The Character and Dignity of Christians
William Nicholson, 1862
"The LORD will write in the register of the peoples: This one was born in Zion!" Psalm 87:6
"You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God!" 1 Peter 1:23
Glorious things are spoken of Zion, the city of God. Glorious promises are made, glorious privileges are given, and glorious titles ascribed to her. Israel is called God's Hephzibah, his crown and diadem, his jewels, his portion and peculiar treasure. Hence he has engraved Zion on the palms of his hands, and written the names of her children in the Lamb's book of life. A time is coming when the people of God, however despicable now, will be honored by the Divine recognition before the assembled universe. "The LORD will write in the register of the peoples: This one was born in Zion!"
I. The Character of God's People:they are "born" in Zion.
They are the subjects of regeneration, or new birth, and their spiritual "birthplace" is Zion, verse 5, or in the Church of God. Zion was a hill or mount in Jerusalem upon which Solomon erected the Temple of God, where he was worshiped, and where he dispensed his mercies, and displayed his glory, verse 2. The Church of God derives its name from that honored place.
By being "born there," or in the Church, it is necessarily implied,
1. That this change is not of a human character. It is not effected by human means alone. "It is not by might." No one is born a Christian. No one comes into the world with a pure heart, by which regeneration is rendered unnecessary. However great the piety and purity of parents, the child can never resemble them without a Divine change. Piety flows not in the blood, etc. "Children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God!" John 1:13.
2. This change is not ceremonial. It is not effected by baptism; yet some have wickedly declared that we are regenerated by baptism, made children of God, and heirs of the kingdom of Heaven. A person may be baptized in infancy, or in riper years — and yet, like Simon Magus, remain "in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity." Acts 8:23
3. This change is not merely external, nor does it consist in mere formal service. Some people have been so preserved from immoralities, yet they too must be born again.
It is possible for a person to become "another man," like Saul, and yet not be a new man. Ahab humbled himself, and yet he was not truly humble; and Jehu drove on furiously, but not towards Heaven. A man may perform a multitude of religious duties, and yet have an unholy heart. He may be honest and fair in his dealings, and yet be an enemy to God. He may be of a generous, and yet not of a gracious disposition. He may go through the routine of all religion, and yet have no saving religion. He may be able to say with the young ruler, "All these things have I kept from my youth up," and yet lack the one thing needful.
4. It does not mean any kind of impressions or new revelations; any succession of terrors and consolations; or any whisper, as it were, from God to the heart — concerning his secret love, choice, or purpose, to save a man. Many such experiences have been declared by those who continued slaves to their sins. Satan, transformed into an angel of light, has done immense mischief in this way.
5. It is not merely a profession of faith. Many give themselves to the Church, without first giving themselves to the Lord. 2 Corinthians 8:5. Not all who profess Christ, possess Him.
But, to treat this subject in a, positive manner, the birth of God's children is a change wrought by the power of the Holy Spirit in the understanding, will, and affections of a sinner, which is the commencement of a new kind of life, and which gives another direction to his judgment, desires, pursuits, and conduct. This new birth therefore is . . .
1. A divine change. This is stated John 1:13; James 1:18; Ephesians 2:1; 2 Corinthians 4:6; 5:5. Thus he who gave man his physical being at first, can alone create him in Christ Jesus unto good works. He alone can enstamp his own image, and make us partakers of a Divine nature. In the spiritual world, it is God who brings to the birth. To give life to the dead, and to bring a clean thing out of an unclean, is the work of Omnipotence, and the effect of sovereign grace! "Who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God!" John 1:13
2. It is an inward and invisible change.
The understanding is enlightened,
the judgment is informed,
the affections and desires are purified,
the will is subdued, and subjected to the will of God,
the soul is turned from the love of the world and the creature, to the great Creator and his service.
This birth is not fictitious, but real; it is the existence of truth in "the inward parts." See Ezekiel 36:26, 27.
Regeneration cleanses the corrupt fountain of the heart, and demolishes the strongholds of Satan. It is a change . . .
from heart wickedness — to heart goodness,
from enmity to God — to love to God,
from the image of Satan — to the image of God.
3. This change is universal, extending to the heart and life. Man is "created after God in righteousness and true holiness." Not only the mind — but the man is renewed. The mind is not only renewed, but there is also a new life and course of action. The former is called "newness of spirit," the latter, "newness of life." The tree is made good, and its fruit is good. "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come!" 2 Corinthians 5:17
4. It is a change of which the subject of it is conscious. The subject has felt himself guilty, condemned, impure. He has been brought to the cross; believed in Christ; and found peace and joy. He hates the principles and practices which he formerly loved — and he loves the holy doctrines and commandments which he once abhorred. He now loves to associate with the people of God. He has "the witness in himself."
5. He who is born again, gives evidence that he has passed from death to life. It is visible in his conduct — the observer of him perceives the change. How different now from what he once was!
The following are the principal evidences:
(1) Hatred to sin.
(2) Victory over the world.
(3) Brotherly love.
(4) Delight in spiritual duties.
(5) Exemplary conduct; a life of holiness.
(6) Self-loathing, and constant faith in the sacrifice of Christ.
(7) Sincere love to Christ.
II. God's Future Recognition of His People as Born in Zion."The LORD will write in the register of the peoples: This one was born in Zion!"
1. God knows his people now, and records their names and deeds in the book of his remembrance. The book of remembrance, or book of judgment — probably refer to the important registers kept by monarchs of the acts of their servants, by which they were influenced in the treatment of them, conferring dignity, honor, and wealth on the faithful, and death in its most terrific forms on the treacherous.
In the mind of God, or book of remembrance, the deeds of the wicked are recorded, and especially the names of those who were born in Zion, with all the fruits of their regeneration. See Esther 6:1,2; Daniel 7:10; Malachi 3:16; Revelation 20:12. The names of believers are said to be in the book of life. Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 21:27; 22:19.
2. At the day of judgment this Divine recognition shall be made. That there shall be such a day, and for such a purpose, is abundantly proved by Scripture statements, and from the days of the patriarchs, this subject has interested the Church. "He shall come to be glorified in his saints," etc. 2 Thessalonians 1:10; Acts 17:31; Hebrews 9:27-28; Titus 2:13; Matthew 25:31, etc. What a solemn and unspeakable period! Blessed will they be, whom the Lord will then make up as his Jewels!
3. The Divine Being at this momentous period will have a perfect knowledge of the characters of all men, and will make a distinct separation of them. "Then once more you shall see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between one who serves God and one who does not serve him." Malachi 3:18; "All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats!" Matthew 25:32.
The wicked, however great and lofty they may have been here, will be disowned there. When God writes up his people, the names of multitudes of kings, and heroes, and conquerors, and statesmen, will not be found in the book of remembrance. The righteous, however poor, base, filthy, and despicable they may have been accounted on earth — will be gloriously recognized by the Judge of all there. The Lord will number up at that day, for which all other days were made, all the true children of the Church, and show the eminency and excellency of their characters; and contrast them with all whom the world has admired and celebrated in ungodly men.
4. This recognition will be public. God will then exhibit the verity and excellency of Christianity. He will signify to the assembled multitudes his love of his people, and his hand will graciously point to them when he says, "This man was born in Zion! He was not ashamed of her, and I am not ashamed of him," etc.
5. When the Lord writes up his people, he will graciously reward and exalt them. They were born in Zion — dwelt in Zion, were laborers together with God in Zion, suffered in and for Zion — and now they shall dwell forever in the New Jerusalem. ""Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world." Matthew 25:34
1. Be thankful for your spiritual birth in Zion. It is all of grace.
2. How contemptible is earthly lineage, however dignified — compared with the honorable birth of Christians, who are called "the sons of God! "
3. Anticipate the period of Divine recognition.