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The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord.
We must allow no habits of mind to grow upon us which shall unfit us for making the best opportunities of life when they come. We have power in ourselves, by the grace of God, to quicken the perception which shall see the opportunity when it comes, and upon ourselves rests the responsibility of keeping the resolution and the will in hand, so as to grasp the opportunity while it is within our reach. Perception is to a great degree a matter of education. The faculty of observation is improved in a child by its parent or teacher. Great study elicits from the student in riper years a marvellous quickness and acuteness in observing. Illustrate cultured power of observation in the painter, forester, or naturalist. Same is true in the spiritual life. If your habitual practice be to refer all things to God, that devotion, that practice will give you a presence of mind in the face of every accident. A sudden sorrow may come, but you will not lose your presence of mind and readiness and accuracy of perception. Conversions that appear to be sudden, may not be so sudden as they seem to be; there may have been foregoing preparations, especially the habit of the previous life to refer all things to God with devotion. A man who has made himself unspiritual has dulled his sense of perception, and the man who has known the will of God and done it not, loses the power to rise up and follow Christ. See some ways in which the preparation of our own heart in former years makes us ready or unready to use the opportunities which God offers us. Take a man’s discipline of temper, which touches a man’s character very much indeed. To such a man a time of trial, disappointment, failure, comes. God thus affords the man an opportunity for the greatest and best of all the graces that can adorn humanity. It is an opportunity for true humility. The check will be a blessing to him if he has previously prepared himself by self-discipline and heart-culture. (Canon Furse.)
Human speech Divinely controlled
The sentiment, according to the A.V., is this--that it belongs to God to furnish the heart with all wisdom and grace, by which it is prepared to dictate to the tongue the utterance of whatever is truly good and profitable. Literally, the words are, “To man the orderings of the heart; but from Jehovah is the answer of the tongue.” The meaning appears to be, that whatever thoughts and purposes are in a man’s mind--whatever sentiments it may be his intention to utter, if they are such as are likely to have any influence, or to produce effects of any consequence--they are all under supreme control. We have an exemplification of the fact in the case of Balaam. The preparation of his mind and heart was his own. He left his country, on the invitation of Balak, with a certain purpose; designing to utter what was in harmony with his “love of the wages of unrighteousness.” But the “Lord turned the curse into a blessing.” He made the infatuated false prophet to feel his dependence; so that, bent as his heart was to utter one thing, his tongue was constrained to utter another. Thus it often is, in ways for which the speakers and agents themselves cannot at the time account. One of these ways is, that by imperative, unanticipated circumstances, men are brought to say the very contrary of what they intended. Something changes in a moment the current of their thoughts and the tenor of their words. In every case there is complete Divine control. A man may revolve in his mind or heart thoughts without number, but he cannot so much as lisp or whisper one of them without God. (Ralph Wardlaw, D.D.)
Man proposes, God disposes
Taking the words as they stand before us, they give the idea that all goodness in man is from God.
1. The goodness in the heart is from Him. “The preparations of the heart in man.” The margin reads “disposings.” All the right disposings of the heart toward the real, the holy, and the Divine, are from the Lord. How does He dispose the heart to goodness? Not arbitrarily, not miraculously, not in any way that interferes with the free agency of man. He has avenues to the human heart of which we know nothing.
(1) That He is the author of all goodness in the soul.
(2) That we are bound to labour after this goodness.
2. Taking the words of the text as in our version, they teach that goodness in language is from God. “And the answer of the tongue.” The language is but the expression of the heart. But the words as they stand are not true to the original. A literal translation would be this: “To man the orderings of the heart, but from Jehovah the answer of the tongue.” “Man proposes, God disposes.”
I. This is an undoubted fact. A fact sustained--
1. By the character of God. All the plans formed in the human heart must necessarily be under the control of Him who is all-wise, and all-powerful. They cannot exist without His knowledge, they cannot advance without His permission, a fact sustained--
2. By the history of men. Take for examples the purposes of Joseph’s brethren, of Pharaoh in relation to Moses; of the Jews in relation to Christ, etc. A fact sustained--
3. By our own experience. Who has not found the schemes of his own heart taking a direction never contemplated by the author?
II. This is a momentous fact--
1. In its bearing on the enemies of God. Sinner, your most cherished schemes, whatever they may be, sensual, avaricious, infidel, are under the control of Him against whom you rebel; He will work them for your confusion, and His own glory. It is momentous--
2. In its bearing on the friends of God. It is all-encouraging to them. He maketh the wrath of man to praise Him (Psalms 76:10). Trust in Him. (Homilist.)
A prepared heart
There are some of you who, at some time or other, made a great effort to be religious, and to “prepare” your own heart to feel, to pray, to be holy, to be ready to die. You strove very hard. Did you succeed? or was it a complete failure? Lay it down as a foundation-principle, the great axiom of religion--you can never “prepare” your own heart. No prayer, no effort, no strength of character, no system of theology, no quantity of good works will do it. We must always be putting back our heart into our Maker’s hands with such a prayer as this: “Lord take my heart--for I cannot give it; and keep it for Thyself--for I cannot keep it for Thee.”
1. God will carry on “the preparation of the heart” by discipline. It is all drill from first to last. Life is education. As soon as God has special purposes of mercy to any soul, and takes it in hand, discipline begins.
2. There is great “preparation” in God’s Word. We almost imperceptibly take the mind of the author. We get an intuition into the will of God.
3. God’s great instrument--if that be an instrument which is Himself--is the Holy Ghost.
4. But there is another, and, if possible, still higher stage in the great preliminary--union with the Lord Jesus Christ. Real, sensible, living union. Now, it is a great and very pleasing thought to know that this fourfold “preparation of the heart” is always going on. Now all that you have to do is to let God work, and He will work. (J. Vaughan, M A.)
The preparation of the heart the Lord’s work
The word “preparations” is a military term, signifying the marshalling of an army. The doctrine here is, that all our fitness for duty, and all our assistance in it, is from the Lord.
I. How doth God prepare the heart for duty? Preparation is twofold--that which divines call habitual, and also actual preparation for particular occasions of duty. That which is habitual respects our state; that which is actual represents our frames God assists us--
1. By calling off our vain and wandering thoughts, and so fixing our hearts for duty.
2. He works in our heart a holy fear and reverence of His majesty.
3. By giving us the savour of past experiences, and by giving us present desires, after communing with Him.
4. By sudden and unexpected enlargement of spirit. We are surprised into mercy.
II. How doth God prepare us in our speeches before Him?
1. He reveals to us our own wants, gives us some special errand to go with to God.
2. He gives us arguments and pleas to use in prayer.
3. He makes intercessions in us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
4. He guides and directs the soul to ask but for those things which God means to give. Use: If men cannot prepare themselves for duty, after grace is received, much less can they prepare themselves for grace while in an unregenerate state. Caution against three things.
(1) Known omissions.
(2) Conscience-wasting sins.
(3) Dependence on gifts, in your approach to God. (John Hill.)
All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes.
The best causuits have decided the point that a good intention cannot sanctify an immoral act; but it is certain that an indirect or evil intention will sully the best performances. Here is indicated the false judgment of man. All his ways are censured by intimation: the best of them are not truly right and genuine, if we should refer them to the judgment of God. One would think he were secure, if his heart stand but right; but alas! by degrees it will be corrupted and brought into the deception. It often deceives the owner himself in the estimate of his ways. To walk wisely, which means, to walk virtuously and religiously, we must have a truer measure than the partial complacence of our own hearts. Let us examine our ways--
1. In respect to our sins. Sin hath been so great a familiar in our conversations, that in some degree it hath got our approbation, or at least our favourable connivance. We can, by habit, appease and quiet conscience. What we tremble at in our youth, by custom and usage we are more hardy in. Some sins committed long ago are forgotten by us, or have lessened in our sentiments of their guilt. Difference in quality, and the several ways of men’s living, varies their sentiments of some sins. We often bear a civility and preference to some sins above others, and think ourselves all the while very clean. Our tempers and constitutions sometimes are of that happy frame as to have a natural aversion to some sins; but that cleanliness is not thankworthy if we can more glibly swallow down those that are more palatable. Partiality towards our sins is a most notorious deceitfulness. To retain some as favourites is a certain corruption in the government of ourselves. A sin that lies brooding in the thoughts and cannot come out into act for want of opportunity, or dare not venture out for fear of shame or present punishment, is notwithstanding a great uncleanness. A habit or course of lesser evils, or neglects, amounts to greater guilt than one single lapse or fall, though into some great transgression. Yet we are apt to pass over the habitual nncleanness.
2. A more refined degree of purity and cleanliness we assume to ourselves, from that little practice of religion we carry on, and much depend upon. Bare believing and professing goes a long way. In our devotions we may confide in our addresses to God in prayer. We had best be careful in this matter, lest our very prayers rise up in judgment against us. Searchingly estimate our charity. Take the duty of repentance. We deceive ourselves when we have only cast ourselves into the figure of a penitent, and appeared so in our face, our speech, our gesture. Or we may lay great stress on our frequent confessions. Or may put a greater weight of humiliation upon some sins that have galled us than upon others that, though more heinous, have sat more easy upon us. The dilatory ways we have of putting off this duty of repentance is a slighting negligence. (J. Cooke, M.A.)
What I think of myself and what God thinks of me
“All the ways of a man”--then is there no such thing as being conscious of having gone wrong? of course there is, and equally of course a broad statement such as this of my text is not to be pressed into literal accuracy, but is a simple general assertion of what we all know to be true, that we have a strange power of blinding ourselves as to what is wrong in ourselves and in our actions. But what is it that God weighs? “The spirits.” We too often content ourselves with looking at our ways; God looks at ourselves. He takes the inner man into account, estimates actions by motives, and so very often differs from our judgment of ourselves, and of one another.
I. Our strange power of blinding ourselves. “All the ways of a man are right in his own eyes,”
1. For, to begin with, we all know that there is nothing that we so habitually neglect as the bringing of conscience to bear right through all our lives. Sometimes it is because there is a temptation that appeals very strongly to some strong inclination which has been strengthened by indulgence. And when the craving arises, that is no time to begin asking, “Is it right or is it wrong to yield?” That question stands small chance of being wisely considered at a moment when, under the goading of roused desire, a man is like a mad bull when it charges. It drops its head and shuts its eyes, and goes right forward, and no matter whether it smashes its horns against an iron gate, and damages them and itself, or not, on it will go But in regard to the smaller commonplace matters of daily life, too, we all know that there are whole regions of our lives which seem to us to be so small that it is hardly worth while summoning the august thought of “right or wrong?” to decide them. It is the trifles of life that shape life, and it is to them that we so frequently fail in applying, honestly and rigidly, the test, “Is this right or wrong?” Get the habit of bringing conscience to bear on little things, or you will never be able to bring it to bear when great temptations come and the crises emerge in your lives. Thus, by reason of that deficiency in the habitual application of conscience to our lives, we slide through, and take for granted that all our ways are right in our eyes.
2. Then there is another thing: we not only neglect the rigid application of conscience to all our lives, but we have a double standard, send the notion of right and wrong which we apply to our neighbours is very different from that which we apply to ourselves. “All the ways of a man are right in his own eyes,” but the very same “ways” that you allow to pass muster and condone in yourselves, you visit with sharp and unfailing censure in others.
3. Then there is another thing to be remembered, and that is--the enormous and the tragical influence of habit in dulling the mirror of our souls, on which our deeds are reflected in their true image. What we are accustomed to do we scarcely ever recognise to be wrong, and it is these things which pass because they are habitual that do more to wreck lives than occasional outbursts of far worse evils, according to the world’s estimate of them. Habit dulls the eye.
4. Yes; and more than that, the conscience needs educating just as much as any other faculty. A man says, “My conscience acquits me”; then the question is, “And what sort of a conscience have you got, if it acquits you?” “I thought within myself that I verily ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” “They think that they do God service.” Many things that seem to us virtues are vices. And as for the individual so for the community. The perception of what is right and what is wrong needs long educating. When I was a boy the whole Christian Church of America, with one voice, declared that “slavery was a patriarchal institution appointed by God.”
II. The Divine estimate. I have already pointed out the two emphatic thoughts that lie in that clause, “God weigheth,” and “weigheth the spirits.” God weighs the spirits.” He reads what we do by His knowledge of what we are. We reveal to one another what we are by what we do, and, as is a commonplace, none of us can penetrate, except very superficially and often inaccurately, to the motives that actuate.
III. The practical issues of these thoughts. “Commit thy works unto the Lord”--that is to say, do not be too sure that you are right because you do not think you are wrong. We should be very distrustful of our own judgment of ourselves, especially when that judgment permits us to do certain things. “Happy is he that condemneth not himself in the things which he alloweth.” You may have made the glove too easy by stretching. Then, again, let us seek the Divine strengthening and illumination. Seek it by prayer. There is nothing so powerful in stripping off from our besetting sins their disguises and masks as to go to God with the honest petition: “Search me . . . and try me,” etc. We ought to keep ourselves in very close union with Jesus Christ, because if we cling to Him in simple faith, he will come into our hearts, and we shall be saved from walking in darkness, and have the light of life shining down upon our deeds. Christ is the conscience of the Christian man’s conscience. We must punctiliously obey every dictate that speaks in our own consciences, especially when it urges us to unwelcome duties, or restrains us from too welcome sins. “To him that hath shall be given.” (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Unsound spiritual trading
Unrecorded in the journals, and unmourned by unregenerate men, there are failures, and frauds, and bankruptcies of soul. Speculation is a spiritual vice as well as a commercial one--trading without capital is common in the religious world, and puffery and deception are every-day practices. The outer world is always the representative of the inner.
I. The ways of the openly wicked. Can it be that these people are right in their own eyes? They who are best acquainted with mankind will tell you that self-righteousness is not the peculiar sin of the virtuous, but that it flourishes best where there appears to be the least soil for it. The worst of men conceive that they have some excellences and virtues which, if they do not quite atone for their faults, yet at any rate greatly diminish the measure of blame which should be awarded them.
II. The ways of the godless man. This man is often exceedingly upright and moral in his outward behaviour to his fellow-men. He has no religion, but he glories in a multitude of virtues of another kind. Many who have much that is amiable about them are nevertheless unamiable and unjust towards the one Being who ought to have the most of their love.
III. The ways of the outwardly religious.
IV. The ways of the covetous professor.
V. The ways of the worldly professor.
V. The ways of secure backsliders.
VII. The ways of the deceived man. There are many who will never find out that their ways, which they thought to be so clean, are all foul, until they enter upon another world. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
But the Lord weigheth the spirits.--
Weighing and pondering denote the nicest exactness we can express. Argue the text--
I. From the light of natural reason. We cannot have any rational idea of a God unless we attribute to Him the perfection of infinite knowledge. His power cannot be almighty if none be allowed Him to descend into our minds, and inspect our thoughts and imaginations. God’s immensity and omnipresence must admit Him into the hidden corners of our souls. The infinity of His justice and goodness will be brought into question, unless He be acknowledged to search the hearts of men. He must be able to judge the aggravations and extenuations of all that is evil.
II. From the light of revelation. The tenor of all the laws of God through the Scriptures doth sufficiently confirm the truth of this doctrine, because no manner of obedience can be accepted with Him, but what must proceed from the integrity and sincerity of the heart, of which He alone can make the discovery. And there are likewise many express declarations of this high prerogative to rouse our consideration, and strike terror into our souls. The wisest heathen and philosophers have maintained that the prime and chiefest intimation and communication the Deity hath with men is with their hearts, and that the most acceptable service and devotion must therefore come from thence. (J. Cooke, M.A.)
Self-comp1acency and omniscience
I. The self-complacency of sinners. “All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes.” Saul of Tarsus is a striking example of this. He once rejoiced in virtues which he never had. Indeed all sinners think well of their own conduct. Why is this?
1. He views himself in the light of society. He judges himself by the character of others.
2. He is ignorant of the spirituality of God’s law.
3. His conscience is in a state of dormancy. The eye of his conscience is not open to see the enormity of his sin.
II. The searching omniscience of God. “The Lord weigheth the spirits.” This implies--
1. The essence of the character is in the spirit. The sin of an action is not in the outward performance, but in the motive.
2. This urges the duty of self-examination. “If Thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Misled by false principles of conscience
We never do evil so thoroughly and cordially as when we are led to it by a false principle of conscience. (J. Pascal.)
In the reign of King Charles I the goldsmiths of London had a custom of weighing several sorts of their precious metals before the Privy Council. On this occasion they made use of scales poised with such exquisite nicety that the beam would turn, the master of the Company affirmed, at the two hundredth part of a grain. Nay, the famous Attorney-General replied, “I shall be loth, then, to have all my actions weighed in these scales.” “With whom I heartily concur,” says the pious Hervey, “in relation to myself; and since the balances of the sanctuary, the balances in God’s hand, are infinitely exact, oh! what need have we of the merit and righteousness of Christ, to make us acceptable in His sight, and passable in His esteem!”
Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.
Doing our duty is committing our way to God
There is no instrinsic value in things. They only possess a relative value. All things depend upon seasonableness. The Scripture speaks of a “word in season.” If there can be words in season, there can be words out of season. A word not in season is merely a right thing in a wrong place. Therefore it is not the value of the thing in itself; there is no such thing; values are all from without. The idlest dream a man has is that a bit of gold has an intrinsic value. But a thing that is worthless to-day is not therefore worthless at another time.” The word for to-day, in this text, is one of rest. Many people say that “committing your ways to the Lord, is to tell them to Him when you pray. But that is only saying something. A large part of the piety of the people consists in saying feelings instead of doing. When we say “Commit thy works unto Him,” it is with a view to put down fret, fever, and distress, and to learn a lesson of the holiday of the soul, rather than of the work-day and mammon. Committing your burden unto the Lord is getting Him to carry it. It does not mean sit still and do no work. There is always something left for man to do, even when God takes the matters up. “Commit thy ways” must mean something in the spirit by which, while a man goes on in life, he gets the fret, and the burdens and the gall, and the weariness off his shoulders. There are two difficult and painful businesses. One is, to fit your circumstances to yourself; and the other is, to fit yourself to your circumstances. Ambition is seldom desirable. A profound sense of duty will do all that ambition can do, and leave nothing of the bitterness behind. Suit thyself to thy circumstances; do thy duty; and so commit thy way unto the Lord. Committing your ways is just the absence of ambition: it is to do thy work, and leave it to the great laws of God. He commits his ways unto the Lord who does his duty simply in the state in which he is. As to the results. The text notes the establishment of the thoughts--not always the success of the work--but the establishment of the man. Quietness--uprightness--“Slow gains and few shames.” Commit thyself, with all thy way, and work, and soul, to Him. Say thy prayers, confess thy sins, do thy little piece of work, and do it honestly; God will redeem thee, atone for thee, regenerate thee, be the guardian of thy tomb, fashion for thee a new body, weave for thee an eternal dress, and provide for thee “a house not made with hands.” Think of the blessed result. Be at rest in the Lord, wait patiently for Him; He shall establish thy thought; He shall save thy soul; He shall crown thee with eternal peace. (George Dawson, M.A.)
Works and thoughts
I. The precept or counsel.
1. The object, or thing itself, which is committed: “our works.” Either the works done by us, or the works done to, or upon us. Our affairs and businesses. Whatever action we go about, we are to commit ourselves to the Lord, and to refer ourselves still to Him for the disposing of it. We are to commit our works to the Lord in regard to our performance of them; to the acceptance of them; and to their success. Our conditions; those things which in any way concern us, we are also to commit unto the Lord.
2. The act: “committing.” In a way of simple commendation: presenting them, and laying them open before Him. This is required in order that God may direct and assist us; and also as a piece of respect to God Himself. In a way of humble resignation. Implying that we have some sense of the difficulty and burdensomeness of those works that are upon us. This is necessary, that we may labour the more for strength and ability to the discharge of them; that we may be the more humbled for our failings and neglects in it, as coming short of that exactness and perfection that was required of us; and in reference to others, in a way of compassion; to pity those in the same condition: in a way of assistance, and concurrence with them, for easing their burden; and in a way of thankfulness and acceptance, by acknowledging that labour and pains which hath been taken by them. Committing our works to God must not be taken as allowing us to omit the doing of them. In a way of faithful improvement. Order, dispose, and direct all thine actions unto Him. Roll our works to Him as we would roll a bowl to the mark. Make Him the scope and end and aim of all our endeavours. In a way of thankful acknowledgment.
3. The person to whom the deposition is committed. Consider His wisdom and knowledge; His strength and power; His faithfulness and truth; His willingness to undertake our burden. We are to commit our burden to Him, and to no one else: to the Lord, not to self; not to other men; not to fortune or chance.
II. The promise, or argument to enforce it. Something implied in this sentence: “thy thoughts shall be established.” Where there are works there will be thoughts. Our chiefest business is composing and settling our minds. Establishing of our thoughts is a very great happiness and mercy. Something expressed. Thou shalt have a mind free from any other trouble and distraction when thou hast practised this counsel in the text. (T. Horton, D.D.)
Dependence on God
The counsel implies--
1. That all our purposes and all our doings should be according to God’s will.
2. That none of our works can prosper without God.
3. That it is therefore the imperative duty of intelligent creatures to own their independence, and to seek, on all occasions, the Divine countenance and blessing.
4. That what is our duty is, at the same time, our interest.
5. A general truth is expressed, that God will graciously smile on the efforts, and accomplish the purposes and wishes of him who, in all that he does, piously and humbly acknowledges Him and seeks His blessing. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
The Lord hath made all things for Himself: yea, even the wicked for the day of evil
Of God’s disposing all things to their proper ends
No light on this passage comes from the context.
The words may be taken--
I. In the sense that God created all things merely for His own good pleasure, without any external motive. Then the latter part of the verse contains a great difficulty--how can God be said to have made the wicked for Himself, for the manifesting of His glory in the day of punishment? It is impossible that God could have any external motive, when in the universe there was nothing existing without Himself. The good pleasure of God is the only reason why things were brought into being at all. God has declared Himself by a clear revelation to persons of all capacities to be the Creator of heaven and earth, and of all things that are therein. His goodness moved Him to bring creatures into being on which He might display that goodness, and to whom He might communicate His happiness. The glory of God is not anything properly relating to Himself, any advantage or benefit to Him; it is the communicating of His goodness, by creating the world; the promoting His likeness among rational creatures, by the practice of righteousness. But how can God be said to have made even the wicked for Himself? Some have contended that God has on purpose made many creatures necessarily inclined to wickedness, that He might manifest His power and authority in their destruction. But nothing can be more blasphemous than to imagine that He created any beings with design that they might be wicked and miserable. Nevertheless, because it is certain that nothing comes to pass without His permission, nothing subsists but by His power and concurrence, nothing is done but by the use or abuse of those faculties which He has created, therefore in Scripture phrase, and in acknowledgment of the supreme superintendence of providence over all events, God is represented as doing everything that is done in the world.
II. Consider the text as meaning, the Lord has made all things suited to each other: yea, even the wicked to the day of evil. This is the more natural sense. The only question that arises is, How can God be said to have fitted the wicked to destruction? In the Jewish language all that is meant is, that God causes wickedness and punishment to be proportionable. It is only an instance of the wisdom and exact adjustment of the works of God. The adjustment of men’s condition to their deserts is the true greatness and glory of a kingdom. It is the natural tendency of things to get conditions fitted to deserts; and God takes care, by the positive interposition of His power and authority in the world, that every evil work shall have its proper recompense in the day of evil.
1. We may justify God, and give glory to Him in all His proceedings.
2. If we would escape the day of evil, we must avoid the wickedness to which it is annexed. (S. Clarke, D.D.)
Wicked men, the providential instruments of good
All things are in God’s hands, and He makes use of all things as He pleases; for He created them all. However the wicked may be set upon mischief, they can proceed no further than God permits; being instruments only in His hand, to afflict others; to exercise good men with trials, or to punish the wicked. All kinds of calamities and disasters that may befall mankind may therefore be ascribed to God as the supreme arbitrator, and disposer of all events. Mankind were very apt to suspect that there were two opposite powers in the world, one the fountain of good, and the other the fountain of mischief. Scripture teaches that both good and evil, both prosperity and adversity, proceed from the same fountain, and are both to be ascribed to one and the same God. God serves Himself of angels and men as His instruments, and permits them to act no further than He can turn to good.
I. Open and illustrate the general doctrine. The Lord orders and disposes all things so as one way or other to serve His own wise purposes. Whatever second causes there are, or however they act, still it is God, and God alone, that governs the world. Events that seem merely casual and accidental are in reality providential. The most mysterious part of God’s government of the moral world is His ordering even the wicked in a way consistent with human liberty, and so as to serve the ends of His providence, and to promote His glory. The fact is certain, the manner how is beyond our comprehension. This we can see, it was kind and gracious in God to create men, though He knew that many of them would prove wicked. And God makes use of the wicked men, who are His creatures, to serve the ends of His providence. They mean nothing but evil, while God turns it to good. Consider the power of God over the minds and hearts of wicked men. But does not God’s making use of the sins of men look like concurring with, and countenancing their iniquities? Men commit the sins, God does but control, curb, and regulate.
II. The practical use and improvement of this doctrine.
1. It is both our duty and interest to submit all our concerns to Him, upon whom all success, and every blessing, depend. A question may arise as to the use of means, and the necessity or serviceableness of human care or industry. But miracles are not to be expected in the ordinary course of affairs. Success in affairs is proposed by God as the reward consequent upon proper care and application.
2. God controls and bridles wicked men in all their machinations. Therefore we need never be afraid of wicked men, or of devils. Wicked men, however malicious or mischievous, are weak in themselves. They are held in as with bit and bridle.
3. Refer all the hard usage, all the injuries or troubles we meet with from men, to God, the real author of them.
4. Learn to estimate aright the ordinary stream of affairs, the common course of this world. It may be very bad: it is being over- ruled.
5. Fix in the mind an assurance of the constant working of Divine Providence. (D. Waterland, D.D.)
God made all things for Himself
Scholars render this verse, “The Lord hath made everything for its purpose.” The meaning of which is, that eventually the use and condition of every person and thing in the universe will be found to correspond with its character. But the form given in the authorised version sets forth a sublime and indubitable truth. How can we gain right views of the infinite majesty of God? God Himself aids us, inwardly, by His Spirit quickening our moral powers, and outwardly, by the means of light and instruction which He has put within our reach--the books of nature and of providence, and His inspired Word. Duly considered, our text may help us to find our proper place in the great system of things, and to see and realise our being’s true end and aim. What was God’s purpose in giving being to this universe? The answer of Scripture is that God made not only us but all things for Himself. Look at the necessity of the case. How else could it be? The whole universe must have one great object. All things now existing, save God, once did not exist. Everything was wrapped up in the bosom of God. His purpose embraced the creation of the universe. His purpose must have been derived from Himself, and have centred in Himself. When God spake the creative word, it was of and for Himself. There was no other conceivable source or object. When He made all things for Himself, and the promotion of His glory, He acted under a necessity of His nature as the infinitely perfect God. No doubt God willed the happiness of the creatures whom He made; but back of this, He purposed to promote His own glory.
1. Apprehending this is designed to teach us a lesson in self-knowledge. What we are as creatures we can never know as we ought, save by studying the Uncreated. It is in the contemplation of the nature, purposes, and works of God, that we can best see the insignificance of man. We should be humbled not merely as beings, but much more as moral beings. The greatness of God fearfully enhances the guilt of man.
2. The doctrine we are considering inculcates a lesson in active duty, as well as self-knowledge and humility. It urges a plea for God’s service, before which every pretext for disobedience must be hushed. Did God make all things for Himself? There can be no higher reason for obeying Him, and to disobey Him is made thereby infinitely irrational, impious, and vain. The fact that God seeks His own glory in all things should not only determine the form of our duty, but also be its motive and its end. To give this prominence to God’s glory clashes with no real interest of man, and does no violence to any original principle of His nature; on the contrary, in aiming at it, man is aiming at his greatest good. Why should not the infinite and perfect God be capable of engrossing and satisfying the whole mind and heart of His creature man? The frame of mind is not indeed natural to man, and it cannot be attained in the independent exercise of his natural powers. It is only by God’s Spirit that he can be made thus spiritual. Only by looking to Jesus in a simple, earnest, exclusive, and habitual faith, can any one learn to make God and His glory the end of his being. (W. Sparrow, D.D.)
The universal sovereignty of God
The word “made” is not here” created,” but it is used in the more general sense of “do,” “work,” “perform.” The Lord Jehovah hath wrought, performed, all things for Himself. The final end of all Divine proceeding is God’s own glory. This hidden and ultimate purpose of all the works of God is revealed in the text.
1. The Lord hath made all things for Himself in creation. And man is part of His creation.
2. The principle of the text applies to the work of redemption. It is of God’s sovereign will and pleasure, and for His own eternal glory, that God hath been pleased to choose a Church outer this fallen world, to be glorified in His Son, Jesus Christ. This view of redemption tends to humble the sinner.
3. God hath made all things for Himself in providence. Every event or circumstance in this world’s history has been arranged or ordered for the glory of Jehovah. It is impossible that anything shall ever happen which shall not tend directly or indirectly to this great end. Sin is essentially the fault of the creature. God is not the author of evil. The wicked were not created as such. They are, however, appointed unto the day of evil as their fitting punishment. (W. E. Light, M.A.)
The Lord hath made all things for Himself
Here attention is directed to God, to His general formation of all things, and to the arrangements which, in that creation, He has unquestionably made. God is the universal Creator. Yet philosophers, ancient and modern, have always been trying to find another maker of things than God. Wherever there is existence, there the hand of God has been put forth in conferring that existence. God has made everything just as a Being absolutely perfect ought to make it. Though God made man upright, He did not make man a sinner. Man has made himself a sinner. God made all things for Himself. He is the origin, and He is the end. There are, indeed, subordinate ends, but they lose themselves, as it were, in God, the great end of all. In saying that the Lord “made the wicked for the day of evil,” we must recur to His foresight. He allows some sinners to go on in their guilt till death finds them ready for eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord; and therefore, at every stage in which these wicked ones may be contemplated, they are still to be considered as the works of God, supported by Him, provided for by Him. The day of evil looks to the final retribution of all things. We are to ascribe to God the existence, the support, the maintenance, of those individuals who are rising up every moment in rebellion against Him. The wicked are as much in the hands of God to be punished by Him as the good are in His hands to receive undeserved kindness. (James Maclean, D.D.)
Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord.
In the maladies which assault the human body, a marked distinction prevails as to the relative extensiveness of their influence. A kindred analogy discriminates the distempers of the mind. Pride claims the denomination of an universal passion. Age, or sex, or situation exempts not from its control. Body and mind, virtues and vices, it presses into its service. Men are proud in health, proud in the chamber of disease; proud in public, proud in retirement; proud of their frugality, proud of their profusion; proud of their sobriety, proud of their intemperance; proud of their pride, proud of their humility.
I. Some of its modes of operation.
1. National pride. Different regions are separated by appropriate marks of moral discrimination. One will be described as courageous; one as interested; one as fickle, one as circumspect. But you will hear each characterised as proud. Pride sometimes wears the features of emulation; sometimes of ambition; sometimes of resentment; sometimes of policy. How generally in the senate and in the private circles, no less than on the parade and in the camp, is national pride, under various forms, addressed, applauded, pushed forward additional excesses!
2. Pride in the walks of private life. The man who is intoxicated by pride of birth; the pride of authority. The exercise of power affords to pride the most solid gratification. The pride of wealth. What solicitude is devoted to the establishment of a name for opulence! Besides the pride of accumulation and possession, there is the pride of displaying riches. The pride of genius, intellect, and talents. Under how many different shapes is it exhibited! Sometimes in disdain of industry, as indicative of dulness; sometimes in the love of singularity and paradox; sometimes in proneness to stigmatise received opinions as vulgar prejudices, or in sceptical repugnance to acquiesce in any truth not completely circumscribed within the span of human comprehension. Sometimes it betrays itself by overweening ideas which the individual ill disguises of the extent of his own powers, and by his unbounded estimation of their importance; sometimes by open scorn of ordinary men, and of the sobriety of common sense; sometimes by unwarranted daringness of enterprise, and presumptuous confidence of success; sometimes it is displayed in impatience of contradiction, in oracular sententiousness, in a dictatorial delivery of opinion. The pride of literary and professional attainments. The pride of fashion. Above all, the man of spiritual pride.
II. The irreconcilable contrariety between pride and religious principle. The corner-stone of Christian virtue is humility. The most powerful obstacle to the conversion of the Jews was pride. The primary source of modern unbelief is pride. Pride, which refuses to do homage to the wisdom of revelation, and bow the neck to the yoke of the gospel. The cold and careless scorner resists the influence of the gospel far more effectually than the open sinner.
III. God’s special judgments against pride. He chastises nations by bringing upon them national calamities. In Scripture we find it is this sin that has drawn down the most severe judgments on individuals, such as Nebuchadnezzar, Uzziah, Hezekiah, Ahithophel, Herod (see also the Laodiceans). Is not pride convicted as in every shape utterly un-Christian, as the primary cause of the fall of man, as in all ages the foundation of most heinous sins, of the most tremendous judgments? Then leave pride to the proud. Be not ye corrupted to call evil good, and darkness light. Pride is ever setting itself up against heaven. When it looks to God, it is with a desire of being freed from dependence on Him. When it considers men, it undervalues His gifts to others; and prompts us to act, with respect to His gifts to ourselves, as though they were inherent in us, or were our due. Scrutinise your own bosom that you may discover whether it is under the influence of pride. (Thos. Gisborne, M.A.)
By mercy and truth iniquity is purged.
The mission of mercy and truth
Some plead for prevailing mercy, and some for prevailing justice, in jurisprudence, education, and theology. Some try to blend the two, but find the effort a hopeless one. By a mercy and truth torn apart, and set in opposition to each other, iniquity is not purged. Solomon was speaking in the spirit of the Old Testament; yet he has no sense of contradiction between these two qualities: he makes no endeavour to show how they may be adjusted to each other. He does not say that truth is tempered with mercy, or that mercy must not be carried too far lest it should interfere with truth. He says simply, “By mercy and truth iniquity is purged.” Both are equally enemies of iniquity; both are equally interested in its extirpation; both are equally interested in the deliverance of the creature who is tormented by it. This view alone could satisfy the Jew who believed in the God of Abraham. The Lord of heaven had revealed himself to his fathers as the God of righteousness and truth. The Jews were tempted to honour beings less righteous; and they yielded to the temptation. But the Being whom they forgot was what He had ever been. His mercy and truth were fixed as the hills. By and by the recollection of Him came back to them. It was their comfort to believe there was One unlike themselves, One who was not changeable and capricious as they were. He was merciful, and forgave their transgressions. This unfolded to them depths in the Divine character of which they had known nothing, or only by the hearing of the ear. They felt that only a perfectly righteous Being could be perfectly merciful. The psalmists implore mercy, but they implore it of One who, they believe, is willing to bestow it, because He is righteous. That view of mercy, in which it takes the form of indulgence of sins, they dare not cherish. The fear of God is the fear of the righteous and merciful Lord; not the fear of some false being, some creature of their own thoughts, clothed with their own evil qualities. Such creatures they were not to fear; they were to fight continually against the fear of them. In the Son of God did any one see that warfare of truth with mercy which we have so rashly dreamed of in the eternal mind? His warfare was the warfare of truth and mercy against untruth and hardness of heart. Jesus showed that mercy and truth were divided only by the evil which seeks to destroy both. It is by their perfect union that iniquity is purged. The sacrifice of purges iniquity. But we are not taught in the Bible that the sacrifice of Christ was the sacrifice to one attribute, for the sake of bringing it into agreement with another. By the mercy and truth of God the Father, Son, and Spirit is the iniquity of our race, and of each of its members, purged. By the fear of this great and holy name do men depart from evil. The fear of an unbending Lawgiver will not keep men from evil. The New Testament name for God is the name of absolute eternal Truth and Love, and this alone makes us fear to sin. (F. D. Maurice, M.A.)
By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil,--
Sins of men arising from a want of the fear of God, and the instigation of the devil
The wickedness of man is referable to two causes, a want of due apprehension of the Almighty, and the instigation of the devil. Consider who God is, and what are His chief qualities. He is the creator and governor of the universe: a Being of infinite power, present everywhere, privy to our most secret transactions. If we had these ideas constantly before our eyes, should we ever dare affront Him with our iniquities? There is a particular scepticism in too many, with regard to the attributes of God. They doubt whether He possesses some qualities in that extent in which reason and Scripture assure us that He doth. They persuade themselves that His presence is not universal; that He does not regard human concerns minutely; that He is not too rigidly just; and that His goodness will tone His justice. But if they did not wish to deceive themselves, they would never reason in this manner. Nor may we impute our iniquities to our natural frailty, seeing we are promised aids in overcoming it. The want of the fear of God is the prime cause of unrighteousness. The enemy only attacks us when he perceives us defenceless; then he plies us with suitable temptations. Our safety from him lies in keeping, continually, well within the fear of the Lord. (G. Haggitt, M.A.)
The fear of God
The term “fear” is here used for the principle of religion. This principle is the only one which will cause men to forsake evil. A reverent regard to the Divine will is the only security for human virtue. Fear, then, here embraces all the feelings and motives, which tend to keep men separate from everything which God disapproves. Dread of the Divine displeasure prepares the soul for the operation of higher and better feelings. There are those who are disposed to censure the text, as conveying an expression positively wrong. Reason is the power which persons of this stamp profess to worship; and reason, as well as religion, has in all ages, had her bigots and fanatics. The fear of the Lord they spurn, as a motive infinitely beneath them. All fear, they tell us, is sordid and slavish. They say that all virtue is to be despaired of which is not built on disinterested feeling, i.e., on a complete independence either of punishment or reward. But if we take away the fear of God, what safeguard have we left for the integrity of man? True, man has two guides, his moral sense, or perception of right and wrong, and his sense of what is useful and expedient. But would the virtue of individuals or the peace of society be long secured in the custody of these sages?
1. We must not speak in disparagement of the moral sense. But it is the fact, that the breath of a corrupt world has passed over this breastplate of light and perfection, and hath dimmed its glory. This faculty has deeply partaken of man’s degeneracy. The sense of moral fitness often degenerates into a mere taste or impulse. The advantages this world has to offer are not clearly on the side of virtue. Were virtue to be found at perpetual variance with pleasure or with safety, it is absurd to imagine that she would long retain her votaries.
2. Will man’s sense of what is useful for the general good of mankind do any more for him than the sense of moral propriety. Suppose each member of a commonwealth were under an implied covenant with his fellow-men to abstain from actions which may be at variance with the general interest. What is there to secure this compact from daily and hourly violation, when there is no witness to report it, and no external power to control it. Who but the man himself is to interpret the rules of universal convenience and expediency in cases where doubt really exists, or where selfishness raises the apparition of a doubt? Here, then, we have a law left to execute itself. Suppose human laws come to aid the powers within us; it may still be urged that these are not effective if the powers of the world to come be removed. No law can long maintain its authority without reference to the Supreme Will, the fountain of all law throughout the universe. Equally rash would it be to rely on the fear of infamy to prevent disorder and crime. For here again the hope of escaping discovery would come in to pacify the apprehensions of disgrace. It is public opinion that wields this scourge, and it is the general prevalence of high moral feeling that makes public opinion a stern and formidable executioner. The moral sense, and the rule of public usefulness, furnish, no doubt, very strong recommendations to virtuous practice, but nothing less than the fear of an avenging Deity can ever generally enforce it. (C. W. Le Bas, M.A.)
Mercy and truth evidential of salvation
The application might be restricted to the manner in which the God of mercy and truth, the God who Himself “delighteth in mercy,” and who “requireth truth in the inward parts,” manifests His regard to the practice of these virtues in His creatures. There is a Scriptural sense, too, in which mercy and truth, and the kindred graces, impart confidence towards God; but it is only as evidential of interest in the salvation by grace which the Divine Word reveals; it is neither as meritorious, nor as expiatory. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
When a man’s ways please the Lord, He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him.
These words contain two blessed fruits of a gracious conversation. The one more immediate and direct, acceptance with God; the other more remote, and by consequence from the former, peace with men.
I. The subject. “A man’s ways.” His whole carriage in the course of his life, with all his thoughts, speeches, and actions, good or bad. When a man walketh in the beaten track of the world, without ever turning his feet unto God’s testimonies, neither that man nor his ways can please the Lord. When a man walketh conscionably and constantly in the good ways of God both the man and his ways are well pleasing unto God. When a man in the more constant course of his life walketh uprightly, and in a right way, but yet in a few particulars treadeth awry, the man may be accepted, though his ways are not altogether pleasing.
II. The act. “Pleasing.” This hath reference to acceptation: wherein the endeavour is one thing, and the event another. A man may have a full intention, and make due endeavour, and yet fail of his end. This is apparent when we have to deal with men. To please signifieth rather the event in finding acceptance than the endeavour in seeking it. In a moral sense, however, not so much the event as the endeavour and intention. But there may be a good assurance of the event where the desire of pleasing is unfeigned and the endeavour faithful.
III. The object. All men strive to please; but some to please themselves; some to please other men; and some to please the Lord. We should endeavour so to walk as to please God. For He is our Master, Captain, Father, and King. There is one great benefit attached to pleasing the Lord in the text,--“He will make our enemies to be at peace with us.” We may add, He will preserve us from sinful temptations. He will answer our prayers. He will translate us into His heavenly kingdom. The wicked man, who displeases God, strengthens the hands of his enemies; exposes himself as a prey to temptations; blocks up the passage against his own prayer; debars himself from entering the kingdom. How can pleasing the Lord be done? By likeness and obedience. The godly love what God loveth. They desire and endeavour to be holy as He is holy; perfect as He is perfect, merciful as the heavenly Father is merciful. Obedience is the proof of our willing and cheerful subjection to His most righteous commands. It is vain to think of pleasing God by the mere outward performances of fasting, prayer, almsdeeds, hearing God’s Word, or receiving the Sacrament. How comes it about that such poor things as our best endeavours are should please God? Our good works are pleasing to God upon two grounds.
1. Because He worketh them in us; and--
2. Because He looketh upon us and them in Christ. In the consequent of pleasing God there are three things observable. The persons--a man’s enemies. The effect--peace. The author--the Lord. The scope of the whole words is to instruct us that the fairest and likeliest way for us to procure peace with man is to order our ways so as to please the Lord. The favour of God and the favour of men is joined together in Holy Scripture, as if the one were a consequent of the other. (Bp. Sanderson.)
The true way of pleasing God and being at peace with
I. The substance. “When a man’s ways please the Lord.” All the Lord’s ways are concentred ways, and they concentre in Christ Jesus. Then, in order to please the Lord, we must be found in these ways, and as those ways are in Christ, we must also be in union with Christ.
1. In what way has the Lord fixed the love of His heart upon man?
2. The Lord brings His people to desire eternal life in the same way that He has designed it.
3. In what way has the Lord made us holy?
4. In what way does the Lord regenerate His people?
II. The negative; or what the text does not mean. The latter part of the text appears to be negatived by the conduct of the enemies of the Lord’s people in all ages.
III. The positive; or what the text does mean. Refer to a Scripture passage, “The wrath of man shall praise Thee; the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain.” Illustrate by circumstances in the stories of Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, David, Nehemiah, Jews when building the second temple.
IV. The implication.
1. That the Lord has some specific purpose and end in view.
2. That He is sure to accomplish that purpose. (James Wells.)
The charm of goodness
Not that the enemies are simply kept quiet through their knowledge that the good man is under God’s protection, but that goodness has power to charm and win them to itself. (Dean Plumptre.)
God’s control over His people’s enemies
I must see that my ways please the Lord. Even then I shall have enemies; and, perhaps, all the more certainly because I endeavour to do that which is right, But what a promise this is! The Lord will abate the wrath of man to praise Him, and abate it so that it shall not distress me. He can constrain an enemy to desist from harming me, even though he has a mind to do so. This He did with Laban, who pursued Jacob, but did not dare to touch him. Or He can subdue the wrath of Esau, who met Jacob in a brotherly manner, though Jacob had dreaded that he would smite him and his family with the sword. The Lord can also convert a furious adversary into a brother in Christ, and a fellow-worker, as He did with Saul of Tarsus. Oh, that He would do this in every case where a persecuting spirit appears! Happy is the man whose enemies are made to be to him what the lions were to Daniel in the den--quiet and companionable! When I meet death, who is called the last enemy, I pray that I may be at peace. Only let my great care be to please the Lord in all things. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A man’s heart deviseth his way, but the Lord directeth his steps.
On the government of human affairs by providence
The efforts of our activity, how great soever they may be, are subject to the control of a superior, invisible power. Higher counsels than ours are concerned in the issues of human conduct. The line is let out to allow us to run a certain length, but by that line we are all the while invisibly held, and are recalled and checked at the pleasure of Heaven. Among all who admit the existence of a Deity it has been a general belief that He exercises some government over human affairs. In what manner providence interposes in human affairs, by what means it influences the thoughts and counsels of men, and, notwithstanding the influence which it exerts, leaves to them the freedom of will and choice, are subjects of a dark and mysterious nature. The secret power with which God controls sun, moon, and stars is equally inexplicable. Throughout the sacred writings God is represented as, on every occasion, by various dispensations of His providence, rewarding the righteous or chastening them according as His wisdom requires, and punishing the wicked. The experience of every one bears testimony to a particular providence. Accident and chance and fortune are words without meaning. In God’s universe nothing comes to pass causelessly or in vain. Every event has its own determined direction. But this doctrine of a particular providence has no tendency to supersede counsel, design, or a proper exertion of the active powers of man. Man, “devising his own way,” and carrying on his own plans, has a place in the order of means which providence employs. The doctrine of the text is to be improved--
1. For correcting anxious and immoderate care about the future events of our life. The folly of such anxiety is aggravated by this consideration, that all events are under a much better and wiser direction than we could place them. To the unavoidable evils of life do not add this evil of thine own procuring, a tormenting anxiety about the success of thy designs. The great rule both of religion and duty is--Do thy duty and leave the issue to Heaven.
2. The doctrine of the text is calculated to enforce moderation of mind in every state; it humbles the pride of prosperity and prevents that despair which is incident to adversity.
3. This doctrine places the vanity and folly of all sinful plans in a very strong light. All sin, in every view of it, must be attended with danger.
4. It concerns us to perform those duties which a proper regard to providence requires, and to obtain protection from that power which directeth and disposeth all. An interest in God’s favour is far more important than all the wisdom and ability of man. Without His favour the wisest will be disappointed and baffled; under His protection and guidance the simple are led in a plain and sure path. (Hugh Blair, D.D.)
The infallible Director of man
The doctrine of the text is matter of uniform experience. Little indeed does any one know what lies before him.
I. The guidance of God may be traced in the dispensations of His providence. No natural causes can explain the wonderful events that occurred from the call of Abraham to the time of the Redeemer. In every scene, not only the miraculous, but the ordinary, the hand of the Deity is visible. We can often see clearly the traces of that hand when its work is done.
II. The sentiment of the text receives its fullest exemplification in the dispensation of grace. In a way the most improbable, and at a time the least expected, the God of all grace has laid hold upon the soul. Illustrate from the woman of Samaria, and from Zaccheus. The means, no less than the time and occasion, are of God. Some striking providence, some simple truth repeated for the thousandth time, some whispered admonition of a Christian friend, awakes attention, excites to immediate consideration, and bows down the soul in true contrition and prayer. The teaching of the text is also illustrated in the removal of the fear of death when the death-time comes. (W. E. Schenck.)
Man proposing, God disposing
We cherish hopes, we make plans; but there is a higher power that directs our steps. The ideas of fate and chance have been entertained by men in all ages of the world to account for these experiences. Scripture knows nothing of fate or chance. It is the Lord who is directing our steps. Look at this directing work of God overruling our purposes--
1. In the success or failure of our daily business. Man uses what discretion and judgment he has, but when he has done all much is left to circumstances over which he has no control. Generally it may be said that the diligent and persevering are the most successful, but there are many cases in which the rule will not apply. Success will sometimes come to the careless. Failure will sometimes come to the most diligent. Perhaps almost the last place in which we should look to find the hand of God is the business of the world.
2. In the choice of our occupations in life. What an amount of selecting and rejecting goes on in the mind of many a boy! He little thinks his choice will rest at last with One who knows better far than he knows for what he is adapted. There are few who, in choosing their occupations in life, have not had wishes of their own, and there are few who, in looking back, do not find that those wishes have been overruled. God is working out some kind and wise purpose by putting us where we are.
3. In the choice of our friendships. An unexpected meeting with a person may alter our whole career. God is as certainly working in the minor as He is in the greater events of our lives. (S. G. Matthews, B.A.)
The plan of man, and the plan of God, in human life
I. Man’s own plan. “A man’s heart deviseth his way.” Every man forms a programme of his daily life. When he moves rationally, he does not move by blind impulse. That man’s history is self-originated and self-arranged is manifested from three things.
1. Society holds every man responsible for his actions.
2. The Bible appeals to every man as having a personal sovereignty.
3. Every man’s conscience attests his freedom of action. If the sinner felt himself the mere creature of forces he could not control, he could experience no remorse. Man feels that his life is fashioned by his own plan, that he is the undisputed monarch of his own inner world.
II. God’s own plan. “The Lord directeth his steps.” God has a plan concerning every man’s life--a plan which, though it compasses and controls every activity, leaves the man in undisturbed freedom. This is the great problem of the world’s history, man’s freedom, and God’s control. “Experience,” says Mr. Bridges, “gives a demonstrable stamp of evidence even in all the minutiae of circumstances which form the parts and pieces of the Divine plan.” A matter Of common business, the indulgence of curiosity, the supply of necessary want, a journey from home, all are connected with infinitely important results. And often when our purpose seemed as clearly fixed, and as sure of accomplishment as a journey to London, this way of our own devising has been blocked up by unexpected difficulties, and unexpected facilities have opened an opposite way, with the ultimate acknowledgment, “He led me forth in the right way” (Psalms 112:7; Isaiah 42:16). After all, however, we need much discipline to wean us from our own devices, that we may seek the Lord’s direction in the first place. The fruit of this discipline will be a dread of being left to our own devices, as before we were eager to follow them (Psalms 143:10). So truly do we find our happiness and security in yielding up our will to our heavenly Guide! He knows the whole way, every step of the way: “The end from the beginning.” And never shall we miss either the way or the end, if only we resign ourselves with unreserved confidence to His keeping, and the direction of our steps. (Homilist.)
The folly of self-confidence
“A man’s heart,” that is, his mind, his inward powers of reflection, anticipation, skill, prudence, “deviseth his way”--a term implying the application of all possible consideration, invention, and precaution--but the “Lord directeth his steps.” The words express and expose the folly and presumption, on man’s part, of self-confidence--of his thus assuring himself of success, as if he had the future under his eye, and at his bidding; regardless of that hidden but ever-present, ever- busy superintending power that has all under complete command; that can at once arrest his progress in the very midst and at the very height of his boasting, and “turn to foolishness” all his devices. The sacred oracles are full of this sentiment, and of the most striking exemplifications of its truth. And what is the sentiment of revelation cannot fail to command the concurrence of enlightened reason. It must be so. If there is a God at all it cannot be otherwise. It were the height of irrationality as well as impiety for a moment to question it--to imagine the contrary possible. How otherwise could God govern the world? Were not all human schemes under supreme and irresistible control, what would become of the certainty of the Divine? All must of necessity fulfil the plans of Infinite Wisdom in the administration of God’s universal government. “God will work, and who shall let it?” (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
Orderings of providence
Young Clive is shipped off, to get rid of him, in the East India Company, and he becomes the founder of England’s empire in India. The Duke of Wellington seeks of Lord Camden in early life a place at the Treasury Board, and becomes the military hero of Europe. There are many to-day occupying positions very different to those which they set before themselves in early life. Some are preaching the gospel who were destined to practise at the English bar. Some are lawyers who started to be physicians. Some are business men who started to be artists or musicians. David Livingstone starts as a hand in a Glasgow factory, and he becomes the pioneer of missionary work in Africa. William Carey makes shoes and he becomes the most successful missionary in India. Looking back on life, we say it was this or that event which impelled us on another course. We are apt to forget that the event was no chance accident, but a distinct factor in God’s government of our lives.
A just weight and balance are the Lord’s.
A just balance
It is a part of the Lord’s watchful activity and direct connection with all the affairs of human life that He is interested in our business and trade. The Israelite was encouraged to think that all the work in which he was engaged was ordained by, and therefore under the observation of, his God. The commercial fraud of the primitive times took a comparatively simple form. The merchant used inadequate measures, and so nibbled a little from every article which he sold to a customer. It requires many generations for a civilised society to elaborate commercial fraud on the large scale.
1. We are all of us tempted to think that a considerable proportion of our life is too insignificant to attract the particular attention of God. We think He marks what business we enter, but when we are in it lets us alone. Or He marks a large business transaction in which there is room for a really gigantic fraud, but cannot pay any attention to a minute sale over the counter, the trivial adulteration of a common article, the ingenious subterfuge for disposing of a damaged or useless stock. But could anything be more illogical? Great and small are relative terms, and have no significance with God. If He knows us at all, He knows all about us. The whole life, with every detail from birth to death, is accurately photographed in the light of His omniscience.
2. In this exhaustive and detailed knowledge of the way in which you are conducting your business His warm approval follows everything that is honest and just; His vehement censure lights on all that is dishonest and unjust. We have no reason for thinking that the unjust balance has become any less abominable to the Lord because the eager and relentless competition of modern industrial life has multiplied, while it has refined the methods of fraud and has created a condition of things in which, as so many people urge, questionable practices have become actually necessary for one who would keep his head above water. Double-dealing, no matter what may be the plea, is abominable in the sight of the Lord.
3. All should order their business ways as in the sight of God, and concern themselves chiefly with the thought how they may be in conformity with His holy will. Do not be content with estimating your conduct by the judgment which other men would pass upon it. Do not be content even with estimating your conduct by the standard of your own unaided conscience. Unless you realise that God sees and knows, and unless you humbly submit everything to His judgment, you are sure to go wrong; your standard will insensibly fall, and you will insensibly fall away even from the fallen standard. You will not alter His judgment of your conduct by attempting to ignore it. But by seeking to understand it, and by laying your heart open to be influenced by it, you will find that your conduct is perceptibly altered, and apparent impossibilities are overcome, because “by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil.” (R. F. Horton, D.D.)
Weighed in the balances
A man once declared that he wished he had a window in his breast, that all men might see his heart and motives. How many of us would like to look into our own hearts and discover our motives? Because we fear to be face to face with ourselves self-examination is so greatly neglected. God looks into our hearts and weighs our motives in His just and unchanging balance. Our daily work is being weighed in God’s balances, and it is a weighing for eternity. People make a great mistake about their preparations for eternity. It is the duty of a Christian man to prepare for eternity every day he lives by trying to do his duty in the place where God puts him. Temptations and trials are weights and scales by which God tries our hearts. Perhaps you are vexed by a spiteful tongue that speaks cruelly and unjustly. That is a balance in which you are weighed to see whether your heart is right with God, whether you bear your trials meekly, giving back the soft answer, not rendering evil for evil. So every other trial or sorrow is a test, a weighing, to prove whether you are the true gold or base alloy. Prosperity and success are God’s balances. Every religious rite and service are means by which God weighs us. There are yet two more weighings to come. At our death we shall be weighed and placed in our proper waiting-place till the last judgment. Then will come the final weighing and the eternal sentence. (H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, M.A.)
For the throne is estaabished by righteousness.
Religious principles the best support of government
I. Righteousness most effectually answers the end and design of government. Religion consists in an acknowledgment of God as Governor of the world. Though the power be lodged in earthen vessels, there is no power but of God. This religious sense of a providential government will incline the subject to pay due reverence to the prince, because it reaches farther than his own person, and is ultimately referred to that Divine Original, whose image and representative he is. Religion fixes our duty to our sovereign upon a certain basis and derives our obedience from the noblest motives, not from a slavish fear, not from an occasional humour, not from a mercenary regard to temporal interest, but from a filial love and respect to the Lord of glory. An awful regard to God and a prevailing sense of religion possesses the subject with that justice and fidelity which cannot be shaken by any temptation, but stands unmoved against the assaults of danger and the allurements of interest. The fear of God is so powerful a principle of action that it necessarily produces happy effects, and is so mighty a restraint from sin that it almost supersedes the necessity of any other restraint.
II. Guard against those pernicious principles that subvert the throne and are destructive of government.
1. Those that remove the foundations of religion and deny the being of a God. Could these opinions prevail, fidelity and justice would cease and the distinction between right and wrong would be lost in confusion. It is the interest of every prince and people to put a stop to these fatal principles, and not only to discourage atheism itself, but every approach towards it.
2. A scornful neglect of God the Son, and an avowed denial of His divinity, may produce as dreadful effects as even the denial of God the Father. If we renounce the authority of Jesus Christ, the authority of revealed religion is absolutely cancelled.
3. Those republican doctrines which derive all power from the people.
4. The principle that makes an absolute allowance to the sincerity of every man’s persuasion and places the whole of religion and the great affair of eternal salvation upon the authority of every private judgment. This is contradictory to an article of our creed; it is fruitful of erroneous sects and impious heresies, and it has a pernicious influence upon the State. If the sincerity of men’s present persuasions will justify them in all their consequences, the more strongly they are persuaded so much the more abundantly will they be justified. And if they are hurried on to the commission of any evil action the strength of the impulse will sanctify the crime. Let us, then, show our regard to government by discharging our duty to God. (T. Newlin, M.A.)
In the light of the king’s countenance is life.
The blessedness of the king’s favour
This is a general proverb. Its primary application is to royalty. In the previous verse the wrath of a king has been, by a striking metaphor, represented as messengers of death (Esther 7:6-10). When a king is angry how swift and sure is his vengeance. Before the word goes forth out of his mouth his will is executed; messengers of death stand about him ready to execute his indignant sentence. And so a wise man will seek to soften the king’s wrath and pacify him--nay, will keep at peace with him. In this verse “the light of his countenance” and “his favour” supply the antithesis to his wrath. Apply this to the King of kings, and what a sublime lesson on life! Here we have suggested--
1. The blessedness of reconciliation.
2. The conditions of serviceableness. A holy life in its ideal combines two elements--abiding in the light and love of God, and yielding fruit in service. This proverb suggests sunshine and shower. He who is reconciled to God in Christ abides in the light of His smile. He walks in light and dwells in love, and so every condition of holiness and happiness is assured. (Homiletic Review.)
How much better is it to get wisdom than gold!
Wisdom better than wealth
The difference between wisdom and understanding. It is like that which exists between the moving and the acting power, between the principle and the practice, between the plan and the process, between the cause and the effect. Wisdom is the knowledge and preference of the best and worthiest end; understanding is the apprehension and the employment of the means which shall be most effectual for attaining it. The well-being of the imperishable part of man throughout eternity is the chief end of his existence, and the knowledge and preference of this is “wisdom.” Then the apprehension and the employment of the means which shall be effectual in obtaining it is “understanding.” The habitual avoidance and resistance of all known sin is a sure test of spiritual “wisdom” and spiritual “understanding.”
II. Why are wisdom and understanding to be chosen rather than silver and gold? These are more conducive than silver and gold to solid happiness. There are many things in the countless evils which make up man’s heritage of woe for which silver and gold can provide no remedy whatever. Wisdom imparts to man the power of subjecting, if not of satisfying the bodily appetites; it makes him rich, if not by increasing his substance, by diminishing his wants; it sets before him the continual feast of a contented heart. And it teaches how to avoid and escape evils. It may also be added that wisdom and understanding are better than gold and silver because they alone can be conducive to the happiness of the “life that is to come.” (T Dale, M.A.)
Better than gold
But gold is good. Solomon evidently regarded gold as among his most valued possessions. Gold is precious, when we remember all the straits and struggles it can save us from, and all the ease and comfort it can bring. The moral teacher who speaks hard things against gold only confirms those who hear him in the idea that religion will not do for this work-a-day world at all. All the gold you can get by honest labour, conscientiously, by all means get. Ill-gotten gold will ultimately burn both your fingers and your pocket, aye, and scar your soul too. Yes, gold is good, but wisdom is better than gold. To know Christ in the heart as a Saviour, in the mind as a Teacher, in the life as a Pattern, and in all things as a King--this is wisdom. It is the fear of the Lord, the love of His law, faith in His Cross, the power of His Spirit, the hope in His Word. Gold can be but an external possession, a mere accessory of life. Nay, all the luxuries which gold can bring do all the sooner exhaust the senses, and invite their fate. But wisdom, the power of religion, is not external, though it affects all surrounding circumstances for good. Wisdom is a well, a fountain, in the Christian’s soul. It is fed, by secret channels, direct from the river of life. Here, then, I take my stand. Gold may be with me, grace shall be in me. Wealth may be about me, wisdom shall be of me, not an endowment, but an enduement. Gold is but lent to me, but God’s favour and mercy are eternally mine. (J. Jackson Wray.)
This is really a mental contrast instituted between the respective values of the two sides of man’s nature--the mind and the body, the soul and the senses. In imagination wisdom is made to stand for the one, and gold, the most coveted of earthly possessions, for the other. What to Solomon did “wisdom” mean? What was its warp and woof? what its mental form? There are elements in wisdom that are older than the foundations of the world, nay, that are coeval with the eternal existence of God Himself. There are elements in even human wisdom, as found in every race that has thought and risen to morality and virtue, which are as imperishable as right and as unalterable as the laws of nature. The root of the word “wisdom” is “weis,” to know, or to think, clearly. It reappears in the word “wit.” Nimbleness in the mental perception of congruity and incongruity is the essence of wit. Wisdom should mean a quick, clear, vivid perception of the true and right relations of every kind of knowledge. A sophist is a man who seeks to gain his ends quite regardless of the means employed. He aims, not at right judgment, but at the triumph of a purpose. True wisdom is the instinctive and resolute right using of knowledge. Knowledge, taken by its naked and unaided self, instead of ennobling a man’s character, may even be the most powerful instrument in degrading it. The very core of wisdom is conscience. Wisdom in its broadest aspect is the outcome of manhood, trained, disciplined, and cultured to its highest. It is human nature in equilibrium, the body harnessed, and the soul with a calm grip upon the reins. There are some who banish wisdom from the personal sanctuary of noble spiritual life. They tell us that wisdom is of the head, the intellect--a secular not a sacred quality. Ignore the distinction. A soul without reverence may become learned, but can never become wise. The reverent, the worshipful faculty is of all others the one that lifts man most above the level of the brute. Reverence is human, and it is so because in a high and noble sense humanity is Divine. The retaining this upwardness, this sense of reverence in the soul, is the first and highest duty of every man. This reverence we are in danger of losing. The very greatness of manhood is that wrong-doing and wrong-being are possible to us all, and possible to us always. Right can only be where wrong would have been a possible alternative. “Know thyself” is a maxim of supreme value. We can penetrate into the depths of ourselves, and discover our weakness or strength. No influence is more powerful in our destiny than the formation of habit. “Sow an acts and you reap a habit; sow a habit, and you reap a character.” The chief hindrance to the getting of wisdom is the early formation of habits. They may morally imprison and slay us. You are responsible before God and man for your character. (W. H. Dallinger, D.D.)
Moral and material wealth
There are two things implied in this verse.
1. That material wealth is a good thing. “Gold and silver” are not to be despised. These are good--
(1) As the creatures of God. All the silver and gold found locked up in the chests of mountains He made. He created nothing in vain.
(2) As the means of good. How much good can be accomplished by material wealth. Intellectual, social, moral, religious good.
2. That the pursuit of material wealth is a legitimate thing.
I. It is “better” in its possession.
1. It is better because it enriches the man himself. The wealth of Croesus cannot add a fraction of value to the man. Millionaires are often moral paupers. But moral wealth, the wealth of holy loves, great thoughts, Divine aims, and immortal hopes enrich the man himself.
2. It is better, because it creates higher enjoyments. Money has no necessary power to make men happy.
3. It invests with higher dignities.
4. It is destined to a longer endurance.
II. It is better in its pursuit. It is better in the getting, the choosing.
1. The pursuit is more ennobling. The mere pursuit of material wealth whilst it develops certain faculties cramps others and deadens the moral sensibilities. Often in the pursuit of riches we see souls that might have expanded into seraphs running into grubs. Not so with the pursuit of true spiritual wisdom. All the faculties are brought into play, and the soul rises in might and majesty.
2. The pursuit is more heavenly. Amongst the millions in the hierarchies of heaven not one soul can be found pursuing material good. Their “excelsior” is for a higher assimilation to the Infinite.
3. The pursuit is more successful. Thousands try for material wealth and fail. The ditches along the road of human enterprise are crowded with those who ran with all their might in the race for wealth, but who fell into the slough of pauperism and destitution. But you will not find one who ever earnestly sought spiritual wealth who failed Every true effort involves positive attainment. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Wisdom better than gold
I. In what respects wisdom is better than gold.
1. It is better in its origin. No man has got wisdom without a knowledge of its source and its purity. Whence comes gold? Let the miner answer, who digs it with great labour out of the earth. Whence comes wisdom? Let the Saviour answer, who of God is made unto us wisdom. God is the Source of wisdom. He that teaches man knowledge shall He not know? There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of the Almighty giveth him understanding.
2. It is better in its nature. Refine gold as you may, it has still dross; but the wisdom which cometh from above is pure. Love gold as you may, it never can become part of the mind; but wisdom can be incorporated with it. A rich man may have to leave his gold, or his gold may leave him; but no matter to what a wise man is subjected, he carries his wisdom with him.
3. It is better in its influence. Although gold is a good thing in itself, it has often a bad influence on depraved minds. Its possession not unfrequently contracts the mind, blunts the feelings, and increases covetousness.
II. For what purposes is wisdom better than gold?
1. It is better for guiding a man in the affairs of this life. How many, when they come to possess gold, show themselves to be fools! They spend it improperly, and damage their health, ruin their character, disgrace their friends. How much inferior is gold to wisdom! This gives a man forethought, teaches him to avoid evil, to improve time, and to conduct his affairs with discretion. It gives to the young man hope of success, to the middle-aged man perseverance in a right course, and to the aged man the reward of his diligence. Without it, the scholar can make no advancement, the traveller no interesting observations, nor the genius any important discoveries. By wisdom all the arts and sciences have been advanced.
2. It is better for guiding a man in the choice of things for another life. God is the very essence of wisdom. This, in the view of created intelligences, makes Him greater than His dominions do: He created man, and put wisdom within him, and riches around him; these riches could not have kept him from falling, but his wisdom could. No amount of gold or riches could reinstate him after he fell. But by wisdom he was restored. By wisdom God baffled Satan’s designs and bruised his head.
III. To what degree is it better to get wisdom than gold?
1. It is better, as the soul is more valuable than the body. The body is subject to decay, and must soon go down to the dust. The soul is immortal, and though it must leave the body at death, it continues its existence in another state. What can gold do for it then? How much better is wisdom, which adorns the soul with heavenly graces, and makes it shine in the beauties of holiness. Blessed with heavenly wisdom, the soul is rich for eternity.
2. It is better, as eternity is more enduring than time. Gold had its beginning in this world, and will end with it. Wisdom comes from another world and will continue in it.
3. It is better, as heaven is more glorious than this world.
4. It is better, as its possession gives more lasting happiness.
5. It is better, as a crown of glory is more dignifying than a crown of gold.
(1) Learn the great importance of being wise for eternity.
(2) True wisdom is now to be found.
(3) Let me entreat you, ask wisdom of the Lord. (John Miller.)
Better than gold
A few years ago the news of gold in California spread like wildfire all over the country. Everybody wanted to go and get some. The storekeeper shut up his shop and went. The mason threw down his trowel and went. The farmer left his crops, and the shoemaker his last, and hurried off to the land of gold. The excitement was so great that it was called the “gold fever.” Good as that getting was thought to be, there is something better to get, better than a whole gold-mine. Why is it so much better?
1. You cannot be robbed of it. Wisdom cannot be stolen. Neither can fire burn it, or water drown it. Locusts cannot eat it, or blight or mildew harm it. Bad times cannot damage its value, or bad partners gamble it away. You may sail round the world, and not leave it behind. You may be shipwrecked, and not lose it. You may be put in prison and carry it with you. It is not too rich for a cottage, or too poor for a palace. Sickness does not cheapen its worth, or health add to it. Nothing robs it of its value. Times and seasons, which alter everything else, make no alteration in this.
2. Wisdom is better than gold, because it pays better. “Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come.” It says in keeping God’s commands there is “great reward.” Yes, wisdom yields a greater profit, a better gain, than gold or silver. Can gold buy the pardon of sin? Can it get you peace and happiness? Can it secure to you room in heaven? No, gold cannot purchase these; and these are what you want. When Mr. Astor had acquired his large property, and was called the richest man in the country, “I wish,” he said, “I could go back to a poor boy, and make it all over again.” The possession of it did not make him happy. Gold does not satisfy. (Church of England Magazine.)
The highway of the upright is to depart from evil.
Departing from evil
In this text is--
I. The upright. Those who are bent on doing the will of God. Those who keep the commandments of their Maker. Those who endeavour, by God’s grace, so to live as to be justified, and pardoned and acquitted in the clay of judgment.
II. The highway, By this is meant the general course, the mode of living, the habitual practice, the constant endeavour, all the thoughts and words and actions of the man at all times. The way, the royal road, the highway of his life.
III. The term “depart.” It does not say, “The highway of the upright is not to do evil”--that is true; but it does not say so here. The text is “depart from evil,” go from it; give it his back; walk off and leave it behind; shun it as an adder; avoid it as a scorpion; flee from it as a serpent.
IV. Evil. Need not concern ourselves with the origin of evil. We have enough to do with the thing as it is. We find its presence everywhere. The two principles, good and evil, must live as long as the world lasts; and live constantly at variance, constantly fighting against one another, constantly overcoming one another. It is ours to avoid the one and cleave to the other--that is our wisest course; that is our plainest duty. All the actions of life must be either good or evil. There is, and there can be, no neutrality in them. The degree of goodness or badness may be great or small, but the one or the other they must be. We are speaking of moral evil. There is what is called natural evil, i.e., evil belonging to the material and physical world around us. But what is it that makes one thing or action good and another evil? Who is it that pronounces on the quality of actions? Where is the rule by which we are to determine what is right or wrong? It is the will of that Being who gives us the power by which all we do is done--that will makes things right or wrong. It is the manifestation of that will in the Bible; therefore the Bible contains the rule, the law, by which all our actions are to be judged and determined. It is there we must find what is right and what is wrong. We may divide evil into two branches--
1. Actions that are wrong in themselves.
2. Actions that are wrong only on account of their effects.
Thus far we have spoken of actions individually considered. But God has created other men and women beside ourselves, and placed them and us to dwell on the face of the earth together. They bear certain relations to us, and we to them. These relations give rise to certain common interests; and these interests, again, to certain laws and regulations by which they are sustained and guarded. These laws must be consulted in all public acts, and the breach of one of these laws on the part of a member of the community is an evil. These remarks apply to men as members of families and of communities, as citizens of towns and cities, as subjects of countries and kingdoms, as fellows of all men besides. A public act is an evil if it bring more evil than good to the community as a whole, and as a community, therefore, you ought to condemn and prevent an act which brings more evil than good into your midst. (Maxwell M. Ben Oliel.)
Pride goeth before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall.
Shame and contempt the end of pride
I. Show what pride and haughtiness mean. Pride is thinking of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. It is corruption of self-love, it is self-flattery. A man thinks too highly of himself when he thinks that anything he has is his own; or when he conceives himself to have what he really has not; or when he challenges more respect than is due to him on the score of what he has. Pride is not peculiar to persons of any one rank.
II. Illustrate the truth of this observation from Scripture and reason. Pride will generally have a fall.
1. Argue from the reason of the thing itself, and its natural tendency. Some kinds of pride are very expensive. Pride is very contentious, and makes a man enemies. Pride makes men over-confident in their own efficiency. Vanity runs men into error and mistakes.
2. Argue that God has particularly declared His detestation of pride, and His resolution to punish it. The whole tenor of Scripture intimates how exceeding hateful pride is to Almighty God. The reasons for it are obvious. Pride is improper and unbecoming our condition and circumstances. It is an inlet to all vices. Reflections:
(1) Here is a proper consideration for dissuading men from pride, or curing them of it.
(2) Commend the humility which is spoken so highly of in Scripture. (D. Waterland, D.D.)
The vice of pride
This vice is animadverted on with peculiar severity in this Book of Proverbs. For this two reasons may be assigned.
I. The extensiveness of the sin. Pride is a corruption that seems almost originally ingrafted in our nature; it exerts itself in our first years, and, without continual endeavours to suppress it, influences our last. Other vices tyrannise over particular ages, and triumph in particular countries; but pride is the native of every country, infects every climate, and corrupts every nation. It mingles with all our other vices, and without the most constant and anxious care will mingle also with our virtues.
II. The circumstances of the preacher. Pride was probably a crime to which Solomon himself was most violently tempted. He was placed in every circumstance that could expose him to it. He had the pride of royalty, prosperity, knowledge, and wealth to suppress.
1. Consider the nature of pride, with its attendants and consequences. It is an immoderate degree of self-esteem, or an over-value set by a man upon himself. It is founded originally on an intellectual falsehood. In real life pride is always attended with kindred passions, and produces effects equally injurious to others and destructive to itself. He that over-values himself will under-value others, and he that under-values others will oppress them. Pride has been able to harden the heart against compassion, and stop the ears against the cry of misery. He that sets too high a value upon his own merits will, of course, think them ill rewarded with his present condition. To pride must be attributed most of the fraud, injustice, violence, and extortion, by which wealth is frequently acquired. Another concomitant of pride is envy, or the desire of debasing others. Another is an insatiable desire of propagating in others the favourable opinion he entertains of himself. No proud man is satisfied with being simply his own admirer.
2. The usual motives to pride. We grow proud by comparing ourselves with others weaker than ourselves. Another common motive to pride is knowledge. Another, a consciousness of virtue. Spiritual pride is generally accompanied with great uncharitableness and severe censures of others, and may obstruct the great duty of repentance. It may be well to conclude with the amiableness and excellence of humility. “With the lowly there is wisdom.” (S. Johnson, LL.D.)
Knowledge nourishes humility
We may arm ourselves against the haughty spirit which Solomon speaks of as precursor of a fall. There is a tendency in knowledge to the producing of humility, so that the more a man knows, the more likely is he to think little of himself. The arrogant and conceited person is ordinarily the superficial and ignorant. The man of real powers and great acquirements is usually a simple and unaffected man. He who knows most is most conscious of how little he knows. There is no truer definition of human knowledge than that it is the knowledge of human ignorance. Oh singular constitution of pride, that its very existence should be our proof of its absurdity! Try the affirmation that knowledge produces humility, in relation to our state by nature, and to our state by grace. Pride proves deficiency of knowledge in both these respects. As to man’s natural condition, how can anybody be proud who knows that condition? There is no such contrast as that which may be drawn between man a fallen creature, and man a redeemed creature. But this does not puff the redeemed man up with pride, seeing redemption is not his work, but emanates from free-grace. Therefore, study ye yourselves; pray God for the aid of His Spirit to discover you to yourselves. Then you may grow up into the stature of the perfect man. (H. Melvill, B.D.)
Pride and humility
I. Pride as the precursor of ruin. Pride and haughtiness are equivalents. What is here predicted of pride--
1. Agrees with its nature. It is according to the instinct of pride to put its subject in an unnatural, and, therefore, in an unsafe position. The proud man’s foot is on quicksand, not on rock.
2. Agrees with its history. Destruction always has followed in its march.
II. Humility is the pledge of good. What are all the spoils of earth’s haughty conquerors to be compared with the blessedness of a genuinely humble soul? “Humility,” says Sir Benjamin Brodie, “leads to the highest distinction, because it leads to self-improvement. Study to know your own character; endeavour to learn, and to supply your own deficiencies; never assume to yourselves qualities which you do not possess.” (Homilist.)
The dangers of pride
I. What is it we are to beware of? Pride and a haughty spirit.
1. Lofty thoughts of ourselves.2. Disdain of others.
3. Boastful talk.
4. Rash and vain actions.
II. The evils of pride.
1. It separates us from God (Psalms 138:6; verse 5).
2. Makes men hate us.
3. Brings us to ruin.
Examples and illustrations: Pharaoh, Goliath, Absalom, Sennacherib, Belshazzar, Haman, Lucifer, the Pharisees, Herod, Wolsey (“I and the king”), Napoleon Bonaparte, Boulanger. (R. Brewin.)
The downfall of pride
A kite having risen to a very great height, moved in the air as stately as a prince, and looked down with much contempt on all below. “What a superior being I am now!” said the kite; “who has ever ascended so high as I have? What a poor grovelling set of beings are all those beneath me! I despise them.” And then he shook his head in derision, and then he wagged his tail; and again he steered along with so much state as if the air were all his own, and as if everything must make way before him; when suddenly the string broke, and down fell the kite with greater haste than he ascended, and was greatly hurt in the fall. Pride often meets with downfall. (W. Cobbin.)
Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.
The character and conduct of the lowly under affliction
There is a generation of lowly afflicted ones, having their spirit lowered and brought down to their lot, whose case, in that respect, is better than that of the proud getting their will, and carrying all to their mind.
1. There is a generation of lowly afflicted ones in the world, as bad as the world is. They are in this world, where the state of trial is.
2. If it were not so, Christ, as He was in the world, would have no followers in it.
3. Nevertheless, they are very rare in this world. Many a high-bonded spirit keeps on the bend in spite of lowering circumstances.
4. They can be no more in number than the truly godly. To bring the spirit truly to a low and crossed lot must be the effect of humbling grace.
5. A lowly disposition of soul, and habitual aim and bent of the heart that way, has a very favourable construction put upon it in heaven. Enter into particulars of the character of the lowly. There is a yoke of affliction, of one kind or other, oftentimes upon them. There is a particular yoke of affliction, which God has chosen for them, that hangs about them, and is seldom, if ever, off them. That is their special trial, the crook in their lot. They think soberly and meanly of themselves, but highly and honourably of God. They think favourably of others, as far as in justice they may. They are sunk down into a state of subordination to God’s will. They are not bent on high things, but disposed to stoop to low things. They are apt to magnify mercies bestowed on them.
Consider the generation of the proud, getting their will, and carrying all to their mind.
1. There are crosses in their lot. Sin has turned the world from a paradise to a thicket; there is no getting through without being scratched. The pride of the heart exposes them particularly to crosses. They have an over-value for themselves. Men are bigger in their own conceit than they are indeed. They have an unmortified self-will. They have a crowd of unsubdued passions taking part with the self-will. But a holy God crosses the self-will of the proud creatures by His providence, over-ruling and disposing of things contrary to their inclination. Getting their will, and carrying all to their mind, tells of holy Providence yielding to the man’s unmortified self-will, and letting it go according to his mind; it tells also of the lust remaining in its strength and vigour; of the cross removed; and of the man’s pleasure in having carried his point.
Confirm the doctrine of the text, that the case of the former is better than that of the latter.
1. Humility is a piece of the image of God. Pride is the masterpiece of the image of the devil.
2. Humility and lowliness of spirit qualify us for friendly communion and intercourse with God in Christ. Pride makes God our enemy.
3. Humility is a duty pleasing to God, pride a sin pleasing to the devil. Those whose spirits are brought down to their afflicted lot have quiet and repose of mind. This is a great blessing, upon which the comfort of life depends. Our whole trouble in our lot ariseth from the disagreement of our mind therewith. The proud can but make a better condition in outward things; but humility makes a better man; and the man is more valuable than all external conveniences that attend him. (T. Boston.)
He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good: and whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he.
Trust in God--true wisdom
Wisdom is man’s true path--that which enables him to accomplish best the end of his being, and which, therefore, gives to him the richest enjoyment and the fullest play for all his powers. Give man wisdom, in the true sense of the term, and he rises to all the dignity that manhood can possibly know. But where shall this wisdom be found? He that trusts in the Lord has found out the way to handle matters wisely, and happy is he. Take this text--
I. With regard to the wise handling of matters of time which concern our bodies and our souls whilst we are here below. Satan says, to handle a matter wisely is to make your own will your law; or he says, “Be crafty”; or he moderates his tone and says, “Be careful.” It is often said to the young man, “Be self-reliant; be independent.” The true way of wisdom is to act in all prudence and in all uprightness, but to rely simply and entirely on God. Faith is as much the rule of temporal as of spiritual life. Trust God, and you will not have to mourn because you have used sinful means to grow rich. Trust God, and you will not be guilty of self-contradiction.
II. In spiritual matters, he that handleth a matter wisely shall find good. Here Satan tempts to be careless or to be credulous; or he bids us work out our own salvation. The true way of dealing wisely here is believing in Christ, trusting him fully. (C. H Spurgeon.)
The conditions of a happy life
I. Skilful management. “He that handleth a matter wisely shall find good.” Skilful management in every department of life is of the utmost importance.
1. It is so in intellectual improvement. The man who desires to get a well-informed and a well-disciplined mind must arrange both the subjects and the seasons of study with skill. Method is of primary moment in the business of intellect.
2. It is so in mercantile engagements.
3. It is so in spiritual culture. A wise selection of the best readings, and the most favourable seasons for devotion cannot be dispensed with if great spiritual good is to be got.
II. A well-stayed heart. “Whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he.” God is the stay of the heart.
1. He is happy in his love.
2. He is happy in his policy.
3. He is happy in his speech. “And the sweetness of his lips increaseth learning.” (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The happiness of trusting in God
This proverb builds on the ground that all men desire happiness. Philosophers, in all ages of the world, have been trying to find out and teach what is man’s greatest good; and people generally, from the days of David, have been asking, “Who will show us any good?” The Stoics gave one answer, the Epicureans another, as to man’s chief good. Those who now ask, “Is life worth living?” agree with neither. It is doubtless the case, that the devotee of wealth, of fame, of power, or social eminence finds, whenever he is successful in his efforts, that neither wealth nor fame, neither power nor eminence in social position, gives the happiness which he sought therein. The results of thousands of years of experiments and of experience, before and since Solomon’s day, are set forth in the words of the proverb which is my text, “Whose trusteth in the Lord, happy is he.”
I. Trust in God is the ground on which man finds freedom from the bondage of sin, and from the painful sense of the condemnation due to him for his sin. Every one knows, and sometimes feels, that he is a sinful man. This sense of sin is felt in the greatest variety of circumstances. It may arise in a man’s breast when his condition is most prosperous--when he is driving forward some business on which his heart has long been set. Sometimes this painful consciousness of guilt springs up after the accomplishment of some undertaking which has taxed one’s powers for months, or even years. It is not unfrequently the case that a man is disturbed in this way soon after he has yielded to some evil thought or impulse, or soon after he has neglected to perform some duty. The world is full of instances of this sense of sin in times of danger and calamity. Thus King Saul felt it in his last days. Thus the brothers of Joseph found it pierced their hearts when they were in trouble. Thus it overwhelmed the soul of King David when the prophet Nathan told him the tender story of the poor citizen and his lamb. But this painful sense of sin comes to other persons than these terrible offenders. Is there any person here who did not feel it even in his childhood? It comes, Perhaps, after some act of disobedience or neglect toward father or mother. Perhaps it arose after some feeling of anger, or of envy toward brother or sister. It may have sprung up in the mind after some unkind word or selfish act toward playmate or schoolfellow. This fearful consciousness of sin has been many a time felt when thought has been given to the truth, that God has appointed death for every man, and the judgment after it. The poets of human nature abound in the manifestation of this painful sense of sin. Milton represents a guilty spirit as saying that others little know under what torments inwardly he groans, so that he has to cry in his agony, “Which way I fly is hell; myself am hell!” This sense of sin, which is felt with all degrees of painfulness, all who trust in the Lord find relieved by the assurance of His forgiveness through His Son Jesus Christ. For “there is no condemnation to them who are in Christ Jesus.”
II. Whoever trusts God is no longer hostile to Him. The enmity of the heart against the Most High and the Most Holy One ceases. Accepted in the Beloved, he has peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. This gives the faithful happiness. It was no shallow source of joy for the brothers of Joseph (when their sin had found them out) to be made sure that there was peace between the ruler of Egypt and themselves; and it is not a small boon for any man, conscious of his sin, to know that there is reconciliation and peace between himself and his Omnipotent Maker and righteous Judge, through the mediation and redemption of the Lord Jesus Christ.
III. Another reason why the man who trusts in the lord is happy may be seen in this fact--namely, that he has the indwelling of the Divine spirit to maintain his spiritual and eternal life. If the faithful had to rely upon their own wisdom, strength, and other resources, they might soon despair of perseverance in the Christian life. But whosoever trusteth in the Lord is not abandoned by the Almighty. The Holy Ghost, who is given unto the faithful, sheds abroad the love of God in their hearts; and neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate them from the love of God.
IV. The man whose trust is in God has the feeling of happiness because he has the assurance of safety and salvation. There is, indeed, a sense of security in some persons which springs not from the full trust of the heart in God; but it exists because there is no heed to Him. A man may build his hope of everlasting happiness and heaven on no better foundation than the lie which the fool tells to his heart when he says there is no God. He may build it on his own thoughtlessness in respect to the existence, the character, the law, and the purposes and judgments of God. This kind of assurance of safety is the belief of some prodigals that they will never become spendthrifts. It is the assurance of some drunkards that they will never drink too much, and become intemperate. How different is the safe and serene condition of the man who puts his trust in God!
V. Whosoever trusts in the Lord is happy because he delights in God and desires to do his duty toward Him. Some children love their parents, delight in them, and find a rich gratification in pleasing and obeying them. The manifestation of their filial affection is charming to others. The outflow of it is joy to themselves. Very much of their happiness springs from it. The faithful generally delight in doing their duty toward God. The way of duty is their chosen path. The sources of their joy never fail. They are not surface streams that freeze over in winter and run dry in summer. The touch of death cannot reach them. They are as perpetual in heaven as upon earth.
VI. Whosoever trusts in God is happy because the Divine Providence is unchangeably set to do the faithful good. (E. Whitaker, D.D.)
The wise in heart shall be called prudent.
The wise in heart
I. These words are an assertion that true wisdom will show itself in a prudent conduct of life. His wisdom will gain him the reputation of a discreet, serious, and sensible man. Wisdom is the mother of intellectual and prudence of practical virtues. It may be said that wisdom may be separated from prudence, that knowing and doing are two things. There are many men in the world who have wise heads and foolish hearts--men of good capacities, clear understandings, well improved by reading and observation; but they have some odd humour, fond opinion, beloved lust, which hinders them from living according to their knowledge. Such wise men as these Solomon puts into the catalogue of his “fools,” because they have the means of doing well in their power, and make no use of them. The prudent man is careful to enter upon good ways, and walk uprightly in them. He chooses honest ends, and takes honest methods to attain them. A false and counterfeit wisdom is wholly made up of fallacies and cunning devices. “The folly of fools is deceit.” Their sense, learning, reasonings, and vivacity of wit serve but to heighten their folly, to sweeten their delusions, and confirm them in their errors. This is the case where wisdom rests only in the head: but when it descends to the heart, and warms the affections with the love of that which is good, it fails not to bless the world with a truly valuable and useful man. He that is truly wise differs from a conceited, talkative man in this, that he thankfully receives good advice, and avoids the dangers of which he is admonished.
II. A comparison between wisdom and eloquence. The powerful charms of eloquence add value to wisdom. Solomon in several places testifies his approbation of ornaments of speech. Wisdom and eloquence united together are very desirable talents in a legislator, governor, or teacher of religion. Moses and Jeremiah seem, however, to have lacked this gift of eloquence. Eloquence should be put under the direction of wisdom. There is no heresy or other error in religion but what has prevailed and gained acceptance by abused eloquence.
III. The words of the text intimate a rule of profitable teaching. In order to get wisdom, we must study to know ourselves, and see what faculties and talents God hath bestowed upon us, and by daily use and exercise improve them, and add both to their weight and number. Jesus Christ is called the “Wisdom of God,” as containing in Himself all the treasures of Divine wisdom. His hearers asked, “Whence hath this man this wisdom?” His prudence was far superior to the craft and contrivance of His enemies. He had also all external advantages of an eloquent speaker. They said, “Never man spake like this man.” The same gifts He promised to bestow on His apostles for the same end and purpose. He that seeks after wisdom by his prayers to God, and his reading and hearing of His holy Word, and honest, application of it in the ordering of his life, shall not seek in vain. Though his wisdom seem at first but as a grain of mustard-seed, by a diligent cultivation of it that wisdom will wonderfully increase and bring forth abundance of fruit. (W. Reading, M.A.)
The “wise in heart” are those who, under the influences of sound principles, know how to “order their affairs with discretion.” Men of the most splendid powers and attainments are not always the most remarkable for practical good sense. Better, therefore, in many respects, is the man whose wisdom regulates his temper and affections, his words and actions, aright. That is far more important for the production of personal and social happiness than the most brilliant genius without it. He shall be “called prudent” means his having a character for it: his being looked up to, respected, consulted, confided in, chosen as an adviser. Such a man is more valuable and useful than the man of mere learning, who has not discretion and common sense to guide the use of it. It is, at the same time, of great moment, that along with the possession of wisdom and prudence there be the sweetness of the lips, or honeyed lips, gentleness and persuasiveness of counsel, impressive eloquence of speech, which gives vast advantage in the application of wisdom for the benefit of others. It “increaseth learning,” effectually spreading it, rendering others wise as well as the possessor himself. If the “wise in heart” be understood of the truly, spiritually, divinely wise, then the phrase “shall be called prudent” must be interpreted, according to a common Hebrew idiom, as meaning “is prudent,” deserves to be so called. The sentiment will thus be the oft-repeated one, that true religion is the only genuine prudence. Godliness has the promise of the life that now is, as well as of that which is to come. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips.
These two verses lead us to infer several things concerning true eloquence.
I. It is the utterance of the true heart. “The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth.”
1. It is when the genuinely patriotic heart “teacheth the mouth” of the statesman that his speeches are really eloquent, and that his voice bends the senate to his will.
2. It is when the genuinely justice-loving heart “teacheth the mouth” of the counsel that his address is really eloquent, and that he carries the jury with him, and makes the cause of his client triumphant.
3. It is when the genuinely Christ-loving heart “teaches the mouth” of the preacher that his sermons become eloquent, and mighty through God.
II. It is the means of useful instruction. “It addeth learning to his lips.” True eloquence does more than awaken mere emotion in the hearer. It instructs. Its spirit is in such vital alliance with eternal reality that its very sounds echo such truths as start the highest trains of thought. Who is the best religious teacher? Not the mere theologian, however vast his learning, Scriptural his theory, or perfect his language; but the Christ-loving man, however untutored his intellect and ungrammatical his speech. He dispenses the best “learning,” learning which teaches men rightly to live and triumphantly to die.
III. It is a source of soul-refreshment. Honey was prized by those of old times, not only as a luxury to the palate, but also on account of its medicinal and salutary properties. To this there is an allusion here. The words express the twofold idea of pleasantness and of benefit. Many things have the one quality which have not the other. Many a poison is like honey, sweet to the taste, but instead of being “health to the bones,” is laden with death. Words of true eloquence, indeed, fall as drops of honey on the soul, not only delicious to the taste but a tonic to the heart. (Homilist.)
There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
A way of death
I. Multitudes judge of duty by the standard of their own moral sentiments and feelings, and therefore the way of death is thought to be right.
1. Sin first defiles the principles and then the conduct.
2. Sin has therefore brought down the ideal as well as the visible standard of duty among men.
3. Men thus rise and sink in their apprehensions of God’s law, as they rise and sink in their own moral and spiritual attainments.
4. The more polluted, therefore, the man, the more will he think the way of death to be right.
II. Multitudes judge of duty by the standard of common practice and opinion, and therefore the way of death is thought to be right.
1. The standard of the world is the average performances of duty.
2. This is the standard employed for most worldly or social purposes. It decides the reputation; the fitness for any society; the relationship; the situation.
3. Men identify this standard with the Divine, and determine by it eternal things.
4. Having stood the judgment of his fellows, man supposes that be can stand the judgment of God.
III. Multitudes judge of duty, and of the safety of a course of conduct, according to the belief that the Divine Law-giver accepts of compensation in one department for wrongs done in another.
1. Few love equally every form of sin. It does not consist with constitutional bias; outward circumstances; the pursuits of life; formed habits; the energy of the nature; the idols of the heart.
2. Many, therefore, attempt to balance their deficiency, and imagined excess, in duty.
3. This is impracticable (James 2:10). All is God’s. The law is one. The loved sin is the test.
IV. Multitudes judge of duty According to the principle that whatever tends to present and temporal advantage is defensible.
1. Many appear to think that this world is altogether insulated.
2. They therefore confine their views to those objects of pursuit which it presents.
3. They suppose that they have acted their part well when they have escaped from the stage with approbation.
4. The way of such seems right, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
V. Multitudes judge of the safety of a course on the principle that all is well that ends well.
1. This is a common and destructive perversion of truth.
2. The offers of grace are only for the present.
3. Every instance of rejection increases guilt, hardens the heart, and tends to bring about a death of indifference.
VI. Multitudes judge of duty according as it bulks in the eye, and therefore the way of death is thought to be the right way. Illustrate from--
1. The relative duties of the moral law.
2. Charities--religious societies.
3. The business of worship. It may be added that multitudes misinterpret Scripture. (James Stewart.)
A way may seem right, yet lead to hell
Imagine a large company travelling through a gloomy forest, attended by a faithful and well-informed guide. The course becomes rugged and dreary, while on either hand ways open which are wide, verdant, and picturesque. The travellers wish to deviate, and perceiving their guide determined to pursue his own course they leave him. But they soon learn the way they have chosen is full of dangers. The allurements which seduced them vanish. This is a true picture of human life. We all have erred and gone astray; multitudes have perished irrecoverably.
I. Mark the man of pleasure. “God is not in all his thoughts.” He tells us that, as we are sure only of the present, we need seek nothing higher than the gratification of our natural desires; that religion may perhaps serve as a lamp through the dark valley and shadow of death, but cannot fail, on the bright eminence of life, to appear unnecessary and obtrusive. Such language opposes the whole tenor of that religion which inculcates faith, patience, contrition, and self-denial, and leads to the grosset habits of the drunkard and the fornicator, concerning whom an apostle declares, “they shall not inherit the kingdom of God.”
II. Mark the thoughtless and indifferent person--the man who, being too indolent, too timid, or too superstitious to think and act for himself, borrows his system of doctrines and forms of worship from a long train of credulous ancestors or the opinions prevalent around him which are considered the most reputable. “I am right,” he exclaims, “or all these are wrong. If I do err, it is in the company of those whom I have chosen as my perpetual companions.” The way may seem right, it may save labour, and serve his present convenience; but death lurks at the end. The fool shall be destroyed, and his companions also; the destruction of transgressors shall be together.
III. Mark the formalist. I mean one who is a strict observer of all the outward ceremonies of religion; the faithful adherent to her most minute forms. He divides the circle of the day; on one side he puts all his devotion, and thither he looks for comfort when conscience disturbs him for the follies so distinctly marked on the other side. He does not take with him into the world a principle which will enable him to resist temptation; and when he has fallen into sin he goes back to his formal services, thinking these may be a sufficient atonement. Or, perhaps, being habitually restrained within the bounds of decorum, he flatters himself that he is regenerated. Formality is a slow but effectual poison; it is a dead and putrid carcass laid upon the altar of Him who demands a “living sacrifice.”
IV. Mark the self-confident man. None that I have mentioned are in greater danger.
1. There are rich men who delude themselves with the vain conceit that silver and gold, and the things which silver and gold procure, render them independent of God. Not all their splendid array, and sumptuous fare, and bowing menials, and princely estates, will save them from lifting up their eyes, being in torments.
2. Men of intellectual capacity are peculiarly prone to self-confidence. It were wicked to disparage reason; but may it not be overrated? It is s guide, but surely not through regions it has never visited. It is a luminary: so likewise is the moon, and so are the stars; but can we, therefore, dispense with the sun?
3. There are the self-confident who trust in their fancied rectitude.
V. Mark the subject of partial conviction, the man who mistakes remorse for repentance, and a state of alarm for the unfailing pledge of salvation. They have mourned, and watched, and been oppressed with dread. At length, however, they became tranquil. They were received with due form into a Christian society. But they soon settle down into heartless regularity; their conscience keeps pace with their profession, till at length they come to regard it as a sin to doubt respecting their good estate, and are offended at every faithful admonition. But the gospel has had no practical and saving efficacy upon their hearts. Woe unto them who are thus at ease in Zion, who despise the warning contained in the text!
VI. Is there a better way--a way which leadeth to life? Jesus the Son of God has opened it; He suffered, bled, and died that He might secure it for us. He is the way of pardon, of peace, and of salvation. He is the way that leads to heaven and glory. (R. Elton, D.D.)
This is the age of specialists; and one of the most important departments is that which deals with the eye and its defects. We hear in this connection of heredity; the different effects of town and country life, with their near and remote objects; the results of overwork and unhealthy surroundings, etc. So with the inward eye and the vision of the moral life. Here also we have shortsightedness, discrepancy of focus, stealthy cataract; the inflammation that makes light an agony; the eye that exaggerates and sees double, and that which makes everything seem insignificant and far away; and there is an eye that dotes on the dark end of the spectrum.
I. Honest and dishonest error. The text confines our attention to honest derangement of vision, or what claims to be such. “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man.” The seat of the trouble is in the man, not in the way. The way remains where it is, and he chooses it and walks into it.
II. Inherent difficulties. Many of our troubles in moral vision arise from the inability to see distance. Some things are present, others are past. It is easy to put paint on paper, but it is aerial perspective that makes a picture. Again, errors of judgment are due to the fact that we give fixed measurements to things that are themselves in motion: growing larger or smaller, advancing or receding. Closely connected with this is the weak eye for angles and the feeble sense of proportion. If we could only see it, there is a difference between self and society, between party and mankind, between time and eternity.
III. Decision and indecision. Under given conditions a diminished area always makes a brighter disc. Microscopic objects have no mist. Downrightness is always a desirable thing, especially for emergencies that come suddenly and only once. It means health to its possessor and safety to those who know what to expect. It draws to itself unattached particles, and has an incisive momentum that bruises into softer substances. “Yes” and “No” are great civilisers. But clearness that is gained by exclusion may cost too much. When the narrowing process begins it goes on, and self is always the most tempting centre; in fact, the only terminus. It is sometimes difficult for robust natures to see it, but strength of conviction does not necessarily mean correspondence with fact. And fact is the chief thing.
IV. The culpablity of mistaken views. Where and when is the error found blameworthy? Not directly in the region of intellect and its knowledge, but in that of the will and its preferences and energies. The individual error becomes a process and the process becomes a system. There is first light defied and then light debased. This belongs to us, not to circumstance. “Business is business”--how much that is made to cover and countenance? “Others do it, and why should not I?” The same man will always say with regard to any loved indulgence, “This is safe for me, and what have I to do with others?” If we pass from difficulties of the personal life we find the same obscurity or obliquity of view in things that affect communities, nations, and Churches. There was the slavery question, over which the British Parliament struggled for many years, and for which America poured out its blood. So with the great temperance question of to-day. (G. M. Mackie, M.A.)
The seeming right
Our difficulty in life is often with things that seem to be right. Where they are obviously wrong there is no need for hesitation, but where probabilities are in their favour we must pause and consider. How far does our own experience confirm the doctrine of the text?
1. Does not the way of self-protection seem to be right? To a certain extent it is right. Pressed unduly it becomes practical atheism.
2. Does not the way of physical persecution for truth’s sake seem to be right? If man is teaching error why not burn him, or otherwise put a forcible end to his ministry?
3. Does not the way of self-enjoyment seem right.
4. Does not the way of judging by appearances seem right? What can be better? What can be simpler?
5. Does not the way of self-redemption seem right? Is it not brave and spirited to say that we take our own recovery into our own hands? This is the fatal error of mankind. “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in Me is thy help.”
1. Lean not to thine own understanding. The coiled scorpion may be mistaken for an egg.
2. Seek higher than human counsel. Be religious. Put thy whole life into the keeping of God. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.” Distrust appearances. Even when the way seems right stand still and commune with Heaven. “Except Thy presence go with me, carry me not up hence.” (J. Parker, D.D.)
Sincere belief no safeguard
See that man who is just too late, or the other, who was sitting quietly at his breakfast when he heard the departing signal. Neither can believe he is in fault. Oh, no! his watch is right. The conductor hurried the train; the agent’s watch is out of order.
1. There has been error. His watch was wrong, after all. He did not take care to set it by the true standard. Men fail of success because they adopt wrong principles. They blame the Bible, the Church, the ministry; anything, anybody, everything, everybody, rather than self.
2. Our sincere belief that we are right will not save us. God has a certain fixed, and immutable, and holy law. If we follow his teachings we shall be safe; but if we follow our own notions He makes no provision for our faults; we are left to suffer.
3. There are favoured times for obtaining God’s favour. (Christian Treasury.)
Beware of imperceptible currents
The currents of the sea are found to run in all directions, east, west, north, south, being formed by various causes--the prominence of the shores, the narrowness of the straits, the variations of the wind, and the inequalities at the bottom. These currents are of the most material consequence to the mariner, without a knowledge of which he could never succeed. It often happens that when a ship gets unknowingly into one of these everything seems to go forward with success, the mariners suppose themselves every hour approaching their wished-for port, the wind fills their sails, and the ship’s prow seems to divide the water, but at last by miserable experience they find that instead of going forward they have been all the time receding. The business of currents, therefore, makes a considerable article in navigation, and the direction of their stream and their rapidity has been carefully set down. (Scientific Illustrations.)
An ungodly man diggeth up evil.
Digging up evil
An ungodly man is “a son of Belial.” In the expression “diggeth up evil” two ideas may be included.
I. Taking pains to devise it. We dig and search for treasure in a mine, or where we fancy it lies concealed; thus the wicked man does in regard to evil. It is his treasure, that on which he sets his heart, and for it, as for treasure, he digs and searches, aye, often deep and long. He is specially laborious and persevering, when any one chances to have become the object of his pique or malice. Marvellous is the assiduity with which he then strains every nerve to produce mischief, plodding and plotting for it, mining and undermining, exploring in every direction, often where no one could think of but himself, and, with savage delight, exulting in the discovery of aught that can be made available for his diabolical purpose.
II. Taking pains to revive it, after it has been buried and forgotten. He goes down into the very grave of old quarrels, brings them up afresh; puts new life into them; wakes up grudges that had long slept; and sets people by the ears again who had abandoned their enmities, and had for years been living in reconciliation and peace. The son of Belial, in relation to evil, is like one in quest of some mine of coal or precious metal. He examines his ground, and wherever he discovers any hopeful symptoms on the surface, he proceeds to drill, and bore, and excavate. The slightest probability of success will be enough for his encouragement to toil and harass himself night and day until he can make something out of it. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it be found in the way of righteousness.
On the duties and consolations of the aged
To every age there belongs a distinct propriety of behaviour. There arises from it a series of duties peculiar to itself.
I. Some counsels concerning the errors which are most incident to the aged.
1. Almost all of them may be traced up to the feebleness and distresses peculiar to that time of life. Life is then contracted within a narrow and barren circle. Year after year steals somewhat away from their store of comfort, deprives them of some of their ancient friends, blunts some of their powers of sensation, or incapacitates them for some function of life. The aged should consider that to bear the infirmities of age with becoming patience is as much their duty as is that of the young to resist the temptations of youthful pleasure. Though querulous temper may be regarded as a natural infirmity, no apology can be made for that peevish disgust at the manners, and that malignant censure of the enjoyments of the young, which is sometimes found to accompany declining years. Nothing can be more unjust than to take offence at others on account of their partaking of pleasures which it is past your time to enjoy.
2. One of the vices of old age, which appears the most unaccountable, is that covetous attachment to worldly interest with which it is often charged. As vigour of body and mind declines, timidity may be expected to increase. Hence the old sometimes over-value riches, as securing them from danger. But though their apprehensions may justify a cautious frugality, they can by no means excuse a sordid avarice. As increasing years debilitate the body, so they weaken force, and diminish the warmth of affections. Chilled by the hand of time, the heart loses that tender sensibility with which it once entered into the concerns and sorrows of others.
II. The duties which peculiarly belong to old age.
1. A timely retreat from the world. It is only in the shade that the virtues of old age can flourish. By this is not meant a total cessation from worldly enjoyment. The aged should loosen their communication with active life.
2. They should quit the pursuit of such pleasures as are unsuitable to their years. Cheerfulness, in old age, is graceful. It is the natural concomitant of virtue. But the cheerfulness of age is widely different from the levity of youth.
3. A material part of the duty of the aged consists in studying to be useful to the race who are to succeed them: to impart to the young the fruit of their long experience; to instruct them in the proper conduct, and to warn them of the various dangers of life.
4. Let the aged not forget those religious employments which their own state particularly requires.
III. The consolations which belong to old age. Such as arise from patient submission; from the respect rendered by others; from the many enjoyments that remain; from the love and service of those bound to them in family relationships; from the favour of God. (Hugh Blair, D.D.)
The duties of the aged
Long life all men desire: and yet to most no part of life seems to have much happiness in it; and that part least of all, to which living long brings them. And yet, if life is a blessing, long life must be a greater blessing. Old age may be both honourable and happy.
I. What assistance virtue and piety contribute towards making old age honourable and happy.
1. Laying proper foundations in the former part. Neglect of right conduct in our early years is the main reason that our advanced ones are despicable and miserable. See the influence of youthful irregularities; idle expenses; neglect of attaining knowledge; early indulgence of ill-temper; forgetting the Creator in the days of youth. “Wisdom is the grey hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age.”
2. Directing to proper behaviour when old age comes. Avoiding the faults to which men are then peculiarly subject. Such are artfulness and insensibility, selfishness and avarice. A mean and penurious behaviour. Sparing and accumulating, without reason or use, is both sin and folly. Another fault is, giving improperly and inequitably what they give, whether in their lives or at their deaths. The aged are sometimes imposed upon by artful people, who supplant those naturally dependent on them. Or they let little piques and preferences influence them, contrary to the justest motives and their own former kind intentions.
Another danger of the aged is ill-temper. Sometimes a consequence of loss of strength, and bodily pain.
1. The aged should therefore anxiously endeavour to preserve a composed and even mind.
2. To practise the duties to which they are peculiarly bound. One is serious reflection on their past conduct, accompanied with earnest endeavours to undo, as far as they can, whatever they have done amiss, and rectify the errors of their busier and warmer days. The more piously and virtuously men have lived, the less necessity will they have in their old age for so minute a review of their ways; but then they will receive the greatest, the most seasonable comfort from it. Another duty is that of religious exercises and contemplations. Another duty is to imprint, on those who come within the sphere of their influence, the same right sentiments of life and conduct which they have acquired for themselves.
II. The directions which virtue and religion furnish are effectual to the desired end. As long as persons in years can enjoy anything, the regard paid by those about them to their established character must support and revive them to a great degree. Those who have proceeded so far in life with innocence must feel from it the highest joy; they who have truly repented cannot fail to be sensible of much consolation. Recollection of their life associations and experiences must be a fruitful source of improving amusement to them, and relating them an acceptable entertainment and instruction to others. (T. Seeker.)
On the relative duties of the aged and the young
We contemplate the aged with sentiments that might be profitable to us, and that are likely to make some impression on the heart. But we cannot consider the “hoary head a crown of glory” unless it be stored with that wisdom which time and reflection are hourly instilling into the mind, in order to wean us from the world, and prepare us for heaven. A young person has reason to expect from the aged information. They have long sojourned in the land of discipline. To the aged the young apply, as to experienced travellers, that can direct their course through stormy seas or perplexing wilds. The aged cannot acquit themselves of negligence and folly if it should appear that they are unable to warn youth of unexpected dangers, and to point out the path that leads to safety. Life has been of little advantage to him who derives no wisdom from its variety, and no virtue from its trials. It is a man’s duty to become practically wise, through a right use of the experiences of life. It should be the care of the aged to communicate to the young only that which is good. Too often they only inculcate a sort of worldly prudence, and selfish kind of knowledge, which chokes the seed of every growing virtue, and disqualifies the child of immortality for heaven. Another moral excellence, which it is the duty of the aged to acquire, is a proper regulation of the passions. Time, and often-repeated experience of sorrow, will often accomplish, in this respect, what reason and religion have attempted in vain. The experience of life should produce settled habits of virtue; it should establish some determined pursuit of good; it should show that life has not been squandered away without improvement. From a proper regulation of the passions would arise that complacent dignity, which is the characteristic of true greatness; and that charity and humility, that mildness and forbearance, which are the ornaments of true religion. It is so ordered by the wisdom of Providence, that the most effectual means of good should, by the perversion of sin, become the most dangerous instruments of evil. There is nothing more pernicious to the morals of youth, or so likely to spread depravity through the different orders of society, as a vicious old man. A number of minor vices and imperfections of character often deprive the aged of honour, and prevent them from being extensively useful. There is sometimes a severity in their conversation, and a moroseness in their disposition, which spoil their influence on the young. Age should be averse to violence and disorder of every kind. The tempests of the mind should be no more; neither the emotions of anger, the murmurings of discontent, nor the bitterness of wrath, should disturb the calm evening of our days. The aged should avoid that querulousness and discontent which they are so often apt to indulge. The religion which administers comfort in age must be cultivated in the days of our youth. It is a mockery of devotion to serve that great and gracious God in the moment of fear only who requires that His service should be perfect freedom. (J. Hewlett, B.D.)
The way of righteousness
I. Describe the way of righteousness. Righteousness here includes the whole rule of our duty towards God and man. Way, in a moral sense, is expressive of a person’s course of behaviour, or his ordinary conduct. The way of righteousness is a course of behaviour or conduct prescribed by the Divine Word, that perfect rule of righteousness. It is the way wherein Christ walked. On it rests the Divine approbation. A godly life is neither a light matter nor easy attainment. All who walk in this way must deny themselves. In this way holiness is visible. “It shall be called the way of holiness.”
II. What is implied in being found in the way of righteousness? It is to be found accustoming oneself to obey the Divine commands, being employed in the practice of religion, and of all virtue. It is a way wherein a person usually walks; that which is his ordinary practice. A man is denominated by the general tenor of his conversation. Being found in a way implies that the conduct of the professor is taken notice of by others. “Only the person who is following after righteousness can properly be said to be found in the way of it.”
III. The beauty, honour, and dignity which are upon an aged disciple of Christ. There is the beauty of true wisdom and understanding age. Spiritual wisdom, the graces of the Holy Spirit, are ornaments far more honourable than chains of gold. Such disciples are honoured now with the approbation of heaven. Use this subject--
1. To correct mistakes often made concerning religion.
2. To encourage those who desire to walk in this way.
3. To exhort to constancy those who have, through grace, entered the way of righteousness.
4. To awaken all to a sense of their duty. They ought to enter and walk in this way. (Thomas Flower.)
The honour of aged piety
It is a dictate of natural conscience, that reverence is due to the aged merely on account of their age. The general practice of the heathen, both ancient and modern, confirms and illustrates this dictate of nature. And the Scriptures command us to show respect to the aged. When wisdom and piety accompany old age, it is peculiarly venerable.
I. On what accounts aged piety is peculiarly honourable.
1. It began early. This must be supposed. It is implied in the expression “found” in the way of righteousness. Such a one hath been long walking in that way. Where persons have, with good Obadiah, feared the Lord from their youth, and walked in His fear all their days, they claim peculiar respect. They have indeed lived--lived to a good purpose. This will command honour from others.
2. Their piety is founded on knowledge and experience. Knowledge is gained by observation, reflection, reading, and converse. Our stock of knowledge naturally increaseth with advancing years. It will be more or less according to men’s natural abilities, education, and pains taken in improving their understandings. The aged are not always wise, but they frequently are so, and always much wiser than younger persons of equal capacities, advantages, and applications. Aged saints are peculiarly honourable, because their knowledge is of the best kind, and applied to the best purposes. Their wisdom is an ornament of grace to them.
3. The piety of aged Christians is approved and steadfast. Many put on an appearance of piety to serve some secular purpose. But the piety of the aged Christian has been severely tested and proved, in the long and severe experiences of life. An aged saint is like a tree arrived at maturity, that, having brought forth fruit many years, in its season, stood many storms, and taken root the faster, is known by all around to be very valuable. He is rooted in the faith, grounded and settled.
4. The piety of the aged is attended with great usefulness. God is glorified when Christians bring forth much fruit: and in proportion to men’s usefulness will be their honour. The piety of an aged Christian is much to the glory of God, as it shows the excellency of His dispensations. Aged saints are useful to mankind. They shine as lights in a dark world, and produce a secret veneration for religion in the hearts of those who will not be persuaded to pursue it They are living witnesses to the kindness of God’s providence, the riches of His grace, and His faithfulness to His promises. They are patterns of patience, contentment, and thankfulness. Their prayers are serviceable to the world and to the Church. They are capable of giving excellent counsel.
5. Their piety renders them peculiarly ripe for glory. Graces shine brighter through the wrinkles that deform the countenance.
II. Useful instructions from this subject.
1. The hoary head is a disgrace and reproach to an old sinner.
2. Aged saints ought be reverenced. Let us speak of them and to them with the greatest respect; tenderly pity, and patiently bear with, their weaknesses, and consider the excellences of their characters, as casting a lustre even over their infirmities.
3. Aged saints should proceed in the ways of righteousness, with thankfulness and courage.
4. It is the wisdom of young persons to enter on the ways of righteousness. There is very little hope for those who forget God in their youthful days. (J. Orton.)
The distinguished honour of aged piety
There is no beauty or comeliness like that of holiness. Nothing tends more to adorn or recommend a person. Here holiness is presented under the notion of a most excellent and comely ornament which suits persons of any age or condition. Some think these words are a proposal of the most likely course men can take to prolong their days. Others think that the duty of the aged is here prescribed. We take it thus: “Then is the hoary head more especially an ornament and glory when it is found in the way of righteousness.” There is somewhat venerable in old age.
1. The knowledge of the aged may be supposed to be very considerable, by reason of the long time they have had for acquiring it.
2. The virtue and sincerity of the aged is more tried and approved than of those who have but lately set out and engaged in religion.
3. As the virtue and holiness of the aged is more tried and approved through their long standing, so it is more considerable in the degree and measure. There is a double improvement which we may suppose Christians to make, the one by becoming more confirmed and established in their holy religion, and the other by their abounding more in the fruits of righteousness.
4. Such persons are eminent instruments of bringing glory to God and of usefulness to His Church. The more conspicuous the power of goodness in such people, the more God is glorified by them.
5. The hoary head that is found in the way of righteousness is ripe for glory and just ready to enter into it. Infer--
(1) The unreasonableness of the contempt that young persons sometimes show to those who are old, even mocking at their infirmities.
(2) The reasonableness of the apostolic rule, “Ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder.”
(3) Persons should make preparation for the honour and comfort of old age, even by choosing the ways of righteousness while they are young. (W. Pierce.)
Some of the distinguishing features in the experience of aged disciples.
1. They have a greater knowledge and more enlarged experience--knowledge of the Scriptures, and of God’s providence, and of the world. They have learned much in the school of affliction.
2. Another feature in the experience of the fathers in Christ is their deadness to the world. Years have taught them to moderate their estimate of what the world can do for them. They sit loose from the world, knowing that they must soon leave it.
3. Heavenly-mindedness is another feature. This appears in their contemplating passing events, chiefly in their reference to the spiritual and eternal world, and in the interest they take in what has a special reference to the Church, and in spending their time in retirement and meditation.
4. Humility is another feature. In looking back over the way in which God has led them they see much to keep them humble.
5. A calm, composed, and peaceful state of mind is another feature. They are now, in great measure, freed from the turbulence of unruly passions within.
6. Their being in a waiting posture is another feature. They resign business details to younger hands.
7. A joyful anticipation of the blessedness and glory awaiting them is another feature; This is intended to present a high standard of the distinguishing features in the experience of far-advanced Christians. (George Muirhead, D.D.)
Honourable old age
I. What is the way of righteousness in which the old man is supposed to be found?
1. It is supposed that the old man has spent the preceding part of his life in devotional exercises.
2. It is supposed that the old man has, in the preceding part of his life, practised self-control, and regulated his pursuits and pleasures by the discipline of religion. It is the remembrance of his good deed which awakens our esteem and love.
3. It is supposed that the old man has been a useful member of society. To those insignificant beings who have contributed nothing to the benefit of mankind we owe, when they arrive at old age, not honour, but pity.
II. That honour is due to the old man who is found in the way of righteousness.
1. He is a man, the sincerity of whose religion is placed beyond suspicion by the long trial which it has sustained.
2. He is a man who, through Divine assistance, has fulfilled the end of his creation.
3. He is a man who is qualified, by the wisdom which he has acquired, to be the instructor and guide of his inferiors in years.
4. He is a man who stands high in the favour of God.
5. He is a man who is about to receive the reward of his labours. (John Dick, D.D.)
The glory of aged piety
1. That righteousness is conducive to old age. This is a fact sustained both by philosophy and history.
2. That piety is conducive to honour.
I. It is the glory of spiritual ripeness. There is something glorious in maturation. The seed ripened into an autumnal crop, the youth ripened into mature manhood, the student ripened into the accomplished scholar, are all objects of admiration. In an old saint there is a truly glorious ripeness. There you have all the seeds of truth and holiness as sown by holy teachers, cultured by experience, fostered by the sunbeam and the showers of God, tried and strengthened in their roots by the storms of adversity, hanging in rich clusters on the boughs ready to be gathered in. “Thou shalt come to thy grave in a full age, like as a shock of corn cometh in in his season” (Job 5:26).
II. It is the glory of spiritual command. Even Egypt’s proud despot bowed before it. “And Joseph brought in Jacob his father and set him before Pharaoh, and Jacob blessed Pharaoh” (Genesis 47:7-10). Samuel was an old saint when he died (1 Samuel 25:1; 2 Chronicles 24:15-16).
III. It is the glory of spiritual prospects. “Now lettest Thou Thy servant depart in peace,” etc. We conclude with the utterance of a modern author: “As ripe fruit is sweeter than green fruit, so is age sweeter than youth, provided the youth were grafted into Christ. As harvest-time is a brighter time than seed-time, so is age brighter than youth; that is, if youth were a seed-time for good. As the completion of a work is more glorious than the beginning, so is age more glorious than youth; that is, if the foundation of the work of God were laid in youth. As sailing into port is happier than the voyage, so is age happier than youth; that is, when the voyage from youth is made with Christ at the helm.” (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The old age of the righteous, honourable
This is a just aphorism and beautifully expressed. Old age is, in a figurative and poetical manner, described by one of its concomitants, and by one which does not directly imply any of its infirmities, but rather is in its very appearance venerable.
I. The old age of the virtuous is honourable on account of the life which has preceded it. It is the termination of a wise, a well-spent, and a useful life. Such a life reflects great glory on the person who has accomplished it.
1. In a religious and virtuous old man we behold one who has long been exposed to the temptations of the world and has overcome them.
2. A virtuous old age is the termination of a life which has been filled up with worthy and useful actions.
II. The old age of the virtuous is honourable in itself.
1. The character which a pious and virtuous old person exhibits to our view is that of goodness, genuine, improved, and useful; of all characters the most respectable. This character was acquired by the conduct of the whole life, and therefore naturally turns our eye backward to its course; but when we consider it as now possessed in its maturity, and actuating the aged person in all his motions, it is, in itself, and without regard to the life which preceded it, a glorious ornament.
2. In old age virtue is naturally accompanied by wisdom and prudence, derived from long experience.
III. The old age of good men is honourable in respect of the prospects which attend it. These are the principal causes of that firmness and cheerfulness under their infirmities which procures them reverence; and these reflect honour upon them in other ways. Old age is the termination of this mortal life; but to good men it is the immediate prelude to immortality. A person who early began to follow holiness, and has persisted in it to an advanced age, is ripe for the glory and happiness of heaven. His hoary head is a natural emblem and the direct forerunner of that everlasting crown which he is ready to receive. Practical reflections:
1. This subject gives us a striking view of the excellence of religion, of the importance of true goodness, fit to recommend it to our love and to engage us in the practice of it. It alone can preserve us innocent and blameless in our younger and gayer days and render us useful in our maturity.
2. It instructs the young in the duty which they owe to their elders. Their years give them superiority, their experience gives them prudence, and, if they have exercised themselves unto godliness, the length of their exercise has rendered them proficients in holiness: these are all natural motives to respect, esteem, and honour. The subject of this discourse suggests to the young instructions likewise of a more extensive nature; it urges them to begin early a religious and holy life. Would you establish your claim to honour when you shall arrive at old age? Be good betimes: begin early, and persist steadily.
3. In the subject of this discourse the old are particularly interested. Are any of you, ye aged, yet strangers to the way of righteousness? Your hoary head is your disgrace. At every age vice is the greatest folly, for at every age men may be hurried in a moment to suffer the punishment of vice; but in old age vice is perfect madness, for the hoary sinner must quickly be summoned to his doom. How dreadfully dangerous is your state! (Alex. Gerard, D.D.)
I. Its characteristics.
1. Established faith.
(1) His saving trust is perfected.
(2) His theological convictions are consolidated.
2. Beautiful spirit.
3. Continued usefulness.
II. Its glory.
1. The glory of rich experience. Has learnt among other lessons--
(1) To believe in the love of God in spite of all contrary appearances.
(2) To always do right irrespective of possible consequences.
(3) To be kind to all, but to place confidence only in the select few.
(4) To sit loose to earthly possessions.
(5) To receive advice, but act with an independent judgment.
(6) To seek right conclusions, uninfluenced by conventional notions.
(7) To put the best probable construction on doubtful actions.
(8) To make allowances for the infirmities of others.
2. The glory of pleasing memories.
(1) Memories of blessings thankfully received.
(2) Memories of work faithfully done.
3. The glory of deserved honour.
4. The glory of thrilling hopes.
(1) Hope of a happy departure from earth.
(2) Hope of a blessed existence in paradise to the end of time.
(3) Hope of a glorious resurrection to eternal life. (T. Baron.)
He that is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city.
I. What is it to rule the spirit? Spirit is used sometimes for the thoughts of the mind, the passions of the heart, the emotions of sense, phantoms of imagination, and illusions of concupiscence. To rule the spirit is never to suffer one’s self to be prejudiced by false ideas, always to see things in their true point of view, to regulate our hatred and our love, our desires and our inactivity, exactly according to the knowledge we have obtained after mature deliberation that objects are worthy of our esteem or deserve our aversion that they are worth obtaining or proper to be neglected. Consider man--
1. In regard to his natural dispositions. Man finds himself the slave of his heart, instead of being the master of it. He finds himself indisposed to truth and virtue, and conciliatory to vice and falsehood. Who does not feel in himself and observe in others a resistance to the practice of virtue? By virtue understand an universal disposition of an intelligent soul to devote itself to order, and to regulate its conduct as order requires. To avoid vice is to desist from everything contrary to order, from slander and anger, from indolence and voluptuousness, and so on. We bring into the world propensities hostile and fatal to such obligations. Some of these are in the body, and some are in the mind. As we feel in our constitution obstacles to virtue and propensities to vice, so we perceive also inclinations to error and obstacles to truth. Every vice, every irregular passion, includes this error, that a man who gratifies his passion is happier than he who restrains and moderates it. The disposition of mind indicated by the term “ruling the spirit” supposes labour, constraint, and exercise. A man who would rule his spirit must recreate himself.
2. In regard to surrounding objects. Society is composed of many enemies, who seem to be taking pains to increase those difficulties which our natural dispositions oppose against truth and virtue. Everywhere around us are false judgments, errors, mistakes, and preju-dices--prejudices of birth, education, country, religion, friendship, trade or profession, and of fortune. What efforts must a man make to hold his soul in perpetual equilibrium, to maintain himself against so many prejudices! As the men around us fascinate us by their errors, so they decoy us into vice by their example. To resist example we must incessantly oppose those natural inclinations which urge us to imitation. To resist example we must love virtue for virtue’s sake.
3. In regard to the habits which man has contracted. Most men have done more acts of vice than of virtue; consequently we contribute by our way of living to join to the depravity of nature that which comes from exercise and habit. What a task, when we endeavour to prevent the return of ideas which for many years our minds have revolved!
II. Prove the truth of the statement of the text. By one who takes a city Solomon means a man who lives upon victories and conquests--a hero in the world’s sense. He that ruleth his spirit discovers more fortitude, more magnanimity, and more courage. Compare the worldly with the Christian hero in four particulars.
1. The motives which animate them.
2. The exploits they perform.
3. The enemies they attack.
4. The rewards they obtain.
The enemy whom the Christian combats is his own heart; for he is required to turn his arms against himself. He must actually deny himself. Let us religiously abide by our principle. The duty of an intelligent soul is to adhere to truth, and to practise virtue. We are born with a disinclination to both. Let us not be dismayed with the greatness of the task of ruling our spirit. “Greater is He that is in us, than he that is in the world.” Grace comes to the aid of nature. Prayer gains strength by exercise. The passions, after having been tyrants, become slaves in their turn. The danger and pain of battle vanish when the eyes get sight of conquest. How inconceivably beautiful is victory then! (J. Saurin.)
Self-respect and self-control
Above all conquests of states and cities is the greater conquest of self. Greater is the man who conquers himself, who rules his own spirit, and brings his whole being under the supremacy of will, than he who takes a city--greater in his character, deeds, results. The outcome of a life depends on the answer to two questions--what a man thinks of himself; what he does with himself. The two closely-related and all essential conditions of genuine manhood are self-respect and self-control.
I. Self-respect involves a sense of the dignity which belongs to humanity: a sense of one’s individuality, and the consequent maintenance of one’s selfhood. Distinction, in such a world as this, is gained, not by following the multitude, but by standing aside in your own personality while the vulgar crowd sweep by. As a reason for conduct, “They all do it” is a cheap and silly excuse. There comes with a sense of dignity and individuality an insight into the significance of a man’s life, and an overmastering thought of its measureless responsibilities, and a full impression of the sacredness of life. There is too much that is great and sacred in man’s nature and destiny to permit him to misuse a life so richly endowed. Such self-respect is in no way self-conceit.
II. Self-control, or self-government. If such is our being, there must be some strong power to preside over it. “I must be my own master,” the self-respecting man says. Then he will want to know the scope of the government to be maintained. It must seek a man’s own highest interests, the real interests of others, and the honour of God; and it must fulfil all obligations arising from this highest of relationships. This a first law: nothing deleterious to character--either of our own or that of another--shall ever be permitted. But true self-government does not stop with self-restraint. It demands the right exercise of every power to the fullest measure of ability. It involves the highest self-development, and the largest happiness to others.
III. The fruits of self-respect and self-government.
1. All the higher parts of a man’s being are ennobled and given their rightful sway; all the lower are rightly held in subjection. The conscience becomes supreme. All the moral powers are in full development and play. The will is chief executive, and God is an active power, a real factor in practical life. The entire man is at his best.
2. Thus is realised the proper end of all true education.
3. This quality of self-control pre-eminently prepares us for great emergencies. Self-respect is the early form in which greatness appears; it is our practical perception of the Deity in man.
“Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control,
These three alone, lead life to sovereign power.”
(C. H. Payne, D.D., LL.D.)
On the government of the temper
Important is an early discipline of the passions, and a steady attention to the government of our conduct. Such are the frailties and imperfections of man, that even his virtues are often blended with corresponding vices, and are always united with errors congenial to them. Previous to the cultivation of good dispositions is the duty of guarding against evil ones. The evil now dealt with is what self-love would be content to call a foible, or a mere natural infirmity; but religion always associates it with folly and condemns it as sin. I mean a peevish temper and an irritable disposition. Consider this--
I. As the source of continual unhappiness to ourselves and others. The ills and vexations of life are of themselves sufficiently numerous, without cherishing such dispositions in our own bosoms as are calculated to give them additional violence. The best tempers will indeed sometimes be ruffled. And the good cannot always resist the encroachments of passion. But the passionate man magnifies every trifle that thwarts him into a real evil. But no one ever harboured in his bosom the gloomy passions of anger, hatred, and revenge, without feeling a pang that corroded his own heart, while he wished to disturb the peace of others. Repeated hours of vexation and sorrow, which sprang wholly from internal disorder or irritable passions, has led some, from mere self-love, to inure their minds to discipline at a more advanced season of life. Such are the effects of an irascible temper, that the dearest blessings and the most rational satisfactions which this life can afford are often lost by it. However careful we may be in disciplining our own minds, we cannot hope to live secure against the wild and unprovoked attacks of anger, or the hourly vexations of peevishness. And those who are contented to live under the loose dominion of the passions must be in constant fear of saying or doing something today which they may be truly ashamed of to-morrow. And the passionate man may justly apprehend dreadful consequences. He is in danger of every species of injustice and every degree of guilt. The temper to evil is cherished within his own breast.
II. The peevish temper is incompatible with that frame of mind which the gospel of Christ teaches and requires us to cultivate. Our Lord requires of His disciples a holy disposition, which may well be regarded as the good ground in which the seed of every virtue will grow up to perfection. And He requires of us also works of charity and neighbourly love, mutual forbearance, long-suffering, and steady perseverance in the course of every duty. The efficacy of piety and prayer will, in a great measure, be destroyed by an evil disposition. We must cultivate habits of religion as well as of virtue. (J. Hewlett, B.D.)
The government of our passions, especially anger
The text may be resolved into this proposition--that the private rule or government over our passions is far more honourable than any other rule or dominion whatever. The passion of anger is specially mentioned in the text. The excellency of dominion over this passion appears--
1. Because it carries us to a nearer resemblance of the Divine nature than any other power or authority. The great excellency of our natures, or our likeness and conformity to God, does not consist in any one single perfection, but requires a great variety to complete it. Those are the noblest perfections that most improve and better the temper of our minds. The right temper of our minds depends on the regularity of our passions. A just government over these is therefore a much greater perfection than might and power. The great glory of God Himself is that His eternal mind is always acted by eternal reason, without passion or resentment. He delights and glories in this, that He is slow to anger.
2. Because it gives us a reputation of greater wisdom and understanding. Solomon always links together a man of temper and a man of understanding. Take one branch of understanding, that which goes by the name of prudence and discretion. Prudence, as a moral virtue, is wholly employed about the private conduct and government of our own selves. To exercise rule over others is more of an art and policy than a moral virtue. There is nothing that deserves the name of prudence but what relates to a man’s self, and the private economy within himself. A wise man is the greatest self-lover, in a true sense, and prudence as well as charity begins at home. No man can be fitted to command others that never made the experiment of governing himself. The art of quieting our spirits is the noblest piece of wisdom in relation to our own selves.
3. Because it bespeaks more true courage and bravery than any other conquest. It is the true fortitude and bravery of the mind to quell those passions that are enemies to our reason. A fierce, ungovernable temper only shows the greatness of a man’s passion, not the greatness of his mind. The greatness of a man’s mind as much consists in the command over its passions as that of a prince in the command over his subjects. So great is the bravery of conquering one single passion, it leaves always an honourable impression of a great mind.
4. Because it affords the truest freedom and liberty. If the right notion of human liberty were an entire exemption from the will of a Superior, the advantages of liberty would lie on the side of might and power. But this account of liberty is false. By liberty we mean that inward freedom and vigour of mind that consist in the absolute command over its own acts; in the free and undisturbed exercise of its powers. This implies the free exercise of our reason, the ruling of our spirits, and the subjection of our passions. Where there is the most perfect reason, there is the most perfect liberty. It is thought by some that those have the best pretensions to liberty that are left absolutely at large, and nowise confined to the commands of reason. But that is the idea of human passions, not of human reason. Where is there any such thing as human liberty without the observance of rules and laws?
5. Because it gives us more ease and quiet. Our passions naturally break our repose and quiet. There is some trouble and difficulty in conquering a passion, but there is infinitely greater in being a slave to it. Whether we are concerned in bearing the evils or enjoying the good things of this world, we find a mighty difference in point of ease and quiet betwixt the conduct of our reason and the misgovernment of our passions. The main spring of the passion of anger is an opinion of our being slighted and despised, or a fancy of some indignity that is offered to us. Now this fancy and opinion, just like jealousy, is always tormenting. Every imaginary slight, every groundless and trifling accident, will soon be made a fresh occasion of trouble and disquiet. How much it makes for the ease and quiet of our minds to keep them within the bounds of reason and discretion! In conclusion, enforce this advice, of being “slow to anger,” and of “ruling our spirits.” Nothing better recommends the Christian religion than this, that it is most fitted and accommodated for the sweetening men’s tempers, and for taking off the edge and keenness of their spirits. It not only provides rules, but also sufficiency of grace for carrying them out. (George Rouse, D.D.)
The essentials of self-control
The records of the past are replete with the triumphs of human genius. In all lands monuments are the marks of greatness. To be recorded in history, to be eulogised in panegyric, is the dream of this world’s ambition. But what shall we say to him who has gained the mastery of himself? What Phidias shall rear for him the temple of his renown? Only God is the competent eulogist of such a man. Three things essential to self-mastery--self-knowledge, self-denial, and self-consecration. Self-control is not self-destruction. All the great appetites and passions of our natures were given for a beneficent purpose, and when gratified within the limitations of law, the gratification is as pure as a saint’s prayer or an angel’s song. There is no sin in temptation. The sin comes in yielding to temptation. Temptation is the evidence of virtue. Totally depraved spirits are never tempted. Self-mastery is the harmonious action of sensibilities, of all our mental appreciations, of all our physical functions, in harmony with the purpose for which they were created. There is an old saying in the Church that “vice is the excess of virtue.” That which is holy in itself becomes unholy by transcending the law of limitations.
1. Each one of us must sit in judgment upon his own temperament. How shall we gain the necessary self-knowledge? Science will throw light upon your path, but you may see yourself in this precious book photographed in pen-portraiture. The Divine illumination it gives will be more than a Mentor, it will be a Divine companion suggesting thoughts, awakening desires, creating motives, exalting purposes.
2. Indispensable to self-mastery is self-denial. This is of two kinds--the refusal to do those things which are prohibited in the Divine law; the magnanimity of self-abnegation for the sake of, and service of, others. This is the higher self-denial. A man should deny himself of what is lawful to him, that he may be a benefactor of mankind.
3. Most important of all is self-consecration. Conscious weakness is more often an element of real strength and victory than conscious power, for weakness may lean on the strength of God. You will never get this self-mastery otherwise than here in the reading of the Scripture. I reject everything except the Divine Saviour, who has power to invest me with power to master every passion and every appetite, and then to refine all my sensibilities, and give tone and character to my conversation, and spirit to all my life. (Bp. Newman, U.S.A.)
Book of Proverbs is the best of all manuals for the formation of a well-balanced mind. We go to this book, not so much for full and definite statements of the distinguishing doctrines of revealed religion, as for those wise and prudential canons whereby we may reform extravagance, prune down luxuriance, and combine the whole variety of traits and qualities into a harmonious and beautiful unity. Here in this text is described and recommended a certain kind of temper which should be possessed and cherished by the people of God.
1. Describe this temper. It is Christian moderation. St. Paul writes, “Let your moderation be known unto all men.” He who ruleth his spirit is characterised by sobriety and equanimity. He is never driven to extremes in any direction. A well-poised and symmetrical character floated, as an unattainable ideal, before the minds of the better pagan philosophers. This is the famous “temperance” of Plato and Aristotle.
II. Some of the obstacles that oppose the formation of a Christian sobriety and moderation.
1. It is opposed to the appetites and passions of the body. It is one of the effects of the apostasy, that human nature is corrupted on the physical side of it, as well as upon the mental and moral sides. The bodily appetites are very different now from what they would have been had man remained in his original and holy condition.
2. Christian sobriety and moderation meets with an obstacle in man’s disordered mental nature. How lawless and ungoverned is the human imagination! It is in some respects easier to control the physical appetites than to rule an inflamed and extravagant fancy. And a man’s purely intellectual conclusions and convictions may be so one-sided and extreme as to spoil his temper. Fanaticism in every age furnishes examples of this.
III. The true source of Christian temperance and moderation. It must have its root in love. The secret of such an even temper is charity. No man can have this large-minded, comprehensive, and blessed equilibrium who does not love God supremely, and his neighbour as himself. Our subject, therefore, teaches the necessity of the new birth. There may be outward self-control without any inward self-improvement. Without a change of heart, there is nothing but the austere and ungenial attempt of a moralist to perform a repulsive task. Love--holy and heavenly charity--must be generated, and then under its spontaneous and happy impulse, it will be comparatively easy to rectify the remaining corruption, and repress the lingering excesses and extremes of appetite and passion. (G. T. Shedd, D.D.)
The greatness of self-rule
“For myself I lay no claim to any exceptional fineness of nature. But I say that, beginning life as a rough, ill-educated, impatient man, I have found my schooling in these very African experiences I have learned by actual stress of imminent danger that self-control is more indispensable than gunpowder, and that persistent self-control is impossible without real, heartfelt sympathy.” (H. M. Stanley.)
The ruling of the spirit
The things which cost a man the greatest effort and the hardest work may be done with no bodily exertion at all; as a man sits in his easy chair with his eyes shut. The hardest of all work is that which puts the soul upon the stretch; there is no wear like the wear of a heart and brain. The text points out to us a certain work, very difficult to do, very noble when done, which yet is done with so little outward appearance and physical effort that some might perhaps fancy that it is no work at all. Every one who has sought to believe in the Saviour, and to lead a Christian life, must have learned by experience how great a part of the work of an immortal being is mental work, is work that makes no bodily show. I am not thinking of merely intellectual effort; I am thinking of the exertion of the whole spiritual nature. Our entire spiritual life is, in one sense, a “ruling of our spirit.” The idea of unseen exertions, of spiritual strivings and efforts, is one with which all believers are perfectly familiar. To rule our spirit rightly is a difficult thing, and a thing from doing which great and valuable results are to follow. This implies that within the heart of man are many unruly tendencies. There is a great deal in every human soul that needs to be kept down. If man’s spirit were always ready to do right, it would need no ruling, or the ruling would be a very easy thing. But as it is, it is very difficult. What are the things about our spiritual nature that stand especially in need of ruling? There are impulses to think and feel wrong, and impulses to do wrong. The first of these takes in little impulses, which to resist is no more than matter of worldly prudence, as well as grander temptations, to resist which is of the very essence of religion. It is a noble thing to hold the tendency of anger in check, whether it manifest itself in fretfulness, or in sullenness, or in violent outbursts of passion. To give way to little spurts of petulance, or fretfulness, or general ill-temper is a symptom that something is amiss in your Christian character. The sullen humours or peevish outbursts of a professing Christian are not small matters, if they go to fix in the mind of the young a disagreeable and painful idea of what Christianity and Christian people are. Little duties and little temptations make up, for most of us, the sum of human life. Consider the tendency, in most hearts, to discontent with the allotments of God’s providence; to envy and jealousy as regards those of our fellow-creatures who are more favoured and fortunate than we. We should rule our spirit so as to become reconciled to painful things, to acquiescence in mortification and disappointment when they come; and to feel rightly towards people to whom we are disposed to feel unkindly and bitterly. In all professions and occupations there is competition, and there will be temptation to envy, jealousy, and detraction, as regards a man’s competitors. That ruling of thee spirit which is needful in Christianity to meet disappointment brings out the best and noblest qualities that can be found in man. Then there is the tendency to procrastination as to our spiritual interests. Many a soul has dated its ruin to yielding to an impulse that ought to have been resolutely put down, to postponing till to-morrow a work which should have been done to-day. (A. K. H. Boyd.)
Ruling the spirit the test of greatness
Ruling the spirit is better than outward conquest, because--
I. The spirit within a man is itself of more worth than any external conquests.
1. Its inherent excellence. Life in a single individual endowed with intellectuality, conscience and aesthetic feeling, hope, etc., is of more value than any number or extent of soulless possessions: a single spirit outweighs the material globe.
2. It is the object of God’s love. He is interested in things, but loves spirits.
3. It is immortal. Empires gone; cities desolate; all else but spirits passing away.
II. It reqiures more personal strength to rule one’s own spirit than to make outward conquest. The outward conquest is through the machinery of circumstance; the inner by one’s own resources.
III. Self-conquest is better than secular, because it is accomplished through a higher process of warfare, It drills not with arms, but with virtues. Its manual consists in “whatsoever things are honest, just, pure, lovely, of good report.” The fight itself pays independently of the promised results. What the control of one’s spirit involves.
1. The independent ordering of one’s own words and actions. Few are able to determine within themselves what shall be the outcome of their lives.
2. Back of this, self-control involves not only the ordering of one’s own conduct, but also the deliberate moulding of one’s desires and purposes in accordance with one’s best judgment. Reason must check or encourage the feelings.
3. And back of this, self-control involves the deliberate determination of one’s own judgment in the light of evidence.
It rigidly excludes prejudice. What helps have we for the control of our own spirits?
1. The Holy Spirit: an impartation of peace, purity, and a sound mind.
2. The sense of the presence of Christ: the influence of the knowledge that the greatest and holiest of beings is watching and encouraging us.
3. Engrossment with the great things of God: all life lifted above the plane of its own littleness; meditating the eternal, the spiritual, the mighty laws of the glorious kingdom; and thus unaffected by temporary influences, as the stars are unaffected by the winds.
4. Charity in the heart: a loving man unjostled by enmities, envies, the pinches of pride; an essential serenity. (Homiletic Review.)
Do not people often say to us, “Conquer yourself “? Can anybody conquer himself? God can conquer him! “Better.” Why is a person who conquers himself “better” than a general who takes a city?
1. He is a greater hero; he does a more difficult thing--a nobler deed. Shall I tell you why it is so difficult? Because God meant it to be difficult. When Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, they were friends with the devil. But God said, in great mercy, “You shall not always be friends. I will put enmity between you.” And when boys or girls begin to try to conquer themselves, they find the “enmity”: they find what a hard thing it is to fight against their sins.
2. And the reason why it is so difficult to conquer any bad habit is because there are all sorts of powers fighting with that fault against you.
3. It is not only a braver but a happier thing to conquer one’s self than to “take a city.” There is happiness in one’s conscience if one succeeds in conquering something that is naughty; and there is no happiness like it in the world. If you take cities it will not make you happy. When Alexander the Great took nearly all the cities in the world, he sat down crying, because he could not find more worlds to take. But if you try to do good, and gradually conquer your own besetting sin, you will feel within such a peace as no words can describe !
4. Now, there is another thing--it is not only braver and happier, but something better still--it pleases God. That must be best. Now, the reason why it pleases God so much for you to conquer your sins is because you will be growing like Jesus Christ. (J. Vaughan, M.A.)
The ruling of the spirit
You remember the story of “Sindbad the Sailor”: how the Old Man of the Sea, when he got Sindbad to lift him up in pity for his infirmities, sat astride upon his shoulders, clinging closely to the poor man wherever he went, compelling him to do whatever he wanted until his life became a burden to him. So the lower nature when it gets the better of the higher makes it its slave and compels it to do its bidding, until the degrading bondage becomes so irksome that one would give anything to throw it off. Now, you are all born with a sinful nature. You inherit a tendency to sin. God only can give you power to rule your spirit, and through your ruling spirit to rule your whole body and life. God only can crown the king in you again and make him master of all your unruly passions and rebellious desires. You can reign as kings over yourselves, only in subjection to Him. Now, it is to be feared that in every one’s nature there is a devil’s corner; that while strict in some points you are apt to be lax in others, and to compound for sins that you love by condemning sins that you do not care for. You want to be considered good, while you sacrifice a part of your nature to evil. But this is a terrible delusion. If a corner of that kind is allowed to remain waste and uncared for in your hearts it will assuredly corrupt the whole of your nature.
1. The very first thing you have to do in ruling your own spirit is to commit your spirit to God. That is what David did; that is what Jesus did. You are apt to think that you commit your spirit to God only when you die and give up the breath of your body. But you can do that now in your youth, in your health and strength. You will have on your side the strength of Omnipotence. God will help you to subdue every rebellious attempt your spirit makes to escape from its blessed yoke. You can defy the devil in the name of the righteous Lord who claims you. I remember when sailing one day in a steamer, the captain’s son, a bright little fellow of five or six years of age, was on board and wanted to take the place of the man at the helm. The good-natured steersman, to humour him, put the spoke of the wheel into his little hand, which was hardly able to grasp it. But he was careful at the same time to put his own big hand on the child’s tiny fingers, and took a firm hold and moved the wheel in the right direction. And the boy was in high glee, imagining that he himself was steering the huge steamer. Now, so God deals with you. He puts His almighty hand on your feeble hand when you are ruling your own spirit, and makes His strength perfect in your weakness.
2. Now, I want you to rule your spirit, not under the influence of fear, but under the influence of love. He who asks you to do this, who gives you strength to do it, rules you in love.
3. And is it not a happy thing to rule your own spirit under God? You have seen a piece of complicated machinery with all the cog-wheels fitting into each other, and all set going and controlled by one central force. How smoothly the machine worked toward the one good result! In a model city where every one obeyed the governor and did his own work, and the good of each was the good of all, how pleasant would life be! And so when the spirit in each one of you is ruled by the love of God, by the supreme desire to do His will, your condition is a truly happy one. You are so made that all your faculties and powers, when working in their just relations, make up the most complete unity in the universe, the image of the very unity of God. Better far is it to rule your spirit and produce this blessed unity than to conquer the grandest city in the world. The conqueror of a city overcomes it by force and rules it by fear. He enters it against the wish of its inhabitants, and there is disorder and bloodshed, fire and sword; and if he succeeds in producing order it is all on the surface--beneath, in the hearts of the people, there are hatred and the desire for revenge. But if you rule your own spirit, then all your powers fall into their right order, and all that is within you willingly obeys the control of the spirit. (H. Macmillan, D.D.)
The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.
All contingencies under the direction of God’s providence
I. Consider the result of a “lot” in reference to men. Why suspend the decision of some dubious case upon it? It implies something future, and something contingent. It is something absolutely out of the reach of man’s knowledge, and equally out of reach of his power. A contingent event baffles man’s knowledge and evades his power.
II. Consider the result of a lot in respect of God. All contingencies are comprehended by a certain Divine knowledge, and governed by as certain and steady a providence. God directs the greatest casualties under His providence to certain ends, in reference to societies and to particular persons. In the latter case, touching their lives, their health, their reputation, their friendships, and their employments or preferments. Since the interest of governments and nations, of princes and private persons, notwithstanding all the contrivance and power that human nature can exert about them, remain so wholly contingent, as to us, surely all the reason of mankind cannot suggest any solid ground of satisfaction, but in making that God our friend who is the sole and absolute disposer of all these things, and in carrying a conscience so clear towards Him as may encourage us with confidence to cast ourselves upon Him, and in all casualties still to promise ourselves the best events from His providence, to whom nothing is casual, who constantly wills the truest happiness of those that trust in Him, and works all things according to the counsel of that blessed will. (R. South.)
Grounds and limitations of human responsibility
Define the provinces of human and Divine agency. Our duty is commensurate with our power. We are responsible for the moral character of what is done just so far as it depends upon ourselves. Within the circle where man has the power to will and to do of his own pleasure is the field of human agency. Here man is held responsible. All beyond this province of human responsibility is done by the power of God. This thought of Divine providence is the most consoling and inspiring that ever visits the heart, though it cannot give joy to the heart where it is not welcomed. Our knowledge of human and Divine agency is constantly extending. We are continually opening upon new views, which show us that many things which are called acts of God come within the sphere of our own responsibility, and are, in truth, our own actions springing from our own doing or our own neglect; and the consequences of them we must expect to bear. Moreover, the arts and improvements of civil life are continually investing men with new powers, and given him a mastery over nature which in former days he never dreamed of possessing. Then is not the sphere of Divine providence getting lessened? Nay, the more we feel our own responsibility, the more shall we recognise the agency of Heaven in all things. What is it we adore in the providence of God? It is its vast reach of vision, and its ever steadfastly pressing on to that which is right. (W. B. O. Peabody.)
The general doctrine of providence derives support from sources independent of Divine revelation. It is another term for the government of God, by which all events are made to concur with His wise and holy purposes. Look at providence--
1. In the mode of its operations.
2. In the vastness of its range.
3. In the punishment of the wicked.
4. In its aspect on the Church.
The doctrine of Divine providence is full of consolation. All must be right when God controls and reigns over all. (John George.)
God’s providence even in trifles
God’s providence may be seen not only in the whirlwind and the hurricane, the lightning and the storm, but also in the very least of natural manifestations. Surely, without unduly pressing our text, we may bring forward a familiar illustration of the way in which even trifles, as man calls them, have been made to work out mighty results. Take, for instance, the discovery of the laws of gravitation, and the great results in which that discovery has issued: how it opened the way to the understanding of the courses of the heavenly bodies; how the orbits of the planets, and their distances, and their relative positions at various periods came to be clearly defined; the influence of these discoveries on the laws of navigation, and the consequent facilities for communication between places separated by thousands of miles upon the ocean. We are daily in the enjoyment of the conveniences and luxuries which spring from these discoveries. We may be ignorant of the laws which have been deduced, or even of the practical applications of these laws; of their results in adding to our comforts we cannot be ignorant. Now, is it too much to say that these discoveries are the result of God’s providential government? But, if this be granted, we cannot stop here; it follows that the means by which this knowledge was acquired were not beyond the Divine control; nay, rather were subservient to it, and governed by it. And so, at last, we see by manifest logical conclusion that the finger of God may be traced even in that trifle, as it might have been called, which led the wise man’s mind to excogitate the mysteries among which we live. And whether we endeavour to trace the working of the finger of God in the intricacies of the human mind, or in the external influences which affect the mind, or in the coincidences by which great events are deduced from small beginnings, yet in each alike we may say, and say with reason, “It is the Lord’s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes.” Apply this lesson in another way, to the case of sickness--for here, again, we may attain to very practical results. Now, I apprehend that the generality of men do certainly look upon sickness as a casualty--a mere matter of accident or chance. If you were to question them strictly you might at last extract from them in general terms a confession that God is the author of life or death, of health or sickness; but it has no practical effect. It is not a really powerful religious principle, for they are ever speaking of proximate causes, and not of the great First Cause. Take now a particular case, in part illustrative of my meaning; it shall be the case of the blind man, recorded in St. John 9:1-41. I adduce this case to illustrate the general principle that sickness cometh not by chance, but by God’s will and permission, and that its results are known by God, and that it comes to accomplish the purpose for which He hath sent it. Again, the same order and regularity are observable in the kingdom of grace. All the profit and advantage which men receive from the ministry of the Word and Sacraments is of God. An eloquent sermon may be delivered, but the preacher cannot tell whose heart it may reach or whose mind it may affect. The lot is cast, as it were, into the lap; the preacher knoweth not the issue thereof, for the whole disposing of it is of the Lord. Now, I think that these considerations may have a very practical effect upon us; they touch our every-day life; they console us in failure, when failure results from no lack of diligence on our part; they humble us in success. But does this lead us to believe in any doctrines like those of the fatalists? By no means. Every man is a free agent, working out for himself future weal or woe as he will. His mind is fixed in a certain course, and his thoughts tend to that direction. God often checks him if he is going astray, and pleads with him, and throws hindrances in the paths which lead to evil. And though a man’s course of life may be evil, yet there are influences which are running counter to that evil course, and checking him, and compelling him to pause and think. And why is this--but because, though the lot be cast into the lap, yet the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord? (W. S. Simpson, M.A.)
The Lord’s disposing
After all, what silly and short-sighted children we are! Only spelling out the alphabet in God’s infant school, and yet aspiring to a seat in His cabinet! How differently our life-stories will read when we have a chance to correct them in the clear light of heaven! Then we shall discover under the head of “Accidents” there was written as in invisible ink, “The lot is cast into the lap, but the disposing thereof is of the Lord.” On the page that we had surrounded with black lines, and inscribed it “Obituaries,” we shall see how distinctly a Divine finger has written, “Whom I love I chasten.” (Theodore L. Cuyler.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Proverbs 16". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29