<< Psalm 87: The Born in Zion >>
1His foundation is in the holy mountains.
2The LORD loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
3Glorious things are spoken of thee, O city of God. Selah.
4I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me: behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia; this man was born there.
5And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her: and the highest himself shall establish her.
6The LORD shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there. Selah.
7As well the singers as the players on instruments shall be there: all my springs are in thee.
The Word of God has not only a spiritual sense, but that sense is connected and flows on in a series. Hence it is well to notice the commencement of a subject, to observe the beginning of a divine lesson, that we may lay hold of the successive links of the golden chain until the whole is unfolded. This will give us the clue, without which we should not fully perceive the application. We may illustrate these remarks by the Psalm before us. It commences with the words, “His foundation is in the holy mountains.” Very frequently in the Scriptures the foundation of man is said to be on a rock. In the fortieth Psalm, it if said of the delivered Christian, ” He set my feet upon a rock;” in the prophecy of Isaiah, in like manner, we read, ” Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation, a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation ” (xxviii. 16); and in the Gospel our Lord declares, ” Therefore whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him to a wise man, who built his house upon a rock.”
That there is some reason for this striking difference in the character of the foundation will readily occur, and that reason will be found fully satisfactory if we have some knowledge of spiritual life, and also of the science of correspondences ; by which, as the divinely-appropriate vessel, living water can be drawn from the deep wells of salvation. There are two general classes of spiritual character, the celestial and the spiritual. In the Celestial, goodness predominates, and there is an air of sweetness and gentleness in all they think, and all they do. The spiritual are they in whom truth has the chief place. They are sharp, keen, brilliant, it may be, but hard. The celestial are intent upon the oil of religion, the spiritual upon the light. The spiritual man is more of a warrior; the celestial more of a peacemaker. The one has more of the force of the cherub, the other of the glow of the seraph. The spiritual revels in conflict and victory, the celestial delights in peace. In the order of complete regeneration the Christian advances, first in light and then in love, first in faith and then in charity. First he is a conqueror in his struggles for purity, and then he is more than conqueror — he has entered upon the region of interior peace. He is spiritual during the days or states of his spirit’s labour ; he is celestial when he has attained the sabbath of the soul. The foundation of the spiritual man is the rock of divine truth ; the foundation of the celestial man is the mountain of divine love. It is the divine love which gives the celestial man his supply of holy feelings, which is the object of his supreme regard. He exclaims, in the language of Psalm cxxi., when perfectly rendered, “I will look unto the mountains, from whence cometh my help. My help cometh from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” — ver. 1, 2. Again, “Thy righteousness is like great mountains.” — Ps. xxxvi. 6.
The commencement of this Psalm being a reference to the celestial things of the divine love, gives us the key to the whole subject of it. The sanctity, the surpassing worth, and the blessedness of the church in which love is the chief element, the crowning principle, is the topic of every verse.
The celestial and spiritual sides of religion were typified by those constantly recurring terms, Zion and Jerusalem. Zion, being the most elevated part of the holy city, and the part on which the temple stood, represented the celestial men of the Church. Jerusalem, whose name implies the “sight of peace,” represented the spiritual men of the Church. Each complete Christian, however, partakes of both, and then Zion denotes his will, in which love reigns, and Jerusalem his intellect, in which truth is ruler. The use of both names is very frequent in the Word, and ever with this discrimination. “Look upon Zion, the city of our solemnities : thine eyes shall see Jerusalem a quiet habitation, a tabernacle that shall not be taken down; not one of the stakes thereof shall ever be removed, neither shall any of the cords thereof be broken.” — Isa. xxxiii. 20. Zion is the Church as to that hallowed love of goodness which solemnizes the affections, and Jerusalem the Church as to those truths which gladden the eyes of the mind. In Zechariah it is said, “I am returned unto Zion, and will dwell in the midst of Jerusalem ; and Jerusalem shall be called a city of truth, and the mountain of the Lord of hosts, the holy mountain.” — Chap. viii. 3. Here Jerusalem is the city of truth, and Zion is the mountain of holiness. The apostle Paul shows the spiritual use of both these terms, when he remarks to the Hebrews who had embraced Christianity, ” But ye are come to mount Sion, and unto the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to an innumerable company of angels. To the general assembly and church of the firstborn, which are written in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of just men made perfect” — Heb. xii. 22, 23.
Zion, as representing a state of love, and those in whom love reigns, because such persons are truly the Lord’s Church in an eminent degree, is often spoken of in the most glowing terms. “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness. Beautiful for situation, the joy of the whole earth, is mount Zion.” — Ps. xlviii. 1, 2. Again, “Walk about Zion, and go round about her: tell the towers thereof. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces ; that ye may tell it to the generation following. For this God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death.” — Ver. 12-14. Were we Jews, and exulting in the capital city of our native land, our patriotic feelings might warrant these glowing terms ; but in this sense only they world not be worthy of a place in the Word of the universal Lord. No national predilections are to be admitted there. Again, the angels of heaven were seen by St. John on Mount Zion ; he says, ” And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Zion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.” — Rev. xiv. 1. This is beautifully expressive, when we know that to be on mount Zion means to be in a state of holy love to the Lord. In harmony with this is having the Father’s name written on the forehead. For the Father means the divine love, and Hs name on the forehead means His nature inscribed on the will. The will is above the intellect, as the forehead is above the eyes. The spiritual meaning of Zion is surely evident now, for in application to the heavenly world it can have no other meaning. It was the highest part of Jerusalem, its very name signifies height, and it represents represents, therefore, the highest principle and state in religion. ” Now abideth faith, hope, and charity, (or love,) these three; and the greatest of these is charity.” —Cor. xiii. 13. Hence we may perceive the reason for the remarkable language of the second verse of the Psalm before us; “The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” — Ver. 2. The gates of Zion are the truths which lead men to states of love. These are precious in the Lord’s sight, more than all the speculations of science or knowledge, or faith even. For ” though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge ; and though I have all faith, and have not charity, I am nothing.” — I Cor, xiiL 2. Without the possession of heavenly love, no other grace is truly valuable. Love is the fulfilling of the law ; love worketh no ill to his neighbour. Love disposes the heart to believe : love rejoices not in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth. Because, then, Zion represents the Church especially as to the principles of love, and the persons in whom these are cherished, we may see the propriety of the divine declaration, ” The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” — Ver. 2. The Lord desires that we should be not men of profession only, or of a cold fault-finding, talking religion alone, but that we should go through the gates of Zion, and become men of love.
The Zion, then, whose gates the Lord loves, and of which it shall be said, when He counts up the people, ”This man was born in her,” is no local Jewish city, but a state of holy inward love.” We cannot surely suppose that the Almighty has any preferences of one place over another in His beautiful earth. He who is no respecter of persons, will certainly not be a respecter of cities. To a just and sensible man, the accident of birth constitutes no real merit. He respects a good man wherever he may have been born; much more is this the case with Him who is perfectly just.
When, then, it is written, ” Of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her,” our attention is intended to be directed to the all-important subject of our re-birth, or regeneration, so as to have a new nature from the Lord, and become the citizens of a new heavenly city ; the inward communion of saints. ” Ye must be born again,” said our Lord. “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” ”Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” And again, ” He cannot enter into the kingdom of God.” — John iii. 7, 3, 5.
This doctrine, so distinctly declared, is corroborated by all experience. With man, such as he is by nature, orderly and constant happiness is impossible. Indeed, a reflecting mind will easily perceive that society, as it exists, is the outbirth of the minds which compose it ; and if those minds were transported to another world, they would produce all the tangled maze of order and disorder, joy and sorrow, care and negligence, success and failure, health and sickness, wealth and poverty, which compose society now.
This is strikingly manifested in the reproduction of new cities in new countries. They are the very facsimiles of the old. The United States and Australia are England repeated. The emigrants have taken their minds, their characters, themselves with them, and the result is, that the same interior causes which produced the restless selfish struggles of the old world, reproduced them in the new. It is not change of place which will alter these, it is only change of state. So would it be after death, without an interior change. There could be no heaven formed out of minds which are not heavenly. Again, let us ask, What is man in his present condition ? Self is confessedly most painfully prominent in the varied scenes of life.
” The trail of the serpent is over them all.”
The greedy lusts of power, of gain, and of sensual pleasures, induce incessant restlessness, incessant conflict. Within man they assail the virtues implanted by the Lord to counteract the fall. For, ” Except the Lord of hosts had left unto us a very small remnant, we should have been as Sodom, and we should have been like unto Gomorrah.” There can be no true peace so long as this inward contest is continued. But in every act some principles prevail to induce action, and too often the worse part of our nature prevails, and then we come into difficulties with others, and rouse opposition. This opposition induces further effort and struggle, and stirs up the deeps of our fallen and depraved characters. The result is energy in evil, which often produces crimes at which the perpetrator would once have shuddered. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” And in its dark recesses are often hatched horrors which make the world stand aghast. “Out of the heart,” said our Lord, “proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man.” — Matt. xv. 19, 20. By education, by the usages of society, by the power of law, the real character of the perverted affections of the will are smoothed over, but it is in vain to deny its direful condition. It was created at first in the image of earth, but now it is the image of hell. Let a man examine the movements of his own heart and mind, and except so far as religion has subdued, chastened, and renewed them, they are the abodes of the foulest desires and insanest follies. Were he to utter aloud what his inflamed passions suggest, men would shrink from him with loathing. When the mask falls off during intoxication or under great excitement, when self-command is for the time lost, or, as in the lowest grades of society, where self-respect and mutual respect are at a very low ebb, then the fearful depravity of fallen man appears, and no words can equal the horrible reality. During an insurrection, when law in suspended, and hoarded vengeance and ruffianism riot unchecked in villainous indulgence, the difference between man and fiend appears exceedingly minute. See the accounts of the horrid brutalities which arrive day by day to shock and agonize us from India. Before the outburst of the mutiny all seemed smooth, decent, and even obsequious, but when the ties of order were loosened, and the vile impulses of unregenerate men held complete sway, what abominations were perpetrated! How does the heart sicken as it notes the malignant atrocities of which women and children were the victims! It was as if hell were let loose. Refined cruelties, slow tortures, maddening indignities, strange obscenities, and horrid orgies were committed on all sides, at which our common humanity trembles with indignation, and shudders with loathing horror. Yet such in itself is unregenerate human nature. And, how strongly do these things echo the divine words, ” Ye must be born again.”
How could a heaven be formed out of minds like these? Some have proposed to make men happy by a better arrangement of their outward circumstances. But supposing all men could be placed beyond the reach of want, and be enabled even to roll in splendour, with their minds unregenerate they would still be impure and unhappy. The proportion of happy persons amongst the high is quite as small as amongst the lowly. The volcano may look smooth, and smiling vineyards on its sides may induce the traveller to believe that solid peace reigns there, but a raging fire is gathering fierceness within, and shortly will pour its red rivers over village, church, homestead, and smiling fields, burying them beneath its scorching streams. So is it with human nature unchanged by religion. The blandest manners may be there, a smooth and smiling courtesy may give it an attractiveness of the most inviting character, but if the power of the Divine Saviour has not supplied it with inward virtue, the time will come when the old man will assert his native selfishness, vileness, and fury, and those who have leaned upon it will discover that the beauty they admired is the beauty of the serpent’s skin, and with the brilliant colours of the skin there is also the danger of the reptile’s deadly bite.
No! there is no lasting peace, lasting safety, or lasting loveliness, but in obedience to the divine injunction, ” Ye must be born again.”
” If happiness have not her seat
And centre in the breast ;
We may be wise, or rich, or great,
But never can be blest.
No treasures, nor pleasures,
Could make us happy long ;
The heart’s aye the part aye
That makes us right or wrong.”
But the heart by nature is the seat of selfishness and sin. Until this has been changed by power from heaven, true and lasting happiness is impossible.
The necessity for man’s regeneration will appear still more manifestly if we consider what heaven is. The word hashamayim (heavens), in the original language, is derived from the union of esh (fire), with mayim (waters). And the orderly union of the fire of love with the waters of truth, gives us the interior elements of heaven. The two grand principles of love are insisted on by the Lord as the very essence of religion, because heaven and happiness without them are impossible. Love to God is the conjoining link between God, the fountain of happiness, and man its receiver ; and unless the receiver be conjoined with the Giver, it is obviously impossible that the gift of happiness can take place. “The kingdom of God,” the apostle declared “is not meat and drink: but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit.” — Rom. xiv. 17. “The kingdom of God is within you,” the Lord Jesus said. And the least reflection will enable any one to see, that just as the earth can only bloom, and bear, and be blessed under the warm and glorious presence of the sun, so immortal man can only become truly happy in conjunction with the Eternal God. ” With Thee is the Fountain of life, and at thy right hand are pleasures for evermore.” If for a single day a man would be happy, he must devote that day in the first and highest place to Him from whom alone light, love, and peace descend. No heaven can exist without this. The first commandment there, and consequently the first law in this our training world, is, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.” He that dwelleth in LOVE dwelleth in God, for God is love. Such is the chief, the essential element of heaven. The angels are all receivers of life and bliss, from Him who is their Spring.
Secondly, where love to the Lord reigns, it generates love to our neighbour for His sake. This is the distributive principle. Without this, man would be solitary and selfish. His blessings must necessarily he confined. But, if each glow with the desire to bless others, if whatever grace, excellence, or possession he has, he desires to impart it to those around him, immediately the blessings of all multiply by the number of possessors, and all are made happy by the aid of each.
Let us take a household of ten persons for instance. If the chief thought of each was how he could make the rest happy, how he could impart to them what he possessed of gift or grace, the result would be, that each would be ten times as happy as he could be alone. So would it be in a society of a hundred or a thousand where the principle reigned. And from this alone it may be seen he great must be the happiness of heaven, where the angels far surpass men in goodness, in wisdom, in grace, and in power, and each glows with a desire to make others as happy or happier than himself. This, then, is the second law of heaven, and who would know how far he is preparing for heaven, should examine himself to ascertain how far he practises this holy law at home. He only who is heavenly in heart, mind, and practice, may safely conclude he is capable of forming one of the heavenly company after death.
The third great principle of a heavenly world, a world of joy and peace, must be that of harmony or correspondence between the inner and the outer sphere of things. Every one feels that there should be harmony between the principles and the position of the wise and excellent. There is a conviction which impress itself on all minds that something is wrong when virtue suffers and vice revels in plenty. The moral sense of mankind revolts at the spectacle of integrity and misery in close companionship, and only becomes reconciled to it by the assurance that it may be permitted for the sake of higher objects at present, but that, in the end, virtue will be triumphant and happy. Heaven would not be complete without this justice, and therefore it is written” Well done, good and faithful servant ; thou hast been faithful over a few things, but I will make thee ruler over many things enter thou into the joy of thy Lord.” In the world of mind, mind is triumphant. The dress, the mansion, the paradise, and all the thousand circumstances of angelic life, are the exact outbirth and correspondence of the inner principles. These rule over all things ; and hence all things are lovely without, because all things are beautiful within. Such is a faint outline of heaven. But what possibility is there of the selfish man, full of adoration and preference for his own individuality, devoted to his faults and vices even, forming one of the society in which love of God and rejection of self, are the chief laws ?
Heaven can only exist and continue from heavenly principles. Men at present have their minds formed by evil passions and the perverted persusasions to which they give rise, more or less moderated by the influence of the germs of a heavenly nature implanted during man’s formation by the Lord. Hence by man, as he is, only such a society as we see can be formed — a noisy, struggling earth, not a heaven.
How strongly this is exemplified in cases of emigration we have already noticed. Many who pass away from an old country, do so with aversion and disgust at its customs, habits and laws, its disorders, turmoil, and selfishness. They will go to another land, and be quite free from the vexations which had fretted and oppressed them. They will found a happy community, perhaps. They go beyond the Atlantic, but find New York is but another Liverpool. They push on further west, and come perhaps to Chicago, and there discover the spirit greed and speculation quite as great as in any town in Europe. They pass on to where population becomes few, but among the few there is only a repetition, on a small scale, of the struggles, envies, enmities, sins and sorrows of the greater communities. And so must it be since man is the same, and so would it be forever, without regeneration. One whom I well knew some thirty years ago, went to America from the north of England, completely satisfied that his regeneration was impossible in an old country like this, with so much to vex the mind in its manifold annoyances of Church, State, and business. He would leave the whole, and divide them from him by an ocean. So would he in the Arcadian scenes of a new world grow undisturbed in the heavenly life, and thus fulfil the end of his being. He had not, however, been long away, before his letters informed his friends that all was not perfectly smooth in his new home. He was astonished that vexations occurred even there. He thought he had left everything perplexing behind, but he found one annoyance after another thickened upon him until he was feelingly bound to admit, that the greatest source of difficulty he had overlooked — he had taken himself with him. And this self he must subdue before he could bring himself into order, and thus into peace, either in the new or the old world. ”There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked.” My friend discovered this by his experience, and the lesson was cheaply bought. He came home determined to act upon it, a wiser and a better man. We must be born again.
But we are told in the text, that the Most High will expect us not only to be born again, but born in Zion. We have already seen that Zion was the highest portion of Jerusalem ; on one of its heights, Mount Moriah, was the temple situated, and there everything most sacred in the representative church was to be found. It thence became the type of the most sacred states in the real Church, those of love to God from which He is worshipped and obeyed, and love to man, by means of which we seek to benefit our fellow-creatures. To be born in Zion, is to be born into these holy affections, and to live from them. And this is the great end of religion. ” Above all things put on charity,” says the apostle, ”which is the bond of perfectness.” Col. iii. 14. ”Now the end of the commandment is charity out of a pure heart, and of a good conscience, and of faith unfeigned” 1 Tim. i. 5. To attain this great end of religion, all the means are given; if this end be not attained, the means are received in vain. In vain have we learned religious truths, in vain have we diligently attended service, in vain been attentive to meetings, in vain have we read, in vain have we disputed about particular views of doctrine, in vain have we been eloquent preachers, or had faith even such as it was. The Lord will say when he writeth up the people, This, and that man was born in Zion. If not born there, no matter where else he was born. For happiness he must be born in Zion. ” Though I speak with the tongue of men, and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries, and all knowledge : and though I have all Faith, so that I could remove mountains, and have not charity, I am nothing.” — 1 Cor. Xiii. 1,2. Oh! that this lesson were learnt by all. Too many are they who set out on the journey of religion, but never reach Zion. They come to the gate of knowledge, and spend a long time dallying about that. They then retire, and fall in with worldly companions, and waste their time in earthly pursuits alone. They then start again, and come to the gate once more; but still make no resolute exertion to go through, or if they do so, it is only to read on both sides of the road the directions to the golden hill of Zion ; but instead of advancing they remain reading them, singing them, praying them perhaps, retiring until another opportunity, when they go the same round with little variation. They resolve, resolve again, then re-resolve, and die the same. O that they would advance to the heavenly state of charity and love! They would then be conjoined with angels. “Ye are come to Mount Zion,” said the apostle, ” and to an innumerable company of angels.” They would then taste angelic joy, and realize somewhat of heaven upon earth.
Yet, how often do we find persons who have been professors of religion for years, but are bitter, keen, condemnatory, unamiable, full of accusations against others, assuming they themselves are faultless. Such persons never attain the end of religion, which is charity.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind, but they have no patience even with those who are striving to do their best. Charity vaunteth not herself, is not pufEed up ; but they are especially desirous that any little affair of theirs should be particularly appreciated. Charity doth not behave itself unseemly, and seeketh not her own ; but these push forward their pretensions in season and out of season. Charity is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil. But these take offence at trifles, and attribute evil where none is intended. Charity rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth. But these take care that their neighbour’s faults are sufficiently known ; they deem it a public duty to let the staple of their conversation be the failings, or supposed failings, of those who come within the reach of their observation. They are not half so vigorous to publish the progress of truth, the advance of virtue, the excellencies that are manifest around them. O for that Zion-like state which is the support, the root, the foundation of every other virtue : which beareth all things: which listens with gladsome fervour to what truth teaches, having an ardent affection for it, seeking to be rejoined with what was its companion in the bosom of God, which believeth all things : which is an ever radiant centre of joyous expectation : which hopeth all things : which is full of patience, ever excusing as much as possible the waywardness of others, and bearing with opposition and difficulty for the sake of ultimate good : which endureth all things. This is the charity which never faileth ; it still regards the great end in view, our heavenly Father’s will in the salvation of souls, and works on. It realizes the blessings of religion. It feels that heaven is not a vain thing. The love it knows enables it to comprehend the love of God. The happiness it experiences gives it to know somewhat of the happiness of heaven. Its own enduring character gives it unwavering assurance of the unchanging care of he Lord. He who loves God, knows God; knows His will, His kingdom, and His ways.
” Faith, Hope, and Love, were questioned what they thought
Of future glory, which Religion taught
Now Faith believed it firmly tu be true.
And Hope expected so to find it, too.
Love answered, smiling with a conscious glow,
‘Belief, expect? I know it to be so. “
The mode in which this new birth into a spirit of love is to be brought about, has been the subject of much discussion ; yet t is not very difficult in itself. The Lord has implanted into every soul the germs of angelic life, an incipient heaven. These consist of affections for goodness and truth. When, in the course of human life, under the guidance of Divine Providence, truth is brought home to a man, the good which is in him from the Lord pleads for it, and disposes him to adopt it, if in the use of his freedom he determines to do so, the truth is joined with his good, and exercises an influence over his life. It is faith working by love. The more truth a man learns, and thus joins to his interior good dispositions, the more powerful is his faith, for there is weak faith, and strong faith, and the more powerful his faith, the greater is its influence upon his life, until with time and perseverance the whole man is renewed and happy. This union of truth and good in the soul is very strikingly referred to in the 85th Psalm : ” Truth shall spring out of the earth ; and righteousness shall look down from heaven.” — Ver. 11. Again: ” Mercy and truth are met together ; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.” — Ver. 10.
It is of great importance for us to have a clear idea of the mode in which faith is obtained and increased in the soul, for it is sometimes said that faith is given in a miraculous way by irresistible grace, and that man has nothing to do in relation to it. It is the gift of God. No doubt, faith is the gift of God originally, for every good and perfect gift is from Him. But He gives it as He gives most other things, by means, and to those who are willing to receive it. ” Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God.” — Rom. x. 17. The new-birth takes place as we admit the power of truth to operate within us. ” Of his own will begat He us by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first-fruits of his creatures.” — Jas. i. 18. ” Wherefore lay apart all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and receive with meekness the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls. But be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.” — Verses 21, 22.
The order of man’s new birth is this : he receives a knowledge of the truth by hearing and reading. Whenever he reflects upon that knowledge, with a determination to practise it, light appears to his mind, and as he practises what he knows, the light increases. ” The entrance of thy word giveth light; it giveth understanding to the simple.” — Ps. cxix. 130. God Himself is the cause, and the Word of God is the grand instrument by means of which souls are born again. And this takes place gradually. ” It is first the blade, then the ear, and then the full corn in the ear.” — Mark iv. 28. It is first as a grain of mustard seed, but it grows until it becomes the greatest among herbs, and at length a tree, so that all the birds of the air come and lodge in the branches thereof (Matt. xiii. 31, 32). As man hears and receives the truth, he removes from himself his previous errors : as he practises the truth he removes from himself his previous evils, and the love of goodness descends into him from the Lord, so forming him into a new man. This is a change so great and so wonderful that it can only take place by degrees, even with the most earnest. We may suppose that an entire change has been undergone, when we feel very happy at a particular time, but subsequent experience will prove to us that only by little and little can the evils and errors which formed the inhabitants of our souls by nature be driven out, as it was with the enemies of Israel in the land of Canaan (Ex. xxiii. 30). As we obey the truth, more power will be given, more light, more purity, and more love. And thus we shall grow in all that is good, until the entire new man is formed, and not only formed, but increased unto the full stature of a man in Christ Jesus.
This doctrine of gradual regeneration is most important to be known by the Christian, for without it he is apt to fall into grievous errors. Instead of looking for the rebirth through the increase of truth, as he learns and loves the Word, he will seek it in enthusiastic fancies. He will suppose his work is done, when in truth it is only just begun. He will be cast down beyond measure when new temptations open to him new revelations of his being, and evils of whose existence he was unaware, although this is but what he ought to expect. The soul, to begin with, is like a world in ruins. Wildernesses and deserts exist with wild beasts prowling in them, where beautiful gardens ought to exist. To reform and regenerate man as to his whole conscious being is his life-work. And if this be performed, his life will indeed have been of the utmost value. He will have provided heaven with one blissful helper of its joy, at least, to all eternity, and what other work can be compared with that ? All the operations of earth, the proudest erections by means of which the architect may dream of immortality, or the efforts of the painter, or sculptor may induce the hope for enduring fame, but these in time will perish. The soul, however, once saved, will flourish in immortal youth. It will progress in beauty and joy for ever. No wonder, then, that a work of such eternal worth, should be comparatively slow in its completion. Let us be assured, that if we are faithful in our obedience to the Word, the divine work will go on within us as fast as possible. “Oh that my people had hearkened unto Me, and Israel had walked in my ways! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries. The haters of the Lord should have submitted themselves unto him : but their time should have endured for ever. He should have fed them with the finest of the wheat : and with honey out of the should I have satisfied thee.” — Ps. lxxxi. 13 — 16. Thus, then, may we be born in Zion.
It is worthy of notice that it is written, ” This and that man shall be born there.” In the original it is, ”A man and a man shall be born there.” And by this language the twofold character of man is no doubt referred to. For as the Divine Being is Infinite Love and Infinite Wisdom, so He intends man not to be regenerated as to one of his grand faculties alone, but as to both. He must be born again as to his understanding and as to his will. This is described in the Gospel by being born again of water and the spirit, or of truth and love. He who receives the grand principles of virtue and religion into his mind, becomes a man as to intellect ; and when he receives them into his will, and reduces them to action, he becomes a man as to his heart. A man and a man shall be born there. And when this gracious work has been begun, the Divine Love will watch over it until its completion. The Highest Himself shall establish her. The Lord is called the Highest specially in relation to the Divine Love, because this is the inmost of His nature. All other attributes flow from the Divine Love. God is Love. His truth is the light of Love. His power is the strength of Love. His righteousness is the constant virtue of Love. His justice is the rectitude of Love. His patience is the endurance of love. What Love will do at any time, God will do, for God is love. Hence this divine principle is the highest. And whenever we come into the Zion state of loving goodness and truth, in heart and mind, the Highest watches over this with infinite tenderness. The Highest Himself will establish her. How comforting it is to the humble soul who fears lest the good in him may perish, lest he may succumb in some of the future trials of life, to have this divine assurance, he shall be established. The vigilance of Him whose care is unsleeping and untiring, will incessantly watch over him. Whatever may be the strength he needs, it will be given. He will never be forsaken. Every want of his Zion will be supplied. The Highest Himself will establish her.
We are next assured that Jehovah shall count when writeth up the people, that this man was born there. And in an interesting inquiry to ask what is meant by His writing the people ? It suggests the idea of making a final account, an exact reckoning. It is scarcely to suggest that the Lord does not keep any account-books in which a minute history of human actions is registered, separate from man himself. This idea, prevalent in days gone by, was a misunderstanding of a great and important truth. That truth is, that principles make impressions upon the persons who practise them, write their nature upon them. Evils write their impress upon their victims. “The sin of Judah,” said the prophet Jeremiah, ” is written with a pen of iron, and with a point of a diamond ; it is graven upon the tablets of the heart.” — Chap. xvii. 1. Sin does really make a likeness of itself upon both the mind and the body of the sinner. Sensuality gives existence to vitiated and prurient thoughts, and to a coarse and bloated visage. Cunning imparts to its possessor a certain peering fox-like aspect. Insolent violence gives an inflamed ferocious expression to the features. And if these impressions betray themselves in the body, what must they be in the more plastic mind? On the other hand, the principles of virtue, parity, honesty, gentleness, holiness give their impulses and character to both mind and body. Who not delight in the presence and the sphere of one long familiar with the ways of heaven ? The clear and gentle eye, the frank, open, and benevolent countenance, the soft and friendly voice, all speak of a spirit within, on which the divine image has written : ” Ye are our epistle,” said the apostle Paul, “known and read of all men. Forasmuch as ye are manifestly ed to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God ; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart.” — 2 Cor. iii. 2, 3. This writing by the spirit of Christ within, proceeds, as we become regenerated from innermost principles, until the whole man is inscribed by the image and order of heaven: “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God,” said the Lord, “and he shall go no more out. And I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God ; and I will write upon him My new Name.” — Rev. iii. 12. God is the term which expresses especially the Divine Wisdom, and to make the Christian a pillar in the temple of God, is to establish him firmly in the reception of the Divine Wisdom, so that he would never depart from its precepts. To write upon him the name of my God is to impress upon his highest inmost sentiments the nature of the Divine Wisdom, and upon the maxims and rules of his life, the nature of the doctrines of religion derived from heaven, the name of the city New Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from the Divine Wisdom there, and upon his whole life the nature of the Divine Love, which is manifested in the glorified humanity of the Lord, “I will write upon him My new Name.”
To write a name in the book of life, is to form the mind into a book of Christian love, to make it a heaven within ; this is being done by the Lord throughout our lives, so far as we cooperate with His Holy Spirit. But, at the last, when we pass into the world of spirits where judgment takes place, “For it is appointed to men once to die, and after death the judgment”—Heb. ix. 27, then the final lot of man is fixed. To him that hath is given, and he finally has abundance of wisdom, light, and every blessing ; and from him that hath not is taken away, even that which he seemed to have. This final preparation is Jehovah’s writing up of the people. They are finally numbered among the redeemed, who are seen to have been born in Zion. To assembled spirits and angels it is made manifest by the mercy of the Lord, ” This man was born there.” It is made manifest by the spirit of heavenly excellence which glows in every feature; it is manifest by the heavenly beauty which love has created in both face and form ; it is manifest by the sphere with which he is surrounded; it is manifested by the heavenly clothes he wears. Everything then testifies that in the world this man was born again in the holy mount of Zion.
The psalm closes with the instructive and cheering words : “As well the singers as the players on instruments [more properly dancers] shall be there : all my springs are in thee.”
The joy of the heart is expressed by singing, the delight of the mind and life by dancing. Both are perfectly compatible with, and indeed flow from interior religion. In ancient times dancing was joined with singing in the praise of the Lord. And when it is done from gratitude to God, and a desire to make others happy, there is every reason to restore dancing to its honoured position as with singing — a handmaid to the pure joys of religion. ” Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints. Let them praise his name in the dance.” — Ps. cxlix. 1, 3.
In conclusion, my beloved hearers, let our constant aim be, to be born in Zion. No earthly birth or rank will avail us or in the eternal world, to which we are hastening. No titles or dignities of earthly value are admitted there. All rank is entirely dependent upon interior worth and living virtue, and when we are inspected by the Great Judge, only these words concerning the celestial Zion will be music to our ears : “This man was born there.”
Author: JONATHAN BAYLEY –From The Divine Word Opened (1887)