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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
Proverbs 5

 

 

Verses 1-23

CHAPTER 6

THE WAYS AND ISSUES OF SIN

"His own iniquities shall take the wicked, And he shall be holden with the cords of his sin. He shall die for lack of instruction; And in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray." Proverbs 5:22-23

IT is the task of Wisdom, or, as we should say, of the Christian teacher, -and a most distasteful task it is, -to lay bare with an unsparing hand

(1) the fascinations of sin, and

(2) the deadly entanglements in which the sinner involves himself, -

"there is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death." [Proverbs 14:12] It would be pleasanter, no doubt, to avoid the subject, or at least to be content with a general caution and a general denunciation; one is tempted to take refuge in the opinion that to mention evils of a certain kind with any particularity is likely to suggest rather than to suppress, to aggravate rather than to lessen, them. But Wisdom is not afraid of plain speaking; she sees that shame is the first result of the Fall, and behind the modest veil of shame the devil works bravely. There is a frankness and a fullness in the delineations of this chapter and of chapter seven which modern taste would condemn; but the motive cannot be mistaken. Holiness describes the ways of sin in detail to create a horror and a hatred of them; she describes exactly what is within the tempting doors, -all the glamour, all the softness, all the luxury, all the unhallowed raptures, -and shows distinctly how these chambers are on the incline of death, in order that curiosity, the mother of prurience, may be stifled, and the unwary may be content to remove his way far from the temptress, and to come not nigh the door of her house. [Proverbs 5:8]

But this, it may be said, is the plea urged by a certain school of modern Realism in Art. Let us depict-such is the argument-in all its hideous literalness the sinful life, and leave it to work its own impressions, and to act as a warning to those who are entering on the seductive but dangerous ways. From this principle-so it may be said-has sprung the school of writers at whose head is M. Zola. Yes, but to counteract vice by depicting it is so hazardous a venture that none can do it successfully who is not fortified in virtue himself, and constantly led, directed, and restrained by the Holy Spirit of God. Just in this point lies the great difference between the realism of the Bible and the realism of the French novel. In the first the didactic purpose is at once declared, and the writer moves with swift precision through the fascinating scene, to lift the curtain and show death beyond; in the last the motive is left doubtful, and the writer moves slowly, observantly, even gloatingly, through the abomination and the filth, without any clear conception of the Divine Eye which watches, or the Divine Voice which condemns.

There is a corresponding difference in the effects of the two. Few men could study these chapters in the book of Proverbs without experiencing a healthy revolt against the iniquity which is unveiled; while few men can read the works of modern realism without contracting a certain contamination, without a dimming of the moral sense and a weakening of the purer impulses.

We need not then complain that the powers of imaginative description are summoned to heighten the picture of the temptation, because the same powers are used with constraining effect to paint the results of yielding to it. We need not regret that the Temptress, Mistress Folly, as she is called, is allowed to utter all her blandishments in full, to weave her spells before our eyes, because the voice of Wisdom is in this way made more impressive and convincing. Pulpit invectives against sin often lose half their terrible cogency because we are too prudish to describe the sins which we denounce.

I. The glamours of sin and the safeguard against them.- There is no sin which affords so vivid an example of seductive attraction at the beginning, and of hopeless misery at the end as that of unlawful love. The illustration which we generally prefer, that drawn from the abuse of alcoholic drinks, occurs later on in the book, at Proverbs 23:31-32; but it is not so effectual for the purpose, and we may be thankful that the Divine Wisdom is not checked in its choice of matter by our present-day notions of propriety. There are two elements in the temptation: there is the smooth and flattering speech, the outpouring of compliment and pretended affection expressed in Proverbs 7:15, the subtle and inflaming suggestion that "stolen waters are sweet"; [Proverbs 9:17] and there is the beauty of form enhanced by artful painting of the eyelids, [Proverbs 6:25] and by all those gratifications of the senses which melt the manhood and undermine the resisting power of the victim. [Proverbs 7:16-17] In our own time we should have to add still further elements of temptation, -sophistical arguments and oracular utterances of a false science, which encourages men to do for health what appetite bids them do for pleasure.

After all, this is but a type of all temptations to sin. There are weak points in every character; there are places in every life where the descent is singularly easy. A siren voice waylays us with soft words and insinuating arguments; gentle arms are thrown around us, and dazzling visions occupy our eyes; our conscience seems to fade away in a mist of excited feeling; there is a sort of twilight in which shapes are uncertain, and the imagination works mightily with the obscure presentations of the senses. We are taken unawares; the weak point happens to be unguarded; the fatal bypath with its smooth descent is, as it were, sprung upon us.

Now the safeguard against the specific sin before us is presented in a true and whole-hearted marriage. [Proverbs 5:15-19] And the safeguard against all sin is equally to be found in the complete and constant preoccupation of the soul with the Divine Love. The author is very far from indulging in allegory, -his thoughts are occupied with a very definite and concrete evil, and a very definite and concrete remedy; but instinctively the Christian ear detects a wider application, and the Christian heart turns to that strange and exigent demand made by its Lord, to hate father and mother, and even all human ties, in order to concentrate on Him an exclusive love and devotion. It is our method to state a general truth and illustrate it with particular instances; it is the method of a more primitive wisdom to dwell upon a particular instance in such a way as to suggest a general truth. Catching, therefore, involuntarily the deeper meanings of such a thought, we notice that escape from the allurements of the strange woman is secured by the inward concentration of; a pure wedded love. In the permitted paths of connubial intimacy and tenderness are to be found raptures more sweet and abiding than those which are vainly promised by the ways of sin.

"Here Love his golden shafts employs, here lights His constant lamp, and waves his purple wings,

Reigns here and revels; not in the bought smile of harlots, loveless, joyless, unendeared."

Forbidding to marry is a device of Satan; anything, which tends to degrade or to desecrate marriage bears on its face the mark of the Tempter. It is at our peril that we invade the holy mystery, or brush away from its precincts the radiant dews which reflect the light of God. Nay, even the jest and the playful teasing which the subject sometimes occasions are painfully inappropriate and even offensive. We do ill to smile at the mutual absorption and tender endearments of the young married people; we should do better to pray that their love might grow daily more absorbing and more tender. I would say to brides and bridegrooms: Magnify the meaning of this sacred union of yours; try to understand its Divine symbolism. Labor diligently to keep its mystical passion pure and ardent and strong. Remember that love needs earnest, humble, self-suppressing cultivation, and its bloom is at first easily worn off by negligence or laziness. Husbands, labor hard to make your assiduous and loving care more manifest to your wives as years go by. Wives, desire more to shine in the eyes of your husbands, and to retain their passionate and chivalrous admiration, than you did in the days of courtship.

Where marriage is held honorable, -a sacrament of heavenly significance, -where it begins in a disinterested love, grows in educational discipline, and matures in a complete harmony, an absolute fusion of the wedded souls, you have at once the best security against many of the worst evils which desolate society, and the most exquisite type of the brightest and loveliest spiritual state which is promised to us in the world to come.

Our sacred writings glorify marriage, finding in it more than any other wisdom or religion has found. The Bible, depicting the seductions and fascinations of sin, sets off against them the infinitely sweeter joys and the infinitely more binding fascinations of this condition which was created and appointed in the time of man’s innocence, and is still the readiest way of bringing back the Paradise which is lost.

II. The binding results of sin.- It is interesting to compare with the teaching of this chapter the doctrine of Karma in that religion of Buddha which was already winning its victorious way in the far East at the time when these introductory chapters were written. The Buddha said in effect to his disciple, "You are in slavery to a tyrant set up by yourself. Your own deeds, words, and thoughts, in the former and present states of being, are your own avengers through a countless series of lives. If you have been a murderer, a thief, a liar, impure, a drunkard, you must pay the penalty in your next birth, either in one of the hells, or as an unclean animal, or as an evil spirit, or as a demon. You cannot escape, and I am powerless to set you free. Not in the heavens," so says the Dhammapada, "not in the midst of the sea, not if thou hidest thyself in the clefts of the mountains, wilt thou find a place where thou canst escape the force of thy own evil actions."

"His own iniquities shall take the wicked, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sin." This terrible truth is illustrated with mournful emphasis in the sin of the flesh which has been occupying our attention, a sin which can only be described as "taking fire into the bosom or walking upon hot coals," with the inevitable result that the clothes are burnt and the feet are scorched. [Proverbs 6:27-28] There are four miseries comparable to four strong cords which bind the unhappy transgressor. First of all, there is the shame. His honor is given to others, [Proverbs 5:9] and his reproach shall not be wiped away. [Proverbs 6:33] The jealous rage of the offended husband will accept no ransom, no expiation; [Proverbs 6:34-35] with relentless cruelty the avenger will expose to ruin and death the hapless fool who has transgressed against him. Secondly, there is the loss of wealth. The ways of debauchery lead to absolute want, for the debauchee, impelled by his tormenting passions, will part with all his possessions in order to gratify his appetites, [Proverbs 5:10] until, unnerved and "feckless," incapable of any honest work, he is at his wits’ end to obtain even the necessities of life. [Proverbs 6:26] For the third binding cord of the transgression is the loss of health; the natural powers decay, the flesh and the body are consumed with loathsome disease. [Proverbs 5:11] Yet this is not the worst. Worse than all the rest is the bitter remorse, the groaning and the despair at the end of the shortened life. "How have I hated instruction, and nay heart despised reproof!" [Proverbs 5:12-14] "Going down to the chambers of death," wise too late, the victim of his own sins remembers with unspeakable agony the voice of his teachers, the efforts of those who wished to instruct him.

There is an inevitableness about it all, for life is not lived at a hazard; every path is clearly laid bare from its first step to its last before the eyes of the Lord; the ups and downs which obscure the way for us are all level to Him. [Proverbs 5:21] Not by chance, therefore, but by the clearest interworking of cause and effect, these fetters of sin grow upon the feet of the sinner, while the ruined soul mourns in the latter days. The reason why Wisdom cries aloud, so urgently, so continually, is that she is uttering eternal truths, laws which hold in the spiritual world as surely as gravitation holds in the natural world; it is that she sees unhappy human beings going astray in the greatness of their folly, dying because they are without the instruction which she offers. [Proverbs 5:23] But now, to turn to the large truth which is illustrated here by a particular instance, that our evil actions, forming evil habits, working ill results on us and on others, are themselves the means of our punishment.

"The gods are just, and of our pleasant vices

Make instruments to plague us."

We do not rightly conceive God or Judgment or Hell until we recognize that in spiritual and moral things there is a binding law, which is no arbitrary decree of God, but the essential constitution of His universe. He does not punish, but sin punishes; He does not make hell, but sinners make it. As our Lord puts it, the terrible thing about all sinning is that’ one may become involved in an eternal sin. [Mark 3:26] It is by an inherent necessity that this results from a sin against the Holy Spirit within us.

We cannot too frequently, or too solemnly, dwell upon this startling fact. It is a fact established, not by a doubtful text or two, nor by a mere ipse dixit of authority, but by the widest possible observation of life, by a concurrent witness of all teachers and all true religions. No planetary movement, no recurrence of the seasons, no chemical transformation, no physiological growth, no axiom of mathematics, is established on surer or more irrefutable grounds. Sin itself may even be defined, from an induction of facts, as "the act of a human will which, being contrary to the Divine Will, reacts with inevitable evil upon the agent." Sin is a presumptuous attempt on the part of a human will to disturb the irresistible order of the Divine Will, and can only draw down upon itself those lightnings of the Divine power, which otherwise would have flashed through the heavens beautiful and beneficent.

Let us, then, try to impress upon our minds that, not in the one sin of which we have been speaking only, but in all sins alike, certain bands are being woven, certain cords twisted, certain chains forged, which must one day take and hold the sinner with galling stringency.

Every sin is preparing for us a band of shame to be wound about our brows and tightened to the torture-point. There are many gross and generally condemned actions which when they are exposed bring their immediate penalty. To be discovered in dishonorable dealing, to have our hidden enormities brought into the light of day, to forfeit by feeble vices a fair and dignified position, will load a conscience which is not quite callous with a burden of shame that makes life quite intolerable. But there are many sins which do not entail this scornful censure of our fellows, sins with which they have a secret sympathy, for which they cherish an ill-disguised admiration, -the more heroic sins of daring ambition, victorious selfishness, or proud defiance of God. None the less these tolerated iniquities are weaving the inevitable band of shame for the brow: we shall not always be called on only to fade our fellows, for we are by our creation the sons of God, in whose image we are made, and eventually we must confront the children of Light, must look straight up into the face of God, with these sins-venial as they were thought-set in the light of His countenance. Then will the guilty spirit burn with an indescribable and unbearable shame, -"To hide my head! To bury my eyes that they may not see the rays of the Eternal Light," will be its cry. May we not say with truth that the shame which comes from the judgment of our fellows is the most tolerable of the bands of shame?

Again, every sin is preparing for us a loss of wealth, of the only wealth which is really durable, the treasure in the heavens; every sin is capable of "bringing a man to a piece of bread," [Proverbs 6:26] filching from him all the food on which the spirit lives. It is too common a sight to see a young spendthrift who has run through his patrimony in a few years, who much pass through the bankruptcy court, and who has burdened his estate and his name with charges and reproaches from which he can never again shake himself free. But that is only a superficial illustration of a spiritual reality. Every sin is the precursor of spiritual bankruptcy; it is setting one’s hand to a bill which, when it comes in, must break the wealthiest signatory.

That little sin of yours, trivial as it seems, the mere inadvertence, the lighthearted carelessness, the petty spleen, the innocent romancing, the gradual hardening of the heart, -is, if you would see it, like scratching with a pen through and through a writing on a parchment. What is this writing? What is this parchment? It is a title-deed to an inheritance, the inheritance of the saints in light. You are quietly erasing your name from it and blotching its fair characters. When you come to the day of account, you will show your claim, and it will be illegible. "What," you will say, "am I to lose this great possession for this trifling scratch of the pen?" "Even so," says the Inexorable; "it is precisely in this way that the inheritance is lost; not, as a rule, by deliberate and reckless destruction of the mighty treasure, but by the thoughtless triviality, the indolent easefulness. See you, it is, the work of your own hand. His own iniquities shall take the wicked."

Again, every sin is the gradual undermining of the health, not so much the body’s, as the soul’s health. Those are, as it were, the slightest sins by which "the flesh and the body are consumed." "Who hath wounds without cause? Who hath redness of eyes?" Who is stricken and hurt and beaten, bitten as if by an adder, stung as if by a serpent? [Proverbs 23:29; Proverbs 23:32] It is the victim of drink, and every feature shows how he is holden, by the cords of his sin. But there is one who is drunk with the blood of his fellowmen, and has thriven at the expense of the poor, who yet is temperate, healthy, and strong. The disease of his soul does not come to the light of day. None the less it is there. The sanity of soul which alone can preserve the life in the Eternal World and in the presence of God is fatally disturbed by every sin. A virus enters the spirit; germs obtain a lodgment there. The days pass, the years pass. The respected citizen, portly, rich, and courted, goes at last in a good old age from the scene of his prosperity here, -surely to a fairer home above?

Alas, the soul if it were to come into those fadeless mansions would be found smitten with a leprosy. This is no superficial malady; through and through the whole head is sick, the whole heart faint. Strange that men never noticed it down there in the busy world. But the fact is, it is the air of heaven which brings out these suppressed disorders. And the diseased soul whispers, "Take me out of this air, I beseech you, at all costs. I must have change of climate. This atmosphere is intolerable to me. I can only be well out of heaven." "Poor spirit," murmur the angels, "he says the truth; certainly he could not live here."

Finally the worst chain forged in the furnace of sin is Remorse: for no one can guarantee to the sinner an eternal insensibility; rather it seems quite unavoidable that someday he must awake, and standing shamed before the eyes of his Maker, stripped of all his possessions and hopelessly diseased in soul, must recognize clearly what might have been and now cannot be. Memory will be busy. "Ah! that cursed memory!" he cries. It brings back all the gentle pleadings of his mother in that pure home long ago; it brings back all his father’s counsels; it brings back the words which were spoken from the pulpit, and all the conversations with godly friends. He remembers how he wavered" Shall it be the strait and hallowed road, or shall it be the broad road to destruction?" He remembers all the pleas and counterpleas, and how with open eyes he chose the way which, as he saw, went down to death. And now? Now it is irrevocable. He said he would take his luck and he has taken it. He said God would not punish a poor creature like him. God does not punish him. No, there is God making level all his paths now as of old. This punishment is not God’s; it is his own. His own iniquities have taken the wicked; he is held with the cords of his sin.

Here then is the plain, stern truth, -a law, not of Nature only, but of the Universe. As you look into a fact so solemn, so awful; as the cadence of the chapter closes, do you not seem to perceive with a new clearness how men needed One who could take away the sins of the world, One who could break those cruel, bonds which men have made for themselves?

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on Proverbs 5:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/proverbs-5.html.

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