A Plea for the Godly
by Thomas Watson
"The righteous is more excellent than his neighbor."
Solomon was a man of renown. He was the world's wonder;
he discoursed on trees from the cedar-tree in Lebanon, to the hyssop which
springs out of the wall. The Proverbs are profound and holy aphorisms,
inspired by the Spirit of God and penned by him who was both a king and a
preacher. A great part of this book is to set forth the differences between
the godly and the wicked, the happiness of the one and the misery of the
other. The text is spoken in the eulogy and commendation of a righteous man:
"The righteous is more excellent than his neighbor."
1. I begin with the first word,
"righteous". There is a twofold righteousness:
1. There is a CIVIL or MORAL righteousness. He
is morally righteous, who is adorned with the moral virtues:
prudence, justice, and temperance; who keeps free from breaking penal
statutes, and does not dash upon the rock of visible scandal. This
righteousness is valid in man's court—but is insufficient to
salvation. Under the fair leaves of civility and morality—the worm of
unbelief may be hidden. Many a person who is decked with morality, is
now descended into hell-fire. A bull may be tied with ribbons and wear a
garland on his head—yet go to the slaughter. "He saved us—not by works of
righteousness that we had done—but according to His mercy." Titus 3:5
However, for the good of this age, it were to be wished
that there were more moral righteousness to be found in the world.
2. There is a GOSPEL righteousness, which is
first an IMPUTED righteousness, namely, when Christ's righteousness is made
over to us. In Adam, in whom "all have sinned"—we were all criminal persons.
Romans 5:12. If the head plots treason, all the body is guilty
as well. "But Christ is made to us righteousness," 1 Corinthians 1:30.
Indeed, it is only in this righteousness, which we can stand before the
justice of God. This is the name whereby He shall be called, "The Lord
our righteousness," Jeremiah 23:6. This righteousness is a coat without
seam, which not only covers but adorns us. This is as truly
our righteousness to justify us—as it is Christ's righteousness to bestow.
There is an IMPARTED righteousness, which is the infusing
the seed and habit of grace in the soul, making a person internally holy.
And so he is said to be righteous who has a change of heart wrought in him
and is transformed by the renewing of his mind, Romans 12:2. Such a one,
though he is not another man, yet he is a new man, 2
Corinthians 5:17. The faculties are not new but the desires
and affections are—as the strings of a violin are the same—but the
tune is altered.
Righteousness is extensive in the subject; it has
a spreading virtue. "The God of peace sanctify you wholly," 1
Thessalonians 5:23. A child of God is regenerate in every part—though
but in part.
2. "He is more excellent." Excellency is the
ennobling of a person, or a gradual elevation of him above others. The
righteous man is more excellent; that is, he is a better man. The word for
"excellent", in the Hebrew signifies abundant. It is as if the Spirit
of God had said, "The righteous has more abundant worth in him, more
3. "Than his neighbor." "Neighbor" is not to
be taken here strictly for one who lives in a vicinity and is nearly
situated; but by neighbor is meant anyone who is unrighteous,
and does not have the fear of God before his eyes.
"The righteous is more excellent than his neighbor."
Solomon seems, as it were, to put the righteous and the wicked in a pair of
scales; the one weighs as weighty gold; the other weighs lighter than the
dust of the balance!
DOCTRINE. He who is truly righteous, is far more
excellent than any wicked person in the world. I say "truly
righteous" to exclude the hypocrite who has a form and slight
tincture of piety—but does not know "the grace of God in truth,"
Colossians 1:6. He has nothing of religion—but the name; and reputation of
true religion often suffers by him. But he who is really righteous, is the
excellent person and has a superiority to all others.
For the illustrating of the proposition, I shall do two
things. I shall show:
First, HOW the righteous man is more excellent.
Second, WHY the righteous man is more excellent
1. HOW a righteous man is more excellent than another.
This appears three ways in respect of:
1. What he is.
2. What he has.
3. What he shall have.
1. A righteous man is more excellent than a wicked man—in
respect of what he IS.
1. He is more richly endued with WISDOM. He is
of a dexterous sagacity, mixing the serpent's cunning with the
dove's innocence. "The man without the Spirit does not accept the things
that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he
cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. We who have
the Spirit understand these things," 1 Corinthians 2:14-15. As the soul in
the eye is the cause why it sees, so the Spirit of God in the mind is the
cause why it savingly understands. The anointing of the Holy Spirit is
irradiating; it clears a Christian's eyesight. "His anointing teaches you
about all things," 1 John 2:27. The saints are compared to wise virgins.
Sensualists often have a greater reach in matters of the world—but
they have no insight into the deep things of God, 1 Corinthians 2:14.
A swine may see an acorn on the ground—but it cannot see a star. David,
being divinely illuminated, grew wiser than his teachers, Psalm 119:99. A
righteous man is wise:
(1) To know himself. Take the most keen wit, the
most sharp politician who is able to dive into the mysteries of state—yet he
is ignorant of his own heart. There are those meanderings and windings,
those intrinsic pollutions, which he cannot find out. He dresses himself by
the mirror of self-love. He does not see the evil that is in him, nor will
he believe it. Hazael could not imagine he could he so bad when he came to
be king, 2 Kings 8:13.
But a spiritually-enlightened soul sees that which the
natural man does not see. He sees legions of vain thoughts. He sees how his
grace is choked with corruption, his humility is stained with pride, his
faith mixed with unbelief. His very pious duties are but shining sins.
He sees so much of his deceitful heart, that he dare not trust it.
(2) A righteous man is wise to know Jesus Christ.
The natural man hears of Christ by the hearing of the ear—but he does not
know Him. "What, is your beloved more than another beloved?" Those who
journeyed with Paul heard a voice—but saw no man, Acts 9:7. So the
unregenerate person hears the minister set forth Christ as altogether
lovely; he hears a voice but sees no man. He does not see Christ's
magnificent beauties. Christ is a treasure—but a hidden treasure. But
a gracious soul has the veil taken off; he sees the amazing excellencies of
Christ. "Unto you therefore who believe—He is precious!" 2 Peter 2:7. His
merits, graces, and benefits are precious. A righteous man has Christ's
eye-salve to see his tried gold, Revelation 3:18. If a carnal man could see
with a spiritual man's eyes, he would wonder at those surpassing beauties in
Jesus Christ, which he now makes light of.
(3) A righteous man is wise to discern the times.
The children of Issachar were men who had understanding of the times. The
world cries out, "Glorious times!" but a righteous man has an eye of
discernment. He can see when the wicked make void God's law and when
religion is crucified by those who cry "hosanna" to it. He is wise to keep
from the contagion of the times. "These are those who did not defile
themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb
wherever he goes." Revelation 14:2. A person divinely qualified is wiser
than to run himself into snares or go to hell for company; he is wise to
salvation. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow
His instructions have good insight." Psalm 111:10
2. A righteous man is of a more excellent BIRTH.
Alexander the Great made himself out to be the son to Jupiter. Every
Christian is high-born; he is born of God, and that is more than to come
from princes and be of the royal blood. David thought it no small honor to
be the king's son-in-law, 1 Samuel 18:18. Oh, what an infinite honor it is,
to be regenerated by the Spirit and enrolled among the first-born of heaven!
The righteous man derives his pedigree from the Ancient of Days, Daniel 7:9.
He is near akin to the Lion of the tribe of Judah, Isaiah 40:31.
3. A righteous person is of a more excellent BEAUTY.
Worldly beauty is courted by all—but what is it? "Beauty is vain!" Proverbs
31:30. The finest features of the body, and the most lovely face—are nothing
other than well-colored dirt! But a righteous person has a celestial
beauty shining in him. He is embellished with knowledge, love, and meekness,
which are of such splendor as to allure the very angels! A godly Christian
has some idea and resemblance of that sparkling holiness which is in the
Deity. Christ is infinitely taken with the spiritual beauty of His church.
"You are beautiful, O my love!" Song of Solomon 6:4. "Turn away your eyes
from me—for they have overcome me." verse 5. It is as if Christ had said,
"Oh, My spouse, such a resplendent luster is in your countenance that I can
hardly bear it. I am wounded with the delightful darts of your beauty!" One
eye of a believer draws Christ's heart to it. "You have ravished My heart
with one of your eyes!" Song of Solomon 4:9 A saint's beauty never withers;
it outlives death. True grace is like colors laid in oil, which cannot be
4. A righteous man's THOUGHTS are more excellent.
Thoughts are the firstborn of the soul; sinful thoughts arise out of a bad
heart, like sparks out of a furnace. An unsanctified mind, is Satan's
work-house. Micah 2:1, "Woe to those who plan iniquity, to those who
plot evil on their beds!" "The thoughts of the righteous are just,"
Proverbs 12:5. A righteous man's thoughts have wings, and fly to heaven.
"When I awake, I am still with You," Psalm 139:18. God is a saint's
treasure—and where should his mind be but upon this treasure? A
righteous man thoughts ascend to heaven, as he solaces himself in Jehovah.
He contemplates the beauty of holiness, the love of Christ, the felicity of
glorified saints. His thoughts are among the cherubim! The soul, while it is
musing on Christ, is filled with holy and sweet raptures. It is caught up
into paradise. It is in heaven, before its time. "My meditation of Him shall
5. A righteous man's DESIRES are more excellent.
He spreads the sails of his desire to receive the fresh breathings of God's
Spirit. I do not deny that a wicked man may have some faint aspirings after
the best things. Those deserters of Christ cried, "Lord, give us this bread
always," John 6:34. But a righteous man's desires excel.
He desires Christ for Himself—not only for His
jewels—but His beauty; not only as He is a Savior—but as He is the Holy One,
He is unsatisfied without Christ. Neither the richest
foods, nor golden chalices filled with sapphires or diamonds—will content
him without Christ. As the two Marys were not satisfied with the linen
clothes lying in the sepulcher unless they had seen the body of Jesus, so it
is not the linen on the communion table or the elements of bread and wine
which will satisfy a believer—unless he meets with Christ whom his soul
loves. He desires still more of Christ and would be swallowed up in the
sweet ocean of His love. Behold here a desire which God Himself has raised
in the soul, and He will open the breast of mercy and satisfy it.
6. A righteous man's DISCOURSE is more excellent.
His tongue is tuned to the language of heaven. What is the discourse of the
wicked about? Their wares and shops, like the fish in the gospel, which had
a piece of money in its mouth. "He who is of the earth speaks of the
earth," John 3:31. And too often, corrupt communication proceeds from
the wicked, their mouth being like a sewer where all the filth of the house
runs out. These lepers need to have their lips covered.
Sinners, in their ordinary discourse, bring forth
Scripture as the Philistines did Sampson—to make sport; as if the Bible were
a foolish jest. It is a saying of Luther, "Whom God has a mind to destroy,
He lets them play with Scripture."
But in this sense the righteous is more excellent. "The
tongue of the just is as choice silver," Proverbs 10:20. Gracious words drop
as silver from him to the enriching of the souls of others. "The words of a
wise man's mouth are gracious," Ecclesiastes 10:12. In the Hebrew it is,
"they are grace." His words are not as vinegar to fret others—but as salt to
season others, Colossians 4:6. A godly man's mouth is full of heaven. He
speaks as if he had already been in heaven. The holy conference of the two
disciples going to Emmaus brought Christ into their company. "While they
communed together, Jesus Himself drew near and went with them," Luke 24:15.
Such savory speeches drop from the holy lips, that God has a notebook to
write them down. "Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and
the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of
remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and
loved to think about him," Malachi 3:16. It is reported of Tamerlain (the
Mongol conqueror) that he kept a register of the names and good deeds of his
soldiers. Just so, God registers the speeches of His people, so that they
may not be lost.
7. A righteous man is of a more excellent SPIRIT.
An excellent spirit was found in Daniel, Daniel 5:12. "My servant Caleb
has a different spirit and has followed Me completely," Numbers 14:24. A
wicked man has the "spirit of the world," 1 Corinthians 2:12. He is of an
atheistic spirit—but a person invested with grace has choiceness of spirit
in him. He is of a heavenly, noble, invincible spirit.
He is of a heavenly spirit; he savors the things
of God. A person rich in grace, sets his feet where others set their hearts.
He, being clothed with Christ the Son of righteousness and crowned with the
graces as glittering stars, has the world under him. The world may have his
look—but Christ has his love; he dwells below—but trades in the Jerusalem
above. A true saint is taken up about higher matters: getting the love and
favor of God. He aspires after glory and immortality; he looks no lower than
a heavenly crown; he feeds as the birds of paradise—on the dew of heaven; he
is employed about angels' work, lifting up God's name in the world; he is a
living organ of God's praise.
He is of a noble spirit; he has the spirit of an
heir of heaven. He scorns anything that is vile and degraded. He can deny
himself—but not debase himself. He can be humble—but not vile. He
does not endorse the sins of any—which would be to wash the devil's face. He
cannot prostitute himself to the lusts of men, or flatter to get
advancement, Job 32:21. A righteous man abhors to swerve from the truth, to
gain secular advantage. It was said of Luther that he cared not for gold;
his spirit was more noble than to be bribed with money. A godly man will not
purchase his liberty, by ensnaring his conscience. "Others were tortured and
refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection."
He is of an invincible spirit. He bears
afflictions without fainting or fretting, though the archers shoot at him.
His bow abides in strength. Such people as lack a principle of grace, faint
in the day of adversity; they cannot bear a frown or a reproach. If the
bough of a tree is rotten, the least weight hung upon it breaks it. But the
righteous has the heart of a lion. He is not startled at the reproaches of
the world. He looks upon reproaches for Christ, as badges of honor, 1 Peter
4:11. When the Roman Catholics taunted Luther for his apostasy from their
church, Luther replied, "I confess I am an apostate from you—but a blessed
one; I am such an apostate as a sorcerer is, when he renounces his compact
made with the devil and betakes himself to Christ." Grace steels the heart
with courage—and fires it with zeal.
Athanazius was both a loadstone and an adamant rock; a
loadstone for the sweetness of his disposition and an adamant rock for the
invincibleness of his resolution. When the emperor Valens promised Basil
great preferment if he would subscribe to the Arian heresy, Basil responded,
"Sir, these speeches are fit to catch little children—but we who are taught
by the Spirit are ready to endure a thousand deaths—rather than suffer one
word of Scripture to be altered." A righteous man is willing to take the
cross for his estate and, with Ignatius, wear Christ's sufferings as a
necklace of pearls. "We glory in tribulation," Romans 5:3. "Paul rattled his
chain and gloried in it, as a woman who is proud of her jewels!" said
Chrysostom. "It is to my loss," said Gordius the martyr, if you abate me
anything of my sufferings." Of what heroic and undaunted spirits, were the
primitive Christians who could scorn preferments, laugh at imprisonments,
snatch up torments as crowns, and whose love to Christ burned hotter than
the fire, insomuch that the heathens cried out, "Great is the God of the
8. The PRAYERS of a righteous man are more excellent.
Another may have more elegance in prayer—but he has more
sincerity. "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the
Lord—but the prayer of the upright is His delight," Proverbs 15:8. A
sinner's praying is howling, "They do not cry to Me from their hearts;
rather, they howl on their beds." Hosea 7:14—but the prayer of a righteous
man is music in God's ears. "Let me hear your voice, for your voice is
sweet," Song of Solomon 2:14. Maximinius, a persecutor, being on his sick
bed, craved the prayers of the godly.
The excellency of a righteous man's prayer is seen by its
noble exploits—and by its gracious returns.
(1) By its noble exploits. Luther's prayer recovered
Theordorus Vitus from death, after the physicians had given him over for
dead. The prayer of the righteous has stopped the sun in its course, Joshua
10:13. It has divided the waters, Exodus 14:15,21; overcome armies, Exodus
17:11; cast out devils, Matthew 17:21; opened prisons, Acts 12:9; shut the
windows of heaven, James 5:17. Prayer has had power with God, Hosea
12:4. The Tyrians tied fast their god Hercules with a golden chain. The
great Jehovah is held by the prayers of His people. "I will not let You go
until You bless me!" said Jacob, Genesis 32:26.
(2) By its gracious return. When the tree of the
promise is shaken by the hand of prayer, some fruit falls. "When
they call on me, I will answer; I will be with them in trouble. I will
rescue them and honor them." Psalms 91:15. Prayer is the golden fleet which
the saints send out to heaven—which comes home richly laden with mercy.
Sometimes God gives His people the same mercy in kind that they pray
for. "For this child I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition," 1
Samuel 1:27. Sometimes God gives them that which is better than they
ask for. They pray for temporal things—and He gives them spiritual
blessings! They pray for more health—and He gives them more grace.
They desire the venison and, instead of that, He gives them the
blessing; so He pays them in a better coin. That which makes the prayer
of a righteous man so excellent and availing is:
First, because his affections are drawn forth strongly in
prayer; his eyes melt into tears; his heart burns with desire. He is
"fervent in spirit," Romans 12:11. It is a metaphor which alludes to water
boiling over. A good heart boils over with hot affections in prayer! There
may be powder in a gun—when there is no fire. Some may have good matter in
prayer—but no fire of affection to discharge it. Prayer without fervency is
like wine which has lost the spirits. Without fervency, prayer is not
prayer. A righteous man is carried up to heaven, in a fiery chariot of
devotion. This holy fervency is caused by the Spirit of God, who both
inspires and inflames the saint's prayers, Romans 8:26. The Spirit helps us
with sighs and groans. Not only gifts—but groans; and surely the incense of
a righteous man's prayer, with the Holy Spirit's fire put to it—must ascend
as a sweet perfume to heaven!
Second, a righteous man's prayers are so excellent
because he sprinkles faith in every prayer. "Unto You, O Lord, do I lift
up my soul, O my God I trust in You," Psalm 25:1. Faith is the
breath of prayer. As the body cannot live without breath, so prayer
cannot live unless faith breathes in it. Faith is the bullet which is
shot in prayer. A believing prayer can obtain anything from God. It is
reported of a nobleman of this nation, that the Queen gave him a ring and
told him that, when he was in any difficulty, let him send that ring to her
and she would assist him. To this ring I compare prayer. When a child of God
stands in need of anything, he sends this ring to God, presents it by the
hand of faith—and has his desires granted!
Third, a righteous man's prayers are so excellent because
Jesus Christ presents them to His Father. Prayer, as it comes from the
godly, is mixed with sin—but Christ takes the dross out of their prayers—and
presents nothing but pure gold! He dips the prayers of His people in His
blood, and mingles them with His sweet incense—and so they are most fragrant
and aromatic to God. A weak prayer being laid upon Christ as the altar—the
altar sanctifies it. Christ's praying over a saint's prayer, makes it
prevalent in respect of his office (as He is a priest), His relation (as He
is a Son), and His merit (as He is God). "Therefore he is able to save
completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to
intercede for them!" Hebrews 7:25. "But I have prayed for you that your
faith may not fail." Luke 22:32. "The Spirit Himself intercedes for us."
9. The TEARS of a righteous man are more excellent.
Holy tears are the precious ointment which distills from the trees of
righteousness. Mary Magdalene stood at Christ's feet weeping. Her tears
dropped as diamonds from her eyes! The tears of the wicked are good
for nothing. They are either carnal (they weep for worldly losses) or
spurious (they are more troubled for hell, than sin). Their
conscience is in agony. There is water in their eyes—because there is fire
in their bones. But the tears of a true penitent are more precious. They
drop from the eyes of faith and hope. They are purifying
tears. The holy mourner weeps out sin. These tears are the wine of angels.
They are so precious—that God bottles them! "You keep track of all my
sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded
each one in your book!" Psalm 56:8. In the Hebrew it is "my tear," to show
that God takes notice of every tear. Though holy tears are silent—yet
they have a voice. "The Lord has heard the voice of my weeping!" Psalm 6:8
Though our tears fall to the earth—yet they reach heaven! Tears dropping
from the saints' eyes are as sweet water dropping from the roses.
10. The LIFE of a righteous man is more excellent for
spiritualness and for usefulness.
First, the life of a righteous man is more
excellent for spiritualness, and that
(1) The life of a righteous man is more excellent for
spiritualness—as he lives by a more spiritual RULE than others. A sinner
either lives by no rule—or by a false rule. He walks according
to the course of the world. "You used to live just like the rest of the
world, full of sin, obeying Satan, the mighty prince of the power of the
air. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey
God." Ephesians 2:2. But a righteous man goes by the rule of Scripture, as a
well-made dial goes exactly by the sun. God's Word is the oracle he consults
with; it is his pillar of fire, or pole-star to direct him. "Your word is a
lamp unto my feet," Psalm 119:105. The Word is a divine treatise; it is a
revelation of God's mind, to which a pious man conforms both his moral and
sacred actions. He will not form his beliefs from church councils or church
fathers; nor will he follow the examples of the best men further than they
follow the Word.
(2) A The life of a righteous man is more
excellent for spiritualness—as he he lives a life ABOVE others, whereas
they live no higher than human reason. The godly man lives by faith.
A righteous man moves in a higher sphere. He penetrates the clouds. Moses
saw Him who is invisible. Sense and reason are too low in
stature to see Christ. Faith does not climb up into the tree as Zaccheus
(Luke 19:1-4)—but within the veil, and there sees Jesus. A holy person sends
out faith as a spy—to view the land of promise. Faith unties difficulties.
"Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed," Romans 4:18. Against all hope
of human reason, Abraham believed in hope of the promise. Faith anticipates
future things, and makes them present. When God told Abraham what a glorious
country He would give him, Abraham looked upon it as if it had been actually
done and he had taken possession of it.
Faith can live upon God, in the deficiency of visible
comforts. "Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the
vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though
there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will
rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior!" Habakkuk 3:17-18. A
righteous man believes that if God will save him from hell—He will save him
from need; if He will give him a kingdom—He will not deny him daily bread.
(3) The life of a righteous man is more excellent for
spiritualness—as he shows forth more of the powers of HOLINESS in his life
than others. He is a pattern of piety. Aaron, the saint of the
Lord, was adorned more by his sanctity—more than his fine linen garments. A
moralist may live as a man—but he who is regenerate lives the life of
Christ. The Macedonians, on the birthday of Alexander the Great, wore
Alexander's picture about their necks set with gold and pearl. So the
righteous carry the living picture of Christ in their holy example. They
live so devoutly as if they had seen the Lord with bodily eyes!
Second, the life of a righteous man is more
excellent for usefulness. He is a
blessing in the midst of the land. He spends and is spent for Christ; yet he
would rather wear out—than rust out. The lives of the wicked are
unprofitable, therefore they are compared to chaff. The lives of
the wicked are hurtful, therefore they are compared to thorns.
But a righteous man is like the bee or silk-worm, working for the good of
others. "It comforts me," said worthy John Jewel, "that I have exhausted
myself in the labors of my holy calling." A godly man hangs between these
two as a needle between two loadstones: longing to be with Christ in
heaven—and loving to serve Him on earth.
(1) A righteous man is helpful to the BODIES of others.
He is a temporal savior. He has one eye shut—to wink at the failings
of others; and another eye open—to observe their needs. He is like
the heavens, diffusing his influence and sending down his silver drops of
charity; he is a staff to the lame, and bread to the hungry.
He is a golden crutch to support others, when they are falling. As Mary
brought her sweet ointments to anoint Christ's body, so a gracious soul
brings his ointments of charity to anoint the saints, who are Christ's
A godly man judiciously considers how he himself lives
upon charity—the earth enriches him with veins of silver and crops of grain.
One creature brings him wool, another oil, another silk. Observing every
creature conspiring for his good, he studies to lay out himself for the good
of others. Faith, if it has no works, is dead, James 2:17. Faith sanctifies
works—and works testify of faith. A believer, with one hand, receives
Christ's merits; with the other hand he relieves his fellow members. And he
not only gives to the necessities of the poor—but gives freely.
Charity drops from him as myrrh from the tree. He does not put his alms
among his catalog of debts; he is thankful that God has made him in
the number of givers—and not receivers.
(2) A righteous man is helpful to the SOULS of others.
He who pities his neighbor's ox when it is fallen into a pit—much
more pities his neighbor's soul that is falling into hell. He
counsels the ignorant, confirms the weak, gathers the wandering, and
converts the sinner from the error of his way.
(3) A righteous man is helpful to his COUNTRY. He
stands as a screen between it and the fire of God's wrath. "So He said He
would have destroyed them—if Moses His chosen one had not stood before Him
in the breach, to turn His wrath away from destroying them." Psalm 106:23.
When a breach is made in the wall of a castle, soldiers stand in that breach
until the enemy is beaten back. So when the wrath of God was coming against
Israel, Moses stood in the breach and, by his prayers, kept if off. The
saints are the Atlases—who bear up a nation from sinking. The poets
thought that as long as Hector lived, Troy could not be demolished. "I bear
up the pillars," Psalm 75:3. Ambrose was called the wall of Italy.
Lot, while in Sodom, kept off the fire. "Hasten! escape to Zoar, for I
cannot do anything until you get there," Genesis 19:22. A wicked nation is
often reprieved—for the sake of the godly. The tares are spared—for the
11. The DEATH of a righteous man is more excellent.
Death comes with a blessing. "What man is he who lives and shall not
see death?" Psalm 89:48. Grace itself gives no charter of exemption from it.
An earthen pot, though full of gold, may break. The righteous, who are
earthen vessels, though they are filled with the golden graces, are not
freed from breaking by death. But their death is precious.
Wicked men, when they die, there is no missing them.
Their life was scarcely worth a prayer, nor their death worth a tear. The
wicked die in their sins, John 8:24. Death to them is but a trap door, to
let them into hell. But when a righteous man dies, his sins die with
him. The pale face of death looks ruddy, being sprinkled with the blood of
the Lamb. When a believer has death in his body, he has Christ in his soul.
The day of his death is his ascension day to heaven. The death of a saint is
precious to God; the righteous are said to be gathered. A sinner is
carried away in a storm, whereas the righteous are gathered, like we gather
precious fruit and preserve it.
So greatly does God value the death of a saint that He
makes inquisition for every drop of his blood. His death is precious to the
saints who survive him. They follow his hearse weeping, as David did Abner's.
Though they know that, when a godly man dies, he is fixed in a higher and
more transparent orb, yet they cannot but mourn at the fall of such a star.
It is a lamentation when God cuts down the pillars of a land; the great
cables and anchors of a ship being gone, there is danger of a shipwreck. It
presages a storm coming when God hides His jewels. After Austin's
death followed the sacking of Hippo by the Goths and Vandals. After the
decease of Paraeus came the destruction of Heidelberg. Hence it is that the
saints who are left behind, when they see such as are the glory of a kingdom
taken away by a stroke of death, cannot but cry as Elisha did when Elijah
was parted from him. "My Father, my Father, the chariot of Israel and tile
horsemen thereof", 2 Kings 2:12. The saints living are affected with the
loss of the godly, and carry them to their grave with a shower of tears.
12. The DUST of a righteous man is more excellent.
When the bodies of the wicked are laid in the grave, there lies a
heap of dust to be tumbled into hell. But the dust of a righteous man is
part of Christ's mystical Body. The dust of a saint is united to Christ
while it is in the grave, and as the dust of believers is now excellent, so
it will appear shortly in the sight of men and angels. Emperor Trajan's
ashes were honored at Rome, so the ashes of the saints at the resurrection
shall be honored when they shall be made like Christ's glorious body in its
beauty, strength, agility, and immortality.
2. A righteous man is more excellent than a wicked man—in respect of what he
1. He has a more excellent NAME. God Himself
embalmed Moses' name and set a garland of honor upon him. Joshua 1:2, "Moses
My servant is dead." The names of the righteous are registered in the sacred
records of Scripture. Proverbs 10:7, "The memory of the just is blessed."
Isaiah 65:15 "The wicked leave their name for a curse." How cursed is the
name of Judas! What Christian would give his child that name? How odious are
the names of Nero, Domitian, and Bonner! When their bodies rot underground,
their names rot above ground. But by faith, the righteous obtained a
good report. How renowned was Moses for his meekness, and Cornelius for his
alms? Their names send forth a fragrant perfume in the church of God to this
day. "The righteous shall be in everlasting remembrance," Psalm 112:6. It
may be said of a gracious person as once was said of King David, his name
was much esteemed. A wicked man may leave a great estate behind; a righteous
man leaves a good name.
2. A righteous man has more excellent COMPANY.
He has the fellowship of the saints. "I am companion to all
those who fear You," Psalm 119:6. A godly man delights in a companion of his
own species. The lamb does not care to be with the wolf. If unawares a godly
man comes into the company of the wicked, he fears either pollution
or scandal. Therefore, he makes haste to get out—as out of an
infected house. A righteous man flourishes among the saints. He is joined to
Christ's mystical body. "After they were released, they went to their own
fellowship," Acts 4:23.
A righteous man has fellowship with God. "Our
fellowship is with the Father and His Son Jesus," 1 John 1:3. A gracious
soul has sweet communion with heaven; he goes to God by prayer and God comes
to him by His Spirit. How happy is that person who has the angels to guard
him—and God to keep him company!
3. A righteous man has more excellent PROMISES belonging
to him. What a sinner has is rather by providence, than by
virtue of a promise. It is the saints who are called "heirs of the promise;"
Hebrews 6:17, and those promises are precious, 2 Peter 1:4. They are the
beams of the sun of righteousness, the pleasant streams which run in the
paradise of Scripture. "All things work together for good," Romans 8:28—but
to whom? "To those who love God." All mercies shall work for their
good. They shall be footstools to lift up their hearts higher to heaven. And
all afflictions shall work for their good; the chastening rod
shall be a divine pencil to draw Christ's image more lively upon their
There is another promise. "I will never leave you nor
forsake you," Hebrews 13:5. This promise belongs to the heirs of salvation.
God will not leave His people either to their strong corruptions or their
weak graces. He will counsel them in their doubts, supply them in their
needs, and defend them in their dangers. When they are most assaulted,
they shall be most assisted. How can God leave them? They are His
spouse. Will a man leave his spouse?
Thus the saints have the royal charter of the promises
settled upon them. As these promises are sweet, so they are sure. Men reckon
their wealth not always by what ready money they have in their houses—but by
their bonds and deeds. A Christian's estate lies mostly in bonds and deeds
of God's hand, sealed with His oath. What better security can there be?
4. A righteous man has more excellent FREEDOM.
"And I will walk at liberty," Psalm 119:45. Another is capable of civil
freedom; he may be a Roman born—but he is still enslaved to his lusts.
But a righteous person is God's freeman, 1 Corinthians 7:22. His neck is out
of the devil's yoke. He is "free from the law of sin," Romans 8:2. He has
God's free Spirit, Psalm 51:12, which makes him free and cheerful in his
obedience. The will is not compelled, but changed. A regenerate person is
drawn indeed by the Spirit, but sweetly—as one is drawn into a garden of
spices by the fragrance of their smell. He is drawn to Christ as one is
drawn with another's beauty. He is free; a righteous soul chooses the ways
of God, Psalm 119:30, and what greater act of freedom is there, than an act
of choice? A saint cannot have his spiritual freedom taken away from him.
While he suffers in prison, his conscience is most free.
5. A righteous man has more excellent FOOD.
Carnal men feed only on earthly provision; the righteous feeds on heavenly.
He tastes how sweet the Lord is, Psalm 34:8. He feeds on God's love; this is
the hidden manna. He eats Christ's flesh, which not only begets life, John
6:33—but prevents death. "This is the bread which comes down from heaven,
that a man may eat thereof and not die," John 6:50—that is, not die the
second death. Other bread may nauseate or cause bloating—but there is no
excess here. We cannot eat too much of the Bread of Life. We cannot have too
much of Christ, as one cannot have too much of health. Oh, what excellent
food is this! God Himself is in this cheer!
6. A righteous man has more excellent ARMOR,
namely, "the armor of light," Romans 13:12. This armor is of God's making,
and the Lord, with His armor, gives strength. Alexander the Great might have
given armor to a coward—but he could not give him courage. But
God infuses a spirit of magnanimity into His people. With His armor
He conveys strength. "My strength is made perfect in weakness," 2
Corinthians 12:9. When a Christian has on God's armor, and goes forth in the
power of His might, nothing can hurt him. The wicked one touches him
not, that is, with a deadly touch. Grace is bullet-proof armor; it may be
shot—but it cannot be shot through.
This spiritual armor is not burdensome; a Christian may
run his race in it—as well as fight. The more the armor of God
is struck at—the stronger it is; the more faith is assaulted—the more
vigorous it is; the more zeal is opposed—the hotter it is. This excellent
armor makes a Christian steadfast in religion. Hypocrites wear Christ's
colors—but lack His armor; therefore, they fall away. The righteous man
never gives over the spiritual combat, until the trophies are hung up and
the palm branches are put in his hand in token of victory!
7. A righteous man has more excellent HOPES. A
sinner's hope is in this life; he hopes to increase his estate. He makes the
wedge of gold his hope—but it is a perishing hope, "When the wicked die,
their hopes all perish!" Proverbs 11:7.
But the righteous man's hope excels. His hope is in
Christ; this is both a helmet and an anchor. While he is
fighting with temptation—hope is a helmet. While he is upon the
waters of affliction—hope is an anchor. The anchor of a ship is cast
downwards; but the anchor of the soul is cast upwards in
heaven. A saint's hope is a purifying hope, a death-bed hope, a
soul-comforting hope. He is "looking for that blessed hope and the glorious
appearing of the great God and our Savior," Titus 2:13. When Christ was in
the flesh, He appeared as a Surety; now in heaven He appears as an
Advocate and, when He comes in the clouds, He will appear as a Judge.
A righteous man hopes for this blessed appearing, when Christ shall
vindicate His saints from all unjust calumnies and openly acquit them in the
8. A righteous man has more excellent JOYS.
True religion does not restrain his joy—but refines his joy. What is the joy
of a sinner? He takes joy in food and wine; he sucks from the flower of
pleasure. Alas! What is this, compared to the joy of the righteous? We
joy in God. This joy arises from the pardon of sin, the first fruits of the
Spirit, and the foretaste of glory. The gleanings of this heavenly
joy, are better than the vintage of carnal joy. Plato told the
musicians that philosophers could dine and sup without them. How much more
can a believer be merry in the Lord without the supplement of worldly
The joy of the righteous is a more inward joy.
"You have put gladness in my heart," Psalm 4:7. Other joy lies more in the
surface; it pleases the senses. It is like the paradise the Turks dream of,
where they shall have all dainty dishes served with gold in abundance,
silken and purple apparel, and angels their servants bringing them red wine
in silver cups. This delights the the senses—but divine joy cheers the
conscience. The saints' joy, being inward, sweetens affliction. It turns
their water into wine. "Having received the Word in much affliction,
with joy" I Thessalonians 1:6.
The joy of the righteous is a more unmixed joy.
Worldly joy is usually spiced with some bitterness; guilt eclipses it. "In
laughter the heart is sorrowful," Proverbs 14.13. One may drink wormwood
in a golden cup; but the joy of the righteous, like David's harp,
drives away sadness. It gives honey without gall; it has no alloy or
The joy of the righteous is a more durable joy.
Other joy is like a flower which withers while you are smelling it. I have
read of a river which runs in the day with a full torrent, but is dry at
night. The comforts of the world run strongly in the day of health and
prosperity—but at the night of death they are dried up. But as joy
abounds in the godly, so it abides. "Your hearts will rejoice,
and no one will rob you of your joy," John 16:22. Divine joy is but begun
in this life; it is perfected in glory! Here is but the tuning of
the instrument; the sweet concert is reserved for heaven. Here the saints do
but sip of the cup of joy—there they shall drink of the rivers
of pleasure forevermore!
3. A righteous man is more excellent than a wicked man—in respect of what he
He shall have a better reward.
Both righteous and wicked are rewarded—but there is a vast difference. The
wicked shall have a reward of punishment, the righteous shall have a reward
of mercy. So that a man shall say, "truly there is a reward for the
righteous," Psalm 58:11. They shall be rewarded with a kingdom. The
height of men's ambition, is a kingdom. Earthly kingdoms are corruptible.
What has become of the pride of Babylon, the glory of Athens, the pomp of
Troy? They lie buried in their own ruins! But the kingdom of heaven cannot
be shaken, Hebrews 12:28; it runs parallel with eternity. In that blessed
kingdom, we shall have a transforming sight of God. We shall be
like Him, 1 John 3:2—as a pearl, by the beams of the sun, becomes bright
and radiant like the sun. God's terror shall be then laid aside. The majesty
in God shall appear—but majesty shining with beauty and sweetened with love.
This will be unspeakable, and full of glory.
And this reward is near at hand. "Now is our salivation
nearer than when we believed," Romans 13:11. When Columbus's men were weary
of their voyage, he begged them to go on but three days longer. They did so
and discovered America. While the righteous fall upon the waters of
affliction, this may comfort them in their voyage; by going a little further
they will see heaven! There the tree of life grows and the crystal streams
flow from Lebanon! The saints' salvation is now nearer, than on the birthday
of their faith. Thus I have beaten out this gold in the text into the leaf,
and shown you wherein "the righteous is more excellent than his neighbor,"
The reason is in respect of that near relation he stands in to Christ. There
is blood kinship; He is brother to Christ. Christ partakes of his flesh—and
he partakes of Christ's Spirit. There is unity—a righteous man is one with
Christ as the members are one with the head. Then, surely, the righteous
must have a surpassing dignity. If Christ is a precious corner-stone, 1
Peter 2:6, then also those living stones must be precious, which are built
II. The second thing is WHY a righteous man is more excellent than another.
USE 1. See from hence, what it is which raises the value
of a person. It is righteousness; this puts a glory and
excellency upon him. He who is graceless is worthless. "The heart of the
wicked is of little value," Proverbs 10:20. But righteousness makes the
heart like the heaven bespangled with stars. The Christian's graces
are compared to chains of gold for their value, and to myrrh and cassia for
their fragrance. As the precious stones shone upon Aaron's breastplate, so
righteousness shines in the eyes of God and angels. What made Christ admire
the woman of Canaan—but her graces? "Great is your faith," Matthew
15:28. Christ was more pleased with her faith—than all the fancy buildings
of the Temple. God does not esteem the better of any man because he is rich
or noble or embellished with worldly ornaments. It is righteousness which
advances him. Righteousness is to the soul—as the diamond is to the
ring—as light is to the world which bespangles and adorns it.
USE 2. Learn then, that it is no disparagement to any
person to be righteous, seeing it casts a splendor and renown on him and
makes him more excellent than others. Some are loathe to espouse
religion because they think it will be a stain to their reputation; but you
see how righteousness emblazons one's name—and gives him a super-eminence
above others. Novarinus relates of an ancient king who invited a company of
poor Christians and set them above some of his nobles. Being asked why he
showed so much respect to men of such low birth and extract, he replied, "I
must honor these as the children of the most high God; they will be kings
and princes with me in another world." Theodosius thought it a greater
renown to be a member of Christ—than the head of an empire.
The righteous are highly in favor with God, and He has
enrolled their names in the Book of Life. It was a custom among the Romans
to write down the names of their senators in a book. This is the honor of
the righteous—their names are written among the courtiers of heaven.
Believers, in regard of their mystical union with Christ, have a kind of
excellence above the angels. The angels are morning stars, Job 38:7—but
these are clothed with the sun. Can it be any shame to be listed among the
saints, when God is not ashamed to be called their God? Hebrews 11:16.
USE 3. See what high thoughts God has of the righteous—He
looks upon them as more excellent than others, and His judgment is best
worth praising. The saints have low thoughts of themselves; they overlook
their own worth, like Moses who did not know that his face shined. The eye,
though beautiful, does not see itself. Yet, as low thoughts as the righteous
have of themselves, God has high thoughts of them. "You are precious in My
sight and honored, and I love you," Isaiah 43:4. The Lord throws away the
wicked like dross. The greatest man in the world, lacking holiness, is like
Naaman, who was captain of the king's host and a mighty man of valor—but he
was a leper, 2 Kings 5:1. A wicked man may be higher than others in
nobility and worldly grandeur. A dunghill is higher than other ground—but it
is never the better; it sends forth odious vapors.
God's TITLES for the righteous
But God sets a high estimate upon the righteous, and that
appears by bestowing more excellent titles on them than upon others.
1. God calls them "My jewels" in Malachi 3:17.
He laid His best jewel to pawn for them. They are jewels for their sparkling
quality. They shine in God's eye. The saints have a kind of angelic
brightness, as one of the ancients expresses it.
They are jewels for their value. Diamonds, said Pliny,
were only know among kings and emperors. The value of a saint is above
others, "Better is the poor that walks in his uprightness, than he who
perverts his ways, though he be rich", Proverbs 28:6.
2. God calls the righteous "hidden ones" in
Psalm 83:3. They are hidden, first, for their invisibility. Their
excellence is not known to many. The world can see their infirmity, not
their eminence. A saint has that eternal glory which cannot be beheld by a
carnal eye; the lovely face is hidden, when under a veil Second, righteous
are hidden for their safety. Diamonds are hidden in the rock, so the
saint's life is hid in Christ, the Rock of Ages, Colossians 9:5.
3. God calls the righteous "the excellent of the earth"
in Psalm 16:2, or "the magnificent," as Junius renders it. They are the
spiritual glorious ones; they are the cream and flower of the creation; they
are the purer part of the world, doubly refined, Zechariah 13:9.
4. God calls them "vessels of honor" in 2
Timothy 2:21. Though they are earthen vessels, yet they have
heavenly treasure in them. They are filled with the wine of the Spirit,
Ephesians 5:18. Though they are scoured with affliction, yet it is to make
them brighter, "Many will be purified, cleansed, and refined by these
trials." Daniel 12:10. "I have refined you in the furnace of suffering."
Isaiah 48:10. "He will sit as a Refiner and Purifier of silver; He will
purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will
have men who will bring offerings in righteousness." Malachi 3:3
5. God calls them "the apple of His eye".
"Whoever touches you touches the apple of His eye!" Zechariah 2:8. The
pupil of the eye is the tenderest part of the eye, to express God's
tenderness of them. God cannot endure to have His eyeball touched.
6. God calls them "His portion" in Deuteronomy
32:9. As if riches lay in them. As a man seals a hag of money for his use,
so the Lord seals His people as His portion with a double seal, one of
election, 2 Timothy 2:19, the other of assurance, Ephesians 1 :13.
7. God calls them His "plant of renown" in
Ezekiel 34:29. He hedges in this noble plant with His protection, waters it
with the silver drops of His ordinances, blesses the growth of it, adorns it
with fruit, and transplants it into the heavenly paradise, where it grows
continually in the sweet sunshine of His favor.
8. God calls them "joint heirs with Christ" in
Romans 8:17. Jesus Christ is a rich heir. He is Lord of all—and the saints
have joint heirs with Christ!
9. God calls them the luminaries of the world.
They give light by their precepts and example. "Among whom you shine as
lights in the world," Philippians 2:15, Lot was a bright star in Sodom. The
world would be dark—were it not for the children of light.
10. God calls them a "peculiar people" in 1
Peter 2:9. He has taken them out of the world—as out of the wild forest, and
enclosed them to Himself by a decree. They are a purchased people.
The righteous are the purchase of Christ's blood—He will never lose His
11. God calls them a kingdom of priests.
They are kings. They have their throne, Revelation 3:21, and white
robes, Revelation 6:11, Robes signify their dignity, and white their
They are priests. The priesthood under the law was
honorable. The king's daughter was wife to Jehoiada the priest, 2 Chronicles
22:11. In ancient times, the Egyptians chose their kings out of their
priests. The saints are consecrated to be priests—to offer up to God the
sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving in heaven.
God calls them a crown of glory and a diadem in His hand,
Isaiah 62:3 That is, said a learned writer, they are exceedingly eminent and
renowned above other people. The crown is a sign of the highest state and
honor. Nay, the Lord calls them expressly His glory. "Israel My glory"
Isaiah 46:13, as if His glory lay in His people.
All this shows what a high estimate God puts upon the
righteous, in giving them such illustrious titles of honor. They are princes
in all lands. The Lord will give whole kingdoms to ransom them, "I
gave Egypt for your ransom," Isaiah 43:3. That was when God destroyed Egypt
in the Red Sea for the saving of Israel. Nay, God gave His own Son to
die for their ransom!
And if God esteems so highly His people now on earth,
how much more will He value them when they are in heaven! If when the
righteous are afflicted, they are so excellent—then how much more
when they are crowned! If with their blemishes they are
precious—then how much more when their imperfections shall be forever done
away with, and they shall be presented to the Father without spot and
blemish! If gold is valuable in the ore—then how precious is it when it is
fully refined? If wheat is excellent when it is mingled with chaff—then how
much worth has it, when it is winnowed and made pure? If God reputes the
righteous more excellent than others when conflicting with infirmities—then
how incomparably excellent and glorious will they appear in His eye, when
they shall be cleansed from all remaining corruption, and shall shine with
perfect purity! If a man prizes his friend when he is filled with
leprosy—how much more will he prize him when he sees him in perfect health?
If God esteems the righteous better than others in the present juncture of
time—when they have their exasperating passions and fainting-fits of
unbelief—what will He do when they shall be perfectly holy and righteous!
USE 4. See the different esteem which God has of
the righteous—and that which the ungodly have of them. The
ungodly esteem the saints lightly; they disdain them and scarcely allow them
any notice. They think, of all things, that it would be best if the people
of God were swept from the earth; they look upon them as the burden
and refuse of the earth. "We are treated like the world's garbage,
like everybody's trash!" 1 Corinthians 4:13. The apostles were treated by
some like the dung cart which goes through the city—into which
everyone throws his filth. The saints are loaded with invectives and are not
judged worthy to live in the world. "Away with such a fellow from the earth,
for it is not fit that he should live!" Acts 22:22.
But God has an entirely different way of evaluating the
righteous. He thinks the world is not worthy of them. "Of whom the world was
not worthy, Hebrews 11:38. Hence it is, that He takes his children so fast
away by death and places them among the angels! God looks upon the righteous
as His skillful needle-work, wrought with the finger of the Holy Spirit, and
the glory of the creation. He would soon break up house in the world—were it
not for their sakes. This excellent esteem God has of them, will be best
seen when Christ shall separate between the precious and the vile,
and shall say to the wicked, "Away with you, you cursed ones, into the
eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his demons!" Then He will say to the
godly, "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared
for you from the foundation of the world!"
USE 5. See how dearly God loves the righteous—and how
near to His heart they lie! They are more excellent. The word
"excellent" carries affection in it. Things we prize we love. The
righteous are "His treasured possession" Psalm 135:4. And where His treasure
is—there is His heart. They are God's delicious garden where He plants the
flower of His love! They are dearly beloved by Him. They are His darling! He
engraves them upon the palms of His hands—that they may be never out of His
eye. He rejoices over them with joy, and rests in His love.
"The Father himself loves you dearly." John 16:27 It is
no common affection, which God bears to the righteous. The sun shining
through the magnifying glass—only sets on fire the object that is near the
glass. The beams of God's love are more intensely inflamed towards those who
are near Him by grace; these have the epitome of His love—He loves them as
He loves Christ! "You have loved them as You have loved Me." John 17:23.
Indeed, in one sense, God's love to Christ and believers is not alike, for
Christ is loved purely for His own sake—but believers are loved for Christ's
sake. Yet, in another sense, God the Father loves believers—just as He loves
Christ. It is the same love for the quality, the same for the
unchangeableness of it. God will no more cease to love believers—than He
will to love Christ!
USE 6. See from hence what a venerable opinion we should
have of the righteous. They are to be prized by us above
others. "He honors those who fear the Lord," Psalm 15:4. A saint in rags—is
better than a sinner in scarlet! We prize things that have excellency in
them. Why do we value gold and diamonds—but because they excel glass beads?
Oh, then, esteem the righteous as most worthy because of intrinsic holiness
whereby they outshine their neighbors!
The righteous carry Christ about them. "Christ lives in
me," Galatians 2:20. Queen Cleopatra carried a jewel in her purse, which
contained the price of a kingdom. How rich are they who carry Christ, the
Pearl of price, with them! Do not despise the saints for their worldly
poverty—but honor them for their spiritual virtue. We esteem a
diamond—though it is in the dust. John Baptist wore but a leather belt, yet
he was more than a prophet. He was honored to usher in the King of Glory
into the world. John was so eminent a person, that Herod swore to the damsel
to give her what she asked—up to half of the kingdom. But John Baptist was
worth more than all his kingdom. A saint's exterior may be poor—but he has a
rich lining. The outside of the Tabernacle was goat's hair—but within it was
embellished with gold. "The king's daughter is all glorious within,"
Psalm 45:13. Jesus Christ Himself was outwardly poor—yet in Him are
"unsearchable riches!" Ephesians 3:8. A soul inspired by the Almighty and
beautified with grace—exceeds others more than the light of the sun exceeds
the light of a candle.
USE 7. If the righteous are more excellent than others,
then how severe will God be against those who wrong or harm them!
The wicked are thorns in the sides of the godly. Paul was
scourged by cruel hands. "Thrice was I beaten with rods," 2 Corinthians
11:25. This was as if you should see a slave whip the king's son! But shall
not God avenge His elect? Surely He will. "The sword of the Lord is drenched
with blood. For it is the day of the Lord's vengeance," Isaiah 34:6, 8. It
is as if the prophet had said, "The time appointed has now come for God to
avenge Zion for the wrongs done to her."
Jeremiah 50:10-11 says, "Babylonia will be plundered
until the attackers are glutted with plunder, says the Lord, because you
rejoice and are glad, you who pillage my inheritance." And Jeremiah 30:16,
"But in that coming day, all who destroy you will be destroyed." The saints
are people of honor; they are God's first-born. Oh, how enraged will the
Lord be against such as harm them! They trample God's pearls in the
dust! They strike at the apple of His eye! The righteous are God's diadem.
Will a king endure to have His robes spit upon—and his crown thrown in the
dirt? What is done to the righteous is done to God Himself. When the king's
favorite is struck—the king himself is struck at. "I know your rage against
Me," 2 Kings 19:27. The rage of Sennacherib was against Hezekiah, but, there
being a league between God and His people, the Lord took it as done to
Himself. "I know Your rage against Me!" Certainly it shall not go
The MARKS of a righteous man
Let us try whether we are in the number of these
righteous ones; whether we are indeed more excellent than others.
1. A righteous man is a HUMBLE man. He who is
proud of his righteousness, is unrighteous. "God I thank You that I am not
as other men are. . . . I fast. . . I give tithes. . ." Luke 18:11-12. Here
was a triple crown of pride, which the Pharisee wore. Righteousness,
though it raises the name, humbles 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 skillful works, she hides herself 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
Augustine said, "Lord, I am not worthy of Your love."
Hooper said, "Lord I am hell—but You are heaven " Bradford the martyr,
subscribed his letter, "The most hard-hearted sinner, John Bradford." He who
is righteous puts a greater value upon others than upon himself. "Let each
esteem others 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 lovely. "I dwell in the high
and holy place; with him also who is of a contrite and 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. The godly man is what he appears to be. He does not have
holiness painted on him—but living in him. It is said of
Zachariah and Elizabeth that "Both were righteous in God’s sight, living
without blame according to all the commandments and requirements of the
Lord," Luke 1:6. A godly 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. "For the grace of God has appeared, with salvation for
all people, instructing us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live
in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age." Titus 2:11-12.
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
3. A righteous man is JUST in his dealings.
"Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not set his mind on
what is false, and who has not sworn deceitfully." Psalm 24:3-4. He who is
righteous has not only his heart purged from unholiness—but his
hands from injustice. He abhors all false ways; he will not defraud to
grow rich. He will not sell his conscience for a wedge of gold. A godly
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 which 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 pleasure 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 delight is angelic. The seraphim
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 piety. He who
quits his work before he has finished it—is but half a workman; and he who
quits his religion before he has finished his faith—is but half a Christian
The promise is to him who overcomes. Who makes reckoning of grain
which withers 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
await me—but none of these things move me," Acts 20:23-24 The troubles a
godly man meets with for conscience sake, inflame 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 persecution coming, leave
Christ and shift for themselves. A right-spirited saint is made of mettle
that will not wear out. Athanasius was the glory of his age; 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 which 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 until death—and not allow the breastplate of holiness to be shot
through. "For I have stayed in God's paths; I have followed His ways and not
turned aside. I have not departed from His commands but have treasured His
Word in my heart." Job 23:11-12.
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 become
gracious—than we become precious to God. 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 honor;
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 unsearchable riches of Christ! We
have from Christ the riches of justification, consolation, and
glorification. We are richer than the angels! Oh, then, let this
excite everyone 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. "Your righteousness, O God, is very high. You whose name is Jehovah,
are 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. "Your throne, O God, is forever and ever," Psalm
45:6. Those excellencies which lie scattered in the creature, are infinitely
united in God. Augustine complains that man can admire the magnitude of the
stars—but not admire Him who is the Father of lights. Oh, esteem God most
God's wisdom is excellent. He is wise in heart. He
knows the causes of things; yes, at one instant! Angels light their lamps at
God's power is excellent. He is Almighty. His
power is as large as His will. What His soul desires—that He does! He
bridles the proud waves. "Surely the nations are like a drop in a bucket;
they are regarded as dust on the scales; he weighs the islands as though
they were fine dust." Isaiah 40:15.
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 seraphim cover their faces and
cry "Holy, holy, holy!" But what angels can take the just dimensions of His
holiness? They are too low in stature, to measure these pyramids.
God communicates His holiness: "I am the Lord who
sanctifies you," Leviticus 20:8. 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—yet never 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 Your
loving-kindness, O God!" Psalm 36:7. This drops as the honeycomb; and
sweetens the waters of Marah. His love is better than life; it has a
hyper-hyperbole in it. "It surpasses 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 marrow 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 their esteem!
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
(1) Let them not debase themselves with the world. A
worldly saint is as great a contradiction as an orthodox heretic.
Money is called filthy lucre, because it makes a person so filthy.
Worldliness is an enemy to grace. It is Aristotle's observation that dogs
cannot hunt among sweet flowers because the smell of the flowers diverts the
scent of the hare. Those can scarcely run after Christ in the fragrance of
His ointments, who are diverted by the smell of earthly delights. Whom the
Helena of the world kisses—she betrays. It is below a Christian—and too much
resembles Satan—to be always compassing the earth.
"Are you seeking great things for yourself? Don't do it!"
Jeremiah 45:5. As if God had asked Baruch, "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! Are you seeking great things for yourself?
Don't do it!" 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 we are; 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 yielding to every opinion and temper. Shall the excellent cedar bend
like the pliant willow? "Issachar is a strong donkey, 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!
Do not be swayed by the evil examples of others.
Dead fish only swim downstream. The righteous greatly lessen both their
honor and reward, by fraternizing with sinners. Let not the godly violate
their conscience. The dust will be wiped off this glass, and then it will
reveal guilt. When Cranmer had, with some reticence of mind, subscribed to
the popish articles, he was afterwards in great horror; his conscience was
like Moses' rod turned into a serpent. He could have no peace until 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 your heart
envy sinners," Proverbs 23:17. God has made you better than they. He has
given you His Son to save you—and His Spirit to sanctify you! Envy is an ill
humor. It hurts the envious man himself the most. Envy drinks its own venom;
it corrodes the body as rust does iron.
The first man born in the world was envious. One observes
that it was not so much Cain's own sin that troubled him—as to see his
brother's offering accepted. It is unfitting 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. Worldly prosperity 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 until last. Let this divine harp drive away the
evil spirit of envy and discontent.
(4) If the righteous are so excellent, let it persuade
others 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, which
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 those who carry the light.
Seek for the olive tree; 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 speech edifies; 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 begin to smell
like them. "He who walks 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. "In order that you may live a
life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in
every good work, growing in the knowledge of God." Colossians 1:10. "I urge
you to walk worthy of the calling you have received." Ephesians 4:1. As you
are more excellent by your high calling, so be more excellent in your
worthy walking. Adorn your religion by your prudent holy life. "You
are to live clean, innocent lives as children of God in a dark world full of
crooked and perverse people. Let your lives shine brightly before them!"
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 to drink wine, not for rulers to crave strong
drink," Proverbs 31:4. It is not befitting for those who are high-born, to
be intemperate. 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
A child of God should be known by the exemplary nature of
his life. "You must be holy in everything you do, just as God—who chose you
to be his children—is holy." 1 Peter 1:15. Christ has anointed His people
with the graces—as those virgins were purified with sweet perfumes, 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 in 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 the
pagans say, when they see Christians loose and worldly? The Christians
live so bad—because Christ taught them no better." Daniel's piety sealed
up the lips of 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
Oh, Christians, look to your steps! When you have
prayed against sin, then watch against temptation! A spot
in a royal robe cannot be hidden; a blot of ink would quickly have been
spied in Aaron's white linen. If there is a blemish in a professor,
everyone's eye is upon it! The sin of such a person causes blushing 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 of Christ, would
depart from iniquity! 2 Timothy 2:19. Dare not slander the noble name of Him
to whom you belong, James 2:7. Such as are more excellent others, God
expects superior living from them. They should bring more glory to God and,
by exemplary piety, make proselytes to piety. 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 others? Then let
the righteous be THANKFUL. "He raises 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 in which you were by nature—and has made you more illustrious
than others—that He may set you with angels, those princes above. "O 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 pledge of the
heavenly 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! 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 up to the highest pitch! Do it with the whole heart.
You who are righteous, speak well of God and tell others what He has done
for you. 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. Just so, Christians fail much in their thank-offerings. Do not be
like those who play a song 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
angels' work! Sound forth the memorial of God's holiness and celebrate His
fame. Praise is the music of heaven; do not let God lack His music.
While others murmur—you must praise God. Wait and long for that time, when
you shall be called up to the heavenly mount and placed among the glorious
cherubim, where your employment to all eternity will be to breathe forth
love, and sound forth praise!
USE 9. CONSOLATION to the righteous who are under
dejection of spirit. God esteems them more excellent than others.
It is comfort:
1. This is comfort when the righteous are humbled by SIN.
They have low thoughts of themselves, and see so much corruption—
that they think they have no grace. Yes—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 grain,
though it is mingled with chaff.
2. This is comfort when the righteous are humbled by
AFFLICTION. "He has 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—because He afflicts them. "If the Lord is with us, why then is all this
befallen us?" Judges 6:13.
But let not the righteous be troubled or cast away their
anchor. God still makes great account of them. Though they are more
afflicted than others—yet they are more excellent. God highly
esteemed Hezekiah on his sickbed. He heard his prayer and bottled his tears,
Isaiah 38:5. Job, when full of ulcers 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 gold 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. This is comfort when the righteous are humbled by
spiritual 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, "Your wrath lies heavily 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 to be vile, and has cast
them off. "O Lord, why do You reject me? Why do You turn Your face away from
me?" 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
has forsaken me," Isaiah 49:14. But, at that time, God had a dear respect
for her. "I have engraved you upon the palms of My hands!" Isaiah 49:16. God
may have the face of an enemy—yet the heart of a loving 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 humor of sin and, afterwards,
will manifest His love to His children. The cordial is kept until the
working of the bitter medicine is completed.
CONCLUSION. Thus, good reader, I have
endeavored to vindicate the true saint, and elucidate his blessed state. I
have set before 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 their own destruction! 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 such 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 neighbor!"