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"The righteousness of the upright shall deliver them."—Prov. xi. 6.

"An unjust man is the abomination of the righteous, and he who goes right in his way is the abomination of the wicked."—Prov. xxix. 27.

The book of Proverbs abounds with sayings which have the sound of truisms, sayings which repeat, with innumerable variations and shades of colouring, that wickedness is an evil, hateful to God and to men, and that righteousness is a blessing not only to the righteous themselves, but to all with whom they are connected. We are disposed to say, Surely no reasonable person can question such an obvious truth; but on reflection we remember that the truth was not perceived by the great religions of antiquity, is not recognised now by the vast majority of the human race, and even where it is theoretically admitted without question is too frequently forgotten in the hurry and the pressure of practical life. There is good reason therefore why the truism, as we are inclined to call it, should be thrown into the form of maxims which will find a hold in the memory, and readily occur to the mind on occasions of trial. And as we pass in review what Proverbial Religion has to say upon the subject, we shall perhaps be surprised to find how imperfectly we150 have apprehended the supreme importance of goodness, and how insidiously teachings, which were originally meant to enforce it, have usurped its place and treated it with contumely. It will begin to dawn upon us that the truth is a truism, not because it is carried out in practice, but only because no one has the hardihood to question it; and perhaps we shall receive some impulse towards transforming the conviction which we cannot dispute into a mode of conduct which we cannot decline.

To begin with, our book is most unflinching in its assertions that, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, wickedness is a mistake, a source of perpetual weakness and insecurity, always in the long run producing ruin and death; while righteousness is in itself a perpetual blessing, and is weighted with beautiful and unexpected fruits. The very reiteration becomes most impressive.

The hope of the righteous shall be gladness; but the expectation of the wicked shall perish.208208   Prov. x. 28. The righteous shall never be removed, but the wicked shall not dwell in the land.209209   Prov. x. 30. The house of the wicked shall be overthrown, but the tent of the upright shall flourish.210210   Prov. xiv. 11. Cf. Prov. xii. 7: "Overthrow the wicked; and they are not (i.e., there is no rising again for them), but the house of the righteous shall stand." The wicked earneth deceitful wages, but he that soweth righteousness hath a sure reward.211211   Prov. xi. 18. A man shall not be established by wickedness, while the root of the righteous shall never be moved.212212   Prov. xiii. 3. The wicked really falls by his own wickedness, and is swept away by his own violence.213213   Prov. xi. 5, 6; xxi. 7. He sows iniquity and reaps151 calamity.214214   Prov. xxii. 8. His crooked way, his malignant thoughts, the hatred against his neighbour, the guile in his heart, and the flood of evil things which comes out of his lips, have one issue—destruction.215215   Prov. xxi. 7, 8, 10, 15; xxvi. 24, 26; xv. 28. When he comes to die, his expectation perishes, all the hope of iniquity ends in disappointment.216216   Prov. xi. 7. His lamp goes out not to be relit.217217   Prov. xiii. 9; xxiv. 20. Meanwhile, the light of the righteous man rejoices, because he attains unto life as surely as the wicked works towards death.218218   Prov. xi. 19.

It is true that the appearance of things is different. Hand joins in hand to promote evil.219219   Prov. xi. 21. Men follow out what seems right in their own hearts, evil as they are.220220   Prov. xiv. 12; xvi. 5, 25; xxi. 2. Success seems to attend them, and one is tempted to envy the sinners, and to fret at their ways.221221   Prov. xxiii. 17, 18; xxiv. 1, 19. But the envy is misplaced; the evil man does not go unpunished; the wicked are overthrown and are not.222222   Prov. xii. 7. The way which seemed right in a man's eyes proves to be the way of death.223223   Prov. xiv. 12; xvi. 25. A righteous man falleth seven times and riseth up again; but the wicked are overthrown by calamity,224224   Prov. xxiv. 15, 16. and the righteous are obliged to look upon their fall.225225   Prov. xxix. 16.

On the other hand, goodness is its own continual reward. While treacherous men are destroyed by their perverseness, the upright are guided by their own integrity.226226   Prov. xi. 3. While the sinner is overthrown by his wickedness, righteousness guardeth him that is upright152 in the way.227227   Prov. xiii. 6. Cf. Prov. xiv. 14: "The backslider in heart shall be sated from his own ways, and the good man from himself." Though probably we ought to read, with Nowack, מִמְּעֲלָלָיו, which would give a completer parallelism: "The backslider shall be sated from his own ways, and the good man from his own doings." If the righteous gets into trouble he is delivered, while the wicked falls into his place:228228   Prov. xi. 8. Cf. Prov. xxviii. 18. there is a kind of substitution; a ransom is paid to enable the righteous to escape, and the ransom is the person of the wicked.229229   Prov. xxi. 18. Not only does the righteous come out of trouble,230230   Prov. xii. 13. but, strictly speaking, no mischief really happens to him; it is only the wicked that is filled with evil.231231   Prov. xii. 21. The righteous eats to the satisfying of his own soul, but the belly of the wicked shall want.232232   Prov. xiii. 25. The good man walks on a highway and so preserves his soul.233233   Prov. xvi. 17; xix. 16. Mercy and truth shine upon him because he devises good.234234   Prov. xiv. 22. He only followed after righteousness and mercy, but he found life, righteousness, and honour.235235   Prov. xxi. 21. His heart is flooded with joy, he actually sings as he journeys on.236236   Prov. xxi. 15; xxix. 6. Unless, with Delitzsch, we are to read בְּפֶשַׂע for בְּפֶשַׁע, and יָרוּצ for יָרוּן, which would give: "In the steps of a bad man lie snares, but the righteous runs and rejoices." He seems like a tree in the green leaf, a tree of life, the fruits of which cannot fail to be attractive; so that he unconsciously wins favour.237237   Prov. xi. 27, 30. The fruit does not fail, because the root is alive.238238   Prov. xii. 12. And if in actual life this blessedness of the good man does not appear, if by reason of the evil in the world the righteous seem to be punished, and the noble to be153 smitten,239239   Prov. xvii. 26: "To punish the righteous is not good, nor to smite the noble for their uprightness." that only creates a conviction that the fruit will grow in another life; for when we have closely observed the inseparable connection between goodness and blessedness, we cannot avoid the conviction that "the righteous hath hope in his death."240240   Prov. xiv. 32. Yes, practical goodness is the source of perpetual blessing, and it cannot be altogether hidden. Even a child maketh himself known by his doings, whether his work be pure and right.241241   Prov. xx. 11. To the good we must assign the supremacy; the evil must bow before them and wait at their gates.242242   Prov. xiv. 19. And it is easy to understand why it appears so incongruous—so abnormal, like a troubled fountain and a corrupted spring, when the righteous give way to the wicked.243243   Prov. xxv. 26.

Nor is the blessing of goodness at all limited to the good man himself. It falls on his children too. A just man that walketh in his integrity, blessed are his children after him.244244   Prov. xiv. 26: "In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge." So Prov. xx. 7: "A just man that walketh in his integrity: blessed are his children after him." It reaches even to the third generation. A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children's children.245245   Prov. xiii. 22. The righteous is a guide to his neighbour also.246246   Prov. xii. 26. He is a joy to his sovereign; he that loveth pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend.247247   Prov. xxii. 11. Cf. Prov. xvi. 13. His character and his well-being are a matter of public, even of national154 concern, for there is something winning in him; he acts as a saving influence upon those who are around him.248248   Prov. xi. 31. Therefore, when the righteous increase the people rejoice,249249   Prov. xxix. 2. when they triumph there is great glory.250250   Prov. xxviii. 12. When it goeth well with the righteous the city rejoiceth, just as when the wicked perish there is shouting. By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted, just as it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.251251   Prov. xi. 10, 11. Yes, righteousness exalteth a nation, while sin is a reproach to the whole people.252252   Prov. xiv. 34.

It is the grand public interest to see the wicked perish in order that the righteous may increase:253253   Prov. xxviii. 28. for the way of the wicked causes other people to err.254254   Prov. xii. 26. His lips are like a scorching fire;255255   Prov. xvi. 27. his presence brings a general atmosphere of contempt, ignominy, and shame.256256   Prov. xviii. 3. When the wicked rise men hide themselves,257257   Prov. xxviii. 28. when they bear rule the people sigh.258258   Prov. xxix. 2. Well may the national feeling be severe on all those who encourage the wicked in any way. He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous, peoples shall curse him, nations shall abhor him; but to them that rebuke him shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them.259259   Prov. xxiv. 24, 25. It is a sure sign that one is forsaking the law when one ceases to contend with the wicked and begins to praise them.260260   Prov. xxviii. 4.

Blessing to himself, blessing to his children, his neighbours, his country, is the beautiful reward of the good man; ruin to himself, a spreading contagion of evil to others, and general execration, is the lot of155 the wicked. Well may the former be bold as a lion, and well may the latter flee when no man pursues, for conscience makes cowards of us all.261261   Prov. xxviii. 1.

But at present we have not touched on the chief blessedness of the good, and the chief curse of the evil, on that which is really the spring and fountain-head of all. It is the great fact that God is with the righteous and against the wicked, that He judges men according to their integrity or perverseness, and accepts them or rejects them simply upon that principle. By looking at this lofty truth we get all our conceptions on the subject cleared. The perverse in heart are an abomination to the Lord; such as are perfect in their way are His delight.262262   Prov. xi. 20. A good man shall obtain favour of the Lord, but a man of wicked devices will He condemn.263263   Prov. xii. 2. Evil devices are an abomination to the Lord,264264   Prov. xv. 26. and so is the wicked, but He loveth the righteous.265265   Prov. xv. 9. To justify the wicked or to condemn the righteous is equally abominable to Him.266266   Prov. xvii. 15, 26; xviii. 5. He considers the house of the wicked, how the wicked are overthrown to their ruin.267267   Prov. xxi. 12, where "one that is righteous" seems to mean God Himself; see the margin of R.V. He overthrows the words of the treacherous man, while His eyes preserve him that hath knowledge.268268   Prov. xxii. 12. He weighs the heart and keeps the soul and renders to every man according to his work.269269   Prov. xxiv. 12. Thus His way is a stronghold to the upright, but a destruction to the workers of iniquity.270270   Prov. x. 29. He does not regard prayer so much as righteousness; he that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer is an abomination.156271271   Prov. xxviii. 9. Sacrifice goes for nothing in His sight if the life is not holy. To do justice and judgment is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.272272   Prov. xxi. 3. The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination: how much more when he bringeth it with a wicked mind?273273   Prov. xxi. 27. Yes, it is an abomination to the Lord, just as the prayer of the upright is His delight. The Lord is far from the wicked, but He heareth the prayer of the righteous.274274   Prov. xv. 8, 29. When the foolish sinner offers a sin-offering instead of relinquishing his sin, the very offering mocks him, for it is only the righteous who find favour with the Lord.275275   Prov. xiv. 9. This seems to be the meaning of this difficult verse, which should be translated: The sin-offering mocks fools, but among the righteous is favour.

It is this solemn truth, the truth of God's own way of regarding goodness and wickedness, which makes earnestness on the subject essential. If goodness were only pleasing to man, if sin were only an offence against creatures like ourselves, ordinary prudence would require us to be good and to avoid evil, but higher sanction would be wanting. When, however, the matter is taken up into the Divine presence, and we begin to understand that the Supreme Ruler of all things loves righteousness and hates iniquity, visits the one with favour and the other with reprobation, quite a new sanction is introduced. The wicked man, who makes light of evil, to whom it is as a sport, appears to be nothing short of an absolute fool.276276   Prov. x. 23. In God's presence it is not difficult to perceive that goodness is wisdom, the only wisdom, the perfect wisdom.


But now it may occur to some of us that it is surely nothing very wonderful to lay this stress upon the close connection between goodness and God-pleasing. Is it not, we are inclined to say, the most obvious and unquestioned of facts that God requires goodness at our hands, and is angry with the wicked every day? It is not very wonderful to us, because Revelation has made it familiar, but none the less it is a truth of Revelation, and if we were to ask in what the Inspiration of this book consists, no simpler and truer answer could be given than that it teaches, as we have just seen, the alliance of God with righteousness and the abhorrence in which He holds wickedness.

Yes, a truism, but it was a discovery which the world was very slow to make, and it is still a principle on which the world is very unwilling to act.

The main characteristic of all heathen religions is that their gods do not demand righteousness, but certain outward and formal observances; sacrifices must be offered to them, their vindictive temper must be propitiated, their anger averted; if the dues of the gods are paid, the stipulated quantity of corn and wine and oil, the tithes, the firstfruits, the animals for the altar, the tribute for the temple, then the worshipper who has thus discharged his obligations may feel himself free to follow out his own tastes and inclinations. In the Roman religion, for example, every dealing with the gods was a strictly legal contract; the Roman general agreed with Jupiter or with Mars that if the battle should be won a temple should be built. It was not necessary that the cause should be right, or that the general should be good; the sacrifice of the wicked, though offered with an evil intent, was as valid as the158 sacrifice of the good. In either case the same amount of marble and stone, of silver and gold, would come to the god.

In the Eastern religions not only were goodness and righteousness dissociated from the idea of the gods, but evil of the grossest kinds was definitely associated with them. The Phœnician deities, like those of the Hindoos, were actually worshipped with rites of murder and lust. Every vice had its patron god or goddess, and it was forgotten by priest and people that goodness could be the way of pleasing God, or moral evil a cause of offence to Him.

Even in Israel, where the teaching of Revelation was current in the proverbs of the people, the practice generally followed the heathen conceptions. All the burning protests of the inspired prophets could not avail to convince the Israelite that what God required was not sacrifice and offering, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him. Again and again we find that the high places were frequented and the ritual supported by men who were sensual, unjust, and cruel. The Sabbath Day was kept, the feasts were duly observed, the priests were handsomely maintained, and there, it was supposed, the legitimate claims of Jehovah ceased. What more could He desire?

This is surely the most impressive proof that the Truth which is under consideration is far from being obvious. Israel himself, the chosen channel for communicating this truth to the world, was so slow to understand and to grasp it, that his religious observances were constantly degenerating into lifeless ceremonies devoid of all moral significance, and his religious159 teachers were mainly occupied in denouncing his conduct as wholly inconsistent with the truth.

So far from treating the truth as a truism, our Lord in all His teaching laboured to bring it out in greater clearness, and to set it in the forefront of His message to men. He made it the very keynote of the Gospel that not every one who says, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven, but he that doeth the will of His Father in heaven. He painted with exquisite simplicity and clearness the right life, the conduct which God requires of us, and then likened every one who practised this life to a man who builds his house on a rock, and every one who does not practise it to a man who builds his house on the sand. He declared, in the spirit of all that we have just read from the book of Proverbs, that teachers were to be judged by their fruits, and that God would estimate our lives not by what we professed to do, but by what we did; and He took up the very language of the book in declaring that every man should be judged according to his works.277277   Matt. xvi. 27. In every word He spoke He made it plain that goodness is what God loves, and that wickedness is what He judges and destroys. In the same way every one of the Apostles insists on this truth with a new earnestness. St. John more especially reiterates it, in words which sound even more like a truism than the sayings of this book: "He that doeth righteousness is righteous even as He is righteous;" and, "If ye know that He is righteous, ye know that every one also that doeth righteousness is begotten of Him."278278   1 John iii. 7, 10; ii. 29.

The Gospel itself is accompanied by a new and more160 earnest assertion of this cardinal truth, that God loves goodness, and that He judges men according to their works. And even now, after many centuries of Christian faith, and notwithstanding all the teachings of the Bible and the witness of the Spirit, it is very difficult for many of us to understand that religion is goodness, and religion without goodness is impiety of the worst kind. It is supposed by some, in face of all the accumulated truth and wisdom of the ages which have passed since this book was written, that God's last and highest message is a dispensation from practical righteousness—that the Gospel of Grace means God's willingness to accept men because they believe, apart from the actual goodness to which all faith is calculated to lead; as if the Gospel were an announcement that God had entirely changed His nature, and that all the best and noblest teachings of His Spirit in the past were set aside by His final revelation. Behind some figment or other, some perverted notion of imputed righteousness, men try to hide their guilty countenance, and to persuade themselves that now, in virtue of the Cross, they can see God without holiness, without purity of heart. Heaven has been treated as a place where men can enter who work abomination and make a lie; and in order to secure a full acceptance for our dogma we try to depreciate goodness as if it were a thing of little worth, and even come to look with some suspicion on those who are only good—only moral, I think we call it—and do not hold our own views of speculative truth. Meanwhile religious teachers "tell the wicked they are righteous," and earn the curse of the nation, because they thereby enable men to be hard and cruel and unjust and selfish and proud and contemptuous, and161 yet to esteem themselves as justified by faith. Others "justify the wicked," accepting a verbal profession in place of a virtuous practice; and that, as we have seen, is abominable to the Lord.

Justification by faith loses all its meaning and all its value unless it is fully admitted that to be just is the great end and aim of religion. Salvation becomes a delusion unless it is perceived that it means righteousness. Heaven, and the saints' everlasting rest, become worthless and misleading ideas unless we recognise that it is the abode of goodness, and that saints are not, as we sometimes seem to imply, bad people regarded as holy by a legal fiction, but people who are made good and are actually holy.

Strong as the language of our book is upon the subject, it is not possible to bring out in mere proverbial sayings the eternal necessity of this great truth. Goodness and blessedness are actually identical, the reverse and the obverse sides of the same coin. If a man is made good he is made blessed; but if he is made blessed to all appearance, and not good, the blessedness proves to be an illusion. It could not possibly avail to be justified by faith, unless we were made just by faith; a sore body is not healed by covering it up, a dead man is not quickened by a smiling mask. There have been many people who counted themselves the elect, and made no question that they were saved, though they remained all the time inwardly wicked; they were miserable, sour, discontented, censorious, a burden to themselves, an eyesore to others; they were persuaded that they would be happy in heaven, and they supposed that their constant wretchedness was due to their being pilgrims in a strange land;162 but the fact was they would be more wretched still in heaven, for nowhere is evil such a curse as in a place where good prevails; their misery arose from their own wicked hearts, and in the next world, their hearts still being wicked, their misery must continue and increase.

May God grant us a clear vision in this matter, that we may see the due relation of things! Goodness is the principal thing—for it faith itself and all religion exists. God is goodness—man is evil; what God means by saving us is to make us good like Himself. That we must be saved by faith means that we must be made good by faith, not that we must take faith in place of goodness. That righteousness is imputed to us by the goodness of God means that the goodness of Christ is reckoned as ours for the purpose of making us good, not in order to spare us the necessity of being good. And in this way, and this only, we must estimate one another. What a man believes in his heart we can never fully know; but whether he is good or not is a matter plain as the day. It is easy to bandy words of reproach, to call men unbelievers, sceptics, atheists; but there is only one wise way of speaking and thinking. If we see goodness, let us thank God, for there, be sure, His Spirit is;279279   "If ye know that He is righteous," says St. John, "ye know that every one also that doeth righteousness is begotten of Him." (1 John ii. 29). if we see the lovely graces which shine in our Lord Jesus Christ gleaming, however fitfully, in our fellow-men, let us recognise Christ there. And where we see wickedness, let no consideration of outward Christian profession or orthodoxy of belief restrain us from fully recognising that it is evil, or from courageously contending against it.

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