by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Revelation 2:8-3:1-6.
We continue in that way in which the Lord has been leading us concerning the recovery of spiritual power. You know that we are finding our light very largely in the book of Judges, which is the book of spiritual weakness and spiritual failure. It represents the entire failure on the part of the Lord's people to make good all that the Lord had provided for them. They were brought into a state of spiritual impotence, bondage, defeat and tyranny. We are seeking to learn from this very terrible story, with its long-drawn-out period, some of the secrets of spiritual power, and I feel that what the Lord wants to say is largely pivotal to the whole subject. It represents the whole thing gathered up into one note, one emphasis, one point.
Now, as we have surveyed this book, as we have looked at the Judges, as we have looked at the forces which were at work against the Lord's people, the forces of evil which were ascendant. As we have seen something of the meaning spiritually of the men who were raised up to meet these situations, there is really only one thing which is the explanation of everything. The thing involved was the absolute sovereignty and supremacy of the Lord. That is one thing which includes everything else; it explains everything else. It was the great challenge to the absolute sovereignty and supremacy of the Lord in every sphere and in every detail of the life of His people.
We have noted that the book of Judges follows the book of Joshua and that fact gives it a very great deal of its significance. And when you get back to the book of Joshua you will remember how everything there in Joshua represents the complete dominion and the absolute sovereignty of the Lord.
As you read the closing chapters of Deuteronomy you find those glorious prophecies of absolutely triumphant possession - the assurance that the Lord had secured the whole thing already, and that all they had to do was to exercise faith in what the Lord had already in His own possession and possess it on that ground. When you open the book of Joshua you find the same emphasis. The Lord has it in His hands. The Lord is already completely Lord of the situation and the Lord has secured the utter and complete overthrow of all their enemies, and the Lord has already given them the land before they put their foot on it. The sovereignty of the Lord is proclaimed loud and long before ever they stepped forth, and then comes the word through Joshua, "By this shall ye know that the Lord of heaven and earth is with you, behold the ark of the covenant of the Lord goes before you into Jordan" (Josh. 3:10-11). We know that that represents the advance of the Lord Jesus into, and through, death triumphantly. And it is tremendously impressive that the implication there is that because the Lord Jesus has ploughed His way triumphantly through death and the grave, the complete ascendency is secured for the Lord's people, and the Lord triumphant in possession of the issue fully and finally is with them on that ground. "By this shall ye know that the living God is among you" (Josh. 3:10).
"All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth - and lo I am with you always". The Lord has secured it Himself completely by His own initiative and He is sovereign Lord of the whole situation, and a moving forth in complete unquestioning faith with a word, on that basis, is the method of possession. Jericho being encompassed seven days in silence represents the unquestioning, unhesitating, unargued acceptance of the absolute victory which is in the hands of the Lord. Without a word. The people were prepared to be a spectacle, to be laughed at, to accept all that is involved in that peculiar behaviour, for faith always brings us into peculiar and ridiculous situations from the natural standpoint, and of being considered extraordinary and singular from the natural. But they accepted all that. Faith was complete in the fact that nothing was to be done but "believe God" and that He was Sovereign of the situation. And that ark going before through Jordan was a sign that it was all well, all done in God and by God.
So, from the beginning, and ever in those triumphant days, all continuous progress and victory there was upon this emphasis that the Lord was sovereign. And when they are moving out to take up the victorious conflict of which they had already secured the victory, there stood a man over against Jericho with drawn sword to declare himself as coming as the Captain of the Hosts of the Lord. The sovereignty of the Lord, the Captaincy of Christ, Captain of our salvation because He is already the Conqueror; He in sovereignty took charge then. What was demonstrated was the fact that the Lord was Lord, the Lord was Sovereign, absolute in His sovereignty, complete in His dominion, and there was no question whatever as to His ascendency over the whole situation. It demonstrated the Lord supreme, that He is Lord of heaven and earth. All that follows in the book of Judges in the unhappy sequel represents a challenge to that sovereignty, represents a mighty effort to make that sovereignty nil among the Lord's people.
The sovereignty and supremacy of the Lord is the real battleground in the experience and life of the Lord's people. That is the thing that is involved. Everything in this book of Judges is explained by that. The Lord's people in this book are found very far from giving Him sovereignty. The name of the Lord is dishonoured and the testimony to His victory is destroyed and anything but a Joshua state of things, as was intended, prevails.
If you study the background of Judges, as to the various forces which were ranged against the people of God, and those forces which had brought them into bondage, taken away their strength and brought this state of failure and weakness, you will see that they represent all those means and methods by which the sovereignty of the Lord is limited in His people. That is the thing to keep in view. The great point of the challenge is the Lord's people standing in the full sovereignty of the Lord. How can the Lord's people be pulled out of the supremacy of the Lord or prevented from getting into it? Look at these forces and you have got there an Old Testament illustration of things very clear in the New Testament.
We were speaking about the first of the Judges, Othniel, and the conflict into which he entered to make the first break in this tyranny. We saw that Othniel had to do with Cushan-Rishathaim, the king of Aram, which subsequently became Babylon, and that this represented that whole Babylonish system of an earthly, humanly produced and constructed religion. That was the first tyrannizing power that is found in this book, and it was that that Othniel had to meet, and Othniel overthrew, and through all the days of Othniel the people were in a state of victory, ascendency. There was deliverance and there was a recovery of spiritual power.
You can see by very simple interpretation how that fits in with what we have been saying. There are few things more calculated to safely destroy the Divine supremacy as a testimony in the people of God, than to bring religion, Christianity - to bring your Christian life down on to an earth level and let it become a product of man. We link this with the first message to the churches in the book of Revelation, the message to Ephesus, and we know that the Ephesian letter has its stand in the heavenlies (He made us to sit in the heavenlies) and our possessions in the heavenlies: the inheritance, the land (Joshua!), every spiritual blessing in Christ in the heavenlies, and the conflict in the heavenlies with which the letter closes.
The place of the church, which is His Body, is a high position, drawing its life and fullness from above. This is not of man, but of God. There is to be a maintaining of the position as detached from what is of human manipulation and man's control - earthly standards of government, of judgment - and to have everything from the Lord for His people. This is the Ephesian position, and when you come to the first message to the churches in Revelation, the terrible indictment is, "Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen." A heavenly position has been lost and they have come down on to a lower level. The Lord has this strong, terrible thing to say, that while there may be things that are quite good, commendable, this one outweighs all the rest because a heavenly, spiritual position has been lost there. "Thou art fallen." That means that you have come to Babylon, because as you pursue the book of Revelation and come near to the end you have two features running side by side. You have one dealing with Babylon, and one with the heavenly Jerusalem. And the one that deals with Babylon shows the apostle taken out into the plain, on to the level, and shown Babylon. The next chapter sees him taken into an exceeding high mountain and shown the New Jerusalem - a heavenly thing. It needs no ascendency to see Babylon: a thing of the earth. That was the thing that came in first to destroy the sovereignty, the testimony of the sovereignty of the Lord. It was the invasion of Babylon that had lost for them their heavenly position: conduct dictated by human judgment and going along the natural line of things, and the Holy Spirit was not governing everything from above and from the Lord.
The question of sovereignty is a very important question for us. It is the question today. The greatest question for the Lord's people is the question of the expression and manifestation of the absolute and perfect sovereignty and pre-eminence of the Lord in and through His people. That is the biggest, most important thing with which we have to do. It is a question of the Lord coming through in absolute sovereignty in every situation and every matter, and the Lord's people being in that. It is the absolute sovereignty of the Lord Jesus as manifested and expressed in the life of His own people. That explains every bit of conflict, pressure, temptation and trial. What the enemy is out to do is to pull us down to a place where we have lost the sovereignty of the Lord. How much is there today of the experience and enjoyment of the words we have quoted, and which we quote so much in relation to the world activities of the people of God, "All authority hath been given unto Me in heaven and on earth"? Is not the story very largely a story to the contrary? You get so far and then you are beaten, brought to a standstill. You meet forces which absolutely bar your way and at that point the enemy laughs at you. That is the story of many of the servants of God today all the world over, and not only in the recognition of spiritually-minded people is it true, but in numerous other ways that fact is declared universally.
What is the explanation of the advertisement, of the programmes of attraction, all that effort to draw people, to get people to come to church? All this tremendous mass of stuff that is used to somehow maintain Christianity is its own confession, its own betrayal: it declares spiritual failure. There lies behind all this the fact that men are not meeting the challenge of God, they are not being met by the Lord; that the church has not got that thing that makes people stand up and take notice.
And in many other ways there is a betrayal of the fact that the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus is not there in the measure in which it ought to be among His people. We know it in our own experiences. It is true that we are acquainted with forces over which we have no power; we know in our own hearts. Oh, the need for the coming in of the power of this mighty Christ to meet situations. It is just that, and nothing but the exercise of His authority in heaven and on earth will meet the present situation among the Lord's people. Everything that they are trying to do to be effective is breaking down. The great need is the fuller measure of the manifestation of the supremacy of Jesus Christ over all His foes. He is not going to demonstrate that sovereignty independently of His people, therefore, if they can be brought into a condition of compromise, the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus is set back. It is coming down on to an earth level that accounts for the whole thing. It is Babylon: the human religious order of things, man-made Christianity which is of the earth.
Christianity today is so very largely a thing of this world. Things which once were a power are today under the patronage of this world... seeking for their maintenance and their preservation people of influence, power, wealth and anything of this world to maintain them in some way, to keep them going. They have got into that bondage and they have lost their testimony. If you can get someone with a name to come along and make your Christian movement a popular movement, that is the order of the day. Inasmuch as this is true, the real testimony of the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus has gone out. The thing has lost its position; it has become a thing of this earth, this world. This is where you start with Othniel and it was that in principle that he was meeting for Israel, and all that followed was only other aspects of the same thing.
Ehud comes next. Ehud had to meet Eglon and Eglon was the head of a confederacy. To him there gathered Moab, Ammon and Amalek and all these brought Israel into bondage, defeat and weakness after the death of Othniel. Moab was a natural kinsman of Israel through Lot. Lot followed Abraham. Abraham followed the Lord, but Lot followed Abraham everywhere until one day he was compelled to take a stand for himself. He was brought to the point where he had to stand on his own feet and he made his choice for the well-watered pasture lying in the direction of Sodom; you know the whole sordid story. Ammon also was the son of Lot's eldest daughter - worse than that - a natural link with Israel. Amalek came from Esau. We know the story of Esau, the man who despised the things of the Spirit, the things of God, who sold his birthright, and oh, what a lot was in that birthright! Forever after the Lord is known as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob; and Jacob came into that because Esau sold his birthright. The God of Jacob who became Israel - a prince with God. Esau sold that for a mess of pottage. This is all a natural link with Israel in the flesh, but not the true spiritual product of Abraham, the direct issue of this man of faith, this man who walked with God. It is the other side in relationship. Sum that up and see what it represents: profession, not possession. These got in and the insinuation was along this line.
Well, we are naturally related to Israel. Why should we be destroyed? Why should we not live together, why should we not have things in common? There is the natural link between us, you see. How subtle that is. What is the curse of the church today? The link and relationship of mere professors with true believers - a mixed multitude. Those who have come into the things of God, but not by new birth. They have come in along the flesh line and because they have some kind of link which is profession, they profess to believe the same things, the same God, to have the same interests. And because there is that kind of natural link, the Lord's people have said "Oh, they are very good people, they mean well..." and they have not gone to the root of the matter as to whether they have been born from above.
The question of new birth is a far bigger one than we recognise. The question has within its power the whole testimony of the church of God. What the devil has done has been to destroy the testimony of the sovereignty of Jesus Christ by getting in people who are not really born from above. The Lord's people are robbed of power, and it has been the enemy's way of destroying the testimony of the absolute pre-eminence of the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a threefold natural relationship and the Lord said that this should be destroyed.
Though it seems a hard thing to say, there is a sense in which every mere professor ought to be slain, not literally of course, but in this sense: they ought to go to the Cross and be slain and be raised together with Christ in newness of life. You have got to be hit very hard by the Cross or else the testimony is going to be ruined. The letter to the Romans was written to believers, not to the unsaved. The whole significance of the Roman letter is this. If we are going to know the life of sovereignty in the Spirit which comes in with chapter 8, we can only know it as we know the life of death in chapter 6. Dying with Christ, that is the way in.
The message of the Cross is essential to sift out professors from possessors, pretence from reality, and it raises a very solemn and serious issue for many today. The flesh resents being crucified, resents dying. You can go a long way with a crowd of good professing Christians until you come to the question of identification with Christ as a practical thing; then there is conflict. The forces of evil are just as much lodged in mere profession as they are in utter infidels. This is one of the subtle activities of the enemy. He could not do it by downright infidelity, but gets in people who profess to be one with you, but they have never died, nor known what it is to be crucified with Christ, or had any experience of His Cross in their lives in a real way.
Ehud had to meet that. He had to deal with Eglon, the fat man. Now, everything in Scripture is significant. Eglon means a circle, or circuit. It says, "Now Eglon was a very fat man". A very fat man is a man who had not got a great deal of energy (I do not want to be offensive!). There is something about mere profession that is very self-content, very full of itself and without real spiritual energy and power. It is a kind of well-fed, self-satisfied, complacent thing that never does very much. Eglon was having a nice comfortable time in his summer parlour. The flesh, this well-fed, comfortable, self-satisfied natural man in the world of religion coming in to dominate the people of God. His name meaning "a circle" seems to suggest that profession goes round in a circle, but never gets anywhere. That is Eglon - profession, and Ehud met that on its own ground with the two-edged sword of the Word of God, and pierced to the dividing asunder to discover what is profession and what is real. It is interesting to note that Ehud's name means "Confession". He was up against profession. There is a great deal of difference between the two testimonies. Details throw a very great deal of light upon the spiritual background.
It would seem that the Lord would say to us, spiritual power is a matter of standing in the full sovereignty of the Lord Jesus and knowing that in your life individually and collectively. The thing which is essential to that is that you know the Lord in a living, personal, real way and that yours is no mere Christianity - that you are not in the thing because it is a good thing to be in, or that you are interested because religiously inclined, but you are in it because you cannot help being in it. You are born in it from above.
In the most spiritual thing you can have a lot of camp followers, people who are in it because they are afraid to be out of it. They would not withdraw because they are afraid of what might happen to them, or they have friends in it, or personal interests in it, or because they agree with it all. Let the Lord search our hearts, and ask ourselves: "Why am I in what I am in? Am I in it because I have come into it from above? Because God has put me in on the basis of a mighty experience of Himself and I cannot be otherwise? It is not a matter from which I could resign, or withdraw, or go to something else; it is my life". When God gets a people there, there is an opening for His sovereignty to be declared. So many are on the fringe, spectators, not quite sure whether it is alright, wondering if it is quite safe and they have a mental examination of things which prove they are not in it. The sovereignty of the Lord can be held up because of people who are not in it, and have not come down into it from above.
We have got to come into the thing of God from above. We cannot join Christianity like we join a society or a movement. You cannot get into the things of God like that. You wonder what I mean by coming in from above? I mean that you have died, you have been buried, and now you have come in from the heavenly side, through an open heaven, by way of revelation, the revelation of Jesus Christ in your own heart. This is no earthly thing at all for you; it had its origin in heaven.
Another thing is that we should be out to get Christian men and women by way of the Cross. All this flesh business paralyses the testimony of the sovereignty because it produces something that is not heavenly. That is what is here. Have you got a profession or have you got a confession? Ehud, Deborah and Barak, Gideon, Jepthah, and finally Samson; the same thing from different angles. Deborah and Barak; you are up against Jabin, king of Hazor. It was Jabin, king of Hazor with his field marshall Sisera whom Deborah and Barak had to encounter because they gained the ascendancy over Israel. We are not dealing with the instruments of deliverance fully, but we are looking at things which brought about the bondage and weakness; so here you have Jabin king of Hazor, and Jabin means "understanding". This is a strange title when you are thinking of being in spiritual bondage, because understanding spiritually is the way of emancipation. The typology of Scripture as to directions is that the South is the way of the sun and the North is the way of darkness, and Jabin comes from the North, and his name is ‘Understanding'. "Having the understanding darkened" and yet believing he had wonderful understanding. This was the whole trouble at Corinth. Paul said, "I could not speak unto you as unto spiritual but as unto babes. I fed you with milk". Why? Because of the wisdom of this world and the wisdom and the understanding of the natural man.
If I look back upon my past life, years of ministry, very earnest, very devoted, but so devoid of power... it was "intellectual" ministry. (Do not misunderstand, I am not talking about my intellect, but I mean that what there was of ministry was "head knowledge" very largely). I was good at philosophy, psychology, and brought all this into the ministry. I could quote poets and literature at great stretches, and the spiritual impact of it was, "Do you understand what I mean?" It is just the opposite of what we have mentioned earlier: spiritual knowledge, spiritual intelligence, revelation; the spirit of wisdom and revelation.
Well, Jabin came from the North and his name meant "Understanding" and he brought Israel into bondage. Immediately you project your brains into spiritual things and try to grasp spiritual things by natural understanding, you are defeated, in bondage, weakened, paralysed. What you are trying to do all the time is to get an intellectual grasp of spiritual things; putting your head into it, when all you want is the Holy Spirit to suddenly bring a shaft of light into your heart and you will say, "I see it all". You have been tied up with your own head all the time. Slay that natural mind of yours - have the natural mind crucified. "Now the natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God for they are foolishness unto him, neither can he know them because they are spiritually discerned." "But he that is spiritual discerns all things but he himself is judged of no man." He is a mystery in the same way as the Lord Jesus was a mystery. "Whence has this man this knowledge having never learned?" He, a man from Nazareth, went up to the temple and began to teach in the temple at Jerusalem. There was a secret knowledge which was a mystery, which never comes by the schools, never comes by the way of intellectual exercise. It comes by way of fellowship with God and this revelation by the Spirit is a mighty thing. The simplest Christian can have it. It is not a matter of years. You can be very young and know the Lord in a very blessed way.
It is possible to see someone saved and in a few weeks being far ahead of someone saved for forty years. It is that living fellowship of the spirit with the Lord and the reality of the things of God. It is mental apprehension that keeps you long delayed in growth: "The god of this age has blinded the minds lest the light...". It is a question of spiritual understanding and it is a matter that is withstood by all the power of hell because it is a mighty factor in the destruction of the works of the enemy. Jabin must be slain and Deborah will do it helped by Barak. The natural mind can bring you into bondage and rob you of spiritual power. The natural mind must go to the Cross and we must have a spiritual capacity for spiritual things. If you are trying to grasp this in your head you are going to have a headache. If you ask the Lord to reveal this in your spirit it is going to be your emancipation and put you in the place where you see the sovereignty of the Lord Jesus.
I must deal with the Midianites. They are one of our big troubles today. Gideon dealt with the Midianites. They had a very large say in the hiring of Balaam to bring Israel under a curse. Israel was standing there in the power, in the glory of the Lord and one of the beautiful things in the Old Testament was what God compelled Balaam to say. It was a wonderful thing that came through his lips and he did not want it to come. But it was the Midianites who had hired Balaam to curse Israel and so destroy the glory of the Lord. The direct curse failed, but you know the story. Balaam's heart was set upon the present and so he taught Israel to commit fornication, which meant making alliances with nations round about. This is the meaning of spiritual fornication: alliances with the world. The result was that Israel fell and lost their testimony. Midian represents the world and worldly alliances and strangely enough, the name Midian means "strife". Has not the alliance between the people of God and the world been the great occasion of most of the strife? Introduce some of the world among the people of God and it is not long before you have got upheaval and strife. There can be a beautiful thing wholly of the Lord, but if someone introduces a little bit of worldliness, before long the whole thing is torn to shreds. Today the conflict is on that one thing. The world is always trying to get into what is of God. Someone brings in worldly policy, worldly methods, worldly means, worldly judgments and they are accepted instead of going to the Lord and trusting the Lord for it all. If a worldly policy is introduced, the thing is rent, causing strife. That is Midian.
What are you going to do? It is so difficult with these dear people of God who do know the Lord, who may have walked with the Lord so much longer than we have and we see they are diverting to something that has a worldly element in it. Are we going to compromise?
Peter was saved long before Paul. Peter walked with the Lord in the days of His flesh. Peter saw Christ crucified, risen, received up. Peter was at Pentecost and the descent of the Spirit, and preached in the power of the Holy Spirit and was instrumental in the salvation of great multitudes. Peter was one of the pillars of the church and when you come to the letter to the Galatians and begin to read, you hear Paul, who came in much later, saying, "When Peter was come down I withstood him to the face... because that before certain were come down from Jerusalem he went in and ate with the Gentiles but when James and certain others were come he withdrew." Compromise. Compromise because of reputation, because of what the brethren would think of him! Paul says "I withstood him to the face". Here is a man comparatively young in the faith, withstanding one of the chief apostles, having no compromise. This is not a matter of years. It is a matter of principle. It is not how long people have been on the road, but keeping ourselves from idols. They may say, "We know the Lord better than you do", but never mind if it is a question of principle. You must take the risk of being thought all sorts of things, but you must stand your ground. Let nothing of the world come in whatever, at any cost.
Let Jabin, king of Hazor be smitten. The Lord must raise up Gideons to do this business today. All these things represent some phase or aspect of the natural life coming into a realm of spiritual things and laying hold. That destroys spiritual power and is set directly against the absolute supremacy of the Lord Jesus in His people. There may be many points of conflict, but the one final issue is: who is going to be Lord? Jesus Christ, or the god of this age? It is interesting to notice that to the Corinthians both of these things are said: "The god of this age hath blinded" ... "We preach Jesus Christ as Lord." They are the issue, and it is going to be settled upon the ground of how far every natural element of the flesh and the world, the natural understanding and natural mind, are utterly slain and we ourselves become instruments to bring to naught. May we be such an instrument.