The Blessed Way of the Righteous

Rev. Miersma is a missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches, currently serving in Ghana, West Africa.

For the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous; but the way of the ungodly shall perish.

Psalm 1:6

We have here a most remarkable Psalm. As the first psalm in this memorable book of songs it sets forth the theme and tone for the entire book. It does this by showing us the attitude of God toward both the ungodly and the righteous. The first five verses describe the two.

On the one hand, the righteous man does not walk in the counsel of the ungodly, nor does he stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scorners. On the other hand, he delights in the law of the Lord, meditates in it day and night, and is likened to a tree planted by the rivers of water. This tree brings forth fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. As such the righteous prosper.

In contrast the ungodly are like the chaff that the wind drives away. Having no roots he cannot and shall not stand in the judgment or in the congregation of the righteous.

Our text serves as a conclusion to the Psalm and states the reason for what was said in the first five verses. It tells us why the righteous are like a tree and why the wicked are likened to chaff.

From a spiritual point of view the way of man is the way he himself chooses to walk according to the dictates of his own heart. It is also the way that God determines and regulates and on which He leads man according to His sovereign good pleasure.

The child of God is righteous in two different senses. He is righteous by faith, which means that he has not earned his righteousness but has been declared righteous by God. He is also righteous by the Spirit of Christ, which results in a walk of righteousness that is really a walk in the way of sanctification. His walk is in harmony with his righteousness. It is the latter sense that has the emphasis in our text. The righteous delights to do God’s will and commandments. It is his will and desire to meditate on that way. That way is externally determined by the law of God and internally by the choice of a regenerated and sanctified heart.

Similarly, the way of the ungodly is internally determined by his own life’s choice. An ungodly man is free only to do evil, a way in which he meditates and delights. From within he is bound, so that the only thing that he can do is sin. Externally he follows the will of the prince of darkness. As a result, in the counsel of the ungodly he plans and plots ungodly things. If you look for him, you will find him in the way of sinners and in the seat of the scorners.

Thus, the two ways are quite different. The one is hard and dark; the other is smooth and straight. This is the experience both of the righteous and of the ungodly as God determines and directs their ways.

However, according to some, the ways are very much alike. They will agree that the end of each is different, but they insist that the ways themselves are alike, in that both the righteous and the ungodly are the objects of God’s good favor and grace. We have heard of this before under the guise of what is called common grace.

In no sense of the word are the two ways alike, for from the external point of view the ungodly prosper while the righteous have trouble and suffering. This is everyday experience as well as the testimony of God’s Word. InPsalm 92:7 we read, “When the wicked spring as grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish; it is that they shall be destroyed for ever.” And Christ in Matthew 5:11 declares, “Blessed are ye when men shall persecute you.”

Everyday experience bears this out. Generally speaking, from the viewpoint of temporal prosperity the wealth and goods of this world are not in the hands of the righteous, but in the hands of the ungodly. The same is true with respect to might, power, name, position, and honor. Furthermore, one does not find that the righteous persecute and subjugate the wicked. No, it is just the other way around. It is the righteous that suffer and are oppressed.

This situation exists exactly because the ungodly have all these things through their ungodliness, while the righteous are oppressed and must suffer precisely because of their righteousness.

Contemplating this, a question begins to form in our minds: must we measure the reality of the respective ways and judge those ways according to that which is external? If we answer in the affirmative, then the next question that comes to mind is, must we measure God’s favor according to these external things? If we also here answer in the affirmative, then we really have a situation that is worse than common grace. Then the prosperity of the wicked is a revelation of the favor of God and the suffering of the righteous a revelation of God’s wrath. That, of course, cannot be. So what is the attitude of God toward the righteous and the ungodly?

Very plainly the psalmist declares that the way of the ungodly perishes. He does not say that the end of the ungodly is destruction, although that is true in itself. Nor does he say that the way of the ungodly ends in or leads to destruction, although this also is true. What he says is that the way itself perishes; it is a way of destruction.

Three elements are implied here. First, without a doubt the everlasting end of that ungodly man on that way is everlasting destruction. Already from this point of view the ungodly is not to be envied because of his way. It is much better to enjoy everlasting salvation with brief suffering of this time than everlasting destruction and pleasures for a brief time. Secondly, it must be seen that the way leads to that destruction. It certainly is not true that the way has nothing to do with the end. That way leads to everlasting destruction for that is its direction. And thirdly, that way works destruction. Hear the apostle Peter in II Peter 2:1 as he speaks of false prophets and teachers: “and bring upon themselves swift destruction.”

The text under consideration brings this out by way of contrast: “the Lord knoweth the way of the righteous.”In this way one enjoys God’s love. God despises and hates the other way, the way of ungodliness. The ungodly are not the objects of His favor, but of His wrath. That is why the ungodly are never truly happy, for they experience the curse of God in their way. The reason for all the unrest in the world is that the peace of God is not in the ungodly. Everything that the wicked receive, no matter how good it may seem, must not be confused with blessings, but be understood rather to be a means to their destruction. They become fat with sin and, thus, ripe for destruction. God’s dispensation over the wicked is as expressed in Psalm 92:9, “For, lo, thine enemies, O Lord, for, lo, thine enemies shall perish; all the workers of iniquity shall be scattered.”

How gloriously different it is for the righteous, the child of God. God knows the way of the righteous. It would appear otherwise sometimes, but God knows that way from eternity. This knowledge of God is a knowledge of love. From eternity God has ingrafted the righteous in Christ. From eternity He knows their life and their way. Truly they are the workmanship of God, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which He has before prepared that we should walk in them (Eph. 2:10). God delights in that way because it is the way of the righteous.

This too is the experience of the child of God. God knows the destination of that way because He has prepared for His people glory. Through all the difficulties of life God is preparing us that we might be made like unto the image of His Son. Therefore, He knows the way with all its experiences, for He has determined it, willed it, and prepared it. It is a deep way, but this deep way is necessary in order that we may obtain the higher glory. God knows the exact place in glory that each of His people shall occupy. Not all receive the same reward; and the crown is different for each one. And God knows the exact way that is necessary for us to attain that glory. He does not make any errors. He is not sidetracked by anything that is unexpected.

All in all, we may confess that the way of suffering is the necessary way for God’s people in general and for each individual member of the body of Jesus Christ. That very way, with all its experiences, He knows with His favor. The Lord our God is longsuffering to usward. All of our suffering and adversity do not arise out of wrath. No, God takes no pleasure in see ing His people suffer. All that we experience arises out of the love of God. As a father chastises his child in love to correct the child so that he walks in the fear of God, so our Father in love chastens us. “For whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb. 12:6).

Now we begin to see the blessedness of the way of the righteous. It is blessed with a view to the end. It is the way that does not perish. When the righteous stand at death’s door they know that they shall pass through to the new, redeemed creation.

It is blessed with a view to the way. It is the right way, the way that leads to everlasting glory.

And finally, it is blessed with a view to God’s favor. It is the way that leads to the pleasures that are at God’s right hand. That means also that we enjoy God’s favor on the way. Therefore, we, as God’s people, should not envy the way of the ungodly, nor stand and walk in it. Rather, let us walk by faith in the way of the righteous, which leads to glory.