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Proverbs 15:1. Grievous, “bitter,” “trying,” stir up; lit., “make to ascend,” like a flame fanned by bellows (Fausset).
Proverbs 15:2. Useth knowledge aright, rather “makes knowledge attractive,” i.e., speaks so as to win the attention of the listeners; poureth out, or “bubbleth up.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:1-2
THE USE OF KNOWLEDGE
I. Knowledge is for use. The various gifts and acquirements of men in every grade of social life, of whatever kind they are, are intended by God to be used for the benefit of all. One man has what another lacks, that he may use what he possesses for their mutual good. Those who have wealth are bound to use it—they are not expected to keep it locked up in their coffers, but to lay it out for their own and their poorer neighbours’ good. So with knowledge. He who has a knowledge which can profit the body, the mind, or the heart of another sins if he holds it back. He will find that such a possession unused will be a witness against him in the day of reckoning. He will be accused of wasting his Master’s goods by not using them (Matthew 25:27).
II. Wisdom is needed to put knowledge to a right use. There are many people who know a great deal, but they do not know how to use it, either for themselves or others. They cannot make it of any practical use—they cannot enlighten and help others with it. Or they may put it to a wrong use. This is often the case with those who possess intellectual knowledge, but who lack moral wisdom. They put a good thing to a bad use.
III. One mark of knowledge combined with wisdom, is the right use of the tongue in the presence of anger.—A “soft answer” in the presence of anger indicates a knowledge of human nature, and also wisdom and self-possession to apply the knowledge. A man who can hold the helm of the vessel in the presence of a storm, and keep her well in hand, shows that he not only possesses knowledge but wisdom, and he to a great extent disarms the fury of the tempest by his calm discretion.
IV. A soft answer may turn away merited wrath. There are occasions when the most holy beings—the Most Holy One Himself—display a wrath which is only a proof of their perfect holiness. The “soft answer,” the pleading words of an intercessor, may turn a way this wrath. The wrath of Jehovah was often kindled against Israel during their wilderness journey, but the “answer” of Moses “turned it away.” (See Exodus 32:11-14; Numbers 14:11-20, etc.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Calmness is great advantage: he that lets
Another chafe may warm him at his fire,
Mark all his wanderings and enjoy his frets,
As cunning fencers suffer heat to tire.—
“A trying word;” literally a word of labour or pain. In dealing with sinners we ought to make the Gospel plain at first and not start unnecessary difficulties. Paul did this (1 Corinthians 3:2). Words that are not wrathful are often “trying,” as presenting to an angry inferior our reply in an easily misunderstood shape. We are to feed men with milk, and not with strong meat, all the more for being in a condition of fault.—Miller.
Look at the effect of the quiet and dignified reply of Gideon to the exasperated men of Ephraim, and at the case of Abigail and David. And as an exemplification of the opposite style of answer, you may be reminded of the contention between the men of Israel and Judah at the time of David’s restoration after the death of Absalom, when the fierce words of the latter drove off the former under the rebellious standard of Shebna, and of the case of Rehoboam, who by refusing to give “a soft answer” to the people deprived the house of David of the subjection of the ten tribes.—Wardlaw.
Nothing doth better stop the fury of a bullet than a mud wall: nothing doth sooner turn away the fury of wrath than a soft answer. But where the pot is boiling, grievous words make it to boil over. Wherefore Chrysostom tells thee that thine enemy reconciled is more in thine own power than in his.—Jermin.
If gentle words prevail so mightily with most men to appease their anger, of what force shall the submissive supplications of penitent persons be with the Lord?—Dod.
We greatly need an instrument capable of turning away wrath, for there is much wrath in the world to turn away.… That patent shield is a soft answer. Christianity makes it of the solid metal, and education supplies at a cheaper rate a plated article, useful as long as it lasts, and as far as it goes.… The Roman battering-ram, when it had nearly effected a breach in walls of solid stone, was often baffled by bags of chaff and beds of down skilfully spread out to receive its stubborn blow. By that stratagem the besieged obtained a double benefit, and the besiegers suffered a double disappointment. The strokes that were given proved harmless, and the engine was soon withdrawn. In our department a similar law exists, and a similar experience will come out of it.… After praying to “Our Father” for your offending brother and yourself, you may speak to him with safety.… Pass your resentment through a period of communion with Him who bought you with His blood, and it will come out like Christ’s, a simple grief for a brother’s sin, and a holy jealousy for truth.—Arnot.
Proverbs 15:2. Eloquence, widely ordered, is very commendable, and availeth much. “The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright”—deals kindly with her, offers her no abuse by venting her unseasonably, and making her over cheap and little set by. But eloquence abused may well be termed the attorney general, that makes a good cause seem bad, and a bad far better than in truth it is.—Spencer’s “Things New and Old.”
Paul, instead of exasperating his heathen congregation by an open protest, supplied their acknowledged defect, by bringing before them the true God “whom they were ignorantly worshipping” (Acts 17:23). He pointed an arrow to Agrippa’s conscience, by the kindly admission of his candour and intelligence (Acts 26:27; Acts 26:29). This right use of knowledge distinguishes “the workman approved of God, and that needeth not to be ashamed” (2 Timothy 2:15).—Bridges.
Proverbs 15:3. Beholding, rather “watching,” “observing” (so Stuart, Miller, and Delitzsch).
Proverbs 15:4. Whole-some, “gentle,” “soft,” perverseness or “transgression,” a breach, “a crushing,” “a wounding.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:3
I. The Eternal has a perfect knowledge of all places. The sun, in its meridian height, can only penetrate half the globe at the same time, and even then there are deep valleys and caves of the earth, and ocean beds where its rays never come; but God’s eye rests at once not only on all places of His dominion in this planet, which is but as a grain of sand amongst the worlds, but upon every spot in His boundless universe.
II. He has a perfect knowledge of the spirits of His creatures. The human soul has power to hide its secrets from the gaze of every fellow creature. “For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of a man which is in him?” (1 Corinthians 2:11). But God’s omniscient eye pierces into the hidden mazes of the soul and reads the silent thoughts and intents of the heart. In this most secret region He walks at large. “O Lord, Thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, Thou understandest my thought afar off” (Psalms 139:1-2). God is the one potentate and judge who can claim a perfect knowledge of all His subjects from personal acquaintance with each individual. Not one is lost in the crowd; each one stands before Him as distinctly as if He were the only creature in the universe.
III. God’s perfect knowledge of His creatures leads Him to contemplate both what is congenial and what is repugnant. He “beholds the evil and the good.” Men, when by Divine grace they become partakers of the Divine Nature, are much moved to gladness by the sight of that which is morally good, and turn with loathing from the evil which they must also contemplate. Yet their happiness springs from that which is within them and not from that which is around, or the preponderance of evil would make life unbearable. So the everblessed God, conscious of His perfect rectitude, has within Him a source of eternal satisfaction notwithstanding the “evil” that He beholds with Divine indignation and sorrow.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
He mentions the “evil” first because they avowedly, or else practically, deny God’s providence (Jeremiah 16:17).—Fausset.
When we perceive that a vast number of objects enter in at our eye by a very small passage, and yet are so little jumbled in the crowd that they open themselves regularly, though there is no great space for that either, and that they give us a distinct apprehension of many objects that lie before us, both of their nature, colour, and size, and by a secret geometry, from the angles that they make in our eye, we judge of the distance of all objects, both from us and from one another—if to this we add the vast number of figures that we receive and retain long, and with great order, in our brains, which we easily fetch up either in our thoughts or in our discourse, we shall find it less difficult to apprehend how an Infinite Mind should have the universal view of all things ever present before it.—Burnet.
The darkness of the air may hide thee from men, and the darkness of thine understanding may hide thee from thyself, but there is no darkness can hide from God.… It was a pretty fancy of one that would have his chamber painted full of eyes, that which way soever he looked he might still have some eye upon him. And it was a wise answer of Livius Drusus, when an artist offered so to contrive his house that he might do what he would and none should see him. “No,” saith Drusus, “contrive it so, rather, that all may see me, for I am not ashamed to be seen.” If the eyes of men make even the vilest forbear their beloved lusts for awhile, and they that are drunk are drunken in the night, how powerful will the eye and presence of God be with those that fear His anger and know the sweetness of His favour. The thoughts of this omnipresence of God will quicken thee to holiness. The soldiers of Israel and Judah were prodigal of their blood in the presence of their two generals (2 Samuel 2:14). Servants will generally work hard while their master looks on. The eye of God, as of the sun, will call the Christian to his work. Those countries that are governed by viceroys seldom flourish or thrive so well as those kingdoms where the prince is present in person. Conscience, God’s viceroy, may much quicken a Christian to holiness, but God, the Prince, much more. “I have kept Thy precepts,” saith David, “for all my ways are before Thee.”—Swinnock.
He is all-eye, and His providence like a well-drawn picture, that vieweth all that come into the room. I know Thy works and Thy labour (Revelation 2:0); not Thy works only, but Thy labour in doing them. And as for the offender, though he think to hide himself from God by hiding God from himself, yet God is nearer to him than the bark is to the tree, “for in Him all things subsist” (Colossians 1:17) and move (Acts 17:28); understand it of the mind’s motions also. And this the very heathen saw by nature’s rush candle. For Thales Milesius being asked whether the gods know not when a man doth aught amiss, “Yea,” saith he, “if he do but think amiss.” “God is nearer to us than we are to ourselves,” saith another. Repletively He is everywhere, though inclusively nowhere. As for the world, it is to Him as “a sea of glass,” a clear, transparent body; He sees through it. No man needs a window in his breast (as the heathen Monus wished) for God to look in at: every man before God is all window (Job 34:22).—Trapp.
Such is the extent of wickedness that in every place He beholdeth the evil and the good. Yea, if there be but one in a place, that one is both evil and good, and God beholdeth both his evil and his good. The evil God beholdeth first, but they are the good on whom He resteth, as approving of them, and as delighting in them. For their eyes are upon God in every place, as God’s eyes are upon them. The other looketh not after God, and so God looketh after them, as that He looketh from them in auger at their wickedness. He contemplates and considers, which is more than simply to behold, for contemplation addeth to a simple apprehension a deeper degree of knowledge.—Jermin.
The doctrine of Divine omniscience, although owned and argued for by men’s lips, is neglected or resisted in their lives. The unholy do not like to have a holy eye ever open upon them, whatever their profession may be. If fallen man, apart from the one Mediator, say or think that the presence of God is pleasant to them, it is because they have radically mistaken either their own character or His. They have either falsely lifted up their own attainments or falsely dragged down the character of the judge.… In every place our hearts and lives are open in the sight of Him with whom we have to do. The proposition is absolutely universal. We must beware, however, lest that feature of the word which should make it powerful only renders it indefinite and meaningless. Man’s fickle mind treats universal truths that come from heaven as the eye treats the visible heaven itself. At a distance from the observer all around the blue canopy seems to descend and lean upon the earth, but where he stands it is far above, out of his sight. It touches not him at all; and when he goes forward to the line where now it seems to touch other men, he finds it still far above, and the point which applies to this lower world is distant as ever. Heavenly truth, like heaven, seems to touch all the world around, but not his own immediate sphere, or himself its centre. The grandest truths are practically lost in this way when they are left whole. We must rightly divide the word, and let the bits come into every crook of our own character. Besides the assent to general truth, there must be specific personal application. A man may own omniscience and yet live without God in the world.—Arnot.
The subjects of Proverbs 15:4-5 have been considered before. (See Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 12:17-18, page 274, and on chap. Proverbs 13:1, page 293.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 15:4. Rueetschi carries the idea of gentleness (see Critical Notes) through the two clauses as the central idea: “It is precisely with this gentle speech, which otherwise does so much good, that the wicked is wont to deceive, and then one is by this more sorely and deeply stricken and distressed than before.”—Lange’s Commentary.
That tongue which is “a witness of truth,” and therefore “saves souls” (chap. Proverbs 14:25), “is a tree of life.” Go into any garden of the lost, and where no such tree is, all are pagans. One sees, therefore, how the figure is kept up. If I am born into a land where there are gospel tongues; that is, if, when I grow up, I am not in China, and not in India, but in a Christian village, where people have and spread the gospel, that “tongue, as a healing thing, is (my) tree of life.” Where I get “life” is from its branches.—Miller.
This verse may be compared with the second. The tongue which “useth knowledge aright” has a morally and spiritually healing influence. It imparts instruction to the ignorant. It speaks peace to the troubled conscience. It soothes the anguish of the afflicted. It subdues the swelling of passion. It allays the self-inflicted tortures of envy. It heals divisions and animosities. These and other blessed fruits entitle it to the designation, “a tree of life;” productive, as it is, of genuine, varied, and valuable joys to all within the reach of its influence. And when the tongue makes known God’s saving health,”—the salvation revealed by Him in the gospel,—it then gives life in the highest and most important sense.—Wardlaw.
A high image of what the tongue ought to be; not negative, not harmless, but wholesome, or healing, as the salt cast into the spring cleansed the bitter waters (2 Kings 2:21).… But the meekest of men felt perverseness a breach in the spirit (Numbers 16:8-15). The tongue of Job’s friends broke “the bruised reed” (Job 13:1-5). Even our beloved Lord, who never shrunk from external evil, keenly felt the piercing edge of this sword (Psalms 69:19-20).—Bridges.
One stripe of the tongue woundeth three—the backbiter, him that giveth ear to the backbiting, and the backbitten.—Cawdray.
Saith the old philosopher, “Than a good tongue there is nothing better, than an evil nothing worse. It hath no mean; it is either exceedingly good or excessively evil. It knows nothing but extremes, and is either best of all, or worst of all (James 3:8). The tongue is every man’s best or worst moveable.… A good tongue is the best part of a man, and most worthy of the honour of sacrifice. This only when it is well seasoned. Seasoned, I say, with salt, as the apostle admonisheth; not with fire” (Colossians 4:6).—T. Adams.
Everlasting benediction be upon that tongue, which spake, as no other ever did, or could speak, pardon, peace, and comfort to lost mankind. This was the tree of life, whose leaves were for the healing of the nations.—Bishop Horne.
The root of this tree goeth down to the heart, whence it sucketh the juice of wisdom; its body lieth in the head, where things are ruminated and concocted by it; the branches of it are the several speeches of the mouth; the fruit of it is spread abroad as wide as good occasion is offered.—Jermin.
Not a silent tongue; mere abstinence from evil is not good.… Idleness is evil under the administration of God.… Not a smooth tongue: it may be soft on the surface, while the poison of asps lies cherished underneath. The serpent licks his victim all over before he swallows it. Smoothness is not an equivalent for truth.… Not a voluble tongue; that active member may labour much to little purpose.… Not a sharp tongue: some instruments are made keen-edged for the purpose of wounding.… Not even a true tongue. Truth is necessary, but it is not enough. The true tongue must also be wholesome. Before anything can be wholesome in its effects on others it must be whole in itself.… “Winged words” have fluttered about in poetry and prose through all the languages of the civilised world from old Homer’s day till now. The permanence and prevalency of the expression proves that it embodies a recognised truth. Words have wings indeed, but they are the wings of seeds rather than of birds or butterflies. We are all accustomed in autumn to observe multitudes of diminitive seeds, each balanced on its own tiny wing, floating past on the breeze.… Words are like these seeds, in their winged character, their measureless multitude, and their winged speed. They drop off in inconceivable numbers: they fly far: they are widely spread. It is of deep importance that they should be for good, and not for evil. The tongue is a prolific tree, it concerns the whole community that it should be a tree of life, and not of death.—Arnot.
Proverbs 15:5. He that regardeth reproof is prudent. Wise he is, and wiser he will be. This made David prize and pray for a reprover (Psalms 141:5).—Trapp.
Proverbs 15:6. Miller translates the first clause, “The house of the righteous is great treasure” (see his Comment); revenue, rather “gain.”
Proverbs 15:7. Disperse; some translators read “winnow,” or “sift.” Stuart translates the last clause of this verse “The heart of the fool is not stable;” Delitzsch reads, “Direction is wanting to the heart of fools,” i.e., it has not the right direction.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:6
LIKE IN CIRCUMSTANCES, BUT UNLIKE IN CHARACTER
I. The wicked and the righteous are often on a level as regards material wealth. One may have “much treasure” and the other great “revenues,” or gain. The laws of nature have no respect to character. God makes His sun to “shine upon the evil and the good, and sendeth rain upon the just and upon the unjust” (Matthew 5:45), so that the wicked man reaps a harvest as abundant as that of the righteous man. And all the laws of Providence move with the same even step, certainly showing no favour to the good man over the bad.
II. But though their possessions may be equal, there is a great inequality in the enjoyment of them. Character makes all the difference here. Even “a little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked” (Psalms 37:16). The wicked man is troubled by a sense of being out of harmony with all that is holy, and just, and true in the universe of God, and with a foreboding of future retribution. The wealth of the spirit is so much more than material wealth as the spirit is so much more than the body. It is wealth to have “a conscience purged from, dead works to serve the living God” (Hebrews 9:14), and to “lay up treasure” without being thus “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21) is only to “spend money for that which is not bread, and labour for that which satisfieth not.” (See on chap. Proverbs 3:14-15; Proverbs 8:11-19, etc.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
“The treasure in the house of the righteous” may be understood not of mere wealth, but of whatever is possessed with contentment and cheerfulness, with gratitude to God, with an assurance of His fatherly regard, with the peace that passeth all understanding, with resignation of spirit to the Divine will, with the present enjoyment of spiritual blessing, and the well-founded “hope of glory, honour, and immortality.” … We may suppose the revenues of the wicked to be acquired and enjoyed wickedly. But if not—yet if possessed and expended without the fear of God, and if the means themselves of banishing that fear, and preventing the choice of a better portion,—it may truly be affirmed that in them there is “trouble.”—Wardlaw.
“The house,” as we have repeatedly seen (see on chap. Proverbs 9:1, Proverbs 14:1), means a man’s whole interest. The mere interest of the “righteous,” whether it seem high or low; his lot, whether it be on high or on a dunghill; his hap, just as it is, whether it be easy or under pain, is, under the covenant of the Almighty, an enormous riches; while not “the house of the wicked” (for the wise man intends another of his climaxes); but stating his condition in the most favourable way, “the revenue of the wicked,” imagining that to be of the most favourable kind; and not “the revenue of the wicked,” but in the revenue, as though the trouble were in the revenue itself, is, literally, the being troubled (Niphal). The splendours of the lost will involve but trouble in the whole eternity.—Miller.
The treasures of the wicked are too much for their good and too little for their lusts.… But is it not the crown of the Christian’s crown, and the glory of his glory that he cannot desire more?—Bridges.
The riches of the wicked, in which they pride themselves, often consist of paper, and if bonds and charters make a man rich, the righteous cannot be poor, when they have bonds upon God Himself for everything they need, and the charter which shows their sure title to an everlasting inheritance. The devil robbed Job, but he could not make him poor, for his chief treasure lay quite out of reach of the enemy.—Lawson.
Every righteous man is a rich man, whether he hath more or less of the things of this life. For, first, he hath plenty of that which is precious. Secondly, Propriety; what he hath is his own; he holds all in capite-tenure in Christ; he shall not be called to account as a usurper. “All is yours” (1 Corinthians 3:22), “because you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.” And although he hath little, many times, in present possession, he is rich in reversion.—Trapp.
His house is God’s treasury, himself is God’s treasure; wherefore God watcheth over his house to defend and preserve it; and himself God keepeth, as the apple of His eye.—Jermin.
Even the trifling sum which the righteous keeps in his house is a great treasure, because it has God’s blessing; but all the revenues, the large annual rents of the wicked from all his vast estate, are mere troubles.—Burgon.
The thought of Proverbs 15:7 has been treated before. (See Proverbs 15:2, etc.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Utterance is a gift, and dumb Christians are blameworthy as well as dumb ministers. “Speak, that I may see thee,” said Socrates. When the heart is full, it overfloweth in speech. We know metals by their tinkling, and men by their talking.—Brooks.
In their houses, they catechise their children; in the company of their neighbours, they entreat of God’s word and works; in the church, if they be teachers, they publish wholesome doctrine.—Muffet.
Most commentators say scatter or disperse. “Winnow,” which has usage (Ruth 3:2), bears better upon the second clause. (See renderings in Critical Notes.) Winnowing knowledge, i.e., letting the lips, under the guidance of wisdom, be an instrument for holding folly back and giving utterance to knowledge, must be the finest practice for giving strength to piety; while the second clause shows the incompetence of folly to “winnow” anything, by saying that “the heart of the foolish is not fixed” (and therefore lacks the first principles of choice, in separating one thing from the other).—Miller.
The foolish sow cockle as fast as wiser men do corn, and are as busy in digging descents to hell as others are in building staircases for heaven.—Trapp.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:8-9
PRAYING AND LIVING
I. God loves righteous men with a special love. God has a love for all His human creatures—a love which springs out of His relationship to them as their Creator. He loves the “world” (John 3:16), but this love cannot be said to spring from likeness of character between Him and the objects of His love. There is a spontaneous love welling up in the mother’s heart towards her child long before that child has developed any qualities to win love. The love springs from the relationship that exists between the child and its parent, and it exists before there has been time and opportunity to develop a loveable character. And there is still love in the mother’s heart from the relationship, if, after there has been time to form a loveable character, no such character is manifested—if there is no response to the parent’s love. There is this spontaneous love in God for all His human children—a love that, even when it meets with no response, does not cease to pity those who reject it. “God commended His love toward us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). “But, after the kindness and love of God our Saviour toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:4-5). But the special love which God has to righteous men—to men of integrity—to men who are sincere in their love of righteousness, and who make conformity to it the end and aim of their life (see on chap. Proverbs 11:3, page 196), is a love which springs from likeness of character. It is the personal love of a perfectly Righteous Being for persons whose characters, in some degree, resemble His own. The good human father loves to see his own character in miniature in that of his child. He delights to see his son “following after” him in his holy habits and feelings—he loves him with a deeper and more joyful love as he sees in him the germs of holy desires and aims which he knows will be more fully developed as he grows into manhood. And so the “Heavenly Father” loves with the love of delight (chap. Proverbs 12:22) those of His human sons and daughters who have begun to reflect His image in their hearts and lives, and waits with patience until the blade changes to the ear, and the ear into the full corn—until they are not only just men, but “just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23).
II. One act of a righteous man which God regards with special pleasure. “The prayer of the upright.”
1. Because it is an expression of conscious need. A sense of spiritual need and weakness is indispensable, even to the continuance of a righteous character, much more to its growth. While a man feels his need, he will not only keep what he already has, but will be in the way of getting more. While he feels that he has not “already attained” neither is “already perfect” he will “follow after” perfection, he will “reach forth unto those things which are before, and press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God”—(Philippians 3:12-14), even to entire and absolute holiness of character. When he prays, he expresses his sense of need, and thus gives proof of that lowliness and contrition of heart without which no man can receive supplies of Divine grace. Therefore God delights in his prayer.
2. It is an expression of filial confidence. He not only knows what he wants, but he knows who is able and willing to supply his need. Prayer is in itself an act of faith—it is an expression of belief that “God is and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him. (Hebrews 11:6.) A human benefactor, especially a human parent, feels that application to him for help is a tribute to his goodness and to his power—it is a manifestation that those who seek his aid are assured of his willingness and ability to meet their need. So with the Divine Friend and Father. He loves to have His compassion and His power confided in by His creatures.
3. It is an act of obedience. God has commanded “men always to pray.” (Luke 18:1.) It was a condition to be observed under the Old Testament dispensation, as well as under that of the new. “Thus saith the Lord, I will yet for this be inquired of by the house of Israel to do it for them.” (Ezekiel 36:37). “Ask and it shall be given you” (Luke 11:9). The conditions are easy, but they are indispensable. No wise parent gives his children what they desire, except certain conditions are fulfilled. They may be very easy, but in no well-governed family are they dispensed with. So in God’s family. True he knows what his children need before they ask Him, even better than the wisest and most tender human parent, but the command is absolute, the condition without exception. Prayer is therefore acceptable to Him because it is an act of obedience to His command.
III. God abhors the way of the wicked.
1. Because they are at war with their better nature. There are instincts in every mail which are opposed to wrong-doing. There is a light which lightens every man that cometh into the world. When men sin they war against their own better nature. Cain possessed instincts which he must have stifled and trampled down before he could shed his brother’s blood, and so it is with every son of Adam. God must hate that which debases the creature whom He created in His own image.
2. Because their ways are at war with His purpose to bless them. A wise statesman may conceive a plan which he sees by his superior intelligence is calculated to bring great blessings to his nation. He labours to make the nation see it also—he uses all his reasoning power and all the force of his eloquence to bring it into operation, to make it the law of the land. But the very people whom it is intended to benefit may, from ignorance and prejudice, oppose his wise and beneficent efforts. He looks upon their opposition with the deepest displeasure, because it is opposed to their own welfare. If a son rebel against the plans which a wise and good father has formed for his benefit, the father must be deeply displeased at the obstinacy which thus frustrates his purpose of love and wisdom. God’s complaint against Israel was, “I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against Me” (Isaiah 1:2)—rebelled against all His gracious plans and purposes concerning them, and that is His quarrel with the ways of wicked men in general that crosses all His purposes of mercy towards them.
IV. Their acts of worship are especially displeasing to Him. They are offered with no sense of spiritual need—with no desire to forsake sin. When such men engage in outward acts of worship it is as if a thief were to offer to his judge some of his unlawful gain as a bribe to be allowed to go free of punishment. God so regarded the sacrifices of Israel when they came into His courts with “hands full of blood.” “Your new moons and your appointed feasts My soul hateth” (Isaiah 1:14-15). They were an abomination to Jehovah because the hearts of the men who offered them were in love with sin and desired only, if possible, to escape the penalty due to it. Men in all ages would have been well pleased to “be pardoned and to retain the offence,” but the very suggestion of such a thing is a gross insult to the righteousness of God, and as this is the only construction that can be put upon a drawing near to Him in outward service while the heart is far from Him (Isaiah 29:13), the sacrifice of the wicked must be the act most abhorrent to God of a way which is altogether an “abomination unto Him.”
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 15:8. When an ungodly man prays, it is not the act of prayer that constitutes the sin, it is the want of a praying heart. The sin is in him, not in his prayer.—Wardlaw.
The formal devotion of a faithless man is not worth the crust of bread which he asks.—T. Adams.
Man judges by acts, God by principles. The sacrifice of the wicked, though it be part of God’s own service, yet “will be found in His register in the catalogue of sins to be accounted for” (Bp. Hopkins). Is he then finally rejected? Far from it. His desire to seek the Lord would be the beginning of the prayer that ensures acceptance. That which brings acceptance is—not the perfection, but the simplicity of uprightness.—Bridges.
“Sacrifice and prayer” are not here contrasted as the higher and the lower, but “sacrifice” is a gift to God, “prayer” is desiring from Him (Comp. Isaiah 1:11; Isaiah 1:15, etc.) Yet this is by no means an essential difference; for both sacrifice and prayer, which indeed fall likewise under the category of offering in the broadest sense (Psalms 119:108; Hebrews 13:15) come under consideration here only as general tokens of reverence for God; and the value of both is clearly defined by this test, whether the state of heart is or is not well pleasing to God.—Lange’s Commentary.
It is not works that make the man good, but when a man is justified his works are also good. God in His grace makes well pleasing to Himself the works that come of faith, even though great imperfections still mingle with them.—Starke.
“The sacrifice of the wicked,” though it may be very costly—the column of Stylites, the hook-swinging of the east, the millions of anxious charity—without grace must be purely sin. “The prayer of the upright,” though it asks instead of gives, yet is a delight, where the other is an abomination. A man may serve God out of sheer selfish wickedness. Moreover, all are abominable. There is no just man upon earth. But the righteous has the righteousness of Christ; while these others are left, without a cover, to their own abominable guiltiness.—Miller.
Works materially good may never prove so formally and eventually, viz:
(1) When they proceed not from a right principle;
(2) When they tend not to a right end. The glory of God must consume all other ends, as the sun puts out the light of the fire. But the prayer that proceeds from an upright heart, though but faint and feeble, doth come before God, even “into His ears” (Psalms 18:6), and so strangely charms Him (Isaiah 26:16) that He breaks forth into these words: “Ask me of things concerning my sons, and concerning the works of my hands command ye me” (Isaiah 45:11). Oh that we understood the latitude of this royal charter!—Trapp.
Proverbs 15:9. “The way of the wicked is abomination.” Not his sacrifices only, but his civilities: all his actions—natural, moral, recreative, religious—are offensive to God. The very “ploughing of the wicked is sin” (Proverbs 21:4).… “But He loveth him that followeth after righteousness, although he fulfil not all righteousness, yet if he make after it with might and main, if he pursue it and have it in chase, “if by any means he may attain to the resurrection of the dead” Philippians 3:11); that is, the height of holiness that accompanies the resurrection: this is the man whom God loves. Now God’s love is not an empty love; it is not like the winter sun, that casteth a goodly countenance when it shines, but gives little warmth and comfort. “Thou meetest him that rejoiceth and worketh righteousness; those that remember Thee in Thy ways” (Isaiah 64:5), “that think upon Thy commandments to do them” (Psalms 103:20), that are weak but willing (Hebrews 13:8), that are lifting at the latch, though they cannot do up the door: “Surely, shall every such one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength” (Isaiah 45:24). “Righteousness,” that is, mercy to those that come over to Him, and “strength” to enable them to come, as the sea sends out waters to fetch us to it.—Trapp.
The way of the wicked and the abomination of the Lord go on with equal paces. It is his way, because he leadeth himself in it, refusing to follow the guide of instruction: and God’s way it is, wherein His abomination pursueth after him.… St. Bernard saith, “God loveth, neither doth this arise from anything in others, but Himself it is from whence He loveth; and therefore the more vehemently, because He doth not so much love, as rather Himself is love.”—Jermin.
Proverbs 15:10. Correction is grievous, or, “there is grievous correction.” Miller reads, “Discipline is an evil to him.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:10
OUT OF THE WAY
I. There is a pre-ordained way for man to walk in.
1. Nature suggests this. Everything there speaks of law and order.
2. Conscience suggests it.
3. Revelation declares it. (On this subject see Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 12:28; Proverbs 13:13-14; pages 291 and 313.)
II. A man may break loose from this God-ordained path. That he can do this is his glory; that he does do it is his shame. A convict is compelled to keep to a certain path, he is obliged to conform to a routine laid down for him by another. His outward life is governed by no will of his own, all his acts are prescribed by an authority which he cannot resist. But God will not keep men in the way in which He desires them to walk by such means. He did not so fence about the angels in heaven. They were “free to fall,” and so are we. God treats His creatures as free men, not as prisoners. They have power to choose whom they will serve; they are free to choose the way in which they will walk. All the force that is exerted over them is the force of moral suasion.
III. The correction that follows this forsaking of the way is intended to punish and to reclaim. In all well-ordered human governments, and in all well-governed families, the main intention of punishment (except in the case of capital punishment) is improvement of character. This ought to be the chief aim of all human correction. It is the main intention in all the chastisements of God in this world. There is no retribution which comes to man in this world which will not, if accepted in a right spirit, become a means of restoring him to the forsaken path; therefore
IV. To hate reproof is to shut out all possibility of moral restoration. A man who will not be reproved denies the imperfection of his nature. Every imperfect being must need correction, and for man to rebel against the chastisement of God is to pass sentence of death upon himself. (On this subject see Homiletics on chapters Proverbs 3:11-12; Proverbs 12:1; Proverbs 13:18; pages 247, 323, etc.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
We would always look hopefully at a sinner under correction. For, surely, so long as the physician administers the medicine, there is no ground for despondency.… This costly teaching brings us on wonderfully. Lord! let me know the smart of Thy rod rather than the eclipse of Thy love.—Bridges.
There are three sorts of passengers that go out of the way. He that mistaketh the way, he that forsaketh his way, and he that loveth to be out of the way. Many miss the way who never were in it, or, being in the way, were missed from it, and these, oftentimes, are glad to be corrected and brought into the way. He forsaketh the way who at first is set in it, and seeing how to go on aright, yet willingly departeth from it: to such an one correction is grievous, and he suffereth it with trouble, but yet many times he is reduced by it. He loveth to be out of the way who hateth reproof, and of his amendment there is little hope.… The force of the verse is, that the suffering of correction is grievous, but that the hating of reproof is most pernicious.—Jermin.
Of all sinners, reproofs are worse resented by apostates.—Henry.
“Discipline is an evil to him who forsakes the path.” (See rendering in Critical Notes.) In our common version this idea is not brought out. It is a very grave one. Men not converted, but steadily “forsaking the path of holiness,” are injured by “discipline.” In “hating reproof” they go through the very soul-action which we mean when we say, “they die.” Each “hating” emotion kills them. And this is the very philosophy of the letter-killing (2 Corinthians 3:6); not that it is poison in itself, but that the gospel awakens opposition, which, on its part, corrupts the mind.—Miller.
Proverbs 15:11. Hell and destruction, “Sheôl,” and “Abaddôn,” two different names for the world of the departed. “Sheôl” is the unseen world in general, “Abaddôn” the place of destruction, i.e., the place where their bodies are destroyed (so Stuart, Zöckler, etc.). How much more. Miller translates these particles by “because also” (see his Comment).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:11
I. Two worlds out of the reach of the human senses—the world of departed men and the human soul. Both these mysterious worlds are shut out or shut in from the eye of man by the bolts and bars of his bodily senses. How exceedingly small a portion of the vast universe of God is revealed to the eye of sense! The small globe upon which man finds himself is nearly all that he can possibly know with his bodily vision. Reason may tell him that there is much more, faith may afford him clearer evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1), but over all there is a veil drawn. The vast world, where dwells the great majority of the human race—that unseen home, peopled with the spirits of just men made perfect, and the dwelling-place of the spirits of the unjust—are regions entirely beyond the reach of human sight. And there is another world equally out of the reach of his vision. He has never seen the soul of any one of the thousands of his fellow-men with whom he has come in contact. He has never read the heart of his most intimate friend. His own “living soul,” even that which is himself, has never been apprehended by his bodily senses. He has never touched or looked upon that.
II. But both these invisible worlds are entirely open to the eye of God. The world of spirits and the individual soul of each man are seen by Him as plainly as we see the material world around us, or as we see the bodies of our fellow-creatures. And they are far more fully comprehended by Him than the visible things upon which our eyes rest every day are comprehended by us. For what do we really know of the essential properties of that by which we are surrounded? Is not our very bodily organism a mystery to us? But each soul of each individual man in the body, and each “unclothed” (2 Corinthians 5:4) spirit in the worlds of the departed is “naked and open” in the eyes of Him with whom each one “has to do” (Hebrews 4:13) as really and as intimately as if in all the universe there was only one creature of whom the omniscient Creator had to take cognizance.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
It is the gross persuasion of some, as if hell and destruction were only things that God did set before us, and that they were not before Him; as if they were things wherewith God did only terrify us, and which should never be. But the wise man telleth us, that they are before the Lord, and that though we know not where hell is and what is done there, yet it is before God’s eyes. And, therefore, though the heart of the children of men be made as deep as hell by hellish devices, yet much more is that manifest to God. The heart of man is more manifest to Him than it is to himself. Wherefore St. Augustine, speaking unto God, saith, “Thou wert within, and I was without.” For, indeed, God is often within and knoweth what our hearts are, when we ourselves are without and do not know them.—Jermin.
This terrible truth these hearts secretly know, and their desperate writhings to shake it off show how much they dislike it. The Romish confessional is one of the most pregnant facts in the history of man. It is a monument and measure of the guilty creature’s enmity against God.… We have wondered at the blindness and stupidity of our common nature in permitting a man, not more holy than his neighbours, to stand in the place of God to a brother’s soul. There is cause for grief, but not ground for surprise. The phenomenon proceeds in the way of natural law. It is the common, well understood process of compounding for the security of the whole, by the voluntary surrender of a part. The confessional is a kind of insurance office where periodical exposure of the heart to a man is the premium paid for fancied impunity in hiding that heart altogether from the deeper scrutiny of the all-seeing God.… It is God’s love from the face of Jesus Christ shining into my dark heart that makes my heart open and delight to be His dwelling-place. The eye of the just Avenger I cannot endure to be in this place of sin; but the eye of the compassionate Physician I shall gladly admit into this place of disease.—Arnot.
“Because also the hearts of the children of men.” (See Miller’s rendering in Critical Notes.) The intimation is God knows hell because He knows men. He knows that “hating reproof,” we die (Proverbs 15:10), and just how fast we die or sink by each act of hating. In other words, he knows how fast sin grows under an administration of justice; and, therefore, how far a given sinner will have gone down, at any date, through his eternal age.—Miller.
The verse may denote that the deepest machinations of the prince of hell, and of all his legions of fallen angels, are open to the Lord’s inspection, and must end in their disappointment and deeper torment; how, then, can man, who is so inferior in sagacity and subtilty, expect to hide his counsels from God, or to prosper in rebellion against Him?” There is nothing so deep or secret that can be hid from the eyes of God, much less man’s thoughts.”—Scott.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:12
I. That a scorner is in hopeless ignorance. “Neither will he go unto the wise.” If a thirsty man will not go to the river to which he has free and easy access, there is no hope of his thirst being quenched. If he will not apply to the only source whence his need can be supplied, he must remain in his needy condition. If a man who is sick will not apply to him who is able to cure his malady, the probability is that he will remain under the influence of disease, and die of his malady. If a man who is ignorant of the revelation of God, and of the healing power of Divine truth, refuses to go where wisdom is to be found—viz., among those who have been enlightened by Divine wisdom, there is no hope of his ever emerging from his state of ignorance. God uses one divinely enlightened man to turn another from darkness to light. This is the method of His procedure in His kingdom, and if the scorner rejects this means, he must remain in darkness. He may “go unto the wise” by listening to the voice of the living man, by observing the life of the morally wise, or by reading their thoughts, especially those of the divinely-inspired writers of the Scriptures. Men have begun to learn wisdom by each one of these methods; generally there is the combined influence of the three.
II. The true source of the scorner’s dislike to the company of the wise. He “hates reproof.” As reproof is knowledge (see page 323) so an increase of knowledge, if it is not used, is reproof. The words of the wise and the lives of the wise reprove the scorner by increasing his light, and thus adding to his guilt. He therefore “cometh not to the light lest his deeds should be reproved” (John 3:20). He is like a man who is conscious that he is suffering from a dangerous disease, but who will not submit to the examination of the physician because he knows he would prescribe treatment which, though it would cure, would be painful. No men love reproof any more than they love the surgeon’s knife; but wise men submit to the one and the other for the sake of the health to soul and to body which will follow. But the scorner hates the keen-edged weapon of reproof because he does not value the good that would result from patiently bearing the incision.
III. Every scorner, therefore, is a self-destroyer. A man commits suicide if, when he is sick, he refuses to use the means by which he might be healed. If he die, he takes away his life as truly as if he thrust a sword through his body. He is not accountable for his disease, but he is responsible and blameworthy for neglecting means of cure within his reach. So with men in relation to spiritual knowledge. Ignorance is a crime only when the means of enlightenment are within reach. He who scorns to avail himself of those means, he who will not submit to reproof, he who rejects the invitation and despises the threatenings of Divine Wisdom (see chap. Proverbs 1:22-32) is a moral suicide. (See also on chap. Proverbs 14:6, page 346.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Men should “run to and fro to increase knowledge” (Daniel 12:4). The Shunamite rode ordinarily to the prophet on the Sabbaths and other holy days (2 Kings 4:23). Those good souls in Psalms 84:7 passed on “from strength to strength,” setting the best foot forwards for like purpose; yea, those that were weak and unfit for travel would be brought to the ordinances upon “horses, in chariots, and in litters” (Isaiah 66:20). But now the scorner holds it not worth while to put himself to this pains, and is ready to say with Jeroboam, “It is too much for men to go up to Jerusalem,” to go up “to the mountain of the Lord, to learn His ways” (Isaiah 2:3). Yea, he set watches to observe who would go from him to Judah to worship, that he might shame them at least, if not slay them (Hosea 5:1). He would never have gone to the prophet to be reproved, and when the prophet came to him, he stretched out his hand to apprehend him. So Herod had a desire to see Christ, but could never find a heart to go to hear him; and yet our Saviour looked that men should have come as far to Him as the Queen of Sheba came to Solomon.—Trapp.
Here is instruction for all men, to observe the state of their own souls, and the better, when occasion is offered, to inform themselves of others by the company which they most delight to frequent. He that delighteth to associate himself with good men, is never to be deemed a friend to evil ways, and he that embraceth the fellowship of sinful persons, must needs be judged an enemy to godly behaviour. When David would clear himself to be none of the wicked, he made it fully manifest by this, that he went not with vain persons, neither kept company with dissemblers: that he hated the assembly of the evil, and companioned not with the wicked. When he would prove himself to be one of the righteous, he evidently confirmed it by this, that he was a companion of all them that feared the Lord and kept His precepts.—Dod.
There is none that loveth more truly, that loveth more profitably, than he that lovingly reproveth what he seeth amiss. And yet there is none that a scorner loveth less. But what marvel if he loveth not another, that loveth not himself! Where scorning is, there can be no love, that was never love’s disposition. Let no one that reproveth a scorner look for love from him.… But let the wise reprove him notwithstanding, and as St. Cyprian speaketh, if they cannot persuade him, to make him to please Christ, let themselves perform to Christ that which is their part, and let them please Christ by keeping his commandments.—Jermin.
Proverbs 15:14. Mouth, or “the countenance.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:13
A CHEERFUL FACE AND A BROKEN SPIRIT
I. The outer man is to a large extent an index of the inner life. The joy of the heart is made visible upon the countenance. This is one of the infinitely kind and wise arrangements of God which minister so much to human happiness. We have but to consider the influence of a cheerful face to know how great a blessing it is that a merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance. “How blank would be the aspect of the world,” says Dr. Arnot, “if no image of a man’s thought could ever be seen glancing through his countenance! Our walk through life would be like a solitary walk through a gallery of statues—as cold as marble, and not nearly so beautiful.
II. The effect of sorrow upon the human spirit. It “breaks” it. When a vessel’s timbers are shivered by the fury of the storm she may not go to pieces altogether. But she is no longer able to hold her own against the elements, which she could once use as forces to convey her from land to land. If she were now to put to sea, instead of riding over the waves and making them her servants, she would be a passive thing in their hands, a mere helpless bundle of timbers to be tossed whithersoever they pleased, instead of “walking the waters like a thing of life.” So it is with the human spirit when the cross seas and angry winds of adverse circumstances have quenched the hope and paralysed the energy that once governed and inspired the man. He is no longer able to face the storms of life, and outride them, or even make them advance his interests. He is passive amid the changes and chances of mortal life, and they drift him on wheresoever they will. But this can never be the case unless a man has lost faith in the character of God and his own high and immortal destiny. Then, indeed, the elements which he was built to rule will rule him, and he will fail to fulfil the end for which God launched him on the sea of life.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
I have always preferred cheerfulness to mirth. The latter I consider as an act, the former as a habit, of the mind.—Addison.
The “sorrow of heart” here spoken of, we may consider as that which arises from an evil conscience, from envy, discontent, and other similar sources.—Wardlaw.
A “merry” or “glad” heart is one of the attributes of piety. It (literally) “does good to the countenance,” improves it, as we say in our idiom, “Come with us, and we will do thee good” (Numbers 10:29).—Miller.
This word merriment is of frequent use among our old writers. It is Foxe’s favourite description of the holy joy of the martyrs.—Bridges.
It sits smiling in the face, and looks merrily out of the windows of the eyes. But this is not till faith has healed the conscience, and till grace has hushed the affections, and composed all within. Stephen looked like an angel when he stood before the council (Acts 6:15); and the apostles went away rejoicing (Acts 5:41). There are that rejoice in the face only, and not in the heart (2 Corinthians 5:12); this is but the hypocrisy of mirth, and we may be sure that many a man’s heart bleeds within him when his face counterfeits a smile. It is for an Abraham only to laugh for joy of the promise, and for a David to “rejoice at the word as one that findeth great spoil” (Psalms 119:162), wherein the pleasure is usually as much as the profit. Christ’s chariot, wherein he carries people up and down in the world, and brings them at length to Himself, is “paved with love” (Song of Solomon 3:9-10); He brings them also into His wine cellar (Song of Solomon 2:4), where He cheers up their hearts, and clears up their countenances, and this is Heaven beforehand. These are some few clusters of the grapes of the celestial Canaan. But as the looks are marred, so the spirits are dulled and disabled by sorrow, as a limb out of joint can do nothing without deformity or pain. Dejection takes off the wheels of the soul, hinders comfortable intercourse with God, and that habitual cheerfulness, that Sabbath of the spirit, that every man should strive to enjoy. Afflictions, saith one, are the wind of the soul, passions the storm. The soul is well carried when neither so becalmed that it moves not when it should, nor yet tossed with tempests of wrath, grief, fear, etc., to move disorderly. Of these we must be careful to crush the very first insurrections; storms rise out of little gusts, but the top of those mountains above the middle region are so quiet that ashes, lightest things, are not moved out of place.—Trapp.
Mirth and cheerfulness make a man not only fitter for the occasions of this world, but even for spiritual affairs also. Wherefore Elisha calleth for a minstrel that, being angry with the king of Israel, by the melody of the music a more soft and sweet disposition might possess him.… “Joy,” saith Aquinas, “is, as it were, a juice spreading itself over the whole man, dispersing the comfort of itself to all the faculties of the soul, and all parts of the body. But, now, what is it that maketh a merry heart? Surely not the things of this world. They only do besot the heart with a dream of mirth, they do only make the heart drunken with some flushings of joy. A merry heart indeed is that which the assurance of God’s favour rejoiceth, and that will make the countenance cheerful in any trouble, even in death itself. It is true also that by sorrow of heart the spirit is broken, the heart and the spirit being but one string of life. But what is it by which the heart should be made sorrowful? Surely not the things of this life, seeing the life of the heart is so far above them. For it is a shameful folly to hurt a better thing for that which is farworse. No; nothing should make the heart sorrowful but repentance for sin, and as that casteth down the spirit, so will it raise it up again. Wherefore Augustine saith, “Let the penitent always be grieved, and let him rejoice for his grief.” Nothing should make the heart sad but the fear of God’s displeasure, and if that break the spirit, it will heal it again with endless consolation.—Jermin.
The principal thought of Proverbs 15:14 is a repetition in a slightly varied form of a truth that has been considered before. (See on chap. Proverbs 12:1, Proverbs 13:18, etc.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
They are the wisest men that are most sensible of the imperfection of their wisdom.—Lawson.
“The mouth of fools feed,” etc., literally, pastures, like a brute. A thing fed takes the texture of its nourishment. The “mouth” or “face” (see Critical Notes) of the fool grows more and more inane and brutal.—Miller.
As a hungry man seeks meat, or a covetous man gold, the more he hath the more he desires. Moses was no sooner off the mount where he had seen God face to face, but he cries, “Lord, show me Thy glory!” David, that knew more than his teachers, cries ever and anon, “Teach me Thy statutes.” Job prefers knowledge before his necessary food (chap. Proverbs 23:12). The wise man finds no such sweetness in the most delicate and dainty dishes, as in the search after Divine knowledge (Psalms 119:103). Even Aristotle saith that a little knowledge, though conjectural, about heavenly things is to be preferred above knowledge, though certain, about earthly things. And Agur saith it is to ascend into heaven (Proverbs 30:4).—Trapp.
First, because the one sort is after the spirit, and therefore they favour the things of the spirit; and the other sort is after the flesh, and therefore they favour the things of the flesh. Secondly, because the one sort is guided by judgment, and choose that which will comfort their consciences; and the other is altogether led by lust, and seek only that which will satisfy their senses. Thirdly, faith makes the one sort to cast an eye to that which will follow hereafter; and sensuality causeth the other (like brute beasts, made to be destroyed) only to look to that which is present.—Dod.
Knowledge is necessary for us, not only to manage the affairs of this life, but also to perform the service of our Maker. Conscience may dictate to us that things are right or wrong, but conscience may be mistaken in her decisions, unless she call in reason to her assistance, for a clear knowledge of the revealed will of God cannot be understood without application of mind.… The desire of knowledge is in some sense natural to us all and is manifested very soon. We see how early curiosity exerts itself in lively children. But this natural desire may be misused.
1. It may be too little. Some persons do not desire knowledge so much as they ought, especially they are negligent in acquiring religious knowledge. This negligence may proceed from too warm a pursuit of other things. But what will this world avail us, if we are excluded from an inheritance in the next? It may proceed from mere sloth. But the unprofitable servant, who suffers his talents to lie useless, is to be cast into outer darkness.
2. It may be too much. Some things there are which we ought not to know, and a vain curiosity after them is an abuse of our natural desire of knowledge. This curiosity brought on the fall of our first parents, and still reigns among their posterity. Sin should only be known, as the rocks at sea, that they may be avoided. It becomes us also to be contented with such a knowledge of the Divine nature, and the Divine administration, as we are capable of acquiring, and of future events so far as God hath seen fit to reveal them.—Jortin.
The mouth of fools—the mouth of their souls and understandings—feedeth upon anything; even foolishness itself is good food unto them. Their distempered palate judgeth not the worth of things. They have a mouth to receive knowledge, but they have not a heart to consider and discern what they do receive. None is so ill a feeder as fools. Such fools are they in the prophet Isaiah who say, “Prophecy not unto us, right things speak unto us,” as the original word is, bland things, pleasing things; but the word signifieth in the first place scattered things, such as coming from a shattered brain have no order and aim at no material point. Or else scattered things which may strike at none, which may hurt none, do no good to any. And, indeed, too many such there are. The world is full of speakers and talkers, that speak things they know not, and teach things they have not learned.—Jermin.
The Queen of Sheba, “coming from the utmost parts of the earth;” Nicodemus and Mary “sitting at the feet of Jesus;” the Eunuch, journeying to Jerusalem; Cornelius and his company drinking in the precious message of salvation; the Bereans, carefully “searching the Scriptures,” all these show “the understanding heart seeking a larger interest in the blessing.”—Bridges.
That in “seeking knowledge” the idea of feasting on it is included, is evident from the terms of the antithesis. It is a feast of “knowledge” above all, of divine knowledge. He who has “understanding,”—who is enlightened of God, and discerns the excellency and glory of divine truth—“seeketh” such knowledge. From experience of the joy already imparted by it, he seeks more and still more—the appetite growing by gratification, delighted with every new discovery, yet never tiring of the old (1 Peter 2:1-3). “But the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness.” That is what they like; that is therefore what they seek, and from which they have their own poor and pitiful enjoyment. In regard to religion itself they are taken with, everthing that serves the present purpose of keeping all quiet within; that lets conscience alone; that dispenses with serious thought, and, preventing inward disturbance, allows them to go on easily and comfortably. They have a relish for all doctrines of this unannoying description—that “prick not their hearts; that embitter not present sweets by any forebodings of the future; that “prophecy smooth things, and cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before them”—the scarer of their thoughtless mirth and sinful gratification. They have an appetite for every thing of that kind.—Wardlaw.
Proverbs 15:15. Afflicted, or “toiling.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:15
THE CONTINUAL FEAST
I. All men have days of affliction. They may be traced to one of four sources—
1. Men are afflicted by reason of their relation to the first head of the human race. Every man inherits bodily weaknesses of some kind—is, in apostolic phrase, made subject to vanity (Romans 8:20) of some kind or another for which he is not personally responsible—which is not the fruit of his own character or conduct, nor of that of his immediate ancestors. Mental sorrows are also born of this remote relationship. The human mind is not now what it was when it came first from the hand of its Creator. God at the beginning made man perfect—his spirit was a reflection of the perfect law of God, and all within was consequently harmony and peace. But it is not so now, even with the best of the human race. There has been a subjection to vanity through sin, and this is the fruitful source of much mental pain and sorrow to all men, although they are often unconscious of the origin of the darkness that envelopes their spirit.
2. Men are afflicted by reason of their immediate relationships. A child who has a bad father suffers much and grievously, the father who owns a wicked child often has many days of deep affliction. A nation may be deeply afflicted by reason of the viciousness or unwisdom of its rulers. Many and various are the afflictions which come to men through those to whom they are related, whether by family or national ties.
3. Afflictions arise from personal transgression of God’s laws. These transgressions may be either of a negative or positive character—they may consist in doing what we ought not to do, or in leaving undone that which it is our duty to do. Much affliction comes to men because they have neglected to do for mind, body, or estate that which they are commanded by God to do. Men who neglect to work, or who neglect to conform to the laws by which their mind or their body is governed, must pay the penalty, and often suffer much affliction from the mere neglect of duty. And much more will those know days of affliction who are positive transgressors of any Divine law, whether physical or moral.
4. Affliction comes to men sometimes by Divine permission, either to chasten men for sin or to increase the goodness of their characters. Affliction came to Job, and he had many evil days, not because he was a sinner, but because he was a saint. Good man as he was, he had many days of affliction—days which were to him very evil—but they arose neither from his remote or immediate relationships, nor from personal or relative transgression, but were the outcome of Satanic agency, acting by Divine permission.
II. Days of affliction are evil days. While the patient is under the knife of the surgeon he is undergoing an experience which is in itself an evil, which is an experience to be dreaded and avoided if possible, however good may be the days of health which are the result of it. No one can feel that affliction in itself is anything but an evil—much good may come out of it, but that does not make the actual suffering of body or mind good in itself. If the sufferings of the present life were unconnected with the blessings which will spring out of them, if they were not regarded in the light of Divine revelation they would be unmitigated evils.
III. Evil days work good to him who can rise above them. If a seaman can be cheerful and hopeful in the midst of a storm, he is all the better for having passed through it. His courage is strengthened and his experience is enlarged, he is more of a man than before he entered into conflict with the winds and waves. While others have been overwhelmed with terror, he has been full of a calm self-possession, and that which has shown how weak many men are, has shown how strong he is. But in order thus to rise above outward circumstances, there must be internal resources. Only those can came through the storms of life the stronger and the better for having passed through them who have an unfailing well of hope and comfort within. The martyrs of old revealed that they had a continual feast within, although they had many days of affliction without. Their “merry hearts,” filled with true and unfailing gladness, lifted them above the bitterness and evil of their circumstances. Thus to glory in tribulation is to take “meat out of the eater and sweetness out of the strong.” But only those can practise this art who, like their Master, “have meat to eat” of which men in general “know not of.” (John 4:32.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The feast of him who is of “a merry heart,” who has within himself the sources of true joy, is not terminated—is not even suspended—in the season of affliction. His feast is independent of changing condition. He often relishes it most when other sweets are embittered. Often is his inward spiritual festivity the richest, when the supply of his outward and earthly comforts is scantiest.—Wardlaw.
Affliction, as the fruit and chastening of sin, is an evil.… Though the abounding consolation of Christian affliction does not blot out its penal character, yet the child of God is not so miserable as he seems to be (2 Corinthians 6:10). The darkest of these evil days can never make the consolations of God small with him (Job 15:11). He can sing in the prison (Acts 16:25), can “take joyfully the spoiling of his goods” (Hebrews 10:34), can praise his God when He has stripped him naked (Job 1:21). What real evil then can affliction bring? Or rather what does it bring but many feast days? A few days’ feasting would soon weary the epicure. But here the merry heart hath a continual feast.—Bridges.
“All the days of the toiling are evil, but a good heart is a continual feast.” A glorious comparison! A sour heart is fed by a hard life; and yet, though the hard life is common to all, a brightened spirit masters it, and not only masters it but sweetens it. Toiling. The word is very peculiar. “Afflicted” our version has it. “Humble” is the translation in many cases. Toiling strikes us best,
(1) because such is the root—the verb, first of all, means to toil—and
(2) because such is the sense; the toiling character of life makes all groan together. We are not paid. Such is the toil of our spirits that life is a battle. As a worldly maxim, “a good heart” carries the day; but, as an adopted text, the wise saw strengthens itself. Under the toils of life, “a good heart,” regenerate by grace, greets the same toil the lost man does, and finds the “heart” itself “a continual feast.”—Miller.
This is diligently to be observed, that none can have a cheerful mind indeed but only such as, through faith in Christ having peace with God, pollute not their consciences with detestable iniquities. For indeed evils enter into such to trouble their minds, to profane their joys, and to pull them from the continual feast of security here spoken of, who either walk in the committing of gross offences, or are close hypocrites and dissemblers.—Muffet.
He that hath a heart merry in a good contentment can always invite himself to a full feast. When he hath not wherewith to feast others—yea, even when he wanteth perhaps what to eat, he wanteth not wherewith to feast himself. It is not a feast that must have time to provide it, and to make it ready, and which, being ready, is soon passed over; but it is a continual feast, ever ready, and never ended.—Jermin.
The sincere heart, the quiet conscience, will not only stand under greatest pressure, as did St. Paul (2 Corinthians 1:9-12), but goes as merrily to die in a good cause as ever he did to dine, as did divers martyrs. Be the air clear or cloudy, he enjoys a continual serenity, and sits continually at that blessed feast, whereat the blessed angels are cooks and butlers, as Luther hath it, and the three Persons in the Trinity gladsome guests. Mr. Latimer saith the assurance of heaven is the sweetmeats of this feast. There are other dainty dishes, but this is the banquet. Saith St. Bernard, “Wilt thou, O man, never be sad? wilt thou turn thy whole life into a merry festival? get and keep a good conscience.” A good man keeps holiday all the year about.—Trapp.
So far as we would live a comfortable life, we should seek to build up our inward man more than our outward estates; that our hearts be better furnished than our houses, and our consciences than our coffers, that our stock of faith and everlasting goodness may exceed our store of coin and temporal goods: and so shall we be fenced against all perils, and provided for against all wants, and secured against all accidents whatsoever.—Dod.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:16
A TREASURE WITHOUT TROUBLE
The fear of the Lord is better than worldly treasure—I. Because the fear of the Lord tends to peace of mind. In any piece of complicated machinery the condition of the internal works is a much more important matter than the ornamenting of the exterior. It is of much more consequence that all within a timepiece should move in harmony than that it should have a golden face or be set with jewels. It is of more importance to a man that all his internal bodily organs should be in perfect health than that he should be possessed of much external beauty. A strong frame, and pure blood, and health of body will minister much more effectually to his comfort than the most comely countenance. And the state of a man’s inner life has infinitely more to do with his real happiness than his external circumstances. He who has the fear of the Lord has the foundation-stone of peace within, and he who has that does not need an abundance of that which can only minister to the outer man. A little material wealth will content him who has the rich inheritance of a peaceful and contented spirit. Peace with God and love to man are included in the fear of the Lord, and neither the one nor the other of these good and perfect gifts can be bought with the treasure of this world. The first is the very salt of life without which all else is insipid and insufficient to satisfy the cravings of the human soul, and where the first is there will the second, which is also a great sweetener of poverty—(see Proverbs 15:17), be found also. II. Because of the trouble that is inseparable from worldly wealth. The treasure of this world has a certain value—it can do much for a man, both intellectually and materially. It can be so used by him as to bring blessings upon himself and others; but it is never unaccompanied by drawbacks.
1. There is trouble in getting it. The bare sufficiency to sustain life may be got without much strain or anxiety; but if a man sets out to make a fortune, he must be content to have many cares and anxieties—many weary days and sleepless nights—before he obtains his object. Those that will be rich cannot avoid much real trouble in carrying out their determination.
2. There is trouble after it is gotten. When men have accumulated great treasure they are not freed from trouble in connection with it. There is the care of retaining it, the desire, and almost the necessity, of increasing it. The more a man has the more he generally desires, and the more he seems to need. New demands are the outcome of a new position, and he who has amassed great treasure rarely contents himself with what he has, but strains every nerve to make the much, more.
3. There is great trouble attendant on its loss. Even if a rich man possesses the higher wealth—the fear of the Lord—he is more to be pitied if he loses his worldly wealth than a poor man is. The fall is so much greater, as the height from which he has fallen so far exceeds that from which a poor man can fall the hope of climbing it again is so much fainter, and he is in a more helpless and hopeless condition than his brother, who had but little to lose. But if he is destitute of the real treasure of human existence, then he has trouble without any compensation. He may say with Micah, “Ye have taken away my gods and what have I left?”
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The preposition gives choice of meanings. It may be, by “the fear of Jehovah,” in which case it would mean the “little” earned by piety: or it may be “in the fear of Jehovah;” in which case it would mean the little held and got possession of in a devout state; or it may be “along with,” as the word often means. All the ideas are correct. We choose as our English version, and, of course, for both parts of the sentence; for the expression “therewith,” has the same familiar preposition, and the same chance of either of the alternative meanings. “Better” is a Christian’s shieling, than an impenitent man’s palace (chap. Proverbs 14:11). And that, not on account of heaven alone, but for the intrinsic joys of piety (see next verse).—Miller.
Judas is bursar, and he shuts himself into his pouch; the more he hath, the more he covets. The apostles, that wanted money, are not so having: Judas hath the bag, and yet he must have more, or he will filch it. So impossible is it that these outward things should satisfy the heart of man. Soli habent omnia qui habent habentem omnia—They alone possess all things that possess the possessor of all things. The nature of true content is to fill all the chinks of our desires, as the wax doth the seal. None can do this but God, for (as it is well observed) the world is round, man’s heart three cornered: a globe can never fill a triangle, but one part will still be empty; only the blessed Trinity can fill these three corners of a man’s heart.… The bag never comes alone, but brings with it cares, saith Christ (Matthew 13:22); snares, saith Paul (1 Timothy 6:9) … It is none of God’s least favours, that wealth comes not trolling in upon us; for many of us, if our estate were better to the world, would be worse to God. The poor labourer hath not time to luxuriate: he trusts to God to bless his endeavours, and so rests content; but the bag commonly makes a man a prodigal man, or a prodigious man; for a covetous man is a monster.… It is no argument of God’s favour to be His purse-bearer; no more than it was a sign that Christ loved Judas above the other apostles because he made him His steward: He gave the rest grace, and him the bag; which sped best? The outward things are the scatterings of His mercies, like the gleaning after the vintage: the full crop goes to His children.—T. Adams.
Here also we trace the harmony of wisdom, i.e., of the Divine Word, speaking through many different channels, and in different tones. The proverb has its completion in the teaching which bids us “seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness” (Matthew 6:33), and finds echoes in the maxims of the wise among other nations who have uttered like thoughts.—Plumptre.
It is not the great cage that makes the bird sing. It is not the great estate that brings always the inward joy—the cordial contentment. The little lark with a wing sees farther than the ox with a bigger eye, but without a wing. Birds use not to sing when they are on the ground, but when got into the air, or on tops of trees. If saints be sad, it is because they are too busy here below.… If the bramble bear rule, fire will arise out of it that will consume the cedars; the lean kine will soon eat up the fat, and it shall not be seen by them. It is hard to handle these thorns hard and not to prick one’s fingers. Riches, though well got, are but as manna; those that gathered less had no want, and those that gathered more, it was but a trouble and annoyance to them.—Trapp.
Proverbs 15:17. Dinner of herbs, literally “a traveller’s meal.”
Proverbs 15:18. Stirreth up, lit. “mixes,” implying the reciprocal idea of giving and taking offence (Fausset).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:17
I. The equality here existing between the poor man and the rich man—they both have a dinner. This is as it ought to be. God gave the earth to the children of men, and when He enriched them with this large donation He intended that every living creature upon the earth should have enough to eat every day. When men lack sufficient food it is not because there is any lack in God’s gifts, either of herbs or oxen. When both the rich man and the poor man are fed out of the abundance of God’s gifts His Divine purpose in giving them is accomplished.
II. The inequality between the dinner of the poor man and that of the rich. The poor man is sustained upon the same kind of food as the rich man’s ox is fattened upon. In common with the beast he lives upon the produce of the earth. The rich man eats the ox which has been fed upon that which is the only food of the poor man. This is not as it should be. God never intended that one part of His human family should enjoy a monopoly of any of the food which He has provided. When He gave the earth into the hands of the first man He intended that all His children should be partakers of all the kinds of food which the earth afforded, and which were suited to the part of the world in which they lived. When it is otherwise it arises from sin, either personal or relative. Poverty does not always spring from indolence, or from inability to subdue the earth, and to obtain from it a full share of all that it affords, and when it does not, the man who is compelled to eat a dish of herbs while his neighbour feasts from the stalled ox, is either sinned against in the present, or has been sinned against in the past.
III. Opposite states of mind which more than compensate the poor man for his humbler meal. Hatred takes away all enjoyment from any of God’s gifts. If a rich man bears malice against the guest whom he is entertaining at his table—if while he feeds him upon the best, he desires for him the worst—he knows nothing of the pleasures of hospitality. Hatred is murder in the germ, and he who harbours such a devil within his breast cannot possess that peace of soul without which the choicest viands cannot be enjoyed. But love is a large compensation for a dinner of herbs. Love to husband or wife, to parent or to child, makes sweet every family meal, however homely the fare—that charity which “seeketh not her own, thinketh no evil, beareth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things,” is a sauce to the humblest dish which one man can set before another, and more than lifts it above the rich man’s feast given for the sake of custom or expediency to guests to whom he has not a particle of goodwill.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
A feast of salads, or Daniel’s pulse, is more cherishing with mercy, than Belshazzar’s banquet without it.—T. Adams.
Ruth and Naomi were happy when they lived on the gleanings of the field of Boaz, and in the fulness of their satisfaction poured their blessings on the head of him that allowed them the scanty pittance.… The conversation of friends is far pleasanter than any dish at the table. Where hatred is, there is silence or sullenness, or at least hollow mirth and tasteless ceremony; but where love and the fear of God are, the table conversation is delightful and useful. We find even a heathen poet reflecting on the pleasures of such an entertainment. (O noctes cœnœque deûm!—Hor). How blessed were the disciples of our Lord, when they sat at meat with Him! Barley loaves and fishes were probably ordinary fare with them, but they were entertained with Divine discourse. Such pleasure as they enjoyed we cannot now expect; but His religion is admirably fitted to promote our present happiness, for love is His great commandment.—Lawson.
The sentiment is applicable, with a special force of emphasis, to domestic life. In proportion to the delightful sweetness of the concord in which the fond affections of nature and grace bind the members of a family in one happy social circle—all being of one heart and of one soul—dividing the cares and more than doubling the enjoyments of life by mutual participation and sympathy, all bosoms throbbing with a common pulsation, all lips wearing a common smile, and all eyes filled from a common fountain of tears, in proportion to the delightful sweetness of such a scene is the wretchedness of its reverse; and there is no one who has experienced either the sweetness or the wretchedness—especially the former—that will not subscribe to the sentiment so simply yet so strongly expressed.—Wardlaw.
“An allowance of vegetables.” Not only “vegetables,” but the lighter sorts of them; more nearly “herbs;” not only light fare, like that, but a limited amount; not only flesh on the other scale, but “stalled” beef; not only “stalled” beef, but no limit; “a stalled ox.” Not only might this well be a worldly proverb to represent the married state, and all the arena of human affection, but signal, when brought into religion. “A dinner of herbs,” with the blessed “love” of the Redeemer, is better than a pampered feast and the gloom of the impenitent.—Miller.
If love be the entertainer, it matters not much what the provision be: if true friendship be set upon the table of his heart that inviteth thee, let that make thee to esteem well of whatsoever is set on the table before thee. Thou comest with a gluttonous appetite—not the affection of a friend—if thy cheer be that which thou lookest after. Wherefore, then, though it be a dinner of herbs, yet if they come from love’s garden it is worthy of thine acceptance: thou mayest be sure that no serpent lies hid in those herbs. If it be but so small a dinner as a traveller taketh with him (see Critical Notes), yet if it bring affection with it, thou mayest be sure that no hurt is coming to thee. But if thy dinner be a fatted ox, and hatred be the hand that carveth it unto thee, perhaps it is but to fat thee for the like slaughter.—Jermin.
Mark well, it is neither said in the Bible, nor found in experience, that they are all happy families who dine on herbs, and all unhappy who can afford to feast on a stalled ox. Some rich families live in love, and doubly enjoy their abundance; some poor families quarrel over their herbs. Riches cannot secure happiness, and poverty cannot destroy it. But such is the power of love, that with it you will be happy in the meanest estate; without it, miserable in the highest. Would you know the beginning, and the middle, and the end of this matter, the spring on high, the stream flowing through the channel of the covenant, and the fruitful outspread in a disciple’s life below—they are all here, and all one—Charity:—“God is Love,” “Love is of God,” “Walk in love.”—Arnot.
There were many great feasts in the times of the apostles, and yet none of them are so much commended in the Scriptures as the meetings of believers, who did eat together with gladness and singleness of heart, notwithstanding they had neither so much meat, nor so costly dishes, as divers others had. It is noted of Abraham that he entertained God and His angels to dinner. The Lord Himself would be his guest, since he would be so good a housekeeper; and yet the victuals which are mentioned are only butter and milk, and veal that had not time to cool between the killing and dressing; notwithstanding his hospitality is preferred before the Persian king’s royal banquet, for the one purposed to show his greatness in pomp, and the other his goodness in love. The one dealt exceeding unkindly with his own wife and the other very courteously with them that seemed to him to be mere strangers. They that dress most meat are not always the kindest men, for our Saviour was full of liberality when He gave but barley-bread and fish to His disciples, and Nabal was but a churl, though he killed both sheep and oxen for his sheep-shearers.—Dod.
The subject of Proverbs 15:18 has been treated in Proverbs 15:1. (See Homiletics on page 400, also on chap. Proverbs 14:29, page 386.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
In the pit, the blasphemy will rise and swell, as it is stirred up one man by his neighbour. Upbraidings (Proverbs 15:13) are contagious, even in this world. Ordinary quarrels are wonderfully quieted, if a man waits. But Divine quarrels, if we stay to look at God, and observe His reasonings, are wonderfully held back, and by His grace signally prevented.—Miller.
Observe the principles of hatred and love, contrasted in active exercise. Some persons make it their occupation to sit by the fire, to feed and fan the flame, lest it be extinguished. A useful and friendly employment, were it a fire to warm. But when it is an injurious, consuming, and destructive element, it would seem difficult to discover the motive of these incendiaries, did we not read, that “out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, wickedness, an evil eye, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22).—Bridges.
Surely it is a wrathful man that is the lawyer’s best client. He is altogether for scire faciam, I will make thee to know what thou hast done, what thou has said; which the lawyer does but turn into a scire facias, although at last himself pay dearest for the knowledge which is gotten. But he that is slow to anger, hath a Quietus est for any suit before it is begun. His care is rather to buy his peace with loss, than to sell his rest for gain. He considereth it to be true which St. Ambrose teacheth him, that to be freed from the loss of strife is not a little gain.—Jermin.
Proverbs 15:19. Made plain, “is paved,” or “is a highway.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:19
THE WAY OF THE SLOTHFUL AND THE RIGHTEOUS
I. The one thing common to these opposite characters—a “way.” The eagle and the snail have both a way of motion, although the one swiftly cleaves the air, and the other drags itself slowly along the ground. Unlike as they are in form and in habit, they are both impelled to some kind of motion. So with the sluggard and the man who complies willingly with God’s ordinance of labour—they are both compelled to some exercise of their bodily and mental organs, but there is as great a contrast in the way in which they exercise them as there is between the way of the snail and the eagle.
II. The contrast between the ways of these opposite characters.
1. That of the sluggard is a way of self-prevention. He lessens his power by neglecting to use it. The man who has power to pull against a rapid at a certain point of the stream and will not use it, but allows his boat to drift on until he comes into a current against which he can make no headway, has thrown away his power, and is his own destroyer. The effort which he neglected to put forth at a time when it would have been effectual, is of no avail now that the time has passed. Every man in health of body and mind has physical, and mental, and moral powers which at a certain period in his life are equal to the overcoming of all ordinary obstacles to his moral and physical well-being. But if he neglects to use them the tide against him will grow stronger, because his power will decrease, and his neglect and inertness, whether in material or in spiritual things, will raise around him a hedge of thorns, which will require much extraordinary and painful effort to break through. A thorn-hedge in its beginnings may be easily stepped over, or it may be almost as easily uprooted; but if it is allowed to grow and strengthen itself for several years it makes an almost impassable barrier—at least, a barrier which cannot be overcome without a great and painful effort. So with the sluggard, temptations to indolence—to neglect of powers which God has given him to be used—might once have been easily overcome, and have been so completely conquered as to cease to be temptations. But yielded to until they have become habits, they form around him as impassable a barrier, or one which can be broken through only by as great and as painful exertion as a hedge of thorns. Often we hear him complaining of the difficulties in the way, and truly they are there, but they are mainly of his own creation, the hedge is about him, but it is of his own planting—the lion is there (chap. Proverbs 26:13), but the lion was placed there by the man who is afraid to face him.
2. The way of the righteous—of him who is willing to strive after his moral and physical well-being—is a way in which it is easier to walk the longer it is pursued. It is “made plain,” or it is a “paved way.” (a) God helps to smooth his way, because it is a Divinely ordained way. He who rules the world has ordained that many material gifts and all the most [precious mental and moral gifts shall be the reward of those only who earnestly strive after them. The way of diligent continuance in well-doing is as old as God Himself, and it is the way in which He requires His creatures to walk. This being so, those who tread it may rely upon His help to exalt the valleys, to level the mountains, and to make the rough places plain which lie in their road, (b) The way is made plain by the man himself. The continued repetition of acts makes habit, and he who pushes boldly and fearlessly forward in the way of righteous exertion finds the hard become easier and the stony places smoother by the very constitution of his nature. He makes his way plain by his resolution to walk in it, he leaps the hedge while his slothful neighbour is counting the number of feet it is from the ground. It is well to look before we leap, but some look so long that they never take the leap, and the slothful man looks so long at the difficulties in his way that he never finds courage enough to grapple with them. But the very resolve to try brings strength for action, and the power grows by use until what is a hedge of thorns to an indolent man is a level road to his righteous neighbour. The word righteous being here placed in antithesis to slothful shows how great a sin it is to neglect to use the opportunities which God has given to men to ensure their real and highest interests. (See also on chap. Proverbs 13:4, page 296.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
God’s Word recognises the universal law of work. By frequent precept and cheering promises, it consecrates our daily labour. Mindful of the old Latin maxim, “Laborare est orare,” “toil is prayer,” the Christian learns from the record of God’s will that honest, faithful, diligent, God-fearing, and God-honouring work is itself a worship acceptable to the great All-worker. Toil, hard toil, is duty. Even the heathen world confessed that the gods gave nothing to men without it had been earned by severe exertion … God enjoins diligence upon us by precept and by example. About us, all things perform their allotment of work, and of it promptly and without a thought of delay. The winds sweep over the face of the earth, attent alone on the fulfilment of their appointed mission. Here they come on silent pinions, to bear away the rising exhalation of death from the lowlands or the pest-house; there they carpet the earth with the sere and yellow leaves of autumn, covering the earth with russet and gold. Now their task is the flushing of some sick one’s pale cheek, as they rustle through the spring blossoms, laden with sweet health. There they hinder and destroy the else invincible Armada, creeping forth on its purpose of spreading far and wide destruction and death. Thus, too, the never-resting sea. Lashing its worn and rugged shore, the incoming tides bear on their bosom the wealth of trade; or else, lifting its waves in its fury, it engulfs those who go down into the sea to do business in the deep waters. Thus, too, the hidden fires of earth, ever smouldering within, ever restless in their workings—now tossing the foam and spray of the geysers in their play, or now opening in wide fissures of molten death, to scorch the surface of the earth with the poisonous sulphur smoke, or bury for centuries in dust and ashes, and under the lava tide, the homes and haunts of the men of the past. Thus God teaches men by His own ceaseless workings through ten thousand ever busy forces. And revelation utters the same bidding to unremitting toil.… Diligent hands are speedily rendered expert. Long use gives practice and perfection, until that which was at first the toilsome labour of hours becomes the easily attained result of a few moments’ application. And the diligent hand teaches and trains the wary and observant eye.—Life Lessons from the Book of Proverbs, by Dr. Perry, Bishop of Iowa.
The wise man mentions righteousness in this place rather than diligence, because the latter is included in the former, and is not sufficient without it to make a man’s way plain.—Lawson.
Observe God’s estimate of the slothful man. He contrasts with him not the diligent, but the righteous, marking him as a “wicked, because a slothful, servant” (Matthew 25:26). The difficulties are far more in the mind than in the path. For while the slothful man sits down by his hedge-side in despair, the way of the righteous (in itself not more easy) is made plain. He does not expect God to work for him in an indolent habit. But he finds that God helps those that help themselves.… Following His commands, feeding upon His promises, continuing in prayer, in waiting and watching for an answer to prayer, his way is raised up before him. He believes what is written, and acts upon it without delay. As soon as ever the light comes into his mind, at the very first dawn, this determines the direction of his steps, and the order of his proceedings. Thus his stumbling-blocks are removed (Numbers 13:30; Numbers 14:6-9; Isaiah 57:14).—Bridges.
Grace has not only a brighter (Proverbs 15:15) but an easier time. We see the like in worldly matters. Nothing is more striking than the ease with which a prompt man works. His tackle is all right, so is his ground, it has been made smooth by his last year’s toil. His hands are not blistered. His lazy neighbour admires, and longs after his chance. Laziness begets labour. In the round year, the sluggard fevers himself more than the diligent; while, in the spiritual world, the proverb is more signal still. Just where the upright stands there is a smooth path—and let it be observed the upright means the smooth, the level. Just where the sinner stands is a thorn hedge. He cannot enter into life; so he imagines. And yet he is a sluggard, for he will not do the plainest duties. The proverb is right, therefore, that it is the principle of sluggardism to create “a hedge of thorns;” and that it is far smoother to take hold of the faith by the right handle, and at once, than to be eternally kicking against the pricks of the Gospel.—Miller.
Because the latter part of the verse speaketh of the righteous, we may by the slothful understand the wicked; for it is slothfulness in not using the graces of God offered that maketh to be wicked.… God giveth the righteous pleasure, even in the troubles of serving Him.… In their conversation, by the lightsomeness and leap, as it were, of eternal hope and internal contemplation, they do pass over the impediments of temporal adversity.—Jermin.
The way of a slothful man is perplexed and letsome, so that he gets no ground, makes no riddance; he goes as if he were shackled when he is to go upon any good course, so many perils he casts and so many excuses he makes—this he wants, and that he wants, when in truth it is a heart only that he wants, being wofully hampered and enthralled in the invisible chains of the kingdom of darkness, and driven about by the devil at his pleasure.… Never any came to hell, saith one, but had some pretence for their coming hither.—Trapp.
Every good service is hard or easy, according as men’s wills are inclined unto it. He that hath his mind pressed and ready to the practice of any duty, either of piety, justice, or mercy, will observe all the inducements that may lead him to the same: and he that is averse and backward, will look to all the impediments that may discourage him from it. That Israel should root out the Canaanites, the unfaithful spies thought it no less impossible, than for grasshoppers to overcome giants; but Caleb and Joshua knew it to be no more unlikely than for armed soldiers to vanquish naked people, or for hungry persons to eat up meat. First, the one is fortified by the force of love, which is unresistable and strong as death, that nothing can withstand it: and the other being destitute of all love to any goodness, is likewise void of all power to proceed in, and go through with any work that is good. Secondly, faith showeth to the one what help God will minister, and what reward He will render to all them that apply themselves to His service. And infidelity persuadeth the other that well-doing is needless and fruitless, or chargeable and troublesome.—Dod.
For Homiletics on Proverbs 15:20, see on Chapter Proverbs 10:1, page 136.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
One particular in which children show themselves wise or else foolish and so can gladden or else sadden their parents is by giving or withholding due honour. “A foolish man.” No age or state exempts children from honouring their parents. Grown young men are sometimes apt to look with some contempt on their mothers, because of the weakness of the feminine mind.—Fausset.
As for him that despiseth his mother—and who doth not so that despiseth her careful admonition?—he is not a son, the spirit of God doth not here style him to be so: he is a foolish man. For how can he be otherwise, who knoweth his own mother so little as that he doth despise her?—Jermin.
Proverbs 15:21. Walketh uprightly, rather “goes straightforward.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:21
I. Joy is a revealer of human character. A stone cast into a lake will reveal the nature of its bed. If there is mud at the bottom this simple test will reveal its existence by bringing it to the surface. So objects presented to the mind show what is hidden in the heart. The emotions produced by certain scenes or events are tests of character. What a man rejoices in reveals what he is. Some objects brought before the human mind excite the most opposite feelings in different men. That which gives pleasure to the one gives pain to the other, and when a man rejoices in that which is the outcome of human depravity it is a certain sign that he is himself deeply depraved. Like the stone cast into the water, it brings the hidden mud to the surface. The same evil thought lodged in the minds of two men, one of whom is a moral fool, and the other a “man of understanding,” will bring joy to the countenance of the first, and indignation to that of the latter, and thus it becomes a revealer of the state of each man’s heart, and he to whom “folly is joy” is thus declared to be “destitute of wisdom” in the real and highest signification of the word.
II. The joy of the moral fool turns him out of the way, and keeps him out of the way. This is implied in the antithesis, which should be “a man of understanding goes straight forward.” He has found a source of joy in “whatsoever things are true, honest, just, pure, lovely, and of good report” (Philippians 4:8), and this joy holds him in the path which leads to them. We are largely governed by that which holds our affections, and love to that which is morally right, draws us into the path of righteousness—leads us to pursue a steady and undeviating line of conduct in obedience to the law of holiness, as revealed by God. But the joy which the ungodly man feels in sinful pursuits and habits draws him out of this good and true way, and allures him into a path where he meets with objects that call forth this unholy pleasure. Being governed by passion instead of by principle, his walk in life is unsteady and uncertain—destitute of fixed purpose. (On this subject see Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 13:14, page 313.) A vessel is held on her course by reason at the wheel, and wind in the sails. The wind impels her to go forward, but if the understanding at the compass did not hold the wind in subjection, there would be no safety for the vessel; nobody could say where she might be carried. Yet without the wind she could not be carried forward at all—the compass and the helm would be useless. So, although the “man of understanding” is a man of emotion—a man whose life is under the influence of that which gives him joy, he brings his emotions into subjection to the dictates of moral wisdom, and before he follows their leadings he makes sure that they are in harmony with that which is pure and holy. Then he may safely yield himself to their guidance, and be sure that they will impel him straightforward. Such a man is constrained by the delights which godliness yields to him to press on to higher attainments (2 Corinthians 5:14; Philippians 3:12-13), while the man to whom “folly is joy” allows the pleasures of the world and the flesh to hold him from the right path, even against his conscience and his better judgment. Such a man can give no more convincing proof that he is destitute of wisdom.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
This book of instruction proves our profession. What think we of folly? Not only does the ungodly practise it, but it is joy to him.… That which has turned this fair world into a sepulchre; nay, that which hath kindled “everlasting burnings,” is his joy.—Bridges.
Tastes differ widely, and so, therefore, do enjoyments. Water is the element of one creature, and air the element of another. The same material is to this poison and to that food. Each species differs in nature from all others, and nature will have her own way. Among men, viewed in their spiritual relations, there is a similar variety of tastes and pleasures. There is first the grand generic difference between the old man and the new.… Besides the first and chief distinction between the dead and the living, many subordinate varieties appear, shading imperceptibly away into each other, according as good or evil preponderates in the character. Two persons of opposite spiritual tastes may be detected for once in the same act of evil; but they do not walk abreast in the same life-course.… Two young men, of nearly equal age, and both the sons of God-fearing parents, were seen to enter a theatre at a late hour in a large city. They sat together, and looked and listened with equal attention. The one was enjoying the spectacle and the mirth; the other was silently enduring an unspeakable wretchedness. The name of God and the hopes of the godly were employed there to season the otherwise vapid mirth of the hollow-hearted crowd. One youth, through the Saviour’s sovereign grace, had, in a distant solitude, acquired other tastes. The profanity of the play rasped rudely against them. He felt as if the words of the actor and the answering laugh of the spectators were tearing his flesh. He breathed freely when, with the retiring crowd, he reached the street again. It was his first experience of a theatre, and his last. It is a precious thing to get from the Lord, as Paul got, a new relish and a new estimate of things. This appetite for other joy, if exercised and kept keen, goes far to save you from defilement, even when suddenly and occasionally brought into contact with evil; as certain kinds of leaves refuse to be wet, and though plunged into water come out of it dry.—Arnot.
A man of understanding walketh uprightly, and he doth it with delight, as the opposition implies. Christ’s “burden” is no more “grievous” to him than the wing is to the bird. His sincerity supplies him with serenity; the joy of the Lord, as an oil of gladness, makes him lithe and nimble in ways of holiness.—Trapp.
The folly here meant is the folly of wickedness, and he that joys in that, may well be proclaimed a notorious fool. St. Ambrose saith, all vile dispositions are delighted with the follies of others: but how vile, then, is his disposition who is delighted with his own folly. And yet, now many are there so drunken with this folly that they reel and stagger, and hardly go a right step in all their lives. Now, what is this joy, but a sign of the habit of wickedness generated within them? But a man of understanding considereth his joy, and what it is that causeth it: in joying he considereth, what it is he doth, and how far he goeth, that so he may both walk uprightly to joy, and walk uprightly in joy. This being his chiefest joy to walk uprightly in all his ways.—Jermin.
Not so much, “folly is joyful;” for that is only partially the case. We have already seen (Proverbs 15:13) how sin crimps the countenance. But “folly is joy;” that is, the life of a sinner is like a grazed ox, who strikes for the sweetest pasture. The text marks a vital difference:—“A man of discernment, or understanding, makes a direct track.” That is, as a thrifty housekeeper tumbles up her rooms, and makes things right, whether it be pleasant or not, so the Christian, for love of the Almighty, makes things straight, whether a joy or not. Note, then, the vital difference. Folly is joy. It does not arrive at it; but its quintessence is, that it thought it would. While the good, not stupidly either, but as “a man of discernment,” puts duty first, and takes joy as it comes; so answering the words of Christ:—“For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life, for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it” (Mark 8:35).—Miller.
FOR HOMILETICS ON Proverbs 15:22, SEE ON CHAP. Proverbs 11:14 AND CHAP. Proverbs 20:18
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
It is a note of Beda: There are three which in the law are read to be unhappy. He that knoweth and doth not teach, he that teacheth and doth not live accordingly, he that is ignorant and doth not ask counsel. Wherefore in matters of moment it is good not to purpose without counsel: for a purpose ill-settled is never likely to take good effect, and if counsel direct the purpose itself, it will much the better be able to accomplish it. For purposes without counsel are like an earthen vessel broken in the hands of the potter. Turned they are about with the wheel of imagination, but quickly broken in the hand of execution. Be not therefore without counsel, that thou go not without thy purpose; and if thou canst, get many counsellors, whereby thou art likely the sooner to get thine end. For many counsellors are like many hands joined together, and can reach far in attaining thy desire.—Jermin.
I. No mortal man can attain unto such depth of judgment and understanding, to be able sufficiently, of his own knowledge, to manage all his affairs: God will have every man stand in need of his brother’s direction: that is revealed to some which is hid from others; and many eyes may clearly apprehend that which no one could possibly have pierced into. II. Every man by nature is somewhat partial to his affection, and may easily be induced to add weight by colour of reason, to that end of the scale whereunto his desire more inclineth; whereas he that leaneth on neither side, may discern the stronger motives to be on the other side.—Dod.
Many eyes see more than one, and many souls think more than one: therefore never esteem thyself so wise that thou shouldest not seek others’ counsel.—Hasius.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:23
JOY FROM A SEASONABLE WORD
I. A good word yields the speaker a present joy. There is a present reaction of joy following every right deed which is its present and immediate reward. If a man gives his money to a right object from the highest motive he is silently repaid, even while he is in the act of giving, by the joy which he feels. So the man who having neither silver or gold gives help by words of advice or sympathy. Good words are sometimes more precious than gold to the sinning or the suffering, and for such gifts there is the reward which follows every effort to help and bless others. How much of the joy of Christ’s life on earth must have arisen from the enlightening and life-giving answers of His mouth, to those who sought to learn of Him.
II. It yields the speaker joy on reflection. There is nothing equal to the joy of performing a good deed, except the joy of reflecting upon it. This is a more lasting joy, and can be repeated again and again. Happy is he who, in looking back upon the “answers of his mouth,” can derive joy from the consciousness that he spoke the right word at the right time.
III. Such a word is an unending source of joy, because it is an unending influence for good. None can tell “how good it is”—none can say that its influence will ever cease. A stone thrown into the ocean is but the act of a moment; but wise men tell us that the influence of that act is felt long after the stone has found the bed of the ocean. The word spoken by the Highest Wisdom to Saul on his way to Damascus, how good was it for the man to whom it was addressed, and how good it has been, and will be for millions throughout the ages of eternity. None but God can estimate the power of the evil that was then averted from the Church of God, the depth of personal guilt from which the man addressed was delivered, or the amount of blessed influence that was then set in motion. And many a word of the disciple has been good in the same manner, although not in the same degree, as that word of the Master.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
It must be a word spoken in season (chap. Proverbs 25:11), though it be from feeble lips. For though “there are some happy seasons, when the most rugged natures are accessible” (Bishop Hopkins), yet many a good word is lost by being spoken out of season. Obviously a moment of irritation is out of season. We must wait for the return of calmness and reason. Sometimes, indeed, the matter forces itself out after lengthened and apparently ineffectual waiting. It has been long brooded over within and must have its vent. But this explosion sweeps away every prospect of good, and leaves a revolting impression. Instead of a fertilising shower, it has gathered into a violent and destructive tempest. It is most important, that our whole deportment should bring conviction, that we yearn over the souls of those whom we are constrained to reprove.… Never commence with an attack; which, as an enemy’s position, naturally provokes resistance. Study a pointed application. A word spoken for every one, like a coat made for everyone, has no individual fitness.—Bridges.
The verb usually translated to “answer” means primarily to sing, or rather, to break out with the voice; rather, “to speak after a silence;” which, of course, would usually be in making “answer.” Hence the idiom, “answered and said,” literally, broke silence, and said. Such an utterance would become very oracular in the more solemn decisions of life. A “decree” as we have translated it, is a noun out of the above described verb. It means an uttered decision; such as an answer may be to a business speech; such as is alluded to on God’s part (chap. Proverbs 16:4); and such as may be over-masteringly momentous in the business and results of life. Solomon sees in it a rare truth in respect to decisions for immortality. “A word!” Why, it may win eternity! An offer presses! A word refuses! A word snatches possession for ever! Lo! the amazing difference! Body and soul hang upon “a word.” “Great counsel” (Proverbs 15:22) indeed, that is, that prompts a man to say, Yes! and “a word (spoken) in season” truly! if it be a confession of Christ! and if it take the offer of an eternal blessedness! Because there is no drawing back after that beginning (Proverbs 15:24).—Miller.
The words have probably a special reference to the debates in council implied in Proverbs 15:22. True as they are at all times, they also bring before us the special characteristic of the East, the delight in ready, improvised answers, solving difficulties, turning aside anger. Such an answer, to a people imaginative rather than logical, has much more weight than any elaborate argument. Compare the effect produced on the mind of the scribe who heard our Lord’s dispute with the Sadducees, when he saw that He had “answered well” (Mark 12:28).—Plumptre.
Proverbs 15:24. The way of life is above, etc., rather “An upward path of life,” etc. Hell, Sheôl, as in Proverbs 15:11.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:24
THE UPWARD AND THE DOWNWARD PATH
I. The existence of a place of retribution stated as a fact. The word Sheol, here and elsewhere translated hell, signifies first the place of all departed spirits, whether they be saints or sinners. Those who dwell in Sheol are those who have quitted the relations and conditions of time and sense, and who dwell in a world invisible to human eye. But the connection of the word here makes it necessary to understand it as having reference to a place of retribution. That there is such a place beyond death is suggested by analogy, and affirmed by the Word of God. In every city and centre of human life we find a place of retribution inhabited by those whose characters are supposed to merit such a dwelling. All nations upon the earth find it necessary to have their prisons—to have places in which to confine those whose crimes call for their separation from their more virtuous fellow-creatures. The existence of such places is as much a fact as the existence of men upon the earth. Hence we might have inferred that there was such a place for like characters in the world which is beyond our vision, but which men, both good and bad, are continually quitting this world to inhabit. The existence of such an abode seems to be imperatively demanded, when we consider that some of the worst of the human race never find their way to a prison in this world, and it seems a merciful proceeding towards the offenders themselves that their course should be arrested in another life. The Book of God tells us that there is such a place—that the dwelling of the “devil and his angels” is the destination of those who quit this world in a state of unforsaken and unforgiven sin (Matthew 25:41).
II. There is a hell of character as well as a hell of place. That which renders a serpent an object of abhorrence is the poison in its sting. That which makes hell, either in devils or men, is enmity against God. This is the fuel that feeds the undying flame that cannot be quenched—this it is that constitutes the misery of the place of retribution. This mental hell has an existence in time as well as beyond it. Christ taught us that He considered such a disposition a mental Gehenna when He said, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation (condemnation) of hell?” (Matthew 23:33).
III. There is the hell of confederation against God and goodness which is made up of individuals belonging both to the visible and the invisible worlds. Every kingdom has its place of central government, but its dominion may extend over many countries. The divisions made by mountains and seas do not make it any the less one kingdom. The centre of the kingdom which exists in the universe in opposition to the kingdom of God, has its seat of government in the unseen world, but it numbers among its subjects all who are at enmity with God and His children, whether in time or beyond it. Although the place of central government, “the gates of hell” (Matthew 16:18) is in Sheol, its influence is mighty upon the earth.
IV. That to escape from all these is the aim of the truly wise man. He desires to escape from retribution hereafter, and to be freed from the misery of being in opposition to God in the present life. He does this by obtaining a right relation to God and to His law. Our physical relationships have much to do with our physical well-being—to be in relation to those who are vicious or diseased is to be in a wrong relation so far as bodily health is concerned. Our social and political relations are most important to our comfort and well-being, and are more subject to our own will than are our physical relationships. We may be unwillingly related to an evil social or national law, but we may also stand in an antagonistic relation to a good law, and then the change of relationship is in our own hands. Every sinful man stands in a wrong relation to God’s holy and good law, and the aim of the wise man is to fall in with the conditions offered to him, by which he may come into right relationship to this law. These conditions are revealed to him in the Divine revelation—by accepting the atonement of Christ, he is delivered from the guilt of his transgressions and so escapes the hell of retribution; by the same act, followed by a life of communion with the ascended Saviour, he is freed from all that makes hell within him, and escapes all the snares laid by the tempter for his spiritual ruin. This relationship with Him, who is the fountain of all moral and material life, places him in a new position in the universe—lifts him from the dominion of sin, which is death, into the kingdom of holiness, which is a way of life, because it leads to and prepares for a state beyond death, which is everlasting life of body, soul, and spirit.
V. Such a change of relationship is the beginning of moral climbing. “The way of life is above,” rather, “leads upward.” The change of relationship is but the first step in a new life. The place of halting to-day becomes the place of departure on the morrow, and each day’s journey places him upon a higher level and in a purer atmosphere. The wise man’s first step is to depart from hell beneath, but his mere escape from retribution is not the whole of his aim—he is always in quest of an increase of love and joy and peace, of a deepening of all holy emotions and a strengthening of all holy habits. He “goes from strength to strength” (Psalms 84:7); his watchword is “not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect” (Philippians 3:7).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
All men are travellers, either to heaven above, or hell beneath. The writers of Scripture know nothing of a middle place.… Our everlasting abode must be either in heaven or hell. Salvation from hell is the half of heaven. The threatenings of hell are a fence about the way to heaven, and whilst we are travelling in it they are of great use to make us serious and earnest in pursuing our course; for how is it possible that we can flee with too much speed from everlasting burnings, when our flight is directed, not like that of the manslayer, to a place of banishment, but to a world of happiness.—Lawson.
The way of life is above—of heavenly origin—the fruit of the eternal counsels—the display of the manifold wisdom of God. Fools rise not high enough to discern it, much less to devise and walk in it. Their highest elevation is grovelling. God does not allow them even the name of life (1 Timothy 5:6). Cleaving to the dust of earth they sink into the hell beneath. But the wise are born from above; taught from above; therefore walking above, while they are living upon earth. A soaring life indeed! The soul mounts up, looks aloft, enters into the holiest, rises above herself, and finds her resting-place in the bosom of her God. A most transcendant life! to be partaker of the Divine nature!” (2 Peter 1:4). The life of God Himself (Ephesians 4:18) in humble sublimity, ascending above things under the sun, above the sun himself.—Bridges.
Let “the words spoken in season” (see comments on Proverbs 15:23) be “Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief;” and let the word be genuine, i.e., a turning from Sheol (the figure of the pit—Psalms 9:17), and the man’s joy is won. His path after that shall be upward perpetually.—Miller.
A reference to heaven as the final limit of this upward movement of the life of the righteous is so far indirectly included as the antithesis to the “upward,” the “hell beneath” (hell downwards, hell to which one tends downward), suggests a hopeless abode in the dark kingdom of the dead as the final destination of the sinner’s course of life. Therefore, we have here again the idea of future existence and retribution (comp. Proverbs 11:7; Proverbs 14:32).—Lange’s Commentary.
On the summit of one of those distant mountains—upon whose snowy tops, as they throw back the sunlight, we can look from our Eastern coast—there trickles forth a silvery spring. Near the source there is a slight obstruction in the way of the flow of the streamlet, and the waters are divided right and left. Part trickles down the mountain side towards a river, and thence are borne on to the limitless sea. Part goes the other side, and is lost, ere long, midst the thirsty sands, that are never satiated. Thus divergent are man’s two paths—the shining and the dark one; thus dissimilar their course in life—their close at death. And these two paths are the only ones leading out into eternity.… And when we seek in spiritual union and communion with our Maker the noblest exercise of the soul’s faculties and powers, and there comes to the heart peace, sure and certain, because depending upon the inviolable Word of God, and love springing from the outwellings of the Divine love, and hope reaching into the eternal world, and grasping there at blissful immortality and joy ineffable, and prepared of God—oh! then even the foregleamings of these things, reserved for us, or else already the heritage of the soul—light up a path so shining that earth’s glare and glitter fade, in comparison, wholly out of sight. For into eternity itself do these divergent paths lead. The soul, in choosing the one or the other here, is choosing for the life to come, as well as for the life that now is.—Bishop Perry.
The wise man goes a higher way than his neighbour, even in his common businesses, because they are done in faith and obedience. He hath his feet where other men’s heads are; and, like a heavenly eagle, delights himself in high-flying. Busied he may be in mean, low things, but not satisfied in them as adequate objects. A wise man may sport with children, but that is not his business. Wretched worldlings make it their work to gather wealth, as children do to tumble a snow-ball; they are scattered abroad throughout all the land—as those poor Israelites were (Exodus 5:12)—to gather stubble, not without an utter neglect of their poor souls. But what, I wonder, will these men do when death shall come with a writ of habeas corpus, and the devil with a writ of habeas animam?.… Oh, that they that have their hands elbow-deep in the earth, that are rooting and digging in it, as if they would that way dig themselves a new and nearer way to hell!—oh, that these greedy moles would be warned to flee from the wrath to come, to take heed of hell beneath, and not sell their souls to the devil for a little pelf.—Trapp.
The difference between an earthly man and a heavenly man is this—that the way of an earthly man is under his feet, and the way of a heavenly man is over his head. A fool doth not conceive what this upper way can be, but to the wise man it is the plain way of life. He knoweth that it is by the fall of man that he walketh so low, and he considereth that unless he change his way, and, though against his nature, do make his way above, by having his conversation in heaven, even while his habitation is on the earth, his sin will be sure to thrust him lower still even to the pit of death. Take heed, therefore, of the ways of the earth, they are the way to hell. From whence to keep thee, be sure to keep aloft by fixing thine heart on Christ, who is the way of life, and now is set down in the highest places.—Jermin.
Proverbs 15:25. Establish the border, or “Keep fixed the landmark.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:25
DESTRUCTION AND ESTABLISHMENT
I. The character of those doomed to destruction. In looking at the trees of a vast forest, the eye of the beholder is drawn to some which, towering far above their fellows, form the most prominent features in the landscape. Yet these trees, although they look as if they would stand for ages, may be doomed to a much shorter standing than others which look more frail and are less attractive to the eye. The tree which is admired so much for its girth and breadth of foliage may contain within itself elements of destruction, and it may only need to be left to itself for a little while to come to the ground by its own weight. Every increase in its spreading foliage only renders its overthrow more certain, because the rottenness of the trunk is less able to bear the mass of branch and leaf. Or the woodman may not wait for the inevitable result—he may deem it necessary for the health of the surrounding trees that the axe should interpose and so prevent the fall. He may see that such a tree is absorbing nourishment to minister to its own decay, that trees around would utilise to sustain their healthy life. And so to prevent the soil from being impoverished by a mere cumberer of the ground, the sound of the axe and the crash of falling timber may resound through the forest. Such a tree is an emblem of the man described in our text. To him may be addressed the words spoken to the proud King of Babylon: “The tree that thou sawest, which grew and was strong, whose height reached unto the heaven, and the sight thereof to all the earth, whose leaves were fair and the fruit thereof much, and in it was meat for all, under which the beasts of the field dwelt and the fowls of the heaven had their habitation: it is thou that art grown and become strong, for thy greatness is grown and become strong, and reacheth unto heaven,” etc. (Daniel 4:20-22). He has attained to a position of power and influence in the world, but, like Nebuchadnezzar, his greatness has only revealed a radical moral defect in his character. Like him he refuses to acknowledge that “the Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men,” and that it is by His favour alone that he has attained to such a height of prosperity. He holds within him the elements of his own destruction, and time will bring about his fall without any special interposition of the Divine hand. Pride grows upon what it feeds, and such a man will presume more and more upon his fancied security, until he falls by the working out of the ordinary laws which govern the moral universe. But God does not always wait for this issue. To prevent his continuing to rob humanity of their rights, the Almighty Governor of men may anticipate the natural result by applying the axe of a special judgment, and a “watcher and a holy one” from heaven may be heard saying, “Hew the tree down and destroy it” (Daniel 4:23), “Cut it down, why cumbereth it the ground?” (Luke 13:7.) All despots and tyrants must sooner or later succumb to the operation of natural social law; those whom they have wronged, goaded to desperation by their injustice, will rise up against them and overturn them. The King of all the earth often takes the work into His own hands, as he did in the case of Nebuchadnezzar.
II. Those who are special objects of the Divine care. “He will establish the border (or landmark) of the widow.” The widow is a type of all the needy and the sorrowful of the human race. Deprived of her natural provider and protector, and her dearest earthly relative, she, more than any other, is at the mercy of the proud and selfish, and stands in need of a helper and consoler. God by the very goodness of His nature is drawn to take sides with such a one. He makes Himself known, again and again, as the judge of widows” (Psalms 68:5). The Bible contains many laws for their protection and reproaches against those who wrong them (Deuteronomy 24:17; Deuteronomy 24:19-21; Isaiah 1:23; Matthew 23:14). One of the main features of moral beauty in the Divine character is that He “delivereth the needy when he crieth,” the poor also, and him that hath no helper (Psalms 72:12), and the widow is here a type of all such. The sorrow of her who is “a widow indeed” is very deep and overwhelming, and sorrow takes away physical and mental strength. The strong and mighty God charges Himself with the care of all such spirits weakened by sorrow, and warns all the world who would take advantage of their weakness that in so doing they enter the lists against Him.
III. Because of such dealing God’s kingdom will increase and strengthen. The champions of the weak, and the opposers of the tyrants, always gain the most influence in the end. Love is the strongest influence in the world, and those who can gain men’s hearts are the real and mighty kings. While they live they wield a mighty power, and their influence is felt sometimes even more powerfully after they have left the world. Those who never saw them in the flesh, but who are enjoying the liberties which they gained for them, yield them a silent homage. And in the song which foretells the universal dominion of the All-Righteous King this is given as a reason why His kingdom shall grow and be established. “He shall have dominion from sea to sea, and from the rivers unto the ends of the earth. The kings of Tarshish and of the isles shall bring presents; the kings of Seba and Sheba shall offer gifts. Yea, all kings shall fall down before Him; all nations shall serve Him. FOR He shall deliver the needy when He crieth; the poor also, and him that hath no helper. He shall spare the poor and needy, and shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem their souls from deceit and violence, and precious shall their blood be in His sight” (Psalms 72:8-14).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
From the style of the antithesis we are naturally led to conceive a special allusion to the haughty oppressor of the desolate and unprotected—to the overbearing worldling, who insolently abuses his power in lording it over his poor dependents.… We may well tremble to think of promoting our own advantage in any way, or in any degree, at the expense of the widow or the fatherless. Woe to the man who does so! God will see to it. What is so acquired cannot be enjoyed with either a quiet conscience or the smile of heaven. It is an accursed thing. It is the wedge of gold and the Babylonish garment, by which the blessing of righteousness and mercy is turned away.—Wardlaw.
“The house” i.e., every interest (chap. Proverbs 14:1). “Destroy,” or pull down; because even worldly men have noticed the precariousness of pride. “The widow:” even worldly eyes have noticed that these are wards of the Almighty. But Solomon adopts each proverb spiritually. “The proud” is the man too well satisfied in his own mind (chap. Proverbs 21:24) to utter the good word, and have joy (Proverbs 15:23); and the “widow” is the poor in heart, who is ready with the availing answer, “Lord, I believe.”—Miller.
God abhors pride even in them whom He dearly loves, and shows His resentment of it by humbling providences, that remove man from his purpose, and hide pride from man. David was proud of the vast numbers of his subjects, but God soon showed him that great hosts save not a king, and that three days may greatly lessen the numbers of a people. Hezekiah’s heart was lifted up, but he was soon obliged to humble himself, being assured that the treasures which he had so ostentatiously showed to the Babylonish ambassadors should be carried with his posterity to their own land.—Lawson.
Did He not provide for sorrowing Naomi a staff in her faithful daughter, and ultimately establish her borders in Israel? Did He not supply the pressing need of the minister’s widow (2 Kings 4:1-7), and take up the Shunamite’s oppression, and again establish her border? (2 Kings 8:1-6). And shall we forget how He teaches the returning penitent to plead the gracious manifestation, “In Thee the fatherless findest mercy?” (Psalms 14:2-3).—Bridges.
The Lord will destroy the house of the proud. He will surely unroost him, unnest him, yea, though he hath set his nest among the stars, as he did proud Lucifer, who “kept not his first estate but left his habitation” (Jude 1:6), which, indeed, he could hold no longer.… But He will establish the border of the widow. Not the rest of her goods only, but the very utmost border of her small possession. She hath commonly no great matters to be proud of, nor any patrons to stick to her. She hath her name in Hebrew of dumbness, because either she cannot speak for herself, or, if she do speak, her tale cannot be heard (Luke 18:4).—Trapp.
A young body is too often the house of the proud, where strength being the pillars of it, beauty the trimming, vanity the roof, fond conceit imagineth itself to be married to a long life, never minding the mud walls whereof it consisteth. But God, who was the builder of it, seeing so ill an inmate as pride received into it, pulleth down His own work to destroy the devil’s work, and cutting the thread of life dissolveth the marriage knot, when expectation thought it to be strongest tied. On the other hand, where affliction hath humbled the heart of the widow, and may seem to have brought her to the border of her days, then doth God establish length of days, lifting up the light of His countenance upon her when lowliness of spirit hath virtuously cast her down.—Jermin.
Proverbs 15:26. The words of the pure are pleasant, or “pure in His sight are pleasant words.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:26
WICKED THOUGHTS AND HOLY WORDS
I. A present power of the wicked man—he thinks. The ideas and purposes which fill his mind concerning himself, his fellow-men, and God, are the result of a mental process just as the potter’s vessel is the result of a certain manipulating process. His thoughts are the result of the exercise of a God-given power, just as the potter’s vessel is the result of a power which has been given to him by God. From the same source comes the power to think and the power to turn the wheel. But although the power to think comes from God, it rests with man as to what kind of thoughts shall be the outcome of that power. God holds him responsible for the use which he makes of the power given him. It would be useless for the potter to say that the vessel which leaves his hand took its form by chance—we hold him responsible for the shape which the clay assumes under his hands. And it is equally vain for a man to say that he has no power over his thoughts. God holds him guilty if he thinks thoughts of sin.
II. The thoughts of the wicked are abhorred by God.
1. Because of the harm they do to his own soul. If the body is held bound under the sway of a deadly malady it becomes weak and unable to fulfil the end of its creation, and if it continues long under its influence it dies. So soul-disease and moral death are the result of the rule of evil thoughts to the man who thinks them. He becomes incapable of fulfilling the high spiritual destiny for which God called him into being.
2. Because of the misery they inflict upon others. All the evil words and deeds that have ever been done in the world were once thoughts. While they were only thoughts the harm they inflicted was confined to the thinker of them, but as soon as they became words or deeds the moral poison spread, and others became sufferers from them. God hates whatever will increase the misery of his creatures, and therefore the thoughts of the wicked—those fruitful germs of sin and suffering—must be an abomination to Him.
3. Because they are utterly at variance with God’s thoughts and purposes. The thoughts of God towards the wicked themselves are opposed to the thoughts and purposes which they have concerning themselves. God’s thoughts towards them are “thoughts of peace and not of evil” (Jeremiah 29:11). He desires that “the wicked forsake his way” and “return unto Him.” He declares that His thoughts even concerning sinners are as much higher than their thoughts concerning themselves as “the heavens are higher than the earth” (Isaiah 55:7-8). This is one ground of God’s quarrel with the thoughts of the wicked, that they cross His gracious plans for redeeming them. But—
III. The words of the pure are pleasing to God. Likeness of character draws men together—the pure delight in those who are pure, and the words of a pure man are pleasant to the ear of another man of purity. Pure men are like God in character, and He must find pleasure in those who reflect His own image, and who are one with Him in sympathy. Delighting in them, their words are pleasant unto Him. He delights in them when they take the form of prayer (See Homiletics on Proverbs 15:8, page 407). The “prayers of saints” are as sweet incense to Him (Revelation 5:8; Revelation 8:3). They are well-pleasing when they take the form of praise. He has commanded men to render honour where honour is due (Romans 13:7), and when it is rendered to Himself the most worthy to “receive honour and glory and blessing,” it is a most acceptable sacrifice (Leviticus 7:12; Hebrews 13:15). The words of the pure are pleasant to God when they are spoken to console and bless their fellow-creatures. (On this subject see Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 12:18, page 275.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Pleasant words are pure. (See Critical Notes.) This is the Scripture ethics. If we desire to know whether “words are pure” (and, words here, for Eastern reasons, mean actions as well as words; nay, really mean the whole round of conduct; see Job 20:12; Isaiah 10:7), if we wish to know whether a man’s whole life is pure, all we have to ask is—Is it kind? It is the plans of mischief that are the abomination of Jehovah.—Miller.
How lightly do most men think of the responsibility of their thoughts! as if they were their own, and they might indulge them without restraint or evil. One substantial sin appals men, who quietly sleep under the mighty mass of thinking without God for months and years, without any apprehension of guilt. But thoughts are the seminal principles of sin.—Bridges.
“Words of pleasantness are pure”—the gracious words that seek to please, not wound, are to Him as a pure acceptable offering, the similitude being taken from the Jewish ritual, and the word “pure” used in a half ceremonial sense, as in Malachi 1:11.—Plumptre.
The words of the pure are pleasant words. Such as God books up, and makes hard shift to hear, as I may so say; for He “hearkens and hears” (Malachi 3:16).—Trapp.
God seeth that Himself is not in all the thoughts of the wicked, and what can it be but abomination to God where God is not? It is God in all things that is pleasing to Himself, and it is the absence of God in anything that makes it to be abominable. But as for the thoughts of the pure, they are words of pleasantness, wherein they sing and make melody in their hearts to the Lord. In them they sweetly converse to themselves, by them they heavenly converse with God. Pleasant they are to themselves by the joy they have in them, pleasant they are to God by the delight He taketh in them. The wicked, though alone, and though doing nothing, yet are doing wickedly; for even then their thoughts are working, and working so naughtily as to be an abomination to the Lord. There is no need of company to draw them into villany, they have always a rout of mischievous thoughts on hand to give them entertainment. And as great is the pleasure which themselves take in them, so great is the abomination which God hath of them.—Jermin.
Proverbs 15:27. Gifts, i.e., “bribes.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:27
THE CURSE OF COVETOUSNESS
I. A definition of a covetous man. “He that is greedy of gain.” He desires more than enough, and he desires it to the exclusion of the rights of others. It is lawful and right to desire to possess some amount of substance in the world; he who was without such a desire would be hardly a man. It is good to ask for neither poverty nor riches, but for such an amount of the world’s wealth as will prevent us from being harassed with care, and at the same time keep us free from the temptations and anxieties which accompany great riches. But when a man is consumed with a desire for more than sufficient for his necessities, he is “greedy of gain,” and is in moral danger. If a vessel finds enough water in the river to carry her on her voyage, all bids fair to be safe and prosperous; but if the water is so high that it pours over her deck and gets into the hold, she is in great danger of sinking. So a moderate desire after worldly gain is an impetus to a man’s activity, and is a blessing both to himself and to the community; but an inordinate desire after riches is a dead weight upon his spiritual progress, and is often the cause of his going down in the moral scale. Desiring more than enough often leads to using unlawful means of satisfying the desire. The second clause of the verse seems to refer to the temptation of a judge to accept bribes. Men holding such an office, and possessed by this greed of gain, have been known, under its influence, to commit the enormous crime of knowingly acquitting the guilty and condemning the innocent; and in all positions and stations of life the sin of covetousness is a fruitful source of other crimes. “But 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. For the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
II. The evil effect of covetousness is not confined to the covetous man himself. “He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house.” Many men try to excuse their covetousness by the plea that they only desire to make ample provision for their family, but it is upon the family that the curse of greediness falls most heavily. If the head is diseased the members must suffer. A covetous man is a selfish man, and those who are most nearly related to a man who is eaten up with a desire to grow rich feel most keenly the blighting influence of the passion upon all the joys of family life. And a man who is thus greedy of gain brings trouble upon his house by involving them in the curse of his sin. Those whom he has wronged by his injustice hate his children for the father’s sin, and as we have before seen—“the wealth of the sinner”—of him who has grown rich by unfair dealing—is “laid up for the just” and his own children inherit only the misery of having had such a father. (See Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 13:11-22, pages 307–332.)
III. The man of opposite character, “the hater of gifts,” shall live.
1. He does live now. Life and death are in a man’s character. A leaf that has lost all its beauty and greenness is dead although it still exists. The leaf is there—the shape and outline exist—but all that made it lovely is gone, because all vitality is gone. A flower may still have all its petals upon the stalk, but if all fragrance and colour are gone we know that life is gone. The life or the death of the leaf or flower are states or conditions of its existence, and not the simple adherence or separation of its particles. So is it with a man. His life or his death is not existence or non-existence, but the condition of his spiritual nature. If he is destitute of righteousness he is dead—if he is a man of true integrity—such a man as is described in chap. Proverbs 11:3 (see on that verse) he is alive. God is the “living God” not simply because He has an eternal existence, but because He possesses moral life—in other words, because He is perfectly holy, just, and true. Now the man who “hates gifts”—who abhors every kind of unfair dealing—gives proof by his hatred that he is morally alive.
2. He shall live in the esteem of posterity. Nothing lasts like a good character. The memory of the just man is embalmed in the hearts of men long after his body is gone to dust. (See chap. Proverbs 10:7.)
3. He shall live in the esteem of God. We are naturally disposed to regard with favour those who show us honour and endeavour to further our purposes and desires. The “just God” is a lover of those who strive to “do justly, to love mercy and walk humbly with him” (Micah 6:8.), and such men shall live in the sunshine of His eternal favour. (Psalms 30:5.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
A man may be said to be covetous when he takes more pains for the getting of earth than for the getting of heaven. He will turn every stone, break his sleep, take many a weary step for the world; but will take no pains for Christ or heaven. The Gauls, after they had tasted the sweet wine of the Italian grape, inquired after the country, and never rested till they had arrived at it; so a covetous man, having had a relish of the world, pursues after it, and never leaves it till he hath got it; but he neglects the things of eternity. He could be content if salvation would drop into his mouth, as a ripe fig drops into the mouth of the eater (Nahum 3:12). But he is loth to put himself to too much sweat or trouble to obtain Christ or salvation. He hunts for the world, he wisheth only for heaven.… Covetousness is
(1) a subtle sin, a sin that men do not so well discern in themselves. This sin can dress itself in the attire of virtue. It is called the “cloke of covetousness” (1 Thessalonians 2:5). It is a sin that wears a cloke; it clokes itself under the name of frugality and good husbandry. It hath more pleas and excuses for itself than any other sin.
(2) It is a dangerous sin. It damps good affections, as the earth puts out the fire. The hedgehog in the fable came to the coney-burrows in stormy weather, and desired harbour, but when once he had gotten entertainment he set up his prickles, and did never cease till he had thrust the poor coneys out of their burrows; so covetousnes, by fair pretences, wins itself into the heart; but as soon as you have let it in it will never leave till it hath thrust all religion out of your hearts.… Covetousness chains men to the earth, and makes them like the woman which Satan had bound together that she could not lift up herself (Luke 13:11). You may as well bid an elephant fly in the air as a covetous man live by faith. We preach to men to give freely to Christ’s poor; but covetousness makes them to be like him in the Gospel who had a withered hand (Mark 3:1).… Covetousness shuts men out of heaven (Ephesians 5:5). What should a covetousness man do in heaven?.… Like a bee that gets into a barrel of honey, and there drowns himself, like a ferryman that takes in so many passengers to increase his fare that he sinks his boat, so a covetous man takes in more gold to the increasing of his estate that he damns himself in perdition.—Watson.
It is not enough to abstain from evil, we must also hate it.—Fausset.
Who is ignorant of the woeful success which Achan found in coveting unlawfully the gold and silver in Jericho? He hoped to get more there than any man in Israel; but no man in Israel lost so much as he.—Dod.
He that maketh gain to be the gain that he looketh for in all things, he may hope to fill his house with wealth, but he shall be sure to fill it with trouble. He that is given to gain, and hath made himself the prey as it were and gain of gain, he may have his hand open to take gifts, but with the same hand taketh in disquietness into his heart.… Now, because such are often crying—How shall I live? therefore the wise man telleth them he that hateth such things shall live.—Jermin.
Proverbs 15:28. Studieth, i.e., “considers.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:28
STUDYING TO ANSWER
I. Every righteous man is a student. The aim of study in any department of knowledge is, first to gain possession of certain facts, and then to make the knowledge of practical service in life. If a man intends to be a builder he must first be a student. He must first gain certain theoretical knowledge, and then make use of it. And so with every profession or calling—each requires thought before any work is entered upon. Every righteous man is a man with a profession—he is a professor of righteousness—he gains a knowledge of righteous precepts with the view of reducing them to righteous practice. A knowledge of what is right and true in the abstract will be of little use to himself or to any other man unless the knowledge influences his words and deeds. The proverb before us sets forth the righteous man as a student of his speech. His aim is to speak the “word in due season,” spoken of in Proverbs 15:23, and to do this he must be a student of the human heart—
1. He must study the workings of his own heart. This is a study peculiar to the righteous man. Many men study themselves and others as frameworks of bone and muscle, who never bestow a thought upon the soul, of which the body is but the raiment. Other men watch the operations of the mental powers and tabulate all the movements of the mind as they are brought to light by internal consciousness. But the godly man goes deeper. He ponders his thoughts and feelings in the light of moral truth and righteousness—he weighs his words in the balance in which he knows that God will weigh them.
2. He must study other men’s hearts. He desires that his words should not only be harmless but beneficial to others; he desires to answer wisely questions relating to God, and man, and immortality; he sets his speech in order before he opens his mouth upon any of these weighty matters, and he considers the circumstances and dispositions of those to whom he speaks that like one of old, his “doctrine may drop as the rain, his speech distil as the dew,” when he “publishes the name of the Lord” (Deuteronomy 32:2-3). Before his thoughts become words he submits them to the revision of his conscience and his judgment, and asks himself if they are such as he can hope God will bless to the edification of others.
II. All men who do not thus study their thoughts and words are the authors of much mischief. They are those who have never made what they think a matter of conscience, and consequently their words are the outcome of an unsanctified heart. As is the fountain, so must be the stream. For the words of such a man to be other than evil is an impossibility. “How can ye, being evil, speak good things? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh. A good man, out of the good treasure of the heart, bringeth forth good things; and an evil man, out of the evil treasure, bringeth forth evil things (Matthew 12:34-35).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The tongue is the heart’s messenger. So often as it speaks before the heart dictates, the messenger runs without his errand. He that will not speak idly, must think what he speaks; he that will not speak falsely, must speak what he thinks.—Adams.
What is before said (Proverbs 15:2, and chap. Proverbs 12:23) of the wise and the foolish, is said here of the righteous and the wicked: and what is before said of the utterance of wisdom and folly, is here said of the utterance of good and evil. We have repeatedly seen how Solomon identifies these in his statements. Wickedness is folly; goodness is wisdom.—Wardlaw.
“Mouth,” all agency. Religion is so much like politeness, that a polite man “winnows” (Proverbs 15:7) his acts till they look sometimes like religion; but watch men where the guise of kindness fails them, viz., their aim to be polite, and their “mouth pours out evils.” There is a recklessness of act that only a religious purity can essentially restrain.—Miller.
The wicked, speaking so much, cannot but speak “evil things” (chap. Proverbs 10:19. Not his heart, as in the case of the righteous, but his mouth takes the lead.—Fausset.
I. It is not easy at the first to apprehend the right, because error at the first ken standeth usually in men’s light, and hindereth them from seeing the truth, whereof they may better inform themselves by serious deliberation. II. When the mind hath time and liberty to ponder upon, and will to weigh the point to be spoken unto, it findeth out good arguments for good causes, and digesteth the same in so apt a manner as may best persuade the hearts of the hearers. III. A meditating heart affecteth itself for that which it provideth for others to hear, and such men speak not only truly and pertinently, but faithfully also, and conscionably: their souls having first feeling of that within, which after their mouths are to deliver out.—Dod.
The answer, which I conceive the heart of the righteous to study, is the answer of obedience unto God’s commandments—the answer of thankfulness for His favours and mercies received. For, as St. Gregory speaketh, to answer to God is to render to His precedent gifts the duties of our service. Now, this study is the study of the whole life of a righteous man. Whatsoever he goes about, he knows that he must answer to God for it, and therefore he considereth before he doth it, that it be answerable unto God’s law.—Jermin.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:29
GOD NEAR AND FAR OFF
I. God is not far from the wicked in a local sense. The most wicked man upon the face of the earth lives and moves and has his being by reason of his relation to that God whom he practically ignores. The power of life that he possesses is not self-originated, and although we do not know exactly how he lives in God, we know that in this sense he is near to Him, for “He is not far from everyone of us” (Acts 17:27). But—
II. God is far from the wicked in a moral sense. There is often a wide moral distance between those who are locally near each other. The father who lives and toils for his children, and eats with them at the same table may be as far from them morally as he is near to them locally. Judas lived for three years with the Son of God—often shared the same hospitality and partook of the same meal. There was a local nearness to Christ but a wide moral gulf between the Master and the professed disciple. This moral distance between God and the wicked is the subject of the first clause of this verse. Notice—
1. The cause of this distance. The ungodly man cherishes purposes and desires which are directly opposed to the will and purpose of God. God has one view of life and the ungodly man has another. That which God esteems of the highest moment is lightly esteemed by a wicked man. This being so, there can be no sympathy between the creature and his Creator—a great gulf is fixed between them.
2. The wicked man is to blame for remaining at this distance from God. God invites him to bridge the chasm. “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him: and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:7). He rolls upon him the responsibility of the separation. “Say unto them, As I live,” saith the Lord God, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way, and live” (Ezekiel 33:11).
3. This distance, if not annihilated, will increase with time and continue through eternity. Sinful habits and desires, if yielded to, grow harder to overcome—a man never stands still in the way of transgression. And no local change from one world to another can have any effect upon the moral distance. It is not to be bridged by change of place but by change of character. Either the man must turn to God or be ever getting farther from Him. But—
III. There is a sympathy between God and the righteous man which keeps the Divine ear open to his prayer. As we have before noticed, the foundation of sympathy is likeness of character, and those who have sympathy with each other have open ears for the reception of each other’s thoughts and desires. The godly man has an open ear for the commands and promises of his God, and God, in return, “heareth the prayer of the righteous.” There is a like-mindedness between the righteous God and a righteous man—a oneness of desire and purpose—that makes the words of each acceptable to the other.
1. God’s ear is the first that is open to the prayer of the righteous. The sentinel watching on the height for the first streaks of dawning day has a view of the objects around him before those in the valley are able to perceive them. They are unable to see what he sees, because they are still shut in by the darkness. But if this sentinel had power to pierce the darkness of night, he would not even have to wait for day in order to discern all that lies around him. God is such a sentinel over the children of men. Others are dependent upon the light that comes from words before they discern the desires of others, but God can see into the darkest corner of the human soul—can discern the unuttered desire of the heart long before it shapes itself into words. God’s ear is open to hear before the man’s mouth is open to pray. He “understandeth his thought afar off,” knows it before it has even shaped itself into a petition, or even into a desire in the man’s own heart, and consequently long before it is known to any other creature.
2. No power outside the righteous man can come between his prayer and God’s ear. When we present a prayer or express a desire to any human benefactor, it is possible that some opposing influence may prevent our suit from being favourably received. A third person may come between, and by misrepresentation or by other means, may hinder our request from receiving impartial consideration. But God’s first-hand knowledge of all His children makes it a blessed certainty that all their requests will enter His ear and receive impartial treatment at His hands. (For other thoughts on this subject see Homiletics on Proverbs 15:8, page 407).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
We may perhaps trace a reference to this maxim, a proof how deeply it had taken root in men’s heart’s, in the reasoning of the blind man in John 9:31.—Plumptre.
The Lord is far from the wicked. He was so from the proud Pharisee who yet got as near God as he could, pressing up to the highest part of the temple. The poor publican, not daring to do so, stood aloof, yet was God far from the Pharisee, near to the Publican. “Behold a great miracle,” saith Augustine, “God is on high, thou liftest up thyself and He flies from thee; thou bowest thyself downward and he descends to thee. Low things He respects, that He may raise them; proud things He knoweth afar off, that He may depress them.” But He heareth the prayer of the righteous. Yea, He can feel breath when no voice can be heard for faintness (Lamentations 3:56). When the flesh makes such a din that it is hard to hear the Spirit’s sighs, He knows the meaning of the Spirit (Romans 8:26-27), and can pick English out of our broken requests; yea, He hears our “afflictions” (Genesis 16:11), our “tears” (Psalms 39:12), our “chatterings” (Isaiah 38:14), though we cry to Him by implication only, as “the young ravens” do (Psalms 147:9).—Trapp.
The second clause of this verse becomes exegetical of the first. God is not far from anybody (Psalms 139:8). But He is far from many people’s “prayer.”—Miller.
Faith is the soul, and repentance is the life of prayer; and a prayer without them hath neither life nor soul. If we believe not, we are yet in our sins; if we repent not, our sins are yet in us … But first “will I wash my hands in innocency, and then will I compass thine altar” (Psalms 26:6). “Then shall my prayer be set before thee as incense, and the lifting up of my hands like the evening sacrifice” (Psalms 141:2). When, with the sword of severe and impartial repentance, we have cut the throat of our sins and done execution upon our lusts, then let us solicit heaven with our prayers; then pray, and speed; then come, and welcome. Then the courtiers about the King in heaven shall make room for prayers. Then the Prince Himself shall take our prayer into His own hand, and with a gracious mediation present it to the Father. Then is that court of audience ready to receive our ambassadors, which be our prayers and our tears. Then St. John sees twelve gates in heaven, all open, and all day open, to entertain such suitors.—Adams.
Learn to distinguish betwixt God’s hearing and His answering the saint’s prayer. Every faithful prayer is heard and makes an acceptable report in God’s ear as soon as it is shot; but God doth not always thus speedily answer it. The father, at the reading of his son’s letter (which comes haply upon some begging errand) likes the motion, his heart closes with it, and a grant is there passed; but he takes his own time to send his dispatch and let his son know this. Princes have their books of remembrance, wherein they write the names of their favourites whom they intend to prefer, haply some years before their gracious purpose opens itself to them. Mordecai’s name stood some while in Ahasuerus’ book before his honour was conferred. Thus God records the name of His saints and their prayers. “The Lord hearkened and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before Him, of them that feared the Lord and thought upon His name.” But they hear not of God in His providential answer, haply a long time after.… There comes oft a long and sharp winter between the sowing time of prayer, and the reaping. He hears us indeed as soon as we pray, but we oft do not hear of Him so soon. Prayers are not long on their journey to heaven, but long a-coming thence in a full answer. Christ hath not at this day a full answer to some of the prayers He put up on earth; therefore He is said to expect till His enemies be made His footstool.—Gurnall.
When the season has been cold and backward, when rains fell and prices rose, and farmers desponded and the poor despaired, I have heard old people, whose hopes, resting upon God’s promise, did not rise and fall with the barometer, nor shifting winds, say, We shall have harvest after all; and this you may safely say of the labours and fruits of prayer. The answer may be long in coming—years may elapse before the bread we have cast upon the waters comes back; but if the vision tarry, wait for it! Why not? We know that some seeds spring as soon almost as they are committed to the ground; but others lie buried for months, nor, in some cases, is it till years elapse that they germinate and rise, to teach us that what is dormant is not dead. Such it may be with our prayers. Ere that immortal seed has sprung the hand that planted it may be mouldering in the dust—the seal of death on the lips that prayed. But though you are not spared to reap the harvest, our prayers are not lost. They bide their time, God’s “set time.” For in one form or another, in this world or in the next, who sows in tears shall reap in joy. The God who puts his people’s tears into His bottle will certainly never forget their prayers.—Guthrie.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 15:30
CHEERFULNESS AND GOOD TIDINGS
Two views are taken of the meaning of the first clause of this verse. Some understand it to mean that the objective light that plays upon the eyes of the body rejoices the heart of the man who is under its influence; and others understand by “the light of the eyes” that “cheerfulness of countenance” spoken of in Proverbs 15:13, which has such an inspiriting effect upon those who behold it. We suggest a line of thought upon both views.
The light of the material sun rejoices the heart.
1. Because of its healthful influence upon the bodily frame. It is well known that sunlight is favourable to bodily health—that a dwelling into which it does not freely enter has a most depressing influence upon its inhabitants, because it deprives them of natural bodily health and vigour. Other things being equal, health of body adds much to cheerfulness of spirit, to gladness of heart. Everyone can testify from personal experience how a low state of bodily health depresses the spirit, and how returning health after sickness revives and gladdens it. Therefore, in this sense the “light of the eyes rejoices the heart.”
2. Because of its beautifying influence upon all that the eyes behold. If we go from the light and brightness of noonday into a dark cave or dungeon where the sun’s rays never penetrate, we find none of that beauty of colour or contrasts of light and shade, which afford us such exquisite enjoyment in the landscape outside. When we come again into the light of day we realise that “light is sweet, and that it is a pleasant thing to behold the sun” (Ecclesiastes 11:7), for to its blessed influence we owe all the joy that fills our hearts when we look abroad upon the beauties of the natural world.
3. It ought to rejoice the heart of man on account of its symbolic suggestions. God intends the light of nature to be a symbol to the children of men of blessed realities which can be appreciated only by the eye of the soul. Light is symbolic of the glory of the Divine nature (1 Timothy 6:16), and of the perfect purity of the Divine character (1 John 1:5). The beneficent influence of sunlight is a symbol of the soul-warming and soul-gladdening influence of the Divine presence (Psalms 84:11). And as the light of the sun rejoices the heart of the beholder, so does light and cheerfulness upon one man’s face gladden the heart of him who looks upon it. Cheerfulness upon one man’s countenance brings cheer to the heart of those with whom he comes in contact. Upon this subject we remark—
1. That there is a great difference between levity and cheerfulness. Two men may be swimming in a river, and one may keep himself afloat by artificial appliances, and the other by his natural strength skilfully used. The beholders may not for a time observe any difference in the two; but should the first man, by any mishap, lose his floats, then the difference will be at once manifest. He will be in danger of going to the bottom while his companion will keep steadily on his way. The natural strength and long practice of the latter has made it second nature to keep on the surface of the water. There is just such a difference between gaiety which depends for its continuance upon good fortune and external excitement, and the cheerfulness that springs from a never-failing and internal source. In the first case, if the floating-tackle is cut away the poor man sinks into despondency and gloom, but in the second there is a buoyancy of heart which, if overwhelmed for a moment by some sudden wave of adversity, brings him again to the surface and re-awakens hope within him. The first is of earth, but, although natural temperament may do much towards the second, real and heartfelt cheerfulness can only be born of a consciousness of reconciliation with God and goodwill to men. It is not, however, a universal characteristic of good men and women. But—
2. It is a man’s duty to cultivate this cheerfulness of heart. It is good for the man himself. If sunlight gives strength to the body this sunlight of the soul is strengthening to the whole man. Cheerfulness gives courage to face the difficulties of life—that gladness of heart which springs from “doing justly, loving mercy, and walking with God” is a power which no man for his own sake can afford to throw away. But it is also a duty which we owe to others: In this sense “the light of the eyes rejoices the heart,” the incoming of a cheerful man into a house where the inhabitants are depressed and sad is like the entrance of sunlight into a darkened room—it changes the entire aspect of things. The influence of such a man is like a shower upon the parched earth—everything seems to spring into new life after it. If it has so reviving and cheering an effect in a world where there is so much to sadden and to weaken men’s energies, every man is bound to cultivate a habit of cheerfulness as a matter of duty. It is part of the duty which men owe to God. It is a manifestation of confidence in His righteous character and merciful purposes towards His creatures. It reveals contentment with the lot in life which He has assigned to us—a spirit of submission to His will. Therefore it is an apostolic command, “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, rejoice” (Philippians 4:4). The second clause of the verse relates to another very fruitful source of gladness, viz., the reception of a “good report,” or good news.
1. A good report gives joy, or “maketh the bones fat” in proportion as such news was desired. If the sick man, who has been awaiting the verdict of the physician, receives from him the assurance that he will recover his health, his heart is filled with joy at the tidings. He can testify that his “bones waxed old” while he was filled with fear and doubt as to his case, but the “good report” makes him renew his youth, and is the first step to renewal of health. The good news that the guilt of the soul can be removed fills the soul with joy in proportion as the misery of unforgiven sin has weighed upon the spirit. This was David’s experience: “When I kept silence” (while my sin was unconfessed) “my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long.” … “I acknowledged my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin.” And the consciousness of forgiveness enabled him then to sing of the blessedness of him “whose transgression is forgiven and whose sin is covered” (Psalms 32:1-5).
2. The joy imparted by a “good report” of this nature is shadowed forth by the gladness which is imparted to men who have long sat in darkness, when they greet again the light of day. What must be the joy of an arctic traveller, when, after months of night, he sees the first streak of returning sunlight? Who can describe the feelings of a prisoner who has been for years immured in a gloomy dungeon, when he again finds himself in the sunshine? Or who but those who have passed through the experience can conceive what the blind man feels who has never seen the light of day, when first his eyes are opened? So none but he who has been in darkness of soul on account of unpardoned sin, and has felt the joy of a sense of reconciliation with his God, can know how the “good report” that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners” “maketh the bones fat,” in other words, gives him a sense of new life.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
We may conceive this verse to show the comfort of life as it cometh from God, and from man. From God in the light of the eyes, and in seeing those good things which He bestowed upon us. From man in hearing the good report and testimony which he giveth of us. Or else we may take the first part of the verse more literally, to speak only of the joy of the heart, which by the light of the eye from the pleasant objects thereof, is conveyed to it, and so the good contentment of a man from a good report to be compared to it. Now well may these be compared together, for report is the eye whereby the world judgeth of a man, and it is also a useful eye whereby a man judgeth of himself.… Certainly it must be the care of the godly, not only to keep a good conscience, but to have a good report.—Jermin.
It is riches enough to be well reputed and well spoken of. It pleased David well that “whatsoever he did pleased the people.” It pleased John well that his friend “Demetrius had a good report of the truth” (3 John 1:12), and he “had no greater joy than to hear that his children walked in the truth.”—Trapp.
The bones may be called the foundation of the corporeal structure, on which its strength and stability depend. The cavities and cellular parts of the bones are filled with the marrow, of which the fine oil, by one of the beautiful processes of the animal physiology, pervades their substance, and, incorporating with the earthy and silicious material, gives them their cohesive tenacity, a provision without which they would be brittle and easily fractured. “Making the bones fat,” means supplying them with plenty of marrow, and thus strengthening the entire system. Hence “marrow to the bones” is a Bible figure for anything eminently gratifying and beneficial. The import, then, of the expression of the text is, that a good reputation contributes eminently to enjoyment, to comfort, health, active vigour, spirit, life, and happiness. By some, however, “a good report” is understood of good tidings, and they conceive “the light of the eyes” to refer to the happy glancing looks of the messenger of such good tidings.—Wardlaw.
“The light of the eyes” means the look of a pleased friend. When He is the Almighty, how it “rejoices the heart.” And when the rapture of another sense is secured by “a good report” (a good hearing, as it is in the original), the good news being also from on high, it reaches the very penetration of our comfort.—Miller.
Proverbs 15:33. Instruction of wisdom, rather a discipline of wisdom,” or “a training to wisdom.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 15:31-33
HOW TO GIVE AND TAKE REPROOF
I. Reproof is good when it is given with a good intention and when it is given wisely. Those who undertake to handle the amputating knife should be men who are intent upon the healing of the patient, and must also know where to cut and how much to cut, otherwise the operation may tend to death rather than to life. The reprover, if he would administer a “reproof of life,” must be wise and kind. He must desire to do good to the man whom he reproves, he must know how to administer the reproof, and must leave off reproving as soon as the necessary wound has been inflicted; if he does not, he may injure the soul instead of destroying the sin.
II. He who takes such reproof displays the highest wisdom and the truest humility. We admire the fortitude of a man who will bear without a murmur a painful operation for the sake of the good that will come to him afterwards. We praise him for the pluck and courage which he shows in enduring bravely, that which we know gives him intense pain of body. And we ought to give as much praise to him who will submit to reproof in a spirit of humility, for there is nothing which is more unpalatable or painful to a man’s spirit. Nothing is a surer sign of true wisdom than such submission.
III. He who will not submit to such reproof can never attain to true honour. There can be no honour where there is ignorance, and there can be no knowledge where there is an unwillingness to receive reproof. The greatest kings and statesmen, who are now enthroned by the honour and submission of millions of their fellow-creatures, had once to submit to the instruction of their nurses and tutors. There is no honour in holding a high position unless he who holds it knows how to fill it worthily; and such knowledge can only be acquired by stooping not only to instruction but to reproof, which is always a necessary element of instruction. (For fuller treatment of the subject of these verses, see Homiletics on chapters Proverbs 3:11-12; Proverbs 12:1; Proverbs 13:18; Proverbs 15:10. Pages 247, 323, 410, etc.).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 15:31. There is a reproof not of life, but of death, when hatred seeketh disgrace or ruin by it, and when it is used, as St. Bernard speaketh, not to instruction in the spirit of meekness, but to destruction in the spirit of fury. When it is reproach, and not reproof, it amendeth not, but hardeneth the offender in his wickedness. But with the wise there is the reproof, not of death, but of life; that is, direction unto a virtuous life, and teaching true wisdom, which is the life of the soul. The words of the wise, saith the Preacher, are as nails fastened: for as nails are driven in, but it is not so much to make a hole as to fasten and strengthen; so the words of the wise in reproof do pierce, but it is not so much to wound, as to fasten their reproof, and to give strength unto it.—Jermin.
Oh, it is a blessed thing to have others tell us of our faults, and as it were to pull us out of the fire with violence, as Jude speaks; rather to pull us out with violence, with sharp rebukes, than we should perish in our sins. If a man be to weed his ground, he sees need of the benefit of others; if a man be to demolish his house, he will be thankful to others for their help; so he that is to pull down his corruption, that old house, he should be thankful to others that will tell him, “This is rotten, and this is to blame;” who, if he be not thankful for seasonable reproof, he knows not what self-judging means. If any man be so uncivil when a man shows him a spot on his garment to grow choleric, will we not judge him to be an unreasonable man? And so when a man shall be told, “This will hinder your comfort another day;” if men were not spiritually besotted, would they swell and be angry against such a man?—Sibbes.
Proverbs 15:32. Wilt thou destroy that for which Christ died? (1 Corinthians 8:11). What shall a man give in exchange for his soul? There is no great matter in the earth but man; nothing great in man but his soul, saith Faverinus. “Whose image and superscription is it” but God’s? “Give,” therefore, “to God the things that are God’s,” by delivering it up to discipline.… “Suffer,” saith the great apostle, “the word of exhortation;” suffer them in God’s name, sharp though they be, and set on with some more than ordinary earnestness. Better it is that the vine should bleed, than die. Certes, “When the Lord shall have done to you all the good that He hath spoken concerning you, and hath brought you to His kingdom, this shall be no grief unto you, nor offence of heart,” as He said in a like case (1 Samuel 25:30-31), that you have hearkened to instruction, and been bettered by reproof.—Trapp.
There are two things that cause men to rage against reproof.
1. Guilt of the sin objected. Guilt makes men angry when they are searched, and, like horses that are galled, to kick if they be but touched. The mildest waters are troublesome to sore eyes. There is scarce a more probable sign that the crime objected is true than wrath and bitterness against the person that charges, us with it.
2. Love to sin makes men impatient under reproof. When a person’s sin is to him as “the apple of his eye,” no wonder that he be offended at any that touch it.—Swinnock.
Proverbs 15:33. Abigail was not made David’s wife till she thought it honour enough to wash the feet of the meanest of David’s servants (1 Samuel 25:40). Moses must be forty years a stranger in Midian before he become king in Jeshurun.… Luther observed that ever, for most part, before God set him upon any special service for the good of the Church he had some sore fit of sickness. Surely as the lower the ebb the higher the tide; so the lower any descend in humiliation the higher they shall ascend in exaltation; the lower this foundation of humility is laid the higher shall the roof of honour be overlaid.—Trapp.
Not only doth humility go before honour in the course of things, but is also before honour in the dignity and excellency of it. So that when humility hath brought a man to honour even then his greatest honour is humility.—Jermin.
“Reproof,” which has been twice used, and “instruction,” or rather discipline, which is now made to balance it in these last important texts, have a respect of painfulness: and Solomon, in this verse, tempers that pain, by showing what discipline really is:—“The fear of Jehovah.” “Fear hath torment,” says the apostle John (1 John 4:18). That fear is not altogether the fear of our text, but is a part of it. I do not remember the fear of the Almighty as a title applied in heaven. “The fear of Jehovah” has some particle of painfulness; and that painfulness makes it of the nature of “discipline.” The best discipline of the saints is the abiding fear of the Almighty. The proverb seems to imply that it will not last always; that it is painful; and that we shall not continue pained; that it is necessary for us to be under just that gentle sort of discipline that fear can give while we are in this world. And that necessity he states, in that “before glory is affliction.” Not honour (as in the English version), so much as weight, or “glory.” Not humility, but primarily, toil; ergo, more generally, “affliction.” “We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22).—Miller.
“I am not worthy,” is the voice of the saints. They know God, and God knows them. Moses was the meekest man upon earth, and therefore God is said to know him by name (Exodus 33:17). “I am less than the least of all thy mercies,” saith Jacob (Genesis 32:10). Lo, he was honoured to be father of the twelve tribes, and heir of the blessing. “Who am I, O Lord?” says David. He was advanced from that lowly conceit to be king of Israel. “I am not worthy to loose the latchet of Christ’s shoe,” saith John Baptist (Matthew 3:11). Lo, he was esteemed worthy to lay his hand on Christ’s head. “I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof,” says the centurion, therefore Christ commended him. “I have not found so great faith; no, not in Israel (Matthew 8:8). “I am the least of the apostles,” saith Paul; “not worthy to be called an apostle” (1 Corinthians 15:9). Therefore he is honoured with the title of the apostle. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord,” saith the holy virgin; therefore she was honoured to be the mother of the Lord, and to have all generations call her blessed. This non sum dignus, the humble annihilation of themselves, hath gotten them the honour of saints. In spiritual graces let us study to be great, and not to know it, as the fixed stars are everyone bigger than the earth, yet appear to us less than torches. Not to be high-minded in high deserts is the way to blessed preferment. Humility is not only a virtue itself, but a vessel to contain other virtues; like embers, which keep the fire alive that is hidden under it. It emptieth itself by a modest estimation of its own worth, that Christ may fill it. It wrestleth with God, like Jacob, and wins by yielding; the lower it stoops to the ground the more advantage it gets to obtain the blessing. All our pride, O Lord, is from the want of knowing Thee. The leper casts himself down, and Christ bids him arise. Humility is the gentleman-usher to glory. God that sends away the rich empty from His gates loves to “fill the hungry with good things” (Luke 1:53). The air passeth by the full vessel, and only filleth that is empty. This is the difference between the proud and beggars; both agree in not having, differ in craving. The proud are pauperes spiritus, the humble are pauperes spiritu. “Blessed are,” not the poor spirits, but “the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” (Matthew 5:3). Such as felt their wants sought and besought God for supply. “Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain be brought low” (Luke 3:5). The lowly mind shall be exalted, the high-towering ambitious shall be thrown down. How should God say to the merchant that glories in his wealth, to the usurer that admireth his moneys, to the gallant that wonders that his good clothes do not prefer him, “Arise!” Alas! they are up already; they were never down. A dwarf in a great throng, seeming low on his knees, was bidden by the prince to stand up; alas! he was before at his highest. God cannot be so mistaken as to encourage their standing up who never yet had the manners to cast themselves down. Says Augustine, “Descend, that ye may rise up to God; for you have fallen by rising up against God.” He that is a mountebank must level himself even with the ground; if humbleness hath once thrown him down and brought him to his knees, he shall hear the patron and pattern of humbleness comforting him with a surge—“Arise.…” The guest that sets himself down at the lower end of the table shall hear the feast-maker kindly remove him, “Friend, sit up higher” (Luke 14:10). If Esther fall at Ahasuerus’ feet, he will take her by the hand, and bid her arise. When Peter fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Depart from me; I am a sinful man, O, Lord” (Luke 5:8-10), he presently was raised up with, “Fear not, thou shalt catch men.”.… Who is heard to say with Paul, “I am the chief of sinners?” (1 Timothy 1:15) such a humble confession scarce heard of. But Christ had given him a surge on his former humbling: “Arise and bear My name before Gentiles and kings,” etc. Let us all thus cast ourselves down in humility, that the Lord may say to us in mercy, “Arise.”—Adams.
The more humble, the fitter to come to God, and He the more willing to come unto the soul and dwell in it. The highest heavens are the habitation of God s glory; and the humble heart hath the next honour, to be the habitation of His grace.—Leighton.
The truly humble spirit is, in society, to the proud and haughty, what the valley is to the mountain: if less observed, more sheltered and more blessed, valleys see the stars more brightly than the mountains that often veil their proud heads with clouds. The mountains filter the waters upon which the valleys live, and send down in soft music to their ears the stormy thunders that beat with violence on their lofty brow. The great sun stoops to the valleys and touches them with a warmth which it denies to the high hills; and kind nature, which leaves the towering heights amidst the cold desolations of death, endows the humble vales with richest life, and robes them in the enchanting costume of sweetest flowers.—Dr. David Thomas.
You must go to honour before humility. This is the law—the law of God. It cannot be changed. It has its analogies in the material creation. Every height has its corresponding depth. As far as the Andes pierce into the sky, so far do the valleys of the Pacific, at their base, go down into the heart of the earth. If the branches of a tree rise high in the air, its roots must penetrate to a corresponding depth in the ground; and the necessity is reciprocal. The higher the branches are, the deeper go the roots; and the deeper the roots are, the higher go the branches. This law pervades the moral administration as well as the higher works of God. The child Jesus is set for the fall and the rising again of many in Israel; but it is first the fall and then the rising; for “before honour is humility.” Fall they must at the feet of the Crucified before they can rise and reign as the children of the Great King.… There are two mountains in the land of Israel, equal in height, and standing near each other, with a deep, narrow valley between. At an interesting point in the people’s history, one of these mountains bore the curse, and the other received the blessing (Deuteronomy 11:26-29). If you had stood then on Ebal, where the curse was lying, you could not have escaped to Gerizim to enjoy the blessing without going down to the bottom of the intervening gorge. There was a way for the pilgrim from the curse to the blessing, if he were willing to pass through the valley of humiliation; but there was no flight through the air, so as to escape the going down. These things are an allegory. All men are at first in their own judgments on a lofty place, but the curse hangs over the mountains of their pride.… All the saved are also on a lofty height, but God dwells among them, and great is the peace of His children. All who have reached this mountain have been in the deep. They sowed in tears before they went forth rejoicing to bear home the sheaves.—Arnot.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Proverbs 15". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany