A Living Testimony
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - A Living Family

Reading: Exodus 12; 1 Peter 2:3-5, 9-10.

We return to our second meditation, and continue from there at this time, noting as our special fact that the predominant feature of priesthood is Life. All these things which we have mentioned are related to Life. Life is the outcome; Life is the object. So the testimony, which is the testimony of the Lord's people as a holy priesthood, is the testimony of Life as now triumphant and pre-eminent, even in the realm where death is active. That is the predominant feature of priesthood.

If we take the Lord Jesus as the great High Priest, it is not difficult at all to see that the predominant feature in His priestly ministry at God's right hand, as He ever lives to make intercession for the saints, as He stands as the One Mediator between God and man, is Life. It is all unto Life; deliverance from death and a testimony that Life in Him is triumphant.

That is how He is presented to us at the opening of the book of the Revelation. He has a garment down to His feet, white, pure, speaking of the perfection of His humanity, and He declares Himself as the one who became dead but is alive unto the ages of the ages, and has the authority of death and the grave. It is in the power, and virtue, and meaning of that livingness that He functions through the book of the Revelation in the behalf of the saints and against the wilful and established antagonism. It has ever been so. Towards His own it is light, towards Egypt in a consolidated, persistent, unbending, unyielding antagonism to God, that Living One is judgement unto death.

That is really the summary of the book of the Revelation: the emancipation of a people from death and the bringing of the rest unto the judgement of death. The Living One does it on both sides. That which we want to stress is that the predominant feature of priesthood is Life, and it is that Life which determines everything. It determines everything for the Lord's people, and it determines everything for those who reject the Lord.

It is upon the operation of Life in Christ that every issue is secured and worked out; so that the testimony of the Lord's people as standing in the position of the sons of Aaron, in that position which the sons of Aaron stood towards Aaron, a priestly family, is the testimony of Life, and that in a world of death as over against the activity, the pressing in, the energy of spiritual death; where that priestly company may be found, even in twos or threes, or it may be in individuals, there is established the fact that death is not universal, that the universal dominion of death is broken into. The testimony is that at least death here is not lord, but Christ is Lord. The expression of it is in this Life, this mighty energy of the risen Lord.

It is a testimony in a realm, a world, where death is an active force in a spiritual way; that is, that the Lord has in His people Life-points, Life-centres, by which His ascendency is represented and set forth. That is the pre-eminent function of priesthood and if the Lord has that, you do not have to worry one little bit about what priesthood means, you have no need to go into all the technicalities of priestliness, for there it is.

It is well for us to recognise this, because when we use terms like this about priestly ministry, and priestliness, and the priestly company, there is a kind of waning interest... it sounds very technical. Perhaps people get mixed up in their minds and think that what is called priesthood today in the ecclesiastical sense is this, and they have little interest in it because it is not a very living thing. Now, of course, we are speaking about something that is spiritual, as a functioning thing, and if the Lord has a people or individuals who are standing in His risen Life and by whom that risen Life is being expressed, that is priesthood. It does not matter what name you take on, whether you take any ecclesiastical term to express some position, some vocation, if that is not the effect of it then it is not priesthood according to God's mind, for priesthood is essentially spiritual and not official, not ecclesiastical, not form; it is Life. So that every one of us, whoever we may be, or feel to be naturally as hardly worth considering, are called unto priesthood. If we put that another way, you will see what we mean: you and I are called to be a living representative of Christ's risen Life. That is priesthood; Life-points in a realm of death, challenging the activity of that death, and holding it back from universal sway.

When we come to look into the operation of this priestly Life, this ministry of Life, we see that throughout Life is preserved by the blood. That is how it was with Israel in Egypt. We will speak about that more in a moment. Do you notice they were chosen, elect, to be a holy priesthood and their very national history in God's eyes began with the testimony of the blood as life preserved in the midst of death: "This shall be unto you the beginning of months"; your history begins today. Their national history began in the day in which they were preserved by the blood from death, the day in which they entered into the experience of Life triumphant over death in virtue of the shed and sprinkled blood. Their national history as a holy priesthood commenced then, and it was so throughout. When priesthood was developed, crystallised, and brought out in a systematic way, it was always in virtue of the blood that priesthood could function.

You will call to mind the strict injunctions of the Lord concerning the High Priest going into the Most Holy Place not without blood, lest he die. The blood preserved the life. We shall see what that means presently.

This means, then, that the people stand upon the ground where death is vanquished, and they are triumphant over it. Israel's first testimony, as was to be their continuous testimony, was that of Life; not as a passive thing, but as having proved a force far greater than the power of death. That was their first testimony. Of course, all the battle from that time onwards was ranged against that testimony of a Life which is mightier than death.

Now, we say that this is the church's calling, and the church's vocation: a holy priesthood and that priesthood means primarily a testimony of Life as known and dwelt in by the Lord's people. But that is somewhat general. We can accept that, we can believe that, but it is perhaps something big and outside of ourselves. The thing has got to come very near home. We have to come out of those vast ranges of truth which we accept and rejoice in, down to the particular application of the truth.

So we come back to Exodus 12, and there find certain things which touch us immediately in this connection. It is so easy for us to talk about the church. Now, we have some idea of what the church is, but when we speak in terms of the church we very often lose the personal and individual responsibility. We regard ourselves as being a part of the church, it is true, but then perhaps we are apt to feel that it is the church's responsibility, and we only come into responsibility in a kind of general way; we are in the crowd. Now, if the history of Israel as an illustration of this great truth teaches us one thing, it is the lesson of individual responsibility for the testimony. It is something that you might quietly meditate upon and follow up, something which we cannot even attempt to pass on at this time; but keep in mind how the testimony was made by the Lord an individual matter in Israel. It was a matter of responsibility, and the Lord never let off the individual who contradicted the testimony, indeed the whole nation was more than once brought under Divine arrest because of one man.

It is not that dark side of things, however, that we want to think of, it is that which comes out in Exodus 12: "Draw out and take every man a lamb"; "a lamb for a household"; "every man according to his eating", or, if you like, his appetite, his capacity. This matter of the testimony of Life has to be taken as the responsibility of every man and of every household among the Lord's people. That gets it away from the general idea of the church. What is the church? What is the priestly nation? It is the aggregate of individuals and of Christian homes. The church has no existence in the mere sense of a congregating together in some place. That is only the church in assembly; that is not the church essentially. The church is all its individual members and its households. The church of the firstborn ones goes right back to the separate family. Before ever you get the congregation of Israel you get the separate families and the firstborn, and the church is made up of those - the separate family as represented by the firstborn. The firstborn is representative of the whole family.

What we have on our heart to say is this, that every one of us, individually in the first instance, is responsible for this testimony of Life as triumphant over death. It is not a matter that we can pass off on to the general company of the Lord's people. There is the added advantage, the added strength of fellowship it is quite true, but that fellowship is nothing unless it is a fellowship of Life, the coming together of those living ones. Spiritual fellowship has no meaning apart from the coming together in spirit, and that the Spirit of Life; which throws it right back on the individuals. It is a personal matter.

That speaks to us both ways. It speaks as to our responsibility before God, how God regards us, what God requires of us, that we individually are required to be Life-points in this realm of spiritual death and spiritual wickedness, that that Life whereby Jesus conquered death should be expressed in us. It is required of us by God that not one of the Lord's people, if they are fulfilling the calling, the vocation of priests, can be a dead individual, and there must in that life be no voluntary relationship with anything that means death. It is Life energetic, manifest, expressive, this risen Life of Christ, which is to be the pre-eminent characteristic of every one of the Lord's people in virtue of the precious blood.

It speaks, on the other hand, not only of our responsibility, but of our privilege and all that is possible. The Lord calls us into this place and in so doing says to us, in effect, "You may be, you can be a vehicle and a vessel in that realm of death which is an offset to that evil power, a testimony against it, a living point which denies the universal authority of Satan, which declares that Jesus Christ, the Living One, is Lord". It is our responsibility, it is our privilege, it is what is incumbent upon us, but it is also what we are honoured to know: the Lord as our Life.

We say that because many of the Lord's people seem to think that it is an onerous and arduous thing to get this Life from the Lord; you have to strain and agonise to get His risen Life; when all the time it is the supreme intention, and will of the Lord for us. He has nothing in this dispensation at heart more than this very thing: to have people who are expressing His own risen Life. If we will accept His ground, He will make it good. It is an individual matter. A lamb for a household... May the Lord say that where it needs to be said.

It needs to be constantly remembered for our help and encouragement and admonition and warning, that the Lord's thought is that every Christian family or household should be one of these Life testimonies in the realm of death, and against the family life the whole force of the devil will be centred because of the value to the Lord of households or families standing in the power of that risen Life. So this means that there has got to be a household responsibility; that is, that all the members of a Christian household have got to recognise that the testimony not only rests with them as individuals, but that they together as a family or household represent that testimony. They must have an understanding about this together, and meet everything on this ground, in that all those peculiar difficulties which arise in a family life, in domestic life, which may arise in no other realm so acutely, will be worked upon; aggravated by all the powers of evil in order to destroy the very special testimony that a family can bear as to the risen Life of the Lord.

We ought to be desperately sorry, and always most concerned for Christians who have to live in ungodly homes, but we are speaking of those homes where the members are the Lord's, and you will know that the home life is a realm in which the enemy never ceases to destroy the testimony. If you recognise it, perhaps that is half the battle. It is so easy in the home to feel the impossibility of things and to give it up, and it is so easy to feel that the church is one thing and the home is something different. It is not and there has got to be this responsibility.

In the first place let the Christian head of any home first take responsibility for the testimony in your home, and seek to gather all the members of that household to that testimony, and hold them to it. But the members must not feel that it rests just with the head of the house. It has to be a thing in which every one is found with a positive determination that the home must and shall be a place where the risen Lord is known as alive and triumphant. There will be many tests. You will know experiences by reason of that testimony which perhaps few other households know. You will probably know sickness more than ordinary sickness. You will know circumstances working against your very life. You will know atmospheres, you will know strains, you will know everything that the devil knows can be used, but there is your opportunity. That declares that there is something vital bound up with that home, and that calls out the greater standing in the Lord for His testimony of Life in that home.

There is the fact, there is the need: a lamb for a household, and every member of that household to be in the testimony and sharing it, every one according to his eating, his measure in the testimony.

Now let us look at two or three facts or elements in this.

First of all, the lamb was to be slain and the blood shed. In our last meditation we saw that the shedding of the blood is the death side of things, and declares that a life has been parted with, surrendered, delivered up, taken away. "He poured out His soul unto death." That is a death to death. It is the letting go of the personal life, and all that is personal. If the testimony is going to be in that household, then there has got to be a death side. It is not a death unto death, it is a death unto Life; only a death unto death in the sense that you die so that you shall not die. That means it is a death unto Life, but it has got to be a letting go of the self-life. That is what ruins the testimony in homes as in any other sphere. The self-life has got to be parted with in all its forms.

Then there is the sprinkling, and that is the Life side, that is the Life taken up again on the Divine side, so that everything is now for the Lord. It is something for the Lord to see, something for the Lord to have, something for the Lord to take account of, "and when I see the blood I will pass over". It is saying, "This house is dead to all self-life, this family has died to death, died to itself, and it is alive to God and only to God". When you get on to that ground then Life is preserved, and Life is triumphant when death is active.

Then the lamb was to be eaten: "Every man according to his eating". What is this? If I understand the eating of the lamb, or feeding upon Christ, it means this: that henceforth Christ is the basis upon which we live and have oneness. It is Christ who is presented to God without blemish, without spot. This Lamb without blemish and without spot is presented to God, and upon what that means we have our life and our fellowship. You notice the fact of fellowship comes in here very much. The family is to feed upon one lamb, and if the family is too small to have a whole lamb, then they must get the neighbours to come and share the lamb. There has got to be oneness in this thing, and a complete Christ has to be the basis for all His people. This lamb was not to be divided and because the family was small it did not mean that the family was only to have so much of the lamb, but in order to have the whole lamb it was necessary to have the neighbours in. This is the whole Christ, without spot, without blemish, all that He is in the sight of God which is to be the basis of your life and your fellowship.

The fact of fellowship comes in here very much, in connection with the household. That can be set forth by other means, in another way. We referred during our previous meditation to the vision of Zechariah. He says: "He showed me Joshua the high priest clothed with filthy garments, and Satan at his right hand to be his adversary." The Lord said: "Take away the filthy garments, and put upon him new garments." Then the word was heard, "The Lord rebuke thee, Satan, is not this a brand, plucked from the burning?" Now the garments of the priesthood are always representative or typical of what they are in the sight of God. Garments always speak of what we are before God, not what we are before men, not what we are before ourselves. Sometimes we might think that we are righteous, and then before God we hear the disconcerting and discomfiting word: "All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags". Garments are what we are in the sight of God, and Joshua, representing the priestly nation before God, was seen clothed in filthy garments; therefore Satan was in the place of power at the right hand, to contradict the testimony and there was no power to rebuke Satan until there was a change of garment.

Now you see the priest here, in another form; it is the same thing as you have in Exodus 12. What is the power over Satan and over death? It depends entirely upon what we are before God. If you turn to the letters to the Ephesians, Colossians and Romans you have phrases like this: "Seeing ye have put off the old man and have put on the new man". The Greek words there mean the putting off or the putting on of a garment. It is the language which is used in the realm of undressing, putting off a garment, "Ye have put on the Lord Jesus..." "Ye have put on the new man." That is how we stand before God: in the flesh or in Christ. It depends entirely upon how we stand before God, how we are dressed, whether it is a question of Satan in power or Satan in defeat, whether it is a matter of Life or of death.

That is what we mean by Christ as the Lamb being the basis upon which we rest for ourselves and for fellowship. Let us make that very clear in simple language. If you and I are going in our family life to look at one another as to what we are naturally, the devil is going to have it all his own way, and there is going to be broken testimony. There is no place perhaps where more we know what we are by nature than in our families, or where we are known better for what we are. That is just where the testimony has its greatest opportunity. We may think certain members of the family are impossible. Are they? Are you going to surrender to that? Well, then, it is all finished.

We are, of course, speaking about the Lord's children. We have got to take account of Christ, and of Christ in one another - the measure of Christ in one another - and we have got to cherish that as far as possible, keep our eyes on that, and refuse to be influenced by the other, and stand against that other on the ground of Christ, knowing one another after Christ. It is going to mean some serious business. It is going to mean some real grim work. It is going to call for our determination, "Yes, that is so-and-so, I know them; that is just them; that is just how they are made, but I am not going out onto that ground; I refuse to be influenced by, to accept that as the ultimate thing; I am going to stand on the Christ ground in them". That puts the devil out of the place of power and authority. If we get onto that natural ground, the enemy will lead us up and down at his will; he will never let us get away from it. These things come into Christian families, and they are not known in the same way with those sinister forces when you are not standing for the testimony. We must stand on the ground of Christ.

Let us cover our steps as we go. Some of you are in these families, and we can almost imagine some member in that family saying, "Yes, but they are the cause of the trouble. It is so-and-so who is really the cause of the trouble; here am I trying to stand for something and they are not". How are you standing for the testimony? Are you trying to impose it upon the other members of your family, to drive them, to provoke them... not in love, always bringing before them their weaknesses and their faults, and where they fail in the testimony? You will not get far that way. This is a matter of love, consideration, taking everything into account, and of mutual helpfulness; allowing for a lot, but positive love at work all the time. The Body builds itself up not by driving, not by imposing, not by Christian legalism "Thou shalt" and "Thou shalt not", but by love.

This is homely talk, but it is a thing that we want to take account of. We must recognise that this testimony of Jesus which sounds so wonderful, so romantic, so glorious, so heavenly, comes right down here into our homes. If it breaks down there, it is no use talking about standing for the testimony of Jesus. The assembly of God's people will rise no higher than the homes which comprise it, and the individuals in those homes; there is responsibility behind the public life in our domestic circles and in our personal lives.

You will not be offended by this word. I am quite sure it is no use having phraseology and talking about these wonderful things unless we are going to get right down to business; and one speaks from personal experience. I know the devil's assaults upon the personal life, so that when the message is given there might be something of the devil in the place of power, saying, "It is all very well to talk like that." I know the assault of the powers of evil upon the home life because of the testimony. These things are realities. The Lord is seeking to draw us together in this matter, so that we work together, face the thing together, make it a matter of daily life, there where we have none of the romantic elements of public ministry and moral enterprise, but the common everyday living on the ordinary level, that there the testimony is looked after. We cannot be one thing among the Lord's people in the assembly and something else behind, alone, in our ordinary daily life.

So you see that Israel's history commenced in the home. It was a family matter, and it was a history of priestliness. The testimony of Life is the pre-eminent feature of priestliness, and that testimony is in the background there in the individual and in the family before it comes out to be constituted a public testimony.

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