by T. Austin-Sparks
We have been occupied with the matter of the position of the saints in the heavenlies in Christ in relation to the fulfilment of the heavenly vocation now. Our thoughts have been especially concerning power by position for service and for warfare. And we have been seeking to understand that the Lord's provision for bringing us to that position; that is, the meaning of the cross, what the cross effects, and how the cross effects that ultimate thing of the position of power and authority in Christ. And then the provision of the Lord for maintaining us in that position. We have been dealing with the whole panoply of God in Ephesians 6. We were still occupied with prayer in the heavenlies by the cross, now we follow on more closely in relation to that, seeking to reach some still more practical factors. But before we get there to that point of consideration, there are several things I feel the Lord has laid on my heart to say with regard to the tactics of the enemy to bring us out of that position and to destroy our spiritual effectiveness and rob us of the power and the authority which is ours in Christ.
I am taking very familiar ground in this connection from the Old Testament in the book of Joshua. Some of those incidents in the life of the Lord's people there, which contain so much rich instruction, information and enlightenment for us in this our spiritual warfare in the heavenlies, things which, in principle represent the enemy's great successes, things which have a history of great success on his part along this line of bringing the Lord's people down. And we want to constantly know and refresh our memories about these things the enemy has found so useful and successful.
Of course we know that the supreme and all-inclusive secret of victory, ascendency, and power, is being occupied with the Lord Himself. And if we are occupied with the Lord, in a right way we shall not be ignorant of the enemy's devices. While that is foundational to everything, the Lord would have us aware of the things which the enemy uses to destroy the throne union of His own with Himself. And so we take up these two or three things again, get into the heart of them, and use their law for our own help at this time.
I am referring, as you will probably know, to those set-backs which come into the history of the Lord's people in the conquest of the land. I have three in mind: Ai, and the Gibeonites, and the wider thing of later times; the settling down in a partial conclusion of the Lord's purpose.
Now, in the first of these with regard to Ai, the movement of the enemy was very subtle indeed. Of course we see the external facts of this thing. We know on the face of it why it was that defeat came, but I am not quite sure that we have recognised what was really at the heart of this thing. If the Lord would just show us that, I think it would be very helpful. You see, what happened really was not just that the people in the enthusiasm resultant from Jericho's great victory rushed headlong into the next thing, that is a feature which lies on the surface, but it was not just that, there was something far deeper, far more subtle in the thing than that, for here the enemy entered into an alliance with the Lord's people by reason of an opening which they gave him in the hour of success.
He sought to frustrate the Divine purpose by adopting the Divine plan. To say that, of course, is at once to see that there is something deep in that, that if the enemy will adopt the Divine purpose, that is a very subtle thing; he knew quite well what the situation was. He knew, for instance, that God's time had come for the dispossessing of the Canaanites of that land. He knew quite well that that was the purpose of God and that the time had come for that. He knew that the Canaanites, for the most part, were conscious of being up against the supreme and ultimate issue. He knew that some open opposition to the purpose of God, out in the open, would be of little avail. He knew that in the long run that would not succeed - just open antagonism would not accomplish the end. That had been made perfectly clear. He knew that the very nature of Jericho's conquest was evidence that God was in this thing, and this was God's purpose and God's time, and merely to oppose the thing directly would be futile. How then can he best frustrate the Divine purpose? By adopting the plan. How did he adopt it? He found a man who was uncrucified, a man whose flesh had not come under the cross, a man who still had fleshly interests, personal interests, perhaps even in the Lord's work, who had his own secret ambitions. And in the flush of the success over Jericho the people had exposed themselves and the enemy had been able to put his agent into their next movement. They simply went on on the crest of the wave of this great Jericho success. And as they went on, Achan was the enemy's point of vantage. And by getting that uncrucified man in, the enemy virtually captured the situation for himself.
You see the enemy act, he goes with them now to Ai; that is the point. He has adopted the plan to frustrate the purpose. The enemy always goes where an uncrucified one goes. One is the enemy's vantage ground and if the enemy cannot succeed by open antagonism, animosity, hostility, he will join in the forces with some uncrucified flesh and go with it, sure that by that means he will wreck the enterprise. Have you not seen that thing at work?
God has a pure thing as at Jericho, and the beginnings of the thing are so gloriously in evidence of the Lord. It is of the Lord, man is not in it, and while it is so, the advance is unchecked, it is wonderful. But then the enemy does not come out always to withstand that in the open; that would be a fruitless thing when a thing is only of God. When it is of the Lord, there is not much hope for him, he has more wisdom than that, but what he seeks to do is to get into that the uncrucified flesh, uncrucified men or women who have secretly at heart personal interests which, when the opportunity affords, they will take hold of things and turn them to their own account. And thus the enemy has allied himself with a movement of God by that agency and the thing is destroyed; just trying to get in something or someone that has not come under the cross, and then by that very alliance with the thing of God, bringing disaster into that thing of God.
So Achan is uncrucified flesh; the compromising instrument, the means of compromising the Lord's people, and the opportunity or occasion for the enemy to get him in was the presumption of the Lord's people, that they were taking things for granted. Taking things for granted, that because the Lord had so successfully blessed them at Jericho and was with them so manifestly there, now a continuance of power was unconditional. That is always a subtle snare.
The continuance of power is not unconditional. You cannot presume upon God, you cannot take anything for granted in this matter, you have got to recognise that you must come back to the Lord every time for every fresh step. There must be a fresh yielding of heart, clearing of the ground, and making sure that you can take the second step on exactly the same basis as you took the first: that you are in exactly the same position for the next move as you were in the last one, and that it is the Lord and there is no fleshly element in this thing at all.
Now, it is not always a matter of persons. It may be persons; the enemy puts in very often a person uncrucified that becomes the compromising factor. But Achan can also represent that principle that when the Lord has blessed you and signally owned the movement and there has been triumph, there is just that very danger of our going on in some human enthusiasm, some natural gusto, something that is not the Lord altogether, and we take hold of things to carry them on ourselves instead of recognising that it was the Lord that did that last thing, and we cannot take on what the Lord did and do it ourselves. That is a peril just at the point of success. So often we presume to go on in the strength of the success instead of the strength of the Lord.
Now there is another thing to recognise: that while the Lord's purpose is fixed, the Lord's tactics change from time to time. The Lord's methods change from time to time. The purpose is established, but the ways vary. And what may be for Jericho, may not be for Ai as to a method. For Ai it may not be the silent walking round. And so we cannot assay or presume to just move in every situation and proposition in the same way as we did on the last, assuming that God is going to deal with this next situation in exactly the same way as He did with that. The Lord would call us back to see what His way is for this and it may differ very greatly from that. And by changing His methods He makes it necessary for us to get fresh light and consult Him about every new occasion and keep in close touch with Him to know what His way is for this. We have to recognise the truth that the Lord does not always follow the same procedure. He may vary His procedure from time to time and therefore, the very closest touch with Him and spiritual intelligence, is essential.
Now, they took it for granted that the same thing happened for Ai as for Jericho and, presuming on that, simply went forward. And that presumption was the open door for the enemy to compromise the whole position and bring about disaster. The peril is reliance upon a former experience as a source of power, and that is fatal. We must rely on the Lord, not upon experience. We must keep in touch with the Lord and not take our experiences as the source of our power. The Lord is our power, not our experience. How often we have found that a great experience we once had, if we try to work on the strength of it again, has let us down. Our experience is not our power. It is the Lord who is our power and we have got to have fresh experiences, and never come to the point where we make our experience the criterion, but where we are always dependent upon the Lord. Therein are some very important factors as leading to the maintenance of position.
Satan affiliates with the good that he cannot defeat. So often when he has been unable to destroy by open assault, he has destroyed by sweet subterfuge. The man or woman whom he cannot break by persecution he often destroys by deception. The church has very often been defeated, not by persecution which she has received, but by the deception which has crept in at the back-door, and presumption is a back-door wide open, giving the opportunity. We must not be occupied with our experience, but with the Lord.
Now we will look at the second case of checking the purpose of God in the case of the Gibeonites. We may say that the Lord's people here were pulled down out of their position and checked in their spiritual conquest by sentiment instead of being maintained by discernment.
The Gibeonites represent sentimental elements which blind the eyes and obscure the will of God. They knew the time had come, they knew that open hostility would eventually prove futile, they knew that they stood no chance of success along the line of openly withstanding these people. They were in terror; what would they do? They will make an alliance with these people to save themselves. Thus they will get protection from their own country folk who otherwise would turn against them; thus, secretly working, the enemy would gain the advantage he was seeking of countering the purpose of God. And you know their story, how they work in a cunning way, put on old clothes, worn-out shoes and mouldy bread in their bags, and come to the leaders of Israel and tell them their pathetic story. They had come on a very long journey, they had heard about these people, they knew the Lord was with them, they knew it was no use putting up a fight and they wanted to come to an agreement with them and have a working co-operation and understanding: "Here we are, you see, we have come all this long way, tired out, worn out, simply because we recognise what a wonderful people you are." And the leaders of Israel looked upon them and said in effect, "You poor creatures, we are sorry for you; you have had a hard time...". They were captured by the sentimental side of things, by the sight of the eyes and the appeal to the ears, along the line of the senses.
Instead of going back to the Lord and saying, "Lord this seems awfully pathetic, we do not want to be harsh, cruel and unkind, we do not want to seem unjust, but what shall we do about it Lord? Are we being compromised by this thing in any way? Do we sacrifice liberty by taking another line? What should we do?" Instead of holding it before the Lord and getting spiritual discernment, they fell into the trap and were captured along the line of sentimentality. Now, beloved, that is not an uncommon thing among the Lord's people.
There are quite a number of similar disasters instanced in the Word of God. I think of dear Jonathan. Jonathan whom the Lord spiritually linked with king David in a wonderful way, he who went with his father, Saul, and allowed a natural relationship to take the place of a spiritual relationship; allowed something along the line of nature, perhaps in the affectional realm, to keep him from what God wanted for him. What a great thing it would have been if Jonathan had been in the place of Joab for the rest of David's life! And he ought to have been there. Surely that was God's will for David, and Jonathan missed the way and died upon the high places with Saul in a day of shame. It was one of Israel's darkest days. I think of Absalom and David. Absalom the murderer, and David's clinging to Absalom along purely sentimental lines and bringing him back without any repentance for his foul deed. What was the consequence? We know the tragedy. Instead of dealing with this thing before God on a basis of God's will, he allowed sentimental elements to influence his procedure with disastrous results.
You know Elisha was very near disaster on the same ground. When the Lord had met Elijah, spoken to him, He said, "Now go and anoint Elisha to be prophet in thy stead" and Elijah went and saw Elisha plowing with twelve yoke of oxen, and he threw his mantle over him and passed on, and Elisha said, "Suffer me first to go and kiss my father." Elijah said, "What have I done to you? Return, go back". So I see his conscience awaken, his heart smote him, and it says nothing of his going back to kiss his father. But he slew the yoke of oxen, made a feast for his men and went after Elijah. There was a moment of peril along a sentimental line and that might have robbed him of all that God meant for him. And the Lord Jesus Himself brings us into touch with a case like this, "Suffer me first to go and say farewell". "Suffer me first to bury my father." "He that loveth father, or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me." "He that putting his hand to the plough looketh back is not fit for the kingdom of God." And that look back was on a sentimental point, you see. The Gibeonites represent that principle.
Thank God we have instances of the opposite in the Word of God. Abraham always stands out prominently on the other side. No sentimental element comes in to stop him offering his only, and well beloved, son. And if we know Jephthah at all, we must honour him on this very principle, that he had come to a covenant with God and no sentimental element would allow him to break that covenant. He went all the way. Now you see the point.
If we admit a sentiment into the realm of our lives in relation to God's purpose, we will become involved in an awful mix up, in a mess. What we have got to get down on is the principle of the will of God. Now that is the strength, even if it costs everything. First of all, not how can we patch things up and save the situation, that you can get round this and achieve the end by some kind of understanding. No, that is not it. Are we in any way going to be hampered in doing the will of God by any such considerations? First of all let us stand right back from all sentimental considerations, all affectional considerations. This principle is very often pressed home by the Lord. Very often something very dear to us on this earth becomes the occasion of a terrific battle and we try to get through and we try to exert our position of authority and power in a certain realm where our affairs are and nothing happens. We cannot get through, the thing does not yield and the Lord sifts us out on that thing until our own interests in that have been entirely eliminated and withdrawn. And we come to the position where we say, "Well, if You want that thing, I let that go. I let it go to You". When we in nature have got clear of this thing, and these natural, affectional elements circling round the situation and it is a clear issue of the will of God whatever it costs, then we have a clear way through with the Lord and He has a clear way through with us, and very often the power is liberated and the thing is done. But so often an issue is held up indefinitely until we have dealt with our own feelings about that and our own interests in it. We have got to bring our Isaac right to the altar. We do not know what Abraham did on the way - it may be a long process of eliminating personal feelings, and personal interests, the sentimental, before we get a clear issue and then the Lord can come in. It does work. It is a very real thing.
So there is the need of taking a thing and examining it before the Lord instead of judging it on the surface and allowing sentimental elements to come in and influence us in our conduct. If we do that, we shall find that these things are thorns in our sides; the very things we loved and clung to, the things we would not let go, perhaps because they meant so much to us. And we say, "Oh Lord, if You would give that opportunity again, however bitter it might be, we would take another course". There is that withholding from the Lord which involves us in eternal regret though we may keep that thing. You see the need of discernment for maintaining our position. The subtle snare that the enemy hides - our own heart and our own judgments - the form in which that is presented to us is the sentimental.
Now the third thing is that which came in when Israel had had many and great successes and had got the greater part of the land and then they slacked off. It was the danger associated with the consciousness of being in a position of power. That, again, is a very real danger and a subtle snare - a consciousness of being in a position of power and resting upon it in a wrong way as though that were ours. We have come to a position, very blessed to have come to the position, we know the value of the position, maintaining that position, but begin to take the position for granted. And if we allow complacency and satisfaction to come in, to lead us to drop the fighting attitude, then we are caught.
You see, they got so far, and it says that the inhabitants of the land had chariots of iron and strongholds in the hills, and the people say, "Oh well, do not let us bother about them, we have got all this territory, we are in a strong position, we have proved the Lord, we know where we are, it does not matter about them up there". But it does matter, and it was proved by three hundred years of weakness and failure. The whole tragic period of the Judges was resultant from getting to a point of power which was allowed to bring in a measure of satisfaction and complacency, and led them to drop the fight. The enemy paid tribute to them instead of being wiped out. And I am not sure that he minds paying a bit of tribute and by doing that, putting off the ultimate issue. I mean that the enemy does not mind paying a bit of tribute to preserve strongholds. He does not mind letting us feel that we are in a position of power and pandering to it if only he can stop us taking the stronghold, and destroying the chariots of iron. He knows that in the long run the advantage is with himself and it is only a matter of time. It is not for us a matter of just weakening the enemy's power, it is a matter of destroying it. The Lord calls us individually not to stop short of the ultimate thing, and with our first vision of this series in view, the dispossessing of the enemy of the heavenlies as the final thing, the church goes right on. And that does not happen until the man child is caught up to the throne and he and his angels are cast down and "there is no more place found for them in heaven". Until that time comes, you and I cannot stop the fight, we can accept nothing less than the full thing.
Now I want to add just a few words beyond that as to the exercising of the position down here, the throne power as put into operation in practical ways in the Lord.
First of all we must remember that it is a matter of an attitude definitely taken, an attitude in the Lord, in the heavenlies as with Him there in the throne of His Father. That is the Ephesian position, an attitude taken, and it has to be a definite attitude. That attitude may be from time to time of a different character. It may be a matter of working, or it may be a matter of waiting; whichever may be the necessity at the time. It is either; one is just as effective as the other. Sometimes it is working, definite active operation as from the throne. Sometimes it is a mighty effectiveness of waiting on God. The attitude of waiting. Faith is being tried, but here, faith in its trial maintaining its attitude, its position and not yielding is in itself not the means, but the occasion of the victory. The Lord comes by way of tried and proved faith very often, and the Lord does not exempt us from that necessity, sometimes by a direct action from the throne. There is a speedy issue, but sometimes an attitude has to be taken towards a situation and faith has to grimly hold on and be subjected to tests and trials over an extended period, and that is no less effective than the direct action, if the faith is maintained. And the Lord comes through the faith which stands, just as much as through action which is encouraging.
Take Hebrews 11 and you have the company of those who triumphed by faith. You can divide that list up into two companies - those who wrought and those who waited - and faith was equally triumphant in both. There were those who did things directly by faith, but there were those who simply stood their ground by faith, not accepting deliverance. But they are all equally the heroes of faith, they were all overcomers, they all equally broke the power of the enemy, they all equally reached the throne, they all equally knew spiritual ascendency, they all equally will be there with the Lord at the end: the wroughters and the waiters! Do not let us think that when the present prevailing necessity is to take an attitude and a position of faith towards a situation and simply hold our ground, that that is necessarily something less than tackling that situation in authority and having it cleared up at once. Very often we are discouraged along that line. We sometimes tackle the thing directly and there is another result, and another time we try to tackle the thing in that way and we wonder, what is wrong now; the thing is by faith and the issue will be the same as the other. This is a principle that is important and true to experience. Sometimes we go straight at a thing in the Name of the Lord and we get an issue, another time we go at a thing and we do not get an issue, and the question then is: are we going to stand our ground of faith in God for that thing, perhaps over a prolonged test where faith is sorely assailed. So that it is a matter of an attitude, not the immediate issue but the attitude taken that counts.
And then finally, there are the two methods of exercising the authority in the Lord; ever and always in and by the Holy Spirit, as energised by Him, not mechanically, not professionally, so to speak, not simply because we are Christian workers, but as energised by the Holy Spirit. The one is the prayer of faith. What is that? Well, Mark 11 tells us this: "Whatsoever ye pray and ask for believe that ye (not receive, notice the tense) received them and ye shall have them". The prayer of faith; direct action. That is going a long way isn't it? And the second thing, the command of faith - Mark 11 again. Those direct commands of faith. There is the prayer of faith and there is the command of faith. "Ye shall say...".
Now I think that all that remains for me to say at this moment is that such a position is one which is kept very much in view in the Word of the Lord. The Old Testament is full of it, or perhaps one ought to say, has many outstanding and conspicuous illustrations of it. Moses on several occasions is seen in this position in Egypt before Pharaoh. He is in that position at the Red Sea, he has the rod of authority, "What is that in thine hand?" "Lift up thy rod", and the Lord does not act from heaven independently of an instrument on earth, He brings that instrument on earth into fellowship with Himself in His throne and puts into the hand of that instrument the symbol of His authority and says, "Now you go as Me", "I have made you as God unto this people". So close is the fellowship that this thing that is done is the doing of the Lord, though it is done through an instrument, but it is the Lord.
Again, Moses with Aaron and Hur on the mountain, in the same position. The rod of authority lifted up and maintained is the Lord operating down there on the field of battle. Joshua came into this position and the Lord directed him to direct his javelin towards Ai and while Joshua kept that javelin, Israel prevailed. There is that instrument of authority directed in that way and God is moving by the hand of Joshua. Elijah comes into the same position. "As the Lord liveth before whom I stand there shall not be rain on the earth but according to my word." And these were not instances of men being in special ecclesiastical official office positions. Elijah was a man of like passions with us and he prayed.
And the Lord did not say to His disciples, because they were in a special position, official position and capacity, that He gave them authority. They represented the church and it is for the church. This is the position to which the Lord would bring the members of His Body, as members of His Body in relation to Himself as Sovereign Head, into the position of Ephesians 1, into the work of Ephesians 6. Ephesians 1 and 6: "Hath raised Him and set Him at His own right hand far above all principality, and power, and might and dominion, and every name that is named not only in this world but also in that which is to come"; "Hath made us to sit with Him in the heavenlies", now.
Our wrestling is in the heavenlies and it is in Him in that above position above. The Lord does not regard this merely as a theory, as a system of doctrine. He looks at it as something which should have a very practical outworking. And I think in these messages He has sought to bring us again face to face with the position in which He would have us, and from that position with the work that He would accomplish and the ends that He would realise. May He give us exercise of heart in relation to this, that we may come to be the effective executive instrument of the Lord as from His throne to govern His interests.