“And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her: and the highest himself shall establish her.
“The Lord shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there.” – Psalm 87:5, 6
The eighty-seventh Psalm, from which our text is taken, is a song of praise to the Lord for His church. In Zechariah we read, “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.” Here Jerusalem is the city of truth and Zion the holy mountain. Zion represents a state of love and those in whom love to the Lord reigns. So the Psalmist writes, “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,” and 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.” It is not the material city and mountain that are here meant. Again, the angels of heaven were seen in vision by John on Mount Zion: “And I looked, and, lo, a Lamb stood on the mount Sion, and with him an hundred and forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads.” The Father is the Lord as to His Divine love, and His name written on the forehead is His truth inscribed in the will. Zion was the highest part of Jerusalem; so our Psalm continues with the words, “The Lord loveth the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.” 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 any other knowledge. For without the possession of heavenly love, no other grace is truly valuable. Love is the fulfilling of the law; it disposes the heart to believe and rejoice in the truth.
The Zion, then, whose gates the Lord loves, and of which it shall be said, when He counts up His people, “This man was born there,” is no material city, but a state of life. We naturally have an affection for the place where we were born, where our childhood days were spent. But as the Lord is no respecter of persons, He will certainly be no respecter of cities, or of any one place over another on His beautiful earth. The place of one’s natural birth does not confer any special benefit. A good man is a good man wherever he may have been born.
When it is written then, “Of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her,” our attention is intended to be directed to the subject of our rebirth or regeneration, so as to have a new nature from the Lord and become citizens of a new heavenly city. “Ye must be born again,” said our Lord, “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again” and “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
We are born with inclinations to self, and if we do not become regenerated, happiness will be impossible of attainment. No change of place will make us happy. There can be no heaven formed out of minds that are not heavenly. Nor can there be any true peace if selfishness is cherished in the mind. By education, by the customs of society, by the power of the law, conditions may be smoothed over and an external order induced, but this will be only palliative.
It has been thought that if all men could be placed beyond the reach of want, they would be happy. But they would not if their desires and their minds remained impure. “There is no peace, saith the Lord, to the wicked.” There is no lasting peace, no lasting safety, no loveliness but in obedience to the Divine injunction “Ye must be born again.”
This teaching, so distinctly declared, is corroborated by all experience. With man, such as he is by nature, constant and orderly happiness is impossible. Society as it exists is the outbirth of the minds of those who compose it, and if those minds were transported to another world, they would produce the same results. No heaven could be formed out of minds that are not heavenly.
The necessity for man’s regeneration will appear still more clearly if we consider what heaven is. The word “hashshamayim” – heavens in the original language – is derived from the union of “esh,” fire, with “mayim,” waters. The union of the fire of love with the waters of truth gives us the interior elements of heaven. The Lord said, “The kingdom of God is within you.” If for a single day a man would be happy, he must give in that day the highest place to Him from whom alone light, love, and peace descend. No heaven can exist without this. The first and greatest law of life 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.”
And where love to the Lord is, love to the neighbor grows out of it. Unless this were so, man would be solitary and selfish. Let us, for example, take a community of ten persons. If the chief thought of each was how to make the rest happy, each one would be ten times as happy as he could be alone. This is the second law of heavenly life. In the heavens things are beautiful without because they are beautiful within. We take ourselves with us wherever we go.
We need not only to be born again but to be born in Zion. To be born in Zion is to be born in the holy affections which Zion represents and to live from them. This is why we are put in this world. If we are not born in Zion, it does not matter where else we were born.
The Lord implants in every soul that is born the germs of heavenly life. But they have to be cherished and nourished. We need constantly to learn truths from the Word. The more truth one learns the more powerful will become his faith, the greater influence it will have on his life, and in time he will be made anew and rendered happy.
The order of man’s new birth is this: he receives a knowledge of the truth by hearing and reading; then whenever he reflects upon that knowledge with a desire to live according to it, a light appears in his mind; and as he practices what he knows, the light increases. “The entrance of thy words giveth light; it giveth understanding unto the simple.” The Lord Himself is the cause and His Word is the means by which we are born again. Each truth is first as a grain of mustard seed, but it grows until it becomes a great tree. As we hear and receive the truth, we remove from ourselves our previous errors, and as we do as truth teaches, we remove our previous evils, and then the love of goodness descends from the Lord, forming in us the new man. This change is so great and so wonderful that it can take place only by degrees, even with the most earnest.
It is most important that the Christian know this doctrine of gradual regeneration, for without it he is apt to fall into serious errors. He may think that the work is done, when in reality it has only begun. Then when new and greater temptations assail, he will become cast down. Regeneration is a life work. There are always higher states of life to which we may aspire. It is really a sign of progress when we see the need of new changes in our attitudes and in our lives. All the earthly constructions will in time decay and come to their end. But the soul lives forever and if formed according to the pattern showed us on the mount, will increase in beauty forever. No wonder, then, that a work of such eternal worth should be comparatively slow in completion. Let us be assured, however, that if we are faithful in our obedience to the Word, the Divine work will go on within us as fast as possible. “O 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.”
In the original tongue “This and that man was born in her” is “A man and a man was born in her.” By this language the twofold nature of man is indicated. For as the Lord is Love and Wisdom, so He intends man to be regenerated not as to one of his 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 as being born of water and of the spirit – of truth and love.
When we receive the Divine truth in the mind, we become men as to our understanding, and when we receive the Divine love in our wills and carry it out into act, we become men as to our hearts. “And of Zion it shall be said, This and that man was born in her, and the highest himself shall establish her.” God is love, His truth is the light of His love, His power is the strength of love. His righteousness is the virtue of love. His patience is the endurance of love. Whatever love can do the Lord at any time will do for us. When we come into the Zion state, whatever trials may beset us, the strength that we need will be given.
“The Lord shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there.” Principles make their impression upon those who practice them and write their nature upon them. Good makes a likeness of itself in both mind and body, and evils write their impress on their victims. Jeremiah writes, “The sin of Judah is written with a pen of iron, and with the point of a diamond: it is graven upon the table of their heart.” We are day by day writing our book of life.
Our Psalm closes with the words “As well the singers as the players on instruments shall be there: all my springs are in thee.” The joy of the heart is expressed by singing. It is the glad song of the redeemed that is pictured here. No earthly birth or rank will avail us in the eternal world. All earthly titles and dignities are left behind. Rank there is determined entirely by interior worth and living virtue. “The Lord shall count, when he writeth up the people, that this man was born there.”