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Every wise woman buildeth her house. Wise women order well their household matters and their families; they have an important influence, and exercise it beneficially.
Γυναικὸς ἐσθλῆς ἐστὶ σώζειν οἰκίαν.
"A good wife is the saving of a house."
The versions render as above. A different pointing of the word translated "wise" (chakhmoth) will give "wisdom" (chokhmoth), which it seems best to read here, as the parallel to the abstract term "folly" in the second member. So we have, "Wisdom hath builded her house" (Proverbs 9:1; comp. Proverbs 1:20). Thus: "The wisdom of women buildeth their house" (Proverbs 12:4; Proverbs 24:3). But the foolish plucketh it down with her hands; "but Folly plucketh it down with her own hands;" of course, the folly of women is intended.
Γυνὴ γὰρ οἴκῳ πῆμα καὶ σωτηρία
"Bane or salvation to a house is woman."
Foolish, unprincipled women, by their bad management or their evil doings, ruin their families materially and morally. "The husband should labour," says a Servian proverb; "the wife should save."
He that walketh in his uprightness feareth the Lord. So the Septuagint. He who lives an upright life does so because he fears the Lord; and his holy conversation is an evidence that he is influenced by religious motives. The outward conduct shows the inward feeling. So he that is perverse in his ways despiseth him—the Lord. A man is evil in his actions because he has cast off the fear of God; and such wickedness is a proof that he has lost all reverence for God and care to please him. Delitzsch renders, "He walketh in his uprightness who feareth Jahve, and perverse in his ways is he that despiseth him;" i.e. the conduct of the two shows the way in which they severally regard God and religion, the former acting conscientiously and uprightly, the latter following his own lusts, which lead him astray. Either interpretation is admissible. Septuagint, "He that walketh in crooked ways (σκολιάζων ταῖς ὁδοῖς αὐτοῦ) shall he dishonoured." The Vulgate gives quite a different turn to the sentence, "He who walketh in the right way and feareth the Lord is despised by him who pursueth the path of shame." This intimates the hatred which sinners feel for the godly (comp. Job 12:4; and especially Wis. 2:10-20; and our Lord's warning, John 15:18-21).
In the mouth of the foolish is a rod of pride. חֹטֶר (choter), "rod," or "shoot," is found also in Isaiah 11:1. From the mouth of the arrogant fool proceeds a growth of vaunting and conceit, accompanied with insolence towards others, for which he is often chastised. So the tongue is compared to a sword (e.g. Psalms 57:4; Psalms 64:3; Jeremiah 18:18; Revelation 1:16. St. Gregory ('Mor. in Job.,' 24) applies this sentence to haughty preachers, who are anxious to appear superior to other people, and study more to chide and reprove than to encourage; "they know how to smite sharply, but not to sympathize with humility." Septuagint, "From the mouth of fools cometh a staff of insolence." The lips of the wise shall preserve them—the wise (Proverbs 13:3). These do not abuse speech to insult and injure others; and their words tend to conciliate others, and promote peace and good will (comp. Proverbs 12:6, Proverbs 12:18).
Where no oxen (cattle) are, the crib is clean. This does not mean, as some take it, that labour has its rough, disagreeable side, yet in the end brings profit; but rather that without bullocks to labour in the fields, or cows to supply milk—that is, without toil and industry, and necessary instruments—the crib is empty, there is nothing to put in the granary, there are no beasts to fatten. The means must be adapted to the end. Much increase is by the strength of the ox. This, again, is not an exhortation to kindness towards animals, which makes no antithesis to the first clause; but it is parallel with Proverbs 12:11, and means that where agricultural works are diligently carried on (the "ploughing ox" being taken as the type of industry), large returns are secured. Septuagint, "Where fruits are plentiful the strength of the ox is manifest."
A repetition of Proverbs 12:17 (see also Proverbs 6:19). A faithful witness cannot be induced to swerve from the truth by threat or bribe. Will utter; Hebrew, breatheth forth. A false witness with no compulsion, as it were naturally, puts forth lies (comp. Proverbs 12:25; Proverbs 19:5). Septuagint, " An unrighteous witness kindleth (ἐκκαίει) falsehood."
A scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not; literally, it is not—there is none (Proverbs 13:7). A scorner may affect to be seeking wisdom, but he can never attain to it, because it is given only to him who is meek and fears the Lord (Psalms 25:9). Wis. 1:4, "Into a malicious soul wisdom shall not enter; nor dwell in the body that is pledged to sin" (comp. Psalms 111:10). True wisdom is not to be won by those who are too conceited to receive instruction, and presume to depend upon their own judgment, and to weigh everything by their own standard. This is especially true of the knowledge of Divine things, which "scorners" never really acquire. Septuagint, "Thou shalt seek wisdom among the wicked, but thou shalt find it not." Knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth; "that hath understanding," i.e. to the man who realizes that the fear of God is a necessary condition to the acquiring of wisdom, and who seeks it as a boon at his hands. This acquisition, as it is difficult, nay, impossible for the scorner, is comparatively easy for the humble believer who seeks it with the right temper and in the right way. "Mysteries are revealed unto the meek" (Ecclesiastes 3:19, in some manuscripts).
Go from the presence of a foolish man. There is some doubt about the rendering of this passage. The Vulgate gives, vade contra stultum, which is probably to be taken in the sense of the Authorized Version. The Revised Version has, "Go into the presence of a foolish man." The Hebrew מִנֶּגֶד (minneged) may mean "from before," "over against," "in the presence of." Hence arises an ambiguity. The Authorized Version considers the sentence to be an injunction to turn away from a stupid man when you perceive that you can do him no good. The Revised Version is equivalent to "if you go into the presence," etc. When thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge; Revised Version, and thou shalt not perceive in him, etc; which embodies a truism with no special point. The whole sentence is better translated, Go forth from the presence of a foolish man, and thou hast not known the lips of knowledge; i.e; as Nowack explains, "Leave the presence of a fool, and you carry nothing away with you; after all your intercourse with him, you quit his presence without having gained any advance in true knowledge" (see on Proverbs 20:15). The LXX. presents a very different version: "All things are adverse to a foolish man; but wise lips are the arms of knowledge (αἰσθήσεως)." A foolish man, by his inconsiderate, slanderous, or bitter words, makes every one his enemy; a wise man uses his knowledge to good purposes; his words are the instruments by which he shows what he is.
The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way. The wisdom of the prudent is shown by his considering whither his actions lead, the motives from which they spring, the results that attend them. As the apostle enjoins (Ephesians 5:15), "See that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise." Or the clause may be taken as enjoining a wise choice in life, a selection of such a calling or occupation as best suits one's capabilities, station, and opportunities. The folly of fools is deceit. This is not self-deceit, which the word does not denote, but deceit of others. Stupid persons show their folly in trying to cheat others, though they are sure to be detected, and their fraud recoils on themselves. In the ease of fools, what they would call wisdom is folly; hence the wording of the sentence.
Fools make a mock at sin. So the Vulgate (comp. Proverbs 10:23). Fools, wicked men, commit sin lightly and cheerfully, give specious names to grievous transgressions, pass over rebuke with a joke, encourage others in crime by their easy way of viewing it. But in the original the verb is in the singular number, while the noun is plural, and the clause could be translated as in the Authorized Version only with the notion that the number of the verb is altered in order to individualize the application of the maxim ('Speaker's Commentary'). But there is no necessity for such a violent anomaly. The subject is doubtless the word rendered "sin" (asham) which means both "sin" and "sin offering." So we may render, "Sin mocks fools," i.e. deceives and disappoints them of the enjoyment which they expected. Or better, as most in harmony with the following member, "The sin offering of fools mocks them" (Proverbs 15:8). Thus Aquila and Theodotion, ἄφρονας χλευάζει πλημμέλεια, where πλημμέλεια may signify "sin offering" (Ecc 7:1-29 :31). It is vain for such to seek to win God's favour by ceremonial observances; offerings from them are useless expenditure of cost and trouble (Proverbs 21:27). The Son of Sirach has well expressed this truth: "He that sacrificeth of a thing unlawfully gotten, his offering is mockery (μεμωκημένη), and the mockeries of unjust men are not well pleasing. The Most High is not pleased with the offerings of the godless, neither is he propitiated for sin by the multitude of sacrifices" (Ec 31:18, 19). It is always the disposition of the heart that conditions the acceptableness of worship. Among the righteous there is favour—the favour and good will of God, which are bestowed upon them because their heart is right. The word ratson might equally refer to the good will of man, which the righteous gain by their kindness to sinners and ready sympathy; but in that case the antithesis would be less marked. Septuagint, "The houses of transgressors owe purification (ὀφειλήσουσι καθαρισμόν); but the houses of the just are aceeptable." This is explained to signify that sinners refuse to offer the sacrifice which they need for their legal purification; but the righteous, while they have no necessity for a sin offering, are acceptable when they present their free will vows and thanksgivings.
The heart knoweth its own bitterness; literally, the heart (leb) knoweth the bitterness of his soul (nephesh). Neither our joys nor our sorrows can be wholly shared with another; no person stands in such intimate relation to us, or can put himself so entirely in our place, as to feel that which we feel. There is many a dark spot, many a grief, of which our best friend knows nothing; the skeleton is locked in the cupboard, and no one has the key but ourselves. But we can turn with confidence to the God-Man, Jesus, who knows our frame, who wept human tears, and bore our sorrows, and was in all points tempted like as we are, and who has taken his human experience with him into heaven. A stranger doth not intermeddle with its joy. The contrast is between the heart's sorrow and its joy; both alike in their entirety are beyond the ken of strangers. St. Gregory remarks on this passage ('Moral.,' 6.23), "The human mind 'knoweth its own soul's bitterness' when, inflamed with aspirations after the eternal land, it learns by weeping the sorrowfulness of its pilgrimage. But 'the stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy,' in that he, that is now a stranger to the grief of compunction, is not then a partaker in the joy of consolation." A homely proverb says, "No one knows where the shoe pinches so well as he that wears it;" and an Italian maxim runs, "Ad ognuno par piu grave la croce sua"—"To every one his own cross seems heaviest." Septuagint, "The heart of man is sensitive (αἰσθητική), his soul is sorrowful; but when it rejoices, it has no intermingling of insolence;" i.e. when a man's mind is sensitive it is easily depressed by grief; but when it is elated by joy, it should receive its pleasure and relief without arrogance and ribaldry.
The house … the tabernacle. The house of the wicked, which they build and beautify and love, and which they look upon as a lasting home, shall perish; the hope which they founded upon it shall come to a speedy end (Proverbs 12:7); but the righteous rear only a tent on earth, as becomes those who are strangers and pilgrims; and yet this abode is more secure, the hopes founded upon it are more lasting, for it continues unto everlasting life. The text in its first sense probably means that sinners take great pains to increase their material prosperity, and to leave heirs to carry on their name and family, but Providence defeats their efforts: good men do their duty in their state of life, try to please God and benefit their neighbour, leaving anxious care for the future, and God prospers them beyond all that they thought or wished (comp. Proverbs 3:33). Shall flourish. The word applies metaphorically to the growth, vigour, and increase of a family under the blessing of God. Septuagint, "The tents of the upright shall stand." There is a cognate proverb at Proverbs 12:7.
This verse occurs again in Proverbs 16:25. There is a way which seemeth right unto a man. This may refer to the blinding effects of passion and self-will; for these make a man think his own way best and most desirable. But it seems better to take it as a warning against following a perverted or uninstructed conscience. Conscience needs to be informed by God's Word and ruled by God's will to make it a safe guide. When properly regulated, it is able to pronounce a verdict upon contemplated action, and its verdict must always he obeyed. But warped by prejudice, weakened by disuse and disobedience, judicially blinded in punishment and in consequence of sin, it loses all power of moral judgment, and becomes inoperative of good; and then, as to the way that seemed at the moment right, the end thereof are the ways of death (Proverbs 5:5). The man is following a false light, and is led astray, and goes headlong to destruction (comp. Rom 1:28; 1 Timothy 4:2; see on 1 Timothy 4:13). St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 5.12) has some words on this subject: "There are times when we are ignorant whether the very things which we believe we do aright, are rightly done in the strict Judge's eye. For it often happens that an action of ours, which is cause for our condemnation, passes with us for the aggrandizement of virtue. Often by the same act whereby we think to appease the Judge, he is urged to anger when favourable Hence, while holy men are getting the mastery over their evil habits, their very good practices even become an object of dread to them, lest, when they desire to do a good action, they be decoyed by a semblance of the thing, lest the baleful canker of corruption lurk under the fair appearance of a goodly colour. For they know that they are still charged with the burden of corruption, and cannot exactly discern the things that be good" (Oxford transl.).
Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful (comp. Proverbs 14:10). This recalls Lucretius's lines—
"Medio de fonte leporum
Surgit amari aliquid, quod in ipsis fioribus angat.
The text is scarcely to be taken as universally true, but either as specially applicable to those mentioned in the preceding verse, or as teaching that the outward mirth often cloaks hidden sorrow (comp. Virgil, 'AEneid,' 1.208, etc.). And the end of that joy is bitterness; it has in it no element of endurance, and when it is past, the real grief that it masked comes into prominence. In this mortal life also joy and sorrow are strangely intermingled; sorrow fellows closely on the steps of joy; as some one somewhere says, "The sweetest waters at length find their way to the sea, and are embittered there." Lesetre refers to Pascal, 'Pensees,' 2.1: "Tous se plaignent … de tout pays, de tout temps, de tous ages, et de toutes conditions. Une preuve si longue, si continuelle et si uniforme, devrait bien nous convaincre de l'impuissance ou nous sommes d'arriver au bien par nos efforts: mais l'exemple ne nous intruit point … Le present ne nous satisfaisant jamais, l'esperance nous pipe, et, de malheur en malheur, nous meue jusqu'a la mort, qui en est le comble eternel. C'est une chose etrange, qu'il n'y a rien dans la nature qui n'ait ete capable de tenir la place de la fin et du bonheur de l'homme …. L'homme etant dechu de son etat naturel, il n'y arien a quoi il n'ait ete capable de so porter. Depuis qu'il a perdu le vrai bien, tout egalement peut lui paraitre tel, jusqu'a ea destruction propre, toute contraire qu'elle est a la raison et a la nature tout ensemble." This illustrates also Proverbs 14:12. Proverbs like "There is no rose without a thorn" are common enough in all languages. The Latins said, "Ubi uber, ibi tuber;" and "Ubi mel, ibi fel."
Greek experience produced the gnome—
Αρ ἐστὶ συγγενές τι λύπη καὶ βίος.
"Sorrow and life are very near of kin."
Who Christian learns another lesson, "Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted" (Matthew 5:4). The LXX. has introduced a negative, which gives a sense exactly contrary to the Hebrew and to all the other versions: "In joys there is no admixture of sorrow, but the final joy cometh unto grief." The negative has doubtless crept inadvertently into the text; if it were genuine, the sentence might be explained of the sinner's joy, which he finds for a time and exults in, but which does not last, and is felt to be a delusion as life closes.
The backslider in heart—he who turns away from God (Psalms 44:18)—shall be filled with his own ways, shall reap the fruits of his evil doings (Proverbs 1:31; Proverbs 12:14). Matthew 6:2, "Verily I say unto you, they have their reward." And a good man shall be satisfied from himself. There is no verb expressed in this clause, "shall be satisfied" being supplied by our translators. Delitzsch and others read, "and a good man from his own deeds." It is simpler to repeat the verb from the former clause: "A good man shall be filled with that which belongs to him;" i.e. the holy thoughts and righteous actions in which he delights. Isaiah 3:10, "Say ye of the righteous that it shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings." The Vulgate, neglecting the prefix, translates, "And over him shall be the good man;" Septuagint, "And a good man from his thoughts," the produce of his heart and mind.
The simple believeth every word. "Simple" (pethi), the credulous person, open to all influences (Proverbs 1:22). The Vulgate has innocens, and the Septuagint ἄκακος; but the word is best taken in an unfavourable sense. The credulous fool believes all that he hears without proof or examination; having no fixed principles of his own, he is at the mercy of any adviser, and is easily led astray. Ec Proverbs 19:4, "He that is hasty to give credit is light minded, and he that sinneth (thus) shall offend against his own soul." It is often remarked how credulous are unbelievers in supernaturalism. They who refuse to credit the most assured facts of Christ's history will pin their faith on some philosophical theory or insufficiently supported opinion, and will bluster and contend in maintenance of a notion today which tomorrow will prove untenable and absurd. Many who despise the miraculous teaching of the Bible accept the follies and frauds of spiritualism (comp. John 5:43). Hesiod, Ἔργ, 372—
Πίστεις δ ἄρ τοι ὁμῶς καὶ ἀπιστίαι ὤλεσαν
"Belief and unbelief alike are fatal."
Cato, 'Dist.,' 2.20—
"Noli tu quaedam referenti credere semper;
Exigua his tribuenda fides qui multa loquuntur.'
The prudent man looketh well to his going (Proverbs 19:8); Vulgate, Astutus considerat gressus suos. The prudent man considers whither the advice given will lead him, always acts with deliberation. This maxim is attributed to Pythagoras—
"Let none persuade thee by his word or deed
To say or do what is not really good;
And before action well deliberate,
Lest thou do foolishly."
(Χρυς. Επη, 25, sqq.)
Septuagint, "The clever man (πανοῦργις) cometh unto repentance [or, 'afterthought'] (μετάνοιαν);" i.e. if he, like the simpleton, is too credulous, he will smart for it. Μετάνοια, so common in the New Testament, is not found elsewhere in the Greek Version of the canonical Scriptures, though it occurs in Ec 44:16; Wis. 11:23, etc. The Vulgate here introduces the Septuagint addition in Proverbs 13:13.
A wise man feareth, and departeth from evil (Proverbs 22:3). In Proverbs 3:7 we had, "Fear the Lord, and depart from evil;" but here the idea is different. A wise man fears the evil that lurks in everything, and examines and ponders actions by the standard of religion, and is thus saved from many evils which arise from hastiness and inadvertence. The fool rageth, and is confident (Proverbs 21:24; Proverbs 28:26). The fool easily falls into a rage, and has no control over himself, and is confident in his own wisdom, in contrast to the wise man, who has trust in God, and is calm and thoughtful (Isaiah 30:15). Revised Version, "beareth himself insolently, and is confident;" but, as Nowack remarks, the word (mithabber), where it occurs elsewhere, means, "to be excited," "to be in a passion" (comp. Proverbs 21:24; Proverbs 26:17; Psalms 78:21, Psalms 78:59, Psalms 78:62), and this usual signification gives a good meaning here. Vulgate, transilit, "he overleaps" all laws and restrictions. The LXX; by transposition of the letters, reads mithareh, and translates μίγνυται," The fool trusting to himself mixes himself up with sinners."
He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly. The contrast to the irascible, passionate man is seen in the man slow to anger (Proverbs 14:29; Proverbs 15:18). Such a one, in his haste and passion, does things which in calmer moments he must see are foolish and ridiculous. Says Euripides ('Hyp.,' Fragm.)—
Ἔξω γὰρ ὀργῆς πᾶς ἀνὴρ σοφώτερος
"Wiser is every man from passion freed."
"Be not angry," says the Talmud, "and you will not sin." Cato, 'Dist.,' 1:37—
"Ipse tibi moderare tuis ut parcere possis."
And a man of wicked devices is hated. The contrast is not between the different ways in which the two characters are regarded, as that one is despised and ridiculed, and the other hated; but two kinds of evil are set forth in contradistinction, viz. hasty anger and deliberate plotting against others. Septuagint, "The irascible man (ὀξύθυμος) acts without deliberation. but the prudent man endureth much." The Hebrew term, "man of devices," being ambiguous, the LXX. takes it in a favourable sense, φρόνιμος; and they have a different reading of the verb.
The simple inherit folly. The credulous simpleton naturally falls into possession of folly, feeds upon it, and enjoys it. The LXX. regards the simple as communicating their folly to others, and translates, "Fools will divide malice." But the prudent are crowned with knowledge; put on knowledge as a crown of glory, in accordance with the Stoic saying, quoted in the 'Speaker's Commentary,' "The wise is the only king." Nowack thinks the above translation and the idea alike belong to later times, and prefers to render, "The prudent embrace knowledge," which is parallel to the sentiment of Proverbs 14:6. The word is found only in Psalm 142:8, where it is translated either "shall compass me about" or "crown themselves through me." The Vulgate has expectabunt, i.e. "wait for it patiently," as the fruit of labour and perseverance. Septuagint, "The wise shall get possession of (κρατήσουσιν) knowledge."
The evil bow before the good; and the wicked stand at the gates of the righteous (Proverbs 8:34). The final victory of good over evil is here set forth. However triumphant for a time and apparently prosperous the wicked may be, their success is not lasting; they shall in the end succumb to the righteous, even as the Canaanite kings crouched before Joshua's captains (Joshua 10:24), and, hurled from their high estate, they shall stand humbly at the good man's door, begging for bread to support their life (1 Samuel 2:36). The contrast here indicated is seen in our Lord's parable of Dives and Lazarus, when the beggar is comforted and the rich man is tormented, and when the latter urgently sues for the help of the once despised outcast to mitigate the agony which he is suffering (comp. Wis. 5).
The poor is hated even of his own neighbour (Proverbs 19:4, Proverbs 19:7). This sad experience of selfishness (comp. Ecclesiastes 6:8, etc.; Ecclesiastes 12:8) is corrected by the following verse, which must be taken in connection with this; at the same time, it is a truth which has been expressed in various ways by many moralists and satirists. Says the Greek Theognis—
Πᾶς τις πλούσιον ἄνδρα τίει ἀτίει δὲ πενιχρόν.
"The rich all honour, but the poor man slight."
Says Ovid, 'Trist.,' 1.9. 6—
"Donec eris felix, multos numerabis amicos;
Tempora si fuerint nubila, solus eris."
"Prosperous, you many friends will own;
In cloudy days you stand alone."
In the Talmud we find (Dukes, 'Rabb. Blum.'), "At the door of the tavern there are many brethren and friends, at the poor man's gate not one." The rich hath many friends. Says Theognis again—
Εὖ μεν ἔχοντος ἐμοῦ πολλοὶ φίλοι ἢν δέ τι δεινον
Συγκύρσῃ παῦροι πιστὸν ἔχουσι νόον
And again, a distich which might have been written today—
Πλήθει δ ἀνθρώπων ἀρετὴ μία γίγνεται ἥδε
Πλουτεῖν τῶν δ ἄλλων οὐδὲν ἄρ ἦν ὄφελος.
"One only virtue you must needs possess
(As say the most of men), and that is wealth;
All others are of small account."
He that despiseth his neighbour sinneth. Taken in connection with the preceding verse, this teaches that it is a sin to despise and shun a man because he is poor or of low estate; such a one has a claim for love and pity, and it is a crime to withhold them from him for selfish considerations. The Christian view is taught by the parable of the good Samaritan. But he that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he; hail to him! (Proverbs 16:20). Contempt is contrasted with mercy, sin with blessing. "Blessed are the merciful," said Christ (Matthew 5:7): "for they shall obtain mercy;" and St. Paul preserves another precious word, "It is mere blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35). The merciful disposition, which shows itself in works of mercy, is a proof that the soul is in union with God, whose mercy is over all his works, whose mercy endureth forever, and therefore such a soul is blessed. "The poor," wrote James Howell, "are God's receivers, and the angels are his auditors" ('Five Hundred New Sayings'). The Vulgate here appends a line absent from the Hebrew and the ether versions, "He who believeth in the Lord loveth mercy." The true believer is charitable and bountiful, knowing that he will not hereby impoverish himself, but lay up a rich store of blessing; he acts thus not from mere philanthropy, but from higher motives: he has the grace of charity which springs from and rests upon his faith in God.
Do they not err that devise evil? or, Will they not go astray? The question is an emphatic mode of asserting the truth. They who meditate and practise evil (Proverbs 3:29; Proverbs 6:14) go astray from the right way—the way of life; their views are distorted, and they no longer see their proper course. Thus the remorseful voluptuary bemoans himself, "We have erred from the way of truth, and the light of righteousness hath not shined unto us We wearied ourselves in the way of wickedness and destruction; yea, we have gone through deserts, where there lay no way; but as for the way of the Lord, we have not known it" (Wis. 5:6, etc.), Mercy and truth shall be to them that devise good. God's blessing will rest upon them. The combination of "mercy and truth" is found in Psalms 61:7; in Wis. 3:9 and 4:15, and in 1 Timothy 1:2 we have "grace and mercy" (see note on Proverbs 3:3, where the two words occur in connection; and comp. Proverbs 16:6; Proverbs 20:28). The two graces in the text signify the love and mercy which God bestows on the righteous, and the truth and fidelity with which he keeps the promises which he has made. The Vulgate makes the two graces human, not Divine: "Mercy and truth procure blessings." The Septuagint renders, "The good devise mercy and truth." It adds a paraphrase not found in the Hebrew, "The devisers of evil know not mercy and faith; but alms and faith are with the devisers of good."
In all labour there is profit. All honest industry has a reward, and all care and pain borne for a good object bring comfort and content (comp. Proverbs 10:22). So the Greek distich says—
Ἅπαντα τὰ καλὰ τοῦ πονοῦντος γίγνεται
"To him who labours all fair things belong."
In contrast to the diligent are those who talk much and do nothing. But the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury (Proverbs 21:5). Those who work much get profit; those who talk much and do little come to want. So in spiritual matters Christ teaches that they who think that prayer is heard for much speaking are mistaken; and he adds, "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven" (Matthew 6:7; Matthew 7:21). Septuagint, "In every one who taketh thought (μεριμνῶντι) there is abundance; he who liveth pleasantly and without pain shall be in want." Cato, 'Dist.,' 1.10—
"Contra verbosos noli contendere verbis:
Sermo datus cunctis, animi sapientia paucis."
"Against the wordy strive not thou in words;
Converse with all, but to the favoured few
Impart thy heart's deep wisdom."
Oriental proverbs: "Sweet words, empty bands;" "To speak of honey will not make the mouth sweet;" "We do not cook rice by babbling" (Lane). Turkish, "The language of actions is more eloquent than the language of words."
The crown of the wise is their riches. This is taken by some ('Speaker's Commentary') to mean the glory of the wise man, the fame and splendour which surround him, constitute his wealth; but it is better to interpret it thus: Riches are an ornament to a wise man; they enhance and set off his wisdom in the eyes of others, enable him to use it to advantage, and are not the snare which they might be because they are employed religiously and profitably for the good of others. Ecclesiastes 7:11, "Wisdom is good together with an inheritance, and profitable to them that see the sun." The Septuagint has, "The crown of the wise is the clever man (πανοῦργος)," for which has been substituted by some editors, in agreement with the present Hebrew text, πλοῦτους αὐτῶν, " their wealth." The Greek translators, according to their reading, denote that one eminently clever man is a glory to the whole body of wise men. But the folly of fools is only folly; that is, even though it were accompanied with riches. Decorate folly as you may, trick it out in gaud and ornament, it is still nothing but folly, and is discerned as such, and that all the more for being made conspicuous. Schultens, followed by Wordsworth, finds a play of words here. The words rendered "fool" and "folly" imply "fatness," like the Greek παχὺς and the Latin crassus, which have also this double meaning. So the sentence reads, "Riches are a crown to the wise; but the abundant fatness of fools is only fatness." The last clause is translated by the LXX; "But the fools' way of life (διατριβὴ) is evil." St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 22:8) comments on this verse thus: "It was these riches of wisdom that Solomon having before his eyes, saith, 'The crown of the wise is their riches.' Which same person, because it is not metals of earth, but understanding, that he calls by the name of riches, thereupon adds by way of a contrary, 'But the foolishness of fools is imprudence.' For if he called earthly riches the crown of the wise. surely he would own the senselessness of fools to be poverty rather than imprudence. But whereas he added, 'the foolishness of fools is imprudence,' he made it plain that he called prudence 'the riches of the wise'" (Oxford tran cf.).
A true witness delivereth souls (Proverbs 14:5; Proverbs 12:17). A true witness saves persons who are in danger owing to false accusation or calumny; saves lives; "saves from evils," says the Septuagint. But a deceitful witness speaketh lies, and therewith endangers lives. Literally, He who breatheth out lies is deceit; he is a personification of fraud, dominated and informed by it; it has become his very nature. "Falsehood is the devil's daughter, and speaks her father's tongue." Septuagint, "But a deceitful witness kindles (ἐκκαίει) lies."
In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence. The fear of God casts out all fear of man, all despairing anticipations of possible evil, and makes the believer confident and bold. St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 5:33), "As in the way of the world fear gives rise to weakness, so in the way of God fear produces strength. In truth, our mind so much the more valorously sets at naught all the terrors of temporal vicissitudes, the more thoroughly that it submits itself in fear to the Author of those same temporal things. And being stablished in the fear of the Lord, it encounters nothing without it to fill it with alarm, in that whereas it is united to the Creator of all things by a righteous fear, it is by a certain powerful influence raised high above them all." Comp. Psalms 27:1 and St. Paul's words, "If God be for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31). Septuagint, "In the fear of the Lord is hope of strength." And his children shall have a place of refuge (Psalms 46:1). There is an ambiguity as to whose children are meant. The LXX. renders, "And to his children he will leave a support." Thus many refer the pronoun to the Lord named in the first clause—God's children, those who love and trust him, and look up to him as a Father, an expression used more specially in the New Testament than in the Old. But see Psalms 73:15, and passages (e.g. Hosea 11:1) where God calls Israel his son, a type of all who are brought unto him by adoption and grace. Others, again, refer the pronoun to "the fear of the Lord," "its children," which would be quite in conformity with Hebrew idiom; as we have "sons of wisdom," "children of obedience," equivalent to "wise," "obedient," etc. But most modern commentators explain it of the children of the God-fearing man, comparing Exodus 20:6 and Psalms 103:17. Such a one shall confer lasting benefits upon his posterity (Psa 13:1-6 :22; Psalms 20:7). So God blessed the descendants of Abraham and David; so he shows mercy unto thousands i.e. the thousandth generation of them that love him and keep his commandments (see Genesis 17:7, etc.; Exo 34:7; 1 Kings 11:12, etc.; Jeremiah 33:20, etc.).
A repetition of Proverbs 13:14, substituting the fear of the Lord for "the law of the wise." The fear of the Lord can he called a fountain of life, because, showing itself in obedience, it nourishes the flowers and fruits of faith, produces graces and virtues, and prepares the soul for immortality. Septuagint, "The commandment of the Lord is a fountain of life, and makes one decline from the snare of death."
In the multitude of people is the king's honour (glory); but in the want of people is the destruction of the prince; or, of the principality. This maxim is not in accordance with the views of Oriental conquerors and despots, who in their selfish lust of aggrandizement cared not what suffering they inflicted or what blood they shed; who made a wilderness and called it peace. The reign of Solomon, the peaceful, gave an intimation that war and conquest were not a monarch's highest glory: that a happy and numerous people, dwelling securely and increasing in numbers, was a better honour for a king and more to be desired (1 Kings 4:20). Increase of population is not, as some political economists would teach, in itself an evil; it is rather a sign of prosperity, and is in agreement with the primeval blessing, "Increase and multiply;" and though it may be hard to maintain the exact equilibrium between production and consumers, yet wise legislation can foresee and remedy the difficulty, the abundance in one part can supply the scarcity in another, the providence of God watching over all.
He that is slow to wrath is of great understanding. The Hebrew expression for what the Septuagint calls μακροθυμος, "long suffering," and the Vulgate, patiens, is "long in nostrils" (Proverbs 15:18), as the contrary temper, which we had in Proverbs 14:17, is "short in nostrils." That organ, into which was breathed the breath of life (Genesis 2:7), is taken as the seat of the inward spirit, and as showing by exterior signs the dominant feeling. The original is very terse, "long in nostrils, great in understanding." A man's prudence and wisdom are displayed by his being slow to take offence and being patient under injury. He that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly; i.e. flaunts it in the eyes of all men, makes plain exposure of it. Septuagint, "He who is short in temper is a mighty fool." "Passion," says an old saw, "makes fools of the wise. and shows the folly of the foolish" (comp. Proverbs 12:23; Proverbs 13:16). The word rendered "exalteth," רףּ (marim), occurs in Proverbs 3:35, and is taken by Delitzsch and Nowack in the sense of "carries away" as the assured result. "By anger," says St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 5.78), "wisdom is parted with, so that we are left wholly in ignorance what to do, and in what order to do it …. Anger withdraws the light of understanding, while by agitating it troubles the mind."
A sound heart is the life of the flesh. The heart that is healthy, morally and physically, spreads its beneficent influence over the whole body in all its functions and relations; this is expressed by the word for "flesh" (besarim), being in the plural number, as the Vulgate renders, vita carnium, but the contrast is better developed by taking מרפא in its other signification of "calm," "gentle," "meek," as Ecclesiastes 10:4. Thus the Septuagint, "The man of gentle mind (πραΰ́θυμος) is the physician of the heart." The tranquil, well controlled heart gives health and vigor to the whole frame (see on Proverbs 15:4). But envy is the rottenness of the bones (Proverbs 12:4). Envy, like a canker, eats away a man's life and strength; it tells on his physical as well as his moral condition. We hays parallel expressions in classical authors. Thus Horace, 'Epist.,' 1.257—
"Invidus alterius macrescit rebus opimis."
Martial, 'Epigr.,' 5.28—
"Rubiginosis cuncta dentibus rodit;
Hominem malignum forsan esse tu credas,
Ego esse miserum credo, cui placet nemo."
Bengal proverb, "In seeing another's wealth it is not good to have the eyes smart." Arabic. "Envy is a raging fever, and has no rest" (Lane). "O invidia," cries St. Jerome ('Epist.,' 45), "primum mordax tui." "When the foul sore of envy corrupts the vanquished heart," says St. Gregory ('Moral.,' 5.85). "the very exterior itself shows how forcibly the mind is urged by madness. For paleness seizes the complexion, the eyes are weighed down, the spirit is inflamed, while the limbs are chilled, there is frenzy in the heart, there is gnashing with the teeth, and while the growing bate is buried in the depths of the heart, the pent wound works into the conscience with a blind grief" Septuagint, "A sensitive heart (καρδία αἰσθητική) is a worm (σής) in the bones." A heart that feels too acutely and is easily affected by external circumstances, prepares for itself constant vexation and grief.
He that oppresseth the poor reproacheth his Maker, even God. who hath placed men in their several conditions (Proverbs 17:5; Proverbs 22:2). "The poor shall never cease out of the land" (Deuteronomy 15:11); "The poor ye have always with you," said Christ (Matthew 26:11); therefore to harass and oppress the poor because he is in this lowly condition, is virtually to arraign the providence of God, who is the Father of all, and has made all men brothers, however differing in worldly position. Christ puts the duty of aiding the poor on the high ground of his solidarity with his people (Matthew 25:40, Matthew 25:45), how that in ministering unto the least of these his brethren men are ministering unto him. "Prosperity and adversity, life and death, poverty and riches, come of the Lord" (Ecc 11:1-10 :14). Even the heathen could say—
Ἀεὶ νομίζονθ οἱ πένητες τῶν Θεῶν.
Deem ever that the poor are God's own gift."
Septuagint, "He that calumniates (συκοφανῶν; calumniatur, Vulgate) the poor angers him who made him." This version refers to oppression of the poor by means of calumny or false and frivolous accusation. But he that honoureth him—the Lord—hath mercy on the poor; or, better, he that hath mercy upon the poor honoureth him; for he shows that he has proper regard to God's ordinance, acts on high motives, and is not led astray by worldly considerations. Christ himself has consecrated poverty by coming in low estate (2 Corinthians 8:9), and they who love and honour him are glad to minister to his brethren in their poverty and distress (comp. James 1:27).
The wicked is driven away in his wickedness. So the Greek and Latin Versions. In his very act of sin, flagrante delicto, the wicked is defeated, driven from hope and life; as the Revised Version renders, "The wicked is thrust down in his evil doing;" i.e. there is some element of weakness in an evil deed which occasions its discovery and punishment, sooner or later. Thus "murder will out," we say. But the contrast is better emphasized by taking ra in its other sense of "calamity," "misfortune," thus: "In his calamity the wicked is cast down" (Proverbs 24:16). When misfortune comes upon him, he has no defence, no hope; he collapses utterly; all his friends forsake him; there is none to comfort or uphold him (comp. Matthew 7:26, Matthew 7:27). But the righteous hath hope in his death (comp. Ecclesiastes 1:13). Primarily, the clause means that even in the greatest danger the good man loses not his trust in God. It is like Job's word (if our reading is correct, Job 13:15), "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him;" and the psalmist, "Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me" (Psalms 23:4). Thus the Christian martyrs went joyfully to the stake, and gentle women and little children smiled on the sword which sent them home. It is natural to see in this clause a belief in a future life, and a state of rewards and punishments; and some commentators, holding that this doctrine was net known in pre-exilian days, have taken occasion from its plain enunciation in this paragraph to affix a very late date to our book. There are two answers to be made to this assertion. First, it is capable of proof that the belief in the immortality of the soul, with its consequences in another state, was held, however vaguely, by the Jews long before Solomon's time (see note, Proverbs 12:28); secondly, the present passage is by some read differently, whence is obtained another rendering, which removes from it all trace of the doctrine in question. Thus Ewald and others would read the clause in this way: "The righteous hath hope, or taketh refuge, from his own deeds." There can be no reasonable doubt that the usual reading and translation are correct; but the above considerations show that no argument as to the date of the Proverbs cart be safely founded on this verse. The LXX. has a different reading for במותו, "in his death," and translates, "But he who trusteth in his own holiness is just"—which looks like a travesty of Scripture, but probably refers to the consciousness of having a heart right with God and obedient to the requirements of the Divine Law.
Wisdom resteth in the heart of him that hath understanding. The wise man is not always blurting out and making a display of his wisdom; he lets it lie still and hidden till there is occasion to use it with effect (Proverbs 10:14; Proverbs 12:23). But that which is in the midst of fools is made known; literally and better, but in the midst of fools it, wisdom, maketh itself known. That is, in contrast to the folly of fools, wisdom is seen to great advantage; or, it may be, the conceited display of the fool's so called wisdom is contrasted with the modesty and reticence of the really intelligent man. "A fool's heart is ever dancing on his lips," says a proverb. So Ec Proverbs 21:26, "The heart of fools is in their mouth; but the mouth of the wise is in their heart." Theognia, 1163—
Ὀφθαλμοὶ καὶ γκῶσσα καὶ οὔατα καὶ νόος ἀνδρῶν
Ἐν μέσσῳ στηθέων ἐν αυνετοις φύεται.
"The eyes, and tongue, and ears, and mind alike
Are centred in the bosom of the wise."
Vulgate, "In the heart of the prudent resteth wisdom, and it will teach all the unlearned." Wisdom sits enshrined in the intelligent man's mind, and thence disseminates instruction and light around to all who need it. The Septuagint, with which agree the Syriac, Aquila, and Theodotion, inserts a negative in the second clause, thus: "In the good heart of a man shall rest wisdom, but in the heart of fools it is not discerned" (Wis. 1:4).
Righteousness exalteth a nation. "Righteousness" (Proverbs 10:2) is the rendering to all their due, whether to God or man. We are taught the salutary lesson that a nation's real greatness consists not in its conquests, magnificence, military or artistic skill, but in its observance of the requirements of justice and religion. Hesiod, Εργ. 223—
Οἱ δὲ δίκας ξείνοισι καὶ ἐνδήμοισι διδοῦσιν
Ἰθείας καὶ μή τι παρεκβαίνουσι δικαίου
Τοῖσι τέθηλε πόλις λαοὶ δ ἀνθεῦσιν ἐν αὐτῇ
But sin is a reproach to any people; to peoples. The words for "nation" (goi) and "peoples" (leummim) are usually applied to foreign nations rather than to the Hebrews; and Wordsworth sees here a statement a fortiori: if righteousness exalts and sin degrades heathen nations, how much more must this be the case with God's own people, who have clearer revelations and heavier responsibilities! חֶסֶד (chesed) occurs in the sense of "reproach," in Le Proverbs 20:17, and with a different punctuation in Proverbs 25:10 of this book. Its more usual meaning is "mercy" or "piety;" hence some have explained the clause: "The piety of the peoples, i.e. the worship of the heathen, is sin; and others, taking "sin" as put metonymically for "sin offering," render: "Piety is an atonement for the peoples." But there is no doubt that the Authorized Version is correct (comp. Proverbs 11:11). Thus Symmachus renders it by ὄνειδος, "shame;" and in the same sense the Chaldee Paraphrase. The Vulgate and Septuagint, owing to the common confusion of the letters daleth and resh, have read cheser instead of chesed, and render thus: Vulgate, "Sin makes peoples miserable;" Septuagint, "Sins diminish tribes." The sin of nations contrasted with the righteousness in the first clause must be injustice, impiety, and violence. See a grand passage in the fifth book of St. Augustine's 'De Civitate Dei,' ch. 12.
The king's favour is toward a wise servant; servant that dealeth wisely (Revised Version). Thus Joseph was advanced to the highest post in Egypt, owing to the wisdom which he displayed; so, too, in the case of Daniel (comp. Matthew 24:45, Matthew 24:47). But his wrath is against him that causeth shame; literally, he that doeth shamefully shall be (the object of) his wrath. The Vulgate translates, Iracundiam ejus inutilis sustinebit; the Septuagint makes the second clause parallel to the first, "An intelligent servant is acceptable to the king, and by his expertness (εὐτοροφίᾳ) he removeth disgrace." Then is added, before the first verse of the next chapter, a paragraph which looks like an explanation of the present clause, or an introduction to verse 1 of ch. 15.: "Anger destroyeth even the prudent."
I. THE DEEPEST EXPERIENCE IS SOLITARY. This applies both to sorrows and to joys. There are profound sorrows which must lie buried in the hearts of the sufferers, and lofty joys which cannot be breathed to another soul. Sorrow has her shrine, which no intruder can enter without desecrating it; and joy her sweet silence, to break which is to shatter the delight.
1. Each soul lives a separate, life. We are like planets, moving in our own spheres. Though we mingle in social intercourse, we do not touch in our most vital being. The "abysmal depths of personality" are utterly solitary.
2. No two natures are just alike. In common we share many pleasures and pains. But when we come to what is most characteristic, we reach a line of demarcation which the most sympathetic can never cross. We cannot enter into experiences quite unlike our own. We have not the key to unlock the mystery of a lonely sorrow or a rare joy.
3. The deepest experience is shy and reserved. Those who feel most do not cry out the loudest. It is the silent grief that eats out a man's heart. Though yearning for sympathy, he feels that he cannot breathe a word of his awful trouble. On the other hand, there are pure and lofty joys of soul that would be sullied with a breath.
II. FORCED SYMPATHY IS HURTFUL. We ought to be able to "rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep" (Romans 12:15). When sympathy can be real, it may be most helpful. But there is no opposition between this thought and that of our text. For just as real sympathy helps, unreal sympathy hurts. Now, sympathy may be unreal without being hypocritical, and even when it is well meant and heartfelt; if we do not understand a person's feelings, we cannot sympathize with him. We may feel kindly towards him, and may desire to show compassion. But it will be all in vain, we shall not touch the fringe of the trouble, or, if we do penetrate further, we shall jar and wound the sensitive soul by blundering incompetence. It will be like a surgeon trying to dress a wound in the dark. Thus Macduff, when robbed of all his children at one cruel stroke is only vexed by the kindly but impotent condolence of Malcom, and cries, "He has no children."
III. GOD'S SYMPATHY PENETRATES TO THE DEEPEST EXPERIENCE.
1. He knows all. We have not to explain our case to him, and then be misunderstood and misjudged after all, as often happens in the attempt to open out the heart to a fellow man. For God reads our most secret thoughts, and the feelings that we will not even confess to ourselves are perfectly known to him.
2. He feels with his children. He is not like the scientific vivisectionist, who handles quivering nerves without a spark of compunction. God tenderly pities his children in their sorrows, and graciously smiles on their innocent joys.
3. He can touch us with sympathy. This sympathy of God is not a distant heavenly experience hidden in the bosom of God. It is shed abroad over his children fur their consolation in sorrow and their blessedness in joy.
4. We should confide in the sympathy of God. It is not wholesome for the soul to be buried in the seclusion of its own feelings. There is healing in the sympathizing touch of God and a consecrating benediction in his smile. Christ is the incarnation of God's human sympathy, and Christ's sympathy can reach and save and bless us all.
The way that seemeth right
I. ITS ATTRACTIVE APPEARANCE. This way does not only seem pleasant; it seems to be right. This is a course of life which a man is tempted to follow because it flatters him with fair promises.
1. It promises good. We are greatly tempted to judge of the means by the end, and, if we think that the thing to be attained is good, to condone the questionable conduct that secures it. Thus men have justified
(3) the deceit of "pious fraud,"
(4) business irregularities.
2. It flatters self-will. Men believe in their own way, just because it is the way they have chosen. The statesman makes the best of the politics of his party. In private life what accords with our desire is warped into the semblance of right.
3. It is followed by others. Fashion condones folly. The conduct of the multitude creates a social conscience. Men measure by the standard of the average rather than by the gauge of absolute rectitude.
4. No evil is apparent. At present the path is easy, pleasant, flowery, and to all appearances quite safe. Shortsighted men judge of it by so much as is in view, as though the end of a road could be known by the character of its beginning.
II. ITS DELUSIVE CHARACTER.
1. It is only right in appearance. It "seemeth right." But "things are not what they seem." A flame seems good to a moth; thin ice, safe to a heedless child; the undermined road, sound to the hoodwinked general; the sparkling water, refreshing to one who knows not that the well from which it is drawn has been poisoned. The bad social custom appears to be innocent to the slave of fashion. The way of sin "seemeth right" to the blunt conscience.
2. It is only right in the eye of man. It is "to man" that this doubtful way "seemeth right." But man is not the highest surveyor of life, and the map that he draws is not the supreme authority. Man is prejudiced, confused, ignorant, self-deceiving. There is a higher Judge than man, and. it may be that the way which "seemeth right to man" is seen to be wrong by God.
III. ITS FATAL END. This pleasant, inviting path is a tributary to a high road. Innocent as it looks in itself, it leads into other ways, and those the ways of death. It is like a winding lane between green hedgerows and flower-strewn banks, that brings the traveller out at length into a very different road from that he supposed he was nearing. There are questionable courses that do not seem to be evil in themselves, but, they lead to evil. There are amusements that seem to be innocent enough, yet they are paths towards more dangerous things, and in the end they bring the unwary to the very gates of hell. Now, the chief question to ask about any road is—Whither does it lead? If it will bring us to a treacherous bog, a homeless waste, a dark and dangerous forest, or a perilous precipice, it matters little that its early course is harmless. Whither does the way tend? If it is the path of sin, it must lead to death (Romans 6:23).
IV. THE NEED OF WARNING.
1. The preacher must warn the heedless. There is danger of self-deception, and the end may be ruin. Then men should not be indignant if they are invited to examine their ways.
2. Each man should consider his own ways. We live too much by appearances. But "life is real." Let us turn from the picture that "seemeth" to the fact that is.
3. We need Divine guidance. He who knows all ways, and can see the end from the beginning, is the only safe Guide into the way of life.
The sadness that lies behind laughter. This verse reads like one of the melancholy reflections of the pessimist preacher in Ecclesiastes. Yet there is a profound truth in it, as all thoughtful minds must recognize. Physically, intense laughter produces acute pangs. Laughter "holds his sides" with pain. Shelley sang truly—
"Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught."
A long laugh naturally fills the eyes with tears and dies away in a sigh of weariness. Further, a season of undue elation is usually followed by one of depression. The mind rebounds from glee to gloom by natural reaction. But there is a deeper experience than all this. Without taking a dark view of life, we must acknowledge the existence of a very common background of sorrow behind many of the sunniest scenes of life. We may trance the causes of this experience both to the facts and nature of sorrow, and to the quality and limitation of laughter.
I. THE FACTS AND NATURE OF SORROW.
1. Sorrow is common. Man is born to trouble. There may not be a skeleton in the cupboard of every house, but there are few homes in which there is no chamber of sad memories. We mistake the common nature of mankind if we suppose that the merry soul has not its griefs. The roaring clown may be acting with a broken heart. Wit that spreads a ripple of laughter in all directions may even be inspired by a very bitterness of soul.
2. Sorrow is enduring. We cannot divide our lives mechanically into days of pain and days of pleasure. The great sorrow that once visits us never utterly forsakes us. It makes a home in the soul. It may be toned and softened by time, and driven from the front windows to dark back chambers. Still, there it lurks, and sometimes it makes its presence sorely felt even when we would fain forget it. The very contrast of present delight may rouse its restless pains. Even when it is not thought of it lingers as a sad undertone in our songs of gladness.
II. THE QUALITY AND LIMITATIONS OF LAUGHTER.
1. Laughter is superficial. Even while it is rippling over the surface of life, grief may lie beneath in sullen darkness, unmoved by the feeble gaiety. This does not condemn laughter as an evil thing, for while "the laughter of fools" is contemptible, and that of scorners sinful, the mirth of the innocent is harmless and even healthful. Caesar rightly suspected the sour visage of Cinna. The monkish notion that Christ never laughed finds no countenance in the Bible. But while sinless laughter is good and wholesome, it is never able to reach the deepest troubles. Some foolish fears and fancies may best be laughed away, but not the great soul agonies.
2. Laughter is temporary. Inordinate laughter is not good; too much laughter is a sign of frivolity; and no man can laugh eternally. If a man drown care in laughter, this can be but for a season, and afterwards the dreary trouble will rise again in pitiless persistence.
The remedy for trouble must be found in the peace of God. When that is in the soul, a man is happier than if he were only hiding an unhealed sore behind the hollow mask of laughter. When Christ has cured the soul's greatest trouble, there is a possibility of the laughter of a new joy, with no tears to follow.
It is the constant habit of religious teachers to encourage faith, and to regard scepticism and unbelief as evil things. Are we, then, to suppose that credulity is meritorious, and that all doubt, inquiry, suspense of mind, and rejection of bold assertions are bad? According to this view, truth would be of no importance. It would be as well to believe error as truth, and to swallow superstition wholesale would be a mark of superior piety. There are not wanting critics who scornfully ascribe habits of this character to Christians—identifying faith with credulity, and charging the believer with folly. No doubt the extravagant utterances of some Christian people have given much excuse for this libel; e.g. the assertion of Anselm, "Credo quia non intelligo." But such utterances are not justified by Scripture or Christian wisdom.
I. OBSERVE THE NATURE OF CREDULITY. When a person is too hasty in believing without sufficient reason, and especially when he accepts statements on slight authority in opposition to a rational view, we call him credulous. Credulity is just a disposition to believe without sufficient ground.
1. It springs from mental weakness. It is a mark of childishness, while faith is a sign of childlikeness. The feeble mind is credulous. Faith is virile, credulity anile.
2. It is favoured by prejudice. The credulous person is unduly ready to believe according to his desires. So men say, "The wish is father to the thought."
3. It is increased by fear, which paralyzes the reasoning faculties and inclines people to believe in the most absurd impossibility. The terrors of superstition ensnare the credulous.
II. CONSIDER THE EVIL OF CREDULITY.
1. It dishonours truth. When a person shows indifference to the vital question as to whether what he believes is true or false, he displays a fatal disloyalty to truth. For truth will not endure an admixture of falsehoods. Therefore those very people who vainly imagine themselves to be the loyal and humble servants of the whole round of truths are the very persons who undermine the sanctity of truth itself.
2. It tempts to fatal acts. Men act according to their beliefs. If they believe lies, they will have the practical side of their lives flung into confusion. Truth is a beacon light; error sheds a false glare, like that of a wrecker's lamp on a rock-bound coast. It is dangerous to accept delusions of superstition with fatuous credulity. Life is real and earnest, and men need true lights to guide them safely.
III. NOTE THE REMEDY OF CREDULITY.
1. This is not to be found in unlimited scepticism. The sceptic is often the slave of foolish fancies. Escaping from Christian faith, perhaps he fails into spiritualism or some other equally wild delusion.
2. Unbelief is not the remedy; for unbelief is but the reverse of faith. Indeed, it is negative faith. It is believing the negative of those propositions concerning which faith believes the affirmative.
3. Agnosticism is not the remedy; for agnosticism is more than a confession of ignorance; it is an assertion that knowledge in certain regions is unattainable. Thus it is dogmatic and possibly credulous.
4. The remedy lies in well grounded faith. We must learn lessons of patience, and be willing at first to creep along step by step. We need not wait to say, with Abelard, "Credo quia intelligo," for we may accept mysteries which we cannot explain. But we need to be satisfied that we have good ground for doing so. Fundamentally, a wise Christian faith is trust in Christ, resting on an intelligent ground of assurance—that he is trustworthy.
A quiet spirit
Translate the first clause of the verse thus: "The life of the body is a quiet spirit."
I. THE CHARACTERISTICS OF A QUIET SPIRIT. The habit and disposition of quietness need not be accompanied by torpor. There is, indeed, a quietness of sleep, as there is also a silence of the grave. But in the passage before us the quiet spirit is directly connected with life. The body may be busy while the spirit is quiet; nay, the mind may be nimble and alert, even full of activity, while yet the spirit is at rest. Observe, then, the marks of a quiet spirit.
1. Peace. There is peace within the soul, and therefore quiet. The turbulent spirit is like a mutinous crew that may make tumult on board the ship while the sea is as still as glass, and the peaceful spirit is like a well conducted crew that works in quiet while the sea is torn with tempest.
2. Patience. The quiet spirit does not complain under chastisement, nor does it angrily resent unkindness. The psalmist was "dumb" under calamity. Christ was led as a lamb to the slaughter (Isaiah 53:7).
3. Unostentatiousness. Some give more show than service, and make more noise than profit. Eager to attract attention, they "sound a trumpet before them" (Matthew 6:2). Not so the quiet in spirit, who labour in silence, content to be obscure so long as they know they are not living in vain.
II. THE BLESSEDNESS OF A QUIET SPIRIT. It is here set forth as a source of life. No doubt fretful restlessness wears out the life of the bad. Placidity makes for health. Moreover, the life that is dissipated in noise produces no good, and therefore does not collect the means of its own support. The quiet in spirit best make a livelihood. Further, certain special advantages of this quietness may be noted.
1. Depth. "Still waters run deep." We can look far into the quiet lake, while only the surface waves of one that is fretted with cross winds can be seen. The calm, brooding soul knows depths of thought and secret experience that are unfathomable to the foolish, restless, noisy soul.
2. Strength. The silent forest grows strong. The mind is made vigorous by patient endurance. One who is calm is master of the situation, while another who is fretted and flurried feels lost and helpless.
3. Fruitfulness. The calm, strong, silent soul, vigorous and yet unostentatious, ripens best the fruits of experience. Such a one does most real work.
4. Beneficence. Noise vexes the world, and a restless, complaining spirit is a weariness to men. The quiet spirit breathes a perpetual benediction. Its very presence is soothing and healing.
III. THE ATTAINMENT OF A QUIET SPIRIT. No doubt there are great constitutional differences in this respect, and while some are naturally or by ill health restless, irritable, demonstrative, others are naturally quiet, self-possessed, even reserved. Due allowance must be made for these differences before we attempt to judge our brethren. Still, there is a measure of quietness attainable by the use of the right means, viz.:
1. Self-mastery. When a man has conquered himself, the tumult of civil war in his breast ceases.
2. Faith. To trust God, to know that he is doing all well, to seek and obtain the help of his Holy Spirit, are to find the secret of peace and quietness of soul.
3. Love. Selfishness makes us restless. "A heart at leisure from itself" can learn to be patient and calm.
I. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS REQUIRED IN A NATION. Morality has not yet been sufficiently applied to politics. It is forgotten that the ten commandments relate to communities as well as to individuals, because they are based on the eternal and all-embracing principles of righteousness. Men have yet to learn that that which is wrong in the individual is wrong in the society. Nations make war on one another for reasons which would never justify individual men in fighting a duel. Yet if it is wrong for a man to steal a field, it must be wrong for a nation to steal a province; and if an individual man may not cut his neighbour's throat out of revenge without being punished as a criminal, there is nothing to justify a whole community in shooting down thousands of people for no better motive. If selfishness even is sinful in one man, selfishness cannot be virtuous in thirty millions of people. The reign of righteousness must govern public and national movements if the will of God is to be respected.
II. RIGHTEOUSNESS IS A BLESSING TO A NATION. To the cynical politician such "counsels of perfection" as command conscience in government, and especially in international action, appear to be simply quixotic. He holds the application of it to be wholly impracticable; he imagines that it must involve nothing but national ruin. Hence, it is maintained, there is no right but might, because there is no international tribunal and no general authority over the nations. The two points must be kept distinct—the internal life of the nation and its foreign policy.
1. Internal life. There are national sins in the sense of sins committed by a great part of a nation—sins that shamefully characterize it. Thus drunkenness is to a large extent an English national sin. The oppression of one class by another, a general prevalence of business dishonesty, a frivolous pleasure-seeking fashion, all affect the nation's life when they are largely extended among any people. These things eat out the very heart of a nation. For a nation's sin the punishment is on earth, because the nation goes on while individuals die, and so there is time for the deadly fruit of sin to ripen. So was it with Israel, Babylon, Rome, etc.
2. Foreign policy. Wars of aggression may aggrandize the victorious people for a time. But they rouse the hatred of their victims. A high-handed. policy thus multiplies a nation's enemies. It is dangerous to be an outlaw among the nations. Above all, there is a just Ruler, who will put down the tyrant and punish the guilty nation.
III. RIGHTEOUSNESS MAY BE OBTAINED IN A NATION BY FOLLOWING THE RULE OF CHRIST. It is difficult to make an unchristian nation behave in a Christian manner. The sermon on the mount was addressed to disciples of Christ (Matthew 5:1). National righteousness will follow national submission to the will of Christ. The reason why the nations snarl at one another like wild beasts is just that the inhabitants of the nations do not yet follow Christ. He came to set up the kingdom of heaven on earth, and when this kingdom is established in the hearts of the citizens, the nations, which are but the aggregates of citizens, will learn to follow righteousness.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Traits of wisdom and folly
I. FEMININE WISDOM. (Proverbs 14:1.)
1. Its peculiar scope is the home. Women are physically and morally constructed with a view to the stationary life and settled pursuits of home. Its comfort, the strength of the race, the well being of society, are rooted, more than in any other human means, in the character, the principle, the love and truth of the wife and mother.
2. The absence of it is one of the commonest causes of domestic misery. The fact is but too well known to all who are acquainted with the homes of the poor, and indeed of all classes. The cause is not far to seek. The word "home" has hardly a meaning without the presence of a virtuous woman; and a home has seldom been wrecked while a virtuous woman remained in it.
II. THE STRICT CONNECTION OF RELIGION AND MORALITY. (Proverbs 14:2.)
1. Fear of Jehovah includes reverence for what is eternal, faith in what is constant, obedience to what is unchanging law.
2. Contempt for Jehovah means the neglect of all this; and the preference of passion to principle, immediate interest to abiding good; what is selfish and corruptible to what is pure and durable and Divine.
III. SPEECH A SCOURGE OR A SHIELD. (Proverbs 14:3.) The word of haste, which is at the same time the word of passion and of inconsiderateness, recoils upon the speaker. As an old proverb says, "Curses come home to roost." And what can put a stronger armour about a man, or cover him more securely as a shield, than the good words he has thrown forth, or in general the expression of his spirit in all that is wise and loving? The successive accretions of substance from year to year in the trunk of the oak tree may typify the strength coincident with growth in the good man's life.
IV. THE CONNECTION OF MENAS AND ENDS. (Proverbs 14:4.) Such seems to be the point of the saying. "Nothing costs nothing." If you keep no oxen, you have no manger to supply. But at the same time, nothing brings nothing in. The larger income is secured by the keeping of oxen. This is, in fact. the sense of the old saw, "Penny wise and pound foolish." In short, it is part of the science of life to know the limits of thrift and of expense. "A man often pays dear for a small frugality." "Cheapest," says the prudent, "is the dearest labour." In the more immediate interests of the soul, how true is it that only first expense of thought, time, love, upon others is the truest condition of our own blessedness!
V. TRUTH AND LIES. (Proverbs 14:5.) Again and again we strike upon this primary stratum of character. We cannot define the truthful or untruthful man. We can feel them. The reason is as "simple as gravity. Truth is the summit of being; justice is the application of it to affairs. The natural force is no more to be withstood than any other force. We can drive a stone upwards for a moment into the air, but it is yet true that all stones will fall; and whatever instances may be quoted of unpunished theft, or of a lie which somebody credited, justice must prevail, and it is the privilege of truth to make itself believed."
VI. THE UNWISDOM OF THE SCOFFER. (Proverbs 14:6.) He places himself in a false relation to truth; would measure it by his small mind, and weigh it in his imperfect scales. He has one principle only to apply to everything, and that the limited perception of his faculty or the narrow light of his experience. The description well applies to the free thinkers, the illuminati so called of the last century in England, France, and Germany, and their successors in the present day. There is the air of superior intelligence and zeal for truth, frequently concealing some passion of a very different; order. Or, again, there is the shallow assumption that absolute truth is to be found by the human intellect, which has led philosophers two many aberrations. The end is some fallacy and glaring self-contradiction. How different the spirit of him whom the teacher describes as "intelligent' in this place! It is "easy" for him to be wise. It is like opening his lungs to the bountiful and all-embracing air, or expatiating on the boundless shore, like great Newton. Wisdom springs from the sense that truth in its infinity is ever beyond us. But the reference here is more to practical wisdom, the science of living from day to day. And good sense is the main requisite for its acquirement, the very opposite of which is the supercilious temper which disdains to learn from any and all.
VII. THE EVIL OF FOOLISH COMPANY. (Proverbs 14:7.) And of all its conversation, its atmosphere, its temper. "Cast not pearls before swine." "Avoid the mixture of an irreverent commonness of speaking of holy things indifferently in all companies" (Leighton). "Do not overrate your strength, nor be blind to the personal risks that may be incurred in imprudent efforts to do good" (Bridges). "Better retreat from cavillers" (ibid.).—J.
The understanding of one's way
I. THE GENERAL PRINCIPLE. (Proverbs 14:8.) To note, to observe, to take heed to one's way, is the characteristic of the man who is prudent for time and wise for eternity. And, on the contrary, the very principle of folly is self-deception—to be followed in turn by a terrible awakening to sobriety and recognition of the truth (comp. Psalms 7:15; Job 4:8). The right way is illustrated both positively and negatively.
II. SOME PARTICULAR ILLUSTRATIONS. (Proverbs 14:9, sqq.)
1. The vanity of mere ritualism. (Proverbs 14:9.) According to the probably correct translation, "the guilt offering scorns the fools;" in other words, his worship is useless, missing its aim, failing of God's favour, while the righteous who has washed and made himself clean, and put away iniquity (see Isaiah 1:1-31), comes with acceptance before Jehovah.
2. Respect for others' sorrows. (Proverbs 14:10.) Acute distress isolates a man; he cannot communicate what he feels. And it is an unkind thing to force counsel on others at a time when they know they cannot be understood, when the sympathy of silence is best. To sit by our friend, to clasp his hand with loving pressure, to mingle our tears with his, will be far more delicate and soothing than to attempt to "charm ache with airs, and agony with words."
3. Consideration of the end. (Proverbs 14:11-13.) The old reminder recurs, Respice finem. Perhaps a contrast is intended between the "house of the wicked" as seeming firmer, nevertheless doomed to overthrow, and the "tent of the righteous," seeming more frail, yet destined to "sprout," to flourish, and extend. Again, resuming the image of the way, the seeming right way is not ever the right nor the safe way. It may be broad at first and well travelled, but may narrow by and by, and end in the pathless forest, or the desert waste, or the fatal precipice, To be safe we must still consider the end; and the beginning, which predicts and virtually contains the end. Various are the illusions to which we are subject. One example of this is that the smiling face may hide the aching heart, and the opposite (Ecclesiastes 7:4) may also obtain. Boisterous and immoderate mirth is no good symptom; it foretells a sad reaction, or conceals a deep-seated gloom. Human faces and appearances are masks, which hide the real countenance of things from us.
4. Consideration of the sources of enjoyment. (Proverbs 14:14.) First the vicious source. The man who has fallen away from God seeks satisfaction out of God, in something practically atheistic, in the fruit of godless, sinful deeds (Proverbs 12:14; Proverbs 13:2; Proverbs 28:19). But in the matters of the spirit that which is out of God is nothing, emptiness and vanity. He is feasting upon wind. The genuine source of enjoyment is in the spirit itself, in the consciousness, where God is known and realized and loved; in the sense of union and reconciliation of thought and affection with the Divine Object thought of and believed. The kingdom of God is within us, and is "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
5. Credulity and caution. (Proverbs 14:15.) Credulity is a weakness, and certainly, like every weakness, may become a sin. It is the opposite of genuine faith: it is confidence placed where we have no right to place it. God, who has set up and kindled a light in each breast, requires us to use it, each for himself. To forsake it for any other is a desertion of our trust. Would that we might ever take heed to the light that is within us, and so steer our way! There is no true faith possible which does not begin with this. Again (Proverbs 14:16), wisdom is seen in a certain self-distrust in presence of evil. To use an expressive phrase, we should know when to "fight shy" of certain persons or associations, So powerful a passion as fear was not given us for nothing, nor should we be ashamed of a timidity which leads us to give a wide berth to danger, to keep out of the lion's path. Over-confidence springs from the want of a true estimate of our proper strength and weakness, and the security it begets is false.
6. Passionateness and trickiness. (Proverbs 14:17.) The former precipitates men into all follies. Seneca saith well that "anger is like rain, which breaks itself upon that whereon it falls." Anger is certainly a kind of baseness; as it appears well in the weakness of those subjects in whom it reigns—children, women, old folks, sick folks. Bitter, unforgivable words, the revelation of secrets, the breaking off of business,—such are among the follies which anger constantly perpetrates. But the tricky intriguing man is both foolish and odious. Listen to one of the greatest of Englishmen, when he bears testimony that "the ablest men that ever were born all had an openness and frankness of dealing, and a name of certainty and veracity." There is a fine line between the wisdom of reserve and the vicious cunning of concealment; nothing but the loving and true purpose of the heart can redeem any habit of secrecy from odium.
7. Life a progress in folly or wisdom. (Proverbs 14:18.) We are ever gaining, according to the image of the text. The mind has its accretions like those of the tree, A man becomes a greater fool the older he grows, or becomes of deeper sagacity, richer and wider views. All depends on how we start. Admit an error into thought, keep it there after it is proved an error, close the mind in any quarter to the light and keep it closed, and ensure a bigoted and foolish age. Let God into the mind from the first, open daily every window of the soul to the light, and grow old "learning something fresh every day."
8. The ascendancy of goodness. (Proverbs 14:19.) The picture is presented of the envoy of a conquered people who kneels at the palace gate of the conqueror and waits on his commands (compare on the thought, Proverbs 13:9, Proverbs 13:22; Psalms 37:25). There is a might in goodness; may we not say the only true might is that of goodness, for it has omnipotence at its back? It is victorious, irresistible, in the end. It is content to be acknowledged in the end by all, the evil as well as the good. Hypocrisy is the homage paid by vice to goodness.—J.
Causes and effects
To grasp this principle—there is nothing causeless and unaccountable in life—and to apply it is one of the main principles of wisdom. Let us note some of its applications—
I. TO SOCIAL RELATIONS.
1. Poverty an object of dislike, and riches magnetic of good will. (Proverbs 14:20.) Widespread parallels may be found in ancient literature to this saying. Its truth is equally obvious today. It is a truth of human nature, and has its bad and its good side. We are apt to be impatient of those who are always needing help, and are disposed to serve those who need nothing. It is a lower illustration of the law that "to him that hath it shall be given." Independence of any kind which implies power and self-help is attractive to all; and we should seek it by all legitimate means. If a man is shunned by others, it may be because they instinctively feel there is nothing but dejection to be found in his company, while they need cheerful confidence and helpfulness. The good man should strive after competence that he may secure good will, and have free scope for the cultivation of virtue and the exercise of his powers. Another indirect lesson is that friendship thrives best in equal conditions of life.
2. The sources of contempt and of compassion. (Proverbs 14:21.) This seems to correct what might appear harsh in the former saying. Contempt for anything but what is evil in life, or petty and trivial in thought and sentiment, springs from a bad state of the heart. There are things we ought all to despise—i.e. look down upon—but certainly the mere poverty of our neighbour or friend is not one of them. Compassion upon those who are in trouble is, on the other hand, a feeling truly Divine. It extorts the blessing of men; it receives the approval of God, the All-compassionate One.
3. The sources of social security. (Proverbs 14:25.) "Souls are saved," human life is preserved, the bonds of intercourse are held together, by the truthful man. Hearts are betrayed, covenants are broken, the integrity of life is shattered, by the deceiver, the hypocrite, and the slanderer.
II. TO PERSONAL BLESSINGS AND THE REVERSE.
1. The sources of perplexity or of peace are in the man's own mind. (Proverbs 14:22.) His errors come from the falsity and malice of his own counsels, as the effect from the cause. And equally the blessed sense of the Divine presence and the Divine favour is conditioned by the seeking of it in the mind, the heart, the life. To imagine that we can enjoy good without being good is a sort of superstition.
2. Causes of gain and want. (Proverbs 14:23.) One of the most valuable of Carlyle's teachings was to this effect—the reward that we all receive and of which we are perfectly certain, if we have deserved it, consists in having done our work, or at least having taken pains to do our work, for that is of itself a great blessing, and one is inclined to say that, properly speaking, there is no other reward in this world. And men bring themselves to want by neglecting their proper work, by idle talk, and waste of time and daylight. "Work while it is called today."
3. Hence, well gotten wealth is a testimonial to the earner of it. (Proverbs 14:24.) It is an ornament, a decoration in which he may feel a juster pride than in stars, or garters, or patents of nobility, which carry no such significance. On the other hand, the folly of the fool is and remains folly, however he may plume himself, however by means of wealth or factitious advantages he may seek to pass for somebody before the world.
4. But deeper than these are the specifically religious blessings. (Proverbs 14:26.) Security springs from religion; and religion is the constant habit of regard for God, his will in loving obedience, his favour as the most precious possession. God himself is a Refuge to his children, and they will not fear. The very source of life itself is religion, and nothing but the fear of God in the heart can preserve from the deathful snares which attend our way.—J.
I. IN PUBLIC LIFE.
1. Fulness and scantiness of population. (Proverbs 14:28.) The Hebrew had a deep sense of the value of fruitfulness in the wedded life, and of increase in the nation. The majesty of the monarch is the reflection of the greatness of his people, and the decay must represent itself in his feebleness for action. It is our duty as Christian men to study with intelligence political questions, and to support all measures which tend to freedom of commerce and abundance of food.
2. National exaltation and shame. (Proverbs 14:34.) The common ideas of national glory and shame are false. There is no glory in victory over feeble foes, no shame in seeking peace in the interests of humanity. Too often these popular ideas of glory represent the bully and the coward in the nation, rather than its wisdom and honour. There is no other real secret of a nation's exaltation than, in the widest sense, its right dealing, and no other shame for a nation than its vices—such as drunkenness, selfishness, lust for territory. Could Englishmen see the national character in the light in which it often appears to foreigners, it would be a humbling view.
3. Royal ,favour or disfavour is an index of worth. (Proverbs 14:35.) Not, of course, the only or the truest index; and yet how seldom it happens that a man rises to high position in the service of his sovereign and country without eminent worth of some description or other! Here, again, moral law is exemplified. There is nothing accidental. If it be mere prudence which gains promotion, still prudence is of immense value to the state, and moral law is confirmed by its advancement.
II. IN PRIVATE LIFE.
1. Patience and haste of temper. (Proverbs 14:29.) They are branded respectively with the mark of sense and of folly. "The Scripture exhorteth us to possess our souls in patience; whosoever is out of patience is out of possession of his soul."
2. The calm and the seething heart. (Proverbs 14:30.) The first member seems more correctly rendered, "life of the body is a gentle or tranquil mind." Zeal, on the other hand, or envy, is a constant ferment within the soul. Men's minds must either feed upon their own good or others' evil. Inquisitive people are commonly envious; it is a "gadding passion," and an old proverb says that "Envy keeps no holidays." Lord Bacon says it is the vilest passion and the most depraved. Christian humility and love can only sweeten the heart, and dilute or wash away its natural bitterness
3. The violent death and the peaceful end. (Proverbs 14:32.) A sudden death was viewed as a visitation from God (Ps 36:13; Psalms 62:4). It was thought that the wicked could hardly come to any other end. But the righteous has confidence in his death. Considering the great silence of the Old Testament on the future life, it can hardly be honest exegesis to force the meaning of hope of a future life into this passage. Nor is it necessary. It is the consciousness that all is well, the soul being in God's hands, that the future may be left with him who has revealed himself in the past, which sheds peace into the dying soul.
4. Silent wisdom and noisy pretence. (Proverbs 14:33.) The still and quiet wisdom of the sensible man (Proverbs 10:14; Proverbs 12:16, Proverbs 12:23) is contrasted with the eager and noisy utterances of what the fool supposes to be wisdom, but in reality is the exposure of his folly. "There is no decaying merchant or inward beggar hath so many tricks to uphold the credit of their wealth as those empty persons have to maintain the credit of their sufficiency." Wisdom and piety are felt and fragrant, like the violet in the hedge, from humble places and silent lives, Let us aim to be, not to seem.—J.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
Woman as a builder
Where the light of revelation has shone, woman has had a position and a power, an honor and a happiness, such as she has not enjoyed elsewhere. Under the teaching of Christian truth she has been, or is being, rapidly raised to her rightful place, and is becoming all that the Creator intended her to be. We cannot forecast the future, but we may predict that her own especial province, the sphere where she will always shine, will be, as it is now, the home. It is "her house" that she will either build up or pluck down "with her own hands." Whether she will do the one or the other depends on the question whether she shows—
I. GOODNESS (moral worth) or GUILT.
II. IMPARTIALITY or an unwise and unrighteous preference of one child to another.
III. DILIGENCE in the discharge of her household duties, or NEGLIGENCE.
IV. KINDNESS OR ASPERITY in her bearing toward all the members of the home.
V. PATIENCE OR IMPATIENCE in the government of her family and her servants. And since the upbuilding or the down plucking of "the house," the promotion or the ruin of domestic harmony and happiness, depends in so large a degree on the wisdom or the folly of the woman who is the wife and the mother, therefore:
1. Let every wise man think many times before he makes his choice.
2. Let every woman who is entering on this estate go forth to occupy it in
(3) wise and holy resolution.—C.
Daintiness and usefulness
It is a very great thing to prefer the greater to the smaller, the more serious to the less serious, in the regulation of our life. It makes all the difference between success and failure, between wisdom and folly.
I. A SERIOUS MISTAKE, to prefer nicety or daintiness to fruitfulness or usefulness. This grave mistake is made by the farmer who would rather have a clean crib than a quantity of valuable manure; by the housewife who cares more for the elegance of the furniture than the comfort of the family; by the minister who spends more strength on the wording than on the doctrine of his discourse; by the teacher who lays more stress on the composition of classical verses than on the history of his country or than on the strengthening of the mind; by the poet who takes infinite pains with his rhymes and gives little thought to his subject or his imagery; by the statesman who is particular about the draughting of his bills, and has no objection to introduce retrograde and dishonouring measures; by the doctor who insists much on his medicine, and lets his patient go on neglecting all the laws of hygiene; etc.
II. THE WISDOM OF THE WISE. This is found in subordinating the trivial to the important; in being willing to submit to the temporarily disagreeable if we can attain to the permanently good; in being content to endure the sight and the smell of the unclean crib if there is a prospect of a fruitful field. The great thing is increase, fruitfulness, the reward of honest toil and patient waiting and believing prayer. This increase is to be sought and found in five fields in particular.
1. Bodily health and strength.
2. Knowledge, in all its various directions.
3. Material wealth, that ministers to the comfort and thus to the well being of the families of man.
4. Wisdom; that noble quality of the soul which distinguishes between the true and the false, the pure and the impure, the imperishable and the ephemeral, the estimable and the unworthy, and which not only distinguishes but determinately chooses the former and rejects the latter.
5. Spiritual fruitfulness; the increase of our own piety and virtue, and also the growth of the kingdom of our Lord.—C.
Understanding our way
A man may be "prudent," he may be clever, learned, astute; yet he may miss his way, he may lose his life, he may prove to be a failure. The wisdom of the prudent, that which makes prudence or ability really valuable, that which constitutes its virtue, is the practical understanding of life, the knowledge which enables a man to take the right path and keep it, the discretion which chooses the line of a true success and maintains it to the end. It is to perceive and to pursue the way that is—
I. FINANCIALLY SOUND; avoiding that which leads to embarrassment and ruin; shunning those which conduct either to a sordid parsimony in one direction or to a wasteful extravagance on the other hand; choosing that which leads to competence and generosity.
II. EDUCATIONALLY WINE; forming the habits which strengthen and develop the faculties of the mind, instead of those which dwarf, or narrow, or demoratize them.
III. SOCIALLY SATISFACTORY; not going the way of an unwise and unsatisfactory ambition which ends in disappointment and chagrin; seeking the society which is suitable, elevating, honourable.
IV. IN ACCORDANCE WITH INDIVIDUAL ENDOWMENT; So that we do not expend all our time and all our powers in a way which cuts against all our individual inclinations, but in one which gives room for our particular aptitudes, and develops the special faculty with which our Creator has endowed our spirit.
V. MORALLY SAFE. It is a very great part of "the wisdom of the prudent" for a man to know what he may allow himself to do and where to go; what, on the other hand, he must not permit, and whither he must not wend his way. The path of safety to one man is the road to ruin with another. "Happy is he who condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth" (Romans 14:22). Wise is it in those, and well is it for them, who have discerned and who have decided upon those habits of life which are establishing in their hearts all Christian virtues and making to shine in their lives all Christian graces.
VI. THE WAY OF HOLY SERVICE. The way of sacred service is so essentially the way of wisdom, that any "prudence" or cleverness that misses it makes the supreme mistake. On the other hand, the wisdom that leads to it and that preserves the soul in it is the wisdom to attain unto. This way, which is the end of our being and the crown of our life, includes
(1) the service of Christ, and
(2) the service of man.—C.
The sadness of sin
It is foolish enough to use the words "sin" and "sinner" in the light and flippant way in which they are frequently employed. But to "make a mock at sin" itself, to treat otherwise than seriously the fact and forces of sin, is folly indeed. For sin is—
I. THE SADDEST AND STERNEST FACT IN ALL THE UNIVERSE OF GOD. It is the ultimate cause of all the disorder, misery, ruin, and death that are to be found beneath any sky. There is no curse or calamity that has befallen our race that is not due to its disastrous power.
II. THE DARKEST EXPERIENCE WE HAVE IN REVIEW. We may look back on many dark passages in our life history, but none can be so black as the experiences for which we have to reproach ourselves, as those wherein we broke some plain precept of God or left undischarged some weighty obligation.
III. A POWERFUL, HOSTILE FORCE STILL CONFRONTING US. Sin "easily besets us."
1. It is exceedingly deceptive, alluring, undermining, betraying.
2. It is a very present enemy, near at hand when least suspected, entering into all the scenes and spheres of life.
3. It strikes deep, going down into the innermost places of the soul.
4. It is very extensive in its range, covering all the particulars of life.
5. It stretches far into the future, crossing even the dividing line of death, and reaching into eternity.
6. It is fatal in its results, leading the soul down into the dark shadows of spiritual death.
The only wise course we can take in view of such a force as this is
(1) to realize its heinousness;
(2) to confess its guiltiness;
(3) to strive with patient strenuousness against its power;
(4) to seek the aid of the Holy and Mighty Spirit that it may be uprooted from the heart and life.—C.
Loneliness and laughter
The tenth verse suggests to us the serious and solemnizing fact of—
I. THE ELEMENT OF LONELINESS IN HUMAN LIFE. "The heart knoweth its own bitterness," etc. In one aspect our life path is thronged. It is becoming more and more difficult to be alone. Hours that were once sacred to solitude are now invaded by society. And yet it remains true that "in the central depths of our nature we are alone." There is a point at which, as he goes inward, our nearest neighbour, our most intimate friend, must stop; there is a sanctuary of the soul into which no foot intrudes. It is there where we make our ultimate decision for good or evil; it is there where we experience our truest joys and our profoundest griefs; it is there where we live our truest life. We may so crowd our life with duties and with pleasures that we may reduce to its smallest radius this innermost circle; but some time must we spend there, and the great decisive experiences must we there go through. There we taste our very sweetest satisfactions, and there we bear our very heaviest burdens. And no one but the Father of spirits can enter into that secret place of the soul. So true is it that
"Not e'en the dearest heart, and nearest to our own,
Knows half the reasons why we smile or sigh."
It is well for us to remember that there is more, both of happiness and of sorrow, than we can see; well, that we may not be overburdened with the weight of the manifold and multiplied evils we are facing; well, that we may realize how strong is the reason that, when our cup of prosperity is full, we may have "the heart at leisure from itself, to soothe and sympathize" with those who, beneath a smiling countenance, may carry a very heavy heart. For we have to consider—
II. THE SUPERFICIAL ELEMENT IN MUCH HUMAN GLADNESS. "Even in laughter," etc. A man may smile and smile, and be most melancholy. To wear a smile upon our countenance, or to conclude our sentences with laughter, is often only a mere trick of style, a mere habit of life, cultivated with little difficulty. A true smile, an honest, laugh, that comes not from the lips or from the lungs, but from the heart, is a very acceptable and a very admirable thing. But a false smile and a forced laugh bespeak a double-minded soul and a doubtful character. Surely the angels of God weep almost, as much over the laughter as over the tears of mankind. For beneath its sound they may hear all too much that is hollow and unreal, and not a little that is vain and guilty. But, on the other hand, to smile with the glad and to laugh with the merry is a sympathetic grace not to be despised (Romans 12:15, first clause).
III. THE ISSUE OF FALSE SATISFACTIONS. "The end of that mirth is heaviness." How often is heaviness the end of mirth! All enjoyment that does not carry with it the approval of the conscience, all that is disregardful of the Divine Law, all that is a violation of the laws of our physical or our spiritual nature, must end and does end, sooner or later, in heaviness—in depression of spirit, in decline of power. It is a sorry thing for a man to accustom himself to momentary mirth, to present pleasure at the expense of future joy, of well being in later years.
1. Let the necessary solitariness of life lead us to choose the very best friendships we can form; that we may have those who can go far and often with us into the recesses of our spirit, and accompany us, as far as man can, in the larger and deeper experiences of our life.
2. Let the superficiality of much happiness lead us to inquire of ourselves whether we have planted in our soul the deeper roots of joy; those which will survive every test and trial of life, and which will be in us when we have left time and sense altogether behind us.
3. Let the perilous nature of some gratifications impose on us the duty of a wise watchfulness; that we may banish forever from heart and life all injurious delights which "war against the soul," and rob us of our true heritage here and in the heavenly country.—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 16:25.)—C.
Proverbs 14:17, Proverbs 14:29
(See homily on Proverbs 16:32.)—C.
The sin of contempt
We are in danger of despising our neighbours. The rich despise the poor, the learned despise the ignorant, the strong and healthy despise the weak and ailing, the devout despise the irreverent. But we are wrong in doing this. There is, indeed, one thing which may draw down a strong and even intense reprobation—moral baseness, meanness, a cruel and heartless selfishness, or a slavish abandonment to vice. But even there we may not wholly despise our neighbour; unmitigated contempt is always wrong, always a mistake. For—
I. WE ARE ALL THE CHILDREN OF GOD. Are we not all his offspring, the creatures of one Creator, the children of one Father? Does it become us to despise our own brethren, our own sisters? Inasmuch as we are "members one of another," of one family, we are bound to let another feeling than that of contempt take the deepest place in our heart when we think of men and women, whoever they may be, whatever they may have been.
II. SELF-GLORIFICATION IS EXCLUDED. What makes us to differ from others? Whence came our superiority in wealth, in knowledge, in strength, in virtue? Did it not come, ultimately, from God? Trace things to their source, and we find that all "boasting is excluded." It is by the favour and the grace of God that we are who and what we are. Not a haughty contemptuousness, but a humble thankfulness, becomes us, if we stand higher than our neighbour.
III. NO MAN IS WHOLLY DESPICABLE. He may have some things about his character which we deplore and which we condemn, on account of which we do well to remonstrate with him and to make him feel that we have withdrawn our regard and confidence. But no man is wholly to be despised.
1. Much of what is bad or sad about him may be the consequence of misfortune. What did he inherit? Who were his earliest counsellors? What were his adverse influences? Against what hurtful and damaging forces has he had to contend? How few and how weak have been his privileges? how many his privations?
2. There is the germ of goodness in him. There is no man, even among the most depraved, who has not in him that on which wisdom and love may lay their merciful hold, and by which the man himself may be redeemed. Many marvellous and most cheering facts prove that the worst among the bad may be recovered—the most profane, besotted, impure, dishonest. The Christian thought and faith is that all men are within the reach both of the mercy and the redeeming love of God. Let Divine truth be spoken to them as it may be spoken; let Divine and human love embrace them and lay its fatherly or brotherly hand upon them; let the Divine Spirit breathe upon them, and from the lowest depths of guilt and shame they may rise to noble heights of purity and honour.—C.
Talking and toiling
These words contain solid and valuable truth; that truth does not, however, exclude the facts—
I. THAT MUCH LABOUR IS WORSE THEN USELESS. All that which is conceived and carried out for the purpose of destruction, or of fraud, or of vice, or of impiety. Only too often men give themselves infinite trouble which is worse than thrown away, the putting forth of which is sin, the end of which is evil—misery or even ruin and death.
II. THAT MUCH SPEAKING TENDS TO ENRICHMENT. There is a "talk of the lips" which is worthy of taking rank with the most profitable toil.
1. It may cost the speaker much care and effort and expenditure of vital force.
2. It may be a great power for good in the minds of men and even in the histories of peoples—
"Like Luther's in the days of old,
Half-battles for the free."
3. It may bring light to the darkened mind, comfort to the wounded heart, rest to the weary soul, strength and inspiration to the spirit that needs revival. But, on the other hand, the truth which the proverb is intended to impress upon us is this—
III. THAT MUCH VERBIAGE IS VERY PROFITLESS AND VAIN. There is a "talk of the lips" that does indeed tend to poverty.
1. That which does nothing more than consume time. This is pure waste; and in
"An age (like this) when every hour
Must sweat her sixty minutes to the death,"
this can by no means be afforded.
2. That which gives false ideas of life; which encourages men to trust to chance, or to despise honest toil, or to hope for the success which is the fruit of chicanery and dishonesty, or to find a heritage, not in the consciousness of duty and of the favour of God, but in superficial and short-lived delights.
IV. THAT CONSCIENTIOUS LABOUR IS THE ONE FRUITFUL THING. "In all labour there is profit."
1. Physical labour not only cultivates the field and builds the house and clothes the naked, but it gives strength to the muscles and health to the whole body.
2. Mental labour not only designs the painting, or the sculpture, or the oratorio, and writes the poem or the history, but it invigorates the mind and braces all the mental faculties.
3. Moral struggle not only saves from vice and crime, but makes the soul strong for noble and honourable achievement.
4. Spiritual endeavour not only refines the highest faculties of our nature, prepares us for the companionship of the holiest, and accomplishes the highest purposes of the Redeemer, but brings us into the favour and leads us into the likeness of God himself.—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 29:11.)—43.
The strength and the reproach of nations
I. SIN THE NATION'S SHAME.
1. A sinful nation in the sight of God. This is a nation of which the people have gone astray from him; do not approach him in worship; do not consult his will as revealed in his Word; have no ear to lend to those that speak in his Name; lose all sense of sacred duty in the pursuit of gain and pleasure.
2. The flagrant guilt to which such godlessness leads down.
(1) It is probable, in a high degree, that impiety will lead to iniquity, that the absence of all religious restraint will end in abandonment to evil in all its forms.
(2) History assures us that it does so. The denial, or the defiance, or the entire disregard of God and of his will, conducts to and ends in vice, in crime, in violence, in despotism, in the dissolution of old and honourable bonds, in the prevalence of despair and suicide, in utter demoralization.
3. This is the reproach to a people. A country may lose its population, or its wealth, or its pre-eminent influence, without being the object of reproach; but to fall into general impiety, and to live in the practice of wrong doing,—this is a disgrace; it brings a nation down in the estimate of all the wise; its name is clothed with shame; its fame has become infamy.
II. RIGHTEOUSNESS A NATION'S STRENGTH. National righteousness does not consist in any public professions of piety, nor in the existence of great religious organizations, nor in the presence of a multitude of ecclesiastical edifices and officers; nations have had all these before now, and they have been destitute of real righteousness. That consists in the possession of a reverent spirit and an estimable character, and the practice of purity, justice, and kindness on the part of the people themselves (see Isaiah 58:1-14.; Micah 6:6-8). In this is a nation's strength and exaltation, for it will surely issue in:
1. Physical well being. Virtue is the secret of health and strength, of the multiplication and continuance of life and power.
2. Material prosperity; for righteousness is the foundation of educated intelligence, of intellectual energy and vigour, of commercial and agricultural enterprise, of maritime intrepidity and success.
3. Moral and spiritual advancement.
4. Estimation and influence among surrounding nations.
5. The abiding favour of God (Psalms 81:13-16). We may learn from the text
(1) that no measure of brilliancy in statesmanship will compensate for debauching the minds of the people, for introducing ideas or sanctioning habits which are morally unsound and corrupting;
(2) that the humblest citizen whose life tends to establish righteousness amongst his neighbours is a true patriot, however narrow his sphere may be.—C.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 14". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent