Now and Forever

“Surely goodness and lovingkindness shall follow me all the days of my life; And I shall dwell in the house of Jehovah for ever.” –Psalm 23:6

One outstanding characteristic of a Christian is his desire to be home with his Lord at the end of this earthly pilgrimage. No, this longing is not an unhealthy longing that robs him of his contentment here in this world. After all, he has the comfort that he is being led by his Covenant God, Jehovah. Yet, before him there is always that word of hope: home lies just ahead. He confesses with Paul: “For we have here not an abiding city, but we seek after the city which is to come” (Heb. 13:14). By grace he presses on toward his goal and as he goes his motto and his comfort is: “For this God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death” (Psalm 48:14). A Christian is one who is characterized, then, by a longing so beautifully expressed in that word “Hope” and by an assurance that God’s promise shall be fulfilled!

In this last verse of Psalm 23 we see this longing and assurance wedded together in a beautiful doxology. The moment we read these comforting words, we are immediately reminded of the fifty-eighth question and answer of the Heidelberg Catechism: “What comfort do you derive from the article of the life everlasting? That, since I now feel in my heart the beginning of eternal joy, after this life I shall possess perfect bliss, such as eye has not seen nor ear heard, neither has entered into the heart of man—therein to praise God forever.” Our Catechism summarizes “eternal life” as being a possession that we have now and that we shall have for ever. Is this not what David is saying as he pens these words by divine inspiration?

Here, in a nutshell, then. is an explanation of our life, that is, LIFE with capital letters, the “life abundant” of which Christ speaks. With two words we may adequately express the genius of it: NOW and FOREVER. Being born again we can say with David, “Surely goodness and lovingkindness shall follow me all the days of my life . . .”—in Christ we know security in this life. However, being born again, we must go on with David and finish, “and I shall dwell in the house of Jehovah for ever”—in Christ we possess hope for eternity.

“Surely goodness and lovingkindness shall follow me all the days of my life . . .” David is assured of security in this life. Think back through this song and you will see that all along he has testified of this. Whatever has been his need, whatever has been his trial, God has provided. Hunger, weariness, fear—all very common problems for the saint in this life—have been adequately cared for. Not one has gone unnoticed.

An this care David slims up in two words—“goodness” and “lovingkindness.” Often we echo these words because they are so familiar to us. But do we really know what they mean?

“Lovingkindness”—this is a special word in the Bible and it is used to express God’s covenant faithfulness to His own people. Sometimes the word is translated “grace,” meaning undeserved favor. Of course, God’s Covenant people know this lovingkindness and grace particularly in the forgiveness of sins, in pardon by grace.

“Goodness” is the experience of this lovingkindness in that every need is provided by God.

In short, David is saying that in this life as he experiences eternal life, every blessing which God has provided in Jesus Christ is his. He knows God’s abundant favor in every way. “Ye experience this covenant faithfulness because in Christ we are justified. The Westminster Shorter Catechism puts it this way: “What are the benefits which in this life do accompany and flow from justification, adoption and sanctification” (Q. 36)? It answers that “assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Spirit, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end” are ours.

There is a beautiful illustration of this truth in the history of Israel. The fleeing nation had not yet reached the Red Sea where God would miraculously open the way of escape through the waters on dry ground, when they found: “And Jehovah went before them by day in a pillar of cloud, to lead them the way, and by night in a pillar of fire, to give them light; that they might go by day and by night: the pillar of cloud by day, and the pillar of fire by night, departed not from before the people” (Ex. 13:21, 22). To these fleeing people this was an evidence of the presence of Jehovah. God was with them; He cared for them. They were to follow Him.

At one paint Pharaoh and his hosts came very close to fleeing Israel. Ahead was the sea; behind were the Egyptians. Israel murmured in fear. But was not God leading His people in grace? Of course. In Exodus 14:19 and 20 we read how God showed this to Israel: “And the angel of God, who went before the camp of Israel, removed and went behind them; and the pillar of cloud removed from before them, and stood behind them: and it came between the camp of Egypt and the camp of Israel . . . and the one came not near the other all the night.” Israel was safe.

And our experience is the same, though often not as visible. We arc adequately cared for in God’s ever-proved faithfulness to the covenant. “Surely goodness and lovingkindness shall follow me . . .”

“Surely”—don’t miss that word. According to the original this word could be translated “only.” What David is saying is: the favor I experience in life is so great that I see it as unmixed. He experiences exclusively God’s goodness and lovingkindness. You see, for the pilgrim the blessedness of life stands out.

Are there no days of doubt? Arc there no days when that blessedness seems far removed from reality? Already David has said that there are. There are days of darkness and shadows. There are days when enemies make their presence too well known! And we have all had days and hours like these.

Scottish Church History has many pages bathed in blood. One of these tells the story of Rev. Richard Cameron who was captured and his head and hands severed from his body. The Covenanter’s head and hands were placed in a bag and sent to Edinburgh to be placed on public display with the hope that the Covenanters would be discouraged into submission. But before they were placed on display, these shocking tokens were sent to the father of the minister in order to torment him. You can imagine the horror that filled him as he saw this ugliness. Yet, kissing his son’s forehead, he said, “I know them, I know them; they are my son’s, my dear son’s. It is the Lord; good is the will of the Lord who cannot wrong me nor mine, but has made goodness and mercy to follow us all our days.” What a testimony! He was given grace to deal in a realistic way with God’s promises and truth. When we learn by grace to deal with God’s promises as did this bereaved father we will know peace in this pilgrimage to a better land. Oh how we need to learn to say: “For I am persuaded that . . . [nothing] . . . shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:38,39).

Not one day of am earthly pilgrimage is comfortless. either, if we see life this way. Of this the Psalmist reminds us: “all the days of my life.” You see, never are we left to our own resources. We are always attended to. Just as when royal personages go abroad they are always accompanied by those who attend to their needs, so our needs on this earthly pilgrimage are always attended to.

Go back for a moment to the pillar of fire and cloud. These led and protected Israel. But where did the pillar take them? Bouts with hunger, poisonous serpents, Amalekites were all part of the journey. Yet, God was with them. Similarly, each of the days in our lives has hardships, even though Cod is caring for us in His lovingkindness. Now, each of these days is a part of a grand picture which God is bringing to pass. All along God is leading. What can we do but trust God during this life which He has given us? Moment by moment our prayer must be:

Guide me, O Thou great Jehovah
Pilgrim through this barren land;
I am weak, but Thou art mighty,
Hold me with Thy powerful hand . . .
Let the fire and cloudy pillar
Lead me all my journey through . . .

And then having prayed this way and lived this way, and having experienced in our hearts the beginning of eternal joy, at long last, having taken up our march in the morning of life, we will be brought home in the evening, confessing: “Surely goodness and lovingkindness have followed me all the days of my life . . .”

Then shall come to pass the last part of this precious doxology, “And I shall dwell in the house of Jehovah for ever.” Though these words are at the end they are not an afterthought. They simply express David’s assurance that Jehovah is the hope for eternity.

In eternity we shall dwell in the House of Jehovah. Here we long for that house. We, like our spiritual forefathers, longingly sing Psalm 84. Like sparrows, we with them have found a nest by grace, but this nest here is temporary. One day it shall be no more. Regularly now, joining Jacob, we go to Bethel because we love to be in God’s presence to receive the comfort of the Word for the next stretch of our journey.

Then one day when our nests here shall be destroyed and our treks to Bethel shall be over, we shall know God’s promised fulfillment of the Covenant. John writes in Revelation (21:3): “And I heard a great voice out of the throne saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he shall dwell with them, and they shall he his people, and God himself shall be with them and be their God.” What Covenant fellowship that will be! It-will be permanent. No longer will we frequent the house of God. We shall remain; we shall dwell, not sojourn—that is, stop for only a short time. Remaining there in that awe-inspiring presence of God we shal1 know the intimacy of the family of God of which the communion of saints here is only an imperfect reflection. We shall know communion with God rich and bountiful.

All this David says as he uses those words: House of Jehovah. For him and all the Old Testament people, a life of service in the Temple was a foreshadowing of this future reality in Jesus Christ. This fellowship—this Life is begun on earth but it shall be sure and complete in heaven.

As David says, “And I shall dwell in the House of Jehovah forever,” he is implying two important thoughts to consider as we come to the end of the Psalm.

First, implied is the truth that this present world is not our home. Our destination, if we are the Lord’s, is the new heavens and earth where there will be no more sin. As God’s children, we long for this, and echo with Paul, “I have desire to depart and to be with Christ.” Isaac Watts summarized our longing in this way:

I have tasted Canaan’s grapes
And now I long to go
Where the Lord His vineyards keeps
And where the clusters grow.

This world is not our home!

Further, David implies that the life of a believer is the life of a pilgrim. What is a pilgrim? A pilgrim is one who has not settled down to abide because he is in search of something better. In Christ we are pilgrims. Therefore, we ought not to rest our affections on this world and all that it holds. Our needs are met. God sees to that. In this life tables are set in the most unexpected places. Yet, is it not true that we do not live as pilgrims and that instead we live as if this world is om abiding place. Why do we place our affections on things below? Why? If we live as pilgrims we will have as our motto: “For this God is our God for ever and ever: He will be our guide even unto death.”

This pilgrimage which we begin here on earth shall one day be completed in our Father’s House. As the son of a great king is met all the way on his trip to other lands, so are we cared for along our pilgrimage. Then at last he arrives home. His filthy garments are removed and he sits at the table with his father the king. And one day we shall arrive at Home and we, having been purged of our sins, shall sit at that Marriage Supper of the Lamb with our Father, our Covenant King.

Does this thought thrill and comfort you, child of God? It ought to because it expresses the glorious hope laid lip for us in heaven.

However, be clear about this: to have this comfort we must know Christ as our Shepherd—our Savior. Without Him that coming day will not be a glorious one, but one of pain, despair, sorrow and eternal damnation. Without Him we would have no hope whatsoever. But with Him, as we look forward to that glorious Day of days—having Him as Savior we can humbly but confidently affirm:

Here in the body pent
Absent from Him I roam,
Yet nightly pitch my moving tent
A day’s march nearer home.

Jerome Julien, pastor of Faith Christian Reformed Church of Grand Rapids, Michigan, herewith presents the first of a series of meditations on Psalm 23.