Reading: Psalm 68:24; Ezek. 1:9,12,17,19,20,21,24.
We are occupied with a comprehensive outline of the Divine unveiling. God has given us in the Scriptures a revelation of His mind from eternity to eternity working itself out through the ages, and in our previous meditation we were thinking about that phrase in Eph. 3:11 (margin) - "the purpose of the ages".
Now to begin with, we will say a little about the goings of God in relation to the purpose, and when we come to consider the goings of God, we find ourselves in the presence of that which is absolutely undeviating as to its direction and its object. Those fragments in the first chapter of Ezekiel's prophecies stress that factor very much. These wheels go straight forward; they do not turn as they go. It is a going. You are tremendously impressed as you read that chapter, with a going. There is something going, going, going. It is tremendous, this going.
It is undeviating, so far as the object is concerned. As to the goal, there is no deflecting, there is no turning. It is all the time pressing towards the goal, on towards the mark.
Perpetual in Mind
So far as the goings are concerned, these goings are perpetual in mind. I know that in the chapter there is a point at which it looks as though there is a stop. "When they stood, they let down their wings." It is just a point much less than the goings. The goings are referred to continuously, but there is an intimation that there is a pause at times. But what I want to indicate is this, that though there may be a pause for a reason at times (and we shall touch upon that in a moment) in the mind of God His goings are unceasing. There really is no pause in the Divine goings in relation to that purpose. That is, God does not rest, God does not stop, God does not allow Himself to be held up - there is nothing that can stay Him. There may be many things in the way to obstruct and oppose, but God does not skirt around them. He will go through them. God is going on. There is never a time in the history of this world when God has ceased to be active in relation to His object, when He has stopped. In His mind, He is going on. However it may be here for specific objects, nevertheless, God has not given up and God has not come up against something that holds Him up, and God has not taken a rest and said, 'It does not matter just now, we will give it a rest, we will suspend operations for a time.' No, He is going on all the time.
I do not know how that impresses you, but it is a very important thing. We started our previous meditation by pointing out what a rock it is for our feet to know, to be assured, that God is working to a purpose and in His sovereignty governing everything in relation to a purpose, and we are called according to that purpose. It is a tremendous strength to know that that is why things are not just drifting willy-nilly. There is nothing like that of indefiniteness in our relationship with God. There is something quite clearly defined, outlined and fixed in the eternal counsels of God, and as Paul says, "who worketh all things after the counsel of His will" (Eph. 1:11). "The counsel of His will". The will, if you look at the context, is immediately connected with the eternal purpose. Surrounding that fragment, this idea, this conception and this statement as to eternal purpose is mentioned several times, then His will and then, He "worketh all things after the counsel of His will". Not the councils of His will. The councils took place before times eternal, but now His will is dictating His course, counselling Him. His will counsels that this and that shall be done, this course shall be followed, that this is necessary. His will counsels it, and He works according to the counsel of His will, counselled by His will, by His purpose. It is tremendously strong, very rich. Here is God with a fixed purpose which is His eternal will, and that will dictates all God's activities in relation to all things. He works all things by the dictation of His will, or His intention, or His purpose. What a strength that is once it becomes a part of us - not of our philosophy of life or of Christianity, not just our theory, but when it really becomes a part of our constitution. This is a thing which to us is like a surely gripping anchor. God is working all things in relation to a definite purpose, and the immediate and most direct application of that fact is to them that love Him. Well, He is getting on with it. The goings of God are in that connection and that direction, and therefore in the mind of God His goings are perpetual and unceasing.
Periodic in Meaning
But then there is that which looks like a contradiction of that. They are periodic in meaning. You do not understand that till I explain what I mean.
From time to time God's goings become applied to new situations, new demands, new conditions, and you find that at certain times God is moving His going in one way or another. He varies at times His goings, and you find in the history of the ages periods marked off in which the goings of God took this form or that form. They pause for this particular occasion. At the moment they are found dwelling upon this particular object, in relation to this particular situation, what we have before called "Divine reactions". That is, God reacting to a situation which has arisen, and those reactions of God are clearly seen as time-marks in the ages when there is a deviation on the part of His people from the straight course of the Divine goings. Those goings, in a sense, stay to come upon that situation with a mighty reaction.
You see it in the history of the church, the church from time to time has deviated on various matters, left the main thoroughfare of those goings of God, and certain particular weaknesses have come in, certain marked losses have taken place and God has reacted to that situation at that particular time. God has stayed, to use human language, to recover that - and so we find specific movements of God at specific times because of specific digressions, and it is as though the wings were let down. And always remember that when God goes He is lifted up from the earth; God's goings are never merely earthbound, they are related to heaven. An earth-touch, as we have often said, is a deadly thing. You get the church touching the earth and you see its arrest. It is related to the earth, but it is something between, Psalm 68 brings that very fact in. The goings of God in Psalm 68 are marked at one point from Sinai to Zion and if you look closely, you will see that that is not just an earthly movement as in Israel, you will see there is a spiritual side. It is from what is earthly to the heavenly. Sinai is always earthly, the Jerusalem which is below. In Galatians Paul links with Sinai, the Jerusalem which is above, which is Zion. It is an upward movement from Sinai to Zion. God is moving from the earthly to the heavenly.
It is at times as though God says, 'We must stay a moment. My people have got out of the direct way of My goings, we must deal with this; they have lost something, they have lost the glorious hope, that blessed hope; they have lost the anticipation of the coming again of the Lord Jesus.' There was a time when the church lost that, and losing that, well, how can the Lord go on? And so He had to pause to put that right, and there was a mighty reaction of God. You find a period marked when the Lord was everywhere making His servants speak about the coming again. It was a time note of God. They lost the glorious revelation of the church which is His Body, it came down to be an earthly institution. The Lord paused and reacted to that and brought back the great revelation of the church, the Body. So you can see it in various connections. Yes, even in evangelism; the Wesleys were a mighty movement of God to pause, to recover something which had been lost. The goings of God are like that - periodic in meaning, while perpetual in mind. He is always of a mind to go on, in His mind He is going on, but at times He has to pause, and while that is a statement of truth, of something interesting, it is something that we must be very much alive to. God has not reached the end yet, 'the Lord has yet more light and truth' and a great deal more 'to break forth from His Word', and we must not box the compass of revelation and think we have it all. God is yet going on, however much He may have given, however much we may have received. It may be that you feel that you have as much as you can cope with, yet God is going on. There is a lot more yet. There will be a new crisis leading to something further in the goings of God.
Let us always seek to be so much under the government of the sovereignty of God that we shall be found in the timings of God, at the points of God, in the particular emphasis of God for this time, and today perhaps the most outstanding tragedy of the whole church is this: that men do not know what to say to the times. There is no message for the times, there is no voice anywhere today in the church speaking to the time. It has no distinctive message for today. It has its general message, quite right and true, but it does not say with a prophetic voice what God would say to this hour.
The church is somewhere a long way behind the goings of God. If the church were abreast of the goings of God, it would have a message for every hour, for every new stage. Today in this terrible situation in the world, the church would have something to say to it, to the nation and the nations and to its own. May it not be that the Lord even now is pausing to recover? Is there not a sense in the heart of so many of the servants of God that God must do some new thing, God must speak anew somehow, God must come in in an altogether new way? Yes, that sense is true, is right, but then the trouble is that the church does not get down before God to get from Him what He wants to say. And may it not be so true that all too few have an ear to hear what the Spirit says to the churches?
God speaks and acts periodically to meet specific situations and needs. If we do not hear, there is going to be a great deal of loss. Whereas the mass of His people have no ear, are not ready to hear the immediate present-hour speaking of the Spirit, the Lord would speak right inside the mass and find him that hath an ear, and him, and him, and make them the nucleus of His reaction to the present situation. The reaction must rise from within the company of the Lord's people. Ah yes, and there is a remnant of the remnant in Malachi, the whole remnant that came back has now deviated again and it is of the remnant that the Lord has to say, "Ye are cursed with a curse" (Mal. 3:9).
It is a terrible thing to think that it was a remnant who got to that condition in Malachi. Then the remnant has a remnant within the remnant. "They that feared the Lord spake one with another; and the Lord hearkened, and heard, and a book of remembrance was written before Him, for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon His name" (Mal. 3:16). They were the instrument of the Divine reaction to the more general situation.
And so it often happens that the Lord has to pause until He has a nucleus. He may work on the main circumference and nothing happens, no ear to hear; He may come more inward, still there is not that sensitiveness necessary, but He finds some. The challenge comes at this particular period or point in the goings of God when He would say something so needed by His people. Are we giving Him an ear, are we alive to God? His goings are bound up with those who are going with Him. He is not going on alone, He is not going on without what is necessary to Him, and all the way through He has moved to get someone to go with Him, or some nucleus to go with Him; an Abraham to go with Him in His eternal goings; a nation, Israel, and then out of a nation - Psalm 68 provides it all. If I were to stay with Psalm 68 alone, I would get all I am saying to you, "There is little Benjamin" (v. 27) - an elect out of the elect. The whole nation is brought down to little Benjamin and some of Judah marked out as distinct from all the rest in the goings of God. It is like that. It is not that these, the few, are more elect than anyone else, but that they are of the elect thought, the elect mind, they are approximating to the thought of the election, they have embodied the purpose of election. It is not just election in itself, and so they represent what all the elect ought to be. No, but God tarries to get a company to really go on with Him and He makes that company the example of His purpose, the example to all others of His purpose. That is what I mean by the periodic movement of God as to meaning, to meet specific demand for a new situation.
Then again in this Ezekiel chapter I seem to be contradicted when it is noted that there are wheels within wheels, and when they turned, these turned. Here you have a turn without a deviation. We have taken hold of that phrase - "a wheel within a wheel" - and made it to mean something that is inside something else; something is presented to you, but there is something that is not presented to you - it is something inside, it is wheels within wheels. But that is not what is meant in Ezekiel. There is a wheel and inside that wheel another at right angles to it, so that in these goings it has not to swing round, change its course; it can just come that way. It is straightforward without a curve all the time. God in His eternal goings does not go on an uneven course, and He does not have to curve round for some purpose. Whichever way He goes, it is straightforward. Of course, Ezekiel's prophecies are themselves an illustration of that. The goings of God were straightforward with Israel, but then Israel failed Him. It is a terrible picture here of Israel's delinquency, failure, apostasy, so there is Chaldea up there to the North. Suppose God's goings with Israel are from West to East and that is the way He would go with Israel, but Israel does not go on with Him, so He has to commit Israel into the hands of the Chaldeans there in the North, so the wheels can turn this way and get His purpose through Chaldea to bring Israel again right into the land. It is not deviation; it is straightforward in object all the time. The object is always in one direction.
Particular in Application
The goings of God are particular in application. That is, His goings will be governed by the situation which arises. His object will still be in view, but He will make this particular application of His goings as the situation arises. I think I can help you to grasp that because we have an example here in our very present method or way of speaking. There are times when it is important that, in His eternal goings, the Lord should be placing great and repeated emphasis upon objective truth, or upon the subjective side of things. Where the Lord has to deal with the inner life of His people, the need for the application of great truths like the Cross to the natural life arises. He is seeking to bring that home, the necessity for the meaning of the Cross in the setting aside of the life of nature, in the ruling out of the self-life and dealing perhaps with sins in the life, or the tendencies and the strains within the Lord's people, and the Lord sets His emphasis upon the subjective side of things. You can have too much of that and it can become infinitely dangerous, turning yourself in upon yourself all the time with this awful introspection which leads to neurosis and nervous breakdowns; the false application of truth. Then there comes a time when God sees that that is becoming dangerous and so He takes up the opposite line and for a time He is laying stress upon the objective to restore the balance or to preserve the balance. His purpose is to bring us first of all from the earthly into the heavenly, and then to deliver us from the over-emphasis upon the personal and the subjective into the great reality and universal and heavenly, the objective.
The Lord is specific in His goings from time to time. In the application of His goings He is particular at different times. If we are walking with the Lord, if we are in the life of the Spirit (Ezek. 1), we will know when the Lord says, 'Enough of that emphasis, enough of your occupation with that. You are getting into dangerous realms; you will do yourself a lot of harm even with the truth, if you force it.' Truth can do you harm if you become obsessed with a particular emphasis. If you are always taken up with your wretched self which has to be crucified, it will do you harm. If we are walking in the Spirit, we shall know. The Lord will say, 'That is enough, come out into something bigger beyond yourself'; and so we are saved by the next particular emphasis and application of the goings of God.
It is very important to know and recognise that. Oh, listen: you can never really have an adequate motive for dealing with the personal life and the sins in the personal life if you are dealing with them as things in themselves. If you are just occupied with the thing because it is something wrong, you have not an adequate motive for dealing with it. If you come back to all these things from the standpoint of tremendous and glorious purpose, you will see God has called us to something very great. He has given us a great revelation, a great vision of a great purpose, and that is what is in view. Then surely the emphasis upon the things that have to be cleared up has something behind it which is far more saving than if you just had to deal with these things in themselves, as things by themselves. What is the real motive? Suppose the Lord had given you a great ministry in relation to His vast purposes of grace, do you not feel that the safeguarding of that ministry and all that it means to so many others would be a far stronger motive for dealing with wrong things in your life than if you did not have that and you were only left with your wrong things? You only get an adequate motive for dealing with wrong things when you see how they are related to something very much greater.
And so His applications are particular. He, so to speak, goes there in His goings to the one end, and He goes there, but it is all with the one end in view; the wheels can just take Him straightforward. It is an impossible thing really to explain and define what is being said here, that God is always going straightforward, but He has so constituted His goings that even if He has to go this way or that which looks like being off the main road, it is not that God has to make circuits. I say that because God has anticipated everything; He is never taken unawares.
Whatever God has to pause for or seem to turn aside for, His goings are always straightforward. That is, He has always one object in view, and if He pauses or turns aside, it is to bring back. That is the earthly aspect of it, but the heavenly is that it is always straight on.
But remember that these periodic meanings and these particular applications have to do with things which arise - specific interests, either in the history of the church as it deviates from the main road or in the emphasis within the church as to the truth for the hour, the need for the moment. His goings include all that, they cover all that, they are all in the goings of God. There is always the persistence of God towards His object. His goings are undeviating in their ultimate direction and object. He is always going in His mind - never tarrying, never being arrested - yet at certain given times giving meaning to His goings of a particular character, dealing with situations which arise with a particular emphasis to meet that situation.
This is not all objective; we can discern this in our own spiritual history. What is true of the whole must be true of the individual. How do we look at our spiritual history? Surely like this. We came at some time into a sense that there was a purpose for which we had been called. We were not just called to be Christians, but there is something there, some real purpose in it. We may never have been able to define that purpose, but we have a sense of purpose. Now we live for something, now there is a meaning in life. Something in our hearts has gripped us as an objective for which we have a being at all. Then from that time, if we have walked with the Lord, we have noticed how the Lord has brought us into touch with this which has just met our need up to that point, or into touch with this which disillusioned us and made us very conscious of something needed to meet that inner sense, for the Lord works in all sorts of ways. Sometimes we have been led from this to that just to make us heartily sick of the whole thing and to bring us back and say, 'Lord, that does not meet my need and I must know from You exactly how that need is to be met, how the purpose that You have planted in my heart is to be reached. You bring me into touch with that which will meet and minister to that central essential thing of my calling.' So the Lord does move in so many ways. We come as far as that period. We feel we have all the Lord could ever give anybody. The Lord could not show us any more than this, it is so wonderful. Then the whole thing comes to a point where - no, this is not all, and that ceases to be all that it has been; that is, it ceases to fill the whole of our need, our need has grown.
Is that the story of your bookshelves? Years ago in your Christian life you bought and read certain books, and you thought they were wonderful. Go to your bookshelf and look at them now and you find there is nothing to bite on, nothing there. God has gone on, and gone on in you.
Oh, if there were the goings with God as well as the goings of God we should always be moving, moving ever into greater fulnesses. Oh, never come to the place where you feel you know it all, you have reached all. Ask the Lord to save you from that at any cost, to keep you in His goings. So many who have been so greatly used of God have just become settled, stagnant, fixed; they have their limits. Oh, God does not want that. May He keep us ever alive to Him in the goings so that it is ever greater fulnesses of Himself, for the end is the fulness of Christ.