The Proverbs of Solomon
The Book of Proverbs is not to be regarded simply as a collection of wise sayings, genial sentiments, prudent guesses, or affectionate exhortations. The book may be viewed, on the contrary, as representing the very science of practical philosophy. The proverb or saying is invariably put down after the event, and not before it In the latter case it would rank only with suggestions and speculations, but in the former case it expresses an accomplished and well-established fact. Viewed in this light, the Proverbs are supreme moral riches. We find in them what the wisest men in ancient times have proved to be the truth in the most practical aspects of life. When they speak of sin and penalty they not only propound a philosophy, they record a personal and general experience. When they praise understanding they can support their commendation by the largest indebtedness to its guidance and protection. When they say the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, they say in effect that, having tried every other form of Song of Solomon -called Wisdom of Solomon, they have been brought to the conclusion that only he is wise who puts his trust in the living God and obeys the will of heaven. In this way let us carefully distinguish between sentiment and reality, moral poetry and moral experience, the guesses of sagacity and the testimony of earnest life.
It is not necessary to suppose that Solomon is the author of all the Proverbs in this book. He may have been the collector or editor, as well as the originator. Let us regard the Proverbs as a moral note-book, or practical guide to life; it will then be doubly interesting to look into a guide drawn up by no less an authority than "Solomon the son of David, king of Israel." Sir Walter Scott has said that the question ought not only to be, What is said? but also, Who said it? In this instance the author is one of the most illustrious men in all history. He did not occupy the cell of a hermit, or limit himself by the prejudices of a narrow class, or shut out light from any quarter; he was a man of large mind, of determined will, and of a most inquiring and resolute spirit. It should therefore be keenly interesting to us to know what such a man has brought back from the fields of experience, and what he has set down with the sanction of his own name. We could have declined the advice of a monastic, on the ground that he knew nothing of the length and breadth of life; we could have listened with indifference to the moralising of a mere philosopher, and have justified our inattention by the plea that he was acquainted only with words and phrases, and not with the actual discipline of life; but when Song of Solomon, who swept the whole circle of social experience, seats himself in the preceptor"s chair, and undertakes to teach the young and the simple words of understanding, we are bound to listen to him as one who has authority to speak—an authority not only highly intellectual, but intensely practical. What, then, was Solomon"s view of life? His tone is marked by the deepest sobriety. We may not fall back upon the errors of his life for the purpose of setting aside the urgency of his moral exhortations; if we are wise we shall rather regard these errors as adding new cogency to his pleas and persuasions. The man who has been in the pit can speak most vividly about its depth and darkness. He who is bruised in every limb can best tell how strong is the foe with whom the young man has to deal in the conflict incident to opening life.
"To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of Wisdom of Solomon, justice, and judgment, and equity; to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion" ( Proverbs 1:2-4).
Here is a great proposal, nothing less than to invest the young man with wisdom and clothe him with honour and discretion. Not a word is said about riches or social position. Solomon had proved the vanity of these things. He distinctly shows that it is possible for a young man to lead an intellectual life, and to ennoble that life by moral purity and beneficence, so that there shall not only be intense mental brilliance, but solid and useful character. The mind was made for wisdom and instruction. Commonplace as this remark may appear, yet its recognition lies at the root of all true endeavour to increase in judgment and wisdom. Frivolity cannot satisfy the mind. Things finite leave the mind in a discontented temper. All things that may be gathered by the hand, and measured by the eye, and estimated by figures of arithmetic, have been proved to be but transient blessings. Yet who can define understanding, Wisdom of Solomon, justice, judgment, equity, honour, and discretion? These seem to be but sentimental terms or symbols of things impossible. The young man is not expected to realise their full meaning at once, nor does it lie within his power to do so. The growth of wisdom is like the increase of light, shining more and more from dawn to noon. We cannot tell when we become really wise, so gradual, so imperceptible is the process. Yet there is no doubt of the growth, for it is testified in innumerable ways. Little by little we see further and see more clearly, and grasp more intricate combinations, and feel enabled to judge larger occasions and interests than before. Wisdom is nothing so long as it is confined to the mind of the silent or inactive student; it is when wisdom is put to the test of experience, when it can find its way in the dark without stumbling, when it can answer the deepest questions of the heart, when it can excel all other comfort which has been offered to the sorrow of life, that it proves its true compass and its genuine power. The young man should begin life as a listener. For a long time he should be almost silent. The world is now old enough to require great meditation in order to comprehend the issues of its experience. But whilst the young man is preserving a wise silence, he should at the same time be storing his mind with such instruction as admits of being applied to real necessities and demands. A fancy- Wisdom of Solomon, if it may be so called, is a mere intellectual vanity. It is possible to be intellectually industrious and yet for all the industry to end in moral uselessness. The two processes should be combined—namely, the pursuit of Wisdom of Solomon, and the pursuit of such wisdom as admits of being brought into utility in judgment and operation. This is what is called practical wisdom. It saves the mind from mere vanity, and whilst stimulating the intellectual power it lifts the whole character to a higher and better level.
"A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: to understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings" ( Proverbs 1:5-6).
"Appetite grows by what it feeds on." Listening is a sign of wisdom. Wisdom is not self-complete, in the sense of being final in its revelations to the human mind. What wisdom has given is but an earnest of what it will give to the listening and inquiring soul. The wise man hears with a view to an "increase of learning." To stop learning is really to prove that we have never begun it. This is true of Scriptural as well as of general learning. The meaning of the Bible is not limited by the letter. The best commentary upon the Bible is the history of mankind as we see it proceeding day by day. The Bible not only looks towards the past, but towards the future, and claims to prove its inspiration by keeping company with the evolution of all thought and action proved to be good and useful to mankind. We pay no worthy tribute to the Bible by supposing that we know it, simply because we can quote it in the letter, nor is it doing justice to inspiration by regarding it as final and complete as to its adaptations. Events occur which unexpectedly interpret doctrines. We do not limit the providence of God to ancient history, then why should we limit his revelation to ages long gone by? We hold that Providence is active and beneficent to-day; it is the joy of the Christian to believe that even now all the affairs of the world are ruled by a living Power consummate in wisdom and in love; recognising this immediate and living Providence, there should be no difficulty in so enlarging our conception of Providence as to bring within its scope the daily illumination of spiritual mysteries, and the consequent daily increase of spiritual learning. The aim of true Wisdom of Solomon, according to the fifth verse, is that "a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels." That is to say, his understanding shall not be merely speculative or abstract, a miracle of useless genius, but it shall come to practical fruition in ability to deal with the affairs of life, discriminating almost infallibly between what is right and wrong, wise and unwise, fit and unfit, in all the mutable economy of life. Spiritual understanding is to be put to practical tests. Every age has a right to say, What have our religious men to say about this difficulty? Has God made no revelation to them as to the duty of the individual or the nation? What has been gained in the way of guidance by the single and united prayer of the Church? All this is in striking harmony with reason, for of what use is even understanding itself, unless it culminate in practical counsel which men and nations can accept in darkness and perplexity? By this time the Church should have brought itself into high sagacity, and prepared itself to deal with all the urgent problems of the day. When our prayerful and godly men take in hand the solution of the world"s bewilderment, and the healing of the world"s diseases, it will be acknowledged that understanding and prayer have realised their highest purpose.
A proverb does not always give up its meaning instantly, without effort on the part of the reader or student. Proverbs are condensed philosophies. Sometimes proverbs are condensed histories. Sometimes the interpretation of a proverb seems to lie a long way from what is most obvious in its mere letter. Wise men who speak even about "earthly things" are often obliged to have recourse to "dark sayings." Some truths can only be hinted at; some reforms can only be outlined, and then can only be shown as if in twilight; there are dark things in life for which names can be found only by a kind of spiritual genius; there are also possible reforms or Revelation -arrangements of lite which even the proposers hardly realise in all their scope and uses,—hence even reformers and spiritual teachers of every kind have often expressed themselves darkly, suggestively, tentatively, so much so that their hesitation has been misunderstood and mocked by fluent ignorance and superficial ability. Dark sayings are often like roots, which lie a long time in the earth before their juices begin to move and their inner life seeks to express itself in stem, and leaf, and blossom, and fruit. Whilst all this is true, we are not to suppose that a saying is wise simply because it is dark. The stream may be muddy, not deep. The world has now had education enough to be able to judge between that which is really deep and that which is only confused. We should be sufficiently self-controlled to await developments, to test dreams, to give even improbable theories a hearing; ever have enough behind us which is historically and personally proved to enable us to await with calmness the issue of every new proposal and the solution of every difficult problem. Let wisdom justify itself by listening; let learning prove its reality by its increase; let understanding vindicate itself by wise counsels; let the most advanced thinker know that there is always some proverb yet to be interpreted, or some dark saying which has yet to receive illustration.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction" ( Proverbs 1:7).
The expression, "the fear of the Lord," has been counted thirteen times in the Proverbs, and may be considered quite characteristic of the Old Testament. Instead of the expression so suitable to the old covenant, we find in the New Testament the larger and more gracious term, "the love of God." The Apostle Paul says the love of Christ constraineth us. The New Testament proceeds on the theory that "he that feareth is not made perfect in love;" and the last writer in the New Testament sums up his teaching in the striking expression, "If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." It is to be noted that "the fear of the Lord" is only indicated as "the beginning of wisdom." A further education is needed, and is provided for by the increasing fulness and graciousness of Christian revelation. Whilst, however, it is but "the beginning," it is also a necessary or essential beginning; that is to say, a beginning without which progress is impossible: there are experimental beginnings which may be good or bad, but about the fear of the Lord there is nothing of the nature of mere experiment. It is as necessary to the building of the temple of wisdom as is a foundation with its huge and solid corner-stones. The fact that the fear of the Lord is but the beginning of wisdom should teach those who are in a merely reverential mood of mind that they are not called upon to be teachers, they are scholars of the first or lowest type, whose business it is to make progress in spiritual education. "Perfect love casteth out fear." Only those, therefore, who have passed from fear to love can understand the mystery of the divine economy and purpose. If we love not, we know not God. So then in the teaching of the divine mysteries, he who loves most sees furthest, and can best explain the law of heaven. The wise man said, "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." Fear is not to be considered as dispensed with in the Christian economy, for the apostle calls upon us, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, "to have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear." It is to be noted that in the seventh verse there is a contrast established between those who fear God and so begin knowledge, and those self-willed, obstinate persons who will receive no advice, who are called "fools," and are said to despise wisdom and instruction. They may be said indeed to be twice fools; first for despising wisdom and instruction, and secondly for being without the wisdom and instruction which they despise. The action is twofold, though at first sight it may appear to be without a double reference. Fools despise wisdom and instruction because their indolence is stronger than their energy, their self-idolatry is larger than their appreciation of things beyond their present possession; especially do they despise wisdom because of the moral effect which it would have upon their whole method and type of life. Having despised wisdom and instruction they are necessarily imprisoned in mental narrowness and darkness, and are left behind in the march of a living and generous civilisation. Without reverence even knowledge itself tends but to vanity. It is not indeed knowledge in any deep or useful sense of the term; it is only the information which comes or goes with the passing hour, and is the minister of cunning self-promotion or any other aspect of false life. Religion is the foundation of solidity of character. It is no argument to say that religion has been debased into superstition, and that the effect of superstition upon the character has been disastrous; we are not talking about superstition, but about religion properly comprehended and applied—that intelligent apprehension of the divine personality and rule which divests the soul of self-confidence and vanity, and prompts it to seek daily light and help from the God who is lovingly adored.
"My Song of Solomon, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: for they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck" ( Proverbs 1:8-9).
The word "son" in the eighth verse may be equivalent to the word "pupil" rather than to the word "child." The son is invited to accept the experience of those who have lived before him and tested life at many points. It is important to preserve the line of moral discovery in all its continuousness and completeness, lest life should be frittered away in making needless experiments. Earnest men will ask, What has been done already? What have our ancestors discovered as to the operation of moral laws? History thus becomes a commentary upon Revelation, and a treasure which may be freely drawn upon by those who wish to turn their lives to the wisest account. If analogy were needed, it could be found in the practice of those who study the economy of nations, the action and Revelation -action of life in all its practical trusts and enterprises; in all these departments great store is set by what the fathers and mothers have said, and the higher the mind the more delicacy is there felt in treating precedents with neglect or contempt. We are not left to discover at this late period of time whether good results will follow good behaviour, and bad results will follow upon wicked actions; all that has been settled for us by countless years of personal and national experience, and therefore it ought to be accepted as a starting-point, a standard, and a guide. Very beautiful is it to notice that the "son" is encouraged to hear his father"s instruction and abide by his mother"s law, on the ground that his obedience shall turn the instruction and the law into ornaments of grace and chains of honour. There is an operation of what may be called the law of rewards. A motive need not be corrupt because it is only secondary. The child works for prizes at school rather than for the love of learning, yet whilst he is gaining the prize he is preparing himself to appreciate that learning the acquisition of which the prize represents. Wisdom is evermore the true ornament. Understanding is a jewel which increases in value from year to year. All decoration that is merely outward belongs to the man without being part of the Prayer of Manasseh, but intellectual accomplishments, moral refinement, mental discernment, gracious, sympathetic, wise appreciation of the weight and force of circumstances, patience, and long-suffering inspired by a hope which owes its existence to the power of comprehending larger fields of service and boundless horizons of outlook, are an integral part of the soul itself. Instruction will keep a man from isolation. Wisdom will lift him above the tyranny of mutable circumstances. Knowledge will enable him to throw a bridle upon his temper, and to keep the door of his lips when ignorant men would commit themselves to reckless judgments and ruinous pledges. "If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God." "Honour thy father and thy mother, which is the first commandment with promise." "Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing unto the Lord." Here, as everywhere, promise is attached to obedience, and heaven seems to meet halfway those who have made their vows at the altar of wisdom and bound their souls to enter the temple of knowledge.
"My Song of Solomon, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause: let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: we shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse: my Song of Solomon, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: for their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood. Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird. And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives. So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of the owners thereof" ( Proverbs 1:10-19).
Palestine was at all times exposed to the crime of brigandage, not only because of the wild character of its formation, but because of its neighbourhood to predatory tribes, who lost no opportunity of availing themselves of the weakness of the government supposed to preside over the destinies of that country. Although that which is local and temporary has no longer any place in these exhortations, the principle which inspires them is evermore operating in social life. Sinners enough are found in all ranks of society who would seek to tempt ardent and inexperienced youth to do that which promises immediate and substantial profit. Sinners who "entice" are the worst members of their species. Not only do they sin themselves, their delight is to corrupt and involve others. If sinners are so energetic, good men should be equally on the alert to repel their reproaches, and to bring the young into a state of spiritual security. Where the enemy is most active the Christian should be most watchful. Enticing sinners seek to excite enthusiasm in evil ways; there is a tone of grim cheerfulness and vivacity in their exhortations which would seem to promise the immediate realisation not only of great riches, but of great joy. As a matter of fact, men will do in crowds what they would shrink from doing in their individuality. Hence there has arisen a great distinction between war and murder. That which would be murder in the case of a single slaughter becomes glory in the destruction of hundreds and in the subjection of nationalities. Beware of all programmes the end of which is supposed to be self-aggrandisement. "We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil." As in the case of goodness, so in the case of evil, there is a distinct promise of reward. Nothing, therefore, is to be judged by the reward itself, but rather by the promises which culminate in the reward. Satan promises liberty to the man whom he enslaves. Probably at the moment of promising them freedom he is the more firmly riveting their manacles and fetters. It is the part of wise men to dissuade the young from doing that which is evil. They cannot always begin with positive or constructive work, so much has to be done that is of the nature of caution or prevention. The teacher in this case seeks to operate upon the sensibilities of the young by pointing out the cruelty of evildoers—"their feet make haste to shed blood," in their hearts they are men-haters, they are murderers, they are blasphemers against the law of life and security. The teacher further makes a philosophical appeal to the young when he points out that bad men actually "will wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives," yet they are blinded so that they cannot see how in reality they are suicides as well as murderers. The teacher, therefore, has strong ground on which to make an appeal to the reason and feeling of the young. He remembers that the wicked pursue a self-defeating policy—"he made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate." The Christian Church should energetically point out to the young the nets which are spread for them in every direction all over the field of life; it should also point out the hollowness of all immoral enthusiasm. In ancient days the wicked said to one another, and to those whom they would entangle, "Come ye, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and to morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant."
We have already seen in our studies in the Book of Deuteronomy that the same exhortation was delivered to the people of God in earliest times. "If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy Song of Solomon, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods... thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him." It should be pointed out that it is often the rudest and coarsest temptation that is offered to the young; in this case the teacher deals with the vulgar promise of having abundance of gain. It is supposed that money answereth all things, not only in the way of comfort, but in the way of temptation and seduction from honourable courses. "He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house.""One of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, and said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you?" A nobler exhortation is given by the Apostle Paul than is given by the sordid men who figure as tempters in this section. Hear his noble words, "The love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness." Compare the two exhortations, and not a moment need be lost in deciding which is right and which is wrong. We know the voice of purity when we hear it. There is something in the heart of man which recognises noble appeals even when it does not respond to them. "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed." The two voices will always be addressing human attention—the voice of lust and the voice of love, the voice of knowledge and the voice of ignorance, the voice that is carnal and the voice that is spiritual. Blessed are they who distinguish between them, and gladly obey the exhortation which evidently comes down from heaven.
The Complaint of Wisdom
Wisdom now turns from her children and addresses those who despise her. The address extends from the20th verse to the23rd. Wisdom in this address is personated; it has been considered that the word in the plural number represents the varied and all but innumerable excellences of true and just understanding. Even if we take the personation as highly poetical, this need not divest the speech of such merits as can be tested by reason and experience. If in the first instance Wisdom is here to be regarded as signifying the highest intellectual sagacity combined with anxious moral discrimination, yet the highest form of the thought is only fulfilled in him who is in very deed the wisdom of God. A comparison of Luke 11:49 with Matthew 23:34 almost shuts us up to the conclusion that Jesus Christ applied these words to himself. The Apostle Paul says that Jesus Christ has been made unto us Wisdom of Solomon, and that in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom. The description of Wisdom as uttering a loud cry in public, and making all the streets resound with her exclamation, represents the depth and poignancy of her solicitude. Christianity cannot see men rushing down to the chamber of death without uttering a protest and proclaiming a gospel. Wisdom should not enclose herself within her own sanctuary, and shut her eyes to the real facts of actual life as it is to be seen "on the streets," and in the hiding-places of sin and shame. Jesus Christ went abroad amongst men and made himself acquainted with the actual condition of the people. When he came near the city he wept over it. When he saw the multitudes he had compassion upon them. The Church is not to be the quiet and sacred home in which Christianity enjoys itself, but is to represent the refreshment and the strengthening which the Church requires in order to qualify her to deal with the depravity, the ignorance, the squalor, and the despair of the people at large. Wisdom urges herself forward until she attains a position in the chief places of concourse, even in the openings of the gates, and at the very centre of the city. Wisdom is an evangelist. Wisdom is not afraid of being contaminated by the pollution which it seeks to heal. Wisdom is assured that her counsels are necessary for the elevation of humanity, and the whole direction and happy completion of the purposes of human life. The attitude in which Wisdom is represented in this passage is the attitude in which the Church should constantly find herself. Wisdom is aggressive. Not only does she declare her own excellence, she seeks by zealous importunity to draw others to her shrine, that obeying her instructions they may become blessed with freedom and inspired with hope.
Wisdom first addresses the simple ones; that Isaiah, men who are open to good influences or impressions, but also to those that are evil. The Proverbs, according to the fourth verse, were intended to give subtilty to the simple. Then she proceeds to address the scorners, asking them why they delight in their scorning. The scorners are to be regarded as men who hold in contempt all holy things, and actually congratulate themselves upon their skill in so doing,—"A scorner seeketh Wisdom of Solomon, and findeth it not: but knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth,"—proud, arrogant men, who imagine that they cannot be instructed, and who pour their contemptuous criticisms upon men who seek the nobler life. Then Wisdom proceeds to address fools, men who hate knowledge, men of debased mind, who are all but incapable of high thinking, and who live with stolid content within the circle of their own ignorance. It has been noticed that, bad as is the condition of the simple, the scornful, and the foolish, Wisdom does not despair of reclaiming them from the error of their ways. It is not the part of divine wisdom to leave men where they are, uttering over them words of helplessness and despair. God insists that even the worst may be converted, and those who are farthest astray may be brought penitently to the altars they have forsaken. This is a high and fascinating distinction of the blessed gospel of grace. It comes out into the highways and the hedges; it eats with publicans and sinners; it calls to them that are afar off, and assures those who are hardest of heart that love waits to welcome and to pardon them. Observe further that all these descriptions are to be taken in their moral as well as in their intellectual sense. Men have not only gone astray in their minds, they have committed treason in their hearts, and because their hearts are corrupt the whole estate of manhood has been overthrown and laid desolate.
Wisdom is not content with criticising the condition of the simple, the scornful, and the foolish, she proceeds to make a great offer to those who have most completely turned their back upon all her charms and claims. Her words are, "Behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you." This is the first great act of Wisdom—namely, the gift of a new spirit. Thus Wisdom deals radically with the awful circumstances which excite her solicitude. She does not propose to create a new environment—that is to say, to alter circumstances here and there so as the more thoroughly to please the eye, or gratify any of the senses. She aims at the renewal of the spirit; not at mere amendment, but at the substitution of the Divine Spirit for the spirit of selfishness and worldliness. It must be God"s light that destroys men"s darkness. The earth can only be warmed by the sun, and brought out of winter bondage by the graciousness of the heavens. As the earth never leads herself out of winter into summer, but is always taken upon that upward and enchanting journey by the action of the sun, so the heart of man never finds a way for itself into true and enduring liberty, but is conducted from bondage into freedom by the direct action of the Spirit of God. Not only will the Spirit be given as a new energy, but instruction will be added—"I will make known my words unto you." These words cannot be made known to any man who has the wrong spirit, "If any man love me, I will manifest myself unto him." Divinest things are hidden from the wise and prudent, and are revealed unto babes. "If any man will do God"s will, he shall know of the doctrine." Look now upon the whole picture, and see if it be not marked with the highest dignity and the most assuring tenderness. Even as a picture this description ought to arrest attention and awaken gratitude. According to the lines thus portrayed, men have gone astray from light, and truth, and love, and have involved themselves in all manner of evil thinking and evil doing; so much so that God is no longer in their thoughts, and the whole purpose of life is given up either to intellectual scorning or to moral putrefaction. To a world thus lost Wisdom goes forth as from the sanctuary of heaven, the very temple and throne of light, and, whilst condemning the state in which the world is found, she offers a new spirit and a new will, and does so with the infinite enthusiasm of love. This is not a mere offer, it is an act of importunity; it is not a proposal given with the air of an ultimatum, the proposition represents anxiety, concern, even agony. Wisdom has gone forth to win a conquest, or to retire as with a broken heart. When Jesus Christ offers men rest, the disappointment which will follow their neglect cannot but fill him with the intensest grief. Wisdom does not adopt the tone of curt argument, as one who would say to others, You are wrong, and I alone am right. Wisdom cries, she lifts up her voice in the street, she yields herself to the inspiration of a generous passion; she does not intend to return to her rest at night until the whole city has been filled with the music of her all-including gospel.
"Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil" ( Proverbs 1:24-33).
The action now changes. We are to think of Wisdom having made her offer, and having been refused by those to whom she addressed herself. Mercy now gives place to judgment. The day of persuasion is limited. We may form some conception of the range and intensity of the speech of mercy when we consider the blackness and completeness of the judgment which follows refusal. If to understand man"s sin we may have to look at God"s mercy, so to understand God"s mercy we may often have to look at God"s judgments. When all heaven is black with thunder, because of the violence which is found in the earth, we may form some conception of the nature of the violence by the blackness of the thunder which threatens it. Whatever may be the doom which awaits the sinner, whatever theory of the future may be adopted by speculative thinkers, no man can peruse the Bible without being made to feel that the penalty which follows sin is appalling, not only beyond expression, but beyond imagination. It may be that Calvary can only be fully explained by perdition. The Son of God did not die to save men simply from the sleep of unconsciousness, or from the insignificant ruin of oblivion. Men should tread the sacred ground which relates to the future of sin with trembling feet. He who makes light of the doom of the sinner makes light of the whole priesthood of Jesus Christ. Whatever may be the speculative truth, it is not too much to say that the evangelical conception of law involves a very glorious conception of the work which Jesus Christ came to accomplish.
Notice that Wisdom can only "call." It is for the sinner to say whether he will accept or refuse. Wisdom says, "I have called," and then she adds, with mournful pathos, "ye refused." This is a vivid statement of a great philosophical thought; the action of the human will is a mystery which has never been fully explained, but it is everywhere recognised in the volume of revelation. Jesus Christ said, "Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life." Even when the Saviour addressed men who came to him with the utmost humility, he said to them, "What will ye?" On the last day of the feast he offered to give water to the thirsty, but it was for the thirsty to say whether they would accept the gracious overture. Herein is the mystery of human nature; it is so weak as to be consumed before the moth, and yet so great that it can deny its God and reject his love. But the action does not rest at this point: an offer has been made and rejected, voices of reconciliation and pardon have been disregarded; beyond this there is an action exceeding all others in melancholy—Wisdom will laugh at the calamity of the sinner, and mock when fear comes upon the bad man. Surely beneath all the poetry in which this future is represented there is the very spirit of philosophy and justice. The reason is given for the terrible judgment The action on the divine side is in no sense arbitrary; even whilst the judgment burns as an oven it condescends to give a reason for its intensity. Observe the word "because" in the24th verse, after that word comes a statement of the reasons upon which God proceeds. What we have to ask is whether the impeachment itself is correct. Have we in very deed refused the offers of Wisdom of Solomon, have we disregarded the command of God, have we set at nought all the divine counsel, have we rejected all the holy reproof of the Lord? If we decide these inquiries in the affirmative, then the rest will proceed inevitably, irresistibly! So long as the offer is made our strength to accept it is recognised; but when that offer is rejected our only strength is to go forward to evil and ruin, to be driven before a righteous judgment into the punishment which awaits impurity and disobedience. Who can dwell upon the words "laugh" and "mock"? They need not be taken literally and thus become limited in their significance, or made to assume aspects which may be supposed to be unworthy of the Sovereign of the universe. They are poor signs of the reality of what God will do. He will act as if he laughed, and as if he mocked. There is a time predicted when men shall call unto the rocks and unto the mountains to fall on them and hide them from the face of the Lamb; but rocks and mountains have never been on the side of the sinner, all nature in her silent processes has ever been the servant and the ally of God. Nor does the action end even at this point. Let us see how the action now stands: first, Wisdom has called; secondly, men have refused; thirdly, judgment has ensued; and now, fourthly, those who have been condemned make suit unto the God they have despised. "Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me." Jesus Christ distinctly points out that there is a time when the door will be shut, and men will stand without, saying, "Lord, Lord, open unto us;" but he will answer, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." All the meaning of this, who shall adequately reveal? These are not matters for intellectual speculation; may they never be matters of actual experience! We cannot, however, but be struck with the careful manner in which reasons are always given for this outcome of evil courses. Hear how the indictment proceeds: "They hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would none of my counsels: they despised all my reproof—therefore"! If men will not plough the earth, or cast in the seed, or take advantage of the opportunities created by the sun, in harvest they shall beg, and in winter they shall be desolate. Does any one complain of the arbitrariness of the course of nature? Do not men instantly sit in judgment upon those who have allowed the seasons to pass by without availing themselves of the opportunities offered? Instantly the spirit of criticism arises and declares that nature has been outraged, that law has been dishonoured, and that only suffering can follow. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God; it is also a fearful thing to fall into the hands of neglected nature. The divine economy of the universe is one. A sacred unity binds together all worlds, all laws, all souls, all destinies. Surely he is a scorner and a fool who undertakes to live a life apart from that economy, and who supposes that, having detached himself from the central power, he can create a rival throne, and sway with success a competitive sceptre. "Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?"
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 1". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34