1. The Spirit
The first of the features of the goings of God, and that which includes a number of things, is the agency and activity of the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit. It is quite clearly seen by a casual glance at the Scriptures that the goings of God are committed to the Holy Spirit. Going back to that as the first of the ways of God in creation, you know that the Spirit of God brooded over the face of the deep and it was to the Spirit of God that there was committed the subsequent work of bringing order out of chaos, light into darkness, life into death and everything else to constitute that ordered realm - the cosmos. You follow right the way through the Old Testament and you find that in all the goings of God the symbols of the Holy Spirit as in charge, are present. It may be a cloud, symbolic of the Holy Spirit governing, controlling, ordering, leading in those goings. It may be the oil, it may be the water, it may be the fire, but there they are as active, energetic, controlling factors. It is the Holy Spirit who has this whole matter of God's movements in hand unto His end.
You come to the New Testament and you find that the Spirit is there in the very conception and birth of Him through whom and for whom all things were created. As He proceeds into His public ministry to work out the life and the redemption into which we are to be brought, it is under the agency and government of the Holy Spirit. When He goes to the cross and offers Himself, He offers Himself through the eternal Spirit; the energies of the Spirit are seeing the thing through. Then it is taken up in Christ corporate, the church. He is in charge of things in the book of the Acts, a marvellous, almost a romantic story, of Holy Spirit initiative and government. And you know what a large place the Holy Spirit has in the consummations, "What the Spirit says to the churches" - reiterated seven times at the beginning of the Revelation, and so the whole glorious story finishes - "The Spirit and the bride say, Come" (Rev. 22:17).
It is quite clear by that cursory glance at the whole Bible that the goings of God are in the hands of the Holy Spirit. Thank God for that! We have only to be in the hands of the Holy Spirit and we shall be in the goings of God. Herein again lies the immense importance of Spirit-governed and dominated lives and churches and the church to reach God's end.
But that is inclusive. The Holy Spirit has to be interpreted in several ways. The Spirit, firstly, is the Spirit of Life. Whatever is of and in the goings of God will be predominantly characterised by Life. That is a test as well as a statement of fact. Whatever is in the goings of God will be pre-eminently characterised by Life. We are, of course, thinking of Ezekiel, the goings to which we referred in those seven fragments in the first chapter of his prophecies. The wheels going forward, the onward movement of God's counsels and purpose. But it says that the Spirit of Life was in the wheels; the Spirit of the living ones was in the wheels. Ezekiel begins with Life: Life in the purposes, Life in the counsels, Life in the goings. And Ezekiel almost ends with Life in fulness, a mighty river, mopping up death as it goes, countering death on its whole course.
The characteristic of the Spirit is Life, and that Life is spontaneous, for Life, if it is true Life, is always spontaneous. It is Life that overcomes all the difficulties, that answers all the questions. There are not many questions to answer, not many real problems to solve, if Life is abundant and overflowing. You have no questions if Life is just welling up and overflowing. At any rate, you don't bother about them, or they don't bother about you! If a church is in the full stream of Life, most of its problems are solved. It is Life which is productive, which is fruitful. You never have to appeal for aid of any kind and go to work to raise assistance of any nature where true spiritual Life is in fulness. You do not have to mention money or anything else where there is spiritual Life; it solves all your problems. Life is God's key to His eternal purpose so that whereas Genesis brings the Tree of Life into view, Revelation sees that Tree right at the centre of the City and the river flowing from beneath the very Tree, flowing on and flowing out and bringing Life everywhere. It is God's way of solving problems, getting over difficulties and reaching His end. It is spontaneous. You do not have to do anything to produce it; it just happens. When God has His conditions, it is there. Life is a spontaneous thing in the Holy Spirit.
An Energetic Life
Life is a tremendously energetic thing. The Spirit of the Lord is tremendously energetic. No one who is really governed by the Spirit will be indolent. There are no such beings as Holy Spirit filled lazy people. When the Spirit of Life is there, you are always abounding in the work of the Lord. You abound when Life abounds, for the Spirit of Life is so energetic. And that is not only a statement of truth. You will be able to do ten times more by the energy of Divine Life than you would do naturally. It is a wonderful story of increased and multiplied activity because of Divine Life transcending our natural life. Yes, our physical problems can be solved, our temporal problems can be solved, and God has the key. It is just a matter of the Spirit of Life. God's goings are like that. They are above the level of this earth.
I pointed out earlier that the wheels of Ezekiel 1, when they go, are lifted up from the earth. They are transcending that deadly earth touch, for the nearer you get to this earth, the slower is your progress; the more you get away from the earth, the more you will get away from the retarding effect of something that lies under the curse. This Life knows nothing of the curse, it is incorruptible. It is death-overcoming Life, and it is lifted up from the earth, and that is something for personal as well as collective spiritual experience, to be lifted up by this Life above those arresting, retarding and limiting influences of the old earth life. The Lord's people should know more about the solving of these problems down here simply by the Spirit of Life. How often we use the word 'impossible' because of the circumstances. Well, let us think again. It is marvellous how the impossibility is overcome by Divine energy; impossibilities in ourselves and in situations. What the Lord requires beyond ourselves; what the Spirit of Life has done and does do and can do! It is tremendously energetic.
We have often pointed out that Joshua is the type of the energies of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is represented by that man with the drawn sword. Joshua capitulates to Him and capitulates everything to Him. He takes his shoes from his feet and bows himself. In effect, he says, "I put everything into your hands!" Then you see that Divine energy at work through Joshua, and what achievements, what goings, they are!
A Holy Life
This Spirit of Life is a holy life because it is the Holy Spirit. The goings of God are always related to holiness, or holiness is related to them. The Spirit of God will not go on when there is unholiness: He cannot. If He does, He will leave us behind; He will not work with anything that is unholy. You know how large a place that has in Ezekiel's prophecies, how when the house, the final glorious thing, is brought into view as the embodiment of all the others, of Life, the whole law of the house is holiness (Ezek. 43:12). Reaching the end, it is an end in holiness. It is a matter for exercise, for this Spirit of Life is a holy life. You cannot get away with it. If there is a controversy with the Lord on something that is not holy, you just stay until that is put right. It is necessary to say that when you are talking about Life, because Life does not operate and go on willy-nilly. It does not reach God's end anyhow: it stipulates that its nature must rule, and its nature is holiness.
An Eternal Life
The Spirit of Life is an age-abiding or eternal Life, and whatever is done by the Spirit of Life, though its vessel and its form may pass, that abides for ever. Our outward man may be perishing, we as vessels and instruments of the Lord's purpose unto His end may pass with time, but while the Spirit of God is operating through us there is something going up to heaven all the time which will appear again, for "everything God does will remain for ever" (Eccl. 3:14), and the secret of His doing is that it is Life: eternal, age-abiding. It is a good thing to be in a work which shall never die, to be in goings which shall never come to an end, which shall expand throughout the ages of the ages. It is good to be in that; with all changes and all transientness, to know that it is not in vain in the Lord. Why? Because Christ is risen, says the apostle, and we are given the victory over death. "Thanks be unto God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:57,58), because they are the labours of a Life which is age-abiding. Be quite sure that your labours are not yours, but the labours of the Holy Spirit; be quite sure that you are not in goings which you have conceived for God, but in the goings which are God's own goings.
We have the great example of this in Ezekiel, but the fullest and highest example is in Christ Himself. Was He in the goings of God? Was He in the energies of God? Was He in the Life of God? Well, we know those were the things which characterised Him. Was that true of the church His Body, Christ corporate? Well, we read again, and we see there is no doubt about it, it is spontaneous there, it is mightily energetic there; yes, it is holy there, as Ananias and Sapphira discovered when this holy Life met unholiness with a terrible challenge. There at the beginning something was done which has stayed out the age and is staying it out; it does not perish - we derive so much of our own inspiration from what happened then. Life which came at the beginning is age-abiding.
The second feature of the Spirit is spiritual intelligence. Coming to Ezekiel again, there you have the wheels and the living ones, and coming to Revelation where those living ones are again brought into view (it is a testimony of Life, you see), we are told that they are full of eyes within and without. The Spirit of Life is in them full of eyes - it is symbolism, but we can surely see what it symbolises. Where the Spirit of Life is, the Holy Spirit, there is not just a dull, blank, unintelligent drifting on. His work is to bring about spiritual intelligence and understanding: He knows all things. So the apostle says in Romans 8, he knows the will of God, the mind of the Spirit; and the sons of God are led by the Spirit of God, they come into that intelligence as to the goings of God. The goings of God are not blind goings; they are all-knowing, all-wise, all-understanding, and the characteristic of those who are moving with God ought to be an increasing understanding of the ways of God, the thoughts of God, and so it will be if we forsake our own ways, the ways of our own thinking, reasoning, willing and desiring, and completely capitulate to the Spirit of God. The result will be increasing spiritual understanding and intelligence in our relationship to God and His ways and goings.
Further, a feature of the goings of the Spirit is liberty. The statement is "Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty" (2 Cor. 3:17). The context of that bears out what I am saying without my referring to it, but I do want to make a very special stress upon this, that the Holy Spirit, in order to take us on in the goings of God to ever fuller realization of His objective, demands absolute freedom of movement, and the church has not gone on in the goings of God, because it has put limitations upon God. It has put a harness on God and in effect has told the Holy Spirit that He must run in the church's harness. You can see this everywhere and as soon as God moves by His Spirit spontaneously, men begin to make committees and draw up rules and regulations for the movement, and it is not long before you have principles and practices, and in the long run there is the death of the whole thing. God is not free to go on beyond that. It is the story of arrest after arrest: putting the harness of our organisation and our crystallised movements upon the Holy Spirit so that He is not free; yes, and our systematized doctrine, which may be true, but is formed into a system. God is not free to break forth more light and truth from His unfathomable Word because if He did, He would be told, "We are bound up with what we have been taught, what we have been brought to believe!" and many there be who cannot move beyond that. I am not saying that anything that God will do will contradict earlier truth, but it will move far ahead of it, and the Holy Spirit must have liberty to take us on.
When the Spirit has liberty, things can go on and increase. The Spirit demands that. Here is Peter between Pentecost and Caesarea - two halves of Pentecost, the Spirit moving, and right in between Peter has his little altercation with the Lord about the unclean things he had never eaten, "My tradition forbids the Holy Spirit to do what He wants to do and my interpretation of the Word of God, of Leviticus 11, forbids the Holy Spirit to do this." God has His own interpretation and He must be free to apply it. There may be a lot of undoing to be done before the Spirit can go on, but when Peter got over that traditional difficulty and by the leading of the Spirit arrived at Caesarea, see what happened. As he spoke, the Spirit fell upon all that heard the Word. The Spirit is getting on with it.
In the book of the Acts the Spirit is all the time going on, doing marvellous, unexpected, or untraditional things. He is breaking down all the standards of human argument and reasoning and going on, and He does go on wherever He finds freedom. How extraordinary are some of the movements of the Spirit in that book of the Acts; how they contradict all men's reasonings! The Spirit spoke to Philip in Samaria, in the midst of that tremendous movement of many turning to the Lord, and told him to leave the whole thing and go to a desert. That is contrary to all common sense, all the best reasoning! But the Spirit had His way with Philip and took him down there. It is like that all the time. The Spirit is simply coming here and saying, "I am going on; are you coming? Are you going to let Me have free course? Are you going to put aside all that which you have conceived and going to let Me have My way?"
The goings of God by His Spirit demand absolute liberty, and if any of you are tied up with a tradition, with a past, with anything fixed, even though it might be of God, and it has brought you to a limit, you know that there is something wrong with that, something wrong with the effect of it. The thing may be true, but the effect of it is never intended to bring you to a limit. It is only intended to bring you to the next thing. A movement by the Spirit of God will never become static and stagnant. It will be on the move all the time. The Spirit demands liberty; He will not be fixed. If He is put into watertight compartments, He will just leave the whole thing and go off somewhere else. That is what Life does. At the end of that vision of the river in Ezekiel we read that the miry places were salt; these are the regions which resist the Life; they stay out there in desolation. But the river goes on.
2. The Mystery
Secondly, as to the features - the mystery factor about the goings of God. There is a great deal of mystery in the goings of God, so much so that you often wonder if there are any goings at all. The goings are so much underground, but let them be underground! It is like the swimmer who sees an object far out on the water and he dives and he disappears and everybody waits and waits - it seems like an eternity waiting. Is he lost? Has he gone for ever? What is happening? An awful fear grips the heart. Then he comes up right against the object. Ah, he is there! God is like that so often in His ways. He is after an object in our lives, but He very often goes down beneath the surface and His progress towards that object seems to be entirely obscured. We cannot trace it, but be sure He will reach the object.
Those very cherubim of Ezekiel 1 and elsewhere have that element of mystery in them. There is the eagle feature of the cherubim - heavenly mystery. You see it in Christ, the mystery in Christ. Well, look at Christ on the face of things. What are you going to make of it? You are not surprised that men said, "Is not this the carpenter's son?" (Matt. 13:55). What is there here that is so extraordinary? Nothing at all - like everybody else. But you know the result of that Life of the incarnation, the immense fact, the goal which God has reached. You say there was something hidden when He moved about this earth. You could not see how God could possibly reach His end. Men could not see God in it at all. The "how" was hidden, but marvellous fulfilment was evident. I can only say this by way of indicating this essential element and feature of the goings of God, that there is always mystery. We shall not always be able to understand what God is doing, there is much mystery in why He allows this and that. Oh, the "why's" and the "how's" which arise upon our lips because of the Lord's mysterious ways! But mystery is an integral part of the goings of God. "The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our sons" (Deut. 29:29). He does veil His things in mystery. Because we do not understand and we cannot trace it, does not mean that nothing is happening. Surely we have enough experience to prove that. To look at the history of the goings of God during the ages - how mysterious were those goings at the time, but how glorious was the consummation, how glorious in the end was the revelation that He had been surely going, moving to an end.
3. The Suffering and Sacrifice
Finally, the goings of God are fraught with suffering and sacrifice. The law of travail was introduced immediately men sinned, but - and this is the most difficult thing of all things for you and me to accept or believe - the law of travail was intended by God to be a beneficent thing, a very good thing. Suffering, sacrifice - you can trace those things in the goings of God; right down through the ages they are there. When you see those goings gathered up consummately in the Son of His love, you see suffering and sacrifice brought to fulness. The church knows about that.
What I am doing is not pointing out the obvious, but just reminding you that it is a part of the goings of God. How did the Lord reach that end in the life of His servant Paul, that end where His servant knew Him in terms of life triumphant over death, life which reverses the natural sentence that was death? How did he come to that place where all the arguments of nature were proved to be false and unwarranted, where he made discoveries which transcended all such arguments? I am talking about the second letter to the Corinthians. How did he come to that glorious end of knowing God in that wonderful, nature-transcending way? Just through the deepest sufferings. It is the way by which God reaches His end. God was "going" through that suffering. It is a long, comprehensive story of how God's end is reached along the line of suffering and sacrifice.
Let us be careful of our interpretation of these experiences. Do not think that because certain things obtain - such as weakness, infirmity, suffering, adversity, trial, sorrow, affliction - that there must necessarily be limitation, retarding of progress and that our attainment must necessarily be held back because of this and that. The story is just the opposite! Right in the setting of deep infirmity and suffering, God does magnificent things and attains magnificent ends. You have to wonder and worship and say, "That is of God! Look by what means and ways He obtained that end!" You have nothing there that can argue for it in the realm of the natural, but everything that works against it, but God has done it. He goes on, through suffering, through affliction, and through sacrifice to reach His end. The story of the goings of God is the story of suffering.
That is why at the end the whole thing is brought to fulness; life in fulness, glory in fulness. The gates are of pearl (Rev. 21:21). It is a story of coming into it all by the way of suffering. The pearl's history is a history of agony, we might call it bloody agony. That is the way into all. There is the testimony lying behind those gates, a testimony in fulness, fulness of Divine Life, fulness of Divine glory. It all lies behind the gates of suffering. But they are the ways of God, right in the goings of God.
On that note I think it would be good for us to conclude. We are helped a little by the value of vision. There is tremendous value in having a large enough vision, not being shut up to the little personal circle of our own lives, occupied with our own little problems, having things too near to us so that we do not get any perspective. It is good to have our eyes lifted up to see the great vision of God's movements and God's goings unto God's end. There is a tremendous value for life and service in adequate vision, and there is a tragic set of conditions because of no vision - all turning in on itself - no vision.
I trust that the Lord will have made His word a means of renewing our vision or giving us new vision with all its value. I trust that we shall not, after all, just see all this in an objective way, but realise the personal applications and considerations of it. All that greatness, that glorious purpose; it touches us right down here, just comes right down to our personal sufferings for Christ's sake. The meaning of your suffering, the content of your suffering is that - the sufferings and the glory which is to follow; suffering and glory linked together in the Word of God. It comes right down there. So may this closing word really help us as we go out and know what it costs, know the price, know what we are involved in in going on with God in His goings, and to realise that all these things, this mighty sovereignty at work, this mighty energy operating, all have been making our sufferings to serve the end, so that in the end we shall not complain that we suffered and sacrificed. We shall say, "It was a right way by which He led us, this is a realisation which could not have been by any other way; we see it now!" May the Lord give us that assurance in our hearts.