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Thursday, April 18th, 2024
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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 4

The Biblical IllustratorThe Biblical Illustrator

Verse 1

Proverbs 4:1

The instruction of a father.

A religious home

The love of a religious home. Two kinds of love for the offspring.

1. The natural love.

2. The spiritual love, which has respect to the spiritual being, relations, and interests of the children.

The training of a religious home.

1. The parent’s teaching is worth retaining.

2. The parent’s teaching is practical.

3. The parent’s teaching is quickening to all the powers, intellectual and moral.

The influence of a religious home.

1. The susceptibility of childhood.

2. The force of parental affection. Religious homes are the great want of the race. (David Thomas, D.D.)

Paternal exhortation

Doctrine and law form the staple of this appeal. By “law” understand “direction, for life is an ever-bisecting course, and full of points that must bewilder inexperienced travellers. Do not venture upon great sea voyages without proper instruments and without being taught how to use them. So in life. Be enriched with doctrine or wisdom, and cultivate that tender filial spirit which gratefully yields itself to direction. It is at once wise and lovely for youth to consult the aged, and to avail themselves of accumulated experience. Any other spirit is vain, self-conceited, frivolous, and unworthy. Why should the father be anxious to instruct and direct the son? Because he has seen more of life, more of its mystery, its peril, its tragedy; therefore his heart yearns to preserve the young from danger. The father’s position is one of moral dignity and supreme benevolence. Having suffered himself, he would save his children from pain. (J. Parker, D. D.)

Attend to know understanding.

Knowing understanding

Young men have need often to be called upon to get true knowledge.

1. Because of their own backwardness to the work.

2. The impediments and diversions from attaining true wisdom.

3. There are many things to be believed, beyond the power of corrupted reason to find out.

4. There are many practical things to be learned, else they can never be done.

5. There are many faculties of the soul to be reformed.

6. There are many senses and members of the body to be directed to many particular actions, and each to its own.


1. To blame young men that think their parents and teachers over-diligent.

2. To urge children to attend to their parents instructing them in piety.

3. To persuade parents and teachers not only to instruct, but also to incite to attention.

Every young man has need to be called on to look after true knowledge.

1. Because there is no disposition to this wisdom in the best by nature.

2. There is much averseness, because the principles of faith are above nature, and of practice against nature. (Francis Taylor, B.D.)

The invitation

Let our own children receive instructions. This charity must begin at home.

Let all young people take pains to get knowledge and grace. They are in the learning stage.

Let all who would receive instruction come with the disposition of children. Let prejudices be laid aside. Let them be dutiful, tractable, and self-diffident. (Matthew Henry.)

Verses 3-4

Proverbs 4:3-4

For I was my father’s son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother.

The religious education of Solomon

Solomon in these words gives us two pieces of his own private history, in order to account for the zeal he shows in this book for the welfare of the rising generation. The first is, that in early life he had a large share in the affections of his parents; and the second, that he received the first rudiments of that wisdom, for which he became afterwards so eminent, from their early instructions. The affection of his father David did not, by excessive indulgence, stand in the way of his education, as does the ill-regulated affection of many foolish parents, who cannot cross the inclination of their children, nor employ the authority to compel the attention of their light and unstable minds to what is for their lasting benefit. His mother, Bathsheba, took her share with her husband, David, in the delightful task of instructing young Solomon in the things of God. Of this Solomon says nothing in the text. Though he speaks of the affection of both his parents, he mentions only his father’s care of his education. But in another passage of this book we find him referring to his mother’s instructions, and styling them “the prophecy which his mother taught him.” And it gives us a most comfortable proof of the genuine piety of both David and Bathsheba, and of the sincerity of their repentance for their grievous sin which they had committed.

What kind of education did Solomon’s parents give him when he was young? We cannot entertain a doubt that David would give his favourite son, to whom he looked as his successor on the throne, the best education which Israel, in his time, could afford. A man of talent and information himself, and possessed of the amplest means, he would certainly grudge no labour or expense to make him acquainted with whatever could serve to fit him for his future station in life. The schools of the prophets were for the instruction of the youth of Israel. Whatever value we may attach to other branches of education, and however important and useful instruction in those arts and sciences which serve the purposes of this present life may be supposed to be, the knowledge of the principles of religion is unquestionably far more valuable, important, and useful. For as the soul is more valuable than the body, and eternity than time, so the knowledge which fits us for spending life as becomes rational, immortal, and accountable creatures, and which, through the blessing of God, may train us up for spending eternity in happiness and joy, must be inconceivably more valuable than what refers merely to this present vain and transitory world. We cannot, indeed, insure that our children, however carefully instructed in the fear of God, will profit by our care so as to serve God in their generation; but early instruction is the probable means of their future and eternal benefit--a means which God has enjoined parents to use, and which He has promised in ordinary eases to bless. Let the means be conscientiously employed, and let the fear that all may be unavailing rather excite to greater diligence than repress exertion, and to earnestness for the Divine blessing on the means of Divine appointment.

In what manner did they conduct the business of his religious education?

1. They did not confide it entirely to others. There were good men about David’s court, some of whom probably had a particular charge of Solomon’s education, and in whom, as being prophets of God, David might have reposed the most entire confidence for ability and fidelity. But Solomon’s parents do not seem to have considered this as exempting them from the obligation of the law of God to watch over their young charge themselves. They wished to see with their own eyes, and to hear with their own ears, the progress that he made, and to add their own diligence to that of his teachers, in order to promote his spiritual benefit. A king and queen taking so much pains for the religious instruction of their son is a pleasant sight, and must certainly silence and shame multitudes of persons in private life, who either neglect this duty altogether, or satisfy themselves entirely with the diligence of others, to whose care they entrust it. You have no time, you say. But will you not find time to die? and why should you so involve yourselves in the affairs of the world as not to have time for doing those things which are necessary for your dying well? If you have little leisure on working days, as perhaps many of you have, what deprives you of time on the first day of the week?

2. They adapted their instructions to his years. If we wish to be useful to the young our language must be plain and familiar; we must address ourselves to the imagination even more than to the judgment, must confine ourselves chiefly to first principles, and frequently repeat the same instructions, that they may take the firmer hold on the memory.

3. They instructed him in the most affectionate, serious, and winning manner. They showed by their manner that they felt the importance of the instructions they gave him, and that in the pains they took they were prompted by the sincerest love. Perhaps it is owing in some degree to a harshness and ungraciousness of manner employed by some pious parents, that so little advantage is gained by their children, from all the anxious pains taken on them; and perhaps, in other instances, to a want of due seriousness of manner when instruction is given.

The motives by which they were induced to devote their attention to the religious education of their son.

1. The warmth of their affection for their son. Did the affection of his pious and penitent parents, think you, expend itself in the endearments of parental fondness? in endeavours to gratify the passions of their darling child, and to anticipate, were it possible, every foolish and preposterous wish of his heart? Was it the only effect of it that they spoiled his temper by indulgence, and neglected his education by their aversion to cross his humour or subject him to necessary restraint? Such is the effect of the foolish fondness of many parents; they do their children the greatest injury by the injudicious manner in which they show their regard; they “doat too much,” as saith the poet, “and spoil what they admire.” Not so the parents of Solomon. Love to their son excited them to labour for his welfare. And what does a good man or woman consider as best for their children? Doubtless what they consider as best for themselves--the knowledge of God, the fear of God, the enjoyment of God. When parents neglect the religious education of their children, I can account for their negligence only in one of two ways--either they do not really love their children, or they do not themselves believe the truth and necessity of religion. The first I am reluctant to admit; for bad as the world is, the instances of parents who do not love their children are few, and natural affection shows itself, not unfrequently, very strong in the conduct of the most abandoned of men. To be “without natural affection” is to be worse even than the brutes. I will not say, then, that those parents who do not educate their children in the fear of God are destitute of natural affection: the truth is, that they do not really believe the religion which they profess; for did they believe it, they love their children so well that they would use every conceivable means within their power to make them acquainted with it, and so put them in possession of its inestimable advantages. Did you believe the gospel yourselves, you could not indolently look on and see your beloved children perish. You would “travail in birth till Christ were formed in their hearts.” You would, like the parents of Solomon, teach your children, while they are yet young, “the things which belong to their peace.”

2. The example of their godly ancestors excited them to educate their child in the fear of God. And why should not we also follow the commendable practices of our godly forefathers? We are sufficiently prone to follow customs which we have “received by tradition from our fathers,” which, perhaps, can scarcely be justified; and must it not much more be our wisdom and honour to imitate them in what is so praiseworthy? What evidence do we give that we belong to the family of God, if the customs and manners of the family are not adopted by us--if, instead of “bringing up our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” that they may be “a seed which shall serve Him, that shall be accounted to the Lord for a generation,” we shall suffer them to continue ignorant of the first principles of religion, and a ready prey to every temptation?

3. The positive injunction of the law of God, though last mentioned, must have been first in its force on the conscience of Solomon’s parents, exciting them to see to his religious education. And this law is still obligatory. It is not one of those things peculiar to the old dispensation, which have passed away, but part of that law by which we are bound, under the dispensation of the gospel. Our obligation to attend to the religious education of our offspring is inseparable from our relation to them as our children. When God gives a person the blessing of children, He unites duty with privilege, the duty of educating them for God with the privilege of enjoying them as His gift.

The use which Solomon made of his parents’ instructions. Here I can only remark, in general, that it appears, from the text, that he had profited by them. His parents, who had instructed him with such pious care in his youth, at least his father David, were many years dead before he wrote this book; but we find that, at the time he wrote it, they still lived in his affectionate remembrance of them and their pious care; and, in token of this, he quotes some of their early instructions, and, in imitation of them, enforces on his son attention to the same duties. And good reason had he to cherish a grateful recollection of them; for, in thus training him, they had done him the greatest kindness--a kindness for which he could never repay them, and which it would have been the highest ingratitude if he should ever have forgotten. (James Peddie, D.D.)

Let thine heart retain my words.--

Education: the child’s thought of the parent

This chapter begins with a charming little piece of autobiography. The grateful memories of a father’s teaching and of a mother’s tenderness give point and force to the exhortations.

The importance of early impressions. It is almost impossible to exaggerate the permanent effects of those first tendencies impressed on the soul before the intellect is developed, and while the soft, plastic nature of the child is not yet determined in any particular direction. We learn to love, not because we are taught to love, but by some contagious influence of example, or by some indescribable attraction of beauty. Our first love to religion is won from us by living with those that love her. The affections are elicited, and often permanently fixed, before the understanding has come into play. The first thing is to give our children an atmosphere to grow up in; to cultivate their affections, and set their hearts on things eternal; to make them associate the ideas of wealth and honour, of beauty and glory, not with material possessions, but with the treasures and rewards of wisdom.

What is to be the definite teaching of the child? The first object in the home life is to enable children to realise what salvation is, as an inward state, resulting from a spiritual change. We are tempted in dealing with children to train them only in outward habits, and to forget the inward sources which are always gathering and forming; hence we often teach them to avoid the lie on the tongue, and yet we leave them with the lies in the soul, the deep inward unveracities which are their ruin. We bring them up as respectable and decorous members of society, and yet leave them a prey to secret sins; they are tormented by covetousness, which is idolatry, by impurity, and by all kinds of envious and malignant passions. The second thing to be explained and enforced is singleness of heart, directness and consistency of aim, by which alone the inward life can be shaped to virtuous ends. The right life is a steady progress undiverted by the alluring sights and sounds which appeal to the senses. Here, in the passage, is a great contrast between those whose early training has been vicious or neglected, and those who have been “taught in the way of wisdom, led in paths of uprightness.” It is a contrast which should constantly be present to the eyes of parents with a warning and an encouragement. (R. F. Horton, D. D.)

Verse 7

Proverbs 4:7

Wisdom is the principal thing.

The principal thing

If we consider man’s spiritual state in the sight of God.

If we consider man’s present happiness. The true happiness of man has its foundation in wisdom. I go on the supposition of Christ that a “man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things he possesseth.” Happiness depends on the state of the mind. It is religion only which enlightens the understanding, which influences the heart, and which brings into the favour of high heaven. Man cannot be happy, because he is subject to passions and tempers which perplex and disturb him.

1. Religion brings us into a state of mind which is calculated to make us happy.

2. It gives a blessing to all around, and inspires contentment in every state.

If we consider the imperishable nature of this blessing. True religion accompanies us in life; it lives with us in death; it goes with us into eternity.

If we consider its sovereign and peculiar influence in improving the world. This true wisdom shall one day produce such a change that heaven shall come down to earth and dwell among men. (J. Stewart.)

The “summum bonum”

A modern author says the “chief good must unite the following qualities: It must be intellectual, or adapted to the higher and nobler part of our nature; attainable by all, of whatever sex, age, or mental conformation; unimpaired by distribution; independent of the circumstances of time or place; incapable of participation to excess; composed essentially of the same elements as the good to be enjoyed in a future state.”

“summum bonum” described.

1. Consists in the possession of the highest knowledge.

2. In the application of the highest knowledge.

“summum bonum” sought.

1. Attentively.

2. Constantly.

3. Lovingly.

4. Supremely.

“summum. Bonum” enjoyed. It will be three things to us.

1. A guardian.

2. A patron.

3. A rewarder. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

The principal thing

What this wisdom is. Sometimes the word refers to our blessed Lord Himself. It also means that religion of which the Lord Jesus Christ is the sum and substance.

1. He is a wise man who knows himself. Till a man knows God he knows not himself. God is, in that sense, a glass, in which a man sees himself, and the nearer he comes to that glass the more he discerns himself. A man knows himself when, as a law- condemned sinner, as a sin-condemned sinner, and as a self-condemned sinner, he stands before the eye of God. Then there is self-acquaintance--not till then. He now reads the hardest book in the world. There is no book so hard as the book of a man’s own heart.

2. He is a wise man who draws near to God in Christ. He is a wise man who, under a sentence of condemnation as in himself deserved, can in Christ know how to meet the holy Lord God with humble confidence.

3. He is a wise man who, in the midst of the crookedness of this world, is led to walk straightly with God.

4. He is a wise man who knows how to meet the trials of life.

Why is this wisdom called the principal thing? That is the principal thing which is the only abiding thing. True wisdom, like its source, is perennial, unchanging, everlasting. And it is the only satisfying thing. It comes from God; it leads to God. It comes from above; it leads to above. It is a principle of immortality, and it trains the soul and educates it for immortality.

The exhortation, “get wisdom.” Get it; then it is to be got. It is to be got in the way of seeking. For a man to feel his lack of wisdom is the beginning of wisdom.

1. Do not mistake a counterfeit for wisdom.

2. Avoid first declensions.

3. Make a conscience of secret prayer.

4. Avoid dangerous associations.

5. Take heed as to your books.

6. Study to show religion at home as well as abroad.

7. Live upon Christ.

As your soul is under the constraint of His love it weakens the world, it makes sin hateful, it raises above self, it purifies the motives, and brings a man to walk nearly, closely with God. (J. H. Evans, M.A.)

Divine wisdom

Divine wisdom only deserves the name of wisdom.

1. Because it converseth in the highest things.

2. Because it seeks to approve itself to God.

3. Because it is both the mother and guide, or chariot-driver, of all virtue, and guides it aright.

4. It is the greatest gift God ever gave man, for it directs him to Jesus Christ, the wisdom of the Father, without whom is no salvation, and therefore no true nor lasting gain by any other wisdom. Use: To reprove such as boast much of human sciences, but make no account of heavenly wisdom. (Francis Taylor, B. D.)

Grace is wisdom, and wisdom is the principal thing

The commendation of wisdom. By wisdom is meant Christ the Wisdom of God; and grace, which is the only wisdom in a man. This can be shown in two ways.

1. The Lord counts nothing wisdom but godliness, and this He doth everywhere style “wisdom.”

2. In God’s account all things are folly without grace. The heathen were the greatest artists and philosophers of the world, those that most inquired into the secrets of nature, as in Athens and Corinth, which were universities and places far more famous than any other for knowledge, tongues, and all abilities. Take the greatest statist and politician in the world, which hath also a great show and name for wisdom. Let him be without a principle of grace, and his own policies will prove his own snare. Take the greatest men in the world, and they are wise in their own conceits, yet is their life a vanity. Wisdom acts by the highest principles. According to a man’s principles are the rules of his actions. These are some of the high and excellent principles that godliness lays in the soul.

(a) That the chief beauty of the creature is holiness.

(b) The happiness of the creature consists in communion with God.

(c) Sin is the greatest evil in the world.

(d) It is better to suffer than to sin.

(e) Things seen are but temporal.

An exhortation to get this wisdom.

1. The excellency of grace lies in a conformity unto God.

2. From this conformity there ariseth a communion.

3. Grace fits a man for the service of God.

4. Grace turns all that a godly man enjoyeth into a blessing.

5. Grace fills the soul with all spiritual excellences.

6. Grace will preserve a man from all evil. (William Strong.)

The principal thing

Wealth, power, ease, pleasure, intellectual greatness are thought by different persons to be the principal thing. God says, “Wisdom is the principal thing.”

In what does true religion consist? It embraces three things--regeneration, justification, and sanctification; and secures a fourth--glorification. Regeneration is a change of heart; justification a change of state; sanctification a change of character; glorification is the union and consummation of all other changes.

Why is true religion the principal thing?

1. Because it more exalts our nature and character than anything else can possibly do.

2. It puts man in possession of more solid and lasting enjoyment than anything else possibly can.

3. It provides for the whole scope of man’s being, for soul and body, for time and eternity, for earth and heaven.

The applications of the subject. Get true religion--by forsaking everything previously sought as the principal thing; by repenting of the past, by coming to Christ in faith and prayer, by seeking the aid of the Holy Spirit; by imbuing the mind with gospel truths, submitting to its doctrines and precepts, and conforming the character to all its requirements. How great the happiness of those who have true religion! (Essex Remembrancer.)

Religion is wisdom

Mankind is constantly in search after happiness; they seek it in various ways of their own contrivance.

True religion is the soundest wisdom. Real religion, when it takes possession of the human bosom, always produces in its possessor a true concern for his everlasting salvation.

This wisdom is the “principal thing,” and therefore worthy of our earnest pursuit. If a man consult his own safety and happiness he will seek it in religion. Our safety and security are only in God. Religion opens to us enjoyments not to be found elsewhere. Religion adds to every man’s relative usefulness. Only that usefulness which springs from religious principles will be lasting. Religion will be found to be “the principal thing” at the hour of death and at the day of judgment. (George Clayton.)

Religion man’s only wisdom

The object that is set before us. We are to pursue “wisdom” and “understanding.” These words relate to that state of the human mind, when it is brought to apprehend Divine truths, and to apply those truths to the course of human action. A wise man is one who has gained, and who has taken home to his heart, the knowledge essential to the right guidance of his steps towards heaven. A man of understanding is one whose mind has been enlightened to a clear perception of right and wrong, and who has within him those just and holy principles of the law of God which lead him to pursue the good and to avoid the evil. The object pointed out to you is, the application of the science of religion to man in his present state, leading him to the discharge of duties which he owes to God, himself, and his fellow-creatures. There is no motive like a religious motive to insure the performance of a right action. There is no law equal to the law of God as a guide to what is good, and a check to what is evil. When this law reaches the heart, and becomes the governing principle of a man’s conduct, it produces effects which you will look for in vain from the purest precepts of mere morality. Knowledge enlightens a man, and so great is its influence in this way, that many at the present day are actually making it the object of idolatry. We must not mistake the character of knowledge, or overrate her influence. She does much for a nation to civilise and polish it, but she does not teach us our duty to God, nor lead us to practise it. What is human knowledge compared with the knowledge of religion? Our main object through life should be to acquaint ourselves with the things of God, and to gain for our mind that Divine illumination that shall enable us to pass in safety through the varied temptations of the present world, and to reach the happiness of the next.

The supreme importance of this heavenly wisdom. The hearts of the fallen race of Adam are naturally fond of sensible objects. We are like little children, pleased with trifles; baubles amuse us; when, as beings destined for eternity, we ought to be contemplating heaven’s august realities. What have the men who have been most given to the things of the world gained even here by this earthliness? Surely, nothing that deserves the name of satisfaction. The possession of religion more than makes amends for whatever losses, or trials, or anxieties, we may experience in obtaining it. Religion is so incalculably important that we cannot estimate its value. It is “profitable unto all things.”

The diligence with which we should apply ourselves to the attainment of it. (William Curling,M.A.)

The worth of wisdom

Its sacred nature. Even in the ordinary concerns of life we feel the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Wisdom is not limited to prudence in relation to the ordinary concerns of this life. Nor does it consist in science, however exalted its flight; nor in philosophy, however ennobling the vantage-ground on which it stands. Wisdom is the fear of God, the knowledge of God, the love of God, a right state of heart before God. The wisdom proper for man as a fallen being concerns the questions how he may obtain the favour of God, escape the punishment due to sin, obtain glory, honour, and immortality. Wisdom is connected with salvation.

Its supreme importance.

1. Its superiority above all other objects to which you can possibly direct your attention. Pleasure is a great attraction to the youthful mind, but happiness is often sought where it is not to be found. That alone deserves the name of happiness which will bear reflection. Wisdom, thought of as religion, is superior to fame, or wealth, or knowledge.

2. Its beneficial effects should be considered. Observe the character thus formed; its influence on conduct and practice, and its relation to the future.

The Scriptural method of obtaining true wisdom.

1. There must be a deep conviction of the necessity of this wisdom.

2. A diligent study of God’s Word.

3. Fervent and habitual prayer.

4. A believing application to Jesus Christ.

5. Habitual retirement for meditation.

6. Practical carrying out of good principles in all the relations of life. (J. Fletcher, M.A.)

Therefore get wisdom

The desire of knowledge is common to all human kind. All knowledge is worth the having, but far more desirable, and infinitely above all, is the knowledge of spiritual things. To this is given the name Wisdom.

It is possible to get wisdom. We are living in an age of weak convictions, of guesses as distinguished from beliefs, of opinions rather than established views. The most popular phase of thought in these times is known as Agnosticism. The original agnostic was Pyrrho of Ells. He was the universal sceptic, whose philosophy was merely an interrogation point. But it is possible to know respecting spiritual things. We have the faculty wherewith to apprehend them. This faculty or spiritual sense is the link binding us to God. We have it as a Divine inheritance; it belongs to us by reason of our Divine birth. We are environed by spiritual facts. I do not say that we can exhaust all or any spiritual truth.

It is our magnificent privilege and prerogative to inform ourselves concerning spiritual things. We are Divine and immortal. In reaching out for spiritual truth we give distinct evidence of our descent from God. The lowest attitude which men can assume towards truth is that of credulity. A step higher and we reach the doubters. Doubt is nobler than credulity. A sceptic is a better man than an unthinking bigot. But the sceptic is not a learned man, for true learning implies conviction. He is a half-educated man, and a little learning is ever a dangerous thing. Doubt is always something to move away from. There are two kinds of doubt as there are two twilights. The higher thing is belief. Faith is substance resting on evidence; the substance of spiritual things resting on evidence which appeals to the moral sense. The character of any man is measured by his creed.

It is our bounden duty, therefore, to have sound convictions as to spiritual truth. We have no right to allow the great problems to go by default. If there is a God it behoves us to know it. How shall we get wisdom? (James 1:5). God is light; open the windows, and let God shine in. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Bow down at the mercy-seat and ask God to illuminate the dark chambers of your soul. Get wisdom from God. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)

The attainment of true wisdom

Show the nature of wisdom, what it is, and wherein it consists.

1. The description of its nature and causes. Aristotle calls it that intellectual virtue whereby we are directed in our manners and carriage, to make choice of the right means in the prosecution of our true end. Tully describes it as ars vivendi. Aquinas as the skill of demeaning a man’s self aright in practical affairs. In Proverbs 14:8, we read, “The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way.” The philosophers call four of the virtues “cardinal,” because all the rest turn upon them as upon their hinges. These are prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance. Prudence, or wisdom, consists of three parts, A sagacity of judgment to make a true estimate of things, persons, times, and events. A presence of mind to obviate sudden accidents, to meet every emergency. Experience and observation of the most usual and probable consequences of things.

2. The several kinds and distinctions of it. One is a grace, or virtue, the other is not. There is a wisdom that cometh from above. There is a wisdom which is from beneath, earthly, sensual, devilish. There is a distinction in wisdom according to the several ends which men propose to themselves and the means whereby these several ends are to be attained; the gratifying of carnal appetite; peace and contentment of mind; or spiritual blessedness. So wisdom may be carnal policy, moral prudence, or spiritual wisdom.

3. The proper effects of wisdom. It directs to the right end, such as may be perfective of our natures. It directs to consult about the means, which must be fit and accommodate to the end, and must be honest and lawful in themselves. Two things every man should propose to himself in the management of his affairs, success and safety: in order to which he must observe four conditions--forecast and providence against want; wariness and caution against danger; order and union against opposition; sedulity and diligence against difficulties. These four seem to be recommended in Proverbs 30:24, where four living creatures are spoken of as being “exceeding wise,” the ants, conies (or mice), locusts, and the spider.

4. The opposite to this virtue of wisdom, by way of excess is craft, by way of defect is folly.

The necessity of wisdom, or the grounds of our obligation to it. Scripture gives both precepts concerning it (such as Colossians 4:5; Ephesians 5:15); and commendations of it (as Job 28:16). It is better than riches. It is itself the greatest honour, and will be a means to advance a man in the esteem of others. It is the truest and best pleasure. It is as our life. It is necessary to the safety of our persons; and to the management of our affairs with success. Objection: Is not wisdom a gift and privilege, rather than a duty? Answer:

1. Christian wisdom, for the nature and substance of it is a duty, for the degrees a gift.

2. Moral or civil prudence is also a duty. The neglect of such abilities as are suitable to a man’s station is not only a defect but a fault.

Three inferences:

1. No wicked man can be truly wise.

2. Grace and holiness are the truest wisdom.

3. If wisdom be the principal thing, then let it be our principal endeavour to attain it. (Bp. John Wilkins.)

The best treasure

The figure of merchandise is still maintained. Work, plan, seek, toil, are the watchwords of true zeal in this matter. It is as if the youth were face to face with many attractions--say, beauty, wealth, ease, pleasure, and the like--and whilst he is estimating their claims the father exhorts him, saying, “Get wisdom, get understanding; do not be deceived; insist upon having the brightest treasure, and on no account be victimised by men who would urge you to sacrifice future satisfaction to immediate gratification.” (J. Parker, D. D.)

The best thing to get

Wisdom is of incomparable value, as it enables us to turn every other good to a right use.

The true nature of wisdom.

1. Wisdom is not synonymous with knowledge.

2. Wisdom is not merely the equivalent of prudence in relation to the ordinary concerns of life.

3. Wisdom is not identical with philosophy.

4. Wisdom consists in reverence of the Divine, in the knowledge of God, and a right state of the heart in relation to God. It is, in a word, religion. It is the choice of the highest end, pursued by the best means. It consists in discharging aright those obligations which we owe to our glorious Creator.

The supreme importance of wisdom.

1. Remark its superiority to all other objects of human regard. True wisdom sought and won and worn appeases the hunger and thirst of the soul.

2. The beneficial results of gaining wisdom. Formation of virtuous and Christian character. Avoidance of evil. Eternal gain.

The proper means of obtaining wisdom. (W. E. Daly, B. A.)

Application to wisdom and learning recommended and enforced

What is meant by wisdom? Cicero calls wisdom the knowledge of things Divine and human, and of their efficient causes.

Wisdom is the guide to virtue. Virtue is the right discharge of our duty in every station of life. Virtue contains the whole art of right and happy living. Did learning afford no assistance to virtue; were pleasure the only benefit arising from study; it must on every account be allowed to be an amusement of the noblest kind, and every way best suited to the nature of man. He is most likely to prosper in this life whose mind is best cultivated and enlarged with the truest notions of things, and who joins to that cultivated understanding a corresponding practice, not less excelling in virtue than in knowledge. Honour, too, is a general attendant upon wisdom. Moreover, the love of wisdom and the practice of virtue, will tend above all things to lengthen our present existence.

1. God, the great Father of the world, has created you a reasonable being, and endowed you with faculties. The duty lies on you to improve and enlarge them.

2. Your parents on earth do everything to help you in getting wisdom.

3. Society has a claim upon you. Then cultivate liberal science as the handmaid of sublimer knowledge. Moral virtue and the improvement of the heart are graces which give to science its lustre, and to life its worth. They expand and enlarge the soul. Cultivate liberal science under the sanction and guidance of religion. (W. Dodd, LL.D.)

The excellency of wisdom

An encomium of wisdom. She is commended to us as the most excellent of all things. She holds the principality amongst those virtues that ennoble, enrich, and adorn the mind of man.

An earnest persuasion, backed with arguments, to endeavour the acquisition and improvement of this excellent virtue. Wisdom is an excellent, energetical virtue of the mind of man, whereby, upon a clear apprehension and right judgment of things, the whole soul is carried Out, in a well-governed order, in an earnest and constant pursuit of the most excellent attainments. There is a threefold act of wisdom.

1. To propose the most excellent end.

2. To elect the best means.

3. To engage the most earnest endeavours in the diligent use of these means.

Wherein does the excellency of wisdom lie?

This excellency is attainable. It cannot be commended in vain. Man’s work in the world cannot be done without wisdom. God has given man a rational soul. Wisdom may be attained by--

1. A due government of man’s self.

2. A serious consideration of a man’s state.

3. A diligent study of the Holy Scriptures. (Thomas Willis, D.D.)

The wisdom and importance of religion

1. Religion is the principal thing, as it is the care of our principal part--our rational and immortal nature.

2. Wisdom is the principal thing, for this secures our principal interest.

3. Wisdom is the principal thing, as this comprises everything that is amiable, virtuous and excellent.

4. Religious wisdom is the principal thing, because, while it secures our main interest, it promotes all our subordinate interests.

5. This heavenly wisdom is the principal thing, for without it worldly wisdom will do us no good.

6. Religious wisdom is the principal thing, as it is of universal importance. (J. Lathrop, D.D.)

Religion and virtue a sovereign good

1. Widely different are the effects of moral good which is the object of religion. The contemplation of an infinite Being, the study of His astonishing works and dispensations, are objects which will afford unceasing employment and satisfaction for the most exalted faculties of the sublimest genius. The constant progressive improvement of the soul in virtue and happiness, and the continual approaches to the perfection of its nature, are ends worthy the existence not only of man, but even of the highest angel.

2. Another condition requisite to constitute the sovereign good is, that it be conducive to our well being. Happiness is not made up of transient raptures. It consists in the enjoyment of permanent serenity and calm satisfaction. Of such felicity what can afford a fairer prospect than a virtuous and religious disposition? This tends to preserve the desires and passions within due subjection, to prevent them from inflaming the imagination and biasing the judgment. Such a disposition enables us to view objects in their true and proper colours, unadorned with fictitious and delusive attractions.

3. The third quality requisite to constitute the sovereign good is, that it should be suitable to all times, places, and conditions of life. Even when flesh and heart fail, when the world, with all its attractions, can no longer amuse, then will the consolations of religion and virtue still support us, and shed beams of comfort and hope to dispel the dreary shades of the dark vale of death.

4. A fourth condition implied in our idea of the sovereign good is, that it should be durable and inadmissible. The satisfactions of religion and virtue, being derived from God, are permanent and unchangeable as the source from whence they spring. Not even death, which tears us from every sublunary pleasure, can destroy these satisfactions, (B. C. Sowden.)


(a sermon to the young):--

What that wisdom is which is here so earnestly recommended. It is twofold, viz., speculative and practical, or wisdom of mind and wisdom of conduct Speculative wisdom, or wisdom of mind, consists in the knowledge of our true happiness and the way to it. Practical wisdom, or wisdom of conduct, consists in the steady pursuit of it in the right way.

How it is the principle thing. It is that which ought in the first and principal place to be minded, secured, and preferred before everything else; the one thing needful, in comparison of which everything else has but a very inconsiderable importance.

1. Though wisdom, as now explained, be the principal thing, it is not the only thing that deserves our regard. The very term “principal thing” implies that there are other things of a subordinate consideration that ought to be minded in a proper degree. The affairs of the present life claim some of our thoughts and time.

2. Wisdom is the principal thing, so the importance of every other thing is to be measured by its connection with, or relation to it.

How wisdom is to be attained.

1. Accustom yourselves to a habit of thinking on the best things. Wisdom begins with consideration, the want of which is the source of universal folly.

2. Would you be wise, let me beseech you to consider the importance of improving the opportunities and advantages of your present education. 3.Would you be wise indeed, you must carefully inform yourselves of the will of God and every branch of your duty from the sacred Scriptures.

4. Would you be truly wise, you must not only take care to furnish your minds with a knowledge of the Christian principles in general, but of those duties and principles in particular which will best adorn that character and station wherein you may hereafter appear in the world.

5. In order to be truly wise, you must take care to know yourselves; and particularly your constitutional sins.

6. Cultivate a sense of your constant dependence on God for everything, and acknowledge that dependence daily.

7. Think often of death.

8. Earnestly pray to God to make you wise. (John Mason, M. A.)

Verse 8

Proverbs 4:8

Exalt her, and she shall promote thee.

Man and religion mutually exalted

True wisdom includes two things--first, the choice of the highest possible good; secondly, the adoption of the best possible means for the attainment of that good.

Man exalting religion. There is a sense in which it may be said that man cannot exalt religion. But--

1. Man may exalt it into his heart as a supreme passion. Abounding around us are organisations which have for their object the reformation of morals, the correcting or suppressing certain evil habits, social and national. But mere external reformation without inward renewal will leave the man lost and perishing. When man proposes to improve the condition of humanity he begins outside, whereas God always begins inside. Man works from circumference to centre, God works from centre to circumference. You must place religion on the throne of your heart, give her supremacy, and the effect will be seen in the temper, conversation, and life.

2. Man may exalt it into his will as the all-controlling force, the life-principle. Tell me what the ruling force in the man is and I will tell you his character. All intelligent beings in the universe are under the dominion of either selfishness or benevolence. There is no sin apart from selfishness; there is no virtue apart from benevolence. When Christ takes possession of the heart the usurper is overthrown. Sin is no longer in the ascendancy, Christ becomes king; but although the power, the supremacy, of sin is broken, evil in a subordinate state may exist within. Christ can also expel His rivals.

3. Man may exalt it in his practice by living its lofty precepts. Christianity is not a creed, it is a life. The morals of Christianity are the purest the world has ever known, our enemies being judges. We want “living epistles,” men and women sanctified to God, embodying in their daily life and conversation the lofty precepts of the New Testament.

Christianity exalting man.

1. It will promote your honour. Men everywhere yearn for a twofold immortality--the immortality of the life in the world beyond, and the immortality of posthumous fame in this world. Men have obtained honour in other ways than by religion. But where is the man who will match for:honour the men of “faith” mentioned in Hebrews 11:1-40?

2. It will promote your happiness. One of the strongest instincts of the human soul is the instinct for happiness. All men covet it. In order to gain this coveted prize man must be brought into harmony with himself. Man is a being of strange contrarieties. Within him are forces of evil which drive him into wrong courses; there is also a power of conscience which meets him in these evil ways, denounces, condemns, and punishes him. You cannot secure peace by forgetting the past. In order to peace and contentment you must be in harmony with your surroundings.

3. Religion will promote your prospects. It supplies man with blessed hopes, cheerful prospects, and a glorious future. (R. Roberts.)

Wisdom’s bargain

Exalt wisdom.

1. By entertaining lofty thoughts about her.

2. By making earnest efforts to obtain her.

3. By giving her the highest place in our affections.

4. By placing her upon the seat of government within the soul.

5. By helping her to reach her throne of universal dominion.

Wisdom shall promote thee--

1. To the favour and fellowship of God on earth.

2. To a place of safety aria comfort among the trials and dangers of life.

3. To a position of usefulness and honour amongst men.

4. To a throne of glory in the skies. (T. Whitelaw, M. A.)

She shall bring thee to honour.

The true honour of man

The love of honour is one of the strongest passions in the human heart. All wish, by some means or other, to acquire respect from those among whom they live. Among the advantages which attend religion and virtue, the honour which they confer on man is frequently mentioned in Scripture. By the true honour of man is to be understood, not what merely commands external respect, but what commands the respect of the heart, what raises one to acknowledged eminence above others of the same species. From what cause does this eminence arise?

1. Not from riches.

2. Not from rank or office.

3. Not from splendid actions and abilities which excite high admiration.

4. Not in reputation derived from civil accomplishments.

5. Not from any adventitious circumstances of fortune.

We must look to the mind and the soul. The honour which man acquires by religion and virtue is more independent and more complete than what can be acquired by any other means. The universal consent of mankind in honouring real virtue is sufficient to show what the genuine sense of human nature is on this subject. The honour acquired by religion and virtue is honour Divine and immortal. (Hugh Blair, D. D.)

Verses 10-11

Proverbs 4:10-11

I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths

Precept and example

Teaching and leading are closely allied, but are not identical.

It is possible and common to have the first in large measure where the second is wanting. It is easier to tell another the right way than to walk in it yourself. Only a godly man can bring up his child for God. Many will do evil; few dare to teach it to their own offspring. This is the unwilling homage which the evil are constrained to pay to goodness. Great is the effect when parents consistently and steadfastly go before their children, giving them a daily example of their daily precepts. An example of some kind parents must exhibit in their families. If it be not such as to help, it will certainly hinder the education of the young. God in the providential laws permits no neutrality in the family. There you must either be for or against Him. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

The true parental aim

What is the prime object we should seek for our children? It is to have them fixed and established in ways of wisdom and right paths. What are the means of securing this object? It is teaching them and leading them. This father had trained his son in character for wisdom and righteousness. Some fathers are only concerned for the physical wants of their households. Others are most concerned for the intellectual culture of their children. Yet others look chiefly after traits of character. The true aim of parents should be the culture of a God-fearing, God-obeying, God-loving character. In the world there is a woeful lack of character. Then--

Teach children right views of life.

2. Teach children right habits. You lead them into right paths--

(1) By your example.

(2) By prayer.

(3) By keeping them under the influence of the sanctuary. (W. F.V. Bartlett, D. D.)

Verse 12

Proverbs 4:12

When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.

Monotony and crises

The old metaphor likening life to a path has many felicities in it. It suggests constant change, it suggests continuous progress in one direction, and that all our days are linked together, and are not isolated fragments; and it suggests an aim and an end. “When thou goest”--that is, the monotonous tramp, tramp, tramp, of slow walking, along the path of an uneventful daily life, the humdrum “one foot up and another foot down” which makes the most of our days. “When thou runnest”--that points to the crises, the sudden spurts, the necessarily brief bursts of more than usual energy and effort and difficulty. And about both of them, the humdrum and the exciting, the monotonous and the startling, the promise comes that if we walk in the path of wisdom we shall not get disgusted with the one and we shall not be overwhelmed by the other. But before I deal with these two clauses specifically, let me recall to you the condition, and the sole condition, upon which either of them can be fulfilled in our daily lives. “The path of Wisdom” assumes a heightened meaning, for it is the path of the personal Wisdom, the Incarnate Wisdom, Christ Himself. And what does it then come to be, to obey this command? Let the Christ who is not only wise, but Wisdom, choose your path, and be sure that by the submission of your will all your paths are His, and not only yours. Make His path yours by following in His steps. Keep company with Him on the road. You will say, “Leave me not alone, and let me cling to Thee on the road, as a little child holds on by her mother’s skirt or her father’s hand,” then, and only then, will you walk in the path of wisdom. Now, then, these three things--submission of will, conformity of conduct, closeness of companionship--these three things being understood, let us look for a moment at the blessings that this text promises, and first at the promise for long, uneventful stretches of our daily life. Perhaps nine-tenths at least of all our days and years fall under the terms of this first promise, “When thou walkest.” For many miles there comes nothing particular, nothing at all exciting, nothing new, nothing to break the plod, plod, plod along the road. Everything is as it was yesterday, and the day before that, and as it will be to-morrow, and the day after that, in all probability. Now, then, if Jesus Christ is not to help us in the monotony of our daily lives, what, in the name of common sense, is His help good for? Unless the trivial is His field, there is very little field for Him, in your life or mine. We all know the sense of disgust that comes over us at times, and of utter weariness, just because we have been doing the same things day after day for so long. I know only one infallible way of preventing the common from becoming commonplace, of preventing the small from becoming trivial, of preventing the familiar from becoming contemptible, and it is to link it all to Jesus Christ, and to say, “for Thy sake, and unto Thee, I do this “; then, not only will the rough places become plain, and the crooked things straight, and not only will the mountains be brought low, but the valleys of the commonplace will be exalted. “Thy steps shall not be straitened.” Walk in the path of Christ, with Christ, towards Christ, and “thy steps shall not be straitened.” Now, there is another aspect of this same promise--viz., if we thus are in the path of Incarnate Wisdom, we shall not feel the restrictions of the road to be restraints. “Thy steps shall not be straitened, although there is a wall on either side, and the road is the narrow way that leads to life, it is broad enough for the sober man, because he goes in a straight line, and does not need half the road to roll about in. The limits which love imposes, and the limit which love accepts, are not narrowing. “I will walk at liberty, for I keep Thy precepts”; and I do not want to go vagrantising at large, but limit myself thankfully to the way which Thou dost mark out. Now what about the other one? “When thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.” As I have said, the former promise applies to the hours and the years of life. The latter applies to but a few moments of each man’s. Cast your thoughts back over your own days, and, however changeful, perhaps adventurous, and, as we people call it, romantic, some parts of our lives may have been, yet for all that you can put the turning-points, the crises that have called for great efforts, and the gathering of yourselves up, and the calling forth of all your powers to do and to dare, you can put them all inside of a week, in most cases. “When thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.” The greater the speed the greater the risk of stumbling over some obstacle in the way. We all know how many men there are that do very well in the uneventful commonplaces of life, but bring them face to face with some great difficulty or some great trial, and there is a dismal failure. Jesus Christ is ready to make us fit for anything in the way of difficulty, in the way of trial, that can come storming upon us from out of the dark. And He will make us so fit if we follow the injunctions to which I have already been referring. Without His help it is almost certain that when we have to run, our ankles will give, or there will be a stone in the road that we never thought of, and the excitement will sweep us away from principle, and we shall lose our hold on Him; and then it is all up with us. But remember the virtue that comes out victorious in the crisis must have been nourished and cultivated in the humdrum moments. For it is no time to make one’s first acquaintance with Jesus Christ when the eyeballs of some ravenous wild beast are staring into ours, and its mouth is open to swallow (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Verse 13

Proverbs 4:13

Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life.

The hold-fast religion

Faith may be well described as taking hold upon Divine instruction. To take “fast hold” is an exhortation which concerns the strength, the reality, the heartiness, and the truthfulness of faith, and the more of these the better. If to take hold is good, to take fast hold is better. The best instruction is that which comes from God: the truest wisdom is the revelation of God in Christ Jesus; the best understanding is obedience to the will of God, and a diligent learning of those saving truths which God has set before us in His Word.

The method of taking fast hold upon true religion. At the outset much must depend upon the intense decision which a man feels in his soul with regard to eternal things. This depends much on a man’s individuality and force of character. Many are truly religious, but are not intense about anything. Some who in other matters have purpose enough, and strength of mind enough, when they touch the things of God are loose, flimsy, superficial, half-hearted. If the religion of Christ be true, it deserves that we should give our whole selves to it. Our taking fast hold depends upon the thoroughness of our conversion. Another help to a fast hold of Christ is hearty discipleship. Another is a studious consideration of the Word of God. An established Christian is one who not only knows the doctrine, but who also knows the authority for it. An earnest seriousness of character will help towards maintaining a fast hold of Christ. If these things are in us and abound, there will grow around them an experimental verification of the things of God. And in the mode of taking fast hold upon the gospel practical Christianity, practical usefulness, has a great influence.

The difficulties of taking fast hold of instruction.

1. This is an age of questioning. Conceited scepticism is in the air.

2. This is an age of worldliness.

3. There is, and always has been, a great desire for novelty.

4. The worst difficulty of all is the corruption of our own hearts.

The benefits of taking fast hold. It gives stability to the Christian character to have a firm grip of the gospel. It will also give strength for service. It will bring joy. Persons of this kind are the very glory of the Church.

The arguments of the text. They are three.

1. Take fast hold of true religion, because it is your best friend.

2. It is your treasure.

3. It is your life.

Mr. Arnot, in his book upon the Proverbs, tells a story to illustrate this text. He says that in the southern seas an American vessel was attacked by a wounded whale. The huge monster ran out for the length of a mile from the ship, and then turned round, and with the whole force of its acquired speed struck the ship and made it leak at every timber, so as to begin to go down. The sailors got out all their boats, filled them as quickly as they could with the necessaries of life, and began to pull away from the ship. Just then two strong men might be seen leaping into the water who swam to the vessel, leaped on board, disappeared for a moment, and then came up, bringing something in their hands. Just as they sprang into the sea down went the vessel, and they were carried round in the vortex, but they were observed to be both of them swimming, not as if struggling to get away, but as if looking for something, which at last they both seized and carried to the boats. What was this treasure? What article could be so valued as to lead them to risk their lives? It was the ship’s compass, which had been left behind, without which they could not have found their way out of those lonely southern seas into the high-road of commerce. That compass was life to them, and the gospel of the living God is the same to us. You and I must venture all for the gospel: this infallible Word of God must be guarded to the death. Men may tell us what they please, and say what they will, but we will risk everything sooner than give up those eternal principles by which we have been saved. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Education the business of life

Education is the business of life. Begin with the infant, and observe how, from the very first breath, every stage in its growth is but the antecedent of another, its chief occupation being to get ready for the next. Infancy spreads out into childhood, etc. Thus obviously is life occupied with preparation for the future. To cause men to enter on that future with the best advantage is the purpose of education, in whatever form dispensed. Consisting thus in preparation for the future, it evidently implies three things--

1. The development of the faculties. These lie folded up in the child, unobserved and inactive. By assiduous culture they are to be unfolded in their true proportions, and to be made skilful by judicious exercise.

2. The acquisition of knowledge--without which one rushes upon the future like a blind man into a wilderness. Knowledge is safety, light, and power; ignorance is darkness, peril, and imbecility.

3. Special fitness for the special employment on which one is to enter. Education is not to be conducted at random, nor with a merely general intent. It has regard to the peculiar calling of the individual. It would fit him to act well his part in the precise sphere which he is destined to fill. This, then, is one sense in which education is the business of life. It is the business of every season to prepare for the next. But there is yet a higher sense. Life itself is but one period of existence, antecedent to another and final period. Life itself is but the childhood of the immortal spirit, getting ready for its future youth and eternal manhood. Life itself, therefore, is but one long school-day; its great purpose the discipline of the powers, the acquisition of knowledge, the fitting of the character, in preparation for that immortal action to which the grave introduces. The perfect man--he who is thoroughly furnished by the completest culture of all his powers, faculties, and affections--is educated for heaven. To stop short of this is to leave the Divine work incomplete. Made to reach indefinitely after wisdom, goodness, and happiness, in this world and the next, he can rightfully propose to himself no other end; and his education is in no just sense finished until this end is attained. Whence we observe there are two essential deficiencies in the common judgment: first that the cultivation of the intellect is limited to that small exercise of the mind which just fits for some one occupation; and second, that the cultivation of character is left almost altogether (in all formal education) to circumstance and accident.

By what method the desired result is to be effected. There are three processes--by instruction, by circumstances, by self-discipline.

1. Instruction; by which I intend all the express external means of human or of Divine appointment which are used in early or later life. This is sometimes spoken of as including the whole of education. But a little thoughtful observation convinces us that it is far from being so in fact; that in truth formal teaching is little more than offering favourable opportunities and excitements to the individual, which he may neglect, and so, with the best instruction, remain uneducated. Essential as direct instruction may be, if left to itself, unaided and alone, it can accomplish scarce anything. It needs the concurrence of circumstances, and of the will of the instructed.

2. Circumstances have more to do with the acquisition of knowledge and the formation of character than is often supposed. They make the atmosphere by which one is surrounded, the climate in which he resides. They make up that assemblage of invisible, intangible, indescribable influences which, in the moral world as in the natural, give a complexion, hue, constitution, character, to all who are subjected to it; influences to which they of necessity yield, and which they in vain seek to counteract. It is of the first importance m education to give heed to this consideration. Inattention to this is the cause of frequent ill-success in what appear to be the best arranged processes of instruction. Great pains have been taken, and expensive apparatus employed, with most unsatisfactory results. It was the wrong sort of pains. The controlling power of circumstances was overlooked. The influences of situation, companions, example, and social habits, were disregarded.

3. To these processes is to be added that of self-discipline. Without it nothing efficient can be done by force of teaching, or by the best arrangement of most favourable circumstances. The individual must have a desire to make progress, and must exercise his own powers in making it. It is when he cheerfully, with voluntary labour and watching, applies himself to learn and to become good, that success crowns the endeavour. The general uses of this subject are as obvious as they are important.

(1) It rebukes the prevalent misconceptions, which bind down the aim of intellectual effort to that drudgery of the world by which the body is supported; which account the rational and immortal spirit sufficiently taught, and well enough employed, when it has become skilful to answer the question, “What shall we eat, and what shall we drink, and wherewithal shall we be clothed?”

(2) It rebukes the negligence and self-indulgence of those who, possessing, as we possess, peculiar advantages for the highest intellectual progress, content themselves with the lowest, think mental toil a drudgery, repine at the requisites for improvement, and set the enjoyments of indolence above the solid honours of attainment.

(3) It rebukes the yet more common error of setting aside from our notions of education the progress of character, and establishment in virtue.

(4) It brings us to the great duty of man, the leading object of life; the self-discipline of the character by which preparation is made for eternity. (H. Ware, D. D.)

Take fast hold

It is only “instruction” that we must take fast hold of. There are some things that we must not even touch, much less must we try to grasp them. Take fast hold of the wonderful things that are contained in the Bible.

1. We take fast hold of instruction by praying over it. If we pray often over it we shall, of course, think much about it, and then we may understand it better. And if we truly do this we shall, without fail, strive to put the truth that we have thus taken hold of into practice.

2. It is a great help if we seek to impart what we have learned of Jesus. If we tell what we know, it will fix it upon our minds. If we do not thus take fast hold of instruction, we may lose it. (J. J. Ellis.)

Hold fast

. Fast hold must be laid upon wisdom’s precepts.

1. Because many thieves lie in the way to rob us of what wisdom teacheth us--the devil, wicked men, the world, the flesh.

2. Because we may lose our wisdom ourselves--by negligence, by sinful courses.

Wisdom’s precepts must not be parted withal, but kept safe.

1. Because parting with it brings loss of other things, as of our safety and likewise of our comfort.

2. Because it brings much danger, and that to all that is dear to us.

Holding fast wisdom is the way to life. What thou losest of heavenly wisdom, so much thou losest of thy life. (Francis Taylor, B. D.)

Religious instruction

Instruction is not here used for acquisition of knowledge or intellectual enlargement. It is synonymous with wisdom, understanding, heavenly teaching. Note--

1. The extreme earnestness which the wise son of David displays in pressing his advice.

2. The text suggests the natural alienation of the heart from instruction. It does not receive it willingly. It does not retain it, if received, without difficulty.

3. The last clause of the text resolves the whole question into a simple and intelligible proposition. It brings the matter to a point. Dost thou desire to live--not the life that now is, the transient and ephemeral existence of a corruptible body--but in that never-ending state when a thousand years will be as one day? Then take fast hold of instruction--in obtaining her thou hast secured thy object, for she is thy life. There is, in that word life, a comprehensiveness which conveys the fulness of joy to the penitent soul. (Lord Bishop of Winchester.)

Vigorous steadfastness

The path of wisdom requires the most vigorous steadfastness. Hold the lessons of wisdom with a firm and unrelaxable tenacity; grasp them as the drowning man the rope that is thrown out for his rescue. “Firmness,” said Burns, “both in sufferance and exertion, is a character which I would wish to possess. I have always despised the whining yelp of complaint, and the cowardly, feeble resolve.” (David Thomas, D.D.)

A wise caution

We must take heed of falling with sin and sinners. Our teacher having, like a faithful guide, shown us the right paths (Proverbs 4:11), here warns us of the by-paths into which we are in danger of being drawn aside. Those that have been well educated, and trained up in the way they should go, let them not so much as enter into it, no, not to make a trial of it, lest it prove a dangerous experiment, and difficult to retreat with safety. “Venture not into the company of those who are infected with the plague, no, not though thou think thyself guarded with an antidote.”

If at any time we are inveigled into an evil way, we must hasten out of it. If, ere thou wast aware, thou didst enter in at the gate, because it was wide, go not on in the way of evil men. As soon as thou art made sensible of thy mistake, retire immediately; take not a step more, stay not a minute longer, in the way that certainly leads to destruction.

We must dread and detest the wax of sin and sinners, and decline them with the utmost care imaginable. (Matthew Henry.)

Popular amusements

This advice bears, in its practical relation, on two important features developed in practical affairs. It strikes at the way of the wicked--

1. As it is traced in those open violations of integrity which are condemned alike by the laws of man and the laws of God; and--

2. In that great class of sins which falls under the term “dissipation” in ordinary life, which is condemned by the laws of God, and too frequently tolerated by the laws of man, which is, in itself, in fact, too evanescent, too much a thing of the heart, sinks into too great triviality, is too personal in its character, involving too exclusively the sacrifice of a man’s own soul and life, and the dishonour of his Creator, to fall within the province of human legislation. Popular amusements bear directly upon both these classes of crime. They form a certain fascinating territory--a frontier lying between them and the practice of godliness. To allure the youth, the territories of criminality must be surrounded with a frontier of fascinating pleasures.

Every step you take in these forbidden gratifications is taken at your own cost. All the difficulties that will occur to you there are encountered at your own expense. In the very first principle of starting you forfeit all the protection, the guidance, and the help which man may expect at any time, in justifiable engagements, at the hand of God. God has designed that the whole of life should be conducted in a subjugation of the mind to His own teachings; and, in the path of these forbidden pleasures, amongst the allurements that awaken thoughtlessness of Him, and draw the heart from Him, there is no covenanted protection and guidance, and in that abandonment from God he has the elements of the final curse.

The popular amusements of our time are to be reprehended and forsaken because they are always attended with inducements to greater wrong. It is not merely the stealing and subtle influence that draws the heart away from God; it is not merely the dreadful effect which the fascination has in soothing down the mind into a state of self-gratification; it is not merely the fact that these delusive pleasures draw the mind away from everything distinctly religious; but they stand surrounded with inducements to drive the spirit home to the point in which it must break through the restrictions, not of Divine law only, but of human law also.

The direct influence of the habits formed in scenes of popular amusement is altogether opposed to the exercise of vital Godliness. In cases I have known, there was the declination of the habits of godliness, and the very gift of prayer had almost ceased; every element of piety was crippled. It is said that these popular amusements are patronised by religious people, and that they may at times be rendered subservient to virtue. The answer is that the peril in them wholly outweighs every advantage that can be derived from them. (Charles Stovel.)

Curiosity a temptation to sin

One chief cause of wickedness is our curiosity to have some fellowship with darkness, some experience of sin, to know what the pleasures of sin are like. Not to know sin by experience brings upon a man the laughter and jests of his companions. Curiosity brought about Eve’s fall; and a wanton roving after things forbidden, a curiosity to know what it was to be as the heathen, was one chief source of the idolatries of the Jews. This delusion arises from Satan’s craft. He knows that if he can get us once to sin, he can easily make us sin twice or thrice, till at length we are taken captive at his will. He sees that curiosity is man’s great and first snare. He therefore tempts men violently while the world is new to them, and hopes and feelings are eager and restless. The great thing in religion is to set off well, to resist the beginnings of evil; to flee temptation; and for these reasons--

1. It is hardly possible to delay our flight, without rendering flight impossible. Directly we are made aware of temptation we shall, if we are wise, turn our backs upon it, without waiting to think and reason about it; we shall engage our mind in other thoughts.

2. If we admit evil thoughts we shall make ourselves familiar with them. Our great security against sin lies in being shocked at it.

3. There is a tendency to repeat an act of sin once committed.

4. The end of sinning is to enslave us to it. Our safeguard lies in obeying our Lord’s simple but comprehensive precept, “Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation.” (Plain Sermons by Contributors to the “Tracts for the Times.”)

Breakers ahead

To the young it may be said, “Whatever be the evil course that tempts you, your only safety lies in determined refusal to take a single step in that direction, to tamper for a moment with the temptation”; and that this axiom may be as a nail fastened in a sure place. Solomon gives it six strong blows with the hammer, saying in regard to every such devious and sinful path, “Enter not, go not in it, avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.” Some of the courses against which we need to be warned.

1. The way of the fraudulent. If you cannot be rich without guile be content to be poor. To act or imply what is false is as bad as to utter a lie.

2. The way of the extravagant. Spending money you do not possess; against debt. Start in life as you mean to continue, and let this be one of your maxims, “Owe no man anything.”

3. The way of the gambler. This loathsome cancer is eating into the very vitals of English society. There is no evil course that is more insidious in its commencement, or more insatiable in the appetite it awakens.

4. The way of the drinker. Have the good sense to make a disaster impossible by simply refusing to touch the dangerous thing.

5. The way of the libertine. Shut your ear against every whisper of immodesty.

6. The path of the scoffer. This danger almost always springs from unwise companionships. One sceptic in an office may unsettle all his fellows. (J. Thain Davidson, D.D.)

Contamination of evil society

On the moors of Yorkshire there is a stream of water which goes by the name of the “Ochre Spring.” It rises high up in the hills, and runs on bright and sparkling for a short distance, when it suddenly becomes a dark and muddy yellow. What is the reason of this? It has been passing through a bed of ochre, and so it flows on for miles, thick and sluggish, useless and unpleasant. The world is full of such beds of ochre . . . Enter not in the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. (Church of England Teachers’ Magazine.)

The two paths

The path of the wicked. Bad men are here described in such terms as imply a very wretched state of society. They delight in acts of violence and plunder. Such men form the criminal classes. There are other evil-doers who are much more dangerous, because their evil-doing is not so criminal, is not usually of a sort that exposes them to the penalties of the law. One feature of bad men is pointed out. They cannot rest unless they do mischief to some one. There are men who take an intense pleasure in corrupting their juniors and making them as bad as themselves. One of the chief pleasures of sin lies in making others sinful, just as, on the other hand, one of the chief pleasures of goodness is making others good. The tempter prefers the form of the serpent, and does his evil work subtly, slyly, stealthily. Yet the wicked are blind, blinded sometimes by ignorance, sometimes by passion. They do not see what their true interest is.

The path of the just. “As the shining light.” By the “just” we are to understand the good man; not a man altogether free from sin, but one who, though far from faultless, sincerely desires and earnestly strives to live in all things according to the will of God. The word “just” signifies “commanded.” A just man is a commanded man, a man whom God commands, a man who acts according to God’s commandments. The just man is something more than a man who is true, honest, fair in his treatment of his fellow-men. The just man is he who, to the full extent of the knowledge of God’s will, obeys it, or does his best to obey it, and so is a commended man. The path of the just is the just man’s course of life. We have a description of a good man’s life in its character, its progress, its perfection. Light in Scripture bears several meanings. It means knowledge in relation to the mind, holiness in relation to the conscience, happiness in relation to the heart. The life of a just man is a life of growing knowledge, holiness, and happiness. “Unto the perfect day.” What is the perfect day? Never seen or experienced by Christians in this world. A poor idea of the perfect day that man must have who thinks that he has already attained to it. The difference between day and night is due to this, that the portion of the earth on which we live turns towards or from the sun. And it is the turning of our souls towards Him who is the Sun of Righteousness that makes our night of ignorance and sorrow turn into the day of knowledge and goodness and happiness. (Hugh Stowell Brown.)

Verse 15

Proverbs 4:15

Avoid it.

Companionships to be avoided

The same decision of character which men evidence in their worldly affairs is necessary also in the affairs of eternity. The duty here enjoined is one by no means pleasing to the natural mind, and cannot possibly be softened down to suit the taste of the worldly man. It depends not upon our inclination, but upon the command of God. Our salvation is at stake.

What society we are to avoid. Now here there can be no difficulty with regard to persons of openly immoral lives, whose society none but persons like themselves can possibly approve. Again, the case of those who boldly deny religion, or are attempting to make converts to their own infidel opinions, is equally clear. But, doubtless, the maxim goes much further; so that we ought to shun the ways, not of these more notorious characters only, but in general the ways of all who do not love and fear God. These persons may be differently divided, and may have various shades of virtue and vice amongst them. A cold-hearted formalist, an inconsistent professor of religion, a man who knows what is right and Scriptural, but has no true feeling of piety in his soul, is a dangerous companion for him who would walk humbly with his God. Shall we, it may be said, go out of the world and forsake even our friends and connections in life because they may not be religious?

How far the society of those who do not love and fear God is to be avoided. Now here we cannot as Christians hesitate to admit that if it could be proved that the Word of God required absolute and unceasing seclusion from all who are not partakers of true religion, it would be our duty to obey the command. But it is not necessary, or indeed Scriptural, to suppose that this separation from all worldly things and persons is thus entire and absolute, for then, as the apostle argues, we must needs go out of the world. We may lawfully have commerce and transact our daily affairs with various persons who are not partakers of true religion. Neither, again, must we forsake the professing Church of Christ merely because many hypocrites and false members are to be found connected with it. In this world the tares and the wheat must thus grow together, and to try completely to separate them would be a vain attempt. Nor, still further, are we so to forsake the society of men as to prevent our labouring for their salvation. We may converse with sinners for their good. What we are then to avoid is unnecessary familiarity with sinners and a disposition to comply with their sins. When David would describe “a blessed man,” he speaks of him as not walking in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standing in the way of sinners, nor sitting in the seat of the scornful. If our intercourse with men be so conducted as to weaken our affections towards God, destroy the tenderness of our conscience, make us forget or neglect our souls, or unfit us for prayer and communion with our Maker, we may be assured we have transgressed the Scriptural limit.

But it may be asked, why, after all, is the path of sinners to be thus carefully avoided? Why should Solomon so multiply his cautions--“Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away”? What is the real danger? The duty under consideration ought to be attended to, both for our own sake and for that of others. Let us suppose, then, that a person is really in earnest respecting his salvation, and let us examine what will be the effect of his neglecting the duty in question. Alas, how hard will he find it to preserve the true spirit of religion in the midst of worldly society! Evil example will gradually prevail. The conversation of the wicked has far more power to corrupt the righteous than the conversation of the righteous to amend the wicked; just as it is much easier for the healthy to become diseased by communication with the sick than for the sick to be restored by communication with the healthy. One reason why the society of those who are not truly religious will be a great hindrance to the Christian is that if he will not give up the dictates of his conscience he must expect to meet with the scoffs of men. There would be less danger to the Christian in mixing with sinners if it were not that they are always ready to entice him to their evil ways. Good men, it is to be lamented, are not usually as anxious to bring their companions to the knowledge and practice of true religion as bad men often are to tempt the good to wander from it. Many a person, after feeling his heart impressed with the things belonging to his eternal peace, has been fatally ruined by mixing with those who viewed his religion with suspicion or contempt, and were desirous to make him forget the sacred impression. Besides, if we truly desire to serve God, the company of the wicked will be offensive to us. But the strongest reason for obeying the command in the text is that our salvation is endangered by the society of the wicked. The man of wisdom hath taught us, “He that walketh with wise men shall be wise, but a companion of fools shall be destroyed.” (Christian Observer.)

Keep at a distance

A noble ship, with British colours flying was making its way across the ocean on a summer afternoon. Yet the face of the pilot wore an expression of deep anxiety, and he cast many uneasy glances in one direction, while steadily steering the opposite way. The captain came up to him with a pale and anxious countenance. “Surely we must now be safe?” “It is best to err on the right side. We can easily get too near, but we can hardly keep at too great a distance.” What was this mysterious peril? It was a whirlpool, one of those deceitful eddies which, once approached, will draw the finest vessel irresistibly into certain destruction. There are worse whirlpools on land than those of the ocean. There are sins which, if you once come within their influence, are almost sure to drag you into their vortex of ruin. Is not drunkenness one of these? Is not gambling one of these? Is not dishonesty one of these? Sins of every kind have something of this fatal fascination, but some more than others. Keep at a distance from the path of the destroyer.

Evil to be avoided

There is no need of your trying to face certain temptations. You are foolhardy to try it. Your only safety is in flight. It is as fifty against five thousand. If you be given to appetite, escape the presence of decanter and demijohn. If you are given to pride, go not amidst things that flatter it. If your proclivity be toward uncleanness, like Job make a covenant with your eyes, that you look not upon a maid. (T. De Witt Talmage.)

Verse 16

Proverbs 4:16

Their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall.

The proselytism of error

It is of the wicked that Solomon here speaks. What a restlessness does this indicate! What a zeal in a bad cause! The subject suggested by the text is the restless activity of evil men in the propagation of evil. A man is accountable for his creed as well as for his practice--accountable inasmuch as it must be through his own fault that he believes what is false just as much as it is through his own fault that he does what is wrong. This takes all force from the objection that they who sleep not except they bring over others to what themselves hold to be true are performing a duty rather than committing a sin. It would seem as though error were far more energetic than truth. Why should falsehood be thus zealous in diffusing itself? Allowing that it sets an example, allowing that it addresses a rebuke to truth, how are we to account for its being so surprisingly energetic and devoted? The holder of falsehood may make religion a matter of party. Error is that which the warmest adherent may support from pride, or jealousy, or ambition, but truth is that which can enlist these passions in none but the hypocrite. Error can work on all the corruptions of our nature, whereas truth has to hold these corruptions in check. That falsehood should have a missionary spirit follows on the fact of its being falsehood, and therefore forced to lean upon others for support. (H. Melvill, B.D.)

Verse 18

Proverbs 4:18

The path of the just is as the shining light.

The path of the just

The essentials of a just man’s character have been in all ages the same. The path, the life-course, of such a man, is like the shining light. I do not think that the path of the justified is compared to the course of the sun, from the period of his appearance in the morning to the time of his meridian height. The sun is an emblem, not of the justified, but of the Justifier. The just are those whom the Sun of Righteousness shines upon. The new life of the converted is like the morning light. At first it seems an uncertain struggle between the darkness and the dawn. It quivers long in the balance. When the contest begins, however, the result is not doubtful, although it may for a time appear so. Once begun, it shineth more and more unto the perfect day; and it is perfect clay when the sun has arisen, as compared with the sweet but feeble tints of earliest dawning. The path of the just will be like the morning, it will increase until dawn break into day. The analogy holds good more exactly still, if we take into view the actually ascertained motions of the planetary system. When any portion of the earth’s surface begins to experience a dawn diminishing its darkness, it is because that portion is gradually turning round towards the sun; while any part of the earth lies away from the sun, in proportion to the measure of its aversion, it is dark and cold; in proportion as it turns to him again, its atmosphere grows clearer, until, in its gradual progress, it comes in sight of the sun, and its day is perfect then. The path of the just is precisely like this. Arrested in his darkness by a love in Christ, which he does not understand as yet, he is secretly drawn towards Him in whom that love, in infinite measure, is treasured up. As he is drawn nearer, his light increases, until at last he finds himself in the presence of the Lord. There follows in the text a counterpart intimation fitted to overawe the boldest heart. “The way of the wicked is as darkness; they know not at what they stumble.” The darkness is in him. A dark place in the path may be got over, but darkness in his own heart the traveller carries with him wherever he goes. To the blind, every place and every time is alike dark. It is an “evil heart of unbelief.” The way to get light is to turn from sin. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

The Christian’s light

The righteous man possesses an understanding brightened by the rays of Divine truth, for the Sun of Righteousness hath shone into his soul. His heart is beautified by the light of purity, diffusing a pleasant lustre around him in his conversation; and his spirit is cheered with the light of joy and consolation from the countenance of God. This light is not like that of a taper which burns itself away into darkness, but like that of the morning sun, which shines brighter and brighter, till it blazes with meridian splendour. (G. Lawson.)

The path of the just

The point of resemblance between the path of the just and the shining light.

As to origin. The shining light emerges from the darkness at the dawn of the day, and so does the path of the just, or the believer on the morning of conversion. There is a great spiritual crisis, call it by whatever name you will. Our Lord speaks of it as a new birth.

As to progress. There should be progress--

1. In knowledge of Divine things.

2. In holiness of heart and life.

3. In Christian usefulness and activity.

4. In growing meetness for heaven.

As to perfection. Progress ending in perfection, but not here. The perfect day is not for earth, but for heaven. As to knowledge of Divine things, here we know in part, there we shall know even as we are known. Here the feeble intellect is soon exhausted in its search after knowledge, there it shall soar with untiring wing. As to purity, what a change! There are spots on the disc of the brightest sun that ever shone, but there are none on the spotless robes that have been made white in the blood of the Lamb. As to useful activity, it will assume a more exalted character, it will embrace a wider range. (A. Wallace, D. D.)

The path of the just

The character of this man--the just man. A just or righteous man is he who conforms himself to the laws of God’s government over men. The perfectly just man is he who has never in any matter trampled upon the rule of life laid down by the all wise God, and who continues to walk onwards by the same perfect rule. But no such character is to be found among men. The all-wise God has found out a way whereby He may be just and the justifier of them that believe in Jesus. All the righteousness and merit of God’s own Son becomes theirs. The child of faith is the only just man.

The starting-point of his life-course--from dawn.

1. The believer is likened to the light, inasmuch as now he has attained to wisdom, holiness, and happiness. Light, as symbolical of the good, speaks to us of the enlightenment of the understanding, the purity of holiness, and true happiness. Light is also significant of natural good, of happiness.

2. The believer is likened to the shining light, or the bright dawn of morning. This figure speaks to us of the transcendent beauty of holiness. It is the heavenly ideal of all that is bright and fair and fresh.

His actual course--shineth more and more. Growth is the one grand law in the kingdom of light. The believer at his new birth is but a babe in Christ. The children of the kingdom grow from strength to strength. Where there is no growth there is no life. Perfect manhood, “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ,” is the goal short of which no child of the Father dare stop. Every being grows according to the measure of his own inward nature, and so does the child of God. This Divine necessity of the Christian’s growth is symbolised by the figure of the text. The Christian’s growth, like all growth, is gradual; it even proceeds often by means of apparent retrogressions. Often the Christian seems to retrograde. Yet even from a sad eclipse he will come forth, shining with a fuller splendour of blessed light.

His goal--everlasting noon--the “perfect day.” From the path of the just all shadows of the darkness shall pass away. Children of light though we be, we are often doing the deeds of darkness and walking in the dark and cloudy day of trial. But it shall not be so always. A Godlike purity, and God Himself as our joy, constitute the two elements of the light of the perfect day, into which our faith and patience grow more and more. (James Hamilton, M.A.)

The path of the just

The believer’s natural state of darkness and misery.

The brilliant course he pursues after being turned from darkness to light. His way is as the “shining light.”

1. Beautiful in its appearance. The light of grace begins from the first to adorn the actions of the righteous. Their simplicity of mind and teachableness of spirit endear them to all their brethren; their lowliness and humility attract universal notice, while the fervour of their love excites admiration and esteem. The very shades in their character serve as a contrast to the excellency of the change that has passed upon them. As they proceed, their graces are more matured, and even thus early they “adorn the doctrine of God their Saviour.”

2. They shall continue to be beneficial in their influence. They have a work to do, and God will ensure them in a course of well-doing, or the Divine purpose would fail.

3. Believers, like the sun, are constant in their progress. The sun invariably pursues his wonted course. The believer’s progress is directed by the same power.

The glorious consummation of the text. (The National Preacher.)

The path of the just

It is not from the observation of earthly circumstances that we believe in the reign of eternal righteousness. It is because the voice of God has spoken the truth into the hearts of men, because we are ethical beings, because we know by the divinest instinct within us that righteousness reigns. The destiny of men is ethically determined. It is not so altogether upon this earth, where great distinctions are created through other circumstances; but in the long run, in the eternal issue, moral character will determine destiny.

The beauty of the simile. The reference is evidently to the light of day, the sunlight. It suggests--

1. Gladness.

2. Power.

3. Beauty.

4. Order.

5. Glory.

The progressive aspect. From dawn to full day. The life of the just is not completed at once. All progress. Not all at the same rate.

The words “path of the just” include character, condition, and destiny. The light of goodness, of joy, and of glorious destiny. And these three things are involved in one another. (John Thomas, M.A.)

The path of the just, like the shining light

Religious virtue is recommended to our affectionate esteem, to our choice and constant pursuit, by the character of wisdom. The goodness of the sincere is like the morning dawn, which is weak in its beginning, but gradually increases in brightness, till it arises to its meridian glory. The path of the just is nothing else but the practice of virtue, of moral piety, of righteousness, of temperance, of charity. The whole of virtue is comprehended, and every essential branch of it must be reduced to practice in the path of the just.

1. The way of the just, morally considered, is a regular scheme formed according to one model, and under one uniform direction. The principle of virtue is always an unvarying guide, admirable for its simplicity, without a mixture of interfering counsels, without a diversity of inconsistent views.

2. The path of the just is accompanied with inward serenity and satisfaction. The principles of religion, diffusing their influence through the whole scheme of life, set everything about us in a fair and amiable light.

3. The path of the just sends light abroad--that is, communicates profitable instruction to, and hath a useful influence on, those who have the opportunity of observing it. The path of the just is like the spring of the day animated by an inward undecaying principle; it rises in splendour from its low and more obscure beginnings, going on gradually to perfection. (J. Abernethy, M.A.)

The path of the first, or persevering piety

The just man here is not the man who merely begins, it is the man who perseveres. This man’s path is no meteor, which gleams and expires; no rising day, lowering into mist and darkness; it is the path of the cloudless light of heaven. Persevering piety is as the light that shineth more and more.

Because of the increasing demonstration which it furnishes of the truth and excellency of religion. There are many proofs of that excellency, some argumentative, others experimental. These last have always an increasing power.

Persevering piety possesses an increasing assurance of the Divine favour. This is the very light of the soul, the only source of peace in the conscience. At first it is obtained by faith; but in the case we are supposing faith grows into a habit, and keeps the soul in perfect peace.

Persevering piety has increasing pleasures. There can be no growing happiness without a preserved sense of Divine acceptance. Piety opens sources of mental pleasures: pure, because not applied to sinful objects; rich and constant, because flowing from sources of real good. All these have in them a principle of increase. Increasing pleasures are opened by the Word and ordinances of God, by Christian communion and religious exertions. All these, to a spirit prepared for them by the salvation which is of grace, through faith, present pleasures which never cloy, which afford richer and still richer satisfaction.

Persevering piety has the advantage of an increasing evidence of the wisdom and care of God in His providential arrangements. The man who perseveres in piety is more wise to see, and more careful to mark, the abounding instances of Divine interposition.

Persevering piety has brighter and more cheering views of the eternal state. The conviction of the world’s vanity, experience of the world’s trials, are designed to quicken the progress of the affections towards man’s heavenly home. Everything in piety moves towards God; but it is God in heaven, as fully revealed there.

1. See, then, that your path be indeed the path of the just. Walk in it by the strength of regenerate habits, fed by prayer, and by communion with God.

2. Remember that the way of the wicked is darkness; it is all error and perplexity.

3. Recollect, for your encouragement, that, bright and cheering as is the light upon your path, it is but the light of the morning. (R. Watson.)

Two paths before the young man

The Word of God hath imposed upon man a choice of alternatives. Two ways--two ends; two characters--two consequences; two aims or objects in the life that now is--two states or conditions in the life that is to come. When the alternative is presented to a rational and responsible being we think he can only make one choice; he would surely reject the evil and embrace the good. Two things, however, are practically opposed to this reasonable conclusion; the choice may be evaded or postponed, and human philosophy and vain deceit have left no artifices unassayed to perplex what God has made straight. The period of life when for the most part the path of the individual is to be chosen is that of youth; a stage of life in which the passions are strong, and the judgment is weak, the mind sometimes scantily furnished, and the will too often altogether unregulated and uncontrolled. Hence, in a moral sense, the period of youth is doubly endangered, because, impetuous and precipitate in its very nature, and urged by impulse rather than actuated by principle, it will not readily pause to deliberate at all; and if it does, false views are enticingly presented to it. The one of these dangers--which the apostle calls the “vain deceit of philosophy”--may be escaped by taking truth for a counsellor; and the other--the perilous folly of procrastination--by hearkening to reason as our guide.

The path of the just. The path of “light” is that which discloses to those who pursue it their own motive of action; to others who examine them, their principles; and both to themselves and to others who assume the same standard of judgment, the consequences of those actions. Ignorance of what is personally, relatively, socially, or even politically right, can never co-exist with a genuine belief in the gospel of Christ Jesus. By the “just” we understand the man who has determined to do right simply because it is right; resolving all first principles of right into the expressed and recorded will of God. By the “path” of such a man we understand the habitual tenor of his course and conduct among mankind.

The way of the wicked. By the “wicked” we understand the man who is indifferent to that which is good; who acknowledges, or at least obeys, no law of action but his own pleasure, or his own interest, or his own inclination, or his own appetite. The way of such a man is “darkness,” from the absence of any fixed principle or of any certain end. If peace is essential to happiness, on Scriptural principles happiness never can be realised by the ungodly. All nature is full of enemies to him who hath not God for his friend. See, then, the importance of making the right choice in early life. (Thomas Dale, M.A.)

Of increase of grace, and perseverance therein unto the end

Increase of grace and perseverance are benefits flowing from or accompanying justification.

Increase or growth of grace. That real grace does increase is evident from three things. Scripture testimony. God has appointed a certain stature that His children shall grow to. This is the end of Divine influences and the effect of Divine ordinances.

How a Christian grows in grace.

1. Inward, into Christ.

2. Outward, in good works, in all the parts of a holy life, piety towards God, and righteousness towards men.

3. Upward, in a heavenly disposition.

4. Downward, in humility, self-denial, self-loathing, resignation to the will of God.

The causes of this growth.

1. Union with Christ.

2. Communion with Christ in His ordinances and in His providences.

The difference between true and false growths.

1. True Christian growth is universal.

2. The hypocrite soon comes to a stand, the Christian goes on to perfection.

True grace grows always.

1. It does not always grow, nor at every particular season.

2. It never decays utterly.

3. A Christian may be growing and yet not be sensible of it. This may cause fear and trembling. (T. Boston.)

Perseverance in grace

is another benefit flowing from or accompanying justification.

What this perseverance is. To persevere is to continue and abide in a state into which one is brought.

How is this perseverance to be understood.

1. Not of all who profess Christ.

2. Of all real saints, those who are endowed with saving grace. Saints may lose the evidence of grace, so that they cannot discern it in themselves. They may lose the exercise of grace. They may lose much of the measure of grace they have had.

The saints shall persevere to the end.

What are the things which make hypocrites fall away?

1. Satan’s temptations.

2. The world’s snares.

3. The corruptions and lusts of the heart.

The grounds of the perseverance of the saints.

1. The unchangeable decree of God’s election flowing from the free and unchangeable love of the Father to them.

2. The merit and intercession of Christ the Son.

3. The perpetual abiding of the Spirit.

4. The nature of the covenant of grace.

The means of perseverance.

1. God’s ordinances and providences.

2. The duties of religion, and exercise of the graces, faith, fear, watchfulness, etc.

Then look well to the foundation of your religion, for sincerity will last, but hypocrisy is a disease in the vitals that will end in death. Let those whose care it is to be found in Christ be comforted amidst all their temptations, snares, and corruptions, in that God has begun the good work and will perfect it. (T. Boston, D.D.)

The Christian life a progressive state

It is in every man’s power to make his life a progressive state. If we trace the progress of the human mind from the first dawnings of sense and reason, we may see from what small beginnings it acquires a prodigious store of intellectual knowledge. The moral powers, like the natural perfections of the body, are more equally distributed than the intellectual; and in them there is as large a field laid open for our advancement towards perfection as there is in the intellectual. No man knows what he can do till he is firmly resolved to do whatever he can. There are often abilities unknown to the possessors which lie hid in the mind for want of an occasion to call them forth. One can scarcely have too high an opinion of the powers of the human soul, especially in the affair of our salvation, and scarce too low an opinion of men’s inclinations to exert these powers in that important case. But God gives to every man adapted and effectual grace. We have the same natural power, the same gracious aid and assistance, for persevering and improving in every virtue and grace, as we had originally for attaining them. What, then, should restrain or hinder our continual progress? One reason why men do not quicken their pace more in the ways of goodness is the mistaken judgment they form by using a deceitful standard. They are not at any trouble to get exact notions of perfection and goodness, and to examine their lives by such truly imitable patterns. So far, then, from considering this life as a dull round of the same insignificant trifles, we ought to look upon it as an indefinite line wherein every step we take is, or ought to be, an important and valuable advance in goodness.

Some reasons and considerations to engage us in such a practice.

1. This progressive state is our duty. God’s design is to make men as virtuous and pious as possible. It is in our power to make a constant and continued progress in the kinds of these perfections, and thence arises our obligation to advance in the degrees as far as the sum of our faculties, exercised and improved to the utmost, can carry us. Our condemnation will not lie in this, that we did not exactly transcribe the original, but that we did not make the copy so complete as was in our power. If a man thinks himself already as virtuous and good as he needs to be, it is a certain sign that he has not yet arrived at any eminence in virtue.

2. The advantages we shall reap from the progressive state.

(1) It will supersede the trust and confidence which too many are apt to repose in repentance.

(2) It is the best means for bringing us to a uniform and unreserved obedience.

(3) It is the only security for our preservance in such obedience.

(4) It is the best testimony we can have of our being in a salvable condition.


1. How groundless and unreasonable are all complaints of human life as an insignificant, capricious, and wayward state.

2. If the progressive is the right state of life, what shall we think of those who are pursuing an opposite course? (J. Seed, M. A.)

The progressive lustre of the Christian’s character and example

The use of light is twofold--it enables us to see and to be seen; and from this twofold use of light arises a twofold application of the text.

The path of the just, as he sees it himself. “As a shining light.”

1. Because it is the path of Christ. He is the true light. Whatever light exists upon earth, whether physical, intellectual, or spiritual, comes from Him as the Creator by whom all things were made. By Him the lights of reason and of conscience were lit up in the soul of man to guide him to a knowledge of God and duty. And after the candle of the Lord had been so dimmed and defiled by sin as to become comparatively useless, then did He, as the Sun of Righteousness, arise with healing in His beams, to restore in the minds of His believing people that light which sin had so grievously obscured and beclouded. To this light the eyes of God’s people were from the earliest ages of the world directed, for its dawn was coeval with the fall of man. Taking the Lord Jesus as his guide and exemplar in the ways of salvation, the path of the just is as a shining light.

2. In respect of the increasing certainty and confidence wherewith he walks in it. As the rays of light move in straight lines, so also the path of the just is a straight-forward path--free from those perplexing turnings and windings which mark the ways of worldly wisdom and carnal policy. It is also a path of security in which he can walk without fear of danger. The path is moreover pleasant and joyful. So far, then, as his own understanding and feelings are concerned, the analogy between the path of the just and the shining light is evident and exact.

the path of the just as it appears to his neighbours. As the light of Divine truth and love is reflected to us from the person and character of our Lord Jesus Christ, in like manner the light of His grace and holiness is reflected to the world from the lives and characters of His faithful disciples. As a comet increases in brilliancy in proportion to the nearness of its approach to the sun, so the Christian’s light will always be more conspicuous in proportion to the closeness of his communion with the Sun of Righteousness. As light is the most plain and conspicuous object in nature, so the Christian, walking in the integrity of his heart, is so transparent and straightforward a character as to be known and approved of all. As the same light shining upon a smooth and polished surface is reflected with greater lustre than from a rough and muddy one, so the same grace is reflected with greater brilliancy by some Christians than by others. As a professed follower and disciple of the Son of God, the Christian is imperatively called upon to let his “light shine before men.” If we are the children of light, we are called upon to walk as such. Beware, then, of continuing in the dim twilight of a lukewarm and unstable profession. Look to the Lord Jesus Christ as the Sun of Righteousness. Take Him for your guide and exemplar, and He will assuredly lead you to everlasting joy. (William Ford Vance, M. A.)

Quiet progress

All life means progress. Stagnation is death. Our life is either a halt, a return, or a pressing forward.

In quiet times we see more of the truth.

It shows us more in truth. Not only more of it, but more in it.

In quiet progress we make more use of truth. Through quiet progress in our lives, we are extending Christ’s kingdom.

In this quiet progress you will be more reconciled to changes that must come.

We are more restful in the inner evidences of truth. (W. M. Statham.)

On the progressive nature of religion in the soul

We derive a great part of our ideas from comparison, and the mind is pleased with similitudes. No comparison can be more appropriate and beautiful than that employed in the text.

The character which is here denoted by the term “just.” “Just” expresses a person who has, without omission or fault, fulfilled every branch of moral obligation. The same word is employed to denote that character which extends not its virtuous exertions beyond the discharge of the demands of strict justice. A distinction is made between justice and goodness. “Just” also characterises the person who, having adopted right principles, directs his conduct by them, as far as is compatible with human infirmity. The term is also employed to signify those who, through the merits of Jesus Christ, and the means of grace and salvation which He hath instituted, are restored to the favour of God. The two last of these meanings come into the text. The just man here is he who, with an understanding as much enlightened as his situation will permit, and with a heart impressed with the importance of religion, endeavours to fulfil the law of God, through the whole of his conduct, and renders the cultivation of holiness and virtue his grand and predominant object.

All the faculties of man are of a progressive nature. The human faculties ascend to the most sublime attainments; but for this progressive and boundless improvement, culture and discipline are necessary. The faith of the just man, though founded on rational convictions, will, at first, be weak and wavering. Whether he contemplate nature or revelation, he will meet with obscurity to perplex, with difficulties to embarrass, and with objections to stagger him. But though these obscurities hang over the path of the good man, and these obstacles start up, as he advances, they neither involve him in complete darkness, nor even retard his progress. As the faith of the man truly pious advances with increasing brightness, his works observe the same tenor. From the frailties and defects incident to humanity, the man of piety and virtue is not exempt. But the good man sins from infirmity alone, loathes himself on account of every fault he commits, and strives to acquire greater firmness and resolution against future temptations. Advancing in his virtuous progress, he acquires, at every step, fresh vigour and alacrity, and, at last, arrives at that confirmed habit of obedience, which places him beyond the power of such temptations as seem to other men irresistible, and enables him, through Divine grace, to triumph, in some measure, over nature herself. The good man having the principles of virtue lodged in his soul, and gradually brought forward by Divine energy, begins his course with difficulty, and amidst obscurity and temptation. Gradually doubts and difficulties disappear, and he rises at last to that settled temper of virtue and holiness which makes him “a light shining in a dark place.” (W. L. Brown, D. D.)

Signs of progress

In whatever path we set out, there is no standing still. The grace of God, which is given to men, lies not dormant.

How shall we know if we have made progress in the paths of righteousness?

1. Are you sensible of your faults and imperfections? The first indication of wisdom is to confess our ignorance, and the first step to virtue is to be sensible of our own imperfections. Till we feel our own weakness we can never be strong in the Lord; we can never rise in the Divine sight till we sink in our own estimation.

2. What is the strength of your attachment to the cause of righteousness? Are you enamoured with the beauty of holiness? Men will never imitate what they do not love. If, then, you are not lovers of goodness and virtue, you never will be good and virtuous.

3. Are your resolutions as firm and your application as vigorous now as when you first set out in the spiritual life? True religion does not consist in fits and starts of devotion. He alone is a good man who perseveres in goodness. Are you as much in earnest now as when your first love to God began to bring forth the fruits of righteousness? As you advance in years, all the passions will gradually cool. You will not feel that degree of ardour in your devotions which you experienced in your early years. But your devotions may continue as sincere, though not so inflamed, as before, and religion may be as effectual as ever in the regulation of your life.

4. Another mark of increasing grace is when you obey the Divine commandments from affection and love. He alone will make progress in the path of the just who is drawn by the cords of love.

Directions how to make further progress in the path of the just.

1. Make a serious business of a holy life. The true Christian will not be deficient in his attention to the externals of religion; but he will not rest there. We must make a study of the holy life, in order to advance from strength to strength in the ways of the Lord.

2. Never rest satisfied with any degrees of holiness or virtue which you attain. The law of the spiritual life is to aim at perfection. Absolutely perfect we can never become in this life; but we must be always aspiring and endeavouring after perfection.

3. Be alway employed in the improvement of your souls. Evil habits may be weakened; inclinations may be counteracted. You may call forth graces that have not yet made their appearance, and bring forward to perfection those that have.

4. Abound in prayer to God for the assistance of His Holy Spirit.

Exhortation to a life of progressive virtue.

1. It is your duty to make progress in the ways of righteousness. You must “abound in the work of the Lord” if you expect your labours to be attended with success.

2. Be assured that you will be successful in the attempt. Here, all who run may obtain.

3. Think of the beauty and the pleasantness of such a progress. These are pleasures that time will not take away. While the animal spirits fail, and the joys which depend upon the liveliness of the passions decline with years, the solid comforts of a holy life, the delights of virtue and a good conscience, will be a new source of happiness in old age, and have a charm for the end of life.

4. Let me exhort you to this progressive state of virtue, from the pleasant consideration that it has no period. There are limits and boundaries set to all human affairs; but in the progress of the mind to intellectual and moral perfection there is no period set. On what you do, on what you now do, all depends. (John Logan.)

Progression and perfection

There are two ideas in the text--progression and perfection. The life of the believer here and there is one. If we have believed, we have everlasting life--we possess already the immortal life which will be perfected in heaven.

Progression the characteristic of the Christian life on earth. Is it a remarkable thing that we should look for the growth of the Divine life in man? Ought we to expect progress in ourselves as Christians? It is a reasonable thing for the parent to look for growth in his child; and he is greatly concerned if he does not discover it. It is a reasonable thing for the farmer to look for growth in the seed which he has scattered upon the prepared soil. It is a reasonable thing that men should expect the sun to shine more and more unto the perfect day. But let us put it to our own hearts whether we have looked for this progress in ourselves. What is God’s thought, expressed in His Word, about this progression? Paul’s prayer on behalf of the Ephesians, that they might be strengthened with might by God’s Spirit in the inner man; that they might be rooted and grounded in love; that they might comprehend more fully the love of Christ; that they might be filled with the fulness of God--certainly implies the possibility and desirability of progression. Then again, the words of the same apostle concerning the same people, that they “be no longer children but growing up unto Him in all things, who is the Head, even Christ;” coming “unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”: these again imply the possibility and desirability of progression. And again, Paul desires for the Colossians that they “be filled with the knowledge of His will unto all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that they might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all might according to His glorious power unto all patience and long-suffering with joyfulness.” Shall we not be concerned about our own growth? Shall we not be grieved if we do not grow in our views and feelings in reference to sin? The older we are as the children of God, the longer we have had fellowship with the Pure and Holy One, the more we should hate everything which is sinful. Shall we not be grieved if, as the months go by, we do not find ourselves more decided and resolute and settled in our religious convictions and habits? Shall we not be concerned if we are not gaining greater power over the sin which easily besets us? Shall we not be concerned if we are not more humble, more heavenly-minded, more gentle and forgiving, more Christlike than we were?

Perfection the characteristic of the Christian life in heaven. Progression here; perfection there. Perfection there according to progression here. Is it so? We think so. If we mistake not, the ordinary notion is--no matter what our life may be here, if only we have faith in Christ, the moment this mortal shall put on immortality we shall be perfect in heaven. We ordinarily think of our perfection there as apart from our progression here. But the teaching of Scripture is not the stagnant pool here becoming the gushing fountain there; it is the well of water here, and there springing up into everlasting life. It is not the babe, or rather the dwarfed child here, appearing there the strong, wise, well-proportioned man; it is the babe growing up here, till there he attains the stature of the perfect man. We know it is very true, though the “well of water” spring up here ever so continuously and copiously, it shall there in comparison gush forth like a fountain of living waters. If we search the Scriptures with this design in view, to discover whether a careless, inactive Christian will attain the same perfection in heaven as a man like the apostle Paul, we shall quickly see that progression here has something to do with perfection there. What glories are these which are set before us! To be without sin; to know as we are known; to love as we are loved; to have ourselves possessed with the peace of God. Every one of us will reach the perfect day. There will be no imperfection in heaven. Yet those who grow more here shall have larger capabilities there. Those who are the more faithful here shall have the larger range for faithfulness there. Here is something to fill us with joyful anticipation. (James Neobard.)

From dawn to noon

No nobler expression has ever been given of the great thought of Christian progress than these words contain. But it is not always observed that that thought is presented twice in the text, once in the familiar condensed metaphor of life as a path, and once in the lovely expanded figure which follows. A path leads some whither; and the travellers on it are marching in a definite direction. Then, if we turn to the other emblem of our text, the idea is even more completely carried out in the original than our translation would suggest to an ordinary reader. For the words rendered “shining light” do really mean “light of dawn,” and those rendered “perfect day” do really mean, literally though clumsily translated, “the steadfast (moment) of the day,” the instant when the sun seems to pause on the meridian, like the tongue of the balance right in the centre, and inclining to neither side.

So let me ask you to look, first, at the great possibility opened here for us all. Now, it is true that every life, of whatever kind, tends to completeness in its own kind; that the good becomes better, and the bad worse. Single actions consolidate into habits, just as the minute grains of sand, beneath the pressure of the ocean, are hardened into rock. Convictions acted on are strengthened. Light stands as the emblem of three things--knowledge, purity, and joy. The Christian life is capable of continual increase in all three.

1. It is capable of continual increase in knowledge. Of course, I do not mean merely the intellectual apprehension of certain propositions which are received as true. We know a book or a science or a thought in one way; we know a person in another; and Christian knowledge is the knowledge of God in Christ, and of Christ in God. That knowledge is something a great deal more warm-blooded and full-pulsed than an intellectual perception of the truth of a statement. And it is this knowledge which it is intended should grow unceasingly in Christian experience, and in our daily life. We have an infinite object on whom to fix our minds and hearts. A man begins to be a Christian when perhaps through many a cloud, and with many hesitations and doubts, and with a very inadequate apprehension of the truth that he is receiving and the Person that he is grasping, his faith puts out an empty hand, and lays hold of Christ as his hope and his all. But as his days go on, if he be truly in possession of that initial truth, he will find that it opens out into splendours, and discloses depths and assumes a power controlling all life and thought, which he never dreamt of when he first apprehended it. We begin, like gold-seekers, with surface-washings; we end with crushing quartz. We begin on the edge of the great continent, we travel onwards and inwards, through all the leagues of its mountains and plains and lakes, and we never shall traverse it altogether. Life interprets Christ, if we let Christ interpret life. When the night of sorrow closes in over our heads, there are truths that shine out bright and starry, like the light points in a keen, frosty winter’s night, which never could be seen in the garish day.

2. Again, the Christian life is capable of a perpetual increase in purity. And if a man be truly a Christian, there is nothing more certain than that, day by day, his conscience will become more sensitive and quick to discriminate between good and evil. The more we rise in the moral scale, the more solemn, sovereign, and far reaching we discern the commandment to be, that we shall be like our Lord. Depend upon it, all of us have things in our characters, and acts in our daily ordering of our lives, which, if we had advanced further along the path, we should avoid as a pestilence.

3. Again, the Christian life is capable of a continual increase in gladness. Yes! “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.” All other kinds of gladness fade, and all other sources pass away. But Jesus Christ’s gladness, as He said Himself, is given to us that our “joy may be full,” because His joy remains in us. Time takes the gloss off most things. It does not take the brightness out of the Christian life.

Let us mark the frequent failure to realise this possibility. What I have been saying must sound to many of us liker irony than a description of fact, when we turn our eyes from the possibility for which provision is made by the gift of an infinite Christ, and an infinite Spirit, to the facts of Christian experience as we see them lying round us. Progress! Stagnation is the truth about hosts of us. A path! Well, it is a circular path if it is a path at all. They mark time, as the soldiers say, one foot up and the other down, but the feet are always planted in the same place. Sure I am that in a tragically large number of cases a professing Christian’s early days are his best. Many of us seem to have gone to school to the Japanese gardeners, that will take you an oak, and stick it into a flower-pot, and stunt it there, so that it is warranted never to break the flower-pot, and never to grow an inch. There is another kind of opposite to that steady incease in brightness only too common amongst us, and that is--spasmodic growth by fits and starts; brief summer followed by a dreary winter, and no continuous and steadfast advance.

Lastly, let me ask you to consider the cure of the failure, and the way of realising the possibility. What made a man who is a Christian in reality light at first? The apostle tells us, “Now are ye light in the Lord.” The reason why so many Christian people do not grow is because there is no depth and reality of union between them and Jesus Christ; and there is no depth or reality of union between them and Jesus Christ because they have no strength of faith. It is not merely for getting escape from some hell, or forgiveness for sins, that the faith is essential, but it is needful that there may be flowing into our hearts that which will change our darkness into radiance of light. Take a lesson from your electric lights. The instant that you break the contact, that instant the flame disappears. The first requisite, then, is to kep our union with Christ, and that is done by thinking about Him by the occupation of mind and heart with Him. And the second requisite is, to bring all our life under the influence of Christ’s truth, and to bring all Christ’s truth to bear upon our life. And then, we shall be “as the sun shineth in his strength.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)

Character and destiny of the just

There are three methods of using natural facts as moral illustrations.

1. The poetic: which employs facts according to their impressions on the senses.

2. The scientific: which employs facts according to their best ascertained laws, with respect to sensible impressions.

3. The composite: which unites the poetic and scientific; applying facts in accordance both with the laws that govern them and the manifestations which accompany them. The poetic method is generally employed in the Bible. The scientific method would have required a scientific revelation, and the time for this had not yet come. The text is an example of poetic illustration.

The character of the just. It is distinguished by these two facts--

1. Its elements are pure and complete. They are matters of intellect, sentiment, propensity, conscience, and will. The intellect of the just man is always thoughtful of moral principles. The sentiments of the just man admire moral principles. He sees that they sustain self-respect, and claim, rightly, the respect of the community. The propensities of the just man cling to moral principles. As thought excites admiration, so admiration excites love. The conscience of the just man is responsive to moral principles. Its instant intuitions of virtue and vice, and its instinctive excitments, consequent upon these intuitions, aid the intellect in its studies, encourage the sentiments in their admiration, and confirm the propensities in their attachment. Not vain, however, of its natural sagacity, it acknowledges the necessity and superiority of revelation, and corrects its own errors by the infallible decisions of the Word of God. The will is faithful to moral principles. This is his grandest distinction.

1. These elements are well proportioned in their combination, in the character of the just. What is wanted is a balance of powers: all the faculties and principles in equal and harmonious action. The elements of chaacter in the just man are pure, complete, and well-proportioned.

The destiny of the just. What are the distinctions of the sun’s path?

1. It is a high path. Far too high for any earthly obstruction.

2. It is a radiant path. It is glorious because it is radiant. The glory of the just is from within. It is a radiation.

3. It is a triumphant path.

4. It is a benignant path. (T. H. Stockton.)

The path of the just

The path of the just resembles the shining light in being preceded by a state of darkness (Ephesians 5:8). The darkness of ignorance gives way to spiritual knowledge. The darkness of depravity gives way to the light of grace (1 Peter 2:9).

The path of the just resembles the shining light in its progressive character. Sanctification is a work which, beginning in conversion, is carried on gradually. And where there is true grace in the heart, there is a desire and a capability of geater perfection, just as in the seed there is an ability and tendency to vegetate and spring up into a plant or a tree. The pleasure, too, felt in the way of righteousness, naturally leads a man to aim at greater attainments.

The path of the just resembles the shining light in at length reaching to the perfect day. (Jas. Kirkwood, M. A.)

The path of the just

The just.

Their path.

1. Of penitence.

2. Of prayer.

3. Of self- denial.

4. Of humility.

5. Of struggling, yet of peace.

6. Of weakness and strength.

Perfect day.

1. Possessors (Rev 8:13-14).

2. Of full revelation.

(1) Of God’s glory.

(2) Of the saints’ reflection.

The crows of life. Certainty in truth, pardon, joy, peace. (Henry Bennett.)

The advantages of a religious life

The certainty and evidence afforded by a religious life. Its subject is sure that it is the path of God’s commandment. He sees that it is the path of life.

The beauty and excellence of a holy life.

The pleasantness of a holy life.

1. Pleasures of action.

2. Pleasures of reflection.

3. Pleasures of hope.

Its instructiveness.

Its progressive nature. The good man improves--

1. In knowledge of Divine things.

2. In the adhesion of his will to Divine things.

3. In the perfection of his example.

4. In the ease and pleasure of well-doing.

It will at last issue in consummate perfection--a perfection of holiness and happiness. (H. Grove.)

Marks of the Christian’s progress towards the perfection of heaven

His knowledge is gradually increasing. It must be very evident, that the more a heaven-taught man devotes himself to serious meditation, that he will obtain clearer views of the subtle and disguised workings of corruption--he will be more thoroughly satisfied of the desperate alienation of the human heart from God. He will, accordingly, be conducted to a more profound view of the value and importance of that work which was finished at Calvary, to a more unreserved renunciation of every claim to Divine favour on the ground of his own good works, and to a more heartfelt conviction that he must be justified by faith alone.

His humility is deepening. The knowledge of his unworthiness prostrates him who is enlightened. As the genius who has arrived at the highest proficiency in any art or science finds it hardest to please himself with his own work, and sees best the inferiority of his attainments to the standard of perfection, so the saint who entertains the loftiest views of the holy character of God will form the most lowly estimate of his own strength and performances.

His desire and alacrity to do the will of God are becoming more ardent. This is the result of all that he knows of the Sovereign of the Universe, since He delights in righteousness. This is the natural result of the unreserved admission of gospel truth into the mind, since those who believe in God must be careful to maintain good works.

His affection for the things of time is diminishing. Where the treasure is, there will the heart be also. As any body rises above the ground, up into the regions of space, that which philosophers call the attraction of gravitation affects it less and less; and if it could be elevated sufficiently, the earth would at length lose its power over it altogether, and it would be drawn away towards some other planet. This explains, in the way of illustration, the process which takes place with respect to the human soul.

By his increasing love for God and His people, he evinces his progressive meetness for that heaven which is love. (David Strong.)

Christian progress

In mountain climbing the traveller is not conscious of getting nearer to heaven, only of getting farther from earth. The sun and the stars are no nearer, but the houses and the fields are more distant. So is it in the Divine life. We may not grow consciously meet for heaven, and are apt to deplore our want of progress. But the fact may be that we have been advancing and ascending, and that now we have a higher standard whereby we judge ourselves. If we look back, one thing we are certain of, that the world has less charm for us and less hold upon us. But farther from earth is nearer heaven. (J. Halsey.)

Grace perfected

It is the nature of all the works of God’s creation to seek, and to go on to, their perfection. The first dawn of morn continues to increase until it shines in the noontide radiance. The feeble plant which is just breaking the clod continues to grow until in the course of years it stands a flourishing and a stately tree. In the animal kingdom we see God’s creatures gradually emerging from the weakness and insignificance of infancy, and rising, where no obstructions exist, into the vigour and maturity of age. And shall the light go on to perfection, the plant and the flower to blossom, the tree to bring forth its fruit; and all God’s creatures grow up and flourish each in its own perfection, and grace--the immortal plant of grace--this little tree of the Lord’s own planting--shall this alone be denied the benefits of God’s universal law? No! grace has its destined perfection. (H. G. Salter.)

Verse 19

Proverbs 4:19

The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble.

The blindness of sinners their destruction

All men are either saints or sinners; and they are all walking in paths as different as the characters they sustain. The text indicates that sinners are in such darkness that they are insensible of the objects which are leading them to ruin.

The darkness which sinners are involved. It cannot be owing to any deficiency in their natural powers, nor to any want of intellectual information. The darkness is moral darkness; it lies not in their understandings, but in their hearts. Moral depravity always produces moral blindness. While sinners remain under the entire dominion of a wicked heart, they are altogether blind to the moral beauty of the character, of the works, of the providence of God.

Sinners abe insensible of the objects over which they are stumbling and falling. Spiritual blindness is the same in all sinners, at all times; and has the same dangerous and destructive tendency.

1. They are insensible that they stumble at the great deceiver.

2. They are not sensible that they are stumbling at one another.

3. That they stumble at Divine providence.

4. That their common employments are dangerous objects, over which they are stumbling and falling.

5. They are no less blind to the nature and tendency of their religious performances.

6. The moral blindness of sinners insensibly leads them to stumble at the preaching they hear.

7. They are blind to the blindness of their own hearts, which are insensibly leading them to blackness and darkness for ever.


1. If sinners are so blind and insensible to the dangerous objects with which they are surrounded, and over which they are stumbling, it is not strange, that they generally live so securely and joyfully.

2. If all sinners are involved in such moral darkness as makes them insensible of their dangerous and perishing condition, then it is not strange that they are so displeased at having their danger clearly pointed out.

3. If sinners are blind to the objects which are insensibly leading them to destruction, then they are in extreme danger of being finally lost. All things conspire to destroy them, because they abuse all things with which they are connected and concerned.

4. If sinners are constantly growing blinder and blinder, and more insensible of the things which are leading them to ruin, then they are entirely in the sovereign hand of God, who may save or destroy them, according to His holy and righteous pleasure.

5. It is owing to the distinguishing and astonishing grace of God that any are saved.

6. Inquire whether sinners have ever been made the subjects of God’s special grace. (N. Emmons, D.D.)

The obscurity and uncertainty of the way of the wicked

1. We will consider the man who admits the principles of religion in speculation, but contradicts them in practice. His way is darkness. Light, indeed, has come to him; but he loves darkness rather than light. He is not guided by the dictates of reason, or the precepts of revelation; but pursues a course in direct opposition to both. He never knows what course he shall next pursue; for he cannot tell what the next impulse will be--what gust of passion will take him, or what wind of temptation will drive him away.

2. Let us consider the hypocrite, who, without integrity of heart, assumes the external form of religion His way is dark and slippery. He believes that there is such a thing as religion, and that it is a matter in which he is really concerned. He views a future state as certain, and preparation for it as immediately important. His heart is, indeed, full of love to this world; but, since he must leave it, he wishes to have a good hope in the view of another. He is sure he should enjoy himself and his earthly treasures much better if he could only free his mind from this painful bondage to the fear of death--this troublesome apprehension of the wrath to come. He applies himself to obtain that tranquil state which seems so desirable. He has no more love to religion than he used to have. Terror only has awakened him from his guilty slumbers. It is not the temper of godliness, it is only the pleasure of a good hope, which is the immediate object of his desire. He gains his hope by self-deception, and maintains it by self-flattery.

3. To consider the wicked man in another point of view; as believing the great truths of natural religion, but discarding revelation. His way is covered with darkness. He has no light to direct his eye or guide his steps. With respect to the nature, condition, and means of future happiness, an awful uncertainty attends him. There is no ground on which his faith can stand; no support on which his hope can lean.

4. There is another view which we are to take of the wicked. We will consider them as renouncing the great principles of natural religion, the existence and government of God, moral obligation, and a future retribution. There are some such infidels as these; but their way is covered with darkness, more gloomy and dismal than that which involves the path of other transgressors. What peace and satisfaction can a mortal feel without a persuasion that there is a wise, just, and good Being, who made and governs the world, and that this Being is his friend? With this persuasion he may possess a cheerful serenity amidst all the vicissitudes of life; for to the virtuous God is a present help in trouble, and all things will He turn to their advantage. (J. Lathrop, D.D.)

The way of the wicked

There is a castle on the Lake of Geneva which stands upon a rock, and the lake is underneath. In the old, cruel days great atrocities were perpetrated there, and one was this: There is a shaft from that prison to the lake. Looking down it, you see the water glittering far away below. In those days they used to plant in that shaft spikes or sharp knives. Then they came in the darkness, and, opening the door, whispered to the prisoners, “Three steps and liberty.” And the poor prisoner took his leap in the dark--as he thought, to liberty; but he fell amongst these knives, and in a few moments dropped, a bleeding corpse, into the lake below. Yes; three steps and liberty--to be cut up, and drop, a mangled body, into the abyss. I tell you that is like the liberty of sin. A man who fancies he is going to live after his passions takes a leap in the dark, and, pierced through with many sorrows, drops into the gulf of darkness. (W. L. Watkinson.)

Verses 20-22

Proverbs 4:20-22

My son, attend to my words.

Divine principles

“The words of wisdom” are the vehicles of those Divine principles the reception and embodiment of which by man are essential to his well-being.

The method of gaining them.

1. There must be the attentive ear.

2. There must be the steadfast look.

3. There must be the enshrining heart.

The blessedness of having them.

1. They are life to those who find them; they are the soul-quickening elements.

2. They are health.

Life without health is scarcely worth living. These principles not only give life to the soul, but they also supply the nutriment and stimulate the activities that ensure health--health of all kinds. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

Call to attention

The motives that call for our attention are exceedingly powerful. It is a father that speaks. The things which are spoken are of quickening and invigorating virtue. They are life to such as find them, and health not only to the soul, but to the body; not to a particular part of it, but to all flesh. A medicine effectual to the cure of a single member might soon enrich the inventor of it. Here is a medicine for all the flesh, and yet the physician that prescribes it without reward finds so few willing to make use of it that he must proclaim its virtues again and again. Here is a physician of infinite value; attend to the directions which he gives for the management of our whole life. (G. Lawson.)

Verse 23

Proverbs 4:23

Keep thy heart with all diligence.


The great defect in our system of education is that it turns a man away from himself. Many a schoolboy can describe the continents and islands of the earth, trace out the intricacies of the planetary system, naming suns and moons and stars, who would stand abashed should you ask him the number of bones in the human body, or to trace out the marvellous nervous system that God has given him. Now, Christianity turns man’s attention to himself. No other teacher ever equalled Christ in this respect.

The heart. If we ask why the heart is chosen rather than the understanding, the judgment, or memory, we find our answer in the fact that the understanding may be always subject to circumstances, or may be enfeebled by disease; the judgment may be in error, and the memory may fail. There are three reasons why the heart is chosen.

1. A pathological; it is the fountain of life, through which the blood passes, to be distributed to every part of the system. Stop the heart, and death follows.

2. The heart is the region of sensibility. When the great passions of hope and fear, of love and hate, of joy and sorrow, take hold of a man, he realises the sensation in the region of the heart.

3. The intellect is controlled by the heart more than the heart by the intellect. Men do not follow their thinkings, but their feelings, yet there are teachers proclaiming a religion of pure intellect, excluding the passions or feelings of the soul. Christianity appeals to the emotions.

The keeping. We are not to destroy our appetites and passions, but to keep them in subordination: keeping the heart is not murdering it. Vigilance is the price of everything good and great in earth or heaven, Nothing but unceasing watchfulness can keep the heart in harmony with God’s heart. (Christian Age.)

Supremely good advice

Some of those weighty considerations upon which the advice is founded.

1. The heart is the source of all human conduct. The greatest and basest actions of men did once exist as a simple and insignificant thought. The sallyings forth of purpose might easily have been checked at the gate of the citadel, whereas, when once beyond control, the consequences might prove such as we never ventured to anticipate.

2. Every man is that really which he is in his heart. Conduct is not always a trustworthy basis of estimate. The heart imparts a tinge and character to those streams which issue from it.

3. Scripture represents the heart of man as not in a trustworthy condition, and therefore the more to be diligently kept and guarded.

4. The fact that out of the heart come the “issues of life” adds to the importance of this counsel. What is meant is the issues of our future never-ending existence.

Point out in what way this duty may be best performed.

1. Watch narrowly the course and current of our thoughts and affections.

2. Check them at once, when we discover them to have taken a wrong course.

3. Exercise the mind as much as possible with holy and heavenly themes.

4. Earnestly call down the aid and blessing of the Holy Spirit. (Essex Congregational Remembrancer.)

The government of the thoughts

Keep a strict guard over the workings of your mind, your thoughts, and inclinations; for your life and conversation will be conformable to the main current of your thoughts and desires. The soul is ever busy and at work. There is no pause, no suspension of thought, at least while we are awake. Think we must, but what to think is the question.

How far may we have a command over our thoughts?

1. It is impossible to hinder irregular, fantastic, evil thoughts from rising up in our minds. But we may choose whether we will cultivate a familiarity with them.

2. It is not in our power to prevent distractions even in our religious addresses to God. While the soul is immersed in matter, it will sometimes fly off in airy wanderings, or flag into a supine heaviness. This is our frailty or misfortune, but will not be imputed to us as a sin, provided we strive against it.

3. Our thoughts are not absolutely free, just after we have received some considerable loss or disaster. But we must not give up our mind as a prey to melancholy, and wilfully indulge our sorrows.

4. Angry thoughts have to be taken into consideration; the passion of anger; the first starts or sallies of this passion; the deliberate and settled consent of the will to it. We are invested with the power to withhold the determinate consent of the will to these primary motions. We may counterbalance one passion by another, and may turn their artillery upon themselves. We may call in our fear to subdue our anger. So far as our thoughts are involuntary, so far they are not sinful. The mind is passive in receiving its notices of things, whether pure or impure; but it is active in its determination, whether to harbour or discard them. So far as it is active it is accountable. It is active when we dwell upon impure thoughts with complacency. We can suspend our judgment. Our mature examination is the consulting of the guide; the determination of the will thereupon is the following of that guide. We may habituate ourselves to the contemplation of the greatest good, and then lesser delights will shine with a diminished lustre.

Some rules for the conduct of our thoughts.

1. We must not go too much into light amusements. The mind fixed on trifles is disabled and indisposed for greater and more important business.

2. We must avoid the reading of bad books.

3. Call in other ideas to your aid as soon as ever any passion begins to ferment. When we observe in ourselves the least approaches towards anger, lust, envy, and discontent, we should seek God’s assistance, and pray for the succours of His Holy Spirit.

4. We must often descend into ourselves.

5. Much may be done by the pursuit of knowledge. The more variety of knowledge the mind is enriched with, the more channels there will be to divert our minds into. (J. Seed, M.A.)

The heart, and the issues of life

In its elements and outward scenery nature is the same to all. Light and night, sun and stars, air and earth and landscapes, offer a common enclosure and background to our existence. But the various impulses and aptitudes for work with which we are born--which press from the very core of our being--diversify the world as widely as if we were distributed upon different globes. To one set of men it is a place to think and learn and grow wise in. Another finds the world a place to work in. Others find it a garden of beauty in which the stars are more valuable as blossoms of poetic light than for their astronomic truth, and the air richer for its hues than for its uses, and the mountains grander for their millinery of mist and shadow and their draperies of verdure and snow than for their service to the climates and housekeeping of nations. Still others see the world as a place to trade in and grow rich--a gorge between gold mountains, where they must quarry. Or it is a pleasure-ground for giddy or elegant enjoyment. It is plain, therefore, that our natural bent in the line of work does a great deal to impress a character upon the universe. Even when no moral quality is involved, we see how life gets coined at our mint, so that the world, God’s world, somehow wears the stamp of the die cut into our heart. And temperament, natural temperament, has an effect on life that must be considered in this connection. If a man has a music-box in his heart, the pulse of the sun will seem to beat with it, and the trees to throb and bud with its melody. If his bosom is strung as an AEolian harp, nature will be full of weird and sad cadences. You know how experience, also, interprets the same principle, even in cases where moral considerations are not prominent. You know how a piece of good-fortune brightens the air, how prosperous hours make the globe buoyant, how some impending evil puts the edge of a spiritual eclipse upon the sun as solemnly as the shadow of the moon settles on its burning disc, how suddenly ill-fortune in business will seem to make the very springs of beauty bankrupt, how the sickness of a dear friend turns nature pallid, how the death of wife, husband, or child will convert all the trees to cypress, and set the music of nature in a minor key, as s dirge or requiem. All these facts, which belong rather to the margin of our subject, enforce the duty of “keeping the heart.” For though aptitudes, temperaments, and moods have much to do with the tone and quality of our life, states have more. A dark moral state stretches a permanent veil of cloud over the heart, that thins and chills all the light, while a mood or a sorrow may sail only like the swift blackness of a shower through our air. And we can do a great deal to control the moral states of the heart; we are responsible for them. Moral evils, such as envy, avarice, selfishness, license, only vivify with various colouring the one fundamental evil, sin--distance from sympathy with God, alienation from the heavenly Father, indifference or disloyalty to His will and love. This is our central foe. This is what corrupts the issues of life. This is the serpent at the fountain. Back of all sins is sin. The one comprehensive purpose of life is to bring Infinite grace to bear on that, and drive it from the inmost artery of the soul. The first thing to do, in order that such life may issue from your heart, is to get your heart broken. Not because it is totally corrupt, but because it is not centrally dedicated--because God is not invited and admitted to the inner shrine, to rule thence with His wisdom and purity, so that you shall consciously live for Him. This world, with its hard conditions and mysteries, is built for an upper and nether millstone to grind pride out of human hearts, to crush their natural state, so that, in penitence and humility, God may come into the spirit, and the world seem remade because the soul is regenerate in consecration and the beginning of a filial life. You are to keep your heart with all diligence, by desiring and praying for this spirit of sympathy with God and allegiance to Him. And you are also to “keep” it by living in fellowship with great truths and sentiments. If you have had any seasons or season when you have seen the value and blessedness of a religious conception of the universe and of religious principle, honour that; honour your soul’s own witness to sacred realities, by trying to keep in the society of those noble truths and ideas. (T. Starr King.)

Keeping the heart with diligence

Some of our hearts are not worth keeping. Addressing some unconverted men, I say, “The sooner you get a new heart the better.” God is very plain in telling us no good can come out of these corrupt, degenerate hearts that we all have by nature.

Inasmuch as out of the heart “are the issues of life,” it is important to keep the reservoir full. It is bad enough to have an empty head, but an empty heart is worse still. For, other things being equal, a man’s force in the world is just in proportion to the fulness of his heart. Heart is power. We all want more heart in our Master’s service.

Strive with all diligence to keep the heart pure. A full reservoir is not enough--the water must be clean. A full reservoir means spreading the seeds of pestilence and death. If the heart be not pure, the thoughts will not be pure, nor the conversation, nor the life. A scrupulous conscience and thorough transparency of character are all-important.

Keep your heart tranquil. Seek to have a soul calm and peaceful, and at rest. The state of the heart has far more to do with one’s comfort, and prosperity, and success, than most people imagine. From your heart, as from a clear mountain spring, there shall issue influences of health and benediction, to gladden your own lives and to bless all around you. (J. Thain Davidson, D.D.)

Keeping the heart

Either keep thy heart with all sorts and degrees of care and diligence, or keep thy heart as thy most precious thing.

1. Mark or attend unto, inquire into and study the heart.

2. The governance and good management of our hearts, keeping all the motions thereof in due order, within fit compass, applying them to good, and restraining them from bad things.

3. Or preserving, guarding, securing from mischief or damage. It is a peculiar excellency of human nature that man can reflect on all that is done within him, can discern the tendencies of his soul, is acquainted with his own purposes. It is, therefore, his work to regulate as well the internal workings of his soul as his external actions, to settle his thoughts on due objects, to bend his inclinations into a right frame, to constrain his affections within due bounds, to ground his purposes on honest reasons, and direct them unto lawful matters. It is our duty to be looking inward on ourselves, observing what thoughts spring up within us; what imaginations find most welcome harbour in our breasts, what prejudices possess our minds, etc. Thus we may arrive at a competent knowledge of ourselves. This preserves from self-conceit; disposes to equanimity; qualifies our opinion of others; makes wise and prudent; helps to reforming our lives and regulating our devotions, and enables us properly to govern our hearts. (I. Barrow, D. D.)

The keeping of the heart a practicable and important duty

What is it to keep the heart? It evidently needs to be kept. It is prone to go astray.

1. The heart is to be kept from all improper objects; every object which has no proper connection with present duty.

2. The heart is to be guarded against all improper affections. When placed upon proper objects, the heart may have very improper affections towards them.

Show how the heart is kept.

1. Men should always attend to those subjects only with which they are properly concerned.

2. Men must pursue the same method to keep their hearts from improper affections, as from improper objects. They must, therefore, exercise good affections. Love will exclude hatred; faith will exclude unbelief; repentance will exclude impenitence; submission will exclude opposition; humility will exclude pride. Any gracious exercise will exclude any sinful one: only by the exercise of holiness can the heart be kept from sin.

The importance of men’s keeping their hearts with the greatest care and constancy.

1. While they neglect to keep their hearts, all their moral exercises will be sinful. Those who neglect to keep their hearts live in the continual exercise of selfish and sinful affections.

2. While men neglect to keep their hearts, all their thoughts will be sinful. Though bare thoughts have no moral good or evil in themselves considered, yet in connection with the heart they all acquire a good or bad moral quality. No thought is indifferent after the heart has been exercised about it.

3. While men neglect to keep their hearts, all their words will be sinful. Men never speak but of choice, so that their hearts are concerned in all their vain or serious conversation.

4. While men neglect to keep their hearts, all their intentions, purposes, or designs will be evil. Every evil design is first formed in the heart of the projector.

5. Let men pursue what employment they will, whether public or private, high or low, civil or religious, their daily business will become their daily sin, unless they keep their hearts with all diligence.

6. Men must keep their hearts lest they abuse all the blessings of providence with which they are favoured, and all the troubles and afflictions which they are called to suffer.


1. Men are never under a natural necessity of sinning.

2. Since men can guard their hearts against evil, they can guard them also against good.

3. Those who neglect the duty enjoined in the text are in imminent danger.

4. None can be sincere in religion who entirely neglect to keep their hearts.

5. The Christian warfare consists in watching, guarding, and keeping the heart.

6. It is both important and helpful diligently to attend the means of grace. (N. Emmons, D. D.)

On keeping the heart

The duty enjoined. We must keep the whole heart in--

1. A state of holy watchfulness.

2. A state of continued devotion.

3. A state of joy and confidence.

4. A state of lively activity.

5. A state of preparedness for death and uncertainty.

The mode of performing it specified.

1. Under all circumstances.

2. In all places.

3. At all times.

4. With all intensity of solicitude.

The motive designed.

1. Thoughts are formed there.

2. Purposes are planned there.

3. Words originate there.

4. Actions proceed from thence.


1. The means of spiritual safety: preservation of the heart.

2. The importance of this exercise. All depends upon it.

3. The necessity of cleaving to God with purpose of heart.

4. Urge sinners without delay to believe the gospel and give their hearts to the Lord. (J. Burns, D. D.)

On the government of the heart

Men are apt to consider the regulation of external conduct as the chief object of religion. If they can act their part with decency, and maintain a fair character, they conceive their duty to be fulfilled. The wise man advises us to attend to our thoughts and desires. The issues of life are justly said to be out of the heart, because the state of the heart is what determines our moral character, and what forms our chief happiness or misery.

The state of the heart determines our moral character. The tenor of our actions will always correspond to the dispositions that prevail within. On whatever side the weight of inclination hangs, it will draw the practice after it. Independent of all action, it is, in truth, the state of the heart itself which forms our character in the sight of God. In the eye of the Supreme Being, dispositions hold the place of actions; and it is not so much what we perform as the motive which moves us to performance that constitutes us good or evil in His sight. The rectification of our principles of action is the primary object of religious discipline. The regeneration of the heart is everywhere represented in the gospel as the most essential requisite in the character of a Christian.

The state of the heart forms our principal happiness or misery. In order to acquire a capacity of happiness, it must be our first study to rectify inward disorders. Whatever discipline tends to accomplish this purpose is of greater importance to man than the acquisition of the advantages of fortune. Think what your heart now is, and what must be the consequence of remitting your vigilance in watching over it. The human temper is to be considered as a system, the parts of which have a mutual dependence on each other. Introduce disorder into any one part, and you derange the whole.

In what does the government consist?

1. The thoughts are the prime movers of the whole human conduct. Many regard thought as exempted from all control. To enjoy unrestrained the full range of imagination appears to them the native right and privilege of man. To the Supreme Being thoughts bear the character of good or evil as much as actions. The moral regulation of our thoughts is the particular test of our reverence for God. Thought gives the first impulse to every principle of action. Actions are, in truth, no other than thoughts ripened into consistency and substance. But how far are thoughts subject to the command of our will? They are not always the offspring of choice. Vain and fantastic imaginations sometimes break in upon the most settled attention, and disturb even the devout exercises of pious minds. Instances of this sort must be placed to the account of human frailty. Allowing for this, there is still much scope for the government of our thoughts. As--

(1) When the introduction of any train of thought depends upon ourselves, and is our voluntary act.

(2) When thoughts are indulged with deliberation and complacency. Study to acquire the habit of attention to thought: acquire the power of fixing your minds, and of restraining their irregular motions. Guard against idleness, which is the great fomenter of all corruptions in the human heart; it is the parent of loose imaginations and inordinate desires. Provide honourable employment for the native activity of your minds. When criminal thoughts arise, attend to all the proper methods of speedily suppressing them. Impress your minds with an habitual sense of the presence of the Almighty.

2. Passions are strong emotions, occasioned by the view of apprehending good or evil. They are original parts of the constitution of our nature; and therefore to extirpate them is a mistaken aim. Religion requires us to moderate and rule them. Passions, when properly directed, may be subservient to very useful ends. They are the active forces of the soul. It is the present infelicity of human nature that the strong emotions of the mind are become too powerful for the principle that ought to rule them. Two principles may be assumed.

(1) That through the present weakness of our understanding, our passions are often directed towards improper objects.

(2) That even when their direction is just, and their objects are innocent, they perpetually tend to run into excess; they always hurry us towards their gratification with a blind and dangerous impetuosity. To govern our passions, we must ascertain the proper objects of their pursuit, and restrain them in that pursuit, when they would carry us beyond the bounds of reason. To obtain command of passion is one of the highest attainments of the rational nature.

To obtain it we must--

1. Study to acquire just views of the comparative importance of those objects that are most ready to attract desire.

2. Gain the power of self-denial; which consists in our being ready, on proper occasions, to abstain from pleasure, or to submit to sacrificing, for the sake of duty or conscience, or from a view to some higher or more extensive good.

3. Impress your minds with this persuasion, that nothing is what it appears to be, when you are under the power of passion.

4. Oppose early the beginnings of passion. Avoid particularly all such objects as are apt to excite passions which you know to predominate within you.

5. The excess of every passion will be moderated by frequent meditation on the vanity of the world, the short continuance of life, the approach of death, judgment, and eternity.

6. To our own endeavours for regulating our passions, let us join earnest prayer to God. Lastly, the government of the temper is included in “keeping the heart.” Temper is the disposition which remains after the emotions are past, and which forms the habitual prosperity of the soul. The proper regulation of temper affects the character of man in every relation which he bears.

(1) With respect to God, the good man ought to cultivate a devout temper.

(2) Point out the proper state of our temper with respect to one another. A peaceable, candid, kind, generous, sympathising temper.

(3) The proper state of temper as it respects the individual himself. The basis of all good dispositions is humility. Hence will naturally arise a contented temper; and from this will spring a cheerful one. To the establishment of this happy temper, the due regulation of the thoughts and government of the temper naturally conduce, and in this they ought to issue. (Hugh Blair, D.D.)

The government of the passions

When do our passions become culpable? A sect of ancient philosophers condemned all emotion, held every passion to be culpable, because inconsistent with that serenity of temper, that equal tranquillity of mind, which they thought should ever be preserved. We cannot, however, lay aside our innate dispositions, and with equal indifference meet health or sickness, pleasure or pain. The Stoical doctrine is better calculated for heaven than earth. The passions and affections were all originally designed to have either our own personal good or the good of others for their object, though they are too generally misapplied by our corruption, and degenerate into vices. Our rational and moral powers ought always to have dominion over the inferior principles of our nature. We all stand accountable for the use of our reason, and where reason points out to us good and evil, if we choose the latter, we doubtless appear guilty in the eye of our heavenly Judge. If we cannot wholly extirpate or subdue our passions, yet to subjugate them to government is not only the duty, but the proper and most important employment, of a rational being.

Our happiness here, as well as hereafter, is determined by the conduct of our passions. When they are duly regulated, and act under the guidance and direction of reason, we may promise ourselves all the happiness that our station, or other circumstances of life, will admit. They who are at no pains to discipline and govern their passions, but, disregarding right and wrong, indiscriminately follow whithersoever inclination points the way, may find some pleasure in such pursuits, but none that can compensate for the loss of those interior satisfactions, as well as exterior advantages, that naturally result from a wise and virtuous conduct.

The means by which this self-government may be attained. Consideration, or a right use of reason, is our only remedy. We must often retire into ourselves, and in some calm hour of reflection review the state of the heart. Passions, however strong and vigorous by nature, may be checked in their growth by timely care and prudent opposition. Let us accustom ourselves to deliberate before we act. We should observe, with a watchful eye, all our passions, desires, and affections; keep a constant guard on every avenue to the heart, and be careful to oppose the admittance of any wrong inclination. In order to succeed in this arduous and important work, let us, to our own efforts, add our supplications to Him who alone can order the unruly wills and affections of sinful men. (G. Carr, B.A.)

Governing our own thoughts

What power a man hath over his own thoughts! Some men, by the very principles of their make and constitution, are much better able to govern their thoughts than others. Some that are naturally weaker, have, by long use and many trials, obtained a greater power over their thoughts than others. All have a greater power over the motions of their minds at some times than at others.

1. The first motions of our minds are very little, if at all, in our power. We cannot help suggestions coming to us.

2. When a man’s mind is vigorously affected and possessed, either with the outward objects of sense, or with inward passions of any kind, in that case he hath little or no command of his thoughts.

3. A man’s thoughts are sometimes in a manner forced upon him, from the present temper and indisposition of his body.

4. We have liberty of thinking, and may choose our own thoughts. It is in our power to determine what suggestions we will fix our minds upon.

5. It is always in our power to assent to our thoughts, or to deny our consent to them. Here the morality of our thoughts begins. No man is drawn to commit sin by any state or condition that God hath put him into, nor by any temptation, either outward or inward, that is presented to him. Our sin begins when we yield to the temptation. The sin becomes great as it grows into action.

The art of governing our thoughts.

1. We must rightly pitch our main designs, and choose that for the great business of our lives that really ought to be so.

2. We must avoid two things, viz., idleness and loose company.

3. We must be as attentive as possible to the first motions of our minds; so that when we find them tending towards something that is forbidden, we may stop them at once.

4. There are some particular exercises which would prove helpful. Converse with discreet and pious persons; reading good books, and especially the Bible; taking times for meditation; and fervent and constant prayer to God.

5. With our diligence we must join discretion. We must have a care not to “intend” our thoughts immoderately, and more than our tempers will bear, even to the best things. We must so keep our hearts as at the same time to keep our health and the vigour of our minds. As long as we consist of bodies and souls, we cannot always be thinking of serious things. (Archbp. John Sharp.)

The keeping of the heart

The suggestive saying, “Out of (the heart) are the issues of life.”

1. All our words and actions originate there. “All these evil things come from within, and they defile the man.”

2. The moral quality of every word and action depends on its inner motive.

3. Thoughts and feelings themselves, apart from actions, are all either good or evil. “The thought of foolishness is sin.”

4. Within the heart is formed that “character” which determines most of the actions of the man. We give the name “character” to that complex collection of tendencies and habits which grows up within us all as the sum and result of individual acts continually repeated. The germs of the ultimate character can often be detected in the child.

5. The “issues of life,” in outward condition, depend most of all on the heart within us.

6. The everlasting “issues of life” come “out of the heart.”

Take up the admonition, “Keep thy heart with all diligence.” The margin reads, “Keep thy heart above all keeping.” The common estimate of the relative value of the outside and the inside is terribly astray. It creeps into our very religion.

1. We can avoid the evil.

2. We can fill up the heart with good. (F. H. Marling.)

On keeping the heart

The duty here enjoined. The heart is the seat of the thoughts, the will, and the affections. The avenues which lead to this habitation are the senses, through which a great variety of objects are ever soliciting admission. By the original frame of our nature, there was also another way of admission into the heart, viz., faith. Over these was placed the judgment, as a faithful sentinel, to direct the will Scarcely, however, had this happy constitution of our nature existed when, the judgment being perverted, the will was induced to make a wrong choice. Upon this great revolution in our nature, sensible objects began to occupy our chief attention. They tend to produce the utmost irregularity in the affections, and to banish God, and heaven, and eternity, from the mind. To keep the heart while in this state, would only be to shut up the enemy within the wails. The enemy must be ejected. This God promises to do. To keep the heart with all diligence is to set a constant guard on every avenue which leads to it. It is to exercise the strictest vigilance over our thoughts, and to subject them to the most rigid scrutiny, for the purpose of suppressing, upon its first appearance, what is base, impious, or unjust, and of giving every possible encouragement to the slightest emotions of piety and benevolence. So nice and delicate are the heart’s springs of action, so susceptible is it of impressions from external objects, and so greatly is it in danger of being disordered by means of these, that we can never be sufficiently apprised of the manner in which it may be kept with safety.

The way in which this duty may be best discharged.

1. By summoning up to the view just apprehensions of God, of His greatness, and glory, and holiness, and justice, and authority, and mercy, and love, as exhibited in the plan of redemption, and endeavouring to have these apprehensions habitually impressed upon the mind.

2. We should beware, after having been engaged in any of the solemnities of religion, of exposing them suddenly to the renewed incursion of loose and worldly thoughts, by foolish talking or mixing with vain and giddy associates.

3. We must beware of evil company. And there are secret, as well as open, enemies of goodness.

4. We must carefully abstain from idleness, and rightly occupy every portion of our time.

Recommend the duty to serious attention. You live in a world where ten thousand objects are ever ready to pollute the heart, and to seduce it from God. God requireth the heart of man--the whole heart, and nothing but the heart. A heart that is not kept with diligence is not reconciled to God; is not impressed with the love of Jesus; is not sanctified by the Spirit, and is not fit for heaven. (James Somerville, D. D.)

The duty and blessedness of keeping the heart

Occasions when it is of the utmost moment to attend to this duty.

1. When you draw near to God in the solemn exercise of religious duty. You have then to do with a God who searches the heart. Be upon your guard against those vain excursions of the soul that eat out all the life and spirit of devotion.

2. When you are surrounded with an abundance of worldly enjoyments. There is something in prosperity that tends to intoxicate the mind.

3. When God’s afflicting hand is upon you. “In the day of adversity consider”; for consideration and a guard upon the heart are needful.

4. When under provocations from your fellow-creatures. These are very trying periods, and the spirit that is in us often lusteth to resentment and retaliation. Do not be too sensitive of injuries.

5. When your hands are full of worldly business. We walk in the midst of snares. It is no easy thing to keep our souls disengaged, and to live above, while we ere in, the world. Love nothing with a very strong affection that is not immortal as thyself, and immutable as thy God.

6. When you are engaged in diversions and recreations. Very many are in excess given to pleasure, make it the main business of their existence. We ought not to give too much time to recreations, nor seek them for themselves.

7. When you find any tumultuous passions are excited within you. Think what inflammable matter you carry in your bosoms, and be watchful against the approach of whatever may kindle it into a flame.

8. Keep thy heart with all diligence in solitude and retirement. Solitude is not necessarily a blessing. Then only it is a blessing when it is employed piously, with holy feelings and a holy object in view. Whenever you are alone, be present with your God.

Arguments urging attention to this duty. This duty is important, because--

1. It is the heart that falls directly under the cognizance of God. Be a man’s actions ever so regular, if his heart be not right with God, he will, when weighed in the balances, be found wanting.

2. Because of the influence which the state of the heart has upon the conduct. He who is concerned about making the tree good will surely make the fruit good also.

3. Because keeping the heart is essential to our peace. Is there nothing peaceful, pleasant, comforting, in being masters over our own spirits, able to suppress any rising passion, to restrain any rebellious lust that threatens the peace of God’s kingdom within--of that inner house of man, himself? What a poor, contemptible, miserable creature is he who has no rule over his spirit, in respect of present things as well as future!

Directions for keeping the heart.

1. If you desire to keep your heart, endeavour by all means to know it. Endeavour to know human nature in general, its weakness and its corruption. Above all, endeavour to know your own heart, your particular weakness: knowing it, watch that point carefully.

2. If you desire to keep your heart, solemnly feel as in the Divine presence. Seriously consider that God searches the hearts, and that He is with you wherever you are, and whatever you do.

3. If you would keep your hearts, be often calling them to account. I hope that none of you live without self-examination.

4. See to it that your mind be well furnished. Lay in a stock of useful knowledge from the Word of God, from observations of providence, from converse with your fellow-creatures.

5. If you would keep your heart, be often looking up to Him who made it. To find our hearts taken off from dependence on ourselves, and fixed upon God, is a token for good in every part of our Christian course. (T. Munns, M. A.)

The custody of the heart

The “heart,” in Scripture, implies the whole spiritual end aspiring part in man. Keeping the heart is controlling the whole spiritual condition of our nature.

The degree of responsibility implied in the command to keep the heart. We are not mere machines, we are free, immortal, intelligent beings, fallen indeed from our first estate, crippled in body and soul, yet raised again in Christ. We are free to choose good or ill, and therefore responsible for the choice. To keep the heart is to guard it, to watch it, to subdue it. It is attempting, and by God’s grace achieving, the work of self-conquest. The keeping must be habitual. Unless we have been previously vigilant, the tempter, when he comes, will be sure to conquer. One of the miseries of old transgressions is, that it mars the keeping of the heart. We are apt to fall back into a sin which we have committed before. Old sins tend to soften the soul--to emasculate its energies, to destroy those habits of carefulness which are so important in resisting temptation. It is the inward reciprocation with the outward temptation which forms the tempter’s vantage-ground. Each sin diminishes by so much our chance of repentance, inasmuch as a fresh lesion and hurt has been inflicted on the soul.

We must chiefly regard our will and our affections, because these sway and control the rest of the inner man. By the will we mean that power of the soul which determines and chooses; by the affection, that attribute which loves and adheres. The one is the strength of the character, the other is its sweetness and beauty. And these are specially concerned in the service of God, for if man fulfils his end, God is the choice of his will and the object of his affection. God is the choice of man’s will. The will of man must submit to God’s will, for God’s wisdom and goodness are necessities of his being. By the original constitution of man’s nature, God was the object of his affection. Then he should keep his affections for God “above all keeping.”

All the other powers of the soul must also be kept; for influences deteriorating or elevating are being hourly exercised upon them. The memory may be filled with vile images and unholy recollections, or it may be stored with pious thoughts and the sweet remembrance of past mercies. The imagination may be crowded with foul pictures, worldly fancies, and daring speculations, or it may be consecrated by visions of the beauty of God and the splendours of the New Jerusalem. The intellect may revel in the deceitful charms of scepticism and inquiry, or it may bow down in adoration before the tremendous supernatural truths of the Christian Church. The judgment may take its portion in this life and wed itself to earthly success, or it may choose the better part--sit at Jesus’ feet and listen to His words. So the whole heart may be perverted or directed; and hence the urgent necessity of keeping it with diligence. (Bp. A. P. Forbes.)

The stronghold of the Christian sentinel

The citadel which the Christian has to guard. The heart of man is a wondrous mystery, a strange world in itself; its feelings, affections, desires, emotions, cravings, reasonings, wonderings--who shall tell them? The heart given the Christian soldier in charge is a heart that is renewed and yet unrenewed, that is holy and yet unholy, that is spirit and yet flesh. Such is the heart of every man that is born of the Spirit. The germ is there, but all that is good of that germ has yet to be unfolded and perfected. So long as the heart is kept a man is comparatively safe, for it is the key of the position.

The importance of maintaining this citadel. Out of it are the issues of life in man’s whole course and conduct, and out of it is the final result of a man’s career and course of life. All the streams of life proceed from within. A man’s life is regulated by his heart. If the heart be kept the man is kept, and it matters little what else a man keeps; for, after all, a man is what he is in principles, in desires, in emotions, and affections. Every Christian soldier must be aware that it is only by constant vigilance that he can maintain the citadel and prevent its being betrayed. There are two perils--betrayal within and surprise from without. There are many who, instead of keeping their heart, leave its keeping to Satan. And many fall because they allow their hearts to get out of their control. (H. Stowell, M. A.)

Watch the heart

If you would keep the eye from injury, much more keep the heart, so susceptible as it is of complete disorganisation from the mere dust of an evil thought. If there is anything in the world which should be the object of unsleeping, anxious guardianship, it is the heart. Then keep it “above all keeping.” It is evident, even to reason, that without this precaution of watchfulness over the heart every other counsel for resisting temptation must be of no avail. The heart is the key of the entire spiritual position. But the dangers of the heart are not merely external. There are many traitors in the camp. The exports and imports of the heart are exceedingly numerous. What a fertility of thought, sentiment, impression, feeling is there in the heart of a single man! There are a thousand doors of access to the heart. Passengers are busily passing in and thronging out at every door. Active steps must be taken to ensure against mischief-makers. Solitude is scarcely less dangerous in our spiritual welfare than company, because temptations of self and the devil meet us then. The remedy, in company or in solitude, is to guard, as far as in us lies, “the first springs of thought and will.” By every spiritual man an attempt is made to bring the region of the heart--the motives, desires, affections--under the sceptre of Christ. It will be found that all the more grievous falls of the tempted soul come from this--that the keeping of the heart has been neglected, that the evil has not been nipped in the bud. There is no safety for us except in making our stand at the avenues of the will and rejecting at once every questionable impulse. This cannot be done without watchfulness and self-recollection. Endeavour to make your heart a little sanctuary, in which you may continually realise the presence of God, and from which unhallowed thoughts, and even vain thoughts, must carefully be excluded. We must watch, but we must also pray. Man must give his exertion, but he must never lean upon it. Prayer is, or ought to be, the expression of human dependance upon God--the throwing ourselves upon His protecting wisdom and power and love. When our Saviour counsels us to unite prayer with watching He counsels us to throw ourselves upon God, under a sense of our own weakness and total insufficiency. To God, then, let us commit the keeping of our souls in the most absolute self-distrust. (Dean Goulburn.)

God only judgeth of the heart

An admonition.

1. The act: “Keep.” Our hearts are untrusty, unruly, and obvious to be surprised; for such things we are wont to keep.

The object: “The heart.” By “heart” understand inward thoughts, motions, and affections of the soul and spirit, whereof the heart is the chamber. We should keep our hearts in a state of--

1. Purity.

2. Loyalty. A loyal heart cherishes no darling sin; scruples at small sins; hates sin at all times. A loyal heart is the same as a “perfect” heart.

The means of keeping the heart “above all keeping.” Nature hath placed the heart in the most fenced part of the body.

1. As those who keep a city have special care of the gates and posterns, so must we watch over the senses, the gates and windows of the soul, especially the eye and the ear.

2. Make exceeding much of all good motions put into our hearts by God’s Spirit, and resist at its first rising every exorbitant thought which draws to sin.

3. Let him that would guard his heart take heed of familiar and friendly converse with lewd, profane, and ungracious company. This “keeping” must be done, because all spiritual life and living actions issue from the heart. This issuing of our works and actions from the heart is that which is called sincerity and truth, so much commended unto us in Scripture. That which is wanting in the measure of obedience and holiness is made up in the truth and sincerity thereof. (Joseph Mede, B.D.)

The issues of life out of the heart

First the fountain, then the streams; first the heart, and then the life-course. The issues of life are manifold; three of their main channels are mapped out here--the “lips,” the “eyes,” and the “feet.” The corruption of the heart, the pollution of the spring-head, where all life’s currents rise, is a very frequent topic in the Scriptures. The precept, “Keep thy heart with all diligence,” sounds very like some of the sayings of Jesus. He said, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries.” Therefore keep with all diligence that prolific spring. Here, as in all other cases, prayer and pains must go together. “Keep it with all keeping” is the precise statement. Leave no means untried. Out of our own conduct will we be condemned if we do not effectually keep our own hearts. We keep other things with success as often as we set about it in earnest. In other keepings man is skilful and powerful too, but in keeping his own heart, unstable as water, he does not excel. Keep it from getting evil, as a garden is kept: keep it from doing evil, as the sea is kept at bay from reclaimed netherlands.

1. The first of the three streams marked on this map as issuing from an ill-kept heart is “a froward mouth.” Words form the first and readiest egress for evil. The power of speech is one of the grand peculiarities which distinguish man. A vain, biting, untruthful, polluted, profane tongue cannot be in the family of God when the family are at home in their Father’s presence. The evil must be put away; the tongue must be cleansed; and now is the day for such exercises.

2. The next outlet from the fountain is by the “eyes.” Let the heart’s aim be simple and righteous. No secret longings and side-glances after forbidden things, no crooked by-ends and hypocritical pretences. When the eye is single the whole body will be full of light. Straightforwardness is the fairest jewel of our commercial crown.

3. The last of these issues is by the “feet.” Ponder, therefore, thy path. The best time to ponder any path is not at the end, not even at the middle, but at the beginning of it. The right place for weighing the worth of any course is on this side of its beginning. Those who ponder after they have entered it are not in a position either to obtain the truth or to profit by it. The injunction applies to every step in life, small or great. The value of weighing anything depends all on the justness of the balance and the weights. By the Word of God paths and actions will be weighed in the judgment. By the Word of God, therefore, let paths and actions, great and small, be pondered now. (W. Arnot, D. D.)

The fountain of life

(to children):--In each one of you there is a small organ or member which is sometimes called the seat or throne of life. Its work is to beat out the blood to every part of the body, and so to keep the red stream of life always moving. The text speaks about another heart and another life which we all have. There is a something within a child with which he thinks and loves, hates and wishes, and that something the Bible calls our heart. It means your very self. Out of this heart are the “issues,” the flowings or streams, of life. A man’s real life flows from his love. Thoughts and wishes, likes and dislikes, love and hate--these are the great workers that build up and pull down and do all that is done in the world. Every human life, good or bad, flows like a stream from good or bad thoughts, good or bad wishes. When a man loves goodness, longs for it, thinks about it, a life full of noble, kindly deeds flows like a pure stream out of his heart. But if a man likes what is wrong, thinks wicked thoughts, a stream of bad deeds will flow out of his heart. God guards carefully the heart He has put into your body. He has put the strongest bones all round it, so that, though other parts may be easily hurt, the heart is safe. The text says we should guard the heart of our real lives--our mind--in the same way “with all diligence,” because, if the heart goes wrong, the whole life goes wrong with it. How can we guard the heart? By keeping bad thoughts, bad wishes, out of it. (J. M. Gibbon.)

The heart more than the head

Most men practically underrate the influence of the heart, compared with that of the head, on success and happiness. Reason, the intellect, the head and not the heart, is usually regarded as man’s dignity. But it is his reason as manifested in his active and moral powers. Knowledge is not power--personal power--but only one of its instruments. The power is not in the knowledge, but in the moral qualities or passions which accompany it, which lie behind it, constituting what is called “force of character.” The essence of greatness, always and everywhere, is a great spirit. If we aspire not only to be great, but to be truly happy, the heart is not only the principal thing, it is almost everything. What is happiness but the sum total of the gratifications of a man’s affections and desires? The heart has more to do than the head in determining the distinctions of character. A man’s real character depends, not on his outward actions, but on the principles from which he acts--those principles which are real springs of action. All the distinctions of character resolve themselves at last into distinctions of disposition and temper, and not of intellect or understanding. In everything pertaining to human greatness and human happiness, to moral and Christian character, to final salvation, the heart is more than the head. The heart is the principal thing. Out of that, and that alone, are the issues of life. (James Walker.)

Dependence on our inward frame

The issues of life, in a religious respect, depend upon the heart. All things relating to religious conduct are reducible either to some matter of belief or practice. How far are belief and practice subject to be influenced by the heart?

1. To begin with belief. How much that depends upon the temper and disposition of the heart is easily seen from Scripture, history, and daily experience.

2. Our practice. How far is the practice apt to be governed by the inclination of the heart without the concurrence of the judgment, or even in opposition to it? Men are generally more swayed by their affections and passions than by their principles, and principles are of very little force or efficacy except when they fall in with inclination or grow up into it. Knowledge is one thing and grace another. Orthodoxy is not probity. A sound head may often be consistent with a corrupt heart. It is not what we believe, but what we affect and incline to, that determines us. But our irregular actions seem rather ultimately resolvable into the false judgments which we make than into affection or inclination; the head is first tainted, then the heart. The error, however, both of judgment and practice is really due to the corruption of the heart. When some sensible good is presented to the eye or to the mind the man judges it to be agreeable or pleasant to the sense, and so far judges right. Yet this alone would not determine his choice, because other considerations, more weighty, might keep him from it. But he dwells upon the thought till his heart is inflamed: then he chooses, and not till then. The drift and bent of his soul leaning too much toward it, he cuts off all farther consideration, and is precipitately determined by it. It is the desire, the impatience, the passion of his heart that hurries him into it. Men act against principle, driven on by a prevailing passion.

(1) Either we think not at all for the time of the general principles which we hold, but suffer them to lie dormant and useless in us; or

(2) if we think of them, we neglect to apply them to our own particular case, imagining ourselves to be unconcerned in them; or

(3) if we do apply them, and consequently are self-condemned and sensible of it, yet we hope to repent and to be saved notwithstanding.

What is implied or contained in the precept of the text. It must consist of two parts or offices--

1. To preserve our good dispositions.

2. To correct our bad ones. These will each of them imply two other things--a frequent examination of our own hearts, and a constant endeavour to wean our affections from this world and to fix them on another. (D. Waterland, D.D.)

The importance of keeping the heart

A most important reason is here assigned for “keeping the heart with all diligence,” because “out of it are the issues of life.”

The heart in the body of man is the centre of life. As the heart is, so is our general conduct. But if the fountain is poisoned, the streams will carry death and desolation in their course. If the principle of the action be defective or vitiated, the action cannot be otherwise. “Keep thy heart with all diligence,” because the state of it determines our real character; and because upon the state of it essentially depends the comfort or wretchedness of our lives. When temptations suited to the latest propensity to sin are presented--when strong inducements are offered to passion not under due control--the practice will follow the corrupt desire of the heart. Thus the evil heart will show itself, and, by its acting, prove the melancholy truth that when the heart itself is not kept, no mere professions, no outward restrictions, will be sufficient to keep us from falling. But, further, a right state of heart is essential to our own comfort and welfare. A man’s happiness consists not in the abundance of the things which he possesses. These are things without a man, which cannot adapt themselves to his wants within. What can outward means avail in lessening the terrors of guilt in an awakened conscience, or in calming the fears of an approaching judgment? To the natural principles of evil in the heart, moreover, Satan is ever adapting his temptations and wiles. And where lies his chief hope of success? Is it not in our remissness? Whilst we sleep he is awake.

We proceed to offer some suggestions as to the manner in which this important duty may be most effectually discharged.

1. The right keeping of the heart especially includes the government of our thoughts, our passions, and our temper. If, either wilfully or through neglect and inattention, we suffer our hearts to lie open to thoughts of foolishness and sin, and permit them to lodge within us, then the guilt of these thoughts becomes our own. But the due control of the passions is equally essential, if we would keep our hearts aright. As originally implanted in our nature, and kept in subserviency to reason, these were designed to be instruments of good--the elements of what was great and virtuous in human conduct. But sin has disordered them all. In the Christian, the passions are subjugated to Christ. This is an essential feature in his character.

2. But to keep the heart is also to regulate the temper. Whatever difference there may be in natural dispositions, settled depravity of temper, without any effort to correct it, can arise only from the deep and unaltered corruption of our hearts. To oppose and to destroy this natural and sinful bias is one of the great aims of the religion of the Bible; and where this has been in no measure secured it is a mournful proof that the heart has never been brought or kept under the influence of religion at all. If these things be implied as essential to the keeping the heart, how valuable and important are those means which, under the influence of the Holy Spirit, will most successfully realise this great object! Amongst these means, watchfulness and prayer. (C. Buck, M. A.)

Guarding the heart

More exactly the meaning is this: “Keep thine heart beyond everything else you keep; guard thine heart above all else, for out of it are the issues of life.” Not your health, not your reputation, not your business credit, not your property--beyond all these things give time and thought to the culture of your heart. If you must take time from one thing or another, rather starve your business than let your heart run to waste. Your heart--what has your heart got to do with your actual life? John Stuart Mill’s father thought it counted for nothing, or, rather, it was a bad debt, it was a loss, it was a detriment to have a heart, to have feelings, to have emotions. Power, intellect, and strength of will, these were the elements to make a man, and the less heart he carried about with him--well, the less dead weight and the less risk of his being led wrong. And the Bible comes in and says to the business man, “Beyond your books and your accounts and your shops and your speculations and your clients, watch over your heart, think about it, take care of it, toil to keep it in health and in beauty.” The Bible comes and says the same thing to the servant girl trying to do her duty faithfully, to the working man wishing to improve his position in the world, to the learned man bent on discovering new truth. Yes, your toil, your ambition, your researches, your discoveries, commerce, industry, learning, are all of them good, but the most precious thing is the human heart. Whatever else suffers, see that your heart does not suffer. This proverb runs right in the teeth of the whole mass of our daily life; runs against the whole current and tendency of our education, and our habits, and our notions. The proverb gives its reason--a reason that will stand and hold its own in the court of common sense, as well as at the last judgment. “Beyond everything else, take care of your heart, for out of your heart are the issues of your life.” Not out of your body, not out of your intellect, not out of your business, not out of your property, not out of your wisdom, not out of your fame--out of your heart are the essential elements and sustenance of your life, its last results for joy or for sorrow. “Out of the heart are the issues of life.” The phrase makes a picture. You are travelling in the desert with a caravan over the hot sand. The sky above you with a sultry sun in it, the hot ground beneath your feet, your eye wearied, tired, inflamed by the glare above, the glare below; you long to set eyes on the green leaf. In the distance you get sight of something in the air. You draw nearer to it, it grows and forms itself, framed there in the wilderness like a picture--a clump of palm-trees; beneath, green grass; in the branches, birds singing; lazy cattle reclining on the herbage, sheep bleating. You penetrate into it, you discover the tents and homes of men; women and children playing around, life, beauty. Whence, whence all that? Right there in the centre of it you come on a deep, brimming pool of water, fed by a perpetual fountain, like an eye looking up to the sky--ah, more than an eye, the very fountain of all that greenness and beauty; blossom, herbage, sheep, cow, bird, man, woman, child, all of them the outcome of that springing fountain of water. “Out of it are the issues of life.” Poison it, and all that dies. Turn it brackish, and all withers and diminishes and decays. Quench it, stop it, and the desert flows over the green oasis. Like that fountain of living water is your heart within you. Your heart it is that makes your life to flow, fair, radiant, or poor, poverty-stricken, cold, dead. What is your heart like? What is a man’s heart? Well, it is not easy to describe that, and yet we all know well enough what we mean by it. We cannot just put our finger on where it is, or say precisely what it is; but oh, how well you know when your heart bounds with joy, or when it grips together with sharp pain, sorrow, disappointment! Oh, you know it is just the inner core of cravings and hopes and eager wishes and conscious personal thoughts and plans and purposes and attributes that makes you your own very self, that gives you your disposition, that makes up your temperament, that settles your character, that fashions your conduct. Oh, what a blunder a man makes when he thinks that his life will be planned and made by his intellect! There never yet was a man who thought that by his mind he could steer his own course through the world that did not find his heart steal a march upon him. A man’s heart--that is what makes him, that is what determines a man’s choice at all the great critical points in life. A man’s heart it is that settles what his home is to be, that chooses the partner that is to be his, for better, for worse, for him, for her. It is a man’s heart that chooses fleshly, that chooses spiritually; that chooses unselfishly, that chooses selfishly; that chooses for the outward appearance, or chooses for heart-worth. “Oh,” you say, “there is not much heart in a great many of these things.” I beg your pardon, there is: plenty of heart, but it is base, worldly, greedy, grasping heart; or silly, selfish, vain, flattered heart. When a man’s life shows little or nothing of the echoes of lofty, generous, chivalrous thought and purpose and endeavour, we constantly use a false expression, saying, “He has got no heart.” How is it that a score of men that are your daily associates or friends, all of them educated pretty much on the same level, similar to one another in manner, of the same deportment, and even the same politics--how is it they are all so unlike you? Is it that the one man’s talk is tiresome and wearisome? How is it that you feel as if he were made of wood? How is it that the other man has that glow and sparkle that sends a thrill through you, that stimulates you, that makes you think, that so brings out responses that you admire your own cleverness? What makes the difference? Why, it is not the amount of grammar the one learned more than the other, or that the one has read more books. No, not that. It is the inner core and kernel of the one man compared with what is inside the other. Heart, rich heart! for out of the heart in very deed and truth are the ripe, supreme issues of life--life social, life personal, life earthly, and life eternal. Now, if that be true, that a man’s life really depends, beyond everything else, on his inner man, on his heart, on his disposition, on his temperament, on his character formed within him, how is it that we do not take a deal more trouble to take care of our hearts? Ah, there are a lot of books that talk about success that are full of the devil’s lies. A man is a great success because he died a millionaire! Oh, a man may make himself a millionaire and miss making himself a man in the image of God, in the likeness of Christ. Success in life is measured by the heart you die with. Why, then, do not we take more pains about our hearts? How many of us do it? For every one of you knows that is just the thing we neglect. Even our bodily hearts, I suppose, physicians would tell us, we do not take half care enough of. Rather than lose five minutes and miss a train we run, and risk sudden death, or actually damage the working of the central fountain of life in our bodies. And how we ever toil and tax the whole inner core of that body of ours for things not worth it. For, if a man loses his health, what is money to him? Yes, we imagine that our hearts take care of themselves. No man imagines that his accounts will collect themselves. No man imagines that his house will repair itself. Why, you must give as much care to the ties of love and children, if you are to keep these beautiful and fair, as you do to make your garden free from weeds, and your house water-tight and weather-tight, and your business a solvent concern. And besides, there is another mistake that people make. They say to themselves, “I am not the one that makes my heart. It is the life that I have to live that should make my heart; it is my circumstances, my fortunes. I am a very miserable man indeed, always careworn and anxious; never able to feel bright and cheerful. When I hear my neighbour whistling in the evening in his garden I envy him; but then he has not the worries that I have.” Very likely he has got much worse ones, but he has got the sense to leave them down in the office. That is how he kept his health. It was not easy. The cares and anxieties followed him into the train, got out at the station, stole up the garden; but the man had the wisdom and the strength to slam the door and not let them in. That is how he kept his heart and brain and health up, and his inmost heart of all. How is a man to make the most of his heart? How to keep it pure in this foul world? How to lift it above the grime, and the dust, and the tear and wear? How to make it large and noble, the biggest and most beautiful according to God’s plan? By not leaving it in this world, but by taking it out of this world? Ah, no; not out of this world, but in this world to bring it into another World; not by keeping it to yourself and making it in the measure of your own self, but by taking that heart of yours and letting Christ into it--the real, simple human Jesus. Oh, beyond all thy keeping, keep thy heart! and that thou shalt do best by giving it away to Christ. (Prof. Elmslie.)

What is imported in keeping the heart, and the best means of doing it

Explain the meaning of this precept. We need not, it should seem, be told that we are each of us endowed with a power of reflecting upon our own desires and affections, and with a certain invariable standard within us, by which we are enabled to judge whether these inward principles are right or wrong. Nor should we need to be told that our affections and passions are in a great measure under the influence of conscience, and of the superior calm principles, and instincts, by which it was intended they should be controlled. He is the man of worth, he only is truly so, who can hazard an appeal to the Searcher of Hearts, that he does not indulge any vicious affection within him, but makes it his constant business to purify the heart. I have only to add farther, that the great duty recommended in my text must be understood to signify that we should watch over and resist the first workings of passion, the conceptions of lust.

The most effectual helps for our doing this with success.

1. And here, in the first place, we are to turn our thoughts to our Creator. Frequent and serious contemplation of His perfections, and of the relation in which we stand to Him, is undoubtedly the most effectual of all means, in forming the heart to goodness.

2. The second thing I would recommend is a virtuous industry. We are formed for action; and when the powers are not employed in something worthy, they are likely enough to find employment of another sort.

3. It is of very great importance that men choose such to be their intimate familiar acquaintances as have a right temper and a just taste in life; that their daily conversation may be such as will not only not endanger innocence and virtue, but contribute to the guarding and strengthening of them. There is a mighty power in conversation, in the behaviour of our familiar acquaintances, to affect the mind, and to render us like them in temper.

4. Conversing much with the heart, observing the tendencies of the affections with care, and endeavouring to preserve always a just sense of things upon the mind, will be found of the greatest use. Taking the tendency of our desires and inclinations to task with severity, and examining the pretences under which the various gratifications of them are recommended. By such a careful attention to ourselves we shall find out the deceitfulness of sin, and those snares which prejudice conceals from the unthinking; we shall be able to resist temptations with firmness and resolution; for in truth, the success of them, where they do prevail, is in a great measure owing to carelessness and inattention. (Jas. Duchal, D. D.)

Keeping the heart

(a sermon to children):--All wise people like to go deeply into a thing, to go to the root of it. What is your root? Where is it? Your “heart.” A little boy had a very nice watch; but it would not go right. It had a very pretty case, and face; but it sometimes went too fast, and sometimes too slow. He asked his mother what he should do about it. She told him to take it to the watchmaker’s. He did so; and he said, “ Master John, it has its hands all right, but it will not go right. Therefore leave it with me, and come again in a few days, and I will tell you what is the matter with it.” John went again to him in a few days, and the watchmaker said to him, “I opened your watch, and I found there was the right number of wheels, and pins, and screws; but I found a little part called ‘the spring’ which was wrong; and because the main-spring was wrong, it sometimes went too fast, and sometimes too slow.” Now, I think, you are all like watches. Something within you goes tick, tick, and you have hands and inside works. But how do you go? Sometimes too fast, and sometimes too slow. Does not the tongue sometimes go too fast or too slow? Are not the feet sometimes too fast or too slow? Are not the hands sometimes going wrong? How is this? Let us examine--though I am not the watchmaker--God is the watchmaker: the main-spring is the heart. Everything in you depends upon your “heart.” God always looks most at the “heart.” What do you think God will look at in the day of judgment? Your “heart.” That is what He will want to know about. Now as it is so important to “keep the heart” right, I want to try to help you to do so, by giving you a little advice thereupon. “ Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.” One thing is to “keep” it as we “keep” a garden--neat. Now, then, if you would “keep” your garden, you must often look into it. And I will tell you what you will find there--every day there will grow lumps of weeds; however well you may have weeded it yesterday, you will find more weeds to-day. Pull them out! Then another thing--you must water it. This wants doing very often. Do you know what I mean? If not, look at the fourth of John, to what Jesus Christ said about water, and what it is. Bring the Holy Spirit into your heart. Pray that God will pour good thoughts--His grace--into your heart: that is water. If you want to “keep your heart,” do not let there be any empty corners therein. God likes all boys and girls to be employed--sometimes at their lessons, sometimes at play; sometimes helping somebody, thinking, reading, or playing, to be always employed. I must tell you, if you do not always employ yourselves--if you are idle, and thinking about nothing, the devil is sure to come into your hearts. Another piece of advice I give you is this, be very particular whom you make your intimate friends. You must “keep your heart” from catching those evil desires that naughty boys and girls will suggest. One thing more. Have you not sometimes, when anybody has given you anything uncommonly valuable, taken it to your father, and said, “ It is too precious for me to keep, I am afraid of losing it, do take care of it for me”? It is very wise for boys and girls to do this with their treasures. Oh, that you would do this with your heart! You cannot “keep” it yourself; therefore often take it to God: ask Him to keep your heart. (J. Vaughan, M.A.)

Things the heart is like

1. The heart is a lamp, which the High and Holy One has entrusted to our care. Keep it well trimmed.

2. The heart is a ship. Look to the hull and the rudder, the masts, the sails, and the rigging. Have an eye to the crew, and take care what merchandise you have aboard; mind that you have plenty of ballast, and do not carry too much sail.

3. The heart is a temple. Keep it pure and undefiled.

4. The heart is a besieged city, and liable to attacks on all sides. While you defend one part, keep a good look-out on the other. (Old Humphrey.)

Verses 24-27

Proverbs 4:24-27

Put away from thee a froward mouth.

Laws of life

A law for the tongue, a law for the eye, a law for the mind, a law for the life.

A demand for pure language. Speech is one of the grand peculiarities that distinguish man. It is the organ by which one man can influence the ages. Yet it has become the vehicle of error, the channel of pollution, the utterance of blasphemy, etc. A pure heart is essential to pure speech.

A demand for a straightforward purpose. Have no side-glances, no by-ends; but have a grand purpose on which the eye of the soul shall be always fixed. Straightforwardness stands opposed to all sly cunning, all vacillation, all ambiguity; all double meanings and aims.

A demand for habitual thoughtfulness. Man was made not only to think, but to be thoughtful. He should walk the path of life--

1. Thoughtfully, not by impulse.

2. Thoughtfully, not by prejudice.

3. Thoughtfully, not by custom.

A demand for unswerving rectitude. Duty is a straight path. The way of sin is serpentine in its shape as well as in its spirit. Virtue is a straight line running right up to God. Any turn, therefore, would be wrong and riskful. Take care: there are by-paths tempting in every direction. (D. Thomas, D.D.)

Verse 25

Proverbs 4:25

Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.

Eyes right

These words occur in a passage wherein the wise man exhorts us to take care of all parts of our nature, which he indicates by members of the body. Every part of our nature needs to be carefully watched, lest in any way it should become the cause of sin. Any one member or faculty is readily able to defile all the rest, and therefore every part must be guarded with care. Having eyes, use them; using them, take care to use them honestly. Some persons are always as if they were asleep. Others are somewhat awake mentally, but are not looking right on; they are star-gazing; they lead but a purposeless life. A man ought to have a way; it should be a straight way; and in that straight way he should persevere. The best way for a man is the way which God has made for him. When you are on the King’s highway, you may go ahead without fear.

Let Christ be your way. If He be, you will begin first to seek to have Christ. Then you will want to know Christ. Then you will go on to obey Christ. Then you will seek to be like Christ.

Set your eyes on Christ as your way. Think of Him, consider Him, study Him.

1. That you may know the way of life, let your eyes be fixed on Him.

2. That you may follow Him well, follow Him wholly. Gather up all your faculties to go after the Lord.

3. Look alone to Jesus, and do this to keep your spirits up. Some live in retrospection; others in unhealthy introspection; and yet others carry much too far a sort of circumspection. If you begin to look two ways at a time, you will miss the Lord Jesus. Under the Jewish law no man who had a squint was allowed to be a priest.

Let your eyes distinctly and directly look to Christ alone.

1. Look not to any human guide.

2. Look to Christ for yourself.

3. Look not to any secondary aims.

4. Forget all things when seeing Christ.

5. Take care that you continue gazing upon Christ until you have faith in Him. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


What is in these terms specially indicated is simplicity of principle and aim; singleness of motive; an upright, unswerving regard to duty. The path of duty is one. It is narrow and straight. On it the eye should constantly and steadily be set--looking “right on,” not to any seducing objects that present themselves on the one hand or on the other. Many things may allure--may hold out tempting seductions from the onward path. Many other paths may appear more smooth, more easy, and in all respects for the time more desirable; but the one and only question must ever be, What is duty? (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)

Looking to our way of life

God’s people have their minds made up as to all those things which concern their everlasting interests. But to know our way is of little use unless we keep that way in view. There are many spiritual travellers who know the way to Zion, but have not their faces thitherward. The text is an important motto for every man who is setting out for heaven. To understand the use and value of this precept, consider it--

As it applies to the faith of the child of God. By the “faith” is meant the great doctrines on which their hopes are grounded. Often, in our experience, we are tempted to entertain unworthy thoughts of the gracious Saviour; to mix up our own works with the plan of His redemption, to place the confidence in frames and feelings, in notions and professions, which should be placed in Him alone. Against such temptations the text provides a remedy. Keep Jesus constantly in view.

As it applies to the duties of the child of God. The text is a preservative against unlawful pleasures and indulgences. It is an exhortation to a close and constant obedience to the revealed will of God, and to the duty of Christian integrity--to an honest, upright, guileless conduct in all our dealings with mankind. Seek, then, strength from God, that you may continue steadfast in the holy course of life, as advised in this text. (A. Roberts, M. A.)

Verse 26

Proverbs 4:26

Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.

Pondering the path

Mystery surrounds me. I find myself a resident of the illimitable realm of the unknown. The commonest objects touching me on every side start unanswerable questions. But amidst these enveloping mysteries, like a rock in the central ocean, emerges this certainty--“I am.” That means, I know I am. I am dowered with self-consciousness. There is a chasm wide and awful between myself and everything which is not myself; the “me” is other than the “not-me”; I am a separate, solitary soul. Amid all the mystery surrounding me, there emerges this other certainty--“I ought.” That means, I have the power of referring what I am to the judgment of the moral sense. There is, and must be, an irreversible distinction between what I ought and what I ought not. There is both a standard and an ability of discrimination. There is a law of right and wrong of which the moral sense takes cognisance. Amid the mystery there arises another certainty--“I can.” That means, I dwell in the sphere of moral freedom; the helm of my being is in the hand of an unenslaved volition; I possess a self-determining and sovereign will. I am not a thrall, a thing; I am a power. There emerges this other certainty--“I will.” That means, I exercise my power in this direction or in that. I will to do the thing I ought not, or the thing I ought. Man is a moral being, capable of choice, and actually choosing. You should ponder the path of your feet--

Because your feet are pressing toward an end by which your whole previous path in life is to find final test. Thomas Carlyle says, “It is the conclusion that crowns the work; much more the irreversible conclusion wherein all is concluded; thus is there no life so mean but a death will make it memorable.” As you are going now what will that final test of the end declare?

Because this moment you are choosing your path. You should ask yourself whether it be the right one.

Because the longer you walk in the wrong path the harder it will Be to get out of it into the right, The awful law of habit; the binding power of bad companionships, etc. (Homiletic Magazine.)

Spiritual anatomy the feet

Their natural course.

1. Found in the way of evil

2. Which has diverse paths.

3. These paths fatal in their termination.

Transition of the feet to the way of righteousness.

1. Consideration.

2. Arrestment.

3. Abandonment of evil way.

4. Prayer.

5. Decision.

The feet consecrated to divine service.

1. They stand on a rock.

2. Enjoy liberty.

3. Established by the Lord.

4. Guided in the way to life eternal. (J. Burns, D.D.)

Life a path

1. Unique, difficult, momentous.

2. This path, this journey, will be travelled but once--there is never a retracing of our steps.

3. A false guide, a false step, may prove eternally fatal.

4. The path is intricate, and nothing short of the utmost care, and constant watchfulness, and thorough discipline of heart and life can carry one safely through it. (Homiletic Monthly.)

Feet and eyes joined

The wise man joins the feet unto the eyes, intimating that our actions should be weighed, as well as our thoughts, words, and looks.

We must beforehand order all well that we go about.

1. Lest we show our folly to all men by our indiscreet actions.

2. Lest we run ourselves into danger.

3. Because our actions are dangerous as well as our thoughts, looks, and words; and these were all to be ordered. Bring all your actions to the touchstone before you do them. Weigh them in a just balance.

The meanest members of the body must be well-ordered. The foot is lowest, yet must not be left at liberty to go where it will.

1. Because the meanest members are of necessary use.

2. Because they, being disordered, bring much hurt.

Endeavour to act surely in what you do. Show your wisdom by your sure and just acting according to God’s Word, and it will stand. (Francis Taylor, B.D.)

Self-examination explained and recommended

It is our wisdom to look into our own hearts, to inquire seriously and impartially into the state of religion in our minds; that we may form a true judgment of our real character in the sight of God, and may be better able to regulate our future conduct.

Explain the precept of the text: “Ponder the path of thy feet.” This includes--

1. A serious inquiry--into our past conduct, i.e., of the general tenor of our conduct; whether it has been agreeable to our character as men and as Christians, agreeable to the dictates of right reason, and the precepts of the gospel.

2. A diligent examination of the motives of our conduct, and the principal ends we have pursued in life; whether they are those which religion points out, or those which are recommended by the example of the world around us. Let us particularly attend to the state of our mind. Our chief motive is to be the “glory of God.” This motive is of all others the most extensive, and where it has its due place in the mind, will prove the most effectual means of regulating the conduct.

3. Considering attentively what our ruling passion is, and what influence it has had in determining our conduct. Every man has something peculiar in the make or constitution of his mind, which inclines him more strongly to some pursuits than to others, and which consequently lays him more open to temptation from that quarter than from any other.

4. A diligent inquiry into the present temper and state of our minds; the settled purpose and resolution of the mind, the prevailing bent of the will and affections. In what light does sin appear to us? What are our sentiments of the law of God? How do we stand affected towards the great objects of faith?

5. The examination recommended in the text must be accompanied with a sincere resolution and a correspondent endeavour by Divine assistance to reform the errors of our past life, and to make continual advances in virtue and goodness.

The advantages that will attend the practice of it. Steadiness and uniformity of conduct is the result of habitual consideration and reflection.

1. This will be a probable means of securing us from all fatal errors and miscarriages, or of restoring us to the path of duty, if we have wandered from it.

2. The habit of reflection will confirm and strengthen the mind, and enable us to make continual advances in holiness.

Some directions that may assist us in the performance of what has been recommended.

1. Set yourself as in the presence of God.

2. Implore the Divine direction and assistance.

3. Be upon your guard against the deceitfulness of your own hearts, while you are conversing with them.

4. Fear not to know the worst of your case.

5. Pursue the inquiry till you have brought it to some conclusion, and faithfully observe and comply with the admonitions which conscience may give you.

6. Frequently renew the exercise of self-examination according to the directions laid down. Improvement--

1. See the great end we should propose to ourselves by this self-inquiry.

2. The great importance of self-examination to the Christian life. (R. Clark.)

Salutary counsel

Ponder that portion of our path which we have already trodden.

1. Has it been the way of evil?

2. Have we visited Calvary?

3. Has it been a path of usefulness?

Ponder the portion of the path which we are now treading.

1. Is it lawful ground?

2. Are we following the footprints of Jesus? These are found, and found only, in heavenly paths.

3. Is there a light shining upon the road? “The way of the wicked is as darkness,” because it is their own evil, dismal, unhappy, and dangerous way; but the path of the justified is that of increasing holiness and joy.

Ponder that portion of our path which we have yet to tread.

1. It is beset with snares and dangers.

2. It passes through the valley and shadow of death. There is now no other way to immortality.

3. It leads either to heaven or to hell. (The Congregational Pulpit.)

Christian casuistry

We ought to ponder our steps in regard to the principle from which they proceed. An action good in itself may become criminal if it proceed from a bad principle. The little attention we pay to this maxim is one principal cause of the false judgments we make of ourselves. Would you always take right steps? Never take one without first examining the motive which engages you to take it.

We ought to ponder our steps in regard to the circumstances which accompany them. An action, good or innocent in itself, may become criminal in certain circumstances. This maxim is a clue to many cases of conscience in which we choose to blind ourselves. We obstinately consider our actions in a certain abstracted light, and do not attend to circumstances which change the nature of the action.

We ought to examine the manners that accompany our ways. Actions, good in themselves, become criminal when they are not performed with proper dispositions.

An action, good in itself, may become criminal by being extended beyond its proper limits. “Be not righteous overmuch, neither make thyself overwise.”

1. In regard to the mysteries of religion.

2. In regard to charity.

3. In regard to closet devotion; in regard to distrusting yourselves and fearing the judgments of God.

An action, good when it is performed by a man arrived at a certain degree of holiness, becomes criminal when it is done by him who hath only an inferior degree. If we wish our ways to be established, let us weigh them with the different judgments which we ourselves form concerning them. Set the judgment which we shall one day form of them against that which we now form. In order to obey the precept of the wise man, we should collect our thoughts every morning, and never begin a day without a cool examination of the whole business of it. (James Saurin.)

Verse 27

Proverbs 4:27

Turn not to the right hand nor to the left.

Religious and moral conduct

Whatever the belief of men be, they generally pride themselves on the possession of some good moral qualities. The sense of duty is deeply rooted in the human heart. But as there is a constant strife between the lower and higher parts of our nature, between inclination and principle, this produces much contradiction and inconsistency in conduct. Hence arise most of the extremes into which men run in their moral behaviour. One of the first and most common of those extremes is that of placing all virtue either in justice on the one hand or in generosity on the other. Both these classes of men run to a faulty extreme. The perfection of our social character consists in properly tempering the two with one another; in holding that middle course which admits of our being just without being rigid, and allows us to be generous without being unjust. We must next guard against either too great severity or too great facility of manners. He who leans to the side of severity is harsh in his censures and narrow in his opinions. The opposite extreme is more dangerous--that of too great facility and accommodation to the ways of others. Such a man views every character with an indulgent eye. Nothing, in moral conduct, is more difficult than to avoid turning here, either to the right hand or to the left; to preserve a just medium. True religion enjoins us to pursue the difficult but honourable aim of uniting good-nature with fixed religious principle, affable manners with untainted virtue. Further, we run to one extreme, when we contemn altogether the opinions of mankind; to another, when we court their praise too eagerly. The former discovers a high degree of pride and self-conceit. The latter betrays servility of spirit. He who extinguishes all regard to the sentiments of mankind suppresses one incentive to honourable deeds, and removes one of the strongest checks on vice. He who is actuated solely by the love of human praise encroaches on the higher respect which he owes to conscience and to God. Hence, virtue is often counterfeited, and religious truths have been disguised, or unfairly represented, in order to be suited to popular tastes. Then there is the danger of running to the extreme of anxiety about worldly interests on the one hand and of negligence on the other. We need also to be warned against the extreme of engaging in a course of life too busy and hurried, or of being devoted to one too retired and unemployed. We are formed for a mixture of action and retreat. Temper business with serious meditation, and enliven retreat by returns of action and industry. Let us study to attain a regular, uniform, consistent character, where nothing that is excessive or disproportioned shall come forward to view. Turning neither to the right hand nor to the left, we shall, as far as our frailty permits, approach to the perfection of the human character. (Hugh Blair, D. D.)


Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Proverbs 4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/tbi/proverbs-4.html. 1905-1909. New York.
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