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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae
Proverbs 16

 

 

Verse 2

DISCOURSE: 791

MAN’S ESTIMATE OF HIMSELF AND GOD’S CONTRASTED

Proverbs 16:2. All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes: but the Lord weigheth the spirits.

AMONGST the purest joys of a Christian is “the testimony of a good conscience;” and all the labour that can possibly be bestowed on the attainment of it will be well repaid by the acquisition. But we must not forget, that man is a fallen creature, and that his mind and conscience partake of the defilement which sin has brought upon all the faculties of his soul [Note: Titus 1:15.]. Hence it is necessary to try even the verdict of conscience itself, and not to trust too implicitly to its representations. To “put evil for good, and good for evil; bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter; darkness for light, and light for darkness;” is, alas! but too common, and more especially in forming an estimate of our own character and conduct. So has Solomon informed us in the words which we have just read: from which we shall take occasion to shew,

I. Whence it is that men have such an over-weening confidence respecting the rectitude of their own ways—

We can know little of mankind, if we do not know that men of every character and every class go forward in their respective ways with a considerable measure of self-confidence, and self-approbation: and, as Solomon elsewhere observes, that “every way of a man is right in his own eyes [Note: Proverbs 21:2.].” Now whence does this arise? How is it that all, notwithstanding the vast difference there is in their habits and conduct, yet think themselves right? We apprehend that it arises from hence:

1. They judge themselves by a wrong standard—

[Every man has a standard of his own, suited to the views and habits of the class among whom he moves. Some allow themselves in a very great latitude, both of principle and practice; and never condemn themselves, unless they grossly violate the code that is established amongst their own particular associates: they are “clean in their own eyes,” as long as they keep within the bounds of purity which their own friends prescribe. Others are far more strict, as Paul in his unconverted state was. “As touching the righteousness of the law, he was, in his own estimation, blameless:” so blameless, as to be quite sure of his acceptance before God: “I was alive without the law once.” His very zeal, which was so hateful in the sight of God, and so directly pointed against the Lord Jesus Christ himself, furnished him with an occasion for nothing but self-applause. Though he did not altogether lay aside the law of God in forming his estimate, he used it only to confirm his own delusions, limiting its injunctions to the mere letter, instead of entering into its spiritual import. None but the truly enlightened Christian brings himself fairly to the test of God’s holy law: all others have a defective standard: a standard of their own, fitted for their own ways: and this is the first great source of the delusion specified in our text.]

2. They turn their eyes from things that have a doubtful aspect—

[Men, if they suspect that all is not right, are very averse to a strict examination of their case: they content themselves with looking at one side of the question only. Whatever tends to justify their conduct, is dwelt upon with pleasure; but whatever tends to cast a shade upon it, is passed over in silence: “they hate the light, and will not come fairly to it, lest their deeds should be reproved.” This is very observable in the conduct of the Apostles, when our Lord touched upon their mutual contentions about worldly preference and distinction: they instantly shifted off the blame, by turning the discourse to another subject [Note: Luke 9:46-49.]. A true picture this of the generality of men, not excepting those of whom better things might be hoped!]

3. They use all possible artifices to obtain a favourable testimony from their own conscience—

[Many are not ashamed to justify what yet they know in their consciences to be wrong: “It was expedient: it was even necessary under existing circumstances: they were constrained to it, and could not do otherwise.” It was in this way that Saul justified his impious intrusion into the priestly office. He cast the blame on Samuel, for not coming so early as he had expected; and affirmed, that, however contrary to the divine law his conduct had been, it was expedient, and necessary, and good; since the Philistines would otherwise have come upon him, before he had sought by proper offerings the protection of Heaven [Note: 1 Samuel 13:8-12.]. But notwithstanding all his specious arguments, Samuel told him plainly, that he had “done foolishly,” and grievously provoked the Lord to anger [Note: 1 Samuel 13:13-14.].

If they proceed not in their self-vindication to this extent, yet they will excuse what they cannot justify. ‘True, it was not altogether right; but they were compelled to do it; and the fault was rather in others than in them. It was done in haste, and without due consideration. It was a mistake; or was done to prevent a greater evil; or to answer some valuable end.’ Here again we may see in the same unhappy monarch the evil we are speaking of. He had spared Agag, and the best of the flocks and herds, which he should have utterly destroyed: yet, when he saw Samuel, he boasted that “he had fulfilled the commandment of the Lord.” But, on Samuel’s inquiry into the reasons of the flocks and herds being spared, he excused himself by saying, that he had reserved them for sacrifices; and, when further reproved, he cast the blame on the people, asserting, that they had taken of the spoil without his consent or privity [Note: 1 Samuel 15:13-21.].

When their conduct is too plainly reprehensible to admit of such replies, they will then palliate what they cannot excuse. Satan will never leave them at a loss for something whereby to extenuate their faults, and to silence the reproaches of a guilty conscience. ‘It was not so bad as is represented: the intention was good: it was done only once, and that under circumstances that might well account for it.’ But there is no end to the suggestions of self-love. There is not a man under heaven, except the broken-hearted penitent, that will acknowledge his faults in all their real malignity, and with all their attendant aggravations. All will cast some veil over their ways, to hide their deformity, and to make them appear “clean:” and will put such a colour even on their basest actions, as to leave in them scarcely any criminality at all.]

But, whilst we thus varnish over our own ways, so as to make them clean in our own eyes, it is of infinite importance for us to know,

II. How God will form his estimate of them—

Certainly he will not judge as we do: he will scrutinize our actions more narrowly, and will weigh as in a balance every thing that pertains to them. He will weigh,

1. Our actions themselves—

[Every thing we do is put, as it were, into a balance, even “the balance of the sanctuary.” God will examine with infallible accuracy what the motives were, and the principles by which we were actuated; for by these, and not by the mere external appearance, must the quality of our actions be determined. He will examine how much there was of love to his name: how much of gratitude to the Lord Jesus Christ: how much of humility, of self-denial, of love to our fellow-creatures: and how much of zeal for the honour and glory of our God. Precisely according to the measure of these things will be his estimate of our actions: all else will be only as dross that is blended with the gold, and which the fire will consume.]

2. Our excuses—

[These, for the most part, when put into his scales are found lighter than the dust upon the balance. By means of them we impose upon ourselves, and upon our fellow-creatures; but we cannot impose on him: “he cannot be deceived:” and the very excuses which we urge with such confidence, will be rejected by him with scorn. See how strongly he has cautioned us on this head. He supposes us to have made some rash vow, and then to excuse ourselves from performing it, by saying that we were under a mistake: “Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was in error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands [Note: Ecclesiastes 5:6.];” It is on this account that we so often meet with this warning: “Let no man deceive you with vain words:” “Be not deceived; God is not mocked.” In truth, so far are we from satisfying him by our vain pleas, that the more confident we are of the validity of our own excuses, the more we provoke his wrath and indignation: “Thou sayest, Because I am innocent, surely his anger shall turn from me: behold, I will plead with thee, because thou sayest, I have not sinned [Note: Jeremiah 2:35.].”]

3. The disposition and habit of our minds—

[It is not so much the transient act that determines our character, as the rooted habit of the mind. This we are apt to overlook: and if we see not any glaring faults in our conduct, we think that all is well with us. But God views us as creatures, who by the very law of our creation are bound not to live to ourselves, but unto him. He views us too as redeemed creatures, who, having been bought with the precious blood of his dear Son, are bound by this further tie to “glorify him with our bodies and our spirits which are his.” By this test will he try us: and according to the result of this scrutiny will he determine our eternal state. In particular, he will mark, What degree of candour there is in us whilst examining our own ways; and, Which is our predominant feeling, a partial desire to think our “ways clean,” or an impartial desire to find out every atom of uncleanness that adheres to them. He will further notice what means we are using to ascertain the truth, and to escape from all kinds of self-delusion; whether we candidly consult others who are more impartial than we can be supposed to be; and whether we are crying mightily to Him to search and try us. Both these are necessary; because, whilst, on the one hand, we may too easily rest in the favourable opinion of friends, we may, on the other hand, be determinately holding fast our confidence against the judgment of friends, even whilst we are pretending to ask counsel of our God. Truly “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked;” and one of the principal dispositions that God will expect to see in us is, a holy jealousy over ourselves, and a willingness rather to die than be left under a mistaken confidence of our own purity. Where this is wanting, there is a radical defect in the character; a defect which, if not rectified, will exclude us from the number of true Israelites, whose character is, that “they are without guile.”]

Address—

1. The careless worldling—

[You will not believe that you are wrong. But consult the Scriptures, and see. Find, if you can, one single word that sanctions a life of carelessness and indifference. To what purpose is it to be saying, “Peace, peace! when there is no peace!” Did you never hear what God replies to those who say, “I shall have peace, though I walk after the imaginations of my heart?” “The Lord, it is said, will not spare that man; but the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against him; and all the curses that are written in this book shall lie upon him: and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven [Note: Deuteronomy 29:19-20.].” Go on, if you are determined so to do: but know, that “whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap: he that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; and he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting [Note: Galatians 6:7-8.].”]

2. The self-righteous moralist—

[Solomon justly observes, “There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, but are not washed from their filthiness [Note: Proverbs 30:12.].” And such is the character of those whom we are now addressing. They are ready to say, “I have kept all the commandments from my youth up: and what lack 1 yet?” But, like that deluded Youth, they lack the one thing needful, namely, “to forsake all, and follow Christ.” This they do not: this they will not do: they hold fast their own righteousness, and will not renounce it for an interest in his. Such was Paul in his unconverted state: but when his eyes were opened to see the plan of Salvation revealed in the Gospel, then “he counted all things but dung and dross that he might win Christ, and be found in him, not having his own righteousness, but Christ’s.” Know then, Brethren, that, if you trust in the law, you shall be tried by the law, and suffer all its penalties for your infractions of it: but if you will embrace the Gospel, and seek for acceptance solely through the Lord Jesus Christ, you shall find that “in him you shall be justified, and in him shall you glory.”]

3. The professed believer—

[Much blindness yet remains within us after we have believed in Christ: and the most eminent believer still needs to maintain a godly jealousy over his own deceitful heart. The Apostles themselves at one time “knew not what manner of spirit they were of.” But where shall we find any amongst ourselves that suspect this to be their own case? Alas! we all are more or less blinded by self-love: and, when most confident of our own integrity, we still need to say with Paul, “I know nothing by myself; yet am I not hereby justified; but he that judgeth me is the Lord [Note: 1 Corinthians 4:4.].” We entreat you to guard with all possible care against the delusions of your own hearts; for they will assuredly, if persisted in, betray you to your everlasting ruin. The express declaration of God on this subject is, “If thou sayest, (in reference to any duty neglected, or sin committed,) Behold, we knew it not; doth not he that pondereth the heart consider it? and He that keepeth thy soul, doth not he know it? and shall not he render to every man according to his works [Note: Proverbs 24:11-12.]?” Yes: His estimate will not be regulated by your opinion of yourselves, but by his perfect knowledge of your real character. May God enable us so to lay these things to heart, and so to act upon them, that “we may be found of him in that day without spot and blameless!”]


Verse 3

DISCOURSE: 792

TRUSTING IN GOD

Proverbs 16:3. Commit thy works unto the Lord, and thy thoughts shall be established.

WE all believe in the existence of a Supreme Being, and in a general way acknowledge his agency in the government of the world: but his particular care of us individually we find it extremely difficult to imagine. This, however, is most clearly revealed in the Holy Scriptures; and our duty is so to realize it, as, under all circumstances of trial and of difficulty, to look to him for his gracious interposition, and to expect from his hands whatever shall most conduce to our real benefit.

In the words before us we see,

I. A state supposed—

[It is here supposed that we may be in a state of great perplexity, so as not to know what to do for the best. This is often the case with nations, especially when menaced by a potent enemy [Note: Isaiah 7:2 and Joel 2:6; Joel 2:10.] — — — Nor is there scarcely an individual to be found, who does not, at some time or other, experience an oppression of mind, arising out of difficulties with which he has to contend, and troubles which he knows not how to avert — — — Even in relation to men’s spiritual concerns, the same trials are felt. Many, in a season of deep conviction, have poured out their complaints like Israel of old [Note: Isaiah 59. from the middle of ver. 9. to 12.] — — — And many, under grievous temptation, have been reduced to the desponding frame of David [Note: Psalms 77:6-9.] — — — At such times their thoughts are altogether distracted; and they are, like the persons so beautifully described in the 107th Psalm, brought, as it were, “to their wit’s end.”]

But in all such cases there is abundant consolation, if only we use,

II. The remedy prescribed—

The remedy is both simple in itself, and invariably efficacious: “Commit your works unto the Lord”—

[Believing that God both knows your trials, and is willing to afford you the help you need, carry them to him, and spread them before him, as Hezekiah did the letter of blaspheming Rabshakeh [Note: Isaiah 37:14.]. Then plead his promises, which are so “exceeding great and precious:” and “roll on him [Note: See the marginal reading.]” your entire burthen, assured that “he will sustain you [Note: Psalms 55:22.],” and accomplish your most enlarged desires [Note: Psalms 81:10.]. This is the direction given to every living man [Note: Psalms 37:5 and the margin there.]: and.]

In the performance of this duty you will find effectual relief—

[Nothing can be more fluctuating than the thoughts of men, especially in seasons of great embarrassment. But the very instant we commit our works to God, “our thoughts” become composed, and peaceful, and “established.” God has taught us to expect this [Note: Philippians 4:6-7 and Isaiah 26:3.]: and to what an extent he fulfils his word, we may see in Hezekiah; who, from a state of the most extreme distress, was filled in an instant with the liveliest joy and most confident exultation [Note: Isaiah 37:3; Isaiah 37:22; Isaiah 37:33. See also Psalms 40:1-3.] — — —]

Observe, then, with humble and adoring gratitude,

1. How exalted are the privileges of the true Christian!

[It is your privilege, Brethren, to be “without carefulness [Note: 1 Corinthians 7:32.],” both in relation to your temporal concerns [Note: Matthew 6:25-34.], and even in respect to your immortal souls [Note: 2 Timothy 1:12.]. All your care, whether for the one and the other, should “be cast on God, who careth for you [Note: 1 Peter 5:7.].” Then, though you will have many trials to bear, you shall be able to say with Paul, “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken: cast down, but not destroyed [Note: 2 Corinthians 4:8-9.].” Be your trials what they may. “you shall be more than conquerors over all.”]

2. How marvellous is the condescension of our God!

[From low thoughts of God, we are apt to fear that he will not exert himself for us. But he will attend to us, if we trust in him, as much as if there were not another creature in heaven or on earth to attract his notice. Nor is it in great things only that he will interpose for us, but in the smallest that can possibly be imagined. In fact, there is nothing great or small with him; nor indeed is there any thing small as it respects us. Let any one see in Scripture what good arose from the accidental opening of some national records by King Ahasuerus, or what evil arose from David’s accidental glance at Bathsheba, and we shall see that we need the divine care in every thing: and in every thing it shall be afforded us, if only we commit our ways to God, and place all our confidence in him. Not so much as a hair shall fall from the head of any of his saints, but according to his all-wise appointment; nor any circumstance occur which shall not be overruled for their everlasting good [Note: Romans 8:28.].]


Verse 23

DISCOURSE: 793

THE BENEFIT OF EXPERIMENTAL RELIGION

Proverbs 16:23. The heart of the wise teacheth his mouth, and addeth learning to his lips.

THE depths of human science can be explored by few, because few have either leisure or ability for learned investigations. The same observation is true with respect to theology also, considered as a science: a very considerable knowledge both of history and ancient languages is required, in order to a full understanding of the various branches of sacred literature. But the spiritual and most essential parts of divine knowledge are totally distinct from these subjects; nor is that species of erudition, which the learned only can possess, at all necessary for the obtaining of a clear and accurate acquaintance with them. There are two books, if we may so speak, and two alone, which we need to know; and they are, the Bible and our own hearts. Till the latter be opened to our view, the former will be only “a sealed book:” but a discovery of our own hearts will throw an astonishing light upon the sacred oracles; and make innumerable passages, which once seemed obscure and inexplicable, so plain, that “he who runs may read” and understand them. To this effect Solomon speaks in the words before us; in elucidating which we shall inquire,

I. Who are here meant by “the wise?”

Solomon certainly did not intend to limit his assertion to those who were possessed of literary attainments—

[Human knowledge, when sanctified by grace, is a valuable instrument in the hands of its possessor, inasmuch as it will qualify him for discharging many duties, which, without it, he would not be able to fulfil. Moses, by being “learned in all the wisdom of the Egyptians,” was better fitted to stand forth as the deliverer of Israel: and Paul, notwithstanding he declined using “the words of man’s wisdom,” was the better furnished for his work by his learned education, and his uncommon proficiency in the studies of his age and nation. Nevertheless it is not such learning that will form our minds to true wisdom. On the contrary, if unsanctified, it will be as inimical to religion as even the most inveterate lusts would be. The more we have of it, the more will “the things of the spirit appear foolishness unto us;” and the greater will be our backwardness to seek that spiritual “discernment” which alone can qualify us to judge of them aright [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:14.]; and it is on this very account that God so often pours contempt upon it and confounds it [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:19-20.].]

Nor was it of persons eminent for worldly prudence that Solomon spake—

[There can be no doubt but that true wisdom will make us prudent, for the voice of inspiration says, “I, Wisdom, dwell with Prudence [Note: Proverbs 8:12.].” But there are many who are “prudent in their own sight,” and in the eyes of the world, who are considered by God as altogether destitute of wisdom [Note: Isaiah 5:21.]. The Rich Man, who had so judiciously cultivated his grounds as to obtain large crops, and who, to preserve the produce, enlarged his storehouses, would have been accounted prudent by the world; but God gave him most deservedly the appellation of a fool; “Thou fool, this night shall thy soul be required of thee [Note: Luke 12:20.].”]

The persons characterized in the text as wise, are they who are endued with heavenly wisdom—

[Some there are, whose “eyes have been enlightened” by the Spirit of God, and whose hearts are regulated by his lively oracles. They have been taught of God to know their own state, and have been formed to a disposition and temper suited to their real character [Note: Ephesians 1:17-18.]. These are the wise, the only wise in the sight of God. And they are truly wise, even though they should be the most illiterate upon earth. We do not hesitate to say that the fishermen of Galilee possessed more true wisdom than all the heathen philosophers that ever existed.]

Their superiority to others will soon appear, if we inquire,

II. What are those subjects of which they are so well able to speak?

Their spiritual views do not at all qualify them to speak on matters of science and philosophy. But there are many things relating to Christian doctrine and experience, of which they can speak more truly, and more accurately, than any other people upon earth:

1. On the deceitfulness and depravity of the heart—

[This is a subject with which they are well acquainted; nor are they afraid of declaring it in its full extent. They have found on ten thousand occasions how fatally their heart has deceived them, what false glosses it puts upon any thing which it is desirous to retain, and what specious pretexts it will suggest for rejecting any thing that is distasteful to flesh and blood. They have seen the deep-rooted enmity of their hearts against God, their aversion to all holy exercises, and their proneness to do every thing that was evil. In speaking on these points, they speak not by hearsay, or according to a received system, but according to the word of God, confirmed as it has been by their own experience [Note: Jeremiah 17:9.].]

2. On the suitableness and excellency of the salvation provided for us—

[They no more doubt that they need a Saviour, or that the Saviour provided for them is exactly such a one as they want, than they doubt their own existence. They know full well that they could not fulfil the law; they know also that Christ has satisfied all its demands by his obedience unto death; and that by believing in him they shall be interested in all that he has done and suffered. They perceive that in this way of salvation God gives all, and we receive all: and though the pride of their hearts formerly revolted at this, they are now disposed, not only to acquiesce in it, but to thank and adore God for so gracious a dispensation—]

3. On the way in which sinners are brought to the knowledge of Christ—

[Here they can point out, as in a map, the country which they themselves have travelled over. They have been convinced of sin; they have seen the refuges of lies which they fled to in succession, one after another, till God sent home the law in all its spirituality to their hearts. They have thus been made to despair of saving themselves, and have, like the wounded Israelites, looked simply to him that was lifted up upon the cross. And though there is a great variety in the experience of different persons with respect to these things, yet these are the general outlines in which all true Christians are agreed; and therefore they can speak of them with truth and certainty.]

4. On the nature of the spiritual warfare—

[They are daily engaged in maintaining a conflict with sin and Satan. They have within them the two principles of flesh and spirit, which are continually struggling, as fire and water, to subdue each other [Note: Galatians 5:17.]. They know the discouragements and fears with which the Christian is assailed, and the consolations and joys with which he is revived. Nor are they “ignorant of Satan’s devices,” having often “withstood his wiles,” and “repelled his fiery darts.” On these subjects their mouth is taught, and learning is added to their lips.]

The world are often struck with this fact, and ask with amazement,

III. Whence it is that they have attained this knowledge?

Experience, under God, is the best teacher; and it is from experience that they know these things—

[They derive not their knowledge from books: for many either cannot read, or never have studied the writings of men upon those subjects. Nor have they received their instructions from man: for though God taught them by man, yet God alone made the word effectual to open their eyes: and the very truths, perhaps, which they had heard frequently before without any profit, are suddenly applied to their souls, and made the power of God to their conviction and salvation. In short, it is not merely in their heads, but in their hearts that they know these things: and in speaking of them they can say with the apostle, “What our eyes have seen, and our ears have heard, and our hands have handled of the word of life, the same declare we unto you.”]

Hence it is that their knowledge of these things is so superior to that of others—

[Others cannot comprehend any one of the foregoing truths. If they should attempt to speak of them, they would only expose their own ignorance. Yea, though they may write well on the theory of religion, they are totally in the dark with respect to the nature of Christian experience. The poorest and meanest of God’s people have incomparably greater penetration in these things than the wisest philosopher. This is plainly declared by the Apostle, “He that is spiritual judgeth all things; yet he himself is judged of no man [Note: 1 Corinthians 2:15.]”. It is confirmed also by that expression of Solomon, “The rich man is wise in his own conceit; but the poor man that hath understanding searcheth him out [Note: Proverbs 28:11.];” that is, discovers his ignorance, and is able to rectify his errors. As a man who has experienced any great pleasure or pain has a juster idea of what he has felt, than another has who only speaks of such things by hearsay; so, in a far higher degree, has the experienced Christian a clearer insight than others into divine truths, because he has the archetype and image of them in his own heart.]

Application—

1. Let none attempt to excuse their ignorance by saying that they are no scholars—

[Nothing is more common among the lower classes of mankind than to offer this as an excuse for their ignorance. But such excuses are vain: God has told us that he has chosen them in preference to the rich and learned [Note: 1 Corinthians 1:26-28.], and that he has revealed to them what he has hid from the wise and prudent [Note: Matthew 11:25.]. Let the blind then pray that they may receive their sight; so shall they “understand all things [Note: Proverbs 28:5.],” and be made “wise unto salvation [Note: 2 Timothy 3:15.].”]

2. Let us improve our conversation with each other for the purpose of spiritual edification—

[Too apt are we to trifle away our precious hours. But the tongue of the wise is justly compared to choice silver that enriches, and to a tree of life that nourishes us with its precious fruits [Note: Proverbs 10:20.]. Our words, if rightly ordered, might “administer grace” to each other. Let us then endeavour to obtain “the tongue of the learned, that can speak a word in season unto him that is weary [Note: Isaiah 50:4.].” Thus, we may “speak profitably out of the abundance of our hearts,” and approve ourselves truly “wise by winning souls” to God [Note: Proverbs 11:30.].]


Verse 25

DISCOURSE: 794

ERRONEOUS VIEWS OF RELIGION REFUTED

Proverbs 16:25. There is a way that seemeth right unto a man; but the end thereof are the ways of death.

THE testimony of an inspired prophet respecting the human heart is, that it “is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.” This testimony, as far as it respects the world at large, we all are ready to confirm. We see that in the great mass of mankind there is a propensity to deceive, not others only, but themselves also. They are often unconscious of principles by which they are manifestly actuated: and as often take credit to themselves for virtues which they do not really possess. Persons who have made considerable attainments in self-knowledge, are yet by no means free from this infirmity: the Apostles themselves, on more occasions than one, betrayed by their conduct, that “they knew not what spirit they were of.” Nor does this proneness to self-deceit discover itself only in relation to individual acts, wherein men may be supposed to be biassed either by their interests or passions: it extends itself to men’s whole character, and leads them to form a most erroneous judgment of their state: it leads them to “call evil good, and good evil; to put darkness for light, and light for darkness; to put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter.” But it may be thought, that, if a man be deceived by his own heart, a less degree of criminality will attach to his actions, and he will have less reason to apprehend the displeasure of God. This however is not true: for we are responsible to God for the judgment we form of good and evil: and if we err, after all the means of information he has given us, we must be willingly deceived, and abide the consequences of our folly. To this effect Solomon speaks in the words before us: he concedes that “a way may appear right to a man;” but he tells us, nevertheless, that “the end thereof will be death.”

This assertion of his is not to be understood of one particular way only: it is a general assertion, that is applicable to a great variety of cases, or rather, I should say, to every kind of way that is followed by man and condemned by God. Of course we cannot enter into all the cases which might be specified: it will be sufficient to notice two or three ways, which are the most commonly followed, and most fatal in their issue.

I. The first way to which we would call your attention is that of gay licentiousness.

We cannot suppose any person so ignorant as really to think that licentious gaiety is right: but there are millions who do not think it materially wrong. Criminal excesses and indulgences are palliated by the mild appellations of conviviality and youthful indiscretion: and they are deemed necessary to the well-being of society. They are even made subjects of boasting; and persons who through age and infirmity are disabled from pursuing their former courses, will yet repeat them in effect, by glorying in the remembrance of them, and encouraging others in the same career. So far from condemning these things in their minds, the generality will laugh at those who are scrupulous enough to doubt the lawfulness of such courses: and if any one were bold enough to bear a decisive testimony against them, he would instantly be characterized by some opprobrious name. To suppose that such indulgences, if restrained within moderate bounds, would subject a man to the wrath of Almighty God, would be considered as bordering on insanity: and every one is encouraged to regard such innocent liberties (as they are called) as perfectly compatible with a well-grounded hope of salvation.

Let us then inquire what foundation there is for such a confidence. Does God say nothing in his word respecting the issue of such ways? or does he speak of them in the same gentle terms? No: not a syllable of this kind is to be found in all the sacred records. A general caution is given us by Solomon in reference to carnal indulgences of every kind: “Rejoice, O young man, in thy youth, and let thy heart cheer thee in the days of thy youth, and walk in the ways of thine heart, and in the sight of thine eyes: but know thou, that for all these things God will bring thee into judgment [Note: Ecclesiastes 11:9.].” The general warning given by St. Paul is plainer still; “If ye live after the flesh, ye shall die [Note: Romans 8:13.].” Lest we should mistake his meaning, he frequently enumerates the works of the flesh: “Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: these,” says he, “are the sins, of the which I tell you before, that they who do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God [Note: Galatians 5:19-21.].” But because men are ready to offer vain pleas and excuses for such things, he particularly guards us against laying the smallest stress on any surmises of our own, or any suggestions of others: “Let no man,” says he, “deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience [Note: Ephesians 5:6.].” But Moses, and after him the Prophet Jeremiah, meet the case in the most pointed terms: “It shall come to pass,” says Moses, “when a man shall hear the words of this curse, and shall bless himself in his heart, saying, I shall have peace though I walk in the imagination of my heart: the Lord will not spare him: but the anger of the Lord and his jealousy shall smoke against that man; and all the curses that are written in this book shall come upon him, and the Lord shall blot out his name from under heaven [Note: Deuteronomy 29:19.].”

Now permit me to ask, For what end are these things written? is it merely to alarm and terrify us? Can we conceive that God would falsify, in order to keep us within some decent bounds? Is there any necessity for him to resort to such an expedient; or could he do it in consistency with his own perfections?

Here then we are reduced to this dilemma; either to believe that the word of God is full of the most palpable falsehoods from one end to the other, or to acknowledge that the confidence of ungodly men is unfounded, and their hope delusive. Choose ye the former alternative if ye please: but you must excuse me if I embrace the latter. Believing as I do the word of God to be true, I must believe, and must exhort you also to believe, that they who make light of sin “shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” The drunkard, the swearer, the whoremonger, in short the careless sinner, may “think his ways right;” but, if there be any truth in the word of God, they shall end in death. The express declaration of God concerning them is, “The end of those things is death [Note: Romans 6:21.].”

II. The next way to which I would call your attention, is that of proud unbelief.

Associated with loose morality will be found, for the most part, a contemptuous disregard of the Gospel. Ungodly men feel no need of it; they see no excellency in it; they consider it as unworthy of their attention; and they leave it as a proper field for the discussion of angry disputants, or the contemplation of wild enthusiasts.

If any urge the necessity of faith in Christ, they either contend, that, having been educated in the belief of Christianity, they have all the faith that is necessary; or they cut the matter short, and tell us in a word, “His faith cannot be wrong, whose life is in the right.” As to the idea of their salvation depending on the exercise of faith, they cannot for one moment endure it: nothing is too bad to be spoken of so preposterous an opinion: and all who maintain such a sentiment are set down as designing hypocrites, or as gloomy fanatics.

Thus confident are they that their way is right.

But what saith the Scripture to these things? Does God himself lay no stress on the exercise of faith? Does he leave us at liberty to embrace or reject his Gospel as we please? Having given us his only-begotten Son to die for us, and set him forth to be a propitiation for sin through faith in his blood, does he attach no guilt to unbelief? Does he represent the contemners of his Son as in the same predicament with those who receive him? Nothing of this kind can be found in all the book of God. It may be called candour: but there is no such candour in the inspired volume. That calls every thing by its proper name, and assigns to every thing its proper character: and the unbelief which is thought a matter of so much indifference by the world at large, is declared to be the infallible source of ruin to all who indulge it. But let the Scriptures speak for themselves: “He that believeth on Christ is not condemned: but he that believeth not, is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only-begotten Son of God:” and again, “He that believeth on the Son, hath everlasting life: but he that believeth not the Son, shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on him.” In conformity with these declarations is the whole tenour of sacred writ: “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” says our Lord: “no man cometh unto the Father but by me.” “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden! and I will give you rest.” “Ye will not come unto me, that ye might have life.” To the same effect is the testimony of his Apostles: “Other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” “There is not salvation in any other: there is no other name under heaven given among men whereby we can be saved, but the name of Jesus Christ.”

What now shall we say to these things? Is there any difficulty in understanding these passages? I know, it is fashionable with many to represent the doctrines of the Gospel as so abstruse and intricate that no one of common discernment can understand them. But what intricacy is there here which the most unlettered man in the universe may not understand? Men may invent subtleties on any subject: and on this among the rest: but there is nothing here which is not plain and easy to the most common apprehension. Christ has made an atonement for our sins: and he calls us to seek salvation through his blood and righteousness. He tells us, that “having N 2 no sin of his own, he was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God m him” And when he sent his disciples to go and preach this Gospel to every creature, he added, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned.”

What shall we say then? Shall we believe what the Lord Jesus Christ has so strongly affirmed? or shall we believe the surmises of ungodly men, and, as St. John expresses it, “make God a liar?” Even if there were no such strong assertions to guide us, our own reason might tell us, that God, after having given his only dear Son to die for us, would never leave it a matter of indifference whether we believed in him or not: but when we find the testimonies of Scripture so plain and so express on the subject, we must conclude, that the unbelief which men so proudly and impiously justify, will issue in the everlasting confusion of those who indulge it.

III. The last way to which we shall direct your attention, is that of cold formality.

Many who have respect for the Gospel as a system, content themselves with yielding to it a bare assent; and persuade themselves that they receive it aright, even though they never are stimulated by it to any extraordinary exertions. As for all that zeal and love and diligence in the service of the Lord Jesus which they behold in some few around them, they account it all a needless preciseness; and they impute it, for the most part, to ostentation or vanity in those who dare to maintain it. To be regular in their attendance on public worship, to fulfil the duties of their station, and to do unto others as they would be done unto, this is enough for them, and more than this they utterly despise. Speak not to them of loving God, of living by faith on the Lord Jesus, of maintaining fellowship with him in the exercise of prayer and praise: speak not to them of walking as Christ walked, of bearing the cross after him, and of rejoicing that they are counted worthy to suffer for him: speak not to them of receiving out of his fulness, of living to his glory, or of growing up into his image: such ideas are quite foreign to their minds: they sound only as the reveries of an over-heated imagination: to aspire after such things would be to be righteous over-much: if such exertions were necessary for the attainment of heaven, what must become of all the world? Their religion lies in a much narrower space; they do as they would be done unto, and they mind their proper business in life: if this will not save them, nothing will: and they have no fear but that, when they shall have finished their course. God will say to them, “Well done, good and faithful servants: enter ye into the joy of your Lord.”

But if these views of a Christian’s duty be right, whence is it that the Christian course is represented in Scripture as so arduous, that the most “righteous persons are scarcely saved,” and with great difficulty? How comes it, that the divine life is compared to a race, that calls for such exertion: a wrestling, that requires such skill: a warfare, that is attended with such labour and danger? What is there, in the kind of life which has been described, that at all corresponds with such images as these? If the way to heaven be so easy that people can walk in it without any material difficulty, how comes it that our Lord has represented the path of religion as strait and unfrequented, and has bidden us to strive to enter in at the strait gate, because many seek to enter in, and are not able? St. Paul, when enumerating many classes of ungodly persons who should arise in the latter days, mentions those who have “a form of godliness without the power;” and in those very words describes the characters which we are now considering. The persons of whom we are speaking, particularly value themselves upon their moderation in religion: as though it were a virtue to love God moderately; to serve our Lord and Saviour moderately; and to seek the salvation of our souls moderately. This was the religion of the Laodicean Church: they determined to guard against all extremes: they would not neglect the service of God altogether; nor would they, on the other hand, engage in it with all their might. And what says God unto them? Does he commend this boasted moderation? No: he says, “I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot! So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.”

Let me not be understood as though I would vindicate any thing that was really enthusiastic: God forbid! The only thing for which I am contending is, that God is to be served, not in a cold, lifeless, formal manner, but with unfeigned delight, and with all the powers and faculties of our souls. We must “yield ourselves living sacrifices to him:” we must endeavour to “walk worthy of him;” and strive to the uttermost to “glorify him with our bodies and our spirits, which are his.” This is the holiness to which we are to attain; and “without this holiness no man shall see the Lord.”

Having specified some of those ways which seem right to the generality of men, but will assuredly end in death, namely, the ways of gay licentiousness, proud unbelief, and cold formality, we would entreat you to contemplate the state of those who walk in them, at that period when they are about to be undeceived.

Whilst they are in health, and the world smiles upon them, their religion, such as it is, will suffice; and their confidence will bear them up. But when sickness comes, and they draw near to the chambers of death, a doubt will not unfrequently arise in their minds, whether they are prepared to meet their God. To dispel these thoughts, they betake themselves to business or pleasure or company, or perhaps to strong drink: but in spite of all the means used to allay their fears, their suspicions will recur with greater force, and excite a wish to know the opinion of some one better informed than themselves: but they are afraid to suggest their doubts, lest they should create an alarm in the minds of others, and impress them with an unfavourable apprehension of their state. The recurrence of these thoughts makes them cling to life: not that life is pleasant to them; but they are afraid to die. Compelled at last by inward uneasiness, they perhaps put to some friend a question respecting the evidences of our acceptance with God. They are then answered in the most confident manner, that, as they have done no harm, and have been very attentive to their duties in life, they have no cause of fear. The satisfaction founded on such an answer as this, soon passes away; and their former fears return. Now perhaps they would be glad to see some person, whose piety they have heretofore ridiculed as needless preciseness: but they are afraid, lest a conversation with him should confirm, rather than remove, their doubts and fears. They wish, but cannot make up their minds, to send for him. Perhaps they suggest the idea to their attendant, but are dissuaded from encouraging it: they are told with increasing confidence, that all is well with them. Perhaps they persevere in their wishes, and a faithful monitor is sent for. The servant of God deals tenderly with them, but at the same time points out the errors they have fallen into, and the importance of seeking salvation in another way. This disquiets them for a time, and makes them doubly earnest about their souls. The faithful monitor repeats his visit: but the officious friends have barred the door against him; or perhaps have over-persuaded the dying man to decline all further interviews, and to venture his soul upon his own delusions. Any excuse is offered: the dying man is asleep, or too ill to see any one: and thus the only remaining hope for the poor man is banished. Such consolations as are founded on error and presumption are administered to the last: and at length the disembodied spirit rushes unprepared into the presence of its God.

But who can conceive the surprise and horror of the soul at the instant of its separation from the body? Methinks it shrinks back, wishing if possible to hide itself in its former tenement of clay. But the time is come for it to be undeceived. Now it sees the weakness and futility of all its former hopes. Now it sees how erroneous were its views of sin, and its conceptions of true religion. Now it sees that the representations which God had given in his word were true. The self-deceiver now can no longer doubt to what an end his former ways were leading, or whither they will come who follow the paths he trod. To indulge a wish for another period of probation, or even for the smallest mitigation of his misery, now were vain. Gladly would he go back for a moment to the world he has left, to warn his surviving friends, lest they also come into the same place of torment: but that cannot be admitted. The sacred volume is given them for their guide; and if they will follow their own delusions in preference to it, they must abide the consequences. Now despair and anguish seize hold upon him; and he is delivered up a prey to all those horrors, which once he ridiculed as idle tales.

Would we avoid this awful end, let us turn from the paths that lead to it. Let us remember, that the assertions of men, however confident, are of no value, any further than they are founded on the word of God. Let not their light thoughts of sin lead us to tamper with it, or to doubt its issue. Let not their excuses for rejecting Christ prevail on us to neglect his great salvation. Rather, let us embrace him, and glory in him, and cleave to him with full purpose of heart. Let not their standard of religion be ours: let us go “unto the word and to the testimony:” let us see how Christ and his Apostles walked: and though we be ridiculed as precise and righteous over-much, let us persevere in following the path of duty. Let us “stand,” as the prophet speaks, “and ask for the good old way, and walk therein.” Let us seek instruction wherever we can find it: and let us remember, that the broad and frequented path is, according to our Lord’s express declaration, a way that leadeth to destruction; but that the path to life is narrow, difficult, and unfrequented; for “few there be that find it.” In short, let us look forward to the end of our journey. At that we shall soon arrive: and then it will be of no consequence whether we have been honoured for keeping the world in countenance, or despised for putting them to shame. The only thing that will then be of any consequence, will be, whether we be approved of our God. Let this end then be kept in view: let us regulate our ways in reference to it: and let us both by precept and example endeavour to undeceive the world around us. Then shall we be blessings to the generation in which we live, and shall attain that glory which ought to be the one object of our constant pursuit.


Verse 33

DISCOURSE: 795

GOD IS THE DISPOSER OF ALL EVENTS

Proverbs 16:33. The lot is cast into the lap; but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.

THOUGH we would not be unnecessarily fastidious in condemning the use of any particular term, where we knew that in its popular sense it was not very exceptionable, yet we cannot altogether approve the use of such terms as ‘luck,’ and ‘chance,’ and ‘fortune:’ for though we know, that the persons who adopt those kind of expressions do not intend to deny the doctrine of a superintending Divine Providence, yet we cannot but think that such language tends exceedingly to weaken a sense of God’s Providence upon the soul, inasmuch as it excludes his agency from the affairs of men, and regards them as left to mere and absolute contingency. With the Scriptures in our hands, we are perfectly assured, that all things, however casual or contingent with respect to man, are under the controul of a Superintending Providence; or, as it is said in our text, that, “when a lot is cast into the lap, the whole disposal thereof is of the Lord.”

In confirmation of this truth, we shall shew,

I. That God is the disposer of all events—

Events, of whatever kind they be, are equally under the direction of Almighty God. He disposes of,

1. The things which are most dependent on human agency—

[In the government of kingdoms all the powers of the human mind are called forth and concentrated: but the time for their commencement and continuance is altogether under the direction of a superior power [Note: Daniel 4:17; Daniel 4:35.]. The success of all human plans, whether relating to military enterprises [Note: 1 Samuel 17:45-47. 2 Chronicles 20:17.], or commercial speculations [Note: Deuteronomy 8:17-18.], or agricultural pursuits [Note: Haggai 1:6-11.], or matters of inferior moment and of daily occurrence [Note: Proverbs 19:21. 1 Samuel 2:6-9.], depends entirely on him — — — It was he who directed to Ahab’s heart the bow drawn at a venture, and to Goliath’s forehead the stone out of David’s sling. In a word, he “worketh all things after the counsel of his own will [Note: Ephesians 1:11.];” and “his counsel shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure [Note: Isaiah 46:10.].”

2. The things that are most independent of human agency—

[Nothing has less dependence on human skill or foresight than a lot. As far as respects the determining of that, an idiot is on a par with the wisest man in the universe. But it is entirely at God’s disposal; as all who acknowledge the existence of a Deity have confessed, by resorting to it on emergencies which nothing else could determine. Saul, and all the people of Israel, resorted to it, in order to learn from God who it was that had displeased him; and again, to determine the same matter between Saul and Jonathan his son [Note: 1 Samuel 14:40-42.]. In like manner the Apostles had recourse to it, in order to know whom God willed to be the successor of Judas in the Apostolic office [Note: Acts 1:23-26.]. Even the heathens themselves had a persuasion, that, when matters were solemnly referred to Him in a way of lot, he would make known to them the point which they wished to ascertain [Note: Jonah 1:7.]. But as in these instances the event, though supposed to have been directed of God, might have been casual, since the chances against it were not very great, we will adduce one, which marks beyond all possibility of doubt the Divine interposition; since, in the language of chances, it was above a million to one that the lot did not fall on the person to whom God infallibly directed it [Note: Joshua 7:14-18. There were two millions of people: but in the last lot the men only were concerned.]. Here is a striking illustration of that passage, “Evil shall hunt the wicked man to overthrow him [Note: Psalms 140:11.].” The hounds see not their prey in the first instance, but trace it by its scent, and follow it with certainty in all its turnings, till at last they come in sight of it, and overtake it, and destroy it. So it was in regard to this pursuit of the man who had troubled the camp of Israel: the lot fell on the right tribe, then on the right family of that tribe, then, on the right household, and lastly on the right individual in that household:—and to every human being it speaks in this awful language, “Be sure your sin will find you out.”]

That we may see how important a truth this is in a practical view, we shall proceed to shew,

II. That in this character he is constantly to be regarded by us—

His hand and his will we should trace,

1. In every thing that is past—

[Have we been loaded with benefits? they must be received as from Him, “from whom cometh every good and perfect gift.” It matters nothing whether our blessings came to us by inheritance, or were the fruit of our own industry: to God, and to God alone, must they be referred, as their proper source [Note: 1 Chronicles 29:14.]. Have we, on the other hand, been visited with afflictions? We should know, that “they did not spring out of the ground,” but proceeded from his gracious hand; since “there is no evil in the city, but the Lord himself hath done it.” Thus Job viewed all his diversified trials; he overlooked the second causes, and fixed his eyes on God alone: “The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away.”

Now in all this we see the great importance of tracing every thing to the Lord; for by our blessings we are inflamed to gratitude, and by our troubles are softened to submission.]

2. In every thing that is future—

[If nothing can occur without his special appointment, how safely may we commit to him our every concern: and how confidently may we expect a happy issue of every occurrence! Can we do better than leave ourselves at his disposal? Were it possible that he should err, or that, having devised any thing, he should be unable to accomplish it: or that, having begun to accomplish it, he should, through versatility, change his purpose, and alter his dispensations; we might then not feel so well satisfied with having every thing subject to his disposal: but when infinite wisdom and goodness concur to direct all our concerns, and infinite power also engages to overrule every thing for our good, we may well dismiss every fear, saying with the Apostle, “I know whom I have believed, and that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him.” We may be as composed as Hezekiah was when surrounded by Sennacherib’s army [Note: 2 Chronicles 32:7-8.], or as Elisha, when surrounded by the army of the king of Syria [Note: 2 Kings 6:16-17.]. “Having God for us,” we may rest assured, that “none can effectually be against us.”]

Let us see from hence,

1. The excellency of faith—

[This is the principle which, far beyond any other, honours and glorifies God. By faith we are prepared to receive every thing as from him, and to say, “It is the Lord; let him do what seemeth him good.” Mere reason, though it may acknowledge these truths, can never enable us to realize them: but “by faith we see Him that is invisible;” and learn to acknowledge him, as much “in the falling of a sparrow,” as in the ruin of an empire. Seek then this blessed principle; yea, seek it in its highest and noblest exercises, that “being strong in faith, you may give glory to God.”]

2. The blessedness of the true Believer—

[Whatever confederacies may be against you, it is your privilege to know, that “no weapon that has been formed against you can prosper.” God has said, that “all things shall work together for your good:” and they shall do so, however much you may be at a loss to conceive in what way the good shall be elicited. Only take care that “Christ is yours;” and then you may be sure that all things else are yours [Note: 1 Corinthians 3:21-23.]. If Christ is yours, all the perfections of God are so far yours, that they shall all be exercised for your good. Having “Christ for your sanctuary,” you shall be inaccessible to the fiery darts of Satan: and having “your life hid with Christ in God, you shall, at his second coming, assuredly appear with him in glory [Note: Colossians 3:3-4.].”]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Proverbs 16:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/proverbs-16.html. 1832.

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Tuesday, February 19th, 2019
the Sixth Week after Epiphany
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