Arthur Pink, May, 1950
The word never means "at no time, in no degree," yet, paradoxical though it seems, it is one of the emphatic and dogmatic terms of Scripture, as its occurrences show. It is both interesting and instructive to observe the different connections in which it is found in the Bible. They are of considerable variety. Some of them are inexpressibly blessed unto God's children; others should evoke terror in those who are strangers to Him. What a fearful contrast is there between "Hell and destruction are never full" (Pro 27:20) and "David shall never lack a man to sit upon the throne" (Jer 33:17). And between "For you have made of a city an heap; of a defenced city a ruin it shall never be built" (Isa 25:2) and "The God of Heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed" (Dan 2:44)! It is by such graphic antitheses that the truth is presented more impressively. Set over against the complaint of the elder son to his professed father, "You never gave me a young goat" (Luke 15:29), is the promise of Christ, "He who comes to me shall never hunger" (John 6:35). Let us now take a closer look at a few of the verses in which this term is found.
"Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth" (2 Timothy 3:7). Here is the "never" of a fruitless quest, and alas, there are many engaged in such. It is a sad thing that one may acquire much theological knowledge, be well versed in the writings of God's most honored servants, and sit regularly under sound preaching and yet have no saving acquaintance with the truth! It is a still more solemn fact that one may spend considerable time daily not only in reading God's Word, but in diligently studying the same, and yet attain unto no spiritual and experiential knowledge of the truth. The scribes and Pharisees are a case in point, and there are many in Christendom today who are in a like state.
Why is this? What is the explanation of this fruitless quest? It is because such souls are not taught by the Spirit of God, and unless He is our Instructor, all our efforts are, spiritually speaking, in vain. It is because they are unregenerate, and therefore devoid of spiritual discernment: the Lord has not given them "a heart to perceive, and eyes to see, and ears to hear" (Deu 29:4). Where such is the case, the mind is "corrupt" and the truth is resisted, as 2 Timothy 3:8 goes on to show.
"Never man spoke like this man" (John 7:46). That is the "never" of unique utterance. Everything connected with Christ was unique. His birth was unparalleled, so were His character and conduct, His mission and miracles, His death and resurrection. His speech was no exception, His enemies being witnesses, for that testimony in John 7:46 was borne to Him not by His apostles, but by the officers sent by the scribes and Pharisees to apprehend Him. But instead of arresting Him, they had themselves been arrested and awed by what they heard from His lips.
In like manner, those who listened to Him teaching in their synagogue were astonished, and asked, "Whence has this man this wisdom, and these mighty works?" (Mat 13:54). And before the end, so baffled were His critics by the profound solutions which He returned to their riddles that "no man was able to answer him a word, neither dared any man from that day forth ask him any more questions" (Mat 22:46).
And why was it that "never any man spoke like" He did? (John 7:46). Because He was more than man man's Creator. In Him "are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col 2:3). It was the truth incarnate Who tabernacled among men. It was God speaking "by his Son" (Heb 1:2), and therefore are we commanded to "hear him!" (Mat 17:5).
"He who believes on me shall never thirst" (John 6:35). That is the "never" of an unfailing supply. But let us first note that these words point a most solemn contrast between the satisfying portion of the believer and the experience of the Savior upon the Cross. Near the close of His awful sufferings there, Christ cried, "I thirst" (John 19:28). He made reference to a far more acute pang than any bodily one. It was not mere physical thirst to which He alluded: rather was it to the anguish of His soul. During the three hours of darkness, the face of God had been turned from Him, and He was left alone "forsaken" as He endured the fierce fires of God's outpoured wrath. That cry told of the severity of the spiritual conflict as He yearned for communion again with the Father. In that sense, the Christian will never thirst. Nor will he as he did when convicted of his lost state and dire need. Nor will Christ ever allow him to be so parched spiritually, as to have no moisture in him. He will indeed pant after a fuller knowledge of Christ, but that is more an evidence of deepening desire after holiness. "His soul's desires are longing ones, not languishing; a desiring thirst he has for more and more of God, but not a despairing thirst" Matthew Henry (1622-1714).
"And in my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved. LORD, by your favor you have made my mountain to stand strong" (Psalm 30:6-7). That is the "never" of carnal security. It throws not a little light on the latter part of David's life, and also shows us what foolish ideas even saints may entertain. This psalm was probably written (see verse 1) after his deliverance from Saul's persecuting malice, when he was peacefully settled upon the throne. The LORD had wrought mightily and rendered him victorious over the enemies of Israel, and after the fierce storms there followed a great calm. David now felt quite secure from danger, and in his rashness, imagined all his troubles were ended. He indeed ascribed his prosperity unto the LORD; but to compare his present state to a mountain which stood strong, savored of pride; and to declare he would never be moved was the language of self-confidence. The sins into which he fell, and his flight from Absalom, demonstrated his error. "Let us beware lest the fumes of intoxicating success get into our brains, and make fools of us also" Charles Spurgeon (1834-1892). Neither a continuance of outward prosperity, nor inward peace, is anywhere promised us absolutely; yet how apt we are to say, "Tomorrow shall be as this day" (Isa 56:12). Let us "rejoice with trembling" (Psalm 2:11), and seek grace to heed that warning, "Let him that thinks he stands, take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).
"And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand" (John 10:28). That is the "never" of eternal security. The ones to whom such safety is divinely assured are as the immediate context shows those who "hear" (heed) Christ's voice, who are "known" (approved) by Him, who "follow" Him (and not their own natural inclination); and thus, their preservation is neither mechanical nor one apart from their own concurrence. From the divine-grace side of things, "they shall never perish," because the Redeemer has given to them eternal life, because He has undertaken "to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him" (Heb 7:25), because they are gripped firmly by Omniscience: "All his saints are in your hand" (Deu 33:3). From the human-responsibility side of things, they shall never perish, because the LORD causes them to take to heart the solemn warnings and admonitions of His Word; and thereby avoid the things which would destroy them, because He gives them a spirit of prayer and dependence upon Him, which delivers them from ruinous self-confidence; because He moves them to feed on His Word and obtain spiritual strength; because He brings them to comply with His precepts, and thus leads them safely Home along the way of practical holiness.
"I never knew you: depart from me, you who work iniquity" (Mat 7:23). This is a word to graceless professors, and is the most solemn "never" in all the Bible, for it is that of divine repudiation, and sounds the eternal doom of those to whom it is uttered. Christ is here heard speaking in the Day of Judgment to many who boasted that they had preached and done many wonderful things in His name.
Jesus' words do not signify that He was unacquainted with their persons or not cognizant of their performances, for the remainder of the verse shows that He had penetrated their disguise and knew them to be workers of iniquity. Instead, it means that He did not accept or approve of them, that He refused to own them as His. When it is said, "the LORD knows the way of the righteous" (Psalm 1:6), it means that He is pleased with the same. "The Lord knows those who are his" (2 Timothy 2:19) imports that He loves them. "I never knew you" (Mat 7:23): neither in the eternal counsels of God, nor while you were in the world, had I any affectionate regard for you; at no time did I view you with favor. To the contrary, you were an offence: "Depart from me." Highly esteemed in the churches yet objects of abhorrence to the Holy One.
"I will never leave you, nor forsake you" (Heb 13:5). Here we have the most blessed and comforting "never," for it is that of the abiding companionship of Christ, which ensures His continual provision and protection. Living as we are in a world where all is "change and decay" ourselves unstable and unreliable how thankful we should be that there is One whose care may ever be counted upon. The power of this companion is illimitable, His wisdom infinite, His faithfulness inviolable, His compassion immutable.
And why will He never desert one of His own? Because He loves him, and love delights to be near its object. Because he can do nothing to kill or even chill that love, for He foreknew his every sin when first setting His heart upon him. Because of His covenant engagement: "I will not turn away from them, to do them good" (Jer 32:40). Therefore, we should fear no want, dread no trial, nor view death with any trepidation.