The Way of the Righteous
J. R. Miller, 1912
"Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish."
Marvin Vincent has written a delightful book on certain of the Psalms, which he has happily called "Gates into the Psalm Country." It is pleasant to notice that the gate into the whole Psalm country, the very first word in the Book of Psalms, is the word "Blessed." All who enter this wonderful enclosure are blessed. It is interesting to note also that our Lord's first sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, begins with the same word "Blessed"—the gate into the Gospel country. This country is the kingdom of heaven, the Father's house, and it abounds with blessings for all who come into it.
The "Blesseds" of the Bible shine as thickly on its pages, as stars shine in the sky. A most interesting and profitable Bible study is to go through the Scriptures to find the passages which tell who are the "blessed" ones. It is pleasant to remember that the last glimpse this world had of Jesus—that He was in the attitude of blessing. He had His hands stretched out over His disciples on ascension day, blessing them, when He began to ascend. Ever since that moment, blessings have been raining down from those pierced hands upon a sorrowing earth!
The "Blessed" of the first Psalm belongs to the godly man. In what his blessedness consists, we are told in several particulars.
First, we learn what kind of man he is NOT: "Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful." It is well for us to know the things we ought not to do. The Decalogue consists chiefly of "You shall nots."
The three clauses of this verse stand like three angels at the entrance of paths that lead to danger, to turn us from them. The Bible "Do nots" and "Shall nots" are all friendly. If they prohibit certain things—it is because those things are not good for us, and would harm us.
Druggists write "Poison!" on bottles and packages which contain substances or mixtures which it would do us injury to use. God takes care to warn us of things that would hurt us. He says, "There is death in that!" "There is sorrow in this!" "This path leads to ruin!" We are wise if we always pay most careful heed to these divine warnings. We are very foolish if we disregard them, saying, "I am not afraid," and then press on in the way of peril.
It is interesting to notice the progression in sin indicated in the three clauses of this verse. First, a man walks in the counsel of the wicked, then soon you see him standing in the way of sinners, and a little later he is sitting among those who scoff—open sinners.
There is another progress in the words "counsel," "way," "seat".
And there is still a third progression in the words "wicked," "sinners," "scornful."
The beginnings of evil-doing are usually small. A man follows some wrong counsel first. He does things he knows to be contrary to God's will. Later he is standing where evil men gather. Still later he is seen taking his seat in the company of the openly profane, and associating with them. First, he listens to bad advice; next, he goes in bad ways; third, he is in bad company—gone clean over to the enemy!
The place to shut the gates of evil—is at the entrance. The only true safety is in avoiding the beginnings. It is hard to stop—when one has started. Every time we repeat some evil thing, it becomes easier to do it again, and still easier with each repetition, until a habit is formed, until the evil has wrought itself into the life and becomes ingrained, a part of it. Good habits are formed in the same way. Do beautiful things, and they will fashion themselves into a beautiful character. Not doing evil things—is one way to be godly.
But negatives are not enough. One may be free from vices—and yet not be godly. Not sowing tares may keep the ground from being infested with weeds—but it will not fill the field with wheat. Not speaking angry words may keep our language free from bitterness, falsehood, impurity—but silences are not enough. We must keep out the weeds—and then plant our garden with flowers. We must cease to do evil—and then learn to do good. We must refrain from angry and all wrong words—and then fill our speech with gentleness, kindness, and cheering words. We must be godly, in an active way.
The second verse gives one strong characteristic of the man who is blessed: "But his delight is in the Law of the LORD, and on His Law he meditates day and night." Psalm 1:2
It is not said merely that he obeys the Law of the Lord—but that his delight is in it. He loves to obey it and to meditate upon it. We get a lesson here on the right study of the Bible. Do we love it? Do we delight in reading it? Do we meditate upon it day and night?
Meditation is well-near a lost art. We do not take time to think, to ponder great thoughts. We would rather read newspapers, than meditate in silence on God's Word. It would be a good thing for us to be alone for a season every day, without a book or newspaper in our hands, quietly pondering some portion of the Word of God. This is the kind of Bible study that blesses the life.
A perfumer bought a common earthen jar, and filled it with attar of roses. Soon every particle of the substance of the jar was filled with the rich perfume, and long afterwards, and even when broken, the fragments retained the fragrance. So it is, that a Christian's life becomes filled, saturated with the Word of God—when he loves it and meditates upon it continually. His thoughts, feelings, affections, dispositions, and his whole character, become colored and imbued with the spirit of the Holy Word.
There is in the third verse, a beautiful picture of the life of the godly man: "And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper."
"Like a tree." We think of the beauty of a tree, for one thing, and a Christian life is beautiful. A tree consists of two parts—a root; and then the trunk, branches and foliage. The root is unseen, hidden away in the ground, and is not admired; yet it is essential. It holds the tree firmly in its place, and it nourishes it. There is also a hidden, an unseen part of a Christian life. The world does not see when you bow in prayer, when you meditate in secret. It does not see your inner heart-life of faith and love. Yet as the root is essential to the tree, so is this unseen life, essential to the Christian. The other part of the tree is the trunk, with its branches and foliage. This is what people see. Here is where the beauty is. Every Christian life has also a visible part—the character, the conduct, the acts.
"Like a tree planted." There is a suggestion here of culture and care. The tree is planted by some one. Jesus said, "My Father is the gardener;" God plants each Christian life. We are therefore in the right place, since our Father has put us into it. People sometimes say that if they had circumstances different from those they have, if they had less trial, and more ease—that they could be better Christians. But if God plants us—He has not placed us wrongly, and we can grow just where we are—into beauty and fruitfulness. Some trees are made for warm climates, some for cold, and each must have its own zone. Just so, some Christians need severe experiences, and some need gentle skies. God knows best where to plant His trees—and where to place His children.
"Planted by the streams of water." Trees need water; they cannot live without it. God's people must have grace to nourish them. Some trees grow in bare, dreary places, far from flowing streams, and we wonder how any water gets to them. But wherever a tree grows, water gets to its roots in some way, through some underground rills, and nourishes it.
We sometimes see people who appear to have no joy, no blessing. Their lives seem full of trouble. Yet they are happy and grow beautifully in Christian life. Here is one who lives and works among wicked people, yet lives sweetly and honors God. Here is one who is sick for years, shut away from privileges, suffering continually. Yet his face shines with the light of peace, and he is patient and joyful. God sends streams of grace and love to the roots of these lives, and blesses them. Wherever God plants us He will nourish us, and we can live beautifully.
"That brings forth his fruit in his season." Fruit is the purpose of existence in a tree. If it bear not fruit it is cut down and cast into the fire. Jesus makes it very emphatic that fruit is the test of discipleship. What is fruit? In one of his epistles, Paul shows us a cluster of fruits. "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance." These are fruits of character. Christian services are also fruits. The acts of kindness we perform, the words of love and cheer we speak, plant seeds where they will grow into beautiful things.
What is the purpose of fruit? It is not merely to decorate the tree. It is not hung on the branches merely to be ornamental. Fruit is to be eaten, to feed the hunger of men. The test of a Christian life, therefore, is that by its sympathy, love, comfort, helpfulness, cheer, influence, and service in all ways—it is a blessing to others, feeds their heart hunger, makes them happier, stronger, better.
Two little words in the clause are important—"his fruit." Every tree bears its own fruit; every Christian life is designed to be a blessing in its own particular way. Trying to do what somebody else does—is the weakness of many good people. If we could all be content to do good in our own way—we would do the most possible for Christ and for the world.
"In his season." Each season has its own fruits. So it is in life. The forms of usefulness and helpfulness continually vary. Each period of a good life also has its own particular fruit—youth, manhood, old age. Some fruits do not ripen until frost comes. In many lives there are fruits that come to ripeness only in sorrow.
"Whose leaf does not wither." The unwithering leaf is another feature of the tree that here stands as a picture of a godly life. There are some whose activity depends entirely upon their circumstances. When all things go well with them, they are happy—but when trouble comes they are down in the depths. In revival times they are all aglow with fervor—but in hot summer days, or in times of spiritual inactivity they become lethargic and indolent. But the ideal Christian is always trustful and at peace, and abounding in the work of the Lord.
"Whatever he does shall prosper." Success is the outcome. Not always in the earthly sense, for ofttimes the best men fail in their worldly plans and efforts. But there is a prosperity that goes on, even in worldly failure. A man's business may be wrecked—and he himself may come out unharmed, made holier and better by the disaster. If we always live right, our souls shall prosper—whatever may become of our earthly interests.
Another picture, a picture of the WICKED man, is shown in the fourth verse. He is compared to chaff: "The ungodly are not so: but are like the chaff which the wind drives away." The contrast between a fruitful tree and chaff, is very striking. Chaff is worthless. It has no beauty. It feeds no hunger. Its destiny is to be separated from the wheat and driven away before the wind. The wicked are "like the chaff."
In the last verses of the Psalm, we have the end of the wicked. They "shall not stand in the judgment." The righteous are the object of God's watchful, loving care. The way of the wicked leads to eternal destruction!