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If thou be surety for thy friend.
The principles of domestic, social, and political economy in the Bible are far more wise, as well as righteous, than can be found in human book or periodical.
I. Suretyship as an evil to be deplored. “If thou be surety”; as if he had said, “It is a sad thing if thou hast.” It is not, however, always an evil. There are two things necessary to render it justifiable.
1. The case should be deserving.
2. You should be fully competent to discharge the obligation. But the most deserving men will seldom ask for suretyships, and the most competent men will seldom undertake the responsibility.
II. Suretyship as an evil very easily contracted. Merely “striking the hand,” and uttering the “words.” One word, the word “Yes,” will do it, written or uttered in the presence of a witness. Plausibility will soon extract it from a pliant and generous nature.
III. Suretyship as an evil to be strenuously removed. “Deliver thyself.”
1. Do it promptly. Try by every honest means to get the bond back again.
2. Do it beseechingly. “Humble thyself.” It is no use to carry a high hand; thou art in his power.
3. Do it effectively. Thou art encaged in iron law; break loose honourably somehow, and be free. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
If thou hast stricken thy hand with a stranger.
Striking the hand
A surety is one who becomes security for a debt due by another. The customary or legal forms which render suretyship valid differ in different countries. Allusion here is to the practice of the surety confirming his engagement by giving his hand to the creditor, in presence of witnesses. The prohibition must not be taken as unqualified. There are cases in which suretyship is unavoidable. The law sometimes requires it. But the less of it the better.
I. It is wrong for a man to come under engagements that are beyond his actually existing means. Such a course is not merely imprudent; there is in it a threefold injustice.
1. To the creditor for whom he becomes surety, inasmuch as the security is fallacious, not covering the extent of the risk.
2. To his family, to whom the payment may bring distress and ruin.
3. To those who give him credit in his own transactions; for, in undertaking suretyships, he involves himself in the risks of other trades besides his own.
II. It is wrong to make engagements with inconsideration and rashness. The case here treated is that of suretyship for a friend to a stranger; and the rashness and haste may be viewed in relation either to the person or to the ease. Men, when they feel the generous impulse of friendly emotion, are apt to think at the moment only of themselves, as if the risk were all their own, and to forget that they are making creditors and family securities, without asking their consent, or making them aware of their risks. Suretyships for strangers are specially condemned. (R. Wardlaw.)
Debtors and creditors
The friend of the surety here is the debtor, the stranger is the creditor.
I. The Scripture affords direction for trading and civil converse.
1. For wariness in suretyship here.
2. For faithfulness in dealing elsewhere. But why does the wise man concern himself with such matters.
1. Religion guides best in civil matters.
2. The eighth commandment requires care of our estates.
3. The Church consists of families and traders which cannot be upheld without care.
4. Religion is ill spoken of for the careless ruin of professors’ estates. Then follow Scripture precedents in trading rather than corrupt men’s examples.
II. Young men should be advised by their elders in worldly affairs. They have more knowledge and more experience than younger men.
III. Rash suretyship is to be avoided. “Go to the pleading-place (forum), and among frequent contenders nothing is more frequently heard, than the dangers of suretyship, and the sighings of the surety.”
1. Be not bound for more than thou canst spare from thy trade and charge.
2. Be not bound for idle persons, that are likely to leave thee in the lurch, and can show no likelihood of ever paying. There be honest poor men enough that will need thy help in this kind. Thou needest not to bestow thy means on prodigals. (Francis Taylor, B.D.)
Lending money on interest
When the Mosaic law was instituted, commerce had not been taken up by the Israelites, and the lending of money on interest for its employment in trade was a thing unknown. The only occasion for loans would be to supply the immediate necessities of the borrower, and the exaction of interest under such circumstances would be productive of great hardship, involving the loss of land, and even of personal freedom, as the insolvent debtor and his family became the slaves of the creditor (Nehemiah 5:1-5). To prevent these evils, the lending of money on interest to any poor Israelite was strictly forbidden (Leviticus 25:1-55.); the people were enjoined to be liberal, and to lend for nothing in such cases. But at the time of Solomon, when the commerce of the Israelites was enormously developed, and communications were opened with Spain and Egypt, and possibly with India and Ceylon, while caravans penetrated beyond the Euphrates, then the lending of money on interest for employment in trade most probably became frequent, and suretyship also--the pledging of a man’s own credit to enable his friend to procure a loan. (Ellicott’s Commentary.)
Certain examples of the binding character of our own actions
The surety. The sluggard. The worthless person.
I. The surety. The young man, finding his neighbour in monetary difficulties, consents in an easy-going way to become his surety; enters into a solemn pledge with the creditor, probably a Phoenician money-lender. He now stands committed. His peace of mind and his welfare depend no longer upon himself, but upon the character, the weakness, the caprice, of another. A young man who has so entangled himself is advised to spare no pains, and to let no false pride prevent his securing release from his obligation. There may, however, be cases in which a true brotherliness will require us to be surety for our friend. Ecclesiasticus says: “An honest man is surety for his neighbour, but he that is impudent will forsake him.” If we can afford to be a surety for our neighbour, we can clearly afford to lend him the money ourselves. A miserable chain thoughtlessness in the matter of suretyship may forge for the thoughtless.
II. The sluggard. Poverty and ruin must eventually overtake him. In every community there is a certain number of people who are constitutionally incapable. Examples of insect life are brought to teach and stimulate human beings.
III. The worthless character. His heart is as deceitful as his lips: he cannot be true on any terms. This kind of man is the pest of commerce; the bane of every social circle; the leaven of hypocrisy and malice in the Christian Church. (R. F. Horton, D.D.)
Go to the ant, thou sluggard; consider her ways, and be wise.
Little preachers and great sermons
There is a twofold revelation of God--in the Bible and in nature. In relation to this revelation, men divide into three classes--
1. Those who study neither. Their intellects are submerged in animalism and worldliness.
2. Those who study one and disparage the other. Some devout Christians regard nature as not sufficiently sacred and religious for their investigation. Some scientific men try to turn the results of their researches against the Bible.
3. Those who reverentially study the teachings of both. They treat them as volumes from the same Author.
The allusion in the text shows that the Bible encourages the study of nature.
1. It sends us to nature in order to attest its first principles.
2. It refers us to nature for illustrations of its great truths.
3. It refers us to nature in order to reprove the sins it denounces. To reprove us for our spiritual indolence it directs us to the ants. The sluggard we now deal with is the spiritual sluggard, not the secularly indolent man, but the man who is neglecting the culture of his own spiritual nature and the salvation of his own soul. The ants teach these important lessons.
I. That the feebleness of your power is no just reason for your indolence. The ants are feeble, but see how they work. Naturalists have shown their ingenuity as architects, their industry as miners and builders. Remember three things--
1. All power, however feeble, is given for work.
2. You are not required to do more than you have power to accomplish.
3. All power increases by use.
II. That the activity of others is no just excuse for your indolence. In the ant-world you will see millions of inhabitants, but not one idler; all are in action. One does not depend upon another, or expect another to do his work. The Christian world is a scene of action, but not one of the million actors can do your work.
III. That the want of a helper is no just excuse for your indolence. Each ant is thrown upon his own resources and powers. Self-reliantly each labours on, not waiting for the instruction or guidance of another. Trust your own instincts; act out your own powers; use the light you have; look to God for help.
IV. That the providence of God is no just reason for your indolence. God provides for His creatures through the use of their own powers. He does not do for any creature what He has given that creature power to do for himself.
1. Like these little ants, you have a future.
2. Like these little creatures, you have to prepare for the future.
3. Like these little creatures, you have a specific time in which to make preparation.
Then do not talk of Providence as an excuse for your indolence. He has provided for you richly, but He only grants the provision on condition of the right employment of your powers. There is an inheritance for the good, but only on condition of their working. There is a heaven of knowledge, but only for the student. There is a harvest of blessedness, but only to the diligent husbandman. And your harvest-time will soon be over. (Homilist.)
The foresight and diligence of the ant
The wisdom of providence is eminently conspicuous in the limits it has set to the faculties of the human mind. As experience of the past is of far more importance in the conduct of life than the most accurate and intimate acquaintance with the future, the power of memory is more extensive and efficient than the faculty of foresight. It was wise and merciful to afford us but an indistinct perception of the future. But here man acts in opposition to the will of his Maker. He has withheld from us distinct knowledge of the future, yet how often do we act as if we were familiarly acquainted with it. Our confident expectation of the continuance of life encourages that indolence about their immortal interests in which so many of the children of men waste the season allotted for their preparation for eternity. The admitted history of the ant does more than corroborate and confirm the statement of Solomon in this text. But it is not as a curious fact in natural history, or even as furnishing a theme of praise to the wise and munificent Author of Nature, that the wise man introduces the history and habits of the ant. It is as a rebuke to the sloth and indolence of rational and accountable beings.
I. We are admonished and reproved by the sagacity and care with which the ants make preparation for the winter. Nature has given them an instinctive anticipation of the necessities and severity of winter. Grain after grain is borne along, and having been carefully prepared against revegetation, is added to their little store. The winter of our year is fast approaching; are we making all needful preparations?
II. We are admonished by the sagacity with which the ant selects and seizes the proper season of preparation for winter. The food proper for storage can only be obtained at particular seasons; and if these are neglected, want and wretchedness reign throughout the cells. The present life is the season in which you are called to make provision for the days that are to come.
III. The incessant and unintermitted activity and diligence with which the ant plies her summer task present another important lesson of wisdom to the rational and accountable family of God. It is not an occasional exercise in which this curious creature is engaged. Day after day do these industrious tribes issue forth to the work of gathering. And here, again, they teach us wisdom. The great work to which religion calls us is not one that can be taken up and laid aside at pleasure.
IV. The harmony, union, and concord which prevail among the ants suggest a lesson for us. The instinct which prompts them to assist each other in their busy labours has been celebrated as one of the most interesting manifestations of Creating Wisdom. How beautifully does it accord with some of the most frequently repeated precepts of the gospel! And also with such counsel of the apostle as this, “Bear ye one another’s burdens.” (John Johnston.)
I. Sluggishness or idleness is a great sin.
1. It is a sin against nature, for all living things put out that strength God hath given them.
2. It is against God’s commandment. It is stealing for a man to live on other men’s labours, and do nothing himself.
3. Idleness produces many other sins: such as disobedience to parents, drunkenness, adultery (as in David’s ease), stealing, lying, and cheating.
4. Idleness brings many miseries upon man: such as diseases, poverty, unmercifulness in others, loss of heaven and pains of hell. If the idler object that he hurts none but himself, we reply, “So much the worse. Remember, thou must give account of thy time; of thy talents; of thy thoughts; of thy idle words; of thy deeds; of neglecting thy family; of doing no good in the commonwealth.”
II. Little creatures may teach great men much wit. From the ant they may learn--
3. Order. (Francis Taylor, B. D.)
A secular sermon an foresight
The busy ant is to be our minister. The great lesson it teaches is foresight, the duty of rightly improving the passing hour, the wisdom of making the best of our opportunities. The faculty of foresight, the power of doing something for the future, is a faculty most divine. Rightly educated and developed, it gives man peculiar elevation, and invests him with commanding influence. He who sees farthest will rule best. Foresight is not to be confounded with distrust. The wise exercise of foresight makes life pleasant--
1. By economising time. The man who has least to do takes most time to do it in. Our greatest men have been the most severe economists of time.
2. By systematising duties. Some persons have no power of systematising. Such men fret themselves to death, and do not perish alone. The men in the Church who do the least are generally the men of leisure.
3. By diminishing difficulties. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. Foresight numbers and weighs contingencies. The person who is destitute of foresight multiplies the difficulties of other people. The ant makes the best of her opportunities. Every life has a summer, and every life a winter. In recommending preparation for life’s winter I am not advocating penuriousness. Covetousness is an affront to God. “The liberal soul shall be made fat.” (J. Parker, D.D.)
A lazy man
Our text points to the sluggard--the lazy man. “How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard? “There are many lazy people in the world. They are generally not worth much, not much wanted, nor of much use, except as beacons. They are not often prosperous. “An idle man,” says Mr. Spurgeon, “makes himself a target for the devil; and the devil is an uncommonly good shot.” An idle man’s heart is the devil’s nest; his hands the devil’s tools; while the devil lays in wait for active, busy men, the idle man is actually waiting for the devil to set him a job. A race of idle men would create a famine. There are men who are absolutely too indolent to seek for salvation, ‘tis too much trouble! And there are lazy Christians too; idlers in the Master’s vineyard. “A little sleep,” etc.
1. Here is a self-indulgent man. This little speech means, “I am comfortable; don’t disturb me; let me alone to enjoy myself.” This is the wish of many a sinful man. “Woe to them that are at ease in Zion,” living purely selfish lives; for self-indulgence may, and generally does, mean selfishness. Self-indulgence is easy. ‘Tis easier to give the reins to our appetites than to curb them; to slide than to climb; to please ourselves than to deny ourselves. If we would be men of mark for holiness, usefulness, of eminence either in things temporal or spiritual, we must know something of self-denial. Men who “take it easy” rarely make much headway. Look round amongst Christian workers, business men, great philanthropists, successful inventors, men illustrious or famous in any walk of life; read the biographies of men who have been renowned for any good thing--you will find that they were men of self-denial, not self-indulgent. Moses was a self-denying man; “he esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt”; and Moses prospered; he became very great; he was appointed leader and commander of the people of Israel. The apostles were self-denying men; hear them: “We have left all, and have followed Thee.” “A little sleep,” etc.
2. Here is a procrastinating man. He does not mean to sleep always, not even for long--only for a little while. He only wants a “little sleep,” and then he will be stirring. Think of hours, days, lives, wasted in little delays; of souls lost by little delays! No man deliberately intends to be always a slave to sin, the devil, his own lusts. Not always--no; but just now it is pleasant, convenient. Courage to take now the decisive step--now! To-morrow may never come. (G. B. Foster.)
The ant and its nest
The truth of Solomon’s reference to the ant, which has been questioned before now, is fully vindicated. Dr. Macmillan has found the food stored up in the nests of the ants, and he adds this interesting information: “Examining the seeds collected in the nests of the ants on the top of the hill at Nice more particularly with my magnifying glass, I found to my astonishment that each seed had its end carefully bitten off. And the reason of this was perfectly plain. You know each seed contains two parts--the young plant or germ lying in its cradle, as it were, and the supply of food for its nourishment, when it begins to grow, wrapped round it. Now the ants had bitten off the young plant germ, and they left only the part which was full of nourishment. And they did this to prevent the seeds from growing and exhausting all the nourishment contained in them. If they did not do this the seed stored under the ground, when the rains came, would shoot, and so they would lose all their trouble and be left to starve. I could not find in the heap a single seed that had not been treated in this way. Of course, none of the seeds that had their ends bitten off would grow; and you might as well sow grains of sand as the seed found in ants’ nests.”
The necessity of providing for the spiritual experiences of the future
I. The important and interesting truth which these words suggest. That provision ought to be made for the future.
1. We should make provision for the soul.
2. What is the kind of provision needed for the soul?
3. The period against which we are to make this provision. The winter of death and eternity.
II. The season in which this provision is to be made. The ants secure their winter requirements during the summer. Our life may be compared to summer for two reasons--
1. Because during the summer we have every needful opportunity of getting ready for the winter.
2. Because summer is the only time in which this provision for the winter can be made.
III. The reproof which is here given to those who neglect to make the provision.
1. The force of this rebuke arises from the insignificance of the being by whose conduct we are reproved.
2. The disadvantageous circumstances in which they are said to be placed.
3. From that which they make their provision.
4. From the season against which they provide.
5. From the epithet applied to those who are negligent.
IV. The advice which the wise man gives.
1. A lesson of wisdom.
2. A lesson of industry.
3. A lesson of perseverance. If not making this preparation, what will by and by be our moral destitution! (J. Coe.)
The indolent and improvident are here addressed. They are sent to the inferior creation for a lesson; and not to the greatest and noblest of the animals, but to one of the least and most insignificant of the insects. The providence of the ant has, by some naturalists, been questioned. It has been alleged that during winter they are, like some other insects, in a state of torpidity, and therefore need not the precaution ascribed to them in Proverbs 6:8. On this we observe--
1. If the fact of their laying up provisions be ascertained, all analogy more than warrants the conclusion that it is for some end.
2. It is said the stock laid up is not for winter, but for the sustenance of the young, when they need the almost undivided attention of the whole. But as a proof of providence, this comes to the same thing.
3. The assertion that the laying up of provisions by the ant is a mistake may not apply to the ants of every country. In tropical climates they do lay up provisions. The main lesson the sluggard has to learn from the ant is industry.
Three grounds of this duty are indicated in Scripture--
1. That persons may not be a burden on society or on the Church.
2. That they may be out of the way of temptation; for there are many temptations in idle habits.
3. That they may have wherewith to assist others, whose needs, from unavoidable causes, may be greater than their own. One perilous characteristic of sloth is, that it is ever growing. (R. Wardlaw.)
The teaching of the ant
Man was created with more understanding than the beasts of the earth. But our minds are so debased by our apostasy from God that the meanest creatures may become our teachers.
I. The character of the person whom the wise man here addresses. The sluggard! Sloth casteth into a deep sleep, and in the verses following the text the sluggard is represented as in this state. He spends his time in fruitless wishes. He is discouraged by the least opposition. He creates imaginary dangers for himself. We know well who they are whose hands refuse to labour, who are clothed with rags, and make poverty not only their complaint, but their argument. But sloth is not confined to the common affairs of life, nor the character of a sluggard to men in any particular station. There is sloth in religion; neglecting the one thing needful, the care of our immortal souls.
II. The counsel or advice which the wise man hath given us. The ant instructeth us not by speech, but by actions. Therefore we are called to “consider her ways”; how she is employed, and for what ends she is active. The wisdom we learn from the ant is the wisdom of acting suitably to our superior nature and our glorious hopes. We learn from the ant three things--
1. A foresight and sagacity in making provision for the time to come. How dreary must the winter of life be, when the previous seasons have been passed in sloth, in idleness, or in folly!
2. Activity and diligence. The ant never intermits her labours as long as the season lasts. Happy were it for man that he as faithfully employed his precious time to render himself useful in this world, or to prepare for eternity.
3. Sagacity in making use of the proper season for activity. Opportunity is the flower of time; or it is the most precious part of it, which, if once lost, may never return. Foresight, diligence, and sagacity the ant employs by an instinct of nature. She has no guide, but we have many guides. She “hath no overseer,” but man acts under the immediate inspection of Him “whose eyes are as a flame of fire.” And the voice of conscience in us is the voice of God. The ant “hath no ruler,” or judge to call her to account for her conduct; but every one of us must give account of himself to God.
III. Improvement of the subject.
1. The sluggard sins against the very nature which God hath given him.
2. The sluggard sins against the manifest design of providence.
3. The sluggard sins against the great design of the gospel. Let us then be no longer “slothful in business,” but “fervent in spirit, serving the Lord.” (R. Walker.)
Lessons for children from the ant
An ant could tell us strange things. She could tell about the houses they live in, some of which are forty stories high, twenty stories being dug out, one beneath another, under the earth, and twenty stories being built up over them, above ground; she could tell about the different kinds of trades they follow, how some are miners, and dig down into the ground; some are masons, and build very curious houses, with long walls, supported by pillars, and covered over with arched ceilings. She could tell how some are carpenters, who build houses out of wood, having many chambers which communicate with each other by entries and galleries; how some are nurses, and spend their whole time taking care of the young ones; some are labourers, and are made, like the negro slaves, to work for their masters; while some are soldiers, whose only business it is to mount guard, and stand ready to defend their friends and fellow-citizens. The ants teach:
I. A lesson of industry. The ant is a better example of industry than even the bee.
II. A lesson of perseverence. They never get discouraged by any difficulties they may meet with. Perseverance conquers all things.
III. A lesson of union. The benefits of being united, and working together. The union of the ants both preserves them safely and enables them to do great good.
IV. A lesson of kindness. Ants are a very happy set of creatures. There seems to be nothing like selfishness among them.
V. A lesson of prudence, or looking ahead. The power to think about the future, and to prepare for it. (R. Newton, D. D.)
Which having no guide, overseer, or ruler.
When I began to employ workmen in this country (Palestine), nothing annoyed me more than the necessity to hire also an overseer, or to fulfil this office myself. But I soon found that this was universal and strictly necessary. Without an overseer very little work would be done, and nothing as it should be. The workmen, every way unlike the ant, will not work at all unless kept to it, and directed in it by an overseer, who is himself a perfect specimen of laziness. He does absolutely nothing but smoke his pipe, order this, scold that one, and discuss the how and the why with the men themselves, or with idle passers by. The ants manage far better. Every one attends to his own business and does it well. (W. Thomson.)
How long wilt thou sleep, O sluggard?
when wilt thou arise out of thy sleep?
The sleeper aroused
The various authors of Scripture are accurately acquainted with the human character. Among numerous defective habits and characteristics of our nature, which Solomon points out and condemns, is that of indolence; excessive fondness for ease and personal indulgence. The language of the text may be used in connection with the affairs of religion and of the soul.
I. The state which is deprecated. It is a state of “sleep”--a moral condition of which corporeal sleep furnishes the most apt representation.
1. Notice its moral characteristics. The state of sleep is a state of forgetfulness, a state of ignorance, and a state of insensibility. What man is to the material world in a state of corporeal sleep, that he is to the spiritual world when he is influenced by his original and his natural passions. The spiritual characteristics of man’s condition, illustrated by the metaphor of the text, will be found to be borne out by the entire and uniform testimony of the Word of God. That testimony is, from the commencement to the close, a record of human depravity, operating in connection with forgetfulness, with ignorance, and with insensibility, and hence deriving, and hence preserving over the species its empire of corruption and of abominable foulness.
2. Notice its penal evils. Sleep is a state of privation and insecurity. The characteristics we have noticed are not involuntary, they are wilful. They are not unfortunate, they are guilty. They are heinous and flagrant transgressions against the law, and against the authority, of God. And hence it is, they expose the persons indulging them to a dispensation of displeasure and of wrath.
II. The change which is desired. There should be an awaking and “arising out of sleep.”
1. In what does this change consist? The spiritual awakening which is desired constitutes a condition precisely the reverse of that which already has been defined. It consists in s state in which man exchanges forgetfulness for remembrances, ignorance for illumination, and insensibility for sensitiveness and tenderness. Spiritual truth is now discerned, contemplated, believed, and felt; and it produces in the mind all the affections, and in the life all the habits, for which it was designed: repentance, prayerfulness, love to God, zeal for God, obedience to God, diligence in working out the salvation of the soul, and intense and constant aspirings after a state of salvation in the glory of another world. The penal evils, which formerly dwelt over the horizon of the spirit as with the darkness of midnight, are dispelled, and are made to disappear.
2. How is this change produced? There is one Agent, by whose power it must exclusively and efficaciously be performed--the agency of the Holy Spirit of God. The Divine Spirit is the one efficacious source of all that is holy and redeeming in the character and circumstances of man. But there are certain means, appointed by the authority of God, to be addressed by those who have been changed to those who have not, and in connection with them it is that the Spirit produces the desired and happy result. Illustration of the use of means is found in the parable of the valley of dry bones. The system of means exists with remarkable plenitude and sufficiency in the dispensation of the gospel.
III. The appeal which is enforced. The challenge implies that there ought to be no procrastination or delay in the change which is desired and pleaded for. Pleading with sinners, I would say--
1. Consider the protracted period of time during which you have indulged in slumber already.
2. Consider the increased difficulty of awakening the longer the slumber is indulged.
3. Consider the rapidly approaching termination of life, and arrival of judgment and eternity. (James Parson.)
Too much sleep
As waking idleness was condemned before, so sleepy idleness is condemned here. Sloth begets sleep.
I. God will call men to a reckoning for their time.
1. God gives us time as a talent in trust.
2. God looks for some good from men in their time.
II. Too much sleep is as bad as waking idleness.
1. Overmuch sleep is the fruit of idleness. Men that have much to do have little mind or time for sleep.
2. As little good is done in sleep as in waking idleness. Moderate your sleep. Too much sleep makes a man heavy and dull-witted. (Francis Taylor, B. D.)
The danger of delaying repentance
We have the sluggard’s picture drawn in reference to his eternal concerns. He is one that puts off his great work from time to time. Here is something supposed. The sleeper convinced that he has slept and neglected his work. The sleeper convinced that he must awake and set to his work. The sleeper resolved to awake and mind his business. Something expressed. A delay craved. The quantity of this delay: it is but a little in the sluggard’s conceit. The mighty concern he is in for this delay. We have the fatal issue of the course. Delays are dangerous. Consider what ruin comes upon him; how this ruin comes upon him--swiftly, silently and surprisingly, irresistibly. This is all owing to the cursed love of ease. The delay and putting off repentance or salvation-work is a soul-ruining course among gospel-hearers.
I. Why is it that gospel-hearers delay and put off repentance?
1. Satan has a great hand in this. He is always urging either that it is too soon or else that it is too long a doing.
2. The cares and business of the world contribute much to this.
3. The predominant love of carnal ease.
4. The predominant love of sin.
5. A natural aversion and backwardness to holiness. When light is let into the mind, but the aversion still remains in the will, what can be expected but that the business of repentance, which they dare not absolutely refuse, will be delayed?
6. The hope of finding the work easier afterwards.
7. A large reckoning on the head of time that is to come.
8. A fond conceit of the easiness of salvation-work.
9. A conceit of sufficient ability in ourselves to turn ourselves from sin unto God.
II. This delaying is a soul-ruining course.
1. It is directly opposite to the gospel call, which is for to-day, not for tomorrow. All the calls of the gospel require present compliance.
2. It is threatened with ruin. And this threatening has been accomplished in many whom their slothful days have caused to perish.
3. Whenever grace touches the heart men see that it is so.
4. It has a native tendency to soul-ruin. The state of sin is a state of wrath, where ruin must needs compass a man about on every hand. The longer men continue in sin, spiritual death advanceth the more upon them. While they remain in this state there is but a step betwixt them and death, which you may be carried over by a delay of ever so short a time.
Use 1. For information: That delayers of repentance are self-destroyers, self-murderers. By delays the interest of hell is advanced. Satan is most busy to ply the engine of delays. They are sinners’ best friends that give them least rest in a sinful course.
Use 2. Of lamentation: Thou knowest not the worth of a precious soul, which thou are throwing away for what will not profit. Thou knowest not the excellency of the precious Christ. Thou knowest not the worth of precious time. Thou knowest not the weight of the wrath of God. Thou dost not observe what speed thy ruin is making while thou liest at ease. Thou dost not observe how near thy destruction may be. Thou dost not observe how utterly unable thou art to ward off the blow when it comes.
Use 3. Of reproof to delayers of salvation-work: To delaying saints. A delay of righting their case when matters are wrong, by receiving their repentance and the actings of faith. The delaying to give up some bosom-idol that mars their communion with God. The delaying to clear their state before the Lord. The delaying of some particular duty, or piece of generation-work, which they are convinced God calls them to. The delaying of actual preparation for eternity. To delaying sinners: Is the debt of sin so small upon thy head that thou must run thyself deeper in the debt of God’s justice? Is not the holy law binding on thee? Who has assured thee that ever thou shalt see the age thou speakest of? Who has the best right to thy youth and strength? Ye middle-age people, why do ye delay repentance? I exhort you all to delay repentance and salvation-work no longer. (T. Boston, D. D.)
A naughty person, a wicked man, walketh with a froward mouth.
A bad man
I. The portrait of a bad man.
1. He is perverse in speech. He has no regard for truth or propriety. False, irreverent, impure, audacious.
2. He is artful in his conduct. “Winketh with his eyes,” etc. He expresses his base spirit in crafty and clandestine and cunning methods. He is anything but straightforward and transparent.
3. Mischievous in purpose. “Deviseth mischief.” Malevolence is his inspiration. He rejoiceth in evil.
II. The doom of a bad man. “Therefore shall his calamity come suddenly.” This doom is--
1. Certain. The moral laws of the universe and the Word of God guarantee the punishment of sin.
2. Sudden. “Suddenly shall he be broken.” The suddenness does not arise from want of warning, but from the neglect of warning.
3. Irremediable. “Without remedy.” When once his doom is fixed, there is no alteration. “As the tree falls, so it must lie.” (D. Thomas, D. D.)
In human nature, as in every other, there is an innate love of freedom. But alas! in human nature, as fallen, this principle, good in itself, has taken a sadly perverse direction. It is too often the mere love of following, without restraint, our own inclinations. And while aversion to restraint is common to all, it is peculiarly strong in the bosom of youth. The freedom, not the want of it, is sometimes the thing really to be ashamed of. (R. Wardlaw.)
“A man of Belial.” Perhaps an unthrifty man; certainly a lawless man. A man of naughtiness. A child of the devil.
I. A notoriously wicked man cares for no laws of God or man.
1. He hath stopped the mouth of his conscience with his sins.
2. He has no love to either God or man, therefore he disregards both.
3. He fears neither, and therefore slights their laws.
4. He sees many escape, and such examples harden their hearts.
II. Such a man’s life is altogether wicked.
1. His thoughts are altogether earthly.
2. All his delight is in wickedness.
III. A perverse mouth is a sure mark of an ungodly man.
1. Few, or only the extremely wicked, will talk or boast of their wickedness.
2. When men are grown to this height they are beyond the Cape of Good Hope. A crooked mind will make a crooked mouth. Take heed. God hath given thee a mouth to speak to His glory, not to dishonour Him, nor to proclaim thine own shame. (Francis Taylor, B. D. )
He winketh with his eyes, he speaketh with his feet, he teacheth with his fingers.
Secret ways of speaking
The wicked man not only his abuseth big mouth, but also his eyes, feet, and fingers. When he is ashamed, or wants power to utter his mind as he would in words, he makes it known by signs; showing forth his spleen, lust, or contempt by his eyes, feet, or fingers. He is much addicted to perverse speeches who, when his tongue fails, speaks with his other members. He cannot hold; he must make his mind known to his brethren in evil some way or other. He makes known occasions of evil to his companions by signs. He acts his part to draw others to folly. What he cannot or dare not persuade to by words, that he doth by gestures. His tongue is not sufficient to express his wickedness. He useth gestures instead of words. He omits no way to stir up others to wickedness. He useth three quick members, that are easily moved, to show his quick, wicked wit by them. He abuses all the members of his body, but especially eyes, feet, and hands, to be signs of lewdness, he is wholly composed of fraud, and while he counterfeits goodness in words, practices mischief by signs. The froward person cannot always speak well, and therefore must sometimes hold his peace, and show his mind by tokens, lest his wicked disposition be discovered.
I. A wicked man makes his mind known by his eyes. So Eliphaz conceived of Job (Job 15:12. See also Psalms 35:19).
1. In general. There is a faculty in all the members, some way or other to express the thoughts of the heart, though not so clear as in the tongue. Men use these faculties when they are ashamed to speak what they would have, or would be understood only by their partners in evil, to whom they give particular known tokens.
2. In particular. Men by the eyes give signs of wantonness. Men wink for flattery, as conniving at, or tacitly commending what others say or do. Or for derision, as intimating secretly to a friend that another man’s words or actions are ridiculous. Or for secret solicitation to another, to do some evil, as to strike or wound a man.
II. A wicked man’s feet can speak. They speak--
1. Rage and anger, as when men stamp with their feet.
2. Murder, when they go apace to take occasion to kill.
3. Wantonness. So the treading on the toe is commonly interpreted by wantons.
III. A wicked man’s fingers teach folly.
1. Anger. Men hold out the finger by way of threatening.
2. Derision. We can mock with our fingers.
3. Mischief. By lifting up the finger giving a sign to hurt others. (Francis Taylor, B. D.)
How character is expressed
Naughty people think that no one knows anything about their naughtiness, when the truth is, that everybody knows it. The inward character of the man is expressed through mouth, eyes, hands, and feet.
I. eyes. “He winketh with his eyes.” How much of the character the eye expresses! There is the open, clear, intelligent look that speaks volumes. There is the low, cunning look, the guilty, stealthy look of the criminal--well known and easily detected by experts. The eye speaks all the motions of the mind. It can command, entreat, repel, invite, subdue. Emerson says, “The eye obeys exactly the action of the mind.”
II. Feet express the character. Compare the firm step of the business man and the shuffling wriggle of the loafer. How much of bad character is expressed in the word “tramp”! The Bible often designates the whole character of a man by the word “walk.”
III. Hands have a language. The wave of the hand, the use of the hands in public address, the sign or signal between two persons. The dumb talk together with their hands. Learn--
1. If you would be received as a worthy person, you must be worthy at heart.
2. If you would be known as upright, you must be such at heart.
3. If you aspire to rank in the community as a lady or gentleman, you must be such in every fibre of your being. Character always carries its own certificate with it. (George H. Smyth.)
These six things doth the Lord hate.
The seven abominable things
A catalogue of evils specially odious to the Infinite One.
I. Haughty bearing. “A proud look.” Pride is frequently represented in the Bible as an offence to the Holy God. Haughtiness is an abomination, because it implies--
II. Verbal falsehood. “A lying tongue.”
1. Falsehood always implies a wrong heart. A pure heart supplies no motive for falsehood. Vanity, avarice, ambition, cowardice are the parents and patrons of lies.
2. Falsehood always has a bad social tendency. It disappoints expectations, shakes confidence, loosens the very foundations of social order.
III. Heartless cruelty. “Hands that shed innocent blood.” Cruelty implies--
1. An utter lack of sympathy with God’s creatures.
2. An utter lack of sympathy with God’s mind. He who inflicts pain is out of sympathy both with the universe and with his Maker.
IV. Vicious scheming. “A heart that deviseth wicked imaginations.” There are some hearts so bad that they are ever inventing some evil thing. Illustrate by antediluvian man.
V. Mischievous eagerness. “Feet swift in running to mischief.” They not only do mischief, but they do it eagerly, with ready vigilance; they have a greed for it.
VI. Social slander. The slanderer is amongst the greatest of social curses. He robs his fellow-creature of his greatest treasure--his own reputation, and the loving confidence of his friends.
VII. Disturbing strife. “And he that soweth discord among brethren.” He who by tale-bearing, ill-natured stories, and wicked inventions produces the disruptions of friendship, is abhorrent to that God who desires His creatures to live in love and unity. This subject serves to show three things--
1. The moral hideousness of the world. These seven evils everywhere abound.
2. The immaculate purity of God. He hates these things. Therefore they are foreign to himself.
3. The true mission of the godly--to endeavour to rid the world of the evils offensive to Heaven. (D. Thomas, D. D.)
My son, keep thy father’s commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother.
Words of counsel to schoolboys
While your recollections of home are fresh I am anxious to direct your thoughts to one or two matters to which those recollections may possibly give a weight and a force which they might not otherwise possess.
I. Cherish home ties as among your most sacred possessions. One of the dangers of public school-life is learning to disparage feelings of affection for the home. It is not manly to scorn those boys who are at times “home-sick.” The truest manliness is not, and cannot be, divorced from tenderness; and while I would enforce with all my heart the necessity for courage in facing the first trouble of a schoolboy’s life, I would remind all who listen to me that the boy who retains most strongly his affection for his home will grow up a truer man and a truer gentleman than the youth who casts those affections on one side as something to be ashamed of.
II. Do not suppose that school life is in any way intended to supersede your home life. Most of you have come from homes in which you have been the objects of Christian thoughtfulness, and the subjects of religious training. The higher branches of what is called “secular knowledge” are but branches of the teaching that was begun at home. Secular is not opposed to sacred. Is not all learning sacred? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”; and there is no true knowledge which may not be said to have its spring there. In the text Solomon means by the “father’s commandment” those principles of godliness and virtue which are inculcated in every Christian home. Not one of you has come here to begin, and not one of you will here complete, his education. When God sends us into the world it is that we may be educated for Him--trained for Him. That training--with all its defects and failings--begins in the home, and, wherever we may afterwards go, and under whatever circumstances we may afterwards be placed, our after-life is only a continuation of what our home life has been. When you leave school, carry your home life--those affections and feelings which have been wakened in you in the midst of those whom you love--carry these into your after-life, for without them life will be incomplete,
III. Never be ashamed of your religion. John Angell James attributed his position as a Christian man to the courage of a fellow-apprentice, who kneeled by his bedside to pray, when James was neglecting to do so through feelings of shame. That apprentice dared to do right. He was not ashamed to have it known that he prayed to God. It was said of an old naval officer, two or three hundred years ago, that as he feared God, he knew no other fear.
IV. Give your hearts wholly to the God of your fathers. Youth is the fittest time for religion, as it is the best time for learning anything. While your hearts are still fresh, and still susceptible of good impressions, yield them up to the Saviour. (F. Wagstaff.)
When thou goest, it shall lead thee.
The comfort of the thought of God’s guidance in after-life of those brought up in His fear and love
Who is there who has never felt in his heart a wish for some one to advise, direct, and help him? There is an Adviser, a Helper, promised to us, able, powerful to guide and help us with unerring wisdom through any difficulties or troubles--the gracious Father, the redeeming Son, the Spirit that maketh holy. All of us need, daily need, such a Companion, such a Comforter. Those who will meet together and receive God’s blessing from the hand of the bishop in confirmation, where will they all be in a few years, nay, perhaps when another year has passed over their heads? Wherever they may be, this one thing awaits them, temptation--temptation as different as their own circumstances and dispositions, but still temptation. The old fables and monkish legends represent Satan coming in different shapes to one another according to their particular weakness--to one as a gold-finder showing his hidden treasure, to another as a handsome winning man, offering life of pleasure, to another as a beautiful woman enticing to ways of sin. But all these mean the same thing--that the world, the flesh, and the devil shape their temptations so as best to catch each unprotected soul. There is no saying what that temptation will be like; for to each it may be different according to where he is, and what he is. Some may be tempted by getting on in the world, some by not getting on, some by idle follies, some by busy follies. Let their life be what it may, we can comfort ourselves with the thought that they are prepared, that they have had the best kind of preparation, that which cometh from God only, the knowledge of His mercies and promises, the help of His Holy Spirit. Shall we try to look a little more closely down the long avenue of time, and see them as they will be; some we can fancy taking root here, spreading out their branches safely under the shelter of Christ’s Church; some may be found settling far away, some not settling at all, but drifting hither and thither on the changeful tides of life; but what of their souls, which will be bettering or worsening from day to day? We have trained them to know, to fear, and to love the Lord their Saviour, their Comforter, their God; and that God has promised His all-powerful Spirit shall garrison their souls, and strengthen them to fight the life-long fight of faith, if they will not slacken or desert His service. So we will cheer ourselves with the thought that as, like Joseph, they have been bred up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, so they will be able to render as good an account of themselves. (Archdeacon Mildmay.)
When thou awakest, it shall talk with thee.
I. The subject of this statement--what it is that will do this. The commandment and law of religious and well-instructed persons come to be equivalent to the law of God. “It” really stands for God’s book. “Talk” is expressive of that familiarity and friendship which may come to be established between the mind and heart of a young man and the wisdom of God personified and embodied in the book. There is a sacred familiarity, an affectionate friendship, an intercourse of tenderness. Two or three things characterise this sacred converse and intercourse.
1. It will talk with you on the most important subjects.
2. It will talk with you in all sorts of ways.
3. It will talk with authority.
There is nothing harsh, nothing grating in its tone of authority if the heart be right. But it will talk with honest plainness. This friend will speak to you with openness and honesty, and with the plainness of reproof. Two or three things you must carry with you in order that this converse may be fully beneficial.
1. You must be on terms of sincerity with the Bible. You must not come reluctantly, nor with doubt, nor to ridicule; you must not come in an improper spirit of questioning. This book treats a man just as one man treats another. To the “froward it will show itself froward.”
2. There must be serious and earnest prayer for God’s enlightening and guiding Spirit.
3. There must be frequent and sometimes prolonged and deep meditation on the words spoken.
There are three ways in which may be illustrated the time that is here indicated--“When thou awakest.”
1. Take the expression literally. When you come back in the morning to consciousness.
2. Take the expression figuratively. At particular times, through the force of inward thoughts or of outward circumstances, young man may suddenly wake up to his peril, foolishness, sin--to duty, the greatness of life, the past, the future.
3. Youth figuratively is emphatically a time of awakening to the realities of life. The young man wakes up to his personal individuality, to a sense of his obligations, feeling that there are now many things which depend on his own judgment--upon himself.
II. The object of discourse in the chapter. To warn the young man against things which may injure and ruin in a worldly point of view. And there is a far greater connection between the ruin of a man in a worldly respect and the ruin of the soul than people are apt to imagine. Three causes of ruin--
1. Want of caution. Illustrated in giving your name in a bond or guarantee for another. Speculations, hazardous schemes, efforts to get profit without giving sweat. It is God’s law that we shall purchase everything with the sweat of our brow; and all hazardous speculations, all gambling transactions, are, in fact, efforts to evade this law.
2. Indolence. There are some people who seem to be asleep all day long.
3. Profligacy. There is not only the seduction of man by the harlot, but the injury of man by his fellow-man. This last is a more complicated crime than the first. The man who gives way to any impure form of vice is said to “lack understanding,” to “destroy his own soul.”
III. The characteristics of a man who is on the road to ruin. Along with the evil imaginations of the heart, a false tongue, and the love of sowing discord, there is a loss of manliness, of transparency, of sincerity, and the like. Conclusion:
1. Give a spiritual turn to the teaching of the chapter, and see what spiritual thoughts may be educed from it.
2. Invite young men who accept the Christian faith to devote themselves to God’s service in the beginning of life.
3. Being so devoted, see that ye be not led away and seduced from your steadfastness by the world, the flesh, and the devil. Look ahead; always consider consequences. You are living under great moral laws, and you can no more alter those laws, you can no more avoid their working out their results, than you can turn the sun from its course. Beware of doing any one thing, of giving way to any one temptation, from which grievous results may arise. (Thomas Binney.)
The talking book
It is a very happy circumstance when the commandment of our father and the law of our mother are also the commandment of God and the law of the Lord. Happy are they who have a double force to draw them to the right--the bonds of nature and the cords of grace. God’s law should be a guide to us--“When thou goest, it shall lead thee”; a guardian to us--“when thou sleepest”--when thou art defenceless and off thy guard--“it shall keep thee”; and a dear companion to us--“when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee.”
I. We perceive that the world is living. How else could it be said--“It shall talk with thee”?
1. It is living, because it is pure truth. Error is death, truth is life. The tooth of time devours all lies. Truth never dies.
2. It is the utterance of an immutable, self-existing
God. So the Word is sure, steadfast, and full of power. It is never out of date.
3. It enshrines the living heart of Christ. The living Christ is in the book; you behold His face on almost every page.
4. The Holy Spirit has a peculiar connection with the Word of God. The work of the Spirit in men’s hearts is done by the texts which ministers quote rather than by their explanations of them. Take care, then, how you trifle with a book which is so instinct with life.
II. We perceive that the word is personal. “It shall talk with thee.”
1. God’s Word talks about men, and about modern men; about the paradise of unfallen manhood, the fall, the degeneracy of the race, and the means of its redemption.
2. God’s Word speaks to men in all states and conditions before God--to sinners and to the children of God.
3. God’s Word is personal to all our states of mind. It goes into all details of our case, let our state be what it may.
4. God’s Word is always faithful. You never find the Word of God keeping back that which is profitable for you. This suggests a little healthful self-examination. “How does the Word of God speak to my soul?”
III. We perceive that Holy Scripture is very familiar. “Talk with thee.” To talk signifies fellowship, communion, familiarity. Scripture speaks the language of men; it comes down to our simplicity; it is familiar as to all that concerns us; it answers inquiries.
IV. We perceive that the Word of God is responsive. “With thee,” not “to thee.” Talk with a man is not all on one side. To talk with a man means answering talk from him. Scripture is a marvellously conversational book; it talks and it makes men talk.
V. We perceive that Scripture is influential. When the Word of God talks with us, it influences us. All talk influences more or less. This book soothes our sorrows, and encourages us. It has a wonderfully elevating power. It warns and restrains. It sanctifies and moulds the mind into the image of Christ. It confirms and settles us. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The law is light
The law is light
The fitness and beauty of this comparison of the law of God with fight are seen immediately.
If we consider the nature of law we find that it is like the nature of sunlight. There is nothing so pure and clean as light, and there is nothing so pure and stainless as the Divine law. There is nothing so ubiquitous as light. It is everywhere. How very like this light in the material universe is the law of God in the rational. The one naturally suggests and symbolises the other. The moral law is the ordinance which establishes and governs the moral universe. The command, “Let there be light,” founded and sustains the material world; and the command, “Let there be supreme love of God,” founds and sustains the rational and responsible world. Both commands are universal and all-pervading. Within the rational and reasonable sphere law is everywhere. But there are different degrees of moral light as there are different degrees of natural light. Our object now is to show the similarity between the moral law and the material light by looking at its influences and effects in the soul rather than by analysing its intrinsic nature.
I. The moral law reveals like sunlight. It makes the sin which still remains in the Christian a visible thing. Believers are continually urged in the Scriptures to bring their hearts into the light of God’s law that they may see the sin that is in them. If we would thoroughly understand our intricate and hidden corruption, we must by prayer and reflection intensify the light of the moral law that it may penetrate more deeply into the deep mass, even as the naturalist must concentrate the light of the sun through the lens if he would thoroughly know the plant or the insect. Every Christian who is at all faithful to himself and to God has experienced these illuminating and revelatory influences of the law. But for the believer the law makes its disclosures in a hopeful and salutary manner. The believer has been delivered from the condemning power of the law. The “curse” of the law Christ, his Surety, has borne for him.
II. The law for the believer in Christ attracts like the light. Light in the material world universally attracts. When the sun rises up and bathes the world in light how all nature rises up to meet it! Just so does the moral law attract the world of holy beings. They love the law for its intrinsic excellence, and seek it with the whole heart. Their very natures are pure like the law, and like always attracts like. If there be in any soul even the least degree of real holiness, there is a point of attraction upon which the law of God will seize and draw. There is a continual tendency and drift of a holy soul towards God. This view of the Divine law as an attractive energy is an encouraging one to the believer. It affords good grounds for the perseverance of the saints.
III. The law for the believer in Christ invigorates like light. This point of resemblance is not quite so obvious. We more commonly think of the air as the invigorating element in nature, yet it is true of the light that its presence is necessary in order that the spirits of a man may be lively and in vigorous action. The plant that grows up in the darkness is a pale and weak thing. Similar is the effect of the moral law upon one who is resting upon Christ. For the disciple of Christ the law is no longer a judge, but only an instructor. The terrors of the law have lost their power. The law also invigorates him, because, by virtue of his union with Christ, it has become an inward and actuating principle. His heart has been so changed by grace that he now really loves the law of God. For the believer the law is the strength of holiness.
IV. The law for the believer in Christ rejoices like the light. It is related in ancient story that the statue of Memnon, when the first rays of the morning gilded it, began to tremble and thrill and send forth music like a sweet harp. And such is the joy-giving influence of righteous law in the heavenly world, and such is its effect in the individual believer. It follows from this unfolding of the subject that the great act of the Christian is the act of faith, and the great work of the Christian is to cultivate and strengthen his faith. The moral law, like the material light, reveals, attracts, invigorates, and rejoices only because the soul sustains a certain special relation to it. (G. T. Shedd, D. D.)
Our lamp and light
Here the adjuncts of good precepts given by godly parents are set down, which show the good to be gotten from them.
I. Godly parents have many ways to guide their children. By commands, laws, wise reproofs, examples.
II. Directions of godly parents are a great help to show us the right paths of life.
1. Godly parents are careful that their directions should agree with God’s Word.
2. And they have walked themselves in the ways which they command.
III. Wise reproofs are very profitable from a wise man.
1. They are useful in the Church and commonwealth and family.
2. Because as instructions keep men from sinful courses, so reproofs bring men out of them and back to good ways again. Then be more careful to give reproofs to your friends. Be patient in bearing reproof, and make a good use of it. (Francis Taylor, B. D.)
To keep thee from the evil woman.
The sin of uncleanness
1. One great kindness God designed men in giving them His law was to preserve them from this sin.
2. The greatest kindness we can do ourselves is to keep at a distance from this sin. Arguments urging this caution are--
(1) It is a sin that impoverishes men.
(2) It threatens death; it kills men.
(3) It brings guilt upon the conscience and debauches it.
(4) It ruins the reputation, and entails perpetual infamy.
(5) It exposes the adulterer to the rage of the jealous husband. (Matthew Henry.)
Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned?
The danger of playing with enticements to sin
The law of the acquisition of knowledge is that the mind knows the unknown through the known. It gets at the distant through the near, and at the near through the nearer. It ascends to the Divine through the human, and through the material and the temporal mounts up to the spiritual and eternal. As a consequence, the teaching of the Scriptures in the feature alluded to is more specific and intelligible to such a creature as man than it could be in any other mode. The words of the text directly refer to the sin of adultery. The wise man directs youth to the best defence against every tendency to this evil. That defence he finds in the remembrance of, attention to, and conformity with, the family training he received in the morning of life. Then, in a manner remarkably elegant, he places before him the advantages he would reap by assuming towards the law the attitude prescribed. The law is here personified as a wise counsellor, as a careful guardian, and as an interesting companion. That law will preserve against the particular dangers to which age and circumstances make the young peculiarly liable. It is of prime importance to be kept from the “ strange woman.” In the text the wise man returns again to the necessity of directly resisting the evil in the occasion of it, in the temptation to it, and that from the consideration of the impossibility of playing with the enticement without falling into the sin.
I. Every temptation presented to man addresses itself to a nature that is already corrupt, and therefore liable to take to it. It appears from the history of mankind that there is force enough in temptation, by keeping the mind in fellowship with it, to influence even holy creatures so as to make them fall. So it happened with our first parents in Eden. If there was such force in temptation when there was nothing but holiness in the mind, what must be its power to a creature that is already depraved? Wherever you find a man you find a sinner. The bias of our nature is towards sin, the original propensity of our minds is in the direction of evil. Here lies the danger of playing with temptation. There is something in thee that is advantageous to it. The whole moral nature of man is impaired. The moral deterioration of mankind is such as to expose them to various assaults of temptation, and if any one boldly frequents infectious places, dallying with and fondling the disease, it is impossible for him, possessing the nature he does, to escape the contagion.
II. Man, in playing with the temptation, puts himself directly in the way that leads naturally to sin. Every sin has certain enticements peculiar to itself. The great moral defect of thousands is that they do not recognise the sin in the enticement thereto. Show how, by playing with temptation, a man may develop into a thief, a gambler, or a drunkard. Scripture not only forbids the sin itself, but also all the occasions to it, and the first motions of the heart towards it. Do you desire not to fall into any sin, then shut your ears that you hear not the voice of the temptation; turn your eyes away from looking at it; bind yourself to something strong enough to keep you from falling into its snare. When a man plays with the temptation he is in the middle of the road which leads into the sin.
III. Playing with temptation to any evil shows some degree of bias in the nature to that particular evil. It is in the communion of the mind with the temptation that power resides, and if there be in the mind a sufficient amount of virtue--of virtue the direct opposite of the sin to which the temptation prompts--to keep a man on his guard from playing with it, he is perfectly safe from any injury that may be inflicted by it. In truth, when it is so the temptation is to him no longer a temptation. When a man hates the sin with perfect hatred the temptation to it is hateful to him, and he avoids not only the sin itself, but all occasions to it and all things that might lead thereto. There is in each one of us separately some predisposition to some particular sin, just as in some bodily constitutions there is a predisposition to certain fevers. There may be something in a man’s organism making him incline beforehand to some special sin, and thus placing him under an obligation to exercise special vigilance against that sin. Natural predispositions these may be called; but there are others, the result of habit only, equally powerful in their influence and equally dangerous if any advantage be given them to show themselves. And sometimes the natural predispositions are strengthened by habit. When a man plays with any temptation it is proof of some bias toward the sin which is the direct object of the temptation. The playing with the temptation is nothing else than the heart reaching out after the sin, the lust conceiving in the mind.
IV. Playing with temptation only brings man into contact with sin on its agreeable side, and thus gives it an advantage to make an impression favourable to itself on the mind. It must be confessed that sin has its pleasure. It means the immediate satisfaction of the depraved propensities of the nature. Only the pleasure of sin is in the temptation. There you see the impossibility for any one to dally with it without falling a prey to it.
V. Man, through plating with temptation, weakens his moral resistance to the sin, and gradually gets so weak that he cannot resist it. When a man entertains evil suggestion his moral force begins to be undermined. One depraved thought invites another. Playing with temptation eats away the moral energy. The conscience at last gets so depraved that it permits unforbidden what it once condemned, and so step by step, almost unwittingly to himself, the man finds himself utterly powerless to resist temptation. And that is not all, but playing with the temptation keeps a man from the only means through which he might acquire strength to overcome the sin.
VI. Man, by playing with temptation, at last tempts the spirit of God to withdraw his protection from him, and to leave him to himself and a prey to his lust. Scriptures teach that the Spirit of the Lord exerts His influence in different ways to keep one from sin. Sometimes He overrules external circumstances. At other times He influences the mind by means of certain reflections, so that the temptation fails in its effect upon him. When a man continues to play with temptation, permitting his heart always to run in the channel of his lust, beginning to give way to his first impulses and desires, he vexes and grieves God’s Spirit and gradually offends Him so much that He withdraws from him, withholds His protection and allows the temptation in all its force to assault him at a time when lust is strong and the external opportunity perfectly advantageous. And the result is he falls a prey to the temptation. (Owen Thomas, D. D.)
If he steal to satisfy his soul when he is hungry.
Theft through necessity
The deceitful and perverting influence of sin requires careful consideration. While as yet it is only a principle in the mind, and not ripened into an external action, it draws into its service the various powers of imagination, invention, and even reason itself. By these powers the forbidden object is represented as a source of peculiar enjoyment, or it is invested with features of external attraction, or it is exhibited as fitted to gratify curiosity at least, and to extend the sphere of natural knowledge. Even after the principle is matured into action, and its fatal consequences begin to be felt, it employs the same powers to find excuses and apologies for the act. The sources from which apologies are drawn are exceedingly numerous. But this is the striking peculiarity of sin, that it seeks with greatest eagerness to draw them from the character, the providence, or the Word of God. The passage now before us seems to hold out an excuse for stealing, or at least to take off the odiousness and criminality of it.
I. The aspect of this act in the sight of men. The text implies that by men it is considered as venial or excusable. But it is the act under special limitations.
1. Limited exclusively to food. The thing stolen is not classed as property. It is that which is seldom coveted, and never for its own sake except under the influence of hunger. But this can never be drawn into an excuse for stealing in general. The food is supposed to be taken by the thief only when he is hungry. It is not inspired by covetousness, but by hunger. This is a very important limitation. Food may be stolen with as much criminality as any other thing, for it may be turned into money.
2. But the feeling of hunger itself is restricted by the text. The purpose for which it supposes food to be stolen is to satisfy. The thief must take no more even of it than is necessary to extinguish present hunger. He is not permitted to carry any away either to provide against future necessity, or to procure anything which he may be anxious to possess.
3. Food is supposed to be stolen merely to “satisfy the soul”--that is, to preserve the life. The thief must be at the point of extreme necessity, at which, if he did not commit the act under consideration, he would actually surrender his life.
II. The aspect of this act in the sight of God. The text does not state that God regards this thief with indulgence. The context implies that this individual has incurred the penalty of the law, and must be punished if he be found. Mercy, which sets aside the demands of the law, is only sin, and, if generally acted on, would be attended with the most ruinous consequences. The mercy of man is a very inadequate medium for contemplating the mercy of God. Though the act under consideration may seem perfectly innocent to man, it may appear highly criminal and dangerous in the sight of God. The justice of this estimate may be clearly perceived by attending to this case of necessity in two aspects.
1. If the thief has been involved in this necessitous condition by his own misconduct--by idleness, intemperance, or any other immoral habit--he is plainly guilty. The very necessity to which he has been reduced is s sinful necessity, since it has been occasioned by his own misconduct.
2. When he has been involved in it by the providence of God. Even in this view the act under consideration is decidedly sinful. It is a serious misimprovement and abuse of God’s providence. We may see that even the most extreme case of necessity will not warrant unbelief and the commission of sin. It is better to surrender even life itself than give way to an immoral and criminal act. A case can never occur in which one precept of the law may be set aside in order to avoid the violation of another. The case in which life is in danger is evidently the most extreme; it plainly comprehends every other. If the law is not to be broken in the superior, it is not to be broken in the inferior case; if it is not to be violated when life is at stake, it is much less to be violated when any inferior benefit is at stake. (George Hislop.)
Accused of theft
At one of the annual Waterloo banquets the Duke of Wellington after dinner handed round for inspection a very valuable presentation snuff-box set with diamonds. After a time it disappeared, and could nowhere be found. The Duke was much annoyed. The guests (there being no servants in the room at the time) were more so, and they all agreed to turn out their pockets. To this one old officer most vehemently objected, and on their pressing the point left the room, notwithstanding that the Duke begged that nothing more might be said about the matter. Of course suspicion fell on the old officer; nobody seemed to know much about him or where he lived. The next year the Duke at the annual banquet put his hand in the pocket of his coat, which he had not worn since the last dinner, and there was the missing snuff-box! The Duke was dreadfully distressed, found out the old officer, who was living in a wretched garret, and apologised. “But why,” said his Grace, “did you not consent to what the other officers proposed, and thus have saved yourself from the terrible suspicion?” “Because, sir, my pockets were full of broken meat, which I had contrived to put there to save my wife and family, who were at that time literally dying of starvation.” The Duke, it is said, sobbed like a child; and it need not be added that the old officer and his family suffered no more from want from that day.
He that doeth it destroyeth his own soul.
The suicide of the soul
Lovely as maiden purity is, and crowned with benedictions though it is by Christ, we have here to learn its excellence and fear its loss, by the sad, stern picture of impurity and shameless sin. In these sad proverbs of purity the wise man pictures to us in fearful personification wisdom’s rival standing in the same great thoroughfares of earth and bidding to her shameful pleasures the simple youth who throng the broad and crowded way. This is no fancy picture allegorising the dangers of youth. It is drawn from reality, from every-day life. There is no mistake in the outline, no exaggeration in the colouring. The power of sin lies in its pleasure. They are mistaken who assert that there are no gratifications in the enjoyments of sense. Were there none, they would not be so diligently sought. Sin, which brings death to the soul, is yet sweet to the taste. The more we sin the more perverted becomes our taste, the more clamorous for further indulgence. But these stolen waters of sinful pleasure are not always sweet. Pleasant though they may be at the first, they will yet become bitter indeed. Much of the sinner’s peril grows out of his simple ignorance. Sin naturally brings with it temporal and physical suffering. But the pleasures of the sensualist are the preludes to a misery words refuse to paint. The sentence that to the “defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure” is fulfilled to the letter. Even the innocent pleasures of conversation become to the sensualist defiling, for he turns them into the foul channel of his own base thought. The mind and conscience of the impure are defiled. The mental faculties of the depraved and sensual lose at once and for ever the power of discerning and appreciating that which is excellent, lovely, and true. The deep things of God are no subjects for the lover of sensual sin to dwell upon. Sensuality not only prevents us from exercising our mental powers with freedom and profit, but it also wastes and enfeebles those powers themselves. Long since has this enfeebling of the intellectual man been noticed as the result of impurity of life. The sensualist must make his choice between intellect and mental imbecility. “If any man defile the temple of God, which is our body, him will God destroy.” This avenging work of destruction is well-nigh accomplished here on earth. Body, spirit, and soul--all is impure. But to the pure all things are pure. Unheeding the solicitations of the wanton, they go straight on their way. And this purity may be ours. Not indeed gained by our own strength, nor by any strength save that which is found at the foot of the Cross. Why may we not thus purify ourselves? To the life of purity we are called throughout the Book of Proverbs, and the cry of heavenly Wisdom is, “Seek early, for the early seekers shall find.” (Bp. William Stevens Perry.)
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Proverbs 6". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany