Keep falsehood and deceitful words far from me. Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the bread that is my portion.
I. THE WAY OF LIFE: TRUTH IS THE MEAN BETWEEN TWO EXTREMES. (Ver. 8.) Extremes exist in logic; life shows that extremes meet, and that the path of sense in opinion and of safety in conduct lies intermediate between them.
II. GREAT INCHES ARE NOT IN THEMSELVES DESIRABLE. Not by the wise and religious man. They bring perils to the soul. Full of his gifts, it is tempted to deny the Giver. The deepest atheism springs from self-sufficiency. Prospering in the flesh, men are often impoverished in the spirit. "How deep a knowledge of the heart is implied in the petition of the Litany, 'In all time of our wealth, good Lord deliver us'!" (Bridges).
III. EXTREME POVERTY MAY BE EQUALLY INJURIOUS TO THE SPIRITUAL LIFE. It tempts to dishonesty, even to perjury. "Too poor to be honest" is a cynical saying which points out a real danger. The old proverb, "It is hard for an empty sack to stand on end," points the same way. More stinging still is the word, "Poor men have no souls."
IV. THE GOLDEN MEAN IS THEREFORE TO BE DESIRED AND SOUGHT. (Comp. Philippians 4:11, 12; 1 Timothy 6:6-10.) Horace says, "Whoever loves the golden mediocrity is safe, free from the sordid misery of the tumble down dwelling, free from the envied hall in his sobriety" ('Carm.,' 2:10). But let us be careful to note that the true state is to be found in the spirit itself - the inward, not the outward sufficiency. "I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." Rich in estate, yet poor in spirit; poor in estate, yet rich in grace; - this is the true solution of the problem, the true object of pious prayers. - J.
Remove far from me vanity and lies.
1. The prayer implies a desire that we may be preserved from setting our affections on such objects as are but vain and unsatisfying, and will, in the end, disappoint our expectation. When we place our supreme happiness upon the world, instead of making it a means of leading us to God, then its inherent vanity appears. There is something more in this request than being preserved from practices directly vicious.
2. The prayer implies that God would graciously preserve us from deceiving ourselves, and thinking our character better and our state safer than it really is. We ought to pray for preservation from self-deceit, as to particular branches of our character and conduct, as well as our general state.
3. The request implies a desire to be preserved from pride and self-conceit upon any subject. Everything may be the fuel of pride — our persons, our performances, our relations, our possessions.
4. This request implies a desire to be delivered from fraud and dissimulation of every kind. There is no end which a good man ought to aim at which may not be more certainly, safely, and speedily obtained by the strictest and most inviolable sincerity than by any acts of dissimulation whatever.
(1) (2) (3) (J. Witherspoon, D.D.)
(2) (3) (J. Witherspoon, D.D.)
(3) (J. Witherspoon, D.D.)
(J. Witherspoon, D.D.)
1. Vanity is that passion which is founded on an exorbitant opinion of one's own situation and accomplishments, and is constantly engaged in the pursuit of admiration and applause. This passion is accompanied by great delusion with respect to ourselves, to others, and to human nature in general. The term may, however, include whatever obscures the understanding with prejudice, whatever dazzles the fancy with delusive appearances of pleasure, whatever captivates the heart with the representation of fictitious or exaggerated delight; whatever misleads the judgment or misplaces the affections.
2. Under the term "lies" is comprehended that corruption of heart which is the cause of wilful and fraudulent deception. The power of self-deception is astonishing. That the greatest evils to which we are at present exposed proceed from the folly and corruption of mankind will be acknowledged by every person of discernment. Two grand objects occupy the attention and activity of all mankind-the acquirement of good and the removal of evil.
(W. L. Brown, D.D.)
Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me
I. WHAT WE MAY LEARN IN GENERAL FROM THIS PRAYER.
1. That it is lawful to pray for temporal blessings.
2. That God is the real and proper giver of every temporal, as well as of every spiritual, blessing.
II. THE PARTICULAR OBJECT OF THE PROPHET'S DESIRE. He does not refuse submission to the will of God by thus making choice of a particular state of life. Poverty and riches are mentioned as the two extremes. Where is the middle between the two?
1. God is the best judge of what is most fit and convenient for us.
2. Resignation to God is a most acceptable expression, both of our worship and obedience. Resignation is the very habit of obedience.
3. Such a temper of mind will greatly contribute to our own inward peace. It will preserve us from perplexing anxiety and many uneasy fears for futurity.
(John Witherspoon, D.D.)
2. Indulgence leads men to place their happiness in such enjoyments.
3. When the better part is neglected, every vice will spring up in the soul. See the great malignity and deceitfulness of sin. Make a wise improvement of the advantages you enjoy over one another. Let all persons in health, quiet and peaceful circumstances, learn what it is they ought to guard against — pride, security, forgetfulness of God, etc.
(John Witherspoon, D.D.)
1. Ignorance is one reason why poverty becomes a temptation to fraud.
2. To this fraud the poor are introduced insensibly, and led on by degrees.
3. In time it destroys the sense of shame. Let me put you in mind —(1) What reason many have to be thankful to the God of life, who has given them their daily provision, in fulness and sufficiency. A humble, thankful disposition is their duty.(2) If poverty is a temptation, it ought to be an argument to all to avoid it, or seek deliverance from it by lawful means.(3) If you are poor, pray God to preserve you from fraud and disingenuity of every kind. You should not only study to preserve yourselves from sin, but from all such circumstances of temptation as are dangerous to human constancy. How necessary it is that you should look for the Divine assistance and direction, to avoid the temptations of every state of life. What an inseparable connection there is between true religion and your employments and state in this present world. Whether you be rich or poor, remember an approaching eternity.
(John Witherspoon, D.D.)
I. THE DANGERS, TEMPTATIONS, AND GENERAL INCONVENIENCES OF A WEALTHY AND EXALTED STATION. Many shapes of vice and misery stand behind the blaze of opulence.
1. Pride. Which deprives men of all true knowledge of themselves, and exposes them to the ill-will and enmity of others. Opulence and splendour tend to enfeeble, if not to eradicate a just notion of mutual dependence and obligation, and to introduce in its stead the absurd opinion of inherent and immutable independence and superiority.
2. Want of feeling for distress. Riches tend to shut the breast against emotions of compassion.
3. Effeminacy, indolence, and incapacity of exertion are natural attendants on riches and splendid station. But no real enjoyment can be obtained by man without some exertion. Exertion sweetens the enjoyment itself, and qualifies for increasing and multiplying it. The eye dazzled with the lustre of riches loses its aptitude for the research of truth. The rich are not often the learned.
4. Ambition. This passion agitates and engrosses the mind more than any other, to the dominion of which man is subject. Prosperous and exalted circumstances have a powerful tendency to excite and foster this outrageous passion.
5. Irreligion and profaneness. The most powerful incitements to religious affections are often perverted into causes of impiety.
II. THE TEMPTATIONS AND DANGERS OF POVERTY. Evil.
1. Either an entire want of the necessaries of life, or the purchase of them by unremitting toil and fatigue.
2. The want of a proper education.
3. Contempt. The poor are sometimes regarded as beings of another species — as beasts of burden to those who are more favoured by fortune. Consequently the indigent are frequently tempted to repine and murmur at the dispensations of Providence.
4. Temptations to dishonesty, fraud, and theft.
III. THE ADVANTAGES OF A MIDDLE STATION IN LIFE. This is the soil best adapted to the culture and perfection of every quality, intellectual or moral. The natural affections are not suppressed in the middle sphere, or diverted from their proper course, and operate their salutary effects on domestic and more general intercourse. Accordingly, the greatest portion of the knowledge, ability, and virtue which exist in the world will be found in this station of life Everything said above strongly inculcates contentment and gratitude if it has pleased God to bestow on us that worldly portion which is most subservient to our happiness. Take care to judge, with candour and gentleness, of the conduct of persons placed in the higher stations of society. Take care to show great indulgence and compassion towards the poor.
(W. L. Brown, D.D.)I. THE MEANING AND IMPORT OF THIS PETITION. A middle state of life cannot be a proper subject for all men's petitions to heaven, for human life requires a distinction of station. In society there must be subordination. This petition cannot propose one fixed standard or measure of fortune as the proper object of every man's desires. It means a competency suited to our respective stations. Riches, poverty, or competence are relative terms, and cannot be accurately fixed, without reference to our condition or situation in the world.
II. THE MORAL DISADVANTAGES WHICH ATTEND THE TWO EXTREMES OF AFFLUENCE AND INDIGENCE.
1. Such as attend affluence. Various vices flourish. Many lose their integrity. Many abandon themselves to the indulgence of irregular passions, merely because they had the means of indulgence in their power. Riches specially tempts to forgetfulness of our Maker. A sense and feeling of want is a constant monitor, ever reminding us of our dependence. This dependence creates in us an unwillingness to offend, and an inclination to serve and please God. Opulence tempts us to be as forgetful of our neighbour as of our God. Of course all do not yield to the temptations of riches. There are many exceptions.
2. Poverty has many disadvantages and dangers. The temptations in a state of indigence are urgent, and too often prevail. It requires a peculiarly right frame and happy disposition of mind to submit with patient fortitude to humiliation, and to reject every gainful temptation that offers to corrupt. If any convenient though fraudful expedient should offer to relieve his necessities, human weakness will be strongly urged to provide a dishonest subsistence at the expense of his integrity. The text reminds us that as we are the creatures of God, we are the dependents also on His providence. He is never inattentive to the wants of His faithful servants. These sentiments will lead us to an uncomplaining submission to His appointments, and an equal resignation in all conditions. Whatever may be our allotment in the world, let us be piously grateful to Heaven for the blessings we enjoy; let us endeavour to deserve those we want; and let it be the chief object of our attention by a wise and virtuous use of the temporary treasures or possessions entrusted to us in this life to secure the eternal possessions of the next.
(G. Carr, B.A.)
Christian Age.John Hopkins, the founder of the university in Baltimore bearing his name, accumulated nine millions of dollars. One day he said to his gardener: "Next to the hell of being utterly bereft of money is the purgatory of possessing a vast amount of it. I have a mission, and under its shadow I have accumulated wealth, but not happiness."
Saturday Magazine."Better a little fire that warms than mickle that burns." "One may be very uneasy with a plentiful fortune, and as happy in an humble condition, for it is the mind that makes us either the one or the other." "Far from Jupiter, far from the thunder." Agur's prayer is a continual lecture to him that covets more than enough. , passing through the markets, cried, "How much is here I do not want!" "That suit is best that fits me best," says an English adage.
(Saturday Magazine.)1. This prayer is deservedly admired on account of the motive by which it was dictated, viz., a concern for his own virtue on the part of him who composed it. Agur's wish for the middle state grew out of a persuasion that it was the most favourable to virtue. This is a prayer not to be led into temptation.
2. It is marked by humility and self-knowledge.
3. Notice the attainableness of the thing prayed for. Much can be done by the co-operation of man's will with the operation of God's providence and Holy Spirit. What is true of our bodily health and spiritual state is true of our worldly circumstances. These also depend very much upon ourselves. "What shall I do to be happy in this world? " This is a question of importance in itself, even if it must be regarded as a minor question. The Scriptures abound with instruction respecting it. The Church puts up many prayers for blessings merely temporal, and for deliverance from evils that can only affect us here. If any say, "This middle state, presented as so desirable, what state is, it? what amount of income goes to constitute it?" I answer that it is not the same to all. What is wealth to one man would be poverty to another; what is a middle state for one would be a low state for another, and a high one for a third. He is poor whose expenses are greater than his means; and he is not so who lives within his means, and spends less than he earns or owns. By "poor" we too often designate all who live by labour, but this is a loose and improper way of speaking. He only is poor who cannot maintain the scale of living and the kind of appearance he has assumed. The way to the true happy mean between riches and poverty is the old-fashioned way of industry and frugality. Of industry the effects are better understood than those of saving. The objects and occasions that make it a duty to save are some of them distant ones, and others are not sure to arise. And the sums we can spare from our immediate wants are so small that they seem scarcely worth laying by. But the result of small savings is considerable at last.
(A. Gibson, M.A.)I. THE PERSON HERE SPEAKING WAS A PERSON OF TRUE PIETY. This person was truly a good man, for he was humble (vers. 2, 3). He had sublime views of God (ver. 4). In his character we perceive a deep reverence for the Word of God, and great delight in its purity (ver. 5). In this character we contemplate, in relation to prayer, earnestness and judiciousness (vers. 7, 8). From God he expected all his mercies, whether spiritual or temporal, and he expected them as an undeserved favour. He did not prescribe to God, but by His Spirit he was taught to pray as in the words before us.
II. AGUR WAS A PERSON WHOSE WILL WAS ABSORBED OR LOST IN THE DIVINE WILL. This was an evidence of his piety. To submit to the will of God is His command, and is the bounden duty of all creatures. By nature the will is rebellious; it is as an iron sinew, and as a brow of brass. The first effect of the grace of God is to reconcile the mind to the plan of salvation by Jesus Christ. They wish no alteration in the doctrines of the Cross on their account; of the whole covenant, in its conditions and its Head, its promises and discipline, they say, "It is all my salvation and all my desire." They delight in the law of the Lord after the inward man, and they allow God the entire management of their providential lot. They know that the disposing of their lot is from the Lord; whether they are rich or poor, their wishes are not the rule, but the appointment of God.
III. AGUR'S DESIRE AFTER EARTHLY THINGS WERE VERY MODERATE. "Give me neither poverty, nor riches, but feed me," etc. The heart of man since the Fall, having lost God as a portion, and its interest in spiritual things, has become ravenous in its desires after the things of sense and of time. It seeks pleasure after pleasure, honour after honour, riches after riches, field after field; and yet, like the ocean, though all the rivers run into it, the heart of man is never satisfied. But the saints having returned to God in Christ, as the rest and portion of their souls, and finding themselves happy in God, are very moderate in their desires after earthly things. They desire nothing of God as to the present life which He is not willing to give, and which does not contribute to their advantage. They do not wish more than they really want, and they would not lay up treasures on earth.
IV. AGUR WAS A WISE MAN, WHO CONSIDERED THE TEMPTATIONS INCIDENT TO THE LOT OF OTHER MEN. " Lest I be full, and deny Thee." To be full is to be very rich, to fare, like the rich man in the Gospel, sumptuously every day, to have more than their hearts can wish. "Lest I be full, and deny Thee to be the Author of my mercies — deny my dependence on Thee for Thy blessing which maketh rich — deny Thee the glory due to Thy name, and take it to myself or ascribe it to others — deny Thee before men, by being ashamed of mingling with Thy poor people in Thy worship. Lest my forgetfulness of God strengthen into aversion, and my aversion become atheism, and I say, Who is the Lord?" When every gale blows perfume, and every post brings joyful intelligence, it is not possible for the spirit of a wicked man to avoid the swellings of pride, and the elevation of self-confidence. The other temptation which this good man wished to avoid, by the grace of God, was poverty: "Lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain." He doth not say, "Lest I steal and be condemned by men for it, be imprisoned for it," but "Lest I steal, and take the name of my God in vain"; that is, "Lest I dishonour God by breaking the eighth precept of His law, lest by so doing I dishonour my profession as a holy man, or lest, if charged with the crime, I should deny or conceal it, and so, by endeavouring to hide one sin, should commit another — by denying the sin of theft, commit the sin of lying." The motives against sin which animated Agur were noble motives, and such as they were should animate us. His religion was all of a piece, his prayers were the fruit of his piety, and his life corresponded to his prayers.
I. "REMOVE FROM ME VANITY AND LIES." The words show Agur's concern to be delivered from everything like ostentation or self-confidence, and from the desire to utter as true things which he might not fully comprehend, with the view of being admired and applauded for his wisdom and penetration. The prayer reaches to the removal of the natural atheism and impiety of the human heart of every false notion of God, and of every imaginary ground of hope on which the unrenewed mind is apt to depend.
II. "GIVE ME NEITHER POVERTY NOR RICHES." There is not a wise man acquainted with the frailties of human nature, or with the temptations incident to a condition either of peculiar difficulty or prosperity, who, if he were to express any wish concerning it at all, would not cordially join with Agur. To perceive this to be the case, consider —
1. The evils incident to a state of poverty. The incapacity of discharging necessary obligations is almost enough to mar the flight of the boldest faith, and deaden the efforts of the strongest devotion. And how often do the devices of injustice start up in the minds of the poor! In all their transactions they are ever in hazard of grasping at what is not their own, of practising falsehood, dissimulation, and even perjury.
2. The evils incident to a state of affluence. By riches we understand that surplus of wealth or property which any one enjoys above what is absolutely necessary to procure those conveniences and comforts which are suited to the condition wherein he is placed. Such riches may be a blessing, and give power to do good; but alas! they almost uniformly tend to corrupt the heart, to undermine those sentiments of dependence on God which are so becoming to the character of man, and to foment a spirit of rebellion against the Divine authority. They engender selfishness, pride, arrogance, and unbearable insolence towards others.
III. BY MEANS OF A MIDDLE STATE WE ARE IN GREAT MEASURE EXEMPTED FROM THE EVILS OF BOTH THESE STATES. Such a man has sufficient to feed, end nourish, and clothe himself and those who are dependent on him. His dependence on God is neither weakened by his having too much of the world, nor his affection withdrawn from Him by having too little. Such a man is peculiarly favourable to the dispositions he should feel, and the duties he should perform towards those that are around him. Remember that God alone has the disposal of your lot. Of this you may be assured, it is the one which He knows to be best fitted for you.
(James Somerville, D.D.)
(J. Warwick.)I. GENERAL REMARKS ON AGUR'S PRAYER.
1. It is short, concise, but full and comprehensive.
2. It is singular with respect to its matter, as well as the manner in which it is expressed. How few of us have ever offered up such a petition! Moderation in our desires and pursuits after worldly good is an eminent attainment, but how little of it do we possess ourselves, or observe in others!
3. It discovers much heavenly-mindedness and self-denial. A man's own heart would not suggest it to him; it is a dictate of the Spirit of God.
II. CONSIDER ITS IMPORT OR THE PARTICULARS INCLUDED IN THE PRAYER ITSELF.
1. It implies that both riches and poverty come from God, and are not merely the result of second causes. "The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposal thereof is of the Lord."
2. It supposes that there is a medium between poverty and riches which is most desirable and ought to he the object of every one's request. The idea of a competency must be regulated by the extent of our actual necessities, both personal and relative. Competency must also be determined by our station and condition in life. That which is sufficient, and more than sufficient, for one, is not in all respects sufficient for another. The more we possess, the greater will be our responsibility, and the greater our danger. Learn to judge of a competency not by the sentiments of mankind, but by reason and the Word of God. If Providence has placed us in the middle state between indigence and affluence, let us learn to esteem it as the most desirable.
(B. Beddome, M.A.)
I. THE IMPORT OF AGUR'S WISH
1. Poverty and riches are relative terms; the idea of them varies as they are applied to persons of different condition, education, birth, or figure of life. This wish cannot be understood to propose one certain size and measure of fortune as the proper standard of all men's desires, but in a sense accommodated to the various ranks, conditions, and characters of men. Unless we exclude temporal blessings from being the subject of human petitions, thus much we may reasonably and lawfully ask of God. This petition is sometimes explained as requesting a middle station in life, within reach of those conveniences which the lower orders of mankind must necessarily want, and yet without embarrassment of greatness. This limitation cannot, however, be allowed, seeing that society cannot subsist without a diversity of stations and offices. Both extremes above and below the proportion of our character are equally dangerous to our virtue and happiness, and it is hard to determine which is most ineligible.
II. THE FORCE OF THOSE REASONS HERE SUGGESTED FOR THIS WISH, The danger apprehended from poverty is the temptation to supply wants by fraud and violence, theft or robbery, lying or perjury. The temptation to these crimes is very strong in a state of distress. A crowd of unfortunate passions surround the man, and will not suffer him to attend to the remonstrances of justice or the precepts of religion. On the other hand, riches multiplied beyond the proportion of our character, and the wants appendant to it, naturally dispose men to forget God. They are apt in such circumstances to think themselves secure and independent, out of the reach of Providence, and no longer concerned to solicit His favour. A superfluous abundance tempts us to forget God. If, then, both poverty and riches are thus dangerous to our virtue and religion, the proper subject of our petitions to God, with regard to temporals, must be a state between these, that medium of convenience proportioned to the several conditions of life which the example in the text recommends to our choice and prayers. This wise supplicant was contented with his present situation, and though he prayed for the condition he thought most desirable, yet left the event to God, and was prepared to submit to His will, though either of the extremes should be his portion.
1. If we would avoid the dangers and temptations of poverty, it concerns us not to overrate the conveniences of our station, and to fix the proportion fit for us rather too low than too high.
2. It is a great security to use ourselves to live within the restraints of a lower condition than that we are placed in.
3. To guard against temptations from the other extreme, remember the advice of the psalmist, "If riches increase, set not your heart upon them." No condition of life is necessarily sinful or necessarily virtuous. We may pass with innocence through want and through abundance. Christian prudence will advise us to request a situation least exposed, the safe portion of a moderate adjusted convenience.
I. THE REQUESTS — THE THINGS PLEADED FOR AT THE HANDS OF GOD.
1. "Remove far from me vanity and lies." This respects his inward man, the concerns of his soul.
2. The second request concerns his outward man, and the temporal enjoyments of this transitory life. These are also the gifts of God. Notice somewhat that he deprecates and declines, viz., poverty and riches. Something for which he supplicates, viz., food convenient for him.
II. THE ARGUMENTS UPON WHICH HE GROUNDS THIS CHOICE. An argument drawn from the perils of riches and the temptations of poverty. He argues that a middle estate or condition in the world, upon rational and religious grounds, is most eligible for a man, as such, with respect to this life; or for a Christian, as such, designing the happiness of another life. Proposition —
1. God hath the absolute disposal of all men as to their estates and conditions in the world.
2. God, in His various dispensations of the good and evil things of this world, acts not only as an absolute Sovereign, but according to the rules of His own most infinite wisdom, as may most conduce to His own glory and the good and weal of His own people.
3. No outward condition in the world that men can be brought into hath any influence upon God, so as to render us more or less acceptable to Him.
4. One and the same condition in the world is not alike desirable or eligible to all men under all circumstances, nor to the same men at several times, or as placed by God in several stations.
III. WHAT IS THIS MIDDLE WORLDLY CONDITION? Consider it with a threefold respect.
1. With respect to a man's personal and private capacity as — a single person.
2. With respect unto a man's relative capacity — as he may be concerned to take care of others, as well as make provision for himself.
3. With respect unto a man's being placed in a higher or more public station — as magistracy or ministry.
IV. UPON WHAT GROUND MAY THIS MIDDLE ESTATE BE ADJUDGED THE MOST ELIGIBLE AND DESIRABLE. It is with respect to man's short passage through this world, for his mind and for his body. It is in relation to another world. Three things are prerequisites in order to our future happiness.
1. A right and orderly entering into the way of salvation by the door of sound regeneration and conversion.
2. A progress in that way by a holy and heavenly conversation.
3. A perseverance in that way of faith and holiness to the end against all internal or external opposition. Caution to the poor. Remember that your condition lays you open to many strong temptations to dishonour and neglect God and Christ, and your souls, and so makes way for your being miserable in both worlds. Two cautions to the rich: "Be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches." "Honour the Lord with your substance." Three cautions to those in middle state of life: See what interpretation you are to make of those providences that have put a check to your endeavours and graspings at great things in the world. Moderate your affections to the things of this world. Seeing Providence has placed you in the most eligible condition, labour to answer it, and evidence it to be so by your proficiency and progress in holiness and godliness.
I. EXPLAIN THE TWOFOLD DANGER INTIMATED.
1. To deny sometimes signifies to act as if there was no righteous Governor and Judge of mankind. In the height of prosperity men are apt to be careless and inconsiderate. The vices implied are pride, presumption, arrogance, luxury, and immoderate pursuits of pleasure. Plenty too naturally begets excess. It heightens and inflames sensual passions; and inclines a man towards atheism. Riches minister to ambition, and rich men readily become imperious and tyrannical.
2. The vices to which strait and penurious circumstances expose men are theft and perjury. The causes why the poor so easily give way to temptations of this kind are the want of a good education, lack of training for specific employments. Such persons are often destitute of due regard to their reputations, and so lose one of the surest guards of virtue and integrity. Often the poor are badly influenced by their associates.
II. SUGGEST REFLECTIONS TO PREVENT MISTAKES.
1. Both riches and poverty are capable of being improved to the most useful purposes.
2. As poverty has such disadvantages, we may well commiserate the case of the poor.
3. Take care to moderate the passion for riches and greatness.
1. It is inferred that riches beget self-sufficiency, a fancied independency and a denial or forgetfulness of God. The inference receives but too much confirmation from experience. Riches are not less prejudicial to happiness than they are to virtue. What are the chief preservatives against the dangers of riches? Let the rich man remember that all which he possesses was given to him, or more precisely, has been lent to him; that he has as much need of the assistance of the poor man as the poor man has of his; that rich and poor have the same natures, the same weaknesses and infirmities; and that the hand that gave the riches may withdraw them at any time.
2. It is shown that the peculiar and characteristic vices of poverty and want are dishonesty and discontent. The life of those in the lower ranks is subject to many hardships and miseries; and these present temptations to discontent and dishonesty. But let the poor remember that neither of these is likely to be of any service to them. Discontent always augments the evil with which we are oppressed. It adds to it its own bitterness. Dishonesty can at the utmost bring temporary relief. What is gained by fraud is usually wasted in extravagance. And who was ever known to rest with the commission of one crime? The bounds of integrity once broken through, it is rarely within our will or our power to retreat. In comparing their happiness with that of the rich, the poor are often deceived.
(Geo. Haggitt, M.A.)I. A PETITION. Expressed in two ways — negatively, declaring what he would not have; positively, containing what he would have. Though expressed in two ways, this is one single request.
1. If we ought to pray against riches, we should never covet or seek after abundance and excess of worldly treasures.
2. If we ought to pray against poverty, then a superstitious affectation of wilful poverty, such as we see in Romish monks, is neither a state of Christian perfection nor a part of religion acceptable to God.
II. THE REASON OF THIS PETITION. He fears that too much affluence would lead him into impiety and irreligion. He fears that excessive poverty might incline him to rob his neighbour of his right, and back his injustice with lies and perjury. Learn —
1. That the rule and measure of our endeavours and desires in the gaining and enjoying these outward conveniences ought to be their subserviency to our spiritual advantages, and the forwarding us in our duty to God and to our neighbour.
2. To assure an unblemished innocence, we ought not only to avoid gross transgressions, but even every occasion which may expose us to them.
I. THE THING PRAYED FOR. Begin with the affirmative. If we know the mean which Agur chooseth, we shall soon guess what he understands by riches and poverty, the extremes which he refuseth. Competent food is a competent maintenance. Competency is the mean between want and superfluity. It is the same as the prayer Christ taught us to pray, "Give us our daily bread." A competency is twofold, either in regard of nature or of a man's condition. That may not be sufficient for one man's condition which is sufficient for another's. It is not unlawful to have and enjoy riches in abundance, but it is unlawful to covet and seek after them. Desire no more of such things than thou canst lawfully ask God in prayer. A competency, or middle estate between want and superfluity, is in choice to be preferred as the best and happiest condition. Agur's choice was a wise man's choice.
II. THE REASON OF THE REQUEST. The rule of our desires and endeavours in the getting and enjoying of these outward things ought to be our spiritual welfare, and the bettering of us to God-ward. Men who abound in wealth and superfluity are much subject to the malady of impiety and irreligion. Consider the wickedness of men's nature, which abuseth the abundance of God's blessings to dishonour Him that gave them. Consider also the unreasonable folly of men so greedily to long for and pursue after that which so much endangereth their welfare and happiness. A lesson of caution to those who are rich, to keep a continual watch over themselves, that they forget not God in their abundance. Poverty and want of things needful hath her dangers and evils, as well as riches and abundance. Stealing, not merely by force and violence, but also by fraud, cozenage, or detention of another's due. Perjury, or false swearing readily follows on fraud. The one is likely to bring on the other. We must take care to avoid the occasion of such sin, as well as the sin itself.
(Joseph Mede, B.D.)1. Both poverty and riches are the gift of God; otherwise the wise man needed not to have prayed, "Give me neither poverty nor riches," if it had been in his own power to make the choice.
2. Neither poverty nor riches are such gifts for which a wise man would pray, because each of these conditions have their dangers and inconveniences annexed to them.
3. The way to remove these inconveniences is to remove far from us vanity and lies, and then we may so moderate ourselves in each of these estates as to be humble before God in the midst of our abundance, and thankful to Him in our distress.
4. Notwithstanding this, yet the safest, and consequently the most desirable, course of life, is a middle state between poverty and riches; and it is for the interest, as well as for the ease of man, that God would let us neither want nor abound, but only "feed us with food convenient for us."
(C. Hickman, D.D.)1. It is to a special and overruling providence of God we are to ascribe both poverty and riches.
2. A middle state of life is, to some persons, and on some accounts, more eligible than either poverty or riches.
3. Some arguments which may teach us an entire submission to the will of God, whichever of these three states He may think fit to appoint us. There will be the greatest difficulty in persuading people to this duty who labour under very hard or mean circumstances. Poverty is very apt to sink their spirits, and render them unfit for the nobler luxuries of piety and devotion. Contentment is a virtue by no means always found among rich men. A moderate fortune, if it do not afford the greatest opportunities of doing good, yet is a happy and desirable state, and perhaps, in general, the most safe and innocent. The fact that God appoints men the three different states of life is proper to teach us all, indifferently, the true art of contentment. For as the knowledge of God perfectly comprehends whatever may be good or convenient for us, so His power can effect, and His goodness will incline Him to effect it.
(R. Fiddes, D.D.)I. A GOOD MAN REALISING THE MORAL INFLUENCE OF OUTWARD CIRCUMSTANCES. We say it matters not what circumstances are, we all can be good. But it is manifestly easier for some to be than others. It becomes a religious duty to make our outward circumstances helpful as far as possible, relieving us from undue care, and helping us to keep a quiet spirit.
II. A GOOD MAN DISCERNING THE DANGER OF EXTREMES IN CIRCUMSTANCES. Under them men ever lose their power of self-restraint.
III. A GOOD MAN PRAYING TO REACH AND REST IN THE HAPPY MEDIUM. Is such contentment with our circumstances compatible with right ambition, and striving to be faithful in all things?
(R. Tuck, B.D.)
(J. J. Ingram.)
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