The Goings of God
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - The Purpose of the Ages

"They have seen Thy goings, O God, even the goings of my God, my King, into the sanctuary" (Psa. 68:24).

"Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is a great god like unto God?" (Psa. 77:13).

"They turned not when they went; they went every one straight forward... And they went every one straight forward: whither the spirit was to go, they went; they turned not when they went... And when the living creatures went, the wheels went beside them; and when the living creatures were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up. Whithersoever the spirit was to go, they went; thither was the spirit to go: and the wheels were lifted up beside them; for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels. When those went, these went; and when those stood, these stood; and when those were lifted up from the earth, the wheels were lifted up beside them: for the spirit of the living creature was in the wheels... And when they went, I heard the noise of their wings like the noise of great waters" (Ezek. 1:9,12,17,19, 20, 21,24).

"The goings of God" - this little phrase in Psalm 68 is, of course, of narrower connection than that in which we are going to use it at present.

There is undoubtedly a wider application than that in which it is set here. You will recognise that this psalm is very closely connected with the book of Numbers in which the people were ordered for progress and warfare, and in the tenth chapter of that book you have the very words with which it commences, and the goings of God referred to are there quite evidently goings in the midst of His people in the testimony. The word would be perhaps more correctly translated, "the processions of God".

But, as I have said, we are using the phrase in a larger connection just now, reaching out back to the before times eternal and on through the ages to the consummation in the ages of the ages, and all this might very well be gathered up under the fourfold sovereignty of God: sovereign purpose, sovereign government, sovereign grace, sovereign providence. I am not going to speak of it particularly along those lines, although those things will be inherent in what is said.

My own feeling is that the Lord would lead us to view once again those governing concepts of His great Divine revelation. God has given us a very great revelation from eternity to eternity, and that great revelation, that great unveiling which He has given us runs quite clearly and distinctly along certain clearly defined lines, and it is something of those lines which I think the Lord is leading us to look at again at this time.

The Purpose Fixed

The first of them is this, which reaches right back before the world was - the purpose of the ages. That is a definite clause of Scripture. It occurs in Eph. 3:11, translated "the eternal purpose", but the margin puts it more accurately - 'the purpose of the ages'. There are some things which are for faith a very solid rock, and faith needs solid rock to rest upon. Many people seem to think that faith is something which suspends you in mid-air and dangles you between heaven and earth, so there is nothing very solid under your feet. But God has never called us to such a faith. It is a vague, false, wrong idea of faith that you go out on nothing. While that may be true so far as material things are concerned, it is not true where God is concerned. The things about which we are now speaking are things which are solid rock upon which to rest the feet of faith.

And this is a part of that rock - the purpose of the ages - that it is something fixed, that this world is not just meandering on, wandering and drifting, things just taking their course without meaning, without reason, without object. You can view things like that if you like, but if you do, you will find indeed the world has slipped from under your feet; there is nothing to rest upon; life has no meaning. And immediately you recognise that the very first thing that Divine revelation gives us is this fact: that when you come with the whole revelation in the Scriptures in your hands and begin to piece it together in its right order, it is something very certainly fixed, and that is a purpose for the ages.

The Fact of the Purpose

It is a mighty fact; not a purpose that is limited to something even within the universe, not just a purpose that is isolated to a certain number of people in God's world or universe, but the fact of a purpose lying behind and governing all. This is a solid rock upon which to stand when everything seems positively to contradict that fact; things seem just to happen, things seem to be in chaos, things so often seem to be without design, and to be just running riot without control, in an awful state of confusion and lawlessness. You look in vain naturally for any design or plan in it all, but the first thing about Divine revelation is this, that the fact of a purpose of the ages is set forth and declared, is made known and established.

The Purpose All-inclusive in its Range and Detail

Then, alongside of that there comes this further aspect of the revelation, that it is all-inclusive. This purpose of the ages is all-inclusive. That is, it comprehends all things in range and in detail, that this universe is being governed by God in relation to a set purpose. And if the veil were drawn away so that we could see the ways of God, the workings of God (as we shall do in fulness eventually, and as we may do by glimpses here and there) we should see that God is making all things bend to the realisation of a purpose. He really is governing all things in connection with that end which He has set and fixed as an unshakeable and immoveable rock of eternal intention. It is going to be; that is what God determined, and all things shall come within the compass of that sovereign determination. Eventually it will be found that nothing has really worked against that purpose, but worked towards it. If it were possible to take the alternative view that some things can work against the purpose of God positively and finally, we have to admit a defeated God. So as to the range of things, all things shall come within the compass of the Divine government, a government in relation to His purpose.

As to details, that also is shown to be true. For those who are the called according to His purpose, God works in all things good (Rom. 8:28). The things are not good, and they do not all proceed from God. Many of them, probably the majority of them, proceed from an altogether different quarter, they come from the devil; but God takes hold of them and makes them work according to His purpose. Sooner or later we shall be compelled to arrive at that for our salvation from despair or from a fatalistic attitude, from utter confusion and bewilderment. We shall be compelled to come back and say that, even in the details, God knew what He was doing and God had held that. Sovereign purpose was at work. But, of course, you can only discern that dimly when you know what the purpose is.

The Nature of the Purpose

You have to have some knowledge of the nature of the purpose before you can believe or understand in a little way that God is governing all things in relation thereto. I am not saying that you can at once go and apply this and see how it just does solve every riddle, that you will immediately find that by using this key all the doors open up and you have an explanation, but I am saying this, that for those who are in the light of the purpose, this key will open many doors, solve many riddles, answer many questions and clear up many perplexities.

What is the nature of the purpose? Well, again, the revelation is very clear and, in this matter, very full. The nature of that purpose of the ages is the Divine glory in terms of Sonship in His Son, comprehending a whole family of sons. Perhaps that is a little too involved. Divine glory - that is the end and the issue of all things as to range and detail. If you cannot get any further than this in the matter, you can at least get this far and say, "Well, the stage is well set for the Lord to get a lot of glory." The very problems, the strangeness, the abnormality of the experiences of the children of God come within that Divine sovereignty of purpose, to create or produce a situation in which God will get a lot of glory. Is He not working on this principle all the time, that by the issues of all things, He is magnified, He is glorified? Not until you get out on the other side do you recognise how much and how wonderfully the Lord has wrought, but He is governing all things in relation to His purpose which is His own eternal glory in Christ Jesus and all who are in Christ Jesus.

Hannah's song after the birth of Samuel is an example of what we are saying. The whole thing is there gathered up into a small cameo or example. The situation of Hannah's life was an exceedingly difficult one, as you know. She was one of two wives, and the other wife, Peninnah, just went on the ordinary normal way. There were no particular perplexities and difficulties in her life. She had a family and was perfectly satisfied along the ordinary natural line. But Hannah's was not by any means an ordinary natural line. Then the Lord intervened, and after His intervention and its issue, she sang that song, and if you read it, you will naturally say, "Why, this woman is suffering from hysteria, she is saying wild things! Really, the situation does not justify the things that she is saying." That is how it looks naturally. She talks about the barren having borne seven, but she has only got one little boy. Her enemies are brought to shame. Then she goes on with so much about the Divine sovereignty bringing down those who were exalted, bringing them low, and picking up those that were abased; the Divine activities, sovereign activities in life. The Lord "bringeth low, He also lifteth up"; He "killeth, and maketh alive"; and on she goes like that. But what does it all amount to? It is a complete reversal of the whole situation, and it amounts to this, that when you get to the other side where you are able to recognise God as having been in the whole, not just in the deliverance, not just in the intervention but in all that lay before that, all the unnaturalness of life, the abnormality of experience, all that which was so altogether other than ordinary people have, and see that God was in that, then you recognise that in the activities of God there is something very much extra to the natural. And it comes out to this: that God created a most difficult, unnatural, abnormal situation in order to lift things onto a very much higher level than the natural. Here is Peninnah: it is all natural and she has gloated over it, but Hannah is rejoicing not in being brought just to her level, but because things were so contrary to nature, so altogether impossible in that realm, she is on a very much higher level and she can see that her one little boy is worth seven of the others. That is what she says in effect. "Hath borne seven". She is saying, "Why, this boy is worth seven of all the others!" Why? Because he represents the sovereignty of God over a situation which was utterly impossible unless God intervened, and that very situation created the occasion for God to get sevenfold glory.

Of course there is a lot more to it than that, but it is the issue that is so often in the life of those who are called according to purpose, things are anything but normal and ordinary and natural. We have experiences and situations which all go wrong according to natural regulations and laws. Is it not true? How much we should avoid and escape if we were of the world! How much more normal and ordinary life would be in attaining our ends and avoiding difficulties and perplexities, but because we are called according to the purpose, there is a Divine designing that things go wrong from our standpoint. They are not normal, and oh, how our natural hearts long for a more normal existence! Are you not all the time craving for that? If only things would be more normal! Everything we touch seems to get difficult. Other people can do it and it goes through. Immediately we touch anything, well, expect trouble! We are denied many things that could be got in ordinary ways, and we have many difficulties which would never have come to us but for the calling according to His purpose. That purpose is His glory, and the outcome of it all is that there is a transcending of situations and conditions which are thoroughly extraordinary, by which He is glorified. In the end God has got a great deal more along that line than He would have got if our lives had run in normal channels.

But then that is on the surface. Get inside of that. Why this course of things? Not just to cause us to burst with some spontaneous word of praise and to keep us in a realm of excited exclamations of how wonderful the Lord is; it is for something deeper than that. All that He permits is working in two directions. Firstly in ourselves; it is working in us something. It is working patience, experience, it is doing a great moral thing in us, making a great difference. In a word, being under the Divine control and not just being the vicissitudes of life with which all people have to reckon, but being under the Divine control, the tribulation and the suffering is working Christ-likeness and therein is God glorified in the moral reconstituting of His universe from the centre, and remember the elect is the very core of God's universe. It is there that He is concentrating His transforming activities.

But there is that other direction. In the great realm of spiritual intelligences which are averse to God, God is, by means of the experiences of the church, getting immense glory. We do not know anything about that, only by information; but here it is in revelation. It is shown.

I am speaking about what has come out in the revelation of God: the great fact of purpose and the nature of that purpose. There is something going on that is revealed here in us in another realm whereby God is glorified through our experiences.

Let me take another example - Job. Here is a man about whom God can say some very wonderful and glorious things as to his personal character and conduct. He is a man with whom God has no controversy over his moral and religious life. God is able to testify of Job that there is not another like him in all the earth. He is a man of great possessions. One day there is a terrible, tropical storm; the result is that all his crops catch fire and they are burnt up; he has lost them all. The next day another storm occurs, and all his cattle are destroyed. His sons are involved; a raid is made and his possessions are carried off; things happening as they might happen in the natural world. Thunderstorms of intensity are not extraordinary things; and I suppose raids are not extraordinary things in those regions, they might happen any day, and that is all that Job knew about it. Things went on like that until he physically became involved. His body was stricken, but in the natural realm there is nothing very extraordinary about it. The only extraordinary thing about it was that it all came at once, one thing on top of another and that is all that Job knew about it. There was this series of calamities, starting on the circumference of his life and possessions and finishing with his own physical person, then, of course, they made inroads upon his soul and his relationship with God.

Job did not have the key to the situation while he was going through it. It was an unnatural and unusual thing for all this to happen to one man at one time, but the things themselves could be easily explained; there is nothing unnatural about them. But when the whole story is written, you have a door opened in heaven, and you have it explained from another standpoint altogether. Job did not know that Satan had appeared among the sons of God in the presence of God, and had been challenged about Job, and was given a certain liberty to touch Job's possessions and then his body. He knew nothing about the unseen conflict. He knew nothing about the fact that God, by reason of this man's experiences, was cutting the ground completely from under the devil's feet, to leave him without a leg to stand on. And can you find the point in the book of Job where Satan disappears from the scene? You cannot, but you know that he is gone. There is a point where he is neither among the sons of men or the sons of God; he is out of court. And God was morally working out that spiritual drama of completely robbing Satan of all his arguments, leaving him without any ground to stand upon. God was doing that in the life of a man, and the man knew nothing about that while he was going through it.

We are told distinctly by the Word of God that something like that is happening, "...that now unto the principalities and the powers in the heavenly places might be made known through the church the manifold wisdom of God" (Eph. 3:10). In other realms something is happening by which God is being glorified by the abnormal, the unnatural, the extraordinary experiences of saints which, while they are unnatural and abnormal when viewed in the light of other people's experiences, in themselves might happen to anybody. But the fact is they would not happen to other people like that who are not immediately related to God's eternal purpose. The purpose produces conditions and situations which make for the glory of God in the whole universe. It is not easy for us to accept that and to feel comforted by it, but there it is. We are called according to purpose. Something more than ordinary is bound up with our lives and with the details of our lives.

The Hope of Glory

You know there is one word which sums it all up: "The hope of glory". "Who called you unto His eternal glory" (1 Pet. 5:10); that glorious hope, that hope of glory. "The creation was subjected to vanity, not of its own will, but by reason of Him who subjected it, in hope" (Rom. 8:20). Hope governs all these things in the life of those who are called according to His purpose. There is a mighty hope bound up with it all and it is the hope of the glory of God. This, of course, is where the thing touches us, that God is not just working out things for His own personal and isolated glory through our sufferings. That is not the kind of God that He is. He has called us unto His eternal glory; the hope of glory is ours. The glory which is coming to God is going to be shared by us.

Now this is, as I said, a rock upon which to rest our feet. The purpose of God in the ages and through the ages is something fixed. The goings of God are in relation to that purpose. We have indicated something of the goings of God and they are all related to a fixed object which cannot be denied Him, in which He cannot suffer loss, which He will realise. It is fixed for eternity. There is a covenant bound up with it, and while the terms of the covenant to Israel were very far-reaching: 'If My covenant of day and night can be altered and if the sun and the moon can cease from shining, then My covenant will break down' (that is putting things on a fairly permanent basis) but the covenant with us goes beyond that. There is no need of a sun when God reaches His consummation. It says so. "There is no need of sun or moon, there is no night there" (Rev. 21:23,25). God based His earthly covenant upon the sun and moon, day and night, and they are fairly sound propositions; but He goes beyond that, beyond time, ages, summer and winter, sun, moon, and stars. God bases His covenant upon His own eternity, before time was, before the sun, moon, and stars were, before the seasons were, before the earth was; upon His purpose from eternity to eternity, and that is very solid for faith. Oh, that something of the strength of that might come into our hearts: the goings of God from eternity to eternity in relation to a purpose to which He has committed Himself and concerning which, in His sovereignty, He is governing all things.

If we could see, and when we do see, we shall see that things on the greater scale and things more particular were not just chance, not just the course of history, not just the events of time, not just the wanderings on of the world. God was governing all in relation to His Son, and sometimes we do see a little of how that is. I am not saying that they are always sympathetic sovereign governments. They have to be the other way in some matters, but who, with any perception at all, will not say that the happenings of the past few years and the very situation produced in these days by those happenings, are not under sovereign hands in relation to His purpose? You cannot get away from it. You know quite well that it is true that when God is brought into the situation and recognised and referred to, even things outside of the specific purpose, things outside the church, change. It is the old message of the prophet: situations are because God is left out, and we have seen it again and again how even in that world where God is not the Lord and Saviour in the sense in which He is to us, nevertheless, He responds marvellously in interventions to a recognition and acknowledging of Himself. There is sovereignty which extends over all, and what is it all for? Just to draw into line with His purpose, to give His Son His rightful place, that God in all things shall be glorified through Jesus Christ. That is the Scripture.

Well, for us the sovereignty works in that and more direct ways of God's glory and God's purpose, and if you are at this time passing through darkness and shadows and it does not look as though there is very much glory coming along your way of life and you do not see how this is coming out to the praise of His glory, well, take it as an established fact that it is, it must; God's Word says so. The revelation is, in the first place, of a purpose which governs everything, and particularly the lives of those who are called according thereto; the goings of God are there. God is going on, and He is going on in relation to the purpose of the ages.

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