Vocational Fellowship

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - Fellowship With God in Vocation

I'm going to repeat the three passages of Scripture around which our thoughts were gathered this afternoon. Two of them in the prophecies of Jeremiah, the overall passage in chapter 17 and verse 12:
"A glorious throne, set on high from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary".

And then under that from the first chapter, the end of verse 5:
"I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations".

And in the book of the Acts, chapter 1, verse 8:
"Ye shall receive power when the Holy Spirit is come upon you; and ye shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth".

"A prophet unto the nations...", "witnesses unto the uttermost part of the earth..." and "a glorious throne, set on high from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary."

We have already covered a considerable amount of ground in laying down a foundation for these meditations. The sum and the substance of it all is that the call of God is a call into fellowship with Himself in a great purpose which has been in His heart from the foundation of the world. That is the meaning of being the Lord's: it is a fellowship call, it is a vocation call. It is therefore something very much more than a call to be saved. That is only the door into the fellowship, and into the vocation.

Now this evening we're going, without any backward look, we are going to go on with that. And once more we outline, and I want to here mention six parts of that whole matter of fellowship with God in vocation. And, of course, what I am saying, although without quoting the Scripture, is fully based upon and supported by what the Word of God teaches.

Firstly then:

[1.] This world was made for and given by God to His Son as His possession and inheritance.

That lies back of everything in history and in the Bible. It lies back of human life. It lies back of everything that the Bible contains. God designed this world and created it for His Son, and gave it to Him as His inheritance.


[2.] The world was stolen from God's Son.

Something that runs through the Bible, and breaks out from the prophets again and again is that God has been robbed. God has been robbed. God has had His rights taken from Him. God's rights are vested in His Son, and that taking from God relates to the place of God and His Son in this world. And it is not difficult to see that on the one side, the big issue all along is just that. It is just that: God has not got His place or His rights; they have been taken from Him. If we could comprehend the whole meaning of one big Bible word, and understand it, we should see that it just comes back to this thing - that word ‘righteousness'. The whole of the content of the word ‘righteous' relates to what is right where God is concerned; and righteousness and unrighteousness bear down upon this one issue: God having His place, and being ceded His rights; His rights in character, His rights in creation, and His rights in government. Well, they are things said - they are big things, and cover a lot of ground. But this point is that this world has been stolen from God's Son. True, by man's consent, but however and why for, that's not our matter at the moment. The simple fact is that it is in wrongful hands; it is in hands to which it does not belong. You know, God has written that truth deep and large in history.

I wonder if you have ever yourself wondered about one matter... Do you remember, in a vision God came to Abraham to make a covenant with him, and said: "Thy seed, thy seed shall be sojourners in a foreign land four hundred years". Before they were in existence, they were destined to the Egyptian captivity and bondage, or it was foreshown that they would be. I have often asked myself when reading the story of Joseph going into Egypt, then bringing his brethren there, and his aged father, and the seemingly happy time for the present that was theirs, why it was necessary for that to become a prison for them for those four hundred years, and as we know, an awful prison. We know the bondage and how they cried and groaned by reason of that bondage and their taskmasters. Why? Well, we know that Joseph's brethren were not very good kind of fellows, a poor lot perhaps; they didn't treat him very well, but four hundred years! If it was for what they were that they should not have been, this was pretty heavy punishment! Why? And determined or foreknown long before they were the bad men they were, before they were men at all. Why must this long and terrible period be written in history?

Well, we may not and I may not understand the whole thing, but I do suggest this: God has written deep and large on the page of history, that this world is in the hands of a power to which it does not belong. While they were there during that period in Pharaoh's hands, they did not belong to Pharaoh, they did not belong to Egypt. And God's words were: "My people... let My people go... let My son go...". In effect, ‘They don't belong to you; you have no right over them; they belong to Me.' Now perhaps we could find a very much better and fuller reason for Israel later going into the seventy years' captivity in Babylon, for, we might say, they deserved that; you have only to read these prophecies of Jeremiah. Nevertheless, there is another aspect, another side to it. That people remained God's people in Babylon; they did not belong to Nebuchadnezzar; they did not belong to Babylon; they were God's people in wrongful and false government and control. God has written this in history. There is that which is God's which is under a false, wrongful government and control and mastery. It is not where it ought to be, it's not in His hands; it has been stolen from God. Truly, as Pharaoh stole Israel, and Israel's rights, and properties, and liberties; as truly as Nebuchadnezzar stole the wealth of the temple, and of the city, and the people, and carried it away, so in a fuller, and deeper, and of course a spiritual way (which is much, much worse than the temporal) this world which belongs to God has been stolen from God. He is not in possession of it. It has been stolen; God has been robbed. God's Son has been robbed of His inheritance.


[3.] This world, therefore, is, in the deepest sense, a lost world.

A lost world. Of course, lost, firstly, to its Owner, its rightful Owner; lost to the purpose for which it was created; lost to its own rightful state of peace, joy and satisfaction. It is lost to all that. It is lost to its essential unity and integration, lost to that - that of course needs no arguing or belabouring. It is lost to its glory. It's a lost world. All in it, by nature, are lost. The nations are lost. Now, of course the Lord Jesus made it His business to lay great emphasis upon that fact by every means: by parable and declaration, and by work and Person, He sought to make this quite clear to all, that the inheritance is lost. Yes, and that it had been stolen. Remember the parable of the vineyard, and the wicked husbandman, who said: ‘This is the heir, the heir to whom the inheritance belongs. Come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.' Oh, what a profound meaning the Lord Jesus had in speaking that parable. We know all His other parables about lost things. We have dwelt mainly upon one side of them. There is another side, you know. Take the one best known, of the ‘prodigal' so-called.

Well, we have gone round that ‘prodigal' looking at him from every standpoint, until perhaps we think that there is nothing more to be said. But have you ever thought that he didn't belong to the man to whom he had hired himself out, and he did not belong to that world into which he had gone, and he did not belong to the circumstances and condition in which he found himself? There is something in him all the time, rising up in revolt, and saying: "I don't belong here; this is not what I was made for! My whole being cries out and says: I am in a false position; I am in a wrong position. I am where I ought not to be. I should not be in this."

If the coin or the sheep could speak, those lost things, they would have said the same thing: "I am not where I ought to be, I'm somewhere else. This is not what I was intended for". So, when the Lord Jesus sums it all up and says: "The Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost", He's touching the ultimate things, the ultimate things... not just the things of man's salvation in that elementary sense, but man's salvation in its profoundest, uttermost, sense: the recovery of that which has been lost to God's Son - His inheritance. Well, there's nothing perhaps new to you about that, but we're on the way. This world was made for and given by God to His Son, it was stolen from Him by a power that has no real right over it, it is therefore a lost world.

But then fourthly:

[4.] God's Son came into this world with the supreme object of recovering the inheritance to Himself...

Of again retrieving the lost, and securing the lost inheritance to Himself, as its rightful Owner. That, again, is perhaps the simple gospel, but let us get back of everything and see what it is that lies there at the root of His coming: leaving everything, leaving everything... being divested of everything in heaven and coming here, and coming to the day of which we are thinking today, even the death on the cross. The thing that lies right at the heart of all that is the recovery of His inheritance.

Now let me solemnly and reverently touch a point which goes deeper than anything else in this matter. When the Lord Jesus on the cross, cried, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani" He went out into the lost place, the place of the lost; the place where the scapegoat was loosed and driven to the wilderness, away from man and God. He took the place of a lost world, and a lost humanity. He has lost everything in that moment. It is the desolation of His soul. For that moment He's lost God, lost heaven, yes, lost everything. It is a terrible phrase, and I hesitate to use it - He was like a ‘lost soul' in that moment. We say it with some support that He poured out His soul unto death. Unto death! What is death but the loss of everything? If it is death all is gone. And He went out there to bring back in His own Person the lost inheritance of man. He touched to the very depths, to the bottom of our loss, and God's loss, and His own loss. Oh, the wonder of the resurrection! It's essential to the whole circle. But, you see, this world was lost. But even that, dear friends is not all. That's all true, that's all true, but there is an extra factor in it all; an extra factor and element in it all.

[5. Christ triumphed over the powers of darkness in His cross]

Out there in that darkness and desolation, that wilderness of forsakenness, things were by no means passive. Out there He went to meet the one who had robbed Him and God of everything; whom He Himself called "the prince of this world". Out there as truly, and yet more truly and more fully than the combat of the forty days after His baptism with the prince of this world, He met the usurper. He met the false prince, He met the robber, the stealer, and in awful conflict in that darkness, He wrestled His great wrestle with the powers of darkness; so terrible that the Psalmist well describes them: "They compassed me about like bees... they compassed me about like bees", these hosts of wicked spirits, of which Paul speaks. Out there He met that whole kingdom and hierarchy in full force. "He plunged in His imperial strength to depths of darkness down; He brought His trophy up at length; the proud usurper's crown." He wrested the inheritance from the false prince. He fought this whole battle out in that dark moment on the cross. Oh, what a lot can be crowded into a few moments - an eternity can be! So it was with Him.

You see, the Cross, the Cross was a far, far bigger thing than a crucifix, than a crucifixion. It is cosmic, it compasses the whole range of heaven and earth. That's all focussed on that spot in that moment. He fought it through, did spiritual combat with the prince of this world and his hosts, and He triumphed by His Cross. He stripped off, says Paul, "the principalities and the powers, and made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in His cross".

That's number five. Number six:

[6.] As the Victor Prince He returned from the fight, brought back by the power of God, and coming back, He calls His fellow-heirs to the vocation of possessing the inheritance with Him.

Taking the inheritance which He has secured in Himself, He calls them "fellow-heirs". And you know that is a Scripture: "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ". He calls them to this great vocation and conflict of the inheritance. That is the meaning of the Christian life, of being a Christian: "Called into the fellowship with His Son", called as ‘fellow-heirs' with Him to share the inheritance with Him, but called into the vocation of taking the inheritance and fighting its battle. And it is unto all the nations, to the uttermost part of the earth. The vocation of every Christian... listen: the vocation of every Christian, that includes you individually, and me, is to have our feet down on some patch on this earth in the name of the Lord Jesus. And that other one, with all his powers, will try to shift you, to move you, to force you out, to drive you out, to make it impossible for you to stay. But that Name is sufficient; that Name is enough. He has won! Not in our victory, but in His.

The methods of those evil forces are too many to count and enumerate and mention, but I put my finger upon one very favourite one, which, no doubt, is a very live issue with you and with me - the livest issue - and that is as the ‘accuser of the brethren'. And if he cannot get us broken on the matter of Christ's redemptive work for our ultimate salvation, he will seek to cripple and paralyse us on the ground of our unworthiness to be the Lord's at all, and the Lord's servant. You know, it is the Lord's servants who know the most about the work of the accuser, because it is the vocation that he is after. And this is an issue which is alive right to the end. Dear friends, you may think that you have got past the letter to the Romans, and you have got into the letter to the Ephesians. God help you! God help you. If you will allow the testimony of one who is not a novice and a beginner in these things by any means, it is that I need the letter to the Romans more today than ever in all my Christian experience - the great truth of justification by faith, or let me put it in another way, the righteousness of God which is through faith in Jesus Christ. You see, that is not only a salvation truth, that's a battle truth, that's a warrior truth: "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper", says the prophetic word. And "every tongue that riseth against thee in judgement thou shalt condemn; this is the heritage of the servants of the Lord..." is that true? It's true, it's all true.

To what does it apply? Men forge their weapons against the people of God, and they succeed! Men raise their tongues of accusation against the people of God, and they succeed! Is it true? Apply it to the forces of evil back of everything, and it's true. Why? "And their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord"; that cuts the ground from every accusation that is made. And that bluntens every weapon of the accuser. "Their righteousness..." - the opposition of the enemy is along this line to make you surrender to the idea of your non-acceptance by the Lord, your rejection by the Lord, your being set aside by the Lord because, because look at you, what you are! It is a terrible battle, that! But "their righteousness is of Me" is the letter to the Romans, and we need it in the battle; we need it in the battle. We need it to begin, and we need it at the end.

We are in this battle; we are called into it, for the inheritance. The inheritance is not salvation. We do nothing to earn salvation. The inheritance is far, far more than that. He calls us into this vocation of taking, taking His rights for Him. I repeat, wherever you are, in your home, in your business, in your place of spiritual service, in any part of this world, as in fellowship with Jesus Christ you are in fellowship with this great vocation, to hold that place for Him, in His Name; and not to move until the Lord says, Move. The Lord does move us, and tells us to move sometimes; but we must have the Lord's word for it before we do it, or the enemy will make a great mess of us.

Now there are three things in this sixth point. The rightful and victorious Prince of this world calls us as fellow-heirs into the vocation and conflict of recovering the inheritance. That means that in the very call into fellowship with God's Son there is:

Inherent Conflict.

You never realise that conflict until you take sides with Jesus Christ. It is then that it wakes up. You find yourself almost immediately in some atmosphere which is charged with antagonism - without speaking or doing anything. You haven't got to get up and preach; it is there! It is there, you are aware of it. As you go on with the Lord, and the more you go on with the Lord, the more this very atmosphere of antagonism grows upon you. It is not a very comforting gospel this for you I know, but you know it's true; and the more you count for the inheritance, or the more anything counts for the inheritance, the more violent the conflict.

I can mention here, and it will be for your prayer, I had a long letter during this week from a dear aged sister, whose name is known to many of you, and whose writings perhaps to more: the writer of "God's Plan of Redemption" [Mary McDonough] one who has meant much for the Lord and the inheritance through a long life. She is now lying in a nursing home after a very bad accident, from which it is doubtful she will recover, very much alone. And in her letter she said: "I am the target of the assaults of the evil powers in a way in which I have never known in my life. Pray for me; ask your friends to pray for me." Here is one who has meant much to the Lord in the matter of the inheritance. You would say, "Well, it is time she had the waters of quietness, that the Lord gave her a calm evening." No.

But dear friends, that is no isolated case. Everywhere those who really represent some value for the Lord Jesus are having that sort of thing; the pressure is intense. Think of what is happening in some places. God only knows what that dear servant of His in China [Watchman Nee] now in his seventh year of tortured imprisonment, what he knows of it - the awful conflict. He doesn't know, unfortunately, of the tremendous values of his ministry. How he has kept us going here for months with his ministry, with demands that can hardly be met with that book or those books! [Probably referring to "The Normal Christian Life" which was first published by "A Witness and A Testimony" at Honor Oak] I wish he knew. But we know! We know! If you saw the correspondence about that book, hear the reports that we get about it... tremendous things that it is doing in many parts of the world,  you would understand then and realise that there is something in this suffering of his, and this conflict. It is not for nought. It's like that. If you don't count much for the Lord you will not know much about that, and there are many, many Christians who are turning Christianity into a mere picnic. A good time... that's the idea of Christianity in many circles alright. If you want to know what the intrinsic value, the ultimate value is going to be, and what the prince of this world (so-called) thinks about it, he may be very pleased with a lot of it, but you may take it that the call into fellowship with God's Son in this great vocation of the inheritance has inherently in it the element of conflict.

The second thing is that our business, in the first instance, is to get for Christ the token out of the nations.

The Token Out of the Nations.

We are not told or taught in the Word of God, that in the first place, the world will be won for Christ. But we are told that the first thing - and notice that that is how it is put - God first looked to take out of the nations a people for His Name, to take out of the nations a people for His name - the token of them. That is our business. It is your business where you are in your business, in the place where your feet are put down to stand there, if by any means there shall be taken a token of the inheritance in view of the Great Day. That is what you are there for. Yes, common language and parlance speaks about soul-winning, and so on, but that is what it is. See something bigger even than getting people ‘saved' and brought to Christ. That's important but there is something behind that. There is this thing that dates back to a dateless time, called ‘the beginning', which was in the heart of God, and reaches through the ages, on to the ages of the ages; and one thing into that you and I are called, is in the first, practical instance: to get the token out of the nations. It's a token, but a token, but it's a token. We are there for that.

And thirdly: the ultimate possession lies along that line.

The Possession of the Nations

"Ask of Me and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost part of the earth for thy possession". That is to be fully fulfilled and granted eventually. The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ.

Can you suffer a few minutes longer? Because I want to come to Jeremiah 17:12. The cost of all this is great, as many of you well know; the conflict is fierce. The demands upon us sometimes seem to be immense and endless. The interests are so vital, so vital that something is absolutely necessary if we are going to get through. We must have an adequate background for getting through. I have not exaggerated, and even if you don't know what I am talking about, believe me, some do! The involvements in this great business are very, very great, and very serious, and very exacting upon the saints, necessitating some basis and background which is adequate to meet it all, and go through. And what is it? Oh, read again Jeremiah if you have the patience to read right through this long and terrible book. Hear this man's groans and cries and sighs and troubles. Hear him saying: "Woe is me, my mother, that you gave birth to a man of strife and contention!" He is called ‘the weeping prophet', I think wrongly so, but he was a man who was right up against this terrible business. Terrible business! When at last they dropped him into a deep, dark, miry pit, up to the breast, and left him to starve and die had not a kindly Ethiopian, hearing of his plight, gone to the king and begged him to do something. The king gave commandment that they should take ropes and bring up Jeremiah out of the pit. And as Dr. Meyer says about it, there was the extra touch of kindness and understanding even with the Ethiopian when he took a lot of old rags and clouts to put around the rope to go under his arms, so that there should be no unnecessary chaffing, and they fetched him up. That's the man. He goes through, he goes through all that dear friends, to go through it all, and if you feel sometimes that it is a hard way and an impossible way to get through, you need something, and you need what Jeremiah had. And what did he have? "A glorious throne, set on high, from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary."

Break that up, break it up: "A glorious throne" - there is a seat of government in glory. "Set on high" - above all this, all this, above all of it, set on high. Not yesterday or today, but from eternity: "From the beginning" the throne has been there from the beginning is an eternal throne, a timeless throne, set on high from the beginning, "is our sanctuary...". Sanctuary! What picture does that bring up to your eyes? Do you see the fugitive? You see the one being pursued by the avenger of blood running and rushing for his very life towards the city of refuge, the place of sanctuary. The glorious throne set on high from the beginning is the place of our refuge, our sanctuary, our security, our safety, our victory.

And when you come to think about it, not only Jeremiah, but Isaiah fulfilled his ministry on the strength of that: "In the year that Uzziah died I saw the Lord, high and lifted up, and sitting upon a throne..." and Isaiah had to go through things, and it was that that carried him through. Ezekiel - "I was by the river Chebar, and I saw visions of God. The heavens were opened..." And what did he see? "Above the firmament a throne, and above it upon the likeness as that of a man." What is the word that covers the book of Daniel? And Daniel knew something about this conflict and cost: "The heavens do rule". The heavens do rule, that is the word of Daniel isn't it, the book? "The heavens do rule... thou shalt know that the heavens do rule...". And the same secret carried Paul through all his sufferings and troubles - he had seen the Lord Jesus high and lifted up in glory. It is only as we do see God raised Him from the dead, and set Him at His own right hand far above all rule and authority, principality and power, and every name that is named, highly exalted and given the Name which is above every name; only so shall we get through. But so shall we get through, if we see Him there, know that He is there, and keep our eyes on Him there - a glorious throne... on high... from of old... our sanctuary.

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