by T. Austin-Sparks
Reading: Isaiah 60.
We will go on in our contemplation of Zion. We have been seeing that while Zion and Jerusalem are interchangeable terms applied to the same thing, Zion stands rather to represent an ideal of God. It is the summing up in a full and complete way of all God's thoughts and desires for His people. Carried into the New Testament and into our own time, the difference between Zion and Jerusalem as seen in the Old Testament is simply a difference between what is general and what is specific, what is within, and what is nominal in character among the Lord's people, what is failing to move right on to all that is in His heart, that is Jerusalem. But Zion represents that company of the Lord's people who really are moving on with the Lord into His greater fullness and coming to express for Him His own ideal: the embodiment and expression of His deepest and richest thoughts for His people. We are brought to see this distinction quite clearly between the Lord's people, so it is Zion, spiritually, which is before us at this time. That is what the Lord does really seek to have as a full expression of Himself. We have been seeing some of the features of Zion. Now we are going to consider for a little while Zion's light.
Notice that in Isaiah 60:14 Zion occupies a central place. Round that you have: "Arise shine..." (60:3).
"The nations shall come to thy light..." (60:3). "The Lord shall be unto thee light..." (60:19). "The Lord shall be your everlasting light." (60:20).
"Jesus Christ the faithful witness..." (Rev. 1:5). "Seven golden candlesticks..." (Rev. 1:12). "The mystery of the golden lampstands..." (Rev. 1:20). "The eyes of your heart enlightened..." (Eph. 1:18).
You see that these fragments, and many more which could be added, all touch upon the light of the Lord's people as He would have it. They lead us to this initial, foundational, and quite comprehensive conclusion, that the Lord's thought for Zion is that she may be enlightened. The Lord's thought for His own true people is that they may be an enlightened people. God is light. Christ is light. The Holy Spirit is light, the Spirit of revelation. God does all His work in and by light; God never performs His work in the darkness. It may not always appear to us that He is working in the light, but He is. There is no darkness at all with Him and it does not matter where you find God entering in a specific activity; He does it in light.
Let us have light! He takes up His activity by first of all getting things out into the light in the new creation. His first activity is to bring light, He fulfils all the work of creation in light. He uses light as a means. God is going to develop something and He uses light as a means to the development. If you and I are going in any way to make increase, it will be by knowledge of the Lord, and that means by some fresh light. If all growth, all development, increase, and progress is going to be of God, the instrument will be light.
We know, of course, that life and light go together with God, but at the moment we are occupied only with the one side. We have dealt with life and we need to know that these two things go together; it is life and light. He will use light in His work and He works in the light. Further, it is a discovery of what the Lord is that makes progress possible. It is the light of what He is Himself. The instrument of the Lord is light. The Lord makes light. That means that He works against every other condition, God makes light and Satan makes darkness. Bringing that down to simple and spiritual application, it means this: Spiritual intelligence and understanding are essential to effectiveness.
You see light as an energetic thing; it is an active thing. You may have somewhere in you a question: is it true that those who have the greatest amount of light are the most effective? The possibility is that they live on the light of someone else, and yet have not got it themselves. They have not got it from the Lord, but try to keep going the light of someone else; they have got the forms of that light as given in certain articles of faith, but that is not light. Real light is a form of energy. You may hear what I am saying and have it second-hand and yet it may not come to you as real light. There is a lack of the essential energy in such people and they misrepresent the light and the truth, but when the Lord is our light then Zion is a tremendously effective thing. When we really have got spiritual intelligence and spiritual understanding, it is tremendously effective. It is a power and has such force as to set in motion other forces. You can tell whether people have spiritual light by the registration of their testimony upon spiritual forces.
We take our classic example in Daniel. Daniel, with his windows wide open, and the Lord gives him wonderful light. Daniel had light, revelation, and could 'make known', and then you see that great world spiritual forces were set in a state of activity. It is registered above in a spiritual realm. With Paul, who may be called an illustration of this, we find a tremendous antagonism of the devil against that vessel, simply because of the light that that vessel has got. It works both ways, that an illumined vessel makes an impact in the spiritual realm and the spiritual realm rises up against an illumined vessel to quench the light.
In the first chapters of the book of Revelation, the Lord is shown as the faithful witness. That corresponds to the seven golden lampstands and in the majority of cases the lampstands have failed, but the Lord moves into the midst of them and challenges them as to their light. The lampstand is to be a light and not an ornament; it is a testimony. It is all a question of faithfulness. Now the Lord as the faithful witness steps into the centre, as a witness of light. You see it is effectiveness. It is effectiveness of testimony through spiritual illumination. The Lord challenges the light. Spiritual intelligence and understanding are necessary to effectiveness. Spiritual power corresponds to spiritual light, and spiritual progress is in proportion to light. We must have a fuller apprehension to go on. No one makes spiritual progress except on the ground that they get more knowledge of the Lord - and more light means spiritual progress. It is not so with so many multitudes of the children of God who are still only spiritual infants. They have not grown because they are not getting a progressive revelation of the Lord. They are only fed on children's food. A full ministry in light must mean spiritual growth. Progress is bound up with spiritual light, intelligence, understanding. Now, what is true in the realm of spiritual progress is also true in the ministry which has to be fulfilled. A ministry is fulfilled through light.
You see in Isaiah 60 that it has not been fulfilled literally for Israel yet. One day there will be a day which corresponds literally to this chapter. But certainly it is true that that day should have a spiritual fulfilment in Zion spiritually. Perhaps the Lord would fulfil it now, and surely this is the desire of our hearts. You see the thing that is said here in the presence of Zion's light: "The nations shall come to thy light." I think we may quite rightly and properly ask the question (if we do not positively answer it, and we might go a long way in that direction): Is it not true that the Lord's people all over the world are coming up against the need of having more light? Are they not coming to be increasingly up against situations, problems in the work of God, and they are right up against things? The only thing that is going to save them and their life ministry is that they get some illumination. I think we can see that there is a movement in that direction. This means that the Lord's people are simply being forced to stand still in their work and there is no progress. It is being arrested and the whole thing is faced with a big question: How? - in relation to effectiveness and ministry in the present state of things.
Growth may be slow but it is sure. It is 'the mills of God which grind slowly but exceeding small'. But He is, it seems to me, steadily facing His people up with this new necessity. They are losing faith and hope and vision. Some are settling down in a pathetic despair, just carrying on. Others of them resort to other methods to get results. But the really honest people seek God's solution. To simply settle down to things makes the life of faith a disappointing one. Somehow we need a new vision, we need to be brought to meet the situation in a new way. This is truly growing. Wherever you go you meet this question. Sometimes strong assurances are met, but when you begin to sound things out you find that is only a front. When you get beyond that, you see they have got questions. What is the thing that is going to meet the need? It is spiritual understanding, some more light. This is the explanation of their coming from far and near in Isaiah 60; it is all for light. "They shall come to thy light." "The Lord shall be thy light." You have something more than a natural explanation. Spiritual light means that there is a need. You will be pressed to come to the light. It takes a long time because there is a lot to be got over. With light everything runs in such direct contrast with tradition. It upsets quite a good deal that is of nature. People have got to get over their suspicions, their pedigrees, their notions and nothing will do that but a real crisis, and real lack of food. A starving man is not particular over which vessel he can get food out of. He may be over-particular when he has plenty, but when he is starving it is another matter.
The Lord may have to bring His people there where unless they get some fuller revelation they will go out. It may be that that is what He is doing now, quietly, more than we know. It is only when we get quietly apart with people that we discover the secrets of their hearts.
It does seem very clear that if the Lord can have a vessel in which He can be the light in a full way, that vessel will be His solution. This vessel will be His means of solving many of the problems in the world. If we are willing to pay the price for spiritual illumination, we shall not lack ministry. We shall not have to make ministry; it will grow. The Lord is watching and He will so work that those who are honest with Him will be forced to come to the place where there is light. They will come in spite of themselves, and of others. "Because of thy light." It is not because of you. They may still think poorly of the vessel, but they will get what is in the vessel. It will never be a question of work and workers; those who have the light are bound to come into their place of ministry in the Lord. Light is the feature of the testimony; the clash is between darkness and light. It is not always what men recognise as darkness because often what men call light is darkness. For instance, modernism - Is that light? It is darkness from a spiritual standpoint. While on the other hand, what you and I might call darkness, the natural state of man, is God's opportunity. I think that the Ethiopian represents spiritual darkness of a natural kind. "Do you understand what you read?" "How can I?" That is the kind of darkness that is God's opportunity.
The way to light is the way of recognising the need of it and being open to receive it. Zion is a city of light.