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DANGER OF OBSTINACY IN SIN
Proverbs 29:1. He that being often reproved, hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy.
AWFUL, most awful, is this declaration; yet is it most salutary, and worthy of the deepest attention. Many indeed imagine that it is suited only to the dispensation of the Law: but it is no less suited to us under the Gospel. The Gospel does not consist of promises only, but of threatenings also: and St. Paul himself tells us, that “the day of the Lord will so come as a thief in the night; and that when men are saying, Peace and safety, then will sudden destruction come upon them as travail upon a woman with child, and they shall not escape [Note: 1 Thessalonians 5:2-3.].”
But in discoursing on such a subject, we would exercise all imaginable tenderness: and we entreat all who are here present to lift up their hearts to God, and to implore the effectual assistance of his good Spirit, that they may be enabled to “tremble at his word,” and to “receive it with meekness, as an engrafted word, which is able to save their souls.”
There are two things here to which we would draw your attention;
The character described—
God, with much patience and long-suffering, reproves the sinners of mankind—
[In a variety of ways he administers reproof. At all times he speaks, silently indeed, but powerfully, to men in his word. Every sin is there depicted in its proper colours, and marked as an object of his righteous indignation. There especially we hear him denouncing his judgments against impenitence and unbelief: “Except ye repent, ye shall all perish:” “He that believeth not, shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.” There too do we find him requiring of us, that we become “new creatures in Christ Jesus;” and declaring, that “except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” In short, every thing that is necessary for us either to know or do, is there revealed — — — and in every part of it God himself is addressing us day and night — — —
He reproves us also by his Providence. Every one of his dispensations towards us has a voice, to which we should give heed, and from which we may gain the most valuable instruction. Does he summon to his tribunal a neighbour, a friend, a relative? He says to the survivors, “Prepare to meet your God.” Does he make a severer inroad on your domestic circle, by cutting off the olive branches that were round about your table, or by “taking away the desire of your eyes with a stroke?” He bids you to seek all your happiness in him alone. By every change of whatever kind, he tells you that “this is not your rest.” Nor does he speak less by mercies than by judgments. Every gift is sent to draw you to him as the Donor; and every instance of “his goodness and long-suffering and forbearance is intended to lead you to repentance.”
Further, he reproves us also by his Spirit. Who amongst us has not often heard his still small voice, saying to us, “Repent?” Who has not felt many checks of conscience, when he was tempted to commit iniquity? These have been no other than the motions of God’s Holy Spirit within us, testifying against sin, and inviting us to serve our God [Note: Genesis 6:3.].]
But against his reproofs how often have we “hardened our necks!”
[Many will not endure reproof at all: and, if the word which is ministered to them by the servants of God disquiet their minds, and especially if it strike at their besetting sin, they will vent their indignation against the faithful Messenger who thus disturbs their slumbers. The reproof given to Amaziah was so reasonable, that one would imagine it could not possibly give offence: yet behold, what resentment it kindled in the infatuated monarch! “Art thou made of the king’s counsel? Forbear. Why shouldest thou be smitten [Note: 2 Chronicles 25:15-16.]?”— — — Nothing could be more just than the reproof which Jeremiah was ordered to administer to the Jewish people: yet the only effect it produced was, to excite their wrath, and to make them threaten him with instant death: “When Jeremiah had made an end of speaking all that the Lord had commanded him to speak unto all the people, then the priests, and the prophets, and all the people, took him, saying, Thou shall surely die [Note: Jeremiah 26:2-8.]” — — — Herod went further still, and actually put the greatest of all the Prophets to death, for no other fault than that of telling him that he should not persevere in his adulterous commerce with his brother Philip’s wife [Note: Matthew 14:3-10.]. Thus it is at this day. Men indeed cannot proceed to such extremities against their reprovers now as they did in former times: but the world’s enmity is the same against all who “testify of it that the works thereof are evil;” and it is owing to the protection of the laws, rather than to any diminution of men’s hatred against the truth, that contempt only, and not death, is the portion of God’s faithful servants.
But it is not only in a way of outward opposition that men manifest their obduracy. Many who externally approve of the faithful ministry of the word, are in reality as averse to it in their hearts. They hear the word perhaps even with pleasure, as Ezekiel’s hearers did; but they will not do it [Note: Ezekiel 33:31-32.]. Say whether this be not the case with many amongst you: you have had the whole counsel of God declared unto you; but have you complied with it? Are you truly brought to the foot of cross, in deep humiliation, in earnest prayer, and in a simple reliance on the blood of Jesus as your only hope? — — — Have you also taken his yoke upon you, so that you are daily and hourly fulfilling his will, and regarding his service as perfect freedom? Are you dying daily to the world, and living altogether as pilgrims and sojourners hare, having your conversation in heaven, and looking forward to the second advent of your Lord as the consummation and completion of your bliss? If you be not thus brought to live unto your God, you have not yet complied with his reproofs: and if you are speaking peace to yourselves in such a state, then are you hardening your necks against him. In words indeed you call him Lord, Lord: but whilist you do not the things which he says, you are still among the number of those to whom he will say, “Depart from me; I. never knew you, ye workers of iniquity” — — —]
Having then seen the character that is described in our text, let us consider,
The judgment denounced against him—
What but destruction can await such a character, even “destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power?” Yes, this is the judgment denounced against him; and his destruction, whenever it shall arrive, shall be,
[Not unfrequently does God mark by some signal judgment those who have obstinately withstood his warnings and invitations. The Ante-diluvian infidels, who would not be reclaimed by the ministry of Noah, were swept away, as soon as ever their day of grace was ended; as were Pharaoh also, and all his host, when they proudly set themselves in array against the Majesty of heaven. Ananias and Sapphira were also made examples of God’s indignation against wilful and deliberate sin.
But though death should come upon us gradually, as it respects the body, it may, as far as it respects our preparation for it, be altogether instantaneous. The effect of wilful sin is, to harden the heart, and to render us more and more indisposed for repentance. It also grieves the Holy Spirit of God, and provokes him to withdraw those gracious influences which he has hitherto vouchsafed. When delaying our repentance, we are apt to fancy that we shall in a time of sickness have such a favourable opportunity for spiritual exercises, as will abundantly make up for all the time that we have lost: but when sickness comes, we find that we cannot realize all our fond expectations: the state of our bodies perhaps unfits us for exertion: and the indisposition of our mind for holy things in become more deeply rooted, no that we cannot relent, or humble ourselves before God. The word of God, when we look into it, is only as a sealed book. The instructions we receive, produce no effect. Even during their full enjoyment of bodily health many are given over to final impenitence, so that the ministry of the word serves only to harden them, and the Gospel itself becomes to them only “a savour of death [Note: See Isaiah 6:9-10. which is quoted six times in the New Testament. See also Jeremiah 7:23-27.]”— — — God gives them over to judicial blindness, and leaves them to harden themselves in order to their more aggravated condemnation. Thus he dealt with the sons of Eli [Note: 1 Samuel 2:25.]; and thus he has declared he will deal with us, if we wilfully reject his tender solicitations [Note: Proverbs 1:24-31.] — — — Thus may death come in its most gradual and protracted form, and yet, as far as respects our souls, be as sudden, as if it visited us like a thief in the night.]
[If once God say to his Holy Spirit, “Strive no longer with that man: he is joined to idols: let him alone [Note: Hosea 4:17.];” the man is in fact left to irremediable destruction. He will live only to “fill up the measure of his iniquities,” and to “treasure up wrath against the day of wrath.” But at all events, the very instant that death arrests us, our day of grace is terminated: there is no repentance in the grave; no possibility of passing the gulf that is fixed between heaven and hell: the worm that gnaweth the conscience will never die; the fire that torments the body will never be quenched: the wrath to come will ever be the wrath to come.
What a fearful thought is it, that of those to whom the word of salvation is now preached, many will “come at last into that place of torment,” and many, who, like the Foolish Virgins, once had the lamp of outward profession, and associated with the wise virgins, will, instead of being admitted to the marriage supper of their Lord, be “cast into outer darkness, where is weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth!” The Lord grant that none of you may ever experience this doom! yet it is certain, that if you harden your necks against either the precepts of the Law or the promises of the Gospel, this will be your state for ever.
To put you more effectually on your guard, let me]
Those who are indisposed to submit to God’s reproofs—
[The word delivered to you, so far as it accords with God’s revealed will, is God’s, and not ours. We are his ambassadors; and it is He who speaks to you by our mouth. Indeed, whoever he be that gives you the counsels of true wisdom, he is God’s representative to you. Think then, ye who have rejected the counsels of your friends, and the admonitions of your ministers, what will be your reflections in the last day: when you call to mind the instructions once given by your parents, the advice offered by some pious friend or relative, the warnings delivered by God’s servants in the public assembly, how distressing will it be to see that they were only the means of aggravating your eternal condemnation! Oh! let me prevail with you, ere it be too late. Consider, I pray you, “Who ever hardened himself against God, and prospered?” To-day then, while it is called to-day, harden not your hearts, lest you provoke God to swear in his wrath, that you shall never enter into his rest.]
Those who are inclined to obey his will—
[Truly this disposition is of the Lord: “it is he that has given you either to will or do.” Bless him, then, that the destruction which has come suddenly and irremediably on so many millions of mankind, was not permitted to come on you in your unawakened state. And now let your hearts be right with him: let every word of his sink down into your ears, and be obeyed without reserve. Seek an entire conformity to his mind and will. “Forget all that is behind, and reach forward constantly to that which is before.” Seek to “grow up in all things into Christ, your living Head.” Make more and more use of that remedy which is in your hands. Apply the precious blood of Christ more and more to your souls, to purge you from your sins; and seek more abundant supplies of the Spirit of grace, to transform you into the Divine image: so shall you be happy now in the prospect of your inheritance, and be progressively rendered meet for your full possession of it.]
THE IMPORTANCE OF GOSPEL MINISTRATIONS
Proverbs 29:18. Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the Law, happy is he [Note: This brief sketch is given as an useful subject for a Mission Sermon. The contrast between Heathens in an ignorant and in a converted state would be very striking.].
THROUGHOUT the whole Scriptures, we have one unvaried testimony respecting man. We see, in every part,
The deplorable state of those who know not the Gospel—
Revelations to the prophets were often made in visions: and hence the subject-matter of the revelation was called their “vision.” Now, where no revelation is, or where, though given, it is not attended to, “the people perish”—
[This is the unhappy state of the heathen world, who are constantly represented as dead in trespasses and sins, and as under the dominion of Satan [Note: Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 2:11-13.Romans 3:19; Romans 3:19. 1 John 5:19. We have no authority to depart from the plain declarations of Holy Writ.] — — — Still more is this the state of God’s ancient people, whilst they reject the Messiah [Note: Isaiah 27:11.Hosea 4:6; Hosea 4:6. John 8:24.] — — — But far worse is the state of those who hear, without obeying, the Gospel [Note: Joh 15:22. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-8. Hebrews 2:3.1 Peter 4:17.] — — —]
The blessedness of those who hear and obey it—
Our Lord pronounces them supremely blessed [Note: Luke 11:28.]. And there is somewhat very emphatical in the declaration of it contained in our text—
[Those who truly believe in Christ, and live altogether by faith on him, “are happy.” They are so, as restored to God’s favour [Note: Romans 5:1.]— — — as enjoying his presence [Note: Psalms 89:5.]— — — as inheriting his glory [Note: Revelation 22:14.]— — —]
Observe from hence—
The importance of missionary exertions [Note: Romans 10:13-15; Romans 10:17.] — — —
The importance of improving our present privileges—
[On the due improvement of them depends both our present [Note: Mark the latter clause of the text.] and eternal happiness — — —]
THE FEAR OF MAN
Proverbs 29:25. The fear of man bringeth a snare; but whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe.
OUR blessed Lord, at the very first introduction of his religion into the world, told his followers, that he was not come to send peace on earth, but a sword, and to set at variance with each other the nearest and dearest relatives. We are not however to suppose that this was the proper end of his religion: it was not the end, but the effect: and it is, and must be, the effect, as long as there shall be a carnal and unregenerate man upon earth. What, then, must be done by the followers of Christ? Must they draw back, because their carnal friends forbid them to proceed? or must they put their light under a bushel, lest it should offend the eyes of those who behold it? No: they must dismiss from their minds all fear of men, and be faithful to their God at all events: for “the fear of man bringeth a snare;” which they can only avoid by giving themselves up faithfully to their God.
From the words before us, we learn,
Our great danger—
The fear of man is far more general than we are at all aware of—
[Ungodly men, who, in relation to all other things, set at defiance the whole world, are yet, almost as much as others, in bondage, in reference to religion. They can set at nought all religion, without any fear at all: but, to shew respect for it, and especially a desire to become acquainted with it, they dare not. They see that there are persons whose ministry would prove instructive; but they fear to avail themselves of such a ministry, lest a suspicion should attach to them as leaning towards a religious life, and as inclined to sentiments which are generally decried. And, as for cultivating an acquaintance with one of strict piety, however much they may wish, they dare not do it, lest they incur ridicule from their ungodly companions.
Persons who begin to feel any concern about their souls are immediately beset with this evil principle. They are conscious that the change which is taking place in them will, of necessity, offend their former companions; and therefore they desire to conceal their feelings, and to avoid the rupture which they foresee. Hence they make many compliances contrary to the convictions of their own conscience; and expose themselves to many temptations, which their better judgment would have taught them to avoid. So common is this bondage, that scarcely one, at the earlier period of his conversion, is free from it. Whatever be men’s rank in life, they are still in subjection to their fellows: yea, the higher their station, the greater, for the most part, is their cowardice.
Nor are established believers free from this thraldom. They do indeed disregard the world; but they are as much enslaved by the maxims and habits of their associates in the church, as ever they were by the world around them. They dare not think for themselves, or act for themselves, according to the convictions of their own minds. They take not their faith and practice from the Scriptures of Truth, but from a standard which obtains among them, and from which they are afraid to deviate. Who would think that Peter himself, bold and intrepid as he was by nature, and still more fortified by grace, should yet yield so far to the prejudice of his Judaizing brethren, as even to endanger the utter subversion of the Gospel, which he had been the honoured instrument of first opening both to the Jewish and Gentile world? Yet so he did, through fear of their displeasure. Who, then, has not cause to acknowledge himself in danger of erring, through the operation of this evil principle?]
To all who yield to its influence, it brings a fatal snare—
[Thousands it keeps from coming within the reach of spiritual instruction. The fear of that expostulation, “He hath a devil and is mad; why hear ye him [Note: John 10:20.]?” is quite sufficient to intimidate the generality of men, whom curiosity at least might otherwise bring within the sphere of spiritual instruction. And in those of whom better things might have been hoped, it has wrought, in unnumbered instances, to the production of the most tremendous evils, moral, spiritual, eternal. Behold in Peter a dissimulation, which led even Barnabas astray. They, through mercy, were recovered: but many it has led to utter apostasy, and involved in everlasting ruin. In the days of our blessed Lord many were “afraid to confess him, because they loved the praise of men more than the honour that cometh of God;” and many who had followed him “went back, and walked no more with him:” and so in every age, even to the present hour, have many been turned aside by the dread of persecution [Note: Matthew 13:21.], and have “made shipwreck of their faith.” And what the issue of this is to their souls, we are told: for “the fearful and unbelieving,” no less than “murderers and whoremongers, have their portion in the lake that burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death [Note: Revelation 21:8.].” In truth, our adorable Saviour warned his hearers respecting this, from the very beginning; declaring to them at all times, that they who should be ashamed of him, and should deny him, would assuredly find him ashamed of them, and would be ultimately denied by him in the presence of his Father and of the whole assembled universe.]
Seeing, then, that we are all exposed to this danger, it will be expedient that I point out to you,
Its proper and only effectual antidote—
There is nothing but a regard to God himself that can ever overcome the fear of man: on which account our blessed Lord says, “Fear not man, who can only kill the body, and after that hath no more that he can do; but fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell [Note: Matthew 10:28.].” The same truth is suggested in my text, only in somewhat of a more gentle form: “Whoso putteth his trust in the Lord, shall be safe.”
Would we then be delivered from the foregoing snare, let us put our trust in God,
[A man who is dependent on the world for his happiness, must of necessity be in bondage to its maxims, its habits, its votaries. But one whose heart is fixed upon God, and who looks up to God as his portion, feels himself at liberty. It is to him a small matter whether the world frown or smile. All that he is anxious about, is, to retain the favour of God, and to have the light of his countenance lifted up upon him. His interest, his reputation, his life may be endangered; but he smiles at the vain attempts of his enemies. They may shut him up from all access of earthly friends; but they cannot deprive him of communion with God: on the contrary, his communications from God are, for the most part, enlarged, in proportion as man’s efforts to distress him are increased. And “when God giveth quietness, who then can make trouble [Note: Job 34:29.]?”]
[A man, when menaced by earthly enemies, is driven to the Lord for succour: and, O! what strength does he find communicated to him in the hour of need! Assured of strength according to his day, the believer disregards the utmost efforts of his persecutors. The furnace may be heated seven times more than usual, or the lions have their appetites whetted for their prey; but his mind is in peace, because he “knows in whom he has believed, and that God is able to keep that which has been committed to him.” Whether he shall be delivered by God from his trials, or be supported under them, he knows not: but he is assured, that whatever be done by his enemies, shall “work together for his good;” and that, in the issue, he shall “prove more than conqueror, through Him who loved him.”]
[To heaven the believer looks, as his final rest: and in the prospect of that, all the transitory events of time become of no account in his estimation. The crown of victory and of glory is ever in his view; and he knows the condition on which alone it will be bestowed: we must “be faithful unto death, if ever we would obtain a crown of life.” Hence he finds no difficulty in renouncing all that the world can give, and in enduring all that the most bitter persecutors can inflict; because, like Moses, he “looks unto the recompence of the reward;” and, like the “women who refused to accept deliverance from their tortures, he expects a better resurrection.” Whatever tribulations he may pass through in his way to glory, he feels no doubt but that the glory which awaits him will amply make amends for all [Note: Romans 8:18.].]
For an improvement of this subject, I will add,
A word of caution—
[The foregoing sentiments, if not received with a becoming spirit, are liable to abuse. Indeed we have often seen, in young and inexperienced persons especially, conceit and self-will assuming the garb of religion; and exerting themselves, without controul, in opposition to all sound advice, and in defiance of all legitimate authority. Let me, therefore, be well understood in this matter. Though we are to be on our guard against the fear of man, we are not to set at nought the counsels of the wise, nor the injunctions of those who are over us in the Lord. In matters of indifference, it is well to consult the judgment and the wishes of those who are in authority over us. It is only when the counsels and commands of men go counter to the commands of God, that we are authorized to set them at nought; and even then we must conduct ourselves with meekness and modesty, and must not give way to a rude, unmannered, refractory spirit. This is of exceeding great importance. We cannot too strictly watch against the indulgence of any unhallowed temper under the pretext of religion: and if at any time we are constrained to oppose the wishes of our friends, we must order ourselves with such kindness and love, as may leave them in no doubt but that our perseverance is the fruit of real piety, and not the offspring of obstinate conceit.]
A word of encouragement—
[However careful we be, we must expect to incur the displeasure of those who wish to retain us in bondage to the world. But if, as we have reason to expect, our greatest foes be those of our own household, let us consider how much better it is to have the frowns of men and the approbation of God, than the smiles of men and the displeasure of God. If all the men in the universe were to applaud us, it would be a poor recompence for the loss of a good conscience, whose testimony in our behalf would repay us for the loss of the whole world. In fact, if we inquire into the state of those who uphold each other in iniquity, we shall find that no one of them has peace in his own soul: for, how should they have peace who seek their happiness in the world rather than in God? Compare, then, your state with theirs; and you will have reason to bless God, even though the whole world be against you. For them nothing remains but “a certain fearful looking-for of judgment and fiery indignation:” for you is prepared an eternal weight of glory, which will be augmented in proportion to the trials which you sustained for God, and the services you rendered to him. Be of good cheer, then: for your trials do, in fact, “turn unto you for a testimony;” and “if you suffer with Christ,” you are assured, by the voice of Inspiration, that “you shall also be glorified together.”]
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Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Proverbs 29". Simeon's Horae Homileticae. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany