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Wine is a mocker; or, scorner, the word (luts) being taken up from the last chapter. The liquor is, as it were, personified, as doing what men do under its influence. Thus inebriated persons scoff at what is holy, reject reproof, ridicule all that is serious. Septuagint, Ἀκόλαστον οἶνος, "Wine is an undisciplined thing;" Vulgate, Luxuriosa res, vinum. Strong drink is raging; a brawler, Revised Version. Shekar, σίκερα (Luke 1:15), is most frequently employed of any intoxicating drink not made from grapes, e.g. palm wine, mead, etc. The inordinate use of this renders men noisy and boisterous, no longer masters of themselves or restrained by the laws of morality or decency. Septuagint, Υβιστικὸν μέθη, "Drunkenness is insolent." Theognis has some sensible lines on this matter—
Ος δ ἂν ὑπερβάλλῃ πόσιος μὲτρον οὐκέτι κεῖνος
Τῆς αὐτοῦ γλώσσης καρτερὸς οὐδὲ νόου
Μυθεῖται δ ἀπάλαμνα τὰ νήφοσι γίγνεται αἰσχρά
Αἰδεῖται δ ἕρδων οὐδὲν ὅταν μεθύη|
Τὸ πρὶν ἐὼν σώφρων τότε νήπιος
Whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise. No one who reels under the influence of, is overpowered by, wine is wise (Isaiah 28:7). Septuagint, "Every fool is involved in such." Says a Latin adage—
"Ense cadunt multi, perimit sed crapula plures."
"More are drowned in the wine cup than in the ocean," say the Germans (comp. Proverbs 23:29, etc.; Ephesians 5:18).
The fear of a king is as the roaring of a lion (see Proverbs 19:12). The terror which a king causes when his anger is rising is like the roar of a lion, which betokens danger. Septuagint, "The threat of a king differeth not from the wrath of a lion." Whoso provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own soul; imperils his life, which he has no right wilfully to jeopard. ,Septuagint, "He who enrageth him (ὁ παροξύνων αὐτόν)." The Complutensian and some Greek versions introduce the words, καὶ ἐπιμιγνύμενος, "and has intercourse with him;" i.e. he who having aroused a king's resentment does not avoid his presence, exposes himself to certain death.
It is an honour to a man to cease from strife; or better, as Delitzsch and others, to remain far from strife. A prudent man will not only abstain from causing quarrel, but will hold himself aloof from all contention, and thus will have due care for his own honour and dignity. How different is this from the modern cede, which makes a man's honour consist in his readiness to avenge fancied injury at the risk of his own or his neighbour's life! Septuagint, "It is a glory to a man to hold himself aloof from revilings." Every fool will be meddling (see on Proverbs 17:14; Proverbs 18:1). Delitzsch, "Whoever is a fool showeth his teeth," finds pleasure in strife. Septuagint, "Every fool involves himself in such," as in Proverbs 20:1.
The sluggard will not plough by reason of the cold; propter frigus, Vulgate. But חֹרֶף (choreph) denotes the time of gathering—the autumn; so we would translate, "At the time of harvest the sluggard ploughs not"—just when the ground is most easily and profitably worked. "The weakness of the coulter and other parts of the plough requires that advantage be taken, in all but the most friable soils, of the softening of the surface by the winter or spring rains; so that the peasant, if industrious, has to plough in the winter, though sluggards still shrink from its cold, and have to beg in the harvest" (Geikie, 'Holy Land and Bible,' 2:491). Therefore shall he beg in harvest, and have nothing. So the Vulgate, Mendicabit ergo aestate, et non dabitur illi. But this does not accurately represent the meaning of the clause. If ever the prosperous are disposed to relieve the needy, it would be at the time when they have safely garnered their produce; an appeal to their charity at such a moment would not be made in vain. Rather the sentence signifies that the lazy man, having neglected to have his land ploughed at the proper time, "when he asks (for his fruits) at harvest time, there is nothing." He puts off tilling his fields day after day, or never looks to see if his labourers do their duty, and so his land is not cultivated, and he has no crop to reap when autumn comes. "By the street of By-and-by one arrives at the house of Never" (Spanish proverb). Taking a different interpretation of the word choreph, the LXX. renders, "Being reproached, the sluggard is not ashamed, no more than he who borrows corn in harvest."
Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water. The thoughts and purposes of a man are hidden in his breast like deep water (Proverbs 18:4) in the bosom of the earth, hard to fathom, hard to get. But a man of understanding will draw it out. One who is intelligent and understands human nature penetrates the secret, and, by judicious questions and remarks, draws out the hidden thought.
Most men will proclaim every one his own goodness; chesed, "kindness," "mercy," "liberality," as in Proverbs 19:22. So Ewald and others, Hitzig and Kamphausen translate, "Many a man one names his dear friend;" Delitzsch and Nowack prefer, "Most men meet a man who is gracious to them;" i.e. it is common enough to meet a man who seems benevolent and well disposed. Vulgate, "Many men are called merciful;" Septuagint, "Man is a great thing, and a merciful man is a precious thing." The renderings of most modern commentators imply the statement that love and mercy are common enough, at least in outward expression. The Authorized Version pronounces that men are ready enough to parade and boast of their liberality, like the hypocrites who were said proverbially to sound a trumpet when they performed their almsdeeds (Matthew 6:2). Commenting on the Greek rendering of the clause given above, St. Chrysostom observes, "This is the true character of man to be merciful; yea, rather the character of God to show mercy …Those who answer not to this description, though they partake of mind, and are never so capable of knowledge, the Scripture refuses to acknowledge them as men, but calls them dogs, and horses, and serpents, and foxes, and wolves, and if there be any animals more contemptible". The contrast between show, or promise, and performance is developed in the second clause. But a faithful man who can find? The faithfulness intended is fidelity to promises, the practical execution of the vaunted benevolence; this is rare indeed, so that a psalmist could cry, "I said in my haste, All men are liars" (Psalms 116:11; comp. Romans 3:4). Lesetre refers to Massillon's sermon, 'Sur la Gloire Humaine,' where we read (the preacher, of course, rests on the Latin Version), "Ces hommes vertueux dont le monde se fait tant d'honneur, n'ont au fond souvent pour eux que l'erreur publique. Amis fideles, je le veux; mais c'est le gout, la vanite ou Pin teret, qui les lie; et dans leur amis, ils n'amient qu' eux-memes En un mot, dit l'Ecriture, on les appelle misericordieux, ils ont toutes les vertus pour le public; mais n'etant pas fideles a Dieu, ils n'en ont pas une seule pour eux-memes."
The just man walketh in his integrity. It is better to connect the two clauses together, and not to take the first as a separate sentence, thus: "He who as a just man walketh in his integrity"—Blessed are his children after him (comp. Proverbs 14:26). So the Septuagint and Vulgate. The man of pure life, who religiously performs his duty towards God and man, shall bring a blessing on his children who follow his good example, both during his life and after his death. The temporal promise is seen in Exodus 20:6; Deuteronomy 4:40; Psalms 112:2, etc. Some see here an instance of utilitarianism; but it cannot be supposed that the writer inculcates virtue for the sake of the worldly advantages connected with it; rather he speaks from experience, and from a faithful dependence on Providence, of the happy results of a holy life.
A royal and right noble maxim. A king that sitteth in the throne of judgment scattereth away all evil with his eyes. The king, sitting on the tribunal and executing his judiciary office, sees through all devices and pretences which cloak evil, and scatters them to the winds, as the chaff flies before the winnowing fan. Nothing unrighteous can abide in his presence (comp. Proverbs 20:26; Proverbs 16:10, etc.). See here an adumbration of the characteristic of the Messiah, the great King whose "eyes behold, whose eyelids try, the children of men" (Psalms 11:4): who is "of purer eyes than to behold evil" (Habakkuk 1:13); who "with righteousness shall judge the poor and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth: and shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth; and with the breath of his lips shall slay the wicked" (Isaiah 11:4; comp. Matthew 3:12). Septuagint, "When the righteous king shall sit upon his throne, nothing that is evil shall offer itself before his eyes."
Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin? The question implies the answer, "No one." This is expressed in Job 14:4, "Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? not one." At the dedication of the temple, Solomon enunciates this fact of man's corruption, "There is no man that sinneth not" (1 Kings 8:46). The prophet testifies, "The heart is deceitful above all things, and it is desperately sick: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). And St. John warns, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). The heart is cleansed by self-examination and repentance; but it is so easy to deceive one's self in this matter, sins may lurk undetected, motives may be overlooked, so that no one can rightly be self-righteous, or conceited, or proud of his spiritual state. The "my sin" at the end of the clause is rather possible than actual sin; and the expression means that no one can pride himself on being secure from yielding to temptation, however clean for a time his conscience may be. The verse, therefore, offers a stern corrective of two grievous spiritual errors—presumption and apathy.
Divers weights, and divers measures; literally, stone and stone, ephah and ephah. The stones were used for weighing: dishonest traders kept them of different weights, and also measures of different capacities, substituting one for the other in order to defraud unwary customers. The Septuagint makes this plain by rendering, "A weight great and small, and measures double" (see on Proverbs 11:1 and Proverbs 16:11; and comp. Proverbs 16:23). The ephah was a dry measure, being one-tenth of the homer, and occupying the same position in solids as the bath did in liquids. It equalled about three pecks of our measure. Both of them are alike abomination to the Lord (Proverbs 17:15; comp. Leviticus 19:36; Deuteronomy 25:13, etc.); Septuagint, "Are impure before the Lord, even both of them, and he who doeth them." Pseudo-Bernard ('De Pass. Dom.,' 17.), applying the passage mystically, teaches that a man may be said to keep a double measure, who, being conscious of his own evil character, endeavours to appear righteous to others; who, as he puts it, "Suo judicio terrae proximus est, et aliis cupit elevatus videri." Others, connecting this verse in thought with the preceding, see in it a warning against judging a neighbour by a standard which we do not apply to ourselves. The Septuagint Version arranges the matter from Proverbs 20:10 onwards differently from the Hebrew, omitting Proverbs 20:14-19, and placing Proverbs 20:10-13 after Proverbs 20:22.
Even a child is known (maketh himself known) by his doings. (For "even" (gam), see on Proverbs 17:26.) A child is open, simple, and straightforward in his actions; he has not the reserves and concealments which men practise, so you see by his conduct what his real character and disposition are. Ewald takes מעלליו in the sense of "play," "games;" but it seems never to have this meaning, and there is no need to change the usual signification. The habits of a life are learned in early age. The boy is father of the man. Delitzsch quotes the German proverbs, "What means to become a hook bends itself early," and "What means to become a thorn sharpens itself early;" and the Aramaean, "That which will become a gourd shows itself in the bud:" Whether his work be pure ("clean," as Proverbs 17:9 and Proverbs 16:2), and whether it be right. His conduct will show thus much, end will help one to prognosticate the future. Septuagint (according to the Vatican), "In his pursuits (ἐπιήδευμασιν) a young man will be fettered in company with a holy man, and his way will be straight," which seems to mean that a good man will restrain the reckless doings of a giddy youth, and will lead him into better courses.
The hearing ear, and the seeing eye, the Lord hath made even both of them. This apothegm, which seems to be nothing but a trite truism, brings to notice many important consequences. First, there is the result noted in Psalms 94:9, "He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see?" Hence we learn the sleepless providence of God. So 'Pirke Aboth,' "Know that which is above thee, an eye that seeth all, an ear that heareth all." We learn also that all things are directed and overruled by God (comp. Proverbs 15:3; Proverbs 16:4). Then there is the thought that these powers of ours, being the gift of God, should be used piously and in God's service. "Mine ears hast thou opened … Lo, I come … I delight to do thy will, O my God" (Psalms 40:6, etc.). The eye should be blind, the ear deaf, to all that might defile or excite to evil (see Isaiah 33:15). But it is the Lord alone that enables the spiritual organs to receive the wondrous things of God's Law; they must be educated by grace to enable them to perform their proper functions. "God hath given us eyes," says St. Chrysostom, "not that we may look wantonly, but that, admiring his handiwork, we may worship the Creator. And that this is the use of our eyes is evident from the things which are seen. For the lustre of the sun and of the sky we see from an immeasurable distances, but a woman's beauty one cannot discern so far off. Seest thou that for this end our eye was chiefly given? Again, he made the ear, that we should entertain not blasphemous words, but saving doctrines. Wherefore you see, when it receives anything dissonant, both our soul shudders and our very body also. And if we hear anything cruel or merciless, again our flesh creeps; but if anything decorous and kind, we even exult and rejoice." "He that hath ears to hear, let him hear." Septuagint, "The ear heareth and the eye sooth, and both are the works of the Lord."
Love not sleep lest thou come to poverty (see Proverbs 6:9, etc.). The fate of the sluggard is handled again in Proverbs 23:21, as often before; e.g. Proverbs 12:11; Proverbs 19:15. The LXX; taking שֵׁנָה (shenah), "sleep," as perhaps connected with the verb שְׁנָה (shanah), translate, "Love not to rail, that thou be not exalted (ἵνα μὴ ἐξαρωῇς)," i.e. probably, "Do not calumniate others in order to raise yourself;" others translate, "lest thou be cut off." Open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satired with bread. These words seem to connect this clause with Proverbs 19:12. God gives the faculty, but man must make due use thereof. The gnomist urges, "Do not slumber at your post, or sit downwardly waiting; but be up and doing, be wakeful and diligent, and then you shall prosper."
It is naught, it is naught, saith the buyer. The purchaser depreciates the goods which he wants, in order to lower the price demanded—a practice as common now as in old time. "I don't want it, I don't want it," says the Spanish friar; "but drop it into my hood." The Scotch say, "He that lacks (disparages) my mare would buy my mare" (Kelly). But when he is gone his way, then he boasteth. When he has completed his purchase and obtained the goods at his own price, he boasts how he has tricked the seller. The LXX. omits Proverbs 20:14-19.
There is gold, and a multitude of rubies. For peninim, which is rendered "rubies," "pearls," or "coral," see on Proverbs 3:15. There is gold which is precious, and there is abundance of pearls which are still more valuable. But the lips of knowledge are a precious jewel, and worth more than all. We had the expression, "lips of knowledge," in Proverbs 14:7; it means lips that utter wisdom. Keli, often translated "jewel" in the Authorized Version, also boars the meaning of "vessel," "utensil." So here the Vulgate, vas pretiosum; and the wise man's lips are called a vessel because they contain and distribute the wisdom that is within. (On the excellence and value of wisdom, see Proverbs 3:14, etc; Proverbs 8:11, etc.) Connecting this with the preceding verse, we are led to the thought of buying, and the Lord's parable of the merchant seeking goodly pearls, and bartering all his wealth to gain possession of a worthy jewel (Matthew 13:45, etc.).
Take his garment that is surety for a stranger. The maxim is repeated in Proverbs 27:13; and warnings against suretyship are found in Proverbs 6:1, etc.; Proverbs 11:15; Proverbs 17:18; Proverbs 22:26, etc. The second portion of the clause is translated also, "For he is surety for another." If a man is so weak and foolish as to become security for any one, and is unable to make good his engaged payment, let him lose his garment which the creditor would seize; his imprudence must bring its own punishment. And take a pledge of him for a strange woman. The Authorized Version probably adopts this rendering in conformity with Proverbs 27:13, where it occurs in the text, as hero in the margin (the Keri). But the Khetib has, "for strangers," which seems to be the original reading; and the first words ought to be translated, "hold him in pledge;" i.e. seize his person for the sake of the strangers for whom he has stood security, so as not to suffer loss from them. The Law endeavoured to secure lending to needy brethren without interest (see Psalms 15:5; Ezekiel 18:8, Ezekiel 18:13, etc.; Ezekiel 22:12): but it allowed the creditor to secure himself by taking pledges of his debtor, while it regulated this system so as to obviate most of its severity and oppressiveness (see the restrictions in Exodus 22:26, etc.; Deuteronomy 24:6, Deuteronomy 24:12, etc.). "Where the debtor possessed nothing which he could pledge, he gave the personal security of a friend. This was a very formal proceeding. The surety gave his hand both to the debtor and to the creditor before an assembly legally convened, he deposited a pledge, and, in accordance with this twofold promise, was regarded by the creditor in just the same light as the debtor himself, and treated accordingly. If the debtor, or in his place the surety, was unable to pay the debt when it fell due, he was entirely at the mercy of the creditor. The authorities troubled themselves but little about these relations, and the law, so far as it is preserved to us, gave no directions in the matter. We see, however, from many allusions and narratives, what harsh forms these relations actually took, especially in later times, when the ancient national brotherly love which the Law presupposed was more and more dying out. The creditor could not only forcibly appropriate all the movable, but also the fixed property, including the hereditary estate (this at least till its redemption in the year of jubilee), nay, he could even (if he could find nothing else of value) carry off as a prisoner the body of his debtor, or of his wife and child, to employ them in his service, though this could only he done for a definite period".
Bread of deceit is sweet to a man; Revised Version, bread of falsehood; i.e. bread gained without labour, or by unrighteous means (comp. Proverbs 10:2). This is agreeable because it is easily won, and has the relish of forbidden fruit. "Wickedness is sweet in his mouth" (Job 20:12). But afterwards his mouth shall be filled with gravel. He will find in his "bread" no nourishment, but rather discomfort and positive injury (comp. Job 20:14). The expression, "to eat gravel," is intimated in Lamentations 3:16, "He hath broken my teeth with gravel stones;" it implies grievous disappointment and unprofitableness. See here a warning against evil plesaures—
Φεῦγ ἡδονὴν φέρουσαν ὕστερον βλάβην
"Sperne voluptates: nocet empta dolore voluptas."
Oort supposes that the gnome in the text is derived from a riddle, which asked, "What is sweet at first, but afterwards like sand in the mouth?"
Every purpose is established by counsel (comp. Proverbs 15:22, where see note). The Talmud says, "Even the most prudent of men needs friends' counsels;" and none but the most conceited would deem himself superior to advice, or would fail to allow that, as the Vulgate puts it, cogitationes consillis roborantur. This is true in all relations of life, in great and small matters alike, in peace, and, as our moralist adds, in war. With good advice make war; Vulgate, Gubernaculis tractanda sunt bella; Revised Version, By wise guidance make thou war. The word here used is takebuloth, for which see note, Proverbs 1:5. It is a maritime metaphor, rightly retained by the Vulgate, and might be rendered "pilotings," "steerings." War is a necessary evil, but it must be undertaken prudently and with a due consideration of circumstances, means, etc. Our Lord illustrates the necessity of due circumspection in following him by the case of a threatened conflict between two contending kings (Luke 14:31, etc.). Grotius quotes the gnome—
Γνῶμαι πλέον κρατοῦσιν ἢ σθένος χερῶν.
"Titan strength of hands availeth counsel more."
To which we may add—
Βουλῆς γὰρ ὀρθῆς οὐδὲν ἀσφαλέστερον.
"Good counsel is the safest thing of all."
(Comp. Proverbs 24:6, where the hemistich is re-echoed.)
He that goeth about as a talebearer revealeth secrets. Almost the same proverb occurs in Proverbs 11:13, The gadding gossiper is sure to let out any secret entrusted to him; therefore, it is implied, be careful in what you say to him. Meddle not with him that flattereth with his lips; rather, that openeth wide his lips—that cannot keep his mouth shut, a babbler, as Proverbs 13:3 (where see note). The Vulgate erroneously makes one sentence of the verse, "With him who reveals secrets, and walketh deceitfully, and openeth wide his lips, have no dealings." Talmud, "When I utter a word, it hath dominion over me; but when I utter it not, I have dominion over it." Says the Persian poet, "The silent man hath his shoulders covered with the garment of security." Xenocrates used to say that he sometimes was "sorry for having spoken, never for having kept silence" (Cahen).
This is an enforcement of the fifth commandment, by denouncing the punishment which the moral government of God shall exact from the unnatural child. The legal penalty may be seen (Exodus 21:17; Le Exodus 20:9); but this was probably seldom or never carried into execution. His lamp shall be put out in obscure (the blackest) darkness (comp. Proverbs 13:9). The expression is peculiar; it is literally, according to the Khetib, In the apple of the eye of darkness, as in Proverbs 7:9; i.e. in the very centre of darkness; he will find himself surrounded on all sides by midnight darkness, without escape, with no hope of Divine protection. "Lamp" is a metaphor applied to the bodily and the spiritual life, to happiness and prosperity, to a man's fame and reputation, to a man's posterity; and all these senses may be involved in the denunciation of the disobedient and stubborn child. He shall suffer in body and soul, in character, in fortune, in his children. His fate is the exact counterpart of the blessing promised in the Law. Septuagint, "The lamp of him that revileth father and mother shall be extinguished, and the pupils of his eyes shall behold darkness." Talmud, "Whosoever abandons his parents means his body to become the prey of scorpions." Cato, 'Dist.,' 3.23—
"Dilige non aegra caros pietate parentes;
Nec matrem offendas, dum vis bonus esse parenti."
One of the evil generations denounced by Agur (Proverbs 30:11) is that which curseth parents.
An inheritance may be gotten hastily at the beginning—or, which in the beginning, is obtained in haste—but the end thereof shall not be blessed; or, its end shall not be blessed. The Khetib gives מְבֹהֶלֶת, which (comp. Zechariah 11:8) may mean "detested," but this gives no sense; it is better, with the Keri, to replace kheth with he, and read מְבֹהֶלֶת (meboheleth), "hastened," "hastily acquired". The maxim, taken in connection with the preceding verse, may apply to a bad son who thinks his parents live too long, and by violence robs them of their possessions; or to one who, like the prodigal in the parable, demands prematurely his portion of the paternal goods. But it may also be taken generally as denouncing the fate of those who make haste to be rich, being unscrupulous as to the means by which they gain wealth (see on Proverbs 23:11; Proverbs 28:20, Proverbs 28:22). A Greek gnome says roundly—
Οὐδεὶς ἐπλούτησεν ταχέως δίκαιος ὤν.
"No righteous man e'er grew rich suddenly."
Say not thou, I will recompense evil (Proverbs 24:29). The jus talonis is the natural feeling of man, to do to others as they have done unto you, to requite evil with evil. But the moralist teaches a better lesson, urging men not to study revenge, and approaching nearer to Christ's injunction, which gives the law of charity, "Whatsoever ye would (οπσα ἂν θέλητε) that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (Matthew 7:12). The Christian rule is expounded fully by St. Paul (Romans 12:14, Romans 12:17, etc). It was not unknown to the Jews; for we read in Tobit 4:15, "Do that to no man which thou hatest;" and Hillel enjoins, "Do not thou that to thy neighbour which thou hatest when it is done to thee." Even the heathens had excogitated this great principle. There is a saying of Aristotle, preserved by Diogenes Laertius, "Act towards your friends as you would wish them to act towards you." The Chinese have a proverb, "Water does not remain on the mountain, or vengeance in a great mind." Wait on the Lord, and he shall save thee. The pious writer urges the injured person to commit his cause to the Lord, not in the hope of seeing vengeance taken on his enemy, but in the certainty that God will help him to bear the wrong and deliver him in his own good time and way. The Christian takes St. Peter's view, "Who is he that will harm you if ye be followers of that which is good?" (1 Peter 3:13), knowing that "all things work together for good to them that love God" (Romans 8:28; comp. Ecclesiasticus 2:2, 6). Septuagint, "Say not, I will avenge myself on my enemy, but wait on the Lord, that (ἵνα) he may help thee." The last clause may be grammatically rendered thus, but it is more in accordance with the spirit st' the proverb, as Delitzsch observes, to regard it as a promise. Vulgate, et liberabit te.
This is a repetition, with a slight variation, of Proverbs 20:10 and Proverbs 11:1 (where see notes). Is not good. A litotes, equivalent to "is very evil," answering to "abomination" in the first member. Septuagint, "is not good before him" (comp. Proverbs 24:23).
Man's goings are of the Lord. In the first clause the word for "man" is geber, which implies "a mighty man;" in the second clause the word is adam, "a human creature." So the Septuagint has ἀνὴρ in one clause and θνητὸς in the other. The proverb says that the steps of a great and powerful man depend, as their final cause, upon the Lord; he conditions and controls results. Man has free will, and is responsible for his actions, but God foreknows them, and holds the thread that connects them together; he gives preventing grace; he gives efficient grace: and man blindly works out the designs of Omnipotence according as he obeys or resists. A similar maxim is found in Psalms 37:23, "A man's goings are established of the Lord," but the meaning there is that it is God's aid which enables a man to do certain actions. Here we have very much the same intimation that is found in Proverbs 2:6 and Proverbs 19:21; and see note on Proverbs 16:9. Hence arises the old prayer used formerly at prime, and inserted now (with some omissions) at the end of the Anglican Communion Service: "O almighty Lord, and everlasting God, vouchsafe, we beseech thee, to direct, sanctify, and govern, both our hearts and bodies, our thoughts, words, and actions, in the ways of thy laws, and in the works of thy commandments; that through thy most mighty protection we may be preserved both here and forever." If man cannot see all sides, as God does, cannot comprehend the beginning, middle, and end in one.view, how then can a man (a weak mortal) understand his own ways. How can he find out of himself whither he should go, or what will be the issue of his doings (comp. Proverbs 16:25; Jeremiah 10:23)? St. Gregory, "It is well said by Solomon [Ecclesiastes 9:1], 'There are righteous and wise men, and their works are in the hand of God; and yet no man knoweth whether he is deserving of love or of hatred; but all things are kept uncertain for the time to come.' Hence it is said again by the same Solomon, 'What man will be able to understand his own way?' And any one doing good or evil is doubtless known by the testimony of his own conscience. But it is said that their own way is not known to men, for this reason, because, even if a man understands that he is acting rightly, yet he knows not, under the strict inquiry, whither he is going" ('Moral.,' 29.34).
It is a snare to the man who devoureth that which is holy. This verse, which is plainly a warning against rash vows, has received more than one interpretation. The Vulgate has, Ruina est homini devorare sanctos, which is explained to mean that it is destruction for a man to persecute the saints of God. But the word devorare is not certain, as the manuscripts vary between this and four other readings, viz. devotares, denotare, devovere, and devocare. The Authorized Version signifies that it is a sin to take for one's own consumption things dedicated to God, as firstfruits, the priests' portions, etc.: or a man's snare, i.e. his covetousness (1 Timothy 6:9), leads him to commit sacrilege. So Wordsworth. But it is best, with Delitzsch, to take יָלַע (yala) as the abbreviated future of לוּע or לָעַע, "to speak rashly;" and then kodesh, "holiness," will be an exclamation, like korban (Mark 7:11). The clause will then run, "It is a snare to a man rashly to cry, Holiness!" equivalent to "It is holy!" i.e. to use the formula for consecrating something to holy purposes. Septuagint, "It is a snare to a man hastily to consecrate something of his own" (comp. Ecclesiastes 5:2, Ecclesiastes 5:4, etc.). And after vows to make inquiry; i.e. after he has made his vow, to begin to consider whether he can fulfil it or not. This is a snare to a man, strangles his conscience, and leads him into the grievous sins of perjury and sacrilege. Septuagint, "For after vowing ensueth repentance."
A wise king scattereth the wicked (Proverbs 20:8). The verb is zarah, which means "to winnow, or sift." The king separates the wicked and the good, as the winnowing fan or shovel divides the chaff from the wheat. The same metaphor is used of Christ (Matthew 3:12), "Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (comp. Jeremiah 15:7). Septuagint, "A winnower (λικμήτωρ) of the ungodly is a wise king." And bringeth the wheel over them. The threshing wheel is meant (see Isaiah 28:27; Amos 1:3). This was a wooden frame with three or four rollers under it armed with iron teeth. It was drawn by two oxen, and, aided by the weight of the driver, who had his seat upon it, it crushed out the grain, and cut up the straw into fodder. Another machine much used in Palestine was made of two thick planks fastened together side by side, and having sharp stones fixed in rows on the lower surface. It is not implied that the king employed the corn drag as an instrument of punishment, which was sometimes so used in war, as possibly may be inferred from 2 Samuel 12:31; 1 Chronicles 20:3; and Amos 1:3. The idea of threshing is carried on, and the notion is rather of separation than of punishment, though the latter is not wholly excluded. The wise ruler will not only distinguish between the godless and the good, but will show his discrimination by visiting the evil with condign puuishment. Septuagint, "He will bring the wheel upon them;" the Vulgate has curiously, Incurvat super eos fornicem, "He bends an arch over them," which Latin commentators explain as a triumphal arch, meaning that the king conquers and subdues the wicked, and celebrates his victory over them. A patent anachronism which needs no comment!
The spirit of men is the candle (lamp) of the Lord. Neshamah, "spirit," or "breath," is the principle of life breathed into man by God himself (Genesis 2:7), distinguishing man from brutes—the conscious human soul. We may consider it as equivalent to what we Christians call conscience, with its twofold character of receiving light and illumination from God, and sitting as judge and arbiter of actions. It is named "the Lord's lamp," because this moral sense is a direct gift of God, and enables a man to see his real condition. Our Lord (Matthew 6:23) speaks of the light that is in man, and gives a solemn warning against the danger of letting it be darkened by neglect and sin; and St. Paul (1 Corinthians 2:11) argues, "Who among men knoweth the things of a man save the spirit of the man, which is in him?" As Elihu says (Job 32:8), "There is a spirit in man, and the breath of the Almighty giveth them understanding." And Aristotle speaks of practical wisdom (φρόνησις) combined with virtue as "the eye of the soul (ὄμμα τῆς ψυχῆς)." Searching all the inward parts of the belly; i.e. the very depths of the soul, probing thoughts, desires, affections, will, and approving or reproving, according as they are in conformity with or opposition to God's Law. We must remember that Eastern houses, before the introduction of glass, had very scanty openings to admit light, and lamps were necessary if for any purpose the interior had to be thoroughly illuminated. Hence the metaphor used above would strike an Oriental more forcibly than it strikes us. Septuagint, "The breath (πνοὴ, as Proverbs 11:13) of man is a light of the Lord, who searches the chambers of the belly." St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 12.64), "We ought to bear in mind that in holy Writ by the title of the 'belly,' or the 'womb,' the mind is used to be understood. For the light of grace, which comes from above, affords a 'breathway' to man unto life, which same light is said to 'search all the inward parts of the belly,' in that it penetrates all the secrets of the heart, that the things which were hidden in the soul touching itself it may bring back before the eyes thereof" (Oxford transl.).
Mercy and truth preserve the king. (For "mercy and truth," see note on Proverbs 3:3.) The love and faithfulness which the king displays in dealing with his subjects elicits the like virtues in them, and these are the safeguard of his throne. His throne is upholden by mercy; or, love. So the king is well called the father of his people, and in modern times the epithet "gracious" is applied to the sovereign as being the fountain of mercy and condescension. Sallust, 'Jugurtha,' 10, "Non exercitus neque thesauri praesidia regni sunt, verum amici, quos neque armis cogere neque auro parare queas; officio et fide pariuntur." Septuagint, "Mercy (ἐλεημοσύνη) and truth are a guard to a king, and will surround his throne with righteousness." "The subject's love," says our English maxim, "is the king's lifeguard."
The glory of young men is their strength. That which makes the ornament (tiphereth) of youth is unimpaired strength and vigour, which can only be attained by due exercise combined with self-control. The moralist (Ecclesiastes 11:9) bids the young man rejoice in his youth, and let his heart cheer him in those happy days, but at the same time remember that he is responsible for the use which he makes of his powers and faculties, for for all these things God will bring him to judgment. The Greek gives a needful warning—
Μέμνησο νέος ἂν ὡς γέρων ἔσῃ ποτέ
"In youth remember thou wilt soon be old."
Septuagint, "Wisdom is an ornament to young men." But koach is bodily, not mental, power. The beauty of old men is the grey head (Proverbs 16:31). That which gives an honorable look to old age is the hoary head, which suggests wisdom and experience (comp. Ecclesiasticus 25:3-6). On the other hand, the Greek gnomist warns—
Πολιὰ χρόνου μήνυσις οὐ φρονήσεως.
"Grey hairs not wisdom indicate, but age."
The blueness of a wound cleanseth away evil. So the Vulgate, Livor vulneris absterget mala. Chaburoth means "stripes," and the proverb says that deep-cutting stripes are the only effectual cure of evil; i.e. severe punishment is the best healing process in cases of moral delinquency (Proverbs 19:29). Painful remedies, incisions, cauteries, amputations, are often necessary in the successful treatment of bodily ailments; spiritual sickness needs sterner, more piercing, remedies. So do stripes the inward parts of the belly; or better, and strokes that reach, etc. The stings of conscience, warnings and reproofs which penetrate to the inmost recesses of the heart, chastisement which affects the whole spiritual being.—these are needful to the correction and purification of inveterate evil. Aben Ezra connects this verse with the preceding thus: as strength gives a glory to young men, and hoar hairs adorn an old man, so wounds and bruises, so to speak, ornament the sinner, mark him out, and at the same time heal and amend him. It may also be connected with verse 27. If a man will not use the lamp which God has given him for illumination and correction, he must expect severe chastisement and sternest discipline. Septuagint, "Bruises (ὑπώπια) and contusions befall bad men, and plagues that reach to the chambers of the belly." St. Gregory, 'Moral.,' 23.40, "By the blueness of a wound he implies the discipline of blows on the body. But blows in the secret parts of the belly are the wounds of the mind within, which are inflicted by compunction. For as the belly is distended when filled with food, so is the mind puffed up when swollen with wicked thoughts. The blueness, then, of a wound, and blows in the secret parts of the belly, cleanse away evil, because both outward discipline does away with faults, and compunction pierces the distended mind with the punishment of penance. But they differ from each other in this respect, that the wounds of blows give us pain, the sorrows of compunction have good savour. The one afflict and torture, the others restore when they afflict us. Through the one there is sorrow in affliction, through the other there is joy in grief" (Oxford transl.).
Wine the mocker
Intemperance was not so common a vice in biblical times as it has become more recently, nor did the light wines of the East exercise so deleterious an effect as the strong drink that is manufactured in Europe is seen to produce. Therefore all that is said in the Bible against the evil of drunkenness applies with much-increased force to the aggravated intemperance of England today.
I. WINE IS A MOCKER BECAUSE IT ALLURES THE WEAK. It makes great promises. Strong drink is pleasant to the palate. The effect of it on the nervous system is at first agreeably stimulating. In weakness and weariness it seems to give comfortable relief. The associations connected with it are made to be most attractive. It goes with genial companionship, and it appears to favour the flow of good fellowship. In sickness it promises renewed strength; it offers consolation in sorrow; at festive seasons it pretends to heighten the joy and to take its place as a cheering friend of man. Moreover, all these attractive traits am aggravated with the weak. The need of the stimulus is more keenly felt by such persons; the early effects of it are more readily and pleasantly recognized; there is less power of will and judgment to resist its alluring influence.
II. WINE IS A MOCKER BECAUSE IT DECEIVES THE UNWARY. The danger that lurks in the cup is not seen at first, and the sparkling wine looks as innocent as a divine nectar. The evil that it produces comes on by slow and insidious stages. No one thinks of becoming a drunkard on the first day of tasting intoxicating drink. Every victim of the terrible evil of intemperance was once an innocent child, and, whether he began in youth or in later years, every one who has gone to excess commenced with moderate and apparently harmless quantities. Happily, the majority of those who take a little are wise or strong enough not to abandon themselves to the tyranny of drinking habits. But the difficulty is to determine beforehand who will be able to stand and who will not have sufficient strength. Under these circumstances, it is a daring piece of presumption for any one to be quite sure that he will always be so wary as to keep out of the snare that has been fatal to many of his brethren who once stood in exactly the same tree and healthy position in which he is at present. It is far safer not to tempt our own natures, and to guard ourselves against the mockery of wine, by keeping from all use of the strong drink itself.
III. WINE IS A MOCKER BECAUSE IT BRINGS RUIN ON ITS VICTIMS. It has no pity. It hounds its dupes on to destruction, and then it laughs at their late. When once it holds a miserable wretch it will never willingly release him. Too late, he discovers that he is a slave, deceived by what promised to be his best friend, and flung into a dungeon from which, by his unaided powers, he can never effect an escape. There is a peculiar mockery in this fate. The victim is disgraced and degraded. His very human nature is wretched, insulted, almost destroyed. His social position is lost; his business scattered to the winds; his family life broker up and made unutterably wretched; his soul destroyed. This is the work of the wine that sparkles in the cup. We should allow no quarter to so vile a deceiver.
The honour of peace
The old world looked for glory in war; the Christian ideal—anticipated in Old Testament teaching—is to recognize honour in peace. It is better to keep peace than to be victorious in war, better to make peace than to win battles. Consider the grounds of this higher view of conflict and its issues.
I. THE HONOUR OF PEACE MAY BE SEEN IN SELF-SUPPRESSION. It is much more easy to give the reins to ill will and hasty passion. Men find it harder to fight their own temper than to do battle with alien foes. It is the same with nations when the spirit of war has maddened them. Heedless of consequences to themselves, and blind to the rights of their neighbours, they hurl themselves headlong into the horrors of battle. But if men could learn to curb their own strong feelings, they would really show more strength than by raging in unrestrained fury.
II. THE HONOUR OF PEACE MAY BE RECOGNIZED IN MAGNANIMITY. It may be that we are in the right, and our foes unquestionably in the wrong. Still, it is not essential that we should fight to the bitter end. We may forego our right. It may be a generous and noble thing to suffer wrong without resisting it. We cannot but see how much more harm is done in asserting just claims by force than would result from silent submission after a dignified protest. Often the more magnanimous conduct will result in the very end that would have been sought through violent measures. For it is possible to appeal to the generous instincts of opponents.
III. THE HONOUR OF PEACE MAY BE OBSERVED IN CHARITY. We should ever remember that even those who behave to us as enemies are still our brethren. We have their welfare to consider even while they may be plotting evil against us. Christ prayed for his persecutors (Luke 23:34). So did St. Stephen (Acts 7:60). Indeed, our Lord died fur his enemies. He came to make an end of the fearful strife between man and God. But while he did so, he suffered from the fray. The Peacemaker was the victim of the passions of the rebellious. By suffering in meek dignity he made peace. If the mind that was in Christ is found in us, we shall be the earnest advocates of peace for the good of the very people who delight in war.
IV. THE HONOUR OF PEACE MAY BE RECOGNIZED IN HUMILITY. The special form in which the recommendation of peace is thrown is that of a cessation of strife. This implies a case in which there has been warfare; but one of the parties refrains from prosecuting the quarrel any further, although he has neither been worsted nor won the victory. This means a change of policy. Now, it is particularly difficult to effect such a change in the midst of a conflict. One's motives are likely to be suspected, and what is done from love of peace is likely to be set down to cowardice. It needs humility thus to withdraw and sacrifice one's pretensions. Having taken a certain position we are tempted to hold it at all hazards from sheer pride. This is especially true in the soul's conflict with God. Here we are called upon to humble ourselves enough to confess ourselves entirely in the wrong. When the "fearful striving" has ceased there is honour in repentance and the new life of peace with God.
We must distinguish between the idea of universal sinfulness and that of total depravity. We may hold that there is some gleam of goodness in a human heart without maintaining its immaculate purity. It is possible to believe that there are great varieties of character, many different degrees of sin, and yet to see that the highest saint has his faults.
I. NO ONE CAN CLEAR HIMSELF FROM THE CHARGE OF SINFULNESS. Who can say, "I have made my heart clean from all imputations of guilt"?
1. The best confess that they are sinful. Canonized by their admiring brethren, they cast themselves down in humility and shame before the holiness of God. No men have so deep a sense of the sinfulness of their own hearts as those who live most near to God.
2. The most skilful cannot excuse themselves. It is possible to formulate specious pleas that will deceive unwary men; but we have to do with the great Searcher of hearts, before whose piercing gaze all sophistries and pretences melt as the mists before the sun.
3. The deceitfulness of the heart blinds many to their own guilt. Men naturally desire to defend themselves; they are excellent advocates of themselves to themselves. The familiar sin is softened by habit. The conventional sin is condoned by custom.
4. False standards of holiness confuse men's estimate of their own sinfulness. Some people seem to take a feeling of placidity as an assurance of inward perfection, as though not to be conscious of strife were to be assured of peace with God. But it is possible to slumber under the influence of spiritual narcotics. A keener conscience might rouse a new, unlooked for sense of sin and shame. It is thought that there is no shortcoming simply because the surrounding mists hide the far off goal. Or it may be that negative correctness is mistaken for a satisfactory condition, while many positive active duties are left undone. Perhaps the soul that thinks its aspiration after purity satisfied is wanting in charity, or in the very act of claiming sinlessness it may be puffed up with pride. The most dangerous delusion is that which denies the ownership of guilt because sin is supposed to be relegated to bodily infirmity, while the true self is spotless. This is a most deadly snare of the devil.
II. NO ONE CAN CLEAR HIMSELF FROM THE SINS WHICH HE HAS COMMITTED. Who can say, "I have purged my own conscience, cleansed my own heart, cleared off my record of guilt?"
1. It is impossible to undo sins. Deeds are irrevocable. What has been committed is stereotyped in the awful book of the changeless past. What I have written, spoken, done—I have written, spoken, done.
2. It is impossible to compensate for past sins by future service. The future service is all owing; at our best we are "unprofitable servants"—there is no margin of profit—for "we have only done that which it was our duty to do."
3. It is impossible to atone for our sins by any sacrifice. The hardest penance can be of no value with God. Its only use could be in self-discipline. For God is not pleased with the sufferings of his children. We can offer him nothing; for "the cattle on a thousand hills" are his.
4. It is impossible to change our own inner sinfulness by ourselves. We cannot create clean hearts in our own breasts. We cannot kill our own love of sin.
5. It is only possible for sin to be cleansed in the blood of Christ. "There is a fountain opened for all uncleanness" The admission of guilt, the repentance that turns from the old sin and seeks forgiveness, the renunciation of all claims but that of the grace of God in Christ,—these things open the door to the true way of making the heart clean, both in pardon and m purification.
A child and his doings
I. A PICTURE OF CHILDHOOD. First, let this picture be regarded on its own account, Childhood is worthy of study.
1. A child has his character. Very early in life varieties of disposition may be seen in the several members of a young family. One is hot-tempered, another patient; one demonstrative, another reserved; one energetic, another inactive. Moral distinctions are painfully and glaringly apparent. As childhood advances these varieties of disposition merge in deeper differences of character. Though the character is supple and mobile, it is nevertheless real. There are good and bad children—children who are pure, true, honest, kind; and children who are marked with the reverse of these qualities.
2. A child is responsible for his deeds. Unless he is crushed by tyranny, within the scope of a reasonable child liberty he has room in which to play his small part on the stage of life. He must not be brought up with the notion that he is an irresponsible agent because he is young and weak. Conscience needs to be enlightened, trained, and strengthened in early days.
3. A child's character is revealed in his deeds. The character may be slight and feeble; and the deeds may be simple and insignificant. Yet even in the nursery cause and effect are at work; fruits reveal the nature even of saplings. Even children cannot be judged by outward appearance. With them innocent looks may cover sinful thoughts. Children also may deceive themselves, or make false pretences, though we do not see the hardened hypocrisy of the world in the simpler deception of the nursery. Still, it is to the conduct of children that we must look for indications of their true characters.
II. A LESSON FOR ALL AGES. If even a child is to be known by his doings, the inference is that much more may a man be known in a similar way.
1. Character ripens with years. If it begins to appear in childhood, it will be much more vigorous in manhood. There is something dolefully prophetic in the vices of infancy. Though often laughed at by foolish observers, these vices are the early sprouts of terrible evils that will increase with growing strength and enlarging opportunities. The more clearly we are able to detect differences of character even in childhood, the more certain is it that similar differences are aggravated in manhood.
2. Responsibility grows with opportunity. The deeds of children are to be regarded as characteristic—as either culpable or praiseworthy according to their moral tone. How much more must this be the case with grown men and women, who know more, have larger powers, and suffer from fewer restrictions! If the child who has continual restraint upon him, and who lives under perpetual tutelage, yet manifests characteristic conduct, the free man cannot escape from the responsibility of his doings.
3. Conduct is always a sure sign of character. It is so even with children who know little, and who are constantly hampered by superior authority. It must be so with double certainty in the case of adults. It is vain, indeed, for men and women to pretend that the index hand does not point truly. In the freedom of adult age there is no excuse to be urged against the inference that our deeds are the fruits of our character. Therefore, if the conduct is evil, the heart needs to be renewed.
I. THE CONDUCT OF THE BUYER CALLS FOR CONSIDERATION. It is usual to discuss questions of trade morality chiefly in regard to the conduct of the man who sells. Deception, adulteration, dishonest work, the grinding of employes, etc; are denounced by indignant onlookers. But the conduct of the customer is less severely handled. Yet there are many reasons why it should not be overlooked. All are not sellers, but everybody buys. Therefore when commercial morality is discussed in regard to buying, the subject does not only apply to traders, it concerns all people. Moreover, if men cheat and do wrong in their business when selling, though there is no fair excuse for their conduct, it may be urged that they are driven to extremes by the pressure of competition and by the difficulty of earning a livelihood. But when many people are making ordinary purchases they are not in the same position and under the same temptation. Traders, of course, are buyers in the way of business. But people of affluent circumstances are also buyers without any consideration of business exigencies, but solely for their own convenience. If such people do not behave honourably they are doubly guilty.
II. THE BUYER IS SUBJECT TO MORAL OBLIGATIONS.
1. He owes justice to the seller. He has no right to squeeze the unfortunate trader's profit by the pressure of undue influence, threatening to withdraw his custom or to injure the connection among his friends, taking advantage of the fact that the seller is in want of money, etc. It is his duty to pay a fair price, even though by the stress of circumstances he might force a sale at a lower rate.
2. He owes truth to the seller. He may misrepresent the absolute value of his purchase, perhaps knowing more of its true worth than the seller, but trying to deceive him. Thus the skilled connoisseur may take an unfair advantage of the ignorance of the trader from whom he buys some rare article of vertu. Or a person may pretend not to want what he secretly covets most eagerly. Such a device is false and unworthy of a Christian profession.
3. He owes humanity to the seller. It is a gross abuse of trade to make it a condition of warfare. A man is not necessarily one's enemy because one does business with him. The unfortunate person who must needs sell at a great loss rather than not sell at all, is not the legitimate prey of the first greedy customer who is able to pounce upon him. The curse of trade is hard, cruel, brutal selfishness. Christianity teaches us to regard the man with whom one does business as a brother. The buyer should learn to treat the seller as he desires to he treated in turn, and so to fulfil the law of Christ. The same principle requires kindliness of manner.
III. THE OBLIGATIONS OF THE BUYER ABE COMMONLY NEGLECTED. The causes of this negligence are manifold; e.g.:
1. Inconsiderateness. Often there is no intention of doing an injustice. The buyer simply forgets the rights of the seller. This inconsiderateness does harm in various ways. Careless customers give needless trouble to shop people. Some order for view more goods than they need to effect a purchase; some persist in shopping late in the evening, etc.
2. Selfishness. The chief cause of the evil is a sole regard for self. People who are reasonable and kind in their own homes will manifest the most tyrannical spirit, the most cynical selfishness, in their chopping. When the veneer of social habits is broken this ugly vice is more visible in the most polished society than among rougher people.
3. Sinfulness. The evil heart is seen here as elsewhere. For the buyer to force injustice and to cheat the seller is for him to reveal himself as a slave of sin as truly as if he broke out in wanton violence and open robbery.
Revenge and its antidote
I. THE SIN AND FOLLY OF REVENGE. This passion appears to spring from a natural instinct; it pretends to justify itself as the fair return for some wrong, and it offers a compensation for the Wrong suffered in the triumph which it gains over the wrong doer. But it is both culpable and foolish.
1. It is culpable. Even if revenge were desirable, we have no right to wreak it on the head of the offender. We are not his judge and executioner. God says, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay." We have no excuse for antedating the Divine vengeance in our impatience by taking the law of retribution into our own hands. If another has hurt us, that fact is no excuse whatever for our hurting him. Two wrongs do not make one right. The spirit of vengeance in man is a spirit of hatred, and therefore one for which there is no excuse. Much as an enemy may have injured us, he is still our fellow man to whom we owe charity and forgiveness.
2. It is foolish. At best it can offer but a gloomy compensation. Unless our nature delights in malignity, there can be no real satisfaction in seeing an enemy suffer. Though a natural passion may seem to be satisfied with a gleam of fierce joy in the moment of triumph, this must be succeeded by a dismal sense of the vanity of any such feelings. The after thought of revenge must be bitter. Moreover, the exercise of vengeance will not cure enmity, but only intensify it. Therefore it may just provoke a second and greater wrong than that which it is avenging. There is no prospect before it but increasing rancour, hatred; strife, misery.
II. THE ANTIDOTE TO REVENGE. We are not to be left to suffer wrong without compensation or hope. We may find a prospect of something better than the bitter harvest of vengeance if we turn from sinful man to God. Then we shall see the true antidote.
1. It springs from faith. We have to be assured that God can and will help us. We can thus afford to ignore the wrong that has been done us, or, if that be impossible, we can learn to look above it and feel confident that. it' God undertakes our cause, all will be well in the end. This faith will not desire the ruin of our enemy. It is not an entrusting of vengeance to God, though he must see justice done to the wrong doer. But it is a quiet confidence in God's saving grace. It is better to be delivered from the trouble brought on us by the misconduct of others Than to remain in that trouble and see the guilty persons punished. We can afford to be magnanimous and forget the unkindness of man when we are enjoying the kindness of God.
2. It is realized through prayer, patience, and hope.
(1) Prayer. We must wait on the Lord. Vengeance is lose in prayer. We shall cease to feel the boiling of rage against our foe when on our knees before God. There we cannot but remember how utterly we depend upon mercy.
(2) Patience. Waiting on God generally implies sonic delay. We must wait for the answer. Deliverance does not come at once. Hasty revenge must be restrained by patience in prayer.
(3) Hope. God will save at last, if not immediately. The prospect of this deliverance is a pleasing substitute for the hideous vision of revenge on an enemy.
Young men and old
I. EVERY TIME OF LIFE HAS ITS OWN PECULIAR EXCELLENCE.
1. Every age of man has some excellence. Youth appears vain in the grave vision of age, and age looks gloomy to the bright eyes of youth. Yet both youth and age have their mead of praise. It is possible for a man to miss all excellence in life and to live in dishonour from youth to age. But that depends upon his own conduct, and he only will be to blame for spoiling every age of his life if he does thus live in dishonour. There are honourable and desirable conditions for life throughout its whole length.
2. The excellences of the various ages of man are different. The glory of a young man is not identical with the beauty of an old man. The common mistake is that in the narrowness of our personal experience we judge of other periods of life by the standards that only apply to those in which we are severally living. Hence either undue admiration or unreasonable disgust. It is cheering to know that a very different condition from that which floats before us as our ideal may be equally happy and honourable.
II. THE PECULIAR EXCELLENCE OF YOUTH IS FOUND IN ITS ENERGY AND THE USE IT MAKES OF IT.
1. Energy is a characteristic of youth. Then the fresh unfaded powers are just opening out to their full activity. This is the time for service. The young men go to the wars. "It is well for a man to bear the yoke in his youth." All kinds of fresh activities spring out of the fertile soil of youth. An indolence in youth is simply disgraceful.
2. Youthful energy is admirable.
(1) Physical strength. This is a gift of God. It is a natural perfection of bodily life. It carries with it possibilities of manly work. "Muscular Christianity" may be as holy as feeble asceticism.
(2) Mental strength. The intellectual feats of brain athletics indicate noble energies and arduous industry. The mind is from God, and its ripened powers render him glory.
(3) Moral strength. Daniel was stronger than Samson. The chief glory of youthful strength is here—the power to resist temptation, to live a true life, to fight all lies and shameful thoughts and deeds, and stand up firmly for the right.
3. Youthful energy should be used in the service of Christ. Then its glory is radiant. A lower use of it dims its lustre. Degradation to purposes of sin turns its splendour into shame.
III. THE SPECIAL EXCELLENCE OF AGE IS TO BE SEES IN ITS RIPENED EXPERIENCE.
1. Experience ripens with years. The suggestion of that fact may be seen in the picture of the grey head, the beauty of which chiefly resides in the thought of the harvest of years that it represents. Strength may be lost, but experience is gained. There is an exchange, and it is not for any to say on which side the real advantage lies.
2. The experience of years has a beauty of its own. We usually associate youth and beauty, and we think of beauty declining with advancing years. Painful signs of life's stern battle break the fair charms of youth. But old age brings a new beauty. This is often seen even in the countenance, finely chiselled with delicate lines of thought and feeling into a rare grace and dignity. But the higher beauty is that of soul, the beauty of Simeon when he held the infant Saviour in his arms. The crowning beauty of age is in a perfected saintliness. To attain to this is to go beyond the glory el youth. Yet there must accompany it a certain melancholy at the thought of the lost energy of earlier years, until the old man can look forward to the renewed youth, the eternal energy of the life beyond,
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Evils to be avoided
I. SOME SPECIAL EVILS AND DANGERS.
1. Drunkenness. (Proverbs 20:1.) The spirit or demon of wine is spoken of as a personal agent. It leads to frivolity, scoffing, profane and senseless mirth. To be drunk with wine, as St. Paul points out (Ephesians 5:18), is the opposite of being "filled with the Spirit" (see F.W. Robertson's sermon on this subject).
2. The wrath of kings. (Proverbs 20:2) In those times of absolute rule, the king represented the uncontrollable arbitration of life and death. As in the case of Adonijah, he who provoked the king's wrath sinned against his own soul. What, then, must the wrath of the eternal Sovereign be (Psalms 90:11)? To invoke the Divine judgment is a suicidal act.
3. Contentiousness. (Proverbs 20:3.) Quick-flaming anger is the mark of the shallow and foolish heart. The conquest of anger by Christian meekness is one of the chiefest of Christian graces, "Let it pass for a kind of sheepishness to be meek," says Archbishop Leighton; "it is a likeness to him that was as a sheep before his shearers."
4. Idleness. (Proverbs 20:4.) The idle man is unseasonable in his repose, and equally unseasonable in his expectation. To know our time, our opportunity in worldly matters, our day of grace in the affairs of the soul, all depends on this (Romans 12:11; Ephesians 5:15-17).
II. THE SAFEGUARD OF PRUDENCE. (Proverbs 20:5.) The idea is that, though the project which a man has formed may be difficult to fathom, the prudent man will bring the secret to light. "There is nothing hidden that shall not be made known."
1. Every department of life has its principles and laws.
2. These may be ascertained by observation and inquiry.
3. In some sense or other, all knowledge is power; and that is the best sort of knowledge which arms the mind with force against moral dangers, and places it in constant relation to good.—J.
The frailty of mankind
I. THE RARITY OF TRUE FRIENDSHIP. (Proverbs 20:6.) Many are ready to promise, few willing to perform. Many eager to say, "Lord, Lord!" comparatively few to do the will of the Father in heaven. There is no want of good notions in the world; but, according to the Italian proverb, many are so good that they are good for nothing. The spirit may be willing, the flesh is weak. Inclination to good needs to be fortified by faith in God.
II. THE JUST AND GOOD MAN. (Proverbs 20:7.) We cannot but feel that he is an ideal character. Poets and preachers have delighted to describe him, have surrounded him with a halo, depicted the safety and blessedness of his life. But how seldom does he appear on the actual scene! Our being is a struggle and a series of failures. The one thing needful is to have a lofty ideal before us, and never to despair of approaching a little nearer to it with every right effort.
III. THE IMPARTIAL JUDGE. (Proverbs 20:8.) The earthly judge upon his seat reminds us of the mixed state of human nature—of the need of a process of sifting, trial, purification, ever going on. Judgment is an ever-present fact, a constant process. We are being tried, in a sense, every day, and "must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ." Let us "labour that we may be accepted of him."
IV. THE CLEAN CONSCIENCE. (Proverbs 20:9.) This pointed question silences our boasting, and checks the disposition to excuse ourselves. By unwise comparison with others we may seem to stand well; but in the light of his own mere standard of right and duty, who is not self-condemned? "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8, 1 John 1:9).
V. EQUITABLE CONDUCT. (Proverbs 20:10.) How common are the tricks and evasions of trade! And there is something more in this than mere desire for gain. The general experience of the world is so strong against dishonesty, as seen in common proverbs, as "bad policy," that we must look to a deeper cause of its existence, viz. the perversity of man's heart.
VI. EARLY SYMPTOMS OF CHARACTER. (Proverbs 20:11) Tendencies of evil and (never let us omit to acknowledge) tendencies of good are seen very early in children. The Germans have a quaint proverb, "What a thorn will become may easily be guessed." How much depends on Christian culture; for "as the twig is bent, so is the tree inclined."—J.
Religion, industry, prudence, and honesty
I. GOD THE SOURCE OF ALL GOOD.
1. Of all bodily good. The eye, the ear, with all their wondrous mechanism, with all their rich instrumentality of enjoyment, are from him.
2. Of all spiritual faculty and endowment, the analogues of the former, and "every good and perfect gift" (James 1:16). The new heart, the right mind, should, above all, be recognized as his gifts.
3. In domestic and in public life. Good counsels of Divine wisdom, and willing obedience of subjects to them, are the conditions of the weal of the state; and it may be that these are designed by the preacher under the figures of the eye and the ear.
II. VIRTUES INDISPENSABLE TO HAPPINESS.
1. Laborlousness. (Proverbs 20:13) This is a command of God: "If any man will not work, neither let him eat;" for which the seeing eye and hearing ear are needed. Viewed in one light, of imagination, labour may appear as a curse; for it thwarts our natural indolence, our love of ease, and our sentimental views in general. But viewed in the light of actual experience, the law of labour is one of the divinest blessings of our life-constitution.
(1) Craft and trickiness exposed. (Proverbs 20:14, Proverbs 20:17.) Here the cunning tricks of trade are struck; in particular the arts of disparagement, by which the buyer unjustly cheapens the goods he desires to invest in. The peculiar manner in which trade is still conducted in the East, the absence of fixed prices, readily admits of this species of unfairness. But the rebuke is general.
(2) The deceptiveness of sinful pleasures. (Proverbs 20:17.) There is, no doubt, a certain pleasure in dishonesty, otherwise it would not be so commonly practised in the very teeth of self-interest. There is a peculiar delight in the exercise of skill which outwits others. But this is only while the conscience sleeps. When it awakes, unrest and trouble begin. The stolen gold burns in the pocket; the Dead Sea fruits turn to ashes on the lips.
3. Sense and prudence. (Proverbs 20:15, Proverbs 20:16, Proverbs 20:18.)
(1) Sense is compared to the most precious things. What in the affairs of life is comparable to judgment? Yet compared only to be contrasted. As the common saying runs, "There is nothing so uncommon as common sense." The taste for material objects of price may be termed universal and vulgar; that for spiritual qualities is select and refined
(2) Good sense is shown caution and avoidance of undue responsibility. This has been before emphasized (Proverbs 6:1-5; Proverbs 11:15; Proverbs 17:18). We have enough to do to answer for ourselves.
(3) Prudence in war. There are justifiable wars; but even these may be carried on with folly, reckless disregard of human life, etc. "The beginning, middle, and end, O Lord, turn to the best account!" was the prayer of a prudent and pious general.
4. Reserve with the tongue, or caution against flatterers. (Proverbs 20:19.) The verse may be taken in both these senses. In all thoughtless gossip about others there is something of the malicious and slanderous spirit; there is danger in it. As to the listener, rather let him listen to those who point out his faults than to those who flatter.—J.
I. HATRED TO PARENTS. (Proverbs 20:20.)
1. It is unnatural beyond most vices, like hating the hand that lifts food to the mouth.
2. It is disobedience to a primary Divine command.
3. It incurs the Divine curse and the darkest doom.
II. THE VICE OF GRASPING. (Proverbs 20:21.) It springs from excessive, irregular, disordered desire, and generally from an ill-led life. We must wait upon God's order; must distinguish the necessary from the superfluous and the luxurious, and seek no enterprises that lie out of our proper vocation; if we would arm ourselves against this unholy temptation, and avoid the curse which attends compliance with it. For ill-gotten wealth can never prosper.
III. THE REVENGEFUL SPIRIT. (Proverbs 20:22.) It costs more to avenge injuries than to endure them. "He that studieth revenge keepeth his wounds open." Let us recall the lessons of the sermon on the mount, and if there is any one who has aroused our dislike, pray for him (not in public, but in the privacy of the heart).
IV. IN EQUITY, WHETHER IN COMMERCE OR IN GENERAL RELATIONS. (Proverbs 20:23; see Proverbs 20:10.) What is shameful when detected is no less hideous in the sight of Gun, though concealed from men.—J.
The truth of life in diverse aspects
We may divide the matter as follows.
I. DIVINE PROVIDENCE. (Proverbs 20:24.) It is needful, for human wisdom is shortsighted, and human direction inadequate. It is a gracious fact, and, if acknowledged, brings blessing to the trustful mind and heart. Each man has a life vocation. God appoints it, and will reveal the means for the attainment of it. We cannot enter the kingdom except through the guidance of Christ.
II. HUMAN RESPONSIBILITY. (Proverbs 20:27.) There is a light within us, or conscience in the most comprehensive sense. By the help of reason we may judge other men; by that of conscience, ourselves. It is in another statement the power of reflection, the inner mirror of the soul.
III. GENERAL RELATED TRUTHS.
1. The necessity of pondering well our wishes. (Proverbs 20:25.) We should think thrice before we act once. To act first and reflect afterwards is foolish and helpless; thus we reap the good of neither thought nor action.
2. The necessity of discrimination in rulers. (Proverbs 20:26.) The figure is borrowed from agriculture, from the process of sifting and threshing—the latter in a penal sense (2Sa 12:31; 1 Chronicles 20:3; Amos 1:3). It is carried into the gospel. The Divine Judge's "fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor." We must submit to law or be crushed by its penal action.
3. The necessity of love and faithfulness in government. (Proverbs 20:28.) For human government, to be sound, stable, and. respected, must be a reflection of the Divine government. And the eternal features of the latter are love and faithfulness. Clemency and severity are but two sides of the one living and eternal love which rules men only for their salvation.
4. The beauty of piety in youth and age. (Proverbs 20:29.) Let the young man in Christ approve his strength by manful self-conquest, and the old man by riper wisdom and blameless conversation (1 John 2:13, 1 John 2:14).
5. The necessity of inward purification. (Proverbs 20:30.) And to this end the necessity of chastisement. In bodily disease we recognize the struggle of life against that which is inimical to it; and in the afflictions of the soul the struggle of the God-awakened soul against its evils. Luther says, "Evil is cured, not by words, but by blows; suffering is as necessary as eating and drinking."—J.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Strong drink: four delusions
That may be said to mock us which first professes to benefit us, and then proceeds to injure and even to destroy us. This is what is done by strong drink. First it cheers and brightens, puts a song into our mouth, makes life seem enviable; then it weakens, obfuscates, deadens, ruins. How many of the children of men has it deceived and betrayed! how many has it robbed of their virtue, their beauty, their strength, their resources, their peace, their reputation, their life, their hope! There are—
I. FOUR DELUSIONS IN WHICH MEN INDULGE REGARDING IT.
1. That it is necessary to health. In ordinary conditions it has been proved to be wholly needless, if not positively injurious.
2. That it is reliable as a source of pleasure. It is a fact that the craving for intoxicants and anodynes continually increases, while the pleasure derived therefrom continually declines.
3. That it renders service in the time of heavy trial. Woe be unto him who tries to drown his sorrow in the intoxicating cup! He is giving up the true for the false, the elevating for the degrading, the life-bestowing for the death-dealing consolation.
4. That it is a feeble enemy that may be safely disregarded. Very many men and women come into the world with a constitution which makes any intoxicant a source of extreme peril to them; and many more find it to be a foe whose subtlety and strength require all their wisdom and power to master. An underestimate of the force of this temptation accounts for many a buried reputation, for many a lost spirit.
II. THE CONCLUSION OF THE WISE.
1. To avoid the use of it altogether, if possible; and thus to be quite safe from its sting.
2. To use it, when necessary, with the most rigorous carefulness (Proverbs 31:6; 1 Timothy 5:23).
3. To discourage those social usages in which much danger lies.
4. To act on the principle of Christian generosity (Romans 14:21).—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 29:11.)—C.
Proverbs 20:6, Proverbs 20:7
The blessings of goodness
Here are brought out again, in proverbial brevity, the blessings which belong to moral worth.
I. THE DOUBTFUL VALUE OF SELF-PRAISE. "Most men will proclaim," etc.
1. On the one hand, nothing is better than the approval of a man's own conscience. "Populus me sibilat, at mihi plaudo," says the Roman writer. Let a man have the commendation of his own conscience, and he can hear the hisses of the people with very little concern. It has been in this spirit that the very noblest things have been done by honourable and even heroic men.
2. On the other hand, there is a vast amount of self-congratulation amongst men which is nothing more or better than mere complacency. It is self-flattery, and that is not beautiful, but ugly; it is not true, but false. And such is the tendency in man to assure himself that he is right, even when he is thoroughly and lamentably wrong, that we have to wait and to inquire before we take men's word about themselves. Between the heroic spirit of a Luther, or a Columbus, or a Galileo, and the miserable self-satisfaction of some petty tyrant gloating over his tyranny, there is the entire breadth of the moral world. It is well for us all to be able to do without the honour that cometh from man only; it is well for us also to recognize the truth that our own commendation, so far teem being the voice of God within us, may be nothing but the very unsightly crust of a dangerous and even deadly complacency.
II. THE EXCELLENCY OF FAITHFULNESS. Solomon seemed to find fidelity a rare thing. "Who can find it?" he asked. With Christian truth sown in so many hearts, we do not feel the lack of it as he did. We thank God that in the home and the school, in the shop and the factory, in the pulpit and the press, in all spheres of honourable activity, we find instances of a solid and sound fidelity—men and women occupying their post and doing their work with a loyalty to those whom they serve, which is fair indeed in the sight both of heaven and of earth. There is abundance of unfaithfulness also, it has to be owned and lamented; and this is sometimes found where it is simply disgraceful—among those who wear the name of that Master and Exemplar who was "faithful in all his house." It is required of us, who are all stewards, that we be found faithful (1 Corinthians 4:2); and we must not only expect to give account to our brother here, but to the Divine Judge hereafter.
III. THE WORTH OF GUIDING PRINCIPLES. "A just man walketh in his integrity." What fairer sight is there beneath the sun? A just or upright man, a man who is
(1) yielding to God that which is due to his Creator and his Redeemer, viz. his heart and his life; who is
(2) giving to his neighbours what is due to them; and who is
(3) honouring himself as is his due;—this man is "walking" along the path of life in his integrity, every step directed by righteous principles and prompted by honourable impulses; his way is never crooked, but lies straight on; it is continuously upward, and moves to noble heights of virtue and wisdom and piety. Who would not be such as he is—a man God owns as his son, and the angels of God as their brother, and all his fellow men as their helper and their friend?
IV. THE CROWN OF HUMAN BLESSEDNESS. "His children are blessed after him." Then is a good man crowned with an honour and a joy which no diadem, nor rank, nor office, nor emolument, can confer, when his children are found "walking in the truth" of God, their affections centred in that Divine Friend who will lead them in the path of heavenly wisdom, their life governed by holy principles, themselves enriched and encircled by a holy and beautiful character, their influence felt on every hand for good—"a seed which the Lord hath blessed."—C.
Purity of heart
A subject that stretches back and looks onward as far as the limits of human history. But Jesus Christ has introduced into the world a power for purity which is peculiar to his gospel.
I. THE UTTER UGLINESS OF IMPURITY. To the eye of holy men there is an unspeakable offensiveness in any form of impurity—selfishness, worldliness, covetousness, sensuality, whatever it may be. And how much more hideous and intolerable must it be in the eyes of the Holy One himself (Habakkuk 1:13; Psalms 5:5)! This is one explanation of choosing leprosy as a type and picture of sin, viz, its fearful loathsomeness in the sight of God.
II. ITS EXCLUSION FROM THE PRESENCE AND KINGDOM OF GOD. (See Psalms 50:16; Psalms 66:18; Proverbs 15:29; Proverbs 28:9; Isaiah 1:10-17; Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14)
III. THE ONE WAY OF RETURN. When the heart sees, and is ashamed of, its corruption, and returns in simple penitence to God, then there is mercy and admission. But sincere repentance is the only gateway by which impurity can find its way to the favour and the kingdom of God.
IV. THE ESTABLISHMENT OF INWARD PURITY. When the heart, conscious of guilt, has sought and found mercy of God in Jesus Christ, and is "cleansed of its iniquity," so that there is "a clean heart and a right spirit" before God, all is not yet done that has to be accomplished. What Christian man can say, "I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin"? "If we [who are in Christ Jesus] say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us" (1 John 1:8). "In many things we offend all" (James 3:2). We are washed, but we "need to wash our feet" (John 13:10). There yet lingers within the heart of the humble and the pure that which needs purification before they will be "holy as he [the Lord] is holy." What are these cleansing forces which will best do this much needed and most desirable work? Are they not:
1. The avoidance of that which defiles; the deliberate turning away of the eyes of the soul (so far as duty to others will allow) from all that stains and soils?
2. Much fellowship with Jesus Christ the Holy One, and much intercourse with his true friends and followers?
3. The earnest, determined pursuit of that which is noblest in man, especially by the study of the worthiest lives?
4. Prayer lop the cleansing influences which come direct from the Holy Spirit of God (Psalms 51:10; Psalms 139:23, Psalms 139:24; 2 Thessalonians 2:17; Hebrews 13:20, Hebrews 13:21)?—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 16:11.)—C.
Childhood: a transparency, a prophecy, a study
It is not apparent why Solomon says, "Even a child is known." It is a familiar fact, at which we may glance, and which seems to be the main thought of the text.
I. THE TRANSPARENCY OF CHILDHOOD. Some men are full of guile and of hypocrisy; they have acquired the power of concealing their real thought and feeling beneath their exterior, and you are never quite sure what they mean. You dare not trust them; for their words, or their demeanour, or their present action may entirely belie them. Not so the child. He means what he says. If he does not love you, he will not affect any liking for you. You will soon find from his behaviour what he thinks about men and things, about the studies in which he is occupied, about the service in which you want him to engage. And whether he is living a pure and faithful life, whether he is obedient and studious, or whether he is obstinate and idle, you will very soon discover if you try. It requires but very little penetration to read a child's spirit, to know a child's character. but the truth which is not so much on the surface respecting the knowledge we have of or from the child relates to—
II. THE PROPHECY OF CHILDHOOD. "Even a child" will give some idea of the man into whom he will one day grow. "The child is father to the man." In him are the germs of the nobility or the meanness, the courage or the cowardice, the generosity or the selfishness, the studiousness or the carelessness, the power or the weakness, that is to be witnessed later on. He that has eyes to see may read in the child before him the future—physical, mental, moral—that will be silently but certainly developed. Hence we may regard—
III. CHILDHOOD AS A STUDY. If men have found an insect, or a flower, or a seed, or a strum well worth their study, how much more is the little child! For, on the one hand, ignorant assumption may spoil a life. To conclude hastily, and therefore falsely, respecting the temper, the tastes, the capacities, the inclinations, the responsibilities, the cull)ability or praiseworthiness of the child, and to act accordingly, may lead down into error and unbelief and despair the spirit that might, by other means, have been led into the light of truth and the love of God. And, on the other hand, a conscientious and just conclusion on these most important characteristics of childhood may make a life, may save unimaginable misery, may result in an early, instead of a late, unfolding of power and beauty, may make all the difference in the history of a human soul. And only the Father of spirits can tell what that difference is.—C.
God our Maker
Truly we are "wonderfully made;" and "the hand that made us is Divine." The human ear and eye are—
I. INSTANCES OF DIVINE SKILL AND POWER. That we should be able, by means of this small apparatus included in "the ear," to detect such a variety of notes, to distinguish sounds from one another so readily, through so many years, to perceive the faintest whisper in the trees, and to enjoy the roll of the reverberating thunder; that we should be able, by means of two small globes in our face, to see things as minute as a bad or a dewdrop and as mighty as a mountain or as the "great wide sea," to detect that which is dangerous and to gaze with delight and even rapture on the beauties and glories of the world;—this is a very striking instance of the wonderful skill and power of our Creator.
II. EVIDENCES OF DIVINE GOODNESS. For what sources of knowledge, of power, of pure gladness of heart, of mental and moral cultivation and growth, has not God given to us in sculpturing for us "the hearing ear," in fashioning for us "the seeing eye "?
III. SUGGESTIVE OF THE DIVINE KNOWLEDGE. "He that planted the ear, shall he Dot hear? he that formed the eye, shall he not see?" (Psalms 94:9). The wonderful Worker who has supplied us, his finite and feeble creatures, with such power of hearing and of vision, with such sources of knowledge,—how great, how perfect, how boundless, must be his own Divine perception! How certainly must he hear the whisper we would fain make inaudible to him! how inevitably must he see the action we would gladly hide from his searching sight! How absolute must God's knowledge be, both of our outward life and of the inner workings of our soul!
IV. OPPORTUNITY FOR DIVINE SERVICE. For here are the means we want of learning of God, of knowing, that we may do, his holy will. Our eye not only conveys to us the sight of the beautiful, the richly stored, the glorious world that God has made for us, but it enables us to rend "the book he has written for our learning," wherein we can find all that we need to know of his nature, his character, and his will. And our ear not only conveys to us the melodies of the outer world, but it places within the reach of our spirit the Divine truths which are uttered in our presence. These, as they come from the lips of parent, or teacher, or pastor, can "make us wise unto salvation," can fill our hearts with holy purpose, with true and pure emotion, with abiding peace. And we may add that the speaking lips are also that which "the Lord hath made;" and what an opportunity these give us of uttering his truth, of helping his children, of furthering his cause and kingdom! Such excellent service can our bodily organs render to our immortal spirit; and so may they be impressed into the holier service of their Divine Author.—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 21:6-8.)—C.
Resentment and forgiveness
The Christian doctrine of forgiveness finds here a distinct anticipation; but that doctrine was not found in the highway, but rather in the byway of pre-Christian morals. It made no mark. It did not find its way into the thought and the feeling of the people.
I. WE MUST EXPECT TO BE WRONGED, OR TO BELIEVE OURSELVES WRONGED, AS WE GO ON OUR WAY. So conflicting are our interests, so various our views, so many are the occasions when an event or a remark will wear an entirely different aspect according to the point of view from which it is regarded, that it is utterly unlikely, morally impossible, that we should not be often placed in a position in which we seem to he wronged. It may be some sentence spoken, or some action taken, or some purpose settled upon, slight or serious, incidental or malevolent, but we may take it that it is one part of the portion and burden of our life.
II. BITTER RESENTMENT IS DISTINCTLY DISALLOWED. It is natural, it is human enough. As man has become under the reign of sin, it finds a place in his heart if not in his creed, everywhere. It seems to be right. It has one element that is right—the element of indignation. But this is only one part of the feeling, and by no means the chief part. A bitter animosity, engendered by the thought that something has been done against us, is the main ingredient. And this is positively disallowed. "Shy not, I will recompense evil;" "It hath been said,… hate thine enemy; but I say unto you, Love your enemies … do good to them that hate you; ….Avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath;" "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger … be put away from you, with all malice" (Matthew 5:43, Matthew 5:44; Romans 12:19; Ephesians 4:31).
III. WE HAVE AN ADMIRABLE ALTERNATIVE. We can "wait on the Lord," and he will "save us." We can:
1. Go to God in prayer; take our wounded spirit to him; cast our burden upon him; seek and find a holy calm in communion with him.
2. Commit our cause unto him; be like unto our Leader, "who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judgeth righteously" (1 Peter 2:23). We shall thus ask God to save us from ourselves, from indulging thoughts and feelings toward our neighbour winch shame rather than honour us, which separate us in spirit from our great Exemplar (1 Peter 2:21); and to save us from those who would injure us, working for us, in his own way and time, our deliverance and recovery.
IV. WE WIN THE TRUE VICTORY. To be avenged on our enemy is a victory of a certain kind; the moment of success is a moment of triumph, of exultation. But:
1. That is a victory which is greatly and sadly qualified. When we regard the matter disinterestedly and dispassionately, can we really envy such triumph? Should we like to have in our heart the feelings which are surging and swelling in the breast of the victor—feelings of bitter hatred, and of positive delight in a brother's humiliation, or suffering, or loss?
2. The victory of forgiveness is pre-eminently Christian. It places us by the side of our gracious Lord himself (Luke 23:34), and of the best and worthiest of his disciples (Acts 7:60; 2 Timothy 4:16).
3. It gives to us a distinct spiritual resemblance to our heavenly Father himself. (Matthew 5:45.)—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 16:11.)—C.
The inward light
Man may be said to be governed from above, from without, and also from within; by the power which is from heaven, by human society, and also by the forces which are resident in his own spiritual nature.
I. OUR SPIRITUAL NATURE. God created man in his own image; i.e. he created him a spirit. God is a spirit; so also is man, his offspring, his human child. Our spiritual nature is endowed with the faculties of perception, of memory, of imagination, of reason. These include—some would say that to these there has to be added—the power which is usually called conscience, the exercise of our spiritual faculties directed to all questions of morality. This moral judgment, or conscience, of ours:
1. Distinguishes between right and wrong. Decides what is good and what evil, what is just and what unjust, what is pure and what impure, what is true and what false, what is kind and what cruel, it is an inward light; it is" the candle of the Lord," etc.
2. Approves of the one and disapproves of the other.
3. Acts with such force that, on the one hand, there is a distinct satisfaction, and even joy; that, on the other hand, there is distinct dissatisfaction, and even pain, sometimes amounting to an intolerable agony. There is hardly any delight we can experience which is so worthy of ourselves as the children of God, as is that which fills our heart when we know that, regardless of our own interests and prospects, we have done the right thing; there is no wretchedness so unbearable as remorse, the stinging and smarting of soul when our conscience rebukes us for some sad transgression.
4. Is a profoundly penetrating power. It "searches all the inward parts" of the soul; it considers not only what is on the surface, but what is far beneath. It deals with thoughts, with feelings, with purposes and desires, with the motives which move us, and with the spirit that animates us.
II. THE INJURY OUR NATURE SUFFERS FROM OUR SIN. He that sinneth against Divine wisdom, and therefore against the Divine One, does indeed "wrong his own soul." Every wrong action tends to weaken the authority of conscience, and, after a while, it disturbs its judgment, so that its decision is not as true and straight as it was. This is the saddest aspect of the consequence of sin. When the inward light, the candle of the Lord, begins to grow dim, and ultimately becomes darkened, then the soul is confused and the path of life is lost. If our eye is evil, our whole body is full of darkness; if the light that is in us be darkness, how great must the darkness be (Matthew 6:23)! When that which should be directing us into the truth and wisdom of heaven is misleading us, and is positively directing us to folly and wrong, we are far on the road to spiritual rain. We have to mourn the fact that this is no rare occurrence; that sin does so confuse and blind our souls that men do very frequently fall into the moral condition in which they "call evil good, and good evil." The light that is in them is darkness.
III. OUR RESTORATION THROUGH CHRIST OUR LORD. Jesus Christ offers himself to us as the Divine Physician; he says to us, "Wilt thou be made whole?" And he who so graciously and mightily healed the bodies heals also the souls of men. He does so by recalling our affection to God our Father, by setting our heart right. Then loving him, we love his Word, his truth; we study and we copy the life of our Lord. And as the heart is renewed and the life is changed, the judgment also is restored; we see all things in another light; we "see light in God's light." The candle of the Lord is rekindled, the lamp is trimmed; it gives a new light to all that are in the house—to all the faculties that are in the house of our nature. Let us yield ourselves to Christ our Lord, let us study his truth and his life, and our conscience will become more and more true in its decisions, and in its peaceful light we shall walk "all the day long," truly happy in heart, enjoying the constant favour of "the Father of lights."—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 16:12.)—C.
The glory of young manhood
A weak young man is not a sight that we like to see. Between young manhood and weakness there is no natural agreement; the two things do not accord with one another. In young men we look for strength, and delight to see it there. Moreover, youth itself is proud of the strength of which it is conscious, and "glories" in it. We look at—
I. THAT WHEREON WE CONGRATULATE IT. We look with satisfaction, and perhaps with pride, upon the young man who possesses:
1. Physical strength. Well-developed muscular power and skill, the attainment of the largest possible share of bodily vigour and capacity, this is one element of manliness, ands although it is not the highest, it is good in itself, and so far as it goes.
2. Intellectual power. The possession of knowledge, of mental vigour and grasp, of reasoning faculty, of business shrewdness and capacity, of imaginative power, of strength of will; but especially:
3. Moral and spiritual strength. Power to resist the evil forces which are around us; to put aside, without hesitation, the solicitations to unholy pleasure or unlawful gain; to decline the fellowship and friendship which might be pecuniarily or socially advantageous, but which would be morally and spiritually injurious; to move onward in the way of duty, unscathed by the darts and arrows of evil which are in the air; to undertake and to execute beneficent work; to range one's self with the honourable and holy few against the unworthy multitude; to bear a brave witness on behalf of truth, purity, sobriety, righteousness, whatever the forces that are in league against it;—this is the noblest element of strength, and this is pre-eminently the glory of young manhood.
II. ITS PECULIAR TEMPTATION. The temptation of the strong is to disregard and even to despise the weak, to look down with a proud sense of superiority on those who are less capable than themselves. This is both foolish and sinful. For comparative weakness is that from which the strong have themselves come up, and into which they will themselves go down. It is a question of time, or, if not of time, of privilege and bestowment (see infra), and a proud contempt is quite misplaced. The young should clearly understand that strength, when it is modest, is a beautiful thing, but when haughty and disdainful, is offensive in the sight both of God and man.
III. ITS CLEAR OBLIGATION. The first thing that human strength should do is to recognize the source whence it came, and to let its recognition find expression in devout and reverent action. "Thy God hath commanded thy strength." As, ultimately, all strength of every kind proceeds from God; and as he constantly sustains in power, and the strong as much as the weak are dependent on his fatherly kindness; and as the strong owe more to his goodness than the weak (inasmuch as they have received more at his hand);—the first thing they should ask themselves is—What can we render unto the Lord? And they will find that to devote their strength to the service of their Saviour and of their kind is to find a source of blessedness immeasurably higher, as well as far more lasting, than that which comes from the sense of power. It is not what we have, but what we give, that fills the soul with pure and abiding joy.—C.
(latter clause).—(See homily on Proverbs 16:31.)—C.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 20". The Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany