The last day of the old year is near. This is a good time of year for reflecting on things gone by. In that reflection, it is good to note that in this past year nothing was certain. Life has taken many unexpected turns for us, some of them not so pleasant. The only unchangeable rock to which a child of God was able to cling in this past year was the promise of God to His people: I will never leave or forsake you. Since God Himself is unchangeable, so also is His promise. And again He has shown that truth to us who believe: He has never forsaken you and me. God was near us even in those times when we least deserved it. Through good times, when we hardly gave much thought to His presence, and through bad times, when all we could do was cling to His presence, God has been with us. And if there is anything that we should consider at the end of 2021, it is that preserving grace of God toward His people.
This year we consider this in connection with Psalm 37: 27, 28. David writes there, “Depart from evil, and do good; and dwell for evermore. For the Lord loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever: but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off.”
Today we look back at God’s preserving grace in our lives and, as believers, we resolve again in our hearts to walk in a way that is pleasing to Him. We commit ourselves once again to departing from evil and doing good.
I. The Meaning
The words of our text are a great comfort as we look back across 2021. They ring true for God’s people once again: “Jehovah forsakes not his saints; they are preserved forever.” The Reformed truth of the preservation of the saints truly gives strength in times of need. Yet, we must understand what this truth means in order to derive from it the necessary comfort it provides. For example, we may not take our text to teach that God will not allow anything adverse to happen to us in our lives. God does not preserve us from pain and sorrow in this life. We know that well. The child of God often suffers the effects of sin in this world and in his life. He suffers oftentimes physical infirmities: sickness and disease. At times he can suffer emotional stress, difficulties in home, workplace, and church. We confess that we even have our many struggles spiritually. And surely, even if this past year has not given to us physical or emotional stress, spiritually we definitely have again struggled with our sin.
So, when verse 28 states that Jehovah preserves His saints, it does not mean that He keeps them from harm and suffering. Neither does it mean that we will live forever without seeing death. God does not preserve us from dying a physical death. It is given unto every man once to die and then the judgment. So when we speak of the preservation of the saints, we do not refer to earthly ease or long life. If this is what we think this passage teaches, we would be doomed to disappointment! And if this is what we thought it taught, we would also miss the blessed gospel of the Scriptures.
We are talking about spiritual preservation here. God preserves His people from falling away from faith and salvation! In this the faithfulness of our God is revealed to every believer! This is true of each individual saint, first of all. God preserves each of us individually in our own lives. The term used here in our text for preserved means “to keep or to guard.” And this is what God does for each of His children. He keeps watch over them and guards them from their enemies.
Now, let us understand just who it is that preserves us. It is Jehovah, the great and unchangeable God who has created all things and controls all things by His sovereign power and decree. This means that the God of heaven and earth, who never slumbers and never sleeps, is constantly watching us and guarding us. This means that the God who controls all creatures with His own hand is the same God who watches over us and guards us. This means that if it is God that preserves us, then we are ever preserved. God will never fail us! He will never fail us because there is not a creature that can oppose His almighty will.
But neither will He fail us because He is ever faithful to the covenant He has established with His people in Christ. Nothing ever changes God’s mind about those whom He has chosen to be His people. He views us from eternity as saved in the blood of Jesus Christ, and nothing will ever separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. Even when we sin, God graciously preserves us in the blood of Jesus Christ and will not cast us off or forsake us. So, spiritually we are preserved!
We are preserved in another way too. This is emphasized by the phrase: “He forsaketh not his saints.” This phrase stresses the fact that in every circumstance of life God is always there for us. In His preservation of our souls, God is with us always and ever, whatever the circumstance of life through which He leads us. In our joys and in our sorrows He graces us with His presence. When our life is riddled with troubles, God is there. When we are bedridden and sick, when our bodies are filled with disease and pain, God is there. When we lie upon the operating table in a hospital, God is there. When we stand by the side of a loved one who is dying, when we stand at their grave, God is there! God never forsakes us. In those times of greatest need and sorrow, He reaches forth His almighty arms and scoops us up into His bosom and protects us and guards our souls. When we are so weak that we cannot take another step, then God picks us up and carries us through the difficulties of our lives. We have witnessed that this past year. God has not forsaken us, but he has preserved us safe within His care. Never have we been tempted to curse God and die. That, dear listener, is God’s preserving grace.
Not only does God keep and preserve individual saints, He is also faithful to His church as a whole. He preserves His church and never forsakes her. And that is significant, too, as we look back across this year. The church world around us is in an upheaval. Apostasy abounds all around us. People with itchy ears, always looking for something new and fancy, have forsaken the truth to follow after the great religious movements of today that walk in the way of heresy. Without looking at the wicked world, but only at the nominal church of our day, we can ask the question: Is there any faith left in the earth? Many churches today have forsaken the Word of God and now reach out to hold hands with the unbelieving world. There is little difference between the lives of those who call themselves Christian and the lives of the ungodly of this world.
Even in light of all this, we have one sure word that we hear today: God forsakes not His saints, but preserves them forever! Always there is a faithful church of Jesus Christ in this world! The wicked world has attempted to absorb the church of Jesus Christ, it has tried to ignore and shun the church, it has even tried to obliterate the church of Jesus Christ, but to no avail! No matter what tactic Satan uses to destroy the church of the living God in this world, the church will not be destroyed. Not because we as members of the church together are so strong, but because God preserves His church in this world. And if God is for us, not even the gates of hell can prevail against us! God will not forsake His saints, but will guard and protect them. He will preserve them forever!
Now, this preservation of God’s elect church does not preclude the fact that God will cut off the wicked. David writes that in our text too. Notice the end of verse 28: “but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off.” Now, let us distinguish in this regard the wicked men within the church and those without. Both are cut off. There is no doubt—their end is destruction. God will destroy those who turn against His people and church in this world! But the emphasis in this chapter of God’s Word falls upon those who are wicked within the sphere of the church. God preserves His individual saints from falling away from faith and salvation. God also preserves His church as a whole. But this does not keep the wicked outside the church institute. The wicked are oftentimes born into the church in the line of generations. Other times they might join the church from without. These are the wicked to which David refers in this Psalm.
This Psalm could very well have been written just after the revolt of Absalom and his wicked henchmen. All these were outwardly members of the church, just as many today outwardly belong to the church, but are not true saints. These might even have themselves convinced that they truly are good members of the church because they have gone through all the outward requirements of belonging to the church. But they are wicked, and their actions bespeak their unbelief. Their actions violate God’s commandments. They live a life of wantonness and worldly-mindedness. They care for the things of this life and they are willing to forsake or trample underfoot the faithful to force their wicked ways on the church. These wicked, God will cut off. Even though it may seem as if they flourish and as if the church is given over entirely to them, God will cut them off. The psalmist writes in verses 35-36, “I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found.”
And they are cut off because God loves judgment! Or, in other words, our text says here that God is a just God who loves the ways of righteousness! And in that righteousness He judges us—the righteous man He preserves, the unrighteous man or the wicked man in judgment He cuts off.
So, God preserves His people—as He has done this past year—in the way of righteousness! Our works of righteousness do not become for us the grounds of our preservation of course. God does not look at you and me and the works we do and say, “Now there are some good people that are worth preserving as my own. They keep my commandments, they depart from evil and do good, therefore on the basis of their own righteousness I am going to preserve them.” That is not what the psalmist teaches us. Our text says that Jehovah forsakes not His saints! He forsakes not those in whom He has worked godliness or true piety.
That is what the term “saints” means: “those who are graciously given zeal and ardor for the cause of God.” And that points us to a work of God in us. You and I were preserved in this past year on the basis of what Christ has done for us. And that is rooted in God’s faithfulness: “I am Jehovah, I change not, therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” God could have looked upon us in our sins in this past year and justly destroyed every one of us. God’s wrath could have rested upon us in all that we set our hands to. We could have dwelt in the house of the wicked who in every circumstance of life are under God’s curse. But that has not happened. God has, on the contrary, been faithful to His people. He has not forsaken them in their sin, but has preserved them. And this He has accomplished in our Lord Jesus Christ. Christ has taken away our sin. He has overcome the guilt of sin, first of all. He has paid the price of our sin on the cross and taken away our guilt. Our unrighteousness is taken away. In its place we have been declared righteous and innocent in His sight.
But in the second place, the term “saints” here in our text also means a fervent desire in us to do good. Implied in this is the work of Christ in us that sanctifies us. The word “saints” speaks of holiness. Christ has cleansed us from all iniquity and guile. He has overcome the power of sin in us, and it is our desire now to walk in all godliness. So when God preserves us and keeps us, it is in the way of righteousness. He preserves us in our desire to do good. And that, we can say, God has done again in this past year. In fact, that is why He oftentimes has sent us difficulties in life, to keep us fervent in well-doing.
II. The Exhortation
We have spent most of our time today addressing God’s faithfulness in preserving us. Such we ought to do too. It is the end of the old year and a time, therefore, for reflection on what has taken place this past year. We look back. But we also stand on the threshold of 2022. And as we do, we look forward as well.
We cannot help but look forward. Our text addresses us as we look forward to a new year. In verse 27 we read, “Depart from evil, and do good: and dwell for evermore.” This verse explains the calling we have toward God again in the new year: depart from evil and do good. That follows upon what we have learned in this past year of God’s preserving grace. Because God loves judgment, that is, righteousness, and because He has not forsaken us but preserved us in that way of righteousness, we have a calling to depart from evil and to do good! Out of thankfulness for God’s great mercy and grace towards us in preserving us, we must be motivated, first of all, to depart from evil.
When verse 27 refers to “evil,” it speaks of the sin that dwells in us, more than it does of the deeds of sin. In other words, we are called by God not simply to depart from sinful deeds, but to turn away from the corruption that characterizes our sinful flesh.
The former is the easier of the two. We are able (and have had to do it many times) to say “no” to our sinful flesh and not walk in a certain deed we at first desired to do. We can tell ourselves, “I am not going to commit fornication when I am out with my girl.” And we can do it! We can tell ourselves, “When I visit with family or friends, I am not going to speak evil of another person.” And we can do it. Sinful deeds or actions we can fight, we can depart from, that is, turn away from, as difficult as that may be at times. But it is a whole lot more difficult to depart from the evil that dwells within—the thoughts and desires that actually draw us to these sins. And it is this that we are commanded in this Word of God to depart from—from the evilness of our hearts and souls.
And that is where our struggle must lie in this new year once again. It must lie within. We must continue by God’s preserving grace to fight against the evil words and actions that arise in our lives. But most of all we must fight the sin of our natures, the thoughts and desires that arise from within. These we are called upon to suppress. These we are called upon to depart from. And this battle against such corruption can be carried on only as we look to the cross of our Savior. We must turn there for the strength to depart from evil and do good! There alone the battle is won.
And when it is fought, then we also will turn to the good. We will do good. This term “good” refers to our deeds in themselves. It is a word used in the general sense of the word for deeds of righteousness, but also deeds of benevolence, deeds of cheerfulness, and so on. Having overcome the corruption that dwells within, we can in turn go out and do good. And these are the deeds that must characterize us in the year to come. We must perform works that are in conformity with God’s law and commandments. We must perform deeds of kindness and cheerfulness toward our neighbor. We must be ready and willing to serve one another. And in that way of goodness God will bless and keep us—not only as individuals, but also as church.
That must be our commitment for the new year: do good! Let us be ready in all cheerfulness to reveal toward one another our thanks to God for what He has again done for us this past year. Let us show it in our attitude towards one another and in our zeal for the church of Jesus Christ! Otherwise, we can be sure that we will be cut off. The wicked are cut off out of the church. They are cast out by God. We too will be cast out if we continue in works of unrighteousness. We will be cut off from the true church of Jesus Christ in this world. And we will ultimately be destroyed.
III. The Reward
But our reward, we are told at the end of verse 27, is this: We will dwell forevermore. Our name will not be take from the land, but we will dwell in the land forever. And that land is not some earthly inheritance, but the heavenly land of Canaan. There is our reward. We will dwell there forever. And that because God will preserve His people unto that end. Just as God has preserved His saints in the past, He will continue to preserve them unto all eternity. Only, we must depart from evil and do good—because God loves righteousness! God rewards His people who walk in uprightness and turn from wickedness.
This reward is, in fact, a reward of grace. God rewards us because of the great work He has done in us and continues to perform in us. God rewards us for what He has done in us. God preserves us in the way of righteousness. God preserves therefore those who do good. The reward we seek is a crown of life that fades not away, preserved in heaven.
God has been good to us this past year, fellow believers. Who can deny it! He has preserved us! What, then, will we do in the new year to come? Serve Him! In all thankfulness, serve Him! And we will dwell forevermore.