Copyright © 1975, 2002
God is preparing men of faith to do great deeds before this age closes. We have not yet seen the perfect fulfillment of the Lord’s Word when He said, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that believeth on Me, the works that I do shall he do also, and greater works than these shall he do; because I go unto My Father” (John 14:12). Many have asked the question: “When were these words fulfilled?” and there has been much kneading and pulling the Scriptures into shape in an attempt to answer it. When the full time has come, the truth of His words will be completely demonstrated. Even now, He is preparing men and women for that time, to walk with Him in faith.
My honest readers will confess with me that they do not like to be brought into those troublesome and harsh circumstances where a triumphant faith is necessary. We naturally prefer the teaching that if one pays one’s tithes to the Lord and also gives a bit extra occasionally, then the Lord will bless us with physical, temporal, and spiritual prosperity. This is a nice, comfortable, Western doctrine that seems to operate and fit in well with the sunny skies of California; but it is most out of place in a Communist prison camp under the cutting, icy winds of bleak, atheistic Siberia, where it does not work at all. For any doctrine to be true, it must be universally true. Of course, we all like smooth things. When David was faced with troubles and trials he said, “O that I had wings like a dove! for then would I fly away and be at rest.…I would hasten my escape from the windy storm and tempest” (Psalm 55:6,8). He wrote this Psalm when he was fleeing from Absalom, and he calls it a Maschil—that is, a psalm of instruction for those under similar circumstances, as was, for example, the Lord Jesus when He was betrayed by Judas. The Most High says, “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established” (Isaiah 7:9). This word is given so that we should know that we are only established and made pillars in the temple of God by a living faith; but we cannot live by faith unless there is in our lives a need to exercise it.
Preparation in Canaan
Have you left the land of Egypt for Canaan? That is, have you left the worldliness of this world for the place of living in obedience to the indwelling Holy Spirit? Then notice the marked difference between the two spiritual countries:
- For the land, whither thou goest in to possess it, is not as the land of Egypt, from whence ye came out, where thou sowest thy seed, and wateredst it with thy foot, as a garden of herbs.
- But the land, whither ye go to possess it, is a land of hills and valleys, and drinketh water of the rain of heaven.
- Deuteronomy 11:10-11
In other words, Egypt was a place of social security and materialism, where, by constitutional theory at least, there was no lack. You took what water you wanted from the Nile and ran it into an irrigation channel. By breaking down temporarily the mud sides of the little waterway with your foot, you gave the land as much water as it needed, and then made up with your foot again the breach in the low mud wall. There was no reason why Egypt should not always prosper and be rich; and so it was, for some. But it was the land of deepest misery for others. Did they ever think that it all depended upon the depth of flow in the Nile, and that it was God’s Nile? What of Canaan? No Nile was there. Jordan did not irrigate Palestine. All depended upon the clouds of Heaven. Unless the rains came, there was drought and starvation; it was a land of faith, where the farmer had to trust in God. It was a land where men of faith could be produced. God trained no men of faith in Egypt. The Old Testament contains many a record of how God prepared His men and women of faith in the land of Canaan. The epistle to the Hebrews says that time would fail in an attempt to tell of all those who under the Old Covenant obtained a good report through faith. Hebrews chapter 11 contains a very incomplete list of the faith heroes of God. Let us also remember and take warning that not all those whom the Lord put upon trial came through.
Signs Are Not a Sign of Faith
There came a time when Hezekiah was sick unto death (2 Kings 20). His time had come. In the infallible judgment of the Lord, he was now to go to Abraham’s bosom; but he wept and mourned and sulkily turned his face to the wall. He did not accept, by faith, that the Lord knew best; but God did know best. The Lord graciously (but reluctantly) granted him an extension of fifteen years, and again Hezekiah’s weakness of faith was revealed. He said, “What shall be the sign that the Lord will heal me?” (2 Kings 20:8) Faith never asks for a sign, because it believes the Word of the Lord; it is weak faith, faith tinctured with doubting, which asks for a sign. If you are a sign seeker, you must be delivered from this weakness before you can become a man of faith. It is popular in the so-called “Charismatic” circles to look for signs. A very familiar saying is, “I wanted to test the matter, to see if it was the Lord’s will; so I put out a fleece, as did Gideon” (Judges 6:36-40). A statement such as this is a clear indication that first, that this one does not know the Lord’s will; and second, he has a doubting mind.
If the Lord has spoken to you, then do what the Lord has said. If the Lord has not spoken, then wait upon Him until He does. Hezekiah, like Gideon, asked for a sign because he doubted, not because he believed. If Hezekiah had been a believer with his whole heart and had accepted the Lord’s word in the first case, he would not have lived to produce a son, Manasseh, who became a byword for wickedness in Israel, and he would not have shown the treasures of Israel to the Babylonians, thereby inciting their cupidity and eventual possession of those treasures.
Conversely, Abraham is the Lord’s example of faith. He asked for no sign, but did what the Lord commanded and believed for the impossible. Therefore, the Lord gave him signs and made him the father of all those who believe. It is written in the Scriptures, for our instruction, that the apostles “went forth and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following” (Mark 16:20). The signs did not come first and then, because of them, the apostles followed with the word of the Gospel; rather, they gave out that which the Lord put into their lips, and He confirmed His own Word with signs, proving the truth of their divinely inspired word. This order has been reversed nowadays; folks are taught to look for a sign and then they believe. This is, unhappily, particularly true in the modern teaching concerning the receiving of the Holy Spirit, so that in reality what these folk are believing for is a sign, and not the promise of the Father, which is the gift of the Holy Spirit to all those who repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. The result is unstable, immature, emotion-controlled, doubting believers.
All signs are fallible, because they can be imitated or misunderstood; but the Word of the Lord alone is infallible, and is known as such to the one who receives it. The Spirit still speaks “expressly” (1 Timothy 4:1), which means “stated definitely, with clarity, not merely implied”; so that “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me” (John 10:27).
Preparation in Weakness
A major part of the preparation of the man of faith is the work of the Holy Spirit in the crucifixion of self before service. One of our modern beliefs is that the Lord uses our strongest faculty as the spearhead behind which He concentrates His strength. This is an error. He uses weakness—not strength—because only when we are in weakness have we no confidence in the flesh, so that our trust has to be wholly in Him. This is a truth that every man or woman of faith has to discover. The Lord will repeat the lesson again and again (for He is the God of patience) until this has been learned. When will the Church believe, not just recite, that “He hangs the earth upon nothing” (Job 26:7)? God’s men of faith “out of weakness were made strong” (Hebrews 11:34). The Lord Jesus said to Paul, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” Then says Paul, “Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Corinthians 12:9).
The strength of the Lord’s spiritual leaders, who were to be examples to those following after, was made weakness before He made them His instruments. Let’s look at some of these men.
Consider Jacob, a man of much journeying, a self-made, self-reliant, capable man, and a pilgrim—as he emphasized to Pharaoh [Genesis 47:9]. On Peniel God took away his greatest strength, his ability to walk and work, touching him in the muscle of his thigh so that all the rest of his days he limped—“he halted on his thigh” (Genesis 32:25,31-32). Then and only then could his name be changed, because his nature had been changed, and he became “Israel”—“for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed” [Genesis 32:28). His strength was gone and all he could do was to cling. By His grace, the Lord strengthened him to hold on and so be blessed.
Contented now upon my thigh
I halt, till life’s short journey end;
All helplessness, all weakness, I
On Thee alone for strength depend;
Nor have I power from Thee to move:
Thy nature and Thy name is Love.
Lame as I am, I take the prey,
Hell, earth, and sin with ease o’ercome;
I leap for joy, pursue my way,
And as a bounding hart fly home,
Through all eternity to prove
Thy nature and Thy name is Love.
Most happy will those be who have a new name given to them in Heaven. “I will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written” (Revelation 2:17). All those who are named by God have a name that describes their character. In other days, names were significant, for a name imprinted upon any vessel would always describe the contents. So children, having been received as gifts from God, were by righteous parents offered back to Him that He might name and bless them. God has not changed; the Christian father, baptized in the Holy Spirit, may still name his children by the revelation of God, and it will be found that the names have prophetic significance. Let the world name their children after heathen deities or film stars, but let the people of God revert to Bible practice and seek a name from God. The Lord will give a name to all of His children in Heaven, according to their character. We shall have the name that we are—one that perfectly describes the person that we have allowed Him to make us. But, in addition, those who overcome will have given to them a new name that “no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it” (Revelation 2:17), a secret name of love used by the Lord only to them.
Where did Moses’ strength lie? In his right hand! With this he had killed the Egyptian; with this he had defended the daughters of Jethro; and this was the hand that the Lord caused to become leprous. “Put now thy hand into thy bosom—behold, his hand was leprous as snow!” (Exodus 4:6) Could it have been made more contemptuous or weak? Now this hand could become, by God’s enduement, the cleansed hand of power, to hold the rod, bring the plagues, divide the sea and smite the rock.
Where was Isaiah’s power to be? In his lips! He was to be the great prophet of the Old Testament, the one who more than any other was to reveal Messiah. His lips had to be made weak, and as nothing, before God. Therefore he was given a vision of the Lord, high and lifted up, and at once he was convicted of having unclean lips. “Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone [“dumb” in the original] because I am a man of unclean lips…. Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a live coal in his hand which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar, and he laid it upon my mouth and said, ‘Lo, this has touched thy lips, and thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged’” (Isaiah 6:5-7). After that the Lord could say, “Go and tell this people,” to a completely willing Isaiah.
What was the chief characteristic of Peter? His impulse! His energy! His action! This had to be brought to the cross so that Peter’s spring of action would not be in his flesh, but would come from the indwelling Spirit of God. The Lord dealt with Peter at His own betrayal; for, out of love, Peter had followed Jesus to the High Priest’s palace, and it was there that all Peter’s strength was turned into weakness. After this, the Lord could use Peter’s pioneering spirit to unlock the door of Pentecost, first to the Jews at Jerusalem and later to the Gentiles at Caesarea.
Saul of Tarsus was mastered by his intelligence. It was his dominating characteristic, his outstanding feature. His clear-thinking mind saw things in sharp focus; yet he was wrong. His spiritual blindness caused him to spend his days injuring the God he professed and wished to serve. This great strength had to be turned into weakness. A heavenly laser beam from the glorious countenance of the risen Son struck him in the head, and he fell to the earth, weak, yielded, blind and having now no power, not even to direct his own steps. Someone led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. There, a lowly follower of the once despised Nazarene laid his hands upon Saul so that he received his sight and was filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 9:1-20). From that point on, Saul had no confidence in the flesh, so God could use his mind to write those wonderful epistles. Saul, son of Adam, and of Benjamin, became known as Paul (“little”), son of God. This was the man who, his intelligence being renewed and energized by the Spirit, was used of God to be the wise master builder of the churches.
John the Baptist
We must give special consideration to John the Baptist. He is, par excellence, the type of man whom the Lord will use to herald His coming. For just as John was the chosen one to proclaim that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand (that is, had drawn nigh), so there will be those who with an authority and power greater than John’s shall declare that the manifestation of the Kingdom “is near, even at the door.” Are the men and women of faith, then, to be greater than John? Yes! for that is the Lord’s will and provision. John was “filled with the Holy Spirit from his mother’s womb” (Luke 1:15); but the “Holy Spirit was not yet given because that Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39). There was to be a giving of the Spirit, because of Christ’s death and resurrection, under the New Covenant, far beyond the receiving of the Spirit under the Old. Jesus said, “Verily, I say unto you, among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist: notwithstanding, he that is least in the kingdom of Heaven is greater than he” (Matthew 11:11). How can this be? Because John was born of woman, of the line of Adam, a great servant of the Living God, anointed with power by the Holy Spirit, to fulfill his service; but those who are of the Kingdom of Heaven have been “born again” not of flesh, but of the Spirit of God, and by His great adoption are sons of the Most High. Thus does the New Covenant far outshine the Old Covenant. “John did no miracle” (John 10:41), but the Lord Jesus said of those who no longer were to be called “servants” by Him (John 15:15) that greater things than even He had done were to be done by them, because He was going to the glory of His Father (John 14:12), and from that place of power He would direct the affairs of the Church.
Preparation of the Bride by Men of Faith
Before any special manifestation of God, one is sent by Him as a herald to prepare the way. This is a divine principle, that there should always be the “voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, ‘Prepare ye the way of the Lord,’” before He comes. The last of the Old Testament prophets proclaimed, “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord” (Malachi 4:5). This does not mean the personal return of Elijah, but one coming in the same Spirit and power as Elijah. John was not Elijah, but the Lord Jesus said of John, “And if ye will receive it, this is Elijah which was for to come” (Matthew 11:14). John did not completely fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah. Isaiah said that subsequent to the voice of him who cried in the wilderness, crooked things would be made straight, and rough places plain, and “the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together” (Isaiah 40:3-5). This has not yet taken place. Before the second coming of the Lord in His glory and majesty, there will be other Johns, other Elijahs; not just one, but many, all over the earth, who will proclaim under the full anointing of the Spirit the immediate appearing and triumph of the Christ. John, in the same spirit as Elijah, appeared in the land of Israel only, for that was where Messiah at His first coming was soon to be revealed. But at the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, He is not to be seen only in Palestine, for “every eye shall see Him” (Revelation 1:7). So there must be a universal testimony heralding His universal appearing. Before the Lord comes for His people, He will come to His people, for they must be prepared as a bride adorned for her husband” (Revelation 21:2). This coming to His people will be a visitation of the Holy Spirit—a time of great revival, with a special emphasis upon personal holiness, accompanied by extraordinary acts of power, as every revival has been since Pentecost. Revival is the Lord visiting His people (and through them, others) in grace. When He visits a people in wrath, as at Sodom, it is judgment. Before every visitation in judgment, He first visits in mercy, for “mercy rejoiceth against judgment” (James 2:13).
Preparation in Obscurity: Locusts & Wild Honey
God prepares His men of faith in secret places. Like John the Baptist, they are hidden in the desert until the time of their showing. They still dwell outside of the camp, and are left there by the religious authorities after their revealing, as were John the Baptist, Martin Luther, John Wesley, William Booth, and a thousand others. But some time after their decease, their followers are received back again, when they fit more easily into the religious scene because the anointing of the Spirit has gone. “In the desert” does not mean that they are ascetics, but that they are hidden, despised, unknown, and unwanted. Joseph was hidden in the pit and the dungeons; Moses was for forty years in the back of the desert; Paul went into Arabia, where lies one of the greatest deserts in the world. Jesus, after He received the Spirit, spent forty days in the wilderness.
What of the food of these heralds of the Lord? It is not manna, but locusts and wild honey [Matthew 3:4; Mark 1:6]. “Locusts” does not mean the fruit of the carob tree as some have supposed, but rather the locust insect which was permitted to the Israelites as clean food [Leviticus 11:22]. This forms a sufficiently nourishing, but very monotonous, diet. The honey was collected at the risk of stings—wild bee stings, sharper and more potent than those of the hive bee. Honey is sweet, but there could be a most unpleasant side to the sweetness. The joys of the man of God are likely to be blended with pain. Yet honey means flowers; there are flowers of comfort. Locusts are the most devouring force on earth; they will turn a garden of Eden into a barren wilderness. The very things that seem to eat life away—problems, trials, losses, misunderstandings—are the diet to nourish God’s man in hiding, who all unknowingly is awaiting his ministry in the revival that will herald the Lord’s coming again. There will be nothing about him to entice, neither form nor manner nor figure nor dress; rather he will be dressed like John in a raiment of the commonest cloth. John’s was woven of camel’s hair. That means the man of God will not be among the elite who wear soft raiment and who charm by their elegance.
What do you say to these things? Some will say with me, “Beloved Lord, despite the fact that I am what I am, loving ease, disliking reproof and chastening, please make me the one You want me to be, by the exercise of Your grace. Here is my heart. Here is my will. Take them, and make me to will and to do Your good pleasure. Amen!” Then:
His purposes will ripen fast,
Unfolding every hour;
The bud may have a bitter taste,
But sweet will be the flower.
[from the hymn
God Moves in a Mysterious Way]