“Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.”Psalm 1:5
This is an important word to remember.
The dictionary defines antithesis as ‘a contrast’, ‘an opposition’; the very opposite!’ There is a thesis, the positive, and there is an antithesis, the negative.
For in the beginning God created light, and also darkness. He created the day, and also the night. He created white as a combination of colors, and black as the absence of color. God created heat, and also the absence of heat, cold.
In the same way the Lord placed two trees in paradise, the tree of life, and, so to speak, the tree of death. Adam was to say “Yes” to the tree of life, but “No” to the tree of evil.
When Adam fell God brought about another antithesis, the antithesis between the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent, between Christ and Belial, between spiritual light and spiritual darkness, between believers and infidels, between God and idols. II Cor. 6:14-16.
God also made antithesis between heaven and hell, eternal life in covenant fellowship with Him, and everlasting torment under His consuming condemnation: “Depart from me, thou worker of iniquity!”
It is this antithesis that appears in the text at the heading of this article. It is the antithesis between the righteous, on the one hand, and the unrighteous, on the other.
The key word is stand. The righteous shall stand, the unrighteous shall not stand.
The righteous shall stand in judgment. They will also stand where the saints are gathered together.
The unrighteous will be driven away in the judgment. Therefore there will be no place for them in the congregation of the righteous.
This means that there are two kinds of people in this world, and only two. You and I belong to the one or the other. No one can straddle the fence. No one can be a two-timer, not really. How important it is that we know whether we belong to the righteous or to the unrighteous, and that this becomes evident in our lives!
For the righteous are and forever will be the blessed ones, (verse 1) The unrighteous are and forever will be the most miserable of all creatures, (verse 5)
The figure that is brought to mind is of a judgment seat and a judge. The Judge is God, the sovereign Lord of heaven and earth, who judges every man, woman and child upon the earth. You and I stand daily on trial before Him. He sees our actions, hears what we say, reads our thoughts and knows the deepest desires of our souls. He puts one question to each of us: Do you love ME with your whole heart, with your every desire, with all your thoughts, with every word you utter and with your whole life every moment of every day?
There are two kinds of people in this world. Thus there are, as it were, two defendants that stand before God’s tribunal.
Turning to the one defendant the Judge asks: Do you love Me?
This person thinks a moment, feels that this Judge is demanding too much of him (her). He answers: I am not bad. I certainly am far better than many people I know, also church members. I go to church. I work hard to be a success in the world. I try to please my fellow man and to gain his approval.
The Judge stares at the defendant and asks critically, “You say that you are not bad, in fact, pretty good?”
The defendant answers curtly, “Surely I have a right to live my own life as I please. I am young only once. No one should object if I give in to my inner feelings, maybe by watching TV, maybe by attending a movie, or maybe by reading an off-color novel or magazine in private. Why cannot I join my peers in a drinking party or in a dance? Sooner or later I’ll settle down to be a good parent and a good member of the church”.
The Judge turns to the second defendant and asks: “Do you love Me when you eat, and when you drink, and in whatever you do?”
This person hangs his head in shame and answers: “No, I have not loved Thee, the living God, with my whole being.”
The question is put to him: “Have you loved me much? Or maybe a little?”
To which he answers: “According to the flesh, No! I am the chief of sinners, for I have grossly transgressed all Thy commandments and have kept none of them. *”
Do you promise to keep my law perfectly from now on?
“I cannot promise that, for by nature I am prone to all evil and incapable of any good. Lord, have mercy upon me, the sinner. Give me grace to know Thee, to love and to serve Thee only as my God. Work in me always both to will and to do according to Thy good pleasure!
To the first defendant the righteous Judge declares: Depart from Me, thou worker of iniquity. For the unrighteous shall not stand in judgment.
That is evident already now. Already in this life the sinner is plagued with a guilty conscience. What a price he pays for the insatiable cravings of the flesh. The power of sin is like the strong arms of an octopus wrapping itself about him, crushing, destroying him. He already experiences the bitter consequences of a sinful walk and fears even worse to follow. No one knows how miserable he is. He cannot pray. Heaven is closed to him. God’s hand is heavy on him with a condemning: “I know thee not!” He can only drown his sorrow in still deeper sins.
The second defendant hears the Judge say to him: “My verdict is that you are not guilty! You are free from condemnation, righteous, worthy to stand in my presence.”
He asks: How is that possible? How can a guilty sinner be righteous before God?
The answer is: Go in peace, thy sins, though they be ever so many are forgiven thee. My sovereign love forgives.
That brings us back to eternity. God sees us eternally in Christ. There is no reason in us; mere creatures of the dust, much less in us who are sinful creatures, that God should love us. But He has chosen us in Christ. God has reason in Himself to love us.
But is not God just? God’s love for us required the sacrifice of His only begotten Son on the cross. God gave His Son to die for such sinners as we are. And the Son gave His all, His very life in the flesh. At the early age of 33 years, when He stood in the prime of His life, He gave Himself unto death, the accursed death of the cross to save us from our sins.
How do we know that Christ died for us? We have the assurance that he who confesses and forsakes his sins finds mercy. The Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Word and through the sacraments assures us, ‘‘Go in peace, thy sins are forgiven thee.”
How true it is, the sinner shall not stand in the congregation of the righteous.
He already excludes himself by his sinful walk of life. The expression on his face, his dress, his actions all betray his attitude toward church and the people of God. He sits in the congregation on Sunday, attends catechism or society, but finds it all very boring. His thoughts are everywhere but where they should be. In one word, the sinner isolates himself from the congregation and from the communion of saints. Unless he repents with a sincere, heart-felt conversion, that person finds himself outside of the church, either by his own personal choice or by the keys of the kingdom.
He is like the chaff that is blown away by the wind of God’s holy anger. Now and eternally he experiences, “Depart from Me, thou worker of iniquity. I know thee not!”
But the righteous person finds a permanent place in the assembly of the saints, where his heart is. He experiences that he is one with the family of God, the household of faith. He is like a tree planted by the stream of the waters of life that flow to us from Christ through His Word and by His Spirit. With the saints of all ages He gives praise to the God of His salvation.
In that great Day of days he will hear the righteous Judge, His Savior and Lord declare, “Come, thou blessed, and inherit the kingdom that is prepared for you.”
There is always the antithesis. For it is always either/or. He who is not for Christ is against Him, and he who is for Him cannot be against Him!
* Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 23.