We shall attempt in the first place, to make a few remarks to show who these "righteous" are; and, secondly, notice the very encouraging language spoken respecting them. God says, "Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him."
I. A "righteous" man before God is made so by the imputation of Christ's holy obedience, put to his account--made his. Bless God for this. What a sweet way is this, of making man righteous! Some people tell us, that it is "imputed nonsense." I dare say it is to them; I think they tell truly what it is to them; they are blinded by the god of this world, they are fancying that our obedience and piety are a garment that is pleasing to God, and imputed righteousness to these is hateful. But it is not so to those that are really righteous before God. There are none upon earth that have such a sight of their own unworthiness as the righteous have; there are none upon earth that have such views and sights of their own vileness as the righteous have; there are none upon earth, that ever can degrade themselves as the righteous do, for when they come to speak of their own righteousness, they cannot afford it a better name than "filthy rags." These will be heartily thankful for imputed righteousness.
But let us see what God says. "Christ Jesus is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption." (1 Cor. 1:30) So that, it is not to be done, but it is done; He is made of God unto us--that is, the righteous, the chosen, the redeemed, the called, the preserved. Here they stand, then, righteous; perfect, spotless and complete in the obedience of Christ, entirely separate from anything of their making. So, the apostle says again, "He was made sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." (2 Cor. 5:21) Here you see that these are righteous in the sight of God, by the sovereign act of God in imputing the obedience of Christ unto them. One more text; and it seals it up beautifully. "As by the disobedience of one many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous." (Rom. 5:19) Oh! that the Holy Spirit might lead us up in faith, out of self into Christ, and give us a faith's view of the blessing of imputed righteousness--the garment that covers, and hides from all spots, wrinkles and blemishes. Nay, God says,--"Thou art all fair, my love; there is no spot in thee." (Songs 4:7)
Why, child of God, I dare say you are like myself, often looking at the wanderings, the coldness, the deadness, the carelessness, the indifference, the wretchedness--the monster of iniquity that you are. But your carnal heart will never be any better. What a blessing, when God leads us to look up to the blessed imputed righteousness, and have it sweetly sealed home in our hearts that it is ours! Here is the blessing--here is the blessing of it.
"Ah!" says one," "I never could reach that blessing." It will reach you by and by; be quiet. Pray for it, if you want it; beg for it, if you believe it; cry and sigh for it, if you cannot do without it. Nobody else will ever pray for it from their hearts, but those that are brought to see they are damned without it; nobody else will ever thank God for it from their hearts, but those that are brought to see, that if they are found without it at the Eternals bar, they are lost for ever. And you think God will bring you to see your need of it, and bring you to long for it and ask for it, and never give it at last, poor soul? Yes, God will give it you. No mortal can reveal it; but God will reveal it in your conscience--for He gives it to His people as an act of sovereign discriminating grace.
Here, then, His people stand righteous in the sight of God. Here is the robe that covers them. Here is the robe that admits them into the presence of God. Here is the robe that the holy Trinity delights to view. Here is the robe, that can conquer the devil, that can resist his fiery darts, and light up the soul with joy and peace. This is the "fine linen, and white, which is the righteousness of the saints," (Rev. 19:8) in which they shall shine in immortal glory. These are those that are righteous in God's sight; not one more, nor one less.
But again; the "righteous" man has a righteous kingdom implanted and set up in his soul; a holy kingdom, which God says is "in righteousness and true holiness." A righteous man has a proof of his being a righteous man. Do not misunderstand me; God's people are righteous in the sight and purpose and decree of God from everlasting, and regeneration makes them no more righteous in His sight than they were (in Christ and His obedience) from eternity; but there is no manifestation of a righteous man's standing in Christ, till the Holy Spirit enters into his heart and sets up His kingdom in his soul. The very moment that this is done, there is such light, there is such life, that that poor soul, if he is a drunkard, hates drunkenness in a moment--he is killed and dead to it; if he has been a whoremonger, the moment this work and kingdom influences him, he abhors it--confesses such abominations to God and hates them. Let his practice have been what it may, and let his companions be ever so vile, this holy kingdom cuts him off from the pleasures of sin, and the enjoyment and indulgence of it in his soul. Oh! from this holy kingdom, that is set up in the soul of a righteous man arises all his hatred to sin, all his grief for sin, all his mourning for sin, all his panting for God, all his desires after the image of Christ. This holy kingdom that there is in his soul so influences his heart, that he is never, never satisfied, but as he enjoys a holy God and is conformed to the image of His Son. Talk of a child of God, that is fixed and settled in the purposes and manifestation of God's grace, well established in the doctrines of grace--why, the more he sees the beauty of the doctrines of grace and the preciousness of them, the more he pants after holy enjoyments; the more he pants after holy conformity to the image of the Son of God. There is nothing that is so grievous to him as sin.
It is true, there are times and seasons, when the child of God gets into such a stupid, carnal, fleshly, hardened state of mind, that he appears as if his very "conscience was seared as with a hot iron;" but even under this there is a something that gives him pain, there is a something that makes him hate himself for it, there is a something he cannot make out that makes him feel he would give worlds if he could get rid of it, there is something that brings him to cry--"Beast that I am! wretch that I am!" There is something that he cannot unriddle, but a feeling that he would gladly get rid of it. By and by it comes more into exercise, and more into life. And what is the branching out of this life? Oh! that he might be more like God--that he might not be such a fool, in wandering upon such forbidden objects--that he might be preserved from such ungodly feelings, and that he might be blessed with his mind stayed upon God and admiring God.
This is hard fighting. The righteous man has a righteous kingdom set up in his soul, and he loves that which is holy, and holiness itself; but there is an "old man of sin," that is in his very nature. For when God's kingdom is set up, all nature is not eradicated; it is not changed; it is not made any better, and it cannot be made worse; only, when the kingdom of grace and holiness is set in the heart of a child of God, the old man rages more, and makes himself known more. Thus what can you see in the poor soul, but as it were two armies? Hear Paul speak of "the flesh lusting against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh, and these two being contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." (Gal. 5:17) What is it that the child of God would do if it were the Lord's blessed will, from this kingdom of grace and holiness set up in his heart? Do? why, he would walk with God, he would talk with God, he would have communion with God, he would live at a distance from sin, he would glorify God in his walk, in his conduct, and in his conversation. And what would the "old man" do? Why, the "old man" would influence him--(and does)--to hate God, and to abhor God, and to quarrel with God, and to despise God, and to treat Him with every contempt.
Have you not such contentions at times in your heart, that you wonder how it is? You want to read your Bible, and you are condemned in your conscience that you do not read it more; you take your Bible, and you open it, and you beg that you may read it and that you may meditate upon it, but there is something rising in your heart that spurns at the Bible, that tells you it is priestcraft, that tells you there is nothing there for you, that tells you you have no business with it. If you want to kneel down, and there is something in you that tells you you must pray, there is something in you also that tells you prayer is nothing, that tells you that God never hears it, never notices your groans or your cries. If you come to talk to your friends of God's goodness, there is something in your heart that pours contempt upon it, something that opposes it. So that "ye cannot do the things that ye would." A self-righteous man can "do the things that he would;" he would go to chapel or church, and he can do it, he tells you; he would read his Bible morning and evening, and he can do it; he would love his Bible, and he can do it, he can pray when he will, and read his Bible when he will, and do anything he will. But hear the poor child of God; he joins Paul, (and all God's dear family, taught of the Lord, can join Paul--they are all the same family)--"The good that I would I do not, but the evil which I would not that I do; I delight in the law of God after the inward man, but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin." (Rom. 7:19,22,23,25)
Thus, a righteous man has this righteous kingdom in his soul, that opposes all unrighteousness. And depend upon it, you will have this contention even to the end of the journey. There will never be any cessation of arms. Or if ever you have a little cessation of arms and a little peace and quietness, it is at those moments, when our dear Lord enters in at the door, shows you His hands and His side, communes with you from off the mercyseat; and then these devils retire into their dens, till He is gone again. But depend upon it, they will come out again, as fresh and as atrocious as ever.
But again, a "Righteous" man can feed upon nothing but God's righteous provision. He cannot feed upon his own obedience; he cannot feed upon the mere letter of the word, without the power of God bringing it into his heart: he cannot feed upon his mere judgment. If ever he feeds--if ever he has a time of real feeding of soul--he must have "precious faith" to "eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink his blood." There is no feeding to satisfy his soul without this. No, a righteous man must have the righteous provisions of God's house to feed upon, in order to satisfy his soul; righteous election, righteous imputed righteousness, righteous atoning blood, the righteous promises of God, made known in his heart.
Now how simply God has revealed these things in the scriptures of truth, that such as I can really understand them; yes, a ploughboy! God has drawn the figures so literally and naturally and simply. Thus it is said, "He filleth the hungry with good things, but the rich he sendeth empty away." "He satisfieth the longing soul." Now you know, a hungry man or a hungry child must eat if they are to have their appetite satisfied. It is not bringing the food to look at; no; how can a man eat with his eyes?--there is no eating with the eyes; it is the mouth, it is digesting, it is feeling the support and the nourishment of the food in the body, that satisfies the craving appetite. Just so, with God's provision for the righteous. They have a hungry soul; they cannot feed upon the smiles of men; they cannot feed upon the opinions of men; they cannot feed upon their own duties; they cannot feed upon their past experience, except God brings it as food into their hearts; they cannot feed upon their mere judgment; and therefore their souls cry out to God--"O Lord, say unto my soul, I am thy salvation." They want election to come home to their hearts, atoning blood to come home to their hearts, imputed righteousness to come home to their hearts; to feel it, to realize it, to eat it, to prove it theirs, to have a blessed testimony within, and eat and be satisfied and bless the God of their salvation. The righteous never can be satisfied, without feeding upon these in their hearts.
No; the righteous man cannot be satisfied--he cannot feed upon his corruptions. I have been astonished sometimes to hear some folks, when they come to hear a man of God that at times and seasons has to enter into those corruptions that God's people are in; and God's servants and ministers sometimes, my friends, are in them, and cannot keep out of them. They may tell them it is their duty, and tell them it is their privilege, and tell them again and again that they will never have anything but misery in their corruptions, and that looking upon Christ and resting upon Christ is their privilege; but, it is not telling them this, that will help them out. David says, "Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name;" (Ps. 142:7) yea, "He brought me up also out of a horrible pit and out of the miry clay." (Ps. 40:2) Well, you know, the Lord says that His ministers are servants to the church. Servants to the church are not to come with a whip and flog them and command them and drive them. You see, the church are set forth as kings and princes; and the ministers are to be their servants. Now oftentimes there are some dabbling in the pit of corruption, sunk up to the neck and afraid they shall be over head; and God brings one of His servants into those spots, so that he has to dive into the very place; yea, and God blesses it to bring them out. But does that feed him? Is the minister of God, that is forced to come at times into the footsteps of the flock and to tread in their paths, fond of his corruption, and feeding upon his corruption? Why, bless you, the man is miserable; he would rather go a thousand miles, than come into the pulpit; he is afraid to meet God's people, and afraid that God will shut his mouth when the food comes--imputed righteousness, electing love, the precious promises of God revealed in the soul, that bring him out of his corruption into joy and peace. It is this, that they feed upon; not their desires, not their appetite, not their hungering, not their thirsting--they cannot feed upon that. It is God's provision that is the food for the righteous.
There may be but a little picking; it may be but a crumb. Ah! there are some of you, that have but crumbs. Well, never mind, it comes off the same loaf. "Aye, but," says one, "I cannot be satisfied with crumbs; these only whet the appetite for a rich feast." Well, I have many times begged hard for "a crumb." The poor woman in the gospel did, you know; she said, "Lord, the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table;" and by and by the Lord whispers, and He says, "O woman, great is thy faith; be it unto thee even as thou wilt." This was what satisfied the soul; to feel the fullness and the glory and the preciousness of Christ and His salvation in her heart. And if you have but one crumb, God will give you the whole in His own time. The desire of "the righteous," "shall be fulfilled." It shall; and if you never have the fullness of it in this world, when you get home where your Father, Friend, your Husband, your Brother is, you shall find there is a table and a rich feast, and there shall never more be hungering, and you shall feed to a never-ending eternity. There will never be full satisfaction to the righteous until they get there, and feed blessedly upon God's provision as they may.
The prophet Jeremiah said--"Thy words were found, and I did eat them; and thy word was unto me the joy and rejoicing of mine heart." "Ah!" says some poor soul, "that is what I want; what my soul is after." Well, bless thee, dear soul, the Lord has promised thou shalt have it in His own time.
But again; a "righteous" man loves righteous fruits. He loves a holy walk, a holy conversation, in all godliness and fear. And oh! the grief of his righteous soul, to see how unlike God he often is!--so worldly, so carnal, so selfish, so craving after the things of time and sense. Oh! his soul desires that he might be more fruitful, and act with uprightness, and walk and talk and live "as becometh the gospel," in every thing, in the eyes of God and in the eyes of man. The righteous love a holy walk, a holy conversation, and fruits to the honor and to the glory of God. For my part, I think very little of a man talking about all the truths of God, if that man has no grief about his unlikeness to God, his wanderings from God, the wretched workings of his heart, his carnality and his passion, and his inconsistent words, and all that is contrary to God's word. For my part, I know what it is to weep bitterly, to see myself so foolish, so empty, so carnal, and sometimes carried away by such hasty feelings and hasty words. The righteous man has a tender conscience; he has an honest principle and an honest heart; and therefore so he lives--the root leading to the fruit, the fountain to the stream. His soul desires that he may glorify his God in thought, word, and deed; and that he may be to the honor and glory of the riches of His grace. I would not give a pin for a man's religion, whether he is a Baptist or an Independent or a professed Calvinist or whatever his name may be, if he has no concern about the "fruits of righteousness"--about having God's blessed Spirit to guide him, and to lead him, and to keep him from sin, and from grieving his heart and dishonoring his God; for the righteous man is never at home but as he is with his Lord, and conformed unto His blessed will.
II. Well, come then, you that know in a measure what these things are in your hearts, and have proved them, and are proving them, and have your hearts beating after God--"Say ye to the righteous, that is shall be well with him."
Come, this is the word of God; this is the word of Him "that cannot lie;" this is the word of Him that "is not a man that he should lie, nor the son of man that he should repent; hath he said, and shall he not do it? or hath he spoken, and shall he not make it good?" (Numbers 23:19) Yea, He will.
Perhaps some of you may be set in very trying places in providence, and shut up in unbelief, and see nothing before you but clouds and mountains impassable. Everything seems to go against you. Everything in providence seems to thwart your desires, and your corruption sinks you down. It will all be for the best. God has said it; and it shall. He will make a way in the wilderness; yea, he will make a way in the very depths of the sea. He has promised that thy bread shall be given thee and thy water shall be sure. He has promised to "bring the blind by a way that they know not, to lead them in paths that they have not known, to make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight; these things will he do unto them, and not forsake them." (Isa. 42:16) No doubt Jacob thought all things "were against him;" but poor Jacob was brought to see that it was all well, and that it all acted well, proved well, and ended well. Not to please the flesh; it cut up his flesh; but see and hear the old man, when he lay on his death-bed, and Joseph brought his two sons, that he might sit up on the bed and pronounce a blessing on the boys. He says--"God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, the angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads." (Gen. 48:15,16) You see, my dear brethren, it proved all well. And so shall your difficulties. The same God has promised you, as promised Abraham. The same God has all in His hands, as He had in the days of Jacob.
When the king of Syria came up and besieged Samaria, and they were so completely struck with famine in the city and everything eaten up, that they sold an ass's head and doves' dung, there was no appearance then of it being well, of it all ending well; but you see how God came and delivered them, and how He opened up a way of escape. It was all well. God's people shall ever be brought in such a way, that it shall "be well with the righteous." There was the poor woman, whose husband, one of the sons of the prophets and a man that feared the Lord, was dead and gone home to glory, and had left her in debt, and the creditor came to take her two sons to be bondmen; and see how God opened a way before her. She came to the prophet, and told him of her distress; and God whispered to the prophet, and influenced the prophet--for the prophet could do no more of himself than this candlestick--it was God (not the prophet) that was to perform. God whispered to the prophet, and he said, "What hast thou in the house?" "Why," said she, "not anything but a pot of oil." Then said he, "Go borrow vessels abroad of all thy neighbors, even empty vessels; borrow not a few; and when thou art come in, thou shalt shut the door upon thee and upon thy sons, and shalt pour out into all those vessels." And she did so; and all the vessels were filled; and it was only when there was not another vessel more, that "the oil stayed." Then the prophet said, "Go, sell the oil, and pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest." You see, God's truth, God's kingdom, God's grace in the heart, is really honest and upright. Do not go and daub yourself with fine feathers and fine bonnets, and dress yourself in fine jewels; "go, pay thy debt, and live thou and thy children of the rest." A child of God has a real honest principle in his heart; and there is nothing that gives him so much comfort and joy, as when God in His providence opens a way for him to pay his debts; he can bless God for it with all his heart. There is many a child of God that is in a place that he cannot pay his debts; but I firmly believe, there never was a child of God in a place that he could not pay his debts, but what he had an honest heart, and would like for God's providence to open a way for him to pay his debts. So that, you see, it was all right and all well with the poor woman.
So it was with that other woman, that went out of the city to gather sticks, and just at the time the water was dried up in the brook where God's prophet dwelt, and where the ravens brought him bread and flesh in the morning, and bread and flesh in the evening. When the brook was dried up, from which he drank, the word of the Lord came to him, saying, "Get thee to Zarephath and dwell there; behold, I have commanded" (ah! bless His name!)--"I have commanded a widow woman there to sustain thee." Why, what woman? A poor woman, that had but "an handful of meal in a barrel, and a little oil in a cruse;" a poor woman brought to such great distress that she was gathering a few sticks that she might go and dress it for her and her son, that they might eat it and die. Never mind; it will do. God knew her time; God knew her going out, and all about it; He sent the prophet to meet her just at the moment. "As the Lord thy God liveth," she said--(what an expression! how her heart was in it!)--"I have but an handful of meal in a barrel and a little oil in a cruse; and behold, I am gathering two sticks, that I may go in and dress it for me and my son, that we may eat it and die." "Oh!" says the prophet, "fear not go and do it; for thus saith the Lord God of Israel, The barrel of meal shall not waste, neither shall the cruse of oil fail, until the day that the Lord sendeth rain upon the earth." Poor, dear, tried child of God! dost thou hear? This God is thy God. There is a little meal in the barrel yet, and a little oil in the cruse yet; and God will bless thee with it. God breathed into the woman's heart and gave her faith; and she went on baking and eating, until the rain came. The meal and the oil never failed. "It shall be well with the righteous," even in providence. God help you, poor tried souls, to look unto Him, that has "the cattle upon a thousand hills," the earth also, and all the silver and gold, and the hearts of men in His hands.
"It shall be well with the righteous" in spiritual things. All your temptations, all your darknesses, all your perplexities, all your disquietudes, all your wanderings, God will overrule. It shall be well. There shall never be a night, but morning shall come; there shall never be a day of adversity, but a day of prosperity shall follow; there shall never be an emptying, but there shall be a filling; there shall never be a bringing down, but He will raise you up again. "Say ye to the righteous, that it shall be well with him." Let it be either darkness or light, sorrow or grief, night or day, life of death, time or eternity, "it shall be well with the righteous."
God help your souls here to look. Oh! the blessing to have our souls righteous before God; oh! the blessing to feel this righteous kingdom within us, and to have our hearts led by precious faith to our God, and to look to Him, and to lean upon Him, and to wait for Him. I know there is no blessing like this. And it is the gift of God. May God give it to you. The first and the greatest blessing that my soul wishes should be communicated to you, is that your souls may be kept in the fear of God all the day long, and that you may be found sweetly waiting; that when the last great day shall come, or when death shall come, you may be found, not only with lamps, but having oil in them, and may enter into the kingdom of our Father, where "the righteous shall shine forth as the sun for ever and ever."