by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Hebrews 1:1-2; 2:5-11; 3:1; 12:28.
There are several matters of very great significance which have to be taken into consideration by those who would be one with the fullest thoughts of God, and it is concerning those matters that we shall be occupied for a little while at this time.
1) The Eternal Counsels and Purposes Greater than an Unfallen Innocent Humanity
The first is this, that the eternal counsels and purposes of God are greater than an innocent race of unfallen created humanity. Ephesians 1:5 goes a long way beyond Genesis 1 to 3: “Having foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto himself”. That precedes creation and that governs creation, and that goes a long way beyond a created race just in an unfallen state. Adam’s was only a probationary position. If he had been faithful he would not have remained just an unfallen creature; there would have been something added. The way would have been left open for fuller intentions of God, and the test was not allowed just in order to leave him where he was. The test was allowed with a view to some addition, some increase, some progress, some development, some enlargement, some advance. God had something more in view than just having an innocent humanity in an unfallen state. So that his innocence was only probationary, and, in the probation, the testing, was a view to something more.
a) The purpose of God in eternity concerns His Son
The purpose of God was from eternity concerning His Son. There are two things there. It is not something which has come in at a later point; it precedes what we understand by time, it precedes this creation, this history; it is something which arose before the foundation of the world, and the purpose before times eternal was concerning His Son. That takes it back before Adam. That gives it a very much larger significance than the creation itself. It is from eternity and therefore it is not just bound up with unfallen Adam, it is bound up with God’s Son.
The Lord Jesus did not come in just as a rescuer of man and of man’s lot. We should almost be led to believe by certain emphases that redemption is the greatest thing in the universe, and that all God’s interest is in redemption, and that we should be occupied solely with redemption. Redemption is a great thing. We can never, never exaggerate, and I doubt whether we shall ever know what a great thing redemption is; and yet, great as redemption is in its scope, in its depth, in its cost, redemption is only incidental to the eternal purpose. Christ came in to time to rescue His own inheritance. In that, of course, man is rescued, but it is something very much bigger than that. It relates to the Son primarily, and until the Lord’s people get the right attitude, the right point of view, that is, that all things in God’s full and final concern are centred in God’s Son, they have not come into line with all God’s resource. While the direction is toward ourselves — redemption, sanctification, glorification, and so on — or toward anything less than the Son Himself, we have not got God’s dynamic for accomplishing His work, and therefore it becomes necessary, as the sufficient, the adequate basis of the Holy Spirit’s operation, that there should be a revelation of Jesus Christ in the heart, for it is in relation to Him and what God has purposed concerning Him that all the energies of God are released and made active.
b) The purpose of God in Christ is universal
Further, the relationship of God’s purpose in Christ is not merely to this world, it is universal. All things are in Him, through Him, by Him, unto Him created; things in heaven, things in earth, things under the earth, whether they be principalities or powers — all things. The purpose of God is a universal purpose in relation to His Son, and goes far beyond the bounds of this little world, important and difficult and problematic as it may be to us.
c) The church is brought into that purpose
The church is brought into that relationship, it is instrumental in the purpose of God to universal domination. You will at once find words of Scripture leaping into your mind which support and bear that out, such as “Now unto the principalities and powers in the heavenlies, by the church...”.
That is the first of these very significant matters to be taken into consideration by those who would be one with the fullest thoughts of God.
2) Redemption and Salvation Not Merely Related to Sin
The second of these matters for consideration is that redemption and salvation are not merely as to sin and a certain state in which man finds himself; but redemption and salvation relate to the eternal purpose, going back of sin, back of that state in which man is: hence you have the significance of all the New Testament writings, and that significance is something that is always with me as a tremendously impressive thing.
There is only one book in all the twenty-seven which speaks of and tells us about the preaching of the Gospel to the unsaved, and their response to that Gospel. I do not mean by that that the preaching of the Gospel to the unsaved falls into insignificance; that is not my point; but it is impressive that all the rest of the New Testament and quite a lot in that very book itself is brought to bear upon the saved, those who have believed, and it is a tremendous mass and weight dealing with believers, with Christians, with those who are the Lord’s.
This means in the very first instance that God can never be satisfied with just positional salvation. Positional salvation is this: something has been done for us by the Lord Jesus, altogether apart from us, on our behalf, and we take an attitude of faith towards Him and towards that, and by faith in what He is for us and has done for us we are accepted, we are saved. That is true; that is where we are positionally in Christ through faith, but the very logic of the New Testament is that God is never satisfied just with positional salvation. It is a great thing, and we shall constantly be compelled to fall back upon it, and it will often come to our rescue when we are being driven or lured or tempted to get on to certain dangerous ground where we try to find something in ourselves as a basis of acceptance, and so on. We shall have at once to go back to the great truth of positional salvation and positional sanctification, but the fact that all these letters are written to believers is proof positive that God is not satisfied with positional salvation alone.
Ah yes, but I am going to press that further, and if we listen to the undertone of the New Testament writings (Old Testament as well) we shall be brought to this conclusion: that God is not satisfied with just consistent Christian living. That is something more than positional salvation. There is positional salvation in the New Testament writings, and there is much about conditional salvation (using that word “conditional” in a certain sense); that is, not only the position but also the condition of believers. It is all there. But there is that deep undertone which shows that neither of these things, nor yet both of them, answer to God’s fullest thought. There is the urge, the constant urge of that undertone to go on, to go on, to go on to full growth; not just live a consistent, good Christian life, not just to live day by day without sin, without failure, and to have your life so ordered in conduct and behaviour and demeanour as becomes Christians. Yes, that should be, but there is something more: on to full growth, with an object, God’s purpose, God’s eternal purpose. Positional salvation does not bring to that necessarily, it is something on the way. A good Christian life does not bring to that necessarily, it is on the way. It is essential but on the way. There is an increase, a growth, an adding which means spiritual development to a certain measure which is bound up with God’s eternal purpose. Hence this constant exhorting, admonition, entreaty, warning, not that we should fall away from our salvation and lose it, and not only that we should fall away from our good spiritual position or condition, but that we should miss that which God has fixed for us as the purpose with which we are called, “the called according to His purpose”. Purpose governs everything.
3) Some Related Issues of the Church and the Eternal Purpose of God
We come to the third consideration. This presents us with the position that there must be quite a number of things.
a) One dominating and governing objective in all life and service
Not just to be saved, that is not good enough; and not just to get others saved, that is not good enough; not just to be good, or make others good, or help them to be good, that is not enough. In all life and service the eternal purpose, the full thought of God is to be dominant and governing. I underline, and doubly underline, that word “all”. We will explain that emphasis in a minute.
b) A positive relatedness in all life and service
The second thing with which we are presented by what we have been saying is a positive relatedness in all life and service, that nothing becomes a thing in itself, separated, detached, isolated, self-contained as to our spiritual interests and activities. Fulness is the basis, fulness is the means, and fulness is to be the outcome; nothing partial and nothing detached; everything has got to be brought into a oneness in the direction of God’s end, and has got to work on the basis of God’s end: that is fulness. We are never to be content with anything that is only fragmentary, and we are never to be content with anything that is something in itself.
Take, for instance, the matter of evangelism. Fulness ought to govern evangelism, just as fulness ought to govern the ministry of teaching. But how evangelism has been made something in itself, and something less! The attitude of mind of so many is that you do not need very much to be an evangelist, that anybody can be an evangelist; that you do not need very much spiritual knowledge, and understanding, and wealth and fulness to bring souls to a saving knowledge of Christ. All you have got to do is to get a man saved, and then turn him into an evangelist and send him out into the world! And then you say, evangelism that is something in itself! And so evangelism can just work in its own watertight way, and have no interest in anything else, and say, Well, of course, all this wonderful teaching does not interest me; that is not my realm! We have heard many talk like that. I do not find that in the New Testament.
Fulness is to be the basis of everything, and it is no waste of time for the one who has the greatest measure of Christ, and the fullest knowledge of the things of the Lord, to bring it to bear upon the salvation of a soul. The best and most far-reaching evangelism is that which has the whole purpose of God in view from the outset, and unless that is so you will get a very poor type of convert, who will not go very far, and will have to be nursed all the way along. Get God’s full thought into evangelism, and you can leave your converts and they will go on, and they will grow, and they will take responsibility, they will learn the Lord themselves.
Fulness is to be the basis, and fulness is to be the relating factor in all things, so that whatever we may be doing in the sovereign ordering of God, it is not something apart, a line of its own, our peculiar and detached work. If it is not related to the ultimate it will lack something, and it will fail proportionately. A positive relatedness in all life and service, so that fulness is the basis and fulness the means: that is, that everyone who is in the thoughts of God and in the work of God has as great a measure of fulness that it is possible for them to have, and you may not think that it is unnecessary for them to have fulness in order to do that work; and that fulness therefore is the outcome of everything. If ever any servant of God should say: For my job the greater fulness is unnecessary, it would be wasted, there would be no room for it, no place for it at all; then that servant of God has an entire misconception of his calling; they are on some line that may lead to nowhere. At best it will only lead just so far and stop. If we are going through, right through, without an arrest, without a stopping short, without a narrowing down, without a thinning out, we must be, from the outset, right in line and in union with God’s ultimate purpose in His full thought.
c) Divine fulness the purpose of God
Then again, divine fulness will be proportionate to the measure in which the purpose of God governs. Now, I am using the phrase “divine purpose” in just a slightly different sense. I mean the Lord committing Himself, the Lord giving of Himself, that fulness which is for us, which He desires us to have, that large measure of Himself given now into life and into service. That will be proportionate to the measure in which the purpose governs. Divine fulness is spiritual; therefore spirituality is the law which governs fulness; that is, it is just in so far as spirituality obtains that God gives of His fulness. God is limited by us. He is bound up so. He is curtailed by us, not by His own desire or will. He would give Himself altogether. He would give of His fulness in life and in service, but what limits Him is that which is not spiritual, and, of course, more positively, that which is unspiritual. God’s end is spiritual fulness. He is working to that end. Oneness with God in His end means a way that is wholly spiritual, and therefore God is governed by a law in His giving of Himself, in His pouring out of His resources, in His committing of Himself, and that law is the law of spirituality; and so His fulness is proportionate to the measure in which the ultimate purpose governs. If we have something less than the ultimate purpose in view, we have got some piece of work in which we are engaged that we want to be successful, we want it to be established, we want it to be known, we want it to grow; and in some way it is bound up with us and our activities, interests, and so forth, God cannot commit Himself to that. Only in so far as there may be a bit of spirituality within that will God be able to commit Himself, but not to that; to what is spiritual within, but not to that. He ignores that. He has no interest in that. If the setting up of something on this earth in time in any way governs our consideration, our activity, God is not in that. He is not giving Himself to that, that is not according to the eternal purpose. In this dispensation God is doing nothing in relation to this earth; He is doing all in relation to heaven, taking out for the heavenly. If we are seeking to set up and to keep going something on this earth, God is not in it. It is just in so far as there is a measure of spirituality somewhere that God in any way takes account of it. If our methods, our means are other than wholly spiritual, God is not in it, and therefore the fulness of God is not there, it is limited.
That explains why so much that is man-propelled, man-ordered, goes such a little way, although the world may be full of it. Think of the disparity between the number of Christians and those who might go by the name of apostles in the world today and in the time of the book of the Acts, concerning which the book of the Acts was written, and the difference in effectiveness, in power, in fruitfulness. If in those days, concerning which that book was written, they had had as many Christian workers then, on the basis of those who lived then, we should have been in the millennium long ago, the work would have been done. And yet today with countless more agents at work for the Gospel and agencies, the one cry is “Limitation”! Limitation, limitation, defeat, weakness, getting just so far and the fruit of what there is (I am speaking generally) is so poor that very often you have to ask: Are these people really born again or not? There was no doubt about it in New Testament times. What is the matter? Well, that book answers for itself. Someone has called the book of the Acts “Holy Ghost days”! That goes to the heart of it. Things were then in the hands of the Holy Spirit entirely, not in the hands of men.
I am not going to pursue that, but I am seeking to help you to grasp what I mean by God’s end governing the matter of God’s fulness, and that fulness is proportionate to the measure in which God’s end really does govern. Therefore, we must take one further step:
d) Divine disfavour upon all that opposes
Divine disfavour will rest upon all that stands in the way of the full thought of God. Hence there has to be discrimination in work, in method, in means. Is this God’s purpose? Is this the way to reach God’s purpose? Is this the means that God would employ? And so often in the light of a true spiritual understanding of what God is after, and how God reaches what He is after, there has to be a shedding of a very great deal in the work of the Lord. And that requires this, so far as the Lord’s servants are concerned, that they shall be marked by true adjustability.
We have often in this very connection cited David and his cart for the Ark. Yes, the purpose was right, the object in view was in God’s mind, but a cart was not God’s prescription. It was a man-made thing, a mechanical means of propelling and carriage for the testimony. But the point is this, that when David met the displeasure, the disfavour of the Lord, not concerning his object, and not concerning his motive, but concerning his method and his means, although at the moment he was grieved, displeased and he smarted, we find that when he had had time to be quiet and get before the Lord, and the heat of his own soul and his own soul’s interests had died down, he was found an adjustable man, and he adjusted himself in his method to God’s purpose. Then David said, “Let the Levites bear the ark, for so it is written.” I believe that is one of the many things in David that made him a man after God’s own heart that should do all His pleasure — not David’s pleasure.
How necessary it is for us, then, to be adjustable, ready to shed those things which are not directly related to God’s end, or those methods and those means; ready to let go that which is something in itself, though that something may be good, and valuable, and seemingly necessary but not what God is after in the full sense. There are any number of good works going on, and valuable in their way, and to those who are doing them, evidently necessary, but are they really God’s full purpose, that which God is really after? They are things in themselves, and largely apart, either unrelated or else not reaching God’s end at all.
e) The need of a vessel to keep the purpose in view
There must, therefore (and this is the point to which we have been working all the time), be that vessel and that instrument sovereignly raised up by God to keep His full purpose in view. It is essential to God. When there is so much that is less, and contentedly less, so much that is blindly other, so much that leads nowhere, and so much that is entirely unsatisfactory to the Lord, it is necessary that the Lord shall raise up a vessel, an instrument for the purpose of keeping His full thought before His people. God has had a small witness to His full thought right down the ages, but that vessel has been His plummet, His measuring-line. Men have refused, men have persecuted, but men are going to be judged by that.
As the dispensation moves on and grows old and nears its end, shall we not be right in concluding that if what we have said is the truth, towards the end and in the end time God will seek that He shall be in possession of a vessel which does set forth for Him before His people His full thought. I believe He will, and we might apply in this connection the words of the apostle in another connection: “Ye see your calling, brethren...”.
Now half of the statement is that there must, therefore, be a vessel and an instrument sovereignly raised up by God to keep His full purpose in view. The other half is God will call into relationship to that ministry. He will call into relationship to that ministry, and therefore there will come about a discrimination in ministry under the sovereign calling of God. There will be many things which will arise. For such as are thus called, laid hold of, apprehended of God, there will be such a line taken by the Lord that they cannot do what others do, even in the ministry. Oh, these are serving the Lord, and they do this and they do that and there seems to be blessing and the Lord seems to be with them. They... Why shouldn’t I? Why can’t I? The only answer that will ever come is: Others can, you cannot! And there is a deeper explanation: you are called for something to which they are not called, or to which as yet they have not come, and you are entirely governed by God according to His purpose; not just interest, but specific object.
f) The end determines the preparation experimentally of the vessel
That vessel, and those who are called to its ministry, have to be constituted in a living and experimental way according to the end in view.
That opens a new line. I just make that statement and close there for the time being. They will be dealt with in such a way as no one else will be dealt with. That vessel will be constituted by such divine means, such divine dealings as no one else knows. That vessel will go through experiences in the hands of God which are peculiar experiences, strange experiences, deep experiences, and all the time the human heart may be crying out, Why should I go this way? Why should I have this experience? Why is it that such things have befallen us? These are not the things common to man! Our experience is a different experience altogether from the experience of the majority of the Lord’s people! What we are called to do, and let go, and so on, is altogether different. The way in which the Lord deals with us is different! Yes, it is not only, “Called, according to His purpose”, but constituted according to His purpose. The end is governing the Lord’s dealings with us.
Oh, listen to this as we close. No one can come into the ministry of God’s full, eternal purpose in relation to God’s fullest thought by taking it up, by the attitude which says, I am going into that! I am going to take that up! I am going to be in that! I am going to do that! That is going to be my line of ministry! That is going to be my message! Beware! Do not take any such attitude: it is impossible. If you do you will soon be found in a false position, and you will be knocked to pieces. You have got to be constituted for this thing, and that constituting follows a sovereign movement of God in your life which makes you know that, although you might be doing good work in various other ways and directions, this is God’s way for you, and you do not argue from the general, you argue from the particular: I see now that, whereas I have been in a certain realm, on a certain line, God has wound that up for me, and laid His hand upon me and called me to something other. Until that becomes, not something mentally apprehended but something born into our very being, so that, although we might often have recoiled, we might have gone through contortions over it, we know that God’s end has come upon us, and in the specific sense of ministry (I am not talking now about our place in the purpose, but in the sense of ministry), we are the called according to His purpose. Then God begins the constituting.