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Man's Chief Business, Etc.
It might be supposed that by the term "wisdom" some form of intellectual life and energy was signified; then the passage would read, He that is of capacious and brilliant mind, equal to the handling of any difficult mental question, is one who loveth his own soul. That, however, is not the meaning of the word "wisdom." In this connection we are to understand by "wisdom" the heart or the moral nature, and then the passage will read, He that keepeth his heart in all soundness and goodness, he that looks after his moral nature, cultivating, guarding, and succouring it at every point and according to every opportunity, is a man who loves his own soul; he is in very deed a man who is making the culture of his soul his principal business. A man may cultivate his mind to the highest pitch of refinement, and yet may utterly neglect his soul. By the term "soul" understand the innermost and noblest self; the divine and immortal manhood; that which was made originally in the image and likeness of God. No cultivation bestowed upon the brain can touch the moral faculty; indeed, where the intellectual powers are cultivated and the moral faculties are neglected man grows but in the power of doing mischief. Pitiful is the sight of any man who spends his life in loving other people's souls in the form of going after public reformations and taking an interest in general progress, and utterly neglecting his own spiritual nature. The proverb does not point in the direction of selfishness, but in the direction of faithfulness. If a man cannot keep his own soul how can he keep the souls of others? We have noticed in life how some men are nobly unselfish in all public matters. They are prepared to sustain national reforms, to contribute to great public funds, to labour almost constantly upon the public platform, and to associate their names with all manner of heroic and beneficent resolutions which are to be adopted by public assemblies. Under such circumstances men are often called unselfish, generous, public-spirited, and large-minded. Let us, however, do justice to all the interests that are involved, and declare plainly that a man may be utterly selfish even in the act of promoting public reformations. There are men who would rather teach in a Sunday-school than teach their own families at home. They must be abroad, they must be in the public gaze, they can only live in the atmosphere of recognition and applause. Now these men are utterly selfish, though their conduct bears to public observation the aspect of great generosity and philanthropy. A man may never go outside his own family for the purpose of teaching, and yet he may be leading a truly unselfish life. Another man can only live in public meetings, so that his life at home is to him a burden and to others a discomfort. The text in speaking about a man's own soul does not call that man to narrow self-introspection and self-enjoyment, but calls him to the culture of his soul with a view to his going forth to minister to the deepest and most sacred wants of other men.
"The discretion of a man deferreth his anger; and it is his glory to pass over a transgression" ( Pro 19:11 ).
Probably no finer imitation of the divine character can be conceived than that which is given in this statement. Man here represents some of the most attractive attributes of the divine character. The man is great, and therefore he can afford to wait; he is noble, and therefore he can defer his anger, saying even to his hottest passion, Stand back, for thou shalt not find expression to-day. This is an instance of self-control of the highest kind. Anger will speak, will splutter, will flash, will insist upon having vent; here discretion says that anger shall not disclose its fires, but shall wait to know what is the will of the well-regulated mind, the will of justice, and the will of magnanimity. Pleasant it is, no doubt, to take instant vengeance upon those who anger us, but the whole spirit of the Bible binds its believers to discretion, forbearance, long-suffering. Sometimes we speak of it being high-spirited to resent an injury, to bring the whip down sharply upon the back of a transgressor, and to lock up in penal exile those who have offended our vanity or even trampled upon our rights: the Bible teaches us that our glory is shown in making as little as possible of the transgressions which are committed against us; herein is the spirit of Christ, who when he was reviled reviled not again, and when he suffered he threatened not Worldly minds make great mistakes about the dignity and independence of men who have subjected themselves to prolonged and earnest spiritual culture. Worldly minds do not understand that it is greater not to strike than to deliver a blow; they do not comprehend the philosophy which teaches that it is nobler to wait than to hasten the infliction of vengeance; they do not follow the reasoning which binds them to the conclusion that the highest glory of a man is to resemble most perfectly the meekness, patience, and forbearance of Almighty God. It does not follow that we are not to recognise the transgression, nor does it follow that we are not to be angry, but we are to remember that anger is all the nobler for being deferred and for being matured by the reasoning of conscience, and we are to remember that a transgression looks all the fouler when it is pointed out by an unstained finger. The more holy we are ourselves the blacker will the transgressions of other people appear appear, not to us only, but to the transgressors themselves. There is a silent judgment in holiness. Without speaking one word, righteousness condemns every sinner and maintains the cause of pureness; whilst if it raged in the stormiest eloquence it might only get credit for being an ardent rhetorician. What we have to see to is that our character is so solid, so pure, so unselfish, and so radiant that it constitutes itself into an argument higher than any reasoning that can be expressed in words.
"Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying" ( Pro 19:18 ).
This is what Almighty God does in his parental relation to the human race. The very fact that we are being chastened shows that there is still hope that we may be recovered and established in goodness. The very fact that the rod is being laid upon us shows that our soul is yet within lines that are consistent with the hope that the soul may be saved. This text has a peculiar meaning which is not obvious on the surface. We might read it thus: Set not thy soul on his destruction, that is to say, dp not go too far in thy chastening or correction. Anger, pure and simple, can only be satisfied by utter destruction. Interpreted in a Christian sense, anger is controlled by righteousness, it is limited by conscience, it is under the restraint and inspiration of reason, and, therefore, men are to see to it that those whom they strike are not over-punished, but that the hand is withheld in order to give time for the expression of penitence. Wrong-headed people cannot be cured by beating. Sometimes the rod is employed when reasoning alone ought to be called into exercise. If the reason has lost its faculty, or lost interest in all processes of moral inquiry, it is in vain that the back should be beaten with many stripes. Where the sin is one of the flesh, or ill-temper, or obstinacy, then the rod must be applied strongly and hopefully. The text teaches the necessity of discrimination in the administration of punishment. Do not punish a man too much. Do not go beyond the limits of reason; give the man himself to feel that his punishment is calculated and regulated, and therefore is all the more potent.
"The desire of a man is his kindness: and a poor man is better than a liar" ( Pro 19:22 ).
This text is obscure. The second part of it is plain enough as to its letters; but what possible reason can there be in putting a poor man and a liar in comparison? The text should be so rendered as to express the idea that kindness makes a man desired or beloved. We draw near to kindness as if by a species of right. As a cold man approaches the fire, so does a desolate heart approach any one whose spirit is marked by kindness. By "kindness" we are to understand sympathy, philanthropy, geniality, approachableness. There are men whose very appearance seems to invite confidence. We say of some men, though we do not know them intimately, that we could tell them our troubles and seek their advice in our perplexities, because of the sweetness of their manner, the gentle dignity of their whole demeanour. Who ever draws near to mere dignity, pomp, circumstance, haughtiness? Who would go up to an iceberg when he is shivering with cold? Who would go to a nest of stone in the wilderness when his head is aching from weariness? There are houses on whose fronts are marked the word Hospitality and the word Welcome; there are faces which indicate readiness to sympathise with and help those who are in trouble, darkness, or fear; there are voices full of the music of sympathy; to hear them is like hearing a gospel. This, then, is the meaning of the text what makes a man desired or beloved is kindness. Little children run to him, poor women feel that they are in the presence of a defender, and helpless souls recognise in kindness a desire to protect, assist, and strengthen. When the text says "a poor man is better than a liar," the sentence must be regarded as incomplete. Put in its proper sense it would run thus, A poor man who cannot help is better than a man who says he would help if he could, when all the time he knows he is telling a lie. The "poor man" of the text is an honest man. According to the limit of his ability he is willing to assist The liar in the text is a man who may have much but is unprepared to part with anything, and who makes up for want of charity by profuseness of asseveration and false and heartless promises. Poor men, when they are honest, are amongst the best helpers of their fellow-men. They do not stand on ceremony or on dignity, or on any exchange of rights. The poor woman with many children of her own is more likely to assist the child of some poor neighbour than is a rich woman who has no sympathy with littleness, feebleness, cold, and want, and yet who speaks the word of charity and utters the sentiment and cant of heartless regard for the general wants of society. We are called upon to be honest, true, and simple, and to do according to the best of our ability, and to shame those who tell lies, saying how much they would do if they could, whilst all the time they will part with nothing of their strength and nothing of their luxury. There is a spirit of judgment in society, and at last the liar is unmasked and proved to be what he is in reality, unsympathetic, untrue, unlike Jesus Christ, a living and mischievous lie.
"Cease, my son, to hear the instruction that causeth to err from the words of knowledge" ( Pro 19:27 ).
The instruction of bad men can only tend to badness. It may have all the form and colour of philosophical teaching, but its moral inspiration is bad, and therefore it must come to darkness and confusion in the end. The passage might be rendered, "Cease to hear instruction if you are going to err afterwards." This gives another view of the exhortation. Do not attend church if you mean to turn your religious service into an excuse for immorality: do not go to college if you are gathering information merely for the sake of increasing your power to do mischief: do not read books if you are simply seeking for a key that will enable you to open gates that are forbidden: better not appear to care for instruction than to accept it as an instrument which is perverted to mischievous purposes: be honest, be sincere in your love of ignorance, in your profession of unbelief, in your disregard for all things sacred, on no account pretend to love the right and yet do the wrong, because you add to the wrong the aggravation of hypocrisy. Get instruction for the purpose of being stronger. Pursue knowledge that you may have both hands filled with instruments which will enable you to do a great and useful work in society. Thus the Bible doctrine always seeks to establish harmony as between purpose and conduct, motive and policy; the Bible will have no discrepancy or contradiction in any man's constitution; it will insist upon the man moving in his integrity or completeness in whatever direction he has chosen to pursue. How honest a book is the Bible; how it insists upon bad men showing themselves in their true colours; how it further insists that the good man shall not be good merely in parts and sections of his character, but good through and through! The best exposition of this text is to repeat the rendering "Cease to hear instruction if you are going to err afterwards."
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 19". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany