The Righteous Man's Weal;
and the Wicked Man's Woe

by Thomas Watson

"Tell the righteous it will be well with them, for they will enjoy the fruit of their deeds. Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done." Isaiah 3:10-11

This text is like Israel's pillar or cloud—it has a light side and a dark side. It has a light side unto the godly—"Tell the righteous it will be well with them." And it has a dark side unto the wicked—Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them!" Both, you see, are rewarded, righteous and wicked—but here is a vast difference: one has a reward of mercy—and the other a reward of justice.

I begin with the first of these, "Tell the righteous it will be well with them." This Scripture was written in a very sad and calamitous time, as you may read in the beginning of the chapter: "The mighty man and the man of war shall cease, the prudent and the ancient, both judge and prophet shall be taken away." This was a very sad time with the church of God in Jerusalem.

If the judge is taken away, where will there be any justice? If the prophet is removed, where will there be any message from God? The whole nation was running to ruin and almost in the rubbish. Now in this sad juncture of time, God would have this text to be written; and it is like a rainbow in the clouds. God would have His people comforted in the midst of all afflictions. "Tell the righteous it will be well with them."

I. The great proposition which lies in the words is this: however things go in this world, it shall be well with the righteous man at last. This is an oracle from God's own mouth; therefore, we are not to dispute it. It is God's own oracle, "Tell the righteous it will be well with them."

I might multiply Scriptures—but I will give you one instance in Ecclesiastes 8:12: "Surely I know that it shall be well with those who fear God." I know it. It is as a golden maxim not to be disputed. "It shall be well with those who fear God."

For the illustration of this, consider two questions:

Who is meant by "the righteous man"?

And what does it mean that, however things go, it shall be well with the righteous?

QUESTION 1. Who is meant here by the righteous man?

ANSWER. There is a threefold righteousness:

1. There is a LEGAL righteousness, and so Adam, in this sense, was said to be righteous when he wore the robe of innocence. Adam's heart agreed with the law of God exactly—as a well-made dial goes exactly with the sun; but this righteousness has been forfeited and lost.

2. There is a MORAL righteousness, and thus he is said to be righteous who is adorned with the moral virtues, who is prudent and just and temperate, who is decked with the jewel of morality.

3. There is an EVANGELICAL righteousness and this is what is meant here in this verse. This evangelical righteousness is twofold.

There is a righteousness of imputation, and that is when Christ's righteousness is made over to us. Beloved, this righteousness is as truly ours to justify us—as it is Christ's to bestow upon us.

There is a righteousness of implantation, which is nothing else but the infusing of the seed and habit of grace into the heart, a planting of holiness in a man and making him partaker of the divine nature. This is to be righteous in the sight of God, a righteousness of imputation and a righteousness of implantation.

QUESTION 2. How is it that however things go in the world—yet it shall be well with this righteous man?

ANSWER. It must be thus for two reasons:

1. Because he who is righteous has his greatest evils removed, his sin is pardoned, and then it must be well with him. Sin is the thorn in a man's conscience. When the thorn is plucked out by forgiveness and remission, then it is well with that man.

Forgiveness in Scripture is called a lifting off of sin. Job 7:21: "Lord, why do You lift not off my sin?" So the Hebrew word carries it; it is a metaphor taken from a weary man who goes under a burden and is ready to sink under it—and then another man comes and lifts off this burden. Even so does the great God. When the burden of sin is ready to sink the man, God lifts off this burden from the conscience and lays it on Christ's shoulder—and He carries it now. He who has this burden thus carried, it is well with him however things go for him in this world.

Forgiveness and pardon of sin, is a crowning blessing. It is the jewel of a believer's crown. Pardon of sin is a multiplying mercy—it brings a great many mercies along with it. Whom God pardons, He adopts; whom God pardons, He invests with grace and glory! This is a multiplying mercy—and it is enough to make a sick man well. Isaiah 33:24: "The inhabitants shall not say, 'I am sick'; the people shall be forgiven their iniquity." The sense of pardon takes away the sense of pain. It must be well with the righteous for sin—his greatest evil, is removed.

2. However things go, it is well with the righteous because God is his portion. Psalm 16:5-6: "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance. The lines have fallen unto me in pleasant places." In God, there are all good things to be found; and all that is in God is engaged for the good of the righteous. His power is to help, and His wisdom is to teach, and His mercy is to save.

God is the righteous man's portion, and can God give a greater gift unto us than Himself? God is a rich portion, for He has unsearchable riches. God is a safe and sure portion, for His name is a strong tower. He is a portion that can never be spent—for He is infiniteness. He is a portion that can never be lost—for He is eternity. "You are my portion forever" (Psalm 73:26), and surely it is well with the righteous man, who has God for his portion. Is it not well with that man who is happy? Why, if God is our portion, we are happy. Psalm 144:15: "Happy is the people whose God is the Lord."

Thus I have cleared up the doctrinal part for the use of this. Here is abundance of comfort for every godly man. God has sent me this day with a commission to comfort you!

Oh, that I might drop the oil of gladness into every broken heart and rejoice every troubled spirit. Here is good news from heaven: "Say unto the righteous it shall be well with him."

QUESTION 3. But here is a question that must be answered. You will say to me, "But how does it appear that it shall be well with the righteous, for we often see it is worse with them in this world? He is deprived of his comfort many times; he is made the very reproach of the world oftentimes. How then, is it well with the righteous?"

ANSWER. To this I answer, still it is well with the righteous. Though he meets with trouble in the world and one follows on the neck of another—yet it is well with the righteous as will appear in these four particulars:

1. The troubles the righteous man meets with turn to his good, and so it is well with him. That is a most famous Scripture in Jeremiah 24:5: "Whom I have sent out of this place unto the land of the Chaldeans, for their good." God's own Israel was transported into Babylon among their enemies—but it is for their good, said the Lord. The troubles of the righteous, are a means to purge out their sin. I have read a story of one who was running at another with a sword to kill him, and by accident his sword ran into an abscess—and broke the abscess—and so cured him. Just so, all the evils and troubles of the righteous serve but to cure them of the abscess of pride, and to make them more humble. When that body of a saint is afflicted, his soul revives and flourishes in grace.

At Rome, there were two laurel trees—when one withered the other flourished. So when the body is afflicted, the soul revives and flourishes.

Out of the bitterest drink, God distills His glory—and our salvation. Jerome said that the world looks on affliction as a punishment—but God makes a medicine to heal the sore. Then it is well with the righteous. The rod of God upon a saint—is but only God's pencil whereby He draws His image more lively on the soul. God never strikes the strings of His violin—but to make the music the sweeter. Then it is well with the righteous.

2. In the midst of all the trouble that befalls the righteous, still it is well with them in regard to those inward heart revivings, which God gives them. We see a godly man's misery—but we do not see his comfort. We see his prison gates—but we do not hear the music which is within his conscience. God sweetens His people in outward trouble—with inward peace. He is "the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles." 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 . The bee can gather honey as well from the thistle and bitter herb—as from the sweet flower. A child of God can gather joy out of his sorrow. Out of the very carcass, sometimes, the Lord gives honey. When the body is in pain—the soul may be at ease. Just as when a man's head aches—yet his heart may be well. Thus it is well with the righteous. God gives him that inward comfort that revives and sweetens his outward pain.

3. In the time of trouble and calamity—yet still it is well with the righteous because God covers His people in time of trouble. He hides them in the storms. God cares to hide His jewels—and will not let them be carried away; thus He makes good the Scripture, Psalm 91:4, 10, 11: "He will shield you with his wings. He will shelter you with his feathers. If you make the Lord your refuge, if you make the Most High your shelter, no evil will conquer you."

God oftentimes verifies this Scripture literally. He makes His angels to be His people's lifeguard to hide and defend them. When a flood was coming upon the world, God provided an ark to hide Noah. When Israel was carried and transported into Babylon, God hid Jeremiah and gave him his life for a prey, Jeremiah 39:11. In this sense, the saints of God are called hidden ones in Psalm 83:3. Why so? Not only because they are hidden in God's decree and Christ's wounds—but, oftentimes, God hides them in a time of common danger and calamity. They are hidden ones. He reserved to Himself 7,000 who had not bowed the knee to Baal. The prophet knew not where there was one—but God knew where there were 7,000. In this sense it is well with the righteous in time of public misery.

But you will say, "Sometimes it fares worse than all this. Sometimes the righteous die and perish. They are carried away with a tempest. Why?"

Yet still it is well with the righteous, and that in a twofold sense:

(1) Many times God does take away the righteous by death and in great mercy—he takes them away that they shall not see the misery that comes upon a nation. Virgil, the heathen poet, said, "They are happy that die for their country." His meaning was they die before they see the ruin of their country. Truly God many times takes away His people in mercy that they may not see the ruin that is coming on a land. You have a Scripture for this in 1 Kings 14:13: "He only of Jeroboam shall come to the grave in peace because in him there is found some good things towards the Lord God of Israel." God puts him in this grave early in mercy, so that he would not see the evil coming on the land. There's a parallel to this in 2 Kings 12:21. It is spoken in Joshua, "I will gather you unto your Fathers, you shall be gathered unto your grave in peace and your eyes shall not see the evil I will bring upon this place." Joshua died in battle; how then was it said he went to the grave in peace? We must understand the meaning of it; Joshua went to his grave in peace because he was a holy man and he made his peace with God. Because he should not see the evil approaching, God gathered him to his grave in peace.

Jerome, speaking of his friend Nepotian said, "Oh, how happy is my friend Nepotian, that he does not see these troubles, but is got out of the storm and has arrived safely in the haven!"

Luther died in mercy before the troubles in Germany broke forth. Thus you see that it is well with the righteous, though they die. God takes them away in mercy—that they may not see approaching evils.

(2) Though the righteous die and are taken away, it is well with them because death cannot hurt them. Death can neither hurt their bodies nor their souls—and it is well with them.

Death cannot hurt their bodies. The body of a saint does not perish, though it dies. The bodies of the saints are very precious dust in God's account. The Lord locks up these jewels in the grave as in a cabinet. The bodies of the saints lay mellowing and ripening in the grave until the blessed time of the resurrection. Oh, how precious is the dust of a believer! Though the world minds it not—yet it is precious to God.

The farmer has some corn in his barn and other corn in the ground. Why? The corn that is in the ground is as precious to him as that in the barn. The bodies of the saints in the grave are God's corn in the ground—but the Lord makes very precious account of this corn. The bodies of the saints shall be more glorious and blessed at the resurrection, than ever they were before. Tertullian calls them angelic bodies with regard to the beauty and luster that shall be upon them. This is as it is with your silks—when they are dyed a purple or scarlet color, they are made more bright and illustrious than they were before. Thus it is with the bodies of the saints—they shall be dyed a better color at the resurrection and shall be made like a glorious body (Philippians 3:20). Thus it shall be well with the righteous; their bodies shall not perish.

It will be well with the righteous at death as to their souls, too. Oh, it will be a blessed time! It is with a saint at the time of death, just as it was with Paul in his voyage to Rome, where we read that the ship broke—but though there were so many broken pieces, he got safely to shore. Though the ship of the believer's body breaks by death, it is safe with the passenger; his soul gets safely to the heavenly harbor. Let me tell you, the day of a believer's death, is the birthday of his blessedness! It is his ascension day to heaven. It is his marriage day with Jesus Christ. Faith contracts us here in this life—but at death the nuptials shall be solemnized in glory! They shall see God face to face. "It will be heaven enough to have a sight of God," said Augustine. When the saints enter into joy here on earth, joy enters into them; but when they enter heaven, they shall enter into joy. They shall drink of those pure rivers which run from the everlasting fountain!

Thus, you see it will be well with the righteous. However things go, though trouble comes, though death comes—it will go well with the righteous. Oh, let those who are the people of God comfort themselves with these words! What an encouragement this is, to begin to be righteous. This text may allure us all to be godly. "Tell the righteous it will be well with them!" When things are never so ill with him—yet it is well with him. When these righteous things go well with us, your pardon is sealed. You are heir of all God's promises; you are Christ's favorite; you have heaven in reversion; and is it not now well with you! If you would have happiness, you must espouse holiness.

"Tell the righteous it will be well with them!" Thus much for the first proposition, of the godly man's comfort in life and death: it will be well with him.


II. But now, if all this will not prevail with you to make you leave your sins and become righteous, I must pass on a few words to the next branch of the text to scare men out of their sins, to frighten men out of their wickedness: "Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them! They will be paid back for what their hands have done!" Isaiah 3:10-11.

This, my beloved, is the dark side of the cloud. It may cause in every wicked man who hears me—a trembling at the heart. "Woe to the wicked! Disaster is upon them!" The proposition resulting out of the words is this: When things seem to be well with the wicked—it shall be ill with them at last. Though they have more than their heart can wish—yet it shall be ill with them at last. Ecclesiastes 8:13: "Because the wicked do not fear God, it will not go well with them." It shall not be well with the wicked; the God of truth has pronounced this.

It is as true as God is true—it shall not be well with the wicked! Now that I may make this a little clearer to you, I shall demonstrate this to you in these four particulars:

1. It is ill with the wicked in this life.

2. It is ill with them at death.

3. It is ill with them at the day of judgment.

4. It is ill with them in eternity.

1. It is ill with the wicked in THIS LIFE. A wicked man who hears me, will hardly think so when he has the affluence, and confluence of outward comforts—when he eats the fat and drinks the sweet. He will hardly believe the minister who tells him it shall be ill with him; but it is so! For is it not ill with that man who has a curse? Yes, the curse of God is entailed upon him—and can that man ever thrive, who lives under the curse of God?

Floods of God's fury and wrath hang over the head of a wicked man! He is heir to all the plagues written in the Book of God! All God's curses are the sinner's portion, and, if he dies in his sin, he is sure to have his portion paid to him!

Woe unto the wicked! Every bit of food he has—he has it with a curse! It is like poisoned food given to a dog! Every drop of wine he drinks—he swallows a curse with it. Woe unto the wicked! There is a curse in his cup, and upon his table. God has said, "Woe unto him!"

We read of Belshazzar, in Daniel 5:2-4, that he took the wine and commanded to bring the gold and silver vessels which they took from the Temple of God in Jerusalem. Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple—and the king, his princes, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. Belshazzar was jovial in the midst of his cups. He was merry. But woe unto the wicked, for "At that very moment they saw the fingers of a human hand writing on the plaster wall of the king's palace. The king's face turned pale with fear. Such terror gripped him that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way beneath him." There was a woe written on the wall. Let a sinner live until he comes to a hundred years of age—yet he is cursed (Isaiah 65:20). His gray hairs have a curse upon them!

2. It is ill with the wicked not only in this life—but at the hour of DEATH in these two respects:

(1) Death puts an end to all his comforts.

(2) Death is the beginning of all his miseries.

1. Death puts an end to all his COMFORTS—no more indulging and pampering the flesh, no more cups of wine, no more music. Revelation 18:14, 22: "All the fancy things you loved so much are gone! The luxuries and splendor that you prized so much will never be yours again. They are gone forever! Never again will the sound of music be heard there—no more harps, songs, flutes, or trumpets." You may say of the wicked man—no more joy and gladness, no more mirth and music. All a sinner's choice foods, his fancy garments, his sparkling diamonds—all depart from him at death!

2. As death puts an end to a sinner's mirth, so death is the beginning of all his MISERIES. Alas, before death begins to close a sinner's eyes, the eye of his conscience is first opened. Every sin at the hour of death stands with its drawn sword in its hand. Those sins that delighted him in life--now frighten and terrify him! All his joy and mirth--is turn into sadness! All the sugared joys of a wicked man at the hour of death--turn into the water of tears and into the water of sorrow.

3. It shall be ill with the wicked man at the day of JUDGEMENT when he is seated before God's tribunal. He shall leave judging others—and shall stand at God's bar and be tried for his life. I read that when Felix heard Paul speak of judgment he trembled. Josephus observed that Felix was a wicked man, and the woman who lived with him, Drusilla, he enticed from her husband and lived in immorality with her. When Felix heard Paul preaching of judgment, he trembled. If he trembled to hear of judgment, what will he do when judgment comes, when all his secret sins shall be made manifest, and all his midnight wickedness shall be written on his forehead as with the point of a diamond! At the day of judgment shall be two things: first, there shall be a legal trial; second, the sentence.

First, a legal TRIAL. God will call forth the sinner by name and say, "Stand forth, hear your charge, see what you can answer to this charge! What can you say for your all your sins—your drunkenness and lying? For all your revenge and malice? For all the persecuting of My people? What do you say—guilty or not guilty? You wretch, you dare not say you are not guilty, for have I not been an eyewitness to all your wickedness? Do not the books agree, the book of your conscience—and the book of My omniscience, and dare you offer to plead not guilty?" How will the sinner be amazed with horror and run in desperation!

Second, after this legal process or trial follows the SENTENCE: "Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels!" Go from the presence of Christ—in whose presence is fullness of joy! Go from Christ with a curse! Why, said Chrysostom, that very word "depart" is worse than the torment itself. Remember this, you who go on in your sins, once this sentence is passed—it can never be reversed. This is the most supreme court—from which there is no appeal. Here on earth men remove their causes from one court to another. But, at the last day of judgment, there will be no appeals and no removing the sentence, for this is the highest court.

4. It will be ill with the wicked who die in their sins—in ETERNITY. Then there is but one way for them, and they would be glad if they might not go that way—any way but to prison. "Oh—but there is no way but to hell." Luke 16:24: "I am in agony in this fire!" Hell is the very center of misery; it is the very spirit of agony distilled out. The Scripture tells us that in hell there are these three things: darkness, fire, and chains.

(1) Hell is called a place of DARKNESS. Jude 13: "For whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever!" Darkness, you know, is the most uncomfortable thing in the world. A man who goes in the dark trembles every step. Hell is a black region, nothing but blackness of darkness. It must be a dark place where they shall be separated from the light of God's presence. Indeed, Augustine thinks there shall be some little sulphurous light there; but even if it is so, that light will serve only that the damned may see the tragedy of their own misery and see themselves tormented!

(2) In hell, as there is darkness so there is FIRE. It is called a burning lake in Revelation 20:15: "Anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire!" You know that fire is the most torturing element and makes the most dreadful impression on the flesh. Hell is a place of fire.

It is disputed among the learned what kind of fire it is—I wish we may never know! Augustine and others affirm that it is material fire—but far hotter than any earthly fires—which are but painted fires in comparison with hell fire! I rather think that the fire of the damned is partly material and partly spiritual (which is the wrath of God to torment the soul); that is the lake, the burning fire. Who knows the power of God's anger! Who can dwell with these everlasting burnings! It is intolerable to endure them—and impossible to escape them!

(3) In hell there are CHAINS of darkness. 2 Peter 2:4. Sinners who will not be bound by any law of God—shall have chains of darkness to bind them!

QUESTION: What should be the meaning of that phrase, "chains of darkness"?

ANSWER: These chains suggest unto us, that the wicked in hell shall not have power to walk up and down, which perhaps might be a little easier, though very little. But they shall be chained down fast so as not to stir. They shall be fastened to that stake with chains of darkness! Oh, this will be terrible indeed! Suppose a man should lie always chained on a down bed—and might not stir out of his place—it would be very painful unto him. But the damned will lie eternally chained upon the rack, always under the torturing scorching of God's wrath! How dreadful are the thoughts of this condition of the wicked! They are under fire, darkness and chains!

To add to the torment of hell, there are two more things which show that it shall be torment with the wicked--the worm and the serpent!

First, there is the WORM to torture the damned spirits--the worm of a tormenting conscience! "Where the worm never dies!" Mark 9:44. Oh, how dreadful it will be, to have this tormenting worm! The tormenting conscience a hellish fury. Conscience will be just as if a worm full of poison were feeding on the heart of a man! Those sinners who would never hear the voice of conscience--shall feel the worm of conscience!

Second, as there is the worm to torment, so there is the devil, who is called "the old SERPENT." In hell, as there is the biting of this worm—so there is the stinging of this old serpent!

The damned shall be forced to behold the devil. I remember what Anselm said: "I would rather endure all the torments of this life than to see the devil with bodily eyes." But the wicked shall see the devil--whether they want to or not; and not only see—but feel the stinging of this old serpent, the devil.

Satan is full of rage against mankind, and will show no mercy. As he puts forth all his subtlety in tempting man, so he puts out all his cruelty in tormenting man.

This is not all! There are two more things in the torments of hell.

These agonies and hell-convulsions shall be FOREVER. Take Scripture for proof, Revelation 14:11: "And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever and they have not relief day nor night." Thus it is in hell. They desire to die—but they cannot. The wicked shall be always dying—but never dead. The smoke of the furnace ascends forever and ever. Oh, who can endure thus to be ever upon this rack! This word "forever" breaks the heart! Wicked men now think a sermon and a prayer long—but oh, how long will it be, to lie in hell forever and ever! After millions of years, their torments are as far from ending—as at the first hour they began!

Another aggravation of hell torment, is that the damned in hell have none to pity them. It is some comfort, some ease to have our friends to pity us in our sickness and need—but those in hell have no friends.

God's mercy will not pity them. His mercy is turned into fury! Christ will not pity them; He is no longer an advocate for them. The holy angels will not pity them—but will rejoice when they see the vengeance. They exult and glory when they see the justice of God executed upon His enemies. "After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a great multitude in heaven shouting, "Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are His judgments. He has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth by her adulteries." And again they shouted: "Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever!" Revelation 19:1-3

Oh, how sad is this—to lie in the scalding furnace of God's wrath—and none to pity them! When they cry out, God will laugh at them. Hear this, all you who go on in sin! Turn from your sins--lest God tears you in pieces as a lion, and there are none to help you.


USE 1. What a frightening word is this—to all wicked men who go on desperately to sin. There has never been such an inundation of wickedness as now. Men sin as if they would spite God, and dare Him to damn them! Men sin so greedily—as if they were afraid hell's gates would be shut up before they got there! Oh, how brazenly do many sin! They go to hell shamelessly in their wickedness! These are in a sad condition. It is sad at the hour of death—and at the day of judgment. Wicked men live cursed and die damned. Sinners are the very mark which God will shoot at—and He never misses this mark! You know what the Scripture says, "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth!" One says, "That is sad fare—where weeping is the first course, and gnashing of teeth is the second course."

QUESTION. Whence is it that there is this gnashing of teeth?

ANSWER. First, it arises from the extremity of torment the wicked suffer. They are not able to bear it—and know not how to avoid it.

Second, the wicked gnash their teeth in hell at the godly to see them in heaven, those whom they persecuted, scoffed, and jeered at—and themselves in hell forever. Luke 13:28: "When they shall see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God and they themselves shut out," they shall gnash their teeth at this. How may this astonish a wicked man! If all the curses in the Bible will make a man miserable—he shall be made so!

USE 2. Take heed that none of you here are found among the number of the wicked. Take heed of being of this black regiment, which wears the devil's colors and fights under his banner. The sinner and the fiery furnace shall never be parted. Take heed of those sins which will bring you to hellfire.

When you are tempted to any wickedness, think to yourself, "How can I bear the fierceness of God's wrath forever! How can I lie in the winepress of God's wrath forever!" Take heed of those sins which will bring you into this place of torment!

I have read a story of a young woman who, being tempted by a young man to commit sin, said unto him, "Grant me but one request—and I will do what you ask."

"What is that?" he said.

"Only hold your finger for one hour, in the flame of this burning candle."

"No, I will not do that!"

She replied, "Will you not for my sake, hold your finger for one hour in the candle—and will you have my soul lie burning in hell forever?" Thus, she rebuked the temptation.

Does Satan tempt you to wickedness? Say this, "Oh, Satan, if I embrace your temptations, I must lie under your tormenting cruelty for all eternity!" This will be a shield, to quench fiery darts of the devil.

Therefore, labor to be righteous. It shall be well with the righteous. But take heed of sin. It shall be ill with the sinner.

I will conclude with a saying of Augustine: "When a man has been godly—the labor is gone but the pleasure remains! When a man has been wicked—the pleasure is gone but the sting remains!"