corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.11.12
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Proverbs 20

 

 

Verses 1-30

CHAPTER 21

IDLENESS

"After the autumn gathering the slothful does not plough; he asks in the harvest, and there is nothing."- Proverbs 20:4

WE have already in the sixth lecture caught a glimpse of the sluggard; and in the ninth we have seen in passing that diligence in work is enjoined by the teacher; but we must give a more concentrated attention to this subject if we would realize the stress which this book of Wisdom lays on work as the grand condition of life in this earnest world. They who will not work have no place in an order of things which is maintained by work, and in which the toil itself is the great discipline of character and the preparation of joy: It is no churlish or envious spirit which pronounces a doom on the idle, but it is the very necessity of the case; that idleness which in moments of excessive strain we so eagerly covet is, if it is accepted as the regular and continuous state of the soul, a more ruinous and miserable curse than the hardest labor. By a law which we all break at our peril, we are required to have an honest end and a strenuous occupation in our life; and we are further required to labor diligently for the end, and to spare no pains to achieve it. We have many faculties lying dormant, and we must wake them into activity; we have many gifts half used or not used at all; we must turn them all to account, if we would be wholesome, happy, and in the true sense successful.

First of all, let us look at the portrait of the sluggard as it is delineated in some of these proverbial sayings. We see him in bed, at the board, in the house, out of doors. He will not get up in the morning; he turns from side to side, just like a door which swings backwards and forwards on its hinges, but of course never gets any further. [Proverbs 26:14] "Yet a little sleep," he says, "a little slumber, a little folding of the hands in sleep." [Proverbs 24:34] Or when at last he has brought himself to get up and to sit down to table, he is too lethargic even to eat: "He buries his hand in the dish, and will not so much as bring it to his mouth again"; [Proverbs 19:24] or if he raises the morsel to his lips, he does it with an air of indescribable languor and weariness. [Proverbs 26:15] Then the time comes for him to go out to his daily duties. But he has a number of ingenious, though utterly absurd, excuses why he should not leave the house: "There is a lion in the streets," he says, "a lion in the way"; [Proverbs 26:13] "There is a lion without; I shall be murdered in the streets." [Proverbs 22:13] When he is told that this is a delusion, he is prepared to argue the matter, and to show that his fear is well grounded; he is quite scornful of all the people who assure him to the contrary, because they have been out and seen for themselves: "The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men that can render a reason." [Proverbs 26:16] And when at length he is launched on the business of the day, arriving late, his wits gone wool-gathering, his will as inactive as his mind is inattentive, he drags through every duty with the air of one who is walking "through a hedge of thorns." [Proverbs 15:19] Where another person would proceed with easy alacrity, he seems held back by invisible obstacles; his garments are always getting caught in the briars; there is not impetus enough to carry him over the slightest difficulty; and after frequent and somnolent pauses, the end of the day finds him more weary than the busiest, though he has nothing to show but futile efforts and abortive results.

That is a complete picture of the sluggard. We do not of course see him fully developed very often; but we recognize at once the several tendencies in our own characters-the slothfulness, the listlessness, the idle procrastination, the inertia-which may, if unresisted and unconquered, gradually bring us nearer to this finished portrait.

The result of this sluggishness must now be sketched. "Love not sleep," we are told, "lest thou come to poverty; open thine eyes, and thou shalt be satisfied with bread." [Proverbs 20:13] The means of subsistence in this world are the result of labor; toilers win them from the reluctant earth and sea; the only condition on which we can partake in them is that we should toil, either directly in producing the means of subsistence, or indirectly in doing for the producers helpful service for which they are willing to exchange the fruits of their labor. One who sleeps away the golden hours of work, cast by slothfulness into a deep sleep, has no claim whatever on the earth or the community for daily food; he shall suffer hunger. [Proverbs 19:15] And if by craft or chance he is able to get his bread without any service rendered to the workers, he shall suffer from a soul-hunger more terrible than starvation-the unutterable ennui, weariness, disgust, and self-loathing which an idle and useless life inevitably produces.

As the text reminds us, there is an alternation of seasons. There is a time to plough, when the earth has yielded her full autumn fruits; there is a time to sow; there is a harvest. If a man is too lazy to plough at the right time and to sow at the right time, his fields will of course give him no crops: Slothfulness catcheth not his prey." [Proverbs 12:27] Nor must we think that God in any grudging spirit has ordered this law of the seasons. The appetite which forces us to labor, because "our mouth craves it of us," [Proverbs 16:26] the apparent rigor with which nature requires us to be up betimes and not to let the opportunity slip, and the threat of poverty which hangs over our heads if we neglect her requirements, are all parts of a beneficent law, -the law that by work itself our life is sweetened and our spirit is developed. They are not to be congratulated who, escaping the spur of appetite, and liberated" by the toil of others from the rigorous edicts of nature which require the laborious ploughing and sowing, are enabled to eat the bread of idleness. The hardest worker, worn to the bone and ill-remunerated, is really more enviable than they. The abundance of food is a poor equivalent for the loss of discipline which the desire of food was designed to exact through honest and earnest work. Men come to us and say in effect, "Behold after the autumn gathering we did not plough, and we asked in harvest, and got all that our hearts desired," and we are constrained to pity rather than to congratulate them. It is not good for men to slip through the laws of God and nature thus, for their chastisement is heavier in the end than in the beginning.

The truth of this appears when we remember that a worse result of slothfulness than poverty is the spiritual rust, decay, and degradation which slothfulness itself implies: "The desire of the slothful killeth him, for his hands refuse to labor"; [Proverbs 21:25] "He also that is slack in his work is brother to him that is a destroyer." [Proverbs 18:9] It is indeed a strange illusion which makes man desire idleness. Idleness is ruin; the soul rusts away like the sword in Hudibras, which-

"… ate into itself, for lack of something else to hew and hack."

It is death, it is deadly; the idle soul slowly dies, and spreads destruction around it. It is the same with a country. Idleness is its ruin: whether it be that the generosity of nature removes the necessity of work, as in the South Seas, where the missionaries find one of their chief difficulties in the absolute laziness resulting from the softness of the climate and the fertility of the soil; or that the vast accumulations of wealth procure idleness for its possessors, and enforce idleness on thousands of the unfortunate unemployed, the melancholy result ensues in the enervation of manhood and the corruption of womanhood. On the other hand, as Thucydides observed in the case of Attica, a rigorous climate and a niggardly soil, eliciting all the energies of the people in order to improve their condition or even to live, have been found favorable to the development of a noble nationality. Slackness of work, from whatever cause it may arise, brings its victims into this sorrowful kinship with the destroyer.

It may be noted that the idle, whether they be rich or poor, are denominated "vain persons," and sensible people are cautioned solemnly to avoid their society, as their emptiness is contagious, and the habits which are quickly acquired in their company lead straight to ruin: "He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread, but he that followeth after vain persons is void of understanding"; [Proverbs 12:11] "He that followeth after vain persons shall have poverty enough." [Proverbs 28:19]

The truth which is here enforced receives ample illustration in our own society. Two centuries ago Daniel Defoe defined the English as the "most lazy diligent nation" in the world. Hard work is common; idleness is equally common. Our people are on the whole highly gifted, and produce rapidly when they give their attention to their work; but we seem to have a strange vein of dissoluteness and laziness running through us, and consequently the worst and most shameful idleness is often found amongst the best workmen, who through their own bad habits have missed their opportunities, and become a burden to themselves and to the community. In no country is the leisured class, of those who do nothing at all, or pass their aimless days in a round of engagements which are only strenuous idleness, so large; in no country is the unemployed or the pauper class so ruinously great in proportion to the population. Hence this curious paradox: the foreigner hears that England is the richest and the most industrious country in the world; he comes to our shores expecting to see cities of gold and fields teeming with produce. On his arrival he becomes aware of a degrading poverty such as cannot be matched in the poorest country on earth; he finds a vast population of the unemployed rich lounging in the streets and the parks, and of the unemployed poor hanging about the doors of the innumerable drink-shops, and infesting every highway and byway of the country. He finds the land of the agricultural districts often lying idle and unproductive; those who till it untaught, ill-fed, and discontented; those who possess it discontented, though well fed and instructed. Our subject does not lead us to inquire into the deeper causes of these anomalies, but it leads us to this observation: we are a "lazy diligent nation" because we have not yet learned, or have forgotten, that the thing most to be dreaded is not poverty, but idleness; and the thing most to be desired is not wealth, but strenuous, earnest, and useful toil.

Our desperate and eager work is not for the work’s sake, but in order to get rich; our ambition is to be idle rather than to be employed, to be raised above the necessity of labor which is our health by the possession of wealth which is our ruin. We have cherished the fatal and foolish error that work was degrading, and have ranked those highest who did the least. "Where no oxen are," we have said in our fastidious way, "the crib is clean," forgetting the other side of the matter, that "much increase is by the strength of the ox." [Proverbs 14:4] Thus we have ignorantly despised the workers who make us rich, looking down upon trade, upon business, and more than all upon manual labor; and have with strange fatuity admired most those who were most useless, whose peculiar boast would be that they never did a day’s work in their lives.

Happily now there are signs of a revolution in our thought. We are beginning to see that work is good, not for what it earns, but for the occupation and the training which it gives to the body and the mind; and that idleness is an evil, not only where work is a necessity, and the appetite craves it of us, but everywhere and under all circumstances. In useful employment we find our life; in the sluggard’s life we see our death.

We must observe then the good effects which result from honest and earnest toil. But, first, we cannot help noticing what an important place is here given to agriculture. This is not accidental to the time in which the book was written. It is an eternal principle. Out of the soil comes our wealth; by the soil therefore we live; and accordingly God has ordained that in the tilling of the ground man shall find his wholesomest, sweetest, and most strengthening employment that no community shall inwardly flourish when its agricultural life declines; and that therefore the happiest and soundest society will be that in which the largest proportional number are engaged in producing the fruits of the earth, and are directly and vitally attached to their mother soil. "He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread." [Proverbs 28:19] When a nation is in the case of the sluggard, when you pass by its fields and its vineyards and see them grown over with thorns and nettles and its stone walls broken down, you will find pauperism coming as a robber, and want, gaunt and hideous, stalking through the land like an armed man. [Proverbs 24:30-34] "Be thou diligent," therefore we are told, "to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds"-(take care that no foolish pride or negligence prevent you from seeing that the agricultural life is properly maintained, for it is the only sure basis of prosperity); "riches are not forever, and even the government of kings does not endure to all generations." But in the sweet ordinances of nature the great Giver provides His unfailing wealth: "The hay is carried, and immediately the tender grass begins to grow again, and even the barren mountains yield their herbs for ingathering. The lambs appear every spring with their wool for our clothing, and the field will maintain goats equal in value to its own price. And from these miraculous sources of eternal reproduction our food and our maintenance are to be drawn." [Proverbs 27:23-27]

Thus at the foundation of all industries is the agricultural industry. At the root of all social and economical questions is the land question. When you wish to commend diligence and to discourage idleness in a nation that is "lazy diligent," the first thing is to inquire into the condition or the use of the land. The land is God’s gift to a people. English land is God’s gift to the English people. If it is misapplied, ill-used, neglected; if it does not produce its full tale of wealth; if it does not support its full burden of living creatures, and give employment to its full number of hands, we are flying in the face of God’s ordinances; we must not expect to prosper; His gracious will is frustrated, and we must have the shame and sorrow of seeing our million of paupers, and our second million of enforced idlers, and our myriads of lazy cumberers of the ground, and our whole population disorganized and unsettled, torn with the frenzy of insane work, or gangrened with the corruption of destroying idleness. For the gifts of God are without repentance, and the abuse of His gifts is without remedy.

But turning now to the good effects which result from honest and earnest toil, we are taught to distinguish three more particularly-plenty, power, and personal worth.

First, Plenty. "The soul of the sluggard desireth and hath nothing, but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat." [Proverbs 13:4] Nor must we think that diligence is only manual; it is also mental. It implies thought, forethought, planning, arranging. We have a contrast drawn between the really diligent man, whose prudence foresees, and whose reflection orders his work for the best ends, and the fussy, unreflecting activity of one who is always busy, but never accomplishes anything. It is only the diligence of the first kind that leads to the desired end; the diligence of mere restlessness is not much better than idleness. We learn that "the thoughts of the diligent tend only to plenteousness, but every one that is hasty hasteth only to want." [Proverbs 21:5] Effectual labor implies thought; only a wise man, with all his faculties brought into full and harmonious play, can work with any good result, or can thriftily use the fruits of his labor; a foolish, thoughtless, witless person may work hard and earn a good deal of money, but it is gone even faster than it came. Thus "there is precious treasure and oil in the dwelling of the wise, but a foolish man swalloweth it." [Proverbs 21:20] There are exceptions, no doubt; but the general rule is borne out by experience, that they who honestly and earnestly use the gifts of mind and body which God has given them, obtain the things which are needful in this life, if not to overflowing, yet in sufficiency; and where means fail we generally have to admit that our own industry or prudence was at fault.

Then, secondly, it is industry rather than genius which commends us to our fellow-men, and leads us to positions of influence and power: "Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings, he shall not stand before mean men"; [Proverbs 21:29] "The hand of the diligent shall bear rule, but the slothful shall be put under task-work." [Proverbs 12:24] It is this golden faculty of persistence, concentration, diligence, which makes every great ruler and leader of men, and raises even the very ordinary person out of the drudgery of mere task-work into the dignity of large and noble and delightful toil.

For, thirdly, it is diligence, the capacity of taking pains, that gives to a man his actual worth, making him compact and strong and serviceable: "The precious substance of men is to be diligent." [Proverbs 12:27] It is the quality itself which is all-important. The greatest gifts are of little worth, unless there is this guarantee of the conscientious and intelligent employment of them. While if the gifts with which God has endowed us are of the simplest order, if we can only use a spade or a saw or a broom effectively, that faculty diligently exercised is our value to the world; and a great value it is-greater than the value of high genius which is erratic, unbridled. undirected, and uncertain. Of every man or woman in this world the highest praise which can be uttered is that which underlies the commendation of the good wife: "She looketh well to the ways of her household, and eateth not the bread of idleness." [Proverbs 31:27] There is the epitome of all trustworthy and honorable character.

We have been dwelling all this time on a simple virtue of a very mundane type. But all that has been said may be immediately raised to a higher plane by one observation. Our Lord and Master was diligent about His Father’s business, and has left on record this saying: "I must work the works of Him that sent Me while it is called today; for the night cometh, in which no one can work." As each one of us comes under his influence and passes into His faith and obedience, the joyful seriousness of our life-work deepens; it is lit by the rich glow of a sunset glory. We want to do diligently what our hand finds to do-to do it earnestly as unto the Lord. By patient and industrious exercise of every faculty which He has given us, we wish to be prepared for any task which He may appoint here or hereafter. Some of us He only apprentices in this world; and according to the faithfulness with which we discharge our humble and unnoticed duties will be the service to which He will one day appoint us. Others are called out of apprenticeship into the rough and eager work of the journeyman, and His eye is always upon us as He tries us to find whether we may ever be appointed over one, or five, or ten cities. A few supreme souls have been called even on earth to shape, to create, to control; a Paul, an Augustine, a Luther, can work with an emancipated hand. But the law is one all through the workshops, the fields, the vineyards of our Lord. The diligent shall stand before Him, and the slothful shall be shamed. He that does not plough will not reap. Wasted opportunities vanish forever, and leave only their doleful record in the emasculated and nerveless soul.


Verse 10

33

CHAPTER 17

A JUST BALANCE

"A just balance and scales are the Lord’s: all the weights of the bag are His work."- Proverbs 16:11

"A false balance is an abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is His delight."- Proverbs 11:1

"Diverse weights, and divers measures, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord."- Proverbs 20:10

"Diverse weights are an abomination to the Lord; and a false balance is not good."- Proverbs 20:23

THE sixteenth chapter opens-and we may annex to it the last verse of chapter 15.-with a series of sayings which are grouped together on the principle that the name of the Lord occurs in each. There is no obvious connection between the successive verses, and some of them have been already touched on in previous lectures, but it will be worthwhile to glance at the series as a whole.

The Lord’s presence must be recognized and reverenced before we can make any progress in wisdom, and in His presence we must humble ourselves before we can expect any honor. [Proverbs 15:33] We are entirely dependent upon Him; although our hearts may form plans, we cannot utter anything aright unless He controls our tongue. [Proverbs 16:1] However self-satisfied we may be with our own ways, however convinced we may be of our own innocence, He weighs our spirit, and will often find a guilt which our conceit ignores, an impurity which our vanity would hide. [Proverbs 16:2] We should do well, therefore, to commit all our works to Him, in order that He may revise and correct our purposes and establish those which are good. [Proverbs 16:3] We cannot think too much of His all-inclusive wisdom and knowledge; everything lies in His hands and is designed for His ends; even the wicked who rebel against Him - men like Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Judas, Elymas-must in their inevitable punishment glorify His righteousness and truth. [Proverbs 21:4] For punishment is absolutely sure; the proud are an abomination to Him, and although they combine to oppose His will and to escape the penalty, it will be quite in vain. [Proverbs 16:5] On the other hand, where He sees mercy and truth He will purge iniquity, and when men fear Him they will depart from evil. [Proverbs 16:6] When His smile is upon them and He approves their ways, He will make their path plain, pacifying their enemies, and making their hearts glad. [Proverbs 16:7] He will guide them, even directing their steps, in such a manner that their own imperfect counsels shall turn to a happy and successful issue. "Whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he." [Proverbs 26:20] Indeed we cannot exaggerate the minute observation of the Lord; no detail escapes His eye, no event is beyond His control; even what is generally called Chance is but another name for His unmarked and unknown direction; the very lot-that lot which settles contentions and separates the strong-cast into the lap is actually disposed by him [Proverbs 16:33] much more, therefore, are the deliberate transactions of commerce-those subtle bonds of the cash nexus which twine man to man and nation to nation-under His constant inspection and a subject of His most interested concern, "a just balance and scales are the Lord’s: all the Weights of the bag are His work."

It is, then, as part of the Lord’s watchful activity and direct, detailed connection with all the affairs of human life, that He is interested in our business and trade. We may notice at once that this is very characteristic of the Old Testament religion. In the Deuteronomic Law it was written: "Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small. Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small. A perfect and a just weight shalt thou have; a perfect and a just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. For all that do such things, even all that do unrighteously, are an abomination unto the Lord thy God." [Deuteronomy 26:13-16] Again, in the Levitical Law we find: "Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meter-yard, in weight, or in measure. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt." [Leviticus 19:33; Leviticus 19:36]

The Israelite was encouraged to think that all the work in which he engaged was ordained by, and therefore under the observation of, his God. "Hate not laborious work, neither husbandry which the Most High hath ordained," says Ecclesiasticus. [Sirach 7:15] And there is a striking passage in Isaiah where the operations of agriculture are described in detail, and all are attributed to God, who instructs the husbandman aright and teaches him. It all comes from the "Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom." [Isaiah 28:23-29]

But at present we are concerned only with trade as a department of industrial life, and especially with the actual chaffering of exchange, the barter of goods for goods, the weights and measures which settle the quantities, and the rules which must govern all such transactions. We should gather that the commercial fraud of those primitive times took this comparatively simple form: the merchant would have, let us say, a half shekel which came a little short of the regulation weight; or he would have a cubit measure (1 ft. 9 in.) half an inch under a cubit; or he would have a vessel professing to hold a hin (i.e., a little more than a gallon), but actually holding a little less than a gallon; or he would have a dry measure, marked as an ephah (i.e., about three pecks), but incapable of holding the ostensible quantity. In an ordinary way he would use these inadequate measures, and thus nibble a little from every article which he sold to a customer. But in the event of a purchaser presenting himself who had a fuller knowledge or might conceivably act as an inspector and report the fraud to the judge, there would be a just half shekel weight in the bag, a full cubit rule hidden behind the counter, a hin or an ephah measure of legal dimensions within easy reach. You may smile at such primitive methods of deception, but it requires many generations for a civilized society to elaborate commercial fraud on the large scale.

Now passing at once to our own times and bringing the truth of our text to illuminate them, I should like to say a little to people engaged in business, whether employers or employed, whether the business is wholesale or retail. And let me assure you that I am not going to attempt a detailed examination and criticism of your business concerns. Such an attempt would be grossly impertinent, and might well expose me, not only to your indignation, but to your ridicule. No, I do not believe that it is the part of the preacher to meddle with matters which he does not understand; he only discredits his message by affecting an omniscience which he cannot possibly possess. I have no doubt that the youth who has been in a warehouse or behind the counter for six months already knows more of commercial habits, of trade practices, of the temptations and difficulties which practically press upon people in business, than I know, or am likely to know if I live to twice my present age. I shall not therefore insult you by attempting to point out evils and expose abuses, to denounce particular frauds, and to hold up any special people or classes of people to moral reprobation. My task is quite different; it is this: -I am to remind you, first, that God possesses that omniscience to which I can lay no claim, and therefore is intimately acquainted with all the transactions of your bank, your warehouse, your office, your counter, your workshop; and, secondly, that He regards with intense satisfaction all fair dealing, and with vindictive indignation every fraud, and trick, and lie. And on the strength of this I am to ask you very earnestly to review your lives and your practices in the light of His judgment, and to consider how you may bring all your doings in business into conformity with His will.

Perhaps you will let me, as a man speaking to his fellow-men, as a Christian, I hope, speaking to his fellow-Christians, expand these three points a little.

First. We are all of us tempted to think that a considerable proportion of our life is too insignificant to attract the particular attention of God. We can understand that He takes notice of our entrance into, and our exit from, the world, but we think that between the two limits He leaves us to "devise our own ways." Or possibly we can recognize His interest in the crisis of our life, but are inclined to question His minute care of the common and monotonous routine. He marks what business we enter, but, when we are in it, lets us alone. He is interested in our marriage, but, when we are married, leaves husband and wife to adjust their own relations. Or He marks a large business transaction in which there is room for a really gigantic fraud, but cannot pay any attention to a minute sale over the counter, the trivial adulteration of a common article, the ingenious subterfuge for disposing of a damaged or useless stock. Is not this our unspoken but implicit mode of reasoning? And could anything be more illogical? The Divine Power which would create this infinitely diversified universe must be able to mark every tiniest detail of the tiniest object in it. Great and small are relative terms, and have no significance to Him. Naturalists tell us that in the scale of living creatures, arranged according to size, the common beetle occupies the middle point, the smallest living creature being as much smaller as the largest is larger than it. And yet the microscope, so far from showing that God takes less care with the infinitesimal creations of His hand, rather inclines us to say that the smaller the creature is, the more delicate adjustment, the more exquisite proportions, the more brilliant hues, does it display. Our Lord brought home to us this minuteness of the Divine Mind, this infinite power of embracing the veriest trifles of the creation in His thought and care, by assuring us that not a sparrow falls without His notice and that the hairs of our heads are all numbered.

There is, then, no logical resting-place, when we are thinking of the Mind of God. If He knows us at all, He knows all about us. If He marks what we consider the important things m our life, He marks equally what we consider the unimportant things. The whole life, with every detail from birth to death, is accurately photographed in the light of His omniscience; and as the exposed plate of the camera receives many details which escape the observation of our eyes, so the smallest and least observed transaction in the daily business, every figure entered truly or falsely in the ledger, every coin dropped justly or dishonestly into the till, every bale, every packet, every thread, every pin, which changes hands in the market, passes at once into the observant and comprehending mind of God.

Second. But in this exhaustive and detailed knowledge of the way in which you are conducting your business, His warm approval follows everything that is honest and just, His vehement censure lights on all that is dishonest or unjust. It may come as a great comfort to you to know that a little business matter which cost you a considerable struggle the other day was duly noted and recorded by the Lord. I was not present at the time, nor did anyone who was near you in the least surmise what was passing. But you suddenly recognized the possibility of making a large profit by simply adopting a very slight subterfuge; what made the case peculiarly difficult was that neighboring and rival firms to your certain knowledge did the like every day; the innocent faces of wife and children at home seemed to urge you, for what a difference would this sum of money make to their comfort and welfare in the coming year? You weighed the little trick over and over again, and set it now in this light, now in that, until at last the black began to seem grey, and the grey almost white. After all, was it a subterfuge? was it not merely a quite legitimate reserve, an even laudable commercial prudence? And then, as you wavered, some clear light of truth fell upon your mind; you saw distinctly what was the right course, and very quietly you took it; the prospect of gain was surrendered, you saw the advantage pass over to your rival; he availed himself of it, and went to church next Sunday just the same. Sometimes you have wondered whether after all you were not too scrupulous.

Now all that God knows; it is His delight; He has recorded it already in His Book, and also in your own moral nature, which is the stronger and the better for it.

On the other hand, it must be a subject of some concern to many that the same all-observing, all-recording Mind regards with hatred all the sharp practices by which in business we deceive and defraud one another. I suppose there is a way of making up books which would pass any accountant in London, and yet would not pass the audit of God. I suppose there are gains which to the average commercial conscience of today appear fair enough, and yet to the One who weighs the spirits of men seem to be quite illicit. There must be men who made their money long ago in certain ways best known to themselves, and are now living in great comfort; but all the time in the books of God a terrible record stands against them, and as the eye of God falls upon those pages, the moan of the ruined, the cry of the fatherless and the widow, and the horrified entreaties of the helpless come up into His ear.

We have no reason for thinking that the unjust balance has become any less abominable to the Lord because the eager and relentless competition of modern industrial life has multiplied, while it has refined, the methods of fraud, and has created a condition of things in which, as so many people urge, questionable practices have become actually necessary for one who would keep his head above water. We have no reason to think that God regards it as at all essential that any of us should keep his head above water. The warm and honorable reception given to Lazarus in heaven, when his head had gone under the waters on earth, might lead us to think that what we call failures here may possibly be regarded as grand successes there. But we have every reason to think that double-dealing, no matter what may be the plea, is abominable in the sight of the Lord.

It is in vain to point to the great prosperity which has fallen to the lot of some whose dishonorable practices have been notorious. It is beyond a doubt that knavery may be successful in its way and a clever rogue may outdistance an honest dullard. The proverb "Honesty is the best policy" is not, as some people seem to think, in the Bible; honesty may or may not be the best policy, according to the object which you have in view. If your object is simply to amass wealth, the saying will read, "Honesty is the best policy; and where it is not, be dishonest." God does not judge in the least by worldly prosperity. From the parable just alluded to one would conclude that it is, in heaven, a certain presumption against a man; there may yet prove to be truth in the hard saying, "He that dies rich is damned." If God hates these questionable practices which are said to exist in modern trade, and if He enters them all in His black books, they who prosper by employing them are none the less failures: their ruin is sure; their remorse will be as inevitable as their recovery will be impossible.

Third. I come therefore now to urge upon all of you that you should order all your business ways as in the sight of God, and concern yourselves chiefly with the thought how they may be in conformity with His holy Will. Do not be content with estimating your conduct by the judgment which other men would pass upon it. While such an estimate might reveal many things which would not pass muster, it is doubtful whether their problematical censure will afford an adequate motive for reform, and it is sure to overlook many of the evils which they are bound to wink at, because their own hands are not clean. Do not be content even with estimating your conduct by the standard of your own unaided conscience. Your conscience may at any given time be in a degraded state; in order to keep it quiet you may have brought it down to the level of your conduct. A thief’s conscience seldom troubles him unless his theft is unsuccessful, in which case it reproaches him for not being more careful and more skillful. You may, like St. Paul, know nothing against yourself and yet not be thereby justified. For doubtless most of the evil practices of our time represent a conscience that has been stupefied with sophistry and deadened with selfishness, so that the worst culprits are the first to put on an air of injured innocence, and those who are least guilty suffer most just because the conscience is still sensitive and has not yet been seared with the usual hot iron.

No, the only safe and effectual method is to bring all your business habits, all the practices of the counter and the counting-house, under the searching eye of the All-seeing One. Unless you realize that He sees and knows, and unless you humbly submit everything to His judgment, you are sure to go wrong; your standard will insensibly fail, and you will insensibly fall away even from the fallen standard. It is said that peculiar difficulties beset you in the present day; it is said that it was never so hard to be straightforward and above-board in commercial dealings; it is said that the insane Moloch of competition imperatively demands the blood of our youth, and even makes assaults on the established virtues of maturity. It may be so, though we are generally inclined to exaggerate the peculiar temptations of our own time in comparison with those of a former age; but if it is so, then there is all the more urgent a necessity that you should bring your affairs to God’s judgment, seek diligently to understand His will, and then ask Him for a peculiar strength to enable you to overcome these peculiar temptations. You will not alter His judgment of your conduct by attempting to ignore it. But by seeking to understand it, and by laying your heart open to be influenced by it, you will find that your conduct is perceptibly altered and apparent impossibilities are overcome, because "by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil." [Proverbs 16:6]


Verse 14

8

CHAPTER 10

TWO VOICES IN THE HIGH PLACES OF THE CITY

Proverbs 9:1-18, Proverbs 20:14 with Proberbs 3, and Proverbs 20:16 with Proverbs 4:1-27

AFTER the lengthened contrast between the vicious woman and Wisdom in chapters 7 and 8, the introduction of the book closes with a little picture which is intended to repeat and sum up all that has gone before. It is a peroration, simple, graphic, and beautiful.

There is a kind of competition between Wisdom and Folly, between Righteousness and Sin, between Virtue and Vice; and the allurements of the two are disposed in an intentional parallelism; the coloring and arrangement are of such a kind that it becomes incredible how any sensible person, or for that matter even the simple himself, could for a moment hesitate between the noble form of Wisdom and the meretricious attractions of Folly. The two voices are heard in the high places of the city; each of them invites the passers-by, especially the simple and unsophisticated-the one into her fair palace, the other into her foul and deadly house. The words of their invitation are very similar: "Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that is void of understanding, she saith to him:" but how different is the burden of the two messages! Wisdom offers life, but is silent about enjoyment; Folly offers enjoyment, but says nothing of the death which must surely ensue.

First of all we will give our attention to the Palace of Wisdom and the voices which issue from it, and then we will note for the last time the features and the arts of Mistress Folly.

The Palace of Wisdom is very attractive; well-built and well furnished, it rings with the sounds of hospitality; and, with its open colonnades, it seems of itself to invite all passers-by to enter in as guests. It is reared upon seven well-hewn marble pillars, in a quadrangular form, With the entrance side left wide open. This is no shifting tent or tottering hut, but an eternal mansion, that lacks nothing of stability, or completeness, or beauty. Through the spacious doorways may be seen the great courtyard, in which appear the preparations for a perpetual feast. The beasts are killed and dressed: the wine stands in tall flagons ready mixed for drinking: the tables are spread and decked. All is open, generous, large, a contrast to that unhallowed private supper to which the unwary youth was invited by his seducer. [Proverbs 7:14] There are no secret chambers, no twilight suggestions and insinuations: the broad light shines over all; there is a promise of social joy; it seems that they will be blessed who sit down together at this board. And now the beautiful owner of the palace has sent forth her maidens into the public ways of the city: theirs is a gracious errand; they are not to chide with sour and censorious rebukes, but they are to invite with winning friendliness; they are to offer this rare repast, which is now ready, to all those who are willing to acknowledge their need of it. "Come, eat ye of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled." [Proverbs 9:5]

We were led to inquire in the last chapter how far our Lord identified Himself with the hypostatic Wisdom who was speaking there, and we were left in some doubt whether He ever consciously admitted the identity; but it is hardly a matter of doubt that this passage was before His mind when He spoke His parable of the Wedding Feast. And the connection is still more apparent when we look at the Greek version of the LXX, and notice that the clause "sent forth her bond-servants" is precisely the same in Proverbs 9:3 and in Matthew 22:3. Here, at any rate, Jesus, who describes Himself as "a certain king," quite definitely occupies the place of the ancient Wisdom in the book of Proverbs, and the language which in this passage she employs He, as we shall see, in many slight particulars made His own.

Yes, our Lord, the Wisdom Incarnate, has glorious ideas of hospitality; He keeps open house; His purpose is to call mankind to a great feast; the "bread and the wine" are prepared; the sacrifice which furnishes the meat is slain. His messengers are not commissioned with a mournful or a condemnatory proclamation, but with good tidings which they are to publish in the high places. His word is always, Come. His desire is that men should live, and therefore He calls them into the way of understanding. [Proverbs 9:6] If a man lacks wisdom, if he recognizes his ignorance, his frailty, his folly, if he is at any rate wise enough to know that he is foolish, well enough to know that he is sick, righteous enough to know that he is sinful, let him approach this noble mansion with its lordly feast. Here is bread which is meat indeed; here is wine which is life-giving, the fruit of the Vine which God has planted.

But now we are to note that the invitation of Wisdom is addressed only to the simple, not to the scorner. [Proverbs 9:7] She lets the scorner pass by, because a word to him would recoil only in shame on herself, bringing a blush to her queenly face, and would add to the scorner’s wickedness by increasing his hatred of her. Her reproof would not benefit him, but it would bring a blot upon herself, it would exhibit her as ineffectual and helpless. The bitter words of a scorner can make wisdom appear foolish, and cover virtue with a confusion which should belong only to vice. "Speak not in the hearing of a fool; for he will despise the wisdom of thy words." [Proverbs 23:9] Indeed, there is no character so hopeless as that of the scorner; there proceeds from him, as it were, a fierce blast, which blows away all the approaches which goodness makes to him. Reproof cannot come near him; [Proverbs 13:1] he cannot find wisdom, though he seek it; [Proverbs 14:6] and as a matter of fact, he never seeks it. [Proverbs 15:12] If one attempts to punish him it can only be with the hope that others may benefit by the example; it will have no effect upon him. [Proverbs 19:25] To be rid of him must be the desire of every wise man, for he is an abomination to all, [Proverbs 24:9] and with his departure contention disappears. [Proverbs 22:10] They that scoff at things holy, and scorn the Divine Power, must be left to themselves until the beginnings of wisdom appear in them-the first sense of fear that there is a God who may not be mocked, the first recognition that there is a sanctity which they would do well at all events to reverence. There must be a little wisdom in the heart before a man can enter the Palace of Wisdom; there must be a humbling, a self-mistrust, a diffident misgiving before the scorner will give heed to her invitation.

There is an echo of this solemn truth in more than one saying of the Lord’s. He too cautioned His disciples against casting their pearls before swine, lest they should trample the pearls under their feet, and turn to rend those who were foolish enough to offer them such treasure. [Matthew 7:6] Men must often be taught in the stern school of Experience, before they can matriculate in the reasonable college of Wisdom. It is not good to give that which is holy to dogs, nor to display the sanctities of religion to those who will only put them to an open shame. Where we follow our own way instead of the Lord’s, and insist on offering the treasures of the kingdom to the scorners, we are not acting according to the dictates of Wisdom, we get a blot for that goodness which we so rashly offer, and often are needlessly rent by those whom we meant to save. It is evident that this is only one side of a truth, and our Lord presented with equal fullness the other side; it was from Him we learnt how the scorner himself, who cannot be won by reproof, can sometimes be won by love; but our Lord thought it worthwhile to state this side of the truth, and so far to make this utterance of the ancient Wisdom His own.

Again, how constantly He insisted on the mysterious fact that to him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken what he hath, precisely in the spirit of this saying: "Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning." The entrance into the kingdom, as into the house of Wisdom, is by humility. Except a man turn, and become as a little child, he cannot enter. Wisdom is only justified of her children: until the heart is humble it cannot even begin to be wise; although it may seem to possess a great deal, all must be taken away, and a new beginning must be made-that beginning which is found in the fear of the Lord, and in the knowledge of the Holy. [Proverbs 9:10]

The closing words in the invitation of Wisdom are entirely appropriate in the lips of Jesus, and, indeed, only in His lips could they be accepted in their fullest signification. There is a limited sense in which all wisdom is favorable to long life, as we saw in chapter 3, but it is an obvious remark, too, that the wise perish even as the fool; one event happens to them both, and there appears to be no difference. But the Incarnate Wisdom, Jesus Christ, was able to say with a broad literalness, "By Me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased." With Him the outlook widened; He could speak of a new life, of raising men up at the last day; He could for the first time give a solution to that constant enigma which has puzzled men from the beginning, How is it that Wisdom promises life, and yet often requires that her children should die? How is it that the best and wisest have often chosen death, and so to all appearance have robbed the world of their goodness and their wisdom? He could give the answer in the glorious truth of the Resurrection; and so, in calling men to die for Him, as He often does, He can in the very moment of their death say to them with a fullness of meaning, "By Me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased."

And then how entirely is it in harmony with all His teaching to emphasize to the utmost the individual choice and the individual responsibility. "If thou art wise, thou art wise for thyself: and if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it." There can be no progress, indeed no beginning, in the spiritual life, until this attitude of personal isolation is understood. It is the last result of true religion that we live in others; but it is the first that we live in ourselves: and until we have learnt to live in ourselves we can be of no use by living in others. Until the individual soul is dealt with, until.it has understood the demands which are made upon it, and met them, it is in no position to take its rightful place as a lively stone in the temple of God, or as a living member in the body of Christ. Yes, realize this searching assurance of Wisdom, let us say, rather, of Christ: if you are like the wise virgins in the parable, it is for your own everlasting good, you shall enter into the hall with the Bridegroom; but if you are like the foolish virgins, no wisdom of the wise can avail you, no vicarious light will serve for your lamps; for you there must be the personal humiliation and sorrow of the Lord’s "I know you not."

If with scornful indifference to your high trust as a servant of the Master you hide your talent, and justify your conduct to yourself by pleading that the Master is a hard man, that scorn must recoil upon your own head; so far from the enlarged wealth of the others coming to meet your deficiencies, the misused trifle which you still retain will be taken from you and given to them. Men have sometimes favored the notion that it is possible to spend a life of scornful indifference to God and all His holy commandments, a life of arrogant self-seeking and bitter contempt for all His other creatures, and yet to find oneself at the end entirely purged of one’s contempt, and on precisely equal terms with all pious and humble hearts; but against this notion Wisdom loudly exclaims; it is the notion of Folly, and so far from redeeming the folly, it is Folly’s worst condemnation: for surely Conscience and Reason, the heart and the head, might tell us that it is false; and all that is sanest and wisest in us concurs in the direct and simple assurance, "If thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it."

Such is the invitation, and such the warning of Wisdom; such is the invitation, and such the warning, of Christ. Leave off, ye simple ones, and live. After all, most of us are not scorners, but only very foolish, easily dazzled with false lights, easily misled with smooth utterances which happen to chime in with our own ignorant prejudices, easily seduced into by-paths which in quiet moments we readily acknowledge to be sinful and hurtful. The scorners are but a few; the simple ones are many. Here is this gracious voice appealing to the simple ones, and with a winsome liberality inviting them to the feast of Wisdom.

At the close of verse 12 (Proverbs 9:12) the LXX give a very interesting addition, which was probably translated from a Hebrew original. It seems to have been before our Lord’s mind when He drew the description of the unclean spirit walking through waterless places, seeking rest and finding none. [Matthew 12:43] The passage is a figurative delineation of the evils which result from making shams and insincerities the support of life, in place of the unfailing sureness and available strength of wisdom; it may be rendered thus: "He who makes falsehood his support shepherds the winds, and will find himself pursuing birds on the wing; for it means leaving the paths of his own vineyard, and wandering over the borders of his own husbandry; it means walking through a waterless wilderness, over land which is the portion of the thirsty; he gathers in his hands fruitlessness." What a contrast to the spacious halls and the bountiful fare of Wisdom! A life based upon everlasting verities may seem for the time cold and desolate, but it is founded upon a rock, and not a barren rock either, for it sends forth in due course corn, and wine, and oil. The children in that house have bread enough and to spare. But when a man prefers make-believe to reality, and follows the apparently pleasant, instead of the actually good, what a clutching of winds it is! What a chase after swift-vanishing birds of joy! The wholesome ways, fruitful, responsive to toil, are left far behind; and here soon is the actual desert, without a drop of water to cool the lips, or a single fruit of the earth which a man can eat. The deluded soul consumes his substance with harlots, and he gathers the wind. The ways of vice are terrible; they produce a thirst which they cannot quench; and they fill the imagination with torturing images of well-being which are farther removed from reality by every step we take. Wisdom bids us to make truth our stay, for after all the Truth is the Way and the Life, and there is no other way, no other life.

And now comes the brief closing picture of Folly, to which again the LXX give a short addition. Folly is loud, empty-headed as her victims, whom she invites to herself, not as Wisdom invites them, to leave off their simplicity, but rather as like to like, that their ignorance may be confirmed into vice, and their simplicity into brutishness. She has had the effrontery to build her house in the most prominent and lofty place of the city, where by good rights only Wisdom should dwell. Her allurements are specially directed to those who seem to be going right on in their wholesome ways, as if she found her chief delight, not in gratifying the vicious, but in making vicious the innocent. Her charms are: poor and tawdry enough; seen in the broad sun-light, and with the wholesome air all round her, she would be revolting to every uncorrupted nature; her clamorous voice would sound strident, and her shameless brow would create a blush of shame in others; she naturally therefore seeks to throw a veil over herself and a glamour over her proposals; she suggests that secrecy and illicitness will lend a charm to what in itself is a sorry delight. It is clandestine, therefore it is to be sweet; it is forbidden, therefore it is to be pleasant. Could anything be more sophistical? That which owes its attraction to the shadows of the night must obviously be intrinsically unattractive. It is an argument fit only for the shades of the lost, and not for those who breathe the sweet air and behold the sun. Her house is indeed haunted with ghosts, and when a man enters her portal he already has his foot in hell. Well may the LXX add the vehement warning, "Spring away from her clutches; do not linger in the place; let her not have thy name, for thou wilt traverse another’s waters; from another’s waters hold aloof, from another’s fountains do not drink, in order that thou mayest live long, and add to thy years of life."

And now, before leaving this subject, we must briefly remark the great change and advance which Christ has brought into our thought of the relation between the two sexes. This Book of Wisdom is a fair illustration of the contempt in which woman was held by the wise men of Israel. One would suppose that she is the temptress, and man is the victim. The teacher never dreams of going a step backward, and asking whose fault it was that the temptress fell into her vicious ways. He takes no note of the fact that women are first led astray before they lead others. Nor does he care to inquire how the men of his day ruined their women by refusing to them all mental training, all wholesome interest and occupation, shutting them up in the corrupting atmosphere of the seraglio, and teaching them to regard the domestic sphere, and that only in its narrowest sense, as the proper limit of their thought and affection. It was reserved for the Great Teacher, the Incarnate Wisdom Himself, to redress this age-long injustice to woman, by sternly holding up to men the mirror of truth in which they might see their own guilty hearts. It was reserved for him to touch the conscience of a city woman who was a sinner, and to bring her from her clamorous and seductive ways to the sweetness of penitential tears, and the rapturous love which forgiveness kindles. It is He, and not the ancient Wisdom, who has turned the current of men’s thoughts into juster and kindlier ways on this great question. And thus it is that the great Christian poet represents the archangel correcting the faulty judgment of man. Adam, speaking with the usual virtuous indignation of the stronger sex in contemplation of the soft vision of frail women presented to his eyes, says:-

"O pity and shame, that they, who to live well

Entered so fair, should turn aside to tread

Paths indirect, or in the midway faint!

But still I see the tenor of man’s woe

Holds on the same, from woman to begin."

The correction is the correction of Christ, though Michael is the speaker:-

"From man’s effeminate slackness it begins," Said the angel, "who should better hold his place, By wisdom and superior gifts received."

Our Lord draws no such pictures as these in the book of proverbs; they have their value; it is necessary to warn young men against the seductions which the vices of other men have created in woman’s form; but He prefers always to go to the root of the matter; He speaks to men themselves; He bids them restrain the wandering eye, and keep pure the fountains of the heart. To that censorious Wisdom which judges without any perception that woman is more sinned against than sinning He would oppose His severe command to be rid of the beam in one’s own eye, before making an attempt to remove the mote from another’s. It is in this way that He in so many varied fields of thought and action has turned a half-truth into a whole truth by going a little deeper, and unveiling the secrets of the heart; and in this way He has enabled us to use the half-truth, setting it in its right relation to the whole.


Verse 16

8

CHAPTER 10

TWO VOICES IN THE HIGH PLACES OF THE CITY

Proverbs 9:1-18, Proverbs 20:14 with Proberbs 3, and Proverbs 20:16 with Proverbs 4:1-27

AFTER the lengthened contrast between the vicious woman and Wisdom in chapters 7 and 8, the introduction of the book closes with a little picture which is intended to repeat and sum up all that has gone before. It is a peroration, simple, graphic, and beautiful.

There is a kind of competition between Wisdom and Folly, between Righteousness and Sin, between Virtue and Vice; and the allurements of the two are disposed in an intentional parallelism; the coloring and arrangement are of such a kind that it becomes incredible how any sensible person, or for that matter even the simple himself, could for a moment hesitate between the noble form of Wisdom and the meretricious attractions of Folly. The two voices are heard in the high places of the city; each of them invites the passers-by, especially the simple and unsophisticated-the one into her fair palace, the other into her foul and deadly house. The words of their invitation are very similar: "Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither: as for him that is void of understanding, she saith to him:" but how different is the burden of the two messages! Wisdom offers life, but is silent about enjoyment; Folly offers enjoyment, but says nothing of the death which must surely ensue.

First of all we will give our attention to the Palace of Wisdom and the voices which issue from it, and then we will note for the last time the features and the arts of Mistress Folly.

The Palace of Wisdom is very attractive; well-built and well furnished, it rings with the sounds of hospitality; and, with its open colonnades, it seems of itself to invite all passers-by to enter in as guests. It is reared upon seven well-hewn marble pillars, in a quadrangular form, With the entrance side left wide open. This is no shifting tent or tottering hut, but an eternal mansion, that lacks nothing of stability, or completeness, or beauty. Through the spacious doorways may be seen the great courtyard, in which appear the preparations for a perpetual feast. The beasts are killed and dressed: the wine stands in tall flagons ready mixed for drinking: the tables are spread and decked. All is open, generous, large, a contrast to that unhallowed private supper to which the unwary youth was invited by his seducer. [Proverbs 7:14] There are no secret chambers, no twilight suggestions and insinuations: the broad light shines over all; there is a promise of social joy; it seems that they will be blessed who sit down together at this board. And now the beautiful owner of the palace has sent forth her maidens into the public ways of the city: theirs is a gracious errand; they are not to chide with sour and censorious rebukes, but they are to invite with winning friendliness; they are to offer this rare repast, which is now ready, to all those who are willing to acknowledge their need of it. "Come, eat ye of my bread, and drink of the wine which I have mingled." [Proverbs 9:5]

We were led to inquire in the last chapter how far our Lord identified Himself with the hypostatic Wisdom who was speaking there, and we were left in some doubt whether He ever consciously admitted the identity; but it is hardly a matter of doubt that this passage was before His mind when He spoke His parable of the Wedding Feast. And the connection is still more apparent when we look at the Greek version of the LXX, and notice that the clause "sent forth her bond-servants" is precisely the same in Proverbs 9:3 and in Matthew 22:3. Here, at any rate, Jesus, who describes Himself as "a certain king," quite definitely occupies the place of the ancient Wisdom in the book of Proverbs, and the language which in this passage she employs He, as we shall see, in many slight particulars made His own.

Yes, our Lord, the Wisdom Incarnate, has glorious ideas of hospitality; He keeps open house; His purpose is to call mankind to a great feast; the "bread and the wine" are prepared; the sacrifice which furnishes the meat is slain. His messengers are not commissioned with a mournful or a condemnatory proclamation, but with good tidings which they are to publish in the high places. His word is always, Come. His desire is that men should live, and therefore He calls them into the way of understanding. [Proverbs 9:6] If a man lacks wisdom, if he recognizes his ignorance, his frailty, his folly, if he is at any rate wise enough to know that he is foolish, well enough to know that he is sick, righteous enough to know that he is sinful, let him approach this noble mansion with its lordly feast. Here is bread which is meat indeed; here is wine which is life-giving, the fruit of the Vine which God has planted.

But now we are to note that the invitation of Wisdom is addressed only to the simple, not to the scorner. [Proverbs 9:7] She lets the scorner pass by, because a word to him would recoil only in shame on herself, bringing a blush to her queenly face, and would add to the scorner’s wickedness by increasing his hatred of her. Her reproof would not benefit him, but it would bring a blot upon herself, it would exhibit her as ineffectual and helpless. The bitter words of a scorner can make wisdom appear foolish, and cover virtue with a confusion which should belong only to vice. "Speak not in the hearing of a fool; for he will despise the wisdom of thy words." [Proverbs 23:9] Indeed, there is no character so hopeless as that of the scorner; there proceeds from him, as it were, a fierce blast, which blows away all the approaches which goodness makes to him. Reproof cannot come near him; [Proverbs 13:1] he cannot find wisdom, though he seek it; [Proverbs 14:6] and as a matter of fact, he never seeks it. [Proverbs 15:12] If one attempts to punish him it can only be with the hope that others may benefit by the example; it will have no effect upon him. [Proverbs 19:25] To be rid of him must be the desire of every wise man, for he is an abomination to all, [Proverbs 24:9] and with his departure contention disappears. [Proverbs 22:10] They that scoff at things holy, and scorn the Divine Power, must be left to themselves until the beginnings of wisdom appear in them-the first sense of fear that there is a God who may not be mocked, the first recognition that there is a sanctity which they would do well at all events to reverence. There must be a little wisdom in the heart before a man can enter the Palace of Wisdom; there must be a humbling, a self-mistrust, a diffident misgiving before the scorner will give heed to her invitation.

There is an echo of this solemn truth in more than one saying of the Lord’s. He too cautioned His disciples against casting their pearls before swine, lest they should trample the pearls under their feet, and turn to rend those who were foolish enough to offer them such treasure. [Matthew 7:6] Men must often be taught in the stern school of Experience, before they can matriculate in the reasonable college of Wisdom. It is not good to give that which is holy to dogs, nor to display the sanctities of religion to those who will only put them to an open shame. Where we follow our own way instead of the Lord’s, and insist on offering the treasures of the kingdom to the scorners, we are not acting according to the dictates of Wisdom, we get a blot for that goodness which we so rashly offer, and often are needlessly rent by those whom we meant to save. It is evident that this is only one side of a truth, and our Lord presented with equal fullness the other side; it was from Him we learnt how the scorner himself, who cannot be won by reproof, can sometimes be won by love; but our Lord thought it worthwhile to state this side of the truth, and so far to make this utterance of the ancient Wisdom His own.

Again, how constantly He insisted on the mysterious fact that to him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken what he hath, precisely in the spirit of this saying: "Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser: teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning." The entrance into the kingdom, as into the house of Wisdom, is by humility. Except a man turn, and become as a little child, he cannot enter. Wisdom is only justified of her children: until the heart is humble it cannot even begin to be wise; although it may seem to possess a great deal, all must be taken away, and a new beginning must be made-that beginning which is found in the fear of the Lord, and in the knowledge of the Holy. [Proverbs 9:10]

The closing words in the invitation of Wisdom are entirely appropriate in the lips of Jesus, and, indeed, only in His lips could they be accepted in their fullest signification. There is a limited sense in which all wisdom is favorable to long life, as we saw in chapter 3, but it is an obvious remark, too, that the wise perish even as the fool; one event happens to them both, and there appears to be no difference. But the Incarnate Wisdom, Jesus Christ, was able to say with a broad literalness, "By Me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased." With Him the outlook widened; He could speak of a new life, of raising men up at the last day; He could for the first time give a solution to that constant enigma which has puzzled men from the beginning, How is it that Wisdom promises life, and yet often requires that her children should die? How is it that the best and wisest have often chosen death, and so to all appearance have robbed the world of their goodness and their wisdom? He could give the answer in the glorious truth of the Resurrection; and so, in calling men to die for Him, as He often does, He can in the very moment of their death say to them with a fullness of meaning, "By Me thy days shall be multiplied, and the years of thy life shall be increased."

And then how entirely is it in harmony with all His teaching to emphasize to the utmost the individual choice and the individual responsibility. "If thou art wise, thou art wise for thyself: and if thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it." There can be no progress, indeed no beginning, in the spiritual life, until this attitude of personal isolation is understood. It is the last result of true religion that we live in others; but it is the first that we live in ourselves: and until we have learnt to live in ourselves we can be of no use by living in others. Until the individual soul is dealt with, until.it has understood the demands which are made upon it, and met them, it is in no position to take its rightful place as a lively stone in the temple of God, or as a living member in the body of Christ. Yes, realize this searching assurance of Wisdom, let us say, rather, of Christ: if you are like the wise virgins in the parable, it is for your own everlasting good, you shall enter into the hall with the Bridegroom; but if you are like the foolish virgins, no wisdom of the wise can avail you, no vicarious light will serve for your lamps; for you there must be the personal humiliation and sorrow of the Lord’s "I know you not."

If with scornful indifference to your high trust as a servant of the Master you hide your talent, and justify your conduct to yourself by pleading that the Master is a hard man, that scorn must recoil upon your own head; so far from the enlarged wealth of the others coming to meet your deficiencies, the misused trifle which you still retain will be taken from you and given to them. Men have sometimes favored the notion that it is possible to spend a life of scornful indifference to God and all His holy commandments, a life of arrogant self-seeking and bitter contempt for all His other creatures, and yet to find oneself at the end entirely purged of one’s contempt, and on precisely equal terms with all pious and humble hearts; but against this notion Wisdom loudly exclaims; it is the notion of Folly, and so far from redeeming the folly, it is Folly’s worst condemnation: for surely Conscience and Reason, the heart and the head, might tell us that it is false; and all that is sanest and wisest in us concurs in the direct and simple assurance, "If thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it."

Such is the invitation, and such the warning of Wisdom; such is the invitation, and such the warning, of Christ. Leave off, ye simple ones, and live. After all, most of us are not scorners, but only very foolish, easily dazzled with false lights, easily misled with smooth utterances which happen to chime in with our own ignorant prejudices, easily seduced into by-paths which in quiet moments we readily acknowledge to be sinful and hurtful. The scorners are but a few; the simple ones are many. Here is this gracious voice appealing to the simple ones, and with a winsome liberality inviting them to the feast of Wisdom.

At the close of verse 12 (Proverbs 9:12) the LXX give a very interesting addition, which was probably translated from a Hebrew original. It seems to have been before our Lord’s mind when He drew the description of the unclean spirit walking through waterless places, seeking rest and finding none. [Matthew 12:43] The passage is a figurative delineation of the evils which result from making shams and insincerities the support of life, in place of the unfailing sureness and available strength of wisdom; it may be rendered thus: "He who makes falsehood his support shepherds the winds, and will find himself pursuing birds on the wing; for it means leaving the paths of his own vineyard, and wandering over the borders of his own husbandry; it means walking through a waterless wilderness, over land which is the portion of the thirsty; he gathers in his hands fruitlessness." What a contrast to the spacious halls and the bountiful fare of Wisdom! A life based upon everlasting verities may seem for the time cold and desolate, but it is founded upon a rock, and not a barren rock either, for it sends forth in due course corn, and wine, and oil. The children in that house have bread enough and to spare. But when a man prefers make-believe to reality, and follows the apparently pleasant, instead of the actually good, what a clutching of winds it is! What a chase after swift-vanishing birds of joy! The wholesome ways, fruitful, responsive to toil, are left far behind; and here soon is the actual desert, without a drop of water to cool the lips, or a single fruit of the earth which a man can eat. The deluded soul consumes his substance with harlots, and he gathers the wind. The ways of vice are terrible; they produce a thirst which they cannot quench; and they fill the imagination with torturing images of well-being which are farther removed from reality by every step we take. Wisdom bids us to make truth our stay, for after all the Truth is the Way and the Life, and there is no other way, no other life.

And now comes the brief closing picture of Folly, to which again the LXX give a short addition. Folly is loud, empty-headed as her victims, whom she invites to herself, not as Wisdom invites them, to leave off their simplicity, but rather as like to like, that their ignorance may be confirmed into vice, and their simplicity into brutishness. She has had the effrontery to build her house in the most prominent and lofty place of the city, where by good rights only Wisdom should dwell. Her allurements are specially directed to those who seem to be going right on in their wholesome ways, as if she found her chief delight, not in gratifying the vicious, but in making vicious the innocent. Her charms are: poor and tawdry enough; seen in the broad sun-light, and with the wholesome air all round her, she would be revolting to every uncorrupted nature; her clamorous voice would sound strident, and her shameless brow would create a blush of shame in others; she naturally therefore seeks to throw a veil over herself and a glamour over her proposals; she suggests that secrecy and illicitness will lend a charm to what in itself is a sorry delight. It is clandestine, therefore it is to be sweet; it is forbidden, therefore it is to be pleasant. Could anything be more sophistical? That which owes its attraction to the shadows of the night must obviously be intrinsically unattractive. It is an argument fit only for the shades of the lost, and not for those who breathe the sweet air and behold the sun. Her house is indeed haunted with ghosts, and when a man enters her portal he already has his foot in hell. Well may the LXX add the vehement warning, "Spring away from her clutches; do not linger in the place; let her not have thy name, for thou wilt traverse another’s waters; from another’s waters hold aloof, from another’s fountains do not drink, in order that thou mayest live long, and add to thy years of life."

And now, before leaving this subject, we must briefly remark the great change and advance which Christ has brought into our thought of the relation between the two sexes. This Book of Wisdom is a fair illustration of the contempt in which woman was held by the wise men of Israel. One would suppose that she is the temptress, and man is the victim. The teacher never dreams of going a step backward, and asking whose fault it was that the temptress fell into her vicious ways. He takes no note of the fact that women are first led astray before they lead others. Nor does he care to inquire how the men of his day ruined their women by refusing to them all mental training, all wholesome interest and occupation, shutting them up in the corrupting atmosphere of the seraglio, and teaching them to regard the domestic sphere, and that only in its narrowest sense, as the proper limit of their thought and affection. It was reserved for the Great Teacher, the Incarnate Wisdom Himself, to redress this age-long injustice to woman, by sternly holding up to men the mirror of truth in which they might see their own guilty hearts. It was reserved for him to touch the conscience of a city woman who was a sinner, and to bring her from her clamorous and seductive ways to the sweetness of penitential tears, and the rapturous love which forgiveness kindles. It is He, and not the ancient Wisdom, who has turned the current of men’s thoughts into juster and kindlier ways on this great question. And thus it is that the great Christian poet represents the archangel correcting the faulty judgment of man. Adam, speaking with the usual virtuous indignation of the stronger sex in contemplation of the soft vision of frail women presented to his eyes, says:-

"O pity and shame, that they, who to live well

Entered so fair, should turn aside to tread

Paths indirect, or in the midway faint!

But still I see the tenor of man’s woe

Holds on the same, from woman to begin."

The correction is the correction of Christ, though Michael is the speaker:-

"From man’s effeminate slackness it begins," Said the angel, "who should better hold his place, By wisdom and superior gifts received."

Our Lord draws no such pictures as these in the book of proverbs; they have their value; it is necessary to warn young men against the seductions which the vices of other men have created in woman’s form; but He prefers always to go to the root of the matter; He speaks to men themselves; He bids them restrain the wandering eye, and keep pure the fountains of the heart. To that censorious Wisdom which judges without any perception that woman is more sinned against than sinning He would oppose His severe command to be rid of the beam in one’s own eye, before making an attempt to remove the mote from another’s. It is in this way that He in so many varied fields of thought and action has turned a half-truth into a whole truth by going a little deeper, and unveiling the secrets of the heart; and in this way He has enabled us to use the half-truth, setting it in its right relation to the whole.


Verse 23

33

CHAPTER 17

A JUST BALANCE

"A just balance and scales are the Lord’s: all the weights of the bag are His work."- Proverbs 16:11

"A false balance is an abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is His delight."- Proverbs 11:1

"Diverse weights, and divers measures, both of them alike are an abomination to the Lord."- Proverbs 20:10

"Diverse weights are an abomination to the Lord; and a false balance is not good."- Proverbs 20:23

THE sixteenth chapter opens-and we may annex to it the last verse of chapter 15.-with a series of sayings which are grouped together on the principle that the name of the Lord occurs in each. There is no obvious connection between the successive verses, and some of them have been already touched on in previous lectures, but it will be worthwhile to glance at the series as a whole.

The Lord’s presence must be recognized and reverenced before we can make any progress in wisdom, and in His presence we must humble ourselves before we can expect any honor. [Proverbs 15:33] We are entirely dependent upon Him; although our hearts may form plans, we cannot utter anything aright unless He controls our tongue. [Proverbs 16:1] However self-satisfied we may be with our own ways, however convinced we may be of our own innocence, He weighs our spirit, and will often find a guilt which our conceit ignores, an impurity which our vanity would hide. [Proverbs 16:2] We should do well, therefore, to commit all our works to Him, in order that He may revise and correct our purposes and establish those which are good. [Proverbs 16:3] We cannot think too much of His all-inclusive wisdom and knowledge; everything lies in His hands and is designed for His ends; even the wicked who rebel against Him - men like Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Judas, Elymas-must in their inevitable punishment glorify His righteousness and truth. [Proverbs 21:4] For punishment is absolutely sure; the proud are an abomination to Him, and although they combine to oppose His will and to escape the penalty, it will be quite in vain. [Proverbs 16:5] On the other hand, where He sees mercy and truth He will purge iniquity, and when men fear Him they will depart from evil. [Proverbs 16:6] When His smile is upon them and He approves their ways, He will make their path plain, pacifying their enemies, and making their hearts glad. [Proverbs 16:7] He will guide them, even directing their steps, in such a manner that their own imperfect counsels shall turn to a happy and successful issue. "Whoso trusteth in the Lord, happy is he." [Proverbs 26:20] Indeed we cannot exaggerate the minute observation of the Lord; no detail escapes His eye, no event is beyond His control; even what is generally called Chance is but another name for His unmarked and unknown direction; the very lot-that lot which settles contentions and separates the strong-cast into the lap is actually disposed by him [Proverbs 16:33] much more, therefore, are the deliberate transactions of commerce-those subtle bonds of the cash nexus which twine man to man and nation to nation-under His constant inspection and a subject of His most interested concern, "a just balance and scales are the Lord’s: all the Weights of the bag are His work."

It is, then, as part of the Lord’s watchful activity and direct, detailed connection with all the affairs of human life, that He is interested in our business and trade. We may notice at once that this is very characteristic of the Old Testament religion. In the Deuteronomic Law it was written: "Thou shalt not have in thy bag divers weights, a great and a small. Thou shalt not have in thine house divers measures, a great and a small. A perfect and a just weight shalt thou have; a perfect and a just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be long upon the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee. For all that do such things, even all that do unrighteously, are an abomination unto the Lord thy God." [Deuteronomy 26:13-16] Again, in the Levitical Law we find: "Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment, in meter-yard, in weight, or in measure. Just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin, shall ye have: I am the Lord your God, which brought you out of the land of Egypt." [Leviticus 19:33; Leviticus 19:36]

The Israelite was encouraged to think that all the work in which he engaged was ordained by, and therefore under the observation of, his God. "Hate not laborious work, neither husbandry which the Most High hath ordained," says Ecclesiasticus. [Sirach 7:15] And there is a striking passage in Isaiah where the operations of agriculture are described in detail, and all are attributed to God, who instructs the husbandman aright and teaches him. It all comes from the "Lord of hosts, which is wonderful in counsel, and excellent in wisdom." [Isaiah 28:23-29]

But at present we are concerned only with trade as a department of industrial life, and especially with the actual chaffering of exchange, the barter of goods for goods, the weights and measures which settle the quantities, and the rules which must govern all such transactions. We should gather that the commercial fraud of those primitive times took this comparatively simple form: the merchant would have, let us say, a half shekel which came a little short of the regulation weight; or he would have a cubit measure (1 ft. 9 in.) half an inch under a cubit; or he would have a vessel professing to hold a hin (i.e., a little more than a gallon), but actually holding a little less than a gallon; or he would have a dry measure, marked as an ephah (i.e., about three pecks), but incapable of holding the ostensible quantity. In an ordinary way he would use these inadequate measures, and thus nibble a little from every article which he sold to a customer. But in the event of a purchaser presenting himself who had a fuller knowledge or might conceivably act as an inspector and report the fraud to the judge, there would be a just half shekel weight in the bag, a full cubit rule hidden behind the counter, a hin or an ephah measure of legal dimensions within easy reach. You may smile at such primitive methods of deception, but it requires many generations for a civilized society to elaborate commercial fraud on the large scale.

Now passing at once to our own times and bringing the truth of our text to illuminate them, I should like to say a little to people engaged in business, whether employers or employed, whether the business is wholesale or retail. And let me assure you that I am not going to attempt a detailed examination and criticism of your business concerns. Such an attempt would be grossly impertinent, and might well expose me, not only to your indignation, but to your ridicule. No, I do not believe that it is the part of the preacher to meddle with matters which he does not understand; he only discredits his message by affecting an omniscience which he cannot possibly possess. I have no doubt that the youth who has been in a warehouse or behind the counter for six months already knows more of commercial habits, of trade practices, of the temptations and difficulties which practically press upon people in business, than I know, or am likely to know if I live to twice my present age. I shall not therefore insult you by attempting to point out evils and expose abuses, to denounce particular frauds, and to hold up any special people or classes of people to moral reprobation. My task is quite different; it is this: -I am to remind you, first, that God possesses that omniscience to which I can lay no claim, and therefore is intimately acquainted with all the transactions of your bank, your warehouse, your office, your counter, your workshop; and, secondly, that He regards with intense satisfaction all fair dealing, and with vindictive indignation every fraud, and trick, and lie. And on the strength of this I am to ask you very earnestly to review your lives and your practices in the light of His judgment, and to consider how you may bring all your doings in business into conformity with His will.

Perhaps you will let me, as a man speaking to his fellow-men, as a Christian, I hope, speaking to his fellow-Christians, expand these three points a little.

First. We are all of us tempted to think that a considerable proportion of our life is too insignificant to attract the particular attention of God. We can understand that He takes notice of our entrance into, and our exit from, the world, but we think that between the two limits He leaves us to "devise our own ways." Or possibly we can recognize His interest in the crisis of our life, but are inclined to question His minute care of the common and monotonous routine. He marks what business we enter, but, when we are in it, lets us alone. He is interested in our marriage, but, when we are married, leaves husband and wife to adjust their own relations. Or He marks a large business transaction in which there is room for a really gigantic fraud, but cannot pay any attention to a minute sale over the counter, the trivial adulteration of a common article, the ingenious subterfuge for disposing of a damaged or useless stock. Is not this our unspoken but implicit mode of reasoning? And could anything be more illogical? The Divine Power which would create this infinitely diversified universe must be able to mark every tiniest detail of the tiniest object in it. Great and small are relative terms, and have no significance to Him. Naturalists tell us that in the scale of living creatures, arranged according to size, the common beetle occupies the middle point, the smallest living creature being as much smaller as the largest is larger than it. And yet the microscope, so far from showing that God takes less care with the infinitesimal creations of His hand, rather inclines us to say that the smaller the creature is, the more delicate adjustment, the more exquisite proportions, the more brilliant hues, does it display. Our Lord brought home to us this minuteness of the Divine Mind, this infinite power of embracing the veriest trifles of the creation in His thought and care, by assuring us that not a sparrow falls without His notice and that the hairs of our heads are all numbered.

There is, then, no logical resting-place, when we are thinking of the Mind of God. If He knows us at all, He knows all about us. If He marks what we consider the important things m our life, He marks equally what we consider the unimportant things. The whole life, with every detail from birth to death, is accurately photographed in the light of His omniscience; and as the exposed plate of the camera receives many details which escape the observation of our eyes, so the smallest and least observed transaction in the daily business, every figure entered truly or falsely in the ledger, every coin dropped justly or dishonestly into the till, every bale, every packet, every thread, every pin, which changes hands in the market, passes at once into the observant and comprehending mind of God.

Second. But in this exhaustive and detailed knowledge of the way in which you are conducting your business, His warm approval follows everything that is honest and just, His vehement censure lights on all that is dishonest or unjust. It may come as a great comfort to you to know that a little business matter which cost you a considerable struggle the other day was duly noted and recorded by the Lord. I was not present at the time, nor did anyone who was near you in the least surmise what was passing. But you suddenly recognized the possibility of making a large profit by simply adopting a very slight subterfuge; what made the case peculiarly difficult was that neighboring and rival firms to your certain knowledge did the like every day; the innocent faces of wife and children at home seemed to urge you, for what a difference would this sum of money make to their comfort and welfare in the coming year? You weighed the little trick over and over again, and set it now in this light, now in that, until at last the black began to seem grey, and the grey almost white. After all, was it a subterfuge? was it not merely a quite legitimate reserve, an even laudable commercial prudence? And then, as you wavered, some clear light of truth fell upon your mind; you saw distinctly what was the right course, and very quietly you took it; the prospect of gain was surrendered, you saw the advantage pass over to your rival; he availed himself of it, and went to church next Sunday just the same. Sometimes you have wondered whether after all you were not too scrupulous.

Now all that God knows; it is His delight; He has recorded it already in His Book, and also in your own moral nature, which is the stronger and the better for it.

On the other hand, it must be a subject of some concern to many that the same all-observing, all-recording Mind regards with hatred all the sharp practices by which in business we deceive and defraud one another. I suppose there is a way of making up books which would pass any accountant in London, and yet would not pass the audit of God. I suppose there are gains which to the average commercial conscience of today appear fair enough, and yet to the One who weighs the spirits of men seem to be quite illicit. There must be men who made their money long ago in certain ways best known to themselves, and are now living in great comfort; but all the time in the books of God a terrible record stands against them, and as the eye of God falls upon those pages, the moan of the ruined, the cry of the fatherless and the widow, and the horrified entreaties of the helpless come up into His ear.

We have no reason for thinking that the unjust balance has become any less abominable to the Lord because the eager and relentless competition of modern industrial life has multiplied, while it has refined, the methods of fraud, and has created a condition of things in which, as so many people urge, questionable practices have become actually necessary for one who would keep his head above water. We have no reason to think that God regards it as at all essential that any of us should keep his head above water. The warm and honorable reception given to Lazarus in heaven, when his head had gone under the waters on earth, might lead us to think that what we call failures here may possibly be regarded as grand successes there. But we have every reason to think that double-dealing, no matter what may be the plea, is abominable in the sight of the Lord.

It is in vain to point to the great prosperity which has fallen to the lot of some whose dishonorable practices have been notorious. It is beyond a doubt that knavery may be successful in its way and a clever rogue may outdistance an honest dullard. The proverb "Honesty is the best policy" is not, as some people seem to think, in the Bible; honesty may or may not be the best policy, according to the object which you have in view. If your object is simply to amass wealth, the saying will read, "Honesty is the best policy; and where it is not, be dishonest." God does not judge in the least by worldly prosperity. From the parable just alluded to one would conclude that it is, in heaven, a certain presumption against a man; there may yet prove to be truth in the hard saying, "He that dies rich is damned." If God hates these questionable practices which are said to exist in modern trade, and if He enters them all in His black books, they who prosper by employing them are none the less failures: their ruin is sure; their remorse will be as inevitable as their recovery will be impossible.

Third. I come therefore now to urge upon all of you that you should order all your business ways as in the sight of God, and concern yourselves chiefly with the thought how they may be in conformity with His holy Will. Do not be content with estimating your conduct by the judgment which other men would pass upon it. While such an estimate might reveal many things which would not pass muster, it is doubtful whether their problematical censure will afford an adequate motive for reform, and it is sure to overlook many of the evils which they are bound to wink at, because their own hands are not clean. Do not be content even with estimating your conduct by the standard of your own unaided conscience. Your conscience may at any given time be in a degraded state; in order to keep it quiet you may have brought it down to the level of your conduct. A thief’s conscience seldom troubles him unless his theft is unsuccessful, in which case it reproaches him for not being more careful and more skillful. You may, like St. Paul, know nothing against yourself and yet not be thereby justified. For doubtless most of the evil practices of our time represent a conscience that has been stupefied with sophistry and deadened with selfishness, so that the worst culprits are the first to put on an air of injured innocence, and those who are least guilty suffer most just because the conscience is still sensitive and has not yet been seared with the usual hot iron.

No, the only safe and effectual method is to bring all your business habits, all the practices of the counter and the counting-house, under the searching eye of the All-seeing One. Unless you realize that He sees and knows, and unless you humbly submit everything to His judgment, you are sure to go wrong; your standard will insensibly fail, and you will insensibly fall away even from the fallen standard. It is said that peculiar difficulties beset you in the present day; it is said that it was never so hard to be straightforward and above-board in commercial dealings; it is said that the insane Moloch of competition imperatively demands the blood of our youth, and even makes assaults on the established virtues of maturity. It may be so, though we are generally inclined to exaggerate the peculiar temptations of our own time in comparison with those of a former age; but if it is so, then there is all the more urgent a necessity that you should bring your affairs to God’s judgment, seek diligently to understand His will, and then ask Him for a peculiar strength to enable you to overcome these peculiar temptations. You will not alter His judgment of your conduct by attempting to ignore it. But by seeking to understand it, and by laying your heart open to be influenced by it, you will find that your conduct is perceptibly altered and apparent impossibilities are overcome, because "by the fear of the Lord men depart from evil." [Proverbs 16:6]

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Proverbs 20:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/proverbs-20.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, November 12th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology