As humans we are constrained by time. The passing of one year to the next is something entirely out of our control – all we can do is mark dates and recognise milestones. The only constant from one generation to the next is God. He is outside of time, because time is something that He created. The amazing thing is that as He stands outside of time and remains entirely unaffected by the passing of moments and millennia, He has chosen to make Himself a safe haven for sinful creatures vulnerable to change and decay. This thought was a tremendous comfort to Moses, the man of God, in his prayer to God in Psalm 90. David Dickson in this updated extract identifies the four sources of comfort that Moses draws from God’s unchangingness and unchangeableness for sinners who are reconciled to Him, especially when they may be wrestling with the swift passage of time and difficulties and sorrows in life.
It is sin that has procured the shortness and the miseries of this life, as Moses lamentably sets out before the Lord, who is full of pity. But his prayer opens with a fourfold comfort for the church against temporal troubles and this world’s miseries.
1. The Lord’s kindness to His people in all ages
The first comfort is drawn from the Lord’s kindness to His people in all ages. “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations” (Psalm 90:1)
When we pray therefore, we must lay hold on the offer of God’s kindness according to the covenant of grace, and look on God as gracious to us in Christ. Moses here, and others elsewhere, when they come as supplicants in prayer they begin with renewed acts and expressions of faith.
God’s people in any given place and age are one body with God’s people in all ages preceding and following. They may lay claim to all the privileges of God’s people before them. Here the church in Moses’ time joins itself with all the Lord’s people in former times, for the use of succeeding ages which were yet to come. “Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations.”
The Lord’s people are strangers in the earth, partly because they have no certain residence in this world, and partly because they have such a poor reception among the people of the world, but especially because at heart, in their affections, they are pilgrims in this world. However, this does not mean they lack a resting place. They have a dwelling in heaven, that is, God Himself, in whom they dwell by faith. They find in Him rest, and food, and protection, and comfort. In fact, in His heart they have had a lodging “in all generations.”
The troubles and miseries of this life make the godly to search out what participation they have in God, and another life. What pinches them on earth makes them seek their abundance in heaven.
2. The decree of the eternal covenant
The second comfort of the believer against the miseries of this short life is taken by Moses from the decree of their election and the eternal covenant of their redemption, settled in the purpose and counsel of the blessed Trinity for their advantage. In this covenant it was agreed before the world existed that the Word to be incarnate would be the Saviour of the elect. Moses says, “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (verse 2).
Here the asserting of the eternity of God is with reference to His own chosen people. To say, “Thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations, and Thou art God from everlasting to everlasting,” is effectively to say, “Thou art from everlasting to everlasting the same unchangeable God in purpose and affection toward us Thy people, and so Thou art our God from everlasting in regard of Thy eternal purpose of love electing us, and in regard of appointing redemption for us by the Redeemer.”
When we discern God’s goodwill to us in time, we may arise to God’s goodwill to us before time. From the grace showed to us in time, we may conclude that grace and goodwill were purposed toward us and ordained for us before time. This is what the psalmist is teaching us. When he has said, “From generation to generation, thou hast been our dwelling place,” that is, “in all time past Thou hast been our God,” he subjoins, “Before the mountains were brought forth … Thou art God,” that is, “the same God unchangeably in Thy purpose and love toward us before time, from everlasting.”
Also, from special love shown to us in time, we may conclude not only that His love has been toward us not only before time from everlasting, but also that it shall continue towards us in time to come for ever. “Even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God,” he says, that is, “the same strong God, immutable in Thy purpose and love toward us first and last.” Indeed faith cannot fix itself till by the warrant of God’s Word and feeling of His gracious working in us in time, it joins God’s work of grace and His purpose of grace together.
This is why the apostle Paul leads the believer in Christ to election in Christ before the world was, and to predestination to adoption by Jesus Christ according to His good pleasure before the world was (Ephesians 1:1, 3, 4, 5). Similarly in 2 Timothy he leads us to a completed covenant before the world was made, between God the Father and God the Son, according to which all conditions required of the Redeemer are settled, and all the elect, all the redeemed, are delivered over to the Son, the Word to be incarnate, the intended Redeemer, and all saving grace is given over into Christ’s hand, for the sake of the elect, to be let out to them in due time: “Grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the world began” (2 Timothy 1:9).
The nature of God which is to be one and the same, unchangeable from everlasting to everlasting, is the solid ground for faith to reason things out in this manner.
The knowledge of God’s eternal goodwill to us is a sufficient cordial to soften and sweeten all our grief and affliction in this life. The very reason why this doctrine is prefixed to what follows in the psalm about temporal miseries, is to comfort the Lord’s people against all the troubles of this life.
3. The resurrection of the dead
A third comfort Moses mentions is from the resurrection of the dead. “Thou turnest man to destruction, and sayest, Return, ye children of men” (verse 3).
Although God puts into effect the decree which has appointed all men once to die, yet He has also appointed a resurrection, by which He will powerfully recall and make to return from death all Adam’s posterity. “Thou turnest man to destruction,” and so all must die, “and sayest, Return, ye children of men,” and so all must rise again.
It costs the Lord but a word to make the dead rise again, or to make those that are destroyed to return again. “Thou sayest.” His word has already gone out about the resurrection, and it is altogether operative. It will prove fully effectual at length.
4. The shortness of time until the resurrection
The fourth comfort is drawn from the shortness of the time between anyone’s death and their return from the dead in the resurrection. Perhaps someone might object that it is a long time since the resurrection was promise, till the time that it will be really accomplished.
But although it may seem a long time between a person’s death and their resurrection, yet before God it is only a short time. For that matter it is nothing in comparison with eternity. “For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night” (verse 4).
Unless we reckon time as God reckons it, we cannot but be weary and think it long, and wonder at the delay in the performing of His promises, and so fall into temptation and unbelief.
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