One of the glorious things that Psalm 87 teaches us about Zion or the church is that it is the place of our birth. Three times it states this truth: “this man was born there” (4), “this and that man was born in her” (5) and “this man was born there” (6).
Of what birth is Psalm 87:4-6 speaking? There are essentially two births. The first and physical birth is common to all men; the second and spiritual birth is particular to the elect alone. In Psalm 87, the choice is between an earthly, physical birth to merely national citizenship in Israel or a heavenly, spiritual birth to citizenship in the “Jerusalem which is above” (Gal. 4:26). The latter is the correct view. First, Babylon, Philistia, Tyre and Ethiopia (Ps. 87:4) did not have a literal, earthly, physical birth in Zion to national citizenship in Israel. Second, the birth of Psalm 87 is to a spiritual life of praising God (7). Third, the foundation of this (heavenly) Zion is the wondrous love of Jehovah for His church in Jesus Christ (1-2), as we saw in the last issue of the News.
Regeneration or the new birth is taught in the NT. The Lord Jesus spoke to Nicodemus of being born again in John 3:1-13. This truth is set forth in John 1:12-13, Titus 3:5 (“the washing of regeneration”), James 1:18, I Peter 1:3 and 23, and many times in I John. But the new birth is also taught in the OT, for it is found in Psalm 87. Ezekiel speaks of it in terms of the “new heart” or “heart of flesh” (11:19; 36:26). It is known as the circumcision of the heart (Deut. 30:6). Though regeneration or the new birth is more fully developed in the NT, it is definitely present in the OT.
Now do you see how foolish Nicodemus was? After Jesus explained the new birth to him (John 3:3-8), that Jewish leader asked, “How can these things be?” (9). Christ responded, “Art thou a master [or teacher] of Israel, and knowest not these things?” (10). This was a stinging rebuke: “Nicodemus, do you mean that you don’t know about regeneration? Have you learned nothing? You are supposed to be trained in biblical doctrine! People look to you for teaching, but you don’t even know this vital truth! Have you never sung Psalm 87? Did you not understand what you were singing (cf. 47:7)?”
There are many teachers in the churches today who do not know the truth about the new birth either. Rome holds the heresy of baptismal regeneration, as do many Anglicans and people in the Church of Ireland. The heresy of free will also corrupts the new birth by teaching that people are regenerated by the will of the sinner, contrary to God’s Word (John 1:12-13; 3:5-8; James 1:18).
The particular aspect of the new birth that is underlined in Psalm 87 is that the new birth occurs in the church: “this man was born there” (4), “this and that man was born in her” (5) and “this man was born there” (6), with “her” or “there” referring to Zion.
What does it mean that the elect are born again in the church? It certainly means that there are no unevangelized yet regenerate people wandering around in pagan lands. There are no “noble savages” living on far-flung islands who have been born again by the Spirit but who are yet without any knowledge of Jesus Christ. Instead, the new birth occurs in the church in connection with the preaching. Those infants of believers who are elect may even be regenerated at their water baptism, though the new birth is not tied to the moment the sacrament is administered (Westminster Confession 10:3; 28:6).
To this, some will respond, “But I know of people who claim to have been converted while outside a church service—through a conversation or reading the Bible or a radio broadcast, etc.” First of all, we are not aware of our new birth at the moment of our regeneration because it is a work of God implanting life into us apart from our own will and in our subconsciousness. This life necessarily becomes evident in conversion, but no one knows the precise time when they have been born again.
Even if, for the sake of argument, a man claims that he was regenerated as a boy in a Christian home, the response is obvious. The parents who brought him up in the fear of the Lord were members of the church organic who were fed and nourished through the church institute with its preaching, office-bearers, members, etc. What of a woman who says she was born again when reading the Bible? The Bible has been preserved and maintained in the church, and the church institute and its members disseminate the Bible. Another reckons he was regenerated when witnessed to by a believer. Was not the witness a Christian, a member of the church, who only knows the truth through the church, for the church is the “pillar and ground of the truth” (I Tim. 3:15)?
Moreover, do you think that all the elect in OT Israel were born again when they were physically present in Zion? What of the women, who, strictly speaking, were not required to go up to the three great feasts in Jerusalem? What of OT elect infants dying in infancy? The point is that all Israel’s spiritual life was centred in and flowed from Zion. The living God was present in the temple. The sacrifices all spoke of Christ’s death for the sins of His people. Jehovah ruled through David’s house. There was also a concentration of the teaching ministry of the priests and the Levites in Zion.
Today, all the spiritual life in the world comes through the church. Its teaching, catechizing, worshipping, etc., enables believers to pray, witness and commune with one another for the means of grace (the preaching and the sacraments) are given to the institute church. Christian books, pamphlets, CDs, DVDs, websites, etc., all come, in various ways, through the church. For example, most theological books, commentaries, leaflets, etc., were written by preachers and these materials were produced in connection with the institute congregation. The new birth occurs in the church, either in her worship services and witness or in her broader organic life and testimony.
- Volume: 13
- Issue: 10
Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)
Ordained - 2001
Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001Website: www.cprf.co.uk/
Address7 Lislunnan Road
State or ProvinceCo.Antrim
Zip CodeBT42 3NR
Telephone(01144) 28 25 891851