Sword and Trowel Articles

The Sword & Trowel was started in 1865 by C. H. Spurgeon. It enjoys an extensive readership throughout the world, particularly among ministers and church leaders. It has by far the largest circulation of any magazine (world-wide) adhering to reformed and Baptist distinctive. The Sword & Trowel is now edited by Dr Peter Masters.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Clear Views of Heaven

In the Psalms of David
From Sword & Trowel 2002, No. 1

How did David maintain his own spiritual life in the midst of so many responsibilities and trials? His numerous reflections on future eternal glory show how this helped in the 'management' of his own soul. It is clear that Heaven became an antidote to backsliding, a check to being consumed by earthly riches and glory, an anchor from being swept away by earthly fulfilment, a spur to regular repentance, an incentive to humility, a consolation in pain, and an unfailing source of happiness. A regular viewing of eternity will bless us also, in all these respects.

It is often said that King David possessed no clear hope of Heaven. Even J J Stewart Perowne, a noted authority on the Psalms, wrote in typically elegant language – 'They who then feared and loved God, nevertheless walked in shadows, and their hope was not yet full of immortality. Hence their earnest clinging to life, so different from St Paul's "desire to depart", to which there is nothing parallel in the Old Testament.'

This is an extraordinary thing to say, because David's psalms are full of his glorious expectation of Heaven. No fewer than 46 of his psalms have something to say about it – and more if we count oblique references. If we fail to see eternity in the psalms, the greatest encouragements and consolations are taken from us, and David too is left 'of all men most miserable'.

Here we shall look at some of the amazing statements and sentiments about Heaven from David's pen, selected only from psalms specifically attributed to him. We cannot review them all, for they are too numerous, but we will highlight those that reveal some distinctive feature of Heaven.

Sometimes David's language can be read in too general or 'earthly' a manner, so that a reference to Heaven goes unnoticed. This article will try to show how heavenly references may be recognised, with the result that sometimes an entire psalm comes to life in a new way.

No light? - the problem verse

Psalm 6 is a good place to begin because it is in this very psalm that David seems to show that he is ignorant about an afterlife. It is verse 5 that the more liberal writers seize upon to claim that David had no clear view. Here he says – 'For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?' (He makes a similar lament in Psalm 30 and twice in Psalm 88.)

The psalmist certainly appears to speak as though the heavenly future of believers has not been revealed to him, but the context soon causes this idea to vanish. It is clear that David is mortified because of his sin. From the opening words of the psalm he is under deep conviction, crying – 'O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure. Have mercy upon me.'

He calls to God to deliver his soul and to save him. He speaks of being weary with groaning so that his bed is wet with tears throughout the night. In the depths of his anguish he feels utterly condemned by God, and beyond His forgiving love.

It is only because he sees himself as unforgivable that David speaks of dying without any hope of viewing the Lord and giving thanks to Him. He says – in effect – that if he should perish without forgiveness he will be eternally shut off from God. It is that thought that makes him so very anxious to be forgiven, because he longs for the opposite. He must not perish as a wicked and lost soul!

By the time David composed this psalm he had clearly received the longed-for pardon, because he says (seemingly to those who had gloated as they observed him in distress of soul) – 'Depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity; for the Lord hath heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord hath heard my supplication' (verses 8-9).

These words turn the disturbing sense of verse 5 completely round, because once he is reassured that he is the Lord's, and has been forgiven, then he can rejoice in the opposite case, namely, that in Heaven there is remembrance of the Lord, and in the grave he will give thanks. This would not have been possible if he had died impenitent and unforgiven (the marks of a deluded believer), but true if he proves to be a forgiven soul.

So let us take the clearly implied positive information in this verse. David's stated reason for needing mercy and deliverance is that death would otherwise terminate all delightful reflection upon the Lord, and all praise and worship to Him. But if he is forgiven, then there is remembrance or recollection in Heaven of the walk on earth, and of all the wonderful things that God has done.

The word 'remembrance' is literally a memento or memorial, so it looks back. We learn that in some way our experiences of blessing on earth are to be preserved in Heaven. This will be most necessary, because we will not have such experiences in Heaven. In that glorious place there will not be one case of our stumbling into sin and being graciously restored. There will be no failure, weakness or woeful need, requiring rescue by the hand of God. Everything will be perfect and wonderful.

Therefore, the record of God's mercy and kind, restoring grace, will come from the memory of our deliverances in earthly life. Somehow, we may suppose, the dark and painful elements of sin and ugliness will be filtered out of recollection, but a tremendous remembering of grace, deliverance and forgiveness will surely be preserved as part of our appreciation of God's kindness and ways.

We are told in Ephesians 3.10 that even the angels may only see all aspects of God's grace by observing what He does in the lives of believers on earth. Sin and forgiveness have never been seen in Heaven, and never will be seen.

By the memorial of the work of restoration we keep in view hroughout eternity all aspects of the grace of God, including His mercy, kindness, sacrificial love, power to save and transform, patience and other attributes.

From David's fear of eternal loss, should he die unpardoned, we learn of his sure, eternal hope, should he die a forgiven man. And in this reference we glean one special feature of his view of Heaven – the ability to look back, and remember.

Proving David spoke of Heaven

In Psalm 12 David gives another insight into the heavenly glory, saying (verse 5) – 'For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy, now will I arise, saith the Lord; I will set him in safety from him that puffeth at him.' ['Puffeth' literally is 'would ensnare'.]

In verse 7 he goes further – 'Thou shalt keep them, O Lord, thou shalt preserve them [the Hebrew says 'every one of them'] from this generation for ever.'

We may be certain that these verses are speaking about the day when God's people will be finally and eternally delivered from all snares, pressures, hostility and every other form of antagonism on earth. David speaks very definitely of a deliverance which will embrace every oppressed child of God for ever.

As an experienced general, judge, and ruler he was not naïve about human affairs, and would never have spoken so definitely had he been thinking only of earthly deliverances. That is inconceivable. He knew perfectly well that the poor and oppressed – including believers – frequently died in hard and even wretched circumstances, without either deliverance or vindication. He obviously uses these absolute terms because he is speaking not of earthly deliverances, but of a great and final deliverance of the godly from their present earthly oppression.

Such confident statements as this occur very frequently in the psalms, and they are either naïve and foolish and in no way true to life, or they are spiritual promises of the heavenly state.

Let us try to imagine the reality of this future transformation. In this life we embark upon each new day to be plunged into snares of the world, the flesh, and the devil. There are temptations from within ourselves; our trouble with unwholesome and unspiritual thoughts, and our battle with numerous temptations from the distractions and allurements of the world.

If we slip, we become deeply unhappy at ourselves, and long to tear ourselves free from these things. All the time the devil is active, first by one strategy, then another, bringing us down, perhaps, to doubts, or to doubting our own salvation. And then there are many other trials, and hardships, extending for some believers to much hostility and persecution.

Imagine, then, a day when every snare is taken away for ever by the mighty hand of the Lord, and we find ourselves gazing with indescribable anticipation into the blessings of being with Him. This is David's insight, given to him by the Holy Spirit.

There is a time coming when the Lord will bring all His people home, and then there will be no snares at all, no slipping in thought, word or deed, no troubles, storms, tragedies, sorrows, partings or disappointments. God will transform us into sinless people, with hearts fashioned to adore our Saviour-King in endless purity.

On earth, says David in this psalm (verse 1), 'the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men.' But when the Lord arises, then the day of eternal safety and glory will dawn. The distinctive insight in this psalm is Heaven's freedom from all traps and snares – in other words, the end of the battle with sin.

David on the people of Heaven

Psalm 15 brings David to a different view of eternal glory. The first verse brings an oft-repeated sentiment of his, which invariably refers to life in Heaven. He says, 'Lord, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill?'

It is vital to see that he is using the Tabernacle in terms of its true meaning – as a figure or illustration. The Tabernacle represented the dwelling-place of God, and the holy of holies in particular pointed to the heavenly hereafter (Hebrews 9.8). David speaks of both abiding and dwelling there, and these words undoubtedly refer to his turning aside to live and stay permanently. He is not speaking of merely being a regular worshipper.

But here lies a problem. David could not literally make his permanent home in the Tabernacle. He has no intention of moving his bed from his house into the Tabernacle. He was not even a priest. The truth is, whenever David speaks in this way, he has in mind the eternal dwelling-place of God. This is the obvious and the only sensible way of taking his words.

As it happens the fifteenth psalm is fundamentally about Christ (being similar to Psalm 24). Asks David (in effect), 'Who shall live in the Tabernacle of the Lord, the heavenly place? He that walketh uprightly.' In other words – the Lord Jesus Christ, Who lived a perfect life for us. Holiness will also mark the behaviour of all the redeemed occupants of Heaven. The verses of this psalm, though firstly about Christ, also provide an insight into conduct in Heaven.

Turning his attention from his own society (and even from his own conduct) he breathes longingly for that coming, heavenly society, a place where everyone – 'walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart' (verse 2).

David longs for the place where there is no backbiting or gossip or animosity (verse 3), a place characterised by unblemished trust and love between all, with never a hint of betrayal.

He looks for a place peopled by those – 'in whose eyes a vile person is contemned' (verse 4). Of course, there will be no sinners in Heaven, but this tells us that there will not be the slightest inclination to wrong, and not the slightest sneaking admiration or sympathy towards wrong. In that place we only see the person who – 'putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent'. No one there will take advantage of anyone else in any shape or form, for oppression cannot breathe the pure air of glory. The beauty of holy, friendly character is the distinctive feature of Heaven longed for by David in Psalm 15.

David on being with Christ

An entirely new train of thought about Heaven emerges in Psalm 16 where David announces – 'The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance and of my cup: thou maintainest my lot' (verse 5). We know that this refers to his future inheritance, because it is in this very psalm that David (speaking as a prophet according to Acts 2.30) sees the resurrection and eternal life of Christ, and points to fulness of joy at His right hand for evermore (verses 10-11).

Why do we want to go to Heaven? As Christian men and women, sometimes the first ideas that come into our mind are the peace, beauty, purity and companionship of Heaven. If this is so, we are not as 'spiritual' as David, for he thinks in these terms – 'The Lord is the portion of mine inheritance.'

What will he enter into and receive? His chief hope is – the Lord. He is all; only He matters; every other benefit is subsidiary to seeing Him. David supremely desires to enter into His presence, and to step into the fulness of His love. This is surely the greatest possible fulfilment for human nature.

The world is full of heroes, and everyone at some stage in their life selects (consciously or otherwise) a hero – who becomes their model or aspiration. It has been said many times that we are all hero-worshippers at heart. Believers in Christ make Him their only great hero, but once we reach Heaven and see Him as He is, then every ounce of human tendency to subordination and admiration will be wholly drawn to Him, and our souls will be profoundly fulfilled as human nature finds its intended objective.

David means us to know that there is none greater, higher, more marvellous, or more wonderful than the Lord – the goal of all his best instincts, and the One for Whom he lives on earth.

The last verse of the psalm reads: 'Thou wilt shew me the path of life: in thy presence is fulness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.' The expression 'fulness of joy' means that the joy will come in many forms, and we may think of the view we shall have of the attributes of Christ, and the record of His actions and the observing of His power and glory, seen first in Himself, and then in all the things that He will create in that new, heavenly earth to reflect His glory. The joy will come in so many forms, it will take all eternity for us to receive it.

The distinctive insights about Heaven in this psalm are – Christ as the substance of our 'lot', and the gaining of multi-faceted joy.

Should there be the slightest doubt that this psalm is about the heavenly hope, David concludes with the words – 'At thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore.' The best Hebrew authorities agree that the original term, considered in context, means 'for all eternity'. How can anyone say that the king had no light on the afterlife?

David on seeing the resurrected Lord

David's Christ-centred view of Heaven comes again in Psalm 17.15 where he exclaims – 'As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness.' (He refers here not to himself, but to seeing the visible likeness of Christ.)

The psalmist has been praying for moral preservation, protection and divine love. He has also lamented the depravity of the rich, who derive all their satisfaction from this life, and who establish an enduring fortune, name and family. But then he affirms that a child of God will have far more than the greatest earthly gain, for he will behold the face of the Lord.

David knows that the coming Messiah will be a visible Lord both on earth and then in Heaven. God will wear a human form. David serves Him on earth as his unseen Lord, but when the momentous day comes that he enters into glory, then he will be 'satisfied'. The translation is barely sufficient, because the Hebrew means – filled to the full.

No one could be more filled, more satisfied, more overjoyed, and more amazed than a believer in the eternal glory. We may think of experiences that we have had on earth, such as great deliverances that moved and amazed us beyond all expectation, but these will be multiplied millions of times by our first glimpse of the Saviour in glory.

David's place of song

In the light of the whole of Psalm 21, the opening verse is clearly a reference to Heaven; looking to some future event David says, 'The king shall joy in thy strength, O Lord; and in thy salvation how greatly shall he rejoice!'

The salvation he has in mind is the great deliverance at the end of life's journey, for he speaks of having received life 'for ever and ever' (verse 4). He also speaks of being 'most blessed for ever' (verse 6), and by God's mercy never to be moved (verse 7). He speaks further of a coming event when the wicked shall be, like a fiery oven, swallowed up by the mouth of God (verse 9) – clearly the day of judgement.

Then, in the last verse of the psalm, David says: 'Be thou exalted, Lord, in thine own strength: so will we sing and praise thy power.' When we take all these sentiments together, it is certain that the final, triumphant demonstration of God's strength is in mind – the ending of the present order and the dawn of eternal heavenly glory. In this last verse David calls it a place of song. He expects to do much singing – joining in the songs of the united choirs of Heaven. Perhaps this is the distinctive piece of information about Heaven revealed in this psalm-song.

David sees the end of his journey

The best known psalm of all – the twenty-third – includes much about David's hope of Heaven. He speaks of the Lord as the perfect Shepherd, leading His sheep on a journey. This is plainly figurative language for the spiritual life, in which David sees himself as dependent on the Lord.

'I shall not want,' he says, which would be a vain hope if it referred to material or emotional needs, because believers lack many things in this present life. Viewed spiritually, however, David's hope is sound, because his spiritual Shepherd gives forgiveness and eternal life freely and abundantly.

The One Who provides us with spiritual life, transformation of character and heart, and all needed spiritual food is Jesus Christ, and with Him we take our journey to Heaven.

The Lord makes His sheep lie down in (literally) 'pastures of tender grass', and leads them beside the (literally) 'waters of quietness'. These waters are not still or quiet in the sense that they are stagnant and lifeless, but in the sense that they make no clamour or turbulence. Here is a beautiful stream, and one that sparkles with life and movement, but it flows gently, suggesting the calm and settled peace of one who knows he is going to the Lord for ever.

David's descriptions refer to beauty rather than to pasture and water for bodily sustenance. He tells us that his heavenly Shepherd has brought him into a situation of calm certainty, where he has no fear as he looks into the future, beyond the present life, into eternity.

David mentions (verse 3) that he is led into paths of righteousness by his Shepherd – 'for his name's sake'. For the honour of God, David must be a worthy bearer of His name. But more – the Shepherd's name is at stake if He loses a lamb, because He is the perfect Shepherd. The name of God, and His omnipotence, is at stake should He lose one of us, because He has promised to keep us (John 10.28-29). The verse is partly about eternal security.

The fourth verse supposes the possibility of some deeply horrific event, such as death. But even this has no fear for David – rather comfort – because there is a glorious life beyond death. He fears nothing, knowing that the fatal valley is not the end.

In verse 5 David's glorying leaves the shepherd analogy behind, as he says, 'Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.' Surprisingly, this great feast is prepared under the noses of his enemies (the devil and his hosts) who see it, but cannot do anything about it.

The Lord has gone to prepare a place for us, and our place in glory is secure and certain. Satan looks on, and can only rage, because whatever he does he cannot keep us from the supper of the Lamb.

Says the psalmist, 'Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.' David knows he has been anointed to Heaven just as certainly as he was once anointed to be king.

The view that this psalm points to something much higher than only the earthly part of the believer's journey is proved by the last verse – 'Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.' Although the Hebrew says 'length of days' the correct translation here must be 'for ever', because David (as elsewhere) speaks of dwelling in the house of the Lord, which would be quite improper if the earthly Tabernacle is meant. As we have already noted, the house of the Lord is intended as a picture of Heaven.

David sees the land promises fulfilled in Heaven

There is a remarkable statement in Psalm 37.3, where David says, 'Trust in the Lord, and do good; so shalt thou dwell in the land, and verily thou shalt be fed.' This is not just about dwelling in the land on earth, but about Heaven, as we can tell from other verses, such as verse 9 – 'For evildoers shall be cut off [the judgement]: but those that wait upon the Lord, they shall inherit the earth.'

There is a judgement coming, says David, but those who wait upon the Lord have instead an inheritance, which is the entire earth. David clearly has been shown by the Spirit that Heaven is not just an ethereal, spiritual place, but is somehow united with land. This is nothing other than a glorious replacement of the 'land' that was lost by Adam and Eve when they were shut out of Eden. This is the ultimate fulfilment of the land promise made to Abraham and to his spiritual successors. Such a land will one day be eternally occupied by the people of God.

After the earth's destruction in the final judgement, it will be rejuvenated and reconstituted, amalgamated to the eternal spiritual heavens, and given to Christ's people. There they will dwell on an amazing, spiritual, yet gloriously 'physical' earth. David knew all this.

In the eleventh verse the king tells us that – 'The meek shall inherit the earth; and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.' The Hebrew word used here for peace is not the peace which is the opposite of war, but the word for safety, health, happiness and friendliness. This is about a place and time when the ungodly will not be present, and the earth will be restored, beautified, and made fit for occupation by resurrected, glorified bodies.

David obviously knew about the resurrection to speak so much of the 'earth'. What would be the point of having a physical earth if God's people did not possess glorified bodies? The distinctive heavenly feature, therefore, of this psalm, is Heaven as the fulfilment of the promised land, for resurrected saints. Verse 18 confirms the interpretation, for David says – 'The Lord knoweth the days of the upright: and their inheritance shall be for ever,' and then says (verse 22) – 'For such as be blessed of him shall inherit the earth; and they that be cursed of him shall be cut off.'

He repeats the point in verse 29 – 'The righteous shall inherit the land, and dwell therein for ever.' Once again, in verse 34, he says, 'Wait on the Lord, and keep his way, and he shall exalt thee to inherit the land: when the wicked are cut off [surely the day of judgement], thou shalt see it.'


David's heavenly worship

It is necessary at this point to quicken the pace, in order to glance at other magnificent characteristics of Heaven known to David. In Psalm 86.12, he says, 'I will praise thee, O Lord my God, with all my heart: and I will glorify thy name for evermore.' Does he use the word 'evermore' in an extravagant, poetic way? Or does he merely think of an everlasting succession of sons for his earthly throne? No, for he speaks personally. He himself will enjoy eternal worship, and the chief theme of his worship will be the attributes of God (for God's 'name' refers to His attributes).

Like David, when we reach Heaven we will understand these attributes as we never could on earth, and grasp them with joy unspeakable and full of glory. Heaven is supremely a place of worship.

David on the household of Heaven

Psalm 101 could easily be un-recognised as a heavenly psalm, yet it undoubtedly is one. David opens singing of 'mercy and judgment', which immediately suggests final events. Verse two seems to confirm this, for the psalmist wistfully looks forward to a special future experience, saying, 'O when wilt thou come unto me?'

Then he begins to speak of how he will order his household, seeming to suggest he can accomplish a perfect life completely separate from all wrongdoers, employing in his service only perfect and spiritually faithful people. Indeed, he undertakes to 'destroy all the wicked of the land', and quickly, and to keep the city of the Lord free from them.

Once again, we find extravagant language and unattainable aims. It is one thing to pledge oneself to a high standard, but quite another to absolutely commit oneself to its achievement. We immediately realise that although David certainly pledges himself to a high standard in his royal court, his confident, emphatic language has more to do with his future heavenly home.

He speaks as a prophet with an insight into that place where he will one day be wise, perfect and sinless, living in an atmosphere of honesty and love, and freed from the wicked, who will have been utterly banished. He must work toward this in his own home, but in Heaven the standard will be wonderfully and eternally accomplished.

David on the light of Heaven

Psalm 139.12 gives yet another burst of knowledge about Heaven. David says – 'Yea, the darkness hideth not from thee; but the night shineth as the day: the darkness and the light are both alike to thee.' Leading up to this verse are the words – 'If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there.' Certainly, David speaks metaphorically, but reality underpins his thoughts.

He tells us that Heaven is a place of dazzling, radiant light in every sense. There will be no ignorance, but all truth; no despair, no loneliness, no mourning, no fear, and no emptiness. David is expecting the glorious light of God both literally and spiritually in Heaven.

David sees mature children in Heaven

Psalm 144.11-12 reveals some remarkable features of Heaven, as David says – 'Rid me, and deliver me from the hand of strange children, whose mouth speaketh vanity, and their right hand is a right hand of falsehood: that our sons may be as plants grown up in their youth; that our daughters may be as corner stones, polished after the similitude of a palace.'

It could be that David is asking here for deliverance from an earthly trial, but if he is, his deeply spiritual mind at the same time looks ahead to his ultimate deliverance at the high calling of God to glory. He cries to the Lord to send His hand from above to deliver him out of great waters, and rid him of 'strange' (godless) children.

The language is grand, suggestive of his being plucked out and lifted up above such trials at the last day. He seems to say, 'Oh Lord, speed the day when finally I shall be rid, not only of my own sins, but of this whole environment.'

This heavenly interpretation of the psalm is more than confirmed by David's prayer for faithful children. This deserves deep thought. He sees believing sons as plants, grown up while still children. He sees them as prematurely mature – in the very best sense. Heaven is in his mind, where all children will be mature.

There will be no imaginable limitation, handicap, or hindrance in Heaven. Even those who die as youngsters in the Lord, safe under the blood of Christ, will manifest maturity in Heaven. It must be so, because in various places Scripture tells us that we will all have complete liberty from infirmity, and this surely includes limitations of understanding.

Says David – Bring me to the place where we are rid of all the unhappiness, misery, and the limitations (through sin) of this present life. Even our children will be gloriously filled with light and with understanding.

Who would want their daughter to look like a corner-stone – a great slab of stone at the corner of a building, the angles of which have been perfectly machined to provide the line for the adjacent walls? But, of course, David is speaking spiritually. Our daughters will no longer be the weaker sex, born for submission, limited by God's order for this world, but they will have the significance of corner-stones. The sexes will be equal, everyone emancipated and made glorious.

And if we should die while our children are still young, never mind, because when we see again those who are in the Lord, they will be fully flowered, or polished, cut, after the similitude of a palace. In Heaven, we repeat, there is no immaturity, no imperfect childhood, but everyone is brought home in perfection – fully grown (Ephesians 4.15).

David sees that in this wonderful city – the perfect city of God – storehouses will be full, 'affording all manner of store' (every kind of fruit). Every inhabitant will possess all the graces and fruits.

Also, there will be many occupations there. There will be a vast range of pleasures, understandings, pursuits and occupations. David's language is obviously figurative, for it is spectacular and grandiose. He declares his expectation – 'That our sheep may bring forth thousands and ten thousands in our streets: that our oxen may be strong to labour; that there be no breaking in, nor going out; that there be no complaining in our streets. Happy is that people, that is in such a case: yea, happy is that people, whose God is the Lord.'

Only in Heaven will there be such a community, possessing every conceivable provision, unlimited strength and vigour, invincible security and total satisfaction and happiness. Here is the happiest society, because Christ is all in all.