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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Proverbs 25

 

 

Verses 1-28

CHAPTER 26

THE KING

"It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but the glory of kings is to search out a matter. The heaven for height and the earth for depth, and the heart of kings is unsearchable. Take away the dross from the silver, and there cometh forth a vessel for the finer; Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness. Put not thyself forward in the presence of the king, and stand not in the presence of great men: Far better is it that it be said unto thee, Come up hither, than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince whom thine eyes have seen." Proverbs 25:2-7

IT will be remembered that in the book of Samuel there are two accounts of the monarchy and its origin lying side by side, -different, and to all appearances irreconcilable. One set of passages seem to imply that the king was appointed by God’s holy purpose to fulfill the objects of His government. But another set of passages seems to represent the outcry for a king as a rebellion against the sovereignty of the Lord, and the appointment of a king as a punishment for the people’s sin. It is in agreement with the first idea that provision is made in the Law for a monarchical government; but it is in agreement with the second idea that the actual kings prove to be for the most part incompetent and faithless rulers, "who do evil in the sight of the Lord," and that even the best of them fall into gross sins, or are at any rate guilty of grave errors. Thus David stumbled into a miry pit; Jehoshaphat experienced defeat in his alliance with Ahab; Josiah was slain at the battle of Megiddo; Uzziah was smitten with leprosy; and Hezekiah committed an imprudence which incidentally brought the great calamity upon his country. So it is all through.

Now the only satisfactory explanation that this twofold aspect of the kingship seems to admit of is one which goes deep down into, the prophetic and inspired character of Israel and its history. The king in his ideal aspect is throughout a type and a foreshadowing of the Anointed One that was to come; and the actual failure of all the kings to realize the ideal, to govern wisely, to establish righteousness, or even to observe the moral law in their own persons, necessarily threw men’s thoughts forward to Him who should sit upon the throne of David, and carry out in ways not yet realized or even conceived the noble and exalted ideas which clustered round the theocratic throne. Many hasty critics have been swift to see and to censure the ignoble failures of the men who sat upon the thrones of Judah and Israel; some critics have developed with sufficient clearness the noble ideal which always underlay the monarchy even in the moments of its deepest decline. But comparatively few have seen the significance of this contrast between the ideal and the actual; and consequently only a few have perceived with what a prolonged and emphatic voice the whole story of the Kings spoke of Christ.

The contrast just pointed out in the historic books appears with equal distinctness in this book of Wisdom; the proverbial sayings about the king exhibit the twofold thought; and the reconciliation is only found when we have realized the Kingship of Christ and can bring that idea to explain the ancient forecast. Thus the study of the things concerning the king is to the thoughtful reader of the Proverbs a study of the things concerning Christ. The ideal elements speak of Him; the actual shortcomings cry out for Him.

First we will review what is said to the glory and honor of the king. He comes before us as the embodiment of righteousness. "It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness, for the throne is established by righteousness. Righteous lips are the delight of kings, and they love him that speaketh right." [Proverbs 16:12-13] "A king that sitteth on the throne of judgment winnoweth away all evil with his eyes. A wise king winnoweth the wicked and bringeth the threshing wheel over them." [Proverbs 20:8; Proverbs 20:26] As he purges the wicked, so he encourages the righteous: "He that loveth pureness of heart hath grace on his lips, the king shall be his friend." [Proverbs 22:2] There is a great severity in his government: "The wrath of a king is as messengers of death; and a wise man will pacify it." [Proverbs 16:14] "The king’s wrath is as the roaring of a lion." [Proverbs 19:12] On the other hand, his mercy is one with his severity: "His favour is as dew upon the grass." [Proverbs 19:12] "In the light of the king’s countenance is life, and his favour is as a cloud of the latter rain." [Proverbs 16:15] "Mercy and truth preserve the king, and his throne is upholden by mercy." [Proverbs 20:28] The fact is that his government is a vice-royalty. He is the human instrument of the Divine Will. "The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord; as the watercourses"-which the farmer directs and leads over his fields according to his purpose-"he turneth it whithersoever he will." [Proverbs 21:1] Thus the king expresses precisely the Lord’s favour towards a servant that dealeth wisely, and the Lord’s wrath against him that causeth shame. [Proverbs 14:35] The king manifests the Lord’s spirit in dealing with the subject, judging the cause of the poor as the Lord does. "The king that judgeth faithfully the poor, his throne shall be established forever." [Proverbs 29:14] He is, in a word, a manifestation-a revelation-of God Himself. "The glory of God is to conceal a thing," i.e., to be unsearchable and unknowable, "and the glory of kings is to search a matter out; "the king, searching the deep things of God, and becoming the interpreter of the Divine will to men, is Himself in the place of God to us. "The heaven for height and the earth for depth, and the heart of kings there is no searching." Reflecting the righteousness, the mercy, the power of God, his throne is bathed in the celestial light. "Take away dross from the silver, and there cometh forth a vessel for the finer; take away evil from before the king, and his throne shall be fixed in justice." [Proverbs 25:2-5] In the presence of such a sovereign the subject may well abase himself, even the greatest and wisest may count himself small. "Glorify not thyself before a king, and in the place of the great do not stand. For better is it that it be said to thee, Come up hither, than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of a prince whom thine eyes have seen." [Proverbs 25:6-7]

Rebellion against such a sovereign is the merest infatuation. "Against him there is no rising up." [Proverbs 30:31] "The terror of the king is as the roaring of a lion, he that provoketh him to anger sinneth against his own life." [Proverbs 20:2] "My son, fear thou the Lord and the king, and meddle not with them who are given to change; for their calamity shall rise suddenly; and who knoweth the destruction of them both." [Proverbs 24:21-22]

It is evident that in all this we have an ideal picture. No king that ever sat on an earthly throne, no David or Hezekiah, no Antoninus or Trajan, no Charlemagne or St. Louis, no Alfred or Edward the First, ever in the faintest degree approached the fulfillment of the ideal. The divinity which hedged them was of quite a different kind from this open vision of God, this human mediatorship, this absolute subjection to the Divine will. And when we leave the select class of great and good kings, and look at the ordinary type of the strong and capable ruler, Saul or Ahab, Alexander or Caesar, Constantine or Diocletian, Clovis or Rollo, William the Conqueror or Henry II, Louis XIV or Frederick the Great, the Czar Peter or Napoleon, we see at once that we have passed into a region of thought and action where the description of the Proverbs becomes unreal and visionary.

There is but one way of explaining the language before us. It points to Christ. In Him alone is it or can it be realized. He is the only sovereign that has any union with God which is at all like identity. He is the only Ruler who blends with absolute infallibility severity and mercy. Of what other king could it be said that "purity of heart" secures His friendship? What other king has made it his first and supreme object to judge faithfully the poor? What other government but His has sought its security in that essential duty and its fulfillment? It is Christ alone whose favor descends on the heart like dew on the grass, or as a cloud of the latter rain. His is the only rule against which rebellion is more than a political crime, and becomes an actual sin. Of Him alone can it be said with any breadth of meaning or certainty of fulfillment, "Let no falsehood from the tongue be spoken to the King, and no falsehood shall go out of his mouth. A sword is the king’s tongue, and that not of flesh." It is only a king absolutely righteous and absolutely merciful that can ever bear down with effective force upon lies and liars. It is only He that would see in lying the prime sin, the incurable disease, the unpardonable treason.

The King is Christ. Before He came there was in the line of His foreshadowing a typical Divine right of kings. But since His coming all such kingships have been anachronisms. The appeal which used to be made to the Old Testament to support that famous political dogma was indeed its surest refutation and condemnation. For all that is said there of the indefeasible prerogative, coupled as it is with an infallibility of judgment, a perfect moral goodness, and an irresistible power, applied and could apply only to Christ. Where absolute monarchy is not Christship it becomes, as so many familiar passages in the Old Testament show, a tyranny and an oppression, a cause of national corruption and decay.

Now this leads us, in the second place, to notice how the actual failure and consequent mischief of the kingship are reflected in the proverbs, and especially those later proverbs which date from the decline and fall of the monarchy. We have only to glance over the books of Samuel and Kings to see what kind of men the occupants of the throne were; few of them show any marked ability, most of them by their folly and stupidity lead their people with hurried strides towards the threatened catastrophe. So far from acting as vice-regents of the Lord, it is their special characteristic that they are the authors of the prevailing religious apostasy. Even the more favorable exceptions, the kings who in the main did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, had not spiritual energy enough to purify the worship and restore the allegiance of their people to the Lord. Now it would be some insolent and witless tyrant who would desolate the country and drive his subjects into revolt. "A raging lion, a ravening bear, a wicked ruler over a poor people. O prince, that lackest understanding and art a great oppressor, he that hateth rapine shall prolong his days." [Proverbs 25:6-7] Now it would be a headstrong prince who would scorn all counsel, and, refusing to be advised, would himself retire from the helm of the state. "Where no wise steering is, the people falleth; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety." Setting aside the maxim, "Every purpose is established by counsel, and by wise guidance make thou war," [Proverbs 20:18] his purposes would be disappointed. [Proverbs 15:22] Now the earth would be burdened and tremble with the portent of a servant as king, {See 1 Kings 16:7} one who as a servant might be excellent, but once on the throne would reveal all the weaknesses and vices which are essentially servile. [Proverbs 30:22] Now a liar would occupy the throne, and lying lips ill become a prince. [Proverbs 17:7] And now, owing to the weakness and folly of the prince, the state would fall into pieces and be torn with wildly contending factions: "For the transgression of a land many are the princes thereof, but by a man of understanding and knowledge right will be prolonged." [Proverbs 28:2] Under the rule of the wicked, population disappears. [Proverbs 28:12] And while "in the multitude of people is the king’s glory, in the want of people is the destruction of the prince." [Proverbs 14:28] Under the tyrant’s sway "the people sigh." [Proverbs 28:2] Their persons are insecure, and their property is taken from them in the form of forced gifts or benevolences. [Proverbs 29:4] And as the king, such are his servants; his readiness to hearken to falsehood renders them all wicked.

The atmosphere of the court becomes corrupt: all truth, sincerity, purity disappear. The courtier is afraid to speak his mind, lest jealous listeners should report the words to the monarch’s suspicious ear. The very freedom of social life disappears, and the table of the king becomes a trap to the unwary. "When thou sittest to eat with a ruler, consider diligently him that is before thee, and put a knife to thy throat if thou be a man given to appetite; be not desirous of his dainties, seeing they are deceitful meat."

Here is the complete and absolute corruption of the Divine royalty. The description holds true age after age; suggested by the decline of the monarchy in Israel, it applies accurately to the Imperial government at Rome, and it might have been written to describe the character and the government of the Stuarts in England. Strong in what they supposed to be their Divine Right, they became liars and hearkened to falsehood; their servants became wicked; their government perished from its own inherent rottenness. The description holds too of the French monarchy from the time of Louis XIV to its fall. And it would seem, as indeed we may confidently believe: that the slow and imperceptible decay of the faith in the divine right of kings has been in God’s hands a long preparation for the reign of Him whose right it is to reign, Jesus Christ, the true King of men.

But there is still one other characteristic cause of the perverted kingship, to which attention is drawn in Proverbs 31:2-8 : "Give not thy strength unto women, nor thy ways to that which destroyeth kings. It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, nor for princes to say, Where is strong drink? Lest they drink and forget the law, and pervert the judgment of any that is afflicted." These fleshly vices are peculiarly common and peculiarly ruinous to kings, preventing them from pleading "the cause of such as are left desolate," and from "ministering judgment to the poor and needy." [Proverbs 31:8-9] It is in realizing the private life of kings, and in observing how seldom they have practiced temperance, chastity, self-control, and how readily their contemporaries and even posterity have dispensed them from these primary obligations, that we plainly recognize the broad divergence between the facts of earthly monarchies and the description of the heavenly monarchy, and thus are prepared to recognize with gratitude and awe the sole sovereignty of Christ. The cry of the Florentines under the temporary excitement created by Savonarola’s preaching was, "Jesus is our King, only Jesus." That is the constant and ever-swelling cry of human hearts. The types and shadows fall away; through the forms the spirit becomes apparent. It is Christ that claims and wins and enchains our loyalty. We are His subjects, He is our absolute Lord; we have no king but Jesus. There is in every human heart a loyalty which seeks for a fitting object; if it finds no lawful king, it will attach itself to a pretender. What pathos there is in the sacrifices which men have made, and in the deeds which they have dared, for Pretenders who have had no claim upon their devotion or allegiance! "Show me my rightful sovereign," seems to be the implicit demand of us all. And the answer has been given, "Behold, your king cometh unto you," in the lowly person, but commanding majesty, of Jesus. Many have accepted this and have cried, "Blessed is the king that cometh in the name of the Lord." [Luke 19:38] Shall we not bring our loyalty to Him, recognizing the One whom prophets and wise men foretold, and acknowledging in His sway the authority which all other governments, even the best of them, lack? Let no false shame or fear restrain our homage; let not the sneers of those over whom "other lords have dominion" keep our knees from bending, and our tongues from confessing, "The fear of man bringeth a snare; but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe. Many seek the ruler’s favour,"-their whole thought is to stand well with the powers that be, and to secure the recognition of the Pretender who happens at any given moment to be directing the affairs of the world, -"but a man’s judgment cometh from the Lord," his rightful King, [Proverbs 29:25-26] and to stand right with Him is all that need concern us. How well the King of men understood that because He came in humility, His birthplace a manger, His throne a fishing-boat or a wayside well, riding not in chariots of state, "but on an ass, and the foal of an ass"; because His appeal would be, not to the eye, but to the heart; not to the outward, but the inward; not to the temporal, but to the eternal, -men, with their perverted and misapplied loyalties, would reject Him and be ashamed to confess Him. False kingships have dazzled our eyes, and hidden from us the grandeur of a Sovereign who is among us as one that serveth. From the touch of His humiliation we shrink.

But if the heart recognizes and owns its lawful Sovereign; if, captivated by His indescribable beauty and bowed before His indisputable authority, it seeks only in profound obeisance and absolute surrender, to worship and adore and serve, how royal is His treatment, how unstinted are His largesses. "Come up hither," He says, bringing the soul higher and higher, into fuller vision, into more buoyant life, into more effectual service. The evil ruler, we saw, made all his servants wicked. Christ, as King, makes all His servants holy, dwelling in them, and subduing their hearts to Himself in ever truer devotion; tie through them carries out His vast designs of love in those portions of His dominion where rebels still rise no against Him, and where poor deluded hearts still fretfully cry, "We will not have this Man to rule over us." "In the multitude of people is the king’s glory." May God hasten the time when all peoples and tongues shall bow down to and worship our King!

 


Verse 21-22

CHAPTER 25

FORGIVING

"Be not a witness against thy neighbor without cause, and deceive not with thy lips. Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me; I will render to the man according to his work,"- Proverbs 24:28-29

"Rejoice not when thine enemy falleth, and let not thy heart be glad when he is overthrown, lest the Lord see it and it displease Him, and He turn away His wrath from him."- Proverbs 24:17-18.

"He that is glad at calamity shall not be unpunished."- Proverbs 17:5

"If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he be thirsty give him water to drink; for thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee."- Proverbs 25:21-22

THERE is no subject on which the teaching of the Proverbs more strikingly anticipates the morality of the New Testament than that of forgiveness to our enemies. Our Lord Jesus Christ could take some of these sayings and incorporate them unchanged into the law of His kingdom, for indeed it is not possible to surpass the power and beauty and truth of the command to feed those who have injured us if they are hungry, to give them drink when they are thirsty, and in this Divine way to kindle in them repentance for the injury which they have done. This is the high-water mark of moral excellence. No better state can be desired. When a human spirit is habitually in this tender and forgiving mood, it is already united with the Father of spirits, and lives.

It is almost superfluous to point out that even the saints of the Old Testament fall very far short of the lofty standard which is here set before us. The Psalmist, for example, is thinking of coals of a quite different sort when he exclaims: "As for the head of those that compass me about, let the mischief of their own lips cover them. Let burning coals fall upon them; let them be cast into the fire; into deep pits that they rise not up again." [Psalms 140:9-10] That is the old elemental hate of human nature, the passionate, indignant appeal to a righteous God against those who have been guilty of a wrong or an injury. Even Jeremiah, one of the latest, and certainly not the least holy, of the prophets, could cry out concerning his enemies: "Yet, Lord, Thou knowest all their counsel against me to slay me; forgive not their iniquity, neither blot out their sin from Thy sight; but let them be overthrown before Thee; deal Thou with them in the time of Thine anger." [Jeremiah 18:23] Words painfully natural, words echoed by many. a persecuted man of God, but yet quite inconsistent with the teaching of the Savior in the Sermon on the Mount, the teaching already foreshadowed in this beautiful proverb.

But it may not be superfluous to notice that the Proverbs themselves, even those which stand at the head of this chapter, do not all touch the high-water mark of Proverbs 25:21. Thus, for example, the motive which is suggested in Proverbs 24:18 for not rejoicing in the fall of an enemy is none of the highest. The idea seems to be, if you see your enemy undergoing punishment, if calamity is falling upon him from the Lord, then do not indulge in any insolent exultation, lest the Lord should be offended with you, and, in order to chastise your malignity, should cease to plague and trouble him. In such a view of the question, God is still regarded as a Nemesis that will resent any unseemly rejoicing in the calamity of another; {Proverbs 17:5 b} in proportion therefore as you wish to see your enemy punished, you must abstain from that joy in his punishment which would lead to its diminution. From a precept of that kind there is a vast moral stride to the simple prohibition of retaliation, announced without any reason given or suggested in Proverbs 24:29 -"Say not, I will do so to him as he hath done to me, I will render to the man according to his work." And from this again there is an incalculable stride to the positive spirit of love, which, not content with simply abstaining from vindictiveness, actually turns the tables, and repays good for evil, looking with quiet assurance to the Lord, and the Lord alone, for recognition and reward. Our wonder is occasioned not because all the Proverbs do not reach the moral altitude of this one, but rather that this one should be so high. When an ideal is set up far in advance of the general practice and even of the general thoughts of the time, we can ascribe it only to the promptings of the Holy Spirit.

It needs no proof that forgiveness is better than revenge. We all know that-

"Revenge at first though sweet,

Bitter ere long back on itself recoils."

We all know that the immediate effect of forgiving our enemy is a sweet flow of tenderness in the soul, which surpasses in delight all the imagined joys of vindictiveness; and that the next effect is to soften and win the foe himself; the scornful look relents, the tears of passion give place to those of penitence, the moved heart is eager to make amends. We all know that nothing more powerfully affects our fellow-men than the exhibition of this placable temper. We all know that in forgiving we share God’s prerogative, and come into harmony with His Spirit.

Yet here is the melancholy fact that notwithstanding this proverbial truth, taken up into the teaching of our Savior, and echoed in the writings of His Apostles, even in a Christian society, forgiveness is almost as rare as it was in the days of King Solomon. Men are not ashamed-even professing Christians are not ashamed-to say about their enemies, "I will do so to him as he has done to me, I will render to the man according to his work." We even have a lurking admiration for such retaliatory conduct, calling it spirited, and we still are inclined to contemn one who acts on the Christly principle as weak or visionary. Still the old bad delight in seeing evil fall on the head of our enemies glows in our hearts; still the act of vengeance is performed, the bitter retort is given, the abusive letter is written, with the old sense of unhallowed pride and triumph. How is this? Ah, the simple truth is that it is a small matter to get right principles recognized, the whole difficulty lies in getting them practiced. We need a power which can successfully contend against the storm of passion and self-will in those terrible moments when all the calm lights of reason are quenched by the blinding surf of passion, and all the gentle voices of goodness are drowned by its roaring waves.

Sometimes we hear it said that the moral teaching of Christ is not original, but that all His precepts may be found in the words and writings of ancient sages, just as His teaching about forgiveness is anticipated by the proverb. Yes, but His claim does not rest upon His teaching, but upon the Divine and supernatural power which He has at His command to carry out His doctrines in the conduct of His disciples. This is the point which we must realize if this sweet and beautiful ideal is to be worked out in our lives. We have but touched the fringe of the question when we have conned His words, or shaped conceptions of what a life would be passed in conformity to them. The center of Christian doctrine is power, the power of Christ, the fountain of living waters opened in the heart, the grafting of the withering branches upon a living stock, the indwelling of Christ Himself, as the spring and principle of every holy action, and the effectual restraint on all our ungovernable passions.

But before looking more closely at this, we ought to pay some attention to the constant motive which our Lord, even in His teaching, presents for the practice of a forgiving disposition. He always bases the duty of forgiveness on the need which we have of God’s forgiveness; He teaches us to pray, "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive them that trespass against us"; and in the moving story of the unmerciful servant, who demanded the full payment from his fellow-servant just when his lord had pitifully remitted his own debt, He tells us that forgiveness of our enemies is an indispensable condition of our being forgiven by God. "His lord was wroth, and delivered him to the tormentors, till he should pay all that was due. So shall also My Heavenly Father do unto you, if ye forgive not everyone his brother from your hearts." [Matthew 18:35] It is not therefore only, as it is sometimes stated, that we ought to be moved to pity by remembering what God has done for us. No, there is a much sterner thought in our Lord’s mind; it is that if we do not forgive we shall not and cannot be forgiven. The forgiving spirit manifested to our fellow-men is that without which it is vain for us to come near and to ask God for pardon. If we have come, and are just about to offer our prayer, and if we then remember that we have aught against a brother, we must go first and be reconciled to him, before our prayer can be so much as heard.

Here is certainly a motive of a very powerful kind. Which of us would dare to cherish the bitter thought, or proceed with our plan of vengeance, if we remembered and realized that our vindictiveness would make our own pardon at the hands of God impossible? Which of the countless deeds of retaliation that stain with blood the pages of history would have been perpetrated, and which of the perpetrators would not have tremblingly relinquished all thought of reprisals, if they had seen that in those savage acts of vengeance they were not, as they supposed, executing lawful justice, but actually cutting off their own hope of pardon before the throne of God?

If we avenge ourselves, if society is constantly torn by the quarrels and the mutual recriminations of hostile men whose one thought is to give as good as they have got, it can only be because we do not believe, or do not realize, this solemn teaching of the Lord. He seems a faint and doubtful voice compared with the loud tumult of passion within; His authority seems weak and ineffectual compared with the mighty domination of the evil disposition. Powerful, therefore, as the motive is to which He constantly appeals, if He had left us nothing but His teaching on the subject we should not be materially better off than they who listened with attention to the teaching of the wise authors of these ancient Proverbs. What more has He left us?

It is His prerogative to give to those who believe in Him a changed heart. How much is meant by that, which only the changed heart can know! Outwardly we seem much alike; outwardly, there is little sign of an inward transformation; but far as the east is from the west is the unregenerate heart from the regenerate, the Christless heart from one which He has taken in His hands, and by His great redemption created anew. Now without stopping to follow the processes of faith by which this mighty change is effected, let us simply mark the characteristics of the change so far as it affects the matter in hand.

The first and most radical result of the New Birth is that God takes the place which self has occupied. All the thoughts which have clustered about your own being now turn to His Being, as stray fragments of iron turn to the magnet. Consequently, all the emotions and passions which are stimulated by self-love give place to those which are stimulated by the love of God. It is as if the pipes of your aqueduct had been changed at the fountain head, disconnected from the malarious waters of the marsh, and connected with the pure and sparkling water of the hills. God’s ways of regarding men, God’s feelings towards men, His yearning over them, His pity for them, flow into the changed heart, and so preoccupy it that resentment, hatred, and malice are washed out like the sour dregs in a cup which is rinsed in a running stream.

There is the man who did you the wrong-very cruel and unpardonable it was!-but, as all personal elements are quite out of the question, you regard him just as if you were not the injured being. You see him only as God sees him; you trace all the malignant workings of his mind; you know how the fire of his hate is a fire which burns the heart that entertains it. You see clearly how tormenting those revengeful passions are, how the poor soul mastered by them is diseased, how the very action in which it is triumphing now must become one day a source of bitter regret and implacable self-reproach; you soon begin to regard the ill deed as a shocking wound inflicted on the doer of it, and the wells of pity are opened. As if this enemy of yours had been quite innocent of all ill-will, and had been overtaken by some terrible calamity, your one instinctive thought is to help him and relieve him. Out of the fullness of your heart, without any sense of being magnanimous, or any thought of a further end, -simply for the pity of it, -you come to proffer him bread in his hunger and water in his thirst.

Yes, it is in the atmosphere of pity that personal resentment dies away, and it is only by the power of the Son of Man that the heart can be filled with a pity large enough to pardon all the sins of our kind.

It is this thought-though without any definite statement of the means by which it is produced-that finds expression in Whittier’s touching lines:-

"My heart was heavy, for its trust had been

Abused, its kindness answered with foul wrong;

So turning gloomily from my fellow-men,

One summer Sabbath day I strolled among

The green mounds of the village burying-place;

Where pondering how all human love and hate

Find one sad level; and how, soon or late,

Wronged and wrongdoer, each with meekened face!

And cold hands folded over a still heart,

Pass the green threshold of a common grave,

Whither all footsteps tend, whence none depart,

Awed for myself, and pitying my race,

Our common sorrow, like a mighty wave,

Swept all my pride away, and, trembling, I forgave."

Yes, one who is touched by the spirit of the Son of Man finds too much to pity in the great sorrowing world, and in its fleeting and uncertain life, to cherish vengeful feelings. Himself redeemed by the untold love of His Father, by the undeserved and freely offered pardon in Christ Jesus his Lord, he can feel for his enemies nothing but forbearance and love; if they too are Christians, he longs to win them back to the peace and joy from which their evil passion must have driven them; and if they are not, his eyes must fill with tears as he remembers how brief is their apparent triumph, how unsubstantial their gleam of joy. The desire to save them immediately masters the transitory wish to punish them. The pity of men, for the sake of the Son of Man, wins the day.

And now we may just glance at the effect which the Christly conduct has upon the offender, and the reward which God has attached to its exercise.

It is one of the most beautiful traces of God’s likeness, in even bad men, a characteristic to which there is no parallel in the animal creation, that though passion awakes passion, wrath, and vengeance revenge-so that savages pass their whole time in an unbroken series of blood feuds, the hideous retaliation bandied from tribe to tribe and from man to man, generation after generation-the spirit of meekness, proceeding not from cowardice, but from love, disarms passion, soothes wrath, and changes vengeance into reconciliation. The gleam of forgiveness in the eye of the injured is so obviously the light of God that the wrongdoer is cowed and softened before it. It kindles a fire in his spirit, his heart melts, his uplifted hand falls, his angry voice grows tender. When men are so dehumanized as to be insensible to this softening effect, when they interpret the gentleness as weakness, and are moved by the forgiving spirit simply to further injury and more shameless wrong, then we may know that they are possessed, -they are no longer men, -they are passing into the category of the lost spirits, whom the forbearance of God Himself leads not to repentance but only to added sin.

But if you have ever by the sweet spirit of Christ so mastered your natural impulse as to return good for evil lovingly and whole-heartedly, and if you have seen the regenerating effect in the beautiful subjugation of your foe and his transformation into a friend, it is not necessary to say much of the reward which God has in store for you. Do you not already possess it?

Yet the reward is certainly greater than you are able at once to apprehend. For what a secret is this which you possess, the secret of turning even the malignity of foes into the sweetest affection, the secret which lay in the heart of God as the spring and the means of man’s redemption. The highest reward that God can give to His creatures is to make them partakers of His nature as He has made them in His own image. When we share in a Divine attribute we enter so far into the Divine bliss; and in proportion as this attribute seems removed from our common human nature, our spirit must exult to find that it has been really appropriated. What further reward, then, can he who avenges not himself desire? The pulse of the Divine heart beats in him; the tides of the Divine life flow through him. He is like God-God who opposes to man’s ingratitude the ocean of His pardoning love; he is conscious of that which is the fountain of joy in the Divine Being; surely a man must be satisfied when he awakes in God’s likeness! And that satisfaction comes to everyone who has heaped coals of fire on his enemy’s head by feeding him in his hunger, and giving him water when athirst. Say not, "I will do so to him as he has done to me, I will render to the man according to his work." Love your enemies; pray for them which despitefully use you.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Proverbs 25:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/proverbs-25.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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