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15. Fifteenth admonitory discourse, containing in a parabolic form an invitation of Wisdom (Proverbs 9:1-12), and that of her rival Folly (Proverbs 9:13-18). The chapter sums up in brief the warnings of the preceding part.
Wisdom was represented as having a house at whose portals persons waited eagerly for admission (Proverbs 8:34); the idea is further carried on. Wisdom hath builded her house. (For the plural form of khochmoth, "wisdom," a plural of excellency, see on Proverbs 1:20.) As the "strange woman" in Proverbs 7:1-27. possessed a house to which she seduced her victim, so Wisdom is represented as having a house which she has made and adorned, and to which she invites her pupils. Spiritual writers see here two references—one to Christ's incarnation, when he built for himself a human body (John 2:19); and another to his work in forming the Church, which is his mystical body (1 Peter 2:5). And the sublime language used in this section is not satisfied with the bare notion that we have here only an allegorical representation of Wisdom calling followers to her. Rather we are constrained to see a Divine intimation of the office and work of Christ, not only the Creator of the world, as in Proverbs 8:1-36; but its Regenerator. She hath hewn out her seven pillars. Architecturally, according to Hitzig and others, the pillars of the inner court are meant, which supported the gallery of the first story. Four of these were m the corners, three in the middle of three sides, while the entrance to the court was through the fourth side of the square. The number seven generally denotes perfection; it is the covenant number, expressive of harmony and unity generally, the signature of holiness and blessing, completeness and rest. So in the Apocalypse the whole Church is represented by the number of seven Churches (Revelation 1:4, etc.; see on Proverbs 26:16). Wisdom's house is said to be thus founded because of its perfection and adaptability to all states of men. But doubtless there is a reference to the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit, which rested upon the Christ (Isaiah 11:2, etc.), and which are the support and strength of the Church, being symbolized by the seven-branched candlestick in the temple.
She hath killed her beasts. So in the parable of the marriage of the king's son (Matthew 22:1-46; which is parallel to the present), the king sends his servants to notify the guests that the oxen and fatlings are killed, and all things are ready. Wisdom has stores of nourishment for understanding and affection; and Christ has offered himself as a Victim in our behalf, and now makes bounteous offers of grace, and especially has ordained the sacrament of the Lord's Supper for the strengthening and refreshing of the soul. She hath mingled her wine; Septuagint, "She hath mixed (ἐκέρασεν) her wine in a bowl." The wine which, untempered, was too luscious or too fiery to drink, was made palatable by a certain admixture of water, it was always so mixed at the Passover; and the ancient Christian Liturgies direct the mixture in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, doubtless from traditional use. Some, however, think that allusion is here made to the custom of adding drugs to wine in order to increase its potency. Among the Greeks, ἄκρατος οἶνος meant "wine without water," and in Revelation 14:10 we have ἄκρατον κεκερασμένον, "undiluted wine mixed." And probably in the text the notion is that the fluid for the guests' delectation is properly prepared, that there may be no trouble when they arrive (see on Proverbs 23:30). She hath also furnished her table, by arranging the dishes, etc; thereon (Psalms 23:5, "Thou preparest a table before me," where the same verb, arak, is used; comp. Isaiah 21:5). Moralizing on this passage, St. Gregory says, "The Lord 'killed the sacrifices' by offering himself on our behalf. He 'mingled the wine,' blending together the cup of his precepts from the historical narration and the spiritual signification. And he 'set forth his table,' i.e. Holy Writ, which with the bread of the Word refreshes us when we are wearied and come to him away from the burdens of the world, and by its effect of refreshing strengthens us against our adversaries" ('Moral,' 17:43, Oxford transl.).
She hath sent forth her maidens, as in Matthew 22:3, to call them that were bidden to the feast. The Septuagint has τοὺς ἑαυτῆς δούλους, "her servants," but the Authorized Version is correct, and feminine attendants are in strict harmony with the rest of the apologue. By them are represented the apostles and preachers and ministers, who go forth to win souls for Christ. St. Gregory sees in their being called "maidens" an intimation that they are in themselves weak and abject, and are only useful and honoured as being the mouthpiece of their Lord ('Moral.,' 33.33). She crieth upon the highest places of the city, where her voice could best be heard, as in Proverbs 8:2; Matthew 10:27. She is not satisfied with delegating her message to others; she delivers it herself. Septuagint, "calling with a loud proclamation to the cup (ἐπὶ κρατῆρα);" Vulgate, Misit ancillas suas ut vocarent ad arcem et ad moenia civitatis, "She has sent her handmaids to invite to the citadel, and to the wails of the town." On which rendering St. Gregory comments, "In that while they tell of the interior life, they lift us up to the high walls of the city above, which same walls, surely, except any be humble, they do not ascend" ('Moral.,' 17:43).
Here follows the invitation of Wisdom, urging the attendance of guests at the sumptuous banquet which she has prepared (comp. Revelation 19:9).
Whose is simple, lot him turn in hither. This is a direct address to the imprudent and inexperienced (see on Proverbs 7:7), calling them to turn aside from the way on which they are going, and to come to her. Vulgate, si quis est parvulus veniat ad me, which reminds one of Christ's tender words, "It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish" (Matthew 18:14). As for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him what follows (so Proverbs 9:16). Wisdom's own speech is interrupted, and the writer himself introduces this little clause. She calls on the simple and the unwise, both as necessarily needing her teaching, and not yet inveterate in evil, nor wilfully opposed to better guidance. "The world by wisdom knew not God" and he "hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty, and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen" (1 Corinthians 1:21, 1 Corinthians 1:26, etc.; comp. Matthew 11:25).
Come, eat ye of my bread. Wisdom now directly addresses the simple and the foolish (comp. Revelation 22:17). And drink of the wine which I have mingled (see on Proverbs 9:2). Bread and wine represent all needful nourishment, as flesh and wine in Proverbs 9:2. So Christ says (John 6:51), "I am the living Bread which came down from heaven … and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." Compare the invitation in Isaiah 55:1, "He, every one that thirsteth!" etc. The Fathers see here a prophecy of the gospel feast, wherein Christ gave and gives bread and wine as symbols of his presence (Matthew 26:26, etc.).
Forsake the foolish, and live; Vulgate, relinquite infantiam; Septuagint, ἀπολείπετε ἀφροσύνην, "leave folly." These versions take the plural פְתָאִים (petaim) as equivalent to an abstract noun, which gives a good sense; but the plural is not so used in our book, so we must admit the rendering of the Authorized Version, "Quit the class, give up being of the category of fools," or else we must take the word as vocative, "Leave off, ye simple ones" (Revised Version), i.e. quit your simplicity, your folly. And live (see on Proverbs 4:4). It is not a mere prosperous life on earth that is here promised, but something far higher and better (John 6:51, "If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever"). The LXX. saw something of this when they paraphrased the clause, "Leave ye folly, that ye may reign forever." Go in the way of understanding. Leaving folly, stay not, but make real progress in the direction of wisdom. Septuagint, "Seek ye prudence, and direct understanding by knowledge."
These verses form a parenthesis, showing why Wisdom addresses only the simple and foolish. She giveth not that which is holy unto dogs, nor casteth pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6).
He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame. He who tries to correct a scorner (see on Proverbs 1:22 and Proverbs 3:34), one who derides religion, loses his pains and meets with ribald mockery and insult. It is not the fault of messengers or message that this should be, but the hardness of heart and the pride of the hearer make him despise the teaching and hate the teacher (Matthew 24:9). He that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot; rather, he that reproveth a sinner, it is his blot. Such a proceeding results in disgrace to himself. This is not said to discourage the virtuous from reproving transgressors, but states the effect which experience proves to occur in such cases. Prudence, caution, and tact are needed in dealing with these characters. Evil men regard the reprover as a personal enemy, and treat him with contumely, and hence arise unseemly bickerings and disputes, injurious words and deeds. To have wasted teaching on such unreceptive and antagonistic natures is a shameful expenditure of power. St. Gregory thus explains this matter: "It generally happens that when they cannot defend the evils that are reproved in them, they are rendered worse from a feeling of shame, and carry themselves so high in their defence of themselves, that they take out bad points to urge against the life of the reprover, and so they do not account themselves guilty, if they fasten guilty deeds upon the heads of others also. And when they are unable to find true ones, they feign them, that they may also themselves have things they may seem to rebuke with no inferior degree of justice" ('Moral.,' 10.3, Oxford transl.).
Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee (see the last note, and comp. Proverbs 15:12, and note there). There are times when reproof only hardens and exasperates. "It is not proper," says St. Gregory, "for the good man to fear lest the scorner should utter abuse at him when he is chidden, but lest, being drawn into hatred, he should be made worse" ('Moral.,' 8.67). "Bad men sometimes we spare, and not ourselves, if from the love of those we cease from the rebuking of them. Whence it is needful that we sometimes endure keeping to ourselves what they are, in order that they may learn in us by our good living what they are not" (ibid; 20:47, Oxford transl.). Rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee. So Psalms 141:5, "Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me, it shall be as oil upon the head; let not my head refuse it" (comp. Proverbs 19:25; Proverbs 25:12; Proverbs 27:6).
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser. The Hebrew is merely "give to the wise," with no object mentioned; but the context suggests "instruction," even though, as in Proverbs 9:8, it takes the form of rebuke. Vulgate and Septuagint, "Give an opportunity to a wise man, and he will be wiser" (comp. Matthew 13:12; Matthew 25:29). To make the best use of all occasions of learning duty, whether they present themselves in a winning or a forbidden shape, is the part of one who is wise unto salvation (see Proverbs 1:5, and note there). Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. Wisdom being a moral and not merely an intellectual, quality. there is a natural interchange of "wise" and "just," referring to the same individual, in the two clauses. Vulgate, festinabit accipere; Septuagint, "Instruct a wise man, and he shall have more given him." The wise are thus rewarded with larger measures of wisdom, because they are simple, humble, and willing to learn, having that childlike spirit which Christ commends (Matthew 18:3).
Wisdom returns to the first apothegm and principle of the whole book (Proverbs 1:7). Without the fear of God no teaching is of any avail. The knowledge of the holy is understanding. The word translated "the holy" is קְדשִׁים, a plural of excellence (see on Proverbs 30:3) like Elohim, and equivalent to "the Most Holy One," Jehovah, to which it answers in the first hemistich. God is called "Holy, holy, holy" (Isaiah 6:3), in his threefold nature, and as majestic beyond expression. The only knowledge worth having, and which is of avail for the practical purposes of life, is the knowledge of God (see on Proverbs 2:5). Septuagint, "The counsel of the holy (ἁγίων) is understanding," with the explanatory clause; "for to know the Law is the character of good thought." This occurs again at Proverbs 13:15, though in the Hebrew in neither place.
The parenthetical explanation being concluded, in which Wisdom has intimated why it is useless to appeal to the scorner and tile wilful sinner, she now resumes the direct address interrupted at Proverbs 9:7, presenting a forcible reason for the advice given in Proverbs 9:6, though there is still some connection with Proverbs 9:10, as it is from the wisdom that comes from the fear of the Lord that the blessings now mentioned spring. For by me thy days shall be multiplied (see Proverbs 3:2, Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 4:10, where long life is promised as a reward for the possession and practice of wisdom). The same result is attributed to the fear of God (Proverbs 10:27; Proverbs 14:27, etc.). In Proverbs 9:6 the address is in the plural; here it is singular. A similar interchange is found in Proverbs 5:7, Proverbs 5:8 (where see note).
If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself. A transition verse. Wisdom will bring thee good; as thou hast laboured well, so will be thy reward (1 Corinthians 3:8). The LXX. (Syriac and Arabic), with the idea of perfecting the antithesis, adds, καὶ τοῖς πλησίον, "My son, if thou art wise for thyself, thou shalt be wise also for thy neighbours"—which contains the great truth that good gifts should not be selfishly enjoyed, but used and dispensed for the advantage of others (Galatians 6:6). In support of our text we may quote Job 22:2, "Can a man be profitable unto God? Surely he that is wise is profitable unto himself." But if thou scornest, thou alone shalt hear it; i.e. atone for it, bear the sin, as it is expressed in Numbers 9:13, "Forevery man shall bear his own burden" (Galatians 6:5). Thus Wisdom ends her exhortation. Septuagint, "If thou turn out evil, thou alone shalt bear (ἀντλήσεις) evils." And then is added the following paragraph, which may possibly be derived from a Hebrew original, but seems more like a congeries made up from other passages, and foisted by some means into the Greek text: "He that stayeth himself on lies shepherdeth winds, and himself pursueth flying birds; for he hath left the ways of his own vineyard, and hath gone astray with the wheels of his own husbandry; and he goeth through a waterless desert, and over a land set in thirsty places, and with his hands he gathereth unfruitfulness."
This section contains the invitation of Folly, the rival of Wisdom, represented under the guise of an adulteress (Proverbs 2:16; Proverbs 5:3, etc.; Proverbs 6:24, etc.; 7.).
I foolish woman; literally, the woman of folly, the genitive being that of apposition, so that this may well be rendered, in order to make the contrast with Wisdom more marked, "the woman Folly." She is regarded as a real person; and between her and Virtue man has to make his choice. Is clamorous; turbulent and animated by passion (as Proverbs 7:11), quite different from her calm, dignified rival. She is simple; Hebrew, "simplicity," in a bad sense; she has no preservative against evil, no moral fibre to resist temptation. And knoweth nothing which she ought to know. Ignorance is the natural accompaniment of Folly: in this case it is wilful and persistent; she goes on her way reckless of consequences. Septuagint, "A woman foolish and bold, who knows not shame, comes to want a morsel."
She sitteth at the door of her house. She, like Wisdom, has a house of her own, and imitates her in inviting guests to enter. She does not send forth her maidens; she does not stand in the streets and proclaim her mission. Vice has an easier task; all she has to do is to sit and beckon and use a few seductive words. Her house is not supported by seven pillars, built on the grace of God and upheld by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. like that of Wisdom (Proverbs 9:1); it is an ordinary habitation of no stately proportions. but its meanness impedes not the uses to which she puts it, her own charms causing her victims to disregard her environments. On a seat in the high pluses of the city. Her house is in the highest and most conspicuous part of the city, and she sits before her door in reckless immodesty, plying her shameful trade (comp. Genesis 38:14; Jeremiah 3:2). The mimicry of her rival again appears, for Wisdom "crieth upon the highest places of the city" (Proverbs 9:3).
To call passengers who go right on their ways. With shameless effrontery she cries to all that pass by, she addresses her solicitations to persons who are going straight on their way, thinking nothing of her, having no idea of deviating from their pursued object. As they walk in the path of right and duty, she tries to turn them aside. Septuagint, "Calling to herself (προσκαλουμένη) those that pass by and are keeping straight in their ways." The Fathers find here a picture of the seductions of heretical teaching, which puts on the mask of orthodoxy and deceives the unwary. Wordsworth notes that, in the Apocalypse, the false teacher bears some emblems of the Lamb (Revelation 13:11). All false doctrine retains some element of truth, and it is because of this admixture that it procures adherents and thrives for a time.
Proverbs 9:16, Proverbs 9:17
These verses contain the invitation which Vice, in imitation of Virtue, and assuming her voice and manner, offers to the wayfarers.
Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither. She uses the very same words which Wisdom utters (Proverbs 9:4). The latter had addressed the simple because they were inexperienced and undecided, and might be guided aright; the former now speaks to them because they have not vet made their final choice, can still be swayed by lower considerations, and may be led astray. Such persons find it hard to distinguish between the good and the evil, the false and the true, especially when their sensual appetite is aroused and sides with the temptress. No marvel is it that such are easily deceived; for we are told that, under certain circumstances, Satan transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). That wanteth understanding. This is the other class addressed by Wisdom, and which Folly now solicits, urging them to follow her on the path of pleasure, promising sensual enjoyment and security.
This is what she says: Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. The metaphor of "stolen waters" refers primarily to adulterous intercourse, as to "drink waters out of one's own cistern" (Proverbs 5:15, where see note) signifies the chaste connection of lawful wedlock. Wisdom offered flesh and wine to her guests; Folly offers bread and water. Wisdom invites openly to a well furnished table; Folly calls to a secret meal of barest victuals. What the former offers is rich and satisfying and comforting; what Vice gives is poor and mean and insipid. Yet this latter has the charm of being forbidden; it is attractive because it is unlawful. This is a trait of corrupt human nature, which is recognized universally. Thus Ovid, 'Amor.,' Proverbs 3:4, Proverbs 3:17—
"Nitimur in vetitum semper, cupimusque negata;
Sic interdictis imminet aeger aquis.'
Things easily attained, the possession of which is gotten without effort or danger or breach of restraint, soon pall and cease to charm. To some minds the astuteness and secrecy required for success have an irresistible attraction. Thus St. Augustine relates ('Conf.,' 2.4) how he and some companions committed a theft, not from want and poverty, nor even from the wish to enjoy what was stolen, but simply for the pleasure of thieving and the sin. They robbed a pear tree by night, carried off great loads, which they flung to the pigs, and their only satisfaction was that they were doing what they ought not ("dum tamen fieret a nobis, quod eo liberet quo non liceret"). Septuagint, "Taste ye to your pleasure secret bread, and sweet water of theft." Where water is a precious commodity, as in many pets of Palestine, doubtless thefts were often committed, and persons made free with their neighbor's tank when they could do so undetected, thus sparing their own resources and felicitating themselves on their cleverness. On the metaphorical use of "waters" in Holy Scripture, St. Gregory says, "Waters are sometimes wont to denote the Holy Spirit, sometimes sacred knowledge, sometimes calamity, sometimes drifting peoples, sometimes the minds of those following the faith." He refers to these texts respectively: John 7:38, etc.; Ec John 15:3; Psalms 69:1; Revelation 17:15 ("the waters are peoples"); Isaiah 22:20; and he adds, "By water likewise bad knowledge is wont to be designated, as when the woman in Solomon, who bears the type of heresy, charms with crafty persuasion, saying, 'Stolen waters are sweet'" ('Moral.,' 19.9).
The deluded youth is supposed to be persuaded by the seductions of Folly and to enter her house. The writer, then, in a few weighty words, shows the terrible result of this evil compliance. But he knoweth not that the dead are there (see on Proverbs 2:18 and Proverbs 7:27). There are none "there," in her house, who can be said to be living, they are rephaim, shadowy ghosts of living men, or else demons of the nether world. The Septuagint and Vulgate, with a reference to Genesis 6:4, translate γηγενεῖς and gigantes. Her guests are in the depths of hell (sheol); Septuagint, "He knows not that giants perish at her side, and he meets with a trap of hell." The terrible warning may profitably be repeated more than once, It is like Christ's awful saying, three times enunciated, "Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched". The LXX. has another paragraph at the end of this verse, which has no counterpart in the Hebrew: "But start away, delay not in the place, nor put thy name ['eye,' al.] by her; for thus shalt thou pass over (διαβήσῃ) strange water; but abstain thou from strange water, and of a strange spring drink not, that thou mayest live long, and years of life may be added to thee."
The banquet of wisdom
I. THE BANQUET HOUSE.
1. It is substantial. A house, not a mere tent. The feast of wisdom is no brief repast, rarely enjoyed, It is a lasting delight, a frequent refreshment always ready.
2. It is magnificent. Seven pillars are hewn out for the house. It is fitting that the house of God should be more beautiful than a man's dwelling. He who enters into the habitation of God's thoughts will find it beautiful and glorious. There is nothing mean about Divine truth. It is all large, noble, magnificent. He who comes into communion with is will find himself in no poor hovel. He will be in a palace of splendour, with which the material grandeur of marble columns, delicate tracery, etc; cannot vie.
II. THE PROVISION. Rich and abundant—slaughtered beasts, spiced wine, a well furnished table. Nothing looks more sordid than poor fare in splendid apartments. This shad not be seen in the house of Divine wisdom, but, on the contrary, enough for all, and that of the best quality. No thoughts are so full nor so rich as the thoughts of revelation. There is variety here as in the viands of the banquet. And "all things are ready." The table is spread. It waits for the guests. While we are praying for light, the light is shining about us. God has revealed his truth. Christ, the Light of the world, has appeared among us. The feast of the truths of the glorious gospel of the, blessed God is ready for all who will come and share in its bounties.
III. THE INVITATION. The maidens are sent forth—not one, but many—that the message may go to all quarters. They cry in the highest places of the city, that the message may have the greatest publicity, may spread over the widest area, may reach all classes. This is the character of the call of God to us in his truth. He seeks us before we seek him. He has already sought us. The gospel is preached, proclaimed as by heralds; and this gospel contains the invitation to the rich banquet of Divine truth.
IV. THE GUESTS. "The simple;" "him that lacketh understanding." So in our Lord's parable, "the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind" are called (Luke 14:21). The whole need not the physician; the full need not the feast. They who are satisfied with their own knowledge will not sit humbly at the feet of a Divine revelation. It is they who feel themselves to be foolish, who acknowledge their ignorance and grope dimly after the light, who will be able to enjoy the banquet of wisdom; and these people are specially invited. The heathen, the illiterate, the weak-minded, are all called to receive the saving truth of Christ.
V. THE SATISFACTION. "Eat of my bread, and drink of the wine," etc.
1. Divine truth is nourishing. "By every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live" (Deuteronomy 8:3). Christ, the "Word," is the Bread of life.
2. Divine truth is a source of joy. At the banquet there is wine that maketh glad the heart of man. The gospel offers no prison fare. It kills the fatted beast. It gives wine—spiced wine, things of pleasure and luxury. Yet the pleasure is not enervating; the gospel wine is not harmfully intoxicating. How much better this banquet than the injurious and really less pleasing least of folly (Proverbs 9:13-18)!
I. HOW TO GIVE REPROOF. The duty of reproving is one of the most difficult and delicate ever attempted. The people who are most rash in adventuring upon it too often fall into the greatest blunders, while those who are really fitted to undertake it shrink from the attempt. The mere utterance of a protest is generally worse than useless. It only raises anger and provokes to greater obstinacy. Unless there is some probability of convincing a man of the wrongness of his conduct, there is little good in administering rebukes to him. It is not the duty of any man to raise up enemies without cause. We should all seek, as far as in us lies, to live peaceably with all men. Of course, it may he incumbent upon us sometimes so to act that we shall provoke opposition. Jesus Christ could have avoided the enmity of the Jews, but only by unfaithfulness to his mission. Where we are in the way of our mission, or when any duty will be accomplished or any good done, we must not shrink from rousing antagonism. To do so is cowardice, not peaceableness. But if no good is done, we may only bring a nest of hornets about our heads by our indiscretion. Let us understand that while we are never to sanction evil doing, we are only called to rebuke it when the rebuke will not be certainly rejected; then we must risk insult for the sake of righteousness. The practical point, then. is that we consider the character of a man before attempting to rebuke him, and that we be not so anxious to protest against sin as to counsel the sinner and guide him to better ways. If he is in a hard, scornful mood, we had better wait for a more fitting opportunity. If he is too strong for us, we shall only injure the cause of right by attempting to grapple with him. Weak champions of Christianity have often only hurt themselves, discredited their cause, and afforded a triumph to powerful opponents by their rash encounters. In all cases to reprove well requires wisdom, tact, simplicity, humanity.
II. HOW TO RECEIVE REPROOF. He who hates the reprover will become himself a scorner; the wise man will love the reprover. Our manner of accepting merited reproof will therefore be a test of our character. Thus viewed, may not the text class many of us with the scorners, though we had little suspected where our true place was to be found? It is too common for a man to reject all reproof with rage. Not inquiring whether the accusation is true, he unjustly regards it as an attack upon himself, as a personal insult. There may be fault with the reprover—very often there is. But a wise man will not shelter himself behind that. Granting that the method of reproof was unwise, harsh, offensive; still, was there no ground for any reproof? To be angry at all reproof is to be one of the worst of scorners—to scorn right and truth. For the conscientious man will not dare to reject appeals to his conscience; he will feel bound to listen to them, no matter how unwelcome the voice that speaks them. He will desire to be free from faults. Should he not, therefore, thank those people who show them to him? If he loves goodness, he ought to lore those whose advice will help him to remove the greatest hindrances to attaining it. If he hates sin as the disease of his soul, he should accept reproof as medicine, and treat the reprover as a valuable physician.
An open mind
There are two classes of minds that seem to be armour proof against the invasion of new light. One contains those people who, to use the phraseology of the Roman Catholic Church, are in a state of "invincible ignorance." The other contains the much more numerous people who know just enough to feel s pride of superiority to their fellows, and who wrap themselves up in the infallibility of self-conceit. To these persons Pope's often misapplied maxim may be fairly appropriated -
"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring."
The truly wise man will be the first to see the limits of his knowledge and the infinite night of ignorance with which the little spot of light that he has as yet gained is surrounded. Having drunk of the wells of truth, he will have found his thirst not slaked, but stimulated; he will be a philosopher, a lover of wisdom. Such a man will have an open mind.
I. CONSIDER THE CHARACTERISTICS OF AN OPEN MIND.
1. It is not an empty mind. A man may be prepared to receive fresh light without abandoning the light he already possesses. The seeker after truth need not be a sceptic. There may be many things clearly seen and firmly grasped in the mind of one who is ready to welcome all new truth.
2. It is not a weak mind. If a man is not a bigot, he need not be like a shuttlecock, driven about by every wind of doctrine. He will sift truth. He will consider new ideas calmly, impartially, judicially.
3. An open mind is willing to receive truth from any quarter. It may come from a despised teacher, from rival, from an enemy. The open mind will not exclaim, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?"
4. An open mind is ready to receive unpleasant truth. The new light may threaten to interfere with the vested interests of ancient beliefs, it may expose the folly of long cherished crotchets, it may unsettle much of one's established convictions, it may reveal truths which are themselves unpalatable, or it may wound our pride by exposing our errors. Still, the open mind will receive it on one condition—that it is genuine truth.
5. Such characteristics must be based on wisdom and justice. It is the wise man and the just who is ready to receive instruction. No small amount of practical wisdom is requisite for the discernment of truth amidst the distractions of prejudice. Justice is a more important characteristic. Indeed, it is one of the fundamental conditions of truth seeking. Science and philosophy would progress more rapidly, and theology would be less confused by the conflicts of bitter sectaries, if men could but learn to be fair to other inquirers, and to take no exaggerated views of the importance of their own notions.
II. THE ADVANTAGES OF AN OPEN MIND.
1. The open mind will attain most truth. Truth is practically infinite. But our knowledge of it varies according as we are able to attain to a large and yet a discriminating receptivity. To the nut its shell is its universe. The man who locks himself up in the dungeon of prejudice will never see anything but his own prison walls.
2. Every attainment in knowledge prepares the way for receiving more knowledge. It intensifies the desire of possessing truth. Thus the inquirer may say—
"The wish to know—that endless thirst,
Which ev'n by quenching is awak'd,
And which becomes or blest or curst
As is the fount whereat 'tis slak'd—
Still urged me onward, with desire
Insatiate, to explore, inquire."
But not only is the thirst thus stimulated. Future knowledge grows upon past experience. Knowledge is not an endless level plain, to reach one district of which we must leave another. It is more like a great building, and as we rise from story to story, we gain new treasures by mounting on those previously possessed. The more we know, the easier is it to increase knowledge. This applies to religious as well as to secular things. Prophets and devout people were the first to welcome the advent of the Light of the world (see Luke 2:25-38). The more the Christian knows, the more wilt he be able to see of new spiritual truths. Thus he will come to welcome instruction with thankfulness.
It is the duty of the Christian to bear his brother's burden, and the duty of every man to love his neighbour as himself; it is also the privilege of the saint to lose his life for Christ's sake, and to "spend and be spent" in the service of man. But there still remains a right and lawful, and even an obligatory, regard to self-interest. For one thing, if a man's own heart and life are wrong, his work in the world must be wrong also.
I. HE IS NOT TRULY WISE WHOSE OWN SOUL IS NOT SAFE.
1. He may know the truth. The wisdom that can unravel many mysteries is his. He has searched into the deep truths of revelation. A diligent reader of the Bible, he is well acquainted at least with the words that God teaches. But he has never regarded the practical bearing of all this truth. It has been to him but a shadow. Then his own soul may be wrecked, though the way to The haven is clear.
2. He may enlighten others. Perhaps he is a preacher of the gospel, and is able to hold up the torch to many a wayfarer. He is even urgent in pressing the truth upon his hearers. Or he is a champion for the defence of the truth, arguing vehemently with unbelievers. But all the while he never applies this truth to his own case. Saving others, he is himself a castaway (1 Corinthians 9:27). The pilot leads the imperilled mariners home, but is drowned himself. Surely this is the height of folly!
II. HE WHO IS TRULY WISE WILL PROFIT BY HIS WISDOM.
1. He will see the necessity of applying truth to himself. This will be a part of his wisdom. We are all sadly tempted to delude ourselves into a false sense of security, and we need light and guidance to show us our danger and our course of safety. It is a mark of God-given wisdom to choose that course.
2. He will recognize the practical bearings of truth. It will do little good to regard one's self only as a sort of example to which certain truths are attached. Mere self-examination of the most lucid and honest character will not save our souls. We have to go a step further, and act according to the knowledge that we gain in the light of God's truth.
3. He will find the application of wisdom directly helpful. When a man does not hold aloof from it as from some curiosity only to be inspected, but embraces the truth of Christ, taking it home to his own heart, he discovers that it is a saving truth. By the personal reception of this Divine wisdom he reaches the way of salvation. Above all, when we remember that Christ is "the Wisdom of God," we may see that for a man to receive that wisdom, i.e. to receive Christ, is to be wise for himself, because Christ brings the light of God's truth, and Christ's presence is the source of sure salvation.
A fatal fascination, arising out of its very lawlessness, attaches itself to sin. Illicit pleasures are doubly attractive just because they are illicit. Let us consider the secret of these evil charms.
I. THE PROVOCATION OF RESTRAINTS. There are many things which we do not care to have so long as they are within our reach, but which are clothed with a sudden attractiveness directly they are shut out from us. If we see a notice, "Trespassers will be prosecuted," we feel an irritating restraint, although we have had no previous desire to enter the path that it blocks. Innumerable fruits grew in Eden, but the one forbidden fruit excited the greatest longing of appetite. Advertisers sometimes head their placards with the words, "Don't read this!"—judging that to be the best way to call attention to them. If you say, "Don't look!" everybody is most anxious to look. To put a book in an index expurgatorius is the surest means of advertising it.
II. THE VALUE GIVEN BY DIFFICULTY OF ACQUISITION. We value little what we can buy cheaply. Rarity raises prices. If we have been to great labour and have run heavy risks in obtaining anything, we are inclined to measure the worth of it by what it has cost us. Many designs of sin are only achieved with great difficulty. They involve terrible dangers. When once accomplished, they are the more valued for this. The pleasures of adventure, the Englishman's peculiar delights of the chase, are enlisted in the cause of wickedness.
"All things that are,
Are with more spirit chased than enjoyed."
III. THE SENSE OF POWER AND LIBERTY. If you have gained your end in spite of law and authority, there is a natural elation of triumph about it. When you have succeeded in breaking bounds, you taste the sweets of an illicit liberty.
IV. THE ENJOYMENT OF SECRECY. To some minds there is a peculiar charm about this. To them especially "bread eaten in secret is pleasant." Let it be all open and above board, let it he of such a nature that one would have no objection to the world knowing it, and the pleasure loses its most pungent element. The air of mystery, the sense of superiority in doing what those about one little suspect, become elements in the pleasures of sin. But surely the highest natures must be too simple and frank to feel the force of such inducements to sin!
V. THE FASCINATION OF WICKEDNESS. Pure, naked evil will attract on its own account. There is a charm in absolute ugliness. Some men really seem to love sin for its own sake. A wild intoxication, a mad passion of conscious guilt, instils a fatal sweetness into stolen waters. But it is the sweetness of a deadly poison, the euthanasia of crime.
All these horrible charms of sin need to be guarded against. We must not trust to our own integrity; it is not proof against the fatal fascinations of temptation. To resist them we must be fortified with the love of higher joys, fed with the wholesome food of the banquet of wisdom (see Proverbs 9:1-5), attracted by the beauty of holiness, and above all, led to the pure and nourishing delights of the gospel feast by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Wisdom's banquet; or, the call to salvation
I. THE FIGURATIVE REPRESENTATION. Wisdom was termed, in Proverbs 8:30, a "workmistress," in reference to the structure of the physical world. Here she whose delight is in men and human life is represented as the builder, i.e. the founder of moral and social order. The seven pillars denote grandeur, and, at the same time, sacredness. Her home is a temple. Religion is "the oldest and most sacred tradition of the race" (Herder); and it contains within it art, science, polity—all that makes human life stable, rich, and beautiful. Preparation has been made for a feast. The ox has been slain, the spiced wine has been mixed (Isaiah 5:22; Proverbs 23:30), the table set forth. Her servant has been sent forth, and her invitation has been freely made known on all the heights of the city. It is an invitation to the simple, the ignorant, the unintelligent, of every degree.
II. THE SPIRITUAL CONTENTS. These receive a richer unfolding in the gospel (Matthew 22:1-14; Luke 14:16-24). Instead of the practical personification of wisdom, we have the living presence of Christ, "the Wisdom of God." Instead of the abstract, the concrete; for an ideal conception, a real Example and a present Object of faith. Instead of the splendid palace temple, on the other hand, we have the thought of the kingdom of God, or the Church, resting on its foundations of apostolic truth. To the provisions of the table correspond the rich spiritual nourishment derivable from Christ, his Word and work—the true Bread sent down from heaven. To the invitation of Wisdom, the call to salvation by Christ.
1. The New Testament echoes the Old, and the gospel is essentially the same in every way.
2. The gospel of Christ is the unfolding, expansion, enrichment, of the ancient spiritual lore.
3. The relation of the Divine to the human remains constant; it is that of supply to want, knowledge to ignorance, love and light to sorrow and darkness.
4. The invitation to the kingdom of heaven is free and general, conditioned by nothing except the need of its blessings.—J.
Warnings against refusal
So, in connection with the preceding section, we may take these words.
I. EVERY REFUSAL OF WISDOM IMPLIES THE PREFERENCE OF THE OPPOSITE. It implies that the associations of folly are more congenial than those of sound sense (Proverbs 9:6), which is a preference of death to life, in its effect.
II. THE SCOFFING HABIT IS AN INDICATION OF FOLLY. (Proverbs 9:7.) Under the general head of fools come scoffers and wicked men of every degree. The cynic may prefer to speak of evil men and actions as fools and folly—"worse than a crime, a blunder"—and he utters more truth in this than he intends.
III. THE SCOFFER IS ABUSIVE, AND THIS IS SIGNIFICANT OF HIS TEMPER. (Proverbs 9:7, Proverbs 9:8; comp. Exodus 5:16; Psalms 115:7.)
1. He neither has nor desires to have self-knowledge, and therefore hates the teacher who holds the mirror up to nature, and makes him see himself as he is.
2. He is the foil to the wise man, who is thankful for corrections, because he is set upon improvement and progress; and therefore loves the correcter, holding him creditor of his thanks, and recognizing the loyalty of the band which wounds.
3. The great distinction of the wise man from the fool is that the former has indefinite capacity of progress; the latter, qua fool, none.
4. As there is an indissoluble connection between folly and wickedness, so are wisdom and rectitude at one (Proverbs 9:9).—J.
Recurrence to first principles
Life is made up of circles. We are ever coming back to whence we started. As history repeats itself, so must morality and religion. The shining points of wisdom appear and reappear with the regularity of the heavenly bodies. The vault of heaven has its analogue in the star-besprinkled vault of the moral relations. Iteration and repetition of first principles are constantly necessary, ever wholesome, peculiarly characteristic of Semitic thought. Wherever life is bounded to a small circle of interests, the same truths must be insisted on "over and over again."
I. RELIGION A FIRST PRINCIPLE.
1. Religion characterized. The fear of Jehovah. In other words, reverence for the Eternal One. We may unfold the definition, but can we substitute a better for it? It is a relation to the eternal and unseen, to a supersensual order, as opposed to that which is visible and transient. It is deep-seated in feeling. Reverence is the ground tone in the scale of religious feeling; we descend from it to awe and terror, or rise to joy and ecstasy. It is a relation, not to ourselves, or a projection of ourselves in fancy, but to a personal and holy Being.
2. Its connection with intelligence firmly insisted on. It is the beginning, or root principle, of wisdom, and "acquaintance with the Holy is true insight" (Proverbs 9:10). The question, often discussed, whether religion is a matter of feeling, knowledge, or will, arises from a fallacy. We may distinguish these functions in thought; but in act they are one, because the consciousness is a unity, not a bundle of things, a collocation of organs. In feeling we know, in knowledge we feel, and from this interaction arise will, acts, conduct. Hence so far as a man is soundly religious, he is likewise soundly intelligent. In the truest conception religion and wisdom are identical.
II. WISDOM A FIRST PRINCIPLE. (Proverbs 9:11.) Here we come down from the region of speculation to that of practical truth.
1. The "will to live" is the very spring of our activity.
2. Only second to it in original power is the wish to be well, i.e. to have fulness, energy of life, consciousness. The extensive form of this wish is naturally the earlier, the more childlike—to enjoy many years, to live to a green old age, etc. The intensive form is later, and belongs to the more reflective stage of the mind. "Non vivere, sed valere, est vita" (Martial). 'Tis "more life and fuller that we want" (Tennyson). "One hour of glorious life is worth an age without a name." This view comes more home to the modern mind than to that of the monotonous East, where the like fulness of interest was not possible. We say, "Better twenty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay."
III. PERSONALITY A FIRST PRINCIPLE. (Proverbs 9:12.)
1. We have a distinct individual consciousness. "I am I, and other than the things I touch." I know what my acts are as distinguished from my involuntary movements, my thoughts as distinct from the passive reflection of perceptions and phantasies unbegotten of my will.
2. Our wisdom or folly is our own affair, both in origin and consequences. We begot the habit, and must reap as we sow, bear the brunt of the conflict we may have provoked.
3. Neither our wisdom can enrich nor our folly impoverish God (Job 22:2, Job 22:3; Job 35:6-9; Romans 11:35; Revelation 22:11, Revelation 22:12).
(1) It is a solemn thought; the constitution of our being reveals the decree of God, and may be thus interpreted: "Let him alone!" We are not interfered with. We are suffered to develop in the air and sun. Woe to us if we pervert the kindly gifts of God, and turn his truth into a lie!
(2) "Take heed to thyself." The effects of our acts may extend to others, but we cannot make others answer for them in the end.—J.
The invitation of Folly
The picture to be taken in contrast with that at the beginning of the chapter.
I. THE TEMPER OF FOLLY.
1. She is excitable and passionate (Proverbs 9:13), and may be fitly imaged as the harlot, the actress and mask of genuine feeling.
2. She is irrational, and knows not what is what. True love is not blind, either as to self or its objects.
3. She is like the harlot again in her shamelessness (Proverbs 9:14). Folly does not mind exposure, and rushes on publicity.
4. She is solicitous of company (Proverbs 9:15). Must have partners in guilt, and companions to keep her in countenance. Fools cannot be happy in solitude, cannot enjoy the sweet and silent charms of nature. Wisdom finds good both in the forest and the city, in the cloister or amidst the "busy hum of men."
5. Folly is gregarious. Wherever there is a crowd, there is something foolish going on (Proverbs 9:16). It may be safely said of habitual gatherings in taverns and such places, "mostly fools." The wise man goes apart to recover and strengthen his Individuality; the fool plunges into the throng to forget himself.
6. Folly is sly and secretive (Proverbs 9:17). The secret feast is here the illicit pleasure (cf Proverbs 30:20). The fact that people like what they ought not to like all the more because they ought not, is a complex phenomenon of the soul. The sweetness of liberty recovered is in it, and forms its good side. Liberty adds a perfume and spice to every pleasure, no matter what the pleasure may be. Augustine tells how he robbed an orchard as a boy, admitting that he did not want the pears, and arguing that it must therefore have been his depravity that led him to find pleasure in taking them! In the same way one might prove the depravity of the jackdaw that steals a ring. Let us repudiate the affectation of depravity, a great "folly" in its way; and rather draw the wholesome lesson that the love of liberty, of fun—in short, of any healthy exercise of energy, needs direction. The instinct for privacy and liberty gives no less zest to legitimate than to illicit pleasures.
II. THE END OF FOLLY. (Proverbs 9:18.)
1. It is represented under images of darkness and dread. Shadows, "children of death," dead men, departed ghosts, hover about the dwelling of Folly and the persons of her guests. And these, while even they sit at her table amidst feasting and mirth, are already, in the eyes of Wisdom the spectator, in the depths of hell. Thus the shadows of coming ill "darken the ruby of the cup, and dim the splendour of the scene."
2. The indefinable is more impressive in its effect than the definable. As e.g. Burke has felicitously shown in his treatise on 'The Sublime and Beautiful.' The obscure realities of the other world, the mysterious twilight, the chiaro-oscuro of the imagination: in this region is found all that fascinates the mind with hope or terror. If it be asked—What precisely will be the doom of the wicked, the bliss of the righteous? the answer is—Definite knowledge has not been imparted, is impossible, and would have less effect than the vague but positive forms in which the truth is hinted.
3. The indefinable is not the less certain. It is the definite which is contingent, uncertain. Our life is a constant becoming from moment to moment. This of its nature is as indefinable as the melting of darkness into day, or the reverse.—J.
HOMILIES BY W. CLARKSON
The Divine invitation
Wisdom invites the sons of men to a feast. Christ, "the Wisdom of God," is inviting us all to partake of eternal life. A feast may well be regarded as the picture and type of life at its fullest. It combines so many of the best features of human life—bounty generously offered and graciously accepted, nourishment, enjoyment, social intercourse, intellectual and spiritual as well as bodily gratification. In the gospel of Christ there is offered to us life at its very fullest—Divine, eternal. We are invited by Eternal Wisdom to partake thereof, to "lay hold" thereupon. These verses suggest to us—
I. THE COMPLETENESS OF THE DIVINE PREPARATION. (Proverbs 9:1, Proverbs 9:2.) The house is built, the full number of pillars hewn, the beasts killed, the wine mingled, the table set out. Everything is arranged and executed; nothing is forgotten or omitted. Every guest will find that which he needs. How complete is the preparation which God has made for us in the gospel of grace and life! The whole of the Old Testament may be said to be a part of the history of his preparation. All his dealings with his ancient people, and his control of the heathen nations, were leading up to the one great issue—the redemption of mankind by a life-giving Saviour. The New Testament continues the same account; the birth, the ministry, the life, the sorrows, the death, the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ, the evangelizing work and the interpretive letters of the apostles, form the last part of the Divine preparation. And now everything is complete. The house is built, the table is spread, the wine outpoured. There is nothing which a guilty, sorrowing, striving, seeking soul can hunger or thirst for which it will not find at this heavenly feast. Mercy, full reconciliation, unfailing friendship, comfort, strength, hope, joy in God, everlasting life,—everything is there.
II. THE GRACIOUSNESS OF THE INVITATION. (Proverbs 9:3, Proverbs 9:4.) Wisdom sends "her maidens" and "cries upon the highest places of the city." She charges those to speak who are likeliest to be listened to, and to utter her invitation where it is surest to be heard. Moreover, she does not restrict her call to those who may be said to be her own children (Matthew 11:19); on the other hand, she addresses herself specially to those who are strange to hereto "the simple," to "him that wanteth understanding," In the gospel of the grace of God:
1. It is the gracious Lord himself who speaks to us, and in the most winning way. It is he himself who says, "Come unto me;" "If any man thirst," etc.; "I am the Bread of life," etc.
2. He has, in his providence and grace, caused the message of mercy to be sounded where all can hear it—"upon the highest places of the city."
3. He calks all men to his bountiful board, specially those who are in the greatest need (Luke 14:21-23; Matthew 9:12, Matthew 9:13).
III. THE CHARACTER OF THE MESSAGE. (Proverbs 9:5, Proverbs 9:6.) Wisdom calls those who hear her messengers to forsake folly, to walk in righteousness, and thus to enter into life. The Wisdom of God himself calls those who hear his voice to:
1. Turn from their iniquity, turning away from the fellowship of the unholy as well as from the practice of sin.
2. Enter into closest fellowship with him himself; thus eating of the bread and drinking of the water of life; thus walking in the way of truth, holiness, love, wisdom; thus "going in the way of understanding."
3. Partake with him the life which is Divine and eternal—life for God, life in God, life with God forever.—C.
The penalty and promise of instruction
It is not only the function of the minister of Christ to "reprove, rebuke, and exhort" (2 Timothy 4:2); the "man of God" is to be so furnished from Scripture as to be able to administer "reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16.2 Timothy 3:17). But instruction, especially when it takes the form of correction, has its penalty as well as its recompense.
I. THE PENALTY OF INSTRUCTION. (Proverbs 9:7, Proverbs 9:8). It is in the heart of the wise to rebuke iniquity. Those who are upright and true, who hate evil even as God hates it, are stirred to a holy indignation when they behold the dark and shameful manifestations of sin, and remonstrance rises to their lips. It is as "fire in their bones" until they have "delivered their soul."
2. Rebuke is often decidedly advantageous. It not, only relieves the mind of the godly speaker, but it shames those who should be made to blush for their deeds. Even when it fails to impress the principal defaulter, the arch-criminal, it may produce a wholesome influence on the minds of those who witness it. A burning flame of righteous wrath will sometimes consume much unrighteousness.
3. Nevertheless, it is true that the wise must count on the contrary being the result. It may be that remonstrance will be thrown away, that it will come to nothing but shame on the part of him that reproves—a "blot on the page," and nothing but provocation to him that is rebuked, inciting him to hatred (Proverbs 9:8). The likelihood must be reckoned, and the wise must act accordingly. If there is hope of doing good, some risk may well be run. All interposition is not here discountenanced. Good men must use their discretion. There is a time to speak, using the language of strong and even severe reproach. On the ether hand—this is the truth of the text—there is a time to be silent, to leave abandoned and guilty men to be condemned of God. Reproach would be lost upon them; it would only come back with a severe rebound, and wound the speaker (see Matthew 7:6).
II. THE PROMISE OF INSTRUCTION. (Proverbs 9:8, Proverbs 9:9.)
1. There are those in whom is the spirit of docility. They are ready to learn. Of these are the young. Our Lord commended the spirit of childhood partly for this reason, viz. that it is the spirit of docility. It has openness of mind, eagerness of heart to receive instruction. Of these, also, are those in whom the spirit of wisdom dwells, but who have fallen into error.
2. Instruction in these cases will be well repaid. If we rebuke a wise man, a man who is essentially good but accidentally wrong, we shall meet with appreciation: "he will love us." If we impart instruction to those already wise, we shall add to their excellency (Proverbs 9:9). So that intelligent, well timed instruction will do two things.
(1) It will restore the erring—a most valuable and admirable action, on which the best of men may truly congratulate themselves.
(2) It will multiply the power of the good. It will add knowledge and wisdom to those who are already wise; it will make good men better, happier, worthier, in themselves; it will also make them more influential for good in the sphere in which they move. This, then, is the threefold lesson of the text:
1. Know when to be silent under provocation.
2. Speak the word of reproach in season.
3. Communicate knowledge to all who will welcome it.—C.
Proverbs 9:10, Proverbs 9:11
Digging deep rising high, lasting long
(See homilies on Proverbs 1:7 and Proverbs 3:1-4.) The fact that we meet with the opening sentence of the text in no less than three other places (Job 27:1-23 :28; Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 1:7), gives to it a peculiar significance. It indicates that the Divine Author of the Bible would impress deeply on our minds the truth—
I. THAT ON THE FEAR OF GOD, AS ON A SOLID ROCK, ALL HUMAN WISDOM RESTS. Nothing which a man can have in his outward circumstances or in his mind will compensate for the absence of this principle from the soul. He may have every conceivable advantage in his surroundings; he may have all imaginable shrewdness, dexterity, cleverness, acuteness of intellect; but if everything be not based on the fear of the living God, his character must be fatally incomplete, and his life must be a deplorable mistake. Reverence of spirit, devotion of habit, the obedience of the life,-this is the solid ground on which all wisdom rests. Let a man be ever so learned or so astute, if this be absent Wisdom itself writes him down a fool.
II. THAT SACRED TRUTH IS THE LOFTIEST AND WORTHIEST SUBJECT OF HUMAN STUDY. It is well worth our while to give our careful and continuous thought to scientific, economical, historical, political truth. These will repay our study; they will enlarge our mind and heighten our understanding. But worthy as they are, they yield in importance to the truth which is sacred and, in an especial sense, Divine. To "understand and know God," who he is, what is his character, what are the conditions of his abiding love; to know man, who and what he is, what constitutes the real excellence and nobility of human character, what are the perils which threaten and what the habits which elevate it; to know the "path of life," the way back to God, to holiness, to heaven;—this is wisdom indeed. The knowledge of the holy is understanding. All other learning is slight in comparison with this supreme attainment.
III. THAT THE SERVICE OF GOD IS INSEPARABLY CONNECTED WITH THE LASTING WELL-BEING OF MAN. (Proverbs 9:11.)
1. Obedience to Jehovah would have given a prolonged and enduring life to the Jewish nation in their own favoured land. Conformity to Divine Law, the practice of truth, purity, uprightness, simplicity of life and manners,—these will go far to ensure long life to any nation now.
2. Obedience to Divine Law, especially to one commandment (Exodus 20:12), gave good hope of longevity to the children of the Law (Proverbs 9:11; Proverbs 3:2, Proverbs 3:16). Piety and virtue now have promise of life and health. The sober, the pure, the diligent, those mindful of God's will, are likely to have their days multiplied and the years of their life increased.
3. To the true servants of Christ, who are faithful unto death, there is assured a "crown of life" (Revelation 2:10).—C.
Wisdom and folly
In this short verse we have some valuable thoughts suggested respecting both wisdom and folly.
I. THE DISINTERESTEDNESS OF WISDOM. If any one should urge against the claims of Wisdom that they are very high, urgent, oppressive, that God's commandment is "exceeding broad;" if it be asked by the young, "Why fling these shadows on our path? why weigh us down with these responsibilities?" it may well be replied by Wisdom, "Your services are not necessary to me. 'If I were hungry, I would not tell thee,' etc.; if I plead with you, it is for your sake. You have need of my voice and my control; apart from me you cannot be blessed, you cannot realize the end of your being. I can do well without your devotion, but you cannot do without my favour. If you are wise, you will be wise for yourself."
II. THE INALIENABLE CHARACTER OF WISDOM AS A POSSESSION. The wise man in the Book of Ecclesiastes laments that riches are things which a wise man may take much trouble to gather, but he does not know who may scatter them. A man may be laborious and frugal, but not for himself; all the good may go to others who come after him. Thus is it with various acquisitions. Men no sooner gain them than they leave them behind for others; e.g. the hero, his glory; the student, his learning; the conqueror or discoverer, the territory he has gained or found. But if a man is wise, he is wise for himself as well as for others; he has a prize of which no accident will rob him, and which death itself will not take from his hands. Once his, it is his forever—it is an inalienable possession.
III. THE PROFOUND NATURE OF TRUE WISDOM. There is a very shallow philosophy which assumes the name of wisdom, which invites us to stake everything on securing a comfortable and prosperous career in this world, leaving out of account the supreme realities of our obligations to God, our duty to our own spiritual and immortal nature, our responsibilities to other souls. This superficial and false teaching overlooks the fundamental fact that a man is more than his means, that ourself is greater than our circumstances, that it is a poor profit to gain a world and lose a soul, that if we are wise we shall be wise for ourselves.
IV. THE STARTING POINT OF TRUE WISDOM. Some are speaking with indignation, not insincere, against so much insistence on a man's seeking his own salvation. They say it is only a refined selfishness. It may be true that there are Christian teachers who enlarge on this aspect disproportionately; but it must ever remain a truth of great prominence that a man's first duty to God is the duty he owes to himself. First, because his own soul is his primary and chief charge; and, secondly, because he can do little or nothing for the world till his own heart is right. If a man, therefore, will be wise, he must first be wise for himself.
V. THE FATE OF FOLLY. "If thou scornest, thou alone shalt bear it." This does not mean that only the sinner bears the consequences of his guilt—that is deplorably untrue; sin is widespreading and far-reaching in its evil consequences—it circulates and it descends. The passage means that the foolish man will have to bear alone the condemnation of his folly; every man that lives and dies impenitent must "bear his own burden" of penalty. The remorse and self-reproach of the future none will be able to divide; it must be borne by the sinner himself. There is One that once bore our transgressions for us, and will bear them away unto the land of forgetfulness now.—C.
The truth about sin
Solomon, having told us of the excellency of Wisdom, and of the blessings she has to confer on her children, now bids us consider the consequences of listening to sin, when she, the foolish woman, utters her invitation. We learn—
I. THAT SIN IN ITS LATER DEVELOPMENTS IS A VERY ODIOUS THING. What a painful and repulsive picture we have here of the foolish woman, who, though utterly ignorant and unworthy (Proverbs 9:13), assumes a conspicuous position in the city, places herself "on a seat in the high places," speaks with a "clamorous" voice, and, herself unaddressed, calls aloud to those who are going on their way! When we present the scene to our imagination, we instinctively shrink from it as repelling and odious. All sin is hateful in the sight of God; to him it is "that abominable thing" (Jeremiah 44:4). And to all the pure in heart it is also, though not equally, repulsive. In its later stages and final developments it is simply and thoroughly detestable.
II. THAT TEMPTATION TO SIN BESETS THE UNWARY AS WELL AS THE EVIL MINDED. Folly addresses herself to "passengers who go right on their ways" (Proverbs 9:15). There are those who go wilfully and wantonly in the way of temptation. They seek the company of the profane, the attentions of the immoral. These walk into the net, and are ensnared. Then there are others who have no thought of evil in their heart; they are not "purposing to transgress;" but as they pass right on their way, the temptress throws her net at if not over them, that she may entangle them. The path of human life is beset with spiritual perils; it is necessary to be prepared against all forms of evil. We must not only be upright in intention, but wary and well armed also. "Be sober, be vigilant, because your adversary," etc. (1 Peter 5:8).
III. THAT TO UNSANCTIFIED HUMAN NATURE SIN IS SOMETIMES A TERRIBLY SEDUCTIVE THING. "The foolish woman," though she is said to "know nothing," yet knows enough to say truly, "Stolen waters are sweet," etc. (Proverbs 9:17). It is useless, because it is false, to deny that vice has its pleasures. Lasciviousness, revelry, avarice, usurpation, have their delights; and there is a peculiar pleasure in snatching unlawful gratifications rather than in accepting those which are honourable. When our nature is unregenerated and unsanctified, when passion is at its height, when in the soul there is the ardour and energy of youth, vice has powerful attractions. The young may well provide themselves against the dark hour of temptation with "the whole armour of God," or they may not be able to stand victorious.
IV. THAT THOSE WHO HAVE ABANDONED THEMSELVES TO SIN ARE IN THE EMBRACE OF RUIN. "He knoweth not that the dead are there; and that her guests are in the depths of hell' (Proverbs 9:18). Not only is it true
(1) that those who yield themselves to guilty passion are on the high road to ultimate perdition; but it is also true
(2) that they are already in the depth of ruin. They are "dead while they live" (1 Timothy 5:6); they are "in the depths of hell" (text). To be sacrificing manhood or womanhood on the altar of an unholy pleasure, or an immoral gain, or an enslaving lamination; to be sinning continually against God, and to be systematically degrading our own soul to be falling lower and lower in the estimation of the wise until we become the object of their pity or their scorn;—this is ruin. No need to wait for judgment and condemnation; the guests of sin are in the depths of hell. If near the door, if on its step, if in its hall, "escape for thy life" (see Wardlaw, in loc.).—C.
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Exell, Joseph S; Spence-Jones, Henry Donald Maurice. "Commentary on Proverbs 9". The Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/
the Fourth Week after Epiphany