christ Jesus". It is a glorified humanity that God is after, and the distinctive mark of humanity is the soul in its right position and right relationship. Man is comprised of spirit, soul, and body, but the soul is the seat of the moral intelligence, so it has to be won. That can only be as the spirit is in a right position and right union with God.

The Abiding Character of Spiritual Laws

We will close with one more general remark which arises out of what is here in this part of the letter to the Hebrews. It is that spiritual laws never change. God's end is the same, and the laws by which God reaches His end never alter. Thus here all these men of the old dispensation, these witnesses, are brought up before us, and we are given to see that they moved on the basis of spiritual laws, their lives were governed by spiritual laws. We saw the sevenfold effect of faith in Abraham. That is what is in our mind, and we are going to see a great deal more about those seven laws of faith.

Those laws are not laws for Abraham alone, or for one dispensation. The way in which Abraham had to move, of course, in relation to those laws may be peculiar to Abraham's life and to Abraham's day. We do not all live in Ur of the Chaldees, and so on. That was simply the local colouring and setting, but the spiritual law was exactly the same, and all these points are brought right forward up to date and presented to us in their spiritual significance, and it is as though the Lord shows the same law for you as for Abraham, the same principle for you as for Abel; there is no change. The end is the same, and the way to the end is the same. That it may come to that end, the Church therefore is caused to stand upon the very same spiritual laws.

Seeing, then, the cloud of witnesses, "let us... lay aside every weight... and let us run with patience the race that is set before us"; for the basis of their life and ours is one, and that is all summed up in one word, faith. No one from Abel onward ever got through except by faith. We shall get through in no other way. We may as well settle that. If I could strengthen that in your heart by any additional word, I think it would be this, that the more spiritual we become (and that is only another way of saying, the more immediately we are in touch with God, and with God's ways and God's purposes) the more fierce and intensely real will be the battle of faith. That may seem strange: we perhaps would think it would work just the other way; but it is not so, and never has been so. The fact is that the more you get outside of that which is tangible, seen, that which can be grasped by the natural senses, the more you come into touch with those naked forces which have as their supreme object the destruction of the faith of God's people. "Howbeit when the Son of man cometh, shall he find the faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8). Well, the enemy concentrates on faith. "Satan hath desired to have thee that he may sift thee as wheat, but I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not" (Luke 22:31). You see what the object of Satan is - "thy faith". Therein lay Peter's peril in the hour of his sifting. It is a comfort to recognise that point. It was in that moment when he was overwhelmed with the consciousness of his own failure. He had denied his Lord; it had come home to him, and he became crushed, broken. He says, I have denied my Lord! And when you get anywhere into that realm of the consciousness of your own failure and breakdown, and of the Lord being disappointed, oh, Satan comes in there. He rushes in and says, What is the good of you trying? What is the good of you expecting, hoping? You had better give it all up! Blessed be God, in the hour of that peril to faith, we have that word of encouragement "I have prayed for thee..." Our faith is not a matter of our own strength to maintain it; it is a matter of His prayer.

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