| God's Eternal Purpose|
The Strategy of God
by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Job 23:8-14.
"He hideth himself", (v. 9)
"He knoweth the way that I take", (v. 10)
"He performeth that which is appointed for me", (v. 14)
The Initial Move with God
This is one of the most remarkable books of the Bible for quite a number of reasons, and we may well be thankful that God had it written, placed it in His Book and has preserved it throughout all these generations. It has a very great purpose to serve in His thought, and when you come to the remarkable things in it, the first is that in this whole drama - for it is nothing less than Divine drama - God took the initiative. It is important and helpful to remember that. I think a lot of people have thought that the Devil took the initiative, but it does not say so; it says, "When the sons of God came to present themselves before Jehovah... Satan also came among them. And the Lord said unto Satan... Hast thou considered my servant Job?", (1:6,8). God took the initiative; God drew the attention of Satan to this man; God drew out what Satan thought about Job. It was the initiative of the Lord, not the initiative of the Devil. I say that is a very remarkable and forceful thing when you see all that follows. Evidently to the Lord Job had a very great significance, and He drew Satan's attention to that significance and then allowed it to be submitted to Satan's onslaughts.
I am not going to follow that in any full way, but I do believe that in some measure it is true of every child of God and of the saints as a body who stand upon true spiritual ground, that there is a great significance to the Lord bound up with them, and that He allows - I was almost going to say submits them to - the onslaughts of Satan for the bringing out of that significance to His own glory.
Before we come to the particular phrases which we have underlined, we might just indicate one or two aspects of the great significance of the life of Job.
God's Object in His Strange Dealings with His Children
First of all, God was intending to establish and reveal a ground upon which Satan is undone and worsted and brought to the end of his power. It is interesting to note the disappearance of the Devil from the book of Job. He is very much in evidence in the beginning. You hear no more about him after a while and in the end, while he is not referred to, everything indicates that he has been completely put to flight and to shame.
Now I have said I am not going to follow that through, but that is absolutely true with regard to the Church. The final issue of the Church after its time of tribulation, trial, suffering, affliction is this, that Satan is cast out; and the object of God's strange, mysterious, deep and sometimes almost unbearable ways with the Church (the true Church, His people) is to bring about that issue. Some people think that when you come to the book of Revelation, Chapter 12, Satan is cast down from heaven in order to make room for the saints. That is just the wrong way round. The saints reach there and he is cast out; he is never cast out until the saints get there. When the Man-child reaches the Throne, Satan is cast out. That is the point. That chapter is a chapter of travail, the culmination of suffering. The Church comes to the glory and Satan is forced out of the heavens. And that is one of the big issues here in this book of Job, explaining everything.
God Deals with His Children According to His Knowledge of Them
As to Job himself - and this brings us very much nearer to this chapter - God is clearly seen here as dealing with His servant according to His Own deeper knowledge of the man, a knowledge deeper than the man had of himself. Job had a certain conception of himself, and outwardly he was right. God's summing up of him to Satan was that he was not wrong so far as outward things were concerned. He was a perfect and upright man (Job 1:8), there was none like him in all the earth if it were a matter of outward righteousness and good acts, and that was the realm in which Job lived. But God knew him inwardly in a way in which Job did not know himself, and dealt with him according to that deeper knowledge. All that I am going to say about that for the moment is this, that when the Lord really does get us in hand and deal with us, when He does allow Satan to assail and almost torment us, the result will be seen, not only finally in one great ascent, but in this - that progressively and from time to time we recognise and acknowledge that the Lord has dealt with us quite rightly and in the only way suitable to us, and that we have been coming to see what we did not know or believe about ourselves. He does not standardize His methods and deal with all His people in exactly the same way. What to one would be acute agony, to another would be very little trouble at all. The Lord knows us, He knows the secret pride of our hearts, the conceits about us which we would never believe about ourselves and would never allow anyone else to point out - and if they did, we would be untouched. He deals with us according to His knowledge; and in the end, in honesty of heart we have to say, The Lord's way with me was the only way in which He could deal with me and get me where He wanted me. That is, we have come to see that we had certain tendencies, propensities, certain perils in our makeup, and these had to be met and dealt with in a peculiar way. The way in which the Lord has dealt with them was the only way in which they could be dealt with.
That is one of the secrets of this book of Job. Job did not know himself inwardly, good man though he was, and you notice as the Lord puts him through the fires he is beginning to acknowledge things that he would never acknowledge before. In the end, this man, who had earlier told the story of his own goodness, and stood so strongly on the ground of all the kind things he had done - how he had never failed to answer to need where he saw it - in the end he says, "Wherefore I abhor myself", (Job 42:6); and although it is not so stated, it can be concluded that Job would have said, The Lord has taken the only way by which He could bring me to the place where He wanted me. The Lord had to deal with him according to His Own knowledge of him. That is what He is doing with us all.
I wonder how many of us here are now able to say, with a little knowledge of ourselves, as we begin to know our own peculiar makeup and perils and peculiarities and weaknesses, that the way the Lord has been dealing with us is the only way in which we could be dealt with effectively? It is a very great thing as we are able to come to that position, because the heart acknowledgment is just this - He is faithful and true! He is faithful with us because He knows us, and He is true to us because He knows us. That is, in faithfulness and truth He is dealing with us according to what He knows of us which we do not know of ourselves, and which we can never accept from anyone else. That is an issue of this book, and it is a great issue to come to the place where we justify God even against ourselves.
God Working to Produce Eternal Spiritual Values
But then one other thing in general. God was making something of tremendous spiritual value for posterity in His dealings with Job. The story of this book is the story of God's producing something which for all ages was going to be of great spiritual value. You cannot fail to recognise how universal this book is, and how almost timeless it is. It is evidently a patriarchal book - that is, it belonged to the time of the patriarchs, probably the time of Abraham. Job was a Gentile living away somewhere by the Euphrates. He is a mysterious man. How did he come to know God and offer sacrifices? Those sacrifices were never on the Levitical basis. He offered sacrifices lest his sons should have sinned. This is not the mediatorial sacrifice of the Lord. There is no reference whatever to anything like the law of Moses and the sacrifices we have later. It is much earlier than that, it goes right back to the beginning of things. How universal and continuous it is! This scene in the heavens comes into view again and again. Right up to Ephesians you have it, warfare in the heavenlies, an interest in this earth in the heavenlies; and that great universal, spiritual realm, covering all time - not just the life of a man in some remote place on the earth - God was doing something to produce values for His people right on to the end. Who is there among the Lord's true people who has never been helped by this book? The more you look into it and think about it, the more powerful is its ability to help you spiritually. This book of Job is of tremendous value to the Church. All I mean to indicate by that suggestion is that in these dealings with us by God, He is producing something of lasting spiritual value to serve others. It may be that some of us are going through something in a spiritual way like that through which Job went - disappointment, deprivation, so that God seems to be against us and the language of our hearts is Job's - "Oh that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! I would set my cause in order before him and fill my mouth with arguments.", (23:3,4). This is the common complaint of the heart under trial. What is the Lord doing with us when He handles us like that, so deeply, so terribly? He is producing something spiritual to be of service to others. This is to be stock in trade for the saints - and not only in the short duration of this life here on earth. "His servants shall serve him, and they shall see his face.", (Rev. 22:3). There is work to be done, and the spiritual measure to which we attain here is the measure in which we are going to be of use to the Lord afterward, and so the fires become very intense for some; but He is producing something of abiding value for others. That is one of the issues of this book.
God's Hiding of Himself
Now right in that setting come these words which we hardly need to dwell upon. Firstly, "He hideth himself." I doubt whether there is one of us who does not know something of the poignancy that lies in that statement. "He hideth himself." That is one of our greatest occasions of suffering, the fact that the Lord hides Himself. Our cry all the time is that He will show Himself, come out into the open, let us see Him and see what He is doing. But "He hideth himself." He was enshrouded in the mystery of His ways with His beloved servant. In all the values of this book, this is not one of the smallest, that God could say of a man that he is perfect and upright and there is none like him in all the earth, and then could hide Himself from that man. You see the point. Oh, the misrepresentation of God and of Job which this book brings out! This is one of the things which God set Himself to destroy out of hand. This misrepresentation came through Job's friends. They were pious men, in their way godly men, who said some very lovely things - and yet they were used by the Devil as instruments against this choice servant of God. A problem arises here, which we make no attempt now to answer. Were the things spoken by these men Divinely inspired utterances? Can we take them as Scripture? "Lay thou thy treasure in the dust... and the Almighty will be thy treasure.", (Job 22:24-25) - is that an inspired utterance, can we take our stand on that? That is something to be fulfilled as the Word of God, and yet that - and many another equally lovely thing - was uttered by men of whom God said in the end "Ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right", (42:7).) Here is a man of whom God can say that he is perfect and upright. Naturally He can never say that about you and me, or about any one of us - though thank God He can say it of us in Christ. Yet He could say it of Job naturally as to outward life. He could say finally of Job that he had said the thing which was right. "Ye have not spoken of me the thing that is right, as my servant Job hath." God could speak so at the beginning and at the end about this man, and draw Satan's attention to him as the most perfect man on the earth, and then hide Himself from him in the time of his anguish. I say the precious thing about that is that God's hiding does not always mean that God is against you; it does not mean what these men interpreted it to mean, that God had a controversy with Job and that there must be some deep, awful, secret sin in his life which he was hiding or to which he was blind but which the eyes of God could see. That is all false, says God: this man is perfect and upright; and yet under the accusation of pious men, under the assaults of the devil to this man's anguish, God hid Himself.
Have you had one boil? You know the misery and the pain. Job was a man covered from head to foot with these things. That was only one phase of his suffering. Children gone, flocks and herds gone, camels gone, his home gone, his friends gone, and his wife turned against him saying, "Renounce God, and die." Job was left like that. And God, affirming this man's perfection and integrity, still hides Himself. "He hideth himself." What is our case compared with Job's? The Lord deals with us in the same way; He hides Himself. He must have an object which far outweighs all the dangers of the possibility of His being misunderstood and misinterpreted. His servant was given plenty of occasion to say, God is unfaithful, unloving, unrighteous; He has turned against me; and so on. But God ran the risk of it because He saw something of value which far outweighed all that. He knew that in the long run He would be justified and not condemned. "He hideth himself." Do not think, my beloved, tried, pressed brother or sister, that the fact that Satan assails and things are so difficult and hard means of necessity that you are under judgment. Even if you are standing on the ground in Christ of righteousness from God, and are not persisting in a known course of wrong over which the Lord has a controversy with you; even if you are able to say, I stand not on any ground of my own, but on the ground of His righteousness through faith, and I repudiate all known, habitual sin: even then it does not mean that God is necessarily coming out to you to show Himself always very wonderful. He may hide Himself, and those who mean well may interpret that fact the other way. It is one of the most difficult things to bear when calamity falls; people will come along and say, The Lord must have some cause for judging you, you must lie under some condemnation for Him to allow that. "He hideth himself."
God's Knowledge of our Way in Spite of His Hiding
The verses with which we began suggest a picture. Here is Job, as it were, going along a road. It looks to him like a road through a forest, and the Lord is somewhere in the vicinity and Job is looking for Him. He says, The Lord has hidden Himself somewhere in this forest, He is deliberately keeping out of my way; I sometimes seem to see an indication that He is doing something, and I immediately turn first in this direction and then in that, but I cannot find Him. He is hiding in the wood and He will not be found by me, but He is watching from His hiding place. "He knoweth the way that I take." While He is hiding, He is not disregarding; while He is hiding, He is not ignoring; while He is hiding, He is not forgetting.
God's Sovereign Working
Nay, more; He is not only hiding and looking out and knowing all about me, but He is instigating it all. "He performeth that which is appointed for me." He is not only a hidden watcher, He is a hidden actor, the prime actor, because the cause, the author, the perfecter. "He performeth that which is appointed for me: and many such things are with him." Oh, the faith of Job in the sovereignty of God through it all! "He hideth" - yes; but "He knoweth" - yes; but more, "He performeth." Let us take all the comfort these words should bring to us as individuals and as the Church as we pass through the time in which God is doing things of which we have no knowledge. He is answering a whole universe in His dealings with us, getting through to issues of tremendous account. May our faith be sufficient to believe it and to hold on to this - that "When he hath tried me, I shall come forth as gold."
| 2005/5/11 9:17||Profile|
| Re: God's Eternal Purpose|
What Will God Do Next?
by T. Austin-Sparks
This is an inquiry, not a prophecy. That a new thing needs to be done by the Lord is a growing conviction of many of His servants and people. But is there any reason why we should expect a new movement or further step on the part of the Lord? The answer could be given in various ways. From time to time in the world's history there have been definite and distinct movements in relation to spiritual interests. These movements have usually, if not invariably, been when conditions were very similar to those which exist at such a time as this. The tide of real spiritual lifestyle has run well out, and things spiritually had become very shallow and superficial. What there was of activity was work by its own motive-force. That is to say, it was carried on by human energy and interests, it was producing its own dynamic. By various and many forms of organized enterprise, with their interest, appeal, and propaganda, that which was called "the work of God" was kept going.
Then, the things of God had become very set. A tradition became established, and everything was according to the tradition, the accepted and recognized order, way, teaching, and means. There was no way for God to do what He would, because anything not according to the established custom was suspect. Thus He was fettered by the fixed traditions which governed His people's minds. The Lord was straitened in His people by their own finality of position, while at the same time they were aware that all was not well. The result was that, in most instances, the new Divine reaction had to be made outside of the recognized order and system of things; and, for a long time, the living thing had to go on in face of a strong and serious opposition, not from the world, but from those who were supposed to stand for God on the earth.
This involves a matter of the most vital concern to our main inquiry - What will God do next?
God has never yet moved from any other standpoint and position than fullness and finality. Man's first day on the earth was the Sabbath, which was at the end of God's work. Man did not start with God in the fragments and bits of His work. When the new corporate Man came in on the Day of Pentecost it was upon a basis of fullness and finality in Christ exalted. The history of God's specific movements with the Church is not the history of His adding something, but of His bringing back to the primal fullness with which He filled His Son. Look at the epochs in the Church's history and you will see that they represented the recovery of something which had been lost. God can therefore never be satisfied with something which only represents an elementary, or more or less, degree of the fullness of Christ. Any movement of God which is taken hold of by man and made something in itself as an end, whether it be evangelism or a fuller message of life, and truth, or whether it be an advance in order or method of Church life and procedure, must sooner or later become a tradition and a legal system, bereft of life and heavenly fullness.
God ever seeks to carry His people on to "full growth" which, with Him, is the timeless fullness of Christ. If there is yet to be an advance made to a position beyond what has been, those (they may be comparatively few) who will make it will be brought to a deeper realization than ever of the failure and impotence of traditional Christianity as it exists. They may strain and strive and hurl themselves into it to try to improve it, but they will break themselves upon it, and will eventually, in the mercy of God, come to see that the old wineskin; cannot be given the new wine. God must do a new thing, and He must have a clear way for doing it.
So we ask, are we not being hedged up to something untraditional and extra to what has been? Is not God bringing much of that which has been used in the past under the hammer? We have to admit a question as to whether God is willing to revive that which has taken the mold of men's various and conflicting religious orders and systems, or whether He will not transcend all such and move apart from it. It will be a costly business for all who are a part of it, especially the instruments used for it, and they will have to be very broken and emptied vessels.
| 2005/5/11 9:19||Profile|
| God's Eternal purpose|
The Purpose of God
by T. Austin-Sparks
It is of immense help, in contemplating the manifold activities and energies of God, to be able to gather everything into one inclusive, comprehensive, and concrete issue. The Bible, from Genesis to the Revelation, covers a wide range and includes a vast amount of matter, but it has one all-governing and conclusive objective. The purpose of God is one, and only one. It is always referred to in the singular:
"Called according to His purpose", (Rom. 8:28)
"According to the purpose...", (Eph. 1:11)
"According to the eternal purpose", (Eph. 3:11)
"According to His purpose and grace", (2 Tim. 1:9)
It is not a variety or number of things; it is just one.
And what is the one, single, comprehensive purpose? The answer is Christ! "His Son, Jesus Christ". And when we ask further, What about His Son? The answer is, to have Him fill all things and to have all things in Him. That this is so is made clear in the definite statements of Scripture:
"In Him were all things created, in the heavens and upon the earth, things visible and things invisible... all things have been created through Him, and unto Him."
"For it was the good pleasure of the Father that in Him should all the fullness dwell.", (Col. 1:16,19)
"Whom He appointed heir of all things, through Whom also He made the worlds (ages).", (Heb. 1:2)
So, then, in the counsels of God, all things must head up in Christ. God's occupation is with bringing Christ in, and bringing into Christ. If we would be "God's fellow-workers", this must be our single-eyed aim and business. This defines precisely the purpose of the Church.
The presence of the Church in this world is, firstly, to be a corporate expression of Christ here. The very designation "The Body of Christ" means Christ corporately present. The Church is not an institution, organization, society, or religious fraternity. It is, - in God's intention, the embodiment of His Son in a continuation of His life and work on this earth. In the next place, after the being of the Church, is its work. This is just one thing, and by the one result alone its work stands or falls. This work is to make for an increase of Christ in this world, and this is to be accomplished along two lines; namely, by evangelism and building up.
Evangelism is the bringing of Christ initially into lives. Every new instance of Christ coming into a life is an additional measure of Christ in the creation, making a new creation. It is of the utmost importance that there should be no stopping short at mere mental agreement, or emotional expression, or just an outward act of acceptance, but that Christ by His Spirit should really have taken up residence within. But our object is not to deal with evangelism, but to point out its object, which is to bring in Christ and to bring into Christ.
The other purpose of the Church is building up. In the most familiar versions of the New Testament the word in this connection is "edification". But "building up" is much better. The Church is to "build itself up". We are to "build one another up". Spiritual gifts and ministries are all meant for "building up". What is this "building up"? It is the increase of Christ. The New Testament repeatedly refers to "babes in Christ" and "full-grown men" in Christ; and there is a constant urge to "go on to full growth". Thus, by extensification and intensification, by increase outwardly and inwardly, it is Christ gaining an ever-increasing place. We repeat, by numerous ways and means God is governed by this one all-dominating objective - His Son.
But there is a point which needs very much to be emphasized and kept in view. These two things, evangelism and building up, are not two separate things; they must be kept together. If they are separated, or if either is given a greater place than the other an unbalanced condition will arise, and this will defeat God's full end. If evangelism is given a place greater than building up, or to the exclusion of the other, the result will be a great number of spiritual babes who remain such, no matter how long they live. There will then exist a preponderating number of Christians who are like those referred to by the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews - "When by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that someone teach you the rudiments of the first principles... and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food.", (Heb. 5:12). By this and what immediately follows, the Apostle makes it quite clear that God can never be satisfied with just having so many, however many, "converts", born-anew babes, but His end demands that these shall come to the spiritual position where they can take all that He has to give of spiritual strong meat, and have spiritual senses exercised, being "experienced in the word" and of spiritual intelligence. All this means what Paul called "the measure of Christ", and the end in view - "unto the measure... of the fullness of Christ".
If, on the other hand, building up is given a place out of all proportion to evangelism, we shall have another malformation. There will arise an ultra-spirituality that is divorced from what is practical. Truth will, sooner or later, take the place of Life. The mental will rule out the truly spiritual. The worst outcome will be that those involved will be found to have got into a false position which will not stand up to the tests of real life, the expression of Christ, among the people and conditions of this world. For the real proof of spiritual life is in its ability to express Christ in love, forbearance, patience, meekness, and self-forgetfulness, in an unsympathetic, ununderstanding, and unappreciative world. This does not mean that there should be a limiting of either evangelism or building up, but it does mean that there must be a close relationship between the two.
This is very strikingly manifested in the fact that the Apostles of the New Testament combined these two ministries in such fullness. They evangelized mightily; but what an immense building up ministry they fulfilled also! They brought Christ in almost everywhere they went, but they brought Him in in ever-increasing fullness wherever they had been. The point is the combination of the two. In the matter of ministry gifts to the Church, the Evangelist and the Pastor and Teacher are complementary ministries.
All this is surely very patent. But where are we now? We do not hesitate to say that the relationship between these two things has not by any means been preserved in equal proportions. The fact is that there is a preponderance of Christians who are, after many years, spiritual babes, sadly immature; without understanding in spiritual things; without capacity (and without appetite) for "strong meat. The result is that the impact and effect of Christ in this world is not at all commensurate with either the time that Christianity has been here, or the number of Christians on the earth. A few strong, healthy, and "experienced" people of God will count for a very great deal more than a vast number of Christians whose maturity is unduly delayed. There is therefore much to be done by way of removing this ill-balanced state and bringing the Lord's children to the state and position which should be theirs "by reason of the time".
This means that there is a real need and demand for a ministry of "the fullness of Christ" to the Christians of our time. The world's need is preeminently Christ in greater fullness, and this can only be in and by the Church, His chosen vehicle. But, we repeat, all such ministry must not stop with itself. It must result in stronger, richer, fuller evangelism. That is to say, the Christians must come through it to the position of having more of Christ to show and impart. This then is what is our sense of calling - "for the perfecting of the saints unto (that they may do) the work of ministering"; the word "perfecting" meaning making complete or full.
To sum up, God's end is the bringing in of His Son to fullness. This is the object and nature of the Church's being and work. The method is twofold: evangelism and building up. These two must be kept in close relationship as complementary, and the balance must be preserved in equality. This balance has not been preserved, and there are very many Christians whose spiritual maturity and capacity is very unduly delayed. There is therefore an altogether inadequate registration, impact, and effectiveness as to Christ, considering how long Christianity has been here and how many Christians there are. The need then is for a ministry by which Christians can be helped to the position that is God's desire and intention for them. Such a ministry must not end in people becoming interested in and taken up with teaching as something in itself, but rather in a richer and fuller representation of Christ to and among the peoples of this world. It is a misapprehension of truth if it results in less concern for the increase of Christ by the salvation of sinners and the mutual spiritual helpfulness of the saved. Truth should never turn us in on ourselves, but should make us conscious of being under a great debt to others.
Then we must realize that there are certain things which are basic to full spiritual development. One of these is the essential organic oneness of all who are "in Christ". No individual, or number of individuals, as such, can attain unto the full stature of Christ; that is only possible for "the whole Body". Any kind of division amongst Christians is a violation of Christ ("Is Christ divided?", 1 Cor. 1:13), and that must be contrary to the Holy Spirit, by whose work alone can we attain unto full growth. Therefore believers must abandon schismatic and divisive ground and occupy only the ground of Christ. In the beginning the Church was constituted by the acceptance of the absolute Lordship and Headship of Christ, and not just His Saviourhood. "We preach Christ Jesus as Lord". The Saviourhood was largely for men's good, but the Lordship was mainly for His place. This issue was the occasion of all the trouble.
This then is the ministry to which we feel the Lord has called us. Through deep and drastic ways He has formed it. We have not assumed it, and we can only give what He has given. We have sought much and always to be saved from mere theory, and we feel that in this the Lord has been faithful; but it has been costly.
And now, brethren, how can we gather up what we feel as our burden? Perhaps in no better way than in the Apostle's words: "Teaching every man, and admonishing every man, that we may present every man perfect (full grown) in Christ."
| 2005/5/11 9:31||Profile|
| God's Eternal purpose|
The Candlestick all of Gold
by T. Austin-Sparks
Features of the End-Time
The chapter which is now before us features in a remarkable way conditions and Divine aims in the "End-times." There are striking similarities in it to certain things mentioned in the first chapters of the Revelation. These we shall see as we go on. The chief value is in its reduction of all that is essential to a concentrated essence, and when you have this you have everything vital.
Let us take the chapter bit by bit. What first comes into view is
An Angel Talking
"And the Angel that talked with me", verse 1. "The Angel that talked with me", verse 4. The parallel of this in the Revelation is the phrase seven times repeated, (note seven = spiritual perfection, completeness), "What the Spirit saith to the Churches."
The Lord has something to say at the End. The book of the Revelation is full of voices. It begins with "I turned to see the voice." A strange way of putting things. Did ever anyone see a voice? There is, however, no mistake made. A vital reality is in this seeming error, as we shall see. We have known much to be made of this "voice" factor in the Bible. True as it is that God can make Himself vocal and audible, taking up men and articulating His thoughts through them, as He has ever done, yet we beg to stress that in this case it is not the voice of man in view, and it is not primarily the voice at all, but it is that there is something God has to say, and that a very important something. The most pertinent question that can possibly be asked at this time is
What is God Saying Today?
A striking feature of our time is that so few of the voices have a distinctive message. There is a painful lack of a clear word of authority for the times. While there are many good preachers of the Gospel, and while we are not without champions of the vital verities of the Faith, we are sadly in need of the Prophet with his "Thus saith the Lord" which he has received in a commission born of a peculiarly chastened fellowship with God.
Why it is so? May it not be that so many who might have this ministry have become so much a part of a system? A system which puts preachers so much upon a professional basis, the effect of which is to make preaching a matter of demand and supply; of providing for the established religious order and programme? Not only in the matter of preaching, but in the whole organisation and activity of "Christianity" as we have it in the systematised form today. There is not the freedom and detachment for speaking ONLY when "the burden of the word of the Lord" is upon the prophet, or when he could say, "The hand of the Lord was upon me." The present order requires a man to speak every so often; hence he must get something, and this necessity means either that God must be offered our programme and asked to meet it (which He will not do) or the preacher must make something for the constantly recurring occasion. This is a pernicious system and it opens the door to any number of dangerous and baneful intrusions of what is of man and not of God. The most serious aspect of this way of things is that it results in voices, voices, voices, a confusion of voices, but not the specific voice with the specific utterance of God for the time. Too often it has the effect of causing men to hear and read just with a view to getting preaching matter, subjects for sermons, and the value of things is judged by their suggestiveness of themes. The man may be a godly man and the message may be the truth, but there is something more than this - is it the message which relates to the immediate time-appointed purpose of God? There are many good men who are giving out what they know and believe of the truth, but at the same time there are many of the Lord's children who are hungry and not being fed.
The food question amongst the Lord's people today is a very acute one, and a more or less good ministry is not going to meet the need. There is a growing concern to know, as distinct from the generalisations of truth and service, what is the Lord's word for now, where we are, and what in the Divine purpose belongs to this present hour.
This brings us back to the first thing in our chapter; God has something to say; but it also leads us to the next thing, "The Angel that talked with me came again, and waked me, as a man that is wakened out of his sleep." Here we have the necessity for:
An Awakening to What God Has to Say
In the Revelation this is "He that hath an ear, let him hear", and in the case of Laodicea - which represents the end - it is "I counsel thee to buy of me eyesalve that thou mayest see." "And I turned to see the voice that spake with me", said John. God is speaking, He has something to say, but there must be "a Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your heart being enlightened."
Spiritual discernment, perception, understanding and intelligence are all too rare. The causes are many. The engrossment with the work and its multifarious concerns; the rush and hurry of life; the restless spirit of the age; these, with an exhaustive provision of external religious facilities, all tend to render the inner place of Divine speaking inoperative or impossible of functioning. Perhaps we have forgotten that the Bible is not only a revelation but also contains a revelation, and that that deeper spiritual content is only possible of recognition and realisation by such as have had their eyes and ears opened; in other words - who have been awakened. Some of the Lord's most faithful servants are still only occupied with the letter of the Word, the contents of books, topics, themes, subjects, outlines, analyses, etc., and in the deepest sense are not in "revelation." (This is not meant as a criticism). The difference too often is that of a ministry to the mind or head, and one to the heart or spirit.
The former will sooner or later tire and weary both the minister and those ministered to. The latter is a ministry of life to both, and is inexhaustible in freshness.
Whether it comes at the beginning or later, it is the greatest day in our history of which we can say: "It pleased God to reveal His Son IN me." "I received it, not from men but by revelation." That is the beginning of an inwardness of things which may have many crisic issues. One of these is the one of which we are particularly thinking now, namely, the awakening to see what is the thought and desire of God at given and specific times. Such a revelation - through the Scriptures - is nothing less than revolutionary, though usually costly.
Would to God that there was an adequate number at this time who, like the men of Issachar "had knowledge of the times." We now proceed to see what comes into view when God's instrument is awakened, and is able to answer the heavenly interrogation "What seest Thou?"
"Behold - A Candlestick all of Gold"
Every ministry in the Scriptures appointed by God was constituted upon something having been seen. The test of a Divine commission may be found in this question, "What seest thou?" and the credentials may well be the answer upon the basis of God having shown something very concrete. It is not a matter of winning the sermon or winning the audience, but declaring the truth for the time as it has been made a fire in the bones. It would be rather pertinent than impertinent to challenge the servants of God with this question, relative to the time in which they live, and relative to the immediate concern of God - "What seest thou?"
There is no doubt that what God has seen at all times as His objective is "A Candlestick all of Gold", but from time to time there has been a special necessity for Him to bring it into the view of the people, and especially His prophets. It is for this that He reacts, and the end-time must see a renewal of His reaction.
Now ignoring that there is a difference between the seven-branched candlestick or lampstand of the Old Testament, and the seven lampstands of the Apocalypse, there is a relationship of both in a common principle. That common principle is that they both represent:
The Instrument of the Testimony in the House of God
While that innermost light of the Most Holy Place - the light of Christ in the presence of God - remains undimmed and inviolate, there is that which is midway between heaven and earth - the Holy Place - where the testimony has to be kept clear both Godward and manward. Concerning this - as differing from the other - God has given very careful and explicit instructions and injunctions for its perpetual maintenance. He is peculiarly jealous over this testimony. So we find that it is here in the sphere of this that the prayer-life (Altar of incense) and the feeding-fellowship (Table of shewbread) of the Lord's people has its true value and vitality. The instructions for the making of the Candlestick in Exodus 24 and 37 are full of the richest significance. First in these is the material - "pure gold."
If it is to have a sevenfold fulness, intensity, and expression, which refers to spiritual completeness, then it must be pre-eminently suitable to the Divine purpose. The meaning of the "all of gold" then, is that it is:
Absolutely According to God
Be sure to get the force of this; an instrument of the testimony wholly according to God!
There is only One Who is thus wholly according to God's mind and heart, and He - the Lord Jesus; and if the whole Tabernacle in every part came firstly from God and then was Christ in type throughout, then this lampstand speaks of a vessel of the testimony of God in which the Lord Jesus is absolute and complete. God would have everything according to Christ. This fact governs the whole revelation in the Scriptures, from Genesis to Revelation. It is typified and prophesied in the Old Testament. It is presented in the Gospels, demonstrated in the "Acts"; defined in the Epistles; and consummated in the Revelation. But, alas, what a tragic and heart-breaking history is associated with this fact, and how difficult has it ever been to get anything wholly according to Christ! In an earlier chapter we saw God's reactions to this in Bible times, and suggested that He has again and again so reacted since.
The Reformation was such a reaction, and by it He recovered the Great foundational truth of Justification by Faith; which puts Christ into His absolute place as the Chief Corner-stone of the House of God. It was a grand thing, though very costly, but all too soon men pulled it down on to the earth, and the "Protestant Church" as such issued; a tree under the branches of which almost every kind of credal bird can lodge, and Protestantism as such is by no means a synonym for what is wholly according to Christ.
Since then the reactions of the Lord have been seen in other instances.
The Moravian Brethren, through a great fight and affliction, were used to recover the great truth of the Church's responsibility for the testimony of Jesus in all the nations. Not a missionary society or adjunct to the Church, but the Church itself directly. This was, and is, wholly according to Christ. But again, human hands mould this movement into a "Church", with all the outward elements of a religious order. There is no question that there has been considerable spiritual loss.
A further reaction of God is seen in the Wesleys and Whitfleld. Here, in addition to a mighty recovering of soul-saving evangelism, there was the recovery of the doctrine of practical holiness. This was grand while the instrument remained, but, alas, there came those human hands again, and an earthly organizing into a system - "the Wesleyan Church." We are perfectly sure Wesley would not have wished this. Then about a hundred years ago there was what all ought to recognise as a movement of God in the case of those who are now known as "Plymouth Brethren." There were several most precious recoveries made in this instance. The Lord Jesus was given an exclusive place which was not common in those days, nor is it common now. The great truth concerning the Body of Christ - the One Church - was brought again into view, after perhaps centuries of obscurity. God was in this, and is still in it, but the most ardent devotee to this community is both grieved and ashamed to contemplate its divisions today. Is it that men have again been insinuated or have insinuated themselves? Has this, like so much more, been taken into the governing hands of men? Has that subjective work of the Cross, by which in a very deep way man is cut off and the Holy Spirit governs, failed of adequate application or acceptance here? These are only questions, not charges. Indeed, all that we have said is not meant as a charge or as a criticism. We are seeking to speak constructively, not destructively. Many more are the reactions of God through the past nineteen centuries, but we only use these by way of illustration. It will be seen that each fresh movement was in advance of those before in the matter of truth recovered. So that from the Divine stand-point it was a movement nearer to the original position. The big question which at once arises is, will the Lord do a new thing yet? Are we to know of a fresh reaction to His first position? The only answer we can give to this question is that whether or not there should be anything in the nature of a "movement" as open to general recognition, we are certain that there is a more or less hidden movement on the part of the Spirit of God, working through deepening dissatisfaction with things as they are toward that which is nearer the original thought than has been since the beginning. It will be such a thing as cannot be "joined" by men, but into which there will come only such as come by deep inward exercise, so that it is a matter of common spiritual travail and inwroughtness.
What next comes before us in this vision which is more than Jewish, but has that invariable double application of Old Testament revelation, is
The Two Olive Trees and the Two Anointed Ones
The symbolism here is familiar. Two is the number of testimony or witness. Trees are very often symbolic of man or men as witness or witnesses. The Olive, as is apparent in this chapter, especially relates to the oil. The position of these two trees is on either side of the Candlestick. From verse 14 we learn that "These are the two anointed ones which stand before the Lord of the whole earth."
There is no doubt that the two olive trees bring into view, firstly and historically, Joshua the High Priest and Zerubbabel the Governor. Chapter 3 deals with the one and Chapter 4 with the other. The first speech was concerning the High Priesthood and its ministry, and the second speech of 5:1, is concerning the Government or sovereignty. This interpreted prophetically relates to the Lord Jesus. His High Priestly work and position first come into view and are established in glory. Then He is established by God as Lord and Sovereign-Head. On these two sides of His one Person He ever gives the meaning of the candlestick; that is, He defines the nature of its vocation, and supplies the unfailing resource for that testimony. It is, as we have said, constituted according to Christ, and maintained by Him in all the fulness of His anointing. The Divine explanation of this is "This is the word of Jehovah unto Zerubbabel, saying, Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, saith the Lord of Hosts." Here we reach the central meaning of the vision as to the executing of the purpose of God. It speaks for itself. Its clear affirmation is that this instrument and this testimony must be utterly in the hands of the Holy Spirit. Not might, nor power of brain, will, emotion, organisation, machinery, committee, influence, reputation, numbers, name, personality, outfit, enthusiasm, etc., but solely the Holy Spirit! The accounting for this will never be in truth - whatever superficial observers may say - attributable to any human force or resource, but all who have any spiritual intelligence will have to recognise that its energy and power is Divine. This will also be proved by its endurance and persistence through the intense fires of opposition and antagonism. Here the Holy Spirit is allowed to govern and dictate, to direct and choose or reject, just as in the "Acts" at the beginning. To have such an instrument and such a testimony there will need to be a very revolutionary re-shaping of ideas. It will be necessary to realise that all those things upon which men have come to count as most important factors in the Lord's work are really not necessarily factors at all. It will have to be recognised that education, business ability, worldly wisdom, personal ability, money, etc., as such have nothing to do with the work of the Holy Spirit or with Christianity. The Lord may use these, call them in, and if they are kept in their right place they may serve Him greatly, but they are secondary, and He can easily dispense with them. It is of infinitely greater importance and value that men should be filled with the Holy Spirit, and if a choice is to be made, the very first consideration should ever be as to whether this is the case. There is a wisdom, judgment, discernment, knowledge, understanding by the Holy Spirit which is the only kind which is equal to that which is to be wholly according to God. Thus the Lord Jesus as the Great Mediator and Sovereign Head would maintain His testimony wholly in accordance with His own nature and mind in the fulness of the Spirit of His own anointing.
When things are thus there is no need to be unduly oppressed by
The Great Mountain
"Who art thou, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel thou shalt become a plain.", (verse 7).
The mountain is a figure of the accumulation of difficulties. The completing of the House of God will be no less fraught with difficulty and obstruction than the commencement, but, as then, so at the end, where the Holy Spirit is absolute Lord, these difficulties will be proved rather complementary than otherwise. The "many adversaries" will only be sovereignly used to further rather than arrest the consummation of "the eternal purpose." "The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands also shall finish it."
The Greater Zerubbabel laid those foundations at Pentecost. The finishing will be by His hands alone. The same glorious Lord Jesus will bring forth the topstone with shoutings of "Grace, grace unto it."
Then there is presented for our contemplation, by way of an interrogation, a matter which is indeed very challenging, "Who hath despised The Day of Small Things?"
There is an unhealthy lust for big things amongst the Lord's people in these days. Something to attract attention, to impress; a demonstration to capture, an appearance to impress. Big names, big places, big titles, big sounds, big movements, big sweeps! If the dimensions are big according to men's standards, the success is judged accordingly.
God has ever found it necessary to reduce in order to get and maintain what will preserve the recognition of wholly Divine factors. End-times are always days of small things. See the testimony in the Revelation; it is only represented by the few who "overcome." Bigness is material or temporal. Greatness is spiritual and eternal. Too often men - even Christians - despise that in which God delights. The significance of things according to God is so often seen in an "upper room" over against the whole city, but the city succumbs to the upper room. When dealing with the "world rulers of this darkness" the Lord has frequently made an upper-room His Throne-room. "These seven eyes of Jehovah shall rejoice when they see the plummet in the hand of Zerubbabel." What is that? Well, the seven eyes symbolise the perfection of spiritual vision, taking in everything as it is. The plummet is that by which crookedness is brought to light and made manifest. When Jehovah sees the Lord Jesus with that instrument in His hand which so represents His own standard and mind that by it He can correct what is not so, and show the all-unsuspected leanings, angles, bulgings, and dangers of that which is related to His House; when He has that instrument by which He can make manifest how His House should be built according to Christ, then His perfect spiritual vision will rejoice and be satisfied. This is what He needs. O, that we might be such to Him! It will cost! It will not be a popular ministry, but it will be precious to the Lord.
As we close it will be no little gain to note the names of the Lord in this chapter. The thing as in view is related to Jehovah - the Almighty. Eternally Self Sufficient One (verses 6, 10). The executing and sufficiency of the purpose is related to Jehovah-Sabaoth - the Lord of Hosts (verse 6). The place of the testimony is related to Adon-Master, or Lord (verse 14); that is, He who owns and has the rights of proprietorship.
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