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My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments.
Useful precepts and inspiring motives
I. To remember and keep in our hearts the things written in this book (Proverbs 3:1-2). Interest dictates to us the propriety of keeping God’s commandments.
II. To live in the exercise of mercy and truth (Proverbs 3:3), in every part of our intercourse with our fellow-creatures, however defective they may be in the practice of these virtues to us. As workers under the Spirit we are required to write the law of kindness and of truth upon the tables of our heart, by maintaining deep impressions of it, by meditating upon the peaceful motives that should excite us to that virtue, and by endeavouring, through the grace of Christ, to have our hearts habitually disposed to all those duties which are the natural fruits of love and integrity. God is well pleased, not only with the reverence and love which His people show to Himself, but with that generosity and mercy, that sincerity and faithfulness, which they evince to their fellow-men. To find in His children His true though imperfect image greatly delights the Deity. That understanding which is good in the sight of God and man is another fruit of the constant practice of mercy and truth.
III. To depend on God, and not on our own understanding (Proverbs 3:5). To trust in God is to depend on Him for bestowing on us every needful blessing, and preserving us from all evil. This dependence on God is to be exercised with all our hearts, our judgments being persuaded that God is the only and the all-sufficient object of confidence, and our souls resting with full satisfaction in His power and faithfulness. We must renounce every sublunary dependence; we must not make our own understanding a staff to our hearts.
IV. To be liberal in the service of God (Proverbs 3:9-10). Earthly substance is necessary for the use of our bodies, but we are called to make a nobler use of it than in the mere service of the outward man. We are to honour the Lord with it, making no use of any part of our increase till we have set apart a reasonable proportion of it for the service of God.
V. To behave aright under afflictive providences (Proverbs 3:11). We are warned against despising Divine rebukes, or fainting under them. The rebukes of providence are despised when persons regard not the supreme hand which afflicts, when they consider not the design of God in afflicting, or when, through stupidity of mind or hardness of heart, they neglect to comply with it. Afflictions may be despised when men do not value them as necessary and useful. Weariness under the Divine correction is another common fault, which we must avoid with care. Our hearts must not fret against the Lord, nor suffer reflecting thoughts to spring up, for God never exceeds the due measure in distressing us. No ingredient is poured into the cup of affliction, but by infinite wisdom and grace. Ever keep in mind who it is that afflicts us. Let all flesh keep silent before Him. He is a Father, and chastens us in love.
VI. To esteem wisdom, and earnestly pursue it (Proverbs 3:13-26). All the treasures of wisdom are hid in Christ, and He communicates the precious gift by His Word and Spirit. The excellency of wisdom appears in the gifts she bestows. She is a munificent princess, holding in both hands the richest presents, to be given to her servants. A happy life extended to old age is given to the lovers of wisdom, and riches and honour are given in the same sense as length of days. And religion is not less conducive to pleasure than it is to honour and wealth. It will readily be admitted that some of wisdom’s ways are pleasant; but are they all so? There is peace and pleasure in repentance, which is sweetened by the apprehension of God’s mercy in Christ. There is pleasure in self-denial, for he that practises it knows that he is the true self-seeker. There is pleasure and peace in tribulations, because when they abound, consolations abound much more by Christ. There is peace in fighting the Lord’s battles. All the exercises, all the privileges, all the hopes of religion, are full of pleasure. Add the glory which belongs to wisdom, as it appears in creation and providence (Proverbs 3:19-20). No wisdom is sound but that which is taught by the Word of God, and approved by Him who is the author of wisdom. This sound wisdom makes us discreet and prudent, and guards us against that selfish cunning which has so often assumed its name. Safety is another of the great advantages which always attend wisdom. Walking in the ways of the Lord, we may banish those fears that would distress the soul. The Lord is a sure ground of confidence in the worst of times. Our proper exercise in such seasons is to trust in the Lord, and to pour out our hearts before Him, knowing that He will be a refuge for us. (G. Lawson.)
Religious impressions to be retained
Travellers tell us that the constant rubbing of the sand on Egyptian hieroglyphs removes every trace of colour, and even effaces the deep-cut characters from basalt rocks. So the unceasing action of multitudinous trifles will take all the bloom off your religion, and cause the name of the King cut on the tablets of your heart to be forgotten if you do not counteract them by constant, earnest effort.
I. Godliness is associated with regard for law (Proverbs 3:1).
1. Appropriation. “My law.” Before we commend the Word of God to others we must receive it ourselves.
2. Instruction. “Forget not.” This implies that something has been taught.
3. Exhortation. “Forget not.” There are few things men so soon forget as Divine commands. The godly man is one who respects righteous law. He delights in the law of the Lord (Psalms 1:2; Romans 7:22). The moral law is eternal, and must be regarded by all true followers of Christ. Obedience to it is not the ground of justification, but this is attained in the work of sanctification.
II. Godliness is associated with present advantages (Proverbs 3:2).
1. Intensity of life. “Length of days.” In the long run the longest day is the day that has the longest record of service for God.
2. Length of life. “Long life.” “A blessing,” say some, “of the Jewish dispensation.” A blessing, rather let us say, of all dispensations. “Righteousness tendeth to life” as much now as ever, and, other things being equal, he will live the longest who lives the best.
3. Serenity of life. “Peace.” Tranquillity continuing through all the years. The peace of the man who hearkens to God is like a river (Isaiah 48:18), getting broader and deeper as it gets nearer to the sea.
III. Godliness is associated with regard for the well-being of men. “Mercy” (R.V. margin, “kindness”) “and truth” (Proverbs 3:3). See here the bearing of a godly life upon the good of men. The mind of God is one of “good-will toward men” (Luke 2:14), and those who would be God-like must be of the same mind (Matthew 5:45).
IV. Godliness is associated with faith in god (Proverbs 3:5). Trust in the Lord is the secret of safety (Proverbs 29:25), of happiness (Proverbs 16:20), and of spiritual prosperity (Proverbs 28:25).
V. Godliness is associated with the acknowledgment of God (Proverbs 3:6). This acknowledgment of God is to be--
1. Personal. “Thy ways.”
2. “In all thy ways.” Man’s ways are many. Some walk in high places, some in lowly valleys. The way of some is in the sea, of others in the office, of others in the academy, of others in the senate. Some men walk in many ways. Abraham Lincoln was a rail-splitter, a storekeeper, a bargeman, a lawyer, a member of a State legislature, a Congressman, and President of the United States, but in all positions he acknowledged God. At the threshold of life “he had,” says one of his biographers, “a profound trust in Providence”; and when he left Springfield for Washington to take his place as President he said to his friends, “Pray that I may receive that Divine assistance without which I cannot proceed.”
3. In our own sphere. We need not go out of our way. The ordinary path of life will “furnish all we ought to ask.” The promise in the sixth verse suggests that we may acknowledge God by looking to Him for guidance, and it gives the assurance of Divine direction.
VI. Godliness is associated with humility (Proverbs 3:7). “Be not wise in thine own eyes.” “Many,” says Seneca, “might have attained wisdom had they not thought they had attained it.” The way to godliness is in the footsteps of Christ, and to follow in that path we must be meek and lowly in heart. VII. Godliness is associated with practical holiness (Proverbs 3:7-9).
1. The godly man will shun evil. “Depart from evil.” To “depart” may be rendered to “turn aside.” As men sometimes “cut” those they do not wish to see, so is evil to be “cut.” To go into the way of evil is to run a risk of falling into it.
2. Cultivate benevolence (Proverbs 3:9). Christian benevolence is substantial (“substance,” not merely good wishes); generous (“first-fruits”); God-honouring (“honour the Lord”). Those who with a right motive give of what God has given them acknowledge their indebtedness to Him and His ownership in what they possess.
VIII. Godliness is gain (Proverbs 3:10). Gain is not always godliness, but godliness is always gain in the highest sense. The giving of the first-fruits fills the barns. (H. Thorne.)
The earthly rewards of wisdom
We are taught to look for the fruit of righteousness in long life and prosperity, for the penalty of sin in premature destruction. We are accustomed to dwell on the promised joys of the future world as if godliness had no promise of the life which now is, and in so doing we take all life and colour from those expected blessings. The true view seems to be, the way of wisdom, the path of the upright, is so full of joy, so crowned with peace; the life of the children of the kingdom is so wisely and bountifully provided for; the inevitable pains and troubles which fall to their share are so transformed, that from this present good we can infer a future better, gathering hints and promises of what we shall be from the realised felicity of what we are. What are the immediate and apprehensible benefits of the life which is lived according to the dictates of heavenly wisdom?
I. The right life is a wholesome life, physically healthy. The body is a sacred trust, a temple of the Holy Ghost; to use it ill is to violate the trust and to defile the temple. The temperance of habit and orderliness of life which Wisdom requires of her children are the first conditions of vitality. Peace of mind, cheerfulness of temper, the transfer of all anxiety from the human spirit to the strong Spirit of God, are very favourable to longevity. Let no one think of measuring life only by days and years. Each day should be a full, rich day, unmarred by recollections, unshadowed by apprehensions. Each day is distinctly worth living. The life in God is undoubtedly a healthy life, nor is it the less healthy because the outward man has to decay, and mortality has to be swallowed up of life.
II. The right life requires fair dealing between man and man. The main economic principle of wisdom is this, that all legitimate trade is the mutual advantage of buyer and seller.
III. Wisdom commands not only justice, but generosity. She requires her children to yield the first-fruits of all their possessions to the Lord, and to look tenderly upon His poor. And the teaching of experience is that those who act upon this precept purchase to themselves a good possession.
IV. Look at the deeper, more spiritual results of right living. God is so much to men, that clear vision and strong action are utterly impossible apart from a humble dependence upon Him. The beginning of all wisdom is in the recognition of God, in personal submission to Him, in diligent obedience to all His directions. We do not at first see what is meant by trusting in the Lord with all our heart; we confuse it with that tepid, conventional relation to God which too frequently passes current for faith. They who do entirely renounce their own judgment, who, with their whole heart trusting Him, acknowledge Him in all their ways, find their lives running over with blessing, and become the means of incalculable good to the world and to themselves. It would not be easy to make plain or even credible to those who have never trusted in God how this guidance and direction are given. When a few years have been passed in humble dependence on God, it is then possible to look back and see with astonishing clearness how real and decisive the leadings of the Spirit have been. Our life, we find, is all a plan of God, and He conceals it from us, as if on purpose to evoke our trust, and to secure that close and personal communion which the uncertainty renders necessary. Some are suspicious of the “Inward Light,” as it is called. That may be because they do not trust the Lord “with the whole heart.” Wisdom calls for a certain absoluteness in all our relations to God, a fearless, unreserved, and constantly renewed submission of heart to Him. And while the external results of wisdom are great and marked, this inward result, which is the spring of them all, is more blessed than any. The supreme bliss of the heavenly wisdom is that it leads us into a detailed obedience to the law which is our life; it sets us under the immediate and unbroken control of God. To know the secret of the Lord, to walk in this world not guideless, but led by the Lord of life, to approach death itself not fearful, but in the hands of that Infinite Love for whom death does not exist, surely this is worth more than the gold and precious stones which belong only to the earth and are earthy. (R. F. Horton, D. D.)
Long life and peace shall they add to thee.
The philosophy of health and peace
I. Obedience to moral law is a condition of physical health. Heart-obedience is required. The connection is clear from three facts.
1. That physical health requires obedience to the Divine laws of our being.
2. That obedience to the Divine laws of our being involves the study of them.
3. That a hearty agreement with the Divine will is essential to secure the study of His laws.
II. Obedience to moral law is a condition of spiritual peace. Peace of soul requires two things.
1. The inward harmony of its powers.
2. The sense of the Divine favour. The feeling, or even the fear, that the Lord is against it, gives it the throb of perpetual restlessness or torture. Obedience to moral law secures the two conditions of this peace. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
Let not mercy and truth forsake thee.
Mercy and truth
As the wings of the cherubim touched one another in the midst of the house, so Mercy and Truth are such a pair as will either lodge together or leave together. There was such a similitude of nature between the Twins of Love, eros and anteros, that at once they wept, and at once they smiled, they fell sick together, and they recovered jointly. Such are the Twins of Grace, Truth, and Mercy; she that would have them out in twain and parted is an harlot, she that cries spare and preserve them whole, she is the mother and must enjoy them. Look upon them in a state of policy; mercy without truth is a sweet shower dropping on the barren sands, quite spilt, and no blessing follows it. Truth without mercy is extreme right and extreme injury. Mercy without truth is a dangerous pity. Truth without mercy is not verity but severity. Consider them towards God and heaven, and then most unfit it is that either should be alone. A faith of mere protestation without good works, such is truth without mercy; it might have been in the Gergesene swine, for such a faith is in the devil, says St. James. All the integrity of the heathen, all the goodness that Socrates could teach, because it is not in Christ, such is mercy without truth. St. Austin compares them thus: “A pagan living without blame before man is a man with his eyes open in the dark midnight, and he that professeth Christ and not mercy, but is sold to commit iniquity, is one with his eyes shut in a clear day, and he sees as little.” (Bp. Hacket.)
Bind them about thy neck.--
(see Deuteronomy 6:8):--
I. The substance of a true phylactery: “Mercy and truth.” These are the two grand elements of revelation they meet man’s nature as a being possessing intellect and heart, each of which has its respective cravings and claims.
II. The uses of a true phylactery. The old phylacteries seem to be used--
1. As mementoes. They were to remind the wearer of the law.
2. As safeguards. This was, indeed, a later and superstitious use. Still “mercy and truth” rightly worn are safeguards. They protect us from what is wrong and ruinous. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The combination of mercy and truth in a good life
A double metaphor, wherein keeping mercy and truth, or exercising them outwardly, is compared to tying a gold chain about the neck for ornament; and retaining them in the heart is compared to things written in a table-book, that they may not be forgotten.
1. Duties to men are to be made conscience of, as well as duties to God.
2. Mercy and truth should always go together; because both are ornaments to us. Men wear lace on good clothes, so doth mercy adorn truth. Both are profitable unto others.
3. The want of one buries the commendation of the other.
4. Both are together in God, else could we look for no favour from Him. Truth is required in all our dealings with men; but truth must always be tempered and toned with mercy. (Francis Taylor.)
Write them upon the table of thine heart.
Writing is a very ancient art. Moses knew it. There is a yet older writing, the penmanship of the soul. In this art every man is a busy writer. The soul registers every impression made on it. In comparing soul-writing with that of the pen, two things are observable correspondence and dissimilarity.
I. Correspondence. Both imply readers. Accuracy in both requires training. Both are either useful or injurious.
II. Dissimilarity. Soul-writing is more universal; more voluminous; more permanent; more useful to Christianity. Truth written by the soul in the life is more legible than truth written by the pen. It is more convincing; and it is more persuasive. Conclusion:
1. Life is a book which we are writing day by day.
2. The book of life should be a Christian book.
3. This book of life will have to be examined. (Homilist.)
Sacred inscriptions on the heart
At places of public resort, such as the summit of a lofty mountain or the site of a famous monument, you may see tables of wood or stone or level turf. All over them inscriptions have been chiselled so thickly that you could not now find an unoccupied spot to plant a letter on. The characters are various--some old, some new, some well-formed, some irregular scrawls, some mere scratches on the surface which a winter’s storms will wash out, some so deep that they will be legible for ages. The table lies there, the helpless recipient of ideas, good or bad, that stray comers may impress upon it. The heart of man is like one of these common public receptacles. (W. Arnot, D.D.)
1. The duty of parents is clear, and their encouragements are great. Watch the young. Stand beside that soft, receptive tablet. Keep trespassers away. Insert many truths. Busily fill the space with good, and that too in attractive forms. This is the work laid to your hand.
2. Afflictive providences generally have a bearing on this printing process. God sends what will break the heart or melt it. The heart, in contact with a busy world, was rubbed smooth and slippery. The type, when it touched, glided off the surface, and left no mark behind. This bruising and breaking opened the crust, and let the lesson in. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.
The commencement of the religious life
There was a moment in our existence when we committed our first sin; and there was a moment when we first lifted up our hearts in prayer and thanksgiving to our Father in heaven. None of us probably recollect either of these moments.
I. What do we mean by a religious life? How are we to live to maintain our own self-respect, to be morally pure, to be acceptable to God, to love Him and serve Him, and do good to and love our neighbour? The ceremonial of religion in itself is not religion; it is too often put in the place of real goodness and piety. The belief of any or of every creed is not religion. Intellectual states and ecclesiastical connections are not religion. Gloom, sadness, melancholy, superstition, fanaticism, are not religion. Before we can become truly religious we must have correct views of God, of ourselves, of our relationship to God, of sin, and of hating and forsaking it. Reverence for, and the sincere love of, God is one mark of a religious life. Self-control upon religious principles is another and distinctive mark of the religious life. Our reverence and love of God are practically embodied and developed in our self-government. As Christians, we should lead a life in harmony with the Divine example which Jesus has placed before us. He has in His life and ministry revealed to us the character of the Father, and the religious life that we should lead as His followers. We receive Christ to be our Teacher, Guide, Friend, Counsellor, Example, and Redeemer.
II. The commencement of a religious life. This is a matter of deep interest to us all. Some have no recollection of any other state than that in which they are now living; others have a broad line which marks the past and the present. Matthew, Zacchaeus, Nicodemus, Paul, and others, were familiar with, and could narrate all the circumstances of their religious history. The means and agencies of the change from darkness to light, from error to truth, from wickedness to righteousness, from vice to virtue, from irreligion to an enlightened humble piety, are very varied. It is not the usual order of things that aged persons become religious, and as for death-bed conversions, we have as little faith in them as in death-bed incantations, extreme unction, and priestly absolutions. It is the life of a man that proclaims who he is and what he is. Christianity is for life. The life of a sincere Christian always fits for death. To be leading and enjoying such a life in youth is one of God’s greatest blessings. If you covet goodness of heart and purity of mind, lead a Christian life. If you desire true greatness, manliness, and honour, lead a Christian life. If you seek for a good hope of immortality, lead a Christian life. (R. Ainslie.)
The secret of success
The poet here gives us not only melodious measures, but valuable truths, even the secret of life which has often eluded the search of moralists and speculative philosophers. He unfolds that which to us is of vital moment--the secret of success. We all desire prosperity. One avenue to success is making money; another is culture; another is self-indulgence. The text says happiness is not intellectual but a moral quality. True wisdom is the reverence and love of God. We are set in right relations with God; and this is a source of peace. Religion is not a disagreeable condition on which blessing rests, a dark tunnel through which we reach a shining land beyond. It is a gift of God, radiant and happy, an appeal not to our lower tastes, but to all that is exalted within us. In the way of religion we learn the true secret of success. (R. S. Storrs, D. D.)
The way to favour
The men of the world may hate the principles of the man of God, but the latter will have a testimony in his conscience, and if he maintains a steadfast consistency, will command respect and good-will. This is the only legitimate way of finding favour with men. Their favour must be foregone if it cannot be gotten but by conduct inconsistent with right principle. It is but a false and selfish and temporary favour at the best that can thus be obtained; and it is obtained at the expense of what is infinitely more precious, the favour of God. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
Trust in the Lord . . . lean not to thine own understanding.
Reason and faith
The question is, not whether we shall use reason, but what are its limits? Shall we accept only what we can understand and explain, and refuse all which does not quadrate with our reason? Is Faith, with her delicate ear, her quick sensibility, and wondrous prescience, to have no place? In the power of modern reason can we know every inch of our way?
1. How is it in the business world? The activities of men are put forth in faith and trust. Commerce would fold her wings but for this principle of faith.
2. How is it in still more practical life?
3. History and mental science teach us the folly of leaning to our own understanding.
4. In Biblical and scientific theology may be found further illustration of the text. When the believer is in Christ, faith points the way to higher circles of truth. Much that is beyond reason does not contradict reason. (Stephen R. Dennen, D.D.)
The supreme wisdom of perfect trust in God
I. The insufficiency of the human understanding.
1. Its inherent weakness.
2. The brevity of its experience, making it impossible to form right conclusions upon those concerns which extend into eternity backward and forward.
3. Its limit in space. The universe extends beyond reach of finite imagination.
4. It has no certain communion with the spirit world; hence eternal things are not to be trusted to our understanding.
II. The sufficiency of God.
1. He knows all things thoroughly as Creator and Preserver.
2. He has power over all things.
3. His love for us is unlimited.
1. Oppose scepticism as one of the follies of a weak understanding.
2. Surrender wholly to God’s guidance. (Homiletic Monthly.)
Trust in God
I. What is it to trust in the Lord?
1. To be persuaded that He is able to counsel thee what to do.
2. That He is willing and able to give wholesome advice to those who need it.
3. To look unto God for counsel.
4. Confidently to expect seasonable directions from Him.
II. Why is it a duty to trust in the Lord?
1. Everyone is bound to order his affairs the best he can.
2. It is a right acknowledgment of God.
3. It is following the inclination of a generous heart.
1. They act sinfully and foolishly who do not wholly trust in the Lord for direction in their affairs.
2. Do what God’s holy ones of old used to do--make Him thy oracle, counsel, guide. (George Barker.)
Trusting in God with all the heart
God in everything requires the heart, the undivided heart. In the text is one great secret of the Divine life, the principle on which it rests, the food by which it is fed. It is to be taken from all worldly dependencies and securities, and resting in the consciousness of being one with God, in holy fellowship, in perpetual nourishment and support. Men commonly fail in the practical outworking of their trust, in their daily employment, and experience and walk. Earthly instruments are too much sought and relied upon independently of God.
I. The affections may be, and often are, violently excited and worked upon, and yet not brought to a holy subjection unto God. There may be, with much religious warmth and sentiment, no small remnant of the evil temper and ungoverned will; even in humility itself an arrogant and self-righteous display, as if the sinner were more humble than his neighbour, as if he had a merit in God’s sight on account of his numerous and extravagant lamentations. Great numbers are held in a chain of error under the notion of a spiritual superiority; they are really full of a miserable conceit.
II. Many believe all the doctrines of grace, and claim for themselves a peculiar soundness and purity of faith, in whom that faith is but a speculative matter, and not an operative principle. Men deceive themselves with notions of faith, and take up with that which is not real, which has no life in it. That which is trusted to as principle is so received as to be no principle at all; is a mere assent of the understanding, and not a conviction working in the heart. Nothing can be right and true, no tenet, no belief, which does not incorporate us with God, and bring us into subjection to Him.
III. The ordinances and means of grace may be utterly ineffectual. Prayer is unavailing if unaccompanied with any trust, any abiding trust, in God. All our means and talents are given for active, diligent employment. Faith is to be continually remaining as a vital energy in the breast, as the monitor and guide, as the comfort and support, of all true believers, whatever they do, wherever they go. It produces not only a leaning upon Divine grace on particular occasions of meditation or devotion, but an unfailing regard to God’s providential wisdom and goodness and government in daily life. God is in everything, above all, through all, in all. To those who wholly trust in God, not leaning to their own understanding, but ready in all things to obey His will and Word, the Lord will be a perpetual guide. There is a mystic intercourse, an invisible superintendence, a secret agency, a leading hand, always near and always employed for the safety and well-being of those who commit themselves implicitly and faithfully to the Lord’s holy keeping. (J. Slade, M. A.)
Reliance upon God
Hope is ever accompanied with trust, reliance, and confidence on something, and it is either well or ill grounded. What is there besides God on which we are apt to repose our trust? Fortune or chance; the favour of the world; friends; riches and power; men’s own abilities, caution, forecast, prudence, and diligence. There is nothing in which we can reasonably trust, except the Divine Providence.
1. That our reliance may be rational, we should know what it is that God hath promised, and what we may expect from Him. No absolute and unconditioned promises of material blessings are made to us. We are promised contentment and peace of mind. He who is contented cannot be unhappy.
2. Reliance must be accompanied with obedience, with a serious and settled purpose, and with honest endeavours to do the things which are pleasing to God.
3. Reliance on God is founded on--
(1) His goodness;
(2) the relation between Him and us;
(3) His promises.
4. Reliance is a duty which is not to be exercised, and cannot be exercised, by the wicked. They who will not serve God commonly put no confidence in Him. They fear Him perhaps, but they love Him not. Obedience to God is naturally accompanied with reliance on God.
5. Reliance on God should be accompanied with supplications to Him to bless us.
6. Reliance should be united with diligence and prudence in our worldly affairs.
7. Reliance excludes immoderate cares, and vain desires, and fretful discontent, and dissatisfaction; for he who firmly believes that all is ordered for the best, and shall conduce to his happiness, cannot live in slavish subjection to these turbulent passions. Reliance will not make a man insensible to trouble, but it will have a considerable effect towards regulating his affections and composing his heart, and producing an acquiescence to the will of God.
8. Reliance is a noble virtue, and a disposition of mind most agreeable to God. God hath made singular promises in favour of it. Reliance is thus acceptable because it implies love for God, and desire to please Him; and because it is the greatest honour we can pay to Him. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
Good and evil
I. The good to be secured.
1. Supreme trust. This means, undoubtingly; undividedly; lovingly.
2. Supreme trust in the supremely good. “In the Lord.” The All-wise; the All-loving; the All-holy; the All-mighty.
II. The evil to be avoided. “Lean not to thine own understanding.”
1. This is a prevalent evil. Men do it in all departments--business, politics, literature, and religion.
2. This is a patent evil. It is clear to all. Reason shows it. History shows it. Individual experience shows it. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Legitimate use of the understanding
Trusting in the Lord does not mean that we may not use our own understanding, forming our plans with discretion, and with all possible foresight and precaution, and in pursuing our ends employing all suitable and legitimate means. There is a legitimate using of the understanding that is not chargeable with “leaning to it.” While we use it we are to depend on God for success, trust in the promises of His Word, and in the care and overruling direction of His providence. As dependence upon God for strength to resist temptation does not preclude our applying all the energy of our minds, so dependence upon Him for direction in our ways does not set aside the employment of our own prudence and sagacity. God is the Supreme Director of all events, whose concurrent will is essential to the success of every measure; without it all the thoughts of men are vain, turning out subversive of their own designs and subservient to God’s. (R. Wardlaw, D. D.)
The understanding not strong enough to lean upon
A thing may be useful which we must not lean upon, lest it should break and let us fall; a reed from an osier-bed is very useful to make baskets, but you should not lean upon it. So our understandings are very useful, but the best of them are not sufficiently strong to lean upon. (Chicago Sunday School Teacher.)
The danger of following our own wishes
As we emerge from childhood, we learn to suspect the wisdom of our wishes. From some eminence in our pilgrimage we look back on the path, and see plainly how much of our trouble was caused by resolutely following our own will. We see how we sometimes turned aside from the true way because it seemed rough and circuitous; and how, in other places, attracted by the flowers or the scenery, we neglected the map and the sign-posts, and wandered among bogs and thickets, where we floundered in mire, or were torn with thorns; and to precipices, where we stumbled and were bruised, and might have perished. Thus, by bitter experience, we have learned that our will is not always the wisest. What we have prescribed to ourselves as medicine has proved to be poison; the cup we have clutched as sweeter than honey has become more bitter than gall. We resolved to take the helm into our own hands, and have struck on hidden rocks. We have gone where the moss was brightest, and the quagmire has nearly choked us. We have glided where the ice seemed smoothest, and it has given way in the moment of our greatest exhilaration. (Newman Hall.)
In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.
Trust and guidance
We have here the sound counsel of a wide experience.
I. As containing the most important precepts for life. God claims from you here--
1. The supreme affection of your heart.
2. The complete homage of your intellect.
3. The unswerving loyalty of your lives. Religion is not to be put on and off, it must pervade the life.
II. As suggesting the greatest dangers in life.
1. The fallibility of human counsellors.
2. The deceitfulness of our own hearts.
III. As promising the greatest blessings through life.
3. Spiritually. (T. Campey.)
The nature of the Christian’s trust in God
I. The nature of the trust.
1. It must be intelligent.
2. It must be unlimited.
3. It must be constant. No trust is of any great value that is not uniform and abiding.
II. The manner in which this trust is manifested.
1. There is surrender to the Divine authority.
2. There is obedience to the Divine law.
3. There is submission to the Divine providence.
4. There is faith in the Divine promises.
Contrast the man who leans on his own understanding with the man who trusts in God. The one leans on a broken reed, the other on the arm of Omnipotence. (Anon.)
The Christian’s mainstay
I. Something to lean upon: “Trust in the Lord.”
1. He is worthy of trust--kind, good, loving.
2. He is suitable to trust in--powerful, eternal, just.
3. He is able to be trusted in, for He is accessible, He invites all, He saves all who trust in Him.
II. Something to distrust: “Lean not to thine own heart.”
1. Nothing is more fickle.
2. Nothing is more frail.
3. Nothing is more deceptive.
4. Nothing is more wicked.
III. Something to establish: “In all thy ways acknowledge Him.” “In all thy ways.” There will be ways of sorrow. Acknowledge His hand. There will be ways of disappointment. Thank Him for the discipline. There will be ways of joy. Praise Him for His love.
IV. Something to cheer: “He shall direct thy path.” He will direct it in perfect wisdom; He will direct it in perfect goodness; He will direct it for our good and His own glory. How peaceful the prospect, and how safe and sure the journey of that man whom the Lord directs! (Homilist.)
Consult God first
Take one step at a time, every step under Divine warrant and direction. Ever plan for yourself in simple dependence on God. It is nothing less than self-idolatry to conceive that we can carry on even the ordinary matters of the day without His counsel. He loves to be consulted. Therefore take all thy difficulties to be resolved by Him. Be in the habit of going to Him in the first piece--before self-will, self-pleasing, self-wisdom, human friends, convenience, expediency. Before any of these have been consulted, go to God at once. (C. Bridges, M.A.)
The necessity far Divine guidance
I. The filial acknowledgment demanded.
1. In what it consists. We must acknowledge God’s supreme authority, and also His Divine wisdom and goodness.
2. In what manner this acknowledgment should be made. By going to the Divine Word for instruction; by prayer; and by obedience to His authority.
II. The Divine guidance which is proposed.
1. By enabling us to understand truth and the rule of duty.
2. By preparing and disposing the heart to obedience.
3. By a kind and wise providence.
1. Do you complain that you have not such guidance? In all your ways you do not acknowledge God.
2. We must be sinful if we are in error.
3. The subject appeals to wanderers and backsliders.
4. The counsel is specially addressed to the young. (Evangelical Preacher.)
God to be acknowledged in all the affairs of life
There is no hardship in this. This injunction is aimed, not at the speculative atheism which denies that there is a God, but at the much more common practical ungodliness which keeps Him at a distance from human affairs. If the commandment had been, “Acknowledge God in the uncertain and difficult ways of life,” it would have met with a more ready compliance. The large, and the formal, and the public men will submit to His decision; but the little, and close, and kindly they will keep to themselves. Let Him compass you about as the atmosphere embraces the earth, going into every interstice, and taking the measure of every movement. “Trust in the Lord at all times; pour out your hearts before Him.” (W. Arnot, D. D.)
I. A direction: “In all thy ways acknowledge Him.”
1. It means to recognise God as our master, to accept Him as the sole arbiter of our lot, and publicly to acknowledge the position which we assume towards Him.
2. It means to take God into all our counsels, and listen to His authority in everything we undertake. This act will render it impossible for us to sin, for how can a man take a holy God unto his counsels for evil?
3. It means to acknowledge God in all our actions by seeking His blessing in their progress. It is not sufficient to begin well. It is only when God is sought at every step that we can walk in accordance with His will or progress safely or securely.
4. It means to cultivate a feeling of resignation, and to be willing to give up our own ways and desires to His demand. This is, indeed, the great test which determines whether we acknowledge God. It costs something, and hereby we prove our sincerity. It is hard to have to renounce the cherished desires of a lifetime.
II. The promise: “And He shall direct thy paths.”
1. That it is the only safe course we can pursue to allow God to direct us. Owing to our own ignorance and shortsightedness we cannot direct them ourselves.
2. That it is an utter impossibility for Goal to direct our paths unless we commit our whole ways into His hands. Faith and trust are the requisites for this happy consummation.
3. That the ultimate end of His direction will turn out a glorious triumph. (Homilist.)
Human dependence and Divine guidance
I. The acknowledgment of God in all our ways supposes, as a preliminary, that what we are about to do is consistent with Christian principle. Christian principle is on the side of everything that is high, and honourable, and pure in the character of man. A mean Christian, a dishonourable Christian, an impure- minded Christian, are associations of light and darkness unknown to Christian verity.
II. This acknowledgment of God is the constant accompaniment of a Filial spirit. The true child may not always understand, but will always obey the will of his parent. The filial spirit regulates the discordances between the understanding and the life. The religious man is a child. It is not enough for him to do child’s work, he must do it in a child’s temper. It is not enough for him to bear a child’s discipline, he must bear it in a child’s spirit.
III. This acknowledgment of God is always accompanied by practical obedience. Whether it is the cause or the effect of this obedience, it is not necessary to distinguish. There is a real practical obedience along with the utterance that expresses the acknowledgment. When may we hope that Divine direction is given in answer to prayer? Consider--
1. The reflex benefits of prayer.
2. The arrangements of God’s providence that secure an answer to prayer. To withhold prayer is to oppose the spiritual constitution of the universe. It is the refusal of obedience, of worship, of the acknowledgment of dependence, of confession, of supplication, and of thanksgiving; and we cannot imagine that to place ourselves at that distance from God is the way to secure eternal bliss. (W. G. Barrett.)
Duty and assurance
I. The duty enjoined.
1. The nature of this duty. By our “ways” and “paths” we understand the designs, aims, and intentions of our minds, together with our actions consequent upon them; our whole capacity of judging, designing, resolving, and acting. To acknowledge God is to confess and own Him, according to all those several accounts and manifestations of Himself that He has given us.
2. The extent, scope, and latitude of the duty. It is not indeed capable of limitation, for unless our resignation shall be universal, it cannot be sincere.
III. The encouragement or the motive that is offered to the practice of it.
1. The truth of the proposition, “He will direct thy paths.” What is to be understood by this Divine direction? What confidence have we that God will make good His promise?
2. The force of the motive. Because He will vouchsafe to direct our paths, therefore in all our ways we should acknowledge Him. (Dean Lambe.)
What to acknowledge concerning God
I. His presence. “The eyes of the Lord are in every place.” All except an atheist--a no God man--will admit this with their lips; few admit it in their lives.
II. His power. He can do whatsoever He pleases. Nothing is impossible, nothing is too hard for the Lord.
III. His promises. The Bible is full of promises, suitable for all persons, and fitting into all circumstances. (R. Newton. D. D.)
Submission to Divine providence does not consist in a blind surrender of the will to the influence of circumstances. Many a time we persuade ourselves that our course is one of patient acquiescence in the will of God, when we do but drift in foolish idleness on the stream of life. This text introduces the subject of Divine providence as an essential truth in the practical creed of our daily life. In solving the problem of human life it is necessary to recognise the individuality of character and the liberty of will. A false humility has led to the virtual denial of this. Men have deemed it bestowing honour upon God to represent themselves as mere clay in the hands of the potter. This idea has been underlying much of the popular theology of the past, and, in some way or other, it seems to be underlying much of the popular theology of to-day. To be wilfully blind to our own capacity and character is to deny ungratefully the best gifts of God. It is to lose sight of the real purposes of our being. True self-examination is one of the chief wants of our time. Self-examination is real and true in proportion as it dispenses with the fallacious and often misleading appearances in the lives of others. Truth is relative. No two truths can possibly be antagonistic to, or inconsistent with, each other. We recognise the individuality of character and the liberty of the will, and in perfect consistency with this, we affirm the truth taught in the text. But what is it to acknowledge God? The relation of cause and effect holds good in the realm of spiritual life not less than in the material world. Rewards and punishments are not arbitrarily bestowed by Him who is “the Judge of all the earth.” To “acknowledge” God is neither more nor less than to acknowledge the principles of truth and righteousness in all our ways. It is not to talk about religion, but to act it in the life. Not he who talks much about the gospel, but he whose every-day duties in business, in the family, and in the world are evidently influenced by the spirit and essence of the gospel, is the best evangelist. Thus to acknowledge God is to secure the guidance of His providence. Thus God has placed man’s happiness, so to speak, in his own keeping; and by true submission to the Divine will man is able to “lay hold on eternal life.” Surrendering ourselves to the guidance of holy and eternal principles, we are unconcerned about the future. Our delight being in the Lord--that is, in the integrity and holiness of His will--we know that He wilt give us the desires of our heart. (F. Wagstaff.)
How does God guide us?
In acknowledging God we are not to trust enthusiastically to impressions, to dreams, to fancied voices, and inward suggestions. Far less are we to make a lottery of the Bible, opening it at random, and taking the text that first meets our eye as given us by God, and putting our own meaning upon it. We are to apply our understandings to the blessed volume of inspiration, that we may find its principles and precepts that bear upon our case, and give our hearts to prayer, for that influence of the Holy Spirit which is necessary to deliver us from all undue prepossessions and prejudices in examining it. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
The acknowledgment of God
Such acknowledgment will not be a fruitless thing, it will have a practical effect.
I. How God is to be acknowledged. By a solemn and deliberate appeal to the great Disposer of all things for that aid and guidance which He alone can afford. This must involve--
1. A real conviction that God rules the world. If God has no care for the concerns of this lower world, to acknowledge Him is useless; if He acts in all things quite independently of oar conduct, acknowledging Him is an impertinence.
2. That we honestly admit to Him in each particular case that the matter is in His hands, and that it is ordered as He may see fit. This implies a course of thought just the very opposite of that which men commonly pursue in the business of life. To them all concerns and events are godless just because they are godless themselves.
3. A sincere dependence on Him for direction and help. This is the practical bearing of our conscious reference to God. A real and earnest acknowledgment of God is a belief in His supreme and almighty government of the world; a devout reference to His presence in all the concerns in which we are called to act, a humble reliance on His Spirit and aid; and this is a state of mind to be maintained, continually carried into every scene of duty and conflict, and made a settled habit of thought and feeling in all our ways.
II. How will God direct our ways? If proof that He does were wanted the whole experience of His people in all ages would rise up in witness. The promise is of direction. It is not necessarily a complete deliverance, and much less a painless course of ease and prosperity. How will the direction be effected? Through the working of our own minds and the counsels of others; by opening new paths and placing fresh aids within our reach; by influencing our souls through the teaching of His Spirit, and preserving them from false signs by which they were wont to be led astray.
1. Often God leads us and we know not how, we cannot say by what means it is.
2. Often God leads us even by means of obstacles.
3. Often God leads us by means of delay.
4. Sometimes God even seems to guide our way by means of our enemies. (J. M. Charlton, M.A.)
Do nothing without God’s direction in His Word. A man that had a house to build would in all things follow the direction of a skilful workman, lest he lose his cost. So let us follow God’s guidance, or all our labour is lost. None desires to go astray out of his way, except he be first gone out of his wits. Every man will rather take a guide to direct him, and give money to that end. If we be careful to acknowledge God in our ways we shall not wander out of them, for we shall have a trusty guide. The Athenians conceived that their goddess Minerva turned all their evil counsels into good to them; the Romans thought their goddess Videlia set them again in the right way when at any time they were out. All this, and undoubtedly more, is done by the true God for all who commit their ways unto Him. (Francis Taylor, B.D.)
Acknowledging God in all our ways
I. The nature of the injunction. A practical acknowledgment is required; but this is founded on a firm belief of the existence and perfections of God. We acknowledge God in all our ways--
1. When we live in obedience to His Word and commandments.
2. When we look to and trust Him for what we want, and implore His blessing on all we undertake.
3. When we acquiesce in and submit to His dispensations.
4. Acknowledging implies praising and gratefully adoring Him under a sense of His bounty and loving-kindness.
5. And seeking Him in and through His Son.
II. The encouragement given us to acknowledge God.
1. We shall be preserved by grace from fatal mistakes and errors.
2. We shall be conducted by God through all the difficulties and perplexities that may meet us.
3. We shall be well instructed in the way of duty and peace. (S. Knight, M.A.)
Piety in every-day life
1. Bring religion into our ordinary conversation.
2. Into our ordinary employments.
3. Into all our trials.
4. Into our ordinary blessings. (T. De Witt Talmage.)
1. Acknowledge God as thy King, by conforming to His laws.
2. As thy Benefactor, by gratefully receiving His benefits.
3. As thy Father, by submitting to His paternal chastisements.
4. As thy Model, by striving to copy His perfections. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
I. The duty.
1. Acknowledge His wisdom.
2. His goodness.
3. His superintendence.
4. His faithfulness.
II. The promise connected with the duty. He will make our path straight and plain before us, and show in what way we ought to walk, and how we ought to act. (W. C. Wilson, M.A.)
The thought of an over-ruling Providence is the sweetest of all thoughts to the Christian. It is to him his stay, his comfort, and his assurance in this dark vale of tears. The best Christian is he that trusts most implicitly to the God of providence, the God of all His mercy. The Christian who truly loves Christ feels himself utterly dependent upon the strength of Christ. There are some men who go forth to their daily work from morning till evening as though there were no providence to guide them. Worldly-minded men have no recognition of a God, make no acknowledgment of a providence.
I. Man’s duty. The whole course of man’s existence is a course of utter dependence, and for some mercy or favour he is every day required to give an acknowledgment. This feeling of dependence we must be conscious of every day we live. In every position of society we are mutually dependent the one upon the other. One class of society looks to another class, and even the queen upon her throne must ask her people for her annual supplies sad revenues. But there is a point at which dependence ceases. There is One above all others who owes nothing to any man, but contributes of His goodness to all men freely--One on whom all are dependent, and yet He Himself is independent of any. That is the God of heaven; the God of providence--the source of all our comfort; the author of every blessing; the giver of every grace, the spring of all our joys, the life of every delight. To acknowledge God we must--
1. Believe in the existence of God.
2. Use the power and privilege of prayer when we are in need, distress, affliction. God’s promise. He has pledged Himself in His own never-failing covenant, “I will direct thy paths.” Are you not conscious that oftentimes Providence has turned your feet by a way you know not, and opened up to you new spheres of duty? The mercies past demand acknowledgment, and they encourage you to trust for mercies yet to come. If you feel any doubt, hesitation, perplexity, trouble, then come, like Hezekiah of old, and spread your want before the Lord; the ears of the God of Sabaoth love to hear the voice of him that prayeth. (R. Maguire, M.A.)
He shall direct thy paths
His direction will secure--
3. Endless progress. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The great duty of acknowledging God
I. The duty enjoined. We are to carry out, in the actings of every-day life, the great principle that there is a Being above us, and that Being is the proper object of the love and confidence of His creatures. From the time we set out in life to the period of old age--in all the variety of circumstances in which we may be placed, whatever be our state, whether one of prosperity or one of affliction--in all our concerns, personal and relative, temporal and spiritual, in all that belongs to this world or that relates to the next--we should think of God, and thank God, and trust God, and pray to God for His counsel and grace. We are to see God in everything, and we are to do nothing without Him. This duty is set in opposition to the natural tendency of the human mind to draw wisdom from its own resources, and to rest satisfied with its own powers. This setting God before us, with that feeling of reverence which His great name inspires, is a barrier to the commission of sin.
II. The encouragement given to practise this duty. All our goings shall be under His guidance, if we own and seek His providence. With a special regard to the interests of the humble, trusting soul, He will open a path before it; He will lead it into that path by indications of His will, plain and evident. We are short-sighted. We miscalculate. We often fail. We are exposed to temptations. We want a counsellor. If we look for God we shall see God, and see Him as our Helper, Protector, and Guide, in the most remarkable manner. If we depend upon providences, in the use of means, we shall have providential actings in our behalf, times without number. God may not always lead us in the path that we ourselves would choose. Infinite Wisdom chooses the path, and Infinite Love bears us through it. The rugged way may be the right way, though we may not now be able to see it. The direction of a higher Power brought to your affairs will not only conduce to your spiritual interests, it will likewise prove the greatest temporal blessing. (William Curling, M.A.)
Trust in the Lord
Speaking broadly, there are two ways in which people pass through life. They pass through it remembering God, or they pass through it forgetting Him. God is out of sight to us all: the difference is that to some He is out of mind; by others He is really and truly constantly thought of. We are all mixed up together for the present: those who are passing through the world looking to God, and leaning on His arm, and those who have no help but what their own strength gives them, and no hope beyond this world. We are all mixed up together--nay, the two ways are mixed up very often in ourselves; we seem to pass from one to the other, from forgetting God to remembering Him, from trusting Him to trusting only this world; we have Him in mind one hour, we lean unto our own understanding the next. Yet, in spite of all this, there are but the two ways; there is no mixing up of them in the eyes of God, who sees all clearly. Now, to which is our ordinary course of life most like? We must look close into our hearts and secret ways if we would not be deceived; if we really wish to know whether we are trusting to Almighty God’s wisdom and strength to help and guide us through our day’s walk, or whether we are leaning to our own poor, weak understanding. One sure proof is in our private prayers. It is impossible that any one can really be acknowledging God--can be thinking of anything but worldly things--who does not pray by himself in secret, and pray every day regularly. Then, again, how do we pray? Do we make a reality of our prayers by giving our mind to them, and keeping our thoughts from wandering--by earnestly begging God to be merciful to us, and to take care of us, in soul and body, both here and in eternity? Or do we pray only because we should feel uncomfortable if we had not said our prayers, but yet without really feeling that we need what we pray for? Another proof is our way of bearing disappointments--the crosses and vexations which come upon all of us in our turn as we go through life. Nothing shows more plainly than this whether we are indeed acknowledging the Lord in all our ways, for this discovers to us for certain whether indeed we believe that all things come from God’s ordering; and also that there is nothing that He sends on us but He sends it out of love for our souls, out of the desire to do us good in the end. Another proof is the care we take to keep in order our words and our secret thoughts as we pass through the day. “Acknowledge Him in all thy ways,” says the Scripture; and how should we acknowledge Him better than by showing how constantly what He loves and desires comes into our thoughts, and keeps us from saying and thinking what, if we sought only our own will, we should think and say. When, for love and fear of Him, we keep back a bitter or ill-natured word that no one knew we were going to say, then we do nothing for the praise of men, but we “acknowledge” Him in secret. When for fear and love of Him, we not only set a watch on our lips, but keep a guard also on our thoughts--drive away all things that we ought not to think about--check and keep down our passion when it is rising--then this is something which is meant only for His eye; for the eye of man cannot see what was in our heart, and would not have known anything about it if we had indulged our thoughts. But if we let our thoughts run riot, and say that no eye shall see them, and no one think the worse of us for them; if we prefer to say the first harsh or unkind thing that comes up to our lips when we are vexed or angry, instead of keeping it under, though it cost us a struggle; if we give our hearts liberty to long for, and run after, the good things of this world, and say that there is no harm in it; if we let our souls be burdened or surfeited with the cares or pleasures of this world; if we have no time for thoughts about God and our eternal state, and put them out of the way that we may give ourselves more completely to our worldly interests--if we do all this, how can any one deceive himself with thinking that he is acknowledging God in all his ways? (Dean Church.)
A recipe for the true enjoyment of life
Obedience to the known will of God is the condition which secures Divine direction in the paths of our life.
I. The important condition. The presence of the Lord fills the universe, and you should--
1. Acknowledge Him in your secret ways. Such presence should not be a dread to us. His is a kindly presence.
2. Acknowledge Him in your ways of thought. If the fountain be pure, the stream which flows therefrom shall be unstained.
3. Acknowledge God in your ways of business. The best partner we can have is our heavenly Father.
4. Acknowledge Him in your ways of pleasure. In all festivities. Wherever you go, whatever you do.
5. Acknowledge Him in your ways of dress. Instead of dressing to appear fashionable, dress to be Godlike, Christlike.
6. Acknowledge Him in the ways of social life.
7. Acknowledge Him in the ways of prayer, faith, praise, penitence, doing good, reading the Scriptures.
II. The soul-inspiring promise: “He shall direct thy paths.”
1. In the pilgrimage of life.
2. To the unrevealed future.
3. To the Cross of Calvary.
4. To the ever-flowing fountain of forgiveness.
5. To your place in heaven. (William Birch.)
I. Guidance is to be had for the journey. There are countless false paths, but no traveller needs to take any of them. God makes the minds of those whom He guides clear so that they act wisely, and He makes their consciences sensitive and correct, so that they act rightly.
II. How are we to get this guidance? It will not be forced upon any one. No one can count upon getting God’s guidance who does not seek it. This is the meaning of “acknowledge Him.” It means “take notice of Him,” consult Him, and obey His directions. Treat Him as you treat a guide.
III. What are “the ways” in which we must acknowledge him?
1. The course of life as a whole. It is well often to think of life thus as a unity, and ask where it is leading to. Is it not strange that men should undertake the longest journey of all without Him?
2. In each particular enterprise and action we engage in He is to be acknowledged.
3. In what goes before our actions--the imaginations and desires, the plans and purposes, we must acknowledge Him.
4. In what comes after our actions--habits. All of us have some bad habits, and many who consult God as to particular actions still let their formed habits guide them each along its own line. But here, too, He must be acknowledged, and by His grace the strongest habit can be broken.
5. Stress must be laid on the word “all.” God will have our whole heart or He will have none of it. (John Kelman, M. A.)
There have been many definitions of religion. It is one of the great and fascinating features of life which tempt description, just as the glory and charm of nature provoke representation in art. I am not going to add another definition. I am only going to say that for practical purposes our religion may be described as our response to the will of God. It is an obedience. When I have said that, I have said in the same breath that religion is not an easy thing, but a hard. If religion were not so commonly represented as an accommodation to the weak, it would be a mightier power in the world than it is to-day. Christian religion is not, in the first place, a concession to our weakness. It is an appeal to our strength. It is deep calling to deep. It is a summons to unite all that is within us. God does not address Himself to our weakness, but to our power, to our faith. His Church is the fellowship of the strong, or those who are growing strong, not of the weak, who hug their weakness and demand that the rest shall wait for them. Religion, I say, is a hard thing. Any appeal to our will is hard. To submit the will is the hardest thing man has to do. If religion were merely sympathy, it would not be so hard. Sympathising is easy. What is hard is to obey. Have you not discovered that? How easy it is to sympathise with Christ, to love one so lovely as Christ! How hard it is to obey Christ! Have you not found that obeying Christ is more hard than loving Him? Have you not observed that Christ asked for obedience much more than He asked for love? It was to our power of doing hard things that He appealed. It was to our strength He came, to side with that against our weakness. You must begin by taking Christ Himself. The one comprehensive expression of God’s will is Christ. To respond to Christ is the first step in religion. It is the first comprehensive act of obedience to God’s will. It is the first comprehensive surrender of your will to His. But that is a serious matter and a severe. It is not a mere thrill of sympathy with some of the lovelier features in Christ. You have not accepted Christ when you have felt you would like to love Him and serve Him. That is no act of will. What Christ did for you was more than that. He did not feel as if He would like to love and help and save you. That would have been a very sentimental salvation, no salvation at all, a mere piece of amiable religious failure. How does it look to say that Christ had a weakness, or tenderness, for mankind? Yet it is all that some forms of religion seem to recognise in Him. And to admit that you have a weakness for Christ, is that religion, faith? Yet it is all that you have in some forms of religion which have much to say about sympathy with Christ and little about obedience, about self-committal. To love much that is in Christ is one thing, but to wed Christ, give yourself to Him for good and all, take Him for better or for worse by a decisive act of loving will and total life--that is another thing and a greater. How are we to let God direct our path? When will He direct it? If this verse be true, it is when in all our ways we acknowledge Him. What does that mean? Push your inquiries. Do not swallow texts whole. There are forms of acknowledging God in all our ways which do not seem to win the blessing promised here. A man may be very pious in his habits, and feel no shame or backwardness in acknowledging God in connection with his daily pursuits. He may be particular about family worship, about saying grace, about church-going, about obliging his servants to go to church, about thanksgiving for prosperity, about giving God a portion of his income, about making a ready and sometimes even effusive recognition of religion in his manner of speech, his churchly feeling, his philanthropic energies. In plenty of cases all this is quite sincere, in some it is not. It is sometimes combined with ways of business which excite comment, or a habit of mind which does not adorn the faith. But, whether sincere or not, it has this feature. The man stands in his own ways and acknowledges God. The acknowledgment of God is an extra something joined on to the pursuit of his ways, joined on to the rest of his activities as the Sunday and its engagements are attached to the rest of the week. Now, if this is sincere it is something to be thankful for. But it is hardly, perhaps, the kind of thing which makes a man sure of the direction of God in all he may go on to do or design. Again, there are some people who are most unselfish in all their thoughts and acts, people whom it is a happiness to know, and who are a rebuke sometimes to our own selfish ways. In spite of their absence of self-seeking they are not so directed in their paths that they become directors of conscience to others. Some, I mean, with less unselfishness have a moral judgment that we should trust more. To say the truth, unselfishness is sometimes a negative kind of virtue. There are people who are more unselfish than obedient. They do not think of themselves, but--they have not the secret of the Lord. They are not self-willed, but they have not the insight into the will of God. We speak of the sinlessness of Christ, and I fear it often means something colourless and negative. It keeps us from thinking as we should about the positive and complete obedience of Christ. And so with the unselfishness of some sweet souls. It is more the absence of self than the presence of God or the secret of His Spirit. Again, when we think of God directing our path, what do we mean? When you look for God’s guidance on a difficult matter what is it you expect? Do you expect to hear, as it were, a voice in your soul’s ear saying clearly, as if some one called in at your window, “Yes, do this,” “No, don’t do that”? Do you expect to see in a vision of the night a beckoning figure? With cases like St. Paul before us, or even Joan of Arc, how can we deny that God has taken in special instances that way of revealing His will? But where would missions have been if the missionaries had waited till they saw the beckoning of some man of Macedonia in the dead of night? No. The commentary on the text is, “Whoso shall do the will of God shall know the doctrine,” or “My judgment is just, because I seek not Mine own will, but the will of Him that sent Me.” We must not only acknowledge God in our ways, but by our ways. We must not only pursue our own ways and interests, and add to that an occasional further acknowledgment of God; but our ways and business themselves must be the acknowledgment of God--the doing of His will. Life must be obedience, service. And in a life so lived there grows up a habit of mind which increases in the power of discerning God’s will and receiving His direction. As we pursue this obedience there grows up in us a mind conformed to Christ’s, a fellowship of the Spirit, a faculty of judgment which has the life secret of the Almighty. Our natural powers work. Our rational judgment is alive. We bring our reasonable faculties to bear on things. And yet Within all there is a moral sympathy, a moral affinity with the Spirit of God, which guides our judgment almost insensibly. Our affection and devotion, guide, shape, colour our views. Christ had no visions. It was His judgment that acted always in His perception of God’s will. But it was a judgment leavened by all His love of the Father, by all the obedience of His past. He steered by the compass of the Spirit. He never followed wandering fires. He did not act from suggestions in a trance. His human judgment was quickened by the Divine Spirit. It was not in abeyance. He divined God’s will not by His human weakness, but by His human strength. God directed His path through the exercise of His native powers, raised to superhuman insight by the intense purity and perfectness of His obedience at every stage. Everything He did gave Him power for seeing and doing His next thing. Every way He took so acknowledged God’s will that the direction of God never failed His path. Do not fall into the habit of expecting calls and impulses of a distinctly preternatural, miraculous, magical sort at your decisive steps in life. So live that the faculties that God gave you to read His will may be pure and fit for their work. If your eye be single, your body will be full of light. Obedience is the secret of just judgment in the will of God. Learn the habit of worshipping Christ in spirit and in truth. That is the school and practice for that judgment which sees God’s will, kindles to it, follows it, perceives it for others, and makes you a guide, antagonist, and helper to their weakness. There are many great cases in history where sanctity has given a penetration of judgment which baffled policy and puzzled shrewdness. And in the great affairs of the world the right judgment in the long run will reside with the men or the Church that best succeeds in holiness, in fine and deep obedience. Dwell much with God, and you acquire God’s habit of mind. Then take your honest share in the world, and you learn to read the world with God’s eye. Go into action, and you perfect yourself by practice in the art of interpreting God’s guidance for life. (T. P. Forsyth, D. D.)
The hand on the helm
My bark is wafted to the strand
By breath Divine;
And on the helm there rests a hand
Other than mine.
A safe pilgrimage
Religion is not a mere sentiment; it is a life. A man is known by his “ways.”
I. The condition mentioned.
1. “Acknowledge Him.”
(1) By shaping thy course according to His Word. His Word is His law.
(2) By real and constant prayer.
(3) By faith in the Divine promises.
2. “In all thy ways.”
(1) In thy enterprising ways. Seek first the blessing of the great Disposer of events--like Jacob at Bethel, Moses in his mission, and Solomon in the temple.
(2) In thy prosperous ways.
(3) In thy ways of adversity. There will be cross-ways: acquiesce, and glorify God.
II. The assurance given: “He shall direct thy paths.”
1. By removing obstructions. How often to the faithful He reveals surprising grace, as in the case of Nehemiah, Daniel, etc.
2. By preventing mistakes. Better if Jonah had acknowledged God; and Peter would once have saved himself bitter tears. Keep close to the Cloud and the Pillar.
3. By preserving from ruin. How came a portion of Israel to perish? and Ananias? Remember Lot’s wife, and beware. Be ever faithful, and God will keep thy feet in heaven’s pathway.
1. Now sinner, go thy way and acknowledge God for the first time on thy knees.
2. Christian brother, resolve to set the Lord continually before thee. (The Congregational Pulpit.)
I will direct his ways
It is like a child sitting in a boat; he does not know the coast, nor how to row; and his right hand, being a little stronger than the other, the boat would be constantly turning round and round. He would be carried away and lost if there were no guiding power in the boat. But there in the stern sits his father, whose steady hand overcomes the uneven strokes, and the boat keeps the right course. So that the force exerted by the child, though misdirected, all works for good when the father guides. (H. W. Beecher.)
The folly of a self-directed life
Have you acknowledged God yet in your life? Are you a converted man? Is your own self-will gone? Have you passed the reins of the nervous steed of your life into the hands of Him who can drive without a spill; or are you clumsily taking the reins into your own hand, and trying to drive these horses that have a career before them beside which that fabled career in Grecian mythology sinks into insignificance? The myth says that Sol’s son stole the chariot of his father, and in one blazing career he attempted to drive the horses of the Sun. It was his death. I rather think the old Greeks had a hold on life when they thus spake. I rather think they were feeling after the gospel when they said to the young heart, “Never try to handle the ribbons of the chariot of the Sun, that great circle of the heavens. Never try to ascend the blazing steps of the throne of light, or it will be your death.” Oh, young man! I beseech you, do not attempt to drive the horses of your life. You cannot do it. Many a man as strong in the muscle and nerve as you are has failed. In the paragraphs of human life you read this, if you read anything--that life, if it is to be a success, must be handed over in humility of spirit to a mighty God, the giver of life to the soul. Have you yet made the grand decision? (J. Robertson.)
Life a labyrinth
One of the great wonders of the world was the Egyptian Labyrinth. Herodotus tells us of a visit he made to this place. There were three thousand chambers in it; and when you had entered, the difficulty was to get out. The rooms were like one another, the passages were devious, and tortuous, and winding; and you might wander in the Egyptian Labyrinth till you died, and never be able to get out. They said, “This maze is the wonder of the world!” The Egyptian Labyrinth is nothing to this life in the way of a maze. I have been at the ball under the cross of St. Paul’s, in London, when the day was clear. I shall never forget how the city looked as it lay at my feet. Those streets on streets, those lanes and crosses, and avenues and roads--they lay in a perfect maze, in a labyrinth, before me. One felt how easy it would be to lose oneself in the London streets, they are so many, the place is so perplexing. No man can tell you about all these streets. He knows his one little bit. It is only as you stand and look down on the great living maze of the colossal city that you apprehend its vastness. Ah! this life of ours is worse. As you ascend the hill-top, and look down on the streets, and ways, and lanes, and roads of life, you say, “God help me! How can any man thread his way through this confusion?” (J. Robertson.)
When the old Spanish mariners, in their explorations, touched any new land, the first thing they did was to run the flag of Ferdinand and Isabella to the masthead on the highest point that they could reach on the new land. Every new shore was claimed for Spain. The sovereigns that encouraged the explorations of these Spanish mariners were acknowledged when the first foot touched the new shore. Ah, man! when you get your new situation, when you set up your new home, when new circumstances arrive in your life, it is grand to run up the flag of God’s Son, and say, “This new situation--this new era in my life--will be the acknowledgment of God in the person of His Son.” (J. Robertson.)
The value of prayer for Divine guidance
Two men had been friends since their early boyhood. One is now a successful merchant, who is known for his honour, probity, and high Christian character. The other is a lawyer, a man of integrity and good standing in the community also, but a disbeliever in God and His providence. The two men had been talking about the efficacy of prayer; and the merchant, urged to speak from his own experience, had confessed that he took this text literally: “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” “I never make a large purchase of goods, or plan any important change in my business,” he proceeded to explain, “without first asking special Divine guidance.” The lawyer smiled. “Oh, yes, I understand,” he replied. “But your phenomenal success can all be explained in a natural way. For instance, most men act impulsively sometimes--yield to their whims, or to ideas suddenly conceived. You escape this danger through your system of praying before you act. The prayer gains you a little time. Besides, your feeling of reverence for the Being you worship has in itself a tendency to clear your mind of prejudices, to restore your balance, and to make you a reasonable, logical person--otherwise, a good business man.” A light broke over the merchant’s face, and he was glad to have his friend’s testimony to the value of prayer, notwithstanding his unspiritual and inadequate way of seeking to explain it. (Sunday Companion.)
Be not wise in thine own eyes.
(see Isaiah 5:21):--
I. It involves self-ignorance. No one who knows himself could be conceited. Let the wisest man think of two things--
1. His knowledge in comparison with what is to be known.
2. His knowledge in comparison with what he ought to have known.
II. It obstructs mental improvement. This is clear from two things--
1. That mental improvement requires an earnest seeking for knowledge.
2. Earnest seeking for knowledge requires a deep sense of the necessity of knowledge. A self-conceited man feels no such necessity; he thinks he knows everything.
II. It destroys social influence. A self-conceited man disgusts rather than pleases, repels rather than draws. He is despised rather than respected. Intelligence, generosity, truthfulness, humility, these are the elements of social power. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The folly and danger of self-conceit
I. What are the usual signs, in young people, of their setting too high a value upon their own understanding?
1. In a general inattention to the means of instruction and improvement.
2. A spirit of contradiction strongly marks this failing. It is a strong symptom of self-conceit when young people are hasty in their judgments, and confident in their own opinions.
3. When, even in matters of importance, they are above asking or taking advice of others.
4. By rashly condemning the opinions and maxims which have received the stamp of time and experience. Youth should guard against the fascinations of novelty.
5. The worst sign is neglecting to ask counsel of God (James 1:5).
II. Whence is it that young people are peculiarly exposed to this evil?
1. They commonly know but little of themselves.
2. They can have but little acquaintance with the world.
3. They are much exposed to the imprudent and sinful flattery of others.
III. Some considerations to put youth seriously upon their guard against being wise in their own eyes.
1. Consider what little foundation there is for this vain conceit.
2. Nothing obstructs progress in true wisdom more effectually than the opinion that you are wise already.
3. If you are wise in your own eyes, you will not be so in the sight of God and man.
4. Nothing more surely betrays young people into certain ruin. Guard, then, against self-conceit. Watch and pray constantly against the spirit that works in character and life such fatal mischief. (John Humphrys, LL.D.)
Honour the Lord with thy substance.
The highest giving, the condition of the highest getting
I. The highest giving.
1. Giving to the Best Being.
2. Giving the best things to the Best Being. The surrender of self is essential to give virtue and acceptance to all other contributions (Romans 12:1).
II. The highest getting. By giving this you get back--what? The choicest and fullest Divine blessings.
1. He who yields his all to God attends to the conditions of all true prosperity--industry, temperance, economy, forethought, etc.
2. He who yields his all to God will insure the special favour of Heaven (see Hebrews 6:10.) (David Thomas, D.D.)
Giving, a privilege
This rule of sacrifice is a costly precept to the worldling and the formalist; but to the servant of God it is a privilege to lay aside a portion of substance with a sacred stamp on it, bearing the inscription, “This is for God.” Well may we think our substance due, where we owe ourselves. (C. Bridges, M.A.)
The duty of honouring God with our substance
I. A duty enjoined. Honouring the Lord with our substance.
1. We are to honour God in the expenditure of our substance upon causes of piety and benevolance. Our money--even our time, our health, our talents--is not our own. The humblest and the greatest are but stewards. Whatever they have is a trust.
2. God is to be first considered in the distribution and expenditure of our means. Our general plan is to see whether we have anything left for God. To honour the Lord is our positive, our first, duty.
3. Charitable and religious expenditure should be systematic.
II. A promise annexed to the discharge of the duty: “Thy barns be filled with plenty.” Expenditure here is gain. Have faith in God. “There is that scattereth and yet increaseth.” Christian liberality is gain, because it is giving unto the Lord. You cannot lose by faith, you cannot lose by obedience. Do not narrow too hastily, too selfishly, too covetously, the limits of what you think you can spare. Shrink not from self-denial. The test for us is our comparative expenditure for self and for God. (John C. Miller, M. A.)
Honouring the Lord with our substance
Under the old dispensation the Divine directions respecting religious observances and the use of property were more precise and definite than they are under the new. With the Jew it was in no sense optional whether or not he should contribute to the maintenance of the institutions of religion, nor whether he should contribute little or much. Under the Christian dispensation giving is voluntary. This may weaken the sense of obligation in many minds.
I. The duty here enjoined. We do not honour the Lord with our substance when we use it for purposes of display or of self-gratification. God is honoured--
1. When we relieve the physical wants of our fellow-creatures.
2. By devoting it to the maintenance of gospel institutions.
3. By employing it for the diffusion of the gospel in the benighted portions of the earth.
II. The promise by which we are encouraged to perform the duty. (W. M. Birchard.)
Despise not the chastening of the Lord.
The text is a kind of condensation of practical wisdom for the direction of life. It has reference to those dealings of God with men which have a stern and severe aspect, which are in themselves painful and unwelcome, and under which the human soul cannot well be satisfied or sustained aside from the two considerations, first, that they are the appointments of God, and second, that they are designed to be instrumental of our good. One of the most striking and unusual marks of human destiny is to be found in the afflictive dispensations which trouble us. The general counsel of the text is aimed at one of the common errors of men, viz., not being affected by our trials in a wise and beneficial manner.
I. Consider our afflictions as chastenings, corrections.
1. They are of God, and God takes no pleasure in the miseries of His creatures. They must be disciplinary--a part of the discipline of His love. It is a wonder that God should love us at all; no less a wonder than that, loving, He should afflict us.
2. The rule or order of human afflictions indicates their corrective intent. All of them do not come under this principle, indeed, but many of them do. God makes the miseries of life follow close and visible the sins and crimes of life to a very wide extent. They follow the sins of individuals and of nations. But we cannot rank all miseries under this rule. If we could know as God knows all the secondary causes which He employs, it is extremely probable that we should attribute many human miseries to human sin which we now attribute to the just and naked sovereignty of God. Whenever we can see the connection, and trace our unhappiness to a fault, that unhappiness is clearly the blow of a rod of discipline.
3. A state of entire innocence would have kept the world from all suffering.
4. The nature of our afflictions has in it something very remarkable. They are not so heavy as to crush us. They have many accompanying alleviations. For the most part we are able to bear up under them. They are not destructive, they must be disciplinary.
5. Consider the manner in which our afflictions ordinarily come upon us. They commence gently, and if the chastised do not amend, they are increased.
6. The alleviations which accompany earthly afflictions furnish almost a demonstration that the afflictions are designed for amendment.
II. The improvement of this subject. It becomes us, who have so many distresses to bear, to consider well the design of them. The world we live in, with its mingled chastisements and mercies, perfectly accords with the declarations of the gospel, that God is displeased, but waits to be gracious. And we shall soon have done with this system of disciplinary affliction for ever. (I. S. Spencer, D. D.)
Life a discipline
People sunk in heathenism do not trouble themselves about the true meaning of life. They are at the unreflective age of experience. They are in a position of ignorance or indifference with respect to the moral and religious aspect of man’s life. But with the rise and growth of reflection the significance of existence comes to the front, and presses in upon the mind, sometimes with painful urgency. This inquiry seems to us, who have eighteen centuries of Christian teaching, a comparatively easy one. But the answer varies to some extent with the individual. The attitude assumed towards God and the truths of revealed religion enters into the matter. This is seen by comparing the views of a sceptical and a believing person. The question as to the true interpretation of life was weighed and discussed by the wise and good men who wrote the Scriptures. Their conclusion was that life is, in part at least, disciplinary in its nature. Its hindrances, trials, sufferings are connected with the fatherly goodness of God, and offer opportunities for spiritual growth and improvement which would otherwise be impossible. This idea is, however, associated in most minds with the severer dispensations of Providence, and with these alone. But it really runs through life. The world is so constituted as to be a school of training for the human spirit. The moral government of the world gives clear evidences that God wills other ends than happiness, ends that even involve the present loss of happiness.
I. This broader and deeper aspect of the matter is disclosed in the relationship subsisting between man and nature. In the natural world the fullest scope has been left for effort, inquiry, perseverance, diligence. Had the world, as created by God, given a premium to indolence and incapacity it would have given us no hint of a Divine purpose underlying our life, but constituted as it is, it forces us to the conclusion that life was meant to be disciplinary in its character.
II. This truth is revealed in our relationship with men--with society. The moral law, which is our guide to duty, is stamped upon the consciences of men, so that there is no excuse for ignorance regarding it. But though the abiding principles of God’s kingdom are plain and undeniable, they do not save us from the trouble of thinking. The very difficulty of doing the right thing, we know, is a sign of the moral purpose underlying our life. Life is a discipline, but life may not be in any true sense a discipline to this individual and to that, because so much depends upon the attitude of the soul to God, and to His will. It remains with each man to enter into God’s redeeming purpose, and to become a fellow-worker with Him. (Morison Bryce.)
Despising God’s chastenings
I. What is it to despise the chastenings?
1. To receive them without any emotion. Trials should be felt; the heart should smart under the rod.
2. To fail to look into the cause of them. When afflictions come men seldom seriously set themselves to see why God contendeth with them.
3. To fail to be altered and improved by them. If a child is not better for his parent’s discipline, we say that correction has been thrown away upon him.
II. What is it to be “weary of His correction”?
1. It is the fault of those who make too much of their afflictions. Some are “swallowed up of overmuch sorrow.” It overwhelms, stupefies, consumes them. They brood over every circumstance of the stroke which has befallen them, and see it in the most aggravated light. Their imaginations even add to the reality. The believer, when he meets with sorrow, should consider the bright as well as the dark side of the Lord’s dealings with him. It is the sore temptation by which sufferers are sometimes exercised to be led to doubt, because of their suffering, that they are objects of the Lord’s interest.
2. It is the fault of those who rebel against the correction, who fret and murmur at the stroke. We weary of correction--
3. When we cannot wait the Lord’s time for the removal of our trials. We almost long to take the times out of His hands, and arrange things for ourselves. As trial never comes a day too early, so it never stays a day too long. We have afflictions to sustain, trials to endure; but we have a God of all comfort to make those trials easy. (A. Roberts, M.A.)
Right conduct under affliction
I. What must be our care when we are in affliction?
1. We must not despise an affliction, be it ever so light or short, as if it were not worth taking notice of; or as if it were not sent on an errand, and therefore required no answer. We must not be stocks or stones, insensible of them.
2. We must not be weary of an affliction, be it ever so heavy or long, nor faint under it; nor be dispirited, nor driven to use indirect means for our relief and redress of our grievances. We must not think that the affliction either presses harder, or continues longer than is meet, nor conclude that deliverance will never come because it does not come so soon as we expect it.
II. What will be our comfort when in affliction?
1. That it is a Divine correction.
2. That it is a fatherly correction. Afflictions not only consist with, but flow from, covenant love. They are so far from doing any real hurt, that they become the happy means of sanctification. (Matthew Henry.)
The course of human life is a course of chastening. It is not a word confined to the vocabulary of religion. But chastening seems to be unequally distributed. There is s possibility of treating godly chastisement in an ungodly spirit. It may be despised, or it may be endured with impatience. God’s purpose requires time for its exposition and realisation; and we require patience to abide its complete unfoldment. Patience often accomplishes what the most overwhelming strength could never effect. (J. Parker, D.D.)
Moral beauty the result of chastening
Scarcely any gem reveals its true beauties in a natural state. The diamond in the rough is most unattractive, and would be thrown away by a casual observer as a worthless pebble; its perfections are hidden under a hard crust, which can only be removed by its own powder. The deep velvet hues of the sapphire, the glowing brilliant red of the ruby, the soft clear green of the emerald, and the delicate strata of the onyx, alike only display themselves in their true character after the lapidary has used his skill in cutting them into facets and polishing them; and on the perfection of this operation depends in a great measure the beauty of the gem. As it is with these, so it is also with human gems. (Scientific Illustrations.)
Neither be weary of His correction.
Suffering in its bearing on conversion
The text assures that there is nothing in our present affliction that need make us despair. Suffering is altered in character as soon as we enter into possession of the Divine favour. It is no longer absolute and irremediable; it forms part of the plan of Divine love. It has not, however, ceased to bear its character of chastisement. How does affliction help us to realise the Divine love?
1. It acts as a dyke against the overflow of evil, it incessantly restrains and thrusts it back. Pain is a restraining and preserving power in this sinful world.
2. It acts as a preparative. Suffering, under the influence of grace, fills up the infinite distance between man and the Cross. It was the suffering of a God who humbled Himself that saved us; and it is suffering dispensed by this same God which prepares the sinner to believe in the crucified One. Suffering also makes us seize the salvation thus wrought for us, but which must be consummated in us. It must, therefore, pursue its work on this redeemed earth, where sin still dwells. (E. De Pressense, D.D.)
For whom the Lord loveth He correcteth, even as a father the son in whom he delighteth.
The characteristics of fatherly chastisement
The paternal relation is frequently ascribed to the Almighty, as that in which He stands to His people and servants. This reminds them that they are placed by Him under discipline, and that, if they offend, they must expect to receive chastisement.
I. A father will chastise his son with reluctance. He will try all other means first. When he does chastise it will be as one that yields to a painful necessity. So God “does not afflict willingly.” We cannot explain the reasons of the distinctions which are made by Divine Providence, apparently without respect to differences of character in the subjects of them. There are circumstances lying too deep for human view, which justify God’s ways.
II. A father will chasten his son with tenderness. He may be severe, he will not be cruel. When God chastens, it is in tenderness; when He sends affliction, He mitigates its severity, and does not permit it utterly to lay waste our comforts. His afflictions leave no permanently injurious effects.
III. A father will chasten his son with a view to his profit. The good of his child is his great and ultimate object. God has many gracious ends to serve by affliction. It may be designed--
1. To restrain us when we are ready to enter on sinful courses.
2. They may operate as seasonable mementoes in regard to the insecurity of our state here, and the necessity of preparing to meet our God.
3. They may be designed to try and call into exercise Christian graces, to wean our affections from the world, to awaken holy desires after God and heaven. (James Henderson, D.D.)
Happy is the man that findeth wisdom.
I. The pleasures of wisdom.
1. Present happiness.
2. Lasting happiness.
II. The preciousness of wisdom (Proverbs 3:14-18). Many figures are employed to set forth the preciousness of wisdom.
III. The possession of wisdom.
1. Its reception (Proverbs 3:18). This laying hold implies earnestness and determination. Heavenly wisdom will never be the portion of the man who has “no heart to it” (Proverbs 17:16).
2. Its retention (Proverbs 3:21). The crown jewels in the Tower are guarded and closely watched. Iron bars exclude the stranger from a too near approach to them, and jealous eyes watch his movements as he is permitted to look at them. So let us guard the “Pearl of great price.” The only hand that can hold fast the pearl of wisdom are those of “faith and love which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 1:13). Compare “The Lord . . . shall keep” (Proverbs 3:26).
IV. The pattern of wisdom (Proverbs 3:19).
V. The pursuit of wisdom. (H. Thorne.)
The happiness of the pious
It is a great mistake to suppose that the pious man is only to be blest; he is blest already.
I. Peace of conscience. The possession of the entire world, with all its honours and pleasures, would be but a mockery to him who feels the lash of an accusing conscience. While on the other hand, to him who is at peace with himself there is a sweet and ample solace under whatever external evils may befall him. This peace, however, is not to be confounded with another state of mind nearly resembling it. There is a sense of security in regard to spiritual and eternal things which springs not from religion, but from the want of it. It results either from infidel or deistical principles; or from the power of sinful appetites and passions which shut out all serious thoughts; or from false ideas of the mercy of God; or, again, from men’s most erroneous conceptions of their own character. How different the peace of the children of God! It is intelligent, and well-grounded, and Scriptural. It admits the existence of sin and punishment, of death and of hell. Truly pious men generally have profounder impressions of these realities than any others. But at the same time they look with faith to an all-sufficient Redeemer; and in the merits of His obedience and death they see ample reason for confidence and hope.
II. The union of inclination and duty. The pious have this characteristic, that they not only pursue the path of rectitude, but delight in it as being not merely their duty, but their choice. They have a new spiritual relish, which makes religious duties as attractive to them as books are to a scholar, as parade-day is to a soldier, or as gay amusements are to the children of fashion.
III. Communion with God. The pious man withdraws from outward and worldly things; and seeks intercourse with his God. And who shall tell the joy and peace of the communion thus gotten? It is pure, heavenly, Divine.
IV. Confidence in providence. One of the chief evils of this world is its uncertainty. Its fashion is continually passing away. Now, amid all these proverbial vicissitudes of this world, there is only one man who can walk with a charmed life, i.e., the wise or pious man. He knows not, nor does he want to know, what may befall him; but he is sure nothing shall happen to him which is not sent by a Divine hand, which is not wisely and kindly intended, and which shall not, in the end, minister to his eternal blessedness. How happy is the man who has found this wisdom; who can and does thus habitually regard God! How free from care and anxiety his bosom!
V. The hope of heaven. Hope is often spoken of as the one great blessing of man which survived the ruins of the fall. There is, however, an objection sometimes offered to this statement. “If this be so,” it is said, “then Christians ought to be distinguished by a uniform sense of contentment and peace; they should be the happiest of mortals: whereas frequently the reverse of this is the case.” The objection is fair, and we purpose to answer it fairly. First, then, all professed Christians are not such in reality; and, of course, it is no wonder that nominal believers should have only nominal joy. But, secondly, many real children of God are constitutionally of a gloomy or desponding temperament. But, thirdly, a great many, of whom we may hope that the root of the matter is in them, feel and show but little of the happiness we have spoken of because of their weak faith and careless living. The most beautiful landscape conveys no pleasure to the man who does not see it. The largest promises mean nothing to him who does not know or believe that he has some title to them. And hence the disquietude of many of whom it would be harsh to say they had no interest in Christ. (T. W. Chambers.)
The value of wisdom
I. One way of learning wisdom (Proverbs 3:11-12). By means of “the chastening of the Lord”; that is, of instruction through chastisement. There are some who will heed no other voice but this. Many a life that has been frivolous or selfish or indifferent to spiritual things has been led into the path of wisdom by affliction. God would not let chastening come unless we had something yet to learn. When it does come, therefore, it behoves us to listen patiently and reverently.
II. The blessedness of wisdom. This is expressed in the way which would mean most to an Oriental. To him things to be desired would be ornamental, like silver, fine gold, rubies (or pearls). And then he is allowed to let his imagination run riot. Let him think of anything in the world which he would like to possess very much, wisdom is still infinitely more to be desired. Why is it blessed to choose Wisdom? In her right hand is length of days. What man wants is life itself. The pursuit of wisdom tends naturally to give a man longer life. The wise man, who serves God in quietude and simplicity, has an even, regular habit of life which tends to longevity. In her left hand are riches and honour. We may not say that riches and honour always go to the good and never to the bad; but taking the world over, it pays to do right even from a worldly point of view. In the long run prosperity and honour go to those who deserve them. Where would you go to find those who truly enjoy life? To the epicure, the man of mental or bodily dissipation, the ungodly rich, the frivolous? Surely not. These lives do not contain the formula of peace.
III. The seat of wisdom. It is in God. The man seeking wisdom looks up to Him whose superhuman wisdom is declared in every rain-drop and every grass-blade. Whoever earnestly wants to know how to live will somehow find his way to God.
IV. The consequences of receiving wisdom. They are such as life, grace, safety, peace. The life of wisdom of the Old Testament finds its fulfilment in the life of the soul in Jesus Christ. The value of the Christian life is made clear by taking up such things as are sometimes supposed to be disadvantageous in it and seeing how they are transformed into blessings. Such things as these are supposed to be unpleasant in it: its definite committal, outspoken avowal, sacrifice of pleasure, loss of independence, irksome duties. But the life which turns its own seeming disadvantages into positive enjoyments must be the pleasantest life. Such is the life of the soul in Christ, who is made unto us the wisdom of God. (D. J. Burrell, D. D.)
of wisdom:--Here notice the writer’s insight into the fundamental conception of human life.
I. Life as a school. The word “chastening” might be rendered “instruction.” It means the dealing of God with the human soul as a teacher deals with his pupil. This idea relieves God of the charge that He is angry with His children when sorrows fall upon them. We are not to “despise” this instruction, not to “weary” at this correction.
II. The best lesson to be learned in this school is wisdom. Not all in the school succeed in learning this. Wisdom is skill; it is enlightenment of the soul with respect to its relation to God and His world. It includes insight, judgment, and the highest qualities of the soul. With the richness of this inner life there comes true peace.
III. This wisdom is creative. “The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth.” Wisdom is creative in man. He is a generator of moral influence wherever he may be. Some persons are reserve forces of righteousness. Such influence is creative.
IV. This wisdom begets faith. It produces confidence in the unknown and untried. Knowledge of God, instead of creating doubt, inspires firmer hope and humble reliance. The further one sees into God’s character the more serene and settled he is, because the progress in knowing God is progress in knowing goodness. (E. S. Tead.)
The religious and moral ends of knowledge
Here are described the effects of wisdom upon the honour and happiness of human life.
I. In every period of life the acquisition of knowledge is one of the most pleasing employments of the human mind. In youth there are circumstances which make it productive of higher enjoyment.
II. The pursuits of knowledge lead not only to happiness, but also to honour. To excel in the higher attainments of knowledge, to be distinguished in those greater pursuits which have commanded the attention and exhausted the abilities of the wise in every former age is perhaps of all the distinctions of human understanding the most honourable and grateful.
III. Knowledge is at best only a means to an end. Knowledge of every kind supposes some use to which it is to be applied.
1. To illustrate the wisdom and goodness of the Father of nature.
2. To secure the welfare of humanity. The benevolence of knowledge is of a kind as extensive as the race of man, and as permanent as the existence of society.
3. To improve our own minds. (Archibald Alison, D. D.)
For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold.
The honour, profit, and pleasure of religion
It is an unquestionable truth, that to walk in the paths which God has enjoined, is to secure to ourselves the most perfect felicity which our present state will admit; and that our misery and unhappiness arise in proportion to our deviation from that “peaceful and pleasant path.” If you are wise enough to lay hold of and retain this excellent wisdom--
1. Honour shall be yours.
2. Profit shall be yours. Who can doubt of the advantages which will accompany our sincere profession of religion? Advantages in time and in eternity.
3. Pleasure shall be yours. Religion affords the mind the most complete and substantial satisfaction. (W. Dodd, LL. D.)
A gainful merchandise
Wisdom is compared and contrasted with other possessions. It is merchandise. There is a most pleasant excitement in the prosecution of mercantile enterprise. It gives full play to all the faculties. Those who prosecute have their wits more sharpened than other sections of the community. The plans are contrived, and the calculations made . . . What of the merchandise for a more distant country than that to which his goods are going--what of the traffic for eternity? Are there no careful calculations, no instructive longings, no vivid imaginings, as to its condition and progress? This merchandise is better and more gainful than any other. The world contains not any such promising field for speculation. It opens up a richer and surer market than any port of Time. It is a treasure that cannot be taken away. (W. Arnot, D.D.)
The treasures of wisdom
Man is the only trading animal; commerce is his prerogative. The blazon of his trade, or exchange, is his patent of nobility. There is no distinction more honourable. There is no earthly title nobler than “a merchant”; and as such they are the controlling class in society--the chieftains and nobles of the later civilisation. Without them, there could be no division of labour, and consequently no accumulation of capital, and therefore no education, no literature, no science, no fine art, no true civilisation. The term “merchant” is altogether honourable and honoured, and therefore, and as such, is aptly metaphorical of a true Christian. Consider some points of resemblance.
I. The true merchant is a man of strong faith. Indeed, in regard of temporal things, he above all other men may be said “to walk by faith.” His barks are on the sea, and the sea is treacherous. His goods are consigned to men who may be plotting to defraud him. His ability to meet obligations depends on media of exchange, which some financial panic may paralyse in a moment. Yea, his “walk by faith” goes far beyond this. His business extends practically to the very ends of the earth, to lands he has never seen, and with races of men with whom he has never mingled. And thus in this walk by faith he is a fit emblem of a Christian.
II. The true merchant is a man of great earnestness and activity. His faith is not an indolent trust, but an energising principle.
III. The true merchant is a man practically and pre-eminently useful. His wares are of real value--his labours sincere benefactions. Traced carefully back to their origin, to mercantile enterprise under God, must be ascribed all real human progress, from the hut and hunting spear of the earlier barbarism to the palaces and emporiums of the last civilisation. It is the merchant who has bridged the oceans and united continents; covered the seas with sails and the land with machinery.
IV. Especially in these particulars must every Christian be like unto a merchantman, for--
1. He must be a man of strong faith. This is essentially and every way the foundation of his character. He must rely confidently for his salvation on another, and live ever in reference to the far-away and invisible.
2. A. Christian must be an active and earnest man. That indolent reliance on Christ, which some men call faith, is a fearful delusion of the great adversary. While we can do nothing to merit salvation, yet we must do very much “to work out our salvation.” The high calling of God in Christ Jesus is not a lullaby over a cradle, but a great voice out of heaven saying, “Come up hither.”
3. A Christian must be a useful man. The law of his life is that of his Master, “not to be ministered unto, but to minister.”
4. But we are not to forget that while thus beneficent to other men, a Christian, like a merchant, is above all, and ineffably, benefiting himself. This, indeed, is the main truth set forth in the emblem. Mark the language, “The merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver.” It is implied here that this trading of the merchant in earthly products is good because profitable. But the Christian’s exchanging of temporal for eternal things is affirmed to be obviously better, because ineffably more profitable.
(1) Because of the security of the transaction. All material commerce is manifestly with a hazard. But not so the spiritual. The Christian’s trust is in nothing finite, but in the living God. His bark cannot founder, for Christ sails with him. Thieves cannot steal his treasure, for it is laid up in heaven.
(2) Because the treasure it secures is infinitely more valuable. This, indeed, is the great truth of the whole passage. We have here a most beautiful climax of all earth’s rarest and richest things. Silver, gold, rubies, all in their rarest purity and richest abundance, are declared to be of inferior value. Yea, the inspired penman affirms that “all things the human heart can desire are not to be compared with his.” And if you will remember that this is the testimony, not of some poor, unsuccessful man, but of Solomon--of Solomon, too, at a period of his experience when he had tested, as no other man ever did, the worth of all earthly things--not the utterance of one who, disappointed in his struggle for riches, pleasure, honour, turns in melancholy misanthropy away, to rail at the world and call it hard names, and scold from a hermit’s cell, or a priest’s pulpit; but of a crowned king in a palace, on a throne, around whom the world delighted to gather all the prizes of life’s mightiest triumphs, then you will take his testimony as demonstrated, that the treasure secured by Christian life is letter than all the results of an earthly commerce. (C. Wadsworth, D.D.)
Wisdom for the children
This Book of Proverbs is a manual of conduct. It is not intended to make its readers learned men, but to make them wise men. We begin to be wise when we fear God, and to fear Him is always the chief part of wisdom. Some parts of the book are specially intended for the young. Its authors saw clearly that character is largely formed in childhood and youth. Hence strong emphasis is placed on the importance of the firm and wise discipline of children and young people; and there are grave and repeated warnings against the sins to which the young are specially tempted. If we are to achieve any great and enduring reformation in the condition of this country, and of the world, there must be an intelligent, a serious, a persistent endeavour to give to children and young people true conceptions of the possible dignity of human life, the gracious sternness of duty, the freedom and blessedness which are to be found in the service of God. Children are the salvation of the race. There is a new world created every thirty or forty years. There lies our hope. What ought we to teach the children?
I. Wisdom. What they need to know for the conduct of life: how to live. Our first duty is to make God known to them. And the Christian method of doing that is to bring home to them constantly the great truth that having seen Christ we have seen the Father. All that Christ was, all that He said, must be accepted as containing disclosures of the life of the Father. The Christian conception of life is founded on the Christian gospel. Wisdom consists in a clear and just estimate of what are the true ends of life, and in the power to determine how life should be ordered so as to secure those ends, but for this we must know what God’s relations to us are. The great Christian truths have a direct relation to life; they determine the laws of life; they are the forces which enable us to fulfil those laws.
II. Understanding. This denotes the power of accurate discrimination between things which may seem to be alike; in this sense, understanding is one of the aids and instruments by which wisdom is able to direct conduct. In most men the perception of duty is often dim and uncertain. Men who mean to do right do wrong because they cannot clearly see the line by which right and wrong are separated. Therefore the plain duties of human life and relationship should be taught to children. The duties of industry, truthfulness, equal justice, temperance, patience, fortitude, good temper, courtesy, and modesty. Much more in the way of direct moral instruction, for securing a proper “understanding” of life and relations, could be done both in the school and in the family. (R. W. Dale, LL.D.)
The value of mental cultivation
Even in the sense of mere mental cultivation this is true. A well-informed, well-stored mind is an acquirement greatly superior in real excellence to aught that is merely external--to wealth, or to all the outward distinction that wealth can procure. It is a source of more rational and richer enjoyment to the person’s self, and a far worthier ground of respectability and honour. There are few objects really more pitiable than an ignorant, senseless rich man--a man whose mind, in its unfurnished poverty and emptiness, presents a perpetual contrast with his outward pomp and plenitude. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
The best merchandise
Why is the merchandise of wisdom better than the merchandise of silver?
1. Because it is a business you can begin sooner than you can any other.
2. Because it is easier to trade in. It requires less money and less labour to carry it on.
3. Because you can have better partners here than in any other pursuits.
4. Because it yields more profit than any other.
5. Because there is more room for engaging in it than in any other. We are all fitted for it, and invited to engage in it. (R. Newton, D.D.)
She is more precious than rubies.
The quality of virtue
The words wisdom, understanding, and knowledge partly translate the word “virtue.”
I. The wonderful effects virtue produces on the mind.
1. The effects bear no proportion to our immediate sentiments concerning it.
2. Observe the complete change which it produces upon the human character itself. It gives the human being all the value which he can possess.
3. Notice the power it possesses of communicating immediate happiness to the mind.
4. Virtue reaches beyond the agent himself, and affects all who stand in connection with him.
5. Observe the unexpected and amazing changes which it produces upon the great societies of the earth. It is, in fact, the great principle of national happiness and civilisation.
II. The argument suggested. Look beyond the appearances of the moment, and study and know your real interest, and your own natural and best connections. Placed among men, virtue operates incessantly for their benefit. She is incessantly employed in improving and comforting us. (John Mackenzie, D.D.)
The best of all blessings
1. We cannot get all that we desire, but we can get the grace of God.
2. If we could get all the things that we desire, they would not make us happy, but the grace of God will.
3. If we could get them, and they could make us happy, we cannot keep them; but we can keep the grace of God. The grace of God, or the religion of Jesus, is the most valuable thing in the world. Then how earnestly we should seek it. (R. Newton, D. D.)
The circumstances which enhance the value of virtue
Virtue is beautiful and lovely in itself. Her dictates are founded on the nature of things.
1. The more accurate and perspicuous our knowledge of the principle which gives birth to a virtuous act, or on which it is performed, the greater is the value of it.
2. The more generous and pure the motives to our good actions, the greater is the value of them.
3. The more the virtues that we practise are contrary to our natural dispositions, to our constitution, or to our darling propensities, the more resplendent and excellent are they.
4. The value of our virtue is greatly enhanced by the outward obstacles we have to contend with in the exercise of it, or in proportion to the little encouragement we meet with in it.
5. The more considerable the privation we undergo for the sake of virtue, the more various and inevitable the hazards that attend it, the greater is its value.
6. The satisfaction, or the willingness with which a virtue is practised, contributes in like manner very much to heighten its beauty or its worth.
7. Constancy in virtue is also a circumstance which enhances the value of it.
8. The more benign the influence of our virtue is upon the public interest, the greater is its value. (G. J. Zollikofer.)
Length of days is in her right hand.
Godliness a help to longevity
So far from being true that good men, women, and children die sooner than others, the reverse is actually the case. As wickedness acts as a shortener of life, so does a regard for God’s wholesome laws help to lengthen it. It is an unnatural thing for one to desire to die before he has finished his work on earth. It cannot be wrong in us to love life, when God promises it to His children as a special blessing. It is easy to discover why religion is conducive to length of days. Obedient children will be most likely to avoid the vices and crimes which shorten life. The love of life is not peculiar to man as a fallen being. Why do we desire that “length of days” should be our portion?
I. Because life is pleasant, and the world, in spite of seasons of clouds and storms, is a beautiful one. Illustrate by the summer landscape. We love life for its many comforts and enjoyments. Who can estimate the pleasures of the family circle, the genial intercourse of friends, the cultivation of refinement and taste, the peculiar satisfaction which attends literary labours, the accumulation of property as a provision against the season of old age, and that we bear our part in works of beneficence and charity?
II. Because it is a season of usefulness.
III. Because through length of days on earth, we may be the better prepared to meet God. Eternity alone is the real life-time of the soul. A life without a purpose is utterly unworthy of him on whom God has bestowed mental gifts and the gift of immortality. (John N. Norton.)
The fruits of wisdom
There is a great difference between the Old Testament and the New, with respect to the motives by which religious virtue is severally enforced in them. In the old covenant there was an established connection between obedience and outward prosperity. The New Testament differeth from this very widely, both in its general declarations and the instances of fact which its history containeth. Our Lord assured His disciples that they must expect tribulation. Length of days, riches, and honours, instead of being promised as the rewards of Christianity, in some cases, must be renounced by all the servants and disciples of Jesus Christ. It may be that we are reminded of two expressions which seem to promise material prosperity (Matthew 6:33; 1 Timothy 4:8). But in the first our Lord’s design is to show the folly of an inordinate carefulness, not about abundance of worldly things, outward splendour, and great wealth, but the necessaries of life, what we shall eat and drink, and wherewithal we shall be clothed. The promise therefore must be understood to extend no farther than to answer the intention of superseding our thoughtfulness about these needful things. As to the other text, it seemeth to mean that in the practice of true religion we may hope that, ordinarily, God’s gracious care will be employed for our support and preservation. If we observe the ordinary methods of Divine providence, and the general course and state of things, with their connection and dependence in this world, we shall find that, for the most part, the practice of the Christian virtues hath a tendency even to our outward advantage, and to promote our present interest, rather than the contrary. The observation holdeth more universally with respect to communities, some of which have risen from very small beginnings to great and powerful nations, by industry, frugality, the exact distribution of justice, fidelity, and other virtues; on the other hand, the history of all ages showeth that the most opulent and flourishing kingdoms have been precipitated into ruin by avarice, oppression, luxury, and injustice.
I. Wisdom’s gift is length of days. Life importeth the capacity for enjoyments, and is the foundation of them all. Length of days has the preference of riches and honour, but not of an approving conscience. That a religious or virtuous course of life tendeth to prolong our days we may be convinced by experience. Temperance, meekness, and patience contribute to long life. Benevolence and the social virtues tend to secure life against that foreign violence to which the unjust, the cruel, and the inhumane are obnoxious.
II. Wisdom’s gift is riches. There are abuses of wealth. But it may lawfully be sought after as the means of living easy, and enjoying the comforts of this world with moderation. Nature teacheth, and religion doth not forbid it, that we should endeavour to render our condition in this world tolerable. And wealth should also be valued as the means and ability of doing good in a religious and moral sense. Men ordinarily acquire riches by their parsimony, their industry and their credit, and to all these the moral virtues comprehended in wisdom are eminently serviceable. The natural effect of temperance, chastity, humility is to retrench a great many exorbitancies. And diligence is specially commended in religion. Mutual confidence is of great advantage for the getting of riches, and religious character is the sure ground of confidence.
III. Wisdom’s gift is honour--that esteem, with the outward tokens and expressions of it, which men have in the world. This is a certain effect of wisdom or religious virtue, because virtue itself maketh the very character which is honourable, or the subject of esteem. Men cannot help having in their heart a veneration for the man who, by the whole course of his behaviour, appears to be pious, sober, just, and charitable, let his condition be what it will. (J. Abernethy, M. A.)
The discreet behaviour of the Christian respecting his outward welfare
Well-being in externals, though not the most important part of our happiness, is yet always a part of it, and consequently a care for its conservation and advancement cannot be absolutely wrong.
1. See that all your efforts to promote your outward welfare are innocent. Employ none other than fair and honest means to that end.
2. Never let your efforts so engross and occupy your mind as to allow you neither inclination nor leisure, time nor ability, to care and labour for that which more proximately and directly promotes the perfection of your spirit.
3. Do not assume that your efforts for your outward welfare must necessarily succeed, or that they are absolutely lost if they fail of success.
4. Dignify your efforts by forming just conceptions of the ultimate end of all earthly goods and outward distinctions.
5. Enjoy the fruits of your labour, in proportion as you reap them, and postpone not the legitimate, discreet use and enjoyment of them, till you shall have acquired and accumulated such or such a store of them. Enjoy all the pleasures, the comforts, the conveniencies of life, with a cheerful temper and without anxious care for the future. Enjoy them as men, not as children; enjoy them as Christians. (G. J. Zollikofer.)
The gain of true religion
Sir Henry Mitchell, a distinguished Methodist layman, made an interesting speech at Bradford, in which he referred to the late Sir Isaac Holden, who was a life-long Methodist. He died respected by every one who knew him, and more than a millionaire. Sir Henry went to see Sir Isaac a little while before his death, and said to him, “You owe most to your religion and to Methodism.” To which Sir Isaac replied, “Everything.” Sir Isaac added that his study of Methodist doctrine and experience had exercised a most wholesome discipline upon his mind, and had contributed very largely--perhaps more than any other influence that had been brought to bear upon his character--to his success in life.
The advantages of religion
“Honour” can only be attained by religion and virtue.
I. The true nature of honour.
1. Used to denote worthy and creditable parentage.
2. Or it signifies titles of place and dignity. Veneration is due to some callings and relations of men, though the persons themselves should not be virtuous.
3. The term is sometimes used for the esteem and reputation which a man hath in the world, especially amongst virtuous persons. Such honour is “power,” enabling a man to do things great and worthy; and it is “safety,” as it gives a man an interest in the esteem and affection of others.
II. Religion and virtue are the only means of attaining honour. This can be proved--
1. By testimony; from Scripture, from the concurrent opinion of wise men in all ages.
2. By reason. There may be a twofold cause of things--moral and natural. A moral cause is that which doth dispose a man to such a condition, upon the account of fitness or desert, and in this sense honour is the reward of virtue. The natural cause of a thing, by its own immediate efficacy, produces the effect; and in this sense likewise virtue is the cause of honour.
3. By experience; that practical knowing which every man may attain by his own observation. Two objections may be urged against what is thus proved--
(1) Good men have met with dishonour, as Christ and His disciples did.
(2) Vicious men have sometimes been had in honour. External honour may be due to them; internal honour is only given by those who do not know them. (Bp. John Wilkins.)
Her ways are ways of pleasantness.
The walk of faith a way of pleasantness and peace
I. Why is it that all the ways of wisdom are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace? Because they are the appointment of an infinitely tender Father for His covenant children to walk in. The way towards Mount Zion might have been full of bitterness, but even then it would have been best to walk in the way of safety. Heaven has its openings here. The peaceful mind, the heart that rests in the love of God, the conscience sprinkled with the precious blood of atonement, the will that lies passive in the hands of the Father, or would desire to do so: these form some little openings of what shall be--foretastes of what shall be; these are the little beams of the future day of glory, where night shall never come. Moreover it is pleasant to walk in the ways which others have found pleasant. See the testimony of God’s saints. And those paths must be pleasant and peaceful in which the Lord Jesus Christ has gone before us.
II. The path or walk of faith is in itself a most happy walk. Faith looketh to Jesus, and as it looks upon Jesus, it walks in a pleasant path, rests upon Him for wisdom; He is our wisdom. It is not only wisdom which we look to, but it is the wisdom of tender sympathy; and this path is, therefore, a most happy, peaceful, blessed path. Faith looks to Christ for a complete, perfect, and glorious righteousness. Faith looks to Christ for sanctification. Faith looks upon Christ in the way of glorification. It requires wisdom to discern the paths of wisdom. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)
The ways of true religious wisdom are ways of pleasantness
I. Enumerate some leading instances of this general truth.
1. It is pleasant to exchange a constant stream of worldly and vain thoughts, for the contemplation of God and heavenly things.
2. It is pleasant to exchange an obstinate stupidity or self-confidence for a penitential sense of sin, accompanied with a hope of forgiveness, founded on the sacrifice of Christ.
3. It is pleasant to exchange self-indulgence for self-denial.
4. It is pleasant to exchange a course of negligence, hypocrisy, and sensuality for a life of activity in the ways of God.
5. It is pleasant to exchange selfishness, injustice, cruelty, pride, and malevolence for an active benevolence towards mankind.
6. It is pleasant to live as a citizen of heaven, as one interested in the affairs of God’s eternal kingdom.
II. Obviate some contrary objections.
1. There will be a secret demur about this pleasantness, on the ground of feeling no strong propensity towards it.
2. Of opposing the requirements of religion, conviction, humiliation, repentance, etc.
3. Of the influence of carnal relations and acquaintances.
4. Of the conduct of some professors. Let us try ourselves, whether the ways of wisdom are indeed pleasant to us. Have we felt the bitterness of sin, and of a sinful state? Have we felt our distance from this pleasure, and impossibility of getting near it? Have we seen the glory of God, universally? Have we seen the transcendent glory, and tasted the sweetness of the person and love of Jesus Christ? Have we an insatiable thirst after this sweetness? (J. Love, D.D.)
The advantages of virtue and piety
Two opinions the inconsiderate are apt to take upon trust.
1. A vicious life is a life of liberty, pleasure, and happy advantages.
2. A religious life is a servile and most uncomfortable state.
The truth is, that besides the principal work which religion does for us in securing our future well-being in the other world, it is likewise the most effectual means to promote our present, and that not only morally,but by a natural tendency in themselves, which the duties of religion have to procure us riches, health, reputation, credit, and all those things wherein our temporal happiness is thought to consist.
1. Justice and honesty contribute very much towards all the faculties of the mind.
2. In the continuance and course of a virtuous man’s affairs there is little probability of his falling into considerable disappointments or calamities--not only because guarded by the providence of God, but because honesty is in its own nature the freest from danger.
3. The religious and moral man is disposed to procure help, which never enters into the thoughts of a wicked one. Being conscious of upright intentions, he can look towards heaven, and with some assurance recommend his affairs to God’s blessing and direction.
4. In all good governments the upright and honest man stands much fairer for preferment, and is much more likely to be employed in all things where fidelity is wanted.
5. The more and longer a virtuous man is known, so much the better is he loved and trusted.
6. Virtue brings peace and content of mind. Virtue befriends us in the life to come. (Laurence Sterne.)
The peace and pleasantness of true religion
I. Pleasure is the idol of man. All men desire happiness, and all strive, some way or other, to secure it. But fallen man is liable to many and fatal mistakes in the pursuit of it. Is the man of the world really happy? Such men have their pleasures; but they have no true happiness, because their pleasures are neither certain, solid, nor lasting.
II. The ways of true religion are ways of pleasantness. It is God’s will that man should be happy. The knowledge of God in Christ is the first step towards happiness. It is not only “life eternal,” it is present peace and pleasure to “know the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom He hath sent.” (Charles Davy.)
Ways of pleasantness
The man of pleasure utterly mistakes both his object and his pursuit. The only happiness worth seeking is found here; that which will live in all circumstances, and abides the ceaseless changes of this mortal life. “The ways” may be dark and lonely, yet how does the sunshine of reconciliation beam upon their entrance! Every step is lighted from above, and strewed with promises; a step in happiness, a step to heaven. Wisdom’s work is its own reward--strictness without bondage. God rules children, not slaves. They work neither from compulsion, nor from hire, but from an ingenious principle of gratitude to their Benefactor, filial delight in their Father. Pleasant, therefore, must be the labour, yea, the sacrifices of love; short the path, cheerful the way, when the heart goes freely with it. (C. Bridges, M.A.)
The pleasures of a religious life
I. Premise a few things for explaining the text.
1. What is said of the pleasures of religion supposes that persons are inured to the practice of it, and have a virtuous disposition and turn of mind. Every pleasure must have its faculty of perceiving, suited and adapted to it.
2. In interpreting the text we must except extraordinary cases, such as that of violent persecution.
3. The text does not speak of what is always the fact, but of the direct and natural tendency of the thing. The pleasures of religion may be destroyed by dark and gloomy notions of it, or by the influence of a melancholy habit.
II. The peculiar excellency of the pleasures of religion and virtue. They are the highest mankind are capable of; have everything in them that can recommend any pleasures to the pursuit of rational beings, and infinitely the advantage, in many respects, over all other enjoyments whatsoever. Let us show the difference between the several pleasures to which mankind are addicted, and prove that their particular sentiments, prejudices, affections, and habits do not destroy, or in reality at all lessen, this necessary difference; and that the superiority on all accounts, whether it be in respect of purity, solidity, duration, and every other circumstance that can help to furnish out the most complete satisfaction, is on the side of the pleasures of the virtuous man.
1. The pleasures of virtue suppose all those unruly passions to be subdued, or at least controlled and moderated, which are the cause of the greatest disorders and miseries in human life.
2. The pleasures of virtue will bear the strictest review, and improve upon reflection.
3. The pleasures of religion depend entirely on ourselves, and not on those numberless accidents which may either prevent, or blast, or entirely destroy all outward pleasures.
4. The pleasures of religion can never be pursued to an excess: never beyond the most deliberate dictates of reason; to bring a just reproach on ourselves, or to the injury of others.
5. Religious pleasures are our best, our only support, under the disappointments and calamities of life.
6. The pleasures of religion are of all others the most durable. (James Foster.)
Pleasantness and peace
True piety has in it the greatest true pleasure. The ways in which she has directed us to walk are such as we shall find abundance of delight and satisfaction in. All the enjoyments and entertainments of sense are not comparable to the pleasure which gracious souls have in communion with God and doing good. That which is the only right way to bring us to our journey’s end we must walk in, fair or foul, pleasant or unpleasant; but the way of religion, as it is the right way, so it is a pleasant way: it is smooth and clean, and strewed with roses. There is not only peace in the end, but peace in the way; not only in the way of religion in general, but in the particular paths of that way, in all her paths, all the several acts, instances, and duties of it. One does not embitter what the other sweetens, as it is with the allays of this world. (Matthew Henry.)
A pleasant road to travel
I. This is joy enduring.
II. It introduces to good society.
III. Its cheerful prospect.
IV. Its joyful termination. (J. W. Bray.)
The temporal advantages of a religious life
I. A just conception of the nature and situation of man. With a body compounded from the earth, man became a living soul. Between those very different substances, matter and spirit, the union is most perfect. The situation of man agrees with his nature. By his intellectual powers he asserts his relation to the world of mind and spirit; but his material part connects him with a world which, abounding with evils, manifestly appears to be the place of preparation for riper and ascending existence. With this nature, and in this situation, from whence can man derive the strongest promise of successful toil? A man may follow happiness by the path of power; by the pursuit of wealth; by becoming a votary of pleasure. But the ways of unrighteousness never can be the ways of pleasantness, nor its paths peace.
II. Of religion, as she stands opposed to her rivals, the most obvious and discriminating advantages are these.
1. Her impartiality and easiness of access.
2. The comfort and certainty which attend her in possession.
3. The beneficial consequences of the pursuit which she directs.
4. The supreme beauty and importance of the objects to which she looks. (C. Symmons, B.D.)
Religion and its value
What is the generally accepted sense in which the word “religion” is used in our own times? The same persons are found to use the term in somewhat different senses. It may denote the creed or technical beliefs of different people--or the rites and ceremonies of each religious section of humanity. But religious doctrines and rites both derive their origin from the sentiment of religion which is common to all the religions of the world. Both belief and practice are dependent on what we may call a sentiment of God, a consciousness that there is a God, a desire to believe correctly about Him, and to please Him by certain actions. The sentiment is the same under whatever forms the religious doctrine and practice may show themselves. Religion is independent of the forms it may assume. Religion is radically a consciousness of God, involving various thoughts and feelings concerning Him, but always more or less coupled with a sense of personal obligation to Him. Religions are the various modes in which that consciousness is expressed, both as to the intellectual notions concerning God held as doctrines, and the rites, ceremonies, and practices regarded as obligatory, or as deemed pleasing to God.
I. Religion does not consist in mere beliefs about God, or in the observance of religious rites. Not that these are of no importance, only that they must not be put as substitutes for true religion. Since Comte’s day there has been a tendency to confound religion with morality. The two things are distinct, though inseparable.
II. Religion is not always associated with true beliefs. The intellectual beliefs of a man’s religion can only be approximations to the truth more or less remote; rites and ceremonies are obligatory so far as we find them serviceable to our own spiritual culture, and beneficial to the community as acts of social worship. The value of religion consists in its affording satisfaction to the most imperative demands of our nature; in its power to soothe and console the mind under bitterest griefs; and in the bright hopes which it inspires for the life to come. The refinement and elevation of character among the vast majority of our race have been mainly owing to the sanctions created or intensified by religious emotion. Not one of human sorrows can be so adequately, so bounteously compensated for as by religion. Stoicism, the privilege only of the few, can only be enjoyed by turning the heart to stone. Epicurism, the resource of spiritual dipsomaniacs, is a remedy more degrading than suicide. Philanthropic enthusiasm, noble in itself, and demanded from us by religion, will only act as an anodyne, leaving the heart, in the intervals of its influence, face to face with its inconsolable misery. But religion reconciles us to all forms and degrees of sorrow. It turns every event that seems hostile into the act of a Faithful Friend. Religion reigns over the entire man--not content with the outward polish of the manners, but purifying at their source the principles and motives of all right conduct. (C. Voysey, M.A.)
The happiness of true religion
As man is endowed with reason and a sense of moral obligation, he is capable of being affected by rational motives, and therefore religion is congenial to his nature. That true religion produces perfect happiness may be proved--
1. From the eternal distinction which subsists between virtue and vice. In man there is a moral sense which approves or disapproves antecedently to the operation of reason.
2. From the internal and exquisite satisfaction which obedience to religious precepts affords, and the excruciating misery which a violation of them always produces in the human breast.
3. The observation in the text is displayed with the greatest force at the hour of death. Religion, immortal, is the never-failing friend of man.
4. The paths of wisdom lead to happiness, while a vicious course of life terminates in infamy and ruin. (A. Stirling, LL.D.)
The gifts of Wisdom
Both the hands of Wisdom are filled with blessings for those who come to serve her. Like the God of Wisdom she can never give enough to her devotees and worshippers. She has nothing but reward for those who love her counsels and obey her behests. As for her ways, they are like the streets of the New Jerusalem, paved with gold; and as for her paths, they are full of peace without disturbance, sacredly calm as the very security of heaven. Not only does Wisdom give with the hand--she grows, she abounds in fruitfulness, she surprises all her children with new products. (Joseph Parker, D.D.)
On the happiness of a virtuous career
Virtue is the image of God in the soul, and the noblest thing in the creation; and therefore it must be the principal ground of true happiness.
1. By practising virtue we gratify the highest powers of our natures.
2. Virtue, in the very idea of it implies health and order of mind.
3. By practising virtue we gain more of the united pleasures, arising from the gratification of all our powers, than we can in any other way. The course most conducive to happiness must be that which is most agreeable to our whole nature.
4. Much of the pleasure of vice itself depends on some species or other of virtue combined with it.
5. Virtue leaves us in possession of all the common enjoyments of life, and it even improves and refines them. This effect it produces by restraining us to regularity and moderation in the gratification of our desires.
6. Virtue has peculiar joys such as nothing else can give--such as the love of the Deity, peace of conscience, a sense of God’s favour, the hope of future reward. Now consider some peculiar qualities of this happiness.
(1) It is more permanent than any other happiness;
(2) more independent;
(3) more pure and refined;
(4) it continues with a man even in affliction.
1. How wrong is it to conceive of religious virtue as an enemy to pleasure.
2. What strong evidence we have for the moral government of the Deity.
3. What reasons we have for seeking virtue above all things. (R. Price, D. D.)
Pleasure and peace the certain consequences of virtue
I. The pleasures of religion are more noble, delightful, and lasting than the pleasures of sin. More noble, as the soul, that is chiefly conversant with them, far excels the body; and as the objects from whence they are derived are superior to those that gratify our senses. The pleasures of virtue are more delightful than the pleasures of sin, as they are pure and without alloy. And the remembrance of having done our duty is a continual feast.
II. The practice of religion keeps us in perpetual peace and safety. Religion preserves a settled tranquillity in the mind, and prevents disquieting fears and the tumults of unruly passions. It engages the kindness of Providence, and gains the good-will of men. It heightens every enjoyment, and effectually comforts in every trial. (T. Newlin, M. A.)
The happiness of religion
True religion yields its joys only to the heart that is unreservedly surrendered to its sway. While the heart continues to be parted between God and the world, it cannot be to the disparagement of religion that the happiness promised by it to its votaries is not enjoyed. In true religion itself, in the ways and paths, the more open and the more private walks of heavenly wisdom, there is true blessedness. What is there in true religion to engender gloom? It is light; and it is the property and office of light, not to gather mists, but to dispel them. It turns the shades of night into the morning. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
The pleasantness of religion
Most proverbial expressions will admit of some particular exceptions, and the plain meaning of this one is, that it is the natural tendency of religion to make men peaceful and happy.
I. The knowledge and experience of religion hath a mighty effect to remove the principal causes of disquietude. If the mind be easy and cheerful, it is not of essential consequence what our outward circumstances may be.
1. Religion removes doubt and uncertainty. The knowledge and experience of religion sets a man in a good measure free from anxieties, allays the ferment in his breast, and restores an agreeable composure to the mind. How pleasant is the assent which the mind gives to the truth, when it has the ready concurrence of the will, and the firm support of personal experience!
2. Religion removes the sense of guilt. Men attempt by various ways to relieve themselves of uneasy thoughts, but religion alone frees from guilt and its fears.
3. Religion removes the restlessness and turbulency of unsanctified passions. It strikes at the root of our corruptions, and forbids them rule and tyrannise in the heart.
II. The knowledge and experience of religion are attended with positive joys and pleasures.
1. The discoveries of religion afford the highest entertainment to the understanding.
2. Its hopes and comforts possess the heart. What a blessing is peace of conscience! And the sense of God’s favour; and a firm faith in Divine Providence; and communion with God; and the hope of eternal life! There is a solid satisfaction in the temper and conduct religion recommends; in the duties of devotion and worship. (S. Stennett, D.D.)
Pleasure a relative thing
That pleasure is man’s chiefest good (because it is the perception of good that is properly pleasure) is an assertion most certainly true, though under the common acceptance of it, not only false, but odious; for, according to this, pleasure and sensuality pass for terms equivalent. Pleasure in general is the apprehension of a suitable object, suitably applied to a rightly disposed faculty, and so must be conversant both with the faculties of the body and of the soul respectively, as being the result of the fruitions belonging to both. It is too often assumed that religion is an enemy to all pleasures--it bereaves them of all the sweets of converse, dooms them to an absurd and perpetual melancholy, designing to make the world nothing else but a great monastery; with which notion of religion, nature and reason seem to have great cause to be dissatisfied. He who would persuade men to religion, both with art and efficacy, must found the persuasion of it upon this, that it interferes not with any rational pleasure, that it bids nobody quit the enjoyment of any one thing that his reason can prove to him ought to be enjoyed. An argument from experience may be taken to urge that it must be the greatest trouble in the world for a man to shake off himself and to defy his nature, by a perpetual thwarting of his innate appetites and desires. But this religion requires.
I. Pleasure is, in the nature of it, a relative thing. So it imports a peculiar relation and correspondence to the state and condition of the person to whom it is a pleasure.
II. The estate of all men by nature becomes changed. It is more or less different from that estate into which the same persons do, or may, pass by the exercise of that which the philosophers call virtue, and into which men are much more effectually and sublimely translated by that which we call grace; that is, by the supernatural overpowering operation of God’s Spirit. A man, while he resigns himself up to the brutish guidance of sense and appetite, has no relish at all for the spiritual, refined delights of a soul clarified by grace and virtue. The Athenians laughed the physiognomist to scorn who, pretending to read men’s minds in their foreheads, described Socrates as a crabbed, lustful, proud, ill-natured person; they knowing how directly contrary he was to that dirty character. But Socrates bade them forbear laughing at the man; for that he had given them a most exact account of his nature; but what they saw in him so contrary at the present was from the conquest that he had got over his natural disposition by philosophy. True pleasure is that of the mind, which is an image, not only of God’s spirituality, but also of His infinity. Religion belongs to it in reference--
1. To speculation, as it sustains the name of understanding.
2. To practice, as it sustains the name of conscience. Religious pleasure never satiates or wearies; it is in nobody’s power, but only in his that hath it. So that he who hath the propriety may be also sure of the perpetuity. The man never outlives it, because he cannot outlive himself. Then it follows that to exhort men to be religious is only in other words to exhort them to take their pleasure--a pleasure made for the soul, and the soul for it--suitable to its spirituality, and equal to all its capacities. (R. South, D.D.)
Godliness is pleasant and delightful
The excellency of godliness and religion seen--
I. From its pleasure and delight.
1. In the work of grace and regeneration wrought in the heart.
2. Even grace, the more it is improved, carries a delight and pleasurableness in it.
3. There is a great pleasingness in all the duties and exercises of religion.
In prayer, reading the Scriptures, communion of the saints, sacraments, Sabbaths, etc. Religion does indeed cause some kinds of grief and sorrow, such as godly sorrow for sin. And when we say that the ways of spiritual wisdom and grace are ways of pleasantness we do not mean it of the mad mirth of the world, which consists in nothing but vanity and folly, and luxuriancy of spirit.
II. From its tranquillity and quiet. Religion is the business of peace, and carries peace along with it.
1. With God, the peace of reconciliation.
2. With ourselves, the peace of assurance.
3. With one another, the peace of communion. The more godliness, then, the more pleasure in godliness. (T. Horton, D.D.)
Present advantages of piety
These words are designed to counteract a prejudice which prevails, that religion is connected with melancholy, and calls upon us to bid adieu to all the innocent and natural enjoyments of life. The case of those who suffer persecution for the sake of religion should be excluded from the present view, which relates to the ordinary state and circumstances of piety in this world. And in order to contemplate the tendency of any principle we must view it as operating in its mature, and vigorous, and perfect state.
I. The influence of religion on those objects which are supposed to be most contributory to the present happiness of mankind.
1. The prolongation of life. Piety inspires that moderation in all things which is equally favourable to the faculties of the body and the mind. It exerts a tranquillising influence on all our emotions. Involved in the prolongation of life is the preservation of health. The good man regards health as a talent entrusted to him.
2. The possession of reputation. Piety promotes esteem: a good man commonly lives down at last the enmity which his virtues had at first excited.
3. The acquisition of property. To the attainment of moderate wealth piety is favourable.
II. The present effects of religion which belong to the state of the mind.
1. Belief in the good Governor of all things.
2. Harmony with this Best of Beings.
3. Free access to this Almighty Friend.
4. The most essential elements of piety are all favourable to happiness. These may be stated as adoration and benevolence. (R. Hall.)
The pleasantness of religion
I. Religion promotes happiness by removing those things which are the principal causes of man’s unhappiness. Many people account for the unhappiness of their mind by the peculiar circumstances in which they are placed. Differences in circumstances may, to a certain extent, influence our minds as well as our bodies; but still not so much depends on such circumstances as is generally imagined.
1. One cause of unhappiness is guilt.
2. Another is fear.
3. The influence of unholy tempers.
4. Insatiable thirst after creature enjoyments.
II. Religion produces happiness by opening up new sources of comfort and enjoyment in the mind of man. The world, and the good things of the world, are enjoyed in a new way. There is the testimony of a good conscience; an assurance of Divine favour; the Spirit of adoption; the enjoyment of communion with God in His ordinances; a persuasion of the truth of God’s promises; and a solid, well-grounded hope. It is true that some professors of religion are not happy under the influence of their opinions and views. Some profess religion who do not enjoy the life and power of it. Some are double-minded, and try to serve two masters. Some live, as it were, under the law. Some are constitutionally inclined to discouragement and despondency, labouring under the disadvantages of a debilitated and nervous state of body. In conclusion, religion comes well recommended to you. There are two heavens offered you, one here and one in glory. (J. Entwisle.)
The pleasures of religion
It is a maxim admitted by all the world, that “Every one is drawn by pleasure.” It is the misery of our fallen nature that we are not drawn so much by the best pleasures as by the worst; the pleasures we generally prefer end in pain; the pleasures we commonly neglect are such as would make us happy for ever. These are the pleasures of religion, the “ways of wisdom.” What are the pleasures of religion?
I. The possession of Christian graces. The great thing which distinguishes a Christian is “having the Spirit” (Romans 8:9). The Spirit is the author of a new and Divine life in the soul of the believer. Every grace is implanted in his soul, the exercise of which is as natural and pleasant to the new nature as the due exercise of our senses is to the natural man. These graces are knowledge, faith, repentance, hope, love.
II. The enjoyment of Christian privileges. Such are--
1. Peace with God through faith in the blood of Christ.
2. Sacred joy in the redemption wrought for him.
3. Adoption into the family of God.
III. The performance of Christian duties. Such as prayer, praise, reading and hearing the Word, the Lord’s day. As all these are good and pleasant in themselves, so they appear to greater advantage if compared with the pleasures of the world. They are certainly far more solid and satisfying, far more rational and noble, and, above all, far more durable. There is far more pleasure in religion now than there is in sin, and we are sure that it will end better. (G. Burder.)
The happiness attendant on the paths of religion
This passage breathes the voice of the most cheering encouragement.
I. Evince the truth of this declaration. The religious man is delivered by religion from those causes of solicitude, terror, and affliction which are the principal sources of the miseries of mankind; the experiences, helps, and consolalions to which, in proportion as men are not religious, they are strangers.
1. The most grievous of all distresses is the sense of unpardoned guilt. From this the religious man is set free. He looks up to God, through Christ, as to a reconciled Father. The burden is removed from his soul, and he goeth on his way rejoicing. Every token of grateful obedience which he is enabled to render overspreads his heart with gladness. As he advances in religion he advances in happiness.
2. Another distress arises from the immoderate fear of falling away from God under future temptations. The religious man fears for himself. But his fear is not an overwhelming terror. It is a fear which excludes all dependence on his own strength. It is a fear which produces humility, caution, vigilance, meditation, and prayer. But it is not a fear which brings anguish; it is not a fear which urges to despondence.
3. The religious man is delivered from corroding anxieties as to the events which may befall him during the residue of his life.
4. He is also delivered from the fear of the last enemy, Death.
5. There yet remain various circumstances which attend the religious man in the ordinary course of his life, and contribute no small accessions to the daily amount of his happiness. By the integrity and kindness of his conduct he is often placed beyond the reach of those who may be desirous of injuring him. His domestic life is a source of happiness. His friends will be found tender and faithful. The general temper of his mind is cheerful serenity. From the common bounties of providence he derives higher satisfaction than other men.
II. Apply the instruction which may be drawn from the text.
1. Address those who are decidedly wicked.
2. Those who are wavering between the paths of religion and the paths of guilt.
3. Those who are religious. (Thomas Gisborne, M.A.)
Religion a comfortable way of life
Here is another motive to get wisdom. Wouldst thou go in pleasant ways, and live in peace and quietness? All wisdom’s ways are such. The man who gets wisdom gets true happiness and delight. When merchants go by sea, or passengers by land, they are glad when they find fair way and a quiet passage. The words of this text are fitly knit to the former, for long life, riches, and honour are not sufficient to make a man happy. He may meet with many occasions of sorrow, and of war, and trouble, which may make his life very uncomfortable. Here, therefore, Solomon adds to the former blessings pleasure and peace, to show that nothing is wanting to the wise man. He had commended wisdom before ex parte termini, from happiness to the end: now he commends it ex parte medii, from the comfort of the way. (Francis Taylor, B. D.)
The pleasures of real religion
I. The way of religion is the way of wisdom. They that are truly religious are wise, and the following of religion is the wisest course in the world.
1. The way of religion is the way of truth.
2. The way of God’s commandments.
3. The way of faith, not of sense.
4. The way of holiness.
5. The way of irreconcilable opposition to the devil, the world, and the flesh.
6. The way of spiritual worship.
7. The straight and narrow way.
8. The way of universal obedience.
9. The good old way.
This way is the way of wisdom, because--
1. God has directed the children of men into this way.
2. The Lord Jesus leads His people in this way.
3. The Spirit determines men to enter and walk in this way.
4. Jesus Himself took this way.
5. It is the way most agreeable to right reason.
6. It is the only way to happiness, here or hereafter.
II. The ways of religion are the most pleasant and peaceful ways. To whom are the ways of religion pleasant?
1. To those who have the art of walking in them.
2. To those who habituate themselves to close walking with God. Consider--
3. The testimony of the saints who, in all ages, have given this for their verdict of the ways of God.
4. That pleasure, innocency and holiness arrive always together at their height.
5. That religion, so far as it does prevail, frees us from the cause of our woe.
6. That God directs and assists His servants by His Spirit.
7. That the Lord binds upon His saints the walking in His ways with the softest and sweetest ties imaginable, the answering of which must needs create a pleasure in the doing thereof.
8. There is a sweetness interwoven with the Christian walk.
9. There is a transcendent pleasure at the end of the way.
Religion, then, brings a calm into the soul which no other thing can do. It gives a rest and satisfaction that can nowhere else be found. It breaks the reigning power of lusts and corruptions, which cause the soul much uneasiness. It brings the soul to the accomplishment of its desires. It brings into a state of resignation to the will of God. The pleasures of religion are of such an elevated nature that all others seem but low and grovelling in comparison of them; such as the victory over lusts and corruptions; the approbation of one’s own conscience;the assurance of God’s acceptance; the joy of doing good to others; communion with God; assurance of the Lord’s love and eternal salvation. Such pleasures are refined and pure; they satisfy without loathing or disgust; they are ready, and near at hand; and lasting. Religion helps a man to draw the greatest possible pleasure from created things,
III. Peace also is to be enjoyed in the way of religion. A sevenfold peace.
1. With God.
2. Of conscience.
3. Of heart by the soul’s rest in God.
4. Of mind.
5. With the creatures of God.
6. As prosperity.
7. Peace eternal.
What peace can any one have in the way of sin? What peace is there to a man who is a stranger to the Mediator of peace? What peace so long as stinging guilt remains in the conscience, unsatisfied desires in the heart, and lusts reigning within? (T. Boston, D.D.)
The beauty of holiness
He who would effectually plead the cause of piety and religion must not only recommend the principles of it to the understanding, as most true and certain, but the practice of it to the will and affections, as desirable and delightful. Nothing would tend more to the advancement of true godliness than if we could clearly demonstrate that it hath not only the advantage above sin and vice in respect of future and eternal joys, but in respect of present pleasure and satisfaction. What is this wisdom which is thus profitable, thus pleasant? Is it a subtle management of our own concerns? Nay, it is nothing else but true religion, solid piety and holiness.
I. All pleasure ariseth from an attempered suitableness and harmony there is between the faculty and the object. Where there is any disagreement, either in contrariety or in excess, the result is not pleasure but torment.
1. The pleasures which religion brings are not such as do immediately affect the body, the drossy and earthy part of man.
2. Religion, as it doth allow, so it adds a sweetness and relish to the lawful comforts of this present life. Experience proves that sobriety and temperance bring more true pleasure than excess and riot. A constant fear of God, and a conscientious obedience to Him, give a seasoning to all our earthly enjoyments. A good conscience is a continual feast.
3. The chief joys which religion gives are internal and mental. And these are incomparably beyond the delights of sense.
II. This pure and spiritual pleasure ariseth in the mind from three things.
1. A congruity and suitableness in holy and religious actions to the rules and principles of right reason. There are three general principles of natural religion.
(1) That God is loved and feared above all, and the revelations of His will to be credited and obeyed.
(2) That we ought to govern ourselves with all temperance and sobriety, in the use of the comforts of this life.
(3) That we ought to demean ourselves towards others with the exactest justice and equity. Where our actions do correspond with these principles of reason, there must arise an intellectual joy and complacency.
2. The comfortable reflections of our own consciences upon holy and religious actions. Self-reflection is sweet and comfortable to a true Christian.
3. The hope and expectation of the eternal reward of our obedience.
4. That must be most pleasant which calms all our perturbations and disturbances, and fits us to enjoy both God and ourselves in a sedate composure.
III. Common observation and experience will be cited to disprove all these speculations concerning the pleasure of religion. It is pleaded that, in actual fact, many of the votaries of religion are miserable and melancholy. In answer we say--
1. The joys of religion are not loud and tumultuous, but grave, solid, and serious. “True joy is a severe thing.” It lies deep and recondite, in the centre of the soul, and fills it with calm thoughts, sedate affections, and uniform peace and tranquillity.
2. If, at any time, the religious man be really sad and dejected, this is not to be imputed to religion, but to the want of it, either in himself or others.
3. Even the tears and sorrows of a true, pious Christian have a more solid joy in them than all the noise and extravagant jollity of wicked men. There is a sweetness even in mourning, when it is filial and ingenuous. Tears are a solace, and grief itself an entertainment.
IV. What then is to be said of the mortifications and self-denials which religion requires?--are not these unpleasant? Is there nothing in these things that is difficult to be done, and grievous to be borne?
1. It is true that there are many things in religion which are difficult and laborious, but this does not argue them to be unpleasant and grievous. The whole Christian life is warfare; in it there must be strain and discipline.
2. We must keep in mind that there is a twofold nature in every Christian--his corrupt and his Divine nature. Two contrary parties are struggling within him. The rigorous duties of religion are only so to the corrupt and sinful inclinations; they are a joy and pleasure to the renewed and sanctified nature.
3. The severities of religion are far more difficult and distasteful at our first entrance upon a holy life than they will be when we are confirmed and habituated in it.
4. The severities of religion are no more nor greater than what we are content to undergo in things of another nature. The sinner meets with far more trouble in the ways of sin than the most strict and holy Christian can do in the ways of obedience. The complaints against the rigours of religion proceed only from mistakes and prejudices. (Bp. E. Hopkins.)
The ways of wisdom
If we consider wisdom only as an object of speculation, the mind hath satisfaction in meditating upon it. The greatest delight ariseth from serious devout meditation on God. Pleasure springeth from different occasions. We ought to use our reason in order to choose those pleasures which, all things considered, are the best and fittest for us. In order to choose we should consider--
1. The testimony of those who have made trial of wisdom’s ways, and agree in assuring us that they are ways of pleasantness and peace.
2. The experience of those who have but the lowest measure of this wisdom; these can show the painfulness of the ways of sin and folly.
3. The fact that wisdom’s ways lead to the enjoyment of the Divine favour, and our walking in them is the only foundation upon which we can have confidence toward God.
4. The pleasures which accompany sincere religion; that is, which arise from the testimony of an approving conscience. Compare the pleasures of religion with the pleasures of sense.
(1) The gratifications of sense are common with us to the brutal kinds.
(2) The pleasures of this world are but precarious; we can have no sure hold on them.
(3) Those only can be accounted the greatest, the noblest, and in all respects the most valuable comforts, which support and relieve the mind in its greatest need. (J. Abernethy, M. A.)
The peasantness of religion
By “wisdom” is understood an habitual skill or faculty of judging aright about matters of practice. “Ways” and “paths” in Scripture dialect are the courses and manners of action. By “pleasantness” may be meant the joy and delight accompanying a course of such actions, and by “peace” the content and satisfaction which ensue from it. A course of life directed by wisdom and good judgment is delightful in the practice, and brings content after it.
1. Wisdom is of itself delectable and satisfactory, as it implies a revelation of truth and a detection of error to us; as it satisfies our best desires, by enriching our minds with excellent and useful knowledge, directed to the noblest objects, and serviceable to the highest ends.
2. Wisdom disposes us to acquire and to enjoy all the good and happiness we are capable of.
3. Wisdom frees us from the company of anxious doubt in our actions, and the consequence of bitter repentance.
4. Wisdom begets in us a hope of success in our actions.
5. Wisdom prevents discouragement from the possibility of ill-success, and makes disappointment tolerable.
6. Wisdom makes all the troubles, griefs, and pains incident to life easy and supportable, by rightly valuing the importance and moderating the influence of them.
7. Wisdom always has a good conscience attending it.
8. Wisdom confers on its possessor a facility, expert readiness, and dexterity in action which is a very pleasant and commodious quality.
9. Wisdom disposes us with judgment to distinguish, and with pleasure to relish, wholesome things.
10. Wisdom acquaints us with ourselves, our own temper and constitution, our propensities and passions, our habitudes and capacities.
11. Wisdom procures and preserves a constant favour and fair respect of men, purchases a good name, and upholds reputation.
12. Wisdom instructs us to examine, compare, and rightly to value the objects that court our affections and challenge our care, merely regulating our passions and moderating our endeavours.
13. Wisdom preserves order, the parent of peace; and prevents confusion, the mother of iniquity, strife, and disquiet.
14. Wisdom discovers our relations, duties, and concernments with respect to men, as well as the natural grounds of them.
15. It acquaints us with the nature and reason of true religion, affording the most convincing arguments to persuade us to the practice of it.
16. Wisdom attracts the favour of God, purchases for us a glorious reward, and secures to us a perpetual felicity. All these things are sources of satisfaction and delight. (Isaac Barrow, D.D.)
Pleasantness of religion
This is not only the excellence, but the peculiar excellence, of religion. The ways of folly and vice, all things considered, are not ways of pleasantness. Goodness is proposed as the duty, and pleasure as the reward--a reward which the world and Satan are not able to give.
I. The ways of religion are ways of pleasantness.
1. There is a pleasure in the duties immediately relating to God; such as love, faith, reliance, resignation, hope, prayer, and thanksgiving. These are all apparently cheerful duties, and when duly performed, must be attended with the highest satisfaction.
2. There is a pleasure in those occupations in which a virtuous and religious man will be frequently employed.
3. There is a pleasure in that behaviour towards others, and that manner of prosecuting our worldly affairs, which ever accompany a religious disposition.
4. There is a pleasure in performing our duty to ourselves, as it relates to the body and to the passions.
II. The ways of sin are not ways of pleasantness.
1. No man can be happy who acts against his conscience.
2. Those who feel no remorse of conscience may have shaken off some fears, but then they have lost the greatest comfort of life, which is hope.
3. Every action contrary to reason and religion is, if not always, yet certainly for the most part, hurtful even in this life.
III. The objections which wicked men make to these propositions.
1. They say they do find pleasantness in their self-gratifications.
2. Sinners object that good men, who affirm from their own experience that there is pleasure in righteousness, are grave dissemblers, who conceal the real state of their minds: that really they sacrifice their present ease and satisfaction.
3. Sinners say that the pleasures of a pious mind, if there be such, arise from a strong fancy, from fanaticism and enthusiasm.
4. Sinners say experience shows these boasted pleasures of religion not to be very common amongst Christians.
5. Sinners may object that some duties of Christianity are harsh and disagreeable, as repentance, self-denial, and mortifications, and that therefore the ways of religion cannot be ways of pleasantness. (J. Jortin, D. D.)
Life within life
Are we to understand, then, that those who are wise and of an understanding heart are saved from all the disappointment and trouble of earthly pilgrimage? The facts of life instantly contradict such a view. But there is life within life. The true life throbs beneath all the appearances which are possible to the observer, and even below the experiences which often trouble the believer himself. The most illustrious instance of all completely disproves the suggestion that true wisdom exempts from earthly trial, for the Son of God Himself was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as for His poverty, it is enough to know that as the Son of Man He had not where to lay His head. (Joseph Parker, D.D.)
The pleasantness of wisdom’s ways
Here the motive presented is that of the present and immediate happiness in this world which is uniformly to be found in God’s service.
I. Explain the statement of the text. Wisdom is the fear of the Lord, doing the commandments of God, or in other words, religion. It is not merely said that religious ways lead to pleasantness; they are the ways of pleasantness in the abstract. Religion does not merely make people happy, religion is happiness. There is no way in which true wisdom requires us to walk which is not a way of peace; not only is there peace in the end, there is peace by the way.
II. Confirm the statement of the text. Remember the character of God. He wills the happiness of His servants now, and not merely by and by (1 Timothy 4:8). Godliness has the “promise of the life that now is.”
III. Account for the statement of the text. Religion in every one of its exercises is happiness.
1. Take it in its most general character--as consisting in the love of God and our neighbour. The atmosphere of love is the atmosphere of heaven. There is more happiness in loving than in being loved.
2. Every one of the “fruits of the Spirit” is an ingredient of happiness--love, joy, peace, long-suffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, temperance.
3. Consider the happiness naturally attendant on the Christian’s occupation, the pursuit of everlasting glory.
4. The happiness of a good conscience, and so the consciousness of peace with God. (F. F. Trench, M.A.)
The service of God pleasant
Matthew Henry’s deathbed was tranquil as a little child’s. Speaking to Mr. Illidge, he said, “You have been used to take notice of the sayings of dying men; this is mine: that a life spent in the service of God, and communion with Him, is the most pleasant life that any one can live in this world.” (A. B. Grosart.)
Superiority of pious joy
I know that sometimes the worldling may seem to have the best of it. He laughs a louder laugh, and is more boisterous in his mirth. He has need to be. He must laugh aloud to convince himself that he is happy. He is obliged to be demonstrative in his merriment, or he could not give himself credit for it. What is the value of it all? Listen to one who had laughed more than most men, or, at any rate, had tried to laugh more: “I said of laughter, It is mad; and of mirth, What doeth it?” The worldling’s joy, such as it is, is fitful and short-lived. It is a fine-weather joy, like that of some of the songsters of the wood; like that of the nightingale, which, though she sings in the night, cannot sing in the wild; like the notes of the blackbird, which die away as the season advances and when her nestlings are all hatched, as though parental anxieties had been too much for her; like the light-heartedness of the cuckoo, which is a summer bird, but has no song to enliven our winter’s gloom. The worldly heart has its songs, but they do not last. They are only songs of sunshine, songs of summer. But the robin sings all the year round. In the spring, upon the orchard spray, canopied with apple blossoms; in the summer, in the still depths of the forest shade; and in the winter, too, on the naked blackthorn, exposing his little red bosom to the wintry blast, he twitters cheerily amid the snows. Such is the Christian’s joy, stable and lasting. The other is but a counterfeit, and the tinsel soon wears off. Yonder clown, who by his antics end grimaces upon the stage sets the spectators in a roar, is not a merry man. He has left a sick child at home, and the last look he had at her pale face, as she lay upon her poor pallet in their mean lodging, smote him to the heart, for it told him she was like to die. And from that dying couch he has come to grin and caper at the pantomime to make English holiday. And haunted by that wasted face and those sunken eyes, every jest to him is agony, and every burst of laughter a cruel pang. Such is the pleasure of the sinner, a mere surface mirth, a forced hilarity, with a poisoned barb rankling at the heart. But now religion, the fear of the Lord, is joy, all joy, and always joy. “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, end all her paths are peace.” “Rejoice . . . and again I say rejoice,” is not only a permission, but a command to the Christian. When he is not happy, it is not because of his religion, but because for some reason in himself he has missed its consolations. (J. Halsey.)
All her paths are peace.--
The joy of peace
The “wisdom” in this passage is distinctly and profoundly ethical. The second clause is not a repetition of the first. Peace and pleasantness are not synonymous terms. The truth of the first clause is dependent upon that of the second. “Her ways are ways of pleasantness, for all her paths are peace.”
I. The life of true wisdom lays its foundations in peace.
1. Its beginning is the “fear of the Lord.”
2. When in harmonious relations with God, men finds the elements and forces of his inner life take their due posts of subordination and supremacy. Though there is conflict, yet the higher principles govern, the Diviner forces sit upon the throne.
3. The life being thus charged with Divine force cannot be governed by external circumstances.
4. It can know no anxieties touching the issues of the future.
5. Such a life enters into peace as far as possible with all men. Through the universalising of this wisdom the kingdom of peace shall come.
II. On this foundation of peace, and on this only, can true happiness be reared.
1. There can be no true happiness except that which springs from e harmonious life.
2. There can be no full happiness except for such. That which comes from some by-play of the life must be meagre and partial. (John Thomas, M.A.)
The enjoyments of religion
Wisdom denotes e life of piety.
I. The nature and design of religion. It was revealed to show us the way of salvation; to guide our feet into the paths of peace; to exalt us to happiness here and to glory hereafter.
1. Consider the doctrines she reveals. Their direct tendency is to banish the fears of guilt, to console, and to animate with joy the fearful heart.
2. Consider the precepts which religion enjoins. Are they not perfective in our nature, and directly conducive to felicity?
3. Consider the promised aid she imparts. A gracious Comforter continually surrounds the godly man, who imparts every needful grace.
4. Consider the glorious rewards she reveals. To every desire of the heart she opens the most unbounded delights--delights commensurate to the widest wishes of the soul, and endless as eternity.
II. The nature of that pleasure enjoyed by those who walk in the ways of religion. The subduing of our desires and appetites is necessary to e course of piety; but even self-denial and the Cross become sources of pleasure.
II. The duties which religion enjoins her votaries to observe.
1. The joys of prayer and praise.
2. The joys resulting from the sacred services of religion.
3. From meditation on the Scriptures.
4. From observance of the Divine commandments. Such are the pleasures, the delightful feelings, and peaceful satisfactions which result from walking in the ways of religion; and what enjoyments are comparable to these? (D. Malcolm, LL.D.)
The pleasure of Christ’s ways
An inclination to pleasure is usually the favourite passion of young people. Here religion is recommended under a view of the delights that attend it. Wisdom here may be taken as a perfection in God, as Christ, or as the grace in us whereby we are made wise unto salvation; for the ways of spiritual wisdom, or of true religion, may be said to be the ways of all these. They are ways originally laid out, adjusted, and directed to by the unerring wisdom of the Eternal Mind; they are the ways that Christ has made known to us, recommended and enjoined by His Word and Spirit, and in part by His own example; and they are the ways that an enlightened and renewed soul understands, approves of, and chooses to walk in. These are ways of pleasantness, including the utmost satisfaction and delight. They are “paths of peace,” including all prosperity and safety. Prosperity and peace are found not only when the end is reached, but also while we are walking in the way; and not merely in some of the ways, but in all of them.
I. The absolute view that may be taken of the pleasures to be found in Christ’s ways.
1. The excellence of Christ’s ways themselves. As wisdom’s ways, there must be a fulness in them of all that is desirable. We are, in them, conversant with God and Christ, heaven and glory, things spiritual and sublime, holy and good. We are called to have exalted thoughts and estimations of the Lord Jesus, and to delight in Him. It may be said this is only showing the fairest face of religion. There is something to be suffered as well as to be enjoyed in Christ’s ways. But nothing we have to suffer can compare with what is to be enjoyed; and the very sufferings bring to us their own joys.
2. The suitableness of these ways to a renewed mind. However good in themselves, if not suitable to our taste and relish, they cannot afford us any pleasures. An unregenerate, carnal temper has no relish for Christ’s ways. When regenerate, spiritual, and holy objects, acts, and exercises become agreeable. A renewed mind has a new relish. It delights “in the law of God after the inward man.”
3. A sense of the Divine favour and acceptance in Christ’s ways, and of our own interest in the great and blessed things we meet with there.
4. A lively hope of the happy and eternal issues of Christ’s ways. Who can rate the joy that results from strong and assuring expectations of a blessed and glorious immortality.
II. The comparative view that may be taken of the pleasures to be found in Christ’s ways. They are to be preferred to all others. The pleasures of the mind are more excellent than all the pleasures of sense; and the pleasures of religion are superior to the pleasures of mind. When the gracious soul has most to do with God through Christ, in a way of holy communion with Him, of contemplation and adoration of Him, obedience to Him, delight in Him, and hope of His glory, it is inexpressibly more pleased and better entertained than it possibly can be with the finest speculations and most evident demonstrations of reasons and philosophy. 1 There is more worth and dignity in the pleasure of Christ’s ways than in all sensitive enjoyments. There is a true greatness of soul in the contempt of sensual pleasures any farther than they are necessary to the support of this present frail life, and a contentment without them, even when what is necessary for their support is providentially withheld from us.
2. There is more solid satisfaction in this pleasure than in all sensitive enjoyments. The pleasures of the sense rather cloy than satisfy.
3. There is more continuance in this pleasure than in all sensitive enjoyments. The pleasures of sense are all precarious, uncertain, and perishing things. The pleasures of Christ’s ways are of an abiding nature: “durable riches” (Proverbs 8:18). The good man is satisfied from himself. Believers carry their happiness about them, they carry it within themselves; no bitternesses of the present life can destroy this pleasure. It is true that real Christians are not always rejoicing; but this is not due to any defect in the objects of their pleasures, or in their state and principles, but to their not living and acting up to them. Improvements:
(1) Let there be self-reflection, as to what you have found in Christ’s way.
(2) Let all your taste for pleasure put you upon seeking that which is to be found in Christ’s ways. (John Guyse.)
The pleasures of religion
I. The control which a righteous man exercises over his passions and desires. A righteous man is a happy man, because he is a free man, and the servant to no inward lust; he can act up to his own decisions, and when he sees what is right, he can do it. If there is wretchedness upon earth, it is to live by a rule which we perpetually violate. The most miserable of human beings are professed sinners, men who despise rule, who look upon their passions as mere instruments of pleasure. Putting aside all religious considerations, there is not a greater mistake than to suppose that a profligate man can be happy. He may seem to be happy because his enjoyments are more visible and ostentatious, but is in truth a very sorry and shallow impostor, who may deceive the young, but is laughed at by the wise, and by all who know in what true happiness consists. The truly happy man is he, who has early discovered that he carries within his own bosom his worst enemies, and that the contest must be manfully entered into. A religious man is happy because he is secure; because it is not in the power of accident or circumstance to disclose any secret guilt; as he is, he has long been; he can refer to the blameless tenor of years, to a mind long exercised in avoiding offence towards God and towards man.
II. The feelings of charity and brotherly love which religion always inspires. As God has given to one object beautiful colours, and to another grateful odours, He has annexed exquisite feelings of happiness to the performance of every benevolent action. It is impossible to do good to others without feeling happy from it. The conviction which religion inspires, that a man is not born for himself alone, and the habit which it inculcates, of attention to the interests and feelings of mankind, induces at last that state of calm and permanent satisfaction which the words of Solomon describe. Nothing is more grateful than general love, produced by a long tenor of courtesy, of justice, of active kindness, and of modest respect.
III. The comforts derived from the future retributive justice of religion. A man of proper feeling always suffers from observing the striking disproportion that exists in this world between happiness and merit. It is the severest trial of human patience to witness the respect, honour, and prosperity of bad men. These sad scenes are tolerable to the religious man alone, from that final order and regularity with which he knows they will hereafter be concluded. Wherever he looks, justice in its most perfect shape terminates his view; all guilt is detected, all innocence is brought to light; at the conclusion of all things a never-failing Judge gives to every thinking soul the good and the evil which is its due. Pleasure, then, is gained by being the lord and master of our own hearts, by binding our passions in links of iron; by adapting worldly hopes and fears to the nature of worldly things; by obeying God, by trusting to His providence, by expecting His judgments. (Sidney Smith.)
Pleasant ways and peaceful paths
The “way” is always longer and broader than the “path.” And the meaning may be this. The more general and public things in religion--things which all see and know--these are “pleasant.” But the things which retire back, and are most unfrequented, and which very few either see or guess, all these are “peace.” The same discrimination is traceable in the verse, “In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” Acknowledge God in the great things of life, and He will be sure to guide you in the small ones. Let us take this difference of the “ways” and the “paths” to lead us on in our further consideration of the text.
1. Wisdom’s “way” is, first, a high way. It is always reaching up out of littleness, it ranges at loftier levels, it is above party views, it is a large-minded thing, it is always nearer heaven than earth. And this is very “pleasant,” to be so free and independent of man’s estimates and human judgments, to move in a pure, calm elevation of soul, beyond the common distractions, where the strife, and the noise, and the din, and the confusion does not come.
2. And wisdom’s “way” always has one fixed mark. It throws lesser things aside as it goes, and it goes straight to a goal, and that goal is the glory of God. And this singleness of aim gives a strength to a character; it gives unity to the whole man, and that unity is “pleasantness.”
3. And wisdom’s “way” is a way of usefulness. It always puts usefulness first--before pleasure, before profit. It is a “way” of work. They who work there are always serving, always ministering. Each one has his mission--either he comforts, or he advises, or he teaches. But now let us leave the wider track, and go down to one or two of the more secluded “paths.” For to all it is not always given to walk in “ways of pleasantness,” but none who really look for it shall ever miss the “path of peace.” There is a going out in a man’s heart from its deepest places to Christ. He tells Jesus something which has been long a hidden burden in his mind. And Christ listens to him, and he feels it. And in the little “path” of that secret confession there is a “peace” which no words can tell. And now there is an avenue open between that soul and God. It was an avenue long closed; but now it is open. And an act of faith travels along to the Cross, and brings back a message of pure love, “Your sins are forgiven.” I am quite sure that there is no “peace” worth the name--no “peace” for a moment to be put side by side with the “peace” of the simple feeling--“I am forgiven.” (J. Vaughan, M.A.)
The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth.
Earthly and heavenly wisdom
There is but one wisdom for God and man. Man’s true wisdom is a pattern of God’s wisdom. A man to prosper in the world must get the very same wisdom by which God made and rules the world. In the last hundred years science has improved in a most wonderful way, and is improving every day. This improvement has taken place simply by mankind understanding this text, and obeying it. For more than sixteen hundred years after our Lord’s time mankind seem to have become hardly any wiser about earthly things, nay, even to have gone back; but about two hundred and fifty years ago it pleased God to open the eyes of one of the wisest men who ever lived, Francis Bacon, Lord Verulam, and to show him the real and right way of learning by which men can fulfil God’s command to replenish the earth and subdue it. He taught that the only way for man to be wise was to get God’s wisdom, the wisdom with which He had founded the earth, and find out God’s laws by which He had made this world. “You can only subdue nature by obeying her.” You can only subdue a thing and make it useful to you by finding out the rules by which God made that thing, and by obeying them. If you want to rule, you must obey. If you want to rise to be a master, you must stoop to be a servant. If you want to be master of anything in earth or heaven, you must obey God’s will revealed in that thing; and the man who will go his own way, and follow his own fancy, will understand nothing, and master nothing, and get comfort out of nothing in earth or heaven. The same rule which holds good in this earthly world which we do see holds good in the heavenly world which we do not see. The same rules which hold good about men’s bodies hold good about their souls. The heavenly wisdom which begins in trusting in the Lord with all our hearts, the heavenly wisdom which is learnt by chastenings and afflictions, and teaches us that we are the sons of God, is the very same wisdom by which God founded the earth, and makes the clouds drop down dew. God’s wisdom is one--unchangeable, everlasting, and always like itself; and by the same wisdom by which He made our bodies has He made our souls; and therefore we can, and are bound to, glorify Him alike in our bodies and our spirits, for both are His. Illustrate: The only sure way of getting power over people is by making friends of them, making them love and trust us. The Lord Jesus ate and drank with publicans and sinners, who went out into the highways and hedges, to bring home into God’s kingdom poor wretches whom men despised and cast off. Christ also “pleased not Himself.” There was the perfect fulfilment of the great law--stoop to conquer. Christ stooped lower than any man, and therefore He rose again higher than all men. (Charles Kingsley.)
Divine purpose in nature and revelation
Faith in God and the obedience which arises from faith have at all times, and in almost all circumstances, been beset with difficulties. Counter influences to the work of the Holy Spirit of God have been supplied by the power of the world, the flesh, and the devil. But, in addition to this constant action in the same direction of the world, the flesh, and the devil, there are also agencies, which vary with time and place, and the nature of which it is very desirable that we should examine and recognise with reference to the time and place in which our own lot may happen to be cast. Mathematicians are familiar with formulae composed of terms, one of which shall be constant and the others circulating with the time. I would venture to compare the dangers of infidelity to such a mathematical formula. First you have your great constant term, the power of the world, the flesh, and the devil; strong in Eden as it is now, strong now as it was in Eden; but then you have a number of terms which increase and decrease in magnitude, depending on time and place and circumstances, some such as we can afford to neglect, some which we shall neglect at our peril. Some of the difficulties and trials of faith are not more dangerous than extinct volcanoes, like those of which we find the traces in these islands; some like Vesuvius have been mischievous in time not so long past, and may become mischievous again; others are in active operation and are dangerous now. What corresponds to the active volcano in our time?
I. Let me lead up to the answer to this question by first indicating some few active or conceivable dangers to faith which do not seem to me to be the special danger of our own time.
1. Suppose, for example, that in an unscientific age people have built up a cosmical system which makes the earth the centre of things, and arranges all else in accordance with this fundamental hypothesis--translating, in fact, into the form of a geocentric theory the mere rough, uncorrected impressions of the senses: and suppose that the theory so constructed comes to be regarded as a truth of Divine revelation, so that men see their theory reflected from the page of Holy Scripture, and not unnaturally consider the truth of one bound up with the truthfulness of the other. Then, it seems manifest, that the first discovery of the fact that the earth is not the centre of the universe, but only a tiny ball, the extinction of which would scarcely affect the solar system, and would be absolutely imperceptible as a loss to the sum of existing matter, would of necessity shake the minds of men who had been led to regard their theory of the heavens and the earth as a portion of revealed truth, and that some would probably fall from their faith. The Church has gone through such an experience as this. The volcano is extinct now.
2. Again, suppose that an artificial theological system has arisen, and that ingenious men, puzzled by the mysteries of Christian faith, have devoted their energies to attempts to explain them; or, if not to explain them, at all events to formulate them, and to make it possible to express in precise language that which probably language is incapable of expressing. Suppose, for example, that you have a subtle distinction between substance and accidents, and that you apply this distinction to define by language the nature of the presence of Christ in the holy Sacrament: you build up, in fact, the dogma of transubstantiation; and devout worshippers accept the dogma, and to question its truth is considered equivalent to denying the faith itself. What is to happen when the progress of human thought, or the discernment of some God-given teacher, blows the subtle figment of substance and accidents to the winds, and leads men to deny that the presence of Christ can be expressed by any such formula as that which transubstantiation professes to be? Is it not probable that the explosion of a dogma so closely bound up in general opinion with Christian orthodoxy will shake many minds?
3. But there is another danger, not connected with intellectual subtleties, of which the transition from Mediaeval to Reformation times affords an example, and of which, unfortunately, there have been examples since. The thing which brought on the Reformation more than anything else was the unholy lives of men--pope, priest, and people. And the want of holiness on the part of those who should be patterns to the flock has ever been, and ever will be, when it is conspicuous, one of the principal stumbling-blocks that can be placed in the way of those who would follow Christ. This volcano is not extinct. I fear it never will be.
4. Once more, it is not so long ago since we were told, on high authority, that the peculiar danger to the faith belonging to our own days was that which arose from the destructive results of modern criticism. But God was with His servants in the burning fiery furnace; and I think I am only saying that which expresses the conclusions of some of our soundest scholars, when I assert that the Gospels have come out of the furnace unhurt, and that the smell of fire has not passed upon them.
II. Well, then, what is our special difficulty or danger just now? It seems to me that it may be described by such a phrase as this: the denial of the being of God on the ground of supposed scientific conclusions. “The fool,” says the psalmist twice over, “hath said in his heart, There is no God”; and, if it were only the fool who said so, he might very well be left alone in his folly. No, we must accept the fact that a certain number of persons of high scientific position tell us that a careful examination of nature leads to the conclusion that it exhibits no purpose, and that it is all evolved out of primeval matter without any creative power such as that which believers in God are wont to assume. Fix your mind upon this one point. I am going to put out of the question the beneficence of the Creator, and the moral order of the universe, because I wish to concentrate attention upon the one consideration of purpose or design; if there be no design, there cannot well be beneficence or morality, and if there be design, beneficence and morality will (so to speak) take care of themselves. Moreover, design is that which is much more closely connected with physical studies than beneficence and morality. Give me design in the visible region of nature, and I shall have no fear as to the possibility of detecting the manifestation of purpose and will in the region of morals and of grace. But take design out of nature, tell me that the heavens and the earth are spontaneously evolved out of matter (whatever that may mean), that the men, and beasts, and creeping things are one, that the life of man has come from nothing, is nothing, and tends to nothing--and then I confess that all the glory of the universe, all the brightness of existence, all that makes life worth living, seems to me to be gone, and that there is nothing hopeful or joyous left. When I am told by a man of scientific eminence that it is only superficial observers who attribute purpose to nature, and that if I examine sufficiently I shall find that all things come of themselves, it seems to me that this is very much like telling me that ignorant folks may imagine that there is some purpose in locomotive engines, but that if any one will visit Crewe, and see them made, he will put aside all notion of purpose as unworthy of an educated mind. The ordinary observer who sees a train pass at full speed may have an ignorant feeling of wonder at the machine which moves it, while the careful observer in the factory will see that, after all, a locomotive engine is a comparatively simple affair, and easily made when you know how to do it; but there need be, and there ought to be, no difference of opinion as to the wisdom by which the locomotive was made and the understanding by which it was established. And so life is as completely a mystery, and as truly Divine, whether you read in Genesis that God spake the word and living things were made, or whether you read in modern books of the evolution of protoplasm. I take my stand upon design as upon a foundation stone; if any one denies it, I can go no further; to attempt to do so would be like discussing optics with a person who did not believe in sunshine, or geometry with a man who denied Euclid’s axioms. Granting, however, the existence of design within the small region of our own experience, we feel a logical and imperative necessity of postulating design beyond that region. This necessity extends, I think, to the whole material universe. I, who can examine my own frame and the mechanism of the world, and the countless arrangements by which the order of things is maintained, feel myself compelled to conclude that the same principle extends to those parts of the universe which I cannot so directly or so completely examine. I know that gravitation and light extend over space immeasurable, I can have no doubt as to the principle of design extending quite as far; in fact, I feel it to be an inevitable, if not an absolutely logical, conclusion, that the whole material universe is the outcome of one mind, and is governed by that same mind. But this is not the whole of the argument, or even the most important part of it. The transition from design in the material world to purpose in the moral world seems inevitable. Great intellects amongst ourselves do not employ themselves in merely making ingenious toys; the steam-engine would never have been constructed if the comfort of man and the needs of commerce had not demanded it. And this world deprived of its moral aspects, what would it be but a gigantic toy? Is it conceivable that there should be design in every sinew, and nerve, and limb of which man’s body is composed, and no purpose in those thoughts, and affections, and feelings, and aspirations, and hopes, which are as truly a part of himself as his heart or his lungs? Let it be granted that purpose in nature is a delusion, and that evolution will explain everything, and then, no doubt, this argument all vanishes; if there be no purpose in nature, then it is impossible to argue that there is any purpose extending beyond nature; but let it be once admitted that the hand and brain of man are full of purpose, and then I think it is difficult not to extend the admission from the wonderful region in which man’s hand and brain are occupied to a more wonderful region still, which transcends nature altogether. In other words, it is difficult to believe that God, having manifested a great purpose in the formation of man, has not a still greater purpose concerning him and his destiny. The step from nature to revelation, though in one sense a long one, in another sense seems to be no step at all; the purpose of which I have, as I believe, a clear proof in natural science, indicates a deeper and better, though more mysterious purpose still. Man’s endowments are too great for the mere prince or primus of the animal world; his spiritual nature is “cabin’d, cribb’d, confin’d” in a mere mortal tenement of flesh and blood; and, therefore, when I read of God speaking to man, making His will known, giving him commands which it is life to obey and death to resist, condescending to receive from man worship and love, I seem to find in all this the proper corollary to all that nature teaches me concerning design in the construction of man; it makes man, of course, a more mysterious being than he would otherwise have seemed to be; but, on the other hand, it makes the history of man--taken as a whole--more simple and more intelligible, because it supplies an adequate solution of the questions, What is man? and Why was man created? And thus we seem to pass by a safe and sure path from the simplest indication of design in nature to the highest doctrine of Divine revelation. Oh, what has happened in these latter years of the world’s history to snatch from us the blessed inheritance of faith in God, which has come down to us from the days of our fathers? “I believe in God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth”--is there anything in science to deprive us of this great truth? Does not science emphasise the word “Maker,” and at least nod assent when the human heart adds the word “Father”? And though science may have got to the end of its teaching in this article of the creed, is there not something in the conception of a God and Father, which leads up to the belief in a revelation made to His children through “Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord”? And certainly if Jesus Christ be accepted in the fulness of His manifested being, there can be little difficulty in accepting as the crown of Divine Revelation the blessed truth of the being of “the Holy Ghost, the Lord and giver of life.” If I am told that scientific discovery is depriving me of all that I most value, if men who pretend to guide me declare that the faith of Christendom is folly, and desire again to raise altars to “The Unknown God,” if I am told that there is no purpose in nature and that therefore I myself am purposeless and meaningless, a mere bubble upon the infinite stream of time, am I not justified in contending with all my might against such a pitiless system, and in claiming God as my Father, and the knowledge of Him as my most precious possession? (Bp. Harvey Goodwin.)
The clouds drop down the dew.
The sea night-mist of Palestine
There is a very remarkable and regular provision of Nature, peculiar to Bible lands, which may be observed in a first sight of Palestine on any night in the hot season when a west wind is blowing. I allude to the sea night-mist of the hot season. It explains in a very striking and hitherto unsuspected manner the numerous occurrences of the Hebrew word tal, uniformly rendered “dew” in the Authorised Version of the Bible. Some of these have presented hitherto unanswerable difficulties, such as the statement of the wise man that “the clouds drop down the ‘dew’” (Proverbs 3:20), which, if “dew” in the scientific sense of the word is understood, is just what they do not, no dew ever forming when clouds are about. Again, the words in Isaac’s blessing, “God give thee of the ‘dew ‘ of heaven” (Genesis 27:28); those of Moses, summing up the precious things of heaven in the “dew” (Deuteronomy 33:13); the power of an absolute eastern king being likened to “a ‘dew’ upon the grass” (chap. 19:12); and Israel’s future influence amongst the nations to “a ‘dew’ from Jehovah” (Micah 5:7); such words as these, and those in many other passages, bespeak a peculiar excellence and value which dew does not possess even amongst us, and still less in Palestine, where it only occurs in the winter, the time of abundant heavy rains, which render it comparatively useless! It was my good fortune, as a result of my residence in Jerusalem, to discover the deeply interesting natural feature which is called in our version “dew,” and fully to realise in what its importance and excellence consists (Hosea 14:5). From the end of April till about the end of October no drop of rain falls; while each day, for some ten or twelve hours, the sun shines with great strength, unveiled by a single cloud. This fierce wind is in May and October intensified by a burning wind, the sirocco, which gathers its withering, scorching power as it sweeps over the vast sands of the Arabian desert, and is the awful “east wind” of the Bible. During this period, but more especially at its close, in September and October, the west wind, which then prevails, comes up laden with moisture from the Mediterranean Sea, which is condensed in low-lying clouds of mist as soon as it reaches the land. These cloud-masses sweep along near the ground, leaving behind them an immense amount of what is misnamed in our version “dew,” but which is really a very fine, gentle rain in the form of a light Scotch mist. Its great excellence consists--
1. In its coming only in the hottest and driest season, when no other moisture can be had.
2. In its only coming during the night, “when no man can work,” and so interfering in no way with the business or pleasures of life.
3. In its coming in such rich abundance as far to exceed the moisture deposited by any formation of dew.
4. In its coming in such fine particles and moderate quantities as not even to hurt the gathered grain lying out on the open-air threshing-floors.
5. In its effects ceasing as soon as the sun is hot, and so leaving no miasmic or other injurious results behind, whence it is well called by Hosea, “the night-mist which early goes away.” This explanation exactly accounts for “the clouds” being said “to drop” it down, which is just what they do. Very beautiful are the silvery shining mist-clouds which may be seen as the day dawns being drawn up and dissolved into thin air, the fugitive clouds to which Hosea (6:4) compares Israel’s brief and transient seasons of goodness--“Your goodness is like the morning cloud, and like the night-mist (tal) which early goes away.” It also displays the naturalness of the great amount of tal, or “night-mist,” which fell miraculously on Gideon’s fleece (Judges 6:38). It adds a new intensity to our Saviour’s pathetic appeal in Song of Solomon 5:2, “Open to Me . . . for My head is filled with the night-mist (tal), and My locks with the drops of the night.” There is an icy chill often attending exposure to the “night-mist” which is not experienced on a dewy night, the latter being always fine. In a word, let “night mist” be written in each of the thirty-four places in our Bible where “dew” occurs, and it will be found to give a new meaning and a new beauty in every instance! What fresh point and power now clothe the gracious promise in Hosea 14:5, “I will be as the night-mist (tal) to Israel”! and also that beautiful but difficult passage, Psalms 110:3! (James Neil, M.A.)
My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion.
Fidelity to principle
The advantages connected with fidelity to the ethics of godliness are here sketched.
I. Life. The principles of heavenly wisdom--
1. Originate spiritual life.
2. Nurture spiritual life.
II. Ornament. “Grace to thy neck.”
1. This gracefulness of soul is an ornamental. Becoming to all.
2. Within the reach of every man.
3. Admired by the highest intelligences.
4. Imperishable in its nature.
III. Safety. God is the guide and guardian of the faithful.
IV. Courage. It is one thing to be safe and another thing to feel safe. A feeling of safety may well make us courageous. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Securing wisdom when we have it
We are not called to be mere idolaters of wisdom, but to keep it in the heart, with the distinct idea of reproducing it in an obedient and pure life. Wisdom rightly used is increased in amount and energy. It is not a mere decoration, a medal to be worn on the breast, or a badge to proclaim superiority of class; it is a life-generating force, living ever in the soul for its enlargement and establishment in goodness. (Joseph Parker, D.D.)
Yea, thou shalt lie down, and thy sleep shall be sweet.
The peaceful slumbers of the righteous
Slumber is the common privilege of thousands undistinguished by any great virtue. But slumber may be the ordinary effect of nature. While there is no physical ailment or deep sorrow to hinder it; it is the natural result of weariness and daily toil. The slumbers of the text are those which come through freedom from fear.
I. The security of a good man’s rest. The body demands rest. To withhold this rest, or to give it reasonable limits, is moral suicide. When the good man lies down he is not to be afraid. Afraid of what? Of bodily danger and accidents and calamities. It is an instinct to have more fear in the darkness than in the light. It is in the night that we dread the outbreak of the smouldering spark; it is the night which favours the robber’s murderous purpose; it is the night which adds terrors to the lightning flash and to the storm. The promise of the text supplies a rational warrant for calm security. You may sleep and take your rest, for He that keepeth Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The powers of evil shall not destroy further than may be consistent with the Divine designs of mercy, or with an overruling purpose for good. It is a promise that in lying down we need not be afraid of death. When we close our eyes in slumber we know not in which of two worlds we may wake again. We can only overcome the fear of death by knowing that we have a part in Him who is the destroyer of death. How may we lay down and not be afraid? Only by endeavouring that, whether we wake in one world or another, we may have Christ with us at our rising.
II. Thy sleep shall be sweet. This is a second privilege of the good.
1. Sleep is sweetened by the thought of duties attempted, if not duties done. We are all unprofitable servants, but that is no reason why we should be slothful servants.
2. Sleep is sweet through an enjoyed sense of the Divine forgiveness. It cannot be a healthy sleep which men enjoy while the pillow is pressed by a weight of unpardoned, unrepented sin.
3. Sleep may be sweetened by kind and charitable thoughts towards all mankind. Cultivate those dispositions which minister to a holy and gentle charity. Conclusion. You must share in the good man’s labour if either in this life or in that which is to come you would share in the good man’s rest. Sleep to the labouring man is sweet, so also is the sleep of the labouring Christian. His struggles with sin, his contest with the world, the labour of keeping the heart right, and the hands pure, and the eye single, and the ways direct--these are things which make rest needful for him, which give refreshment to his slumbers and repose to his rest. And this warfare of the Christian every day, followed by a night of rest, is but a type of the whole warfare of time followed by the Sabbath rest of eternity. (Daniel Moore, M.A.)
Be not afraid of sudden fear, neither of the desolation of the wicked, when it cometh.
For the Lord shall be thy confidence.
Confident attitude of God’s people
When God is abroad in judgments, He would not have His people alarmed. He has not come forth to harm, but to defend the righteous.
I. He would have them manifest courage. We who enjoy the presence of God ought to display presence of mind. Since the Lord Himself may suddenly come, we ought not to be surprised at anything sudden. Serenity under the rush and roar of unexpected evils is a precious gift of Divine love.
II. The Lord would have His chosen display discrimination, so that they may see that the desolation of the wicked is not a real calamity to the universe. Sin alone is evil; the punishment which follows thereupon is as a preserving salt to keep society from putrefying. We should be far more hocked at the sin which deserves hell than at the hell which comes out of sin.
III. So, too, should the Lord’s people exhibit great quietness of spirit. Satan and his serpent seed are full of all subtilty; but those who walk with God shall not be taken in their deceitful snares. Go on, believe in Jesus, and let the Lord be thy confidence. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Withhold not good from them to whom it is due.
A plea for the shop-men
When the first man had fallen into sin labour was imposed upon him as a punishment. And yet there was mercy mingled with the judgment. That stern necessity which forced man to eat bread in the sweat of his brow became one of his purest and sweetest sources of enjoyment. What would the world be without labour? Do we not owe to it the occupation of time which otherwise would be a burden too heavy to bear? Is it not indispensable to our mental and physical vigour, to the healthy mind in the healthy body? And does it not contribute, directly and indirectly, to our best and most enduring pleasures? But the labour is as God imposed it upon man. Not labour that is incessant, or, in itself, unfriendly to the interests of body or mind. Man has too frequently made labour a curse. To bring back labour to the position which it held after the expulsion from paradise, to guard its rights, and to render industrial occupation a help rather than a hindrance to the progress of humanity are objects of noble and Godlike enterprise.
I. This purpose is good.
1. It is good personally. Putting wise limitations on labour is good for the body, for the mind, for the soul.
2. It is good relatively. Good for employers--good for their interests, for their consciences. It is good for the commonwealth and for the Church.
II. This movement for the limitation of labour is just. Young men have a right to a fair portion of time to be used as they think best. We speak not now of expediency, but of lawful claim. They have a right to be happy. It is a sin to stop any fellow-creature from being happy. We commit this sin if we help to place impediments in his way so that he cannot obtain his share of joy. They have a right to advance their own interests. Young people may have no golden opportunities because they have no leisure. They have a right to fulfil some moral design. What this should be, each young man should find out specifically for himself. He is then bound to effectuate it. And he has a right to demand from society opportunity to obey the divinely implanted impulse. He must have breathing time, time for moral achievements.
III. The demand for shorter hours of labour is also practicable. It can be done. Late hours are not indispensable. A little domestic arrangement would make it just as easy to purchase in the broad daylight as in the dark evening hour. (W. M. Whittemore, S.C.L.)
Many are the forms of this dishonesty, borrowing without payment, evading the taxes, keeping back the labourer’s hire. But the rule probes deeper than this surface. If we have no legal debt to any, we have a gospel debt to all. Even the poor is bound by this universal law of his poorer neighbour. Every one has a claim upon our love. Every opportunity of doing good is our call to do so. (C. Bridges, M. A.)
I. Human beneficence has its claimants.
1. What you have is given in trust.
2. It is given you for distribution.
II. Human beneficence is only limited by incapacity. Our power is the measure of our obligation.
III. Human beneficence should ever be prompt in its services.
1. Because the postponement of any duty is a sin in itself.
2. Because the neglect of a benevolent impulse is injurious to self.
3. Because the claimant may seriously suffer by a delay of your help.
IV. Human beneficence excludes all unkindness of heart. True charity thinketh no evil. A selfish heart is an evil desire. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The duty of charity
I. Charity, as of moral obligation, stands at the head of religious practice. It is not a duty purely of positive command and institution, but in its own nature, and by a constant and eternal obligation. The Jews easily confounded things morally good and evil with things made good and evil by positive command. The distinction was vigorously set forth by the prophets. Charity, then, is the principal duty of our religion, as being universal and indispensable and a perfection in its own nature.
II. Charity is the nearest imitation of the divine nature and perfections that we are capable of. The Divine perfections are not imitable by us, as to the degree and extent of them. They are all infinite in God. We may do good according to our power and in our sphere. God will accept according to that a man hath.
III. This good disposition of mind is made of the immediate conditions of our future happiness. The virtue of charity is an immediate gospel-condition of our future happiness, and it is a natural cause of it, or such a temper of mind as may be called beatific. In the nature of things, it prepares men for admission into the quiet regions of peace and love. This is also a virtue proper and necessary to this life, without which the world cannot subsist. This earth is the only stage where this virtue can and must be exercised. It is not easy to prescribe rules, measures, and proportions to men’s charity, but neither is it necessary. (Francis Astry, D. D.)
The duty of charity stated and enforced
That charity in general is a duty nobody will deny. But many, on account of particular circumstances, think themselves entirely discharged from the performance of it. Many, though they own the obligation, yet disown it in its due degrees.
I. Who are the persons obliged to give to charitable uses, and in what proportion? By charitable uses is meant the relief of the helpless, the sick, the needy, etc. The great, the opulent, and the able should undertake the principal share in this duty. They are stewards, and must give an account. Their good deeds ought to bear proportion to their abilities. Everybody looks with abhorrence upon a man who is ever amassing riches without laying anything out in charitable uses; as greedy as the sea and as barren as the shore. Those whose circumstances are but just easy, who can only just meet the demands of their families, claim to be totally exempted from the performance of this duty. But often such persons have secret indulgences, which form their real excuse. Those in straitened circumstances think they have nothing to do in the works of charity. Rich and poor are equally concerned in the duty, but in proportion to their circumstances. He that has little is as strictly bound to give something out of that little as he that has more is obliged to give more. Charity consists in doing the best we can and doing it with a willing mind. The smallest present imaginable may be the greatest bounty. The only persons who have a fair right of pleading an entire exemption from this duty are those whose circumstances are deeply involved; for until we can satisfy our creditors we ought not to relieve the poor. It would be unjust to give away what is not our own. There is much difficulty in pitching upon any fixed and stated proportion short of which our charity ought not to fall. Where the determinate measure of duty is not or cannot be assigned, there men’s interests or covetousness will be ever suggesting excuses for the non-performance of it. In this we ought to follow the rule laid down in all doubtful cases, i.e., to choose the part which is least dangerous. In the exercise of charity we should rather exceed than fall short, for fear of incurring the guilt of uncharitableness. The Jews had to appropriate the tenth part of their revenue every three years to charitable uses. This was a thirtieth part of their yearly revenue. We should not at any time fall short of this measure.
II. Who are the persons qualified to receive our charity?
1. We ought rather to succour the distressed than increase the happiness of the easy, because we are to do the most good we can. Even the bad are to be relieved in cases of extreme necessity.
2. The best charity we can give to the poor that have ability and strength is to employ them in work, that they may not contract an habit of idleness.
3. Those suffering reverse of fortune are proper objects of charity.
4. Fatherless children demand our care. Charity is misplaced upon vagrants and common beggars, who may be counterfeits.
5. The sick have claim upon our charity.
III. The manner in which we are to dispense our charity. Acts of mercy should be both public and private. If charity were entirely secret, removed from the eye of the world, it would decay and dwindle into nothing. If charity were always done in public, it would degenerate into mere hypocrisy, formality, and outward show. Care is necessary not to be influenced by ostentation or any sinister motive. An action good in itself is greatly recommended by an agreeable manner of doing it, an agreeable manner being to actions what a lively manner o| expression is to our sense--it beautifies and adorns it, and gives it all the advantage whereof it is capable. It is our duty not only to have virtue, but to make our virtue truly amiable. A delicacy of this kind is most chiefly to be observed with those who have not been used to receive charity.
IV. The motives to charity.
1. Compassion. As ingrafted in us this is mere instinct; as cultured and cherished it becomes a virtue.
2. The pleasure of benevolence. He that centres all his regard upon himself, exclusively of others, has placed his affections very oddly; he has placed them on the most worthless object in the world--himself.
V. The recompense of the reward. At the last day the question will not be whether you have been negatively good, whether you have done no harm, but what good have you done? Our Saviour has made the poor His representatives. The riches that we have given away will remain with us for ever. When we have shown mercy to our fellow-creatures we may safely expect it from our Creator. (J. Seed, M. A.)
Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to-morrow I will give.
I. What is due to others? (Proverbs 3:27). There is a sense in which debt should be avoided, and a sense in which all men must be always over head and ears in it (Romans 13:8). Love is a debt that can never be discharged. As followers of Christ we must love always and love all. Some men are neighbours because they reside in the same street, and all men are neighbours because they reside on the same planet. “Shivering,” says Dr. Punshon, “in the ice-bound, or scorching in the tropical, regions, in the lap of luxury, or in the wild hardihood of the primeval forest--belting the globe in a tired search for rest, or quieting his life amid the leafy shade of ancestral woods, gathering all the decencies around him like a garment, or battling in the fierce raid of crime in a world which has disowned him, there is an inner human-ness everywhere which binds that man to me by a primitive and by an indissoluble bond.”
II. The needs of others. Real goodness is--
1. Practical. It finds expression in giving. All nature is redolent of such beneficence. The earth gives fruit; the sky gives rain; the sun gives light. So is it with nature’s God. He gave, says one, “the best thing in heaven for the worst thing on earth.”
2. Prompt. It says, not tomorrow, but to-day--not by and by, but now. “Keep,” says William Arnot, “as few good intentions hovering about as possible.” A kind deed done quickly is twice done, and if some deeds are not done quickly they will never be done at all.
III. The confidence of others (Proverbs 3:29). Evil growing out of a betrayal of confidence is one of the worst forms of evil. There are confidences of--
1. A national character. Israel rested upon the staff of Egypt, but it turned out to be “a bruised reed” (2 Kings 18:21).
2. A friendly character. Such confidence was betrayed by Ahithophel (Psalms 41:9), and by Judas (John 13:18).
3. A business character. The confidence of an employer in his assistant. This may be betrayed by wasting the master’s goods (Luke 16:1), or by misappropriating them (Exodus 20:15; Ephesians 4:28.).
IV. The Integrity Of Others (Proverbs 3:30). The strife of law courts has brought misery to thousands of innocent people. Some people are always inventing grievances.
V. The Sins Of Others (Proverbs 3:31). Oppression is opposed to neighbourliness. Some modern employers of labour will surely stand aghast when the time for this reckoning comes. Well might the wise man say of such, “Choose none of his ways.”
VI. To Ourselves (Proverbs 3:32-35). Goodness has its reward. Two companion pictures teach this by a graphic contrast.
1. The hatred versus the friendship of the Lord. From the unneighbourly God turns away, but His face is towards the upright. To enjoy the friendship of God we must be the friends of men.
2. The curse versus the blessing of the Lord. To bless is to be blessed. The merciful shall obtain mercy. (H. Thorne.)
Strive not with a man without a cause.
I. As a principle inherent in the soul. There is a battling instinct in every human mind. Man is made to antagonise. The principle is intended to put us into antagonism--
1. Not against existence, but against the evils of existence.
2. Not against God, but against the enemies of God.
II. As a principle liable to perversion. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Here we are called to do good negatively. The strife-loving disposition is fatal to culture, solidity of goodness, and every instinct of beneficence. Where strife is, God is not. Where there is cause of strife be careful to ascertain its true quality. It must be a cause so evident and so righteous that there can be no dispute about it. Some minds are ingenious in creating causes of strife, and they justify themselves by blinding themselves. Strength is itself a temptation. Who can be strong and yet civil? Unjust contentions degrade their authors. False accusations need further lies for their defence and support. Whom we begin by ill-treating we end by hating. (Joseph Parker, D. D.)
Envy thou not the oppressor.
He is a common character. There is the political oppressor, the social oppressor, the ecclesiastical oppressor.
I. His character is not to be envied.
1. Because envy is in itself an evil.
2. Because there is nothing in the oppressor to be desired.
II. His conduct is not to be followed. Stand aloof (Psalms 37:1). (D. Thomas, D. D.)
The oppressor not to be envied
Whether public or private, the man who “grinds the faces of the poor” by severity and extortion, may succeed, may prosper; may, by this means, amass a fortune, and rise to still higher honour. He is not to be envied; not only because envy is in itself wrong, but also because there is really nothing in his character and career to produce it. His prosperity is not to be envied even by the poorest and most suffering victim of his oppression. And while he is not to be envied, far less are his ways to be imitated for the sake of obtaining the envied results--the same wealth, the same greatness, the same power. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked.
In what sense, and in what cases, a curse may still extend to Christians
I. Christians are most certainly exposed to the Divine curse, if guilty of the sins to which it appertains. There is no curse remaining for the believing and the penitent. But still there is a curse retained on record, and it must be as surely kept for some beneath the gospel as it ever was aforetime. There are some who are cold and selfish, who have no root of Christian tenderness, nor any spirit of believing love; who take no pity on the poor, the stranger, or the naked. If neglect brings curse, how much more must positive wrong. Our Saviour speaks of the condemned in general terms as “the workers of iniquity.” There is, then, a possibility of curse yet remaining beneath the covenant of grace.
II. Make detailed examination of one or two of the more secret of the sins that too many Christians are guilty of.
1. “Cursed is he that removeth his neighbour’s landmark.” The Christian translation of this is, “Let no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter.”
2. “Cursed is he that maketh the blind to go out of his way.” In a moral and spiritual sense this reads, “Cursed is he who imposeth upon the simple, the credulous, the unwary, the ignorant, or the helpless, and either wilfully deceives, misleads, corrupts, or plunders any of these, for selfish or unworthy purpose of his own.” (John Miller, M.A.)
The curse and the blessing
I. The different characters here mentioned. All men are sinful, but all men are not wicked, in the sense of being immoral. The “just” are the sincere and renewed of mankind.
II. The different portion assigned to each. On the house of the wicked a curse, on the habitation of the just a blessing. The curse of the law, of a troubled conscience, of a neglected gospel, of a judgment to come. The blessing comes by God “making all things work together for good.” The blessing of God is upon the table of the just, upon their sorrows, upon their toils, upon their families--in a word, upon their souls. They are blessed with peace and light and liberty--with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus. (American National Preacher.)
Different characters and destinies
I. The difference of character. The doctrine of the corruption of human nature should always be viewed in connection with the redemption of the world by the sacrifice of the death of Christ. As this redemption extends to all mankind, all are consequently placed in a state of trial. And this leads to the difference of character mentioned in the text. Some receive and improve the grace that is offered to them; others refuse and oppose it. Hence all the inhabitants of the world are divided into two distinct classes of character. By the “wicked” we are to understand all that vast multitude who take this world for their portion. The “house of the wicked” means every family where the love and fear of God are not the ruling principles. The “just” means one who accepts and improves the grace offered him in the gospel; whose religion is seated in the heart and is displayed in the life. A just person is governed by a principle of love to God and of love to man. The “habitation of the just” means a family where religion is the principal thing. The members of such a family act uprightly, according to their different stations.
II. The different states of those to whom these characters severally belong.
1. The curse of the wicked. They are not, however, always in an afflicted state. The expression means that, whatever their outward circumstances, God does not look favourably upon them. When God’s blessing is withdrawn nothing but curse remains.
2. The blessing of the just. It lies in the continual favour, protection, and presence of God. Not necessarily in outward circumstances. “All things work together for their good.”
1. That the characters and states of mankind have been always the same in every age of the world, and they will continue to be so till time shall cease.
2. That the difference of character necessarily leads to a difference of state. (J. S. Pratt, B. C. L.)
God’s curse and blessing
1. God’s curse is on wicked men in all their ways. Their poverty, losses, and crosses are not properly trials, but beginnings of sorrows.
2. God’s blessing is on godly men in all their doings. If they have but little, they have content with it. God will turn poverty into plenty if He sees it best so to do. (Francis Taylor, B.D.)
Moral contrasts in character and destiny
There are in human life great contrasts of character, and these are accompanied by corresponding contrasts in the lot and destiny of men. Three examples in Proverbs 3:33-35. All three, however, resolve themselves into the general distinction and opposition between right and wrong which run through the whole of life.
I. Let us seek to bring that radical contrast before our minds in a general view. What is right? What is wrong?
1. The words themselves give us some hint of what we mean and what we feel, for right is the same as direct, straight, and wrong is the same as wrung, twisted, turned, perverted from that which is straight and direct. There are actions and habits of mind which we feel to be in some sense straight, direct, right; others which we feel to be wrong--that is, which deviate from that which is straight. There are other words, referring to moral distinctions, which contain the same idea. A good man is constantly spoken of in the Scriptures as an upright man--a man upright in heart. A bad man is often spoken of as a perverse, a froward man; he is one who turns aside from the right way; his ways are crooked; and so on. But, so far, we have nothing more than an analogy before our minds. The word informs us that we have gathered our notion of something belonging to the mind and feelings from something that has been seen by the bodily senses in the world outside us; that is all. It tells us that our ideas of right and wrong resemble our ideas of a straight or a curved line. But we want to know not merely what right and wrong resemble, but, if possible, what they are in themselves.
2. Do you mean that what you call a right action is a useful action, and what you call a wrong action is a hurtful action? The opinion before us is, that the experience of mankind, gradually forming and accumulating through the ages of the past, has ascertained certain things to be helpful, and certain other things to be injurious, to its welfare, and that we have learned to name the one class of things right, and the other wrong.
(1) If this theory, which identifies the right with the socially useful, and the wrong with the socially injurious, be true, why should we need two sets of words to express the same idea? When a man has done a generous action, or spoken the truth in the face of a strong temptation to speak falsehood, why should we not say he has acted usefully, instead of saying he has acted rightly?
(2) Again, refer this question to your own feelings. When these words--useful, right--are pronounced in your hearing, and you take in their respective meanings, do they not awaken two entirely different feelings in your mind? You may, indeed, feel about a particular act that it is both right and useful at the same time; still, that is not one, but two feelings in regard to the action, which happen for the moment to meet and be blended in your mind. On the other hand, there are many actions in regard to which you have one of these feelings and not the other present to your mind. You say, “It was a useful deed, it was very convenient; but it was not right after all.” You have a sense of utility which is gratified by what has been done; you have another and a higher feeling about right and wrong, which is dissatisfied and displeased by what has been done.
(3) Again, if you take a general survey of men’s actions, you will be led to the same conclusion. What do you say of the act in which one man rushes forward in a moment of sudden opportunity and takes the life of his fellow-man? What do you say of assassination, of murder? Is it right--can anything in the world ever make such an act other than wrong? Yet such an act has often turned out in the highest degree useful to society.
3. Is our feeling about right and wrong the same essentially as our feeling about beauty and ugliness? All that is right is beautiful; but there is much that is beautiful that is not right.
4. I take my stand, then--fearless of contradiction from any really awakened conscience--upon this position: your feeling for right is superior to every other single feeling of your nature. It is the noblest part of your feeling for God, and every other feeling--that for use and that for beauty, that for self and that for society--stands in a lower and subordinate relation to it: like servants in the presence of their master. Your conscience is your master, and woe to you if you seek to put any other passion into the lordly seat which conscience holds--if you would make that part of your nature the slave which something within you says you were Divinely made to obey.
II. Application of these principles to the text.
1. The “wicked “is spoken of, and the “just” is spoken of. These names, these characters, can never be interchanged. Who is the wicked man? He is one who is the slave of his lower feelings--his appetites, his passions, his lusts, his comforts and conveniences, and who is the constant rebel to the law of right, to God within his soul. Who is the just man? He is the man who obeys and follows, because he reveres the right, the God revealed in the soul; and who makes every other part and passion, every comfort and convenience, give way to and follow in the wake of the highest. The curse of the Lord is in the house of the former, and cannot but rest thereon, and there must remain until the falsehood of his heart and life be removed. The blessing of the Lord is on the habitation of the later--is necessarily there, as God is true and faithful in His ways. As the blade of grass catches on its summit the pearly globe of heaven’s dew, so the blessing of the Most High is caught by every upward-looking, obedient, praying heart.
2. Again, there is the scorner, and there is the lowly man. These names, these characters, cannot be confounded with one another. Who is the scorner? The man who has lifted his pride and egotism into the seat where conscience ought to be; who obeys that dark and irrational passion; who is swollen with self-idolatry instead of bending in the sense of his littleness before the God who made him. And the lowly--who is he? The man who feels and owns himself to be low and God to be high; himself to be little and God to be great; himself to be sinful and seamed with faults, and God to be the Holy Father of his spirit. The former is and will be an object of Heaven’s scorn; for who is so worthy of the deepest contempt as a human creature the slave of pride? and a scorned object he must remain until his proud heart be broken. But to the lowly grace, or favour, is given; for God is faithful, and grants to men their true needs. Heaven stoops to those who know that they cannot of themselves rise to heaven.
3. There is the wise man and there is the fool; and these names and characters can never really be confused. For who is the wise man? He who lives, and ever seeks to live, according to the best light given to him; who reveres the nature God has bestowed upon him; who prayerfully and humbly endeavours to be true to it. And who is the fool? Just the opposite of this. One who “plays the fool” with the glorious nature God has given; breaks down its holy landmarks by letting loose the swine and tigers of his evil passions into it; defiles the temple of his body by vice; does his best to put out the eyes of his conscience, and fling the dethroned ruler of his nature into prison and darkness. Glory, eternal glory and life, shall be the portion of the former; but shame the promotion (or exaltation) of the latter! What terrible irony, what scathing satire, in that word! “Exalted” to shame! “Promoted” to disgrace! Advanced in the ranks of ignominy and dishonour! (E. Johnson, M. A.)
Surely He scorneth the scorners.
Why God scorns the scorner
I. The scorner as God sees him. God is described as spurning the scorner, but at the same time His love points out the right way to those who are anxious to overcome evil. The scorner whispers “cant” of all religious forms and expressions.
II. The influence of the scorner. A man who makes religion the butt of his ridicule is very apt to win a certain admiration from the young and the weak-minded. Nothing is easier than for a man to set up as a cynic. Let him pick out the weak points in every one but himself, let him see in every subject the suggestion of a bad extreme, and his equipment is complete. God scorns the scorner because he degrades Divine work. There is nothing in the world so pure but some of these scorners see a blemish in it. They see only the baser side of everything; the bad something in every page of Holy Writ. A cynical Christian is a contradiction in terms. The man who would frustrate his own side deserves to be branded a failure. The Church never had so much need of men who will press forward in the Christian race as to-day. Find your highest type of mankind in whoever tries to make the world better and to stand openly for God. (Abp. A. Mackay-Smith.)
The scorn of scorn
But how can one feel a scorn of scorn without himself coming into the same condemnation? And when we venture to say of God that He “scorneth the scorners,” do we not seem to charge upon the Judge the identical fault for which He Himself is passing sentence upon the offender? The answer to these questions lies here. Feelings, like actions, derive their moral character to a great extent from circumstances. What is sin under ordinary circumstances is, in the special case of the executioner, innocence. It seems to be a necessary feature of the law of retribution that like should be punished by like; so that this scorning of the scorner comes under the same head as the slaying of the slayer. And yet it is not every one who may slay the slayer, neither is it every one who may scorn the scorner, but He blamelessly may who is the Judge of all the earth. “Surely He scorneth the scorners,” and in perfect holiness He does it.
I. Out of what sort of soil springs up this weed of scorn? And through what negligence of ours is it suffered to get its growth, choking the good seed, and spoiling the whole fruitage of the soul? One of the most frequent, certainly the most vulgar, of all the varieties of scorn, is that which associates itself with the possession of money. “Our soul,” exclaims one of the psalmists sadly, as if speaking out of the depths of a bitter experience, “is filled with the scornful reproof of the wealthy.” Those words date from a far past. It is some three thousand years since they were spoken, but probably they had as little of the air of novelty about them then as they have now. It is an old truth. But there is a sort of power antecedent even to the money power, and perhaps for that reason I ought to have spoken of it first. I mean bodily superiority. Among savage races, where the struggle for survival is plainly seen to be everything, this tyranny of the stronger arm is, of course, more noticeable than in the midst of people called civilised. But the pride of life, yes, of downright animal life, is by no means a stranger even to enlightened society; as a hundred indications from the popular worship of the prize-fighter upwards, even as far as the councils of nations, amply testify. Along with strength of limb we reckon the advantage which those who are engaged in competition gain from a firm foothold, good standing-ground. Hence it happens that official station, high place, the holding of civil or military authority, has been known to engender scornfulness. And as with strength and power, so with beauty. Unsanctified beauty is proverbially scornful. In ancient times, the ill-made dwarf seems to have been given his place in kings’ palaces for the very sake of heightening, by force of contrasts, the shapeliness of those among whom he crept and jested. The fact that graciousness of manner is always thought to add so great a charm to personal beauty testifies of itself to our not naturally expecting to find the two things combined. Imperiousness is commonly submitted to as one of the supposed prerogatives, or inherent rights of beauty. Nevertheless, it is written in a certain place, that “the Lord hateth a proud look.” A consciousness of superior knowledge, or knowledge supposed to be superior, often carries with it the assumption of scorn. Thank God, the succession of lowly-minded scholars has never wholly failed since knowledge began to be. And yet the affectation of omniscience on the part of speakers and writers is far more frequent than could be wished. Learning patronises sanctity. Yet again, there is such a thing as spiritual scorn. Contempt for those held to be theologically or ecclesiastically below the mark, a certain pitiless disdain for the class whom St. Paul so tenderly speaks of, “the weak in the faith,” has too often found utterance and illustration in the history of the people of God. So, then, these are the motive springs, the sources and the suggestions of scorn.
II. Some of the best accredited remedies for scorn. Do not understand me to intend methods of warding off from ourselves the scorn of others. The thing we really need to be told is how to seal up the fountain of scorn in our own hearts.
1. One of these remedies is to consider often and seriously the littleness, the real, the intrinsic smallness of the possession, gift, privilege, whichever it may be, upon which we are pluming ourselves, and from which we draw the justification of our scornful thoughts. Your wealth is tempting you to entertain a certain disdain for those less rich than yourself, is it? Consider what your riches really are. One of the English mystics speaks of his having found it an effectual mode of disabusing himself of the illusions of wealth to imagine all his property turned into some one form of merchandise, and then asking himself, How am I the better or the happier for being the legal owner of a hundred thousand pieces of such or such a mineral, or half a million boxes or two million bales of such or such a fabric? The device is perhaps a clumsy one, for in real life wealth seldom or never locks itself up in the monotonous and unattractive way supposed; at least, that is not the form in which we see it. Still the suggestion has something of value in it, for it does fasten the attention upon the coarse, material side of all accumulated riches, and does remind us how insignificant the thing called a fortune really is as compared with the earth and the fulness thereof. The mighty One who made and owns the world scorneth the scorners, and assuredly on this score of great possessions He has a right to do so. So much for the littleness of wealth at its greatest, but when we go on to take into account the transiency of it as well as the littleness, we see at once what an utterly groundless justification riches furnish for the exercise of scorn. Once separated from your property, and finding yourself all alone with your scorn, how very, very poorly off you will be! how very, very lonely! But if the case be thus with riches, is it any the better with bodily strength and personal beauty, the pride of power and the pride of intellect, and the pride of Churchly privilege? No, they are transient all. If riches have wings, so have they.
2. But there is a nobler, loftier thought than this, and one even more efficacious as a protection against the growth in us of the scornful mood, and that is the thought that all of these various possessions are given us in trust. If we can only rise to that conception of our life which acknowledges it to be, with all its powers and talents and privileges and opportunities, nothing less than a weighty trust committed to us by Almighty God, the Maker of our bodies and the Father of our spirits, if we can but do this, we shall be guarded alike from frivolity, from despondency, and from scorn. We cannot be frivolous, for no matter how swift the trust, we see the solemnity of it; we cannot be despondent, for the responsibility laid on us is, by its very nature, prophetic of more than heart can wish or tongue utter; we cannot be scornful, for there is nothing in a lent possession that tends to foster the vanity of ownership.
3. But the best of all the antidotes to scorn is the contemplation, honest, earnest, and sustained, of the example of our Saviour Christ. If superiority of any kind whatsoever could confer the right to be contemptuous, surely that right was His. But what saith He of Himself, this King of kings? “I am meek,” He says, “and lowly in heart.” Yes, that is it; there lies the hiding of His power. There is no dash or touch or tinge of scorn to mar the perfect sweetness of His nature. Gracious He is, and clement, reassuring our timidity by the loving kindness of His smile, and through the pitifulness of His great mercy loosing those who are tied and bound by sin. If our religion means anything at all, means it not this, that a Christian’s duty is the imitating of Christ? And are we imitators of Him, if knowingly we go on letting the scornful temper rule our hearts in place of pity? There is a hard, unloving mood of mind into which people sometimes allow themselves to fall as a sort of revenge upon their own ill success. Embittered by losses or failure, disappointed, hurt, they seem to find a certain ghastly consolation in noticing the like drawbacks in lives other than their own. But this is not to imitate Christ. He lost everything. “Then they all forsook Him and fled.” And yet some of the gentlest, tenderest, most pitiful of His sayings are to be found among the words spoken from the Cross. In the family prayers of the late Dean Alford, himself an eminent exemplar of kindliness and forbearance, there is a beautiful petition, which, if granted, would bring gladness into many a home to which now it is a stranger: “From forgetting or not caring for one another’s infirmities,” so the supplication runs, “good Lord, deliver us.” The forgetting is the evil that comes from want of thought; the not caring, the evil that comes from want of heart; and how sore is our need of deliverance from both of them! (W. R. Huntington, D. D.)
He giveth grace unto the lowly.
Pride and humility are two opposite habits or dispositions of the mind. There are two extremes, and between these the virtue of humility is placed. The two extremes are in the excess, which is pride, and in the defect, baseness of mind. Pride ariseth from an over-valuation of a man’s self, or a want of a due sense of his dependency upon Almighty God.
1. It is a foolish thing for a man to be proud of the endowments of his mind.
2. Of bodily endowments.
3. Of things adventitious and foreign.
The other extreme is baseness or sordidness of mind, which, though it carries the shadow of humility, is quite another thing. True humility is a lowly frame and habit of spirit arising from the due sense of the glorious excellency of the Almighty God and of our own frailties and infirmities. It is in itself the effect of a mind truly and soundly principled. It is evidenced by--
1. A most awful and sincere reverence of the great and glorious God.
2. A most high and constant gratitude and thankfulness of heart and soul to Him.
3. The employment of all that God has given us to His glory and service.
4. A constant vigilance and attention of mind upon all our thoughts, words, and actions.
5. A sober opinion concerning ourselves, and all we do and say.
6. A diligent, and impartial, and frequent consideration, and examination, and animadversion of, and upon, our defects and failings.
7. Charitable opinions of the persons of others, as far as possibly may be.
I. The fruits and advantages and benefits of true humility in relation to almighty God. Two great advantages--
1. He receives grace, favour, or honour from God.
2. He receives direction, guidance, and counsel from God.
II. The advantages of true humility in relation to the humble man himself.
1. Humility keeps the soul in great evenness and tranquillity.
2. Gives contentment in any condition or station.
3. Gives patience under all adversity.
4. Gives great moderation and sobriety and vigilancy in the fullest enjoyment of temporal felicity.
5. Humility is an excellent remedy against the passion of fear.
III. The advantages of humility in relation to others. These are of two kinds--
1. The advantage the humble man doth to others.
2. The advantage which the humble man receives from others upon the account of his humility. Christ is the example of humility--
(1) Because the instance and example of His humility was the most signal and wonderful of all His admirable virtues.
(2) Because without humility to prepare and mellow the hearts of men it could not be morally possible for them to receive the faith of Christ.
(3) Because without humility all the rest of those excellent virtues that were taught in the doctrine, and exhibited in the example of Christ, had been but unacceptable. Humility and lowliness of mind is the substratum and ground-work, the necessary ingredients into all acceptable duties toward God and man. (Sir M. Hale.)
The wise shall inherit glory.
I. Its character. Intelligence, mind, reason is that power by which the supremacy of man over the beasts of the earth is asserted. Whilst, other things being equal, the greatest minds have been Christian, the powers may be predicated of intellect, irrespective of the moral character of its possessor. But a great intellect dissociated from moral control may become a scourge and a terror.
II. The work of sanctified intellect. It is the glory of God. But this involves the good of man. There is no subject to which intelligence can devote itself but may be made to minister to both. How then shall we work?
1. By prayer. A devotional spirit is the first essential element of piety.
2. By the press.
3. By the pulpit.
III. The reward of sanctified intellect. It shall “inherit glory.” (William Leask.)
But shame shall be the promotion of fools.--
The folly of the earthly-minded
I. In the choice which he makes.
1. The sinner prefers the favour of man to the favour of God.
2. He prefers the interests of the body to the interests of the soul.
3. He prefers temporal pleasure to eternal happiness; and in so doing, verily, he prefers the rags to the robes, the pebbles to the jewels, and the shadow to the substance.
II. In the conduct which he pursues.
1. He rebels against God his Maker, refusing to submit to His authority.
2. The sinner is going to an eternal world, and makes no preparation for that eternal world.
3. He is condemned; a pardon is freely offered by the Lord, and he rejects the offered pardon.
III. What is to be the end of these things? “Shame shall be the promotion of fools.” This shame will arise from several sources.
1. From disappointment. Should a soldier be cashiered for cowardice, when he expected promotion for his supposed bravery; should an author be cried down, when he expected great applause; or should a person find that no mention is made of him in a will, when he expected to be one of the principal heirs; in all such cases disappointment would be a matter of shame. How much more when the sinner wakes up in eternity, and finds all his fond hopes of heaven blasted for avert
2. From the full development of character which shall then be made. Some years since a certain man in one of our Atlantic cities was charged with a very base act--was charged with opening a letter which had been put into the post-office, and divulging some family secrets which that letter contained. He denied the charge. A committee was appointed to investigate the charge and make a report. I was present when the report was made. In the presence of some one or two hundred citizens, the chairman of the committee came forward and said, “We have investigated the charge alleged against the gentleman, and find it to be true.” I saw the man the moment his character was thus blasted for ever. After one frantic effort with a pistol to take the life of the person who had thus exposed him, he dropped his head; he could not bear to look upon man or woman any more; and, returning to his lodgings, he laid himself down upon his bed, and died of a broken heart. Shame killed him. And now, if the divulging of one base act in such an assembly on earth occasioned him such overwhelming, heartbreaking shame, oh! what intolerable shame must come upon the sinner when every base act, when every impure thought, when every unlawful deed shall be revealed before God and angels and men!
3. From the manifestation of his folly.
4. From the company with which he will be obliged to associate. (D. Baker, D.D.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Proverbs 3". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the First Week of Advent