“For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous: But the way of the ungodly shall perish.”
Two ways these are!
The way of the righteous!
The way of the ungodly!
A third way there is not! It is always either the way of the righteous, or it is the way of the ungodly! As Jesus said it: there is a broad way that leads to destruction, and a narrow way which leads unto life. He also knew of no third alternative.
At the same times, while the ways are clearly distinguished, all men who walk on these ways are also clearly marked and separated into two classifications. They are either the righteous or the wicked. And again, there is no third classification.
And blessed is he who walks, not on the way of theungodly, but on the way of the righteous. For the way of the ungodly perishes. But Jehovah knows the way of the righteous, and therefore the righteous who walk in the way He knows are blessed. The truth of our text is just that simple.
Consider those two ways!
The term “way” is figurative, of course. It pictures to us the life of a man as he lives it in the present world. Into that world he is born, and in that world he walks in a certain direction, and unto a certain destination. Man is as a traveler who starts off from a certain beginning point, but with a view to a certain end. And all that he experiences between these two points is called his way. The text proceeds from the idea that every man is on such a way. Unavoidably and unmistakably each one is traveling on his way.
Though it is true, as was already suggested, every way has a certain destination and comes to an end, nevertheless the text does not expressly have in mind the end, but the present way. It is the way either of the righteous, or the way of the ungodly as they are traveling on their respective ways in the midst of the world.
We may think of these ways, of both the righteous and the ungodly, from two points of view. We may conceive of them as being the spiritual-moral choice of both the righteous and the ungodly. And we may conceive of them both from the point of view of the eternal counsel of God, and as He works out that counse1 in history. He ordains and plans the way, and he directs each one on his respective way.
The way of the righteous!
That is, the way of the people of God! Righteous are they in a two-fold sense. In the first place, juridically. Righteous they were from all eternity in the counsel of election, when God gave them to Christ to be justified by Him. Righteous they are made to be through the perfect obedience of their Redeemer, through His death and resurrection. Righteous they become through the gift of faith which, as a living bond, unites them to their justified and glorified Redeemer. In one word, they are declared to be and they really are, right with God. They stand, according to His judgments of them, in perfect harmony with His will, and without any guilt. In the second place, they are also righteous in the spiritual-ethical sense of that term. Whom God justifies He also sanctifies, and will also glorify. None can claim to have part in justification without also in principle having part in sanctification. The second has its ground, and is therefore the fruit of the first.
The Word of God in our text undoubtedly has in mind these latter when it speaks of the righteous. They have received a new principle of life. They walk in a new way through this world. Outwardly they walk according to God’s holy law. Inwardly they walk by the choice of a new heart. And this is the way of sanctification, without which no man shall see God. Under the direction of the will of God they walk. O, indeed, they will confess that they have but a small beginning of new obedience, yet a new direction is manifest in all their walk. That new direction .is seen outwardly as they live in the midst of the world. Once they were friends of the world, seeking the things which are below, and glorying in those things which satisfy their flesh. But now it is different. They are, because they are righteous, strangers in the world and to that world. They seek the things which are above. They look for the city which has foundations. And because they are strangers they are hated and despised by the world and killed all the day long. They walk, not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor do, they stand in the way of sinners, no do they sit in the seat of the scornful; but their delight is in the law of the Lord.
The way of the ungodly is quite different!
The ungodly is the natural man, whose mind is enmity against God. He is without God in the world. O, this cannot mean that he does not know God, or that he is wholly unaware that God is. God has not left Himself without witness. The ungodly knows that God is and that He must be served and thanked, for He has the work of the law written in his heart. But in his darkness and depravity he says: No God! He declares that he will have nothing to do with God. He hates God and His commandments, and there is no fear of God before his eyes. His real lord and master is the prince of darkness and his will he chooses to perform. He is a slave of sin. And he delights to sit in the counsel of the wicked, in the seat of the scorners. He moves on his way, motivated by the principle of sin and death. He revels in sin and corruption, and his delight is in the things that please his carnal nature.
Be not deceived by the philosophy that would have you believe that out of this classification of the ungodly another class may be formed that are more refined, that are able to do good, that merit the favor of God. Such philosophy finds no support in our text, nor in all of the Word of God. Though one may appear to be civilized and refined, if he has no real sorrow for sin before God, he is ungodly. Though he be one who makes great sacrifices for the material support of his fellow-man, if he has not the love of God in his heart, he is ungodly. Though he be imbued with all the culture of Athens, if he fears not God, he is ungodly. Though his eyes stick out with fatness, and he have more than heart could wish; if he does not serve God with it all, he is ungodly.
The way of the ungodly perishes!
Notice, that the text does not say that the ungodly shall perish. This is implied of course. All the ungodly shall be destroyed. But the text says: the way of the ungodly shall perish. And this cannot mean only that the way on which the ungodly walk will ultimately be destroyed, but it is always in the process of perishing. The ungodly walk on a way that is perishing. And why is this so? Precisely because there is no grace of God on the way of the ungodly.
Contrary to the conception which would have you believe that God is favorably inclined to the ungodly in this world, and that He showers upon the ungodly His grace that is common to all, the truth is that the way of the ungodly perishes because on that way is the constant revelation of Jehovah’s burning wrath. And all that the Lord gives to the ungodly on that way is given with a view to the fact that he shall be destroyed forever. The rain and the sunshine, the abundance of material prosperity, what he eats and he drinks—it is a curse unto him. The very way on which he walks is the way of the curse, and the wrath of God abides on him as he walks in that way.
Terrible doctrine, you say? Not as terrible as the doctrine which would have you believe that God is gracious to the ungodly for a time, but in spite of it all at last He will destroy them. What a cruel doctrine that is! What a terrible doctrine that is that would make the unchangeable Jehovah to change in His attitude to the ungodly. With such a doctrine you lose the God of the Scriptures—that is terrible! With such a doctrine God becomes an idol—and that is terrible! But this is the Word of God, that the way of the ungodly shall perish. And the ungodly also perish, because on his way he receives no grace. Deny this, and you reply against God and His Word.
The way of the righteous, on the other hand, Jehovah knows!
That means, first of all, that He loves his way. That is always the implication of God’s knowledge in Scripture when it is directed to the righteous. God knows the way of the righteous in love as He sees His people in Christ, even as their way leads through suffering and sorrow, strife and persecution. He loves their way as it leads to repentance, confession, and prayer. He knows their way because His eye of love is always upon them. Secondly, He knows their way because He determined it for them. He knows the end of the way of the righteous, and all the steps to that end, for He decreed them. He knows the way and ordains that all shall work for good to them who walk on it. He knows the way of the righteous because He prepared it for them, and He gives them grace to walk on it.
Blessed are the righteous who walk on that way!
Blessed are they now and unto all eternity! Their way never perishes, and they never perish on their way!
Blessed are the righteous as they walk on their way! Even though it be a way that leads them through suffering and distress. Always on their way they taste God’s favor, which is more than life itself. Nor do they ever have to fear, even when their way leads them through the valley of the shadow of death. Nor should they ever, as their fellow-traveler Asaph did, become jealous of the way of the ungodly.
Only a little while, seventy, and if they be very strong, eighty years, and their traveling days are over. Then shall they exchange their pilgrim staff for a palm branch, and their helmet for the crown of life.
Of this hope and assurance they are certain, because they have their eye of faith fixed on their Redeemer, Who walked their way before them. That’s how He knew their way—He walked that way as the God of their salvation before them. That way led Him to the cross and to death, where He was despised and forsaken. But because God knew the way of THE Righteous, His way took Him to heaven and the crown. And the righteous, bearing His cross after them, and keeping their eye of faith fixed upon Him, share in His glory.
Blessed Lord, Who knows their way!