Morning Sermon: Psalm 1, The Two Ways


New Testament Reading: John 15:1-11

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned. If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:1–11, ESV)

Old Testament  Reading: Psalm 1

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” (Psalm 1, ESV)


Please excuse any typos and misspellings within this manuscript. It has been published online for the benefit of the saints of Emmaus Reformed Baptist Church but without the benefit of proofreading.


We have concluded our study of 1 Timothy. I thoroughly enjoyed preaching through that letter. And I do believe it was a timely study for our congregation. Now I would like to spend some time with you in the Psalms. I’m not entirely sure how long we will be here. If I were to guess I would say no fewer than five weeks, and no more than 10. Obviously, I will not be preaching through the whole book of Psalms in that time. That would take years! Instead, I will select only a few Psalms. My intention is to select Psalms from a variety of genres or categories. As you probably know, there are different types of Psalms — there are Psalms of thanksgiving, lament, and confidence to name a few — and I think it is good for the congregation to be exposed to the diversity within the Psalter.

Now, please allow me to make a few brief remarks about the Psalms by way of introduction to this series. We have been studying the Psalms in Sunday School for about 9 weeks now, and so some of this will be review for those who have attended that class. 

One, notice that there are 150 Psalms in total. And each Psalm does stand alone. 

Two, these Psalms are in fact songs. They were written for God’s people to sing. And God’s people have sung the Psalms for generations. The faithful who lived prior to the birth of Christ sung the Psalms. Christ and his disciples sung the Psalms. And the Christain church has sung the Psalms.  Perhaps you have noticed that as of late we have been introducing Psalms into our singing. We desire to be faithful to sing “psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God”, as Paul commands in Colossians 3:16 and Ephesians 5:19. So here in the Psalter, we find 150 Psalms, and they are songs. 

Three, these 150 Psalms have been organized into five books. Notice the heading above Psalm 1. The heading says, “Book One”. And if you were to turn over to Psalm 42 you would notice the heading, “Book Two”. Book three begins with Psalm 73; book four with Psalm 90; and book five with Psalm 107. And so these 150 Psalms are organized into five books.   

Four, though the Psalms are typically attributed to King David, David was not the only one to write them. He wrote many of them. In fact, he wrote Psalm 1, which we will be considering today. But there are many other authors, including, but not limited to, Solomon, Moses, the Sons of Korah, and Asaph. 

Five, it is clear then that these Psalms were not written all at once. No, the oldest Psalm (Psalm 90) was written by Moses (in approximately 1,500 B.C.), and one Psalm appears to have been written at the time of the return of the Jews from Babylonian captivity (Psalm 126), which took place in 538 B.C. So you see that the Psalms were composed over a 1,000 year period of time.  

Six, that begs the question, who brought the book of Psalms into its final form? Who organized them into the five books, giving each Psalm its particular place? Scholars have suggested that it was a priest, scribe who lived at the time of the return from Babylonian captivity. Maybe Ezra or Nehemiah, or someone like them. That seems very reasonable to me. 

Seven, that begs another question. If the Psalms are not organized chronologically (and they are not — Psalm 90 is the oldest, Psalm 126 is the newest), and if they are not organized according to the author (again, they are not), then how are they organized? Is the order random? 

Some wonderful work has been done on this question. In particular, I appreciate the work of O. Palmer Robertson in his book, The Flow Of The Psalms. He recognizes that the Psalms are about God’s king and God’s kingdom. And he claims that the five books of the Psalter are organized according to the theme of the development of the Kingdom of Israel under David. He claims that the theme of book one is confrontation. As you know, King David took the throne through trial and tribulation (and so it was for David’s greater son, Jesus the Christ). And the Psalms found in book one of the Psalter do tend to have the theme of confrontation or trouble. Robinson says that book two has the theme of communication corresponding to the establishment of the kingdom of Israel under David (and ultimately Christ). These Psalms carry the theme of hope in the midst of distress. Book three has the theme of devastation, Robinson says. If you know the history of Israel you know that after David and Solomon the kingdom was divided and eventually destroyed. The question on everyone’s mind must have been, will God keep his promise to David? And if so, where is God? (and this must have been the question when Jesus hung on the cross and lay in the grave). The Psalms found in book three have this theme — devastation. Book four has the theme of maturation. Psalm 90 is the first psalm of book four. And the first words of Psalm 90 are “Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.” This was the Psalm written by Moses. So here, after the devastation of book three the people of God are reminded of God’s faithfulness to Israel in the days of Moses to redeem them from Egypt, to lead them in the wilderness, to sustain them, and to bring them into the land of promise. Our God is a covenant-making and a covenant-keeping God. That is the mature perspective that the people of God must maintain from generation to generation. And finally, book five carries the theme of consummation. In book five we are carried along to the heights of the praise of God Almighty. You will notice that the last five Psalms begin and end with the exhortation, “Praise the Lord” (Hallelu-YAH)! And consider the climax of Psalm 150: 

“Praise the LORD! Praise God in his sanctuary; praise him in his mighty heavens! Praise him for his mighty deeds; praise him according to his excellent greatness! Praise him with trumpet sound; praise him with lute and harp! Praise him with tambourine and dance; praise him with strings and pipe! Praise him with sounding cymbals; praise him with loud clashing cymbals! Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD!” (Psalm 150, ESV)

Wow. And now you know why this book was known to the Hebrews as “the book of praises”. It does not only have praises in it. No, there are wisdom sayings,  laments, and imprecations found within the Psalms too! But the book does move us to praise! The Psalms are songs for worship. And the Psalms do climax with a grand call to worship. This book aims to move us to “Praise the Lord!” (Hallelu-YAH).

So, though it is true that each Psalm stands alone, there is a structure to Psalms. The five books are carefully organized. And there is a structure to each of the five books, with little clusters of Psalms positioned intentionally here and there to give emphasis to certain themes. 

Obviously, there is more to say about this — much more! But this is an introduction to Psalm 1. And speaking of Psalm 1 I will now ask, eighthly, is there something significant about this Psalm which has been placed in the first position in the Psalter? 

Answer: certainly yes. 

In fact, we must see that booth Psalms 1 and 2 have been carefully selected and critically placed at the introduction to the Psalter. They have been called the twin pillars of the Psalter — the grand pillars that we must walk in between to enter the Psalter. And as we consider Psalm 1 today, and Psalm 2 on the next Lord’s Day (Lord willing), we will notice that Psalm 1 is law, and Psalm 2 is gospel. And so to enter the Psalter we must first consider law and gospel.   

What is law? God’s law reveals what it is that God requires of us. God’s law says do this and you shall live. And no, God’s law is not confined to the first five books of the Bible but is found throughout the scriptures, Old Testament and New. Commandments are found throughout the scriptures. And Psalm 1 is certainly law, as we will soon see. It teaches us how we must walk if we wish to have abundant life and to stand before God. 

I must warn you ahead of time that God’s law cuts in two directions now that we are fallen into sin. On the one hand, the law tells us how we must live. That is good! It is a light to our feet! But on the other hand, the law also reveals that we have come short of it. And it is also good that the law does this for us. For though it is bad news, it is true. This is our condition. 

What then is gospel? The gospel is the good news that despite our failure to keep God’s law, a Savior has been provided. And in him — through faith in him — we find refuge from the wrath of God due to us for our sin. Psalm 1 is law, as will soon see. But Psalm 2 is gospel. We will consider Psalm 2 in detail next Sunday, Lord willing. But I can demonstrate that it is gospel very quickly. 

Look at the beginning of Psalm 2. “Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, ‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us’” (Psalm 2:1–3, ESV). That is not good. It is a description of humanity in rebellion against God and his Anointed — that is to say, his Messiah.

Look at the middle. In verse 6 God says, “‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’ I will tell of the decree: The LORD said to me, ‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you’” (Psalm 2:6–7, ESV). So God has appointed a king. And we learn in the verse that follow, this king is the  King of kings. He will have the nations as his heritage, the ends of the earth as his possession. Again, this is not good news for the rebellious kings and their rebellious people. This Son of God will judge them.

But look now to the end of Psalm 2. Verse 10: “Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him” (Psalm 2:10–12, ESV). Now, there is good news! There is the gospel. This Son who is King of kings, and Lord of lords — this Son who will judge the nations in their rebellion — is also a refuge. “Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

The word “blessed” is significant. You will notice that Psalm 1 begins with the word “blessed” (it means “happy”), and Psalm 2 concludes with the word “blessed”. We will come back to this observation at the end of this sermon, but for now please know that Psalms 1 and 2 belong together. They are the pillars that we must walk between in order to enter into the Book of Psalms. They are law and they are gospel. So let us now enter into the Psalter by walking between these pillars. Today we consider the pillar of Psalm 1 which teaches us the way to go if we wish to please God, to be happy, and to have life everlasting. And next Sunday we will shift our attention to the pillar of Psalm 2 to consider the gospel — though we have all rebelled against the Lord and come short of his holy law, God has provided a Savior so that we might take refuge in him.   


The Way Of The Righteous Described

In Psalm 1 two paths are set before us. There is the way of the righteous, and there is the way of the wicked. You will notice, there is no other way. Only these two. 

The way of the righteous may also be called the way of life, for this is where it leads — it leads to life. And this way is set before in verses 1 through 3. In verse 1 we read, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers…” (Psalm 1:1, ESV).

Blessed means “happy”. So the Psalms begin with a description of the man, or woman, who is happy. Do you wish to be happy? Do you wish to be blessed? Then take this path. Of course, this is no superficial or fleeting happiness that is being described. No, this is true happiness. This is lasting happiness. This describes one who is deeply satisfied and full of life — life abundant, and life eternal.

You will notice that the way of life is first described in negative terms. “Blessed is the man who walks not…” Life’s a journey. We are sojourners. We live one moment, one day, one week, and year at a time. And so the life of a man is described using the metaphor of walking. And if we wish to have a blessed life then here is the path that we must not follow. We must not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor [stand] in the way of sinners, nor [sit] in the seat of scoffers…” 

There is a downward progression here. 

If we wish to be blessed then we must not walk in the counsel of the wicked. You will notice that the text does not say, do not walk in the presence of the wicked. We have no choice but to walk in the presence of the wicked. The righteous must live in this world. And in this world, there are many who have taken the path of sin and death. The righteous must walk in their presence to shine as lights in the darkness. No, the text does not say “presence” but “counsel”. Do not walk in the “counsel” of the wicked. Do not walk with the wicked to learn from them, to take advice from them, to be influenced by them, to go in the way that they have gone. This is an important lesson for young and old, but it is especially important for young people to hear. 

In life, there are two ways. There is the way of life and the way of death — only these. And ss you choose your path be sure that you do not walk in the counsel of the wicked! I am pleading with you to reflect deeply on this. As you walk in this world, who are you surrounding yourself with? Who are you being influenced by? Who are you looking to as a model and guide? I suppose there was a day when this applied only in a literal sense. Who are you surrounding yourself with literally? But in our day and age, the question must also be asked digitally. Who are your counselors? Who is influencing you? Who’s view of the world are you adopting as your own?  It may be someone that you have never met face to face. Now please hear me. I am not suggesting that you live an isolated life. The call is not to pull away entirely from all who are ungodly. No, but I am calling you to consider who it is that you walk with, either literally or digitally, so as to be influenced by them. Brothers and sisters, young and old, we are to influence the world. We are not to be influenced by the world. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked…”

And then we read, “nor stands in the way of sinners”. Do you see the progression? Those who choose to walk in the counsel of the wicked will soon find themselves standing with sinners. We are to picture a man or woman who is now comfortable with the company of sinners. No longer are they merely being influenced by them concerning the way they should go. Now they are standing with them. They are keeping company with them. They are a part of the group. 

And next, we are warned, do not sit in the seat of scoffers. So the downward progression continues. The one who chooses the wrong path first walks in the counsel of the wicked, then they stand with sinners, and finally, they take their seat among the scoffers. In wisdom literature, scoffers are those who live in rebellion against God, who hate knowledge, and love folly. Proverbs 1:22 says, “How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge?” And in Proverbs 21:24 we read, “‘Scoffer’ is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride.” Have you ever met a scoffer? I have. They are those who live in sin and rebellion against God, and they do so proudly. They are worldly through and through. They are puffed up with pride and conceit. They love what is evil, and they hate what is good. And they scoff at God and the people of God. How did the scoffer become a scoffer? At some point they began to walk in the counsel of the wicked, then they stood in the way of sinners, and then they took their seat amongst the scornful. 

Do you wish to be blessed? Do you wish to be happy, truly happy? Then do not go the way of the wicked. The blessed man, the blessed woman, does not go this way, and in verse 2 we read, “but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” So here the way of the blessed man is described, not in negative terms, but in positive terms. “Blessed is the man who walks not” in the wicked way, “but his delight is in the law of the LORD…

Notice something very important. The righteous way begins in the heart. Do you see it? “But his delight is in the law of the LORD…”, the text says. And I should say that the same is also true for the way of the wicked. The wicked go in that bad way because they first walk in the counsel of the wicked. In other words, they delight in the counsel of sinful man. And so the way of the wicked and the way of the righteous are contrasted. But the difference is first in the heart. It is a matter of delight. These two ways that are set before us in this Psalm do manifest themselves in real walking and real talking — these ways do show themselves in either sinful or holy living — but the choice of the one path or the other is made first in the mind and the heart. It is about delight before it is about behavior.    

Delight. That is such a powerful word. The blessed man delights in the law of the LORD. This means that he takes great pleasure in God’s law. He loves it and is drawn to it. He sees it as good and beautiful and he takes pleasure in it.

Have you ever delighted in something? I know that you have. Every human does. We have this wonderful capacity to perceive things outside of ourselves; to consider them to be either good or bad, lovely or un-lovely; to move towards that which we consider to be good and lovely; and to delight in that thing, whatever it may be — an object, a person, or a thought. Delight. What we delight in does truly determine the course of our lives. 

So what do you delight in? Have you ever paused to reflect upon that question? And you will notice that I did not ask, what should you delight in? No, I asked what do you delight in? That is a more difficult question to answer. It’s one that you might not be so willing to share. And of course, I am urging you to think about ultimate things. What do you delight in above all? It is good for us to delight in small and ordinary things — a cold glass of water on a hot day; tasty food; companionship; the beauty of nature — but what do you delight in ultimately? What are the delights — the pleasures, passions, or affections — that move you and drive you so as to determine the course of your life? Think about that. 

You know, as a pastor I do often provide counsel to people who are struggling with sin. It may be sin in the mind, or it may be sin involving word, or deed. And I do not wish to come across as overly simplistic here — this is a complicated issue; there are so many factors that come into play — but one thing that we certainly cannot ignore is the heart. Where is your heart?  What do you love? What do you delight in? This is how human behavior works. We move towards that which we love. Yes, there are habits to be broken. Yes, there is thinking to be altered. But it is the heart that determines our behavior. As Christ said, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45, ESV).

So what do you delight in? What is your greatest love? What is your treasure? I hope that you would say, God is my delight! I love him more than all! Above all I long to know, worship, and serve him! Friends, this is the beginning of the way of the righteous. Stated differently, this is what distinguishes between the two ways. The one who is blessed delights in God and in his law, whereas the wicked delight in the world and the things of this world. Stated in yet another way, the righteous happily walk in submission to God and his law, whereas the wicked walk in slavish submission to other things. They submit to their sinful passions. They submit to the wisdom and philosophy of this world. They submit to the voice of the evil one. 

“Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” 

To meditate is to ponder something. The one who is righteous delights in God’s law in the heart, and reflects upon it continuously in the mind. Brothers and sisters, we must know God’s law. We must understand what it requires and what it forbids. And we must also have the wisdom to apply it so that we do in fact keep it. That is what is described here. The blessed man walks, not by the counsel of the wicked, but according to God’s counsel. The blessed man delights in God’s law. He meditates upon it continually, so as to walk according to it in all things. Dear friends, do you wish to be happy? Then live in obedience to your Maker. Submit to him. Receive his word. Meditate upon it to understand what your God requires of you, and then walk accordingly.

In verse 3 the righteous man is described as being “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (Psalm 1:3, ESV). What a beautiful image. And how true it is. 

Trees do not flourish unless they are watered. And men do not flourish unless their souls are nourished by God. God is the stream of water in this metaphor. He waters his people by the streams of his Word and Spirit. To abide in God through the keeping of his word means that you have access to never-failing streams of living water. And this will result in a fruitful life — a life that produces good things. Your leaf will not wither. This means that you will thrive consistently, even in times of drought. 

If you ever look upon an arid desert-scape and see a line of green trees you know there is a stream of water there.  Though the environment is very harsh, and though the drought has caused all other trees to wither, those flourishing trees have found a source of life. And so it is for the blessed man, who delights in God’s law, who walks in the way of life. His leaf does not wither. Even when the conditions of life are very harsh, he prospers — this means that he does not lose his vitality —  for his roots are sunk down, not into the temperamental, unreliable, and ever-changing springs of this world, but into God who is faithful.

Just a moment ago I asked you, what do you delight in? And here I can ask the same question but in a different way: what do you have your roots sunk into? Where do you draw your life from? What is the source of your vitality? To put the matter bluntly, if your roots are sunk down into some created thing, it will certainly fail you. It will soon run dry, and you will wither. But if your roots are sunk down into God who is life, he will never fail you. Never will he run dry. Never will he change course so as to leave you dry. No, he is unchanging. He is faithful. He will sustain you in good times and bad, and even through death.   

So we have considered the way of the righteous man. He or she is blessed and happy, for their delight is in the law of the Lord, and their roots are sunk down deep into the streams of the living God. 


The Way Of The Wicked Described

Now let us briefly consider the way of the wicked. 

In verse 4 we read, “The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.” Could there be a greater contrast between the righteous and wicked? The righteous are like a fruitful tree nourished by never-ceasing streams of water whose leaf does not wither. But the wicked are like chaff — the dry, dead, and nearly weightless husk that falls from grain when it is processed, which is driven away by the wind. That is what the wicked are like. 

I hope you can see that this is serious, friends. We are not simply analyzing beautiful poetry here. No, we are handling God’s word. And he has something to say to us regarding life and death. If we wish to approach him — if we wish to stand before him now and for all eternity — then we must approach him in a certain way. We must go the way of the righteous and avoid the way of the wicked. This is very serious. Your life depends upon it now and for all eternity.

And to that point, look at verse 5: “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.” Verses 5 and 6 mirror verses 1 and 2 with the repeat of the words “wicked”, “sinners”, and “stand”. Though wicked stand together in this world, and though they may appear to stand with such strength, they will not stand in the end. That is the point. At the judgment, they will be blown away like chaff, “for the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish”, or come to nothing. 

To “know” means more than to be aware of.  God is not only aware of the way of the righteous, he knows it, meaning that he cares for those on that path, he claims them as his own, and will keep them. The righteous will stand now and for all eternity, for God will make them to stand, for he cares for them. 

Psalm 1 is very beautiful. I would imagine that many know this Psalm and love it, particularly verses 1-3. But I hope you would agree that it is a very serious Psalm. It has to do with life and death and judgment. Friends, there is a way that leads to life, and there is a way that leads to death — eternal life, and eternal death are in view here. 


Who Is This Blessed Man?

At the beginning of this sermon, I told you that Psalm 1 is law. Law says, do this and you shall live. Gospel says, live because of what has been done for you. Psalm 1 is law. 

And I did also warn you that God’s law cuts in two directions now that we have fallen into sin. Not only does it show us the way that we should go, it also reveals that we have not gone that way, at least not perfectly so. So the law guides, but it also condemns. 

Psalm 1 does both of these things, doesn’t it? It has shown us the way that we should go. But if I were to ask you, brethren, have you kept this law perfectly? What would be the honest answer? No, we have violated this law in thought, word, and deed. No, I have at times taken the counsel of the wicked. I have stood in the way of sinners. I have sat with the scornful. My delight is not perfectly nor perpetually in the law of the LORD. No, in times past, and to this present day, my love is misdirected and impure.

Who then is the blessed man of Psalm 1?

It is Christ, and Christ alone.

Christ is the blessed man. Only he walked in the way of life, and perfectly so. In him, there is no stain of sin. His food was to do his Father’s will, and this he did. Having kept God’s law perfectly and perpetually he did enter into life. He stood before the Father, and he sat down upon the throne prepared for him.

So what about us? Can we walk in the way of life? Can we be blessed and happy? Is it possible for us to stand in the judgment?

Yes! But only in Christ. We must be found in him. We must repent and believe upon him to have our sins washed away. We must trust in him to be clothed in his righteousness. We must be renewed by his word and Spirit. 

He is the vine; we are the branches. Whoever abides in him and he in them, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from Christ you can do nothing. As the Father has loved him, so has he loved you. Abide in his love. If you keep his commandments, you will abide in his love, just as he kept his Father’s commandments and abides in his love. These things Jesus spoke to us so that his joy may be in us, and so that our joy may be full. (see John 15:1–11, ESV)

Brethren, choose the way of life. But know this for certain, to walk in this way we must first be found in Christ, for we are sinners saved only by the grace of God through faith in the Son. “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way, for his wrath is quickly kindled. Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (Psalm 2:12, ESV)

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