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A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches.
On good character, or general esteem of mankind
While our Maker has left us greatly in the dark about unimportant and disputable matters, He has given plain directions concerning the performance of our duty. There is nothing more closely connected with virtue and happiness than reputation. Throughout the Word of God we are excited by examples, as well as by precepts, to aim diligently at obtaining a good report.
I. The wrongness of having too little concern about our reputation. There are those who affect indifference to what a silly or malicious world may think or say of them. They say that avoiding censure is impossible. It is true that sometimes innocent and prudent persons may fall under very cruel imputations; but they rarely continue under them. Professing to despise the ill opinion of mankind creates a shrewd suspicion that we have deserved it. Innocent persons must distinguish themselves by a constant, though unaffected, attention to their reputation. A good name is what a bad person cannot secure. And therefore you who can should on no account fail of doing it. The judgment of others concerning us deserves respect. Preservation of mutual esteem makes persons amiable to each other. Persons who care not what they are thought are in a very likely way not to care what they do. Contempt of reputation is contrary to our worldly interests. An eminently fair character prepossesses everybody in favour of him who bears it, engages friendly treatment, begets trust and confidence, gives credit and weight. Such persons are always sought after and employed. The feeling of being esteemed is one of the joyfullest feelings in the heart of man. Another consideration is, that though offenders often return completely to their duty, it is but seldom and imperfectly that they ever regain their characters when once forfeited.
II. The wrongness of showing an over-regard to our reputation. Many think a fair appearance is all they want. Many think that if they are guilty of nothing which the world thinks enormous, they are quite as good as they need be. A worse case of immoderate regard to our reputation is when, to raise or preserve it, we transgress our duty. The esteem of the worthless is very ill-purchased at the price of becoming like them. The most fatal consequences daily proceed from persons being led by the folly of others rather than their own good sense and that of their discreeter and more experienced friends. Frequently prejudices of education, worldly interest, vehemence of temper, hurry men into wrong-doing. Often the sole inducement is, that if they should stop short their friends would look coldly upon them, and think meanly of them, and they cannot bear the reproach of not having been true to their side or party. In preferring the good opinion of others to their own conscience, persons who have been guilty of some folly or sin will be guilty of almost anything to cover it rather than expose themselves. Another bad way of aiming at reputation is, when we demolish that of others to raise our own, and build it on the ruins. They who are known to give such treatment generally meet, as they well deserve, with a double share of it. Candour towards all of whom we speak is the true art of obtaining it towards ourselves. Besides those who are led into any of these sins by an undue fondness for reputation, they also are blamable who allow it to give them too much uneasiness. A good name may be the subject of too much anxiety. Undue solicitude for fame is sure to bring us distress. It is injustice to demand of the world more regard than we have a right to. Persons who claim too much are frequently driven to unfair and even criminal methods of getting their claim allowed. There is not upon earth a more ensnaring temptation than that of too fond a self-complacency. (Abp. Secker.)
The elements of the great and good are not
1. Great wealth, nor--
2. Splendid genius, nor--
I. Modesty is an element.
II. Tenacity of purpose.
III. Mighty reserve power.
IV. Morality and religion. (Homiletic Review.)
A good name should be guarded
Be wondrous wary of your first comportments; get a good name, and be very tender of it afterwards, for it is like the Venice-glass, quickly cracked, never to be mended, though patched it may be. To this purpose, take along with you this fable. It happened that Fire, Water, and Fame went to travel together; they consulted, that if they lost one another, how they might be retrieved, and meet again. Fire said, “Where you see smoke there you shall find me.” Water said, “Where you see marsh and moorish, low ground there you shall find me.” But Fame said, “Take heed how you lose me; for, if you do, you will run a great hazard never to meet me again: there’s no retrieving of me.” (Howell’s “Familiar Letters, 1634.”)
The rich and poor meet together: the Lord is the maker of them all.
The mixture of rich and poor
I. In all civil societies there are rich and there are poor people. This is the unavoidable consequence of the constitution of things. It will appear so if we examine whence ariseth wealth and whence poverty. Riches arise from three causes.
1. The virtues and abilities of men.
2. From the vices of men.
3. From chance or good-fortune; from events towards which the rich man himself contributes little or nothing.
To the same three causes poverty may also be ascribed. Not only nations are necessarily divided into rich and poor, but there must be also a perpetual fluctuation of property, by which the rich becomes poor, and the poor become rich, so that neither state is of a fixed and permanent nature. The poor will always be far more numerous than the rich. Whilst there is human liberty, whilst there are virtues and vices, whilst there are vicissitudes of fortune and revolutions of affairs, there must be in all times and places a mixture of high and low, rich and poor. Providence permits it, and in some sense may be said to appoint it, since it results from the nature and constitution of this world.
II. The moral reflection made by Solomon upon this inequality. The Lord is the maker of them all. They have one common parent. In that respect they are equal. If so, there should be no great difference as to real happiness between them. Is there much disparity in point of happiness between the great and the small, the master and the servant, the gentleman and the labourer, the rich and the poor? Superficial observers of human nature and human life will judge without hesitation that the rich have every advantage on their side. But to have honour and authority, unless it be honestly acquired and decently supported, is to be raised to splendid infamy. Power wantonly exercised is the undesirable opportunity of doing mischief. Wealth used for vile purposes, or for no good purposes, can be no real blessing to the master or the hoarder of it. Independency rightly understood is sometimes a blessing, but it is sometimes a calamity. The poor are, or may be, more free from uneasiness than the rich. They have fewer desires, fewer false and artificial wants, more moderate expectations, etc., and these sorts of cares and commotions are no small abatements of human happiness. The poor have usually better health. The extremes either of plenty or of indigence usually occasion various distempers, and shorten the thread of human life. They therefore who are in a middle state between wealth and want should be thankful for their lot, and instead of envying those who ere above them, should consider how many are placed below them. If the whole property and revenue of a country were equally divided amongst the inhabitants, they would be reduced to a state approaching very nearly to poverty. If all the inhabitants of a Christian nation were to live up exactly to the precepts of our Lord and the exhortation of His apostles, excessive wealth and extreme indigence would hardly be found among them. There are three precepts or laws of Christianity which tend directly to remove these extremes; and they are the law of charity, the law of industry, and the law of temperance. (J. Jortin, D.D.)
The ranks of rich and poor
The constitution of things being such that the labour of one man, or the labour of several, is sufficient to procure more necessaries than he or they stand in need of, this immediately gave room for riches to arise in the world, and for men’s acquiring them by honest means. Thus some would acquire greater plenty of necessaries than they had occasion for; and others, by contrary means, or by cross accidents, would be in want of them. A family with more than was wanted for necessaries would soon develop secondary wants, and inventions for the supply of them, the fruits of leisure and ease, came to employ much of men’s time and leisure. Hence a new species of riches came into the world. By and by the superfluities of life took in a vastly larger compass of things than the necessaries of it. Then luxury made its inroad, and all the numerous train of evils its attendants, of which poverty is far from being the worst. If riches had continued to consist only in things necessary or luxurious, this must have embarrassed trade and commerce, and kept riches in the hands of a few. It was agreed to substitute something more lasting and portable, Which should pass everywhere in commerce for real natural riches. Money was to answer for all things. The improvement of trade and commerce has, very happily, enlarged the middle rank of people, who are, in good measure, free from the vices of the highest and the lowest part of mankind. The ranks of rich and poor being thus formed, they meet together--they continue to make up one society. Their mutual want unites them inseparably, but they meet upon a footing of great inequality. The superiority on the one hand, and the independence on the other, are in no sort accidental, but arise necessarily from a settled providential dispensation of things for their common good. This implies duties to each other. The lower rank of mankind go on for the most part in some tract of living, into which they got by direction and example; and to this their understanding and discourse, as well as labour, are greatly confined. Then what influence and power their superiors must have over them! The rich have the power of doing a great deal of good, but this power is given them by way of trust, in order to their keeping down that vice and misery with which the lower people would otherwise be quite overrun. The rich are charged by natural providence, as much as by revealed appointment, with the care of the poor. This is not a burden, but a privilege attached to riches. Observations on public charities:
1. What we have to bestow in charity being a trust, we must satisfy ourselves that we bestow it upon proper objects of charity.
2. Public charities are examples of great influence.
3. All public charities should be regarded as open to counsels of improvement.
4. Our laws and whole constitution, civil and ecclesiastical, go more upon supposition of an equality amongst mankind than the constitution and laws of other countries.
5. Let our charity towards men be exalted into piety towards God, from the serious consideration that we are all His creatures. (Bp. Butler.)
The rich and poor meet together
In the distinction between the rich and the poor there is something not altogether pleasant to the human mind. We are apt to recoil from it. Frequently the dissatisfaction increases as we can discover no just rule for the unequal distribution of riches. The mind of the author of this proverb was led away from the distinctions between these two classes to notice agreements between these classes.
1. There is a substantial agreement between rich and poor in their origin and their situation as they enter the world. They are equally dependent, equally helpless, equally miserable.
2. In their training and preparation for after-life.
3. A value is set upon riches as a means of enjoyment or usefulness. With the rich and poor alike there is a desire for wealth which arises from the hope of making it useful to one’s own.
4. But for cherished erroneous notions, the rich and the poor would act together with more efficiency and more good-will. Public good would be more promoted.
5. Between rich and poor there is a substantial agreement in all the organs of perception and enjoyment. The poor man’s organisation throughout is as perfect as the rich man’s.
6. In the intellectual faculties there is a strong resemblance.
7. And in the original passions of men.
8. They are alike in their natural and equal dependence upon one another. Neither class can dispense with the other and stand independent and alone.
9. There is a nearly equal distribution of the disappointments, vexations, and distresses of life. 10. There is perfect equality among men in their capabilities for religion. (J. S. Spencer, D.D.)
The relative duties of the rich and poor
Nothing is made for itself, or made to terminate in its own being.
I. The foundation of the relative duties of the rich and poor.
1. They have one Creator, who is also the Father of all.
2. They are brought together into the same society or department of being. Society is a Divine constitution, and an important ingredient of happiness. In society mankind exists in different relations to each other. In respect to them the law of dependence, which pervades the whole universe, prevails.
II. What are the relative and reciprocal duties of rich and poor?
1. One duty of the rich is benevolent bestowment; to supply the need of the poor, to aid them in their necessities.
2. Another duty is that of employment.
3. The enactment of just laws.
4. The practical recognition of the great fact of an universal religious equality. The poor owe--
(1) Gratitude to their benefactors.
(2) Contentment with reasonable wages.
(3) Regard to the interests of their employers. (F. A. Cox, D.D., LL.D.)
Points of agreement in the state of the rich and the poor
I. In the participation of a common nature. Poor and rich have equally the power of ascertaining general principles; their moral sensibilities are the same; in devotion the two classes meet. They are alike in the primary passions of the human mind. The more we analyse actions, and trace them to their primary elements, the more we shall perceive the identity between the rich and the poor as to their intellectual, moral, accountable, and devotional capacities.
II. In the process of the same social economy.
III. In the house of God. In the presence of the great and good Being men should forget all their distinctions, and recollect their essential relation to Him who is equally the Father of all mankind.
V. In the circumstances of their entrance into this world, and in the circumstances of their exit out of it. Learn--
1. That those who are rich should recollect that they are rich for the purpose of benefiting their generation. Let such persons consider seriously whether they are living to themselves or to God.
2. Not to repine if we are poor and yet partakers of true piety springing from the faith of the gospel. (Robert Hall.)
The doctrine of human equality
There are great points of resemblance between all men sufficient to constitute a true equality.
1. All possess an intellectual and immortal nature. Mind is a common possession. The immortality of the soul stamps all men with equal honour.
2. The fact of a common possession among all classes of the social and domestic affections establishes the doctrine of human equality. The same heart of love towards friends and kindred beats in the breast of the highest and lowest.
3. The doctrine of human equality is established by the universal distribution of vice and virtue. Everywhere you will find sin. That is a common heritage. So with virtue. You will find grand specimens of piety and goodness in the dwellings of the rich, the middle class, and the poor.
4. The doctrine of human equality is established by our common inheritance of infirmities, suffering, bereavements, sorrow, and death. The same physical weakness enfeebles rich and poor. They are subject to the same diseases. They experience the same mental anguish. Learn--
(1) To see the mischief--the sin--of those who endeavour to sever, ill thought and sympathy, man from man. What is specially needed now is sympathy between the various classes of society.
(2) That this doctrine of human equality supplies a basis for the adaptation of the gospel to our needs. (W. Walters.)
Rich and poor
1. According to the very constitution of human nature, great social distinctions do and must exist. While we acquiesce in this fact as inevitable, it is important that we take a right view of it.
2. The rich and poor, with many outward differences, meet together in the possession of a common nature, which is greater than all the circumstances of life.
3. The rich and poor meet together in a large intermediate class. The blending of classes is not less remarkable than their separation.
4. The rich and poor meet together in the common enjoyment of all the greater blessings of life. The most valuable blessings of life are those which are scattered broadcast over the world, and which come to all alike, as does the bright shining of the sun.
5. The rich and poor meet together in all the more important and deeper experiences of life. The great events, which stir the deepest feelings of man’s heart--birth, marriage, death--occur in every household.
6. The rich and poor meet together in that they are all alike, and without exception, sinners, involved in one common ruin, exposed to one common doom. This is one of the most unpalatable truths of the Bible.
7. The rich and poor meet together in this--they have presented unto them a common salvation. There is only one gospel for rich and poor. Social and national distinctions find no place in the gospel of Christ. If men are to be saved at all they can only be saved in one way, by the exercise of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the one Saviour. (T. M. Morris.)
Rich and poor
I. Various ways in which rich and poor cannot avoid meeting together.
1. They belong to the same creation. They meet together, then, as brethren--“all one Man’s sons,” who will have His children live together in unity.
2. They are placed together by their common Maker in the same world, and in a state of necessary dependence on each other.
3. Although there is a wide separation between rich and poor in point of education, habits, and manners, yet these outward differences are as nothing in comparison with their common nature, to which they bear the same relation as the clothes to the body. View them in regard to their natural appetites, bodily and mental capacities, social and domestic affections; in all these things they meet together as equals, and we plainly see that one “Lord is the Maker of them all.”
4. If now, dismissing worldly considerations, we contemplate them as they must appear to their Maker, we shall see the distance between them absolutely vanish, and nothing to prevent their meeting together on a footing of perfect equality. All souls are alike, and religion addresses itself to all alike.
5. Rich and poor, thus meeting together in the enjoyment of the same Christian privileges, should also meet together in the exhibition of a renewed heart and a gracious character, the fruits of a common faith.
II. Exhort both rich and poor to a voluntary meeting of each other; not only as being brought together by the appointment of Providence, but as seeking and making advances towards each other.
1. It is not enough that the rich should not oppress the poor; thanks to the equity of our laws, this is not to any serious extent in their power; nor that they should not despise the poor, which we hope is not in their inclination; but the rich must protect and assist and honour and sympathise with their poorer brethren.
2. But if it be the duty of the rich thus to meet the poor, it is no less incumbent on the poor to make advances towards the rich, and “meet them half-way.” (J. H. Burn, B.D.)
Rich and poor meet together in their relation and dependence on each other, as members of society and common heirs of Christ’s salvation. They meet together in their duties. They meet together in their joint properties. They meet together in their dearest interests, both of this life and of that which is to come. The rich man may be reminded that the city cannot be inhabited without the artisans and smiths and labours. The poor man should be told that the capacity of his superiors is of another order from his own, and that the duty of different stations is different; each has his own opportunities, and his own responsibilities. Rich men are necessary to the well-being of the poor, and the poor are essential to the existence of wealth. The necessities of all ranks connect all. The wants of the rich convey comforts to the poor; the wants of the poor minister to the abundance of the rich. Such are the gracious dispensations of a kind Providence. Let us all be thankful for what we have, and not repine that we have no more. (G. D. Hill, M.A.)
The poor and the rich
All through the Scriptures the point of view is God’s, not man’s. To understand any part of the Bible we must look at it from the Divine standpoint. This applies to the text. In that day the contrast between rich and poor was far greater than now. If man had spoken he would have said, “The rich and poor are divided; their interests are at war, and cannot be made to harmonise.” The rich have manifest advantages.
1. They have opportunities for improvement which the poor have not.
2. They have means of influence which the poor have not. In other respects observe the essential sameness of these two classes.
(1) The faculties of the mind in both rich and poor are essentially the same.
(2) The same moral natures are in both.
(3) They are alike responsible.
(4) In the eye of God they meet together in their destiny.
(5) They meet together in their sinfulness.
(6) They are the same in their relation to the plan of salvation.
Both are one at the centre. God equalises. The differences are slight. The differences are reciprocal and transient, while the points of agreement are permanent. Those who set the one class against the other are moving backward toward the feudal ages, whether they know it or not--a time when the poor was servant to the rich. The glory of our age is that the differences between the classes are being obliterated. They are meeting together. Our souls are being lifted to a comprehension of this exalted ideal of the Scriptures. (R. S. Storrs, D.D.)
The equality of men
I. Clearly state the subject.
II. Show that it is the will of God that there should be distinctions of rich and poor in the world.
1. Evident from Scriptures.
2. It is not inconsistent with God’s justice, and is an argument for His wisdom.
1. The rich should always acknowlege God in all their enjoyments.
2. The poor should be contented.
3. Apart from riches and poverty, all men are equal--they have the same nature, the same care of Providence, the same Christian privileges, and the same judgment. (H. Grove.)
Ultimate Divine impartiality
The idea of ultimate impartiality is what is chiefly suggested by the latter part of this verse, “the Lord is the Maker of them all.” He is so by creation. They alike owe to Him their being, and owe to Him every moment the maintenance of that being--the rich man and the honourable, as well as the poorest and meanest on earth. Where is the monarch on the throne that, more than the lowest of his subjects, can draw a breath independently of God? He is so by providential allotment. The same Lord makes them what they are, and could at His pleasure reverse their conditions, making the rich the poor and the poor the rich. The Lord being the Maker of them all implies also the equal distance of them all, as alike His creatures, from their common Creator and Governor. The distance is the same. In both it is infinite. When God is the object of common comparison, the distance between the highest and the lowest of mankind measures not a hair’s breadth; it is annihilated. All the distinctions of which men make so much sink into nothing before His infinite majesty. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
The true corrective of social inequalities
The text does not mean that both rich and poor are mingled in society, that they oppose or encounter one another, but rather that they are alike, that with all their differences there is still something common to both. What is this common ground, the point of contact and agreement? Not an absolute identity or sameness of condition, but participation in a certain good common to both, and independent of external qualities. The true corrective of all social inequalities, so far as they are evil, must be furnished, not by human institutions and arrangements, but derived from a higher and independent source. Consider how and why the religion of the Bible is adapted to exert this influence. Men’s schemes for the practical solution of this great problem are three.
1. The idea of obliterating social inequalities by a coercive distribution of all property. This method is condemned by its violent injustice, by the meanness of its aims, by the hypocrisy of its professions.
2. The idea of securing an equality of civil rights in spite of personal and social disadvantages. As a positive means of correcting the effects of providential inequalities, this is as worthless as the other.
3. The idea of remedying the evil by means of intellectual increase and knowledge and refinement of taste. The objection to this remedy is that when applied alone its influence is not necessarily or wholly good.
(1) Christianity distinctly recognises the existence and necessity of some providential inequalities in the external situation of mankind.
(2) Its remedy is the direct mitigation of the evils of society by the change wrought in the tempers and affections of the parties. And true religion attaches to the various degrees of wealth, refinement, knowledge, influence, and leisure their corresponding measures of responsibility. It makes each party, to some extent, content with his actual condition, aware of its peculiar obligations, and spontaneously disposed to discharge them.
(3) By a process of moral elevation men are first taught to surmount their disadvantages, and then by one of intellectual elevation the classes are brought nearer together. Impress the necessity for popular religious education, not only as the means of personal improvement and salvation, but also as the grand corrective and perhaps the sovereign cure of the disorders which now prey upon society, and “eat as doth a canker.” Religious education has a social and secular as well as an exclusively religious use. The true Secret of the “healing of the nations.” (J. A. Alexander, D.D.)
Relations of rich and poor
The man in want murmurs that God has given him so little; the man in affluence forgets that God has given him so much. A want of sympathy arises between the different classes; they meet in jealousy, not in love. Differences ought to be viewed, not as specially hurtful to any, but as generally good for all. One man is not nearer God or farther from God than another. God is not only the maker of all men as men, He is the maker of all as rich and poor. He fixes their civil conditions. The unequal state is the appointment of His providence. Men meet together by nature as equal; in the eye of the world as unequal; in both cases for good. None is in prosperity or adversity without affecting others. What, then, are the duties which each owes the other, and which both owe to God? (Canon Harvey, M.A.)
Seeing men as God sees them
How the scales seems to fall away from one’s eyes directly we are enabled to see things as God sees them! The sacred worth of humanity shines far brighter than any of its tinsel happiness. We learn to estimate ourselves aright, undisturbed, and unabashed by the false estimates which are current in the world. Our true distinction is that we are men, that we belong to a race which was made in the image of God, was dear to His heart, and is redeemed by His love. The equality we claim for men is not a levelling down--it is quite the reverse; it is raising them up to the higher level, which they have deserted and forgotten. It is giving men self-respect instead of self-esteem. (R. F. Horton, D.D.)
The common humanity
I. Rich and poor meet together in their ordinary allotments of life.
II. In the ordinary characteristics of their nature.
1. The body has the same number of bones and muscles, nerves and sinews, in any of which disease may fasten and pain may enter.
2. Nor is our exposure any the less in our minds.
3. Our sensibilities are the same.
III. In their destinies in the common hereafter.
1. We all meet at the grave.
2. We all meet at the judgment.
3. We all meet in eternity.
IV. In their rights under the gospel.
1. There is the same need in the fallen nature.
2. The same supply furnished in the inexhaustible mercy of a crucified Redeemer.
3. The same clear condition annexed to the call.
4. The same unalterable pledge annexed to the promise.
5. The same fulness of fruition held out in answer to every hope at the last.
There is no property qualification whatsoever for citizenship in the kingdom of God. (Chas. S. Robinson, D.D.)
The ordination of wealth and poverty
God makes some rich that they may be charitable to the poor; and others poor that they may be serviceable to the rich; and they have need of one another. He makes some poor to exercise their patience, and contentment, and dependence on God; and others rich to exercise their thankfulness and benevolence. All stand upon the same level before God. (Matthew Henry.)
Diverse social conditions
No dispensation of Providence appears, at first sight, more advantageous to mankind than the diversity of conditions. The prince has need of his people, and the people have need of their prince; the politician has need of the soldiers, and the soldiers have need of the politician. This consciousness of the need which we have of our fellow-creatures is the strong tie which binds us to them. Yet, by the depravity of the human race, this useful order has been miserably abused. On one side the great have been dazzled by their own splendour, and hence have become haughty, disdainful, and oppressive. On the other, the low, forgetting the dignity which naturally cleaves to a reasonable soul, have become fawning and mean; have bowed down to imaginary divinities and crouched before phantoms of grandeur. Both parties have acquired their erroneous ideas from neglecting to consider themselves in a proper point of view. The nature of man consists of a spirit united to a body; and this description applies to the whole race. The soul of the poor man, as well as that of the rich, has the power of considering principles, of drawing consequences, of discerning truth from falsehood, of choosing good or evil, of seeking for the most glorious and useful attainments. His body, too, bears the same characters of skill and exquisite contrivance: it is harmonious in its parts, just in its motions, and proportioned in its powers. As their powers are the same, so too are their weaknesses. The soul of the rich, like that of the poor, is subject to the influence of the passions. Nor do their privileges differ more; for though a poor man cannot exercise the authority of the great, nor obtain the reputation of immortal heroes, yet he may aspire to honours infinitely greater. He has a right of raising himself to God by the ardour of his prayers; and he can assure himself, without danger or delusion, that the great God will regard and answer his prayers. Nothing shows so much the meanness of the great as the value which they set on exterior advantages, for thus they renounce their true and proper grandeur. The glory of man consists not in that he is rich, noble, a lord, or a king, but in that he is a man, a being formed after the image of God, and capable of the sublimest attainments. What are the views of God with regard to men? What end does He propose in placing us on this planet, thirty, forty, or fourscore years? He intends it as our time of trial. On this principle, what is the most glorious condition? It is not that which raiseth us in society; nor that which procures us the greatest honours and accommodations of life, for it is more glorious to be a good subject than a wicked king, to be a good disciple than a profligate teacher. There is no profession shameful if it is not vicious. There is, indeed, something more noble in the objects of some professions than of others. There is something much greater in the design of a magistrate making and executing laws for the good of mankind and in that of a mechanic practising the simplest arts. But God will not determine our everlasting state according to the design of our professions, but according to the execution; in that respect all professions are equal, and all men have the same destination. Mankind, then, are essentially equal in their nature, their privileges, and their destination. Above all this, equality is eminently conspicuous in their end. We may labour to acquire a portion of honest fame, to augment our fortune, to establish our reputation, and sweeten, as far as we can, the cares of life, for this the morality of the gospel does not condemn; but still we must carry this labour no farther than it deserves; it must not be our chief care. God has given to the great ones of the earth an exterior glory, transient and superficial; but to the humble and the patient He has given that glory which is real, solid, and permanent; and what is there difficult to a wise man in submitting to this order of Providence? It may, in some respects indeed, be mortifying to lurk in the lowest ranks of society when one feels sentiments of greatness and elevation in the soul. But those things will soon pass away; soon shall we enter on a world where those distinctions shall be abolished, and all that is great in the immortal mind shine forth in full splendour. (A. Macdonald.)
The diversity of station and outward prosperity among mankind
I. The diversity of station, of power, of authority, of wealth, and the like is inherent in the nature of man. Men are diverse in their natural capacities, abilities, and inclinations. But this diversity rests not altogether on chance or on injustice of mankind, since it originates, if not in the very nature of the soul, yet surely in the constitution of the body which it inhabits, the external objects by which man is environed, the early education that he receives and the climate allotted him for his abode, and which cannot possibly be everywhere the same.
II. The proof, however, that the difference of station is necessarily inherent in our nature will not pacify the discontented man. He will probably complain of this necessity, that he is subjected to it against his will. But will he justly do so if we prove to him that God in this institution had the wisest and kindest designs in view, and that it is in reality calculated to procure to every one in particular and to all in general manifold and important benefits?
1. Certain it is that without the diversity of estates and conditions of life, we should be absolutely obliged to forego very many of the conveniences which we may enjoy. We should be more independent, but we should also have less support in weakness, less protection in dangers, less help in misery, less relief in distress. And how burdensome would life become if every one were obliged to provide himself necessaries alone, every one to procure and prepare for himself whatever he wanted for his maintenance, for his food and clothing, for his recreation and his amusement!
2. By this regulation established by the Deity mankind have the best opportunity for employing their several capacities, faculties, and endowments, and of carrying them to the highest degree of perfection which they can here attain. The difference of states and conditions of life introduces a great variety of projects and designs, of occupations, exertions, labours, and amusements.
3. By means of this Divine economy every species of satisfaction and pleasure is enjoyed whereof mankind are capable, and these satisfactions and pleasures, taken together, constitute unquestionably the greatest possible sum of happiness or of agreeable sensations that could have place in the present state of man. How few the species of pleasure to which mankind would be restricted if they were in all respects equal!
4. This diversity of station and outward prosperity are excellent means of exercising us in virtue, and so of rendering us capable of the perfection and happiness of another life.
1. Let every one of us be contented with his situation. Acquire the habit of viewing it on the most agreeable side--that God knows us far better than we know ourselves, and is uniformly consulting our welfare.
2. Let each of us only act up to his station with all possible fidelity in every particular.
3. Let us with extraordinary diligence strive after a superior station in a future world. (G. J. Zollikofer.)
The poor not to be despised
Leslie, the painter, tells us of his hearing the preference expressed by Rogers for seats in churches without pews opposed by a gentleman who preferred pews, and said, “If there were seats only, I might find myself sitting by my coachman.” Rogers replied, “And perhaps you may be glad to find yourself beside him in the next world.” (Francis Jacox.)
A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself.
Seen and unseen evils of life
The great mass of mankind live at hazard, so far as the final end of life is concerned. No certain destination is in their view, nor is their life guided by any central principle. There is a right object at which to aim, a high purpose that should be the centre of every human life, giving it unity and strength.
I. Consider the nature of providence in the conduct of life. Prudence and providence have a close kinship. The word providence expresses the special idea or particular act of providing, while prudence denotes the foresight which shows itself in habit, or the manner of providing.
1. Here is the lowest and basest kind of prudence that stands in opposition to a higher moral life. This is an evil prudence. Self is at the centre of it.
2. Then there is a prudence which might be called neutral, and which is not incompatible with spiritual growth.
3. There is a prudence that is subservient to the higher principle itself. True religion and genuine prudence are allied.
II. Observe the value of prudence in the affairs of life. The prudent man can look behind and before, can estimate probabilities, can consider cause and effect. He decries the future, and is warned. He needs his prudence in the secular affairs of the world. The moral fibre of a man has much more to do with his material surroundings and well-being than many persons seem to think. The prudent man avoids temptations that may be too much for his moral strength.
III. The doom of thoughtlessness. Recklessness brings on ruin. Punishment is not arbitrary, but necessary. (Daniel Jackson.)
Prudent and simple
I. The specification of the persons. Prudent and simple; that is, righteous and wicked. Godly men are in Scripture described as wise men, and wicked men are spoken of as fools. That godly men are truly wise appears in those qualities, and actions, and principles, and properties which belong to them.
1. A godly man hath the true principle of wisdom in him. Wisdom is not a fit but a habit, and implies a spring and principle for the nourishing of it. The right principle of wisdom is a gracious and savoury spirit, the work of regeneration, and the new creature in us.
2. What a man propounds to himself has its influence upon his wisdom. The godly man’s aims are heavenly and spiritual.
3. Wisdom is seen in regard to the rule whereby he is led. It is the part of a wise man to have good rules. The Christian’s rule is the Word of God.
4. In regard to the object whereabout he is conversant, which is the gospel, the doctrine of wisdom.
II. The different account which is given to each.
1. The account of the prudent. He is discovered as to his spiritual judgment and apprehension, and spirit of discerning. “He foreseeth the evil.” This foresight he has by the dictates of the Word of God; by the concurrence of one thing with another; by the inward hints and suggestions of the Spirit of God. He is discovered in reference to activity and practice. “And hides himself.” This is done in the exercise of all such graces as are pertinent hereunto: such as meekness, humility, repentance, faith, charity. A godly man hides himself in the whole work of self-reformation and holiness of life.
2. The account of the foolish. Their carriage: “They pass on.” This is an expression of security, and of pertinancy or progress in sin. Sin blinds the judgment, carries away the heart, and fills men with vain hopes. The more deceitful and fraudulent sin is, the more watchful and vigilant should we be.
2. Their miscarriage, or ill-condition. They “are punished.” Sin and judgment are relatives, and infer one another. They “pass on, and are punished.” That is, they are punished because they pass on. Security is the great promoter of punishment, in the nature of things, and in the justice of God. (T. Horton, D.D.)
Hiding-places for the prudent
One main element of safety is a just apprehension of danger. There are encompassing dangers and safe hiding-places in the several regions of our secular business, our moral conduct, and our religious hopes.
1. In the ordinary business of life. For example, when speculation is rife.
2. In the region of practical morality. Frivolous and licentious companions, theatres, Sabbath amusements, and a multitude of cognate enticements.
3. The greatest evils lie in the world to come, and only the eye of faith can foresee them. (W. Arnot, D.D.)
Good and bad prudence
We are not called upon anywhere in the Bible to make little calculations, small and selfish arrangements, to build for ourselves little refuges that will hold nobody else: we are called to far-sightedness, a large conception of men and things and Divine purposes, and to such a calculation of the action of the forces of the universe as will save us from needless trouble and assure us of ultimate defence and protection. Foresight is everywhere taught in the Bible, but not a foresight that is of the nature of selfishness. (J. Parker, D.D.)
Contrast of prudence and folly
A celebrated commander had returned from a period of military service distinguished by the most important victories. After he had retired from a very gratifying reception at court, the sovereign was eloquent in his praise to the surrounding circle. “It must be confessed,” said one of the bystanders, “that he is a lucky general.” “He has been too long a lucky general, to be only a lucky general,” was the apt reply of the discriminating monarch. The same judgment is continually, though silently, made in the ordinary concerns of life. Do we see any one, possessed of the same external advantages and means of wealth with those around him, yet invariably involved in difficulty, poverty, and want? We usually consider him deficient in that prudent foresight which guards against loss, and in that steady industry which leads so commonly to success. The systematically unfortunate very commonly incur the blame of being systematically imprudent.
I. The character of a prudent man.
1. It is, then, one characteristic of the prudent man that he foreseeth the evil. The faculty of combining present situation with future prospect, and of weighing the good or evil of the one by its effect and bearing upon the other, is a gift by which man is broadly distinguished from the brute creation; and by which intellect and civilisation, among those of his own species, assert their superiority over the narrow views and unreflecting sensuality of savage life. The prudent man walks by faith, and not by sight. Eager to avoid the evil and choose the good; anticipating the punishment of obdurate sin or unreflecting indifference, he asks in the anxious solicitude of one who knows that life and death are on the issue, “What must I do to be saved?”
2. He foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself. The sense of danger leads him at once to the effectual remedy. Whither, then, does the wise man flee from impending danger? Even to the sure and certain hope of his Redeemer’s Cross.
II. The simple pass on, and are punished. Is this, it may be asked, that godly simplicity and sincerity which our Lord; and His apostles, and every part of the instruction of the Word of life continually recommend? No: it is the simplicity of folly, of carelessness, of prejudice, of wilfulness, of the love of sin, of unbelief, of ignorance, of hardness of heart, and of contempt of the Word of God. Promises animate not his obedience. Threatenings arouse him not from his lethargy. Warnings awake him not from his security. Expostulation fails to enkindle his shame, or to give life to his gratitude. The simple “pass on.” They are carried down the stream of time, silently and surely, toward death and judgment. (R. P. Buddicom, M.A.)
By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, and honour, and life.
Every being pursues its own perfection, and would fain be satisfied in all the capacities it understands, and in all the importunate appetites it feels. God draws us insensibly to virtue and obedience, by annexing those good things which we all perceive, admire, and prosecute to the practice of those moral duties which are equally our happiness, but not so easily discerned. The text encourages humility, from the consideration of the great advantages we may reasonably expect from the practice of it, even all that is good and desirable in this present world--both riches, and honour, and life.
I. A duty recommended. Humility, with the fear of the Lord. The definition, nature, and principles of humility in general. Humility is a habit or temper of mind, proceeding from a principle of religion, which subdues all lofty, false opinions of one’s self, and disposes a man to cheerful acquiescence in all estates and conditions of life that God shall place him in. It is a habit of mind, a frame or temper of soul; for a virtue cannot be defined by single actions. It is such a habit of soul as must be framed and wrought by a principle of religion or the fear of God. Nothing can be a virtue in us that we have not chosen. Mere depression of mind is not humility. Christian humility consists in a modest, just opinion of ourselves, and a cheerful submission to the will of God.
II. The several parts and exercises of the duty so defined. The principal exercises of humility are--
1. In our desires and aims.
2. In our looks and gestures.
3. In our garb and habit. But principally--
4. In our conversation with our acquaintance, friends, and equals; with our superiors; with our inferiors.
III. The rewards proposed to persuade and encourage the practice of it.
1. Riches, and honour, and life are real blessings, and the proper matter of reward.
2. Humility, with the fear of the Lord, will certainly procure them. They that seek God may expect to attain these rewards, by a natural power and efficacy in the virtue itself. By an efficacy moral, there is something in the practice of humility that disposes kindly to all those several ends. By an efficacy Divine and spiritual, the blessing of God will assist and forward the designs of the humble, and so dispose and order second causes that they shall live in plenty, peace, and honour, to a good old age. Set the example of our blessed Saviour before your eyes, who humbled Himself to death upon the Cross for us. (J. Lambe.)
Humility, with fear
These two are naturally associated. They are indeed inseparable. Lowliness of spirit is an indispensable characteristic of a religious life. It is in the valley of humiliation that the sinner first meets with God, and comes into a state of reconciliation with Him. The spirit of pride cannot dwell in the same heart with the fear of the Lord. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.
On the education of youth
A strict and virtuous education of youth is absolutely necessary to a man’s attainment of that inestimable blessing, that unspeakable felicity, of being serviceable to his God, easy to himself and useful to others in the whole course of his following life. To the proof of this, lay down six propositions.
1. That in the present state of nature there is in every man a certain propensity to vices, or a corrupt principle more or less disposing him to evil, which principle is sometimes called the flesh, sometimes concupiscence, sometimes sensuality, and makes one part of that which we call original sin.
2. That the forementioned propensity of the sensual part, or principle, to vice, being left to itself, will certainly proceed to work, and to exert itself in action; and if not hindered and counteracted will continue to do so, till practice passes into custom and habit, and so by use and frequency comes to acquire a domineering strength in a man’s conversation.
3. That all the disorders of the world, and the confusions that disturb persons, families, and whole societies or corporations, proceed from this natural propensity to vice in particular persons, which being thus heightened by habitual practice, runs forth into those several sorts of vice which corrupt and spoil the manners of men.
4. That when the corruption of man’s manners by the habitual improvements of this vicious principle comes from personal to be general and universal, so as to diffuse and spread itself over a whole community, it naturally and directly tends to the ruin and subversion of the government where it so prevails.
5. That this ill principle is to be altered and corrected only by discipline, and the infusion of such principles into the rational and spiritual part of man as may powerfully sway his will and affections, by convincing his understanding that the practice of virtue is preferable to that of vice; and that there is a real happiness and honesty in the one, and a real misery, as well as a turpitude, in the other; there being no mending or working upon the sensual part, but by well-principling the intellectual.
6. This discipline and infusion of good principles into the mind, which only can and must work this great happy change upon a man’s morals, by counter-working that other sensual and vicious principle, which would corrupt them, can never operate so kindly, so efficaciously, and by consequence, so successfully, as when applied to him in his minority, while his mind is ductile and tender, and so ready for any good impressions. For when he comes once to be in years, and his mind, having been prepossessed with ill-principles, and afterwards hardened with ill practices, grows callous, and scarce penetrable, his case will be then very different, and the success of such applications is very doubtful, if not desperate. It is necessary that the minds of youth should be formed and seasoned with a strict and virtuous and early and preventing education. On three sorts of persons this trust rests--
(3) The clergy. (R. South.)
The education of children
The careful, prudent, and religious education of children hath for the most part a very good influence upon the whole course of their lives.
I. Wherein doth the good education of children consist?
1. In the tender and careful nursing of them.
2. In bringing them to be baptized.
3. In a due care to inform and instruct them in the whole compass of their duty to God and to their neighbour.
4. In a prudent and diligent care to form their lives and manners to religion and virtue.
5. In giving them good example.
6. In wise restraints from that which is evil, by seasonable reproof and correction.
7. In bringing them to be publicly catechised.
8. In bringing them to be confirmed.
II. More particular directions for the management of this work. The young have to be trained in the exercise of the following graces and virtues: Obedience, modesty, diligence, sincerity, tenderness, pity, good government of their passions, and of their tongues, to speak truth and to hate lying; to piety and devotion towards God, sobriety and chastity with regard to themselves, and to justice and charity towards all men, Endeavour to discover the particular temper and disposition of children, that you may suit and apply yourself to it. Endeavour to plant those principles of religion and virtue which are most substantial and likely to have the best influence on the future government of their lives. Check and discourage in them the first beginnings of sin and vice: as soon as ever they appear pluck them up by the roots. Take great heed that the children be not habituated and accustomed to any evil course. Bring them, as soon as they are capable of it, to the public worship of God. Put them upon the exercise and practice of religion and virtue, in such instances as their understanding and age are capable of. Add constant and earnest prayer to God on behalf of your children.
III. Some of the more common miscarriages in the performance of this duty. These may be found in relation to instruction, example, and reproof. There often is too great rigour and severity; at other times too great laxity. It is always mischievous to punish while under the influence of passion.
IV. Show how good education comes to be of so great advantage. It gives religion and virtue the advantage of the first possession, and the further advantage of habit and custom.
V. Stir up those whose duty this is to discharge it with great care and conscience. Good education is the very best inheritance you can leave your children. In this way you promote your own comfort and happiness. The surest foundation of the public welfare and happiness is laid in the good education of children. Consider the great evils consequent on the neglect of this duty. (T. Tillotson, D.D.)
Training up children to the primary virtues
Habits of virtue are of the same nature with dexterity in the mechanical or other arts. Would we acquire this dexterity, we must exercise ourselves early and constantly whether in the virtues or the arts. It is necessary for us to train up children to virtue with all possible care from their earliest infancy, and continually to exercise them in it, if we would have them truly virtuous persons. To do this we should find out their temperament, and conduct ourselves accordingly: we should habituate them to act from principle and design; we should teach them to be attentive to the consequences of their actions; we should strive to make their duty their pleasure. Further rules are--
1. Inure them from their earliest infancy to obedience and submission.
2. Inspire them with a predominant love for truth, for sincerity and frankness.
3. Train them to diligence, to method, and to industry in their affairs.
4. Be very careful to bring them up to humility and modesty.
5. Endeavour to inspire them with a sincere affection and hearty good-will towards all mankind, without distinction of rank, of religion, of country, or of outward fortune.
6. Neglect not to train them to compassion and benevolence.
7. Train them to patience in sufferings, to fortitude and courage in misfortune, to a steady and intrepid behaviour in all situations. These qualities and virtues are indispensably necessary to us in our present state. We must learn first to practise them in trivial matters if we would do so afterwards in riper years and more important emergencies. (G. J. Zollikofer.)
1. Mobility needed in subject of training; therefore man is born “a child.” Yet be aware, flexibility passes, tendency to solidify soon creeps in.
2. Parents here granted right of loving dogmatism: “in the way they should go.”
I. True training embraces care and system.
1. These should touch each part of child-nature: flesh and blood. Evolution of full manhood only reached thus. Bodies are fed and “trained.” Mystery is, the soul often neglected. No animal neglects its young as man does. “Every home should be its own Sabbath-school.”
2. Can’t train without a line to go on--a faith that can be taught--a system. Trained child not found where father’s mind is dark or chaotic. You like your child to choose its faith when it can think for itself? No child is mentally or spiritually free from bias. Child has all to learn. Has no standard of selection. First trainer has greatest power, whether good or evil. Mark this: if you don’t bias it for good a thousand tutors outside your home will bias it to its hurt.
II. Train child to decide moral questions by principle, not by feeling.
1. A child is composed of appetites and moral sense. These all glow. But appetites get two or three years’ start of moral sense. You must be swift in training, or you won’t get moral sense to overtake appetite.
2. Every day of life offer times for moral decision. Think of George Eliot’s Arthur Donnithorne; sweet temper, weak moral sense, strong animal tastes; so a standing peril to himself and others.
3. The one grand deciding principle for all souls is: “What does Christ love, that is the thing to be done.” It is sure: it carries child to right issues. It is safe: it imperils nothing in its whole being. It is rapid: under it souls grow holy fast.
III. Train child to judge Christianity by best results. Much of training given unwittingly. Soul-suction always going on in “a child.” Five senses are five avenues to soul. Crowds of motley ideas go up them--each idea a teacher. In your home they hear your views of men and actions. Beware! if you condemn Christianity, because of its sullied specimens, you harm the child. Put religion in its highest light. For its sake ask: “What are its finest results? “ Show them spiritual splendours. Show them John, Paul, Augustine, Luther, Newton, Hale, Wesley. Christian gallery not wanting in fine portraits. Show them Christ. Moral longing will awaken them; they will hunger and be filled (Matthew 5:6). Conclusion:
1. All details come under these principles.
2. Thus you will train “a godly seed.” (British Weekly.)
On religious education
i. An exhortation to the discharge of an important duty. The wisdom and propriety of the exhortation are founded on certain qualities inherent in man.
1. Man is remarkably prone to imitation. In private families every action of the parent is imitated by the child. So it happens in the aggregate life of the nation. The cast of general manners depends upon the leaders of society.
2. Children in their infant years contend obstinately for the gratification of their own humour. The principle of self-will is not in cases to be reprehended. When it makes us resolute in spurning compliance with mean conditions, with base proposals, and wicked instigations, it is generous and manly, and should be cherished. But reasonable accommodation of our own inclinations and our own sentiments to the dispositions and opinions of others is absolutely necessary for the transacting of human concerns, and consequently for the existence of civil society. It should therefore be taught to children, because they are inexperienced; and enforced on young persons, because their passions are turbulent. The training of children in the way of subjection to discreet and moderate control is an act of judicious kindness in every parent.
3. When we are born we bring with us minds already furnished with methodical principles; but through the sole gift of God we are endowed with capacity either for the inventing or the learning of arts and sciences. The extent to which this capacity becomes advantageous depends in a great measure on the degree and manner of culture with which it is improved.
4. In the generality of men there is an active spirit which is impatient of rest, and which will find itself employment. Children therefore need training in the proper methods of spending energy in labour and in recreation.
5. There is in man a most unhappy tendency to do evil. Man finds it more easy to indulge his appetites than to raise his soul to higher objects. The best friend of the child is he who begins with the first dawn of understanding to impress on the mind of his child that there is a God everywhere present in power and knowledge, and another state of existence, where goodness shall terminate in happiness, but vice be productive of misery.
II. The effect which will ensue from early care employed in education. The mental faculties most distinguishable in our first years are memory and imagination. If the proper effects of right instruction are not so visible as might be wished at every period of our age, let no one hastily conclude that therefore the elements of education are totally obliterated. Good principle may for some years lie dormant in the mind. Unless in cases of extreme depravity, the good principle, like the good seed, will at last find its way to shoot up, and give a tenfold measure of increase after its own kind. The training, then, of children in the way they should go is from the nature of man indispensably necessary. (G. J. Huntingford, D.D.)
Of the duty which parents owe to their children
I. The heinous nature and fatal consequences of the neglect of parental duty.
1. As it appears in the sight of God.
2. As it affects the children.
3. As it affects parents themselves.
II. How parents should educate their children.
1. Train your children to revere you.
2. Train them to implicit submission to your authority. Insubordination in youth is the certain inlet to all that is disorderly in riper years.
3. In order to train your children to moderation in pleasure, lead them, as early as possible, to mark the imposture of passion, and guard them from all intimacy with the loose and the dissipated, and interdict them of all loose and licentious reading.
4. Train them to industry and frugality. Unremitting application and assiduity are the only means by which pre-eminence among men can be attained.
5. Train your children to virtue and candour, and justice and humanity.
6. Train your children to piety. True views of the benignity of the Ruler of nature will impress their susceptible breast, with the feelings of genuine piety, and lead them to love the Lord their God with all their heart and strength and mind. (W. Thorburn.)
The formation of the minds of children
1. Repress not their curiosity or their inquisitiveness. It is in itself no fault. It is rather a strong impulse and an excellent means to become intelligent and wise.
2. Accustom your children or your pupils to the use of their senses; teach them to apprehend justly.
3. Beware of giving them false or not sufficiently precise ideas of any matter, though of never so trifling import.
4. Set them to learn nothing which, either on account of their tender age or from the want of other kinds of knowledge necessary to that purpose, they cannot comprehend. Measure not their capacities by yours.
5. Endeavour not only to increase and extend their knowledge, but likewise to render it solid and sure. It is far better for them to know a few things thoroughly than to have only a superficial acquaintance with many.
6. Guard them from being hasty in forming conclusions, and avail yourself of all opportunities for leading them, by observations, to circumspection and precision in their inferences and judgments. (G. J. Zollikofer.)
The formation of the hearts of children
To form the hearts of children means to direct their appetites and affections to the worthiest objects, to inspire them with a predominant love for all that is true and right and proper, and thereby to render the performance of their duty easy and pleasant to them.
1. Study to find out their temperament, and conduct yourself according to it. The temperament is, as it were, the soil that is to be cultivated, and the diversity of this soil is not so great but it may soon be discovered. More or less vivacity and quickness of apprehension, more or less sensibility to good and evil, to pleasure and pain, more or less vehemence in the affections, more or less disposition to rest or to activity--in these consist the principal diversity in what may be called the temperament of children. All these various temperaments may equally lead either to the virtues or to the vices.
2. Accustom them to act from principle and design, and not by blind impulse or mere self-will.
3. But be not satisfied with teaching them to act from reason, as rational creatures; but teach them to act upon the noblest principles, and in pure and beneficent views. Beware of setting only their ambition in motion, and of inciting them to application and duty from no other motive than the idea of the judgment that others pass on them.
4. Teach them, further, to attend to the consequences of their actions or of their behaviour. Teach them duly to prize that inward peace, the satisfaction, the cheerfulness of mind, the health and strength of body, and the other advantages which they have derived from honest and proper conduct.
5. Strive to make their duty a pleasure to them.
6. For facilitating all this to them, for teaching them to act upon principle, to act from the best motives, and to be attentive to the consequences of their actions, you should accustom them betimes to self-examination, which is the most excellent means for constantly becoming more wise and virtuous.
7. Teach them, in like manner, to reap benefit from the conduct of other persons.
8. Finally, to this end call history likewise to your aid. (G. J. Zollikofer.)
Advantages of good training
They who are well educated generally behave well for the following reasons:
1. Early impressions are deep.
2. Habit is strong.
3. Early piety is acceptable to God. The first love of an innocent heart is sacrifice of a sweet savour. (S. Charters.)
A child may be said to be taught when in words we clearly convey to his mind any truth or enjoin upon his conscience any precept. He is trained when we ourselves so pass before him, in practical illustration of the truth and precept, that he is drawn along after us in the same way. The principle applies peculiarly to moral and religious instruction. Suppose you wish to instruct a child in benevolence or charity. You tell him what it inclines one to do for the needy and suffering; you dilate upon the beautiful sentiments which the exercise of it incites in one’s own breast; you refer to distinguished examples of it that have blessed the world. All this is teaching. But now, again, you take your child by the hand, and lead him with you into some abode of poverty and want; you let him see with you the necessitous situation of the inmates of that cold and ill-provided dwelling; he marks the yearning of your heart towards them, and his heart swells in sympathy; the satisfaction that exhilarates your soul he shares as you freely give the needed aid; he witnesses the whole reciprocal action of a living bounty on your part and a returning gratitude on the spot. And this is training. One such scene will avail more than many lectures to make your child charitable. Or suppose, again, you would instruct your child in devotion, prayer to God. But to what purpose if the child is not moreover trained to pray?--to what purpose if the very house he lives in is a prayerless house? Would you instruct your child in that cardinal excellence of truth? You insist often, in words, on its importance. But, more than this, train it to do so. You rebuke deception. It is well. But practise not in any way what you rebuke. Would we instruct our children to be kind and gentle? How? by a command? Not so only, but more powerfully by the affectionate and pleasant bearing and tone of our own speech and person. Parents and friends often wonder that, after all the pains taken with children, the frequent counsels and admonitions, they should yet afterwards go astray. But was the child who has disappointed you trained as well as taught? Did you uniformly go before to beckon and lead him after in the way you first pointed out? But in the majority of cases the rule will hold good: your child will keep on as he has been trained. The soldier in his age might as soon forget the drill of his early discipline, or the sailor the first calculations by which, under the rolling planets, he made his way over the uncertain waves, as your child the practical guidance to which you have actually used him through a series of years. He will keep on, if you have been his leader and forerunner, when your feet stumble on the dark mountains, and will run the race after very much as you have run it before. The chief significance of the grave where you lie down will be to fix the direction in which you trained and the point at which you left your child. Your bark will disappear as it sails on over the misty horizon; but his bark shall hold the same course. Whither, whither shall it be? (C. A. Bartol.)
The education of the young
I. An interesting object. “A child.”
1. Its personal powers (Job 32:8), the faculties of the mind.
2. Its social importance.
3. Its possible elevation.
4. Its total depravity. Socrates confessed of himself that his natural inclinations were exceedingly bad, but by philosophy he overruled them.
5. Its immortal duration.
II. An important duty. “Train up.”
1. Let him be taught useful learning.
2. Let him be instructed in religious knowledge.
3. Let him be impressed by a consistent example.
4. Let him be guided into proper habits.
5. Let him be sanctified by earnest prayer.
III. An encouraging prospect.
1. From the Divine appointment (Deuteronomy 4:10; Deuteronomy 31:13; Ephesians 6:4).
2. From the Divine procedure. (Studies for the Pulpit.)
The religious instruction of the young
1. See to it that we present the Divine character in a manner calculated to encourage young hearts.
2. Distinguish between the way in which death affects the body and the way in which it affects the spirit.
3. Make it clear that the religion of Christ is in harmony with all innocent recreation and enjoyment.
4. Do all in our power to interest the young in the services of the sanctuary.
5. See that you offer to the young the truth which God has revealed to you, and of which you have felt the power.
6. Avoid all treatment of the young that is calculated to dispirit and discourage. Be careful not to exact too much from them.
7. Be varied in your teaching, and do not be depressed if the attainment of your object is delayed. (S. D. Hillman.)
The necessity of a wise and wholesome discipline
1. As soon as children are capable of reflection endeavour to make them acquainted with some of the leading truths of the gospel.
2. Explain the duties of practical religion as well as the articles of belief.
3. Be careful to set before your children an example worthy of imitation, for instructions and exhortations will be invalidated by inconsistency.
4. Discipline, reproof, and correction are necessary in the family as well as in the Church and State.
5. Let correction and reproof be accompanied with fervent and importunate prayer.
6. Keep a watchful eye over them to see what may be the fruit of your labour. To rightly perform parental duties we must begin betimes; secure the affection of the children; keep them out of the way of temptation; and instruct them with gentleness. (B. Beddome.)
The various branches of godly training may be thus enumerated:
1. Instruction in right principles--the principles of God’s Word.
2. The inculcation of right practice--the practice of God’s will.
3. Salutary admonition and restraint, and correction.
4. The careful avoidance of exposure to evil company and evil example.
5. The exhibition before them of a good example in ourselves.
6. Constant, believing, and earnest prayer. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
I. Whom should we educate? The material. “A child.” The world teems with analogies both real and obvious, whereby the moralist may enforce the duty of educating in the comparatively pliable period of youth.
II. The process of education. “Train up.” Note the distinction between teaching and training. There may be teaching without training. Moral training according to a Divine standard, with the view of moulding the human being while yet young and tender into right principles and habits of action, is the only education worthy of the name. The oldest training-school is the best--the school at home; sisters and brothers are the best class-fellows, and parents the best masters. But formidable obstacles, both intrinsic and extrinsic, prevent or impede parental training.
III. The aim and end of education. “In the way he should go.” Wisdom in choosing the proper time, and skill in adopting the best method, would be of no avail if false principles were thereby instilled into the mind and evil habits ingrafted on the life. If we do not train the children in truth and righteousness it would be better that we should not train them at all. (W. Arnot, D.D.)
The training of children
There are many qualifications necessary for carrying out this important duty.
I. Sanctified love. This is not mere instinctive fondness which is common to man and animals, but--
1. A perception of the true beauty of childhood.
2. A realisation of the purity of childhood.
3. A consciousness of the guileless simplicity of childhood.
II. Felt responsibilty.
1. Children are not our own.
2. Children are the future inhabitants of the world. Hence the world will be, to a certain extent, what we make the children.
3. Children have immortal souls.
III. Indirect influence. To obtain this we must--
1. Subdue our own passion. No passionate parent can possibly influence his child for good.
2. Set a godly example.
3. Cultivate confidence and win affection.
IV. Patient waiting and earnest prayer. (Homilist.)
Childhood innocence a dream
Here is an assertion, but is not experience frequently at variance with it? The statement of the text is unqualified. Adherence to the right path is given as the invariable result of having been trained up in the right path. Can this be established by facts? With what restrictions are the words of the wise man to be understood? It is implied in the text that there is no tendency in a child to walk in the right way, and if we leave him to himself he will be sure to walk in the wrong. Almost from the moment of the child’s birth can be discovered in the infant the elements of the proud, revengeful, self-willed man. There is hereditary guilt where there cannot be absolute. The innocency of childhood is a dream and delusion. In dealing with children we have not to deal with unoccupied soil, but soil already impregnated with every seed of moral evil. In what manner may the precept of the text be best obeyed? The great secret of training lies in regarding the child as immortal. (H. Melvill, B.D.)
Teach the youngest
Dr. Chalmers, in a letter to his sister, Mrs. Morton, says: “You cannot begin too early. God should be spoken of to the very youngest, and the name of Jesus Christ familiarised to them; and every association of reverence and love that the tone and style of the parents can attach to the business of religion should be established in them. Their consciences are wonderfully soon at work.”
Childhood is like a mirror catching and reflecting images all around it. Remember that an impious thought uttered by a parent’s lip may operate upon a young heart like a careless spray of water thrown upon polished steel, staining it with rust which no after-scouring can efface.
Teaching and training
It is a very important thing to get hold of the distinction between teaching and training, or, as the margin reads it, catechising. Train up a child, not merely lead a child. There is a New Testament text which brings out the same thoughts where parents are taught to bring up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Observe the distinction between nurture and admonition. Admonition means teaching, and nurture means training--two very remote things. Eli was a capital admonisher, but no trainer. Eli admonished his sons very often. If mere talking would have answered, he would have done well. He should have been like Abraham, who commanded his house after him. Do you think you could ever make good marksmen by giving lectures on the science of projectiles? Would that make men good shots? If you are to be good shots you must handle the rifle and actually shoot. (S. Coley.)
The training of a child
Human society is now hard enough, and needs more sympathy in it than one always sees; but what it would become if the hearts of men were not kept in some degree of softness and tenderness by the affections which are raised and developed by family life it is difficult fully to conceive. This text corrects the terrible and mischievous misconception that a child’s future is altogether a thing of chance. It can be controlled. All life can be trained. It can be made to take a course different from that which it otherwise would take. The training is within certain limits. Children will be trained in spite of us. How they are trained depends largely on us. We rely on this same principle of training in every other relation which the child sustains. The laws of religious life are not capricious and incalculable laws. Duty has to be learned like a business, or a science, or a profession. The training of a child consists in
Show me a child well instructed in the truths of the gospel, living day by day in the presence of consistent and winning examples, and surrounded with prayers, and I do not say that such an one may not through a strange self-will break his way through all these blessed influences and become a wreck and a castaway, but it will be a wonder if he comes to such a melancholy end, and it is easier to believe that in such a case the training has been faulty than that there has been a failure in the Divine promise which connects the spring and the autumn. (Enoch Mellor, D.D.)
The training of children
The whole human family has descended from the loins of Adam, and is necessarily tainted with his impurity. “By one man’s disobedience many were made sinners.” We are all under the power of sin. This tendency to sin is often exhibited in the child long before the dawn of consciousness. It is constitutionally a sinner, and the uninterrupted development of its nature will necessarily be a growth in sin.
I. The text does not mean that this sinful nature is to be trained in the hope of producing blessed results, but something higher and better is to be supplied from without. Life and grace and power have been brought into the service of humanity in the person of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, and are to be made over to us by the operation of the Holy Ghost. But this Divine life is here only in germ, and must be developed in the midst of certain conditions, and here is a duty that God requires at the hands of parents. “I know Abraham, that he will command his children and his household after him, and that they shall keep the way of the Lord to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which He had spoken of him.” Here it is expressly stated that Abraham was to do his part in order that the Lord might verify to him the blessings guaranteed in the covenant.
II. This training should begin at the very dawn of the child’s existence. When we are told to “train up a child in the way that he should go,” it is meant that we should do this; not let it first grow up in sin and then try to reclaim it afterward by extraordinary effort. To do that is to give the world, the flesh, and the devil all the advantage. The child will not grow up a Christian without the influence and teaching of the parent. The receptive faculties of the child must be trained and sustained, and then the Holy Ghost will sanctify the life and make it fruitful in holiness. During its earliest life the child absorbs impressions and is completely under parental influence and direction. Parents are also invested with authority over the child, and it will need discipline, but this must be exercised in love. For the lack of this spirit corrections administered are often of no avail Correction administered in a wrong spirit will do harm and not good. It must be evident, therefore, that properly to train our children we must not only teach them Christian doctrine, but we must live the life of a Christian.
III. If a child is thus nurtured and trained in the Divine life we need not suppose that a technical experience or sudden transition is necessary to constitute it a Christian. The neglect of parental training cannot be made up in any other way. There is no danger of claiming too much for our holy religion. The whole being of man is to be sanctified by it. The chief end of our existence is to glorify God. How often it is said of a man who dies owning no property that “he left nothing to his family”! But every child is an heir, and his inheritance is indefeasible. First of all are his memories of his parents and his home. The man who has no property to devise should not be unhappy. “I give and bequeath to my children a good name, a Christian example, and a faithful training.” Is not that a good start for a last will? These are legacies over which no heirs quarrel and that require no probate outside of the sanctuary of the heart. (E. R. Esohbech, D.D.)
The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.
The borrower servant to the lender
The mere circumstance of being rich gives one man superiority over another who is poor. He who is forced to borrow is placed on that very account in a sort of relative inferiority to him whose position enables him to lend. These words may be compared with those attributed to the Lord Jesus, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
I. The principle may be universally acknowledged and acted upon. Though a man may have received much--a vigorous intellect, a commanding judgment, a rich imagination--he will be miserable if he can give nothing. If a man were assured that he would never be permitted to tell what he had done or recite what he had seen, he loses at once the great impetus which urges him to do much or to see much. A man is not satisfied with being rich, he must be in circumstances to give; some one must be borrower, while he is a lender. It is the giving which makes the receiving of any worth. What is the reason of this alleged supremacy of giving over receiving?
1. The resemblance which is thus acquired to our Redeemer and Creator. If God be love, there is no presumption in supposing that without objects over which the love might expand the Almighty Himself would have remained unsatisfied. Lending, not borrowing, constitutes the happiness of God. And there is more like-mindedness to Christ in giving than in receiving.
2. The giver or the lender has necessarily an advantage over the receiver or the borrower, and this explains how the one is the servant of the other. In all cases the giving seems to imply a relative superiority and the receiving a relative inferiority.
3. Notice the reflex character of benevolence which causes that whatever is bestowed is restored to us tenfold.
II. Objections urged against the statement of the text. In dividing society into the lenders and the borrowers you would exclude the vast majority of mankind from the possibility of being charitable. But being charitable is not limited to any class of society. The poor man may be a giver as well as the rich. God has not granted to the wealthy a monopoly of benevolence. (H. Melvill, B.D.)
A wholesome horror of debt
The venerable Peter Cooper of New York, whose philanthropic efforts for the elevation of the masses are well known throughout the United States, celebrated his ninety-first birthday. In conversation with a reporter who congratulated him, Mr. Cooper referred to some of the guiding principles to which he attributed his success in life. Among other weighty observations were the following remarks on the burden of debt which are worthy the attention of all, especially of young men. Mr. Cooper said: “When I was twenty-one years old my employer offered to build me a shop and set me up in business, but as I always had a horror of being burdened with debt, and having no capital of my own, I declined his kind offer. He himself became a bankrupt. I have made it a rule to pay for everything as I go. If, in the course of business, anything is due from me to any one and the money is not called for, I make it my duty on the last Saturday before Christmas to take it to his business place.”
He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity.
The husbandry and harvestof the wicked
I. What is it to sow iniquity? or, to “sow to the flesh”? To follow only such a kind of life as a man’s own carnal and corrupt humour leads unto. It is called “sowing” because--
1. Before sowing goes the dressing and manuring of the ground; and men make themselves ready beforehand to do evil.
2. Ploughing and sowing are accompanied with much industry. And great is the diligence of the ungodly in the furtherance of iniquity.
3. Sowing, though laborious, is full of contentment. And the ungodly find joy in doing naughtily.
4. In sowing there go many seeds together, one handful after another. In the lives of the wicked there are plenty of evils; they never go alone--one maketh way for another.
5. After sowing the ground is harrowed, and the seed covered. So when evil is entertained in the heart, what policy there is to secrete it.
Sowing iniquity is discerned by these signs:
1. A cherishing and encouraging the heart to evil.
2. A taking pains to do naughtily.
3. A delighting in wickedness.
4. A heaping of one sin on the neck of another.
5. A plotting for the bringing of evil to perfection.
6. A withstanding of all means tending to recovery.
II. What are the troubles which follow on this sowing of iniquity? The affliction here meant is either in this life or hereafter. That which is in this life is either outward or inward. Diseases, discredit, etc. A conscience full of inward vexation; and sometimes a reprobate mind. The term “reap” indicates the fulness and certainty of the affliction. Two points of doctrine taught--
1. The greatness of God’s patience.
2. The certainty of His justice. (S. Hieron.)
“He that soweth iniquity shall reap calamity” (R.V.). The fashion of never calling a spade a spade is known as “euphemism.” According to it death is paying the debt of nature, stealing is misappropriation, lying is prevarication. A trace of it is found in the expression, “sowing one’s wild oats.” The phrase is intended to comprehend pretty much all the vices of young manhood. We are all sowing something or other. Some sow the fine wheat of kindly lives and generous deeds. Others go heedlessly sowing the wind. It would be well, all around, if there were less of sentimentalism and more of sound common sense with respect to the follies of our fast young men. Never were two greater mistakes made than are embodied in these two excuses, “Boys will be boys,” and “He’ll live it down; I’m sure he’ll live it down.” Paul directs our attention to the two levels of life--the low level of the flesh; the higher level of the spirit, where are men who live not for themselves only, but for the good of others and the glory of God. For all who are building character and making their lives tell for truth and righteousness, there are three safeguards--conscience, the sense of honour, and faith. There is no hope that the vicious young man will live his evil down. Sin works a terrible damage. It rots one’s self-respect; it pollutes the memory. It indisposes the soul for better things. It enslaves in the fetters of habit. It ruins the body. It destroys the soul. But no matter what the mistakes of our past lives have been, if we repent the Lord is ready to forgive. (D. J. Burrell, D.D.)
I. The inevitable work of human life. What is the work? It is that of moral agriculture-sowing and reaping. Every man in every act of life is doing this. Every volition, whether it takes the form of a thought, a word, or a muscular act, is a seed. There is a germ of imperishable life in it. What seeds men sow every day. What bushels they deposit in the moral soil of their being. But they reap as well as sow every day. What was sown yesterday they reap to-day. “Men are living in the fruits of their doings.” The law of causation is inviolate and ever operative within them.
II. The retributive law of human life. What you sow you’ll reap.
1. What you sow in kind you reap. “He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity.” Job says, “They that plough iniquity and sow wickedness reap the same “ (Job 4:8). Paul (Galatians 6:7-8). God will not reverse the law.
2. What you sow in measure you shall reap. Not a grain will be lost. Sometimes the seed which the husbandman commits to the soil rots. But not a grain in the harvest of life is lost. He will reap the richest harvest of blessedness who is most active in deeds of love and godliness. The words present--
III. The terrible mistake of human life. What is the mistake? “Sowing iniquity.”
1. This is a general mistake.
2. This is a mistake which men are slow to learn.
3. This is a mistake whose ultimate consequences will be terrific.
“And the rod of his anger shall fail”; or, as in the margin, “With the rod of his anger shall he be consumed.” Perhaps this expression refers to the tyrannic power exercised by wealthy men, as referred to in the preceding verse. Death shall wrest the rod from his hands. God shall break it to pieces; and his tyranny and iniquity shall leave him nothing but shame, remorse, and the fruits of Divine vengeance. (Homilist.)
Sowing wild oats
In all the wide range of accepted British maxims there is none, take it for all in all, more thoroughly abominable than that “a young man must sow his wild oats.” Look at it on what side you will, and you can make nothing but a devil’s maxim of it. What a man--be he young, old, or middle-aged--sows, that, and nothing else, shall he reap. The one only thing to do with wild oats is to put them carefully into the hottest part of the fire, and get them burnt to dust, every seed of them. If you sow them, no matter in what ground, up they will come, with long, tough roots like couch-grass, and luxuriant stalks and leaves, assure as there is a sun in heaven--a crop which it turns one’s heart cold to think of. The devil, too, whose special crop they are, will see that they thrive; and you, and nobody else, will have to reap them; and no common reaping will get them out of the soil, which must be dug down deep again and again. Well for you if, with all your care, you can make the ground sweet again by your dying day. “Boys will be boys” is not much better, but that has a true side to it; but this encouragement to the sowing of wild oats is simply devilish, for it means that a young man is to give way to the temptations and follow the lusts of his age. What are we to do with the wild oats of manhood and old age--with ambition, overreaching, the false weights, hardness, suspicion, avarice--if the wild oats of youth are to be sown, and not burnt? What possible difference can we draw between them? If we may sow the one, why not the other? (Tom Hughes.)
He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed.
The bountiful eye
The passage before us speaks of bounty in man, and blessedness from God. What is a bountiful eye, and what is the blessing belonging to him who possesses it? The eye is a wonderful part of the curiously wrought human frame. But the term is used in Scripture in a moral point of view, and describes a peculiar state of the mind. Thus we read of the blinded eye, the enlightened eye, the single eye, the evil eye, all of which refer to the state of the mind or heart; and so does the term “bountiful eye.” Mind, it is not said a bountiful tongue--“most men will proclaim every one his own goodness” (Proverbs 20:6); nor a bountiful hand, for man may give all his goods to feed the poor, and lack charity (1 Corinthians 13:3); nor a bountiful head, for an ingenious mind may devise schemes of liberality for others and not be truly generous himself; but “a bountiful eye”--one through which the soul looks in tender compassion--one that “considers the cause of the poor” (Psalms 41:1)--one that compares and contrives--one that “affects the heart,” stirs it up to feel, and moves the hand to minister. Such an eye looks in the right place to find appropriate objects. It does not shun misery, “passing by” (like the priest and Levite) “on the other side.” It looks through the right medium, even the love and compassion of God, and says, “If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.” “What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” It looks to the right end, even the glory of God and the good of man; and looks for a right reward--not the approbation of man, but to please God. A bountiful eye does not say, “How much can I give to save appearances, or pacify conscience”; but, “How much can I spare God and His cause?” A bountiful eye may be considered in contrast with the evil eye. “Eat not the bread of him that hath an evil eye” (Proverbs 23:6). Why not? Such an one maketh haste to be rich (Proverbs 28:22). He attempts to serve God and mammon (Matthew 7:12). Thus his eye is evil, and his whole body is full of darkness. Have you a bountiful eye? Be careful of it. The eye of the body wants guarding; so does the eye of the soul. It sometimes grows dim. Covetousness steals silent marches even on liberal souls. Happy is he of whom it can be said spiritually, as of Moses literally, that his eye is not dim, nor his spiritual force abated. The way to strengthen the habit is to be frequent in the act. (Christian Treasury.)
Cast out the scorner, and contention shall go out; yea, strife and reproach shall cease.
The scorner is a character which Solomon has frequently called our attention to in preceding chapters. Few characters in society are more despicable in spirit or pernicious in influence.
I. As A social disturber. “Cast out the scorner, and contention shall cease.”
1. He is a disturber in the family.
2. He is a disturber in the Church.
3. He is a disturber in the nation.
II. As a social outcast. “Cast out the scorner.” Excommunication is his righteous doom. If he has gained great influence as a politician, governments sometimes, instead of casting him out, take him into office, and bribe him by voting him a princely income. The duty, however, of society towards the scorner is to expel him. He should be treated as a social pest. (Homilist.)
He that loveth pureness of heart, for the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend.
What is purity--this bright and blessed strength of human life? The foundation of all purity must rest upon the body. Without bodily purity no other form of purity is possible. On this must rise the structure of mental and spiritual purity. Our thoughts and words must be not less pure than our actions. Action is ripened thought, and thought is germinating action. “No man suddenly falls.” The thoughts have grown accustomed to dwell on impurity long before the deed of impurity is committed. In pureness of mind lies our best defence. And purity of mind is essential to clearness of spiritual vision and lofty exaltation of soul. The vision of the Invisible is impossible to the impure. And the beatific vision of God should be man’s noblest ambition. Practical suggestions:
1. Cleanliness is a strong defence of bodily purity, and with this must go good moral habits.
2. Wholesome environment and occupation are strong aids to purity. When the surroundings of life are not wholesome, it is a struggle to keep life pure.
3. Go not into the way of temptation, and avoid the companionship of the impure.
4. Reverence your body. Our bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost; let us not defile them with impurity. And whatever else you leave undone, yet believe in pure and sacred love. Love that is not pure is not love. The love of home is a splendid defence against impurity. (Canon Diggle.)
The grace of the lips
I. Pure-heartedness. The moral beauty, the moral affluence of it; what it is and what comes out of it; what is a purehearted man, and how does his pure-heartedness stand related to his life? The proverb speaks of love for pure-heartedness, a recognition of it, and a joy in it, as the greatest and best of possessions.
II. The outcome of pure-heartedness. A pure-hearted man will be pure in speech; his conversation will be seasoned with the salt of his pure feeling. Speech is the blossom of a man’s life, and is fair or foul, fragrant or offensive, according to the character of the tree.
1. Conversation is the grace of the lips. Not mere religious talk; not prudery--the over-conscientiousness that detects wrong where no wrong is. Over-sensitiveness is not delicacy.
2. Prayer is a grace of the lips that springs from pure-heartedness.
3. The preaching of a pure-hearted man is a grace of the lips. Because of this grace of the lips which springs from purity of heart, special favours shall be won. “The king shall be his friend.” Good men win social confidence wherever they are, and the favour of the King of kings. (Henry Allon.)
The good man
This passage leads us to consider the heart, the speech, the influence, and the blessedness of a good man.
I. The heart of the good man. “He loveth pureness of heart.” Not merely does he love the pure in language, in manners and habits, in outward deportment, but the pure in heart. Pureness of heart in man’s case implies--
1. A moral renewal.
2. An urgent necessity. Without pureness of heart there is no true knowledge of God, or fellowship with Him.
II. The speech of the good man. “For the grace of his lips the king shall be his friend.” By “the grace of his lips” we are to understand something more than grammatic accuracy, or elegant diction--something more than logical correctness or strict veracity. It means speech that is morally pure--pure in sentiment, pure in aim. It is said of Christ that the people wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. The man of a pure heart will have lips of grace. “If the tree is made good, the fruit will be good.”
III. The influence of the good man. “The king shall be his friend.” Solomon here speaks probably of his own determination. He meant to say that he would give his friendship to such men. “This,” says Mr. Bridges, “had been his father’s resolution” (Psalms 51:6; Psalms 119:63). This character smoothed the way to royal favour for Joseph (Genesis 41:37-45), for Ezra (Ezra 7:21-25), and Daniel (Daniel 6:1-3; Daniel 6:28). Nay, we find godly Obadiah in the confidence of wicked Ahab (1 Kings 18:3; 1 Kings 18:12; 2 Kings 13:14). So powerful is the voice of conscience, even when God and holiness are hated! Such alone the great King marks as His friends. Such He embraces with His fatherly love (Proverbs 15:9). Such He welcomes into His heavenly kingdom (Psalms 15:1-2; Psalms 24:3-4).
IV. The blessedness of a good man “The eyes of the Lord preserve knowledge.” Three different interpretations have been given to the expression.
1. That the Lord vigilantly watches over His truth in the world. This is a truth, although we are not disposed to accept it as an interpretation of the passage.
2. That what the eyes of the Lord see He remembers for ever. “The eyes of the Lord preserve knowledge.” He retains His knowledge. We do not preserve our knowledge. We forget far more than we retain. But we are not disposed to accept this as the idea of the passage.
3. That the Lord exercises a protecting superintendence over those who possess His knowledge. That it means, in fact, the same as the expression elsewhere. “The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous.” This we accept as the true idea. Whilst the Lord keeps the good man, He overthroweth the words of the transgressor. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The slothful man saith, There is a lion without.
One lion; two lions; no lion at all
This slothful man seems to cherish that one dread of his about the lions as if it were his favourite aversion and he felt it to be too much trouble to invent another excuse. Perhaps he hugs it to his soul all the more because it is home-born fear, conjured up by his own imagination. At any rate, it serves him as a passable excuse for laziness, and that is what he wants. When a man is slothful as a servant he is unjust to his employers; and when he is in business on his own account, idleness is usually a wrong to his wife and family. When a man is thoroughly eaten up with the dry-rot of laziness he generally finds some kind of excuse, though his crime is really inexcusable. We have many spiritual sluggards, and it is to them that I speak. They are not sceptics, or confirmed infidels, or opposers of the gospel: perhaps their sluggish nature saves them from anything like energetic opposition to goodness.
1. The sluggard’s tongue is not slothful. The man who is lazy all over is generally busy with his tongue. There are no people that have so much to say as those that have little to do.
2. His imagination also is not idle. There were no lions in the streets. Laziness is a great lion-maker. He who does little dreams much. His imagination could create a whole menagerie of wild beasts.
3. He takes great pains to escape from pains. This slothful man had to use his inventive ability to get himself excused from doing his duty. It is an old proverb that lazy people generally take the most trouble, and so they do and when men are unwilling to come to Christ, it is very wonderful what trouble they will take to keep away from Him.
I. A lion. The man means that there is a great difficulty--a terrible difficulty, quite too much of a difficulty for him to overcome. He has not the strength to attack this dreadful enemy; the terrible difficulty which he foresees is more than he can face. The real lion after all is sluggishness itself, aversion to the things of God.
II. Two lions. In the second text there are two lions instead of one (chap. 26:13). He has waited because of that one lion, and now he fancies that there are two. He has made a bad bargain of his delay. It was inconvenient then because there was a lion. Is it more convenient now? Procrastination never profits; difficulties are doubled, dangers thicken.
III. No lion at all. If there be a man who would have Christ, there is no lion in the way to prevent his having Christ. “There are a thousand difficulties,” says one. If thou desirest Christ truly, there is no effectual difficulty that can really block thee from coming to Him. There are no lions except in your own imagination. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The characteristics of laziness
To Solomon laziness was one of the greatest evils in the character of man. How frequently does he depict it with graphic force! How often does he denounce it with firm energy! “Idleness,” says Colton, “is the grand pacific ocean of life, and in that stagnant abyss, the most salutary things produce no good, the most obnoxious no evil. Vice, indeed, abstractedly considered, may be, and often is, engendered in idleness; but the moment it becomes sufficiently vice, it must quit its cradle, and cease to be idle.” Two of the evils connected with indolence are suggested in the text.
I. It creates false excuses. “There is a lion without.” “The lion in the streets” is a fiction of his own lazy brain. The slothful man is ever acting thus--
1. In the secular sphere. Is he a farmer? He neglects the cultivation of his fields, because the weather is too cold or too hot, too cloudy, too dry or too wet. Is he a tradesman? He finds imaginary excuses in the condition of the market. Commodities are too high or too low. Is he an artizan? He finds difficulties in the place, the tools, or the materials. The industrious farmer finds no difficulties in the weather.
2. In the spiritual sphere. When the unregenerate man is urged to the renunciation of his own principles and habits, and the adoption of new spirit and methods, slothfulness urges him to make imaginary excuses. Sometimes he pleads the decrees of God, sometimes the greatness of his sins, sometimes the inconvenience of the season--too soon or too late.
II. It creates unmanly excuses, The very excuse he pleads, though imaginary, if true would be a strong reason for immediate action. “A lion in the streets! “Why, if he had a spark of manhood in him, a bit of the stuff that makes heroes, he should rouse every power. There is no heroism in the heart of indolence. To true souls difficulties are a challenge, not a check to action. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of cor-rection shall drive it far from him.
Foolishness and the remedy
I. The evil deplored.
1. Of what does this foolishness consist? Wrong wishes, purposes, thoughts, pride, sin, levity, etc.
2. Where does this foolishness lurk? In the heart. Deep in the nature, among the affections. Hidden, secret, for some time unknown. In the heart of a “child,” even of a little child.
3. How this foolishness is held in the heart--“bound.” Children often hold to their folly with great tenacity; bound with other things, and spoiling what is good, like the thorns that choked the good seed.
4. How this foolishness in the heart shows itself. In evil tempers, in vain murmurings, in ungodly deeds, in wilfulness and obstinacy, etc.
5. The consequences to which, if uncorrected, this foolishness will lead. The forming of a character that men will despise and God hate. The embittering of the present life and the ruin of the life to come.
II. The remedy prescribed.
1. As a general rule correction is needed.
2. Literally, the rod required is often the “whip for the fool’s back.” It will often accomplish what words will not.
3. It may stand for wholesome discipline of many kinds. Learn--
(1) Seek the removal of folly from the heart by thought and prayer.
(2) In every correction, remember that it is for our good.
(3) Consider that the father who uses the rod does not willingly afflict.
(4) Better that folly be driven from us, than that we should be banished from heaven. (Handbook of S.S. Addresses.)
He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches . . . shall surely come to want.
I. Oppression. “He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches “(R.V., “gain”). Everywhere do we see avarice working out its designs, and building up its fortunes by oppressing the poor. The poor have necessarily to cross the seas, to delve in mines, to toil in fields, to work in manufactories, to slave in shops and counting-houses. But avarice cares nothing for the health, the liberty, the pleasures, the intellectual and social advancement of the poor. Avarice fattens on the miseries of poverty. The interest of others is nothing to the avaricious man in comparison with his own. He would be ever receptive, never communicative.
II. Sycophancy. “He that giveth to the rich.” Avarice, whilst tyrannic to the poor, is servile to the rich. The wealth it gets it employs with a miserable, crawling baseness, to win the favour and command the smiles of the wealthy and the great. A fawning sycophancy will eat out the true manhood of the civilised world. Souls bow down before the glitter of wealth and the pageantry of power. (Homilist.)
Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise.
I. The experimental knowledge of them is a transcendent blessing. They are “excellent things” in themselves--things that reveal a spiritual universe, a glorious Redeemer, and an ever-blessed God. But the verses teach that a knowledge of them is a transcendent blessing. They teach--
1. That such a knowledge affords pleasure. It is a “pleasant thing.” What said Paul? “I count all things but loss for the excellency,” etc.
2. That such a knowledge enriches speech. “They shall withal be fitted in thy lips.”
3. That such a knowledge inspires trust in God. “That thy trust may be in the Lord.”
4. That such a knowledge establishes the faith of the soul. A man to whom these spiritual verities are an experience is not like a feather tossed by every wind of doctrine, but like a tree, so rooted and grounded in faith as to stand firm amidst the fiercest hurricanes that blow. Such a man’s faith stands not in the wisdom of man, but in the power of God.
5. That such a knowledge qualifies for usefulness. “That thou mightest answer the words of truth to them that send unto thee.”
II. The experimental knowledge of them is attainable. The method for attainment involves four things.
1. Communication. These spiritual verities come to the soul in the “words of the wise.” “Have not,” says the writer of these verses, “I written to thee excellent things in counsels and knowledge?” Men do not reach this knowledge as they reach a knowledge of scientific truth--by their own researches and reasonings. It is brought to them in a communication--a communication from holy men who “spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost.”
2. Attention. “Bow down thine ear, and hear the words of the wise.”
3. Application: “Apply thine heart unto my knowledge.”
4. Retention. “It is a pleasant thing if thou keep them within thee.” (D. Thomas, D.D.)
That I might make thee know the certainty of the words of truth.
This is an age of inquiry. The ideas of the ancient world are the ideas of the childhood of the race. The Bible is a human book, which we reverence and love as a sacred treasure on account of the Divine spirit which pervades it. Do not place the Bible on the altar of superstition and imagine it to be God. Seek God in it, but with this caution--that all of it is not the actual Word of God. Why should any man seek by unfair means to force another to think as he does? Does not Christ give us an example of mental freedom? He seeks the voluntary and unprejudiced consent of mind, heart, and will.
I. Know the certainty of the words of truth.
1. That God is the heavenly Father of mankind.
2. Our heavenly Father is just, merciful, and loving, and every man may have free access to the great parental heart.
3. Never attempt to escape from any penalty by doing wrong.
II. Wherever there is a penitent soul there is also a kind and forgiving God. Penitence is not perfection.
III. The transgressor must bear the penalty of his sin. It is a just and merciful law of God that the transgressor shall bear the penalty. The Lord Jesus will not save you from the physical penalty of your sin; but He will give you grace to bear the thorn which your own sin has thrust into your life. (William Birch.)
Remove not the ancient landmarks.
The old landmarks
The wisdom of the Mosaic code is nowhere more manifest than in its provisions touching the tenure of land. Every man in Israel was a landowner, and he must remain so. It was customary to mark the boundaries of estates by corner-stones. To remove these landmarks, if an envious neighbour were so disposed, was an easy matter. But it was prohibited under a severe penalty. We deal with the spiritual inheritance handed down by our fathers as a rich bequest of truth and virtue. An attempt to remove the landmarks of this inheritance is noted as one of the dangerous tendencies of modern thought.
1. One landmark is belief in the supernatural. The hand reached forth to remove this boundary is Agnosticism.
2. Another is Revelation. By which is meant the Holy Scriptures. The enemy of Scripture to-day is Rationalism. To the present controversy as to the trustworthiness of Scripture is due loss of reverence and loss of faith.
3. Another is belief in Christ. The enemies are the various forms of humanitarianism.
4. Another is tradition. There is danger in clamouring against a thing because it bears the seal of antiquity. Progress in theological circles has come to mean a reckless abandonment of everything that age has sanctified. Dogma is objected to because it has “been handed down.” In fact, a dogma is nothing more nor less than a formulated truth bearing the marks of age, and of long trial, and the warrant of venerable authority. (D. J. Burrell, D.D.)
I. Some of the landmarks threatened.
1. Those of doctrine. The deity of Christ. Salvation by atonement. The necessity for regeneration.
2. Those of Christian life. Laxity in doctrine results in laxity of life.
II. Reasons why these landmarks should be left. Loyalty to God as King forbids us from tampering with them, and affection to Him as a Father says, “Respect them.” They are the ramparts of the Church. They are the foundations of all true happiness, and the men who have most faithfully stood by them, and most humbly paid homage to them, have been the men who have been the glory of the Church. (Archibald G. Brown.)
Eastern fields were not divided by hedge, or wall, or ditch, so there was much danger of confusing the separate properties of individuals. In the East advantage was taken, wherever possible, of natural divisions, such as river-beds, tributary stream-lines, and edges of valleys. But in the open ground the separate properties were only marked by a deeper furrow, or large stones almost buried in the soil. The injunction not to remove a neighbour’s landmarks was, therefore, of the utmost importance, as stealthy encroachments might easily be made by shifting these stones. (Biblical Things not Generally Known.)
Seest thou a man diligent in his business?
he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men.
The Bible ideal of man
The Bible is a history of human life and a picture of character extending through many ages, and embracing in its scope a vast variety of the family of man. There emerges from this story of life an ideal. There is a moral purpose in all the historical Scriptures.
1. The Bible always recognises a basis of character which is found in the natural endowments of a man.
2. According to the teaching of the Bible there must be a diligent use of these natural powers.
3. The diligence of life must be, according to the Scripture ideal, accompanied by the virtues and purities of a moral self-restraint
4. This ideal man of the Scripture is to be further inspired by a sense of the Divine presence and power. There is one remark necessary to complete the Bible idea of human life. There is a condition which the Scriptures give us as belonging to life, not necessary to perfection, but almost always present, and helpful to its development. The best of men are greatly crossed and exercised by the sorrows and oppositions which are incident to life. Trouble plays an important part as testing and strengthening and sweetening life. (L. D. Bevan, D.D.)
Diligence brings success in life
I believe success in life is within the reach of all who set before them an aim and an ambition that is not beyond the talents and ability which God has bestowed upon them. We should all begin life with a determination to do well whatever we take in hand, and if that determination be adhered to with the pluck for which Englishmen are renowned, success, according to the nature and quality of our brain power, is, I think, a certainty. Had I begun life as a tinker, my earnest endeavour would have been to have made better pots and pans than my neighbours; and I think I may venture to say without any vanity that, with God’s blessing, I should have been fairly successful. The first step on the ladder that leads to success is the firm determination to succeed; the next is the possession of that moral and physical courage which will enable one to mount up, rung after rung, until the top is reached. The best men make a false step now and then, and some even have very bad falls. The weak and puling cry over their misfortunes, and seek for the sympathy of others, and do nothing further after their first or second failure; but the plucky and the courageous pick themselves up without a groan over their broken bones or their first failures, and set to work to mount the ladder again, full of confidence in themselves, and with faith in the results that always attend upon cheerful perseverance. (Lord Wolseley.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Proverbs 22". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29