Vocational Fellowship

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 6 - At the Crossroads

I am going to repeat the fragment of Scripture which has stood over our time together in this weekend; not to dwell particularly upon it, but to have it there as standing over all that we have to say. In the prophecies of Jeremiah, chapter 17, verse 12: "A glorious throne, set on high from the beginning, is the place of our sanctuary".

And now for this present time, will you turn back to chapter 6, at verse 16: "Thus saith the Lord, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths wherein is the good way, and walk therein".

Stand in the ways... and see... and ask for the old paths... wherein is the good way... and walk therein.

At this point in the ministry of the prophet, he is commanded to indicate to the people that they have come to the crossroads; that the position and the condition in which they were at the time, represented and constituted for them crossroads. The roads were crossing and dividing, and from this time, their choice of road was going to seal for them their future; determine their destiny. At some point, which is not easy to trace or fix, at some point in their history a deceitful current had entered the stream of their life. It may have been very small at first, as these things usually are - almost imperceptible... the nature and meaning of which is not recognised, the significance of which is not measured. It had been so with these people, small, and yet as it went on, it gathered momentum, until the time of these prophecies. It had taken control and was carrying almost everything in its course. The Lord knew about it, knew the trend of things, knew the implications, knew what it pointed to, and saw that people must be called upon to stop and face this whole situation. And this is the word with which He challenged them: "Stand ye in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, wherein is the good way, and walk therein".

The effect of this "something", this foreign element, which had crept in, was to bring about an almost total loss of a central, controlling, integrating authority. That, by the way, is the point of this all-governing word in chapter 17 - a throne on high - the central, uniting government. That was what was needed, because, as I have just said, it was just that which had gone, resulting in complete confusion. If there is no single voice of authority, no one centre of government, no one uniting vision and purpose, then there is confusion. No one knows what is right and what is wrong, whether things are right or wrong; that is how it was then. And that produced unrest... unrest.

This appeal, as you notice in verse 16 of chapter 6: "Walk therein and ye shall find rest for your souls". Unrest... weariness with the whole business... a sense of futility... not getting anywhere. And then the crumbling to pieces, breaking up, divisions and schisms, and conflicts - all for one reason, but that is how it was. Some people (and it would seem, a large number, if not the mass) accepted this way that things were going and abandoned themselves to it. Some others were confused and bewildered by it all. Some were fearful and distressed. The Lord knew all about it, and came in with this word: A crisis has been reached; you are at the crossroads, you have got to stop and consider.

The first thing, as you notice, is:

Stand in the Ways, and See.

Stand! Stop! Pause! Reflect! Take in the situation. Break this spell! Stand at the crossroads, and see, look, take account, take note, for this is a critical time.

That brings us right back to the whole message of this conference (so-called) because the one uniting, co-ordinating thing in the life of any people of God, or any individual child of God, the absence of which is bound to bring conditions like this, like these, the one all-integrating thing is a clear apprehension and strong grasp of why we are God's people. Why has the Lord called us to Himself? Why do we exist as people of God? What we have been trying to see and to show is that it is not just to be His people, not just to be different from other people in the world, not just to be a saved people who are on our way to heaven. But He has called us, He has chosen us, He has brought us to Himself for a great purpose, and that purpose is to be instrumental in our time - we can leave past times and future times to those who belong to them - but in our time, to effect that measure which belongs to our time, of the purpose of God to bring all things into His Son Jesus Christ - to 'gather up', as the word is - "to re-unite all things in Christ", to bring back that which is His by eternal appointment of the Father.

We dare not take time this evening to dwell upon that, but make no mistake about it, anything other than that, anything less than that, will undoubtedly result in the conditions that we find here in this book of prophecies.

Firstly, arrested spiritual development.

Arrested Spiritual Development

Having gone so far, then stopped. And from that time, no progress spiritually, no enlargement of spiritual life, no increase of spiritual stature - arrested spiritual progress and growth. They had stopped in that. Why? Not, not for a moment because they ceased to be the Lord's people, and not for one moment because they ceased to carry out the ordinances, and the ritual, and the forms, and the ceremonies, and all the whole system which had been given to them, which was their religious tradition and inheritance. They were as active in their temple activities, their sacrifices and ordinances, as ever. It was going on. No, not because the outward forms of their relationship with God had ceased - not for these reasons, and we might add others to them. But for this one reason: they had ceased to realise that they were called to be the Lord's people, and that everything that was bound up with that had one object: to constitute them a people in this world by which the world would be brought to know God; to constitute them an instrument unto the nations. Unto the nations!

Now they had become something in themselves; the limits of their horizon were fixed with themselves. All this was turned in to themselves and they had either forgotten, or completely violated, the laws of their very existence: that they were raised up as a people by whom the nations should know God and should be left with no excuse whatever for ignorance, and, on the other hand, with all that which would make them understand what kind of God He is and what He requires. It was the vocation of the people that governed everything. The vocation of the people under that glorious throne on high from the beginning, integrated with that one all-governing throne-purpose, and throne-vision. Because, remember, dear friends, all that we have said: that Jesus on the throne, the throne of heaven, embodies and represents the purpose of God for all the nations at last - one throne over them all, when the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdom of our God and of His Christ.

That throne is the symbol of universal rights, authority, government, vested in the Lord Jesus. They had lost the vision of the throne, they had lost the vision of their calling, and they had lost their Divine vocation which was the very meaning of their existence. That being so, the purpose having fallen out, everything went; everything went. And it was on that one issue which included everything (and one issue does include everything) that this word came through Jeremiah: Call a halt! Call a halt! We are at the crossroads; we have got to look right into this thing, to the nature of it, and see. Stand still.

Now, dear friends, before we go on, while you will see that this was true as to Israel at that time, will probably see features of it in our own time, let's come very close to this. If there should be arrested spiritual progress and growth in any life or in any company of the Lord's people anywhere, or in the church at large - if that should be the state, while they are the Lord's people, while they are very busy in the Lord's things outwardly and yet not spiritually growing, growing and increasing with the increase of God (I don't mean numerically, it may be that as well, but I mean spiritually growing) so that there is no doubt about it, there is a difference now from even so long ago there was, in the knowledge of the Lord, in the enjoyment of the Lord, in the understanding of the Lord, the meaning of the Lord. If it's not like that, stand still and ask: What is the meaning of this? You are at the crossroads. Sooner or later you will have to recognise that, that you cannot just go on like this, unless you are going to throw everything away. What does it mean? And while, of course, spiritual arrest may be due to many things, particular things in any one life or in any one place, the thing that I am bringing to you at this time, as an inclusive thing is just this: Stand still and ask whether you may not have had your life, your spiritual life, brought into something less than God intended, or into something other than God intended and brought you into being for - personally and collectively. Whether some deceitful current has crept in and is taking charge, resulting in something other, less, different from, that which was the original vision, and that which is revealed to be the supreme purpose of God in the existence of the church, which means you individually as a true Christian.

The Way of Progress

The way of growth, the way of Life is the way of the full purpose of God. The way of limitation is the way of something either less or other. It's like that. If there is confusion in your life, so that you don't know, you don't know what is right and what is wrong, if there is a loss of an all-governing authority that integrates, that unites, that holds in one steady way, if you're scattered and divided, then stand still. Stand still, and see, and ask again: Have I somehow, for some reason, by some means, been sidetracked, got off the main way of God's intention? Got into something that is less, that is other, that is different - not the whole counsel of God? Stand still and see!

I am sure that you will agree that spiritual progress and spiritual prosperity are bound up with this: an all-unifying, inspiring, dynamic purpose - it is like that, isn't it? Find a person or a people without a purpose like that, that governs their whole life, touches everything, not only in their meetings, but reaches out through them to everything, in the homes, and in the business. It's just... its arms just reach out and affect everything. Everything is in the light of this great all-governing object: the place of Jesus Christ in God's intention - fulness of place for Him - everything being made to bend to that, to bow to that, to serve that. And I tell you that your life will be in confusion, and it will be a divided life, and it will be a weak life, it will be a limited life, unless you have come to this: My business, my home, all my affairs, my society, my occupations, my everything has got to focus upon this: the serving of God's end concerning His Son Jesus Christ, that in all things He shall have the pre-eminence!

He shall come into His crown rights in this world. I may not be able to settle that issue in some distant land. It may not be mine to see that that is so in India, or some other place that is not my country, to which God does not send me; but here I am. And here, whether it be (forgive me) Honor Oak, or Richmond, or Deal, or Canterbury, or any other place, it may be a limited spot; that's a part of the nations! That is just as much a part of the nations as any country in this world! Don't be romantic or sentimental about China and India to the loss of that patch upon which God has put you! That locality, that town, that sphere of influence, that place of business, that home, that is in the nations as much as any other place is. And so far as God will help you, it is your business to see that Christ reigns there. The throne is there; everything is gathered to Him. You will make spiritual progress if you have it like that. You will be a unified person or people if it is like that.

One of the things that the Lord had to say through Jeremiah, you will read here, is this: "My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken Me the fountain of living water, and have hewn them out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water". What a picture! In line with God's purpose, in full line with God's purpose the river flows, the fountain springs up, the spontaneous Life wells over - spontaneous! And over against this: 'hewing out cisterns' - hewing out! Oh, the labour... oh the hard work... oh, the weariness - hewing out from solid rock of a cistern, and then filling it up and finding there is a crack in it, and it all seeps and leaks away - "which can hold no water"! Your work, your effort, your organisation - what you are doing instead of this spontaneous thing that God does. What a contrast!

In line (and I know what I am talking about, dear friends) in line with God's purpose, the river flows! On some other line, mere (what we call "organised") Christianity, we've got to do the work, we've got to find the resources. And isn't that just what Christianity is doing? Labouring and toiling, to find the resources to carry on Christian activities, and largely leaking. Oh, what a lot of leaky cisterns there are! Disappointment – they can hold no water. That is the difference.

In line with His purpose it is spontaneous - it is so. You have honest, conscientious work to do in the right way, but it's the flow, it's the flow of the Life. It comes along this course, this course of the Divine purpose concerning the Lord Jesus. As we said this afternoon, God commits Himself to that. He is with you in it, and carries you along. If it is not like that, stand! There's a crossroads. Stand and see, and at least ask: Are we on some lesser line, some other thing? Are we trying to make something? Trying to constitute something? Trying to create something? Trying to form something? Are we doing that or are we in something that God is doing? God is doing! We are not carrying this; this thing is carrying us! It's like that when you have your course set wholly in line with what that throne from of old, from eternity, has meant - everything gathered into the Son of God.

Stand! Reflect! Consider! Take it all in!

Next, allow yourself to be made aware of what this alternative is.

What is This Alternative?

What is the meaning of it? If you look into this book, and into the history of Israel that brought them to the crossroads, you will find that they had left the heavenly way, and come down on to an earthly way. Their original history, indeed, was a heavenly one. Everything was from heaven, everything was linked with heaven. Everything was meant to be like that. If you had gone through the tribes of Israel (as they were there arranged around the Tabernacle in the wilderness) gone through them, their thousands, you would have found that there was a certain - may I put it this way? - fashion prevailing; fashion in dress, for everybody had on the edge of their garment a blue fringe. No, it was not the mark of the Temperance Society! But there it was - blue was the predominant colour in Israel and it was everywhere. And from what did it derive? There was one man right at the centre and heart of the whole nation, the high priest, who had a marvellous blue robe; and everything in Israel corresponded to that, was like a piece of it. It was 'corporate blue' (there is a new phrase for you!). Blue is the heavenly colour, and God ordained this, you see, from centre to circumference - everything was to be heavenly.

So their food came from heaven - they were sustained from heaven. Their guidance in the wilderness came from heaven; their government came from heaven. All their times were appointed by heaven. Their law was given from heaven, their water came from heaven. They were, while here in this world, a heavenly people, moving steadily on to a heavenly country - the consummation of their heavenly life here. Well, that is the picture.

They had been like that; had been like that and in the days when it was like that, they were days of joy, of harmony. But they had left their heavenly position, while, perhaps, maintaining the forms, they left it, and had come down to earth; come down on to the level of the other peoples the earth. You read the book - I can't take you through it, but there it is, so clear, so clear.

And again and again that happened in Israel. It happened in the days of Samuel when they said: "Make us a king like unto the nations". And the Lord said unto Samuel, "They have not rejected thee, they have rejected Me"! The glorious throne on high was rejected, to have a throne on the earth. The Lord let them have their throne, and their Saul and their king, but all these conditions followed: frustration, limitation. Yes, they came down to earth. That's the battle, to keep on the heavenly level, and not to be brought down, forced down, tricked down. But this, this deceitful current that came in had that in it, to bring them down on to an earthly level. Many of you may not understand what that means, but many of you do. It is just the battle there: something like the rest, something as they do it in this world, something that is down here.

But note, the challenge is:

Ask for the Old Paths.

Is there some hint in that? Some suggestion, some implication that the trouble, the trouble, the condition, the state of things was due to: "Oh, we are tired of all this... let us have something new! Let's have something fresh! Let's have a change - let's have a change." You know, one of the prophets puts his finger on that, and says: 'where there are no changes'. Where there are not changes... The people can't just bear not to have variety, not to have changes, what they call 'freshness' and so on. But there is a peril in that. There is a freshness, a newness about the things of God, Divine things, and Divine life that's right, but when it becomes something like this: "Oh, we are tired of the old thing, tired of the old thing... let's have something new." There may be something in that that's deceitful. And so, throwing off restraint, and throwing off that which God established, that which God brought in, and hankering after variety and novelty; something different.

Do you notice that course of things today in Christianity? It's always very near, and it becomes very artificial doesn't it? And strained, and false, unnatural - trying to be, trying to be different which amounts to trying to be clever. Trying to be clever, novel - it's an awful evil. Ask for the old paths! Let's be very careful what we mean when we say we don't want the past. That is just exactly what we do want and need, if the past is the old paths. If the days of the apostles, of the early church represent the old paths, that is exactly what we do want! But here is something that is not true and right that is new. Oh, I know how much there is, and many aspects of newness in what is true - I am not thinking about that. This people, throwing over everything that God had brought in and established as the basis of the Life which had been in such fulness, spontaneity, progress - they are throwing it all over; tired of it. Stand! See! Ask!

One other element in this state of things you see, there were false prophets. Jeremiah's bane were the false prophets. They were the thorns in his side, they were the ones who were making his life a life of contention. But what were the false prophets saying? Look into it again. They were saying: "Don't you listen to Jeremiah! If you do, if you do, he will lead you astray and you will lose your place, and you will be found on the unpopular side; you will have the majority against you. Now listen, it is not politic to go the way of Jeremiah. If you want influence, if you want standing, if you want position, don't you listen to Jeremiah." In a word, they wanted popularity. Popularity! And Jeremiah was the most unpopular man on the face of the earth at that time. But was Jeremiah right? Was what Jeremiah stood for God's way? How did it work out? Pause, stand, see! This is the nature of the crossroads very often; you have got to decide whether it is popularity you are after, whether it is the way of the majority vote, the way of the crowd, the multitude, of most people, or whether it is the way of the Cross. You have got to decide.

I don't know what is in it, but I do know of a book written by Dr. Wheeler Robinson. I have never seen it, I have never read it, but I only know its title. And I know that it is appealed to by many. It is called The Cross of Jeremiah - what a title! What a fine title for this whole book. The Cross of Jeremiah - what is the cross of Jeremiah? I say, I don't know what's in this particular book, but I know what the cross of Jeremiah was: it was the way of the minority, the way that was unpopular. It was the way that was not the way of least resistance, it was the hardest way to take. That is always:

The Way of the Cross.

The crossroads... is it policy? Is it popularity? Is it common acceptance? Or is it the way of the full purpose of God which may only be taken by a minority? So it works out. And that minority is an unpopular minority. And about them the others say: "Don't you go that way, don't you listen to them, don't you follow them! If you do, you see what you are in for, what you will lose." And policy becomes the ruling thing at the crossroads. It is like that.

Well, I must close. Here is the enquiry at the crossroads as to really what is the nature of this thing? And then the decision - the decision. Ask for the old paths, the old paths... the path, that old path of the New Testament, which was by way of the Cross, was the path of the released Holy Spirit through an open heaven. And what is there in all the creation that is to be compared with an opened heaven and a released Holy Spirit? That was the 'old path' of the book of the Acts, wasn't it? It was. But that was by the way of the Cross. It was the way of the exalted Christ upon the throne. And although, like Jeremiah, it meant for the church suffering, adversity, persecution, pain, and cost... oh, the wonder of that Cross!

I had thought that some time during this weekend, I would be able to put in a message on the sovereignty of the cross, but can't. But I have been fascinated, just fascinated, as I have gone through the pages of the story of the Cross, to see that what from one side, the earthly human side, looks like tragedy and defeat, and the triumph of evil and the enemy, can be seen from another side to be God working out sovereign purpose in a marvellous way. Even to hint at it is to open up a field of tremendous inspiration! Oh, but there it is - there it is, the sovereignty of the Cross, it is marvellous! They said this; but sovereignty came in and took hold of that and turned it in exactly the opposite direction from what they intended.

Take one point, if you like. They said "Not Jesus but Barabbas". And then, being pressed, being pressed by Pilate, they said: "We have no king but Caesar". Oh, they never said a more foolish and utterly mad thing! "We have no king, but Caesar!" And they put their King, their true King on the cross. What happened? They got Caesar, and he absolutely wiped out their nation in seventy years, and scattered them over the world, so that they have never had a king through these two thousand years.

All right, there's a throne above, you see, a throne above that Cross, working by that Cross. Pilate said, "Put up an inscription, and write it in three languages, Hebrew, Greek, Latin" - the whole world on that cross. "Ask of Me and I will give Thee the nations for Thine inheritance and the uttermost parts of the earth for Thy possession". And He did it by His Cross! It is the sovereignty of the Cross that wins the nations for Jesus Christ. Oh, I could go on like this for an hour! There it is. Yes, by the way of the Cross is the way of the throne. It's the way of the opened heaven, it is the way of the released Holy Spirit, but, ask for the old paths, and walk therein.

It's your decision. Weigh it all up. Look at it, compare the values of the two ways, this way and that at the crossroads, and having decided, "Oh, though we gain the whole world, though we get everything down here and lose that which God meant, that inheritance in His Son, it is not worth it. This is the way I am going, the way of the Cross." The Lord bring us there at this time.

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