The Testimony and Its Vessel unto the Time of the End
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4 - The Universal Range of the Eternal Purpose

We resume our consideration of this subject by asking - What is the thing that is really upon our hearts as the burden of the Lord at this time? What is the object which we have so strongly in view?

A Primary Object of Present Divine Need

My answer is, without any hesitation or equivocation, that I believe and feel most strongly and intensely that what the Lord is after, what the Lord needs, what the Lord is seeking to possess Himself of is a vessel in such relationship to Himself and His throne in the heavens, as will bring that throne and that heavenly dominion and authority very mightily to bear upon the whole spiritual system of His enemy, the principalities and powers and the world rulers of this darkness and the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenlies, as they have control of this cosmos; to register the throne of God upon those forces and upon the cosmos.

Now that is what is weighing with me tremendously, and that is the burden of these days. That has been the thing central to the six gatherings which we have already had as we have been dwelling hugely in the book of Daniel, and what we are going on with today is not a departure from that, it is only a following up, a continuation, for we said earlier in the conference that the book of Daniel and the letter to the Ephesians have very much in common. The principles are the same. And so as we are perhaps more in Ephesians now than in Daniel so far as the actual Scripture is concerned, we are still dealing with the same matter. In the book of Daniel we saw four men, and the Lord making one, in the midst of them, forming a vessel, an instrument for the registration of the rule of the heavens upon the spiritual forces operating back of world systems, and we saw the breaking-in of the government of the heavens again and again as those men operated in fellowship with the throne of God. And that is where we are and everything is gathered up into that, and I do trust that with all that may be said which may be more or less helpful, illuminating or interesting or informative, we shall see that the centre and heart of the whole thing is just that God shall have in us individually and collectively, wherever He may place us on this earth, vessels, an instrument in such a spiritual union with Himself in the heavenlies that the heavenly thing may be wrought out.

That brings together the testimony of Jesus, that is, as to who the Lord Jesus is and what He is in the appointment of God the Father, the position that He holds, and what is related to Him as to the history and consummation of the universe. The testimony of Jesus, Sovereign Lord, and the vessel as eternally foreknown, foreordained, chosen in Him before the foundation of the world, brought into being in time, and as is seen by the Scripture, joined with Him in His heavenly position for that testimony not only to men, but to men by reason of having dealt with the spiritual powers and intelligences back of men.

Now then, we are able to speak a little more about the vessel of the testimony and we are looking at the matter of the vessel as mainly a corporate and collective thing, that is the Body of Christ; but specifically at present that company which is moving, and which the Lord is seeking to bring into that advanced position with Himself, in relation to the heavenlies. Not all the members of the Church which is His Body are there, or are going on there, but the Lord will from His people obtain a company which will be the vanguard of the whole, and which will go on with Him and take the heavenly place and be His instrument for the breaking through and leading a way for the others. That is the peculiar vessel upon which the heart of the Lord is set, and we believe that we are here in relation to, not God's second or third thing, but God's first thing. It would be very good if one could take that for granted, that everyone here is here because their hearts are wholly bent upon God's first thing, and they will never be content with anything less than that. Well, God's first thing is taking the heavens with Him against those forces which now are opposed to Him in the heavens.

The Universal Range of the Eternal Purpose

I think just one word here extra of a very general character might put us into line with the whole purpose of God. That is, that we should remind ourselves of the cosmic nature of everything in the purpose of God and in the person of Christ, and in the work of Christ. That word cosmic may not convey to all of you what it is intended as used, but the intention in using it is to indicate the range of God's purpose, and the range of everything relative to the person and work of the Lord Jesus. The range is not just the limited compass of a few saved people. It is not just the salvation of so many individuals, and it is not just the salvation of a company out from the nations. All these may be stages, steps toward the ultimate; but God has swept the ultimate from the beginning and it is cosmic in its range; that is, it embraces the whole world with all the nations, every inch of territory and all the realm surrounding and encompassing the world; how far beyond that we do not know, only by fragmentary suggestions; but we do know that the whole world and the whole encompassing realm of the lower heavenlies, and super-heavenlies are involved in this purpose of God in the person of the Lord Jesus and in His work. The fall was not just the fall of man, it was the fall of a creation. It was not two people who fell and involved their progeny; it was the fall of a whole creation, and every part of that creation was involved in that fall, touched by that fall. Sin and death, which are the two issues of the fall, were shot through the whole creation and everything is touched by sin and death; and the very atmosphere, air, heavenly realms around the creation is saturated with this spiritual defilement and occupied by sinful elements and death elements, fallen intelligences, "the prince of the power of the air." That was the range of the fall.

Redemption is cosmic. It is not just the redemption of man, let alone a few men, it is the redemption of the whole cosmos. "The creation itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption." Christ's work in His Cross has effected, in the ultimate, the redemption of the whole creation. But more, the redemption of the whole heavenly range surrounding the creation and the heavenlies are going to be cleared, and the very atmosphere is going to be purged, and the person of Christ in sovereignty embraces that for coming government, and the work of Calvary involves that. So that the vessel of the testimony is called not merely into relationship to the salvation of a few men and women, the vessel of the testimony will go on in relation to the whole work of Calvary, the full work of redemption, the entire range of the significance of the Person of Christ, and that vessel will not only be in relation to the earth, the redemption of, and the redeemed earth, and the new creation, it will be related to the whole range of heavenly realms, lower and higher, in the ages to come. That is the vessel and that is its calling; that is its ministry. It is called to a tremendous thing, and it is important for us to see the cosmic nature of the Cross, the cosmic significance of the Person and work of Christ, and then the cosmic relationship and vocation of the vessel of the testimony.

At present it is the taking out of the nations a people for His Name. There will be developments by stages, but the ultimate issue - while we do not believe in Universalism, so called, that even the Devil himself is going to be redeemed and saved and put back in a place of honour; nothing like that! - ultimately when God's day of probation is finally closed and the testimony has been forever decided according to an attitude taken, and evil and evil ones have been swept from God's world, then the vessel, the Church, the Body, will be the instrument of administration; administrative in relation to the throne and the whole of that range of redemption's work. There will be things beyond the Church, there will be nations which will walk in the light of that City, which is the Church; but at present the Church is the thing upon which the Lord's heart is set as the vessel, not only for purposes in this age, which are limited comparatively, but for the unlimited ranges of influence and usefulness in the ages to come. Now I have only spoken out of the Word and you hardly need that I quote Scripture, it is floating in your mind as I go on. In the ages to come He is going to show by us the exceeding riches of His grace, and it is now unto principalities and powers He is making known His manifold wisdom by the Church. You see what we mean by the cosmic range of things; and the vessel is called in relation to that, something very great, very wide, very far-reaching. (Ephesians 1:21; 2:7; 3:10.)

We said that in speaking of the vessel we are here regarding it from the personal and collective, or corporate standpoint - in this sense - that we must not forget that while the vessel in the thought and mind of God is a corporate thing, a Body, a collective thing, it is made up of living members, and every living member of that Body is in itself a vessel and has its peculiar responsibility to the whole. It is related, and therefore, everything for that vessel is relative; and yet we must not fall into the snare of allowing our individual and personal responsibility to be lost sight of by the corporate conception of things. We must realise that we, individually, have a responsibility as a Vessel, although our responsibility as vessels is related to the whole. And so we are vessels as part of a vessel. That is what I want to get at, so that we lay a safe emphasis upon the individual place in the vessel for the testimony.

Paul a Type of the Whole Vessel

That truth and that principle comes out in the way which we are very fond of speaking of and thinking here. That is, in connection with Paul and the Church. As we have frequently said, the great revelation of the mystery of Christ and His members, one Body, the Church, with all its meaning, which comes through the Apostle Paul, was personally represented and signified by the man himself. That he as a vessel in every detail represented the vessel of the testimony. What was true of the corporate vessel, the Church, was revealed through him, was true of him personally and had to be made so. That is where we begin when we speak of the vessel and that is the most helpful way, perhaps, of reaching the heart of this matter. There are one or two passages which come through the Apostle, which show that this very thought was in his own mind. The passage in Philippians 3:17: "Brethren, be ye imitators together of me, and mark them that so walk even as ye have us for an ensample." The word ensample there is the word tupas, which is type. "Even as ye have us for a type." Now you take that last fragment, ye have us for a type, and link it with the first fragment, be ye imitators of me. If you turn to 1 Tim. 1:15: "Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation; that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief: howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me as chief might Jesus Christ show forth all his long suffering, for an ensample (for a type) of them that should thereafter believe on him unto eternal life."

More literally that is: "This is a trustworthy saying and worthy of all acceptation that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief; howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth the whole long-suffering for a pattern, or delineation of them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting." Do you catch that? Paul made a pattern for all who should hereafter believe; that is, he is placed at the head of the age which he represents, as a pattern, as a model, as a type, as a delineation, as a representation. There is a great deal more in what he is saying here than I have time for, but when he speaks of the whole long-suffering, he is referring to a dispensation which he had represented as a member of Israel (the long-suffering of God through the whole Jewish age was the most marvellous thing) and that whole dispensation of Judaism which drew out the long-suffering of God in such a marvellous way. Think about it.

I confess that spiritually I have often found God's dealings with Ahab a stumbling-block, for I have felt that God ought to have dealt with Ahab long before He did. But while it is said of Ahab that he sinned more than all the kings of Israel that were before him, and that was before he married Jezebel (what could be said of him afterward I do not know) and yet when God did pronounce a judgment on Ahab and determined his end, and Ahab started whimpering and putting on sackcloth and fasting, the Lord said to the prophet: "Seest thou how Ahab humbleth himself before me? because he humbleth himself before me, I will not bring the evil in his days; but in his son's day will I bring the evil upon his house." I have had a quarrel with the Lord over that many a time because of the issue. But I am wrong, of course! Now take that as a fragment of the long-suffering of God and spread a thing like that over the long dispensation, and then take Saul of Tarsus as an outstanding and inclusive representation, as we shall see presently, of that whole Jewish dispensation and order, and the last thing that Saul of Tarsus did was to consent to the murder, the martyrdom of Stephen in red-hot blood, so to speak, violent blood, against Jesus of Nazareth. Now, he says, the whole long-suffering, all the long-suffering of God as shown through that long and terrible age is gathered up in Saul, the cumulative long-suffering of God is gathered up and he stands as a model of the long-suffering of God for all who should hereafter believe. But the heart of the thing that I am trying to get at is this, that Paul was a model, a type at the beginning of the age, of the vessel, the vessel of mercy, and what he was individually, the whole Body - vessel - would be collectively; and as parts of that Body, and as individual vessels, we stand in relation to that whole long-suffering of God. We are where we are because of the infinite grace of God.

Now I think we have established fairly well at the outset, our principle, that what is true of the whole vessel has to be true of the individual vessel, and that the individual vessel has to be a representation of the whole.

The Closing of an Entire History

I expect in most of our minds there is already the fragment which the Lord uttered concerning him to Ananias: "Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me." The first thing we notice in relation to the vessel, that is, now speaking of Paul as a vessel, and as a vessel-type of the vessel, the Church, the Body of Christ, is that one history is brought fully and finally to a close. Saul of Tarsus, we have said, represented Israel and Judaism. The closing down of the Jewish dispensation and of Judaism and its age was clearly foreshown and foretold, and the imminence of that was clearly indicated by the Lord Jesus Himself. He has some parables and amongst them as in Luke 13, the parable of the fig tree, the fig tree which was fruitless and concerning which the owner of the vineyard said: "Cut it down: why doth it also cumber the ground." It was not only fruitless, but it was mischievous; it was not only useless, but it was in the way. There was not only the negative aspect, but there was the positive which the Lord saw. It was a menace to something else, as well as unsatisfactory to Him. "Cut it down." That was a clear indication of what was coming to Israel, to Judaism. The argument of the gardener was: "Lord, let it alone this year, till I shall dig about it and dung it: and if it bear fruit henceforth, well; but if not, thou shalt cut it down." He would dig it and dung it and seek to improve the thing, and so it was given a little space for an extra ministration of grace, but then the result was just the same, and it was cut down. Now that was Israel and that was Judaism up to the time of Calvary.

With the cross of the Lord Jesus it is then, we remember, this dispensation was closed, but there is the plea for still a season of grace, and a season of grace, that little extra period, was given from Calvary to the death of Stephen, and the digging and the care was that wonderful grace of God shown at and round Pentecost; for you notice that through the first chapters of Acts it is Israel in view. Right up to the point where the lame man is at the Beautiful Gate and Peter and John going up to the temple at the ninth hour to pray saw that man there who asked an alms, and Peter said: "Silver and gold have I none; but what I have, that give I thee. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk." And I think there is so much that is significant there; that up to that point the extra period of grace is ruling. That man had been in that state forty years, the number of Israel's crippled movement in the wilderness, and representing the probationary period in which Israel was useless. It is the probationary period represented by that man. That period ends, and at the end of that probationary period Israel is in a state of crippled infirmity, useless, cannot stand on its feet, but Jesus of Nazareth comes in at the end of that period. What Judaism could not do, Jesus of Nazareth is able to do, and now Israel's only hope as represented by that man of forty years' impotence is in Jesus of Nazareth. Oh yes, but Saul of Tarsus represented Israel, and: "Saul, yet breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the High Priest, and asked of him letters to Damascus unto the synagogues, that if he found any that were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem," with the authority of the official representatives of his nation, he went forth to destroy Jesus of Nazareth just as they had destroyed Him at Calvary. You see! That closed the extra period to Israel, the extra period of grace closed when Saul of Tarsus consented to the death of Stephen, because Stephen was a vessel who, in a specific way, brought in Jesus of Nazareth in the glory. "I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God."

The New Vessel Comes in Only on the Ground of one History Ended

Well, now, this is the point, it was then that Saul of Tarsus, representing his nation and the whole Jewish dispensation, came to his end. He came to his end that day, that was the end, and this vessel only comes in on the ground of one history having been closed. It is a history that has been entirely closed from heaven, that introduces this vessel.

Paul never came in as a distinguished member of his elect nation, he came in as a man on the common level of men, dead in trespasses and sins, and the Lord from heaven never made anything of Paul, or Saul of Tarsus as a distinguished member of a chosen people. He dealt with him there and then as a common member of a sinful race, dead in trespasses and sins, subjected him as such to the assembly, and he got his instructions there. The Lord never made a fuss of Saul of Tarsus on the way to Damascus. He never recognised him as what he had been in the past history. He took him up as a common sinner, and that is why the Apostle says: "Of whom I am chief," and he saw that all that he had in Judaism counted for nothing.

Now that is the background truth of the vessel, and what I am coming to now is this, that we never come in any relation to the testimony of Jesus as vessels, or as a part of the vessel, only on the ground that there has been an absolute closing of one history. It does not matter what that history has been religiously, traditionally, that history has to be closed and we can bring none of that with us. Our history begins (I am rather passing on to the positive side; we will have to see this again with the coming in of the vessel) by seeing the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. That is where this vessel commenced his history, he took his rise out of that.

The Realm where the Vessel Functions Supremely

Now do you recognise this, that this vessel is for a heavenly testimony, pre-eminently and supremely in a spiritual realm against spiritual forces? No amount of religious tradition can enable us to function there. There is nothing that we can bring in traditionally, however good it might be religiously, that can count for anything against principalities and powers, the spiritual forces of evil. Good upbringing may be good, but as such, if it falls short of a personal inward revelation of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, it cannot meet this situation. This is what Paul declares in his very being; that history is closed, he was a Pharisee of the Pharisees, he was everything that was splendid in that history, but now it is closed; he has come into another realm, he is no longer of the earthly system, he is now of the heavenly system, and none of that counts here. Read the account of it again in Acts 9. See it in full swing as he sets out for Damascus. He sets out for Damascus because there is nothing more to do at Jerusalem. Now because the thing has been successful in Jerusalem, he must find new quarters for carrying out this devastating work, and so Damascus is the next centre for this, and you see him in the full strength of his old system starting out for that. Before he reaches Damascus he is on the ground in face to face dealings with Jesus of Nazareth.

The two things that arise there are "I" and "Thou." Yes, Jesus of Nazareth has got him alone, he is alone with Jesus of Nazareth, and before very long he is saying "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" "And he, trembling and astonished said..." "They led him by the hand." Tell me that is not the closing of a history, the shutting up of one regime effectively! Isn't that a new situation, a new history? Isn't that beginning in a new realm? Yes, but that represents a principle. That is the way; it may be violent for some of us, it may be progressive but revolutionary and not so immediately cataclysmic and violent for others, but the same principle holds. We can carry nothing over into the heavenlies that belongs to that old history of our relationship to the old creation, to the old earth. The severance in God's mind and thought is utter, is absolute. Forever after that the enemy's main manouvre and tactic will be to bring about some kind of contact with that. Typically that always was so, and spiritually it always is so. Pass your eye over the Old Testament in the types and you will see that wherever you have a type of that which is linked with heaven, for heaven's purposes, you will find the persistent effort of the enemy in that case to bring about some kind of contact, link, or bridge, with his own kingdom, in order to destroy the ministry of that instrument.

Noah comes out on to a new earth in touch with the heavens, an instrument for God's testimony to a new heavenly order. It is not long before the contact is made between Noah and that which destroys the testimony in him and mars him as a vessel. Abram, called out of the world, so to speak, linked with the heavens, tempted down into Egypt, guilty of duplicity, robbed of his spiritual position and power. Isaac! Oh surely Isaac did not make a mistake, that beautiful outstanding representation of resurrection life! Isaac grows to be an old man and because he has come as an old man to think too much of his natural appetite he brings about that unhappy situation between his two sons. Yes, he loses his spiritual perception, and you notice there is confusion in his action at the end in blessing. He is acting as though his spiritual discernment and understanding have gone from him, and in the blessing of his two sons he is not a man alive to the situation: and mark you, it is because the natural appetites along the food line had got too strong a hold on him. Interpreted spiritually, you see how the flesh spoils everything, even in an Isaac; in the end it spoils the testimony of a faith life. Jacob has made his contacts with the other system and before ever he can come to Bethel and bring in the testimony to the House of God he has to see to his family; "Put away the strange gods that are among you." But what are strange gods doing in the house of Jacob? Yes, the Devil is there all the time, very often.

Joseph! Perhaps a happier situation, but the Devil tried it in the house of Potiphar's wife. Yes, the Devil knew that he, as a type, was coming to the throne, was a marked man, and the Devil laid a trap for him and sought to bring about that thing which would have forever wrecked his testimony and set him at variance with heaven, robbed him of heaven's upholding. It is there, you see, the sinister hand. Moses - the same thing. Israel coming in relation to the heavenlies - Achan; one link with the other system to pull all Israel right out of their heavenly position. So with Israel's history from then onward. Balaam may not curse, but he ensnares, all with this purpose of getting a contact between the heavenly people and a system from which they had been cut off by the Lord, in order to rob them of their testimony and spoil them as a vessel. That is the type through and through.

Come into the New Testament; spiritually that holds good, and the one thing the Lord puts right at the commencement, which He seeks to bring us to recognise, which He labours in our experience, and seeks continuously to drive home to us, is that the very commencement of our relationship to the heavenlies as a vessel of the testimony of Jesus pre-supposes that we have left a history behind, closed; the history of the old creation, the "old man." That nature is set aside, the natural man is put out, whether he be a good natural man, as men would call him, or a bad natural man; a religious natural man or an irreligious natural man.

Disastrous Contradiction

Now beloved, you cannot (I doubt whether you can) measure and catch the importance of that principle as to spiritual ministry, but we are all going to be made more and more aware of how vital a principle that is. I have known men who have taken up this teaching and have become authorities on the teaching of the Victory of Calvary over the powers of darkness, the kingdom of Satan, over the Devil and the whole matter of our authority in Christ; yes, gone in for it and always talking about it, and I have known those men to be smashed, broken, and thrown completely out of the thing so that the place where their words were spoken will not have it any more. It was not borne out, the Devil is triumphant, and it is quite clear there that the Devil has triumphed, and the men themselves are out of it in defeat, and what is being said is: "That principle does not work, look!" And look deeper, I have known that in the Churches where those men were responsible heads under God there were concerts and worldly amusements, bazaars, and such like, and they, rather than make the great sacrifice, because of human considerations, and a price to be paid, would not take a stand fully and finally in regard to those things. What happened? Those things were gangways of the Devil across which he came and smashed them and their testimony and brought shame and reproach upon the Word of God. We use living examples not for one moment to judge others. It is the enforcement of the principle. If this vessel is going to carry through to the end and stand in victory, and the testimony is going to be established, and it is going to be proved that in His Cross the Lord Jesus won a cosmic victory which He will put into a vessel as its testimony, that vessel must be so wholly and utterly cut off in every direction from that system against which Calvary stands or else that vessel will be smashed, will be broken, will be defeated. There has got to be a closure of a history, and Saul of Tarsus represents that first stage of the vessel - one history closed. That is where you come to in Ephesians 2. When you come out of chapter one, and the eternities of the counsels of God and the foreordinations and the will of God from eternity, and you come into time, you find the state to be: "dead in trespasses and sins." That is Ephesians 2. And that is a history, a spiritual state, a spiritual history, and that history has got to be left behind you. He quickened you; dead, but made alive. That is the beginning of the positive side of the testimony of the vessel, but there has to be a closing of one history.

There is so much more that one ought to say in that connection, but we can take the fact, the principle itself and see that it does mean that inwardly and outwardly we have to have no voluntary relationship with that whole system which is enclosed within the principalities and powers and world rulers of this darkness and spiritual hosts of wickedness; that we have no voluntary relationship with it at any point. We must be crucified to the world, and crucified as men to the flesh, and thus must any ground of Satanic activity be taken away from him so that he has nothing which is his essential occasion for bringing about an arrest in the testimony. That is essentially the meaning of our being in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus. "They are not of the world."

May the Lord bring this home to us and apply it in the way in which it needs to be applied to us individually and respectively, and give us grace that we will not allow any kind of association with that which gives the enemy the occasion for destroying the testimony and putting the vessel out of action. May our life continually be wholly hid with Christ in God.


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