The Exceeding Greatness of His Power
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - Power Working through Suffering

We are continuing within the compass of that great phrase of the apostle Paul's, "the exceeding greatness of His power". I ask you now to come to the book of Daniel, and take up one phrase which occurs three times: "At the beginning of thy supplications the commandment went forth, and I am come to tell thee; for thou art greatly beloved (margin, literal Hebrew: 'thou art of the precious things')" (Dan. 9:23). "And he said unto me, O Daniel, thou man greatly beloved" (Dan. 10:11). "O man greatly beloved" (Dan. 10:19).

A Man Greatly Beloved

There is nothing, I am quite sure, that we would covet more than that that title might rest upon us, that the Lord might be able so to address us: 'Thou art among the precious things, greatly beloved'. But perhaps we feel that we could never attain to that, mainly because we lack those fine qualities which characterise the man addressed in those words; and Daniel was certainly a man of fine qualities, of unmistakably high character. There are many things about him truly commendable, but if you consider this whole matter, with Daniel and his three companions at the centre of the situation, I think you will come to the conclusion, and rightly so, that the Divine approbation was not because of any natural qualities in them. While truly the Lord did take account of certain features about them, they were spiritual features in the main, and not natural features.

But more than that, this wonderful way of addressing Daniel went far beyond what the man was himself, even spiritually. It had to do mainly and preeminently with the purpose that he was serving. It had to do with the position in which he stood where the Lord's interests were concerned. He was precious to the Lord because of the very precious thing with which he was related and in which he was serving the Lord. A flash of light upon that comes from the end of this whole matter. The issue of Daniel's life, as we have seen, was the return from captivity of a remnant. The last thing said about that remnant in the Old Testament is this - "Then they that feared the Lord spake one with another; and the Lord hearkened and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him, for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name. And they shall be Mine, saith the Lord of hosts, even Mine own possession, in the day that I make" (Mal. 3:16,17). Another version says, "They shall be My peculiar treasure", "My peculiar treasure among the precious things", or the most precious things, and this preciousness of Daniel, this belovedness of Daniel therefore, had more to do with the particular interests of the Lord being served by him than with himself and his own personal merits. We do not, of course, make light of the grandeur of the man before God and his spiritual qualities, but the words of the Lord to him - 'Thou art greatly beloved", "O man greatly beloved" - went beyond the man to his ministry, his ministry to the Lord. That rather widens the scope, does it not, and seems at least to suggest that there is a chance for us.

You may think a great deal of these four men, and you will not be able to think too much of them, but with all that they represent, we must note that what they had was God-given, and the Lord gave to Daniel wisdom above all others, and the Lord gave to the three wisdom and discretion. It was all derived from the Lord, whatever it was in their own personal lives and abilities. But when it comes to serving the Lord in the thing that is at any given time nearest to His own heart, then surely the door is open to us, to all. All that needs to be done is to seek to know and to discover what is nearest to the Lord's heart at any given time. Of all the things that the Lord might desire, what is it that is nearest to His heart, what is the thing which pertains unto this particular time most precious to the Lord? We may spread our service to the Lord over a very wide area and embrace a very great many activities, but there is always something that gets much nearer to the heart of God than the general; there is always the particular. I trust we shall see a little of what that is before we finish. Indeed, I think we ought to have seen it already. The exceeding greatness of His power does relate to a particular object, not only to the church as being brought into existence, but as to its being in the position that God has eternally chosen it to occupy, and in the condition in which He desires to have it. Let us leave that for a moment and work towards it from another standpoint.

A Suffering Instrument

The book of Daniel is most generally regarded as a book of history and prophecy. I suppose for most people you have only got to mention the book of Daniel, and at once their minds conjure up pictures of a great image and world empires represented, and then a lot of very ugly and horrible-looking beasts, and the times of the Gentiles, and so on. The whole thing immediately resolves itself into one of the major documents on historical prophecy. Well, that may all be right; not many people agree as to how it is right, but it may be right. Indeed, it is a book of prophecy. But the truth is that this Book can be studied, known, and become even fascinating along the line of prophecy and history without it having the slightest spiritual effect upon those who make it their business to know what it contains. What is not recognised is this, that there has never yet been a fulfilment of prophecy without a suffering instrument, and there never will be. Prophecy does not just happen, even though it has got to happen, it must happen. There has to be a bridge between the prophecy and its fulfilment, which bridge takes the strain and bears the load unto fulfilment. There has to be a mediator which stands in the gap and suffers for the fulfilment of the Word of God. In a word, there has to be a suffering servant somewhere connected with the Word of God. "I John ... was in the isle that is called Patmos, for the word of God and the testimony of Jesus" (Rev. 1:9).

The book of the Revelation is another book that is included in the great prophetical books of the Bible and is studied so often from the standpoint of prophecy being fulfilled or to be fulfilled, and this point is overlooked every time, that this fulfilment seems to be bearing down upon an instrument, a vessel, a servant, with a tremendous weight of suffering and conflict. That servant is really fulfilling the prophecy, in effect. That is the greatest truth about the book of Daniel; but for Daniel and his companions, the thing would not have happened. It would not have happened willy-nilly. We have read, "O man greatly beloved", "thou art greatly beloved."

Look at the context. "At the beginning of thy supplications", it came back on that, the answer was given, but there has been set up a terrific conflict in the unseen, of which Daniel knew nothing apart from registering some terrific impact upon his spirit which almost crushed him. The waters almost went over his head. There was something going on because he was standing in the gap - to the fulfilment of what? The word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah. It says so quite definitely (2 Chron. 36:22). There has to be an instrument which enters into the sufferings of Christ for His Body's sake which is the church. That is the principle of it. This whole thing has to be forced, so to speak, through the very heart of one who is in sympathy with the purpose of God and is suffering with God for that purpose. That may not always be an individual. While it is true that Daniel seems to have borne the major weight of this, it was a nucleus, a group, a company. It was collective and corporate, and it may be a company that is the vessel that just goes through it for the purpose of God, and if God should find such a people on this earth, that people and everyone comprising that people, is peculiarly and particularly precious to the Lord - much beloved.

No Alliance with Satan's Kingdom

There are two sides to the story of Daniel and his friends. There is what we will call the negative side, although it was anything but negative if we think of negative as neutral or passive, but for our purpose we call it the negative, and the positive, or on the one side the refraining. You notice how the book begins. Daniel and his friends purpose in their hearts that they would not defile themselves with the king's meat, and they besought the chief of the king's eunuchs that they might not be made to partake of the dainties of the king's table and be given very simple fare. Would to God there were more men like the chief of the eunuchs. He said to them, 'You know you are going to bring my head into peril if I accede to your wish. My very life is at stake over this matter with the king. I am running a tremendous risk in taking sides with you in this matter.' However, he did. There are a lot of people who walk in the middle of the road, who compromise, who sit on the fence (whatever simile you like to use) who are afraid of the consequences of taking sides with that which represents God's fullest purpose. They are looking after their own reputation, thinking of how it is going to affect them. But this man, at any rate, came down on the right side, and it would be good if there were more who would run the risk of losing their heads to be on the side of God's fullest purpose.

Now, they purposed, and carried out their purpose of refusing the king's meat, refraining from eating of his delicacies. That looks like the negative side. Of course, it was very important. The principle was, 'lest they should be defiled'. The things themselves were not wrong. The wine is not a wrong thing, it is of God's creating, and the other food was not wrong, but you see it was in a kingdom of idolatry. It was the food of the power and authority of idolatry. Animals to eat were never wrong until they were offered to idols, and then they were; they changed their realm altogether. But it was here that Daniel and his friends drew the line lest they should be defiled. This is a very important thing, a very important principle if we are going to serve the highest interests, as we have tried to emphasise, that there shall not be a single point at which there is an alliance with the thing that is not of God, but of Satan's setting up. That is the principle. It is not negative by any means. But for our purpose we call it negative: the refraining, the refusing, the withdrawing.

Heavenly Support

There is the positive, the other side, that is, heavenly support when you take this course, whatever it may mean. And for us today it means a great deal more than what we eat and drink literally and physically, that belongs to that other kingdom with all its glamour, gold, attraction, advancement and reputations to be made, and all the gratification of the soul which can come from this great Babylon. To be with God in His essential supreme purpose opens the door for something very positive: heaven's own support.

There was some mystic, hidden power at work in the lives of these men. It is not good enough to say that if a few more people would follow their example and live on a more simple diet, they would be more healthy. That is not good enough. Of course that has been said about this. 'If only you would adopt a vegetarian diet, live on more simple things and avoid all these luxuries and so on, you would be a much more healthy person.' That is not good enough. There was a hidden power at work from heaven governing this whole thing, that they were not only, because of their refraining from these things, better in flesh and countenance at the end of the time than all the others who were indulging, and than they would have been if they had indulged.

There is something here of a secret which speaks of a great principle: that heaven will look after those with exceeding power, power that exceeds the power of nature and earthly resources and worldly advantages. Heaven comes in to look after them, that they need not be thin and wasted and miserable and wretched, simply because they are Christians - less happy, less satisfied than the people of the world are with their world. It is not necessary to be like that, but such Christians can be flourishing, feeding upon the heavenly resources, and be far better off and know it, than those in the world. Heaven places itself on the side of those who place themselves wholly on the side of God's supreme interest. The sustenance and the continuance of these men is nothing less than miraculous - and I do not only refer to their original resolution about eating and drinking, I mean the whole way through their testimony, their sustenance. They went through the fire seven times heated, through the den of lions, through all the threats and difficulties, the sufferings, trials and adversities and all that had to be overcome, and they came out at the end as they did. It is perfectly marvellous. You have only got to pick up Daniel 1:21 and you see, "And Daniel continued even unto the first year of king Cyrus."

What does that mean? He went through three reigns into a fourth: the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius, into the reign of Cyrus, in spite of hell's determination to make a quick end of him and his companions. Heaven was supporting and looking after them and they were sustained and continued in life and health. This is history.

But this can be translated, and thank God, is translated into spiritual experience. An instrument for God's fullest purpose; having a people like that means that they are involved in something which is even greater than these physical afflictions of Daniel and his companions. Spiritual trials are always greater than physical trials. Soul agony is always more than physical agony. If our souls are in peace, and our spirits are in strength, how much more we can bear the physical. Well, I think some of you know what I am talking about, what we become involved in if we are related to the Lord for His fullest thoughts and purposes concerning His Son. Oh yes, fires are heated to the seventh degree, there are lions, yes, lions. Paul knew all about it. "I fought with beasts at Ephesus" (1 Cor. 15:32). We do not know exactly what he meant by that so far as the lions were concerned, whether they were literal lions in the Ephesian arena, or whether it was metaphorical. We do know that he had a terrible fight for Asia in which he despaired of life. Yes, lions, and these sufferings.

That is the positive side, that although that is terribly and awfully true, there is this support, may I use the word mystic support, when, if the enemy and the power of Satan and all his emissaries and the world and (grievous to include) many Christians and the Christian system could have had their way, we would have been finished long ago, for they have not stopped at anything to bring it about. It is true. You are up against something enormous when you stand right into God's fullest purpose, and yet in spite of everything Daniel continued. Heaven is secretly supporting so that you go on, and your going on is nothing less than a miracle. Sometimes the going on seems to be impossible, but you go on. Survival is a wonderful testimony.

That is really what I find to be the valuable thing about the book of Daniel. I am not so interested in the restoration of the Roman Empire. Whether we shall be here to see that or not, if it is going to be, while that is of secondary importance, the thing that touches us here is that being with God for all His will and meeting all the opposition that can be thrown against us, God supports us every day. That is the thing that matters, and we survive, but more than survive. You are supported. Is it not wonderful, the Divine support?

It is real, the marvellous support of God to carry on what is precious to Himself. He does it. It is not because of any capabilities of the instruments employed. It is heaven. It is the only explanation and answer. What are we, after all? When the truth is known, we are where we said Moses and Jeremiah were in the previous message: 'Lord, you have got hold of the wrong instrument.' There is nothing here to justify our being in the position that we are in, and yet God will not let us go. He supports. That is the positive message.

In order to be "beloved of God" it did not, and does not, mean exemption from suffering. That is the question that often arises. "O man greatly beloved". How do you know it? There is nothing on the outside to prove it. Daniel is thrown into the den of lions, with all that encircling hatred and animosity, and yet he is still there as he is thrown in, a "man greatly beloved". The three in the fiery furnace as they are thrown in, as they are bound to be thrown in, the point of the tremendous threat, and all that that meant, and yet they are still, 'Men greatly beloved'. You see the point. To be precious to the Lord, to be greatly beloved of the Lord because we are serving the Lord in something very near to His heart does not mean that the Lord preserves us from suffering. We might naturally think that that would follow and therefore He will give us a good time, He will protect us, He will safeguard, He will never allow us to suffer in this way or in that. It seems such a contradiction. Loved, greatly beloved, and yet greatly suffering. Well, it depends entirely upon whether the sufferings are related to the purpose of God.

There are sufferings which are the corrective sufferings for our misdemeanours. They are also out of love, related to the Lord's honour and interests, but there are those sufferings which have nothing to do whatever with ourselves. Mark that. There are points where you have to come back to the Lord and say, 'Lord, if I am suffering from sin, why did Christ suffer for my sin? Why did Christ suffer for my sins if I have got to suffer for them?' You can only cut the ground from under the devil's accusing work by that line and the Lord will say to you, 'Well, you see, there are two realms of suffering. One is that you have been misbehaving and you have known it and you have persisted although you have known it, and you have had to be corrected. That is My love and faithfulness to you. It is one kind of suffering. But remember there is another whole realm of suffering which has nothing to do with your sin. It is because of your relatedness to My interests, and Satan knows all about it and he afflicts. I could deliver by preventing, but I choose to show the exceeding greatness of My power by keeping, supporting, and bringing you out of all that Satan can do, triumphantly at last'. "The exceeding greatness of His power". It works through suffering.

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