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Every wise woman buildeth her house: but the foolish plucketh it down with her hands.
The wise builder
The Scriptures have adapted their instructions to every character and condition in human life.
I. Describe the wise woman.
1. She must know how to manage with prudence and care the concerns of a family. It is woman’s work to “guide the house.” How many, on marrying, find they need to learn the first principles of domestic economy. If a man can be more happy in any other house than his own, he is a lost man.
2. A wise woman will improve her taste and her manners. This in no way involves her becoming proud.
3. A wise woman will aim to improve her mind. The mind is enlarged by receiving ideas, and by using them as materials of thought and reasoning.
4. A wise woman will endeavour to enlighten and improve her conscience. This is the faculty of the soul by which we weigh the morality of an action. To improve the conscience we must give it light, and let it guide us. Well enlightened, it guides to happiness and heaven.
5. A wise woman will be particularly careful to cultivate the heart. The instinctive affections are capable of improvement by other means than grace. But the female character is essentially defective in the absence of piety. Religion has a peculiar sweetness when it mingles with the modest softness of the female character. By reason of their peculiar trials, females need the comforts, hopes, and prospects of religion more, if possible, than the other sex.
II. A wise woman buildeth her house. To build her house is to promote the best good of her husband and her offspring.
1. How will such a woman affect their estate? Her wisdom will save more than her hands could earn.
2. She will render her family respectable.
3. She will render her family happy. She will so manage as not to irritate their passions. Her example will breathe through the house a mild and soft atmosphere. There is no resisting the combined influence of so many virtues. What she cannot do by her precepts and examples, she effects by her prayers. Her influence surely extends beyond her own family.
1. Females see how they are to rise in the scale of being.
2. See the importance of supporting good schools.
3. See the importance of the gospel.
4. Females should make the Scriptures their daily study.
From the mother, rather than the father, the members of the family will take their character. (D. C. Clark.)
Wise and foolish wives
The foolish woman does not know that she is plucking down her house; she thinks she is building it up. By unwise energy, by self-assertion, by thoughtless speeches, by words flung like firebrands, she is doing unutterable mischief, not only to herself, but to her husband and family. There are, on the other hand, wise women who are quietly and solidly building the house night and day: they make no demonstration; the last characteristic that could be supposed to attach to them would be that of ostentation; they measure the whole day, they number its hours, they apportion its worth; every effort they make is an effort which has been reasoned out before it was begun; every word is looked at before it is uttered; every company is estimated before it is entrusted with confidence. In this way the wise woman consolidates her house. (J. Parker, D.D.)
I. Its great power.
1. It can build up. “Every wise woman buildeth her house.”
(1) Materially. By her economy, industry, and wise management she increases its material resources. A good wife builds up her house--
(2) Spiritually. A good wife by her example, her spirit, her admonitions, her reproofs, her prayers, rears in her house a very temple of industry, intelligence, and worship.
2. It can pull down. “The foolish plucketh it down with her hands.” There are women who by their miserable tempers and degrading habits ruin their husbands and children.
II. Its necessary qualification. What is the necessary qualification for a good housewife? “Wisdom.” (Homilist.)
Home made happy by a good wife
A plain marble stone, in a churchyard, bears this brief inscription: “She always made home happy.” This epitaph was penned by a bereaved husband, after sixty years of wedded life. He might have said of his departed wife, she was beautiful, and accomplished, and an ornament to society, and yet not have said she made home happy. Alas, he might have added, she was a Christian, and not have been able to say, “She always made home happy.” What a rare combination of virtues and graces this wife and mother must have possessed! How wisely she must have ordered her house! In what patience she must have possessed her soul! How self-denying she must have been! How tender and loving! How thoughtful for the comfort of all about her! (Christian Treasury.)
He that walketh in his uprightness feareth the Lord.
I. Men differ widely in their daily conduct.
1. Some men walk uprightly. Walking uprightly implies--
(1) Moral strength. The man is not bent and crooked by the infirmities of sin or the weight of depravity.
(2) Conscious rectitude. He does not bow down his head, as if ashamed to look his neighbour in the face. He is as open as the day, and as fearless as the sun.
2. Some walk perversely. “They are perverse in their ways.” They are crooked in their purposes, policies, and performances.
II. Men reveal their heart towards God in their daily walk.
1. Right conduct springs from a right feeling towards God. The man that walketh uprightly feareth the Lord. There is no true morality without religion. Piety is the first principle of all rectitude. All good living must have respect to God.
2. Wrong conduct springs from wrong feeling towards God. “He that is perverse in his ways, despiseth Him.” The wrong doer has no feeling of respect for God. He ignores Him as much as he can. You may know how men feel inwardly toward their Maker by observing how they deal outwardly with each other. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Where no oxen are, the crib is clean: but much increase is by the strength of the ox.
The law of increase
The illustration is drawn from husbandry, and in a country like Palestine, where the ox had such an important place in agricultural operations, it was peculiarly intelligible and peculiarly fit. “Where is the farmer,” says the wise man, “who, in order to preserve tidiness in his stalls, would forego the assistance of oxen in his fields?” Something he might secure, no doubt; a rack unsoiled by the oxen’s fodder, a floor unmarked by the oxen’s hoofs, the absence of disorder that offends the eye, the freedom from task-work that tires the arm, with whatsoever satisfaction such immunity affords. Yes, but what does he lose? Almost all that makes his property profitable, almost all that makes his stackyard full. What of the ploughing of the land? What of the carrying home of the sheaves? What of the treading out of the corn? “Where no cattle are, the crib is clean.” True. But what of that? Is the cleanness worth considering, in comparison with the increase that comes by the strength of the ox? And now, I think, we have hold of the principle. There is no good to be got without its accompanying drawbacks; let the drawbacks and the good be weighed carefully together, and if the good outbalance the drawbacks, then let the good be chosen and the drawbacks faced with resolution, intelligence, and cheerfulness. Sentiment is right in its place, fastidiousness is proper in its season; but sentiment is worse than idle, fastidiousness is worse than false, when we permit them to stand between us and a substantial good, the good that Providence intends us to get or the good that Providence commands us to do.
I. We might begin with an illustration from the industrial sphere, the relation, namely, between manufacture and natural scenery. Where no manufacture is, the scenery is intact; but much increase comes by the processes of manufacture. Take, for example, the midland counties of England, and especially those parts of them we know as the Black Country. No region of England is more picturesque in itself, marked by the outlines and stored with the elements of natural and original beauty. Yet how man has overlaid and defaced things! Look at the country as it is now, ploughed with railway tracks, torn with excavations, encumbered with heaps of rubbish. And those to whom beauty is all may object to this. “What barbarism,” they say, “what vandalism, what wanton and wilful desecration of the sanctities of nature! Better, surely, was the country in its virgin luxuriance, when the slopes were clothed with woodland.” Well, the change means loss, no doubt, loss from the standpoint of the beauty-lover. But it means gain from the standpoint of the utilitarian, and gain, too, in the eye of those who look higher than what is merely utilitarian. For not only does black smoke, according to the proverb, make white silver, but it is a witness to facts, a testimony to realities, of which silver is only a single embodiment, and that, too, by no means the highest. The sight was a symbol of several things, all noble and honourable in their way. It is a symbol of man’s power over nature, his diligence in extracting and his ingenuity in moulding the substance which nature conceals in her heart. It is a symbol of the clothing that covers shivering forms, a symbol of the bread that feeds hungry mouths. It is a symbol of England’s greatness, industry, and world-wide trade.
II. Passing from the industrial to the domestic sphere, we might select an illustration of a different character, which a poet-preacher of the time has happily associated with this text, and speak of the relation between children and home. We remark, then, that where there are no children, the house may be trim; but much profit comes through the presence and companionship of children. Neatness in a house may be good. But there is a neatness that tells of emptiness. There is a neatness that betokens loneliness. There is a neatness that is not half so attractive as the wear and tear, the disturbance and disorder, that denote the presence of busy little inmates, with their restless hands and roving feet. The loss is a small one compared with the gain. Children are God’s heritage. How much they teach! How much they bestow! Not only does the parent train and develop the child, but the child may train and develop the parent. Our children should be leaders to all of us, leaders from faithlessness into faith, from restlessness into rest, from selfishness into sacrifice, from frivolity into earnestness, thoughtfulness, and the sense of responsibility. Does not the pure eye of an innocent child restrain the foul or the cruel act? Are not its needs a discipline in sympathy, its questionings a training in reflection? Where the children are absent, the home may be neat, the mind unperplexed; but much increase--increase of happiness, increase of affection, increase of prosperity--comes through association with little children.
III. Or we might pass to the ecclesiastical sphere, and select as an instance of the same principle the relation between controversy and the Church. We note, then, at this point, that where no discussion is, the Church may be at rest; but much benefit comes through freedom of discussion, in the case of the Church as well as of the State. Some people are all for peace. But there is a peace of stagnation. There is a peace of indifference. There is a peace that is based upon lack of conviction. Do not judge of Church enterprises nor of Church proceedings, as some do, and condemn them simply because they create dispeace. Peace may be bought too dearly. Purity is better. Truth is better. Undoubtedly in discussion the crib may be soiled. Controversy often awakens temper, evokes party spirit, causes hard words to be said, unkind acts to be done, selfish rivalries to spring up Yet these may be a blessing in the end, in comparison of which the temporary soiling of the crib is a matter of smaller importance after all. There is the down-breaking of prejudice. There is the removing of misunderstandings. There is the formulating of principle. There is the discovering of character. It will be best for the spread of righteousness; it will be safest in the interests of belief.
IV. Pass next to the sphere of Practical Beneficence, and apply the principle of the text to the relation between philanthropy and experience. We remark, then, that where no philanthropy is, the experience may be easy, free from much that is unpleasant to look at, unpleasant to think of, and unpleasant to do; but much increase comes through the exercise of philanthropy. What have we here but the plain, simple lesson, which has to be learnt by every social benefactor, every Christian worker, that they who will live helpfully, as the saviours and the succourers of their fellow-men, must be prepared to forego fastidiousness. To do any real good amidst the poor, the sunken, and the vicious, men must come into contact with many things that are neither pleasant nor pure. Now, take any such labourer as these, in the great unselfishness, the overflowing charity, the fearlessness of mind and of heart, which the labour engaged in always demands. And take another, to whom labour of the time is unknown, one who, with the same possibilities and the same call, says, “No, the task you propose is distasteful, the experiences you prescribe are rough; I prefer to have my sight unoffended, my feelings unharrowed, my imagination unhaunted. Let me see to myself--the purity of my own character, the health and prosperity of my own soul, in the circle of my personal friendships, the seclusion of my private home.” Put the two side by side. Which leads the richer existence? Each has its own reward. How shall we best explain these rewards, their distinctive nature, their relative value? Just in the terms of the text. For the one, the “clean crib”--a certain ignorance, a certain immunity, certain security; not only a sensibility unwrung by the spectacles of sorrow, but a mind kept closed to the pictures of sin: that, and perhaps little more than that. For the other, the “much increase,” in the enriching of his personal character, the widening of his personal sympathies, together with the privilege of ministering to his brethren’s welfare and the joy of being blessed to his brethren’s souls. Clean garments, clean hands, who set a value upon these, as the continuous, the indispensable prerequisite of life? I will tell you who do not. Not the surgeon, as he walks the battlefield with the sponge that wipes the blood and the linen that binds the wounds. Not the rescue party, as they enter the mine, amidst the heat, the soot, and the smoke of a recent explosion, with which the caverns still echo, and the earth still smokes. Not the sailor, as he pulls to the wreck, through a troubled sea that casts up mire and dirt, till his arms are twined with the seaweed and his coat is drenched with the ooze. Clean hands and clean garments, you must be content now and then to forego them, if the world you live in is to be cleansed.
V. Akin to the last thought is another one, drawn this time from the mental sphere. Take the relation between force of character and life. We remark, then, in the last place, that where there is no force of character, the life may be inoffensive, harmless in itself, pleasing to others; but much increase, increase to the world and the Church, comes through force of character. Most men have the defects of their qualities. This is especially true of those whoso distinguishing quality is vigour, a certain superabounding energy and strength. The vigour is apt to be domineering, the energy rude, the strength unaccompanied with suavity, fine feeling, good taste. If you are to reap the advantage of such characters, you take them as you find them, and pardon and tolerate their coarseness that you may be helped and benefited by their zeal. Luther was earnest but rough. But we remember the work. We remember the time. Neither the period nor the task admitted of treatment by rosewater. What though the crib was untidy? Be thankful for the well-ploughed field; be thankful for the gathered sheaves of religious truth and religious liberty, which still remain in our storehouses, to give seed to the Christian sower and bread to the Christian eater, as the outcome of Luther’s labours, the memorial of Luther’s name. Take God’s blessing as it comes to you, and be very tolerant towards the instruments. Polish is a less thing than enthusiasm, courtliness than sincerity. It may be well to have both things combined. But if we are shut up to the alternative, and feel tempted to pronounce for the softer qualities, as less likely to irritate, less apt to excite, let us fall back on the principle of the text, and while remembering that where no force of character is the life may be inoffensive, much increase comes by the vigour we fear. (W. A. Gray.)
Where no oxen are, the crib is clean
I. Taken in its primary sense, it conveys a lesson of no small importance to the mere cultivator of land. You pride yourself upon the exquisite neatness and order of your farm. The spade, the plough, the fork, the cart, are almost as pure and delicate as when they came from the hands of the maker. But if the work is left undone, and you purchase neatness and order at the expense of having no sheep in the fold, then you pay too dear for your nicety; you have the clean crib, but you will have also an empty barn.
II. The same maxim applies to the management of a house. You pride yourself on the exquisite neatness of every corner in your dwelling-place. Not a cobweb is on the ceiling, and not a grain of dust on the staircase. The delighted mistress has the daily satisfaction of seeing her own fair face reflected in the polished table below her. The crib is clean; but you may here also buy the cleanliness at too high a price. Perhaps cleanliness is not merely your taste but your idol. You forget that usefulness is the true object of household economy, and that neatness is a mere means to this end. You, like Mr. Burke’s man of honour, “feel a stain like a wound,” and esteem a hole in a carpet as tantamount to a hole in your character. You forget that your house was not designed by the great Giver for yourself alone, but for your neighbours and friends, for brothers and sisters, and nephews and nieces, who want a little country air or London shopping, and who naturally look to you, as to a richer relation and friend, to give them the convenience they need. Surely you had better have a soiled “crib” than a narrow heart; and spotted tables than not a single loving, grateful, happy guest to sit at a clean one.
III. This rule is also applicable, I think, to literature. The correctness of some writers is perfectly unimpeachable. The grammarian searches in vain for a false concord or quantity, or the rhetorician for a false ornament. There is no confusion of metaphor; no redundancy of expression which disfigures the pages of less cautious writers. Now here the “crib” is clean; but then, in such cases, it is often equally true that there are no “oxen.” The style is as “dull, cold, fiat, and unprofitable,” as it is pure and correct. It is the judgment of a no less critic than Quintilian, that the writer who, in his youth, is never redundant, will usually in his old age be poverty stricken. Where the heart, the imagination, and the passions have free play, the critic may find something to correct; but very often also consciences will be touched and hearts be edified.
IV. But I now turn to some higher topics, to which the rule appears to me equally to apply. Lenis is a most unexceptionable person; of the very calmest temper and the most placid manners. He is always to be found in the right place at the very right moment. He speaks little, and never offensively; he belongs to no party, and is a determined enemy to all excess. He is perhaps constant at church, though a little drowsy there; has a decided preference for vague, calm, general sermons. He gives decently to all popular or uncriticised charities. And the result of all this is, that he gets into no scrapes, incurs no reproach, is claimed as a friend by men of all opinions, simply because he was never known to express an opinion of his own. Now here “the crib “is unusually “clean.” But at what expense is it purchased? I should say at the cost of most of the feelings, tastes, principles, rules, habits, and sympathies which constitute the substance and essence of the Christian character. The “crib is clean” because there are “no oxen.” Lenis is as much like a statue as a man. All the higher and nobler passions of our nature have no place in him. His life is, possibly, harmless, but it is altogether unprofitable. And this because the one essential quality is wanting, the love of God, and the love of His family upon earth. He might be nearly all he is if there were no such Being as the Redeemer of the world, who had felt for him, and expected him to feel for others. The same thought may be extended to different classes of the ministers of religion. I remember to have seen, some years since, in a review of high authority, a comparison drawn between Bishop as a parochial minister, and Thomas Scott as the minister of Olney. The bishop, on quitting his parish for another sphere of duty, finds little but subjects of self-complacency, commendation, and thankfulness. The whole population might seem to have received the whole word of truth into their souls. Every plan had prospered. “The crib is clean.” Mr. Scott, on the contrary, in quitting his parish, speaks strongly of the immorality of one part of the population, of the stubbornness and self-will of another, and of the abuse of the doctrines of grace in a third party. And whilst he dwells strongly, and gratefully, on the zeal, love, and fidelity of some, his language is certainly, on the whole, such as might be expected from the mourning prophet, when “rivers of water ran down his eyes because men kept not the word” of the Lord. Here, therefore, “the crib” was, to appearance, not equally “clean.” But then I am disposed to think that the “oxen “ were far more diligently at work in the one case than in the other. The object of the one minister was mainly to secure order, regularity, decency, harmony, with a decent regard for morals and religion. The object of the other was to “lay the axe to the root of the tree”--to convince, to alarm, to convert, to sanctify, to lead his hearers as contrite sinners to the foot of the Cross, and to qualify them under God for the highest seats in the kingdom of heaven. And the result was that, in the one case, few consciences were touched, few fears were awakened, few hearts were moved. In the other case, if there were some who were offended at plain truths announced in the somewhat homely language of the minister, there were also many awakened consciences.
V. The last case to which I shall refer the proverb is that of controversy. Eirenos is a man of peace. He can quote to you maxims without number from the Scriptures and from the writings of great theologians on the duty of gentleness, forbearance, charity. If you wish to enlist him on the side of those who are doing battle for some vital truth, he comes down upon you with a deluge of authorities which it is almost impossible to resist; tells you that Fenelon wrote a whole treatise upon “Charity”; that Bishop Hall was the author of a treatise expressly denominated “The Olive Branch “; that Hooker said the time would come when “a few words written in charity” would be worth all the angry disputation in the world. Now all this is true; and is, indeed, never to be forgotten by the disciples of a compassionate Saviour. A higher authority than any of these uninspired writers says: “If I give my body to be burned and have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.” But it may be well to remind Eirenos that, notwithstanding the peaceful spirit and language of all these authorities, Fenelon barely escaped burning for the honesty and explicitness with which he spoke his mind; Bishop Hall was for the same offence driven out of his diocese; Hooker was charged with all sorts of enormities before the Privy Council; and St. Paul himself was hunted down like a wild beast by all classes of the community. But Eirenos has no taste for such extravagances. Now here is the “clean crib,” but where are the “oxen”? Here is Erasmus; but where is Luther, or Cranmer, or Ridley, or Latimer? Where are the zeal, the “indignation” at error, the “vehemence” of holy love, the devotion to God and to truth, which consumed the soul of the meek and lowly Saviour; which exiled St. John to Patmos; and which has lighted up the funeral pile of the whole army of saints and martyrs? (Christian Observer.)
A faithful witness will not lie.
A true witness
Truth is beautiful, as well as safe and mighty. In the incident related below a boy twelve years old, with only truth as a weapon, conquered a smart and shrewd lawyer, who was fighting for a bad cause. “Truth is the highest thing that man may keep,” and the noblest child or man is he that keeps the truth ever between his lips. Walter was the important witness in a lawsuit. One of the lawyers, after cross-questioning him severely, said, “Your father has been talking to you and telling you how to testify, hasn’t he? Yes,” said the boy. “Now,” said the lawyer, “just tell us how your father told you to testify.” “Well,” said the boy modestly, “father told me that the lawyers would try and tangle me in my testimony; but if I would just be careful and tell the truth, I could tell the same thing every time.” The lawyer didn’t try to tangle that boy any more. (The Fireside News.)
Falsehood and flaw
What a flaw is in steel, what a foreign substance is in any texture, that a falsehood is to the character, a source of weakness, a point where under strain it may break. (Newman Smyth.)
A scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not.
It is the constant profession of those who reject the Bible that they are seeking truth. They seek wisdom and do not find it. They want the first qualification of a philosopher, a humble and teachable spirit. There is a race of men amongst us at the present day who scorn bitterly faith’s meek submission to God’s revealed will. They desire to be free from authority. The divinity, as they phrase it, is in every man. If men really were independent beings, it would be right to assert and proclaim their independence. But the problem for man is, not to reject all masters, but to accept the rightful one. Those who scorn the wisdom from above seek laboriously for the wisdom that is beneath. The name “secularist” is adopted to indicate that they appreciate and study the knowledge that concerns the present world, and repudiate as unattainable or useless all knowledge that pertains to another. “Secularism “ is Latin for “this-world-ism.” Before we adopt this philosophy we must be sure that there is immortality for man. If there is another world, our course here will affect our condition there. It is by faith in the unseen that men steer through the shifting sea of time. Cut us off from the future, and you have left the ship without a chart, and without a store; without a compass to steer by, and without a harbour to steer for; you have left the ship an aimless, meaningless, log lying on the water, to be tossed up and down by the waves, and driven hither and thither by the winds, until it fall asunder or sink unseen. (W. Arnot, D.D.)
The proud and scornful incapable of attaining wisdom
I. The character of a scorner. The following ingredients in it:
1. Pride. An undue desire of honour, or an overvaluing one’s self, and undervaluing of others. It is the source of undutiful behaviour towards God. It is discovered by affecting a pre-eminence above their fellows. Some claim honour on account of their actual knowledge or their capacity of investigating and discerning truth. To some religion is itself the subject of glorying and vain elation of mind.
2. Contempt of religion and virtue (2 Peter 3:3-4).
II. The obstruction which arises from scorning to men’s becoming wise.
1. Pride is a great hindrance both to the attainment of knowledge and virtue. Especially is the man who is proud of his wisdom and his religion the farthest off from becoming truly wise and religious.
2. This perverse disposition rendereth men obnoxious to the displeasure of God, and entirely disqualified for receiving favour from Him. Only application is to exhort you to humility, as a most necessary qualification for your increase in useful knowledge, and in every Christian virtue. There may be mistaken notions of humility. It is far from consisting in any such sentiments as disparage human nature, or any such temper and behaviour as are unworthy its dignity. We must not degrade ourselves into a lower species that we may be humble men. With respect to God, it consists in a just sense of our own subjection and dependence, of our own weakness and guilt. This disposition will entitle us to the favour of God and the approbation of all good men. (J. Abernethy, M.A.)
A scorner incapable of true wisdom
I. Who is represented here under the character of scorner? Scorners were men who, with much ado, had made a shift to get rid of good principles, and such stiff opinions as they found inconsistent with a loose practice. As they had not any religion themselves, so their way was to despise those who had. The scorner is said to “seek wisdom” and “not to find it” He pretends to know more, to have made freer inquiries after truth, and to have shaken off the prejudices of education more thoroughly than other people.
II. In what sense he cannot find wisdom. Four things unfit such a man for impartial inquiries after Divine truth--a very proud, or a very suspicious temper, false wit, or sensuality. The two last generally belong to him; but the two first are essential to him, and inseparable from him. There is no quality that sticks more closely to a scorner than pride, and nothing more evidently obstructs right reasoning. Suspicion makes him doubt everything he hears and distrust every man he converses with. An extremity of suspicion in an inquirer after truth is like a raging jealousy in a husband or a friend; it leads a man to turn all his thoughts towards the ill-natured side, and to put the worst construction upon everything. False wit is a way of exposing things sacred and serious, by passing a bold jest upon them and ridiculing arguments instead of comforting them. The sensual man is, of all men living, the most improper for inquiries after truth and the least at leisure for it. He is never sedate and cool, disinterested and impartial. (Bp. Atterbury.)
Go from the presence of a foolish man.
The society to be shunned
Man is a social being. The text holds up the society which we should avoid--the society of the foolish.
I. It is unprofitable. What you want in society is knowledge. True knowledge shall--
1. Rightly guide.
2. Truly comfort.
3. Religiously inspire the soul.
But such knowledge is not to be got from the foolish man. He has no power to help you, and therefore time spent in his society is waste.
II. It is misleading. “The folly of fools is deceit.”
1. They cheat themselves. They fancy they have the true ideas, and the true pleasures, but it is a miserable delusion.
2. They cheat others. They mislead by the falsehood of their speech and the craftiness of their policy.
3. It is wicked. They “make a mock at sin.” “Go,” then, “from the presence of a foolish man.” Seek the society of the wise. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Safety in flight
It is the intention of their Maker that some creatures should seek safety, not in fighting, but in fleeing. In the moral conflict of human life it is of great importance to judge rightly when we should fight and when we should flee. The weak might escape if they knew their own weakness, and kept out of harm’s way. That courage is not a virtue which carries the feeble into the lion’s jaws. To go in among the foolish for the rescue of the sinking may be necessary, but it is dangerous work, and demands robust workmen. Your first duty is your own safety. But on some persons at some times there lies the obligation to encounter danger for the safety of a neighbour. (W. Arnot, D.D.)
Fools make a mock at sin.
Thinking lightly of sin
Breathing an atmosphere tainted with moral evil, seeing and hearing sin in our daily walks, we are in no small danger of overlooking its malignity. The word “sin” is to many obscure. It is seldom used in common life. It belongs to theology and the pulpit. According to Scripture there is nothing so evil, so deformed, so ruinous, as sin. To do wrong is more pernicious than to incur all the calamities which nature or the evil the heart, this is human malice can heap upon us. Sin, violated duty, the evil of the heart, this is the only evil of which Scripture takes account. It was from this that Christ came to redeem us. Scripture leads us to connect with sin or wrong-doing the ideas of evil, wretchedness, and debasement, more strongly than with anything else.
I. Our natures testify that sin is the chief of evils. Evil has various forms, these set in two divisions, natural and moral; pain or suffering springing from outward conduct and events, independent of our will: and evil related to character and conduct, and inspired by the will. Vice is manifestly more to be dreaded than pain. All will agree that excellence of character is the supreme good, and that baseness of soul and of action involves something worse than suffering. Our very nature teaches the doctrine of Christianity, that sin or moral evil ought of all evils to inspire most abhorrence and fear.
II. Experience testifies that sin is the chief of evils. Though sin sometimes prospers, and never meets its full retribution on earth, yet, on the whole, it produces more present suffering than all things else; so that experience warns us against sin or wrong-doing as the chief evil we can incur. To do wrong is to inflict the surest injury on our own peace.
III. The miseries of disobedience to conscience and God are not exhausted in this life. Sin deserves, calls for, and will bring down, future, greater misery. This Christianity, and this nature, teaches. Some, indeed, assert that punishment is confined to the present state; that in changing worlds we shall change our characters, and that moral evil is to be buried with the body in the grave. But to suppose no connection to exist between the present and the future character is to take away the use of the present state. It is even plainly implied in Scripture, that we shall suffer much more from sin, evil tempers, irreligion, in the future world, than we suffer here. I have spoken of the pains and penalties of moral evil or of wrongdoing, in the world to come. How long they will endure I know not. (W. E. Channing, D.D.)
The danger of making light of sin
I. The foolishness in itself. Sin is really a very terrible thing: nothing is so terrible. Ask its slave and its victim. If you look from its work within you to its work around you, is the foolishness much less manifest? What but sin is the cause of all the misery around us?
II. The consequences of mocking at sin.
1. The effects of this mocking on the mocker himself. Nothing can be so deadening to the soul. Because laughing at sin relieves us of fear of it. Such mocking is altogether alien from, and contrary to, the mind of Christ. Moreover, it must quench the Spirit. It must kill the first beginnings of repentance.
2. Consequences upon others. There is nothing more corrupting of others than this mocking at sin. Such men may be found doing their deadly work everywhere, and in every rank of society. The young are their peculiar victims. The mocker’s work is often irretrievable. No one who has led another to laugh at sin can ever calculate or undo the work he may have done.
1. To fly from the very first beginnings of this sin, whether in yourself or in others.
2. Understand the real value of that in which you are tempted to join.
3. If you are tempted to envy sinners their laugh, or to shrink from their mockeries, seek the defence, relief, and strengthening of prayer. (Bishop S. Wilberforce.)
Mockers at sin
Of two kinds. Those who ridicule all fear of offending God. Those who will not go this length, but make sins matters of jest rather than of conscience.
I. What sin is. The transgression of a reasonable, holy, and righteous law.
II. The consequences of making a mock at sin. The general consequence of this practice must be the prevailing of sin and unrighteousness in the world. The passions of mankind lead them by a strong propensity to what is forbidden, and all the fences and guards of religion are found little enough to restrain our compliance. Whatever weakens these restraints must, in the same proportion, occasion the increase of all ungodliness. What can more effectually contribute to this evil than making a mock at sin? The natural reluctances of reason and conscience will generally guard men against open scoffers, who ridicule all fear of God, all restraints of virtue and religion. But there are other mockers, whose influence is more to be feared. Men who will permit you to keep a reserve of religion, will pretend to agree with you in detesting some crimes, but persuade you to think others only ludicrous amusements, which it is weakness and superstition to abstain from yourselves, and a morose, unconversable severity to censure in your neighbours. This is a temptation to which we are exceedingly open. How much we are obliged in duty, and concerned in interest, to correct and oppose this vain, irreligious humour of mocking at sin! To check this growing evil, let us reflect on that holy and dreadful presence before whom we stand. The eyes of our Judge are always over us. (J. Rogers, D.D.)
Mocking at sin
Sin may briefly be described as the wilful violation of the moral law of God, made known to us in conscience and in revelation. Describe some of the forms under which men evidence their mocking contempt of the power and design of sin. To the grossest phases of this sin we need scarcely do more than allude. Against the more specious forms of this sin there is need of warning.
1. A man may, without directly denying the evil of sin, yet treat it with most unseemly levity.
2. Some men are in the habit of speaking of sin, that is, of the popular and less flagrant kinds of sin, as being indeed, in a modified sense, an evil; but as one which is inherent in, and inseparable from, humanity, which must therefore be submitted to in part, as a man would endure the enforced society of a disagreeable companion, whom circumstances would not permit him to discard.
3. Men mock at sin when they bear false witness concerning the fruits and effects of sin in themselves and others. If sin be a man’s worst enemy, and a very powerful and malignant enemy, he who should mock at it, and deride it, must be acting the part of a vain, senseless, and presumptuous braggart. No man can really believe sin to be a matter for laughter. From all irreverence, and an unholy mirth in relation to sin, may God deliver us! (G. W. Brameld, M.A.)
The folly of mocking at sin
I. What is it to mock at sin? Sin is the transgression of the law; doing what God forbids, or omitting to do what He commands. The term “mock,” as applied to the law of God, may include ridiculing, trifling with its authority and sanctions, or palliating and excusing the breach of it.
1. There are some who scoff, openly profane, and set at defiance the law of God. Of these there are two classes, the one urged by their sensual appetites, the other by their intellectual pride. There are others who see the necessity of a certain attention to moral conduct, but look with a sullen, contemptuous, sceptical eye upon revelation.
2. There are some who mock at sin by “ trifling” with it. They suffer almost anything to set aside obedience to God; they expose themselves unnecessarily to temptation; they frequent companies and places, involve themselves in employments, which are likely to lead them to sin, and yet mock at the idea of danger from them. They do not give the law of God, in reference to the regulation of their daily conduct, a thought either one way or the other.
3. There are others who may be said to mock at sin by “excusing and palliating it.” They contend that there is more good than evil in the world. They think the gospel dispensation has lowered the requirements of the law.
II. The folly of such mockers. What justifies ridicule, trifling, and palliation, and does this apply to sin?
1. We ridicule what it is beneath argument to confute. Ridicule is, at all times, a dangerous weapon, seldom befitting the spirit of a real Christian. Absurdity is the object of ridicule. But what is there of absurdity connected with the law of God, that we should laugh at the breach of it? There is something more specious in the mockery of intellectual pride at the transgression of God’s law; because we are, from the depravity of our nature, less susceptible of the enormity of spiritual sins than of sins of the flesh. Ambition and pride, for instance, with the world give a dignity to the character, where drunkenness would excite disgust.
2. Where is the sense, or wisdom, of trifling with sin? Has the breach, or observance, of God’s law so little to do with our happiness or misery, as really to be scarcely worth our serious attention? Are the consequences of sin unimportant?
3. The folly of excusing or palliating sin is no less manifest. It lessens the abhorrence of sin in our mind. By having low views of sin, we adopt low standards of duty, low aims at usefulness, low views of the holiness of God. To palliate sin is to destroy the harmony of the Divine attributes, to rob Christ of His glory, Christianity of its motives, and to beguile us into a fatal neglect, or even denial of its fundamental doctrines. By palliating sin we also encourage the commission of sin in others; as many a parent has found by bitter experience, in screening children from proper correction, from a foolish regard to the feelings of the moment When shall we learn that every deviation from the will of God is a loss of happiness? (B. E. Nicholls, M.A.)
The fool and his sport
A man may be a fool in two ways: by knowing too little, or too much.
I. The fool.. Every wicked man is a fool. See this by comparing their properties.
1. It is a fool’s property to have no foresight of future things.
2. To affect things hurtful to himself.
3. To prefer trifles and toys before matters of worth and weight. The fool will not give his bauble for the king’s exchequer. Illustrate by the prodigal son.
4. To run on his course with precipitation. As these fools are many, so they are of many kinds. There is the sad fool and the glad fool, the haughty fool and the naughty fool.
II. The sport of the fool. The fathers call “making a mock at sin,” the lowest degree of sin, and the very threshold of hell. Consider the object of the fool’s sport--sin.
1. Sin, which is contrary to goodness, and though to man’s corrupt nature pleasing, yet even abhorred of those sparks and cinders which the rust of sin hath not quite eaten out of our nature as the creation left it. It is a contra-natural thing to “make a mock at sin.”
2. Sin, which sensibly brings on present judgments.
3. Sin, which, if it bring not present judgments, is the more fearful. The less punishment wickedness receives here, the more is behind.
4. Sin, that shall at last be laid heavy on the conscience.
5. Sin, which provokes God to anger.
6. Sin, which God so loathed that He could not serve His own elect because of it, but by killing His own Son.
7. Sin, that shall be punished by death--the second death. But I cease urging this terror, and would rather persuade you by the love of God. (T. Adams.)
The folly of mocking at sin
I. What is meant by making a mock at sin. There are three sorts of sinners who, in their several degrees, may justly be charged with this guilt.
1. Those who esteem it a piece of courage to despise all religion, and a greatness of mind to deride all the obligations of virtue.
2. Those who do not in words, but do in deeds, bring contempt upon religion. This practical insult upon religion; this contempt of virtue and goodness in men’s lives and actions is really, in the sight of God, a making a mock at sin.
3. Entertaining so slight an opinion of the evil and danger of sin, as makes men who are not entirely profligate, yet content themselves with distant resolutions of future repentance, and in the meantime speak peace to themselves in the practice of unrighteousness, or in the enjoyment of unlawful pleasures
II. Upon what grounds or reasons men are tempted to be guilty of the several degrees of this vice.
1. As to those profane spirits who esteem it a mark of courage to despise all religion, the only ground these have to go upon is atheism and infidelity. The only foundation this kind of mockers build upon is the hope that there will be no future state, no judgment to come.
2. Those who pretend to believe a God, and yet live viciously, flatter themselves with a notion that sin is not of so dangerous a nature as the preachers of the gospel represent it to be.
3. Those who are really sensible of the necessity of true repentance and amendment, and yet at the present speak peace to themselves in the practice of unrighteousness, can only find a foundation in an artificial design of securing to themselves both worlds, and of ingrossing more happiness than either God or Nature designed them. This is a mocking of God, but more truly a mocking or deceiving of themselves.
III. How weak all those grounds really are, and how great is the folly of acting on them. As to the first kind of profane mockers, what is the state of such persons when God takes away their soul? Can they be sure there is no God, and no future state? The hardiest unbeliever never yet pretended to have demonstration in this case. As to the second kind, those who make profession, but live viciously, on a general expectation that sin is less dangerous, and God more merciful than is usually represented, God is not in the least likely to be imposed upon by an outward profession of service, which even an earthly superior would with indignation reject. As to the third kind, those who indulge at present, with promise to themselves of amendment by and by; it may be said that this folly is playing with death and sporting with destruction. It is the folly of letting slip opportunities which may never be retrieved. It is the folly of provoking God to cut us off in His wrath. It is the folly of incapacitating a man’s self more and more for the doing of that which yet is of absolute necessity not to be left undone. The longer any man continues in sin, the more difficult it becomes for him to leave it off. He grows hardened through the deceitfulness of sin. (S. Clarke, D.D.)
The evil of sin
I. In its nature. Its evil is most strikingly represented by contrasting it with the character of God, against whom it is committed; and with the law of God, of which it is the transgression.
1. God is a Being of the most perfect excellence, possessed of every attribute that can excite the admiration, love, and esteem of His intelligent creatures. Holiness is the chief and brightest attribute of the Godhead. Sin aims at the destruction of all the perfections of God.
2. The law of God is a transcript of His perfections. It is not only holy and just, but likewise good, calculated to promote the happiness of those who are subject to its authority. Sin is the transgression of the law, and therefore must contain in it a malignity and vileness proportioned to the purity and excellence of the law of God. Sin is the greatest of evils because it is opposite to the greatest good.
II. In its effects. Within us and around us we contemplate the baneful consequences of this mortal evil. No sorrow or misery of any kind can be named that does not spring from this root of bitterness.
1. See mischief done to the angels who kept not their first estate.
2. Man, formed after his Maker’s image, is likewise become a fallen and sinful creature. The calamities of earth bear marks of man’s fatal apostasy from God. The whole creation groaneth.
3. The effects of sin are even yet more serious in a future and eternal state.
III. The views which persons in different situations entertain concerning sin. These differ according to their different moral characters. The more profligate a man becomes, the less evil he perceives in sin. The purer a man is the clearer and deeper are his convictions of the guilt and danger of transgressing the law of God. (David Black.)
The folly of sinners in making a mock at sin
I. The character of wicked and ungodly men. The phrase “making a mock” sometimes signifies an abusing of others by violent and lewd actions; sometimes an exposing of men to shame and dishonour; sometimes an imposing upon the credulity of others, things that seem incredible and impossible; sometimes it is taken for a failing in our promises. Two other acceptations that are more to the present purpose.
1. The word “mock” is taken for scoffing, or bitter taunting at others (Luke 23:11; Hebrews 11:36).
2. Mocking may be taken for slighting, and making no account of; looking upon things or persons as trivial and inconsiderable.
II. The censure passed upon them. They are “fools” who make a mock at sin.
1. They are fools who make a mock at other men’s sins, so as to turn them into matter of jest and raillery. Consider what an accursed, horrid thing it is to tempt others to sin only that thou mayest afterwards make sport with them, and raise a scene of mirth out of the ruin of their souls. How desperately impious, wicked wretches they are who sin only to make others sport.
2. They are fools who make a mock at their own sins, so as to think the commission of them but a slight, inconsiderable matter. This will appear from three things. Slight provocations and easy temptations are sufficient to make them rush boldly into the commission of sin. It is very hard to work these men into any true sorrow or compunction for their sins. If they are moved at all with these things; yet they think that a slight and formal repentance will suffice to make amends for all. What is it that induceth and persuadeth wicked men to make so light of their sins?
1. Because they see so few instances of God’s dread wrath and vengeance executed on sinners in this life; and those rare ones, that are extant and visible, they impute rather to chance than to the retribution of Divine justice.
2. And because it is assumed that God cannot be affected with any real injury, for, as He is not benefited by our service, so He is not wronged by our iniquities. The great and inexcusable folly of making light of sin cannot be surpassed. (E. Hopkins, D.D.)
The conduct of the mocker
1. It involves impiety. To mock at sin is to despise God’s holiness, to set at nought His authority, to abuse God’s goodness, to disregard and slight God’s glory, to make light of God’s curse and threatened vengeance; which implies a denial of God’s truth, and a scornful defiance of God’s power.
2. It involves cruelty. There breathes not on earth a more inhuman, a more iron-hearted monster, than the man who “makes a mock at sin.”
3. And such mockery is most infatuated. Sin is the evil that is ruining the poor sinner himself--hurrying him to perdition. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
The folly of mocking at religion
I. Prove that the name of fools is due to those who mock at sin. There are three ways whereby wicked men seek to justify themselves. By laying the blame of all their evil actions, either upon the fatal necessity of all events, the unavoidable frailty of human nature, or the impossibility of keeping the laws of heaven. These plausible pretences are worthless, and those who plead them are thus declared to be “fools.”
II. Make particular impeachment of their folly, because they make a mock at sin. This is proved because--
1. This mocking argues the highest degree of wickedness; and--
2. Betrays the greatest weakness of judgment, and want of consideration. If to sin be folly, to make a mock of it is little short of madness.
The folly is seen in view of--
1. Whom they provoke, even the Governor of the world.
2. Whom the injury redounds to.
3. There can be no imaginable consideration thought on which might look like a plausible temptation to it. What is it which the persons who despise religion, and laugh at everything serious, propose to themselves as the reasons for what they do? (Bp. Stillingfleet.)
I. Who are those who make a mock at sin?
1. The man who openly glories in his own wickedness.
2. The man who winks at, or smiles graciously on, the evil deeds of other men, in business, politics, or social life.
3. Those who mock at the reprovers of sin.
4. He who leads others into sin, or encourages others to abide in it. Every man makes a mock at sin who, either in his religious creed, or by his daily conduct, shows that he regards sin as a trifle. If you would understand why God denounces sin as something terrible and monstrous, you must observe its awful consequences, inquiring not merely what sin is, but what sin has done and will do. Sin is a disease of the soul; a paralysis that weakens a leprosy that pollutes, a plague that tortures, a pestilence that destroys the whole spirit within us.
II. Why are such mockers fools? To make a mock at a thing is, in a way, either to treat it or regard it as of little moment. And if the thing is very mighty or great, either in itself or in its influences, such mockery must be foolish. (C. Wadsworth, D.D.)
The folly of mocking at sin
I. They are fools who make a mock at other men’s sins. Sins which are open and going beforehand unto judgment, are but too often made the occasion of mirth and scoffing. Wine is a mocker, and the man overtaken with it is the butt of his companion’s ridicule. Violation of chastity is the chosen theme of many thoughtless persons’ merriment. The monstrous liar finds many ready to draw him out, that they may laugh at his folly in supposing they will believe his incredible fictions. God looks on all, and says the mockers are fools, for that which they laugh at is no jesting matter, either in its nature or in its consequences; and let those who have been accustomed even to smile at the sins of others, ponder--
1. What every sin is;
2. What every sin deserves.
II. They are fools who make a mock at sin in themselves, so as to think lightly of it, and treat its commission as an inconsiderable matter.
1. He is a fool who mocks at his sin, taking up a certain guilt on the hope of an uncertain repentance.
2. Supposing you were infallibly certain that repentance would be given, you would still be a fool in mocking at your sin, and going on in it m hope of repentance. For what is repentance? Not an easy, soft balm to the conscience, but the sword of the Spirit cutting into the heart, and piercing even to the dividing asunder of joints and marrow.
3. They are fools who make light of their sins, hoping they will be pardoned, for in so doing they mock at Christ’s sufferings. (G. Innes, M.A.)
The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy.
Man unknown to man
You cannot completely know your fellow-man. Every man is, in a measure, self-contained. Alone are we born, one by one; alone do we die, one by one. It is not surprising that we must be, in a measure, unknown to others, since we do not even fully know ourselves. There are points of individuality in each man which render him distinct from every other. Men in their highest and deepest conditions are remarkably secretive. The extreme heights and depths lie in darkness. Learn, then, that we may not judge our brethren as though we understood them, and were competent to give a verdict upon them. If we desire to show sympathy to our brethren, let us not dream that this is an easy task. Study the art of sympathy. We all need sympathy, and there is but One who can fully give it to us.
I. The heart knows a bitterness peculiar to itself. This is true in a natural, common, and moral sense. Concerning any man this is true. The shoe pinches on every foot, and that foot alone knows where the pinch is felt. Do not intrude into the hidden sorrows of any. Most solemnly this is true concerning the godless man and concerning the awakened man. When the Holy Spirit begins to convince the man of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, then “the heart knoweth its own bitterness.” And concerning the backslider. And concerning the tried believer. But the singularity of his suffering is the dream of the sufferer. Others have seen affliction too. Know thy sorrow well. And remember that the cure for bitterness of heart is to take it to your Lord at once.
II. The heart knows a sweetness which is all its own.
1. The joy of pardoned sin.
2. The bliss of vanquished evil.
3. The joy of perfect reconciliation with God.
4. The joy of accepted service.
5. The joy of answered prayer.
6. The joy of peace in the time of trouble.
7. The joy of communion with God. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
On the joy and the bitterness of the heart
The sources of the joy or bitterness of the heart are two.
1. A man’s own mind of temper--a man’s personal character. Every man is more connected with himself than with any external object. He is constantly a companion to himself in his own thoughts; and what he meets with there must, of all things, contribute most to his happiness or his disquiet. A good conscience, and good temper, prepare, even in the midst of poverty, a continual feast. How sadly the scene is reversed if a man’s temper, instead of calmness and self-enjoyment, shall yield him nothing but disquiet and painful agitation. The wounds which the spirit suffers are owing chiefly to three causes: to folly, to passion, or to guilt. The external misfortunes of life, disappointments, poverty, and sickness are nothing in comparison of those inward distresses of mind occasioned by folly, by passion, and by guilt.
2. The connection in which a man stands with some of his fellow-creatures--a man’s social feelings. Such causes of sorrow or joy are of an external nature. Having connected us in society by many ties, it is the decree of the Creator that these ties should prove, both during their subsistence and in their dissolution, causes of pleasure or pain immediately, and often deeply affecting the human heart. The most material circumstances of trouble or felicity, next to the state of our own mind and temper, are the sensations and affections which arise from the connections we have from others.
The practical improvement to which this doctrine leads:
1. Let it serve to moderate our passion for riches and high situations in the world. It is well known that the eager pursuit of these is the chief incentive to the crimes that fill the world. Then contemplate these things with an impartial eye.
2. Let these observations correct our mistakes, and check our complaints, concerning a supposed promiscuous distribution of happiness in this world. The charge of injustice brought against Providence rests entirely on this ground, that the happiness and misery of men may be estimated by the degree of their external prosperity. This is the delusion under which the multitude have always laboured, but which a just consideration of the invisible springs of happiness that affect the heart is sufficient to correct. Judge not of the real condition of men from what floats merely on the surface of their state.
3. Let us turn our attention to those internal sources of happiness or misery on which so much depends. What is amiss or disordered within, in consequence of folly, passion, or guilt, may be rectified by due care under the assistance of Divine grace.
4. Let us frequently look up to Him who made the human heart, and implore His assistance in the regulation and government of it. The employments of devotion themselves form one of the most powerful means of composing and tranquillising the heart. Devotion opens a sanctuary to which they whose hearts have been most deeply wounded can always fly. (Hugh Blair, D.D.)
The secret sorrows and joys of the heart known to God
Each man’s heart is to himself a solitude, into which he can retire and be alone, indulging his own thoughts without an associate and without a witness. There is a world within which must lie undiscovered by the acutest observer. And we could not make the discovery to others even if we would. It would not be possible to communicate to another all that is within us. It is one of the delights and benefits of friendship that it helps men, in a measure, to open their minds to one another. But this can only be done in part. Every one has his reserve. This is especially true respecting the sorrows and joys of religion. No Christian can find a spirit so perfectly kindred to his own as to be able to comprehend all the sources of his grief or of his gladness. In many a sorrow, and in many a joy, he must be solitary. He could not make a full revelation of himself if he would; he would not if he could. God hath so ordered it that no man can fully reveal to another the secrets of his soul. This truth is of the utmost importance when set beside the other truth, that God “knoweth us altogether.” Two practical lessons:
1. If God is thus near to us, nearer than the closest and most intimate friend can be, we ought to feel His nearness, and bear about with us the constant sense of it.
2. If our hearts are in a great measure shut out from our fellow-man, and open only to God, it is in His sympathy that we should seek our happiness. (G. Bellett.)
Cases of bitterness of heart
I. Of unrevealed and neglected sorrows, a large proportion arises from a strong, natural propensity to dejection and melancholy. As wounds which are occasioned by external violence are more conspicuous, but less dangerous, than the hidden disease which preys upon the vital parts. Some whose circumstances are prosperous are always in the glooms, their feeble mind spreads its malignant tincture over every surrounding prospect. Spectators form their opinions from exterior circumstances, hence they cannot give their sympathy where they cannot observe sufficient cause of misery. Were they ever so much disposed to give it this miserable man would have none of their comfort.
II. There is a class of men who might succeed better in procuring the sympathy of the world could they but tell the cause of their sorrow. Disappointments in a long train have fallen upon the man’s head, and the manliness of his spirit is subdued, and he surrenders himself a willing subject to peevishness and despair. Ambition defeated may fret and chagrin the aspiring mind. Affection slighted gives a deep and incurable wound to the man of a feeling heart.
III. The man who secretly grieves for the treachery of a friend has even a more serious claim upon our sympathy. Such a man is sure to say, “My bitterness shall be known only to my own heart.”
IV. Domestic sources of disquetude. These, from motives of delicacy, are secreted from the notice and sympathy of the world.
V. Cases of persons who have changed their station in life, and cannot fit to their new conditions. As in imperfectly assorted marriages. What misery is experienced which must be kept in reserve.
VI. The man who carries grief in his bosom on account of conscious imperfection and inconsistency of character. He has often resolved upon reformation, made strenuous efforts against temptations, but has failed and relapsed again under the bondage of sin. This has occasioned miserable agitation and perplexity of soul. He mourns in secret that he is not such as his own resolutions prescribe, and the world around him believes him to be. To all earnest persons it is a matter of deep concern to find that a great proportion of secret sorrow falls to the share of those who are most useful, and deserve best from society. (T. Somerville, D.D.)
The heart’s hidden depths
Though men live in towns and cities, and in social gatherings, each man is a world to himself. He is as distinct, even from him who is in closest material or mental contact with him, as one orb of heaven is from another.
I. The heart has hidden depths of sorrow. There is bitterness in every heart.
1. There is the bitterness of disappointed love.
2. There is the bitterness of social bereavement--Rachels weeping for their lost children, and Davids for their Absaloms.
3. There is the bitterness of moral remorse. All this is hidden where it is the most deep.
The deepest sorrow in the human heart is hidden from others from three causes.
1. The insulating tendency of deep grief. Deep sorrow withdraws from society and seeks some Gethsemane of solitude.
2. The concealing instinct of deep grief. Men parade little sorrows, but conceal great ones. Deep sorrows are mute.
3. The incapacity of one soul to sound the depths of another. There is such a peculiarity in the constitution and circumstances of each soul that one can never fully understand another.
II. The heart has hidden depths of joy. “A stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy.” Though joy is less self-concealing than sorrow, yet it has depths unknown to any but its possessor and its God. The joy that rushed into Abraham’s heart when Isaac descended with him from the altar on Moriah; the joy of the father when he pressed his prodigal son to his bosom; the joy of the widow of Nain when her only son raised himself from the bier, and returned to gladden her lowly home; the joy of the broken-hearted woman when she heard Christ say, “Thy sins are all forgiven thee”; such joy has depths that no outward eye could penetrate. The joy of the true Christian is indeed a joy “unspeakable and full of glory.” This subject furnishes an argument--
1. For candour amongst men.
2. For piety towards God.
Though men know us not, God does. (Homilist.)
Bitterness of heart
While the Christian has no promise of exemption from the general sufferings of humanity, he has trials peculiar to the life of faith.
I. The nature of the Christian’s bitterness of heart. It is hazardous to represent the Christian life as a scene of constant sunshine and unaltered joy. This has occasioned much uneasiness and disappointment. The heart that is right with God has much anxiety, disquiet, and sorrow. These are dependent on disposition and temperament.
II. The sources of such inward sorrow and distress.
1. The secret consciousness of guilt.
2. The general infirmity of our intellectual and moral constitution. For instance, that depression of animal spirits to which some of the most regularly constituted minds are often most subject, and which no intellectual energy is at times able to dissipate or surmount.
3. Fears of shortcoming are sometimes the result of that increased spirituality of mind which marks the progress of the Divine life. Whatever be the attainments of the Christian, he has often hours of heaviness and alarm, and is troubled with distressing apprehensions respecting the safety of his state before God. This feeling must, of course, be greatly modified by the temper and circumstances of the believer, and in different individuals may arise from different causes. (John Johnston.)
The bitterness and joy of the heart
1. There is a bitterness and a joy of the heart which may be called more peculiarly its own, because it arises from the temper of the mind, which gives its own tone to circumstances and things in themselves indifferent. There is a marked contrast between the minds of different individuals. Every day is full of events which receive the character of good or evil from the mind of the individual related to them. Then, since so much depends on the cultivation of the mind and heart, let this be your chief concern.
2. The heart alone is conscious of its own feelings. Happiness and misery have no existence but in the conscious breast, and they are in a great measure confined to it. There are some sensations which the heart never attempts to express. There are some which it is our wish and endeavour to express. But how faint is the impression which we can convey to other minds of what is passing in our own. There is but one Being beside ourselves who knows our heart in the joys and sorrows of life. There is but one Being who can enter into our feelings amid the bitterness and joy of death. There is but one Being who can be all in all to our souls, in the changes and chances of this mortal life, and amid the unchanging glories of eternity: “Acquaint thyself with Him; and be at peace.” (George Cole.)
A private apartment of the mind
Each mind possesses m its interior mansions a solemn retired apartment peculiarly its own, into which none but himself and the Deity can enter. (John Foster.)
The heart’s refusal of the world’s interference in its bitterness and joy
“If you would seek for God,” said a pious man of old, “descend into your own heart.”
I. The imperfect estimate which we form of the real state of the world. One half the world knows not how the other half lives, and certainly one half has no idea of what the other half feels. All have their calamities and sorrows, so that no man has any real occasion for envying his brother. Our afflictions may be divided into those which we suffer from the cruelty of others, those which arise from our own guilt, and those with which Providence, in the general course of His dealings, visits all of us in our turn.
II. The sin of those who trifle with the feelings of an afflicted heart. Illustrate from the child who has brought distress on loving parents; the seducer of innocence; the slanderer and tale-bearer.
III. Those sorrows which arise from a sense of our state towards God. We live, it is true, in a world of much infidelity and sin, but there are many who have accepted the everlasting gospel as the power of God unto salvation. It must have opened on them a very awful view of the things of this life; and when conscience, awakening them to think upon their duty, points to that holy book from which we shall be judged, they can scarcely fail of looking on their life with terror and dismay.
IV. The sorrow arising from the ordinary visitations of providence. But our religion carries consolation with its sorrows. This comes from the belief in the Omniscience of God; in the grace of God; in the promise of remission of sins; in the assurance of a general resurrection. (G. Mathew, M.A.)
On the secret bitterness of the heart
Nothing is to be estimated by its effects upon common eyes and common ears.
1. Among the mental dispositions which prevail with the sufferer to smother his secret pangs and bitternesses from public inspection, the first is pride, whether of a pardonable or an improper description. Timidity is not less solicitous than pride to wrap up its griefs from general observation. Prudence and a sense of duty exert a similar influence.
2. When the circumstances of a sufferer are outward and visible, his perception of his calamity may be far more acute than the common observer surmises. And the heart of a man may be wrung with an unusual bitterness in consequence of its unusually delicate sense of religious and moral obligation.
1. The survey delivers a lecture on resignation and contentment and disproves the notion that there is actually any large inequality in the Divine distribution of good and evil among mankind.
2. The subject suggests an instructive lesson of mutual sympathy and kindness in all the varieties of outward condition. There never has breathed yet one individual in the full enjoyment of pure, unalloyed happiness.
3. Take care that the common and unavoidable uneasiness shall not be aggravated by that self-dissatisfaction which arises from wilful disobedience.
4. Remember that we are passing on to a fairer and more faultless condition of being, where the souls of the pious and penitent shall have their capacity for enjoyment filled up to the brim. (J. Grant, M.A.)
The believer’s sorrows and joys
I. The believer’s sorrows. There are sorrows common to believers and to unbelievers. There are some peculiar to the renewed man. Those are the most alive to sin who are most free from sin. A strong sense of sin is one of the characteristics of the real man of God. Believers are also at times unable to receive the promises. When comfort is offered they cannot avail themselves of it. Sometimes there is great spiritual depression under a sense of the withdrawal of God’s favour. But there is nothing more dangerous than to leave the soul in this state of bitterness of heart.
II. The believer’s joys. What is it in which he finds joy?
1. From the joyful sound of the everlasting gospel.
2. The joy of pardoning grace applied to the soul.
3. The fulness of Divine grace.
4. Communion with God. (H. M. Villiers, M.A.)
The inward unapproachable life
We know each other’s appearance, but there for the most part our mutual knowledge ceases. It is possible to live on terms of even close intimacy with a person for many years, and yet to find, by some chance uplifting of a curtain in his life, that he cherished feelings which you never even suspected, suffered pains of which you had seen no trace, or enjoyed pleasures which never came to any outward expression. The bitterness which surges in our brother’s heart would probably be unintelligible to us if he revealed it, but he will not reveal it, he cannot. And yet we all hunger for sympathy. No human being needs to be misunderstood, or to suffer under the sense of misunderstanding. Let him turn at once to God. If he cannot tell his bitterness to his fellows, he can tell it to God. No human being need imagine that he is unappreciated; his fellow-men may not want him, but God does. No human being need be without a sharer of his joy. And that is a great consideration, for joy unshared quickly dies, and is from the beginning haunted by a vague sense of a shadow that is falling upon it. In the heart of the Eternal dwells eternal joy. All loveliness, all sweetness, all goodness, all truth, are the objects of His happy contemplation; therefore every really joyful heart has an immediate sympathiser in God, and prayer is quite as much the means by which we share our gladness as the vehicle by which we convey our sorrows to the Divine heart. (R. F. Horton, D.D.)
There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
It seems strange that all the dangers of this mortal state should be concentrated upon man. The dangers in all the realms below man are very few, and very simple, and very brief in their scope. Man, who is called the noblest of God’s creatures, is perpetually stumbling; is perpetually warped, biassed, perverted, tangled; is perpetually threatened with sudden destructions of every kind. He is the sublimest spectacle in his integrity and greatness, and the most wretched in his wreck and ruin. Man is more complex than the animals. He lives in a higher sphere. He is equipped accordingly. He varies most because he has the most power of variation, and because the combinations possible to one so richly endowed are almost infinite. All men alike are brought into life in a state of helplessness and ignorance. It is not true that all men are born equal or alike. There are unquestionable hereditary tendencies. All are born alike in this: that they have to begin and find out the ways of life. It is not possible for any parent to transmit the whole of his experience to his children. So, in the beginning of life, God’s voice sounds to every one, as in the text, “Beware, all ways are not alike safe.” But how should ways seem right and yet be wrong? There are many things whose nature does not disclose itself at once. Illustrate cubs of tigers. A large part of evil lies in excess in things good. If you trace one and another of the great mature powers of men, you will find that, if they act thus far, and under certain dominant influences, they are beneficial; but that otherwise they are vicious. So men are often deceived in the ways of life, as they look upon them at first, because the point where good breaks off, and evil begins to be developed, is not easily discerned. There are ways that seem right to men, but are very dangerous. In general, it is true that pleasure is the fruit of obedience. Punishment (speaking generally) is an indication of transgression, and pleasure is a sign of obedience. Nevertheless, it is also true that pain sometimes indicates the highest degree of virtue. To suffer is to be a man. But there is much evil which is known for evil as soon as it is seen, but which, before manifesting itself openly, runs through what may be called an incubation. Illustrate infectious disease. The most inconsequential elements of life are those that report themselves quickest, with superficial results; the most fundamental and radical elements do not report themselves until they have had a long period of development. It is a fact that men are busy with their fellow-men to beguile them. In this life we act on each other, far more than we are acted on by great natural agents. It is a great danger to any young man to be conceited in his own wisdom and in his own strength. Those who think they have a strength and a wisdom which others have not, and act accordingly, perish because they are fools. No man is safe who does not give heed to the Word of God and to the presence of the Lord. You are perfectly safe so long as you live with a consciousness that God looks upon you. (H. Ward Beecher.)
The way which seemeth right
In consequence of the paralysis of the natural conscience, the phenomenon indicated in the text is of constant occurrence. Reference is not to the course of the open sinner, but to that of the mistaken and self-deceiving man. There are persons whose course lies just short of that degree of divergence from right, where the conscience begins to protect, and yet is sure, as every divergence must, if followed, to lead very far from it at last. Observe that the text does not say that these apparently right ways are themselves the ways of death, but that they end in the ways of death. The ways of which we are to speak are mainly of two kinds; errors in practice and errors in doctrine.
1. A life not led under the direct influence of religion. The man who, however many virtues he may possess, however upright he may be in the duties of life, however carefully he may attend to the duties of religion, does not receive it into his heart, nor act on its considerations as a motive. This is a way of life which usually seems right to a man. It describes the ordinary, unexceptionable citizen of a peaceful and religious age. But this way must end in the ways of death. One day they must come into the presence of God, and stand before Him. Wherewith shall they come? They have left God out of their calculation. That neglect is a way of death.
2. Those who, believing from the heart, and living in the main as in God’s sight, are yet notoriously and confessedly wanting in some important requisite of the gospel. This case is found even in the very strongholds of the profession of religion. It may be illustrated by all the violent partisanship which is so characteristic of our day. The case is found again in the class of persons who, while professing zeal for religion in general, nourish unscrupulously some one known sin, or prohibited indulgence. But He whom we serve will not have a reserved life, but a whole one.
3. There is a class of persons who deal with erroneous doctrine as the other class with deficient practice. These plead that each should conscientiously arrive at his own conclusion, and respect that conclusion as sacred. But this involves much more than is suspected at first sight. The issue of what has been said is this, and it is a lesson by no means unneeded in the present day, that whether we consider practice or belief, each man’s deeming is not each man’s law; every man’s deeming may be wrong, and we can only find that which is right by each one of us believing and serving God, as He has revealed himself to us in Christ. There is but one way that is true; but one, and that is the way everlasting. (Dean Afford.)
Wrong ways followed in spite of warning
And yet the man who takes what seems to him a right way (but is wrong) will be punished if he follows it, for his perverted conscience may arise from his desertion of God, and his refusal of the light He offered. (J. W. Nutt, M.A.)
Unconcern, which is charming in the child, is ridiculous and guilty in the man whose decisions are likely to involve fearful consequences for himself and for others; want of foresight is a crime for the man who holds in his hands the fortunes of others or the destinies of a state. There are ways that lead to death. Each of us has come into contact with beings whose excesses have led to a premature end; others still occupy a place in the world, but their ruined health, their weakened faculties, show that they are dead while they live. But there are beings who are attacked neither in their life nor in their strength, nor in their apparent dignity, and who are none the better for all this. The artful, the selfish, who think only of self, may possess all kinds of earthly blessings; their life may be rich, brilliant, full of enjoyment, admired of men. Does this mean that they have not entered upon a wrong path? Worldly morality is a loose net which retains certain sinners, but allows the most guilty to escape. Many a way that leads to perdition may seem to us right. Men argue that the way a man follows must seem to him right, and so they persuade themselves that they will be accepted of God. In this there is a mingling of truth and error. But sincerity in ignorance or error has never saved any one from the often terrible consequences which such ignorance or error may entail. Societies are based upon this axiom, “No one is supposed to be ignorant of the law.” (E. Bersier.)
The wise man is not here speaking of gross wickedness. It is of the deceitful path. Is there only one such way?
I. The way of wilful ignorance. This is very commonly thought a safe way, but its end is death. How constantly ignorance is pleaded as an excuse for neglecting religion. Ignorance that is voluntary is sinful.
II. The way of formality. An outward form and imitation of godliness, without any inward spiritual feeling. But professions can never deceive God, and the way of formal religion offends Him.
III. The way of doing one’s best. This is often thought to be the right way; yet it is equally ruinous. What do men mean by “doing their best”? Alas! it commonly means doing something less than God requires. In numberless instances, doing the best means “doing nothing at all.”
IV. The why of uncovenanted mercy. Men own that they are sinners, and deserving of punishment, but they speak peace to themselves, saying, “God is merciful.” It is true that God is merciful, but there is a particular way in which alone that mercy is offered to sinners. God has never said that He will spare the unconverted, the impenitent, the unbelieving, the ungodly.
V. Thy way of good intentions. A man resolves to seek God; and that, too, in God’s own way, by true repentance, faith in Christ, and by a life of holy obedience. But he stops with the resolves. That way is a way of death. (J. Jowett, M.A.)
The way and the end
We are all travellers. Our journey occupies our lifetime. Its end depends upon the way we take. The endings are but two. Yet many go heedlessly on. They love the way, and they are pleased to think well of it.
1. It is the way in which they were born.
2. They see many walking in this way.
3. It is a way which is most pleasing to them.
4. It is an easy way to walk in.
5. It is a way which is profitable to self.
How shall we know this way of death? It is the way of sin. It is the course of this world. It is the way of indifference to the things of eternity. (The Christian Treasury.)
A temper of caution
The text holds good in commerce, in theological thought, in moral conduct, in social relationships; indeed, it holds good along the whole circle of human relation and experience. What is the lesson which such a state of affairs conveys to the wise and understanding heart? It is that life should be spent in a temper of caution; when we seem most secure we may be most exposed to danger; not only is our enemy a roaring lion, whose voice can be heard from afar, he is also a cunning and silent serpent, drawing himself towards us without making any demonstration, and not revealing himself until he is within striking distance. (J. Parker, D.D.)
The seeming right often ruinous
Many of the ways which men pursue cannot even “seem right.” The way of the habitual blasphemer, Sabbath-breaker, debauchee, etc., can scarcely appear right to any man. What are the ways that often seem right to men, but are ruinous?
I. The conventionally moral way seems right, but is nevertheless ruinous. Civilised society has its recognised rules of life. These rules recognise only the external life of man. They take no cognisance of thought, feeling, desire, and the unexpressed things of the soul. Industry, sobriety, veracity, honesty, these are the extent of its demands, and if these are conformed to, society approves and applauds. Without disparaging in the least this social morality, we are bound to say that what is conventionally moral may be essentially wrong. It may spring from wrong motives, and be governed by wrong reasons. The Scribes and Pharisees of old were conventionally right. Albeit they were rotten to the core. The end of such a way is death. Death to all the elements of well-being.
II. The formalistically religious way seems right, but is nevertheless ruinous. Religion has its forms, it has its places, and its times of worship, its order of service, its benevolent institutions. A correct and constant attendance to such forms are considered by thousands as religion itself. It is mechanism, nothing more. The motions of machinery, not the actions of the soul. There is no life in it, and it cannot lead to life, but to death.
III. The way of the selfishly evangelical seems right, but is nevertheless ruinous. There is no true religion apart from a living faith in Christ. But the thing that is come to be called evangelical is to a fearful extent intensely selfish. Its appeals are all to the hopes and fears of men. Its preaching makes men feel, but their feelings are all concerned for their own interest; makes men pray, but their prayer is a selfish entreaty for the deliverance from misery, and the attainment of happiness. “He that seeketh his life shall lose it.” Conclusion: Right and wrong are independent of men’s opinions, what seems right to men is often wrong, and the reverse. Men are held responsible for their beliefs. A wrong belief, however sincere, will lead to ruin. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Moral colour-blindness, or the seeing things truly
Not a few persons have received a genuine surprise on being told, after an examination, that they were affected with colour-blindness, h much larger number might experience a far greater shock on learning that they are suffering from moral colour-blindness. The eye that fails to distinguish colours may be exceptionally good in judging of form, and unusually keen in detecting objects at a distance. The victim of colour-blindness may even name colours so correctly that for a long time his defect escapes notice. So the person that is morally colour-blind is frequently one distinguished for remarkable shrewdness and foresight; he is quite an oracle as to what is prudent in business and in good taste in social life. He names the virtues and vices as other people do, and his verdicts on conduct seem so generally to tally with the truth that his weakness is not suspected by others, and is entirely hidden from himself. Yet the moral colour-blindness goes to much greater length than does the ordinary trouble. Its radical evil is in a failure to distinguish black and white, a defect exceedingly rare in the physical eye. When the fault is betrayed, even in the slightest degree, in judgments on nice points, it is a sign of something deep-seated and serious, which will lead one to pronounce a lie white, and to call evil good and good evil. The revelation of its true nature may come, as the revelation of the other colour-blindness has sometimes come, in some terrible wreck that means ruin to many others as well as to the one at fault. Too much care in this matter cannot be exercised in regard to any one, whether in his own behalf or in behalf of those whose safety depends in large measure on his seeing things truly. There is a terrible danger in following a colour-blind leader. There is one advantage and encouragement for the morally colour-blind. The defect is not, in their case, organic; and, while it may develop with startling rapidity if neglected, it is possible to overcome it. Its detection, as well as its cure, depends on the most careful and constant testing by the truest standards and on hourly aid from the great Physician. (Christian Age.)
The way seems right, but is wrong
A sailor remarks, “Sailing from Cuba, we thought we had gained sixty miles one day in our course, but at the next observation we found we had lost more than thirty. It was an under-current. The ship had been going forward by the wind, but going back by current.” So a man’s course may often seem to be right, but the stream beneath is driving him the very contrary way to what he thinks.
Beliefs important; or sincerity no safeguard
Two men were talking together of their beliefs, when one of them petulantly remarked to his Christian brother: “I don’t care what your creed is. I am an agnostic. It makes no difference what a man believes if he is sincere.” Oh, yes, it does. Let us see. A family was poisoned recently by eating toadstools which they sincerely believed to be mushrooms. Three of them died. Did it make no difference? A man endorsed a note for a friend whom he sincerely believed to be an honest man. He was a scoundrel, and left him to pay the debt. Did it make no difference? A traveller took the wrong train, and went to Scotland instead of to Brighton. Did it make no difference? If a man is sincere he will take pains to know the truth. For where facts are concerned all the thinking in the world will not change them. A toadstool remains a toadstool, whatever we may think about it. (Sunday Companion.)
Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness.
On a life of dissipation and pleasure
We have much reason to beware lest a rash and unwary pursuit of pleasure defeat its end, lest the attempt to carry pleasure too far tend, in the issue, to sink us into misery. It would be unjust to infer, from the serious admonition of Scripture, that religion is an enemy to all mirth and gaiety. It circumscribes our enjoyment, indeed, within the bounds of temperance; but as far as the sacred limit permits, it gives free scope to the gratifications of life. It even heightens their relish to a virtuous man. The text is applicable only to that set of men to whom temperance is no restraint. A mediocrity of enjoyment only is allowed man for his portion on earth. Whatever a man’s rank or station may be, there are certain duties required of him, there are serious cares which must employ his mind.
1. The obvious consequences of a life of pleasure and dissipation to health, fortune, and character. To each of these it is an enemy, precisely in the same degree to which it is carried. A temporary satisfaction is admitted. But no sensual pleasure, except what is regulated by temperance, can be lasting.
2. The ruin which a life of pleasure and dissipation brings upon the moral state and character of men, as well as on their external condition. As the love of pleasure gains ground, with what insidious steps does it advance towards the abolition of all virtuous principles! Without the assistance of reflection and of serious thought, virtue cannot long subsist in the human mind. But to reflection and serious thought the men of dissipation are strangers. Men become assimilated to the manners of their loose associates; and, without perceiving it themselves, their whole character by degrees is changed. From a character originally stamped only with giddiness and levity shoots forth a character compounded of dishonesty, injustice, oppression, and cruelty.
3. The disquieting sensations which are apt to intrude upon the men of pleasure, even in the midst of their enjoyments. Often a show of mirth is put on to cover some secret disquiet. At the bottom of the hearts of most men, even amidst an irregular life, there lies a secret feeling of propriety, a sense of right and wrong in conduct. Though conscience be not strong enough to guide, it still has strength to dart a sting. Can that be reckoned sincere joy which is liable to be interrupted and mingled with so many sensations of the most disagreeable nature?
4. How unsuitable a life of dissipation and pleasure is to the condition of man in this world, and how injurious to the interests of society. Amid the sorrows that surround us, and in view of the brevity of life, should we be pursuing giddy amusement and perpetual pleasure? Such persons scatter poison in society around them. They are corrupting the public manners by the life they live. They create discontent and indignation in the poorer classes of men, who see them indulging in wastefulness and thoughtless profusion, when they and their families are not able to earn their bread. To serve God, to attend to the serious cares of life, and to discharge faithfully the duties of our station, ought to be the first concern of every man who wishes to be wise and happy. Amusement and pleasure are the relaxation, not the business, of life. (Hugh Blair, D.D.)
Sorrow amid laughter
A description of Mr. Opie Read, the American humorist, reveals heart-sorrow where the reader has seen nothing but mirth. “Sometimes,” says the writer, “his work is marked by the deepest pathos. He had lost two of his children, to whom he was devotedly attached, and these melancholy events made very marked impressions on the man and his work. ‘When one of my babies died,’ said he, in talking of the matter to me, ‘I was working for a magazine, and I was required to do just so much work every day. I was compelled to do it--it was my only means of support. During that awful time I would frequently rock the cradle of my dying babe for hours at the time. With one hand I rocked that cradle of death, and with the other I was writing stuff to make people laugh. I sobbed and wept, and watched that angel and wrote that stuff, and I felt every minute as if my heart would burst. And yet some people think this funny business is all sunshine. Sometimes even now I see articles floating around that I wrote while under the shadow of death, and occasionally some editor will preface these very things with some such remark as, “The genial and sunny-souled Opie Read says so and so,”--yes, about these same things that I penned when my babe was dying and my heart was bursting.’” (J. F. B. Tinling.)
The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways.
The back-slider in heart
I. The general nature, symptoms, and progress of backsliding. The idea of backsliding is that of gradually receding from an object full in view. It is not the turning back as in the case of those who forsook the Saviour, it is rather like those who, moving against the stream, rest upon their oars. The backslider is one who has had some views and some experience, whether real or supposed, of true religion: there may even have been some enjoyment in the things of religion; but after some progress there is a gradual declension, a loss of taste and enjoyment, a decline in ardour and zeal. Particular symptoms of backsliding may be seen--
1. In the manner in which the secret duties of religion are attended to.
2. In attendance at public worship.
3. In the conduct, temper, and conversation. The progress of backsliding is from bad to worse. There is a gradual relinquishment of principle, an increasing laxity of practice, and an abuse of Christian privileges into an excuse for sin.
II. The awful consequences of backsliding. “Shall be filled with his own ways.” View the backslider. He has lost his delight, his enjoyment in religion. It is now an irksome task. He has gone down on the world’s ground; does he find comfort there? No, he is still dissatisfied, still perplexed. He becomes impatient, irritable; a burden to himself, a burden to others. How tremendously will the text be found true when the finally impenitent is in that place where hope never comes! (T. Webster, B.D.)
Backslider in heart
Only case in English Bible where the word “backslider” occurs.
I. Describe what backsliding in heart is. To some the experience which we call “conversion “ is more consciously definite than to others. Recall the experience. If the love then felt has not continued, there is backsliding in heart. The experience is compatible with great zeal and activity, with the maintenance of sound discipline, and with decided orthodoxy. The backslider in heart is thus described in the Word of God: he has lost his first love; he is lukewarm in spirit; mixed up with the world; double-minded and faint-hearted.
II. Some of the things that conduce to backsliding of heart.
1. Neglect of the Word of God. Most, if not all, such backsliding may be traced to this neglect.
2. Neglect of private prayer.
3. Suffering sin to remain unconfessed.
4. Want of Christian activity.
5. Not making public profession of our love to Christ.
III. How to deal with the backslider in heart. “He is filled with his own ways.” It is not easy to awaken his interest. It is always difficult to reach his conscience. Argument does not succeed. The only thing to do is to bring them back to their first experience. They must come to Jesus afresh. (W. P. Lockhart.)
Backsliding in heart necessarily supposes an antecedent rectitude of principle. A man may be a backslider in heart even when he cannot be charged with an open notorious sin. A man may, through the violence of temptation, be led into evil without commencing back-sliding in heart. The case of the text is illustrated in Ephraim. In him we may trace the believer in the warmth of espousal love; in all the stages of heart-backsliding, till even surfeited with his own ways; as well as in the humbled state of restoration to his God and Saviour. The first stage of backsliding is a divided heart. Figures are changed, and the divided heart dwindles into an empty vine. A person may have made great advances in heart-backsliding, yet keep up a profession of religion. Let a professor once dwindle into an empty vine, it is much if he makes no further advances in heart-backsliding. The next stage is self-conceit. Then, with Ephraim, the backslider makes altars to sin. Then he becomes like a wild ass’s colt in the wilderness, snuffing up the wind and following the east wind. And a final aggravation is dealing deceitfully with God. Heart-backslidings may be long hid from the view of man, and may be of such a nature that they cannot become matters of Church examination. God is represented as commiserating Ephraim’s wretched case. God will give no countenance to his iniquity, nor in any way connive at his sin. God will at last withdraw from him. What can now be expected but Ephraim’s final ruin and everlasting overthrow? (John Macgowan.)
I. Is it, then, inquired, in what does this backsliding consist?
1. Let it be remarked, that it may be dated from becoming stationary in religious attainments. If the believer be making no progress in his course, nor attaining to greater proficiency in Christian experience, there exists some radical and internal defect. Already in heart he is deviating from God. Is he not growing in knowledge? Is his relish for Divine objects not becoming stronger? Does he experience no increasing keenness of appetite for spiritual provision? He must then be denominated a backslider, as the deficiency of requisite augmentation in these respects manifests that the present state of his heart is not altogether right with God.
2. Again, it consists in the real decline of those holy dispositions implanted in the soul by the Holy Spirit. The highest state of backsliding into which the genuine believer may fall is the indulgence in any flagrant or atrocious sin. Witness the egregious faults of Noah and Lot, of David and Peter.
II. Let us now attend to the causes and symptoms of this spiritual disease.
1. Let it be recollected in general, that the primary cause of this grievous disorder is the corruption, depravity, and deceitfulness of the human heart. From this contaminated source all deviation from God originates.
2. One particular cause and symptom of backsliding is the intermission of religious duties, the appointed means of increase. It is well known that exercise and employment are necessary to preserve and promote health. Similar is the case with the Christian. Religious exercises and engagements are indispensably requisite for the advancement of gracious habits. The neglect of these will invariably induce declension. Let it suffice to mention two secret duties, inattention to which is particularly productive of declension. These are prayer and self-examination. The former is absolutely requisite for supporting the vital principle of grace, in a lively and prosperous condition. According to the comparisons of some worthy old divines, it is to the soul what the lungs are to the body. The other closet-duty specified as so needful for the prosperity of the soul is self-examination. “They,” says a certain writer, “who in a crazy vessel navigate a sea wherein are shoals and currents innumerable, if they would keep their course or reach their port in safety, must carefully repair the smallest injuries, often throw out their line, and take their observations. In the voyage of life, also, the Christian who would not make shipwreck of his faith, while he is habitually watchful and provident, must make it his express business to look into his state, and ascertain his progress.” Did we observe an extensive trader entirely neglect his books, and extremely averse to have them examined, a considerable suspicion and strong presumption would be instantly excited, that according to the vulgar phrase, he is going back in the world. (The Christian Magazine.)
Backsliders in heart
The bell-buoy must ring out over the rock all the time because the rock is there all the time. The reason the Bible warns so much about backsliding is because we are always in danger of backsliding. A disease may be eating our life away; our ship in the fog may be drifting upon a rocky coast. We are only in the greater danger if not aware of it. Backsliding begins unexpectedly: like a dangerous disease, it steals into our system so secretly that the utmost vigilance is necessary lest we be taken unawares.
I. Let us know, first, that backsliding begins in the heart. The leaves of a fruit-tree begin to fade, curl up, and wither; no fulness of life, no fruit. You suspect a worm--something gnawing at the seat of life--the heart. Men fall as trees do--after gradual decay at the heart (Proverbs 4:23; Hosea 10:2).
II. Well to remember, also, that a backslider in heart is not always a backslider in life. Indeed, he is often a zealous worker in external things; shows honest pride in all Church success. Also keeps up the forms of personal and public Christian duty faithfully, etc. But the form without the power (2 Timothy 3:5). Rich--poor (Revelation 3:17).
III. Note, also, some of the signs or indications of having backslidden.
1. Loss of relish for private devotions. He may keep them up, but does not enjoy them as formerly (John 15:9).
2. Loss of interest in God’s Word. He may continue to read, but not to love as before (Psalms 119:11; Psalms 119:97).
3. Thinking lightly of sin (Song of Solomon 2:5; Genesis 19:20).
4. Loss of zeal in spiritual work. He does no soul-winning work (2 Timothy 4:2).
IV. Again, consider what are some of the causes of backsliding.
1. Getting off guard. Unwatched avenues of approach (Mark 14:38).
2. Love of the world. When the world is in, Christ is out (1 John 2:15).
3. The habitual neglect of a single known duty (John 1:1-3).
4. The habitual indulgence of a single known sin. Compromising; sparing the little one, etc. (2 Samuel 12:7).
V. Lastly, bear in mind some of the results of backsliding in heart. “Shall be filled with his own ways.” Not God’s ways for His followers.
1. With ways of doubt. Backsliding in heart, how often doubt begins! (Psalms 73:11). 2, Ways of fault-finding. Everything looks weary because the heart is wrong (Exodus 16:2-3).
3. Ways of alienation. Forsaking the Saviour and His service (Malachi 3:13-15).
4. Ways of despair. Saddest human condition (1 Samuel 28:6; 1 Samuel 28:15). Are you conscious of having backslidden even the least? (Evangelist.)
Is goodness advancing or receding
The heart is obedient to some law of heaven; the waters fail to flow by the attraction of sun and moon. In some parts of the globe the sea is gradually gaining on the land; in others it is gradually receding and leaving the land dry and bare. Are the full and cleansing waters of eternal life gaining on our coasts or no? (Christian Age.)
I suppose it would be difficult to describe the causes and workings of consumption and decline. The same kind of disease is common among Christians. It is not that many Christians fall into outward sin, and so on, but throughout our Churches we have scores who are in a spiritual consumption--their powers are all feeble and decaying. They have an unusually bright eye--can see other people’s faults exceedingly well--and sometimes they have a flush on their cheeks, which looks very like burning zeal and eminent spiritual life, but it is occasional and superficial. “Vital energy is at a low ebb: they do not work for God like genuinely healthy workmen; they do not run in the race of His commandments like athletic racers, determined to win the prize; the heart does not beat with a throb moving the entire man, as a huge engine sends the throbbings of its force throughout the whole of the machinery; they go slumbering on, in the right road it is true, but loitering in it. They do serve God, but it is by the day, as we say, and not by the piece; they do not labour to bring forth much fruit--they are content with here and there a little shrivelled cluster upon the topmost bough. That is the state of mind I want to describe, and it is produced in ninety-nine out of every hundred of believers by a long course of prosperity and absence of spiritual trouble. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A good man shall be satisfied from himself.
The world s wonder, a contented mind
No search is more vain than the search for a contented man. We have made happiness and contentment to be something outside of ourselves. In the text are three paradoxes.
I. A good man. Goodness is an internal quality. The good man is whole within, sound within. Hence his satisfaction; all health is within. Piety has its own internal resources and powers. There is a pretty story told of a king, Shah Abbas, who in his travels met with a shepherd. He found him to be so wise that he elevated him to great power: he became a great statesman. But it was discovered, many years after, that he frequently went to a lonely house, of which he kept the key; there it was supposed he kept his treasure; nay, it was supposed that there he hatched schemes against his royal master; thither, it was thought, traitors might resort. The whispering courtiers persuaded the king to break open the door, in order that all the villainy may be laid bare, and there was found an empty room, save that his shepherd’s wallet and staff, and crook, and old coat were there. “Hither,” said he, “I come, in order that if I ever am tempted to think more highly of myself than I ought to think, I may be rebuked by remembering my origin, and what my rise has done for me.” Contentment is containment; the idea in it is that of having learned the lesson of self-sufficing and self-sustaining. Contentment is a sense of possession; a sense of satisfied want.
II. A man satisfied. The lives of most men are passed in fretfulness. To fret is to fray out; fretfulness wears life threadbare. Contentment is the science of thankfulness. The causes of discontent are idleness, living to no purpose. It is only in self-occupation that we have self-possession.
III. The source of the satisfaction. “From himself.”
1. The holy man is satisfied with the object and foundation of his faith.
2. In the evidence of his religion.
3. In the ordinances of the sanctuary.
4. In the law of life.
5. In the apportionment and destiny of the world.
There may be four replies to the question, Are you satisfied?
(1) I am. Not with myself, but from myself. I find my happiness within.
(2) I am not. Religion is to me not rest, but unrest; it is described to me now principally by unsatisfied, appetites.
(3) I try to persuade myself that I am, but I am not; it is all so fading, so fleeting, could be satisfied, could we continue here.
(4) I am. Extremes meet--I am. I see no reason for anxiety, and my business and my pleasures, they suffice for me. But what you call satisfaction I call death. There is not one ray of happiness, properly, from yourselves; all is borrowed, and all is illusion. If you do not find the true contentment on the earth, you will find it nowhere. (E. Paxton Hood.)
A good man, or moral excellence
What is a good man? What is goodness in man? A thing is good in the sense of being adapted for a certain end, which may be supposed to be the object of its existence. Good is the right direction of power and capacity in anything and everything. Evil is the wrong direction, or the abuse of power and capacity. Evil is possible through the liberty of the creature, wherein any and every power can be used or abused--rightly or wrongly directed. Evil is possible only through the freedom of the creature; it extends just as far as that freedom extends; and it consists in a misdirection and abuse of the powers that are essentially good, as given by God. A good man is simply a man who so uses all the powers God has put within his reach that they shall most perfectly answer the end God designed. We have, to guide us towards and in the right direction of all powers, these three principles:
1. That everything be done for the highest good of mankind generally, or of other men, not for self.
2. That it be done in the best, most perfect manner possible to the doer.
3. That in doing it, we recognise that universal design of a Father’s love under which the well-being of any creature, and of the whole universe, is possible. He whose life embodies these principles is a good man. Good and bad men are not born such, nor made such by external power. They become such freely. How universal is the application of this principle I Every single thing that a man does involves either the use or abuse of some power that he possesses. The great good of man is ever inward, intellectual, spiritual. The main element of power will be, that the good man is seeking to reach some ideal of life, the source of his inspiration, and the object of his most ambitious hopes. (S. Fager, B.A.)
The good man satisfied from himself
This sentiment sounds more akin to the proud spirit of the stoical philosophy than the humble spirit of revealed religion. That philosophy taught its disciples to aspire after an absolute and universal independence. It insisted that the “wise man” should not look abroad for happiness in any direction, but find it in himself absolutely. Scripture seeks to make men independent in a way that is possible, and by means that are good. Man, as a finite creature, must always be dependent. He cannot revolve upon his own centre, and look abroad far nothing. God only is self-existent and self-sufficing. Who needs to be told that mankind generally do not find happiness by searching for it in their own bosoms? This text does not teach that a good man’s happiness is enjoyed in absolute independence of all created things, much less of the one Uncreated. Nor does it teach that he is called on to deny himself the moderate use of such things as Providence may put within his reach, and to which his nature is adapted. It simply teaches that the good man is satisfied from himself, in opposition to outward, temporal blessings as chief, indispensable, and absolute grounds of support. The souls of God’s real servants are made His habitation through the Spirit, and this indwelling is attended with a peace which the world can neither give nor take away. The witness of the Spirit of God to the spirit of man essentially involves happiness--a happiness which is independent of all things else, and which is enjoyed, both spontaneously and on reflection. Those dispositions and habits which are the fruits of the Spirit make the human soul a treasure-house of happiness, and render their possessor to a great degree independent of all created things; but this same happiness may be made a subject of reflection, and be heightened by it. The gift of the Spirit in man, the testimony of the Spirit to a man, the fruits of the Spirit upon a man, these things are internal and exhaustless. A man so favoured and endowed is satisfied from himself, for various reasons--because he is not tormented with apprehensions of God’s wealth; because he is more or less delivered from the dominion of the passions which embitter human life; because he has acquired tastes and tempers which essentially and spontaneously produce peace and joy; because reflection on what has been done for him and in him is a further source of comfort; and because he has a positive hope full of immortality, which cheers him in every trial, and burns brighter and brighter as the darkness of outward tribulation thickens around him. What is thus set forth as doctrine has been thousands of times realised in human experience. God’s people have often been found maintaining a marvellous independence by simply depending upon God, and to have been satisfied with themselves because God was in them. Enoch, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Daniel, Paul, and John. At the best, human life is a chequered thing. With the good, evil is everywhere mingled--largely mingled. Every heart knows its own bitterness, and every heart has its own. It is clear that if happiness and satisfaction are to be found at all, they must be found within. (W. Sparrow, D.D.)
The good man’s self-satisfaction
The parallelism of this verse is an illustration of the great law of sowing and reaping. Now we take the good man and the satisfaction flowing from himself. There must be some people in the world whom we rightly call good men. The phrase is a frequent one in the Scriptures. In our Lord’s teachings we are directed both to the origin and end, the source and manifestation, of goodness. He says, “Purify the inward life; put the heart right, for ‘out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.’” Observe the difference between the good man of the Bible and the good man of society. The good man of the Bible is a man of religious faith and devotion, of communion with God, and sanctity of heart; and this Divine element flowing downwards, and working outwardly, produces the manifestations of equity, benevolence, industry, prudence, and all “holy conversation and godliness.” The good man of the world builds uphill from the earth. He attends to the personal virtues from a consideration of their tendency to benefit him; from self-respect, from contempt of vice, or dread of its evil consequences. He cultivates the social virtues from calculation, or from amiable sentiment and disposition. But in all this he builds upward--he stands upon the earth, and never gets into that higher region in which the goodness of the good men of the Bible begins. Virtue is not holiness. They differ from each other in nature, origin, and end.
1. The satisfaction of the good man arises from the circumstance that he is regulated in his character and conduct by a fixed and stable thing--by principle. The question with him is, What is duty? What is due to God? He does not live by impulse; he is not moved by passion; he is not ruled by circumstances; he does not act to secure any temporary object. These things would make any man miserable, if his satisfaction were to arise from them. In the midst of his activity the good man’s satisfaction arises from himself--from the consciousness that he acts upon principle and in the sight of God.
2. The sentiment may be illustrated by the contrast which is often exhibited between the good man and the wicked, when the latter is called upon to eat the fruit of his own ways. We frequently find that a man has brought himself by his folly and sin--by extravagance, imprudence, and passion--into a condition of perfect thraldom, and perhaps of peril, from which it is impossible to liberate himself. The man has brought such wretchedness into his heart, such poverty and distress upon his family, is so tied and bound by the consequences of his own conduct, that he has no power to help himself, and if relieved at all, it must be by the interference of others, and at the expense of his own character. Now, in a ease like that, the man so relieved is satisfied; but he is not “satisfied from himself.” The good man, on the contrary, is not only preserved from such pain and wretchedness, but is placed in circumstances, the result of a wise and holy course of conduct, as to be able to help others.
3. The satisfaction of a good man arises from his being preserved from the sting and reproach of an evil conscience. This is somewhat of a negative expression, but it is a great and positive blessing. It is something a man has not--that is, he has not a disturbed, pained, and lacerated conscience.
4. Consider also the positive and increasing pleasure, the growing delight, of the good man’s soul. It is not wrong for a man to reflect with grateful complacency upon actions that are good. A man who has lived a life of active goodness, and can reflect on a long series of deeds that will bear reflection, has a source of essentially high, and pure, and profound satisfaction within him.
Lessons from this theme:
1. The subject, properly understood, is in exact harmony with evangelical truth.
2. It is important to examine our condition, and the relationship we sustain to God and goodness.
3. If by God’s grace men have been brought into a state of harmony with God and all that is good, and if their life, inward and outward, is in such harmony that it is ministering, as it were, to their souls a secret blessed satisfaction, they should be very careful not to put the harp out of tune. Good men, Christian men, by giving way to temptation, by committing sin, have interfered with the harmonious movements of their life, and got out of health.
4. Learn to have a noble and manly view of life. Live for duty, not for pleasure; for principle, not for expediency; for the approbation of God, not for the praise of men. Let us think not about immediate and temporal, but ultimate and external results. (T. Binney.)
The self-sufficient life
(with John 4:14):--Why put these clauses together? Surely you will say, “To illustrate a truth by way of contrast”: for does the one not point to a man who is satisfied from the fountain of a human morality, while the other views an indwelling Christ as the spring of ceaseless satisfaction The words of Christ are an exegesis of Solomon’s words. Both proclaim the self-sufficiency of the spiritual life. Our subject is the self-sufficient life.
I. It arises from its inwardness. Solomon says a good man is satisfied from “himself”; Christ that the water He gives is “in him.” But what is the living water which Christ gives? Christ tells us it is eternal life. The fountain itself is Jesus “glorified in the heart by the Holy Ghost.” Note the inwardness of the “Well”--“from himself” says Solomon, “in him” says Christ. But where? In what part of man does Christ dwell? At the moment of regeneration Christ enters the deepest being of man--enters that which underlies all faculties--changes it; makes it His Holy of Holies, and from it works through the whole range of man’s nature. Christ dwells in man--in that mysterious something which transcends consciousness which thinks, loves, imagines, wills. This seat of Christ in the regenerate, underneath the faculties of the man, explains how he possesses ceaseless happiness, undisturbed peace, unbroken tranquillities.
II. It arises from its self-activity. Look at the “Well.” This is Christ Himself, in whom dwells all the fulness of the Godhead bodily--i.e., the unlimited attributes and life of the Godhead--all grace, all glory, all power. This Divine Well is not like the pool of Bethesda, whose stagnant waters had to be stirred by an angel’s hand before they could live with virtue and healing power. The fulness of Jesus Christ in a man is a living fulness. It is eternally alive. The water springs up. This suggests two ideas.
1. It brings this life before us not as mere water that springs up, but as life, a living thing, which, like all other kinds of life, takes to itself an organism, and builds itself up by the law of evolution and development, until it reaches the maturity of its being.
2. Note the goal of its movement,--the point toward which it unfolds itself--springs up, not to the world, but up into everlasting life. Still the water, its satisfying element, is independent of the world. All along it has been so. Christ, the fountain, is eternally active. The water springs up in itself, and its final point is eternal life. We must not, however, suppose with some that this life becomes eternal, as if at first it was mortal, might die; but at some point became eternal. No. It is eternal in its germ, eternal in its initial developments. The idea of our text is quite different. It is a life which, not having its source on earth, obeys a law of nature, and seeks its original source in heaven. Man, originally formed in the image of God, seeks reunion with Him.
III. It arises from its power to satisfy man. This is a fact of life--felt according to the spirituality of the man, the depth and riches of his Christ-experience. This lone widow, stripped of all, so utterly destitute that she has nothing to compete with Christ in her, has a joy unspeakable and full of glory. This sweet, saintly spirit, who for long has lain upon a bed of pain and sickness, who for years has seen neither grass grow nor flower bloom, who lives in that garret amid the dust and noise of the great city, has Christ in her heart, a well of water--a satisfaction, a perfect joy. The salt waters of trial and sorrow, and toil and loss may overflow us, but down in the regenerate part of man is a well of water--fresh, sweet, living, always springing up. This is the joy and peace that lie beyond the touch of time. (Hugh Mair.)
Happiness not dependent upon our external circumstances
The text is not intended to deny that external circumstances have considerable influence over our happiness. The sentiment is not to be taken as describing the actual condition of society. The happiness of the great mass of mankind is dependent upon external circumstances. The question before us does not lie between the influence of outward circumstances on the one hand and Divine control on the other. The text does not assert the good man’s independence of God.
I. Two great principles of happiness, or ingredients of which it is composed.
1. Peace of mind. Unless the mind is in a state of quietude and peace there cannot be happiness. And peace is communicated to the spirit in a direct and glorious manner through Divine influence.
2. Expectation. Looking forward to something that we possess not.
II. The superiority of these principles to outward circumstances.
1. God has not chosen outward circumstances as the medium through which He imparts these elements of happiness to the mind.
2. God has so ordered it in the economy of grace that man is the intelligent and voluntary agent in the application of these elements of happiness to his own case.
3. Whenever our minds are under the influence of the highest principles of happiness they are not only independent of circumstances, but actually exercise a control over them. (A. G. Fuller.)
How a man’s conduct comes home to him
Men are affected by the course they pursue; for good or bad their conduct comes home to them. The fulness of the backslider’s misery will come out of his own ways, and the fulness of the good man’s content will spring out of the love of God which is shed abroad in his heart.
I. The backslider. This class includes--
1. Apostates. Those who unite them- selves with the Church of Christ and for a time act as if they were subjects of a real change of heart. Then they break away and return back to their worldliness. Such was Judas.
2. Those who go into open sin. Men who descend from purity to careless living, and from careless living to indulgence of the flesh.
3. Those who, in any measure or degree, even for a very little time, decline from the point which they have reached. Note the word “backslider.” He is not a back-runner, nor a back-leaper, but a back-slider; he slides back with an easy, effortless motion, softly, quietly, perhaps unsuspected by himself or anybody else. Nobody ever slides up. The Christian life is a climbing. If you would know how to back-slide, the answer is, “Leave off going forward and you will slide backward.” Note that this is a backslider in heart. All backsliding begins within, begins with the heart’s growing lukewarm. What is the backslider’s history? “He shall be filled with his own ways.” The first kind of fulness is absorption in his carnal pursuits. Then they begin to pride themselves upon their condition and to glory in their shame. Presently the backslider encounters chastisement, and that from a rod of his own making. A fourth stage is at last reached by gracious men and women. They become satiated and dissatisfied, miserable and discontented.
II. The good man. His name and history. The text does not say he is satisfied with himself. No truly good man is ever self-satisfied. The good man is satisfied from himself. A good man is on the side of good. He who truly loves that which is good must be in measure good himself. A good man is “satisfied from himself” because he is independent of outward circumstances, and of the praise of others. The Christian man is content with the well of upspringing water of life which the Lord has placed within him. Faith is in the good man’s heart, and he is satisfied with what faith brings him. Pardon, adoption, conquest over temptation, everything he requires. Hope and love are in the good man’s heart. When the good man is enabled by Divine grace to live in obedience to God, he must, as a necessary consequence, enjoy peace of mind . . . who takes the yoke of Christ upon him, and learns of Him, finds rest unto his soul. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A good man satisfied from himself
That virtue is its own reward, and alone sufficient to a happy life, was an opinion in great esteem among ancient philosophers. Scripture confirms the position that a virtuous life is the best course we can take to secure our happiness. But the philosophers went much farther in their commendations of virtue. They made their virtuous man, not only regardless, but even insensible of everything that concerned the body and this life. This was talking beyond the reach of human nature. Religion, which is our reasonable service, and treats us like men, does not require unreasonable things of us. It does not pretend to make us insensible of evils, nor prohibit the use of all lawful means to prevent or remove them. Religion lays the best foundation for our happiness in this world by prescribing such rules as, if we observe them, will enable us either to avoid these temporal evils, or will support us under them. The good man will have more pleasure in the good things of this life and less of the evils than the wicked. Besides which, he has enjoyments peculiar to himself which the sinner is a perfect stranger to.
1. A good man is most likely to escape the evils and calamities of life and to pass through this world the freest from troubles and vexations. His virtues will be a natural defence and security to him against many evils and miseries which would otherwise befall him. Most of the things which embitter human life arise from their faults and follies, their unreasonable lusts, and unruly passions. The good man places his happiness in the favour of God and the sense of his own integrity. He desires no more than he wants; and he wants no more than he can use and enjoy; and this reduces his necessities to a narrow compass. He bears an universal good-will to all mankind and is always ready to do all the good he can to others. He is sober and temperate in all his pleasures and enjoyments; and this upon a principle of religion and virtue.
2. Whatever calamities or afflictions befall a good man he will bear them much better than other people. Disappointments are not so great to him who takes an estimate of things, not from fancy or opinion, but from truth and reality, and the just weight and moment of them. Though his virtues are not full proof against the strokes of fortune, and cannot ward off every blow, yet they will blunt the edge of afflictions and greatly abate their smart. It is well to consider the uncertainty of all external enjoyments, not to overvalue them, or set our hearts upon them, or place our happiness in them.
3. The good man has pleasures and enjoyments peculiar to himself which will, in a great measure, supply the want of external blessings. Every good and virtuous action we do affords us a double pleasure. It first strikes our minds with a direct pleasure by its suitableness to our nature; and then our minds entertain themselves with pleasant reflections upon it. Learn--
(1) It is an unjust reproach to cast upon religion and virtue that they deprive us of joy and comfort and satisfaction.
(2) What is the true cause of the trouble and uneasiness which are to be found under the sun. (L. Abbot.)
A Christian man of science
The happiness of a good man does not depend on the mere surroundings of his life, or the possessions which he can call his own, but on something more vital--on that which is more really his own, and of which no change of circumstances can ever deprive him. The uneducated man cannot find company in himself. He has to look outside himself for enjoyment and satisfaction. The man whose nature has been cultured, especially by self-discipline, is often least alone when most alone, so that when the voices of men are not heard he hears a still, small voice within his heart. Now, goodness is the highest culture, for it is the culture of that which is most spiritual in the nature. Goodness is an inward harmony. Goodness is the most economical thing in the world, for with it men have an inward treasure that renders them, to a large extent, independent of that which is without. Religion is a possession which makes men rich in any position. There need be no commendation of an ascetic order of life, or contempt of the world. But if we are to enjoy even this world, the power to enjoy must be found within, there must be internal harmony, or the world will be a great discord to us. The kingdom of God, that kingdom which Christ declared is “within,” is the great condition of blessedness; aye, it is the condition for enjoying even the kingdom which is temporal and visible. These points illustrated from the life of G. B. Sowerby, F.L.S., author of “The Saurus Conchyliorum.” (W. Garrett Horder.)
The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going.
Simplicity and prudence
Such belief is not to the discredit of the simple man, but to the disgrace of the man who misleads him. No character is more admirable than that which is marked by simplicity and consequent trustfulness; it is only because the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, and the courses of this world are so much out of line, that simplicity is not only undervalued, but sometimes contemned. The prudent man is put in apposition to indicate that he is a man of affairs, who understands a good deal of the ways of the world, and who looks below the surface to find real meanings; this kind of prudence is itself an affirmation of the wickedness of the world: prudence in itself may or may not be a virtue; everything depends upon its origin and its purpose: when a man is so prudent as to suspect everybody, to regard every word as a trap, and every proposition as a lure to destruction, his prudence simply signifies that he has found out that he is in a bad world, and that everything is to be examined with a view to detecting in it the spirit of selfishness and all evil. Whether simplicity or prudence would in the long run the more prevail cannot now be told, because no fair test can be applied. Certainly Jesus Christ would seem to teach that simplicity is better than wariness, and that trustfulness is nearer to the Spirit of God than is suspicion. It is right to understand the men by whom we are surrounded, and to obtain some notion of their spirit and purpose, in order that we may conduct ourselves aright towards them. This is what God Himself does: to the froward He shows Himself froward; to the meek He is all gentleness; to the trustful He is all grace. There are men who pride themselves upon their prudence, not knowing that their prudence may have been gained through an experience which has cost them dearly, and which has revealed in many instances their folly and their incompetence. The prudence of the wise man will be placed at the disposal of the simple, and will not be wholly devoted to the confounding of those whose intentions are evil. Wherever one man is wiser than another he is a debtor to the man who is not so wise, and is bound to pay him of the gold of wisdom, that the man may be able to manage his affairs in the world with discretion and success. (J. Parker, D.D.)
The credulous and the cautious
I. The hastily credulous. “The simple believeth every word.”
1. One of the strongest tendencies in man’s mental nature is his propensity to believe. It is one of the most voracious appetites of the soul. The child opens its mental mouth, hungering for tales from the nurse’s lips, and will eagerly swallow up everything that is said.
(1) This propensity to believe implies a state of society that does not exist. Were men born into heaven, were society free from all error and deception, it would be not only right, but a beneficial thing to believe every word, and to confide in every character. This is the state of society for which man was created, but he has lost it. He comes into a world of lies.
(2) This propensity to believe explains the reign of priesthood.
(3) This propensity to believe shows the easiness of the condition on which God has made the salvation of man to depend. “He that believeth shall be saved.”
2. The thoughtless yielding to this tendency is an immense loss. “The fool rageth, and is confident.” The fool sees no danger, dreads no harm. He rushes recklessly forward into mischief.
(1) He is passionate. “He rageth.” Counsels and warnings only irritate him.
(2) He is stubborn. He “is confident.” What does he care about your warnings? Nothing.
(3) He is foolish. “He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly, and he inherits folly.”
(4) He is despised. A man of wicked devices is hated. The man who has given way to his credulity becomes all this. He is passionate, ignorant of the grounds of his belief, he cannot brook contradiction, his opinions being prejudices, he is stubborn in holding them, and in all this he is “foolish” and “hated.”
II. The cautiously believing. “The prudent man looketh well to his going.” True prudence is indicated by two things.
1. A dread of evil. “A wise man feareth.” True dread of evil is consistent with true courage. Few, if any, displayed more heroism than Noah, yet, being moved by fear, he prepared an ark. Evil, both physical and moral, is a bad thing in the universe, and it is right to dread it, as we dread poisonous serpents and ravenous beasts. True prudence is indicated--
2. By a departure from evil. “He departeth from evil.” Moral evil is the heart of all evil, and this he forsakes. He shuns it as an enemy to God and the universe. The prudence is indicated--
3. By mental greatness. He is dignified with knowledge. He is “crowned with knowledge.” Caution in believing is necessary for three reasons.
(1) The strength of man’s tendency to believe.
(2) The prevalence of error in society.
(3) The damaging influence of falsehood on the soul. (Homilist.)
“Why are you treading so carefully?” said a donkey to a heavily laden horse. “You’ll never get home at that rate.” “Do you want to know?” was the answer; “it is because I remember there’s a stone on the road somewhere about here. I stumbled over it this morning on my way to work, and I don’t mean to have another fall this evening.” (Mrs. Presser.)
He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly.
In speaking recently of the power of God’s grace to quell our passions, Mr. Aitken told the story of a gentleman he knew in Liverpool, who, although a follower of the Lord Jesus, was cursed with a hasty and violent temper. It was a source of great grief to him, and in his helplessness he threw himself on the Lord’s hands to rid him of this demon which was marring his Christian happiness. He occupied a position of trust in the Custom House, and it was his duty each night to see that every door in the building was locked. One evening he had just gone through his work as usual and was well on his way homewards, when a boy came rushing after him and told him a man was locked up in one of the inner rooms of the Custom House. At the moment he felt anger rising in his throat, but, lifting up his heart to God, he returned with the boy. After unlocking room after room he came to the place where the man was, and found the poor fellow standing trembling, no doubt expecting an outburst of that temper which they all knew so well. The Customs officer approached the man smiling, and, stretching out his hand, told him not to mind the trouble he had given him. Thus does God’s grace enable us to quell our worst pensions.
But the rich hath many friends.
Friends in prosperity
Ah! do not be puffed up by any of the successes of this life, do not be spoiled by the number of liveried coachmen that may stop at your door, or the sweep of the long trail across the imported tapestry. Many of those who come to your house are fawning parasites. They are not so much in love with you as they are in love with your house and your successes. You move down to 320, Low Water Mark Street, and see how many of their carriages will halt at your door. Now you can hardly count those brilliant carriages on your ten fingers, but you move next year down to 320 in Low Water Mark Street, and you can count them all on your nose! Timon of Athens was a wealthy lord, and all the mighty men and women of the land came and sat at his banquet, proud to sit there, and they drank deep to his health. They sent him costly presents. He sent costlier presents back again, and there was no man in all the land so admired as Timon of Athens, the wealthy lord. But after a while, through lavish hospitality or through betrayal, he lost everything. Then he sent for help to those lords whom he had banqueted and to whom he had given large sums of money--Lucullus, Lucius, Sempronius, and Ventidias. Did those lords send any help to him? Oh, no. Lucullus said when he was applied to, “Well, I thought that Timon would come down; he was too lavish; let him suffer for his recklessness.” Lucius said, “I would be very glad to help Timon, but I have made large purchases and my means are all absorbed.” And one lord sent one excuse, and another lord sent another excuse. But to the astonishment of everybody, after awhile Timon proclaimed another feast. These lords said to themselves, “Why, either Timon has had a good turn of fortune or he has been deceiving us--testing our love.” And so they all flocked to the banquet, apologetic for seeming lukewarmness. The guests were all seated at the table, and Timon ordered the covers to be lifted. The covers lifted, there was nothing under them but smoking hot water. Then Timon said to the guests, “Dogs, lap! Lap, dogs!” And under the terrible irony they fled the room, while Timon pursued them with his anathema, calling them fools of fortune, destroyers of happiness under a mask, hurling at the same time the pictures and the chalices after them. Oh, I would not want to make you over-suspicions in the days of your success; but I want you to understand right well there is a vast difference between the popularity of Timon the prosperous and Timon the unfortunate. I want you to know there is a vast difference in the number of people who admire a man when he is going up and the number of people who admire him when he is going down. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
He that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.
The problems presented by poverty are recurrent. Wisdom as well as courage is required by those who would confront them successfully. Civilisation tends to the separation of men, but Christianity can bring them together till they constitute a true brotherhood, in which the strong shall help to bear the burdens which are crushing the weak. It is a wholesome sign that such questions as this are being more closely considered, and more boldly treated than they formerly were, especially by Christian people. If dogmatic Christianity seems weaker, practical Christianity is stronger. There is, undoubtedly, much to discourage pity when we attempt to know the condition of the poor, and to do them service for Christ’s sake. We meet with improvidence, drink, and imposture. We do not palliate such wickedness and folly, but would use it rather as an argument for “considering” the poor, for discriminating between things that differ, so that pity and generosity may flow in the right direction. Scripture lays down the principles which should guide us. Under Judaism the enactments which tended to prevent or relieve poverty are very prominent. The privileges of gleaners, the precepts which forbade the withholding of wages, and the laws against usury, are specimens. The Year of Jubilee was remarkable social institution. That year poverty was suffered to put forth its claims in God’s name, and was sure of a fair hearing. Judaism did but foreshadow the work of Jesus, who came to establish righteousness, and to proclaim brotherhood between men and between nations. He was listened to most eagerly by the poor. He was born among them, was all through His life one of them--understood their habits and feelings, was at home in their houses, and taught truth in a way that they could comprehend. We admit that we cannot reach an ideal state of society in the world so long as sin exists. But we are not to fold our hands--waiting for a coming millennium--thinking that of necessity things must be as they are. Christ our Saviour is the world’s rightful king, and He means to conquer it for Himself, through the righteousness and mercifulness of His people. Still, the law of love holds good, and if we follow our Lord, we shall go forth to seek and to save those that are lost. And they need saving--from misery, from degradation, and from despair. Consideration of the moral effects of poverty will lead us to deeper pity of the poor. A poor man has not the gracious home influence that most of us enjoy. The temptation to envy must come with tremendous power to a poor man. What can be done to alter for the better a state of things which every Christian ought to think of pitifully and prayerfully? We have something to do in forming public opinion on this question, so that anything which is within the sphere of legislation may be done. Charity also has its claims upon our thoughts and generosity. And above all, the good news of the Kingdom is needed of these our brethren. (A. Rowland, LL.B., B.A}
Do they not err that devise evil?
The grievous error of devising evil
How difficult is the task to convince any human being that he has mistaken the road to happiness! He would say, “No man can judge for another what is best suited to his nature and temperament in the way of enjoying life.” And if man had no other law to follow in the pursuit of happiness than the dictates of his own will, this reasoning would be just; and upon indifferent points of minor importance, it still remains unanswerable. But in connection with the moral course and conduct of a man’s life, the way has been laid down for him: how he must walk, and where. The wicked would deny that they do “err” at all.
1. The wicked “err” egregiously in imagining for a moment that any man is placed here to be independent of God, and of His commandments.
2. In taking it for granted that they know best what is good for them; that they can tell what will induce to their own comfort and happiness, better than the revealed law of their lives in the Word of God.
3. In conceiving that sin has any real good to confer.
4. The wicked “err” in being intent only on the present.
5. They admit and cherish in their hearts, in opposition to all reason, as well as Scripture, an idea that there will be, after all, a means of escape for them. They thus prove, by their conduct, that they do not use their reason and common sense in this supremely important concern. (A. B. Evans, D.D.)
In all labour there is profit.
The doctrine of the Proverbs is, that what is good for the next world is good for this. He who wishes to go out of this world happily must first go through this world wisely. Men do, to a very great extent, earn for themselves their good or evil fortunes, and are filled with the fruit of their own devices. True religion is a thing which mixes itself up with all the cares and business of this mortal life, this work-clay world. “In all labour there is profit.” Whatsoever is worth doing, is worth doing well. It is always worth while to take pains. It is a short-sighted mistake to avoid taking trouble, for God has so well ordered this world that industry always repays itself. God has set thee thy work; then fulfil it. Fill it full. Throw thy whole heart and soul into it. Do it carefully, accurately, completely. All neglect, carelessness, slurring over work is a sin; a sin against God, who has called us to our work; a sin against our country and our neighbours, who ought to profit by our work; and a sin against ourselves also, for we ought to be made wiser and better men by our work. Then take pains. Whatever you do, do thoroughly. Whatever you begin, finish. Look upon your work as an honourable calling, and as a blessing to yourselves, not merely as a hard necessity, a burden which must be done. Be sure it will bring its reward with it. Work, hard work, is a blessing to the soul and character of the man who works. Idleness makes a man restless, discontented, greedy, the slave of his own lusts and passions. Being forced to work, and forced to do your best, will breed in you temperance and self-control, diligence and strength of will, cheerfulness and content, and a hundred virtues which the idle man will never know. If you wish to see how noble a calling work is, consider God Himself, who, although He is perfect, and does not need, as we do, the training which comes by work, yet works for ever with and through His Son Jesus Christ, who said, “My Father worketh hitherto, and I work.” Think of God as a King working for ever for the good of His subjects, a Father working for ever for the good of His children, for ever sending forth light, and life, and happiness to all created things, and ordering all things in heaven and earth by a providence so perfect that not a sparrow falls to the ground without His knowledge, and the very hairs of your head are all numbered. And then think of yourselves, called to copy God, each in his station, and to be fellow-workers with God for the good of each other and of ourselves. Called to work because you are made in God’s image, and redeemed to be the children of God. (C. Kingsley, M.A.)
Labour better than talk
Sometimes it is difficult to see where the profit is. We speak of having spent our strength for nought, of having run in vain, of having brought the day to a close without having filled our arms with sheaves. There is, however, a sense in which all labour ends in advantage: it is so in learning, in study, in the prosecution of art, in devotion to business, in the study of character, indeed, throughout the whole circle of human thought and occupation. A man may write much, and may throw his writing away because it does not fulfil his expectation or purpose, yet the very act of having written it has been as a discipline to the writer, has stirred his faculties, and by even revealing weakness has prepared the way for the cultivation of strength. Every time the arm is lifted the muscles are improved. Every time the fresh air is breathed a blessing of healthfulness is left behind. Labour means industry, devotion, conscientious attention to affairs that demand our interest: it is set in apposition to the talk of the lips--mere breathing, mere foaming, mere boasting, wordy declarations of great programmes which are never brought to realisation. The teaching of the text would seem to be that labour brings wealth, and mere talk brings penury. If this is so the law is obviously just and good. Society would no longer be consolidated and secure if mere talk brought men to honour and wealth and solidity of position. In all society the labourers must be more in number than the talkers. Understand that nothing is here said against talk; society cannot do without speech; eloquence has a great part to play in the education of the world; what is spoken against is the talk of the lips--that is, mere talk, talking for talking’s sake, love of hearing one’s self speak, talking with the lips when the heart is taking no part in the communication: when a man truly talks his intellect, his heart, his conscience, his judgment, his whole being speaks; every word is marked by sacredness of purpose, every promise is a vow, every declaration binds the soul. It must not be understood that anything whatever is said in disparagement of talk, speech, eloquence; we must again and again remind ourselves that the talk that is con- demned is formal, mechanical, labial, taking nothing of virtue out of the speaker, and communicating nothing of strength to the hearer. (J. Parker, D.D.)
Labour, talk, wealth
I. Profitable labour. “In all labour there is profit.” The word “all” here of course must be taken with limitation. Ill-directed labour is not profitable.
1. Labour is profitable to our physical health.
2. Labour is profitable to our character. It conduces to force of thought, energy of will, power of endurance, capacity of application.
3. Labour is profitable to our social comforts. By labour, honest, well-directed labour, man gets not only the necessities, but the comforts, the luxuries, the elegances, and the elevated positions of life. There is no true labour that is vain.
II. Impoverishing talk. “The talk of the lips tendeth only to penury.” All talk does not tend to penury. There is a talk that is profitable. The talk of the preacher, the lecturer, the statesman, the barrister, more often tend to affluence than to penury. Sir Walter Raleigh says, “He that is lavish in words is a niggard indeed. The shuttle, the needle, the spade, the brush, the chisel, all are still but the tongue.”
III. Dignifying wealth. “The crown of the wise is their riches.” The idea is, that a wise man would so use his wealth that it will become a crown to him. By using it to promote his own mental and spiritual cultivation, and to ameliorate the woes and to augment the happiness of the world, his wealth gives him a diadem more lustrous far than all the diamond crowns of kings. But the foolishness of fools is folly. This looked at antithetically means that the wealth of a fool adds no dignity to his character. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Industry in religion
I. The uselessness of a religion which is merely verbal.
1. Do not misunderstand this. Gift of speech is from God. He is to be obeyed and honoured by it. Religion is to be verbal. Confess Christ. Exhort one another. Rebuke sin. Sing psalms and hymns. By our words we shall be justified or condemned.
2. But a merely verbal religion is useless. We may call Christ, Master and Lord, and disobey Him. We may dispute on religious subjects, and be without religion itself.
II. The necessity and advantage of practical industry in religion.
1. The Bible often speaks of spiritual “labour.”
2. “In all” such “labour there is profit.” The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. Resist the devil, and he shall flee from you.
God is not unrighteous to forget your work of faith and labour of love.
1. Your present interest calls you to it. There is a gathering before the final harvest; and they who sow plenteously shall gather plenteously.
2. Can you be active in His service who has done so great things for you?
3. Nor forget the punishment threatened to apostasy.
4. Keep in mind the reward promised.
5. Be solemnly impressed with the greatness of the work, and the brevity and uncertainty of time. (G. Cubitt.)
1. Am I wrong in thinking that most of us take our religion much too easily? Where is the “labour”? Where is the difficult part? And yet a religious life is always set before us as a very difficult thing--Work. “Work while it is day.” “Go work in My vineyard.” “Strive to enter in.” “We labour to enter into the rest.” We get up in the morning, and we say a prayer, and perhaps read a few verses in the Bible, or some religious book, before we leave our room. During the day, we have one or two religious thoughts. Perhaps we do some act of kindness which costs us very little, and which we do with a very mixed motive. Am I understating the religion of your day? or am I overstating it? But does it correspond with the description which the Bible gives of a religious life? Does this satisfy the requirements of God? Is your conscience satisfied? Where is the self-denial? Where is the “labour”? Was this Christ’s life?
2. Why do you find your religion such a tame thing? Why do you make such a little progress? Why have not you the enthusiasm which some have? Why is your religion unattractive to other people? It wants “labour.” Nothing will restore that neglected field but hard work. Digging, tilling, watering, fencing, weeding, burning, that restores a field! True, it is all of grace. God must give the sunshine, and you must spread the seed to receive it. Let any farmer say what is the secret of fertilising his land. “Labour.” Let every man of great learning and high intellectual power say where is the secret of his great knowledge and mental power. He would say, “Fag.” Let every experienced Christian say what has made him what he is. He will say, “Labour; hard work.” “In all labour there is profit.”
3. The “labour” may differ in different persons. A woman’s work is very different to a man’s. The work of one class of society may be chiefly manual; but God makes His unity out of man’s diversity. I would that you would invest in “labour.” If you wish to lead a happy life, you will never find it in what you are to get, but you will find it in what you are to give. Get out of this pointless, easy-going, unsatisfying, useless life. Let me go with you a step or two. In the morning do not waste your time in bed, but wake early to the realities of life. Try to begin with a good thought. Discipline yourself, even in dressing. Take pains with your morning prayer. Have some arrangement. Stop the first wandering thought. And when you read your Bible, go deep. Look for inner meanings. All the day long, remember your own particular danger, and be on your guard about it. Try to raise your own and others’ conversation to a higher level. Set to yourself in life some special work which you believe God calls you to do. It may be for the poor, for the suffering, for the school, for the sick, for the heathen, for the Church, for Christ. And remember, whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well. (J. Vaughan, M.A.)
Work lives when we are gone
Lord Shaftesbury, in one of his speeches, gave an admirable concluding piece of advice to all Christian workers--I trust that you will persevere, and by God’s blessing double and redouble your efforts. You cannot do better than take the saying that appears in one of Sir Walter Scott’s tales. An old Scotchman sends for his son, and says to him, “Be aye stickin’ in a tree, John; it’ll be dein guid to the world when you and I are gane.”
Labour a panacea for trouble
Life is full of trouble, and we must shoulder our share with the best grace we can. We may only seek to lighten it, for to avoid it is impossible. There is one sovereign panacea, however--work. Brooding over trouble is like surrounding oneself with a fog, it magnifies all objects seen through it. Occupation of the mind prevents this; any hard work, manual work even, gives the mind other matters of concern, and also tires the body so as to ensure sleep. He who knows that power is inborn, that people are weak because they look for good out of circumstances instead of themselves, throws himself upon his own personality, and stands in an erect position, commands his limbs, and succeeds in achievements, because he perceives it lies with himself to strengthen and develop his faculties.
Profit in all labour
In an article on “The lady who does her own work,” Mrs. Harriet Beecher Stowe dwells on the value of housework in giving the very healthiest form of exercise, and for the average woman shows it to be far preferable to the work of the masseurs, who, even in those days, more than thirty years ago, seem to have found plenty of patients. “Would it not be quite as cheerful and less expensive a process,” she asks, “if young girls from early life developed the muscles in sweeping, dusting, ironing, rubbing furniture, and all the multiplied domestic processess which our grandmother’s knew of?” and then adds: “I will venture to say that our grandmothers in a week went over every movement that any gymnast has invented, and went over them to some productive purpose, too.” Here is a hint that women with thin arms would do well to take. It is said to be really a fact that Clara Louise Kellogg, the singer, when a young girl, was much annoyed by the attenuated appearance of her arms when she began to don evening dress at her crowded concerts. Some one recommended a brisk use of the broom, which advice she followed, and soon had a round, plump member as the reward of her labour. If a thin, listless girl, with a dull eye and stare, can by any means be persuaded to try the “broom cure,” she will be astonished to find what a beautifier it really is.
In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence: and His children shall have a place of refuge.
Godly fear and its goodly consequence
Has it never surprised you that there should be such sentences as these in the Book of inspiration--secular proverbs interspersed with spiritual proverbs--the secular and the spiritual all put together without any division or classification. The hard and fast line which is made to divide the secular from the religious is fraught with innumerable injuries.
I. What is this fear of the Lord? Fear stands for true godliness. It is a short way of expressing real faith, hope, love, holiness of living, and every grace. There is a something more tender, more touching, more real about fear than there is about some people’s faith, which faith may very readily verge upon presumption. But in speaking of fear we must always discriminate. There is a fear with which a Christian has nothing to do. What is the fear that a well-ordered, well-disciplined, beloved child has of his own father?
1. He has an awe of him which arises out of admiration of his character.
2. He is sure to be very deferential in his father’s presence.
3. He fears at any time to intrude upon his father’s prerogative.
4. He dreads everything which might cause his father’s displeasure.
II. Wherein is the confidence of godly fear seen? The history of men that have feared God may enlighten us on this matter, e.g., Job, Habakkuk. The confidence will not only appear in time of trouble, it will appear also in acts of obedience. The same confidence will develop itself when persecution is involved, and when we have to bear witness to the truth.
III. Whereupon is this confidence built? They that fear God know God to be infinitely loving to them, to be immutable and unchangeable, to be unsearchingly wise and omnipotently strong on their behalf; they know that an atonement has been made for their sins, and that the Spirit of God dwells in them.
IV. How this confidence and this fear are favoured of God. The promise is, “His children shall have a place of refuge.” Those who fear God and have confidence in Him are His children. There is a heaven lying asleep within those words, “His children.” For the “place of refuge” finds illustration in Noah, Lot, Israel, Ruth, Elijah, Christians at Pella, etc. Moses Stuart says the text means that the children of those who fear God shall have a place of refuge. And there are many precious texts that speak thus of our children. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Godliness, safety, and life
I. That godliness is safety. “The fear of the Lord is strong confidence.” The godly are safe. God is their Refuge and Strength. They will not fear though the earth be removed. We make three remarks about this refuge.
1. It is a provision against immense dangers.
2. It admits of the greatest freedom of action. A prison is a refuge as well as a fortress. But all in this refuge have ample scope for action. The sphere is as infinite as God.
3. It is accessible at all times and for all persons. Its gates are open day and night.
II. That godliness is life. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life. Godliness is a fountain of happiness--salubrious, abundant, perennial. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Fear prevents confidence, and sometimes destroys confidence; but the “fear of the Lord” produces confidence. The text does not say that all godly persons have confidence; some have not, because the body is weak or there is some morbid feeling ruling the heart which should not control the emotions and the affections. Godliness, where it has full play and free scope, will invariably produce confidence. All the confidence of godly persons is not a direct fruit of piety. Some confidence comes from constitutional conditions. It is a matter of temperament.
I. Real godliness involves confidence towards God. Because in such a case as this reconciliation with God is complete. Not necessarily the realisation of reconciliation and the fruits and effects of it. If reconciliation in the case of those who fear the Lord be complete, confidence cannot but be restored by such reconciliation. There springs up between them that “fear the Lord and God,” that which may be called filial friendship; and in this there is strong confidence, Further, the intercourse of the godly with heaven is perfectly unfettered. And there is, in the case of those who “fear the Lord,” happy dependence; such as that of the babe upon its mother. We are not always to be asking God for an explanation of His doings, we are to trust Him. There is motherhood as truly as fatherhood in God.
II. Real godliness produces confidence towards men. Not impudence; not boldness of the evil kind; but that confidence which is perfectly consistent with deep humility, and which works together with that spirit which is ever ready to put honour on another. Do not mistake this confidence towards men. This confidence is the confidence of conscious uprightness. As in the case of Job. But it is not the self-conceit which says, “Stand by, I am holier than thou.”
III. The confidence which real godliness awakens is adapted to all circumstances. In danger it becomes boldness. In duty and work it becomes conscious power. The godly man is not a fatalist.
IV. A confidence which abides to the end. It goes with a man to the uttermost, it carries him right through. It endures because the principles out of which it is established endure. Faith endures. Hope endures. This confidence will be strong enough to do all the work which you, in this world of sin and sorrow, may require from it. Then do not be content without strong confidence. And endeavour to promote this confidence, especially among weak and timid Christians. (S. Martin, M.A.)
Fear a confidence
Fear is confidence; the words sound strangely. They are strange indeed, but true. To fear God aright is to be delivered from all fear. “His salvation is nigh them that fear Him.” To have such a neighbour is strong consolation to a human spirit in this howling wilderness. The fear which brings a sinner submissive and trustful to the sacrifice and righteousness of the Substitute is itself a confidence. The great and terrible God becomes the “dwelling-rock” of the fugitive. (W. Arnot.)
The fear of the Lord and its advantages
Religion, in the life of a man who regularly lives to God, always appears in an aspect uninteresting and unlovely to the irreligious. And so they speak of it. It is needful, therefore, that religion should be honoured.
I. The habit which the text exhibits. “The fear of the Lord.” Fear, in its most comprehensive and general definition, is that emotion arising from the prospect of danger, either real or imaginary. In spiritual things it has a twofold character.
1. Slavish fear, or mere dread of Jehovah in His character as Judge. This fear must not be put in the place of religion.
2. Filial fear. Analogous to the emotion properly exercised by children towards parents; it is exercised by all those who have undergone a redemption from slavish fear and a renovation of heart by the influence of the Divine Spirit. It arises from a deep and humble reverence of the Divine perfections and from a practical desire to walk in obedience to the Divine commandments. It is principally included in the direction of all the affections towards Jehovah and the exhibition of practical religion in the life and conversation. The filial fear of the Lord is by no means inconsistent with the love cf the Lord.
II. The advantages which this mental habit always and invariably secures. The fear of God excludes all other fear, and he who has it has a sanctuary in which his soul shall abide in security, and safety, and peace, while looking beyond the scenes of this present life for the perfect enjoyment of interminable and imperishable felicity. Notice three facts embodied in the principle.
1. The fear of the Lord removes the terrors of conscience. Conscience is the judge of a man’s mind with regard to a man’s own actions. An accusing conscience is one that sets before the spirit of a man the array of his crimes. The fear of the Lord prevents the accusations of conscience and brings the soul into a state of peace.
2. The fear of the Lord removes also the terrors of temporal chastisement. But the chastening of God is always for our profit; and in connection with the profit arising from chastisement there are peculiar comforts.
3. The fear of the Lord removes the terrors of death and of futurity. He who has God for his friend must look, not only without fear, but with hope and joy, to the last moment of dissolution, and his entrance into the mysteries of the awful world of futurity. (James Parsons.)
The advantages of religious principle
The “fear of the Lord” is here put for all gracious principles, producing gracious practices.
1. Where this reigns it produces a holy security and serenity of mind.
2. It entails a blessing on posterity.
3. It is an overflowing and everflowing spring of comfort and joy. It is a “fountain of life,” yielding constant pleasure and satisfaction to the soul.
4. It is a sovereign antidote against sin and temptation. Those that have a true relish of the pleasures of serious godliness will not be allured by the baits of sin to swallow its hook; they know where they can obtain better things than any it can pretend to offer. (Matthew Henry.)
The children’s place of refuge
(to children):--What is a place of refuge? In the Isle of Man there is a tower in the sea which is known as “the Tower of Refuge.” Just under the waters is a cruel rock, and many a boat has been struck upon it and lost, so the wife of one of the governors has had this tower built, and sailors and fishermen, instead of a dangerous rock, find shelter, a dry room, and something to eat and drink. Who is it in the text who are to have a place of refuge? Not the fathers, not the mothers, but “His children.” But who are God’s children? Every child that comes into the world is God’s child. But it is possible for a little boy or girl to be one of God’s children and not know it. If you will give your heart to the Lord God, if you will love Him, you will find out that you are one of God’s children. God is often grieved because His boys and girls do not know Him. God is your Father, and He likes to know that you know Him. Now, boys and girls have their troubles. We big people sometimes forget that when little people have little cares they are just as hard for them to bear. If you have troubles you want a place of refuge into which you can escape. The place of refuge for you is the heart of Jesus. If you ask Jesus to let you come He will let you come, and you will know Jesus if you get into His heart. The heart of Jesus is a great heart--it is large enough to take us all in, boys and girls and men and women. And now is the very best time for you to come and find your place of refuge in the heart of Jesus. Remember that your place of refuge is always close to you. Jesus is always willing to hear and willing to answer you. (W. J. Woods, B.A.)
The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life.
The fountain of life
I. Something that needs replenishing. Life is a fire--it must be kept alight; a lamp--it needs oil; energy--it demands a nervous sustentation. So with spiritual life--it cannot continue without food.
II. Something to replenish man’s life. “The fear of the Lord.” Here is rich provender called a “fountain”--continuous, inexhaustible, pure--the source, not the stream. How is it a fountain of life?
1. Because it enables us to assimilate Divine food.
2. Because it is the key which unlocks the tap. (Homilist.)
He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding.
The scope of these words is to beat down sinful anger, a common evil, producing much mischief. In them there is--
1. The excellency of meekness, and--
2. The mischief of passionateness, and the evil thereof.
I. The man that is slow of wrath or anger snows great wisdom and understanding in his meek and peaceable disposition and deportment.
1. The nature of wrath or anger in general. Anger or wrath is a passion which is not of itself sinful, but is either good or ill, as it is regulated; and so it differs from fretting, murmuring, and envy, which can never be good or allowable in any case. Anger is a servant to the meek, but a master to the passionate. The passion of anger is like wind to a ship. If there be a dead calm, and the winds blow not at all, or very weakly, the ship does not make way. And if men be so stupid, indolent, and unconcerned, that their spirits will not stir in them, whatever dishonour they see done to God, these are standing still in the way to heaven. If the wind is brisk enough, but yet is contrary, the ship will at best have much ado with it, and may be driven into a shore which the crew desired not to see. So if men’s anger be in itself sinful, it cannot fail of an unhappy event, driving the soul into much sin. Though the wind be not contrary, yet if it be too impetuous and violent, it may dash the ship on rocks and split it. Though a man’s anger may have a just ground, yet if it prove excessive and boisterous it may run men headlong into great mischiefs. The ingredients of anger are, a commotion or trouble of the spirit, which ariseth from an apprehension of an injury. Hatred, which is bent against the injury apprehended. Grief, on account of the party or parties injured. A desire for the vindication of the right and honour of the injured. Anger is a passion uneasy, to one’s self, compounded of bitter ingredients and uneasy passions; in which one walks on slippery ground, where he is apt to fall headlong.
2. What is it to be slow of wrath? Being slow to take up anger in one’s own cause. Managing it warily, when it is taken up, being guided by the light of reason, and not by the fire of passion, and being easy to lay it down. The more slow that anger burns the easier it is to quench.
3. He who is slow of wrath is of great understanding. Such an one thereby shows his duty to God, his sovereign lord, and to himself. He shows that he understands Satan’s diligence and malice against him, his real interest, and human nature. Be slow to wrath. It is a heaven-like disposition. The comfort of society depends on it. It is necessary for a man’s own comfort. It helps to keep ourselves and others from the snare of sin. But there is such a thing as sinful slackness to anger, which may make us omit duties of justice and charity.
II. The passionate man proclaims his folly and naughtiness in his unbridled passion and sinful anger.
1. The nature of sinful anger. Anger is sinful when it riseth without a just ground, having no cause for it assigned by grace or right reason as just. It may rise without any cause at all; or vainly, upon some slight or trifling occasion unworthy of such notice. When it keeps no due proportion with the offence. When it is not directed to the honour of God, and the destruction of sin. When it makes no due difference between the offender and the offence. When the effects of it are sinful. When it is kept up and continued beyond due time.
2. The kinds of sinful anger. Sinful in itself; where there is no just ground. Accidentally sinful; when ill-managed. There is an open and impetuous anger called wrath. A pursuing, implacable wrath, called anger, which is set upon revenge.
3. The effects of sinful anger. Mischievous to the body. Fires the tongue in a particular manner. Disturbs society. Overclouds reason. Unfits a man for duty. The passionate man proclaims his folly. He shows himself to be a proud man, a weak man, incapable of ruling himself; an unmortified man; a rash and precipitant man; an unwatchful man. Practical improvement of this subject--Use of humiliation and conviction; of exhortation. Desire of provoking and stirring up others to passion; for God’s sake, and for your neighbour’s sake, as well as for your own sake. “Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation.” And if at any time you are caught, hasten out of the snare. Dallying with temptation is the fair way to entangle you further; therefore fly from it as from a serpent, lest ye be stung to death thereby. (T. Boston, D.D.)
Religion the restraint of impetuous passion
Death is at all times appalling to nature; but never so frightful as when it comes by the hands of the public executioner. To this the text provides an antidote. The man who lives in the “fear of the Lord” is not likely to die an untimely, much less an ignominious death. The case of martyrs is excepted.
I. Explain the nature of true religion. What is the principle, its rule, and its object.
1. Its principle is the love of God. This love to God must be supreme. And wherever love is present, it will be evidenced by a desire to comply with the wishes, and obey the commands of the person loved.
2. That the rule of true religion is the revealed will of God, as found in the Scriptures.
3. The object of true religion is the glory of God. Religion in the heart can never be satisfied with anything short of the Divine glory as the great object of life.
II. While destitute of the influence of religion, men are perpetually in danger of being overcome by the impetuosity of their passions.
1. Principles directly opposite to those of true religion exist in the human heart.
2. Circumstances are continually arising which may call these unholy principles into active operation.
3. There is grave danger, in the absence of true religion, that excited passion will prevail. Impetuosity can be effectually restrained and subdued only by the power of religious principle. (Essex Remembrancer.)
Slow to wrath
Lord Macaulay has remarked that there are some unhappy men constitutionally prone to the darker passions, men to whom bitter words are as natural as snarling and biting to a ferocious dog; and he asserts that to come into the world with this wretched mental disease is a greater calamity than to be born blind or deaf. A man, he proceeds to say, who, having such a temper, keeps it in subjection, and constrains himself to behave habitually with justice and humanity towards those who are in his power, seems worthy of the highest admiration. “There have been instances of this self command; and they are among the most signal triumphs of philosophy and religion.” In eulogies of the Emperor Justinian this characteristic is not to be slighted, that he was “a master of the angry passions, which rage with such destructive violence in the breast of a despot.” Of Mohammed we are told that he was naturally irritable, but had brought his temper under great control, so that even in the self-indulgent intercourse of domestic life he was kind and tolerant. “I served him from the time I was eight years old,” said his servant Anus, “and he never scolded me for anything, though things were spoilt by me.” Adam Smith traces from school and playground the progress and, so to speak, natural history of self-control, and shows on what grounds, and in what way, the child advances in self-command, studies to be more and more master of itself, and tries to exercise over its own feelings “a discipline which the practice of the longest life is very seldom sufficient to bring to complete perfection.” (W. Arnot, D.D.)
A sound heart is the life of the flesh.
Heart and health
A “sound heart” is a heart that gives its supreme affection to the supremely good. All other hearts are more or less rotten. Such a heart, the text informs us, is the condition of physical health; it is the very “life of the flesh.” True, science can demonstrate this fact in many ways. Physical health requires attention to certain laws; these laws to be attended to must be understood; the understanding of these laws requires study; the proper study of them is only insured by a supreme sympathy of heart with the law-giver. Every man’s experience, as well as science, attests this fact. The influence of the emotions of the heart upon the state of the body even the dullest recognises. The passions of grief, disappointment, anger, jealousy and revenge, in proportion to their strength derange the bodily system. On the other hand, pleasurable emotions give buoyancy and vigour to the body.
I. That a man’s bodily health, where the organisation is normally good, is very much in his own hands. Heaven has given us the means and the motives to cultivate happy conditions of the heart. “Keep thy heart with all diligence.” We infer from this fact--
II. That christianity is an indispensable agent in removing man’s physical diseases.
III. That medical science will always be ineffective until it practically concerns itself with the moral diseases and cures of the mind. The medical practitioner should know--
(1) That it is unscientific to ignore the fact that moral evil is the source of all physical evil, and--
(2) That it is unscientific to ignore the fact that there is no agent to remove moral evil but Christianity. We infer--
IV. That as the true morality of the world advances, the physical health of the world will improve. A drainage to carry away all the foul passions of the heart is the desideratum. The man who is most successful in his efforts, through Christianity, to promote a moral renovation of hearts is the greatest philanthropist. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
But envy is the rottenness of the bones.
The nature and character of envy
All the laws of nature, as far as they comprehend the duties we owe to one another, may be reduced to this one great principle of universal benevolence, viz., that we lay it down as the fixed and fundamental rule of all our actions, to do all manner of good, and to abstain from all manner of evil. The motives to this conduct, besides the beauty and agreeableness of it, are these--
1. That all mankind in reality consult their own interest best, when they contribute to the good of the whole.
2. That there is an intrinsic pleasure resulting from the practice of virtue.
3. That it recommends us to the love and esteem of all mankind. Anguish of heart, hatred, disesteem, and insecurity, are the natural rewards of iniquity, even in this world. This is nowhere more conspicuous than in the passion of vice and envy. A “sound heart,” is literally a heart of lenity or medicine. “Envy” is a leaven that sours and corrupts, sets all the humours upon the fret, and is the bane of all that is good and beautiful and desirable in life.
I. The nature and origin of envy; and who are they that are most subject to it. Envy is a pain or uneasiness, arising from an apprehension of the prosperity and good fortune of others; not because we suffer for their welfare, but merely because their condition is bettered. There is a strong jealousy of preeminence and superiority implanted in our nature by Almighty God, for wise and noble purposes. When this principle takes root in a good mind, it is called emulation. But when this principle meets with an evil, corrupt disposition, it degenerates into envy, the most malignant and hateful passion in human nature, the worst weed of the worst soil. This passion affects us chiefly in relation to our equals. If we find we have equalled or exceeded those of like birth, the natural consequence is joy and complacency; but if we are exceeded by them, emulation or envy. The persons most subject to envy are the covetous; men of little or mean spirits; men of extraordinary endowments and abilities, who cannot bear a rival; proud men; and old men.
II. The symptoms by which envy may be known.
1. When we find ourselves averse from doing a person good offices.
2. When we are pleased with the evil of others.
3. When we manifest a censorious disposition; silencing the good actions of others, or exposing the bad.
4. When we have a discontented, querulous, and quarrelsome disposition.
III. The ill effects of envy.
1. To the envious person it is “rottenness in his bones.” It wastes the body, and keeps the mind in a ferment. It kills our quiet and our virtue also.
2. It exposes a man to the just hatred and aversion of all mankind; and spreads its malignant influence wherever it comes.
IV. The best remedies for the cure of this pernicious passion.
1. Settle our opinion of things, and endeavour to take a right estimate of them, according to the law of God.
2. Make a right judgment of our own worth and abilities.
3. Reflect seriously upon the vanity and insignificancy of all worldly advantages.
4. Think of God, who takes pleasure in the happiness of all His creatures. (J. Delany.)
He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker.
Oppression of the poor a reproach to their Maker
Every man acting his part in his social capacity is “a spectacle.” Society is an organisation of rational creatures, acting together for some good. Society is a commonwealth of human nature in close connection with God. And so every man becomes his “brother’s keeper.”
I. Human nature, as involving a crime--“oppressing the poor.”
1. By political injustice. When they have no proper organ for expressing their wants, or have a voice in the representation of their country, or a free agency in all the enactments of their country.
2. By social neglect. When the state, as a body, allows vast masses of accumulating distress and ignorance and misery to grow up around it.
3. By mental debasement. Real, true, solid Christian education consists in three things--in giving the mind great truths, in imparting to the mind great motives, in the bestowment of great principles.
II. The consequence--the maker is reproached. The poor cannot but think ill of God, when society, which assumes to be His arrangement, presses so heavily upon them. (R. Montgomery, M.A.)
Godliness and humanity
Piety and philanthropy are essentially one. Wherever there is piety or godliness, there is philanthropy. Philanthropy is the offspring of all true religion. The text teaches--
I. That inhumanity is ungodliness. There is a great deal of inhumanity in the world, the poor have to endure a great deal of “oppression.” Superior force is exerted to exact their labours for the most inadequate remuneration, and thus to “grind their faces.” All this oppression of the poor is a reproach of God; he who does it “reproacheth his Maker.” He reproaches his Maker--
1. By disregarding that identity of nature with which our Maker has endowed all classes.
2. By disregarding those laws which our Maker has enjoined concerning the poor (Leviticus 25:35-36; Deuteronomy 15:11).
II. True humanity is godliness. “He that honoureth Him, hath mercy on the poor.” He that honoureth God, by loving Him supremely, and serving Him, will have mercy on the poor. There is, it is true, a fickle, sentimental, natural mercifulness for the poor, which has no connection with godliness, but this is not true humanity. True humanity is that which sympathises with man, as the offspring of God, the victim of moral evil, the child of immortality, and which consecrates itself in the Spirit of Christ to ameliorate his woes and redeem his soul, and this is godliness in its practical development (Isaiah 58:6-7). (Homilist.)
The wicked is driven away in his wickedness; but the righteous hath hope in his death.
The wisdom of religion justified in the different ends of good and bad men
For the most part, the end of good men is full of peace and comfort, and good hopes of their future condition; but the end of bad men quite contrary, full of anguish and trouble, without peace or comfort, or hope of any good to befall them afterwards. If this be generally true, it is a mighty testimony on the behalf of piety and virtue. It is as good as a demonstration that the religious man is in the right.
I. This observation is generally true. It is enough to appeal to the common and daily experience of mankind (Psalms 37:37). When good men come to die, they have commonly a great calm and serenity in their minds, and are full of good hopes of God’s mercy and favour. But there are exceptions, both to the peace of the righteous and to the misery of the wicked, in death. Some good men are melancholy and dispirited. They may be naturally of a dark temper. The quiet death of a bad man may be explained by disease; or stupidity, through ignorance or gross sensuality; or the delusion of false principles.
II. Whence does this difference proceed? It is founded in the true nature and reason of the things themselves; in the nature of religion and virtue, and of impiety and vice.
1. A religious and virtuous life is a real ground of peace and serenity of mind, of comfort and joy, under all the evils and calamities of life, and especially at the hour of death.
2. Impiety and wickedness is a real foundation of guilt and fear, of horror and despair, in the day of adversity and affliction, and more especially in the approaches of death.
II. If this be true, it is a demonstration on the side of religion. Upon three accounts.
1. Because the principles of religion, and the practice of them in a virtuous life, when they come to the last and utmost trial, do hold out, and are a firm and unshaken foundation of peace and comfort to us.
2. That they minister comfort to us in the most needful and desirable time.
3. That when men are commonly more serious and sober and impartial, and when their declarations and words are thought to be of greater weight and credit, they give this testimony to religion and virtue, and against impiety and vice. (J. Tillotson, D.D.)
Neither hope nor fear in death
Mr. Robert Owen once visited a gentleman who was a believer. In walking out they came to the gentleman’s family grave. Owen, addressing him, said, “There is one advantage I have over Christians; I am not afraid to die; but if some of my business were settled, I should be perfectly willing to die at any moment.” “Well,” said his companion, “you say you have no fear of death--have you any hope in death?” After a solemn pause, he replied, “No!” “Then,” replied the gentleman, “you are on the level with that brute; he has fed till he is satisfied, and stands in the shade, whisking off the flies, and has neither fear nor hope.”
The different end of the righteous and the wicked
As to the death of a wicked man, here is--
1. The manner of his passing out of the world. He is “driven away.”
2. The state he passeth away into. He dies in a hopeless state. The righteous hath hope in his death. He has the grace of hope, and the well-founded expectation of better things than he ever had in this world.
I. How, and in what sense, are the wicked “driven away in their wickedness at death.” What is meant by their being “driven away”? Three things; they shall be taken away suddenly, violently, and irresistibly. Whence are they driven and whither? They are driven out of this world, where they have sinned, into the other world, where they must be judged. They are driven out of the society of the saints on earth, into the society of the lost in hell. They are driven out of time into eternity. They are driven out of their specious pretences to piety. They are driven away from all means of grace, quite out of all prospect of mercy. In what respects may they be said to be driven away in their wickedness? In respect of their being driven away in their sinful, unconverted state. They die sinning, acting wickedly against God, loaded with the guilt of their sins, and under the absolute power of their wickedness.
II. The hopelessness of the state of unrenewed men at their death. Consider four things.
1. Death cuts off their hopes and prospects of peace and pleasure in this life.
2. When death comes, they have no solid ground to hope for eternal happiness.
3. Death roots up their delusive hopes.
4. Death makes their state absolutely and for ever hopeless. Exhortation.
(1) Take heed that you entertain no hopes of heaven but what are built on a solid foundation. Beware of hope built upon ground that was never cleared. Beware of that hope which looks bright in the dark, but loses all its lustre when it is set in the light of God’s Word. Beware of that hope which stands without being supported by Scriptural evidences.
(2) Hasten, O sinners, out of your wickedness, lest you die in your sin.
(3) Be concerned for others, lest they be “driven away.”
III. The state of the godly in death is a hopeful state.
1. They have a trusty good Friend before them in the other world.
2. They shall have a safe passage through to the other world.
3. They shall have a joyful entrance into another world. Objection: How comes it to pass that many of the godly, when dying, are full of fears, and have little hope? Answer: The fears are usually consequences of states of bodily health; but they may be due to flagging spiritual life. Improvement: How to prepare for death, so that we may die comfortably.
(1) Let it be your constant care to keep a clean conscience.
(2) Be always watchful, waiting for your change.
(3) Employ yourselves much in weaning your hearts from the world.
(4) Be diligent in gathering and laying up evidences of your title to heaven, for your support and comfort at the hour of death.
(5) Despatch the work of your day and generation with speed and diligence. (T. Boston, D.D.)
Hope in death
I. The character of the righteous. The peculiar distinction between the righteous and the wicked lies in the heart, not in the understanding.
II. The truth asserted in the text. The assertion is true, though there may be some apparent exceptions There is nothing preceding, attending, or following death, which can destroy the foundation of the hope of the righteous.
1. A clear and just sense of their guilt and ill desert in the sight of God cannot destroy their hope in Christ.
2. There is nothing in the thoughts of leaving this world which can destroy their hope.
3. There is nothing in the prospect of having a more constant and realising sense of the Divine presence which can destroy their hope.
4. The prospect of being for ever united with perfectly holy creatures cannot destroy their hope.
5. Nor in the prospect of the holy employment of heaven.
6. Nor in seeing the displays of Divine justice upon the vessels of wrath after death.
7. Nor in seeing all the Divine purposes completely accomplished and unfolded.
8. Nor the prospect of existing for ever. Improvement of the subject:
(1) If the righteous have hope in their death, then they are essentially different from the wicked.
(2) If only the righteous have hope, then multitudes will be fatally disappointed in their dying hour.
(3) The death of the righteous may be peculiarly instructive and beneficial to the living. (N. Emmons.)
The hope of the righteous
The Old Testament deals much with the present life; the New Testament much with the future. But the one does not teach a different thing from the other. Hope is the grand element in the religion of the righteous. A righteous man is a hopeful man.
1. There is the hope of Divine support in death itself.
2. There is the hope of complete deliverance from the evils incident to a physical existence.
3. There is the hope of introduction to unmingled and permanent good. (James Foster, M.A.)
Hope in death
1. An enemy all must meet. Death.
2. A privilege all must envy. Hope in death.
3. A dispensation all must approve of. The righteous hath hope in his death. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
The death of the wicked
1. What he is driven from. A large measure of happiness, and from all sources of moral improvement.
2. Where he is driven to. Out of time into eternity, and from the presence of God.
3. What he carries with him. His wickedness; the accumulated sins of a whole life, and a fixed character of evil. Learn--
(1) What “a dreadful view of life and death for the wicked.
(2) The greatness of Christ’s salvation from the greatness of the ruin from which it saves.
(3) The value of the gospel hope from the happiness it secures in life and death. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
A great contrast
I. In life.
1. The difference is real, not imaginary. It is in the inward disposition, as well as in the outward conduct.
2. The difference is manifest. The ruling disposition, which is the life of character, and which is essentially different in both, makes itself known by its fruit.
3. The difference is increasing. These two characters continue to show forth their difference, and to go further from each other for ever.
II. In death. “The wicked is driven away in his wickedness”--
1. As by a storm. He has no foundation to stand upon. He has no hold upon anything real, lasting.
2. As a culprit is led away to his execution. There is no resignation on his part to a superior will than his own. He views the past with remorse, and anticipates the unknown future with gloom and fear. “But the righteous hath hope in his death.” This is an indication of strength, not weakness. He hath hope, even in death, when all things that are seen vanish away.
Some reasons for his hope:
1. The Bible, as he reads it and believes it; the light which came from heaven drives away the gloom of the dark valley, and reveals the land beyond.
2. He is at peace with God. God is known by him as his Father, Friend, and Saviour. Love to God, in his heart, has put away fear.
3. He is confident that his Redeemer has absolute control over all things; that He is Lord of the future. His hope, therefore, is such that, like Fuller, he is not afraid to plunge into eternity. The text is a proof of a belief in a future state of rewards and punishments in the time of Solomon. (Homiletic Monthly.)
The wise man’s verdict
I. The punishment to be inflicted upon a certain man.
1. The name of the offender. Wicked.
2. The nature of the offence. Malice.
3. The punishment; in three degrees. As begun in this life. Increased at the time of death. Perfected at the day of judgment.
II. The conclusion of the righteous.
1. What is a righteous man?
2. What is it to have hope in death? (S. Hieron.)
Hopeless and hopeful dying
I. The hopeless. Whose? “The wicked”--the unconverted. What?
1. The condition in which he dies. “In his wickedness.” He lived careless and indifferent, encased in false hope; or hardened and scoffing, fighting against God. So he dies. Driven away not from, but in his wickedness. Death makes no change of character. “Unjust still.”
2. The compulsion under which he dies. “Driven away.” Ejected from this life’s engagements, enjoyments, and means of improvement. Torn away from possessions, pursuits, pleasures, and prospects here. “This night--thy soul--then whose,” etc.? Death takes no bribes. Wishes and protests unheeded. “Driven . . . chased out,” etc. (Job 18:18).
II. The hopeful. Whose, “the righteous” in moral position, principle, practice. What?--Hopeful of--
1. The Divine support in it.
(1) Needed, because of body’s pains, affections’ ties, conscience failures.
(2) Promised. “As day . . . strength.” “When thou passest,” etc.
(3) Realised. “Yea, though I walk,” etc.
2. Decisive victory over it. Prospective--Grave robbed. “Resurrection of life.”
3. Heavenly glory after it.
(1) Angelic convoy. “Lazarus carried by angels.”
(2) Immediate entrance. “Absent from body . . . at home,” etc.
(3) Then reunion of soul and body in heavenly glory. All must die. Which--yours? A sheriff’s arrest, or a Saviour’s arrival? (John 14:3). (Homiletic Review.)
The objects, grounds, and evidences of the hope of the righteous
Men will leave the world according to their conduct in it.
I. The objects.
1. His hope of support in death; of the immortality of the soul; of the resurrection of the body; and of perfect happiness in heaven.
II. The grounds and evidences. The foundation of the hope is the free mercy of God, which can be communicated only through Jesus Christ. Evidence of this hope is that the righteous man finds, upon a thorough trial, that the characters which God has declared essentially necessary to salvation do belong to him.
III. The various limitations and degrees of a good hope in death. A good hope is always supported by evidence, and according to the degree of evidence is the degree of hope. Different believers, at different times, have different degrees of evidence. Much depends on weakness of body, mind, or heart. But every righteous man has a substantial reason to hope, whether he clearly sees it or not. Good men do, in fact, usually enjoy a comfortable hope. (S. Davies, A.M.)
The two departures
I. The doom of the wicked. As smoke is driven by the wind, so will the wicked perish in the day of wrath. We are not able to form a right conception of what it is to be and abide in wickedness. Because it is so near us, we do not know it.
II. The hope of the just. Hope, always lovely, is then sweetest when it beams from heaven through the gloom that gathers round the grave. (W. Arnot.)
Hope beyond the grave
I. The character of the righteous.
1. He is one who has been convinced of his unrighteousness.
2. One who is made the partaker of righteous principles.
3. One who is righteous and holy in his life.
II. The hope of the righteous. This hope has for its object future spiritual and eternal blessings. It is called a “good hope through grace,” because we are indebted for it to the grace and favour of God; and because it is wrought in us by the gracious influences of the Divine Spirit. Eternal life includes the immortality of the soul--the everlasting, conscious existence of the rational mind; the resurrection of the body; and the enjoyment of eternal happiness. (J. Entwistle.)
An awful death
Three things implied in the death of the wicked are here set forth.
I. A very solemn change. He is “driven away.”
(1) From all existing enjoyments; the beauties of nature, the circles of friendship, the pleasures of literature, etc.
(2) From all secular engagements. The farmer, lawyer, statesman, etc.
(3) From all means of moral improvement: churches, Bibles, teachers.
2. Whither? To the grave as to his body, to eternal retribution as to his soul. The death of the wicked implies--
II. A great personal reluctance. He does not go away, he is not drawn away; he is “driven away.”
1. All the sympathies of his nature are centred in this life. They are all twined around earthly objects, as the ivy around the old castle. They are all more deeply rooted in the earth than the oak of centuries. He is in the world, and the world is everything to him.
2. The future world is terribly repulsive to him. Not a ray of hope breaks through his tremendous gloom; it is one dense mass of starless thunder-cloud. This being the case, with what tenacity he clings to life! He will not go, he cannot go, he must be “driven.” His death is not like the gentle fall of the ripened fruit from its old branch in autumn, but like the oak, uprooted, and dashed into the air, by a mighty whirlwind. It is not like a vessel gliding to its chosen haven, but like a bark driven by a furious wind to a shore it shrinks from with horror. “Driven away!” The death of the wicked, as here indicated, implies--
III. A terrible retention of character. He is “driven away” in his wickedness. He carries his wickedness with him. This is the worst part of the whole. He carries his vile thoughts, his corrupt passions, his sinful purposes, his depraved habits, his accumulated guilt, with him. He will leave everything else behind but this--this adheres to him. He can no more flee from it than from himself. This wickedness will be the millstone to press him downward into deeper, darker depths for ever; the poison that will rankle in the veins for ever; the fuel that will feed the flames for ever. O sinner, lay down this wickedness at the foot of the atoning and soul-renovating Cross! (Homilist.)
The righteous and wicked in their death
I. Describes the dreadful termination of a course of irreligion and of sin.
1. Who are the wicked? The term is generally restricted to “sinners of the baser sort”--those whose lives are grossly sensual. But Scripture regards it as the appropriate designation of all who are in an unregenerate state; all who are destitute of the fear and love of God, who habitually transgress His law, and practically disregard His gospel.
2. What will be the issue of their career? Note the manner in which he dies. Reluctantly. Unavoidably. The condition in which he dies. In his sins, with all his guilt on his head, and all his depravity in his heart.
II. Describes the blessings of those who die in the Lord.
1. Who is righteous? Not simply believers, but regenerated and converted sinners.
2. What is the privilege of the righteous? He has hope in his death. That hope is glorious in its object. It is sure in its foundation. It is felicitating in its influence. (J. Corney.)
Driven away out of the world
He cleaves so closely to the world that he cannot find in his heart to leave it, but is driven away out of it; his soul is required, is forced from him. And sin cleaves so closely to him that it is inseparable; it goes with him into another world; he is driven away “in his wickedness,” dies in his sins, under the guilt and power of them, unjustified, unsanctified. His wickedness is the storm in which he is hurried away, as chaff before the wind, chased out of the world. (Matthew Henry.)
The hope of the righteous
I. There is the hope of divine support in death itself. “As thy day,” etc.
II. There is the hope of complete deliverance from the evils incident to a physical existence. In this life the soul is imprisoned. Its heavenly and spiritual tendency is retarded by its companion of dust. Spiritual life has its thought, feeling, and expression limited and baffled by physical boundaries. A prolonged mental exercise is followed by fatigue and reaction, so is it with spiritual exercises and pleasures. Death sets the righteous free from all these evils. It takes down the decaying, exposed, and inferior tabernacle, that the guest within may come forth to light and liberty. It introduces the soul to perfection of being, activity, and enjoyment.
III. There is the hope of introduction to unmingled and permanent good. (Jas. Foster, M.A.)
Hope in death
“My breath is short, and I have little hopes, since my late relapse, of much further usefulness. A few exertions, like the last struggles of a dying man, or glimmering flashes of a taper just burning out, is all that can be expected from me. But, blessed be God! the taper will be lighted up again in heaven.” (G. Whitefield.)
Ready for death
The Christian, at his death, should not be like the child, who is forced by the rod to quit his play, but like one who is wearied of it, and willing to go to bed. Neither ought he to be like the mariner, whose vessel is drifted by the violence of the tempest from the shore, tossed to and fro upon the ocean, and at last suffers wreck and destruction; but like one who is ready for the voyage, and, the moment the wind is favourable, cheerfully weighs anchor, and, full of hope and joy, launches forth into the deep. (R. Scriver.)
A Christian’s death
I have read of a painter who was painting “Death”; and he painted Death as we generally see Death painted--a skeleton and a scythe! That is a horrid way of painting it! A good man coming by said, “That is not the way to paint Death: you should paint him a beautiful bright angel with a golden key in his hand to open the door and let us into heaven.” That is Death to the Christian. When Bishop Beveridge was dying, the good man said, “If this be dying, I wish I could die for ever.” You remember in the “Pilgrim’s Progress,” when Christian and his friend Hopeful come to die, it is represented as if they were crossing a river. Christian gets somewhat afraid. “Cheer up, brother!” says Hopeful, “I feel the bottom, and it is quite firm and sound. Cheer up, brother!” Then after a little while Christian said, “I see Him again; and He tells me, ‘When thou passest through the waters, I will be with thee.’” Then he also found ground to stand upon, and the rest of the water was so shallow that he could walk in it. And after a few minutes more they both found themselves at the gate of the Celestial City! (J. Vaughan, M.A.)
The death of the wicked and of the righteous
I. The wicked is driven away in his wickedness.
1. Wicked men are taken out of the world against their will, and by a power which they cannot withstand.
2. They die with their souls unrenewed and their characters unchanged.
3. They go to receive the punish- ment of their sins.
II. The righteous hath hope in his death. Though they may not be able to express themselves in the language of assurance and exultation, yet will there be a believing dependence on the mercy and faithfulness of God. And even though all hope should seem gone, and the manifestations of the Divine presence be withdrawn, yet even then would the declaration of our text be true. For as, on the one hand, the real certainty of our salvation is not augmented or diminished by our present feelings, however the evidence of it to ourselves may be affected, so, on the other, the position--the righteous have hope in their death--is not to be limited merely to express the feelings which the righteous may experience at death, but expresses also the security of their state. The foundation, as well as the objects of hope, remain firm and immutable. It is in the weakness of nature that the supporting energy of grace is most apparent, and the power of the Saviour is most conspicuously displayed. And how often hath it happened that, in the midst of utmost exhaustion, when all further utterance had ceased, the soul has seemed to catch a glimpse of future glory, and, reanimating the almost lifeless body, hath proclaimed its assurance of the Divine love and mercy and protection, and ascended to heaven in a song of holy triumph! (Alex. Fisher.)
A tranquil hope
An assured hope is not like a mountain torrent, but like a stream flowing from a living fountain, and often so quietly that it is scarcely visible but for the verdure of its banks. (W. Spring.)
Righteousness exalteth a nation.
The advantages of religion to societies
There cannot be a greater prejudice raised against anything than to have it represented as inconvenient and hurtful to our temporal interests. On this account religion has suffered in the opinion of many as being opposed to our present welfare, and likely to rob men of the greatest advantages and conveniences of life. He who would commend religion must reconcile it with the happiness of mankind. The text declares religion and virtue to be advantageous to the public prosperity of a nation. Satisfy men’s reason on this point.
I. Give an account of this truth.
1. From the justice of the Divine Providence. Public bodies, or communities of men, can only be rewarded and punished in this world. St. Austin says that the mighty success and long prosperity of the Romans was reward given them by God for their eminent justice and temperance, and other virtues. But the general and crying sins of a nation cannot hope to escape public judgments. Public judgments are the banks and shores upon which God breaks the insolency of sinners, and stays their proud waves. The experience of all ages hath made this good.
2. From the natural tendency of the thing. Religion and virtue, in their own nature, conduce to the public interest. Religion is the greatest obligation upon conscience to all civil offices and moral duties. Chastity, temperance, and industry do, in their own nature, tend to health and plenty. Truth and fidelity do create mutual love and goodwill. And so almost every vice has some temporal inconvenience annexed to it, and naturally following it. Religion and virtue naturally tend to good order and more easy government of human society, because they have a good influence both upon magistrates and subjects. Religion makes the people more obedient to government and more peaceable one towards another.
II. Vindicate this truth.
1. From the assertion that government may subsist well enough without the belief of a God, and a state of rewards and punishments after this life.
2. From the assertion that virtue and vice are arbitrary things. Inference from this discourse.
(1) If this discourse be true, then those who are in places of power and authority are peculiarly concerned to maintain the honour of religion.
(2) It concerns every one to live in the practice of it. (J. Tillotson, D.D.)
Politics and morals
Whatever is morally wrong cannot be politically right. (E. Burke.)
Religion promotes civil welfare
As there is nothing in religion to counteract the design of a wise system of civil polity, so there is nothing in a wise system of civil government to counteract the design of the Christian religion. The exaltation of the nation is the end of civil polity. Righteousness is the end of religion, or rather is religion itself. (J. Saurin.)
The harmony of religion and civil polity
I. State the question clearly. By religion, as exalting a nation, is not meant either the religion of a cruel man, a superstitious person, or an enthusiast. Religion and righteousness must be taken in the true sense of the terms. It is not affirmed that the true religion is so necessary in all its doctrines, and in all the extent of its precepts, that there are no instances of the flourishing of societies which have not been wholly regulated by it. We only affirm that the most sure method that a nation can take to support and exalt itself, is to follow the laws of righteousness and the spirit of religion. It is not affirmed that in every particular case religion is more successful in procuring some temporal advantages than violation of it. We only affirm generally, that the more a society practises virtue, the more prosperity win it enjoy. By “exaltation” is not meant that sort of elevation to which worldly heroes aspire. If we understand by “exalting a nation,” whatever governs with gentleness, negotiates with success, attacks with courage, defends with resolution, and constitutes the happiness of a people, then a nation is only exalted by righteousness. It is not affirmed that the prosperity of such a nation would be so perfect as to exclude all untoward circumstances. An argument against us is taken from the abuses which religion has caused in society. This is removed by taking away false ideas of religion. Another objection is taken from the case of some idolatrous nations, that have arrived at a great height of worldly glory. A third from some particular instance in which vice has proved of more advantage to a state than virtue. A fourth from extravagant notions of glory. A fifth from the evils which the most virtuous societies suffer.
II. Show the ground of the maxim of the wise man. Open six sources of reflections.
1. The idea of society in general.
2. The constitution of each government in particular.
3. The nature of arts and sciences.
4. The conduct of Providence.
5. The promises of God Himself.
6. The history of all ages. (J. Saurin.)
Righteousness exalteth a nation.
I. In material wealth. Truth, honesty, integrity in a people are the best guarantees of commercial advancement. The more credit a nation has, the more business it can do; and the more business, if rightly conducted, the more will be the accumulation of wealth. It exalts--
II. In social enjoyment. According as the principles of veracity, uprightness, and honour reign in society, will be the freeness, the heartiness, and the enjoyment of social intercourse.
III. In moral power. The true majesty of a kingdom lies in its moral virtue. The state whose heart beats loyally to the eternal principles of rectitude gains an influence upon earth mightier than the mightiest armies or battalions can impart. (Homilist.)
I. “righteousness exalteth a nation.” These words at once reveal to us the great secret in all national improvement, national happiness, national peace and prosperity. Let us not suppose that legislative enactments, criminal laws, courts of justice, and houses of correction, ever can succeed in uprooting vice and implanting virtue, in securing peace and protecting property, in removing sin and exalting the nation. These truly should not be left undone; but never for one moment imagine that in themselves they can remedy the evil. These never can change the heart of man. Think not that a nation’s true, substantial, and lasting greatness consists in power, wealth, noble edifices, princely palaces, extensive cities, warlike achievements, naval victories, commercial enterprise, colonial possessions. Be not dazzled with the glitter and glare of this mere external appearance of greatness.
II. “but sin is a reproach to any people.” This is a striking contrast, a painful transition. From gazing with rapture upon the exaltation of righteousness, we are now to move on to behold with sorrow the degradation of sin. Read the histories of the ancients; and what was the blot which marred and defaced even the most enlightened nations of old? Sin, idolatry, ungodliness, spiritual ignorance: they were “without God in the world.” What was it which caused the Almighty to send famines, pestilences, captivities, and finally destruction, upon His own peculiar people, even the children of Israel? Sin. They rebelled against the words of the Lord, and lightly esteemed the counsel of the Most High. But, alas! we do not require to search the records of the ancients, traverse the wide ocean, and wander to distant shores, to test the truth of this Scriptural declaration. We have ocular demonstrations of it amongst our own people, in our villages and towns. For, what is the blemish which is so visible upon all ranks and classes? Sin. What is it which blackens, darkens, and deadens the noblest mansions, alike with the meanest habitations, spreading misery, ignominy, and wretchedness amongst and around us. (G. J. Morehead, M.A.)
Of the importance of righteousness to civil liberty and national prosperity
To many the doctrine of this text appears paradoxical; by some it is regarded as absurd. The idea is that industry and economy conduct states to wealth and independence: while fleets and armies render that wealth and independence secure and permanent. But good morals are the props and bulwarks of society. “No man liveth unto himself.” Strong and intimate ties link us to those around us. Each one has a relative function to fulfil, and a particular portion to contribute to the general welfare. Kindness, protection, assistance, countenance, must be given and received. In some points or other, we stand exposed to the good or ill-will of every member of our community or nation. Besides the intimate connection between good morals and the glory and happiness of society, it may be maintained that righteousness, and righteousness only, secures to civil liberty and national prosperity their establishment and permanence. It cannot be that the love of liberty, a sentiment in the highest degree exalted and refined, can pervade the bosom which is debased by immoralities. Vices impair the understanding which distinguishes the solid objects of the public weal. The same train of immoralities that perverts the sentiments also debilitates the judgment, and enfeebles its range. (W. Thorburn.)
The glory of a nation
Sin extends its influence over all the relations of life. To the general corruption of mankind, the miseries of individuals, of families, and of nations are owing. The chief good, the true interest of each of these, is to be found only in the victory of truth over error, of holiness over sin.
I. An explanation of the words “righteousness,” and “exaltation.” Righteousness signifies, according to its primitive idea, full weight or measure. It is such a conformity to some law which men are bound to obey as answers all its demands. Exaltation means advancement or promotion to a state of dignity and honour, usefulness and happiness. The exaltation of a nation consists in its intellectual, moral, political, social, and physical excellence.
II. Illustrate the manner in which revealed religion exalteth a nation.
1. Righteousness exalteth the intellectual state of a nation. Righteousness encourages the cultivation of the mind, and enlightens the reason.
2. Righteousness exalteth the moral state of a nation. It unfolds the foundation of genuine morality, and affords the ability of conforming to its precepts. Without the righteousness of faith there is no obedience to the Divine law, such as it requires. Sinners, as such, are immoral in a strict sense, because unrighteous, i.e., disobedient to God’s law. Righteousness, by drawing forth into proper exercise the faculties, and forming correct habits, exalts the morals of individuals and nations.
3. Righteousness exalteth the political state of a nation. It adds its sanctions to the authority of government. It teaches and enforces subordination. It establishes parental authority and family discipline, without which civil communities cannot flourish.
4. Righteousness exalts the social state of a nation. By this is meant their manners. It influences a people to combine gravity with cheerfulness.
5. Righteousness exalteth a nation by promoting its physical state. By this is meant its natural resources, such as its population, wealth, and means of defence.
III. Examine the proofs which history affords of this truth. So far as the principles of righteousness are known among a nation, so far that nation is exalted. Every system of religion will influence its followers according to the interest which it excites in their feelings. Illustrate especially from the history of the Jewish nation. Learn
(1) The importance of the Church of Jesus Christ, in this world. The Church of God is the sheet-anchor of the world.
(2) The importance of a religious magistracy. (J. B. Romeyn, B.D.)
The blessings of religion to a nation
Righteousness signifies justice and honest dealing. It may be enlarged to include mercy and charity. A more comprehensive meaning is universal obedience to the laws of God.
I. True religion and piety exalteth a nation. Religion is the mother of justice, moderation, mercy, and all other virtues.
1. This it does in itself; being in its own nature a truly great, noble, and honourable thing. A nation’s power without piety is but an ability to do mischief.
2. By virtue of its own natural fruits and consequences, it promotes industry. It disposes men to mind the public good and honour of the nation.
II. Religion procures the blessing of Divine providence upon the country. True religion binds men together, and so makes them mighty and formidable, by removing the causes of division, and by making them feel the happy effects of peace and quietness. True religion increases a people into a multitude by securing chaste marriages, and by inviting other people to resort to it. (Bishop Patrick Symon.)
The benefits of righteousness
I. The beneficial power of righteousness. Righteousness being regarded as the produce of Christianity. If the precepts of the Bible were acted out by the members of the community, there would be banished all that tends to produce discord to its security. The influence of religion is of supreme value on the duties, and also on the trials of life.
II. An objection drawn from the discord to which Christianity has given rise. It must be admitted that Christianity has, all along, been the occasion of much disquietude and unhappiness. But the fault lies, not with Christianity, but with man, who perverts God’s blessings. Admitting the fact, we must strike a balance between the produced wretchedness and the produced happiness. (H. Melvill.)
Our national sins and penalties
When we speak of a national sin we cannot mean anything but that either the great bulk of the nation, or those who have a right to act on behalf of the nation, have joined in the same wrong-doing. It is often necessary to consider sins as the result of men’s joint action, whether that unity of action be conscious or unconscious. A new character attaches to a man’s wrongdoing, if he have joined others in doing it. It is sometimes thought that what is unjustifiable in the individual, is justified when it is united action. But God has surely attached evil issues to evil deeds, for the mass as certainly as for the individual. Illustrate by the national sin which now leavens our whole trade and commerce. Can it be denied that the want of uprightness which meets us at every turn has risen to the proportion of a national sin? Healthy business unquestionably gains enormously by mutual trust, and if all trust were abolished, commerce would move in fetters. And yet trust is becoming more difficult every day. The punishment appointed for such a sin is that the lesson of guile will be learnt, and then practised on yourself in turn. Another prevalent sin is, a kind of arrogance, which sometimes goes so far as to end in a total forgetfulness that others have rights as well as we. All the world over, the Englishman is known as the sternest and most resolute upholder of justice. But this, strange to say, has one almost insurmountable element--the Englishman is ever demanding, tacitly or openly, an acknowledgment of his own superiority. He does not readily allow that others have rights as well as he, rights to be respected as much as his. Rights may be confessed in the abstract, but a practical assertion of the rights of others is repugnant to an Englishman. He inclines to exalt, not righteousness, but strength. And yet what is more glorious than a name of absolute uprightness? What nobler record for any nation than that of never having put anything whatever, not even her own self, above the call of what is right. It is not the first time that the choice for strength rather than righteousness has been made. Illustrate from the later Republic of Rome, and from the course Spain took with her colonial empire. (Archbishop Temple.)
I. Some wrong estimates of national greatness.
1. Some say a character for shrewdness.
2. The estimate of a diplomatist would be erroneous.
3. So would that of the social economist.
4. And the warrior.
5. The mere place-hunter.
6. And even the historian.
II. The proper estimate of national greatness.
1. Righteousness supposes individual integrity. The character of a people is determined by its units. Individual integrity means an adherence to truth at all hazards.
2. Righteousness implies a respect for human nature. A recognition of the value of life and the soul.
3. Righteousness farther involves the disposition that concedes to our fellow-men the liberties we enjoy. A policy of monopoly is a policy of unrighteousness.
4. Righteousness requires that political justice be rendered to other nations.
5. It necessitates compliance with the law of progress. And--
6. That we regulate our political action by our duty to God. All political convictions should contain the elements of godliness--piety and patriotism should be joined in holy wedlock. (W. J. Acomb.)
Ministers of religion to aid national righteousness
Christian men sustain a twofold relation--a relation to the gospel and a relation to the state. Their duty with respect to crime is like the duty of a good gardener with respect to weeds. He will try to crowd out the weeds by planting an abundance of good seed; but when the weeds succeed in getting root and growing he will go about with his hoe and dig them out. Now, there are some well-meaning people who believe that Christian ministers, to say nothing of Christian laymen, ought to use the first method in combating crime, but not the second. They hold that ministers ought to preach and preach, whether they have any listeners to profit by their preaching or not, but that they ought never to exhort voters as to their duty in electing righteous lawmakers, or prod lazy or corrupt legislators, or rebuke inefficient police officials. They would have us believe that ministers of the gospel ought to merely plant the seeds of righteousness, and if the weeds of sin come to poison the good seed utterly, well, never mind, it is not the business of the ministers to try to root them out. There are good people who hold that view; but it is untenable. These good people mean well, but they are misguided. (G. F. Greene.)
Christian institutions useful to the nation
Christian institutions, such as the family and the Sabbath, tend to prolong life and increase the population. Many heathen tribes, lacking these, have become all but extinct; and, other things being equal, civilised nations multiply in proportion as Christ is practically acknowledged as their Head and Lord, and as Christian institutions are embraced. In 1851 the population of France was about double that of England and Wales; in the ten years from 1851 to 1861 the increase of population in England and Wales was more than double that in France; so that the proportionate increase per cent is fully four to one in favour of the country where the Sabbath is recognised, and the domestic virtues are upheld. (Wesleyan S. S. Magazine.)
Virtue essential to national prosperity
Trade is a fluctuating thing; it passed from Tyre to Alexandria, from Alexandria to Venice, from Venice to Antwerp, from Antwerp to Amsterdam and London, the English rivalling the Dutch, as the French are now rivalling both. All nations almost are wisely applying themselves to trade, and it behoves those who are in possession of it, to take the greatest care that they do not lose it. It is a plant of tender growth, it requires sun and soil and fine seasons to make it thrive and flourish. It will not grow like the palm-tree, which, with the more weight and pressure, rises the more. Liberty is a friend to that, as that is a friend to liberty. But the greatest enemy to both, is licentiousness which tramples upon all law and lawful authority, encourages riots and tumults, promotes drunkenness and debauchery, sticks at nothing to support its extravagance, practises every art of illicit gain, ruins credit, ruins trade, and will in the end ruin liberty itself. Neither kingdoms nor commonwealths, neither public companies nor private persons, can long carry on a beneficial and flourishing trade without virtue, and what virtue teacheth--sobriety, industry, frugality, modesty, honesty, punctuality, humanity, charity, the love of our country, and the fear of God. (Bishop Newton.)
Sin is a reproach to any people.--
The evil effects of sin
The sentence may be read, “Sin is the poverty, depression, or sinking of any people.”
1. It is the nature of sin to lessen and diminish a people. The most populous nations have been reduced to a handful by the prevalence of vice--Israel, Greeks, Romans.
2. It is the nature of sin to sink and depress the spirits of a people. A people confirmed in the habits of vice, have no heart to labour, to think, to form, or to execute any virtuous designs. Their genius withers, their exertions languish, their hopes, their honours, their virtues perish.
3. It is the nature of sin to destroy the wealth of a nation, and subject them to all the evils and reproaches of poverty. Some species of fraud may, for a time, advance a person or people in wealth and grandeur. Yet vice, according to its natural course, will eventually involve them in poverty and shame.
4. It is the nature of sin to deprive a people of the blessings of freedom, and involve them in the misery and meanness of slavery. Vice has the same effect upon the body politic that sickness has upon the natural body. Vice destroyed the liberties of Greece. Vice subverted the freedom of Rome.
5. It is the nature of vice to provoke the displeasure of God, and draw down His judgments, which complete the ruin of a people. (D. Emmons, D.D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Proverbs 14". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29