The Ways of God

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - The Way of Vision

Reading: Psalm 105:1-24.

This whole Psalm contains a record of the history of a vessel created for Divine purpose. We will, however, draw a circle around that small section relating to Joseph, who is a concentrated example of such a history. The ways of God are always the same in that connection. All His ways are like His ways with Joseph.

We might begin by using Paul's great phrase, "according to purpose" (Romans 8:28), for that is so evidently the thing governing the life of Joseph, of Israel and of all, both in the Old and New Testaments, who are brought into that relationship with God.

Well, let us look at Joseph in some of these 'ways of God' which are the most evident. Behind Joseph's life there was the Divine purpose. Before Joseph was born that purpose existed. Joseph, unconsciously at the beginning, was born into it and no doubt for some time was unaware of it. Then he came to realise that there was something more than just being in this world and being alive that accounted for his existence. He came to realise that God was deeply interested in him. But it was not Joseph's purpose for God, but God's purpose in Joseph. There is a big distinction between those two things. We may have purposes for God and arrange things and launch enterprises for God. Inasmuch as they are for God the Lord may bless them. There can, however, be quite a difference between our purposes for God and the purpose of God. It is important to remember that, because it is fundamental to everything. This purpose of God existed before Joseph came into this world. It had been revealed to Abraham that great day when God met Abraham and the covenant was made, the sacri­fice divided, and the lamp passed between the two parts of the sacrifice - there was a great horror of darkness (there is always conflict bound up with purpose), and then the covenant and the revelation of a people: "Unto thy seed have I given this land" (Gen. 15:18). The very time was given, and that time led up to this crucial point. It was through Joseph that this people came into the land from Egypt as the next great stage in the plan of God.

The purpose was there before Joseph. He was born into it. The New Testament makes it very clear that by our new birth we are born into something that was in the heart and intention of God far back behind time, before ever we came here. It exists, and we are brought into it; not our plan for God, but God's plan for His Son. We are brought into that by new birth.

It is a special choice. Joseph was a peculiar vessel, even among his own brethren. What was said of him could not be said in the same measure of his brothers. He was marked out. It was his story, because he was chosen to bring his own brethren into that purpose. His was a peculiar vocation, part of the heavenly calling and heavenly vocation. Within the whole circumference of the purpose there is that purpose instrumentally to bring others into it. Joseph stood there, a peculiar vessel selected in relation to God's purpose to bring others into it. The day came when Joseph became aware of that. He may have been foolish about it, as we shall see, but nevertheless, it broke upon him, this sense of destiny with which he was bound up and which was bound up with his life. The Lord had put His hand on him in relation to that covenant and that great purpose which had been revealed to his forefather, Abraham. This grew upon him, took possession of him, became the horizon of his life. He lived to serve God, not in a general way, but in the particular way to which he had been separated, serving that purpose. It was a power in his life. He just could not get away from it. He talked, and he may have talked unwisely, because this thing had got hold of him. He could not accept something general; he could only follow this distinctive and definite guidance. He would not have gone through all that he had to go through if this thing had not really been a power in his life. If you had asked him in the days of his great suffering and affliction why he held on, why he continued, he would have said: "It is not my hold, but the hold of God upon my heart. I have seen something of God's purpose and intention and I feel that God has called me into that. I just cannot accept anything other or less. That holds me in its grip. That will carry me through to its issue."

Yes, it was a power, but, of course, there were perils, as there always are, bound up with that vision. He fell into some of the perils. By talking unwisely to his brothers he revealed that there was something in him bound up with this whole thing which was not good and not right. He fell into the perils, but both in his own testimony later on to his brethren and here, in this Psalm, there is this statement: "He (God) sent a man before them." To his brethren Joseph said: "God did send me before you to preserve life" (Gen. 45:5). Here is the pioneer of God's purpose. It is a special vocation to pioneer for the Lord's people, but there are peculiar perils bound up with it, and there are peculiar sufferings.

So we pass on to see that interlude of discipline in the life of Joseph. It is a long period, dating from the day that his brethren put him into the pit and then sold him. He was taken into Egypt and there was a sudden re­verse into what looked like good fortune, but eventually he found himself in the prison. It was a long time, and those conditions make time seem very much longer. It was a period of eclipse, the eclipse of everything, probably of vision, of hope, and of God. A prison - a dungeon indeed! And long-drawn-out! But there was a Divine necessity for this. It was something that God saw to be necessary because somehow natural ele­ments had made an invasion into the Divine purpose. It may have been pride that prompted him to talk to his brethren as he did about his dreams and that they, as they rightly interpreted, had to bow to him, acknowledge him and his position and his superiority. It may have been pride there that the Lord saw, some conceit - "I am the man" - or "We are the people. We know it. We have got it. The Lord is with us particularly. We are going to do it." Probably all that was there in this young man, Joseph. Ambition: secret, but it was there. Zeal: yes, for God perhaps, but without knowledge it is a dangerous thing. Inexperience: the novice. Impulse, self-sufficiency, self-strength. Perhaps any or all of these things were there under the eye of the Lord, and he set himself to realise the vision without faith. It just amounted to that; he was not prepared to trust the Lord in this whole thing. He must set to work to bring it about himself.

You can see that in others, too. Abraham fell right there over Ishmael. Yes, he knew all about the vision and the purpose, but in a lapse of faith he tried to realise it himself.

Undoubtedly Moses had the vision in Egypt in the first forty years of his life. It was that vision that led him to behave as he did. The writer to the Hebrews says that he counted "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt" (Heb. 11:26). He had the vision, but there came that day, that disastrous day, when he took it out of the Lord's hands and took it into his own hands to realise it. He smote the Egyptian persecuting a Hebrew and thought that no one knew. He took the vision into his own hands.

Joseph was no doubt a favourite in the house of his father. He had many privileges and was no doubt pandered to - and he used that fact.

Now, Abraham was doubtless a great man in Chaldea, and Moses was a great man in Egypt, well educated in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, a prince and an aristocrat. Joseph was no doubt a favourite in his father's house. But none of these things in themselves could be the means of real­ising God's purpose. We may be clever and successful in this world, with business acumen and real ability, but it is no use bringing all that in to try and realise God's purpose. We may have standing among men and much to our advantage, but nothing that is of this natural life, until it has been really disciplined under the Spirit of God, can realise the Divine purpose.

These are the lessons we can learn from Joseph's life. All these things simply did not count when it came to God reaching His end. Spiritual values are so different from natural values. So Abraham only put the clock back years! Moses put the clock back forty years by trying to do things himself. And Joseph put the clock back years by his unwise, though perhaps very zealous concern for the vision! And he had to pass into this long and deep discipline to bring him to a specific place.

This is the great lesson you and I have to learn if we are really in the way of God's supreme purpose. In this realm only God can do it. Abraham had to learn that. Moses, in the forty years he was alone in the wilderness, had to learn that. Joseph, in prison, had to learn that. If it is ever to be, only the Lord can do it.

But, you see, the Lord was working at that. Until we learn that, we are holding up time.

Indeed, we are only creating confusion. The purpose, the vision, may be right, but it can only be carried out by the Lord in the Lord's way. If we take it into our hands we bring unspeakable confusion and just put the clock back, perhaps for years.

Well, Abraham had to wait a long time. Moses had to wait his forty years. Joseph had to wait, and what a time of discipline it was! Apparently forgotten of God! It is a terrible experience when there seems to be evidence that God has forgotten. Think of forty years in the wilderness looking after a few sheep after having had such a position in the world! Forgotten by God! Read again those verses from Psalm 105 about Joseph. He could easily have felt that God had forgotten him. He was left alone, cast out, fallen out of the purpose. His entire life was devastated and his purpose in life seemed to have gone. It was disintegration, hopelessness, a state of being forsaken.

Many of the Lord's servants have gone that way. You know, it was many centuries before the Lord Jesus took the words on His lips that David cried, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1). Forsaken! It was not true, of course, but the depth of this thing is commensurate with the height of the purpose. Remember that the depth and the height are equal.

So Joseph went though this period of stripping, emptying and humbling just to reach the point where he was utterly dependent upon God. Whatever he had felt and thought at one time, however he had acted and betrayed himself, he now knew that nothing is possible apart from the Lord. The Lord must have that position, make no mistake about it! At any cost, any length of time, for His purpose He must have that position. When He gets it, when all these things which confuse and mix up the situation are dealt with, then we come to the set time of the Lord. A break comes in the Psalm at one point: the work is done. The set time of the Lord has come. Joseph was released and brought out, but only at the set time of the Lord.

It is not just that the Lord had a certain timetable. The Lord has not just planned things in the matter of the measure of time. The Lord's set time always corresponds with a work done in the instrument. You cannot reconcile these things, but there it is. Even the coming of the Lord Jesus may be fixed as to time, if you like, but it cannot be until something is ready, until a work has been done. And when the work was done in the life of Joseph, the set time came.

The work is accomplished, and the Lord knows when it is accom­plished in us, when it is finished. We do not! We think there is nothing more to be done, or that can be done. The Lord knows, and He knows when that issue is settled, when that way is clear, when He can proceed with confidence and commit Himself. He knows when things are ready. That is His set time. When that time comes it just happens, and there is no power in this universe which can stop it.

You notice with Joseph it corresponded to an hour of need. Just a wonderful working together! The preparing of an instrument in this deep way unto a day that the Lord knew. "He brake the whole staff of bread." Why? Because He had been preparing an instrument to meet a need which concerned the next stage in His programme for the bringing of Israel to Egypt on the way to the land.

Oh, the beautiful balance of things! The symmetry! The instrument dealt with and prepared; the need manifested and the two brought together! The wonderful wisdom and sovereignty of God! And all that has to be said is that the end justifies all. The enlarged sphere is God's end. How true, not only of Israel but of others among His servants, is the principle of the words, "Thou broughtest us into the net... Thou hast caused men to ride over our heads; we went through fire and through water" (Psalm 66:11,12). It was true of these men - but, "Thou broughtest us out into a wealthy place." That justified it all. The end of the Lord is enlargement, increase and enrichment. If His ways are painful, as they are, even to the point of His seeming to have left us, His end is greater fulness through it all.

Let us believe, then, that we are "called according to His purpose". Does that mean that everything ought to go well and that the sovereignty of God ought to come in all the way along and make victory easy? Not at all! The history of a vessel for Divine purpose is this: the Lord always takes such instruments through very deep ways.

Now, of course, I must safeguard what I have said and mention that there is no conceit behind any word that I have uttered, no feeling that we are people anything like Joseph. What I mean is this - that the Lord does need Joseph instruments. He does need vessels that can be used not only for the salvation of the world, but to bring His own people into the knowledge and experience of Himself in a fuller way. That is a peculiar ministry, both for individuals and for companies, in order that His house should come into the greater fulness of His eternal thought for it. For that He must have an instrument, or instruments, but such go through very deep history with Him. It is a hard and painful way, sometimes a way which seems like utter desolation and God-forsakenness, but a day comes when it is all explained and justified, and Israel at length comes into the land.

The Lord interpret His word to our hearts.

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