There is a way that seems right to a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
Imagine a large company travelling through a gloomy forest, attended by a faithful and well-informed guide. The course becomes rugged and dreary, while on either hand ways open which are wide, verdant, and picturesque. The travellers wish to deviate, and perceiving their guide determined to pursue his own course they leave him. But they soon learn the way they have chosen is full of dangers. The allurements which seduced them vanish. This is a true picture of human life. We all have erred and gone astray; multitudes have perished irrecoverably.
I. MARK THE MAN OF PLEASURE. "God is not in all his thoughts." He tells us that, as we are sure only of the present, we need seek nothing higher than the gratification of our natural desires; that religion may perhaps serve as a lamp through the dark valley and shadow of death, but cannot fail, on the bright eminence of life, to appear unnecessary and obtrusive. Such language opposes the whole tenor of that religion which inculcates faith, patience, contrition, and self-denial, and leads to the grosset habits of the drunkard and the fornicator, concerning whom an apostle declares, "they shall not inherit the kingdom of God."
II. MARK THE THOUGHTLESS AND INDIFFERENT PERSON — the man who, being too indolent, too timid, or too superstitious to think and act for himself, borrows his system of doctrines and forms of worship from a long train of credulous ancestors or the opinions prevalent around him which are considered the most reputable. "I am right," he exclaims, "or all these are wrong. If I do err, it is in the company of those whom I have chosen as my perpetual companions." The way may seem right, it may save labour, and serve his present convenience; but death lurks at the end. The fool shall be destroyed, and his companions also; the destruction of transgressors shall be together.
III. MARK THE FORMALIST. I mean one who is a strict observer of all the outward ceremonies of religion; the faithful adherent to her most minute forms. He divides the circle of the day; on one side he puts all his devotion, and thither he looks for comfort when conscience disturbs him for the follies so distinctly marked on the other side. He does not take with him into the world a principle which will enable him to resist temptation; and when he has fallen into sin he goes back to his formal services, thinking these may be a sufficient atonement. Or, perhaps, being habitually restrained within the bounds of decorum, he flatters himself that he is regenerated. Formality is a slow but effectual poison; it is a dead and putrid carcass laid upon the altar of Him who demands a "living sacrifice."
IV. MARK THE SELF-CONFIDENT MAN. None that I have mentioned are in greater danger.
1. There are rich men who delude themselves with the vain conceit that silver and gold, and the things which silver and gold procure, render them independent of God. Not all their splendid array, and sumptuous fare, and bowing menials, and princely estates, will save them from lifting up their eyes, being in torments.
2. Men of intellectual capacity are peculiarly prone to self-confidence. It were wicked to disparage reason; but may it not be overrated? It is s guide, but surely not through regions it has never visited. It is a luminary: so likewise is the moon, and so are the stars; but can we, therefore, dispense with the sun?
3. There are the self-confident who trust in their fancied rectitude.
V. MARK THE SUBJECT OF PARTIAL CONVICTION, the man who mistakes remorse for repentance, and a state of alarm for the unfailing pledge of salvation. They have mourned, and watched, and been oppressed with dread. At length, however, they became tranquil. They were received with due form into a Christian society. But they soon settle down into heartless regularity; their conscience keeps pace with their profession, till at length they come to regard it as a sin to doubt respecting their good estate, and are offended at every faithful admonition. But the gospel has had no practical and saving efficacy upon their hearts. Woe unto them who are thus at ease in Zion, who despise the warning contained in the text!
VI. IS THERE A BETTER WAY — a way which leadeth to LIFE? Jesus the Son of God has opened it; He suffered, bled, and died that He might secure it for us. He is the way of pardon, of peace, and of salvation. He is the way that leads to heaven and glory.
(R. Elton, D.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.