Features of Zion
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 1 - The Stability of Christ

“Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, in the city of our God, in His holy mountain. Beautiful in elevation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion, on the sides of the north, the city of the great King... 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. 48:1,2,12-14).

“He looked for the city which has 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 loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob” (Ps. 87:1-2).

The words of the twelfth verse of Psalm 48 suggest a contemplation of Zion as a whole. “Walk about Zion, and go round about her.” It is not possible to piece together all that is in the Scriptures about Jerusalem and Zion without being carried out and on to the Lord Jesus and to His church. It would be of very little value to us in our spiritual lives, in all our conflicts and our sufferings and our perplexities and in all that goes to make up the walk with God, to have in the Bible a lot of things said about some city in some part of the world which has had a great history and a lot of attention drawn to itself as being the centre and object of many a quarrel and dispute and conflict, a city in which the nation to which it belonged had a great deal of pleasure and delight and about which its psalmists composed psalms, praises and other adulation. It would be very little help to us to just have that as something recorded and handed on as a book. The Bible is not like that. Neither is the Bible intended just to be a book from which we draw lessons That is, certain things happened long ago and you draw lessons more or less from them, you make them examples. It is very much more than that. Everything that is here in the Scriptures is something which is timeless and which is therefore at hand to be of value in a spiritual way in any moment. In a word, it is all gathered into the Lord Jesus, and then is brought to us in the Holy Spirit to be made of practical, present value in our spiritual experiences and, great as is the amount about Jerusalem and Zion, it is all about the Lord Jesus. As I have said, it is impossible to sit down and gather together all these things under these names, if you have any spiritual illumination at all, if you are in any way being taught by the Spirit of God, and not to be transported to the Lord Jesus and find these things belong to us in a very real inward way. So that the contemplation of Zion in the Spirit will become a contemplation of Christ. Just as Jerusalem is a comprehensive symbol in many numerous particulars, a symbol of divine meanings, so Christ is the reality of all those meanings brought into a vital organic relationship with believers. We see Christ speaking in this many-sided symbolism, speaking right into our lives, going right down to the very depths of us with challenge, comfort, assurance and all the things that we need. For anyone who knows the Psalms alone, knows how many things are said in connection with Jerusalem and Zion for the comfort and help of the Lord’s people.

We have often noted that the book of the Psalms compasses the whole range of human need, and has ever been that to which the people of God in their hours of need have turned. What a history there is of turning to the Psalms and finding in the Psalms something to meet almost any need of which we can be conscious. It is as though those who wrote the Psalms were caused to pass through all the experiences of which men are capable and to cry out for and find God in those experiences. Yes, it is like that, and if so much of it is gathered up into connection with Jerusalem and with Zion, then it is all pointing towards and summed up in the Lord Jesus. It simply means that He is the answer to the sum of all our need. He speaks to us as Zion spoke to Israel of old and to those Psalmists who passed through those many experiences.

The Foundations of Zion

Now the other passages which we have read refer to one phase of this whole matter of Jerusalem and Zion - that is, her foundations. The passage in Hebrews 11 referring to Abraham said that he looked for the city which has the foundations. Then the apostle Paul says the only foundation is Jesus Christ, there is no other foundation. Then the Psalmist says, “His foundation is in the holy mountains.” God’s foundation is in the holy mountains. You remember the word of the Lord to Abraham was that he was to go to a distant mountain, the land of Moriah, and offer Isaac for a burnt offering there. And, reaching the summit of Mount Moriah and looking across the intervening space of time, the next appearance of Moriah is in David’s day. You remember the story of David’s failure over the numbering of Israel, the devastation throughout the land, and eventually the threshing-floor in Mount Moriah, and there the offering to the Lord and the ravage of death stayed, the sacrifice, and the temple secured, the place of the house of the Lord, and you reach another phase, another point, in the foundations of the house of God. And the next time, without mentioning the name Moriah or any earthly mountain, looking from that point with David on over another long period of time, you come to what Abraham looked for - the city which has the foundations. You come to Christ and you come to the heavenly Jerusalem and see what God has been moving towards all the way, and you find that Abraham’s experience was foundational and David’s experience was foundational. And if you gather up the meanings of the offering of Isaac, as of receiving him back as from the dead, the meaning of that great mercy of God to David on Mount Moriah, you find exactly what spiritual foundations are. To those we shall come presently, but here it is foundations which are in view, Zion’s foundations.

The Importance of Foundations

Foundations are exceedingly important things. Sooner or later, everything, as to its real value, will be determined by the foundations. There is a sense in which we are never finished here with foundations. Of course, there is another sense in which the foundations are laid once and for all, and we are not supposed to go back and lay the foundations again and again. But there is another sense in which we are never finished with foundations, though they may be laid. We are always being dealt with on the basis of our foundations. God is dealing with us in the light of our foundations or His foundations. Sometimes a great building will completely collapse, and when investigation is made, it is found that the trouble was in the foundations. Sometimes a building will become a very distorted thing. Only a few days ago I saw in Scotland a building. It was straight when it was put up, but now one wing was at this angle, another wing was at that angle. The windows would not close, no door would fit, everything was askew, and of course there is no difficulty in explaining: the foundations have given way, they simply have not stood up to things. That building was exposed to a large extent of open country. Across that country, down from the mountains beyond, came the winds, and they discovered the foundations, and there is the building all over the place. These things are true of many lives. Some collapse entirely, some become distorted, twisted, all topsy-turvy, confused, all angles, and it is just foundation trouble. Some reveal terrible inconsistencies in the superstructure, raising great questions as to the thoroughness of the work which underlies. It is all a matter of foundations so often. We can become very top-heavy with our superstructure truth. We can have all the truth of the church, the Body of Christ, and all these heavenly things which in themselves are perfectly true, and we may have them all as a matter of teaching; and something happens in the day of adversity and we go to pieces, we just do not stand up, we are found out, we collapse. We are all having to make confessions along that line. We break down. There is some weakness somewhere in the matter of foundations.

Well, what is the meaning? What must we do? We must contemplate Christ afresh, firstly in relation to foundations. If He is the foundation, if Zion takes its character from Him, and if Zion is all that these Scriptures says Zion is - “Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God” (Ps. 87:3); “The Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob” (Ps. 87:2); “Beautiful in prospect is Zion, the joy of the whole earth” (Ps. 48:2) - so you can go on - if those things are true and such a Zion takes its character from its foundation, then in order to have such things as being true of us, of the church, we must look at the foundation, that is, we must look again and yet again at Christ.

The Stability of Christ the Foundation

One thing here which of course immediately rises in connection with what I have been saying which is perhaps the first, the supreme characteristic of Christ as foundation and of every right foundation, and that is stability. That is what a foundation is supposed to be - stable, to have stability. Oh, how steady He was; how quiet, how confident, how assured, how unmoved, how imperturbable was the Lord when He was here. Nothing moved Him, nothing shook Him, nothing made Him waver. He quietly, steadily, in composure, faced every on-rush of adverse forces from earth and from hell. Indeed, He was a Rock. With the fast-gathering storm, the nature of which He knew perfectly, about to break upon them all, the most terrible storm in history, forces of hell working through every earthly means, right on the edge of it He said, “Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:1). He knew the trouble that was coming to Him and to them. “Let not your heart be troubled.” Yes, that is the Lord Jesus. Stability!

The Secret of Christ’s Stability

But what was the secret? It was not just human composure, the strength of a great soul, of a great will. There was a secret. His life was deeply rooted in His Father in heaven. That was a favourite phrase of His - ‘Father in heaven’. His whole life was deeply rooted, or, to keep to our metaphor, founded and grounded in His Father in heaven. A heart relationship is implied by “the Father”, “My Father”.

Now, that heart relationship with His Father was not a thing which just existed in His case in a way in which it does not exist in our case. I mean, it was something that was put to the test and tried in every way. Satan did his utmost to interfere with that heart relationship with the Father. “If thou art the Son...” (Matt. 4:3). Everything was focusing upon that heart relationship with the Father. There is the insinuation that this One in need, in weakness, is not being cared for by the Father. “If thou art the Son...”. The last terrible ordeal was focused upon the same point. “The cup which the Father has given me, shall I not drink it?” (John 18:11). Oh, what a cup! What a bitter cup! But He said ‘The cup - not that God has imposed upon Me, not that I must be resigned to it - which the Father has given me’. My Father gives Me the most bitter cup that ever man has been called upon to drink - My Father gives it. You see the point. It is a terrible cup, but it is handed by the Father. That speaks of a heart relationship, does it not?

Yes, tested in that relationship, along every line, and passing it on to His own. “Your heavenly Father knows...” (Matt. 6:32). “My Father... your Father” (John 20:17). The Father in heaven; the place where He was rooted, where His foundations were, that place was altogether outside of this world. It needed to be. Only so could there be stability. If His foundations had been in this world, well, there would be no stability, no security here. His foundations were outside of this world. Oh, thank God that there is a place of security outside of our world. The apostle uses another simile when he speaks of the place of the anchorage of the soul, sure and steadfast, within the veil (Heb. 6:19). It is the same thing; an anchorage, yes; a place of foundation, yes; a place of rooting outside. Christ had His foundation outside of this scene and all that belongs to it. Paul puts that into a phrase - “Your life is hid with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3), outside of this scene. Hidden, yes, foundations are always hidden, but oh, how important they are!

Christ’s Stability Must be Ours by the Spirit

If the Lord Jesus is the foundation, how is He the foundation? If that is true as to His foundation, and that has got to be true of us - how? We have been so superficial. We have said, Yes, “other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ”, and that means His Deity, His Godhead; that means that He accomplished a great atoning work on His cross, He rose from the dead, He ascended to heaven, He is there at the right hand of the Majesty on high, He is coming again, and these things comprise the foundation. That is all true, do not misunderstand me, I am not taking anything from that, but I want to say we can believe all that and be terribly shaken and completely collapse. We can believe it as a matter of doctrine and as a matter of facts, and yet somewhere, somehow, there is a gap between our perfectly orthodox doctrine, our sound doctrine and the stability of our lives, the straightness of our lives, the consistency of our lives. Somewhere there is weakness, and yet we have all that. Jesus Christ as the foundation is not so only as a matter of doctrine or in any objective way. The Holy Spirit has come to enter into us as the Spirit of Christ. Paul speaks of the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ, and by the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ he would be able to do certain things (Phil. 1:19). What did he mean, and what is that? It just means that what has been wrought and ratified in the Lord Jesus and perfected in Him through testing, through suffering, through trial perfected, is now, by the Holy Spirit, made true in us. We shall take our character from Him by the Spirit, and we too shall become, if not all at once, yet quite definitely in a progressive way more assured in our hearts, more steady, more confident, more unmoved. Our early storms are child’s play, but even then to a child a little adverse wind is a terrible hurricane, it is awful. As we go on with the Lord, we find that we come up against blasts, cyclones, of spiritual adversity, trial and assault which no child could stand up to, and we find that we are shaken by this new test, this new trial, this new form in which the Lord is allowing us to be assailed. Oh, blessed be God, the story is that we are not carried away; it is marvellous how we survive and come through. Why? - because of the supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

What is the Spirit of Jesus Christ? Firstly, the Spirit of steadfastness. It is not our steadfastness, God knows. If it were left to us, we should have been carried away long ago, we would not be here. We are learning, yes, by our own failure often, by our own breakdown, our own weakness under trial and assault, we are learning Christ, we are discovering Christ, we are coming to the place more and more where we worship and say, ‘Well, I never thought I would weather that one, it did not look as though I was going to get through that one, it looked very much as though that one was going to be the end of me, but I am coming through.’ It is in that way that He is our foundation. I know foundation truth is His Deity and His atonement, that is the foundation for our faith, but somehow He Himself has got to come in and be my hope of glory, or else there is no hope at all. He has to be my hope of glory inside, be a sure foundation in my spirit, an unshakeable foundation, and, for those who have gone any distance with the Lord through the years, it is possible for them to say very humbly, ‘Yes, I used to be caught along that line, I cannot be caught along that line now. There was a time when that would have shaken me terribly; thank God, I have got beyond that. I have not got beyond the point of being shaken, but not on that point, in that way.’ We see that He has gradually brought us on in the matter of His own stability. Rock-likeness - is not that exactly what He meant when He said to Peter, “Upon this rock I will build my church” and “Thou art Peter (a piece of rock)” (Matt. 16:18)? This was a prophecy concerning a weak man, that he would take his character from his Lord and become a part of Christ in that sense, that, by the Holy Spirit, what was true of Christ would be true of him.

Rock-like - oh, how much in these Psalms there is about the rock. “Thou art my rock.” How often David used that word of his Lord. You see the foundation. Well, I said earlier, there is a sense in which we never get away from foundations. That is, God is always dealing with us on the matter of foundations to get us more and more settled, grounded, assured, confident. There is no end to that here. All the fresh shakings are to bring that about, all the fresh adversities are dealing with the matter of foundations. We never get away from them. We, in other words, never get away from testings and trials of faith, and is not faith the very foundation of everything? Dr. Campbell Morgan published a little book on Job. Coming to the last chapters of the book of Job, those chapters in which the Lord takes up matters with Job and leads him out - “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? (Job 38:4), ‘What do you know about this and that?’ He was led right out into the immense magnitude of God. And Dr. Morgan says God never touched upon Job’s problem, He never tried to solve Job’s problem for him or to answer Job’s questions. How God dealt with Job’s problems was to make Job sure of Himself, the Lord. And Dr. Morgan says that when Job came to the place where he was assured of God, his problem no longer existed, it had gone. Is that not it? The Lord does not answer our questions and explain our experiences and solve our problems directly. He is working to bring us to a place where we are so sure of Him that the problems are undercut. “His foundation is in the holy mountains.” The Lord loves the gates of Zion. That is where the heart of the Lord is.

Now note: Abraham was called the friend of God. How was he the friend of God? How did he become that which God loves more than all the dwellings of Jacob, where the heart of God was? Simply because, through testing and through trial, he imbibed the Spirit of His Son, Jesus Christ. Was not that the scene on Moriah? - the Spirit of Jesus Christ laying down His life, His soul. Yes, it was Christ in Abraham, through testing and trial, that made Abraham the friend of God and made it possible for God to say, My friend, My delight, My beloved. More than all the dwellings of Jacob, these earthly things.

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