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The Heedless Scorner, Etc.
This verse has been rendered, "is his father's instruction;" the meaning being that a wise son embodies his father's instruction, "Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men:" a wise man may point to his son and say, This is the sum-total of my educational efforts. Observe, however, that the most careful and loving endeavours may be thrown away, as good seed may be cast upon stony ground and profit the sower nothing. The proverb is careful to define the quality of the son whose education embodies the purpose of the father; he is to be "a wise son," that is to say, a son who can make the most of his opportunities, who really understands the process through which he is passing, and who can assimilate the intellectual food with which he is nourished. It is made clear that only such a son can profit by his father's instruction by what immediately follows namely, that "a scorner heareth not rebuke," that is to say, a scorner is profited by nothing; being a satirist himself, he turns everything into satire; he mocks the speaker of good things, he parodies the highest poetry, he resents the most delicate and spiritual approach; wine turns to vinegar in his mouth, and all that is beautiful is blighted when he looks upon it. We should not be struck by the mere ability of satire; we should remember its moral disadvantages, for it debases and impoverishes whatever it touches that is meant for its good. We are not now speaking of the satire which may be used as an argumentative weapon, for the exposure of wickedness, and for the ridicule of mere pretension: we are speaking of the satire which takes the moral purpose out of every appeal, and turns to derision all the efforts that are directed towards the soul's real education. When instruction has been lost upon a man, we should look to the man himself as the explanation of that loss. It is easy to look upon the pastor of a church, and blame him for the poor results which have accrued from his ministry; we may mock him, and looking at his people may say, Are these the fruits of your labour? whereas we ought to look at the people and say, Is this the use you have made of the noble opportunities which have been put within your reach? had ye been wise sons ye would have received instruction, and profited by it, and in a blessed incarnation would have represented it to the whole world. Wisdom gathers everything; scorning gathers nothing: it is for each man to say that: he will walk in the one spirit or in the other, but let him distinctly know what the consequences of each spirit must be.
"There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches" ( Pro 13:7 ).
Christ's own teaching is here anticipated. He that loseth his life for Christ's sake shall find it; he that seeketh his life for his own sake shall lose it. Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die. We have to lose before we can gain; to sow before we can reap; to trust all the ministries of nature before we can fill our arms with sheaves. The voice of experience is heard in this testimony. There is nothing in mere reason to support it; on the contrary, there is much on the first appearance of things to discredit the assertion. Cause and effect would seem to be here wholly neglected. If a man be gathering all his days, will he not have an abundance at the last? If a man be scattering for a lifetime, is it; possible that he can have a mountain left at the close? The answer to these inquiries would seem to be instantaneous because obvious. Yet spiritual experience goes in a directly contrary direction. He who gives himself away most secures himself, provided the motive of the oblation be good, and that the spirit in which it is offered be the spirit of Jesus Christ. There must be no investment of charity; there must be no speculation in alms. The very spirit of sacrifice is ervealed in this noble text, especially in the words, "There is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches." A philosopher once said he had nothing except that which he had given away. Christian natures go out of themselves and live in the good of others; that is to say, when they see others prospering they rejoice, and draw comfort from advantages which do not immediately belong to themselves. A man who has made himself poor in order that he might educate his children, and bring them up in the ways of virtue and honour, is a rich man, provided his children are grateful, and return to him due compensation for his endeavours: that compensation need not be in money, but in pureness, in nobleness of purpose, in chivalry of spirit; when he sees how his money is, so to say, growing crops of golden wheat in their mind and character, he is delighted, and accounts himself a rich man. Whoever has suffered in order that others may be free is rich in the liberty which he has secured for them. Whoever has expended himself that the sick and the dying may be recovered is rich in the health which has been established through the instrumentality of his labour. The selfish man always comes to nothing; for a time he seems to succeed, but he has no satisfaction even in his treasure; his flowers are without fragrance; his sky is but a great glaring arch; it is not atmosphered and made beautiful through the action of a thousand ministries, subtle in their operation, but gracious and infinite in their results. If this proverb could be thoroughly understood, it would set up a new standard in every life by which to judge prosperity and failure; it would make the first last, and the last first; men who understood it, and applied it to daily practice, would know that there is a success which is failure, and there is a failure which is success, and that nothing is to be accounted of that does not go down to the very foundations of righteousness and rise to the very glory of God.
"The light of the righteous rejoiceth: but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out" ( Pro 13:9 ).
By this we are to understand that the light of the righteous burns joyously, is a very image of gladness and rapture: the sun rejoiceth as a giant to run his course; he is, so to say, conscious of his power and of his speed; travelling does not weary him, shining does not exhaust him; at the end he is as mighty as at the beginning. It will be observed that in the one case the word is "light" as applied to the righteous, and in the other the word is "lamp" as applied to the wicked. The path of the just is as a shining light, shining more and more unto the perfect day; the light of the righteous man is above, it is not of his own making, it never can be exhausted: the light in which the wicked man walks is a lamp of his own creation, he made it, he lighted it, he is above and greater than that light, and at any moment it may be extinguished; he walks in the fire and in the sparks which he himself has kindled; he is full of brilliant fancies, flashing and glaring eccentricities; he rejoices transiently in the rockets which he throws up into the air, but as they expire and fall back in dead ashes at his feet he sees how poor have been his resources, and how mean is the issue of a cleverness that is without moral basis and moral inspiration. God's blessing is always attached to the true light. God himself is Light. Jesus Christ was the Light of the world, and Christians are to be lights of their day and generation, reflecting the glory of their Master. The wicked indeed have a kind of light; that should always be amply acknowledged: but it is a light of their own creation, and a light that is doomed to extinction, it shall be put out; a drop of rain shall fall upon it, and the little flicker shall expire, never to be rekindled.
"Whoso despiseth the word shall be destroyed: but he that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded" ( Pro 13:13 ).
The more literal rendering would be, "He that despiseth the word shall bring ruin on himself." This is a great law of the Biblical revelation namely, that destruction is not a merely arbitrary act on the part of God, a mere penalty, but that it involves the idea of suicide or self-ruin. The man is not merely punished from without, he is punished from within. There is no threatening in the statement that if a man put his hand into the fire he will be burned; it is not a threatening, it is a warning, a foretelling, a statement of simple fact So we are told here that whoso despiseth the word the innermost wisdom, the logos, the eternal truth shall bring ruin upon himself, shall commit suicide. A view of this kind enables us to escape several practical mistakes into which they fall who do not understand the constitution of man and the purpose of divine law. As far as possible we should exempt God from the thought that he is standing outside of us merely for the sake of rewarding the good and punishing the evil, and that he does the one by so many crowns and sceptres, and the other by so many rods and stripes. The law of reward and also the law of punishment are to be found within ourselves. There is a profound truth in the proverb that virtue is its own reward, and vice is its own punishment: we need not wait to go before the divine Majesty in any ceremonious formality; we no sooner eat the forbidden fruit than we die. How true it is, "in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die:" thou shalt consciously die; without a single word being spoken from the judgment-seat death shall take place, the whole heaven shall be clouded, the whole earth shall become a sepulchre, and man himself, though living physically, will know that he is in very deed twice dead. Experience on every hand proves this. We ourselves know it. No sooner does an evil word proceed from our lips than we feel that we have sustained moral loss; no sooner do we execute a forbidden deed than we fall down dead in the presence of God. It is a mistake to limit the word "death" to merely physical decay or extinction. It is a consciousness of the soul, always connected with the doing of evil and the conscious desert of punishment. He that sinneth against God wrongeth his own soul. See, on the other hand, how equal is the law, for "he that feareth the commandment shall be rewarded;" he who looks above for wisdom, and who will not move until God indicates time and place he shall be rewarded, with peace, with a sense of security, with daily light for daily needs. If this were a Biblical doctrine only it might be put to the disadvantage of being denominated metaphysical, or even sentimental; but we find the same law operating in the family, in social life, in the whole sphere and action of the commonwealth.
The Way of Transgressors, Etc.
Good understanding gives favour with man, and it also gives favour with God; it may stand for sympathy, or appreciation, or mutual knowledge; or it may stand for a desire to do that which is right and good at all costs and under all circumstances; a man who displays this high moral quality will be found to have made many friends without any attempt to make them. Character asserts itself, and brings its own results in due sequence. The cantankerous or contentious man is continually separating himself from his fellows. He is a firebrand, he continually brings an element of discord with him: he does not understand the large word, the gracious interpretation, the sympathetic feeling; he takes up all hard things, and magnifies them, and makes them harder still; he dwells upon their qualities and turns them into occasions of offence. A genial man, a man of good understanding, a man of fine sagacity, and solid judgment, and really responsive heart, lifts up the valleys, brings down the mountains, makes the crooked places straight and the rough places plain; and wherever he goes men are conscious that he brings with him the spirit of peace. Are we not prepared to re-echo the words, "The way of transgressors is hard"? It is rough, stony, difficult to travel, always uphill, or sinking suddenly down into bottomless pits; it is put in contrast to the green pastures and the still waters by which the good man walks. Is this a merely Biblical doctrine, a doctrine of churches, of priests, of superstition? Is it not the most plainly-written fact in conscious life? Even where the transgressor seems to succeed, we cannot tell how much he has to endure in his own conscience; we know not how hard is the pillow of the man who has been plotting mischief all day, and who has lain down only that he may dream of further iniquity. There are other transgressors whose way is obviously hard; they have destroyed all confidence in their probity, they have revealed an iniquitous spirit, they have shown how hollow is their whole nature, how absolutely devoid they are of conscience and honour and every element of good. When they go out of our presence we know that they go into a wilderness of darkness; no man has a smile for them; no heart has a place of trust in which they can rest; the world turns against them, and leaves them to ever-increasing humiliation and ever-extending loss. The results of wickedness come upon a man in a thousand different ways. They are not summed up in one punishment, which may be endured once for all. The consciousness of wickedness follows a man all the days of the week and all the hours of the day, and comes up at the most unexpected times; it afflicts him with constant nightmare; every tap at the door may be the coming-in of the jailer; every post may bring the letter of doom; everything that occurs is charged with a possibility of mischief. The stars in their courses fight against the bad man; he has no satisfaction in his feast, no holiday in his summer; the flowers that he plants in his garden become poison trees, and the birds that ought to sing to him seem to bring messages suggestive of vengeance and penalty. Yet though all this is known perfectly, how few are they who turn away from transgression, hating it with a perfect hatred, and proving the reality of their hatred not by moaning over the consequences of sin, but in repenting of it because it is an essential evil, not only hurtful to man but offensive and wounding to God. How deeply founded in human nature seems to be the divine law when every breach of that law leads to punishment of the most distressing kind. We may know somewhat of the dignity of the law by the immediateness of the punishment which follows its violation. A little law could never have ended in such disastrous consequences to those who have trespassed. By the infinity of the consequences we may know somewhat of the dignity of the law which has been transgressed.
"He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed. Evil pursueth sinners: but to the righteous good shall be repayed" ( Pro 13:20-21 ).
The very desire to walk with the wise is itself a sign of wisdom. No bad man could ever wish to be in heaven, for heaven itself would be no paradise to him, because of the condition of his soul. No fool could desire the society of the wise, for he could not understand their language, nor could he identify himself with their purposes. The wise are men who are disposed to encourage approach rather than to resent it, if by such encouragement they can really develop wisdom in others. It might be thought that wise men would not allow any but the wise to walk with them, which is perfectly true; but: they distinguish between a desire to be wise and the attainment of wisdom itself; in their eyes the desire for wisdom is itself wisdom, and is accounted a credential and guarantee enough of good faith. It is no sign of refinement to mock the vulgarity of others. It is no sign of wisdom to be dwelling ostentatiously and resentfully upon the ignorance of men who have had no opportunities to learn. It is the part of wisdom and of dignity to find out what is good in a man, to encourage and to foster it, if mayhap that which is little may become great, and that which is weak may be made strong. Fools can do nothing for their companions but bring them to moral ruin. Even their laughter is madness, and their mirth is but a variety of despair. Their laughter is all in their mouth, it is not in their soul, it is not the deep healthy rational laughter which indicates real spiritual gladness. The difficulty is to persuade young people of the difference between the wise and the foolish, because in many instances the foolish seem to have no little amount of enjoyment; and youthful sagacity is not sufficiently strengthened and quickened to see that things are not to be judged within the limits of to-day or to-morrow, but are to be estimated according to their final and lasting consequences. Fools never begin knowledge, so they make no progress in its upward and heavenward way. They live entirely by the day, and from hand to mouth; they have no resources of knowledge, no deep treasures of wisdom: what water they drink flows on the surface, it does not spring from the rock, therefore it is dried up in summer, and in winter it is frozen over; they cannot go below and find the springing water which no sun can dry and which no frost can readily penetrate. Wise men have bread to eat which the world knoweth not of. They do not live upon superficial maxims, which are the mere inventions of momentary wit, but upon those deep and vital principles which are modern throughout all time because they are ancient in all history, yea, because they are part of the very substance and constitution of manhood. What is said of fools applies to the whole circle and range of folly; it applies not only to intellectual fools, but to moral fools, for there are moral lunatics as certainly as there are mental incapables: men who have false rules of business, false maxims by which they direct their conduct, little empty proverbs which sound as if they were wise, but which experience has proved to be unphilosophical. There is no living word but the Word of God, no wisdom but that which is found in the inspired volume; it knows man, it speaks the language of man, it understands all the necessity of man, and will abide when all other words have exhausted their barren messages. The thought is pursued in the word "evil pursueth sinners." It would seem as if the hounds of vengeance were set upon the track of the evil man, and as if escape from them were simply impossible. How many are the penal resources of God! What snares, and fire and brimstone! What thunderbolts and hailstones God can command! Evil pursues sinners in the body, ruining health, impairing digestion, rendering sleep impossible, fevering the brain, and maddening the whole being with tempests of excitement; evil pursues the sinner in his children; it would seem as if they grew up to smite him for his folly, and to rebuke him with many judgments, and even with sore penalties for his neglect and perversity and selfishness. "There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked." The sward is not willing to make a bed for him; the flowers shudder when he plucks them, the sunlight is abused by his very presence, all nature is out of sympathy with him, for nature is the manifestation of God, the very embodiment of his natural attributes. Turn from these consequences, which are inevitable, and look to the fact that "to the righteous good shall be repaid"; in the harvest-time he shall know what kind of seed he has sown, and into what ground he has cast it. In seedtime itself there is much that is doubtful, speculative, much that is trying to faith and patience; not until the harvest can we tell what good we did in the sowing season. Blessed be God, there is a time of reaping as well as of sowing. On the other hand, awful is the law of the Lord, because the wicked man cannot escape the harvest for which he has prepared. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap."
"A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children's children: and the wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just" ( Pro 13:22 ).
All this is true in the matter of material possession, but in a still larger sense is it true of moral character. There is a sense in which no man can leave his character to another; that is to say, a man cannot adopt the character of an ancestor, and use it as if it were so much material property. There is, however, another and larger sense in which we do inherit the character of our forefathers; we are respected on account of that character; great things are expected of us because we have come of a good stock; people reason that as the father was so excellent a man, it is impossible that the children can be altogether wanting in excellence. In this sense we are reaping what we have not sown, and are in the enjoyment of riches for which we have not laboured. This gives us a view of posterity which ought to act as an inspiration. No man liveth unto himself, even for a single day; all the time he is really living for posterity, and in such a way that posterity will be affected, either happily or unhappily, by the course of action with which his name is identified. It is just as true that the bad man leaveth an inheritance to his children's children: how impossible it is for the children of a bad man to get credit for being and doing anything really good! Alas! they are followed by the world's suspicion to the very end of the chapter of life: when they do well no credit is given to them for their well-doing, because it is known that their fathers were men of corrupt spirit and low character. This is indeed wholly unjust: but who can take out of human nature the line of depravity out of which the injustice springs as out of a native and congenial soil? The wise man teaches that the wealth of the sinner is not always to be in the hands of the bad man, but that really the sinner without knowing it is working for the just. Jesus Christ says, "Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth," that is, they shall possess the earth, they shall hold it as men hold property; they shall govern it by the very gentleness and modesty of their spirit. All things are yours if you are Christ's. Even when the bad man seems to prosper, he is simply increasing your balance at the bank. The money of the bad man leaves him, is afraid of him and ashamed of him, and will not tarry with him from one generation to another: with a kind of spiritual consciousness it says, This is not my rightful owner, this house is not my home; I must go to sustain the good and the true in extending and upholding the kingdom of light and life. The main thought that should fix itself upon every mind is that whatever we do runs on from one generation to another. The empty sophism that posterity has done nothing for us ought to give way before the certain and solemn truth that we are doing a great deal for posterity; for every good thought we think and every good word we speak must have an effect in moulding the character of the coming time. What is true of good is true of evil. To think that we shall one day be execrated for our selfishness is surely an intolerable punishment, and is such as ought to turn us from the evil of our ways.
"He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes" ( Pro 13:24 ).
Under this apparent severity is to be found the spirit of true kindness. It would seem as if the last word in the text were an emphatic word. There is a good deal of chastening, but it is not timely; the will has grown strong, the passions have acquired tenacious hold upon the mind, the chastening comes too late in life. It is the easiest of all things to spare the rod; it enables family life to proceed with fluency; it avoids all controversy and all painful collision as between the elder and the younger. For a time this is beautiful, so much so that people commend the family as one characterised by great harmony and union; on the contrary, it ought to be reprobated. It is the severest cruelty that can be inflicted upon a child not to show that child the limits of his will, and the necessity of accommodating that will to the judgment and pleasure of others. The spoiled child comes to hate the spoiling parent. The child that is wisely chastened comes to love the very hand that used the rod. Children must be taught that all things are not theirs, that the world is a place for discipline, and that all life is valuable only in proportion as it has been refined and strengthened by patient endurance. What can be more pitiful than to see a parent who imagines that by allowing the child to have all its own way, he is kind, benevolent, and tender? Such a man has no right to such a character: call him foolish, selfish, cruel, tyrannical; all these characteristics are his, for he has deserved them by the course of imbecility which he has selfishly pursued. Let no merely cruel man take encouragement from these words to use the rod without measure, and to use it merely for the sake of showing his animal strength. That is not the teaching of the passage. The chastening is to be with measure, is to be timely, is to have some proportion to the offence that is visited, and is to give more pain to the inflicter of the punishment than to its receiver. Great wisdom is required in the use of the rod. The rod has to be used upon every man sooner or later; we cannot escape chastisement: we must be made to feel that the world is not all ours, that there are rights and interests to be respected besides those which we ourselves claim: the sooner that lesson can be instilled into the mind the better; if it can be wrought into the heart and memory of childhood it will save innumerable anxieties and disappointments in all after-life.
So the book of wisdom rolls on, touching human life at every point, decorating the whole house of life with motto and maxim and philosophy, infinite in suggestion and gracious in encouragement. It would seem as if the wise man were first throwing out of his right hand and then out of his left hand something for the good, something for the bad; a blessing for the wise, a curse for the foolish; each sentence is self-balanced, the light and the darkness go together, heaven and hell are set in juxtaposition: it is the good man, and the bad man; the wise man, and the foolish man; the righteous, and the wicked; the faithful, and the transgressor. Where the classification is so broad and distinct no mistake can be made as to our position. If we have shaded down wickedness until it has lost somewhat of its ghastliness, it is only ourselves that are deceived, the nature of wickedness itself is unchanged. If we have mitigated the penalty of righteousness until it has become quite easy to us, so easy as to cost us no thought and no effort, we have deceived ourselves, we have not brought down the standard of righteousness. All these proverbs are a call to discipline, they never spare the soul, they never caress it into idleness, or soothe it into indifference; the proverbs are so many spears dug into our sides, that we may run the race of life more surely and more speedily, keeping our eyes steadfastly fixed on the goal towards which we are hastening. We cannot, however, live upon proverbs, however sententious and epigrammatic; we must have gospels, expositions of the fatherhood of God, comments upon the nature of sin and upon the possibilities of the soul; we must be entreated and wooed and persuaded, not spurred and goaded by sharply-pointed maxims. To the maxims we shall come in due course, and we shall affirm every one of them, sealing each with the seal of our companionship and experience. Meanwhile, we may go to the school of Christ, and learn of him who is meek and lowly in heart, and find rest to our souls, not in the adoption of moral epigrams, but in the reception of saving truths.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 13". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany