Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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Because the way of an upright man is God’s way, it is safe. Those who walk with a righteous man are enriched by the experience, for they enjoy with him the sweetness of his way. In the path of righteousness is unending life; death cannot touch it. But the path of sin is a hard path, fraught with trouble.
Wicked men entice others to join them in their ungodliness with vain promises of happiness in sin. They know how to pressure others into making ill-considered, hasty decisions, and those who do so are ensnared by evil. Wicked men leave the impression that their ways will lead to happiness, and their vain speeches attract those whose hearts are impure, but the way of God’s commandments is the only way that leads to happiness. Because evil men believe that there is a path to happiness that circumvents God’s commandments, they waste their whole lives searching for it, and because they spend their lives pursuing sin, cruel angels are sent to visit them. Misery and destruction pursue in a circle of death all those who pursue happiness apart from God.
A wicked man cunningly labors to make his evil works appear to be good, but they are not, and the happiness he hopes to gain by deceit is reserved by God for those whose work is truly good. When a man is righteous, righteousness is expressed in everything he does. A righteous man is kind even to his animals. Likewise, everything a wicked man does is tainted with sin. Be wary of a wicked man most when he appears to be kind and good; such a man always has an ulterior, self-serving motive. Regardless of his smooth words, there is no concern whatsoever in his heart for your welfare, and once he obtains what he wants from you, you will mean no more to him than dirt.
If a wicked man persuades one of God’s children to follow him toward a cleverly hidden trap, he himself will fall into it, and the Lord will lead His sorrowful, errant child back to the right way and bless him. However, the child of God who is deceived by a thief’s promise of quick happiness and then consents to his wicked way despises his own soul; he is throwing away his hope of eternal life and happiness. When a righteous man receives the counsel of the ungodly and follows it, wickedness is given credibility. Innocent souls are placed in peril because they trust the righteous man’s judgment and follow his example. The man who is taught the right ways of the Lord and then turns away from them will himself be turned away by the Lord when he cries out for help, but God’s rewards for faithfulness will completely satisfy the upright man.
In time, those who are unfaithful to their covenant with God become perverse; they take pleasure in the wicked and promote the way of transgression. Those who love God are faithful to the covenant; they withstand the wicked and reprove the works of darkness. Neither those who have forsaken the right way nor those who have never walked in it understand the judgments of the Lord, but the upright acknowledge the righteousness of the judgments that God executes in the earth.
The righteous man’s integrity pleases God; he fears Him, and the fear of God produces in his heart life-giving thoughts and desires. It creates a hatred for the paths of sin and prevents the upright from wandering off the safe path. The man whose heart fears God has a sense for what leads toward eternal life, and he is content with where his heart leads him, knowing that he is safe from evil. To produce fruit does not strain the vineyard, and to do good does not strain the upright in heart. It is not necessary to try to be what one already is; it is the struggle to be what one is not that burdens the soul. Be good, and you will do good. We are faithful to God only as we are faithful to good. The principal goal of wisdom is not to make men theologically correct but to make them good.
Even when the way is unclear, a righteous man’s heart senses the direction of the secret pathway to happiness, and he chooses that way. He doesn’t have to think about it, for it is his nature to do what is good. Every heart that is perfect with God is guided by an unseen hand, one that is felt, not seen (to ignore your feelings is unwise), and the purity of an upright man’s heart delivers him, for it is repulsed by invitations to wander off the right path. The integrity of an upright man causes him to make right choices even when he is confused concerning which path to take. Everything a righteous man does tends to make the pathway to happiness clearer for him, and as he goes along, the pathway grows brighter and brighter for him until he rests in peace with God.
The reason God punishes the wicked is because of their evil deeds; if they would receive His correction and turn from wickedness, He would accept them. But the wicked cling to the goods they have stolen as if those things had been given to them by God. They know they have done wrong, but they despise their precious, God-given opportunities to make things right. Their stubborn refusal to repent and restore the goods they have stolen is what really destroys them. It is their own twisted, unjust way of living that leads transgressors to the inescapable torments of the Pit. They stumble headlong into trouble because of their own stubborn wickedness. In transgressing God’s commandments, their own naughtiness ensnares them. They need no enemies; their own sins work against them. Whatever the wicked do ‘without them even having to think about it’ leads to further ungodliness; their spirits are corrupt; they carry in their very breath the disease of sin. The heart of the wicked is simply not worth much.
Among the many benefits of righteousness is that it makes the whole body healthier and produces strength for the soul, but the envious nature of sinners devours their health and peace like a cancer. A man who steadfastly lives a life of righteousness cannot be deceived or destroyed; not only is he himself protected by the Lord but his children also will escape many troubles because he trusts in God.
The wicked do not anticipate the destruction that God plans for them because they do not believe what God has said, but the righteous man’s desire for happiness will be realized. The ungodly may expect blessings in the afterlife, but it will not come to pass; the hope of eternal blessing that the unrighteous hold perishes with them when they die. Trusting in one’s own ways is like hiding from a raging fire in a storehouse filled with olive oil. The righteous is protected by God in this life and will be saved from the days of wrath that are to come, but the sinner will be suddenly and mercilessly destroyed. The just reward of fools and sinners is God’s business alone; you are completely free to keep your mind on your own business and to pursue eternal happiness.
Those who pursue an evil course are pursuing their own destruction. In time, the situation is reversed. Instead of them pursuing sin and death, sin and death begin to pursue them, and they will not escape. Destruction will be their reward from God. They will be filled with trouble as surely as those who pursue peace and goodness will live forever in God’s loving favor. The righteous man’s trust in the Lord will be proved right when God fills him to overflowing with happiness. He will receive his due reward, and nothing shall be lacking to him. It will be impossible for anyone to take from the upright the happiness that God has promised them, and it will be quite impossible to rescue the wicked from damnation when they face God in the Judgment. Remember this, my son; mark it well. Do not think that it is safe to commit a sin because a multitude of people are doing so. If every person on earth chooses the path of wickedness, then every person on earth will be damned. There is no safety in numbers.
In the field of iniquity, nothing of any lasting value is produced, even if the ungodly labor assiduously in their tasks. Sinners may angrily argue their case and demand much for their hard work, but their demands and their works will amount to nothing. The Creator is not intimidated by them. Nothing that an arrogant person hopes for will come to pass; all his dreams of happiness will end in nightmarish torment. The sinful man may for a while gloat over his earthly success, but the brightness of his smile will dim when he watches all of his successes crumble into dust and sees the righteous man’s joy shining steadily on his countenance.
The favor of God, my son, is found among those who are righteous. His blessings crown the just, but the cruel sufferings that afflict the wicked leave them speechless and ashamed. Do not be confused. Every circumstance in the life of the upright man is a part of God’s plan for his eternal blessing, so let it be your joy to know simply that you are always doing the right thing. Regardless of any present circumstances, the righteous man holds in his heart the comforting knowledge that lasting peace and blessing are his because he wants nothing but what is good in God’s sight; at the same time, the wicked man’s heart senses that the day of God’s wrath is coming upon him. You can rest assured that the good man’s desires shall be granted in full and that the evil man’s fear shall fully come upon him.
The Lord, in whom the righteous trust, is like a rock that cannot be moved. He is an impregnable fortress to those who trust in Him. But the wicked, trusting as they do in houses made of straw, never feel secure; their guilty conscience makes them fearful even if no one is pursuing them. In time, those who trust in the Rock are made like the Rock. Their confidence becomes unshakable; they are completely unmoved by the vanities of multitudes of ungodly men; their souls overflow with God’s blessing. So confident do they become whose hearts trust in God that they sing and rejoice as they walk past the most artfully disguised snares of the wicked. They enjoy, here and now, foretastes of the eternal happiness that awaits them at the end of the way. They do not fear men; they trust in God and are safe. Whoever fears men commits sin, for that is the will of men; but whoever fears God does not sin, for that is the will of God. The righteous fear of God will keep a man happy, while those who do not fear God follow paths that are full of trouble.
Regardless of what the wicked do, God is displeased with them. God despises an ungodly man even when he worships Him. Son, if you refuse to obey God’s voice, you will make even your prayer an abomination to the Lord. It is righteousness that makes worship worth anything. Praise without obedience is nothing more than flattery, and God is not a sucker for flattery, as some men are. Moreover, as much as God despises the worship offered to Him by the ungodly, He is even more provoked when an ungodly man’s worship is part of some clever, evil scheme. God abhors the wicked man’s confidence, his self-exalted attitude, and even his hopes for the future. It is the prayer of the upright that God desires, and when righteous men rejoice together before the Lord, there is joy both in heaven and on earth.
The curse of liars is to believe their own lies; the ones whom liars deceive most are themselves. In vain do liars hope that deceit will bring them happiness. A wicked man’s trust in sinful ways entraps him; he becomes incurably addicted to vain efforts to become happy, and God will not set him free. But when the just and faithful man is in difficulties, God delivers him because that man, like God, hates lies and will not resort to deceit in an effort to obtain happiness.
Sin is purged from the heart by mercy and truth. The greatest error is the one still being made, for whoever confesses his sins and turns from them will obtain abundant mercy from God, and his sins will be forgotten. But those who try to hide their guilt in their breast like Adam will be found out, as he was, and will be punished. The way of truth is not something merely to be believed; it is a thing to be done.
Men who devise unrighteous schemes are making a huge mistake, for the way to lasting happiness is revealed only to those who meditate on ways to do good. Even in their sleep, ungodly men labor to devise means to attain to happiness without God, and when they awake, they craft their words to set their evil schemes into motion. But even after successfully accomplishing his cruel plan against the innocent, a wicked man finds no peace; his heart trembles with fear of being discovered and held accountable for his deeds. God always makes certain that the path that such a man takes in his flight from justice leads down into the Pit. Do not meddle with God’s judgment; let it happen.
An essential element of an evil schemer’s plan is to maintain a high-profile appearance of goodness, but he will eventually be exposed to be the mischievous person he really is; it is not possible for him to escape forever the revealing light of truth. And if his foul plans are discovered before he can execute them, he may laugh, pretending that his scheme was intended only as a prank. Do not trust him. His heart is as inclined toward ruining others as a raging madman with cruel weapons in his hands.
An ungodly man’s soul longs for sin, and he is determined to satisfy that longing even if it means hurting those nearest to him and losing everything worth having. His reward will be interminable terror; God will snatch the upright from the clutches of death and cast the wicked instead into the ravenous chambers of everlasting torment. Scheming to do evil to others is like pushing a huge boulder up an increasingly steep mountain; it is like digging a pitfall outside your own front door. The wicked will have their own violence and cruelty forced down their throats; they will be made to swallow the bitter, burning fruit of their own ungodly deeds.
The road of rebellion and frowardness leads through thickets of thorns and deadly pitfalls, but there are no such dangers on the right path. The pathway that leads to lasting happiness is a pleasant path (though lonely at times) that leads away from danger, sin, and disgrace. The one who single-mindedly perseveres along that pathway will save his soul from many a heartache. When you keep the commandment, you keep your soul from death, but the one who is careless in choosing his path will surely die. Wicked men do not lay their snares in a haphazard manner; they care deeply about accomplishing their wicked purposes, and you must take equal care to avoid them.
The words of a righteous man are as precious as the purest silver. He considers carefully the effect his words might have on others before he allows words to proceed out of his mouth; his words generate life in those who hear him. The simple wisdom of the righteous is constantly and freely offered, like good food for the soul, to all; and when a righteous man speaks, souls who are hungry for truth are satisfied. The righteous man makes the wisdom of God understandable to those who sincerely desire it; but fools, claiming to be hungry for wisdom, will scorn to taste of it. Their pompous souls starve to death in a vain pursuit of profundity. There is something within the spirit of a righteous man that senses how to speak so as to please God and bless people; and because the righteous man’s heart is pure, God rewards him by having compassion on him when he prays. God satisfies him even as he has satisfied other needy souls.
A wicked man, having no fear of God, speaks peaceably to a trusting victim while sending secret signals to an accomplice. By one means or another he brings sorrow and strife to every person who trusts him. But the loss and sadness that his crafty tongue causes others will someday come crashing down upon his own arrogant, unsuspecting head, and he will find no comfort in anything. In that day, he will beg for relief from his distress, but God will not answer. When the wicked man’s tearful eyes turn upward, he will find no way of escape from his suffering, for God is determined to reward the wicked man for his cruelty by cruelly ignoring him in his distress. The cruel man will plead in vain for deliverance from his suffering because it is God’s wrath, not man’s, that holds him fast. No one can snatch the upright from God’s mighty hand, and no one can rescue the wicked from it.
A hypocrite’s words can ruin the lives of those who remain close to him. Even if you know he is unrighteous and wrong, his evil words will affect your heart if you continue to listen. The wicked will mercilessly set up innocent people to be plundered and murdered. Through self-serving counsel, which may appear altruistic, wicked men can even bring about the collapse of whole societies. However, those who trust the counsel of righteous men and shun evil companions will escape every snare that the wicked lay, no matter how cleverly they disguise them.
Never forget this, my young son: only those who do good are good. Do not be fooled by fair speeches. Many an impressive oration has been delivered by unprincipled men, and wanton women are seldom wanting for words. The wicked have learned how to shape their speech so as to gain the confidence of souls, but only the simple-minded trust them, for a wicked man’s heart is a spiritual cesspool. His speech infects with the sickness of sin those who listen to him, and it leads them toward a violent, terrifying death. An evil man’s words promote smugness and rebellion; his words are seeds of strife that he hopes will gain him some advantage over others. Watch and be patient; God will someday cut out his arrogant, self-assured tongue.
A wicked man’s mouth is known by the ungodliness that floods out of it. Actually, a wicked man does not even have to speak in order to be abhorrent to God; God despises even a politely quiet wicked person.
On a man’s deathbed, wealth gained by wickedness will be of no help at all, but even death itself cannot harm the one who walks uprightly before the Lord. And on the Day of Judgment, it will be righteousness, not earthly station or wealth, that will save you from eternal damnation. Just give it time; men who trust in temporal treasures will plunge into timeless penury, but the upright will overflow endlessly with blessings. Do not fret yourself when you see the wicked becoming rich. Wicked rich men are unwittingly being used by God as they hoard up many goods. At God’s direction, they are gathering those riches in safe places so that He can later confiscate them for distribution to the upright.
One of the ways wicked men seek to pervert justice and to gain unfair advantage over others is to offer bribes to those who are in authority. Their schemes to enrich themselves may succeed for a while, but in the end, all people will learn that it is far better to be poor and principled than to be super rich and supercilious. The righteous are given enough in this life by God, and a good man’s descendants are remembered by God after he dies. But the wicked man, no matter how wealthy, will see the time when he earnestly desires what he can never have. Even here in this life, God undermines the wicked man’s efforts to hold on to great riches, but God upholds the righteous, though he be poor. Everything the wicked manages to acquire and build in his short lifetime will come to nothing, but the work of the righteous will prosper, and his possessions will endure.
Seek eternal things, my son, and do not envy the wicked for their fleeting successes and prosperity, nor desire to be their friend and companion. They are perpetually up to no good; their tongues are always advancing some new and mischievous scheme. Do not let it irritate you when an ungodly person escapes justice or is honored or enjoys great success in amassing fortunes. Do not envy him because of these things. The only reward that matters is the one that lasts, and he will spend eternity in a place where there is not one moment of happiness. The brightness and glory of the wicked is very short-lived, and the man who envies them is no wiser than an animal.
Anger can so provoke a man that he becomes unreasonable and inflicts damage upon another. And wrath is worse still, for it is anger that is set on fire. It will hardly be put out before it has cruelly scorched a life. But envy is more destructive than either anger or wrath. If envy invades your heart, you may commit acts that are crueler than even most sinners would stoop to commit. Jealousy is the fear of losing what rightfully belongs to you and is as cruel as the grave in fighting to keep it. (Even God is jealous over His chosen people.) But envy covets what rightfully belongs to others and is more ruthless than death in obtaining it. Guard your heart well against envy, my son; she is the mother of diabolical deeds. Envy is the queen of cruelty.
The man who fears God is both humble and merciful. He fervently pursues righteousness and is blessed not only with righteousness but also with eternal life, enduring riches, and everlasting honor. A righteous man possesses many true riches such as these, but the unrighteous store up vanity and sorrow for the days ahead. The wicked are rich in wrath.
Oh, wicked men! Do not lay your traps for the righteous, to rob them of their goods. Do not break into their homes to harm them and to take what God has given them! You cannot destroy them, though you plunder their homes and abuse them seven times, for God is with them and will raise them up again. And when God casts you into the pit of trouble, as He certainly will, who will act as your Redeemer, to raise you up again and relieve you of your misery?
How beautiful in the eyes of the Lord is the white hair of an aged man if his time on earth has been spent doing the will of God! As the upright man is dying, he possesses a secure hope of eternal happiness; but as soon as the wicked man’s spirit leaves his body, he is driven into hell, far from the merciful presence of God. (You can die without the love of God, but you cannot live without it.) It is a joy to contemplate the life of a righteous man who has died, but the more one reflects upon the life of an ungodly man, the more unsavory his memory becomes. The death of a wicked man is a blessing to everybody.
A hardhearted, avaricious man avoids the company of the upright because righteousness exposes his perverse ways, but a righteous man is a much-loved beacon of hope for those who are searching for truth. The violent hatred that wicked men feel for the upright, however, is easily matched by the righteous man’s disgust for the wicked. Friendship with God is enmity with the world; and if you ever begin to think differently, go find yourself a quiet, solitary place and search your heart. Some will tell you that God loves everybody, and that He loves everybody equally, and that He will never hurt anybody; but those ideas are vain fantasies from the imaginations of perverse men. Listen to me, my son, and tremble! God is patient and is very merciful to repentant souls, but He is nobody’s fool. Continual repentance is no repentance at all. Repentance is not a feeling; it is a doing. Many sinners have been “pricked in their hearts” by the Spirit of the Lord without changing one whit their ungodly course in this life.
God loves with a special kind of love those who obey His commandments. But even among the righteous there are some who are dearer to His heart than others because they are wiser and more prudent in their ways. But all who wander from the pathway of righteousness to do wickedly and all who are covetous make themselves abhorrent to Him, and those whom God abhors He turns over to the power of darkness. Be warned, my son. You have heard it said by some of the foolish that our Creator loves everyone on earth equally and unconditionally, but I tell you that He hates wicked men. His soul detests their foolish thoughts and their iniquitous ways.
To fear the Lord is the sum of all that wisdom teaches us. O, my precious son, keep the commandments of God, for God will bring every one of your deeds into judgment, whether they be good or evil.