Features of Zion

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 3 - The Indestructibility of the Life of Christ

“For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 3:11).

“If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Ps. 11:3).

We have had an immense amount of teaching on the greater magnitudes of divine counsels and purposes carrying us from eternity to eternity, and we are acquainted, at least acquainted, with very much in that realm that has to do with those purposes of God, but I have been greatly troubled because there is a very great deal that does not seem to come into line with that. Indeed, it seems to be inconsistent with it or a contradiction to it, even amongst those of us who are so closely in touch with it; and that under test, given circumstances, assaults of the enemy, deep trials, on-rushes of other forces, there is breakdown. There is a good deal that is not honouring to the Lord, very much otherwise, even where the teaching has been received for a long, long time and ought to be known. And this is not said just about others. We are all aware that a good deal of what we know of spiritual information has still to be inwrought, and we are far from being able to say that we are the living embodiment of all that. We find many weaknesses, we find a great deal that needs to be built up in ourselves. And in this realisation and having to do with so much, all this which falls so far short of what the Lord has given and is so contrary to it in so many cases and directions, my exercise of heart has been: What is wrong? Is it not after all a matter of foundations? Have we become so taken up with the superstructure of the divine purpose and truth and revelation that, as we said earlier, we have got a bit top-heavy, and there is something not quite right between the relationship of the superstructure and the foundation? That is my exercise, and that is what I feel to be the Lord’s intention, for this message. So far as I am concerned, that is my burden.

So we came to speak about our foundation, a fresh contemplation of Christ. We approached this through the symbolism, typology and metaphors of Jerusalem and Zion, but I have a feeling, a very bad feeling, that the metaphors and the symbolism obscure the immediate practical value, and I want to get away from the framework right to the very heart of things and just say exactly what it is we feel the Lord is after. It is here in Christ Himself, the foundation other than which no man can lay, and if that foundation be destroyed, made of none effect, violated, what do the righteous do? Put in that form of question as to prospect, it is a cry of hopelessness. You can do nothing, nothing is possible. With all that you say and all that you teach, all that you give, it is all in vain, it is useless, if the foundations are in any way destroyed. You notice that the margin gives another tense to that which puts it rather in the past: What have the righteous accomplished after all that you have done? After all that you have done, what does it amount to if the foundations are destroyed? It is all in vain.

So again, it is very important that we should be quite sure that everything is really on the foundation and what that foundation really means, and this can be understood by looking at some of the meanings of foundations.

The Stability of Christ

In chapter one we were seeing Christ as the foundation and the great factor of stability. It is quite obvious to us all that if there is not real spiritual stability about us, if we are not people of certainty, of assurance, of spiritual confidence who can be relied upon spiritually, counted upon; if we are people who are of more than one mind, up and down and so on, there is something very much wrong with our foundation, our apprehension of Christ, our relationship with Christ. We saw how stability was wrought in Him to perfection; through all the storms, adversities, trials, sufferings; how sure, how steadfast He was, how unwavering. And then that the Spirit of Jesus Christ has come to work that into us progressively, and, while we will not reach final stability in one bound, it ought to be true that there is a very distinctly marked progressiveness in this matter, that whereas at one time we were easily moved, we are not easily moved about that now. Whereas before we could be shaken by certain things, those things do not shake us any longer. We have got past that. We may still have our shakings by new forces and situations which we have not met before and we are going through new experiences where this rooting, this grounding, has still to take place. Nevertheless, we have moved on, and we are no longer the old flabby things that we once were, knocked about and carried about by all those more elementary forces of adversity.

There is much in the New Testament about steadfastness in Christ, being strong in the Lord, always abounding, unmovable, and unless that is true, we are not going to get through at all. All the building that we are putting up on top of that is going to collapse. We may know all about the eternal purpose, the counsels of God from eternity, the church, its great calling and destiny, and the whole thing will collapse like a pack of cards if underneath we are not rooted, grounded, settled, steadfast, unshakeable; that is, unless we are in oneness and keeping with the Foundation, the unshakeable Rock, and we are taking the rock-like character from Him Who is the rock foundation.

And, while this is a call and a challenge, let it also be an encouragement, for we are going to be put through many mysterious inexplicable adversities and sufferings, things that we cannot explain, things that we cannot explain even from God’s side. We cannot see God in them, we cannot see why God should allow it, how that can be consistent with God. Oh yes, that is not saying a wrong thing, it is true in the experience of many - the mystery of God’s ways, altogether beyond finding out. We are going through things that could shake our very foundation, our faith, cause us to come to a standstill in the grip of an awful question. Now the Lord takes us that way, and the history of stability is the history of a tree which, having been planted, with every successive storm, finds for the moment its roots a bit loosened, things becoming a bit precarious, but its reaction to every such effect of storm is to root down deeper, and the mighty tree which cannot be moved by the greatest gale is simply the history, the sum of many shakings which have sent its roots deeper to lay hold more strongly. That is the way of the Lord with us. Yes, not one of us is beyond being terribly shaken, raising the greatest questions, wondering with the biggest ‘Why?’ But that is the way of being established. Do not, then, be discouraged if you pass through a time where everything for you is an open question after all. Just remember that that is the time in which the Spirit of Christ has His opportunity for bringing that mighty rock-like stability of Christ into fuller expression as the very foundation of your life.

The Unifying Power of Triumphant Life

Then we went on with the unifying nature of foundations, unifying in the power of a life triumphant over death, and here again I stay for an extra word, because inconsistency with much revelation and much light and truth is found along this line very often. A very great deal of my time is taken up with clearing up messes created in relationships with other Christians by people who have got fuller light. They have got all the light of the Body, all the truth of the Body, the church, the oneness of Christ, and they are making messes everywhere between themselves and other Christians. Rather than it being a unifying thing, it is becoming a divisive thing. The truth is dividing as it should not divide. If we really have apprehended Christ aright, there should be a far greater measure of divine love in our hearts for all saints, not those who accept our particular viewpoint, our particular measure of revelation, what we stand for. It is a most pernicious thing. I am finding everywhere people who say, ‘If you have not been to Honor Oak, you do not know anything!’ See what effect that has on other people. It is divisive, and it is a wrong apprehension and a wrong application of truth. We stand here solidly for the oneness of all believers, though they have the remotest apprehension of Christ. If they are in Christ, we are one with them; if they are in Christ, they are one with us. On that we build; on that Christ builds. It is a family relationship that is foundational. The Father, the Son and the children. Do get rightly adjusted to foundations.

Triumphant Survival of That Which is Rightly Related to Christ

Now one extra word. It is this: the triumphant survival of these foundations or of that which is rightly related to the foundation - Christ. If we go to our type and illustration, Jerusalem, we shall have a very good example and illustration. Oh, what a history that city has of sieges and assaults, of being overrun and destroyed, and yet how persistently it survives! It comes up again and again. How it still remains a world factor, something that all the nations have got to reckon with. Just think of how many times Jerusalem has been overthrown, besieged, destroyed, occupied, possessed. Think of its long history of ups and downs. Today Jerusalem is just as much a factor in world affairs as ever it was. It still comes up. Now I am not going into the realm of prophecy. I am not coming down on to the earth level. Far too much is made of that. God has set this here only to point us to something else, and the history of Jerusalem is God’s way of saying that His church, founded upon Christ, will survive, triumphantly survive, and even after all its conflicts, all its assaults, all its sieges, and all its seeming devastations, it will come up again and again, and at last will be there as the supreme factor to be reckoned with in this universe.

When you come to the prophets Isaiah and Ezekiel you find Jerusalem devastated. Jerusalem has been laid waste. It is in that state that you find it in Nehemiah and Ezra. It is laid waste, devastated, and the people of the land are in exile. That is how Jerusalem is, that is how Zion is, that is how Israel is, and always remember that the terms Jerusalem and Zion are very often used of the people, not of the place. The daughter of Zion, the daughter of Jerusalem, is simply Israel. Come to Isaiah and Ezekiel and the city is in full view as though nothing has happened to it, it has not gone. “He... set me down upon a very high mountain, whereon was as it were the frame of a city” (Ezek. 40:2), and Isaiah is speaking so much in his later prophecies about the glorious survival of Jerusalem, of Zion. Oh, they have not let it go, they have not given it up. This thing for them is still intact. Because they knew, they believed, that this was something which God had raised up, God had instituted, God had constituted, and “whatsoever God does, it shall be for ever” (Eccl. 3:14). Let happen what may, it will survive, triumphantly survive. Oh, now “if the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” The foundation for us is the imperishable, eternal stability of the Lord Jesus. Everything does rest upon whether the Lord Jesus is finally going to be vanquished. Is the Lord Jesus, after all, going out? Is God’s purpose going to be defeated? Our answer to that is the answer to our own inner questions.

What is the meaning of the Lord Jesus? He has no meaning apart from us. The very existence of Jesus Christ involves and implies the existence of His church. He cannot exist apart from us. All the meaning of the incarnation, all the meaning of His life here, all the meaning of His cross, all the meaning of His resurrection, ascension and exaltation is His church. He is only vindicated, the meaning can only be understood, in the light of His church. “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). They shall not! You see, it is the eternal city because it is on an eternal foundation which is outside of time, outside of all that may happen.

We are going to survive if we are truly consistent with our foundation; if we are really rooted in Christ, we are going to survive, we will be found standing with Him at the last. When everything else that has sought to prevent it has gone down and been destroyed, out of the wreck we shall rise and stand with Him.

Sin Weakens Our Confidence in Triumphant Survival

I know what weakens that confidence, and it would be overlooking a very important point if I did not mention it. What weakens our confidence, in survival, coming out alright afterwards or at last, is the sense or the knowledge of our own sin, our own sinfulness and our own failure as Christians. Yes, as Christians we sin. We cannot call it anything else. We sin. If we were to analyse that, we could soon prove it. “Whatsoever is not of faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). If you have the slightest question regarding God at any time, that is sin. It goes right to the root of everything. A little bit of pride, even spiritual pride, is sin. “Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord” (Prov. 16:5). “The haughty He knows from afar” (Ps. 138:6). I am not going to analyse that question of sin. We sin and we sin in gross ways. We fail, we break down, we make mistakes, we show weakness, and we know in our hearts that the Spirit of God has smitten that thing, we know the Holy Spirit has condemned that in our lives, and we know how failing we are. And that is the thing which undermines our confidence, so often, that we shall not be cast off, we shall not be set aside, the Lord will not have done with us. The enemy encamps upon the ground of our failures to undercut this assurance and to weaken our confidence that we are going to triumph and come out alright.

After all, all I can say to you in a comprehensive way is, go back to Zion, go back to Jerusalem, go back to David. Oh, how terrible! Think of David, a murderer, his hands stained with the blood of a man in order to get his wife, and other things, right up to that awful thing which culminated on Mount Moriah, the loss of tens of thousands of lives in Israel because of his self-will. Go back to the history of Jerusalem, see what the prophets have to say about Jerusalem, its iniquity, and think upon the mercy of God to David. “The sure mercies of David” (Isa. 55:3). What a phrase! The mercy of God, the grace of God, to David, to Jerusalem, to Zion! He has not washed His hands of us, He has not abandoned us, it is going to survive, not because of its goodness, not because we are so good and never fail and sin (this is no excusing of our sin), but by His infinite mercy and grace we are going to survive. We are founded upon the grace of God in Jesus Christ, not upon merit or worthiness or goodness in ourselves. He is the foundation, and He answers to God for every perfection that God requires in us. Let us get down on our foundations. That is the way in which we shall survive triumphantly. It is Christ, the solid Rock.

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