A Wise Song of Solomon -the Treasures of Wickedness, Etc.
The New Testament is careful to point out the duty of the parent as well as the duty of the child. That would seem to be neglected in some parts of the Old Testament, though not in the substance of the book. Is it not true that the father makes the Song of Solomon, and that the mother is responsible for her child? When a son is wise or is foolish, we are entitled to look into his antecedents, and possibly we may find that his father and mother explain the whole of his infirmity. Were this truth more profoundly considered, and more earnestly applied to life, endless mischief might be prevented. It is not to be supposed that wisdom and virtue are hereditary possessions; on the other hand, it is but reasonable to suppose that diligence in the education of the mind will end in the formation of solid and useful character. Some of the noblest parents have been burdened with children who have been unwise, unfaithful, and unworthy in all moral respects. Epaminondas used to say that he joyed in nothing more than that his parents were yet alive to take comfort in his progress and military achievements. To Abimelech was rendered the wickedness done to his father, and as Absalom hangs by his hair in the boughs of the tree we may see an instance of a man who cultivated an unfilial spirit. Parents cannot escape the consequences arising from the conduct of their children, whether those consequences be happy or unhappy. We have seen that Rebekah was weary of her life by reason of the daughters of Heth brought in to her by her son Esau. Mothers must remember that it is useless to complain and repine and indulge in reproach if they have let the opportunity of infancy and youth pass by without improvement. He is a fool who neglects the seedtime, and then complains that there is no harvest. Parents begin the work of discipline too late, and then mourn that all their best efforts are thrown away; they should watch over the opening mind as benighted travellers watch for the dawn of day, that they may take advantage of it and pursue their purposes with vigour. He that spareth the rod hateth the child. There is a kindness that is cruelty, and there is an apparent harshness which is really the expression of the truest beneficence. Families have been ruined by ill-regulated discipline: there has been no reason in it; there has been no dignity of justice about it; it has simply expressed an arbitrary will, and has revealed a tyrannical rather than a paternal spirit. Against all such discipline the Christian Church should indignantly protest. Wise love will always find out the best methods, and true affection will not fail to apply them, even though momentary pain be given to the child.
"Treasures of wickedness profit nothing: but righteousness delivereth from death" ( Proverbs 10:2).
By "treasures of wickedness" we are to understand the riches which are gained by bad methods, by sharp practice, by taking advantage of the weak, and by bartering the soul for temporary profit There is an abundance of this kind of treasure in the world, and some of it is to be found in quite unexpected places. It is always difficult indeed to make money honestly in anything like large quantities. It would almost seem that honest labour stopped at the getting of bread and water, and that to advance beyond these elements is to advance into danger and probably to succumb to temptation. Nothing is promised by heaven but bread and water; yet no one is contented with these elementary gifts; every man wants what lies beyond; much will have more, and more will have an addition still; and thus the accumulation proceeds until the mind is unbalanced and the whole circle of life is set in false and bewildering relations. By "righteousness" we are to understand almsgiving, good-doing, beneficence. Jesus Christ says, "Take heed that ye do not your righteousness before men," translated in the English version, "Take heed that ye do not your alms before men." In this verse we have a contrast between riches gained by wrong, and advantages arising from the exercise of righteousness or almsgiving. Beneficence delivers from death, because it is a sign of the divine life within. He who does good to others from a right motive is no longer under the dominion of death; he enters into life with Jesus Christ; his life is hidden with Christ in God: to do good from a motive like this is to show how entirely between the heart of man and the Cross of Christ a profound and joyous sympathy has been established. Good doing must not be made an investment of; that is to say, we must not try to buy ourselves off from the charge and claim of death. Done from such a motive, there would be nothing good in the action. The external relations of the action might be beneficial to others, but every action must be judged by the motive which inspires it. When a cup of cold water is given it must be given in the name of a disciple, or for the sake of Christ; and in this religious motive will be found the guarantee of that water being recognised in heaven, and turned into wine for the giver"s drinking.
"The Lord will not suffer the soul of the righteous to famish: but he casteth away the substance of the wicked" ( Proverbs 10:3).
This is the wonderful promise of the Old Testament, and it is confirmed by the exceeding great and precious promises of the New Covenant. The Lord takes charge of all souls; to some giving all the beauty and comfort of heaven, and to others awarding all that is due to unfaithfulness. "All souls are mine." It is beautiful to picture the Lord as having all souls in his custody, and dealing with each according to its moral tone and purpose. Given a righteous Prayer of Manasseh, and it would seem as if all the angels of God were in charge of him. If a righteous man could be driven into everlasting punishment the whole security of the universe would be violated: yea, even it a righteous man could come to permanent mischief, or be exposed to loss of an ultimate kind, even in this world; if his spirit of contentment and joy could be taken away from him because of the withdrawal of external blessings, then righteousness is vanity, and prayer is wasted breath. All the promises of God are enlisted on behalf of the good and true servant On the other hand, God "casteth away the substance of the wicked." That is to say, he repels the eager passion and desire of the wicked. However much they may long for promotion, they do not get it; though their eyes are stretched out in eager expectation of advancement and blessing, riches and honour, yet disappointment shall fall upon their vision, and they shall see nothing but grievous darkness. Wicked men have substance; they have many riches; they have a great name in the world: but all this amounts to nothing, because within there is no heart of truth, no spirit of Wisdom of Solomon, no genius of spiritual devotion. The Lord is against the wicked—always against him, necessarily against him; nothing can ever bring about conciliation between the one and the other, except the uttermost repentance on the part of the wicked, and complete self-renunciation. Let no wicked man suppose that by the multiplication of his riches he can achieve a permanent standing in the universe as an honoured and accepted person. His wickedness will be as a millstone about his neck, and he will be drowned in the abysses of perdition.
"He becometh poor that dealeth with a slack hand: but the hand of the diligent maketh rich" ( Proverbs 10:4).
Our life is dependent upon our industry. It is good for man that he should have to labour. Were God to do all, we should truly leave him to do it, not caring to co-operate with the divine husbandman in the culture of the field of life. We are called upon to labour with our hands, working the thing that is good, that we may have to give to him that needeth. By the "diligent" we are to understand the nimble-handed—those who are active and agile, who will lose nothing for want of rising early and peering about in the darkness, if they may but catch a glimpse even of an outline of things. The persons referred to in the text are those who take account of microscopic matters; they are particular about the smallest coins, about moments and minutes, about Song of Solomon -called secondary engagements and plans. The true business man lives in the midst of his business. In this matter Boaz was an example: to the world; his eyes ranged over the whole field; he knew every servant and every reaper; yea, his eye was upon the gleaners also. Boaz lived in his business in the sense of being in the midst of his husbandry, well knowing that the eye of the master is worth more than the hands of all his servants. Let no one say that the Bible is a book of abstractions and spiritual metaphysics, having no relation to the activities and duties of the present life, with such proverbs as these before him. The spirit of wisdom here deals with the daily affairs of life, comments upon the spirit and actions of men, and withholds not criticism alike from the good and the evil. We are not far from the sanctuary of God when we are listening to proverbs like these. They seem to be indeed destitute of what we commonly know as evangelical unction, but the destitution is apparent rather than real. Nowhere in the Bible is life regarded as a piece of mechanism that may be trimmed by the hand, but always as a profound vitality that can only be sufficiently regulated, inspired, and directed by him who created it. The Bible insists upon the poor being recognised and assisted, and it further insists that the rich hand shall empty itself into the lap of the poor, and thus shall increase in riches; by an apparent contradiction, it shall have the more the more it gives.
"He that gathereth in summer is a wise son: but he that sleepeth in harvest is a son that causeth shame" ( Proverbs 10:5).
Our efforts in life must be seasonable. We must know whether we are working in spring or summer, autumn or winter. The men of Issachar were popular with their king because they had understanding of the times. There is a religious forethought. To gather in summer is not to show unbelief regarding God"s goodness, but rather to show gratitude for its abundance. He who neglects to gather neglects the bounties of the Lord as well as neglects his own future necessities. The very fact that God has strewn his riches so abundantly is a silent call to men to arise and claim them in the name of honour and honesty and justice. God does not give his blessings that they may be trampled under foot, but that they may be gathered and garnered, laid up against the day of evil. The man who sleeps in harvest is pronounced a fool, because he lets his opportunity slip. The historian writes concerning Hannibal that when he could have taken Rome he would not, and when he would he could not. We are to be men of opportunity; that is to say, we are to buy up the opportunity, we are to redeem the time, to say, "There is a tide in the affairs of men, which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune." When God opens a gate he means that we should go through it, and pass into all the inheritance beyond; when God sends autumn upon the earth, with all its golden wheatfields and purple vintages, it is that men may arise and gather in the fruits of the earth, so that when winter comes there may be a garden within the walls of the house, yea, an abundant store on the hearthstone. There was a king of Sicily who was called "The Lingerer," not because he stayed till opportunity came, but because he stayed till opportunity was lost. There is a time to wait, and there is a time to act. Overlong waiting means loss of chance, for the king has passed by and the gates are closed; but to wait patiently until everything is ripe for action is the very last expression of Christian culture. "He that believeth shall not make haste;" he who only half believeth shall live in fretfulness and anxiety, shall always be clutching at prizes and never seizing them.
"Blessings are upon the head of the just: but violence covereth the mouth of the wicked" ( Proverbs 10:6).
All men must acknowledge this to be not only true in fact but excellent in reason and justice. The good man is a crowned man. Find the just man where you may, you find a sceptre in his hand in token of royalty and dominion. To be just is to be like God. To be just is to care for the interests of others. "But violence covereth the mouth of the wicked." Curses and deeds of violence issue from the mouth of the wicked in great storms and blasts, as if they could by fury accomplish their purpose, but God lays his hand upon the swollen lips, and causes the profane man to swallow his own blasphemies. The Lord conceals wicked lips in silence, or he turns the evil speaker to confusion by allowing the fury of the bad man to strike down the house which he profaned by his presence. All violent and wicked men shall be shamed and condemned. They do not speak the word of justice; they are not animated by the spirit of truth; they are not swayed by the angel of love: they take everything into their own hands, and would be masters and lords and sovereigns, forgetting that the Lord reigneth, and that all creatures are greatest and best when they bow in homage before the altar of the Creator. If we would increase in blessing we must increase in the spirit of justness. We must always distinguish between violence and strength. Omnipotence is quiet because omnipotence is complete. When the heathen rage and the people imagine a vain thing, they are not far from the destruction which God inflicts upon those who boast themselves against him. God seizes the moment of human fury that he may confound the counsels of the wicked. To be in a passion of unreasonableness is to be within one step of doom.
"The memory of the just is blessed: but the name of the wicked shall rot" ( Proverbs 10:7).
To a statement like this all men must say, So be it; for this is wise and good and just. Who would not preserve a noble name? The recollection of such a name is a continual inspiration. From that recollection many things may be shed that are mere matters of detail, but the substance and the honour, the real quality and worth, abide with us evermore. Who need be ashamed to own that he had a just father and a virtuous mother? No man blushes when he cites the name of a conqueror who worked heroically, and succeeded perfectly in the great warfare of life. Just memories are flowers we cannot allow to fade: we water them with our tears; by them we enrich and ennoble our prayers, and by them we animate ourselves as by a sacred stimulus. Blessed are they who have a noble past, a yesterday crowded with figures and memories of things beautiful and lovable; they can never be lonely, they can never be sad; they walk in the company of the just and the true, and the silence of the communion does not diminish its music. Let the name of the wicked rot. It is a name of ill-savour; it fills the whole house with a sense of putrescence. Sad to think that many a man is so living that his own child will one day be ashamed of him, and will not, except under compulsion, venture to mention his dishonoured name. "He that perverteth his ways shall be known." The Lord shall lead forth the foolish with the workers of iniquity, and shall cause them and their cunning contrivances to be forgotten. Here is a fame which is possible to every man. It is not possible for us all to win renown in fields of battle, in walks of literature, in lines of adventure, or in regions of discovery and enterprise; that kind of renown must be left to the few, the elect who are created to lead the world"s civilisation; but the renown of goodness, the fame of purity, the reputation of excellence,—these lie within the power of the poorest man that lives. A good name is better than riches. The poor of this world may be rich in faith. A man who never invented anything to enrich the civilisation of his day may have so prayed as to bring down the blessing of heaven upon his times.
"The wise in heart will receive commandments: but a prating fool shall fall" ( Proverbs 10:8).
The wise in heart will look out for the word of authority, and will not consider it an indignity to submit to God"s rule. This, indeed, is the very perfectness of Christian education—to know that we are ignorant, and that we are under guidance, and that the true counsel and direction can come only from heaven. The consummation of all prayer is—"Not my will, but thine, be done." This is not only the consummation of prayer, it is the last attainment of wisdom. We have to work faithfully and arduously in order to realise this remote conclusion. When a man has come to find that he knows nothing, and that he is in the hands of God, waiting for everything, and that his utmost might can only enable him to co-operate with God, never to go before, but always to toil behind with a willing heart, he is approaching the close of his earthly education—he is getting ready for the school of heaven, where the lessons are deeper, and where the opportunity of advancement is enlarged. The prating fool is nowhere well spoken of; he is doomed to fall. Fools despise wisdom and instruction. By "fools" we are to understand persons who are self-conceited, headstrong, who will listen to no counsel, but who insist that they know everything, and are independent of every one. They prate, they talk loudly, they vex others by their criticism, they will always be heard; it is not for them to sit still and in a passive mood receive instruction; they will be instructors, leaders, loud speakers, not knowing that whilst they are holding their heads so high their feet are steadily moving down to the pit. A companion of fools shall be destroyed.
"He that walketh uprightly walketh surely: but he that perverteth his ways shall be known" ( Proverbs 10:9).
The man who walks uprightly is relieved from all fear, and is inspired by the very spirit of courage. He knows that he means to be right and to do right, and therefore he can challenge the world to find fault with him. He does not boast of ultimate wisdom; he simply glories in an honest purpose. Far from saying that all his counsels are founded in wisdom and must end in success, he can say, Lord, thou knowest all things, thou knowest that I want to be like my Saviour, and to do all his will in simple and faithful obedience. That is enough. He has no cause to believe that he will bring discredit upon his profession; he trusts quietly in the Lord. The man who goes through life by crooked paths, sinuously endeavouring to avoid royal thoroughfares, will be discovered, and because he has a consciousness of this ultimate detection he lives a life of perpetual unrest. The man who perverts his ways shall be instructed by misfortune. He would not listen to more genial teachers, he put away from him the spirit of counsel and understanding; so the grim monitor known by the name of Misfortune comes and conducts his schooling, compelling him to read hard words, and to undergo severe discipline. To pervert the way is to make it crooked, to complicate that which is simple, and to exhibit moral cleverness at the expense of moral integrity. So we come again and again upon the solemn truth that in uprightness alone is safety, that honesty is a child of the daylight, and that true honour works for no advantage, but submits itself to the most searching analysis and criticism. "The righteous are bold as a lion." See a man who is endeavouring to pervert his way, and watch how every day brings him nearer and nearer to his fall. He may be singularly fortunate for a time, he may elude detection, he may deceive the very elect of his own household, so that they who are closest to him shall not know how true a servant of the devil he is; but in the end that which is spoken in secret shall be heard in public, the concealed place shall be as the open housetop, and a whisper shall multiply itself into thunder; and in that day of discovery it will be known that he that perverteth his ways cannot secure his purpose, but shall be foiled in the hour when he expected triumph and rest.
"He that winketh with the eye causeth sorrow: but a prating fool shall fall" ( Proverbs 10:10).
He misleads people, he gives them false hints and suggestions, and then he glories in the vexation which he inflicts upon them; he is wanting in rectitude, straightforwardness, and social honour; he does not care whom he misleads or misdirects, enough for him that he gains his point for the moment; the more people he can bring into misery the greater will be his wicked enjoyment Everything that is underhanded, that is aside from the straightforward course of virtue and Wisdom of Solomon, must cause sorrow, sooner or later. Have no part with men who give themselves up to tricks, to evil counsels, to the working of disappointment in the hearts of others; only believe the man whose voice is clear, simple, and direct; about whose word there is no moral mystery, whose word is his bond, whose words indeed may be few, but not therefore unwise: the man who means what he says, and who having sworn to his hurt will still carry out his covenant. The man who can submit to a mean trick will certainly not shrink from carrying it out in its fulness when opportunity serves. To wink with the eye may seem to be innocent enough, and so it may be under some circumstances, but when it is an indication of moral depravity, when it indicates knavery, trickery, deceit, the issue thereof must be sorrow of the bitterest quality.
What a table of regulations we have even so far in this Book of Proverbs! Were we to cut the book short even here, we should have enough for the guidance of our life in all practical wisdom. The Proverbs would seem to vindicate the Bible, as we have already said, from the charge of dealing in things that are merely ghostly and far off. This book brings the whole Bible down to the very level of daily life, and causes men to think seriously about matters which on first appearance may not seem to be religious. In very deed, religion is found in all the actions of life, whether we sit or rise, wake or sleep, go forth to the marketplace or enclose ourselves in the sanctuary of communion with God—all has upon it a sign of relationship towards larger things, and a hint of final and irrevocable judgment. Blessed are they who know the meaning of righteousness, uprightness, truth, justice, and wisdom. Wheresoever they walk they are walking towards the light, and whatsoever the discipline through which they are passing they are moving onward to reward and higher service.
The Righteous and the Wicked, Etc.
This has been proved in all lands and in all ages. The righteous man sets his face towards the kingdom of life, and whatever has in it true life he claims for companionship and instruction. We know the good man by his love of life; life lives in the light; life indeed itself is light: in God there is no death, and in God"s righteousness nothing is to be found of decay. The righteous man always speaks living words, whether they are words of justice, words of condemnation, or words of criticism; he never speaks merely for the sake of destroying, or for the sake of displaying his power; his continual object is to vivify, to refresh, to quicken into larger existence, and to bless with all the inspiration and comfort of hope those whose supreme purpose is to be good and to do good. The mouth of the wicked man is as the mouth of a volcano. When the wicked man speaks he utters curses or criticisms that are charged with censure; his tone itself is full of bitterness, and as for his words they are drawn swords. Happily, his violence is such that it defeats itself. In all condemnation there comes a point when the object of it is pitied rather than reprobated. In the violence of the wicked man there is no measure; it is simple exaggeration; it is injustice expressed with fury. There are wicked uses of emphasis, especially in the case where bad men attempt to prove themselves to be earnest simply because they speak vociferously and with enforced and unnatural emphasis. The oath of a bad man is but an instance of violence. It is wanting wholly in the dignity and calmness of assured life: it is a spasm, a paroxysm, an ebullition, as wanting in nobleness as it is wanting in reason. When a righteous man opens his mouth the world has a right to expect that words of wisdom will be spoken. Character justifies that expectation. Could the mouth of a righteous man be other than a well of life then all the comfort of social intercourse would be destroyed. Though we know not the precise words which a righteous man may utter upon any occasion, yet we are sure from his character that when he does speak his words will be seasoned with salt, and in them there will be the savour of a true, because rational, piety.
"Hatred stirreth up strifes: but love covereth all sins" ( Proverbs 10:12).
Love is not a New Testament virtue or grace, nor is it left for the New Testament to praise it in high strains of music. From the beginning love has been as an angel in the world, gladdening men by its brightness, soothing men by its persuasiveness, and luring souls with infinite gentleness towards all that is true and beautiful. Hatred can only live in multiplying strife; its conception of human life is so poor that it glories in tumults and uproars, being utterly unable to appreciate the importance and the value of peace. We may know whether we are inspired by the spirit of hatred by the preference we have for strife or unity. Where we are conscious of loving controversy, delighting in mutual hostility, and deepening the aversions of men one to another, we may be sure that the devil has taken full possession of the temple of our heart, and that all that is divine and heavenly has been cast out. Love takes the largest view of life; it does not vex itself with temporary details, with transient aberrations; it looks down into the very core and substance of the soul, and, knowing that the heart is true in its supreme desires, it covers many flaws and specks, yea, even faults and sins, in the hope that concealment may destroy their influence and their very existence. There is a covering up which is a vain concealment, a merely deceitful trick: no such covering up is meant here; this is rather the covering up with which God covers the iniquities of the pardoned Prayer of Manasseh, the sins of him who has confessed all his guilt, and desired an exercise of the divine mercy. Love is not mere sentiment; an easy-going action of the mind, too self-complacent and self-indulgent to enter with energy into any moral inquiry. The love which is commended in Scripture is an ardent love—keen, critical, sagacious, far-sighted, not imagining that things are destroyed because they are concealed; it is the love of God which at all costs must expel sin from the universe, and set up the kingdom of God amongst men. No Christian can yield to the spirit of hatred. When he feels that that spirit is getting the upper hand of him he betakes himself to secret intercourse with God and fights the awful battle at the Cross. For the time being he ceases all public profession, withdraws from everything like ostentatious show of interest in divine things, and conducts the tremendous controversy within the shadow of the Cross of Christ.
"In the lips of him that hath understanding wisdom is found: but a rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding" ( Proverbs 10:13).
In no case will the wise man utter one word of commendation for the encouragement of wickedness or folly. With a genius marked by its supreme inventiveness, he never devises an excuse for the bad man. Not one of the bad man"s sins will he cover up with the robe of charity, for he is talking about men who are utterly unworthy of such protection: they are bad at the core, bad at the root, bad in and out, altogether corrupt and God-forsaken. The rod is for the back of him that is void of understanding, and yet the rod will do him no good. We learn in other parts of this book that if a fool be brayed in a mortar his folly will not depart from him. What wonder if after being beaten with the rod he is still void of understanding? No outward appeal can create an inward capacity. The rod itself can only be useful where there is something within that can be quickened into beneficent activity. Yet the rod must not be spared from the back of him that is void of understanding, lest some men should take encouragement from his exemption to go and repeat his wickedness. Society is continually thrashing the man who is void of understanding: the chastisement may not be inflicted with a rod as that term is usually understood; but it comes in the form of neglect, or disdain, or contempt, or rejection, or scornful laughter. The man void of understanding is never admitted to the innermost home; he is made to point a jest; he is treated with the contempt which is due to men who have nothing to lose. Void of understanding! to this degradation men may come! Wisdom may withdraw, understanding may decline to conduct its ministry any further, all that is beautiful may shrink back ashamed, and the man may be left little better than a ghastly skeleton. What is life without understanding? What is human intercourse without the inspiration of wisdom? We are not told that a man must have wealth in order to have understanding; on the contrary, we are informed that wisdom may dwell with him who has nothing of this world"s goods, and that the poorest house may be the very sanctuary of God. God rebukes wisdom when it becomes conceit, and he looks down upon understanding when it forgets its indebtedness for its very life to the inspiration of heaven. There is a wisdom that is unwise; there is an understanding that is pitifully destitute of sagacity. Not many wise are called into the kingdom of heaven,—not because they are wise, but because their wisdom ministers to their conceit, and their understanding is paraded as a property of their own creation and maintenance. True wisdom is true humility. It knows that it knows nothing. It falls down before God, and asks for the wisdom which cometh from above, which by the very heavenliness of its descent forbids all self-inflation and self-idolatry.
"Wise men lay up knowledge: but the mouth of the foolish is near destruction" ( Proverbs 10:14).
So the wise man has always the advantage. The fool always goes to the bottom, and is ultimately turned out of society with a laugh of disdain. Wise men continually add to their knowledge. Every wise man is further on to-day than he was yesterday. Oftentimes knowledge comes by self-correction, for wise men are not ashamed to say that they have made mistakes, and that they desire to correct them. To know ourselves mistaken is really to be on the high road to true wisdom. Who can expect to be altogether wise? or to come to an estate which glories in personal infallibility? The wise man shows his wisdom in remembering that what has to be conquered is infinitely more than that which has been already achieved. The wisest men are the most modest men. They are as sensible of their deficiencies as they are of their acquirements; yea, more Song of Solomon, for wise men think that nothing has been acquired whilst anything remains to be accomplished. The wise man keeps abreast with all new literature, all new science, all new discovery; not that he necessarily receives it just as it comes to him, but he lays hold of it that he may examine it with patient care, with a heart prepared to receive whatever is proved to be divine and useful. The mouth of the foolish is full of wind; there is no tone of music in it; every word the foolish man utters brings him nearer and nearer to his destruction. The fool is always running down hill, and at the foot of it he will perceive an abyss into which he must fall without any lament on the part of those who witness his overthrow. The foolish man builds his house upon the sand. The foolish man is deceived by nearness and by bulk. The foolish man insists upon having his heaven in his hand here and now, and upon spending it as he goes. He has no future, simply because he has no past, and that again simply because he has no heart.
"The rich man"s wealth is his strong city: the destruction of the poor is their poverty" ( Proverbs 10:15).
This is taking a limited view of social situations. It is the rich man himself who says that his wealth is his strong city: he supposes he can buy everything, and therefore possess everything, not knowing that mere money can never constitute the truest proprietorship. Money buys transient rights; money buys the land, but it can never buy the landscape. He holds the title deeds who really and truly loves the estate. The destruction of the poor is in very deed their poverty, because they are unable to avail themselves of opportunities which come and go: they see where they could enter in and be strong, but they have not the golden key which opens the door. In many instances they are contemned simply because they are poor, so that their counsel is not sought, and they have no chance of proving their wisdom. Every one expects the poor man to be silent; he would seem to have no right to speak; and his silence is mistaken not for modesty but for incapacity. Pitiable indeed is the sight of any man who owes all his influence simply to his money; to know that if he were divested of his property there is no one who listens to him would permit him to speak any more. A sad thing indeed when a man"s furniture is greater than himself; when the house is greater than the tenant, where the outward figure and sign but represent in enlarged irony the emptiness of the soul within. Yet the poor man may wait for his opportunity, for it is sure to come if he is truly wise. It will come suddenly, unexpectedly, and if he be prepared for the crisis it will mark a turning point in his life. The great thing to be guarded against is the despair which naturally follows extreme destitution. What wonder if men who have a continual battle to live should sometimes be inclined to give up the strife, saying that it is too hard for their waning strength? Jesus Christ never contemned the poor; he said, "The poor have the gospel preached to them;" in many instances he rejected the proud rich, but in no case did he ever repel the humble poor. Still it is to be remembered that a man is not necessarily wise simply because he is destroyed by poverty. The soul is not pious simply because the body is naked. Character is altogether independent of circumstances. So let us beware of that loose indiscrimination which regards all rich men as bad and all poor men as good. There are rich men who are poor in spirit, and there are poor men who are proud and intolerable in their vanity.
"The labour of the righteous tendeth to life: the fruit of the wicked to sin. He is in the way of life that keepeth instruction: but he that refuseth reproof erreth" ( Proverbs 10:16-17).
The labour of the righteous is indeed life as it proceeds; it has not to wait for life at the other end of the process; every righteous deed brings its own instant heaven, and its own sweet complacency, its own ample reward. As with the righteous, so with the wicked. Character is destiny. Whilst the wicked man accomplishes his wicked purposes he already enters upon his lot in perdition. His sleep is but troubled repose; his heart loses everything that tends towards the light and that gives promise of true and fruitful development. The wicked man grows in sin. We cannot stand still in iniquity, saying, We have taken our degree, and therefore need not add to our knowledge. Having begun to sin, it would seem as if we were compelled to advance, or to turn right round in the strength of God. To stand still in sin is impossible. The wicked man should lay this lesson to heart, because although it may not be obvious to him that he is worse to-day than he was ten years ago, yet the great law of decay proceeds, and he will find, however much the outside may be as it was long ago, the inward nature has been corrupted and almost totally destroyed. To grow in life, what a heaven is that! Jesus Christ said he came to give life, and to give it more abundantly; to give it wave upon wave, and billow upon billow, until it should utterly drive out of the soul every remnant and shadow of death. To know whether we are in the way of life we must inquire whether we are keeping instruction, or whether we are yielding ourselves up to our own will, and allowing passion to dominate the soul. If we are prepared to accept reproof, we may be sure that the spirit of true wisdom is still within us. He who accepts reproof acknowledges his mistakes, and repents of his errors, and resolves never to repeat them. Passion can do nothing for a man but agitate and ultimately ruin him. Instruction alone is safety, is dignity, is completeness. Reprove a wise Prayer of Manasseh, and he will become wiser, for he loves the reproof which brings him nearer to the altar of truth. Stubborn men can never grow in true wisdom; they are self-contented, they are self-complete, they boast of their obstinacy, and hardening their neck to all reproof they come to sudden calamity and final obliteration. Thus the appeal comes to us, by riddle, and prophecy, and Psalm, and pious exhortation; by example and warning; by all that is truest in experience and most thoroughly ascertained in history; that if we would be wise we must accept instruction from above, and we have only to consult our own souls, and to follow our own desires, and to exclude the light of heaven, in order to plunge into the infinite abysses. Who will be wise? Who will refuse reproof? Who will take up his staff, and pursue a journey to the city of life? Who will run madly forth to seek the city of destruction? These are questions which every man must answer for himself. They cannot be answered sentimentally or temporarily; they must be so answered as to give tone to life, purpose to activity, inward and abiding motive to all the energy and exertions of life.
"The blessing of the Lord, it maketh rich, and he addeth no sorrow with it" ( Proverbs 10:22).
The word "blessing" and the word "rich" are each to be considered in their uniqueness, and not in the general sense attributed to such words by lexicographers. Blessing may come variously, even through the rod of chastisement, through the furnace of discipline, through the wilderness of pilgrimage: it is not the less a blessing because it disguises itself under circumstances of a distressing character. "Rich" does not always mean wealth, or gold, or estates, things that can be numbered and valued and exchanged in the marketplace. The poor are said to be rich in faith. He is rich who has not many necessities. Contentment always means true riches. The man who is blessed of God is rich in satisfactions of a spiritual kind—rich in Wisdom of Solomon, rich in hope, rich in gratitude: so rich that he never can be patronised, or bribed, or allured from highways of righteousness in order that he may secure to himself some temporary advantage. On the other hand, we may take "blessing" and "rich" as words that are to be used! in their most ordinary significance. The sunshine is a blessing for the good Prayer of Manasseh, because it means so much more than is visible to the eye or palpable to the touch: it is the open gate of heaven; it is the pledge of a light infinitely brighter than itself; it is a smile accommodated to human weakness. Sometimes, too, the Lord invests his people with wealth of a material kind, constituting them his trustees, knowing that they will act as faithful stewards, and minister their bounty to the weak and the poor and the helpless, according to ever-varying human necessity. No sorrow is added with it, to show that the wealth has not been honestly obtained; it is not stolen wealth; it is not wealth secured at the disadvantage of others; the Christian does not live upon the sorrows of mankind. He who makes money by illegitimate means, or by involving others in penury and distress, will find that in all he has there is a tormenting sting: conscience will not let him sleep; memory will trouble him with visions of evil which has been done by his own hand, and will haunt him night and day with the fear of just retribution. Whatever sorrow is in our life is not of the Lord"s sending, unless it be in some disciplinary aspect; then it is sorrow intended to work out some larger joy. There is a godly sorrow, which worketh repentance. There is a selfish sorrow, which torments those who feel it with grief upon grief.
"It is as sport to a fool to do mischief: but a man of understanding hath wisdom" ( Proverbs 10:23).
Everything depends upon our view of the universe as to what is regarded as mischief. If we are living in a universe whose end is harmony, and whose entire construction points to that end, then even an idle word may be an offence to the spirit of order, which is the spirit of music. The fool seeks only momentary titillation or delight for himself; it is a pleasure to him to see things thrown down, to draw a brush across the finest work of art, to puncture fair flowers with rough steel, to torture animal life so as to extort cry, or excite anger, or lead to some manner of collision as between animal and animal which shall give the foolish observer a fool"s pleasure. Nothing is so easily done as mischief. It is emphatically a fool"s occupation. The fool does not scruple to do mischief to reputation, to the peace of mind, to the prosperity and comfort of his fellow-men. It is not difficult for him to propagate false reports, to ask injurious questions, to suggest imaginary hindrances to confidence and promotion. Being detected in his folly, he says he was in sport; he meant no mischief by it; he thought he would create an opportunity for mutual laughter: he does not see that every action has a meaning, and that the wise man looks towards issues and results before committing himself to processes. A mischievous word once spoken can never be withdrawn except in a merely technical sense; it has gone forth and will continue to do mischief to the end of life. The man of understanding is set in opposition to the character described as a fool; he has Wisdom of Solomon, which is more than knowledge; he calculates, balances, adapts, and arranges, and in short his whole life is a construction well founded, well shaped, and gathering itself up into all that is lovely and secure in home and church and altar. The man of understanding may have less temporary excitement than the fool has: sometimes indeed he may seem to be slow, solemn, lifeless, taking little or no interest in the bubbles that are sparkling around him, and in the rockets that are hissing and spluttering in the night whose silence they offend. His riches are within. His soul is at peace. He is a continual worshipper, who, praying without ceasing, holds large and profitable commerce with heaven, and in his very worship he grows in intellectual wisdom. There is no fallacy greater than that because a man is spiritually minded he cannot be intellectually energetic. The contrary proposition would more nearly approach the truth.
"The fear of the Lord prolongeth days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened" ( Proverbs 10:27).
In no merely literal sense is this to be taken; otherwise we should be at a loss to account for the death of children, and for the death of those who in early life are taken away from usefulness, whilst wicked men are spared many years and die in a remote old age. We must take such words ideally, remembering that ideality is often the true reality. In the Old Testament length of days is set down as equivalent to what is known in the New Testament as immortality. Length of days is a promise made to obedience, to the honour of father and mother, and to the true worship of God. The Lord says he will multiply the days of those who love him, and though that is not fulfilled in the letter it is more than fulfilled in the spirit. Days are not to be numbered always. They are to be measured and weighed. A day to the wise man is more than a day to the fool. The wise man makes the most of his time; every moment is a jewel, every hour is a crown, every day is an opportunity for securing blessings larger than can be contained within the limits of time. The fear of the Lord is true health. That may be regarded as the real meaning of the proposition. A man cannot truly fear God, and neglect himself, neglect his health, neglect all those minor considerations which are too little valued in estimating the whole sphere and purpose of lite. Again and again the foolish sentiment is reproved which is to the effect that religion consists wholly in vocal exercise, in sighings and protestations and sentiments; whereas it is in reality the severest of discipline, causing everything to be cleared out of the way that hinders upward and continuous progress. The years of the wicked are shortened, because there is nothing in them; though their number be many their length is short; they come and go without improvement, and the wicked man is no wiser at the end than he was at the beginning. He is living for the next speculation, the next excitement, the next uncertain and tempting chance; he spends his years in running after bubbles which glitter in the air, and when he grasps them he finds that he has seized the prize of nothingness.
"The hope of the righteous shall be gladness: but the expectation of the wicked shall perish" ( Proverbs 10:28).
We must distinguish between hope and expectation. The righteous man lives by hope, and his hope is already a realisation of the soul. In the mere letter his hope may not have come to pass, but it brings with it the deep and serene assurance which no merely superficial circumstances can agitate or destroy. He knows that though sorrow may endure for a night joy will come in the morning. If righteousness could be dissociated from gladness a severe blow would be dealt at the claims of morality. To be right is to be happy. To be building on the true foundation is to be building in the right direction, and with the assured confidence that God himself will dwell in the house. The expectation of the wicked is mere nightmare; it is in very deed a castle in the air, without foundation, without roof, without walls—an airy nothing, existing only in the foolish brain of the foolish dreamer. The wicked man is devoid of everything that is solid, enduring, permanent; his, as we have just said, is a life of chance, and risk, and ambition, always ending in disappointment and mortification. If the wicked man could truly succeed the whole argument for righteousness would be overturned. The wicked man succeeds only partially, temporarily, in a very transient and unsatisfactory sense. In the very act of pulling down his barns to build greater he is called away to face the Judge whose existence he has denied, or whose claims he has disallowed. The only man who can live for ever in the sunlight of divine favour is the man who is righteous in motive, in soul, in purpose, and no man can be thus righteous who is not living in closest sympathy with the Son of God, and who is not daily inspired by God the Holy Ghost.
"The way of the Lord is strength to the upright: but destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity. The righteous shall never be removed: but the wicked shall not inhabit the earth. The mouth of the just bringeth forth wisdom: but the froward tongue shall be cut out. The lips of the righteous know what is acceptable: but the mouth of the wicked speaketh frowardness" ( Proverbs 10:29-32).
The contrast continues to be between the righteous and the wicked. As we have seen from the beginning, not a word of commendation or hope is extended to those who are out of sympathy with truth and love. The tongue of the froward may be glib, but never eloquent, in the sense of setting truth to music, and uttering the law with persuasiveness and consistency. The froward tongue shall be cut out, for it never did any good, nor can it ever be used to the instruction of the world. On the other hand, the lips of the righteous are a fountain of living water, knowing what is acceptable, and issuing only such words as can lift the life to a higher level, and confer benedictions upon the heart of man. The righteous and the wicked are absolutely distinctive as to their position,—the righteous shall never be removed, but the wicked shall not inhabit the earth: it is of infinite consequence to note that permanence is associated with righteousness, and that the triumphing of the wicked is but for a moment. Time tries all things. As human experience deepens men are able to test more critically and accurately all the elements which are offered to them for their moral satisfaction. Wickedness may come with a great flourish of trumpets, and with great offers of decoration and promotion, but all the offers are but so much wind, passing by and leaving no impression behind, and the oath of the wicked man is but a remembered lie. The Lord is on the side of the righteous Prayer of Manasseh, and has promised to give strength to the upright. If there is any truth whatever in this promise (and all history attests its truthfulness), then there is equal truth in what follows—namely, that destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity. They themselves destroy everything, therefore they themselves shall be destroyed. They shall commit suicide with weapons of their own manufacture; they shall be hanged upon scaffolds which they themselves have erected. Were all this merely poetry it might open the way to a great deal of excited discussion; it is not poetry, however, but history which we ourselves can test, and, having tested it from year to year through a long lifetime, the venerable reader is enabled to say, This is in very deed the word of God, and he alone is wise who believes and applies it.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 10". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34