“As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness,” Psalm 17:15.
I read Psalm 17 on the Lord’s Day morning past and then began a study of the verse 15. When time for the morning prayer meeting came round, I walked the few yards down to the church. The prayer meeting was opened by the singing of this psalm, which would indicate that the elder leading the prayer meeting also follows Robert Murray M‘Cheyne’s Bible Reading Calendar, something I recommend to all.
This psalm comes from the pen of David. God has been pleased to pass on to ensuing generations much blessed instruction through the psalms and songs of the King of Israel of old.
Every one of the inspired psalms abounds with divine instruction on all things spiritual and related to the experiences of the saints of God. For this reason they have been a favourite portion of God’s Word to consult in times of perplexity, trouble and fear.
As one who holds to the Presbyterian form of church government and polity, I know how much the Psalms have meant to my forefathers in times of tribulation and distress. We sing still with joy the metrical form of the Psalms as compiled and arranged by our 17th century forefathers.
Today’s generation of Free Presbyterians need to make sure that this holy practice does not diminish or die!
In our verse there is given to the people of God a wonderful picture of the happy prospect that is theirs through the grace of God. What the future holds for the believer has ever been revealed by the Lord to His people. Thus Job, who had no written record of God’s Word, was able to say with assurance: “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me,” Job 19:25-27. There is so much in these words that it would take many sermons to expound them all!
Job was acquainted with the truth of the Redeemer and His then present existence. He knew of His second coming to this earth (which indicates he knew of His first coming) to rise up in power to rule the earth for that is implied in the Hebrew word translated ‘he shall stand’.
Furthermore, he was acquainted with the truth of his own death and the decaying in the grave of his body but also its resurrection again to look upon the Lord of glory in that event spoken of by Paul. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord,” 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17.
Such revelations given of God to His saints of old and which are recorded in the Holy Scriptures form the major source of comfort and encouragement during the trials of our earthly pilgrimage. I think it true to say, as is the case with every aspect of God’s truth, it is the devil’s determination to rob Christians of an awareness and of the benefits of these great truths and so cast them into distress and melancholia when facing the vexations of life.
Let us seek to extract ‘honey from this rock’ of Holy Scripture in our text.
I. THERE IS A GREAT SLEEP AWAITING THE CHILD OF GOD
I might just say that the only exception to this truth are those spoken of by Paul in the verse we have just quoted from 1 Thessalonians. Those believers who “are alive and remain” when the Saviour returns in power and great glory, will experience the ’sleep’ referred to by David. All others will have experienced death and from it they shall be ‘awakened’ by the Lord at His return.
1. Death for the Christian is frequently referred to in the Bible as a ‘sleep’. The Lord Jesus used this expression when speaking of the death of Lazarus. “These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead,” John 11:11-14.
Paul likewise was inspired of the Holy Spirit to use this term.
“For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep,” 1 Corinthians 11:30.
“Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed,” 1 Corinthians 15:51-52.
“For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep,” 1 Thessalonians 4:14-15.
2. If death for the Christian is termed by God as a ’sleep’ we have nothing to fear from death. This is obviously so when we consider again the triumphant words of Paul in 1st Corinthians 15. “So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ,” verses 54-57.
There is not the vestige of fear to be found in those words.
However, unbelieving man surely fears death. As Hebrews 2:15 speaks of such, “them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Men, under conviction of sin, experience these terrors arising. The fear of death continues tormenting them and causes them ‘to die’, as it were, every day. This was evident in Cain and Judas.
“And Cain said unto the LORD, My punishment is greater than I can bear. Behold, thou hast driven me out this day from the face of the earth; and from thy face shall I be hid; and I shall be a fugitive and a vagabond in the earth; and it shall come to pass, that every one that findeth me shall slay me,” Genesis 4:13-14.
“Then Judas, which had betrayed him, when he saw that he was condemned, repented himself, and brought again the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood. And they said, What is that to us? see thou to that. And he cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself,” Matthew 27:3-5.
This is the hopelessness and fear that embraces men facing death without Christ!
3. Death then speaks of rest for the child of God. This world is a place of weariness for the Christian. The rest that comes with death he can look forward to with joy!
“And I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them,” Revelation 14:13.
Job said of death: “There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest,” Job 3:17. The death of the wicked ends the trouble that he brings to the righteous but death brings the believer ‘rest’, or a ‘settling down in quiet and peaceful repose’!
4. We have an additional reason for considering death as a sleep. “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. . . . . . Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me, ” Psalm 23:1, 4. In truth, death for Christians is the Lord laying His loved ones down to sleep. He, like a loving parent, is there to comfort and assure His child that all is well. From that ‘bed’ we will awaken to the new day of heavenly glory on the morn of Christ’s return.
II. CHRISTIANS ARE ASSURED OF AN AWAKENING FROM DEATH
1. From that sleep believers will awaken, satisfied to look upon the LORD. “I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake , with thy likeness.” The word satisfied means ‘filled and sufficed’. It means utterly to be content without the least sense of want. How good it will be to awaken, refreshed and fully satisfied in glory to look on the face upon which we gazed even as we fell asleep at the end of our earthly journey!
How many times we have arisen from our beds, especially in our later years, ‘unsatisfied’ with the rest we had during the night. We feel more like getting back into bed than arising from it!
Not so at the end of the ‘sleep of death’. Then we will enter upon that unlimited, that immeasurable satisfaction about which we could only imperfectly dream of here!
2. It will not be so for the sinner who rejects the gospel! Unbelieving man seeks to delude himself and banish all thoughts of eternity by pontificating loudly that death ends it all!
That is just not so. All men shall arise from the dead.
“And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death,” Revelation 20:11-14.
Please note that the awakening of the sinner from death is for them to see the ‘face’ of the Lord but it is not the face of the loving Father that the Christian will gaze upon with purest joy when he awakens. It is the face of the Judge, “from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.”
The sinner will awaken to horror unspeakable. He awakens only to be told by the Lord to “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels,” Matthew 25:41
Oh no, death does not end it all for the Christ-rejector!
3. With God there is always an ‘afterwards’ for the sinner! Remember, anyone reading this who is not saved, that “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment,”Hebrews 9:27. While it is a mystery, it is taught throughout the Scriptures that what is unfolding before us in time, is the eternal purpose of God, decreed from before time began.
Let me quote a lengthy portion of God’s Word.
“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified. What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? 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? Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth. Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” Romans 8:28-39.
Here are words which wicked men hate and sadly, all too many foolish Christians resent, for these words contradict their own notions of the ‘free will of man’!
Yes, man is a free agent, able to do that which he desires. But, he is a totally depraved creature, unable to chose good in obedience to God’s Law. For that reason, without the eternal election of some to salvation, none would ever have been saved but all would have pressed on in their depravity to everlasting damnation.
The Shorter Catechism states it so:
Question 20: Did God leave all mankind to perish in the estate of sin and misery?
Answer: God having, out of his mere good pleasure, from all eternity, elected some to everlasting life1, did enter into a covenant of grace, to deliver them out of the estate of sin and misery, and to bring them into an estate of salvation by a Redeemer.
It then gives this proof text.
“According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love,” Ephesians 1:4.
There are many other proof texts but this verse is so incontrovertibly plain and decisive that none other is required.
4. God’s eternal love for a people is clearly stated by Him. It is seen first in His choosing of Israel. “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth,” Deuteronomy 7:6.
But the same electing love toward a Gentile remnant is also stated by Him. It is recorded of Paul’s preaching in Antioch in Pisidia: “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed,” Acts 13:48. Amongst the Gentiles also God has “ordained (a people) to eternal life”.
That same truth was taught to the Christians in Thessalonica. “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ,” 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14.
That people, loved from all eternity, shall be awakened on the morn of the resurrection of the saints to everlasting bliss and joy.
III. THE SATISFACTION ENJOYED BY THE GLORIFIED CHRISTIAN IS FOUND IN THEIR BEING ETERNALLY LIKE CHRIST.
Please note what our verse says: “I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness”.
In our Christian life we have been persistently plagued with a dissatisfaction with our ‘unlikeness’ to Christ. We have hated every trace of sin within our being and have longed to ‘be like Jesus’.
The words of the old hymn sum up our feelings on this matter.
Earthly pleasures vainly call me,
I would be like Jesus;
Nothing worldly shall enthral me,
I would be like Jesus.
Be like Jesus, this my song,
In the home and in the throng;
Be like Jesus, all day long!
I would be like Jesus.
He has broken every fetter,
I would be like Jesus;
That my soul may serve Him better,
I would be like Jesus.
All the way from earth to glory,
I would be like Jesus;
Telling o’er and o’er the story,
I would be like Jesus.
That in heaven He may meet me,
I would be like Jesus;
That His words “Well done” may greet me,
I would be like Jesus.
Try as we may, pray as we may, we will never be like Jesus until we awaken in glory.
Heed these words.
“For our conversation (citizenship) is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself,” Philippians 3:20-21.
“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God: therefore the world knoweth us not, because it knew him not. Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure,” 1 John 3:1-3.
Here then is reason for us to earnestly look for the return of Christ for it is the day of our ‘awakening’ to the eternal glory which is His likeness.
Having this hope of being like Christ in heaven ought to motivate us in seeking after a holy likeness to Him here and now.
With that thought we conclude our study of this wonderful verse from the pen of David.
Rev Ivan Foster (Rtd)
14th August 2023