by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 1 - Wholly Following the Lord
Reading: Num. 32:11-12; Joshua 14:8-9,14; Num. 27:18,20.
"...because thou hast wholly followed the Lord" (Josh. 14:9).
It will be recognized at once that this is not connected with the beginnings of the life of a child of God, but marks a crisis on the way. It was at a certain point and because of certain things that this was said of Joshua, long after they had come out of Egypt, that is, with some considerable spiritual history lying behind. There had been sufficient time in which the people should be tested that the real state of heart should be revealed. Really, this wholly following of the Lord was connected with that well-advanced point in Israel's life when they came to the end of the first wilderness journey and the land lay before. It was at the dividing point between the wilderness and the land when the spies were sent over and the majority report was unfavourable and discouraging, and this very small minority report of two men was one of faith and assurance. It was then that it was said of Joshua and Caleb that they wholly followed the Lord their God, and that is full of very great significance.
We have read the passage in which the Lord makes it perfectly clear that the great mass of His people were not after this kind and would therefore not go in and possess the inheritance. They had not wholly followed the Lord. Out of the whole host, a very few are found of whom it can be said that they wholly followed the Lord, and when you examine the situation with a view to discovering the difference between Joshua and Caleb and all the rest of the Lord's people, you do not find that it was because some were the Lord's people and the rest were not. They were all the Lord's people. And you do not find that it was that some had regard for salvation and valued it and the rest were careless about it, indifferent to it, or had light regard for it. No, I think it can be said of all Israel that they had a very real interest in the matter of salvation. They were all the Lord's people and they were all interested in redemption and they were all in the good of salvation, but there was one thing which made for the great difference between the few and the many. That one thing was that the many were interested in a personal and selfish way in the things of the Lord; that is, they were concerned about the things of the Lord in a way that brought their own interests into view. It was interest in Divine things which had a self-ward aspect - how the things of the Lord would mean their own present advantage, gain and enrichment here on this earth, for this present life, in this present world. The majority judged of the value of things and responded in their following of the Lord according to that result. They were interested in the things of the Lord, but the things of the Lord for them had got to mean that present and earthly advantages were to run alongside of their devotion to the Lord, that the return was to be here and now.
Joshua and Caleb, on the other hand, were not living for the Lord for themselves and their own interests, nor for the here and the now. They were living for the there and the then, but more than that. They were not at all concerned with what their following of the Lord would mean to them in the here and the now. The concern which filled their hearts was that the Lord Himself should have that upon which His heart was set, that the Lord should reach His end and have what He desired in and through and by His people, and that is what is meant by wholly following the Lord. It might well have been said of the majority of Israel that they were almost entirely, if not wholly, following their own interests in relation to the Lord, while these few were following the Lord's interests for the Lord's sake. That was the main difference, and that is what is meant by wholly following the Lord.
If you and I could really see the implications and applications of that difference, we should be delivered from a great deal of our trouble and complications, for our Christian life becomes complicated according to the degree in which we have vested interests in relation to the Lord. Yes, it is always an element of self-interest which complicates the Christian life, and immediately we can get clear of all such interests, even in a spiritual way, the complications begin to fall away and we get out into a clear place. Let me say again, we are not raising at all the question of whether we are the Lord's people or not, or whether there is a kind of devotion to the Lord and His things, but we are raising the question of the nature of that devotion to the Lord which determines at once the degree. The nature of devotion to the Lord determines whether it is wholly following the Lord or not. If the nature of our following of the Lord is mixed up with personal self-interest and satisfaction and gratification, then it becomes complicated, and our following of the Lord is an imperfect thing.
The complications of the Christian life very often arise in the nature of having, even as Israel had from time to time, a kind of secret displeasure with the Lord, a secret heart-offendedness with the Lord, an inner grudge against the Lord, and the presence of any such thing at once complicates our lives. While that is there, we are never going to make progress; we are at a standstill. Let any offendedness get into our hearts with the Lord, any sense of a grudge, being upset with the Lord, that the Lord is not fair, the Lord is not coming up to our standard, the Lord is not doing as we feel He ought to do, let anything like that come in and the whole life is complicated and brought under arrest and there is no progress.
That is how it was with Israel. You remember two things are said, one about Israel summarizing their history, and one about Joshua and Caleb which summarizes their history. About Israel it is written, "He gave them their request, but sent leanness into their soul" (Psa. 106:15). That is history. That says this - they wanted certain things and they insisted on having them and they would not take 'No' from the Lord. They took the attitude, "Lord, if You do not give us this, then we will not go on, we are not going all the way; You have got to do it; our following of You depends upon your giving us what we want!" They took that stubborn attitude that, unless the Lord gratified their wish, they were not going on; and it created an impasse and a deadlock between them and the Lord. The Lord never forces anybody, and there is a point to which it is possible to come where we take that attitude, and the Lord says, "All right, have it, but you must take the consequences!" He gave them their request because they would not take 'No' for an answer, but He sent leanness into their souls.
There may be things upon which our hearts are set and we are not prepared to take a "No" from the Lord. Oh yes, we may have feigned a surrender or yieldedness and given up, but deep down we are holding on. We are making ourselves objects for pity because the Lord does not give this, the Lord does not respond in this or that way, the Lord is not giving that upon which our hearts are set. We have got it there, we are holding it, although we say to the Lord that we want His will, we want to wholly follow Him, we want to be utterly for Him. We think we mean it, but deep down we are holding on, there is a reservation, "I will wholly follow the Lord, but I expect the Lord to give me that, to do this for me!" There comes a time when the Lord sees He cannot get past that, and it may be that fatal thing that the Lord says - "Have it!"
He clears the way, we have it; we have Dead Sea fruit, leanness in our souls, desolation. We have lost the Lord's best and life has become terribly complicated because of that.
What is Meant by Wholly Following the Lord
Now, on the other hand, the words which Joshua and Caleb uttered seem to me to indicate another kind of history altogether. When they came back from the land, you remember the majority of the spies brought up their evil report, but Joshua and Caleb said, "If the Lord delight in us, then He will bring us into this land" (Num. 14:8). You know that in the letter to the Hebrews, the whole question of the Sabbath rest that remains for the people of God is brought up in connection with Joshua bringing the people over into the land. The land was intended to be a type of the rest that remains for the people of God, and when Joshua said that, he was already in the rest of the land. He was in rest. His attitude was this, his state of heart was this: "If the Lord wants us to have this, it is all right, we need not worry, strain, strive, fight, or be concerned about it; if the Lord wants it, it is all right, we will come in and possess. If the Lord delight in us, we do not need to worry about anything - giants, difficulties, walled cities; if the Lord wants it, we will have it; all we have to do is to go on wholly with the Lord, trust Him, and it is all right!" Joshua was in the rest of the land in his heart already because he had no personal thing to which he was clinging which complicated his relationship with the Lord, but his heart was on what the Lord wanted and he was in this position - "If the Lord wants us to have that, if the Lord wants me to have that or wants to bring me into that, I trust Him, it will be all right. I need not scheme, devise or worry, I need not be anxious, I will just go on with the Lord and He will bring it to pass. If the Lord does not want it, then I do not want it!" Joshua was in that position and was at heart rest. It was not just passivity, it was the rest of faith, and you have no rest of faith until the self-element is put out. It is that which complicates our spiritual heart rest all the time. That is simply wholly following the Lord and that discriminated Joshua and Caleb and all the rest. It was the nature of things.
Now, that has a very wide and comprehensive application. I beg of you to come with me into the place of self-examination, for I doubt whether any of us have not at some time or other in some way or another, been guilty, been found in this place where our lives have just got all so complicated, tangled and under arrest, because we have wanted something. We have wanted it in relation to the Lord, but we wanted it. The Lord was not giving it to us then and we were getting upset with the Lord. It was something not manifestly evil, but the very fact that we were so wrapped up in this thing showed that we had interests in it. We had not got to the place where if the Lord delights in it, if the Lord wants it, it is all right, it will come to pass; if the Lord does not, then God forbid that it should ever come our way, if it is cutting off the right hand, the plucking out of the very eye, nevertheless it is far better to do that than to have something the Lord does not want.
The Complication of Personal Interest in the Things of the Lord
That, even in the personal connection, is of very wide application, but it goes far beyond that. I believe that this goes right to the heart of the whole question of the difference between a great mass of Christians today and a few among them. We are in danger of getting into a terribly complicated position over the Christian world. We look out on the great mass of Christians, true Christians, who are the Lord's people, and then we come up against this matter of something more, however you may put it, and it looks as though this 'something more' line of things is raising questions about them and their work and all that they are doing for the Lord. And then there is the question of dividing up between those who are going for the something more and those who are not and making a breach and a rift, and we begin to look at this whole thing and it becomes terribly complicated. We have got to get disentangled over this matter. We have got to get out of that complication and look at the thing quite squarely.
There is this one thing that is complicating this matter. It is that so many of the Lord's people are having a very lively interest in salvation, in evangelism, in a certain following of the Lord. They are very interested in things as of the Lord, but those things are down here and now on the earth in this present time and they are concerned about the success of those things, the prosperity of those things. It may be a movement, a mission, an organization, a society, something like that, and they are so tied up with that thing that everything is complicated immediately that thing is touched or affected. Oh, they have not seen it like this, but it amounts to this - it does not matter if the Lord could have something more by wiping that thing out of existence or putting it aside. They are not going to have it put out; they are so bound up with the thing that the thing has become an obstruction to perhaps something more of the Lord.
Let me put it this way. It is not until we get to the place where we say, "What does it matter whether this thing in which I am interested is wiped out of existence, if only the Lord can get a larger place and a fuller measure? It does not matter at all!" Not until we get there are complicating elements eliminated from the spiritual life. It is interest in and devotion to some thing - it may be something for the Lord, but it is a thing which terribly complicates the whole situation. And if you look at Israel's history, it was just that, that deep-seated thing which grew and strengthened and eventually issued in their being entirely set aside for the dispensation. What was the thing that the rulers of Israel said at last? It was this - when Christ was presented, when the gospel was preached, when it was evident to all who were unprejudiced that the seal of God was upon His Son Jesus Christ, they were so fixed they put it like this - "If we allow this, the Romans will come and take away our nation and our place" (John 11:48). Oh, is that it? I see, your nation and your place are more than Jesus Christ, more than the gospel of salvation, more than the kingdom of heaven. If only Israel had been in the condition to have said, "What does it matter whether our nation and our place goes, so long as God gets His end?" What a different issue!
You see the point. It is possible for the children of God to jeopardize their whole spiritual future by some personal interest in a religious way, both our nation and our place. Not one of those men that came out of Egypt shall enter into the land, save Joshua and Caleb, because they have not wholly followed the Lord! They were interested in some thing, not in the Lord.
This has a wide application and until we have got clear on this, we have not got clear of complications. The great need today is for the Lord's people as a whole to come to this position - "It does not matter about our organizations, our denominations, our missions, our institutions, our movements! It does not matter a little bit about them if the Lord could get more without them; if the Lord could, by setting them aside, get a greater gain to Himself, then we hold them lightly. Our hearts are upon the Lord, not upon things, and we hold things very lightly indeed as we view the Lord's interest." If only the Lord's people could get there - and I am quite sure they would all say 'Amen' to that as a matter of proposition, but when it comes to the test, you find all the time this is what is rising up - "Ah, but this is touching our work, our people, our something!" - and there is a flare-up. The question is not raised at all - "Is the Lord getting something? Can this after all mean something more for the Lord? Does this mean spiritual enrichment? If so, well then, our cherished things must go!" Until that position is taken, I see no way for the Lord. But you will find that the Lord has a Joshua and a Caleb company in the midst of the vast multitude, that little minority which is not pre-eminently concerned about things, but about the Lord, and with them the Lord has His future, has His end. It is with them that that upon which the Lord's heart is set is bound up.
It is following the Lord, not our own desires even in relation to the Lord, not our own interests even in the Lord's work, not those things upon which our hearts are set in the things of the Lord; it is the Lord Himself.
But it represents a crisis, very often somewhere well on the road. When we start the Christian life, if it is a clear-cut start, we feel that we are in the position of wholly following the Lord, nothing held back. It may be very true at that point, but it is so possible and so easy for these hearts of ours on the road to become bound up with some vision, some ambitions, some things for ourselves in the Christian life, and then a new crisis arises and here is a position well on the journey where a new crisis arose and the issue was: Am I wholly following the Lord after all? How much of my own satisfaction, gratification and pleasure is in my Christian life? How much is it the Lord or what I want from the Lord, what the Lord ought to do for me, what the Lord can do for me - or the Lord Himself?
Now, that is very utter, but then this is the question - wholly following the Lord - and I have said this because I realize that we can and we do complicate the Christian life so much. It becomes a very complicated thing unless we keep this issue perfectly clear - is it the Lord or is it things? If it is things, if it is what we want, what our hearts are set upon, what the Lord ought or can do for us and give us, it will not be long before there are complications and under the testing we shall be grieved with the Lord, and then comes an arrest.
May the Lord just teach us what this means for us. It is but a word which calls to our hearts to give the Lord a great opportunity. Joshua introduces an entirely new realm and new way of things, and this is how the introduction is made, this is how things are brought in - on the basis of the heart and its purity towards the Lord.
In keeping with T. Austin-Sparks' wishes that what was freely received should be freely given and not sold for profit, and that his messages be reproduced word for word, we ask if you choose to share these messages with others, to please respect his wishes and offer them freely - free of any changes, free of any charge (except necessary distribution costs) and with this statement included.