Theme: Our Only Comfort in Life and in Death
In this week’s lessons we learn that although at times it can seem as if there is a gap between God’s promises and reality, God is unchanging in his faithfulness.
Scripture: Psalm 89:38-52
Today we continue our discussion of six ways in which God does not change, as outlined in J. I. Packer’s book, Knowing God.
4. God’s ways do not change. As Packer writes
He continues to act towards sinful men in the way that he does in the Bible story. Still he shows his freedom and lordship by discriminating between sinners, causing some to hear the gospel while others do not hear it, and moving some of those who hear it to repentance while leaving others in their unbelief….Still he blesses those on whom he sets his love in a way that humbles them, so that all the glory may be his alone. Still he hates the sins of his people, and uses all kinds of inward and outward pains and griefs to wean their hearts from compromise and disobedience….Man’s ways, we know, are pathetically inconstant but not God’s.1
5. God’s purposes do not change. The ups and downs of history do not frustrate God or cause him to alter what he has determined beforehand to do. Has he planned to bring many sons and daughters into glory through faith in Jesus? Then he will do it. Has he purposed to bless Israel nationally? Then it will come to pass. What God does he has planned in eternity, and what he has planned in eternity will be carried out in time.
6. God’s Son does not change. Most blessed of all for Christians is that the Lord Jesus Christ does not change. Thus it remains true that “he is able to save completely those who come to God through him” (Heb. 7:25). When the great protector Oliver Cromwell was dying, he was overcome with spiritual darkness and depression, and in his despair he asked his chaplain, “Tell me, is it possible to fall from grace?”
“No,” said his minister. “It is not possible.”
“Then I am safe,” said Cromwell, “for I know that I was once in grace. I am the poorest wretch that ever lived, but I know that God has loved me.”
Do you remember this Heidelberg Catechism question: “What is thy only comfort in life and in death?” Answer: “That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto him.”
There is one last point. In the Targums, the Jewish rabbis interpreted verse 51 as a reproach to God because of his delay in sending the Messiah: “He delays so long in coming that they say he will never come.”2 I am not at all sure this is what the psalmist had in mind. For him “your anointed one” probably meant the reigning or last reigning Davidic king. But whether Ethan had the Messiah in view or not, it is certainly the Messiah who is the fulfillment of the covenant with David and for whom we also look.
Do you remember the cry of the saints in Revelation, which I referred to previously: “How long, Sovereign Lord” (Rev. 6:10)? That question hangs in the air throughout Revelation. It is there at the end. But at the end we also have the answer of Jesus, who says, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:12, 13; see vv. 7, 20). To this we reply, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (v. 20). The editor who closed out this third book of the Psalter had a like faith when he followed Ethan’s cry with the faith-filled ascription: “Praise be to the LORD forever! Amen and Amen” (Ps. 89:52).
1J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), pp. 70, 71.
2J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 2, p. 155. Original edition 1878, 1879.
List some examples of God’s unchanging ways and purposes.
How do we know we will not fall from grace?
Reflection: Reread and think about the answer given in the Heidelberg Catechism to its first question. Does any of its wording strike you as especially thoughtful or encouraging?
Prayer: Praise God for his faithfulness, starting by thanking him for the works we see in the Bible, and then for his actions in history. Conclude by praising him for his faithfulness demonstrated in your life, both spiritually and materially.