Vocational Fellowship

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - Chosen in Christ Before the Foundation of the World

I trust that it will not be a weariness to the friends who were with us earlier if I go right through those passages of the Word which we had as our foundation, but it seems necessary in view of there being quite a number here who have not been earlier. And, in any case, we must have a good foundation in the Word, and I think in bringing these portions together they themselves constitute a vision of Divine purpose and thought.

So we'll get on with it and turn to our overall fragment in the prophecies of Jeremiah, chapter 17 at verse 12: "A glorious throne, set on high from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary".

And then in the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 1, verse 8: "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".

The second Psalm, the second Psalm, at verse 8: "Ask of Me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, arid the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession".

The book of the Acts, chapter 1 and verse 8: "Ye shall receive power, when the Holy Spirit is come upon you; and ye shall be My witnesses unto the uttermost part of the earth".

Back to Jeremiah, to chapter 1 at verse 4: "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. Then said I, Ah, Lord God! Behold, I cannot speak for I am a child. But the Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child, for to whomsoever I shall send thee thou shalt go, and whatsoever I shall command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid because of them: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth His hand, and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put My words in thy mouth; see, I have this day set thee over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, and to destroy and to overthrow; to build, and to plant".

And finally, in the letter to the Ephesians, chapter 1, first part of verse 4: "He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world..." verse 9: "having made known unto 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".

Now this afternoon, we are going to move from the wider circumference to the more inward application. What is before us (we believe by the Lord's appointing) is the great, wonderful truth and reality that the call which has come to us and to the people of God, contains a very great purpose.

It would not be surprising if a failure to know and to apprehend the great purpose of God through salvation resulted in a number of disappointing conditions. Because, as I think we shall see as we go on, the real fulness of the meaning of Christ to the believer lies right there in the purpose for which He has brought them into fellowship with Himself. It does not lie in their just (and this is not, of course, minimising, or undervaluing salvation in its initial and elementary phases) but it does not at all lie there, only potentially and intentionally. You, as you know, perhaps very well, perhaps too well, that you can be saved and stay there for the rest of your life rejoicing in the fact of what that means, but knowing painfully little of all the great inheritance that is in Christ. And that ignorance resulting in such limitation in life is due to this, not to ignorance of the way of salvation, but to ignorance as to the purpose of salvation, and the purpose now, as well as in the ages to come. So that the emphasis at this time is upon that for which we are saved, unto which we have been called in Christ Jesus.

And although it will be said again and again, let us say it here now: that purpose is not only to have, and not only to be, but it is:-

To Fulfil a Vocation.

All the having, and all the being, is into a great service to the Lord. Now, we spent the whole morning on that, and sorry as we may be for those who didn't get it, we have to go on; we want to get, as I have said, right on the inside of this matter this afternoon as the Lord will help us.

You will have probably been aware that so much of what we read in other places, is very much, if not altogether of a piece with what we read in Jeremiah. There you have the throne on high from the beginning - a glorious throne - "Thy Throne, O God, is for ever and ever", and of the Son He said it. The throne, as something relating to the nations, to the uttermost part of the earth. Jeremiah was told that he was appointed a prophet to the nations, to the nations, not only to the nation, but to the nations; and the fulfilment of his tremendous - tremendous in range and tremendous in cost - his tremendous ministry and vocation, was only possible with that throne in view as his place of refuge and appeal and resource.

To the Lord Jesus, the Father is heard saying: "Thou art My Son. This day have I begotten Thee. Ask of Me and I will give Thee the nations for Thine Inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession". That Son later said, to the nucleus of the church, with the whole church in view: "Ye shall be witnesses unto Me unto the uttermost part of the earth". In other words, "You are related to the Father's intention to give Me the nations for My inheritance, and the uttermost part of the earth for My possession - that's your business; that's your commission; that's your vocation." "Having made known unto us the mystery, the secret of His will, to re-gather all things into Christ". He has made that known to us. Why? Because He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world. You see, in piecing it all together, it makes one picture, and comes right up to this: the purpose for which we have been brought into fellowship with God's Son, it is, to repeat a phrase we've used many times - a vocational fellowship with God's Son.

Now then, to come to this matter, and to allow Jeremiah in his experience, in his function, to interpret for us, because it's all one thing, whether it is Old Testament or New, it is one purpose, and it is one way of God. Jeremiah can help us a lot as a focus of all that we have said. As we take up, then, these verses right at the beginning of his life and work, we are in the presence of God acting sovereignly in relation to His purpose. What a tremendous thing this book of Jeremiah discloses as to the:

Sovereign Activities of God.

It is God acting in His own right. God acting on His own initiative. God Himself, the originator and projector of everything; it is God taking things in hand personally, and bringing them out of His own counsels - the counsel of His own will. And this book of Jeremiah is full of the fact, and then of the features, of this sovereign movement and action of God in relation to purpose.

Dear friends, the language may sound technical and even theological. If you can get through the language, the very word 'sovereignty' is a word that has been taken up and made a basis of tremendous controversy. If you can get through the words and the phrases, to the truth that lies behind, you have, we have, an impregnable rock; an unshakeable rock of confidence.

The Lord is many times, in the Scriptures, called the Rock. The Psalmist found that as a favourite title for the Lord, and we need something rock-like upon which to stand and to rest. And Jeremiah needed a rock under his feet. I don't know how many of you are familiar with the prophecies of Jeremiah. Perhaps you have not studied them very much. Perhaps you think that they are not particularly interesting or inspiring, perhaps a bit depressing, but those of you who know, know this: that if ever a man needed a rock under his feet, Jeremiah did. Oh, the forces that he encountered, that broke upon him. Jeremiah would not have survived at all, let alone at last triumphed with his ministry, but for a rock under his feet. And that which was of the nature of a rock was this, this: it is all in one word repeated how many times? Underline it in your Bible: "I, I, I... before, before thou camest forth I knew thee; I formed thee; I have made thee a prophet to the nations; I have put My word in thy mouth. I knew thee; I formed thee; I chose thee; I appointed thee. I equipped thee. I put My word in thy mouth - I..."

If Jeremiah had started this business, he wouldn't have got very far. If someone else had put him into it, he would have had good reason for a controversy with them, and to retire very early in life. But he went through, and for forty, forty-five years of unceasing and ever-growing antagonism and hostility... sufferings that few men have known or surpassed, he went through. And I believe that it was because of this, that underneath him and behind him, was this which remained: "I did not put myself into this; I did not take this work on; this was not my idea for my life; I really had nothing to do with it. Indeed, if I could have escaped it I would, but I came under a Divine compulsion. I am where I am, I am doing what I am, I am what I am, because God said, 'I knew thee, formed thee, appointed thee, sent thee' - God!" The Divine sovereignty in action. You say, "That's alright, it's quite obvious for Jeremiah, we accept it for him." Now, does the letter to the Ephesians apply to Jeremiah, to the apostle Paul, or to some special servants of the Lord, or is it the message to the church? If it is the message to the church, as it surely is, it almost begins with this:

He Chose Us.

He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world! I wonder how, how you define and explain your conversion? How do you put it when you refer to your whatever it was: coming to the Lord, coming to know the Lord? 'I was saved on such and such a date'. 'I came to know the Lord at such at such and such a time'. 'I was born again'. Oh, we have many ways of putting it. I wonder how you put it? Do you know, dear friends, that the true way (all these, of course, are true in their way), but the truly adequate way to explain it is this. Right back from eternity past, before this world was, a hand reached out to my lifetime and took hold of me! And in so doing, brought me right into something that was in the mind of God before the world was created. That's the meaning of our salvation. It was not just something that happened some day in our lifetime.

There is concentrated into every true new birth from above all the meaning and intention of God's great purpose concerning His Son, that He shall give to His Son the nations for His inheritance, the uttermost part of the earth for His possession. That's in our being Christians, our being the Lord's - it's all there. And if all who are born again, or saved (call it what you may) could only get something, something of that into their hearts and into their understanding early on at the beginning, don't you think that their spiritual progress would be much more rapid? That their measure as Christians would be much greater? There it is. Saved... well, saved, and saved so long ago, and today, not much more than when it happened. Why? For this very reason: an in­sufficient apprehension of the greatness of the purpose bound up with salvation. That's it.

Here, our being here this afternoon, in this room, as born from above children of God, has right in it this, and no lesser meaning than this, that we have been reached unto from eternity, to be brought into that fellowship with God's Son for the ultimate possession of the nations and the re-gathering of all things into Him.

Now, of course, we must ever keep in view the relative factor in this. All that cannot in the very nature of it, quite obviously, all that cannot be gathered into any one individual, or into any number of individuals as separate individuals and entities. We are a part of a great whole: it is the church that is the elect, the chosen vessel for that purpose. But having said that, we can go on.

Now you see, there are a number of things, a large number of things and great things, that go with that, to which we have no right, to which we can make no claim, only as we get right into line with God's purpose concerning His Son in fulness, and stay there. Now, what do we mean? Well, look again at Jeremiah as instancing this.

When God becomes possessed of a vessel, an instrument for this purpose of His heart, this counsel of His will, this secret (what is translated "this mystery") among the nations - when God gets hold of a people in line with that, to that vessel and instrument He commits Himself. That is the next thing: God acts, and then getting the response to His sovereign action,

He Commits Himself to That Vessel, to That Instrument.

And Jeremiah is a wonderful example of an instrument, or a vessel, to which God committed Himself. Go away and read through again (I am sure you will want to, but you will have to!) read through again and see how many times it looked as though Jeremiah was finished! Finished by the designs, and the cruelty, the hostility, and the wickedness of men. Finished by the weariness, the awful weariness of his own hard way. Finished by the drooping of his own soul: 'I said, I will no more speak' - finished! Go through... again and again, for reasons within himself and outside of himself, it looks as though Jeremiah is finished. Until at last you reach that terrible time when the vehement wrath and fury against him has taken him and dropped him down into a deep, dark, muddy pit, into which he sinks up to his arms, to be left to starve and die. Finished? Well, he is finished now! Who can survive all this, the accumulation of things - and this. But he survived! He survived, he came up out of the pit, and went on for quite a long time with his work.

And even when his prophecies, being fulfilled, they came and destroyed Jerusalem, and carried away all who had opposed, the very, very king himself who was doing it all, marked out Jeremiah to be saved. Set him free! Told him that he could go where he liked! God, in committing Himself to this vessel, saw to it that he continued as long as He wanted him to continue. Let all the forces, in men and devils, and all the human weaknesses and readiness to give up, seem to say that it is impossible to go on - he will never get through - when God commits Himself, there is continuance until God says: "I have finished!" That is what it means. Oh, it is a tremendous thing dear friends, to be right in line with God's purpose! God will commit Himself to that, and there will be continuance until God writes the day of Finish on that story. That is the sovereign continuance of God. Well, you have that so much in the Bible, in many ways.

Of course that is the explanation of that symbol in the life of Moses - the bush that did not burn, and was not consumed, it did burn and was not consumed - the Lord knew what He was doing when He made that the medium of his call and commission of Moses. If ever a man, if ever a man found within himself, and in those about him, reason to again and again give it all up, and say, "I just can't go on any longer..." - indeed he did cry out sometimes, "O Lord, I cannot bear this people - I cannot..." but he did, until God buried him, until God fixed the day for his going. He went through all the weariness, and all the welter, and all the trouble, because God was in the bush, had committed Himself, the unquenchable Fire, until God's work is done. Well, I dare not take up the Bible along that line, but you can see - here it is.

But what am I saying? I'm saying to you that if you, if you come right into line with God's purpose, wholly committed to God's purpose concerning His Son, and keep there, you'll go through. You may have all that Jeremiah had, if not literally, spiritually, but you will go through. It is a wonderful, wonderful story of the continuance, the continuance of a vessel to which God has committed Himself. Get out of line with God's full purpose on to some subsidiary line, some bypass, some other track, some alternative, and this will not obtain, it will not obtain.

Here is God's sovereignty, then, seen in Jeremiah, in the matter of his continuance, and in the manner of many particular deliverances. Many particular deliverances. Again and again God stepped right in at the critical moment and cut short the course that was threatening the life of this man. And then, when all was done: the final vindication of Jeremiah. Much has been made, and it is a gloomy side, a side that none of us like to contemplate - much has been made of the fact that Jeremiah was called to a ministry that was never going to succeed - to call the people of God back to Him, and it was destined to failure, in a sense. They never did, they never did come back. In a sense it looked as though he was giving his whole life to a lost cause. Oh well, for the time being that is how it appears; and perhaps that is how it is! But don't forget, the return of the remnant from the judgment in captivity was definitely put on record written in the Chronicles of the history of Israel, written most probably by a man who was in it, Ezra - who wrote Chronicles, the books of the Chronicles - Ezra the scribe. It was put there, right at the beginning of the Chronicles of Israel, that "the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus" (2 Chron. 36:22).

Oh Cyrus, pagan king, great, good, noble, but ignorant of God (for Isaiah says: "I have surnamed thee though thou hast not known Me"), one day felt himself strangely moved within to think about these people that he had got in his dominion - these Hebrews - and to look into their history and their case; not to just let this thing drag on, but to see if something shouldn't be done about it. And this came on him; this came on him. He couldn't get away from it; perhaps it became almost an obsession. Day and night, this matter was disturbing his rest, engaging his attention, and causing him to look into it. "The spirit of God..." was doing what? Was taking up the ministry of Jeremiah, and making Cyrus fulfil it; vindicating Jeremiah. If you want to know what lies behind that remnant coming back and rebuilding the House and of the wall, and all of those final activities of recovery, the answer is Jeremiah, Jeremiah! Isn't this sovereignty? Jeremiah wasn't on the scene here on earth to see it - I don't know whether he was watching it all from heaven! Whether or not he will know all about it, but his labour was not in vain in the Lord! God was committed to him and there was an ultimate vindication of Jeremiah.

Well, there may be a good deal of adversity, may be a lot of time taken, may be much suffering and cost, but a vessel that is right in line with God's purpose concerning His Son will stand vindicated at last - at last vindicated. God Almighty has committed Himself to that, and will see to it. Isn't that a rock to stand upon? It is, isn't it? The sovereignty of God - committed!

Well, what is the essential basis of this whole thing, this position? You see, it is just this:

Fellowship With God in a Purpose Much Larger Than Just a Personal Ministry, or a Personal Bit of Work for God.

It is to see everything in the light of the whole, and to be committed, as Jeremiah was, without consideration of what is personal; committed to what God wants, to what is nearest to the heart of God. It is fellowship with God in that which He has projected and is pursuing, and is set upon realising; fellowship with God! Oh, our silly, silly little "Christian" interests! How foolish and paltry so much of it is! You look at people strutting about, calling themselves by important names, and... well I'd better stop. Playing at churches and chapels... it's all so silly! Get some conception of the greatness of what God is after, and all that is so small and little. Our bit is only, at most, a fragment. Get right into the whole thing, right into the whole thing: firstly fellowship with the purpose of God, and then, and then fellowship with the burden and suffering of God.

These sufferings of Jeremiah seemed to be very personal, very much because of himself. But nay, they were the sufferings of God. It was like that with the prophets, wasn't it? With the prophets, they had been baptised into the passion of God concerning His great purpose in the nations. And oh, how they were baptised into that passion! So many of their experiences, the happenings in their lives, were just sovereignly brought about. Call them tragedies if you like - brought about in order to be vivid, all such vivid illustrations of what God was suffering.

A week or so ago we spent an evening here on the 'thirty pieces of silver' for which Judas bargained with the high priests the life of the Lord Jesus. And we allowed that to take us back to the Old Testament where in three places 'thirty pieces of silver' are mentioned. And one of them was the prophecies of Hosea. Let me recount this in order to make this point particularly.

Hosea, a young man, married a young and beautiful woman. They set up home; they lived together happily and in fellowship, blessed fellowship. He went about his work, and she kept the home. But after a time she tired of that life, and tired of him, for some reason - perhaps, as we said, she got tired of his ministry; she didn't like the kind of ministry - it wasn't very popular; it didn't bring many friends; indeed, it alienated quite a lot of people. Well, for some reason, or reasons, she tired of him, and in so doing, became opened to other approaches to which she succumbed. Other lovers came her way, and she yielded, and left the home, and left Hosea, and went. How long she was away we don't know, but long enough to have her whole life wrecked and ruined, leaving this broken-hearted man behind, alone.

One day he went out, sad, heavy at heart; perhaps for some business. He took with him a bag with some meal in it. As he went through the city he had to pass the place where slaves were bought and sold, and a sale of slaves was going on. He heard the noise and the bidding and the asking, and he looked up, and he saw someone being offered for sale - a woman. There was something about her that made him look again, and as he looked, it was his former wife - emaciated, almost out of recognition, in shame and degradation.

Was it revulsion that welled up in his soul? No, the old love, the old love came up and overcame everything. And he asked; "What price are you asking for her?" They said, "Thirty pieces of silver!" As he looked in his wallet, and only had fifteen, he gave them the fifteen, he said: "Here's fifteen, and fifteen worth of meal; will that do to make up the thirty pieces of silver?" They said, "All right, we will accept that!" He took her home, restored her to her old place of honour and respect and love, and cherished her again.

Why must that come into a prophet's life? The sovereignty of God! You say it's cruel, hard, bitter - ah, but you see, a vessel committed to the purpose of God has got to enter into the very heart feelings of God, because the prophet had to become the very embodiment of his message. And the message of the prophet is this: "Israel, whom I betrothed unto Me, I remember thee, the kindness of thy youth, the love of thine espousals, when thou wentest after Me!" Israel, betrothed to the Lord, married to the Lord, His Spouse, had forsaken Him, had gone after other lovers, and been wrecked and ruined - in the market, the price, the price of a harlot. And God comes out to an Israel like that with a new embrace, to bring that Israel back, and to love as before; to restore and honour as before; to pass it over in great forgiveness as though it had never been. That's the grace of God, and the messenger had to embody that message in his own experience.

Now, that is a very vivid instance, but it is sufficient to carry this point, I am sure. Ours is not a work and a ministry that is something objective; we are not just tape-recorders to reproduce something mechanically. The thing has to be wrought into us, and come right out of the brokenness of our own souls. We have to share the passion of God's heart. That is Jeremiah! Are you going to turn your back on that, and say, "No, that's not for me"? But, dear friends, if only we could get a glimpse, I feel, of what that grace will result in - for here in this letter to the Ephesians you know, "that we should be to the glory of His grace" the glory of His grace - what that grace will issue in in glory; probably more than compensate for all the cost.

I have only got half-way through my message for this afternoon. It's so full, this matter of being in fellowship with God.

This last emphasis is upon:

The Constituting of a Vessel.

Note: the constituting of a vessel, Jeremiah might well have complained along one line - perhaps you have, I have! Along this line: I was never made for this. No, I was never made for this, my whole constitution and make-up is such that, well... another kind is necessary for this job, for this work. Have you ever said that? Well, I have quarrelled with the Lord on that many times: "Lord, you have got the wrong man; you have got the wrong kind; it is another type that You need for this job; I am out of my place. I could do a lot of things very much better, naturally, than I can do this job. Lord, you have made a mistake." Jeremiah might well have said that, and might have said it, not only about his constitution, but about much in his early history. We pointed out, you see, he was a member of a priesthood that had been entirely set aside. His ancestor, the high priest, Abiathar. Abiathar had been caught in complicity with the conspiracy of Adonijah, to take the throne from Solomon. And when Solomon was established on the throne, he banished Abiathar the high priest, to Anathoth - miles and miles from Jerusalem.

It was a priesthood banished, under a ban, and had never been restored. Jeremiah belonged to that ancestry, and to that order - banished! He might have quarrelled with God over that - the advantages of birth, of ancestry, of heredity and so on, all against him. "Now, if, if You really wanted the right kind of man, Lord, You ought to have got somebody who had better standing than I have!" You see? And yet, in the sovereignty of God, this was the man that was chosen, and it says definitely, "I formed thee" - I formed thee! The mystery of God's ways, but it becomes quite clear, as you go on through his life, that, difficult as it was for him naturally, he is the man, he is the man. God can write in this man His own heart. God can come through this man as He might not come through, be able to come through, many others. The point is, the man was constituted not as he thought he ought to be, but as God chose that he should be; and being constituted by God he fulfilled his ministry, because God was behind it. God was in it.

Dear friends, if you and I are really in line with God and in the hands of God, with everything against us in ourselves and outside of ourselves (as we think it, as we interpret it) the thing is done sovereignly, the thing is done spontaneously. Let me put it this way: If you or I were to assume a position, to assume it, to take it on ourselves, and to do it out from ourselves, by our own make-up, and our own natural equipment - if we get into a position that God has not Himself sovereignly put us into, the whole thing becomes artificial, unreal. And the evidence to all is God's not in that, God didn't do that, that didn't come from God - that's the man himself. That is the man! He has taken that position; he's trying to do that. The Lord is not supporting him - it is patent to everybody.

When we are in that for which God has called us, and Himself (in all the mystery of it) constituted us, the thing is in a right sense quite natural. It just does go on, just does happen, you don't have to 'put on' anything, make-believe anything; you don't have to adopt a special kind of voice or dress or anything else, it just spontaneously flows - perfectly natural, it just happens. You are, in a right sense, yourself, and not aping someone else. God made you for that; He knew what He was doing; you need not worry, just get on with it with Him.

I wonder if that helps you, because you know, there is a lot of unnecessary trouble to ourselves and to other people by our getting into something for which the Lord has neither called us, nor fitted us. Not according to our ideas of fitness, but His own. To Moses He said, when Moses argued I cannot speak, I am not eloquent: "Who made man's tongue? Did you make your tongue, or did I?" Jeremiah... I am a child, I cannot speak: "Say not, I am a child; thou shalt go to all that I send you; say all that I tell you to say."

Yes, you're looking at the clock, I'll close. If, the point is, if we are with God, God takes the responsibility to see us through. And I bid you, as I have to break off and not continue to finish this, I bid you to go to this book again, and see if you can mark these evidences of God sovereignly at work. There are many of them, but particularly note the tremendous values, resources, that there are available when we really are wholly in line with God's purpose. Oh, the resources! The resources... it is a hopelessly inexhaustible realm! We will leave it shall we, for the time.

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