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Be not thou envious against evil men, neither desire to be with them.
Evil men not to be envied
The first verse of this chapter is very naturally connected with the close of the chapter preceding. There is little room for “envy” of rich characters as the one there so graphically depicted, and of all men on earth they will be the last whose company will be “desired” by the wise and good. But the counsel before us may be taken more generally. Far be it that “evil men” of any stamp should be envied--either for their boasted freedom or their apparent prosperity. Their freedom is but the semblance of the blessing. It is the reality of bondage. They promise liberty, and are themselves the slaves of corruption. And their prosperity! Oh, deem it not a mark of God’s favour! It is all deceitful. It ends in ruin. “Desire not to be with them.” How oft-repeated is this counsel! How often is the warning enforced by similar reasons! “For their heart studieth destruction, and their lips talk of mischief.” Their designs of evil fully matured find utterance. They communicate their projects to others like-minded with themselves--projects of fraud, peculation, robbery; or if on such matters there be a sense of social honour, and an adherence to the conventional morality of the world, there may be projects of impurity--of lewdness and seduction, of drunken frolic and revel, of the snares of temptation for some simple but sober youth, whom it will be so excellent a joke to induce to join them in sin. All this, under what palliative epithets soever it may pass in the world, is “mischief” and “destruction.” (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
Through wisdom is an house builded.
The spiritual edifice
The subject is wisdom, with its enlargements of understanding and knowledge--terms probably used to denote the expansions of the master principle, and the ramifications into which it extends, as it sways and develops the faculties of the mind. Distinguish between the “wisdom of this world” and the “wisdom of God.” They who embrace the wisdom of God beckon the other wisdom with it. They who embrace the latter usually repel the invitation, and continue their warfare in the pride and scorn of self-satisfied security, which ultimately terminates in their destruction.
I. Wisdom is the foundation on which a house must be built. It is the great principle on which all other principles must be founded. But what is this wisdom? Solomon says, “the fear of the Lord.” True religion. Consisting, not in a mere external or intellectual acknowledgment of an overruling Deity, much less in any amount of mere intellectual knowledge, but in an actual going to Wisdom as to a personage, not merely in possessing a certain quality or disposition of mind, but in really going to God by faith, and so accepting and following the terms of His covenant that the qualities and dispositions of mind, which manifest the being built on wisdom, spring from that source, coming down from God to man as the gifts of His grace, not going up from man towards God.
II. The strength, superstructure, and ornament of the spiritual edifice. The active duties of our profession are implied in carrying out the obligations and requirements of a true and heart-born faith. Store your minds with knowledge; only see that first of all you possess the knowledge of God in Christ Jesus. (R. H. Davies, B.A.)
The wise life-builder
Here evil is contrasted with wisdom: evil throws down, wisdom builds up; evil brings darkness, wisdom brings light. Wisdom is represented as a builder; one who builds with a plan, not merely putting stone upon stone for the sake of building a high tower without purpose or utility, but building a house, signifying arrangement, commodiousness, security, hospitality: a very home that should have in it the elements of a school, the beginning of a sanctuary, and a hint of heaven itself. True building is not to be hurried. Sometimes the builder rests from his labours, that he may give the wall time to settle, lest by overpowering the foundation he bring the work to destruction. True life-building means that plan and a specification has been provided, whereby the work as to its scope and purpose is clearly indicated, and the materials with which the work is to be executed are named one by one, as to their quality and their proportions. It is not to be supposed that men go forth into the open field and begin to build as on the spur of the moment. Every building will speak for itself. If the perpendicular has been broken, if the horizontal line is out of course, if doors and windows are out of proportion, even the fool can see how abortive has been the labours of the builder. Where everything expresses thoughtfulness, experience, and skill, the trained eye will approve the figure of the building, and all men will feel that no encroachment has been made upon the propriety of life. Every duly considered and well-built house comes into existence as if by right; it establishes its own claim to abide among the homes of men. So it is with a heart-house, a life-house, a house representing character and action and purpose; there is nothing violent about the building, and when it is set forth in all its proportions it needs no vindication, for its strength is a defence, and its beauty is an explanation. (J. Parker, D.D.)
A wise man is strong; yea, a man of knowledge increaseth strength
Wisdom the strength of the mind
The changes of life often have unhappy effects on the temper of our minds.
A defence against these evils would be very desirable. Who would not possess a constant equanimity, an uniform peace and steady resolution of soul? Solomon says this is to be gained through wisdom, or religious virtue.
I. The diseased and feeble state of mind against which wisdom is the proper remedy. It seemeth to consist in an indisposition for the due exercise of its powers. The body is then distempered and weak, and so the mind is rendered incapable of the offices which become such a being. The weakness principally appeareth in the prevalence of passions which are excited by them, and are summed up in aversion; that is, in the prevalence of fear and sorrow and anger. Reason and moral conscience is the man; in its vigour and authority over the inferior springs of action our strength lieth.
1. Fear is an infirmity natural to man, which very often hath pernicious effects, and in itself, abstracting from its effects, is very uncomfortable. Every living creature, according to its measure of perfection, hath a self-enjoyment, and findeth ease and satisfaction in its sound and healthy state. But it was wisely provided that such of them as are liable to dangers and annoyances from abroad should have a painful apprehension of them, in order to their being put upon the speediest methods for avoiding them. This is the end of fear in their constitution. Man is made with a larger comprehension, and with the privilege of foresight, by which he discovereth a variety of dangers, and seeth them at a great distance; and this certainly was not originally intended to be his torment, but, if it be so in event, it must be by way of penal infliction for his faults, or a distemper of his mind against which there is a proper remedy provided.
2. Grief. This is not equal in all men. Some spirits can sustain their infirmity better than others. But all find it requires a force above that of mere unimproved and uncultivated nature to support it. It requireth religious wisdom.
3. Anger. Felt when the disagreeable event is considered an injury, and as befalling us by the injustice or ill-will of a voluntary agent. Now consider the symptoms of this natural weakness. During the prevalence of these passions the understanding is obscured; at least, we have not the due use of it. It seems to be the natural tendency of pain to arrest the thoughts. The counsels of the mind are at such times full of perplexity, which often produce irresolution, instability, and fatal precipitation.
II. Wherein the strength of the wise man lieth. How wisdom, or religious virtue, is the cure of our weakness and its symptoms.
1. It is a defence against fear, because it represents uncomfortable events as too inconsiderable to affect our main interests. The good “man is satisfied from himself”; his integrity is his chief treasure. Virtue is a greater good than riches, worldly honours, and carnal pleasure.
2. The testimony of our conscience is an effectual preservative against immoderate dejecting fears, as it gives us confidence towards God and assurance of His favour.
3. The wise man is strong against fear, because his confidence is in the Divine all-sufficiency, love, and faithfulness. Chance and necessity, as the cause of events, are the refuge of ignorant minds. Faith controls the fears of a religious mind, for it represents an intelligent, powerful, and gracious Providence as superintending all affairs and directing all events irresistibly.
4. The wise man is strengthened by the Christian hope of immortality. The same principles and sentiments restrain immoderate anger. So religious wisdom delivers us from the symptoms of weakness arising from the passions; ignorance and confusion; the darkened understanding. True wisdom openeth the eyes. There is an admirable simplicity in religion. A man of knowledge increaseth strength against irresolution, unsteadiness, and precipitancy; his behaviour is consistent and uniform, because it is conducted by one invariable principle. The wise and virtuous perform their good works with vigour and alacrity. And this spiritual strength is ever increasing, and a constant source of pleasure to the man himself. Then let us examine ourselves, and try what equanimity we maintain in the changes of life. (J. Abernethy, M.A.)
Fixed religious principles
“A wise man is strong.” That is, a true man; one who fears God. We shall seek to show the infinite importance of fixed principles
I. In relation to the duties of life.
II. In regard to the relationships of life.
III. In relation to the trials of life.
IV. As a safeguard against the Temptations of life. (F. Wagstaff.)
The thought of foolishness is sin.
The nature of evil thoughts
I. What is meant by the “thought of foolishness”? Folly and sin signify the same thing in Scripture. We are not to understand thoughts of pure speculation as simple acts of the understanding; nor even a thought of sudden and transient inclination towards sin, which arises in our minds before we are aware and which we endeavour to stifle. Though such thoughts are sinful in their first rise and tendency, when the imagination has been long heated or their hearts corrupted by any criminal excess or disorder. We are to understand by a thought of foolishness one of complacency. Such a thought as the will not only consents to entertain, but which the mind delights to dwell and dilate itself upon. These evil thoughts proceed from some vicious reigning passion, or perhaps presumptuous sin. To give way to such vain and foolish thoughts is an argument of a mind very much turned and estranged from God. Such impure and loose thoughts are directly contrary to the fruits of the Spirit, and to those precepts of Holy Scripture which require us to be spiritually-minded. Many mistakenly think there is no sin in dwelling on evil thoughts, so long as they abstain from gross external acts of sin.
II. Rules and directions for the better regulation of our thoughts.
1. Take care to be always usefully or at least innocently employed.
2. Carefully examine what those things are which have been most apt to excite evil thoughts in us. And refrain from company, books, and circumstances which influence us for evil.
3. Evil thoughts frequently arise from prevailing natural temper.
4. Live under a constant sense of God’s presence and inspection over us.
5. All rules and directions will avail but little toward the better government of our thoughts without the illuminating and sanctifying graces of the Spirit of God. (R. Fiddes, D.D.)
And the scorner is an abomination to men.
I. A description of the scorner.
1. He is one who runs counter to the general reason and maxims whereby the rest of mankind govern themselves. He places his greatest glory in those disorders which the rest of mankind are most ashamed of.
2. He is one who delights to walk in the way of sinners.
3. He would be thought of as believing that there is no God.
4. He delights in ridiculing those persons or things which have a more immediate relation to God.
5. The greatest effort of the scorner is against that order of men whose peculiar office it is to minister in things pertaining to God.
6. He makes it his business to confound the distinction of virtue and vice, to call evil good and good evil.
II. His rendering himself an abomination to men. This he does by--
1. His common swearing.
2. His profaneness.
3. His confounding the distinction of virtue and vice.
III. Useful improvements.
1. Men generally entertain a secret esteem and veneration for religion.
2. Take care to keep ourselves at as far a distance as possible from the profane temper of mind of the scorner. Never think of God, or speak of Him, save with reverence. Be careful not to obstruct the influence of religious considerations on our hearts. (R. Fiddes, D.D.)
If thou faint in the day of adversity, thy strength is small
The Christian failing in business
There are such failures.
Christianity does not secure its disciples against misfortune and calamity. It has need of trouble. While it could not help it always without a constant miracle, it does not always help it when it can. There is a tendency in religion to promote worldly prosperity. Most of the conditions of secular success are improved by the principles and habits of spirituality. It quickens the intellect, gives calmness and self-possession to the feelings, fosters industry and diligence, creates character and credit. Many a man may be found who has been made, in this sense, by godliness. Some Christians never get on. They try many schemes, with one sorrowful result.
I. Christianity should preserve from despondency in failure. There is a tendency in trouble to dispirit. It may be checked by the force of natural energy of heart. The greater number of men are apt to sink under disappointment. Many cannot row against the tide. The evil of this depression is great. In relation to the worldly business. The man is as one possessed with a spirit of defeat. There is no ingenuity to plan; no vigorous employment of offered opportunities. This despondency affects other things. Begun in business, it extends to all departments of feeling and activity. Christianity tends to check this, because it limits the sphere of failure. It also changes its character. It teaches us that if we fail it may be the means of our greater success. The prostration, the sorrow, the want, may be the discipline of life everlasting. Sometimes the failure may be traced to the Christian’s own fault. Then these considerations are inapplicable. But then the evil may be overruled for good.
II. Christianity should preserve from irritation in failure. If the timid are most in danger of despondency, the proud are most in danger of exasperation. And who is so free from pride as not to be in danger of this? Failure may easily excite the evil passions of the soul, sour the temper, and arouse to anger and to wrath. If a man were only irritated against himself, there might not be much amiss. But the danger is nearly all the other way. The failing man is often found cherishing a wrong temper towards his fellows. To check this evil Christianity begets humility, and produces a spirit of benevolence.
III. Christianity should preserve from dishonesty in failure. Want is a temptation to dishonesty. It is not an excuse for it. Many who never had a thought that was not honourable have fallen into sin when they fell into trouble. And even when the trouble has been much less than entire failure. There is temptation to do wrong in order to evade, or conceal, or repair misfortune. Making us to love truth and equity, Christianity connects our self-respect with these principles. And, as Christians, we should be supremely concerned for the moral honour of Christianity. (A. J. Morris.)
I. The occasion referred to. “The day of adversity.”
1. Reverse of fortune--poverty and want.
II. The action reproved. “ If thou faint.” Not the suffering of pain or the feeling of sorrow, but the excess of an allowable feeling.
1. When we yield to impatience, entertain hard thoughts of God, and distrust His goodness.
2. When we are so absorbed by adversity as to forget past prosperity.
3. When we yield to sorrow so far as to preclude necessary exertion.
4. When it causes us to yield to unholy methods in order to extricate ourselves from the difficulty. The Jews appealed to Egypt.
III. The fault explained. “Thy strength is small.”
(1) Smallness of faith.
(2) Weakness of hope.
(3) Deficiency of love.
(4) Lack of courage.
(5) Want of humility.
IV. The remedy.
1. Call into exercise the strength you have. “To him that hath,” etc.
2. Cherish higher thoughts of God.
3. Wait at the throne of grace. (J. Bunting.)
The wych-elm manifests the approach of winter earlier than any other tree. It becomes ruined and denuded by a touch of the frosty air, and contributes no splendour, no beauty to our autumnal scenery, as its leaves curl up, become brown, and flutter from their sprays, as early, when growing in exposed situations, as the middle of September. This character of itself marks a difference from the common elm, which preserves its verdure, except from accidental causes, long after this period, and with a fine mellow yellow hue, contributing a full share with other trees to the character and splendour of autumn. The wych-elm is an emblem of the susceptible, tender human character. The soul of such a man is highly sensitive to all external impressions. The first frosty touch of a great sorrow shakes his life to its centre. Men of a more robust type are chastened by sad events; and, mellowed by chequered experiences, live on to the tranquil maturity of their existence. But he, unfortunately, cannot face the rough blasts of adversity, and perishes at once under their cruel, chilling influence. Even the cold breath of slander sometimes bears for him a sentence of death. (Scientific Illustrations.)
Flourishing upon the unpromising
Humming-birds, colibris, and their brothers of every hue, live with impunity in the fearful forests where tropical nature, under forms oftentimes of great beauty, wages her keenest strife in those gleaming solitudes where danger lurks on every side--among the most venomous insects, and upon those most mournful plants whose every shade kills. One of them (crested, green, and blue), in the Antilles, suspends his nest to the most terrible and fatal of trees, to the spectre whose fatal glance seems to freeze your blood for ever, to the deadly manchineal. It is this parroquet, which boldly crops the fruits of the fearful tree, feeds upon them, assumes their livery, and appears, from its sinister green, to draw the metallic lustre of its triumphant wings. Nature endows the birds, as she also endows men, with a marvellous capacity for accommodation to circumstances. Beautiful birds are not made out of what we should consider wholesome food, and beautiful characters are not made out of the choice events of history. Nature supplies us with an appropriative power whereby we transmute everything to the purposes which she intends to serve. We know to what splendid purposes genius has been able to turn poverty, jails, cruelty, persecution. Some of the finest characters in history have been formed by and flourished upon these unpromising elements. The bird does not take the poison and submit to death; it transmutes it into life and beauty. The hero does not let circumstances subdue him; he makes circumstances subserve the growth of his character. (Scientific Illustrations.)
The culture that gives strength
If you were to hear some men’s experience, you would think that they grow as the white pine grows, with straight grain, and easily split; for I notice that all that grow easy, split easy. But there are some that grow as the mahogany grows, with veneering knots, and all quirls and contortions of grain. That is the best timber of the forest which has the most knots. Everybody seeks it, because, being hard to grow, it is hard to wear out. And when knots have been sawn and polished, how beautiful they are. There are many who are content to grow straight, like weeds on a dunghill; but there are many others who want to be stalwart and strong like the monarchs of the forest, and yet, when God sends winds of adversity to sing a lullaby in their branches, they do not like to grow in that way. They dread the culture that is really giving toughness to their soul and strength to its fibre. (H. W. Beecher.)
If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death.
The claim of our brother’s need
1. It is supposed that there is an allusion here to what is understood to have been a custom among the Jews. When a man was being led to execution a sort of crier or herald went with the procession, publicly proclaiming that if any man hath “anything to offer even yet to show the innocence of the accused, or any circumstances of extenuation to present, or testimony to give to his character, let him now declare it; the judges are sitting; the procession to the place of execution shall be arrested; anything new in the form of evidence or testimony shall be heard, and thus execution shall be stayed.” It is supposed here that a man is in danger of death. It is supposed that he is innocent. It is supposed that there is a man who can help him, even now, to prove his innocence. If that man withholds his testimony, he is guilty of murder, and comes into the judgment of God.
2. Illustrations of the principle embodied in the text. Individuals may be exposed to great suffering by no fault of their own. Many have to suffer in consequence of the operation of general laws over which they have no control. Where there is suffering, peril, or destitution on one side, there is somewhere on the other the power to help; somebody has the ability to interpose. Those that have the power may neglect it, and endeavour to find miserable apologies and excuses for their neglect. There may be perfectly honest and sufficient reasons in any case why an individual may not help or take part in affording relief, but in every case a man must be perfectly honest with himself, and not make his personal indulgence take shape as pecuniary inability to help others. (T. Binney.)
Help for the heathen world
As descriptive, the words of the text draw our attention to the heathen, and give us a very affecting representation of their state. As imperative, they turn our attention to ourselves, and point out the work which God has given us to do--to use every possible effort to rescue our perishing neighbours from the state of peril and danger in which they are placed.
I. The state of the heathen world. As described in the text, “drawn unto death,” and “ready to be slain.”
1. As respects this world. In Hindustan there are four modes whereby men and women are “drawn unto death”--women by being burnt alive on the funeral pile of their husbands, and by being buried alive in the same grave; men by being crushed beneath the wheels of the ponderous car of Juggernaut, and by being drowned in the river Ganges.
2. As respects the next world. Look at their never-dying souls; think of the everlasting importance of the world to come. They are drawn to the pains of eternal death by their numerous and enormous iniquities; by the god of this world; and by the almighty arm of a holy and righteous God.
II. The imperative fixture of the text. We must look at ourselves.
1. Our duty is clearly pointed out. We are to preach the everlasting gospel. Who will go? To whom can we look with so much propriety as to those who are already ordained to preach the gospel? But some may plead, “I am already useful and acceptable at home”; or “If I go to preach abroad, I shall inflict an injury on my own country”; or “I am not competent; I do not possess the requisite qualifications: and if. I were to make the attempt I should fail”; or “We cannot see it to be our duty to embark in this work at once, and for life”; or “I am already comfortable at home, and I do not like to give up my delights.”
2. We are to present fervent supplication to the throne of grace. We must pray as well as preach.
3. Another means to be employed is, liberal contributions to defray the expenses of so great an undertaking. God will not hold him guiltless who neglects this duty. (Henry Townley.)
Drawn unto death, and ready to be slain
I. A statement of a certain condition. The natural world is in this state. It is so with reference to its original and to its actual guilt. A man, as a sin agent, is evermore superadding sin to sin.
II. The moral causes which contribute to it.
1. Education conducted on false estimates and erroneous principles.
2. Example. Actions affix a deeper stamp and stronger impressions than words.
3. Habit, which is said to be a second nature. It exercises a sort of moral omnipotency over us.
4. Self-complacency of a nominal religion.
5. Pride, when it makes a man virtually deny the value of a revelation by Christ.
6. Sloth which lulls a man into a pleasing dream, from which he would not be awakened.
7. The fear of the world, which has its branding-irons.
8. Love of sin. Its indulgence makes up the pleasure of their life.
III. The solemn duty to be performed. The deliverance is not in the power of man. A sinner must see himself as he really is, in the blackness of his guilt before God. For this he must seek the animation of the Holy Spirit. He must repent; and by faith look up to the Lord Jesus. These things must be told men plainly, and pressed upon them earnestly. (T. J. Judkin, M.A.)
It is the universal characteristic of fallen man that he endeavours to extenuate what may be wrong in his conduct, and invent excuses. Are the pleas by which you might think to justify yourselves in regard to your known duties such as would bear being submitted to God? Men will often admit an excuse without close examination; not so God. We may examine into an excuse, and nevertheless not detect its worthlessness; not so God. Men, even when satisfied that blame attaches to the individual who offers the excuse, are often forced to let him pass without punishment; not so God. Groundless excuses can be of no avail as made to God, because, in the first place, He is a being who considers everything. In the second place, He knows everything. And in the third, He rewards everything. (H. Melvill, D.D.)
This text impresses this upon us--it is the duty of every one of us to use our best strength to deliver the oppressed, but our sin is we faint and forbear to do so.
1. Reasons for this duty in respect of God. We have His command and His example.
2. In respect of ourselves. What power we have and what need we may have. Our natural powers and faculties all have their several uses and opportunities. We have power to relieve the necessities of the poor. The world is full of changes and chances, and those who now have power presently come to have need. The rule of equity is, “Do as thou wouldst be done to.”
3. Reasons on consideration of the poor and oppressed. Consider the greatness of their distress, the scarcity of their friends, and the righteousness of their cause. That which you are to do for the poor is this, seek first to be well assured that their cause is just. Then you must not forsake or despise him because he is poor.
4. Reasons from the effects of the duty itself. It will gain us honour and estimation, purchase for us the blessings of the poor, and bring down on us the blessings of God. We want charity, but abound with self-love. Our defect in that appeareth by our backwardness to perform our duties to our brethren; and our excess in this, by our readiness to frame excuses for ourselves. Consider these excuses, such as--
(1) We never heard of their matters.
(2) We had no clear evidence that their cause was right and good.
(3) We did not see how we could relieve them. God’s response to such excuses is assured.
Doth not He consider? Doth not He know? Will not He render? (Bp. Sanderson.)
So shall the knowledge of wisdom be unto thy soul.
I. It is wholesome. “My son, eat thou honey, because it is good.” Honey was one of the choice productions of Canaan. It was used by its inhabitants as an article of diet; it was not only delicious to the palate, but strengthening to the frame. Divine knowledge is the aliment for man’s spiritual nature; without it there is no moral strength; our faculties require God Himself to feed upon. Without God it starves. He is the food of the intellect, the affections, the imagination, the conscience.
II. It is delectable. “And the honeycomb, which is sweet to the taste.” God’s goodness in nature appears in this as well as in all other things: that the provisions essential to man’s strength He has made palatable to the taste. Honey is not only strengthening, but “sweet.” The pleasures of spiritual knowledge are of the most exquisite kind.
III. It is satisfying. “When thou hast found it, then there shall be a reward, and thy expectation shall not be cut off.” There shall be a reward. Goodness is its own reward, and the reward is equal to the highest “expectation.” (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth.
Johnson makes a distinction between vengeance and revenge. Injuries, he says, are revenged; crimes are avenged. The former is an act of passion, the latter of justice.
I. The object of revenge. “Thine enemy.” Men are enemies to men. Humanity is not as it came from the hand of the Great Father of mankind. Sin has made the brother a foe. If man had no enemy, he would have no revenge. In heaven no such passion burns.
II. The gratification of revenge. “Let not thine heart be glad when he stumbleth.” The fall, the ruin of the enemy, is bliss to the revenging soul. But if unmanly, still more un-Christian. What said Christ? “If thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink,” etc.
III. The avenger of revenge. “Lest the Lord see it, and it displeaseth Him, and he turn away His wrath from him.”
1. Man’s revenge is displeasing to God. It is opposed to the benevolence of His nature; it is contrary to the teachings of His Word.
2. Man’s revenge may cause God to interpose, and relieve its victim. “He turn away His wrath from him.” Coverdale renders the words thus, “Lest the Lord be angry, and turn His wrath from him to thee.” Thus it was with the enemies of Samson (Judges 16:25-30). (Homilist.)
My son, fear thou the Lord and the king.
Duty to God and the king
I. A double duty laid down. Or rather, a single duty, one included and comprehended in the other. Fear here is a comprehensive notion to contain in it all those duties which we owe to God principally, and to the king subordinately.
1. To fear God is to have awful apprehensions of Him in our thoughts, and to walk carefully before Him in our actions. This fear is the bottom of all true spiritual wisdom; the security against all other fears; a preservative against all sin and wilful offence; and a good preparative for the peace and welfare of society, by restraining people’s minds within the due limits of their subjection, that we may lead quiet and peaceable lives in all godliness and honesty.
2. To fear the king we stand obliged both in conscience to God and out of interest to ourselves, seeing that he is the public guardian, upon whose well-doing the welfare of the whole community depends.
3. The sum of all religion is to be as pure in holiness, so peaceable in righteousness, when we order ourselves piously to God and obediently to the magistrate. The interests of religion and policy are so nearly twisted and woven together that they cannot be severed from one another without the utmost hazard to both. Rebellion and schism are wont to go hand in hand together.
II. The caution.
1. As an expedient for the duty. The way to keep in the fear of God and the king is to forbear the company of these restless folk, to keep at a distance from them, and have nothing to do with them.
2. As a consequent of this duty. He that hath any fear of God and the king will keep himself within compass. A pious soul, a loyal heart, will admit of nothing that may shake or call in question its fidelity.
As to these changers--
1. Inquire who they are. Iterantes, men who go over things again and never have done. Variantes, who vary their course through all points of the compass. Detractors, that speak evil of dignities, both temporal and spiritual. Declinantes, stragglers, who go out of God’s and the king’s highway.
2. What is it not to meddle with them? It is to mark these men, and observe the dangerous mixture of their fine parts and foul designs. Consider well the tendency and drift of such principles as theirs.
3. The reasons why such men are not to be meddled with. There is no knowing how far they may lead you. Though you may be innocent, you may get wrapped up in others’ guilt. If you escape now, you will suffer one day, in the peace of thy conscience. And thou dost endanger the eternal safety of thy soul. Since it is so, let us take heed to ourselves, and establish our spirits in the fear of the Lord and the king, and as we wish well to our own persons and to our posterity after us, let us have nothing to do with these changers. (Adam Littleton, D.D.)
Our duty to God and man
Civil government is the great comprehensive worldly blessing; for it is the foundation of peace and quiet, the spring and fountain of all those inestimable advantages which adorn and felicitate human societies.
I. The duties which we owe to God and the king. The fear of God is oftentimes put for the whole sum of religion. We are also to fear the king, and though there is not an equal reason, yet there is a sufficient one for this fear. The king is God’s vicegerent and representative. And there must be something to work upon men’s fears as well as to convince their understandings, before they will learn or practise the duty of subjection. Religion and loyalty have a close dependence on each other, and a strict connection with each other. No man can be truly religious who is not a good subject. No man can be steadily and immovably loyal who is not truly and sincerely religious.
II. A proper means prescribed for securing and preserving us in our duty. Beware of those who are given to changes, e.g., the atheist, the restless, the rebellious. (William Stainforth.)
Religion in national life
I. The perfections which render God the object of our fear.
II. The fear of God and the king is the best preservative against the disturbers of the peace and quiet of all government. It is the foundation of all those virtues from which the peace and happiness of governments must arise, and the most effectual restraint upon the vicious appetites and passions of men. Those in whom this principle rules cannot help looking upon others as the servants of one Sovereign Master, and this consideration must dispose them to have the tenderest regard for their welfare, and tie them together by the strictest bands of fraternal love and friendship. And this principle must naturally contribute to the regulating and composing those disorderly affections and passions which are the great enemies and disturbers of the peace of mankind. Religion fixes that levity and weakness of mind which is so natural to man; it unites his actions and resolutions to one great end, and makes them consistent and regular; and is the best cure of that restlessness of mind which closely adheres to our very natures, and renders us dissatisfied with what we are, or what we at present possess or enjoy; and too often disposes us wantonly to desire changes for the very sake of changing. (John Wilcox, D.D.)
The possession of power is one thing; guidance how to use it is another. The sacred writings contemplated your present as well as your future. The present, what is it but the future begun? The future, what is it but the present completed? He will most enjoy the glories of the future whose life of practical holiness best attests the work of grace within him now. The whole power of this verse consists in its unity. It is not, “My son, fear thou the Lord,” and then, “My son, fear thou the king”; but, “My son, fear thou the Lord and the king.”
I. The remarkable command. There is much force in that word, “fear thou.” Be unmoved by any motives, or influences, or examples, which may press you to do otherwise than thus. If all around you are wrong, “fear thou.” Multitudes do not prove a matter to be right. Act for yourself, and do not fear to stand alone. The command here is, fear both God and the king. You must do the latter if the former be regarded. The fear of God brings with it a principle of obedience, which will influence your conduct in all things. The two things are united morally, and so a true Christian must be a good subject.
II. The danger of forgetting this command. The antithesis is very striking. “Meddle not with them that are given to change.” But change must not be confused with progress and improvement. Change means things that imperil primary principles of righteousness.
III. The results of neglecting this command. “Their calamity shall come suddenly.” Apply--To serve your generation by the will of God is one of the duties and privileges of your present state. You will do it if you fear “both God and the king.” (George Venables.)
Advice and penalty
I. The advice. The commendation “My son” stands first. This is such a counsel as a father would give a son. And that it is no evil one we may be sure. There is in this counsel a single act--“fear”--and a double object--“God and the king.” The main drift of the advice is, a resentive against meddling with certain persons. It consists of two counter points. Do this and eschew that. Follow one, fly the other.
II. The penalty. It is punishment enough for a man not to follow good counsel when it is given him. Yet God hath so ordered, as there goeth ever some further evil with the contempt of good counsel. The penalty is no less than destruction and ruin; a sudden destruction, an unknown ruin. Solomon sits here as a counsellor and as a judge--a counsellor to advise, a judge to pronounce. Hear his counsel, then; if not, hear your sentence. Choose which verse you will be in. In one of them we must be. In the verse of counsel, “Fear God and the king,” or in the verse of penalty, “For their destruction,” etc. (Bp. Lancelot Andrewes.)
Fear God and king
The word “fear” expresses the general idea of reverence, or of holding in awe. God is to be feared according to the nature and authority of His government, kings according to the nature and authority of theirs; God supremely, kings subordinately; God as the source of all power, kings as holding theirs of God, and responsible to Him for the use they make of it. God for His character; kings simply as the representatives of power. God with a fear ever associated with the love of complacency; kings with as much love as their personal character admits of. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
Loyalty of the Christian spirit
Dr. Buchsel, speaking of the conventicles in Germany, early in the century, in which evangelical piety, which had no voice in the Churches, found refuge, says: “I noticed that all of this way of thinking, however much they suspected regularly ordained ministers and Church authorities, yet appeared to place heartfelt confidence in the king. They were universally persuaded that his majesty personally was well inclined towards them. The king was invariably prayed for with the utmost affection.” (J. F. B. Tinling, B.A.)
And meddle not with them that are given to change.
Given to change
Harmony and order preserve societies, when all men that are in a subordinate state do readily yield to him who is the supreme according to God’s law. Maximus Tyrius, the Platonist, speaks of three sorts of government--monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy. One end of religion is to be serviceable even to the political and civil interests of mankind; and because there can be no temporal felicity without peace, nor peace without loyal and dutiful submission, the text calls on all such as would be truly happy to “fear God and the king.”
I. An affirmative command. That we express that humble and universal fear which is due to God’s majesty, and that becoming reverence which is due to the king’s majesty for God’s sake. (This subject not now treated fully.)
II. A negative precept. That we have nothing to do with those who, when things are well, under pretence of mending would fain mar all, and alter everything, whether it be religion, or laws, or government, that lieth in their way. Some render the verse thus, “Meddle not with them that act their iniquities over again; them that are disobedient and disloyal afresh; them that repeat their old sins against the king and his regalities; them that are for a change, but not of their own principles and courses.” Solomon’s own experience led him to warn his son against intractable and ungrateful men. Other expositors do not so restrain the sense of the text, but interpret it generally of all that are given to change, though some of them for a considerable time may have kept touch with the government: “Meddle not with them that change their good principles; with them that warp their obedience; with them that are unsteady and inconsistent with themselves, and observe the pulse of the times.” Men should be quiet and dutiful, and contented with their lot when things are well and in their right channel, and not abet the practices of those who cannot be at ease until the mire be stirred, and the wheel be turned upside down. Reasons for this advice of the text:
1. A retinue of the most mischievous concomitants and effects, as war, bloodshed, confusion, rapine, the subversion of laws, and ruin of families, follow upon these restless changes, these evils of innovation.
2. Change of government is rarely attempted but under some cleanly disguise and popular pretence. Popular states have been erected by the popular tricks of men.
Recommend three practical things--
1. The fear of the Lord. No confidence can be placed but in men who act upon the right principles of religion and honesty.
2. The fear of the king is coercive of obedience.
3. Avoid the company of restless spirits; have no fellowship with them. (Edward Pelling.)
The fewer changes the better
Man’s power of adapting himself to new spheres and work is placed within such strict limitations, that the fewer changes he makes in life the better. There is a law of limitation for animals and men. And the facts respecting the limited range enjoyed by some animals are not more noteworthy than are those respecting the limited range of some men. There are some persons who do well enough in the dull dreary region of a cold official life, whose existence is unendurable in the midst of the associations of wit and romance. The red-tape species die if brought away from the frigid regions of officialism and formality; and there are many poor men who live honest, useful lives in the scenes of indigence who, when fortune unexpectedly transports them into the luxuriant scenes of opulence and gaiety, die from some one or other of the results of the change for which they were not constituted. Many attempts have been made to remove very good men from one position to another, and the result has been a termination of their usefulness, and often of their life. The notion that men can adapt themselves to anything is an error arising from want of observation. There is a sphere for every man; and, as a rule, the removal of him when he is fairly acclimatised either renders him useless altogether, or makes it necessary that he should be sustained by artificial inventions, and in that case he cannot lead that natural life which is necessary in the full development of his powers. It will also be found that these difficulties in adapting men to great changes of position increase with their age. (R. J. Graves, F.R.S.)
Improvement justifies change
To oppose all changes is to set up a plea of perfection. Every improvement (and where is there not need for improvement?) is a change. But public evils are not to be mended by railing. To be “given to change”; to alter for the sake of altering; to be weary of the old and captivated with the new, however untried; to make experiments upon modes of government, is a fearful hazard. It is losing the substance of real good in the dream of imaginary improvements; as if we must undo everything rather than be idle. (G. Bridges, M.A.)
These things also belong to the wise.
I. Here is partiality of judgment; that is bad. “It is no good to have respect of persons in judgment.” The principle of impartiality is enjoined both in the Old and the New Testament. In the Old, “Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment; thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty; but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbour.” In the New Testament we have these words, “My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons,” etc. (James 2:1-9).
II. Here is flattery of the wicked, which is execrable. “He that saith unto the wicked, Thou art righteous, him shall the people curse; nations shall abhor him.” If the wicked man be great in wealth, exalted in social influence and political power, there is a wondrous tendency in all the grades below to flatter him as a “righteous man.”
III. Here is reproving of the wrong, which is blessed. “But to them that rebuke him shall be delight,” etc.
1. There is a delight in such work. “To them that rebuke him shall be delight.” What is the delight? The delight of an approving conscience.
2. There is Divine favour in such work. “A good blessing shall come upon you.” God will express His favour to such a man in many ways.
3. There is social approbation in such work. “Every man shall kiss his lips that giveth the right answer.” (Homilist.)
To them that rebuke him shall be delight, and a good blessing shall come upon them.
The duty of rebuking the wicked
I. The duty and its obligation. By “rebuke” we may understand either that friendly office exercised by private persons towards their trespassing brethren, with a design and hope of reclaiming them from their evil ways, or else that severer method of proceeding by public censures and legal punishments, inflicted by persons in authority, with the same charitable end in view. Private Christians have a call and authority sufficient to admonish and reprove, where it can be done prudently and seasonably. We must not think ourselves at liberty to suffer sin and wickedness, committed in our sight and hearing, to pass without correction. The aid of the civil magistrate may be needed for those who will not be reformed and reclaimed from an evil course by arguments fetched from another world, but may be forced into better manners by temporal punishments. When these punishments have no fitness in them to make men better, they are of great use to prevent their growing worse and more hardened in their sins. The infliction of legal penalties is also necessary to prevent the contagion of bad example, that the venom spread no further, to taint the sound members, and corrupt those who are well disposed.
II. The motives which excite to the performance of this duty.
1. Delight, or an inward joy and satisfaction, flowing from the testimony of a good conscience, which is the most agreeable of all comforts. The thought of good done lies easy in men’s minds, and the reflection upon it doth ever after minister comfort and delight to them. The greatest good one man can possibly do another is to assist and further him in the way of salvation; to keep him within the lines of duty; and to reclaim him to a better course.
2. A good blessing. A just God will not let this labour of love pass without reward. He will consider it in proportion to the measure of good that is done by it, and the discouragements and difficulties with which it is usually attended. The good blessing includes the blessing of men. Every man who rebukes evil without fear or favour shall, for his integrity, wisdom, and courage, be had in universal esteem. A good magistrate is respected and honoured by those who have no great regard to religion, for reasons of state. How much more may such expect honour and veneration from those who are concerned for religion and the glory of God. (John Waugh, D.D.)
The delight of the rebuker of evil
Whence comes this delight?
1. From the consciousness of having done rightly.
2. From the possession of public approbation, affection, and confidence.
3. From a sense of Divine approbation.
4. From the affection and complacency of all good men, and the grateful acknowledgments of those whose causes have been carefully, disinterestedly, and righteously investigated and determined; even those who fail having, notwithstanding, a testimony in their consciences to the soundness of principle, and the sincerity of the desire to do right, with which all has been conducted. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house.
Preparation; its nature, obligation, and blessings
God loves preparations. God gives little but to preparations. All His own great works He has done preparedly. Creation was not done without great forethought (Proverbs 8:27-31). And redemption was no sudden after-thought, for before the foundation of the earth was laid redemption was cast in the mind of God. And every event that happens to every man, it was planned ages before the man was born. And the children of Israel did not enter Canaan till they had gone through a preparatory discipline. Neither did prophets, nor apostles, nor Jesus Himself, begin work without an interval of solitude and discipline for perfect readiness. The preparation of Jesus was marvellous. Ten-elevenths of that life, of which every moment was gold--ten-elevenths given to preparation. Rightly viewed, everything this side heaven, and perhaps we need not draw the limit line even there--everything is preparation. Within the compass of this present world everything is placed in the state and order that it is, to fit us for another thing which is coming afterwards. Just as in a good education every rule leads up to a higher rule, and every new piece of knowledge is the basis of another piece, so that the mind is always being made ready for something beyond it, so it is in God’s dispensations. A joy may be a prelude to a sorrow, or a sorrow may be a prelude to a joy, or a joy to a higher joy, or a sorrow to a still deeper sorrow. Nothing is isolated. It is not isolated joy; it is not isolated sorrow. The great thing we have to do is to be careful that we treat everything as preparatively. We should always be asking, when joy and sorrow comes, “Of what is this the precursor? what is God going to do with me next?” You cannot always be doing duties, but you can always be preparing for them. And remember, preparations are the long things; works are the short things. Let the preparation suit what you are going to do--a general preparation for general duty--but a special preparation for things special. The materials you gather in the “field” must be suited to the particular “house” which you are going to “build.” Always make a stop upon the eve, and search into your own heart, and say, “Am I ready? has God given me a true preparation?” If not, as far as you can, stop a little longer before you take another step. Whatever else you do, secure preparation before you begin. There is a frame of mind which is a continual preparedness. It is the “Here I am!” of the patriarchs. It is a high, blessed state. (J. Vaughan, M.A.)
Preparation for life’s duties, sorrows, and joys
I should place first among preparations--the Sunday. A Sunday will be a preparation, if you view it as preparatory. It does not much matter whether you look upon it as the day for laying in the mind’s food for the week, or as the day for raising the mind to its true tone and level for the week, or as the day to hallow anything to which you are looking, by bringing it out especially before God that day. It is a very good thing to use the Sunday for laying before God, and so solemnly consecrating, and obtaining strength and wisdom for, anything that you are planning or expecting in the course of the coming week. But if you will thus spend your Sunday as a ground, apart from the world, and in loftier ranges of thought, you are “preparing your work without, and making it fit for yourself in the field; and afterwards build thine house.” What is true of the Sunday is certainly true also of all private exercises of the soul; and most of all, our morning devotions. Our morning devotions should have a distinct, preparatory character. You will find it a good rule never to open your Bible without a little secret prayer. Certainly, whatever it is worth while for a Christian to do at all, it is worth while to do measuredly and deliberately. Better to do a few things so than multitudes lightly. And the God of order and of forethought will Himself bless what most honours Him, by holy premeditation and religious accuracy, in which He sees, therefore, the most of His own image. Map your day before you go out; plan carefully; lay all beginnings in God: “Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house.” But you say, “What is this preparation? I cannot so prepare.” Then what does that show, but that before the beginning there is another beginning, and that the preparation itself needs to be prepared? But if you ask, “What is the right preparation for sorrow?” I answer, first, not to anticipate sorrow, for that is not filial nor childlike, but to have it well laid in your mind that sorrow must come, and to know its nature, what it is. For the danger of sorrow is, lest it come upon us overwhelmingly, and paralyse our powers. Therefore, be in a state of mind which cannot be surprised--not ignorant of what sorrow is when it comes. Is not it a needful discipline? To prepare for joys the rule is opposite. The preparation there lies in the fact of the anticipation. You cannot expect too much. For one of the perils of a joy is its throwing the mind from its equilibrium by the rush of its novelty. But he who has dealt much with the great undertakings of God’s love and promise will scarcely be surprised at any happiness that ever comes. Is he not loved? So the joy will not come disturbingly to the mind. (J. Vaughan, M.A.)
Be not a witness against thy neighbour without cause.
The nature and extent of false witness
There is nothing more dear and valuable to men than their reputation or good name. It is a mark of an abandoned spirit to have no regard to it. Men have always been very tender in preserving it in themselves, and they ought to make great conscience of taking it wrongfully from others. So much reputation is so much power, and according to men’s esteem and credit in the world, so much proportionably is their influence and the weight they have in it. For the same reasons that we are obliged not to injure our neighbour in his person or property, we ought to be very tender of his good name and reputation. Then always have a just regard to truth and charity, and the benefit and advantage of the public. Our neighbour is whomsoever it happens at any time to be in our power either to injure or do kindness to; whosoever can, in any respect, become the better or the worse, or receive any hurt or any benefit, by our behaviour towards them. The word which we render “deceive” signifies in the original, any damage or inconvenience brought upon a man in the way of slander, calumny, backbiting, or any other injurious manner of presenting him.
I. The nature and extent of the sin here forbidden. The highest form of the sin is deliberately giving false evidence in judicial matters. Another degree of the vice is when men bear false testimony against their brethren, after a secret manner, in private conversation. Whether revenge, or anything else, be the temptation to the practice, the nature of the sin itself is of the deepest dye. There are still lower degrees of the fault. The careless and rash custom of spreading censorious reports to the disadvantage of our neighbour, without caring to inquire into the truth of the accusation. Under this head come innumerable sorts of calumny, detraction, slander, evil-speaking, backbiting, tale-bearing, rash judgment, etc.. Men in such matters are often faulty through negligence and want of care and attention. That person is a very perfect man indeed who can be continually upon his guard against this error. The lowest degree of this fault is when men are censorious towards their brethren, spreading abroad things that are true needlessly, and contrary to the laws of charity. It is a breach of Christian charity to take delight in spreading even true reports needlessly, to the damage, or disadvantage, of our neighbour.
II. Reasons or motives which ought to influence our practice in this matter. From the nature and constitution of human society there arises a strong argument why men ought to govern their words as well as actions. By injurious speech, mutual trust and good-will are destroyed, on which depends the welfare and happiness of mankind. Mischief comes to the man himself. The natural punishment of a licentious and unbridled tongue is the inconveniences it is very apt to bring, in the course of things, upon the person himself. But worse is the secret damage done to others. Slander and uncharitable defamation is “a pestilence that walketh in darkness.” Another motive obliging men to restrain licentious speech is the consideration of the inconsistency of it with a due sense of religion. A principal part of pure religion is that men approve themselves by a good conversation, with meekness of wisdom. Another argument against calumny is the consideration that we are ourselves subject to error. He that is infallibly secured against all errors himself, let him be as censorious as he pleases upon the mistakes of others. Our Saviour forbids this censoriousness towards others, under the penalty of being more strictly judged ourselves. (S. Clarke, D.D.)
Wrong testimony against neighbours
The verses suggest three kinds of wrong testimony.
I. A causeless one. “Be not s witness against thy neighbour without cause.” There are those who are, for no service, either to themselves or to society, testifying of the defects and infirmities of their neighbours.
II. A false one. “And deceive not with thy lips.”
III. A revengeful one. “Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me: I will render to the man according to his work.” (Homilist.)
These words are a direct prohibition of revenging injuries and recompensing evil for evil, and give us a rule of duty in ease of wrong done to us.
I. Was revenge allowed to the jews? In Leviticus 19:18 it is said, “Thou shalt not avenge or bear any grudge against the children of thy people.” This has been taken to imply that a Jew might kill a stranger, and consequently take any inferior degree of revenge on him. But compare the injunctions respecting the treatment of the stranger in Exodus 22:1-31; Exodus 23:1-33; Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 10:1-22, etc. As to the retaliation granted (Exodus 21:24), this allowance was not made to the party injured, so that he might satisfy and distribute justice to himself; but to the judge, so that he might allot compensation for the wrong done.
II. Enforce the great duty of forgiveness.
1. From the reasonableness of this duty in itself. Reasonable men must allow its force and truth. By corrupt and undisciplined natures only is revenge counted as a mark of a noble and brave spirit. But it is a sign of superiority of mind to forgive the trespass. We ought to make our forgiveness as useful to the trespasser as possibly we can. Prudence should arrest the forwardness of charity in granting pardons.
2. The great weight our Saviour lays upon our forgiving others, in order to our title to our own forgiveness. There is no proportion in number betwixt our offences against God and those of the most offensive of our brethren against us.
3. We have great reason to forgive them, because of the good use and advantage we may make of our enemies. Charity is the greatest manager in the world.
III. Mistakes which mislead men in their judgments concerning their own forgiveness.
1. The mistake of those who think they have paid a fair obedience to the law of charity, when they strike the offender only with the impartial hand of that of the law.
2. The mistake of those who think they may consign the trespasser to the judgment of God.
3. The mistake of judging the truth of our forgiveness on a principle of sloth. Some men are too ready to move themselves to resentment.
4. The mistake of thinking we have forgiven, when the fact is that the impressions have only worn off our minds. This is forgetting, not forgiving, since forgiveness is properly our own work, and not one of time. (George Wallis, D.D.)
An incident well worth relating is told of General Robert Lee, the Confederate officer during the American Civil War. Jefferson Davis once asked him what he thought of a certain officer in the army, as he had an important place he wanted filled by a trustworthy man. Lee gave the officer an excellent recommendation, and he was immediately promoted to the position. Some of Lee’s friends told him that the officer had said some very bitter things against him, and were surprised at the General’s recommendation. “I was not asked,” said Lee, “for the officer’s opinion of me, but my opinion of him.” Only a noble heart could prompt such action. In praying, we are told to love our enemies, but in our every-day life we too often love only those who love us.
I went by the field of the slothful.
The moral sluggard
Take these words as a pointed reproof of the negligent and immoral head of a family. The cause of prevailing irreligion is the deplorable negligence of masters and heads of families, in cultivating that field which is more immediately placed under their inspection and care.
1. The fatal consequences of irreligious sloth and negligence in those whom Providence hath raised up to be the heads of families. Families are the nurseries of the Church and state: it is from them that every department of life is filled up. Who is the slothful man? It is the moral sluggard whom the inspired writer has in view--the man who shows his children and servants, by all his pursuits, that this world is all for which they need to care. He neglects the important seasons and opportunities for moral culture. He does not teach them the duties which they owe to one another and to society. He may permit them to be instructed by others, but he does not support the instruction by his own influence and example. See the consequences of this negligence illustrated in the sluggard’s garden. Being destitute of rule, management, or control, his children absorb every wrong sentiment with their earliest sense, and are more and more corrupted with every breath they draw. There is no order, calmness, moderation, or self-command among the members of his family.
2. The futility of such apologies as are usually made for this negligence. They have not time; they have not capacity; or they do not feel under obligation in this direction. (James Somerville.)
The sluggard’s farm
On one occasion Solomon looked over the broken wall of a little estate which belonged to a farmer of his country. It consisted of a piece of ploughed land and a vineyard: One glance showed him that it was owned by a sluggard, who neglected it; for the weeds had grown right plentifully, and covered all the face of the ground. From this Solomon gathered instruction. Men generally learn wisdom if they have wisdom. Some look only at the surface, while others see not only the outside shell but the living kernel of truth which is hidden in all outward things. We may find instruction everywhere. We may gather rare lessons from things that we do not like.
I. The description of a slothful man. Solomon was right when he called him “a man void of understanding.” Not only does he not understand anything, but he has no understanding to understand with. He is empty-headed if he is a sluggard. As a rule we may measure a man’s understanding by his useful activities. Certain persons call themselves “cultured,” and yet they cultivate nothing. If knowledge, culture, education do not lead to practical service of God, we cannot have learned what Solomon calls wisdom. True wisdom is practical; boastful culture vapours and theorises. Wisdom ploughs its field, hoes its vineyard, looks to its crops, tries to make the best of everything; and he who does not do so, whatever may be his knowledge of this, of that, of the other, is “a man void of understanding.”
1. Because he has opportunities which he does not use.
2. Because being bound to the performance of certain duties he did not fulfil them.
3. Because he has capacities which he does not employ.
4. Because he trifles with matters which demand his most earnest heed. The Christian who is slothful in his Master’s service has no idea what he is losing.
II. Look at the sluggard’s land.
1. Land will produce something; some kind of fruit, good or bad. If you are idle in God’s work you are active in the devil’s work.
2. If the soul be not farmed for God, it will yield its natural produce. What is the natural produce of land when left to itself?
3. If we are slothful, the natural produce of our heart and of our sphere will be most inconvenient and unpleasant to ourselves.
4. In many instances there will be a great deal of this evil produce.
III. There must be some lesson in all this.
1. Unaided nature will always produce thorns and nettles, and nothing else.
2. See the little value of natural good intentions. This man, who left his field and his vineyard to be overgrown, always meant to work hard one of these fine days. Probably the worst people in the world are those who have the best intentions but never carry them out. Take heed of little delays and short puttings-off. You have wasted time enough already; come to the point at once before the clock strikes again. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The broken fence
The slothful man did no hurt to his fellow-men. He was not grossly vicious; he had not energy enough to care for that. He always let well alone, and for the matter of that, he let ill alone. Yet he always meant to be right.
I. Look at this broken fence. In the beginning it was a good fence, a stone wall. Mention some of the stone walls that men permit to be broken down when they backslide.
1. Sound principles instilled in youth.
2. Solid doctrines which have been learned.
3. Good habits once formed.
4. Week-night services are a stone wall.
5. So is Bible-reading.
6. So is a public profession of faith.
7. So is firmness of character.
II. The consequences of a broken-down fence.
1. The boundary has gone. He does not know which is his Lord’s property, and which remains an open common.
2. The protection is gone. When a man’s heart has its wall broken all his thoughts will go astray, and wander upon the mountains of vanity. Nor is this all, for as good things go out, so bad things come in.
3. The land itself will go away. In many parts of Palestine the land is all ups and downs on the sides of the hills, and every bit of ground is terraced, and kept up by walls. When the walls fall the soil slips over terrace upon terrace, and the vines and trees go down with it; then the rain comes and washes the soil away, and nothing is left but barren crag which would starve a lark. Then I charge you, be sternly true to yourselves and God. Stand to your principles in this evil and wicked day. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The sluggard’s field
The royal philosopher has his attention drawn to a field and a vineyard in ruins.
1. Each man has a field and a vineyard entrusted to his care--the immortal soul.
2. He is provided with various implements of husbandry, with good seed, sure directions, and animating promises.
3. See the soul, the vineyard of such a labourer. The effects will generally be commensurate with the means used. As we sow we reap.
4. Observe the deplorable condition of the soul described in the text. Here is a desolate and neglected soul which once was cultivated--the backslider. Whence the cause of this sad change? What is the miserable end to be dreaded? (F. Close, M.A.)
The field of the sluggard
The passage is an exquisite picture. The moral of it might have been set boldly in unimaginative prose. Many persons have eyes to see things, but they do not think about what they see. If a really good man sets his heart within him to search through those things that his eyes show him, he is bound to see God. The man who saw this neglected vineyard with his inner eyes saw all that physical ruin and loss and mischief sprang from moral causes. Suffering in our physical and eternal life generally does spring from something wrong in our moral character. This vineyard had gone to ruin because its master was not man enough; he was a sluggard, an indolent fellow. It is a bad thing for a man to be too much his own master. That ruined vineyard had the roots of its ruin in that man’s character. He began to be too fond of ease, indulgence, and bodily comfort; he began to lose the pluck and spirit and enterprise that make a man take his pleasure out of his work. If you have not eyes to see what lies in your drudgery and toil, you will not come to much in this world. The progress of becoming a sluggard was a gradual one, and the progress of damage was slow but sure. The man might have taken warning, but there was a process of dilapidation going on in his character. That was the mischief. You cannot scamp your outside work without ruining your character. And it was little bit by little bit. Learn it is a very difficult thing rightly and wisely to see your neighbour’s faults; but it is a much more difficult thing, though a much more necessary thing, to see your own. (W. E. Elmslie, D.D.)
These words illustrate that field which every man has to cultivate--the field of character. We do not start life with characters ready made. What we have at the outset are but germs and possibilities. Until we have developed these germs for ourselves, their full value is not obtained. God has given life, powers, opportunities; out of these character is formed. This is a man’s own property, whether it is good or bad. Character is the true gauge of a man’s worth. Character is the only property we can take with us when we leave this world. Some men’s fields” are partly neglected.
1. There is no fence.
2. There is no fruit.
How comes this waste of precious ground? Traced to one source--self-indulgence. This reveals itself in various ways. In procrastination. In an easy assent to the popular misrepresentations of Christianity. In taking up doubts at second-hand, and parading them as though proof of their superior wisdom. But self-indulgence in every form will bring ruin. And the ruin of self-indulgence is fast approaching. “Thy poverty shall come as one that travelleth.” There may be seeming delay about its arrival; but there is also certainty. It is even now upon the road. (J. Jackson Goadby.)
The sluggard’s garden
The owner of this miserable garden was a sluggard. He would not work. So the deterioration went on unchecked, until what was once a beautiful, productive, cleanly-kept garden became a place of the rankest weeds. Here, in this text, is an important principle. People are always complaining that they possess few opportunities for their improvement. Wise men can go to school anywhere. We may learn by other men’s mistakes. There are many sluggards.
1. The home sluggard. Usually a woman. Neglected homes lie at the root of much of the misery, sin, and unhappiness of the world to-day.
2. The sluggard in the battle of life. A good-for-nothing--a waster of time, money, and precious opportunities. God has not given us life to idle away. Maybe that something of this sluggish disposition lies within us all, and must be continually struggled with. The men who have done most in life, achieved the greatest fame, and gained its best prizes, have all been steady workers, diligent plodders.
3. The sluggard in the field of conscience. Weeds always grow quickly, though imperceptibly. There is a law of degeneration. It may be stated in this way: “Let a thing alone, and it is certain to deteriorate.” It is thus in the realm of conscience. There is nothing more dangerous than procrastination in the affairs of the soul and conscience. Many a man is aware of evil habits, and intends to give them up by and by. They never are given up in that way. Let your life alone, and you will awaken some day in awful astonishment at the depths to which you have sunk. Give up indolence and procrastination, then. (Wm. Hay, B.D.)
I. It is foolish. Solomon characterises this indolent man as one “void of understanding.” therein do you see this man’s folly? In the flagrant neglect of his own interests. You may cultivate your field by proxy, but you can only cultivate your soul yourself.
II. It is procrastinating.
III. It is ruinous.
1. Consider the wretched condition to which his estate was reduced. “Lo, it was all grown over with thorns,” etc. It might have waved in golden grain.
Two things suggested by the words.
1. That the ruin is gradual in its approach. It does not burst on you at once, like a thunder-storm.
2. The ruin is terrible in its consummation. “As an armed man.” It will seize you as with the grasp of an indignant warrior. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The sluggard’s vineyard
I. Survey this waste vineyard.
1. We can see nothing but weeds. The outgrowths of the depraved heart yield no real revenue to man. Covetousness, malice, vain thoughts, evil desires, unbelief.
2. How luxuriantly they grow! Our evil propensities must, if unchecked by grace, increase.
3. There are various kinds of growth. Thorns and nettles. There may be a man of one book, business, virtue--but not of one evil propensity.
4. They are all harmful. “Thorns” to lacerate; “nettles” to sting.
5. The wall is broken. Anybody might sow there, or water the unprofitable crop--except the good sower, and he must enter by the door. God saves us from our sluggishness, not in it.
II. Why it remains in this deplorable condition. Ignorance that will not learn, and slothfulness that will not work.
III. Expostulate with the sluggard.
1. The vineyard is not your own.
2. Think what this vineyard might produce. Grapes for the cup of the King--fruit for days of sickness--refreshment for old age.
3. In its present state it is harmful to your neighbours. The thistle-down will float far and wide.
IV. In conclusion, some words of earnest counsel.
1. Come forth from your couch of indifference and resolutely inspect this desolate scene.
2. Do not seek to satisfy conscience by pulling a weed here and there. It must be thoroughly delved; ploughed up. “Ye must be born again.”
3. Do not be content with showing a few wild grapes. (R. A. Griffin.)
The vineyard of the sluggard
Some preachers teach morality without showing its vital connection with the gospel. Some fall into the opposite error, and fail to exhibit the ethical side of the gospel.
I. The field of the sluggard teaches that it is wrong to abuse what we regard as our own. The sluggard might contend that the garden was his own. The assumption is unfounded, and even blasphemous.
1. It is a sigh of gross disloyalty to God, who prefers an absolute claim to our life and service.
2. It involves a serious loss to our fellow-creatures, because the wind carries the seeds of our neglect into our neighbour’s garden. Apply to moral influence.
II. The possession of advantages, so far from absolving us from the necessity of labour and self-culture, renders them more necessary. The area of our responsibility coincides with the area of our possessions.
1. The cultivation of the body is a sacred obligation.
2. The mind is a vineyard that ought to be cultivated.
3. There is, too, the vineyard of the heart.
III. Neglect, as well as wilful wickedness, move in the direction of destruction. Observe that not only was the soil covered with noxious growths, but the means of protection were destroyed.
IV. Good men will learn from the follies and miseries of wicked men. Such instruction is gathered by observation and reflection. The two principal methods of acquiring wisdom. Observation collects facts, reflection arranges and applies them, converting them into solid nutriment for mind and heart. (Preacher’s Magazine.)
The slothful pastor
1. To every minister of God there is entrusted a field and a vineyard.
2. God supplies his labourer with various implements of husbandry, with good seed and providential opportunities.
3. God makes special promises to every devoted husbandman.
4. What a blessed sight is the field and vineyard of such a labourer!
5. But consider the different picture drawn in the text. What is so affecting as the contemplation of a neglected parish? How is this to be accounted for? “This is the field of the slothful, and the vineyard of the man void of understanding.”
What is the people’s duty, in the consideration of such a subject as this?
1. Let us all be anxious to avail ourselves of the religious privileges which we possess.
2. If it is our misfortune to have a slothful husbandman, let us not desert the Church, but unite in prayer for him and wait on God in meek submission to His will. (F. Close, M.A.)
The fool’s vineyard
In every age the sluggard and the fool have had their place, as well as the labourer and the wise man.
I. The scene shows us that if we will not have flowers and fruits we shall certainly have thorns and nettles. We cannot set aside the laws of nature. There is a law of growth in the very ground. It is the same with the character of man. We cannot simply do nothing. Life has its laws. We may pay them no heed, but they will assert themselves notwithstanding.
1. A man may resolve not to cultivate his mind. What then? The weeds of false notions, the thorns and nettles of prejudice, will prove his intellectual indolence.
2. A man may neglect to cultivate his moral nature. He will have nothing to do with religion. What then? Look at his false ideas, his superstition, his narrowness, his want of veneration, his superficial judgments, the weeds that have grown up.
II. The sluggard and the fool cannot hide the results of their neglect.
1. We cannot confine the results of a wasted life within our own bounds.
2. This being the case, we have not a right to do with what we call our own as we please. There is nothing which we can strictly call our own. Society will not allow us to do what we please with our own.
III. It is possible to be right in some particulars and to be grievously wrong in others. The legal right of the slothful man to the possession of the field might be undisputed. The vineyard might have fallen into the hands of the fool by strict lawful descent. So far so good. The case is on this side perfectly sound. Yet possession was not followed by cultivation. It is not enough to possess; we must increase. You ought not to allow even a house to fall into decay. There is no right of abuse. You have not a right to be dirty, to be ignorant, to be careless of life; on that line no rights have ever been established.
IV. The scene shows that even the worst abuses may be turned to good account. The good man is an example; the bad man is a warning.
1. You will see that the finest possessions may be wasted; property, talent, influence, opportunity.
2. You will see that wickedness always moves in the direction of destruction. It must do so. All indolence must go down. All sin forces itself in the direction of perdition. How did the wise man know that the man was void of understanding? By the state of his vineyard. Know a man by his surroundings, know him by his habits; there is character in everything. (J. Parker, D.D.)
Mental cultivation essential to the soul’s salvation
The immortal soul, although one and indivisible as its Author, yet, like a large estate, is divided into various sections, as the understanding, the memory, and the affections.
1. The intellectual faculty is the understanding. If not cultivated, it will produce an attendant crop of evil thoughts and vain imaginations, which, like thorns and nettles, will injuriously affect the soul.
2. Another property of the soul to be cultivated is the memory, and unless that is attended to, all the other would be like casting seed by the wayside.
3. Another section of the soul is that of the affections which are ever disposed to run wild, and want continual pruning and training, to guide them in a right direction. The heart is liable to alight upon objects that may pierce it with many sorrows, to prevent which the most efficient remedy is to have the mind occupied as much as possible in contemplation of eternal blessings. If the mind were to dwell on the attributes of the Deity, especially as the God of love, it would expand with delight as the blossom to the sun. (William Neville, M.A.)
Practical views of human life
How much have we profited, in the character of servants of God, by what we have seen of men? How much more wise in the best sense, conscientious, apt, effectually warned? The world should be regarded as an extensive outer department of the great school of religion. The things which the servant of God is taught in the inner school he is to observe illustrated, exemplified, proved, and enforced in this wide, outer department. When the learner in God’s peculiar school goes out to observe mankind he will think of the manner and cautions and rules for turning what he sees to the most beneficial account, and the most instructive points to fix his attention upon. An obvious one is, let not his observing be merely of the nature of speculation, not simply a seeing and judging what men are. Our knowledge of men must be diligently applied to a salutary use, especially for ourselves. Another point of admonition is--against prejudice and arrogance in observing and judging. Men often have some prepossession, and everything is forced into conformity to that. Or they have a set of judgments, estimates, shaped ready in their minds, and upon the slightest circumstance they will instantly fix one of them on a fellow-mortal. Some men assume to have an infallible insight, and perfect comprehension on all occasions; and pronounce as if there could be no appeal. Another warning is, beware of taking pleasure in perceiving and ascertaining what is wrong in man. Another rule is, take care that observations on other men are not suffered to go to the effect of our being better pleased with ourselves. There is a strange tendency to a gratified pride in our own supposed virtues; and to a most indulgent judgment of the things which even the grossest self-love cannot wholly approve. Our whole system and practice in the observation of the world should be resolutely formed on this principle, that our own correction is the grand object to be faithfully and constantly kept in view. Some more special observations may be given. Think of the probable difference between our judgments of the persons we look upon and their own judgments of themselves. In observing mankind we perceive, to a great extent, a sad deficiency or depravation of conscience; what a trifle they can make of many most important discriminations between good and evil. From this sight should not a solemn admonition come to us? One of the most conspicuous things to be noticed in looking on mankind is--how temptation operates and prevails. From this there should be an instructed vigilance for ourselves and appropriate prayers. A mournful thing to notice will be the great errors, the lapses, of good men. Reflect how unsafe any man, every man, is, but as God preserves him. Observe, too, the effect of situation and circumstance. How much they form men’s notions, consciences, and habits as to good and evil. Observe errors of judgment--opinions; how they arise, become fixed, or are perverted. Take note of all worthier things, exemplary virtues, graces, wisdom. It is delightful to turn for instruction to these. (John Foster.)
The sluggard’s garden
The scene is familiar in Syria, where the intense heat and frequent rains so stimulate all wild and natural growths that a few months of neglect suffice to convert even the most carefully tilled plot and the most carefully tended vineyard into a scene of desolation. Under the pressure of an Eastern climate noxious weeds and brambles suck the soil’s fertility from wholesome plants and flowers with an astonishing and alarming rapidity. Not that similar catastrophes are unknown even in England; but, with us, it takes longer to produce them. Most of us must have seen plots where once a fair garden grew, which, in the course of a few years’ neglect, were all overrun with coltsfoot, dock, nettles, groundsel, and other foul weeds. It is not simply, as a careful observer has pointed out, that land once under the plough or the spade loses, when it is left untended, the special and wholesome growth with which it has been planted. The deterioration goes farther than that. For “the flora which follows the plough,” or the spade, “is much more varied and delicate and beautiful” than that of the unbroken land. And when tilled land is suffered to fall back into the hands of Nature, all these more delicate and beautiful wild flowers are supplanted by gorse and bramble, nettle and dock, and, above all, by the close, wiry grass which usurps and covers so many of our commons. Even where the plants in a neglected garden are not altogether supplanted and dispossessed, an ominous process of degeneration sets in. The flowers, once tended with so much care and grown to such perfection, revert to an earlier and inferior type; they lose form, colour, perfume; the large “voluptuous garden roses,” with their infinite variety and infinite wealth of hue, sink back into the primitive dog-rose of our hedges, and the whole race of choice, cultivated geraniums into the cranesbill of the copse and the wayside. This, then, is the parable. Neglect a garden, and it soon loses all its value, all its distinction. It is either overrun with wilder and less worthy growths, or the plants which once either gave it beauty or ministered to the wants of man degenerate into a baser type, and no longer yield fruit that he cares to eat or flowers that he cares to pluck. And the moral is as simple and direct as it well can be (Proverbs 24:33-34). It is a warning to the man void of understanding and energy, that an utter destitution, a shameful misery, is the proper and inevitable result of his folly and sloth. We need not go far to find facts which prove the truth of this warning, and the need for it. If we go into the nearest workhouse ward, it is not too much to say that half the miserable paupers we meet there ought not to be there; they have sunk into pauperism not by sheer misfortune, not by the pressure of accidents they were unable to resist, but by a creeping indolence, by self-neglect, by vice, by the failure of speculations to which they were driven by their impatience of honest labour with its slow rewards, by a love of pleasure or self-indulgence which held them back from that whole-hearted industry and devotion to daily toil by which alone men can thrive. If we go to any dock or labour yard in which men earn a miserable pittance by unskilled and precarious labour, again we are well within the mark if we reckon that half the men we find there ought never to have been there, and would not have been there had they diligently availed themselves of the opportunities of the several positions from which they have fallen. If we go into any family, shall we not find in it a lad who has no decided leaning to any vocation, who “doesn’t much care what he does,” and who in his heart of hearts would rather do nothing at all, whether for himself or for the world, if only he could live by it? If we go into any school or college, shall we not be still more fortunate if, for one boy or man bent on study, bent on learning and acquiring as much as he may, and so cultivating all the good growths and habits of the soul, we find no more than one who is content to scramble through his work anyhow, who will not learn a jot more than he can help, who throws away opportunity after opportunity, and is throwing away, with his opportunities, his chances of service and distinction? No thoughtful observer of human life will for a moment admit that laziness is a defunct sin, or that the sluggard is rapidly becoming extinct. He is everywhere; and, wherever he is, the process of degeneration has set in and needs to be checked. And how shall it be checked, how shall the man “void of understanding” be recovered to a useful and diligent life, if not by the warning that, by the very course and constitution of his nature, indolence breeds its own punishment? The moral, then, is by no means tame or impertinent to the present conditions of men. But we need not confine ourselves to the Hebrew poet’s point of view. As we stand by his side, and look with him over the wall of the once fair garden, now all overgrown with nettles that sting and thorns that tear, we may raise the law of which he speaks to its highest plane, and view it in its more directly spiritual aspect. “Emphatic as is the direct teaching” of this proverb, says Dr. Plumptre, “it may be taken as a parable of something yet deeper. The field and the vineyard are more than the man’s earthly possessions. His neglect brings barrenness or desolation in the garden of the soul.” Nor is it in the least difficult to trace the working of this law in “the garden of the soul.” It is not enough that we once believed and obeyed. It is not enough that we once waged open war against evil, and ardently pursued that which is good. If we have settled down into a quiet and easy enjoyment of our very religion; if we are not watchful and diligent, “resolute and untiring”; if we cannot work in all weathers; if we shrink from every call to do something for God and man, or begin to calculate how little we can do, instead of how much; if we make no sacrifice for the sake of truth and righteousness, or mourn and complain over every sacrifice we are compelled to make; if we cease to strive vigorously, with clear and firm determination, against the evil forces and inclinations by which we are constantly beset; if we no longer care to learn any new truth that may break forth from God’s holy Word or from the patient researches of men; if, instead of recognising and rejoicing in any new aspect of duty, any new form of service, we are growing lax and indifferent even in the discharge of duties we once loved--sluggardliness is beginning to eat into our heart, our faith, our life; the good growths of the soul are beginning to deteriorate and decay, and its evil growths to wax bold and masterful. If nothing less will rouse and arrest us, let us remember that, by the very course and constitution of nature, by a law which admits of no exception, mere indolence, mere neglect, merely being quiet and at ease, mere failure to grow and make increase to ourselves in good thoughts, good feeling, good deeds, is to sink toward the evils we most dread, from which we have been redeemed, and which ought not therefore any longer to have power over us. It is to revert to our original and inferior type; and to revert to that will only too surely be the first step toward sinking to a type still lower and more hopeless. A little more sleep, a little more slumber, a little more folding of the hands to rest when they ought to be lifted up for the labour which is prayer, and our poverty may come on us apace, and our want--the lack and destitution natural and inevitable to our sinking and neglected condition--may spring upon us like an armed man. (S. Cox, D.D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Proverbs 24". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany