by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Psalm 132.
We will continue our contemplation of Zion. [Unfortunately we do not have the previous message]. We know now what Zion stands for. We will just proceed to interpret some more features of Zion, some of those things which bring us into a very real, living and active, and responsible relationship with Zion, with the Lord in Zion.
When we read passages such as those that we have just read and Psalm 48, in all these references both in the psalms and in the prophets to Zion, there is one thing which becomes very clear. It is a feature which embraces almost everything else, and which stands as governing the whole position. We may call it the supreme element in relationship to Zion. It is that the Lord is the ultimate feature in Zion. I use the word 'ultimate' there not as being in the sense of the end, of course, but as being behind everything else when you have worked your way back of everything which lies nearer the surface. There may be a heap of things which meet you first, but when you have got right through all this, you come to the Lord, you reach the Lord; the Lord is the feature of Zion. You must not allow the word 'Zion' to give you such mental pictures as to take away that which we are after.
We have to be helped by the Word in these things and the Old Testament does help us get to the New Testament things. When we speak of Zion, it means that people which represent His full intention and desire, and when you get behind everything else in relation to that people, whatever it is that may circle round and meet you on the outward side, you find the Lord. The Lord is the ultimate feature in relation to that people expressing Him in that fuller way. As we read all these passages, the one thing behind all else is the Lord. You may have many forces playing on Zion, many elements, many conflicting things, many things which are real and many things which are not real, but imaginary and seeming. But the one fact that stands behind is that Zion is no mere idea or hypothesis; it is bound up with God, and God is bound up with Zion. And when you have cleared up everything that can be cleared up, you come to God in relation to a people expressing His mind in fullness - you find that you are dealing with God.
As the nations looked upon Jerusalem, and many of them thought that Jerusalem stood perhaps as any other great city and could be dealt with as other cities, and Jerusalem could be taken and spoilt. While things were in a right relationship with the Lord, and it had its heart open unto the Lord, Jerusalem could not be besieged and taken as other cities, Jerusalem could not be destroyed as other cities had been destroyed. They found that they were up against another feature which was more than Jerusalem, it was the Lord. God is bound up with Zion and when everything else has been taken into account, then you have to meet the Lord in Zion.
Now, for us we should hope that we belong to Zion, believe that we do belong, although we are only fragments of Zion. This is not of man or man-made, or what man has tried to bring about, to maintain. Zion stands for God's full thought; that thought has come out from God. The very idea of Zion was a Divine idea before Zion ever was, and the very existence of Zion can only be accounted for of God. "God is in her, she shall not be moved." You see what that may mean to us. Those of us who have been shown Zion in a spiritual way, to whom God has made clear His full purpose, are much burdened about it, but there is a place to which we must come. While having a responsibility, a ministry, an interest in relationship to Zion, all a right kind of ministry, and while having a share in the Lord's concern and having a heart burden, there is nevertheless alongside of that a rest to which we should come in the certain assurance that God is bound up with that. It is God's affair initially and finally. That is a tremendous thing if we could really grasp it. The Lord does not need us to coerce Him into this thing, but what He does want is for us to stand with Him in that which He is after. The Lord is bound up with it, God is tremendously concerned about it. Everything seems to contradict the fact that God is concerned about it. There are many things which would seem to give the lie to such a statement. The evidences of the Lord in the matter are so few, the manifestations of God in the matter of the whole thing are so hard to find, and there seem to be no expressions of the fact that God is in the midst and that He is concerned. It is in this realm that we so often find our greatest difficulties. It may seem that the Lord is not working on a big scale for such a great thing. It is just there that we look for real help. Our lives have come out at such a great cost from mere generalities in Christian activity and interest, because we have seen something which seems to be God's objective. And we have come to the place where we would say that that is not getting far enough and that God wants something more than the mere general. We would really stake our lives upon it; it is not our enterprise but it is God's predominant thing. Then we come up against things which seem to say: What is the Lord doing? How is the Lord going to work to realise this? We do not seem to have the Divine proofs that would seem to justify such a costliness of position. Now this is only one other way in which we fall back upon this initial thing.
God is the ultimate factor in Zion. You find God behind everything, even when every realm of sense has been exhausted. The principle which governs this ultimate relationship of God in Zion is the principle of faith. This principle governs everything. Of course there is a lot of background in the Word for saying that. It is difficult to pick any one thing out to illustrate it. A call of God leads often to a breakdown of faith where one would seek to turn to something more sentient.
Abraham, for instance, was called to God's uttermost. But everything seemed to be a contradiction to common sense, and a positive denial to that which God had promised. He found the land full of idolatry and wickedness and saw no way of conquering it as God had promised. It was a great test of faith and he failed and turned aside into Egypt. But Egypt was not in the Divine intention and Canaan was, although it seemed entirely contrary to all sense and reason. So he had to go back to the place where God stands against all that which is wrong. You see it is all a matter of faith when God leads into that which is nearest His heart, and even if everything seems to say that it is an impossible undertaking and only works out in just the opposite way, you are not helpless. You can save your face in Egypt! You can save your reputation in Egypt, you can satisfy your perfectly logical desire to see something happen! But it is Egypt and God is not there; it is not God's place. The same thing, of course, was true in Israel. God never called Israel to go half way through the wilderness to the land and to die there. No sooner were they through the Jordan than in their hearts they turned back to Egypt. It seemed a helpless undertaking. It was just a case of working their way through all that touches the senses, all that is lying on the surface, until they found God. They found Him just in the place where He had shown Himself in the beginning. Faith has to work through everything. It brings you to the very finest issue.
What is Divine leading? In its deepest meaning it is being led of the Lord, not in a great demonstration on the outside, voices telling you what you should do, or the clearest directions. The deepest Divine leading is in that still small voice in which God speaks to the spirit. Our senses do not register this still small voice, and so, if we go on waiting for some outward demonstration and not listening to the still small voice within, we find ourselves in the midst of problems, difficulties, and perhaps in a mess. Then we have to reflect, to work through all that is on the surface, and get through to God at the back of things. But it all amounts to faith. It means that we have got to trust God, and that represents the utter and true thing for God. God is the ultimate factor reached by faith, I have only said this in order to emphasise the need of faith. I have proved that in order to reach the Lord you have to brush aside all human reasonings, the evidences which lie on the surface, all the contradictions. The ultimate thing is God related to a full purpose. There are layers and layers of things which have to be worked through because you are working against yourself and human ways and judgements, and what seems a proof that the opposite is the right thing. Faith, proved and tested, is a principle of Zion. Faith, a proved faith and a tested faith, is one of the principles of Zion, and a faith in the realm where a true apprehension of God's purpose is found although everything seems to contradict it. If you were to listen to and be influenced by things, you would go into Egypt. A faith tested out and proved is an essential feature of Zion, a people representing God's full thought.
Abraham is the first man who moves in relation to the proved and tested faith. Everything told him that he had made a mistake. Every natural door was closed. All the evidence is against you; it seems impossible that God can accomplish His end. Well, are you going to work your way through to God? You may be simply working against all good sense and good judgement, all that you would expect. But it is necessary to just hang upon God. Every alternative may be gone and it is all just hopeless from the natural standpoint; there is no prospect. But we have to work through all that realm of things and get to God.
This is Zion. This is the constitution of Zion and of all those who overcome. They are utterly wrecked on God. He is their Only and Ultimate. Zion ever stands over against Egypt. Zion has no strength or resource but God.
It seems to me that the history of Zion is the history of God allowing her to be assailed by every force possible to prove and test her. It would have been a poor lookout for Zion if the Lord had not been in the midst of her. Look at the multitudes of Sennacherib! With the Lord there all these forces melted away like snow. Those who go all the way with the Lord are allowed to encounter things which the average Christian never meets - principalities and powers. The others only know about the problems of gambling and drink, but those who go right on with the Lord know what it is to come into contact with the mighty spiritual forces - and the Lord allows it. But God comes and works deliverance and blessing in spite of our little faith.
Zion represents a vessel, an instrument, a people expressing the Lord's whole desire. God Himself is bound up with it. It is God's peculiar treasure. Israel was chosen as such for the Lord; as a whole it failed. But the Lord did not abandon His purpose and a little company eventually proved to be after His desire. He Himself is the ultimate feature of the company. It does seem that the Lord does so little in securing this company, but He is dead-set on getting this company for Himself, in spite of the little that we may see. He must safeguard His choicest things from publicity. Are we prepared to go through against pressures, assailings and difficulties, to God in the midst of Zion? It means working through all that comes in the realm of sense to God.