Millions miss a meal or two each day.
Help us change that! Click to donate today!
This chapter reinforces many precept given previously.
He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck; literally, a man of reproofs—one who has had a long experience of rebukes and warnings. Compare "a man of sorrows" (Isaiah 53:3). The hardening of the neck is a metaphor derived from obstinate draught animals who will not submit to the yoke (Deuteronomy 10:16; Jeremiah 2:20; Jeremiah 27:8). Christ calls his yoke easy, and bids his followers to bear it bravely (Matthew 11:29. etc.). The reproofs may arise from the Holy Spirit and the conscience, from the teaching of the past, or from the counsel of friends. The LXX. (as some other Jewish interpreters) takes the expression in the text actively, "A man who reproves (ἐλέγχων) is better than one of stiff neck." Shall suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy (Proverbs 6:15; Proverbs 15:10). The incorrigible and self-deluding sinners shall come to a fearful and sudden end, though retribution be delayed (comp. Job 34:20; Psalms 2:9; Jeremiah 19:11). And there is no hope in their end; despising all correction, they can have no possibility of restoration. We may refer, as an illustration, to that terrible passage in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Hebrews 6:4, etc.), and to the fate of the Jews unto the present day. Septuagint, "For when he is burning suddenly, there is no remedy."
When the righteous are in authority; rather, as in Proverbs 28:28, when the righteous are increased; Vulgate, in multiplicatione justorum. When sinners are put away, and the righteous are in the majority. Septuagint, "when the just are commended." When good men give the tone to society and conduct all affairs according to their own high standard, the peoople rejoice; there is general happiness; prosperity abounds, and voices ring cheerfully (Proverbs 11:10; Proverbs 28:12). When the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn; they suffer violence and injustice, and have bitter cause for complaint and lamentation. This proverb is not applicable to the age of Solomon.
The first hemistich is a variation of Proverbs 10:1-32. I (where see note). Keepeth company with; literally, feedeth, as Proverbs 28:7. Harlots (see on Proverbs 6:26). Such vice leads to the wasting of substance (Luke 15:13), and the great sorrow of the parent. Septuagint, "But he that pastureth (ποιμαίνει) harlots shall waste wealth."
Many of the proverbs in this chapter seem to suit the time of Jeroboam II. (see on Proverbs 28:3). The king by judgment establisheth the land. The king, the fountain of justice, by his equitable government brings his country into a healthy and settled condition. In the security of the throne the land and people participate. He that receiveth gifts overthroweth it. The expression, אִישׁ תְּרוּמוֹת (ish terumoth), "man of offerings," "man of gifts," is ambiguous: it may mean "the taker of bribes," the unrighteous ruler who sells justice (Proverbs 15:27), or it may signify "the imposer of taxes" (Ezekiel 45:13, etc.) or forced benevolences. Aquila and Theodotion have ἀνὴρ ἀφαιρεμάτων, "man of heave offerings," and Wordsworth regards him as a man who claims and receives gifts, as if he were a deity on earth. Whichever sense we give to the phrase, the contrast lies between the inflexibly upright ruler and the iniquitous or extortionate prince. The Septuagint gives παράνομος, "a transgressor;" Vulgate, vir avarus.
A man that flattereth his neighbour; says only what is agreeable, applauds his words and actions indiscriminately, and makes him think too well of himself he is no true friend (see Proverbs 28:23). Spreadeth a net for his feet; his stops (Proverbs 26:28; Job 18:8, etc.). If a man listens to such flattering words, and is influenced by them, he works his own ruin; self-deceived, he knows not his real condition, and accordingly makes grievous disaster of his life. The LXX. gives a different turn to the sentence, "He that prepareth a net before his friend entangles his own feet therein" (comp. Proverbs 26:27; Proverbs 28:10).
In the transgression of an evil man there is a snare (Proverbs 12:13). The snare is that the sinner is caught and held fast by his sin, and cannot escape, as he knows nothing of repentance, and has no will to cast off evil habits (Proverbs 24:16). (For "snare," comp. Proverbs 18:7; Proverbs 20:25; Proverbs 22:25.) Septuagint, "For a man sinning there lies a great snare." But the righteous doth sing and rejoice. The antithesis is not very obvious. It may mean that the good man has a conscience at peace, is free from the snare of sin, and therefore is glad; or that, in spite of a momentary fall, though he has transgressed, he knows that God forgives him on his repentance, and this makes him happy; or, generally that he rejoices in the happy life which his virtue procures for him here and hereafter (Matthew 5:12). In the original "sing" represents the sudden outburst of joy, "rejoice" the continued state of happiness. "The righteous shall be in joy and gladness (ἐν χαρᾷ καὶ ἐν εὐφροσύνῃ)," Septuagint.
Considereth the cause; recognizes the claims, and, as the word din implies, supports them at the seat of judgment (comp. Job 29:12, Job 29:16; Psalms 82:3, etc.). Septuagint, "A righteous man knows how to judge for the poor." The wicked regardeth not to know it. This is a clumsy translation; it means, pays no attention so as to become fully acquainted with its details and bearings. But the words signify rather, as in the Revised Version margin, "understandeth not knowledge" (Proverbs 19:25; Proverbs 28:5), has no knowledge which would lead him to enter into the poor man's case, and to sympathize with him in his distress; the claims of the feeble to recognition and relief at his hands are utterly unknown and disregarded. He can daily look on Lazarus at his gate, and find no call for his pity and charity; he can see the wounded traveller in the road, and pass by on the other side. The LXX. offers two translations of the latter clause, reading the second time דשׁ instead of רשׁע, and thereby not improving the sense: "But the ungodly understand. eth not knowledge, and the poor man hath not an understanding mind."
Scornful men bring a airy into a snare. "Men of derision" (Isaiah 28:14) are those who despise and scoff at all things great and high, whether sacred or profane (see on Proverbs 1:22). These are the persons who raise rebellion in a country and excite opposition to constituted authority. The rendering of יָפִיתיּ, "bring into a snare," as in the Authorized Version, is supported by some of the Jewish versions and commentaries; but the more correct rendering is "blow into a blaze, inflame," as the Revised Version (comp. Job 20:26; Ezekiel 22:20, Ezekiel 22:21). These scorners excite the populace to acts of fury, when all respect for piety and virtue is lost; they fan the passions of the fickle people, and lead them to civil discord and dangerous excesses (comp. Proverbs 22:10). Septuagint, "Lawless men burn up a city." But wise men turn away wrath; by their prudent counsels allay the angry passions roused by those evil men (see Proverbs 29:11 and Proverbs 15:1, Proverbs 15:18).
If a wise man contendeth with a foolish man—if a wise man has a controversy, either legal or social, with a wicked fool—whether he rage (is angry) or laugh, there is no rest. It is a question whether the wise man or the fool is the subject of this clause. St. Jerome makes the former the subject, Vir sapiens, si cum stulto contenderit, sive irascatur, sive rideat, non inveniet requiem. It matters not how the wise man treats the fool; he may be stern and angry, he may be gentle and good tempered, yet the fool will be none the better, will not be reformed, will not cease from his folly, will carry on his cavilling contention. Hitzig, Delitzsch, and others, deeming that the rage and the laughter are not becoming to the character of the wise man, take the fool as the subject; so that the sense is, that after all has been said, the fool only falls into a passion or laughs at the matter, argument is wasted upon him, and the controversy is never settled. This seems to be the best interpretation, and is somewhat supported by the Septuagint, "A wise man shall judge the nations, but a worthless man, being angry, laughs and fears not [καταγελᾶται καὶ οὐ καταπτήσσει, which may also mean, 'is derided and terrifies no one']." Wordsworth notes that the irreligious fool is won neither by the austere preaching of John the Baptist nor by the mild teaching of Christ, but rejects both (Matthew 11:16-19).
The bloodthirsty hate the upright; him that is perfect, Revised Version; ὅσιον, Septuagint. His life is a tacit reproach to men of blood, robbers, murderers, and such like sinners, as is finely expressed in the Book of Wisdom Proverbs 2:12, etc.. But the just seek his soul. The explanation of this hemistich is doubtful. The following interpretations have been offered:
(1) The just seek the soul of the upright to deliver him from death temporal and spiritual (comp. Proverbs 12:6; Psalms 142:4).
(2) The just seek the murderer's life, take vengeance on him (comp. Psalms 63:9, Psalms 63:10).
(3) "As for the just, they (the murderers) attempt his life," where the change of subject, though by no means unparalleled, is awkward (comp. Psalms 37:14). The second explanation makes the righteous the executioners of vengeance on the delinquents, which does not seem to be the idea intended, and there is no confirmation of it in our book. The interpretation first given has against it the fact that the phrase, "to seek the soul," is used of attempts against the life, not of preserving it. But this is not fatal; and the above seems to be the most likely explanation offered, and gives a good antithesis. Men of blood hate a virtuous man, and try to destroy him; the righteous love him, and do their utmost to defend and keep him safe. If this interpretation is rejected, the third explanation is allowable, the casus pendens—"the just, they seek his life"—may be compared with Genesis 26:15; Deuteronomy 2:23. Septuagint, "But the upright will seek (ἐκζητήσουσι) his life."
A fool uttereth all his mind; his spirit; רוּחוֹ, i.e. "his anger;" θυμόν, Septuagint (comp. Proverbs 16:32). The wording of the second hemistich confirms this rendering. A fool pours out his wrath, restrained by no consideration. It is a wise maxim that says, "Command your temper, lest it command you;" and again, "When passion enters in at the foregate, wisdom goes out at the postern." So we have the word attributed to Evenus Parius—
Πολλάκις ἀνθρώπων ὀργὴ νόον ἐξεκάλυψε
Κρυπτόμενον μανίας πουλὺ χερειότερον.
"Wrath often hath revealed man's hidden mind,
Than madness more pernicious."
A wise man keepeth it in till afterwards. This clause is capable of more than one explanation. The Authorized Version says that the wise man restrains his own anger till he can give it proper vent. The term בְּאָחוֹר occurs nowhere else, and is rendered "at last," "finally," and by Delitzsch, "within," i.e. in his heart. The verb rendered "keepeth in" (shabach) is rather "to calm," "to hush," as in Psalms 65:7; Psalms 89:10, "Which stilleth the noise of the seas." So we have the meaning: The wise man calms the auger within him; according to the proverb, Irae dilatio, mentis pacatio. Or the anger calmed may be that of the fool: The wise man appeases it after it has been exhibited; he knows how to apply soothing remedies to the angry man, and in the end renders him calm and amenable to reason. This seems the most suitable explanation. Septuagint, "A wise man husbands it (ταμιεύεται) in part."
All his servants are wicked. The ruler is willing to be deceived, and does not care to hear the truth, so his servants flatter and lie to him, and the whole atmosphere is charged with unreality and deceit. Qualis rex, talis grex. Ecclesiastes 10:2, "As the judge of the people is himself, so are his officers; and what manner of man the ruler of the city is, such are all that dwell therein." Claudian, 'IV. Cons. Hon.,' 299—
Regis ad exemplum: nec sic inflectere sensus
Humanos edicta valent, ut vita regentis.
Mobile mutatur semper cum principe vulgus."
"By the king's precedent
The world is ordered; and men's minds are moved
Less by stern edicts than their ruler's life.
The fickle crowd aye by the prince is swayed."
Cicero, 'De Leg.,' 3.13, "Ut enim cupiditatibus principum et vitiis iufici solet tota civitas, sic emendari et corrigi continentia." And ibid; 14, "Quo perniciosius de republica merentur vitiosi principes, quod non solum vitia concipiunt ipsi, sod ea infundunt in civitatem; neque solum obsunt, ipsi quod corrumpuntur, sed etiam quod corrumpunt, plusque exemplo, quam peccato, nocent."
A variation of Proverbs 22:2. The deceitful man. This makes no contrast with the poor. "The man of oppressions" (tekakim) is the usurer, from whom the poor suffer most wrong and cruelty. The needy man and the rich lender are thrown together in social life. St. Jerome calls them pauper et creditor. Septuagint, "When the creditor and debtor meet together, the Lord maketh inspection (ἐπσκοπὴν) of both." The Lord lighteneth both their eyes. Both rich and poor, the oppressor and the oppressed, owe their light and life to God; he makes the sun to rise on the evil and on the good; he sends rain on the just and the unjust; he is the Father, Ruler, and Judge of all. Here is comfort for the poor, that he has a tender Father who watches over him; here is a warning for the rich, that he will have to give an account of his stewardship. The former proverb spoke only generally of God being the Maker of both (comp. Psa 13:1-6 :8; Ecclesiastes 11:7).
The king that faithfully judgeth the poor (comp. Proverbs 16:12; Proverbs 20:28; Proverbs 25:5). Inflexible fidelity to duty is intended—that perfect impartiality, which dispenses justice alike to rich and poor, uninfluenced By personal or social considerations. His throne shall be established forever. Being founded on righteousness, it shall pass on to his descendants for many generations (comp. Jeremiah 22:3, etc.). The LXX; pointing differently, have, "His throne shall be established for a testimony" (lahed, instead of lahad).
The rod and reproof give wisdom to the young. The former denotes bodily correction, what we call corporal punishment; the latter, discipline in words, rebuke administered when any moral fault is noticed. The idea here enunciated is very common in this book (see Proverbs 10:1, Proverbs 10:13; Proverbs 13:24; Proverbs 23:13). But a child loft to himself bringeth his mother to shame. The verb translated "left" (שָׁלַח, shalach) is used in Job 39:5 of the wild ass left to wander free where it wills. A child allowed to do as he likes, undisciplined—spoiled, as we call it—is a shame to his mother, whose weakness has led to this want of restraint, fond love degenerating into over-indulgence (comp. Proverbs 17:21; Proverbs 28:7). Septuagint, "A son that goeth astray shameth his parents."
When the wicked are multiplied, transgression increaseth. The verb rabah is used in both parts of the sentence, and should have been so translated, When the wicked increase, transgression increaseth. Septuagint, "When the godless are many, sins become many." Where the wicked get the upper hand in a community, their evil example is copied, and a lowering of moral tone and a general laxity in conduct prevail (see on Proverbs 29:12 : comp. also Proverbs 29:2; Proverbs 28:12, Proverbs 28:28). But the righteous shall see their fall. Retribution shall overtake them, and God's justice shall be vindicated. This the righteous shall witness, and shall rejoice in the vengeance, when his eye shall see its desire upon his enemies (Psalms 54:7; see also Psalms 37:34; Psalms 73:17, etc.). Septuagint (punctuating differently), "But when they (the godless) fall, the righteous become fearful (κατάφοβοι);" they are awestruck at the sudden and grievous fall of sinners.
Correct thy son, and he shall give thee rest (Proverbs 19:18); Septuagint, ἀναπαύσει σε. He will be no longer a source of care and disquiet to you. Delight (maadanim); properly, dainty dishes, and then any great and special pleasure (comp. Ec Proverbs 30:1-12). Septuagint, "He shall give ornament (κόσμον) to thy soul." This verse and the following are presented by the Greek version in a mutilated form after Proverbs 28:17 (where see note).
Where there is no vision, the people perish; rather, cast off restraint, become ungovernable, cannot be reined in (Exodus 32:22, Exodus 32:25). "Vision" (chazon), prophecy in its widest sense, denotes the revelation of God's will made through agents, which directed the course of events, and was intended to be coordinate with the supreme secular authority. The prophets were the instructors of the people in Divine things, standing witnesses of the truth and power of religion, teaching a higher than mere human morality. The fatal effect of the absence of such revelation of God's will is stated to be confusion, disorder, and rebellion; the people, uncontrolled, fall into grievous excesses, which nothing hut high principles can restrain. We note the licence of Eli's time, when there was no open vision (1 Samuel 3:1-21.); in Asa's days, when Israel had long been without a teaching priest (2 Chronicles 15:3); and when the impious Ahaz "made Judah naked" (2 Chronicles 28:19); or when the people were destroyed by reason of lack of knowledge of Divine things (Hosea 4:6). Thus the importance of prophecy in regulating the life and religion of the people is fully acknowledged by the writer, in whose time, doubtless, the prophetical office was in full exercise: but this seems to be the only passage in the book where such teaching is directly mentioned; the instructors and preceptors elsewhere introduced as disseminating the principles of the chochmah being parents, or tutors, or professors, not inspired prophets. But he that keepeth the Law, happy is he! "The Law" (torah) is not merely the written Mosaic Law, but the announcement of God's will by the mouth of his representatives; and the thought is, not the blessedness of those who in a time of anarchy and irreligion keep to the authorized enactments of the Sinaitic legislation, but a contrast between the lawlessness and ruin of a people uninfluenced by religious guidance, and the happy state of those who obey alike the voice of God, whether conveyed in written statutes or by the teaching of living prophets. (For "happy is he," comp. Proverbs 14:21; Proverbs 16:20.) Septuagint, "There shall be no interpreter (ἐξηγητὴς) to a sinful nation, but he that keepeth the Law is most blessed."
A servant will not be corrected by words. Mere words will not suffice to teach a slave, any more than a child, true, practical wisdom. He needs severer measures, even the correction of personal discipline. Septuagint, "By words a stubborn (σκληρὸς) slave will not be instructed." The next clause gives an explanation of this necessity. For though he understand he will not answer. The answer is not merely the verbal response to a command, as, "I go, sir;" but it implies obedience in action. The reluctant slave thoroughly understands the order given, but he pays no heed to it, will not trouble himself to execute it, and therefore must meet with stern treatment (comp. Proverbs 29:15; Proverbs 23:13, etc.; Proverbs 26:3). "That servant which knew his Lord's will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes" (Luke 12:47). Septuagint, "For even if he understand, he will not obey."
Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words? (comp. Proverbs 26:12); Vulgate, velocem ad loquendum; Septuagint, ταχὺν ἐν λόγοις. James 1:19," Let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak." "A talkative (γλωσσώδης) man is dangerous in his city; and he that is rash (προπετὴς) in his words shall be hated" (Ecclesiastes 9:18). We might also translate, "hasty in his matters," "hasty in business," and the gnome would be equally true (see note on Proverbs 19:2). There is more hope era fool than of him. The dull, stupid man (kesil) may be instructed and guided and made to listen to reason; the hasty and ill-advised speaker consults no one, takes no thought before he speaks, nor reflects on the effect of his words; such a man it is almost impossible to reform (see James 3:5, etc.). "Every one that speaks," says St. Gregory, "while he waits for his hearer's sentence upon his words, is as it were subjected to the judgment of him by whom he is heard. Accordingly, he that fears to be condemned in respect of his words ought first to put to the test that which he delivers—that there may be a kind of impartial and sober umpire sitting between the hear and tongue, weighing with exactness whether the heart presents right words, which the tongue taking up with advantage may bring forward for the heater's judgment" ('Moral.,' 8:5, Oxford transl.).
He that delicately bringeth up his servant from a child. The verb panak, which is not found elsewhere in the Old Testament, is rightly here translated as in the Vulgate, qui delicate nutrit. It refers to the spoiling a person by over-refinement, luxury, and pampering—a treatment peculiarly unsuitable in the case of a bond servant, and one which makes such forgetful of his dependent position. Septuagint, "He that liveth wantonly (κατασπαταλᾷ) from childhood shall be a servant." Shall have him become his son at the length; i.e. at length, like "at the last," equivalent to "at last" (Proverbs 5:11). The word rendered "son" (מַנוֹן, manon) is of doubtful meaning, and has been variously understood or misunderstood by interpreters. Septuagint, "And in the end shall have pain (ὀδυνηθήσεται) over himself;" Symmachus, "shall have murmuring (ἔστα γογγυσμός);" Vulgate, Postea sentiet eum contumacem. Ewald translates "ungrateful;" Delitzsch, "place of increase," i.e. a household of pampered scapegraces; but one does not see how the disaster can be called a place or a house. It seems safest in this uncertainty to adopt the Jewish interpretation of "progeny:" "he will be as a son." The pampered servant will end by claiming the privileges of a son, and perhaps ousting the legitimate children from their inheritance (comp. Proverbs 17:2; and the ease of Ziba and Mephibosheth, 2 Samuel 16:4). "Fodder, a stick, and burdens are for the ass; and bread, correction, and work for a servant. If thou set thy servant to labour, thou shalt find rest; but if thou let him go idle, he will seek liberty" (Ecclesiasticus 33:24, etc.). Spiritual writers have applied this proverb to the pampering of the flesh, which ought to be under the control of its master, the spirit, but which, if gratified and unrestrained, gets the upper hand, and, like a spoiled servant, dictates to its lord.
An angry man stirreth up strife. This is a variation of Proverbs 15:18 and Proverbs 28:25 (which see). A furious man aboundeth in transgression. "A furious man" is a passionate person, who gives way to violent fits of anger (Proverbs 22:24). Such a man both makes enemies by his conduct and falls into manifold excesses of word and action while under the influence of his wrath. "The wrath of man worketh not the righteousness of God" (James 1:20). The Greek gnome says—
Ὀργὴ δὲ πολλὰ δρᾷν ἀναγκάζει κακά
Πόλλ ἔστιν ὀργῆς ἐξ ἀπαιδεύτου κακά
"Unchastened anger leads to many ills."
Septuagint, "A passionate man diggeth up sin"—a forcible expression, which is not unusual in reference to quarrels.
A man's pride shall bring him low. The same thought is found in Proverbs 15:33; Proverbs 16:18; Proverbs 25:6, etc.; Luke 14:11. Honour shall uphold the humble in spirit; better, as the Revised Version, he that is of a lowly spirit shall obtain honour (comp. Proverbs 11:16; Isaiah 57:15). The humble man does not seek honour, but by his life and action unconsciously attains it (comp. Job 22:29). Septuagint, "Haughtiness brings a man low, but the lowly-minded the Lord upholdeth with glory."
Whoso is partner with a thief hateth his own soul. The accomplice of a thief puts his own safety in danger. This is explained by what follows: He heareth cursing, and bewrayeth it not; better, he heareth the adjuration, and telleth not. This refers to the course of proceeding defined by Le Proverbs 5:1, and intimated in Judges 17:2. When a theft was committed, the person wronged or the judge pronounced an imprecation on the thief and on any one who was privy to the crime, and refrained from giving information; a witness who saw and knew of it, and was silent under this formal adjuration, has to bear his iniquity; he is not only an accomplice of a criminal, he is also a perjurer; one sin leads to another. Some commentators explain the first hemistich as referring only to the crime of receiving or using stolen goods, by which a man commits a crime and exposes himself to punishment; but it is best taken, as above, in connection with the second clause, and as elucidated thereby.
The fear of man bringeth a snare. He who, through fear of what man may do to him, think or say of him, does what he knows to be wrong, lets his moral cowardice lead him into sin, leaves duty undone,—such a man gets no real good from his weakness, outrages conscience, displeases God. See our Lord's words. Whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe (Proverbs 18:10). Such trust carries a man safe through all dangers; fearing to offend God, living as always under his eye, he feels Divine protection, and knows that whatever happens is for the best. The LXX. joins this to the preceding verse, thus: "He who shareth with a thief hateth his own soul; and if, when an oath is offered, they who hear it give, no information, they fearing and reverencing men, are overthrown, but he that trusteth in the Lord shall rejoice." They add another rendering of the last verse, "Ungodliness causeth a man to stumble, but he who trusts in the Lord (ἐπὶ τῷ δεσπότῃ 2 Peter 2:1) shall be saved." Δεσπότης is used for Jehovah in the New Testament, e.g. Luke 2:29; Acts 4:24.
Many seek the ruler's favour; literally, the countenance of the ruler. A variation of Proverbs 19:6. There are numbers who are always trying, by means fair or surreptitious, to curry favour with a great man who has anything to bestow (comp. lKi Proverbs 10:24; Psalms 45:12). But every man's judgment cometh from the Lord. The real and only reliable judgment comes, not from an earthly prince, but from the Lord, whose approval or disapproval is final and indisputable. Therefore one should seek to please him rather than any man, however great and powerful.
An unjust man is an abomination to the just. This great moral contrast, marked and universal, is a fitting close of the book. The word "abomination" (toebah) occurs more than twenty times in the Proverbs; it is appropriate here because the good man looks upon the sinner as the enemy of God, as the psalmist says, "Do not I hate them, O Lord, that hate thee? and am not I grieved with those that rise up against thee? I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them thine enemies" (Psalms 139:21, etc.). He that is upright in the way is abomination to the wicked; because he is a standing reproach to him, and by every tone and look and action seems to express his condemnation. Septuagint, "A direct way is an abomination to the lawless." The Vulgate ends the chapter with a paragraph which is found in some manuscripts of the Septuagint after Proverbs 24:22 (where see note), Verbum custodiens filius extra perditionem erit.
Hardened under reproof
I. REPROOF MAY RE REJECTED. It is not violent and compulsory correction. We have free wills, and God does not destroy our wills in order to reform our conduct, for he only delights in voluntary obedience; but he sends warnings and chastises us as his children. This treatment should lead to repentance. Still, it is addressed to our reason, our conscience, our affections. Pharaoh repeatedly rejected Divine reproofs, when he refused to let the Hebrews go after each successive plague was removed. The Israelites in the wilderness murmured and rebelled again and again, in spite of continuous mercies and numerous sharp rebukes. God is often warning his children now. The faithful preaching of his truth is a rebuke to the thoughtless and the sinful. The interior voice of conscience utters its own solemn Divine reproof. If we sin heedlessly, we do not sin unwarned. The rejection of the reproof is no sign of its weakness or insufficiency. Even the warning words of Christ failed to arrest the wilful people of Jerusalem in their headlong race to destruction (Matthew 23:37).
II. REPROOF IS REJECTED BY STUBBORN SELF-WILL. The neck is hardened. The obstinate man is like a horse that will not obey the reins; like one that has taken the bit into its teeth and will rush on in its own wild course.
1. This implies determination. One who was unreproved might plead ignorance or forgetfulness. Such an excuse cannot be put forward by the man who has been often reproved. His disregarded warnings will rise up in the judgment to condemn him. Meanwhile his continiuous refusal to give heed to them is a sure sign of deliberate sinfulness.
2. This also implies hardness of heart. It is the hard heart that makes the neck hard. The stiff-necked generation is a stony-hearted generation. The repeated rejection of reproof tends to harden the heart more and more. The ear grows deaf to the often-neglected alarum.
III. REPROOF, WHEN REJECTED, IS FOLLOWED BY RUIN. The reproof is a warning. Its very sternness is inspired by love, because it is intended to guard the foolish soul against impending danger. But after this has been heard unheeded there can be no escape.
1. There is no excuse. The warning has been uttered. Everything possible has been done to arrest the downward career of the stubborn reprobate.
2. There is double guilt. The rejection of the reproof is an additional sin—an insult to the Divine righteousness and love.
3. There can be no hope of escape. The destruction may be sudden, after its long delay, and "that without remedy."
IV. REPROOF, WHEN HEEDED, LEADS TO RESTORATION.
1. It contains hope. For if there were no way of escape open the language of reproof would be wasted. In that case it would come too late, and might as well be spared. The sternest reproof is a call to repentance, and this call points to a restoration.
2. It prepares for the gospel. John the Baptist makes straight the way for Christ. After we have humbly submitted to reproof, we shall hear the joyous message of the gospel.
The religion of politics
I. RELIGION IS CONCERNED WITH POLITICS. Too often the two spheres are kept disastrously distinct. On the one hand, it is pretended that the sacred character of religion would be desecrated by its being dragged into the political arena; and on the other hand, the claim of religion to have a voice in public affairs is set down to the ambition and tyranny of priestcraft. Now, it is not to be supposed that purely religious subjects should be obtruded on the uncongenial platform of a public meeting. Very possibly they would be resented; we are not to cast pearl before swine. Moreover, there is a time for everything. But religion claims to influence politics, to be a leading factor in public movements, to hold the standard by which all political actions are to be judged. It must do this if it is to carry out its mission of leavening the whole lump. It should leave no region of life untouched; commerce, literature, art, science, recreation, society, and politics must all come under its influence. For religion to withdraw from politics is to hand that important region of life over to the devil. We find that the Bible has much to say on the conduct of public affairs.
II. THE WELFARE OF A PEOPLE IS LARGELY DETERMINED BY THE MORAL CHARACTER OF THE GOVERNMENT.
1. The principal influence of religion on politics must be moral. In public life nice distinctions of creed, fine varieties of abstract dogma, and academic discussions of theoretical divinity are brushed aside as mere cobwebs compared to the serious, practical, present day questions that are at stake. But the moral influence of religion does not belong to any of these categories. That influence is direct, practical, and real. The religion of politics is the morality of public life viewed in the light of God.
2. The moral character of public affairs is of vital interest to the people. States are ruined by immoral government. Bad passions stir up needless strife. Wicked greed, jealousy, or revenge are at the root of most wars. A government of a high moral character would have found a means of keeping the peace, where one of lower tone has plunged the nation into all the horrors of war. The right and peaceable relation of class to class within the community can only be preserved when justice and humanity are observed in the conduct of public affairs.
III. IT IS THE DUTY OF CHRISTIAN MEN TO SEE THAT THE RIGHTEOUS ARE IN AUTHORITY.
1. In a system of popular government all who have a voice should make that voice heard. It is a distinct dereliction of duty for any Christian man to withdraw from all influence in public life. It may be urged that the tone of that life is worldly. If so there is the more reason why unworldly men should enter it in order to give it a higher character. The Christian is not a recluse. He is called to be the salt of the earth, to season all society with wholesome thought and action. It is unfair to leave the burden of public affairs to others, and then to profit by their labours; and yet this is what is done by those people who are too devout to assist in the making of good laws, but by no means too devout to avail themselves of those laws when they are made.
2. Religion will best influence politics by good men being at the head of affairs. Good men will make good measures. It is therefore necessary to select men of high character for parliament and also for municipal offices.
The evil of a contemptuous treatment of life and duty is to be seen in many relations. Let us consider some of them.
I. SCORN FOR THE PEOPLE. This was the temper of the old monarchical and aristocratic systems. The mischief of it was seen in the explosion of the French Revolution. The "dim multitude" cannot be treated as so much chaff of the threshing floor. The nation is the people. The first interest of the nation is the welfare of the great bulk of the population, not the luxury of what is regarded as "the cream of society"
II. SCORN FOR THE POOR. This was the attitude of the wealthy Jews in ancient Israel, which called forth stern rebukes from the prophets of God (e.g. Amos 6:3-6); and the same fault was detected in the Christian Church by St. James (James 2:1-3). The indifference which too many of the prosperous feel for their hard-pressed, suffering brethren is one of the most dangerous symptoms of society. It lies at the root of socialism.
III. SCORN FOR INJUSTICE. In some cases there is worse than poverty; there is Positive wrong doing. The powerful oppress the weak. Strong masters hold down miserable slaves. This evil condition was a perpetual cause of danger to Rome in its most prosperous age. It is seen in the "sweating system" in England today.
IV. SCORN FOR DANGER. Misery and injustice are sources of danger. But other and direct dangers may menace a country. The scorn of pride will be no security against those dangers. We shall not be protected by staging, "Rule, Britannia," or by shouting, "Britons never shall be slaves."
V. SCORN FOR WICKEDNESS. The greatest danger of the state is not in poverty at home; nor is it in war from abroad. It lies in the moral corruption of the people. Wholesale debauchery, widespread drunkenness, a perfect epidemic of gambling, profligacy, dishonesty,—these are the cankers that eat out the vital strength of a nation. Indifference to such evils is contempt for moral law.
VI. SCORN FOR RELIGION. In the race for wealth, in the dance of pleasure, in the mad orgy of worldly engagement, multitudes treat the claims of religion with scorn. Others, in their misery and despair, refuse to believe that any help or hope can come to them from heaven. This scornful attitude towards the first duties and the highest interests of life must be fraught with fatal consequences. Meanwhile the scornful attitude entirely excludes the beginnings of better things, Humility and repentance are impossible so long as this defiant mood is cherished.
The revelation of ancient prophecy was not continuous and uninterrupted, but it came in flashes, between which there were intervals of darkness. Sometimes those intervals were long and most distressing to a people that had learnt to draw its chief lessons from Divine oracles. Such a time was experienced in the days of Eli, for "the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no open vision" (1 Samuel 3:1); and another and longer period was that of the "four centuries of silence" between the closing of the Old Testament and the opening of the New Testament.
I. MEN NEED A HEAVENLY VISION. This requirement was recognized in Israel on especial grounds, because the people felt themselves to be a divinely directed nation, with God for their King and Leader. The fading away of the prophet's vision would be like the vanishing of the pillar of cloud and fire in the wilderness; a necessary guidance would be lost. But heavenly visions are not less needed by all men.
1. Men need to know heavenly truth.
(1) In order to do the will of God. The servant must know his master's will if he is to do his duty. Earthly knowledge is not enough. Heavenly messages are wanted, or the duty to God will be neglected.
(2) For the saving of a man's own soul. We are not merely earthly animals. We are naturally related to heaven. To be starved of heavenly truth is to be left to perish in earthly mindedness.
2. Men cannot discover heavenly truth. It must be revealed. Without a vision from God the world is in spiritual darkness.
II. MEN CAN HAVE A HEAVENLY VISION. God has not left his people to grope in a gross Cimmerian darkness. Light hass fallen from heaven on earth.
1. This is given in the Bible. That record of old revelation enshrines a perpetual vision of God for all who have eyes to behold it. Therefore it is the duty of Christian people
(1) to study the Scriptures,
(2) to circulate them throughout the world, and
(3) to teach and expound them to children and the ignorant.
2. This is enjoyed in personal experience. Every man can have his own vision, nay, must have it if he would really see truth. It is not to be supposed that everybody can he a Daniel or an Ezekiel, can behold Isaiah's wonderful vision of God (Isaiah 6:1-13) or St. John's glorious apocalypse of the heavenly Jerusalem (Revelation 21:1-27). Much less is each man to look for his own separate gospel, and to feel called upon to write his own newer Testament. But in the understanding and appreciation of truth we must each see it for ourselves by the aid of a Divine inspiration. This was predicted by Joel of the new dispensation (Joel 2:25), and claimed by St. Peter (Acts 2:16-21).
III. MEN MAY LOSE THEIR HEAVENLY VISION. God is not capricious. If the Divine voice is silent, this must be because there are no obedient ears to receive it. The vision is only withdrawn when the eyes of men are so blinded by sin and worldliness that they cannot behold it. Then God may send a famine of the Word of truth (Amos 8:11). It is a fearful thing to be incapable of seeing the truth of God or hearing his voice. But this condition is dependent on our own conduct. We blind our eyes against the light of heaven when we plunge into the mire of sin. We need to pray, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy Law" (Psalms 119:18). Christ came to open blind eyes (Luke 4:18), and to give new visions of God's truth (John 18:37).
The fear of man
I. THE FEAR.
1. In what it consists. This fear is a dread of the disfavour of man, and its hurtful results. It may take various forms.
(1) Fear of human authority. Thus, in days of persecution, the weak shrink from martyrdom. Wrongs are often permitted for fear of the consequences of agitating against them.
(2) Fear of the great. Some men have an awe of mere rank and station. They bow obsequiously before riches; they dread to oppose important personages.
(3) Fear of society. "Mrs. Grundy" is regarded with awe. It is thought to be a dreadful thing to be out of the fashion. Social impropriety, in the eyes of the fastidious, is regarded as worse than moral delinquency.
(4) Fear of the multitude. This is the new fear of man peculiarly mischievous in our democratic age. There is a danger lest men should concede to popular clamour what they do not believe to be good or right.
(5) Fear of those we love. Perhaps this is the most difficult fear to resist (but see Matthew 10:37).
2. How it originates.
(1) In cowardice. This is an unworthy fear. It is selfish and immoral. It springs from too much regard for our own feelings, and too little reference for duty.
(2) In godlessness. Man takes the place of God. The mob is deified. Human action is treated as supreme.
II. ITS SNARE.
1. The deception of it.
(1) In regard to duty. Fear takes the place of conscience. It blinds us to the sense of right and wrong, blurring the great outlines of morality. Instead of asking, "What is right?" a person who is haunted by this shameful fear only inquires, "What is safe?" Now, there is no more self-deluded mortal than the man who is only sure of being "safe." When he folds his arms in smug complacency, he is really "in the gall of bitterness and the bonds of iniquity."
(2) In regard to danger. Subservience to the opinion of other people can never afford real security. It is but a shallow and tricky device. We can never please all men, and in attempting to escape the wrath of one party we rouse that of another. If, however, the sleek time server were clever enough to propitiate all human enmity, he would have left himself exposed to the far more terrible wrath of Heaven.
2. The fatality of it. This fear brings a snare. It entraps its unwary victim. When once the craven-hearted man is caught in the meshes of worldly fears, he finds it vain to struggle for liberty. This fear creates a miserable bondage. No serf under the old feudal system was more bound to his lord than the poor slave of public opinion is to his hydra-headed master. This wretched fear of man is fatal to all true manliness. It will make shipwreck of the most honourable career. The only needful fear is fear of doing wrong, fear of the devil (Matthew 10:28).
III. ITS ANTIDOTE. We are to find a refuge from the ensnaring fear of man by putting our trust in the Lord. God is mightier than the whole world. A howling mob hounding its victims to death cannot shake the confidence of one who has made the Lord his Refuge. Trust in God saved Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from cowardice when threatened by cruel Nebuchadnezzar and cast into the burning fiery furnace. Christ was calm and fearless before all his foes, fortified by the prayers of Gethsemane. We need to rise into a higher atmosphere above all the mists of popular opinion. Men may frown and rage, or laugh and ridicule; but he who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty (Psalms 91:1).
"Earth may be darkness; Heaven will give thee Light."
The supreme Arbiter. I. IT IS A COMMON MISTAKE TO ASCRIBE TO MAN THE INFLUENCE WHICH BELONGS ONLY TO GOD. In the previous verse we have been warned against falling into the snare of the fear of man, and encouraged to find our safety in trust in God. A similar contrast is again presented to us, but from the opposite side. We are tempted to flatter the great in order to win their favour; but we are now reminded that our destiny does not lie in their hands, but in the hands of One who is supreme in judgment, though his rule is too often ignored by us. Helena, in 'All's Well that ends Well,' says—
"It is not so with him that all things knows,
As 'tis with us that square our guess by shows;
But most it is presumption in us when
The help of Heaven we count the act of men."
1. This common mistake arises partly from the fact that the human influence is visible, while that of God is unseen. The molehill at our feet thus seems to be more important than the mountain that bounds our horizon but is wrapped in mist.
2. It is also caused by the further fact that much of God's judgment is postponed. We do not yet experience the full effect of the Divine arbitrament.
II. GOD'S JUDGMENT WILL BE EXPERIENCED BY EVERY MAN. He is not only the Arbiter of the fate of those who call in his aid; he is the "Judge of all the earth" (Genesis 18:25). Abraham recognized the fact that God was the Judge of Sodom and Gomorrah, though no doubt the wicked cities of the plain utterly repudiated his authority. The godless will be judged by God. Those men who do not choose to put their case in the hands of God will nevertheless receive their sentence from him.
III. IT IS GOOD NEWS FOR THE WORLD THAT GOD IS THE SUPREME ARBITER. This is not set before us as a truth of terror. On the contrary, it is declared as a great consolation among the ills of life.
1. God is just. He is perfectly fair, utterly impartial. no Respecter of persons. Rich and poor stand on equal grounds before his judgment seat.
2. God is wise. The most acute human judge may be deceived. But he that searcheth the heart knows all facts about all men. His judgment must be based on truth.
3. God is strong. He is able to execute his sentence. When he declares what is right, he will also establish his judgment.
IV. IT IS WELL FOR MEN TO ACKNOWLEDGE GOD AS THEIR ARBITER. We shall all have to submit to his judgment in the end. It would be wise for us to acknowledge his rule throughout life. Surely it is most fatally foolish to labour for the favour even of the most influential men, if this involves disregarding the thoughts and will of God. The verdict of the lower court will be overridden by the judgment of the higher court. Therefore what is most incumbent on all men is to see that they are right and straight in the eyes of the One supreme Judge. By sin, as we must acknowledge, we are all wrong in his eyes. Therefore no human favour can save us till we have been put right and justified through the grace at Christ.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Private morality and the public weal
I. TRUTHS OF PERSONAL CONDUCT.
1. The obstinate offender and his doom. (Proverbs 29:1.) The repeated complaint against Israel was that they were a "stiff-necked people." Self-willed, haughty, persistent, defying rebuke and chastisement, is the habit described. It invites judgment. "When lesser warnings will not serve, God looks into his quiver for deadly arrows." They who will not bend before the gentle persuasions of God's Holy Spirit must feel the rod. Men may make themselves outlaws from the kingdom of God.
2. Wisdom and virtue inseparable in conduct. (Proverbs 29:3.) So much so that the same word may occasionally do duty for either notion. Thus the French mean by one who is "sage" one who is chaste and virtuous. The effects are alike. Joy is given to parents by the sage conduct of children; and vice is seen to be folly by the waste and want it brings in its train (comp. Proverbs 6:26; Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 28:7).
3. The dishonesty of flattery. (Proverbs 29:5.) It may be designed to deceive, and is then coloured with the darkest hue of treachery. Or it may be undesigned in its effects. But in either case, the web of flattering lies becomes a snare in which the neighbour stumbles to his fall (comp. Proverbs 26:24, Proverbs 26:25, Proverbs 26:28). The kiss of the flatterer is more deadly than the hate of a foe. "When we are most praised for our discernment, we are apt to act most foolishly; for praise tends to cloud the understanding and pervert the judgment."
4. Delusive and genuine joy. (Proverbs 29:6.) The serpent is concealed amidst the roses of illicit pleasures; a canker is at the core of the forbidden fruit. A "shadow darkens the ruby of the cup, and dims the splendour of the scene." But ever there is a song in the ways of God. See the example of Patti and Silas even in prison (Acts 16:25). "Always there are evil days in the world; always good days in the Lord".
II. THE INFLUENCE OF PERSONAL GOODNESS ON SOCIAL AND PUBLIC WEAL.
1. The general happiness is dependent on the conduct of individuals. (Proverbs 29:2; comp. Proverbs 28:12, Proverbs 28:28.) For society is a collection of individuals. "It is no peculiar conceit, but a matter of sound consequence, that all duties are by so much the better performed, by how much the men are more religious from whose abilities the same proceed. For if the course of political affairs cannot in any good sort go forward without fit instruments, and that which fitteth them be their virtues, let polity acknowledge itself indebted to religion, godliness being the chiefest, top, and well-spring of all true virtue, even as God is of all good things." "Religion, unfeignedly lived, perfecteth man's abilities unto all kinds of virtuous services in the commonwealth" (Hooker, 'Eccl. Pol.,' Ecclesiastes 5:1).
2. The effect of just administration and of bribery. (Proverbs 29:4.) The best laws are of no avail if badly administered. God's throne is founded on justice (Psalms 89:14). And this only can be the foundation of national stable polity and of the common weal "We will sell justice to none," says the Magna Charta. The theocracy was overthrown in the time of Samuel by the corruption of his sons. The just administration of David "bore up the pillars" of the land (2 Samuel 8:15). The greed of Jehoiakim again shook the kingdom to its foundations (Jeremiah 22:18-19). Righteousness alone exalteth a nation.
3. Justice to the poor. (Proverbs 29:7.) The good man enters into the feelings of others, and makes the lot of the oppressed, in sympathy and imagination, his own. The evil and hard-hearted man, looking at life only from the outside, treats the poor as dumb driven cattle, and easily becomes the tyrant and the oppressor. Peculiarly, sympathy, consideration, compassion for the lowly and the poor, have been infused into the conscience of the world, and made "current coin" by the example and spirit of the Redeemer.—J.
Such is the designation given by St. Paul (see Revised Version of the New Testament, Romans 1:26, etc.) to the various workings of the evil leaven in the soul. Here is a description of some of these "lusts."
I. SCOFFING. (Proverbs 29:8.) Set on fire of hell, it inflames others, disturbs the peace of communities, produces failures and tumults in public life. But wisdom calms, and turns all things to the best. The scoffer, the malevolent critic of existing institutions, is a public pest; the judicious man, a public blessing. The one raises tumults, the other quells them.
II. CONTENTIOUSNESS. (Proverbs 29:9.) It delights in dispute for dispute's sake. The man of this vice does not want to elicit truth, but to find fuel for his passion. Alternating between rage and ridicule, he uses words merely as weapons of offence and defence. Egotism is at the root of all his activity.
III. THE SANGUINARY TEMPER. (Proverbs 29:10.) All hatred to the truth involves hatred to the truth speaker and the truth doer. Here lies the secret of all persecution and of all judicial murders. But in ourselves, whenever we detect the rising of resentment against him who exposes our faults or fallacies, we may find something of the dark temper of him "who was of the wicked one, and slew his brother" (1 John 3:12).
IV. WANT OF SELF-CONTROL. (Proverbs 29:11.) The impetuous, unbridled temper, which explodes with wrath at the smallest provocation, or with ill-considered opinions. He is wise who knows when to hold his peace. We are not always to speak all we feel or think, but when we do speak should ever think what we say. We must remember that "there is a time to speak, and a time to keep silence."—J.
Government in truth and equity
I. THERE MUST BE THE FORCE OF EXAMPLE. (Proverbs 29:12.) Especially in regard to truthfulness. Nothing is more easily caught than an example of untruthfulness, evasion, hypocrisy. Servants' manners reflect their masters' characters. The more conspicuous the station, the further the influence of the example extends.
II. THERE MUST BE RESPECT TO THE RULER AND JUDGE OF ALL. (Proverbs 29:13.) He is no Respecter of persons; but he is the Protector of all, and the Judge between man and man. The distinctions of ruler and subject, of rank and rank, of class and class, are temporary; the common relation of all to God is spiritual and eternal.
III. THERE MUST BE REGARD TO THE LOWLY. (Proverbs 29:14.) Must not the test of every government be at last this—What did it accomplish for the poor, for the burdened, for the slave and the oppressed? "Glorious" wars and additions of territory can never compensate for injustice at home; the renown of arms for a people's misery. The throne that is not propped by bayonets, but built upon a people's gratitude and loyalty, may defy the storms of revolution.
IV. DOMESTIC GOVERNMENT TEACHES THE SAME TRUTHS ON A SMALLER SCALE. (Proverbs 29:15-17.)
1. There is the same need of firmness and discipline. Absolute liberty is licence. All our freedom is bounded by necessity. The good of the whole demands fixed law; and this must be observed in the household as in the body politic. A weakness in the administration of acknowledged law is fatal to the purity of the home, to the welfare of nations. Evil doers must be kept down; if their character cannot be changed, their power to work mischief must be taken from them by the unflinching administration of law. And lastly, firmness, so far from alienating, really wins the good will, the respect, and obedience of subjects in the petty commonwealth of home and in the larger sphere of the state.—J.
Fatal defects in the social state
I. THE WANT OF COMMANDING RELIGIOUS TEACHING. The great prophets of Israel were the great instructors of the people. They declared Jehovah's living oracles; they made clear the eternal principles of the moral law; they forecast what must be the future under moral conditions. The Christian preacher has succeeded to the office of the Jewish prophet. Woe to the nation if the supply of preachers ceases! if, sunk in material interests, they are allowed to forget that the "Word of the Lord" lives and endures, and obedience to it must be the foundation of all private blessing, all public prosperity!
II. THE WANT OF FIRM POLICY AND CONDUCT. (Proverbs 29:19.) There always will be a class more or less of "slaves," who must be governed, not by mere rhetoric or the appeal to feeling, but by the knowledge that words will be backed by deeds. God means what he says. The laws of nature are no mere abstract statements of truth; they are stern and solemn facts, which cannot be defied with impunity. And the lawless must understand that what ought to be shall be.
III. THE WANT OF CALM DELIBERATION. (Proverbs 29:20.) Whether in private or in public life, this too may he a ruinous defect. Thus rash enterprises are begun, hostilities break out without warning, a lifelong alienation or the misery of a generation may spring from the passion or the pique of the moment.
IV. WANT OF DUE SEVERITY IN DISCIPLINE. (Proverbs 29:21.) The exegesis of the verse certainly points to this meaning. Men are stung by the ingratitude or contumacy of those whom they had weakly petted, and whose faults they had nourished by their smiles. But human nature will only respond to just and true treatment; and injurious kindness will reap a thorny crop of ingratitude.
V. WANT OF SELF-CONTROL AND OF SELF-KNOWLEDGE. (Proverbs 29:22, Proverbs 29:23.) (For the first, see Proverbs 15:18; Proverbs 28:25.) Wrath is the very hot bed of transgression and every "evil work." And self-esteem is a neighbour vice. So near are extremes in life: the moment we are highest in our own imagination we are really lowest in power, in position, in prospect. "He that would build lastingly must lay his foundation low. As man falls by pride, he recovers by humility." And the more God honours men, the more they should humble themselves.—J.
Prevalence in alliance with religion
I. PRUDENCE AND RELIGION ARE EVER IN HARMONY. There can be no divorce between them. We are not placed between cross lights here. What intelligent regard to self prescribes, God's Law commands. Approach the facts of life from these two opposite sides, travel by either of these two paths, they meet at last in duty, in safety, in peace, and salvation.
II. SOME EXAMPLES OF THIS HARMONY.
1. All dishonesty or complicity with it is self-destructive. (Proverbs 29:24.) Enlightened experience says so, and stamps itself in the clear dictum, "Honesty is the best policy." God's Word says so, and here and in a thousand similar declarations and warnings pronounces a curse upon the sin.
2. Fear of man is perilous; confidence in the Eternal is safety. (Proverbs 29:25.) Experience again ratifies this. The coward dies a thousand deaths; the brave, but once. The feeble-hearted daily miss opportunities; the brave create them. Moral cowardice springs from want of inner conviction of the might of truth; moral strength, from the inner certainty that nothing but truth is victorious. Positive revelation here again fortifies the hints of common knowledge.
3. The vanity of honour from others; the true honour that comes from God. (Proverbs 29:26.) What bitter things have been written down in the experience of men of the world concerning the favour of the great, and the folly of courting it and depending upon it! and how does the same lesson echo back from the page of Holy Writ! Act well your part in Jehovah's sight; seek the honour that cometh from him only;—how common and Divine wisdom effect ajuncture once more!
4. Eternal antipathies. (Proverbs 29:27.) What experience teaches us in one form, that fellowship must be founded on sympathy, that tastes must be respected, that deep, undefinable feelings attract us to or repel us from others, God's Word again confirms: "Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness." Acquaintance is mere collocation of persons; friendship and Christian communism are the eternal affinity of souls in God.—J.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The doom of obduracy
There are four stages which conduct to spiritual ruin.
I. HUMAN DISLOYALTY. Man is found (or finds himself) at enmity with God; he does not reverence, love, honour, serve, him. He owes everything to his Maker and Preserver and generous Benefactor; but he has not paid his great debt, and now he is estranged in spirit, and his life is one of disloyalty and rebellion.
II. DIVINE SUMMONS TO RETURN. God is saying, "Return unto me, and I will return unto you;" "Let the wicked forsake his way … and let him return unto the Lord." By many messengers, in many voices, God calls us to repentance and reconciliation.
III. HUMAN RECUSANCY. God calls, but men will not hearken or they will not heed. They either
(1) deliberately decline to listen; or they
(2) do listen without being seriously impressed; or they
(3) are impressed without coming to any right and wise decision; they linger and delay; they continually postpone; and every new procrastination makes indecision easier and delay more dangerous.
IV. DIVINE PATIENCE. God "bears long" with men. We see his merciful and wonderful patience when we look at:
1. The time during which he continues to them preservation and privilege. Through childhood and youth, through manhood and the days of decline, up to extreme old age, God continues to men his sustaining and preserving power, and all the fulness of Christian privilege; though all the while they are abusing his gift of life by retaining it for their own personal enjoyment, and his gift of opportunity by slighting, or despairing, or misusing it.
2. The various means he employs in order to reach and restore us.
(1) God invites men, through his Word, and through the Christian ministry, and by the voices of the home and of human friendship.
(2) He commands; he requires that all men should repent and believe.
(3) He warns.
(4) He reproves; he often reproves. "He that is often reproved;" and very commonly a disloyal heart is often rebuked of God. Time after time he receives the admonition of his fellows, or he suffers the penalty of his guilt. God makes him to understand that "the way of transgressors is hard;" the merciful hand of the Divine Father interposes many obstacles in the way of his children's ruin, that they may be stopped and may be led to return on their way. But sin does its fatal work of indurating the heart, of paralyzing the conscience, of blinding the eyes of the children of men; and the man who is "often rebuked" only "hardens his neck," and then comes the end—
V. SUDDEN AND IRREMEDIABLE RUIN.
1. Sometimes (perhaps frequently, in the case of those who are guilty of flagrant sin) the day of probation ends with startling suddenness: "They are brought into desolation in a moment." Death comes down upon them without any warning. In the full flow of iniquity their soul is that very night required of them, and they pass from guilt to judgment.
2. Commonly, the end comes without expectation, and so without preparation. Men are going on with the engagements and the indulgences of life; and they are expecting to go on indefinitely. Then comes the serious illness, the sick chamber, the medical attendant, the anxious inquiry, the unfavourable response, the solemn communication and the distressed and agitated soul has to say, "My hour is come, and I am not ready for its coming."—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 11:10)—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 27:5, Proverbs 27:6.)—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 19:17.)—C.
The senselessness of scorn, etc
Here is a triplet of truths we may gather from these three texts.
I. THE SENSELESSNESS OF SCORN. (Proverbs 29:8.) To be of a scornful spirit, to bestow scornful looks, to use scornful language,—this is gross folly.
1. It is utterly unbecoming. Not one of us is so removed above his fellows as to be entitled to treat with entire disregard what they may have to say or what they propose to do.
2. The wisest men, and even the Wise One himself, think well to listen to what the humblest can suggest.
3. It leads to a blind opposition to true wisdom; for often wisdom is found with those in whom no one expects to discover it; even as the scornful Greek and the proud Roman found it in the despised teachers from Judaea.
4. It ends disastrously. It "brings a city into a snare," "sets a city in a flame." It refuses to consider the serious danger that is threatened, or it provokes to uncontrollable anger by its disdainfulness; and the end is discord, confusion, strife.
5. It deliberately neglects the one way of peace. A wise man who does not refuse to listen and to learn, who prefers to treat neighbours and even enemies with the respect that is their due, "turns away wrath," and saves the city from the flame. Scorn is thus a senseless thing in every light.
II. THE USELESSNESS OF CONTENTION. (Proverbs 29:9.) We are not to understand that it is a vain or foolish thing to endeavour
(1) to enlighten the ignorant, or
(2) to convince the mistaken. Where there is an honest and loyal spirit, it may be of great service to do this. What is useless is
(3) to debate with the contentious. Nothing comes of it but the clatter of the tongue and the triumph of the complacent "fool." He may rage or he may laugh; he may passionately declaim or he may indulge in banter and in badinage, but he does not seek, and he will not find, the truth. He is no nearer to wisdom at the end than he was at the beginning. Time is wasted; the heart of the wise is disappointed; the way ward man is confirmed in his folly;—let him alone.
III. THE AIM OF THE UPRIGHT. This is twofold.
1. Peace. The wise man, who is the upright man, "turns away wrath;" and he objects to a contest with the contentious, because "there is no rest." Those in whom is the Spirit of Christ are always setting this before them as a goal to be reached; they speak and act as those that "make for peace." They feel that everything which can be should be avoided that makes for dissension and strife; they are the peacemakers, and theirs is the blessing of the children of God (Matthew 5:9).
2. Life. They (the upright) "seek the soul," or the life, of the man whom the bloodthirsty hate (Proverbs 29:10). To "seek the soul" or the life of men is the characteristic of the good.
(1) They care, in thought and deed, for the preservation and the protection of human life; they seek the removal of all that threatens it.
(2) They care much for all that enlarges and ennobles human life—education, morality, sound discipline.
(3) They care most of all for that one thing which crowns human life, and may be said to constitute it—the return of the soul to God and its life in him. In this deepest and truest sense they "seek his soul;" for they are regarding and pursuing its spiritual and eternal welfare.—C.
(and see Proverbs 12:16; Proverbs 14:33)
The time to be silent
There is a time to keep silence as well as a time to speak (see Ecclesiastes 3:7). According to our individual temperament we need the one injunction or the other. There are few, however, of either sex or of any disposition who do not need to be urged to guard the door of the lip. This is one of those things in which we all offend in our time and in our way. Impatience most frequently leads to transgression; but there are other provocations—there are other occasions when the warning word is wanted. We should carefully command our tongue when there is in our mind—
I. THE IDEA OF ACHIEVEMENT. It is unwise to talk of what we are going to do as soon as it occurs to us to act. We may think ourselves capable or our circumstances favourable when, on further consideration or inquiry, we find that we are not equal to the task or that our position makes it impossible to us. We should think before we undertake.
II. THE THOUGHT OF IGNORANCE. Nothing but harm can come of counsel given in ignorance of any case before us. Either we persuade our friends and colleagues to take action which is unwise and will prove to be injurious and possibly disastrous; or we are at once corrected by those who know better, and we are ashamed. Do not go to the council without learning the facts and understanding the matter, or else wait well and learn patiently before you speak at all.
III. THE FEELING OF RESENTMENT. "A fool uttereth all his anger, but a wise man keepeth it back and stilleth it" (Revised Version; Proverbs 12:16). Nothing more distinctly marks the presence of wisdom or folly than the habit of speaking quickly or restraining speech under provocation. It is an unfailing criterion. The reasons for silence at such a time are obvious enough, and they should be strong enough.
1. Hasty speech is
(1) very likely indeed to be incorrect, imperfect, if not wholly wrong, for our judgment is sure to be disturbed and unhinged when our spirit is wounded;
(2) most likely to provoke our opponent to feel strongly and to strike severely, and thus the flood gates of strife are opened;
(3) unworthy of the wise and strong, lowering in the eyes of our best friends and in our own regard;
(4) condemned of God (James 1:19, James 1:20).
2. Conscientious silence under provocation is
(1) an admirable victory over our lower nature (Proverbs 16:32);
(2) the way of peace in the council, in the home, in the Church;
(3) the path in which we follow Christ our Lord, and gain his Divine approval (Matthew 27:12; Matthew 6:9).—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 22:2.)—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 13:24.)—C.
Spiritual ignorance and obedience. (See also homily on Proverbs 19:2.) Two things are clear:
1. That God has provided us with many sources of knowledge. We have, for materials to work with, a very complex and richly endowed nature; and we have, for materials to work upon,
(1) that same nature of ours with all its instincts, impulses, desires, hopes;
(2) the great visible system around us into which we can constantly be looking, and of which we might be expected to learn much;
(3) human life, and the providence of God as manifested therein.
2. That these sources of wisdom, which are constant and common to our race, prove to be lamentably insufficient. Man, under the dominion and depression of sin, cannot read aright the lessons which his own nature, the visible universe, and the providence of God are fitted and intended to teach him. He shows himself utterly incapable; he is completely false in his ideas, and pitiably wrong in his course of action. Hence we come to the conclusion of the text—
I. THE LAMENTABLE RESULT OF SPIRITUAL IGNORANCE. "Where there is no vision, the people perish." Where there is no special Divine revelation, supplementing the knowledge and correcting the ignorance of the unenlightened, there is a "perishing" or a "nakedness" in the land. The sad and miserable result, as all lands and all ages testify, is:
1. Literal, physical death. Without the knowledge of God, and in the absence of the control which the knowledge of his will can supply,
(1) there is strife, violence, war, and of this death is the continual fruit;
(2) there is vice, and this, when it is finished, bringeth forth death.
2. Loss of character. Not only of that which is sometimes understood by character, viz. reputation, but also of character itself. Where God's Word and will are unknown, there is such a deplorable descent into the erroneous and the immoral, that both of these go down and perish.
3. Absence of spiritual life. The life of our life is in God, and not only in his kindness to us, but in our knowledge of him. To be in utter ignorance of him, to have lost all belief in him, to be spending our days in spiritual separation from him,—is not this to be so destitute of all that beautifies and brightens, of all that enlarges and ennobles, human life, as to be "dead while we live"? So thought and taught the great Teacher and his great apostle (Luke 9:60; John 5:24; 1 Timothy 5:6). It is not merely that there is a sad exclusion, at the end, from the heavenly kingdom; it is that spiritual ignorance of God constitutes death, and they who are living without God, and becoming more and more alienated from and unlike to him, are perishing "day by day."
II. THE BLESSEDNESS OF OBEDIENCE. "He that keepeth the Law," etc. Happy is the man who walks in the fear of God, in the love and the service of Jesus Christ; for
1. He is walking in the path where all the worst evils cannot harm him; he is defended from "the evil which is in the world;" he is upheld in his purity and his integrity.
2. He is living a life which will command the esteem and win the love of the wise and the worthy.
3. He abides under the wing of a heavenly Father's favour; he is enjoying the friendship of a Divine Saviour.
4. He is expending his powers in the conscious, the happy service of him "whose he is," and in whose service is true and lasting freedom.
5. He is exerting a benignant influence in every circle in which he moves.
6. He is travelling homewards.—C.
Proverbs 29:20, Proverbs 29:22
(See homily on Proverbs 29:11.)—C.
(See homily on Proverbs 16:18.)—C.
Proverbs 29:25, Proverbs 29:26
Two temptations and two resources
As responsible human souls, we find ourselves exposed to two dangers, and we have two sources of refuge and strength of a very similar character.
I. TWO TEMPTATIONS.
1. To be unduly affected by the fear of man's displeasure. "The fear of man," etc. Now, the fear of man:
(1) May be dutiful. It is the duty of children to have a reverential regard for their parents, and to shun most carefully their disapproval. There is a "fear" appropriate to servants (Ephesians 6:5). We should fear to dissatisfy those who have a right to our faithful service.
(2) May be desirable. We should, as wise co-workers with God, fear to do that which, instead of conciliating, will disaffect those whom we want to win to righteousness and wisdom. But the tear of which Solomon writes
(3) is dishonourable and dangerous. It is a fear which is born of cowardice, a slavish disinclination to encounter the anger or the opposition of those who are in the wrong. It is an undue concern about the action of those who may claim a right, but who cannot sustain it, to keep us back from duty or to compel us to some unworthiness.
By this unmanly and unholy fear we may be
(1) prevented from entering the kingdom or the Church of Christ;
(2) deterred from speaking his truth with fulness and faithfulness;
(3) hindered from bearing the testimony we should otherwise offer against some evil course;
(4) led into actual and even active fellowship with wrong, Then, indeed, our fear is "a snare," and it betrays us into sin.
2. To be unduly impelled by a desire for man's favour. "Many seek the ruler's favour." There is, of course, nothing wrong in seeking the interest of the powerful. It is simple wisdom, on the part of those who are struggling and rising, to do that. But it may easily be and often is overdone. Our Lord used very decisive language on this subject (John 5:44). When
(1) the desire is excessive;
(2) language is used or action is taken which is untruthful or dishonest, or which makes a man fall in his own regard;
(3) there is so much solicitude that a man loses self-reliance as well as self-respect, and forgets the help which is to be had from above;—then "seeking the ruler's favour" is a mistake, and even more and worse than that.
II. TWO SOURCES OF STRENGTH.
1. A sense of Divine approval. "Every man's judgment eometh from the Lord." Why be troubled about man's condemnation so long as we have his acquittal? Let Judas complain, if Jesus excuses and commends (John 12:1-8). Let the critics pass their sentence; it is a small thing to a man who is living under an abiding sense that "he that judgeth him is the Lord" (1 Corinthians 4:3, 1 Corinthians 4:4; Romans 2:29).
"Men heed thee, love thee, praise thee not;
The Master praises;—what are men?"
And it is not only the present judgment and acceptance of God to which we have recourse, but his future judgment also, and the commendation he will pass upon our fidelity (see Romans 14:10-13; 1 Corinthians 4:5).
2. A hope of Divine succour. "Whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe." Again and again, in the Old and New Testaments, by psalmists and prophets and apostles, as well as by our Lord himself, we are invited and exhorted to "put our trust in the Lord;" and we are assured that, so doing, we shall not be ashamed. If God does not deliver us from our enemies, and from the trouble riley occasion us, he will certainly deliver us in our adversity; he will give us strength to endure, grace to submit, courage to bear and brave the worst, sanctity of spirit as the result; he will turn the well of our affliction into a fountain of spritual blessing.—C.
How to hate the wicked
There is a hatred we have to endure, and there is also a hatred which we have to cherish. The question of any difficulty is—What is the feeling we should cultivate in our hearts towards the guilty? We may glance at—
I. THE HATRED OF US BY THE WICKED. "He that is upright in the way is abomination to the wicked."
1. This is a well-verified fact, attested by Scripture, by history, by observation, probably by experience.
2. Its explanation is at hand.
(1) Wicked men are utterly out of sympathy with the righteous. Their tastes, inclinations, habits, are all at variance with those of the good and pure.
(2) The upright are obliged to condemn them, either in private or in public.
(3) The life of the one is a standing reflection upon the conduct of the other.
3. There is one right way to meet it; viz.
(1) to endure it as Jesus Christ endured it (Hebrews 12:3; 1 Peter 2:23), and as seeing the invisible but present and approving Lord (Hebrews 11:27);
(2) to make an honest effort to remove it by winning those who indulge it. But the more difficult question is how we are to bear ourselves toward those whose conduct we reprobate, whose character we detest, whose persons we are not willing to admit into our homes. How shall we order—
II. OUR HATRED OF THE WICKED? That there is a very strong feeling against the wrong doer in the minds of the holy is obvious enough. It is a fact that "an unjust man is an abomination to the just." "Do not I hate them that hate thee?… I hate them with perfect hatred: I count them mine enemies," said David (Psalms 139:21, Psalms 139:22). Jesus Christ "looked round about on them with anger" (Mark 3:5). God is "angry with the wicked every day" (Psalms 7:11). He "hateth all the workers of iniquity" (Psalms 5:5). Our feeling, therefore, is the reflection of that which is in the heart of the Holy One himself. Of what elements should it be composed?
1. One element that should be absent. There should be no trace of personal ill will, of a desire for the suffering of the man himself; for the soul of the sinful we should wish well, and we fall into a mistake, if not into a sin, when we allow ourselves to find a pleasure in witnessing or in dwelling upon the humiliation or the sorrow of the wicked. We ought only to wish for that as a means of their purification and recovery.
2. The elements that should be present.
(1) Pure resentment, such as God feels, such as our Lord felt when he lived amongst us (see Matthew 23:1-39),—a feeling of strong reprobation, which we are obliged to direct against them as the doers of unrighteousness.
(2) Faithful but measured condemnation. There is, in this view, a time to speak as well as a time to keep silence; and both publicly and privately it behoves us to blame the blameworthy, cud even to denounce the shamefully unjust or cruel. But here we are bound to take care that we are well acquainted with the matter on which we speak, and that our judgment is an impartial one.
(3) Fearless and unflinching opposition. We must actively and steadfastly oppose ourselves to the iniquitous, and do our best to bring their purposes to the ground.
(4) Sincere and practical compassion. With all this that is adverse, we may and should conjoin such pity as our Divine Saviour has felt for ourselves, and such honest and earnest endeavour to win them to the truth and to the practice of righteousness as he put forth when he came to redeem us from sin and to raise us to the likeness and restore us to the kingdom of God.—C.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 29". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 22 / Ordinary 27