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A false balance; literally, balances of deceit (Proverbs 20:23). The repetition of the injunctions of Deuteronomy 25:13, Deuteronomy 25:14 and Leviticus 19:35, Leviticus 19:36 points to fraud consequent on increased commercial dealings, and the necessity of moral and religious considerations to control practices which the civil authority could not adequately supervise. The standard weights and measures were deposited in the sanctuary (Exodus 30:13; Leviticus 27:25; 1 Chronicles 23:29), but cupidity was not to be restrained by law, and the prophets had continually to inveigh against this besetting sin (see Ezekiel 45:10; Amos 8:5; Micah 6:11). Honesty and integrity are at the foundation of social duties, which the author is now teaching. Hence comes the reiteration of these warnings (Proverbs 16:11; Proverbs 20:10). A just weight; literally, a perfect stone, stones having been used as weights from early times. So we read (2 Samuel 14:26) that Absalom weighed his hair "by the king's stone" (eben).
Then cometh shame (Proverbs 16:18 : Proverbs 18:12); literally, cometh pride, cometh also shame. Pride shall have a fall; self-assertion and self-confidence shall meet with mortification and disgrace in the end. "Whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased" (Luke 14:11); "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). Septuagint, "Where violence (ὅβρις) entereth, there also dishonor." But with the lowly is wisdom. "Mysteries are revealed unto the meek" (Ecclesiastes 3:19, Complutensian; Psalms 25:9, Psalms 25:14). The humble are already rewarded with wisdom because their disposition fits them to receive grace and God's gifts (comp. Proverbs 15:33). Septuagint, "The mouth of the humble meditateth wisdom."
The integrity—the simple straightforwardness—of the upright shall guide them in the right way, and give them success in their undertakings with the blessing of God (comp. Proverbs 11:5). Septuagint, "the perfection of the straightforward" (Proverbs 10:9). The perverseness (seleph);; they not only bring punishment on themselves when their evil designs are discovered and frustrated, but they ruin their moral nature, lose all sense of truth and right, and are rejected of God. This clause and the following verse are omitted in the Vatican and some other manuscripts of the Septuagint.
Profit not; afford no refuge (Proverbs 10:2). In the day of wrath (Proverbs 6:34), when God visits individuals or nations to punish them for sin (comp. Ecclesiastes 5:8). Such visitations are often spoken of (comp. Isaiah 10:3; Ezekiel 7:19; Zephaniah 1:15, Zephaniah 1:18, etc.). More especially will this be true in me great dies irae. Righteousness … death (see on Proverbs 10:2; and comp. Tobit 4:10; 12:9). The Septuagint here adds a sentence which is similar to Proverbs 11:10 : "When the righteous dieth he leaveth regret, but the destruction of the wicked is easy and delightsome (πρόχειρος καὶ ἐπίχαρτος)."
The perfect; the upright and honest. Vulgate, "simple;" Septuagint, "blameless." Shall direct—make straight or smooth—his way (Proverbs 3:6). The good man, not blinded by passion, follows a safe and direct path of life; but the wicked, led by his own evil propensious, and losing the light of conscience (John 11:10), stumbles and fails. Septuagint, "Righteousness cutteth straight (ὀρθοτομεῖ) blameless paths, but ungodliness walketh in iniquity." Ὀρθοτομέω occurs in Proverbs 3:6, and nowhere else in the Septuagiut. St. Paul adopts the word in 2 Timothy 2:15.
An emphatic reiteration of the preceding sentences. Naughtiness; "strong desire," as Proverbs 10:3, which leads to sin (Proverbs 5:22; Micah 7:3). The indulgence of their passions destroys sinners. Septuagint," Transgressors are taken by lack of counsel."
His expectation; that which he hoped for and set his heart upon, worldly prosperity, long life, impunity,—all are cut off, and the moral government of God is confirmed, by his death (Psalms 73:17-19). (For "the hope of the ungodly," see the forcible expressions in Wis. 5:14.) Of unjust men; Vulgate sollicitorum; Septuagint, τῶν ἀσεβῶν. The word seems to mean "vanities," i.e. "men of vanity"—abstract for concrete. Others translate, "godless hope," or "expectation that bringeth grief," or "strong, self-confident men;" "men in the fulness of their vigour." But the rendering of the Authorized Version is well supported, and the two clauses are coordinate. The Septuagint, in order to accentuate the implied antithesis, has seemingly altered the text, and introduced a thought which favours the immortality of the soul, "When a righteous man dieth, hope perisheth not; but the boast of the wicked perisheth" (Wis. 3:18).
Out of trouble; i.e. God is at hand to help the righteous out of straits (de angustia, Vulgate); or takes him away from the evil to come (Isaiah 57:1; Wis. 4:10-14). Septuagint, "escapeth from the chase." In his stead (Proverbs 21:18). The evil from which the righteous is saved fails upon the wicked. As Abraham says to Dives in the parable, "He is comforted, but thou art tormented" (Luke 16:25). Of this substitution many instances occur in Scripture. Thus Haman was hanged on the gallows which he had erected for Mordecai (Esther 7:10); Daniel's accusers were cast into the den of lions from which he was saved (Daniel 6:24; comp. Isaiah 43:4).
An hypocrite (chaneph); simulator, Vulgate. So translated continually in Job, e.g. Job 8:13; Job 13:16, etc. Others take it to mean "profane," "godless." Such a man, by his falsehoods, insinuations, and slanders, destroys his neighbour as far as he is able (Proverbs 12:6). Septuagint, "In the mouth of the wicked is a snare for fellow citizens." Through knowledge. By the knowledge which the just possess, and which they display by judicious counsel, peace and safety are secured. Septuagint, "Knowledge affords an easy path (εὔοδος) for the just."
The city; any city. Ewald would argue that such language could not be used of the capital of the Jews till the times of Asa or Jehoshaphat. But what is to prevent the sentence being taken generally of any city or community? The Vatican manuscript of the Septuagint and some others give here only the first clause, "In the prosperity of the righteous the city succeeds," adding from Proverbs 11:11, "but by the mouths of the wicked it is overthrown" (see on Proverbs 11:4; comp. Psalms 58:10, etc.).
This verse gives the reason of the rejoicing on the two occasions just mentioned (comp. Proverbs 14:34; Proverbs 28:12). By the blessing of the upright; i.e. their righteous acts, counsels, sad prayers (Wis. 6:24). By the mouth of the wicked. Their impious language and evil advice, bring ruin upon a city.
He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbor; uses words of contempt about his neighbour. Septuagint, "sneers at his fellow citizens." The following clause indicates that contemptuous language is chiefly intended. Holdeth his peace. An intelligent man is slow to condemn, makes allowance for others' difficulties, and, if he cannot approve, at least knows how to be silent. Nam nulli tacuisse nocet nocet esse locutum. "Speech is silver," says the proverb, "silence is golden." Septuagint, "A man of sense keeps quiet."
A tale-bearer. The word implies one who goes about chattering, gossiping, and slandering (Le Proverbs 19:16); Vulgate, qui ambulat fraudulenter; Septuagint, "the man of double tongue." To such a man it is safe to trust nothing; he revealeth secrets (Proverbs 20:19). He that is of a faithful spirit; a steadfast, trusty man, not a gadder about; he retains what is committed to him (Ec Proverbs 27:16, "Whoso discovereth secrets luseth his credit, and shall never find friend to his mind"). Septuagint, "He that is faithful in spirit [πνοῇ, as in Proverbs 20:27, where see note] concealeth matters."
Where no counsel is. The word properly means "steersmanship," "pilotage" (Proverbs 1:5; Proverbs 12:5; Proverbs 24:6). So Vulgate, gubernator; Septuagint, κυβέρνησις, "They who have no government fall like leaves," reading alim instead of am. In the multitude of counsellors (Proverbs 15:22; Proverbs 20:18; Proverbs 24:6). This would go to prove the superiority of a popular government over the despotism of a single ruler. But the caution of our homely proverb is net inopportune, "Too many cooks spoil the broth."
He that is surety for a stranger; or, for another (see Proverbs 6:1). Shall smart for it. "Evil shall fall on him evilly who is surety." He that hateth suretyship; guaranteed, as the word implies, by the striking of hands in public (Proverbs 17:18). Vulgate, "who is cautious of snares," especially of the insidious dangers that lurk in suretyship. Is sure; is at rest and has nothing to fear. There is no paronomasia in the Hebrew. The play on "suretyship" and "sure" in the Authorized Version is either accidental or was introduced with the idea of giving point to the sentence. The Septuagint translates differently, "A wicked man doeth evil when he mixes with the righteous; he hateth the sound of safety (ἦχον ἀσφαλείας)." This perhaps means that the fraudulent creditor deceives the good man who has stood security for him; and henceforward the good man cannot bear to hear immunity and safety spoken of (see note on Proverbs 20:16).
A gracious woman; a woman full of grace. Septuagint, εὐχάριστος "agreeable," "charming." The author is thinking of personal attractions, which, he says, win favour; but we may apply his expression to moral exeellences also, which obtain higher recognition. Retaineth … retain; better, obtain … win, as in Proverbs 29:23. The two clauses are parallel in form, not in sense, and imply that beauty is more effective than strength, and honour is better than wealth. The Septuagint takes a narrow view: "A graceful woman bringeth glory to her husband." The last clause is rendered, "The manly (ἀνδρεῖοι) are supported by wealth." Between the two clauses the LXX. and the Syriac introduce the following paragraphs: "But a seat of dishonour is a woman that hateth righteousness. The indolent come to want wealth, but the manly," etc.
The merciful man; the kind, loving man. Septuagint, ἀνὴρ ἐλεήμων. His own soul; i.e. himself. His good deeds return in blessings upon himself. "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7) Troubleth his own flesh; brings retribution on himself. Some commentators, comparing Ec Proverbs 14:5 ("He that is evil to himself, to whom will he be good?"), translate, "He who does good to himself is a kind man to others, and he who troubles his own body will be cruel to others." The sentiment is quite untrue. Self-indulgence does not lead to regard for others; and a severe, ascetic life, while it encourages stern views of human weaknesses, does not make a man cruel and uncharitable. The Vulgate takes "his own flesh" to mean "his neighbours," as Judah calls his brother Joseph "our flesh" (Genesis 37:27). But the parallelism confirms the Authorized Version.
A deceitful work; work that brings no reward or profit, belying hope, like "fundus mendax" of Horace, 'Od.,' 3.1, 30. The Septuagint has, "unrighteous works," which seems a jejune rendering, and does not bring out the contrast of the sure reward in the second member (comp. Proverbs 10:2, Proverbs 10:16). To him that soweth righteousness (Hosea 10:12; Galatians 6:8, Galatians 6:9). To "sow righteousness" is to act righteously, to live in such a way that the result is holiness. The "reward," in a Jew's eyes, would be a long life in which to enjoy the fruits of his good conduct. We Christians have a better hope, which is, perhaps, adumbrated by this analogy: as the seed sown in the field does not produce its fruit till the time of harvest, so righteousness meets with its full recompense only in the great harvest at the end of all things. The Revised Version renders, The wicked earnnth deceitful wages: but he that soweth righteousness hath a sure reward. This makes a good antithesis. The Septuagint renders the last clause, "but the seed of the righteous is a true reward (μισθὸς ἀληθείας)."
This verse is not to be connected with the preceding, as in the margin of the Revised Version, "so righteousness," etc; each couplet in these chapters being independent, the connection, such as it is, being maintained by the use of catchwords, such as "righteous," "wicked," "upright," etc. As righteousness tendeth to life. The various uses of the first word כֵן (ken) have led to different renderings. The Authorized Version takes it for "as;" the Revised Version as an adjective: He that is steadfast in righteousness. It is, perhaps, better, with Nowack, to regard it as an adverb: "He who is honestly, strictly, of righteousness, is to life." The meaning is plain: real, genuine righteousness hath the promise of this life and of that which is to come (1 Timothy 4:8). The LXX; reading בֵן (ben), translate, "A righteous son is born for life." He that pursueth evil (Proverbs 13:21); Septuagint, "the persecution of the impious," i.e. that which an impious man inflicts. But the Authorized Version is correct, and the clause means that he who practises evil brings ruin eventually on himself—a warning trite, but unheeded (comp. Proverbs 1:18).
They that are of a froward heart (Proverbs 17:20); Septuagint, "perverse ways." The word means "distorted from the right," "obstinate in error." Upright in their way (Proverbs 2:21; Proverbs 29:27; Psalms 119:1).
Though hand join in hand (Proverbs 16:5); literally, hand to hand, which may be taken variously. The Septuagint and some other versions take the phrase in the sense of unjust violence: "He who layeth hand upon hand unjustly;" Vulgate, manus in manu, "hand in hand," which is as enigmatical as the Hebrew. Some Jewish interpreters consider it an adverbial expression, signifying simply "soon." Some moderns take it to mean "sooner or later," as the Italian da mano in mano, or, in succession of one generation after another (Gesenius, Wordsworth). Others deem it a form of adjuration, equivalent to "I hereby attest, my hand upon it!" And this seems the most probable interpretation; assuredly the Divine justice shall be satisfied by the punishment of the wicked (comp. Psalms 37:1-40.). The Authorized Version gives a very good sense: "Though hands be plighted in faith, and men may associate together in evil, the wicked shall not go unpunished" (comp. Isaiah 28:15). St. Gregory ('Mor. in Job,' lib. 25.) takes a very different view: "Hand in hand the wicked shall not be innocent;" for hand is wont to he joined with hand when it rests at ease, and no laborious employment exercises it. As though he were saying, "Even when the hand rests from sinful deeds, yet the wicked, by reason of his thoughts, is not innocent" (Oxford transl.). This exposition is, of course, divorced from the context. The seed of the righteous. This is not "the posterity of the righteous," but is a periphrasis for "the righteous," as in Psalms 24:6; Psalms 112:2, "the generation of the righteous" (comp. Isaiah 65:23). The climax which some see here—as if the author intended to say, "Not only the good themselves, but their descendants also shall be delivered"—is non-existent and unnecessary. Septuagint, "But he that soweth righteousness shall receive a sure reward," which is another rendering of the second member of verse 18. Shall be delivered; i.e. in the time of God's wrath (Psalms 112:4, 23; Proverbs 2:22).
This is the first instance of direct "similitude" in the book. As a jewel [a ring] of gold in a swine's snout. The greatest incongruity is thus expressed. Women in the East wore, and still sometimes wear, a ring run through the nostril, and hanging over the mouth, so that it is necessary to hold it up when taking food. Such a nezem Abraham's servant gave to Rebekah (Genesis 24:22; comp. Isaiah 3:21; Ezekiel 16:12). The Septuagint has ἐνώτιον, "an earring." So is a fair woman which is without discretion; without taste, deprived of the faculty of saying and doing what is seemly and fitting. The external beauty of such a woman is as incongruous as a precious ring in the snout of a pig. Lesetre quotes an Arab proverb: "A woman without modesty is food without salt." Whether swine in Eastern countries were "ringed," as they are with us nowadays, is unknown; if they were thus treated, the proverb is still more vivid.
(Comp. Proverbs 10:28.) The desire of the righteous is only good. They want only what is just and honest, and therefore they obtain their wiches. The expectation of the wicked—that on which they set their hope and heart—is wrath (Proverbs 11:4), is an object of God's wrath. Other commentators, ancient and modern, take the clause to imply that the wishes of evil men, animated by wrath and ill temper, are only satisfied by inflicting injuries on others. Delitzsch would translate ebrah, "excess," "presumption," as in Proverbs 21:24. But the first interpretation seems most suitable (scrap. Romans 2:8, Romans 2:9). The LXX; pointing differently, for "wrath" reads "shall perish."
There is that scattereth; that giveth liberally, as Psa 112:1-10 :99, "He hath dispersed, he hath given to the needy." And yet increaseth; becomes only the richer in wealth and more blessed by God (comp. Proverbs 19:17). Nutt quotes the old epitaph, "What we spent, we had; what we saved, we lost; what we gave, we have." Experience proves that no one ultimately loses who gives the tithe of his income to God (see on Proverbs 28:27). There is that withholdeth more than is meet; i.e. is niggardly where he ought to be liberal. But the expression is best taken as in the margin of the Revised Version, "that withholdeth what is justly due," either as a debt or as a proper act of generosity becoming one who desires to please God and to do his duty. But it tendeth to poverty. That which is thus withheld is no real benefit to him. it only inure, sos his want. Septuagint and Vulgate, "There are who, sewing what is their own, make the more; and there are who, gathering what is another's, suffer loss." Dionysius Cato, 'Distich. de Mor.,' 54.4, 1—
"Despice divitias, si vis animo esse beatus,
Quas qui suscipiunt mendicant semper avari."
The sentiment of the preceding verse is here carried on and confirmed. The liberal soul; literally, the soul of blessings, the man that blesses others by giving liberally. Shall be made fat (Proverbs 13:4; Proverbs 28:25). The term is used of the rich and prosperous (Psalms 22:29). Septuagint, "Every simple soul is blessed." He that watereth—benefits and refreshes others—shall be watered also himself; shall receive the blessing which he imparts. The Vulgate introduces another idea, Qui inebriat, ipse quoque inebriabitur, where the verb implies rather abundance than excess, as in Proverbs 5:19, etc. The Septuagint departs widely from the present text: "A passionate man is not graceful" (εὐσχήμων), i.e. is ugly in appearance and manner—a sentiment which may be very true, but it is not clear how it found its way into the passage. St. Chrysostom comments upon it in 'Hom.' 17, on St. John. There are some Eastern proverbs on the stewardship of the rich. When a good man gets riches, it is like fruit falling into the midst of the village. The riches of the good are like water turned into a rice field. The good, like clouds, receive only to give away. The rivers themselves drink not their water; nor do the trees eat their own sweet fruit, and the clouds eat not the crops. The garment in which you clothe another will last longer than that in which you clothe yourself. Who gives alms sows one and reaps a thousand.
He that withholdeth corn. The practice reprehended is not confined to any one time or place. The avaricious have always been found ready to buy corn and other necessary articles of consumption when plentiful, and wait till there was dearth in the market or scarcity in the land, and then sell them at famine prices. Amos sternly reproves this iniquity (Amos 8:4, etc.). It is a sin against justice and charity, and it is said of him who is guilty of it, the people shall curse him (Proverbs 24:24). Such selfishness has often given rise to tumult and bloodshed, and has been punished in a signal manner. The legend of Bishop Hatto shows the popular feeling concerning these Dardanarians, as they were called by Ulpian ('Digest. Justin.,' 47.11.6). Such a one St. Chrysostom ('Hom. in 1 Cor.,' 39) calls "a common enemy of the blessings of the world, and a foe to the liberality of the Lord of the world, and a friend of mammon, or rather his slave." The Septuagint gives a curious rendering: "He who hohleth corn may he leave it for the peoples!" i.e. may neither he nor his heirs be benefited by his store, but may it be distributed among others far and near! That selleth it; literally, that breaketh it, as it is said of Joseph when he sold corn to the Egyptians (Genesis 41:56; Genesis 42:6).
He that diligently seeketh good; literally, he that seeketh in the morning, as so often in Scripture, the phrase, "rising early," implies unimpaired powers and diligence (Proverbs 27:14; Jeremiah 7:13, etc,). Procureth favour; better, seeketh favour; by his very act of striving after what is good, he is striving to do what may please and benefit others, and thus to please God. Vulgate, "Well does he rise early who seeketh good." It—mischief—shall come unto him; the consequences of his evil life shall fall upon his end. Says an Indian proverb, "When men are ripe for slaughter, even straws turn into thunderbolts."
There are many expressions in this and the following verses which recall Psalms 1:1-6. He that trusteth in his riches shall fall (Proverbs 10:2; Psalms 49:6, Psalms 49:7; Psalms 52:7; Ecclesiastes 5:8). Wealth is of all things the most uncertain, and leads the heart astray from God (1 Timothy 6:17). As a branch; "as a leaf" (Psalms 1:1-8; Isaiah 34:4). The righteous grow in grace and spiritual beauty, and bring forth the fruit of good works. Septuagint, "He who layeth hold on what is righteous [or, 'helpeth the righteous'] shall spring up (ἀνατελεῖ)."
He that troubleth his own house; he that annoys and worries his family and household by niggardliness, bad management, and captious ill temper. So the Son of Sirach writes (Ecc 4:1-16 :30), "Be not as a lion in thy house, nor frantic (φαντασιοκοπῶν, 'suspicious') among thy servants." Septuagint, "he who has no friendly intercourse (ὁ μὴ συμπεριφερόμενος) with his own house." Shall inherit the wind; he will be the loser in the end; no one will lend him a helping hand, and his affairs will fall to ruin. The fool—the man who acts thus foolishly—shall be servant to the wise of heart; to the man who administers his household matters in a better and more orderly manner (see on Proverbs 12:24). It is implied that the troubler of his own house shall be reduced to such extremity as to have to apply for relief to the wise of heart. The other side of the question is given by the Son of Sirach: "Unto the servant that is wise shall they that are free do service" (Ec10:25). The prodigal in the parable prayed his father to make him one of his hired servants (Luke 15:19).
The fruit of righteousness (of the righteous) is a tree of life (Proverbs 3:18; Proverbs 13:12); lignum vitae, Vulgate. That which the righteous say and do is, as it were, a fruitful tree which delights and feeds many. A good man's example and teaching promote spiritual health and lead to immortal life. Septuagint, "From the fruit of righteousness springeth a tree of life." And he that winneth souls is wise; rather, he that is wise winneth souls. The latter member is parallel to the former. He who gives men of the tree of life attracts souls to himself, to listen to his teaching and to follow his example. With this "winning of souls" we may compare Christ's promise to the apostles that they should "catch men" (Luke 5:10; comp. James 5:20). The Septuagint introduces an antithesis not found in our Hebrew text: "But the souls of transgressors are taken untimely away." Ewald and others change the present order of clauses in Proverbs 11:29 and Proverbs 11:30, thinking thus to improve the parallelism. They would rearrange the passage in the following way: "He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind; but the fruit of the righteous is a tree of life. The foolish shall be servant to the wise of heart; but he that is wise winneth souls." There is no authority whatever in the versions or older commentators for this alteration; and the existing arrangement, as we have shown, gives a very good sense.
The righteous shall be recompensed in the earth. Them are two ways of understanding this verse. The word rendered "recompensed," שַׁלַ (shalam), is a vox media, and can be taken either in a good or bad sense. So the meaning will be, "The righteous meets with his reward upon earth, much more the sinner," the "reward" of the latter being, of course, punishment. But the versions lead to another interpretation, by which "recompensed" is rendered "chastised;" and the meaning is—if even the righteous shall be punished for their trespasses, as Moses, David, etc; how much more the wicked! The Septuagint, quoted exactly by St. Peter (1 Peter 4:18) has, "If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?"
The point of this proverb is different from that of our low-toned though often useful saying, "Honesty is the best policy." Every day we are discovering more and more how profoundly true that saying is, if not in the narrow view some take of it, yet in its broad issues and in the long run. But no man will be truly honest who puts policy before honesty, and bases his morality on selfish expediency. Therefore, if we are ever to reap the personal profit promised in the English proverb, we must mould our conduct on higher principles, such as that of the Hebrew proverb, which teaches us that dishonesty in trade is hateful to God, and that justice is his delight.
I. COMMERCE IS INCLUDED IN THE RIGHTFUL DOMAIN OF RELIGION. Few men would deny the abstract proposition that commerce has its morale, though many may be very indifferent in the application of them. But it must be further seen that commerce has its religion. There is a religious way of carrying on trade, and an irreligious way of doing it. God is in the shop as well as in the church. He is as much concerned with the manner in which we buy and sell as with the style in which we pray; nay, more so, for his chief interest is with our real, daily, practical life.
II. RELIGION REQUIRES JUST WEIGHTS IN TRADE. Religion requires them. No one would dare to admit that morality did not require them. But we have now to see that religion especially demands them. This is the place where the incidence of religion on trade is to be felt. Religion carded into business does not mean praying for prosperity and then cheating our neighbours in order to secure the answer to our prayer, nor giving to missionary collections a small dole out of the profits of swindling. It means honesty in business preserved for God's sake. He will not hear our prayers While the weights and measures are being tampered with.
III. THE RELIGIOUS REQUIREMENT OF JUST WEIGHTS IS BASED ON THE OBLIGATIONS OF TRUTH AND OF OUR DUTY TO OUR NEIGHBOURS.
1. Truth. God hates all lies. False balances are concrete lies. They are worse than verbal untruths; for they are deliberate and permanent. A weak man may be surprised into a hasty expression that does not accord with his convictions under the shock of a sudden temptation. But to construct and keep false balances is to deceive with full consideration of what is being done. Adulteration is a similar offence. People who construct elaborate machinery for the very purpose of adulterating articles of trade should feel that all their ingenuity aggravates their condemnation.
2. Our duty to our neighbours. In a Christian country surely we should have some regard for the great maxim of Christ, that we should do to others as we would that they would do unto us. The tradesman should put himself in the customer's case, the buyer in that of the seller. Brotherly kindness is the best human safeguard for integrity; but above this should be our regard for the approval of God. We please God not so much by singing hymns and offering sacrifices as by honest business. "A just weight is his delight."
The shame of pride and the wisdom of humility
I. THE SHAME OF PRIDE. Pride claims honour, and thinks itself secure of obtaining it. It would dread disgrace above all things, would rather starve and perish than suffer from contempt. Yet a true insight into life shows that pride is the direct precursor of shame, of the very thing it would most wish to keep off. Thus, like ambition, pride "o'erleaps itself."
1. Pride claims too high a place. The proud man, thinking highly of himself, thrusts himself into positions where he is unable to meet what is required of him. If he took the lower place, no one would think ill of him; he might then be respected. But he makes himself ridiculous by aiming too high. The greatest of men have found out the folly of this ambition of pride. Others besides Shakespeare's Wolsey can say—
"I have ventured,
Like little wanton boys that swim on bladders,
This many summers in a sea of glory;
But far beyond my depth: my high-blown pride
At length broke under me; and now has left me,
Weary, and old with service, to the mercy
Of a rude stream, that must forever hide me."
2. Pride refuses to receive correction. It will not stoop to confess itself in error. Satisfied with its own condition, it will not listen to advice, nor try for any improvement. Thus it remains stationary. The flecks and flaws of character which a humble man would allow his neighbour to point out and help him to remove become stereotyped in the proud man. Thus faults which would be forgiven and forgotten if they were only transitory in the growth of character bring disgrace by becoming permanent and characteristic.
3. Pride provokes criticism. No man is wise in being proud until he knows he is without reproach. For the very attitude of pride challenges attacks. It offends the pride of others, and in sheer self-defence they will set to work to discover the faults which charity or a happy indifference would otherwise leave undisturbed.
II. THE WISDOM OF HUMILITY. Humility is not only right and beautiful; it is also wise. Both the Old and the New Testaments insist upon this truth. It was the mistake of Stoicism—the highest effort of secular morality—that it failed to see this. Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius—in other respects so near to the Christian ideal—are here severed from it by an impassable chasm. They were both Pharisees. The shame which pride brings, of course, suggests the wisdom of its opposite. But this wisdom has its positive recommendations. Humility, choosing lowly places, finds refuge in safe ones; admitting imperfection, confessing sin, it is ready to repent, and therefore capable of beginning a better life and of rising to perfection. Winning the hearts of men by its unassuming character, it escapes jealous criticism, and finds that faults are covered by love. Humility need not be the confession of unworthiness. Christ the Sinless One, Christ the Son of God, was the humblest and meekest of men. The Christian is called to walk in the steps of his Master, and to seek his joy in renouncing himself. Ultimately he will find his honour in the same course. "For every one that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
Tale-bearing may result from spite and malice, or it may be an incident of idle gossip; but even in its milder phases it is a most mischievous practice, and one deserving of severe reprobation. Connected with what are called the minor moralities of life, the evil of it is far too little recognized by many Christian people, people who undoubtedly, endeavour on the whole to square their conduct with right principles. It is very important, therefore, that the character of this very common fault should be exposed.
I. WHEN CONFIDENCE HAS BEEN REPOSED, TALE-BEARING IS SHAMEFULLY DISHONOURABLE. All of us admit in the abstract that it is mean and dastardly to betray confidence. But the practice is terribly frequent with people whose character should be proof against it. Of course, no man of principle would deliberately worm a secret out of an innocent, trusting friend for the very purpose of blazing it abroad. But there are cases in which the evil is less clearly recognized.
1. Confidence may be implied when it is not expressed. A man need not say in so many words that he is telling us a secret, and bind us over to keep silent by solemn promises, in order to put us under an obligation not to betray his confidence. If he evidently trusts us, calls us into his counsels as an exceptional privilege of friendship, and tells us what we know he would not wish us to make public, the duty not to repeat his words is scarcely less binding. If, through being admitted into a man's house, we have discovered the skeleton in his cupboard, by accepting his hospitality, we are pledged not to reveal it.
2. Confidence may be betrayed through carelessness. If any one lends a jewel to a friend, he is required not only not to sell it, but not to leave it exposed to the danger of theft. Confidence is a jewel. It must be guarded. Should we through recklessness reveal what is entrusted to us, we are culpable. Two practical considerations:
(1) Do not be over-anxious to learn secrets. They bring with them painful, difficult obligations. Those people who are most careless in betraying confidence are generally most eager in their curiosity to pry into the affairs of their neighbours. Both habits imply a low moral tone.
(2) Be careful how you give confidence. This is not merely a maxim of prudence; it is a rule of charity, for the trust is an obligation, possibly a very arduous one. Why should you force it upon a friend, and so increase his burdens?
II. WHEN CONFIDENCE HAS NOT BEEN REPOSED, TALE-BEARING IS UNCHARITABLE.
1. It is unkind, even if nothing damaging to character is said. We may know many innocent things about a man which it would be highly unbecoming to make public. The modest will respect decency of soul as well as of body. The veil of mental reserve is a requirement which should distinguish the civilized man from the savage as much as the clothing of his body. One of the penalties of royalty is the exposure of private. and home life in "the fierce light that beats upon a throne." Unhappily, this evil grows upon public characters; and the tendency of "society papers" to pander to idle curiosity with personal gossip about celebrities is one of the most unwholesome habits of our day.
2. It is often injurious when no harm is meant. The report is misunderstood, or it is unfairly judged by going forth without the lights and shares of accompanying circumstances, like a text without its context. Thus a deed appears harsh which would be condoned if the causes which led up to it were all known. Like a rolling snowball, rumour grows as it progresses through the world. The love of dramatic effect unconsciously colours the "simple, round, unvarnished tale," till the author could no longer recognize it.
3. It is ungenerous when it is a true tale of guilt. We are not called to tell all the evil which we know of our neighbours. Charity would hide it. It is most inhuman to take pleasure in the vivisection of character. On the other hand, we must bear in mind that it is sometimes our duty to speak out unpleasant truths, as in bearing witness to a crime from obligations of justice, and in giving a servant's character; untruthfulness in the latter case is dishonest, unjust to employers, and directly unfair to persons of good character by the depreciation of the value of truthful testimonials in the loss of confidence in all such documents.
In conclusion, see how injurious tale-bearing is to the tale-bearer.
1. It rouses retaliation. Who among us can defy the tongue of slander thus provoked?
2. It degrades the mind. Wordsworth has described the lowering influence of narrow personal talk in contrast with conversation on topics of larger, nobler interest—
" Sweetest melodies
Are those that are by distance made more sweet.
Whose mind is but the mind of his own eyes,
He is a slave—the meanest we can meet."
The merciful man
It would be our duty to be merciful if we suffered thereby, and indeed we can never be truly merciful solely from motives of self-interest, since genuine mercy must Spring from sympathy. Nevertheless, we sadly need all aids to righteousness—the lower as well as the higher; and therefore it may be useful for us to consider how much it makes for our own profit that we should be merciful.
I. THE MERCIFUL MAN WILL OBTAIN MERCY FROM OTHER MEN. We never know in what straits the future may find us. Proud in our independence today, we may be in abject need before long, or at least in circumstances which make our welfare largely dependent on others. We are so much members one of another that it is not for our own good that we should injure one another. He is in the most precarious position who has provoked enemies by his cruelty. Let him beware of the turn of the tide of fortune. The tyrant calls forth the assassin. Employers who grind down their work people cause that very indifference to their interests of which they complain. If generosity wins friendship, surely it is a valuable grace. None love so much as they who have been forgiven much.
II. ONLY THE MERCIFUL MAN WILL OBTAIN MERCY FROM GOD. This is an absolute principle the importance of which is too little recognized. In the Old Testament God tells us that he desires "mercy, and not sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6); i.e. that the practice of the former, rather than the offering of the latter, is the ground of acceptance by him. Christ signalizes mercy by giving it a place in the Beatitudes, and saying that the blessing of the merciful is that they shall obtain mercy (Matthew 5:7); calls upon us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44); inserts in his model prayer one sole condition—that God "forgives us our debts as we have forgiven our debtors" (Matthew 6:12); and tells us that our offerings to God must be preceded by our forgiveness of men (Matthew 5:23, Matthew 5:24). Therefore the cruel man troubleth his own flesh, for he excludes himself from the enjoyment of God's mercy—the one essential of his eternal welfare.
That in the course of justice, none of us
Should see salvation: we do pray for mercy:
And that same prayer should teach us all to render
The deeds of mercy."
III. THE MERCIFUL MAN Is BLESSED IN THE VERY EXERCISE OF MERCY.
1. The exercise of mercy is pleasing. The temptation to hatred promises a devilish pleasure; but it is a delusive promise. Once the passion is indulged, it works pain in the soul The expression of rage is no sign of pleasure. Cruelty makes a hell within, and peoples it with demons that torture the man himself even more than its victims. By a singular law of nature the exercise of mercy begins in the pain of self-sacrifice, but it soon bears fruit in inward peace and gladness.
2. The exercise of mercy is elevating and ennobling. Cruelty degrades the soul. Charity refines, exalts, sanctifies. The glory of God is in his mercy.
"Wilt thou draw near the nature of the gods?
Draw near them then in being merciful:
Sweet mercy is nobility's true badge."
Thus, to quote one more familiar saying of Shakespeare's, we find that mercy
"Is twice bleas'd,
It blesses him that gives and him that takes."
The Book of Proverbs is sometimes accused of taking too low and worldly a view of conduct, and of giving undue importance to prudential, self-regarding duties. Whatever truth there may be in these charges—and no doubt the New Testament does describe so pure and lofty an ideal of life as to leave the morals of Solomon and his compeers in a decidedly inferior rank—gives only the greater emphasis to those maxims of broad and noble character which are so clear and imperative as to claim attention even from moralists who observe the less exalted standards of character. Thus it is very significant that, with all its inferiority to Christianity, the ethics of the Book of Proverbs unhesitatingly and repeatedly condemns all meanness, and does honor to liberal habits. Even from a selfish and comparatively worldly point of view, meanness is shown to be a miserable mistake, and generosity a wise and profitable virtue. It is evident that high Christian principles would condemn meanness. It is interesting to see that the morals of the Proverbs are equally opposed to it.
I. MEANNESS IS UNPROFITABLE BECAUSE IT IS DISPLEASING TO GOD. Let us set this consideration first, as of highest importance. Too many leave it to the last or ignore it altogether. They calculate the consequences of their actions on narrow, earthly principles; possibly they inquire what view their neighbours may take of it. But God's judgment on it they consider to be of little or no account. Yet surely, if there is a God at all, the first question should be—How far will our conduct be approved by him? If there is a providence that "shapes our ends," schemes that ignore this leave out of account the most important factor in determining the final issue of events. If God is really overruling our life, and will mete out to us curse and blessing according to his view of it, the way in which he will regard it is no mere problem of idle speculation; it is the most pressing question of practical life, more important than all other things put together. Now, God does hate selfishness, greed, and meanness, and he loves unselfishness and generosity; he will therefore punish the one and reward the other.
II. MEANNESS IS UNPROFITABLE BECAUSE IT EXCLUDES US FROM THE SYMPATHY OF OTHERS. No vice is more anti-social. Even cruelty does not seem to sever the ties of friendship more thoroughly. Regarded only from a commercial point of view, it is shortsighted. The mean customer who strikes off the odd pence in the payment of a bill does this at the cost of checking all generosity in those who deal with him. The mean employer of labour saves a little by his grinding harshness, but he loses far more by provoking his workpeople to take no interest in their work. Meanness destroys those great pleasures and comforts of life which come from the love and friendship of our neighbours.
III. MEANNESS IS UNPROFITABLE BECAUSE IT FAILS TO SACRIFICE THE PRESENT FOR THE FUTURE. The mean farmer will not sow sufficient seed, and consequently he will reap a short harvest. In business men must launch out liberally if they are to make large returns. From the lowest up to the highest concerns of life, self-sacrifice and generosity are requisite for ultimate profit. We must be willing to give up earthly wealth for the heavenly inheritance. The miser who clutches at his gold when God claims it will fail to obtain the pearl of great price.
IV. MEANNESS IS UNPROFITABLE BECAUSE IT DEGRADES AND NARROWS THE SOUL. It is a vice that destroys all noble aspirations and all lofty aims. It dwarfs the spiritual stature. It shuts out visions of the infinite. It confines thought, affection, and desire to a miserable little world of worthless interests. In groping after the small gain that meanness idolizes, we lose all power of pursuing better things. The same meanness may be carried into religion, to our soul's undoing. The pursuit of selfish salvation to the neglect of our duty to others overreaches itself. Whosoever desires to save his life, or his soul, will lose it. But in working for the good of others while forgetting our own advantage, we find our own soul most profited. "He that watereth shall be watered also himself."
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
The ways of honour and of shame
I. JUSTICE AND INJUSTICE IN COMMON THINGS. Jehovah delights in "full weight," and abominates the tricky balance. This may be applied:
1. Literally, to commerce between man and man.
2. Figuratively, to all social relations in which we may give and receive. Work is only honest if thorough; if honest and thorough, it is religious. If principle be the basis of all our transactions, then what we do is done "unto the Lord, and not unto men." If we are indifferent to principle in the common transactions of the week, it is impossible to be really religious in anything or on any day.
II. HAUGHTINESS AND MODESTY. Extremes meet. The former topples over into shame; the latter is lifted into the heights of wisdom.
1. No feeling was more deeply stamped on the ancient mind than this. Among the Greeks hubris, among the Romans insolence, designated an offence peculiarly hateful in the eyes of Heaven. We see it reappearing in the songs and proverbs of the gospel: "He hath brought down the mighty from their seat, and exalted them of low degree;" "Every one that. humbleth himself shall be exalted; but he that exalteth himself shall be abased."
2. It is stamped upon all languages. Thus, in English, to be high, haughty, lofty, overbearing, are terms of censure; lowly, humble, terms of praise. In the German the words uebermuth, hochmuth, point to the same notion of excess and height in the temper.
3. At the same time, let us remember that the good temper may be counterfeited. Nothing is more easy than to suppose we have humbled ourselves by putting on a manner. Yet nothing is more detestable than the assumption of this particular manner. True humility springs from seeing ourselves as we are; pride, from nourishing a fanciful or ideal view of ourselves. Wisdom must begin with modesty; for a distorted or exaggerated view of self necessarily distorts our view of all that comes into relation with sell
III. RECTITUDE AND FAITHLESSNESS. (Verse 3.) The former means guidance, for it is a clear light within the man's own breast; the latter, self destruction. As scriptural examples of the one side of the contrast, may be cited Joseph and Daniel; of the other, the latter, Saul, Absalom, Ahithophel, Ahab, and Ahaziah.
IV. RECTITUDE AND RICHES. (Verse 4; see on Proverbs 10:2.)
1. Riches cannot purchase the grace of God, nor avert his judgments.
2. Rectitude, though not the first cause of salvation, is its necessary condition. To suppose that we can be saved from condemnation without being saved from sin is a gross superstition.
V. SELF-CONSERVATIVE AND SELF-DESTRUCTIVE HABITS. (Verses 5, 6; comp. Proverbs 3:6; Proverbs 10:3.) Honesty and rectitude level the man's path before him; wickedness causes him to stumble and fall. Straightforwardness means deliverance out of dangers, perplexities, misconceptions; while the eager greed of the dishonest man creates distrust, embarrassment, inextricable difficulty.
"He that hath light within his own clear breast
May sit in the centre and enjoy bright day;
But he that hides a dark soul and foul thoughts,
Benighted walks under the midday sun;
Himself is his own dungeon."
VI. HOPE AND DESPONDENCY IN DEATH. (Verse 7.) The former seems implied. If the Old Testament says expressly so little about a future life, some of its sayings may be construed as allusions to and indications of it. It is little that we can know definitely of the future life. But the least we do know is that hope is inextinguishable in the good man's soul; it is its own witness, and "reaps not shame." But despondency and despair are the direct result of wicked living. To cease to hope is to cease to wish and to cease to fear. This must be the extinction of the soul in the most dreadful way in which we can conceive it.
VII. THE EXCHANGE OF PLACES FOLLOWS MORAL LAW. (Verse 8.) The good man comes out of distress, and the evil becomes his substitute in sorrow. So with the Israelites and Pharaoh, a great typical example; so with Mordecai and Haman; with Daniel and his accusers. Great reversals of human judgments are to be expected; many that were last shall be first, and the first last.
VIII. THE SOCIAL PEST AND THE TRUE NEIGHBOUR. (Verse 9.) The pernicious power of slander. The best people are most injured by it, as the best fruit is that which the birds have been pecking at; or, as the Tamil proverb says, "Stones are only thrown at the fruit-laden tree." The tongue of slander "out-venoms all the worms of Nile." It spares neither sex nor age, nor helplessness. It is the "foulest whelp of sin." It promotes nothing that, is good, but destroys much. Knowledge, on the other hand—in the form of sound sense, wide experience—if readily imparted, is a boon to all. And the best of boons, for gifts and charities soon lose their benefit, while a hint of wisdom lives and germinates in the mind in which it has been deposited.
IX. OBJECTS OF SYMPATHY AND ANTIPATHY. (Verse 10.) Gladness follows the success of the good and the downfall of the evil. The popular feeling about men's lives, as manifested at critical periods of failure or success, is a moral index, and suggests moral lessons. There is a true sense in which the voice of the people is the voice of God. Compare the scene of joy which followed Hezekiah's success in the promotion of true religion (2 Chronicles 29:1-36, 2 Chronicles 30:1-27), and the misery under Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28:1-27); also the rejoicings on the completion of Nehemiah's work (Nehemiah 8:1-18); and for jubilation at evil men's deaths, Pharaoh, Sisera, Athaliah (Exodus 15:1-27; Judges 5:1-31; 2 Kings 11:13-20).
X. SOUND POLITICS AND PERNICIOUS COUNSELS. (Verse 11.) The blessing, i.e. the beneficial principles and administration of good and wise men exalt a city (or state). On the other hand, unprincipled counsels, even if temporarily successful, lead in the end to ruin. "It is impossible," said Demosthenes, "O men of Athens, that a man who is unjust, perverse, and false should acquire a firm and established power. His policy may answer for once, may hold out for a brief period, and flourish marvellously in expectations, if it succeed; but in course of time it is found out, and rushes into ruin of its own weight. Just as the foundation of a house or the keel of a ship should be the strongest part of the structure, so does it behove that the sources and principles of public conduct should be true and just. This is not the case at the present time with the actions of Philip." Compare the examples of Elisha (2 Kings 13:14, etc.), Hezekiah, and Isaiah (2 Chronicles 32:20-23), on the one hand; and the Babel builders (Genesis 11:4-9) and the Ammonites (Ezekiel 25:3, Ezekiel 25:4) on the other; also Jeremiah 23:10; Hosea 4:2, Hosea 4:3.—J.
Social sins denounced
I. THE EFFECTS OF SOCIAL SIN. It dissolves mutual bonds of confidence, corrupts and disintegrates the social order and stability. In the mixed condition of human character and society there are elements of weakness and elements of strength. Our speech about others and behaviour to them tends either to bring out their weaknesses, so promoting discontent, suspicion, and distrust, or it. tends to bring out their good qualities, so promoting genial confidence and good will.
II. SOME EXAMPLES OF SOCIAL SINS. Great stress, as usual, is laid upon the tongue.
1. There is contemptuous talk about our neighbour. The art of depreciation is cruel to others, and moreover is, as the text says, senseless. What good can come of it? Of Byron's poetry the great Goethe said, "His perpetual fault finding and negation are injurious even to his excellent works. For not only does the discontent of the poet infect the reader, but the end of all opposition is negation; and negation is nothing. If I call bad bad, what do I gain? But if I call good bad, I do a great deal of mischief. He who will work aright must never rail, must not trouble himself at all about what is ill done, but only do well himself. For the great point is, not to pull down, but to build up; and in this humanity finds pure joy."
2. Still worse is open slander (Proverbs 11:13). Secret detraction is like an arrow shot in the dark, and does much secret mischief. Open slander is like the pestilence that rages at noonday. It sweeps all before it, levelling the good and bad without distinction. A thousand fall beside it, and ten thousand on its right hand. They fall, so rent and torn in their tender parts, as sometimes never to recover the wounds or the anguish of heart which they have occasioned (Sterne).
3. Independent counsels (Proverbs 11:14) are another source of social mischief. As when there was no king in Israel, and when every man did that which was right in his own eyes, and the people became the prey of their enemies (Judges 2:19, seq.; Judges 17:6; Judges 21:25). The spiritual forces in a nation, the intelligence and honest patriotism of its rulers, are ever of more importance than wealth, fleets, or armies.
4. Rash undertakings. (See on Proverbs 6:1, seq.) To promise more than there is a reasonable prospect of performing; to enter imprudently into bargains, covenants, or treaties, not easy to abide by, yet involving disgrace and dishonour if broken. The serious penalties which follow acts of imprudence should instruct us as to their real sinfulness, The good intention is marred by the hasty or thoughtless execution.
III. SOME SOCIAL SAFEGUARDS.
1. Seasonable silence. (Proverbs 11:12.) As we are not to believe all we hear, so neither are we to speak all we know; to be cautious in believing any ill of our neighbour, and to be cautious in repeating what we do believe, are alike duties.
2. Kindly desire. "The honest man's ear is the sanctuary of his absent friend's name, of his present friend's secret; neither of them can miscarry in his trust" (Bishop Hail).
3. Fulness of counsel. (Proverbs 11:14.) The "multitude of counsellors" implies association, conference, and cooperation. By the exchange of ideas we enrich, define, classify, or correct our own. The same subject needs to be looked at from opposite points of view, and by minds of different habit; and the just medium is thus arrived at.
4. Caution. (Proverbs 11:15.) Especially with reference to the incurring of responsibilties. To fetter or lose our freedom of action is to deprive ourselves of the very means of doing further good. One of the acts of benefaction is to contrive that neither the doer of the kindness shall be hampered by excessive responsibility nor the recipient of it by excessive obligation.
5. As the foundation of all, intelligence and love—the inner light which fills the intellect with illumination and the heart with glowing affection. These are the sources of truth in friendship, safety in counsel, general usefulness to society.—J.
The true grace of womanhood
Even as the mighty keep a firm hold upon their possessions, so does the virtuous woman watch over her chastity and honour, to guard it from assault.
I. THE PURITY OF WOMAN IS HER "HIDDEN STRENGTH" (Milton). "She that has that is clad in complete steel."
II. IT IS HER CHIEF ORNAMENT. It clothes her amidst dangers with "unblenched majesty" and "noble grace."
III. IT IS ROOTED IN RELIGION, FOUNDED LIKE MANLY TRUTH IN THE FEAR OF GOD.
IV. IT IS PRECIOUS IN THE SIGHT OF GOD.
"So dear to Heaven is saintly chastity,
That when a soul is found sincerely so.
A thousand liveried angels lackey her,
Driving far off each thing of sin and guilt,
And in clear dream and solemn vision
Tell her of things that no gross ear can hear."
Religion and self-interest
The loving man does good to himself, while the cruel afflict their own souls. As examples of the former, see Joseph in prison (Genesis 40:6), the Kenites (1 Samuel 15:6), David and the Egyptian slave (1 Samuel 30:11-20), David's conduct to Jonathan (2 Samuel 9:7; 2 Samuel 21:7), Job praying for his friends (Job 42:10), the centurion and the Jews (Luke 7:2-10), the people of Melita to Paul (Acts 28:1-10). For examples of the latter, see Joseph's brethren (Genesis 37:1-36.; Genesis 42:21), Adoni-bezek (Judges 1:6, Judges 1:7), Agag (1 Samuel 15:33), Haman (Esther 9:25).
I. RELIGION APPEALS TO THE WHOLE RANGE OF OUR MOTIVES, FROM THE LOWEST TO THE HIGHEST. We should cultivate the higher, but not ignore the lower.
II. TO DO GOOD TO OTHERS IS TO DO CERTAIN GOOD TO OURSELVES. We thus make friends, and they are a defence.
III. TO INJURE OTHERS IS CERTAINLY TO INJURE OURSELVES. Thus we make enemies. And "he that hath a thousand friends bath not one to spare; he that hath an enemy shall meet him everywhere."—J.
The principle of recompense
I. EVERY ACTION IS A SECONDARY CAUSE AND IS FOLLOWED BY ITS CORRESPONDING EFFECT.
II. THE EFFECT CORRESPONDS IN KIND AND IN DEGREE TO THE CAUSE.
III. HUMAN CONDUCT MAY THUS BE VIEWED AS A SOWING FOLLOWED BY REAPING WORK BY WAGES, ACTION BY REACTION.
IV. THE GAIN OF THE WICKED IS DECEPTION ILLUSORY. Illustrations: Pharaoh's attempt to decrease Israel resulted in their increase and his own destruction. Caiaphas seeking by murderous expediency to save the nation brought about its ruin. The persecution of the Church at Jerusalem led to the greater diffusion of the gospel (Acts 8:1-40.).
V. THE REWARD OF THE RIGHTEOUS IS STABLE AND SURE. Illustrations: The patient continuance in well doing of Noah, Abraham, Joseph. Compare the sowing of St. Paul in tears, e.g. at Philippi (Acts 16:1-40), with his joyous reaping, as his Epistle to the Philippians witnesses. The reward is eternal—"a crown of righteousness that. fadeth not away." "What we weave in time we shall wear in eternity."—J.
The tendencies of conduct
I. ALL ACTIONS HAVE AN IMMEDIATE AND A REMOTE RESULT.
II. IT IS THE FINAL RESULT THAT MUST BE CONSIDERED IN ESTIMATING DIFFERENT COURSES OF CONDUCT.
III. THERE ARE TWO IDEAL TERMINI TO CONDUCT—LIFE AND DEATH. An old proverb says, "We know not who live or die." But we may know towards which issue certain habits are tending.
IV. TENACIOUS RECTITUDE IS THE WAY OF LIFE; BLIND PURSUIT OF THE OBJECTS OF PASSION, THE WAY TO DEATH.—J.
The Divine view of the oppositions in conduct
I. GOD VIEWS PERVERSITY WITH DISPLEASURE. Moral perversity is analogous to physical deformity; the line is crooked when it should be straight.
II. HE VIEWS RECTITUDE WITH DELIGHT. The morally right is the aesthetically beautiful. The true, the beautiful, and the good are one in God, and he can only delight in that which reflects himself. Hence his delight in the well beloved Son, and in all who are conformed to his image.—J.
Inevitable doom and certain escape
I. A SOLEMN ASSEVERATION OF DOOM. The first words should be rendered, "The hand upon it!" referring to the custom of striking hands in a compact, and meaning the same as "My word for it!" Experience, the laws of nature, the assurances of God's prophets, the voice of conscience, all ratify this doom; the sinner must meet his fate, and there is no ultimate deliverance.
II. AN ASSURANCE OF SAFETY. The generation of the righteous, i.e. all that belong to that class, will escape from affliction, distress, condemnation, all woes that belong to time; for his refuge is in the eternal arms. If exiled from earth, it is to find a home in the bosom of God.—J.
Beauty ill set off
The comparison of the gold ring in the swine's snout suggests the idea of glaring incongruity. And the like is the incongruity between beauty and impurity in woman.
I. THE SOURCE OF OUR DELIGHT IN PHYSICAL BEAUTY IS THAT IT EXPRESSES MORAL WORTH. Philosophers have always found it impossible to define the beautiful as an object. Analysis at last results in this—that in every beautiful object we detect an analogy to some perception in our own minds. It is a visible presentation of spiritual beauty.
II. OUR DISPLEASURE IN THE ASSOCIATION OF PHYSICAL BEAUTY WITH MORAL WORTHLESSNESS ARISES FROM THE PRESENCE OF A CONTRADICTION. And the mind is made to love harmony.
III. THUS WE HAVE A WITNESS IN OURSELVES THAT GOD DESIGNED BEAUTY AND VIRTUE TO BE INDISSOLUBLY UNITED. As the sign and the thing signified—the body and the soul. Sin ever puts asunder what God has joined, and all vice is incongruous with the beauty of his world.—J.
Wishes and hopes
The wishes of the righteous are only good, for God prospers and fulfils them; but the hope of the wicked is extinguished in calamity (the wrath of God).
I. WISHES AND HOPES HAVE A CERTAIN POWER TO FULFIL THEMSELVES. (See Mozley's fine sermon on this subject.)
II. THE REGULATION OF THE WISHES IS AN IMPORTANT PART OF SELF-DISCIPLINE.
III. TO WISH AND TO HOPE FOE NOTHING BUT THE BEST (IN ACCORD WITH THE WILL OF GOD) IS AN INSURANCE AGAINST DISAPPOINTMENT.
IV. SELFISH HOPES LEAD TO UNANSWERED PRAYERS AND TO BITTER CHAGRINS.—J.
The narrow and the large heart
I. THRIFTY SPENDING. All wise outlay of money is a form of thrift, The increase of capital depends upon the observance of certain laws and rules of prudence; and the prudence which enables to amass enables also to spend. Spending in works of benevolence is seldom known to impoverish a man, for it is seldom disjoined from calculation and economy in personal habits. But whether we can trace out the manner of the connection in every instance or not, it is real and profound. Wise distribution is the condition of steady increase. In the highest point of view benevolence is a "lending to the Lord."
II. UNTHRIFTY SAVING. Niggardliness tends to poverty, because it stints the energies. It springs from a false view of the value of money, or an exaggerated view. The true source of happiness, as of wealth, lies at last in the will, its energy, its industry. He who has so little faith in this as to put all his reliance on the mere means of living, may well become poor outwardly, as he certainly is inwardly.
III. THE SATISFACTION OF DOING GOOD. Here, again, we must look to the reflex effect of actions, The indirect results are the wider and the more important. From every free forth-going of the heart in acts of love and kindness there is a certain return into the heart. It is not sufficiently considered that whatever gives expansion to the mind—large views, broad sympathies—is so much gain in actual power. And again, that we cannot directly do much towards the removal of our own troubles, but obliquely may quell or diminish them by aiming at removing the troubles of others. Fulness of interests in the heart will not give room for grief to gnaw.
IV. SELFISHNESS AND GENEROSITY IN COMMERCE. (Proverbs 11:26.) In time of dearth the avaricious proprietor, keeping back his corn to secure a higher price, brings down upon himself curses; while he who thinks of humanity more than of personal profit earns the blessings of the poor. The maxim that "business is business" is true, but may be pushed too far. If a trader profits by a war or scarcity, that is an accident; but it is not an accident, it is a crime, if he votes for war or interferes with the natural action of the market with a view to personal gain. If the same conditions of trade make the man rich which impoverish the many, he will feel it to be his duty to give the more out of his abundance.—J.
Temporal and eternal contrasts
I. MEN FIND WHAT THEY SEEK. (Proverbs 11:27.) The favour of God, which includes all the elements of happiness by well doing, or sorrow by ill-doing. This law of antecedence and consequence in moral things, thus so reiteratedly pressed upon us, cannot be too constantly before the mind. Every moral action is a prophecy before the event; every moral result, a fulfilment of a previous prophecy.
II. THE CAUSES OF DECAY AND OF PROSPERITY. (Proverbs 11:28.) Trust in riches leads to moral downfall (comp. Proverbs 10:2; Psalms 49:6, Psalms 49:7). By trust in riches is meant the habit of depending on them and their accessories—luxury and ease—as the main good in life. It is in this sense that "riches slacken virtue and abate her edge." The laxity and dissoluteness of the mind may well be compared to the limp and falling leaf. He, on the other hand, whose trust is in spiritual resources—the treasures of the kingdom of God—is like a tree full of sap; his foliage is abundant; his leaf ever green (Psalms 92:13; Isaiah 66:14).
III. THE RETRIBUTION OF GREED AND OPPRESSION. (Proverbs 11:29.) The man who "troubles his house" is the close-fisted and greedy, who in his covetousness keeps his household upon scant fare or withholds from them their due pay (Proverbs 15:27). Ahab is thus charged by Elijah as a "troubler of Israel" (1 Kings 18:17, 1 Kings 18:18). But he reaps the wind, i.e. nothing from his misplaced care and exertion (Isaiah 26:14; Hosea 8:7). Nay, he so comes down in the scale as actually often to fall into slavery to just and merciful lord (Proverbs 11:24). These reversals in human life—more marked or easily observable, perhaps, in ancient times than with ourselves—remind men of a superior judgment, which constantly revises and corrects the short-sighted and superficial judgments of men.
IV. THE PRODUCTS OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. (Proverbs 11:30.) All that the good man says and does becomes a source of blessing and life (a "tree of life") to many. He exercises an attractive power, and gathers many souls to his side for the service of God and the cause of truth.
V. THE CERTAINTY OF RECOMPENSE. (Proverbs 11:31.) This may be taken as an argument from the greater to the less. The sins of the righteous do not escape chastisement; how much less those of men unreconciled to God! "If the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?" (1 Peter 4:18).—J.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
(See homily on Proverbs 16:11, including Proverbs 20:10-23.)—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 16:18.)—C.
Proverbs 11:3-5, Proverbs 11:8-11, Proverbs 11:19, Proverbs 11:20, Proverbs 11:28, Proverbs 11:31
The pricelessness of integrity
We have here a view of the exceeding worth of moral integrity, or of righteousness; we see what, in the judgment of the wise, it will do for its possessor. It will—
I. DIRECT HIS WAY. "The integrity of the upright shall guide them; …the righteousness of the perfect [i.e. the upright] shall direct his way" (Proverbs 11:3-5). And we read. (Proverbs 10:9) that "he that walketh uprightly walketh surely." The man who honestly and earnestly seeks guidance of God will find what he seeks; he will know what he should do, and whither he should go, and how he should act, in the various relations of life. Instead of moving onwards and backwards, instead of inclining this way and that, he will walk straight on in the highway of justice, purity, devotion. And he will walk "surely." It is not in the way of holiness that the snares of sin or the stumbling blocks of folly are scattered about.
II. DELIVER HIM IN DANGER OR DISTRESS. (Proverbs 11:4, Proverbs 11:8, Proverbs 11:9.) "Many are the afflictions" even "of the righteous," but "the Lord delivereth him," etc.; "Unto the upright there ariseth light in the darkness" (Psalms 112:4). Righteousness brings deliverance in many ways.
1. It secures the favour, and thus the merciful interposisition, of the Almighty.
2. It commands the esteem, and thus the succour, of the good and true.
3. It confers mental and physical vigour on its subjects, and makes them strong for the day of peril and of need.
4. It endows with those moral qualities—conscientiousness, consciousness of rectitude, courage, patience, hopefulness, perseverance—which lead to victory.
III. MAKE HIM THE SOURCE OF ENLARGEMENT TO OTHERS. "The city is exalted" (Proverbs 11:11). Every man is something the better for the integrity of his neighbor; and the contribution of many righteous men to the exaltation and enlargement of the city, or the Church, or the society, is very great. They are the salt which preserves it; they are the fountain and the garner which supply its need and minister to its strength.
IV. PROMOTE HIS PROSPERITY. (Proverbs 11:28, Proverbs 11:31.) As a rule, upon the whole, the righteous man will prosper and be recompensed "on the earth." Sobriety, purity, justice, prudence; in fact, integrity conducts to well being now and here.
V. SECURE FOR HIM THE GOOD PLEASURE OF THE HIGHEST. (Proverbs 11:20.) What a recompense is this—"to be a delight unto the Lord," to "have this testimony, that he pleases God"! What a reward of the purest and most enduring kind to the Christian man, that he is "pleasing Christ," is living every day in the sunshine of his Lord's approval!
VI. ISSUES IN THE FULNESS OF LIFE. "He that is steadfast in righteousness shall attain unto life."
1. Unto the fulness of spiritual life below; nearness of access to God; a real approval by God and of delight in him; constancy of service rendered unto him; growing likeness to his Divine spirit and character.
2. Unto the fulness of eternal life hereafter.—C.
Two sad aspects of death
Death is the most unwelcome of all themes for human thought, certainly for the thought of the wicked. Yet has he special reason for considering its approach. For it is likely to arrive sooner than if he were righteous. As we read in this chapter, "Righteousness delivereth from death" (Proverbs 11:4); on the other hand, "The wicked shall fall by his own wickedness" (Proverbs 11:5). "The wages of sin is death," and every departure from rectitude is a step towards the grave. But how melancholy a thing is the death of the wicked! It means—
I. A MELANCHOLY EXTINCTION. Not, indeed, of the man himself, but of his work and of his hope. When the wicked dies, everything, except, indeed, the evil influences he has created and circulated, comes to a dreary end. His expectation, his hope, perishes. He can take nothing that he has toiled for into that other world which he is entering. All his laborious exertion, his elaborate contrivances, his selfish schemes, his painful humiliations, come to nothing; they are buried in the grove. He may have a powerful and well stored mind, hut he has cherished no desire, has entertained no ambition which reaches beyond the horizon of mortal life, and with the stopping of his heartbeat, every imagination of his spirit perishes; there is an untimely and utter end of all his brightest hopes. A sad and dismal outlook for a human spirit! How great and how blessed the contrast of a good man! His largest hopes are then on the point of being realized; his purest and brightest expectations are about to be fulfilled. This earth is, more or less, the scene of disappointment; but in the country whose bourne he is about to cross, he will find himself where
"Trembling Hope shall realize
Her full felicity."
II. A PAINFUL RELIEF. "When the wicked perish, there is shouting."
1. It is bad enough when a man's death is only felt by a very few souls. With the many opportunities we have of connecting ourselves honourably and attaching ourselves strongly to our fellows, we ought to be so much to our neighbours, that when we pass away there will be many to regret us and to speak with a kindly sorrow of our departure. Poor and fruitless must that life have been when this is not so.
2. It is seriously sad when a man's death excites no regret; when "the mourners" do not mourn; when the only thing that is real about the funereal scene is the drapery of woe. It is a pitiful thing when Christ's minister cannot pray for Divine comfort, because, though there are those who are bereaved, there is none that is afflicted.
3. It is a most melancholy thing when a man's death is felt to be a positive relief; when, as he is borne to the grave, those who knew him cannot help being glad that one more root of mischief is plucked up, one more source of sorrow taken away. That a man, created to be a light, a refuge, a blessing, a brother, a deliverer, should be put away with a feeling in every one's heart of gladness that he will be seen no more, put out of sight with the sentiment that the sooner he is forgotten the better,—this is sad indeed. What, then, is—
III. THE CONCLUSION OF THE WISE? It is this: "Let me die the death of the righteous." But the disappointing career of the author of these words (Numbers 23:10; Joshua 13:22) should be a solemn warning and a powerful incentive to form the firm resolution to live the life of the righteous, lest, as in Balaam's case, death should overtake us when we are in the ranks of the enemy.—C.
Honourable self-love; the effect of conduct on character
Our great temptation, and therefore our great peril, is to look at all things in a selfish light; to ask ourselves, concerning each event as it unfolds itself—How will it affect me? This is very far indeed from the spirit of Christ; his spirit is that of unselfishness, of generous regard for the welfare of others. To bear one another's burdens is to fulfil his law and to reproduce his life. Yet is there one respect in which we certainty do well to consider ourselves. We do well to pay very particular attention to the effect of our conduct on our own character, to ask ourselves—How are these actions of mine telling on my manhood? Are they building up, or are they causing to crumble and decay? The consideration is twofold.
I. THE INJURY WE MAY DO OURSELVES, ESPECIALLY BY UNKINDNESS. "He that is cruel troubleth his own flesh." Habitual cruelty does even more harm to itself than to its victim. That indeed is bad enough; for it is not only the present suffering which is inflicted by it; it is the diseased sensitiveness and the abjectness of spirit; it it the loss of courage and of confidence and of hopefulness that is left behind, which is the deepest and the darkest mark of cruelty on the object of it. But worse than ever, this is the moral injury which cruelty does to itself. It not only
(1) calls down the strong condemnation of man, and
(2) draws forth the strong rebuke and penalty of God;
(3) it indurates the soul of the sinner. It makes him shockingly insensitive to human suffering. It may go so far as to cause him to take a savage and a diabolical delight in inflicting and in witnessing it. Thus it drags a man down to the very lowest levels. And what is true of cruelty, or of unkindness which very soon becomes cruelty, is true in other ways of other sins. All wrong doing, falsehood, dishonesty, lasciviousness, profanity, covetousness, intemperance, makes its mark and leaves its stain upon the soul of the evil doer; and the further he goes and the deeper he continues in sin, the deeper is the mark and the darker and broader is the stain.
II. THE BLESSING WE MAY BRING UPON OURSELVES, ESPECIALLY BY KINDNESS. "The merciful man doeth good to his own soul." Mercy may here stand for any form of kindness or of goodness of heart. It will include kindliness of manner, generosity of disposition, practical helpfulness, pity for those who suffer or are sad, patience with the erring and the froward, magnanimity under ill treatment, considerateness toward the weak and the unprivileged. All these forms of "mercy" bring a blessing to the merciful heart. They secure the appreciation and the affection of the best among men; they gain the approval and benediction of God. And they react with most valuable benignity on the heart itself. They contribute to:
1. A tenderness of spirit, a responsiveness of heart, which allies us very closely to our Divine Lord.
2. An excellency and even nobility of action which makes us "the children of our Father in heaven" (Matthew 5:45).
3. A breadth of sympathy and largeness of view which make us ourselves truly wise and worthy in the sight of God.—C.
"Reckonest thou this, O man, who doest such things, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God?" (Romans 2:3). No doubt men do indulge the thought that they will do wrong things with impunity; that, though others suffer, yet will they succeed in eluding justice; that they will have shrewdness enough to stop at the right point and to save themselves from the penalty of indiscretion. Sin is deceitful, and it imposes on its victims with strong and fatal delusions.
I. THE CERTAINTY THAT SIN WILL SUFFER. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished."
1. How impotent must mere numbers be against the decision and the action of the Almighty! There is a certain sense of security that men have in being a part of a large multitude. But it is a false sense. What do numbers avail against the action of the elements of nature, or against the outworking of the laws which determine the well being and ill-being of the soul?
2. Confederacies of evil men are confessedly insecure. "Hand may join in hand;" the covetous, the dishonest, the violent, may combine; but in the heart of evil there are the seeds of unfaithfulness and treachery; and the alliance will break down in time. Sin carries in its folds the germ of its own undoing.
3. Against the continued success of sin many forces are combining.
(1) All honest and true men have a direct and strong interest in deposing and dishonoring it.
(2) It usually inflicts on some one man, or family, or city, an injury which calls forth an intense and invincible resentment.
(3) It has within it the elements of physical and moral weakness, which are sure to be developed in time.
(4) It is always open to the accusation of conscience and to consequent exposure.
(5) It must move and even hasten towards utter demoralization and the loss of all that is most worth keeping.
(6) It has against it the decree and the overruling action of the Holy One (Psalms 34:16; and text). Sin never is absolutely unpunished, even when it imagines that it is; and it never remains unpunished, though it may seem to have excellent chances of escape. The judgment of God will overtake it in time.
II. THE HOPE OF THE RIGHTEOUS. "The seed of the righteous shall be delivered." "The generation of the upright shall be blessed" (Psalms 112:2). Even if God allows a men to go on long without the proof of his Divine favour, yet will he not withhold his blessing. It will come upon the children, if not upon the upright man himself. And who is there that would not be more than willing that God should bless him through his offspring? To clothe them with honour, to satisfy them with substance, to deliver them in their time of trouble, to make them citizens of the kingdom of Christ, to employ them as ambassadors of Christ,—is not this a meet ample and rich reward for ill our personal fidelity? If God blesses us in our children, we fire blessed indeed.—C.
Expensive economy, etc
We am accustomed to speak as if the man who spends freely is a spendthrift, and as if the man who restrains his hand is on the way to wealth. But if that is our thought, we am often and much mistaken. There is an—
I. EXPENSIVE ECONOMY. "There is that withholdeth," etc.
1. If we keep back the wage that is due to the workman, we shall miss the blessing that goes with justice, and suffer the curse which attends injustice (James 5:1 James 5:4).
2. If we keep back the corn we should sow more plentifully, or the strength we should expend more liberally, or the mental power we should employ more patiently and systematically, we shall reap less bountifully, we shall make less profit, we shall do less work in the spiritual sphere. "He that soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly" (2 Corinthians 9:6).
3. If we shut up our thought and our care to our own heart, or even our own home, we shall lose all the harvest of love and blessing we might reap if we did not withhold ourselves from those outside our door. It is a poor economy, indeed, that hides its talent in a napkin.
II. PROFITABLE EXPENDITURE. There is a bound beyond which we should not go in putting forth our resources, physical, pecuniary, mental, spiritual What that limit is every one must decide for himself. Regard should certainly be had to the preservation of health and to the necessity for replenishment. But we may often wisely and rightly go very much further than we do; and if we did we should find that we were liberally repaid. Our scattering would mean increase, our liberality would mean nourishment, our endeavour to enrich others would result in our own growth and ripeness; watering them, we should ourselves be watered. This is true of:
1. Human sympathy and love. The friendly man makes many friends; and to have true friends is to be blessed indeed.
2. The energetic pursuit of our vocation, whatever it may be. It is the man who throws his full energies into his work who is repaid in the end.
3. Generous helpfulness. Give money, time, thought, counsel, whatever you have to give, unto those who need it, unto the young, the ignorant, the baffled and beaten, the unfortunate, the slain in life's battlefield; and there shall come back to you that which will be far more valuable than anything or all that you have expended. There shall come to you
(1) the smile of that Divine Saviour who gave himself for us, who, though he was rich, for our sake became poor;
(2) the gratitude of those whom you serve, afterwards and yonder if not now and here;
(3) spiritual enlargement,—the "soul will be made fat," the heart will expand, and Christian graces of many kinds and of much beauty will make their home there.
III. THE SUPERIOR CLAIM. (Proverbs 11:26.) A man has a right to do the best he can for himself; the best, even, for his own purse, though that is saying something very different and much less. But this right may soon be traversed. It is so crossed when a man cannot go any further without injuring his brethren; that bars his way; obligation limits claim. In other words, the claim of our fellow men is greater far than that of our individual self. When the people are lacking bread, we may not hold back our corn. God has given us our powers and our resources, not that we may build up a fortune, but that we may be of true service in a world which is full of need. To grow rich is not at all necessary to any one, and proves to be a curse to multitudes; to feed the hungry, to minister to want and sorrow, to still the cry of pain or perishing, to make glad the heart and bright the life,—that is the real privilege and heritage of man.—C.
Wisdom's brightest crown and hardest task
"He that winneth souls is wise." Wisdom does many things for us; but we shall find—
I. ITS BRIGHTEST CROWN in the souls that it wins, Wisdom wins wealth, honour, friendship, knowledge; acquaintance with men and with nature; high position and commanding rule; the gratification that attends achievement. Wisdom makes great changes in the face of nature, and effects great results in the organization of men. But the crown which it wears is its beneficent work in human souls. "He that winneth souls is wise" indeed. For to do that is:
1. To arrest a stream of evil influence, the full outflow and consequence of which it is impossible to estimate.
2. To originate a stream of holy and helpful influence, the growing and widening range of which we cannot imagine.
3. To turn back a human spirit from a course which leads downward to an opposite course which leads homeward and heavenward; it is to change the direction of one in whom are boundless capacities of accomplishment and of endurance, and to change it permanently for the better.
4. It is to give joy of the purest kind to hearts of the greatest worth, and satisfaction to the Divine Saviour himself (see James 5:19, James 5:20). It is wisdom's brightest crown; but it is also—
II. ITS HARDEST TASK. He that winneth souls must be, or needs to be, wise indeed; for he has a very great thing to do. He has:
1. To oppose himself to he knows not what supernatural hostilities (Ephesians 6:12).
2. To do battle with human obduracy and the evil spirit of procrastination.
3. To contend with the spiritual blindness and insensibility which are the sad consequence of long disloyalty.
4. To baffle the arts of false friendship and overcome the blandishments of an evil world.
5. To silence the deceitful voices which whisper to the awakened soul that there is no need to render an immediate and wholehearted decision; and thus to lead it to a full surrender to Christ and to his service.
6. To persuade to a life of earnest and habitual devotion and holy usefulness. The practical lessons of the text are:
(1) That we cannot expend ourselves too lavishly in the great work of winning men to Jesus Christ. There is no room for extravagance here.
(2) That we have need to put forth our whole strength to gain so great a victory.
(3) That when we have done all we can do we must remember that nothing is accomplished without the influence which is from above.—C.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 11". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany