Levitical Ministry - Part 3 of a 4 Part series
An adaptation by Philip Powell from a transcribed message given by T. Austin-Sparks in 1957. The spoken form has been retained by the owners of the website mentioned in “About the author”, below.
Behold, I send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord whom you seek, will suddenly come to His temple; and the messenger of the covenant whom you desire, behold he comes says the Lord of Hosts. But who can abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appears? for He is like a refiner's fire, and like fuller's soap: and he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the sons of Levi, and refine them as gold and silver - Malachi 3: 1-3.
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us, to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly and righteously and godly in this present age, looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify to himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good works - Titus 2: 11.
The Bible makes it abundantly clear that from eternity God has moved forward with a clearly defined plan and purpose determined in His own mind and by His own counsel. He knows what He wants, and what He must have if He is to find His full satisfaction and pleasure in His own people. God is not just stumbling on things as He goes along and then adjusting to the situation and raising up something to meet it, something that was not anticipated or that was not in the plan. God knows all things from the beginning. We could cite much of Scripture to bear that out. He knows exactly howand by what means He will realize His purpose.
Known to God from eternity are all His works - Acts 15:18.
That is where it all began. But when the human race as a whole turned aside from God and His intention, purpose and mind, as it did, God moved to take out of the human race a nation through whom He would recover and begin again to secure that first purpose and intention that He had in mind. He began to take out of the nations “a people for His Name” cf. Acts 15:14. As we have seen that was true even in the old dispensation—a nation in the midst of the nations through which nation He would realize what was always in His heart and mind.
This chosen nation, had various features.
Firstly, the great law of separation or sanctification had to be strictly enforced. They were to be hallowed indeed, set apart to God—a separated and sanctified people. The law of spiritual separation was the primary and foundational law of their existence. They had to be separated or sanctified firstly inwardly i.e. in spirit. Their entire existence was to be constituted upon the consciousness that they were different i.e. they were not of a piece with the other nations, spiritually and morally. They were different! They had that consciousness, which, of course, gave rise to trouble within and without. Sometimes it went wrong, but it remained as a principle! The very act of God in their calling, in their separation, in their sanctification makes this plain. They knew that they were different from all other people. It was part of their very consciousness. You cannot account for many things apart from realising that fact. It is quite clear that even when they strayed and became mixed up with other nations they never lost that dist inct iveness. The consciousness of being different is a part of what we have to speak about.
What was true in an inward way in the old dispensation was made true in an outward way, i.e. in their appearance and conduct they were different. In the old dispensation these were the ways of indicating spiritual things.
Secondly, they were a people whose heart had to be wholly for the Lord. Their history on this earth, in a typical and symbolic way, all pointed to this. They were not a people who could have one foot in the world and one foot in the things of God. God required every part of them—both feet and all their heart, mind and will.
Thirdly, they were brought into being to be a testimony to the nations among whom they dwelt, as a light to show God's mind to the nations, to let all men know what God requires. Further they were called to be a priestly nation or people, i.e. to stand between God on one side and the needy peoples of the earth on the other, and to mediate in a priestly way, to bring men into touch with God and God into touch with men. That is the content of priesthood as a spiritual thing.
Finally, for the moment, they were there in the midst of the nations to show the authority of God over the earth. There is one God; He is God alone over all gods and over all peoples; He is the Lord, the Creator of Heaven and Earth, and they were there with His authority over all creation resting upon them and deposited with them, that they should secure for Him His rights in the nations. We can go further, because, although this is only brought out in the New Testament in fullness, it is so clearly seen through the Old Testament, that this authority extended beyond the earth. It extended into the realm of spiritual intelligences who were constantly seeking to break in and take away from God His rights in the earth. This was God's great corporate act in relation to His original purpose.
But, that people, the nation as a whole, in general, came short... failed Him, disappointed Him. So He moved again within that nation and we have that which has been occupying our discussion so far and continues—God's movement in relation to the Levites. In the place of all the firstborn in Israel He took the Levites, and they became within the nation the embodiment of God's thought concerning the nation, both as to its own nature and constitution and as to its vocation and service in the midst of the nations. They were taken to supply the Lord with what His people as a whole had failed to give Him, in which they were a disappointment to Him.
Within the compass of the nation, He first took one out of every family--the firstborn–and thus established the principle of the Tribe of Levi - the centre of His interests and His service. Certain things emerge in relation to the Levites.
Firstly, as to their representative character and position, they were not separate from Israel. While spiritually separate from the wrongs in Israel, they represented all Israel. In their constitution as being the tribe of the firstborn ones, the spiritual principle, they represented all the families in Israel and stood therefore representatively as God's thought concerning all His people. They were there to serve the Lord in this particular thing.
Again, I emphasize the necessity for our understanding what the service of God really is. You and I need to be very clear about this. The service of God has become all sorts of things. The essence of the service of God, is made perfectly clear by the whole Word of God. It has to do with the realization of the full purpose of His heart. It is the service of God, more or less, according to how that end is served. God has, from the beginning, a full, complete, clearlydefined and rounded out purpose and intention concerning His people and service to Him requires that we know what that is, and that we are in line with that, and that it is being realized by what we do.We must be very clear on this matter.
The Levites were taken from the midst of the nation in order to be a concentration of the Lord's full thought in the nation. Their ministry, though it had various aspects, was mainly to do with the altar. Such ministry, service, and purpose, always brings us closely into relation with the sufferings of Christ. There will be no mistake about it, when you really get right on the line of God’s full purpose, you are precipitated into a life in which you are going to know the fellowship of His sufferings. It is a part of such a ministry.
The Levites were the spearhead in battle. Strangely enough they were a warring tribe, even in their relationship to the altar and the sacrifice. They were to serve in the warfare of the sanctuary. Strange isn't it? If any place and anything ought to be out of touch with warfare, it ought to be the sanctuary, but no, “the warfare of the sanctuary.” It really means the warfare of the sacrifice, of the Cross, the altar. You are precipitated into peculiar conflict when you come into line with God's full purpose. These were the Levites and they embodied this word that I have read from Titus, “to purify to Himself a people for His own possession” (2:11).
Now what was true in the old dispensation is ever true in God's thought, God's mind, and in spiritual principle. We may have passed from the time of the types, the figures, the symbols and the outward systems, embodying the principles and come to the pure, clear realm of spiritual reality, but we have not passed beyond the realm of the principle of these things. And so we find in the New Testament God still moving on this same line. The Levites now are a spiritual company, a heavenly people and not an earthly or temporal company. They are the people that God must have, even though it be in the midst of His people generally, who really do know what God's full purpose is and are committed to that and nothing less, whatever the cost may be.
I am not saying, that we are the Levites—don't misunderstandme—but that God is ever seeking for a people in whom He can find the fullest response to what is in His own mind from eternity. He is ever seeking that and He will never be satisfied with anything other or less than that.
I would go so far as to say that He has called into being this ministry—I don't mean my ministry, this ministry—to serve Him in that way; to serve Him, in a small way as a part of something very much larger, perhaps larger than we know in the earth, in this way of seeking to keep alive a testimony as to the fullness of God's intention for His own people. The phrase “the fullness of Christ” is a common phrase amongst us, but that is what it is. The fullness of Christ... that is the true Levitical function and ministry.
And I want to say He does want and will take pains to have, where you are concerned, you, as the Lord's people. The Lord wants you to stand in that relationship to Him, not as something superior or a kind of spiritual autocracy1, certainly not a spiritual aristocracy2, but just as a people here amongst His own people in this world. Not looking down on anybody, not feeling or thinking that anybody else is less—oh God forbid anything like that—but in a true heart way to represent for the Lord all that He would have in His people; giving God a position and an opportunity for showing in you all His counsel and all His will, and all His purpose, and all His character.
It is a holy calling. That is why we began with the emphasis upon holiness. This can only come about by holiness of life. You see, holiness is not just a state which ends with itself; holiness in the Bible is vocational, always. It always relates to God's work:
Be holy, you that bear the vessels of the Lord (cf. Isaiah 52: 11).
This is for His work! The work of which we are speaking, this work... holiness is vocational. Sooner or later our work will be brought up short on the point of holiness.
If we are the Lord's servants, if we are joined to the Lord for His purpose and if anything comes in that is unholy the Lord may allow it, He may continue to speak, He may exercise restraint, He may for a time do nothing. But there will come a point when He will say, 'I have spoken about that, I have spoken to you about that more than once, I have waited, I have been very patient. Look here, we are not going any further.' And some terrible crisis will arise which involves the whole question of our usefulness to the Lord; nothing less, if the Lord's going to do any more or go any further with us. I have to be serious again and solemn about that because, you see, the very governing principle of Levitical service to God is holiness. The whole dimension of the house is to be holiness to the Lord because it is a priestly house, in the spiritual sense. Holiness... a people separated to God in an inward way.
It is impressive when you stop to really think about it—all the way through the Bible separation, sanctification, holiness—what does it imply?Well surely the significance is that it runs right through the Bible. From the beginning to the end it is the golden thread through the Bible. What does that imply?Well, it must imply that this whole realm is corrupt, defiled, unclean. It is corrupted and contrary to the nature of God.We are born into it; the realm of earth and the lower heavens: tainted and polluted it's been touched by unclean hands, being energized by unclean spirits; it is unclean. The Bible says that the very heavens are unclean in the sight of God (Job 15:15 cf. 25:5); touched by uncleanness... the warfare of ungodliness against God.
So it is quite clear that there can be no association with God and no real work for God, only on this ground of true practical holiness. God wants a holy people. I think that is the note in my heart: God wants, more than that. He must have, a holy people and then we'll see what He will do!
But, it is a suffering way because it brings us deeply into the meaning of the Cross. The Cross ceases to be a teaching and a doctrine. It becomes an awful reality. The Cross is terrible to the flesh. Our Cross has become too cheap. We sing about it, talk about it, teach about it, think we know all about the Cross; but the Cross is a devastating thing, devastating to the flesh. You will find that sooner or later, the most awful thing is to really encounter the Cross.
On the other hand, what a mighty, mighty power the Cross is, objectively, when you are in line with it, in tune with it, in fellowship with it, when it has nothing against you, when you are on its ground! What a tremendous power it is in this universe against the evil forces and in this world. Do you not agree that's the position we all want to be in? On both its sides: holiness, holiness and power. Those two things always go hand in hand. Holiness and power. You cannot have the power; you know the power only by the holiness. But if we have the holiness, the power will spontaneously work. It will! You will not have to ask for power if the holiness is there.
So, to sum up this whole matter of Levites in all dispensations, it is a spiritual thought, it's a spiritual conception. It is the embodiment in the creation of the holiness, and therefore the power, of God.
We read from this prophecy of Malachi: “That My Name may be great among the nations... My Name shall be great among the nations,” (cf. Malachi 1: 11) repeated by the Lord and leading straight to this: “He shall purify the sons of Levi and sit as a Refiner” cf. Malachi 3:1-3. The two things go together. The greatness of His Name among the nations and a people purified to the Lord.
I close by reminding you of those other words,
My covenant was with Levi, My covenant of Life and Peace (Malachi 2:5).
We must know more of that divine Life, the mighty power of that risen Life of the Lord Jesus. We need to know it, every one of us, and as a people we need to know it where we are. “My covenant of life”... victory over death spiritually and, until the Lord has finished with us here. I stand on that ground, the lifelong ground until He has finished with us, divine Life even for the physical body, we want to know more about that. And peace, where God is not against us, He has no controversy with us. The conflicts between us and the Lord and the Lord and us are settled. His covenant of life and peace is with Levi. God's full purpose for His people—absolute sanctification, holiness, separation to the Lord.
Now you must ask the Lord how that applies, because it touches so many practical points. It may come into the family life, the domestic life, it may come into your business life – challenge and search out and judge all your business methods and transactions.
Yes, you must be a Levite in business as well as in the assembly of the Lord's people. Holy to the Lord. Be careful how you are involved in the devil's system of running this world, to take from the Lord; in your social life, in every department of life.
About the Author
T. Austin Sparks (1888–1971) became a Christian at 17 while listening to young street-preachers in Glasgow. Soon he was giving his testimony with this band. Ordained a Baptist pastor at 24, he led three congregations in Greater London. During these years, he was also closely allied to Jessie Penn- Lewis and the "Overcomer Testimony". In 1926, Austin-Sparks broke with this organisation and resigned his Baptist ordination and established a conference and training centre at Honor Oak in southeast London. He was known to fellowship with Watchman Nee - Audio at: http://www.austin-sparks.net/audio_alpha.html