The Persistent Purpose of God

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - The Living Ones

Before we proceed with our consideration of Ezekiel, let me say that I have not prepared an outline of yesterday morning's study because we broke off in the middle of a section. When we have completed this section, I will give you the second outline. We are still occupied with the preparation of the Lord's servants for His ministry, and yesterday morning we were considering the Throne above the firmament and the likeness of a Man upon it. As you will remember, we concluded yesterday by pointing out the importance to the servants of the Lord of seeing that Throne - what it means to the Lord's servants to recognise that there is a Throne, and that there is a Man upon that Throne. We passed on into the New Testament, and we saw that it was that that accounted for everything in the first days of the church. They were able to sing, and to pray, and to preach, and to suffer, and to die, because they knew the Man was on the Throne! So that part of the vision came first and was of very great importance to Ezekiel.

I expect you know what the name "Ezekiel" means; if you do not, let me tell you that it means: "God shall be my strength." And Ezekiel had to have vision and experience that made his own name true. All this that Ezekiel was seeing was just establishing the meaning of his own name, "God is my strength." We shall only have strength as we see the Man on the Throne! That is a very important thing for ministry.

Now, before I go on, I want to say a very definite word to you brothers and sisters here. I see in these prophecies of Ezekiel something which seems to correspond very closely to what God is doing out here. You know that God did a great thing in the West, it was in the West that the Lord raised up a very strong ministry and testimony, and from the West for many years the Lord sent out spiritual blessing all over the world. It is to the West that many countries owe a very great deal. I think that is recognised by everyone. In the West there were many great teachers, there were great men of God, and from these men of God and their teachings, blessing has come to many parts of the world. We can say that Christianity, or the church in the West, has been greatly used in the past. But that is not as true today, as it was. The West has lost something. The testimony has become weak. The state of the church has become very poor. The measure of spiritual value has become very limited and it seems to me that the Lord is moving away from the West and it looks to me as though He is moving to the East, for I see the Lord doing a new thing in the East. It would seem that He has made a beginning all over again and in the last thirty or so years, God has been doing a very wonderful thing in the East and I believe that you are a part of that thing that the Lord is doing.

The Lord is seeking to raise up here a testimony, a testimony in spiritual fullness. You see, the Lord must have this. He must have His purpose and His truth represented on this earth. This that He has revealed in the letter to the Ephesians is not just something in heaven only, there must be an expression of it here in this world. We know that that is the purpose of this dispensation. The Lord must have it. He cannot close the dispensation until He has got it: a representation of His own thought concerning the church. That is the manifestation of Christ in His Body. I repeat: the Lord must have it. He has not got it in the West, only in very small ways. I believe that it is there in small companies, but speaking of the people of God as a whole, the Lord has not got it. He has tried to have it, but His people have failed Him. Now He is beginning again and He is beginning in the East.

There is a very great responsibility resting upon you brothers and sisters. It is no less a responsibility than providing the Lord with that which He must have before the end of the dispensation. There may be weaknesses and imperfections, we are all conscious of those, probably you are conscious of those, but the Lord is seeking to do something, to do something in a new way and in a fuller way - that which will be on this earth a true expression of His mind as fully as He can have it. Now, I have said that to you and in saying that I have pointed out your great responsibility and that will explain very many things. It will explain why the Lord will not allow you to be satisfied with anything less than His full thought.

Well, I trust that you can see more than I have said, but if you could recognise it, that is exactly what is in the book of Ezekiel. The Lord had had a full testimony in one place. His people failed Him there and what we see here is the Lord moving away from that and bringing His revelation in another place. He is moving away from the earthly, to the heavenly. It is as though the Lord was saying, "I am not able to do what I wanted to do there. The condition of things there does not permit Me to realise My full purpose, so I move away and start again somewhere else." That is what is in this book. But that is the kind of thing that the Lord has done from time to time, He has begun to do something in a certain place with a certain people. For the time being there has been something very much of the Lord there, and then the Lord has come up against something that prevented Him going on; it put a limitation on the Lord. The Lord has been patient, but then He found that He could not go on, and He has had to say, "I cannot do what I intended there, I must do it somewhere else." You see that is true to history.

Now, I don't want to give you a sense of too great importance, this ought to be a very humbling thing, it ought to bring upon us a very great sense of responsibility. That brings me back to what I said at the beginning this morning, it was in that movement of God that Ezekiel was found. It was a movement of God onward, but away from the place that He had been for so long. It was a new movement of God and for that ministry Ezekiel needed the strength of God. So his name means "The Lord shall strengthen". If you like, you can write that name over yourselves. I don't know what the world would think if they saw over your hall the name: "Ezekiel", but in your great responsibility write that name spiritually over your heart. The Lord has called us into a great responsibility, but the Lord will be our strength. Now, I think that is a worthwhile introduction to our further consideration.

So we come to the next part of "the visions of God" which were the preparation of the Lord's servant; that is, what was under the firmament, what was directly under the Throne. And the first part of this was:

"The Four Living Ones"

What are known to us as the cherubim. There are eight references in fullness to the cherubim in the Bible. If you like, I will allow you to write these down: Genesis 3:24, Exodus 25:18-20, Exodus 26 verses 1 and 32, 1 Kings chapters 6 and 7, Isaiah chapter 6, Ezekiel chapter 1 and chapter 9, and Revelation chapters 4 and 5. There you have the eight references to the cherubim in fullness. There are other references to them in the Bible, I only give them to you; not because we're going to study all those now, of course. We do recognise that these cherubim were not real creatures, they are not a real creation, they are only symbols of spiritual things. There are many ways in which we could prove that to be so. I do not think it would be profitable to turn aside to try and prove that that is so.

One thing about them is this: that in different places they are different in representation. For instance, here in Ezekiel they have four wings; in Isaiah they have six wings. That is only to emphasise particular spiritual principles. And you will notice that there are other differences in the references to the cherubim. This means that at one time, in one place, certain things are emphasised, at another time, in another place, certain other things are emphasised. It is the spiritual principles which are to be taken note of, so that these cherubim are symbols of spiritual realities. We must not imagine that they are actual beings. We know quite well, that especially in the East, symbols are the common way of teaching, while in the West we do use some symbols. In the East it is a much more prominent thing to use symbols; that has always been true. I suppose your Chinese dragon is one of those things. I don't know whether that Chinese dragon ever actually existed, but you know that the dragon is intended to represent some spiritual idea. Right from the very earliest days of history in the East, symbolism was the common way of teaching or representation. So the Bible, right from beginning to end, is just full of symbolism - things taken up by God to teach spiritual truth.

Now then, we look at these "four living ones." First we take account of their number, their number is four. Everything about them speaks of the number four. They have four likenesses, each one of the four has four likenesses. And there are four of them. They have four wings. Now I think I need not stay with all the details. Their characteristic number is four; and as you may know, four is the number of creation. If we want to cover all the dimensions of the creation, they are covered in the number four: north, south, east, and west cover the whole world; there are the four seasons of the year: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. In the Bible the four winds are referred to, four winds as coming from "the four corners of the earth". Now, we know that the world is not square, it does not have four corners, but this is a symbolic way of speaking, "the four corners of the earth" mean the whole world. And I could go on like that with the number four. It, therefore, represents the whole creation; it is the number of creation. Keep that in mind as we move on to their four likenesses.

You see, they had four likenesses: the likeness of a man, the likeness of a lion, the likeness of an ox, the likeness of an eagle; and those four are representative of four parts of the creation. The lion represents the wild creation, the ox represents the domestic creation, the eagle represents the flying creation, and the man represents the human creation. All creation is represented here. But then, what is the symbolism? This is so well known that I'm almost afraid to mention it. The lion is the symbol for royalty and government. The ox is the symbol of service and sacrifice. The eagle is the symbol of heavenliness and mystery. And the man is the symbol for representation. That is the symbolism.

We ask, "What is the meaning of all that?" Surely it is impossible to not see that this, in the first place, is a symbolic representation of Christ. It is Christ in His four-fold capacity. The Lion is "the Lion of the tribe of Judah", out of Judah came the Ruler, so that the Lion is the symbol of the government or royalty of the Lord Jesus. You probably know that the gospel by Matthew corresponds to that. It is the gospel of the King.

The Ox is the symbol of service and sacrifice, and again, that is a representation of the Lord Jesus, the servant of Jehovah sacrificing Himself: "The Son of Man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give His life". The ox corresponds to the gospel by Mark. It is in the Gospel by Mark that, more than anything else, Jesus is seen in service giving Himself.

The Man aspect of the cherubim is very clear, "The Son of Man is come". That is the message of Luke: Jesus the Man.

And the Eagle, is the symbol of heavenliness and mystery, and that is clearly seen in the gospel by John. The Lord Jesus so often in that gospel speaks about His having "come down from heaven", and yet there is a mystery about Him that no one can understand. He is a Man, but He is more than a Man. This is the eagle symbolism. So I say it is quite difficult not to see the Lord Jesus as represented by the cherubim.

They are called "the living ones", In our translation, a word is introduced that is not there in the original. In one translation, it is living "creatures"; in another translation, it is living "beasts", the four living "beasts". Well, of course, to begin with, man is not a beast, and an eagle is not strictly a beast. Those words are not in the original. They have had to be there because of the impossibility of translating it. You know the impossibility of translating some words, probably we're up against that now every day! Some words are untranslatable from one language into another. What is here in the original text is this: just the plural form of the word "life". Now you see, it is impossible to translate that: Life in a plural form. In the Greek language that is quite simple and clear. You might be able to translate it into Chinese, I don't know, but it simply means the plurality of life. The chief characteristic of the cherubim was Life: - "In Him was Life". What was the Life for? The Life of the creation! Jesus is the Life of the creation. Of course that is now the new creation!

We go back to the first appearance of the cherubim. Man has sinned, God has cursed the race and the earth, He has driven man out of the garden in which there was "the tree of Life" and He has placed the cherubim at the gate to guard the way of the tree of Life. What does all that mean? The sinful and fallen creation can never have that Life. That Life can only be had by "a new creation". Between that which represents the fallen creation and that which represents the unfallen creation, stands Christ as "The Door". Christ says, "There is no Life for that sinful creation; there is only Life in a new creation." So the cherubim stand between. You see, Christ always stands between an old creation and a new. There is no Life outside of Christ. There is Life inside of Christ. Christ as "The Life" stands at the door. He says "No" to one creation, and "Yes" to another. Well, I think we can say that the cherubim represent Christ. They represent Christ as the Life.

Now, it is also very difficult not to see that the cherubim in relation to the Throne affect the whole creation. The Throne is linked with the creation - in creation and redemption. On the one side, it relates to the creation; on the other side, it relates to the redemption of the creation! God's Throne governs those two things. The Chariot-Throne of God is linked with God's creative and redemptive power. This Throne says that God is concerned with the redemption of the creation. You notice over the Throne there is a rainbow. The rainbow is the symbol of God's covenant of redemption. You will find that rainbow again in the book of the Revelation and presently we shall see its connection in that book, but let us be quite sure of what we have just said.

Here is the Chariot-Throne of God! Underneath are the symbols of the whole creation. The whole question is the question of Life for the creation, but we have seen the tremendous energies and power of those movements of the Throne! All the energies and movements of God are in relation to a new creation, a redeemed creation. So it is difficult not to see that the Throne is moving in relation to Divine Purpose - the Divine Purpose in creation. That movement is by way of the Lord Jesus. That new creation is to have Him as its King. That is by way of His service and His sacrifice. That will be an expression of His Heavenly Character, and it is all summed up in:

The Man After God's Own Heart.

You will see that the Man feature is the predominant feature in the cherubim. Now, if we want to have a New Testament explanation of that, we have one. We have it all in that very full eighth chapter of the letter to the Romans. In that chapter creation is seen as in bondage. You remember the words, "The creation was subjected to vanity... the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain". It is groaning under its bondage, waiting for its liberty. That is the thing we see in Romans 8. And then we see that the heart of that situation is "the sons of God" waiting for "the manifestation of the sons of God". Until God has sonship in the creation, the creation cannot be delivered. The sons of God are involved in this situation. But then this chapter shows us God's eternal mind about those sons, "whom He foreknew... He foreordained to be conformed to the image of His Son... whom He foreknew, them He also justified, whom He justified, them He also called" He called.

First of all: the emancipation of the sons and then when that has been accomplished, the emancipation of the creation. When the sons are released, then the creation will be released. We have all that in the eighth chapter of Romans, it's a very wonderful chapter. And you can take that right back into the beginning of the prophecies of Ezekiel. In principle, that is exactly what is here in this vision. God had a thought concerning a people. He created man with that thought. Man failed Him. God brought the whole creation and man into bondage. It is groaning in its bondage. Paul says, "We ourselves grown within ourselves waiting for our adoption", but God is moving, He is at work in the groaning creation. All the energies of God are toward getting those sons out of the groaning creation. He is getting those sons now. They are not recognised by this world, but the day is coming when the sons shall be manifested, when God shall display to the whole universe the sons that He has redeemed. That is what we have in the fourth and fifth chapters of the book of the Revelation - a great multitude of redeemed ones displayed to the whole universe; and when that comes to pass, the creation itself shall be delivered.

It will not be long before God says: "I create new heavens and a new earth... the former things are passed away." All that is here in Ezekiel in principle. Now here is a very significant thing: in chapters four and five of Revelation, you have the four living ones. In chapter four, they are connected with the creation. The song in chapter four is "For Thou didst create all things, and for Thy pleasure they were created." The living ones are there in connection with that, the Divine purpose in creation - "He created all things in Jesus Christ." The living ones are a representation of Jesus Christ: King, Sacrifice, Heavenly Man - that gives the meaning to the creation. "All things were created in Him," and the living ones are there in the presence of the song of creation, but in a special way now, it is the song of a new creation.

In chapter five of the book of the Revelation, another song is being sung, and the living ones are there. This is the song of redemption, "Thou... hast redeemed"; that's the new song, and the living ones are there. The purpose of creation in Christ Jesus - Jesus as the Purpose of creation, and when the new creation is secured, the living ones are there. It is a new creation in Christ Jesus. The song of redemption: "Thou hast redeemed us," - and the redemption is in Christ Jesus. I think that's all very clear.

You see, that takes us back to Ezekiel - the cherubim, in the first place, as a representation of Christ. On the one side related to creation; on the other side, related to redemption. And all these mighty energies of God concentrated upon that. All the goings of God are unto that. One creation has failed; God is going to have a new creation. One representation of God has failed; God is going to have a new representation. Israel has failed as the representation of God, He will have His Church. That is what comes out later in these prophecies.

Now I must leave it there. That is only half of it. The other half you see, is the wheels; I think we must leave that for this morning. This is all not only interesting, but very instructive. It ought to help us to see one thing: here is the Throne of heaven concentrated upon a full and perfect representation of the Lord's Mind. When we sum up this whole section, we shall see more of what that means for us, but it is a tremendous thing to be right in the way of the goings of God; not alongside of the goings of God, not in some little bit of the goings of God, but right in the full way of the goings of God! That is where we shall find the support of the Throne! That is how it was at the beginning of the history of the Church. Oh, surely God wants it like that at the end and I believe that the Lord is moving in that direction: to have something at the end which corresponds to what was at the beginning. That will be true of the creation; the Lord wants it to be true of the Church. I expect you're storing up quite a lot of questions for next week!

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