Vocational Fellowship
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4 - To Reunite All Things in Christ

Instead of reading one passage of Scripture, we are going to bring together a number of short passages; it will test your dexterity with the Word, it's scattered all over the place. But we, first of all, take the passage which has been like a banner over this season, under which we have been gathering everything else, that is in the prophecies of Jeremiah chapter 17 and verse 12: "A glorious throne, set on high from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary".

A glorious throne... set on high... from the beginning... is the place of our sanctuary.

Now, a long way on to the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 1 and verse 8: "But of the Son He saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever; and the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of Thy kingdom. Thou hast loved righteousness, and hated iniquity; therefore God, thy God, hath anointed thee with the oil of gladness above thy fellows".

A glorious throne set on high from the beginning... Of the Son, He saith, Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever!"

Then back to the Psalms, to the second Psalm, verse 8: "Ask of Me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession", and you notice the context relates that to the Son.

Now another flight into the New Testament to the book of the Acts, chapter 1, verse 8: "Ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you; and ye shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea and Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth".

'Ask of Me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession... ye shall be witnesses... My witnesses, unto the uttermost part of the earth.'

In the letter to the Ephesians, and what conference would be complete without Ephesians? Chapter 1, the first part of verse 4: "as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world". He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world. Verse 9: "Having made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure which He purposed in Him unto a dispensation of the fulness of the times, to sum up all things in Christ; the things in the heavens, and the things upon the earth; in Him, I say".

He chose us... In Him... before the foundation of the world... He made known unto us the secret of His will... to sum up all things in Christ.

And now back to our prophet Jeremiah to re-read the words in chapter 1, at verse 4: "Now the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee, I knew thee, and before thou camest forth I sanctified thee; I have appointed thee a prophet unto the nations".

Ask of Me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance... I have appointed thee a prophet to the nations... Ye shall be My witnesses unto the uttermost part of the earth... and so on.

I wonder if you have noticed a very obvious thing in the Bible, that most of the great things were connected with:

Mountains.

You only have to have that said, and your memory will take a flight through the Bible, and light upon many a mountain, in which some great thing took place which was indeed a point in which heaven and earth met.

Now, the value of a mountain is that it helps perspective; it gives a command of the whole situation; it brings all details and particular things into a right relationship, so that everything can be seen as not just something in itself, but as a part of a whole. And there you get a sense of proportion and balance. These are some of the values of a mountain.

(And, by way of parenthesis, don't you think that that is just what the value of such gatherings as these, which we call conference times, should be. For we all feel the need to have our sense of proportion maintained, preserved. We are right up against things too closely; the details press upon us. The immediate situations take possession of us. Things immediately before our eyes, and in our experiences, tend to become everything and exclude so much more. And they get on top of us, just because we are so close to them. And the perspective is upset, and there is a good deal of confusion for this very reason.)

These passages which we have read are themselves mountain peaks, and together they constitute one great and glorious mountain, which could deliver us from all this obsession of the oppressive, immediate, too-close touch with just what we ourselves are going through. And so we have to leave our spiritual insulation and isolation, and climb to some vantage ground of the heavenlies. That word took its great place in our New Testament at a time when the near view could have brought complete despair. The immediate happenings in Christianity, amongst believers, in the churches, could have produced in the apostle a hopelessness that would have cast him deep down in the valley of despair. He climbed to the heights. And you and I, dear friends, and the church ever since, to the end of the age, will owe a vast debt to that man's climb up the mountain in spirit, from his prison cell, and repeatedly used that very word, that mountain word: "the heavenlies... in Christ Jesus".

Then we need to get up there again. May the Lord give us mountain energy today, to rise up as on wings, to see anew what we are called unto and what we are called into. That is the saving vision; that is the redeeming view - what it really is that we are called into and unto; what we are in if we are really in full fellowship with God; what it is all about. What is all the conflict about? What is all the pressure about? What is all the discipline about? What is all the suffer­ing about? Is there some, one thing that can and does answer all such enquiries and cries? For I am quite sure that sometimes, sometimes you ask that question: What does it all mean? What is it all about? Why this and that? If the Lord will answer that cry, it will have been worth our coming here. So we climb the mountain!

We are all familiar with a line of a well-known, and I think greatly loved, hymn by George Matheson: 'O Love that will not let me go', and I remind you that, after his death, when the poem was found and the thought was to publish it, those who found it and were about to publish it, came upon one line in it that perplexed them. They couldn't quite grasp it, understand it; it seemed mysterious, abstract, and so they decided to change it. And we have in our version the line: 'I trace the rainbow through the rain', but George Matheson had written: 'I climb the rainbow through the rain'!

That is quite a difference: 'trace' - well, that is all right; that's an artistic contemplation, a poetic way of speaking, but when George Matheson wrote that poem, he was in the grip of a tremendous spiritual conflict. For him everything in life was rocking, and there was a perfect deluge on his soul. He did not sit back in poetic contemplation and say, 'I trace the rainbow through the rain'; he girded himself, and said, 'I climb the rainbow through the rain'!

We have got to take hold of things, and discover what lies there behind, and get hold of that; bestir ourselves to find out what does it all mean? What is it all about? What is the explanation? And there is one. And it does lie right at the heart of this that I have just said: what we are called into and unto - that explains it all.

These difficulties, trials, adversities, sufferings and conflicts are very real! Very real. For the saints they are sometimes terrible. And if that is true, the explanation must be one that is at least commensurate with them. The answer must at least be adequate to all this. Think of all the suffering of the saints... Why, we have some, but is it comparable to what some of the Lord's people are going through while we are sitting here in, if not absolute, comparative comfort? What justifies all this? What is an adequate answer? We are driven, we are forced to seek that answer. Again I say, the only answer that is sufficient is that of what we are called into, and called unto.

Now, in order to get that, we are going to take three cycles. The Scriptures which we have read, which are only a selection from many more of the same kind, bring these four things into view.

Firstly,

All That Which is Comprehended by a Repeated Clause: 'All Things'.

All things - you can't get outside of that; that comprehends everything.

[1.] All things were created by God for His Son, whom we now know as Jesus Christ. That's the beginning of every­thing. They were created for Him, through Him, unto Him. He (we are distinctly told) was appointed Heir of all things. That's where we begin. All things, these Scriptures show, were integrated in Him, consistent in Him, held together as one whole by His Person - not only by His power, but by His Person. There was a wonderful, beautiful, harmonious unity in the creation, all centred in God's Son; held to Him. While He was there everything was harmonious and in accord. While He was in His place, there was a beautiful oneness running through everything.

Of the great harmony of creation, He was the keynote, and everything came back to Him, and moved from Him; and the explanation of the music was God's Son. God's Son.

[2.] All things were integrated, and consisted in Him.

[3.] All things were disrupted by putting Him out of His place, or refusing to recognise Him in that place. That's, of course, the great story of heaven's disruption; that to which an apostle refers when he says: "The angels which kept not their first estate". Their first estate... what a lot there is in that! - "are reserved in chains unto everlasting destruction". Well, I am not dwelling at length upon any one of these things. But there was discord in heaven to begin with, and it had to be cast out: and there came into this world that disputing of the creation rights and place of the Son of God, And by that, we know, everything here was disrupted and became disconnected.

The first picture of creation is a beautiful picture, but that changed, and we see all things now with something working like an evil leaven, a power which is all the time breaking up, never ending in its breaking up work, leaving nothing whole, complete. It is a terrible story in history, all through the ages, of this evil thing working, so that the last bit of unity is destroyed, the last bit of harmony is spoiled. It is an evil spirit about, which is not going to allow anything to remain integrated in Christ. And, dear friends, does that not explain perhaps a lot, that where Christ is the more given His place, the enemy is the more concerned to break up, to divide? It's a sad history, isn't it? Do you see it? Will anything survive this? Will anything escape this? And the most beautiful thing will be the object of the most vehement attempt to break up; disruption and disconnection.

[4.] Fourthly we have things all in chaos, in confusion, because He, the unifying, integrating Centre of all things, is not in His place. That is the answer, the explanation - because He is not in His place. That may be a terrible indictment on some situations, but we have got to face it quite honestly and frankly.

That is the first cycle. The second cycle which the Scriptures before us present is, firstly, the Son Himself, the Heir and Centre of all things, undertakes:

The Work of Recovery.

Viewing the chaos from heaven, He, voluntarily stripping Himself of heavenly glory, undertakes to come down into it, and recover that which has been lost. He undertakes the great work of recovery. Now that word 'recovery' is a favourite word with us, isn't it? The 'recovery' of this and that, which was God's mind, and thought. The first one who engaged in that work and that ministry was God's Son Himself. And He has committed Himself to that work of recovery. Having undertaken it, He comes down and enters into this kingdom of disruption, He comes right into this chaos, and disorder, and discord and ruin - right into it Himself. And by His very Presence, as we see Him in the pages of the record - by His very Presence, shows what a disrupted and discordant scene this is. There is only one Person in the whole picture, who, in Himself, is integrated, is harmonious, is balanced, is a whole.

It is one of the impressive things about the Lord Jesus, that He Himself moved in this scene, so harmoniously in His own Person. It is not an easy thing to do in this world, as you know, but He did it. But, on the other hand, how that Presence annoyed - and that is a very, very weak word - it perfectly roused these chaotic forces, so that there grew and grew and grew, through that brief period of His earthly sojourn, an atmosphere of conflict, of hatred, of discord, until at last it breaks out in an awful storm, tearing the very creation, tearing the very atmosphere, and no one, no one has any kind of control and mastery; the very elements are disrupted. This, this evil thing - and it is all focussed upon Him - He has entered into it, to witness against it, in the first place; in His own Person and Presence, to witness against it; to be an offset to it. And to speak the words, the words which are in the strongest contrast to men's state, and condition. What are His words? "I will give you rest"; "You shall find rest unto your souls". "Peace I leave with you, My peace l give unto you". How such words clash with the conditions! He is here, right in the midst of it, testifying against it, manifesting what it ought to be, and intensifying the condition that really is, to show how evil it is. You never know how wrong or evil a thing is until you get the absolutely right and good right in the heart of it. He became, by His Presence, the Example and the Witness, the personal testimony to what was intended, and against what is.

Probably your minds are running ahead of what I am saying - mine is - because you can see what the next cycle will be. Let's go on.

Having come in - and the explanation of being here long enough, (and it proved to be long enough, though it was only three and a half years or so, it proved to be long enough to show the contrast, and to bring out the contrast, and to testify against it) having brought it all out, and shown in word, in word, in word... what is that word on His lips? "Blessed... Happy... are the peacemakers..." , and so on, in word, in deed - all His works testifying against this wrong state, and mending it. Having been here long enough to be a witness in the midst of it, He then, and this is our third point in the second cycle, He then took it all on Himself.

Took it all on Himself

Took on Himself the evil and the consequences of the evil that had come in. He drew it on to Himself, yes, verily drew it on to Himself. He sought not to ward it off, sought not to argue Himself out of it, though He knew what it meant. The marvel of His silence when such as He could have made a case for Himself...

He, who again and again, had sent wise men, scribes and Pharisees, with all their trickery and subtlety and all their attempted snares to ensnare Him, sent them away like dogs with their tails between their legs, without a word! Without a word. See Him! "All right - let him who is without sin first cast a stone". And they went out one by one from the least to the greatest! "Master, is it right to give tribute to Caesar, to pay tribute to Caesar?" You can see the trap that they have laid for Him... "Show Me a coin. Whose inscription is this? Caesar's? Render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar". Now then, your whole honesty, conscientiousness, integrity, is at stake: "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's and unto God the things that are God's". You notice the effect of that? They are completely defeated, and had to confess that no man spoke like this Man.

The Man who can do that sort of thing with the rulers, could, in the day of His ordeal and trial, have put them all out of court. But the marvel, "He opened not His mouth". He opened not His mouth! Not a word! Not a word! "As a sheep before her shearers is dumb, He opened not His mouth". He is not putting it off; He is not keeping it at bay; He is letting it come on, even drawing it on! And so He "became sin", says the Word, "that He might destroy sin", He is drawing it on to its own destruction. He became broken - "This is My body, broken" - He became broken in order that He might unite. This is the great testimony of the Lord's table - one loaf, one Body - through brokenness. He became broken that He might unite. He became defeated in order that He might triumph. He became dead in order that He might destroy death for ever. He emptied Himself and became empty in order that He might be filled with all things - all things. That is the second cycle. But now we come to the third.

Having done it, accomplished all that in His cross, and having received the great approbation, seal of heaven, of His Father: "Thou art My Son; this day have I begotten Thee", referring to His resurrection; all that is scattered - and what a scattering has taken place! They're all scattered: "All ye shall be offended because of Me this night, for it is written, I will smite the shepherd and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad" - all scattered. Then He begins to gather these fragments, these broken, scattered fragments, together, and:

The Son Brings in His Sons and Fellow-heirs.

We need to read again that first chapter of the letter to the Hebrews: "Of the Son he saith...", and then it goes on about His brethren, 'I and the children which God hath given Me", and later, "bringing many sons to glory".

In the third cycle, the Son brings in His sons as His fellow-heirs; and it is in that letter that the phrase occurs, "heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Jesus Christ". These sons are a family matter; we call that family the 'church'; the New Testament calls it the church. But in this third cycle, this is what comes so clearly into view with the passages read - this family, this church, this body was eternally known by God, foreknown and chosen by God in Him, the Son, before the foundation of the world. That, that's very wonderful - chosen in Him. "Whom He appointed heir of all things", He also chose and appointed the heirs with Him of all things. "Even as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, and hath made known unto us the secret of His will" (in so doing) "to gather together all things in Christ".

This church, foreknown, eternally chosen, elected, elected to this one great all-comprehending, all-inclusive purpose - now here is the point where you and I must be very clear and very positive: this matter of election, predestination, and so on, does not relate to salvation; only insofar as salvation is the way, this election (if the letter to the Ephesians means anything, and all that is in harmony with it) this relates to the purpose of God concerning His Son. We come to it through the Cross; we come to it through being born from above; but that is not the object and that is not the end. That for which you and I are born from above, chosen in Christ, and in time, called into the fellowship of God's Son. That, dear friends, is this purpose of God concerning His Son: to gather up into Him all things; to (and this is the real word in the original) re-unite, re-unite all things in Christ.

The church (you see where we have arrived) the church is seen by God through the ages, through all the disruption, through all the cost, all the consequences, all the cross and its agony - the church has been seen before it all, and through it all, as the vehicle, the vessel, the instrument of the Son, to bring back that original pristine harmony, unity, centred in the Son of God. The church is called for that - that's the heavenly vocation, the purpose. Perhaps it is too big for little people like you and me to grasp that and to believe it, but we are a part of a great thing. It is not all in us, thank God. We haven't got to take the full burden and responsibility of this individually, but we are related to something that is elected of God, called of God, for no lesser thing than this, than this! What a lot that explains if it's true! What a lot it explains. What an answer! Isn't it? To all our suffering and our discipline. If only we could see it, and we don't... it is not present with us in our hours of anguish as it was with the apostle who, knowing perhaps more of sufferings and sorrows than any other man of his time in Christianity; because he climbed the mountain, because he was seeing from the heavenlies, could say: "Our light affliction which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory while we look not at the things that are seen..." these things right on top of us, these close-up things of present experience, but from the mountain-top where we look not at the things that are seen, but at the things that are not seen; for these things that are seen are transient, temporal, passing, but the things that are not seen are eternal. You need to get on a high mountain to view it like that; to get that balance in life.

Well, friends, I said that answers a lot of enquiries and questions; if that were true, if that is true, if that could come really to us, and we knew it... Oh, to be delivered from our familiarity with the Bible... and this teaching might break upon us with its own real impact! My brother, my sister, you are called of God in relation to a vocation which He fore-determined in which you should have a part, and it is no less a thing than this: that in union with His Son you should answer this whole challenge to His Son's place, and right this whole wrong that His Son has suffered, and be with Him at last in the righting, in the adjustment, in the recovery - sons in glory. I say, if that's true, it's a great gospel! It's a great gospel. No wonder the apostle felt it necessary, in the midst of saying these things, to fall on his knees, and say: "I pray, I pray to the Father of glory, that He would grant unto you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of Him, the eyes of your heart being enlightened that you may know..." It is a prayer that we ought to pray continually, because only so shall we be saved in the hour, in the day of travail and suffering. This church is the sovereign act of God, the sovereign act of God - it is God's act, it is God's thing. Before ever it existed in time God has acted about it, it is God's act. We are brought into something that we never thought of, or thought out, or planned, or intended, or meant, or understood. We are brought into something that is God's own thought, and God's own act, "Ye did not choose Me, but I chose you".

But this church... and it is important, as a part of the whole, to really understand the nature of this church. Again, we need delivering from well-nigh two thousand years of distortion on this matter! That word 'church' - what a lot has been put on it! What a lot it carries! What a lot has to be stripped off of it to get to its real meaning! This is a spiritual thing; this is not a temporal thing. This is not a temporal thing this church; this is a spiritual thing. This is comprised at the very beginning of such as have been born of the Spirit, and are indwelt by the Spirit, and the measure of their churchmanship (may I use that phrase?) is only the measure of their spirituality, the measure of their spiritual life. That is in its effect, in its outworking, in its value, this is a spiritual thing. This does not belong to this earth at all: it belongs to heaven. Its roots are in heaven, its life is in heaven, its Lord is in heaven. Its everything is in heaven! All its government is from heaven. But when we have said all that, we have to come back to this, and re-emphasising this we must close for the moment: this church,

This Church is an Essentially Vocational Thing.

I do want you to get a hold of that these days - an essentially vocational thing. Of course the vocation can never be fulfilled as the conduct is right, so the apostle says in this very connection; "I beseech you to walk worthily of the calling (the vocation) to which you are called, in all lowliness and meekness..." and so on. Character must be there, or there can be no vocation, because with God and with heaven, vocation rests upon character, "that we should be holy and without blemish before Him..." that is His mind. The Holy Spirit, because of the great­ness of the vocation, dear friends, is very meticulous and particular over details of conduct. You see, you cannot lift this great heavenly vocation out of the affairs of daily life here. You cannot put your 'church' position, and your 'church' doctrine, and your 'church' mentality outside of your accounts, your money matters, your family life, and so we could go on. You can't do it. All that is a part of the whole - "Walk worthily of the vocation", because that basis affects your vocation. But, seeing how the Holy Spirit is particular, very particular, and sooner or later will bring us all up sharp on this, "Look here, you've got a great idea of church teaching and truth about the church, but you're not consistent with it; there is that which is inconsistent with it." Oh, what a challenge this is, that you and I here this morning might almost shudder to face, tremble to look at!

Let me put my finger upon this one point at once: if what I have been saying as from the Word of God is true, that in Him, the Son, when all things were created and for whom all things were created, there was (and we know not for how long) a beautiful harmony, complete integration and co-ordination, all moving together as one whole, and then that was all shattered like a beautiful vase broken to pieces, and this terrible discord was shot through and through the creation, touching everything, as we know well. If it is true that God had already determined by His Son and with His Son, that the church should be the vessel and instrument of recovering that, bringing into effect the re-uniting of all things in Christ, where are we over this matter of unity, of oneness, of harmony? Or all to the contrary? What are we doing about that? The vocation is that! Oh, the Lord help us not to play into the hands of, and work together with, this great adversary of the harmony of God!

It's a vocational fellowship with God and with His Son. It's all related to the Son and His appointed place in the counsels of the Father. It's all related to the throne, the throne, because it is in that throne, and by that throne into which He is exalted, that glorious throne, on high from the beginning. It is in that and by that that this is made effective, and (as we were hearing last night) the absolute Lordship of Jesus Christ in everything and over everything is affected by the state of the church, it's related to the throne. And being related to the Son and to the throne, you see it's related to the nations, "the uttermost part of the earth". The message of the gospel to the nations is not only the message of salvation and redeeming love, and redeeming grace; but over and above all that, it is the message of the Crown Rights of God's Son - that's the message. He is Lord of all - of all! We are not called to offer Him as Lord, but to declare that He is Lord! But the Lordship, the throne, has its seat and centre in the church and it must be here in ourselves, in our own hearts.

I wonder if I have failed... have you really grasped, dear friends, that however you may feel about it yourselves, you may feel you are too young, or too inexperienced, or too something or other to be in such a thing. No, if God has called you in Christ, that calling contains all that I have said for you in relation to a whole. In relation to a whole. Perhaps this afternoon we will be able to get nearer to this thing in that way, but for the moment the object that the Lord is bringing before us at this time is this: we are called with a great calling. And that word calling can be rightly changed for 'vocation'. Vocation - "we are called according to His purpose". And you ask, what is that purpose? To save? Oh, infinitely more than to save! To have a body, a body of people saved and glorified at the centre of His coming new creation, what the letter to the Hebrews calls "the inhabited earth to come"; through which He will express this perfect harmony; maintain the government of this glorious integration; be the co-ordinating centre - Christ in the midst. This Church, this City - there is the metropolis of His creation. Because of that everything, everything in peace; every­thing in rest, when He gets it. We are called unto that - to serve Him in that matter. But, let us remind ourselves that this is not going to begin when we get there; the beginning of this is now.

We in ourselves have got to be one person, not two or three persons. Do you understand what I mean by that? That is, "This one thing I do..." I am completely one in my whole being set upon a single object; there is one thing in God's universe that unites my whole being. Unites my whole being. My spirit, soul and body are concentrated and focused and united upon this purpose of God concerning His Son - I am not a divided person. We have got to be harmonised in that way by the interests of the Lord Jesus. Together it must be so. Our personal, divided interests must go; must go! Our ambitions must go; all secondary considerations must go. We must be one people, for the sake of the Lord Jesus and His rights.

And we must go out to be His witnesses and, like it was with Himself, it will be with us. Oh, if only there is the right thing there as the example, the witness - if it's there, hell will be stirred from beneath - and that is a good sign if it is. It's no compliment to any Christian, or any church, or any body of Christians in this world, for the world to be able to go on without feeling its presence, the Presence of Christ; no compliment at all to have an easy time like that. Well, that is not a pleasant thing to say, and we shall probably have to face that in practical ways. But there it is; so it was with Him, but we have this: "be of good cheer, I have overcome the world". We have His victory upon which to count. The Lord help us.


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