This is the longest of all the 150 Psalms and perhaps for that reason the 176 verses are seldom or never read completely, either in public or in private study. This is a great loss. Although the name of the author and the date of this unique Psalm are not given, God is breathing throughout each precious verse, which regrettably to many only seem repetitions. This Psalm shows us the various virtues and aspects of the Word of God and that it can meet our every need and situation.
SOME PRELIMINARY REMARKS
In some translations a letter of the Hebrew alphabet is printed at the head of each section of eight verses: “Aleph” (verses 1-8); “Beth” (verses 9-16); “Gimel” (verses 17-24); “Daleth” (verses 25-32), etc. The eight verses of each section all begin with the letter that is set at the head of the section. For instance, verses 1-8 all begin with the letter Aleph; verses 9-16 all begin with the letter Beth; verses 17-24 all begin with the letter Gimel and verses 25-32 all begin with the letter Daleth. Furthermore, the meaning of the letter at the head of each section is often the dominant theme of that section. For instance, the section from verse 1 to verse 8 with the letter Aleph at its head, which signifies an ox in the service of man, gives us a type of the perfect Servant, Christ. The section from verse 9 to verse 16 with the letter Beth at its head, which means a house with foundations, suggests that which is fundamental for the Christian's life. The section from verse 17 to verse 24 with the letter Gimel at its head, which means Camel, suggests a wilderness scene through which the camel passes, though having sufficient resources for its journey. It portrays believers as they pass through this wilderness world, having adequate resources in the Word of God. The section from verse 25 to verse 32 with the letter Daleth at its head, which means a door, suggests the theme “The entrance of Thy words giveth light”, etc. (Ps.119:130).
The composition of this Psalm is therefore in the form of a perfect and regular alphabetic acrostic of 22 sections, corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. Each section is of eight verses. There are eight other acrostic Psalms:
a. Psalms 9 and 10. The alphabet runs through the two Psalms. Psalm 9 has the first half of the letters and Psalm 10 gives the remaining letters but with some omissions. The acrostic is therefore incomplete.
b. Psalm 25. The twenty-two verses begin with the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet, but not in order.
c. Psalm 34. This is a complete acrostic but for one letter only (verse 22).
d. Psalm 37. This is a complete acrostic.
e. Psalms 111 and 112. These are complete acrostics.
f. Psalm 145. This is a complete acrostic but for one letter only.
There are two more examples of the acrostic device, apart from the Psalms. In the book of Proverbs, chapter 31, the twenty-two verses describing the virtuous woman all begin respectively with the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (verses 10-31). Lastly, in the book of Lamentations the arrangement is similar to that of Psalm 119.
Perhaps the acrostic device was intended to help the memory. No doubt the reader will find it so. It may be asked, “Why 22 sections of 8 verses precisely?” Here I quote from W.G.Scroggie: “The word EIGHT, in the Hebrew, is sh'moneh, from shaman which means 'to make fat', 'to super abound'. SEVEN is enough, but EIGHT is more than enough, 7 plus 1; it goes beyond seven and is the beginning of a new series, era, or order. EIGHT is the first 'cubic' number and is more than a square, which is represented by four. It is the number of resurrection. Christ rose from the dead on 'the first day of the week', which was the EIGHTH day, Saturday being the SEVENTH of the Jewish week. The 'superabundance beyond completion' is shown in Psalm 119 in respect of the Law of the Lord, the Word of God, in twenty-two stanzas of EIGHT verses each; each verse a couplet, so that, as to lines, each stanza is EIGHT multiplied by two. Nothing could more perfectly display the fertility, fatness and fulness of the Word and will of God”
As a diamond has different FACETS reflecting the light striking upon it in different colours, so bringing out its beauty, this Psalm also shows different facets of the Word of the Law of God. One can distinguish 9 of these facets here:
1. Verse 1: TOH-RAH = Law. The root meaning of the word is to teach or instruct. It occurs 25 times in the Psalm and is always in the singular (never “laws”). See verses 1, 18, 29, 34, 44, 51, 53, 55, 61, 70, 72, 77, 85, 92, 97, 109, 113, 126, 136, 142, 150, 153, 163, 165 and 174. It has the meaning of teaching, guiding, directing, instructing. It is a divine instruction with regard to conduct and character.
2. Verse 2: EDUTH = Testimonies. It is a revelation or a revealed psalm. It occurs 9 times in verses 14, 31, 36, 88, 99, 111, 129, 144 and 157, in the singular. The word EDAH = Precept and occurs 14 times in verses 2, 22, 24, 46, 59, 79, 95, 119, 125, 138, 146, 152, 167 and 168, in the plural. It means a testimony, or a reiteration, an attestation or witness, a constant witness to Jehovah's will.
3. Verse 4: PIK-KOO-DEEM = Precepts (or Commandments). It occurs 21 times in verses 4, 15, 27, 40, 45, 56, 63, 69, 78, 87, 93, 94, 100, 104, 110, 128, 134, 141, 159, 168 and 173 (always in the plural). It means a charge given to us by God for which we are responsible, “to place in trust”, or “to take oversight”.
4. Verse 5: CHUQQIM = Statute. This is sometimes translated a “portion” (as for the priests in Genesis 47:22) and on one occasion “task” (Exodus 5:14). The word occurs 22 times in verses 5, 8, 12, 16, 23, 26, 33, 48, 54, 64, 68, 71, 80, 83, 112, 117, 118, 124, 135, 145, 155 and 171. It comes from the root to cut into, to hack, and hence to engrave, to carve. See Job 13:27 that might be translated “around the roots of my feet hast Thou dug up (the ground)”, or “hast made a trench, so that I cannot go on”, i.e. “hast stopped up my way”. Thou hast marked out to my feet how far they shall go. It has the idea of that which is established, or definite; an appointed portion of food, or task; a definite limit, as in Job 26:10, Proverbs 8:29; an appointed law, statute or ordinance. It is therefore a divine direction for my obedience, or to arrest disobedience. It stimulates obedience. It is the Law as a permanent record of God's will.
5. Verse 6: MITZ-VAH = Commandments (plural). It occurs 22 times. See verses 6, 10, 19, 21, 32, 35, 47, 48, 60, 66, 73, 86, 96, 98, 115, 127, 131, 143, 151, 166, 172 and 176. It comes from the root to command and has the idea of prohibit too. It is a divine imperative decree. Examples of this are that God forbade Adam from eating of the tree and told Noah to build the ark. It is a command imposed by God's absolute authority. It shows us the requirement of His will.
6. Verse 7: MISH-PAHT = Judgment. The word occurs 23 times in verses 7, 13, 20, 30, 39, 43, 52, 62, 75, 84, 91, 102, 106, 108, 120, 121, 132, 137, 149, 156, 160, 164 and 175. It means the sentence of a judge and is especially used of a sentence by which a penalty is inflicted. It is therefore a judicial sentence, a decision the Lord makes.
7. Verse 9: DAH-VAHR = a Word (“debir”). This word occurs 24 times in verses 9, 16, 17, 25, 28, 42 (twice), 43, 49, 57, 65, 74, 81, 89, 101, 105, 107, 114, 130, 139, 147, 160, 161 and 169. It is similar in meaning to the Greek word “LOGOS”. It means the “articulation of God's will to men”. It is the spoken word, like the “oracles of God” in 1 Peter 4:10-11. See also Genesis 44:18. Some say it is derived from the word “Dabar” that means “to arrange in a row” or “to set forth in speech”. The Ten Commandments are also called the “TEN WORDS” or “DECA-LOGUE”. It is therefore a communicating medium of the revealed will of God.
8. Verse 11: IMRAH = a Saying (Arabic:“AMR”= a thing). It is a word, a speech, or else a sacred hymn or poem (Ps.17:6). It is also something communicated orally. The words by which a revelation is imparted. It occurs 19 times in verses 11, 38, 41, 50, 58, 67, 76, 82, 103, 116, 123, 133, 140, 148, 154, 158, 162, 170 and 172.
9. Verse 1: DEREK = the Way. It has the meaning of walking, of going and hence a journey that any one takes; a way, a path in which one goes (Arabic: Tariq or Sabil), a mode or course. It is also “a road as trodden”, a mode of life, a course of action marked out by God's Law. It occurs 13 times in verses 1, 3, 5, 14, 26, 27, 29, 30, 32, 33, 37, 59 and 168.
It is interesting that in only three verses is there no direct reference to the Law or any of its synonyms: these verses are 90, 122 and 132. Another interesting fact is that the Name Jehovah occurs 22 times, though not necessarily in each of the 22 sections (Some expositors count 24 times). The Psalmist refers to himself 325 times. We might almost say that this Psalm is too individualistic simply to represent the nation of Israel. To this I shall refer later. One expositor has counted 70 prayer requests in this Psalm and encourages the reader to list them. Every verse in section five is a prayer.
WHAT OTHERS SAY ABOUT PSALM 119
All who want themes for soul or service can find them here; for it may be said that every verse embodies a seed-thought.
It is a divine alphabet of love.
It is a paradise of all doctrine.
It is the school of the truth.
It is the ABC of the Christian's praise.
It seems not to need an expositor, but only a reader and listener.
The Psalm rehearses the various virtues of the Word of God and the saints' delight and profit therein. Any believer may generally use it as the breathing of his own soul; but in its full prophetic character, it would seem that it will be the language of the true Israel on their return to God and His long neglected oracles (J.G.B.).
Psalm 119 is the expression of the effect of the law written in the heart of Israel, when they had long erred from God's ways and were sorrowing under the effects of it. We see thus that the “form” of this Psalm cannot apply to the Christian. But from the general principle we may learn much, as that which is wrought in the heart as regards its moral disposition (J.N.D.).
Purity of “heart” is not so much in question as purity of “walk”. That is, there is everywhere present the evidence of a faith which, when the grace of God is known in truth, purifies the heart of the believer; but the soul has not yet had revealed to it an object to which it can look in peaceful forgetfulness of itself. The darkness still continues, and the true light is wished for rather than enjoyed. It is very manifestly the expression of one who discerned in his inner man the excellent perfection of the law, and whose whole heart, therefore, was set on its attempted fulfilment. The zeal of Jehovah, as that which marks distinctively the spiritual man, is plainly visible through every expression of human weakness and stress with which the Psalm abounds (A. Pridham).
That this great Psalm has its many blessed thoughts and exhortations for the individual believer is indeed very true. The 176 verses are all precious gems and many find an echo in the heart of a true believer (A.C.Gaebelein).
(To be continued, if the Lord will).
A Welcome Judgment
Judgment is inescapable. God's Word declares with absolute decision “We must all be manifested before the judgment seat of the Christ, that each may receive the things done in the body, according to those he has done, whether it be good or evil” (2 Cor. 5:10). Some may not believe this, but their unbelief will not exempt them. In the case of unbelievers the judgment seat of Christ will be the great white throne (Rev. 20:11-15). The Christ they refuse will be their judge. They may think death is the end, but “all that are in the graves shall hear His voice, and shall come forth” (John 5:28-29). Their bodies raised, they will receive their judgment in their bodies, for what they have done in their bodies. The very fact of standing before the Son of God will fill people with terror and the results will fill them with horror. Since they will be judged according to their works they will be consigned to the lake of fire to suffer torment day and night for ever and ever. How dreadfully unwelcome, yet inescapable a judgment for those who have refused the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ!
For the believer, how infinitely different! Through trusting Christ as His Saviour he has been saved by the pure grace of God and personally is promised that he will not come into judgment, but is passed from death to life (John 5:24). Yet he too will be manifested at the judgment seat of Christ. For the believer the judgment seat will be in heaven, however. Though he may die, which means that his spirit and soul will leave his body, the body possibly completely decaying, yet at the coming of the Lord Jesus (the Rapture) his body will be reunited with his spirit and soul, and he will be raised and caught up to be with the Lord. Philippians 3:21 tells us that at that time He will “transform our body of humiliation into conformity to His body of glory”. All the effects of sin will be totally done away and we will be manifested at the judgment seat of Christ in bodies like His.
Will that judgment be welcome? Absolutely so! For it will not be the judgment of our persons. It will rather be a manifestation of everything concerning us, a review of our entire lives. Certainly it will be most serious, for the Lord cannot carelessly pass over anything. Though we will not be judged, our works will be. In this the Lord will certainly be absolutely fair and impartial. Would we want Him to be otherwise? Our acceptance in Him has already been perfectly settled before this takes place and there is no reason for the believer to have the least fear of this solemn event. In fact, when it takes place we shall be thankful for it to the depths of our souls.
What will it involve? 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 tells us, “For other foundation can no man lay besides that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one build upon this foundation, gold, silver, precious stones, wood, grass, straw, the work of each shall be made manifest; for the day shall declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire shall try the work of each what it is. If the work of anyone which he has built upon the foundation shall abide, he shall receive a reward. If the work of anyone shall be consumed, he shall suffer loss, but he shall be saved, but so as through the fire”.
Believers build on the true foundation, but their work in building is to be tried. Gold, silver, precious stones, will endure the fire, in fact will be enabled by the fire to shine in clearer lustre. The gold speaks of the glory of God. What has been done for His glory will receive a reward. Silver speaks of the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. What has been done out of appreciation for His sacrifice will receive a reward. Precious stones speak of the fruit of the spirit reflected in the believer and this too will receive a reward. It is therefore actually the work of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit that accomplishes in the believer the works that are precious to God; yet the believer receives the reward for them! For God delights to see a ready response in His people to the reality of His divine workmanship.
The work itself will be rewarded, the Lord discerning in perfection the motives that have been active in every detail of these things. This is a matter that should deeply exercise us now, that we should keep our hearts with all diligence, being careful to have our motives honourable and honest as before the eyes of a holy God. If we live daily as manifested to God, we shall not fear to have our motives challenged or exposed. We know that too often our motives are mixed, but if we desire to be self-judged, then we shall be most thankful at the judgment seat of Christ to have everything exposed as it really is and those things that were not actually of value burned up. In regard to wood, grass and straw, it is not a matter of their being wicked, but of their inability to endure the fire. In other words, they represent things that were not positively for the Lord, however lawful in themselves they might have been.
Many have questioned as to whether this will be public for all believers, or whether the judgment will be of a private character between the Lord and themselves. The Lord's dealings with Peter furnish us with clear instruction as to this matter. What was personally between Himself and Peter He dealt with personally on the day of His resurrection, when we are told, “The Lord is risen indeed, and hath appeared to Simon” (Luke 24:34). No one else heard a word of this interview. Yet before the disciples too the Lord spoke to Peter, for they were involved in measure in this matter and the Lord's words were intended to re-establish confidence among them (John 21:15-22).
Therefore, what has been private will certainly be dealt with privately: what has been public will require public dealing; and as we know well, all will be done in a perfectly gracious and wise way, such a way as will encourage the deepest respect for His own great love and grace, as well as confirming the bonds of pure love and fellowship among the saints of God. We will heartily join with Him in judging that in ourselves that was not truly for Him; and none will have the least judgmental attitude toward another.
Though it will be solemn to think of our unprofitable works being burned up, we shall be thankful to see the end of them. Then the Lord will have the deepest joy in rewarding every work that has been truly for Himself. Whatever form the rewards will take, we shall be more than satisfied with this, but will it not mean most to us to simply hear the words from His own lips, “Well done, good and faithful servant?”. His own approval is surely the sweetest reward we could desire. Envy will be totally absent at that time. We shall all rejoice in seeing other believers rewarded just as fully as we shall rejoice in whatever reward the Lord may be able to give to us. Certainly we shall feel the fact of our own shortcomings and failures, just as John “wept much” when no man was found worthy to open the book of judgment; but as John's tears were stopped by the sight of the lamb in the midst of the throne, so our regrets will be far overshadowed by the contemplation of Him (Rev. 5:4).
To myself it appears that the superlative thing about the judgment seat of Christ for the believer is that it will serve to bring out in the fullest, most precious way the marvellous wonder of the grace of God. Then we shall see as never before how that pure grace has ordered all our pathway on earth, how it has borne with our many weaknesses, failures and sins, how it has led us eventually to repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus, how it has kept and preserved us from innumerable evils, how it has moulded us in a way that we had never expected, how it has provided for our every need and finally how it has dealt so gently and faithfully in summing up our history at that coming day.
Is not this wonderfully welcome? Let every believer anticipate the judgment seat of Christ with glad expectation and in the meantime live with this in view, as manifested to God and in lowly self judgment learning of and responding to the grace of His beloved Son.
What does Scripture say concerning the nature of eternal punishment? Christians who take the Bible seriously believe in the everlasting nature of eternal punishment. However awful it may sound, punishment in hell is without end. The Bible also clearly outlines the characteristics of eternal punishment. Those who advocate the doctrine of Universalism detract from the meaning of eternal punishment as regards both its length and content. They state, for example: “It is not literal punishment about which Scripture teaches. Rather it describes hell simply in a metaphorical sense, since it uses words such as fire, worm and darkness, which are only images and should not be taken literally. Where there is fire, there cannot be darkness at the same time”. Nevertheless, Scripture speaks of three things to bring the nature of eternal punishment before us: unquenchable fire, the worm that does not die and outer darkness . We will consider each of these characteristics in turn.
There are several names used for this: “the furnace of fire” (Matt. 13:42, 50; cf.Rev.9:2), “everlasting fire” (Matt 18:8), “hell,..the fire unquenchable” (Mark 9:43). The everlasting fire of hell (Gehenna), the lake of fire, is prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41; cf. Rev.20:10). The fact that it will not only be angels but also people who will be cast into this unquenchable fire — eternally in the company of the fallen prince of angels — will be because, during their life here on earth, they didn't turn away from the prince and god of this age who blinded their minds (2 Cor.4:4).
This first picture describes how the godless will be tortured by the everlasting fire of judgment. Fire is a symbol of the wrath of God, who is called “a consuming fire” and the “everlasting burnings” (Deut. 4:24; Deut. 9:3; Isa. 33:14; Heb. 12:29). It is questionable, though, whether we should be thinking here of the personal attribute of God, rather than its outward expression that will strike the godless through all eternity. Indeed, are we able to imagine the “lake of fire”? This is also called “the lake of fire and brimstone”, which perhaps suggests that this picture is partially derived from the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, when God rained down brimstone and fire out of the heavens (Gen. 19:24 ff.; cf. also the word “furnace” in verse 28).
Although it is right to say that Scripture uses figurative language to describe the reality of heaven and hell, this does not in any way alter the fact that we are dealing with the literal existence of real places and things. These pictures are borrowed from our earthly reality in order to give us some understanding of another, supernatural, reality. For example, the name Gehenna (hell) was derived from the valley of the son of Hinnom, (In Hebrew “Ge-Hinnom”), near Jerusalem, where children were burned as sacrifices to Molech and where, after Josiah's reforms, all sorts of rubbish was collected and burned (2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chr. 28:3; 2 Chr. 33:6; Jer. 32:35).
The Place Where The Worm Dieth Not
Hell is also the place where the worm does not die. A comparison with Isaiah 66:24 and Acts 12:23 shows that this indicates the decomposition process of a corpse in the grave. This process started with Herod even when he was still alive, being a judgment of God because of his pride. He was eaten by worms and died. Whereas the decomposition process in the grave normally comes to an end, this is not the case in the second death. In hell their worm (singular!) does not die and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:48). This is often given a spiritual meaning, being connected with the never ending remorse of the lost. The gnawing of the worm would then refer to their being consumed by remorse and, or, fear, in the agonies suffered. Since the expression “their worm” is in the singular, it would be easy to identify the worm with the individual conscience. Although this is a very plausible explanation, one might object that it seems to ignore the “consuming” of the body. If we consider that after the end of the reign of Christ the lost will be raised and judged and then cast into the second death with spirit, soul and body (Rev. 20:5, 11 ff.), this suggests that even the body will be subject there to an endless destruction, to a never ending “decomposition process”.
The lost themselves are referred to as “the dead”, and will be assigned to the realm that is called “the second death”. Here everything is marked by death; death has power over the “dead”. According to Revelation 20, this second and ultimate death is “the lake of fire”. The realm of death, where the worm does not die, is therefore a place of torment in a physical sense too. This idea is confirmed by the words of the Lord Himself, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell”(Matt. 10:28).
The Outer Darkness
The third picture given is that of the outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 8:12; Matt. 22:13; Matt. 25:30; 2 Peter 2:17; Jude 13). This picture too is taken from the earthly reality. Inside the banquet hall there is joy and light, but outside it is night and those who are there do not share in the joy of those inside. This picture depicts the sharp contrast with the atmosphere of joy and light in the house of the Lord, in His kingdom. For this is the banquet hall where the wedding feast is held and where fellowship with God is enjoyed, who is light and in whom is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5). The unbelievers have been removed from this realm of light and love. Just like the foolish virgins, they are out in the darkness, faced by a closed door (Matt. 25:10 ff.), and just like Judas, they have gone out into the night (John 13:30). They are separated from God forever and live on in darkness, far from His kindly face. In this place of outer darkness there is not even one ray of light to be seen and there is neither hope nor expectation anymore. There is only an impenetrable darkness. It is a place of weeping, of eternal grief. There is also gnashing of teeth. This may refer not only to remorse, but also to anger; an eternal rebellion against God. Weeping and gnashing of teeth are certainly characteristics both of the outer darkness and of the furnace of fire (Matt. 13:42, 50). This clearly indicates that the two pictures, that of the fire as well as that of the darkness, are about the same terrifying reality.
Though shocking, it is beneficial to ponder these things, since it helps us to realise to some degree how much the Lord is to be feared (2 Cor. 5:11), and this awareness prompts us to persuade others. As has already been mentioned, this third picture of eternal punishment raises the question of how the outer darkness can be combined with the unquenchable fire of the first picture. Fire spreads light and where fire burns it cannot be pitch dark. However, we are not to draw any conclusions from the physical reality around us and apply them to supernatural realities that lie beyond our understanding. On the other hand we should certainly take the concepts indicated by these pictures seriously, for example, not limiting darkness to something like “moral darkness”. Scripture clearly uses these seemingly contradictory pictures in order to give us an impression, from different points of view, of the seriousness of eternal punishment.
Luke 16 speaks of the state of those who have died, from the time that they die until the resurrection. When the rich man is in torment in Hades he says “I am tormented in this flame” (verse 24). He was in the fire, but we don't read anything here about darkness or the outer darkness. The torment he was suffering didn't impair his sight, for he looked up and saw Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom (verse 23). Thus he was even allowed to catch a glimpse of the place where the blessed were: Abraham's bosom, i.e., the place of the father of all believers and therefore also the place of his “children”.
This refutes the theory that this story is merely about the difference between the rich and the poor. It really portrays the difference between believers and unbelievers, as well as the consequences of that difference. Of course, we are told that Lazarus was poor and the other was rich. A person such as Lazarus who is a real “child”, a follower of the believing Abraham, will inherit the heavenly blessing that is granted to him on the basis of faith (cf. Rom.4). Since the death of Christ the place to which deceased believers depart is called paradise (Luke 23:43). The focus moves from Abraham to Christ Himself: “Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise”. For there, of course, He is the central figure for all those who belong to Him, whom He has bought at the price of His precious blood.
Although the rich man was separated from God for ever, he was still able to see. What was the nature of this “sight”? Did he simply see the brilliance of the heavenly reality from out of his surrounding darkness? This may be a point of difference between the interim state (the state of the deceased between death and resurrection) and the eternal state, as well as with the difference between Hades (the underworld) and Gehenna (hell). Gehenna, the ultimate place of torment, is without doubt the place of outer darkness. From there, any communication with the heavenly reality, a glorious reality of light and life, will be impossible.
Another possible answer to our question is that the rich man was allowed a glimpse of “Abraham's bosom” as an exception. Luke 16 does not mention the “darkness” that reigns in the place of ultimate torment, but this does not necessarily mean that there is no darkness in Hades at all. It seems quite improbable that it is a normal privilege of the dead to communicate with the heavenly reality. Indeed, what would be the purpose of this? Might this communication have been allowed in order to confront the lost still on earth with the seriousness of their position as seen against the background of the joy in heaven? Perhaps we cannot say anything with certainty about this, though we can consider these things in the light of Scripture and compare Scripture with Scripture. We should, however, be careful about drawing human conclusions solely on the basis of Luke 16. The most important thing, in any case, is the warning nature of this story for those who are still living on earth and whose eternal destiny might not yet have been decided. Our state after death is described here in such a way that we can take these things to heart in time and obey the call of God coming to us through His Word. For the rich man's family this was “Moses and the prophets”, whereas we now have access to the completed Word of God.
In the verses in Matthew's Gospel that speak about both the outer darkness and the furnace of fire (chapters 13 and 25), we find that the lost will be cast there immediately after the establishment of the Kingdom. However, in Revelation 20 we read that they will be cast into the lake of fire only after the completion of the Millennium and the last judgment before the great white throne. Here no difference is made between the interim state and the eternal state, at least with respect to the severity and the nature of the agony in both states being equal (just as the heavenly joy of the interim state will not differ in nature from that of the eternal state: immediately after his decease the Christian is with Christ, and that is what determines his joy).
What a blessing it is to know that true Christians have already been transferred spiritually from the realm of death and darkness into the Kingdom of the Son of God's love. They are able to live and walk in the light that will shine upon them through all eternity. With the second coming of Christ they will enjoy the fullness of salvation; then their bodies will also be snatched from the power of death.
At the same time it remains a solemn matter for those who do not yet believe and who have not responded to God's call, to seriously consider the realities of heaven and hell and of eternal punishment. As a poem puts it, “Where, for eternity, will you stay? — Serious question of our day”.
H. Bouter Jr.
From Our Archive
A Gospel Preaching
(Delivered at Pembroke Street Hall, London,
on Lord's Day September 8th, 1880).
“The burden of Dumah. He calleth to me out of Seir, Watchman, what of the night? Watchman, what of the night? The watchman said, The morning cometh, and also the night: if ye will inquire, inquire ye: return, come” (Isaiah 21:11-12).
There is a solemn future, beloved friends, before every individual present here this evening. Were it not for that future and all that hangs upon it, there would be no need for the preaching of the gospel and there would be less need for earnest and affectionate entreaties and appeals. But when I look abroad upon this congregation, I see and feel too, that there is a solemn, individual future, for everyone that is here tonight. There is the morning and the night. There is the morning of joy and the night of grief. The question may be asked scornfully, or it may be asked seriously, “Watchman, what of the night?”. But the brief and pregnant reply is “The morning cometh”; a morning of peculiar brightness, but also a night of deep darkness, a night of terrible darkness. Well, dearly beloved friends, in plain language, is it, should it ever be, a question of any difficulty as to decision on this point? Do you hesitate to decide? Do you hesitate to make up your mind as to which your future is to be, a morning of joy, or a night of weeping? It must be the one or the other. There is no middle place, no middle condition. Both are absolutely perfect in character. It will be perfect blessedness and, in that sense, perfect misery. Now tell me, do you hesitate for a moment?
I think there is something so inviting in all we read of, in all that we can think of and contemplate in a morning of peculiar joy, a morning of unusual brightness, a morning without clouds, clouds being the symbol of trouble. But it will be a morning without clouds, all shadows shall have fled away for ever. There will be no shadows that morning and the Sun in its full brightness will never be overshadowed with a cloud. O beloved friends, what a morning that will be. It will be like “clear shining after rain”, all so sweet, all so fragrant: I mean as to the moral atmosphere. The atmosphere we now breathe, both physically and morally, is polluted. We have no pure thoughts, no pure feelings, because of the impure atmosphere which we breathe, but there the atmosphere will be so pure, so unsullied, that there will be no foolish thoughts, no vain desires, no wandering minds, no vagrant hearts. O no, and I think there is something in this that is peculiarly charming to one's mind as to that morning of joy. You sometimes sit down and perhaps your purpose is to meditate most closely on the things of God; perhaps something connected with your standing in Christ or that state which should suit that standing. But in a moment, suddenly you find yourself on the mountains of vanity, your thoughts all wandering and that is a great trouble, a distress to one's mind. There will be no such wanderings there, no such “comings and goings”. O no, not only will everything connected with our own state and everything as to our enjoyment be perfect, but the moral atmosphere we breathe will be absolutely pure and wholly unsullied as to the presence of God in which we will be.
That is the morning that is coming for every believer. This is the believer's expectation. He is living, if he is in a right state of mind, in the daily expectation of this. He feeds upon it as he goes along. Hence, “patience and longsuffering” are to be “with joyfulness”. Why? As the apostle says, “Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering” — with what? “With joyfulness”. Why? Because when you are going through your trial you are sustained with the bright hope of a glorious future and you rejoice in trial. But nothing else would make a person rejoice in these and, hence, the apostle's word would be inconsistent if we do not know this to be speaking to persons in deep affliction. He says, but ye are “Strengthened with all might, according to His glorious power”, or, according to the power of the Man in the glory, “unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness”. Why? Because you are looking on to that bright morning. O beloved, it will be a morning not only of celestial brightness in itself; not only will the moral atmosphere be pure and unsullied, but whom shall we see there? We shall see then that Blessed One whom we read of now. What, see the very face of Jesus? You would like to see His very face, would you not? That countenance transcendent, not then as it was seen on earth in the days of His humiliation, so marred more than any man. What will that radiant smile, what will the beams of that countenance transcendent, be when you first fix your eyes on that Blessed One to whom you have looked for so many years with faith. We see Jesus now, but we see Him through a glass darkly. The dim glass will then be removed and we shall see Him face to face. But what will His smile be? A recompense for all that we have passed through. The eye once resting on Jesus will rest on Him forever and the heart will be ravished with love. We shall see Jesus, beloved, on that bright, bright, morning. That will be the brightest part of that bright scene; the happiest and the central blessing of all that region of glory clustering round the Person of the Lord. What will it then be? That is the morning of coming joy. You will see Jesus.
Who else will you see? You will see all the ransomed of the Lord. What a thought. You will see His blood bought ones of every age, of every tongue, of every country. Ah yes and what will that be to see that myriad host who have been made perfect through His one sacrifice; and everyone reflecting His bright image; everyone radiant in His glory; everyone shining in His excellence; and yet, each one retaining their perfect identity. Sometimes it grieves me that I forget your names. Sometimes it grieves me that I forget where I last saw you. Many know me more distinctly than I know them. This is natural enough, but I sometimes say I shall make no mistakes in Heaven. I shall be at no loss to identify you. My dearly beloved, I shall be at no loss to remember you. All will be perfect; nothing imperfect in any shape or way but all absolute perfection and perfection for ever and ever.
But that perfection will tend, you see, to the purest happiness of that happy land. You would like to go to that happy land, would you not? You would like to pass through those golden gates, would you not? Once pass through the golden gates, once enter the fields of glory, and there will be no more going out. Then it will be farewell to pain, and farewell to all that is now so inconvenient. It will all have passed away in the full revelation of God in Christ. Ah yes, the morning cometh, the bright morning of cloudless joy. Yes, you will see Jesus and you will see all the ransomed of the Lord. You will see those too, beloved friends, that you knew here and many that you loved here. Yes, and many with whom you had to part here. But there will be no more parting for ever. Beloved friends, when hand once clasps hand there it is joined for ever and ever. When friend embraces friend there, it is an embrace for ever. The thought of separation will never disturb one single bosom in that place of unmingled blessedness, but hand will join hand, every eye being fixed on Jesus. But that, beloved friends, will not hinder us from seeing, and delighting too in seeing, those we once loved here and whose place in the heart never was and never could be filled. But it is filled now, it is quieted now. Then, beloved, the praise will only be linked. The note of praise and thanksgiving will only swell louder and louder as we meet those whose identity we have no difficulty in recognising. But there is such a change. Not the pallid cheek now; no, all is changed. They are in the very image of Christ, and yet, beloved friends, though radiant in His glory they are perfectly themselves. You will not be me and I will not be you. Each one will be identical in their own special identity, and in their own measure of glory. Ah beloved, we will be all alike, with the exception that there will be just the difference that there is now, though under another form. We have borne the image of the earthly and we are all like the first Adam. So the redeemed will be like the second Adam. Dearly beloved, who can tell how near that morning of joy may be.
But there is another part of my text that says “The morning cometh, and also the night”. Ah yes, dearly beloved, the night cometh, and what a night. A night that will never be succeeded by the dawn of a fresh day. Its gloom will never be cheered by the twinkle of one solitary star. Its eternal darkness will never, never, be visited by one silver beam of the moon travelling through the heavens. No moon, no star, no ray of light will ever penetrate the terrible darkness of that night, that night which will have no relief whatever, that night which will have no hope of a morning coming. No, it is night, night, night; always only dark, dreary, terrible and swarming with unhappy souls, and O, what will it be to be there?
How long will this last? For ever and ever. Now tell me, for a few years of your own natural indulgences, whatever they may be, a few years of indecision, a little more of the world, a little more of your own way, a little more of your own pleasures, beloved friends, would you risk an eternity of unmingled misery? Ah, beloved, what would the world be for that? What would its fashions be as a comfort to recollect? What would its pleasures be to think of then? Only to give vehemence to the flames and vitality to the worm that never dies. That is all. It will have no other effect: “These were my snares and delusions which Satan used to put me under, to keep me from being decided for Christ. I thought of trusting Him; I intended to trust Him; I intended to come to Him over and over again, but something said no, not tonight, not tonight”. Beloved friends, the Word of God says, and the bright morning and the dark night that are coming say, to-night, or never. To-morrow may never come for you and hell's gates may be flung wide open, rolling back on their infernal hinges, to make way for those who may this very night be rejecting Christ in their hearts, saying, “I am not quite prepared yet to surrender all, dress, fashion, friends, associations, engagements. A thousand things now engage me, but by and by I shall be more free and by and by I shall break these off one by one and then I will trust the Lord”. Ah, beloved, it is tonight or never. You know not what to-morrow may bring. What do you or I know of to-morrow? There are no to-morrows in the gospel. Tell me now whether there is anything worthy of a single thought compared with being decided for Christ?
What are you to do tonight? Just what I am always telling you to do. Surely, beloved, I would not like that any who are hearing me tonight should ever find themselves in that night of impenetrable, endless, darkness. God forbid. Well, what are you to do? Christ has died in the stead of sinners. He has shed His blood to wash their sins away. He has finished the whole work of redemption. He has risen from the dead. He has gone up on high as the mighty Workman and taken His seat there. There is nothing more to be done. No, beloved friends, and there is not a finger in the universe to touch the work of Christ and there is not a tongue in the universe to add to its value. “It is finished”. Well, what then? What is finished? The work that saves you and me. But then how am I saved by that work that was finished more than eighteen hundred years ago? Why, simply by believing that it is finished. There is no other way. If you believe where you sit that the blessed Lord Jesus in the greatness of His love came down and saw our lost condition and died in our stead and shed His precious blood to wash our sins away; if we believe that He so loved us to do this and trust not to any of our own doings, but trust to that finished work, we are saved on the spot. Ah yes, dearly beloved, there is no other way of being saved.
How long does it take to light the gas? You merely turn on the gas and apply the light. It is done in a moment. It is not a gradual work. One candle may light a hundred candles and be nothing the worse for it. It does not lose its own light because it communicates light to others. And so, beloved friends, with the gospel. The gospel is never impaired and there is never any change in the reality of these things. The gospel is always absolutely perfect and absolutely suited to every sinner and suited at every moment.
Which will you have? I do not doubt for a moment that if I asked you which you would like to be looking forward to, the morning of joy or the night of weeping, you would say “O, It is the morning of joy”. Then I say, “now tell me, whether you will have Christ or the world tonight?” I believe that if I were to ask many persons in London tonight, now, whether you would rather remain in this world, or go to heaven tonight, they would say “I would rather remain in this world”. That shows where their heart is.
But, beloved friends, ask those who are full of the expectation of the bright morning and how they would answer in a different way. They are just waiting to hear the voice which says, “Come up hither”. There is no other preparation. It is a great and wondrous future, full of richest and deepest blessings, but there is no other preparation than this. It is not a preparation, you see, by your own doings in any way whatever. Prayer is a good thing, but prayer will never save you. Reading your Bible is a good thing, but reading the Bible will never save you. But the moment you go to Jesus, the moment you look to Jesus, the moment your heart is turned to Jesus the Saviour, saying, “Now I see I am lost and ruined and I will be in the darkness of that terrible night unless I come to Christ; unless Christ saves my soul I will be in the night of darkness for ever and ever”, He will save you.
Well then, you come to Him. But you come to Him as one that cannot do without Him. You come to Him as one that will be lost in hell for ever without Him. You come to Him as one that is in despair without Him and hence, beloved friends, the moment you come to Him you are saved on the spot. Why? Because the work that saves you is done and all that you need is to believe it. All that you need is to put your trust in Him. That is the whole thing. There is no other thing. You cannot do anything.
But then, of course, if you believe this work and come to Christ, not only are you saved, but you are born again. You have eternal life, and this life manifests itself in all the desires and instincts of this new life. “As newborn babes”, the apostle says, you “desire the sincere milk of the Word”, that you “may grow thereby”. You are new creatures in Christ Jesus. What then? Your desires, your instincts, your aspirations, are all different. Why? Because you have got eternal life and the Holy Spirit, and that is what makes the difference. But the first thing is, and that which gives salvation to the soul is, simply looking to Jesus. It is “Look unto Me”. It is not “Turn over a new leaf in your history”; it is “Look unto Me”. It is not “Go to your closet and pray”; it is “Look unto Me”. Then what? “And be ye saved”. Hence you will see, beloved friends, it is where you sit this very night, and just as you are at this very moment, that you can be saved. In what condition do you think Christ died for you? Why, Christ died for you just as you are. Christ did not die for people in a certain state of soul. He died for those that are lost. Who are lost? Why, beloved friends, there are no degrees in being lost. There are degrees in sins, degrees in wickedness, but there are no degrees in being lost. “You hath He quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins”. There are no degrees in death. No, beloved friends, and there it is if you will only believe.
It is very, I was going to say strange and even peculiar, that Sunday night after Sunday night you have got some kind of excuse. I ask are you happy and you answer “Well, I cannot say that I am, but I think I believe”. But If you believe you must be happy. Everyone that believes is happy. The question is, what do you believe? “Well, I believe in Jesus”. Well, what do you believe in Jesus? “Oh, I believe He died for us”. Well, I want something more, what more do you believe? Do you believe that Jesus died for you? Do you believe that Jesus died for your sins on the cross? Do you believe that Jesus has put all your sins away by His own precious blood? Do you believe that? Unless you believe that you believe nothing to the point. It is no good saying “I believe in Jesus” and “I believe He died on the cross and that He died for us all”. Do you believe He died for you individually and personally; you, as if you were the only sinner in the vast universe. This is to make it a personal thing to us. Do you believe that Jesus died on the cross for you? Do you believe that Jesus by His blood put all your sins away; beloved friends, not that He will put them away, but that He has put them away? The blood of Jesus Christ God's Son cleanseth us from all sin.
Now you will see that that is just where the heart through Satan's subtlety is probably timid. They are afraid to confess faith in Christ less they may not speak the truth. They say “Oh, I do not doubt Jesus, but I doubt myself”. Well, you may well doubt yourself. There is no good in yourself. You are as bad as you can be. “In me, (that is, in my flesh), dwelleth no good thing”, says the apostle Paul. Why should you doubt yourself? There is not one good thing in poor fallen human nature. From the day that Satan dropped the poison of unbelief into the hearts of Adam and Eve there has not been a good thing in the human heart, I mean God-ward. From the day that Adam and Eve were poisoned by the Serpent there has not been a good thing in your heart or mine. Well then, why do you doubt your heart? There is no good in doubting it, is there? Do you doubt Christ? No? Well, what do you doubt?
O then, beloved friends, be firm, be decided, do not waver. O, but then there is an eye, perhaps, that is looking back over the shoulder to the world. There is an eye that is throwing a sideways glance to some association: “I cannot break with that friend. I know he does not like me to be decided for Christ. He is not decided himself and he does not like me to be decided and he does not like to hear me speak so much about the gospel”. Ah, there it is. But, dearly beloved friends, what is all this, or what are the present associations of men and women in the world, compared with an eternity in hell? It is either eternity in the brightest heavens, or an eternity in the blackest hell. I do not believe that there will be a blacker corner in hell than the corner that those who reject the gospel so preached will be hurled into. It is a rejection of a clear, full, simple gospel. A rejection of a light that makes manifest to the most simple understanding what then will be. Are you decided tonight? Which is it to be, the morning of cloudless joy, or the night of eternal darkness? I know what you would say, of course, but say it to the Lord now. “O Lord Jesus that died for me, the chief of sinners, save me now”. Ah yes, beloved, say it believing and you will please Him well. Who ministered the sweetest cordial to the blessed Jesus in His last hour of heaviest sorrow? It was the poor thief that repented on the cross, and turned to the Lord and said “Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom”. That was the cordial that refreshed the heart of Jesus. That was the wine that softened His lips. parched in death. Who was it that provided the feast for Jesus in the house of Simon? Was it the princely Pharisee? No, it was the poor fallen one from the street that ventured in in faith, and bathed His feet with her tears and wiped them with the hairs of her head. She was the one that provided the feast and on those tears and those kisses the Saviour found His full repast. Nothing more is said about Simon's dinner.
O, beloved friends, how delightful to think that you will please Him well tonight. Young man, come snap the very last link that binds thee to this world in any shape or form. O, young man, break away from every snare that would fetter thy soul and bind thee to Satan's chariot wheel, for, surely, he will drag thee down through the mire and down to his own den of woe. That is what he will do. I call Christianity the noblest thing that a young man can embrace. It gives companionship with the living God. It gives acquaintance with the truth through faith, which knows a thousand times more than all the philosophers of the world. While philosophers are puzzling their heads as to creation, the poor humble believer can say by faith that “the worlds were framed by the Word of God”. Why should you puzzle your mind about this atom, where it has come from and who made the first atom? It is the poor unlettered Christian whose faith can say, “I can tell you all about creation. The worlds were framed by the Word of God, so that things which are seen were not made of things which do appear. It was God that did it all”. Faith rests in the Living God while men of science are struggling and striving in the dark, and perplexing themselves to discover the root and the cause of things. Hence, there is nothing so noble as Christianity, because it elevates and purifies the soul, lifting it above the grovelling things of time and sense. Hence you will see, beloved friends, it would be very invidious in me to single out what men of science and men of high position and education in this worlds esteem stoop to. No, beloved, but it is the soul that knows Jesus that is one with Christ and walks in companionship with Him. Hence you will see too, that which I want of you in view of this future which is before each one of us. O what a blessed thing, beloved friends, to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ now.
A. Miller (1810-1883).
(To be continued, if the Lord will).
The Old in the New Explained
Isaiah 9:1-2; Matthew 4:15-16
“The land of Zebulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; The people which sat in darkness saw great light: and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death, light is sprung up”.
When the Lord Jesus Christ had completed His public ministry the prince (ruler) of this world came, but had nothing in Him (John 14:30). So it had been in the beginning, just before He entered upon His ministry. In the wilderness the devil had used his weaponry, but against the sinless, holy, Son of God all had been unavailing. “And the devil, having completed every temptation, departed from Him for a time” (Luke 4:13). In the parable the strong man is the tempter, but the Lord Jesus was a stronger than he (Luke 11:21-22. cf.Matt.12:29 and Mark 3:27). He bound him by overcoming him in the time of testing, and having done so would spoil his goods.
The imprisonment of John marked the beginning of the Lord's public ministry (Matt.4:12,17). The light of the candle1 was to give place to the light of the world (John 5:35; 8:12; 9:5). Where was this light to shine? Old Testament Scripture had answered the question long before. It was to shine among those despised by the Jews2 as a people who lived where Gentiles lived and where spiritual darkness and death prevailed (Matt.4:15-16). As an example of this we may note that demon possession was commonplace in this region (See Mark 1:29-34; 6:7,12-13; Luke 8:1-3. Mary Magdalene was of Magdala, a town near the west coast of the Sea of Galilee). The first recorded instance of a case in the New Testament was in the very synagogue at Capernaum (Mark 1:21-28; Luke 4:33-37). Yet it is striking that in each place where the parable of the strong man is referred to the Scripture speaks of the Lord casting out demons3 (Matt. 12:22-29; Mark 3:22-27; Luke 11:14-22).
The power of darkness was there but in Christ the greater power of the Kingdom of God was also present (Col. 1:13; Matt. 12:28). In order that the Kingdom might be introduced in that form so often described in the Old Testament the repentance of the people was necessary. This the Lord Jesus called for, as John the Baptist had before Him (Matt. 4:17; 3:2). This repentance involved a turning from darkness to light and from the power of Satan unto God4.
In Isaiah 9 reference is made to the affliction of this northern part of Israel by the Assyrian5 (Isa. 9:1; 7:1-9; 2 Kings 15:22-30). Although previously humbled in this way, Galilee was to be honoured by the shining there of great light6. Matthew 4 shows that this was fulfilled by the manifestation and ministry of Messiah.
In verse 3 the prophet passes from Messiah's first advent to His second, without noticing His rejection by the Nation or events occurring in that period. At the time of His second coming the larger part of the Nation will again be given up to the power of darkness. Demon possession will once more be commonplace (Isa. 8:19-22; Matt. 12:43-45; Luke 11:24-26).
Nevertheless there will be a small but faithful remnant (Isa. 8:11-18,20). When Messiah appears among them this remnant will triumph over their enemies (Mal. 3:1b; Isa. 59:20; Joel 3:16; Zech 14:1-5,14). Isaiah 9 verse 4 likens them to the few who were with Gideon who overcame the host of Midian (Judges 6:33; 7:19-22). These judgments will introduce the millennial reign of Christ. Isaiah 9 verses 6 and 7 celebrate His glorious Person and government. As Christians we are privileged to live in the light of the glory of Christ and to submit to His rule in the present time, while He is still rejected by the Nation.
1In the King James translation the first word for light in John 5:35 is elsewhere translated candle. cf. Matt.5:15.
2That is, those of Jerusalem and Judaea.
3It is a solemn thing that while the Gospels record no case of demon possession in Jerusalem or Judaea, it was there that the monstrous charge was made that the Lord was demon possessed (John 7:14-20; 8:48-59; 10:19-23).
4See Acts 26:17-18 where Paul's preaching among the Gentiles is referred to.
5The Assyrian is one of the prominent subjects in the section of Isaiah from chapter 7:1 to chapter 9:7. See Ch.7:16-25; 8:3-8 and 9:1.
6Mr. W. Kelly translates the passage “For the gloom is not to be to her that was in anguish. At first He degraded the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali; but later He honoured, the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the nations. The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: they that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them the light hath shone”. A number of translators are in broad agreement with this rendering. This seems more easily understood than the King James or J.N.D. translations, though the author of this article has no knowledge of the original Hebrew.
The Life of David (4)
David a man of integrity
Psalm 26:1-12; Psalm 78:70-72:1 Kings 9:4
David the Shepherd
David, the youngest son in the family of Jesse the Bethlehemite, was a shepherd. His father had given him a charge to look after a flock of sheep. David's integrity, his uprightness, is manifested by the way in which he met his responsibilities as a youth. He was feeding the sheep when Samuel told Jesse to send for him (1 Sam.16:11). His father's statement showed the confidence he had in David. After David was anointed king of Israel he returned to his shepherd duties. He was called from them to attend upon Saul, the rejected king of Israel (1 Sam.16:14-23). When Saul was engaged in fighting the Philistines, three sons of Jesse followed Saul to the battle. David returned to attend to his fathers' sheep (1 Sam.17:15). He was conscientious in fulfilling his responsibilities. When day after day Goliath laid down his challenge to the armies of Israel, David was commanded by his father to take provisions to his brethren. His care and concern for the sheep were expressed by making sure that the sheep had a keeper to look after them. His alacrity in rising early to do this and to obey his father was ample evidence of his upright and honest character. When eventually he offered to fight Goliath, Saul compared the young man David with the warrior. David answered Saul by telling the king of his courage in defending a lamb from the rapacity of a lion and a bear. He had been willing to risk his life to prevent the lamb from being devoured. His charge was performed with conscientious care, concern and courage. As a youth David was marked by integrity. No doubt his early training as a shepherd prepared him for greater responsibility in leading Israel, the flock of God. His example is worth remembering. Our youthful days are the formative ones. Lessons learned in youth abide through life. Faithfulness and integrity in youth prepare for greater responsibilities.
How would you feel if you had a strong exercise to serve God in a particular way and He said “no” and indicated that someone else would do the job that you wanted to do? The flesh in us would rebel and express bitter disappointment. Perhaps we would say “if I can't serve in the way I desire I won't serve at all”. David wasn't a man like that. He was honest with God and marked by integrity of thought. He happily accepted God's will. His exercise was a noble one. He wanted to build a house for God. No doubt the tabernacle was getting the worse for wear after so many years of use. David felt that a solid and substantial house was more fitting for God than the deteriorating tabernacle. We wouldn't fault his earnest exercise. Nevertheless God had other thoughts. David had been a man of war and his hands were stained with the blood of his enemies (1 Chron. 22:7-10). His son, Solomon, a man of peace ruling over a kingdom at rest, was chosen to build God's house. It is to David's credit and an evidence of his integrity that he accepted God's will without demur or protest. The large quantity of materials that he accumulated for his son to enable Solomon to build the temple was proof of his integrity. It didn't matter to David who built the temple as long as it was built. His exercise didn't stop because he wasn't the instrument God used. His integrity of purpose was seen in his acceptance of God's will. What a lesson we have here in David! Are we only interested in what we are doing? Do we stop praying for an exercise because we have not been chosen to take a leading part in it? Do we rejoice when others are being blessed by the Lord in services we would like to have been involved in? If not chosen to serve do we refuse to support by prayer, presence and purse? These are challenging questions. When God chooses His servants He knows what He is doing. A careful study of the Acts of the Apostles will show how servants are chosen and the reasons why they are chosen (Acts 1:23-26; Acts 6:3-6; Acts 9:15-16; Acts 13:1-3).
Integrity in Confession
When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden they made aprons of fig leaves to cover their nakedness. Their eyes were opened to see their naked condition and they tried in vain to hide it. Nothing escapes the eye of God. Since then man, whether saved or unsaved, would rather make excuses or blame someone else than confess the evil and disobedience. With such attitudes God can have nothing to do. He will not tolerate any attempt to “cover up”
David, great man of God though he was, succumbed to an evil desire. That desire led him to commit adultery, to act in deceit and to seek the death of an upright soldier in his army (2 Samuel 11 and 12). Perhaps he thought that because he was the king of Israel his fault would be condoned. He reckoned without God. “But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of Jehovah” (2 Samuel 11:27). David was not allowed to live with the secret of his evil unjudged. God sent Nathan the prophet to David with God's condemnation of his evil. It is to David's credit that he did not seek to justify his evil conduct or tell lies about it. He said “I have sinned against Jehovah” (2 Samuel 12:13). He kept short accounts with God.
David wrote two Psalms in which his innermost feelings are expressed, Psalm 32 and Psalm 51. Psalm 32 seems to express David's joy in being forgiven. His conscience had been deeply stirred (verse 3 and 4). When he decided to keep silence no longer and to confess his sins without any cover up he rejoiced in God's forgiveness. This Psalm expresses David's relief. In Psalm 51 there is a much deeper exercise. David is thinking about his sin in relation to God. It wasn't how his sin affected himself or what others thought about his sin. He was deeply concerned that he had sinned against God. “Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight” (verse 4). The sin of adultery with Bathsheba; the sin of arranging Uriah's death; the sin of deceit arranged with Joab; all these sins were sins against Jehovah. David, a man of integrity, confessed his sins without any attempt to hide or excuse them. Integrity is honesty and uprightness. Integrity operating where there has been failure leads to forthright and honest confession. When self is paramount evasion and excuses will take over. When God is before the conscience honest confession will be the result. While David had to suffer the consequences of his sin in his household he personally knew the joy of forgiveness. “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, Thou wilt not despise” (verse 17). It is a bad example to hide sin and evade confession. It is worse to treat sin as if it doesn't matter to God or to the public testimony. God grant that we may maintain short accounts with Him and have tender consciences.
Integrity in Accepting that One's Usefulness has Come to an End. 2 Samuel 21:15-17.
David was a man of war and a very valiant and successful warrior. His many conquests proved his encourage, boldness and heroism. No one, having read of the many battles in which he was involved, could doubt that David was a redoubtable man of war. But age takes its toll and there came a time when David's strength gave out. He was exhausted and was in great danger of being slain by the enemy. However, help was at hand and his life was spared. That experience brought David's exploits as a warrior to an end. His fighting days were over.
We don't read of David protesting against the decision of his men. Apparently he knew that their decision was a correct one. His honesty and uprightness in integrity enabled him to assess his position and to agree that his fighting days had come to an end. There was no disgrace in David's feeling the weight of his years. The long years of hardship, worry and battle, had taken their toll. He would retire with honour.
Moses, another man of God, had to make way for Joshua, according to God's ordering. Elijah gives place to Elisha and Paul, after his prodigious service, is happy to relinquish his service in the knowledge that Timothy was well endowed to continue the testimony that Paul had rendered.
It is a fatal mistake for believers to retain a service when it is obvious to all concerned that their ability to serve has ended. Old age often brings diminished ability to discern and to act with spiritual intelligence. Honesty and uprightness would make way for those who have ability and energy and are faithful
Integrity in Stewardship
David prepared enormous amounts of gold, silver, brass and iron and other materials for the building of the temple. Not only did he gather this from his victories in war and from many in Israel but he gave generously from his own resources (1 Chron.29:3). Without doubt David in his integrity exercised honest and upright stewardship. In his preparations there was no thought of personal gain. No one would be able to say that David became rich through gathering materials together for the building of the temple. His integrity preserved him as he walked in it before God and men.
The Bible shows how the greed for money led to many sad failures. No wonder Paul said that “the love of money is the root of every evil” (1 Tim. 6:10). No such charge of greed could be laid at the door of Moses, Nehemiah or Paul (Num. 16:15; Neh. 5:14-19; Acts 20:33-35). They served God for the honour of such a privilege. Their ministry could not be faulted because of any greed, gluttony or selfishness on their part. They kept themselves pure. The Lord Jesus said “Ye cannot serve God and mammon” Also, “If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches” (Luke 16:11-13). Integrity in stewardship, whether in ones own affairs, in business or in relation to assembly funds, is a most important matter. The Lord looks over more than one treasury.
Integrity in Shepherd Service. Psalm 78:70-72
David the shepherd boy who served his father in faithful integrity became the shepherd king of Israel who served God in relation to His people. His natural love for sheep was transferred to God's people and in integrity of heart he fed them and led them with skill and faithfulness.
The dark background of the failure of Israel's shepherds, as presented in Ezekiel 34, will serve to throw into bright focus the care of David for Israel, the flock of God. The evil shepherds fed themselves but didn't feed the flock. They didn't strengthen the weak or care for the sick and those who were injured were not treated. The scattered ones were not gathered, the lost were not sought and the sheep were handled with harshness and rigour. This was a sad condition indeed.
No such charge could be brought against David. He was prepared to venture his life in battle with Goliath and by defeating him he liberated God's people from fear (1 Sam. 17:45-47). He was a gathering point for the distressed and discontented in Israel (1 Sam. 22:1-2). He provided safety for those fleeing from Saul. With David there was no fear of the enemy succeeding (1 Sam. 22:23). David recovered all (1 Sam. 30:18). He delivered the captives of Israel out of the hands of the Amalekites and gave a portion from the spoil to those who had been too exhausted to follow David. He fed the weak and recovered the lost. He brought the lame Mephibosheth to his table and fed him royally (2 Sam. 9). On a day of rejoicing he fed Israel and blessed them (2 Sam. 6:18-19). He avenged the insult given to some of Israel's sheep (2 Sam. 10:4-19). David was prepared to suffer from the hand of God because of his pride in numbering the people. He had the heart of a shepherd. To feed is to satisfy, to maintain, to protect and to provide. David did all these things for Israel. He unified Israel and Judah. He conquered Israel's enemies. He secured peace which made Israel prosperous and strong. By any standards David was a great man.
The Christian assembly requires great hearted shepherds. John 21:15-17 tells us how Peter the apostle was commissioned to be a shepherd of Christ's flock. Not the shepherd but one among many. Peter in turn exhorts believers to shepherd the flock of God (1 Peter 5:1-2). Paul, an outstanding shepherd himself, exhorted the Ephesian elders to shepherd the assembly of God (Acts 20:28). This is a most important and necessary function among believers. A shepherd requires love for the flock, skill in attending to its needs and patience to keep up the work.
(Further articles in this series are to follow, as the Lord provides)
News from the Field
THE REPUBLIC OF PERU
Area 1,285,000 sq. km. Population 20,000,000.
Capital: Lima, population 5,750,000. Official Languages: Spanish and Quechua. In all there are 86 languages.
Bible Translations: 1 Bible, 19 N T's and 24 Scripture Portions.
After a number of years in Colombia, Mr and Mrs William J. Poehner settled in Peru in 1955 where they found the door wide open for preaching the glad tidings. A brother from Germany, Franz Skambraks, who had spent many years near Trujillo on a plantation, was used in blessing to many believers in Peru. There are over 20 localities where saints gather to the Lord's Name. Christian literature in Spanish and in particular the Good Seed calendar has been much used and blessed.
Between 23 October and 10 November last year three brothers visited Peru, two from Argentina and one from Switzerland, Jean Marc Andre, who writes:
This year it was with Pierre Chevalley from Buenos Aires and Jorge Arakelian from Monte Grande (Buenos Aires) that we travelled to Peru. It is a country much ruined by guerrilla warfare and touched by many difficulties. A chronic drought has also affected a large part of the country.
In spite of adversities and privations we were encouraged to meet brethren who were occupied with the Lord. Their dependence upon Him and thankful spirit for His care was a real lesson for us.
My two travelling companions stayed for the first three days in Lima to visit and encourage the saints in the assembly there. I went directly to Trujillo — a town situated 600km. to the north of Lima. In this area there are six gatherings and the new meeting hall in the town centre already needs to be enlarged! In El Porvenir de Gran Chimu there are about 100 souls and it is now impossible to continue meeting in a brother's house. If the Lord permit they would like to build a suitable hall on some ground they have bought.
In Chiclayo we met for the annual conference. Around 80 brothers representing nearly all the different meetings were present. During the four days of study we were occupied with subjects such as the doctrine of the Trinity, the liberty of the Spirit, discipline in the assembly and admission to the Lord's table. The evenings were devoted to presenting various aspects of the Christian life in a more precise way. On the Lord's day, after the breaking of bread, the gospel was also preached.
There are always new people being introduced and one is surprised by the diligent attention of the hearers. This year four Indian brothers came from the Amazonian forest. They have a deep desire to know more about the Word of God and the precious privileges of gathering only to the Name of the Lord Jesus. These brothers left the conference with a heavy load of Bibles, calendars, books and tracts in Spanish. (In their own tongue they possess only the New Testament). After a journey by lorry our friends had a walk of several days through the jungle. Upon their return they intended to gather the believers from the different villages and tell what they had seen and heard at the Chiclayo conference. Our brother Tarrilla has with some other brothers visited these children of God on two previous occasions. The burden of the Peruvian brethren is to visit them again and serve these Indian believers with as they call it “the holy doctrine”.
There were also 3 days of meetings in El Porvenir de Aramango in Amazonia, about 400 km. from the coast. We also stayed for meetings in Bagua and El Muyo.
The brothers and sisters are particularly grateful for the help from abroad in the form of printed ministry and other help for present urgent necessities.
Our brother Jean Marc is engaged in full time Spanish literature ministry from Switzerland from where he sends to all the Hispanic lands. Spanish must be rated as the most widely spoken language after English. A full inventory of Spanish books published by our brother is kept by the Chapter Two foreign language department. A catalogue listing over 40 languages is available on request.
Other pictures used are those of an abyss and a prison (Luke 8:31; Rom.10:7; 1 Peter 3:19-20; Rev.9:1,2,11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1,3 cf. verse 7. The Greek words are abyssus and phulakee (1 Peter 3:19). The word in 2 Peter 2:4 translated “hell” in the King James translation and “the deepest pit of gloom” in the J.N.D.translation is the Greek word tartarus. This is the only place where it occurs in the New Testament. It is a term used by heathen writers for the “deepest abyss of the infernal regions”. However, these are mainly references to the punishment in an interim state; of the deceased unbelievers, of angels who have sinned and are kept until the judgment of the great day, and of Satan himself during the millennium. According to Vine's Expository Dictionary the abyss (abyssus) or “bottomless pit” is a description of an immeasurable depth, the underworld, the depths of sheol. In Romans 10:6-7 the abyss is contrasted with heaven, the present dwelling place of the exalted Christ.
The Greek name Gehenna occurs twelve times in the New Testament (Matt.5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6). It is translated “hell” on each occasion in both the King James and J.N.D. translations.
The Greek word hades occurs ten times in the New Testament (Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Rev.1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14). In the King James translation it is rendered “hell” on each occasion and the J.N.D. translation gives “hades” throughout. Some manuscripts have “hades” in 1 Cor. 15:55 “O grave, where is thy victory”(K.J. translation).