A wise son heareth his father’s instruction: but a scorner heareth not rebuke.
The heedless scorner
The first part of the sentence has been rendered, “is his father’s instruction”; i.e., a wise son embodies his father’s instruction. A wise man may point to his son and say, “This is the sum-total of my educational efforts.” The proverb is careful to define the quality of the son whose education embodies the purposes of his father. He is to be a “wise son”; one who can make the most of his opportunities, who understands the process through which he is passing. A scorner is profited by nothing; being a satirist himself, he turns everything into satire; he mocks the speaker of good things, he parodies the highest poetry, he resents the most delicate and spiritual approach. We should not be struck by the mere ability of satire; we should remember its moral disadvantages, for it debases and impoverishes whatever it touches that is meant for its good. We speak of the satire that takes the moral purpose out of every appeal, and turns to derision all the efforts that are directed towards the soul’s real education. Wisdom gathers everything; scorning gathers nothing. It is for each man to say that he will walk in the one spirit or in the other, but let him distinctly know what the consequences of each spirit must be. (J. Parker, D.D.)
The teachable and unteachable son
I. The teachable son. “A wise son heareth his father’s instruction.” Solomon, of course, supposes that the father is what a father ought to be. He who attends to the instruction of a father, Solomon says, is wise. He is wise--
1. Because he attends to the Divine condition of human improvement. The Creator has ordained that the rising generation should get its wisdom from the teachings of its parents. It is by generations learning of predecessors that the race advances.
2. Because he gratifies the heart of his best earthly friend.
II. The unteachable son. “A scorner heareth not rebuke.” Some persons justly merit derision; some things merit contempt. A son who scorns either the person or the counsels of his father is not in a state of mind to hear rebuke--he is unteachable. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
A man shall eat good by the fruit of his mouth.
Although the spirit and practice of retaliation are nowhere vindicated in Scripture, but everywhere explicitly and strongly condemned, yet a treatment corresponding to their own conduct towards others is what every one may expect. In the nature of things it cannot be otherwise. It is not in human nature, nor in any nature, not even in the Divine itself, to love with the love of complacence that which is unamiable. An amiable disposition alone can secure love; and amiability of disposition is greatly indicated by the tongue. The man who is charitable in his judgments, and disposed to speak well of others, will be himself the subject of charitable judgment and of cordial commendation. All will love and honour and bless the man “in whose tongue is the law of kindness.” Thus he shall “eat good by the fruit of his mouth.” On the contrary, against the man who is a “transgressor” with his lips, making them the instruments of malice in the utterance of slander, and the fomenting of alienation and strife--against that man are unavoidably kindled all the feelings of indignation, all the angry passions, of which the result is violence--the violence of vindictive pride and sense of wrong. (R. Wardlaw.)
Here are several kinds of speech.
I. The self-profiting and self-ruinous in speech. The speech of a good man which is enlightened, truthful, pure, generous, is of service to himself in many ways. By it he promotes the development of his own spiritual being, he gratifies his own moral nature, and produces in hearers results which are delightful to his own observation. The corrupt speech of the ungodly is a violence to reason, conscience, social propriety. The sinful tongue of the transgressor inflicts the most violent injuries on his own nature.
II. The self-controlled and the self-reckless in speech.
1. Controlled speech may be useful. The tongue is a member that requires controlling. Passion and impulse are constantly stimulating it to action.
2. Reckless speech may be dangerous. One spark from a lawless tongue has often kindled conflagrations in families, churches, and nations. Quarles says, “Give not thy tongue too much liberty, lest it take thee prisoner.” (D. Thomas, D.D.)
A guard upon the lips
is a guard to the soul. He that keeps a strong bridle on his tongue, and a strong hand on that bridle, keeps his soul from a great deal, both of guilt and grief, and saves himself the trouble of many bitter reflections on himself, and reflections of others upon him. There is many a one ruined by an ungoverned tongue. He that loves to bawl and bluster and make a noise, will find it will be the destruction of his reputation, his interest, and his comfort. (Matthew Henry.)
The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.
The nature and consequences of idleness and of industry
This text is true both in a temporal and spiritual sense.
I. The nature and effects of sloth. The slothful man wants to attain the end without the use of the proper means. He would be rich without labour, learned without study, and respected without doing anything to deserve respect. This desire of the slothful killeth him; for his hands refuse to labour. Such persons waste their days in forming idle schemes and vain wishes. The consequences are often very terrible. They become a plague and a burden to all who are connected with them. They frequently injure their best friends, prey upon the property of others, and bring disgrace and ruin upon their dearest earthly connections. Our land, all our lands, abound with such drones. Slothfulness also gives birth to envy, discontent, fraud, lying, and almost every other evil work. In whatever situation of life a slothful person is fixed, he will, from this disposition, fall into some destructive vice, and become miserable in himself and mischievous to others. A sluggard, whatever he may profess, cannot be a truly religious person, or possessed of those graces which form the character of a member of Christ and a child of God. The sluggard may desire the good things of religion, but as he will not use the means for attaining them, he “desires, and has nothing.” God will be found only of them who diligently seek Him. A slothful disposition is so pernicious in its nature and effects that wherever it reigns and has the dominion, it must debase a person’s character and pervert the end for which he was sent into the world.
II. The nature and effects of industry. Plenty and comfort are, in general, the consequences of diligence, both in our temporal and spiritual calling. Whatever may be a person’s rank or circumstances, the providence of God has given him something to do. The sober and industrious are the glory and strength of every nation. And the industrious disposition is a great preservative against vice. Those who are trained up to honest labour and habits of industry seldom fall into those criminal excesses to which the slothful are prone. The most salutary effects of diligence are seen in religion. The diligent use of all appointed means of grace is crowned with the Divine blessing. These are the persons who have always done the most good in the world, and whom God and men have delighted to honour. There may, of course, be exceptions to the general rule. Would you, then, provide things honest in the sight of all men, pursue your profession with success, maintain yourselves and your families, and become easy in your circumstances, you must be sober and industrious, diligent and laborious. And so you must be if you would enjoy the peace and blessing of God. Some may from this learn the true reason of their embarrassments. They have spent themselves in wishing, not in working. (W. Richardson.)
Work is the grand, all-pervading feature in the government of the world. God works. The universe, considered as an inert mass, moves. Stagnation is the sign of death. How early in life the human being should begin regular employment is a question in which both the moralist and the political economist are interested. The burden, the obligation, the duty of one man differs from that of another. In one sense, the duty of labour is laid upon all. Idleness is to be avoided by all, irrespective of the pressure, or the absence of the pressure, of poverty or any personal needs. It is curious to notice that, in the estimation of many, no persons are thought to be engaged in labour save those who are engaged in some handicraft for their livelihood. But idleness, like labour, is a relative term. Idleness is a sin against the ordinance of God. Man has manifold needs, desires, possibilities. Were there no hunger, there would be no crops, no bread. Were there no need of shelter, there would be no huts, houses, palaces. Were there no sense of ignorance, there would be no desire to learn anything. Were there no religious feeling, there would be no temples, nor desire to know anything of what the apostle calls “the invisible things of God.” The refusal of work, whether demanded of us, or opened to us in the way of providential opportunity, this is idleness. By this refusal one places one’s self outside the life of the community. It is a sin--a sin of omission; the sin of neglect, and of lost opportunity. The life is barren, sterile, nothing. “Only an idler,” it may be said; “not as bad as if he gave way to stormy, passionate excesses.” And yet there will be in the brain of that idler an indistinguishable brood of vipers, all possible evil and corruption. God requires the use of our gifts and faculties for our development, and that we may do our share in the State, fill the position and, in a word, accomplish the purposes of our existence. The proofs of the sinfulness of idleness are to be found in its effects. It destroys our power of usefulness in the world. All real devotion to a cause implies work. We cannot set ourselves in opposition to God’s ordinances, and at the same time entertain any belief seriously that we shall succeed by circumventing Him. If any of you, who are in your years of work, when the duty of work is specially your duty, are refusing everything of the kind, and are bent upon trifles or mere amusement, it requires no large insight to perceive that your minds and characters are becoming weakened; the thews and sinews are soft; the gristle does not harden into bone. Let this state of things last, and it is certain that you will be left behind in the rear. Wholesome, not morbid, activity is what is needed for many whose hands hang idly, not through the fault of an idle disposition. Work will heal many a human woe when all else will seem to fail. (Edwin Harwood, D.D.)
Christian diligence, with the blessings that attend it
The son of diligence, considered either as a man or a Christian, is in a fair way to obtain the good things he seeks. The slothful wretch shall be poor indeed.
I. What are the several things which are implied in true Diligence?
1. Diligence includes the employment of every part of our time in proper business. This is opposed to sauntering life away; to trifling, or doing what is to no purpose; and to mistiming the businesses which are to be done.
2. Diligence includes earliness--in opposition to delay. The early man shows that his heart is in his work. If we begin betimes the service of the day, we happily provide against hindrances, and we are not in danger of being thrown into a hurry by accidental avocations.
3. Diligence implies activity and vigour. Lazy wishes will neither perform work nor obtain a blessing. What poor work doth a Christian make who is cold, indifferent, slothful in the things which concern his soul and salvation!
4. Diligence implies watchfulness--in opposition to a drowsy, heedless temper, a thoughtless security of soul. We must be awake to seize all advantages for our work, as well as to guard against surprises and dangers.
5. Diligence implies a constancy in our work--in opposition to looking back, and perpetual avocation by diversions and pleasures.
6. Another thing implied in true diligence is, firmness and resolution in our labour--in opposition to all the difficulties which attend our work. If we are frighted at every shadow of difficulty, we shall never fulfil our service, nor perfect our design.
7. There is also implied perseverance--in opposition to fainting and weariness. It is the end that crowns all.
II. The blessings which attend diligence in a course of virtue and goodness.
1. Diligence hath a natural tendency to success and to obtain the good things we seek.
2. Diligence hath the rich and special promises of a faithful God to encourage its hope.
3. Diligence and industry are a happy guard against snares and temptations of every kind. When the devil finds you idle, he hath a proper moment to assault you with some powerful temptation.
4. Diligence is always making a progress towards its designed end, but the slothful man is in great danger of going backward. The gardener who neglects his daily work will soon find the ground overrun with weeds.
5. The diligent Christian is a most useful person in the world. He does the most good himself, and becomes an excellent example to all that are round about him.
6. The diligent Christian finishes his work with peace, hope, and joy. He will review his conduct and his labours with an inward satisfaction and a sacred pleasure of soul. Let us dread the curse of the wicked and slothful servant. (Isaac Watts, D.D.)
I. Soul-craving is common to all. Souls have a hunger as well as bodies, and the hunger of the soul is a much more serious thing. What is the ennui that makes miserable the rich but the unsatisfied hunger of the soul?
1. The hunger of the soul, as well as the hunger of the body, implies the existence of food somewhere.
2. The unsatisfied hunger of the soul as well as the body is painful and ruinous.
II. Soul-craving can be allayed only by labour. (Homilist.)
A friend of mine, says Mr. Gurney, one day inquired of the then Lord Chancellor, how he managed to get through so much business? “ Oh,” said his lordship,” I have three rules; the first is, I am a whole man to one thing at a time; the second is, I never lose a passing opportunity of doing anything that can be done; and the third is, I never entrust to other people what I ought to do myself.”
A righteous man hateth lying.
I. An instinct to the righteous. “A righteous man hateth lying.” A soul that has been made right in relation to the laws of its own spiritual being to the universe and to God has an instinctive repugnance to falsehood. A right-hearted man cannot be false in speech or life. The prayer of his soul is, “Remove from me the way of lying: and grant me Thy law graciously” (Psalms 119:29).
II. Moral truthfulness is a safeguard against evil. The evils specified in these two verses in connection with the wicked must be regarded as kept off from the righteous by his moral truthfulness. What are the evils here implied connected with falsehood?
1. Loathsomeness. “A wicked man is loathsome.” A liar is an unlovely and an unlovable object; he is detestable; he attracts none; he repels all.
2. Shame. He “cometh to shame.” A liar either in lip, or life, or both, must come to shame. A rigorous destiny will strip off his mask, and leave him exposed, a hideous hypocrite, to the scorn of men and angels.
3. Destruction. “Wickedness overthroweth the sinner.” Inevitable destruction is the doom of the false. They have built their houses on the sand of fiction, and the storms of reality will lay them in ruins. From all these evils, moral truthfulness guards the righteous. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
There is no knowing the effects of a lie even in this world. Said a lady, “I told once for all the fashionable lie of having my servant announce at the door that I was not at home. At night my husband said, ‘ Mrs.
died to-day.’ It went through me like cold steel. She had made me promise that I would be at her bedside at the last hour, as she had something of great importance to disclose. ‘And,’ said my husband, ‘she died in great distress to see you, having sent three times, only to learn that you were not at home.’ How I loathed myself! No more lies for me!”
Wickedness overthroweth the sinner.
The effects of sin
There is a cause for every effect. Moral evil, as a cause, has produced the most awful, alarming, and extensive consequences.
I. Give the character of the sinner.
1. What is sin? The transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). No law, no transgression. There is a law, which is grounded in the moral perfections of God.
2. Sin is a contempt of God’s authority. It is s forfeiture of His favour, and an exposure to His sore displeasure.
3. Sinners who refuse to submit to Christ--the Saviour from sin--sin against the gospel law of liberty and love.
II. Wickedness is the sinner’s ruin.
1. It exhausts his property. Sin is a very expensive thing. The passions are clamorous, exorbitant, and reckless, till gratified.
2. It blasts his reputation. Sin can never be deemed honourable, on correct principles.
3. It destroys his health. Intemperance has a natural tendency to undermine the best constitution.
4. It hastens the approach of death.
5. It effects the damnation of the soul. Coming to sin beyond remedy, he goes to his own place.
1. How awfully destructive is the love of sin.
2. It is the interest of every person to hate and shun sin.
3. A sinner, perishing in his sin, has no one to blame but himself.
4. From the whole subject we perceive the necessity, expedience, and advantage of securing true religion, by repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
The consequences of sin
I. What is meant by the teem “sinner”? Bold, brazen sinners.
1. The profligate.
2. The sceptical.
3. The deliberately worldly-minded.
II. What is meant by these sinners being overthrown? Wickedness works its own punishment.
1. It overthrows the sinner’s health.
2. It overthrows his character.
3. It overthrows his life.
The sinner here is a wreck, floating about like a derelict log. His happiness is wrecked. His future prospects are destroyed. (Homilist.)
There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing.
The poor rich and the rich poor
Two singularly-contrasted characters are set in opposition here. One, that of a man who lives like a millionaire and is a pauper; another, that of a man who lives like a pauper and is rich. Now, I do not suppose that the author of this proverb attached any kind of moral to it, in his own mind. It is simply a jotting of an observation drawn from a wide experience; and if he meant to teach any lesson by it, I suppose it was nothing more than that in regard to money, as to other things, we should avoid extremes, and should try to show what we are, and to be what we seem. This finds its highest application in regard to Christianity, and our relation to Jesus Christ.
I. Our universal poverty. However a man may estimate himself and conceit himself, there stand out two salient facts.
1. The fact of universal dependence. Whatever else may be dark and difficult about the co-existence of these two, the infinite God and the finite universe, this at least is sun-clear, that the creature depends absolutely for everything on that infinite Creator. People talk sometimes, and we are all too apt to think, as if God had made the world and left it. And we are all apt to think that, however we may owe the origination of our own personal existence to a Divine act, the act was done when we began to be, and the life was given as a gift that could be separated from the Bestower. If it were possible to cut a sunbeam in two, so that the further half of it should be separated from its vital union with the great central fire from which it rushed long, long ago, that further half would pale into darkness. And if you cut the connection between God and the creature, the creature shrivels into nothing. So at the very foundation of our being there lies absolute dependence. In like manner, all that we call faculties, capacities, and the like, are, in a far deeper sense than the conventional use of the word “gift” implies, bestowments from Him. As well, then, might the pitcher boast itself of the sparkling water that it only holds, as well might the earthen jar plume itself on the treasure that has been deposited in it, as we make ourselves rich because of the riches that we have received. “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his strength. Let not the rich man glory in his riches; but he that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.”
2. Then, turn to the second of the facts on which this universal poverty depends, and that is, the fact of universal sinfulness. Ah, there is one thing that is our own--“If any power we have, it is to will.” Conscience tells us, and we all know it, that we are the causes of our own actions, though from Him come the powers by which we do them. The electricity comes from the central power-station, but it depends on us what sort of wheels we make it drive, and what kind of work we set it to do. So, then, there are these two things, universal dependence and universal sinfulness, and on them is built the declaration of universal poverty. Duty is debt. What we ought is what we owe. We all owe an obedience which none of us has rendered. We are all paupers.
II. The poor rich man. “There is that maketh himself rich, and yet hath nothing.” That describes accurately the type of man who ignores dependence, and is not conscious of sin, and so struts about in self-complacent satisfaction with himself, and knows nothing of his true condition. There is nothing more tragic than that a man, laden, as we each of us are, with burden of evil that we cannot get rid of, should yet conceit himself to possess merits, virtues, graces, that ought to secure for him the admiration of his fellows and the approbation of God. “The deceitfulness of sin” is one of its mightiest powers. You condemn in other people the very things you do yourself. Many of you have never ventured upon a careful examination and appraisement of your own moral and religious character. You durst not, for you are afraid that it would turn out badly. Then you have far too low a standard, and one of the main reasons why you have so low a standard is just because the sins that you do have dulled your consciences. Aye, and more than that. The making of yourself rich is the sure way to prevent yourself from ever being so. We see that in all other regions of life. If a student says to himself, “Oh! I know all that subject,” the chances are that he will not get it up any more. And in any department, when a man says, “Lo! I have attained,” then he ceases to advance. If you fancy yourselves to be quite well, though a mortal disease has gripped you, you will take no medicine, nor have recourse to any physician. If you think that you have enough good to show for man’s judgment and for God’s, and have not been convinced of your dependence and your sinfulness, then Jesus Christ will be very little to you. I believe that this generation needs few things more than it needs a deepened consciousness of the reality of sin and of the depth and damnable nature of it.
III. The rich poor man. “There is that maketh himself poor, and yet”--or, as varied, the expression is, therefore hath great riches. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Consciousness of poverty is the only fitting attitude for any of us to take up in view of the fact of our dependence and the fact of our sinfulness. Then let me remind you that this wholesome recognition of facts about ourselves as they are is the sure way to possess the wealth. If you see your poverty, let self-distrust be the nadir, the lowest point, and let faith be the complementary high point, the zenith. The rebound from self-distrust to trust in Christ is that which makes the consciousness of poverty the condition of receiving wealth. And what wealth it is!--the wealth of a peaceful conscience, of a quiet heart, of lofty aims, of a pure mind, of strength according to our need, of an immortal hope, of a treasure in the heavens that faileth not. Do you estimate yourself as you are? Have you taken stock of yourself? Have you got away from the hallucination of possessing wealth? Have you taken the wealth which He freely gives to all who sue in forma pauperis? He does not ask you to bring anything but debts and sins, emptiness and weakness, and penitent faith. And then you will be of those blessed poor ones who are rich through faith, and heirs of the kingdom. (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
The policy that degrades and the policy that ennobles
This proverb denotes either a mean, social fact, or a grand moral contrast. Here is the man who makes himself out to be rich, either to gratify his vanity or to impose on and defraud others. And here is the man who makes himself out to be poor, that he may escape the reproach of neglecting his own kith and kin. Both are essentially and execrably hypocritical. In the first is the hypocrisy of vanity; in the second of greed. Both are dishonest and demoralising. A corrupt state of society alone suggests such expedients, and only a depraved man resorts to them. The Old and New Testaments distinguish between the outer and the inner man. We may make the outer either nurture or kill the inner man. The two conditions, poverty and wealth, betoken no moral difference; they do betoken great social difference. Spiritually the extremes of each may be utterly reversed. The rich may spiritually have nothing, and the poor have great riches. But poverty is not necessarily the concomitant of piety. (W. Wheeler.)
The danger of mistaking our spiritual state
I. There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing.
I. Such are they who are unacquainted with their real character. “Among these may be reckoned all who are ignorant even of fundamental truths, or pervert them.
2. Such are they who, notwithstanding, entertain a high opinion of their spiritual condition. To beast of what we have not is the greatest folly; to glory of what we have is the most intolerable vanity.
3. Such are they who are indifferent to the means of obtaining relief, and the supply of their spiritual wants.
II. There is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.
1. Persons of this sort commonly complain much of themselves and their condition.
2. The temper and conduct of such persons serves to discover the mistaken judgment which they have formed of their spiritual condition. From whatever cause this error in opinion may proceed, there is always something in the temper and conduct of people of this sort that shows the high value which they put upon the true riches, and the humbling sense they entertain of their apprehended spiritual poverty. This distinguishes them from those who only pretend to the character of which I am speaking.
3. Notwithstanding they think themselves poor, they have great riches. The Lord, whose loving-kindness is better than life, is their God, the strength of their hearts, and their portion for ever. (W. McCulloch.)
The truly rich man
Amongst great numbers of men accounted rich, but few really are so. I take him to be the only rich man that lives upon what he has, owes nothing, and is contented. For there is no determinate sum of money, nor quantity of estate, that can denote a man rich; since no man is truly rich that has not so much as perfectly satiates his desire of having more. For the desire of more is want, and want is poverty. (J. Howe.)
The light of the righteous rejoiceth: but the lamp of the wicked shall be put out.
The light of the righteous and the lamp of the wicked
By this we are to understand that the light of the righteous burns joyously, is a very image of gladness and rapture: the sun rejoiceth as a giant to run his course; he is, so to say, conscious of his power and of his speed; travelling does not weary him; shining does not exhaust him: at the end he is as mighty as at the beginning. It will be observed that in the one case the word is “light” as applied to the righteous, and in the other the word is “lamp” as applied to the wicked. The path of the just is as a shining light, shining more and more unto the perfect day; the light of the righteous man is above, it is not of his own making, it never can be exhausted: the light in which the wicked man walks is a lamp of his own creation, he made it, he lighted it, he is above and greater than that light, and at any moment it may be extinguished; he walks in the fire and in the sparks which he himself has kindled; he is full of brilliant fancies, flashing and glaring eccentricities; he rejoices transiently in the rockets which he throws up into the air, but as they expire and fall back in dead ashes at his feet he sees how poor have been his resources, and how mean is the issue of a cleverness that is without moral basis and moral inspiration. God’s blessing is always attached to the true light. God himself is Light. Jesus Christ was the Light of the world, and Christians are to be lights of their day and generation, reflecting the glory of their Master. The wicked indeed have a kind of light; that should always be amply acknowledged: but it is a light of their own creation, and a light that is doomed to extinction--it shall be put out; a drop of rain shall fall upon it, and the little flicker shall expire, never to be rekindled. (J. Parker, D.D.)
The lights of souls
I. The joyous light of soul. “The light of the righteous rejoiceth.” In what does the light of the soul consist? There are at least three elements--faith, hope, love. The first fills the soul with the light of ideas; the second, with the light of a bright future; the third, with the light of happy affections. Extinguish these in any soul, and there is the blackness of darkness for ever. The righteous have these as Divine impartations, as beams from “the Father of lights,” and in their radiance they live, walk, and rejoice. They rejoice in their faith. Their faith connects them with the Everlasting Sun. They rejoice in their hope. Their hope bears them into the regions of the blest. They rejoice in their love. Their love fixes their enrapturing gaze on Him in whose presence there is fulness of joy.
II. The transient light of soul. “The lamp of the wicked shall be put out.” It is implied that the light of the righteous is permanent. It is inextinguishable. Not so the light of the wicked. Their light, too, is in their faith, their hope, their love. But their faith is in the false, and it must give way. The temple of their hope is built on sand, and the storm of destiny will destroy it. Their love is on corrupt things, and all that is corrupt must be burnt by the all-consuming fire of eternal justice. Thus the lamp of the wicked must be put out. (Homilist.)
Only by pride cometh contention, but with the well-advised is wisdom.
Pride and humility
By a proud man we mean one who esteems himself better than others; by a humble man, one who esteems others better than himself. What are the evil effects of pride?
1. It cuts off a man from all the salutary effects of reproof, rebuke, criticism, and counsel, without which it is not possible for any of us to become wise.
2. By pride comes nothing but strife, and he loveth transgression that loveth strife. It is the pride of monarchs and nations that produces war. In the affairs of private life our pride, rather than our sense of right, usually creates, fosters, and embitters divisions, alienations, and quarrels. All the foolish extravagances of social competition are to be traced to the same source. From first to last the haughty spirit is a curse and a torment to every one, and not least to itself. It is like a cold and biting wind. It breaks the heart of the humble, it excites the passions of the wrathful, it corrupts the conduct of the weak.
3. Pride is hateful to God. The proud man, whether he knows it or not, comes into direct conflict with God; he is pitting himself against the Omnipotent. If God is to dwell in a human heart at all, it must be in one which has been emptied of all pride, one which has, as it were, thrown down all the barriers of self-importance, and laid itself open to the incoming Spirit. (R. F. Horton, D. D.)
Pride and contention
When pride and passion meet on both sides, it cannot but be that a fire will be kindled; when hard flints strike together, the sparks will fly about; but a soft, mild spirit is a great preserver of its own peace, kills the power of contests, as woolpacks, or such-like soft matter, most deaden the force of bullets. (T. Leighton.)
Wealth gotten by vanity shall be diminished: but he that gathereth by labour shall increase.
Right methods of obtaining wealth
The text implies three things.
I. That wealth in itself is a good thing.
1. All men strive for it, in obedience to the original command--to possess the earth and subdue it.
2. The services it can render are evidences of its value.
3. The Word of God approves it. Not money, but the “love” of it, is “a root of evil.”
II. Wealth may be obtained in different ways. The two ways mentioned in the text.
1. The way of vanity, which may represent fraud, gambling, reckless speculation, etc.
2. The way of labour, in all which there is profit (Proverbs 14:23). See frequent commendations of diligence in the Scriptures.
III. The increase or decrease of wealth is affected by the mode of its acqusition. “Gotten by vanity,” it diminishes; procured by labour, it “shall increase.” Two considerations as to the constitution of human nature help us to understand how this comes about.
1. What a man does not work for he seldom appreciates. Difficulty of attaining augments value. “Easy got, soon spent,” has passed into a proverb.
2. What one does not value he is apt to squander. Spendthrifts are those who value money slightly. (F. Wagstaff.)
Ill-gotten national wealth
What is true of private is no less true of public possessions. When such possessions are obtained, on the part of any country, by self-aggrandising and unprovoked aggression, extermination and conquest, what are such means but injustice, oppression, and murder, on an extended scale? Gathering possessions by a violation of the rights of others, of the principles of equity and honour and good faith, or, in one word, of the royal law, is turning a country’s glory into shame, and under the righteous and retributive administration of Heaven the extension of dominion is but an extension of danger. (R. Wardlaw.)
Wealth gotten by vanity
When the famous M. Blanc, who founded the Monte Carlo Casino, was proprietor of a gambling establishment at Homburg, it was his custom to bring down 300,000 francs every morning to meet the bank’s losses. When this sum was exhausted the bank was said to be “broke,” and the doors were closed for the day, and it is recorded that the unique feat of “breaking the bank” was accomplished three days in succession by the notorious South American Spaniard, Garcia. After this his luck began to turn, and six weeks later he was obliged to ask M. Blanc for a few louis with which to return to Paris. (Daily Mail.)
Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire cometh, it is a tree of life.
Hope deferred maketh the heart sick, whether the person hoping, or the thing hoped for, be good or evil. The second member of the text is a dividing word. “Tree of life” belongs only to the hope of the holy. Many, after waiting long, and expecting eagerly, discover, when at last they reach their object, that it is a withered branch and not a living tree. There is no peace to the wicked. They are always either desiring or possessing; but to desire and to possess a perishable portion are only two different kinds of misery to men. If the desire is pure, the attainment of it is a tree of life; it is living, satisfying, enduring. It has a living root in the ground and satisfying fruit upon the branches. Where a hungering for righteousness secretly rises in a human heart the blessing is already sure, but it is not enjoyed yet. The hungerer “shall be filled,” but in the meantime his only experience is an uneasy sensation of want. In God’s good time that desire will be satisfied. That longing soul will taste and see that the Lord is gracious. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
Whoso despiseth the Word shall be destroyed.
The more literal rendering would be, “He that despiseth the Word shall bring ruin on himself.” This is a great law of the Biblical revelation--namely, that destruction is not a merely arbitrary act on the part of God, a mere penalty, but that it involves the idea of suicide or self-ruin. The law of reward and also the law of punishment are to be found within ourselves. (J. Parker, D.D.)
The law of the wise is a fountain of life.
The law of the good
I. The good are ruled by law--“The law of the wise.” What is law? The clearest and most general idea I have of it is--rule of motion. In this sense all things are under law, for all things are in motion. The material universe is in motion, and there is the law that regulates it. The spiritual universe is in motion, and law presides over it. “Of law,” says Hooker, “there can be no less acknowledged than that her seat is the bosom of God, her voice the harmony of the world. All things do her homage, the very least as feeling her care, and the greatest as not exempted from her power; both angels and men, and creatures of what condition soever, though each in different sort and manner, yet all with uniform consent, admiring her as the mother of their peace and joy.” But what is the law of the good--that which rules them in all their activities? Supreme love to the supremely good.
II. The law that rules the good is beneficent. “The law of the wise is a fountain of life to depart from the snares of death.”
1. This law delivers from death. The word death here must not be regarded as the separation of body from soul, but as the separation of the soul from God. This is the awfullest death, and supreme love to God is a guarantee against this.
2. This law secures an abundance of life. “The law of the wise is a fountain of life”; a fountain gives the idea of activity, plenitude, perennialness. The law of the good is happiness. The happiness of the true soul is not something then and yonder, but it is something in the law that controls him. In the midst of his privations and dangers John Howard, England’s illustrious philanthropist, wrote from Riga these words--“I hope I have sources of enjoyment that depend not on the particular spot I inhabit. A rightly cultivated mind, under the power of religion, and the exercise of beneficent dispositions, affords a ground of satisfaction little affected by ‘heres’ and ‘theres.’” (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Good understanding giveth favour.
A sound intellect
I. The nature of a sound intellect. A good understanding must include four things.
1. Enlightenment. The soul without knowledge is not good. A good understanding is that which is well informed, not merely in general knowledge, but in the science of duty and of God.
2. Impartiality. A good intellect should hold the balance of thought with a steady hand.
3. Religiousness. It must be inspired with a deep sense of its allegiance to heaven.
4. Practicalness. It should be strong and bold enough to carry all its decisions into actual life. “A good understanding have all they that do His commandments.” Thus it appears a good understanding is tantamount to practical godliness.
II. The usefulness of a sound intellect. The greatest benefactor is the man of a good understanding. The thoughts of such men as these are the seeds of the world’s best institutions, and most useful arts and inventions. The man of good understanding is the most useful in the family, in the neighbourhood, in the market, in the press, in the senate, in the pulpit, everywhere.
1. No favours so valuable as mental favours. He who really helps the mind to think with accuracy, freedom, and force, to love with purity, and to hope with reason, helps the man in the entirety of his being.
2. No one can confer mental favours who has not a good understanding. An ignorant man has no favour to bestow on souls. “Ignorance is the curse of God; knowledge the wing with which we fly to heaven” (Shakespeare). Let us, therefore, cultivate a sound intellect. “I make not my head a grave,” says Sir T. Browne, in his quaint way, “but a treasury of knowledge; I intend no monopoly, but a community in learning; I study not for my own sake only, but for theirs that study not for themselves; I envy no man that knows more than myself, but pity them that know less. I instruct no man as an exercise of my knowledge, or with an intent rather to nourish and keep it alive in mine own head than beget and propagate it in his; and, in the midst of all my endeavours, there is but one thought that dejects me--that my acquired parts must perish with myself, nor can be legacied among my honoured friends.” (Homilist.)
But the way of transgressors is hard.--
The course, act, and punishment of sin
I. The course of sin.
1. A disposition to regard life as a matter of circumstances. Personal freedom is, however, never nullified, personal responsibility never suspended. The track and trend of a man’s life is largely within his own determination.
2. The text speaks of “a way,” i.e., a trodden path. It refers to a course that is chosen, and persisted in. It is the habit of the sinner’s life--a much-frequented track.
3. Sin indulged in soon becomes sin confirmed. How soon a track is made across the soft earth. The “dearest idol” was once a plaything, a diversion.
4. This is the sure and certain tendency of sin. “Wild oats” mean a harvest of thorns. It is a cruel thing that is done, when men speak lightly of what is wrong.
II. The act of sin.
1. Sin is one: a great, awful unit. But sin is viewed under various aspects. Here the idea is that of one who deals treacherously, one who deceives, or deceives himself.
2. This is the quality of sin committed in Christian lands. Sin “against light and love.” This is sin which makes pity impossible, save with God, and with such as the Godlike.
III. The punishment of sin. All sin is visited with punishment. The “pleasures of sin” are but “for a season.” The punishment comes. The present punishment of sin is here emphasised; if that is not enough to drive you from the way of the transgressor, what of the death-bed, of the judgment-seat, of the never-dying worm? Where, then, is salvation? Look at what is suggested by one and another.
1. Retirement; a life of seclusion and penitence.
2. A firm stand against the encroaching sin.
3. Altered associations. These are the proposals of policy, or human calculations. God’s proposal for salvation is an absolute and unconditional forsaking. (George Lester.)
The hardship of sin
But who believes this? None who set their opinion against the testimony of revelation.
I. What is to be understood by the way of transgressors? Transgressor is but another name for sinner. Transgression supposeth either something done that was forbidden or something omitted that was commanded.
II. The doctrine of the text respecting this way. It is not rendered harder than it ought to be, through undue severity in God.
1. The kindness of God renders it difficult either to shun or to resist the light.
2. It is sometimes necessary for the Divine Being to carry Himself with some severity against daring and obdurate sinners, for a warning to others.
3. Jehovah’s efforts to save render those who finally abuse His goodness singularly criminal. Improvements:
The way of transgressors hard
In regard to a large class of sins, retribution follows in the present life. Sin never pays. It means sorrow, distress, pain, whether that pain follows immediately or after a while. The point of the text is, that retribution follows now, in this present world. The earliest steps of vice seem pleasant; if it were not so, it would offer no temptation. To yield to lower appetites and passions is so easy, so natural, so inviting. But the wilful do not go far without being brought to a very different conclusion. “The way of transgressors” turns out to be rough and hard. I might endeavour to deter you from evil courses by telling you of the judgment to come; but what I wish to impress is that there is a day of reckoning even here. Look at the misery which intemperance brings; which licentiousness brings; which gambling brings; which fraudulent dealing brings. Then let this be the hour of your final, and ever-to-be-remembered decision for God and righteousness. (J. T. Davidson, D.D.)
Warning against transgressors’ ways
Four losses, caused by transgression, which help to make the way hard.
1. The loss of a good conscience.
2. The loss of character.
3. The loss of usefulness.
4. The loss of the soul.
When we go into the way of transgressors, we do not know that we shall ever have an opportunity of repenting and believing in Jesus. And no matter what part of the transgressors’ ways we may have walked in, we shall find it a hard way, because it will be sure to bring the loss of heaven to us. (R. Newton, D. D.)
The hard way of sin
I. The way of the sinner is a hard way, because it is unprofitable--hard work and poor pay--the devil is a hard lord and a mean paymaster.
II. It is a hard way, because in the end it is usually a failure. Most men see only the present, and when summer is here one feels it must never end; but winter comes on at last.
III. It is a hard way, because opposed to all the stronger principles that prevail in life and destiny. The transgressor braves the mighty current of that eternal river which has swept on its bosom every being borne down to the shoreless sea of the judgment of God. Examples: Absalom, Judas, Pharaoh. No use fighting against God.
IV. It is a hard way, because it is an unhappy way. Conscience and all the better self rebel--opposed to all one’s highest associates and surroundings.
V. A hard way, because it ends in eternal ruin--no opportunity to repair the damage. A hard life here, and hereafter eternal ruin!
VI. The only easy way is the way of obedience--the life that now is and the life that is to come. Turn from your hard master and serve the Lord Jesus Christ, whose yoke is easy and whose burden is light. (C. G. Wright.)
The rough road
I. What do we mean by a transgressor? One who breaks a law or violates a command.
II. The painful path. The R.V. says, “But the way of the treacherous is rugged.” The way of wickedness is difficult and dangerous to travel as a rugged road. How true; young people may not think so; but old men will tell you the prophet knew what he was saying when he uttered the words, “They weary themselves to commit iniquity.” Chrysostom says, “Virtue is easier than vice.” Mr. H. W. Beecher used to tell of a man in America “who had the habit of stealing all his firewood. He would get up on cold nights and go and take it from his neighbours’ woodpiles. It was ascertained that he spent more time and worked harder to get his fuel than he would have been obliged to if he had earned it in an honest way, and at ordinary wages.” And this is a type of thousands of men who work a great deal harder to please the devil than they would have to work to please God. It is easier to be sober than intemperate, honest than dishonest, etc.
III. The way is hard; for it is frequently a path of sorrow and suffering. “As certain serpents before they strike their prey fix their eyes upon it and fascinate it, and then at last devour it, so does sin fascinate the foolish sons of Adam--they are charmed with it, and perish for it.” “Woe unto their souls, for they have rewarded evil to themselves.”
IV. The way is hard; for it is the way of bitter recollections. (J. E. Whydale.)
I. Man is constituted to avoid transgression. This is taught by--
1. Physical science.
2. Moral consciousness.
3. Common experience.
II. Man is punished for each transgression.
1. Each sinful act increases sinful desire.
2. Each sinful act weakens spiritual strength. As the sinful desire weakens, the power of resistance diminishes. A reed that has been overcome by the rushing torrent finds it more difficult to stand erect before the next.
3. Each single act is living in the memory.
III. Man is punished by an eternal law which condemns transgression.
1. This is a law additional to, but in harmony with, his constitution.
2. This is a law to be satisfied only by atonement. (The Congregational Pulpit.)
The way of transgressors is hard
A murderer’s last words are seldom very edifying, as it often happens that they are merely the expression of conviction that the speaker, in spite of his crimes, is going straight from the scaffold to heaven. The dying words of James Tracy, executed in Chicago, are, however, an exception to the rule. They deserve the careful attention of young people who think that it is a fine thing “to see life,” by which they generally mean vicious life. Tracy said, “I do not believe any man who has known a life of virtue can ever be contented with a life of vice. The farmer who has spent his life on his farm, never seeing more of the world than the road to market, or more of society than the village congregation, is happier than the ‘sporting man’ who gets his money easily but questionably, and sees society in its wildest dissipation. I hope that my fate may prove a warning to young men who are cheating themselves with the idea that there can be any peace, happiness, or prosperity in a crooked life.” Perhaps the readers of immoral novels and young people attracted by the pleasures of vice will heed the solemn statement of a man who was qualified to speak with authority, even though they despise the same warning given in the Bible.
Every prudent man dealeth with knowledge: but a fool layeth open his folly.
The wise and the foolish
I. The wise man. “He dealeth with knowledge.” This implies--
1. That he has knowledge. Knowledge is essential to a wise man. All true knowledge has its foundation in God. There is no knowledge that includes Him not. It implies--
2. That a wise man treats his knowledge wisely. “He dealeth with knowledge.” A man may have a great deal of knowledge, and no wisdom. Wisdom consists in the right application of knowledge. The wise man so deals with his knowledge as to culture his own nature and promote the real progress of his race. “Perfect freedom,” says Plato, “hath four parts--viz., wisdom, the principle of doing things aright; justice, the principle of doing things equally in public and private; fortitude, the principle of not flying danger, but meeting it; and temperance, the principle of subduing desires, and living moderately.”
II. The foolish man. Foolish men show their folly in at least two ways.
1. By talking about things of which they know little or nothing. There are two notable facts in human nature. Empty-minded persons are generally talkative. The thinker, discerning difficulties in every turn, moves cautiously, reverently, and even with hesitation.
2. By attempting things which they are incapable of achieving. The foolish man knows not his aptitudes and inaptitudes. Hence he is seen everywhere, striving to be what he never can be; to do that which he never can accomplish. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
A wicked messenger falleth into mischief: but a faithful ambassador is health.
Ministers are ambassadors
I. Justify the comparison of the Ambassador and the minister of the gospel. Observe--
1. The high commission under which they act. The ambassador is invested with authority to perform business of the utmost importance to the well-being of both countries with which he is concerned. Is not this true of those servants of the Most High God who show to men the way of salvation? The office of the ministry is not of human, but of Divine origin.
2. Their required qualifications. An ambassador must be particularly instructed for his work; he must accurately know the mind and will of his employer, and the claims of the respective parties in reference to whom he treats. And a minister should be a man whose mind has been thoroughly enlightened by the truths of the gospel. He is set for the defence of the gospel, so he must show himself a scribe well instructed in the kingdom of heaven--one able rightly to divide the Word of truth.
3. The peculiar character of their transactions. The ambassador is often sent to arrange terms of peace. And in this sense, ministers are “ambassadors for Christ.”
4. The issue of their negotiations. “A faithful ambassador is health.” This refers to three things--the healing of those breaches and contentions which had previously broken forth and prevailed; the excellency of the benefits which accrue to the reconciled party; and the promotion to honour and prosperity of the successful ambassador. Each of these ideas is applicable to the higher exercises of the holy ambassadorship.
II. Considerations to urge you to accede to the proposals we advance.
1. It is derived from the expensive preparation made by the offended party to effect the desired conciliation.
2. The second consideration is drawn from the imminent peril of rejecting the proposals which we advance.
3. Think of the countless advantages of conciliation.
4. Reflect on the transitoriness of the period during which these negotiators must fulfil all the important ends of their embassy. Happy, thrice happy, are they who have been brought into a state of reconciliation with God. (John Clayton.)
But he that regardeth reproof shall be honoured.
One of the weakest traits of any person is to be unwilling to accept honest criticism and correction. From the foolish child who will never listen to parental authority, on to the foolish man who will never listen to rebuke or reason, pride always goeth before a fall. Honest criticism is often a bitter dose to swallow, but most tonics are bitter, and we are the stronger for taking them down bravely. “If I am censured,” said that godly man, Bishop Griswold, “then let me correct, but never justify, my faults.” A minister with more zeal than discretion once called on the bishop and belaboured him with rather a harsh denunciation. Instead of showing the man out of the door, the bishop calmly replied, “My dear friend, I do not wonder that they who witness the inconsistencies in my daily conduct should think that I have no religion. I often fear this myself, and I feel very grateful to you for giving me this warning.” This reply was made in such unaffected meekness and sincerity that the visitor at once begged the bishop’s pardon, and always regarded him afterwards as one of the most Christlike Christians he had ever known. He is doubly the fool who not only flings himself into a pit, but resents the friendly hand that tries to help him out of it. (T. G. Cuyler.)
The desire accomplished is sweet to the soul.
Soul pleasure and soul pain
I. Soul pleasure. What is it?
1. An accomplished desire. Desire is the spring power of our activities. Locke defines it “as the uneasiness which a man feels within him on the absence of anything whose present enjoyment carries the delight with it.” The desires of the soul, which are very varied, are very significant of our destiny. “Our desires,” says Goethe, “are the presentiments of the faculties which lie within us, the precursors of those things which we are capable of performing. That which we would be and that which we desire present themselves to our imagination, about us and in the future. We prove our aspiration after an object which we already secretly possess. It is thus that an intense anticipation transforms a real possibility into an imaginary reality. When such a tendency is decided in us, at each stage of our development a portion of our primitive desire accomplishes itself under favourable circumstances by direct means, and in unfavourable circumstances by some more circuitous route, from which, however, we never fail to reach the straight road again.” Indeed, pleasure consists in the gratification of desires.
2. The quality and permanency of the pleasure must ever depend on the object of the desire. If the thing desired is immoral, its attainment will be “sweet to the soul” for a little while, but afterwards it will become bitter as wormwood and gall. The triumph of truth, the progress of virtue, the diffusion of happiness, the honour of God, these are objects of desire that should give a holy and everlasting sweetness to the soul. God Himself should be the grand object of desire. “As for me, I will behold Thy face in righteousness. I shall be satisfied when I awake with Thy likeness.”
II. Soul pain. “It is an abomination to fools to depart from evil.”
1. There is soul pain in being connected with evil. Conscience is always tormenting the sinner; from its nature it can never be reconciled to an alliance with evil.
2. There is soul pain in the dissolution of that connection. There is a fierce conflict, a tremendous battle in the effort. (Homilist.)
He that walketh with wise men shall be wise: but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.
Walking with wise men a means of attaining wisdom
I. What is it to walk with wise men? It is to choose persons of that character for our intimate friends, and voluntarily join in their company and conversation. Walking is the motion which one chooseth. Walking with a person denoteth a friendly communication and delightful society, taking him into our councils, intimating our difficulties to him, seeking his advice and depending on his aid. The mere involuntary presence with the vicious, or being unwillingly deprived of the society of the good, is not a trespass against the rule here recommended. It may be necessary for good men to converse familiarly with the wicked, yet this may be without a participation in their crimes. Our Saviour conversed with publicans and sinners: The present state of human affairs requireth that we associate with men of all characters. And, in nearer relations, scarce is there any so happy as to be free from the company of fools. On the other hand, it is not to be supposed that the mere advantage of any man’s providential situation will entitle him to the benefit of walking with wise men. The necessary thing is voluntarily to associate, and of choice enter into intimacies of friendship with the wise. Men of all capacities and conditions show a desire for conversation and society. Everybody wants company. Agreeableness of character and disposition directeth men’s choice of company. Walking with wise men imports the improvement of conversation for the purposes of wisdom. Our choice should be determined with regard to virtue.
II. The influence and efficacy of walking with wise men as a means of attaining wisdom. Company has a great share in forming the tempers and manners of men. The influence is explained by--
1. A desire to be agreeable to those we converse with. This is powerful in human nature. The desire of approbation is strong.
2. The force of example. Mankind is prone to imitation. To represent religion in precepts does not so powerfully move the affections as when we see it delineated in life. The rules of religious virtue are reduced to practice in men of like passions with us, who also were “compassed” about with infirmities. Though their example is but imperfect, yet it is very worthy of our imitation, and most sensibly reproaches our failures. The nearer the example is the greater force it has. We are specially influenced, not by the example of saints and martyrs, but by the less celebrated instances of piety and virtue in our own familiar acquaintance.
1. Wise, that is, virtuous and good men, are a great blessing to the world, though they are frequently despised in it. Good lives are the most effectual preachers of righteousness, and continually solicit men to reform.
2. Bad men are not only useless to the greatest purposes of life, but mischievous in society.
3. We ought to be very careful in the choice of our friends and intimate companions. It is not every kind of familiarity among men that is worthy the sacred name of friendship. When founded on selfish, corrupt affections and passions, it is not only vicious, but humoursome, precarious, and inconstant, yielding no solid and abiding pleasure. (J. Abernethy, M.A.)
The influence of conversation, with the regulation thereof
Conversation has ever had a mighty influence on the conduct of human life. The regulation of it has, in all ages, demanded the utmost prudence and caution.
I. Men generally become such as the company they keep. All men are naturally lovers of themselves, and therefore the most effectual way of endearing and obliging one another is by mutual respects and compliances: no man can make his court more effectually to another than by falling in with him in opinion and practice, approving his judgment, and observing his inclinations: this is that which flatters our self-love, the predominant principle in our natures; this is that which renders society agreeable and friendship lasting. Ere we can be pleased ourselves, or please others, we must be mutually fashioned and moulded into an agreement and conformity of principles and morals, we must be acted and governed by the same affections and inclinations, and moved and led by the same desires and passions. Hence the proposition that men generally are such as their companions are. Two things in wise men never fail to work upon their friends and acquaintances.
1. Good discourse. What light, what strength, what pleasure does it minister! How it awakens the conscience and purifies the heart! “The lips of the wise disperse knowledge.” Such discourse “ministers grace unto the hearers.”
2. Good example. Virtue never appears so beautiful and lovely as in action. It is represented with much more life in the practice of a wise and good man than it can be in rules and precepts. The excellences and perfections of a friend are very strong incitements to emulation and very sensible reproofs of our remissness. A good life in a companion is certainly a mighty motive and encouragement for us. We see in him not only what we ought to do, but what we may do. Whatever is possible to him is possible to us.
As to the influence of bad company, it is clear that sin is catching and infectious; ill principles and practices are soon propagated.
1. Sin is the cement of the friendships and intimacies of sinners.
2. Ill company naturally instils and propagates vicious principles, worldly maxims, sensual carnal improvements.
3. Ill company creates confidence in sin.
II. Happiness is the fruit of wisdom, and misery of folly. Both reason and revelation and experience tell us that sin is fruitless and dishonourable. Righteousness fills the mind with peace and joy; sin tortures it with contradictions and unreasonable passions, with the guilt and the terrors of the Lord.
III. Advice as to keeping company.
1. We must be very cautious what company we keep.
2. We must endeavour to make the best use of it.
3. We must be fully persuaded that the due government of ourselves in this point is a matter of the highest moment. (J. Lucas.)
The attainment of wisdom
I. What is meant by walking with the wise?
1. It means, to converse with the writings of the wise.
2. To choose wise persons for our companions and to lose no opportunity of receiving their advice and instruction. Providence may appoint a good man’s station amongst sinners, either for a trial of his integrity, or to give him opportunity to use his best endeavours to reclaim them. Civil communities, so absolutely necessary for mankind, are composed of good and bad in such a variety of degrees that there are few good without some bad qualities, and few bad without some good ones. Men are disposed to seek society and to form acquaintances, larger or lesser, for their worldly concerns and for their mutual satisfaction and entertainment. This general inclination, or instinct, operates freely and variously, and for the most part it induces men to seek those who are of a like character and disposition with themselves.
II. The influence and efficacy which such conduct hath towards the attainment of wisdom. Conversation hath a considerable share in forming the tempers and manners of men. Their behaviour and their moral and religious dispositions depend much on the company they keep. The influence which the behaviour and discourse of others hath upon us may be ascribed to two causes.
1. A desire of being agreeable to those with whom we are familiar.
2. To the force of example. And the nearer the example is the more force it acquires. (John Jortin, D. D.)
Walking with wise men
I. The import of the character commended. “Wise man.”
1. Wisdom is that rectitude of mind which enables a man to judge what are the best ends, and what are the best means to obtain those ends. They are wise in the highest sense who possess a knowledge of God, and of spiritual truth.
2. Wisdom includes a reverent obedience to the Divine commands, and an earnest concern for personal salvation.
II. The method of the association advised. That we walk with wise men; hold mental intercourse and fellowship with them. Two modes by which this association may be formed.
1. By studying their writings.
2. By cultivating their personal friendship.
III. The value of the promise secured. “Shall be wise.” He shall rise, by association, to the attainment of the same character as that with which he has been connected. If we be rendered wise, we have--
1. The possession of dignity.
2. The capacity of usefulness.
3. The certainty of happiness. (James Parsons.)
Influence of good associates
This subject is illustrated by the Persian moralist Saadi: “A friend of mine put into my hands a piece of scented clay; I took it, and said to it, ‘Art thou musk or ambergris, for I am charmed with thy perfume?’ It answered, ‘I was a despicable piece of clay, but I was some time in the company of the rose; the sweet quality of my companion was communicated to me, otherwise I should only be a bit of clay, as I appear to be.’”
Character affected by intercourse
By “wisdom” is meant “religion.”
I. He that walks with religious men will become religious. The term “walk” signifies a continued course of conduct, or a manner of living, in which men persevere till it becomes habitual. The place to which every religious person is travelling is heaven. All who would walk with them must make heaven the object of their pursuit. The only way to heaven is Jesus Christ. All who walk with religious persons must agree in assenting to this truth.
1. The fact that a person chooses to associate with religious characters, in religious pursuits, proves that he is already the subject of serious impressions.
2. He who walks with religious persons, will see and hear many things which powerfully tend to increase and perpetuate those serious impressions.
3. One who walks with religious men must be the subject of serious impressions for many years successively. He who continues to walk with religious men to the end of his life will become religious.
II. A companion of sinners shall be destroyed. That is, one who chooses for his associates persons who are regardless of religion.
1. Such an one is the subject of no religious impressions; he has few, if any, serious thoughts.
2. Such an one takes the most effectual way to prevent any serious impressions ever being made on his mind.
3. Such an one takes the most effectual way to banish those serious thoughts that do come.
4. Such an one gets confirmed in habits and feelings opposed to his ever becoming religious. (E. Payson, D.D.)
The power of association
Every one exerts an influence on some others, and in turn is acted on by them. It is vain to endeavour to escape, or destroy, this mutual influence. There is a strong tendency in human character to the assimilating itself to that of those with whom it is in contact. The text represents the acquisition of wisdom as a direct consequence of the associating, or walking with, the wise. The association must be both intimate and voluntary. There is in all of us the desire of being esteemed or approved. This desire of approval is nearly allied, if not identical with, that dislike of being singular which has so mighty an operation on all classes of mind. It is almost a necessary consequence on this, that we shall gradually, though perhaps imperceptibly, assimilate ourselves to the tastes and tendencies of our companions. Illustrate a man, not of vicious habits himself, thrown continually into association with the dissolute. Unless he has great moral courage, he will inevitably assimilate to the vicious. His virtuous principles get secretly undermined. We cannot argue, with equal probability, that if the case were that of a vicious man associated with virtuous the result would be a conformity of character. There is a tendency in our nature to the imitation of what is wrong, but not--at least not in the same degree--to the imitation of what is right. There is, however, a strong probability that, through association with virtuous men, the vicious will in a degree be shamed out of his viciousness. If you add the force of example to the desire of approval, the probability will be heightened. Known facts of experience bear out our text. Then walk with the wise that are dead--be specially careful what authors, what books you make your companions. And walk with the wise of the living, with the virtuous, with the righteous. Nay, walk with God. (H. Melvill, B.D.)
Sin is catching, is infectious, is epidemic. Not appreciating the truth of my text, many a young man has been destroyed.
1. Shun the sceptic.
2. Shun the companionship of idlers.
3. Shun the perpetual pleasure-seeker. Rather than enter the companionship of such, accept the invitation to a better feast. The promises of God are the fruits. The harps of heaven are the music. Clusters from the vineyards of God have been pressed into the tankards. Her name is religion. Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
The grand fellowship and assimilation in life’s path
I. The grand fellowship in life’s path. Though fools crowd the path of life, there are many “wise men” here and there. Who are the wise men?
1. The men who aim at the highest end of existence. What is the highest end? Not wealth, pleasure, fame, etc. The highest end of man, the only worthy end, is eternal perfection of character, spiritual assimilation to God’s perfection. Who are the wise men?
2. The men who employ the best means to reach that end. Who are the wise men?
3. The men who devote the best time in the employment of those means.
II. The glorious assimilation in life’s path. “Shall be wise.”
1. There is a transforming power in the ideas of the truly wise. The ideas of “wise men” are like the rays of the sun--warm, bright, touching all into life. In the Bible you have these ideas in their mightiest form.
2. There is a transforming power in the sympathies of the truly wise. Sympathy is a mighty power. Even a touch of it in the dropping tear, the faltering voice, the quivering lip, will often move a soul to its centre. The sympathies of the wise man are deep, spiritual, genuine, Christlike. They are morally electric.
3. There is a transforming power in the example of the truly wise. All moral character is formed on the principle of imitation. But we imitate only what we love and admire; and the character of the wise man has in it what alone can command the highest love and admiration of the soul. It has moral beauty--the beauty of the Lord.
From this subject we learn--
1. That the choice of companions is the most important step in life.
2. That godly literature has an inestimable value.
3. That the Church institution is a most beneficent appointment. (Homilist.)
Companionship of the young
The subject of companionship and its consequences is one of deep interest and constant application to all stages of life; but it concerns especially the young. There are few matters about which the young should be more careful, and there are few about which many of the young are more careless. Companionship is a human necessity. Man seeks for it by an instinct of his nature, as certainly and irrepressibly as whales go in schools, fish in shoals, cattle in herds, birds in flocks, and bees in hives. Companionship, in itself, is not an evil thing, but a good. But it may be sadly perverted, and thus become bad, and the source and spring of untold badness. Men can turn good to evil. The very best of God’s things may be perverted. And men, young and old, have perverted companionship. We are made or marred according to our choice of companions. In Solomon’s thought was only the companionship of living men. There is now also a companionship in books, and thus mind with mind. The character of book companionship resembles closely that of living men. In forming human companionships some seem scarcely to exercise any choice at all. They allow themselves to drift. As a rule such persons gravitate towards the bad. Many choose those who, at first meeting, make an agreeable impression on them. The only real basis of true love is the knowledge of personal qualities which command love. You should never make a companion of one you do not know. The text speaks of possible companionships under two classes--the wise and the foolish. By the “wise” is not meant the “learned “; nor the cute, the clever, the capable man of business. By the “wise” is meant the good, the man who places the spiritual above the material, God over and above self; the man who would rather be right than what is called successful. By “fools” is not meant the intellectually weak and silly; nor the merely thoughtless, the giddy, the frivolous. By “fools” is meant all who are morally and spiritually without God, and thus, openly or secretly, wicked. We are left free to choose our companions from among the wise and the fools But we are not without guidance. We have reason, and conscience, and the Word and Spirit of God. The results we reap from our companionships will correspond with the choice we make. The reaping mentioned here is the result of the principle of assimilation. The associate of the wise will be assimilated to them. The very choice of the spiritually right, and good is an evidence of wisdom at the start. In such fellowship a right and God-pleasing character is built up. The companion of the frivolous and the wicked soon learn their ways, and become conformed to their character. Surely moral contamination is more to be dreaded than physical, You must have a companion. Receive, I beseech you, the best of all--our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. (Alexander Davidson.)
The importance of avoiding bad and choosing good company
I. What may be meant by wise men and fools. Not learned men and illiterate men. A wise man is one who proposes to himself the most valuable ends, and pursues them by the best means. A fool is one who either has no worthy ends in view, or does not pursue them by proper means. The prudent is the wise man. The inconsiderate is the fool. The wise man is the true believer and holy soul; and the fool is the impenitent sinner, who rejects Christ and His salvation.
II. What is it to walk with wise men or fools?
1. It is to love and choose their company.
2. To seek and frequent their company.
3. To make them our intimate friends, and to fall in with them.
III. The advantages or disadvantages of walking with wise men or fools. As to walking with wise men--
1. It is a great part of wisdom to choose such.
2. It is a means of growing wiser.
3. He who really is the companion of the wise will certainly himself be wise.
As to walking with fools--
1. The companions of fools walk in the way which leads to destruction.
2. They are continually in the utmost danger of destruction.
3. If they continue they shall certainly be destroyed, with them, for ever and ever. (John Guyse, D. D.)
Society is in itself so necessary to human life. Adam, in the state of innocence, could not be happy, though in paradise, without a companion. The chief scope of the text may be summed up in this observation: that every man’s present and future welfare doth very much depend upon the right choice and improvement of those friends or companions with whom he doth most familiarly converse. For the clearing of this observation, it may be made very evident from divers Scriptures. Upon this account it is that we have such frequent cautions and threats against conversing with bad company. This was the meaning of all those severe prohibitions in the ceremonial law against touching any unclean thing. It is observable, that he who touched a dead beast was unclean but till the evening (Leviticus 11:24), but he who touched a dead man was unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:11), signifying a bad man to be the most dangerous of all other creatures. The apostle styles wicked men to be such as are dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) even whilst they live (1 Timothy 5:6.) There are four things wherein most men place their welfare, some or all of which every rational man doth propose to himself in the choice of his friends. These are reputation, safety, comfort, profit.
1. For reputation or honour. Wicked men are fools in the phrase of the text; and what credit can a wise man expect by conversing with fools? On the other side, good men are the excellent of the earth. Such alone are truly noble and magnanimous. And therefore whoever would propose to himself honour and reputation in his society must make choice only of such companions.
2. For safety. The text tells us that a companion of fools shall be destroyed. If any one shall persuade himself that he can enjoy their company, and yet escape their contagion, he may as well think to suspend the natural operation of fire; whereas on the other side, every one fares the better for the company of those that are good. They are the lights of the world, the salt of the earth, the pillars of a nation, those that stand in the gap to prevent an inundation of judgment. Potiphar’s house was blessed for Joseph’s sake (Genesis 39:5), and all the passengers in the ship were saved from drowning for St. Paul’s sake (Acts 27:24).
3. For comfort. This is one of the principal ends of friendship, to ease and refresh a man amidst the anxieties of life; and there is nothing of greater efficacy to this purpose. But now this cannot be expected from any wicked person; whereas, on the other side, those that are wise in the phrase of the text are the most delightful company that are.
4. And lastly, for profit. There is nothing to be expected from such friends but the increase of our sins and of our punishments; whereas in conversing with those that are good there are these advantages--
There are three lessons I would briefly insist upon in the application of it.
1. That we would take notice of the great benefit to be obtained by the right improvement of society and mutual converse with one another.
2. That we of this place would be careful, both for ourselves and those committed to our charge, in the right choice of our friends and Company.
3. That we would labour for those proper qualifications and abilities which may render us acceptable and useful in our conversing with others. There are four conditions, amongst many others, that are more especially suitable to this purpose--
The evils of bad company
“A man is known by the company that he keeps.” The proverb is illustrated by the experience of all ages.
I. Of necessary intercourse with the wicked.
1. In society and trade. Conversation is permitted in buying, selling, and following out ordinary commercial transactions.
2. We may have intercourse with others for their good. Christ Jesus conversed with sinners to gain them.
II. Avoid unnecessary familiarity. Avoid the sins of the ungodly. If impelled by position, connection, or business to associate, beware of compliance in sin. The nearest tie cannot sanction participation in sin. Many reasons dissuade from undue familiarity. You cannot be familiar and escape contagion. The conversation of the wicked has more power to corrupt than the conversation of the good to ameliorate. These observations are peculiarly addressed to the young whose habits are, forming, whose character is moulding.
III. Some classes of dangerous characters to be avoided by the young man.
1. Beware of the idle. Idleness exposes to all forms of temptation.
2. Beware of the selfish and covetous. There is grave danger that you be affected with this spirit, and your sole determination be by all means to get wealth. Covetousness is a deceitful sin. It leads to innumerable evils.
3. Beware of the loose and erroneous. Those who are neglecting religion. The Sabbath-breaker. Those naturally disposed to error.
4. Beware of those who frequent suspicious places. Choose for companions persons of moral worth, those who fear the Lord. (Samuel Spence.)
Companionship with the highest wisdom
It is as we contemplate the Divine perfections that our souls are lifted toward the same perfection. The man who moves in cultivated society acquires refined tastes--a high ideal. The eye is educated by the most perfect specimens of art; the ear is educated by the most graceful forms of speech; the manners are formed upon the most elegant models of deportment. Walking in the light, he becomes a child of the light. So with the believer. The coteries of human society may be closed to him. From its select circles he may be hopelessly excluded. But the highest culture of all is open to him in the society of God. He may walk in the supernal light, and form his character upon a Divine model. Communion in the spiritual sphere, as well as in the social, implies assimilation. We become like those we walk with. (J. Halsey.)
Godly society improving
When General Nicholson lay wounded on his death-bed before Delhi, he dictated this last message to his equally noble and gallant friend, Sir Herbert Edwardes: “Tell him I should have been a better man if I had continued to live with him, and our heavy public duties had not prevented my seeing more of him privately. I was always the better for a residence with him and his wife, however short. Give my love to them both!” (Christian Weekly.)
Society operates for good or ill
If we desire to be preserved from sin, let us avoid engaging company; many perseus would resist the force of natural inclination, but when that is excited by the example of others, they are easily vanquished. A pure stream passing through a sink will run thick and muddy. And the “evil communication” will leave some of its corrupting influence to pollute the purest morals. On the contrary, society with the saints is a happy advantage to make us like them. As waters that pass through medicinal minerals do not come out the same waters, but, being impregnated with their properties, they derive a healing tincture from them, so it is impossible to be much with the Lord’s people without imbibing something of their motives and principles, and a desire to be influenced by their spirit. No society can be to us a matter of indifference, but must operate for good or ill. The present world is a continual temptation. We are in a state of warfare; though not always in fight, yet always in the field, exposed to our spiritual enemies that war against our souls: and our vigilance and care should be accordingly. (G. H. Salter.)
Evil pursueth sinners:but to the righteous good shall be repaid.
The practice of wickedness generally attended with great evil
The practice of righteousness is men’s true interest, even in this present life. Wickedness is generally attended with great misery, even here as well as hereafter. Exceptions must, of course, be made in cases of persecution for truth and righteousness’ sake.
1. Consider mankind in general, under the notion of one universal community. Then the only thing which distinguishes men from wild beasts, with regard to any true happiness of life, is religion, or a sense of the just and right, and of the difference between moral good and evil. Reason, dissociated from moral obligation, only makes men more effectually destroy one another. Reason implying a sense of moral obligation is the secret of happiness in human life.
2. Take a less general view of mankind, in their more restrained political capacity, as formed into particular distinct nations and governments. In this view the only true and lasting happiness depends on the practice of righteousness and true virtue. In proportion as justice, and order, and truth, and fidelity prevail, the happiness of society is secured.
3. Consider men singly, every one in his mere private and personal capacity. Still the only possibility of lasting happiness is the practice of righteousness, charity, temperance, and universal virtue. Illustrate in relation to health; riches, honour, and reputation; inward peace and satisfaction in a man’s own mind. Here virtue triumphs absolutely without control, and has no competitor. (S. Clarke.)
Sin and its punishment
The pursuit is a successful pursuit. The evil not only follows the transgressor, but it lays hold of him at last, and wrings out its penalties. Much sin is committed in spite of the remonstrance of conscience, and with the secret acknowledgments, on the part of the perpetrator, that he is doing wrong, and exposing himself to punishment. These men must have some specific with which they quiet their apprehensions, and procure for themselves an ease in the doing of what they know to be wrong. Direct attention to one form of deceit--the expectation of concealment, and therefore of impunity. It is unquestionably thus in regard of those offences of which human laws take cognisance. And much sin is committed with the secret hope that God will not observe it, or that He will not be extreme to take vengeance. It is false to suppose that any sin will pass without recompense just because Christianity is a system which provides in full measure for its forgiveness. Our redemption through Christ does not at all exempt from the temporal penalties of sin. It so makes future happiness dependent on present holiness that every pardoned sin may be punished with the loss of something glorious in eternity. It is a mistaken objection to Christianity that the arrangements of the Christian system secure a certain class of men against the being pursued and overtaken in their sins, because it takes for granted that forgiven sin must go wholly unpunished. Evil “pursueth”; that is, hunts the sinner with the greatest pertinacity, tracking him through the various scenes of life, and then, when the man fancies he is safe, suddenly darting upon him, and exacting all the punishment. Illustrate by the vices and follies of youth-time, or by the mere idling away of the early years of life. No sin can ever be committed which is not, in one way or another, punished by God. This is true of sins committed after conversion, as well as before conversion. Then let no man depart and think that he may sin yet one more sin and not eventually be a sufferer. (Henry Melvill, B. D.)
Destiny following character
That retributory justice tracks our footsteps, is a doctrine as old as the race. It grows out of the conscience, and is confirmed by the experience of mankind. The Nemesis of the heathen, which was a mysterious pursuer of character, was only a personification of the doctrine. Misery grows out of sin, and happiness out of goodness.
I. The law of moral causation shows this. Man’s character is not the creation of a day or an hour, it is the result of past actions. When no change has taken place, like that of regeneration, the man’s character to-day is the result of the whole of his past life, and will be, without such a renovation, the cause of the whole of his future. Character is a fruitful tree, it never ceases bearing, every branch is clustered, but the fruit is either misery or happiness, according to its own vital essence.
II. The constitution of moral mind shows this. Moral mind has at least two faculties.
1. One to recall the past. The law of memory compels us to re-live our past lives.
2. One to feel the past. The past does not flit before us as shadows on the wall, as images on the glass, making no impression; it falls on conscience, it stirs it into feeling. The soul is compelled to shudder at a wicked past, whilst a virtuous past fills it with a quiet and ineffable delight.
III. The teaching of holy writ shows this. The Bible assures us that God will render to every man according to his deeds (Joshua 7:20-26; Romans 2:6-10). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children
The inheritance of a good man’s children
The happiness of men depends less on their external conditions than on their personal virtues.
“A good man is satisfied from himself.” The effects of a man’s habits are transmitted to his children, and even to their descendants. They derive from his character a sufficient and a permanent inheritance.
I. The instruction of a good man is an inheritance to his children. The habits which a young man acquires under his father’s eye are the foundations of his character. Even talents are subordinate to virtues, and good affections are of more importance in human life than the most splendid ornaments of an unprincipled mind. He who adds to good paternal character the principles of liberal knowledge and the views of a liberal mind sends his children into the world with those precious endowments without which the wealth of the rich serves only to render them more conspicuously contemptible or unhappy. Men of the same worth are not equally qualified for the duties of parental tuition, and their children have not the same advantages. But there is a minuteness and an affection in the paternal care of a good man which supplies the lack of many talents. His children venerate his intentions, even where his judgment has failed him.
II. The example of a good man is an inheritance to his children. The character of a father lies at the foundation of his influence, and the effect of his paternal solicitude depends on it. His habits are his most successful admonitions, and the examples of religion and probity which his children receive from the general tenor of his temper and conduct are his most permanent instructions. If he has convinced his children that he derives his motives and his consolations from the sincerity of his faith, and that he allows no competition to be in his mind betwixt the praise of men and the approbation of God, his example does more to determine their habits than his best instructions. There are certainly defects in all human characters which render our best examples to our children very imperfect. But even habitual errors in a good man are not vices, and defects and infirmities do not prevent the influence of substantial virtues.
III. The care and protection of providence are an inheritance to a good man’s children. A good man will use his best endeavour to qualify his children for the business and duties of life; but his chief dependence is on Providence. He commits his children to God. His paternal labours are sanctified by prayer. It is an ever-working law that God “shows mercy unto thousands of them that love Him,” and to their children after them. The testimony of ages shows that this law has its full effect, and warrants the confidence with which devout men commit their children to God. The influence of God on the circumstances which regulate our lot is real and perpetual, amidst all the irreligion and incredulity of the world. The plan of Providence is not so uniform as to render it certain that the children of good men will be always prosperous, Their own misconduct often determines their conditions; so may errors in their early education; so may the moral discipline which they require.
IV. The kindness of faithful men is an inheritance to a good man’s children. Their success in life must in part depend on the assistance and the friendship of other men, and the purposes of Providence in their favour are accomplished by means of those whom God raises up to assist, or to guide them. God selects the instruments of His purpose from all the variety of human characters. Kindness done to the child of a good man may become the means of transmitting virtue and prosperity through successive generations. Practical conclusions:
1. The indispensable obligation of every father to give to his children the inheritance of the faithful.
2. The children of good men ought anxiously to preserve the moral and religious advantages which they have received from their fathers.
3. Every conscientious man should feel a personal obligation to help in ensuring to the children of good men the inheritance bequeathed to them by their fathers. (Sir H. M. Wellwood.)
The advantage of having godly parents
What so interesting as children? Children are pledges of mutual and hallowed affection. Love to children is the source of numberless and unutterable hopes and fears, and pains and pleasures. It is the emblem of Divine compassion. “As a father pitieth his children.” If parents are affected by the condition of children, children are affected by the conduct of parents. We constantly see children, in ways innumerable, suffering for the vices of their ancestors. The fact is undeniable; and deism has to encounter the same difficulty with revelation. Religion is no more chargeable with it than the course of nature. On the other hand, goodness operates powerfully and beneficially in descent. In the text we have a godly father entailing blessings on his family.
I. The character in question is a good man. None are good perfectly; none are good naturally; some are saved, and God has begun a good work on them. This is the origin of the character; but what are the features of it?
1. In a good man we must have piety.
2. We must have sincerity.
3. We must have uniformity.
4. We must have benevolence and beneficence.
II. Such a good man may be found in connected life. His religion will improve all those views and feelings that tend to make him social and useful. The Scripture knows nothing of any pre-eminence attaching to celibacy. Though the subject is spoken of in reference to the man, the woman is by no means excluded. To a family, a good mother, no less than a good father, is an invaluable blessing.
III. Examine what the inheritance is which a good man leaves to his offspring.
1. It comprehends religious instructions.
2. Pious example.
3. It takes in believing prayers.
4. It consists of sanctified substance.
5. The death of a good man is another part of this inheritance.
6. God bears a regard to the descendants of His followers. (William Jay.)
The wealth of the sinner is laid up for the just.--
I. As entailed by the good and alienated by the evil. Here we have it--
1. Entailed by the good. “A good man leaveth an inheritance to his children’s children.” It is a characteristic in man that he feels an interest in posterity. This is an indication of the greatness of man’s nature. It is here intimated by Solomon that the good have some special security by which their property shall descend to their children’s children. And truly they have; and what is it? The probable goodness of their children’s children.
2. Alienated by the evil. Wickedness, from its very nature, cannot hold property through many generations: the fortunes it inherits must crumble away.
II. As gained by industry and squandered by imprudence. Every acre of land is full of potential wealth. Skilled industry can make more of one rood of earth than some men can an acre. But it requires even more sense to retain and rightly use property than to get it. (Homilist.)
An inheritance that will wear
When the renowned Admiral Haddock was dying he begged to see his son, to whom he thus delivered himself--“Notwithstanding my rank in life and public services for so many years, I shall leave you only a small fortune; but, my dear boy, it is honestly got, and will wear well; there are no seamen’s wages or provisions in it, nor is there one single penny of dirty money.”
Much food is in the tillage of the poor: but there is that is destroyed for want of judgment.
The responsibility, cultivation, and harvest of small gifts
Palestine was a land of small peasant proprietors, and the institution of the Jubilee was intended to prevent the acquisition of large estates by any Israelite. The consequence, as intended, was a level of modest prosperity. It was “the tillage of the poor,” the careful, diligent husbandry of the man who had only a little patch of land to look after, that filled the storehouses of the Holy Land. Hence the proverb of our text arose. In all work it is true that the bulk of the harvested results are due, not to the large labours of the few, but to the minute, unnoticed toils of the many. Small service is true service, and the aggregate of such produces large crops. Spade husbandry gets most out of the ground. Much may be made of slender gifts, small resources, and limited opportunities if carefully calculated. This text is a message to ordinary, mediocre people, without much ability or influence.
I. It teaches the responsibility of small gifts. It is no mere accident that in our Lord’s great parable He represents the man with the one talent as the hider of his gift. There is a certain pleasure in the exercise of any kind of gift, be it of body or mind; but when we know that we are but very slightly gifted by Him, there is a temptation to say, “ Oh, it does not matter much whether I contribute my share to this, that, or the other work or no. I am but a poor man. My half-crown will make but a small difference in the total. I am possessed of very little leisure. The few minutes that I can spare for individual cultivation, or for benevolent work, will not matter at all. I am only an insignificant unit; nobody pays any attention to my opinion. It does not in the least signify whether I make my influence felt in regard of social, religious, or political questions, and the like. I can leave all that to the more influential men. It is a good deal easier for me to wrap up this talent--which, after all, is only a threepenny-bit, and not a talent,--and put it away and do nothing.” Yes, but then you forget that there is a great responsibility for the use of the smallest, as there is for the use of the largest, and that although it did not matter very much what you do to anybody but yourself, it matters all the world to you. But then, beside that, my text tells you that it does matter whether the poor man sets himself to make the most of his little patch of ground or not. “There is much food in the tillage of the poor.” The slenderly endowed are the immense majority. The great men and wise men and mighty men and wealthy men may be counted by units, but the men that are not very much of anything are to be counted by millions. And unless we can find some stringent law of responsibility that applies to them, the bulk of the human race will be under no obligation to do anything either for God or for their fellows, or for themselves. Let me remind you, too, how the same virtues and excellences can be practised in the administering of the smallest, as in that of the greatest gifts. “He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much.” If you do not utilise the capacity possessed you increase the crop of weeds from its uncultivated clods. We never palm off a greater deception on ourselves than when we try to hoodwink conscience by pleading narrow gifts as an excuse for boundless indolence, and to persuade ourselves that if we could do more we should be less inclined to do nothing. All service coming from the same motive and tending to the same end is the same with God.
II. But now, note again how there must be diligent cultivation of the small gifts. The inventor of this proverb had looked carefully and sympathetically at the way in which the little peasant proprietors worked; and he saw in that a pattern for all life. There will usually be little waste time, and few neglected opportunities of working in the case of the peasant whose subsistence, with that of his family, depends on the diligent and wise cropping of the little patch that does belong to him. And so if you and I have to take our place in the ranks of the two-talented men, the commonplace run of ordinary people, the more reason for us to enlarge our gifts by a sedulous diligence, by a keen look-out for all opportunities of service, and above all by a prayerful dependence upon Him from whom alone comes the power to toil, and who alone gives the increase. The less we are conscious of large gifts the more we should be bowed in dependence on Him from whom cometh every good and perfect gift, and the more earnestly should we use that slender possession which God may have given us. Industry applied to small natural capacity will do far more than larger power rusted away by sloth. Who are they who have done the most in this world for God and for men? The largely endowed men? “Not many wise, not many mighty, not many noble are called.” The coral insect is microscopic, but it will build up from the profoundest depth of the ocean a reef against which the whole Pacific may dash in vain. It is the small gifts that, after all, are the important ones. So let us cultivate them the more earnestly, the more humbly we think of our own capacity. “Play well thy part; there all the honour lies.” God, who has builded up some of the towering Alps out of mica flakes, builds up His Church out of infinitesimally small particles--slenderly endowed men touched by the consecration of His love.
III. Lastly, let me remind you of the harvest reaped from these slender gifts when sedulously tilled. Two great results of such conscientious cultivation and use of small resources and opportunities may be suggested as included in that abundant “food” of which the text speaks. The faithfully used faculty increases. To him that “hath shall be given.” “Oh, if I had a wider sphere how I would flame in it, and fill it.” Then twinkle your best in your little sphere, and that will bring a wider one some time or other. Fill your place; and if you, like Paul, have borne witness for the Master in little Jerusalem, He will not keep you there, but carry you to bear witness for Him in imperial Rome itself. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.
The child wisely chastened
Under this apparent severity is to be found the spirit of true kindness. It would seem as if the last word in the text were an emphatic word. There is a good deal of chastening, but it is not timely; the will has grown strong, the passions have acquired tenacious hold upon the mind, the chastening comes too late in life. It is the easiest of all things to spare the rod; it enables family life to proceed with fluency; it avoids all controversy and all painful collision as between the elder and the younger. For a time this is beautiful, so much so that people commend the family as one characterised by great harmony and union; on the contrary, it ought to be reprobated. The child that is wisely chastened comes to love the very hand that used the rod. Children must be taught that all things are not theirs, that the world is a place for discipline, and that all life is valuable only in proportion as it has been refined and strengthened by patient endurance. Let no merely cruel man take encouragement from these words to use the rod without measure, and to use it merely for the sake of showing his animal strength. That is not the teaching of the passage. The chastening is to be with measure, is to be timely, is to have some proportion to the offence that is visited, and is to give more pain to the inflicter of the punishment than to its receiver. Great wisdom is required in the use of the rod. The rod has to be used upon every man sooner or later; we cannot escape chastisement: we must be made to feel that the world is not all ours, that there are rights and interests to be respected besides those which we ourselves claim: the sooner that lesson can be instilled into the mind the better; if it can be wrought into the heart and memory of childhood it will save innumerable anxieties and disappointments in all after-life. (J. Parker, D. D.)
The wise use of the rod
The rod is to be taken for correction or punishment in general, not specifically for corporal punishment.
1. The rod should be the last resource. The cases in which it is necessary to appeal to the rod are very rare.
2. When the rod is used, be quite sure that a fault has been committed. Children are sometimes severely chastened when they have committed no fault, and this produces a sense of injury and a loss of confidence, which cannot fail to exert evil influences.
3. Let there be a due proportion between the fault and the correction.
4. Never chastise in a passion.
5. Let chastisement be preceded by, or accompanied with, earnest efforts to convince the offender of his fault.
6. Accompany the correction with a system of encouragement. (R. Wardlaw.)
The use of the rod
Properly treated and fully expanded, this subject of “the stick” would cover all the races of man in all regions and all ages; indeed, it would hide every member of the human family. Attention could be drawn to the respect accorded in every chapter of the world’s history, sacred and profane, to the rabdos--to the fasces of the Roman lictors, which every schoolboy honours (often unconsciously) with an allusion when he says he will lick, or vows he won’t be licked--to the herald’s staff of Hermes, the caduceus of Mercury, the wand of AEsculapius, the rods of Moses, and the contending sorceress--to the mystic bundle of nine twigs, in honour of the nine muses, that Dr. Bushby loved to wield, and which many a simple English parent believes Solomon, in all his glory, recommended as an element in domestic jurisdiction--to the sacred wands of savage tribes, the staffs of our constables and sheriffs, the highly-polished gold sticks and black rods that hover about the ante-rooms of courts at St. James or Portsoken. The rule of thumb has been said to be the government of this world. And what is this thumb but a short stick, a sceptre emblematic of a sovereign authority which none dares to dispute? “The stick,” says the Egyptian proverb “came down from heaven.” (J. Cordy Jeaffreson.)
The righteous eateth to the satisfying of his soul.
The satisfaction of the body determined by the condition of the soul
Bodily satisfaction is an essential element in our happiness so long as we are in this world. The text implies that the satisfaction of the body depends upon the condition of the soul; and this is a great truth greatly neglected. Consider what bodily satisfaction requires.
I. Bodily health. No food can satisfy a diseased body, a body whose organs and functions are out of order. But the condition of the soul has much to do with physical health. The anxieties, ill-tempers, recriminations, impure passions of a wicked heart, will soon reduce the body to disease, feebleness, and ruin. On the other hand, a true, virtuous, and happy soul tends to physical health. “A merry heart doeth good like medicine.” One thought can disorganise a healthy body and do much to restore a diseased one.
II. Bodily supplies. The supplies necessary to satisfy the body should be--
1. Of a right kind. A body restless with hunger would scarcely be satisfied with confectionery. Now, the condition of the soul has much to do with the kind of food. The soul not only modifies our natural appetites, but creates artificial ones, and hence supplies provisions for the body which are unnatural and unhealthy. The soul, by its working on the body’s appetites, has brought to the body’s table compounds unsatisfying and deleterious.
2. A right amount. An insufficient amount, even of right provisions, would leave the body unsatisfied. But the question of sufficiency also depends greatly on the soul. Indolence, extravagance, intemperance, bad management, often so reduce men’s material resources that they are left utterly destitute of the necessary food. These thoughts, we think, give an important meaning to the text, “The righteous eateth to the satisfying of his soul: but the belly of the wicked shall want.” A corrupt soul will evermore have a dissatisfied body. (Homilist.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Proverbs 13". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Lent