The Controversy of Zion

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 2 - The Controversy in the Realm of Christian Profession

(a) Personal Interests

Next we must consider Zion, and the testimony of Zion, in relation to the realm of Christian profession and tradition - that realm in which, with the name of Christian or of Christ, the natural soul has its kingdom. It is a terrible thing to say, but it is true, that right there, with the Christian title, there is that which is after all only the kingdom of the soul of man, the natural life. You find - we say it with grief - that there is correspondence, in principle, even there in the realm of Christian profession, to all that you have in the world. All the same elements are active, commercially and socially. Whence come jealousies, rivalries, ambitions, personal interests? You find them all rife and in riot in a certain realm called Christian. They do not come from God, they do not come from the Spirit of God, they do not come from heaven.

Yes, there are rivalries in Christianity, in Christian work, in Christian interests; jealousies for Christian things; personal interests to bring men into position, into reputation, into influence. You touch them, and you meet something - a kickback. Christianity is a sphere of many selfish, natural, personal ambitions. Men sport themselves in the realm of Christianity, to get advancement, to gratify their own natural desires. One grieves to say that, but it is a fact. We know it so well. That is one aspect of the realm of Christian profession. The 'eyes as a flame of fire' see through it; they know all about it.

(b) Zeal Without Knowledge

Another aspect is that it is a realm of 'zeal without knowledge', and that is a terrible realm, a terrible kind of thing. "Zeal... but not according to knowledge" (Rom. 10:2): a kind of shadow land where men are seen "as trees walking" - that is, there is something indistinct in spiritual apprehension, there is no power or capacity or faculty for discriminating between what is spiritual Christianity and what is 'soulical' Christianity; things are all mixed up and confused. In so much that is going on, you cannot draw even a thin line between man's soul and its ambitions and its activities and its heats, and what is really purely of the Spirit of God. It is all so mixed up; there seems to be no ability to discriminate or discern between the two. Therefore many innocent people are carried away by the semblance of things, thinking that it is something quite good and quite right. But everything is indistinct, confused, with very limited revelation.

This was the kind of thing with which Paul had to do in Judaism: a confusion of the old covenant with the new, an attempt to mix them up and make a Jewish Christianity, making one thing of Judaism and Christianity; Judaizing Christianity and Christianizing Judaism, leaving no gap between and no difference. Paul was up against that. No, these two things belong to two different realms and kingdoms altogether. One belongs to the realm of the soul, and the other belongs to the realm of the Spirit, and there is a cleavage to be made between these, a discrimination, a cutting through.

Much is being fought for that is believed to be the truth - and yet after all it is only a legalistic interpretation of the truth. There is so much failure and so much inability to grasp the meaning of the truth. Need I point out that there is a vast difference between the statement of a truth in Scripture, and God's meaning in that statement? If you are not able to discriminate between these two things, you will be in constant confusion.

That is just what we find. Here is the letter, but what did God mean by that? If you cannot discriminate, you can take that letter to support a thousand different opposing things; you can take any bit of Scripture and use it to support something that is entirely in conflict with another thing based upon the same Scripture. It needs the Holy Spirit's enlightenment, interpretation, witness and government, to bring us to the truth of the Word.

Now, God has a controversy with that sort of thing. For His true testimony, He will have a controversy with what is called Christianity as surely as He had with Judaism. He will indeed, and very likely it will rage in greater intensity in that realm than in any other. I cannot follow that further, but this is a matter about which the Lord has very real concern. Zion represents, amongst all the other things which it represents, the transparent light of heaven. Zion's light - "thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee" (Is. 60:1) - is absolute transparency, clear seeing of issues, clear discrimination. That is what Paul meant when he spoke about discerning the things that differ (Phil. 1:10). As you know, he was speaking about, not the wrong and the right, but the good and the best. Zion represents the best; God will not be satisfied with anything less than His full and ultimate testimony.

(3) The Controversy as to the Ministry of Zion

Now we come to the third application or realm of the controversy - that as to the ministry of Zion. Of course, this includes the two that we have already considered - the conflict with the nations, and the conflict with tradition and formal Christianity - but when it comes to the ministry of Zion it becomes very much more inward. This controversy rests upon some things that we may seek to understand. The ministry of Zion is a greatly disputed thing. The ministry of Zion is something around which the battle circles more hotly, perhaps, than it does around any other issue. This whole matter of ministry in relation to God's full purpose - what a battle! Paul knew something about this. How he besought believers that they would pray earnestly that he might be given utterance to open his mouth to speak the mystery (Eph. 6:19), that a door might be opened to him to speak the mystery (Col. 4:3). This is not something about which you can get up an address, and go out willy-nilly and begin to give it out. If it is rightly constituted, it is fraught with the most terrific conflict. This ministry, if it is the true ministry of Zion, first of all rests upon, and is constituted by, the sovereign apprehending of a vessel for it.

(a) Sovereign Apprehension

Of course, that is so true of the historical Zion, God's sovereign choosing of Zion. It is there in the Scripture declared and made clear very positively. It was a sovereign act of God that chose Zion. But Zion is a vessel, a symbolic vessel; and a vessel for this specific ministry - the fulness of the significance of Christ and His work and His place in God's universe - is something sovereignly apprehended by God, raised up by God. When I say 'sovereignly', I mean that there is no explanation for it other than that this is of God. You cannot account for it in any way whatever but by the Lord. Touch it, you meet the Lord. Be amongst it, you meet the Lord. Somehow or other, the Lord is responsible for this. Whether it be collective or individual, it is something sovereignly raised up by God.

You have no choice in this matter of ministry. You cannot do this by choice, you cannot aspire to it, you cannot walk into it, you cannot put your hand upon it. You cannot just 'take up' this ministry. Oh, it is such a sifting and discriminating thing. Many people like it; they like the ideas, and they think they are going to propagate those ideas, to take up this thing and make it theirs; but it just does not do. Either they get into confusion or other people do. Something happens that it does not work out. You have a caricature, you have a contradiction, you have the absence of the vital thing. It is something that you cannot, just like that, take up at your own will. If God Himself has not apprehended you for that purpose - He may have apprehended you for something else - then it is no use; keep out of it. It is something out of the sovereignty of God.

How many things that touches! It amounts to this, that the question of such a testimony is a matter of life and death with us; nothing less of an issue than that. It is not something we can take up and drop. It is not something that we can come into, and then not like it, and be offended and draw out. It is a matter of life and death: I am there because my very life is found in my being there, and it would be committing spiritual suicide for me to drop out. That is very utter. I am not saying that God's sovereignty operates only in this ministry or that ministry of utter fulness of Christ. It operates in other ways. But I am saying, as to the testimony of Zion: first of all, it is something right out of the sovereignty of God, and man has no place in it other than that of faith and obedience. Man has no proprietary interest in this, no possessive place, no controlling place in this. It is the Lord, wholly, utterly the Lord, and if it should cease to be that, everything goes. Man just cannot carry that on. He can carry on the framework, but he cannot carry that ministry on. He can still have the tabernacle in Shiloh, but the glory has departed. It is the Lord. That is a very solemn, very searching word.

This ministry of Zion is constituted, then, by a sovereign apprehending of God.

(b) God's Sovereign Government Behind the Vessel's History

Then, in the second place, there is a sovereign government of God behind the history of the vessel. Of course, that needs explaining. It can be illustrated. When the Apostle Paul said, 'It pleased God, who separated me from my birth, to reveal his Son in me' (Gal. 1:15,16), he touched this very point. 'From my birth'. 'My birth, was into a Jewish family, my birth was utterly, one hundred percent Jewish; but right there, while I was like that, in a most complete and utter Jewish setting - birth, blood, training, education; while all that heat of antagonism to Christ was still in my blood, although it had not come out until it was provoked; while my hatred of the Gentiles, whom I called the 'dogs', was in my constitution - God had already separated me to be the messenger of Christ to those very Gentiles, to have all that heat in my blood against His Son quenched - or rather, to have a new fire kindled in love for that Son'.

The point is this, that right behind that man's earthly history was the sovereignty of God, foreseeing him, foreknowing him, forechoosing him, and arranging everything in line with his ultimate calling and the purpose of his life. It is difficult to believe that it is like that, and yet when God has a vessel for a purpose in view, it is no afterthought. It does not just arise, at some point in time. God has foreseen it, known all about it, and worked in relation to it, and its very birth and environment are under His sovereignty to some good purpose in relation to ultimate meaning. We may have to live a long time before we discover what that is.

Let me put it this way. We have to get right into line with God's purpose and God's thought, before we are able to see that our very birth and constitution and environment have had a definite relationship to the thing to which we are called. If you cannot understand and grasp that, do not worry about it; but it is a fact. It is the sovereignty of God, lying behind our earthly experience and history, in relation to purpose, that constitutes this vessel.

(c) A Deep Work in the Vessel

And then, in the third place, this ministry of Zion is constituted by a deep and drastic work in the vessel. This is not something that we can take up apart from something that has been done in us - that God is doing in us: the undoing of us, the taking of us to pieces, the stripping of us, the emptying of us, the bringing of us to zero and starting from there all over again with us. That is the sort of thing that is connected with Zion and Zion's ministry.

Do not make any mistake about it. This ministry, the ministry of which we are speaking, the ministry of Zion, is something utterly different in its nature and its realm from all other ministries. It is possible to look on and admire. It is possible to walk in and out, or sit down inside, and to appreciate the truths and agree with the ideas, and to recognise something of the values, and to desire the benefits, and to seek to participate. It is possible that all that may be so - and then that there should be a great dividing 'but'. With all the agreement and admiration and recognition and desire, there may yet be lacking the constitution of Zion. The constitution of Zion is - what? That God has broken clean through all natural faculties and abilities for understanding, and, by revelation, has planted right deep down in the centre of the being a knowledge of a spiritual kind which is different from natural knowledge. It is not taking up the phraseology and the ideas, and all that sort of thing, and appreciating and valuing and agreeing, and then going and repeating. It is something that has been done inside, and the thing has come by revelation of the Holy Ghost.

That is the ministry of Zion; and I say - that discriminates, that divides. And it is because things are like that that you have so much conflict. You find the conflict in the very realm of that ministry. It arises there. It arises in the realm where people, while they agree, they accept and they repeat and they look and they want, and so on, yet they are not constituted. Violent conflict arises in that realm. If you only take the matter of ministry itself - I mean public ministry - you find it is the most controversial point in all Christianity. More trouble has arisen over platform ministry than over anything else. But in Zion no one has a right to minister, no one has a qualification for ministry, who cannot quite easily sit back and do no ministry at all if the Lord wants it. It ought to be just as easy for a minister of Zion to take a back seat, and wait for the Lord and watch for the Lord, as it is for the natural soul to want to be on that platform.

What I am saying may have application to a very limited company, but I focus upon this matter of ministry, the ministry of Zion. It is of a quality, of a kind, of a constitution that is not studied, that is not the result of going to books and extracting the truths, of observing and hearing, and then reproducing. It is something inwrought. But oh, how the devil rages over a ministry of that kind - because it is going to do something, it is going to touch God's ultimate purpose, and if he can he will destroy it and destroy the vessels of it. He will stop at nothing to bring an end to that kind of ministry. It is true. Here the "controversy of Zion" rages. It rages over the ministry of Zion.

You see, the whole point of the controversy and the conflict is its reality, its essence, its essential value; the very life of it, the very power of it, the very distinctiveness of it: for if Satan focuses upon one aspect of such a testimony more than another, it is to destroy its distinctiveness, in some way to get it drawn out into a generalisation, conform it to a recognised system, take away that distinguishing definiteness; and it is a terrific battle all the way along to keep the testimony clear, distinct, unmixed. You may not know all that I am saying, but it is quite true. It is something in a different realm from mere mental apprehension. You can have the same truths by study, but there is a difference between that and having them by revelation of the Holy Ghost.

(d) Spiritual Discernment

I close upon what I regard as one of the most important factors in the testimony of Zion, and that is spiritual discernment. This is the greatest gift that God gives to His Church. It is impossible to overrate the value of people of spiritual discernment, who see the differences, the fine differences; who 'register'; who read right through the semblance to the reality; who sense, perhaps - 'Yes, that is all according to the book, but there is something lacking'; or, on the other hand - 'Ah, they have not got that by reading, by studying; they have come to that through something the Lord has done in them.' That capacity for discernment is of the greatest value to such a testimony. Oh, for more men and women of that discernment, able to discriminate - not to criticize by their discrimination, not using their discernment in order to denounce, but able to guide and help because they know the Lord has done something. They have not built up a standard from which they judge, but God has done something in them, so that they recognise where God has done something in others, and at the same time register a sense of hurt and grief where they only meet with an imitation.

The Lord give us such understanding!

In keeping with T. Austin-Sparks' wishes that what was freely received should be freely given and not sold for profit, and that his messages be reproduced word for word, we ask if you choose to share these messages with others, to please respect his wishes and offer them freely - free of any changes, free of any charge (except necessary distribution costs) and with this statement included.