The Divine Record-Book

Prof. Engelsma is professor of Dogmatics and Old Testament in the Protestant Reformed Seminary.

Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.

And they shall be mine, saith the Lord of hosts, in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them, as a man spareth his own son that serveth him.

Malachi 3:16, 17

We humans are fascinated with records and record-books.

We are diligent to keep books that record the names of men and women who distinguish themselves by their achievements and exploits. We love to remember the names and deeds of the famous people who are recorded in the books, even though they died long ago.

Nations record their rulers and heroes with their deeds—their William of Oranges, George Washingtons, and Winston Churchills. Schools remember their outstanding students and their accomplishments. What sport does not have its records, and what fan does not know them? There is even a Guinness book of records for all kinds of extraordinary human conditions and acts.

Behind this fascination with books of records are mankind's love of glory and, for the one who is included in the book, the desire for a certain immortality. To be in the record-book is to live on in the memory of the people, nation, or race.

The Lord our God has such a record-book. There is a divine book of records. So the prophet Malachi informs us: "a book of remembrance was written before him," that is, before the Lord.

A book of remembrance is a book that records the names of certain persons and their deeds, so that they and their deeds can be remembered later on. Because the book is written by the Lord's direction and because it is written as a book of remembrance "before him," it is a book whose purpose is that the Lord Himself will remember certain persons and their deeds. 

Comes a day when the Lord will look into this book: "in that day when I make up my jewels." Then He will remember every one written in the book and his deed, his exploit.

This record-book is not in Washington, DC or in Cooperstown. In fact, it is not on earth. This record-book is in heaven. In heaven, there is a book of life, in which are written the names of all the elect. This book is finished. In heaven, there is also another book, a book that is in preparation, a book in which names were being written in Malachi's day and in which names are being written today.

The divine record-book!

Always the names of men and women are put into record-books for certain outstanding acts that they have done, for memorable feats. Similarly, the Lord puts in His record-book the names of those who are distinguished for a certain act: "(they) spake often one to another." This seems not to be any glorious, noteworthy thing, worthy of a record-book, or everlasting remembrance. It is no glorious earthly deed: winning a war; conquering a dreaded disease; writing a classic book; or even getting the most base hits. Nor, for that matter, does it seem to be any glorious spiritual achievement. They did not reform the church, or expose some heresy, or sacrifice themselves as missionaries, or lose their lives as martyrs.

This is important, for if it takes some heroic act to be written in this book most of us will never be included.

Their deed was just this, that they spoke one to another. They came together and talked with each other.

Obviously, what they spoke is the reason why the Lord records their names in His book. The content of their speech, although not stated, is clearly implied in the descriptions of them: "they that feared the Lord"; "that thought upon his name." They spoke about the Lord whom they feared. They spoke about God as their Father, whom they loved, and all His fatherly care for and salvation of them, e.g., the redemption from Egypt. They spoke about God as their sovereign, whom they reverenced, and all His wonderful acts of power on their behalf, e.g., the deliverance from Babylon.

The subject of their conversation, inevitably, was that upon which they were always thinking: the name of God. This was the revelation of God to them in the prophetic Word and, in the light of the prophetic Word, in creation and history. Centrally, it was the revelation of God as the faithful covenant God of His chosen people in the promised Messiah, Jesus Christ, as proclaimed in His proper name, Jehovah (translated Lord in the KJV). In one word, they spoke truth.

Their speaking was not a confession to the heathen. Nor was it the evangelism of the straying. It was simply the people of God talking to each other of that which lived in their heart and filled their mind.

This goes in the divine record-book: that men and women speak to each other about the Lord and His truth. This act and these people, God will remember. 

The book is figurative, of course, for God's remembering such with favor for a worthy deed.

Still today, God is recording in His book our speaking with each other of His name. We do this in our gatherings for public worship. Not only does God speak to us of His name in the preaching, but we also speak with each other of His name in our singing of the Psalms and in our confession of the faith (Col. 3:16). Twice every Lord's Day! Like the saints of Malachi's time, we speak with each other "often." Daily, we speak with each other in our covenant homes, reading and discussing Holy Scripture, praying, singing. We do this in our visiting on a Sunday evening. When we get together and speak, not about politics and work, not about sports, not about all the faults of the brothers and sisters in the congregation but about God and His truth, God puts it in the book. We are doing this in our Protestant Reformed Christian Schools. What goes on there, often, but this, that one—the teacher—speaks on our behalf with the others—the covenant children—of God's name? 

We have the opportunity to do this in our societies and classes for Bible-study that now begin another season. These are worthwhile aspects of our church-life. There is the fellowship, which is also suggested in the text. There is the learning of the name of God. There is also the speaking with companions about God's truth. We have our reasons for not attending: we are busy; we get nothing out of it; we dislike the leader. A reason for attending remains: speaking to each other about the Lord our God.

This is worthwhile! 

Speaking the truth of God with each other is a worthy activity! 

Only rare, weighty, significant deeds are noted in a book of records. Even earthly record-books do not record the ordinary, the commonplace, the insignificant. Jehovah God certainly keeps only the memorable in His book. He remembers in this way only that which is worth remembering. Our speaking about Him is worth remembering.

The remarkable character of this speaking is indicated when the prophet says that Jehovah "hearkened and heard." He paid attention to it. He listened. Something was going on in Judah that was worthy of God, that pleased Him greatly. God does not so hearken to the bombast in Washington, DC; to the international conferences at Geneva; to the fanatical roaring in Wrigley Field or the United Center; or to the religious talk in the Vatican. But He pays attention to the discussion of sound doctrine by Reformed men, women, young people, and children in their meetings for Bible study. He notices the meeting, listens to the conversation, and puts names in the book.

For this speaking is rare. 

How much is it done? How much is it done in the professing church? How much is the Lord God the subject of our talk? How much speaking about the truth is there today?

It was a rare thing in the Judah of Malachi's day. The book of Malachi is a rebuke of Judah for forgetting the Lord and despising His name. Judah—the Old Testament church!—forgot the name of God in their public worship, in the official teaching by the priests, in their marriages, and in their giving. The result was that most spoke against the Lord, as verse 13 charges: "Your words have been stout against me, saith the Lord." In the midst of that apostasy, a remnant—a very few—spoke with each other about God's precious name.

Speaking to each other the truth about God is rare today. It is rare in the nominally Christian churches. In perfect harmony with the fact that much preaching is either blasphemy (lies about God) or entertainment of the people, the singing at church either echoes the blasphemy or celebrates the people. The hideous din of the television set accompanies the family meal, rather than the reading of the Bible. When the members get together, it is for games and physical exercises, not for study of the Word.

Speaking to each other about God is also a weighty activity. It is not light, frivolous, and empty, like making money, sports, politics, winning wars, and establishing empires. This speaking concerns the name of God. That's heavy! That's glorious for a human! That's the reason for the creation of the world!

The speaking that God remembers in His record-book is the expression of the fear of God by His own elect saints in the world. Those who fear the Lord and think upon His name speak often one to another. The speaking arises from the fear of God in the heart and the thinking on His name in the mind. The mouth speaks of that with which the heart is full. This is why they speak. It is not to impress people. It is not even to get into the record-book. But they reverence and love the Lord. The fear of the Lord is precious. It glorifies the Lord. Thus also does the speaking that expresses this fear glorify the Lord. It is the loving service of the heavenly Father by His child in the world, as the text suggests: ". . . as a man spareth his own son that serveth him." 

This is the worthiness of the deed to be remembered in the divine book of records.

And to be rewarded.

It is always the case that being in a record-book brings a benefit. This is the reason why having one's name in a record-book is desirable. Often, there are financial rewards. Above all, there is fame, fame that will live down the ages.

The same is true of being written in the divine record-book. We are remembered by the Lord with a view to His rewarding us. The text states that "a book of remembrance was written before him for them."

What the reward will be, verse 17 informs us: "And they shall be mine ... in that day when I make up my jewels; and I will spare them."

As these people remembered Him, the Lord will remember them in "that day," that is, the Judgment Day. 

Negatively, He will spare them. He will spare them the punishment of damnation in hell, a judgment that will be visited upon the nominal church members who never did speak with each other about the name of God, because they did not fear Him. Implied is that those who spoke about the Lord will live everlastingly. This is the immortality of the divine record-book.

Positively, acknowledging them as His own people and property, He will bless them with His own life and glory in Christ Jesus. They will be displayed as God's treasures, His "jewels." This is the honor of the divine record-book.

That immortality and glory are the reward of our speaking about God is no doctrine of salvation by merit. Our speaking about God does not earn salvation. Conclusively, the text says that those who spoke about God will be "spared." They merited only one thing: punishment. In the judgment, they will be "spared" by compassionate grace on the basis of the cross of Jesus Christ alone. 

Besides, it is the grace of the Spirit of Christ that causes us to fear the Lord, think upon His name, and speak about His truth. Ultimately, the cause is the book of election. In the Day of Christ, the names in both books, the book of election and the divine record-book, will correspond exactly. The remnant who fear and speak are the remnant according to the election of grace, and they are the former because they are the latter.

Unlike all earthly record-books, therefore, this divine record-book gives no occasion to pride, boasting, and glorying in man.

But it is incentive to our frequent and faithful speaking together about God and His truth.