The precious sons of Zion comparable to fine gold how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers the work of the hands of the potter! Lamentations 4. v. 2.
PRECIOUS SONS OF ZION
Mr. G. J. Collier
April 17th, 1966
The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter! Lamentations 4. v. 2.
The Lord’s servant Jeremiah is called by the Lord to walk in a painful and distressing path. His distresses were on account of the declension and woeful condition into which the people of God had fallen in his day. He had seen the decline of real religion to such a point that it seemed almost on the verge of extinction. And wherever he looked around this woeful scene there was scarcely any hopeful prospect of anything to give rise to confidence and comfort. But in the midst of this desolation he has one thing on which he fastensÂ—one precious truth that is dear to his heart and comforting to his spirit for he knows that God’s people are preciousÂ—precious in the eyes of the Lord. That truth seems to hold him up and keep him from falling into complete dejection and despair.
As it was in the day of Jeremiah so it is today. We can say the same concerning the children of God. There is one thing that never changes and that is God’s love for them and His esteem of them in all generations, and in all places. Wherever they may be found and whatever may be their condition they are always and ever will be precious to God.
What is this word ‘precious’? We use it ourselves in many ways and sometimes our use of the word is very faulty. Man is so inclined to put value on things that have no real value and man is also inclinedÂ—solemnly soÂ—to put no value on those things that have all the value in the world. For instance, the great example of this is the price that men received and paid for the betrayal of the son of God. “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price of Him that was valued.”
In the Word of God the word ‘precious’ is used, by the Holy Spirit, only in respect of those things that are undoubtedly of real value and everlasting glory. We find that one of the first instances of the use of the word by the Holy Spirit is in speaking of Joseph in Deuteronomy 33, “Blessed of the Lord be his land, for the precious things of heaven, for the dew, and for the deep that coucheth beneath.”
It is a mercy if we realise that the things that come from heaven are precious, exceeding all things that come of the earth.
Then, we are told in the Word of God that, in the days of Samuel, the word of the Lord was precious (I Sam. 3.1). That is
an undoubted truth and blessed are the people who realise the preciousness of God’s Holy Word. What preciousness there is in it to those who feel the power and realise the mercy that the Lord brings by His Holy Word. Newton writes:
Precious Bible! what a treasure
Does the word of God afford!
All I want for life or pleasure,
Food and medicine, shield and sword,
In Jehovah’s sacred word.
Another place where this word is used in the Scriptures concerns the redemption of the souls of God’s people. It says “the redemption of their souls is precious” (Psalm 49.8). What more could we say than that in regard to the redemption of our souls. What a precious mercy indeed it is, that God should provide that redemption, perform that redemption and bestow that redemption upon poor sinners who could never redeem their own souls, however they might try.
And the last instance I want to bring to your notice of the word being used in the Scriptures is perhaps the most outstanding, “I will make a man more precious than fine gold, even a man than the golden wedge of Ophir.” And that Scripture points you undoubtedly to the Lord Jesus Christ. He shall be more precious than the golden wedge of Ophir. (Isaiah 13.12).
The Holy Spirit, in the Word uses the term ‘Precious’ only in those things that are of undoubted value having the honour of this descriptive word ‘precious’. Precious things of heaven, precious word of the Lord, precious souls of men, precious ManÂ— that Man, Christ Jesus, who is more precious than the golden wedge of Ophir.
So, with this word in our text, we see something of the significance of the term. Precious sons of Zion. It is an unfathomable mercy that sons of man should be precious in the eyes of the Lord when we consider what they areÂ—what they have been and how rebellious and evil in works and in mind and in spirit they areÂ— opposed to God and godlinessÂ—who live only to rebel against His will. His word and His graceÂ—who have no fear of the Lord in their hearts and consciencesÂ—whom sin has marred and ruined and rendered utterly valuelessÂ—these creatures are precious in the eyes of the Lord.
What a wonderful mercy if we ourselves are among these people, the sons of Zion. There is nothing more important or more wonderful than to have this clearly established, not by any claim of our own but by the testimony of the Lord and by the work of His grace in our heartsÂ—by the leading forth of the soul by His SpiritÂ—to know that we are heirs of God and joint heirs with Jesus Christ and among the sons of Zion.
So, then, let us consider what it is and what it means when we speak of the sons of Zion.
First they are born, born there. Angels are made but the precious sons of Zion are bornÂ—born again. The beautiful little psalm says “And of Zion it shall be said, this or that man was born in her.” (Psalm 87.5). The whole of the word of God forces us to this conclusion, that the only place in the world that God has special regard for and interest in, is the place that especially belongs to Him, where His people are found. That place, that spiritual place, which He looks down upon, which He has founded and built, which He loves and honours, in which He dwells and over which He reigns, that place is Zion. And He says “This and that man was born in her.”
Some foolish people may wish that they were angels, rejoicing in the presence of God, and doing His bidding freely and willingly, but the most favoured of all creatures are those who are redeemed and born again and brought from the ruin of the Fall, lifted up into the very heights and made one with God and with the LordÂ—brought to His very throne and footstoolÂ—these are the souls that have the greatest and most wonderful place of all the creatures of God and these people are men.
Now Zion is a place, therefore, a spiritual place, that the Lord God speaks of in His word in many ways. He loves Zion and it is the city of our solemnities, a place that is established never to be taken down, never to be destroyed. Changes in the world will come, kingdoms will rise and fall, men and their policies will change, the face of the earth will change, but there is one thing that remains stable throughout the whole period of time and that is ZionÂ—God’s Church and His people. Not one of her stakes shall ever be removed nor shall one of her cords ever be broken (Isaiah 33.20). This must have been a great comforting truth to Jeremiah in the day in which he lived.
The book of Lamentations speaks of a peopleÂ—of a religious peopleÂ—of the church of GodÂ—and you may well feel that here was one of the darkest hours in the church’s history and yet in that very dark hour there was this sweet truth, this confidence, that God would preserve His people; His church could never be destroyed. Zion was precious still in the eyes of the Lord.
As we consider the place where these sons dwell and to which they belong, let us see what preciousness belongs to them. First of all, they haveÂ—all of themÂ—one thing in common, without exception: all the sons of Zion have a precious faith. Peter opens his second epistle by writing to “them that have obtained like precious faith”: the same faith, and a faith that is indeed precious. So then all the sons of Zion have this in common. They are recipients of precious faith, precious because it comes from God. It is not a faith that has been acquired, or built up, or handed down, it doesn’t come by Apostolic Succession, whatever that may mean, it comes directly from God and none can be sons of Zion without it. It carries citizenship with it. It is one of the chief hall-marks of son-ship, this precious faith. There is nothing to compare with it and no wisdom of man can find a substitute for it. It is the pure gift
of God. How precious it is to possess it. One LordÂ—one faithÂ—one baptism.
Knowledge is a very different thing from faith and yet, the religion of a great many consists only of knowledge. Oh, I do entreat you to pray day by day that your religion might not stand in mere natural knowledge but rather in the work of faith. Whatever faith procures will be lasting and wherever it brings you it will be in the direction of the Lord. Whatever it does for you will be saving and effectual. And that is why Peter says “having obtained like precious faith.” In the same chapter also he says “whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises; that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature.”
Precious faithÂ—precious promisesÂ—the two things go hand in hand together. If we are recipients of God’s promises we are also recipients of the faith that God bestows upon His people. Promises constitute real religion; those that receive the promises of God (and everyone that is living in Zion will be recipients in truth)Â—to them He promises all things. Promises hold heaven within their embrace and also all needful things in time and on earth, for God says through the Psalmist, that “No good thing will He withhold from them that walk uprightly.” (Psalm 84.11).
It is a most precious thing to be under the influence of just one promise from the Lord. If we have a promise and it is given to us as God gives His promises to His people, then no doubt we shall find much trial of faith and many testing times surrounding that promise. Some have to walk bitter, painful paths to experience the reality of God’s promises. But how precious!
So, we might continue to tell of a multitude of things that are preciousÂ—that belong to the state and standing of these sons of Zion. They are precious to the Lord. That preciousness is revealed in what He was willing to do for them, to lay down His life on their behalf. He said: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” It was not because He did this that they became precious. They were precious to Him even before the world was made or they were born. We believe that they were ever precious in the eyes of the Lord and He did what He did because they were precious. And He makes Himself precious to them by virtue of His dying and suffering and all that He did when this is revealed to them. The Lord Jesus Christ in His love for His own laid down His very life in order that they might be saved; He poured out His soul unto death. He was smitten and afflicted. The sins of His people pierced Him through and through but, oh, how precious is His death, and His blood, to every son of Zion. The blood of Jesus Christ shed on Calvary’s cross is among the most precious possessions of every son of Zion because in that blood they see their souls’ deliverance. They know the pardon of their great, their enormous sinsÂ—their multitudinous sinsÂ—in that blood and see their peace procured with reconciliation made between their souls and God. One drop of that atoning blood speaks heaven unto the sons of Zion.
The people of the world little know how precious the sons of Zion are. When the last of these sons of Zion are taken from this world there will be no use in God’s purpose for the world to remain. It is only by virtue of the fact that God has a people in the midst of the world that the world continues. “Ye are the salt of the earth” said the Lord to His people and you know how precious a commodity salt is to almost everything. Take it away and what have you left? Take the Church of God out of the world and what have you left? We cannot describe by words the vacuum that would exist if God were to take His church away. The sons of Zion are precious even though men may not recognise their value and may pay no heed to them or to their witness. They are, however, very precious. If there had been ten of these sons of Zion in Sodom and Gomorrah those two cities would not have received the outpouring of judgment that they did receive.
What a mercy if you and I are among these precious sons of Zion. We shall look at Zion in all the aspects of that place. There is an external aspect of Zion. We would not leave it out of its true perspective. Some people do! But there were those in the days of Jeremiah who said: “The Temple of the Lord, The Temple of the Lord are these” meaning that externals were everything and they could look down upon their fellow creatures because they were in such a high and favourable position. There is far more than this in Zion, but we would not neglect the outward aspects of Zion which are the public worship, the Gospel truth, the gathering together of the Lord’s people, the following of the Lord’s commands. We should set apart, and set in a very prominent place in our life, the outward worship of God and not forsake the gathering of ourselves together.
But the greatest and most important point is to be one of those who belong to the Lord, whom He regards and includes among His people, and whom He calls His precious sons of Zion.
The second part of our text brings us to consider the comparisons. We have two entirely different descriptions in our text concerning the same personsÂ—the sons of Zion. One is that which speaks of them as comparable to fine gold and the other speaks of them as earthen pitchersÂ—one of the least things among man’s possessionsÂ—one of the common things, the trivial things that man daily uses. These two things, so opposite and differing so much in value, the one from the other, we will try to bring together and thereby extract, I hope, some encouragement, and instruction under the blessing from the Lord.
The first view is undoubtedly the view of the LordÂ—God’s own view of His people, comparable He says to fine gold, indicating that in His view His sons and daughters that belong to Him are regarded by Him as the choicest treasures of His possessions. He sets a high value on themÂ—He regards them as His jewels. He says in another part of His word that “they shall be Mine when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.” (Malachi 3.7).
We may wonder at such a word, or question if it is the right view to take of the word itself. Can God thus speak of those who are fallen and ruined creatures, who are guilty in every act and rebellious thought against His Name and Grace, who are sinners by deed and life and work and thought? Can God possibly speak of them as comparable to fine gold? That brings us to one of the great and glorious truths of the Gospel. To see how perfect is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ on behalf of all His saints and how perfectly God views them in Him, seeing no flaw, no blemish, nothing unworthy, nothing but what is acceptable and pleasing in His sight. Not because of what they are in and of themselves but because of what they are in Christ, their Surety, their Redeemer and their Lord.
Comparative things are often misleading. Take, for instance, an ordinary citizen, a respectable citizen, and if you compare that citizen worthy in his own integrity with a base criminal who is in prison for a long sentence, you might say there is no comparison. The one is an upright man and the other is not but bring that honest citizen and compare his uprightness, which is so favourable when compared with the criminal, and compare it with the Holy Law of God and what do you find? Then he has nothing but that which is filthy, unholy and unjust. But God compares His people not with others, but views them in ChristÂ—His beauty is their beautyÂ—His righteousness is their righteousness and God accounts it thus. In the Scriptures some glorious things are spoken about the church of God as being adorned with a beauty not her own and dressed in royal robes; new born sinners rendered fit to feast with God and so you see God’s view of His people is as they stand in their Surety, the Lord Jesus Christ.
That view is seen in the 45th Psalm. There the word of the Lord speaks of the king’s daughter who is all glorious within; her clothing is of wrought gold and she shall be brought into the king in raiment of needlework. The commandment of the Lord to her is that she shall consider, and hearken and worship. So in God’s view, seeing His people in Christ, in the atonement. He compares them to fine goldÂ—the very choicest of all possessions as regarded by man.
Then again they are comparable to fine gold because of the tremendous price that was paid by God for the possession of these people, every one of them. We can never fully understand thisÂ—what it meant and what it cost the glorious Trinity to purchase a precious possession. To pay the price that was necessary to be paid in order to redeem and claim His people as His own, why this was ever proposed is beyond our comprehension. Why that infinite God who dwelt in light and glory should ever propose in His eternal mind the gift of His own dear Son and all that He did in order to possess a poor fallen people ruined by sin and guilt is a matter that is quite beyond our comprehension. But it is declared to be the truth and a most wonderful truth it is indeed. God would love His own, those whom he loves he will possess and thus we
see the great comparison. The view that God takes of His people is all in respect of that tremendous price that His own dear Son so willingly paid to possess those people who were inscribed upon His very heart, who were written on the palms of His hands.
The Lord views His people also in the work of His grace within their hearts and He sees the work in its ultimate issue. He sees the end. He sees the culmination. He sees them all being gathered together from all places, of all kinds. He sees such as the dying thief and Mary Magdalene and many others whom the Scriptures reveal to us. He sees them all being gathered together and the work of grace in their hearts. He sees the ultimate glorious issue of that work and so he says “comparable to fine gold”.
What is it that redounds to the glory and honour of our God like the work of grace. There is nothing to compare with it. It is sovereign in its beginning, it is wondrous in its continuing and glorious in its consummation. And all of it redounds to the glory and honour of God. What is more wonderful than the work of His grace in which souls are brought out of darkness into light, in which slaves to Satan are delivered and the captive exile is set free, in which the beggar lying in the dunghill is raised to sit with princes, in which those who by nature love sinfulness are made to love holiness and “God haters” are made to love Him with love both intense and supreme? Comparable to fine gold is the work of God’s grace in the heart of sinners.
The outcome of that work, redounding to the Glory of God and the honour of His Name, is undoubtedly preciousÂ—sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold. God loves them and He will do all for them. He gives them His best. He gives all that He has for His own sake. He has blessed them, built them up into a temple, holy in the eyes of the Lord. They are fitly framed together. His word tells us that Solomon’s temple was a glorious building, the magnificence of it was outstanding, the cost of it incomparable. There was fine gold in vast quantities poured into the temple that Solomon built. Many people, before the day of Solomon, and after, and during the time of his reign contributed vast sums to the erection of that wonderful temple but it was all destroyed. It all passed away, but this temple, this spiritual temple, that the Lord is erecting stone by stone, piece by piece, will never pass away. It is a glorious temple of the Lord and He dwells within it and the topmost stone of it will be brought forth with a cry of “Grace, grace unto it.”
That is the view that God takes of His people, the work of His own hand, the triumphs of His love and the ultimate issue of this wondrous work of His. He says “comparable to fine gold”Â—nothing to equal itÂ—it is outstanding and above all.
This is one view, but there is another and what a vast difference there seems to be here between that which I have tried to set before you and where they are esteemed as earthen pitchers. This is the view by the people themselves, of themselves, and it is very important to consider this. It is the Holy Spirit’s description
and it is important to see this view of one of those sons of ZionÂ—the view these sons have of themselves and also, perhaps, of one another. They are earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter.
Now this is because souls, where grace has been planted, never take a high view of themselves, never think of themselves as better than others, or that they are worthy of God’s favour and blessing. On the contrary the very grace that is planted in the heart makes that sinner look at himself or herself in this light. They are ready to bring everything home to themselves that is condemnatory and they regard themselves as the least and not as the greatest. You will find this stamped upon the religion of all who are born of God and taught by the Holy Spirit. Paul says “Unto me who am less than the least of all saints is this grace given”.
This is one of the marks of a true son of Zion. Those who think that they are great reveal so solemnly that they are destitute of all real grace. It is the humble, the needy, the poor to whom the Lord looks and whom He regards. “To this man will I look, even to him that is poor and of a contrite spirit and that trembleth at my word.” So great is the contrast between these and those who are proud, haughty, needing no help from the Lord, sufficient in themselves, confident of themselves, and claiming to be the great people of the earth, saying as such did “Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than Thou” (Isaiah 65.5).
The word of the Lord contrasts such with those who are humble, brought down, brought to have no view of themselves, brought to see themselves as worthless and unworthy and brought to feel amazed and astonished that ever the Lord shows His goodness or plants in their hearts His blessing and His grace. They are amazed at every token of His mercy and astonished that He ever turns aside to speak a word of life and power to their souls. Thus they view themselves as earthen pitchers Â— worthless, of low esteem. We never set very much value on what is most commonly used in our lives. We regard such implements as almost worthless; we discard them easily when they are outworn because they are so readily obtainedÂ—because they are common we think very little of them. That is how the child of God thinks of himself or herself. They say to themselvesÂ—Â“How can I appear before God, what is there in me to draw forth His compassion and His tender mercy? Why should the Lord have regard to me?” Or, to put it in the language of one of the Lord’s people in the Scriptures who said “Why have I found grace in thine eyes that thou shouldest take knowledge of me?” (Ruth 2.10).
Earthen pitchers. An earthen pitcher is the least adorned implement in daily use. In the East they were made for service, not for adornment; they were made for use and not for beauty and it is an apt illustration that is used here in this particular part of God’s Word. I am sure that, as grace enters and enriches a soul, we shall see no beauty in ourselves, we shall see everything
that we possess, as if worthless. We shall see guilt in all that we do even in our prayers. As Mr. Wet-Eyes in the “Holy War” saw dirt in all his tears and filth at the bottom of his prayers.
Such souls do not think that they are being of service or doing something that God will be pleased with but feel everything they do will incur his wrath. There is no beauty there, no worthiness. The more grace works in the sinner’s heart the more this is realised and humble souls and needy souls are the souls that Jesus loves. “They never think themselves too low, if Jesus on them pity show.” There is no depth where they cannot come in their own feelings and this corresponds with evidences of God’s grace in the Scriptures. Look at David in the 102nd Psalm. Like one despised and afflicted he tries to describe his own feelings in that Psalm and that amounts to thisÂ—that he viewed himself as alone, one without merit, without worth, and without graceÂ—yet he felt that he was one that the Lord had had mercy upon, one of the favoured objects of God’s choice.
Earthen pitchersÂ—common, ugly often, worthless and except for the use that is made of them, valueless. So we see that this is a very important thing. There may perhaps be a word of encouragement here for those who feel that they cannot find what they want to find within their own hearts, especially when getting views of the children of God such as I have just been setting before youÂ—comparable to fine gold. It seems as if the word could not produce any rising up of hope because we cannot claim anything comparable to those things in our own experiences. This is the very thing grace doesÂ—the work of the Spirit in the heart is the work that humbles the sinner, it is the work that will finally crown that sinner with the best of all crowns, but first of all it must humble and prepare the sinner for real glory.
And that brings me to another aspect of this matterÂ—an empty pitcher, and oh, how empty poor souls feel at times of everything they desire to possess. The people of the world feel very little of their own emptinessÂ—they certainly feel nothing of the emptiness in respect to the things of God. If you have grace in your hearts you will feel your emptiness and nothingness. But what is done with empty pitchers? They are taken to the fountain to be filled with water. They are taken again and again for when filled they are soon emptied, and soon brought back again. So it is with poor believers. They are empty pitchers and what a wonderful thing this is because it makes the throne of grace the vital placeÂ—it makes the Gospel a precious thing. If we never felt our emptiness we should never seek for the blessing of GodÂ—we should ever be satisfied with the things of our ownÂ—with the things of this world. The view then, is the view of a real believer who can only feel themselves to be like Earthen Pitchers.
And, finally, there is another view hereÂ—the work of the hands of the potter. The people of the world think the children of God are just unworthy of noticeÂ—unworthy of attention and that they are subject to the powers of this world Â— that the world
controls and fashions them. How often you hear this from men of the worldÂ—that you are a Strict Baptist because you have been brought up a Strict Baptist, and you are this or that because of some environment. With many people that may be true but with the children of God they are what they are by God’s grace and it is God who forms and fashions them and works in them to will and to do of His good pleasure.
Again, often we take the same view ourselves. We take it in regard to our circumstances and our way. It appears as if everything has a powerful influence upon us. We cannot trace the Lord’s direct control. Sometimes men, and systems, seem to have the supreme control over our lives and our destiny. But we are the work of the hands of the heavenly potter if we are the Lord’s Sons of Zion. And He fashions His vessels and makes them meet for His own use and nothing hinders or prevents Him from doing what He will. He makes His vessels just according to His own design and when God makes a vessel, as someone has said, He breaks the mould and never makes another exactly the same. All are wonderfully made and all are made for the glory of God. The work of the hands of the potter. We are not completely and finally subject to the powers of this world. They do not fashion and frame our lives and our destiny but we are in the hands of God. It is a great comfort to the godly to believe it, and it is a blessed thing to trace itÂ—to see the performing hand of God over us, upon us, guiding, fashioning and preparing us for His use and for His glory. Paul in writing to Timothy said “If a man, therefore, purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honour, sanctified, and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.”
May the Lord show us that we are among the Sons of ZionÂ—(2 Timothy 2.21).
‘Numbered with them may we be, now and in eternity.’