by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Malachi 3:1-16; 4:1-6; Matt. 17:3-4.
We have been thinking together of the voice at the end time, seeing the nature of that end time instrument as set forth in Malachi, John the Baptist, and the apostle Paul, and just for these moments, the note of emphasis which is in my heart is with regard to their utterness for the Lord.
You notice in Malachi what we have read. Malachi strikes that note very strongly and very definitely. The whole of his prophecies have to do with a partial devotion to the Lord, that which is merely and only on the outside; a system of works, activities, things occupied with maintaining traditions and keeping up formalities, a certain kind of zeal which had to do with things. And on the other hand, over against that, the burden of the message of the Lord for something infinitely more than that, something wholly of the heart; the dissatisfaction of the Lord, the discontent of Jehovah into which His messenger had entered in a very real way, sounding this note of Jehovah's discontent and seeking to bring the Lord's people to a place of utterness for the Lord. And as we have again and again pointed out, that utterness for the Lord resulting from his ministry - seen in that remnant of the remnant, that little company that feared the Lord, spoke one to another, and thought upon His Name - utterness for the Lord.
And then you notice as you get to the end of his prophecies there comes in that verse 5 of chapter 4 where Elijah is introduced into this thing. It is very wonderful how at the end the Lord gathers up the outstanding things of all the dispensation. John gathers up all the Law and the Prophets. In him the whole of the Old Testament is represented. And you find an end time thing is a collecting up and gathering together of the greatest features of all that has gone before, and so the Lord is out to recover all that has been outstanding according to His mind. And before you get to the end, Elijah is introduced and you have John the Baptist and Elijah brought together in Malachi. And you find John the Baptist fulfilling this prophecy and going his way, and you find Elijah brought in and linked with John the Baptist, and you have in Matt. 11:14 (see also Luke 1:17) Malachi 3 and 4 brought together.
The Lord Jesus has already said before He reached the Mount of Transfiguration that Elijah in spirit and power would reappear in the person of John the Baptist: "He shall go before him in the spirit and power of Elijah." Thus He makes that most extraordinary statement that Elijah has come and they did to him what they would, and they understood that He spoke concerning John the Baptist. You see in Malachi, John the Baptist, Elijah, and that other great end time representative Paul, one feature perhaps more conspicuous than any other feature, that was utterness for the Lord. Elijah - "I have been very jealous for the Lord...". There was a man who was utterly, utterly poured out, abandoned to the interests of the Lord Himself. It was a costly business for Elijah. He was so utterly devoted to the interests of the Lord that he got to the place where he thought he was the only one, and it was excusable. There is a great deal of difference between becoming and feeling you are the only person in the world who is right. You can become very zealous for the Lord so that you feel that there is no one else like you and you feel that no one else knows your burden, no one else is able to understand your concern. And I think it was because of Elijah's devotion that he felt he was the only one. It was not his pride or conceit, but his devotion. The Lord enlightened him - He had seven thousand who had not bowed the knee to Baal. It was pardonable that he thought he only was left. This represents his utterness of devotion to the Lord, a man poured out for God.
Malachi stands in that position. He cries, "Bring the whole tithe", be utter for the Lord. John is just there. He has nothing for himself: no name for himself; no reputation for himself. Nothing for himself - "I must decrease"; "He is preferred before me"; "The latchet of His shoes I am unworthy to unloose". And if it is true in these cases, so we see how much more true in the case of the apostle Paul. If it were possible, he excelled in this thing. If ever there was a man who had that to let go, to abandon, to give up, it was Paul, but "I count all things loss and as refuse for the excellency of Christ Jesus my Lord" and at the end he did not lose anything in his utter devotion to the Lord and His interests - "That I may know Him".
Now, that is only one note and it is just the one note I have on
my heart now. Very simple, but very solemn and very searching. Oh,
if I may put it this way: I would not urge upon you anything that
is not a concern of myself. For myself I feel the need of (and my
earnest cry to the Lord is for) a position where it is abandonment
to the Lord, where it is the Lord. There is this fact, that we are
born into a religious system which is highly organised so that the
Christian life becomes so utterly a matter of organised work and
its manifold interests. We get taken up with that, and everything
for us is organised. If we are asked to do a bit of work, well,
alright, we may do it if we feel in a mood for it, or by some
great effort and self-sacrifice, by fear of our own conscience or
some other reason, we may do it. But, oh for the spontaneity that
does not wait until work is for us to do and doors opened so that
all we have to do is walk through. We are out, not for the work,
but the Lord, we have the Lord and His interests so definitely at
heart so that it is not in season and out of season, but that
every season is in season. It is not a case that we are expected
to do it, or it is a part of the thing that we have joined and
because we are related it is expected of us and we should do it,
or because we are interested in it or because it is incumbent upon
us. No, rather, for love's sake that it is my need and the need of
the Lord's people today.
It was a company of those who spontaneously did the work of the Lord and talked about the Lord and thought upon His Name; I think some of their thoughts were very sad thoughts. His Name, that wonderful Name, all that that Name represented in Israel, they thought of all that He said about His Name: "Because of My Name"; "I have put My Name there"; "For My Name's sake". The Name of the Lord represented all the Lord's honour, all the Lord's interest, and here in a very general way all that that Name stood for was dishonoured among His own people, and they thought upon His Name. There is a touch of tenderness and pathos about that. It is as if the Lord said, "Yes, all these are not keeping My Name in its place, but you were thinking upon My Name; My interests and My honour were matters of serious thought for you". They thought upon His Name. This is utter devotion to the Lord.
There is such a need for spontaneity and overflowingness of heart
among the Lord's people. You ask, and the response you get is very
often they will do it as a favour, a condescension, that sort of
spirit. If the Lord's interests could be served in any possible
way, that ought to be the thing that moves us. That is where I
feel we have got to come. Until we get there, things will go slow;
there will be deadness and death about it. I am sure that
spontaneity is a general feature of Life; Life manifests itself by
overflowingness. Think of the overflow of God to us, the
ungrudgingness of God to us. He spared not, He gave: "Now let
this mind be in you..." it is utterness of things for the
Lord. For these men, Elijah, Malachi, John, and Paul, and John the
apostle, it was so in their ministry. It was not their life
vocation for the Lord that concerned them.
I remember Dr. Forsyth said years ago: "So many men are out to win their audience when they ought to be out to win their case for their Lord". When we get that view, we are on a wrong way. We may lose our audience, reputation, position; the thing is, we must be utterly devoted to the Lord and take all risks for that. It is not some enterprise we are concerned about - "Now, if this thing I represent is not a success it will be a terrible business!" When you get that on your mind, you are open to all sorts of things. If this fellowship does not come up to scratch, you will get troubled, worried, and concerned, and you will adopt this way and that way.
It is the Lord, utterness for the Lord, not a thing, but for the Lord. The difference is just this: are you concerned for some institution, teaching, fellowship, organisation, place, enterprise, testimony? Well, it might be well to be very much concerned for such if it is of God, but beloved, that is not enough. It must be the very heart of things: the Lord Himself; His honour, not our reputation; not things about which we are interested. No! Just how far the Lord is involved, how far the Lord is interested and concerned - you must ask Him to make that clear. I find difficulty in making quite clear and plain what is very clear to me as I speak. I see this feature about Paul. What a run Paul has had, what a career, what a sphere he has had. There has been no man who had so much to show as a result of his work. But it is going... he is losing his place in the hearts of those who owe him most. He is gradually, but very definitely, being shut down until in his prison he has to confess that all in Asia turned away from him, "This one and that one has left me and now only Luke is with me", and it looks as if his whole life work had gone to pieces and he was a failure. If that were the thing that concerned him most of all, he would have died of a broken heart, and ended in despair. Instead of that we have a different result at the end. Why? Because at the end you find intensified stress upon the Lord Himself. Paul is able to say, "If I had spent all this time and energy, this strength, these years in trying to build up for myself something great, then I am a failure and here I have very little to show for it". That would have been the result of his having an enterprise as his life's dominating object. But because it was the Lord so utterly, he could see things go to pieces and still maintain his position in triumph. It's an impressive thing.
You see, if your work is your god and it goes to pieces, you and your god and your work all go together. If it is the Lord, you know the Lord, and it is Himself, then you have got something to carry you through the changing aspect of things. When you see things apparently changing for the worst, you know the Lord in it and that carries you through. Ask the Lord to make that very clear to you. That is something precious.
With these men it was not their ministry, work, vocation, enterprise, programmes, schemes; it was the Lord. Therefore they could suffer the apparent wrecking of their schemes and their work, but know that there was that which was eternal at the heart of things that could never be destroyed. It was of God. There is this other thing necessary, of course, to an utterness of devotion to the Lord; that is, a due sense of the state of things with which the Lord is not satisfied. For Elijah, his devotion to the Lord was one half of the thing, the other half was his consciousness of how universally things were not generally spiritual.
Of course you will never be like Elijah, zealous for the Lord with a burning zeal, unless you see some reason for it, and the thing that was Elijah's reason was that the heart of God was disappointed and this state of things did not satisfy the Lord. I believe the Lord is very specially concerned about His own people today. He is. There is the concern which is continuous, age-long, which we must truly share: the concern for the unsaved ones. We must truly have that concern, oh yes, but it does seem to me that, without making less of that than ought to be made, that today the Lord has a great concern about His own people. It does seem that the Lord is desperately anxious (if I may use that word of the Lord) to get His own people somewhere where they are not today. And we, if we are going to be able to co-operate with the Lord, must have a sense of what the lack is, that there is a lack and all that that lack is, and what it is the Lord really wants. Unless we have got that, we have got no zeal and no strength at all. There is a lack. Are you conscious in your heart of a lack, speaking generally, among the Lord's people? A spiritual lack. The Lord deliver us from criticism, the Lord deliver us from anything like the insidious in comparison.
Beloved, many of those who lack spiritually and are far from spiritual perception of the Lord's main things, are devoted children of God. While in the States my heart literally ached for a great many people spiritually, who were the kindest people to me personally. They really showed the love of Christ to me, they were sacrificially devoted to my interests in the time of my need. I really felt the love of Christ coming in through acts of devotion and I thought, "Oh, that you had a perception of the greater things of the Lord!" All they knew was that salvation was to get you out of hell and into heaven, to save a man from going to hell, but they had not got a vista of light beyond that, concerning the great eternal purpose of God in Christ, the eternal election and vocation of the church which is His body. I could see all the mistakes they were making, the false emphasis, and how they themselves were dissatisfied and yet so kind with the love of Christ. We must not criticise and we must not think we are better.
Do everything you possibly can both to avoid and destroy, if it exists, the impression that you or we think that we are somewhere far ahead of other believers. Get rid of that. Never in their presence do or say anything that would give the impression that we consider ourselves much more enlightened and these poor folk who have got no light. There is nothing that will ever help other people but love. We must not be butchers, but shepherds; not drivers, but leaders. There must be an overflow of God.
Now, one last word. Elijah, Malachi, John, Paul, and others who have fulfilled this purpose for God, bringing Him into His place in a day when He Himself was dissatisfied and disappointed, and they, entering into His disappointment and sorrow of heart because they sensed the lack and the need and the Lord's desire (I say sensed it spiritually; they knew it in their hearts) they were in a position to be such as to whom there was entrusted a distinctive message for their day, and that is no little thing. Of course, the Gospel is a great message, it is a distinctive message. It is a great thing to be able to preach the Gospel, but I am not thinking now so much of the bringing the Gospel to the unsaved as God's unique message of salvation, as I am thinking of the difference between the kind of general Bible truth that is coming to the Lord's people, and Bible readings and addresses - all true, beautiful, and in a way helpful - the difference between that and being a man, a woman, an instrument with a message for the time. You can go to a conference and hear beautiful messages, yes, helpful... but is it an age/time message, something that serves the hour in the times of God?
I feel that an end time voice has got to have a very distinctive note. It has got to have a message, not just a giving out of general truth, helpful in a degree, even in a large measure. It may have a place, but if that is all, it is not enough. There must be a voice for the time, there must be a message for the hour and when that is heard, you will never fail to find some who recognise that voice. You may have a dozen or twenty speakers, but it is the man who has got a message from God for that hour or time, a distinctive message; not the man who is giving a Bible address. It is the man who has got a message and reaches hearts and finds a response somewhere that is deeper than all the other responses, and you will never fail to find some who recognise that voice and who in their hearts register, "This is God's Word for the day, this is God's message for the hour."
The Lord needs a voice for the end time that has got a distinctive message. That message, of course, will bring conflict and stir up jealousy. You will be criticised - there was jealousy among the prophets; you will be set aside, the great public concerns will turn you down as singular, extraordinary, extreme, but you must go on with your message. You may ask, "How does this apply to a general company of the Lord's people?" That is not what I am talking about. Each one of you can be, in the grace of God, a part of that end time voice. You may never in your own vocal capacities be heard outside of your own house, or a gathering for prayer; you may have no platform or public ministry, and yet you are as vitally a part of that end-time voice. You have got to pray that burden through with the Lord. You have got to pray that message out to His people. You have to take this thing on your heart. Let it test you now. When you gather for prayer do you find it easy to sit still and be quiet? Can you sit with folded hands and go through without a movement in your soul? Is your difficulty rather to put your burden into words? That is it, a company, a people with a burden which they may alone be able to express before God, but do not forget there is a mighty vocation about groanings which cannot be uttered.
This is not necessarily a public voice, a clarion call on a platform. It is a burden. It may be a Daniel kind of thing. Daniel was desperately concerned for the Lord's honour and the Lord's Name, and by prayer he shakes the heavens and stirs the principalities and brings himself to a den of lions. Yes, it is all in the way. It is the nature of this thing. It is an utterness of devotion to the Lord, not to Honor Oak, not to Honor Oak's Testimony as a teaching or to any other thing, but to the Lord. And that devotion to the Lord includes these two things: on the one hand a true sense of the Lord's need and discontent, what the Lord longs for, and on the other hand a knowledge of the thing that is going to meet the need - what it is, so that you can say what it is, so that you can say, "I see, I feel, I know the need, but blessed be God I have got the thing that will meet it". It is a terrible thing to sense a need and not know how to meet it. It is a great thing to know that by the grace of God I have got the thing that will make it a new thing.
There is no room for conceit or pride when you have been in the den of lions or the fiery furnace. This thing is too costly to allow you to have conceit. Are you there, right in with God; can you keep silent before God? Is the thing a matter of conscience, or duty, what is expected of you, or if there is any interest of God that can be served in any way, if you have it in you by the grace of God, you do it for the Lord's sake, not because of one who asks you? Can the Lord be served in this? It does not matter who or what if the Lord's interests can be served. We need to be there. Whatever does not apply to you, you can let it go, but I am quite sure that this word applies to us all.
Utterness for the Lord... the whole tithe, and then these two aspects of that: a sense of what the Lord is after, what He needs and what His people lack, and on the other hand being in a blessed spiritual position to, either by prayer or in some other way, bring the supply to the need, to pray through, to pray over that which will bring about the Lord's satisfaction, although it may be only in the remnant of the remnant.
The result of Malachi's ministry was that the great mass still went on asking questions and disputing his assertions: "Wherein have we robbed God?" But the result of his ministry was that there was a company, a remnant in a remnant to satisfy the Lord's heart, and the Lord called them jewels, and I love every word of those 16th and 17th verses. A book of remembrance was kept before Him. "Before Him" - that can be illustrated from the book of Esther. The king could not sleep; it was a providential wakefulness, and he called for the books and he had read from the records, the chronicles, and it was found written that which Mordecai had done. Now it is just like that. A book of remembrance was kept before the Lord and the Lord kept written in there what His people talked about when they talked about Him. They talked one to another and thought upon His Name, and the Lord said to the recording angel, "Put that down, I like that! Read that to Me now and again!"
The Lord is laying up in store that which is precious. A people utterly for Himself. May we be such people by the grace of God.