Service and the Servant of the Lord

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4 - The Heavenly Vision of the Servant

We continue in the matter that has been laid on our hearts for this time, that is: The Servant of the Lord. We are gathered around that little fragment in Isaiah's prophecies, chapter 41 [should be 42]: "Behold My servant".

We have seen the law of service as being central to everything in this universe; that this universe exists to minister to God. We have seen that that law was established at the creation of this world. And man, when immediately upon his being constituted he was given a trust to hold everything, develop everything, for God - a ministry, a trust. And that law, being established at the beginning, is seen to run right through the Bible and at last is seen in the eternal state, where and when His servants shall serve Him and they shall see His face. It's a long story of service and servanthood, ministering to the pleasure and glory of God.

Then we have seen the method and means of service. We saw a nation chosen and separated, particularly and specifically to minister to the pleasure of God, the Lord saying to Pharaoh: "Let My people go that they may serve Me." A whole nation at the centre of the nations, to be the embodiment of this universal principle of service, and to lead the nations to it. And we saw that that nation, elect for that purpose, as a whole failed; failed sadly and terribly. And then God moving in, and in these prophecies of Isaiah in a large section, that Servant being introduced and presented Who completely and perfectly fulfilled in every respect that law of service, that satisfaction to God: The Servant of the Lord - the One referred to in our passage, "Behold My servant".

And having foreshadowed, predicted, and previsioned that servant, the next movement in the time of the whole nation's failure, was to deposit the principle of service in a remnant. And so we come on the very many references in these prophecies and others, to "the remnant" as being God's repository of the service of the Servant of the Lord; that is, to take character from Him, and to carry forward this great responsibility and privilege and trust, of ministering to the Lord. That is the Old Testament: a figure of the Divine thought.

Passing into the New Testament, that nation set aside... that Servant, not now in prediction, but in presence, right here, on the spot, fulfilling His ministry, His servanthood, and perfecting it. Then the bringing in of the nation to take the place of that nation that has failed, fulfilling of the Word of the Lord: "The kingdom of heaven shall be taken away from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof." A new nation brought in, which Peter calls "a holy nation", that is, the church. And then, too soon, a repetition of general failure and a repetition of the Lord's method and means - the appeal to those within the general body, who will form for Him this remnant of this dispensation, to take up and carry forward, and represent the principle, the law, of God's satisfaction, God's pleasure for which everything was created.

Now, that has occupied us for quite a time in this conference and we must not take more time in retrospect. This afternoon we come back to Isaiah's prophecies, to a part which you may think has been worn threadbare, but it is a cameo of this whole subject or matter. I refer to the sixth chapter. The words are so familiar to you, and yet I feel quite sure that the Lord wants something said about this at this time.

"In the year that king Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up and His train filled the temple. Above Him stood the seraphim, each one had six wings, with twain he covered his face, with twain he covered his feet, with twain he did fly. One cried unto another and said, Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory. And the foundations of the threshold were moved at the voice of him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke. Then said I, Woe is me! for I am undone; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips: for mine eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts. Then flew one of the seraphim unto me, having a living coal in his hand, which he had taken with the tongs from off the altar: and he touched my mouth with it, and said, Lo, this hath touched thy lips; thine iniquity is taken away, and thy sin purged. And I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, who will go for us? Then I said, Here am I; send me. And He said, Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn again, and be healed. Then said I, Lord, how long? And He answered, Until cities be waste without inhabitant, and houses without men, and the land become utterly desolate, and the Lord have removed men far away, and the forsaken places be many in the midst of the land. If there be yet a tenth in it, it shall again be eaten up: as a terebinth and as an oak, whose stock remaineth when they are felled: so the holy seed is the stock thereof".

I say this, this is a cameo of the whole subject, in this we have the whole history of the nation embodied. We shall try, as quickly as possible, with so much ground, to see the outline at least, of what is here.

First of all then, we are in the presence of:

The Tragedy of a Great Epoch.

The reign of king Uzziah had been one of the most glorious in Israel; indeed, a very bright spot in a long, dark, troubled period. Uzziah had come to a great eminence, and a great glory and like humanity so commonly: unable to carry the responsibility of prosperity. Like the great enemy of God and men, his heart was lifted up, and when that happens, that's the beginning of the end of that glory, of that epoch; disaster is not far away. And so, in the uplifted heart, in his pride, Uzziah presumed upon his heritage, his position, and the blessing of God; presumed upon it and took the holy things into His own hands. And you know the story: as he was doing it, he was suddenly smitten with leprosy, went out from the presence of the Lord, and for the rest of his life lived in the seclusion of a leper, and then died. That is the story of the nation; the nation had come to a place of great eminence among the nations; great prosperity, power, riches and influence. And then they began to presume upon it, take it for granted, to think that because, because there was so much of the blessing, the prospering of the Lord, well, nothing mattered, nothing mattered - do as you like! And the hands of men took hold of the holy things, to use them for their own ends. That was the story of Israel.

I suggest to you, dear friends, that that is very largely the story of the church. What great days; we are always looking back upon them, and today, this day commemorating Pentecost. They were always looking back to the great days of the church - what days they were! What power! What blessing! The presence of God so manifestly in their midst. And then, the whole thing taken into the hands of men, manipulated and changed, and used for human glory - the introduction of a whole system of people, with high-flown names and titles and all that, and men coming into prominence, and the church becoming a sporting ground for the flesh in that form of human glory. And the days of the church's blessing were numbered, and shall we say too much if we say it was 'smitten with leprosy'? Well, may be! But, nevertheless: tragedy, at the end of a glorious epoch, just as with Uzziah.

It was at that point, at that point that God intervened with Isaiah, and through Isaiah with the Servant of the Lord. In Isaiah himself, his experience and his history, there was very much of what was true in the case of The Great Servant, his Master - our Lord Jesus. That is why I have called him a cameo of the whole. That situation (if you will accept what I have said as true - I think it is) called for, demanded, a heavenly intervention, a heavenly intervention; when the earthly fell into tragedy, and had to be left, so largely - at least without its primal and pristine glory. And Isaiah became the figure, the type, of the heavenly intervention at such a time, at such a time. I need not, I think, make the correspondence on every point; it is so patent that it was when the fulness of that tragedy was reached in Israel, that heaven intervened with the greatest Prophet, the Lord Jesus. Heaven broke in, in a great reaction against that tragic state, and produced the Servant of God to deal with it. The Lord Jesus came at a time like that, a time of terrible tragedy in the realm of the people of God. And here is heaven's breaking in, and Isaiah.

Now, it is just there that we have so much enlightenment and instruction: "In the year that king Uzziah died...". You could put that in various other ways: "In such and such a time, when such and such conditions obtained, I saw the Lord." Against the dark background of failure, breakdown, and tragedy, a heavenly vision is given.

A Heavenly Vision

Let me underline one word - a heavenly vision - because here is a transition from the earthly to the heavenly. Heaven takes charge; heaven breaks in; and that is the way of recovery, the way of salvation - what Paul called: "the heavenly vision".

And what was it? What were its components? First of all: "I saw the Lord high and lifted up". High and lifted up. Now, you know that that is a phrase that is used immediately in the context of "the Servant of the Lord' - My Servant. In chapter 53: "Behold, My servant shall be high and lifted up", and it is surely very impressive that John, John in writing his Gospel, as we have it in chapter 12 and verse 41, refers to Isaiah 6, these words, and says: "These things said Isaiah, when he saw..." who? Jesus! "When he saw Him". "These things spake he when he saw Him". Who was it that Isaiah saw 'high and lifted up'? Well, John says it was Jesus. And that's always the beginning of a great change in the situation. It is always God's new beginning, to see Him high and lifted up. Uzziah and all that he represents may have fallen, like a fallen idol as he had been, but there is One high and lifted up to save the situation.

His exaltation, the exaltation of the Lord Jesus, we know means firstly that a work has been accomplished and finished upon which the future rests with certainty. It's finished. He never was high and lifted up, exalted and glorified, until He had finished His Servant work; and upon that the whole future was founded. The work was accomplished; His authority, universal, was established. All authority in heaven and in earth was given to Him, as He took His place at the right hand of the Majesty in the heavens. His Name is enthroned "above all rule and authority, and every name that is named, not only in this age, but in that which is to come". His Name and Throne over all.

From that God begins again. He did with Isaiah. For whatever there was to be of recovery, even though it but be in a remnant, and even that so imperfectly, nevertheless some recovery to which the Lord referred with not a little pleasure: "My peculiar treasure", He called the remnant. That issued from this vision: the Lord, high and lifted up! And dear friends, if that is true, mark you: if it is as true of the church as it was of Israel, that there has been loss and tragedy and those first glorious conditions have faded, as everybody recognises and acknowledges, without any criticism or unwarranted criticism of the church, it is true! We all look back to those days as the hey-days of the church, don't we? If the church has, speaking quite generally, followed in the train of Israel, lost its great vocation as the servant of the Lord, God will begin, as He has always begun, by someone, or some people, a remnant if you like, a corporate person, getting a new conception and revelation and apprehension of the greatness of Christ. It is the only way, it's the only way, but it is the sure way - it's God's way: the greatness of Christ; the over-lordship of Christ; the absolute supremacy of Christ - Christ over all, in all, through all - high and lifted up. That is God's method, and the whole purpose of the dispensations. It's His method with every individual life. If you have fallen into tragedy, if the earlier days, the glow and the glory of Christian experience of former days has faded into shadows or even darkness; if you, in your own spiritual life, are a tragedy; what will save you will be if you can get a new apprehension of the greatness of Christ. And that is God's way. Turn your eyes from your tragedy, from yourself, from your Uzziah, and from all things around, and lift them up, and see Him high and lifted up - great enough to cope with your tragedy and great enough to cope with the tragedy of a universe as well as of a church! "I saw the Lord high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple."

In the heavenly vision, things passed from the tragic temple in Jerusalem to the temple in heaven. Isaiah saw a heavenly temple, substituting the earthly which had failed - a heavenly House of God. This is the second move in the way of recovery. Do you notice how true to principle this is: according to the New Testament, firstly, always firstly, the greatness of Christ, the exaltation of Christ. That is always the beginning. And then the greatness of the church, the greatness of the House of God, the greatness of that conception and that reality, of a place of God's dwelling. But now we know that the earthly thing is in tragedy, and you're not going to rebuild that; you're not going to recover an earthly thing; the church now is a heavenly thing. It's a heavenly thing. It is only as you and I get onto heavenly ground that you and I can be a true expression of the church: its unity and its life. Touch this earth, and you touch everything that divides; everything that brings strife; everything that is a contradiction to that Divine idea. Get off the earthly ground of things and people onto heavenly ground, and at once a new kind of church comes into evidence; it is a heavenly thing. How much time we could and would like to spend on this, but you see.

First, the Head of the church, and then the church. First, the Lord high and lifted up, and then the temple of the Lord, which He fills. It's substituting the earthly for the heavenly; the Lord deliver us from our earthly ideas, and our earthly limitations and conceptions; our earthly bondages. Oh, how contradictory the earthly church is! It's not the church according to God's mind.

"And His skirts filled the temple", filled the house. Symbolic language, here in this heavenly temple, or house, or church, Christ is all-pervading, and all inclusive. Here He fills all things; there is no room for anyone or anything else. His filling His House just does mean that there's no place for anything earthly: persons or things; there is no place for what is of this world. He is, in the eternal counsels of God, appointed and destined to fill all things, and the first place of His filling is His own House, the church.

That is very testing, isn't it? Because, after all, men have come into the House of God, and things have been brought in. There is very much today, that corresponds to the condition of the days when the Lord was here in the flesh, concerning which He could repeat His words: "Take these things hence; take these things hence, they don't belong to My Father's House; they are not in keeping with the place of the dwelling, the habitation, of the Lord. Take them out!" But this heavenly, heavenly House is filled with Christ. The garments or the skirts are only symbolic of Himself and His fulness; all-pervading, so that man is deposed and has no place here as man. And just as Uzziah was driven out, the priests took him and drove him out, forced him out from the temple, so room has to be made for the Lord in His heavenly House.

And then the next thing in the vision, the heavenly vision, is of the heavenly servants and their service. Here called 'the seraphim'. "I saw the seraphim; above Him were the seraphim" - heavenly servants, fulfilling heavenly ministry. They each had six wings, and their wings had different kinds of features of their heavenly service. "With two they covered (or veiled) their faces": this service, this service which is going to bring God His satisfaction and reach His end, and fulfil His purpose and be according to His original intention; this service is carried out, and carried through, in a spirit of deep reverence, humility, and awe. How contrary to the flesh! I suppose these seraphim were themselves beautiful and glorious beings; in other places you find that is so. But they covered it in the presence of the Lord. Whatever they were in themselves, they covered it in the presence of the Lord and in the service of the Lord; they hid themselves. They hid themselves. That is just different, isn't it, from a very great deal of what is called "Christian work". It is used to bring people into prominence. How many there are that uncover themselves in the work of the Lord, and you only see them; you encounter them; they are in view. But these who fulfil the true, heavenly ministry to God, cover themselves. It is in a spirit of deep, reverent awe and humility, that it's fulfilled.

"With two they covered their feet" - feet: symbols of their goings, their walk, their ways, their work. And this was all very much under cover, under government, all very much in subjection to that throne; they are before the throne, they are in the presence of the Holy God, and all their ways, their walk, and their work, is governed by this sense of holiness and reverence. It's a subject life isn't it, under the Lord's government. These are not just running hither and thither, doing this and doing that, according to their own whims and fancies, and impulses and ideas. It's all governed, under the restraint of heaven - "they covered their feet."

"And with two they fly." Their flying is only at His behest; all their goings are in obedience to Him. It's obedience. They fly to do His will; and their flying will be very swift, and very immediate. To discern intuitively His mind about any matter, will find them instantly off to do it. This is the nature of the servant of the Lord: obedient, governed, restrained, humble, reverent, yet swift to do His will when it is known - "with twain they did fly".

"And one cried to the other: Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts". What is that? I think that is the essence of everything, the essence of all their ministry, the essence of heavenly ministry. When you come to get a look into heaven at any time in the Bible, what is it that you find that is going on in heaven? Worship! Worship, unceasing worship! That is the great thing that comes out in the consummation, isn't it, in the book of the Revelation. At the Lord's table this morning we picked out three of the instances. This is the end! Things now are at the end, the consummation of the ages. God is in the possession of the realisation of His purpose through the Lamb, and heaven is just filled with worship. It is worship, worship, worship; that's heavenly ministry.

What is worship? What is it? Worship, of course, is the service of the Lord, because worship is God having His rights; God having His rights: everything coming back to the Lord, everything being drawn God-ward. That's worship. From the earth, from all things, held for Him, directed toward Him; He is the centre and every stream flows toward Him. That is the meaning of worship, and that is the ultimate and supreme service. "They worship the Lord." Worship should characterise everything in our lives. Our homes should be held for the Lord, so that they become not just places where we have five or ten minutes, or an hour or two, of prayer and worshipping the Lord; the thing should be for the Lord, and all of it for the Lord. And everything that we have should be a matter of worship. We hold it for God; everything. Our whole lives should be God-ward in every matter. That is service! That is servanthood: to see that God has His place and His rights, and comes into everything. "One cried to another, saying, Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord of hosts."

And next: what you might expect, what we might expect, and what would certainly happen if this did come to us as a vision; if ours was an open heaven like this: the servant's undoing.

The Servant's Undoing

"Woe is me"! Woe is me.... With all that could be said to profit on that matter, let me sum it up by saying this: you will never, never be a servant of the Lord according to Jesus Christ, on His principle of service, until you have come very low at the feet of God. That's one way of putting it. Oh, how He honoured the Father! How He honoured the Father! However and always, and in all things He was the slave of the Father's honour and glory! And while it was never His of Himself, to say that He personally was unclean, 'a man of unclean lips', for us, dear friends, let there be no mistake about it, the way of servanthood is the way of the shattering of this self-life; the exposing of our own corruption. Does that bring you some hope? I struggle to take some hope out of that. The Lord certainly does take infinite pains to shatter us, to break us, to empty us, to bring us down to the dust, as His servants.

But if this has anything to say of encouragement and comfort, it says this: this is the way of service; this is the way of greater service; it is the way of being able to minister to the Lord. Shall we put it the other way? Here, to begin with, in this universe somewhere, we don't know, don't know where, there was one great, glorious being, who was a minister of God! A minister of God: "The anointed cherub that covereth..." - a glorious being. And when he became self-important, and sought to have the root of the matter in himself, and be self-sufficient, he lost his ministry for all eternity; he lost his place in the glory as that great servant of God. And that is ever true. Any pride, any self-esteem, self-sufficiency, self-confidence, self-centredness of any kind, any self-ish-ness, is the way of ruined usefulness to God. Make no mistake about it.

And so it was necessary, in the reaction of God to the situation, both in Israel and in the church, that a vessel should come into being for His recovery purpose that is very empty, that has been thoroughly emptied, and weakened, and broken, and brought to the place where there is nothing to say but: "Woe is me!" That opens a prospect when we get there, as it did with Isaiah: the woe; the servant's undoing first and then, through the undoing, the anointing.

The Anointing

For what I see here is the feature of the anointing, the living coal from the altar - blood soaked with the sacrifice - alive with the fire in it; a living coal - the Blood and the Spirit together - the twin symbols of cleansing and empowerment. Back in the Levitical system it was like that, wasn't it? The blood and the fire of the altar was for the cleansing of the priesthood; and that was for constituting them the servants of God - Divine unction. And so, this servant's anointing; but mark you, he had to know the power of the Blood in his own experience.

All true service to God has got to come from a personal knowledge of the virtue of the Blood of the Lamb. The tremendous effectiveness and efficacy of that Blood, has got to be deeply rooted, not in our doctrine and theory, but in our experience, in our history. Oh, the infinite value of the Blood! And, correspondingly, the infinite power of the Spirit. We must know that in our experience: the fire of God, which purges, which cleanses, but which also energises and vitalises. That's the servant's equipment, and when you get there -

The Servant's Call.

Then "I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Who will go for us, and whom shall I send?" And that sounds very much like a contradiction of what I said last night, that there is nothing voluntary about this service; it's compulsory. But it's not a contradiction. Think a little more below the surface. No, this service is compulsory; it's the service of the bond-slave who has no option, no alternative, and no rights. And yet, here it is, suspended, so to speak, in the air: "Who?" Is God waiting for an answer; waiting for a volunteer? Think again. Maybe, and yet, see how everything had been very personal with this man up to this point. First of all, he had a name, Isaiah, the 'Salvation of the Lord'. By his very birth and name, his ministry is implied; there is a sense of destiny in the very title that he has. Perhaps most of you don't understand that, but some of you may do. Some of you may do, that right from earliest days you had a sense, though you were not saved, you didn't know the Lord, yet you had a sense of there being something more than just this life, and this earth, and this world, bound up with your existence. It's like that.

Might I illustrate from my own experience (I don't mean to imply that I am any good as a servant, but I happen to be in the Lord's service; is that the wrong way to put it?) that there is something sovereign about it. I remember, when I was a little fellow of about five, or six, or seven years of age, a relative of mine took me to see one of those old Scottish 'divines' - the old type, of the Andrew Bonar type - a Dr. Black. Then he was the aged, eighty-two years old minister of the great Wellington church in Glasgow. And I remember (I never thought anything about this in my little life, but it occurred to me) that he took me into his room and study, and we sat down, and he put his hand on my shoulder, and drew me to his side, and he looked at me and he said: "My boy, when you grow up, are you going to be a minister?" No such idea had ever occurred to me, to be a minister - I suppose it shouldn't at six or seven years old! But I remember that something stirred in me when he said that. And all, without knowing what I was saying, I simply said: "I would like to be". And he put his hand on my head, and said: "God bless you, my boy, and make you one of His servants". And I have to say, that though years came in, and there was not very much of the Lord's service or the Lord's glory in those years, that never left me; it held something in me, like a sense of destiny.

Now, is that worth saying by way of illustration? That may be true with you, or it may not be true, but you see, Isaiah had something like that by his very name - by his very name, it was there. And then, as I have said, all this, all this was so personal to him, wasn't it? He had been given a heavenly vision, with all these wonderful aspects and features. He had been touched with the living coal, and he had heard the voice of the seraphim: "This hath touched thy lips, and thine iniquity is pardoned". What more do you want to make a servant, and to convince any man that he's a man with a call, that he is, before he has committed himself, he is apprehended of God? Apprehended of God. Well, there's nothing voluntary about that; that's all sovereign from God's side.

But what about this suspended call: "Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?" Why that seeming optional element in it? I think for this: not to make him a servant; not to make him Isaiah the prophet; that was all settled in the sovereignty of God. But look at what he had got to do! Have you read the last part, the last section of the chapter? My word, my word, he was called to no popular work. He was called to nothing that was going to make him pleased; no, nothing in this that was going to give him personal gratification. No, this was no popular, no pleasant work to which he was called. Could ever a man be called to anything more heartbreaking, and more distressing? Look at it again. "Go! Go, and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not." How would you like that ministry? That is the failure of your ministry right at the outset. That's failure written over it from the beginning: "See ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes; lest they see and hear and understand". Well, what about it?

The Lord doesn't leave us in any doubt on this matter: "Look here, if you are going to do Me true service, you are not going to be a popular preacher; you are not going to get anything out of this for yourself. You are going to have a difficult time. They indeed, for the more part, will not receive your word. They won't like what you say." And if tradition is true, Isaiah was the man who was sawn asunder in the end. Martyrdom lay in the line of this ministry, this service. Will you accept it? Will you? Will you? Not, "Will you be a prophet?" Not, "Will you be a servant?" but, "Will you serve Me though you get nothing out of it?" That is perhaps where the voluntary element comes in. The Lord is not going to force this on us; He looks for co-operation. He wants us to know what we're involved in, He wants us to face this thing quite squarely, and look it right in the eyes, and say: "This kind of ministry, of the remnant standing for God's full thought, is not what all Israel will take to kindly." Indeed, every kind and form of rejection will be met, you'll be despised and rejected of men; the prophet was well mixed up with that language. He entered into the experience of the One whom he saw, the One of chapter 53: "despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief". Isaiah knew a lot about that. And be sure, don't have any illusions about this; I know the ideas of young men, wanting to go into the "ministry" and the "service", and "the Lord's work", and become a great evangelist, or a great preacher, or something else great! No. That's not it. The nearer you get to the heart of God, the more deeply you are baptised into the full thought and purpose of God, the smaller will be your following and clientele; the narrower will be your way of acceptance, the less popular will your ministry be; that is what is said here.

Unless, dear friends, you, after all this, may be thinking in personal terms only, "A prophet - but here we are a number of sisters, a number of brothers, a number of young people - that all may be all right for a prophet like Isaiah, but where do I come into that?" Have you, have you not heard what I have been trying to say: that this service and ministry is the service of a company, as well as of individuals, a remnant; that you can fulfil this very service and ministry, not individually and separately, but by reason of your relatedness to a remnant, to a body of the Lord's people who are standing for Him in this way. You can fulfil it just as truly collectively or corporately, as individually. And you know this, that you meet all this by reason of your relationships and associations! You'll meet it, not because of yourself, but because of that!

Well, I need say no more about that, but here we are, I think the situation is clearly defined as to servant and servanthood in Jesus Christ. All this was true of Him, the great Servant. And if the Master went that way, we, His lesser servants, surely should say, "Here am I, send me!"

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