Features of Zion
by T. Austin-Sparks

Chapter 6 - The Glory in Hidden Operation

“Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God” (Ps. 87:3).

“Ye are come unto mount Zion, and unto the city of the living God” (Heb. 12:22).

“Unto Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations for ever and ever” (Eph. 3:21).

“...to the praise of the glory of his grace, which he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved” (Eph. 1:6).

“...to the end that we should be unto the praise of His glory, we who had before hoped in Christ” (Eph. 1:12).

Our occupation has been with features of Zion; in other words, features of Christ transmitted to and wrought into His own people. Now we have come to the glories of Zion, or to glory in relation to Zion. We saw in the last chapter that this matter of glory has three main aspects - firstly, glory in the divine initiations; secondly, the glory in hidden operation; thirdly, the glory in final manifestation.

In Christ’s Earthly Life the Glory Largely Hidden

We pass now to the second aspect: glory in hidden operation. And yet that wants qualifying, for it is only hidden here. Only heaven sees it, but here the glory is largely hidden. Have you ever wondered what the shepherds thought and what the magi thought and what the other people thought who knew of the coming of the Lord Jesus with heaven’s glory a few months afterwards, or a few years afterwards? Of course, we do not know whether the shepherds took pains to keep track of that babe. The babe went from Bethlehem, moved from this point to that, grew up through thirty years mainly in seclusion and as year after year passed it is very probable that those shepherds said: ‘That was a very wonderful night. It seemed to be very portentous of marvellous things, but what has happened to it all?’ Those from the East might well have asked a similar question: ‘Well, we were not mistaken, there was a star right enough, we found the place indicated and the child. We opened our treasure and we made our declaration as to this being the King - but what has happened to Him, we have heard nothing about Him for thirty years?’ It may be a work of imagination, but even if it is only that, it helps us to see the point that not only through the thirty years but through the thirty-three and a half years all that glory was hidden, or mainly hidden, except for something here and there being indicative of it, like a miracle when He showed forth His glory, or on the one and only occasion when it was literal on the Mount of Transfiguration. But for these occasional intimations, the glory was not seen by men; it was hidden. It had not departed, there was no less glory there than at the beginning, but it was hidden. It was not recognized, it was not discerned, not perceived by the world and by the great majority of those in touch with Him; the glory had gone in.

Heaven Was Able to See the Glory

But heaven was very interested, and hell was very interested. The interest which heaven had shown in the birth was maintained. After the conflict in the wilderness forty days and forty nights, angels came and ministered unto Him. Yes, angels are watching, they know all that is happening, they are tremendously interested. Angels had proclaimed, “Glory in the highest!” The thing had not disappeared with them; they are still seeing, watching. Not once nor twice do angels come in, and in the end there are the angels at the tomb. They are always in attendance, they are always concerned with this. Heaven sees what no one else sees. Heaven knows what no one else knows. Heaven is watching, taking account.

What did heaven see? Of what was heaven taking account? The glory! But how? You see, now glory was working in a hidden way; heaven was able to see that glory in numerous ways; heaven was concerned about that glory. Every fresh temptation, every fresh trial, every fresh snare and trap set for Him, every fresh suffering that came upon Him, every new ordeal, every new crisis, every point at which one of two things might happen: a triumph or a failure, at every point heaven was watching to see how the glory won, to see how the glory would come out, how the glory would triumph. The glory became something very much more inward, more real, yes, more crucial than just rays of a halo of light. It was something now that was a power, that was a determining factor. I venture to say that the whole issue of the earthly life of the Lord Jesus was whether the glory would remain or whether the glory could be taken away, could be veiled, whether there could happen with Him what happened with Jerusalem of old when, because of breakdown and failure, the prophets saw the glory go up from Jerusalem and remove far away. You may feel that you have ground for questioning my theology, but if you will look closely, you will see there is some truth in this. It is the question of how the glory is going to be manifested and maintained.

It was working inwardly, it was working secretly, it was being challenged and tested in His inward life. The whole thing is summed up in this, that the Lord Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration with the glory full and manifested, was not just mechanically or automatically glorified. It was because of the triumph of His faith right up to that point, He Who, instead of the joy set before Him, came down, endured the cross and despised the shame. That glorifying of the Lord Jesus was because He had reached such a point of triumphant moral perfection and it was that that blazed forth then. It was the condition and state of His inner life with God that came out on the Mount of Transfiguration. That is the basis of all glorifying, as we shall see.

The Glory Hidden in the Church

Let us revert. The glory has become hidden. Passing to the church, what a day the day of Pentecost was! Again the heavens were rent, again the glory came down, again it was declared, it was proclaimed. How long did it last like that? I think it was not very long before the glory became hidden. I do not mean the glory departed, that it was no longer there, but the day of Pentecost was not perpetuated in its outward features for very long. The church passed on, and many might have asked the question: Well, what about that tremendously promising beginning? What about all that on the day of Pentecost? Where is it? Things have changed. It is not like that now, we do not see that kind of thing. The features of what happened are not now so discernible. A change has come over the church, it has gone inward and it has become hidden. Tell me, as the world looks on the church can it see the glory in such terms as I mean on the night of Christ’s birth and on the day of Pentecost? Is the world able to see that kind of external manifest glory? No! There is glory to be seen if it had eyes, but it does not see, and to the world it is hidden. Is that not true of every individual Christian?

As we said earlier, the initiations of God in the individual life are with glory. In our conversion, in our new birth, we come to the Lord, and there are all the marks of glory - joy, peace and satisfaction. The only word that expresses those early days of the Christian life is glory. But it just does not go on like that. Thank God if it does go on unbrokenly throughout life. I am not saying that there is never any trace of that, but it does not normally continue just like that. Things change and there arise all the problems and questions and all the ground for enemy assault and accusation. He will tell us it was all an illusion, an emotion, all false; or that we have sinned and grieved the Holy Spirit and so on, because things change. The glory has not departed because the glory is Christ. But something has happened. The glory has become hidden. It is there, it is active, operative, but it is operative in a hidden way.

Glory Operating in Terms of Grace

How is the glory operating now in that in-between phase between the initiation in glory and the consummation which is to be? The glory is here, but how is it operating? Well, our extra passages at the beginning of this chapter just show us how in the hidden operations of glory, it is in terms of grace. “The glory of his grace”. Grace is the basis of the glory. Glory is bound up with grace. You noticed as we read in Ephesians - “to the praise of the glory of His grace”. “He chose us in Him... having foreordained us unto adoption as sons... to the praise of the glory of His grace... to the end that we should be unto the praise of His glory”, glory operating in terms of grace.

Grace as a Divine Attitude Towards Us

As I look at this matter of grace in the New Testament, I find again that it is divided into three aspects. Firstly, grace as a divine attitude towards us. That is mainly what we think of when we speak of grace, the grace of God - God’s beneficent attitude towards us. Here we are out of our depth. That grace of God as an attitude towards us carries us altogether beyond our powers of coping with it. “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” He “foreordained us unto adoption as sons through Jesus Christ unto Himself” (Eph. 1:5). There is a Scripture which says, “In thy book all my members were written... when as yet there was none of them” (Ps. 139:16 A.V.). Here am I coming to this world, here are men and women coming to this world, and all their members were already in his book, and they are allowed to fall into the most ghastly and awful sin, to do things like David did. Perhaps some of you will rule him out dispensationally, but the principle you cannot rule out. To do things such as Peter did, denying his Lord with oaths and curses three times over, but you cannot rule him out dispensationally. To do things such as Saul of Tarsus did, giving consent to the death by stoning of that young man in whose very face the glory of Christ was manifested, and persecuting “this way” unto the death, determined to exterminate the last remnant and residue of Jesus Christ in the earth. Need we follow it up? What about ourselves - the sin, the failure, the breakdown, the reproach that you and I have brought upon our Lord - and He knew all that would happen before He gave us a body, and when He wrote our members in His book and thus gave us a body in intention, before we had one? He knew that would happen, what we would do, the kind of life we would live. He knew it all. He knew all the sum of Israel’s defection, He knew that Israel would one day turn from Him, repudiate Him and burn incense to idols and cause their sons to pass through the fire in the worship of Moloch. He knew it all, and He chose Israel and He wrote Israel down in His book before Israel was.

What is the explanation of all this? We are out of our depths, we cannot explain that, we cannot understand that. Why should God have chosen me in Christ, you in Christ, and then let us, by giving us a body, do what we have done and go the way we have gone and dishonour Him? These are problems beyond our mentality, our mental powers. There is one answer in the Bible; here we feel our knees giving way. We just go down, collapse, “...that we should be unto the praise of His glory, we who had before hoped in Christ”. Is there not glory there, but it is working inwardly? Who sees that but heaven and hell? What does the world see of it? There may be some kind of traces of the work of divine grace, but the world cannot appreciate the grace of God, it does not see the glory. It takes Christ to know the grace of God, and therefore it takes Christ to glorify God, and therefore it is glory in the church and in Christ Jesus unto all generations forever. Yes, it is glory in terms of grace in the divine attitude towards us. We cannot explain it. Why did He choose you and me? Ask yourself. Are any of you prepared to start on the line of: I know why He chose me, He had a good reason for choosing me, there was that about me which justified His choosing me? If you are, you know nothing of the grace of God, and you can bring no glory to God. The more you are ready to say that it is by this attitude of God towards me in grace, the more you are able to say it from your heart, the more you ought to be glorifying God.

Is it not strange how our miserable, wretched, corrupt, failing selves are so often made by us the means of hiding His glory rather than manifesting it? We are keeping it in view, we are talking about our wretched selves, keeping our miserable selves in view instead of all the time saying, Oh, the grace of God in my case is a marvellous thing - glorifying the grace of God. That is the other side. God help us to do it more! Glory in terms of grace. So far as the divine attitude towards us is concerned, inexplicable, unfathomable, but for that very reason so wonderful.

Grace as Divine Power

Then I find that grace in the New Testament is spoken of in another category, in another realm, another aspect, and that is grace as divine power. Not only the divine favour or attitude, but divine power. Paul speaks of his weakness, his infirmity, and how he brought that before the Lord and besought the Lord about this infirmity, this weakness, this thing that caused him so much trouble and distress, and the Lord did not say anything about that, but He said, “My grace is sufficient for thee” (2 Cor. 12:9). And there is a lot in the New Testament about grace as vital force, as divine power.

God’s Grace Toward Us Demands Self-exposure

Do you see that these aspects all make a certain demand? If it is grace as a divine attitude towards us, then there is demanded a self-exposure. We shall never appreciate that attitude of God until we ourselves are exposed. Why it is, then, that the course of the Christian life, from one standpoint is such a history of uncovering ourselves, laying us bare, bringing up from the depths the corruption that is in us, making us more and more ready to say, “In me, that is, in my flesh, dwells no good thing” (Rom. 7:18)? Why is God trying all the time to condemn us and bring up from the depths the ground of condemnation? Is He trying to make us miserable with our own sin? No, self-exposure is demanded in order that we shall all the more glory in that attitude of God towards us. He says, You see what is true of you; nevertheless, I love you. You see how much depth of iniquity there is in you; nevertheless, My attitude is one of grace to you. You see what you are capable of; nevertheless, I do not turn My face from you; My face is towards you, My attitude is one of infinite compassion, infinite forbearance. My attitude is still the attitude of grace. Self-exposure is demanded and when it becomes a matter of grace in the form of divine power, another demand is made, and that is the demand of trial, affliction and suffering.

Grace as Divine Power Demands Suffering

There are many sufferings which are the lot of believers which they would never have were they not believers. Afflictions and trials are our portion simply because we are the Lord’s, that He has bought us and has purchased and possessed us, and so we suffer and are tried and afflicted. We know weakness and we know adversity and we know what it means to come to the end of our wits and our tether, and everything, and that is the demand in order to know the glory of God in terms of grace. I wish I could always believe that. I wish I could keep that before me like crystal in that dark hour, that terrible time of affliction. But I see it in the New Testament, I see it in these men, I see it in the Lord Jesus. I see the glory now is working in a hidden way like this. Oh, these people are going through it, but the grace of God is very wonderful, the grace of God is constantly lifting them up, bringing them back and keeping them going in spite of everything. You think they have gone this time but up they come again. There is the ubiquitous cork ever bobbing up again; grace as a vital force, grace as divine power.

Look at the Lord Jesus and see if it is not true. Look at the church and see if it is not true. Look into your own history and heart and see if it is not true. Glory is like that. It is a very different idea from angels singing a heavenly song about glory. It is something gone in, gone under. It is a mighty subterranean thing at work, and it is going to see us through.

Grace a Matter of Divine Nature

Then the third aspect of grace is in connection with the divine nature. I find that there are things said about grace being a matter of what we would call graciousness, that is, the coming out of divine nature and likeness under provocation. What a pity the translators were not consistent in translating those words of Peter - “if, when ye do well, and suffer for it, ye shall take it patiently, this is acceptable with God” (1 Pet. 2:20). Everywhere else, the word “acceptable” is translated “grace”, “This is grace with God.” If ye suffer when ye do well, if you are buffeted when you do well, and take it patiently, this is grace with God - and you tell me that is not glory?! When you are suffering wrongfully, maligned, misrepresented, persecuted, assailed, and you know quite well that there is no ground for it in truth; it is something against you because perhaps you are a Christian and you are not liked for some reason; not because you are not altogether a likeable person, you know that there is something extra in this, and you are being made to put up with things because you are a Christian, so you are suffering wrongfully, glory to God is in terms of grace if you take it patiently. Grace is a matter of divine nature.

The Demand for Self-subjugation

And what is the demand here? Well, it can be nothing else but the demand for self-subjugation. What is the opposite to taking it patiently? “When He was reviled, (He) reviled not again; when He suffered, (He) threatened not” (1 Pet. 2:23). It is your reaction to suffering, your reaction to what is hurled at you, what you are made to go through by other people, not because you have defaulted, but, so far as you know between yourself and the Lord, there is no reason for it at all. You have not been responsible for this. Is your reaction His? He reviled not again, He threatened not. He showed no resentment, no revenge, no spirit of getting even. “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34). “Lord, lay not this sin to their charge” (Acts 7:60). That is grace, but that is glorifying to God, that is the glory of God, that is the glory of Christ.

Ah yes, but this is something very hidden. No one knows the battle that is going on. Oh, how this cruelty, this unrighteousness, this evil, has stirred all that is in you that is bitter, and works upon that nature that makes you want to say some stinging thing, and you have had a real battle inside and you have got to prayer and conquered - and they see nothing of that. A quiet, meek spirit where the self-interest has been brought into subjection, all that self-life has been subjected in the battle, and you come out, and there is nothing like that discernible about you. This is grace, this is glory, glory in terms of grace. But it is in a hidden way, the secret battle, the history of which no one else knows at all; all that the Lord Jesus had between Himself and the Father behind all that was going on and all that was coming upon Him. Yes, the glory of the Lord Jesus is in the manifestation of divine grace under trial, under persecution. So with His saints and His servants and with His church; so with you, with me.

“Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God”, but that is the kind of glorious thing that we do not altogether appreciate sometimes, yet it is the same glory. It is not a different glory of which the angels sang and spoke on the day of His birth from the glory that heaven was seeing in Gethsemane. No, it is the same glory, but God is working inwardly so that in the end that primal glory shall burst forth as something which has been inwrought by trial, by adversity, by affliction, by all these means, wrought in us so that we shall be partakers of His glory, sharers of His glory, and that now for us is grace. “The Lord will give grace and glory” (Ps. 84:11). They always go together just now in the in-between whiles, but presently it will be all glory.

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