And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and sinner appear?
Never look at the way only!
Always consider that a way is only a means to an end and, therefore, look toward the goal ahead!
This is, indeed, the constant admonition of Scripture. This was what the author of Psalm seventy-three was forgetting when, for time, he was envious with the wicked and saw their prosperity.
And, O, it was true what he observed, even though because of his one-sided judgment of their life and way, he was guilty, too, of exaggeration. As he saw them and considered their way without considering their end, he had reason to be envious with them. There were no bands even in their death. Their strength was always firm. They did not suffer, they were not in trouble as other men, they were not plagued as other men. They were full of pride; violence covered them as a garment. They were rich so that their eyes stand out with fatness. They had more than heart could wish. Yet, they were surely wicked and corrupt, and what is more, they caused the righteous to be oppressed. They set their mouth against the heavens and they speak wickedly . . .
Is it a wonder that not only the psalmist, but also the people of God, complained as waters of a full cup are wrung out to them? Is it a wonder that they started to moan in their affliction and groaned: “How doth God know, and is there knowledge in the Most High? . . . .
O, to be sure, all this is true; but . . .
O, dear and beloved people of God, the trouble is; principally, that you only look at the way, both yours and theirs.
But rather consider the way in the light of the end, and all your problems are solved and your difficulties are removed.
This was the experience of the poet, for he went into the sanctuary of God, and then he saw the end of the way of the ungodly and, presently, also his own.
And what did he see?
That God set the wicked on slippery places and on those slippery places led them down unto everlasting woe and destruction. And, on the other hand, he experienced, that God held him by his right hand, and though through a hard and bitter way he must travel, so guided him by his counsel that the way must surely lead to glory!
Thus it is always for the people of God.
Thus it is also the fundamental truth in the words of the text I quoted above this meditation.
Where shall the ungodly and sinner appear? The answer is not given, or rather is emphatically expressed in the form of a question: .in eternal desolation.
But the righteous shall surely be saved, even though the way may be hard to travel.
Look not on the way only . . .
Look at the end!
Can that possibly mean that the salvation of the righteous is doubtful?
Can it mean that God provided a mere opportunity of salvation and that now it is up to the will of man whether the final salvation of any man is to be realized? Can it possibly mean, moreover, that the way of salvation is almost impossible for any man to travel?
To be sure, if salvation depended entirely on the will of man, if man must travel that way by his own choice and by his own strength, it would not only be very hard but absolutely impossible to make that choice and to travel the way of salvation.
A sinner, dead in sin, cannot, will not and cannot will to choose the way of salvation.
But thanks be to God who saves by His sovereign grace, without the will of man!
The salvation of the righteous is not a question mark. The reason? First of all, because the righteous are God’s elect. They are righteous because of God’s eternal decree. From all eternity He gave them to Christ. He willed that they should be made like unto the image of His Son. And the will of God is unchangeable. What God willed from before the foundation of the world concerning His elect shall surely be realized. As certainly as God cannot change, so certain it is that the righteous shall be saved and enter into eternal life and glory.
There is more.
Who, we may ask, are the righteous?
The answer is: those for whom Christ died and shed His lifeblood on the accursed tree. God gave His Son for them and for no one else. Christ took the whole burden, of their sins upon His mighty shoulders and with that load of sin He went to the cross and atoned for all their transgressions. Hence, the righteous are those who, in the blood of their Saviour and Redeemer, have a right to the eternal inheritance. Hence, as sure as God gave His beloved Son for them, and as surely as Christ shed His lifeblood for them, so surely shall the righteous be saved.
There is still more.
The righteous are those, to be sure, for whom Christ died, they are, moreover, those that were given to Christ by God the Father from all eternity; but they are also those in whom the good work of salvation has already been begun. They did not become righteous by an act of their, own free will, they were not declared righteous by God because they were willing and revealed their willingness to “accept Christ.” On the contrary, they also became subjectively righteous by a sovereign act of the grace of God. “For whom he did foreknow, them He also did predestinate to be, conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”
Do you not see?
The salvation of the elect is absolutely certain: Why? Because it is none of self: it is all of God!
Is there any doubt that the righteous shall be saved?
And why not, we ask once more? The answer of Scripture is also: because Christ prays for them and the prayer of Christ is always heard. And what does Christ pray for His own, whom the Father gave Him from before the foundation of the world? This:
“I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me, for they are thine . . . Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, even as we are.”
Any doubt that the righteous shall be saved?
If it is the will of God to save them . . .
If Christ will save them . . .
How can their salvation be doubtful?
It is impossible! . . .
Firm as the mountains!
Yea, much firmer!
Yet, scarcely saved!
Why? O, the salvation of the righteous is firm and sure, and it is very glorious.
But the way of and to that final salvation is hard, for the flesh. It leads through the midst of the world. You cannot compromise with the world.
You cannot dance to glory.
The way is a way of suffering.
This was, in the supreme sense of the word, the way to glory in regard to the Saviour. Of course, it is almost blasphemy to compare His way of suffering with ours. And the comparison is, indeed, impossible as far as His suffering. Nevertheless, the Lord Himself makes the comparison more than once. Did He not say unto His disciples and, therefore, to you and to me: “If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you . . .”
And, O, how they hated. Him! How they persecuted Him! Suffer He did all His life! He endured suffering of every kind: suffering in soul and body, in His Spirit and in His mind, in His will and in His emotions, suffering because He was the Holy One of God and as such the world hated Him. Suffer He did until there was no form or comeliness in Him. He suffered until His sweat became great drops of blood, until the way became so narrow that He could hardly reach the cross . . .
He suffered . . .
We must also suffer!
For us it is nothing strange that we must suffer in the flesh, there is no element of surprise in the fact that we must suffer. First of all, as has already been said, their Lord also suffered and the servant is not greater than his master. Secondly, all Scripture emphasizes that in the world we shall have tribulation. The reason is that the life of their Lord is in them and if they manifest that life in all their way and walk without compromise, the world will hate them and they must suffer tribulation. Thirdly, they are still in the flesh, and, therefore, they must ever fight the battle against the lust of the flesh. They know of sin, their own sin, but they also know of sorrow over sin and of true repentance before God. They fight the battle of faith, not only against the devil and the world, but also against the temptations of their own sinful flesh.
Reproach and shame is their lot . . .
All this is hard for the flesh . . .
O, to be sure, they are saved. This is without any doubt. For in all their suffering in the flesh, the Lord, their faithful Saviour, keeps and sustains them, but the way is nevertheless, difficult to travel. It is, indeed, a hard way.
But why must the way be so hard? Why must it be a way of tribulation?
The answer is not difficult to find: it is necessary for their salvation. For, first of all, it is necessary for the Church in the world. Do we not know that, if the world does not hate the Church, if it does not cause the Church to suffer, the world will soon creep into the Church and it becomes corrupt as was the case with the Church of Laodicea. But, secondly, this is also the case with regard to the individual believer. He must be sanctified. If everything is sunshine in the world, he so easily begins to love the world. He likes to stay here as long as possible. He does not seek the things that are above but the things that are below.
Hence, the righteous must travel in a hard and difficult way.
He needs suffering and tribulation in order that presently he may arrive at the final goal:
Everlasting life and glory!
But if such a hard way is necessary for the righteous . . .
How about the ungodly and sinner? What shall become of him? Where shall he appear?
You understand, of course, that, the ungodly and sinner are one and the same man. The ungodly is always a sinner, and the sinner is always ungodly.
Nevertheless, we may distinguish. Perhaps, we may say that the term ungodly refers rather to the nature of the sinner. With his whole nature he is ungodly, he is opposed to God with body and soul, with all his heart and mind and soul and strength. There is no fear of God before his eyes. He does not know Him, love Him, fear Him. The tendency of his inner life is not in the direction of God, but always in the direction of iniquity. But the word sinner denotes his entire active life and walk in the midst of the world. He mocks, murders, commits adultery, lies, profanes holy things and thus, in his active life, he reveals his enmity against God.
Who is he? . . .
Is he a mere heathen?
O, to be sure, the heathen is not excluded. He, too, is an ungodly and sinner. But he is not the only sinner. You find him, too, in the Church of God. He walks even as the believers to a certain extent.
As long as there is no tribulation, no suffering for Christ’s sake connected with the outward fear of the Lord, he remains in the Church. Nevertheless, he is a sinner and an ungodly man and seeks the things of the world.
This becomes evident as soon as the Church must suffer for Christ’s sake and is in tribulation. For, then, he chooses the world and turns against Christ and against His people.
Where then shall he appear?
The answer is in the question itself.
The righteous are saved in a hard way, a way of suffering and tribulation. But where shall they appear? The answer is: in everlasting glory. But the ungodly and sinner walks in the way of prosperity apart from God and against Him. But where shall they appear? The answer is: in everlasting hell and desolation.
For as Psalm seventy-three has it:
“All they that forsake Thee must perish and die,
But near to my Saviour most blessed am I.”
And if you should ever become envious at the easy and smooth way of the ungodly and sinner and weary of your own way of suffering and tribulation, do not fail to go into God’s temple and sing with Asaph:
“As when one awaking forgetteth his dream,
So God will despise them, though great they may seem;
My envy was senseless, my grief was for nought,
Because I was faithless, and foolish my thought.”