Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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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 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.  Rev. Stewart

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 it.

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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