by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Haggai 2:1-9.
There has been one desire in my heart all through this time of gathering together, a desire which has been looking for the answer of the Lord in its gratification, and it is that He would say something encouraging to our hearts. These times we expect to be searched, and interrogated, we expect to be made - if I may use very common language - to tow the line. We come really that we might be dealt with by the Lord as deeply and thoroughly as He sees necessary, therefore strong things are said, some things perhaps hard to bear, and the messenger is well aware of that difficulty, and would all the time be liking to say softer things. But we just have to be faithful to the Lord, and give the word that He lays upon our hearts and to which He binds us, and I confess to you that I have a good deal of surprise at the way this conference has gone. I feel that there is just a fragment remaining over which is with me, which is along the line of encouragement. May the Lord just make it so to all our hearts.
I come back to the books in which we have been moving a good deal in these days, the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah. I think we will begin with our basic passage again in Zechariah 4:6: "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts." It is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel. And then alongside of that, from Haggai 2:4,5: "Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, says the Lord; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, says the Lord, and work: for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, and My Spirit abode among you; fear ye not."
How unconsciously brethren do help us along! When our brother referred to the margin there in that connection, he all obliviously did a thing of affirmation because it was upon that fragment that I had been made to alight and abide in this connection: "My Spirit remains among you."
Now you will see that these words both in Haggai and in Zechariah which we have read, are words of exhortation and reassurance in a difficult time. And they are addressed to a people who desire, and not only desire, but have proved that they desire to go on with the Lord. They, like a far greater number of their own brethren, might have stayed in Babylon where things were very much easier. The majority of their brethren had found a comfortable home in Babylon and a line of more speedy and immediate remuneration for their labours and personal gratification. To come back to Jerusalem to ruin and desolation, to wreckage and all the marks of havoc was no pleasant prospect; it represented a good deal to discourage, to set back and to take the heart out of them, and there was all that of which we have already spoken which seemed to declare the whole project of recovery an impossibility. But they had come back. They had detached themselves from the other and they had responded to a call for the recovering of that which more immediately and wholly represented the thing upon God's heart, which is dear to Him.
It was a costly way, a way full of discouragement and difficulties, a way which would bring them under ridicule, reproach, and into a realm of a good deal of opposition. But they had given evidence that they wished to do the thing which they had come to see was in the will of God, costly though it might be. And so they were a people who really wanted (and gave proof of the fact that they wanted) to go on wholly with the Lord, making no compromise, having no reservations and giving no consideration to the easier way in the lowlands. And to such, a people these words are addressed. And may I say here that these words belong to such a people and to no one else, and we can very soon decide whether they belong to us. We can immediately begin to sift out this message ourselves and see whether these words are for us. Now, I am not going to step over onto the hard side again of hitting and striking and smashing. I want to keep on the other side for a little while.
Here are words addressed to those who have really stepped out, or who will really step out for all the will of God, for all the purpose of God, for the testimony and the candlestick all of gold, the thing which is utterly of the Lord, and to such the Lord sends this strong word of encouragement, comfort and reassurance. And He gives His Divine encouragement on three mighty and glorious grounds. They are really presented in three tenses, the past, the present and the future.
We will take them not in their order, but the past, the future and the present. As you look at the chapter you will see these three tenses with their wonderful fulness of encouragement and comfort. In Zechariah 4:6: "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts". It is the word of the Lord unto Zerubbabel. And then alongside of that, from Haggai 2:4-5: "Be strong, O Zerubbabel... be strong, O Joshua... be strong, all ye people of the land, says the Lord, and work; for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts, according to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt." Now, that is the first ground of encouragement and exhortation. "Remember (margin) the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt". What was that word? Well, turn to it, Exodus 19:4-6: "Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto Myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be Mine own possession from among all peoples: for all the earth is Mine; and ye shall be unto Me a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation. These are the words which thou shalt speak unto the children of Israel."
"The word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt". And the words can again be divided into three things, not to dwell with them fully, but to note them.
"Ye have seen what I did unto the Egyptians."
Well, recall the whole story and the song of Moses on the far side of the Red sea, the ascription of praise to Him who had cast the horse and his rider into the depths of the sea, swallowed up the enemy wholly. Remember! Remember! And beloved, the past tense of the Lord's encouragement to those who will go all the way for Him and with Him has this first basic thing: the wonderful swallowing-up victory of the Lord right at the beginning of our spiritual history when He overthrew all the forces of hell against us. Oh, this is no small thing to stand upon.
We are always using a phrase: "The victory of Calvary". I hope that it has not lost its music, its charm, but I fear very often that we do not stand enough into the strength of it. The Lord would encourage us to go on because of the very foundation upon which we stand in His absolute triumph over the enemy right at the beginning. Our spiritual history rests upon His overthrow of the powers of Satan. We have got that behind us. We have got that secured forever.
As we say so often, Satan is a defeated foe, and that is good reason for going on. If really we did apprehend that as we should, we would never think of giving up the work or giving up the faith. But we need that assurance and we need to remember that, and we need to stand strongly in that in a difficult day, for the difficulties of the day would often seem to contradict that and say that Satan is not a defeated foe, that the powers of the enemy are not destroyed, and we have to come back to our foundation. God has said it, God has done it, and God has constituted our spiritual history upon that very fact. "Remember what I did unto the Egyptians." That is the word to Israel. He would say to us in the spiritual counterpart to that: "Remember what I did to the enemy." Remember He stripped off principalities and powers and made a show of them openly in His Cross, triumphing over them. Remember!
I think Paul comforted himself with that remembrance continually and found strength every time he called it to mind. "Remember what I did unto the Egyptians - you have seen what I did."
"And how I bare you on eagles' wings, and brought you unto Myself."
Have we not in our history something which corresponds to that? Those gracious sovereign and providential ministries of God to us which have brought us to the Lord. As we look over our history we cannot say it was by any effort or will of our own that we came to know the Lord, came into fellowship with the Lord. We cannot say that the position which we have now, in a blessed relationship to the Lord, is the result of any struggle of ours, anything that we have done. The gracious work of God has been behind our whole history and we today are where we are because of His grace, not because we even willed it. He bare us on eagles' wings and brought us to Himself. And when you think of the eagle's wings and the eaglets borne upon the strong outspread wings of the mighty king of the air, you can only recall the words of the Lord in His grace, those words which give us reassurance: "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee", that He will carry us through to the end. He will perfect that which concerns us; He will not let us down. He brought us on eagle's wings to Himself. That is a very true thing in our spiritual past, a work of grace in our being brought to the Lord. And it is going to be grace like that all the way through; therefore, "Be strong and work", His grace will not fail.
And then the third thing:
"Ye shall be unto me a kingdom of priests, and an holy nation - a peculiar treasure."
The Lord's electing grace to make us His own peculiar treasure - we did not choose Him, but in His grace He chose us. It is a wonderful way in which the sovereignty of God has drawn us out and brought us to Himself, made us His own possession.
All this I would like to stay and enlarge upon, but I am struggling hard to bring everything within a small compass of time. Here is the past tense in a great threefold expression of Divine grace and sovereignty, and the Lord says because of that: "Be strong and work." To these people it was a word needed to save them from giving up the thing which they had undertaken; their despairing of ever seeing the testimony recovered in its fulness. Now upon the great truth and wonder of the sovereignty of the grace of God which lays right at the very foundation of our spiritual history, we have our first basis of reassurance from the Lord: "He which has begun a good work in you will perform it". He who initiated in this wonderful way is able to carry through to the end. "Remember the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt." When we became the Lord's it was upon the basis of His mighty sovereignty and His infinite grace, and that is not going to change or fail.
And then as to the future tense, leaving the present for the moment, that comes in verse six: "For thus says the Lord of hosts: Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land; and I will shake all nations; and the precious things of all nations shall come; and I will fill this house with glory, says the Lord of hosts" (Haggai 2:6,7). That is said, as you note, in relation to the full testimony of the Lord; what the Lord is going to do (and He declares it and this word is repeated in Hebrews 12:26), what the Lord is going to do in relation to His full testimony in order to have it is to shake heaven and earth, the sea and the dry land, and all nations. Why, that is something to strengthen standing for the testimony is it not? The Lord is so determined to have His testimony at last in fulness that in order to have it He will shake the very universe, and everything that can be shaken out of its place will be shaken out of its place, but His testimony cannot be shaken and it will stand when all else is shaken.
And have we not, beloved, some reason to believe that the day of shaking is very near? I am sure you are seeing that things are beginning to shake; all round and on every side things are shaking today, and behind the shaking is a Divine determination. The Lord is working towards one end and that end is the bringing forth of His Son with His elect. He shall realise the end upon which His heart has been set from all eternity. The Lord Jesus will soon be coming to be glorified in His saints. When that day arrives, then the fulfilment of these prophecies will have taken place, but in connection with that time and that event, the nations, the heavens and the earth will be shaken.
Now here is a word. Are you standing for the full testimony of the Lord? Are you standing with the Lord for all that He is after? Then the Lord is with you up to the point of shaking the very heavens and the earth and all nations. There is again a ground of confidence, a ground of assurance. It is a blessed thing if we can take it to our hearts and feel, "Well, now we have committed ourselves to a difficult, hard, suffering way because we are standing for the whole testimony of God as we understand it and know it, because we desire to have no alloy or mixture, but something all of gold for the Lord." And to take such a way, to commit ourselves to such a purpose, means very much difficulty, discouragement, opposition and hardship, yet it is blessed to know that in relation to that the Lord is going to move this very universe, shake heaven and earth, the sea and dry land, and all nations. Well, if He is going to do that for the thing for which we are standing, we are on the winning side, we are on the side of a mighty certainty, are we not? Let us seek to take the strength from this encouraging word. It is a word of encouragement, comfort, and exhortation to those who suffer because of the utterness of the way that they have taken, or are taking, or are willing to take with the Lord.
And then the third tense, really the second, the middle tense:
Verse five: "...My Spirit remains among you" - "My Spirit abides among you". Not abode, but abides. That needs to sink into our hearts with its own blessed Holy Spirit illumination and strength. Oh, we cry: "Come Holy Spirit" - "Come, O come, great Spirit, come", and the Lord is saying all the time: "My Spirit abides among you." And I see that in the remnant activities of the Lord there are very rarely the objective, spectacular accompaniments of the Holy Spirit's presence. In the beginnings of God's activities there were those, but when you come to end time activities you very rarely have those accompaniments; the work of the Spirit is very largely a hidden, secret work, deep, something which the flesh cannot take hold of and sport itself in. It is a sifting time and the Lord does not want a great following of people who follow simply because they see something, who link on just because of the spectacular, manifest, outward proof to the flesh and to the senses. This causes mixed multitudes and again you have to have a course of sifting. In the end time the Lord has not time to do a lot of sifting. He must come down to the essence of a peculiar people, and so very often keeps away the spectacular, the demonstrative, and the Holy Spirit does His work secretly, hiddenly, but mightily; no advertisement, no noise, but something is going on, deep, strong, mighty; God is doing things. The world looks on and sees nothing that it can write up. And even half-consecrated Christians are dubious about the whole thing. They do not see what the remnant of the flesh in them craves to see of the outward evidences of a movement of God, but God is doing it.
Beloved, take comfort for it was said to these people. If there had been a pageantry of things it would have been obvious - "My Spirit is among you", but because of none of these outward manifestations the Lord, said it: "Be strong and work... My Spirit abides among you." "Go on, My Spirit is with you, My Spirit abides; get on with the work." The Lord would have us take some things at any rate, for granted, in a right way and we can take this for granted. If we are wholly for the Lord, the Lord is wholly for us. If we are right out for God, we do not have to ask the Lord to be with us. He is with us, "I am with you - My Spirit abides among you; fear ye not". And so the word is to go on with the testimony, and as you go on you will find that there is some factor far more than a human factor in this: "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord of hosts", and when you get there, you will have to say: "I never did that; the Lord did that", and there is the proof of His Spirit abiding among us, and He is with us.
Now, our greatest fear, as these two books of prophecy reveal, must not be of the devil. Is the devil your greatest fear? Wherein then is the victory of Calvary? Where is that heavenly spiritual and universal counterpart of the engulfing of the Egyptians? Oh no, our greatest foe is not the devil and our greatest fear must not be of him. These two books of prophecy which have a great deal here in the New Testament show that our greatest fear must be of the flesh. The enemy is helpless and impotent if he has no flesh. That is why Joshua must have his filthy garments taken away; why these people must not touch the dead body and become defiled; because it gives the enemy just what he is after and gives him the place of power. Our greatest fear must be of the flesh because of the enemy back of that realm. If we are watchful in that realm, and seek ever and always to keep the Cross of the Lord Jesus between us and the works of the flesh and the life of the natural man, we shall go on and go through triumphantly, and it will be manifested that the enemy is a defeated foe. "And be strong, all ye people of the land, says the Lord, and work: for I am with you, says the Lord of hosts. My spirit remains among you; fear ye not." In other words, go on with the testimony, you have a great foundation in Calvary, you have a great expectation in the shaking that is coming, and you have a great God with you all the time.