Right Standing With God

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 5 - The Controversy of Zion

We pick up things this afternoon where we left off this morning. Therefore, I turn you again to the letter to the Hebrews, verse 1: “God, having of old time spoken unto the fathers in the prophets by divers portions and in divers manners, hath at the end of these days spoken unto us in His Son Whom He appointed heir of all things.” Will you just remember that last clause: “His Son Whom He appointed heir of all things.”

Now to chapter 12 and we’ll just begin at verse 22. We have seen all the things which are gathered under the word “not”, you are not come unto quite a lot of things. “But ye are come unto mount Zion and unto the City of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.”

Now will you please turn with me right back to the Old Testament, to the prophecies of Isaiah, chapter 34 at verse 8: “For it is the day of the Lord’s vengeance, the year of recompense in the controversy of Zion.” The controversy of Zion... please remember that especially.

Chapter 31, Isaiah chapter 31, at verse 4: “For thus saith the Lord unto me, like as when the lion growleth  and the young lion over his prey, if a multitude of shepherds be called forth against him, he will not be dismayed at their voice, nor abase himself for the noise of them: so shall the Lord of hosts come down to fight upon mount Zion...”

Will you just pick up the fragments: ye are come to mount Zion; the controversy of Zion; the Lord of hosts shall come down to fight on mount Zion.

Now to the book of the Psalms, the second psalm, “Why do the nations rage, and the peoples imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord, and against His Anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: The Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall He speak unto them in His wrath, and vex them in His sore displeasure: yet have I set My King upon My holy hill of Zion.”

I have set My King upon My holy hill of Zion... Whom He appointed heir of all things... and, ye are come to Zion.

This is the Word of God. It is not my word, this is in the Bible, it is in the New Testament. It must mean something and it is for us to find out what it means. Ye are come to Zion, not you’re going to come to Zion. Not you Jews used to come to Zion, but: you Christians have now come to Zion. You, here in this room this afternoon, have come to Zion. It is not the old Zion, the Zion of the Old Testament. It is the new Zion. You are not come to that but you are come to this. We did try this morning to see something of what Zion means.

Zion, of course, is the true Church and the true Church is the City of the living God. The true Church is the place where Jesus Christ is Lord. Wherever Jesus Christ is truly Lord amongst a people, that is Zion. But I put a circle round that word “true”. The true Church. All that is called the church is not the true Church. What the Word is speaking about here is about that true Church. You notice in this whole statement it says you are come to the Church of the First born ones, that is, the truly born again ones, born from above. And it goes on to say, “Whose names are enrolled in heaven,” and only heaven knows whose names are enrolled there. I think we shall get some surprises when we get to heaven, we shall look at some people, we shall say, “You? Here?! How did you get here?” Alright, we’ll leave that.

Now the point for this afternoon is this controversy of Zion. You will notice that the terms “Jerusalem” and “Zion” are interchangeable. They are used as though they were the same thing. If there is any difference, it is this: Zion embodies the intrinsic values of Jerusalem. It is as though all the true meanings of Jerusalem are gathered up into Zion. The old Jerusalem of the Old Testament is an illustration in principle of the new Jerusalem of the New Testament. Of course, as we have seen, it is a transition from the earthly to the heavenly, from the temporal to the spiritual, from the time to the eternity.

This New Testament Zion is a heavenly thing; not an earthly thing. It is a spiritual thing and not a temporal thing. Well, I think we all understand that. But we look back at Jerusalem... do you know Jerusalem has been an eternal thought of God? God has always had Jerusalem in His mind as a thought but the earthly Jerusalem never fulfilled the thought of God. It was only a type of the heavenly Jerusalem.

I wonder if you have ever noticed a rather impressive thing. When the Lord got Israel out of Egypt, and got them through the Red Sea, right there they sang a song. And do you notice what the song says? “He brought them out that He might bring them unto His holy hill.” Already, many, many years before ever they came to Jerusalem, God had it in His thought. But even then the earthly Jerusalem never fulfilled the full thought of God. Even Abraham looked for a city but he never found it. And he looked beyond time to eternity, he saw in his spirit that eternal city of God Whose builder and maker is God.

Now let us look at the old Jerusalem as a type of the new Jerusalem, the old Jerusalem as a type of what we have come to. Do not get mental pictures of some place in the future. We sing hymns about marching upward to Zion, we’re on our way to Jerusalem. Well, that’s not Scriptural! We have come to Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem.

Looking at this earthly Jerusalem, one thing about it impresses us very much: its long history of conflict. Jerusalem has always been a point of controversy. It’s always been a trouble in the nations. How very many times Jerusalem has been besieged! How many times the nations have come up against Jerusalem. Sometimes they have destroyed it, sometimes the Lord has defeated them, but it has always been a point of controversy.

Controversy in the Nations

Jerusalem seems to have been the storm center of history. But Jerusalem has always been a sign of spiritual conditions. If the spiritual condition of Jerusalem was right, Jerusalem was in the ascendant. No nation could overcome Jerusalem when they were spiritually right. It was when the spiritual life of Jerusalem was wrong that Jerusalem was overrun. The history of Jerusalem has been like a spiritual see-saw. If the spiritual life of Israel was low, Jerusalem was in weakness. If the spiritual life of Jerusalem was right, the spiritual Jerusalem was on top. I hope you’re collecting all these things as we go along because they’re coming to our message.

This battle over Jerusalem has been a lifelong battle and it has been a battle, therefore, over spiritual life. Now, you are, we are, come to Zion and this thing that we have come to in Christ is a point of tremendous controversy. There is a great battle on over the heavenly Zion.

I suppose most of us Christians know that we’re in a spiritual battle, of course if you don’t know anything about that then I have nothing to say to you this afternoon. Is there anyone here this afternoon who knows nothing about spiritual warfare? When they have come into Jesus Christ, they have come into a real spiritual battle. Is that true? I think we are knowing something about that. What does it mean? Just what Zion means. The nations rage, people are moved, it’s against Zion. “Yet have I set My King upon my holy hill of Zion... Whom He appointed heir of all things.” Oh, that opens a large door!

There was one who said, “I will exalt my throne in the heavens, I will be equal with the Most High.” In other words, “I will sit upon the holy Zion. I will be heir of all things. I will be the prince of this world.” You know who that one was, the Bible tells you, that was satan before he fell from heaven. Because God had already appointed His Son heir of all things, anyone who challenged the place of God’s Son had to be cast out. And so satan and all those who were with him were cast out. But they have never given up the fight for that place. They, if they can by any means, are going to occupy the place of the Lord Jesus, they are going to capture His place in Zion.

What does Zion mean then? Let us change our language: what does the true Church mean? If we are of the true Church by heavenly birth, what do we mean? We just mean that we are an abiding menace to the evil power. The controversy of Zion is this: who is going to be above all in the end? Who is going to govern all things and fill all things in the end? That’s the occasion of the warfare.

The Word of God shows us that it is the Church united with Jesus Christ as its Head which is going to govern this universe. The Church is going to take the place that the evil powers now have over this world. You see, the Word is, “The appointed heir of all things.” That doesn’t leave anything for anyone else. Satan therefore, stands to lose everything. And if the Church comes to the place that God has appointed for it in Christ, satan’s going to lose everything. That, then, is the controversy of Zion.

What is the nature of this warfare? What is it that is against Zion - this true, spiritual thing, this true heavenly thing, this true eternal thing - what is the nature of the conflict? How does the enemy work to defeat Zion? First of all, he uses the carnal nature of man. What do we mean by carnal? Well, of course the first letter to the Corinthians tells us what that is.

There are two things in that letter, these two things are over against one another: the carnal – the spiritual. These two things are in conflict. Now, what is the nature and meaning of the carnal? And in this way we are all more or less carnal, we are all less or more spiritual. What do we mean by that? Well I’ll tell you very simply. Do you have any difficulty in accepting and believing in the superiority of the spiritual, the far greater importance of the spiritual to the natural? Do you have any difficulty over that? Is it not man’s very nature now to want to see things, want to feel things, want to handle things? The greatest difficulty of the natural man is to believe that the spiritual is far greater than the natural.

This natural way of our nature is always wanting to put something up on this earth that we can see. Our natural idea of success is how big a thing is. Just how much people can say, “Well, look at that! That’s a success!” So a material thing on this earth just satisfies the natural man, the flesh. The natural man just must have something that he can see. He must have something that he can feel! He must have a demonstration of things. He must have signs and wonders. He must have manifestations. There’s a lot contained in that isn’t there?

Oh, how we Christians just love to have demonstrations! If you have signs and wonders and things that look like miracles, well, that’s success; we say, “Now this is it!” That’s a real characteristic of the natural man and we are meeting more of that today than ever before. The Corinthian church was the most unspiritual church of all. And the mark of its unspirituality was its love of demonstrations - this natural life which loves to see and feel something... which loves to point to something on this earth and say, “Now you see, that’s a success! That is really a big thing.” And how difficult it is to believe that something quite small may after all be the more real thing than anything else.

The Battle

The battle for Zion is the battle between what is spiritual and what is carnal. We’re all in this battle and this is something that you must remember: the further we go with the Lord, the older we are in the true Christian life, the less the Lord satisfies our natural life.

When we are little children spiritually, the Lord deals with us as little children. And how do you parents deal with your little children? The little child says Mummy or Daddy I want so-and-so. And if they will only say it often enough you will give it to them just to keep them quiet; just to please them, because after all, they’re little children... In the early stages of the Christian life that is how our Father deals with us.

The apostle Paul said to the Corinthians, “I could not, could not speak to you as grown men but as little children,” and a mark of their being little children was that the Lord gave them many spiritual gifts. He gave them the gift of tongues, the gift of healing and other gifts. Oh, these are very nice things for little children, they satisfy the little child’s life and Father just gives them.

You grow up and see what happens! When we are coming to full growth we find that we have to live by faith and not by sight. We have to believe God because He is and not because of what He gives us. The older we get spiritually, the less the Lord deals with us as little children. He deals with us as grown men. Paul said, “When I was a child, I behaved as a child, I thought as a child, I spoke as a child. When I became a man I put away childish things.” But that sets up a good deal of conflict doesn’t it?

Oh, the Lord is not doing what He used to do, “There was a time when I seemed to have only to ask the Lord and He gave it to me, oh, it was so wonderful... What has happened to me? I pray and the Lord doesn’t seem to even hear me. I ask the Lord for a lot of things and He doesn’t give them to me. What has gone wrong?” And the conflict is on. A real spiritual battle isn’t it, why the Lord is dealing with us like this.

You know we’re in Hebrews still, “God dealeth with you as with sons,” not children. The New Testament draws a clear distinction between children and sons. Children are the little born again ones. Sons are the grown up ones. God deals with you as with sons. And these people to whom this letter was written were having a very difficult time and this letter was written to try and help them in their difficulties because God was dealing with them as grown Christians.

I wonder if I’ve said enough to make clear what the controversy of Zion is in the first place. Is this not true: the real battle is between our natural life and our spiritual life, between my old man and my new man, between my earthly life and my heavenly life. That is the controversy of Zion because it is all concerned with our spiritual life because Zion is a spiritual thing and it is this spiritual thing that is going, in the end, to take the throne. The controversy of Zion... first between the natural and the spiritual.

The second thing, between:

The Traditional and the Spiritual.

Where do we Christians who really want to go on with the Lord find our greatest difficulty? Am I going to say a very terrible thing? We do not find in the first place that our greatest difficulty is with the world. True spirituality has its battle mainly against traditional Christianity.

When the Lord first showed this to me and I went all out in heart for something really spiritual of the Lord, something really heavenly, I thought - I foolishly thought! – “Why, then all the Christians, the evangelical Christians, will take sides with me! My, they will be inviting me to speak at their conventions, to preach in their churches! I’m sure this is what they want!” There was no more foolish man on this earth than I was then! I found that the doors of all the churches just closed! I found that all the suspicion and misunderstanding and the opposition came from traditional Christianity.

There’s no doubt about it, we may as well be perfectly honest; if we are going right on with the Lord, we are not going to find that traditional Christianity supports us. Rather will it be against us and all the misunderstanding, all the misrepresentation, all the suspicion; all that, will come from the Christian church. You’ll not be able to do anything but what they’ll give a wrong interpretation to it. Well, I could tell you a lot about that, but it’s very true.

Well, aren’t we still in the Bible? In the New Testament you have this controversy of Zion, but it is between true Christianity and Judaism. If the apostles thought that Judaism was going to come alongside of them, they made a very great mistake. Judaism was the traditional religion. It was deeply rooted in history. It had a long history and this is the thing, and the Jews said, “This is it.” Now look at the conflict between the apostles and Judaism; between the new Israel and the old Israel, between Christianity and established religion.

The apostle Paul gives us several long lists of the things which he suffered. He was in prison often, he says he was beaten with rods. Oh, we read the story of his journeys from city to city and country to country and the Lord had said to him that in every place persecutions awaited him. Where did it all come from? It came from traditional religion. It came from the Judaizers. It came from the old Israel. Everywhere that he went they followed him and stirred up trouble.

You know, traditional Christianity can be a very, very strong thing against spirituality. If you’re really going on with the Lord they may put you out; cast you out as an evil thing. This is the controversy of Zion.

Then we come to another aspect of this controversy. That is:

The Conflict with the World.

I wonder if you see what’s happening now. Do you notice that missionary work as it has been, has almost come to an end? It has been turned out of China. It has been turned out of Russia. It is being turned out of India, it is almost impossible for a missionary to return to India now. This is spreading over the world. It is becoming more and more difficult for the Gospel of Christ to go out; that is, in the way that it has been for hundreds of years. It seems that there’s a great power at work to bring an end to the testimony of Jesus, to bring an end to the true spiritual Church.

If the Lord brings together a little company of true believers, something very precious to Himself, a real representation of Zion, does not the enemy set himself to break that up; bring in every difficulty to bring that thing to an end? There’s a great world power against what is of Jesus Christ. The world is not only a place, it’s a spiritual thing. It’s a spiritual power which is against Christ and against all that represents Christ and we are in that battle.

There’s another aspect of this which is very interesting. This controversy of Zion spoken of by Isaiah is very interesting. Well, let’s go back shall we, to Egypt; Israel in Egypt for four hundred years. When the Lord had got Israel to a place where He could bring them out, what happened? A whole series of convulsions began in Egypt. Everything in Egypt began to work in a way where it was being torn to pieces. A great battle was going on. We say a battle against Pharaoh and the Egyptians but the Scripture says against all the gods of the Egyptians. Behind Pharaoh and the Egyptians there was a spiritual system and that spiritual power was keeping Israel in bondage. Now to get Israel out, all these tremendous things began to happen in Egypt. Egypt was being thrown into confusion, was being broken up; just convulsions taking place. Out of all that the Lord brought Israel.

Do you know the same thing happened in Babylon? When Israel had gone into captivity in Babylon and they were there for seventy years, the word of the prophet was this: “For your sake I have sent to Babylon and have brought down all their high ones.” Now you look at the story of the return of Israel from Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar... wonderful, great, important man in his own eyes, Nebuchadnezzar who said, “See this great Babylon that I have made!” Alright Nebuchadnezzar... Belshazzar... Darius... Ahasuerus. These are all the “great ones” and the Lord overthrew every one of them; a whole series of destructions, a whole series of disintegrations. Why was it all? What’s the explanation? God has a people there and to get that people out, He will throw whole empires to destruction.

What about today? All that was the old time controversy of Zion... why all the convulsions in this world today? Are there convulsions in this world? Are there convulsions in nature? Are there convulsions in industry? Are there convulsions in education? In society? Why, this world is in a state of convulsion. Is it true? Why? God has a people... and He is going to get that people out. But it is a tremendous battle to get people out. The whole world power of satan is against this people being taken out to Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem the spiritual Church, to come to the place of government.

God has a controversy with the nations and He is in battle with the nations because of this people. It’s very true. Well, if you read your Bible, your New Testament, you will see that just before the Church is raptured to heaven there is a tremendous and terrible state of conflict on this earth. “Woe unto you that dwelleth on the earth because satan has come down with great wrath because he knows that his time is short.” His time is short! What time? The time when he has power over this earth, it’s going to be taken away from him. It is going to be given to this heavenly people.

I think the Lord is dealing with this world very much as He dealt with the big fish that swallowed Jonah. I think the fish had a bad attack of indigestion! The poor fish said “Oh, let me get rid of this!” and so the fish spewed out Jonah and I think that’s how it is in the world. The world is being troubled by us. Zion is a nuisance to this world and this world and the prince of this world says, “Let’s get rid of them!” It’ll be a fine time when we are spewed out! Of course satan doesn’t mean that, he just wants to get rid of us out of his world. But when we do go out it’ll be an end of his world. We are not going out onto the earth, we’re going out to glory, so the word is, “Lift up your heads your redemption draweth nigh”. But what is the immediate context of those words? Distress of nations. The Greek is: “no way out for the nations”. Lift up your heads, your way out draws near. The statement is, “Men’s hearts failing them for fear,” fear of the terrible things which are coming on the earth. Then, the Lord says, your way out is near. In the meantime it’s the controversy of Zion.

You see dear friends, true spiritual life is a very vital thing. Going on to full growth as this letter says, is a tremendous thing because the letter finishes upon receiving the kingdom which cannot be shaken. That word “kingdom” just means “the sovereign rule”. The sovereign rule which cannot be shaken. We are come to that. But see, it all bears down upon the spiritual life and the controversy of Zion is the battle over spiritual life.

Now, though it’s taken two men to say all that, it wants hundreds of men to say it all. Our difficulty is just to get it all over. But I do trust that in these few hours we’ve had together, the Lord has shown us something. I trust that you have been able to see what it is the Lord is after. This is not all just objective teaching, we are in this spiritual battle; it is the battle for Zion. That is the battle for that which is going, in the end, to take the kingdom and reign. The Lord help us to go on. Amen.

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