Partnership with Christ
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - The Call to the Throne

Reading: Psalm 78.

God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom also he made the worlds. (Heb. 1:1-2).

Therefore we ought to give the more earnest heed to the things which we have heard, lest at any time we should let them slip. (Heb. 2:1).

Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, even Jesus... Wherefore, even as the Holy Spirit saith, Today if ye shall hear his voice... for we are become partakers of Christ, if we hold fast the beginning of our confidence firm unto the end. (Heb. 3:1,7,14).

Let us therefore fear, lest, a promise being left us of entering into his rest, any of you should seem to come short of it. (Heb. 4:1).

We have seen that the heavenly calling to partnership with Christ in His exaltation and enthronement is opposed by the enemy with every available resource at his command. This in itself surely constitutes a need for whole­hearted abandonment to going on. The very fact that God's full end is so strongly, and persistently, and relentlessly withstood is a strong call to the Lord's people to take heed that on their part there is no reservation in their devotion, their diligence, their application to pressing forward, to answering the call which rings out in this letter, "Let us go on".

The Voice that Calls Related to the Entire Course

The voice that continually appeals to us with regard to the heavenly calling, is not confined only to what is represented by the wilderness position of Israel. It is true that the words are used repeatedly in that connection: "Today, if ye shall hear his voice, harden not your hearts, as in the provocation... in the wilderness..." That, of course, would closely correspond with the position at Corinth in the Church dispensation in the New Testament, and it is significant that to the Corinthians that wilderness position was cited as a warning. Read again the tenth chapter of the first letter to the Corinthians: "For I would not, brethren, have you ignorant, how that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; and were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea; and did all eat the same spiritual food; and did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of a spiritual rock that followed them: and the rock was Christ. Howbeit with most of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness." It was of these same that God said elsewhere, "They shall not enter into my rest." This was brought up to the Corinthians by way of warning, to awaken them to the fact that such a state as they were now in made it all too possible for Israel's experience to be repeated in them spiritually, and for them to come short of all that the Lord had called them unto.

We were saying that this appeal, or this voice that calls from above, does not refer to what is represented by the wilderness position alone; it refers also to the land. The Psalm to which we have referred is a very full, strong foundation for a meditation like this. There are two main parts of that Psalm. The long section up to verse 53 deals with Egypt and the tragedy of the wilderness. Then up to verse 64 the land is brought into view, and the same things are said about what happened in the land as about what happened in the wilderness. Even when the people had come into the land, and the Lord had subdued their enemies and given them those mighty victories, they did as their fathers had done in the wilderness: they turned aside; they were as a deceitful bow; they did not reach the mark.

A deceitful bow! That is a very suggestive phrase. What is a deceitful bow? Well, you may take a bow, draw it, and let fly the arrow, and, while you have taken direct aim, and are quite sure that you have got direction from the mark, your arrow goes out of the straight, it misses the mark. You look at the bow, and wonder what is the matter with it. It looks all right, as far as you can see it is straight: you adjust it as far as you can; and then you try again, but the same thing happens. What is the matter? Somehow it is just at the instant when the bow is relaxed to let the arrow go that something gives out, something wavers; there is something in the bow that goes out of the straight when the strain is put on it. When it comes to the actual moment of execution there is something in the very substance that throws things out of the straight and the mark is never reached.

So it is in the case before us. While these people claimed and professed to be all right, while they thought all was well, there was something in them that, when it came to the real test, never reached the mark. They were like a deceitful bow; a profession, an appearance, but when it came to execution there was something that gave out every time, something that was not just true. When it came to the test it was discovered that there was something there in the make-up which upset the whole purpose for which God had called them. A deceitful bow means more than that, but that is a simple interpretation which at once suggests itself.

Now all this took place in the land, which corresponds in the New Testament with Ephesians, not Corinthians. This is a very much higher position, and you notice that the voice of entreaty is as much heard here in the land as it was previously heard in the wilderness. There is a need to recognise that this "today" is not just the "today" of the more elementary stages of Christian life, of that realm where in wilderness conditions we have not reached any real point of spiritual maturity, where we have not come into fuller light and blessing. All the way through, even after the heavenly position, the heavenly life has been disclosed to us and we have taken action in relation to that enlargement of our vision, there still sounds in our ear this tremendous, critical "today." The voice will continue in our behalf until we are either no longer able to hear it because we have stifled it, or, on the other hand, if we are of such as give heed, until we reach the glory. There will never be a point in our course here where that voice will cease to be heard by those who are ready to hear. It is a case of going on to God's full end.

A Peril of the Way

In our previous meditation we were speaking of the urgency of going on, and of the deterrents and hindrances that are to be met with in the endeavour. Lack of time prevented our dealing with the final one, in which the people are seen to have made such a measure of progress, and to have received so large a portion of the inheritance, that they began to take it easy. There were some heights yet to be scaled, to be captured, still some forces higher up to be dislodged, but they had taken so much territory that they deemed it to be enough and began to settle down. The tragedy of the four hundred years of the Judges is simply the story of stopping too soon, failing to recognise that the voice never ceases until the last fragment of spiritual territory has been possessed. The point is that the voice ("Today, if ye shall hear his voice") related abidingly to God's full end, which is the throne, and all that that means of partnership with Christ. This is clearly borne out by the book of the Revelation. There that which corresponds to His voice in Israel is to be seen in the phrase, "the Spirit saith"-"He that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith". If you look at the connection of that phrase in the letters to the churches, you will see that it all had to do with deterrents, hindrances, oppositions of the enemy, subtle traps and deceptions, the manifold activity of the enemy to stop those people of God from going on. The Lord warns them of those things, urging them on. Even to those to whom the Lord could say the best things He has to conclude with the words which at least indicate the tendency to stop short and not press on to the goal on the part of some: "He that hath an ear let him hear what the Spirit saith..."   That is only another way of saying, "Today, if ye shall hear his voice". It is all connected with going on to God's full end, pointing out how dangerous it is at any time to stop or to be stopped before that end is reached.

No doubt your hearts are alive to this situation.   It is not mere theory with you, not so much talk. There is a terrific withstanding of spiritual advance, spiritual progress, spiritual growth. Every desire and every intent to go on further with the Lord is met by powerful counterforces of evil. We are, so to speak, buying our knowledge of the Lord at a great price. We are coming into the greater measures of Christ by intense suffering. Our progress in the spiritual life is fraught with very great conflict.

The voice of the Lord is sounding. The Lord is telling us today that even as there has always been this fierce opposition to progress so it will ever be, and yet more intense. We have to recognise the fact that every inch of ground in the matter of our apprehension of Christ will be contested by the enemy with the utmost intensity of withstanding and resistance; that we shall never make any progress except by girding up our loins, and with this unreserved, whole­hearted abandonment, setting ourselves to go on to the end. It is a call to our hearts which is needed anew at this time.

Now, to bring all this to some immediate practical meaning and issue, let us point out, in the first place, that

God's End has Two Phases

There is the end itself, and then there is the progress toward the end. We deal now with the end itself.

The End Itself

God's end, as we have seen, is that which is expressed in these words, "Partners with Christ". The book of the Revelation shows us what that means as a goal: "To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I overcame and am sat down with my Father in his throne." That is partnership with Christ, but that is not going to be shared and enjoyed by every Christian. Multitudes will fail and come short of that. But that is God's design for His children, that is God's end.

Let us be careful of an inadequate mentality in this respect and not be too literal in our mental pictures of sitting down alongside of Christ upon a throne: for how even a limited number could do so literally immediately becomes a problem, and, of course, that shows the absurdity of interpreting the thought wholly in a literal sense. As we have often sought to point out, its meaning is that a company is to be brought into a union with Christ in His governmental position in relation to all else throughout the coming ages. The end is to be in position with Him in His governmental administration. It is this that is challenged up to the hilt by the enemy, and everything that touches it he immediately seeks to counter.

You may have the life of the two and a half tribes if you so desire, but you will never come into the governmental position, the meaning of the throne. What is more, the former will always prove to have been less than what God purposes, and the knowledge of it must sooner or later find us out. Was it not in that very connection the Lord's servant said, "be sure your sin will find you out." That is not to say, Be sure your sin will be found out. It will find you out. What is the meaning of that? Sometime or other you will come to say: Well, I was a fool! I might have had far more than I have. God intended me to have it. This that I have is proving, after all, to be much less than what God called me unto. You will exclaim, just as Saul exclaimed, I have played the fool! That is your sin finding you out. It is bound to come to that, to the recognition that God purposed much more than we, because of the conflict and the suffering involved, were prepared to accept.

However, the Lord will have a company in governmental fellowship with Himself. He will sift, and sift again, but He will have that company; and it is for us to recognise the fact that He has made that known to us. That is a matter of importance. Just pigeon-hole all the questions and problems that arise about others who have not had it made known to them, and face the fact that He has made it known to us. As Sovereign, God can do as He likes about these matters. He has made known to some (not to us alone) in the earth what is His full end, and the making of it known has constituted His call, His voice. When God has made known to us His mind we are left at once with a great responsibility; but I think, if we did but know it we are even then in a peculiarly blessed position, although it does not always look like it.

It is rather a difficult matter to explain, but when you come to consider it closely you will probably find yourself forming a judgment somewhat like this: Well, I do not know that I asked the Lord to show me this utter way, and by showing it to me involve me in the awful responsibility of refusing or accepting, but evidently the primary fact is that I am the recipient of a great honour from the Lord in that I have heard His call to the throne. I have been slow to recognise the honour because of all that is bound up with it of suffering, but above everything else it is a great honour to be called to the throne. There is in the next place something which is compensatory.   I am conscious of the suffering, I often weaken in the fight, fail the Lord in the way, and feel the total impossibility of going on, but inasmuch as I have responded to His voice, and, given grace, am going on despite the cost, I have learned at length that in the deepest sense the responsibility was not really left with me. 

Many have thus felt the responsibility, and have taken it on, and the Lord has constantly come to us in the time that we realised that we could not bear it any longer and shown us that He was bearing it. You and I have not gone on because we have clenched our fists and said, I am going on! There have been times when we have not been able to do that. Our hands have hung limp, and we have been incapable in ourselves of taking another step, yet we have gone on. There is, back of all, a responsibility which is being taken by God on the ground that our faces are in the right direction and our hearts are toward the Lord, and in spite of our ability to do anything, or our inability to do anything, the Lord has kept us going. Many times He has come down to the depths and lifted us up. Mark you, the Lord will see us right through to His end, so long as we do not deliberately close our hearts to His call, His voice, so long as we do not deliberately say, I am not going any further! I am going to give it all up! That is really the state to which Israel came. They hardened their hearts. It is not a question of the ability of our hearts to go on, but of the maintaining of our hearts open toward God, and of His seeing us through. It depends upon the heart direction, and not upon the strength that is in us to go in that direction. The Lord takes responsibility for that to the end.

The end is throne partnership, fellowship, with Christ in His administrative position as universal Lord, King of kings. 

Progress Toward the End

The other phase is present progressive knowledge of throne government. We have constantly to keep in mind that the throne is not only something that stands in solitary isolation at a certain point which we shall one day reach. The throne is in practical operation now in a spiritual way, and we have to come progressively into fellowship with that present administration of Christ. Back of everything the Lord is Lord. There are plenty of enemies in the land; strong, walled-up cities; a great deal to encounter, but back of it all the Lord is the Lord. Our course is to come into spiritual fellowship with the Lord in His lordship, in His dominion, in His authority. I think that strikes at the heart of this whole matter. It is the matter of a spiritual position with the Lord in present dominion over the enemy and all his power in a progressive and growing way.

The Lord tried to teach Israel that lesson all the way along from Egypt onward, but that generation failed to learn. The next generation was brought in on that very basis. The one thing that the Lord laid as a foundation to the history of that second generation was at Jericho, the lesson that faith, sheer, naked faith, and sometimes for a long time silent faith, brings  into a fellowship with Him in His dominion, His authority, His government, which eventually issues in the overthrow, symbolically and representatively, of all the power of the enemy; for there were seven nations in the land to be overthrown, and the people had to walk seven times round Jericho. Thus Jericho was in  representation the whole land, and the principle of the conquest of the whole land was established there, namely, faith in God's absolute supremacy. That was to be the principle of every step of  conquest.

That is what the Lord is seeking to bring us progressively into now. He would have spiritual authority and dominion over the power of the enemy to be known of us now in that progressive and ever growing way which eventually emerges, so to speak, in the throne. So that the throne is not viewed as something detached, isolated, something in itself, but as the end and issue of a course. You and I are progressively moving now in relation to the throne, and the ultimate step will be but the consummation of what has  been going on in a spiritual way all the time.

May we not truly believe (oh, that we always remembered it) that every fresh challenge, every fresh difficulty, every fresh adversity which the Lord allows to come in our way here is just the sounding of His voice, some fresh phase of that upward calling, just a fresh opportunity and challenge to take that faith position by which we shall prove that He is more than a match for every challenge. That is perhaps one fresh difficulty, this fresh problem, is a challenge and a call to a new spiritual ascendency, and the whole thing will not be solved, will not be explained, will not really be put under our feet, until we have ceased crying to the Lord for an explanation; ceased pleading with Him to come and handle the situation, and have taken a new position in the Lord in relation to it. "Wherefore criest thou unto me? ...lift thou up thy rod, and stretch out thine hand..." (Ex. 14:15-16). To act so is to relate the course of the conflict and all its details continuously to God's end.

God's end, then, has these two phases. Every kind of Satanic pressure and subtlety will be directed to arrest and paralyse spiritual progress. We have said enough about that already, but it is as well to bring it before us as concrete fact. We shall have to recognise more than we have ever done that certain things which are weakening to our progress, weakening to our spiritual position, weakening to the testimony of the Lord, are not merely human elements, not merely natural situations.

Take the matter of fellowship. There are few matters which go to the heart of the Lord's testimony more than the matter of fellowship between the Lord's people, and especially where there is particular responsibility for His testimony. The drive of the enemy and all his subtle and diabolical wit, as well as his pressure and his misrepresentations, will be directed toward destroying that relationship of fellowship. He will seek somehow to divide believers, and get in between. And if you are not careful you will resolve all such matters into merely natural problems and say: Well, it is incompatibility of temper! So-and-so is made this way, and the other person is made that way; you can never blend people who are so different in temperament and outlook! If you allow a conclusion of that kind your testimony is gone; you may as well abandon your position in the Lord and go and scour the world for people who in everything see eye to eye. Does it mean that the Lord's work, as entrusted to two or three or more together in one place, can only continue in so far as these children of His are able at all times to get on with one another on a natural basis? The Lord help His work if that is what is required. We have to look deeper than that. This drive on fellowships and relationships is Satanic. There may be ground, there may be human elements, but those concerned should take this attitude toward one another: The Lord's testimony is bound up with our oneness; the Devil will do everything he can to destroy that, and to strike a blow, therefore, at the testimony! You and I are going to be one in the name of the Lord, and stand our ground against the enemy! There we have something altogether different from the attempt to get on with one another on a natural basis, we have a dynamic for fellowship. We have to get on with one another in the name of the Lord, or else the Lord's testimony is not established. There is something much bigger than a natural or human situation to be dealt with, and when we realise that back of what may truly be natural difficulties there is always something else at work, and that therefore we must keep these natural things in the place of the Cross, and stand together against the enemy, we will get through; but we will never do so by spending a lot of time trying to adjust ourselves to one another, and seeing how far we can work together. Standing shoulder to shoulder against the enemy who is assailing fellowship, we will find the way of triumphant fellowship. Come down on the natural level, and the enemy will soon make terrible havoc of the whole relationship.

Remember, then, that all these things which sometimes seem to be so natural are in principle deeper down, and the activity of the enemy is behind them in his seeking to circumvent that gain, that advance, that increase, that attaining unto dominion, and he must be withstood in these matters.

The Calling is Positive

In every situation and at all times the calling is positive. That heavenly calling is never negative, never neutral, never passive, but always positive. You may not have very much in your daily life to make the calling seem positive. It may be you go to business in the morning and fulfil your daily work, the trivial round, the common task, as we say, with very little variety entering into it. It is the same round day after day, week after week, month after month; the same people, the same surroundings, the same activities very largely. Only on the rarest occasion does something specially interesting come into the daily course. It would be so easy in a situation like that to say: Well, in my sphere of life there is not much of the glamour of a heavenly calling! My work is plain and simple. I have just to get on with it every day, and I see very little else beyond it. Remember that at all times, in all circumstances, the calling is positive.

Every day will provide some opportunity for you to learn spiritual ascendency; some occasion for you to bring in the value of your relationship with the Lord; to put to the test the resources which you have in Christ; to grow in grace; to know victories. How do you know but that in that very uninteresting, perhaps unpromising sphere of life you are on test on some of those great matters, such as faith, patience, or patient endurance. It would be interesting to know exactly what the throne of the Lord is made of. When we come to that throne, I wonder whether we shall find a throne of gold in a literal sense, or whether we shall find it made up of many things? When we come to analyse the throne we may find that it is made up of patience, faith, endurance, and all such moral elements, and that these elements constitute the power by which He governs. It is sharing the patience of Jesus Christ which is sharing the throne. There is something mighty in the ultimate outworking of the patience of Jesus, the faith of Jesus Christ, the endurance. These are the constituents of His throne.

He is working throne elements into us now in the drab, uninteresting life day by day. You may be on test for the throne. There may be bound up with the least interesting course of life some very, very real intention of the Lord. Let us remember that the heavenly calling is always positive, in all circumstances, in all places. We are on test for the throne, as to whether it shall function through us both here and hereafter.

Today!

"Today if ye shall hear his voice..." Today, is while there is progress to be made, and while there is opportunity afforded. Progress can yet be made, therefore it is still "today". When the day ends there is no more progress to be made. There is opportunity today. When opportunity ends it will be no longer "today".

The Lord give us a response in our hearts to the call, to the voice, which is, Today!


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