God’s Glory In The Building Up Of Zion
THE Lord Himself must “build up Zion,” or it will never be built up. He first planned it. He is the Architect of His own Church. He dug the foundations, i.e., has supplied the great Cornerstone. He, by His own power, creates each living stone, polishes it and fits it into its place. He cements the whole structure and as He first sketched the plan, so will He complete it in every iota to the praise and the glory of His wisdom, His Grace and His love. It shall be said of Zion, when all her walls are built and all her palaces completed–and when all her happy inhabitants have their mouths filled with song as they walk in white–“The Lord has built it, from the foundation even to the topstone.” I remember seeing, close by the side of the Alps, a house which had upon its front, words to this effect, “This house was built entirely by the skill, wealth and industry of its inhabitants.” It struck me as not being a very modest thing to put in front of one’s house for, after all, the structure was not very marvelous . But when we look at the glorious architecture of the Church of God, it is no mean part of its luster that it may fittingly bear such an inscription as this, “This House was built entirely by the wisdom, the munificence and the power of the Infinite Jehovah.”
- But while the text reminds us of this Truth which I hope we never can forget, it also brings to our minds three or four other Truths of God. And the first point of our discourse shall be ZION BUILT UP.
I suppose we shall all consider that one essential to the building up of Zion would be practical conversion. It is ofsmall avail for a man to say he is building up a church where the power of the Holy Spirit is not seen in calling sinners out of darkness into marvelous light. There may be periods in which conversions are few, but if instead of their being exceptional, this should come to be the rule in one’s ministry, there would be grave cause to suspect that God was not working within the minister–certainly not in the sense of building up the Church. We find not infrequently, in Holy Scripture, that the fathers of households are called, “builders,” and that the term, “the building of a house,” is constantly used in respect to the birth and training up of a family. Now, in the great Christian family, our converts are the newborn children and a family is not built up for God except with these sons and daughters who are like stones polished after the similitude of a palace. We little know the blessing which young converts bring to us. They quicken the pulse of old Christians, they strengthen and confirm the faith of those who have long been walking in the Truth and they do, as it were, infuse new blood into the fellowship of the saints. They come to us as God’s message from on high. They are tokens for good and whereas we might have thought, perhaps, that the triumphs of the Cross were confined to the heroic age when the Spirit of God was poured out in Pentecostal measure, yet as we see our sons and daughters converted and the great miracle of regeneration still being performed, we take heart and are of good courage to go on in the work of the Lord! Conversions we must have, for there is no building up of Zion without them!
And then a public confession of faith must follow conversion. Though the invisible Church of God is built up by conversions, the outward Church is only built up as men and women associate together in the holy society which we call “the Church.” It is the duty of every Christian–no, it is the instinct of his spiritual life–to avow the faith which he has received! And avowing it, he finds himself associated with others who have made the same profession and he assists them in holy labor. When he is strong, he ministers of his strength to the weak. And when he is, himself, weak, he borrows strength from those who, just then, may happen to be strong in the faith. Where were our Christian institutions if Church fellowship were broken up? Plainly, if it is right for one Christian to remain out of Church fellowship, it is right for all! And then, if there were no Churches, there would be no institutions–and where would the Gospel, itself, be? I would not lay too much stress on the Church of God, but I venture to ask you, is it not written that she is “the pillar and ground of the Truth?” If, then, I withhold my confession of faith and my personal communion with the visible Church, I to that extent weaken the pillar and ground of the faith. We need confessions of faith as well as conversions.
By a Church being thus formed in order to its being built up, something more is needed. We cannot build withoutunion. A house is not a load of bricks, neither is the Church a mere conglomeration of human beings. A house must have its doors, its windows, its foundations, its rafters and its ceiling. So a Church must be organized–it must have its distinct offices and officers, it must have its departments of labor–and proper men must be found, according to Christ’s own appointment, to preside over those departments.
Our Savior was raised up on high to receive gifts for men and to give gifts to men. And those gifts are first, Apostles, then pastors and teachers, and Evangelists, and so on, “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Some of the old Roman walls are compacted with such excellent cement that it would be almost impossible to separate one stone from another. In fact, the whole mass has become consolidated like a solid rock–so embedded in cement that you cannot distinguish one stone from another. Happy the Church thus built up, where each cares not only for his own prosperity, but for the prosperity of all–where if there is any joy in one member, all the members rejoice, and if there is sorrow in any one part of the body, all the rest of the body is in sorrow, too, “remembering them that are in bonds, as bound with them; and them which suffer adversity, as being yourselves also in the body.” And yet, what are some churches but semi-religious clubs, mere conventions of people gathered together? They have not in them that holy soul which is the essence of unity! There is no life to keep them in entirety. Why, the body would soon become disjointed and a mass of rottenness if the soul were not in it–and if the Spirit of Christ is absent, the whole fabric of the outward church begins to fall to pieces–for where there is no life, there can be no true union!
More than this, to build up a Church, there needs to be edification and instruction in the faith. It is, I think, a matterfor deep regret that this is not an age in which Christian people desire to be edified. It is an age in which they like to have their ears tickled and delight to have a multiplicity of anecdotes and of exciting metaphors–but they care little to be well instructed in the sound and solid Doctrines of the Grace of God. In the old Puritan times, sermons must have been tiresome to the thoughtless, but nowadays I think they are more tiresome to the thoughtful! The Christian of those days wanted to know a great deal of the things of God. And provided that the preacher could open up some mystery to him, or explain some point of Christian practice to make him holier and wiser, he was well satisfied, though the man might be no orator and might lead him into no fields of novel speculation. Christians, then, did not need a new faith but, having received the old faith, they wished to be well rooted and grounded in it and, therefore, they sought daily for illumination as well as for quickening! They desired not only to have the emotions excited, but also to have the intellect richly stored with Divine Truth–and there must be much of this in every Church if it is to be built up! There need certainly be no neglect of an appeal to the passions and no forgetfulness of what is popular and exciting–but with this we must have the solid bread-corn of the Kingdom of God, without which God’s children will faint in the weary way of this wilderness!
It does not strike me, however, that I have yet given a full picture of the building up of a Church, for a Church such as I have described would not answer the end for which Christ ordained it. Christ ordained His Church to be His greataggressive method in combating with sin and with the world that lies in the Wicked One. It is to be a light, not to itself, as a candle in a dark lantern, but a light unto that which is outside. Albeit we are not saved by works, yet the ultimate result of salvation must always be work. The cause of salvation appears in working. As sure as ever the Grace of God fills a soul, that soul desires to see others brought in. That respectable church, that wealthy church which is quite satisfied to have no debt upon its own building, content if its minister is as sparsely remunerated as possible–without enthusiasm, without zeal, always harping on the string of prudence, conservatism and orthodoxy, having no care whatever to be aggressive–such a church needs to be built on other foundations, to get rid of its wood, hay and stubble, and to be built on gold, silver and precious stones, or otherwise it will not honor Christ!
It strikes me that it is necessary for the edification of every Christian that he should have something to do. We learn to be soldiers by being drilled. No, the veteran is taught to fight by fighting! I think most ministers know that one of the best methods of learning to preach is to preach–and the best way of learning Christianity is to be a Christian practically. Said one, “If you would do good, be good–not to make us so, but as the best discipline to keep us in good health and good training! Do not let us hope that we ourselves can be devoted to God except by Christian service! And let us not hope that the Church can ever be so devoted except by casting about in the world to do for Christ whatever came to its hands.
But I must go yet a step further. After a Church has become all that I have been describing, the next thing it ought to do should be to think of the formation of other Churches. The building up of an empire must often be by colonization.Her majesty’s dominions, upon which we proudly say that, “the sun never sets,” have been greatly enlarged by the sons and daughters of Britain who have gone to other lands. And the true process of increasing the Church of Christ must be by her forming colonies. Who dares to deny that in the building of many places of worship in England and elsewhere, the devil has had as much to do as Christ has had? I mean in our denomination, if not in any other. A great number of chapels have been as the result of schism, bad spirit, bickering, jealousy and I know not what–quarrelling and contending, perhaps, about some points of Truth which, if important, could not be so important as the spirit of love and of unity! Many and many a time a house has been dedicated to God when the first thought that led to it–and the last act that finished it–were simply a thought and an act of pride, or envy, or pure sectarian bigotry and nothing more! Now, I do not think, although He has no doubt overruled it for good, that this is legitimate. But for a number of Christian people associated together in a Church and finding that the Church has grown strong enough to be able to afford to lose them–for these to swarm off and form another Church and give of their substance to build another house–seems to me to be a legitimate and proper method in which Zion may be built up in these, our realms.
II. THE BUILDING UP OF ZION IS, ACCORDING TO THE TEXT, CONNECTED WITH JEHOVAH’S BEING GLORIFIED.
“When the Lord shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His Glory.” Ah, Brothers and Sisters! It would need a seraph to tell of all the Glory which has come to God through the building up of His Church. Heaven rang with acclamations when the angels first learned that God designed to have a Church on the earth. When they perceived, by the glimmering light of the first promise, that there was to be a Seed of the woman as well as a seed of the serpent, they began to hymn Jehovah’s praise and, when Christ was given and so the foundation of the Church was actually laid, the Glory of creation was eclipsed and even the splendor of Providence might almost have been forgotten in the more transcendent Glory of Grace. God had done marvelously before, but never did He seem so Divine as when He gave His dear Son and when, in the holy life and dying pangs of the Son of His love, the foundation of the Church was laid! So, too, God is glorified in every single part of the building of His Church. There is not a stone quarried from the dark pit of Nature, or polished by the tools of Grace, or put into its position without fresh honor to God and new Glory to His name. He cannot be moreglorious, but He appears more richly glorious in the building up of His Church. And what will be the Glory when the topstone is brought out–when the last elect one shall be cemented to the visible whole? What shall be the undying melody, the unceasing song of ages as to principalities and powers shall be made known, by the Church, the manifold wisdom of God?
Sometimes, however, a suspicion has arisen in the minds of God’s people that God was not glorified in His Church. And the text almost seems to hint, not that God is not glorified, but at any rate, that He is not so much glorified in the Church at one time as at another, for it says, “ When the Lord shall build up Zion,” as if He were not always building upZion, at least not to the same extent. We know from painful experience that there are lulls–seasons when a dead calm comes over the Church–and then, to the minds of many, Gods Glory is not revealed. In consequence thereof, the inhabitants of Zion hang their harps upon the willows and go a-mourning. And yet, had we more faith, and put sense more in the background, we might sing to our Well-Beloved a song touching His vineyard, even when the wild boar out of the forest is wasting her and her hedges are being broken down. The wave recedes, but the tide advances! The day may seem to be dark but every hour is bringing on the noon. God advances not by little steps. We must not judge Him by inches who is not even to be measured by leagues, nor by handfuls when the mountains are too small for His hands–and He took up the isles as a very little thing. Our belief is that the whole way through, God is building up His Church, and that He does appear in His Glory.
Perhaps one or two thoughts may make this more clear to us. God often appears in Glory to me as one of His builders and I will tell you in what respect. When I have been sitting to see enquirers, I have sometimes found that God has blessed to the conversion of souls some of my poorest sermons–those which I thought I could weep over–which seemed more than ordinarily weak and lacking in all the elements likely to make them blessed, except that they were sincerely spoken. When I have seen that the work was done though the workman, naturally weak, was on that occasion more than usually depressed with infirmity, I have only been able to lift up my hands and say, “Now, Lord, You appear in Your Glory, since You do build up Zion and convert sinners by the most unlikely means–and Your Truth, apparently when most feebly spoken, works the mightiest results. This is to make Your name glorious, indeed!”
Another thing has sometimes made one see God in His Glory. Persons have been brought up and educated under sermons that are as hostile to spiritual life as the plague is to natural life! They have, from their youth up, seen religion in all its gaudy show of symbolism and yet one hearing of the simple Gospel has been sufficient for their conversion. Perhaps the mere reading of a single text has untwisted the knots of 40 years–and the despotism of the priesthood over the mind has fallen at the touch of a single passage of God’s Word! The case of Luther is one instance of this, and in all such cases God appears in His Glory. If you will look at each conversion, and especially at the sudden conversion of those who for long years have been inured to the very reverse of the Gospel of Christ, you will see God appearing in His Glory!
Think, too, of the agencies which are abroad hostile to the Church of God. The Jews were glad to see the walls of Jerusalem rise because they remembered Geshem, Tobiah, Sanballat and all the rest that laughed and jeered at them. Up went the walls though these enemies laughed–and the foxes did not break down the walls though Tobiah so ventured to prophesy. In this age, too, the Church is not without her adversaries and they are of a very dangerous sort. They are not always outspoken adversaries. Some of them teach us how to doubt–not because they doubt, they say, but because it is so healthy a thing for our minds to be rid of the bondage of old-fashioned dogmas! They are not themselves unsound, but still, if a Brother should happen to be so, they will defend him, thereby providing a defense for themselves when they should more fully need it. If they would only state what they believe, or what they do not believe, it would be easy to deal with these foes–but inasmuch as the whole thing is too shadowy and too vague, we feel as if we were under the plague of flies which were in Egypt when we have to deal with these minute adversaries!
But let us reflect that notwithstanding all this, God is still building up His Church. Looking back over the last ten or 20 years, am I too sanguine if I say that the age is, after all, better than it was? I do not mean that the world is better,but I do mean that as a whole, there is more evangelical preaching and more earnest pleading with God now than there were ten years ago. I am not given to complimenting, but I do feel that we have made an advance and that the Christian Church is more awake than it was. I grant you that the foes are more vociferous. So let them be! I suppose the nearer the moon gets to its full, the more the dogs bark, and the nearer the harvest is to getting ripe, the more numerous is the horde of birds that come to feed upon the grain. This must be expected–and God appears in His Glory the more His enemies surround His Church!
Putting all these things together–poor instruments, poor materials and numerous foes–let us say that when God builds up Zion under such circumstances as these, He truly appears in His Glory!
What a splendid thing was that–may we see it repeated in our own day–when the twelve Apostles first attacked Roman idolatry! The prestige of ages made the idolatry of Rome venerable. It had an imperial Caesar and all his legions at its back–and every favorable omen to defend it. Yet those twelve men, with no patronage but the patronage of the King of Kings, with no learning except that which they had learned at the feet of Jesus, with weapons as simple as David’s sling and stone, went forth to the fight–and you know how the grisly head of the monstrous idolatry was, by-andby, in the hands of the Christian champion as he returned rejoicing from the fray. So shall it be yet again, and then amidst the acclamation of myriads of witnesses, shall God appear in His Glory!
III. With great brevity, let us now observe THE HOPE EXCITED. If God is glorified by the building up of Zion, then most certainly Zion will be built! If He is glorified by the conversion of sinners and by the banding together of converted men and women, then it seems but natural to hope, yes, with certainty we may conclude that the zeal of the Lordof Hosts will perform it!
Let me suppose that you had been created as a solitary creature and that it had been made known to you, by the mouth of God, Himself, that it would be to God’s Glory to create unnumbered worlds–would you be unreasonable in looking for the first day in which the heavens and the earth should be created? You would soon come to an absolute certainty, putting faith in the prophecy, that since God would be glorified in creating, He would create! And supposing when you saw the world created, you knew, from God’s own mouth, that it would be to His Glory for Him to take the reins of human affairs and manage everything according to the counsel of His own will–you would feel persuaded that He would do it. Well, you are clearly informed here that it is for God’s Glory to build up His Church! Then draw the inference–draw it boldly, no, draw it confidently, and say–“If it is for God’s Glory, then it must and shall be done.”
I like the spirit in which Luther used to say that when he could get God into his quarrels, he felt safe. When it was Luther alone he did not know which way it would go, but when he felt that his God would be compromised and dishonored if such a thing were not done, and would be glorified if it were done, then he felt safe enough. So, dear Friends, in the great crusade of Truth, is not God with us beyond a doubt? The ship of the Church carries Christ and all His fortunes, so how can she be wrecked? The honor of the Church is intertwisted with the honor and glory of Christ–if she shall pass away, if she is deserted, then where is her Captain, her Head, her Husband? But as His honor must be safe, so shall hers be! Zion shall be lifted up, that God may appear in His Glory!
IV. Our whole subject SUGGESTS AN ENQUIRY.
Have I any part or lot in this work which is to bring glory to God? I may have to do with it in two ways, as a built one, and as a builder. I can have nothing to do with it in the latter capacity unless I have first had to do with it in the former. God will be glorified in the building up of Zion–shall I minister to His Glory by being part of the Zion that isto be built up? I remember to have heard one who half-solaced himself in the prospect of his eternal ruin. He was a hardened sinner, but he was trying to draw some sort of comfort from the thought that if he were lost forever, he should glorify Christ. I was startled! Horror seized me when he put it in that light. A Truth of God in some sense, I could not bear to see it so handled by him as to clothe it in the vestments of a lie. I was obliged to quote the other text, “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies.” You do not find God ever speaking of deriving glory from the death of him that dies! You do not find that it administers anything of gratification to the Eternal Mind that a soul should perish. There is a glory to His Justice, doubtless–an awful splendor wrapped about the executioner’s axe–but it is a glory of which God says but little and of which my text says nothing at all! The true Glory of God is like the glory of the king who will not glory in the numbers executed upon the hill of death, but who glories in his subjects who are happy and blessed. God glories not in the soul whom there is a dire necessity to cast away, but in the soul whom Almighty Grace has chosen, redeemed and saved!
I should think, Friend, if your reason is in a right state, that you will have some wish to glorify the God that made you. “The ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master’s crib”–do you not know? Will you not consider? If you build a house, you expect some comfort from it. If you sow a field, you expect to gather some grain from it. And shall God, who has made you, who has put breath into your nostrils and who feeds you every day–shall He, then, have no honor out of you, no glory at your hands? Shall you be a valueless waif and a stray drifting along on the tides of time, with none to care for you because you have lost your compass and live not for the true objective of human life? May I ask you to put this question to yourselves?
The enquiry whether you have anything to do or not with glorifying God in the building up of His Church may be very serviceable to you. If you find that you have no interest at all in the matter, may not that thought be blessed of God to make you start? Oh, that men would start! They sleep when everlasting wrath is impending! Oh, that they would feel the shock and avert the stroke! A startling preacher is needed by a slumbering age. Be startling preachers to yourselves just now. O men and women, there are some of you–it were hopeless to expect it were not so–in whom God will have no glory from your being built into His Church, for you are like the stones of the valley, which are not built up, but lie there useless, to be broken at last by the hammer when the Breaker shall come forth to the work of destruction! Would you glorify God, Sinner? Have you never heard the question asked of Christ by the Jews, “What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” And this was Christ’s answer, “This is the work of God, (the chief work of all), that you believe on Him whom He has sent.” If you would glorify God, humble yourself, bow the knee and kiss the Son and receive salvation from the Lord Jesus Christ! And then, being built upon this foundation, you shall glorify God!
The enquiry shapes itself afresh. Have you anything to do with glorifying God in respect of being, yourself, a builderof Zion? It is a shame that these lips should have to say it, but we must speak the sad truth that there are some who profess to be built, but who are not building–some who say that they are servants, but are not serving. Some who profess to be in the vineyard, but are not working. Some who say they are soldiers, but are not fighting! My Brothers and Sisters, I count it to be one of the most precious parts of my spiritual heritage that I am permitted to serve Christ. And let me say that if my Lord Jesus gave me nothing else on earth but the privilege of serving Him, I would bless Him for it to all eternity! It is no mean honor to be a servant of the King of Kings! There is such pleasure in honoring Christ and in winning souls, that I can scarcely believe that any of you have ever tasted it if you are not hungering after more of it! Did you ever win a soul to Christ? Did you ever get a grip of the hand of spiritual gratitude? Did you ever see the tear starting from the eye when the convert said, “Bless you! I shall remember you in Heaven, for you have brought me to Christ”? Oh, my dear Friend, you will not be satisfied merely with this, for this is a kind of food that makes men hungry! Oh, that you had a rich banquet of it and yet wanted still more!
The Church of Christ shall and must be built! Even if you and I sit still, it will be built. This a glorious Truth of God though it is often perverted to a mischievous end–the Church will be built, even without us, but oh, we shall miss the satisfaction of helping in its building! Yes, it will grow. Every stone will be put in its place and the pinnacle will soar to its predestinated elevation–but every stone, from foundation to pinnacle, will seem to say to you, “You had nothing to do with this! You had no hand in this!” When Cyrus took one of his guests round his garden, the guest admired it greatly and said he had much pleasure in it. “Ah,” said Cyrus, “but you have not so much pleasure in this garden as I have, for I planted every tree in it myself.” One reason why Christ has so much pleasure in His Church is because He did so much for it. And one reason why some saints will have a greater fullness of Heaven than others to rejoice in will be because they did more for Heaven than others did. By God’s Grace, they were enabled to bring more souls there–and as they look upon the Church they may, without self-reliance or self-conceit, ascribing it all to Grace, remember what they were enabled to do as instruments in the hands of the Lord towards its building up. “When the Lord shall build up Zion, He shall appear in His Glory.”