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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
Proverbs 14

 

 

Verse 9

DISCOURSE: 782

THE FOLLY OF MAKING A MOCK AT SIN

Proverbs 14:9. Fools make a mock at sin.

MAN in his first creation was formed after the Divine image; and there was not in his soul the least inclination to evil of any kind. But since his fall, he is become in love with sin: sin is the very element in which he lives: and so unconscious is he of its malignity, that he makes a mock at it. Doubtless all do not carry their impiety to the same extent. Some are openly profane, and given up to all manner of wickedness; not only not being ashamed of their ways, but actually “glorying in their shame.”

We must not however restrict to persons of this description the declaration in our text. The evil that is there complained of is of far wider extent, it more or less attaches to every unconverted man. This will appear, whilst we open to you,

I. The conduct here reprobated—

Let us remember what sin is: “it is the transgression of the law [Note: 1 John 3:4.].” Whichever table of the law be broken, or whatever command be violated, the violation of it is sin: and to make light of that transgression, whether it be more or less heinous in itself, is to make a mock at sin. Bearing this in mind, we say, that this evil is committed,

1. By those who live in sin themselves—

[Passing over the drunkard, who says to his companions, “We will fill ourselves with strong drink; and to-morrow shall be as this day and much more abundant [Note: Isaiah 56:12.];” and the robber, who invites his fellows, “Come, let us lay wait for blood, that we may fill our houses with spoil [Note: Proverbs 1:11; Proverbs 1:13.];” and the unhappy prostitute, who “impudently” assaults with importunity the unwary youth [Note: Proverbs 7:6-18.]; or a variety of other characters alike notorious and abandoned;—passing by these, I say, (whom to have named is quite sufficient,) let us look to the worldling, who, though walking in a more sober way, lives altogether for himself; or look to the self-righteous, who though admired and applauded as characters of superior excellence, have no true humiliation before God, no earnest desires after a Saviour, no real delight in holy exercises, no fixedness of mind to glorify their God. What shall I say of them all? Have they any just views of sin? Have they any suitable apprehensions of the state to which they have been brought by means of sin? Do not their whole spirit and temper shew, that they think light of it? and, if it were set before them in all its malignity and ill desert, would they not say, that the representation was exaggerated, and that the person who gave them the representation was deceived? They need not utter any words, to betray the thoughts of their hearts: these are sufficiently evident by the absence of all those feelings which a just estimate of sin would create: and exactly as those who imagine that God will never punish sin, are said to “contemn God [Note: Psalms 10:13.].” so may those, who think that sin will not involve us in misery, be justly said to contemn sin, and, in heart at least, if not in act, to “make a mock at it.”]

2. By those who discountenance piety in others—

[Though a form of godliness will gain us applause, no man begins to experience the power of it without exposing himself to the censure of an ungodly world. Let a person be really broken-hearted and contrite, as every sinner ought to be; let him be seeking the Lord Jesus Christ with his whole heart; let him turn his back upon the vanities of the world, and separate himself from the society of those who would ensnare his soul; let him give himself to reading the holy Scriptures, to devout meditation, to fervent prayer, to a diligent use of all the appointed ordinances of religion; let him join himself to the Lord’s people, and choose the excellent of the earth for his companions; let him, in a word, be in earnest in fleeing from the wrath to come, and in laying hold on eternal life; let him do this, and his nearest friends will instantly dissuade him from such a course: they will represent to him the inexpediency of such extravagant measures; they will complain of him as enthusiastic and righteous over-much. They will impute the change that has taken place in him to weakness, or vanity, or perhaps to hypocrisy and a desire of human estimation. Now then I ask, whence would such a disapprobation of his ways arise? Are they not such ways as are marked out by God? Are they not the very footsteps of the flock who have gone before him? Is not this course precisely such as common sense would dictate, and such as all mankind would approve, if the bodily life were in danger? Who would complain of earnestness in a shipwrecked mariner? Who would deride the cries and fears and efforts of a person endeavouring to escape from a house on fire? Yet in matters relating to the soul and to eternity, no sooner is the importance of salvation felt, and manifested, as it ought to be, than all who have any influence endeavour to quiet the fears, and to discourage the exertions, of the awakened soul. Could this be, if sin were viewed by them as God views it? No: the persons who thus discountenance fervent piety, declare, that they see no occasion for it; that we may very well be saved without it; and that sin has no such terrors but that a moderate degree of attention will not suffice to escape from its threatened dangers. What is this, but to “make a mock at sin?”]

That such conduct may appear in its true light, I proceed to shew,

II. The folly of it—

However much we make a mock at sin,

1. We cannot alter the nature of it—

[Sin is “that abominable thing which God hates [Note: Jeremiah 44:4.]:” he cannot look upon it, or on those who commit it, without the utmost abhorrence [Note: Habakkuk 1:13.]. It is, whether we will believe it or not, “exceeding sinful [Note: Romans 7:13.].” Now we are told by the prophet, that many will “call evil good, and good evil; and will put darkness for light, and light for darkness; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter [Note: Isaiah 5:20.].” But if the whole universe should do this, would they alter the essential qualities of these things? Would darkness cease to be darkness, and serve all the purposes of light? or would bitter change its properties to sweetness? So, whatever construction men may put upon sin, and however they may palliate its enormity, it will ever remain immutably the same; a defiling, debasing, damning evil; more to be dreaded than death itself. We may call it innocent; but it will “bite like a serpent, and sting like an adder [Note: Proverbs 23:32.].” We may roll it as a sweet morsel “under our tongue; but it will be the gall of asps within us [Note: Job 20:12-14.].”]

2. We cannot avert its consequences—

[God has said, “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God [Note: Psalms 9:17.].” Now we may say to sinners, as the serpent did to Eve, “Ye shall not surely die [Note: Genesis 3:4.]:” but we can never separate the penalty from the offence. We may represent the transgression, whatever it may be, as small; and may expatiate upon the goodness of God, and the impossibility of his visiting such an offence with such a tremendous punishment: but we shall not prevail on him to rescind his decree, or to reverse his sentence. He has said, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die [Note: Ezekiel 18:20.]:” and die it shall, even “the second death, in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone:” nor if the whole universe should combine their efforts to avert the sentence, should they ever prevail in any single instance [Note: Proverbs 11:21.]. “The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men [Note: Romans 1:18.]:” and sooner shall heaven and earth pass away, than one impenitent transgressor escape. How great then must be the folly of making a mock at sin! If we could prevail on God to accord with our views, and to concede that sin should pass unpunished, we might have some plea for our conduct: but if the effect of our representations be only to deceive our own souls, and to rivet the chains with which sin and Satan have already bound us, we must confess that Solomon’s views of such conduct are just, and that they are “fools” who “make a mock at sin.”]

To all of you then I would, in conclusion, say,

1. Make not light of sin yourselves—

[Your souls, your immortal souls, are at stake. Were the consequences of your error only temporary, we might leave you to enjoy your own delusions: but they are eternal. There is no repentance in the grave. “As the tree falls, so it will lie.” If you die under the guilt of sin, your doom is irreversible, your misery everlasting. How do millions that are now in the eternal world curse their folly for making light of sin, in direct opposition to all that God had spoken in his word respecting it! and in what accents would they speak, if they could now have access to you to warn you! I pray you then be wise in time; and seek without delay to obtain “the forgiveness of your sins through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus [Note: Colossians 1:14.]” — — —]

2. Regard not the scoffs of those who do—

[Suppose it desirable to possess the good opinion of the world: yet surely to purchase it at the expense of your immortal soul is to pay too high a price for it: it is but for a moment at all events: and though it is valuable so far as it may give you an influence over them for their good, yet it cannot for one moment be put in competition with the testimony of a good conscience, and the approbation of your God. You are taught to expect, that if you will not countenance the world in their ways, they will do all they can to discountenance you in yours. You see that this has been the case from the beginning: from the time of Abel to this hour, “they who have been born after the flesh have persecuted those who are born of the Spirit [Note: Galatians 4:29.]:” and not even the Lord Jesus Christ himself could escape their reproaches. “If then they called the Master of the house Beelzebub,” wonder not if his servants also be designated by reproachful names [Note: Matthew 10:25.]. If these things come upon you for righteousness sake, receive them as a token for good [Note: Luke 21:13. “Unto you: not against you.”], and bless God that you are “counted worthy to endure them [Note: Acts 5:41.].” God permits these things as trials of your faith and love; and if they at any time appear grievous to you, then think of the plaudit of your Judge, and how speedily the very people who now condemn you will themselves “awake to shame and everlasting contempt [Note: Daniel 12:2.],” and will be among the foremost to proclaim your praise [Note: Wisd. 5:1–6.]. “Be faithful unto death; and God will give you a crown of life.”]

3. Endeavour so to walk, that those who mock at sin may have no occasion given them to mock at righteousness also—

[Whilst you in departing from evil “condemn the world [Note: Hebrews 11:7.],” you may be well assured that they will be glad enough to find occasion against you, and to condemn religion on your account. Endeavour then to “walk wisely before God in a perfect way [Note: Psalms 101:2.].” Let the world “have no fault to find in you, except concerning the law of your God [Note: Daniel 6:5.].” Let not your regard for the duties of the first table lead you to neglect those of the second; but be careful to fulfil the duty of your place and station towards man, as well as that which consists in the more immediate service of your God: and be careful to avoid all needless singularities, which in the sight of God make you neither better nor worse. As for preventing the world from taking offence, that is impossible. Darkness must of necessity “hate the light:” but take care that the light be that which proceeds from God, and not from any “sparks of your own kindling.” “Walk in wisdom towards them that are without [Note: Colossians 4:5.]:” “give them no occasion to speak reproachfully [Note: 1 Timothy 5:14.]:” but so cause “your light to shine before them, that they may be led to glorify your heavenly Father.” Thus, though you should not “win them by your good conversation,” you may at least hope “to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men [Note: 1 Peter 2:15.];” and constrain them, in spite of all their mocking, to confess, that “the righteous is more excellent than his neighbour [Note: Proverbs 12:26.].”]


Verse 10

DISCOURSE: 783

MAN’S EXPERIENCE KNOWN TO HIMSELF ALONE

Proverbs 14:10. The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy.

THE inward experience of men, any further than it is discovered by acts or other outward signs, must of necessity be known to themselves alone. St. Paul puts the question to us, “Who knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:11.]?” Whether a man be filled with sorrow or joy, he alone can be sensible of the measure and extent of his own feelings.

The assertions in my text will be found true,

I. In reference to the concerns of this world—

[Great are the troubles of many, as arising from their own unhappy tempers — — — from their connexions in life — — — or from circumstances of embarrassment in their affairs — — — And who but themselves can fully appreciate their sorrows? — — — On the other hand, the comforts of many are considerable, as flowing from the exercise of benevolence and love — — — from the endearments of domestic life — — — and from that success in their affairs which enables them to supply with ease the wants of themselves and families — — — And of the satisfaction which they feel, a stranger would form a very inadequate conception — — —]

II. In reference to the concerns of the soul—

[In matters relating to the soul, the feelings are still more acute. None but the person feeling it can tell “the bitterness” which is occasioned by a sense of sin, with all its aggravations — — — by the prospect of death and judgment, whilst the soul is unprepared to meet its God — — — and by temptations to despondency, and perhaps to suicide itself — — — Job’s friends could not at all appreciate his sorrows, as depicted by himself [Note: Job 6:2-4] — — — Nor can any, but the man whose “heart is thus broken,” conceive fully what “a broken and contrite spirit is” — — —

On the other hand, there are in the heart of a true Christian “joys, with which a stranger intermeddleth not.” The peace that is experienced by him, when God speaks peace to his soul, “passeth all understanding [Note: Philippians 4:7.]” — — — And “the joys” with which he is transported, in the views of his Redeemer’s glory, in the experience of God’s love shed abroad in his heart, and in the earnest and foretaste of his eternal inheritance, “are unspeakable and glorified [Note: 1 Peter 1:8. See also Romans 8:15-16 and Ephesians 1:13-14; Ephesians 3:18-19.]” — — — These joys are, “the white stone, with a new name written on it, which no man can read, saving he who has received it [Note: Revelation 2:17.]” — — — Michal could not understand the exercises of David’s mind [Note: 2 Samuel 6:16; 2 Samuel 6:20-22.] — — — Nor can any one fully estimate the blessedness of a soul, when thus admitted to close communion with its God — — —]

Learn from hence—

[Contentment—(the very persons whom you envy, are perhaps even envying you — — —) charity—(we can see the outward act only, and can little tell what passes in the hearts of men, whether in a way of humiliation or desire — — —) and earnestness in the ways of God;—that you may attain the deepest measures of contrition, with the sublimest experience of joy. The lower we lay our foundation, the higher we may hope our superstructure shall be raised — — —]


Verse 12

DISCOURSE: 784

MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT THE WAY OF SALVATION

Proverbs 14:12. There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death [Note: This was written a great many years after that on Proverbs 16:25. without any consciousness that the subject had been treated by the author before: and, though it goes over some of the same ground, yet as it contains much new matter, he has here inserted it.].

ON no topic do men express a greater confidence than on the subject of religion; whilst that, of all subjects that can be offered to our consideration, requires most care in our inquiry, and most diffidence in our decision. All other subjects, as far as they can be determined at all, may be determined by reason; and in the investigation of them, reason is to a certain degree free, both in its deliberations and decisions. But spiritual things must be spiritually discerned: they are out of the reach of reason. Reason must judge whether the things which are presented to it are revealed: but, when that point is ascertained, they must be apprehended by faith alone. Reason can tell us nothing about the mystery of redemption: it is faith alone that can apprehend that, or any of the other mysteries connected with it. Moreover, whilst reason can do so little in favour of religion, all the prejudices, and passions, and interests of mankind are acting in full force against it. Faith and sense are always at variance with each other, and always striving for the mastery; and unless faith be in lively exercise, sense is sure to triumph. Hence the Church of God is inundated with errors of various kinds: and hence we need to have frequently inculcated upon our minds the truth contained in our text, “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.”

In illustration of this truth, I will point out some of those ways, which, though right in the estimation of those who walk in them, will assuredly terminate in death. No other issue will there be to the way,

I. Of sceptical indifference—

[There is a great degree of scepticism prevailing, in reference both to the divine authority of the Holy Scriptures, and to all the principal doctrines contained in them: and men of considerable ability have laboured much to invalidate the former, and to explain away the latter. Hence many will say, ‘How can I ascertain what is true, amidst such a conflict of opinions?’ or, ‘How can I depend on any thing, of which so many great and learned men have doubted? Is it reasonable to suppose that God will call us to an account for not admitting what has been so often controverted, and, in the opinion of some, so successfully refuted? Let us rather hope that God, as a God of mercy, will accept us all, though we do not all walk in that precise way, which those who profess a greater reverence for the Scriptures conceive to be right.’

But these hopes will be found fallacious at the last: for there is far more criminality in unbelief, than men in general are aware of. It does not proceed from any want of evidence in the Scriptures, but from an evil bias in the heart of man. There is “an evil heart of unbelief,” which causes us to depart from the living God. Men will not submit to God, but will exalt themselves against him; and think themselves justified in rejecting whatever they, with the short line of their reason, are unable to fathom. What would a philosopher think of a peasant who should argue thus in reference to sciences which he was unable to comprehend? and in what light must God view us, when we presume to sit in judgment thus on the plainest declarations of his word?

But supposing that there were not so much criminality in unbelief, should we be at all the more justified in neglecting our eternal interests? Does not reason itself teach us, that we are amenable to God for our conduct; and that, whether our views of revelation be more or less clear, we should labour incessantly and with all our might to secure his favour? and should we not use all possible means, particularly such as he himself has prescribed, for the attaining of an insight into his revealed will?

However innocent we may imagine our scepticism to be, or however justifiable the indifference connected with it, this way will at last infallibly end in death. The Jews in the wilderness could not enter into the promised land because of their unbelief: and the same cause will operate also to the exclusion of our souls from heaven [Note: Hebrews 3:19; Hebrews 4:1; Hebrews 4:11.]. The people who denied the Messiahship of Jesus doubtless thought that they were justified in so doing by a want of evidence: but our Lord said to them, “If ye believe not that I am He, ye shall die in your sins [Note: John 8:24.]:” and in like manner he has commanded it to be proclaimed to every child of man, “He that believeth and is baptized, shall be saved; but he that believeth not, shall be damned [Note: Mark 16:16.].”]

II. Of proud formality—

[Multitudes there are, who, like the Pharisees of old, are extremely attentive to the established forms of religion, and are observant of morality also, as far as it is approved by the world. In relation to these things they may be said to be blameless: and so good is the opinion which they entertain of their own state, that they would, without any fear of being confounded, ask, “What lack I yet?” In this state they are approved and admired of men; and therefore they conclude, that they are equally acceptable in the sight of God also. Persons of this description scarcely ever entertain a doubt, or a fear, but that all will issue well with them at the last. But they will find themselves awfully mistaken as soon as ever they go hence. They will then discover, that their obedience was infinitely more defective than ever they conceived it to be: and that, if it had been as blameless as they imagined, it would still have afforded them no ground of hope before God. Had such attainments as these sufficed, St. Paul needed never to have embraced the Gospel at all: or had they been capable of adding any thing to the righteousness of Christ, he never would have desired to be found in Christ, not having his own righteousness which was of the law? How erroneous a way to life this is, will be seen at once in the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican. Few of the formalists of the, present day can say so much in their own favour as he could: he could appeal to God that he was not guilty of such sins as were common in the world, and that, on the contrary, he was observant of many religious duties, “fasting twice every week, and giving tithes of all that he possessed.” Yet, because he viewed his state with self-confidence and self-complacency, he was dismissed without any blessing; whilst the self-abasing Publican was pardoned and justified from all his sins [Note: Luke 18:11-14.]. But thus it ever will be: “God will fill the hungry with good things, but the rich he will send empty away [Note: Luke 1:53.]: “he will resist the proud, but give grace unto the humble [Note: 1 Peter 5:5.].”]

III. Of intolerant bigotry—

[There are not wanting those who imagine that all religion consists in zeal for their own particular sect or party in the Church. Amongst the papists, this error prevails to an awful extent: and happy would it be if it were confined to them; but it is found in protestants also, who are as bitter in proscribing each other, as the papists are in anathematizing them. At what a fearful distance are the churchmen and dissenters separated from each other, from the mere circumstance of their not adopting the same external form of Church government, even whilst they are perfectly agreed in sentiment as to all the fundamental doctrines of Christianity! From the spirit with which they view each other, one would be ready to think that Christ did indeed come to introduce division, not accidentally, but intentionally; not by a separation of his people from the world, but by an alienation of heart from each other. Who has not seen and mourned over the mutual accusations of the two parties, each rejoicing in any evil that can be found in the other, and each wishing the conversion, perhaps I should rather say, the extermination, of the other? And as men hate each other on account of outward forms, so no less are they embittered against each other by a difference in their internal principles; the Arminian hating Calvinists; and the Calvinist despising Arminians! Need I say how much some persons value themselves on the opposition they give to what they call enthusiasm, but what, in fact, is “pure and undefiled religion?” Verily, in persecuting the truth, they think that they do God service: and well pleased they are to render him a service so congenial with the malignity of their own hearts. St. Paul before his conversion was of this very spirit: and our Lord has told us, that in every age such would prove the persecutors and tormentors of his Church [Note: John 16:2.]. But whoever may be wrong, it is not possible for persons of this description to be right: the very spirit which they breathe shews “whose they are, and whom they serve,” even him “who was a murderer from the beginning [Note: John 8:39-44. 1 John 3:11-12; 1 John 3:15.],” and who has been the great instigator of persecution from the time of Cain even to the present hour. Let such persons only see St. Paul’s review of his own conduct in relation to this matter, and he cannot doubt one moment whither this path must lead [Note: 1 Timothy 1:13.]. Or if this convince him not, let him know, that if he possessed all the knowledge and faith and zeal of angels themselves, he would be only as “sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal,” because he is destitute of that prime Brace grace is essential to the very existence of true religion in the soul, the grace of love [Note: 1 Corinthians 13:1-3.].]

IV. Of lukewarm attachment to the Gospel—

[Where the Gospel is preached with fidelity, it commends itself to many as true, whilst they yet experience not its saving power on their souls. Yet the very circumstance of their discerning and approving; of it is to them in the place of vital godliness, and an evidence that they are in the way to heaven. But religion is not a mere matter of opinion: it is a principle that pervades the soul, and operates upon all its faculties and powers. See how it wrought in the converts on the day of Pentecost; what new creatures they immediately became! And such will all become, as soon as ever they receive the grace of God in truth. The metaphors by which the Christian life is designated in the Scriptures, sufficiently shew how mistaken they are who rest in a mere approbation of the Gospel without feeling its constraining influence upon their souls: if the running of a race, or wrestling for the mastery, or fighting for one’s life, have any just signification as applied to the Christian’s state, it is impossible for those to be in the way of life who bear no resemblance whatever to persons so engaged: and the total want of anxiety and of exertion which they betray, proves, beyond all doubt, that they are not in the narrow way which leadeth unto life, but in the broad road that leadeth to destruction.]

V. Of unsanctified profession—

[Amongst the little company of the Apostles themselves, there was a Judas: and in all the Apostolic Churches also there were some who “professed that they knew God, but in works denied him.” It must not be wondered at therefore if such exist in the Church at this present day. Indeed the parable of the Sower, and that also of the Tares, teaches us to expect, than Satan will sow tares amongst the wheat, and that it is not possible for man to separate them the one from the other. Unhappily, the persons themselves who are unsound at heart are not conscious of it. Satan so blinds their eyes, that they cannot distinguish between the unallowed infirmities of their nature, and the indulged corruptions of their hearts. Their evil tempers which are unsubdued, are regarded us light and venial frailties: their carefulness about the things of this world is softened down to necessary prudence: and the reigning impurity of their hearts is closed under the veil of temptation. Whatever be their besetting sins, they find some excuse for them; and, because they have a zeal for the Gospel and make some sacrifices for it, they conclude that all is well with them. Having “a name to live,” they have no conception that they can be really “dead.” But such persons need to be reminded of what our blessed Lord has so plainly and forcibly declared, namely, that one single lust retained in the soul, though dear as a right eye or necessary as a right hand, will infallibly plunge the soul into that lake of fire that never shall be quenched [Note: Mark 12:43–48.]. Our blessed Lord has warned us, that the “saying, Lord! Lord!” however confidently we may repeat it, will never avail us, whilst we do not the things which he says: and, that though we may have “cast out devils in his name,” we shall find no acceptance with him in the day of judgment, if we have not really, and unreservedly, mortified the whole body of sin [Note: Matthew 7:21-23. Luke 13:26-27.]. Let all professors of religion know assuredly, that “without holiness, real and universal holiness, no man shall see the Lord [Note: Hebrews 12:14.]:” and that, whatever estimate they may form of their own state, “not he who commendeth himself shall be approved, but he whom the Lord commendeth [Note: 2 Corinthians 10:18.].”]

Seeing then that so many mistake the way to heaven,

I will add a few words,

1. To guard you against all erroneous ways—

[There is one great evil which more or less pervades all descriptions of men, and that is, an undue confidence in their own opinions. If they “think a thing to be right,” they conclude that it is right, and will take no pains to ascertain the truth or falsehood of their judgment. They think not of the deceitfulness of sin, or of the blindness of their own hearts, or of the subtlety of Satan; but go on confidently, as if they were in no danger of self-deceit. But why has God so often repeated that admonition, “Be not deceived,” if we are not in danger of being carried away by our own delusions? We are told of many whom a deceived heart hath turned aside, so that they cannot deliver their souls, or say, Is there not a lie in my right hand?” And why should not this be our state, as well as the state of others? We actually see it in others: why then should we not suspect it in ourselves? It is certain that a man may “seem to be religious, and yet deceive his own soul, and have all his religion vain,” because of some one sin that is unsubdued, and unperceived within him [Note: James 1:26.]? I can never therefore too earnestly impress upon your minds the necessity of diffidence in all that relates to your souls. There is but one standard of truth: and by that must every opinion be tried. If the way which you think right will stand the trial of God’s word, it is well: but, if it accord not with that, it will prove delusive in the end, and issue in the everlasting destruction of your souls. Be it ever so specious, it cannot deceive God. To all then I would say, Act in reference to your souls as the mariner does in navigating a dangerous sea: he consults his chart and his compass continually; and, not contented with thinking himself right, he puts his thoughts to the test, and seeks for evidence that he is right. Then may you hope to avoid the rocks and quicksands on which so many thousands perish; and to reach in safety the haven you desire.]

2. To point out the only true way—

[There is a way, which seemeth indeed wrong to the greater part of mankind, which, however, is surely right, and the end thereof are the ways of life. This is the way of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; as Christ himself has told us; “I am the way, and the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me [Note: John 14:6.].” This indeed is not approved by the world at large: “to the Jews it is a stumbling-block, and to the Greeks foolishness [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:23.]:” but it is “the good old way, wherein whosoever walks shall find rest unto his soul [Note: Jeremiah 6:16. Matthew 11:28-29.].” Let it not be any matter of astonishment that this way is not generally approved: for it is too humiliating for our proud hearts, and too self-denying for our low and grovelling spirits. Men do not love to renounce all self-dependence, and to have all their wisdom, all their righteousness, and all their strength treasured up in another for their use, to be received daily out of his fulness in answer to urgent and believing prayer. Nor do they like to have that high standard of holiness, which he gives to his disciples as the rule of their life, mid the test of their attainments. But, beloved, this is the only true way to heaven: we must believe in Christ, and live altogether by faith in him, going forward in his strength, and “growing up into him in all things as our living head.” Then, though regarded by men as self-deluding enthusiasts, we shall be approved of our God, and receive at last “the end of our faith, even the salvation of our souls.”]


Verse 13

DISCOURSE: 785

THE VANITY OF CARNAL MIRTH

Proverbs 14:13. Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness.

WE are apt to imagine, that whatever is sanctioned by the approbation and practice of the world at large, must be right: but we cannot have a more erroneous standard than popular opinion. This is sufficiently evident from the estimation in which mirth and laughter are generally held: they are supposed to constitute the chief happiness of man; whereas they are far from producing any solid happiness at all. To this mistake Solomon refers, in the words preceding the text; and in the text itself he confirms the truth of his own position.

We shall,

I. Demonstrate the vanity of carnal mirth—

We mean not to condemn all kinds and degrees of mirth: there certainly is a measure of it that is conducive to good, rather than to evil; “A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance,” and “doeth good like a medicine.” But carnal mirth is distinct from cheerfulness of disposition; inasmuch as it argues a light frivolous state of mind, and indisposes us for serious and heavenly contemplations. Of this mirth we affirm, that it is,

1. Empty—

[Let us examine the mirth which we have at any time experienced; let us weigh it in a balance; let us compare it with that sobriety of mind which results from scenes of woe, and with that tenderness of spirit which is the offspring of sympathy and compassion; and we shall confess, with Solomon, that “it is better to go to the house of mourning than to the house of feasting [Note: Ecclesiastes 7:1-3.]:” yea, the more we examine it, the more shall we be constrained, like him, to “say of laughter. It is mad; and of mirth, What doeth it [Note: Ecclesiastes 2:1-2.]?” It may be justly called, “a filling of our belly with the east wind [Note: Job 15:2.].”]

2. Fictitious—

[The gaiety which is exhibited in worldly company is often assumed, for the purpose of concealing the real feelings of the heart. They who appear so delighted to see each other, have frequently no mutual affection: even the nearest relatives, who seem to participate each other’s joys, have so little real cordiality at home, that they can scarcely endure each other’s conversation; and would be heartily glad, if the knot which binds them together could be dissolved. Truly “in their laughter their heart is sorrowful;” their pride, their envy, their jealousy, their private piques, their domestic troubles, or their worldly cares, make them inwardly sigh, so that they can with difficulty prevent the discovery of the imposture which they are practising. The very emptiness of their pleasure fills them often with disgust; and they are constrained to acknowledge, that “they are feeding on ashes, and that they have a lie in their right hand [Note: Isaiah 44:20.].”]

3. Transient—

[Suppose it to have been for more substantial than it has, yet how speedily has it vanished away! What trace of it remains? It is like a dream when one awaketh: in our dream we thought of satisfaction; but when we awoke, we found ourselves as unsatisfied as ever [Note: Isaiah 29:8.]. If we thought by repeated participation to protract the pleasure, we weakened the zest with which we had partaken of it; and thus diminished, rather than increased, the sum of our enjoyment.]

4. Delusive—

[We hoped that the ultimate effect of all our mirth would be an easy comfortable frame: but has it always been so? Has not the very reverse been often experienced by us? Has not “the end of our mirth been heaviness?” An excessive elevation of spirit is naturally calculated to produce depression. Besides, we cannot always shake off reflection: and the thought of having so foolishly wasted our time, instead of improving it in preparation for eternity, will sometimes produce very uneasy sensations. Such warnings as Solomon [Note: Ecclesiastes 11:9.], and our Lord [Note: Luke 6:25.], have given us, will frequently obtrude themselves upon us, and make us almost weary of life, while at the same time we are afraid of death: so justly is this mirth compared to “the crackling of thorns under a pot [Note: Ecclesiastes 7:6.];” the one, after an unprofitable blaze, terminating in smoke and darkness, the other, after a senseless noise, expiring in spleen and melancholy. In fact, there are no people more subject to lowness of spirits, than they who spend their time in vanity and dissipation.

What will be “the end of their mirth” when they come into the eternal world, is inexpressibly awful to consider. Fearful indeed will be the contrast between the festivities of their present, and the wailings of their eternal state [Note: Amos 6:1-6.]! Would to God that man would learn this from a parable [Note: Luke 16:19; Luke 16:24-25.]! but, if they will not, they must realize it in their own experience.]

That we may not appear as if we would deprive you of all happiness, we shall—

II. Shew how we may attain more solid mirth—

There is evidently a contrast intended in the text: for when it is said that “the end of that mirth is heaviness,” it is implied, that there is another species of mirth that shall end in a very different manner.

The Gospel is a source of mirth to all who embrace it—

[The Gospel is called “glad tidings of great joy to all people.” It proclaims salvation to a ruined world; nor can it fail of creating the liveliest emotions of joy wherever it is received [Note: Isaiah 51:3; Isaiah 51:11; Isaiah 65:18 and Jeremiah 31:4. with Acts 8:8; Acts 8:39.] — — —]

And the mirth resulting from it, is the very reverse of carnal mirth—

[It is solid.—Behold the change wrought in the first converts! see them turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God! see them enjoying peace with God and in their own consciences! see them filled with love to each other, and with admiring and adoring thoughts of their beloved Saviour! Can we wonder that they ate their bread with gladness and singleness of heart, blessing and praising God? Yet precisely the same grounds of joy has every one that truly believes in Christ [Note: Jeremiah 31:11-14.]. The Prodigal fancied that he was in the road to joy, when he was wasting his substance in riotous living: but he never tasted real happiness till he returned to his father’s house: then “he began to eat, and drink, and be merry.”

It is permanent.—It will consist with trials and tribulations; yea, it will even arise out of them [Note: Romans 5:3. James 1:2.]: we may be “sorrowful, yet alway rejoicing [Note: 2 Corinthians 6:10.].” And, as it is not interrupted by the occurrences of life, so neither will it be terminated by death: it will then be augmented a thousand-fold: and continue without interruption to all eternity — — —]

Address—

1. The young and gay—

[Follow your career of pleasure as long as you will, you will be constrained to say at last, with Solomon, not only that it was all “vanity,” but also “vexation of spirit.” Yet think not, that in dissuading you from these lying vanities, we would deprive you of all happiness: we wish only that you should exchange that which is empty and delusive, for that which will afford you present and eternal satisfaction [Note: Isaiah 55:2.]. Even your past experience may suffice to shew you, that “in the fulness of your sufficiency you have been in straits [Note: Job 20:22.]:” try now what the service and enjoyment of God can do for you; and you shall find that religion’s “ways are indeed ways of pleasantness and peace.”]

2. Those who profess godliness—

[In avoiding carnal mirth, you must be careful not to give occasion to the world to represent religion as sour and morose. There is a cheerfulness which recommends religion, and which it is both your duty and privilege to maintain. Yet, on the other hand, beware of levity. Live nigh to God, and you will easily find the proper medium. “God has certainly given you all things richly to enjoy [Note: 1 Timothy 6:17.]:” yet it is in himself alone, and in the light of his countenance, that you must seek your happiness. There you are sure to find it [Note: Psalms 4:6-7.]; and while you find it in him, you will shine as lights in a dark world, and recommend the Gospel to all around you.]


Verse 14

DISCOURSE: 786

THE DANGER OF BACKSLIDING

Proverbs 14:14. The backslider in heart shall be filled with his own ways: and a good man shall be satisfied from himself.

THOUGH God does not select those as objects of his mercy, who are most diligent in external duties, yet he increases his favours to those whom he has chosen, in proportion as they themselves are earnest in improving what he has already bestowed upon them. In the dispensations of his providence it is generally found, that “the diligent hand maketh rich:” but in the dispensations of his grace, this seems to be an unalterable rule of his procedure: “his ways with respect to these things are equal;” “whatsover a man sows, that he may assuredly expect to reap:” “to him that hath, shall be given, and he shall have abundance.” To this effect are the declarations before us; in which we may observe,

I. The danger of backsliding—

Open apostasy is confessedly a certain road to destruction: but we may also perish by indulging the more specious and equally dangerous habit of secret declension. Not that every variation in our frame constitutes us backsliders in heart; (for who then could be saved?)

but,

We come under this description,

1. When we are habitually remiss in secret duties—

[It is possible we may once have run well, and enjoyed much blessedness in the service of our God; and yet have been so hindered in our course, as to have relapsed into a state of coldness and formality [Note: Galatians 1:6; Galatians 5:7; Galatians 4:15.]. The word, which was once precious, may have lost its savour; and prayer, which was once delightful, may have become an irksome task. Both public and private ordinances may have degenerated into an empty form, in which God is not enjoyed, nor is any blessing received. Where this is the case the person must surely be denominated a “backslider in heart.”]

2. When we habitually indulge any secret lusts—

[Whatever attainments a man may have made in religion, if his heart be not whole with God, he will sooner or later decline; and that which was his besetting sin in his state of ignorance, will regain its ascendency, and (as far at least as relates to its inward workings) recover its dominion over him. He may still, for his profession sake, restrain sin, in a measure, as to its outward exercise, while yet its inward power is unsubdued. Was he naturally addicted to pride, envy, malice, covetousness, lewdness, or any other sin? If he allow it to return upon him after he has been once purged from it [Note: 2 Peter 1:9; 2 Peter 2:20. Galatians 4:16.], if he be averse to have the evil of it pointed out to him, if he justify it, or cover his fault with excuses, instead of endeavouring earnestly to amend it, he certainly is a backslider in heart—]

In either of these states we are exposed to the most imminent danger—

[There are a variety of ways in which God will punish sin, but none so terrible as that specified in the words before us. If God were to fill the backslider with acute and long-continued pain, or visit him with some other temporal affliction, it might work for good, and bring him to consideration and repentance: but if he give him up to his own heart’s lusts, and leave him to be “filled with his own ways,” nothing but a certain and aggravated condemnation can ensue. Was he far from God? he will be further still: was he addicted to any sin? he will be more and more enslaved by it: nor can there be a doubt, but that God will give us up to this judgment, if we “leave off to behave ourselves wisely,” and return to the indulgence of wilful neglects and secret sins [Note: Psalms 81:11-12. Deuteronomy 32:15; Deuteronomy 32:18-20. Proverbs 1:30-31.] — — —]

But we shall see a strong additional motive to persevere, if we consider,

II. The benefit of maintaining steadfastness in religion—

The “good man” is here put in contrast with the backslider—

[As every occasional declension does not denominate a man a wilful backslider, so neither does every transient inclination to virtue denominate a man good. To be truly good, he must set out well, and “hold on his way,” causing his “light to shine more and more unto the perfect day [Note: Proverbs 4:18.].”]

Such an one shall find much satisfaction both in and from his way:

He shall have the comfort of seeing that he is advancing in religion—

[The testimony of a good conscience is one of the richest comforts we can enjoy [Note: 2 Corinthians 1:12.]. Hezekiah pleaded it before God in a dying hour, not indeed as a ground of justification before him, but as a ground whereon he might hope for some favourable indulgence with respect to the continuance of this present life [Note: 2 Kings 20:2-3.]. And Paul, in the near prospect of the eternal world, found it a source of unutterable joy [Note: 2 Timothy 4:7-8.]. Now this satisfaction every upright soul shall enjoy. If he cannot distinctly see the progressive steps of his advancement from day to day, he shall have a testimony in his own conscience that he is on the whole advancing: he shall feel himself more and more fixed in his “purpose to cleave unto the Lord,” and increasingly desirous of approving himself faithful to his God and Saviour.]

He shall also enjoy more abundant manifestations of God’s love—

[God will not leave his people without witness that he is pleased with their endeavours to serve and honour him. “He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” If he behold any persons striving to please him, “he will love them and come unto them, and sup with them, and manifest himself to them as he does not unto the world [Note: John 14:21-23. Revelation 3:20.]:” and the more diligent he sees them in doing his will, the more richly will he impart to them the tokens of his love, and the more abundantly communicate to them the blessings of grace and peace [Note: Isaiah 32:17.].]

His prospects, moreover, of the eternal world shall be more bright and glorious—

[To many does God vouchsafe, as to Moses from Mount Pisgah, delightful prospects of the heavenly Canaan. He draws aside the veil, and suffers them to enter into the holy of holies, that they may behold his glory, and receive a foretaste of the blessedness which they shall one day enjoy in his presence. But on whom are these special favours bestowed? on the slothful, the careless, the inconstant? No. It is “the faithful man that shall abound with these blessings;” it is “him that rejoiceth in working righteousness, that the Lord will meet” in this intimate and endearing manner [Note: Proverbs 28:20. Isaiah 33:14-17; Isaiah 64:5.].]

Infer—

1. How much more ready is God to shew mercy than to execute his judgments!

[Had God been extreme to mark what is done amiss, who is there amongst us, whom he would not often have abandoned in an hour of secret declension? But he is full of compassion; and “judgment is his strange work,” to which he is greatly averse. At this very moment does he follow the backslider with the most earnest invitations, and most gracious promises, saying, “Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings, and love you freely [Note: Jeremiah 3:22. Hosea 14:4.].” Let us thankfully acknowledge his long-suffering and forbearance; and seek that happiness in the service of our God, which we shall in vain look for in any deviations from the path of duty.]

2. What need have we to watch over our own hearts!

[We are bidden to “keep our hearts with all diligence, because out of them are the issues of life and death [Note: Proverbs 4:23.]:” and indeed we have need to guard them well, because they are so “bent to backslide from God.” It will be rarely, if ever, found, that the watchful Christian is left to fall into any gross sin. Men decline from God in secret, before he withdraws from them his restraining grace: they have chosen some evil “way of their own,” and deliberately followed it in their hearts, before God leaves them to be “filled with it.” If then we would not be swept away with a deluge of iniquity, let us be careful to stop the breach at first; for, if left a little time, it will widen, till it defies our utmost exertions. The present satisfaction, as well as the future salvation, of our souls depends on a stead-fast walk with God. Let us then “hold fast the profession of our faith, and the practice of our duty, without wavering:” and “let us look to ourselves that we lose not the things which we have wrought, but that we receive a full reward [Note: 2 John, ver. 8.].”]


Verse 26

DISCOURSE: 787

THE FEAR OF THE LORD A SOURCE OF MUCH GOOD

Proverbs 14:26. In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence; and his children shall have a place of refuge.

IN the Holy Scriptures there is often much contained in a small space. Hence we read them frequently without discerning one half of their beauty and importance — — — In the passage before us, we have in a concentrated form the benefits arising from the fear of God. They are two:

I. Confidence—

Before we speak of the benefit itself, we must endeavour to attain accurate views of that from which it flows. By “the fear of the Lord,” I understand such a fear as brings us to his footstool; and such a fear as stimulates us to an unreserved surrender of ourselves to him. It is clear that it must comprehend these, and cannot possibly exist without them [Note: Psalms 112:1.] — — — Now, wherever this is found, there is “a strong confidence” of acceptance with God; a confidence founded,

1. On the general character of God—

[There is, in the mind of every one who has the least knowledge of God, a persuasion that “he delights in mercy:” and though this of itself is not sufficient to warrant a confidence of our acceptance with him, it is a strong confirmation of our confidence, when we have really come to him with a humble believing, and obediential fear — — —]

2. On the Scripture account of him, as revealed to us in Christ Jesus—

[There we see his assumption of our nature, his death upon the cross as an atonement for our sins, his ascension to heaven, to govern all things for the good of his Church and people. O! what confidence must such wonders of love and mercy inspire! Can we turn to him in faith and fear, and doubt his willingness to receive us? Impossible. It cannot be but that our “confidence” in such a God must be “strong [Note: 2 Timothy 1:12.]” — — —]

3. On the express promises which he has given us in his word—

[These are “exceeding great and precious,” and fully commensurate with all our wants. There is no state in which we can be, that has not a promise especially adapted to it. Only let those be embraced, and the most desponding soul must be comforted [Note: Hebrews 6:17-18. 2 Corinthians 1:20.] — — —]

To them, under all circumstances, is afforded,

II. Safety—

They stand in the relation of “children” to God, who “is not ashamed to be called their God” and Father. And to them there is ever open “a place of refuge,”

1. From the calamities of life—

[True, the saints are exposed to calamities like other men; but they see that every thing, whoever be the instrument, proceeds in reality from their Father’s hand, who sends it only for their good. Hence the very character of the visitation is changed; and instead of being an occasion for mourning, it is welcomed as a blessing in disguise [Note: Proverbs 19:23. Psalms 91:9-12.] — — —]

2. From the assaults of Satan—

[Doubtless Satan will exert himself to the uttermost to harass and destroy them [Note: 1 Peter 5:8.]: but they are furnished with armour to withstand his fiercest assaults [Note: Ephesians 6:12-13.]; and they have an impregnable fortress ever open to them, even “the name of the Lord, which is to them as a strong tower, wherein they are safe [Note: Proverbs 18:10.].” And, after maintaining their conflict the appointed time, they are sure of beholding “him bruised under their feet [Note: Romans 16:20.].”]

3. From the fears of death—

[Death is still an enemy: but they triumph over him, saying, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” They are enabled to number him amongst their friends and treasure [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:23.]; and to long for his arrival, to introduce them into the more immediate presence of their God [Note: Philippians 1:23.] — — —]

4. From all the penal consequences of sin—

[At the very bar of judgment itself they stand with great boldness. The curses of the Law infuse no terror into their minds; because they can point to “Him who has redeemed them from its curse, having himself become a curse for them [Note: Galatians 3:13.].” “To them there is no condemnation [Note: Romans 8:1.]:” to them remains nothing but unbounded, everlasting bliss — — —]

Address—

1. Those who have confidence without fear—

[This is the state of the world at large — — — But such confidence is presumption [Note: Deuteronomy 29:19-20 and 1 Thessalonians 5:3.]: it is “the broken and contrite soul, and that alone, which God will not despise;”— — — To them, therefore, would I say, “Awake, and arise; and Christ will give you light [Note: Ephesians 5:14.].”]

2. Those who have fear without confidence—

[Brethren, you should not so dishonour your Lord and Saviour. If only you have such a fear of God as humbles you before him, and makes you desire truly and unfeignedly to serve him, what reason have you to entertain any doubt of his willingness to save you? Has God become a man for you, and died upon the cross for you; and is he ordering every thing for you, both in heaven and earth; and should you not trust in him? Be ashamed of entertaining such unworthy thoughts of him, and cast yourselves altogether upon him both for time and for eternity — — —]

3. Those who have the happiness of uniting both—

[This is the state in which you should both live and die. It is the due mixture of fear and confidence which will bring you to that holy frame in which God most delights [Note: Acts 9:31 and Psalms 115:13.]. He would have you ever to “rejoice with trembling,” and to tremble with rejoicing — — —]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Proverbs 14:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/proverbs-14.html. 1832.

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