The Persistent Purpose of God

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - God's Mind for His People

What we were considering this morning (for those principles are the key to this book in a special way) we begin by indicating one of those principles in another way: God's end is always implicit in all His beginnings. Thus we have Genesis in the book of the Revelation and the book of the Revelation in Genesis. Do try to remember this as we proceed with these studies. Let me repeat that:

God's End is Always Present in His Beginnings.

Perhaps you would like an illustration of that. We will have it in the fifteenth chapter of the book of Exodus. Chapter fifteen, verse thirteen: "Thou in Thy lovingkindness hast led the people that Thou hast redeemed, Thou hast guided them in Thy strength to Thy holy habitation... Thou wilt bring them in and plant them in the mountain of Thine inheritance, the place, O Lord, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established."

Now, do you recognise what that has said? Israel has only just got out of Egypt, they are just over the Red Sea; this is the song of Moses and all Israel as they have escaped from Egypt and Pharaoh. They had only just begun their journey. But here it says: "Thou hast guided them in Thy strength to Thy holy habitation... the place, O Lord, which Thou hast made for Thee to dwell in, the sanctuary, O Lord, which Thy hands have established." That takes us right on to the end of their history. Hundreds of years would have to pass before the Temple was built, before Jerusalem - the holy mountain - was secured. They had got to go a long way, for a long time, before they came there. But here, right at the beginning, it is spoken of as though it were already accomplished.

(Now I'm going to pause for a moment. I don't know whether you're going to be able to do two things - it is not very helpful for me to be speaking to the tops of everybody's heads! I would sooner look into your faces as I'm speaking, whether you'd be able to do your writing and look at me at the same time I don't know!)

Well, you see from this instance what I mean by God's end always being right there at the beginning. Heavenly things always govern all the earthly things. Invisible things govern all the visible things. Spiritual things govern all the temporal things. Universal things govern all the local things. That is something you must always remember when you are reading the Bible and that is something which must be kept in mind as we approach this book of Ezekiel.

Human history is not just human history, it is God's history! This book of Ezekiel seems to have a lot of earthly history in it, but the truth is that it is all governed by a Divine End and Purpose. Now, the big question which we meet right at the beginning of this book is, "Does this book have a message for the Church in this dispensation? Does it just relate to a period in the past history of the people of Israel? Does it relate to the future dispensation in the matter of prophecy? Or is its main message for the Church in this dispensation?" We shall be compelled to face those questions as we move into this book, especially in those parts of the book which we are going to particularly consider. The answer is found not in the earthly, but in the Heavenly; not in the temporal, but in the spiritual.

So we come to the setting and reason for this book. We must recognise when the book was written, and why. What is in this book happened at a time when a whole system had broken down and failed. The reason for that breakdown and that failure was because that system became something in itself; it lost its spiritual and its eternal meaning. We must recognise that this is something that constantly recurs in the history of the things of God. It happened in Israel. It has happened in Christianity generally. It has happened in many movements and pieces of work of God. It began with a great testimony, just as Israel began. It was a wonderful testimony to the Lord with which Israel's history began, but then that whole thing broke down. It completely failed because it lost its spiritual meaning and became something in itself. The same is true of Christianity, it had a wonderful beginning, but speaking generally, Christianity has broken down and failed because it has become an earthly system, something in itself, and has lost its Heavenly meaning.

Now we return to this book of Ezekiel, and we find God moving away from Jerusalem and God is found outside and not inside, and the thing in which God once was, has now become an empty shell. That which was once vital and effective, and was greatly used of the Lord, has become a merely formal and empty thing with God on the outside. That is the setting and the occasion of this book.

Now let us look at the prophet himself. You know that Ezekiel did not begin by being a prophet.

Ezekiel was a Trained Priest and Not a Prophet

You know it is verse three tells us that, and then at the beginning it refers to "the thirtieth year": "Now it came to pass in the thirtieth year...". The thirtieth year was most probably the thirtieth birthday of Ezekiel. It was at the age of thirty that the priests finished their training and entered upon their ministry. You remember that it was when the Lord Jesus was thirty years of age that He entered upon His ministry. His preparation was finished and His ministry began. So at the age of thirty, Ezekiel ought to have commenced his priestly ministry, but instead of fulfilling his ministry as a priest, he was called to be a prophet. His whole life and training and vocation were changed.

A prophet is one who represents the full Mind of God when that Mind has been lost. It is impressive to note that Ezekiel had to take up something altogether different from that for which he was trained. The situation which existed required that. We shall come back on that again later.

Now, when God moves in relation to His full Mind which has been lost amongst His people, there are always things essential in the instrument of His movement, because if this is going to be done, it is only God Who can do it! You know, the course of men is quite different from that. The way of men is to take men and train them and make them able to do the work, so that when they come out of the college, or the Bible institute, they feel that they are equipped for the work and now, of course, they can do it, they have been trained for it.

I'm going to tell you something that you need not put down in your notebooks, by way of illustrating what I have just said. This is a very important point. I know of a certain great Bible institution. In the city where that Bible institute is, they have every year a great carnival and everybody in the city is supposed to have some representation in the carnival. So they hire great carts, and they build on the cart some representation of their business; it is all done very wonderfully. And so the Bible Institute joined in and it set up on the cart a representation of the institution. Here was the Bible College: going in at one end were all kinds of men; there was the farmer with his farm instruments, there was the engineer with his tools, there were all the kinds of trades that you could think of, they're all marching in to the Bible Institute. But then they're coming out at the other end; but you cannot recognise them now, they've left their old clothes behind, they have left their tools behind, and they've all got their collars on round the back way and they've all got black clothes with a black hat. They are now all pastors. They've been through the machine. That is not what God does. That is a purely mechanical way of making "servants" of God. Of course, all those men now are "qualified" for the work, Ezekiel was not qualified for his work. He was qualified to be a priest, and he was called to be a prophet. And what we find is that all through his life, he never found it easy. You see how difficult Ezekiel found his work; he realised that it was only by the help of God that he could fulfill his ministry.

We all have to begin there if we are really going to minister in heavenly things. There has to be this tremendous change where we come to realise that we cannot do this work of ourselves, only the Lord can do it. There was this great sense of disappointment with things as they were, the overpowering sense that things were wrong, and this state of things had to be made the business of Ezekiel's life. You will have to begin there if you're really going to be used of God. You will have to be overwhelmed with the sense that things are all wrong in this world, that things are not as they ought to be. You have no ability to put them right, but you sense that God has called you to this, and that your ability to do anything must come from God Himself.

That is where we begin with Ezekiel. And, of course, we take the spiritual principles as we go along. I think I need not go back over that ground. There is a breakdown in things, they are not as God intended them to be. God calls men and women in relation to this situation, and the call changes the whole course of their lives. And in the call is the consciousness that they have no ability in themselves to meet the situation, but God, Who has called them, will be their Sufficiency.

I have read the first three chapters of this book into what I have just said. Just take one little fragment, it was the commission of Ezekiel: "Son of man, I send thee not to a people of a strange language, whose language you do not understand. If I sent you to them, they would listen! But I send you to the house of Israel. They will not hear you." That's a difficult commission, and only the Lord could carry a man through that. But then notice what the Lord says as to Divine equipment: "I have made thy face hard against their faces, and thy forehead hard against their foreheads" (Ezekiel 3:8). In other words, the Lord is going to be the strength of this difficult work.

Then we notice another thing. With this sense of disappointment, this whole change in the course of life, this having to take a way for which there was no natural equipment, there goes this second great factor:

Ezekiel Saw the Lord.

He was given a vision of the Lord, a vision of what the Lord wanted. Now it is very important that these two things that I have just mentioned always go together. If we have disappointment and dissatisfaction without vision, that is negative. There are plenty of people who are dissatisfied with things as they are. They are the people who can always see what is wrong. They can point their finger at the weaknesses and the faults; they are experts in criticising everything. That is negative. It does not get us anywhere. With dissatisfaction, there must go vision. But vision must rest upon travail. Vision without travail and suffering of heart, is mere mysticism. These two things must go together. If you or I feel dissatisfied, feel that things are all wrong, we ought to be in possession of the knowledge of what the Lord really does want. We ought to have a positive vision of the purpose of God.

Now I want to stop here and say a word to the preachers. Let us read these first verses: "Now it came pass in the thirtieth year, in the fourth month, in the fifth day of the month, that I was among the captives by the river Chebar that the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. In the fifth day of the month which was the fifth year of King Jehoiachin's captivity, the Word of the Lord came expressly unto Ezekiel the priest, son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans... and the hand of the Lord was there upon me."

I say, I want to say a word at this point to the preachers. You notice that what Ezekiel was about to do, had a special date for its beginning. It is very impressive how particular Ezekiel is about dates in his prophecies. If you really read through these prophecies, you will see that he is very particular about dates. That gives us our first point for preachers: A preacher, according to God's Mind, must have a message for the time. It will not do for us to be giving out things just in a general way. Our Bible teaching must not be just of a general character. What God needs more than anything, is men who have a message for the present hour. When we have finished our life and our ministry, it ought to be possible for it to be said of us, "That man had a message for his time, he was not just one in the general mass of teachers or preachers, but he had God's Word for that hour - his ministry related to a special time in the purpose of God".

Now, you preachers ask the Lord to make that true of you, that it can be recognised that your ministry relates to the present time - what God wants to do now. That is a very important factor in ministry. What does God need at this time? We must pray that we shall be the Lord's instrument for the present time, that there shall be a very clearly defined time factor in our ministry. So the date is a very important thing in ministry. When God really raises up men, He raises them up for a time.

And then next note: Ezekiel was raised up in relation to a special situation at that time. What we have just read shows that Ezekiel was right there in the situation: "I was among the captives by the river of Chebar". Ezekiel was not preaching to a situation that was distant from himself. He was not preaching to a situation that he imagined to exist. He was not preaching to a situation that had been reported to him to exist. He was right in that situation. He was in the closest personal touch with the need. The need was his need; he was put right into the heart of the situation, and his ministry came out of that. He said: "I sat where they sat." And that takes ministry out of the realm of the merely theoretical and puts it into the very practical.

You will notice that this was true of all the prophets. They did not speak to the Lord about the Lord's people as "they" - "they are in this situation; they have done these things; they have these needs." The prophets always spoke to God: "WE are in distress." Read the prayer of Nehemiah, read the prayer of Daniel, they were a part of the situation. And you and I, to be effective ministers, must be there.

Then the third thing:

This Ministry has to be very Personal.

Do you notice what it says in verse three: "The Word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel the priest." That means two things: it means that Ezekiel did not get his ministry out of books. He did not fulfill a second-hand ministry. His ministry was not the result of study. This came to him personally. These visions of God were his own. His message was original and not second-hand. It must be like that. Our ministry must be like that: it must be the result of something that God has said to us personally.

And then the last thing, the Word of the Lord came expressly... that meant that there was an urgency about it. You know the meaning of that word, you speak about an "express" train. Well, what do you mean by an "express train"? One that must get there quickly, it's very urgent. You remember the word of the apostle: "...the Spirit speaketh expressly" - there is urgency about this! "The Word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel." "There is something very urgent about this. You have got to get there as soon as you can. There is very serious business on hand. All your energies must be concentrated upon this object". That is how it has got to be with us. There has got to be a tremendous urgency about our preaching. There are very great issues at stake. I would say to you preachers one thing: before you deliver your message, stop and say one thing to yourself: "I am now going to influence lives; perhaps for all time and all eternity."

What God's Mind is for His People

We shall meet the great River, we shall see the great House, we shall come to the wonderful City, and then at the end we shall come to Jehovah Shammah: the Lord is there. But you cannot come to understand all that until you see the kind of man that God needs for it. It is a kind of man that will bring that into view. The things that I have just said are the things which make up the kind of man needed. I would like for you to go back over them again.

Remember that this is a man whose whole life has been revolutionised by the purpose of God. God's need has changed the whole course of his life! God's need has disappointed him so far as his natural life is concerned! Something of the disappointment and dissatisfaction of the heart of God has entered into this man's life. Now, do try to lay hold of that this morning, because it was on that very thing that God moved all the way through history.

I suppose Abraham was, for most of his life, very satisfied with "Ur of the Chaldees". He had all that he wanted there, but then there began to come into his heart a great dissatisfaction with that life and his heart was reaching out for something that he did not know. All he could say was, "This is not what I was made for. I am sure that there is something more in life than this. There must be some greater purpose and meaning than this. This does not satisfy me." It was on that ground that God moved in in his life. It was God working into Abraham His own dissatisfaction. And when that dissatisfaction was there, God could give the positive side of what really was His purpose.

And that was true of all the great servants of God. I believe it was true of Moses, I'm quite sure that it was true of Ezekiel. It was true of Paul, I believe that we can detect, even in Paul of Tarsus, something of dissatisfaction. God prepares His way like that. We must have this in us before God can do anything else. In order to bring His great Positive Purpose in, He must write the negative in our hearts. This is the way of service - on the one side, it is disappointment; on the other side, it is God's appointment. And then the consciousness of having no natural ability, and all the ability having to come from God Himself - a work that no man could do, and certainly a work that no man would take on himself - that was Ezekiel. But God had taken hold of this man, everything that happened to him was because "the hand of the Lord was upon him".

For this morning I am going to finish there. It's a matter of the hand of the Lord being on us. If the hand of the Lord is upon us, then we cannot help ourselves; while it may be difficult, the disappointment may be great, the demands may be beyond our ability, but we just cannot help it; we have got to go on!

You remember what Jeremiah and other prophets said about this? Because the people would not listen, and because his ministry meant so much suffering, Jeremiah said that he decided never to speak again. He was going to give up preaching, he was going to give up the work of God, but then he said: "While I kept silent, the fire burned. The Word of the Lord was as a fire in my bones, and then I broke all my resolutions. I began to speak again. I just could not do otherwise". That is what Ezekiel meant by: "The hand of the Lord was upon me". You see what that meant afterwards, how that hand of the Lord moved Ezekiel everywhere. He was a man under the hand of the Lord. Do pray that you may be like that, that it will not be your choice one way or the other, but that your lives will just be because "the hand of the Lord" is upon you. The Lord needs men and women like that. Pray that you may be like that. You are not in the thing because you like it, because you choose it, because you have any qualification for it. You are in it because the hand of the Lord is upon you. And to take yourself out of this work, would be to take yourself out of the hand of the Lord.

Now, if it is like that, something's going to happen. You will have a message for the time. You will have a message for the situation. You will feel the urgency of this message. The word will be like a fire in your bones. The Lord make us all messengers like that!

Now you can see what I meant at the beginning: it's spiritual value that matters. It is not the intellectual knowledge, but that we are men and women like this. That is spiritual effectiveness. Do ask the Lord to make you like that: that everybody is able to recognise that you have a heart that is burdened by the Lord - on the one side, you have seen what is wrong, on the other side you have seen what God wants, and that you feel that He has laid His hand on you in relation to that. The Lord make that true of all of us!

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