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Whoso loveth instruction loveth knowledge: but he that hateth reproof is brutish.
Worthless and attentive hearers
Attention to the precepts and wise counsels of this book is urged by--
1. The advantage which such precepts are of, to improve a man’s carriage and conversation.
2. The fact that they are a safeguard against the mischiefs of evil company.
3. That they are the best preservatives of health and long life.
4. In the ways of wisdom is to be found peace with God, with man, and with our own conscience. But Solomon tells us there are several sorts of men who will be never the wiser nor better for what he says.
(1) Such as are stupid, and have no palate to relish anything but sensual, earthly pleasures.
(2) The froward man, who is under the dominion of his lusts and passions.
(3) The proud man. For he is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason. This conceit is commonly the child of prosperity.
(4) The negligent and slothful man. He will not be at the pains to cultivate his mind with the instructions of wisdom.
(5) Men of a vain and frothy spirit, who love to turn serious things into ridicule; jesters and scorners. The qualifications our divine philosopher calls for are diligence and attention. He would have his hearers apply their hearts and incline their ears to the words of his mouth. Where were, and where are now, these schools of wisdom, where diligent hearers may be instructed in the laws of God and a good life? They are found in our schools of literature and in our churches. (W. Reading, M. A.)
The love of instruction
It is by instruction that knowledge comes. He who fancies he has all in himself will never learn. In proportion to the love of instruction will be the acquisition of knowledge. The love of instruction implies humility. It argues a sense of ignorance and need of information. It is a common thing for men to allow pride to cheat them of much valuable knowledge. That the knowledge of duty as well as of truth is here to be included may be inferred from the latter part of the verse. “Refusing reproof” is “brutish,” as irrational, senseless, unworthy of a creature endowed with intellect; distinguished by reason from the beasts of the field, and distinguished from them too by his immorality. There may also be comprehended in the expression the absence of what every rational creature ought to have--spiritual discernment and taste; the destitution of all right sentiment and feeling in reference to God and Divine things. This is the character of him whom Paul denominates “the natural” or animal man, who “receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God.” (R. Wardlaw.)
Instruction implies discipline
Instruction, as the contrast teaches, chiefly implies discipline--that most needful course for acquiring spiritual knowledge. The submission of the will is the only road to Christian attainment. The irritable pride that hates reproof, as if it were an affront to be told of our faults, argues not only want of grace but also want of understanding. (C. Bridges.)
The knowledge and the wisdom which this book recommends is a practical and devout thing, having for its foundation the fear of God, and then obedience will come out as the result. If a man loves the end he will love that which leads to the end. Reproof is instruction under another form. It is instruction with an unpleasant face; but not the less necessary and salutary. Some men can hardly be managed in any other way than by just having the rein kept tight upon them. The Bible never permits us to lose sight of our immediate connection with God. The world and human society is not a mere machine. It is a great thing to get the idea of law, and that law is working out its results; but it is a greater thing to get before the mind the idea of the personal superintendence of the Lawgiver. Under His superintendence “virtue will be its own reward,” and vice and wickedness will bring their own condemnation and punishment. The good or benevolent man does not think about the results to himself and his actions towards others; he does the thing out of those impulses, those Divine and holy instincts, which inhabit that religious nature of his: and God has His eyes upon the good, and the result is the favour of God comes upon him and overshadows him. A man may get on by wickedness for a while wonderfully; but in general the triumph of the wicked is short. When he seems to be established he is always in fear. (T. Binney.)
A story is told of a Scotch minister, who, for a month or two after his appointment to a country parish, used to treat his hearers to sermons of a very flowery description. Finding, however, that continual preaching of this kind is fruitful of little benefit, he changed his style to something less catching but more practical, and also, with the view of adding weight to his exhortations, inaugurated the “schedule system” of making collections. On one occasion a young lady collector called on an erstwhile benevolent old spinster belonging to the congregation, and began the attack with the insinuating schedule; but no sooner was her mission comprehended than the countenance of the spinster hardened. “Na, na!” she exclaimed. “Wha wud gie a ha’penny to yon man? I likit um weel eneuch when he used to tell us aboot the works o’ nature, an’ the bonnie flo’ers, an’ a’ that; but when he begoon to speak till us like yon aboot oor fau’ts, I couldna dae wi’ um.”
Reproof in preaching
One thing I have against the clergy, both of the country and in the town; I think they are not severe enough on their congregations. They do not sufficiently lay upon the souls and consciences of their hearers their moral obligations, and probe their hearts and bring up their whole lives and action to the bar of conscience. The class of sermons which I think are most needed are of the class which offended Lord Melbourne long ago. Lord Melbourne was seen one day coming from a church in the country in a mighty fume. Finding a friend, he exclaimed, “It’s too bad! I have always been a supporter of the Church, and I have always upheld the clergy. But it is really too bad to have to listen to a sermon like that we have had this morning. Why, the preacher actually insisted upon applying religion to a man’s private life!” But this is the kind of preaching which I like best, the kind of preaching which men need most; but it is also the kind which they get the least. (W. E. Gladstone.)
A good man obtaineth favour of the Lord.
The blessing of the righteous and misery of the wicked
There is s marked difference between the righteous and the wicked both in their characteristics and in their condition.
I. The teaching of the passage regarding the blessing of the righteous.
1. The righteous has the favour of the Lord (Proverbs 12:2). In the Divine favour is the guarantee of all good.
2. The righteous is firmly fixed (Proverbs 12:3).
3. He is wiser in his speech (Proverbs 12:6).
4. His blessings are continued to his children (verse 71.
5. He wins the confidence of his fellow-men. In spiritual privileges, at least, the good man gains advantages of inestimable worth. Some of the advantages of the righteous man are specified. Because he is industrious, he--
(1) Shall have plenty of bread.
(2) His labour shall not be without results.
(3) He shall somehow come out of trouble triumphant.
(4) He shall be satisfied with good (Proverbs 12:11-14).
The longings of the child of God are so controlled and directed that in time they are fully met. They keep themselves within the channels of the Divine will, and so are never stranded and wrecked by their self-will.
II. The passage pictures the misery of the wicked. This consists, first of all, in the disapproval of God; then in the disapproval of his fellow-men. By their misdeeds the wicked forfeit the esteem of the public, and this is a blow they find hard to bear. A wrong course of conduct is also sure to ensnare one in difficulties. Each sin is a misstep which brings one into new entanglements. One lie necessitates another to bolster it. The immediate results of sin may not be seen to be evil. But the end is sure to come. Sin persisted in brings ruin. The end of unrepented wrong is sure. The law of moral turpitude cannot be broken.
III. The characteristics of both these classes. The wicked are marked by a dislike for reproof. Their very sinfulness is an indication that they are void of understanding. They are self-conceited. An indifference to the opinions of others, a certain self-assurance, an unwillingness to learn, these are some of the characteristics of the wicked. Another almost certain indication of wrong-doing is the keeping of bad company. The wrong-doer “followeth after vain persons.” He naturally seeks those of his own kind. His conduct is all in the line of injury to others. Selfishness has in it the seeds of cruelty. Self is steadily seeking its own gratification, and does not stop at any injury to others who chance to stand in its way. The characteristics of the righteous are--
1. He loveth knowledge. He is honestly seeking to find out what it is best to do. Hence he gladly welcomes correction. He does not shrink from reproof.
2. His thoughts are just. He desires to treat all rightly and to give every man his just dues. His thoughts even are under control in this matter. Not only does he not do others wrong, but he has no wish to; nor even does the thought of evil rise up in his mind. (A. F. Foster.)
The man of wisdom
I. The relation of the man of wisdom to God. He is in favour with God, whereas the man of unwisdom is condemned of God (Proverbs 12:2). The ethics of Proverbs is most deeply religious. All moral obligations derive from the Creator, and the foundation of wisdom is over and over again stated to be in the fear of the Lord. Many a moral teacher fails because he tries to induce men to act right without first setting their hearts right.
II. The traits of character belonging to the wise man are set forth partially here.
1. He is truthful.
2. He is receptive.
3. He has good practical judgment.
4. He is industrious.
5. He is kind-hearted.
III. The wise man in his relations with other men is here set forth.
1. He has honour from others. That man only has true honour whose name is honestly revered. Such reverence comes only to that nobility of character whose spring is in that heart-wisdom which consists in the fear of the Lord.
2. Such a character brings honour to others.
3. Such a man is safe from embroilments with others. A man without principle is always getting into troubles from which the righteous escape.
IV. The results to himself of the wisdom Of the good man.
1. The wise man has a return for his devotion to that which is good. Satisfaction is dealt out to him.
2. In this passage the character of the result is described.
3. Stability is specially noted as one of the rewards of the good. (D. J. Burrell.)
The good man
By a good man we are to understand a benevolent man; that is, a man who always wills happiness to others and carries forward his benevolence into the active form of beneficence. The good man is not an intellectual fop, or a moral phenomenon, but is well disciplined, thoroughly chastened, adjusted in all his faculties, and sometimes concealing exceptional excellences under a general average of fine nature; that is to say, instead of living in his eccentricities and making a reputation out of his occasional excellences he brings down these mountains and irregularities and smooths them so as to consolidate a general average of true worth. Whoever does good is an ally of God; he is in immediate co-operation with Him. (J. Parker, D. D.)
A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones
Delilah’s character, though but briefly drawn, is not without terrible significance.
In her we see a violation of the ties of life and properly-poised affection which makes us start; and yet by many among us this fault is committed and scarcely considered to be a fault. We hardly know a case of more affecting and heartless treachery than that of Delilah. Under the guise of love and in the apparently trusting confidence of affection a man is induced to tell a secret. There is a mixture of treachery, hypocrisy, cruelty, and perseverance about the whole which is remarkable. Yet is the case so uncommon after all? Delilah’s conduct has few parallels in Scripture. It is a fearful contradiction--treachery and hypocrisy stand among its foremost features; conspiring with others, and those cruel and vindictive foes, against one who trusted her, is a strong aggravation of the evil. It would be scarcely worth while to dwell on a character like Delilah’s were it not that it bears on a certain condition of things among ourselves which we continually have brought under notice, especially among our poor--the determination to defend and protect at all hazards, through evil report and good report, the husband and near relative from the mere fact of his close relationship. It is often difficult to know how to treat persons whose prominent features are so beautiful and attractive, when the deeper lines of the character may perplex us by an indifference to truth, the glory of God and the zeal needful for His service, which deviation from such a line of uncompromising affection and defence necessitates. Illustrate the devotion of a woman who has a drunken husband, of a woman who has been wronged, or whose husband is a criminal. These are cases of heroism. What is the history of these feelings, these sad perversions of rectitude, and what are the remedies which we may apply to them? What is the object of these intense natural affections? Are they intended to blind the eyes to the faults of those we love? No. And yet the moral sense of mankind condemns Delilah, and honours these other women. They may be partially in error; no doubt they are, but the question is, Which tendency is right? The very object of strong natural affections is to give a tendency or prejudice which may, to a certain degree, supersede the mere dictum of justice. We are too weak, too frail, to endure the latter only. If we cannot stand at God’s tribunal neither can we endure man’s ignorant and partial judgment, when there is no counter impulse given by some other prejudicing principle. I say it with reverence; the justice of God is tempered by the love of the Incarnation, and the stern decree of bare judgment is toned down or reversed by the examination of motives and impulses, circumstances and temptations, which He alone can do who “knoweth our frame and remembereth that we are dust.” The office of natural affection in us gives a strong impulse in favour of, not adverse to, the dependent. And when justice decides that the extenuating circumstance is not enough to acquit, it forces itself on the forlorn and forsaken, goes out of court with the condemned criminal, sits by his side in mournful attitude in the cell, sings sweet words of sympathy through the dreary hours of punishment, “weeps with him who weeps,” and makes his sorrows its own. We can so little trust the keen eye of the most impartial justice. We need to see with some other eye. None looks so deeply as that of affection. It lets nothing escape which can defend, justify, save. Its object and aim--its interest is to defend from false blame; to detect palliating circumstances; to discover motives which may extenuate. And do we not need that protective power? Are any of us sufficiently fair judges of one another to allow of our demanding a state of society without the protecting influence of this strong and mighty advocate? Evidently we should value, not despise, the existence and exercise of natural affections. And more than this, they are to be brought into practical account. We should in every way encourage those who are pursuing that line of self-devotion and unselfish affection by showing them how beautiful we esteem their conduct, and how well it may be the stepping-stone to higher self-sacrifice to Him who yearns for their heart’s devotion. (E. Monro.)
The queen of the household
Here a virtuous woman is spoken of, and a virtuous woman is a true woman, chaste, prudent, modest, loving, faithful, patient in suffering, and brave in duty, keeping within the orbit of her sex, and lighting it with all the graces of womanhood. The language of the text implies two things.
I. That she exercises a control over her husband. A “crown” is the insignia of rule. A virtuous woman rules by the power of her love and the graces of her life. Beauty, tenderness, love, purity, are the imperial forces of life, and these woman wields.
II. That she confers a dignity upon him. A crown is a dignity.
1. Her excellence justifies his choice.
2. Her management enriches his exchequer.
3. Her influence exalts his character. Her gentle spirit and manners smooth the roughnesses of his character, refine his tastes, elevate his aims, and round the angles of his life. (Homilist.)
A husband’s crown
Woman’s place is important. God has made it so, and made her fit for filling it. Woman became the completion of man’s capacity and title--she became his crown. Let woman be content with the place that God has given her. The adaptation of the feminine character to be the companion and complement of man is one of the best defined examples of that designing wisdom which pervades creation. When the relations of the sexes move in fittings of truth and love, the working of the complicated machinery of life is a wonder to an observing man, and a glory to the Creator God. (R. F. Horton, D. D.)
The moral element is not excluded from this term “virtuous,” but it is latent and assumed rather than active and pronounced. It must be understood that the moral element is indeed essential; yet that does not impair the true etymology of the term. By “virtuous” we are to understand a woman of power--so to say, a virile woman; a woman of great capacity and faculty, of penetrating sagacity, and of ability to manage household and other affairs. She is a high-minded woman, giving the very best help to her husband in all the difficulties of life, crowning him with grace and with light, such a woman as he can trust in perplexity and exigency of every kind. She will not be less an intellectual woman or a woman of strong mind because she is morally pure, spiritually sympathetic, and religiously tender. She will not be less a philosopher because she is a true child of God. (J. Parker, D.D.)
A good wife a crown to her husband
A remarkable instance of helpfulness in a wife is presented in the case of Huber, the Geneva naturalist. Huber was blind from his seventeenth year, and yet he found means to study and master a branch of natural history demanding the closest observation and the keenest eyesight. It was through the eyes of his wife that his mind worked as if they had been his own. She encouraged her husband’s studies as a means of alleviating his privation, which at length he came to forget; and his life was as prolonged and happy as is usual with most naturalists. He even declared that he should be miserable were he to regain his eyesight. “I should not know,” he said, “to what extent a person in my situation could be beloved; besides, to me my wife is always young, fresh, and pretty, which is no light matter.” Huber’s great work on “Bees” is still regarded as a masterpiece, embodying a vast amount of original observation on their habits and natural history. Indeed, his descriptions read rather like the work of a singularly keen-sighted man than of one who had been entirely blind for twenty-five years at the time at which he wrote them. The married life of Faraday furnishes another example. In his wife he found, at the same time, a true help-mate and soul-mate. She supported, cheered, and strengthened him on his way through life, giving him “the clear contentment of a heart at ease.” In his diary he speaks of his marriage as “a source of honour and happiness far exceeding all the rest.” After twenty-eight years’ experience, he spoke of it as “an event which, more than any other, had contributed to his earthly happiness and healthy state of mind The union (he said) has in no wise changed, except only in the depth and strength of its character.” And for six-and-forty years did the union continue unbroken; the love of the old man remaining as fresh, as earnest, as heart-whole, as in the days of his impetuous youth.
Verse 5 The thoughts of the righteous are right: but the counsels of the wicked are deceit.
On right thoughts
(see also Proverbs 23:7):--We are in reality what we are in our hearts, and not what we may be only in appearance. There may be a fair show, while many bad things prevail within. The Bible, therefore, teaches a religion for the heart, and it is alike suitable and necessary for every heart. We are required to keep our hearts with all diligence, but no one can be kept right who is not first set right. If a person is as he thinketh in his heart, his very salvation must depend much upon his thoughts. A due management of these must have a bearing upon everything else.
I. Some remarks on human thoughts. What an inconceivable number of these are continually rising up in all minds! Then what a mind His must be who knoweth all these thoughts! Our thoughts are weighed and judged by Him who searcheth all hearts. Thoughts pertain to moral agents, and partake of the moral qualities of the mind that breeds them. Self-scrutiny and self-knowledge are therefore important duties. Good thoughts are such as God approves according to His Word, and they are productive of good deeds. Evil thoughts are sinful in His sight, polluting to the soul, and productive of transgressions. Human thoughts differ much in their origin and cause, and this not only in different minds, but also in the same mind. There are suggested thoughts, such as are communicated by some outward agency. There are also voluntary thoughts, such as are deliberately pursued and cherished. And there are involuntary thoughts, such as seem to come and go at random. Some are momentary, others are more permanent; others, again, grow into settled designs, full determinations of the will. Evil minds ought to be under right government and control, so as to furnish prompt restraint and influence to its numerous and various thoughts.
II. The assertion concerning the thoughts of the righteous. Consider what it does not mean. All the thoughts of the righteous are not perfect and true. And it is only thoughts that are properly the righteous man’s own for which he is responsible. The text expresses what is the true and proper influence of religion upon the mind that receives it. That influence is of the right kind. Hence the great importance of being brought under the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, since it is precisely this which rectifies the mind.
1. True religion hath a prevailing influence upon the thoughts concerning God. Righteous men’s thoughts of God are reverential and devout.
2. True religion hath a prevailing influence upon the thoughts of the righteous concerning themselves. Their thoughts awaken them to a sense of their high destiny, quicken them in the path of duty, make them watchful against temptation, and lead to prayer and communion with God. Because the prevailing bias of the unrighteous is wrong, they disregard these things. Each one should therefore inquire, What is the character and tenor of my thoughts? (Essex Remembrancer.)
The righteous and the wicked contrasted
I. In their thoughts. Thoughts are the factors of character, and the primal forces of history. By thought man builds up his own world. The righteous man is righteous in heart: therefore his thoughts will be right. The heart is the spring of the intellect. The thoughts of the wicked are false. He lives in an illusory world.
II. In their speech. Words are the incarnations, the vehicles, and the weapons of thought. The words of the wicked are mischievous. The words of the righteous are beneficent.
III. In their standing. “The wicked are overthrown and are not, but the house of the righteous shall stand.” The wicked are insecure. The righteous are safe.
IV. In their reputation. The good commands the respect of society. The consciences of the worst men are bound to reverence the right. The evil awakes the contempt of society. Servility and hypocrisy may bow the knee and uncover the head before the wicked man in affluence and power, but deep in the heart there is contempt. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The righteous man and right
The verse has been rendered, “The policy of the just is honesty; the wisdom of the wicked is cunning.” This rendering marks more strikingly the intended distinction. The righteous man, in all his thoughts, keeps by what is right. He deals in rectitude, as opposed to deceit; and from his actions you may know his thoughts. The wicked man thinks one way and acts another. (R. Wardlaw.)
The thoughts of the righteous
As odorous flowers give out their fragrance so that we may inhale it, so the thoughts and affections of our spiritual nature go forth to be inbreathed again by other souls. On this ground, Jesus taught that when the Holy Spirit dwells in man, streams of holy influence flow forth from that man’s spirit. If a frail flower breathes sweetness into the general air, how much more a holy man? If a cesspool emits a pestiferous influence, how much more a bad man? (J Pulsford.)
The difference between the thoughts of the righteous and the wicked
There is a difference between good thoughts that ascend from the frame of our hearts and those that are injected from without. For instance, a gracious man’s holy thoughts ascend from the spiritual frame that is within his soul; but now a wicked man may have holy thoughts cast into him as a flash of lightning in the night, which doth not make a day; neither doth the injection of some holy thoughts argue the frame of his heart spiritual and holy. When he hath been hearing a warm sermon, then he thinks with himself, heaven deserves his choice, and eager pursuits; this is but from without, and therefore doth not argue that he is spiritual. (J. Pulsford)
The thoughts of the righteous are right
Take a river--let it be dammed and stopped up, yet, if the course of it be natural, if the vent and stream of it be to go downward, at length it will overbear, and ride triumphantly over: or let water that is sweet be made brackish by the coming in of the salt water; yet, if it naturally be sweet, at the length it will work it out. So it is with every man; look what the constant stream of his disposition is, look what the frame of it is; if it is grace, that which is now natural and inward to a man, though it may be dammed up, and stopped in such a: course for a while, yet it will break through all at the last; and though there be some brackish and some sinful dispositions that may break in upon a man, yet by the grace of God he will wear them out, because his natural disposition, the frame: of his heart, runs another way. (J. Pulsford.)
But the house of the righteous shall stand.
I. In the first place, the circumstance of belonging to the house of the righteous, is a great security that the early principles which so commonly decide the character of the man, have been the subjects of a judicious and anxious attention. The child of such a house cannot have been left to collect from the chance companions of after-life those important truths upon the knowledge of which so much depends.
II. It is a second advantage belonging to the house of the righteous that the companions and examples furnished by it are likely to have a powerful influence in deepening every good impression, and recommending every valuable lesson received in it.
III. It is another privilege belonging to an early education in the house of the righteous that virtue is there seen from the first in its own lovely form, and its influence felt to be full of calm and lasting enjoyment.
IV. Another of these advantages is the additional motive felt in such a connection to respectable conduct--to conduct which may recommend us to the continued regard of the numerous and friendly witnesses who, with anxious interest, are watching our progress. (J. G. Robberds.)
A man shall be commended according to his wisdom.
Appreciation better than praise
There are persons in this world--and the pity is that there are not more of them--who care less for praise than for appreciation. They have an ideal after which they are striving, but of which they consciously fall short, as every one who has a lofty ideal is sure to do. When that ideal is recognised by another, and they are praised or commended for something--let that something be important or not--in its direction, they are grateful, not for the praise, but for appreciation. An element of sympathy enters into that recognition, and they feel that they have something in common with the observer who admires what they admire, and praises what they think is most worthy of praise. (Alliance News.)
He that is despised, and hath a servant, is better than he that honoureth himself, and lacketh bread.
Domestic modesty and display
Vanity, or love of display, is one of the most contemptible and pernicious passions that can take possession of the human mind. Its roots are self-ignorance, its fruits are affectation and falsehood. The text refers to this in families, and when it takes possession of households it often destroys domestic comforts.
I. There are domestic comforts without display. In many an unpretending cottage there is more real domestic enjoyment than can be found in the most imposing mansions.
II. There is domestic display without comforts. Many sacrifice comforts for appearances. They all but starve their domestics to feed their vanity. They must be grand though they lack bread. This love of appearance, this desire for show, is making sad havoc with the homes of old England.
III. The condition of the former is preferable to that of the latter. It is better to have comforts without show than show without comforts.
1. It is more rational.
2. It is more moral.
3. It is more satisfying. (Homilist.)
Vain honouring of self
Amid the changes of this world, I have seen a man who, having known better days, had been nursed by luxury, and reared in the lap of fulness, outlive his good-fortune, and sink down into the baseness and meanness of the deepest poverty--in such a case it seems to be with men as with plants. Naturalists find it much less easy to teach a mountain flower to accommodate itself to a low locality than to persuade one which by birth belongs to the valleys to live and thrive at a lofty elevation; so there seems nothing more difficult to men than to descend gracefully . . . And thus I have seen such an one as I have described, when he had lost his wealth, retain his vanity, continuing proud in spirit when he had become poor in circumstances. (T. Guthrie, D. D.)
A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast.
The sin of cruelty to animals
First remove some prejudices against dealing with this subject.
1. This is a trifling subject, which is unworthy of being made a matter of grave and deliberate consideration. But if this subject constitute a matter of moral and religious obligation at all, it is not to be thrust out of view because it is not of the most universal and commanding importance. It belongs to the great duty of mercy, and pertains to the exercise of dominion, one of the high and peculiar distinctions belonging to human nature.
2. The outcry against cruelty to animals is a mere piece of sentimentalism or affectation, and that what is so called is little if at all felt by the creatures that are pitied. But many of the animals exceed ourselves in their susceptibility of impressions, having acuter powers of hearing, a more enlarged and distinct vision and a keener smell. There is a difference between a tyrannic exercise of power and a mild and gracious management of the lower creatures. What shall we say of acts of gratuitous cruelty, of unmitigated tyranny, and of unrighteous injury?
3. It is urged that this subject cannot be treated from the pulpit with the hope of much good. It is surely a part of the benevolent work of the pulpit to turn the kindly feelings of humanity towards the brute creation, and thereby to rescue them from the tormenting cruelty which would embitter their existence and sport with their lives. State some arguments to enforce the duty of abstaining from the cruel treatment of the inferior animals.
I. Kindness to the brute creation is a command of God (Exodus 23:5; Deuteronomy 22:6; Deuteronomy 25:4). The will of God for the treatment of His irrational creatures is--
1. That labouring animals are to be well fed and cared for in return for their toil and work.
2. That every animal in a situation of oppression, peril, or insuperable difficulty is to be relieved, assisted, and delivered; and that without any regard to whom it may belong, though to your worst enemy.
3. That no animal is to be tormented merely for our pleasure, or have its rational instincts thwarted, or its accustomed and long-acquired habits denied. Every one must admit the equity and justice of these rules.
II. An argument against cruelty to animals is presented by the example of God. We are required to be merciful as our Father in heaven is merciful. This extends to our treatment of the inferior animals, since God shows us an example of mercy in His dealing with them (Psalms 147:8-9). But ample as is the evidence which the brute creation furnishes of the goodness of God, we do not see them enjoying at present all the happiness which God intended that they should possess. They are involved in sufferings consequent upon the fall of man, being committed, as it were, to the same fortune with us. We ought to take pity on them the more on this account as our blameless fellow-sufferers, and diminish, as far as we can, the necessary evils of their lot. This is to resemble our heavenly Father.
III. Another argument may be deduced from the tendency of such cruelty to harden the heart and to injure the temper and feelings of those who habitually commit it. A man who is cruel in the treatment of his animal cannot be a good husband, a kind parent, a humane neighbour, or a gentle and tender friend. Men cannot change their dispositions like their dress; whatever disposition they encourage, it will become habitual and natural. Cruelty to animals makes men sullen, rude, ferocious, wrathful, apt to strike, impatient of contradiction, and prone to every evil work.
IV. Cruelty to animals is a mean and contemptible vice to which there is no temptation. Almost any sin can say more for itself than this can. What but a love of vulgar and low excitement gives zest to sports in which animals are baited, tormented, mangled, and destroyed?
V. The crying injustice of such cruelty may be urged. We have no right to abuse the inferior creation, although we have a right to use them. Some of the causes which lead to the commission of cruelties upon the brute creation are, mere thoughtlessness and wantonness; avarice; love of excitement, from which come the strifes and conflicts of the bear-garden, the race-course, the chase, the cock-pit, etc. (John Forbes.)
Cruelty to animals
The word “regard” may either apply to the moral or to the intellectual part of our nature. It is the regard of attention, or the regard of sympathy. If the regard of attention could be fastened strongly and singly on the pain of a suffering creature as its object, no other emotion than the regard of sympathy or compassion would in any instance be awakened by it. With the inertness of our reflective faculties, rather than with the incapacity of our senses the present argument has to do. It is on behalf of animals that we plead; those animals that move on the face of the open perspective before us. The sufferings of the lower animals may, when out of sight, be out of mind. But more than this, these sufferings may be in sight and yet out of mind. This is strikingly exemplified in the sport of the field, in the midst of whose varied and animating bustle, that cruelty which all along is present to the senses, may not for one moment have been present to the thoughts. Such suffering touches not the sensibilities of the heart, just because it is never present to the notice of the mind. We are not even sure if, within the whole compass of humanity, fallen as it is, there be such a thing as delight in suffering for its own sake. Certainly much, and perhaps the whole of this world’s cruelty, arises not from the enjoyment that is felt in consequence of others’ pain, but from the enjoyment that is felt in spite of it. Without imputing to the vivisectionist aught so monstrous as the positive love of suffering, we may even admit for him a hatred of suffering, but that the love of science had overborne it. This view in no way is designed to palliate the atrociousness of cruelty. Man is a direct agent of a wide and continual distress to the lower animals, and the question is, Can any method be devised for its alleviation? The whole inferior creation groaneth and travaileth together in pain, because of man. It signifies not to the substantive amount of the suffering whether this be prompted by the hardness of his heart or only permitted through the heedlessness of his mind. These sufferings are really felt. The beasts of the field are not so many automata without sensation, and just so constructed as to give forth all the natural signs and expressions of it. These poor animals just look and tremble and give forth the very indications of suffering that we do. Theirs is unmixed and unmitigated pain.
1. Upon this question we should hold no doubtful casuistry. We should not deem it the right tactics for this moral warfare to take up the position of the unlawfulness of field sports or public competitions. To obtain the regards of man’s heart in behalf of the lower animals, we should strive to draw the regards of his mind towards them.
2. We should avail ourselves of the close alliance that obtains between the regards of his attention and those of his sympathy. For this purpose we should importunately ply him with the objects of suffering, and thus call up its respondent emotion of sympathy. This demands constant and varied appeals from the pulpit, the press, and elsewhere. (T. Chalmers, D.D.)
The sin of cruelty towards the brute creation
What the sun is to the natural, that Christianity is to the moral world--its universal benefactor. Christianity regulates the intercourse between man and man. It forbids hatred, malice, and revenge. It allows no one to take advantage of his height of station to oppress or domineer over his humbler brethren. But it also condescends to undertake the cause of the brute tribe against the cruelty of man, both high and low, rich and poor. The tendency of the laws God has enacted for their treatment forbids occasioning unnecessary pain to the most obnoxious or destructive of them; while towards the positively useful we live under actual obligations. We are not merely forbidden to do these harm; to do them good is a cheap return for the services they perform in our behalf. To treat humanely animals in our possession constitutes a part of true religion, and will be viewed by God accordingly. The words of the text imply that he who “regardeth not the life of his beast” forfeits all pretensions to the character of a righteous man. By this single breach of morality he betrays a degree of guilt for which the most unexceptionable conduct to those of the same flesh and blood can make no amends. The common sources of cruelty.
1. Inattention. This must not be confounded in point of guilt with the diabolical spirit of cool, intended cruelty, but the pain it occasions may be equally severe. Children are in peculiar danger of sinning under this head.
2. Prejudice. In many families children are taught to treat the greater part of reptiles and insects as if they were highly dangerous or injurious, and of course to be destroyed, or at least to be avoided with horror. The young implicitly believe the unfair reports, and act accordingly. Once give a child the liberty of inflicting death on certain species of inferior beings, and you will soon find he indiscriminately wages war on all; what has been a habit will ere long become a pleasure. If parents would preserve their children free from the stain of cruelty, let them beware how they make them the executioners of their vengeance on even the most noxious or unsightly creatures, the crushers of ants and spiders, or the tramplers on the caterpillar or the earth-worm.
3. Selfishness. A selfish man may plead that he means no harm to the creatures he is maltreating; but to get his pleasure, he cares not what sufferings he occasions them. Refined methods of barbarity are keeping certain creatures so as to render them choicer food; the wagers laid at races, etc. There are those who, however considerate they may be towards their own property, care little how they treat the property of others when lent or hired out. Such incur not only the charge of cruelty; they are also chargeable with ingratitude or deceit; and under these circumstances their sin becomes “exceeding sinful.” (H. A. Herbert, B. A.)
The feelings of animals
This verse might be rendered, “A righteous man knows the feelings of beasts.” He gives them credit for feelings; he does not look upon them as merely so much animated matter, but as standing in some relation to himself, and the more complete his ownership the more considerate ought to be his treatment even of the beasts he owns. Even when the wicked man supposes himself to be merciful there is cruelty in his tenderness. A wicked man cannot be gentle. Men should remember this, and distrust all the gentleness which is supposed to attach to men who are without conscience. The tenderness of such men is an investment, is a political trick, is a bait to catch the unwary, is an element of speculation. Rowland Hill used to say, in his quaint way, that he would not value any man’s religion whose cat and dog were not the better for his piety. This is the beauty of the Christian religion: it flows throughout the whole life, it ramifies in every department of the existence and carries with it softness, purity, sympathy, kindness. The young lions roar, and get their meat from God. The universe must be looked upon as a great household belonging to the Almighty, regulated by His power and His wisdom, and intended to exemplify the beneficence of His providence. Life is a mystery which remains unsolved, bringing with it claims which none can safely or religiously set aside. (J. Parker, D.D.)
The duty of mercy to animals
If we look in the final, total, and eternal teachings of Scripture for our moral standard, nothing is more clear than that mercy is one of the chief duties of man, as it is one of the main attributes of God. In the deluge provision is made that the animals should be saved as well as man; and in the renewed covenant we know that God said (Genesis 9:2). Thus early is attention called to the connection of animals with man, the use of animals to man, and the dominion over animals by man. God’s care for them, man’s duty to them, are constantly inculcated. Take, for instance, the Mosaic law. How exquisite is the consideration which it shows for the creatures of God’s hand! “If a bird’s nest chance to be before thee, thou shalt not take the dam with the young, that it may be well with thee, and that thou mayest prolong thy days.” Did any other lawgiver like the mighty Moses thus care for the curlew in the furrow and the mother-linnet in the brake? “Thou shalt not seethe the kid in its mother’s milk. I am the Lord.” “Thou shalt not muzzle the ox when he treadeth out the corn.” Why? Doth God care for oxen? Assuredly He does, for His are “the cattle upon a thousand hills.” “Thou shalt not plough with an ox and an ass together.” Why not? Because it is contrary to the law of natural justice, since, if the two animals be yoked together, an unfair share of the burden must fall upon the one or upon the ether. Could God have taught more clearly to us than He thus did by the mouth of the great leader of His people that we must be merciful because our Father in heaven is merciful? Turn again to the fresh, bright, vivid poetry of the Psalmist of Israel. How beautiful, how tender, throughout the Psalms, are the repeated allusions to the world of creatures! Or turn again to that magnificent, dramatic, and philosophic poem of the Book of Job. The care of God and the love of God for the creatures He has made convince Job of God’s care for him. Turn again to the calmer and graver wisdom of the wise King Solomon. “There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise” (Proverbs 30:24-28). And when we turn to the New Testament we find, as we should have expected, that this perfect love for all God’s creatures appears most fully and tenderly in the words and teaching of the Lord Himself. The lessons of the wise earthly king are taught us with creeping and laborious creatures. He made the bee and the ant teach their lessons to us; but the heavenly King taught us rather from those birds of the air, which “toil not, nor spin,” but are employed, like angels, in offices of love and praise. There is nothing in all human language more touching and more beautiful than Christ’s illustration of God’s tenderness in the works of nature, the flowers of the field, and the creatures of the air. Here is a legend of Christ, which may be no legend, but a true story: By the hot roadside, in the blistering sunlight, the vultures eyeing it, and ready in a moment to sweep down upon it with their foetid wings, lay a dead dog--one of the hated, despised, ownerless dogs of an Eastern city--a dead pariah dog, the most worthless thing, you might think, that all creation contained--a pitiable and unlovely spectacle; and round it were gathered a crowd of the wretched, loathing idlers of the place--coarse, pitiless, ready, like all the basest of mankind, to feed their eyes on misery and on ugliness, as flesh-flies settle on a wound. And one kicked it, and another turned it over with his foot, and another pushed it with his staff, and each had his mean, unpitying gibe at the carcase of the dead, helpless, miserable creature which God had made. Then, suddenly, there fell an awe-struck silence on these cruel, empty triflers; for they saw One approach them whom they knew, and whom, because He was sinless, many of them hated while yet they feared. And He came up, and, for a moment, the sad kingly eyes rested on the dead creature in the blistering sunlight with the vultures hovering over it, and then He turned His eyes for a moment to the pitiless, idling men who stood there looking at it, and, breaking the silence, He said: “Its teeth are as white as pearls”; and so He went His way. Where they in their meanness could gloat on what was foul, and see nothing but its loathliness, His holy eye--because it was the eye of loving mercy--saw the one thing which still remained untainted by the deformity of death, and He praised that one thing. And, leaving them smitten into silent shame before His love and His nobleness, He once more went His way. Turn to the most ancient Greek poems, the “Iliad” and the “Odyssey” of Homer. In the “Iliad” the horses of the great hero Achilles weep human tears for their great master’s death. In the “Odyssey” we have the return of Ulysses, ragged, unknown, desolate, after his twenty years of wanderings. He is in the guise of a beggar. No one recognised him of all whom his bounty fed--not his servants, not his wife, not his only son; but Argus knows him--Argus, the dog with which he has hunted as a boy--Argus cannot forget him as human beings can. Outstretched, neglected, before the hall door lies the poor old hound, and he no sooner hears the footsteps of his master whom he had known as a boy long years before, than he looks up and strives to crawl to his feet, licks his hand, and dies. And at the saddest moment of Athenian history, when the people of Athens were flying to Salamis from the mighty hosts of Xerxes, leaving their desolate homes to be spoiled and burned, the one great nation which raised an altar to pity had time to remember and to record how one poor dog swam all the way across the straits of the salt sea after the boat which carried his master to the island shore. And the Jews, too, had well learned this lesson of their great books. The historian of the book of Tobit is not afraid to tell us that when the Jewish boy left his father’s house for his long and perilous journey his dog went with him; and how, when he returned with the friendly angel, the dog still followed the angel and the youth. One of the most celebrated of all the rabbis, the writer of the earliest.and most sacred part of the Talmud, was Rabbi Judah the Holy. He was afflicted with intermittent agonies, and the Talmud tells us this legend of him: On one occasion a calf destined for sacrifice fled lowing to him, and thrust his head upon the rabbi’s knees. “Go,” said the rabbi, pushing the animal from him; “for sacrifice is thy destiny.” “Lo!” said the angels of God, “the rabbi is pitiless; let suffering come upon him.” And he was smitten with sickness. But on another occasion, when his servant was dusting his room, she disturbed a brood of young kittens. “Let them alone,” said the rabbi, kindly; “disturb them not, because it is written, ‘God’s tender mercies are over all His works.’” “Ah,” said the angels, “he has learned pity now; and, therefore, let his sufferings cease.” All the best Christian history is full of the spirit of mercy; all the saints of God, without exception, have been kind to animals, as most bad men have been unkind. It was observed in the earliest centuries of Christianity that the hermits living in the desert their pure and simple and gentle lives had strange power over the wild creatures. Those quiet and holy men so controlled them that the creatures near them lost their wildness, and the fawn would come to them, and the lion harmed them not. Some of God’s holiest saints in later times had this strange, sweet gift of inspiring animals with the confidence which they had before--to our shame--they had been taught distrust by the cruelties and treacheries of fallen man. So it was with St. Francis of Assisi. He called all creatures his brethren and his sisters. “My little sisters,” he said to the twittering swallows who disturbed him by chasing each other through the blue Italian sky, as he preached in the open air in the market-place of Vercelli--“my little sisters, you have said your say; now be silent, and let me preach to the people.” We are told how on one occasion he gave up his own robe to save two lambs which were being led to the slaughter; how a little lamb was one of his daily companions, and how he sometimes preached upon its innocence to the people. At Gubbio a leveret was brought to him, and when he saw the little creature his heart at once was moved. “Little brother leveret,” he said, “why hast thou let thyself be taken?” And when the little trembler escaped from the hands of the brother who was holding it and fled for refuge to the folds of the robe of St. Francis, he set it free. A wild rabbit which he took, and afterwards set free, still returned to his bosom as though it had some sense of the pitifulness of his heart. On another occasion he put back into the water a large tench which a fisherman had given him, and he bade it swim away; “but,” says the legend, “the fish lingered by the boat until the prayers of St. Francis were ended, for the saint obtained great honour from God in the love and obedience of His creatures.” (Dean Farrar.)
A righteous man regardeth the life of his beast
It is said of God that He remembered Noah, and every beast (Genesis 8:1); yea, such is His merciful providence, that He watcheth not only over men, but beasts; and a righteous man regardeth the life of his beast. Nay, Xenocrates, a very heathen, who had no other light but what the dim spectacles of nature did afford, is commended for his pitiful heart, who succoured in his bosom a poor sparrow that, being pursued by a hawk, fled unto him, and afterwards let her go, saying that he had not betrayed his poor suppliant. And such is the goodness of every just man, that he is merciful to his very beast; alas, it cannot declare its wants, nor tell its grievances, otherwise than by mourning in its kind; so that to an honest heart its dumbness is a loud language, crying out for relief. This made David rather venture upon a lion than lose a lamb (1 Samuel 17:34). Jacob will endure heat by day, and cold by night, rather than neglect his flocks (Genesis 31:40). Moses will fight with odds rather than the cattle shall perish with thirst (Exodus 2:1-25.). It is only Balaam and Bedlam-Balaamites that want this mercy to their faultless beast; and it is ill falling into their hands whom the very beasts find unmerciful. (J. Spencer.)
Kindness to animals
Two ladies well known in New York were spending the summer at Newport. They were in the habit of ordering a carriage from a livery stable, and were always driven by the same coachman, a cab-driver whose name was Burns. One day Burns very suddenly pulled up his horses and turned abruptly to one side of the road. The ladies were alarmed, and, leaning out, inquired what was the matter. Burns replied that there was a little lame bird in the road, which he had very nearly run over. He was just about getting off the box to remove the little creature from its dangerous position, when one of the ladies, wishing him to remain in charge of the horses, stepped from the carriage, and picking up the bird, which was a young one, discovered its leg was broken. Her first thought was to take it home and keep it till it was quite strong again, but Burns advised her to put it on the other side of the fence on the grass, where the mother bird could find it, and nature would heal the broken leg. They decided to do this, so the bird was left in a safe place and the driver resumed his journey. The story of the kind-hearted coachman was told until it reached Mrs. John Jacob Astor, who was much touched by it, saying a man who did that little act of mercy would surely be kind to horses, and as her husband was in need of a coachman she would try to get Burns for the position. The end of the story is that Burns was duly installed as Mr. Astor’s coachman.
Consideration for animals
I am sure that if donkeys or goats could speak they would say, “Be kind to us. We will work for you, and go as far and as fast as we can, if only you won’t drive us beyond our strength, and lay those cruel sticks across our poor thin backs! Then, don’t make us stand, for hours perhaps, in a burning sun without a drop of water, while you are playing marbles with your friends. You could not run about as you do now if you had no breakfast and no dinner: then how can you expect us to work hard and carry heavy children one after the other till we are ready to drop, unless you feed us properly?” (M. Sewell.)
Cruelty to an animal
I always tremble when I see a cruel boy. I feel sure he will, if he lives, grow up to be a wicked man. A brutal boy once saw his sister’s two pet rabbits running about the garden. He took one up by the ears and threw it into the air. It came down on a piece of stone and lay bleeding on the ground till it died. Years after the sister visited that brother in prison, just before his execution for murder. Do you remember the bleeding rabbit, Mary?” he said, weeping; “I have been cruel ever since.” (M. Sewell.)
He that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread.
The law of labour
It is no mercy to be freed from the law of labour. Nor is it God that frees a man from that law. Among the opulent there are some who break the law of labour, and some who keep it. They keep it by working in their own province, in that state of life into which it has pleased God to call them. There is brain-toil as well as hand-toil; the wear and tear of the mental energies tend more to shorten life than the ordinary labourer’s wear and tear of body. Some kind of labour is enjoined upon all, by a law of God’s own framing. There is division of labour, but it is a labour nevertheless. Woe to him who craves an idle life, who would slumber existence away in listless reverie! The truth of the text is forcible, whether taken literally or applied spiritually. A contrast is drawn between the industrious and the loiterer. Solomon uses the words “wise” and “foolish,” and their kindred terms, in a deep spiritual sense--moral as well as mental, religious as well as intellectual. The fool is he who acts without reference to the Divine above him, and the everlasting before him. As we dare not let things take their course in our worldly business, so neither in our spiritual. Christianity is meant to hallow life in all its phases--to hallow business, labour, recreation. The Sabbath of the Christian is a life-long Sabbath, an every-day Sabbath. Bishop Taylor reminds us that the “life of every man may be so ordered that it may be a perpetual serving of God--the greatest trouble, and most busy trade, and worldly encumbrances, when they are necessary, or charitable, or profitable, being a-doing God’s work. For God provides the good things of the world to serve the needs of nature, by the labours of the ploughman, the skill and pains of the artisan, and the dangers and traffic of the merchant. Idleness is called the sin of Sodom and her daughters, and indeed is the burial of a living man.” The text suggests two pictures. In the one we have the persevering husbandman, who loses no time, who works with a good heart, and at last enjoys a noble harvest. In the other we have a slothful spendthrift, who whiles away life’s sunshine by basking in it, leaving the evening to care for itself, and heedless of coming night. But it is important to remember that no earthly seed-corn will produce fruit for another world--therefore the seed-corn must be supplied from the heavenly storehouse by the heavenly husbandman--it must be indigenous to the skies, an exotic upon earth. If thou be in earnest for God, He will multiply thy seed sown, and increase the fruits of thy righteousness. (Francis Jacox, B.A.)
Manly industry and parasitical indolence
I. Manly industry.
1. He has manly industry indicated. Agriculture is the oldest, divinest, healthiest, and most necessary branch of human industry.
2. He has manly industry rewarded. Skilled industry is seldom in want.
II. Parasitical indolence..
1. There are those who hang on others for their support.
2. Such persons are fools. They sacrifice self-respect. They expose themselves to degrading annoyances. (Homilist.)
There is great moral value in being well employed
The idle classes are waiting to become the vicious classes. This is vividly illustrated by the well-known story of a friendless girl who, about three generations ago, was thrown upon the world, uncared for. Her children and children’s children came to number over a hundred, desperate and dangerous men and women of crime. No record of earth can tell how many a bright young man or woman thrown out of employ has become a centre of equally dark and ever-widening circles. (Washington Gladden.)
The fate of drones
It will be profitable to idle people to observe the arrangement whereby nature condemns the drones to death in the bee community. No sooner is the business of swarming ended, and the worker-bees satisfied there will be no lack of fertile queens, when issues the terrible edict for the massacre of the drones. Poor fellows! It is to be hoped they comfort themselves with the reflection that their fate is an everlasting homily, presented by nature in dogmatical but most effective fashion, of the uselessness of all who labour not for their living. If one must die for the good of one’s kind, by all means let it be as a martyr. Poor fellows! how they dart in and out, and up and down the hive, in the vain hope of escape! The workers are inexorable. (Scientific Illustrations.)
The wicked desireth the net of evil men: but the root of the righteous yieldeth fruit.
The crafty and the honest
1. Craft is an instinct of wickedness: No true Christian is a hypocrite. The better a man is, the less temptation he has to disguise himself. A wicked man must be hypocritical in proportion to his wickedness. Sin is ever cunning; wisdom alone is free.
2. Craftiness is no security against ruin. Lies are the language of craftiness. One lie leads on to another, until the man is involved in contradictions, and falls and founders.
1. Honesty is strong in its own strength. It has a root. It lives by its own natural force and growth.
2. Honesty will extricate from difficulties. The just man may get into trouble, but by his upright principles, under God, he shall come out of them. “Honesty is the best policy.” (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The wicked is snared by the transgression of his lips.
Lies, the snare that liars are caught in
The Supreme has set many snares, in the constitution of things, for the detection and punishment of evil-doers. The liar’s own tongue betrays him. In some of its movements, ere he is aware, it touches the spring which brings down the avenging stroke. It is instructive to read with this view the detailed account of a criminal trial. In the faltering and fall of a false witness you should see and reverence the righteousness of God. When a man is not true, the great labour of his life must be to make himself appear true; but if a man be true, he need not concern himself about appearances. He may go forward, and tread boldly; his footing is sure. (R. F. Horton, D.D.)
A man shall be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth: and the recompense of a man’s hands shall be rendered unto him.
Obedience to God’s will and its fruits
Wheresoever goodness is, whether it bridle our tongue, or guide our hand, or regulate our fancy, it carries its satisfaction, its recompense, along with it. Our songs of praise echo back again upon us; the works of our hands follow us, and fill us with joy; and our thoughts, if goodness raise them, are comforts. Goodness, whether in thought, word, or deed, will satisfy us, that is, fill us with joy; and nothing will satisfy us but goodness. The argument will hold a contrario: if that which is good satisfy us, then that which is evil cannot.
I. Goodness doth satisfy.
1. This we cannot doubt, if we know what goodness is, and consider the nature of it, and the fountain from whence it springs. For it flows from God. It is a beam from that Eternal Light, an emanation from God Himself. The nearer goodness carrieth to the fountain of goodness, the more satisfaction it brings with it, and the fuller is our cup. Without God we cannot be happy in heaven itself, nay, without Him there could be no heaven.
2. As we draw an argument from piety, so may we draw another from the love of it. As Augustine saith, “We do not only love goodness, but even the love with which we embrace it, and delight in both.” Joy and satisfaction is a resultancy from love. That which we love is also the joy of our heart.
3. If the bare opinions of piety, in those who are not yet made perfect, satisfy, though it be but for a while, then piety itself will satisfy much more. If the shadow hath this operation, what hath the substance, the thing itself! If a form of godliness, then much more godliness in its full power, will fill and satisfy us.
II. Nothing else can satisfy us but goodness. It is the prerogative of goodness and piety to be alone in this work.
1. Satisfaction is but a name on earth.
2. Such is the nature and quality of the soul, that it is not fashioned nor proportioned to the things of this world.
3. God hath imprinted in the soul and in the very nature of man an “infinite and insatiable desire,” which cannot be satisfied with anything that the world can present. The soul which is made capable of God, can be satisfied with nothing but God.
4. In wickedness, impiety, the licentiousness of the tongue, and the wantonness of the hands, no satisfaction can possibly be found.
5. To show how unsatisfying a thing sin is, you may behold it tormenting the wicked man, and that not only after the act, but also before and in it, first forbidding itself, then perplexing him in the act, and after gnawing the heart.
1. If the fruit of our hands and lips be that alone which can satisfy us, let us then be up and doing, buckle on the armour of light, and quench every fiery dart of Satan.
2. Let us level our actions and endeavours on this, and not spend and waste ourselves on that which is not bread, and will never fill us.
3. If nothing will satisfy us but righteousness and piety, we need not consult what we are to choose here.
4. If this be the prerogative of goodness, godliness, to be alone in this work, then let her have prerogative also in our hearts, and exercise full power, and authority, and dominion over our desires. (A. Farindon, B.D.)
Retributions of the lip and life
I. The retributions of the lip. Speech, to be good, must be--
3. Benevolent. How will such speech satisfy a man?
(1) In its action upon his own mind.
(2) In the effect he sees produced on others.
(3) In the conscious approbation of God.
II. The retributions of the life. The hand here stands for the whole conduct of life. It means that man should receive the reward of his works. And this is inevitable--
1. From the law of causation.
2. From the law of conscience.
3. From the law of righteousness. There is justice in the universe. (Homilist.)
The language of keen irritation, reproach, invective and scorn, often inflicts wounds on the heart that are deep and hard of cure--wounds “like the piercings of a sword.” This is especially the case when the words are from the lips of a friend, or of one we love, when heated by sudden passion. Wit, too, when not chastened and controlled by an amiable disposition, often wounds deeply. Jibes, jests, irony, raillery, and sarcasm, fly about. No matter what the wounds, or where they be inflicted, if the wit be but shown. A happy hit, a clever, biting repartee, will not be suppressed for the sake of the feelings, or even the character, of a neighbour, or, as it may happen, of a friend The man of wit must have his joke, cost what it may. The point may be piercing in the extreme; but if it glitters, it is enough; to the heart it will go. Such a man is feared, hated, avoided. (R. Wardlaw.)
The fruit of the mouth
The word which issues out of the lips is the greatest power in human life. Words will change the currents of life. On the use of the tongue depend the issues of a man’s own life. Such fruits as a man’s tongue bears, a man must eat. If his words have been good, then he shall be satisfied with good by the fruit of his mouth. The fool’s lips are always coming into strife, and his mouth is always calling for stripes. His lips are the snare of his soul. An old proverb says, “A fool’s tongue is always long enough to cut his own throat.”
1. The tongue is a fruitful source of quarrelling and discord. A fool cannot hide his vexation, but must immediately blurt it out with the tongue, and make mischief.
2. The tongue is the instrument of lying. It is the tongue which by false witness so often condemns the innocent.
3. Closely allied to lying is flattery, which is always a mistake.
4. Another evil use of the tongue is whispering and tale-bearing. Disclosing the secret of another is a sure way of incurring reproach and lasting infamy.
5. The tongue is sometimes employed to plot, plan, and execute mischief.
6. More pardonable vices are rashness and inopportuneness of speech. Yet these are evil enough in their way.
7. We need caution against excessive speech. There are good and beautiful uses of the tongue. It is the instrument of peace-making, of wise reproof, of the instruction of the innocent, and the championship of the distressed. (R. F. Horton, D. D.)
A fool’s wrath is presently known: but a prudent man covereth shame.
Wrath as shame
The wise man here uses a very observable word, to express wrath. He calls it shame, for it is a shame for a man to suffer his reason to, be tyrannised over by an unruly passion, which spreads deformity over his countenance, and hurries him on to expressions and actions more like those of one confined in bedlam than one who is supposed to have the use of his reason. A fool disgraces himself by giving way to the impetuous sallies of passion. He discovers his temporary madness by his pale countenance, his quivering lips, and his flashing eyes. “But a prudent man covereth shame.” When he finds his passions beginning to ferment, he does not give them full scope, but considers whether he does well to be angry, and how far it is lawful and safe for him to give way to this turbulent passion. He does not cover his wrath, that it may have time to work, and draw the powers of reason into its service, that it may break forth with more effect on another occasion--but covers it, that he may have time to suppress and destroy it, by considering its folly and wickedness, by meditating on the example and grace of Christ, and by fervent supplications for the support and assistance of the spirit of meekness. By such means as these the prudent man preserves his own honour, and covers the shame of his neighbour, who is likely to be gained by gentleness and meekness. (G. Lawson.)
The tongue of the wise is health.
Healthy and unhealthy speech
Some men pride themselves on the pungency of their speech. They delight in sharp answers, keen retorts, quick repartees, and boast themselves when they cut their opponents in two. There are others who are gifted in the expression of complaint, reproach, and criticism against the whole providence of life. They can say sharp and bitter things about God and man, and they can be satisfied because of the edge of their own epigram, no matter against whom or against what that edge is directed. The tongue of the wise man is slower, but healthier; the wise man weighs his words: he is anxious to be associated only with judgments that can be confirmed by experience and illustrated by wisdom. The wise man speaks healthily--that is to say, he speaks out of the abundance of his own health, and he speaks in a way that will double and strengthen the health of others. To come near him is to ascend a mountain and breathe the freshest air of heaven, or to go down by the seashore and receive messages across the great deeps, full of vigour, and truth, and strengthening influence. Wise men keep society healthy. But for their presence it would stagnate, and go from one degree of corruption to another until it became wholly pestilential. There are two speakers in the text, to the end of time there will probably be two speakers in the world--the critical speaker and the judicial speaker; the man all sharpness and the man all thankfulness. The business of Christian discipline is to tame the tongue, to chasten it, to teach it the speech of wisdom, and to instruct it as to the right time of utterance and the right time of silence. (J. Parker, D.D.)
The lip of truth shall be established for ever.
I. The righteousness of truth (Proverbs 12:17). The highest and only proper use of speech is to show the right. It may be used to set forth--
1. Right views of God (Psalms 11:2; John 17:25-26; Romans 3:21-22).
2. Right views of personal experience (Psalms 66:16).
3. Right estimates of character. Testimonials should be given with great caution.
4. Right statements as to the value of articles of merchandise.
5. Right expositions of Scripture. Some “wrest” the Scriptures (2 Peter 3:16); others make them void by their traditions (Mark 7:13); others handle them deceitfully (2 Corinthians 4:2); but the God-taught expositor aims at “the manifestation of the truth.”
II. The wholesomeness of truth (Proverbs 12:18). Foolish speech often wounds, but in the word of wisdom is healing. Healthy doctrine produces healthy living, and thus it becomes its own advocate.
III. The stability of truth (Proverbs 12:19). “Truth, like cork, will be uppermost one time or other, though an effort be made to keep it under water.” Time is on the side of truth, and so is eternity. There has been an abundant establishment of--
1. The testimony of prophets.
2. Words spoken by the opponents of error. Lies often die hard, but sooner or later they die surely.
IV. The safety of truth. We may be afraid to be wrong, but should never be afraid to be right.
V. The reward of truth (Proverbs 12:22.) (H. Thorne.)
The lip of truth
There was once a little boy named Duncan. The boys used to call him “True Duncan” because he would never tell a lie. One day he was playing with an axe in the schoolyard. The axe was used for cutting wood for the schoolroom fire in winter. While Duncan was chopping a stick, the teacher’s cat, “Old Tabby,” came and leaped on to the log of wood where Duncan was at work. He had raised the axe to cut the wood, but it fell on the cat and killed her. What to do he knew not. She was the master’s pet cat, and used to sit on a cushion at his side while he was hearing the boys’ lessons. Duncan stood looking at poor Tabby. His face grew red and the tears stood in his eyes. All the boys came running up, and every one had something to say. One of them was heard whispering to the others, “Now, boys, let us see if Duncan can’t make up a fib as well as the rest of us.” “Not he,” said Tom Brown, who was Duncan’s friend, “not he, I’ll warrant. Duncan will be as true as gold.” John Jones stepped up and said, “Come, boys, let us fling the cat into the lane, and we can tell Mr. Cole that the butcher’s dog killed her. You know that he worried her last week.” Some of them thought that would do very well. But Duncan looked quite angry; his cheek swelled and his face grew redder than before. “No, no,” said he. “Do you think I would say that? It would be a lie--a lie!” Each time he used the word his voice grew louder. Then he took up the poor thing and carried her into the master’s room. The boys followed to see what would happen. The master looked up and said, “What? is this my poor Tabby killed? Who could have done me such an injury?” All were silent for a little while. As soon as Duncan could get his voice he said, “Mr. Cole, I am very sorry I killed poor Tabby. Indeed, sir, I am very sorry, I ought to have been more careful, for I saw her rubbing herself against the log. I am more sorry than I can tell, sir.” Every one expected to see Mr. Cole get very angry, take down his cane and give Duncan a sound thrashing. But instead of that he put on a pleasant smile and said, “Duncan, you are a brave boy. I saw and heard all that passed in the yard from my window above. I am glad to see such an example of truth and honour in my school.” Duncan took out his handkerchief and wiped his eyes. The boys could not keep silence any longer, and when Tom Brown cried, “Three cheers for True Duncan!” they all joined and made the schoolhouse ring with a mighty hurrah. The teacher then said, “My boys, I am glad you know what is right and that you approve it, though I am afraid some of you could not have done it. Learn from this time that nothing can make a lie necessary. Suppose Duncan had taken your evil advice and come to me with a lie, it would have been instantly detected, and instead of the honour of truth he would have had only the shame of falsehood.” (Sunday School.)
But a lying tongue is but for a moment.--
The doomed life of a lie
It is “but for a moment.” Dean Swift complains that the influence of a lie is often mischievously lasting; so often does it happen that if a lie be believed, only for an hour, it has done its work, and there is no further occasion for it. But the inherent mortality of whatever is false is recognised in other proverbs than those of Solomon, e.g., the English proverb, “A lie has no legs.” “A lie, in that it is a lie, always carries within itself the germs of its own dissolution. It is sure to destroy itself at last.” Carlyle says, “There is no lie in the long run successful. The hour of all windbags does arrive; every windbag is at length ripped, and collapses.” “Lies exist only to be extinguished; they wait and cry earnestly for extinction.” “Ruin is the great sea of darkness whither all falsehoods, winding or direct, continually flow.” “Nothing,” affirms a political philosopher, of an earlier and quite another school, “can give stability and durable uniformity to error. Indolence or ignorance may keep it floating, as it were, on the surface of the mind, and sometimes hinder truth from penetrating; or force may maintain it in possession, while the mind assents to it no longer. But such opinions, like human bodies, tend to dissolution from their birth . . . Men are dragged into them, and held down in them, by chains of circumstances. Break but these chains, and the mind returns with a kind of intellectual elasticity to its proper object--truth.” (Francis Jacox, B.A.)
Skill in telling lies
The lying tongue succeeds indeed, but its success is momentary; it flashes and expires; it has a clear, straightforward story to tell, but events come, and cross-examine that story, and set it in proper distance and perspective; alliances to which the story owed its consistency are broken up, and evil men begin to divulge secrets regarding one another; piece by piece the story falls asunder, and at the end it is found that it was the fabrication of a malignant genius. Be sure you are true yourselves, and have a true purpose in view, and all discrepancies, inconsistencies, and difficulties will ultimately be smoothed down, and men will be brought to acknowledge the integrity of your heart. Be as skilful as you please in the way of telling lies, arrange everything with consummate cunning, hire all your allies, bribe your spies, and make your way clear by abundance of gold, and yet in the long run your confederates will turn against you, and they to whom you have given most money will be glad to expose your cupidity and falsehood. (J. Parker, D.D.)
Truth more enduring than falsehood
Truth wears well. Time tests it, but it right well endures the trial. If, then, I have spoken the truth, and have for the present to suffer for it, I must be content to wait. If also I believe the truth of God, and endeavour to declare it, I may meet with much opposition, but I need not fear, for ultimately the truth must prevail. What a poor thing is the temporary triumph of falsehood! “A lying lip is but for a moment!” It is a mere gourd, which comes up in a night, and perishes in a night; and the greater its development, the more manifest its decay. On the other hand, how worthy of an immortal being is the avowal and defence of that truth which can never change; the everlasting gospel, which is established in the immutable truth of an unchanging God! An old proverb says, “He that speaks truth shames the devil.” Assuredly he that speaks the truth of God will put to shame all the devils in hell, and confound all the seed of the serpent which now hiss out their falsehoods. Oh, my heart, take care that thou be in all things on the side of truth, both in small things and great; but specially on the side of Him by whom grace and truth have come among men! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Deceit is in the heart of them that imagine evil.
A denunciation of wicked men
I. A description of their persons.
1. They are evil-doers, but more especially, the practiser, the artificer in evil; one wholly bent upon sin; the body and mind occupied in executing and acting corrupt desires.
2. Nor is every evil aimed at, but evil in a high degree, evil against others--mischief.
3. This man is subtle in his evil. He is a cunning workman, sly, subtle, and close devising and effecting his mischief. Like a witty handicraftsman, he is most silent when he is most upon his inventions. It is a sign of an extreme wicked man, to be an inventor of evil, a plotter and deviser of mischief. As a coney-catcher lives by his wits, so sin and sinners by their wiles. But whence this?
(1) Satan at first transformed himself into an angel of light; then no marvel if his ministers do so.
(2) They seem just, religious, peaceable, and honest men, knowing that the less they be suspected, the more successful their plots are likely to be.
(3) Never was any mischief more mischievous than that which is veiled with good pretences of peace or religion.
II. The condition of these persons. Their deceit returns into the heart that first hatched it, i.e., brings certain woe and unavoidable mischief on themselves, to the breaking of their own hearts. Whence note, that the greatest workers of sin and mischief are greatest workers of their own woe.
1. There is no small heaviness and unquietness in the heart while it is plotting and hammering evil.
2. Whomsoever they deceive, they cannot deceive God, who will make them the greatest deceivers of themselves.
3. How just it is, that what pleasure they conceive in inventing mischief, they should lose it by the fruit of their mischievous inventions.
4. Sin is a sure paymaster, and her wages are death.
5. The sorrow of their sin comes with much and daily addition, and pierces the man’s heart as a sword. Beware of devising mischief against the Church of God, His servants and holy religion. Consider hereunto--
(1) The power of God, which all wicked men together are not able to resist.
(2) The wisdom of God, who hath seven eyes, and all upon the Church for good.
(3) The justice of God, with whom it is righteous that wicked men in devising mischief should provide their own rods.
(4) Evil men lay all their plots on a sandy and slippery foundation, which will bring down all the house and frame on their own heads. Let not good men be disquieted at any such plots, which shall all redound upon their enemies themselves. (T. Taylor.)
The word rendered “deceit” may be understood as including deceit practised on a man’s self as well as on others, and here it may have the sense of self-deceit. Eminent translators have rendered the word, in its present connection, disappointment; frustrated hope. Those who “imagine evil” dare not avow their designs. Dissimulation and craft are productive of incessant apprehension and anxiety. They necessarily engender self-dissatisfaction and tremor, and that from the very dread of detection, frustration, and consequent evil to themselves, instead of to those against whom they were plotting. (R. Wardlaw.)
There shall no evil happen to the just.
The security of the faithful
The things which distinguish us most try us most. Those attributes of our nature which serve to mark its superiority, serve also to evince its liability to trouble. The animal tribes, as they have no capacity for reviewing the past, so have they no power of anticipating the future. And hence they have no dread, in the strict sense, of coming evils. But we can look forward. We can busy ourselves in thought and imagination with days to come. Yet the heavier half of the cares and anxieties that we have to bear are connected with this faculty. The afflictions we fear often distress us more than the afflictions we lie under. But God, who gave us our being, knows this, and has provided against it in His Word. Does not this text meet our whole case? Amidst all disasters the good may be confident and calm. What is the significance of this assurance? It cannot be taken literally. Evil in the sense of earthly calamity, sorrow and trial is the lot of all. What, then, does the text mean? Things which are evil in themselves do not, as such, fall upon the people of God. For them the curse is turned into a blessing. A divine process of transmutation takes place in the case of every ill that befalls a child of God, and the ill becomes a good. Illustrate this--
1. From cases of personal affliction of mind, or of body, or of both.
2. Adverse circumstances.
3. Bereavements. This subject teaches the goodness of Divine providence; and it tranquillizes us under present trials. (C. M. Merry.)
No evil to the just
The word “just” was a term used anciently in connection with the chase, and meant the equal dividing of the prey procured by hunting among those that took part in the pursuit. It means to do right, to try to be harmless. Though the just man sometimes come short of the mark, his prevailing disposition and aim are to be and to do right. He is studious to do right. To such a man, it is declared, no evil shall happen. How are we to understand this?
1. Whatever evil comes to a just man cannot happen in the sense of coming by chance. There is a government of God over the affairs of men, and therefore nothing takes place by accident or chance. No evil can come to the just man that does not come designedly, or permissively, in the course of providence.
2. To a just man no evil can come that is not controlled and overruled for his good. “All things work together for good to them that love God.”
3. This is true in relation to helping others, as well as himself. Those who have suffered themselves are the better prepared to sympathise with and help their fellow-creatures that suffer.
4. No permanent evil can come to a just man. Then--
(1) Let us thank God for pains and afflictions.
(2) We should understand that, if we try to be just, we shall have our reward now and hereafter. There can be no failure or mistake. (H. M. Gallaher, D.D.)
Lying lips are abomination to the Lord.
Man excels the rest of the creatures in the power of communicating thoughts one to another. The creatures are taught, by nature, almost immediately, how to supply their wants. But we are purposely formed to need and to give help in everything, through the whole of our days; and therefore some ready and extensive method of signifying mutually whatever passes within our minds was peculiarly necessary for us. Without this no person would have more knowledge of anything than he could attain of himself. The pleasure and benefits of society would be reduced to a narrow compass, and life hang upon our hands joyless and uncomfortable. Articulate speech, our more distinguishing property, is our chief medium of intercourse. As every blessing may be fatally misused, so there is hardly any bad purpose which language may not be made to serve. It can be turned from its original design of giving right information to those with whom we converse to the opposite one of leading them wrong.
I. What things are to be reputed lies and what not.
1. Since actions and gestures, as well as words, may be employed to express what we think, they may also be employed to express what we do not think, which is the essence of a lie. Some of our actions are naturally significative. But we have never consented to make our actions in general signs of our intentions, as we have our words. If persons interpret our actions they may deceive them not. Such actions as have no determinate sense appropriated to them by agreement, explicit or implied, can be no violations of sincerity; but such as have are subject to just the same rules with words; and we may be guilty of as gross falsehoods in the former as in the latter.
2. Words having acquired their significations by the mutual acquiescence of mankind may change them by the same method. Illustrate by words”humble” and “servant.” The high-strained expressions of civility which are so common, however innocent now, proceeded originally from a mean and fawning and fallacious disposition in those who began them, and tended to nurse up vanity and haughtiness in those to whom they were addressed. As for phrases, of which custom hath changed or annihilated the signification, though, after this is done, they are no longer lies, yet they were lies all the time it was doing; and every new step taken in the same road will be a new lie till everybody finds it out and learns the fashionable interpretation of it. Great care must therefore be taken to prevent our “language running into a lie.”
3. As to all figures of speech, fables, allegories, feigned histories, and parables, those for instance of our blessed Saviour, and others in Scripture, intended only to convey instruction more agreeably or efficaciously, there is evidently no room to condemn these as deceits. But the case is widely different when persons, with all the marks of seriousness, affirm what they will afterwards despise and ridicule others for believing. These are plainly designed falsehoods, and in a greater or less degree, injurious ones. This is “foolish talking, and jesting not convenient.”
4. Concerning ambiguous phrases, which in one acceptation express our meaning truly, but in another do not, it must be observed that when we are bound, by promise or otherwise, to declare what we know or believe in any case, we are bound to declare it in such terms as are likely to be well understood. And even when we are not thus bound we should speak of things, if we can safely, with plainness and simplicity. There may be reason for reservedness towards some persons, even in trifles. When silence will not conceal a thing which ought to be concealed, it must be allowable to speak upon the subject in such a manner as to leave that part in obscurity which is not fit to be revealed. When we design only to keep a man ignorant of a fact it is his own fault if he will also believe a fancy. But if we go further, and lay snares for him; if we give assurances which, in their obvious and universal acceptation, are false, but only have a latent forced construction, in which, after all, they just may be true, this is equivocation, and cannot be defended.
II. The pleas which are urged to justify some sorts of direct lying. Some say that speech was given to mankind solely for their common benefit; nor consequently is it ever used amiss when it contributes to that end. This opinion they try to confirm by several instances of falsehoods which good persons are recorded in Scripture to have uttered knowingly. But some actions may be praised in holy writ on the whole without the least intention of approving the circumstances of insincerity, or other imperfections, with which they were accompanied. Others say that because of our mutual relation we ought to consult our mutual advantage; and where adhering to truth will not promote this, falsehood may be justly substituted. But we feel a natural reluctance in our consciences to lying and deceiving, as such, without looking forward to consequences. What are those instances in which, on balancing the two sides of the account, violation of truth is more beneficial than detrimental to mankind? But what can be said in relation to cases of peril to property or life? Is falsehood then justifiable? The only answer is that the cases are rare, and extreme, and even then doubtfully wise. Better suffer than lie. Take the case of the sick. Prevarication is sometimes even necessary. It must be owned that, in many of the above-mentioned cases there are sometimes difficulties, with which we have much more cause to pray God that we may never be tried than to be confident that we shall judge and act rightly if we are. But the arguments, were they ever so specious, for the lawfulness of fraud in seemingly harmless cases, can never prove it lawful in others of a nature quite contrary. The extreme danger of men’s proceeding in falsehood to very pernicious lengths, if once they begin, is a most unanswerable objection against its being permitted in any degree at all. (Abp. Secker.)
It is possible to speak against truth and yet not lie, provided we speak in good faith. It is speaking in bad faith, with conscious purpose of deceiving, that is a lie. Take the text on the broad general ground that lying is abomination to the Lord. Take the word in its honest downright form; do not let us shelter ourselves under smooth expressions--equivocation, prevarication, dissembling, simulation, untruthfulness--longer words, by which men try to take the edge from unpleasant facts--but which all in the end point to the same thing, a want of sincerity. Whatever you may do to soften off the epithet and description, there remains the text in all its decision and boldness. Nor is the verdict of man less decisive. Even while they practise it men condemn lying. Perjury is a crime branded by all governments, heathen as well as Christian. We apply the word “true” to all that is good and worthy. Is not our instinctive feeling that truth is the object most worthy of attaining? Its opposite must be proportionally odious. Consider the mischief which lying occasions to society. It is by mutual confidence, by faith in the honesty and purity of each other’s motives, that we live on together. No peace can be where there is no trust. See some of the sorts of lies which prevail nowadays.
1. White lies--lies glossed over and decorated by fashion; specious habits of talk, and conventional phrases; justified by necessity, expediency, or the like.
2. Slander. This is not peculiar to our age--witness the cases of Mephibosheth, Naboth, Jeremiah, the blessed Lord Himself, all victims of false accusation--but it is not rare in our age.
3. Lies to screen our faults. These are more natural and intelligible. To escape the consequences of a sin by hiding it seems a tangible advantage; but is it? Do we gain by cloking one fault with another? Every right-minded man would have a thousand times more pity for one who owned his fault and asked forgiveness than for one who tried to elude detection. We are disgusted with the man who has no self-respect, and no respect for us, who in using a lie deems us simple enough to be cajoled, and considers the doubling of his sin preferable to owning himself in the wrong. This is said of sins against our fellow-men: how much more forcibly it applies to sins against God.
4. Two other modes of lying frequently come before the clergyman.
(1) In asking for relief there are those who simulate and exaggerate their poverty to move the hearts of the charitable.
(2) In the publication of the banns of marriage, false addresses are frequently given, and that with an assurance perfectly startling. Then let us see to the truthfulness of our hearts and lips. If we are the children of God, members of Christ, temples of the Holy Ghost, we must be truthful. If you are tempted to utter words of deceit, remember how abominable such things are to the Lord, and how they bar up impenetrably the gates of heaven, which fly open at the approach of truth. (G. F. Prescott, M.A.)
The nature, malignity, and pernicious effects of falsehood and lying
Nothing in nature is so universally decried, and yet so universally practised, as falsehood. A mighty, governing lie goes round the world, and has almost banished truth out of it. The greatest annoyance and disturbance of mankind has been from one of these two things, force or fraud; and force often allies with fraud. It is the tongue that drives the world before it. It is hard to assign any one thing but lying, which God and man so unanimously join in the hatred of; and it is hard to tell whether it does a greater dishonour to God, or mischief to man.
I. The nature of a lie, and the proper essential malignity of all falsehood. A lie is an outward signification of something contrary to, or at least beside the inward sense of the mind. It is a false signification, knowingly and voluntarily used. There are said to be three different kinds of lie.
1. The pernicious lie, uttered for the hurt or disadvantage of our neighbour.
2. The officious lie, uttered for our own, or our neighbour’s advantage.
3. The ludicrous and jocose lie, uttered by way of jest, and only for mirth’s sake, in common converse. The unlawfulness of lying is grounded upon this, that a lie is properly a sort of species of injustice, and a violation of the right of that person to whom the false speech is directed.
II. The pernicious effects of lying.
1. It was this introduced sin into the world; and by lying sin is still propagated and promoted.
2. To it is due all the misery and calamity that befalls mankind. That which brought sin into the world necessarily brings with it sorrow.
3. Lying tends utterly to dissolve society. The band that knits together and supports all compacts is truth and faithfulness. Without mutual trust there could not only be no happiness, but indeed no living in this world.
4. Deceit and falsehood most peculiarly indispose the hearts of men to the impressions of religion. The very life and soul of all religion is sincerity.
III. The rewards or punishments that will assuredly attend, or at least follow, this base practice.
(1) An utter loss of all credit and belief with sober and discreet persons.
(2) The hatred of all those whom the liar either has, or would, deceive.
(3) A final separation from God, who is truth itself. (R. South, D.D.)
The Bible warning against lying
Three reasons why we ought to mind this warning.
I. Because of what God thinks about it. There is hardly any form of wickedness against which God has spoken so often and so strongly in the Bible as He has against lying. To know what God thinks about lying should lead us to mind the warning against it.
II. Because of what men think of it. Somebody asked Aristotle what a man could gain by lying. His answer was “that no one will believe him when he speaks the truth.”
III. Because of the punishment which must follow lying after death. Whatever the effect of our lying in this life may be, it will soon be over. The consequences must follow us after death. (R. Newton, D.D.)
There can be no question that men and women would be far better than they are if they had been better brought up. If men and women were themselves better, they would give their children a higher moral training. I feel bound to bring forward a definite charge of neglect of parental and tutorial duty against parents and teachers in general. The charge is this: Parents and teachers too often either connive at, or openly encourage, what is called, in unconscious irony, “school-boy honour.” What can be said in favour of those sentiments out of which “school-boy honour” springs?
1. There is something inexpressibly petty and mean in tale-bearing; in the habit of running to a parent or master with every little complaint of personal injury or wrong inflicted. It is good for the young to learn to bear small wrongs and pains from each other, and to learn also how to settle their own quarrels.
2. There is something mean and cowardly in reporting on the sly the offences committed by others. This is bad for the informer, who grows into conceit and priggishness. The sly informer, the whisperer, is really a traitor. He plays and consorts on equal terms with the rest, who are altogether unconscious that they have a spy among them. Any one whose sense of duty leads him to “tell” must have the moral courage to warn the offender previously, to make his charge publicly, and to be willing to bear all the consequences of his conscientious act.
3. School-boy honour may represent the noble sentiments of brotherhood and comradeship. Under existing circumstances, the caste, or class-feeling, or clanship among boys, demands some principle of mutual loyalty and defence. Boys ought, within certain limits, to stand by each other. I give all the praise it deserves to school-boy honour. But in its practical working, and in the extremes to which mutual protection is carried, it is full of evil, corrupting to the morals, and tending to obliterate the fine sense of right and wrong which is often native to the boy’s mind.
(1) This code of honour requires or enjoins deceit and falsehood. Boys may not lie to one another, but it is a recognised principle that they may lie to their masters.
(2) The code as generally maintained is not only not favourable to morality, but directly and falsely subversive of it. Its main use is to shelter culprits and wrong-doers, and mainly for offences distinctly and grievously immoral, such as lying and brutality, and even worse things than these. When boys are fully aware of an immoral and vicious habit prevailing amongst them, and when they know it cannot be put down by themselves, it should be a real point of honour with them first to protest against it as unworthy even of boys, then to threaten to report a repetition of the offence openly and courageously to those authorities who may know how to deal with it. There should be no sly tale-bearing. (C. Voysey.)
A prudent man concealeth knowledge.
I. When it is opportune (John 16:12).
II. When it is above the capacity of his hearers (1 Corinthians 2:2).
III. When likely to be misapplied (Mark 15:5).
IV. When sure of rejection (Matthew 7:6).
V. When calculated to injure the brethren (Leviticus 19:16).
VI. When to utter it would be only for self-display (Proverbs 27:2). (R. A. Griffin.)
The hand of the diligent shall bear rule.
The reward of the diligent
The natural estate of man is labour. Toil was the requirement of paradise. God’s Word recognises the universal law of work. “Toil is prayer”; and the Christian learns from the record of God’s will that honest, faithful, diligent, God-fearing and God-honouring work is itself a worship acceptable to the great All-worker. God enjoins diligence upon us by precept and by example. About us, all things perform their allotment of work, and do it promptly and without a thought of delay. God teaches men by His own ceaseless workings through ten thousand ever-busy forces, and revelation utters the same bidding to unremitting toil. For labour is the tenure of God’s gifts to man. It is thus the requirement of Christian duty that we should not be slothful in business. Promises of reward cluster around the fulfilment of this command. Diligent hands are speedily rendered expert. The diligent hand teaches and trains the wary and observing eye. God works no miracles on behalf of the drones of society. And the hand of the diligent shall bear rule, as Joseph the faithful slave-boy found, and Daniel the captive Hebrew boy. Another reward of the diligent is honour and renown. “He shall stand before kings.” Illustrate by the cases of Benjamin Franklin and William Carey. Learn that sloth and idleness are expressly forbidden; and so is that undue and overwrought exertion which marks the man greedy of gain. Riches are to be valued as means, not as an end. (Bp. Stevens Perry.)
The hand of the diligent shall bear rule
A young man in a leather store used to feel very impatient with his employer for keeping him year after year, for three years, handling hides. But he saw the use of it in his future career, when, in an establishment of his own, he was able to tell by the touch the exact quality of the goods. It was only by the thousands of repetitions that the lesson was learned; and so it is with everything in which we acquire skill. The half-informed, half-skilled in every business outnumber the others, dozens to one. Daniel Webster once replied to a young man who asked him if there was “any room in the legal profession,” “There is always room at the top.” The better you know your business the more you are likely to rise. You can gather much information by making a wise use of your eyes and ears, and perhaps be able to surprise your employer in an emergency by stepping into the “next man’s” place and discharging his duties satisfactorily. So, learn your business, and you will find there is “room at the top.” (Home Words.)
Diligence and its reward
Mr. Chauncey M. Depew tells the story of his visit to the mechanical department of Cornell University. He found at the head of it Professor Morris, who claimed him as a superior officer, giving as a reason that he was an old-time worker on the New York Central Railway. “How did you get here?” asked Depew. “I was stoker on the New York Central. I stood on the footboard as an engineer on the Central. While a locomotive engineer I made up my mind to get an education. I studied at night, and fitted myself for Union College, running all the time with my locomotive. I procured books, and attended, as far as possible, all lectures and recitations. I kept up with my class, and on the day of graduation I left my locomotive, washed up, put on the gown and cap, delivered my thesis, and received my diplomas, put the gown and cap in the closet, put on my working shirt, got on my engine, and made my usual run that day.” “Then,” says Depew, “I knew how he became Professor Morris.” That spirit will cause a man to rise anywhere and in any calling.
Heaviness in the heart of man maketh it stoop: but a good word maketh it glad.
The saddening and the succouring
I. The saddening in life. There is a soul-crushing sadness here.
1. Personal affliction that maketh the heart stoop.
2. Social affliction that maketh the heart stoop.
II. The succouring in life. “A good word maketh it glad.”
1. What are good words?
(1) True words;
(2) kind words;
(3) suitable words.
2. Where are good words? The gospel is that word. Words about providence, about pardon, about resurrection. Words to comfort us in all our tribulations. (Urijah R. Thomas.)
The sin of brooding
There is a necessity that we should be in heaviness through manifold temptations; but we must beware lest by giving free scope to anxious and melancholy thoughts, our hearts should sink in us like a stone, and our souls become altogether unfit to relish the comforts or perform the services of life. Sadness of the countenance makes the heart better, but despondency of heart disqualifies men for thanking and praising God, for serving their generation, and for hearing the burdens of life. Life itself becomes burdensome, and is often shortened, by excessive grief. There is nothing that claims our grief so much as sin, and yet there may be an excess of sorrow for sin which exposes men to the devil, and drives them into his arms. Are you grieved in your minds? Remember that it is sinful and dangerous to brood perpetually over your sorrows. (G. Lawson.)
A cheering word
The celebrated Dr. R. W. Dale, of Birmingham, used to be fond of relating how he was cheered once by a poor woman’s earnest words. He was feeling dejected and as if all his strength was gone, when, passing through a street in Birmingham, he met a decently dressed stranger, laden with parcels, who stopped and said, “God bless you, Dr. Dale!” Her face was unknown to him, and he answered, “Thank you. What is your name?” “Never mind my name,” was the response; “but if you only knew how you have made me feel hundreds of times, and what a happy home you have given me! God bless you!” Then she was lost in the crowd, but she had encouraged a man whose books are in every library, and whose name is dear to the universal Church. (Sunday Companion.)
The righteous is more excellent than his neighbour.
The religious man’s advantages
The sentiments of men concerning virtue, and their own particular practice, form a very strange and striking contrast. Philosophers have differed about the origin of moral distinctions, and delivered various theories concerning virtue; but the people who judge from their feelings have no system but one. Religion gives its powerful sanction to the maxims of morality. The objections against a holy life have proceeded on maxims directly contrary to the text. The inducements to vice, which have been powerful in all ages, are the same that were presented by the tempter to our first parents--the attractions of ambition and the allurements of pleasure. The righteous man is wiser than his neighbour. There is no part of his nature in which man is so earnest to excel, and so jealous of a defect, as his understanding. And no wonder, for it is his prerogative and his glory. This enters into the foundation of character; for without intellectual abilities moral qualities cannot subsist, and a good heart will go wrong without the guidance of a good understanding. Where, then, is wisdom to be found? If you will trust the dictates of religion and reason, to be virtuous is to be wise. The testimony of all who have gone before you confirms the decision. In opposition, however, to the voice of religion, of reason, and of man-kind, there are multitudes in every age who reckon themselves more excellent than their neighbours, by trespassing against the laws which all ages have counted sacred, the younger by the pursuit of criminal gratification, the old by habits of deceit and fraud. The early period of life is frequently a season of delusion. There is no moderation nor government in vice. Guilty pleasures become the masters and tyrants of the mind; when these lords acquire dominion, they bring all the thoughts into captivity, and rule with unlimited and despotic sway. When it is seen that the righteous man is wiser and greater and happier than his neighbour, the objections against religion are removed, the ways of Providence are vindicated, and virtue is established upon an everlasting foundation. (John Logan.)
The prospects of the righteous
The word rendered “excellent” is on the margin translated “abundant.” Although it is a truth that in regard to “character,” in all its principles and their practical results, “the righteous is more excellent than his neighbour,” yet such statement is almost a truism. Taking the word as referring to possessions and prospects, as meaning that the righteous excels his neighbour, or men in general around him, in his lot as to happiness and hope--blessings in enjoyment and blessings in anticipation--it then becomes a statement of great importance. It presents an inducement to the godly to “hold fast their profession,” and an inducement to others to join their society. Even the poorest of the people of God has a lot that may well be envied by the wealthiest and the noblest of the sons of earth. (R. Wardlaw.)
The advantages of virtue to civil society
By the “righteous” is intended the religious man, one who fears God and eschews evil. By his “neighbour” is meant a man of contrary character, one who careth not for God, but pursues the interests or pleasures of the world, without any regard to His authority. The “excellency” ascribed may refer either to the personal happiness attending it, or its beneficial influence on society. A man of religion and virtue is a more useful, and consequently a more valuable member of a community than his wicked neighbour.
I. The necessity of virtue and religion to the ends of civil society. In contradiction it has been urged that vice is a thing highly beneficial to society, confers on it so many advantages, that public happiness would be imperfect without it. We may admit, in support of this paradox, that if there were no vicious men in the world, we should not want to be protected by civil government from them. We may also admit, that some advantages arise to society from the vices of men, either as they occasion good laws or awaken a due execution of them, or as the example or nature of his punishment may render a criminal of some service to the public. But these are the purely accidental consequences from vice. Its natural and proper effects are all evil, the very evils which government was designed to redress. The advantages that arise from it are owing wholly to the wisdom and virtue of those in authority. The experience of all history affirms to us that the peace, strength, and happiness of a society depend on the justice and fidelity, the temperance and charity of its members; that these virtues always render a people flourishing and secure, and the contrary vices are as constantly productive of misery and ruin. If these virtues are acknowledged necessary to social felicity, religion must be so too, because no other principle can offer an equal inducement to the practice of them, or equally restrain men from the opposite vices. Fear cannot effectually govern the actions of men, nor the fantastic principle called honour. If by honour is meant anything distinct from conscience, it is no more than a regard to the censure and esteem of the world.
II. How virtue and religion fit and dispose men for the most useful discharge of the several offices and relations of social life. Power, without goodness, is the most terrible idea our imagination can form; and the more the authority of any station in society is extended, the more it concerns public happiness that it be committed to men fearing God. Parts, knowledge, and experience, are indeed excellent ingredients in a public character, of equal use and ornament to the seat of judgment and council, but without religion and virtue, these are only abilities to do mischief. All that skill which deserves the name of wisdom, religion approves, recommends, and teaches. More true political wisdom can be learned from the Holy Scriptures, and even from this single book of Proverbs, than from a thousand such writers as Machiavel. Religion and virtue are proportionally conducive to happiness in every inferior relation of life. They equally dispose men to be good rulers and good subjects, good parents and good children, good masters and good servants, good neighbours and good friends. Wherever a religion is true and sincere, justice, meekness, and fidelity, all the virtues that can render a government secure, and a people happy, will be the fruits of it.
III. A religious motive to value and esteem persons of this excellent character, because by their piety and prayers the blessing of God is derived on the community. Righteous men ought to be esteemed a strength and defence to their country, and wicked men a reproach and weakness. The declarations of God and the histories of His providence, show that the piety of good men more effectually prevails for His blessing upon a nation than the sins of wicked men provoke His resentment. Since we all pretend a concern for the prosperity of our country, let our zeal for it appear in our endeavours to promote virtue and religion. Let us constantly distinguish the righteous by that honour and respect which is due to so excellent a character. Above all, let our care begin at home; let us each in our stations govern our lives by the rules of our holy religion, and practise those virtues ourselves whose excellence we acknowledge in others. (J. Rogers, D. D.)
The excellency of religion
Virtue and religion are excellent things in themselves, and they improve and adorn and exalt our natures. The last sentence of the text suggests this--that though righteousness and piety and religion are excellent things, so that men can hardly avoid seeing the beauty and loveliness of them, yet the deceitfulness of sin will be apt to deliver them, and find out some pretence or excuse to carry men against their best reason, and what they know is fittest to be done. The excellency of a religious life above a life of sin and wickedness, may be made out from the following considerations:
I. That God Himself has put a great many marks of honour upon righteousness and goodness. That person or that thing must be honourable which God is pleased to honour, and that must be despicable which He despises. He who fears God, and does his duty, is the servant of God and the friend of God. Good men are in an especial manner partakers of the Divine nature; their souls are honoured and blessed with the communion of God, and their bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost.
II. We have also the judgment of all mankind, not only of the good and virtuous, but of the greatest part even of wicked men.
1. Almost all nations, in all ages of the world, however they may have differed as to the measures of some virtues and vices, yet have agreed as to the main and great points of duty; which I can impute to nothing else but the natural beauty and excellence of virtue, and the deformity of vice.
2. When men will to serve any interest or appetite, they generally endeavour to conceal it, are unwilling to have it known, and think it for their honour to disguise the matter as much as they can. “Hypocrisy is a homage that vice pays to virtue.” And vice, though disguised and concealed from the world, is so ugly a thing, that few people can bear the sense of it themselves, so they find out some colour or excuse with which to deceive themselves.
3. When bad men cannot cover their shame either from the world or themselves, they set about endeavouring to blacken the rest of the world; which is another sort of homage men pay to virtue.
4. Though men will indulge their own appetites, they desire their children and relations, and those whom they love, to be virtuous and good.
III. Religion tends to make our minds free and easy, to give us confidence towards God, and peace in our own breasts. It sets our souls at liberty from the tyranny of hurtful lusts and passions, and it fills us with joy and good hope in every condition of life. Religion, thoroughly imbibed, has a direct natural tendency to procure all these blessings for us; whereas vice and wickedness both corrupt and enslave our minds. When a man ventures to break the commands of God, he is generally plunged by it into abundance of troubles and perplexities.
IV. Piety and virtue make everything else good, and of good use, which a man has, or that happens to him, whereas sin and wickedness tend to corrupt and spoil everything. There is no condition but what to a good man may serve to very good ends and purposes, whether a man be high or low in the world. If he be in affliction, then patience, humility, and resignation to the will of God will make him a great man in that. If God be pleased to put him in a high station, integrity, sobriety, and a public spirit will add to the greatness of his condition, and make him a public blessing.
V. All sin is injustice, which is by everybody looked upon to be a mean, base thing. It is a common excuse for other defects, that they do nobody any harm, that they are just and honest in their dealings, and therefore they hope that God will overlook other things. Tully says, “Piety is justice toward God,” and therefore impiety and dis- obedience must be injustice. It is the basest and worst sort Of injustice, ingratitude.
VI. The highest end that can be pretended to by any vice is only the procuring some pleasure or convenience for ourselves, in our passage through this world. This is but a poor thing if compared with eternity. It is a great advantage of the good man, that he has hope in his death. This may well support him, and make him live cheerfully in any condition in the meantime. Inferences:
1. Since religion is in itself so excellent a thing, this should encourage good men to persist in doing their duty, and not be ashamed either of the profession or the practise of religion.
2. From these considerations of the excellency of religion, all may be urged to the love and practice of it. (Richard Willis, D.D.)
The righteous and his neighbour
Every righteous man has a neighbour whom he excels. The righteous man and his neighbour are here placed side by side. The righteous is more excellent--
I. In his birth and parentage.
1. Now “sons of God”--by adoption, by birth, by privilege.
2. “Of your father the devil.” Satan nursed into strength the principles of evil, and then planted them in human nature (Genesis 3:1-24.).
II. In the visible character that he bears.
1. The name “righteous” is sufficiently indicative.
2. “The lusts of your father ye will do.”
III. In the principle on which he acts, i.e., love. Two opposite principles--love, hatred. The principles of the righteous are better than their outward character. The pinciples of the ungodly are worse.
IV. In the ends which he pursues.
1. The glory of God--lasting, noble.
2. The interests of self--transient, base (2 Timothy 3:2).
V. In the influence which he exerts. The world is a field.
1. The righteous sow in it--to the spirit.
2. The ungodly sow in it--to the flesh.
VI. In the pleasures which he enjoys.
1. Divine, holy, satisfying.
2. Earthly, polluting, unsatisfying (Luke 15:16).
VII. In the destiny which awaits him.
1. The maturity of holiness--like Christ.
2. The maturity of ungodliness--like Satan.
(1) The deserts of Christ’s obedience and atonement--the enjoyment of God for ever.
(2) The deserts of sin--“indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish.” (Jas. Stewart.)
The infallible comparison
The term “righteous,” as used in Scripture, is not to be limited to the discharge of those duties which man owes to man. It is employed to denote a just and devout and godly person, in distinction from the unrighteous and the wicked. It embraces all we mean by being pious, religious, and good. By the term “neighbour,” is not to be understood the vicious and the vile who may live close to the dwelling of the righteous. Compared with the ordinarily praiseworthy neighbour, the devout, God-fearing, decided Christian is at advantage.
1. He is more excellent in the principles by which his conduct is governed, a man may be moral, because he values his reputation, or because it suits his taste, or his health, or advances his worldly interest, and not because God has commanded him to do justly and love mercy. The unrenewed man pursues his own private interests--the righteous will sacrifice it for a greater public good. The man of sterling piety is more worthy of our confidence than the individual who is governed by other motives than those of the fear of God and love to his brethren.
2. More excellent in his example and influence. Every man’s life will correspond to the temper of his heart, and the maxims and motives that govern him. When the whole conduct is minutely examined, every man is found what he appears to be. The grace of God improves all the principles of man’s moral nature. To the full extent of his circle, his conduct has a salutary effect on all around him. The righteous may be of retired habits, but a pattern will be taken of his life, and it will, like the leaven in the meal, be diffused wherever he is known with more or less of usefulness. His ungodly neighbour can boast of nothing more than a scanty morality, whose highest motive is self-love and self-interest.
3. More excellent in his alliances. There is a close and endearing relationship between all the subjects of the kingdom of grace. Each is united to God, and to all holy beings, by the tenderest ties of kindred affection. The righteous is entitled to whatever honour and dignity may accrue to him from his union to the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier, and to every member of the holy household.
4. More excellent inasmuch as he is the heir of a better destiny. Externally, in many points, they may resemble each other now. This may deceive for a while. When the Christian receives his crown of glory, the difference will be seen to be infinite. On the righteous the Redeemer will smile for ever; on the other He will eternally frown. This subject teaches a lesson of humility and gratitude. If we have any excellence of character, it is the gift of God. The superior excellence of the righteous over the wicked shows us the obligations they are under to make their high distinction obvious to the eye of the world. (D. A. Clark.)
The superior excellency of the religious
Never were the qualities of a parent more really derived unto their children than the image and similitude of the Divine excellences are stamped upon heaven-born souls: some beams of that eternal light are darted in upon them, and make them shine with an eminent splendour; and they are always aspiring to a nearer conformity with Him, still breathing after a further communication of His Holy Spirit, and daily finding the power thereof correcting the ruder deformities of their natures, and superinducing the beautiful delineations of God’s image upon them, that any one who observes them may perceive their relation to God, by the excellency of their deportment in the world.
I. Having regarded the righteous man’s excellency, in regard of his birth and extraction, we proceed to consider his qualities and endowments, and shall begin with those of his understanding, his knowledge, and wisdom.
1. His knowledge is conversant about the noblest objects; he contemplates that infinite Being whose perfections can never enough be admired, but still afford new matter to delight him, to ravish his affections, to raise his wonder. And, if we have a mind to the studies of nature and human science, he is best disposed for it, having his faculties cleared, and his understanding heightened by Divine contemplations. But his knowledge doth not rest in speculations, but directeth his practice, and determineth his choice. And he is the most prudent as well as the most knowing person. He knows how to secure his greatest interest, to provide for the longest life, to prefer solid treasures to gilded trifles, the soul to the body, eternity to a moment.
2. We proceed to another of his endowments, the greatness of his mind and his contempt of the world. To be taken up with trifles, and concerned in little things, is an evidence of a weak and naughty mind. And so are all wicked and irreligious persons. But the pious person hath his thoughts far above these painted vanities; his felicity is not patched up of so mean shreds; it is simple, and comprised in one chief good: his soul advanceth itself by rational passions towards the Author of its being, the fountain of goodness and pleasure: he hath none in heaven but Him; and there is none upon earth whom he desires besides Him. The knowledge of nature hath been reputed means to enlarge the soul and breed in it a contempt of earthly enjoyments. He that hath accustomed himself to consider the vastness of the universe, and the final proportion which the point we live in bears to the rest of the world, may perhaps come to think less of the possessions of some acres, or of that fame which can at most spread itself through a small corner of this earth. Whatever be in this, sure I am that the knowledge of God, and the frequent thoughts of heaven, must needs prove far more effectual to elevate and aggrandise the mind.
3. And this, by the affinity, will lead us to another endowment, wherein the excellency of the righteous man doth appear; and that is, that heroic magnanimity and courage wherewith he is inspired, and which makes him confidently achieve the most difficult actions, and resolutely undergo the hardest sufferings that he is called to. Let heathen Rome boast of a Regulus, a Decius, or some two or three more, stimulated by a desire of glory, and perhaps animated by some secret hopes of future reward, who have devoted their life to the service of their country. But alas! what is this to an infinite number, not only of men, but even of women and children, who have died for the profession of their faith, neither seeking nor expecting any praise from men? And tell me who among the heathen did willingly endure the loss of reputation? Nay, that was their idol, and they could not part with it.
4. From courage and magnanimity, we pass to that which is the genuine issue and ordinary consequent of it, the liberty and freedom of the righteous person. Liberty is a privilege so highly rated by all men that many run the greatest hazards for the very name of it but there are few that enjoy it. I shall not speak of those fetters of ceremony, and chains of state, wherewith great men are tied; which make their actions constrained, and their converse uneasy: this is more to be pitied than blamed. But wicked and irreligious persons are under a far more shameful bondage: they are slaves to their own lusts, and suffer the violence and tyranny of their irregular appetites. But the holy and religious person hath broken these fetters, cast off the yoke of sin, and become the freeman of the Lord. It is religion that restores freedom to the soul, which philosophy did pretend to; it is that which doth sway and moderate all those blind passions and impetuous affections which else would hinder a man from the possession and enjoyment of himself, and makes him master of his own thoughts, motions, and desires, that he may do with freedom what he judgeth most honest and convenient.
5. Another particular wherein the nobleness and excellency of religion doth appear is in a charitable and benign temper. The righteous is gracious, and full of compassion; he showeth favour and lendeth; and makes it his work to serve mankind as much as he is able. His charity doth not express itself in one particular instance, as that of giving alms; but is vented as many ways as the variety of occasions do call for, and his power can reach to. He assisteth the poor with his money, the ignorant with his counsel, the afflicted with his comfort, the sick with the best of his skill, all with his blessings and prayers.
6. We shall name but one instance more wherein the righteous man excelleth his neighbour; and that is, his venerable temperance and purity. He hath risen above the vaporous sphere of sensual pleasure which darkeneth and debaseth the mind, which sullies its lustre, and abates its native vigour; while profane persons, wallowing in;impure lusts, do sink themselves below the condition of men.
II. Before we proceed further, it will be necessary to take off some prejudices and objections that arise against the nobleness and excellency of religion.
1. And the first is, that it enjoineth lowliness and humility; which men ordinarily look upon as an abject and base disposition. But if we ponder the matter we shall find that arrogancy and pride are the issues of base and silly minds, a giddiness incident to those who are raised suddenly to unaccustomed height: nor is there any vice doth more palpably defeat its own design, depriving a man of that honour and reputation which it makes him aim at. On the other hand, we shall find humility no silly and sneaking quality; but the greatest height and sublimity of the mind, and the only way to true honour.
2. Another objection against the excellency of a religious temper is, that the love of enemies, and pardon of injuries, which it includeth, is utterly inconsistent with the principles of honour. But if we have any value for the judgment of the wisest man and a great king, he will tell us that it is the honour of a man to cease from strife; and he that is slow to wrath is of great understanding. So that what is here brought as an objection against religion might with reason enough have been brought as an instance of its nobleness. Having thus illustrated and confirmed what is asserted in the text, that the righteous is more excellent than his neighbour, let us improve it in a check to that profane and atheistical spirit of drollery and scoffing at religion which hath got abroad in the world. Alas! do men consider what it is which they make the butt of their scoffs and reproaches? Have they nothing else to exercise their wit and vent their jests upon but that which is the most noble and excellent thing in the world? But let them do what they will; they but kick against the pricks. Religion hath so much native lustre and beauty, that, notwithstanding all the dirt they study to cast upon it, all the melancholy and deformed shapes they dress it in, it will attract the eyes and admiration of all sober and ingenuous persons; and while these men study to make it ridiculous, they shall but make themselves so. There are others who have not yet arrived to this height of profaneness, to laugh at all religion, but do vent their malice at those who are more conscientious and severe than themselves, under presumption that they are hypocrites and dissemblers. But besides that in this they may be guilty of a great deal of uncharitableness, it is to be suspected that they bear some secret dislike to piety itself, and hate hypocrisy more for its resemblance of that than for its own viciousness: otherwise whence comes it that they do not express the same animosity against other vices? (H. Scougal, M.A.)
The difference between the religious and irreligious man
Men without religion will sometimes ask, “Do not all men sin--even the religious? And, if so, is not the whole difference between them and ourselves that our offences are somewhat more numerous than theirs?” Now this must unquestionably be admitted. Still, whatever may be the resemblance upon this point, it is nevertheless true that men with and without religion differ in many other most important particulars.
1. The first difference between the sins of the religious and the irreligious man is, that the one does not allow himself in his sins and the other does. The real Christian never says, “I know such an action to be wrong, but yet I will do it--I know such an action to be right, but yet I will neglect to do it.” But in the other class of men we shall be often struck with the contrary line of conduct. Charge them with their neglect of God, and of their souls, and they say, perhaps, “We confess it to be wrong.” Consider the case as between man and man. We may conceive the affectionate child surprised into an act of disobedience or unkindness to the parent whom it loves; but we cannot conceive that child, if truly affectionate, setting itself deliberately and knowingly to wound that parent at the tenderest point. In the one case, an act of disobedience discovers a man in whom, though the flesh is weak, the spirit may be willing--in whom a momentary temptation has prevailed over the settled purpose and desire of his heart. In the other you have a man whose settled purpose is to do wrong. The language of a true Christian must be that of his Master: “I come to do Thy will, O God.”
2. A second distinction between a real Christian and one who is not a real Christian is this--the real Christian does not seek or find his happiness in sin. A man who is not really religious, if he wants amusement or indulgence, seeks for it, generally, either in the society of men without religion or in practices which the Word of God condemns. He sins, and it gives him no pain. On the contrary, the real Christian finds no happiness in sin. His pleasure is in prayer, in communion with God. He seeks his happiness in the fields of his duties. “O,” says he, “how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day.” The state and character of any person may to a great extent be judged by the nature of his pleasures. Does he seek them in trifles? he is a trifling man; does he seek them in worldly pursuits? he is a worldly man; does he seek them in vice? he is a vicious man; does he seek them in God and Christ? he is a Christian.
3. Thirdly, the habits of a real Christian are holy. Men are not to be judged by a few solitary actions of their lives. There is scarcely any life so dark as not to be lighted up by a few brighter actions--as a single star may glimmer through the most cloudy atmosphere; and there is no life so bright as not to be darkened by many spots--as many small clouds are apt to chequer even the clearest sky. But then we determine the real state of the heavens not by the single star, in the one case, or by the few clouds in the other. We ask what is the general aspect, the prevalent appearance: does night or day, does shade or sunshine, prevail? Thus also must we proceed in estimating the character of men. It is the habitual frame of the mind--it is what we may call the work-day character--it is the general, habitual, prevalent temper, conduct, conversation, in the family or the parish, in the shop or the farm, which are the only true tests of our condition. But let us bring the two classes to this standard, and we shall find that in the real Christian the habits are holy--in the insincere Christian they are unholy; that the one is habitually right and accidentally wrong, and the other habitually wrong and accidentally right. Such, then, is another highly important distinction between these classes.
4. Fourthly, every act of sin in real Christians is followed by sincere repentance. No feature is more essentially characteristic of a holy mind than a feeling of deep penitence for transgression. “My sin,” said the “man after God’s own heart,” “is ever before me.”
5. A fifth no less important feature by which the real Christian is distinguished is, that he anxiously seeks the pardon of his sins through Jesus Christ. Others too often seem to imagine their sins cancelled immediately upon their bare and cold acknowledgment of them. He, on the contrary, knows that the hatred of sin and indignation at the sinner must be deeply lodged in a mind of infinite purity. And his consolation is this--not that he can save himself, but that “he has an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.”
6. The sixth and last point of distinction which I shall have time to notice between the real Christian and every other character is, that he alone seeks diligently from God a power to abstain from sin in future. If others even desire the pardon of their past sins, they are careless about future advancement in holiness. They, perhaps, persist in a course of sinning and repeating, through the whole stage of their lives. Heaven is every day mocked by the language of an unmeaning sorrow. No real hatred for the sin is felt. In the Christian a different feeling prevails. A deep abhorrence of sin mingles with his regret for it. His are tears of hatred as well as grief. There is a substantial distinction between a real Christian and every other character: something more than a mere line or shadowy difference here. If we carefully observe the several points of distinction which I have noticed, we shall find that they imply in the two classes of characters, in each particular instance, a different state of heart or mind. Let us seek a new and more sanctified nature: more and more of the influences of the sacred Spirit. In the fable of old, when the artist had made the figure of a man, he could not animate it without stealing fire from heaven. That heavenly fire is offered to us. Many has it already quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins. (Christian Observer.)
The way of the wicked seduceth them.
The seduction of the lower class of females is due to the profligacy of men in a superior station in life. It is the custom to confine ourselves to generalities in the pulpit. But the reasoning which applies to all crimes acts languidly against each individual crime--it does not paint the appropriate baseness, or echo the reproaches of the heart.
1. The character of a seducer is base and dishonourable: if deceit is banished among equals; if the conduct of every man, to those of his own station in life, should be marked by veracity and good faith; why are fallacy and falsehood justified, because they are exercised by talents against ignorance, cunning against simplicity, power against weakness, opulence against poverty? No one ever lured a wretched creature to her ruin without such a complication of infamous falsehoods as would have condemned him to everlasting infamy, had they been exercised to the prejudice of any one in a higher scene of life: and what must be the depravity of that man who has no other criterion of what he shall do, Or from what he shall abstain, than impunity?
2. To the cruelty of seduction is generally added the baseness of abandoning its object, of leaving to perish in rags and hunger a miserable being bribed by promises and oaths of eternal protection and regard.
3. This crime cannot be defended under any of the ingenious systems by which men are perpetually vitiating their understandings. (Sidney Smith, M. A.)
The slothful man roasteth not that which he took in hunting.
Most hunters have the game they shot or entrapped cooked the same evening or the next day, but not so with this laggard of the text. Too lazy to rip off the hide; too lazy to kindle the fire, and put the gridiron on the coals. What are the causes of laziness, and what are its evil results?
1. Indolence often arises from the natural temperament. I do not know but that there is a constitutional tendency to this vice in every man. Some are very powerfully handicapped by this constitutional tendency.
2. Indolence is often a result of easy circumstances. Rough experience in earlier life seems to be necessary in order to make a man active and enterprising.
3. Another cause of indolence is severe discouragement. There are those around us who started life with the most sanguine expectation; but some sudden and overwhelming misfortune met them, and henceforth they have been inactive. Trouble, instead of making them more determined, has overthrown them. They have lost all self-reliance. They imagine that all men and all occurrences are against them! You cannot rouse them to action. Every great financial panic produces a large crop of such men.
4. Reverie is a cause of indolence. There are multitudes of men who expect to achieve great success in life, who are entirely unwilling to put forth any physical, moral, or intellectual effort. They have a great many eloquent theories of life. They pass their life in dreaming. Let no young man begin life with reverie. There is nothing accomplished without hard work. Do not in idleness expect something to turn up. It will turn down. Indolence and wickedness always make bad luck.
5. Bad habits are a fruitful source of indolence. Sinful indulgences shut a man’s shop, and dull his tools, and steal his profits. Dissoluteness is generally the end of industry. What are the results of indolence? A marked consequence of this vice is physical disease. The healthiness of the whole natural world depends upon activity. And indolence endangers the soul. Satan makes his chief conquests over men who either have nothing to do, or, if they have, refuse to do it. Idleness not only leads a man into associations which harm his morals, but often thrusts upon him the worst kind of scepticism. Loafers are almost always infidels, or fast getting to be such. I never knew a man given up to thorough idleness that was converted. Let me tell the idler that there is no hope for him either in this world or in the world that is to come. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
Labour as enhancing the relative value of a man’s possession
This applies to many things.
I. To material wealth.
II. To social position.
III. To civil liberty.
IV. To religious privileges. (Homilist.)
The castle of indolence
Thomson wrote a poem by this title. He locates the castle in a dreamy land, where every sense is steeped in the most luxurious though enervating delights. The lord of the castle was a powerful enchanter, who, by his arts, enticed thoughtless travellers within the gate, that he might destroy their strength and ruin their hopes by a ceaseless round of voluptuous pleasures.
The slothful man
1. The lazy man goes hunting. Some are full of the most bustling activity. An old mathematical professor was wont to define work as “steadily overcoming resistance occurring along a fixed line.” An intermittent, changing activity manifestly fails to answer the requirements of this definition.
2. The slothful man catches game when he does go hunting. Not only does he act, but he does things. But his slothfulness is made manifest in this: though he be effective, he is not efficient; for--
3. He is too lazy to cook what he does catch. The excitement of the chase is over, he is weary with dragging home his game, so the gun goes into one corner and the game into another, while the man proceeds--with a celerity which would be praiseworthy were it rightly applied--to forget all about it. He waits for the next excitement. His activity has procured no benefits to himself or any one else. There are many people who lose their labour through a disinclination to put the finishing touch to their work. Under excitement they secure certain results, which, if gathered up and made permanent, would be of immense value. But then they get weary, indifferent. They let things slide--to use an expression of the populace. All they have done gradually undoes itself. For lack of but one stone--the keystone--the arch falls. This is the application: When you commence a thing, cease not until you have gathered up the results of your labour in some form of practical and present benefit to your fellow-men. (D. C. Gilmore.)
In the way of righteousness is life.
Life in the way of righteousness
There are many ways which men are found to pursue in order to the attainment of happiness. One pursues the way of worldly pleasure; another is fascinated by the splendour and magnificence and show of the world; another seeks happiness in the business of life. These ways are false ways and disappointing ways. There is a way which is neither delusive nor disappointing. It is the way of holiness, the way of conformity to God’s mind and will. The righteous walk in this way. But who are the righteous? They who are interested by faith in the Redeemer’s righteousness for justification and acceptance before God. They are distinguished by the integrity of their principles and a conscientious endeavour to discharge every duty they owe their fellow-men. They are careful to avoid all known sin, and desire to live in the practice of all known duty. They are not satisfied with present attainments in religin, but seek to grow in grace as well as knowledge. They are animated by the constraining love of Jesus. They live in the exercise of communion with God in prayer and praise. And the text declares that those who walk in holy obedience to the revealed will of God, and are filled with the fruits of righteousness, have received a new nature, and are animated by a new life. The existence of the life of grace in the soul will be manifested by its corresponding effects in the walk and conversation. In the way of righteousness is the life of consolation and joy. God’s smile is on the righteous in all their goings. Great are the privileges of the righteous, which must be felt, but cannot be adequately described. The new life, kindled by the Spirit of God, shall never be extinguished. It shall survive every shock of opposition and trial, and shall triumph over the combined rage of earth and hell. “In the pathway thereof there is no death.” The righteous must die, as well as the unrighteous; there is no peculiarity of exemption in their case from the stroke of the last enemy. But to the believer in Jesus death is unspeakable gain. Then are we in the number of the righteous? (C. Rawlings, B.A.)
The way of religion recommended as
I. A straight, plain, easy way. God’s commands (the rule we are to walk by) are all holy, just, and good. Religion has right, reason, and equity on its side.
II. As a safe, pleasant comfortable way.
1. There is not only life at the end, but there is life in the way; all true comfort and satisfaction. The favour of God, which is better than life; the Spirit, who is life.
2. There is not only life in it, but so as that in it “there is no death,” none of that sorrow of the world which works death, and is an allay to our present joy and life. There is no end to that life that is in the way of righteousness. Here there is life, but there is death too. In the way of righteousness there is life and no death--life and immortality. (Matthew Henry.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Proverbs 12". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26