A Living Testimony
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - The Living God

Reading: Joshua 3:7,10-11; Ex. 3:12; Rom. 6:5; Col. 1:29; 2:1-3, 8-12.

"As I was with Moses, so I will be with Thee".

"Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you".

The difference between the ministry of Moses and Joshua was this, that mainly Moses was related to the bringing out and the formation of the people of God; Joshua was related to their bringing in and establishment. The Lord assured Joshua of His presence with them, that as He had been with Moses for the bringing out of the people, and their constituting, so He would be with him for their bringing in and for their establishing. The assurance was given directly by the Lord to Joshua. We are not told of any more that the Lord said to him, but we find almost immediately Joshua declaring to the people, not only the fact that the Lord was with them, but how they would know it, the way in which His presence would be known by them. "Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you... behold, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth passes over before you into Jordan" (Joshua 3:10-11).

If I understand that aright, in spiritual terms it means this. The testimony (it is the ark of the testimony) being brought into the very presence of the active stream of death would arrest and set back that power. Jordan speaks to us of death. In the New Testament we understand union with Christ in death, being planted or united with Him in the likeness of His death, to have had its typical setting forth in Jordan - having been buried with Him in baptism - so that Jordan sets before us the active, energetic stream of death. The ark of the Lord, which is the ark of the testimony, advances straight into that spiritual energy, that active stream of death, and immediately the two come together, as the priests' feet touch the brink of the stream, the waters of Jordan come under arrest, are forced back, made to stand upright, and that activity is checked and held up by the presence of the ark of the testimony.

Let us repeat that in the form in which we first said it. The testimony being brought into the very presence of the active stream of death would arrest and set back that power, and "hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you".

"As I was with Moses, so I will be with thee". That, "as I was with Moses", must, therefore, connect with the power of life over death. If we are to take these statements in Joshua 3 as the connection with the Lord's presence; if the "as" is the link which represents not only the fact of the Lord's presence but the nature in which the Lord was present, then it clearly means that the Lord's presence was a presence in the energy and power of a Life bringing death under arrest, and setting it back and overcoming it.

With Moses it is perfectly clearly seen in the matter of the deliverance of the people. The deliverance and the forming of the people was, from start to finish, a matter of life triumphant over death. The final issue of the exodus from Egypt was life over death; death universal, except in the realm where the testimony is, and unable to function there. At the waters of Marah, again, it was a question of life and death for want of water and Life triumphed over death by the tree. Between these two incidents there was the Red Sea, another great testimony. Death engulfed those who were not in the testimony. Those who were in the testimony sang the song of victory over death. With Amalek, again, the same principle is at work: Life conquering death. Then the same thing is seen in relation to the serpents in the wilderness. And so on to the end.

The one thing which is in evidence all the way through is this matter of the presence of God, meaning the deliverance of the people by the operation of resurrection Life, until that generation itself refused any longer to stand on that principle, and then it had to be given over to the work of death, and that generation died. But even out of that death was born another generation in the power of resurrection, over which death had no authority.

In this sense of the continuous victory of Life among them, the Lord was with Moses, and as He was with Moses, so He said He would be with Joshua. With Joshua the work of this very same thing was unto the inheritance. The inheritance was the result of the energy of Divine Life set against the energy of death.

Here in Joshua 3 there are one or two other little fragments which are illuminating and inspiring. It says that the waters stood up in a heap as far up as Adam. Christ's victory in His Cross, Christ's victory in that great spiritual Jordan, goes right back to the place where death came in with Adam; it goes to the very source of this evil river of death. It goes right back to the beginning of things: "In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die". There is a last Adam, Who has gone right back over all the history of Adam the first, to the point where he laid in death, and has dealt with the open door of death high up there, and has triumphed. "As far up as Adam". That means the victory of Christ goes right back to the place where death entered, the gateway of death.

It comes right on. It says here: "How Jordan overflowed all its banks at the time of harvest", not only the place where it entered, but at its very flood-tide, the full development, the very inundation of death. Christ has entered in in the power of His Cross and met death initially and finally, fully, comprehensively, even to the overflowing of all its banks. His is no partial victory. When God does a thing, He does it thoroughly. If God deals with the gods of the Egyptians, He does it thoroughly and there is nothing left; for when death had spread itself throughout the land it was no mere permission that was granted, but it was an entreaty to depart and a giving of the goods of Egypt as a temptation to accelerate their departure. God does things thoroughly. When He drowned the Egyptians there was no question as to the thoroughness of His work.

There is another side. When God brings in the testimony of Life He means His people to stand as fully in it as the others stand in the opposite, to know the power of His resurrection to a flood-tide, just as the power of death and judgement must come upon the enemy to an utter overwhelming.

There was a basic thing with Moses, and that was the bush which did not burn. It would be interesting to know just how long that fire went on. As we have often heard, Moses saw the bush aflame, but it would not be an uncommon thing. In those desert scorchings I expect it was a daily occurrence for any bush to go up in flame. If the eye of Moses caught sight of such a thing probably he treated it as nothing extraordinary, but after a time he glanced in that direction again, and saw the burning still going on, probably concluded that it was a little thicker than others might be, and was not in any way moved. Perhaps it was a matter of hours. At last it came to him as far from being an ordinary sort of thing, and he called it, "this great wonder". Then it must have been burning a long time to have become in the realm of the commonplace a great wonder, "I will turn aside and see this great wonder, why the bush is not consumed."

That became the basic thing of the life of Moses. It was an illustration for him. It was an object lesson. It was set before his eyes as a means of demonstrating what the Lord said, "Certainly I will be with thee". What does that mean? Life triumphant over death, the power of a mighty Life in a frail humanity, and the frail humanity which ought to have been consumed outright, persisted so that the very fire, rather than being itself consuming, is itself Life. It maintains its existence. The bush is not consumed, it is not blackened, it does not turn to ashes, it remains a bush while the fire goes on. Of course, it is a grand picture of the incarnation, the Lord Jesus, God manifest in the flesh, and man persisting in the energy of a Divine Life.

That was for Moses a lifelong secret. Moses ought to have broken down perhaps a thousand times, bearing the awful strain and burden of that people, the bringing out of Egypt, and the years of wandering. Sometimes he cried out under the pressure: "This people is too great for me." That was when he began to look at himself. The fact is he went through and at the end his eye had not lost the keenness of its vision, he could look from Pisgah's Mount over all the land, at his great age, and take it all in. Neither had his natural force abated. Why? "Certainly I will be with thee". It was the working out of the truth of the bush.

The Lord says, "As I was for the deliverance, the forming, so I will be for the inheritance, the bringing in, the establishing". "Hereby ye shall know that the living God is among you", and just as Moses had that basic thing in his life, the bush, so Joshua had a basic thing in his life: the ark at Jordan; Life in the midst of death at its flood, not overwhelmed but triumphant. "As I was... so I will be".

If we had not got the letters of Paul we might read that as Old Testament history, a battle of Israel's history, but we have language which is so closely akin to that in the letters of Paul that we are bound to bring over the application.

Take the whole situation with Moses and Joshua, their testimonies, their foes, their purpose. Set it down in the letters of Paul to the Ephesians, the Philippians and Colossians, and you have the thing repeated in the spiritual realm.

In the above passages there are references to the inheritance: "In Him dwells all the fulness... and ye are made full in Him"; "All the riches of wisdom and knowledge in Him". We cannot fail to see the correspondence between these New Testament words and the Old Testament history. If that is so - and can we doubt that there is a spiritual counterpart of that history? - then, if we do not doubt that the history is repeated in a spiritual way in the case of the church, have we any right to take the terms? Surely we can say to ourselves in heart that that word is for us: "As I was... so I will be...".

Let us seek to gather this whole thing up into a few practical statements by way of application. The position, then, is this: firstly, the possessing of the fulness of Christ by the church, and the expression of Christ's fulness in the church, is His purpose and call. In Him dwells the fulness, and we are complete in Him. He is the head of all principality and power. The church is the fulness of Him that fills all in all. The possessing of His fulness, and the expression of His fulness by and in the church, is God's purpose, God's goal. Do you believe that? Is your heart set upon it, that we shall come to the fulness of Christ, and that God shall have His inheritance in us, the saints? That is God's goal. It must be ours.

Then the persistent enemy of this is death. All the way along death will seek to withstand this Divine purpose and goal, and withstand us also if we are moving in that way. This death is something more than an abstract thing. There is one little phrase in the New Testament which most expressively defines this spiritual death; it is this, "spiritual wickedness", for when this spiritual death is operating, is active, the sense which we have is of something evil, wicked, very dark, very sinister. There comes upon us the sense of malignity, and we can only say it is wicked, it is "spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies". Moses was confronted by that, Joshua was confronted by that, and this death, this spiritual wickedness in the power of death, in the atmosphere, in circumstances, in mind, in will, in body, in spirit, this is the persistent enemy of the fulness of Christ.

That means, in the third place, that every fresh gesture in relation to the increase of Christ is fraught with conflict, and that conflict is with spiritual death and spiritual wickedness. Every fresh gesture, movement, purpose, determination, inclination in relation to the increase of Christ, which is the inheritance, is fraught with conflict; with spiritual death and spiritual wickedness. Perhaps that is so well-known to you that it does not evoke any kind of response, but it is as well for us to recognise the meaning of things. Whenever there is going to be anything whatever which is in the direction of an increase of Christ, the forces of spiritual wickedness will begin to operate along the line of spiritual death - they will put forth their energies in a new way. If you do not know that, there is something wrong with your aspiration for the fulness of Christ, but if you are really in the way of God's end, that fulness of Christ, this is a thing which you will know. There is something in view, a gathering in which something more of Christ is to be ministered, or some ministry by which you are to minister something more of Christ to others, in one thing of a thousand ways in which Christ is to be brought to His own, and His own are to be brought more fully into Him, and because of that you will be beset by this activity, an energy of spiritual wickedness and death. If our ministry does not provoke those forces of evil, then there is something wrong with our ministry.

I suppose that means that we ought to take great comfort when there is a great deal of such activity. We could say equally, "As it was with Moses, so it will be with you", but over against that, "As I was with Moses, so I will be with you". How was it with Moses? It was a death conflict to the end; perhaps hardly a day in his life when he could not have gone under but for the Lord. The fact that he came out as he did at the end is a marvellous testimony to the God who was in the bush... the frail humanity. "Hereby ye shall know... behold, the ark". The ark goes into death, and death rages to a flood, and is even at its flood checked, arrested, set back. That is the power of His resurrection.

Remember that when Christ is coming in some fuller measure to us by some means, or we are moving to some greater measure of Christ, we shall know conflict, and everything will enter into a realm of conflict. The whole object of the adversary will be to quench, to submerge, to kill. In such times let us call to remembrance the words, "As I was... so I will be."

The instrument of God's purpose must know the secret of victory in the swellings of Jordan. What is the instrument of God's purpose? The word in Joshua 3 is "The priests the Levites shall carry the ark. There shall be a space between it and you". Here is a priestly ministry in the testimony, with the testimony in the behalf of the main body of the Lord's people. That priestly ministry has to advance to the flood, and prove the victory, take the victory, know the secret of victory on behalf of the people of God. The priestly company always take the place of leadership in a spiritual sense, even in battle. That instrument of God's purpose, that priestly instrument, has to know the secret of victory in the swellings of Jordan; that is, the instrument has to know the power of His resurrection in a measure beyond the ordinary.

That instrument may be an individual instrument, or it may be a collective instrument; that is, it may be a company of the Lord's people to be used by Him to know in a specially real and deep way the power of His Life over death. It must, therefore, be confronted with more of the power of death than others. There is a great heavenly vocation, there is a great calling, a great responsibility, and it is costly. It may explain a lot. There is no evading that truth. I do not think that there is any getting away from the fact that at all times the Lord has had, by reason of the existing situation, to find those who would go all the way with Him in the behalf of others, to whom He would say, "To you it has been given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe... but also to suffer for His sake."

Paul would sign himself, "Yours in bonds for the Body's sake". So it is very often those who for the others have it given to them to suffer in a peculiar way, to know the bonds for the Body's sake, to be in the priestly ministry, and being able to bring triumphant life to the Lord's people. The Lord must have such, and He must have that to which or to whom He can bring those who are needing to know victory in life, that there they may know.

This thing is not done directly by God from heaven. The Lord will bind us to this principle, that if He has some who are paying the price, and have, therefore, the power of His risen Life, He will compel those who need help to come to them to find their life there. The Lord has focal points of Life where suffering unto Life has been gone through, and to that He brings and ministers Life there. But He must have that, these are His strategic Life-points for the sake of others. That is priestly ministry, but that priestly instrument in relation to God's purpose has to know in the more than ordinary way the power of His resurrection, because of the swellings of Jordan.

I think this is what the apostle meant when he said, "I would that ye knew what great conflict I have for you..."; "Whereunto I also labour, striving according to His working, which works in me mightily". It was so that he might present every man perfect in Christ. Those strivings, that great conflict, did not represent something which we set ourselves to! I do not for a moment think that Paul made up his mind to have great strivings and conflicts. These strivings and conflicts are not something to which we set ourselves, but they are that which is forced upon us by the very nature of the purpose. If you are in the purpose you will not have to set yourself to strive, you will find that you will have to strive or you will go under. You will not have to set yourself to a great conflict; you will be in it without any effort. You will be drawn into the battle. This is nothing romantic - the calling of the young men to go out to war - this is something satanic; a devilish thing, which only spiritual energy can overcome, where no energy of the flesh is of avail. In this connection the apostle prays that He would grant us that we might be strengthened with might by His Spirit in the inward man.

The power by which increase in Christ is reached is resurrection Life. You can see how true that is. There is not the slightest bit of increase in Christ except by the energy of Divine Life. From start to finish it is so. We never begin until we know union with Christ in resurrection. So it was with Israel and Joshua. They had to come out of Jordan on resurrection ground before there was any possessing of ground, and every fresh step was the application of the victory of the Jordan, the victory of that life over death. If ever they were set back in the way or arrested, it was because they compromised with something against which Jordan stood to testify. It was the same at Ai. Confidence in the flesh is death, and is the cause of our arrest. The Gibeonites with their wiliness are an illustration. So Paul writes to the Colossians: "Lest any man deceive you with his philosophy." The Gibeonites coming up was intended to arrest, it was all against the inheritance. The continuous progress and development in the inheritance was by the energy of that resurrection Life and it will always be so.

Thus we are in the battle for Life, because everything hangs upon it, with it everything is bound up. Blessed be God, the living God is among us, and hereby ye shall know it, the ark of the Lord of all the earth goes before you into Jordan. The testimony of His supremacy stands in the presence of death when it is most energetic, and overcomes.

[ Contents ] [ Next Chapter ]

  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological
  • Topical
  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological
  • Topical
  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological
  • Alphabetical
  • Chronological