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The proverbs of Solomon.
The Book of Proverbs
1. The book does not consist of proverbs entirely. Much of it is the language of pious exhortation and spiritual precept.
2. The book contains many worldly precepts. Some have a selfish, secular sound. But--
(1) It is well to inquire whether the supposed purely prudential maxim is really so entirely a citizen of this world as it seems to be.
(2) It is well to remember that many even of our Saviour’s discourses might seem open to the charge of being moral and social, rather than spiritual and heavenly.
(3) Such precepts by implication convey the assurance that a religious life is intimately connected with worldly conduct; depends upon it; grows out of it; is bound up with it; fails or flourishes because of it. Illustrate by suretyship.
3. The pre-eminent place in the book is assigned to Wisdom, which is one of the names of Jesus Christ.
4. The proverbs contained in the book are peculiar in form. They are highly antithetical. They often contain a double or threefold antithesis.
5. The point of a proverb may often be missed by inattention; sometimes it needs acuteness to see the point.
6. The matter of the Proverbs calls for attention. Note how they concern the gift of speech, riches, and poverty, such sins as sloth. They proclaim great practical truths, and are often of great strength and sweetness. (Dean Burgon.)
The proverbs of Solomon
1. The proverbs of Solomon are pleasing to refined taste. He was a preacher accustomed to employ acceptable words full of pungent and profitable instruction.
2. In the second place, proverbs are practical in their use. True religion is not of the head only, nor of the heart only; it is the cultivator of all our faculties, and acts upon our whole person, in its legitimate development, as the God of nature forms a tree or flower, unfolding all parts at the same time, breathing life and beauty on every leaf. The portion of sacred record now under consideration is of especial importance to young persons. The inculcation of duty is no less essential than the defence of doctrine. It is the symptom of a diseased condition, when a patient desires intoxicating draughts rather than wholesome aliment. When a religionist is more voracious of excitement than instruction, and is much more prompt to fight for a dogma than to illustrate his infallibility by a noble demeanour, he would do well to search into the divinity of a faith which is so barren of heavenly deeds.
3. Thirdly, sacred proverbs are ennobling in their tendency.
(1) They present the most concise forms of wisdom.
(2) In proverbs we have the most profitable type of wisdom. Their statements of doctrine may not be so explicit as in some later portions of Scripture, but what they do assert is of the very highest importance. In particular we are here taught to combine reflection with action--nourishing a mind that ponders over a heart that prays.
(3) The proverbs of Solomon are invaluable, because they most clearly teach the importance of correct and immovable principles in the heart; conduct full of nobleness and integrity in every walk of life; the necessity and usefulness of self-discipline; and the importance of bringing every purpose as well as every act to the test of God’s holy Word.
4. Fourthly, the scriptural maxims, the merits of which we are discussing, are not only pleasing to the taste, practical in their use, and ennobling in their tendency, but they are saving in their design. (E. L. Magoon.)
This is the meaning of the term “Proverbs” in the original. A proverb is a weighty sentiment, moral or prudential, expressed in sententious language. It is the recorded verdict of men, sealed by experience, and reserved for future guidance. The proverbs of a people have no small influence upon their character, and sometimes they have a very evil influence. Let one which is erroneous in its morality, or perverted in its application, become current, and it seems to give the sanction of reason, experience, and almost of inspiration to that which is wrong, e.g., “Charity begins at home.” This has nourished selfishness and checked benevolence. There is this advantage in a proverb, that it directs the conduct without perplexing the mind or burdening the memory. Proverbs are to the morals of a people what gold coin is to its currency--portable, rich, and always passable. The form in which the Bible proverbs are expressed is usually that of parallelism, or in two parts, the second line repeating the sentiment of the first, or sometimes its opposite. (W. H. Lewis, D. D.)
Solomon went through a peculiar experience of his own, and God, who in nature gives sweet fruit to men through the root-sap of a sour crab, when a new nature has been engrafted on the upper stem, did not disdain to bring forth fruits of righteousness through those parts of the king’s experience that cleaved most closely to the dust. The heights of human prosperity he had reached; the paths of human learning he had trodden farther than any in his day; the pleasures of wealth, and power, and pomp he had tasted in all their variety. The man who has drained the cup of pleasure can best tell the taste of its dregs. The fatal facility with which men glide into the worship of men is a reason why some of the channels chosen for conveying the mind of God were marred by glaring deficiencies. For engraving the life-lessons of His Word, our leather uses only diamonds; but in every diamond there is a flaw, in some a greater, and in some a less; and who shall dare to dictate to the Omniscient the measure of defect that binds Him to fling the instrument as a useless thing away? Two principles cover the whole case. “All things are of God.” “All things are for your sakes.”
1. The universality of God’s government.
2. The special use for His own people to which He turns every person and every thing. Here is a marvel. Not a line of Solomon’s writings tends to palliate Solomon’s sins. (William Arnot, D.D.)
The proverbs of Solomon
No one subject is long pursued in this treatise, nor is there any coherence and connection between its parts. Yet there is a general design running through it, to instruct young people at their entrance into public and active life. This Book of Proverbs is short and soon read. It will perhaps be slighted on account of its contents, as a mere system of dry morality, by those who had rather deal in discourses of the mystic and enthusiastic kind, and admire that sort of rapturous and ecstatic devotion. But whether they will allow it or no, this book contains the main parts of pure and undefiled religion, and lays down the best of rules for the prudent conduct of life, and for obtaining the favour of God and the testimony of an approving conscience. By wisdom Solomon means true religion and virtue, as by folly he means disobedience and vice. Following is an abstract of the acts of religion and morality recommended by him.
I. Positive duties. The foundation of religion is laid upon the principle of fearing God. He exhorts us to love wisdom and to prize it above all things, as the only way and the infallible way to obtain it. He exhorts us to love wisdom betimes, and to make it the first choice, the first object of our affections. He exhorts young persons to honour and obey their parents, and to regard their instructions. He advises discretion in choosing friends. He exhorts to chastity, purity, contentment, control of temper, meekness, mercifulness, industry, etc.
II. Negative duties. He dissuades from fornication and adultery, from sloth and idleness, from pernicious company; he advises to shun strife, contention, rebellion; to keep the heart free from irregular passions, and not to be vicious in any way, or oppressors. He exhorts to avoid suretyship as a most dangerous indiscretion. He teaches not to trust in riches, in friends, in superior abilities, nor to value ourselves for our oblations and sacrifices, for any of the externals or ceremonials of religion. He earnestly exhorts us not to be scoffers and scorners of religion.
III. The motives by which these moral duties are enforced, and the recompenses which are promised to those who practise them. And they are no less than every advantage that a man can reasonably desire in this life; they are the favour of God and His protection, and along with it the testimony of a good consciences courage and confidence, safety from evil, long life, health, plenty, riches, honours, reputation both present and posthumous, and an inheritance that shall descend to children’s children. (John Jorton, D. D.)
Truths made compact and portable
The late Dr. James Hamilton said justly that we ought to be thankful to any one who makes a great truth portable. Our memories are weak. Like travellers in the desert or amidst Polar ice, we want to be lightly laden; and yet we must carry on our own shoulders the equipments required for all the journey. And some teachers have not the art of packing. They give out their thoughts in a style so verbose that to listen is a feat and to remember would be a miracle. Occasionally, however, there arises a master spirit, who in the wordy wilderness espies the important principle, and who has the faculty of separating it from surrounding truisms, and reproducing it in convenient and compact dimensions. From the mountain of sponge he extracts the ounce of iodine; from the bushel of dry petals he distils the flask of otto; or, what comes nearer our purpose, from bulky decoctions he extracts the nutritious or the fragrant particles, and in a few tiny packets gives you the essence of a hundred meals. Of such truth-condensers the most distinguished in our country is Bacon. “Knowledge is power.” “They are two things--unity and uniformity.” “Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man.” Truths like these flash like revelations, or shine as the most brilliant novelties on the page of our mighty thinker; but many of them are truths which he had heard discoursed by drowsy pedants, or vaguely muttered by the multitude, and it is the work of his genius to reduce vagueness to precision, and concentrate an ocean of commonplace into a single aphorism. By making the truth portable he made it useful.
Proverbial sayings of wise men
The seven wise men of Greece acquired their fame from the proverbial sayings they originated or adopted. Solon of Athens took for his motto, “Know thyself”; Chilon of Sparta, “Consider the end”; Thales of Miletos, “Who hateth suretyship is sure”; Bias of Priene, “Most men are bad”; Cleobulus of Lindos, “The golden mean,” or “Avoid extremes”; Pittacos of Mitylene, “Seize time by the forelock”; Periander of Corinth, “Nothing is impossible to industry.” (Christian Million.)
Profitable use of the Book of Proverbs
An old man, well known for his goodness, is full of sparkling epigrams, which he attributes to his habit of reading the Book of Proverbs through each month. (F. B. Meyer, B. A.)
A proverb is the child of experience.
To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding.
Wisdom and instruction
Wisdom is here taken for the theoretical part, to know the truth of things, as appears by the opposition of manners in the next verse. It may be meant of wisdom in general, knowledge of the truth; for many philosophical truths are contained in this book. But it hath a special eye to the knowledge of God and Divine truths. And it signifies an exact knowledge of things by their causes, or other properties, whereby we may be able to distinguish between real and apparent truths. The word “instruction” properly signifies the manner of teaching by which wisdom is attained. It is set after wisdom, because that is the end and perfection of instruction, and therefore more worthy than the means. “The end is first in intention, last in execution.” Men think of dwelling before they think of building. It signifies such instruction as is communicated to boys, joined with correction, for the word imports both. “Understanding” means words of weight worthy to be understood, and well understood by those that delivered them; coming from men of great understanding, and making them such that learn them. Acute sentences, full of good matter, fit to pass for authentical like current money. Doctrines taught by this verse are--
1. Wisdom is to be gotten out of Scripture.
2. Divine truths are far more excellent than other truths.
3. There is need of wisdom to guide both the understanding and the will.
4. Divine truths must be inquired into as well as Divine precepts.
5. Pains must be taken to distinguish real truths from apparent. Because they are hard to distinguish, they are worth distinguishing.
6. Instruction is the means to get wisdom out of Scripture.
7. Hearing Divine truth without understanding doth men no good.
8. Knowledge of trivial things is of little worth.
9. Knowledge of Divine truth will do us much good. It will bring us acquainted with God more fully than the creatures can. (Francis Taylor.)
Religion and virtue considered under the notion of wisdom
The principal scope of the Proverbs is to teach men wisdom. Wisdom is introduced in the dramatic way, as a divine person appearing in a very lovely form, displaying her native worth and beauty, and, by the most powerful persuasions, and the most affectionate manner of address, soliciting the degenerate sons of men to hearken to her counsels for their good. In general, what the author meaneth by wisdom is true religion and virtue. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” The fear of the Lord signifieth universal religion because it is an eminent part of it; and because it is a principle which, when the mind is duly possessed with, and brought thoroughly under its power, cannot fail of producing obedience to all the commandments of God. True religion is nothing else but the practice of virtue from a regard to the Deity. The wisdom recommended is called “the knowledge of the holy” (Proverbs 9:10). Acquaintance with Divine objects, and with the duty we owe to God, is the truest understanding. It is not mere speculative knowledge even of religion he meaneth; the instructions of wisdom do all tend to practice; and the conformity of our lives to its rules is that only which will dominate us “wise men.” The character of wisdom is applied to particular virtues. “To receive the instructions of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity.”
1. Justice is a very important branch of our duty.
2. Another virtue is chastity. All kinds of voluptuousness and excess are directly contrary to wisdom. Slothfulness and neglect in government of the tongue are also signs of unwisdom.
1. That virtue and integrity, to be preserved from the ways of sin and wickedness, must be the result of deliberation and choice. Wisdom is the quality of a free-self determining agent. Discretion consisteth in weighing maturely the motives of action, in comparing them together, and being determined freely by that which, upon the whole, appeareth to be the justest and the best. From this it is a plain consequence, that the more calm and sedate, the more deliberate and free our minds are in acting, our conduct is the wiser and the better.
2. That a good man useth foresight, and looketh to the last issue of things, that so he may direct his behaviour. Religion could not justly be called wisdom if it had not a view to the future consequences of our present conduct. If men believe there is a God, wise, just, and good, they must conclude that righteousness is pleasing to Him; and if the soul is immortal, and shall subsist in another state, they who have done good in this life have the best hope of being distinguished by the favour of the Deity in the next. (J. Abernethy, M.A.)
A great teacher and a true learner
I. A great teacher.
1. His history. He was--
(1) The son of a great man. “Solomon the son of David,” saint, hero, poet, king.
(2) The king of a great people. King of Israel: the chosen of God, whose are the fathers.
2. His lessons.
(1) Their form. He spoke in “proverbs.”
3. His design. The true culture of the “simple.”
(1) Mental culture. Making them “to know wisdom,” etc.
(2) Moral culture. Teaching them “justice, and judgment, and equity.”
II. A true learner.
1. He is a wise man. He is wise who does the best thing.
2. He pays attention. “A wise man will hear.”
3. He improves. He increases in “learning.” He attains “unto wise counsels.” He receives docilely into him the words of his master, and he rises in intelligence, and worth, and power. (David Thomas, D.D.)
To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment and equity.
Judgment and equity
“Judgment” is used for discerning right from wrong; for the law, manner, or rule of it; for punishment or execution of judgment. “Equity” in Hebrew means, straight ways, that go on foreright, and even, like plains; when men go not uphill and downhill in their actions, but proceed in an even course. It signifies also a thing right in God’s or man’s eyes, which they approve as just and equal. Some understand by equity moderation, that we use not the extremity of the law, nor do all that we may. Others, integrity of mind in working and discerning. The doctrines suggested are--
1. Matters of practice must not be perceived only, but received. There is a piercing of truth into the understanding, and receiving of it into the judgment.
2. Knowledge is ordinarily received from others.
3. A spiritual wisdom is required to guide all our actions.
4. Every cue’s right must be preserved.
5. Men must study to know how to judge of interests.
6. Extremity of justice is not always to be used; moderation sometimes is to be exercised. (Francis Taylor.)
To give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion.
Subtilty for the simple
The word is sometimes taken in an ill sense, for a crafty wit to deceive others. Sometimes in a good sense, for understanding to prevent dangers that crafty men might bring upon us. So it is taken here. Compare “simple” with the Latin “fatuus,” a fool. Simple comes from a verb which signifies to allure or seduce one that wants understanding of God’s truths and will, and so is easily allured to any error or wickedness by good words, as giving credit everything, because not able to examine things for want of judgment. He falls into danger for lack of knowledge. The word also signifies one who wants foresight to prevent danger.
1. The Scripture contains a store of heavenly knowledge sufficient to inform simple persons. Note the store of heavenly mysteries in the Scripture; the clearness of them; the variousness of them.
2. Subtilty for preventing of dangers is best learned out of the Scriptures.
3. We are naturally simple, and easily led into error.
4. The way to keep us from errors is the right understanding of Scripture.
5. Most danger of going astray is in the time of youth.
6. Bare knowledge is not enough, but discretion must be laboured for also. Knowledge is imperfect, and will need further augmentation by deliberation. And knowing men do things rashly oftentimes, being disturbed with passion. (Francis Taylor.)
This term suggests the very point of Solomon’s advice. The young man who comes from a quiet home, where he has been under wise guidance, is really simple, unsophisticated, unused to the ways of the world, unfit to meet its temptations, and needing much good counsel and warning from those who are experienced in the world’s ways. “Simple” here is not “silly,” but guileless, unsuspecting, easily drawn aside, over-trustful. It is familiarly said that “experience is a dear school, but fools will learn in no other.” Solomon urges on the young man that if he would be willing to learn, he might be saved from many bitter and even degrading experiences. There is an evil sense attaching to the word “subtilty,” from its association with the serpent that tempted Eve; but the better meaning of the word comes to view through Solomon’s connecting it with other good and suggestive terms. He thinks that the young man, at the very outset of life, needs “wisdom,” which we may take in the general sense of “culture”; an “instruction,” that is, “discipline,” “training,” and “understanding,” or the power of weighing, distinguishing, discriminating: and “wisdom,” in the further sense of “thoughtfulness,” the habit of looking things well round before we decide on our action. Impulsiveness is a constant weakness in young people. They act before they think. And “Justice,” or the first principles of righteousness, by which all proposed conduct should be appraised, and “judgment,” or the self-estimating which is virtually the same as a cultured and active “conscience,” and “equity,” or the various adjustment of “principles” to the different relationships of men, and the various circumstances in which they may be placed; and “discretion,” or that kind of reticence which keeps the young man from being duped by false advisers.
1. Expect subtilty in those who would tempt you astray. Here the word takes its bad form, as crafty, designing, making good appearance in order to deceive; keeping back part of the truth: and so leaving a designedly false impression. See temptation of Eve. There is a good “suspiciousness,” which is a safeguard.
2. Show subtilty in not readily yielding to the tempters. Here the word is used in a good sense. Be on your guard. Do not give your love to the first person who seeks it. Beware of the plausible man, and the flatterers. Be forewarned and so you will be forearmed. Keep your own counsel. See underneath, and do not be caught by mere outside glitter. (Robert Tuck, B. A.)
The simple man
Plato wrote on the door of his academy,” Let no man unskilled in geometry come hither.” Solomon writes the very reverse on the door of his school, “Let the simple man come hither.” (G. Lawson, D. D.)
There are many more shining qualities in the mind of man, but there is none more useful than discretion; it is this, indeed, which gives a value to all the rest, which sets them at work in their proper times and places, and turns them to the advantage of the person who is possessed of them. Without it, learning is pedantry, and wit impertinence; virtue itself looks like weakness; the best parts only qualify a man to be more sprightly in his errors, and active to his own prejudice. (W. Addison.)
A father that had three sons was desirous to try their discretion, which he did by giving to each of them an apple that had some part of it rotten. The first eats up his apple, rotten and all; the second throws all his away, because some part of it was rotten; but the third picks out the rotten, and eats that which was good, so that he appeared the wisest: thus, some in these days, for want of discretion, swallow down all that is presented, rotten and sound altogether; others throw away all truth, because everything delivered unto them is not truth, but surely they are the wisest and most discreet, that know how to try the spirits whether they be of God or not--how to choose the good and refuse the evil. (J. Spencer.)
A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels.
The increase of knowledge
I. No man is so wise but he may learn more. And that both in theoretical and practical knowledge, how to think better, and how to do better. Be not content with that measure of knowledge ye have, but labour still for more.
II. Much knowledge comes in at the ear. Hearing and seeing are by Aristotle called the learned senses, because by these doors learning enters into the soul. Yea, and lips also. The ears are the conduit pipes of wisdom to convey it to us.
III. The Scripture brings in increase of knowledge. Because--
1. It is the highest book in the world.
2. All heavenly wisdom in other books comes from thence, as waters in rivers from the fountain.
IV. Scripture learning is the best learning. It is the most profound knowledge. It is the most profitable.
V. Natural parts well used help much in religion. Paul’s learning was a great help to him, and Solomon’s high reach. It is a wonder what may be attained by industry and God’s blessing upon it. (Francis Taylor.)
The words of the wise and their dark sayings.
The words of the wise
Nothing can give a deeper insight into the character and genius of people than their household words--those current maxims and sayings which influence their everyday life, the popular proverbs which pass from mouth to mouth. These are the expression of a people’s inward life. It does not belong to a high state of civilisation to originate proverbs. One of our most homely maxims or proverbial sayings, will stir the soul to its very centre and depth, and do more to regulate the life and manners, than all the enactments in all the statute books of the world. In the Book of Proverbs we have nothing but the lessons of practical wisdom. They rest on great principles as their basis--those principles which enter into the eternal reason of things, and which are as unchangeable as God Himself. It follows that the maxims of this book are adapted to all time, all countries, and all people. Humanity is one. The writers, whoever they were, had a profound knowledge of men and things; and we have here the results of no narrow experience. Principles are stated with great clearness; the rule of conduct is laid down with consummate skill and precision, and the lofty aim of the whole is to allure men, and especially the young and inexperienced, into the way of happiness and peace.
1. Some maxims concern the relations which subsist between the young and the old. The young are to take part in the progress and development of the race. They are not only to be the fathers and mothers of a future generation, but also their teachers, and their models. To prepare and qualify them for this, they must have in them the elements of knowledge and of goodness. Youth is the period of acquisition. The present is always more or less dependent on the past. We cannot sever ourselves from those who have gone before us, nor break the bond which connects us with those who are coming after us. The young are to give the impression of their own intellectual and moral life to the generations following.
2. These maxims, though not set forth as coming immediately from the mind or spirit of God, are in harmony with Infinite Wisdom. They have in them nothing of a merely individual character. They contemplate man as man, independently of all outward arrangements and institutions, and deal with that which is common to the race. The Book of Proverbs stands unequalled among all the writings which the world has ever produced. They are human sayings, but possessed of Divine authority; and they have in them all those principles which can ennoble and dignify the character of man, clothing him with true greatness in this world, and in the world to come crowning him with glory everlasting.
The following findings seem to come as near as may be to the end or object of the writer:--
1. That a certain degree of instruction and knowledge is essential to intercourse with the more intelligent and better-informed classes.
2. That discretion, uprightness, and unyielding attachment to justice, are qualities of which youth stands most in need, and which enter into all integrity of character.
3. That youth being the period of greater simplicity and inexperience, it needs increased reflection and sagacity to lead to the apprehension and discovery of approaching temptation and danger, and of the best means of escape.
4. That even the wisest and best informed of men have ever something new to learn, and may by listening to the great oracle of truth, increase their knowledge and power of perception without limit.
5. That true wisdom has its basis in true piety, and that there can be no greater folly than to reject this highest form of knowledge. (R. Ferguson, LL.D.)
The dark sayings of the wise
Dark sayings mean properly enigmas or riddles. These were used of old as one of the methods of conveying instruction. It was conceived that by giving exercise to the understanding in finding out the solution of the enigma, it was calculated to deepen on the mind the impression of the lesson which was wrapt up in it. This was not done for mere amusement, but for imparting serious instruction; although, to the young, there might in some instances be the blending of an intellectual attainment with the conveyance of useful information, or salutary counsel. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.
The first rudiments of knowledge
The fear of the Lord is an abiding and reverent sense of the presence of God and of accountableness to Him: For this to exist God must be that real, personal Being which we have every reason to believe God has revealed Himself to be: such in character, as to love, holiness, and justice, as He has declared Himself in His Word. Why is this fear the beginning of knowledge?
1. Because knowledge being the apprehension of facts, and application of them to life, it cannot properly begin, or be based on a right foundation, without first apprehending and applying a fact which includes and which modifies all other facts whatever.
2. Because knowledge is the food of the soul. And what is the soul? What ought its stores and its accumulated powers to be, and to be useful for? The knowledge which is to feed and train the soul must begin, continue, and end, in the apprehension of Him.
3. Because knowledge, as the mere accumulation of facts, is in-operative upon life. If you would be worth anything to society, worth anything to your own families, worth anything to yourselves, the fear of God must come first in your thoughts and lives. The fear of God is the first thing; the consciousness of Him about you, the laying down His revealed facts respecting Himself and you as your greatest facts; the setting up of His will as the inner law of your being. (Dean Alford.)
How is the “fear of the Lord” the beginning of knowledge?
1. It quickens the intellect, and sustains its activity.
2. It restrains from those follies and corruptions which weaken the powers, and divert from high themes.
3. This fear starts thought from the right centre and in right directions.
4. This fear is the root of that right living and wise conduct, that forethought, purity, temperance, uprightness, and obedience to God, which we may call vital knowledge; knowledge in the heart and life, as well as in the head. (Monday Club Sermons.)
The root of knowledge
The “fear of the Lord” implies a right state of heart towards God, as opposed to the alienation of an unconverted man. Though the word is “fear,” it does not exclude a filial confidence and a conscious peace. What God is inspires awe; what God has done for His people commands affection. See here the centrifugal and centripetal forces of the moral world. “Knowledge” and “wisdom” are in effect synonymous--the best knowledge wisely used for the highest ends. The “fear of the Lord” is the foundation, “knowledge” is the imposed superstructure. He who does not reverentially trust in God knows nothing yet as he ought to know. His knowledge is partial and distorted. The knowledge of God--His character and plans, His hatred of sin, His law of holiness, His way of mercy--is more excellent than all that an unbelieving philosopher has attained. It is a knowledge more deeply laid, more difficult of attainment, more fruitful, and more comprehensive, than all that philosophers know. Men speak of the stupendous effects which knowledge, in the department of mechanical philosophy, has produced on the face of the world, and in the economy of human life; but the permanence of these acquisitions depends on the authority of moral laws in the consciences of men. The moral encircles and controls the economic in the affairs of men. The knowledge of God is the root of knowledge. (William Arnot, D. D.)
A plea for reverence
Reverence is the alphabet of religion. As you cannot acquire knowledge without the knowledge of the alphabet, so you cannot acquire anything of the religious life without the spirit of reverence. Self-conceit is precisely the negative of reverence. It is the absence of the spirit that looks up to anything above us. It is the spirit that leads one to say, “I am the greatest and the best.” There are many conditions in our life which tend to produce the spirit of self-conceit and tend to counteract the spirit of reverence. The absence of any traditions in America tend against the spirit of reverence. Across the ocean, in the Old World, we stand in cathedrals a thousand years or more old, in the presence of customs hoary-headed with antiquity; we walk by the city walls which have seen many a battle between liberty and despotism; and these old cathedrals, these old cities, these old customs, awaken in us some spirit of reverence. But we have no such cathedrals. The absence of any class distinctions in America tends against the spirit of reverence. We are all on the same level. There is no class to which we can look up with reverence. The reaction against Puritanism has tended against reverence. It is no longer customary in our homes to teach reverence of children to their parent, or in schools to teach reverence of pupils to teachers. In the olden time every boy bowed reverently to the minister; now the minister gets along very well if the boy does not cry out, “Go up, thou baldhead!” The spirit of criticism, the scientific spirit, has tended against reverence. Many things which of olden time men superstitiously feared they fear no longer. We have analysed until all great things have been picked to pieces in our laboratory. We will not allow any mysteries. You cannot revere what you are criticising. The two processes never can go on simultaneously in the same mind. The sectarian spirit has been against the spirit of reverence. The Congregationalist has sneered at the ritual of the Episcopalian, and the Episcopalian has shrugged his shoulders over the non-ritual of the Congregationalist. The spirit of antagonism between the different denominations has despoiled those symbols which were before the common objects of a mutual reverence. Finally, our democratic theology has tended against the old spirit of reverence. Just because we no longer reverence a king in the nation we do not reverence the King in the heavens. Now, if it be true that reverence is a fountain of life, and reverence is a beginning of wisdom, how in this age, under these circumstances, are we to develop reverence in ourselves, in our churches, and in our children? In the first place, then, the old notion of holy places is gone. We cannot recover it. In truth there is very little foundation for it. For it we are to substitute this larger, grander, more awe-inspiring conception--that every place is holy place, every ground is holy ground, and God is in all Nature. God is as truly here as He ever was in Palestine, as truly in the White Mountains or the Rocky Mountains as He ever was in the Sinaitic Mountains; He is everywhere, always speaking, in all phenomena. This must come into our hearts to take the place of the older and narrower conception of holy places. We cannot re-establish a united ritual, nor all agree to climb to God’s throne by the steps “worn by the knees of many centuries.” But we must learn the broader, the larger, more catholic, aye, and profounder reverence which sees God in every form of worship; for wherever the human heart is seeking God, there God is. We are to recognise Christ in all truth. The old reverence for the Bible as a book without any error whatever, and as a conclusive and final guide on questions of science, literature, history, philosophy, and religion, is passing away. Our reverence is not for the tables of stone that are broken and lost, nor for the words that were inscribed upon them--we do not know exactly what form of words were inscribed upon them--but for the great fundamental principles of the moral life which those Ten Commandments embody. There is many a man who has reverence for the book and none for the truth that is in the book. Woe to us if, throwing away the old mechanical reverence for the outer thing, we fail to get the deeper reverence for the inward truth! What reverence has God shown for truth! Think of it one moment. He has launched into human history this volume of literature. The ablest scholars are not agreed on such questions as who wrote these various books, at what dates, for what purpose, and with what immediate intent. The great majority of the books are anonymous; the great majority of them are without definite and positive date. What does this mean? It means this: God has launched truth without a sponsor into the world, and left the truth to bear witness to itself. Truth answers to the human mind as cog to cog; and the reverence for the shell is to be lost only that reverence for the kernel may take the place. We find it difficult, many of us, to have any reverence for the events that are taking place in America, and the leaders who are participating in them. We cannot cure that irreverence towards leaders and politicians by pretending respect for a man whom we do not respect, who has won his way to office by dishonourable and disreputable methods. We must go further, we must look deeper, we must see that, as God is in all worship and in all truth, so God is in all history. We are to see God in every man, and in all of life. There are times when there seems nothing more awe-inspiring than a simple, single human soul. Said Phillips Brooks once to me, “There is no man so poor, so ignorant, so outcast, that I do not stand in awe before him.” As the old reverence for the priest and the robe and the pulpit fade away, reverence for man as the battle-ground between good and evil must come in to take its place, or reverence will disappear. “The fear of God is the fountain of life.” I think it is Goethe who has drawn the distinction between fear and reverence. Fear, he says, repels; reverence attracts. It is not the fear of God that repels, it is the reverence for God which attracts, which is the fountain of life. And when this reverence has found its place in our hearts, it is to be the fountain of all our life; of our reason, and we are not to be afraid of being too rational; of our commercial industries, and we are not to be afraid of being too industrious; of our humour, and we are not to be afraid of a good hearty laugh; reverence in all our life. You cannot have reverence on Sunday and irreverence in the week; reverence in the church and irreverence in the daily life. And, leaving in the past that reverence which was fragmentary, broken, and largely idolatrous, we are to press forward to a grander, broader, nobler, diviner reverence in the future. (L. Abbott, D. D.)
The fear of the Lord
1. The fear of God will urge us to a profitable study of the Holy Scriptures.
2. The fear of God will especially influence us in our devotions.
3. The fear of God will bring us to the business of the day in the right frame of mind to carry it on.
4. The fear of God will enable us to bear the trials and disappointments of life.
5. In the last trial of all, in the hour of death, we shall assuredly reap the fruit of having lived in the fear of the Lord, for then we shall have nothing else to fear. (J. Edmunds.)
I. Piety is reverence for God. Filial reverence is meant by “fear.” Reverence implies two things, a recognition of Divine greatness, and a recognition of Divine goodness. An impression of goodness lies at the foundation of reverence, and hence, too, gratitude, love, adoration enter into this reverence.
II. Piety is initiatory to knowledge. It is the beginning of it. But what knowledge? Not mere intellectual knowledge. Many an impious man knows the circle of the sciences. The devil is intelligent. It is spiritual knowledge--spiritual knowledge of self, the universe, Christ, and God. True reverence for God is essential to this knowledge. Religious reverence is the root of the tree of all spiritual science. He knows nothing rightly who does not know God experimentally. (Homilist.)
Filial love stands near and leans on godliness. It is next to reverence for God. That first and highest commandment is like the earth’s allegiance to the sun by general law; and filial obedience is like day and night, summer and winter, budding spring and ripening harvest, on the earth’s surface. There could be none of these sweet changes and beneficent operations of nature on our globe if it were broken away from the sun. So when a people burst the first and greatest bond--when a people cast off the fear of God, the family relations, with all their beauty and benefit, disappear. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
I. Speculative piety, or a due knowledge of God and of our duty towards Him, is the first foundation of true wisdom.
1. The proper exercise of true wisdom consists in directing and conducting us to the chiefest happiness which human nature is capable of.
2. That religion is the only method by which we are directed and conducted towards the attainment of this chief happiness.
3. That a due knowledge of God, and of our duty towards Him, is the basis and groundwork of true religion.
II. Practical piety, or the regulating of our actions according to knowledge, is the height and perfection of understanding.
1. To be habitually conversant in the exercises of piety is an instance of the truest and most considerate wisdom, because it is the most effectual means to promote our happiness and well-being in this life. There are four things for the attainment of which we are chiefly solicitous. A clear reputation. A comfortable fortune. A healthful body. A quiet mind.
2. The constant exercise of religious duties is an instance of the truest and most considerate wisdom, because it is the most effectual means to promote our eternal happiness in the world to come. (N. Brady.)
A reverent fear of God
I. Religiousness, or a reverent fear of God, is the best wisdom. Because it brings a man to acquaintance with God. It teaches us how to converse with God rightly by true worship and obedience, and how to come to live with God for ever.
II. Things of greatest worth should be of greatest account with us. The affections should ever follow the judgment well informed.
III. Irreligious persons are in God’s account the fools of the world. They want God’s fear, as natural fools want wisdom.
IV. None despise heavenly wisdom but such as know not the value of it. The excellency of it is so great, that it would allure men to look after it, had they spiritual eyes to see it. Knowledge hath no enemy but an ignorant man.
V. They that slight the means of knowledge slight knowledge itself. We account so in outward things. We ask sick men refusing physic if they make no account of their lives. Neglect of the means of grace is a real slighting of wisdom. (Francis Taylor.)
Hear the instruction of thy father.
The first and great commandment is the fear of God, and the second, which is next to it and like to it, is obedience to parents. Wherever the root is planted this is the first fruit which it bears. God honours His own ordinance, the family. He gives parents rank next after Himself. Filial love stands near, and leans on godliness. God is the author of the family constitution. Its laws are the marriage of one man with one woman, the support of children by parents, and the support of decayed parents by the children grown. The polygamy of Eastern peoples has made the richest portions of the earth like a howling wilderness. In the constitution of nature there is a self-acting apparatus for punishing the transgression of the family laws. The Divine institute is hedged all round. The prickles tear the flesh of those who are so foolish as to kick against them. In practice, and for safety, it is well to keep families together as long as it is possible. To violate the providential laws is both a crime and a blunder. Love to parents ranks next under reverence to God. When France threw off the first commandment the second went after it. (William Arnot, D.D.)
Forsake not the law of thy mother.
For mother’s sake
What a mysterious thing--what a mysterious, magical, Divine thing is a mother’s love! How it nestles about the heart, and goes with the man, and speaks to him pure words, and is like a guardian angel! This young man (of whom he was then preaching) could never take any money that came to him from his mother and spend that upon a Sunday excursion or a treat to a theatre. It was a sacred thing with him; it had the impression and the inscription of his mother’s image, and his mother’s purity, and his mother’s piety, and his mother’s love. It was a sacred thing to him, and these things that he felt to be questionable, or felt to be sinful, were always to be provided for by other resources and by money that came to him from other hands. Oh! there is the poetry of the heart, the poetry of our home and domestic affections, the poetry of the religion of the heart and the altar, about that little incident, and it strikes me as being perfectly beautiful. (Thomas Binney.)
A mother’s influence
The late Dr. Harvey Goodwin, Bishop of Carlisle, gave the following account of his mother: “I am one of those who lost their mother at a very early age. I was very little over six years old when my dear mother was suddenly taken from me. I mention my age that I may put before you the effect which my mother’s teaching had upon me, and the tender age at which it ceased, and I think we may draw from it some useful lessons. Now, then, when I look back to the teaching of my mother, what do I think of it? I say deliberately, and without any amount of exaggeration, that though I have since that time been at school, been under tutors, been at college, and had all the experience of life, I do not believe that all the lessons that I have received since that time put together amount in value and in importance to the lessons which I learned from my mother before I was seven years old. I will tell you one of the first lessons she taught me. She taught me always to speak the truth; and the lesson she gave me concerning truth has never been lost upon me. She always brought me up in the feeling that what was to be spoken was to be the whole truth and nothing but the truth; that there was to be no evasion, that everything was to be stated simply and honestly, exactly as it occurred; and I will tell you how she enforced that lesson--she always spoke truth to me. I never caught her in any kind of deceit; I always knew that what she said to me she meant. I was always sure that if she told me she was going to do a thing she would do it, and no amount of coaxing or persuasion would lead her to change her mind. Absolute truth, absolute in the smallest matters, that was her practice, and that was the lesson that she impressed upon me.”
For they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head.
Filial love an ornament of beauty
It seems an instinct of humanity to put ornaments upon the person. It does not rank high among the exercises of the human faculties, yet it is quite above the reach of all inferior creatures. Ornaments on the fallen, like many other innocent things, become the occasions of sin, but they are not in their own nature evil. To deck with external beauty that which is morally corrupt within is a cheat which men practise on themselves and others, but adornment of the person, modest in measure and adopted instinctively by an innate sense of propriety, is conducive to virtue and consistent with Scripture. Moral qualities are the true adornments of a human being. All the graces of the Spirit are lovely: but here the foremost of relative duties, a child’s reverential regard for a parent, is recommended as an ornament of surpassing beauty. Love, obey, cherish, reverence your parents. This is in God’s sight of great price. These ornaments will not be out of date when time has run its course. The moral laws of God have avenging sanctions even in the powers of nature. Godliness is profitable unto all things. The first commandment is fruitful even in this life, and the second is like it--like it in its holy character, like it in its glad results. “Honour thy father and thy mother,” this is an ornament of solid gold. Unlike the watering of superficial accomplishments, the more rudely it is rubbed the more brightly it glows. (William Arnot, D.D.)
My son, if sinners entice thee.
Reasons for resisting the enticements of sinners
By sinners is meant all persons who are not true Christians. Three reasons why we should not consent when sinners entice us:
1. Because when we begin to sin it is hard to stop.
2. Because it is dangerous.
3. Because it is disgraceful.
(1) It is so in the looks it gives us.
(2) It is so in the company into which it brings us.
Two things we ought to do:
1. Get rid of the sins we have committed.
2. Try to keep from sinning any more.
Said a boy to his sister one day, “I want the spirit to look sin right in the face when it comes to me, and say, ‘Begone.’” “Yes,” replied the sister, “and one thing more you want; you want God’s spectacles to see sin and know it when it comes, for it does not always show its colours.” (R. Newton, D.D.)
How industrious wicked people are to seduce others into the paths of the destroyer. Sinners love company in sin; the angels that fell were tempters almost as soon as they were sinners. They do not threaten or argue, but entice with flattery and fair speech; with a bait they draw the unwary young man to the hook.. But they mistake if they think that by bringing others to partake with them in their guilt, and to be bound, as it were, in the bond with them, they shall have the less to pay themselves, for they will have so much the more to answer for. (Matthew Henry.)
The various ways by which sinners entice us to vice
I. I shall mention some of the various ways by which sinners entice us to vice.
1. They represent it as a light and trivial matter, and at the worst as venial and pardonable. “What is it,” they will probably say, “but a human weakness and infirmity, to which all men are subject? Can it be criminal to follow the dictates of one’s natural passions? You can be no worse than thousands who indulge in the same excesses.” They will give soft names to the greatest abominations in order to prevent alarm. In this way the understanding is imposed upon and the conscience is silenced. When vice is painted in all its black colours we are apt to be alarmed at the commission of it, but when it is stripped of its deformity we become more reconciled to it, and more readily yield. But can that be a light matter which is treason against the Almighty and which has subjected us to death? Perhaps we are more in danger from smaller than greater transgressions, because they steal upon us more imperceptibly, and draw us insensibly into the commission of them. Is not this a good argument to be jealous of the very appearance of evil and to loathe the garments spotted with iniquity?
2. By representing the gain and the pleasure which accompany it. Gain and pleasure are the two great charmers which have seduced mankind and led them captive at their will. What foul and black crimes hath the love of money been the means of perpetrating! To this corrupt source may be traced all the fraud and injustice, all the theft and robbery which have been committed. And what is the acquisition of wealth, upon which men are so much set? Is it any substantial, permanent good? Will it preserve health, prolong life, or ward off death? The love of pleasure has ruined many. It enchants the simple. Health has been impaired.
3. By traducing the principles of good men and turning their manners into ridicule. The gospel hath unfolded a glorious plan of salvation by which God, consistently with the purity of His nature and the perfection of His government, can be reconciled to the chief of sinners. It is nobly adapted to restore peace to the troubled mind and to inspire the hope of immortality. Shall we be laughed out of it by any set of men or for any gratification whatever?
4. By leading the road and calling us to follow them. It must be allowed that example has a powerful influence upon mankind and will often prevail when all other means prove ineffectual. Good-nature may not allow him to separate from his companions. To do as others do hath long been a powerful principle of action, and hath carried men greater lengths than they ever thought of.
Before I proceed to the second branch of the subject I shall give an advice or two to the young.
1. Cultivate an early acquaintance with God.
2. Carefully avoid the company of the ungodly. Who knows but your principles may be shaken and your morals corrupted before you are aware?
3. Be earnest in prayer to God that He may never suffer you to be tempted beyond what you are able to bear. Heaven is your best resource, and from whence your most effectual aids do come.
II. A few arguments which, by the blessing of God, will enable us to resist them.
1. It is mean and dishonourable to be connected with bad men.
2. It is the most prejudicial to your best and eternal interests. The health will be impaired, the soul lost.
3. The infinite obligations you are under to your God and Redeemer.
4. If you consent you will lay a foundation for much anguish and remorse. Loose and dissipated men may put on what appearance of gaiety and mirth they please, but I am apt to think it is more affected than real, more feigned than true.
5. The distress and grief in which you must involve your parents and friends. (D. Johnstone, D.D.)
The allurements of sin
I. A danger implied It is the nature of sin to be aggressive. Wherever it obtains an entrance it will, if not destroyed, ultimately become the master. It cannot exist without seeking to push itself forward to some new conquest. There was never one transgressor yet who did not try to make another like himself. There is on earth what may be called a huge propaganda of evil. Self-security only makes more easy victims.
II. A method exposed. The word “entice” implies that they do not ask you plainly and directly to commit sin as sin, but rather set before you some real or imaginary pleasure which you can get only by a commission of that which is sin. They dexterously conceal the fact that it is sin. They bait their hook. The sin is to be committed as a means to an end, and the mind is so occupied by the end that the guilt of the means is overlooked. Then it is well to know the enticements which are commonly employed to delude and allure the unwary.
1. One common enticement is the increase of knowledge. The assertion is made that they will “see life.”
2. Another is pleasure. That may be good, but it is well to ask, “What will it cost?” It is dear if it can only be bought by the forfeiture of peace of conscience and the favour of God.
3. Another is the love of liberty. You are asked to do the doubtful or the wrong “just to assert your liberty.”
4. The tempter promises that you will never be discovered. It is urged, “Nobody will ever know.” Yes, God will know.
III. Resistance. Enforced. “Consent thou not.” Give a plain, downright, emphatic refusal. The right use of the word “No” at the critical turning-points of life will save a man from destruction. There are two excellent maxims as regards our moral actions--
1. Always force yourselves to come to a positive decision in all matters of conduct.
2. Never allow yourselves to deliberate on a matter in reference to which conscience is clear.
IV. A motive suggested. In this resistance which has been urged. The text is a parental appeal, and brings to bear upon us all the memories and associations of our earliest home. Cherish them, and they will build for you a breakwater within reach, by means of which you may safely override the fiercest storms and whirlwinds of temptation. (W. M. Taylor, D.D.)
The desire to make proselytes to our speculative opinions, and bring over others to think as we do, is not a more constant attendant on our pride and conceit than the desire in men of vicious lives to make the practice of others as bad as their own. Whether it be that many kinds of wickedness require numbers to associate, in order to their being carried on with success, so that they who are engaged in them are constantly beating up for allies; whether the sense of shame is not lessened, and the censure of the decent portion of mankind made more tolerable when multitudes share in it; whether the conscience is not, also, soothed and flattered from the same cause; or whether, lastly, the perversion of their ways has produced in such men a gratuitous desire of doing hurt, and a love of mischief for its own sake; so it is--the loss of his own virtue produces in a man the desire to overcome the virtue of others. The particular sin which the preacher had in his thoughts at the time was that of dishonesty, and the enticement he speaks of was to the taking of property belonging to others, and living upon it, instead of labouring for an honourable and independent livelihood. He selects that species of crime, out of many that would have answered as well, as a specimen whereby to illustrate his argument, and show the ruin and misery to which the path of sin conducts a man. There is one property, common to the language of all enticers of others to sin, of whatever kind the sin be; and Solomon has not failed to notice it in the case he has supposed. It is the pretence of the most disinterested friendship, high professions of good-will and regard for the person they undertake to entice. “Come with us; cast thy lot among us; let us all have one purse.” They who entice them to the sin disguise their secret ends, their abominable selfishness, so successfully, under appearance of generosity, that they are blinded for a time, and think the morality which they have learned at home too strict and impracticable, and the kindness they received from their parents and relations hardly worthy to be compared to the friendship of these men. How, then, is a man to judge in this matter? Is he to pass through life with a sour suspicion of mankind, reject all their kindness as a cloak for bad designs, and hold the opinion that no man is ever loved save by his father and mother? Far from it. In the passage before us he propounds a test and criterion whereby a young person may distinguish between true and false friendship; and it is this: that the true will always be accompanied with a concern for his virtue. “If sinners entice thee, consent thou not.” I know not how I can better illustrate this maxim of Solomon than by stating, in the royal author’s own words, the consequences of listening to the counsels of the ungodly--the solicitations to sin, with which the young are sure to be assailed by cunning and practised offenders. For example, with respect to sins of licentiousness, and the temptations thereto, he says of him that yieldeth to them that he that goeth after the strange woman, “goeth as an ox to the slaughter, and as a fool to the correction of the stocks; till a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it is for his life.” “For,” he says again, “she hath cast down many wounded, yes, many strong men have been slain by her.” Again, when he would dissuade from idleness, and inculcate the wisdom of a provident regard to the future, he says, “Go to the ant, thou sluggard, consider her ways and be wise.” Again, of dishonesty. “The thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness; but every one that is hasty, only to want. The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a vanity, tossed to and fro, of them that seek death.” “The robbery of the wicked shall destroy them.” (A. Gibson, M. A.)
The personal element in temptation
Sin is not so dangerous as is the sinner. Sin is repellent; but the sinner may be winsome and attractive. The personal element in temptation is often the attractive element.
I. Sin sometimes clothes itself with personal authority. As of a master over a servant, or a father over a son. Temptation becomes strong when it enlists authority on its behalf.
II. Sin sometimes clothes itself with personal affection. Many of the forms of vice depend entirely upon friendship for their propagation. They would die a natural death if it were not for a man’s friends.
III. Sin sometimes clothes itself with personal attractions. Consider mental attractions. The learned, the witty, the intellectual bad man, is a power for evil. There is a passing over of power from the man to his sin. The more attractions a man has personally the more ropes has sin to pull upon others with, and the more deceptive attire has sin to clothe itself with.
IV. Sin sometimes clothes itself with personal influence. Wealth gives a man influence in a community. So does social or official position. Young men should be taught to recognise sin promptly, no matter what it is clothed in. Christian manliness and independence are the safeguards against the personal elements in temptation. Dare to be right, even if sin should enlist all the powers of the world on its side. Dare to say, “No.” This is Christian heroism. (The Southern Pulpit.)
The text refers to another state of society than that in which we live.
I. Life is a scene of real and daily temptation. Whether a man wishes it or not, he will be enticed. The mistake of many is that they expect to pass through life without being tried. They are not forearmed. There is not any perfect escape to be expected. It is the necessary discipline through which man must pass. The knowledge and experience of evil is just as inevitable as the knowledge and experience of any of the ordinary affairs of human life.
II. There is one period of life more specially exposed to temptation than others. At first sight the temptations of youth seem to be at variance with the general principle, that as a man’s day is so shall his strength be. Youth’s strength and youth’s day often seem to be very disproportionate. It seems hard that youth should be so severely tried.
1. The generosity of youth is tried by the callousness and coldness of the world.
2. The guilelessness of youth is tried by severe lessons; friends fall off, and depart like swallows in the winter, when we seem to need them most.
3. The purity of youth is tried by having to go forth into the world of real and actual impurity, to make venture in its own strength against it all.
III. In society we find many persons whose chief delight it seems to be to throw temptations in the way of youth. No sooner does a man go astray than he strives to drag others with him. It is done--
1. By ridicule.
2. By sly suggestions.
3. By lending bad books and indulging in bad conversation. To overcome these temptations great decision of character is required. To get on in life requires the steady, unbroken bent of a strong will. There is no guarantee for real decision of character except in the fear of God. (W. G. Barrett.)
The dangers to which the young are exposed
Youth is the most interesting and important period of our moral probation for eternity. In it the young begin to be freed from that parental authority and discipline which restrain them from the practice of vice. They were then called, in some measure, to think, to judge, and to act for themselves. Then the principles early instilled into their minds are to be brought to the test of trial.
I. Young men may be exposed to the baneful influence of bad example, to the force of ridicule, and to the power of persuasion.
II. The young are enticed by setting before them splendid and seductive representations of the riches and enjoyment with which vice is accompanied.
III. The young are enticed to the commission of vice by concealing its native deformity. Sedulously endeavouring to diminish impressions of the danger with which it is attended.
IV. The young are enticed by misrepresentations of the Divine being and relations. God’s mercifulness is overpressed, and His justice and holiness are put out of sight. God will never let sin go unpunished. (John Hunter.)
The foe and the fight
I. The danger.
1. The sinners that entice from within are the man’s own thoughts and desires. There is quite an army of these sinners in a young man’s breast. Thoughts open up the way, and prepare a trodden path on which the man may follow. A gossamer thread is attached to an arrow and shot through the air unseen, over an impassable chasm. Fixed on the other side, it is sufficient to draw over a cord; the cord draws over a rope, the rope draws over a bridge, by which a highway is opened for all comers. Thus is the gulf passed that lies between the goodly character of a youth fresh from his father’s family and the daring heights of iniquity on which veteran libertines stand. From the brink on this side the youth darts over a thought which makes itself fast to something on these forbidden regions. Deeds will quickly follow when the way is prepared.
2. The sinners that entice from without are fellow-men, who, having gone astray themselves, are busy leading others after them. The deed most characteristic that the father of lies ever did was to lead others after him into sin. An evil-doer has a craving for company in his wickedness. By a natural necessity, the licentious recruit among the ranks of the virtuous, the drunken among the ranks of the sober. It is a power of nature that is taken and employed to enslave men. Men are gregarious. The principle of association is implanted in their nature, and is mighty, according to the direction it gets, for good or evil. This great power generally becomes a ready agency of ill.
II. The enticements. These are manifold. As addressed to well-educated, well-conducted youths, they are always more or less disguised. The tempter always flings over at least his ugliest side some shred of an angel’s garment. Few young men who have enjoyed a religious education come to a sudden stand, and at once turn their back upon God and godliness. Most of those who do fall diverge at first by imperceptible degrees from the path of righteousness. The importance of the ancient rule, “Obsta principiis” (“resist the beginnings”), can never be overrated. Watch the beginnings of evil. High in the list of dangerous enticements stands the theatre. The custom of society encouraging the use of intoxicating drinks constitutes one of the most formidable dangers to youth in the present day. But we never yet met with a drunkard who either became one all at once or who designed to become one. In every case the dreadful demon vice has crept over the faculties by slow degrees, and at last surprised the victim.
III. The defence. “Consent thou not.” It is a blunt, peremptory command. Your method of defence must differ from the adversary’s mode of attack. His strength lies in making gradual approaches; yours is a resistance, sudden, resolute, total. It is not by partial compliances and polite excuses that enticements are to be repelled. With such adversaries you are not obliged to keep terms. Much depends on the unfaltering, undiluted, dignified “No” of one who fears God more than the sneer of fools. The shortest answer is the best. The means of resisting may be found in--
1. Refinement of manners.
2. Profitable study.
3. Benevolent effort.
4. Improving company.
But though the society of the good is an instrument of protection not to be despised, it is still subordinate. There is another companion. “There is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother.” You cannot fight the enticements of sinful pleasure in your own strength. Under the Captain of salvation you may fight and win. (William Arnot, D. D.)
Men each other’s tempters
There are two worlds from which temptation reaches us--the world in which we live, and the world below us. There are two classes of beings who act as tempters, devils and men. There is, however, but one class of characters; sinners alone can be tempters. We do not know how the first sin originated.
I. Look at the case supposed.
1. It is a common case. Sinners do entice. It is in the nature of sin to make men tempters one of another. The social character of mankind seems to involve this.
2. It is a serious case. Generally speaking, the tempters are stronger than the tempted. The tendencies of our human nature are in the direction of transgression. The principles of every sin are latent in us all. Those principles may be undeveloped because they have not been appealed to; but let an appeal be made, and they will be manifest. Temptation is presented to a nature more or less susceptible.
3. It is by no means a hopeless case. There is One who can be a refuge, a strength, and a present helper.
II. Look at the advice given. “Consent thou not.” Without consent the temptation cannot take effect, and without consent the temptation can do no real harm. If you do consent, be sure “your sin will find you out.” To consent now is to expose yourself to greater danger hereafter. If you consent to enticement to-day, it will be almost an impossible thing to refuse to-morrow. (S. Martin.)
Enticemerits and enticers
Some point is gained by regarding this as Solomon’s advice to his son Rehoboam, who probably was an only son, and certainly was brought up amidst the dangerous luxuries and flatteries of Eastern court life. One of his chief perils lay in evil companionships. The surface of society never tells the truth concerning it. It is strange to find Rehoboam warned of “wild banditti” (Proverbs 1:11-14). Illustrate from the “Prince Hal” of English history and common sentiment concerning such men as “Robin Hood.” Drinking, gambling, and impurity are the wild evils of our time, and the caution of the text applies to them.
I. Temptations must come. This is a necessary law for those who are placed on probation. Forms of enticement differ in different ages. In each age, in each setting of social circumstances, there is a lawless, self-indulgent side. There is in all young people a love of romance, and a high-spiritedness, which makes them delight in adventure; but selfishness and covetousness are the dispositions which most readily respond to enticements of social evil. None can hope to escape temptation, none should wish to escape it. There is no possible culture of moral character without such testing.
II. Sin lies in consenting to enticements. Personal consent is essential to sin. What advice can then be given to the young?
1. Do not put yourself in the way of temptation.
2. Meet enticement with simple refusal.
III. The character of an enticement is shown in the character of those who present it. We are often placed in difficulty by the disguises of temptation. Especially before we have gained life-experience. By the hands and the neck it does seem like Esau. By the talk it does seem a wise serpent. A fair judgment of it is often beyond our power, But judging those who offer the temptation is always possible. If a man is not a good man, you had better suspect what he wants you to do. If you know a man is good, you may begin with confidence in his advice. If sinners entice, it is always safe not to consent. If the good invite, it is always best to consent at once. God is the infinitely good One, and to His call and invitation instant and unquestioning response should be given. (Weekly Pulpit.)
I. The tempters are called sinners. A sinner here is one who has himself gone out of the straight path of duty, and is now a wilful wanderer, aiming to draw others into his own dangerous course.
II. The way of tempting called enticing. Sometimes the enticement of flattery is employed; sometimes misrepresentation; sometimes allurement; sometimes the barest artifice. The most dangerous artifices are those that tend to shake the only sure foundations of moral obligation and responsibility.
III. How are these tempters to be dealt with? Parental authority and affection enforce the solemn charge. Call in reason to your aid. Call in reflection. Call in self-knowledge. Call in the solemn warnings of God’s holy oracles. Call in watchfulness and prayer. Covet the approbation of conscience. Stop to count the final cost. Let the sensual allure, let the unbelieving misrepresent, let the reckless scoff; but by the help of God, in the name of all that is virtuous and praiseworthy, for the happiness of your whole present life, in the aspiration after a life of perfect virtue and of perfect bliss, let your one decisive answer ever be, “No.” (J. Bullar.)
The enticements of sinners
Youth, neglected or corrupted, makes manhood despicable or vicious. The crimes of riper years multiply and embitter the infirmities and the sorrows of age. “Beware of poisoning the youthful mind with false principles. Leave the rational powers gradually to unfold themselves. You may aid reason in its operations, but never let authority supply the place of conviction, nor cheek a passion, but by an argument level to the comprehension.” This is the pernicious doctrine of the new philosophy, which is but another name for infidelity. Better advice is, watch the first dawnings of intellect. It begins to open sooner than most suspect. Its natural tendency is towards error. It belongs to you to inform and to direct it. Watch, with equal care, the first emotions of feeling and passion; their tendency is equally towards vice. Tell your children that virtue derives its chief and its only religious value from its conformity to the nature and will of God, and that vice is odious and detestable from its opposition to both.
I. Is it not strange the wicked should seek to entice others? That human nature is corrupted appears in the practice and the contagion of vice. Vice, the natural product of a tainted heart, first makes its appearance in the moral constitution; grows by indulgence, and is propagated by example.
1. Sinners are prompted to the seduction of others by natural impulse. It results both from their principles and their habits.
2. The wicked are led to seduction by a second motive. They feel a shame which they refuse to acknowledge; they are anxious to wear off this painful impression in their own minds, and divide the disgrace of their conduct in the opinion of mankind by the society of others.
3. Vice is also attended with fear. The man wants society in order to dissipate thought.
4. Vice, indeed, requires society either for its full enjoyment or the effectual accomplishment of its purposes.
5. Indefatigable is the kingdom of darkness in propagating itself.
6. Infernal influences may be necessary to account for the activity of the wicked in seduction.
II. The methods employed in the work of seduction. The efforts of the seducer are not systematic and uniform. They are accommodated to circumstances and tempers. You are not guiltless if you suffer yourselves to be seduced. No temptation amounts to a physical necessity of transgressing; neither sin nor sinners can prevail against you without your own inclination. Your most effectual weapon of defence is the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, in connection with the other parts of the Christian armour. (David Birchan, D. L.)
I. The company portrayed.
1. Lawlessness. “Sinners” (Proverbs 1:10; 1 John 3:4). To sin is to sink.
2. Persuasiveness. “Entice thee.” The gilded trappings of many modern amusements, the gay apparel of fallen virtue, the promise of good to be enjoyed that never comes, are baits by which thousands are lured into sin.
3. Combination. “Come with us” (Proverbs 1:11). “Combine,” said a great politician, when speaking to a class of men who had a grievance which they wished to redress. So says the enemy of souls. In the ranks of the wicked hand joins in hand (Proverbs 11:21).
4. Cruelty. “Let us lay wait for blood.”
5. Cowardice. “Let us lay wait.” Cruelty and cowardice are often allied.
6. Selfishness (Proverbs 1:13). The emptying of other people’s houses is of no consequence so that they fill their own. It is said of Napoleon, that for every step he rose in greatness the head of another fell.
7. Sociability (Proverbs 1:14). This sounds pleasant enough; but what of the money to be put into the purse? Blood-money.
8. Activity (Proverbs 1:16). There is in the wicked an impulse which impels them to hurry into sin.
II. Thy counsel given.
1. Heed good advice (Proverbs 1:8). The voice of the tempter is powerless to him who listens reverently to the voice of God (Mark 1:11; Mark 1:26).
2. Learn to say, “No” (Proverbs 1:10).
3. Shun evil company (Proverbs 1:15). “Evil companions,” says one, “first make us sad, and then they make us bad.”
4. Keep away from the haunts of evil. “Refrain thy foot.” Some who would not associate with the ungodly frequent the places where the wicked congregate. They go to see, and in some cases as the result of seeing, “fall to rise no more.” The Swiss mules have a habit of going close to the edge of dangerous precipices. If men were as sure-footed in the path of life as are mules upon the mountains, they might do so too; but with natures prone to evil, it is safer to keep as far as possible from the place where danger is.
5. Cultivate true godliness. A godly character is a wall of defence which the worldly are often afraid to attack. (H. Thorne.)
Warning against the enticements of the wicked
I. The evil enticement mentioned in the text.
1. The wicked deed, it is promised, shall be done in secrecy and with concealment.
2. It is a bold and spirited act to which the young man is incited. The appeal is made to his “pluck” and love of adventure (Proverbs 1:12).
3. The allurement is held out of great spoil.
4. The offer of frank and jovial companionship.
II. The dissuasive warning of the text (Proverbs 1:10).
1. Consider the awful extremes to which your evil course may lead.
2. Consider how faithfully and plainly you have been warned.
3. The ruinous consequences of a wicked course. (T. G. Horton.)
Admonition to the young
I. Who they are against whose enticements the young are to be on their guard.
1. Such as have abandoned themselves to vice and crime. The gratification of devils is to have men as sinful and miserable as they are.
2. Those who, however moral in the eye of men, are yet destitute of godliness. It has always been the policy of the enemy of souls to lead men into the depths of iniquity by little and little. The drunkard, for example, is as sober, enlightened, industrious, respected in society, beloved in his own family as any other when Satan first approaches him. Now, were the destroyer of man at once to show to this individual the full picture of that beastliness and misery to which he intended soon to reduce him, there would still be a sufficiency of moral courage, of self-preservation, of human feeling in him to cause him to flee even with horror and with tears from the snare. But Satan is too cunning and too intent upon success. He has patience in mischief, and can exercise it long in order to gain a mighty end.
3. Those especially who are acquaintances or companions. The companionship of the young is usually formed by accidental circumstances, without thought or discrimination. Some become companions at school, some by neighbourhood, some by relationship, some by serving under the same master, or working in the same establishment.
4. Those also who are strangers. Alas! such is the moral condition of man that we must live in this world in a state of constant suspicion. It was by listening to a stranger that our first mother was deceived; and in the same way was the man of God, who had been sent from Judah to denounce the wrath of Jehovah against Jeroboam and his idolatrous altar at Bethel, betrayed into an act of fatal disobedience.
II. The nature of the enticements against which the young are here warned.
1. Sinners will entice them by their example.
2. Sinners will entice them by holding out false hopes and representations of enjoyment in the courses to which they allure them.
3. By misrepresenting or denying the truth of God.
4. By ridiculing their moral fears.
5. By appealing to the multitudes. We naturally hate singularity, and in nothing so much as in religion.
6. By flattering kindness and attention.
7. By pretensions to religion.
III. Illustrate and enforce the admonition, “consent thou not.”
1. It is only with their own consent that the young can be led astray. The guilt as well as the bitter consequences of their yielding to sin will rest with themselves.
2. To be ready to refuse their consent to the enticements of sinners, their hearts must be well established in regard to both the ways of sin and the ways of righteousness.
3. The young are to cherish in their minds a suspicion and terror of all who would entice them to sin.
4. Let them carry about with them habitually a fear of God and a sense of His presence.
5. Let them consider the extreme difficulty of entering into life. Instead of tampering with sin, and exposing ourselves to its snares, we would have enough ado to gain heaven though no such allurements lay in our path.
6. Let them ponder much and deeply the misery of those who are pursuing the pleasures of sin.
7. Let them keep steadily before their minds the terrors of the wrath that is to come.
8. Let them now give their consent to the invitations of Christ. (Joseph Hay, M.A.)
Counsel for the tempted
I. Temptation is inevitable.
1. The name of temptation is legion, for they are many, and yet one. The strongest agencies appear in human form--sinners, who are agents of the devil. They may be our companions. They may even call themselves our friends.
2. It is not a sin to be tempted.
II. The power of temptation. Its power lies in the word “entice.” Enticements are the bait on the devil’s hook. “Pleasure” is one of them. “Seeing life “ is another. The love of liberty or of asserting independence is a powerful lure. The dread of being laughed at is a strong compulsion. “Nobody will know “ is often the last inducement which subdues the will and silences the conscience.
III. The limits of temptation. Temptation is mighty, but it is not almighty. No one has power over our will so that we must yield.
IV. The way of escape. “Consent thou not.” Augustine traced the ways of the battle. They are “Cogitatio, Imaginatio, Delectatio, Consensio.” Consent is the final stage of a lost battle. It is the lowering of the flag before the enemy; the opening of the gates of the citadel of life.
V. Say “no” to the tempter, but say “yes” to Christ. He says, “Lo, I am with you alway”; “I have prayed for you that your faith fail not”; “Take therefore the whole armour of God,” etc. (John Reid, M. A.)
A courageous decision
In America there were some eight young men who went out one Sabbath morning along the hanks of the Potomac, and they were breaking the Sabbath and acting in a most outrageous way, when the bell of the village church rang out, and one of the young men stopped short and said, “I must go to church.” The others said, “What d’ye mean? You’re surely not going to church?” “Yes, I am going.” “Oh, George is getting pious, and so he ought to be baptized, and here we are by the Potomac River, and we will baptize him by immersion.” And so they were about to plunge him in the river, when he said, “Stop one minute, boys, and then I’m in your hands; but before you plunge me into the river, I want to tell you one thing. My mother was an invalid, and I never saw her out of bed, and when I was about to leave home and choose an occupation, she said to me, ‘Now, George, after you are all ready to go, I want to see you in my room, and to give you my dying blessing, for I am certain I shall never see you again. Your father has not money enough to bring you home at the holidays, and I am very certain before you return I shall have left you for ever, so be sure and come.’ I went into my mother’s room after I was ready, and she asked me if I would kneel down by the bedside, and I knelt down. I remember just how her hand looked. I remember the blue vein on the thin wasted hand as she put it out over me. Then she dropped it upon my head and said, ‘This is my benediction. I will never see you again, and I want you to remember this: you will be out in the world, and there will be a great many temptations over you; but remember when sinners entice thee consent thou not.’ Now,” said he, “I am going to church.” “Well,” they said, “you mustn’t go to church.” He started; they followed, half in derision, half in earnestness. They came to the church door. They went in. That day the gospel was mighty in the heart of that young man. Then and there he yielded himself to God. Before many months had passed along, some from one kind of influence, some from another, but all those young men, had entered the kingdom of Christ. Six of them are in heaven, two of them are occupying high positions in the Church, and all because that young man dared to do his duty. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Let us lay wait for blood.--
The robber of Solomon’s time
The temptation against which the teacher seeks to guard his disciple is that of joining a band of highway robbers. At no period in its history has Palestine ever risen to the security of a well-ordered police system, and the wild license of the marauder’s life attracted, we may well believe, many who were brought up in towns. The “vain men” who gathered round Jephthah (Judges 11:3), the lawless or discontented who came to David in Adullam (1 Samuel 22:2), the bands of robbers who infested every part of the country in the period of the New Testament, and against whom every Roman governor had to wage incessant war, show how deeply rooted the evil was there. The story of St. John and the young convert who became a robber, the most interesting of all apostolic traditions, may serve as another illustration. The history of many centuries (our own, e.g., in the popular traditions of Robin Hood and of Henry V.), presents like phenomena. The robber-life has attractions for the open-hearted and adventurous. No generation, perhaps no class, can afford to despise the warning against it. (Dean Plumptre.)
The robber’s speech
I. Young men are in great danger of being drawn away to sinful courses. Because they have not that grounded experience that others have, nor are so able to look through shows into substances. Because they are wilful and headstrong, and will follow their own lusts, notwithstanding good men’s persuasions.
II. Secrecy is great bait to wickedness. Because shame is a great bridle to keep men from open wickedness. Many are kept in by it whom no counsel will keep from evil ways. Because fear of punishment is a bit that keeps others from sin. Take heed of secret solicitations to secret evils.
III. Wicked men have many secret devices to bring their wicked designs to pass. As Esau (Genesis 27:41), Jezebel (1 Kings 21:9). It is their study day and night (Psalms 36:4; Proverbs 4:16).
IV. Wicked men promise themselves success of their mischievous plots. They think their mine too deep for men to countermine, and look not to God, who can go beyond them. This shows us how deeply sin is rooted in sinful souls, so that they dare promise themselves good success, not only in lawful, but also in sinful affairs. (Francis Taylor.)
My son, walk not thou in the way with them.
Hardly any young man goes to a place of dissipation alone. Each one is accompanied. No man goes to ruin alone. He always takes some one else with him. We may, in our places of business, be compelled to talk to and mingle with bad men; but he who deliberately chooses to associate with vicious people is engaged in carrying on a courtship with a Delilah, whose shears will clip off all the locks of his strength, and he will be tripped into perdition.
1. I warn you to shun the sceptic--the young man who puts his fingers in his vest and laughs at your old-fashioned religion, and turns over to some mystery of the Bible and says, “Explain that, my pious friend--explain that”; and who says, “Nobody shall scare me; I am not afraid of the future.” Alas! a time will come when the blustering young infidel will have to die, and then his diamond ring will flash no splendour in the eyes of Death as the grim foe stands over the couch waiting for his soul.
2. Again, I urge you to shun the companionship of idlers, There are men hanging around every store, and office, and shop who have nothing to do, or act as if they had not. Idleness is next door to villainy. Thieves, gamblers, burglars, shop-lifters, and assassins are made from the class who have nothing to do.
3. I urge you to avoid the perpetual pleasure-seeker. Look out for the man who always plays and never works. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Dissuasion from joining the robbers
The sum of all this advice is as if he had said, “Oh, my son, sinners will entice thee with these or such like words and promises, and lay such snares for thy inexperienced youth; but remember that thou art my son, and not theirs, and therefore hast more reason to hearken to me, who speak to thee out of a fatherly affection. Hearken not, therefore, to their counsels, flatteries, or promises. Show thyself so strange to them that thou wilt not so much as enter into their way, much less walk into it.”
I. Children should rather hearken to their parents’ good counsel than to others’ bad. Because they are more engaged to parents than to any other for life, education, pains, and means. Parents’ counsels are given in love, and are for their good.
II. Young men have need to labour for knowledge to discern between Good counsel and bad. Because they are often put to it. Young men stand, as Hercules in his dream, between virtue and vice, solicited by both. Because there are fair pretences for all sins. Gluttony is called the free use of the creature; drunkenness, good-fellowship; prodigality is called liberality; covetousness, thrift; lust is entitled love; pride goes for handsomeness. It needs a good touchstone to distinguish between gold and copper well gilt over. No less skill is needed to distinguish between real and apparent good. Weigh things by the light of reason and the light of Scripture.
III. Allurements to sin ape no excuse for sin. Because allurers have no power to compel. They may, and ought to be refused.
IV. Company excuses no man in his sins. Company cannot alter the nature of things. It cannot make good evil or evil good. There is choice of company; all company is not evil. Company may draw our corrupt nature to sin, but cannot excuse us for Sin.
V. Continuance, or walking in sin, is dangerous. It is the sign of a hard heart to continue in sin. The mouth of the conscience is stopped. It makes the heart more hard still. Custom will make a man not start at the greatest sins.
VI. The very entrance into sinful ways is full of danger, like a downfall--no stay till you come to the bottom. Keep out of evil ways, or get out quickly. (Francis Taylor.)
The pernicious effects of evil company
The condition and circumstances in which we are placed here are such that society is necessary to the happiness, if not to the very being, of mankind. Besides this necessity, which compels us to seek assistance from society, there is a natural inclination which strongly prompts us to it. Solomon, having observed this absolute necessity of friendship and society, and of what high importance it is to choose friends and companions rightly, hath, in this Book of Proverbs, given many rules concerning that choice, of which the text is one. “Walk not in the way of sinners”; enter not into any friendship with wicked men. I shall show the dangers of evil, and the advantages of good, company.
1. As the foundation of all, let me mention, first, the authority of the Holy Scriptures, choosing a few out of the many passages to this purpose with which the sacred writings abound. “Make no friendship,” saith Solomon, “with an angry man, lest thou learn his ways, and get a snare to thy soul. He that walketh with wise men shall be wise; but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” To this purpose the prophet expostulates very sharply with Jehoshaphat concerning the alliance into which he had entered with Ahab, a wicked and idolatrous king: “Shouldst thou love them that hate the Lord?” There is something very strong and solemn in the adjuration used by St. Paul to the Thessalonians: “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye withdraw yourselves from every brother that walketh disorderly.”
2. To this authority of Holy Scripture I add the confirmation of reason, to show that we ought to be careful in the choice of companions from this consideration, that the nature of a man’s friends or company must be of great consequence to his well-being. And this appears from hence, because they always have an extraordinary influence, not only upon his own temper and behaviour, but upon all his chief concernments. Now, comfort in distress is one of the chief advantages that may be gained by friendship, and one of the principal ends proposed by it. But how can this be hoped for from any wicked person? However agreeable his temper may be to a mind at ease, however soothing his discourse to the ear of the prosperous, yet can it bring little comfort to a troubled spirit. Besides, the only support in adversity is religion, the firm belief of a wise and good Providence, directing all things to the best ends. And how is it possible for a man to administer comfort from this consideration who lives in rebellion against that great Being? or how can one who hath any love to religion delight in the company of him who disclaims or disregards it? Even our interest is injured by intimacy with wicked men; for being guided by their passions and sacrificing their most sacred obligations to their vices, they are inconstant and insincere, and likely to betray our interests who neglect and forfeit their own. Whereas, in conversing with the good man, there are many advantages. His known sincerity secures us from the anxiety of suspicion; the principles upon which he acts remove all fears of change in him. Reputation, it is evident, cannot be obtained by living in familiarity with wicked men. Friendship either finds or makes men alike; and the world justly supposes that we resemble those with whom we live in strict intimacy. For this reason nothing can be of greater use to our character than a close union with wise and good men. From what hath been said may be drawn some observations worthy of our attention and care.
1. We should fix in our minds a right sense of the great use which may arise to us all from society and mutual converse.
2. All among us who may be considered in the different relations of parents or masters ought to be careful, not only for ourselves, but for those who are committed to our charge or dependent upon us, in the choice of companions.
3. We should labour to acquire those good qualities which are most proper to fit us for receiving and giving improvement by company. Such as candour and ingenuousness of mind, by which we are brought readily to acknowledge our own mistakes and to do justice to the perfections or pre-eminence of another. Such, likewise, is humility, a virtue which makes us inclined to listen and learn. We should also study to bring advantage to company, as well as receive from it; to which end we should establish a persuasion of our truth, honesty, and good-nature. (J. Lawson.)
Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird.--
A warning against evil associations
In things temporal the knowledge of peril leads naturally to the avoidance of it. The parallel of the text implies the existence of danger, under the simile of the spreading of the net, and develops the character of the safeguard, viz., consciousness of the purpose for which the net is spread. Three sources from which the dangers of young people specially arise: evil associations, false principles, and a perverse and wicked heart. The majority of young men in the world consist of the sceptical, who despise religion; the sensual, who hate it; and the indifferent, who neglect it. The sceptical or philosophical young man is one who has read much, but reasoned little. His philosophy consists in perplexing and unsettling what others believe rather than in propounding anything rational of his own. He affects a thorough contempt of the old tracks and beaten paths, and disclaims all views of religion that do not afford scope for human reason. There is a second class of tempters who leave the intellect untouched, but who do the work of the enemy, and spread nets for the soul by means of appetites and lusts. Its aim is to make the most of time as it passes, to drain the cup of pleasure while yet it remains within our grasp, to resolve the existence of man into the gratification of sense, and leave futurity, which must be, and eternity, which may be, to shift for themselves. There is yet a third class of evil associates or tempters, by whom snares are spread for the soul, who do not pride themselves on their sensuality, like the second, or on their infidelity, like the first, who literally “care for none of these things.” These are persons who consider religion as a thing decent and proper enough for those who have time to spare, such as children and servants, but account it only the occasional concern of men devoted to study or engaged in business.
1. The antidote for the subtle poison insinuated by the infidel is to be found in the just consideration of Christ’s atonement.
2. The antidote to the allurements of the sensual is the just consideration of Christ’s example.
3. The most effectual antidote to the stealthy and subtle poison of the companionship and example of the indifferent is the just appreciation of the promises of Christ. Until the infidel can observe the brightness of Christ’s glory; until the sensualist can sully the purity of Christ’s holiness; until the worldling can demonstrate the fallacy of Christ’s promises, safety may always be found by looking unto Jesus, by looking unto Him in our hours of need. (Thomas Dale, M.A.)
Persuasions and dissuasions
“In vain.” So our translation and some others read it. Some take it to be in vain in regard of the bird, which will take no warning, but will fly to the meat, though it fall into the net. So will thieves go on till they come to the gallows, notwithstanding examples of others hanged before, or counsels of friends. Others apply it to the young man himself, as if Solomon had said, “If birds have wit to see and avoid snares, thou, my son, being a reasonable creature, shouldst much more see the danger of these evil men’s counsels.”
I. Variety of reasons are needful to dissuade from evil, Because of our private unbelief; because of our positive unbelief; because of men’s different dispositions.
II. Reasons brought to confirm truth must be solid ones. Because nothing but truth should come from an informer (teacher). Reasons ought not only to be true, but to bear up all truths. How can a man think to persuade others by that which does not persuade himself?
III. There is a world of injustice in the world. Men have different humours and affections. We must be just in the midst of an unjust generation.
IV. Wicked men have cunning devices to do mischief. To expedite the business the sooner, that they may quickly effect their desire, and to remove all impediments. Take heed of ungodly men’s plots. Use the dove’s innocency, but with the serpent’s subtilty. (Francis Taylor.)
Warned by seeing
Early in the morning I went out with a fowler to catch wild pigeons. We hastened through the gorge of the mountain. We spread out our net, covering up the edges of the net, as well as we might, with the branches of trees, so that the fowls of the air might not discover it. We arranged the call-bird; its feet fast, its wings flapping, so as to invite all the fowls of the air to come and lie there. Then we retired into a booth of branches, and waited for the birds to come. In the far heights we saw a flock of birds approach. They came nearer and nearer, and lower and lower, until they were just able to drop into the net, when they suddenly darted away. We were disappointed. We waited, and after a while saw another flock of birds come nearer and nearer, and lower and lower, until just the moment when they were about to drop into the net, suddenly they darted away. I said to the old fowler, “What is the reason of this? Let us examine the thing.” So we went out, and we found that, by the flutter of a tree-branch, part of the net had been exposed, so that the birds, coming near, had seen their danger and had escaped. And when I saw that, I said to the old fowler, “That reminds me of a passage of Scripture: ‘ Surely in vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird.’” (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Traps for men
There are two classes of temptations--the superficial and the subterraneous--those aboveground, those underground. If a man could see sin as it is, he would no more embrace it than he would embrace a leper. I want to point out the insidious temptations that are assailing more especially our young men. The only kind of nature comparatively free from temptation, so far as I can judge, is the cold, hard, stingy, mean temperament. What would Satan do with such a man if he got him? Satan is not anxious to get a man who, after a while, may dispute with him the realm of everlasting meanness. It is the generous young man, the ardent young man, the warm- hearted young man, the social young man that is in especial peril.
1. The first class of temptations that assault a young man is led on by the sceptic. He will not admit he is an infidel or atheist. Oh, no! he is a “free- thinker”; he is one of your “liberal” men; he is free and easy in religion.
2. The second class of insidious temptations that come upon our young men is led on by the dishonest employer.
3. Temptations to drink. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
I. Sin lays traps for souls. Sin has woven a net and laid it along the path of life. This net is wrought of diverse materials, such as sensuality, avarice, ambition. Traps are adjusted for men of every mental type, of every period in life, in every social grade.
II. These traps must be exposed. The fowler conceals his net. Sin works insidiously. It takes advantage of men’s circumstances, ignorance, and inexperience. The work of the true philanthropist is to expose the traps.
III. These traps bring ruin to their authors. They lay wait for their own blood. Retribution overtakes them. If they escape violence themselves, the Nemesis pursues them. Their schemes may seem to prosper here, but justice tracks their steps, and their ruin is inevitable. (David Thomas, D.D.)
So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain.--
Greed of gold
Midas, the Phrygian king, asked a favour of the gods, and they agreed to grant him whatever he should desire. The monarch, overjoyed, resolved to make the favour inexhaustible. He prayed that whatever he touched might be turned into gold. The prayer was granted, and bitter were the consequences. Whatever the poor king touched did turn to gold. He laid his hand upon a rock, and it became a huge mass of gold of priceless value; he clutched his oaken staff, and it became in his hand a bar of virgin gold. At first the monarch’s joy was unbounded, and he returned to his palace the most favoured of mortals. Alas for the short-sightedness of man! He sat at table, and all he touched turned in mockery of his wish to gold--pure, solid gold. Then the conviction came rushing upon his humbled mind, that he must perish from his grasping wish--die in the midst of plenty; and remembering the ominous saying he had heard, “The gods themselves cannot take back their gifts,” he howled to the sternly smiling Dionysius to restore him to the coarsest, vilest food, and deliver him from the curse of gold.
Wisdom crieth without
The voice of true Wisdom
The Lord Jesus Christ is the true Wisdom which speaks to the sons of men.
The ancients were accustomed to speak of their religion as wisdom or philosophy, and therefore the Greeks represented Minerva as the goddess of wisdom, saying that she had proceeded from the brain of Jupiter.
I. The attitude which wisdom takes when she addresses the sons of men.
1. Her appeal is an open and public one.
2. Her proposals are of a varied description. She comes into the streets, where are all manner of enticing frivolities. In the chief places of concourse, where the multitudes assemble. In the opening of the gates, where commerce is carried on.
3. Her appeals are pathetic. She “crieth.”
II. The characters which wisdom addresses herself to. Simple ones; scorners; fools.
III. The promises which she makes. “I will infuse My Spirit into you.” (W. Barker.)
The fatal policy of drift
I. The message.
1. Eastern method of publication. “She,” beautiful personification of Wisdom, stands “at the head of the noisy streets” (R.V. margin). Our methods--the voice--the press, its powerful agency.
2. But the substance of wisdom is always the same, because human nature, life, and needs are the same. We still require higher guidance in our hurried life of to-day. Wisdom sees into the heart of things; seeks their essence; is not drawn aside by accidentals; and puts them in true proportions.
3. The Spirit of Wisdom. “I will pour out My Spirit,” etc. More a spirit than a science: not to be learnt by rules, but reveals itself to love. Ruskin says that no great painting can be produced unless the artist loves his subject. There must be a leaning that way. A boy who leans to science will make a better naturalist than one to whom slugs and insects are repulsive. So the spirit of wisdom is poured out as love upon the lover. It purifies thought, steadies life, and enriches the nature.
II. How treated. “I have called,” etc. She stands and cries: but the stream passes by engrossed and heedless, or turns to break a jest upon her. “Simple ones,” those who are as weather-vanes, light of head, and turned by every wind; shallow of heart, they live the easy life of hand to mouth. “Scorners,” the superior people, who “know, don’t you know,” to whom earnestness is fanaticism, and devotion cant. “Fools,” to whom knowledge is a reproach, who stupidly go on their way, and resent interference, even for their good. But the excuses! “Let my schemes come to completion, and then!” “When I have a bit more time!” If a youth neglects learning a trade or profession, his life will be “bound in shallows and miseries.” To drift is fatal. But too often this counsel is set at nought.
III. The punishment of neglect. All through the day she has cried, and has been neglected or despised. The light begins to fade, the night comes, not of “sleep, balmy sleep,” but of wrath. Wisdom sadly leaves. The whirlwind begins to gather: the air trembles: the earth shudders. Most fearful of all is God’s laughter through the darkened heavens. (J. Feather.)
The cry of Wisdom
Evil-doers are not left without a warning. The warning is loud, public, authoritative. The wisdom of God is a manifold wisdom. While it centres bodily in Christ, and thence issues as from its source, it is reflected and re-echoed from every object and every event. Every law of nature, and every event in history, has a tongue by which Wisdom proclaims God’s holiness and rebukes man’s sin. Wisdom speaks through man’s conscience. It is not conscience proclaiming God’s anger against the man’s evil that has power to make the man good. It is the conscience sprinkled with the blood of Christ that at once speaks peace and works purity.
I. Reproof of the simple who love simplicity. By the “simple” is meant that class of sinners whose leading characteristic is the absence of good rather than positive activity in evil. The root of bitterness has not shot forth in any form of outrageous vice, but it remains destitute of righteousness. The simple for time are always a numerous class; but the simple for eternity are a more numerous class still.
II. Reproof for the scorners who love scorning. This class meet the threatening realities of eternity, not by an easy indifference, but by a hardy resistance. Scorners may be found on both the edges of society. Poverty and riches become by turns a temptation to the same sin. Scorners love scorning. The habit grows by indulgence. It becomes a second nature. It becomes the element in which they live. Their scoffs are generally parrying strokes to keep convictions away. These smart sayings are the fence to turn aside certain arrows which might otherwise fix their tormenting barbs in the conscience. The scorner is not so bold a man as he appears to be.
III. Reproof for the fools who hate knowledge. Fools are those who have reached the very highest degrees of evil. They hate knowledge, and knowledge has its beginning in the fear of God. The emphatic “no God” of the fourteenth Psalm indicates, not the despair of a seeker who is unable to find truth, but the anger of an enemy who does not like to retain it. It is not a judgment formed in the fool’s understanding, but a passion rankling in his heart. (William Arnot, D. D.)
I. A divine call.
1. The subject of the call.
2. The places in which it is given.
3. The manner in which it is addressed.
4. The persons to whom it is applied.
(1) The simple are those who are easily seduced, the thoughtless masses, who become the ready victims of evil-designing men.
(2) The scorners are those who ridicule sacred things.
(3) The fools who hate knowledge include both of the above classes.
II. An important exhortation--“Turn you at My reproof.”
1. The subject to which this exhortation refers. The great design of the gospel is to turn men from the error of their way.
(1) We are to turn in the exercise of true repentance.
(2) We are to turn with full purpose of heart.
(3) We are to turn without delay.
2. The inducement given in order to lead us to comply with this exhortation. The sinner’s inability to turn to God is not of the same nature as our inability to fly, which is a physical inability. To meet the moral inability, and to encourage those who are oppressed with a sense of it, the promise is given, “I will pour oat My Spirit unto you.” He is bestowed in order to change our hearts, to aid our infirmities, and to strengthen us with strength in our souls. It is also said, “I will make known My words unto you.”
(1) They will be made known to enlighten.
(2) To direct.
(3) To quicken.
(4) To console.
III. A solemn denunciation. Of the doom here denounced we have--
1. Its procuring cause. The disregard shown for, and the contempt cast upon, the Divine message. The act “stretching out the hand” is done--
(1) To command attention.
(2) To afford assistance.
(3) To confer a blessing.
(4) To make up a quarrel.
2. Its terrible nature. He who is shown as graciously promising and helping is now described as “laughing at calamity and mocking at fears.” And the woe will be aggravated by the consideration that mercy will be sought when seeking it will be unavailing. (Author of “Footsteps of Jesus.”)
The Book of Proverbs is a jewel-case well filled with gems. This passage is a delightfully Oriental presentation of the truth of the call of God to the soul of man.
I. The call of wisdom.
1. By wisdom is meant the beneficent Divine energy.
2. This Divine energy comes into connection with man, and produces a reflection of itself in him.
3. The complete presentation of this Divine wisdom going forth for the enlightenment of men is found in Jesus Christ.
(1) This call is open.
(2) The offer made in the call is free.
(3) All classes of men are touched by this call.
(4) The call is urgent.
II. The results of the call of wisdom.
1. Refusal of God’s offer is possible, and consequences necessarily follow.
(1) The acceptance of sin puts man in the attitude of the rejection of God.
(2) When sinful man wants God’s wisdom as a refuge it is no longer available.
(3) Calamity comes upon those who reject the voice of the wisdom of God.
(4) The retribution that comes is largely internal.
2. It is possible for men to hear and obey Wisdom’s voice. The result to the obedient is given thus.
(1) Part of it is safety.
(2) Out of this comes quietude.
This lesson has its full application in relation to Wisdom incarnate, even the Lord Jesus Christ. There are diverse consequences for those who answer this voice diversely. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
The Hebrew has “wisdoms” plural, as including all kinds of true wisdom.
I. Heavenly wisdom is worth the looking after. As things publicly cried and proclaimed are worth taking notice of.
II. This heavenly wisdom is to be found only in Jesus Christ. As the Son of God He knew the Father’s will from all eternity. God spake to Him before His incarnation. God gave Him the Spirit beyond measure. All wisdom that others have in heavenly things comes from Him.
III. God is very desirous that men should get heavenly wisdom. Therefore He cries loudly, earnestly, affectionately. As He gives natural light in creatures and arts, so He gives supernatural in revelations.
IV. This heavenly knowledge is offered to the meanest. It is preached in villages. To show that God is no respecter of persons. To bind men the more to God.
V. The way to this heavenly knowledge is plain and easy. It is cried about the streets; it is taught in all languages; it is taught by earthly similitudes as in parables abundantly. (Francis Taylor.)
She uttereth her voice in the streets.
The voices of the street
We are all ready to listen to the voices of nature--of the mountain, the sea, the storm, the star. How few learn anything from the voices of the noisy and dusty street. Learn--
I. That this life is a scene of toil and struggle. Can it be that passing up and down these streets on your way to work you do not learn anything of the world’s toil, and anxiety, and struggle?
II. That all classes and conditions of society must commingle. We sometimes culture a wicked exclusiveness. All classes of people are compelled to meet on the street. The democratic principle of the gospel recognises the fact that we stand before God on one and the same platform.
III. That it is a very hard thing for a man to keep his heart right and to get to heaven. Infinite temptations spring upon us from these places of public concourse.
IV. That life is full of pretension and sham. What subterfuge, what double-dealing, what two-facedness!
V. That the street is a great field for Christian charity. There are hunger, and suffering, and want, and wretchedness in the country; but these evils chiefly congregate in our great cities. On every street crime prowls, and drunkenness staggers, and shame winks, and pauperism thrusts out its hand, asking for alms. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity?--
The simplicity of unregenerate men
I. I am to show in what respects every unregenerate sinner may be said to be a “simple one.” They may be very far from this character, in point of natural sagacity, acquired learning, and speculative knowledge of religious things. But, after all, they are really simple.
1. The unregenerate are simple, in that they are satisfied with slight, superficial apprehensions of God.
2. The unregenerate are simple, in their being satisfied with slight thoughts of sin.
3. They are simple, in that they are easily induced to mistake good and evil, to put the one for the other.
4. They are simple, as to believing the strength of sin in their own hearts. They do not think their hearts so corrupt and prone to iniquity as described in Jeremiah 17:9.
5. In consequence of these things, they are easily seduced into sin, and led to entire apostasy from their former seeming faith and holiness.
6. They are simple, as to the ground on which they imagine their spiritual state to be good. They are surprised at the niceness and scrupulousness of the saints in this matter.
7. And as to the approaches of death and eternity: these steal upon them at unawares. The saints see death in its causes--the holiness of God, and the sinfulness of man.
II. This simplicity is loved by sinners. It is not a harmless weakness, but attended with deadly obstinacy.
1. They have a kind of happiness, notwithstanding of it, which suits their carnal taste.
2. This happiness depends on the continuance of their simplicity. For a little Divine wisdom would annihilate that dream, and make their present joys tasteless.
3. They have an aversion to that happiness which is truly Divine and holy.
4. Therefore, to part with this simplicity seems to them to be just the same thing as running into despair.
5. Therefore, either in the way of deceit or of violence, they resist the means of illumination.
III. What is implied in God’s observing the time that a sinner continues in this character?
1. It is founded in His omniscience.
2. And in His character as the Judge of all.
3. Because every act of sin in the heart hath its own malignity.
4. Every period of impenitence is an aggravation of all past sins.
5. God is unwearied in this observation (Isaiah 40:28).
6. This observation is recorded that the sinner himself may be brought to such an accurate remembrance of his sins as is necessary for his taking in a sense of Divine wrath (Psalms 50:21). (J. Love, D.D.)
Scorners delight in their scorning.--
Delight in scorning
I shall arrange the matter of this scorning in different classes, so as to begin with the ultimate and fundamental objects of scorning, and gradually to come down to the more immediate, and those which are obvious to common observation.
I. Such things as relate to the Divine nature and character in general.
1. The infinite holiness of God.
2. The infinite justice of God.
3. All the natural excellences of the Divine nature. When these natural excellences of strength, wisdom, eternity, etc., are considered as clothed with the moral lustre of infinite holiness, justice, etc., their beauty is converted into gloom and horror to the sinner. He hates, and therefore derides them.
4. The mercy of God.
II. Such things as relate to the manifestation of the nature and character of God, in His way of saving sinners: because the glory of God, as above described, shines forth in this way.
1. The sovereign counsels, purposes, and compacts of the Three Persons in the Godhead concerning the salvation of sinners.
2. The solemn, holy, and glorious operations of the Godhead, in the actual procurement of salvation, in the incarnation and humiliation of the Second Person in the glorious Trinity. While the Redeemer was on earth, there was a multitude of sinners who poured out their hostile scorn upon Him, especially when He was upon the Cross (Psalms 22:7, etc.).
3. The holy operations of the Spirit of God, in the Person of Christ, and in His people.
III. The manifestations of God, in the character and lives of His children. Here, the excellences of God are brought near to the eyes of natural men; and there are two reasons why the natural enmity is more exercised against the saints than directly against God.
1. They have more lively views of the holiness of the saints than they have of the holiness of God Himself.
2. Because there is greater appearance of impunity.
This enmity at the saints shows itself in derision.
1. At their sins. The wicked will give no quarter to the least sin in a child of God.
2. At their sinless infirmities.
3. At the success of their efforts to draw them into sin (Isaiah 29:21).
4. Nicknaming their graces, and then taking liberty to ridicule them.
5. The sorrows and joys of the saints.
6. The hopes and fears of the saints; for the same reasons as above.
7. The counsels and reproofs of the saints.
IV. Such things as relate to the pure and spiritual worship of God.
1. This is a combination of all the things already mentioned.
2. The spiritual substance of Divine worship is itself hateful to the sinner; and that considered both as an exercise of sanctified self-love and as springing from disinterested, voluntary love to God--particularly in this last view.
3. But the sinner frequently dares not to avow this; not from any want of enmity, but from a sneaking, cowardly dread of God. And therefore he fixes his ridicule upon the outside of the service of God. Here he nibbles, and plays off his sordid artillery.
V. The providence of God.
1. The external operations of the power and wisdom of God in the visible world, when considered by themselves, detachedly from His moral administration, are indeed the lowest of His works. There is least of what is peculiarly Divine apparent in them.
2. But if the external manifestations of God, in the creation, are considered as intimately connected with His moral character, then even the goodness of God therein appears under a gloom, if it be considered as leading on the sinner to repentance, under certification of double vengeance if he repent not, and as giving a low picture of his superior and sublime goodness as to moral things (Romans 2:4-5).
3. And, much more, external judgments. There seems nothing so material in sin as to justify external calamities. (J. Love, D. D.)
Nothing to replace the Christian religion
Lord Chesterfield being at supper with Voltaire and Madame C---- , the conversation turned on the affairs of England. “I think, my lord,” said the lady, “that the Parliament of England consists of five or six hundred of the best informed and most sensible men in the kingdom.” “True, madam, they are generally supposed to be so.” “What, then, can be the reason they should tolerate so great an absurdity as the Christian religion?” “I suppose, madam, it is because they have not been able to substitute anything better in its stead; when they can, I doubt not but in their wisdom they will readily accept it.”
Turn you at My reproof--
Turning from evil
1. What voices does Wisdom find in each generation? Parent-voice; teacher-voice; experience-voice; revelation-voice; Christ’s voice.
2. Where does Wisdom raise her voice? For them that have ears to hear, anywhere, everywhere.
3. What is the message which the voice delivers?
I. An assertion. You need to be turned. This is not the message we expect Wisdom to bring. She should say, “Study. Seek good teachers. Think. Read.” She does say, “Turn”; and so she reveals the one deep and universal need. Simple ones, turn from folly. Scorners, turn from the deceit of scorning. Fools, turn from your wilful, wicked ways. The first thing Wisdom would have us do is change. The first call of Christ, the true Wisdom, is, “Repent.”
II. A truth. You must turn yourselves. The call is based on our possession of will, and on the fact that we have hitherto made such misguided, such ruinous, choices with our wills. Wisdom calls for a new and different exercise of our will. There is a sense in which we cannot save ourselves; there is a sense in which nobody can save us but ourselves. We can shift it on nobody’s shoulders. Therefore the Divine persuasions are, “Choose; turn.”
III. A duty. You ought to turn at once. Under the constraint of such gracious promises and persuasions. For Wisdom wins as well as calls. She promises to give her spirit, the love of knowledge, the joy of knowing, to all who will turn from selfish pleasure’s giddy ways. And Christ persuades and promises that He may win. He promises “the life that now is, and the life that is to come.”
4. Conscious sonship.
6. Joy unspeakable.
From dead-works--turn. From worldly pleasures--turn. From self-seekings--turn. From sin--turn. Let the call of Wisdom and of Christ ring in our ears wherever we go, in busy street, in quiet home, in bustling business, in lonely room. (Weekly Pulpit.)
Various are the means which the Lord employs to convince the wicked of the error of their ways, and bring them to a knowledge of Divine truth.
I. The reproofs He administers.
1. By the Scriptures, which contain the most pointed and salutary admonitions, sending us for instruction and reproof to--
(1) The works of creation;
(2) examples of impiety;
(3) the awful solemnities of death and the grave.
2. By ministers. They persuade men by the terrors of the Lord, and encourage them by the promises of the gospel.
3. By conscience. The internal and universal monitor; the witness to all our proceedings. It speaks with sovereign authority.
4. By providence. By--
(1) Pious parents;
(2) family connections;
(3) godly neighbours;
(4) by afflictions, and difficulties;
(5) by the death of our fellow-mortals.
II. The submission He requires. He invites return--
1. With penitent hearts. Genuine repentance includes--
(1) Conviction of sin;
(2) humiliation of soul;
(3) compunction of spirit;
(4) holy indignation and shame;
(5) humble confession to God.
2. With believing minds. By faith we--
(1) Credit the gospel;
(2) embrace the Saviour; and
(3) realise salvation.
3. With fervent devotion. We should call upon Him--
4. With prompt obedience. Religion requires an universal renunciation of the principles and habits of vice, and an entire devotedness to God, both of heart and life.
III. The encouragement He imparts. “Pour out My Spirit.” The participation of the Holy Ghost is an inestimable privilege, which includes every holy principle that He implants, and every gracious disposition which He requires. The Spirit of God is--
1. A convincing Spirit. He opens the eyes of our understanding; and He imparts a spiritual discernment (John 16:8-11).
2. A quickening Spirit. He removes the death of sin, and infuses the life of grace.
3. A comforting Spirit.
4. A sanctifying Spirit. He is called “the Spirit of holiness.” He sanctifies His people wholly, and preserves them blameless unto the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Thessalonians 5:23). (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
Hindrances to spiritual progress
I. God requires nothing more than man can do. The text requires men to do something; and it promises assistance only on the condition that they make use of some strength which it supposes them to possess. But it does not require of them that they should change their hearts or renew their natures. They are to “turn at God’s reproof,” and it is assumed that they might turn if they would. We enjoin on men that they set vigorously about the reforming what they know to be wrong, and the cultivating what they know to be right. The command of the text does not overrate the powers of those to whom it is addressed.
II. God makes a gracious promise. We assume that the help of God’s Spirit is indispensable to our taking the first step, as well as the last, in the path of salvation. But our turning is the condition of our obtaining the Spirit. No men are altogether without the inward strivings of the Spirit. Because the Spirit is not acting apparently in a man’s renewal, we may not assume that He is not acting. He may be engaged in preparatory work. Turn at God’s reproof, and you will receive the Spirit in its renovating power, and have the wisdom which is strength, and peace, and life, and immortality. (H. Melvill, B. D.)
I will pour out My Spirit unto you.--
The gift of the Spirit
Some take it for illumination only, and gifts of knowledge. So it agrees well with the words that follow, “I will make known My words unto you.” If ye hearken to My reproof I will tell you more of My mind. Ye shall know more of heavenly truths. Others take it for sanctifying gifts of the Spirit.
I. They that will turn to God shall not want the plentiful help of God’s spirit to direct them. They will pray for God’s Spirit. Encourage men to turn to God, for then they shall have His Spirit for their instructor, sanctifier, and comforter.
II. The spirit and the word must go together to guide. Both are joined in this verse. A lying spirit it must needs be that contradicts God’s plain Word. (Francis Taylor.)
Because I have called, and ye refused.
The rejected call of Wisdom
I. The manner in which it has called upon you--in which the appeals of Wisdom and of religion have been made. In the manner, the variety, the intensity, the tenderness, the unwearied nature, and the sleepless watchfulness of appeal, nothing has occurred that can be compared with the calls which have been made to you to abandon a sinful course and to give your heart to God.
II. The manner of the reception of this call. You have neglected these calls and warnings; you paid no attention to them, as if they did not pertain to you, or as if they had no claim to your regard. You have argued against the truth; you have cavilled against the truth; you have urged excuses that you might not obey the truth; you have sought plausible reasons for neglecting to do what you knew to be your duty; you have taken refuge under the imperfections of Christians for not being yourself a Christian. You have done this long. In some cases it has been the work of a life; in all cases it has been a leading object of life thus far.
III. The effect of neglecting and disregarding these calls. “When your fear cometh,” etc. Your wealth cannot save you; your accomplishments cannot save you. Death cares for none of these things.
1. You will die, and the fear of death will come upon you.
2. The fear of the judgment day will come upon you, for that cannot always be avoided.
IV. When these things come it will be too late to cry for mercy. There must be a limit to the calls of religion and mercy, for life is very brief, and they all lie this side the grave. Can you suppose that He will always appeal to the sceptic and the caviller, and bear with his scepticism and cavils through a vast eternity? This cannot be; and somewhere there must be a limit to the offers of mercy to men. That may occur before you shall reach the deathbed, short as is the journey thither. May not the mind become so worldly, and the heart so vain, and the conscience so “seared,” and the life so wicked, and the will so obdurate, and the whole soul so utterly shattered and ruined by sin, that conversion shall be hopeless and ruin certain? It may occur on the death-bed: then the cry for mercy may be vain. And there is a world where the cry of mercy is never heard. Embrace the call, whether to you it be the last or not, and your eternal welfare will be secure. (A. Barnes, D.D.)
The folly and danger of refusing the calls of mercy
I. That God calls on sinners.
1. This is clear from many parts of Scripture (Isaiah 55:1; Isaiah 55:3; Isaiah 55:6, etc., 65:1, 2; Ezekiel 18:30-31).
2. The end to which He calls us in these different ways is to repent and turn from our sins, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 20:21; Mark 1:15). As to the nature and manner of those calls, they are--
(1) Kind and gracious; they are full of love, tenderness, and pity (Deuteronomy 32:29; Hosea 11:8; Matthew 23:37; Luke 19:41-42). What moving expostulations are these!
(2) They carry the highest reason and persuasion along with them. It is to avoid our own ruin and secure our own happiness.
(3) They last but for a season. His patience will at last be worn out by our many obstinate refusals. The shining day of grace at last ends in the eternal shades of night (Matthew 23:38; Isaiah 66:4; Jeremiah 7:13-15).
II. That sinners too often refuse to hearken to the calls of God. Many hear the gospel calls, but few are obedient to them. The old world would not be reformed by the preaching of Noah. The Israelites stoned the prophets that were sent to them (Jeremiah 7:24-26; 2 Chronicles 24:21). Now, whence can this proceed, that so many are disobedient to the heavenly call?
1. It is partly owing to unbelief.
2. Others slight the Word because they are prejudiced against the messenger that brings it, regarding his imperfections and inadvertencies more than the weight of those things which he delivers.
3. Others do it through ignorance: darkness and blindness of mind make them hardened and obstinate. They know not God, their sinful state, their need of Christ, nor the beauty and excellency of spiritual things.
4. Others through pride reject the calls of God (Revelation 3:17).
5. Others through love of the world. The business of the world engrosses their time, and the pleasures of it entirely captivate their affections.
6. Others through a false peace.
III. The evil and danger of refusing to hearken to God’s calls, His counsel and reproof
1. It is the most heinous ingratitude to God.
2. It is a contempt of God’s power.
3. We rob ourselves of the greatest advantages.
4. By rejecting the calls of God we run ourselves into the greatest misery and ruin.
What threatenings and woe are denounced against the obstinate sinner! I now come to apply the subject.
1. Let us admire the mercy of God in thus calling sinners.
2. Let such as have obeyed the calls of God rejoice therein; they have cause of eternal joy and eternal thankfulness.
3. Let such as have shut their ears against the calls of God be persuaded now to hearken to them. (T. Hannam.)
These words are awful, but not hopeless; they pronounce God’s judgment on the finally impenitent; the penitent they but awaken, that they may “hear the voice of the Son of God and live.” The sentence pronounced is final. If, hearing, men will not hearken, a time will come when all these calls will but increase their anguish and misery. Because these words relate to the day of judgment, is there no sense in which they are fulfilled in this life? It should appal any one to find that they do not appal him. Conscience bears witness that he has been one of those against whom the words denounce woe. All suffering, mental or bodily, has a twofold character; it is at once punishment and chastisement; it at once expresses God’s hatred for sin and mercy to the sinner; it is at once the wrath and love of Almighty God. Of God’s judgments, many are for this life without remedy. God warns that He may not strike; but, when He does strike, a man’s whole life is changed. To certain courses of sin God annexes certain punishments, and although, for a time and up to a certain degree of sin, they may not, to any extent, follow, yet, beyond that bound, they do follow irresistibly, irreversibly. Manifold diseases “of mind, body, or estate,” whereby God chastens sin, have this in common, that there is no certain time when the blow comes. We cannot tell the rule by which God dispenseth suffering and loss. To us they seem to fall more suddenly on some, while others go on longer without visible punishment. We only know that happy they who are chastened soonest. The judgments God is constantly sending should awe us all, especially such as are even half-conscious that there is some besetting sin, slight as it may seem, to which they are continually yielding. Unheedful, such permit sin to accumulate after sin. And sin after sin is filling up the measure of their provocations and the fearful treasure of the wrath of Almighty God. All sin must be eating out the love of God and His life in the soul. If God’s fire do fall, then man’s only wisdom is, with what strength he has, darkened though his path be by the bewildering of past sin, to grope his way onward in the new path wherein God has set him. The past is, in one sense, closed. He has been tried, has failed, and is in this way, perhaps, tried no more. His trial is changed. If we failed, we have missed what, by God’s grace, we might have become. Man may gather hope from the very severity of God’s punishments. While we mourn our neglect of past calls, our sorrow, which is still His gift and call within us, will draw down His gladdening look, which will anew call us unto Him. As we would hear the last blissful call, hearken we each one of us to the next, whereby He calleth us to break off any, the very slightest, evil, or to gird ourselves to any good, and follow Him without delay. (E. B. Pusey, D. D.)
God and the impenitent sinner
I. God and the impenitent sinner in probation.
1. God’s conduct towards the sinner in probation.
(1) He calls them, by His Word, His ministry, His Spirit.
(2) He stretches out His hand to them. “His arms are outstretched to receive them.”
(3) He counsels them. Presents lessons of wisdom to them.
(4) He reproves them. Rebukes them for their sins.
2. The sinner s conduct towards God in probation.
(1) They refuse His call. “Ye refused.”
(2) They disregard His outstretched hands. “No man regarded.”
(3) They set at nought His counsel. They rejected His “reproof.”
II. God and the impenitent sinner in retribution. 1.God’s conduct towards the impenitent sinner in retribution.
(1) He laughs at their distress. “I will laugh at your calamity.” Their distress is great. Their destruction has come as a “whirlwind,” and what is more, it has grown out of their conduct. “They eat of the fruit of their own way.”
(2) He disregards their prayers. “I will not answer.”
2. The impenitent sinner’s conduct towards God. They cried to Him for help. They may bitterly call upon Me, “but I will not answer.” There is earnest prayer in hell, but it is fruitless. (Homilist.)
Wisdom personified, and love incarnate
Wisdom is one of the Divine attributes; and Christ “is of God made unto us wisdom,” as well as “righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption.” We may surely expect, then, that up to a certain point the utterances of Wisdom and of Christ would coincide; so that in these passages in the Book of Proverbs we should be able to find, as we find throughout the whole of the Old Testament, some portion of “the testimony of Jesus.” But does it follow that because some, or even many, of Wisdom’s utterances may be correctly spoken of as the words of Christ Himself, therefore all of them may be so regarded? To see how utterly foolish is this way of reasoning, we have only to remember how many of David’s words not only coincide with those of Christ, but are actually quoted in the New Testament as if Christ Himself had uttered them; and yet no one is so foolish as to insist that all the words of David can be safely put into the mouth of Christ. As we said at the beginning, wisdom is one of the attributes of God; and therefore the words of Wisdom must be, up to a certain point, the expression of the Divine mind. We may say that Wisdom expresses the mind of God in creation, in providence, in the whole realm of law. And in this realm, as well as in the realm of grace, the Son of God has His place as the Revealer. We may regard Christ and Wisdom as identical throughout the realm of natural law; so that no error would result from the substitution of the one for the other within that range of truth; but when we leave the realm of law and enter that of grace, it is entirely different; then it may not only be injurious but fatal to take the utterances of mere wisdom and put them into the mouth of Christ. If Christ had been only wisdom, He could not have heard the sinner’s prayer. But He is also “righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption”; and that makes all the difference, for now that He has made an atonement for our sins and opened up the way of life, He can speak, not only in the name of wisdom, but of pardoning mercy and redeeming grace; and, accordingly, far from laughing at calamity and scorning the penitent’s prayer, which wisdom if it were alone might do, He can, and will, and does “save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him.” Having thus considered the extent to which we may expect to find “the testimony of Jesus” in the words of Wisdom, let us now test the principle we have laid down by an examination of the passage. The paragraph begins with this bold and striking personification: “Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: she crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying”--and then follows the passage with which we have mainly to do. Let us, then, listen to Wisdom’s cry, and observe how truthfully and powerfully it is translated into the language of men. We shall see its truth to nature better if we first look back a little. She begins, not with a cry, but with tender words of counsel and of promise (verses 8, 9), “My son, hear the instruction of thy father,” etc. These are the tender and kindly words of counsel in which she addresses the young man setting out in life. Following this are tender and yet solemn words of warning against the tempter whom every one must meet (verse 19): “My, son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not,” etc. But now time passes on, and Wisdom’s protegé begins to go astray, to forget the instruction of the father and the loving law of the mother; and so now she lifts up her voice and cries, entreating the wanderer to turn before it is too late (verses 22, 23). Time passes on, and the warning cry has been as little heeded as had been the tender voice of Wisdom at the first. The son, instead of being prudent, has been rash; he has been, not economical, but extravagant; not temperate, but dissipated; and so he has gone on till his last opportunity has been thrown away, his patrimony squandered, his health gone, his last friend lost. Then once more his early monitor appears. The prodigal remembers the tender words of counsel and of promise. He remembers how, when he was just beginning to go astray, before he had become hopelessly entangled in evil, Wisdom lifted up her voice and cried. For a long time his old counsellor has not been present to his mind at all. He has been hurrying on in courses of evil, but now his very wretchedness forces him to stop and think. And, again, there stands Wisdom before him. How does she address him now? Does she speak to him in soothing tones? Does she promise to restore him his money, or his health, or his friends? Alas, no: she cannot. All she can say is, “I told you it would be so. I warned you what would be the end; and now the end has come. You must eat the fruit of your own ways, and be filled with your own devices.” That is positively all that Wisdom can say; and there is no tenderness in her tone. She seems to mock him rather, she seems to laugh at his calamity. Such is the voice of Wisdom in the end to those who have despised her counsel in the beginning. And is not the whole representation true to nature? Yes, it is perfectly true that “Wisdom crieth without, she uttereth her voice in the streets,” and says these things so loudly that no listening ear can fail to hear them. It is no matter of deep philosophy. It is no ecclesiastical or theological dogma. It belongs to the Proverbs, the proverbs of the streets. The merit of Solomon, in this chapter, is not in telling us something we should not otherwise have known; but in putting what everybody knows in a very striking form. I question whether in all literature there can be found any more vivid and alarming description of the terror and despair of a remorseful conscience, as it looks back and recalls, when too late, the neglected counsels alike of earthly and of heavenly wisdom. So far Wisdom; and if it were only with her that sinners had to do, it would go hard, not only with the profligate and openly vicious, but with the most respectable. But He with whom we have to do is not known as wisdom. He is wise indeed; and all wisdom is from Him. But there is that in Him which is higher than wisdom. “God is love.” Wisdom is the expression of His will in the realm of law; but love is the expression of Himself. The love of God is not a lawless love. It is not at variance with wisdom. The law which ordains that the sinner must eat of the fruit of his own way and be filled with his own devices cannot be set aside by the mere emotion of compassion. Hence it was necessary, in order to redeem man from the condemnation of sin, that the Holy One of God should suffer. Hence, too, it is that, though by the suffering and death of Christ believers in Him are set free from the condemnation of sin, yet the natural consequences of the transgressions of wisdom’s laws are not abolished. If health has been wasted, it will not be miraculously restored. If money has been squandered, there must be suffering from the want of it. If character has been forfeited by dishonesty and impurity, it may never be redeemed on this side the grave. The laws of wisdom are not repealed or set at naught; they remain in force. But such has been the ingenuity, so to speak, of the Divine love, that without infringing on the proper domain of wisdom expressing itself in law, the way has been opened up for the full pardon and ultimate restoration even of those who have wandered farthest and sinned most. And accordingly, a passage like this awful one in the first chapter of the Book of Proverbs, instead of obscuring the Divine love in the smallest degree, or interposing so much as a thread between the sinner and his Saviour, rather serves as a background on which to set forth the radiant form of the Saviour of mankind,
“Whose love appears more orient and more bright,
Having a foil whereon to show its light.”
(J. M. Gibson, D.D.)
A neglected warning
Some years ago a terrible inundation occurred in Noah Holland, due entirely to neglected warnings. The dykes, as the custom is, are inspected by a dyke engineer on certain days every year. A farmer reported the dangerous condition of one repeatedly, but whether from carelessness or because he considered it interference, the engineer laughed at all his fears, saying the dyke would stand many years yet. Not long after, during a violent storm, part of the dyke was carried away by the waters. In a short time several villages, and miles of cultivated land, were under water, many lives being lost. (S. S. Chronicle.)
Critical periods in a sinner’s life
Every sinner, while unreconciled to God, is in constant and imminent danger of the loss of all things. Yet there are seasons of special danger, periods in his life when, unless he repent and turn to God, he ripens very fast for judgment.
I. The season of youth is one. The mind is then receptive, the heart is tender, the character is unformed, evil habits are not yet matured, and all things invite. It is “flood-tide,” and is sure to lead on to victory if he takes advantage of it. But neglected, thrown away, the future is almost sure to miscarry.
II. The period of conviction of sin is one of extreme peril. Then the sinner is on the threshold of life. But hesitating, grieving the Spirit, turning back, losing his conviction, he may be ruined for ever.
III. The period of Divine chastisements is a critical period. God’s end in these usually is to reclaim men. To sin on in spite of them; to refuse to be corrected; to wax worse and worse in the day of trial, and under God’s afflictive dispensations, is to run a fearful risk of final and eternal abandonment. (Anon.)
I also will laugh at your calamity.
We have here a personification of that attribute of God which is specially employed in words of counsel and admonition, and is here made to represent God. The voice of Wisdom is the voice of God.
I. The merciful appeal of God to sinners, and its rejection.
1. God is said to call.
2. God is said to stretch out His hand. In the gesture of earnest appeal, making use of arguments of deed as well as of word. Providence warns. The hand of God in history demonstrates what providence in its dealings with individuals teaches, that virtue and happiness, vice and misery, go hand in hand; that morality and self-interest in the long run merge; that the path of duty and the path of safety coincide.
3. God is said to counsel. The message of Scripture, with its manifold invitations and warnings, is faithfully delivered.
4. God is said to reprove. By severe strokes of discipline God speaks to those who in their infatuation have refused to pay attention to His former appeals. But the rod of correction may be disregarded. The possibility of such reckless opposition to the merciful appeal of God demonstrates the power of the evil principle in fallen human nature. We have here a complete reversal of the ordinary principles of self-interest which actuate men in all circumstances, except in the sphere of morality.
II. The despairing appeal of sinners to God, and its futility. Their position, as here depicted--
1. It is unspeakably awful. The text speaks of calamity, of fear, of desolation, of destruction like a whirlwind, of distress and anguish. The text speaks of a terrible aggravation of their distress, occasioned by the stinging sarcasm which accompanies their suffering.
2. It is strictly retributive. All their suffering has been earned by themselves. As they formerly eluded Him in His efforts to seek and to save them, so now He will not be found of them.
3. It is utterly hopeless. The futility of their appeal is absolute. Their cry is the cry of blank despair. They have sinned away their day of grace, and their offended God will be entreated of them no more. It may be said that the moral sense is shocked by such a representation of God’s conduct towards impenitent sinners as that which we have drawn from the text. Our reply is, that it is presumptuous for any mortal to say what is, and what is not, in harmony with the Divine perfection, or consistent with the Divine character. In nature we know God can assume an attitude of sternness. In the moral sphere there may be occasions when He shall stand forth as an inflexible Ruler, as an immovable, righteous Judge. (A. O. Smith, B. A.)
The after-time for the sinner
Wisdom is represented as calling, waiting, pleading; but, as concerning some who heard the call, altogether in vain. At last Wisdom grows indignant, as well she may. In carrying out His gracious purpose of revealing Himself to us, God may use every act and every feeling that is genuine to man. It is quite proper that men should deride the proud and the malicious when they are baffled and put to shame, and this natural feeling is here used to represent the feeling of God towards those who contemptuously despise the riches of His grace. The merely human gave the tone to the revelations of God that were made in Old Testament times. It is the divinely human--it is humanity at its best--which gives tone to all the representations of God made in the New Testament. So we have now severities and indignations, even the “wrath of the Lamb,” but not derisions, not scorn, not any “laughing at calamity.” The text does but express the feeling we have when the wicked meet their deserts.
I. Evil has its certain fixed consequences. Law equally reigns in the moral and in the material world. Every moral action has its certain and well-defined consequences.
II. Nothing checks consequences but the removal of causes. Illustrate from cases of infectious disease. Man’s great evil is wilfulness, and to remove this ever-fruitful source of moral mischief requires no less than a regeneration.
III. By the resistance of good counsel the evil grows stronger. He who goes after sin has to resist much counsel and persuasive influence. And this is the ever-working law, good resisted leaves evil stronger.
IV. If evil grows stronger, its consequences must become more serious, and will be brought on more rapidly. The simple ones turn deaf ears, and hurry after the tempters; and then their “fear comes as desolation.”
V. Evil may grow beyond all influence of reproof, and then its issues must prow overwhelming indeed. Men may get beyond the reach of all available moral influences. Conceive what that condition must be. Compare the state of the “devil-possessed.” A most awful and alarming picture is that of a moral being abusing himself until he actually becomes insusceptible of moral impressions. In those who resist moral counsel and invitation a wilfulness grows up which becomes every day more difficult to overcome; a process of heart-hardening is actually going on. Be warned, then, of the “wrath of the Lamb.” (Weekly -Pulpit.)
And your destruction cometh as a whirlwind.--
The figure of the whirlwind
In eastern countries, so rapid and impetuous sometimes is the whirlwind that it is in vain to think of flying; the swiftest horse or the fastest sailing ship could be of no use to carry the traveller out of danger. Torrents of burning sand roll before it, the firmament is enveloped in a thick veil, and the sun appears of the colour of blood. The Arab who conducted Mr. Bruce through the frightful deserts of Senaar pointed out to him a spot among some sandy hillocks, where the ground seemed to be more elevated than the rest, where one of the largest caravans which ever came out to Egypt, to the number of several thousand camels, was covered with sand. The destruction of Sennacherib’s army (2 Kings 19:25) was probably (comp. Isaiah 37:7) by the blast of the hot pestilential south wind blowing from the deserts of Lybia, called the simoom. (B. E. Nicholls, M.A.)
Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer.
Sowing disobedience, reaping judgment
One of the marvellous reasonings of the Judge with the criminal is recorded here.
I. God in mercy visits a rebellious generation.
1. The call. It is in the earthquake and in the storm. Day unto day proclaims it, and night unto night. There is no speech or language where it is not heard. The call has come with distinct articulation from the lips of prophets and apostles. It sounds with authority in a human conscience.
2. The hands stretched out. There is a way, and the way is open unto the Father. There is no obstruction, there is no forbidding, there is no upbraiding. Sinners are welcomed with open arms.
3. The counsel. Specially addressed to those who procrastinate.
4. Reproof. If they will not be enticed by the promise of heaven, He will threaten them with the fear of hell. Everlasting love needs a strong, hard instrument wherewith to work out her blessed purposes on an unpliant race. Judgment looming in reserve, serving meantime by its blackness to make the invitation more winning.
II. A rebellious generation neglects or resists the gracious visitation of God. Men have ears and stop them.
III. They shall eat the fruit of their own ways, and be filled with their own devices. Judgment will be an exact answer to disobedience, as fruit answers to seed, or an echo to the sound. (William Arnot, D. D.)
The danger of deferring repentance
There is a good English proverb that “He who neglects the occasion, the occasion will neglect him.” In previous verses we have a general proclamation (Proverbs 1:20); a merciful reprehension (Proverbs 1:22); a gracious exhortation (Proverbs 1:23); a yearning promise (end Proverbs 1:23); a gracious threatening. The words of the text are underclapt against all those that procrastinate their repentance and returning home to God. Note the parties themselves that do prolong this day of grace; their earnest and diligent seeking after God; the unseasonableness of the time of their seeking; and the frustration of their hopes. Those that will not hear when He calleth them, God will not hear when they call unto Him. Thus the Lord dealt with His people in Ezekiel’s days. There is a double day, a white day, and a black day; a day of salvation and a day of damnation. There are three reasons for this point.
1. The law of retaliation.
2. The time of God’s attributes. Both mercy and justice have their season in this life; and when mercy hath acted her part, then cometh justice upon the stage, and acteth her part.
3. It is God’s use to do so in other things, even upon the contempt of temporal blessings, and therefore much more in matters of grace and salvation. Illustrated in the cases of the Israelites, Ishmael, King Saul, Esau. If God so severely punish contempt of temporal blessings, how will He punish contempt of proffers of grace and salvation? He will come with martial law against all those that contemn the gospel (John 3:18). God doth commonly give men a day, but no man or angel doth know how long this day lasteth. God gave the angels a day, Cain a day, Nineveh a day, the antediluvian world a day. All we know is that this day is for us now. Now is the day of Christ upon you. What is the meaning of all those Scriptures which show how God doth deliver up men unto the spirit of giddiness, and unto the spirit of slumber? And what means the “hardening of men’s hearts,” and “searing of men’s consciences,” but only to show that the day of grace may end unto a particular man, ten, twenty, nay, forty years before his death. If thou refuse this day, thou refusest all; for what knowest thou but this very day may be thy day? The reason is--
1. Because God’s patience is in His own breast, and who can tell how long it will last?
2. Because God’s patience gives no mark or inkling of it before it ends.
3. Because God reckons up every hour.
4. It is a wonder that the day of grace is not ended already, and that thou art not now in hell. When Christ first comes to the soul, He witnesseth grace and mercy to thee if thou wilt repent and amend; yea, He witnesseth forgiveness of sins, redemption, and salvation, if thou wilt believe; but if not, He will be a swift witness against thee. (William Fenner, B.D.)
This is a sublime dramatic utterance. It is Wisdom that is represented as speaking. By wisdom among the Orientals moral philosophy was understood, or science speaking on the side of morality. Taken in its largest way it is as if nature (in the text) had risen up, and had declared from her own seat, and by her own authority, what was the history of transgression against her fundamental laws. It is the voice of physiology; it is the voice of health, it is the voice of natural law. It is the voice of the poorhouse, the gaol, the gallows, speaking out and telling men what are the ends of those ways which are essentially the violation of God’s laws in nature. We see men violating the fundamental laws of health, strength, character, prosperity, and society, little by little, and because sentence is not speedily executed against evildoers, they are presumptuous, and say, “How doth God know?” At a later stage, when the fatal work is done, and disease, decay, poverty, the coldness of men, the indifference of society, disgrace, neglect, infamy, suffering, and death come upon them, then they begin to call out in these several states, and condemn everybody but themselves. Then they seek to patch up their broken constitutions. Then they attempt to put on the aspects of honesty. Then they try to regraft themselves upon the tree from which they have been broken off, but largely in vain. They call, but nature will not hear. They plead unto deaf ears.
I. Look at the mildest forms of transgression--those of indolence and self-indulgence. How quietly men spend their lives doing nothing! But when they pass the meridian of life, and begin to go down the farther slope, they find that nobody cares for them. They are in everybody’s way. The probabilities are that one who has spent the first part of his life in indolence and self-indulgence will spend the last part of his life in the same way.
II. Look at the same thing as it takes place in regard to a man’s reputation. Every man is a character-builder. Every man is building himself up by his purposes, his deeds; and these form his character, and it is his character that stands by him. His reputation is simply the shadow that it casts. What a man is, is his character; and what men think him to be is his reputation. Men sometimes think they are building character when they are only getting reputation. Few are aware of this distinction, and so it comes to pass that many men go steadily downward. They begin to violate the truth. They equivocate. They walk on the perilous edge of insincerity. And, notwithstanding this, they do not perceive any change in themselves. But any man who lacks simplicity very soon gets to be suspected by other people. Men are dishonest in the same way. They are tricky. Such a man goes on from day to day, and at last it is whispered of him, “That man is not honest,” and presently all the world knows it except himself.
III. Look at the same thing in respect to the sins which a man commits against his own self. Of all wastefulness there is none like that which men commit upon their own persons. There are many ways in which men drain off the vitality of their whole brain and nervous system. Excessive virtuous industry will do it. Passionate self-indulgence will do it. Excessive addiction to stimulating drinks will do it. While there may be exceptional cases, the law for all such is destruction. The laws of nature have only a limit of mercy, but they have a limit of mercy. A man may be overtaken and yet may recover himself. There is a limited amount of atonement in nature. But there must be no presuming on it. The laws of nature are made for the obedient. Society is established for the obedient. It has very limited resources for reforming men. You are safe if you do not go down into vice. Let alone mischief before it be meddled with. Keep clear of all evil. Obedience is safe. Obedience to God in nature; in your own body; in the laws of society; obedience to God everywhere--that is absolutely safe, and nothing else is safe. Sin, however sweet and smooth and safe it may seem, is not safe. It is safe to be right; it is dangerous to be wrong. (H. W. Beecher.)
They shall not find Me.--
Who seek and do not find?
Scripture speaks of men calling upon God, and of His refusing to hear them. And yet our Lord said, “Ask, and ye shall receive; seek, and ye shall find.” How explain this seeming contradiction? These things are not said of the same persons, or rather of the same characters, at the same time. What if I were to say that now, at this very moment, the words of the text are both applicable to us, and not applicable? The words were at no time in any man’s earthly life so true an they will be at the day of judgment. Then they may be true in a greater or less degree; they may be substantially true in the life that now is. Is Christ’s promise, “Seek, and ye shall find,” equally true to all of us? Take most of us: suppose cite of us to have reached boyhood with a bad disposition, ready for the first temptation, with habits of good uncultivated. Does God hear his prayers? Or in trying to turn from evil to good have you ever found your resolutions give way, till you fell back again to what you were at the beginning? In that case you sought God and failed to find Him. Or has it ever happened to you to have done a mischief to yourselves which you could not undo? Then you may realise that you may seek some good and be unable to attain. We know what it is that hinders God from hearing us always; because we are not thoroughly one in His Son Christ Jesus. The very feeling of coldness and unwillingness to pray, because we have often prayed in vain, is surely working in us that perfect death which is the full truth of the words of the text. (Thomas Arnold, D. D.)
The misery of late repentance after a wicked life
I. There is a time when wicked men will be overtaken with those miseries that no warning would serve them to prevent by repentance and reformation.
II. They will be one day sensible of their own folly, and cry unto God for mercy and deliverance.
III. But God will not then regard their repentance, nor be moved by their prayers. For understanding--
1. Lay down three things.
(1) All sorts of calamities are meant by the wise man, which are either the natural effects of sin or other punishments of sin inflicted by the Divine justice, and that either in this world or in the world to come.
(2) This proposition is not to be understood as if all wicked men were at last reduced to extreme misery in this life. All that need be said is this, either that they do often suffer those punishments in this life which their wicked doings naturally produce, or that the justice of God doth other ways overtake them in punishments that show the finger of God and a more immediate hand of providence.
(3) If any go on in these practices upon which nature itself and God’s curse besides have seemed to sentence miseries in this life, if some of them should happen to escape here, and live out their days without any great misfortune befalling them at last, yet there is a day coming when they shall not escape. One day they will smart for it. Under proposition II., understand that it is not to be understood universally as if every man reduced to extreme misery would infallibly apply himself to God for mercy, for we know there have been examples to the contrary, e.g., Ahab. This seeking God’s favour does frequently happen, but even they who do so are unhappy in their late repentance, especially those that have had the most warnings and convictions, but would not be reclaimed. Under proposition III., show that this is the most awakening consideration of all, and hath the greatest force to make an effectual impression of the two former upon our minds. But this point requires careful interpretation, and a precise distinction between the miseries that an obstinate course of sin produces in this life and those punishments it will bring in another life.
1. How useless the prayers and repentance of wicked men will be as to the recovery of their happiness in this life! They are usually unprofitable as to those advantages which they have lost by their obstinate and, till now, incurable folly; such as health, plenty, and good name. And they will not procure them that comfort from the principles of religion which relieves good men under their adversities.
2. How unprofitable their importunity in seeking the mercy of God will be as to their escape in the day of judgment! For them who repent not till their turn comes in the other world, it will turn to no account for them; they must hear the irreversible sentence, and suffer the unavoidable effect of it for ever. And all this implies no want of goodness in God. (W. Clagett, D.D.)
Better stop now. Some years ago, near Princeton, New Jersey, some young men were skating on a pond around an “air-hole,” and the ice began to break in. Some of them stopped; but a young man said, “I am not afraid! Give us one round more! “He swung nearly round, when the ice broke, and not until next day was his lifeless body found. So men go on in sin. They are warned. They expect soon to stop. But they cry, “Give us one round more!” They start, but with a wild crash break through into bottomless perdition. Do not risk it any longer. Stop now. God save us from the foolhardiness of the one round more! I thank God that I have been permitted to tell you which is the right road and which the wrong road. You must take one or the other. I leave you at the forks; choose for yourselves! (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way.
God’s method of punishment
It is to let us punish ourselves. In this way man is led by bitter experience to see his own folly and God’s wisdom. When we will not be guided by God He grants all our wishes and desires to show us how foolish and miserable they are. When a man is “cursed with every granted prayer” he learns by bitter experience that it is possible to be his own worst enemy. His long-indulged desires become tyrannical tormentors. The promises of God are conditional. He will give us good things if we will do our part; but not if we neglect it, or do the contrary to it. God has given us the dignity of freedom, which involves the terrible possibility of disobeying His commands. It is the best thing for the thoughtless and careless to be let alone of God. Those who look back over their lives can trace most of their errors to the fact that they have tried to take themselves, so to speak, away from the guidance of God. Within the man who delights in sin, and loves darkness rather than light, there is a hell of his own making, from which he cannot depart any more than from himself. Only those who are beyond reformation, and who have altogether decided for the devil, God in this way leaves alone to be creatures of their own appetites and the prey of their sins. On others God inflicts sharp discipline in order to make them like Himself. (E. J. Hardy.)
A man in South Africa bought a piece of land for the purpose of farming it, but, after a short trial, finding it unsuitable for that purpose, and hearing that gold was found in the neighbourhood, set to work to see if he could find any, but failed. Disgusted with his purchase, he sold it for what it would fetch, getting what we would call “a mere song” for it. The man who bought it, having also heard that there was a likelihood of gold being found, lost no time in making a vigorous search, and was rewarded in finding both gold and diamonds, which made him rich beyond his wildest dreams. Some years after- wards the former owner, who had left the country, heard from an old friend that gold by the ton and diamonds by hundreds were being taken from his bit of land, and it is said that he gnashed his teeth with rage and chagrin, as, with his hands clenched until the nails entered the palms, he exclaimed, “Oh, what have I lost! what have I lost! “You who have not accepted Christ, take care that some day when salvation is no longer yours to take or refuse, you in the bitterness of anguish can only say, “Oh, what have I lost! what have I lost!”
The prosperity of fools shall destroy them.
Prosperity dangerous to virtue
By “fools” are here represented all wicked and vicious persons. The misery of such persons is, that when God gives them what they most love, they perish in the embraces of it. The reasons for this are three.
I. Because every foolish or vicious person is either ignorant or regardless of the proper ends and uses for which God designs the prosperity of those to whom He sends it. Which ends are--
1. To try and discover what is in a man.
2. To encourage men in a constant, humble expression of their gratitude to the bounty of their Maker, who deals forth such rich and plentiful provisions to His undeserving creatures.
3. To make them helpful in society. No man holds the abundance of wealth as a proprietor.
II. Because prosperity (as the nature of man now stands) has a peculiar force and fitness to abate men’s virtues and to heighten their corruptions. For its abating their virtues. Virtue is such a plant as grows upon no ground save that which is tilled and cultivated with the severest labour. But what a stranger is toil and labour to a great fortune!
2. For heightening and inflaming men’s corruptions. Nothing more effectually betrays the heart into a love of sin and a loathing of holiness than an ill-managed prosperity. The vices which particularly receive improvement by prosperity are--
2. Luxury and uncleanness.
3. Profaneness and neglect of God in the duties of religion. Those who lie soft and warm in a rich estate seldom come to heat themselves at the altar.
III. Because prosperity directly indisposes men to the proper means of their amendment and recovery.
1. It renders them utterly averse to receiving counsel and admonition.
2. It unfits for the sharp trials of adversity which God uses to correct and reduce the soul.
(1) He either faints and desponds and parts with his hope together with his possessions, or
(2) he will murmur and blaspheme the God that afflicts him. The only way for a man not to find prosperity destructive is for him not to be a fool.
This he may avoid by a pious observance of these following rules:
1. Let him consider on what weak hinges his prosperity and felicity hang.
2. Let him consider how little he is bettered by prosperity as to those perfections which are chiefly valuable.
3. Let a man correct the gaieties and wanderings of his spirit by the severe duties of mortification. Since the fool in his best--that is, in his most prosperous condition--stands tottering upon the very brink of destruction, we should solicit God, not for temporal enjoyment, but for a heart that may fit us for it, if it be God’s will that prosperity be our lot. (R. South, D.D.)
The danger of prosperity
The title of “fool” is the usual character of the sinner in the language of Wisdom, in opposition to prudence. Prosperity comprehends all things desired by worldly men--riches, honours, pleasures, health, strength, peace, plenty, all that is grateful to the carnal mind and appetites. Prosperity abused is fatal and destructive to foolish sinners.
I. Prosperity is destructive to the wicked. There is no pestilence and contagion in the nature of things that are pleasing to our faculties. They are dangerous, not as made by God, but as managed by Satan. The primary design of God, in His most free and rich benefits, is to endear Himself to us and bind us to His service. When the wicked abuse God’s blessings, defeat His kindness, and frustrate the excellent ends of it, He most righteously and severely continues their prosperity, that foments their lusts and renders them more wilful and incorrigible and the more guilty of their own damnation. Prosperity is a fatal ambush for their surprisal and ruin. Prosperity abused is destructive to sinners, both meritoriously, as it induces a deadly guilt and makes them obnoxious to the revenging wrath of God, and effectively, as it is opposite to the felicity and perfection of man.
1. Prosperity is the continual incentive of the vicious affections.
2. Prosperity occasionally incenses an irascible appetite.
3. Prosperity inclines sinners to an impious neglect of God.
4. Prosperity exposes dangerously to the tempting power of Satan.
5. Prosperity is destructive to many, in that it affords them advantages to corrupt others, and reciprocally exposes them to be corrupted by others.
6. Prosperity usually renders the means of grace ineffectual.
7. Prosperity renders men averse to suffering for the sake of Christ.
8. Prosperity makes men careless of evils that might happen.
9. Prosperity is the great temptation to delay repentance until the sinner’s case is desperate.
II. The folly of prosperous sinners. Folly is the cause of their abusing prosperity and the effect of their prosperity abused.
1. The perfection of man consists in the excellences of his spiritual and immortal part.
2. All the prosperity in the world cannot bring true satisfaction to him that enjoys it, for it is disproportionate to the spiritual and immortal nature of the soul. The folly of the sinner is a voluntarily chosen folly, a culpable and guilty folly; the most ignominious folly, the most woful folly.
III. The justice, certainty, and heaviness of the judgment coming on sinners who abuse their prosperity. Justice, for their destruction is the fruit of their own choice. Certainty, for it is unchangeably established by the Divine ordination that the pleasures of sin shall end in the misery of obstinate sinners. The heaviness will be according to the aggravation of their sin. Temporal prosperity is, therefore, no special sign of God’s favour. (William Bates, D.D.)
The fool’s prosperity
I. These words describe the ungodly.
1. By their present way of sin.
2. By their future state of misery.
II. They describe the sin of the ungodly.
1. By the occasion.
2. By the act.
3. By the habit. Prosperity and ease is the occasion; turning away from God and rejecting His counsel is the act; and folly or simplicity is part of the habit.
III. They describe the Godly.
1. By their obedience. They hearken.
2. By their privilege or reward. They be quiet from fear of evil.
(1) It is so that “the prosperity of fools destroyeth them.”
(2) How folly and prosperity concur to their destruction. By the pleasing of their sensitive appetite and fancy, and so overcoming the power of reason. The more amiable the world appears, the more strongly it doth allure the soul to love it. Hereby it taketh the soul off from God. The very noise and bustle of earthly things divert their minds and hinder them from being serious. The sense of present ease and sweetness doth make them forget the change that is near. Pride lifts them up, so that God abhors them, and prosperity engages them in opposition to the word and ways and servants of the Lord.
(3) The uses to make of the text. Do not grudge at the prosperity of ungodly men. Do not desire riches or prosperity. Honour those that are great and godly, rich and religious. Let great men have a double interest in your prayers. (R. Baxter.)
Suppose an iceberg possessed an intelligence and conscience; suppose it should say while dwelling in the polar region, “It is because of the sun that I am an iceberg,” what would you answer? You would say, “It is not because of the sun, but because of your attitude towards the sun.” Go down and place yourself beneath its melting rays, permit yourself to be enfolded in the arms of the Gulf Stream, and you will soon cease to be an iceberg, and become a part of the warm and gentle waters which enfold you. Or suppose we take this same truth in the realm of physical law. Many a Hindoo has stood for years with a napkin bound about his eyes that he might not see the sun, and when the cloth has been removed and he has sought to look upon that sun, he could not see. Behold, he had become blinded. Was it not he who had blinded himself? And yet, was it not also true that working through the natural law God had blinded him? There is a man sweeping toward Niagara, and I, standing on the shore, cry out, “Pull for the shore; the rapids are just below you, and you will go over the falls”; but he simply says to me, “God is too good to permit me to go over the falls”; and I cry again and he heeds not. But presently I see him grasp the oars. Alas, it is too late. Sweeping, whirling, plunging, his boat, like a cockle-shell, dashes over the cataract, and he is gone. Now we may say that the God who made water run down hill slew that man, but is the responsibility with Him? No. The man who knew that law and refused to recognise it slew himself. Well, men realise this in relation to their own physical organisation, because they realise that they have a physical constitution; but they do not realise that they have just as truly a moral constitution; that the laws of the one are as inevitable as the other; that in reference to the soul it is as true as of the body; “the soul that sinneth ‘against the law of its being’ shall die.” (G. T. Dowling, D.D.)
Whoso hearkeneth unto Me shall dwell safely.
Quiet from the fear of evil
The secret of a quiet life has been the great quest of man. The Confucian, the Buddhist, the Pythagorean have busied themselves with it, as well as Solomon. It was the motive of the mightiest movement of mediaeval Christendom. Simeon on his pillar, Bernard in his cell, Francis in his rags, were all occupied with it; and in these restless, stormy, anxious times it is the question of questions still.
I. The fear of evil is the element of it with which man has most directly to do. Man is a being “looking before and after.” Apprehension and memory furnish together pretty well the whole of our bitter experience in life. The fear of evil is not an animal, it is strictly a human experience; part of the endowment of our race.
II. It is precisely this fear of evil which, by God’s help, we are to conquer; the evil itself is wholly beyond our power. Calamity haunts the evil air of an evil world, and man catches the infection. He lives fearfully, and faces death fearfully, till he has learnt the Divine secret.
III. How is the power to be won?
1. By realising how purely independent of things is man’s peace and happiness.
2. By taking a true measure of the range of our being and its resources.
3. By perfect filial trust in God. We want a heart, an arm to rest on. The only perfect rest is in God. This sense of the Divine love, the clasp of the everlasting arms, is exquisite and blessed rest. (Baldwin Brown, B.A.)
The blessedness of hearkening to the voice of heavenly wisdom
To hearken means not only to hear, but to hear with attention, so as to follow the advice given (James 1:25); or, as the Saviour says (John 10:27). Such hear, not to forget, but to treasure up in their memories, that they may reduce to practice what they hear: such hear, not to cavil and find fault, but that they may profit by the instruction they receive. Now, this attention is assuredly the work of the Spirit on the heart, as we read of Lydia (Acts 16:14). And hence it behoves all, when hearing God’s Word, to lift up their hearts to Him, that it may be with profit to their souls. And what are the promises made to such hearers? Safe dwelling and quietness from fear of evil. The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, operating on the heart, brings solid and lasting peace. The first of these promises is beautifully illustrated by our blessed Lord Himself at the close of His sermon on the mount (Matthew 7:24-27). The man who hears Christian instruction , and who satisfies himself with listening and approving, but goes no further, never casts away his sins, or really lays hold on Christ, may flatter himself that all is right with his soul, because he has feelings and convictions and desires of a spiritual nature; but such a man’s religion will break down entirely under the first flood of tribulation, and fail him completely when his need is the sorest, whereas the man who hears Christian instruction, and practises what he hears, upon such a man the floods of sickness, sorrow, poverty, disappointments, bereavements may beat, but his soul is unmoved, his faith does not give way, his comforts do not forsake him. Not only, however, is safety promised to him who hearkeneth to the voice of heavenly wisdom, but such an assurance of it as shall remove every distressing fear. Not only quietness from evil, but from the fear of it. Men in general suffer much more from fear of evils which they expect may come upon them than from those which they actually have to undergo; but God “keeps him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on Him.” A wicked man is terrified with imagined danger; a godly man is not afraid even when the danger is real; for the one has a witness for him in his own breast, whereas the other carries within a witness against himself; and this witness is a judge to condemn him, yea, an executioner to torment and vex him. To be freed from the fear of evil is, in truth, the perfection of a spiritual state; and a great part of the saint’s portion both on earth and in heaven lies in the deliverance and security from it. But it may be asked, To whom are these gracious promises made? They are made to all: high and low, rich and poor, old and young. The term used is as large as any can desire: “Whoso hearkeneth.” Let them only listen to Christ’s invitation in the gospel, and render obedience to His commands, and the promised blessings shall be vouchsafed to them. (T. Grantham.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Proverbs 1". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany