“Ye Are Come to Zion”
by T. Austin-Sparks
Chapter 6 – The Controversy of Zion
This conference time has been focused upon the present significance of a little clause in the twelfth chapter of the letter to the Hebrews and the twenty second verse: “Ye are come to Zion”. Various aspects of that statement have been considered, and without any review, we are proceeding to another this morning.
And I want you to have before you one or two other fragments of Scripture. Firstly, in the prophecies of Isaiah, chapter 34 at verse 8: “For it is the day of the Lord’s vengeance, the year of recompense in the controversy of Zion”. Chapter 31, and verse 4: “For thus saith the Lord unto me, Like as when the lion growleth, the young lion over his prey, if a multitude of shepherds be called forth against him, will not be dismayed at their voice nor abase himself for the noise of them. So shall the Lord of hosts come down to fight upon mount Zion, and upon the hill thereof”.
In the prophecies of Jeremiah chapter 25. Verse 31: “A noise shall come, even to the end of the earth for the Lord hath a controversy with the nations. He will plead with all flesh; as for the wicked, He will give them to the sword, saith the Lord”. And in the second psalm: “Why do the nations rage, the peoples imagine a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves and the rulers take counsel together against the Lord and against His anointed, saying, Let us break their bands asunder, and cast away their cords from us. He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh, the Lord shall have them in derision. Then shall He speak unto them in His wrath and vex them in his sore displeasure. Yet I have set My king upon My holy hill of Zion. I will tell of the decree: The Lord said unto me, Thou art My son; this day have I begotten thee. Ask of Me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession. Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron, thou shalt dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel”.
And this morning we are to be occupied with the meaning of that little phrase: “the controversy of Zion”.
The Controversy of Zion
We know that in the Word, Zion and Jerusalem are often synonymous terms. If there is a difference, Zion just means the intrinsic values of all that Jerusalem is supposed to represent and contain. We recognise that difference and must keep it in mind, because when we come to Zion, we are coming to the high peak; the ultimate significance of all that Jerusalem stands for.
Speaking of Jerusalem, we know from history, from the Scriptures, that Jerusalem has always been, and still remains, the storm centre of the ages. There’s a little phrase in the Old Testament used of Jerusalem that she would be, “a cup of reeling to all nations”, a cup of reeling. And behind the phrase is a picture, it really sets forth a threshold, and on that threshold a cup; full. And those who come to that threshold and drink of that cup, stagger and reel; are thrown into confusion. And Jerusalem is said, in that picturesque way, to be like that to the nations.
The nations coming against Jerusalem would find that on the very threshold they met something that threw them into confusion; completely upset all their calculations: a cup of reeling to the nations. To the nations, yes, that is what Jerusalem has been and still is; literally. They do not find that they can just play with Jerusalem, cope with Jerusalem, do as they like with Jerusalem – they meet something that is more than Jerusalem.
Not only to the nations, but Jerusalem has always been a decisive point to Israel herself; a kind of sign, a barometer, a telltale, representing the spiritual condition of Israel. If Jerusalem was in the ascendant, it was because the spiritual life of the people was in the ascendant. If Jerusalem were other than in the ascendant, that represented the spiritual life of Israel – its condition. Jerusalem was always indicating spiritual life. And Jerusalem’s security and peace was always bound up with the spiritual condition of God’s people. So, it was always a controversial matter, a spiritually controversial matter, whether to the nations or whether to Israel.
If these things are true (and they lie right on the face of history) if they are true in relation to the earthly and temporal Jerusalem and people of God, they are even more true in relation to that of which the earthly is but a figure after all; what Paul calls, “the Jerusalem that is above” and what this writer of the letter to the Hebrews, whoever he was, speaks of when he says, “Ye are come to Zion”. It is that controversy over this superior and supreme Zion that is to hold our attention this morning, for there is undoubtedly an even greater controversy over this that is meant by the spiritual and heavenly Zion than has raged over the earthly.
This is the very thing to which Paul himself referred in his letter to the Ephesians, when he spoke about our wrestling being with principalities and powers and world rulers of this darkness and hosts of wicked spirits in the heavenlies. That follows straight on from his presentation of the Church, the Body of Christ. And this is only another way of saying there’s a tremendous controversy in heaven over this thing – this is the occasion of cosmic upheavals, uprisings, disturbances, something going on in the unseen of a furious character, directly and immediately related to this: the Church, the Jerusalem which is above, the Zion of God. It is to this same thing that Peter referred when he said, quoting from Isaiah, “It is contained in Scripture, Behold, I lay in Zion a chief corner stone, elect, precious, a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offence”, something that immediately raises a controversy; throws things into the realm of conflict and dispute.
Again, it is to this very thing that John refers in the Revelation when he sees that multitude who have come up out of the great tribulation and have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb, the victorious host over all the forces of evil, and then says, “I beheld, and lo, a Lamb upon mount Zion”. A Lamb upon mount Zion – this, this is a presentation of the tremendous conflict, conflict that circles round this; this that is called Zion. Yes, and just as in the temporal and earthly and historical Jerusalem, or, if you will, Zion, it’s a sign of the times. So it is in the spiritual.
A Sign of the Times
I’m not launching into prophecy, but it is clearly understood, I believe, that Jerusalem, the earthly Jerusalem, has always been a sign of the times – and still is. We have come to be almost commonplace in saying, “Watch Jerusalem, and you’ll know the time of day. Watch Jerusalem, and you’ll know where you are in the dispensation”. A sign of the times. Why? Because God is acting in this whole world in a related way. Watch and you see the movement of nations, the movement of policies. You see things shaping, forming, moving in the whole world. God is moving and acting worldwide in a related way, and acting in the earthly history in relation to Jerusalem. It’s very significant. A sign of the times so far as the world is concerned, so far as the nations are concerned: God moving.
Something, dear friends, that we should lay hold of in days when everything seems to be in the melting pot, everything seems to be in turmoil and tumult and disturbance, we should remember that God is not only the God of Christians, He is the Lord of all creation, of heaven and of earth, and that all the nations are as a drop in a bucket with Him. They are in His hand, and He is manipulating the course of history, the movement of nations, and all these things that are happening are not just the wild, lawless, run-amok events in the world. They are all governed from heaven relatedly, every one of them. There is no political movement that is not under heaven’s government just now in a related way, concerning something. And all the nations are like that with the Lord. It’s all indicative of God’s object, God’s interest. It’s a sign of the times, it’s a sign of spiritual conditions. For God is not only acting in that kind of chronological way, working to a programme and timetable in a cold, mechanical way, He is moving upon a spiritual basis, and it’s all connected with spiritual conditions and spiritual conditions are all related to it.
Now, having said that, we arrive at this: that it is made clear in the Word of God (and we will not spend time in dividing between the temporal and the spiritual) it is made clear in the Word of God that Zion will be the occasion of the supreme and final conflict in the history of this world, this present world order. Zion (if you like: Jerusalem) will be the scene and the occasion of the final, consummate conflict of the ages of this world. It will be upon Zion that everything is focused.
Now, let us keep to our side of this matter.
What Does Zion Symbolise?
Let us say it again, as we have said it many times in this conference, Zion (the earthly, the literal, the material, the temporal) is, after all, after all, at most a symbol, a representation of spiritual things. Those spiritual things can be detected in the material, for God’s material things always contain the elements of His spiritual. And Zion therefore symbolises a full heavenly and spiritual testimony to Christ in the significance of His Person, and the value of His work, and finally to His God-determined destiny. Now, that’s a big statement. If you could break that up and grasp it, you’ll comprehend the whole history of the earthly Zion, Jerusalem, and understand what that’s all about. It is true, in Israel, of the earthly. For, there in Zion, when Zion is as God intended it to be, you will have a full, heavenly, spiritual representation or embodiment of God’s mind concerning His King and His reign and the basis of it – always the altar and always the sanctuary. There are your elements. We are not going to follow those too closely, we have so much on hand, but let us transfer that in its spiritual meaning to this Zion to which we are come.
What is Zion, then, for us? The Zion to which we are come, this Jerusalem which is above, nay, this Jerusalem of which we are citizens, this Jerusalem which has no existence apart from the people of God themselves who are the Jerusalem of God; what is it? It is this: a full, a heavenly, a spiritual representation, embodiment, expression of Christ in the significance of His Person in God’s universe; the full, heavenly value of His work. That, of course, means the work of redemption by His Cross, and the full declaration of the place that God has eternally destined that He should occupy. That’s the testimony of Zion. If that is true, and that is no small thing, because any one of those three things could occupy the Christian for a whole lifetime and more.
The significance of the Person of Christ in God’s universe… can you range that? Can you fathom that, can you exhaust that?
The value of His work by His Cross… have you ever ranged that?
The eternally destined, predestined, place that He shall occupy in God’s universe… can we comprehend that?
Put those three things together, and they constitute the testimony of Zion, and no wonder there’s a controversy, and no wonder that the controversy is as great as it is. You’re not surprised, are you? This is no little campaign, no little battle, no little fight; this is ultimate, this is all-inclusive.
But let us go on. This conflict and controversy has three aspects. One, as to the nations. Two, as to the realm of Christian profession. And three, as to the ministry of the testimony of Zion. Let us look at those more closely. The controversy has to do, in the first place, with:-
We have already stated that in general terms, but we will look at it more closely, because I am keeping to the Scriptures; I am not outside of the Scriptures, although I am not quoting every chapter and verse. The convulsions, the upheavals, the conflicts, the unrest, the frustrations in national and international affairs, are all related to this testimony of Zion. That’s saying a tremendous thing.
They are all related to, in other words, the inheritance of God’s Christ. The nations are related: “Ask of Me, and I will give thee the nations for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession”, that follows upon this: “I have set My king upon My holy hill”. So that all that is happening in the nations, between them and amongst them, is connected with this whole matter of Zion’s testimony as to the inheritance of God’s Christ, and of course, the inheritance of the saints with Him.
We have some very striking and forceful illustrations and instances of this kind of thing in the Bible. We are all so very familiar with the controversy in Egypt with Pharaoh and with Egypt and with the gods of the Egyptians. What a terrific controversy that was; how long-drawn-out, how thorough! Steadily moving with growing momentum and force, working itself down ever deeper, exhausting all the opposition, but what a conflict. The whole cosmic realm was involved: natural phenomena, the sun, heaven, blackness, darkness – all nature was in convulsion. Everything was gathered into this controversy with Egypt, with Pharaoh. What was it all about? Something that God had in the nation – something that belonged to God, something that in the sovereignty of God was chosen to be the vessel of His testimony in the earth. And so this nation, this mighty kingdom of Egypt, is thrown into convulsions, and all nature is thrown into convulsions, over this one thing at the heart of the nation.
Babylon… true, the people have failed the Lord and have been sent away into Babylon, but the Lord has not forsaken, and the Lord has not given up, and the Lord has not abandoned His testimony, so that… what do we read? Well, let’s look at it in Isaiah 43 verse 14: “Thus saith the Lord your Redeemer…” ‘your Redeemer’, even in Babylon, “the Holy One of Israel: for your sake I have sent to Babylon, for your sake I have sent to Babylon, and I will bring down all of them as fugitives, even the Chaldeans, in the ships of their rejoicing. I am the Lord, your Holy One, the Creator of Israel, your King”. “I have sent to Babylon, and will bring down all of them”, the margin says there “nobles”: “I will bring down all of them as fugitives… for your sake”. Do you know what happened in Babylon? It is a wonderful story isn’t it, what happened in Babylon. It just looks like the pageantry of world empires, one following another, but oh no, God says, “I have brought all this about”. It’s a wonderful story which we cannot take time to go over, the story of the overthrow of the Babylonian empire, the onward march of Cyrus, the approach to the doors – when they were all inside, off their guard in revelry, that night Belshazzar was slain. The doors were found unfastened, they were unguarded, and in came the next empire. And the Lord just describes that, and says, “for your sake I have sent to Babylon”. All this, the overthrow of empires – the Babylonian Empire was one of the greatest in the history of this world – the overthrow of empires… why? What for? Because of a people right in the midst. All this, all this is focused upon some deposit of God in the nations.
The controversy is with the nations over some object, and that object is this Zion. Zion! And if that, dear friends, was true of the historical and earthly, it is even more true of the spiritual and heavenly. God has a deposit in the nations, and we are told that He has looked to take out of the nations a people for His Name. He has got in the nations a people for His Name, and the things that are happening in the nations, though we may not be able to detect and follow and define, things are happening in a related way.
Just as the nations will vomit out the Jews and be glad to get rid of them, as did Egypt, so the nations will. So, so, a true people of God in this earth will make this world sick that the world will want to get rid of them. And the sovereignty of God will make that very attitude of antagonism and hatred and expulsion His, His own way of securing His people. He is working in the nations. It’s a tremendous thing to recognise this, “For your sake…”. Our point is that, just as the nations are being dealt with (or have been dealt with) in relation to Israel of old, so the world is being dealt with in relation to this Church that is in the field.
Note in Matthew 24 we have some of those signs of the end of the age given to us: wars, rumours of wars. Now, you say, as some do, “Well, there always have been wars and always will be wars. What’s the difference between those of Matthew 24 and the others?” Well, to begin with, have you counted the number of wars in recent years? There have been more wars in recent years than in any previous time in the history of this world. And we are never out of war, whether it is hot war or cold war, we are never out of war. Well, I am not going to dwell upon these signs, but there they are, and the signs in the heavens. But what is the statement here? The Lord Jesus said, “All these are the beginnings of birth pangs”. Got that? “The beginnings of birth pangs”. We are a long way advanced, I think, in this matter; beyond the beginnings; be that as it may, birth-pangs… then something has got to be born! That’s how the Lord viewed this whole situation: this upheaval in the nations, this tumult, this unrest, this frustration; for you know that’s the word that is really so apropos of the situation.
When He said “distress of nations”, He used a Greek word which was employed which gives a picture of a trade, a business, which has no way out. It’s shut up, it’s a business that has become or been shut up. The Greek word means business: no business, no business, no way out. That’s the word translated “distress”. But then the Lord says, “When, when you see this state of things, the nations having no way out…” oh, isn’t it true? No way out! They’re trying all the time to find a way out, aren’t they? To find a way out, all the way round, a way out, a way out of this dilemma, this predicament, this situation, and they can’t find it! All their expediencies and policies and diplomacies, all of it is not succeeding; they’re having to make compromises all the way round, and none of their compromises give them a way out. No way out.
Then the Lord says, “When you see these things… lift up your heads, for your way out cometh”. Your way out – we know the way out! That is, however, by the way. It is all to emphasise this: that this is the beginning of travail, of birth pangs, something is going out, it is going to have a way out. That which has been locked up in the nations is coming out. The Church is the only Body that has a way out. It has got a way out. Yes, convulsions… birth-pangs, is the word. But that is so much in keeping with what Paul says isn’t it, in his letter to the Romans, chapter 8 verses 19 to 22: “We know that the whole creation groaneth and travaileth together until now… for… the manifestation of the sons of God”. Yes, there is travail and groaning in the creation. We can hear it, we can hear it with our spiritual ears.
Well now, let us go on. There has to be a testimony in the nations upon which God can work, which justifies His judgment of the nations, which gives significance to His government of the world and the nations. There has got to be a testimony in the nations and such a testimony as will provoke God to jealousy among the nations. We have so often quoted in this connection the words of the prophet, “I am jealous for Jerusalem with a great jealousy, I am jealous with great wrath”, and that is connected in the prophecies, you see, with this. The Lord has a controversy with the nations, He is jealous over something, something that is there that is very precious to Him, and very important to Him. He must have a testimony like that, and when He has got that, His sovereignty comes into operation in all sorts of ways concerning that. He may work on the long, patient line, but, “His mills, while grinding slowly, are grinding very small; though with patience He stands waiting, with exactness grinds He all”. It is all related to that which is His in the earth.
There is something, something in this earth, in this world, which is a disturbing factor. A disturbing factor: it has set up inflammation. You know that’s true wherever a Christian, a true Christian, goes. You get an adequate testimony and you see the inflammation that’s set up; the conflict. You see what happens, there’s something there. You don’t have to try and make trouble, nothing whatever to do to precipitate it, it’s spontaneous, it happens. You may be the meekest, and the mildest, and the quietest person on God’s earth, but if Christ is vital in you, or as a company of such, you will find that your very presence provokes something, and that provocation has the direction of, “We must get rid of this! It’s foreign to us, it doesn’t belong to us, it is something that is not of our constitution. We must get it out of our constitution”. That’s the world’s attitude. That’s the attitude of the devil and his kingdom. There is something provocative in this earth: disturbing. There’s so much and that is all we can say about the relationship of Zion to the nations. I trust you see more than I have said, the significance of God having an adequate testimony in this world. And what a tremendous thing!
We must hurry to the next: Zion, and the testimony of Zion, in relation to the realm of Christian profession.
The Realm of Christian Profession and Tradition
That realm in which, with the name of Christian or of Christ, the natural soul has its kingdom. It’s a terrible thing to say, but it is quite true, that right there with the Christian title, there is that which is just after all, only the kingdom of the soul of man: the natural life. And you find (we say it with grief) you find that there is correspondence, even there in the realm of Christian profession, to all that you have in the world in principle. All the same elements are active as in the world, commercially and socially.
“Whence come jealousies, rivalries, ambitions, personal interests”? You find them all rife and in riot in a certain realm called “Christian”. They do not come from God, they do not come from the Spirit of God, they do not come from heaven, but there they are! Yes, I repeat: rivalries in Christianity, in Christian work, in Christian interests. Jealousies… jealousies for Christian things: personal interests, to bring men into position, into reputation, into influence. If you have touched them, you meet something, a kick-back. Christianity is a sphere of many selfish, personal, natural ambitions. Men sport themselves in the realm of Christianity to get advancement, to gratify their own natural desires. One grieves to say that, but it’s a fact, we know it so well… there it is. That’s one aspect of that realm of Christian profession. The eyes as a flame of fire see through it, they see through it; they know all about it.
Another aspect is that it’s a realm of zeal without knowledge. And that’s a terrible realm, you know, a terrible kind of thing: zeal, but not according to knowledge – a kind of shadowland where men are seen as trees walking… that is, something indistinct in spiritual apprehension: no power or capacity or faculty for discriminating between what is soulical Christianity and spiritual Christianity. Things are all mixed up and confused.
I said at the beginning that some of you weren’t going to understand some of the things said; perhaps that’s one of them, but it’s a most sordid thing to most; things are mixed up. In so much that is going on, you cannot draw even a thin line between man’s soul and its ambitions and its activities and its heat and what is really, purely of the Spirit of God. It is all so mixed up and people don’t seem to be able to discriminate or discern between the two. Therefore many, many innocent people are carried away by the semblance of things, thinking that it is something quite good and quite right! Everything is indistinct; confused, with very limited revelation.
This was the kind of thing with which Paul had to do in Judaism. Judaism: a confusion of the old covenant with the new, the old position with the new, trying to mix them up and make a Jewish Christianity – making one thing of it. One thing of it: Judaism and Christianity, no gap between and no difference – Judaizing Christianity and Christianizing Judaism. Paul was up against it. No, these two things belong to two different realms and kingdoms altogether. One belongs to the realm of the soul, and the other belongs to the realm of the Spirit. There is a cleavage to be made between these, a cutting through: discriminating. But, in the realm of Christian profession and tradition, there is not the capacity for that discrimination, things are all mixed up, again I use Christ’s metaphor: “men as trees walking” – no power to clearly define what it is; what it is. It seems to be like this, and yet it is not all clear, and so on; a confused state of things.
Much that is believed to be the truth is being fought for, and it is, after all, only a legalistic interpretation of the truth. There is so much failure, so much failure, and so much inability to grasp the meaning of the truth. You know, there is such a difference, dear friends, between a truth stated in Scripture, and God’s meaning of the statement. If you are not able to discriminate between those two things, you see, you will be in constant confusion. That is just what we have here. Here is the letter, but what did God mean by that? If you cannot discriminate, you can take that letter to support a thousand different opposing things! Take any bit of Scripture and use it to support something that is entirely in conflict with another thing based upon the same Scripture. It needs the Holy Spirit’s interpretation, enlightenment, witness, and government to bring us to the truth of the Word, but in the realm of Christian profession, there is not such a capacity or faculty.
Now, God has got a controversy with that sort of thing. For His true testimony He will have a controversy with what is called Christianity as surely as He had with Judaism. He will indeed. And very likely the thing will rage in greater intensity in that realm than in any other. I cannot follow that further, but this is a matter, this is a matter about which the Lord has very, very real concern. Zion, Zion represents (amongst all the other things which it does represent) the transparent light of heaven, Zion’s light: “Thy light is come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon thee” – that’s absolute transparency, that’s clear seeing of issues, that’s clear discrimination. That is what Paul meant when he spoke about the things discerning, the things that differ. The things that differ… and as you know, he was speaking about, not the wrong and the right, but the good and the best. The good and the best; Zion represents the best, and God will not be satisfied with anything less than His full and ultimate testimony.
Now I must come to the end for this morning. The third application or realm of the controversy as to the ministry of Zion.
As to the Ministry of Zion
Of course, this includes one and two: the conflict with the nations, the conflict with tradition and formal Christianity. But it comes very much more inward when it comes to the ministry of Zion… yes, much more inward.
This controversy rests upon some things that we must seek to understand, dear friends. It was in this particular connection that I was speaking at the beginning about having understanding. You see, the ministry of Zion, the ministry of Zion is a greatly disputed thing. The ministry of Zion is something around which the battle circles more hotly, perhaps, than in any other connection. This whole matter of ministry in relation to God’s full purpose. What a battle, what a battle! Paul knew something about this. How he besought believers repeatedly that they would pray earnestly that he might be given utterance to open his mouth to speak the mystery, that a door might be opened to him to speak the mystery. This is not something about which you can get up an address, and go out willy-nilly and begin to give it out. If it is rightly constituted, it is fraught with the most terrific conflict.
This ministry, if it is the true ministry of Zion, rests firstly upon and is constituted by:-
A sovereign apprehending of a vessel.
A sovereign apprehending of a vessel for it. Of course, that is so true of the historical Zion, isn’t it? God’s sovereign choosing of Zion. It is there in the Scripture declared and made clear very positively: it was a sovereign act of God that chose Zion. But Zion is a vessel, a symbolic vessel. And a vessel for Zion (that is, for Zion’s ministry): the fulnessof the significance of Christ and His work and His place in God’s universe; a vessel for the ministry of that is something sovereignly apprehended by God; raised up by God.
When I say “sovereignly”, there is no explanation for it other than that this is of God. You cannot account for it in any way whatever, but: the Lord. Touch it; you meet the Lord. Be amongst it; you meet the Lord. Somehow or other, the Lord is responsible for this; its existence. Whether that be collective or individual, it is something sovereignly raised up by God. Anything cannot do this, you cannot do this by choice, you have no choice in this matter of ministry. You cannot aspire to this. You cannot walk into this. You cannot put your hand upon this. You cannot take up this ministry. Oh, it is such a sifting and discriminating thing. Many people like it; like the ideas, and they are going to propagate those ideas, going to take up this thing, see, and make it theirs. But it just doesn’t do! Either they get into confusion, or other people do, or something happens and it doesn’t work out. You have a caricature, you’ll have a contradiction, you have the absence of the vital thing. It’s something that you cannot just like that take up at your own will.
If God Himself has not apprehended you for that purpose, He may have apprehended you for something else, but if He hasn’t apprehended you for that, it’s no use; keep out of it. It is something of the sovereignty of God. There’s a lot of things that touches, doesn’t it? You see, dear friends, it amounts to this: that this whole matter of such a testimony is a matter of life and death with us, and nothing less an issue than that. It is not something we can take up and drop. It is not something that we can come into and then not like it and be offended and resign, draw out. It is a matter of life and death. And I am there because my very life is found in my being there, and it would be committing spiritual suicide for me to drop out. That’s very utter.
I’m not saying that God’s sovereignty operates only in this ministry, or that ministry of utter fulness of Christ. It operates in other ways, but I am saying, as to the testimony of Zion first of all, it’s something right out of the sovereignty of God, and man has no place in it other than that of faith and obedience. Man has no proprietary interest in this, no possessive place in this, no controlling place in this; it’s the Lord’s, wholly, utterly the Lord. And if it should cease to be that, everything goes. Everything goes; man cannot just carry that on. He can carry the framework on, but he can’t carry that. He can still have the tabernacle in Shiloh, but the glory is departed. It is the Lord. That’s a very solemn word, a very searching word.
Zion is constituted then, by a sovereign apprehending of God, then by:-
A sovereign government of God behind the history of the thing.
Of course, that wants a lot of explaining. It can be illustrated, Paul the apostle said, “When it pleased God, who separated me from my birth, to reveal His Son in me…” he touches this very point: “From my birth! From my birth… my birth. My birth was into a Jewish family. My birth was so utterly, one hundred percent Jewish – my history, my family – but right there, while I was like that, in a most complete and utter Jewish setting: birth, blood, training, education, while all that heat of antagonism to Christ was still in my blood, although it had not come out until it was provoked, but it was all there, while my hatred of the Gentiles whom I called ‘the dogs’ was in my very constitution, God had already separated me to be the messenger of Christ to those Gentiles, to have all that hatred in my blood against His Son quenched – rather, a new fire kindled in love for that Son”.
But the point is this: right behind the man’s earthly history was the sovereignty of God: foreseeing him, foreknowing him, forechoosing him, and arranging everything! Arranging everything in line with his ultimate calling and the purpose of his life. It’s a difficult thing to believe, isn’t it? But it’s like that, and yet, when God has a vessel for a purpose in view, that is no after thought. It does not just arise at some point in time; God has seen it, foreseen it, known all about it, and has worked in relation to it. And its very birth and environment are under His sovereignty to some good purpose in relation to the ultimate meaning. We may have to live a long time before we discover that.
Nay, let me put it this way: we have to get right into line with God’s purpose and God’s thought before we see anything of how true that was, that our very birth, and constitution, and environment, and all that, has some relationship to the thing to which we are called. If you can’t understand and grasp that, don’t worry about it, but it’s a fact: the sovereignty of God lying behind our earthly experience and history in relation to the purpose – that constitutes this vessel.
And then, in the third place, this ministry of Zion is constituted by
A drastic and deep work in the vessel.
A drastic work in the vessel, a deep work in the vessel. This is not something that we can take up apart from something that has been done in us, that God is doing in us: the undoing of us, the taking of us to pieces, the stripping of us, the emptying of us, and bringing us to zero and starting from there all over again with us. That’s the sort of thing connected with Zion and Zion’s ministry.
Don’t you make any mistake about it, the nature of this ministry, dear friends, the ministry of which we are speaking, Zion’s ministry, the ministry of Zion, is something utterly different in its nature and its realm from all other ministries. It’s possible to look on and admire. It’s possible to walk in and out, or sit down inside, and appreciate the truths and agree with the ideas, and to recognise something of the values, and to desire the benefits, and to seek to participate. It is possible for all that, and then for there to be a great dividing “but”. With all the agreement, and admiration, and recognition, and desire, there may be lacking the constitution of Zion.
The constitution of Zion… the constitution of Zion is what? That God has broken clean through all natural faculties and abilities for understanding and, by revelation, planted right deep down in the centre of the being a knowledge of a spiritual kind which is different from natural knowledge. It is not taking up the phraseology, and the ideas, and all that sort of thing, and appreciating, and valuing, and agreeing, and then going repeating it. It’s something that has been done inside and the thing has come by revelation of the Holy Ghost. That’s the ministry of Zion, and I say that discriminates, that divides, and it is because things are like that, that you have so much conflict. You find the very conflict in the realm of that ministry. It rises there, it rises in the realm where people… yes, they agree, and they accept, and they repeat, and they like, and they want, and so on, but they are not constituted. Violent, violent conflict arises in that realm.
If you only took the matter of ministry itself (I mean now public ministry) you’ll find it is the most controversial point in all Christianity. More trouble, more trouble has arisen over “ministry” than over anything else; platform ministry. And in Zion, no one has a right to minister, no one has a qualification for ministry, who cannot sit back and do no ministry at all, quite easily, if the Lord wants it. Have you got that? It ought to be just as easy for a minister of Zion to take a back seat and wait for the Lord and watch for the Lord, as it is for the natural soul to want to be on that platform. That may be speaking to a very limited company, but I focus upon this matter of ministry: the ministry of Zion. It’s of a quality, of a kind, of a constitution that is not studied, that is not the result of going to books and taking out of books the truths… observing and hearing and then reproducing; it’s something inwrought! But oh, how the devil rages over a ministry of that kind, because it is going to do something. It’s going to do something: it is going to touch God’s ultimate purpose, and if he can, he’ll destroy it and destroy the vessels of it. He will stop at nothing to bring an end to that kind of ministry. It is true. Here the controversy of Zion rages. It rages over the ministry of Zion.
You see, the whole point of the controversy and the conflict is its reality, its essence, its essential value, the very life of it, the very power of it, the very distinctiveness of it. For if satan focuses upon one aspect of such a testimony more than another, it is to destroy its distinctiveness – to in some way get it drawn out into a generalisation, conform it to a recognised system, take away that distinctive definiteness. And it’s a terrific battle all the way along to keep the testimony clear, distinct, unmixed. It is, friends, you may not know all that I am saying, but it is quite true. It is something in a different realm from mere mental apprehension. You can’t have the same truths by study.