Service and the Servant of the Lord

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - The Vocation of the Servant

The words around which our thoughts are going to be gathered today are at the beginning of the forty-second chapter of the prophecies of Isaiah. Isaiah chapter 42, verse 1: "Behold, My servant, whom I uphold; My chosen, in whom My soul delighteth..." and for the moment, the first clause: "Behold My servant". And we are going to be occupied with: "the servant of the Lord", that is, with the nature, the method, and the means of the service of God.

What is True Service to God?

How, and by what means God is most truly served; I'm sure that we are all concerned with a matter of this kind, that our being here on this earth, our passing this way only once (and when it comes near to the end, it seems to have been so short, so swift) but that it shall have meant that in some vital way, the Lord shall have been served by our being here. That, I say, surely goes to the heart of every one of us, and therefore we will respond to any help that may be given in the understanding of how that can be. And that is the thing that the Lord has laid on my heart for this time.

For those who have but a superficial knowledge of the Bible, it only needs to be mentioned in order for it to spring into life and recognition, that the idea of service, the law of service, is a dominant one throughout all the Scriptures. When we open our Bible and begin, we find that man was not only made - himself as something to satisfy a Divine idea - and not only was he given a great wealth of things to enjoy and by which to profit, but he was given a trust. He was put in trust by God, he was called immediately into a vocation. And from there, right on through the Bible, that law of vocation, that principle of service, is a golden thread running through the whole fabric, till we reach the end of the Bible. And among the last words are these: "And His servants shall serve Him, and they shall see His face".

Abraham's election and call was, above everything else, vocational. The same was manifestly true of Moses, who goes down in history with the title: "Moses, My servant" - the servant of the Lord. Israel's very constitution and redemption was on the basis of: "Let My people go that they may serve Me." The Lord's service governed their very beginning, and remained the law of their life; it determined everything where they were concerned. It is very clear that this is true of David, and of all the intermediary servants of the Lord: the priests, and the kings, and the prophets, and the nation. They all represented this Divine idea of a purpose to be served, a vocation to be fulfilled, a work to be done for God.

And when we pass into the New Testament, this truth is so self-evident that we should be perhaps wasting time to stay to point it out. There is a great phrase with which we are very familiar, used by the apostle Paul: "called according to His purpose" - and that is a very comprehensive phrase. But we must interpret it aright. "Called according to His purpose" does not just mean 'called to be something', although it does mean that; or, 'called to have something', although it means that. It means supremely: 'called to a great vocation'. "Called according to His purpose" relates to a work to be done; something in which God Himself is to be served.

The idea of service, and servanthood, runs through these prophecies from which we have extracted this fragment, the prophecies of Isaiah. And in a certain section of this book, this idea comes out as being the very core, and the very sum of everything else in the book. You will think about it, and go back to it with this thought in mind, you will find that all that is in this book (and there is much in it) circles around this vocation of the servant of the Lord. Much of the tragedy that is recorded here, is simply the tragedy of the Lord's people in their failure in this very matter of vocation. And all the hope and the prospect that is presented, is closely bound up with the recovery of this vocation.

There is a great deal here; I would like to spend time with this book, taking you right through with this word "servant". I think I shall not do that, although I have underlined in this book the word, and am myself tremendously impressed (and you would be also) with the large number of times that the word "servant'" occurs in these prophecies. If you have not noticed it, I suggest that you do what I have done, that you lift the book of Isaiah right out, and then read it in the light of this one word, the word "servant". And you will come to the same conclusion that I have come to, that the core of everything here, the sum of everything here, is servanthood, or the service of the Lord.

Now, when we do consider the book in the light of this dominant factor, we find that it resolves itself into three aspects. First of all, the fact that:

This Servant Vocation was Fundamental to the Choice of the Whole Nation.

That is, the people of God as a people. Let me repeat that: it is made perfectly clear that this conception of servanthood was fundamental to their election, to their choice and separation, their calling, and their constitution. In a sense, a very real sense, this book reveals that their existence was hanging upon this one thing: a Divine vocation - their service to God. And, should they fail there, there is no longer any justification for them being that nation. But then that is exactly what did happen. There is the fundamental calling, or law of their calling: service, or servanthood - but, as a whole, as a nation in entirety, they failed in this very thing. And because of that, they are put aside. And this book sees the nation, at least for the time being, set on one side, put out of its place, and totally inoperative in relation to God - a time of suspended usefulness and poverty, right out of the way, and all because of this one thing, failure in the very constituent of their existence: the servant of the Lord.

Well, you will be recalling some of these passages which I have not stayed to quote or turn to, which relate this very phrase "My servant", to Israel. "Thus saith the Lord to Israel, Thou art My servant..." To Jacob, "Thou art My servant". That is a collective term, so it was. That was the first thing, that the idea of the people of God, as a corporate whole, is that of servanthood. Let's hold that, because we have got to come back and say much more about that.

The second thing, because of the failure of the nation as a whole, we find a transition.

A Transition from the Nation to a Single Person

Person spelt with a capital 'P'. Whereas in the first instance the nation was termed, "My servant", that was taken away from the nation and transferred to this Individual, this Person. And so we could take up a second series of passages from the book, which bring that Person into view: "My servant, My chosen, in whom My soul delighteth". That is a contrasting picture with that which has ceased to satisfy the soul of God. There begins then, this presentation and unveiling of this Servant of the Lord as related to the Messiah, the Christ - all these Messianic prophecies about the Lord Jesus as the Servant of Jehovah. In that Person, all the original, full, perfect thoughts of God as to servanthood - the essential meaning of it - all that was taken up, exemplified, and fulfilled in this Individual, in this One, "My Servant". That's the second thing that this book brings so clearly into view.

The third:

The Reappearance and Perpetuation of the Idea in a Remnant.

Lost in the whole nation, saved in the Individual, deposited in a remnant. A remnant constituted on the basis of the Individual, taking its character from The Servant of the Lord, as that one Person. The word "remnant" occurs some dozen times in this book, but we know so well that it runs through most of the prophets. It is a governing idea in the prophets: "a remnant shall return"; "the Lord will preserve unto Himself a remnant". And that remnant becomes the repository of this Divine law of servanthood. One of the last things said about the remnant in the Old Testament is: "My peculiar treasure". "My peculiar treasure", and not because of what they were in themselves, but because of the purpose which they served in recovering the Divine thought of servanthood.

So we have here these three things: the nation, its calling on the principle of servanthood, and its tragic failure. The Person introduced - and what an introduction in chapter 9 - what an introduction of the Servant! Everybody is familiar with the words descriptive of Him there - "Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Father of Eternity, Prince of Peace" - He is introduced in full terms. Chapter eleven: "Unto us a son is born; unto us a child is given..." and so on. Here He is described in the following verses of that presentation, as to His spiritual nature and character; we will not stay with all those details at the moment. Here He is introduced, appointed, tested through suffering. For remember, at the heart of Isaiah 53 is: "My righteous servant..." - "My righteous servant shall justify many" - tested through suffering, and triumphant: "My servant shall be very great, very high." And then the remnant - purged, purged also through suffering, and finally attested: "My peculiar treasure".

Let us step back a moment. This book has a very great deal in it about the judgment of the nation, that nation. Its judgment fills many pages, and while worldliness was the cause of the judgment, it was the vocation that was the crux of the whole matter. We must ever remember this, that the vocation of the people of God rests entirely upon their separateness from this world. Therefore, to destroy to nullify, to paralyse their mighty, God-given vocation, the great enemy will always seek to create a link between them and this world. That was the burden of the prophets: the link that had come about between this nation and the other nations and this world, resulting in their being found totally incapable of fulfilling their vocation in the world, and among the nations. The judgment was not only because of condition, but because of failure in the very object of their existence. If something ceases to fulfil the purpose for which it was created, it may still be that object, that entity, but with God, it no longer stands where it did stand in His acceptance, when the purpose of its creation is lost. Well, that of course, is something quite obvious, but you know there's a principle wrapped up in that. We all ought to recognise, what matters to God is not just that we are Christians, called God's people; it is that we are fulfilling the purpose of our existence as such, the vocational purpose, and walking "worthily of the calling wherewith we are called".

As to the Person, it is quite clear from what I have said, and from the reading of this book, that He is central, He is central to everything. It is impressive that so early in the book, at the point marked by our division of chapters as chapter 9, so early He is introduced, as though He is placed there to dominate all that follows. A great deal is going to follow, but it will all be under the shadow of this One, whom God has Himself appointed. He is central.

As to the remnant, all we at this moment would say, but we've got a lot more to say presently, is that the remnant represents the abiding principle of God's purpose and God's method. We are familiar with this fact, that when the large, the main, the big, the extensive thing fails God, His reaction is not to abandon His purpose, but to take it up in a representative company, called in the Old Testament the "remnant". That is God's principle and God's method of continuity. He has followed that all through history.

Now, when we pass to the New Testament, for it is possible that you have been thinking: "Well, that is all Old Testament; that's all Israel; what has that to do with us?" Well, listen. When we pass to the New Testament, what we find, in the first place, is that that nation, as such, is displaced. There's no doubt about it. You open your Gospels, that nation is no longer in the place of Divine favour; it's no longer standing in the place of Divine vocation. It is under judgment, which judgment is coming near to fulfilment. It is displaced.

But secondly, we find this Person, not now in prophecy, but actually present in all the terms of the prophecies. Here He is; He is present. And all that the prophet and the prophets said about Him is now actually on the spot. He is here, with all the features that have been foreshadowed about Him.

But thirdly, a new nation is being brought in. To use Peter's description - and mark you, Peter was not speaking of the Israel after the flesh, he is speaking concerning the church: "Ye are an elect race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God's own possession, that ye may show forth the excellencies of Him who brought you out of darkness into His marvellous light." That's a summary of calling and the purpose of calling, and the nature of the call. A new nation is being brought in. In the fulfilment of one judgment phrase of the Lord Jesus to the old nation, "The kingdom of heaven shall be taken away from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruit thereof" - vocation. And so, with the New Testament, the new nation is introduced, and on the way to being made up, added to. But, the shadow comes in too soon.

The fourth thing that we find before we are through our New Testament is incipient decline and apostasy; worldliness again - that devastating thing - creeping into the church. And judgment of the church now being foretold and begun. As a whole, this new nation is beginning to fail in the purpose for which it was raised up. And this, in general, is nigh unto - to use the very unpleasant phrase, but it's Scripture - being "spued out of God's mouth". It is a terrible thought concerning a holy nation, but there it is. But that is not the end of the Old [New] Testament. There is God's acting again, and His old law and principle being followed out - the remnant - "he that overcometh".

I was impressed in reading through Isaiah again, and coming to the later chapters, where the servant idea is in the plural so many times. I think, if I remember rightly, some eleven times in the later chapters, after chapter 54, that here it is in the singular - that is "servants", "servants", right up to that point it has been collective, and now it is individuals - "servants, servants... My servants". Now, let us be careful, that does not mean that the Divine idea of collective servanthood has been abandoned, as we shall see in a minute, but it corresponds to what we have in those early chapters of the Book of the Revelation: "He that hath an ear to hear..." see, it's personal. And, as in the last chapters of Isaiah, so in those first chapters of Revelation, the corporate is made up of individuals who have got the idea! Now it is not something just general, vague and indefinite, now it is people - individuals, if you like - who have seen what God intended, who have grasped the Divine meaning in the existence of the church, and who have made a personal response to stand for that; and they've become the new representation of the Divine intention. They are corporate by reason of their one vision, their one apprehension.

Well, it's like that, it is like that today, isn't it? In general there is a very uncertain and indefinite apprehension of God's eternal purpose.

Multitudes of Christians are very vague about the immense thing which lies behind their calling of God; what it is they are called unto. Let me put it like this. How many Christians, perhaps how many in this very company, could give an answer to a question on those various fragments of Paul's prayer for the church: "That you may know what is the hope of His calling".

Can you write down what that is, "the hope of His calling"? Could you answer an examination on what's "the riches of His inheritance in the saints"? Not your inheritance in Him, but His in you, in the church. And what could you say about what's "the exceeding greatness of His power to us-ward who believe"? What do you know about it? It is not a judgment, but a statement of fact that multitudes of Christians do not know; haven't any idea of the meaning of their salvation, in terms of God's great eternal purpose; what it means to Him to have a church through the ages of the ages. But there are, here and there, those who "have an ear to hear what the Spirit says", scattered individuals who have glimpsed it, who have grasped it, who sensed it; the eyes of whose hearts have been enlightened by a Spirit of wisdom and revelation, and have some, even if only a small, measure of apprehension of what God is after. That is how it turns out at the end of the prophecies of Isaiah; that is how it is in the day of general declension in the New Testament: the remnant company of those who have an ear to hear what the Spirit says.

So we have here again, to summarise: the church, the elect vessel of the timeless purpose of God. We have here the Servant. The Servant, exalted through faithfulness and suffering, constituted the example, the pattern of all service to God for the church. And the remnant that takes its character and its purpose most truly and most fully from that Person. You see where that leads us - the necessity for seeing the Servant, for knowing the principles of His Servanthood - understanding the nature of the service of God in the light of The Servant in whom God's soul delighted.

But that lies ahead. I am going to finish by drawing your attention to an arresting and very important feature of this whole presentation. And I ask you therefore to seek grace to grasp this arresting and so important feature of the whole matter.

Now then, the nation and the church (the nation in the Old Testament, Israel, and the church in the New) is always visualised as a single entity, a corporate person. It may be comprised of many tens or hundreds of thousands, but it is one servant - My Servant. In the thought and mind of God, it is a single entity. If, at any time, or anywhere, the plural is used, "servants", all are looked upon as parts of this one entity. And the thing which constitutes this singleness of identity, is the vocation. If any part falls out of the vocation, it falls out of its life with God; it is relegated to a position where it is out of the eye of God for all good. So one is this Servant of the Lord - it may be a nation; it may be a remnant. It is always spoken of in this way of being a single entity.

Now, in the Bible (and this is a very interesting and impressive thing) the nation is sometimes narrowed down to perhaps a single person, and, for that time, in the mind of God, that person is the nation. That individual is the nation, in representation. And God deals with that individual on the basis of the nation. God's dealings with that individual are just as though He were dealing with the whole nation. I say that is a tremendously impressive thing; an arresting thing. Sometimes the High Priest is looked upon as the nation. You remember the High Priest clothed with filthy garments, he stands there before God as the nation; it is the nation in its uncleanness that is represented. And when God says: "Take away the filthy garments, and put a fair mitre upon his head", He is speaking collectively concerning the nation, because at that time, the nation was in weakness and defeat because of its defilement, and satan, the Adversary, stood at the right hand of the priest to resist him. And the power of the Evil One could not be undone until the filthiness of the nation was removed, as in the person of the high priest. And then, when the filthy garments were taken away, and the fair mitre was put upon his head, the word was: "The Lord rebuke thee, satan, even the Lord." You see the individual as the nation.

Sometimes it is the king; so bound up with the nation, and the nation so bound up with the king, that God deals with the king as a kind of national entity. That was true of David when he numbered Israel. Sometimes it is the prophet. How some of these prophets had to be put through 'national' experiences, in order to fulfil their servanthood. They were 'national' individuals. Or, to take this principle from another standpoint: what about Achan? Achan is one man in a nation; Achan sins, and the whole nation is arrested in its onward march of victory, and brought into defeat. And, when the search is made, the Lord answers: "Israel has sinned" - not, "Achan has sinned" - "Israel hath sinned". This thought is in God's mind, that there is this corporate entity; every part is so much a part of the rest, in God's mind. Now, that is true in Israel, as can be so clearly seen, and that is what is so fully taught in the New Testament: "The body is one... yet having many members" - it is one! And it is one by reason of its function, its vocation - what it is called to do.

This not only applies in the Bible to individuals, but this principle is seen to apply to the few; it applies to the remnant. In that day of the remnant, God looks upon the remnant as the nation. That is for the moment, to God, the nation. That is for Him, for the time being, the whole. It embodies everything in God's thought. What I am trying to get at is this: this matter of vocation or servanthood, is corporate; it is not just individual.

I wonder, with all our teaching of the nature of the church, the Body of Christ, if we have yet grasped the reality of this. It is essential to servanthood, essential to vocation, essential to the kind of service that God requires: it is not just individual, it is corporate. Representation and responsibility are much bigger than the individuals. God does not deal with you and with me just as individual Christians. God deals with us because of our relatedness to all the others, in the great vocation of the church.

If you and I, as individuals, default, and fail, we affect the vocation of the church in some mysterious way; we weaken the whole. The strength, life, and effectiveness of any company of believers, is affected by the individuals that make it up. Make no mistake about it: you cannot live in sin, you cannot fail the Lord in any way, and it remain with you, and you go on like that, as just one, and say: "Well, I am only one, it does not matter so much!" It cannot be. This law is written through the whole of the Divine revelation: that what is true of the individual, affects the whole in the realm of the Holy Spirit. A company may be held from blessing, from effectiveness, from fulfilling the vocation, or from God's approval, because somewhere there are individuals who are out of touch with Him, who are wrong, who are in sin. Now, if you have any doubt about that, you go to your New Testament again, and see how true that is.

Responsibility is in representation. That is, an individual may represent the whole, as Achan; a small company in any one place may represent the whole church, with God. It is a tremendous thing, is it not, that that may be true. Oh, that in our local companies, things were more as God would have them! What an influence and effect it would have on the whole church. God must have it; He must have His thought in fulness represented, in order that it might be like the plummet, the plumb-line for His whole church. This is something to take account of. And remember, God deals with us in this way. His dealings with us individually are not just His dealings with us as individuals. Have you grasped this? He is dealing with us church-wise; holy nation-wise.

We have often said that that man, the apostle Paul, who was particularly and peculiarly raised up of God to bring in the full revelation of the church for this dispensation, himself went through all the experiences of the church. "I fill up that which is lacking of the sufferings of Christ for His body's sake, which is the church." There is a man suffering - and what sufferings! They look like the sufferings of any ordinary person in some ways: shipwreck, hunger, nakedness, cold, treachery, perils and so on. Yes, but he says: "They are sufferings of Christ for His body's sake, which is the church." In those sufferings, the history of the church is implicit. Today, you and I, in this place, are benefiting from those sufferings of the apostle Paul and the whole church has been affected by them. The history of the church has passed into his constitution, into his very experience. He became the dispensational embodiment of the truths that he was called upon to enunciate. And that is not isolated to the apostle Paul.

If any company is going to be an example to the church of God's full thought, that company is going to be dealt with most thoroughly; it will get away with nothing that is contrary to God's mind. Its experience will be one of travail, suffering, discipline and purging. The history of the whole will come into its experience; God's thought for the whole will be there in operation. It explains a lot. Many an individual suffers, not because they are so important in themselves; not because of their weakness or failure; but because of their relatedness to the whole purpose of God. Now, that is something that is arresting, and has to be taken hold of. You can see it in the case of Christ, of course.

Christ was baptized into the national history of Israel. He took up in His own single Person all that Israel was called to, and failed in, and the judgment following. His was the history of Israel, summed up in a single Person. He went to the cross as Israel. That is what many exponents found themselves incapable of understanding in Isaiah; "Who is the prophet speaking about? Some prophet? Some servant? Some unidentified person, some nation? What is he talking about? It is all so mixed up!" The individual is the nation; the individual's sufferings, as in Isaiah 53: "for My people... for the iniquity of My people... for the transgression of My people was He afflicted". He has taken the nation into His experience, and the cross is Israel under judgment in a Person. It is so very clear in the case of Christ, and He, personally, is not one alone; He is corporate. The world, not only Israel, was in Him on the cross. The whole creation was there in Him at Calvary. He took up the purpose of the creation, He took up the failure of the creation; He took up the sin of the whole world. He took up the judgment of it all, and as the whole creation, He suffered, He died, that there should be, by His resurrection, a new creation.

It is creational; it is cosmic, that Cross; it is not just the cross of an individual - it is corporate, collective. The church cannot unrelate itself to the world in this way. While it has got to be separate from the world-principle, and the world-spirit, and that is perfectly patent in the Word, yet, in the matter of vocation, you and I, and the church, cannot unrelate ourselves to the world. We are to be in the world. Before God, the travail for this world has got to be in our souls; the salvation of this world has got to be a matter of anguish with us. The world has got to be in our hearts. If God so loved the world, that same love has got to be in our hearts. We cannot just be a church apart, or churches apart, or individuals apart. This is a world thing. We represent, and should exemplify, God's will and God's thought for the world. It is collective.

Perhaps we have to be baptized into the sufferings and the sorrows of men to fulfil our vocation. If the church, in the wrong sense, becomes worldly, that does not break the principle; it is judged with the world. The judgment on the world falls upon the church, if it becomes worldly in the wrong sense. But, our relatedness is such, so vital, that God would look upon us, as we are on our knees, as He would look upon the world, and He would say: "There is the world and its need, its need being suffered for, travailed for!" The Lord give us larger vision.

I do want to underline this great law of the corporate nature of vocation. There is far more bound up with this than we have recognised. "No man lives unto himself... no man dies unto himself". You cannot just be a separate individual if you are a member of this holy nation, this Body of Christ!

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