The Horizon of Divine Purpose

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - An Absolutely Committed Vessel

With as little review of the afternoon's message as possible, I want to go right on this evening from where we left off then. Just reminding you that what is before us inclusively is that with God everything is horizoned by one definite and clearly revealed purpose. That purpose is the hallmark of the Holy Spirit. Wherever in the Word of God we come upon the Holy Spirit - from the very first reference in the first words of the Bible to the last in the book of the Revelation - in the one case, the Spirit of God brooding upon the face of the deep; in the other and final case, "and the Spirit and the Bride say, 'Come.'" From first to last, all the way through, whenever we come upon the Holy Spirit, we come upon definiteness of purpose. We come upon the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of Purpose - not just an influence in general, an abstract thing somewhere in the air. No, nothing like that, but a positive, definite registration of purpose. It is with that word and its meaning, that great spiritual thing, that we are being engaged at this time.

We go back again to the prophet Ezekiel, who is the interpreter of so much for us in the Old Testament, and we find that this man in a peculiar way is the man of the Spirit. If you have not done so, you can go through the book of his prophecies and just underline the word Spirit, and it will be a revelation to you how full the book is of the movements, the activities, and the energies of the Spirit. In various ways by different means, there's the Spirit. And the prophet himself was a man of the Spirit. How often in recording his experience did he say, "and the Spirit took me up... led me out... brought me in... took me round... showed me...". The man himself is truly under the government of the Spirit.

There are two things to say about that. And may I interject that we must not look upon this as just Old Testament story, record, it is tremendously up to date - vitally up to date - for ourselves.

Firstly then we note this: that in order that the Spirit should reach His end and fulfill His Divine purpose through a vessel, that vessel must be:

An Absolutely Committed Vessel.

Committed. Surrendered. Abandoned. And when we say that, of course, the idea may catch on with us and we may agree, we might even desire it to be so in our case, but I say to you, my dear friends, there is nothing more searching, more trying, and more exacting than this matter of being committed to the Holy Spirit. You look at Ezekiel's life and see what it meant to be committed to the Spirit. We shall see much of it if the Lord continues to lead us this way, but just to remind you, Ezekiel, by being committed to the Spirit, had to do a great many things that the flesh completely revolts against, the natural man shrinks from doing. You're not going to make a fool of yourself if you can help it, and he was called upon to do that. People laugh at him, what he's doing; jeer and sneer. He's doing such ridiculous things from the standpoint of this world's common sense, but he had to do them.

Enough for the moment, but it's all very well to say, "I'm surrendered, I want to be surrendered. I'm going to be a surrendered man, a surrendered woman, surrender myself wholly to God." Well, let's be quite frank and faithful about this. If you are, the whole, the whole thing is going to be taken out of your hands. You're going where you would never go naturally. You're going by ways that you would never choose, from which you would turn back or away with all the shrinking of your natural life. Other aspects, of course, are perhaps happier and better. But there it is.

Now, Ezekiel was a committed man, not in word alone, but day by day; day by day faced with some fresh challenge of the Spirit having laid upon him some fresh demand contrary to nature. His committal found him ready, so ready that the Spirit could just do as He liked with Ezekiel. Do as He liked with him! I say that's searching - that will find us out. But the realisation of the full Divine purpose demands that there are men and women and companies of men and women who are committed in that way to the Holy Spirit. You may have a battle over some things, but you'll fight it through. You'll fight it through. You'll face it and realise what it implies, what it means, and you may shrink and you may hesitate. You may feel you cannot, but you'll fight it through; at least you'll not surrender on the spot, but face this thing and get through with it, however long it takes.

Committed! Our minds committed, our wills committed, our hearts committed, our bodies committed. Everything committed. It came, in Ezekiel's case, to his wife. And he had there to allow God to have His way even in taking his wife. Well, you see how he behaved. He was a committed man. That's the point. And we're talking about God's great purpose - everything being governed by purpose. It's the Spirit who is the custodian of the eternal purpose. It's the Spirit who has this in charge, but He must have vessels that are committed in this way.

There are, of course, counterparts in the New Testament. The book of the Acts is in one sense the counterpart of the prophecies of Ezekiel. Here you have the Spirit undoubtedly like the fiery chariot of God in Ezekiel, the wheels and the living ones moving with the Spirit in them, "withersoever the Spirit would go they went," it says. And Acts is undoubtedly the New Testament counterpart of Ezekiel in that sense. But here you sometimes come up against a hitch, even in an apostle, where he's challenged about something that naturally and religiously, and - as he thought scripturally - he would never do. He would never do! Peter had the Scripture on his side when he said, "No unclean thing has ever passed my lips. Not so, Lord, I've got Scripture for my position!" The eleventh chapter of the book of Leviticus supports him in that position apparently, but the Spirit thought otherwise.

The Cross had come in between Leviticus and Peter's time, to deal with all unclean things so that the Spirit could say now, because the Cross had accomplished what God had cleansed, "Call that not unclean", and Peter had to adjust. But there was a battle, there was a hitch. The Spirit came up against something in the clay. And it was a very desperate situation: his apostleship was at stake. The purpose of God through such a man was in the balances of that, "Peter, are you going to be committed to the Spirit and let the Spirit have His way, or are you going to stand on your traditional ground, your mental ground? What's it going to be?"

Well, thank God Peter got through that battle and proved his committal and the Spirit went on. I just put that in as an illustration of what I mean. The book of the Acts is like that, the Spirit has got the purpose in hand, but He must have committed instruments. Now, I said there were two things; that's one. We can enlarge much upon that, but what we have to say later is but the breaking up of that.

Another thing is this: do, dear friends, adjust your minds to this fact, that God raises up instruments and vessels in relation to His full purpose. And those instruments and vessels are not something in themselves, and their ministry is not just bound up with them. Ezekiel's vocation, God's choice of him, God's raising of him up, God's using of him, and his committal to the Spirit was related to a people. Related to a people; it was not his private ministry, his private anointing. The people were going to be held responsible for that ministry. That ministry, if it was going to be justified and vindicated, would be found in a people.

You must not say, "Oh, that's So-and-so's ministry," or "That is the ministry that they give at such and such a place, that is a line of teaching, or that is his particular emphasis." Beware, beware. They could have said that of Ezekiel, "Well, that's Ezekiel's ministry. He's quite at liberty to fulfil it and carry it out, let him do it, and when he's done it, well, room will be made for someone else; for others, and that's that!" and write it off. Anything that God has given of light or ministry that has been under the Holy Spirit is not for a time, it's for eternity. It is not private, it is for the people of God, and the people of God who come to the knowledge of it are going to be held responsible for it. Just dare not pass it off like that and say, "Well, that's just their emphasis, their line of teaching." Rather say, "Is that of God? Has God given that? Are they any marks or evidences of the anointing in that? Is the Lord with that?" If so, for all time and eternity, you're responsible. It's in a people that it's to be found. They may refuse. They may forbear and it may not be found to work out. All right, then what happened in the case of Ezekiel will be repeated. For in one of his visions of God, he saw the glory being lifted away from Jerusalem and departing far away. And that's a terrible thing for the glory to depart - the glory to depart.

Well, that's the general situation. I said this afternoon I have a burden, and I must get my burden off. Forgive me if I seem to be too emphatic, but it's very necessary, dear friends, for us to seriously face this thing. God help us if we are not in line with and in sympathy with the Holy Spirit, there's no help for us and no hope for us. The great need of our time is for the people of God to be caught up again in a mighty energetic movement of the Spirit of God. But the Spirit has His ways and He has His grounds.

Well now, I have stated that in this inclusive way, that here we are confronted with this: on the one side, the Spirit is the spirit of a purpose. A purpose! On the other side the Spirit must have a committed vessel or committed vessels. And I might add to that that it is not always - not always - individual. God has many times raised up a little company of people in which He has deposited His treasure and made it the example for others. So I say that because some of you might say, "Well, we're not all Ezekiels. We can't all be Ezekiels." And I repeat: this is a relative or a related matter; this is not a personal thing at all.

So we come face to face with the major factor and distinctive feature of the purpose of God:

The Energy of the Holy Spirit.

The book of Ezekiel, like the book of Acts, is the book of the goings of the Spirit, the Spirit moving in purpose. Now we want to get inside that, get right inside that, know what we shall find if we are really under this mighty impulse of the Spirit of God as we should be, as we may be, as indeed we are under obligation to be.

When we say Ezekiel was a man of the Spirit, how was he a man of the Spirit? What marked him as a man of the Spirit? When we say that the Book of the Acts is the book of the mighty energetic goings of the Spirit, what do we mean? What do we find there? Oh, dear friends, bear with me as I urge upon you with all my heart to be quite sure on this matter, quite clear.

We can use all the language, have all the phrases, we can speak about vision, we can protest that we have seen, or that we have not lost the vision; some way or other like that we can talk. But what I want to so strongly emphasise here is this: whether we have or have not lost vision and purpose can never be proved by our teaching and can never be proved by our order of service, by our form of worship.

Now some of you are frowning, "What do you mean by that?" I say again, you can have all the truth and all the teaching, all the language, and you can have the most exact order of things in your meetings. You can have a perfect New Testament form of things and have lost the vision and the purpose. That was the cry of Isaiah, Isaiah 58, "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice and show My people their transgression." What comes next? "Yet they seek Me daily, they delight to know My ways." How do you reconcile that? "My people... their transgressions... they delight to know My ways... seek Me daily". In other words they protest that everything's all right, they would say, "We haven't lost the vision! We've got it all on the outside!" And you know how much there is in the prophets about this: continuing the rituals, the offering of the sacrifices, going through the rota of the temple, it's all there! And yet "Ichabod" is written large: "The glory is departed".

No. I repeat: we cannot prove it by our words, we cannot prove it by our forms. That is not it. That is not it! That does not mean that the teaching doesn't matter or that our way of procedure is of no account. That's not the point. We can have all that but still we haven't got the proof. The proof comes by the characteristics. Stand back then from all the teaching. Stand back from all the careful order and procedure and ask questions about these things that we're going to mention.

Look, check me out by the Scriptures and see if this is not true, that the evidence, the proof that the Spirit was really in charge, on the move, was in the first place the evidence, the evidence in those concerned - be it Ezekiel, or a company, or the church in the Book of the Acts - the evidence was found in this: a dynamic incentive which had captivated the people with one mighty objective. A people of a tremendous incentive. A people of an incentive. Ezekiel was a man of incentive.

Notice how he begins his prophecies, "The word of the Lord came expressly to Ezekiel." Right there at the beginning, the note of the whole book is struck. What is it? What are you meeting and feeling and sensing all the way through? The element of precision, the element of urgency. You'll find it in a hundred different ways. Why, he dates everything: "This is where it happened, on that specific day, in that specific month, in that specific year. I give you the very day when it happened". That's precision, that's definiteness, there's nothing general about that, nothing nebulous about that. His phrases tell you exactly where it happened right to a detail. In his temple presentation, notice here, there, at every point, he's marking it. It's something marked. He's not just giving you a general picture of things, but he's giving you every fraction of it marked. This book is a book of expressness, if I may put it like that. The word came to Ezekiel expressly. And here's a man who is on that line. He's like that. It's precision.

Oh, are you a person like that? Am I a person like that? Are you a company of people like that? Whenever you meet as a company, do you give the atmosphere here as a company of people who are gathered up, really gathered up and captivated by an objective toward which they're moving without any reservation? People with an incentive. That's the proof that you've got the vision and I'm not talking about a vision. That's the proof that you've got the purpose, and I'm not talking about a purpose. That's the proof that you understand the teaching, that's it's caught you. It's gripped you, it's laid hold of you; to use Jeremiah's phrase, "It's a fire in your bones".

You may be discouraged. These prophets were very discouraged, sometimes brought almost to a standstill in their difficulty, in their perplexity. Jeremiah would cry, "Oh, God, You deceived me." Well, that's a terrible thing to say, but go through what they went through and you'll understand. Times like that, but the fact is they went on and fulfilled their ministry, not because of their own resolution, but this fire was in their bones. A mighty incentive. "I," said the prophet, the prophet said, "I will no more speak, but when I kept silent, when I kept silent..." what happened? "Well, the fire burned and I opened my mouth again." That may be spread over a long history. You may go down in discouragement and in perplexity, even broken-heartedness over things and fear you can go on no longer. But somehow or other - yes, we know how: the Spirit is in charge, He's got a grip upon the life. On you go again! If that were not true, you can take it that the one who is talking to you would not be on this platform today. It's like that! That's the proof that you've got vision, that you're in the purpose. The Spirit is this energetic, dynamic incentive of purpose.

Running parallel with that, there is this characteristic of:

The Impact of Purpose.

Not only its energy and its dynamic, its incentive, but it registers: those people know what they're after. That man knows where he's going. There's nothing tentative about them. Nothing tentative. Nothing indefinite. These people or that person, they are not beating the air. He or she is not beating the air. Like Paul, "So fight I, not as one that beateth the air." None of that. There is this registration of an impact of purpose. So it was, perhaps pre-eminently with the apostle Paul, "This one thing I do... This one thing I do".

Now, dear friends, what is our single inclusive purpose in being? Have you got one? Have you become mastered by it? A single purpose in life. The purpose that you bring into your business, into your profession, into your home, into wherever you are. Whatever people may have to say about you, and they can level many criticisms at you and perhaps rightly so, and may on many points have some disparaging things to say, but they have to come back to this: "That person, that person has a great incentive for God. They're bent upon the interests of the Lord and there's no doubt about it." That's a characteristic of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is never abstract, is never indefinite, is never passive. The Holy Spirit is never indefinite, meet Him anywhere, and you'll meet One who is definite and deliberate, who carries always with Him this, "I'm on business. Come with me. Go with me. Or if you will not, I will not tarry. I'm going on. I am going on."

Oh, thank God that the Holy Spirit is One who goes on! You find Him, you find Him going on. You may stop or you may take a detour and when you come back to the Lord you still find that He is going on. I'm very glad, you know, that in the midst of all our difficulties and troubles, we find the Lord is going on. The Lord's going on! Oh, let's catch on with the Lord and not tarry by the way!

Have we this deep sense of being apprehended, gripped, and mastered by a single purpose that runs through every aspect of our lives? And we haven't any aspect of life apart from this one object for which we have been apprehended by Christ Jesus. May I say again this is not always only individual. The Lord has called His church to be like this. If He cannot get the whole, He'll get parts of it like this. Link on with something that is like this or ask the Lord to bring you into something like this, because the end, as we said this afternoon, has got to be fully corporate and collective.

Well, let's go on. Note another characteristic of the Spirit when He is really on the move - we have Ezekiel very much in mind, but we have much more of the New Testament also in mind. You will notice that when the Spirit really gets hold, is in charge, there is created a growing intelligence in those concerned. There's an intelligence, a knowledge, that grows with the government of the Holy Spirit. Thinking of Ezekiel, of course, it's symbolic, we know, but there you have Ezekiel said, "I saw visions... I saw. In the Spirit, I saw." Then you remember that symbolic chariot of God, the cherubim, wheels? They're going. He says, "They're full of eyes." Full of eyes, full of eyes! And "the Spirit is in them," it says.

Well, that's Old Testament symbolism if you like, it's repeated in the book of the Revelation. But what does it mean from the New Testament standpoint, and therefore for us? It's this. Paul is on his knees in his prison. He's on his knees, and he is praying for the saints - and that means you and me and the church for the whole dispensation - although at the time he had the churches of his day foremost in mind, the Spirit meant more than that. And what is he praying? "The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, grant to you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your heart being enlightened, that you may know what is the hope of His calling, the riches of His inheritance in the saints, the exceeding greatness of His power." A spirit of wisdom and revelation opening the eyes of the heart! There it is. The Spirit as the Spirit of spiritual intelligence.

And, dear friends, I'm certain most of you will go with me when I say perhaps one of the greatest needs amongst the Lord's people today - in the Lord's people, is spiritual understanding and intelligence. Oh, the ignorance, oh, the ignorance. You can go about this so-called Christian country, you can find scattered over the length and breadth of this land (and it's true of other lands) halls and meeting places called chapels and churches where Christians gather together and they hear the Bible read and they hear sermons and they attend prayer meetings. You begin speaking to them about the Lord and they look at you as if you're a foreigner speaking a foreign language. They don't know what you're talking about! Now, that's not exaggeration, that's true and some of you know it is. They don't know what you're talking about. You cannot get beyond the most elementary things with a vast number of Christians who have been Christians for decades; they don't understand you. Not surprised, are you, that there's confusion and weakness and lack of impact. Lack of impact! Believe me, dear friends, this impact, this registration of which we're speaking, coming from the Holy Spirit, will come through people who know the Lord, who know where they stand, and whose knowledge is increasing all the time.

Spiritual intelligence. Pray for it! That the eyes of your heart be enlightened. This is not the alone prerogative of the prophets, the seers.

In this great letter from which we've just quoted, Paul's prayer for this very thing for the saints, in that very letter he says to them all, "Be filled with the Spirit." What do you mean? A lot of effervescence, bubbling over, noise and emotion? Oh, be intelligent people just as much, just as much, for the Holy Spirit is as much the Spirit of intelligence as He is the Spirit of energy, of emotion. That, then, is a test: have we got the vision? Have we, are we in the purpose?

And one more thing for the moment. Notice that the movement of the Spirit in Ezekiel, and in Acts, and in Ephesians is:

A Spirit of Integration.

I take out of Ezekiel's prophecies the well-known illustration of the valley full of dry bones. We examine them again and do what Ezekiel did: pass to and fro in the valley. There are very many, very many, and very dry and although it does not say so explicitly, it does say in effect that they're very scattered and unrelated, because when the Spirit moved, they came together. And here they are: so many, many unrelated bones. Detached bones. Dry, unnourished, dead, scattered bones. What a picture. How true to much that we know: scattered, disintegrated, separated - separated, divided. Existing apart. Now the Spirit comes. "Come, oh, thou Wind, thou Breath, and breathe upon these bones, and as I prophesied there was a noise...". The day of Pentecost had come and there was a noise. And bone came to each bone! They were all articulated and integrated, clothed upon and nourished, filled with life and filled with power. A mighty army. Now, my point in all that is just this: that when the Spirit moves, when the Spirit moves, He integrates. He gets over the dividedness, He gets over the separations, He gets over the isolation, He gets over the individualism. He's the Spirit of integration.

It's perfectly clear that this state of things in Ezekiel was not God's mind for His people, because when the Spirit moves, He shows what God's mind really is. When you get to the Book of the Acts you find it's like that. It's like that. There's integration right from the beginning of the Spirit's movements, but the apostle in the letter to the Ephesians (so called) is concerned that the Spirit shall, shall be able to do this very work. He sees this: that an army is needed, the church in the form of an army, because we wrestle with principalities and powers and world rulers and this darkness and hosts of wicked spirits. We're in the fight, we're in the battle. The church must be on its feet, integrated to meet this because he knows very well that the enemy can have it all his own way if in the first place he can get in between the Lord's people and divide. And then he can drive the wedge more and more deeply in to put them further and further apart. That's his day. The church is out of the fight.

So the apostle in this very letter, true, true to the background, true to the whole theme says, "And grieve not the Holy Spirit." And grieve not the Holy Spirit. I must leave you, dear friends, to apply that, to work that out, as I do myself. I must leave it with you to find out whether your way is a way that grieves the Holy Spirit. Personally or collectively, is the Spirit grieved? If the Spirit is grieved, we're disintegrated and we're out of the fight. We cannot stand up to the enemy. We are defeated, he's having it all his own way. When the Spirit is grieved, when He is grieved we do fall apart. We do. If for any reason whatever that the Spirit is grieved, He's grieved. And the Spirit is grieved when we are fallen apart.

Make no mistake about this, it's a terrible thing to have to live and go on with a grieved Holy Spirit. It really takes all the heart out of you, it saps all the vitality, drains all the Life; makes the going very hard when the Spirit's grieved. Oh, we must attend to this, and see why it is and where it is, and labour at it. So the apostle says not only "grieve not the Holy Spirit", but "give diligence, make it your business to keep the unity of the Spirit". For very much larger, larger reasons than just getting on nicely and happily together, having a pleasant time, there are all the issues of God's eternal purpose bound up with this: the very thing for which you've been saved, chosen in Christ, called by His grace, kept by His power. It's a big thing that's in view and the whole thing is jeopardised when the Spirit is grieved, when we are disintegrated.

Don't forget then, the enemy sees the value and advantage of having a disintegrated state amongst the Lord's people, much more clearly than we do, and lays very much more value upon it than we do, gives very much more importance to it than we do. He knows that his kingdom, his place will remain intact while the church is a divided and disintegrated thing. And he knows that his kingdom is menaced and threatened when the people of God are together in this integration of the Holy Spirit. The Lord help us.

I think that's all I dare say this evening. Perhaps you think it's enough. Well, it's enough to face, it's enough to work out. May I come back, because there's a lot more going to be said yet if the Lord wills, but may I come back here and say this is what I meant at the beginning when I said that the Lord must have committed people. You see what it means? Here it is. These are the issues, these are the values. This is of tremendous importance. Oh, then Lord, I commit myself to this. In a new way I commit myself to this.

Stand on the authority of the Lord Jesus Himself, "If ye being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him?" Stand on that. Cry, "Father, Your Son has said how much more You'll give the Spirit, I'm for that. I stand for that". Don't let the Lord go over this matter. Be committed. Let us all be committed in a new way to this Life, and government, and energy of the Holy Spirit in relation to the very thing for which we are Christians in this place tonight.

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