by T. Austin-Sparks
In the seventh chapter of the book of the Judges. The book of the Judges chapter 7: "Then Jerubbaal, who is Gideon, and all the people that were with him, rose up early, and encamped beside the spring of Harod: and the camp of Midian was on the north side of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley. And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people that are with thee are too many for Me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me, saying, Mine own hand hath saved me. Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people saying, Whosoever is fearful and trembling, let him return and depart from Mount Gilead. And there returned of the people twenty and two thousand; and there remained ten thousand. And the Lord said unto Gideon, The people are yet too many; bring them down unto the water and I will try them for thee there: and it shall be that of whom I say unto thee, this shall go with thee, the same shall go with thee; and of whomsoever I say unto thee, this shall not go with thee, the same shall not go. So he brought down the people unto the water: and the Lord said unto Gideon, Every one that lappeth of the water with his tongue, as a dog lappeth, him shalt thou set by himself; likewise every one that boweth down upon his knees to drink. And the number of them that lapped, putting their hand to their mouth, was three hundred men: but all the rest of the people bowed down upon their knees to drink water. And the Lord said unto Gideon, By the three hundred men that lapped will I save you, and deliver the Midianites into thy hand; and let all the people go away every man unto his place".
Turn to two other scriptures in the first book of the Chronicles, first book of the Chronicles, chapter 28 and verse 9: "And thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve Him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind; for the Lord searcheth all hearts and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts".
The other passage is in the prophecies of Jeremiah, chapter 17, verses 9 and 10: "The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is exceedingly corrupt: who can know it? I, the Lord, search the heart, the mind, I try the heart even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings".
There are some of you present this evening who have not been with us before in this conference, and possibly some of you who do not know the Lord Jesus in a personal way. Let me say here, that we are met as a company of God's people from many parts of the world, that we might receive from Him some light and instruction concerning His will where we are concerned at this present time. In saying that, you will all understand and appreciate the nature of the ministry; that I believe that the word we shall have this evening may reach even to those who are not the Lord's, and we certainly shall have such in mind as we go on.
There are two main things being brought before us just now. One is:
The Desire of the Lord
Indeed, the purpose of the Lord is to have His people in such a condition and state that His glory is expressed and realised in them - His people really in the enjoyment of all that He has provided for them. He has provided life, but He has provided Life more abundantly. He has provided spiritual riches and wealth, treasures untold and inexhaustible. He has provided spiritual food, a store which has no end and can be drawn upon continually without failing. He has provided strength, His own strength, that they should be a strong people indeed. The Lord has made a great and many-sided provision for His people, but history shows that His people have not always been in the enjoyment of His provision. And there are many today who bear His Name, who carry His Name, who are called by His Name, "Christians", "Christ ones", who are not in that enjoyment, not in that blessed state. Some are, but not all. And in so far as that is not the case, the Lord is not glorified in them. Well, that is what the Lord wants.
It is not an impossible thing, not just a bit of fancy and idealism, a high standard, a lofty conception, but beyond possibility of attainment. In this very place tonight, there are those who will very readily say that they know something of that, that Christ is to them a fountain of Life, not just a trickling stream, He is a fountain of Life; who will say that they know something of the depth of the riches, that they know something of how wealthy it is possible to be in Christ, and they know something about the food matter, His wonderful provision of spiritual food; inexhaustible. Yes, some of us know something about that. The wonder to us is the inexhaustibility of what is provided for us in the Lord Jesus. That is the one thing that is in view. I am quite sure that none of us are at the point where we feel we can't know any more, that would be a contradiction to what I have said. If it is inexhaustible, then we can never come to a place where we have got all that we can have.
Not any of us here would say that we have really obtained unto all that the Lord wishes and desires in these matters; not at all, but it may be that there are those here, perhaps many of this company, who are not in that enjoyment; they're just striving to eek out a spiritual existence - as we say, "to make ends meet," to find something upon which to subsist and keep going. They're living on a very poor fare. They're hungry, longing for more, and it may be that you do not feel that it is altogether helpful to be told about the things that there are for you. What you want to know is how you can get them, and how you can come into that enjoyment. Well, we are saying some things about that, but that is not our particular point tonight. We may be moving more in that direction later, as you'll see.
But the other thing that is before us, the other main thing, is that:
The Lord is Shown to Have Moved
From time to time during the history of His people, when they have been in a state, a poor state, spiritually of weakness, and starvation, and poverty and defeat, He has moved to bring into relationship with Himself in a peculiar way, some instrument - sometimes an individual, sometimes a company - who have come into such a knowledge of Himself in this fuller way, in the greater fullness of Christ, that they could be instrumental in bringing more of the Lord's people into that good.
The Lord must have instruments with which to do His work, and vessels through which to reveal Himself. And He has moved like that and shall we not say that He is seeking to have such an instrument in our time, seeing that the need is so great? And there is really so little real knowledge and experience of those greater fullnesses that are in Christ. Would He not bring a people near to Himself and work in them in a peculiar way, that there they are; He might make people envious, envious, looking on their food and coveting it, looking upon their wealth and longing for it. Yes, by expression, by example, by manifestation, to bring His people into a better position and a better condition. Well, those are the things that are engaging us in these gatherings.
Now this evening in that setting, I have a word which will be a very simple word indeed, but its simplicity does not mean that it is not very important. It springs out of the passages of Scripture which I read to you just now, particularly as illustrated in that incident with Gideon who was such an instrument laid hold of by God for the deliverance of God's people from their poor condition: the incident of securing a company, a band, by which the Lord could accomplish that deliverance and secure unto His people their rights of inheritance in Himself.
You remember Gideon blew the trumpet, and there gathered unto him a great host, over thirty thousand men. Of course, even at that it was a poor, poor thing compared with the Midianites, and all the rest. Nevertheless, it was thirty thousand. The Lord said, "Gideon, the people that are with thee are too many, too many for Me to deliver the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel vaunt themselves against Me." A terrible, terrible possibility saying: "Mine own, mine own arm; mine own power saved me".
Well, the first test was: "Whosoever is fearful and afraid, let him depart." We, I think, have to admire these people for one thing, if we cannot admire them for everything: they were at least honest; ready to admit that they were afraid of this business. Well, they had good reason to be afraid, you know. It says that these enemies, these enemies were like locusts for numbers, spreading themselves right over the whole land, filling it. They had good reason to be fearful and afraid. And they honestly, in fact, said, "We are, and we are glad of the opportunity of going home, thank you". And away they went. Ten thousand remained. Still the Lord had got His basic difficulty that He had to say to Gideon "There's still too many, still too many... Bring them down to the water and I will try them for thee there."
You know the rest of the story, just what happened. The ten thousand were brought down to the water, to the river, and then the Lord whispered in Gideon's ear, "Don't let the people know..." that would've given the whole thing away and undercut the whole thing. He just quietly aside said to Gideon, "Now then, tell them to have a drink and you watch them, how they drink. Those that lap like a dog, you just set them on the side. And those that get down to it on their hands and knees, and on their faces, and wallow in it, you put them by themselves." And so Gideon gave the order that the whole army could have a drink, and they did. And their drinking, all unbeknown to themselves, was a test. The Lord said that it was a trying of them.
"I Will Try them for thee There."
The word "try" here is the word which means, "tested under an ordeal." The same word is used in another place: "Thou hast tried us as silver is tried in the fire"; an ordeal to discover something, to bring something to light, to bring something to the surface. "I will try them for thee there."
This water scene is said to be a "trying" and, of course, that gives some support to the interpretation that has been placed upon this. It doesn't say so here, but the interpretation that has been given to this is that those who got down on their knees to drink were those who were thinking more of their own gratification than of the Lord's interests in the battle. Those who just lapped it in their hands, took it and lapped standing, were those who were not thinking so much of that as they were of the real business on hand. I think that is a genuine interpretation. It certainly did indicate a disposition and it is upon that that everything hangs: a disposition. They were all thirsty and in need of refreshment and renewal. There was nothing wrong at all in their drinking of the water; nothing wrong with the water and nothing wrong with their taking a drink of the water - nothing wrong with that. The difference was just this: that some regarded the water as a necessity, while the others, the majority, made it an indulgence. Some took it because it was absolutely necessary, but getting the necessity attended to, they were already erect and ready for the real business. The others were having a good time and just giving themselves up to it, so to speak. They were more occupied with the thought of getting as much personal gratification out of this as they could and not wholly and completely concerned with the Lord's interests, the great thing which was at stake at that time: the honour and glory of the Name of the Lord in His people. Now, that's the simple message, you see, but it's a case of sifting unto vital service; trying with a special vocation in view.
Of course, of course, in the matter of salvation, the matter of salvation, the Lord does not always carry things so far, or press issues so thoroughly. It seems that in the matter of salvation, all kinds of people get in, every type that you can think of comes into the realm of being saved, although I think in many, many instances, they don't get there without some test. However, I am not talking about the whole mass of Christians and the matter of their being saved and the ground upon which they are saved. That may simply be, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." But I am speaking about something more than that: the great vocation into which we are called as God's saved ones and the specific work that God needs to have done at a given time and a time such as this.
Dear friends, we shall never be of any use to the Lord beyond the point where we ourselves know the Lord. Real service, real service - listen - is limited to the point of the experience of the servant. You cannot go beyond that, you cannot lead anyone beyond the point where you have gone yourself. You cannot give anybody anything beyond what you've got yourself; that is, of real truth, of real value. You can give a lot of teaching, but it doesn't get people anywhere. And if you and I are going to serve the Lord in His very, very serious and solemn need of bringing, leading people of His into the greater fullnesses of Christ, we have got to be a special kind of people. The thirty-two thousand type won't do, and the ten thousand type won't do. It is the three hundred type alone; the three hundred type. The Lord said, "By the three hundred I will save Israel"; this is sifting down, reduction, in order to get to effectiveness. This is a kind of limitation that means expansion, enlargement, but it has to take place, it has to take place. And so God applies His tests and brings in His trials to get a peculiar vessel for a peculiar purpose. That, I feel, is His message at this time. It is not just a general kind of convention and conference for general teaching to Christian people; it is something with a specific object relative to the tragic situation amongst the Lord's people today - to get something after the order and kind of these three hundred.
Well, what are they like, what are they like? The Lord has very simple ways and means of trying and proving, and they are often so simple that we don't recognise them as tryings and provings. This was a very simple thing, wasn't it? For the whole ten thousand, a very simple thing to bring them down to the water and let them drink of it. And the last thing, it seems, that occurred to any of them was that as they came down to the water and took their drink, they were under a supreme test. The eye of God was upon them, and that eye was moving from them to Gideon, "You see? You see? You see? You note that." And they didn't realise what was happening. This great sifting and selectiveness for this purpose was going on in some very ordinary and simple matter out of their consciousness. You know, you and I would rise to the occasion if an angel of God came to us and said, "Look here now, look here, you are called to a great piece of work for God, and I want you to give some proof that you are ready for it." Why, we would rise to it, wouldn't we? We would be very, very careful watching everything to see that we didn't default, that we didn't disappoint, that we weren't set aside, ruled out, we'd be right on our toes, as we say, about it. But the Lord doesn't do it like that, friends. He has never done it with any of you like that; He's never done it with me. But He has applied just as serious a test in very simple ways.
I said, I think it was last night, that a gesture is a very, very, indicative and significant thing; just a gesture. Here's the gesture: here's one man, he flops down at the riverside and has a good going of the water. The other man, he stands by the river and takes some in hand and laps; all alert. Well, why not? Ah, yes, but you see, bound up with that, that simple test, is what? Oh, it is not just a sign, not just a sign, that is, the Lord hasn't ordained that some lap and some go down on their knees, and so you separate them. It is a sign of the heart! It's a revelation of a disposition. This larger crowd, they are the people who want a good time, even in the Lord's work, a good time. These others, they're not thinking of the good time at all, they are putting first things first, the first thing is this battle, is this work of God. It comes first and everything else takes the last place, or the second place. This is the thing that is on hand:
The Revelation of a Disposition.
And do you know that we are showing our dispositions in all sorts of simple ways, just as simple as that, just as simple as that, as we go about our daily life, our daily work. Yes, the Lord's eye is upon us there in the office, in the workshop, in the shop, in the study, wherever we are. The Lord's eye is upon us, and our hearts are being revealed in just the way in which we go to work; the ordinary things of life. Oh, we separate these things, you see, the sacred and the secular: in the church it's one thing, of course, in business it's another. But it isn't, it isn't. Our qualification is in our disposition you see, not in our consciousness of being under the eye of God, but when we are not conscious of that at all, and the disposition we are showing, that's the test; that's the test. And oh, how many and how simple are the ways in which we show our disposition, just our inclination.
Now, of course that does apply, it does apply, to every stage of the Christian life. I said that there are saved people of all kinds, but if you are going to have a really thorough-going salvation, and not one of those poor things, those inadequate things, those experiences of Christ which are anything but what He would have you have; if you're to have that, you have got to show that you mean business, that you really do mean business, that this thing is a very serious thing with you. You will get as much as your heart is set upon, and no more, and no more; and the Lord is looking at your heart. We read those passages, David to his son Solomon, "and God searcheth all hearts," "Serve the Lord with all your heart." "The Lord searcheth all hearts." Those words of Jeremiah: "The Lord trieth the heart"; the heart, the heart!
And what is true of your salvation is true of your usefulness to the Lord. None of us will ever be used of the Lord in any very vital way, unless, unless our hearts are wholly set upon the Lord and His interests - not to have a good time, not to have a good time, that is, as men speak, not to have every picnic that's going, not to have every diversion from the strain that is available, not to have every escape from responsibility and obligation that can be found; not a disposition like that at all. But the disposition that recognises how great is the matter in which we are involved and we are people wholly committed to that, and our own gratification and satisfaction is not allowed to affect or influence us at all; it is a heart wholly for the Lord.
Now, I said that the Lord has many ways of finding that out. I couldn't compass all the ways in which He does it, but what I want to say is this: that the Lord will present a test, He will present a test. It will not always be as to whether the thing is right and wrong, but it may more often be as to whether it's the good or the better. If you are of the disposition of the great majority, you will be always asking questions like this: "Well may I not? Is there any harm in it? What's wrong with that?" You see? And there was nothing wrong with drinking the water; it isn't a case of whether it's wrong, or whether you may, whether you are obliged to. See, that is a disposition. You will just only go as far as you must, if you are like that.
What the Lord is looking for (and it's always a minority) are those people who never, never talk like that, or think like this: "May I? Must I? Is there any wrong in it?" They are always saying, "Can I do more than I am doing? Can I go further than I am going? Is there not some fuller thing that the Lord would have than I know, than I am in, than I am doing?" A question like that, always in the heart: "Has the Lord not got something more than what I have known and what I am in and what I am doing? Has the Lord not got something more? My heart is set upon all that the Lord wants and I will never be satisfied with anything less, however good it is, however good it is - many, many good things, but is there not something more than this?" Such are the people for whom the Lord is looking. And He Who readeth all hearts knows our disposition in this matter - whether we will accept something less, or never accept anything less than all that the Lord would have, if He could have it.
The Lord allows opportunities to come for personal gratification, He presents something that demands hard work, and then He watches the disposition. Ready to jump at that which offers some personal gratification? To grasp at an opportunity to skirt the hard work? That's your disposition! It rules you out, it rules you out! He sometimes presents something in His Word, He brings you up against something in His Word. Now then, what's your disposition? "Must I, really, must I? Is that a command? And I, if I don't do it, I shall just be breaking a command? Is that really necessary?" And then we begin to go round to people who we think are authorities, or know better than we do, who know the Lord better than we do, and say, "Do you think it's necessary for me to do so and so? Do you think that I must?" And how often, how often, even godly people have said, "Oh, no, I don't think it's necessary for you to do that!" Making men, so often, our authority in the things of God, when God has presented us with something; going round, going round.
I remember many years ago (to give you an illustration of what I meant, or mean) I was visiting a certain home. I felt constrained to go to that home, at that time, that particular evening. I didn't know why, but it just seemed that I had to go, and I was asking in my heart, "Why is it that I feel so strongly urged to go there tonight?" And I went with this question. And I got there and while we were quietly talking together I couldn't see anything special. Then there was a knock at the door and a man was brought in, was brought in where I was, and introduced to me, a man who'd had a very remarkable conversion. He was, in the army in the old days it was the "barrack rooms", converted, soundly converted, and knelt down at his bedside with all the vile, blaspheming, drunken soldiers around him and paid the price. He meant business with God. And he came into this home on this particular occasion and I got into conversation with him, it was the first time I had met him and I found him very earnest. And as we talked I was all the time asking this question, "What, what's it all about? What am I here for? Is there something...?" We talked on and on and presently he said to me, "Mr. Sparks, what do you think about so and so?" It was a water test! "What do you think about so and so?" Immediately he asked the question, I knew inside; something touched me, "That's the meaning of your being here and his being here tonight". I said, "Why do you ask me? Does it matter what I think about it? Has the Lord said that to you?" He said, "Yes I think He has, I think He has, I feel pretty sure He has, but I wanted some confirmation, and so I am asking you." I said, "Brother, if the Lord has said that to you, you just go and be obedient to the Lord. Everything hangs upon your answering the Lord." It's a real test. And we talked, and he went away. I went home.
Some time later, I was at that home and along came the same man, without any arrangement, and I noticed that he was a little bit shy of me this time, a little bit awkward. And we got to talking, and he said, "I remember, I remember our talk here last time." He said, "After I left, I went to such and such a minister of such and such a denomination, who I know..." who did not believe in this particular thing, you see. And he asked him what he thought about it and he said, "Of course no, that is not necessary at all, that is not necessary.'" And I said, "Oh, Mr. So and So, or the Lord." Well, we talked, and although I was not trying to press for this thing, I was taking the line of obedience to the Lord and when He speaks whatever it is; that line. And the man came right back and he said, "Yes, I see! I see! I can't get away from it. The Lord, the Lord has brought me up against this." "All right brother, you know your way." He went away.
It was some time, some months, before we met again, and we did meet again, and this time there was a real arrest and death. We couldn't get anywhere at all. He wasn't coming on to that again. You see, he's afraid; afraid even to mention it, because, well, it disturbed him, and we didn't get any fellowship at all. But, before he went I said, "Well, brother, are you, are you going on with the Lord? Are you going to obey the Lord?" And he said, "I don't know. When everybody I speak to says that it's not necessary." "All right," I said, "The Lord has spoken; it's a very serious thing for you." And he went.
One year later, in another part of London, right on the other side of London, I was going along, walking along a road, and I saw a man coming toward me on a bicycle, and as he got near he recognised me. He wheeled round and went for dear life in the opposite direction. That was that man. What did I hear of him? He had gone right away from the Lord, back into the world, right back into his old sin; a drunkard and a blasphemer, right back where he was before he came to the Lord.
Now, that is a true story. The Lord presented a simple test and he said, "Is it necessary?" Rather than, "Anything, anything that the Lord wants, I am for that." He did what the apostle Paul said he did not do: conferred with flesh and blood, instead of being obedient to the heavenly vision. And how much hangs upon it; how much hangs upon it. The Lord may present something; yes, it may not be this form or that form; it may be a water test. John the Baptist applied the water test, didn't he? At the Jordan, "Bring forth fruit meet for repentance," he said, "and say not within yourselves 'we have Abraham for our father.'" Here, here's the test as to whether you mean business with God.
And so it comes, I cannot tell you all the ways. God has such a variety of ways, but the point, the point is this, dear friends: God is always looking on the heart to see if we really do mean business. He knows the disposition, and He is seeking for a company of people who are not going to be influenced by anything, anything at all: associations, connections or anything else, which would in any way stand between them and all that the Lord wants. Oh, it is a test, that is a very thorough-going one, and how often people have come up face to face with an issue, an issue which the Lord might not have pressed right through. You see? He doesn't always do that, but don't you make that back door way out, will you! Sometimes He brings us face to face with something. He's not going to press that right through. He did it with Abraham and Isaac: "Take thy son and offer him..." tested right up to the last minute, the last instant, the split second of a raised knife and its falling, right up to then; and then didn't allow him to go through with it. He found his disposition.
There was a young man who had great riches who came to the Lord Jesus professing that he wanted to know about eternal life. The Lord Jesus said, "Well, go sell all that thou hast and give to the poor; come, follow Me." I am not sure that the Lord would have required the carrying out of that utterly, but He was testing disposition. We don't know how much time or space there is between the two things, the actual demand and its fulfillment. But it is just in that narrow space where we come to the point, that split second, so to speak, where if the Lord, if the Lord doesn't show otherwise, it's going through; it's going through. The Lord wants to know whether we mean business with Him or not.
Now, you see, it's one simple, very direct thing, but look how much did hang upon this. Oh, that three hundred, what a tremendous thing God did by them, how He committed Himself to them! What a wonderful thing, three hundred men against a multitude like locusts spread all over the whole land, and the whole lot of them thrown into confusion and defeated; and the people of God delivered. Three hundred men, but what a three hundred! What kind of men they were! And it seems to me that the proof that they were this kind was that they were prepared as three hundred to go on with the business. I mean, just think what it requires for three hundred men to look at a great multitude like that and say, "We're not going home, we're going on with this business. We've started and we're going through with it." That was the kind they were, you see, it proves that they were of that disposition, didn't it? That just being three hundred up against tens of thousands, they did not shrink, but they said, "We're going onwards."
The Lord needs men and women like that, and only people of that kind and that disposition and that heart can serve Him in this great business of recovering His glory in the Church.