Features of Zion

by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 4 - The Preciousness of Christ

"According to the grace of God which was given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder I laid a foundation; and another buildeth thereon. But let each man take heed how he buildeth thereon. For other foundation can no man lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. But if any man buildeth on the foundation gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble; each man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself shall prove each man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work shall abide which he built thereon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as through fire. Know ye not that ye are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you? If any man destroyeth the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, and such are ye." (1 Cor. 3:10-17).

"Because it is contained in scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: And he that believeth on him shall not be put to shame. For you therefore that believe is the preciousness: but for such as disbelieve, The stone which the builders rejected, The same was made the head of the corner. (1 Pet. 2:6-7).

"The foundations of the wall of the city were adorned with all manner of precious stones. The first foundation was jasper; the second, sapphire; the third, chalcedony; the fourth, emerald." (Rev. 21:19).

My first word, reverting to the matter of Christ as the foundation, will be a corrective word. We must be very clear and very sure as to what it is we are here for, and what it is we are after. There may come to us great blessing and enrichment along the line of enlarging revelation of the things of the Lord. These may make a great impression upon us as being very wonderful, very rich, very full of suggestion, with the result that we find ourselves beginning to talk a great deal about these things that have come to our recognition, our knowledge, things that we would say have been shown to us or have been revealed to us. Slowly we are drawn into the way of speaking about truth and light and revelation in certain terms, with a certain phraseology and a certain association, and before we know where we are, we have become people of a certain kind of teaching, a certain form of teaching, of teaching couched in certain phrases and a certain language, and we cannot but relate that to where we got it. Do you see what is happening? Some thing is being constituted, and that is accompanied by many perils, many dangers, and sooner or later we find it working out not so much to good as almost to bad. As we have said before, it can so easily become a divisive thing, a separating thing, a thing marking off lines of distinction between those who have this light and this knowledge and this kind of teaching, and those who have not got it. We can hardly avoid making distinctions, it is just the way of things.

Now, it is not unnecessary to say this. It is very necessary that we here today should look this straight and fully in the face and just get ourselves clear on the matter. Why are we here? Why are we here on the earth as Christians? What are we after? What is our business? What is Christianity all about from start to finish? For every fragment of light and revelation, from the most early beginnings through all the stages of enlargement and increase to however full a measure there may be at the end, has to do with one thing and one thing only, and if that is not the result of apprehension of truth, of knowledge, of light, teaching, then we are putting up a false building and everything again is in a realm of falsehood, artificiality, unreality. What is it that we are here for and that we are after?

Christians on the Earth to Reveal Christ

Well, as I see it, the Word of God has only one thing to say in answer to such a question, and that is the revelation, the manifestation, of Jesus Christ; that the Lord Jesus should be seen, should be manifested, should be here in very truth, that all can see Him, and all can know Him. You say, that is almost like an anticlimax to all that you have been leading up to. We expected something much more than that. No, that is just it, and, if I am not mistaken, the longer you go on as Christians, the older you get, the more you know, the more you come to dread any kind of teaching or any amount of teaching that does not result in a very real knowledge and expression of the Lord Jesus. That is, you will feel more and more unable just to be content with teaching. Because of the serious demands and the intensifying difficulty, the growing pressure, the discipline, you will constantly and growingly feel: Yes, but what is it all about after all, where does it lead us to, what does this represent of value for life? And we know very well, do we not, that it is only the Lord Himself who can meet our need, who can really stand up to all that which comes upon us, the Lord Himself, and we have to come back constantly to this: Oh no, it is not the measure, the degree, the kind, the form, the nature, of our teaching, our truth, our way of speaking, our interpretation, our language. It is not that. It is the presence and the manifestation of the Lord Jesus commensurate with it all. Do these two things keep in even balance? Or are the ideas, thoughts, the great things of the mind something very wonderful in themselves and very wonderful as we contemplate them, yet are apart from the real everyday manifestation of the Lord and knowledge of the Lord? Are the people who think they have more light and more revelation than perhaps others have, really manifesting commensurately more of the Lord Jesus than others? That is the question. That is the deciding point and factor in everything.

If you or I claim to have more light, more revelation - God forbid that we should ever make claims like that! - but if we should think that it is so, the proof and the value is - do people see more of Christ in us than others? For God never moves beyond his Son, He never moves to theories or teachings or doctrines or things that we call revelations. He only keeps within the compass of His living Son in manifestation. Do you understand what I have been trying to say? It is very simple and very foundational. It is the measure of the manifestation, the seen, recognized presence, of the Lord Jesus - whether His presence is liked or not, that is another matter. His presence may rouse a great deal of antagonism and hostility or it may answer to the quest of many hearts. The effect, one way or the other, is consequent upon His presence, His being recognized, and it is just how much we are manifesting of the Lord Jesus; after all our teachings and our conferences and our meetings, how much we are manifesting of the Lord Jesus, how much He is found in us. That is the deciding factor on the value of everything. So the mark of testimony is not what we call ‘the testimony’, which for so many has come to mean a certain form and compass of teaching. No, the mark of testimony is Christ Himself manifested in a living way. That is the word of correction with which we begin.

We are led by that to these foundations again, or to this foundation which is many-sided. The foundations in Revelation are many-sided, but the foundation is one, it is Christ in His many-sidedness. Here in the Revelation it is all manner of precious stones. Peter says, “For you therefore that believe is the preciousness” (1 Pet. 2:7). So the foundation which is to give its nature and character to everything that is put upon it, that is built upon it, that rests upon it, is the multiple preciousness of the Lord Jesus.

The Preciousness of Christ to the Father

Now, that preciousness is His preciousness to the Father, in the first place. “Behold, I (that is God speaking) lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious” (1 Pet. 2:6). If we were to investigate the preciousness of Christ to God of course we should come very clearly to the conclusion that what is precious to God is that which answers to His own nature, that without which God cannot do, that which is to Him the thing He just must have. It is precious because it is indispensable to God, and if we looked at that which is indispensable to God, we should find that it is the constituents of His own nature. By contrast, we should see what God hates, what He casts away, rejects as refuse, then we should see what is precious to God. We have said that pride is an abomination to God, something cast out. Then what is precious to God is meekness, humility. Peter says “the incorruptible apparel (ornament, A.V.) of a meek and quiet spirit... is in the sight of God of great price” (1 Pet. 3:4), precious. That is a virtue of Christ - meekness, a contrast to pride. So we should go on, but we are not going to take up these precious stones one by one.

Christ’s Preciousness Ours Through Faith

We take up the word ‘preciousness’ and say, this being the foundation, that what Christ is to God in the satisfying of His own nature and all His divine and holy requirements becomes ours through faith. “For you... that believe is the preciousness”, the manifestation of the beauties and the glories of the Lord Jesus. Oh, do try to free your mind from this being some sort of an address on a subject, do try to realize this, that this is not something for a meeting, for a conference or for our times of instruction in the Word! This is something that has to go with us tomorrow and the day after, where we are in homes, dealing with the everyday people in life, in business, out in the streets, in our journeys. It is there every day that the beauties, the excellencies of the Lord Jesus must be in manifestation. It is not what we preach, it is not that we are preachers giving subjects, but behind the preaching, behind the teaching, meeting with us, in the work day by day alongside of others, there is possible the discernment, the registration of Christ - though people may not know what it is. There is something of the beauty of the Lord our God resting upon us, something that speaks of Christ. It is no use our preaching about God’s thought and desires if people find us wrangling and awkward and difficult and discontented and so on. It is Christ, the beauties of Christ, the preciousness of Christ to the Father which is the foundation, and all that is put on the foundation must correspond to it, otherwise it is going to be put in the fire, and there will be nothing left.

You see the glories of Christ. Let us ask the Lord to create in us a passionate ambition to express the Lord Jesus more than anything else. Not to preach great truths, or to be preachers, teachers, anything like that as such, but to express the Lord Jesus, that out of Himself, His own presence, His own measure, His own nature, our opportunities for preaching, if we are going to preach at all, will come, not because we can talk, but because it is known that we have something of the Lord. Do not let us live too much in the upper stories of the house of God. The house of God is one, and it has a basement and it has a kitchen. We do not want to always live up on the top flat, so heavenly, so spiritual, so abstract, so high up in truth that the practical things of the kitchen are left unattended to. What would you say if you went into a house and were taken upstairs and shown a very glorious, wonderfully adorned upper flat, and then somehow you managed to get down to the kitchen and found the most awful filthy mess, out of all consistency with what you found upstairs. You say, there is something wrong here, this does not tally. There is the kitchen aspect of the spiritual life: all those practical, everyday, humdrum things where the beauty of the Lord must be seen, just as much as up there in the heavenlies in Christ. Do not let us live exclusively up there. We must live down here. That is what the Word of God does. That is what Paul did in his Ephesian letter. He wrote half of it about the heavenlies, then, without breaking it into chapters, he went straight on with his letter: “I... beseech you to walk worthily of the calling wherewith ye were called”, and then - husbands, wives, children, parents, masters, mistresses, servants - that is coming down to the kitchen, bringing the glory of heaven with you. It is a very important side of things. Preciousness must be found down here. “As in heaven, so on earth” (Matt. 6:10). Do not let us be people who are so occupied with high-up things that we think it beneath our dignity for such ‘spiritual’ (?) people to light the fire and wash the dishes and clean the room and so on. We may think that is not our job - we are more spiritual than that! There is nothing that displeases the Lord more than people coming to meetings and neglecting their homes, and thinking it is another realm. It is not; it is this realm. The highest thing that you can know is the manifestation of Christ, and that is perhaps more tested in those monotonous, everyday, humdrum things of standing in queues and all that sort of thing. Yes, but Christ is still there; not two worlds, the same world. Oh, forgive this, if it needs forgiving, for its simplicity. We must bring everything up to a high level. What I am trying to say is, do not be people of high ideas, great conceptions of truth, divorced from a practical presentation, expression, manifestation, of the Lord Jesus. Let it be Christ. That is the proof of the value of anything that we have.

“For you that believe is the preciousness.” Here is all this that is true of Christ. Go through John’s Gospel again in this way. Here are all the things that He says He is. “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35). “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:14). “I am the true vine” (John 15:1). “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). Here is the great I AM saying what He is. And then you notice how frequently He links with that a ‘shall’. The ‘shalls’ of the ‘I am's’ in John’s Gospel are tremendously impressive - not always using the exact word, but in the context you will find the same conclusion. But here are some of the ‘shalls’. “I am the bread of life”; “he that eats this bread shall live for ever” (John 6:58). “I am the light of the world; he that follows me shall not walk in darkness” (John 8:12). The link between what He is and ourselves is this, “he that believeth on me”. What I AM shall become true of him. “He that believeth on me shall never die” (John 11:26). “...shall not hunger” (John 6:35), shall never wander like sheep without a shepherd, he shall have a governing, controlling reality like a shepherd in his life. “Shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life”. What I AM shall become true. “I am the resurrection, and the life; he that believeth on Me, though he die, yet shall he live; and whosoever lives and believes on Me shall never die.” What I AM is made good when you believe.

Now it is not what we are. I am dead; He is alive. I can never be other than dead, but He as the life can become life in me in my death, if only I believe. I am hungry, spiritually starved; He is bread, and I need never hunger; although I shall always hunger in myself, yet He will become the bread to supply me. Think of it! I need never hunger, I am down there in the country, isolated, getting no fellowship, no food; I am away in some place where there is no spiritual bread, and He says, “He that eats Me shall never hunger.” Is that dependent upon where I am, what my situation and circumstances are as to available spiritual meat? No, it is Himself, not place; it is Himself, not circumstances. But how can it be? - “He that believes”. Lord, I am hungry; You said that if I feed on You, I need not be hungry; now I take You at Your word, feed me with Yourself. Be very practical. I do not suggest experimenting with the Lord, but try it. You see the link between the preciousness: I am so unholy, I shall never be anything else; but He is holy, He satisfies God in the matter of righteousness and holiness.

The inclusive word of Peter on all the points (whatsoever it may be that He is that we are not that we need Him to be to us) the inclusive word is “I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious: and he that believeth on him shall not be put to shame.” Look at ourselves, what is going to be the end if we are left to ourselves? Well, there is no doubt about it, we can see the end - shame, failure - that is the end if it is left with us. “He that believes on Him shall not be put to shame.” Strange how Peter misquotes the passage from the Old Testament. The Old Testament that he is quoting here says, “He that believeth shall not be in haste” (Isa. 28:16). But is it a misquotation? Are you making haste? Why are you in such a hurry to save the situation, to do something about it? Why do you get worked up into this spirit of, ‘We must do something, if we don’t do something the whole thing is going to work out in disaster.’ Peter, under the Holy Spirit, just covers that and says, “not be put to shame”. You need not get excited and rush hither and thither in haste to try and save the situation. “He that believes on Him shall not be put to shame.” Unto you is the preciousness if you believe, and if you believe you will not be ashamed. You see the link of faith with what Christ is.

Christianity Not a Matter of our Soul-Life

Then here in the context of Paul’s word about Christ the foundation, he says some people build on that foundation a lot of rubbish, a lot of mixture. When we begin to investigate we never have to look very far to find out what the rubbish is. You do not have to make a list of things as to what Paul means by this variety of stuff: “gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay, stubble”. You have only to look at his letter and the immediate context and you will soon discover what he is saying. You Corinthians are trying to build up a Christianity firstly out of your own soul-life. “Now the natural (soulical) man...”. That is his word to the Corinthians, and when you look at 1 Corinthians what a lot of soulicalism there is: this wisdom of words, this wisdom of the world, these likes and these dislikes and preferences and partialities and antipathies, and then their jealousies. That is no good on this foundation. Do not bring your own soul-life into relationship with Christ; it will not tally and it will not go through, it will go up in smoke. Are you trying to make your Christianity a matter of how you feel? You will have a composite kind of Christianity of so many varieties, nothing consistent at all, a perfect patchwork. Some patchworks are very clever, patchwork cushions and quilts, marvellous things, very clever, but you find no design, inconsistency, every colour under the sun. That is the soul-life in the realm of its feelings; one feeling today, another tomorrow. You are up or down temperamentally in your soul; there is nothing consistent. Are you going to put that on Christ? It will not go with Christ at all. Your soul-life in the realm of your mind: all the conflicting reasonings and arguments, attempts at getting some settled mental conclusion about things. You never will. When you think you have arrived at a very good logical conclusion about a matter, something will come along and upset the whole thing. Robert Browning said about an infidel that he beautifully got to the place where he had created a theory which satisfied him that there was no God at all, and then he said, a sunset upset it all. You never get through that way. Your soul in the realm of its mental exercises and conflicts will never tally with Christ. And as for our own soul-will, strength to do, we may feel very strong, we are never going again to be caught like that, never going down that street again! It is not long before we are there. Oh, how ashamed our souls make us! How ashamed we have been because of the instability of our feelings or our wills or our thoughts. Ashamed! Ashamed! Ashamed! Our souls are making fools of us all the time. “He that believes on Him shall not be put to shame.” Paul says that this soul-life business must not come on Christ. It is a contradiction. It is not what you are, it is what Christ is.

When you cannot see and understand and work it out mentally, when you cannot feel anything, no feelings at all, or when they are very bad feelings - that is one realm, that is just what we are. Christ is not that, and we have at such times to say, Lord, this is my infirmity, this is how I am, but you are other; I transfer my faith to you from myself and from these things. Christ is the foundation, and all that we build on the foundation has to be Christ Himself. He is not only the foundation, but He is the whole building in every part.

I have only indicated what I mean. It is a real desire that we should be more and more taken up with the Lord Jesus, not with teachings, truths as such. Thank God for every bit of revelation that comes for our deliverance and help, but do not let us regard the revelation as something in itself and begin to make that the means of propaganda. No, it is the Lord that comes through it, becomes more to us by it, the Lord Himself. If we do not see the Lord in everything, there is something wrong, and it will miscarry if it is not the Lord. So do not let us speak about this truth or that, about the Body, the church, one thing or another, but the Lord. There is no church but Jesus Christ Himself. There is no Body but Jesus Christ Himself. There is nothing but Himself. He is all and in all. “Unto you that believe is the preciousness.” Let us be sure that we are not trying to build up something, a Christianity or a church, or a movement or anything that is simply composed of truths and doctrines and teachings, interpretations and so on, but that it is really Christ in us, the hope of glory.

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.