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The Prayer of Agur
With the twenty-ninth chapter the Proverbs of Solomon come to a conclusion. The remaining portion of the book may be regarded as an appendix divisible into three parts: (1) The words of Agur the son of Jakeh; (2) The words of King Lemuel, giving the prophecy which his mother taught him; and, lastly, the praise of a good wife. The words of Agur are, according to the best authorities, to be traced to some unknown sage whose utterances were of a kindred quality with those of Solomon himself. The wisdom of foreign nations was held in high estimation by the Jews, in proof of which refer to 1 Kings 4:30-31 : "And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the east country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men;... and his fame was in all nations round about" Although he was wiser, yet his wisdom may have been of the same quality. One mountain is higher than another, but both are mountains. The Book of Job is considered to be of an undoubted foreign origin, being probably the work of some Arabian author. It is a mistake to suppose that the Bible ignores wisdom that is not within its own limits. The Bible looks upon all men as divine creations, and upon every man as probably possessing some portion of the secret of the Almighty. The excellence of the Bible is found in the fact that whilst it contains, either in germ or in explicit statement, all the wisdom of the ages, it adds to that wisdom some revelation of its own, or a peculiar accent of delivery, or a special charm, or a unique expression; for a long time it may be on the same level with other sacred writings, but suddenly it separates itself from them and assumes a lofty and unapproachable dignity of thought and expression. It has been charged upon the Bible that it contains many things which are to be found in other sacred books. As well charge it with being printed in the same type as the Koran, or the works of Confucius. The alphabets may be the same, the type may be identical, many of the words may be mere repetitions, and yet there may be a speciality which gives unique distinctiveness to Bible words and Bible thoughts. The right reader of human history will find that the nations are made of one blood, and that the voice of humanity, when undisturbed by unreasoning passion, or perverted by unholy prejudice, is in reality one and the same. The unity of human nature is everywhere attested when life comes to critical points and is called upon to express its most urgent and poignant necessities. The word "prophecy," in the first verse, is a term which is constantly employed to express the action of "utterance": the prophecy is the message which a prophet bore or carried to his hearers, and is often one of gloom rather than of joyous import. By prophecy we are not always to understand prediction, but teaching, exposition, the highest and deepest philosophy. Probably Agur belonged to North Arabia, and it is supposed that Lemuel might be king of the same Arab tribe. Ithiel and Ucal were probably disciples of Agur: the one name means "God with me"; the other name means "I am strong." There have been not a few mystical and fanciful interpretations of these terms. We should beware of all such interpretations, for they minister to vanity rather than to instruction. When Agur says in the second verse, "Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man," he feels so contemptible in his own estimation as to realise that he can scarcely be the handiwork of God. He feels as if he were unworthy of a Creator so lofty and wise. Self-contempt may be the beginning of true wisdom. Here is a rebuke to that pride which brings destruction, and to that haughtiness which precedes a fall. Every man should know exactly how little he is, how frail, in some aspects and senses how worthless, and out of this self-abasement will come a correct conception of the possibilities of life and destiny of the soul. We must not begin too high. Children of the dust should begin where God himself began them: they did not begin as divine, and then proceed to incarnation; they began as dust, and then received the divine breath. The contrary was the process with our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ: he was in the form of God, and thought it not robbery to be equal with God; yet he took upon him the form of a servant. The first Adam is of the earth earthy; the second Adam is of the Lord from heaven. Notice the contrastive point of origin: men began as dust and grew up into divinity: Jesus Christ began as Lord of life and took upon him the seed of Abraham. Yet there was a meeting-point, and that meeting point is at once a mystery and a revelation: great is the mystery of godliness, God manifest in the flesh; yet we behold his glory, the glory as of the Only-begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth. We understand him though he came from above and we ourselves came from beneath. We have all one Father.
From this low and proper self-estimation Agur sends forth certain great questions which have troubled and divided the intellect of men in all ages.
"Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended? who hath gathered the wind in his fists? who hath bound the waters in a garment? who hath established all the ends of the earth? what is his name, and what is his son's name, if thou canst tell?" ( Pro 30:4 ).
Agur cannot grasp the grand idea of the divine existence: he sees partial glories; sections and phases of truth gleam upon him with sudden and startling brightness; but the totality of things is beyond him: he cries out mightily after that which is lacking, if haply he may discover it and rejoice in its personal possession. The questions bring out the littleness of the creature as compared with the majesty of the Creator. Agur wants to hear of some one who has been through all the sanctuary of God, who has taken the dimensions of the Lord's temple, and comprehended all the reason and poetry of the divine administration. Is he not here unconsciously crying out for the living Christ? It would be fanciful on our part to say that he was doing so, yet who can tell exactly all the meaning of his own prayer? Is not God behind every prayer as well as above it? Is he not the author of prayer as well as of the answers to prayer? Hitherto we have been too much inclined to think of God only as the answerer of prayer, and not as its inspirer: we should place God at both ends of the prayer; at the end which expresses necessity, and at the end which expresses fulness and gratitude. Agur still feels that the universe is to be comprehended; at present it is to his mind an infinite and unknown quantity, yet he is persuaded that there must be someone who holds the key of the infinite dominion. We have said that in all ages religious questions have troubled men. We read in another book, "Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection? It is as high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know? The measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader than the sea." Then the inquiry comes down from above as well as rises from beneath. God himself turns this very ignorance on the part of man into a reason why man should worship, inquire, and prostrate himself in the abasement of adoration "Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it?" What is true of the physical universe is true of that larger creation which Christians recognise as the spiritual origin of life and progress; specially is it true of the wondrous fulness of the grace and goodness of God. The mightiest mind that ever consecrated its powers to the Christian cause exclaimed in wonder, "O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" Jesus Christ himself assures the Church that only One has ever seen the length and breadth, the depth and height of the universe of God. "And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven." What has man seen of the universe? Yet how pompously and loudly he talks about his acquisitions of knowledge, about his scientific attainments, and about his right to formulate conclusions, and establish dogmas of orthodoxy and heterodoxy! We are but of yesterday, and know nothing. Tomorrow, as we have often said, is the secret of time, which the wisest man can only guess at and cannot fully reveal and determine. Thus are we beaten back in our highest ambition, and are taught that we are only wise when we are religious; only most philosophical when we are most trustful and obedient.
Agur lays down an estimate of the divine word which the ages in all their multifold experience have only confirmed and if possible enlarged.
"Every word of God is pure: he is a shield unto them that put their trust in him. Add thou not unto his words, lest he reprove thee, and thou be found a liar" ( Pro 30:5-6 ).
The glories of the divine word are here compared with the glories of nature, and a supreme excellency is assigned to the revelation of God. "Every word of God is pure," that is, it has been tried, tested, proved, and ascertained to be good, not by speculation, but in the fire of experience. By "pure" we are to understand gold that has been purged of dross. Not only is every word pure in the sense of holiness, but every word is pure in the sense of having been tried and severely tested. Nothing is left to conjecture or to speculation: the word of God stands upon the rock of human experience. The Psalmist says, "The words of the Lord are pure words," and then he proceeds to explain what is meant by the word pure, saying, "as silver tried in a furnace of earth, purified seven times." Then again, when the Psalmist extols the divine word, he gives after every tribute to its excellence a reference to human experience; he says, for example "The statutes of the Lord are right," and his proof is, "rejoicing the heart": he continues, "The commandment of the Lord is pure," and his reason for saying so is, "enlightening the eyes": he continues, "The fear of the Lord is clean," and the reason he assigns is, "enduring for ever." So we have not only high philosophy but simple experience; we can begin with the philosophy, or we can begin with the experience; but at whatever point we begin we reach the conclusion that "The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether." Agur gives as a reference to human experience this statement in the fifth verse, "He is a shield unto them that put their trust in him." That is a statement which can be tested; we can refer to our religious life, to the providence of God as seen in our own history. We must not confine our attention to this day or to that day, but take in a sufficient breadth of time, and doing so we shall be able to draw a just conclusion as to the government of God seen within the circle of our own going. "O Israel, trust thou in the Lord: he is their help and their shield. O house of Aaron, trust in the Lord: he is their help and their shield. Ye that fear the Lord, trust in the Lord: he is their help and their shield." God is very jealous lest any should add to his words, not by way of explaining their meaning, which is legitimate, but in the way of supplying supposed omissions, or adding something that is of another grade and quality. The flower is not added to the root; it comes out of the root as its natural and final expression. So the word of the Lord in its terse expressions may be expanded into volumes and libraries, and yet nothing may be added in the sense which is forbidden. When men add their own fancies or their own inventions to the divine testimony they are guilty of felony; the addition is but so much subtraction, for it perverts the meaning, it lessens the force, it modifies or destroys the original authority. "Ye shall not add unto the word which I command you, neither shall ye diminish ought from it, that ye may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you." Speaking of his own book, John says that he received this message: "If any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book."
Having surveyed himself, and the universe, and the spiritual revelation of God, Agur seems to concentrate his thoughts upon two practical points. After all, this is what we ourselves must do. We can look at our own nature until we are filled with contempt; we can look upon the universe until we are overwhelmed and filled with dismay, giving up in despair the thought of ever knowing the boundless creation of omnipotence: and we can look upon the divine word until we see that the word of God is infinitely greater than his works: after all this survey and study we have to come back to one or two practical things, and rest upon these, assured that from these alone can we move on with any security and hope of larger studies and wider investigations.
"Two things have I required of thee; deny me them not before I die: remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain" ( Pro 30:7-9 ).
This is practical piety. May it be with us as it was with Agur. When we return from our vast contemplations may it be to take up a policy of actual conduct, of simple piety, looking well to the issue of our own actions, and putting ourselves trustingly and lovingly under the inspiration of God. Let the Lord be our purse-keeper; let us put the key of our door into God's hands; yea, let us give ourselves over to him wholly, that he may control our uprising and our downsitting, our going out and our coming in. Agur would have "food convenient for" him; that is, literally, "bread of my portion": just the simple daily appointment: the little quantity needed from sunrise to sundown: Agur would thus be as a child at home, not asking for anything great or grand, but simply that life might be sustained, that life itself might be turned to the highest and holiest purposes. "Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content." The apostle himself learned this lesson, saying, "I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." The word "learned" is the keyword of the whole expression. It did not come naturally, it was not an instinct or an intuition; it was a matter of simple, real experience. Many things may have been tried, many promises may have been tested, many courses may have been experimented upon, but the upshot of the whole is the divine learning, the sacred lore, that contentment is the true ambition, and that contentment is the beginning of real riches. If we are eager or impetuous, or determined to be wealthy, we shall fall into many an abyss. "They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition." Agur was thus a Christian before the time. He represented in his own spirit and conduct the teaching of the Apostle Paul and the teaching of the Apostle John. "The love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows." Agur seems to have anticipated all this, and to have desired that he might be preserved from such disaster. "All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world." Such is the testimony of the Apostle John. When Jeshurun waxed fat he kicked; when he was covered with fatness he forsook God, and lightly esteemed the Rock of his salvation. When the people of God were led into a rich pasture they were filled, and their heart was exalted; and in the day of their exaltation God said, "Therefore have they forgotten me." We cannot amend Agur's prayer. It is not easily offered with the whole consent of the mind and heart. The words themselves are often repeated, but how few there are who realise how far-stretching is their meaning, how complete is the trust in divine providence which they express. Judge me, O my Father; thou knowest my capacity, my power of resisting temptation, my weakness, and my strength; thou knowest how soon I should be overthrown and victimised and destroyed; thou knowest whether I was intended to be a trustee of great power and wealth, or but a humble doorkeeper in thy great creation: only teach me what thy will is, and help me to express it in love, obedience, and joyous hopefulness. Then shall I grow in grace, and be prepared for larger duties and heavier responsibilities.
"There is a generation that curseth their father, and doth not bless their mother. There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet is not washed from their filthiness. There is a generation, O how lofty are their eyes! and their eyelids are lifted up. There is a generation, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men" ( Pro 30:11-14 ).
These four generations are but one. This is Agur's view of the age in which he lived, or it may be his summary of human nature as it had come under his own observation. It is noticeable that the same characteristics are pointed out by the Apostle Paul in 2 Timothy 3:0 . Have there ever been any other generations within all the boundaries of time? Has the world ever been lacking in unfilial souls? How many men are there whose own self-estimate is admirable, and whose filthiness is obvious to all observers! Who has not seen the generation whose eyes are lofty, and whose eyelids are lifted up? and who has not seen all the three generations represented in the fourth, whose teeth are as swords, and their jaw teeth as knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men? Self-conceit is at the centre of all the evil character which is here depicted. The men who curse their father and their mother do so in the loftiness of their self-complacency. Whenever eyes are lofty, and eyelids are lifted up, we may be perfectly sure that the teeth are as swords, and the jaw teeth as knives. Impious piety is the very vilest kind of religion. Hypocrisy is as cruel as it is deceitful. Evil men put on the garments of religion, but carry the swords or daggers of vengeance underneath the Christian velvet The Bible will always have reality, as we have seen again and again. Pretence, profession, ostentation cannot receive the smallest degree of allowance from Bible teaching. Simplicity, true-heartedness, frankness, reality of purpose, these are everywhere commended in the sacred volume. The spiritual claims of the Bible are largely sustained by its direct and healthy criticism of the manners of society. The Bible does not look upwards only, as if lost in religious rapture; it looks abroad, on the right hand and on the left, and with penetrating criticism delineates every speciality of human character. The generations of men are familiar to it; human nature is not an unknown quantity that is talked about in mystical language; it is rather the positive reality that is fully comprehended and wisely estimated, and is dealt with from high religious altitudes. We can belong to any of these four generations if we please. We can be unfilial; we can be pure in our own eyes; we can lift up our eyelids in impious mockery to heaven; we can sharpen our teeth as swords, and our jaw teeth as knives; all this evil distinction is open to us; but inasmuch as its history is bad, in and out, without one single redeeming feature, let us rather abhor that which evil and cleave to that which is good. The opposite characteristics of these verses may be repeated in our lives with complete and happy success: we can be filial, we can cleanse ourselves from all iniquity, we can look down upon the earth in pity and in love, we can fill our mouths with gracious words, sweet promises inspired by the divinely purified heart. Evil is never portrayed that it may be copied; it is always delineated that it may alarm and shock and repel men; showing them how awful a thing it is to depart from the spirit of purity, and import discord into the music of divine purpose and administration.
Little But Wise
These words distinctly teach that wisdom is not measurable by physical magnitude. The large man may be a little man. The little body may shelter a great soul. The elephantine and prodigious body may hardly have a soul at all. These things are perfectly well known, yet we require to be reminded of them with some frequency, because so many appeals are addressed to our senses. We are not called upon to admire mere bigness, bulk, surface, and weight. The same terms do not always mean the same thing. Sometimes little is not merely little. Sometimes greatness is greatness minus. Some pounds have sixteen ounces in them, others have only twelve. Butchers and silversmiths do not reckon by the same arithmetical tables. In a prosperous condition of society, a single diamond may be worth more money than all the beasts in a cattle market; but in times of famine one lamb will be more precious than all the diamonds in kings' houses. Value varies according to circumstances. He is the wise man who knows the one thing, whose value never changes, which overbalances and reduces to insignificance the pomp of unintelligent creation. It we lay hold of these things and estimate values correctly, it will help in the adjustment of social relations and in the appreciation of those virtues which ought ever to be uppermost in a true condition of society. We are called upon to remember that wisdom, and wisdom alone, is the true standard of measurement; that the humblest life is greater than the sublimest art, and that one spark of intellect is infinitely more precious than the most crushing animal strength.
It is possible to be little and yet to be exceeding wise. Let us gather round these little wise creatures and learn what we may from them. "Ask now the beasts, and they shall teach thee; and the fowls of the air, and they shall tell thee." He makes a wise use of nature who regards it as a book of divine instruction. Everything has its lesson. Everywhere we find the signature, the autograph of God, and he will never deny his own handwriting. God hath set his tabernacle in the dewdrop as surely as in the sun. Man can no more create the meanest polyp than he could create the greatest world. We are surrounded by instructors; we are in a great schoolhouse; it is full of letters, lessons, illustrations, and appeals. If, then, we be found fools after all, how bitter, how terrible must be our condemnation! Blame not the savage in the lonely forest for his ignorance of letters; but the man who has had every opportunity of attaining scholarship, and after all remains in ignorance, rightly deserves concentrated bitterness of human contempt. Let us beware of setting up precedents and inaugurating analogies and instituting seats of judgment; because God will gather them all together one day, and his great white throne will be the more terrible for the precedents we ourselves have perpetrated.
"The ants are a people not strong, yet they prepare their meat in the summer." This is forecast. Some people seem to have no forecast; they are never quite sure how many two and two will make. They seem to have no power of turning the past into the prophet of the future. They bury the past, and act upon this advice, "Let the dead past bury its dead." But there is a past that is not dead, and we must not impose upon that living, instructive, interpretative prophetic past the duty of burying itself. Yesterday is the key which opens to-morrow, so far as great principles and fundamental conditions of life and service are concerned. The ants gather their meat in the summer; that is, they know the time of their opportunity, and they make the best of it. We ourselves have a little proverb which may match the text: "Make hay while the sun shines." And there is another like unto it: "Strike the iron while it is hot." What if you geniuses in hay, and philosophers in iron, be found at last to be fools in the soul, and madmen about your standing with God!
"If the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"
Every man has a summer. It is quite true, indeed, that some summers are very short; but every man has a summer: only one summer. Man has but one boyhood, as the day has but one dawn. Life has but one summer, as hath the rolling year. Yet, to some men, an hour has more than sixty minutes in it, and to other men all the clocks in Christendom could never teach the value of time. There are men who never have time to do anything, they are always going to think about how this thing or that might be approached and come round upon and looked at; and whilst they are engaged in this serene and philosophical exercise, the whole thing passes beyond their reach, beyond their influence. There is one thing for which men ought to find time, and that is to prepare for the future. Do you say you have not opportunity? How then are you spending your time? In business, in strife after position, trying to get daily bread honestly? All this up to a given point is perfectly right, perfectly defensible. But see! You had better set fire to your shop; you had better go without bread, than lose the opportunity of knowing God, laying hold upon him, and following hard after him. The life is more than meat. If anything is to be saved out of the fire, it is not the decoration, the luxury, the toy, it is the child! The life first, and then if you can get anything afterwards by all means get it; but do, in the name of common sense, be as reasonable and as sensible in spiritual things as you are in things that are temporal. Summer is quickly going with some of us, but if one moment remains a great deal may be done in it. It is marvellous how the very greatest things we read of have been done, as it were, instantaneously. It is wonderful what creative force there is in one word, what determining might there is in one resolution, how in one moment a man may change the current of his life and the point of his destiny. "Now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." It is a point of time; it is one effort of the heart; it is one gasp of the soul, and then what? Eternity! Heaven! There may have been long processes, but the climacteric deed is often expressed by a word. Some of you have had time enough to get to the height of your aspirations, to get through your processes of thinking and considering and calculating; but if you have had this time and have abused it, from this moment your life is not an ascension, it is an anti-climax.
"The conies are but a feeble folk, yet they make their houses in the rocks." The tenant is weak, the habitation is strong. Here is a puny, a very feeble folk, going up towards the great rock-house. There is something very pathetic, very beautiful in that, in weakness seeking the granite, in feebleness hiding itself in some pavilion of rock. There is a law of compensation. In the universe there is a law of what we may term complement, a law which makes up to men, somehow, the thing that is wanting. Man must always look out of himself for this complemental quantity. God provides the rock for the conies, and God provides a rock for all weakness. What if the conies should attempt to say, "We are a feeble folk, but we are just as God has made us; so we shall stop out here in summer and in winter. We shall take things just as they fall out; we did not make ourselves, and therefore we have no reason to look after anything?" "Why," you would say, "the conies are a very feeble folk indeed, feeble in their intellect, feeble in their common sense, as well as feeble in their physical faculties." A man may say, "I am not equal to this or that; I am insufficient; there are points when I feel myself utterly unequal to the task that is before me. I cannot reach my ideals; my prayers outstrip me; I cannot follow after them, except at immense distances. Life is too much for me; I must succumb." Is there any provision made for this state of things by the great Creator, the merciful Redeemer, and the gentle Father of mankind? There is a Rock provided for all weakness. The Rock of Ages is the only rock in which all man's weaknesses can be hidden. That is the only power by which a man's feebleness can be defended. It is indeed a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence. But we are distinctly told that it is laid in Sion by God himself, and that it is elect, tried, precious, and sure. There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ. Those who have known this a long while will make a joyful noise unto the rock of their salvation. They will lay, "The Lord is my rock, and my fortress, and my sure abiding place." Does any man indulge in a spirit of complaint? Then I have to teach that man that every one of us has a compensation. If we have not one thing we have another. You have no money; but you have good health. Your circumstances are very gloomy; but you have a most hopeful disposition. You are sleepless by reason of adversity; but you have the hearing ear which hears the song of the nightingale. You have no estates; but you have the poetic eye, which gives you proprietorship in all the sunny landscape. You have no acquaintances; but you find fellowship in a thousand noble thoughts. You are blind; but there is sunshine in your soul. So, you never met a man anywhere who was in a grumbling, censorious, reproachful temper, but that you could find in that man some compensation, and could point out in him some little bright spot that he had overlooked. Everywhere we find the seal of God's goodness, the stamp of his tender and enduring mercy. Let everything that hath breath say, His mercy endureth for ever.
"The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands," a very beautiful and practical republic. They have no king, but every one of them has a little bit of kingliness in himself. You cannot have a grand republic without kingliness, and you cannot have a great state if you only have a king in it. Here we find combination, not lonely wandering, solitary flying, every one studying to do a little for himself; we find co-operation, going together, moving in bands. We have seen a chain as it lay upon the grass, and found it was tethering an animal some yards off. Which of the links holds that cow? Not the first link, nor the second, nor the third, nor the fiftieth. Not one of the links, but all the links on the chain are doing so. And what is the chain? Only a series of links; and so links and chain, chain and links, are all doing the work. That is how it must be in business, in families, in churches, in governments, in all great confederacies of life.
We witness a copious and gracious shower for the refreshing of the parched earth: the flowers drink in the blessing, and the earth looks young again. What did it? Catch one of the drops, and say, Are you doing this? No. Which drop did it? No drop did it the shower did it! So it must be in our great Christian agencies. There is no one man can do all. God hath not appointed men so to do. He hath called us to unity, to co-operation, to banding ourselves together, to finding in each other the complement of ourselves. Every man has a sphere. Though we may have a republic, it will not mean that one is as good as another. One man is not as good as another, and one man is not as much of a man as another: he may require a larger coat, but a very small accommodation will do for his soul. It may be so, or it may not be so; and if we were all equal this moment, before the clock went round once we should all be sixes and sevens, and mainly, it is to be feared, sixes.
"The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces." Does this mean skill: this skill will have its reward. Does it mean patience in working out elaborate and beautiful results: then here is progress getting into kings' houses, into high places, into palatial position. Every man is set upon an ascending line of human life. We never find God calling a man downwards, diminishing the volume of his manhood, checking his good aspirations, putting him low in the scale of his being. All the divine movement is an upward movement. We are not always to be children, we are to be men. We are not to be content with the point of conversion, we are to grow in grace. We are not to be satisfied with being branches in the vine, we are to bring forth much fruit. We are not to see how little we can do, we are to be always abounding in the work of the Lord.
Here then is a test of growth and the standard of manhood. Here is a reward of industry and skill and patience. In all labour there is profit. You do not see all the results of your work, your patience, your attention to culture, to duty, to service. You do not know the rewards of your tranquil trust, your uncomplaining pain and suffering. There is profit in the thing itself; there is not always a marketable profit, something that can be set up and ticketed at a fair price. But there is in the soul, in the man himself, such growth and strength, such refinement, such tenderness, such majesty as nothing else could have wrought in him.
The whole study becomes an argument. If God has given such wisdom to insects, how much more will he give to men? They cannot ask for any more: we are urged to speak to him to give us further supplies. "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not." Then if we are not wise, whose blame is it? It is not God's blame. He waits to communicate, he loves to give. An ungiving God! That would be a monstrosity of paganism, a degradation of mythology itself. We are called to asking, to prayer, to pleading, that the volume of our being may be increased, that our spiritual graces may be multiplied, and that all that is divine in us may be enhanced and confirmed. No man can be wise without this union with God. He may have devoured whole libraries, but he is not wise. If God so commends the right use of instinct, how will he complain of the abuse of reason! Men are sent to the ants to learn diligence. They are sent to the conies to learn that there is a way which terminates in a great rock. They are sent to the locusts to learn how littles, when combined, may become mighty, sufficient for all the duty and obligation of the day. What if it be found at the last that all the lower orders and ranks of creation have been obedient, dutiful, loyal, and that man only has wounded the great heart? "The ox knoweth his owner, and the ass his master's crib; but Israel doth not know, my people doth not consider." God has had no trouble with his great constellations, they never mutinied against him; he has had no trouble with his forests, no rebel host ever banded themselves there. Where has his sorrow lain? His own child, his beloved one, in whom he has written in fairest lines the perfectness of his own beauty, that child has lifted his puny fist and smitten him, not in the face only, but on his heart of love, which only can be forgiven by the shedding of sacrificial blood. We are all verily guilty in this matter; God be merciful unto us sinners!
Almighty God, we will not think of our own days, which are a handful, but of the years of the right hand of the Most High. We are in time, but we do not belong to it; it is too short, too small, too tantalising, to cover all our need and satisfy all our desire. We are the children of eternity, we are pilgrims walking towards heaven, we are heirs of immortality through Jesus Christ our Saviour, our elder Brother, our true and eternal Adam. Prevent us from setting our affections upon the things that are slipping away, and fix the thought of our hearts upon the days that abide, the sunshine that never fades, the summer that never yields to encroaching winter. We bless thee for thoughts higher than time, wider than space, nobler than sense; we thank thee for yearnings towards eternity, for longings and desires and upliftings of soul that indicate that we are redeemed, not with corruptible things such as silver and gold, but with the precious blood of the Son of God. For every elevating thought we thank thee, as for one of the best of thy blessings. Accept our thanksgivings for our bread and our water, the couch on which we find sleep, and the roof that shelters us from the storm; but these are things of nought compared with the holy desires, the lofty aspirations, the yearnings full of pain but full of joy with which thou dost enrich the soul. May we live in the higher realities; may the world always be under our feet; when we use it, may we use it as a master, and not submit to it as a slave; and in all things may we show that we abide in God. Feed our souls upon the Bread of Life; put away from us everything that would degrade the soul, and contract the scope and outlook of our being. May the soul be master, may the mind be on the throne, may the heart rule the hand, and tell it like one in authority what to do and what to let alone. Thus would we be our best selves, our true selves; men as thou didst see us in eternity. Wherein we have done wrong in the past, thy mercy is greater than our sin; the blood of Jesus Christ is the answer of God to our iniquity and wickedness and helplessness, the Cross is God's reply to human stupor and human wonder. O sweet Cross of Jesus, glory of the universe, talk to us, and tell us thy great gospel. Let the days and the years come and go; they make no impression upon eternity; eternity did not begin, eternity cannot end: we are moving towards that infinite sanctuary where we shall have opportunity to study thy word more deeply, to love thee without distraction of desire or thought. Grant unto us that independence of all things earthly which comes from the indwelling sovereignty and sanctified power of the Holy Ghost; then our poverty shall be wealth, our wealth shall be but a means of usefulness, and all our life shall be an ascending sacrifice, which is our reasonable service. Help us to bear the remainder of thy discipline with nobleness of soul, with hopefulness of spirit; turn our tears into jewels, and lift up our souls when they are bowed down. Do thou carry the load when it is too heavy for us; shelter us from the wind when its coldness is cruel, and bring us to our desired haven over life's rough sea: there shall we praise thee in eternal song. God's will be done; God's name be glorified; may Christ be formed in our hearts the hope of glory. Amen,
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 30". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28