“Ye Are Come to Zion”
by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 5 – The Children of Zion
We will read in that place in the Word of God upon which the hymn we have just sung is founded. That is, in the eighty seventh psalm, Psalm 87:
“His foundation is in the holy mountains. The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of thee, oh city of God. I will make mention of Egypt and Babylon among them that know me: Behold, Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia: This one was born there. Yea, of Zion it shall be said, This one and that one was born in her; and the Most High shall establish her. The Lord shall count, when he writeth up the peoples, This one was born there. Selah. (Which means, think of that) They that sing as well as they that dance shall say, All my well-springs are in thee.”
The letter to the Hebrews, chapter twelve, at verse 22: “Ye are come to Zion”.
It is always a most happy and a most helpful thing to have a suitable setting for preaching. This evening we might seek to speak about the blessings of the Christian life and tell those who do not know and are not in the enjoyment of them, what a good thing it is to belong to the Lord. It might resolve itself into saying a lot of things, of arguing those things out, of trying to persuade, but it would be hard work if there was not some kind of setting for all that. And I think the best argument and the best statement of that fact is found in the very atmosphere of this gathering.
I was just thinking, as you were singing, that if I had been an unsaved person who did not know the Lord and was not really in the enjoyment of salvation, and I had come in while that singing was going on, I should have been compelled, if I had been honest, to say, “Well, these people are having a good time, they have got something!” And that really is the best preaching, isn’t it? So I say to you, that whatever I may state in words, has a good, strong and genuine backing by the situation in which we are found this evening. And if you cannot accept the argument, if that doesn’t go down with you, the argument of words, then just look at the people, listen to the people. And if you are not convinced that the people of God have got something worth having, well, you are very thick-skinned; you are a diehard.
Well, that’s a little introduction; the right kind of setting and introduction for a meditation on this eighty seventh psalm. With its present application, there is that and all that is said there about Zion and the citizens of Zion, and here in the New Testament is the statement: “You are come to that”. That is not something in the Old Testament, long ago and far away… that is something here for you now; it is present for you to know and to possess: Zion – we are come to Zion.
Now let us look at this eighty seventh psalm and draw from it some of those things which are brought to us in the Lord Jesus at this very present time.
“His foundation is in the holy mountains. The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob. Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God”. That is the first section, and, as you see, it contains some first contrasts; contrasts represented by two words on each side: “Jacob” on the one side, contrasted with “Zion” on the other side. “The tents of Jacob” on the one side, “the gates of Zion” on the other side; a double contrast. And the statement is that the Lord very much prefers the one to the other; indeed, it is couched in strong language: “The Lord loveth this more than that”. And, of course, our enquiry is as to what it is that is the foundation, the basis, of this discrimination and this partiality of the Lord. What is it that the Lord loves so much more? It is not a statement that the Lord doesn’t love Jacob, nor the tents of Jacob; He does, but He loves Zion and the gates of Zion very much more. Why? Well, you see, Jacob represents:-
The Simple, Pure, Mercy of God.
Whenever we come on Jacob, whether it be the man himself, or the people going by his name, that which his name represents, we always, invariably, find ourselves in the presence of that which calls for and demands the mercy of God.
The very name “Jacob”, the “Supplanter”, is that which, but for the mercy of God, there’s no hope for that, there’s no place for that, and yet how very much of Divine mercy is exhibited in relation to Jacob! How often in the prophets, in the prophets (and that is significant because Israel had sunk into the Jacob realm again, from the great Israel, the prince-with-God position, they had fallen into the place of men governed by the flesh, fleshly interests) and so the name of the prophets for Israel is so often that of Jacob. And yet how much there is in the prophets of God’s great mercy to Jacob, He will have mercy upon Jacob. It’s just wonderful! It’s just wonderful when you think of all that that name means, to see how God went out to Jacob: the patience of God, the longsuffering and forbearance of God, God never giving up when Jacob was at his worst. Yes, Jacob always symbolises that which draws out the mercy of God.
Jacob postulates mercy. Well, the Lord loved Jacob and showed Jacob great mercy in such terms as patience, and longsuffering, and forbearance, and longing love. Yes, He did, but do you think that that is all that the Lord wants, that which just demands His mercy, mercy, mercy, all the time? That with which He has got to be patient, longsuffering, because of what it is? Do you think that that is wholly according to the Lord’s heart? Surely not! Surely not. Then what is it that the Lord looks for, longs for, delights in, more than that?
Thank God that He is a God of mercy and He is merciful to us in our Jacob state, but don’t let us conclude that because God is so merciful to us as sinners and all that we are in our human weakness, frailty, and failure, constant breakdown, do not let us conclude that, however great His mercy is, that that is the thing that satisfies Him fully, just to have us as objects of His mercy.
And so He contrasts Jacob with Zion. And Zion represents something more than the mercy of God. It represents:-
The Full Response to the Mercy of God.
That is something more. When you come into what is represented by Zion, then you find that which answers back to the mercy of God, that which says His mercy has not been in vain. If you like to change the word from “mercy” to “grace”, you can; the grace of God has not been in vain. He has not just had to go on being merciful, and merciful, and merciful… and that’s where it begins and ends. But no; His grace has begotten something, His grace has provoked something, His grace had drawn out something, and Zion is represented always as the place of praise, praise, praise.
No, it was there in Zion the sons of Korah carried on the singing. The singing! Zion is a place of song, and if song-singing praise is genuine and from the heart, it means an expression of appreciation of the grace of God. That’s the true note in Christianity isn’t it? So much of our singing, (and it is really the only real singing religion in the world, there are dirges in other religions and awful noises), but singing, praising, rejoicing, you do not find it in any other religion. It’s only in Christianity. It’s made up so largely of hymns isn’t it? And so many of our hymns are just the answer back of the heart to the grace of God.
God inhabited the praises of Israel. So Zion represents something more than mercy. It represents that which comes back to God because of His mercy. It means that all that the Lord Jesus has done, has taken effect; is really producing something in us. And the Lord loves that. “The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob”. The Lord loves Zion. While He loves Jacob, He loves Zion infinitely more. He loves the people who have so apprehended His mercy and His grace, that they have nothing now for which to live but to give back to the Lord that which His mercy merits. That’s Zion.
“The tents of Jacob” – “the gates of Zion”. This is another aspect of the contrast, the first contrast, and it is only a following out of what I have just said, because these couplets go together, they are a part of each other. Dwellings or tents of Jacob, and gates of Zion.
What is represented by the second couplet: tents, gates? Well, you see, they are two distinct pictures, if only you could recognise it. It is a transition; it’s a change of position and time altogether. When you contemplate the tents of Jacob, you’re contemplating them in the wilderness. Look again, and you will find in the Old Testament that when Jacob is in tents, they’re in the wilderness. When the people are in Zion, they are no longer in the wilderness, they’re in the city. A different position, a different time altogether, almost a different dispensation. They have passed out of the wilderness, now into the land; they have reached the City. Zion is a realised thing. They have been looking toward Zion through the wilderness; now they have arrived! The tents and the gates. But what does that mean? Well, you see, in the wilderness, in the wilderness in their tents in the wilderness, they were learning by discipline, learning by experience to know the Lord; gaining spiritual history.
What a time of spiritual education it was in the wilderness, wasn’t it? Spiritual education under the hand of God. What hard lessons they had to learn! What severe blows they suffered. Yes, it was a time of testing, of trial. It was forty years, which always implies probation, a time of testing to find out and to prove and to bring to some position along that line. That is the implication of the tents of Jacob: all that they were going through in order to learn in the wilderness – the school of the wilderness.
The gates of Zion – what’s happening in the gates of the city? Why, here are the elders gathered together, the mature people, and council – in a position of that knowledge, possessing that knowledge gained through experience which is being turned to account for the people of God. Gates are the places of counsels in the Bible, of conference of the people who know. The judges sit in the gates. People of intelligence are there, conferring together and making decisions in the interests of the people of God. They are the people who have learned, and have brought the good of their learning, of their education, of their training, into practical application to the nation. You see the point?
Yes, the Lord loved them in their tents in the wilderness, there’s no doubt about that, but what a lot of patience and forbearance through the forty years. Here, in the gates of the city, all the good of their discipline, their training, their education, is gathered and turned outward to the good of others. And the Lord loves that, you know. He does not want us allour lifetime to be in the wilderness learning, learning, learning, going through it, being tested, being tried, being brought to understanding… He does look forward to the time when you and I will be in a position to turn what He has taught us to account for others. That’s far more precious to Him.
Now, are you in the wilderness or in the gates? Are you a people still out there wandering about, learning, slowly learning by discipline and adversity, or are you a responsible person in the gate?
Those who know their Bibles, of course, have the advantage over those who don’t as to this matter of gates and the counsels in the gates. But I hint at it for others, that in the Bible the idea of gates is that the city counsels took place there to decide matters, to judge matters, for the good of the people. The Lord wants people like that. Like that! You know that that is what the Apostle was speaking about to the Corinthians, Paul to the Corinthians, his word to the Corinthians. He had to say to them, “Now look here, some of you have got difficulties between yourselves, and you’re taking your matters to the law courts of this world. You are going before the world to judge of your matters. That’s a, that’s a mark of immaturity! That’s a sign that you have not got very far on the way. Now you ought to be able to judge one another and judge your own affairs! And if you would judge yourselves, you would not be judged of the Lord. You ought to be in a position to decide these matters, not take them to worldly wisdom”. See? What the Lord loves is that kind of maturity which means that, well, we know from the way in which the Lord has taught us, disciplined us, know what we ought to do and are able to help others with counsel.
The difference between the tents and the gates, you see. And the Lord, yes, He’ll be very patient with you while you are in the wilderness, but don’t think that He wants that to be the beginning and the end of everything. He looks for the day, and it will be the day of His so far greater joy, when you and I will be in the gates of Zion. “The Lord loveth the gatesof Zion more than all the tents of Jacob”.
Then the Psalmist goes on to another set of contrasts, and they begin in this way: “I will make mention of Egypt, and Babylon, Philistia, and Tyre, Ethiopia”. The contrast with the whole lot, not each one of them alone, but with the whole lot put together is one word, one name. You can bring all the greatest names of this world together, lump them together, and there is one name that is more than all together: Zion. See?
The Contrast: Zion
I think we need not stay to speak of what these various things represent, Egypt… well, we know what Egypt stands for, the power of this world. Babylon: the pride of this world. Philistia: the presumption of this world. Tyre: the commercial glory of this world. Ethiopia: the darkness of a human heart in this world. Over against that, by contrast, by prospect, by value from heaven’s standpoint stands Zion.
The Psalmist says here are people who are boasting, boasting that they were born in Egypt, they belong to Egypt; glorying that they had been born in such a place, that they held the franchise in such a country. Others were boasting that Babylon was their native country and city, “Oh wonderful Babylon! Wonderful Babylon, I was born in Babylon!” a man boasts. Another boasts that he was born in Philistia, and so they go on, “Tyre, wonderful Tyre…” read the thirty-seventh chapter of the prophecies of Ezekiel and you’ll see what men boasted in as to Tyre. Tyre built up to the very heavens, exalted to the heavens, the glory of the commercial power of this world. Well, bring it all, with all your vaunting and boasting, that is your heritage, that is your heritage. And when you have put all those together and made all of them that can be made (and it is not a little, it’s not a little), when it says that Moses accounted the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt, it did not mean that the treasures of Egypt were things to be scoffed at, it only puts the reproach of Christ on a so much higher level because the treasures of Egypt were undoubtedly very great.
If you know anything about the glories of Egypt in her great days, you know that it was no small thing. And Babylon and the rest, no, this is no small thing to have been born there, to be natives of those places, but when you have given them their due and said all that could rightly be said about their glories, their position, there’s something that overtops them all. “Of Zion it shall be said…” and notice that sentence begins with “Yea…” I wish it had begun with “but”, but the “yea” is quite as good, it’s an emphatic exclamation which simply means “More than all that; of Zion it shall be said, ‘This one and that one was born in her'”. The citizens of Zion, the citizens of Zion have weighed up Egypt.
Moses was a true spiritual citizen of Zion, although he never literally, literally came to Zion, but he was a true citizen of Zion spiritually. He weighed up Egypt, he summed up Egypt, he took the measure of Egypt for forty years. For forty years he took the measure of Egypt, and then, by a deliberate calculation, he came to a conclusion: it is better to be in the reproach of Christ than to have all this. Note: not in the final glories of Christ, but in the reproach of Christ. My word, the lowest level of union with Christ is better than the highest level of union with Egypt! That’s not an exaggeration is it? If words mean anything, that is what it means. Far better, far better to be with Christ in His sufferings than to be in all that this world has to offer outside of Christ. That is the Christian’s testimony, that really is what it means when you’ve rightly understood what Christ has done and offered. It is more than all. And, after all, after all the simple Christian, the simple Christian who knows his or her Lord truly, looks pathetically upon these poor people of the world, “You have got all that, but I am sorry, you think you are having a good time, but I really pity you, you really don’t know anything about it”. That is what it amounts to, that is what it means. I say, the citizen of Zion has weighed up Egypt, has weighed up Babylon, has weighed up Philistia, Tyre and Ethiopia, and written it off as a bad bargain if you lose Christ.
Paul was a great citizen of Zion. He looked at all his heritage naturally, his birth, his birth yes, an Israelite indeed, a Hebrew of the Hebrews, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Pharisee of the Pharisees… everything else, and he looks at it all squarely in the face and sees how much other men think of this, and how he made everything of that himself once; it was his life, it was his glory, it was his ambition, it was his sphere of interest. But then he has found Christ, and he looks at all that, and says, “Well, I count it as the veriest refuse compared with Christ…” He used the word “refuse” about all that, but you never do that until you’ve got something with which to compare it! This is a comparative matter. It issomething very wonderful for those who have nothing more, but if you have Christ… if you’re a citizen of Zion, well, it’s poor stuff, after all, it’s poor fare all that, however much it is. The contrast. And right between these contrasts the Psalmist puts this: “Glorious things are spoken of thee, oh Zion, city of God… glorious things are spoken of thee”. And it would take a long time to dwell upon the glories of Zion, but there are two things that we could just mention in that connection.
What would you consider to be the most glorious thing that could be true of your life? If something could be said to sum up your life at the end, as really quite truly expressing and representing the value of your life, what would it be? Well, I don’t know exactly the best way in which to put it, but as I view that, it would be something like this: to have brought satisfaction to the heart of God. If only, if only my life could mean that God was well-pleased, that the good pleasure of God rested upon my life, that God could say, “Well done, well done good and faithful servant” I would want nothing more than that. Nothing more than that. Could you have anything more than that? What could you ask for? You see, Zion is that which brings God satisfaction, and that’s the most glorious thing that could ever be said about anything! Glorious things… glorious things. This is only bearing out all that we have been saying through this conference, what Zion means to God as answering back to Him for His pleasure.
He takes delight in Zion, in her stones and in her walls. Yes, and calls Zion precious, precious to Himself. “And unto you that believe is the preciousness” it is the preciousness of Zion to God. That is a glorious thing to be spoken, isn’t it? And, dear friends, you are come to Zion. Here is the Lord Jesus Who has found the full, final, utter pleasure of His Father, so much so, that because of His life and because of His work, the Father says, “My beloved, in whom I am well pleased”. If God could say that to you and to me, well, what should we feel like? What should we feel like? We wouldn’t sleep for a year of nights with joy! “He hath made us accepted in the beloved” – “Ye are come to Zion”. We are accepted in the One who has the perfect approval of God! Oh, how difficult it is for us to believe that, to accept that, to apprehend that, and yet it’s a refuge to which we must constantly flee when harassed and pursued by the Accuser who would remind us of ourselves and our sinfulness and our failures, and constantly belabour us with the whip of an evil conscience.
Our refuge is what? Flee into Christ and say, “In Him God covers all my sin… There is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus”, taking the whip out of the hand of the enemy and lashing him with it: justification by faith, made just through faith, accepted in the Beloved, Beloved. And so the word comes back repeatedly – beloved of God, belovedof God, beloved of God, and that to such miserable creatures as you and I. “Ye are come to Zion… Glorious things, glorious things are spoken of thee”.
The Prospect of Zion
For Zion, as we have said, is not just a place and a thing, it’s a people, it’s a people in union with God’s Son. What is the prospect of Zion, the prospect of that people? Oh, just contemplate again the things that are said about the church in the ages to come. The church in the ages to come; what a place! What a vocation! Unto the ages of the ages, and the crowning word: “Now… now unto Him be the glory in the church by Christ Jesus unto all ages for ever and ever”. That word “church” is only a synonym for Zion: “Glorious things are spoken of thee…” we cannot dwell upon the glories that God has prepared and given and unto which He has called His church for the ages to come; glorious things.
My dear friend, if you are outside of Christ, you are missing something. You are missing something, indeed, you are missing everything. Whatever you are gaining now, you will lose it all and have nothing left. But glorious things are spoken of Zion, the people of God. Whatever we do not have here, we have got something that is more than all. “The Lord shall count, when He writeth up the peoples: This one was born there in Zion”. Which raises the question forthwith: Have you been born in Zion? Have you been born again from above? Have you been born anew by the Spirit of God? Have you got another place where your name is enrolled in the Lamb’s Book of Life? Are you registered in heaven? Can you, can you present your certificate of new birth? Have you got the credentials of this heavenly country in your heart, in your life? What are they?
Well, absolute assurance. You know. That’s something, that’s something that you know. You have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, you are not in conflict with heaven, but you are on happy terms with heaven, you have peace. These are the credentials of new birth, and many other things. Do you know anything about that? Do you know what I am talking about? Most of you do, I know, but it may be somebody does not. Let me say to you that if the Lord Jesus, when He was in this world, said to any man “You must be born again”, He meant “You can be born again” – if you must, you can – and you can be born again.
A final word, “The Lord shall count, when He writeth up the peoples: This one was born there. Selah…” think of that. Think of that! “They that sing as well as they that dance shall say, All my well-springs are in Thee”. The citizens of Zion have resources to draw upon of which others know nothing. They have invisible means of support. You have people talking of no visible means of support, well, that’s all right! That is a glorious position to be in if you are a citizen of Zion – no visible means of support, but plenty of invisible means of support, and no less real for that. The Lord Jesus lived on that basis. In the wilderness satan came and said, “Command that these stones become bread”, but He had bread – bread of which satan knew nothing. The disciples at Sychar’s well came to Him and said, “Master, eat”, and He said, “I have meat to eat that you know not of”. Yes, spiritual resources, and those resources are for the citizens of Zion. “All my well-springs are in Thee…” we do know something about that, what it is to draw upon the Lord for our life, our subsistence, and more than that, drawing of such an abundance: we are not just going about in a half-starved condition, we have enough! And blessed be God, it doesn’t matter how many of you come, we’ve got something to give you. Isn’t that true? It’s a good thing to be in that position. Hungry people, let them come, let them queue up, we have still got something to give. Yes, all the time that is the testimony of the citizen of Zion, isn’t it?
We lack nothing, we have plenty, there is always a margin for others. We have an affluence, we are wealthy people: “All my well-springs are in Thee”. This is the testimony, but this is what is offered, you see, is how it should be, “Ye are come to Zion” this is presented, all this is presented to faith. May the Lord give us a new heart to lay hold of this heritage of the children of Zion.