1. What He Is
A righteous man is more excellent than a wicked in respect of what he is.
1. He is more richly endued with wisdom. He is of a dexterous sagacity, mixing the serpent's prudence with the dove's innocence. "He that is spiritual judgeth all things," 1 Corinthians 2:15. As the soul in the eye is the cause why it sees, so the Spirit of God in the mind is the cause why it savingly understands. The anointing of the Holy Ghost is irradiating; it clears a Christian's eyesight. "The same unction teacheth you all things," I John 2:27. The saints are compared to wise virgins. Sensualists often have a greater reach in matters of the world but they have no insight into the deep things of God, 1 Corinthians 2:14. A swine may see an acorn under the tree but it cannot see a star. David, being divinely illuminated, grew wiser than his teachers, Psalm 119:99. A righteous man is wise:
(1) To know himself. Take the most mercurial wit, the most subtle politician who is able to dive into the mysteries of state, yet he is ignorant of his own heart. There are those meanders and sophisms, those intrinsic pollutions, that he cannot find out He dresses himself by the mirror of self-love. He does not see the evil that is in him, nor will he believe it. Hazael could not imagine he should he so bad when he came to be king, 2 Kings 8:13.
But a spiritually-enlightened soul sees that which the natural man does not. He sees legions of vain thoughts. He sees how his grace is choked with corruption, his humility is stained with pride, his faith mixed with unbelief. His very duties are but shining sins. He sees so much of his heart that he dare not trust it.
(2) A righteous man is wise to know Jesus Christ. The natural man hears of Christ by the hearing of the ear but he does not know Him. What, is your beloved more than another beloved? Those who journeyed with Paul heard a voice but saw no man, Acts 9:7. So the unregenerate person hears the minister set forth Christ as altogether lovely; he hears a voice but sees no man. He does not see Christ's orient beauties. Christ is a treasure, but a hidden treasure. But a gracious soul has the veil taken off; he sees the amazing excellencies of Christ. "Unto you therefore which believe He is precious," 2 Peter 2:7. His merits, graces, and benefits are precious. A righteous man has Christ's eye-salve to see his tried gold, Revelation 3:~8. Zeuxis, having drawn a curious piece, Nicostratus fell into the admiration of it and commended it. An ignorant man stood by and asked him what rare excellency lie saw in that piece. Said he, "If you could see with my eyes, you would admire it as well as I." So, if a carnal man could see with a spiritual man's eyes, he would wonder at those surpassing beauties in Jesus Christ which he now makes light of.
(3) A righteous man is wise to discern the times. The children of Issachar were men who had understanding of the times. The world cries out, "Glorious times!" but a righteous man has an eye of discernment. He can see when the wicked make void God's law and when religion is crucified by such as cry "hosanna" to it. He is wise to keep from the contagion of the times. These are they who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins, Revelation 14:2. A person divinely qualified is wiser than to run himself into snares or go to hell for company; he is wise to salvation. "A good under-standing have all they that do His commandments."
2. A righteous man is of a more excellent birth. Alexander the Great feigned himself to be son to Jupiter. Every good Christian is high-born; he is born of God, and that is more than to come from princes and he of the royal blood. David thought it no small honor to be the king's son-in-law, 1 Samuel 18:18. Oh, what an infinite honor is it to be regenerated by the Spirit and enrolled among the first-born of heaven! The righteous man derives his pedigree from the ancient of days, Daniel 7:9. He gives the fairest nameplate, the eagle and the lion; he is near akin to the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Isaiah 40:31.
3. A righteous person is of a more excellent beauty. How worldly beauty is courted by all, and what is it? "Beauty is vain," Proverbs 31:30. The bravest features of the body and the most lovely complexion are no other than well-colored earth. But a righteous per-son has a celestial beauty shining in him. He is embellished with knowledge, love, and meekness, which are of such oriental splendor as to allure the very angels. A good Christian has sonic idea and re-semblance of that sparkling holiness which is iii the Deity. Christ is infinitely taken with the spiritual beauty of His church. "Thou art beautiful, 0 my love, as Tirzah, comely as Jerusalem," Song of Solomon 6:4, Tirzah was a map of pleasure- Jerusalem was the metropolis of Judea, the star and light of all the eastern world. This was symbolic, to set forth the radiance of the church's glory. "Turn away thine eyes from me for they have overcome me." verse 5. It is as if Christ had said, "Oh, My spouse, such a resplendent luster is in your visage that I can hardly bear it. I am wounded with the delightful darts of your beauty!" One eye of a believer draws Christ's heart to it. "Thou hast ravished My heart with one of thine eyes," Song of Solomon 4:9 A saint's beauty never withers; it outlives death. True grace is like colors laid in oil which cannot be washed off.
4. A righteous man's thoughts are more excellent. Thoughts are the firstborn of the soul; sinful thoughts arise out of a bad heart like sparks out of a furnace An unsanctified fancy is Satan's work-house, Micah 2:1. "The thoughts of the righteous arc right," Proverbs I2:.~ A righteous man's thoughts have gotten wings and fled Co heaven. 'Then I awake, I am still with Thee," Psalm 139:18. God is a saint's treasure and where should his mind be but upon this treasure? A righteous man has gotten upon the top of Mount Tahoe, solacing himself in Jehovah. He contemplates the beauty of holiness, the love of Christ, the felicity of saints glorified. His thoughts are among the cherubims. The soul, while it is musing on Christ, is filled with holy and sweet raptures. It is caught up into paradise. It is in heaven before its time. My meditation of Him shall be sweet.
5. A righteous man's desires are more excellent. H e spreads the sails of his desire to receive the fresh breathings of God's Spirit. I do not deny that a bad man may have some faint aspirings after the best things. Those deserters of Christ cried, "Lord ever-more give us this bread," John 6:34. But a righteous man's desires excel.
He desires Christ for Himself, not only for His jewels but His beauty; not only as He is a Savior but as He is the Holy One, Acts 3:14.
He is unsatisfied without Christ. Not the richest morsels, not golden chalices filled with sapphires or diamonds will content him without Christ. As the two Marys were not satisfied with the linen clothes lying in the sepulcher unless they had seen the body of Jesus, 50 it is not the linen on the communion table or the elements of bread and wine that will satisfy a believer unless he meets with Christ whom his soul loves.
He desires still more of Christ and would be swallowed up in the sweet ocean of His love. Behold here a desire which God Himself has raised in the soul, and He will open the breast of mercy and satisfy it.
6. A righteous man's discourse is more excellent. His tongue is tuned to the language of heaven. What is the discourse of the wicked about? Their wares and drugs, like the fish in the gospel that had a piece of money in its mouth. "He that is of the earth speaketh of the earth," John 3:31. And too often corrupt communication proceeds from the wicked, their mouth being like a sink where all the filth of the house runs out. These lepers need to have their lips covered.
Sinners, in their ordinary discourse, bring forth Scripture as the Philistines did Sampson to make sport, as if the Bible were the best minstrel to play with, and a jest were worth nothing unless it were seasoned with the salt of the sanctuary. It is a saying of Luther, "Whom God has a mind to destroy, He lets them play with Scripture." But in this sense the righteous is more excellent. "The tongue of the just is as choice silver," Proverbs 10:20. Gracious words drop as silver from him to the enriching of the souls of others. "The words of a wise man s mouth are gracious," Ecclesiastes 10:12. In the Hebrew it is, "they are grace." His words are not as vinegar to fret but as salt to season others, Colossians 4:6. The roof of the mouth is called heaven. A godly man's mouth is full of heaven. He speaks as if he had already been in heaven. The holy conference of the two disciples going to Emmaus brought Christ into their company. "While they communed together, Jesus Himself drew near and went with them," Luke 24:15. Such savory speeches drop from the holy lips that God has a notebook to write them down. "Then they that feared the Lord spake often one to another, and God hearkened, and a book of remembrance was written," Malachi 3:16. It is reported of Tamerlain (the Mongol conqueror) that he kept a register of the names and good deeds of his soldiers. God registers the speeches of His people that they may not be lost.
7. A righteous man is of a more excellent spirit. An excel-lent spirit was found in Daniel, Daniel 5:12. "My servant Caleb because he had another spirit with him," Numbers 14:24. "A wicked man hath the spirit of the world," 1 Corinthians 2:12. He is of an atheistic spirit - Lucian is his Old Testament, Machiavel his New - but a person invested with grace has choice-ness of spirit in him. He is of a sublime, noble, invincible spirit.
He is of a sublime spirit; he savors the things of God. A person sublimated by grace sets his feet where others set their hearts. He, being clothed with Christ the Son of righteousness and crowned with the graces as glittering stars, has the moon under him. The world may have his look but Christ has his love; he dwells below but trades in the Jerusalem above. A true saint is taken up about higher matters: getting the love and favor of God. He aspires after glory and immortality; he looks no lower than a crown; he feeds as the birds of paradise on the dew of heaven; he is employed about angels' work, lifting up God's name in the world; he is a living organ of God's praise.
He is of a noble spirit; he has the spirit of an heir. He scorns anything that is disingenuous and sordid. He can deny himself but not disparage himself. He can be humble but not base. He does not know how to palliate the sins of any, which would be to wash the devil's face. He cannot prostitute him-self to the lusts of men or flatter to get preferment, Job 32:21. A righteous man abhors to be biased from the truth for secular advantage. It was said of Luther that he cared not for gold; his spirit was more noble than to be bribed with money. A good man will not purchase the liberty of his person by ensnaring his conscience. "Not accepting deliverance," Hebrews 1l:35.
He is of an invincible spirit. He bears afflictions without fainting or fretting though the archers shoot at him. His bow abides in strength. Such as lack a principle of grace faint in the day of adversity; they cannot bear a frown from a great man or digest a reproach. If the bough of a tree is rotten, the least weight hung upon it breaks it. But the righteous has the heart of a lion. He is not startled at the discourtesies of the world. He looks upon reproaches for Christ as badges of honor, 1 Peter 4:11. When the Roman Catholics taunted Luther for his apostasy from their church, Luther replied, "I confess I am an apostate from you, but a blessed one; I am such an apostate as a magician is when he renounces his compact made with the devil and betakes himself to Christ." Grace steels the heart with courage and fires it with zeal.
Nazianzen said of Athanazius that he was both a loadstone and an adamant; a loadstone for the sweetness of his disposition and an adamant for the invincibleness of his resolution. When the emperor Valens promised Basil great preferment if he would subscribe to the Arian heresy, Basil responded, "Sir, these speeches are fit to catch little children, but we who are taught by the Spirit are ready to endure a thousand deaths rather than suffer one syllable of Scripture to be altered." A righteous man is willing to take the cross for his jointure and, with Ignatius, wear Christ's sufferings as a collar of pearl. "We glory in tribulation," Romans 5:3. St Paul rattled his chain and gloried in it as a woman who is proud of her jewels, said Chrysostom. "It is to my loss," said Gordius the martyr, if you abate me anything of my sufferings." Of what heroic undaunted spirits were the primitive Christians who could scorn preferments, laugh at imprisonments, snatch up torments as crowns, and whose love to Christ burned hotter than the fire insomuch that the heathens cried out, "Great is the God of the Christians!"
8. The prayers of a righteous man are more excellent. Another may have more elegancy in prayer but he has more sincerity. "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord, but the prayer of the up-right is His delight," Proverbs 15:8. A sinner's praying is howling, Hosea 7:14, but the prayer of a righteous man is music in God's ears. "Let me hear thy voice, for sweet is thy voice," Song of Solomon 2:14. Maximinius, a persecutor, being on his sick bed, craved the prayers of the godly.
The excellency of a righteous man's prayer is seen by its noble exploits and by its gracious returns.
(1) By its noble exploits. Luther's prayer re-covered Theordorus Vitus from a consumption after the physicians had given him over for dead. The prayer of the righteous has stopped the sun iii its full career, Joshua 10:13. It has divided the waters, Exodus 14:15,21; overcome armies, Exodus 17:11; cast Out devils, Matthew 17:21; opened prisons, Acts 12:9; shut heaven, James 5:17. Prayer has had power with God, Hosea 12:4. The Tyrians tied fast their god Hercules with a golden chain. The great Jehovah is held by the prayers of His people. "I will not let Thee go till Thou bless me," said Jacob, Genesis 32:26.
(2) By its gracious return. When the tree of the promise is shaken by the hand of prayer, some fruit falls. "He shall pray unto God, and He will be favorable unto him," Job 33:26. Prayer is the golden fleet the saints send out to heaven which comes home richly laden with mercy. Sometimes God gives His people the same mercy in kind that they beg. "For this child I prayed, and the Lord hath given me my petition," 1 Samuel 1:27. Sometimes God gives them that which is better than they ask for. They pray for temporal things and He gives them spiritual. They pray for more health and He gives them more grace. They desire the venison and, instead of that, He gives them the blessing; so He pays them in a better coin. That which makes the prayer of a righteous man so excellent and availing is:
First, because his affections are drawn forth strongly in prayer; his eyes melt; his heart burns. He is "fervent in spirit," Romans 12:11. It is a metaphor which alludes to water boiling over. A good heart boils over with hot affections in prayer. There may be powder in a gun when there is no fire. Some may have good matter in prayer but no fire of affection to discharge it. Prayer without fervency is like wine that has lost the spirits. Fervency, as Ambrose said, baptizes a duty and gives it a name. Without this, prayer is not prayer. A righteous man is carried up to heaven in a fiery chariot of devotion. This holy fervency is caused by the Spirit of God which both inspires and enflames the saint's prayers, Romans 8:26. The Spirit helps us with sighs and groans. Not only gifts but groans; and surely the incense of a righteous man's prayer with the Holy Ghost's fire put to it must ascend as a sweet perfume to heaven.
Second, a righteous man's prayers are so excel-lent because he sprinkles faith in every prayer. "Unto Thee, 0 Lord, do I lift up my soul, 0 my God I trust in Thee," Psalm 25:1. Faith is the breath of prayer. As the body cannot live without breath, so prayer cannot live unless faith breathes in it. Faith is the bullet which is shot in prayer. A believing prayer can obtain anything from God. It is reported of a nobleman of this nation that the Queen gave him a ring and told him that, when he was in any difficulty, let him send that ring to her and she would assist him. To this ring I compare prayer. When a child of God stands in need of anything, he sends this ring to God, presents it by the hand of faith, and has his desires granted.
Third, a righteous man's prayers are so excellent because Jesus Christ presents them to His Father. Prayer, as it comes from the godly, is mixed with sin, but Christ takes out the dross of their prayers and presents nothing but pure gold. He dips the prayers of the righteous in His blood and mingles them with His sweet odors, and so they are to God most fragrant and aromatic. A weak prayer being laid upon Christ as the altar, the altar sanctifies it. Christ's praying over a saint's prayer makes it prevalent in respect of his office (as He is a priest), His relation (as He is a Son), and His merit (as He is God).
9. The tears of a righteous man are more excellent. Holy tears are the costly gum which distills from the trees of righteousness. Mary Magdalene stood at Christ's feet weeping. Her tears dropped as pearls from her eyes. The tears of the wicked are good for nothing. They are either carnal (they weep for worldly losses) or spurious (they are more troubled for hell than sin). Their conscience is in agony. There is water in their eyes because there is fire in their bones. But the tears of a true penitent are more precious. They drop from the eye of hope. They are purifying tears. The holy mourner weeps out sin, These tears are the wine of angels. So precious they are that God bottles them. "Put Thou my tears into Thy bottle," Psalm 56:8. In the Hebrew it is "my tear," to show that God takes notice of every tear. Though holy tears are silent, yet they have a voice. Though they fall to the earth, yet they reach heaven. Tears dropping from the saints' eyes are as sweet water dropping from the roses.
10. The tears of a righteous man is more excellent for spiritualness and for usefulness.
First, the life of a righteous man is more excel lent for spiritualness, and that three ways:
(1) He lives by a more spiritual rule than others. A sinner either lives by no rule or by a false rule. He walks according to the course of the world. But a righteous man goes by the canon of Scripture as a well-made dial goes exactly by the sun. God's Word is the oracle he consults with; it is his pillar of fire or pole-star to direct him. "Thy word is a lantern to my feet," Psalm 119:105. The Word is a divine treatise; it is a model and platform of God's mind to which a pious man conforms his actions both moral and sacred. He will not resolve his faith into councils or fathers, nor will he follow the examples of the best men further than they follow the Word.
(2) A righteous man lives more spiritually as he lives a life above others, whereas they live no higher than reason. The just lives by faith. A righteous man moves in a higher sphere. He penetrates the clouds. Moses saw Him who is invisible. Sense and reason are too low in stature to see Christ. Faith does not climb up into the tree as Zacchcus (Luke 19:1-4), but within the veil, and there sees Jesus. A holy person sends out faith as a spy to view the land of promise; faith unties difficulties. "Who against hope believed in hope," Romans 4:~8. Against the hope of sense, Abraham believed in hope of the promise. Faith anticipates future things and makes them present. When God told Abraham what a glorious country He would give him, Abraham looked upon it as if it had been actually done and he had taken possession. Faith can live upon God in the deficiency of visible comforts. Although the fig-tree does not blossom, yet I will rejoice in the Lord. A righteous man believes that if God will save him from hell, He will save him from want; if He will give him a kingdom, He will not deny him daily bread.
(3) A righteous man lives more spiritually as he shows forth more of tile powers of holiness in his life than others. He is a pattern of piety. Aaron, the saint of the Lord, was adorned more by his sanctity more than his mitre or linen garments. A moralist may live as a man, but he who is regenerate lives the life of Christ. The Macedonians, on the birthday of Alexander the Great, wore Alexander's picture about their necks set with gold and pearl. So the righteous carry the lively picture of Christ in their holy example. They live so devoutly as if they had seen the Lord with bodily eyes.
Second, the life of a righteous man is more excel-lent for usefulness. He is a blessing in the midst of the land. He spends and is spent for Christ; yet he would rather wear Out than rust out. The lives of the wicked are unprofitable (therefore they are com-pared to chaff), and hurtful (therefore compared to thorns). But a righteous man is like the bee or silk-worm, working for the good of others. "It comforts me," said worthy (John) Jewel, "that I have exhausted myself in the labors of my holy calling." A good man hangs between these two as a needle between two loadstones: longing to be with Christ in heaven and loving to serve Him on earth.
(1) A righteous man is helpful to the bodies of others. He is a temporal savior. He has one eye shut to wink at the failings of others and another eye open to observe their wants. He is like the heavens diffusing his influence and sending down his silver drops of charity; he is a staff to the lame and bread to the hungry. He puts under a golden crutch to support others when they are falling. It is reported of young Lord Harrington that he gave a tenth of his yearly revenue to charitable uses. As Mary brought her sweet ointments to anoint Christ's body, so a gracious soul brings his ointments of charity to anoint the saints, who are Christ's living Body. A good man judiciously considers how he himself lives upon contribution: the earth enriches him with veins of silver and crops of corn. One creature brings him wool, another oil, another silk. Observing every creature conspiring for his good, he studies to lay out himself for the good of others. Faith, if it has not works, is dead, James 2:17. Faith sanctifies works and works testify of faith. A believer, with one hand, receives Christ's merits; with the other hand he relieves his fellow members. And he not only gives to the necessities of the poor but gives freely. Charity drops from him as myrrh from the tree. He does not put his alms among his desperate debts; he is thankful that God has made him in the number of givers and not receivers.
(2) A righteous man is helpful to the souls of others. He who pities his neighbor's ox when it is fallen into a pit much more pities his neighbor's soul that is falling into hell. He counsels the ignorant, confirms the weak, reduces the wandering, and converts the sinner from the error of his way.
(3) A righteous man is helpful to a kingdom. He stands as a screen between it and the fire of God's wrath. "Therefore He said He would destroy them, had not Moses his servant stood before Him in the breach to turn away wrath from them," Psalm 106:23. when a breach is made in the wall of a castle, soldiers stand in that breach till the enemy is beaten back. So when the wrath of God was coming against Israel, Moses stood in the breach and, by his prayers, kept if off. The saints are the Atlases who bear up a nation from sinking. The poets feigned of Hector that, as long as he lived, Troy could not be demolished. "I bear up the pillars," Psalm 75:3. Ambrose was called the wall of Italy. Lot, while in Sodom, kept off the fire. "Haste thee, escape to Zoar, for I cannot do any thing till thou be come thither," Genesis 19:22. A wicked nation is often reprieved for the righteous' sake. The tares are spared for the wheat's sake.
11. The death of a righteous man is more excellent. Death comes with a habeas corpus. "What man is he that liveth and shall not see death?" Psalm 89:48. Grace itself gives no charter of exemption from it. An earthen pot, though full of gold, may break The righteous, who are earthen vessels, though they are filled with the golden graces, are not freed from breaking by death. But their death is precious. Wicked men, like hawks, are set high upon a perch, decked with jingling bells, but then comes their passing bell and calls them away; and, when they die, there is no missing them. Their life was scarcely worth a prayer, nor their death worth a tear. The wicked die in their sins, John 8:24. Death to them is but a trap door to let them into hell. But when a righteous man dies, his sins die with him. The pale face of death looks ruddy, being sprinkled with the blood of the Lamb. When a believer has death in his body, he has Christ in his soul. The day of his death is his ascension day to heaven. The death of a saint is precious to God; the righteous are said to be gathered. A sinner is carried away in a storm, whereas the righteous are gathered like we gather precious fruit and candy it. So greatly does God value the death of a saint that He makes inquisition for every drop of his blood. His death is precious to the saints who survive him. They follow his hearse weeping as David did Abner's. Though they know that, when a godly man dies, he is fixed in a higher and more transparent orb, yet they cannot but mourn at the fall of such a star. It is a lamentation when God cuts down the pillars of a land; the great cables and anchors of a ship being gone, there is danger of a shipwreck. It presages a storm coming when God hides His jewels. After Austin's death followed the sacking of Hippo by the Goths and Vandals. After the decease of Paraeus came the destruction of Heidelberg. Hence it is that the saints who are left behind, when they see such as are the glory of a kingdom taken away by a stroke of death, cannot but cry as Elisha did when Elijah was parted from him. "My Father, my Father, the chariot of Israel and tile horsemen thereof", 2 Kings 2:12. The saints living are affected with the loss of the godly, and carry them to their grave with a shower of tears. 12. The dust of a righteous man is more excellent. When the bodies of the wicked are laid in the grave, there lies a heap of dust to be tumbled into hell. But the dust of a righteous man is part of Christ's mystical Body. The dust of a saint is united to Christ while it is in the grave, and as the dust of believers is now excellent, so it will appear shortly in the sight of men and angels. Emperor Trajan's ashes were honored at Rome, so the ashes of the saints at the resurrection shall be honored when they shall be made like Christ's glorious body in its beauty.. strength, agility, and immortality.