Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE CONNECTION OF PRECEPT AND PROMISE.
1. Precept needs confirmation. We cannot but ask - Why should we pursue this or that line of conduct in preference to another? Why should men be God-fearing, honest, chaste? We are rational creatures, not "dumb driven cattle," to be forced along a given road. We must have reasons; and it is to reason in us that the Divine reason ever makes appeal.
2. The confirmation is found in experience. This is the source of our knowledge; to it the true teacher must constantly refer for the verification of his principles, the corroboration of his precepts. The tone assumed by the teacher is indeed that of authority, but real authority always rests upon experience. Experience, in short, is the discovery and ascertainment of law in life. Precepts are its formulation.
3. The experience of the past enables the prediction of the future. Just; as we know the science of the astronomer, e.g., to be sound, because we find that he can predict with accuracy coming events, appearances of the heavenly bodies, eclipses, etc., so do we recognize the soundness of moral teaching by its power to forecast the future fates of men. Precepts are the deductions from the actual; promises the forecasts of that which, because it has been constant in the past, may be expected in the future. In science, in morality, in religion, we build on the permanence of law; in ocher words, on the constancy of the eternal God.
II. PARTICULAR EXAMPLES OF THIS CONNECTION'.
1. Obedience ensures earthly happiness. (Vers. 1, 2.) The connection is first stated generally. "Extension of days," or long life, is the one aspect of this happiness; inward peace of heart, denied to the godless, the other (Isaiah 48:22; Isaiah 57:2l). Prolongation of days, life in the good land, dwelling in the house of the Lord, are the peculiar Old Testament blessings (Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 5:33; Deuteronomy 6:2; Deuteronomy 11:9; Deuteronomy 22:7; Deuteronomy 30:16; Psalm 15:1; Psalm 23:6; Psalm 27:4).
(1) The desire for long life is natural, and religion recognizes it.
(2) Without inward satisfaction, long life is no blessing.
(3) While the Old Testament promises formally cover the finite life only, they do not exclude the infinite. In God and faith in him the infinite is germinally contained.
2. Love and good faith ensure favour with God, good will with men. "Mercy," or "love;" the word denotes the recognition of kinship, fellowship in men, and the duty of kindness therein implied. "Truth," in the sense in which we speak of a true man; sincerity and rectitude, the striving to make the seeming and the being correspond to one another; the absence of hypocrisy. St. Paul gives the ideas, "dealing truly in love (Ephesians 4:15). Let these virtues be bound about the neck, like precious objects, for the sake of security; let these commands be engraven in the only indelible way - upon the heart. Let the mind be fixed and formed, and the result will be favour in the sight of God, and a good opinion" in the minds of men. The two relations form a correlation. There is no true standing with God which does not reflect itself in the good opinion of good men; no worthy opinion of a man which does not furnish an index to God's view of him. Both were united in the case of the youthful Jesus.
3. Trust in God ensures practical direction. (Vers. 5, 6.)
(1) This trust must be whole-hearted. An exception to it destroys it, as one faulty link will cause the chain to break, one rotten plank the ship to leak, etc.
(2) The fallacy of confidence is when we separate the particular in our intelligence from the universal. This is intellectual egoism. There is a dualism in consciousness - the private self-seeking intelligence, and the Divine mind in us.
(3) Trust is abandonment to the Divine mind, to the universal intelligence which carries us out of self.
(4) Such trust implies the "taking cognizance" of God in all we do. Of bad, unjust men, like Eli's sons, it is said that they take no cognizance of Jehovah (1 Samuel 2:12). To ask of every action not - Is this what the generality of men would do in my position? but - Is it what God would have me to do? Not - Is it "natural"? but - Is it Divine? Such a habit ensures practical direction. All our egarements and stumblings arise from following the isolated intelligence, which is a true guide only for immediate sensuous relations, cannot light us for life's complex whole. Hence the way in which selfish and cunning people constantly outwit themselves, while the man who is set down by them as a fool for neglecting his own interests comes out safely in the long run.
4. Simple piety secures health. (Vers. 7, 8.)
(1) Conceit is opposed to piety. This we have already seen. For what is conceit but the lifting of the merely individual into a false generality? In its extreme, the worship of self is a little god.
(2) Simple piety has a positive and a negative pole: positive, reverence for God; negative, aversion from evil. The pious man affirms and denies, both with all his might. His life is emphatic, includes an everlasting "Yes" and an everlasting "No"!
(3) Simple piety is the source of health.
(a) Physical. It tends to promote right physical habits. It certainly reacts against the worst disorders, viz. the nervous.
(b) Spiritual. It is in the mind what the sound nervous organization is in the body. The mind thus centrally right digests, enjoys, assimilates, the rich food which nature, books, and men afford.
5. Consecration of property ensures wealth. (Vers. 9, 10.)
(1) Ancient custom commanded this. The consecration of the firstling of firstfruits was not confined to Israel. It was an ancient custom of the world generally. The part represents the whole, for all is God's. There seems to be no objection to the private practice of the custom by Christians still. In any case, let it be recognized that property, in the legal sense, but an expression of convenience; that really our temporary possessions, along with ourselves, are the property of God. If this be not recognized, we merely consume them, or hoard them, do not use them.
(2) Plenty falls to the lot of the giver. The exceptions to the rule are apparent, and perhaps language does not suffice for their statement and elucidation. The rule is comprehensively true, and a comprehensive view is necessary for its application. Rich and poor are subjective terms. There is a rich poverty and a miserable affluence. The promise is only truly fulfilled in the man who feels he has abundance, and enjoys it. - J.
I. THE ESSENTIAL THING IMPLIED. It is implied that the Law of God has been heard and understood; also that it has been received as Divine, and taken as the true guide of life. The teacher or preacher has sometimes to assume this; but too often it is an assumption unjustified by the facts. When it is justified, there come -
II. TWO SPECIALLY VALUABLE VIRTUES INSISTED UPON. Mercy and truth (ver. 3) are to be exemplified.
1. Mercy, which includes
(1) compassion, or the pity one should show to the unfortunate and the suffering; and
(2) clemency, or a lenient view taken and a generous spirit shown in presence of error and wrong doing, particularly of injury done to ourselves.
2. Truth, which includes
(1) veracity in language;
(2) sincerity of heart;
(3) honesty and uprightness of action.
III. A MATTER OF GREAT MOMENT ENFORCED. This is the cherishing of the truth by the spirit which has received it in the love of it. "My son, forget not my law;... let thine heart keep," etc. (ver. 1); Bind them about thy neck; write them upon the tablet of thine heart" (ver. 3). If these precepts are to he duly carried out, and there is thus to be a continuance in well doing, and even a growth therein, then must there be:
1. The dwelling upon them by the mind; that must be a mental habit carefully cultivated.
2. The placing ourselves where they will be urged on our attention and commended to our affection (the sanctuary, the Lord's table, the society of the holy, etc.).
3. The wise study of them as illustrated in the lives of the worthiest of our race.
4. The use of any and every means by which they will be seen by us to be the beautiful and blessed things they are. The children of Wisdom will not only receive gladly the truth of God, but they will cherish it carefully; they will water with diligent hand the plant which has been sown and which has sprung up in the soul. "Let not the workman lose what he has wrought." If we continue in the word of Christ, then are we his disciples indeed (see John 8:31; John 15:9; Acts 13:43).
IV. A LARGE BLESSING PROMISED. (Vers. 2, 4.) Under the Law, temporal blessings were more abundantly held in view; then the wise were promised long life, comfort, and human estimation, as well as the favour of God. Under the gospel, temporal prosperity takes the second place, spiritual and heavenly well being the first. But we may urge that conformity to the will of God as revealed in his Word:
1. Tends to bodily health and strength; if that does not secure it, assuredly disobedience will not.
2. Tends to secure a life of tranquillity. "Peace," as well as "length of days," it is likely to add; equanimity of mind and the comfort which is the consequence of right and kind behaviour.
3. Tends to win the esteem and the affection of our neighbours. "Favour in the sight of man."
4. Ensures the love and the blessing of Almighty God. - C.
Proverbs 3:5, 6, 7 (first part)
I. CHERISH A DEEP DISTRUST OF OURSELVES. We are not to "lean unto our own understanding," or to "be wise in our own eyes" (vers. 5, 7).
1. We shall certainly have a sense of our own insufficiency if we weigh our own human weakness; if we consider how little we know of
(1) human nature generally; and of
(2) our own hearts in particular; of
(3) the real character and disposition of those connected with us; of
(4) the whole circle of law by which we are surrounded on every side; of
(5) the events which are in the (even) near future; of
(6) the ultimate effect of our decisions on our circumstances and our character.
2. So also if we consider the disastrous results that have followed presumption in this matter. How often have we seen men, confident of their own capacity, staking everything on their own judgment, and miserably disappointed with the issue! Men of this spirit, who carry self-reliance (which is a virtue) to an exaggerated and false assurance of their own sagacity, not only dig a deep grave for their own happiness, but usually involve others also in their ruin. Neither in
(1) the affairs of this life, nor
(2) in the larger issues of the spiritual realm, should we lean all the weight of our own and of others' prosperity on our own poor finite understanding.
II. LOOK DEVOUTLY UPWARD. We are to maintain:
1. A whole-hearted trust in God (ver. 5). A profound assurance that
(1) he is regarding us;
(2) he is divinely interested in our welfare;
(3) he will see that we have all we need, and go in the way in which it is best for us to walk.
2. A continual acknowledgment (ver. 6). We are to acknowledge God
(1) by referring everything to him in our own heart;
(2) by consulting and applying his will as revealed in his Word;
(3) by praying for and expecting his Divine direction; so shall we acknowledge him "in all our ways."
This trust and acknowledgment are inclusive and not exclusive of our own individual endeavour. We are to think well, to consult wisely, to act diligently, and then to trust wholly. Whoso does the last without the first is guiltily and daringly presumptuous; whoso does the first without the last is guiltily irreverent and unbelieving.
III. RECKON CONFIDENTLY ON DIVINE DIRECTION. "He shall direct thy paths" (ver. 6). As a very little child, left alone in the streets of a great city, can but wander aimlessly about, and will surely fail of reaching home, so we, lost in the maze of this seething, struggling, incomprehensible world - world of circumstance and world of thought - can but make vain guesses as to our true course, and are certain to wander far from the home of God. What the shrewdest and cleverest of men most urgently and sorely need is the guiding hand of a heavenly Father, who, through all the labyrinths of life, past all the by paths of error and evil, will conduct us to truth, righteousness, wisdom, heaven. If we trust him wholly, and acknowledge him freely and fully, we may confidently expect that he will
(1) lead our feet along the path of outward life;
(2) guide our minds into the sanctuary of heavenly truth;
(3) help our souls up the ennobling heights of holiness;
(4) direct our steps to the gates of the city of God; and
(5) finally welcome us within its "golden streets." - C.
I. PIETY. "Fear the Lord." It is the faculty which distinguishes the meanest man from the noblest brute, which raises our race immeasurably above the next below it. Man can fear God. He can
(1) recognize his Maker;
(2) bow down in lowly but manly reverence before God;
(3) render to him the gratitude of a heart mindful of his many mercies;
(4) subject his will to the will Divine;
(5) order his life according to the written Word.
II. MORALITY. "Depart from evil." The outcome of piety is morality.
1. The morality which rests not on the basis of piety (the fear of the Lord) is on an insecure foundation. Change of circumstance, of friends, of fashions, may blow it down.
2. The morality which depends on the "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not" of the Supreme is safe against all the winds that blow. For the dark hour of powerful temptation there is no such barrier against sin and ruin as the conviction, "How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" For the bright hour of obligation there is no such animating incitement as "that Christ may be magnified in me." The third link in this heaven-forged chain is -
III. HEALTH. "It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones." Sickness of body may be the portion of the best of men or women. Some are born to suffer until they die and pass to the blessed country where the inhabitant will never say, "I am sick." But the constant tendency of piety and its invariable accompaniment morality is to give
(1) health and strength of bodily frame; the pure blood, the clear eye, the strong muscle, the steady nerve, the "green old age." It regularly gives
(2) an active mind; and it necessarily imparts
(3) a soul that is "in health" (3 John 1:2). The man who fears God and departs from evil is the man who is fitted and is likely to have the largest show of vigorous, robust, healthy life in all its forms. - G.
originating and spontaneous goodness. We may, if we will, receive much from him also as the result of his faithful response to our appeal. The text suggests to us the truth, which has manifold illustrations, that if we take toward him the attitude which he desires us to assume, he will visit us with appropriate and corresponding blessings.
I. IF WE LOVE HIM, HE WILL LOVE US. True, indeed, it is that "we love him because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19), his own Divine beneficence is the source of all human affection; but it is also true that "if a man love me (Christ), he will keep my words, and my Father will love him" (John 14:23). Our love of God, of Jesus Christ, will meet with a large response in the outpouring of Divine affection toward us. God will love us with the fulness of parental, rejoicing love.
II. IF WE TRUST HIM, HE WILL TRUST US. Those who believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and thus become his sons (John 1:12), are the objects of his Divine trust. God does not prescribe, to his reconciled children the hours, places, forms, methods, and means of service. He leaves these to the promptings of the filial spirit, to the decision of the understanding which has been consecrated to him. He makes known to us his will, that he should be served and his creatures blessed and saved; then be trusts us to put out our energies in all wise ways to fulfil his purpose. His treatment of us is in response to our attitude towards him.
III. IF WE HONOUR HIM, HE WILL HONOUR US. (1 Samuel 2:30.)
IV. IF WE GIVE OF OUR SUBSTANCE TO HIM, HE WILL ENRICH US. This is the illustration which our text supplies (see Deuteronomy 26.). The children of Israel were encouraged to bring of their firstfruits and to present them unto the Lord, and to expect that, if they gave thus to God, he would give, in like way, to them, enlarging and enriching them (Malachi 3:10-12). And not only were they taught thus to look on gifts of piety, but also of charity; these should be repaid by the observing and responsive Lord (Proverbs 19:17). It may be asked how far we may go in anticipating like rewards at the hand of God now. And the answer is:
1. We are not to expect that God will enrich us in substance irrespective of other conditions (2 Thessalonians 3:10). This would be a premium on idleness and imprudence. It will always be "the hand of the diligent that will make rich."
2. But labour and frugality being understood, the man who "seeks first the kingdom of God," who "acknowledges him in all his ways" (ver. 6), and who liberally gives to his cause (specially remembering his "little ones" - his poor), may look for large blessings at his hand. At least sufficiency now (Matthew 6:33; Philippians 4:19), and glorious abundance soon and forever (John 14:13, 14; John 16:9). - C.
I. THE RELIGIOUS VIEW OF SUFFERING.
1. It is not a dark doom, a cruel fate, a Blind necessity of things. Such were the ideas of the heathen.
2. Its cause may be known. This is ever a great solace - to be persuaded that our troubles lie in the reason of things, that nothing is chance or caprice.
3. That cause is in the Divine mind and will. The power of God is manifested in our suffering; we are but as the clay on the potter's wheel. Still more the love of God is manifested in our suffering. There is always some mitigation accompanying it. "It might have been worse" may be said of every pain. It serves as the foil to set off some greater good. "The ring may be lost, but the finger remains," as the Spanish proverb says.
4. The object or final cause of suffering. Purification from inward evil; correction of faults. The mind grows of itself; the schoolmaster can do little more than point out and correct faults. So with life's education from the religious point of view. And the most fertile minds need most; the discipline of suffering. The pruning knife is not applied to the puny plant; languid minds are the least touched by affliction. In these adjustments, love is still revealed.
5. Suffering must be viewed under the analogy of the parental and filial relation. Let these words once become clear, Father, son, in their application to God's relation to us, and ours to him, and the theory of suffering is mastered (comp. Deuteronomy 8:5; Psalm 118:18; Lamentations 3:31-33).
II. THE RELIGIOUS TEMPER UNDER SUFFERING.
1. Humility. No indignant questioning, scornful recalcitration, proud efforts of stoical fortitude. These will but defeat or delay the end. The medicine benefits not if the patient sets his mind against it as unneeded.
2. Patient endurance. Perseverance in a passive, receptive, attitude is far more difficult than perseverance in activity. We haste to snatch at good. But God is never in haste. His processes are slow. And to receive their benefit we must learn the wisdom of the word "wait." While we are thus waiting, things are not at a standstill; God is working, producing a spiritual shape out of the passive material.
"Maker, remake, complete,
I. MANY MISTAKES WE MAY MAKE ABOUT IT.
1. We may treat it thoughtlessly; we may "despise the chastening of the Lord" (ver. 11). We may allow ourselves to have "the sorrow of the world," of which Paul speaks (2 Corinthians 7:10); i.e. we may decline to consider what it means; content ourselves with the sullen thought that we have something that we must endure as best we can, not attempting to discover whence it comes or what it means.
2. We may conclude that it is only accidental. This is another way of "despising the chastening of the Lord." We may take that view which is intellectually the most easy and spiritually the most barren, and refer our trouble to the "course of events;" we may recognize no guiding hand, we may decide, with off-handed readiness, that we are the unhappy victims of unkind circumstances, and go on our way "grinding our teeth" with impatient spirit.
3. We may he crushed under the weight of it. We may (to use the words in Hebrews 12:5) "faint when we are rebuked." We may suffer a spiritual collapse, may meet affliction with an unreadily spirit of prostration, and, instead of bending bravely beneath the yoke and bearing it, break down utterly and miserably.
4. We may repine under long continuance of it. We may "be weary" of God's correction. Sometimes, when affliction is long continued, men feel that either God has nothing to do with them at all, or that he is not regarding their prayer, or that he is punishing them above that which they are able to bear, and they repine; they are weary in their spirit, querulous in their tone, perhaps positively complaining in their speech. But there is -
II. THE ONE RIGHT WAY IN WHICH TO TAKE IT. And that is to accept it as the correction of fatherly kindness. "For whom the Lord loveth he correcteth," etc. (ver. 12).
1. We may be God's unreconciled children, and he is seeking to win us to himself.
2. Or we may have returned to him, but reed fatherly correction. He may be rebuking us for some departure from his will. He may be desirous of removing the spirit of pride or of selfishness, or of worldliness, and of leading us along paths of humility, self-surrender, spirituality. Certainly he is seeking our truest welfare, our highest good, our lasting joy. Let each afflicted heart ask - What is the lesson the Father wishes me to learn? - C.
I. WISDOM COMPARABLE WITH THE MOST PRECIOUS THINGS. Silver, gold, precious stones, everything eagerly coveted and warmly prized by the senses and the fancy, may illustrate the worth of the pious intelligence. Every object in the world of sense has its analogy in the world of spirit. The worth of the ruby is due to the aesthetic light in the mind of the observer. But wisdom is the light in the mind itself.
II. WISDOM INCOMPARABLE WITH ALL PRECIOUS THINGS. For by analogy only can we put wisdom and precious minerals side by side, on the principle that mind is reflected in matter. But on the opposite principle, that mind is diverse from matter, rests the incomparableness of wisdom. Mere matter can breed nothing; spiritual force only is generative. When we talk of "money breeding money," we use a figure of speech. It is the mind which is the active power.
III. WISDOM MAY BE VIEWED AS THE BEST LIFE INVESTMENT. All the objects which stimulate human activity to their pursuit are derivable from this capital. Life in health and ample and various enjoyment, riches and honour, pleasure and inward peace; blessings that neither money nor jewels can purchase, are the fruit, direct or indirect, of the cultivation of the spiritual field of enterprise, the whole-hearted venture on this Divine speculation, so to say. For religion's a speculation; faith is a speculation in the sense that everything cannot be made certain; some elements in the calculation must ever remain undefined. (For further, see the early part of the chapter; and on ver. 17, South's 'Sermons,' vol. 1, ser. 1) The summary expression, "a tree of life," seems to symbolize all that is beautiful, all that is desirable, all that gives joy and intensity to living (comp. Proverbs 13:12; Proverbs 15:4). - J.
I. POSSESSORS OF IT, WE ARE SHAREHOLDERS WITH GOD HIMSELF. (Vers. 19, 20.) Only by wisdom could the Divine Founder of all visible things make them what they are. His wonder workings in the heavens above and on the earth beneath, in sun and star, in grain and grass, in coal and iron, in rain and dew, - all are the product of Divine wisdom.
II. POSSESSORS OF IT, WE HAVE A WELL BEING THAT ENDURES. "Length of days is in her right hand" (ver. 16). "She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her" (ver. 18). They who fear God are more likely than others to "be satisfied with long life" (Psalm 91:16). For the secret of strength is with those who are obedient to law; but though they should die before old age, yet
(1) so long as life lasts their well being will continue, and
(2) when their earthly life is taken, their heritage is in the everlasting life beyond, where there is "length of days" indeed.
III. IT IS THE SOURCE OF GENUINE ESTEEM. "In her left hand... honour" (ver. 16). It may, indeed, be that the children of wisdom are disregarded or even despised. But that is the painful exception to the rule. The rule is, everywhere and in every age, that those who consult God's will in the guidance of their life are honoured of their brethren, enjoy the esteem of the worthiest of their neighbours, live and die in the fragrance of general regard.
IV. IT IS THE ONE SECURITY AGAINST SIN. (Ver. 23.) How many are "the stumblers," those who trip and fall as they ascend or descend the hill of life! And how serious, sometimes, are these falls! Character, reputation, joy, the light of other hearts, the happiness of the home, - all gone through the one false step! We have urgent need of some security. In what shall this be found? Not in hedgings and fencings which will take away every possible danger, but in the wisdom of the wise, which will teach us where to go and how to tread the path of life, in the "wisdom which is from above."
V. IT GUARANTEES THE GUARDIANSHIP OF GOD, AND THUS ENSURES CONFIDENCE AND PEACE. (Vers. 24-26.) There are those whose life is full of slavish fear; by day they dread the evils which assail the wicked, by night the perils of the darkness. But he who keeps God's Word enjoys the guardianship of his Almighty arm. "The Lord is his confidence;" his days are spent in quietness and calmness, and "his sleep is sweet" (Psalm 112:7).
VI. IT IS THE PERENNIAL SPRING OF PEACE AND JOY. (Vers. 17, 18.) Other sources of gratification are to be found, but some of them do not carry the sanction of conscience, some of them are out of the reach of the lowly, others are only open to the learned or the favoured; most, if not all of them, are short-lived, and become of less worth as they are more frequently employed. The wisdom which comes from God and which leads to him, which makes the human spirit the friend and follower of the Son of God, brings a "peace which passes all understanding," the "peace of God," and "joys which through all time abide."
VII. IT IS THE REALIZATION OF HUMAN LIFE. Wisdom is a "tree of life" (ver. 18); wisdom and discretion "shall be life unto our soul" (ver. 22). Any existence which is not illumined, ennobled, sanctified, beautified (ver. 22, "grace to thy neck"), by these, is something less than life in the sight of God. Only with these and by these do we attain to a state of being which the Wise One who sees things as they are recognizes as the life of man. Wherefore:
1. Count it worth while to secure this heavenly wisdom at all costs whatsoever (vers. 14, 15). Its value cannot be estimated in gold; the price of wisdom is above rubies (Job 28:18). Nothing is to be compared with it. Part, if necessary, with the largest fortune to obtain it (Mark 10:21; Proverbs 23:23).
2. Take care to cherish and retain it (ver. 24). Let the must precious pearl fall, but hold this with a hand that will not unclasp. - C.
Genesis 1, it. He thus traces the visible world and its order to its spiritual root in the mind of God. He gives a brief sketch of the construction of the cosmos, according to the ancient mode of thought. Both heaven and earth are fixed and made fast; and the water masses divided into those above and those below the "firmament;" the consequence of which is the gushing forth of the clouds in rain. The modern scientific knowledge of the world may be used to impart a rich context to these simple conceptions of the early imagination.
I. THE WORLD IS AN ORDER. The Greeks expressed this idea in the beautiful word "cosmos." It includes symmetry, beauty, variety, harmony, adaptation of means to ends. To recognize these in the visible world is an intellectual delight, and a motive to the purest reverence.
II. THIS ORDER IS REDUCIBLE TO A UNITY. Formerly we looked Upon the world as a collection of independent forces. Science showed us the correlation, interdependence, interaction of these forces. Now she has risen to the grand conception of the unity of all force; and thus arrives at the same goal with religious thought.
III. THAT UNITY OF FORCE IS GOD. It is often forgotten that the generalizations of science are but logical distinctions - cause, law, force, etc. What are these without Being, Personality, as their ground? Empty names. Religion fills these forms with life, and where the scientific man speaks of law, she bows before the living God.
IV. SCIENCE AND RELIGION ARE AT ONE. When we talk of their opposition, we are using a figure of speech. What they represent, these names, is two different directions of the spiritual activity of man. What needs to be cured is narrowness and partialism on the side of both scientific and religious men. For there is no real cleft in the nature of our knowledge. All genuine knowledge is essentially a knowledge of God, of the Infinite revealed in and through the finite. - J.
I. RELIGION STRENGTHENS AND STEADIES THE PERCEPTION. (Ver. 23.) Perfect unconsciousness of danger, as in the child, the somnambulist, etc., is often seen to be a condition of security in walking in dangerous places. And so may the mind be unconscious of danger through the full enfolding in God. But better is the safe step which is given by the perfect knowledge both of danger and the resources against it. This is found in religion. We know what is against us, still more who is for us, and so pass on with head erect and footstep firm.
II. RELIGION CONTROLS THE IMAGINATION. (Vers. 24, 25.) The insdefinable in space and time continually besets the fancy, and, especially in certain temperaments, fills it with images of gloom and terror. The timid heart forebodes some sudden "tempest of the wicked," some onrush of malice and violence out of the dark. What a chapter of "imaginary terrors" could be filled from the experience of many such a one! But faith re, titles the imagination, preoccupying it with the thought of the almighty Defender (compare the beautiful Psalm 91.). - J.
I. NEGATIVE UNKINDNESS. (Ver. 27.)
1. It consists in withholding good which it is in our power to impart.
2. It is analogous to the refusal repay a just debt. Kindness is the "due" of our fellow men. This does not imply the giving to every beggar or borrower. No act is required which, under the show of kindness, involves no real benefit to another or actually involves an injustice to ourself or another. We must carry these precepts to the light of the heart and of the discriminating intelligence. Speaking generally, sullenness, unsociability, extreme taciturnity, self-absorption, are forms of the sin.
II. PROCRASTINATION CONDEMNED. (Ver. 28.) Remember:
1. That to give promptly is to give twice; that the deferred gift loses its bloom; that unnecessary delay is a fraud on the time and temper of others; that of everything we intend to do we had best make the beginning at once, which, the Roman poet says, is "half the deed."
2. To defer a duty till tomorrow may be to defer it forever. A lost opportunity of doing good is a sad sting in the memory. These negative warnings infer the positive lesson of promptitude.
(1) Now is the acceptable time for ourselves and our own salvation.
(2) It may also be the acceptable time for others' salvation. How admirable to be one of those who, amidst whatever pressure, can find time to listen, to comfort, to help their brethren, today, at once! - J.
I. PUNCTUALITY IS THE PAYMENT OF THAT WHICH IS DUE. (Vers. 27, 28.) These dues may be
(1) the wages of the workman;
(2) the debt contracted with the tradesman;
(3) the sum promised to the relative or friend.
This may be denied, even when it could be easily rendered, through an "avaricious reluctance" to part with money or a culpable disregard of other men's necessities and claims. Such default is not worthy of a godly, a Christian man.
II. CONSCIENTIOUSNESS TOWARDS OUR FRIENDS. (Ver. 29.) Too many men are inclined to abuse the confidence their kindred or friends' put in them, or the generosity they are prepared to show them. Such men draw unscrupulously on the trust or the bounty of others. It is a serious departure from perfect rectitude, and should be disallowed to themselves by all who fear God and would follow Christ. Those who "dwell securely by us," who have confided in us, are those whom every principle of honest self-respect demands that we should treat with scrupulous integrity.
III. PEACEABLENESS OF SPIRIT. (Ver. 30.) The lives of many are embittered by the quarrelsomeness of their neighbours. Offence, never intended, is taken, bitter words are spoken, a hostile attitude is assumed, all friendly relations are broken off, malicious insinuations are thrown out; in fact, "there is war between the house" of this man and that man, when there is positively nothing on which to found a complaint. A very small allowance of charity would cure this evil spirit, if only taken in time. Charity would hide a multitude of sins in the sense of preventing them altogether, if men would but attribute kind motives to their neighbours, or inquire sufficiently before they condemn, or even wait a while before they strike, to see if there is no other and better way of arranging a dispute. If it be possible - and it very often is possible, when men imagine it is not - we should "live peaceably with all men" (Romans 12:18).
IV. FREEDOM FROM FRETTING ENVY. Many good men are, upon the whole, what God would have them to be, and they have from him all that they can reasonably ask at his hand; their well being is such as to constitute the condition of thankfulness and joy. Yet the cup of their life is made bitter and unpalatable because they are envious of the successful oppressor (ver. 31); they "fret themselves because of evil doers," and are envious against the workers of iniquity (Psalm 37:1, 8; Psalm 73:3). They think, perhaps, that if bad men are as prosperous as they seem to be, they (the good) ought to be far more successful than they find themselves to be. Surely this is both sinful and foolish.
1. It is discontentment with God's arrangement, and a querulous challenging of his administration of human affairs.
2. It is forgetfulness of the fact that God's severest anger rests on the oppressor, and that he is therefore the last man to be envied; he is "abomination to the Lord" (ver. 32). Would we change places with him?
3. It overlooks the fact that the righteous man is enjoying the friendship of God - surely an advantage that immeasurably outweighs the wealth or honour which the oppressor has stolen. "The secret of the Lord" is with him. He is God's trusted servant, Christ's intimate friend (see Psalm 25:14; John 15:14, 15; John 14:23). - C.
I. MALICE AND ITS DEVICES. (Ver. 29.) Literally, "Forge not ill against thy neighbour."
1. Malice, like love, is all-inventive. But as the devices of the latter are the very instruments of progress and good, so those of the former are pernicious - burglar's tools, cunning instruments of torture.
2. Directed against unsuspecting objects, malice is truly Satanic, an inspiration from hell. We have to beware of indulgence in curiosity about our neighbours; it is seldom free from some taint of malice in thought, which may pass over at any moment into action. Something in our neighbour's life may rebuke us and rouse the latent passion. How near are the angel and the devil to one another in the heart!
II. UNPROVOKED CONTENTIOUSNESS. (Ver. 30.) In other words, quarrelsomeness. The vicious habit and disposition to "pick quarrels," to invent occasions for faultfinding, for the exercise of pugnacity, and so on. The man of whom it is said that if left alone in the world he would fight with his own shadow. Let him contend with his own vices, of which this temper is a symptom, and expend his pugnacity upon the evils of society. There are men before whose presence all the sleeping germs of wrath start up into chaotic life. Could they but see themselves as others see them!
III. ENVY OF THE WICKED GREAT. (Ver. 31.) As emulation of the virtuous great is a noble passion, this, the reverse side of it, is correspondingly base. Imitation, again, is a powerful passion, the source of "fashion." The pure spirit knows nothing of fashion as such; and immoral fashion, born of mere imitation, it must avoid and. denounce.
1. Every passion has its obverse and its reverse, its good and its evil side; malice may be turned to benevolence; idle quarrelsomeness to noble pugnacity; immoral envy to pure emulation.
2. Religion intensifies, purifies, directs, the passions to noble ends. - J.
distinguishes in -
I. HIS VIEW OF INDIVIDUAL CHARACTER.
1. He abominates the perverse, the crooked, twisted, deceitful character. All in the spirit must be compared with that ideal geometrical rectitude of form, so to speak, which is the truth of his Being.
2. With the upright he "maintains good friendship" (ver. 32), or "is in secret alliance" (Job 29:4; Psalm 25:14). To enjoy the friendship of discerning minds, what greater privilege can there be? To live on such terms with God is the privilege of the true soul.
II. HIS PROVIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION. "His curse dwells in the house of the wicked." A fatality of evil clings to him and his. But Jehovah blesses the tent of the righteous. He scoffs at the scoffer, but gives to the lowly grace (comp. James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5). The wise under this administration inherit glory, while ignominy carries away the fools.
1. These are, in the mode of their presentation, generalized or abstract truths, and as such must be understood. The study of apparent exceptions, even the admission of them, is foreign to this phase of Oriental thought. It was the presence of exceptions, insoluble to ancient thought, which excited the doubt and grief of Job and some of the psalmists.
2. While the truth must be stated, from the exigencies of language, in this sharp polar antithesis, actual human character is found, with all its merits and shades, in the intermediate region.
3. The subtle intermixtures of good and evil in human character, recognized by modern thought, defy complete analysis. We must suspend our judgment in particular cases, leaving all to him who brings to light the hidden things of darkness; conscious that there must be great "reversals of human judgment" upon the character of man (see Mozley's sermon on this subject). - J.
I. THOSE WHOM GOD FAVOURS AND THAT WHICH HE APPORTIONS THEM. There are three epithets by which they are here characterized; they are called "the just," "the lowly," and "the wise." In those whom God loves and means to bless there are found
(1) the spirit of humility, - they are conscious of their own demerit and unworthiness;
(2) the spirit of wisdom, - they are in the attitude of inquiry towards God, desirous of knowing his truth and doing his will; and
(3) the spirit of conscientiousness, - they are the "just," wishful to do that which is right toward their fellows, to act honestly, fairly, considerately, in the various relations they sustain. These God loves, and on them he will bestow his Divine benediction.
1. He will give them "grace" - his own royal favour and that which draws down upon them the genial and gracious regard of men.
2. He will bless them in their home life. He "blesseth the habitation of the just." He will give them purity, love, honour, affection, peace, joy in their most intimate relations; so that their homes shall be blessed. He will be known as the "God of the families of Israel."
3. And He will give them exaltation in the end. "The wise shall inherit glory." "Unto the upright there will arise light in the darkness." Present gloom shall give place to glory, either now on this side the grave, or hereafter in "that world of light."
II. THOSE WITH WHOM GOD IS DISPLEASED AND HIS AWFUL MALEDICTIONS ON THEM. These are also thrice characterized here; they are "the wicked," "the scorners," "fools." These are they who
(1) in their folly reject the counsel of God; who
(2) in their guilt yield themselves up to sin in its various forms; who
(3) in their arrogance scoff at all sacred things - the "scorners;" this is the last and worst development of sin, the treatment of things holy and Divine with flippant irreverence. These God regards with Divine disapproval; them he strongly condemns and visits with fearful penalty.
1. His wrath is on themselves. He "scorneth the scorners." "He that sitteth in the heavens laughs" at them, he "has them in derision" (Psalm 2:4). His feeling toward them and his power over them are such that they have reason to apprehend overthrow and ruin at any hour (see Psalm 73:19, 20).
2. His curse is on their house (ver. 33). They may expect that in their domestic relations they will have, as in fact they do have, saddest occasions of sorrow and remorse.
3. His hand is against their hope. They may be anticipating great things for themselves in the future, their castles are high and strong in the air, their hope is great; but "lo! sudden destruction," the wind of heaven blows, and all is brought into desolation. God touches their fine structure with his finger, and it is in ruins. "Shame is the promotion of fouls." - C.