F. Circumcision (New Year’s Day)
“Let not thine heart envy sinners: but be thou in the fear of the Lord all the day long.”—23:17.
Interpretation.—A contrast is here set forth. “Let not thine heart press on eagerly after sinners, but after the fear of Jehovah all the day.” True religion is put before us as the thing to be earnestly desired and aimed at, far more than the things in which the ungodly boast and delight themselves.
Illustrations.—All good men have made this choice. Moses, with the riches of Egypt before him, preferred to be among the afflicted people of God. Joshua and Caleb alone, among the thousands of Israel, “wholly followed the Lord.” Nehemiah refused to exact all his rights as former governors had done, “because of the fear of God.” These, too, were all men of prayer. They loved the courts of the Lord’s house. They loved to lift up their hearts in secret supplication. Joshua is found lingering in the Tabernacle. Nehemiah darts up petitions to heaven continually. Their religion was not a thing only for certain times and places. They strove after the fear of Jehovah all the day. Joseph, suddenly tempted, is found living in this fear. Hezekiah, suddenly terrified, spreads the matter before the Lord. On the other hand, David, though usually prayerful, being found off his guard, becomes a warning to others of the danger of forgetting God at any time of the day. St. Peter, sleeping when he ought to have watched, and then denying when he should have confessed his Lord, is another “ensample written for our admonition.”
Application.—Life is for God. As our Creator He claims it. As our Redeemer we owe it to Him. “We are not our own, but bought with a price.” They who live in sin “all the day long,” ignore the claims of God. Shall I envy them the short-lived pleasures of sin, and not rather dread for them the issue of their fatal choice? If I cleave to God and to His ways, will not my lot be the really enviable one? How else can life be ennobled? Or what greater sweetness can be extracted from it? Let me, then, begin this new year by giving my life, already dedicated to Him at the font, anew to God. Jesus, by submitting to circumcision, set me this example. Truly He was sinless, and had nothing evil to give up. For our sakes alone was He circumcised, that we might become humble and pure and obedient to the law of God. But in giving my life to God there is much of evil to be given up year by year; yes, and day by day. Therefore—
O God, enable me to make the wise choice, and grant me the true circumcision of the Spirit, that I may live in Thy fear all my life long, for Christ’s sake!
“Boast not thyself of to-morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.”—27:1.
Interpretation.—One boasts of to-morrow when he boasts of that which he will then do or experience. Or when he plans confidently for the future, and lays it out as though assured him. What St. James reproves is here meant (4:13). But we know not what a day bringeth forth, what it will disclose (Zeph. 2:2); and how, then, can we order anything beforehand respecting it? We ought not, with proud assurance, to throw out high-soaring schemes for the future. We ought not to boast of future undertakings as though they were in our own power.
Illustrations.—Before the Flood came, even while it was threatened, the inhabitants of the earth lived in this foolhardy security. So our Lord teaches (Matt. 24:38); and in the parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:20) He has warned us against such folly. To only one man has the morrow ever been guaranteed: to Hezekiah for fifteen years to come. But would be have sought such a boon had he foreseen that within those years a son so wicked, such a scourge to the nation, would be born to him?
Application.—To look forward is at once an instinct and a duty. But we must do so in humble faith, for both reason and experience teach us that we cannot see so much as a day in advance. “Boasting” about the future “is” therefore obviously “excluded.” It is alike irrational and irreligious. It may provoke God to laugh us to scorn. It may be followed, and that speedily, by some judgment. And yet each day should be lived as though there were a future in store for us even upon earth. The young must hive knowledge and form good habits with a view to life’s duties. The father must scheme for his children how he may nourish them, and bring them up, and get them out in the world. But all this in a spirit of modest reliance upon God. Above all, how needful to exercise this wise forethought with a view to eternity! That endless morrow will in very truth succeed to life’s brief day. What will it bring forth to me? Who dares boast that he is fully prepared for whatever it may bring forth? That morrow which will see the righteous “scarcely saved,” with what humble hopefulness will the best Christian look forward to it!
May I be wise in time to prepare “to-day, while it is called to-day,” for eternity! O God, enable me to live each day as though it were to be my last, and giving it to Thee, to whom to-day and to-morrow belong!
“My son, forget not My law; but let thine heart keep My commandments: for length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee.”—3:1, 2 (9:11; 10:27).
Interpretation.—“Length of days” may refer to the duration of this existence, and “long life” to the immortality of the life to come. The observance of God’s commandments is the only security for life whether temporal or eternal, since “man liveth not by bread alone,” but of him is true what Jesus, the typical man, said of Himself, “My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me.” A corresponding proverb (10:27) expresses the same thought more completely, “The fear of Jehovah multiplies the days of life: but the years of the godless are shortened.” “Peace” is more than quietness—it is general prosperity and safety. “Life” must be understood in its highest sense, as in the saying, “Live while you live.” The whole is summed up in these words of an Apostle, “Godliness hath the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (1 Tim. 4:8).
Illustrations.—God’s ancient people were encouraged to keep His commandments by the promise of longevity—a promise which has descended to us in the third commandment. That virtuous and peaceable men live longer than others, as a rule, is provable by the number of untimely deaths through vice, quarrelling, and self-indulgence. Instances of this in Holy Scripture are Nabal, Elah, Benhadad, Belshazzar, probably Nadab and Abihu, and Absalom. Life assurance societies prove, by their statistics and ratio of assurance, the destructive effects of intemperance.
Application.—It is true that religion and long life are not inseparably connected. They would be had religion (as at the first) a clear ground and fair play. But, as it is, many other laws and agencies, such, e.g. as hereditary disease, are at work which tend to produce death. Moreover, goodness itself, through the depravity of human nature, has not seldom attracted the death-blow. Nevertheless, as a general axiom, health and longevity are intimately connected with a high-toned morality early acquired, and this is the invariable fruit of giving the heart to God. So that among the inducements to personal religion this may well be one. But of life in its highest sense, as containing the quintessence of real enjoyment through union of the soul with God, these promises hold good without any qualification. “He only lives who lives to God.” Be life cut off, the verification of the promise only moves forward into eternity. So, when I have chosen God I have chosen life,—length of days upon earth it may be, certainly peace and happiness, a relish and zest of life no other choice can give; and beyond, a bright immortality.
“Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to-morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee.”—3:27, 28.
Interpretation.—The “good” spoken of may be “due” either by the law of equity or of charity—whether upon desert or need. The LXX. adds, “for thou knowest not what the morrow shall bring forth.”
Illustrations.—The Ammonites and Moabites were excluded the Sanctuary because they met not Israel with bread and water (Deut. 23:3, 4). For the neglect of a debt of charity, the priest and scribe in our Lord’s parable are held up to censure. In the parable of the importunate widow, it is a debt of justice that is withheld. To pay her debts was the first charge given to the widow whose oil Elisha multiplied. The Church at Corinth was gently reproved for having been more forward with promises than with performances (2 Cor. 8:1–11; 9:1–7).
Application.—The good Christian should be prepared for all debts, and these may be not only legal but moral. There are neighbours who have a claim to be paid, and if I keep them waiting for their money I keep them out of their rights. To pay soon is, in many cases, greatly to increase the value of my payment. To delay is not seldom to injure my creditor. To procrastinate without cause is to lay up bitter reflections for myself in the future. To pretend to postpone when I have secretly resolved on a refusal, is neither straightforward nor safe. Perhaps I may die, or lose my money, and the claim upon me not be satisfied for long or—never. At any rate, delay in such a matter is an offence against the law of love. The Christian should be “ready to every good work,” should “love mercy.” There are also moral debts in particular, and a Gospel debt to all. “Owe no man anything but to love one another;” this is the Gospel debt. And it involves giving aid to the distressed where I can, and helping to support Christ’s Church and ministers and poor. Let not the bills be paid and the subscription books overlooked or spurned away. I must give account of my money to God. Whatever the form it takes, the root of neglect in this matter is selfishness, against which the whole law of Christianity protests.
Oh for grace to “adorn the doctrine of God my Saviour” by honourable and liberal dealings “in all things”!
“Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine.”—3:9, 10.
Interpretation.—“Substance and increase” are equivalent to capita and profit. God is honoured when both are employed to His glory. The firstfruits were literally required by God of the Jews in acknowledgment of their redemption from Egypt (Exod. 13:12, 13; Deut. 26:1–3). Here the expression may be used more generally, of a fair proportion. Temporal prosperity, full barns, and vats overflowing with new wine, was a promise in harmony with a dispensation which dealt with men as with children.
Illustrations.—Abraham who honoured God in paying tithes to Melchizedek, and Jacob who dedicated to God a tenth of his substance, were markedly blessed and prospered in return. The widow who gave her all to the service of the Temple, and the woman who anointed our Lord for His burying, had each a rich reward in the notice He took of them. A plenteous spiritual harvest flowed in to Cornelius and to the Philippian converts from the alms of the one to God’s poor, and the contributions of the other to God’s minister (Acts 10:2, 4; Phil. 4:15–19).
Application.—It is clear that God is not honoured when the attempt is made to extort from capital undue profit, to reap more increase than the substance will fairly bear. Still less, when the capital is only employed for its owner’s own benefit, and the profit returns into his own coffers again. “The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine, saith the Lord of hosts” (Hag. 2:8). From time to time this truth is impressed upon man by the sudden withdrawal of all he fondly deemed his own. He recognizes in this the finger of God; but why not equally in the bestowal of his wealth? To keep us in mind of this, a proportion of our goods is claimed by the divine law. It may not be, as with the Jews, a tenth in every case. The Gospel treats us as men, and leaves it to principle and conscience to determine in every case what is due to charitable and religious objects. But, surely, I cannot think that as a Christian I am less bound than was the Jew to this duty. The redemption I acknowledge has “bought” me “with a price,” all that I am, all that I have. The reward is God’s blessing for evermore. Therefore—
O blessed Jesus, teach Thou me to regard all mine as Thine, and so to honour Thee therewith that Thou mayest be mine in life, in death, and in eternity!
January 6th (F. Epiphany)
“As cold waters to a thirsty soul, so is good news from a far country.”—25:25.
Interpretation.—There is no difficulty about this proverb. It sets forth the comforting and reviving effect of good news, in proportion as it is beyond expectation (for in those days how uncertain was news “from a far country”!), to one who is pining for it.
Illustrations.—How cheering to Jacob mourning his son as lost was the news that Joseph was yet alive, and governor over Egypt! No wonder his fainting heart revived (Gen. 45:27). But more soul reviving still was that Good News from a far more distant country, which came to the shepherds of Bethlehem and to the Magi, of a Saviour born. How must these men, along with the Simeons and Annas of that generation, have drunk in such refreshing tidings! The only joy which could at all compare with theirs would be that of the messengers of that Evangel when their glad message was believed, the joy, e.g. of St. Paul on account of the converts at Colosse (Col. 1:3, 4), at Ephesus (Eph. 1:15, 16), at Philippi (Phil. 1:3–6). Truly the fount in the desert which greeted Hagar’s eyes, and the supply of water which renovated Samson’s strength, were not more timely or live-giving.
Application.—Has my soul thirsted for God, for the living God? And has it experienced the joy of the Gospel revelation to itself? If so, do I rejoice to impart the same to others? Is it to me good news to hear from far-off lands of souls won through the labours of the missionary? Have I in any measure shared in the sentiments of the Divine Man sitting by the well of Sychar, to Whom, under a burning sun, it was drink to see the spiritual fields white unto the harvest? The Gospel is the best news ever imparted to mankind. If I know it, and neglect to make it known, I deprive myself and others of the highest kind of pleasure. Myself; for what must that joy be that finds its way into heaven, and moves not angels only but Deity? And others also; for what thirst can compare with that of the human soul athirst for God? But besides this, ought I not, as a Christian, to rejoice to be the bearer of any good news, of words bright and true which may uplift the desponding heart? There are birds of ill omen enough and to spare in the world. Job’s comforters abound. Christians should recommend their religion by a genial spirit and a pleasant tongue, be gospellers in a lower as well as in the highest sense.
May I, through the Holy Ghost the Comforter, so learn to know the consolation that is in Christ, that, as “a son of consolation” in this sorrowful world, I may be able to pour upon many a fevered heart the large, cool drops of heaven-sent sympathy and hope!
“Two things have I required of Thee; deny me them not before I die: Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me: lest I be full, and deny Thee, and say, Who is the Lord? or lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain.”—30:7–9.
Interpretation.—“Deny me them not until I die,” i.e. grant me them from this time forward. By “vanity and lies” are meant that which deceives as idolatry, and “the deceitfulness of sin” in general. “Food convenient for me” is that which is suitable and needful for me, neither more nor less. The two dangers to be guarded against are—(1) pride and presumption from “fulness of bread,” leading on to practical atheism; (2) profaneness the outcome of exasperation, or in the form of perjury to conceal a theft.
Illustrations.—Solomon, by his own confession (Eccles.), was the victim of “vanity and lies.” Lot’s ambition to be rich imperiled his faith in God, Whom “fulness of bread” led some of his family practically to deny. The mother of Micah appears to have “cursed” about a supposed loss of money (Judg. 17:2), and Ananias, pretending to more than he could afford, “lied to the Holy Ghost.”
Application.—Prayer is a crucial test of the spiritual life. As we are, so we shall pray; and as we pray, so we shall be. From time to time, especially at the opening of a new year, let me examine into the nature and spirit of my prayers. And the prayer of Agur is a good criterion by which to try them.
Do I pray, as he did, to have kept from me vanity and lies, all the idolatries and delusions of the world—its riches, honors, and friendships, so far as they would be hurtful to my soul? It is hard not to love, if we possess them, the things which God has bidden us to “love not.” Better far not to possess than to love them. So, while St. John says, “Keep yourselves from idols,” here I am taught to pray that they may be kept from me. And since great wealth tends to foster this temptation, can I pray, with Agur, “Give me not riches,” as easily as I could pray, “Give me not poverty”? It cannot be doubted that both the one and the other are evils. The happy medium is, in this respect, as in so many, the best and the safest. If all had enough, none too much or too little, the world would be happier, and most men better than they are. But sin, entering into the world, destroyed its equilibrium. Christianity alone can restore it by rectifying the heart of man.
“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.”—3:5, 6.
Interpretation.—The fundamental principle of religion is involved in the first clause of this proverb, implying an entire self-commitment to the grace and truth of God. To acknowledge God (lit. “take notice of” Him) is to recognize Him as the sole arbiter of our plans. We are promised that He will then “make plain” our paths, i.e. will show us which course of action to take, and remove hindrances out of our way.
Illustrations.—Saul and David both had neglected to act upon this principle when, in bitterness of heart, each was forced to exclaim, “I have done very foolishly.” In Nehemiah we see a prayerful Jew, who committed his way at every step to God, and was led on to success and glory. Sir Matthew Hale, at the age of eighty, left it on record that whenever he had committed his way simply and unreservedly to the Lord, he had found it made plain.
Application.—Life’s pathway appears to the inexperienced to be plain as well as bright. Others would describe it as a tortuous labyrinth. Neither view is quite correct. There are windings and turnings which may perplex the most wary. But there is a Guide to whose unerring direction, if we trust, we cannot widely err; we must come right at last. When we take a wrong step, it is through leaning to our own understanding. For this, through the corruption of sin, has become quite untrustworthy. Self-will perverts, and passion blinds it. And as one wrong step is followed by another, we soon get far astray. But ought I not to use my own understanding? Undoubtedly, for God gave it to be used, and nowhere promises to help or to direct the indolent. But I must use it not as sufficient of itself, but needing to be enlightened and controlled by His Spirit. Just as the child uses its legs, but looks to its mother for guidance and support, otherwise it falls or goes wrong. We too are children, and cannot go alone. And I must bring all my matters before God. For can I say which of them is great and which small? What all-important consequences have been found to hinge on an apparently trivial act! Had Eve and Adam but refused the tempting fruit—And the great God is my Father as well as my King. Therefore His ear is open to my every cry. Two things let me remember: First, that what is least my own doing, mostly God’s, is sure to be best. Again, that (as old Andrew Fuller quaintly says), “ ‘If the Lord will’ may be a parenthesis, but ’tis the most important part of the sentence.”
May God give me the humility which saves from error!
“Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.”—4:7.
Interpretation.—By “wisdom” is to be understood, in a general sense, true religion, the fear of God, obedience to God’s holy law. In a particular sense Wisdom is the impersonation of the Second Person of the blessed Trinity, to us Christians of “God manifest in the flesh.” And these two views exactly coincide. For what will make a man truly religious but union with Christ? In Him he has “wisdom, righteousness, and sanctification.” “He that hath the Son hath life.” Hence “Wisdom,” called also “Understanding,” is described as “the most excellent thing,” and we are exhorted to get possession of her, yea, at the price of all we have gotten.
Illustrations.—The “pearl of great price” was thought worthy of all that the merchant finding it could dispose of. So also the “treasure hid in a field.” Thus thought the Apostles when they “gave up all and followed Christ,” and the Ephesians who burnt their soothsaying books; and all, in whatever age, who have sacrificed friends, or prospects, or wealth, or life, for Him.
Application.—The beginning of wisdom is to get Wisdom. I must not be satisfied to read about Wisdom, to admire Wisdom, to long for Wisdom. It is in my power, since God makes me the offer, to possess Wisdom. Only, as for all most precious things, so for this, a sacrifice is required. I may be called on to give up all for her. But I shall be well rewarded. If I exalt her, hold her high (not cheap) in my estimation, surely she will exalt me. She will bring me honour if (as my chosen bride) I lovingly embrace her. She will put upon my head a graceful wreath now, a crown of glory hereafter. If I forsake her not, she will preserve me from the ways of destruction, she will keep me in the way of life. This is somewhat figurative language. But in plain words it means that I, who am already in Christ by regenerative grafting in baptism, must “abide in Him.” I must intensify my union with Him by the exercise of a lively faith, by prayer, and by the due and frequent reception of His life-giving Body and Blood. “For then we dwell in Him, and He in us; we are one with Him, and He with us.” From this union will result the practice of all that is good and wise. I shall become like Him.
How does this voice from heaven contrast with the world’s voice! That says, “Get money, get fame, get enjoyment.” No room is left for Wisdom, or only the last place.
Oh, be my choice Jesus first, Jesus last, Jesus only!
“Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm.”—3:30.
Interpretation.—In these words is commended a restriction of all dispute and controversy to our relations with an actual offender. An irritable, litigious, vexing spirit is condemned.
Illustrations.—Eliab, and afterwards Saul, through no fault of David’s strove to pick a quarrel with him. Their pride was wounded, their jealousy inflamed, by indications of dawning power on David’s, part. He, on the other hand, gave no offence by his tongue, but simply turned away from his brother’s taunts and his sovereign’s uncalled-for ebullitions of fierce anger. The letter of the Syrian monarch to Jehoram, touching Naaman, was calculated to excite an apprehension of causeless provocation, and the invasion of Judah by Sennacherib was utterly unprovoked. Our blessed Lord was subjected to the “contradiction of sinners,” the scribes and Pharisees “urged Him vehemently,” and provoked Him to speak of many things, “that they might accuse Him.” Yet did He never “strive nor cry,” and so, gently baffled their fiendish purpose.
Application.—Various motives, it is evident, may prompt to the sin in question—causeless quarrelling. But why should there be any such thing? Why, indeed, unless there be a malignant pleasure felt in stirring up strife? But that would be to resemble Satan rather than the Prince of Peace. This thought alone may well deter the Christian from indulging a quarrelsome or litigious spirit. The habit may beget a taste for it. He whose quarrels had at first some show of reason and justice may go on to embark in others for which there is no excuse. Whether jealousy, or greed, or irritability be the motive, all such are equally un-Christian. And if a pleasure be actually felt in exciting anger in others, such a pleasure is simply devilish. Let me, then, when tempted to this sin under any form, stop short of it by considering Jesus as my Exemplar, who was Himself meeker than Moses, and has enjoined His disciples to be meek. Love is the spirit of His religion, and the atmosphere of heaven.
Be it mine to eschew contention and all that leads to it; to “follow after the things that make for peace;” and as much as lieth in me to live peaceably with all!
“Wisdom crieth without,” etc.—1:20.
Interpretation.—“Wisdom” (personified in Christ and His agencies) “crieth without”—in the open air as well as within doors. Her voice, clear and piercing, rises above the tumult of public places. She makes herself heard by the young and the busy. Some are addressed as “simple ones,” misled and reclaimable; some as “scorners,” self-sufficient, arrogant sceptics; some as “fools,” who, through persistent self-indulgence, have become imbruted, coarse, impenetrable. Yet all are treated as within the pale of hope, and as capable of exerting a will; all are offered the Spirit, if they will but “turn” to receive it.
Illustrations.—Jesus, when upon earth, exactly answered to this description of Wisdom. In the most frequented parts of Jerusalem, by the well of Sychar, yea, from the pulpit of the cross, He appealed to men of all sorts and classes. And still, by the fact of His incarnation, and by the ministry of His Word, He invites sinners. Some who are “simple” are quickly reclaimed, as was the Magdalene. “Scorners,” too, like the thief on the cross, have been known to yield to His exhortation. Even “fools,” the least hopeful of all, such as Sadducees for the most part were, He deigned to reason with and to warn.
Application.—It is not possible to avoid hearing this Voice. It is uttered “without”—not in secluded places, but in public; not in the Church only, but to the world. Above the tumult of pleasure and the hum of business, that Voice rises loud and clear. Hast thou not heard it, O my soul; and, hearing, hast thou obeyed?
Perhaps thou art among the “simple ones.” Thou hast gone astray, the dupe of others, the victim of delusion and inexperience. The flowery path is soft beneath thy feet; the syren voice sounds pleasant in thine ears. But Wisdom cries to thee, “How long wilt thou love simplicity?” And, oh, thou art offered something so much better than the world offers. “Behold” (if thou wilt but heed), Jesus says, “I will pour out My Spirit unto you; I will make known My words unto you.” Jesus will slake thine appetite from “rivers of living water.” He will make known to thee “the words of eternal life.”
Take heed thou fall not into the condition of the scoffer or the fool. Scoffs are parrying strokes to keep conviction away. Conviction constantly resisted, the heart becomes fleshy and hard; the condition of a fool is arrived at. It is not asserted that either condition is hopeless, but it is full of peril. Therefore—
God give me to heed Wisdom’s cry betimes, that, being “satisfied early” with His mercy, I may be glad and rejoice all my days!
“Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early, but they shall not find Me.”—1:28.
Interpretation.—“Then,” not till after they have been called and sought with loving solicitude. To seek “early” is to seek diligently. Thus God reproaches His people with His “rising up early and speaking, but ye heard not” (Jer. 7:13). The reproach will be turned into a ground of condemnation if not heeded. The retribution will be that they shall seek Him early, but shall not find Him.
Illustrations.—Esau, who had despised his birthright blessing, sought it vainly at last with tears. The Israelites, who would not hear when God spake unto them, but went against the Amorites, in vain wept before the Lord afterwards (Deut. 1:43–45). Too late did the foolish virgins knock for admission at the door they might have entered had they been in time.
Application.—Wisdom reiterates her invitations. But if the sinner refuse, or make excuse, or procrastinate, then, at last, judgment utters her voice. The call was tender and winning; the sentence is severe and repellant.
But who can complain of injustice? For had the truants but answered the Voice, they would have seen a Hand outstretched to beckon, to welcome them back. Yea, the very Hands that were stretched upon the cross would have been laid upon their heads in blessing. But alas! “no man regarded.” And then, when warned, by sickness or death before their eyes, by hairbreadth escapes, by many a thrilling fear, “they set at nought all His counsel.” And when to this, in love, He added the thunder of the law, the sharp remonstrances of conscience, and the touching revelation of His cross, “they would none of His reproof.”
So, at last, the terrible retribution is denounced. “Because I have called, and ye refused: therefore shall ye call upon Me, but I will not answer. Because I have stretched out My hand, but no man regarded: therefore shall ye seek Me eagerly (with outstretched, suppliant hands), but ye shall not find Me. Because ye have set at nought My counsel, I also will laugh at your calamity. Because ye would none of My reproof, I will mock when your fear cometh.”
Great God! is this true? Is this Thy Word? And am I yet spared? And does the Voice of Wisdom yet invite me? Oh, give me grace to heed, to obey that Voice! It calls me back to God, to my home in His Church, to a son’s place at His table, to walk henceforth in His ways. If I have not already, I must, I will return. For how self-condemned I shall be, if, at the last, I find Him deaf to my entreaties, and learn too late that in rejecting Him I ensured my own rejection!
“The prosperity of fools shall destroy them”—1:32.
Interpretation.—By “prosperity,” we may understand a successful career in general, or success in some particular scheme, or a long spell of impunity. Any one of these tends, in the case of ungodly and vicious men, to bring about their undoing.
Illustrations.—See Nebuchadnezzar so intoxicated with prosperity as that his brain reels, and he falls to the condition of a beast. See King Saul so misunderstanding and misusing the success God gave him, as, after having conquered Amalek, to destroy his own fortunes. See the inhabitants of the well-watered plain of Sodom, tempted, through “fulness of bread,” to evils which called for fire from heaven. What shall we say of Haman, whose success in self-aggrandizing schemes emboldened him to take one fatal step too many? What of Ahab and Jezebel, and Herod and the rulers in our Lord’s time, who, relying on their impunity, added sin to sin till they had filled up the measure of their iniquities, and provoked their ruin?
Application.—There is a prosperity which God bestows as the reward of virtue, which may be accepted thankfully and without distressing fears; though in all cases the prayer should ascend from the heart against temptations engendered by “wealth.” But the warning of to-day’s text is specially directed against success in evil doing, and should make me tremble if I am prospering in any wrong way. Better far to be found out in my sin, and brought through shame to repentance, than to go on in it to my utter destruction. For impunity, though it may seem to be a gain, is really a deadly snare. The young pilferer undetected goes on (how often!) to become a systematic thief. A few successful throws of the dice, and an honest trade has been exchanged for the ruinous profession of the gambler. Secret sins, unknown to all but God, have burst forth at last into open transgressions, to the irretrievable loss of character. Or, again, there is a prosperity which, not being justly earned, or not gratefully accepted at the hands of God, tends to harden the heart and to lull into a false security. Those rich men who oppress the poor or allow them to lie starving at their gates, while they congratulate themselves on having the means to eat and drink and be merry,—will they not wish one day that they had been rather in the place of Lazarus? To be “let alone,” “without chastening,” in enjoyment of unmixed prosperity,—what more dangerous than this?
Far, far from me be the short-lived triumph of sin! Rather, O my God, pluck me from the “seat of folly,” and give me present shame with future glory!
“A false balance is abomination to the Lord: but a just weight is His delight.”—11:1 (16:2).
Interpretation.—This proverb is the first of eleven wise sayings on the value of a just demeanor towards one’s neighbor, and on the curse of unrighteousness. “A true weight” is literally “a full stone,” according to the law of Moses (Deut. 25:13), and such “a just weight” is that which God delights in having. In many shops in Palestine, smooth stones are still used as weights in the balances. A general affirmation is here couched under a particular one, viz. that all unjust dealing is “an abomination to the Lord.”
Illustrations.—Dishonesty in commercial transactions is condemned throughout the Bible. Thus, by His prophet Amos (8:8, etc.) God is heard pronouncing sentence upon the Jews. “Shall not the land tremble for this, and every one mourn that dwelleth therein?” And what is “this” but “making the ephah small, and the shekel great, and falsifying the balances by deceit” (ver. 5)? St. James, some centuries later, brings a similar complaint against the Jews of his day, and threatens them with the divine vengeance. “Behold, the hire of the laborers who have reaped down your fields, which is of you kept back by fraud, crieth: and the cries of them which have reaped are entered into the ears of the Lord of sabaoth” (5:4). Nay, there is such a thing as trying to cheat God, as He complains by Malachi, of those who offered the blind and lame and sick in sacrifice, who are pronounced “accursed” (1:8, 14). While they who withheld the tithes and offerings due, are said to “rob God” (3:8). Of Christians, too, the sad complaint is made, “Ye do wrong and defraud, and that your brethren” (1 Cor. 6:8).
Application.—Nothing can be more certain than this, that strict honesty, the giving all their due, is binding upon God’s people. It is an abomination to Him if I cheat in the smallest as well as in the greatest matters, as a boy with marbles, as a tradesman with weights and measures, as a merchant in wholesale commissions. Let me remember God in commerce, and that my weights are weighed in heaven. To defraud the revenue is only to rob millions instead of a few. To underpay or keep back the wages of a servant is to hand myself over to their Avenger. To withhold what is due from God’s service is to attempt to rob Him. Whereas, the first principle of true religion is “to do justly” (Mic. 6:8). The golden rule of Christ’s own making is to do to others as I would they should do to me. A just weight is God’s delight.
God helping me, I will live a life of blameless honour, as before Him!
“When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.”—11:2.
Interpretation.—“There cometh arrogance, so also cometh shame.” The first is always followed by the other. Therefore there can be no wisdom in pride. “But with the lowly,” the humble, those who hide themselves, those who renounce themselves, is wisdom. And wisdom confers honor (3:16; 8:18), such as is beyond the grasp of pride.
Illustrations.—How quickly shame followed upon the indulgence of proud aspirations in the case of our first parents, the Babel builders, Haman, and Nineveh (Zeph. 2:15)! in the last case illustrating the truth that destruction is never nearer than when security hath driven away fear. Miriam’s petulance, and jealousy of Moses, and Uzziah’s intrusion into the priestly office, both followed by an infliction which put them to open shame, are instances of the danger of an indiscretion which would overleap bounds set by God Himself. Whereas, in the son of Kish, when he hid himself, shrinking from election to the throne (1 Sam. 10:22); in Abraham meekly giving way before the encroachments of his nephew Lot (Gen. 13:8–12); above all, in the lowly Child Jesus, who sat at the doctors’ feet, there was a true wisdom, which brought with it true honor.
Application.—Were it really believed that shame must always follow upon pride, what a change would be effected in society! And still more, if the counter-truth were equally credited that wisdom, with honor, invariably attends upon lowliness. I know it is so myself, but do I so practically believe as to act upon this knowledge? If so, I shall be very careful not to put myself forward, lest I be thrust back; not to live beyond my means, lest I come to poverty; not to affect knowledge, lest my ignorance be exposed; not to insult the weak, that I be not trampled upon by the strong. After all, what is there to be proud of? What have I that I have not received? What have I that may not be taken from me any day? Ay, what have I not of defects and actual faults, were the truth only known,—enough to soil and tarnish my good repute with the world? Better, far better my pride be now corrected by shame, than that shame come when mercy has passed away. Happy if I now learn of Jesus lowliness, that unaffected humility which wins esteem even in this world, and is rightly accounted wisdom! Best to be prostrate as a sinner before God, and wait for the Voice which may bid me come up higher! The honor grace bestows, grace will enable me to wear with meekness.
“The integrity of the upright shall guide them: but the perverseness of transgressors shall destroy them.”—11:3.
Interpretation.—Integrity is whole-heartedness. Uprightness is straightforwardness. Given these two, and the pathway of safety will surely be kept. Whereas “the faithless,” who conceal malicious thoughts and plans, will try crooked ways, leading sooner or later to destruction. Perfect honesty in dealing with our neighbor is here contrasted with subtle, underhand, false dealings, and commended as “the good and the right way.”
Illustrations.—Ahitophel and Joab were both of them men who took crafty and treacherous measures to compass their ends. The first, disloyal to his king, sought to betray him into the hands of his wicked son, and brought shame and ruin on his own hoar head. The other, jealous of a rival, assassinated him under cover of friendship, and in the end, himself sued in vain for mercy at the horns of the altar. Whereas Joseph and Daniel, by their guileless loyalty and simple integrity of purpose, were enabled to steer their course safely through the intrigues of foreign courts, winning esteem and confidence and prosperity in the long run.
Application.—In my dealings with others, let me aim at simplicity of purpose, honesty, and candor. Like Nathanael, a Christian should be without guile. He should put on “the breastplate of righteousness.” The way of the world is tortuous; its wisdom is that of the serpent. Its words are “softer than butter,” while war is in its heart. It dissembles, to conceal wrath, till the opportunity for revenge is come. It smites unawares, perhaps after a friendly kiss. But can such perfidy be pleasing to Him who is “the Truth”? And is it not certain to provoke requitals, and to lead to misery, if not ruin? Be it mine to deal openly with an enemy, if such I have. Let me tell him to his face his fault, and if he will not hear me, let me tell it to the Church, or at least to some spiritual overseer, who may act as a go-between. If this fail, the fault will not be mine. And so, in all matters of business and in the social relations of life—
Oh for a single eye to see my duty, and for a heart “without folds,” to aim at nothing else, that I may go straight forward, and avoid the pitfalls of the enemy!
“My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord, neither be weary of His correction.”—3:11.
Interpretation.—The word “chastening” here is derived from a Hebrew verb, which means “to take one into school.” God’s house of correction is His school of instruction. We are cautioned on the one hand not to “despise,” on the other hand not to “weary of” or “loathe” punishment at God’s hand. And a sufficient reason is given in the next verse. It is a proof that God loves us as a Father, nay, that He “delights in” us as sons.
Illustrations.—This sentiment would seem to have been taken from the lips of Job (Job 5:17). And indeed it aptly expresses both the problem of the Book of Job and its solution. For why was that good man so sorely afflicted, but to teach him self-knowledge, and to set before the Church an example of God’s dealings with His children? Job lived to acknowledge the blessing of the rod by abhorring his own self-righteousness. How many since his day have learnt the same or other good lessons through being chastened—to return from the ways of sin with David (Ps. 119:67), to own the sufficiency of God’s grace with St. Paul (2 Cor. 12:7–9), to say with the Holy Jesus, “Thy will be done.”
Application.—Trouble of one kind or another is the lot of man. But sanctified trouble is the portion of the people of God. As a Christian, why should I complain of or be surprised at any affliction which may befall me? Ought I not rather to rejoice in it? Or, if this be too hard at first, at least let me acquiesce without murmuring, and try to derive the good from it which is intended me. If brought directly upon myself by my own folly or wrong-doing, its lesson is too plain to be missed. If sent immediately from God, He will teach its lesson to my obedient ear. Let me be sure that all punishment has its lesson, and will only prove a blessing in proportion as that is learnt. Some will advise me to “pass it off” by diversion or company. Others will try to harden me against it, as though it were unjust and intolerable. My own heart will be very prone to rebel.
But oh, may I be enabled to see in it a Father’s hand, to kiss and “hear the rod,” and, learning all its lessons, to rejoice in it at the last!
“The merciful man doeth good to his own soul: but he that is cruel troubleth his own flesh.”—11:17.
Interpretation.—The general meaning of this proverb is clear. There is a retributive law at work which rewards or punishes men even in this life. Thus, mercy or benevolence both “blesseth him that gives, and him that takes.” It promotes true happiness. It wins friends. It is favorable to health and good spirits. Moreover, the merciful man will find a merciful God. Whereas unmercifulness or cruelty is quite the reverse of this in its reactionary effects.
Illustrations.—How happy was Job when, returning kindness for unkindness, he prayed for his friends, and the Lord turned his captivity and doubled his wealth! The widow of Sarepta and the Shunammite, for their benevolence to a stranger, found “a prophet’s reward.” Cornelius, large-hearted and generous, brought good to his own soul. On the other hand, unmerciful Cain becomes an outcast and miserable. Cruel Adonibezek and Agag receive in their own flesh the hard measure dealt out by themselves to others. Ahab’s selfish unneighborliness takes away his appetite, and sends him to bed heavy and displeased, to reap in the future, along with his hard-hearted wife, a harvest of shame and death from their deeds of cruelty.
Application.—I may be tempted any day to be hard and unmerciful. A wrong is done or an insult offered me which it seems my duty not to pass over. Or repeated misbehavior calls for condign punishment. Now, doubtless there are cases which justify severe action. There are offences which demand the interposition of the law. There is an anger which may have free scope, and yet be without sin. But these are always offences of a more or less public character, which affect the family, the nation, the Church. Personal offences should always receive mercy at the hands of one who has himself obtained mercy of God. Let me beware of justifying a spirit of private, personal vindictiveness, and even more, of inflicting or taking pleasure in needless pain. Let me be willing to accept an apology. Let me enjoy that highest and most Godlike pleasure of doing good, yes, in return for evil. So shall I do good to my own soul, and, rising above all cruel passions, breathe that atmosphere of love which surrounds the heaven where Jesus is, and where I hope to be.
“There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth; and there is that withholdeth more than is meet, but it tendeth to poverty.”—11:24 (vv. 25, 26).
Interpretation.—“Many a one scattereth, and it increaseth still; and many save only to poverty.” This is the first of three proverbs which encourage liberality both by promise and warning. They teach that both God’s blessing and man’s rest upon the “liberal soul”—the “soul of blessing,” as the words literally mean. And on the other hand, that loss follows upon stinginess, and a “piercing curse” upon a cruel and unjust profit.
Illustrations.—In Abraham, the model of a gentleman at once wealthy and generous, we see how the blessing of God prospers the liberal soul. Job also, in the end, received a plentiful increase from the seed he had sown in deeds of charity during the days of his affluence. How rich the spiritual reward Cornelius reaped from the “alms” he bestowed upon the poor! The Philippians, bountiful towards their spiritual father (Phil. 4:15), became distinguished for their spiritual gifts (Phil. 1:4, 5). We know Who has said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” While in the picture drawn by Solomon (Eccles. 4:8), we behold the griping and penurious miser unsatisfied and poor indeed; and in the famine which fell upon the Jews (Hag. 1:4–11; Mal. 3:8–12), we learn how God Himself will avenge a grudging spirit manifested towards His Temple.
Application.—It is truest wisdom to be bountiful according to our means. For almsgiving (if done religiously) does not impoverish. What is given to the poor is lent to the Lord, and He gives good interest. Beneficence may not indeed increase our possessions, but it contributes to our highest welfare. What we bestow upon others from right motives is real charity to ourselves. For “not getting but giving is the best thrift.” And if not in temporal good things, yet surely in spiritual, the God of all grace will refresh and thus recompense the cheerful giver. Whereas disappointment and loss even here await the penurious and the grudging. They lose in one way or another more than the value of that which they ought to have given away. They forfeit alike God’s blessing and man’s.
May I learn this piece of sacred political economy! And may my heart be enlarged to do good to all men, not counting the cost, in a spirit of faith and love!
“Surely He scorneth the scorners: but He giveth grace unto the lowly.”—3:34.
Interpretation.—The word here and elsewhere translated “scorners” was first invented in the age of Solomon, and is used in contrast to the “wise.” A definition of it is given by the Preacher himself (21:24). The “scorner” is distinguished from the “simple” by the conscious self-sufficiency of his ungodly thoughts and deeds. His disowning “The Holy,” in spite of better knowledge and opportunities, distinguishes him from those “foolish,” who are gross and stupid, as well as from those who are lax and remiss—and from the man “void of understanding,” i.e. lacking sense. In short, he is one of those supercilious sceptics who are bred in a luxurious and intellectual age. The very opposite to him is the “lowly man,” i.e. he who bends himself, the gentle and humble, the patient and the passive one. And in this proverb the two are contrasted as they appear in God’s eyes: “While on the one hand He scorneth the scorners, so, on the other, He giveth grace unto the lowly.”
Illustrations.—Holy Scripture abounds in these. But our blessed Lord’s life furnishes the most apposite for us Christians. In His days the Pharisees, as a class, were the “scorners.” And how they scorned Him may be seen by the conduct of Simon, inviting Him to his house (out of curiosity), but withholding the ordinary courtesies; watching Him with supercilious countenance; reflecting upon Him with an air of superior wisdom and holiness; and averting his eyes from the poor penitent at His feet, as a “sinner” unworthy of a thought. With what judicial scorn does Jesus expose his hollowness and his folly! While turning to the “lowly” Magdalene, He gives her “grace,” yea, “more grace,” to perfect her repentance and her peace.
Application.—It is evident that God’s countenance towards men is in some sort a reflection of their’s towards Him. Thus the Psalmist says, “With the froward Thou wilt show Thyself froward” (18:26). And here I am taught by Solomon that if I, in my petty wisdom, affect to despise God, His ways, His Word, His ordinances, I may expect a fearful retribution at His hands. What must it be to be laughed to scorn by the Omniscient One? Far, then, from me be that proud rationalism and so-called free-thought, which treats God and His Church and myriads of His creatures with tacit if not avowed contempt!
Be mine the humility which is both a grace and a vessel to receive grace, and to which Jesus will add “grace upon grace,” even unto glory!
“The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools.”—3:35.
Interpretation.—An appropriate winding up of a series of proverbs upon wisdom. The end is foretold. Glory becomes the inheritance of the wise, ay, even in this world; much more in the next. Whereas (according to one translation) “shame sweeps fools away” (according to another), “shame elevates fools,” i.e. only to it do they owe their celebrity as warning examples. Whichever version we adopt, the lesson remains the same—that glory is the fruit of wisdom, in other words, of true religion; and shame of ungodliness.
Illustrations.—Many of the good men of old, such as Joseph, David, Daniel, were promoted to great honor by reason of their virtuous and religious principles. Others, such as Jeroboam the son of Nebat, and Eli’s sons, have become immortalized in history only through their misdoings. Under the Christian dispensation, temporal rewards and punishments are less conspicuously bestowed. Yet who will not contrast the case of Judas the traitor with that of the worthy host of Jesus at Bethany? And as to the life to come, the promise is to them “that are wise,” that they “shall shine (with a glory) as the brightness of the firmament.” While they “whose glory is in their shame” shall “rise to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Application.—How clearly, in this inspired Book, is the contrast drawn between the wise and the foolish—the godly and the ungodly! On the one hand, I find the portion of God’s servants to be honor and safety (1:9, 33), protection and preservation (2:7, 16), favor, wealth, long life (3:4, 16, 22), domestic blessings and God’s grace (3:33, 34). On the other hand, the consequences of an irreligious life are clearly marked out as ruin and death (1:19, 26, etc.), seduction and destruction (2), desolation and domestic unhappiness (3:25), scorn and shame. Can I hesitate a moment which life to choose? Nay, has it not already been chosen for me at my baptism, by me at my confirmation? What I have to do is, by God’s help, to pursue it steadfastly to the end, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left.
And, oh, may my portion be with the truly wise in glory, and not with the fools in shame! Having been made “an heir of glory,” let me not forfeit it, preferring the heritage of the fool!
“He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it; and he that hateth suretyship is sure.”—11:15.
Interpretation.—This proverb, with several others (6:1, etc., 20:16; 17:18; 22:26, 27), cautions against rash suretyship. The treatment of debtors among the Jews was usually harsh (2 Kings 4:1; Matt. 18:25). And such would be the treatment of a surety held liable for a bankrupt. Hence it is recommended strongly not to give security for “a stranger,” nor even for a “neighbor” (6:1) of whose principles and means you are not quite assured. How many who are neighbors are yet strangers to us in these respects! The experienced wise man foretells as almost certain that it will “fare ill” with so rash a surety—he will “smart;” yea, “be sore broken for it,” unless (6:3, etc.) he “bestir himself” betimes, and succeed in forcing the heedless or unprincipled debtor either to fulfil his engagement, or else release him from his bond. But he who, as a rule, abjures suretyship will be free from such risks and disquietude.
Illustrations.—There is no example given us in Holy Scripture of the weakness here guarded against. But the words of the Psalmist exactly illustrate the caution of the wise man within its due limits: “A good man showeth favor, and lendeth: he will guide his affairs with discretion” (Ps. 112:5).
Application.—How good of God to give such advice as this! For without it one might have misunderstood some words of our blessed Lord (Matt. 5:42). But the Divine Wisdom cannot contradict itself. Nor can there be one morality for the Jew, another for the Christian. Hence I may be sure that while my Master would have me open-handed and unsuspicious, as a rule, He does not require of me, nay, He absolutely forbids, such thoughtless entanglement as would destroy my peace and independence and cripple my powers for good. I am to be generous, but I must be just also, and this I cannot be to others if I spend more than is due upon one. Doubtless there may be cases in which I may be justified, ay, bound, to give security for another, as holy Paul for Onesimus. “He who would have friends must show himself friendly;” and timely help of this kind might save a brother from ruin. But I must be careful not to run such a risk for any one of whom there is not good reason to believe that he will prove solvent; unless, indeed, I am prepared to give what he owes. To be bound for the thriftless and immoral is to throw my substance away (20:16). If I have pledged myself rashly, through want of moral courage to say “No,” I must not shirk my obligation, but must, if possible, get released from it by honest means.
Jesus, my Surety, stand by me in the hour of my direst need, and save me from the penalty of debts which I can never pay!
“Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee: rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee.”—9:8.
Interpretation.—This proverb is the second of a group of three which inculcate the same truth. It is, as a rule, lost trouble, and worse, to reprove a scorner. By a “scorner” (as before observed) is meant the free-thinker, who mocks at religion and virtue. With him is contrasted “the wise man,” who believes in and fears God. The sentiment of the first clause resembles our Lord’s advice, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs, neither cast ye your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rend you” (Matt. 7:6). On the other hand, “Wisdom is justified of all her children” (Matt. 11:19). “Rebuke a wise man, (so) he will love thee.”
Illustrations.—A signal instance of the uselessness and danger of attempting to warn the scorner is found in the case of the prophet sent to Amaziah (2 Chron. 25:15, 16). The threats which requited his heaven-inspired words caused him to forbear, and leave the infatuated monarch to his fate. The silence preserved by the Jews under Rabshakeh’s taunts is recommended by Amos (5:13) for “an evil time,” and was practiced oftentimes by our Lord, when in the company of scoffers. But Nathan won only greater esteem of David through his reproof of him. And the warm-hearted Apostle Peter proved himself “a wise man” by the love which he returned his Master, and afterwards his fellow-Apostle St. Paul, for reproof too well-deserved (Gal. 2:11–14; 2 Pet. 3:15).
Application.—It has been well said, that “reproof is a duty of almost insuperable difficulty.” A duty; for it was laid upon the Jew (Lev. 19:17), and is not less binding upon the Christian (Eph. 5:11). And yet it is no less a duty to abstain, under certain circumstances, from reproving with the lips, lest thereby sin be increased. For hatred, abuse, hardening, may ensue on the one side; and, through provocation, “a blot” be incurred on the other. I need, then, special wisdom from above to know when and how to fulfil the Christian duty to reprove; and when and how to forbear. I must be imbued with true love for my brother, and with deepest humility as regards my own faults and failings. I must have learnt to take reproof myself in good part; to love the friend who faithfully inflicts wounds for my healing. Let me pray and strive daily for a right sense of sin and of the soul’s value, and specially to know myself! Then I may hope to bear my testimony in the world, whether by “the word spoken in season” or the significant silence, and not less to submit myself thankfully to wholesome reproof.
“He knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell.”—9:18 (or vide p. 189).
Interpretation.—With these words the first division of the Proverbs closes. Wisdom and Folly have both uttered their invitations. The first is personified as a chaste queen; the second as a brazen harlot. Each takes pains to address arguments and offer inducements to the passers-by. But the first invites to a spiritual banquet within a temple, and offers life to the soul at the cost of present self-denial. The other invites to a feast of sensuality in her own house, which is, indeed, the abode of death. The temptations of Folly embrace every kind of sinful self-indulgence, its great attraction being that it is forbidden, and must be enjoyed secretly. But no doubt sins of impurity are here specially alluded to, and this passage may be compared with that in ch. 7:7, etc.; and the words before us with verse 27, “Her house is the way to hell.”
Illustrations.—Death in life is said to be the portion of all who choose “the pleasures of sin for a season,” rather than the life-giving privileges of the Christian. Thus our Lord speaks of those who have “a name to live, but are dead” (Rev. 3:1); and St. Paul of one who, living in pleasure, “is dead while she liveth” (1 Tim. 5:6). Samson and David, and Solomon himself, all hearkened to the invitation of the syren, and for a while at least, became her guests in the depths of hell. St. Augustine, an inmate at one time of the same dead-house, bewails his folly, and owns that, as a boy, he was tempted to rob an orchard, not for the gain of the fruit, but for the mere pleasure of sin as sin—of doing what was forbidden secretly.
Application.—Let me remember that such temptations are “common to man.” That they meet those who go “right on their ways,” even in the path of duty, as well as others who go to seek them. That the “simple” may fall, no less than “scorners”—absence of religious principle, as well as positive irreligion, being alike dangerous. The void in the heart will be filled by Folly if not by Wisdom. To some the mere offer is enough: “Turn in hither.” To others, whose conscience suggests, “It is forbidden,” the tempter whispers, “So much the sweeter;” or “It must be done secretly, and will be the more exciting.” But let me ask myself, “Is there such a thing as secret sin?” And again, “With life and glory set before me, shall I choose death, and shame, and the depths of hell?”
Lord, show me Thyself, the true Wisdom, that, haviny tasted of Thy sweetness, I may abhor sinful delights!
January 25th (F. Conversion of St. Paul)
“Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.… Turn not to the right hand nor to the left.”—4:25, 27.
Interpretation.—A single eye, as contrasted with one that squints, is a good eye morally as well as physically. To such our Lord alludes (Matt. 6:22); and so here the wise man speaks of an eye that looks straight out. Only in connection with such an eye is straightforward progress possible. In other words, he only whose heart is honest, whose motives are upright, will take the safe and right course through life, avoiding every false and wrong step.
Illustrations.—Balaam is an example of a man whose moral eyes did not both “look right on,” but one, at least, askew. He had some thoughts and desires towards God, made some movements towards doing His will; but, on the other hand, could not help casting a longing look at “the wages of unrighteousness.” And so he turned out of the plain path of duty, did not remove his foot from evil, and his ways were not established; on the contrary, he fell away altogether. St. Paul, whose conversion we commemorate, is an example of the single aim and the single eye. God had counted him “faithful” even when he was an unbeliever in Christ, because his honest aim was to do God’s will. No sooner had his question been answered, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” than he obeyed. This was straightforward walking, and who can doubt the end?
Application.—Straight forward lies the path of safety. But do my eyes look right on? This is the real question. My aim—the end proposed—is it to please God or self? If the former, and I seek His guidance, and ponder my path by the conscientious, prayerful study of His Word, then the way of duty becomes too plain for me to miss it. But if I am secretly still more desirous of something else, of pleasure, gain, man’s praise, or ease and comfort, then my steps will obey my mind’s eye, and pursue an indirect course. Is my eye single? In other words, am I able to look straight before me, and not, through some moral imperfection, such as a habit of quibbling or of nursing prejudices, only able to see obliquely? When a certain line of action plainly lies before me as the path of duty, can I see my way to taking it?
May my eye be “single,” and so may my feet he kept from evil—never to depart from God’s ways, nor attain an evil end circuitously! O God, draw me daily nearer to Thyself in constant well-doing!
“The upright shall dwell in the land, and the perfect shall remain in it. But the wicked shall be cut off from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it.”—2:21, 22.
Interpretation.—By “the land” and “the earth” is meant here, as in many other places in the Old Testament, Canaan, the land promised to the patriarchs, given to Israel. The highest earthly prosperity is implied by the promise to dwell in the native land. For the Israelite was attached, above other men, to his fatherland with a religious intensity. Bound up with the covenant and the theocracy was his native soil, and as to dwell under his own fig-tree and eat of his own vine was an Israelite’s idea of temporal happiness, so to be torn from it would be to be strained and broken in the inmost roots of his being. Hence the form of expression here employed implies that temporal well-being will be, as a rule, the result of a virtuous and God-fearing life, while vice and ungodliness will usually entail misfortune and misery.
Illustrations.—Jacob, setting out on his journey to a far-off land as a consequence of his unfilial fraud, is a melancholy individual instance of the fulfilment of this proverb. In the heart-broken captives who hung their harps on the willows of Babylon, we see the threat fulfilled in a nation. And what is the present condition of the Jews, as a people, but a perpetual witness to the truth of these words? Their wickedness and their transgression in killing the Prince of Life have cut them off from the land and rooted them out of it.
Application.—But is it still God’s plan, under the Gospel dispensation, to reward and punish by temporal prosperity and misfortune? Undoubtedly, as a rule, though with exceptions as formerly (vide Ps. 73). The fifth commandment is still “the first with promise.” In the Sermon on the Mount, many of the promises have reference to this world, and one of them corresponds very nearly to the one before us (Matt. 5:5). A competency is promised to those who “seek first the kingdom of God.” “Godliness” is said to have “the promise of the life that now is.” Bodily life loved above Jesus is to be forfeited. True, the higher and more spiritual motives brought to light by the Gospel are far more commonly urged. But cause and effect are allowed to work as a law; and how often do we see that what men call “misfortune” dogs the steps of vice, nay, banishes from the native land! An opposite course of life brings its own reward.
Mine be the good and wise choice that I may be blessed on the earth, and may inherit the true Canaan!
“Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: so shalt thou find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man.”—3:3, 4.
Interpretation.—“Mercy and truth” are here equivalent to “kindness or love, and trustworthiness.” They comprehend our duty towards our neighbor. They are to be carefully guarded, as a signet-ring or other precious jewel is guarded by being attached to a chain worn round the neck. This figure of speech implies still more—that we should not only hold fast these graces, but rejoice and even exult in them as fair ornaments of the Christian character. They must not, however, be worn on the outside only, but must be the outcome of principles inscribed on “the fleshy tables of the heart.” The result will be “favor and good reputation,” or “good success,” in the sight of God and men, not, indeed, of men indiscriminately, but of men who, being good men, more or less resemble God.
Illustrations.—No better example of the combination of social graces here spoken of can be found than the Son of man, our Exemplar, Who, from a Child, was in favor with God and with all good men, through His loving and faithful character in every relation of life. And those early Christians resembled Him of whose neighborly virtues we read (Acts 2:44, etc.), and of whom it is immediately afterwards recorded that they had “favor with all the people” (ver. 47).
Application.—Christianity commends itself to the world through the social graces of its professors. Many who might be repelled by its mysterious facts, or be unable to grasp its spiritual doctrine, will be attracted by it when found to produce a higher standard of morals than any other religion upon earth. Now, this it certainly does when adopted as the practical guide of life. The true Christian, as all history which dates from Christ’s mission proves, is emphatically the best of neighbors. In him love and truth (virtues all can appreciate, and which most conduce to social happiness and security) shine out pre-eminently. Be it, then, my great aim to cultivate these two, so that my Christianity may win souls. They must needs be the fruit of a living faith in Jesus, and of endeavors to follow in His steps. I must take care that neither the one nor the other be lost or obscured in my daily life. If I am to “put on bowels of mercy” and to “walk in love,” I am equally to speak truth with my neighbor. A hard, unloving, faithless Christian is an anomaly, and belies his name. No favor may such expect with God and man for himself or his religion.
Oh, may my duty to my neighbor, as to God, be the outcome of a heart renewed by grace divine!
“If thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God.”—2:3, 4, 5.
Interpretation.—To lift up the voice for Understanding is to call her to thee, invite her, not only to heed her when she calls thee. The search must be as diligent as the tireless search of the miner after the hid treasures of metals, etc., concealed in the earth, following up the vein discovered. Such real efforts will be rewarded by that knowledge of God, His nature, His ways, His revelations, which is of all treasures the most valuable.
Illustrations.—Our Lord’s parable of the man who, finding a treasure hid in a field, went and sold all that he had and bought that field, illustrates the earnestness of purpose here recommended. Examples of it we meet with in the story of the Ethiopian (Acts 8:27, etc.), and of the Bereans (Acts 17:11, etc.), who, seeking diligently for the truth, found it and made it their own.
Application.—How much of life is spent in the search after things which are of comparatively small value and very perishable! But the knowledge of God, the understanding of true religion,—these are treasures worth seeking for, they are satisfying and eternal. I may not hope to acquire them, however, without painstaking and self-sacrifice. But is not this true of any human service or any worldly emolument? How much more, then, is it reasonable in regard to “theology,” or the science of God, and to the possession of God Himself! Of that treasure-house God keepeth the key in His own hand! For this He will be inquired of, wouldst thou have Him open it unto thee. “Surely there is a vein for the silver” (Job 28:1). Yet what miner would be satisfied not to pursue it below the surface? Wouldst thou get the best treasures? Go down on thy knees, and dig for them. Pursue the vein, bring all skill and appliances to bear upon thy undertaking. Only by earnest prayer, only by patient meditation, only by diligent study, and not without self-sacrifice, is divine knowledge to be won. The heart, too, must be purified, examined by the candle of an enlightened conscience, and swept with the besom of reform. The life of Christian obedience is a life of continual progress in spiritual understanding. To follow on to know the Lord is the way to know Him now. To know Him now by faith prepares the way for revelations which shall never cease.
O God, incline my heart to seek after, that I may find, Thee!
“My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not.”—1:10.
Interpretation.—The address, “my son,” is from Solomon, and yet from One greater than Solomon (comp. 23:26). Perhaps it is rather a figurative than a literal term. It is addressed to all the sons of men, specially to the young. The “sinners” warned against are open and avowed libertines, put in contrast here with the father and mother whose good counsels should be heard and followed. The exhortation is to one who has been well brought up, and will need, therefore, to be enticed into deliberate wickedness. Not to “consent” is to say “No” with heart and voice.
Illustrations.—Eve and then Adam suffered themselves to be enticed, the latter with open eyes. The prophet of Judah yielded at last to the sophistries of the older prophet, against his better judgment. On the other hand, Joseph, Job, Nehemiah, and a host of other saints, have had grace, when tempted, to say “No;” have been proof against seduction, ridicule, threats.
Application.—It is an essential part of the wisdom of true religion to know when to say “No.” We must take for granted that occasions will arise, perhaps daily, for “sinners” abound. A compliant disposition, while it wins popularity, may entail ruin. Better forfeit the favor of man than of God. When the world is most friendly it is most to be feared. A round, blunt refusal meets its blandishments with most success. Enticement (as represented in the text) is more or less based upon the assurance of (1) privity, (2) gain, (3) generosity on the tempter’s part. To the first, God’s child will oppose the thought, “Thou God seest me.” To the second, the reflection, “What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?” To the third, the consideration, “What shall I render unto the Lord for all His benefits toward me?” Safety lies only in prompt and absolute refusal, accompanied, if possible, by withdrawal from the injurious company. Two convictions will lead to this: the one of the extremes to which a guilty compliance may lead; the other of the exceeding danger of a first false step. After all, it is at the choice of my own will to yield or not. Satan’s servants, it is true, are diligent and subtle. The human heart is deceitful. Sin is very attractive when partially seen under some aspects. But grace is given to God’s children to will to say “No,” and to say it, and to know when to say it.
O God, enable me to seek and use this grace, that no enticement may draw away my heart from Thee!
“When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee.”—2:10, 11.
Interpretation.—Wisdom and knowledge generate discretion and understanding. By the first is meant the capacity for well-considered action. By the second, the capacity to make the right choice. These two deliver from the two greatest perils of life, the temptations incident to men and women from one another. They both indicate and give the power how to say “No.”
Illustrations.—Joseph furnishes, of course, an example of how, under the most trying circumstances, the religious principle will enable a young man to say “No” to the seductress. Nehemiah had many temptations to forego his good work; Micaiah was tempted to sacrifice truth to popularity; Joshua and Caleb might have followed a multitude to do evil; but in each case there was that love of God’s will which at once determined them to oppose “the evil man.”
Application.—That men and women should mutually tempt to sin is only a proof of the corruption of human nature. But that resistance of such temptation is possible proves no less the efficacy of the grace of God. By this it is that wisdom—the power to discern good from evil—and knowledge of God as the supreme good, enter into a man and become a vital principle of action. Not speculative views of religion are meant, but practical apprehension of it. First the object of search, soon it becomes the object of pleasure. And a taste of that pleasure experimentally goes far to outbid the proffered pleasures of sin. So that it becomes more and more easy to say “No” to the tempter under whatever aspect. Is this my experience since I began to think myself a Christian? Or have I yet to know the happiness of serving God? If so, no wonder I am the creature of impulse, swayed to and fro by conflicting desires, and easily led wrong. But let the love of God once possess my heart, and soon will the love of sin be cast out. Then discretion will begin to discriminate, and understanding to choose the good. How to say “No” will have been learnt, and the chief perils of life escaped.
Thou who hast invited me to know and love Thyself, enable me to choose Thee, and Thee alone!
“Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men. Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.”—4:14, 15 (13:20).
Interpretation.—The advice is, not so much as to set thy foot on the path of the wicked or habitually vicious man. But if thou hast by any chance been thrown into it, then go not on. Avoid it with detestation, yea, avoid nearness to it, for the border-land of temptation is dangerous.
Illustrations.—Lot, Dinah, Solomon himself, and St. Peter, are all instances of the danger of rashly venturing into temptation. Moses escaped from evil associations by casting in his lot with God’s people. Daniel and his three friends avoided fellowship with idolaters, and kept themselves pure. It was the high praise given by the Lord to the Church of Ephesus, “Thou canst not bear them which are evil” (Rev. 2:2).
Application.—Avoidance of bad company is the highest wisdom; speedy withdrawal from it the next wisest step. He who is not afraid of temptation is not afraid of sin, and there is no foolhardiness so gross as this. I must remember that my heart is predisposed to evil. Were it not, how difficult, instead of easy, would it be to persuade me to it! In mercy God forbids the tampering with temptation, as He forbade our first parents even to touch the forbidden fruit. For do I not know that the very sight of many kinds of evil is seductive, and that to hear of the pleasures of sin whets the appetite for enjoying them? And is it not also certain that I am prone to fall into some offences more out of custom than out of love for them? It is difficult if not impossible to breathe a pestilential air, and not be infected. Hence my true wisdom surely is to keep out of and carefully avoid the path of the wicked. I may indeed not be able to avoid them altogether. They may cross my path. I may be thrown with them in my necessary business and daily life. I am not to go out of the world. But I shall need in that case the more prayer and watchfulness to be kept from the evil that is in the world. I must avoid all fellowship which hinders fellowship with God, and loosens the fast hold of instruction. And I must not forget that the world has its counterfeit religion, and is most dangerous when apparently least so.
May fellowship with Christ, through His holy Sacrament, keep me safe from the fellowship of the wicked!
 Pearson, C. R. (1880). Counsels of the Wise King; or, Proverbs of Solomon Applied to Daily Life (Vol. 1, pp. 1–31). London: W. Skeffington & Son. (Public Domain)