Rivers of Living Water
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - The River and the Throne

"I saw visions of God" (Ezekiel 1:1).

"Out of the midst... came the likeness of four living ones. And this was their appearance; they had the likeness of a man. And every one had four faces, and every one of them had four wings. And their feet were straight feet; and the sole of their feet was like the sole of a calf's foot: and they sparkled like... burnished brass. And they had the hands of a man under their wings on their four sides: and they four had their faces and their wings thus..." (1:5-8).

"Now as I beheld the living ones, behold one wheel upon the earth beside the living ones, for each of the four faces thereof. The appearance of the wheels and their work was like unto... a beryl: and they four had one likeness: and their appearance and their work was as it were a wheel within a wheel. When they went, they went upon their four sides: they turned not when they went. As for their rings, they were high and dreadful: and they four had their rings full of eyes round about. And when the living ones went, the wheels went beside them: and when the living ones were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went; thither was the spirit to go" (1:15-20).

"And above the firmament that was over their heads was the likeness of a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone: and upon the likeness of the throne was a likeness as the appearance of a man upon it above" (1:26).

"And he brought me back unto the door of the house; and behold, waters issued out from under the threshold of the house eastward" (47:1).

We come now to consider the connection of this "river of water of life" with the throne, and with this symbolic medium - the cherubim, the wheels - of the administration of the throne, and with the Man upon it. We have seen the counterpart of this in the New Testament: Jesus raised and set 'far above all rule, and authority, principality and power, and every name, not only in this age, but in that which is to come' (Eph. 1:20,21); and then, out from Him, the exalted Lord, in the day of His exaltation and glorifying - the day of Pentecost - the river flowing right out, by way of and through the House, the Church, unto the nations. Now, coming to this river in its relationship to the throne and what I am calling this symbolic medium of the throne's administration - living ones, wheels, firmament, the spirit of life, flashing light and power - we need to be able to grasp clearly what this has to say to us in our time.

The State of the Church Affects the Whole Creation

The book of the Revelation, which contains so much that is akin to what is in the prophecies of Ezekiel, throws some light on this matter. The Revelation, as we know, was written especially in relation to the spiritual departure and declension of the Church - for everything is bound up with the Church, even the nations and the kingdom of Satan. These have a large place in that book, but God begins with the Church, represented in the churches, and ends with the Church, represented in the heavenly Jerusalem; and all that comes between is related to the Church. That book, then, was written because of the declension and departure of the Church from its original position, and it constitutes one tremendous argument that everything depends on the spiritual state of the Church.

That throws light upon this book of Ezekiel, because it was written for the very same purpose. Historically, it is related to the departure, the declension of Israel; it was a clear emphasis upon this very same thing. The nations are affected and involved; all kingdoms are bound up with this. What happens to this people has an effect upon all other peoples. This creation is a collective whole, and what God has set at the centre of it - His own people - is something that matters to the whole creation. Paul makes that very clear and emphatic, when he says: "the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain..." - waiting for what? - "for the revealing of the sons of God" (Rom. 8:22,19). The whole creation is involved in this central thing: God's interest in His own people, God's purpose concerning His own people. The people of God are not only central to the Lord's interests, but they affect everything else. The Devil knows that, and we ought to be alive to it. How necessary it is, then, that the Lord should have His people in a right condition, as He intended they should be. It is not possible to exaggerate or over-emphasize the importance of the Church's being in a right condition.

The river of water of life - which, as we have seen from John's comment, is nothing other than the Holy Spirit Himself expressed in fulness - the river of the water of life is, in the first place, related to the people of God, the Church, the House of God, and then through them to the nations. The Bible makes that perfectly clear in the beginning, in the book of Genesis: the river running out of the garden in Genesis 2:10 is here in Ezekiel 47. All the land is affected by the river. And in the end, in the book of the Revelation, it is like that. The river runs out, giving life to the tree, and "the leaves of the tree" are "for the healing of the nations" (Rev. 22:2). You see, what is inward with the people of God is intended to be available to give character to what is in this world. The Lord's thought is that His people should first of all receive abundantly from Him by the Holy Spirit, and receive so abundantly that they have rivers flowing out from themselves. Of course, the receiving side is a most important one. "If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink;" and then, when he has filled himself, "out of him shall flow rivers of living water." I shall not dwell upon that just now - it will come up again; but this is God's thought and God's provision.

The Cherubim

Coming now to this that I have called 'the medium of the exercise of the throne' and the flow of the river of life, or the fulness of the Spirit, there are some simple but very important things to note. But first, just a word or two concerning the beings known as the Cherubim. They are mentioned in a full way in the Bible no fewer than eight times, and many more times just by reference. In Genesis they are without the garden, guarding the way; they are outside. In Exodus they are abiding inside the sanctuary, at rest; no longer outside, but inside. This carries its own significance, I think, as we may see in a later chapter. In the book of Kings they stand and wait: they are waiting for the king. In Isaiah (ch. 6) they burn and fly. In the book of the Revelation (ch. 4) they sing and worship. In Ezekiel, where they are twice mentioned fully, in chapter 1 and chapter 10, they see and they run - vision and action - taking in the whole situation, and doing something about it. And note that their energy is the energy of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit is in them - the 'spirit of the living ones'; and the Spirit is "in the wheels" - the active power and energy is that of the Spirit, all-seeing, and all-active in relation to what is seen.

The Counsel of God in Operation

Now I am not going to say what the Cherubim are. All sorts of interpretations have been given. The last, I think, and fullest, is that they are symbolic of the Church. I am not even going to say that. But, whatever they are, they are in any case the embodiment of the principles of the throne - the Man in the throne in the exercise of His eternal purpose. Paul sums this all up for us, I think, in one statement: "Who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will" (Eph. 1:11). It is the counsel of God in operation. We should be satisfied with the recognition of that. And what a mighty thing it is! Look at all the features here in this first chapter of Ezekiel's prophecy - the features of action, of livingness. It is abundant life, it is rushing winds, it is noisy wheels, it is many eyes, it is running feet, it is the unturning, undeviating persistence of a straightforward going, it is flashing lightning, it is burning coal, it is clouds and whirlwinds - it is ceaseless action. And what does it all mean? It means tremendous energy. "Who worketh" - and that word 'worketh' is the Greek verb energeo, from which we get our word 'energy' - "who energizeth all things after the counsel of his own will". And through Paul we are given clearly to understand that that is now, in this dispensation.

I believe that amongst the many things we need to recover is this one: we need to recover an assurance and confidence and conviction that, however things may seem, God is like this in our day; that, through all things, over all things, behind all things, God is pursuing His counsels - He is going on. Ceaseless in action, undeviating in course, with tremendous energy, He is working all things after the counsel of His own will. Sometimes, as we look out, we wonder if God is doing anything, and in our prayer times we try to get God to do something. What we need is to realise that God is doing, and to get into line with His doings. Perhaps He is not doing what we want Him to do, or what we think He ought to do, and in the way in which we think He ought to do it; He is not employing the means that we think He ought to employ - our bit of means, our bit of work. He may not just be coming that way, but He is pursuing His purpose, relentlessly, persistently, undeviatingly; and the need for the people of God is to be brought right into the straight course of His goings from eternity.

For He is going, and He is going in our day; it can be seen - more or less - in the world. But, seen or not seen, the fact remains - or our Bible is not right, and Paul was mistaken! And I am glad always to recognize this: that when Paul stopped travelling about the world and had all his tremendous activities among the nations curtailed, it was then that he saw the goings of God from eternity, it was then that he wrote this letter to the Ephesians, containing the eternal counsels of God. It is a wonderful thing, is it not? When we are taken out of our work, when we cannot run about and do all sorts of things, when we are perhaps physically unable to do anything, God is going on. Sometimes we think that, when we stop, God has to stop, and if we do not go, well, God will not be able to go! Oh, no, He is going on -  He is going on! May we be helped to understand His goings, and to get into His goings.

Now, that is what is here in Ezekiel. You have first of all the medium: four living ones - four aspects. Four is always the number of what is universal. You have the four winds, you have the four points of the compass, you have the four seasons of the year. Everything that relates to what is universal is four. At the end of the Bible we read that the city is foursquare, and on the four sides the gates are open - that is universality of administration, universality of benefit and value. Four is what is universal. God is moving - but not on our smug scale; He is not going to be tied down to our little corner, to be shut up to our little box. God has great universal interests at heart, and we need to be very much enlarged.

Then the predominant factor is this: the Spirit. "And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went" (Ezek. 1:12). The Spirit is the predominant factor. He is governing all this.

Thirdly, we have the inclusive feature: man. There is the Man on the throne, and then there is the man-aspect of the Cherubim. You notice how this is stated: "they four had the face of a man" - semi-colon; and then the other likenesses added. One is that of the lion, another that of the ox, and another that of the eagle; but the face of the man is the dominant feature of this medium of the Divine counsels. It is concerning man, it is through man, it is with the man-conception of God in view. It is a Man who is on the throne. Yes, very God; but remember, God has glorified a Man, which was ever His intention when He made man. He has got Him there, in glory, and now His counsels are to bring men into conformity with the image of that Man. All that is happening here is the activity of God to get a corporate and collective man, corresponding to the Man who is glorified.

How much there is in that! Your life and mine - and the energies of God! This is God energetic in our lives, if only in patience. What tremendous energy there is behind the patience of God with us! We should not be able to go on for a day, had not His patience tremendous energy behind it. Thank God, dear friends - and let us draw all the comfort that there is to be drawn from these truths and realities - God is going straight on where we are concerned. I do thank God for that! Many is the time that I have turned aside, got out of the way; I have sought out my juniper trees and flung myself down under them and said, 'It is enough, O Lord, take away my life - it is no good.' Many times we have got like that, out of the way, off the path; we have thrown ourselves down, lost heart, because of what we have found in ourselves, or the difficulties in others, or in the way, or disappointments. And yet, to date, as many times as we have got there, we have come back; somehow or other - not by our own resolve or energy - we have got on our feet, or been put on our feet, and we have gone on for a while longer. It just means this: that God is not giving up, God is going on! My brother, if you are down in despair and disheartenment today, that is you - that is not God. God is going on. Believe it, get hold of it: God is going right on, He has not given up yet!

Let us believe this and lay right hold of it. It is like the old cable, you know, upon which the street cars used to run in Glasgow. We had there what was called the 'Subway' - a noisy, rackety old thing - and there was this winding cable that went round the city, and the old cars or trams put down a clutch and got hold of it, and on they went. When they let go they stopped, and when they took hold again, on they went and did the whole circuit. It was just a matter of how long they kept hold. The cable was going, all right, always going, perpetually in motion, but it was a matter of holding on.

God is like that. That is the picture here. God is going on. And He is going straight on, relentlessly, un-deviatingly. Get hold! Now the trouble was that Israel had let go. Israel had let go of God, and was left behind. If we have lost hope, if we have lost heart, may the Lord help us today in faith to rise up and lay hold again. Thank God, He has given us of His Spirit! We can lay hold on the Spirit, and lay hold on life. Is that not perhaps exactly what Paul meant when he said: "Lay hold on eternal life" (1 Tim. 6:12)? That life is going on. Here is life, fulness of life, embodied or represented in these Cherubim - and it is going on. If you prefer the metaphor of the river - dive in and let it take you! "Lay hold on eternal life."

The Four Aspects of the Cherubim

We turn now to the fourfold expression of the Spirit - the essentials of the Divine purpose and the Divine counsel.

First, the lion aspect of the medium of God's activity. Amongst other things which it may say, it certainly means this: spiritual government and authority. That wise man, Solomon, said about the lion that he "turned not away for any" (Prov. 30:30). The lion has never been known to turn round and flee. If he starts, nothing but death will stop him. The going of the Spirit is like that. Whether you and I go on or not, it will make no difference to the going of the Spirit. He has the eternal counsels of God to execute and to perfect, and He is going on to that end - He is going to do it. And here the sovereign government and authority of the Spirit in the counsels of God and in the Church is essential. There must be this heavenly government, this heavenly authority, by the Holy Spirit. Everything must come under Him. That is a statement which ought to be enlarged upon very considerably. But we can see how true that was at the beginning, from the day of Pentecost onward, for some time. The lion aspect of the Spirit came in to go on - and what government, what authority was found expressed in the Church by the Holy Spirit! It goes ill with anyone who gets in the way of the Holy Spirit.

Then, the aspect of the ox. This is certainly, amongst other things, the element or feature of strength, of energy. You will recall that in the temple Solomon made a laver to contain 16,000 gallons of water - a considerable weight. What was chosen to bear that up? Twelve oxen, the symbol of strength. I am not dwelling upon the function of the laver or of the oxen in that connection, but simply upon the fact that they set forth a feature of strength, of energy, to bear responsibility, to carry burdens, to effect purposes. And here is the strength, the energy, the power of the Holy Spirit to effect the purposes of God. "Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, saith the Lord of hosts" (Zech. 4:6). That is almost invidious, is it not? The margin says: "not by an army". An army is man's idea of power, the world's conception of might. But God says, 'No, by my Spirit' - superior to any army, and to all the armies together, in energy, in strength, in power. It must be by the power of the Holy Spirit. Let us seek earnestly that the Lord, the Spirit, may express Himself in greater fulness, as a river of power.

And then, the man aspect. This - again amongst other things - signifies intelligence and understanding. Amongst all created beings, man is really the only one who has this kind of understanding and intelligence. Of course, sometimes we think that some animals have better sense than men! - but in the highest sense man is, or at least was intended to be, the intelligent creature amongst God's creation. Intelligence of understanding is related to manhood. And the Holy Spirit desires to give to you and me, and to the Church generally, His own Spirit of understanding, intelligence and knowledge. How important that is! If the Holy Spirit is going to effect the purposes of God, and if we are to know the Holy Spirit in this fulness as represented by rivers of living water, it is very important, indeed essential, that we have spiritual understanding as to what the purposes of God are. Yes, the Spirit requires that we have intelligence as to what He is really after. A very great deal of strength is being wasted, and much energy expended to no real purpose, in many things that are being done, because they are not directly in line with and on the course of the Spirit's essential purpose. It is no use our just thinking out, planning, and trying to do things for God, according to our own judgment and reason. We have to know what the Spirit is doing - really what He is doing. And so we must have intelligence and understanding in the mind and the ways of the Spirit.

And finally, the eagle aspect - what is it? Amongst a number of other things, it undoubtedly means absolute freedom of movement. If you have ever seen an eagle in flight, on the wing, the impression that it has made upon you has been that it is just free. It seems as if the whole universe is at its command: perfect detachment from any kind of limitation and restraint. The Holy Spirit demands that! If we say the Holy Spirit must come this way, and do this thing, and in this manner, we cramp Him and confine Him. The Holy Spirit will ignore us. Peter tried to do that with the Holy Spirit over Cornelius and his household, but the Holy Spirit was not having any of it at all. He beat Peter down to this: 'Recognize this, Peter: I am sovereign - I demand absolute freedom of movement. I am not coming along the line of your interpretations and restrictions and traditions. You come off the earth into the heavens, with Me, and we will move freely.' And did he not? The absolute sovereignty of the Holy Spirit is essential to the fulness of His expression and to the fulness of His life. He demands liberty to move as He will and not according to our ideas and our interests. The absolute sovereignty of the Holy Spirit is basic to the fulness of life.

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