THY KINGDOM COME

THY KINGDOM COME

The Lord’s Prayer and the Future of Christianity

After this manner therefore pray ye: Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven. (Matthew 6:9-10)

From the beginning of this age, the prayer our Lord taught to his disciples has been a prominent part of the private and public worship of Christians all over the world. We use it as a prayer, reciting it in our liturgy every Lord’s Day. Others teach that it is a model prayer, and use it as a framework to organize or to construct their own prayers. Only strict Dispensationalists reject its use altogether, claiming it belongs to another dispensation. So it is fitting that we have a clear understanding of what it means. For the mere repetition of the words does not matter if we don’t understand what our Lord meant us to pray for, and what answer to expect.

Calvin likens this prayer to the Decalogue; in that it is composed of two parts, the first having to do with God, and the second with man. The heart of the prayer lies in the first three petitions, and that will be the subject for our consideration today. This is because of its greater importance, and also because there is very little disagreement as to the meaning of the second three.

In the original, the verbs are deliberately located first in the sentences, for emphasis. The Greek word order is:

Hallowed be thy name!

Let come thy kingdom!

Be done thy will!

The verbs of these three petitions are all aorist imperatives. What does this mean? It means that they are couched in the form of peremptory requests! There is the greatest urgency about these three requests. One should never mumble through them, half asleep, not caring what he is saying, nor considering what they mean. They are to be spoken with understanding and passionate desire for their fulfillment.

This brings us to the heart of the matter. What are we supposed to be asking for? Some have found in these words nothing more than pious aspiration. The JFB Commentary is an example of this:

…we incline to think that the aspiration which we are taught in this beautiful petition to breathe forth has no direct reference to any such organic fulfillment, and is only the spontaneous and resistless longing of the renewed soul – put into words – to see the whole inhabited earth in entire conformity to the will of God. It asks not if ever it shall be – or if ever it can be – in order to pray this prayer. It must have its holy yearnings breathed forth, and this is just the bold yet simple expression of them.”

In this view, Jesus gave the church a prayer to pray repeatedly, continuously through the centuries and millennia with no expectation that it will ever be fulfilled! When we pray it, we are merely “venting” our godly desires. But would it not be strange indeed, if we were given such vehement language to express desires that God has not promised to gratify. In fact, if the pessimists are right, and God has revealed that the church will never achieve universal dominion, would it not be insubordination, even rebellion on our part to demand this of God?

Another view is that its only fulfillment is the ultimate victory of Christ’s kingdom at the end of the world. Granted, that is and must be our fervent desire and hope as Christians. The perfection of the eternal state is what we long for; but what about in the meantime? Are we really to believe that the only model prayer Christ ever gave us left out any reference to the state of His kingdom in this world? That there is nothing in the prayer about God’s current programme? That our devotion can be complete without a sense of mission and a desire for the flourishing of the kingdom of God?

Martin Luther did not expect the gospel to be victorious in the world; in fact, he expected the world to end in his day. But he did have the good sense to recognize the relevance of this prayer to the present age. In his Small Catechism, he writes:

The Second Petition – Thy kingdom come.

What does this mean? The kingdom of God certainly comes by itself without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may come to us also.

How does God’s kingdom come? God’s kingdom comes when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.

The Third Petition – Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

What does this mean? The good and gracious will of God is done even without our prayer, but we pray in this petition that it may be done among us also.

How is God’s will done? God’s will is done when He breaks and hinders every evil plan and purpose of the devil, the world, and our sinful nature, which do not want us to hallow God’s name or let His kingdom come; and when He strengthens and keeps us firm in His Word and faith until we die. This is His good and gracious will.

But Luther limits the scope of the petition to the personal without warrant. The second generation of Reformers, who built on the foundation laid by Luther, gave a more adequate explanation of the prayer. John Calvin expresses the optimism of faith implied in this petition:

By this prayer we ask that He may remove all hinderances, and may bring all men under His dominion, and may lead them to meditate on the heavenly life… We therefore pray that God would exert His power, both by the Word and by the spirit, that the whole world may willingly submit to Him… There is still another way in which God reigns; and that is, when he overthrows his enemies, and compels them, with Satan their head, to yield a reluctant subjection to his authority, “till they all be made his footstools” (Hebrews 10:13).

The substance of this prayer is, that God would enlighten the world by the light of his Word, — would form the hearts of men, by the influences of his Spirit, to obey his justice, and would restore to order, by the gracious exercise of his power, all the disorder that exists in the world. Now, he commences his reign by subduing the desires of our flesh. Again, as the kingdom of God is continually growing and advancing to the end of the world, we must pray every day that it may come: for to whatever extent iniquity abounds in the world, to such an extent the kingdom of God, which brings along with it perfect righteousness, is not yet come.” (Commentary on a Harmony of the Evangelists, p. 320)

As to the expression highlighted, “the kingdom of God is continually growing and advancing to the end of the world”. Calvin gave us a fuller and more explicit statement in the preface to his Institutes of the Christian Religion. This work, written intentionally to vindicate the martyr church of France, he dedicated to his sovereign, Francis, King of France. Listen as he exhorts the King to defend the cause of the Protestants being persecuted in his kingdom:

“Your duty, most serene Prince, is, not to shut either your ears or mind against a cause involving such mighty interests as these: how the glory of God is to be maintained on the earth inviolate, how the truth of God is to preserve its dignity, how the kingdom of Christ is to continue amongst us compact and secure. The cause is worthy of your ear, worthy of your investigation, worthy of your throne.”

The characteristic of a true sovereign is, to acknowledge that, in the administration of his kingdom, he is a minister of God. He who does not make his reign subservient to the divine glory, acts the part not of a king, but a robber. He, moreover, deceives himself who anticipates long prosperity to any kingdom which is not ruled by the sceptre of God, that is, by his divine word. For the heavenly oracle is infallible which has declared, that “where there is no vision the people perish” (Prov. 29:18).

Let not a contemptuous idea of our insignificance dissuade you from the investigation of this cause. We, indeed, are perfectly conscious how poor and abject we are: in the presence of God we are miserable sinners, and in the sight of men most despised–we are (if you will) the mere dregs and off-scourings of the world, or worse, if worse can be named: so that before God there remains nothing of which we can glory save only his mercy, by which, without any merit of our own, we are admitted to the hope of eternal salvation: and before men not even this much remains, since we can glory only in our infirmity, a thing which, in the estimation of men, it is the greatest ignominy even tacitly to confess.

But our doctrine must stand sublime above all the glory of the world, and invincible by all its power, because it is not ours, but that of the living God and his Anointed, whom the Father has appointed King, that he may rule from sea to sea, and from the rivers even to the ends of the earth; and so rule as to smite the whole earth and its strength of iron and brass, its splendour of gold and silver, with the mere rod of his mouth, and break them in pieces like a potter’s vessel; according to the magnificent predictions of the prophets respecting his kingdom (Dan. 2:34; Isaiah 11:4; Psalm 2:9).

After Calvin, this optimistic view of the future of Christ’s kingdom was generally adopted among the Reformed churches, and held by them for many generations. It was propagated in the notes of the Geneva Bible. And it was the view expressed in the Westminster Standards.

The Westminster Larger Catechism distinguishes several aspects to Christ’s kingship in the answer to question 45:

Q. 45. How doth Christ execute the office of a king?
A. Christ executeth the office of a king, [1] in calling out of the world a people to himself, and giving them officers, laws, and censures, by which he visibly governs them; [2] in bestowing saving grace upon his elect, rewarding their obedience, and correcting them for their sins, preserving and supporting them under all their temptations and sufferings, [3] restraining and overcoming all their enemies, and powerfully ordering all things for his own glory, and their good; [4] and also in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel.

With the first coming of Christ, the kingdom has come, as predicted, yet not in its fullest sense. Christ has all the authority now, but He must fight an age-long and bloody war to bring the rebellious nations under His scepter. His enemies must be made His footstool (Psalm 110:1). For now, He rules in the midst of His enemies (Psalm 110:2). With this understanding, we are now ready to appreciate the Westminster Divines’ comprehensive and detailed answer to our question:

Q. 191. What do we pray for in the second petition [of the Lord’s prayer]?

A. In the second petition, (which is, Thy kingdom come,) acknowledging ourselves and all mankind to be by nature under the dominion of sin and Satan, we pray, that the kingdom of sin and Satan may be destroyed, the gospel propagated throughout the world, the Jews called, the fullness of the Gentiles brought in; the church furnished with all gospel-officers and ordinances, purged from corruption, countenanced and maintained by the civil magistrate: that the ordinances of Christ may be purely dispensed, and made effectual to the converting of those that are yet in their sins, and the confirming, comforting, and building up of those that are already converted: that Christ would rule in our hearts here, and hasten the time of his second coming, and our reigning with him forever: and that he would be pleased so to exercise the kingdom of his power in all the world, as may best conduce to these ends.

Later Reformed scholars, until the late 19th century, shared this optimistic understanding of Scripture, and entertained the hope of the ultimate triumph of the gospel.

John Gill comments on Matthew 6:10:

“In this petition the disciples were taught to pray for the success of the Gospel, both among Jews and Gentiles; for the conversion of God’s elect, in which the kingdom of God would greatly appear, to the destruction of the kingdom of Satan, and the abolition of the kingdom of the beast, in the latter day; which will usher in the kingdom, of the mediator, he will receive from his Father, and this will terminate in the kingdom of glory: in a word, not the kingdom of nature and providence is meant, which always was; but the kingdom of heaven, which was at hand, nay had taken place, though as yet was not very visible, and which is spiritual in the hearts of God’s people, Jews and Gentiles; and which will appear exceeding glorious in the latter day, and at last be swallowed up in the ultimate glory; all which must be very desirable by the sincere lovers of Jesus Christ.”

Albert Barnes agrees with this perspective:

Thy kingdom come” – The word “kingdom” here means “reign.” (See note, Matthew 3:2.) The petition is the expression of a wish that God may reign everywhere; that his laws may be obeyed; and especially that the gospel of Christ may be advanced everywhere, until the world shall be filled with his glory.

Thy will be done” – The will of God is, that people should obey his law, and be holy. The word will, here, has reference to his law, and to what would be acceptable to him. To pray, then, that his will may be done, on earth as in heaven, is to pray that his law, his revealed will, may be obeyed and loved. His law is perfectly obeyed in heaven, and his true children most ardently desire and pray that it may also be obeyed on the earth.

The object of these three first petitions, is, that God’s name should be glorified and his kingdom established; and by being placed first, we learn that his glory and kingdom are of more consequence than our wants, and that these should be first in our hearts and petitions before a throne of grace.

Even John Wesley, who cannot be considered “Reformed” summarizes thus:

Thy kingdom come” – May thy kingdom of grace come quickly, and swallow up all the kingdoms of the earth: may all mankind, receiving thee, O Christ, for their king, truly believing in thy name, be filled with righteousness, and peace, and joy; with holiness and happiness, till they are removed hence into thy kingdom of glory, to reign with thee for ever and ever.

An official confessional document of the Reformed Presbyterian Church reads:

We believe that a period approaches, in which the kingdom of Christ shall triumph over all opposition, and have a universal diffusion, influence, and prosperity. The Romish antichrist shall be destroyed, and shall cease not only to exert a malignant influence of any kind, on the ecclesiastical and social institutions of those countries where it has prevailed, but to have an organised existence on the face of the earth. The Jews shall be converted to Christianity, and added to the church. The greater fullness of the gentiles shall be brought in. Mohammedan and Pagan nations shall embrace the religion of Jesus, and all mankind shall possess the knowledge of revealed truth. There is reason to believe, that the truth shall be felt in its illuminating, regenerating, and sanctifying efficacy, by the greater number for those who process it.(sic) Knowledge, love, holiness, and peace shall extensively prevail, under the copious effusions of the Holy Spirit. Arts, sciences, literature, and wealth shall be consecrated to the service of Christ. The social institutions of men shall be erected and administered under the influence of scriptural principle. Oppression and tyranny shall terminate; wars shall cease from the earth, and the nations be united in peace. The inhabitants of the world shall be exceedingly multiplied, and pure undefiled religion shall exert supreme dominion over the hearts and minds of men, and diffuse universal felicity. This happy period shall be of long duration. It will be succeeded by a general defection from truth and holiness, and the prevalence of irreligion and crime, which will immediately precede the second coming of the Son of man from heaven.” (Testimony of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in Scotland, 1842. Pages 348 – 350). [I have omitted the Scripture proof texts to save space. HDK]

Enough has been said to show that the expectation of victory is a part of our Reformed heritage; and that to pray in the expectation of that victory was regarded by our Reformed forefathers as a Christian duty. And I hope I have shown that, when we pray the Lord’s Prayer, we are not asking God to do what we know He has no intention of doing; but rather what He has promised to do, what He intends to do, and what He shall certainly do.

The Reformers and their successors dared to dream of converting whole nations, all of Europe, even the world! They dared to strive for and pray for great things, knowing that, however small and weak they were, the work did not depend on them, but upon God, who would surely fulfill His promises to those who were faithful and obedient. May the Lord give us great faith, that we may show ourselves worthy of the priceless heritage bestowed upon us by a gracious providence; that we may attempt great things for God, and expect great things from God!

Howard Douglas King

 

Why The Left Is Willing To Run Extreme Candidates For Office

Even When it Means Losing Elections

The Left doesn’t need to win elections right now, as much as it needs to make socialism seem to be an attractive option versus the status quo. The left is playing the long game, and in the end they must win; for the so-called”right” is only interested in maintaining the the established order by putting its men in the critical offices. The do-nothing Republicans already lost the mid-term elections; and they are going to lose a lot more.

What do I mean by the Left playing the long game? They already have control of the education system. From early childhood to young adulthood, they exercise authority over that child more than most parents do. They have his eyes and ears, to fill with the ideas and images that support their worldview. If the child goes to college, the icing will be spread on the cake that they have already baked; and they will be propagandized and activated as devoted enemies of the America we love.

Going farther back, the teachers who train teachers who train your children and young adults are Marxists, and the typical university is a Marxist institution. Your child doesn’t have a prayer against such a prolonged and orchestrated attack. He will reject his parents’ values and side with those who promise hope and change. He cannot do otherwise. And his rejection will be sincere and passionate.

That is why the voter base of the Democrats is growing, in spite of the fact that so many parents are not Leftists. It will continue to grow for other reasons:

To state the obvious — sane, practical, patriotic, conservative people who know that socialism is evil are dying off, while the ignorant young are increasing.

The mainline media are as far Left as the universities, and their power to keep young and aware socialists — your children — updated on the current party line concerning all events and persons is formidable. Against these two towers there can be no victory.

But let’s not overlook the legal system, which has already been renovated by secular humanists, and the Christian foundations of the old American law thoroughly undermined. Perpetuating and extending the humanist influence is the congress, which has been the propagator and promoter of liberalized laws that favor Marxist institutions and grants money outright to them. In addition, the judges are trained in Marxist government schools, universities and law schools.

Professed conservative politicians have failed to implement conservative policies, which would make our problems diminish; or even to slow the progress of America’s liberalization which has been going on since at least FDR. It is not hard to make the young see that the world is messed up, and needs radical change; when the Leftist agenda is continually making things worse, while Leftists always blame the other side for the failure of their own policies.

Parents refuse to see that this is going on, because they see no option to government education that is not costly in money or time. Government education has the ultimate advantage: it is free. So they turn a blind eye to the process of mis-education that is destroying their children and our society.

Before long, these Marxist candidates, who are mostly women or blacks or both, to make them more attractive to young Marxist voters, will be winning by landslides; and there will be little or no resistance left. The horrors of bloody atheistic Marxism will no longer be a fear, but a reality. This is what our complacency has been and is creating. God help us; for no one else can!

 

Howard Douglas King

November 23, 2018

How Many Animals of Each Kind Were on the Ark?

And of every living thing of all flesh, two of every sort shalt thou bring into the ark, to keep them alive with thee; they shall be male and female. Of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind, two of every sort shall come unto thee, to keep them alive. (Genesis 6:19-20)

Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female. Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female; to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth. (Genesis 7:2-3)

Of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls, and of every thing that creepeth upon the earth, there went in two and two unto Noah into the ark, the male and the female, as God had commanded Noah. (Genesis 7:8-9)

In the selfsame day entered Noah, and Shem, and Ham, and Japheth, the sons of Noah, and Noah’s wife, and the three wives of his sons with them, into the ark; They, and every beast after his kind, and all the cattle after their kind, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth after his kind, and every fowl after his kind, every bird of every sort. And they went in unto Noah into the ark, two and two of all flesh, wherein is the breath of life. And they that went in, went in male and female of all flesh, as God had commanded him: and the LORD shut him in. (Genesis 7:13-16)

There is no doubt that only eight people – four married couples – were saved in the flood, and that no unmarried persons came along with them (7:13). But the question of the number of animals of each kind that were saved in the ark has puzzled many. Though this is a question of relatively little importance, it is instructive; for nothing in the Scriptures was recorded by accident.

Were there only seven of the clean animals? If so, how do the terms, “two and two” and “male and female” apply to them? Were there extras of the clean animals provided for sacrifice, or for a temporary food supply? Or were there seven breeding pairs? If so, were there only two of each unclean kind, or two pairs? Many unsatisfactory theories have been tried; but the truth may be found by assembling the relevant texts and testing the various hypotheses against the information given in all of them. The only coherent view that is in harmony with all the statements can be summed up in four points, as follows:

1. The first statement that relates to our question, in 6:19, gives the general rule: the animals were to be brought into the ark in pairs, a male and a female of each kind “of every living thing of all flesh”. This latter expression is universal and emphatic, and shows that all the animals were thus to be paired. Verse 20 elaborates further, “of fowls after their kind, and of cattle after their kind, of every creeping thing of the earth after his kind”. The purpose stated is, “to keep them alive with thee”. This is not merely to keep these particular individual animals alive, but to ensure the survival of each kind in perpetuity by saving breeding pairs.

2. The last two statements confirm this basic fact. The phrase, “two and two” in 7:8-9 applies to all the animal kinds, “…of clean beasts, and of beasts that are not clean, and of fowls, and of everything that creepeth upon the earth.” And in 7:16, the fact is restated that there was a male for every female of all flesh. The male and female pair is thus the basic unit.

3. When the difference of clean and unclean beasts is introduced as a qualification to the original rule, the expression, “by sevens” must be understood of seven pairs; otherwise there would be a male without a female, or a female without a male, in violation of the general rule. In 7:3, “Of fowls also of the air by sevens, the male and the female” surely can only mean seven males and seven females! Especially when it is added as a reason, “to keep seed alive upon the face of all the earth”.

4. Thus the number of clean animals of each kind would be fourteen, and of unclean, just four (two pairs). God would take care of the rest, by His providence guaranteeing that the numbers would be sufficient to secure the re-population of the earth.

The question of why there were seven of the clean animals and only four of the unclean is not answered in the sacred text. But we know from Moses’ law that the “unclean” animals were generally either predators or scavengers. They had become perverted after the fall to eat flesh. The “clean animals”, on the other hand, were those that continued to eat the original vegetable diet given to them by God. This general rule is inferred from what we know of the dietary habits of the various kinds of animals today. It provides several obvious reasons why God would want to populate the “new earth” with more clean than unclean beasts:

First, in any ecosystem, there must be many more potential prey than predators, for both predator and prey to survive.

Second, the flood was intended to punish and restrain the violence that had been unleashed in the earth as men and animals both forsook the original peaceful way of life (see 6:13,16).

Third, though man had been prohibited from eating flesh before the flood, he was to receive permission after. He would need dietary augmentation in view of the wreckage of the earth’s productive capacity by the catastrophe. The greater number of clean beasts would allow for this.

Fourth, meat-eaters can be a threat to man himself, and man would be forced to keep their numbers down in self-defense.

Fifth, clean animals were used for sacrifices, as well as food.

What use can we make of this study? We can see that these details, that might be thought superfluous, support the idea that this is a true history; for it is highly unlikely that anyone making up a story would think of them.  And yet it was necessary that the right numbers of each kind were on the ark to support all the kinds in a world devastated by the flood and empty of animal inhabitants.

Howard Douglas King

Revised June 17, 2020

Is it Wrong for Christians to Borrow Money?

Imperative or Indicative?

7 Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. 8 Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. 9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. (Romans 13:7-10, Authorized Version)

Borrowing is not a sin.

Advocates of debt-free living almost always point to verse 8 as a proof text which states (they say) that it is wrong for believers to borrow money. (One wonders if they would also forbid the borrowing of a lawn mower, or a cup of sugar?)

This is untenable, given that loaning to the poor is declared a virtue in the Bible, and since the rule is given in the law that one is not to charge interest on a loan to a poor brother. If it were wrong to borrow, then it would be wrong for us to cause our poor brother to sin by extending a loan to him. But God is not so severe as to place such a burden on people placed in a position of real need.

Does it mean to pay on time?

Other interpreters, seeing that borrowing is not forbidden, read the text as an exhortation – not to avoid incurring debt, but – not to be late in paying our debts, nor to evade them. Certainly, punctuality and conscientiousness are virtues inculcated elsewhere in Scripture; but this represents the importation of an idea foreign to the text; and one that does not fit. Not owing is not at all the same thing as not paying.

Ambiguity in the Greek

In Greek, as well as in English, the same form of a verb may be used to denote either the imperative or the indicative mood. An example of this in our own language appears in verse 6, where the words, “pay ye” can mean either the command, “pay, all of you” or the statement of fact, “ye are paying”. (In this case, the Greek word is unambiguous — it means the latter.)

The Authorized Version renders the verb “to owe” in verse 8 in the imperative mood; but the word may as well be rendered in the indicative; for the Greek is ambiguous. There is no grammatical or syntactical argument that I know of for preferring the imperative.

A Grammatical Problem

Furthermore, the verse, as it stands in the A.V. is ungrammatical: “Owe no one anything… but to love one another”. The infinitive in the second clause, “to love” (Greek agapan) would stand better with an indicative in the first, thus: “Ye owe nothing to anyone, but to love one another.”

On the other hand, if the first verb were an imperative, then we would expect another imperative after the adversative, “but” – “Owe no one anything, but (rather) love one another”. Yet this wouldn’t work anyway; for “but” indicates opposition; yet owe and love are not opposites.

The word is “except”, not “but”.

It should also be noted that the Greek word translated “but” is neither the strong adversative, alla nor the weak adversative, de, but the combination of two words, ei ma which means “except”. Thus, the idea is “You owe no man anything except to love one another.” The various particular obligations are comprehended under one general obligation; so that if we fulfill the general, then we will have fulfilled the particulars. Another way of saying it would be “There is nothing else in addition to love that you owe to anyone.”

Does “do not owe” mean “do not borrow”?

There is also a logical objection to the A.V.’s translation. If the text is indeed intended to prohibit incurring debt by the act of borrowing, why doesn’t it say so? Owing is a consequence – not an act. We owe because we have borrowed.  Does it say “Do not borrow”?

What kind of debts?

For the obligations discussed in the context are not voluntary personal debts; but rather such things as the obedience owed to lawful authority, tribute and custom and (verses 1,7). One has no control over these obligations. One does not incur them voluntarily. They arise without our choice. We cannot avoid owing them; and they can never be paid off.

Neither can we avoid the obligation to love all men. There is no evidence that the apostle has in view voluntary debts at all (much less monetary debts). Rather, he is insisting on the point that every obligation inherent in relationships with our fellow-men is comprehended within the rule of love.

Indicative, not Imperative

For all these reasons, the indicative is to be preferred. It satisfies all the demands of the text; and makes the passage a harmonious whole:

Render therefore to all their dues: tribute to whom tribute is due; custom to whom custom; fear to whom fear; honour to whom honour. Ye owe no man any thing, except to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Some Authorities

Matthew Henry admits that the indicative is allowed, and that it gives a good sense:

Owe no man any thing; opheileteyou do owe no man any thing; so some read it: “Whatever you owe to any relation, or to any with whom you have to do, it is eminently summed up and included in this debt of love.

Adam Clarke’s commentary is to the same effect:

Owe no man any thing, but to love one another – Therefore, the apostle says, Owe no man; as if he had said: Ye owe to your fellow brethren nothing but mutual love, and this is what the law of God requires, and in this the law is fulfilled…

Howard Douglas King

Revised June 23, 2019

Against Unrestricted Religious Liberty

The following was written in response to Tony Perkins’ article, “Why Christians Must Support Religious Liberty for Everyone” available to read here: https://www.frc.org/get.cfm?i=WA19F42&f=WU19F10

I really appreciate your ministry, Tony. We need more strong men like you to contest God’s earth against Satan’s power grab. But I must disagree with you on the premise of unrestricted religious liberty.

My first argument is that it is against reason. Alien religions are bound to influence the laws and institutions of our society; and in many cases, they use their freedom to propagate their errors and subvert our society. Don’t you see this happening before your very eyes? There is a reason why we are losing the cultural war. We have allowed the heathen to infiltrate our institutions, mis-educate our children, form public opinion, and re-interpret and remake our laws for so long, with virtually no resistance; that they have more power than we do, humanly speaking. That is the plain fact; and we should have seen it coming.

My second reason is the universal consent of all branches of the church from the beginning until the seventeenth century. As late as 1646, in the famous Westminster Confession of Faith, the idea of religious liberty for non-Christians was vigorously opposed. Until then, it was always understood by Christians that, while we have a mission of grace to unbelievers; since they are unbelievers and tools of Satan, they are the enemies of Christianity and Christian society. America was founded on the Bible and only Bible believers can maintain its system and make it work. Only with the advent of the Enlightenment, falsely so-called, did the idea appear of extending this liberty to non-Christians. The Atheists and secularists naturally wanted to be free to propagate their anti-Christian dogmas. They succeeded in changing the minds of American Christians over time. But the point is; this idea was not the result of pious believers diligently and prayerfully studying the Word. It came from outside. I view it as a an antinomian departure from the teaching of Scripture and a step in the apostasy of the churches which issued in unitarianism and theological liberalism.

My third reason is biblical. Most Christians would admit that the Ten Commandments are not obsolete; neither are they just good advice. the fifth through the tenth are in our country punishable by law. These are the lesser commandments, however. The first four condemn direct infractions against God Himself. How can it be maintained that the lesser are to be punished; but not the greater? The Israelites were not cast out of their land in the days of Nebuchadnezzar for their crimes against humanity so much as their crime of idolatry; which God took as the highest possible personal insult. (2 Chron 24:18) Righteousness is the province of Kings; and the only standard of righteousness is the law of God. Anything else is unrighteousness.

How do you defend your idea from the Bible? You know that the Old Testament is not on your side. But Jesus said that He did not come to invalidate the law or the prophets. That would seem to be sufficient authority to continue the Mosaic laws against false prophets, blasphemers and idolaters. What about the New Testament? Is your view explicitly stated anywhere in the Apostolic canon? You know that it’s not. Then it must be an inevitable consequence of some other teaching. This you cannot maintain. The attempts to do so are shallow, if not ludicrous. Jesus did not address it (but we already know what He thought) and neither did his Apostles.

However, Paul said that the authorities hold their power from God; and that they are ministers of God for the punishment of evildoers (without distinction). Now what standard is there that ultimately determines good and evil? God’s law. Therefore, it is the duty of rulers to know God’s law; and to uphold it by punishing every kind of evildoer. That they may not be aware of or respectful to this standard does not invalidate their authority; but they will be responsible to God for their use of power, based on God’s standard — not man’s.

I contend, therefore, that the dogma of unrestricted religious liberty is a grave error. Reason is against it; traditional Christianity is against it, and most importantly, the Bible is against it. Please consider these things.

I am not so naive as to think that anything can stop the humanistic philosophies and ideologies from running their destructive course (unless God intervenes) But I feel bound to contest this point whenever I am given the opportunity, even if I am a voice crying in the wilderness. I commend to you the works of the old Presbyterians, the Puritans, the Reformers, and the church fathers on this subject; works that are, in my opinion, more erudite, more soundly scriptural and more logically rigorous than anything being written today. The so-called “Theonomists” of our times have also written some good books on the subject of the relevance and authority of the law of God for our criminal law.

God be with you, brother; and keep up the good work!

Howard Douglas King

Studies in the First Psalm: Part 4

The Needful Discipline of Meditation

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD;

and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

The word translated “meditate” is used elsewhere in a variety of senses: mutter, groan, mourn, etc. , but the main idea in all of these is “talking to oneself”. Do you talk to yourself about the word of God? If you don’t, it is no wonder that you have nothing to say to others about it.

The Puritans were spiritual giants, and one reason they were is that they practiced this sacred discipline of meditation in the Word. I have never known a serious Christian, a deep Christian, an impressive Christian, a spiritual Christian, who was not practiced in the art of meditation.

Meditation gives us the matter for our prayers. Once again, many embarrass themselves when they are called upon to pray in front of others, because they rightly feel that they have nothing to say to God. It is like trying to shoot an unloaded gun! Meditation fills the mind with matter for praise, thanksgiving and supplication.

By meditation we learn the meaning of God’s word. The Bible does not yield up its treasures to triflers. It is one thing to know what the Bible says — quite another to spiritually understand what it means. You cannot make the Bible simple. The world is complex, our lives are complex, and the Bible is complex. It is not written in the form of a manual, or of a handy book of definitive answers to all of life’s questions. To penetrate its secrets will require some effort; to master its principles, some hard thought; to learn its wisdom, reflection and heart-searching. We must be in earnest, or the Holy Spirit will not favor us with His instruction.

By meditation we come to know our own hearts. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” (Jeremiah 17:9) The Scripture searches our hearts as we allow it to speak to us through meditation.

Part 5: Blessing and Judgment

3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water,

that bringeth forth his fruit in his season;

his leaf also shall not wither;

and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

4 The ungodly are not so:

but are like the chaff

which the wind driveth away.

5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

6 For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous:

but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper.

The word rendered “rivers” might be better translated as “canals”. In that case, the psalmist must be understood to allude to the ancient mode of watering by irrigation channels. But it matters little, for the point is that the tree has a reliable source of — and therefore constant access to — the necessary water.

The tree is used so frequently in Scripture as a metaphor for human beings that it is needless to cite examples. A concordance will yield many instances of this usage. A tree usually represents a man who is established — who has a place of his own, and is rooted. A dry tree is a man weakened to the point that he is in danger of dying. This tree is planted in such an ideal situation, that he will never dry up — the water is plentiful. The grace of God is an unfailing stream. He whose roots drink from the river of living waters shall never thirst. He shall not fail of fruit at the proper time, and will still be green and youthful, even in old age.

The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away.

What is lighter than chaff, or more insubstantial? What fitter contrast to the solidity and stability of a living tree? The ungodly man is of no account to God, and he should not trouble or intimidate us, either. His time is the briefest of moments, his legacy emptiness. What a pity that man, who was made from dust into God’s image, should have made himself into dust again!

Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.

The purifying fire of God’s judgment shall consume all the wood, hay, stubble and chaff, and leave the earth clean again at last. At the end of history, there will be no sign left to indicate that the wicked were ever here. The hypocrites will be separated out of the visible church, gathered, and cast into the everlasting furnace of God’s holy wrath.

For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

The word, “know” often means the same thing as “recognize”, or “approve”. God does not merely observe or take cognizance of the way of the righteous — he approves it. But the way of the ungodly which god abhors is a dead end road. His way, his plans, his thoughts, his hopes, his dreams — all will perish with him.

This is a sobering thought; but no one can appreciate God’s work of grace in his life that has made him righteous unless he recognizes that he has something in common with the ungodly man. For we are all sinners; and if we have been saved, it is all of grace. Thank God! that He does not always punish the guilty; at least in their own persons. Christ bore our sins in His own body on the cross. We who are forgiven because of His sacrifice and justified by the imputation of Christ’s righteousness should be very grateful to Him who bought us with His own life’s blood! But for the grace of God, we had been destined to destruction along with the wicked. We must never forget it.

Howard Douglas King

Romans 8:32 No Proof of Universal Redemption

He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things? (Rom 8:32)

Many believers find it easier to believe the first four points of Calvinism than the fifth. It seems to them that the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ died for all men, absolutely all, without any exceptions. My aim is not to answer all the objections of such; but only to remove one obstacle that is troubling to many.

The use of Romans 8:32 to prove a universal design for the atonement is easily refuted; but only if two important principles of interpretation are kept in mind. The first is, we must distinguish between the sound of Scripture and its sense. The second is that the meaning of an ambiguous term is determined by the context.

It must be admitted that, on a surface reading, it sounds as if Paul is saying that God gave His Son for all of us human beings. But that is not what it says, and that is not its sense. If we are used to reading it that way, it is understandable that the impression remains; even after we have learned about God’s eternal love for His chosen.

But the truth is, the expression “us all” is ambiguous, deriving its meaning from the context in which we find it. If I am going on an outing with some friends, and someone asks, “Do you think we can all fit in the car?” I might answer, “I think I can fit us all in.” Now who would think that I meant all humanity? Clearly, “us all” means “everyone who wants to go with us”. Context determines the scope of the term.

The context of this verse (the whole chapter) is particularistic, rather than universalistic. From the beginning, Paul makes it clear that he is talking about “them which are in Christ Jesus”; and the phrase “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit” draws a distinction between the two groups. In verse 4, we find the pronoun “us” for the first time, and it is qualified by the phrase, “who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” Verses 5-9 declare with emphasis that the two classes of men are diametrically opposed to each other. In verse 12, he refers to the godly as “brethren”, and in verse 14 “sons of God”, in 16 “children of God”, and in 17, joint heirs with Christ”. All these references are to the same persons, as distinguished from the sinful world. There is not a single reference to the whole world of mankind, saints and sinners included, in the entire chapter.

In verse 18, the pronoun “us” refers to the same persons. In 19, we are called “the sons of God” and in 21 “children of God”. In verse 23, the same persons are referred to as “ourselves also, which have the firstfruits of the Spirit” as distinguished from the physical, non-human world that suffers because of Adam’s fall. In verses 23-26 , “we” is used 5 times, and then “us” to refer to the same persons. In verse 27, we see the same persons called “the saints”.

Verses 28-30 are often called “the golden chain” of salvation. In these verses, the same persons that have been spoken of all through the chapter are set forth as the “foreknown”, the “predestinated”, the sovereignly “called” and “justified” people of God, who will certainly be “glorified”. In this place, the saints are contemplated from the viewpoint of God’s eternal plan for us who are now believers — chosen and loved from the foundation of the world, predestinated to eternal glory.

The “foreknowledge” referred to is not the foreknowledge of some action or event, but of persons. It reads “whom He did foreknow” — not “whom He did foreknow would believe”. In chapter 11, Paul uses the word in the same way with respect to the people of Israel, opening with these words: “I say then, Hath God cast away his people?” which he answers “God forbid. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. God hath not cast away his people which he foreknew.”

The meaning is that God has sovereignly set His love upon Israel, so that they will never be wholly cast away, even though, at present, most of them are enemies and aliens with respect to the kingdom of God. So when he makes us the objects of Divine foreknowledge, he does not mean that God foreknew that we would believe. He means that God makes all things work for our salvation because of His eternal love.

Romans 8:31 reads “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” and there can be no doubt that “us” refers to the same persons. In verse 33, they are called “God’s elect”. In verse 34, they are assured that Christ “maketh intercession for “us”. For the remainder of the chapter, we find only “us” and “we”; and they obviously refer to the same persons.

So that it is illegitimate to claim that in one verse, among all these others, the pronoun “us” refers to the entire world of men, simply because of the presence of the word “all”. “All” in this context obviously refers to all of the persons spoken of throughout. Paul may simply be emphasizing the fact that the death of Christ was for the humblest, the poorest, the most sinful believer, no matter how unworthy he may feel. There is no reason at all to import into this particularistic context the idea of the whole world of men; besides, to do so would destroy the unity of the passage.

Furthermore, the logic which Paul uses in verse 32 would be invalidated. For if the universality of the atonement were to be granted, there would be no assurance at all in the fact that Christ was crucified for us; since in that case, many for whom Christ died would have nevertheless perished. What could be more contrary to Paul’s purpose; which is to give us believers the strongest possible assurance that we can never be separated from the love of God?

Paul, in this verse, uses an argument from the greater to the less, sometimes called the a fortiori argument. If God was willing to give us the greatest gift of all, His own Son, to be our Substitute and Redeemer; how much more will He give us the lesser gifts that are the fruits of Christ’s sacrifice? The gift of His Son cost Him something. It costs him nothing to apply His redemption to us. We should read the “all things” in light of the context as well. “All things” means all the things which Paul has just enumerated: predestination, calling, justification, and glorification. Paul is emphatic: since God spared not His own Son, how shall he not freely give us all the things we need to be brought home to glory?

Some will argue, nonetheless, that whether we believe or not is up to us, because we have free will. Once we believe, then Christ and all His benefits are ours, and we can be sure of heaven. This misses an important fact: that calling (mentioned in verses 28 and 30) is one of the gifts that He gives us. Calling is what makes the difference between us and the unbelieving world; for it is by God’s call that we are made believers. There is a general call of the gospel that falls upon the ear; and there is a special call that reaches the heart of every elect person, which he cannot but obey. This “effectual call” is closely related to the new birth, and results in repentance and faith. We do not receive this special call, and the other gifts that flow from Christ’s sacrifice because we choose to; but we choose to, because of the electing love of God, because of which His dear Son was sacrificed for us all.

Howard Douglas King, September 8, 2018

Revised June 8, 2019

Studies in the First Psalm – Part 3

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD;

The name used to refer to God’s word is “the law of the LORD”. Whenever we see “the LORD” in the King James Bible, we know that this is the most sacred name, the one that God gave to Moses when he asked God what his name was, the one that the Jews never dare to pronounce, which we transliterate as “Jehovah”, and which translates as “I AM”. This name is a wonderful revelation of God’s nature which suggests His eternity, His self-sufficiency, His transcendence, and the impenetrable mystery of His being.

The word for law in both places is torah. It is used in a variety of senses in Scripture, and is the name given by the Jews to the Pentateuch, but in this place it means the whole of Scripture, conceived of as Divine instruction. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, and for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works” (II Timothy 3:16).

Not just the New Testament, but the Old is also inspired, and so is equally necessary to the equipping of the man of God: “For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost” (II Peter 1:21).

The very words are inspired by the Holy Spirit: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual” (I Corinthians 2:12-13).

Not only were the original autographs the inspired word of God, but faithful original language copies are the word of God, as well. For the Scriptures that Jesus appealed to , and attributed infallible authority to, were not the autographa, but the apographa, accurate copies many times removed from the first originals. God’s special providence has guarded the text, so that its details have been preserved intact in the accurate copies, according to the promises:

“The words of the LORD are pure words: as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times. Thou shalt keep them, O LORD, thou shalt preserve them from this generation for ever.” (Psalm 12:6,7)

“The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.” (Isaiah 40:8)

“For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matthew 5:18)

“And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.” (Luke 16:17)

“Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33)

While the ultimate authorities remain the approved copies in the original Hebrew and Greek, faithful translations of the accurate copies are also to be regarded as the word of God, for the New Testament writers often authoritatively quote from the Greek Old Testament in common use among Greek-speaking believers. The “holy Scriptures” that Timothy, a Greek, knew from childhood, which his mother and grandmother taught him, would most likely have been in Greek, not Hebrew. The King James Bible, may be properly called the inspired, infallible word of God, for it was made from the accurate, divinely-preserved original language texts, and it is a faithful, accurate translation of holy Scripture.

I dwell on this, because in these days, there are swarms of corrupted Bibles competing for our attention, created for no other purpose than to make fortunes for the publishing companies, that are not worth the match to set them all ablaze. Many of these have been endorsed by well-meaning Christian leaders. I think that there are three main reasons why they are endorsed:

1) Some of these men desperately want people to read the Bible, and they think that people will more likely read an easy-to-understand modern language version like the TEV or the “Living Bible”. But there is no evidence that people who have modern English Bibles read them more than people who use the KJV. From my experience, I would say that the opposite is likely true. Nor do I believe that most people will read their Bibles more, if only they will trade in the old one for the latest model. I think that the real issue is whether or not we are in love with Jesus Christ — whether we want to know Him badly enough to take the time to read his love-letters. If you do, then you will not tolerate anything less than a trustworthy version of the Bible, even if it’s not the easiest to understand.

2) Others wrongly think that the original-language texts were not preserved intact by God, but were corrupted by the scribes and copyists of the church. They think that modern scholarship has created texts closer to the autographs than we had when the KJV was translated, by picking through the wastebaskets of history for clues to the original readings. Naturally, these men think that some of the newer word-for-word translations, like the NAS or the ESV are more accurate than the KJV. But how can they be more accurate, when they are translated from texts fabricated by Modernistic scholars instead of the ones God has preserved, that have been approved and copied by the church from the beginning?

3) Still others think that a word-for-word translation cannot accurately convey the thoughts of Scripture to modern readers, and so they endorse versions like the NIV, which tell us in their own words what the translators think God wanted to say to us. But if we believe that God inspired the actual words of Scripture, why would we not trust his wisdom in that, and treasure those very words that He deemed best to communicate His ideas to us? Why allow mere men to present to us their interpretation of His own words, in place of the very words of God themselves? We have preachers and the commentators to help us interpret God’s word properly — let the translator stick to his proper task, and let him render every precious word faithfully into English, as the translators of the KJV have done.

Use extreme caution in evaluating the modern versions. Do not be taken in by their hype. With few exceptions, they are not to be trusted. I beg you, in Christ’s name, make the real law of the LORD the basis for your reading, study, memorization, meditation, teaching, and public and private worship. You cannot go far wrong following the reliable old English Bible of our fathers — the Authorized or “King James” Version.

Studies in the First Psalm – Part 2

The Blessed Man

1 Blessed is the man that walketh not

in the counsel of the ungodly,

nor standeth in the way of sinners,

nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD;

and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

Blessed is the man…

The Hebrew word eh’-sher, here rendered “blessed”, and sometimes translated “happy”, has nothing to do with the subjective emotional state. It refers to objective well-being, which in Scripture is always the result of being in a right relationship with the God who rules all our lives by His providence. The blessed man is the one for whom all things work together for good (Romans 8:28), because God is his own God, bound by His word of promise to do him good. He is the man to whom God has sworn with an oath, saying, “Surely, blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I will multiply thee!” (Hebrews 6:14)

The world has its own standard of well-being. Material prosperity is the measure of security and stability for worldly men. But that is an illusion, as events will certainly reveal — for the rich cannot evade death, any more than the poor. And then what good will be those riches to the man who heaped them up?

The word used here, ish, like the English word, “man” applies primarily to male humans, but can be used in a secondary sense that is inclusive of all humans. The latter is the sense here, and the use of the masculine pronoun throughout this passage should not obscure its applicability to females.

that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.

The godly character of the blessed man is marked, first, and negatively, by his separation from the world. Solomon tells us, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” (Proverbs 13:20) That man is blessed who steadfastly refuses to receive advice from or to be influenced by ungodly men, or even to familiarly associate with sinners, much less, to join in mockery with scorners.

Calvin comments:

“Commencing with a declaration of his abhorrence of the wicked, he teaches us how impossible it is for any one to apply his mind to meditation upon God’s laws who has not first withdrawn and separated himself from the society of the ungodly. A needful admonition surely; for we see how thoughtlessly men will throw themselves into the snares of Satan; at least, how few comparatively there are who guard against the enticements of sin. That we may be fully apprised of our danger, it is necessary to remember that the world is fraught with deadly corruption, and that the first step to living well is to renounce the company of the ungodly, otherwise it is sure to infect us with its own pollution.”

This is an artful construction, with a twofold progression that seems designed to suggest the downward steps that lead a man to spiritual ruin:

1. The progression from the incidental contact to the occasional liaison, and finally to the established friendship — Walk…Stand…Sit.

2. The progression from the merely “ungodly” to open and habitual “sinners”, and then to the openly “scornful”.

But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.

The second, and positive mark of the godly man’s character is his attitude and action with respect to the written word of God.

The law of the LORD is mentioned twice in verse 2 for emphasis — the writer might have used the personal pronoun (it) in the second instance, but he chose not to. The man is said to “delight” in the law, and he is said to “meditate” in it “day and night”, that is, constantly.

The reason that this is so important is because relationships depend on communication, and consequently our relationship with God depends on us communicating with Him in prayer, and Him communicating to us through His word. We can be sure that a wife who does not cherish communications from her husband, especially when they are separated from each other, is no longer in love with him. If you love God, you love His Word. It becomes central to your life.

Many who profess Christianity have no interest in God’s word. They are so far from finding it a delight that they never read it unless at church. They say that they have no time for reading, and this may be true. But if it is true, then it is the result of the way they have chosen to live their lives, and what priorities they have set for themselves.

The blessed man of our psalm read his Bible! How else could he know what it said, so he could meditate on it? What else would a man do who delighted — took pleasure in God’s word? I have known men who go fishing every chance they get. They delight in fishing, and it is never far from their minds. Sit down with such a man at lunchtime, and he will want to talk about fishing. While he is working, he is planning his next fishing trip.

If we would be blessed of God, we must become people of the Book. We need to read it continuously — every day — not just picking out passages at random, but reading consecutively through whole books, and thinking about what we have read, and studying to find the answers to our questions about it. We need to pray over it, begging for wisdom and strength to apply it correctly in our lives. We need to talk about it with fellow Christians in a way that furthers our understanding, and to exhort each other to obey it (Malachi 3:16). We need to administer teaching and correction to the ignorant and the out of the way in a spirit of meekness, so that our tongue becomes a tree of life (Proverbs 15:4).

Studies in the First Psalm – Part 1

1 Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful. 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night. 3 And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that bringeth forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he doeth shall prosper. 4 The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. 5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous. 6 For the LORD knoweth the way of the righteous: but the way of the ungodly shall perish. (Authorized Version)

Part 1: Introduction

Two Kinds of Men

The first Psalm delineates the respective characters and the corresponding destinies of two kinds of men: called in verse 6 “the righteous” and “the ungodly”. This psalm makes a fitting introduction for the Psalter, the inspired song-book of the Old Testament church, for it captures in a picturesque and memorable way the essential differences between men who live their lives under the blessing of God and those who live under His wrath and curse.

For the Bible teaches that there are only these two kinds of men. It starkly states that every one of us is either the friend of God, or His enemy; there can be no neutrality. Either one is living a life of grateful obedience to his creator and redeemer, or he is in rebellion against God. Either one is in Christ, and destined to eternal life — or in Adam, and bound for everlasting ruin. To which class do you belong? Are you someone whom God regards as righteous? Or are you one whom he reckons among the ungodly?

The Psalm as Poetry

In interpreting this, or any other psalm, it is important to remember that it is a song, and therefore falls into the literary class or genre of poetry, as distinguished from prose. The Hebrew psalter uses literary devices common to all poetry generally: an artificial structure, rhythm, words selected for their sound as well as their meaning. In addition, it possesses some special features that are characteristic of ancient Hebrew poetry in particular. Among these are the extensive use of parallelism. We see an instance of “synthetic” parallelism in verse 2 and “antithetical” parallelism in verse 6.

The purpose of poetry is to enhance the impression of truth by proposing it to the mind in ways more vivid than a bare description. Poetry deals not so much with abstract ideas as with concrete images, immediately presented to the imagination, which gives it a peculiar force and power. Because a very large part of the Bible is poetry, a translation of Scripture should be judged not only by its conveyance of the meaning of the particular words, but also by its success in rendering Hebrew poetry into English accurately, and in a pleasing way. A good translation of poetic language will preserve as much as possible both the form of the original, and the evocative effect of its words. Most modern translations would have to be rated very low in this respect. The New Living Translation illustrates this point well:

1 Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with scoffers.

2 But they delight in doing everything the LORD wants; day and night they think about his law.

3 They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season without fail. Their leaves never wither, and in all they do, they prosper.

Notice that the poetic progression, “walketh… standeth…sitteth” has been removed from verse 1. In verse 2, the repetition of the word “law” in a chiastic parallelism is missing. In verse 3, the flowing expression, “planted by the rivers of waters” has been exchanged for “planted along the riverbank”. This is not only flat, but the use of the plural pronoun, “they”, and the gratuitous thought of a row of trees, rather than a single one, combine to mislead the reader. The true picture is of a man who stands out, who is willing to stand alone, if need be, rather than compromise with the world. The psalmist singles this remarkable person out, and exclaims “Behold how blessed is that man!” We could go on, but this suffices to illustrate the point.

This, and other modern versions, because they use the modern idiom, rather than choosing words appropriate to poetry, fail to transmit faithfully what God intended when He caused His word to be written down by men. If God chose to express Himself using exalted and beautiful language, it will not do for us to translate it into the language of the street. By arbitrarily removing important details of the poetry, they produce an inaccurate and impoverished rendering of God’s beautiful word.

Overview

Calvin summarizes: “The sum and substance of the whole is, that they are blessed who apply their hearts to the pursuit of heavenly wisdom; whereas the profane despisers of God, although for a time they may reckon themselves happy, shall at length have a most miserable end.”

Verses one and two describe the blessed man — first negatively, then positively. He does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, etc. He does meditate in God’s law day and night. The actions of men are indicative of character.

Verse three is a simile that likens him to a well-watered tree: strong, sturdy, and fruitful.

Verse four uses a contrasting metaphor, “chaff” to impress us with the frailty and impermanence of the ungodly, who are vulnerable to the least threat, so that, as it were, they are forcibly driven away by the summer breeze.

Verse five, building on the “chaff” metaphor, declares that such a worthless and insubstantial thing as a wicked man cannot hope to withstand the judgment of God.

In verse six, the psalm concludes with the assurance of Divine approval and perpetual blessing for the righteous, and the denunciation of certain destruction upon the ungodly.