Fullness of Joy and Pleasures Forevermore
The very first John Piper book I read was Future Grace. Its title is taken from Peter’s exhortation, ‘Set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed’ (1Pe 1.13). It provides the important reminder that no matter how great our experience of grace may be in this present age, it will take on a whole new dimension in the age to come.
This well sums up thread of teaching we have been exploring over recent weeks under the operating title, The Joy of our Salvation. However rich and deep our joys on earth may be, they are nothing compared to our future experience in heaven. As Paul says, ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him’ (1Co 2.9). This is vitally important to our hope as Christians – not merely for our comfort in salvation; but also for our witness to the world.
David expresses this truth in Psalm 16, a song he wrote possibly while on the run from Saul. His train of thought traces the joy of his salvation through to its ultimate destination in the world to come. The older King James Version captures it poetically: ‘…in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore’ (Ps 16.11).
To appreciate the full weight of what David means by this, we need to set these words in their wider context. Then several things become clear about ‘future grace’ and the joy bound up with it.
An Extension of our Present Hope
The hope and joy God promises for the future is not unconnected to our new life as God’s people in this present. This was true for David, but every child of God needs to remember it. Too many Christians have a ‘hope’ for the future that bears no resemblance to the present and therefore can seem ethereal and detached from reality.
Following through what David says, his words about hope for the future is grounded in his experience of God in the present.
He begins with a prayer: ‘Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge’ (16.1). His declaration of trust underpins his request for safety. He spells this out further: ‘You are my Lord; apart from you I have no good thing’ and ‘the saints’ are ‘the glorious ones in whom is all [his] delight’ (16.2-3). He goes on to reaffirm his confidence in God who has proved himself trustworthy in every circumstance as the God of covenant faithfulness (16.5-6). This spills over into a declaration of praise and commitment to God (16.7-8). But it is David’s summation in the next verse that is so telling: ‘Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure’ (16.9). His hope for the future is firmly rooted in the present. Indeed, this hope is not merely ‘spiritual’ rest; it is both real and physical. Our bodies are every bit as much a part of ‘us’ as are our spirits.
David could face the future – even beyond this world – because he had proved God to be faithful in the present.
Secure, even in the face of Death
What David says next is startling, even though he lives in the Old Testament era: ‘…you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay’ (16.10). This was extraordinary because what God had revealed about a future life at that time was extremely limited. There was no clear doctrine of resurrection at this stage redemptive history.
How, then, do we account for David’s bold claim about the future of the body of God’s ‘holy one’? In part he is pointing to God’s promised Messiah. Both Peter and Paul reach for this verse to explain how Jesus’ resurrection lay at the very heart of God’s purpose in redemption.
It would be wrong, however, to see this verse merely as some sort of prophetic insertion. If that were the case, it would be out of step with the tenor of the psalm as a whole. Not least because it loses sight of the connection between David as the anointed one who anticipated the ultimate Anointed One whom God would one day send.
So, at the very least, as David reached for these words he was declaring his confidence that even death could not rob him of the joys and blessings of salvation. This is precisely what the apostles would have us grasp more fully in light of Christ’s resurrection. The grave has been robbed of its victory, therefore Christians can die in peace, knowing our future joy remains intact.
The Joy of Fellowship with God
The climax of the psalm spells out the link between David’s present experience and his future confidence. The eternal nature of salvation’s joy – in quality as much as duration – is the fact it is ‘in [God’s] presence’ and ‘at [God’s] right hand’ (16.11).
The LORD himself is the key to this joy. It is union and communion with him. David’s words echo the Aaronic blessing where the joy of benediction is tied to the presence and favour of God. He graciously turns his face towards his people.
This is a pale reflection of a greater reality: the joy within the godhead. We glimpse this in the Prologue to John’s Gospel where he says the Logos was ‘with [towards] God’ (Jn 1.1). The joy of the Trinity is the perfect fellowship of the three Persons in mutual love and enjoyment. Adam was created to share that joy as God’s creature, but lost it through the fall. How, then, can this joy be restored? David answers, ‘You have made known to me the path of life’. The path that leads to the life of everlasting joy begins in this world: at the cross where Christ secured salvation and guaranteed future grace with all its joys through the blood of the everlasting covenant.