The heading has been suggested by the reading of Isaiah 33:15, 16 as follows: "He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly; he that despiseth the gain of oppressions, that shaketh his hand from holding of bribes, that stoppeth his ears from hearing of blood, and shutteth his eyes from seeing evil, he shall dwell on high; his place of defense shall be the munition of rocks: bread shall be given him; his waters shall be sure."
It may be profitable to notice the marks of a good man's character as here given:
1. 1. He walks righteously. This means that he regulates his actions by the principles of justice. He aims to do justly. In all his dealings with his fellow-men he strives to come up to the standard of right. He would rather suffer wrong than to do wrong. God's word is his standard, and in the fear of God he engages all his business transactions. He would take no advantage of his fellow creatures if he could. He would scorn to avail himself of a legal right in violation of moral right. The customs of society cannot make him do what he believes to be wrong.
2. He speaks uprightly. He utters the truth. There is no equivocation, no duplicity. Veracity is with him one of the cardinal virtues. An oath adds nothing to the credibility of what such a man says. He can be relied on. Could he promote his own interests by varying from the truth, he would not deviate from it a hair's breadth. The love of the truth is in his soul.
3. He despises the gain of oppressions. Much worldly gain is secured by oppression. Often the rich make and increase their wealth by oppressing the poor. Laborers were defrauded by their employers in apostolic times, as we learn from James 5:4. Alas, this kind of apostolic succession is undeniable. Many women dependent on the needle for a living are oppressed. It is said that summer coats which sell in Philadelphia for three and four dollars apiece are made by poor women, on sewing machines, at ninety cents a dozen! If this is so, there is oppression. The good man despises the gain of oppression.
4. He abhors bribes. The object of a bribe is to secure a perversion of justice. Unjust judges have often taken bribes, and a gift has perverted judgment. It seems to be historically conceded that Lord Bacon was guilty of this offense. Possibly Mr. Pope made no wide mistake in referring to him as "The greatest, wisest, meanest of mankind." True, Macauley says it was the custom of the time to take bribes; but what is a good man's goodness worth if he does not triumph over evil customs? If a bribe were put ever so secretly into the hands of a good man, he would indignantly throw it down. He would shake his hands from holding it. It is useless to tamper with such a man. He is not accessible to unrighteous influences.
5. He stops his ears from hearing of blood. No proposition to shed blood directly or indirectly is contenanced by him. There is no cruelty in his heart, and hence there are no developments of a cruel disposition. He would not shed blood to avenge injuries inflicted upon himself unless in defense of his own life, or in defense of lives as dear as his own. The words of the prophet no doubt refer to a proposal to shed blood, from which a proposal a good man stops his ears. He is unwilling to hear of anything that so offends his sense of justice.
6. He is unwilling to behold evil. This shows a settled hatred of sin, and it is characteristic of all good men that they hate sin. Many who have a good standing in society, look leniently on many evils, and indirectly encourage them. The truly good man so abhors evil that he is not willing to see it. He shuts his eyes from seeing evil.
The safety of such a man is next referred:
1. He shall dwell on high. He occupies an elevated position. He lives above the deception, the trickery, and the corruption of the world. He belongs to the moral nobility of our race and does much to redeem human nature from its degradation. As physical elevation above surrounding danger secures safety, so spiritual elevation is a guarantee of spiritual security. The good man may have trials, but they will do him no real injury. He is
"Like some tall cliff that lifts its awful form,
Swells from the vale, and midway meets the storm;
Though round its base the rolling clouds may spread,
Eternal sunshine settles on its head."
2. He has a place of defense. His place of defense shall be the munitions of rocks. The idea is that of safety. He is as safe as in a fortress built of the most substantial materials in nature. He is protected by his God, for "the name of the Lord is a strong tower: the righteous runneth into it and is safe." God is the good man's shield, and says, "I will never leave thee nor forsake thee." There are in this declaration depths of consolation, which can never be fathomed. "Gabriel may throw his lead, but will find no soundings." The good man is safe. "The munitions of rocks" is only a faint symbol of the protection and security which God affords to those who put their trust in Him.
3. His wants shall be supplied. Bread shall be given him - his waters shall be sure. These are the real necessaries of life. There may be comfortable, though not luxurious living on bread and water. There is no starvation where there is bread and water. The prophet teaches that He will do what is needful for His people. This accords with the language of Christ: "Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you." By "these things" are meant providential blessings, and "all these things," so far as God sees that it is best, will be bestowed on the good man. It is a blessed thing that God is Judge in the matter. He may withhold worldly blessings from His people with a view to their spiritual good. The believer in some moments of despondency may say, "God is able by His power to keep me out of trials." Even so, but suppose His love brings you into trials for your good, then the love itself lays a wise restraint on the power, not permitting it to extricate you from the trial till they are sanctified. How important to possess the character and enjoy the safety of the good man! The marks of goodness to which I have referred to are external. To those familiar with the Bible I need not say that goodness, evangelical goodness, has its beginning in the regeneration of the heart. - J.M.P.
[From the Western Recorder, September, 6, 1877. The sermon is taken from The Historic Baptist Magazine, Fall edition, 1999, pp. 12-13. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]
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