Companions of Christ and the Heavenly Calling

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 16 - The Companionship of the Bride

I want to turn you to several passages of Scripture. In the Old Testament in the prophecies of Isaiah chapter 54, verse 5: "For thy Maker is thine husband; the Lord of hosts is His name: the Holy One of Israel is thy redeemer".

Chapter 62 at verse 5: "For as a young man marrieth a virgin, so shall thy sons marry thee: and as the bridegroom rejoiceth over the bride, so shall thy God rejoice over thee".

In the prophecies of Jeremiah, chapter 3, verse 14: "Return, O backsliding children, saith the Lord; for I am a husband unto you".

Chapter 31, at verse 31: "Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the Lord".

The prophecies of Malachi chapter 2, verse 11: "Judah hath dealt treacherously, and an abomination is committed in Israel and in Jerusalem; for Judah hath profaned the holiness of the Lord which he loveth, and hath married the daughter of a strange god".

That is how we finish the Old Testament. Now we will see how we finish the New Testament. The book of the Revelation, chapter 19 verse 7: "Let us rejoice and be exceeding glad, and let us give the glory unto Him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and His wife hath made herself ready". Chapter 21, verse 2: "And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband".

Verse 9, "And there came one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls who were laden with the seven last plagues; and he spake with me, saying, Come hither, I will show thee the bride, the wife of the Lamb. And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the holy city Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, having the glory of God: her light was like unto a stone most precious, as it were a jasper stone, clear as crystal: having a wall great and high; having twelve gates, and at the gates twelve angels..."

I think we can leave the reading there and resume the matter with which we have been occupied through the week. We have been seeing what God is doing particularly in the dispensation in which we live. He is constituting a new, heavenly, spiritual, Israel. We have seen the failure of the old Israel and God's necessity for setting that Israel aside, but, at the time of setting aside, the bringing in of His new heavenly Israel. This is what is called "the heavenly calling", and we are told that we are called to be "companions of the heavenly calling", and "companions of Christ in the heavenly calling".

We have seen how the New Testament takes over the ideas of the Old Testament and translates them into spiritual meaning. The titles of the old Israel are redeemed and brought over to the new, because, although God may have to give up an instrument that He raises up, He never gives up His thought. He will never give up His intention, and if He cannot realise His purpose in one instrument, He will realise it in another.

We have seen that the old Israel was called "God's family"; we have seen that the old Israel was called "the Lord's house"; the old Israel was called "God's heir for His inheritance"; the old Israel was called "God's flock" - Israel were God's sheep. We have seen that the old Israel was called "God's vine". And all these titles are taken up and brought into the New Testament church. The new heavenly Israel is His family - children of God. It is His house, "Whose house are we". We are "heirs of God and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ". We are His flock - "I am the good shepherd". We are His vine, "I am the vine, and ye are the branches".

Well, now we have to come to the last one that we are able to look at at this time. And from the readings that we have taken you have come to the conclusion as to what it is: the Bride of the Lord.

Israel, as we have seen from those various Scriptures, was called God's bride. It says that He became a husband to Israel. You notice that although Israel was a man literally, Israel is usually spoken of in the feminine. It is not "he" it is "she", and it is "she" who failed Him as a wife. He purchased Israel to be His bride with precious blood. Last week we saw that the Passover was a marriage covenant. Jeremiah 31:31 says that when He brought them out of Egypt, He took them by the hand and became a husband unto them. The blood of the Passover lamb was the blood of a covenant marriage between the Lord and Israel. He betrothed Israel unto Himself that night, and thus she was purchased with His blood.

Very little needs to be said to those who know the Old Testament, about God's love for Israel - the most amazing thing in history. When you think what Israel was, when you read the history of Israel from Israel's own side, it is the most wonderful thing to hear the Lord saying: "I have loved thee with an everlasting love". God has never given up that love, it's still an everlasting love, but there is a sob in the heart of God. It's a disappointed love.

However, the Old Testament is a wonderful revelation of God's love for Israel: the love of the whole heart of God for a bride. How that love was expressed for Israel! See the wonderful protection that the Lord provided for Israel! He protected Israel all the way along. He provided food and raiment for Israel. It says that He led her safely on. The tender, providing, protecting love of God is everywhere in the Old Testament.

What was God's thought and intention in betrothing Israel to Himself? That she might be to His pleasure. The Lord took pleasure in Israel, but the Lord had brought Israel into being for His own pleasure, to bring satisfaction to His own heart.

Of course, this is a deep mystery why the all-sufficient God should want something for His pleasure. He who possessed all things and really had need of nothing is nevertheless revealed as One who created a people for His pleasure. You see, He created all things for His pleasure. He created the world for His pleasure. He created all that is in the world for His pleasure. And He created man for His pleasure. And it all went away from Him. He was disappointed in it all, so He said: "I'll begin again", and He raised up Israel. His idea was that Israel would satisfy Him where everything else had disappointed Him. The bride was for the Bridegroom's pleasure.

Then again, Israel was raised up to be the self-revelation of the Lord. God intended to reveal Himself to the whole universe through Israel; to show what kind of a husband He is. Of course, we can't bring this down to everyday life now, but sometimes you are able to see what kind of a husband a woman has, by herself. As you look at her, see how she is provided for and cared for; you are able to say: "She must have a wonderful husband!" Well, that is what a wife is for! I'm afraid many of us husbands have failed terribly... but that is how things are in the human life. But the Divine thought is just the opposite. God wanted to reveal to this whole universe what a wonderful God He is in terms of a husband to Israel. Israel had been raised up, in New Testament language, to "show forth the excellencies of Him who called her out of darkness into light".

Then Israel was brought into this relationship of the wife to the Lord for the purpose of His increase, His expansion. So to speak, many others outside of Israel were to be born unto the Lord through Israel. His family was to expand by means of Israel: "The Gentiles shall come to the brightness of thy shining". And nations were to be born unto the Lord, these are the things that the prophets said. And the bride was to be for the Lord's own expansion.

And then, last of all - mystery of mysteries! - it was a matter of companionship. None of us can understand why the Lord wanted a companion. It is possible to be a wife and not be a companion. Many a wife is not a real companion of her husband. He does not find her a companion. She is a lot of things, but just that one thing is lacking - real companionship. Perhaps that is the tragedy of many broken marriages today. Of course, I know that it works the other way as well, but companionship is the highest thought in this relationship. The Lord raised up Israel to be His companion.

Now, it is easy to see how Israel failed in all these matters. The time came when the Lord could no longer take pleasure in Israel, when Israel no longer revealed to the world what kind of a God He is, when Israel cut off the Gentiles and shut herself down to herself; refused to fulfil the world mission for which she had been brought into union with God. And all this resulted in God losing His companion, and the Old Testament closes on that painful note: a horrible thing has happened in Israel, she has left the Lord, her Husband, and gone after another.

So, to the Lord, she died. To the Lord as a nation she is dead, she is "dead while she liveth". The Lord could never marry another while she was alive; that was contrary to His own law. She has died, so He can take another wife. You will remember Paul's own words about this: that we are married to the Lord. When this former wife died, He brought in another, a new bride.

The New Testament has a lot to say, as you know, about this new bride. In the gospels the Lord Jesus calls Himself the Bridegroom. You will remember the parable of the virgin, when the cry went forth: "Behold, the bridegroom cometh!" and we have read these passages in Revelation all about the bride, the Lamb's wife. Some of you are recalling Paul's words in his letter to the Ephesians: "Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her, that He might present the church to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing", and that follows this: "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ loves the church".

Well, the fact, I think, is established, but we have to bring back all those features of this relationship. Why are we joined to the Lord? Why are we what are called Christians? For if we are New Testament Christians we are joined to the Lord in a covenant of marriage. It is "the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood".

How many of you go to the Lord's Table at any time? It goes by different names - the Lord's Table, the Lord's Supper, the Holy Communion, and so on. It doesn't matter so much what you call it, it is what you mean by it. Do you know, dear friends, that every time you go to the Lord's Table, His meaning in that table is that you are putting your hand to the covenant again and saying: "I stand by my marriage relationship to the Lord. This loaf means that I am one flesh with Christ." We are one body in Him, a part of His very Body is represented by that loaf. And the marriage ordinance of God at the beginning is: "They two shall become one flesh". Jesus said: "This loaf is My body". When we take it we are meant to be saying: "I am one body with Christ". The two become one flesh. And it is the marriage relationship.

And when we take the cup, symbolic of His Blood, we say two things: "I share one life with Him. His life is my life, and that was made by a covenant in His Blood." That is the deep meaning of the Table of the Lord. Is that what we mean every time we come to the Lord's Table? It is the bride saying: "I stand by the covenant, I am one with my Lord".

We sang this afternoon: "Jesus, my Husband..."; that is the nature of our union with Him. That is what it really means to be a Christian. May our Christianity be redeemed from everything less than that!

But when the relationship has been established in His Blood, then the purpose of the relationship begins. We are His for His Pleasure and not our own. He has made us for His pleasure, the apostle says, "Working in us that which is well-pleasing in His sight... that we may be unto the praise of His glory... to the glory of His grace... to shew forth the excellencies of Him".

Dear friends, this compasses the Christian life. This is why He has drawn us with the bands of love. This is the reason for our union with Christ: that we should be unto His pleasure, that He may take pleasure in us. The time is coming when He will look at His bride and then He will say, "She is a glorious bride". He has brought us to Himself for that very purpose: to reveal Himself by means of us.

Perhaps our heads and our hearts are going down now. What a poor revelation of our Lord we are! We're making a terrible mess of this business of revealing Christ, but He is taking great pains with us. Truly it is not easy, and He does not make it easy. It seems so often that He puts us into difficult positions in order that we may show forth His glory.

Paul was given a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet him. Do you know what it is to have a thorn in the flesh and a messenger of Satan always buffeting you? Paul said that he went to the Lord three times about this. I don't know whether he meant literally three times, I think he meant: "I went to the Lord again, and again, and again! I asked the Lord to remove this thorn and to destroy this messenger of Satan, but He said unto me: 'My grace is sufficient for thee: and My strength is made perfect in weakness'".

That strange sovereignty of God... that strange providence of God. It seems sometimes that He puts difficulties into our lives, and makes it hard for us, and then, in the grace that He shows, we magnify Him. No one knows what Paul's thorn was. A lot of people have had a guess at it, and some people think they've got it, they know what it was, I don't think anyone really does know. But it was evidently something that people could see, and they could say: "My word, Paul has a hard time with that. I'm very glad that the Lord hasn't called me to go that way! That poor man does know what suffering means, but how marvellous is the grace of God in that man! Look at his victorious spirit! See how he does not go down under his suffering. My, the grace of God in that man is a wonderful thing!" And Paul said: "And they glorified God in me". Yes, for the self-revelation of the Lord the church is a suffering church. This wife of the Lord is a suffering wife, but the revelation of His grace is a wonderful thing.

Then what about His increase through the church? We have already said much about this. The Lord, through His church, wants to bring many, many into the Kingdom. Said He, "Preach the gospel in every nation, in the whole creation... The Lord willeth not that any should perish, but that all should come to the knowledge of the truth". Let that stand over all your ultra-Calvinism. Don't let any Calvinism take one iota away from that. The Lord would have all men saved, and He has never told His church to go and pick out one here and one there and say: "You are the elect," and leave the others. No, "Preach the Gospel to the whole creation; leave the rest with Me!" Well, that is the world mission of the new Israel. But do not just view it in a general way. Get down to it tomorrow morning, make this your personal business if by any means you might be able to bring souls into the Kingdom.

When we have said all that, we come to this supreme thing: He has joined us to Himself to be His companions. That has been our note right through this conference: "We are become companions of Christ... Wherefore, holy brethren, companions of a heavenly calling." To be His companions. I confess that I don't understand that: that the Lord should find me His friend, not just officially related to Him, but related to Him as a friend. To be the friends of the Lord! I can only say to you let us take that word and continually ask ourselves "How would a friend act in this matter? How would a friend decide? I am the Lord's friend. I must not fail Him in friendship. I must not let Him down. He counts upon me to be His friend" - the highest and most sacred part of the whole relationship.

I despair of ever getting over to you what I see in this matter. You see, after all this time, I haven't touched the new Jerusalem yet! It is a very significant thing that the new Jerusalem is called "the Bride". Said the angel to John: "Come hither, I will shew you the bride, the Lamb's wife", and John might have said: "Now, let's go and see this wonderful woman"! "And he shewed me the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven." The bride is the city, and the city is the bride. And then you have to read the whole description of the city in Revelation 21 and 22 in order to know what the bride is going to be like. See all the precious stones! This is the preciousness of the Lord Jesus in manifold expression. Peter said: "Unto you that believe is the preciousness". "All manner of precious stones..." it is what Jesus is in His real character revealed in the bride, the city.

Well, I can't stay with that, that wants hours! But you look at it. Stop thinking about a literal city. This is all a symbolic representation of Christ's bride. All these glories of the city are only the glories of Christ expressed at last in His bride. "He shewed me the holy city, the new Jerusalem... having the glory of God... her light was like unto a light most precious" shining through all these gems. I'm afraid my interpreter might have a bad time if I started giving you the list of gems! But it really doesn't matter, we need not do it.

All this is what was meant by the apostle when he said: "He will present the church to Himself a glorious church" ... a glorious church. The city is a revelation of His manifold glories, and the City is the Bride.

Now dear friends, I have only to close with this final word. These are all very beautiful and wonderful ideas. They are glorious thoughts, but it is just unto this that the Lord has called us. This is the heavenly calling. It is unto this that He wants us to be companions: "Companions of a heavenly calling" because "companions of Christ".

I hesitate to strike a note that might sound a bit depressing, but I do remind you that this great letter to the Hebrews has many "ifs" in it. "Whose house are we, if we hold fast... We are become companions of Christ if we hold fast". This letter is just full of warnings, full of strong exhortations, and I do not believe that it was written to non-Christians. All the evidences in the letter are that it was written to true Christians. Therefore, it was saying to Christians: "Don't miss your inheritance! Don't fail of your heavenly calling. Do not fail to be true companions of Christ. Do not accept anything less than God's best and God's highest".

You can be Christians having much less than God intended. And you notice when the description of the City-Bride has been given, it says: "Blessed is he that has the right to enter in..." has the authority to enter in. There are nations that will not get in. They will walk in the light thereof, but will not be this. Make sure that you are of this Bride. Do not fail the Lord as Israel failed Him.

"Let us go on to full growth".

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