The Horizon of Divine Purpose

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 6 - All Things in Christ

The whole of the message of these days in particular, will be gathered up this evening, or found to be gathered up, in one fragment in the prophecies of Ezekiel.

In chapter 21 and verse 27: "I will overturn, overturn, overturn until He come Whose right it is, and I will give it to Him." You will see, if you look, that those words have a very wide context. They have an immediate context - the life and ministry of the prophet - his times were to see the beginning, the carrying forward to some quite serious degree of the fulfillment of these words. But there is also an expanded context, and the expanse of that context has not yet reached its final stage, but here in the Scriptures much of that expanded context is noted and mentioned.

The overturning, overturning, overturning very soon began. When the prophet was caused to make this proclamation of Jehovah's intention, the immediate context then, was that of Jerusalem and Jerusalem as the symbol and representation of the nation, a nation which, as we have been seeing in earlier hours, was chosen, elect of God for a purpose, God's special purpose; a nation which had been so carefully, painstakingly, and patiently constituted and disciplined unto that purpose. And then, withal, had so lamentably failed, so tragically missed the mark. And unto that nation the words were addressed, "I will overturn, overturn, overturn". The reasons? Those which we have noted: the lost distinctiveness in their life. They had gone out to the world in illicit and forbidden relationship of a spiritual character and the world had been let in to them in a defiling and corrupting way, resulting in that thing which, as we have said, is always an error and abomination to God: mixture. Mixture - in and amongst His people, the lost distinctiveness of their life, the lost vitality in the means which God had provided for the realisation of His purpose. He has provided tabernacle and temple, priesthood and ordinances, sacrifices and feasts, and much more - made a great provision in this way, but all to be a vital and effective means to an end but not as an end in itself. But that vitality had been lost. Temple, priesthood, sacrifices, ordinances had become a formality, a daily routine, something being kept up, something just in themselves - a great formalism without Life. The vitality and the means had gone and His deposit was dead in their midst.

Lost Vision as to Their Existence

They had lost both the sense, the consciousness, and the knowledge of why they were the Lord's people. They were boasting that they were the Lord's people; they were claiming to be a special people amongst the peoples of the earth; they were using His Name, taking it. But the purpose for which they were the Lord's people had been lost to their consciousness. Their vision of the great object and end of God in choosing them from among all the people of the earth had been lost. You know, that's the cry of the prophets. Their three-fold note is heard along those lines. Their cry is against this mixture, this loss of distinctiveness, this corruption, this defilement. Their cry is against this mere formalism. As we pointed out yesterday, through Isaiah the word of the Lord came, "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up they voice like a trumpet and show My people their sin, their transgression, and the house of Israel their sin. Yet they seek Me daily, they delight to know My ways..." carrying on, but without vision, without purity, without vitality.

All that led to this: "I will overturn, overturn, overturn. I am not going to preserve mere form, mere shell, mere profession. It's all to Me hypocrisy, unreality. I will overturn." Because of these things, the things that characterise a people under the true government and in the true energies of the Holy Spirit, are gone - things that really matter - because of these things there was a lost authority in Israel, authority in the nations, and authority voiced in their own midst. They were not registering as those who spoke in Life and in word, in testimony with authority. It's a tragic situation when the people of God lose their authority in the world, and they always do it when they mix in with the world and the world is mixed in with them.

Lost Unity

Here we see the crumbling of the nation, the breaking up and disintegration until the only suitable picture is that of the valley of dry bones: very many and much scattered, unrelated, unarticulated, disintegrated. That's the result: divisions, if you like, divisions. The lost position to which God had brought them. He had brought them by covenant into the land and set them there as His own place for them. God's place for the nation was the land, and they lost their position - their God-appointed position - and were cast out of it.

Finally, the prophecies lead to:

The Lost Glory

The lost glory in and over the people of God. The glory lifted up and moved right away. The Lord says about such a state, "I will overturn, overturn, overturn. This cannot go on".

And, dear friends, may I have your forbearance if I remind you again that these prophecies are not exclusively concerning Israel in the Old Testament and old dispensation. There is that in the New Testament which corresponds to this immediate context. This terrible chapter 21 of Ezekiel's prophecies has been called the song of the sword. If you read immediately associated with these words of verse 27, "The sword, the sword, the sword the point of the sword... God's unsheathed sword". And by the sword He is going to overturn and overturn.

May I remind you that we have two corresponding passages in this other realm of the church in the New Testament. One is in the letter to the Hebrews, "I will shake the heavens and the earth. I will shake the heavens and the earth". The other is in the coming of the Lord Jesus into the midst of the seven lampstands, and in that comprehensive and matchless description and presentation of Him, there's this: "He that hath the sharp two-edged sword" and he begins with it at the churches. At the churches! And His is an overturning, overturning, overturning in the churches. The sword is cleaving, dividing, finding out, searching, and judging. And there is that which, having, having resulted in, so largely resulted in the loss of the specific purpose, falls to the sword of the Lord.

These are hard words, but suffer them for the moment. It's like that. The Lord is saying to the churches representing the whole church, the same things as He said to Israel here, "I am not a bit interested or concerned with your religious forms. I am not a bit interested in your much religious or Christian activity. I know thy works. I am not concerned with your profession. The thing for which you were raised up, elected, and constituted is My eternal purpose concerning My Son that in all things He might have the pre-eminence and occupy the first, the full, and the final place. And anything that either falls short of that or contradicts that, must come under the sword. I will overturn, overturn." And judgment begins at the house of God and, dear friends, if this is true and if we're not mistaken, the church in general is going to meet the sword. It's going to be dealt with in this way, and there's going to be a whole lot, a whole lot of activities and works and professions and whatnot that is going to the sword, going to be overturned, overturned, overturned in order to get to that end which God has appointed. Do you see that?

And what is true of the whole church will be true of any local company of believers. If the Lord sees unreality, sees hypocrisy, mere formality, making His Divine things just an end in themselves, turned in on ourselves and not ministering to and forging toward the great end, progressing and developing as we go on with this increasing fullness of Christ, the Lord will overturn that local company, upset it, will bring the sword in and will scatter and break down and overturn! It's the history of many a company of the Lord's people who've become merely formal and traditional, having lost their vitality and their vision.

And let us come nearer: it will be the history of individual lives. As soon as you and I resolve everything - teaching and doctrine and practice and meetings and whatnot - into some thing, which is just a rota being carried on and it loses that great, mighty, dynamic vision for the purpose of God and loses that tremendous impact of a sense of purpose, then our own individual Christian life will come under the sword and God will devastate us. Devastate us; just go to pieces. And we'll have to come to this place, "Well, I've been on false ground. I've been in a false position. My position has not been true, not been real. All the teaching that I have received is simply something in my head, in my mind and not a vital part of my very being. All that I am associated with and do hasn't got the root of the matter in it. The Lord must overturn it." That sounds very hard. But would we have it otherwise? Is it not His faithfulness to do that, to get to - though it be but a modicum - to get to reality and to save a remnant that has the root of the matter in it?

The Widening Context and Application

As you can see here, for I must remind you that Ezekiel overlapped two ends; on one end, he overlapped the ministry of Jeremiah, and at the other end he overlapped the ministry of Daniel. Do you remember the word of the Lord which came to Jeremiah, "I have set thee this day over the nations to pluck up, to pull down, to plant" - over the nations. At the other end: Daniel. We're all familiar with how Daniel in his book is set right in the midst of the nations. Isn't it true? We'll come to that in a minute.

Here's a wide context in the midst of which Ezekiel is set. And there passes, passes in review the rise and the fall of the world powers, of the peoples and nations who have exercised power and influence in the history of this world. The prophet, here Ezekiel, begins with the first four: Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia. Now, it's for you to go and look into all that, you're not expecting or wanting that I should trace their history and give their full meaning. It's sufficient to say that it was Ammon and Moab who conspired and joined hands to hire Balaam to curse Israel. Balak, king of Moab, sent for Balaam to come, "Curse for me Israel..." "All right, Ammon, Moab, 'The mills of God grind slowly, yet they grind exceeding small; though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all.' Ammon, Moab, you're going to be grist for God's mill. You'll see!" The third was Edom. And what a history Edom had of menacing Israel and the interests of the Lord. And the fourth, Philistia. Oh, we are tired, we are tired and sick of reading of the interferences of the Philistines with the interests of the Lord - the uncircumcised Philistines, as they were called. They were that constant, that almost perpetual menace to the Lord's interests in Israel. These four are brought right in to the song of the sword. "I will overturn, overturn, overturn," says the Lord. And so it was: Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia went to the sword and are no more - and are no more.

The prophet passes from the first four to another two, the second two: Tyre and Sidon. In chapter 28 of these prophecies, you have one of the most amazing, startling, and terrible things in the Bible - the King of Tyre. And it's not difficult, it's not difficult to see right through what is said here, right through to Satan himself: "Thou walkest up and down amidst the stones of fire. Thou saidest: I will ascend into heaven", and so on and so on. And this is said, in the first context, of the King of Tyre, but you can see right through this to another one, inspiring this exalting against God, this aspiring to be supreme everywhere. The King of Tyre, read chapter 28 again and see how terrible it is. And the Sidonians are in league with Tyre. All right, all right. And the word reaches even unto them, "I will overturn, overturn, overturn." And where is Tyre and Sidon? What happened? Well, history will tell you what happened: the desolation of Tyre. The desolation of Tyre, it's a tremendously thrilling, a startling story. The prophecy was fulfilled.

And then the prophet moves to one. After the four and the two, he comes to one: Egypt - that empire of antiquity, that wonderful civilisation, that great world power of which many other great powers were for a long time much afraid. And Egypt comes to the sword. The same thing is said about Egypt: "I will overturn, overturn, overturn." And we know the history. Trying, trying to recover something of their earlier glory and prestige, but it's a poor, feeble business. God said, "I will overturn." And so it was.

And then we move into a still larger context as we overlap into Daniel. And before long the great image of Nebuchadnezzar is brought into full view, that great image with its four of the greatest world powers in history. We're with the big four here, Babylon: "See this great Babylon that I have made," said Nebuchadnezzar. God gave him a kingdom, that all nations and peoples in turn should bow down before him. How great was Babylon. Babylon! Then the invasion of Cyrus the Persian and the supplanting of the great Babylon with the Medo-Persian Empire, which is proverbial. In our daily speech we speak about the law of the Medes and Persians - something that has come to stay forever and cannot be altered. It lifts itself against Babylon, and Babylon goes down, and Medo-Persia takes the ascendency. And then another great world power comes on the horizon: Alexander the Great rises up with his Greco-Macedonian Empire and treads all other powers underfoot and looks for new worlds to conquer. And when he has conquered all the worlds that he can find, he passes in the pageant of empires. And the greatest of them all appears on the scene: the Roman Empire. All these are mentioned in Daniel. They're presented in the great image.

The great Roman Empire, the greatest of all that had ever been, both in extent and in power. Here are the world nations, here are the world empires, and the prophecy extends to them all, "I will overturn, overturn, overturn!" And Daniel tells us of the overturning when he says after, after describing the vision, that there was seen a stone cut out without hands which smote the feet of the great image, but it crashed and crumbled and was no more. And Daniel says, "In the days of those kingdoms, the God of Heaven shall set up a Kingdom - a Stone cut out without hands. The God of Heaven shall set up a Kingdom and it shall endure forever." It was in the very time of the Roman Empire that the Stone smote it, and it crashed, and in representation it brought all the other empires down with it. "I will overturn," said the Lord, "overturn, overturn."

What is the teaching? What is the teaching of all this? In the first place, over all these, there is a throne, another throne, that throne which we have seen at the beginning of Ezekiel's prophecies: "above the firmament the likeness of a throne and upon it the likeness of a man above", above, that spreads over all these kingdoms, dominions, and powers. There is a throne. To use a fragment from Daniel, "Thou shalt know that the heavens do rule."

The Heavens Do Rule

There's a throne over all! It ought to comfort us. I've been saying hard things, painful things, perhaps you'd say gloomy things, depressing things. But here was the lesson: over all these terrible things there is a throne! What is the explanation of the downfall of all these world powers? One explanation, one explanation, dear friends: every one of them sought to take the place that was eternally appointed for God's Son. God had appointed Him heir of all things. That's the Scripture. That's Scripture. God's Son was the destined heir of this world and its kingdoms. God's Son is the rightful ruler of all nations. And every one of these had stretched out a hand to take to itself what belonged by eternal covenant to the Son of God. Spreading, spreading from Ammon and Moab in their more limited scope, spreading out and out and out until Rome spreads itself over all the world to possess it. To possess this world, to rule and govern it for their own ends. Then God said, "Wait, that's My preserve. That's the preserve of My Son. Don't touch that. Don't touch that. Don't lay a hand on that. That's sacred to My Son. Touch that and I'll overturn, overturn, overturn. Till He come Whose right it is, and I will give it to Him." That's history. That's true.

And, dear friends, there's still a wider context. There's been a lot of things since Rome went down. And in our own lifetime we've seen this thing happening. We don't like to mention it, we don't like mentioning the names, but we have to in this very context. What about Hitler? Hitler aspired with his ambition and ambitiousness to dominate all the nations of this world, to bring them into subjection to his ideology and to his control. To take it! And we know how viciously he repudiated Jesus Christ and His church. "All right, Mr. Hitler," says the throne above, "That is the prerogative of the Son of God. Hands off!" And we see the awful, awful wreckage and ruin of both Hitler himself and of his regime. Some of you have seen it. Some of us have seen some of it. The awful devastation and the terrible story of his end - Christ's rights interfered with, and "I will overturn".

And we have seen the Mussolini having made for him a great relief map to stretch the whole width of a great hall of the ten kingdoms of the Roman Empire and setting up a statue of himself and proclaiming himself as the last Caesar of the restored Roman Empire. "All right," says the throne above, "So far shall thy proud ways come, but no further," and look at the shame of his end. The shame of his end! "I will overturn, overturn."

But contemporary history, in our present time, we're seeing something bigger than any of those, any of those - bigger than the biggest of the old great four or Rome, bigger than these that I have just mentioned, something spreading itself in the denial of God and the denial of the Son of God and the denial of the church of God to be the great world power. And the throne above says, "If you can't read history and learn from history, you'll learn in experience". And the same destiny and doom is coming to it. Make no mistake about it. Why? Because this world was made for Jesus Christ, and the day is coming when the Scripture will be fulfilled, "The kingdoms of this world have become the Kingdom of our God and of His Christ". "Jesus shall reign where'er the sun..." you know the rest. But note: while that's a glorious prospect, it's a terrible outlook from another standpoint, and it's a challenge. It's a challenge to us, it's a challenge to our assemblies, it's a challenge to the church of God, as it's a challenge to the world.

The purpose of God is to gather together, reunite all things in Christ, the things in the heaven, things in the earth, things under the earth, that He in all things may have the pre-eminence. That's the purpose of God. It is of the most minute application in our lives. It is the object with which the Holy Spirit is working in our spiritual history. It is the explanation of God's dealings with us as His people, just as it is the explanation of this world's history: the rise and fall, the glory and the shame of world powers, empires, and dominions. He must reign till all His enemies are made the footstool of His feet. That's the message. The Lord make the application.

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