"Walk about Zion, and go round about her; Number the towers thereof; Mark ye well her bulwarks; Consider her palaces: That ye may tell it to the generation following. For this God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death." (Ps. 48:12-14).
"For he looked for the city which hath the foundations, whose builder and maker is God." (Heb. 11:10).
"For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ." (1 Cor. 3:11).
"His foundation is in the holy mountains. The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God. Selah. I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon as among them that know me: Behold, Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia: This one was born there. Yea, of Zion it shall be said, This one and that one was born in her; and the Most High himself will establish her. The Lord will count, when he writeth up the peoples, This one was born there. Selah." (Ps. 87:1-6).
In our contemplation of Zion or of Christ, our first occupation is with foundations, and we were speaking about spiritual stability as wrought out in Christ while here on earth, under every kind of adversity, and then perfected, and brought to us in the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, to make us in that particular respect like Himself - steady, unmovable, reliable, quiet, confident, assured - a work of the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
This is an additional word on foundations in that connection of stability. It is obvious that we shall never get very far if we are unstable. Until the Lord has got us to the place where we are, to some real degree, grounded and settled, fixed and steady, He will not be able to put upon us the responsibility of His house. His house is not a material structure to be built upon material foundations. It is a spiritual thing. It is spiritual responsibility, spiritual ministry, spiritual life, spiritual fellowship, all that is represented in the House of God, and it cannot be placed upon our uncertainty, our uncertain souls, our wavering, our unreliable selfhood. It can only be placed upon what is of Christ in us in the sense of stability.
How important for carrying responsibility with and for the Lord is this matter of coming to the full assurance of faith, this confidence in God!
A Family Constituted by a Life Triumphant Over Death
Now we pass on to another aspect of the foundations, for the foundations themselves are manifold, although one. You know from the Revelation how manifold the foundations are: all manner of precious stones in the foundation, and the next thing that we shall consider for a little while in relation to foundations is that the foundation is a matter of a family constituted by life, and that life as the life which has conquered death. That is a rather vague statement, I know, but we can quickly explain. As we indicated in the last chapter that Abraham, who was looking for the city which has the foundations, had to go to Mount Moriah and there offer Isaac and receive him as from the dead, and God had said “In Isaac shall thy seed be called” (Gen. 21:12). So it is quite clear that the family had to be out from a triumph over death, a life which had overcome death, which had vanquished death, and wherever you come to Scripture bearing upon the heavenly family, the divine family, you will find that death and resurrection are always in the near neighbourhood, very closely in touch. There has to be that which really is the mighty vanquishing of death in order to bring in this heavenly family so that it is constituted on that ground. And it is a family, every member of which, in the first place, possesses the life which has overcome death, and is learning to live by that life, and is called upon to prove right through the whole course of this earthly sojourn where death remains, to prove right on to the end the power of that life in terms of overcoming death.
It is something into which we are called as our experience, as the ground to be proved and to be established. It is foundational that you and I not only possess that life in Christ, but continually prove its worth, prove its power, know it as the power of His resurrection. That is in the very foundation of things. If Abraham is the father of all them that believe, if he is the father of a spiritual and heavenly seed, then he is the foundation in principle. And if it was in Isaac that his seed should be called, it is quite clear that it was on Mount Moriah that in principle the family was secured, secured by death being set aside and life triumphing. The same thing happened on Moriah so many years afterwards in the case of David. He had brought death upon the land; death stalked through the land, cutting down on the right hand and on the left many thousands through David’s folly and sin. At length in the threshing floor of Ornan, Mount Moriah, the sacrifice was offered, the sword was sheathed, death was stayed, life triumphed, and it became the foundation of the house of God, the temple in which the supreme characteristic is life triumphant over death.
I was interested to notice that this last clause in Psalm 48 - “This God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death” - is not a correct translation. The correct translation is: “He will guide us across the gulf of death.” Now “Walk about Zion”, and the last thing is: “He will guide us across the gulf of death”, not even unto death but over death, across death, the other side of death.
When we come to think of this in the light of the Lord Jesus, of course, again it is quite patent that it was in the hour of His resurrection that He said, “I ascend unto my Father and your Father, and my God and your God” (John 20:17). What He had said on that wise before - their Father and His Father - only became, in its full spiritual meaning and value, true in His resurrection. They were begotten again “unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Pet. 1:3). It is a family embodying this great reality of triumphant life, and it is concerning that that the apostle used those words which are very familiar to us in 2 Corinthians 2:15 - “We are a sweet savour of Christ unto God” and, leaving out the other details, we come to this: “a savour from life unto life”. “We are a sweet savour of Christ unto God”; that is, we are bringing to God that which is of Christ which is precious and acceptable to Him, something in which He delights. It is Christ, and what is it? A savour of life unto life in others, that we are bringing the message and the power of this life triumphant over death to others. That is a sweet savour of Christ unto God. It is a family in the power of life.
God Builds on the Family
As to foundations, what is it God builds upon? What only can He build upon? The answer is quite definitely: God can only build upon life, and He can only build a family upon life. One of the very precious things, I think, of the Word of God, the divine truth, is just this: that God’s foundation in spiritual essence is the family. We think of building by and on quite a lot of things, and it is here that so much confusion is brought about. We think of building in terms of truth, of doctrine, of knowledge, of light; we are all the time making those the criteria, and very often these things destroy the family spirit by misapprehension. We divide the Lord’s people when we make truth and light a matter of relationship, of fellowship. Even unconsciously, almost unconsciously, springs up something divisive: superiority, difference in measure and apprehension. There comes about a phraseology: they have not seen! They have not got revelation! And the way in which it is said implies they belong to one category, and we to another. It is so subtle, and we are making the measure of our light the measure of our fellowship. The result? Well, quite without intention, the effect is division, is distance, is difference.
How can you and I and all the Lord’s people make a good beginning in hope? Now, you can rule out a whole host of things and say, it cannot be that. We cannot make a good beginning with any hope if it has to be the same measure of light, everybody having the same apprehension of truth, the same interpretation. That cannot get us anywhere. But I venture to say that if we take this attitude and hold fast to it - We belong to one family, we are members of one family, we have one life, one Christ, within all of us - if we would hold to that, we would get a long way. You may not agree with me on quite a lot of things, (I expect you do not) but is that going to cause you to go away, wash your hands of me and have nothing to do with me? Then you are making things such as teaching, doctrine or interpretation the basis of relationship and fellowship. If you say, ‘Well, I do not see eye to eye on certain matters, quite a number of matters, but we belong to one family, there is one foundational thing about us, we are members of the same family’, that gives us a good starting point, and will at least form a foundation for seeing just how far we can go together. Get the foundation right, see what the foundation is, and it is not that, that and that, but it is this: we share one life, we are members of one family, and in any family worth the name there is at least an effort made to get on together because they are a family. That is very elementary. It is hardly worth mentioning, but I see that it is just there that the test of the power of this life comes in. That is what I am getting at. We say we share one life. Yes, but what kind of a life is it? Is it abstract, just something that we have got in common, we call it eternal life? We have never defined it any more than that it is going to outlast this life and carry us on through eternity.
But there is something in the life that you and I share that has proved more than a match for all the disruptive forces of this universe. They were concentrated at the cross of the Lord Jesus, they were out to destroy, to disintegrate, to divide, to scatter. In His resurrection, that life proved more than a match for all those disruptive forces, and on the day of Pentecost, you see what that life did. They were all scattered in the night of His betrayal. On the day of Pentecost, they were together and it says of those who were saved that they continued steadfastly in fellowship. Something has happened. The disruptive, disintegrating forces of death and spiritual forces have been been met. A beautiful family in fellowship has been born in His resurrection, and there is that in this life which is not just passive, abstract life; it has in it the power of unifying and overcoming disruption. It is the Spirit of Jesus Christ.
Oh, how easy it would have been for a complete breakup of that band before His cross! How easy it would have been for them to have been alienated from Him and from one another, for the whole circle and group to have split up, divided and gone! How easy it would have been for Him to have just given them up as a hopeless proposition, wash His hands of them, saying, I can make nothing of these men, I can never bring them into any kind of oneness. There were all the makings of a situation like that, but “having loved his own that were in the world, he loved them unto the end” (John 13:1). He did not let them go. He did not give them up. He did not wash His hands of them. He did not say, They are impossible! He did not say, I have no room for So-and-so, he is such an impossible person! He did not allow disintegration to come in. He held them together to Himself by His love to the end.
The Spirit of Jesus Christ has come to work that same thing in you and in me so that we do not so easily let one another go because of our faults and imperfections and all that kind of thing which would alienate us, separate us, divide us. We are not so ready to let other people go because they do not see as we see. We are not so ready to let the Lord’s people go because they have not got revelation. You see what I mean. No, the Spirit of Jesus Christ is the Spirit of the family, and the family is not just composed of those who see alike, who gather in a certain place and are occupied with a certain interpretation. No! The family is much larger than that. Anything in the nature of exclusivism is a violation of the family spirit, the family nature, of the Holy Spirit Himself. Where would any of us be if the Lord had treated us according to what we are in ourselves, according to the measure of our apprehension of His thoughts and His will, our likeness to Christ? What we owe to His infinite forbearance and longsuffering as with very wayward children, very slow-to-learn children - yes, and very sinning children! What we owe to His longsuffering and forbearance! Do not let us make external things the basis of fellowship. The family is something altogether different from that. Do not let us make ‘things’ at all the foundation of relatedness. Let us recognize that it is Christ Who is the foundation and Christ in terms of love and life which have met the full force of hatred and of death and conquered. That life is in you and in me to prove its power and its value in the realm of all those works of evil along the line of division and death. The foundation is life, Christ as life, Christ as victorious over the work of death. You know that in nature, where death has taken place, disintegration will soon follow. Where life is, there is still hope - the basis of it holding together.