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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 16". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tpc/ proverbs-16.html. 1897.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 16". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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These are specially religions maxims, and they all contain the name Jehovah.
The Authorized Version makes one sentence of this verse without any contrast or antithesis. This is plainly wrong, there being intended a contrast between the thought of the heart and the well ordered speech. It is better translated, The plans of the heart are man's: but the answer of the tongue is from Jehovah. Men make plans, arrange speeches, muster arguments, in the mind; but to put these into proper, persuasive words is a gift of God. "Our sufficiency is of God" (2 Corinthians 3:5). In the case of Balaam, God overruled the wishes and intentions of the prophet, and constrained him to give utterance to something very different from his original mental conceptions. But the present sentence attributes the outward expression of what the mind has conceived in every case unto the help of God (comp. Proverbs 16:9, Proverbs 16:33; Proverbs 15:23). Christ enjoined his disciples to trust to momentary inspiration in their apologies or defences before unbelievers (Matthew 10:19). This verse is omitted in the Septuagint.
All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes (Proverbs 21:2). He may deceive himself, and be blind to his own faults, or be following an ill-informed and ill-regulated conscience (Proverbs 12:15; Proverbs 14:12), yet this is no excuse in God's eyes. The Lord weigheth the spirits. Not the "ways," the outward life and actions only, but motives, intentions, dispositions (Hebrews 4:12). He too knows our secret faults, unsuspected by others, and perhaps by ourselves (Psalms 19:12). The Septuagint has here, "All the works of the humble are manifest before God, but the impious shall perish in an evil day." The next verse is omitted in the Greek; and the other clauses up to Proverbs 16:8 are dislocated.
Commit thy works unto the Lord. "Commit" (gol) is literally "roll" (κύλισον, Theodotion), as in Psalms 22:8 and Psalms 37:5; and the injunction means, "Transfer thy burden to the Lord, cast upon him all that thou hast to do; do all as in his sight, and as an act of duty to him." Thus Tobit says to his son, "Bless the Lord thy God alway, and desire of him that thy ways may be directed, and that all thy paths and counsels may prosper" (Tobit 4:19). The Vulgate, using a different punctuation (gal), renders, "Reveal to the Lord thy works?' As a child opens its heart to a tender parent, so do thou show to God thy desires and intentions, trusting to his care and providence. And thy thoughts shall be established. The plans and deliberations out of which the "works" sprang shall meet with a happy fulfilment, because they are undertaken according to the will of God, and directed to the end by his guidance (comp. Proverbs 19:21; Psalms 90:17; 1 Corinthians 3:9). This verse is not in the Septuagint.
The Lord hath made all things for himself. So the Vulgate, propter semetipsum; and Origen ('Praef. in Job'), δι ̓ ἑαυτόν. That is, God hath made everything for his own purpose, to answer the design which he hath intended from all eternity (Revelation 4:11). But this translation is not in accordance with the present reading, לַמַּעַנֵהוּ, which means rather "for its own end," for its own proper use. Everything in God's design has its own end and object and reason for being where it is and such as it is; everything exhibits his goodness and wisdom, and tends to his glory. Septuagint, "All the works of the Lord are with righteousness." Yea, even the wicked for the day of evil. This clause has been perverted to support the terrible doctrine of reprobation—that God, whose will must be always efficacious, has willed the damnation of some; whereas we are taught that God's will is that "all men should be saved, and come unto the knowledge of the truth," and that "God sent his Son not to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved" (1 Timothy 2:4; John 3:17; comp. Ezekiel 33:11). Man, having freewill, can reject this gracious purpose of God, and render the means of salvation nugatory; but this does not make God the cause of man's destruction, but man himself. In saying that God "made the wicked," the writer does not mean that God made him as such, but made him as he made all other things, giving him powers and capacities which he might have used to good, but which, as a fact, he uses to evil. It will be useful here to quote the wise words of St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 6.33), "The Just and Merciful One, as he disposes the deeds of mortals, vouchsafes some things in mercy, and permits other things in anger; and the things which he permits he so bears with that he turns them to the account of his purpose. And hence it is brought to pass in a marvellous way that even that which is done without t,e will of God is not contrary to the will of God. For while evil deeds are converted to a good use, the very things that oppose his design render service to his design." The day of evil is the hour of punishment (Isaiah 10:3; Job 21:30), which by a moral law will inevitably fall upon the sinner. God makes man's wickedness subserve his purposes and manifest his glory, as we see in the case of Pharaoh (Exodus 9:16), and the crucifixion of our blessed Lord (Acts 2:23; comp. Romans 9:22). It is a phase of God's moral government that an evil day should be appointed for transgressors, and it is from foreknowledge of their deserts that their punishment is prepared. The perplexing question, why God allows men to come into the world whom he knows will meet with perdition, is not handled here. Septuagint, "But the impious is kept for an evil day." Cato, 'Dist.,' 2.8—
"Nolo putes pravos homines peccata lucrari:
Temporibus peccata latent, sed tempore patent."
(For the first member, see Proverbs 6:17; Proverbs 8:13.) Says the maxim—
Ἀλαζονείας οὔ τις ἐκφεύγει δίκην
"Pride hath its certain punishment."
We read in the Talmud, "Of every proud man God says, He and I cannot live in the world together." A mediaeval jingle runs—
"Hoc retine verbum, frangit Deus omne superbum."
Septuagint, "Impure in the sight of God is every high-hearted man (ὑψηλοκάρδιος)." The second member is found in Proverbs 11:21, and must be taken as a form of adjuration. Septuagint, "Putting hands on hand unjustly, he shall not be innocent;" i.e. one who acts violently and unjustly shall be held guilty—which seems a trite truism. Many commentators interpret the clause as if it meant that the cooperation and combination of sinners in evil practices will not save them from retribution. But hand clasping hand in token of completing a bargain or alliance is scarcely an early Oriental custom. There is an analogous saying in Greek which implies mutual assistance -
Χεὶρ χεῖρα νίπτει δακτυλός τε δάκτυλον
"Hand washes hand, and finger finger."
The LXX. has here two distiches, the first of which occurs in the Vulgate, but the second is not found there. Neither appears in our present Hebrew text. "The beginning of the good way is to do what is just; this is more acceptable to God than to sacrifice sacrifices. He who seeketh the Lord shall find knowledge with righteousness; and they who seek him rightly alkali find peace."
By mercy and truth iniquity is purged; atoned for. The combination "mercy and truth" occurs in Proverbs 3:3 (where see note), and intimates love to God and man, and faithfulness in keeping promises and truth and justice in all dealings. It is by the exercise of those graces, not by mere external rites, that God is propitiated (see on Proverbs 10:2). A kind of expiatory value is assigned to these virtues, which, indeed, must not be pressed too closely, but should be examined by the light of such passages in the New Testament as Luke 11:41; Acts 10:4. Of course, such graces show themselves only in one who is really devout and God fearing; they are the fruits of a heart at peace with God and man, and react on the character and conduct. The LXX; which places this distich after Proverbs 15:27, translates, "By alms and faithfulness (πίστεσιν) sins are cleansed," confining the term "mercy" to one special form, as in one reading of Matthew 6:1, "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness [al. alms] before men." By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil. The practice of true religion, of course, involves abstinence from sin; and this seems so unnecessary a truth to be formally stated that some take the "evil" named to be physical, not moral evil; calamity, not transgression. But the two clauses are coordinate, and present two aspects of the same truth. The first intimates how sin is to be expiated, the second how it is to be avoided. The morally good man meets with pardon and acceptance, and he who fears God is delivered from evil. So we pray, in the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses, and deliver us from evil." Septuagint, "By the fear of the Lord every one declineth from evil" (comp. Proverbs 14:27).
When a man's ways please the Lord, which they can do only when they are religious, just, and charitable. He maketh even his enemies to be at peace with him; to submit themselves. Experience proves that nothing succeeds like success. Where a man is prosperous and things go well with him, even ill-wishers are content to east away or to dissemble their dislike, and to live at peace with him. Thus Abimelech King of Gerar fawned upon Isaac because he saw that the Lord was with him (Genesis 26:27, etc.). This is the worldly side of the maxim. It has a higher aspect, and intimates the far reaching influence of goodness—how it disarms opposition, arouses reverence and love, gives no occasion for disputes, and spreads around an atmosphere of peace. To the Jews the maxim was taught by external circumstances. While they were doing the will of the Lord, their land was to be preserved from hostile attack (Exodus 34:24; 2 Chronicles 17:10). And Christians learn that it is only when they obey and fear God that they can overcome the assaults of the enemies of their soul—the devil, the world, and the flesh Talmud, "He who is agreeable to God is equally agreeable to men."
Better is a little with righteousness (Proverbs 15:16; Psalms 37:16). "Righteousness" may mean here a holy life or just dealing; as without right, or, with injustice, in the second clause, may refer either generally wickedness, or specially to fraud and oppression (Jeremiah 22:13). Says Theognis—
Βούλεο δ εὐσεβέων ὀλίγοις σὺν χρήμασιν οἰκεῖν,
Η πλουτεῖν ἀδίκως χρήματα πασάμενος.
"Wish thou with scanty means pious to live,
Rather than rich with large, ill-gotten wealth."
Another maxim says to the same effect—
Λεπτῶς καλῶς ζῇν κρεῖσσον ἢ λαμπρῶς κακῶς.
Septuagint, "Better is small getting (λῆψις) with righteousness, than great revenues with iniquity" (see on Proverbs 15:29).
A man's heart deviseth his way: but the Lord directeth his steps (Proverbs 16:1). "Man proposes, God disposes" or, as the Germans say, "Der Mensch denkt, Gott lenkt" (comp. Proverbs 20:24). The word rendered "deviseth" implies, by its spectra, intensity of thought and care. Man meditates and prepares his plans with the utmost solicitude, hut it rests with God whether he shall carry them to completion or not, and whether, if they are to be accomplished, it be done with ease or with painful labour (comp. Genesis 24:12, etc.). We all remember Shakespeare's words in 'Hamlet'—
"There's a divinity that shapes our ends,
Rough-hew them how we will."
Septuagint, "Let the heart of man consider what is just, that his steps may be by God directed might" (comp. Jeremiah 10:23).
A Divine sentence is in the lips of the king. קֶסֶם (quesem) is "divination," "soothsaying," oracular utterance. Septuagint, μαντεῖον. The king's words have, in people's minds, the certainty and importance of a Divine oracle, putting an end to all controversy or division of opinion. It seems to be a general maxim, not especially referring to Solomon or the theocratic kingdom, but rather indicating the traditional view of the absolute monarchy. The custom of deifying kings and invoking them as gods was usual in Egypt and Eastern countries, and made its way to the West. "It is the voice of a god, and not of a man," cried the people, when Herod addressed them in the amphitheatre at Caesarea (Acts 12:22). The Greeks could say—
Εἰκὼν δὲ βασιλεύς ἐστιν ἔμψυχος Θεοῦ.
"God's very living image is the king."
And thus his utterances were regarded as irrefragably true and decisive. His month transgresseth not in judgment. The decisions which he gives are infallible, and, at any rate, irresistible. We may refer to Solomon's famous verdict concerning the two mothers (1 Kings 3:16, etc.), and such sentences as Proverbs 8:15, "By me (wisdom) kings reign, and princes decree justice" (see below on Proverbs 8:12; Proverbs 21:1); and David's words (2 Samuel 23:4), "He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God" (Wis. 9:4, 10, 12). Delitzsch regards the second hemistich as giving a warning (consequent on the former clause), and not stating a fact, "In the judgment his mouth should not err." The present chapter contains many admonitions to kings which a wise father like Solomon may have uttered and recorded for the benefit of his son. If this is the case, it is as strange as it is true that Rehoboam made little use of the counsels, and that Solomon's latter days gave the lie to many of them.
A just weight and balance are the Lord's (Proverbs 11:1); literally, the balance and scales of justice (are) the Lord's. They come under his law, are subject to the Divine ordinances which regulate all man's dealings. The great principles of truth end justice govern all the transactions of buying and selling; religion enters into the business of trading, and weights and measures are sacred things. Vulgate, "The weights and the balance are judgments of the Lord;" being true and fair, they are regarded as God's judgment. Septuagint, "The turn of the balance is justice before God." All the weights of the bag are his work. Some have round a difficulty here, because the bag may contain false as well as true weights (Deuteronomy 25:13), and it could not be said that the light weights were the Lord's work. This surely is captious criticism. The maxim merely states that the trader's weights take their origin and authority from God's enactment, from certain eternal principles which he has established. What man's chicanery and fraud make of them does not come into view. (For the law that regulates such matters, see Leviticus 19:35, etc.) That cheating in this respect was not uncommon we learn from the complaints of the prophets, as Micah 6:11. The religious character of the standard weights and measures is shown by the term "shekel of the sanctuary" (Exodus 38:24, and elsewhere continually).
It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness. This and the following verse give the ideal view of the monarch—that which he ought to be rather than what be is (comp. Psalms 72:1-20.). Certainly neither Solomon nor many of his successors exhibited this high character. The Septuagint, followed by some modern commentators, translates, "He who doeth wickedness is an abomination to kings;" but as the "righteousness" in the second clause (the throne is established by righteousness) undoubtedly refers to the king, so it is more natural to take the "wickedness" in the first member as being his own, not his subjects'. When a ruler acts justly and wisely, punishes the unruly, rewards the virtuous, acts as God's vicegerent, and himself sets the example of the character which becomes so high a position, he wins the affection of his people, they willingly obey him. and are ready to die for him and his family (comp. Proverbs 25:5; Isaiah 16:5). Lawmakers should not be law breakers. Seneca, 'Thyest.,' 215—
"Ubi non est pudor,
Nec cura juris, sanctitas, pietas, fides,
Instabile regnum est."
Righteous lips are the delight of kings. The ideal king takes pleasure in the truth and justice which his subjects display in their conversation. Such a one hates flattery and dissimulation, and encourages honest speaking. They (kings) love him that speaketh right; that which is just (Proverbs 8:6). The two clauses are coordinate. Septuagint, "He loveth upright words" (comp. Proverbs 22:11).
The wrath of a king is as messengers of death. In a despotic monarchy the death of an offender follows quickly on the offence. Anger the king, and punishment is at hand; instruments are always ready who will carry out the sentence, and that before time is given for reconsideration. The murder of Thomas a Becket will occur as an illustration (comp. Esther 7:8, etc). The LXX. translates, "The king's wrath is a messenger of death," taking the plural as put by enallage for the singular; but possibly the plural may intimate the many agents who are prepared to perform the ruler's behests, and the various means which he possesses for punishing offenders. This first clause implies, without expressly saying, that, such being the case, none but a fool will excite the monarch's resentment (comp. Ecclesiastes 8:4); then the second clause comes in naturally. But a wise man will pacify it. He will take care not to provoke that anger which gluts its resentment so quickly and so fatally (Proverbs 19:12; Proverbs 20:2). Septuagint, "A wise man will appease him," the king; as Jacob propitiated Esau by the present which he sent forward (Genesis 32:20, Genesis 32:21).
In the light of the king's countenance is life (Proverbs 15:30; Psalms 4:6). As the king's anger and the darkening of his countenance are death (Proverbs 16:14), so, when his look is cheerful and bright, it sheds joy and life around, as the rain refreshes the parched ground. A cloud of the latter rain. The former rain in Palestine falls about the end of October or the beginning of November, when the seed is sown; the latter rain comes in March or April, and is absolutely necessary for the due swelling and ripening of the grain. It is accompanied, of course) with cloud, which tempers the heat, while it brings fertility and vigour. To this the king's favour is well compared. "He shall come down," says the psalmist, "like the rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth" (Psalms 72:6). The LXX; reading בני (beni) for פני (peni), translates, "In the light of life is the son of the king; and they who are acceptable to him are as a cloud of the latter rain."
To get wisdom than gold (comp, Proverbs 3:14; Proverbs 8:10, Proverbs 8:11, Proverbs 8:19); and to get understanding rather to be chosen than silver; Revised Version better, yea, to get understanding is rather to be chosen than [to get] silver. If the clauses are not simply parallel, and the comparative value of silver and gold is So be considered, we may, with Wordsworth, see here an intimation of the superiority of wisdom (chochmah) over intelligence (binah), the former being the guide of life and including the practice of religion, the latter denoting discernment, the faculty of distinguishing between one thing and another (see note on Proverbs 28:4, and the quotation from 'Pirke Aboth' on Proverbs 15:33). The LXX; for kenoh reading kinnot, have given a version of which the Fathers have largely availed themselves: "The nests of wisdom are preferable to gold, and the nests of knowledge are preferable above silver." Some of the old commentators take these "nests" to be the problems and apothegms which enshrine wisdom; others consider them to mean the children or scholars who are taught by the wise man.
The highway of the upright is to depart from evil. To avoid the dangerous byways to which evil leads, one must walk straight in the path of duty (comp. Proverbs 15:19). Septuagint, "The paths of life decline from evil;" and this version adds some paragraphs in illustration, which are not in the Hebrew: "And the ways of righteousness are length of life. He who receiveth instruction will be among the good [or, 'in prosperity,' ἐν ἀγαθοῖς], and he who observeth reproof shall become wise." He that keepeth his way preserveth his soul. He who continues in the right way, and looks carefully to his goings, will save himself from ruin and death (Proverbs 13:3). Septuagint, "He who watcheth his own ways keepeth his life." And then is added another maxim, "He that loveth his life will spare his mouth."
Pride goeth before destruction. A maxim continually enforced (see Proverbs 11:2; Proverbs 17:19; Proverbs 18:12). Here is the contrast to the blessing on humility promised (Proverbs 15:33). A haughty spirit—a lifting up of spirit—goeth before a fall (comp. Daniel 4:29, etc). Thus, according to Herodotus (Proverbs 7:10), Artabanus warned the arrogant Xerxes, "Seest thou how God strikes with the thunder animals which overtop others, and suffers them not to vaunt themselves, but the small irritate him not? And seest thou how he hurls his bolts always against the mightiest buildings and the loftiest trees? For God is wont to cut short whatever is too highly exalted" (comp. Horace, 'Carm.,' 2.10.9, etc.). Says the Latin adage, "Qui petit alta nimis, retro lapsus ponitur imis." Caesar, 'Bell. Gall.,' 1.14, "Consuesse Deos immortales, quo gravius homines ex commutatione rerum doleant, quos pro sceiere eorum ulcisci velint, his secundiores interdum re, et diuturuiorem impunitatem concedere." The Chinese say, "Who flies not high falls not low;" and, "A great tree attracts the wind." The Basque proverb remarks, "Pride sought flight in heaven, fell to hell." And an Eastern one, "What is extended will tear; what is long will break" (Lane).
This verse is connected in thought, as well as verbally, with the preceding. Better it is to be of an humble spirit with the lowly. The Revised Version has, with the poor; but "meek" or "lowly" better contrasts with "proud" of the second clause. Psalms 84:10, "I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness." Than to divide the spoil with the proud. To share in the fruits of the operations and pursuits of the proud, and to enjoy their pleasures, a man must cast in his lot with them, uudergo their risks and anxieties, and participate in the crimes by which they gain their wealth. The result of such association was told in verse 18. The Germans express the connection between abundance and folly by the terse apothegm, "Voll, toll;" "Full, fool." Septuagint, "Better is the man of gentle mind with humility, than he who divideth spoil with the violent."
He that handleth a matter wisely. Dabar, translated "matter," is better rendered "word," as in Proverbs 13:13, with which passage the present is in contrast. Thus Revised Version, he that giveth heed unto the word. Shall find good; Vulgate, eruditus in verbo reperiet bona. The "Word" is the Law of God; he who attends to this shall prosper. The rendering of the Authorized Version is supported by the Septuagint, "The man prudent in affairs is a finder of good things;" he attends to his business, and thinks out the best mode of accomplishing his plans, and therefore succeeds in a worldly sense (comp. Proverbs 17:20). Whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he; or, hail to him, as in Proverbs 14:21. To heed the Word and to trust in the Lord are correlative things; handling a matter wisely can hardly belong to the same category. The Septuagint contrasts the worldly success of one who manages business wisely and discreetly with the blessedness of him who, when he has done all, commits his cause to God and trusts wholly to him: "He who hath trusted in the Lord is blessed (μακαριστός)."
The wise in heart shall be called prudent. True wisdom is recognized and acknowledged as such, especially when it has the gift of expressing itself appropriately (see on Proverbs 24:8). The sweetness (Proverbs 27:9) of the lips increaseth learning. People listen to instruction at the mouth of one who speaks well and winningly. Such a one augments knowledge in others, and in himself too, for he learns by teaching. Knowledge ought not to be buried in one's own mind, but produced on fit occasions and in suitable words for the edification of others. Ec Proverbs 20:30, "Wisdom that is hid, and treasure that is hoarded up, what profit is in them both?" (see Matthew 5:15). Septuagint, "The wise and prudent they call worthless (φαύλους); but they who are sweet in word shall hear more." Wise men are called bad and worthless by the vulgar herd, either because they do not impart all they know, or because they are envied fear their learning; but those who are eloquent and gracious in speech shall receive much instruction from what they bear, every one being ready to converse with them anal impart any knowledge which they possess.
Understanding is a well spring of life unto him that hath it (Proverbs 10:11; Proverbs 13:14). The possessor of understanding has in himself a source of comfort and a vivifying power, which is as refreshing as a cool spring to a thirsty traveller. In all troubles and difficulties he can fall back upon his own good sense and prudence, and satisfy himself therewith. This is not conceit, but the result of a well grounded experience. But the instruction of fools is folly; i.e. the instruction which fools give is folly and sin; such is the only teaching which they can offer. So the Vulgate, doctrina stultorum fatuitas; and many modern commentators. But musar is better taken in the sense of "discipline" or "chastisement" (as in Proverbs 1:7; Proverbs 7:22; Proverbs 15:5), which the bad man suffers. His own folly is the scourge which punishes him; refusing the teaching of wisdom, he makes misery for himself, deprives himself of the happiness which virtue gives, and pierces himself through with many sorrows. Septuagint, "The instruction of tools is evil."
The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth. Out of the abundance of his heart the wise man speaks; the spirit within him finds fit utterance. Pectus est quod disertos facit. The thought and mind control the outward expression and make it eloquent and persuasive (comp. Proverbs 15:2). And addeth learning to his lips; Vulgate, "addeth grace." But lekach, which means properly "reception," "taking in," is best rendered "learning," as in Proverbs 16:21; Proverbs 1:5, etc. The intellect and knowledge of the wise display themselves in their discourse. Delitzsch, "Learning mounteth up to his lips." Ec Proverbs 21:26, "The heart of fools is in their mouth; but the mouth of the wise is in their heart." Septuagint, "The heart of the wise will consider what proceedeth from his mouth; and on his lips he will carry prudence (ἐπιγνωμοσύνην)."
Pleasant words are as an honeycomb. "Pleasant words" are words of comforting, soothing tendency, as in Proverbs 15:26; Psalms 19:10. The writer continues his praise of apt speech. The comparison with honey is common in all languages and at all times. Thus Homer sings of Nestor ('Iliad,' 1.248, etc.)—
"The smooth-tongued chief, from whose persuasive lips
Sweeter than honey flowed the stream of speech."
So the story goes that on the lips of St. Ambrose, while still a boy, a swarm of bees settled, portending his future persuasive eloquence. Sweet to the soul, and health to the bones (Proverbs 15:30). The verse forms one sentence. The happy results of pleasant words are felt in body and soul. Honey in Palestine is a staple article of food, and is also used as a medicinal remedy. Of its reviving effects we read in the ease of Jonathan, who from a little portion hurriedly taken as he marched on had "his eyes enlightened" (1 Samuel 14:27). Septuagint, "Their sweetness is the healing of the soul."
Ἰατρὸς ὁ λόγος τοῦ κατά ψυχὴν πάθους.
"Speech the physician of the soul's annoy."
A repetition of Proverbs 14:12.
He that laboureth laboureth for himself; literally, the soul of him that laboureth laboureth for him. "Soul" here is equivalent to "desire," "appetite" (comp. Proverbs 6:30), and the maxim signifies that hunger is a strong incentive to work—the needs of the body spur the labourer to diligence and assiduity; he eats bread in the sweat of his brow (Genesis 3:19). Says the Latin gnome—
"Largitor artium, ingeniique magister Venter."
"The belly is the teacher of all arts,
The parent of invention."
"De tout s'avise a qui pain faut,"
"He who wants bread thinks of everything."
There is our own homely saw, "Need makes the old wife trot;" as the Italians say, "Hunger sets the dog a-hunting" (Kelly). For his mouth craveth it of him; his mouth must have food to put in it. The verb אָכַף (akaph) does not occur elsewhere; it means properly "to bend," and then to put a load on, to constrain to press. So here, "His mouth bends over him, i.e. urgeth him thereto" (Revised Version). Ecclesiastes 6:7, "All labour of man is for his mouth;" we should say stomach. Hunger in some sense is the great stimulus of all work. "We commanded you," says St. Paul (2 Thessalonians 3:10), "that if any would not work, neither should he eat." There is a spiritual hunger without which grace cannot be sought or obtained—that hungering and thirsting after righteousness of which Christ speaks, and which he who is the Bread of life is ready to satisfy (Matthew 5:6; John 6:58). The Septuagint expands the maxim: "A man in labours labours for himself, and drives away (ἐκβιάζεται) his own destruction; but the perverse man upon his own mouth carrieth destruction."
This and the three following verses are concerned with the case of the evil man. An ungodly man—a man of Belial—diggeth up evil. A man of Belial (Proverbs 6:12) is a worthless, wicked person, what the French call a vaurien. Such a one digs a pit for others (Proverbs 26:27; Psalms 7:15), devises mischief against his neighbour, plots against him by lying and slandering and overreaching. Wordsworth confines the evil to the man himself; he digs it as treasure in a mine, loves wickedness for its own sake. But analogy is against this interpretation. Septuagint, "A foolish man diggeth evils for himself." So Ec Proverbs 27:26, "Whoso diggeth a pit shall fall therein; and he that setteth a trap shall be taken therein." As the gnome says—
Ἡ δὲ κακὴ βουλὴ τῷ βουλεύσαντι κακίστη.
And in his lips there is as a burning fire (Proverbs 26:23) His words scorch and injure like a devouring flame. James 3:6, "The tongue is a fire: the world of iniquity among our members is the tongue, which defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the wheel of nature, and is set on fire by hell." Septuagint, "And upon his lips he treasureth up fire."
A froward man soweth strife (Proverbs 6:14, Proverbs 6:19). The verb means, literally, "sends forth," which may signify "scatters as seed" or "hurls as a missile weapon." The character intended is the perverse man, who distorts the truth, gives a wrong impression, attributes evil motives; such a one occasions quarrels and heartburnings. And a whisperer separateth chief friends (Proverbs 17:9). Nirgan is either "a chatterer," or "a whisperer," "calumniator." In Proverbs 18:8 and Proverbs 26:20, Proverbs 26:22 it is translated "tale bearer." "Be not called a whisperer (ψίθυρος)," says the Son of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus 5:14), speaking of secret slander. "Slanderers," says an old apothegm, "are Satan's bellows to blow up contension." Septuagint, "A perverse man sendeth abroad evils, and kindleth a torch of deceit for the wicked, and separateth friends." The alternative rendering of the second clause, "estrangeth a leader," i.e. alienates one leader from another, or from his army, is not confirmed by the authority of the versions or the best commentators.
A violent man enticeth his neighbour. The man of violence (Proverbs 3:31) is one who wrongs others by injurious conduct, by fraud or oppression. How such a one "enticeth," talks a man over, we see in Proverbs 1:10, etc. Septuagint, "The lawless man tempts (ἀποπειρᾶται) friends." And leadeth him into the way that is not good (Psalms 36:4; Isaiah 65:2); a position where he will suffer some calamity, or be induced to commit some wickedness.
This verse is better taken as one sentence, and translated, as Nowack, "He that shutteth his eyes in order to contrive froward things, he that compresseth his lips, hath already brought evil to pass;" he has virtually effected it. From such a crafty, malignant man you need not expect any more open tokens of his intentions. He shutteth his eyes (comp. Isaiah 33:15); either that he may better think out his evil plans, or else he cannot look his neighbour in the face while he is plotting against him. The Vulgate has, attonitis oculis; Septuagint, "fixing (στηρίζων) his eyes." Moving his lips; rather, he who compresseth his lips, to hide the malignant smile with which he might greet his neighbour's calamity (comp. Proverbs 6:13, etc.; Proverbs 10:10), or that neither by word nor expression he may betray his thoughts. Others take the two outward expressions mentioned as signals to confederates; but this is not so suitable, as they are the man's own feelings and sentiments that are meant. One who gives these tokens bringeth evil to pass; he has perfected his designs, and deems them as good as accomplished, and you will do well to note what his bearing signifies. Some take the meaning to be, brings punishment on himself; but the warning is not given for the sinner's sake. Septuagint, "He defines (ὀρίζει) all evils with his lips; he is a furnace of evil."
The hoary head is a crown of glory (Proverbs 20:29). (For "crown," see on Proverbs 17:6.) Old age is the reward of a good life, and therefore is an honour to a man (comp. Proverbs 3:2, Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 4:10; Proverbs 9:11; Proverbs 10:27). If it be found—rather, it shall be found—in the way of righteousness; the guerdon of obedience and holiness; whereas "bloody and deceitful men shall not live out half their days" (Psalms 55:23). It is well said in the Book of Wisdom (Wis. 4:8, etc.), "Honourable age is not that which standeth in length of time, nor that is measured by number of years. But wisdom is the grey hair unto men, and an unspotted life is old age."
He that is slow to anger (Proverbs 14:29) is better than the mighty. The long suffering, non-irascible man is more of a hero than the valiant commander of a great army. One overcomes external foes or obstacles; the other conquers himself; as it is said, And he that ruleth his spirit than he that taketh a city (Proverbs 25:28). 'Pirke Aboth,' 4.1, "Who is the hero? The man that restrains his thoughts." Maxims about self-mastery are common enough. Says an unknown poet, "Fortior est qui se quam qui fortissima vincit Moenia, nec virtus altius ire potest." So Publ. Syr; 'Sent.,' 795, "Fortior est qui cupiditates suas, quam qui hostes subjicit." And the mediaeval jingle -
Plus est quam castra domare."
At the end of this verse the Alexandrian Manuscript of the Septuagint, followed by later hands in some other uncials, adds, "and a man having prudence [is better] than a great farm."
The lot is cast into the lap. The bosom or fold of the garment (Proverbs 6:27; Proverbs 17:23; Proverbs 21:14). It is not quite clear what articles the Jews used in their divinations by lot. Probably they employed stones, differing in shape or colour, or having some distinguishing mark. These were placed in a vessel or in the fold of a garment, and drawn or shaken thence. Such a practice has been common in all ages and countries; and though only cursorily mentioned in the Mosaic legislation (Numbers 26:55), it was used by the Jews from the time of Joshua, and in the earliest days of the Christian Church (see Joshua 18:10; Judges 20:9; 1 Samuel 10:20, 1 Samuel 10:21; Acts 1:1-28, etc.). As by this means man's agency was minimized, and all partiality and chicanery were excluded, the decision was regarded as directed by Providence. There is one case only of ordeal in the Law, and that under suspicion of adultery (Numbers 5:12, etc.). In the Epistle to the Hebrews, in place of the lot we read (Hebrews 6:16), "An oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife." The whole disposing thereof is of the Lord. In these eases the Jew learned to see, in what we call chance, the overruling of Divine power. But this was not blind superstition. He did not feel justified in resorting to this practice on every trivial occasion, as persons used the Sortes Virgilianae or even the verses of the Bible for the same purpose. The lot was employed religiously in cases where other means of decision were not suitable or available; it was not to supersede common prudence or careful investigation; but, for example, in trials where the evidence was conflicting and the judges could not determine the case, the merits were ascer-rained by lot (comp. Joshua 18:18). After the effusion of the Holy Spirit, the apostles never resorted to divination, and the Christian Church has wisely repudiated the practice of all such modes of discovering the Divine will. Septuagint, "For the unrighteous all things fall into their bosom, but from the Lord are all just things," which may mean either that, though the wicked seem to prosper, God still works out his righteous ends; or the evil suffer retribution, and thus God's justice is displayed.
Man's thought and God's work
Theology and philosophy have ever been confronted with the problem of the interrelation of the Divine and the human in life. If God is supreme, what room is there for man's will, thought, and individual personality? If man has freedom and power, how can God be the infinite Ruler and Disposer of all things? It may not be possible to reconcile the two positions. But it must be unwise to ignore either of them. If we cannot mark their confines, we can at least observe the contents of the domain of each.
I. MAN HAS FREEDOM OF THOUGHT. "Man's are the counsels of the heart." Though externally constrained by circumstances, he is free to roam at large in the ample fields of imagination. The mind has a certain originative power. It is well nigh a creator of thoughts—at least it can select the ideas that occur to it, arrange them, draw deductions from them; or it can let its fancies grow into new shapes; or, again, it can organize schemes, project plans, formulate purposes. Now, this liberty and the power it implies carry with them certain momentous consequences.
1. We are responsible for our thoughts. They are all known to God, and they will all be judged by him. Let as therefore take heed what follies and fancies we harbour in our most secret "chambers of imagery."
2. We may exercise power with our thoughts. These thoughts are seeds of actions. Inasmuch as we can direct them, we can turn the first springs of events. Here it is, in this inner workshop of the mind, that a man must forge his own future, and strike out works of public good.
3. We cannot be coerced in our thoughts. The tyrant may fling a man into a dungeon, but he cannot destroy the convictions that are enthroned in the bosom of his victim; he may tear out his tongue, but he can never tear out his thoughts. Here the powers of despotism fail; here the inalienable "lights of man" are over in exercise.
II. GOD WORKS THROUGH MAN'S LIFE. "The answer of the tongue is from the Lord." Though a man thinks out his ideas with originative power, when he comes into the world of action other influences lay hold of him, and his utterances are not wholly his own. This is conspicuously true of the prophet, who is not a mere mouthpiece of Divine words, but a living, thinking man; and yet whose utterances are inspired by God. The remarkable fact now is that it is true also of every man, of the godless man as well as the devout man. God controls the outcome of every man's life.
1. He controls through internal impulses. Conscience is the voice of God, and every man has a conscience. When conscience is disobeyed, the willing service of God is rejected, but still an unconscious doing of God's will may be brought about. In the days of the Exodus God was guiding even the stubborn Pharaoh to consent at last to the Divine purpose in the liberation of the Hebrews.
2. He controls through external circumstances. These modify a man's words and deeds. Even after he has spoken, they give point and direction to what he has said and done.
The purpose of creation
It is commonly asserted that God made the world in love, that he created it from the goodness of his heart, because he desired to have creatures to bless. From this point of view, creation represents grace, giving, surrender, sacrifice, on the part of God. But another and apparently a contrary view is suggested by the words before us. Here it would seem that God created all things from self regarding motives, as a man makes a machine for his own use. The contradiction, however, is only superficial. For if we take the second view, we must still bear in mind what the character of God is. Now, God is revealed to us as essential]y love. Therefore only those things will please him that agree with love. A cruel Being might make for himself creatures that would amuse him by exhibiting contortions of agony, but a fatherly Being will be best pleased by seeing his family truly good and happy. It the universe is made to please Divine love, it must be made for blessedness. Yet it cannot be made for selfish happiness. It must be created so as to find its own good in God, and thus to give itself up to him as the End of its being. Apply this principle—
I. IN REGARD TO THE UNIVERSE AT LARGE. The law of gravitation is universal All things tend to rush to their centres of attraction. In a large way the universe is drawn to God, its Centre.
1. It is ever more and more realizing the purpose of God. This is seen in all growth—the seed becomes the flowering plant, etc. It is strikingly exemplified in the doctrine of evolution. The great thought of God concerning the universe is slowly emerging into fact.
2. It is continually approaching the thought of God. The higher orders of creatures are nearer to the nature and thought of the Infinite Spirit than the lower. The upward movement is a Godward movement.
3. It is growingly fulfilling the purpose of God. From the formless and void past the universe moves on to "one far off Divine event," when God's will shall be completely accomplished.
II. IN REGARD TO EVIL. Evil in itself, moral evil, cannot have been made by God, who is only holy. But in two respects evil may come within God's purposes.
1. Physical evil directly works out God's purposes. It is only evil to our eyes, as shadows look gloomy and winter feels painful. Really it is good, because it is part of the whole good plan of the universe. God sends pain in love, that the issue of it may be the higher blessedness of his children.
2. Moral evil will be overruled for Divine purposes. The bad man has his uses. Nebuchadnezzar was essential to the chastisement of Israel. Judas Iscariot was an agent in the chain of events that issued in Christ's great work of redemption.
III. IS REGARD TO INDIVIDUAL SOULS. We are all made for God. He is the End of our being, not only as the home and rest we need, but as the goal after which we should aim. The great aim of Christ's work is to bring all things in subjection to God, that he "may be All in all" (1 Corinthians 15:28). The mistake of men is in seeking their own good first, even though this be the higher good of "other-worldliness." For our great end is to forget self in God.
I. PLEASANT WORDS ARE GOOD IN SOCIAL INTERCOURSE. They are said to cost little, while they are worth much. But often they are not to be had without trouble.
1. Sympathy. We must put ourselves to the trouble of entering into our brother's feelings if we would speak with real kindness to him.
2. Self-suppression. Angry words may be the first to rise to our lips; bitter words of scorn or melancholy words springing from the gloom of our own minds may come more readily than the pleasant words that are due to our neighbours.
3. Thought. Words of honey soon cloy if no satisfying thoughts lie behind them. Pleasant words should be more than words—they should be messengers of healing, suggestions of helpfulness. Now, as some trouble is required for the production of this kind of speech in daily intercourse, it is well to consider how valuable it is. It draws hearts together. It lightens the load of life and oils its wheels. There are enough of clouds about the souls of most men to make it desirable that we should shed all the sunshine that we possibly can. It would, be like a migration from Northern gloom to Southern sunshine for all speech to be seasoned with truly pleasant words.
II. PLEASANT WORDS ARE NEEDED IN CHRISTIAN TEACHING. The preacher is not to be a false prophet of smooth sayings, whispering," Peace, peace," when there is no peace. There are times when hard words must be spoken and most unpleasant truths do need to be driven home to unwilling hearers. But it will be only the pressing necessity of the subject that will force men of tender hearts to utter painful words. When the topic is not of this character, the most winning words should be chosen.
1. In teaching the young. The gloom of some good people has repelled the young. Children ought to see the sunny side of religion. All who are themselves bright and happy should know that there is a greater gladness for them in Christ. The preacher of the gospel belies his rues:age when he proclaims it like a funeral dirge.
2. In interesting the careless. We cannot frown men into the Church. if we show the attractiveness of the gospel by cheerful manners, we help to commend it to the world.
3. In comforting the sorrowful. It is not necessary to speak sad words to the sad in order to prove our sympathy. It should be our aim to lighten the load of their sorrow.
III. PLEASANT WORDS ARE FOUND IN THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST. Christ preached so that "the common people heard him gladly." Men wondered at the "gracious wonts" that fell from his lips. Christianity is a religion of Divine grace. Surely there must be found many pleasant words in the description of it. The words of the gospel are pleasant, in particular, on several accounts.
1. They tell of God's love.
2. They portray Christ.
3. They invite men to salvation.
4. They reveal the blessedness of the kingdom of heaven.
The treacherous path
What way have we here referred to? If the path be so deceptive, surely the guide should indicate it. Yet the way to destruction is not named, nor is its place pointed out on the chart of life. No doubt the reason of this indefiniteness of expression is just that the dangerous way is a broad road, very easy to discover, yet there are many tracks along it, and each person may take his own course. It is so broad that any description of it may possibly leave out some of its devious paths. Therefore it is better only to indicate its character and leave it for each to consider the warning, that an attractive appearance in the path is no proof of a safe end.
I. THE APPARENT RIGHTNESS OF THE WAY.
1. The fact. It is not only said that the way of death is attractive, like a smooth garden path winding among flower beds, while the way of life is a steep and rugged mountain track; but this way even seems to be right. There is an apparent justification for following it. Conscience is in danger of being deluded into giving it a quasi-sanction.
2. The cause. We are always tempted to condone the agreeable. If no danger is apparent, sanguine minds refuse to believe that they are approaching one. Convention simulates conscience. The multitude who tread the broad way tempt us into trusting the sanction of their example. It is difficult to believe that that is wrong which fashion encourages.
3. The limitations.
(1) The way only "seemeth" right, We need to be guarded against succumbing to the bondage of appearances. The question is not as to what a thing seems, but what it is.
(2) It is right in the eves of the man who is tempted to follow it, But it is not right in the eyes of God. We have to look to the higher standard of God's approval. It is of no use that our course seems right to ourselves if it is wrong before God. On the other hand, it may be objected that these considerations destroy the validity of conscience; for if we are not to follow our own conscience, what higher guide can we have? The answer may be threefold.
(1) Seeming right may not be the verdict of our true consciences, but only the too readily accepted conclusion of more worldly considerations.
(2) Conscience may be perverted.
(3) At all events, while we have the light of revelation in Scripture and especially in Christ, we have a guide for conscience, to neglect which is to be left without excuse.
II. THE FATAL END OF THE WAY.
1. The importance of the end. The great question is—Whither are we going? The purpose of a road is not to serve as a platform for stationary waiting, but to lead to some destination. It is foolish for the traveller to neglect the sign post, and only follow the attractiveness of the road, if he wishes to reach his home. In life the value of the course chosen is determined by its issues.
2. The character of the end. The end is "the way of death." This is true of every course of sin. Dark and dreadful, without qualification of any kind, this goal ever stands at the end of the way of wickedness. Disappointment may come first, and sorrow, and weariness; it will be well for us if they warn us before we take the final plunge into soul destruction.
3. The manner of reaching the end. The pleasant way does not lead directly into the pit of destruction. It is only a preliminary stage in the downward journey. It brings the traveller to "the ways" of death. It may be regarded as a by-path running into the broad road. There are questionable amusements and dangerous friendships that are not themselves fatal, but they incline the careless to ways of evil They are perilous as subtle tempters fashioned like angels of light.
The glory of old age
I. OLD AGE MAY BE CROWNED WITH GLORY IN THE COMPLETION OF LIFE. it is not natural to die in youth. We talk of the bud gathered before it has opened on earth, that it may bloom with perfection in heaven, etc.; but we must confess that there is a great mystery in the death of children. If God so wills it, it is better to live through the whole three score years and ten into full old age. The broken column is the symbol of the unfinished life. "Such a one as Paul the aged" could say, "I have finished my course."
1. Life is good. It may be sorrow stricken and it may be wrecked on the rocks of sin. Then, indeed, it is evil. There was one of whom it was said, "It had been good for that man if he had not been born" (Matthew 26:24). But in itself life is good. Men in mental sanity prize it. The Old Testament idea of the value of a full long life is more healthy than the sickly sentimentalism that fancies an early death to be a Heaven-sent boon.
2. Time is for service. Therefore the longer the time allotted to one, the more opportunity is there for doing good. This, again, may be abused and misspent in sin. But the old age of a good man means the completion of a long day's work. Surely it is an honour to be called into the field in the early morning of life, and to be permitted to toil on till the shadows descend on a long summer evening.
II. OLD AGE MAY BE CROWNED WITH GLORY IN ITS OWN ATTAINMENTS. A bad old age presents a hideous picture. A hoary-headed sinner is, indeed, a spectacle of horror. Mere old age is not venerable in itself. Reverence for years implies a belief that the years have gathered in a harvest of venerable qualities. Old age has its defects, not only in bodily frailty, but in a certain mental stiffening. Thus Lord Bacon says, "Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, repent too soon, and seldom drive business home to the full period, but content themselves with a mediocrity of success;" and Madame de Stael says, "To resist with success the frigidity of old age, one must combine the body, the mind, and the heart; to keep these in parallel vigour one must exercise, study, and love." But, on the other hand, there are inward attainments of a ripe and righteous old age that give to the late autumn of life a mellow flavour which is quite unknown in its raw summer. "Age is not all decay," says a modern novelist; "it is the ripening, the swelling, of the fresh life within, that withers and bursts the husk." It has been remarked that women are most beautiful in youth and in old age. The wisdom, the judiciousness, the large patience with varieties of opinion which should come with experience, are not always round in old people, who sometimes stiffen into bigotry and freeze into dreary customs. But when these graces are found in a large and healthy soul, no stage of life can approach the glory of old age. Even when there is not capacity for such attainments, there is a beautiful serenity of soul that simpler people can reach, and that makes their very presence to be a benediction.
III. OLD AGE MAY BE CROWNED WITH GLORY IN ITS PREPARATION FOR THE FUTURE. In unmasking the horrible aspect of death and revealing the angel face beneath, Christianity has shed a new glory over old age. It is the vestibule to the temple of a higher life. The servant of God has been tried and disciplined by blessing, suffering, and service. At length he is "meet for the inheritance of the saints in light." He can learn to resist the natural melancholy of declining powers with the vision of renewed energy in the heavenly future. Or, if he cares for rest, he may know that it will be a rest with Christ, and he can say, with the typical aged saint Simeon, "Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, for mine eyes have seen thy salvation."
The world has always made too much of military glory. From the days of the Pharaohs, when brutal monarchs boasted of the number of cities they had sacked, to our own time, when successful generals receive thanks in Parliament, and grants of money far beyond the highest honours and emoluments ever bestowed upon the greatest and most useful civilians, it has been the habit of men to flatter and pamper soldiers out of all proportion to their deserts. But we are here reminded of a simple and private victory which is really greater than one of those great military exploits that send a shock of amazement round the world. It is a more noble feat to be able to rule one's own spirit than to capture a city. Consider some of the ways in which this supreme excellence of self-control is apparent.
I. IT IS GREATER IN EFFORT. In ancient days, before the invention of heavy ordnance, a siege taxed all the energies of the most skillful and powerful general. This provincial city of Jerusalem was long able to hold out against the legions of florae. But self-control is even more difficult.
1. The enemy is within. The war of the soul is a civil war. We may be successful in external life, and yet unable to cope with the inner foes of our own hearts.
2. The enemy is turbulent. Some races are harder to rule than others; but no half-savage, wholly fanatical dervishes, could be more fierce than the wild passions that rage within a man's own breast.
3. The enemy has acquired great power. The uprising of passion is not a veiled sedition; it is out-and-out rebellion. Long habit has given it a sort of vested interest in the privileges of its lawlessness.
4. The enemy is subtle. "The heart is deceitful above all things." It is plotting treason when all looks safe. The careless soul slumbers over a mine of dynamite in the region of its own passions. It needs a supreme effort to quell and curb and rule such a foe.
II. IT IS GREATER IN RESULTS. At first sight this preposition must appear absurd. The man who curbs his own spirit does something inward, private, secret. The man who takes a city makes his mark on history. How can the self-control be the more fruitful thing?
1. It means more to the individual man. The successful, general has won a name of glory. Yet at its best it is but superficial and empty. He may be despising himself while the world is shouting his praises. But the strong soul that has learnt to control itself has the inward satisfaction of its self-mastery.
2. It means more to the world. Weak men may win a temporary success, but in the long run their inner feebleness is certain to expose itself. Such men may take a city, but they cannot rule it. They may do startling things, but not really great things, and the mischief of their follies will be more disastrous than the gain of their successes.
III. IT IS GREATER IN CHARACTER. True greatness is not to be measured by achievements, which depend largely upon external circumstances. One man has an opportunity of doing something striking, and another is denied every chance. Yet the obscure person may be really far greater than the fortunate instrument of victory. True greatness is in the soul. He is great who lives a great soul life, while a Napoleon may be mean in spite of his brilliant powers and achievements. In the sight of Heaven he stands highest who best fights the enemies in his own breast, because he exercises the highest soul powers. It is the province of Christian grace to substitute the glory of self victory for the vulgar glare of military success.
The lottery of life
I. LIFE APPEARS TO BE A LOTTERY. "The lot is cast into the lap." We seem to depend largely on chance.
1. We are ignorant of important facts. We are obliged to grope our way through many dark places. Life comes to us veiled in mystery. It may be that certain material considerations would greatly modify our action if only we knew them, yet we must act without regard to them, from sheer ignorance.
2. We cannot, predict the future. Even when we do grasp the essential points of our situation in the present, we cannot tell what new possibilities may emerge. A sudden turn of the kaleidoscope may give an entirely novel complexion to life.
3. We are unable to master our circumstances. We find ourselves surrounded by innumerable influences which we may understand, more or less, but which we cannot alter. Sometimes it appears as though we were no more free agents than the driftwood that is cast up on the beach by the angry surf. Circumstances are too strong for us, and we must let circumstances take their course.
4. We cannot control the course of events. Many things happen quite outside the range of our lives, yet their results will strike across the path of our own actions. Other people are busy planning and working, and we do not all consult together and work in harmony. When many hands throw the shuttle it is impossible to bring out and sure design.
II. GOD DISPOSES OF THE LOTTERY OF LIES. Voltaire says, "Chance is a word void of sense; nothing can exist without a cause." It is but a name for our ignorance of the course of events, Nevertheless, if there were no mind behind the apparent confusion of life, universal causation would but give us a blind and purposeless fate—no better, surely, than a wild and chaotic chance. But to one who believes in God the terrible uncertainty of the lottery of life is a great reason for prayer and trust.
1. God knows all. He knows every fact, and he foresees the whole future. Herein we have a grand reason fir faith. One who knows so much more than we do must needs often act in a way that we do not understand. But his infinite knowledge is a reason for our unlimited trust in him.
2. God controls all. Events seem to be tossed about in the lap of chance. Yet just as surely as laws of motion govern the slightest movement of all the leaves that are blown by an autumn wind, Divine purposes control all human events, in the midst of their seeming confusion. This runs; be so if God is God.
"He maketh kings to sit in sovereignty;
He maketh subjects to their power obey;
He pulleth down, he setteth up on high;
He gives to this, from that he takes away;
For all we have is his; what he will do, he may."
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The rule and guidance of Jehovah
I. GOD THE OBJECT AND FULFILMENT OF HUMAN DESIRE. We are wishful, craving creatures, "with no language but a sigh." The answer of the praying tongue and heart is God himself—in the fulness of his wisdom and love, the generosity of his gifts, the accessibility of his presence. A philosopher of this century actually taught that God was the Creator of human wishes and imagination. Let us rather say, it is God who creates and calls forth the longings of the finite heart, which is restless till it rests in him.
II. GOD THE CORRECTOR OF OUR FALSE JUDGMENTS. (Proverbs 16:2) We are prone to judge of actions and choices by their aesthetic value, i.e. by reference to our feeling of pleasure and pain; God pronounces on their ethical value, their relation to his Law and to the ideal of our own being.
III. GOD THE SUPPORT OF OUR WEAKNESS. (Proverbs 16:3.) What is the source of all care and over anxiety, but that we are unequal to the conflict with laws mightier than our frail energies and endeavours? Without God, we stand trembling in the presence of a giant late which can crush us. But there is no such fate to the believer in God, only a holy power and immovable will. "We are a care to the gods," said Socrates. Much more can the Christian say this, and learn to ,get rid of his troubles by making them in childlike faith God's troubles, his cares God's cares. Our plans become fixed, our purposes firm, when we are conscious that they are God's plans and purposes being wrought out through us.—J.
The administration of rewards and punishments
I. THE MORAL DESIGNS OF GOD. (Proverbs 16:4.) The creation is teleological; it has a beginning, a process, and an end in view, all determined by the will and wisdom of God. If this is true of every plant, of every mollusc, it is true of every man. We are formed to illustrate his praise. Disobedience, with its consequences, ratifies his just and holy laws.
II. THE MORAL FEELINGS OF GOD. (Proverbs 16:5.) Only that which stands in a true relation to him can be true. Haughtiness and arrogance are, so to speak, in the worst taste. In the eyes of God they are not beautiful, and cannot escape his criticism and correction.
III. HIS PROVISION FOR THE OBLIVION OF GUILT AND THE CURE OF MORAL EVIL. (Proverbs 16:6.) In social relations he has opened a fountain, sweet and healing, for mutual faults and sins. Love hides a multitude of sins. "I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much" (comp. Isaiah 58:7; Daniel 4:27). But prevention is better than healing, and in religion is the prophylactic against evil.
IV. GOD'S RECONCILING LOVE. (Proverbs 16:7.) What sweeter pleasure does life yield than reconciliation? 'Tis a deeper blessing than peace which has never been broken. Life is full of the principle of opposition; and God is manifested, first in the drawing of us to himself, and then in the union of estranged human hearts to one another.
V. THE LAW OF COMPENSATION. (Proverbs 16:8.) He hath set the one over against the other, that we should seek nothing alter him. Poverty has great advantages, if we will see it so—is more favourable, on the whole, to moral health than the reverse condition. And the hard crust of honest poverty, how sweet! the luxurious living of the dishonest rich, how insipid! or how bitter!
VI. DIVINE RECTIFICATIONS. (Proverbs 16:9.) We must take heed to our own way; yet with all our care, we cannot ensure right direction or security. We need God's rectification and criticism at every point, and hence should ever say to ourselves, "If the Lord will, we will do this or that" (James 4:15). The blending of human with Divine counsel, human endeavour with God's guidance, may defy analysis, but is known in experience to be real.—J.
Divine and human authority
I. THE DERIVATION OF AUTHORITY AND LAW FROM GOD. (Proverbs 16:10.) The true ruler is the representative of God. Royal decrees and legal statutes profess to rest, and must rest ultimately, if they are to be binding, upon the moral Law itself. Hence the reverence in old days for "the Lord's anointed," though in the person of a Charles Stuart, was the popular witness to a deep truth, which lies at the foundation of society.
II. PRINCIPLES OF STABLE RULE. (Proverbs 16:11.) The pair of scales have ever been viewed as the emblems of justice, and so the expressions, symbolically, of the nature of God. The second allusion is to the stone weights which the Oriental merchant carries in his bag, serving the purpose the more exactly, as not liable to rust. The exact balance and the just weight, then, if symbols of Jehovah, must be the symbols of every righteous human government.
III. THE PRINCIPLES OF ROYAL FAVOUR AND DISFAVOUR. (Proverbs 16:12-15.)
1. The ruler must be of pure sentiment, abhorring all kinds of immorality, keeping his court pure, "rearing the white flower of a blameless life in the fine light that beats upon the throne." How much we owe in these respects to the example of our sovereign and her husband is written on the thankful heart of every religious Englishman.
2. Strong moral convictions. That the throne securely rests, not upon might, but right; not upon bayonets, but upon the Word of God. The influence proceeding from such a mind will be constantly felt as antipathetic to falsehood and corruption, and the other eating mildews of high places.
3. Sympathy with honest policies. How common is it to assume that politics have little or nothing to do with morality! No one who believes in the teaching of his Bible can accept such a dogma. He who acts upon it is already a traitor to his country and his God. As Greece had its Demosthenes, who has been called a "saint in politics," so we have had, thank God, in our time Inca of eloquent tongue and true heart in the national councils. May their line and tradition never become extinct!
4. Their dread judicial power. (Proverbs 16:14.) The authorities who represent the penal powers of law are a terror to evil doers. There must be the power to punish. And a measured and well tempered severity does in a sense "reconcile" numbers, not to be affected otherwise, to a course of law-abiding and just conduct.
5. The attractions of their smile. (Proverbs 16:15.) Ever, while human nature continues what it is, the smile of the sovereign, the tokens of his favour—the star, the medal, the garter, the uniform—will be sought after with eagerness and worn with pride. There may be a side of idle vanity in this, yet equally a side of good. It is good to seek association with greatness, though the ideal of greatness may often be mistaken. Only let us see that there is no real greatness which does not in some way reflect the majesty of God.—J.
The Divine justice in respect to the wise and fools
We see the moral order of God revealed in the character and life of men in various ways. Their conduct has a good or evil effect on themselves, on their fellows, and is exposed to Divine judgment. Let us take these in their order.
I. THE REFLEXIVE EFFECT OF MAN'S CONDUCT.
1. Wisdom is enriching (Proverbs 16:16). To acquire it is better than ordinary wealth (Proverbs 3:14; Proverbs 8:10, Proverbs 8:11, Proverbs 8:19).
2. Rectitude is safety (Proverbs 16:17). It is a levelled and an even way, the way of the honest and good man; not, indeed, always to his own feeling, but in the highest view, "He that treads it, trusting surely to the right, shall find before his journey closes he is close upon the shining table lands to which our God himself is Sun and Noon." The only true way of self-preservation is the way of right.
3. The truth of contrast (Proverbs 16:18). Pride foretells ruin; the haughty spirit, overthrow and destruction (Proverbs 15:25, Proverbs 15:33). The thunderbolts strike the lofty summits, and leave unharmed the kneeling vale; shiver the oak, and pass harmless over the drooping flower. We are ever safe upon our knees, or in the attitude of prayer. A second contrast appears in Proverbs 16:19. The holy life with scant fare better than a proud fortune erected on unjust gains,
"He that is down need fear no fall;
He that is low, no pride."
4. The effect of religious principle (Proverbs 16:20). We need constantly to carry all conduct into this highest light, or trace it to this deepest root. Piety here includes two things:
(1) obedience to positive command;
(2) living trust in the personal God.
Happiness and salvation are the fruit. "I have had many things in my hands, and have lost them all. Whatever I have been able to place in God's hands, I still possess" (Luther).
II. EFFECTS IS RELATION TO OTHERS.
1. The good man is pleasing to others (Proverbs 16:21, Proverbs 16:24). There is a grace on his lips, a charm in his conversation, in a "speech alway with grace, seasoned with salt." How gladly men listened to our great Exemplar, both in public and in private! Thus, too, the good man sweetens instruction, and furthers its willing reception in the mind of his listeners.
2. He earns a good reputation for sense, discretion, prudence (Proverbs 16:21, Proverbs 16:22). And this not only adds to his own happiness (for we cannot be happy without the good will of our fellows), but it gives weight to his teaching (Proverbs 16:23). The teacher can produce little effect whose words stand not out in relief from the background of character. The true emphasis is supplied by the life.
3. The contrast (Proverbs 16:22). The folly of fools is self-chastising. The fool makes himself disagreeable to others; even if he chances upon a sound word or right action, it is devoid of the value and weight which only character can give. He incurs prejudice and opposition on every hand, sows thorns in his own path, and invites his own destruction.
III. THE PRINCIPLE OF DIVINE JUDGMENT IN ALL. Every one of these effects marks in its way the expression of the Divine will, the laws of a Divine order. But, above all, the end determines the value of choice and the quality of life. The great distinction between the seeming and the real is the distinction between facts as they appear in the light of our passions, our wishes, our lusts, our various illusions and self-deceptions, and facts as they are in the clear daylight of eternal truth and a judgment which cannot err (Proverbs 16:25). To guard against the fatal illusions that beset us, we should ask:
1. Is this course of conduct according to the definite rules of conduct as they are laid down in God's Word?
2. Is it according to the best examples of piety? Above all, is it Christ-like, God-like?—J.
The blessing of hunger
I. AT BOTTOM, HUNGER, THE NEED OF BREAD, IS THE GREAT STING AND GOAD TO ALL EXERTION, TO USEFUL ACTIVITY IN GENERAL.
II. HENCE HUNGER IS THE HELPER OF OUR TOIL. And we may thank God for every stimulus to do our best. Have not the best things been done for the world in every department by poor men?
III. AS APPLIED TO RELIGION, IT IS THE HUNGER OF THE SOUL WHICH PROMPTS US TO SEEK FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS; the emptiness of other joys which sends us to the feast of the gospel. Through toil and trouble, the worst unrest and distress can alone be overcome.—J.
Penal judgments on guilt
I. GODLESS STRIVINGS. Life is full of success and failure. There are successes which cost the soul, and failures in which is contained the reaping of life eternal. The activity of the worthless man (Proverbs 16:27).
1. It is mischievous in spirit and in end. He is depicted as one who digs a grave for others (Proverbs 26:27; Jeremiah 18:20, sqq.). And his words are like fire that scorches, blasting reputation, withering the buds of opening good in the sentiment of the young, scoffing down the right and true.
2. It is contentious; breeding quarrels, creative of strife, introducing breaches between friends, disuniting households. "Envy and every evil work" is wherever he goes.
3. It is the activity of the tempter, the seducer. Not content with error himself, he would have partners in sorrow and in guilt. It is thus truly diabolical.
4. It is metilated and determined (Proverbs 16:30). Very striking is the picture of this verse—the eyes bah closed, the bit lips, the firm line about the mouth of one resolved on dark designs and their determined execution. What a power is thought for good or evil! Oh for its right direction by the loving and creative Spirit of all wisdom and goodness, that it may be ever inventive of kind and healing deeds, that may "seal up the avenues of ill," rather than open them more widely to the processions of darkness and hate!—J.
Proverbs 16:31, Proverbs 16:32
The gentle life
Portrayed with exquisite sweetness and beauty.
I. AN HONOURED AGE. The biblical pictures of the aged pious are very charming, and Polycarp, with his eighty-six years upon him, passing to another crown, that of martyrdom, is sublime; also "Paul the aged and the prisoner." The text points out what we must all recognize for an aesthetic truth, that it is the association of age with. goodness which makes it truly respectable, venerable, beautiful.
II. MORAL HEROISM. The heathen type of heroism was strength of arm—bodily strength, manly courage against an outward foe. The spiritual and the Christian type is in strength of will against evil, self mastery, self-conquest, sublime patience. Better than to be members of any knightly order, "Companions" of the Bath, or any similar society speaking of the lower and carnal virtues, to be "companions in tribulation, and in the kingdom and patience of Jesus Christ."—J.
Chance and providence
I. CHANCE IS BUT AN EXPRESSION OF HUMAN IGNORANCE. When we speak of that which is contingent, we mean something the law of which is not yet known.
II. MAN'S CONTROL OVER EVENTS IS LIMITED. We can give the external occasion to a decision; the decision itself rests with a higher power.
III. GOD OVERRULES ALL THINGS, AND OVERRULES THEM FOR THE BEST. To pretend that we are not free is to deny our nature, and so to deny him; and it is also a denial of him to think that we can be absolute masters of our fate. Between night and day—truths that are obscure and convictions that are clear—our life is balanced. Life rests on two pillars—the providence of God and the responsibility of man.—J
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Proverbs 16:1, Proverbs 16:3, Proverbs 16:9
Thought, action, prayer
It may be said that the three main elements of human experience are those of thinking, of acting, and of praying. We have not done our best until we have done all of these.
I. THOUGHT. "The preparations of the heart belong to man" (Revised Version). "Thy thoughts" ("thy purposes," Revised Version). We are told of Peter, after the denial, that "when he thought thereon, he wept" (Mark 14:72). But if he had thought beforehand what grief he would cause his Master by such unworthiness, he would not have had occasion to weep at all. "When Judas saw that he was condemned, he repented." But if he had thought, he would have seen that this was the plain and inevitable issue of his action. The pity is that we do not think as we should before we act. The preparation of the heart belongs to us; it is our most bounden duty to think, and to think well, before we act. And we must remember that speech is action, and often most important and decisive action too. We should include in our thought, when we are forming our "purposes" (Revised Version), the consideration of the effects of our prepared action upon
(1) our Whole nature—bodily, mental, spiritual;
(2) our family and our friends;
(3) our neighbours and associates;
(4) our fellow worshippers and fellow workers;
(5) the cause of Jesus Christ;
(6) not only the immediate, but the further future.
We should, so far as we can, think the whole subject through, look at it from all those points of view that we command; above all, we should take a decreasingly selfish and an increasingly generous and devout view of the subjects that come before us.
II. ACTION. "Thy works." Thought must be followed by vigorous effort, or it will "lose the name of action." Our works include not only those industries in which we are professionally engaged,—these are of great importance to us, as those which occupy the greater part of our time and most of our strength; but they include also our contributions, larger or smaller, worthy or unworthy, to the condition of our homes, to the character and the destiny of our children, to the comfort and well being of our dependents or our employers, to the improvement of our locality, to the stability and freedom and success of the institutions (social, literary, ecclesiastical, municipal, national) upon which we can bring any influence to bear. We may move in a humble sphere, and yet, when all is told that the chronicles of heaven can tell, we may include in a busy and conscientious life many "works" that will not want the Divine approval or the blessing of mankind.
III. PRAYER. "The answer of the tongue is from the Lord … and thy thoughts shall be established." The two clauses imply, respectively,
(1) that God sometimes makes other issues to result than those which we expect;
(2) that God continually brings to pass that which we strive to accomplish, especially when we commend our cause to his Divine favour. The practical conclusions are these, respectively:
1. That we must be quite willing for the hand of God to give a different direction to our activities; quite prepared to accept another issue from that which we had set before our own minds. For God "seeth not as we see," and he works out his gracious purposes in other ways than those of our choosing.
2. That we should always realize our dependence on God for a favourable issue, and earnestly ask his blessing on our labour. It is the touch of his Divine hand that must quicken into life, that must crown with true success.—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 16:25.)—C.
The penitent's review and prospect
Placing ourselves in the position of the man who has sinned and suffered, and has been led to repentance and submission, of the man who is earnestly desirous of escaping from the sinful past and of becoming a new man and of living a new life, let us ask—What is his hope? what are his possibilities?
I. IN VIEW OF THE PAST AND OF HIS RELATIONS WITH GOD. What is his hope there? What are the possibilities of his sins being forgiven, his iniquity purged away? What he must rely upon, in this great domain of thought, is this—truth in himself and mercy in God.
1. He himself must be a true penitent, one that
" …feels the sins he owns,
And hates what he deplores;"
that intends with full purpose of heart to turn from all iniquity and to cleave to righteousness and purity.
2. He must cast himself on the boundless mercy of God gained for him and promised to him in Jesus Christ his Saviour.
II. IN VIEW OF THE PAST AND OF HIS RELATIONS WITH MEN. God accepts true penitence of spirit and right purpose of heart, for he can read our hearts, and knows what we really are. But man wants more. Before he receives the sinner to his confidence and restores him to the position from which he fell, he wants clear proofs of penitence, manifestations of a new and a clean heart. The man who has put away his sin can only "purge" the guilty past by the practice of "mercy and truth," of kindness and integrity, of grace and purity. He has done that which is wrong, false, hurtful. Let him now do that which is just, true, right; that which is kind, helpful, pitiful, generous; then we shall see that he means all that he says, that his professions are sincere; then he may be taken back—his iniquity purged—to the place which he has lost.
III. IN VIEW OF THE FUTURE, SAVING REGARD TO HIMSELF. How shall the penitent make good the promises he has made to his friends? How shall he ensure his future probity and purity? how shall he engage to walk in love and in the path of holy service, as he is bound to do, taking on him the name of Christ? The answer is, by walking on in reverence of spirit, by proceeding in "the fear of the Lord;" thus will he "depart from evil," and do good. It is the man who cultivates a reverent spirit, who realizes the near presence of God, who walks with God in prayer and holy fellowship, who treasures in his mind the thoughts of God, and reminds himself frequently of the will of God concerning him—it is he who will "never be moved from his integrity;" he will redeem his word of promise, he will live the new and better life of faith and holiness and love.—C.
(and see Proverbs 11:1; Proverbs 20:10, Proverbs 20:23)
Honesty in business
The repetition of this maxim (see above) is an indication of the importance that should be attached to the subject. It is one that affects a very large proportion of mankind, and that affects men nearly every day of their life. The text reminds us—
I. THAT BUSINESS IS WITHIN THE PROVINCE OF RELIGION. The man who says, "Business is business, and religion is religion," is a man whose moral and spiritual perceptions are sadly confused. "God's commandment is exceeding broad," and its breadth is such as will cover all the transactions of the market. Commerce and trade, as much as agriculture, are "the Lord's;" it is an order of human activity which is in full accord with his design concerning us; and it is a sphere into which he expects us to introduce our highest principles and convictions, in which we may be always serving him.
II. THAT DISHONESTY IS OFFENSIVE IN HIS SIGHT. "A false balance is his abomination" (Proverbs 11:1; Proverbs 20:10). Dishonesty is evil in his sight, inasmuch as:
1. It is a flagrant violation of one of his chief commandments. The second of all the commandments is this, "Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (see Matthew 22:29). But to cheat our neighbour in the market is to do to him what we should strenuously protest against his doing to us.
2. It is a distinct breach of what is due to our brother. It is a most unbrotherly action; it is an act done in conscious disregard of all the claims our fellow men have on our consideration. Moreover, it is an injury to the society of which we are members; for it is one of those wrongs which are crimes as well as sins; it is an act which strikes at the root of all fellowship, all commerce between man and man.
3. It is an injury done by a man to himself. No man can rob his brother without wronging his own soul. He is something the worse forevery act of dishonesty he perpetrates. And he who is systematically defrauding his neighbours is daily cutting into his own character, is continually staining his own spirit, is destroying himself.
III. THAT HONESTY IS ACCEPTABLE TO GOD. "A just weight is his delight." Not that all honest dealing is equally acceptable to him. Much here, as everywhere, depends upon the motive. A man may be honest only because it is the best policy, because he fears the exposure and penalty of fraud: there is small virtue in that. On the other hand, he may be strictly fair and just in all his dealings, whether his work be known or unknown, because he has a conviction of what is due to his neighbour, or because he has an abiding sense of what God would have him be and do. In this case his honesty is as truly an act of piety, of holy service, as was a sacrifice at the temple of Jehovah, as is a prayer in the sanctuary of Christ. It is an act rendered "unto the Lord," and it is well pleasing in the sight of God his Saviour; he "serves the Lord Christ" (Colossians 3:23, Colossians 3:24). It is a great thing that we need not leave the shop or the ship, the office or the field, in order to render acceptable sacrifice unto the Lord our God. By simple conscientiousness, by sterling and immovable integrity, whatever the pest we occupy, maintained by us with a view to the observant eye of our ever-present Master, we may honour and please him as much as if we were bowing in prayer or lifting up our voice in praise in the worship of his house.—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 8:10, Proverbs 8:11.)—C.
Proverbs 16:18, Proverbs 16:19
(Proverbs 11:2; Proverbs 18:12)
Pride and humility
Great insistance is laid in Scripture on the evil of pride and the value of humility. The subject has a large place in those "thoughts of God," which are communicated to us in his Word.
I. THE EVIL OF PRIDE.
1. It is based on falsity. For what has the richest or the strongest or the cleverest man, what has the most beautiful or the most honoured woman, that he or she has not received (1 Corinthians 4:7)? Ultimately, we owe everything to our Creator and Divine Benefactor; and the thought that our distinction is due to ourselves is an essentially false thought. Hence:
2. It is irreverent and ungrateful; for it is constantly forgetful of the heavenly source of all our blessings.
3. It is ugly and offensive in the sight of man. That self-respect which makes a man superior to all meanness and all unworthiness of himself is honourable and excellent in our eyes; but pride, which is an overweening estimate of our own importance or virtue, is wholly unbeautiful; it marks a man's character as a scar marks his countenance; it makes the subject of it a man whom we look upon with aversion rather than delight—our soul finds no pleasure in regarding him. It is positively offensive to our spirit.
4. It is repeatedly and severely condemned by God as a serious sin.
5. It is spiritually perilous in a very high degree. No truth is more constantly illustrated than that of the text, "Pride goeth before destruction," etc. Pride begets a false confidence; this begets unwariness, and leads into the place of danger; and then comes the fall. Sometimes it is in health; at other times, in business; or it may be in office and in power; or, alas! it may be in morals and in piety. There is no field of human thought and action in which pride is not a most dangerous guide. It leads up to and (only too often) over the precipice.
II. THE EXCELLENCE OF HUMILITY. "Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly," etc. And it is better because, while pride is open to all these condemnations (as above), humility is to be commended and to be desired for the opposite virtues.
1. It is founded on a true view of our own hearts. The lowlier the view we take of ourselves, the truer the estimate we form. There is a lowliness of word and demeanour that is feigned and that is false. A man may be "proud of his humility," and may declaim his own sins with a haughty heart. But real humility is based on a thorough knowledge of our own nature, of its weakness and its openness to evil; on a full acquaintance with our own character, with its imperfection and liability to fail us in the trying hour.
2. It is admirable in itself. We do not, indeed, admire servility; we detest it heartily. But we do admire genuine humility. It is a very valuable adornment of a Christian character; it graces an upright life with a beauty no other quality can supply. There is no one whom it does not become, whom it does not make much more attractive than he (or she) would otherwise be.
3. It is the very gateway into the kingdom of God. It is the humble heart, conscious of error and of sin, that seeks the Teacher and the Saviour. It is the guide which conducts our spirit straight to the feet and to the cross of our Redeemer.
4. It is an attribute of Christian character which commends us to the love and to the favour of our Lord.
5. It is the only ground on which we are safe. Pride is a slippery place, where we are sure to slip and fall; humility is the ground where devotion, finds its home, which a reverent trustfulness frequents, where God is ready with the shield of his guardianship, from which temptation shrinks away, where human souls live in peace and purity and attain to their maturity in Jesus Christ their Lord.—C.
(see Proverbs 14:12)
The supreme mistake
We may well be startled, and we may well be solemnized, as we witness—
I. THE MARVELLOUS RANGE OF HUMAN COMPLACENCY. It is simply wonderful how men will allow themselves to be deceived respecting themselves. That which they ought to know best and most thoroughly, they seem to be least acquainted with—their own standing, their own spirit, their own character. They believe themselves to be all right when, in fact, they are all wrong. They suppose themselves to be travelling in one way when they are moving in the very opposite direction. This strange and sad fact in our experience applies to:
1. Our direct relation to God. We may be imagining ourselves reconciled to him, in favour with him, enjoying his Divine friendship, engaged on his side, promoting his kingdom, while, all the time, we are far from him, are condemned by him, are doing the work of his enemies, are injuring his cause and his kingdom. Witness the hypocrites of our Lord's time, and the formalists and ceremonialists of all times; witness also the persecutors of every age; witness those of every land and age who have failed to understand that it is he, and only he, who "doeth righteousness that is righteous" in the sight of God.
2. Our relation to our fellow men. How often men have thought themselves just when they have been miserably unjust, kind when they have been heartlessly cruel, faithful when they have been guiltily disloyal!
3. What we owe to ourselves. Only too often men think that conduct pure which is impure, consistent with sobriety which is a distinct step toward insobriety, agreeable which is objectionable, safe which is seductive and full of peril.
II. THE DISASTROUS END OF A SERIOUS MISTAKE. The way seems right to a man, and he goes comfortably and even cheerily along it, but the end of it is—death.
1. In some cases this end is premature physical decline and dissolution.
2. In all cases it is spiritual decay and the threatened death of the soul, the departure and ultimate loss of all that makes human life honourable, all that makes a human spirit fair in the sight of God.
3. The death which is eternal.
III. OUR CLEAR WISDOM IN VIEW OF THIS POSSIBILITY. It is:
1. To ask ourselves how we stand in God's sight. Man may be accepting us on our own showing, but God does not do that. "The Lord weigheth the spirits" (Proverbs 16:2). He "looketh upon the heart;" he considers the aim that is before us and the spirit that is within us; what is the goal we are really seeking; what is the motive by which we are really animated; what is the deep desire and the honest and earnest endeavour of our heart.
2. To be or to become right with him. If we find ourselves wrong in his view, to humble our hearts before him; to seek his Divine forgiveness for all our wandering; to ask his guidance and inspiration to set forth upon a new course and to maintain it to the end. He alone can "show us the path of life."—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 17:9.)—C.
The crown of old age
Many are the crowns which, in imagination, we see upon the head. Many are eagerly desired and diligently sought; such are those of fame, of rank, of wealth, of power, of beauty. These are well enough in their way; but
(1) that which is spent in winning them is often far more valuable than the good for which the sacrifice is made; and
(2) the crown, when it is worn, usually weighs heavier and gives less satisfaction than was imagined in the ardour of pursuit. Old age is a crown. It is natural that men should desire it, for two reasons.
1. It means a prolongation of life; and life, under ordinary conditions, is greatly desired, so that men cling to it even tenaciously.
2. It means the completion of the course of life. Age is one of its natural stages. It has its privations, but it has also its own honours and enjoyments; those who have passed through life's other experiences may rightly wish to complete their course by wearing the hoary head of old age. But in connection with age, there is—
I. THE CROWN OF SHAME. For it is not always found in the way of righteousness. An old man who is still ignorant of those truths which he might have learned, but has neglected to gather; or who is addicted to dishonourable indulgences which he has had time to conquer, but has not subdued; or who yields to unbeautiful habits of the spirit which he should long ago have expelled from his nature and his life; or who has not yet returned unto that Divine Father who has been seeking and calling him all his days;—such an old man, with his grey hairs, wears a crown of dishonour rather than of glory. But while we may feel that he is to be condemned, we feel far more inclined to pity than to blame. For what is age not found in the way of righteousness—age without excellency, age without virtue, age uncrowned with faith and hope? Surely one of the most pitiable spectacles the world presents to our eyes. It is pleasant, indeed, to be able to regard—
II. THE CROWN OF HONOUR. When old age is found in the way of righteousness, it is a crown of honour, in that:
1. It has upon it the reflection of an honourable past. It speaks of past virtues that have helped to make it the "green old age" it is; of past successes that have been gained in the battle of life; of past services that have been diligently and faithfully rendered; of past sorrows that have been meekly borne; of past struggles that have been bravely met and passed; for it was in the rendering and in the bearing and in the meeting of these that the hair has been growing grey from year to year.
2. It has the special excellency of the present. "A crown of beauty" (marginal reading). In the "hoary head" and in the benignant countenance of old age there is a beauty which is all its own; it is a beauty which may not be observable to every eye, but which is there nevertheless; it is the beauty of spiritual worth, of trustfulness and repose, of calmness and quietness; it is a beauty if not the beauty, of holiness. He who does not recognize in the aged that have grown old in the service of God and in the practice of righteousness something more than the marks of time, fails to see a crown of beauty that is visible to a more discerning eye.
3. It has the blessed anticipation of the future. It looks homeward and heavenward. A selfish and a worldly old age is grovelling enough; it "hugs its gold to the very verge of the churchyard mould;" but the age that is found in the ways of righteousness has the light of a glorious hope in its eyes; it wears upon its brows the crown of a peaceful and blessed anticipation of a rest that remains for it, of a reunion with the beloved that have gone on before, of a beatific vision of the Saviour in his glory, of a larger life in a nobler sphere, only a few paces further on.—C.
(with Proverbs 14:17, Proverbs 14:29)
The command of ourselves
Our attention is called to the two sides of the subject.
I. THE EVIL OF IMPATIENCE. How bad a thing it is to lose command of ourselves and to speak or act with a ruffled and disquieted spirit appears when we consider that:
1. It is wrong. God gave us our understanding, our various spiritual faculties, on purpose that we might have ourselves under control; and when we permit ourselves to be irritated and vexed, to be provoked to anger, we do that which crosses his Divine purpose concerning us and his expectation of us; we do that which disappoints and grieves our Father.
2. It is a defeat. We have failed to do that which was set us to do. The hour when our will is crossed is the hour of trial; then it is seen whether we succeed or fail; and when we lose control of our spirit we are defeated.
3. It is an exhibition of folly. He that is hasty of spirit "exalteth folly" (Proverbs 14:29). He gives another painful illustration of folly; he shows that he is not the wise man we could wish that he were. He shows once more how soon and how easily a good man may be overcome, and may be led from the path of wisdom.
4. It conducts to evil. "He that is soon angry will deal foolishly" (Proverbs 14:17). A man who loses the balance of a good temper will certainly "deal foolishly." We are never at our best when we are angry. Our judgment is disturbed; our mental faculties are disordered; they lose their true proportion. We do not speak as wisely, we do not act as judiciously, as we otherwise should. In all probability, we speak and act with positive folly, in a way which brings regret on our own part and reproach from our neighbour. Very possibly we say and do that which cannot easily, if ever, be undone. We take the bloom off a fair friendship; we plant a root of bitterness which we are not able to pluck up; we start a train of consequences which will run we know not whither.
II. THE TRUE CONQUEST. To be master of ourselves is to be "of great understanding," to be "better than the mighty," or than "he that taketh a city." It is so, inasmuch as:
1. It is an essentially spiritual victory. To take a city is, in part, to triumph over physical obstacles, over walls and moats and bullets; but he that ruleth his spirit is doing battle with evil tempers and unholy inclinations and unworthy impulses. He is striving "not against flesh and blood," but against the mightier enemies that couch and spring on the human soul; he is fighting with far nobler weapons than sword or bayonet or cannon—with thought, with spiritual energy, with deep resolve, with strenuous will, with conscience, with prayer. The victory is fought and won on the highest ground, the arena of a human spirit.
2. It is a victory over ourself. And this is worthier and better than one gained over another.
(1) There is no humiliation in it; on the contrary, there is self-respect and a sense of true manfulness.
(2) Our first duty is that we owe to ourselves. God has committed to each human spirit the solemn charge of his own character. We have other high and sacred functions to discharge, but the first and greatest of them all is to honour, to train, to rule, to cultivate, to ennoble, our own spirit. We are therefore carrying out the express will of God when we victoriously command ourselves.
3. It is bloodless and beneficent. The warrior may well forget the honours he has received when he is obliged to remember the cries of the wounded on the battlefield, and the tears of the widows and the orphans who are the victims of war. But he who rules his own spirit has no sad memories to recall, no heart-rending scenes to picture to his mind. His victories are unstained with blood; by the conquest of himself he has saved many a heart from being wounded by a hasty word, and he has preserved or restored that atmosphere in which alone happiness can live and prosperity abound.—C.