Robert E. Surgenor
Just before approaching one of the saddest of all Psalms, the 88th, which commences with night and ends in darkness, we view a city, the most unique city in all the world - Zion, more commonly known as Jerusalem. The meaning of the name Jerusalem is, "foundation of peace." How fitting, for the foundation of our peace with God was laid in Jerusalem. Twas there the Saviour died.
Being mentioned over 800 times in the Scriptures, the natural man could well wonder why Jerusalem is such an important city, even today. Features that usually promote cities to wealth and fame are not to be found. It is not situated on the banks of any great river, nor does it own a harbour to accommodate merchant ships. No mineral riches lay beneath its surrounding land and it lies completely off the main trade routes. By all human reasoning it should have vanished from the scenes of history centuries ago -yet, even today, it remains one of the most important cities of the world and in a soon-coming day it definitely will be the most important of all this worlds cities - the reason being, God loves it.
Whoever wrote the 87th Psalm was certainly impressed with the literal City of Jerusalem. However, for our meditations will you allow me the liberty to apply this most unique city to the assembly of God? If so, then you may be delighted as you continue to read.
The psalmist calls Jerusalem the "city of God." This expression can be found in four other portions of the Book of God - Psalm 46; 48; 101; and Isaiah 60. Each of these portions employ a leading theme. Ps. 46 - The Presence of God. "God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved." Ps. 48 - The Power and Protection of God. Mark ye well her bulwarks, consider her palaces." Ps. 101 -The Principled Man of God. "I will behave myself wisely in a perfect way." Isaiah 60 - The Prosperity of God. "The Gentiles shall come to thy light,.. they shall bring gold and incense. "The length of our meditations on this occasion will not warrant an exposition of these features relative to a local assembly, but we do want to consider Psalm 87 in this light where we see, The People of God. "This and that man was born in her."
The first thing the psalmist appreciates is the citys foundation. Anything to be built, if it is to endure, must have a good foundation. When our Lord reveals the Dispensational Church to His disciples He indicates a solid foundation, that the gates of hell cannot prevail against. "Upon this rock I will build my church" (Matt. 16:18). Certainly, "He is the Rock, His work is perfect" (Deut. 32:4).
Not only does the Dispensational Church have a foundation, but so does the District Church (the local assembly). Paul laid a scriptural foundation for the assembly at Corinth. Concerned that their faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God, he determined not to know any thing among them, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. Consequently his speech and his preaching was not with enticing words of mans wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power. His preaching was not intellectual power (imparting mere thoughts of the mind to the hearers mind). A mere presentation of facts is not enough! Nor was his preaching soulish power (psychic, influencing the hearers emotions through his emotions). No, no! A scriptural foundation cannot be laid thus. Pauls preaching was with spiritual power -Convincing, Convicting then Converting!
I have witnessed men trying to make the way of salvation simple to the sinner by way of illustrations. A book is placed in one hand to represent Christ. Another book, representing the sinners sins is then placed on the other book and the preacher says, "Now dear one, where are your sins now?" Thus a profession is made through a simple illustration - but has there been a work of the Spirit in their soul? Paul never resorted to such tricky tactics. He preached, he plowed, he prayed and left the results to God. Here is a noble man that never pressured souls into a profession through explanations, logic and human reasoning. First Corinthians ch. 2 clearly supports my candid remarks. Pauls foundation for the assembly involved fundamental teachings concerning the Person and work of Christ. Thus the foundation for the Dispensational Church was laid historically at the cross by Christ, while the foundation of the local assembly at Corinth was laid doctrinally by the apostle Paul.
Then we notice Jerusalems situation- "in the holy mountains," Gods assembly is an elevated and an holy place. God has lifted us! "He brought me up also out of an horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock, and established my goings" (Ps. 40:2). What a tremendous work of grace. Consider the Corinthians - fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, abusers of themselves with mankind, thieves, covetous, drunkards, revilers, extortioners! "And such were some of you" Paul exclaims, "But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Cor. 6). Yes, they were "His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works" (Eph 2:10). The disciples met in a large upper room. What a fitting description of an assembly. Do we recognize the dignity of the gathering? I express my appreciation of the loftiness of Gods assembly in a manifold way. (1) By my demeanor. Sobriety betokens the house of God. I have seen so called "saints" laughing as the emblems passed from hand to hand. One wonders if they had divine life. A lack of reverence. Does not God require us to "serve Him acceptably with reverence and godly fear? (Heb. 12:28). (2) By my dress. What clothes should I wear? God was very particular regarding the dress of the priests. To violate Gods dress code called for the death penalty (Ex.28:40-43). In the days of our Lord there was a dress code for weddings (Matt. 22:11). Today, corporations enforce dress codes for their executives (a conservative suit), airlines for their pilots (a uniform). If corporations require a conservative dress suit for those who represent them, should the standard of the assembly be any lower? Is not the assembly more important than any corporation? Am I not representing it? I observe it this way. When a brother attends an assembly function he betrays his appreciation and respect for that assembly by the way he adorns himself. Why does his dress suit, shirt and tie remain in the closet as he enters the gathering in casual clothes. The answer is simple. He just does not consider that particular meeting that important. To present ones self before a monarch requires proper dress. Should presenting ones self before the King of kings and Lord of lords require less?
Gods assembly is an elevated place, situated within holy mountains. One is never spoken of as going DOWN to Jerusalem, but always as going UP. I trust that all of us are spiritually educated enough to realize that the assembly is just not a better place. I trust that you have come to see that it is THE place. It cannot be identified or compared with the sects of men. Gods assembly is an entirely different thing. It is not an organization, but rather an organism, a "church of the living God." When this truth is apprehended, one could never leave the gathering and drift DOWN into denominationalism. The assembly has mountains, high points. Let me mention just a few. (1) It receives only those who are born again, baptized, spiritually and morally clean. (2) It is the very ground of the truth. It upholds ALL the Word of God. (3) The Lords supper is carried out scripturally - one bread, one cup, every Lords Day. (4) Purity is maintained and wicked ones are put away. (5) The priesthood of all believers is practiced. (6) The government is not democratic, nor dictorial, but rather theocratic, a government composed of overseers. Certainly we can exclaim, "Glorious things are spoken of thee, 0 city of God. Selah" (vs. 3).
Like the city of God, Gods assembly is a place of mixed people, from every walk of life. "I will make mention of Rahab and Babylon to them that know me: behold Philistia, and Tyre, with Ethiopia, this man was born there. 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. Selah" (vs. 4-6).
It is interesting to note that the normal word for man is "adam, also, "enosh," meaning, "frail and mortal." However, the word for man in verse five is, "ish," meaning a man of high degree, a man of worth. Called with a high calling we are men of worth, through our association with Christ. "Rahab, the poetical name for Egypt would indicate a proud and materialistic people, but now born again, humble and spiritual. Babylon, portraying a people of worldliness and confusion, but now illuminated and heavenly-minded. Philistia, a people wrongfully possessing the land and enemies of Gods people, but now subdued by sovereign grace through the new birth, acknowledging that God is in the assembly of a truth. Tyre, signifying the rich merchants of the world, a covetous people, yet now born of God, communicating their wealth to those in need and hearty supporters of the Lords work with their substance. Ethiopia, that dark and distant people steeped in ignorance and superstition, but now indwelt by the Spirit and growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and our Saviour, Jesus Christ. As we look at the miracle of Gods assembly well may we exclaim like another, "What hath God wrought"! The inhabitants of Gods assembly have experienced the new birth and like members of a human body knit together, each one doing their part for the good of the body. Christians gathered TOGETHER and of the same mind. God says, We are "the excellent, in whom is all my delight" (Ps. 16:3). We are those of high degree and worth. May the Lord give us grace to display to frail mortal men, our dignified standing in our sojourn here.
The people of the city were divinely registered. "The Lord shall count, when He writeth up the people, That this man was born there. Selah." How wonderful to witness in a series of gospel meetings this and that man born there. Sometimes great numbers profess. Let us be careful on our counting. I am afraid that on some occasions the Lords count may differ from ours. Older servants taught us never to say, "So many got saved." Far safer to say, "So many professed to be saved." Lip profession does not mean one has actually obtained Gods salvation. Let us rejoice with them when they tell us, but let us also wait and watch their life. Is there a change? Are the graces of Christ being manifested in their life? Are their desires godly? Are they growing in grace and in the knowledge of divine things? If so, then I feel more confident to acknowledge that they may have the root of the matter in them. Let us be slow in our counting, it is the Lords count that really matters!
The city was musical. I have a wonderful instrument to accompany my vocal cords in singing. What is it? Why, it is my heart! How is our singing brethren? Is it like a funeral dirge, or is it joyous? "Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving, and make a joyful noise unto him with psalms" (Ps. 95:2). "I will praise the LORD with my whole heart, in the assembly of the upright" (Ps. 111:1). "Speaking to yourselves in psalms (relating experiences) and hymns (God being the subject) and spiritual songs (ordinary truths), singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19).
The city was a delightful place. Let me ask, is this how Gods assembly appears to you? Can you exclaim, "All my springs (happiness) are in thee?" Is the assembly paramount in my thoughts? Is it on the top of my priority list? Is my life wrapped up in the assembly? Is it the most important thing in my life? Is the source of my contentment, my joy, my delight, my desires - the assembly? Can you exclaim like the psalmist, All my springs are in thee?" If not, consider your ways. What a unique, what a wonderful, what a glorious and what a precious place Gods assembly is. It is the spiritual city of God, and God loveth the gates of Zion. May we love it too!