THE MARKS OF A RIGHTEOUS MAN
Let us try whether we are in the number of these righteous ones; whether we are indeed more excel-lent than others.
1. A righteous man is a humble man. He who is proud of his righteousness is unrighteous. "God I thank Thee that I am not as other men are. . . . I fast. . . I give tithes. . ." Luke 18:11-12. Here was a triple crown of pride the Pharisee wore. Righteousness, though it raises the name, depresses the heart. "If I am righteous, I will not lift up my head," Job 10:15. The violet is a sweet flower, yet hangs down the head; such a flower was Job. The righteous are like the silkworm. While she weaves her curious works, she hides her-self in the silk. The righteous man is more likely to judge himself than to play the critic on another. He shrinks into nothing in his own thoughts. David cried out, "I am a worm and no man"; though a saint, though a king, yet a worm.
St. Austin said, "Lord, I am not worthy of Thy love." Bishop Hooper said, "Lord I am hell, but Thou art heaven " One of the martyrs subscribed his letter, "The most hard-hearted sinner, John Brad-ford." He who is righteous puts a greater value upon others than upon himself. "Let each esteem other better than themselves," Philippians 2:3. The higher grace is, the lower the heart is. The more gold you put into the scale, the lower it descends. The richer the ship is laden, the lower it sails- When the soul looks black in its own eye, it is most comely. "I dwell with him also that is of an humble spirit," Isaiah 57:15. God has two heavens, and the humble heart is one of them.
2. A righteous man is devoted to holiness. The priests under the law were not only washed in the great laver but also adorned with glorious apparel, Exodus 28:2, the emblem of a righteous man who is not only washed from gross sin, but adorned with inward sanctity. He is what he seems. He does not have holiness painted on him but living in him. It is said of Zachariah and Elizabeth that "they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless," Luke 1:6. A good Christian is God's temple. His body is the outward court of the temple and his soul the holy of holies. He is pure in heart, Matthew 5:8. His work is to serve God and his end is to enjoy Him. Man, having a principle of reason, must not live as a beast, and, having a principle of righteousness, he must not live as a sinner. He is not metamorphosed; "he lives godly," Titus 2:12. Christ is not only his Priest, but his Pattern. As he makes use of Christ's death for his salvation, so of Christ's life for his imitation.
3. A righteous man is just in his dealings. "Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? He that hath clean hands," Psalm 24:3-4. He who is righteous has not only his heart purged from unholiness but his hands from injustice. He abhors all indirect ways; he will not defraud to grow rich. He will not sell his conscience for a wedge of gold. A good Christian is zealous for duties of both tables; he makes piety and justice kiss each other.
4. A Righteous man serves God out of a principle of love. Grace now biases the heart and carries it strongly towards God in ardent affection. A righteous man S serving God is not by constraint but consent. It is heaven to him to serve God! He mounts up in the fiery chariot of love and breathes forth his soul into his Savior's bosom. Love is the shibboleth that differentiates a righteous man from others. The carnal man says, "What a weariness is it to serve the Lord!" Malachi 1:13. The righteous man says, 'What a plea-sure is it!" "I delight in the law of God in the inner man," Romans 7:22. As the bee delights to suck the flower, so a holy person delights to obey God. He does duty out of love to duty; he prays out of love to prayer. When he sings, he makes melody in his heart to the Lord. Love lines the yoke of religion and makes it easy. As a bride delights in putting on her jewels, as a musician delights in playing on his violin, so a gracious soul delights in obeying God. love to duty is better than duty; serving God with de-light is angelic. The seraphims are described as having wings, Isaiah 6:2, to show their cheerfulness as well as their ability in God's service.
5. A righteous man perseveres in religion. He who gives over his work before he has finished it is but half a workman; and he that gives over in religion before he has finished his faith is but half a Christian The promise is to him who overcomes. Who makes reckoning of corn that sheds before harvest? It was the glory of the church of Thyatira that her last works were more than her first. Perseverance carries away the garland. A true Christian not only sets out in the race but holds out. "The righteous also shall hold on his way," Job 17:9, be that way what it will. Though strewn with thorns, though there is a lion in the way, he is resolved to hold on his way "Bonds and afflictions abide me, but none of these things move me," Acts 20:23-24 The troubles a godly man meets with for conscience enflame his zeal all the more. Sufferings cannot make Christ stop loving the saints, nor make the saints stop loving Christ. Though Job lost all, he held fast his integrity. Unsound hearts, when they see the swords and staves are up, leave Christ and shift for themselves. A right-spirited saint is made of mettle that will not wear out. Athanasius (the Church Father) was the glory of his age; he had a counter motion to the times; he kept his piety when the world turned Arian. Melancthon, who was called the phoenix of Germany, was, as Ambrose said, like the cypress tree that keeps its greenness in the winter season. The church of Pergamus held fast to Christ's name though she dwelt where Satan's seat was. This is to be righteous: to be faithful to the death and not suffer the breastplate of holiness to be shot through. My foot has held His steps; His way have I kept and not declined. And whoever is thus divinely qualified is entitled to the privilege in the text. He is more excellent than others.
USE 8. If the righteous are thus excellent, let it encourage us all to true piety. No sooner do we be-come gracious than we become precious. This day have "I rolled away the reproach of Egypt from off you," Joshua 5:9. That day we become righteous, our reproach is rolled away from us. Faith raises our fame; righteousness exchanges our fetters for a crown. A crown of glory shall she deliver to you. By espousing godliness, we are better and richer than others, being possessed of a gold mine - the un-searchable riches of Christ! We have from Christ the riches of justification, consolation, and glorification. We are as rich as the angels. Oh, then, let this excite every one to be godly! Righteousness puts a splendid excellence upon a man, as if you should see a clod of dust turned into a star.
1. If the righteous are so excellent in God's eye, then let God be excellent in their eye. If they are high in God's thoughts, let God be high in theirs. Let the saints have adoring thoughts of God. "Thy righteousness, O God, is very high. Thou whose name is Jehovah, art the Most High over all the earth," Psalm 83.18. God is the most super-eminent blessing; who can show forth all His praise? God surpasses the praises of the archangels. He is encircled with glory and majesty. He infinitely outvies all the powers of the earth. Princes hold their crowns by immediate tenure from Him; His dominions are largest, His possession longest. "Thy throne, 0 God, is forever and ever," Psalm 45:6. Those excellencies which lie scattered in the creature are infinitely united in God. Austin complains that man can admire the magnitude of the stars and not admire Him who is the Father of lights. Oh, esteem God most excellent!
God's wisdom is excellent. He is wise in heart. He knows the causes of things; yea, at one instant. Angels light their lamps at this sun.
God's power is excellent. He is Almighty. His power is as large as His will. What His soul desires, even that He does. He bridles the proud waves. He cuts off the spirit of princes. God's holiness is excellent. This is the most sparkling jewel of His crown. "Glorious in holiness." Exodus 15:11. God is first transcendently holy: "There is none holy as the Lord," 1 Samuel 2:2. The blessed seraphims cover their faces and cry "Holy, holy, holy", but what angels can take the just dimensions of His sanctity? They are too low in stature to measure these pyramids.
God is communicatively holy: "I am the Lord which sanctify you," Leviticus '2O:8. He is not only a pattern of holiness but a fountain. He empties His golden oil through the pipes of the sanctuary. His holiness is imparted, not impaired.
God is unchangeably holy. His holiness can no more cease than His godhead. He never lost a drop of His holiness. As He cannot have more holiness, because He is perfectly holy, so He cannot have less holiness, because He is unchangeably holy.
God's love is excellent. "How excellent is Thy loving-kindness, 0 God!" Psalm 36:7. This drops as the honeycomb; it dulcifies and sweetens the waters of Marah; it is better than life; it has a hyper-hyperbole in it. "It passes knowledge," Ephesians 3:19. God's love may be felt but not fathomed. Oh, then, let the saints have God-admiring thoughts! The psalmist esteemed Him above the glory of heaven and the comforts of the earth, Psalm 73:25. God is the mar-row and quintessence of all good. his beauty is amazing; His love is ravishing. All divine perfections meet in God as the lines in the center. Let us, then, with Paul, count all things loss for Him. If God puts such a value and appreciation upon the righteous, that they are highest in His esteem, let Him be highest in theirs.
2. If God has so honored the righteous and made them better than others, let not the righteous debase themselves or lose any of their excellency. Has God made them precious? Let not them make themselves vile.
(1) Let them not debase themselves with earth. An earthly saint is as great a contradiction as an orthodox heretic. It is called filthy lucre because it makes a person so filthy. Earthliness is an enemy to grace. It is Aristotle's observation that dogs can-not hunt among sweet flowers because the smell of the flowers diverts the scent of the hare. Those can scarcely run after Christ in the savor of His ointments who are diverted by the smell of earthly de-lights. Whom the Helena of the world kisses, she be-trays. It is below a Christian - and too much resembles Satan - to be always compassing the earth. 'And seekest thou great things for thyself"Jeremiah 45:5. As if God had asked Baruch, Jeremiah's secretary, 'Baruch, who are by your new birth excellent, akin to angels; by your office excellent; a Levite; do you now seek earthly things? I am going to pluck up, and are you planting? The ship is sinking, and are you decorating your cabin? Oh, Baruch, do not so degrade yourself of your honor! Do you seek great things? Seek them not." Though the wicked, like eels, wrap themselves in the mud, yet let the birds of paradise fly aloft. The higher grace is, the less earthly-minded should Christians be; the higher the sun is, the shorter the shadow.
(2) Let not the righteous debase themselves by sinful compliance. Such as profess themselves to be regenerate should not be malleable to every opinion and humor. Shall the excellent cedar bend like the pliant willow? "Issachar is a strong ass, couching down between two burdens," Genesis 49:14. Issachar was a strong tribe but lacked courage. You who are righteous, be not too pliant. Do not choose iniquity rather than affliction, Job 36:21. Do not so value your liberty as to wound your integrity. God is a great God; dare not to offend Him. He is a good God; venture not to lose Him. Be not swayed by the evil examples of others. Dead fish only swim downstream. The righteous greatly lessen both their esteem and re-ward by fraternizing with sinners. Let not the godly violate their conscience. The dust will be wiped off this glass and then it will represent guilt. When Crankier had, with some reticence of mind, sub-scribed to the popish articles, lie was afterwards in great horror; his conscience was like Moses' rod turned into a serpent. He could have no peace till he had recanted his subscription. By sordid, unworthy actions, the Holy Spirit will be grieved, the godly will be offended, the wicked will insult, and conscience will accuse. Conscience is like a bee: If a man does well, it gives honey; if ill, it puts forth a sting.
(3) If the righteous are more excellent than others, let not them envy the prosperity of the wicked. "Let not thy heart envy sinners," Proverbs 23:17. God has made you better than they. He has given you His Spirit to sanctify you and His Son to save you. Envy is an ill humor. It hurts a man's self most. Envy drinks its own venom; it corrodes the body as canker does iron.
The first man born in the world was envious. Ibeodoret observes that it was not so much Cain's own sin that troubled him as to see his brother's offering accepted. It is unbecoming for God's people to feed this fretting disease; it is bad to feed an envy. What if God wrings out the water of a full cup to the wicked? It is but a sugared poison. Prosperity, Like Circe (the mythological witch), with its enchantments turns men into swine; it makes them grow worse. The moon never suffers an eclipse but when it is at the full. The world is given to the wicked in anger. When Belshazzar was in the midst of his jollity, the hand of God was writing bitter things against him. The hot day of prosperity presages thunder at night. Haman's banquet was but a preface to the hangman's noose. Oh, Christian, shake off envy as Paul did the viper! God has made more excellent than others, He has given you better riches and preferment. They have a golden apple, you have a crown, 2 Timothy 4:8. God keeps the best wine till last. Let this divine harp drive away the evil spirit of envy and discontent.
(4) If the righteous are so excellent, let it persuade people to get into their company and choose to be of their acquaintance. Next to being good, it is wisdom to converse with those who are so. "The excellent in whom is all My delight," Psalm 16:3. Be not like swine, who would rather lie in the dung than in a fair meadow. The righteous are the light of the world, and it is prudence to follow them who carry the light. Seek for the olive; but if the bramble takes hold of you, cast it away. There is much good to be gotten in the society of the godly. Their speeches edify. their prayers quicken) their examples teach. Graft among the saints. A slip grafted into a good stock partakes of the virtue and influence of the root. The righteous are more excellent. Be often among these spices and you will smell them. "He that walketh with wise men shall be wise," Proverbs 13:20.
(5) It exhorts the righteous to walk worthy of the high honor which God has raised them to. "Walk as children of light," Ephesians 5:8. As you are more excellent by your high calling, so be more excellent in your walking. Adorn religion by your prudent holy carriage "Shine as lights in the world," Philippians 2:15. Some Antinomians of old taught that whatever a man's life was, yet he was justified. So they believed the false gospel which Luther confuted. Such as are a royal priesthood should be a peculiar people. The Lord has dignified the righteous above the rest of the world, and they must not take the same latitude others do. For example, "It is not for kings, 0 Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine; nor for princes strong drink," Proverbs 31:4. It is becoming not them who are high-born to be in-temperate. So it is not for you who are of a sacred pedigree - whom God has made superior to others -to be vain and loose in your behavior. Alexander would have the Grecians known not only by their garments but also by their virtues.
A child of God should be known by the exemplary nature of his life. "Be ye holy in all manner of conversation," 1 Peter 1:15. Christ has anointed His people with the graces as those virgins were purified with sweet odors, Esther 2:12, and He expects that they should send abroad a sweet perfume of holiness. Christians must observe that which is lovely and of good report, Philippians 4:8. They need to walk accurately, Ephesians 5:15, because so many watch for their halting. If the wicked find anything the people of God dishonorable to their profession, they lay the blame upon religion. It is noted by the fifth-century Christian writer, "What will e pagans say when they see Christians loose and 'The Christians live so bad because Christ taught them no better.' How should the righteous off occasion from those who seek occasion? 2 Corinthians 11:12. Daniel's piety sealed up the lips .r his enemies, Daniel 6:4. Martin Bucer was so unblamable in his life that those who most maligned had nothing justly to lay to his charge.
Oh, Christians, look to your steps! When you 'e prayed against sin, then watch against temptation, A spot in a royal robe cannot be hid; a dash of ink would quickly have been spied in Aaron's white If there is a blemish in a professor, everyone's eye is upon it. The sin of such a person causes rig among the saints, as the patriarchs could not help but be ashamed when the cup was found in Benjamin's sack. Oh, that all who profess the name would depart from iniquity, 2 Timothy 2:19! Dare not blaspheme that worthy name by which you called, James 2:7! Such as are more excellent others, God expects some singular thing from them. They should bring more glory to God and, by exemplary piety, make proselytes to religion. Better fruit is expected from a vineyard than from a wild forest.
(6) Has God so enabled the righteous and given them a super-excellency above other? Then let the righteous be thankful. "He raiseth the poor Out of the dust, that He may set him with princes," Psalm 113:7-8.
God has raised you out of the low estate wherein you were by nature, and has made you more illustrious than others that He may set you with angels, those princes above. "0 let the high praises of God be in your mouth," Psalm 149:6. God has done more for believers than for all the world besides. He has given them the "holy anointing", the "new name", the "white stone", which is "the earnest of the inheritance." At the day of judgment, Jesus Christ will confess their names before His Father and the holy angels, Revelation 3:5. And their souls and bodies, being re-united, shall be fully invested with glory. After their session at Christ's right hand, it shall be proclaimed, "Thus shall it be done to the persons whom the King of heaven will honor."
Does not all this deserve thankfulness? "Make a joyful noise unto the Lord," Psalm 100:1. In the Hebrew it is' "Sound for His praise as with a trumpet," Praise God with the best instrument, the heart, and let it be screwed up to the highest peg. Do it with the whole heart. You who are righteous, speak well of God and tell others what He has done for you. His blessings bestowed are legacies, not debts. Praise is glorifying God, Psalm 50:23, and will not you cheerfully pay this debt? Will you not do it constantly? "I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being," Psalm 146:2. The people of Carthage at first used to send a tenth of their yearly revenue to Hercules, but by degrees they grew weary and stopped sending. Christians fail much in their thank-offering. Do not be like those who play a fit or two of music in a year and then the violin must be hung up. Be often upon Mount Gerizim blessing God. Consider that thankfulness is the work of heaven; you who shall have angels' reward, do an-gels' work. Sound forth the memorial of God's holiness and celebrate His fame. Praise is thc music of heaven; do not let God lack His music. While others murmur, you bless. Wait and long for that time when you shall be called up to the heavenly mount and placed among the glorious cherubims, where your employment to all eternity will be to breathe forth love and sound forth praise.
USE 9. Of consolation to the righteous who are under dejection of spirit. God esteems them more excellent than others. It is comfort:
1. When they are humbled by sin. They have mean thoughts of themselves, and see so much corruption that they think they have no grace. Aye, but here is comfort; God sees an excellency in them though they can see none in themselves. He can distinguish between the grace in them and the infirmity; and He judges them not by their worst part but by their best. God prizes His people, notwithstanding their failings. A man values his corn though it is mingled with chaff.
2. When the righteous are humbled by affliction. "He hath covered me with ashes," Lamentations 3:16. My outward comforts are, as it were, in the grave and have ashes thrown upon them. The godly are apt to mistake and think God does not care for them be-cause He afflicts them. "If the Lord be with us, why then is all this befallen us?" Judges 6:13.
But let not the righteous be troubled or cast away their anchor Still God makes great account of them and, though they are more afflicted than others, yet they are more excellent. God esteemed highly of Hezekiah on his sickbed. He heard his prayer and bottled his tears, Isaiah 38:5. Job, when full of biles and sores, was dear to God. Job on the dunghill was more excellent than Pharaoh on the throne. God boasted of Job to Satan, "There is none like him in the earth," Job 2:3. A goldsmith esteems his gold though it is in the furnace. God sees an excellence in the saints when they are bleeding under their sufferings. A piece of porcelain is of great value though it is battered. Grapes are precious though they are in the winepress. Jesus Christ was on the cross, yet He had been proclaimed to be God's beloved Son by a voice from heaven, Matthew 3:1".
3. It is comfort when the righteous are humbled by desertion. "The arrows of the Almighty are within me," Job 6:4. The Hebrew word for arrow comes from a root that signifies "to cut", to show that the poisoned arrow of desertion cuts to the heart The Psalmist cries out, "Thy wrath lieth hard upon me," Psalm 88:7; which is to say, "Like a mountain of lead, it even sinks my spirits." In this forlorn state, the saints think God esteems them vile and has cast them off. "Lord, why castest Thou off my soul?" Psalm 88:14. God holds His deserted ones, as it were, over the fire of hell, and they think they are ready to drop in. But, Christian, you may be sorely deserted, yet God may judge you excellent! Zion thought she was quite forsaken. Zion said, "The Lord bath forsaken me," Isaiah 49:14. But, at that time, God had a dear respect for her. "I have graven thee upon the palms of My hands," Isaiah 49:16. God may have the face of an enemy yet the heart of a father. The Lord deserts His people for their profit, Hebrews 12:10. While He is humbling them, He is healing them. He seems to put them away from Him, but it is to draw them nearer to Him. He would exercise their faith and prayers the more. God is all this while preparing the saints for the sweet embraces of His love. Desertion is like a purging medicine. The Lord will purge out some ill humour of sin and, after-wards, will manifest His love to His children. The cordial is kept till the working of the medicine is over.
CONCLUSION. Thus, good reader, I have, with all convenient brevity, endeavored to vindicate the true saint and take him out of the fog. I have set be-fore your eyes a child of light. "Mark the perfect man," Psalm 37:37, and imitate him. If, notwithstanding all this surpassing excellency of the righteous, any shall be so wicked as to persist in unrighteousness, they love death. If they shall glory in their unrighteousness, it is as if beggars should boast of their sores; if they shall disparage holiness, it is like a blind man reproaching the sun. Let the righteous bind reproaches as a crown about their head and be no more troubled than they would be to have mad men laugh at them. "Rest in the Lord, and wait patiently for Him," Psalm 37:7. The time is shortly coming when God will clear the innocence of His servants after He has wiped away all tears from their eyes. He will wipe off reproach from their name and, then, this text shall he universally subscribed to, "The righteous is more excellent than his neighbors"