August 2011 • Volume XIII, Issue 16
Glorious Things Spoken of the Church (3)
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
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
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. Rev.
The Outpouring of the Holy Spirit Upon
All Flesh (1)
Question: "Could I have an interpretation of Acts 2:17-18?" The text
reads, "And it shall come to pass in the last days, saith God, I will
pour out of my Spirit upon all flesh: and your sons and your daughters
shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men
shall dream dreams: and on my servants and on my handmaidens I will
pour out in those days of my Spirit; and they shall prophesy."
This important passage of Scripture has been frequently abused with
interpretations that twist and distort the meaning of the text, and,
in this way, obscure its glorious truth.
Revivalists who claim that revivals are a major part of the work of
the Spirit in the church, and who now, in these days of apostasy and
worldliness, look for a special outpouring of the Spirit, bringing
revival as the cure for the church’s ills, appeal to this text and
interpret what happened on Pentecost as the first New Testament
revival. Nothing could be further from the truth. Pentecostals and
those who are a part of the Charismatic movement appeal to this text
as proof that their view of the work of the Holy Spirit is correct.
They are as far as the revivalists from the truth.
It is sad that such dreadfully wrong interpretations of the text have
obscured what is a crucial work of the Holy Spirit in the new
dispensation. In fact, in the deepest sense of the word, Pentecost is
the beginning of the new dispensation, and this text is the proof of
Let us take a close look at this Word of God. It must be remembered,
first of all, that Peter is explaining what had happened to the one
hundred and twenty gathered together on the first day of the week.
Peter is explaining this event as the fulfilment of prophecy. The
prophecy is found in Joel 2:28-29. Joel was not predicting revivals;
nor was he predicting the rise of the charismatic movement—a heresy in
its current form that appeared only in the twentieth century. He was
speaking of the work of Christ who came in the fullness of time for
the salvation of His church.
Peter himself makes that clear as he briefly reviews the work of
Christ (Acts 2:22-28). The outpouring of the Spirit was the climax of
Christ’s work. Christ suffered at the hands of wicked men and was
nailed to the cross by the Jews in consort with Pilate and
Herod—although this was the realization of the counsel of God,
according to which He had ordained that His Son should die on the
cross as the full accomplishment of the salvation of the elect (23).
When Christ ascended into heaven (33), He was given the Holy Spirit.
That Holy Spirit Christ gave to the church on Pentecost. Christ, from
His place of exaltation at the Father’s right hand, gives His Spirit
to the church so that, through the Spirit, all the blessings Christ
merited for the church would become our possession.
This work of Christ is the fulfilment of the promise He made to the
church before He went to the cross. Already Christ had promised this
when He was in the temple and when He, in a solemn and startling way,
pointed to Himself as the water of life. John, under the infallible
guidance of the same Spirit, explained these waters of life as
referring to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, an event that would
take place only when Christ ascended into heaven: "But this spake he
of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the
Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet
glorified" (John 7:39).
The Lord also told His disciples of this great gift that He would give
in that stirring address after the last supper. It is found in John
14-16 and contains no less than five references to the gift of the
Holy Spirit, who is called "the Spirit of truth" and "the Comforter"
(14:16-20, 26; 15:26-27; 16:7-11, 13-14). We can find no mention
of revivals and their special outpourings of the Spirit, nor of signs
and wonders given to the church in some second blessing. In our Lord’s
appearance to the disciples on the day of His resurrection, "he
breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost"
(20:22). In this way, the Lord assured them that He would indeed send
His Spirit to them, and by the Spirit be with them always even unto
the end of the world.
That revivalism and Pentecostalism are not referred to in the text is
evident from the fact, first of all, that Joel spoke of the "last
days" when this would happen. Revivalism and Pentecostalism are
post-Reformation errors. From Pentecost to rather recent times, no
such special outpouring of the Spirit took place—except for some
heretical offshoots of the church caught up in mystical frenzy. Both
errors are phenomena of the last two or three centuries, and are not
events that take place in the "last days." (Prof. Hanko deals more
fully with revivalism and Pentecostalism in chapters 27, 28 and 33 of
his recent hardback book,
Contending for the Faith, available from the CPRC Bookstore
for £16.50 [including P&P]).
By the last days, the prophets referred to the days of Christ’s
coming; a period of time extending from Christ’s coming into our flesh
through birth from the Virgin Mary, through Christ’s coming at
Pentecost, all the way to His coming again at the end of the world
(see John 14:1-3 and the texts mentioned above in John 14-16). These
are the latter days, and they are so called because they are the days
of the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophecies, prophecies that
without exception, spoke of Christ’s coming to save His church and
bring God’s judgments upon the wicked. After the last days, we enter
the eternal state of glory.
Second, Peter speaks of "all flesh" as the recipients of the Spirit
whom Christ sends. He does not speak of a few in Wales or in New
England who receive the Spirit. Nor does He speak of a special elite
who are the recipients of a "second blessing." He speaks of all flesh.
By this term, neither Peter nor Joel meant every man head for head; it
refers to the fact that in the old dispensation salvation was limited
to the Jews or to proselytes who became Jews through the rite of
circumcision. But in the new dispensation, Christ gives His Spirit to
His elect people for whom He died in every nation and among every
tribe and tongue. This is a magnificent promise, for it is the promise
of the gathering a truly catholic church—not a Roman catholic
church, but a universal church.
In the next News, we shall consider the profound difference
brought about by Pentecost and the outpouring of the Spirit on that
day: the difference between the old dispensation and the new
dispensation. Prof. Hanko
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