Women: Wise and Foolish, Etc.
It would appear, then, that there are foolish women. The Bible pays no attention to mere civility or courtesy; it stands upon truth, and speaks with frankness and even bluntness concerning evil persons, whether men or women, whether kings or subjects. The Book of Proverbs does not spare the king, though supposed to have been written largely by a royal writer. This is a characteristic of the Bible which begets confidence in its integrity and in the pureness of its purpose. The foolish woman does not know that she is plucking down her house; she thinks, on the contrary, she is building it up; by unwise energy, by self-assertion, by thoughtless speeches, by words flung like firebrands, she is doing unutterable mischief, not only to herself, but to her husband and her family. There are, on the other hand, wise women who are quietly and solidly building the house night and day: they make no demonstration; the last characteristic that could be supposed to attach to them would be that of ostentation; they measure the whole day, they number its hours, they apportion its work; every effort they make is an effort which has been reasoned out before it was begun; every word is looked at before it is uttered, every company is estimated before it is entrusted with confidence; in this way the wise woman consolidates her house. How many ministers have been ruined by foolish wives who have not known how to speak to the people of the congregation; wives who have been foolishly haughty, foolishly reserved, or foolishly talkative; women who have retired when they ought to have gone forward, and gone forward when they should have retired; women utterly without sense. On the other hand, how many ministers have been made by their wives; wives who knew how to speak the healing word, how to apply kind words to every necessity that has arisen in church life; women who have kept their houses well, and have looked well to the ways of their children, and who without ever being eloquent have never ceased to be persuasive. Whether any foolish woman can ever be made wise is a question to which it would be rash to return a reply. The thing that is lacking cannot be numbered. The only thing that appears to be immediately possible is for the foolish woman to be taught to hold her tongue: even if she could do that, she might be supposed to be a considerable distance on the way to wisdom. But who can stop the loose mouth? who can tell the clamorous heart to be still when its very heaven is in foaming speech, in gossip, in the exchange of opinions, and in the multiplication of criticism? It would seem as if it lay with man himself to determine whether the house should be built or thrown down. Yet such is only an appearance, it is not the deepest reality of the case: "Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build it," for the walls are thrown down in the nighttime, and the roof is carried away by the wind. Whilst, however, we acknowledge this to be the fundamental and the ultimate truth, there is a great middle space within which human energy is called upon to work and human patience to endure. If a man has become unhappily attached to a foolish woman, he should remember how much of the responsibility is with himself. In proportion as his wife is foolish, he ought to redouble his own wisdom. If any man has been guided by the living God to the election of a wise partner in life, let him remember that a good wife is from the Lord, and let him not throw upon the woman a burden greater than she can bear; she is wise, true, prudent, full of the spirit of economy, a very genius of understanding; but for that very reason she ought to be spared from undue pressure as to engagements and duties and responsibilities. The husband should be the head of the wife in the sense of sustaining the load of life, and giving her what he can of ease, joy, and peace.
"A scorner seeketh Wisdom of Solomon, and findeth it not: but knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth. Go from the presence of a foolish Prayer of Manasseh, when thou perceivest not in him the lips of knowledge" ( Proverbs 14:6-7).
Everything depends upon the spirit with which we work. This is true in intellectual toil, and it is true in religious pursuits. "Ask, and it shall be given you," means that the asking should be executed in the right spirit and with the right intent; it must not be a mere use of words, an eloquence of empty wind, but the expression of a deep and earnest desire. "A scorner seeketh wisdom"—that is to say, he seeks it vainly, that he may acquire a name in society, that he may seem to be wise upon formal occasions, that he may not be looked down upon by those who are his superiors in understanding and acquisition; but in so far as he is animated by the wrong spirit all his seeking ends in emptiness; he comes back from the harvest-field without a single sheaf. Wisdom will not speak to the scornful spirit; wisdom is solemn, just, divine; wisdom cometh down from above, and hath about her all the air and light and blessedness of heaven; to the scorner, the contemptuous Prayer of Manasseh, the frivolous person, the sneerer who turns all life into bitterness, she has no communication to make; on the other hand, how easy is knowledge to him that understandeth! he seems to have the right of entry into the sanctuary of understanding; he is known there, he is welcomed there, he brings with him the spirit of reverence and of hopefulness; he comes as a worshipper rather than as a man who is in quest of merely selfish enjoyment. The foolish man is to be left to himself; if we tarry in his presence we confer a false reputation upon him, for men seeing us in his society may suppose that he is a wise Prayer of Manasseh, and therefore to be honoured. Find a man who is talking frivolity, who is misunderstanding the universe of which he is a citizen, who ignores all that is solemn and profound in life, then let that man be taught by the dreariness and coldness of solitude that he has offended the spirit of society. In such a way only can the foolish man be brought to consideration; so long as he is the centre of a circle, or in the companionship of another Prayer of Manasseh, he loses himself in a kind of dissipation; but when every man avoids him because of his folly, he may begin to ask why it is that he is thus left alone.
"Fools make a mock at sin" ( Proverbs 14:9).
They do not understand it; they regard it as a mere accident, as a root of pleasure, as a blossom that comes and goes within one sunny day; they do not estimate the awfulness of sin aright, as an offence against God, against the universe, against all things holy, pure, and beautiful. Sin is not a merely metaphysical action,—something that occurs far back in the mind, and that relates to something inexpressibly high; sin is concrete: sin is visible in its results; sin brings with it darkness, shame, fear; sin sunders man from man by making every man suspect his neighbour; sin is not a cloud in the heavens only, it is a great shadow which rests upon the whole earth. Find a man who mocks sin, and you find a fool. How easy it is to mock the intoxicated man! how easy to turn to frivolous uses the adventures of the gambler and the schemer! how easy to laugh at that which has a humorous aspect, although its root be one of blackness and horrible shame! We are called upon not to look at the mere accidents of the sin, but at the sin itself. Notice that in this text we are not looking at particular sins, as lying, drunkenness, dishonesty, and the like, but we are looking at a generic term—"sin." We are not to suppose that one sin is greater than another, that one commandment is greater than another; we are to feel that every sin is an abomination to God, and every commandment is golden in the estimation of the Spirit of the sanctuary. There are no little sins; there are no little virtues; there are no minor pieties: the character of the universe is one; it is equally holy at every point; he who breaks one law injures the whole circle of duty, and proves himself to be capable of breaking out of that circle at any point that may suit him at the moment. Sins are not to be estimated by number, as if we should say one sin amounts to little, and two sins are hardly to be accounted of; we are to look at each sin as involving all other sin, as carrying with it the whole burden and frown of God"s judgment and anger. This may appear to be exaggerating some sins, and so it may be so far as they are accidentally concerned, but there can be no accidental relations of sin towards the living God, all relations are vital and abiding.
"The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy" ( Proverbs 14:10).
Man can shield himself from the closest scrutiny of the most friendly or the most hostile eyes. The heart can conduct all its wondrous ministry of life, and thought, and purpose, without any one ever dreaming of all the tragedy that is exciting and exhausting its solitudes. Sometimes a smile is made to cover the bitterest distress. Observers can see the smile only, and judging by that they conclude that the heart is in a state of contentment, whereas at the very moment it is undergoing the very agony of perdition. What is true of distress is true also of joy. It is not always convenient to reveal the joy that is in the heart, because it may be misunderstood, or attempts may be made to pervert it, or to make it the medium of communications of a destructive or injurious nature: it is desirable, therefore, that the heart should eat many a feast in secret, and delight itself without being overlooked by strangers and foes, and sometimes even by friends. A most noticeable thing is this, that life has its quiet sanctuaries, its innermost recesses, where no human eye can penetrate, and where it can be really its very self, without danger of misconstruction by ill-informed or malignant criticism. It is in secret that we eat the sweetest bread: it is within the sanctuary of our uninvaded imagination that we create new heavens and a new earth, and project ourselves into the sunny future, on which there rests no burden, no cloud, no shadow of fear. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." We are not to conceive that the exclusion of human criticism means also the exclusion of divine judgment. "All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do." We must remember that it is Hebrews, even the living One, who has enabled us to enjoy all the delights of shelter and security from intrusive observation. He has made us, and not we ourselves, and in his wondrous creation of our system he has made provision for solitude, even in the midst of a crowd, and for concealment even from the eyes that look upon us with the most loving anxiety. All this should be regarded as fraught with moral significance. Life is more than the word that is upon the lip. Worship is more than the language in which it seeks to express itself. Music has always something more to say than can be uttered through the few notes that are at its disposal. Man looketh on the outward appearance, continually comes to false and rash conclusions regarding his brother man; but because the Lord looketh on the heart, and knows the innermost thought of every soul, we may rejoice in the assurance that his judgment will be complete and gracious. With the heart"s riches no man may intermeddle. From the treasure-house of that heart no thief can steal. Let us be rich, therefore, in heart-wealth, laying up within us all the wisdom of God that is accessible to us through the medium of his Revelation, and feeding ourselves with the bread of life; then, though heart and flesh do fail in a physical sense, and all outward things be marked by traces of sorrow, there shall be in our deepest being a peace like the calm of God, a hope brighter than the sun at noonday. Bitterness and joy seem to be the two words which sum up human experience. Every heart has its moments of bitterness; even youth has its hot tears, its stings, its disappointments, its failures in all manner of hopeful attempt: manhood has its fuller sorrow, its deeper melancholy, its sadder depression, because the life sees more, and is capable of bearing more than in days of infancy and in youth: it would seem as if old age alone could lay claim to the realest and ripest joy; there is so much behind it, and there is yet so much in front of it, that it can strike an average, and form a true valuation of life, and look forward with buoyant expectancy to the revelation of mornings and summers, undreamt-of even by the imagination of poetry.
"The house of the wicked shall be overthrown: but the tabernacle of the upright shall flourish" ( Proverbs 14:11).
Here, again, the reason alike of overthrow and of prosperity is profoundly moral. We are not to fix attention upon the word "house" or the word "tabernacle," but upon the word "wicked and the word "upright," for in these moral terms the whole meaning of the passage is conveyed. The wicked man builds his house out of plumb, or he builds it upon the sands, or he erects it in utter ignorance of the laws of nature, and the consequence is overthrow beyond the hope of reconstruction. The tabernacle of the upright would seem by its very name to be a sacred place, for "tabernacle" is associated with the presence of God, is sanctified by the ark of the covenant, and is looked upon with favour from above. Wherever the upright man dwells he creates a tabernacle. No matter how poor the roof which covers his head, there is an inner roof, rich with stars, surcharged with the very benediction of God"s own heart and love. What is our dwelling-place? Is it a commodious house built by the hand only? or is it a tabernacle created according to a divine specification? Every man builds his own house, and the wind and rain and flood will test every man"s building, whether it is founded upon the sand or upon the immovable rock: "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found." "The ungodly are like the chaff which the wind driveth away. Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous." Where the house has been built for God, God himself never forsakes it. He breaks the bread of poverty, and turns it into a feast; he transmutes the tears of sorrow into jewels of joy; by day he is an all-illuminating light, and by night he is a fire alike of defence and of comfort. The happiest place on all the earth should be the good man"s house, for it is sanctified with prayer, it is resonant with praise, it stands on the very highway which leads to eternal blessedness: it is a halting-place on the road to heaven, and the angels come out to meet us upon it, and conduct us day by day, and mile by mile, to the city of light, the temple of peace.
"There is a way which seemeth right unto a Prayer of Manasseh, but the end thereof are the ways of death" ( Proverbs 14:12).
Beware, then, not to look exclusively at appearances, at beginnings, or at attempts. In order to form a correct judgment we ought to have the complete case before us. If the road be fifty miles long, it may be apparently right for forty-nine of them, and because it is right for so large a proportion of the distance, we may hastily conclude it must be right even to the very end. Against this delusion we are cautioned in the text. It is the last mile that dips down into bottomless abysses. It is when we think we are just at home that we begin to fall away into darkness, uncertainty, and despair. Ships have been lost within sight of land. Men have fallen back in their old age, the very time when they seemed to be ripening for heaven, and have lost all the accumulation of virtue and honour stored up through a long lifetime. We have to deal continually with deceptive appearances: the summer morning would seem to end in winter night: the first draught which we are tempted to take means exhilaration, the next means excitement, the next means violence, and the last means extermination. It is never to be supposed that because the first draught is harmless, therefore the last will be harmless too. The harm is in the very draught itself, how pleasant soever it may be to the palate at the time of drinking. The text holds good in commerce, in theological thought, in moral conduct, in social relationships; indeed, it holds good along the whole circle of human relation and experience. What is the lesson which such a state of affairs conveys to the wise and understanding heart? It is that life should be spent in a temper of caution; when we seem most secure we may be most exposed to danger; not only is our enemy a roaring lion, whose voice can be heard from afar, he is also a cunning and silent serpent, drawing himself towards us without making any demonstration, and not revealing himself until he is within striking distance. How awful is the expression "the ways of death"! No man returns from those ways to tell how crooked they are, how full of all manner of horror and distress, and how swiftly they dip into pits that are bottomless, abysses that are without measure, darkness that is uttermost and appalling. We begin to die when we begin to do wrong. Awful is the thought that it may be impossible to return along the way which we have trodden so mirthfully: we suppose that we can at any moment retrace our steps, and find our way back into an earlier experience, when we knew naught of the bitterness of sin and the sting of divine judgment. Every step we take in a wrong direction disqualifies us from advancing in an upward movement. We lose strength in this downward travel. Even when we would return we cannot recollect the prayers with which we once communed with heaven; we cannot speak the language of the upper world; we are afraid indeed to look upward lest some avenging angel should strike our vision with darts of fire.
The Backsliding Heart, Etc.
Backsliding takes place in the heart, and not in the foot. It is in the foot indeed that we show it, but the collapse took place in the spirit before the foot began to falter, and to recede, and to fall. The issue is that the backslider shall be filled with the fruit which he has coveted; he shall drink deeply of the draught which he has mingled: he shall be allowed to see how fully he has succeeded in making a failure of life. He shall be mocked and taunted by the spirit of judgment, so that when he takes up his idol of success, he shall find it to be an image of utterest disappointment; his harvests shall rot in his hands; if he pull down his barns and build greater that he may store his goods, he will find that when he has completed his barns his goods are nowhere to be found. There is no substance in sin, no real treasure, no solid enjoyment, nothing that abides with the consent of benediction and the security of a broad and generous defence. Sin gives what little it has in the way of joy at once, and at the end it is nothing but ruin. On the other hand, "a good man shall be satisfied from himself:" it has often been observed that he is not to be satisfied with himself, but from himself, from the treasure that is within him, from the thoughts which he has accumulated, from remembered prayers, from recollected promises, from all the retrospect of discipline and progress he shall draw comfort continually. "Whosoever drinketh of the water that I shall give him shall never thirst; but the water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life." The word of God becomes part of the very man who treasures it and studies it; it is impossible to distinguish between him and the word on which he lives, for the word has entered into the very fibre of his soul, and to take it away, were the extraction possible, would be to leave the man without faith, and hope, and joy. Here is the difference between badness and goodness; badness fails; after making desperate efforts to cheer and to gladden, it sinks into the deepest melancholy; whereas goodness grows, extends, ripens, becomes more and more by daily use, and at the end is a greater blessing than it was at the beginning. The good man can bear to look back upon life; he knows its failure; he owns the sins which he has committed against God; yet knowing that his supreme purpose has been to please the Almighty and to walk in the ways of Jesus Christ, he feels a blessing descending upon him, whilst he causes to pass before his eyes all the goodness and mercy of God. Take from a good man his money, his health, his society, yea, his very books, from which he has drawn innumerable thoughts stimulating and ennobling, yet his memory abides, a treasure-house well filled, an inspiration renewed from above day by day, as necessity increases in the urgency of its claims. Goodness shall stand when all things fail. A good man need not be a learned Prayer of Manasseh, a pedantic Prayer of Manasseh, a man full of intellectual ideas, speculations, and romances; he is to be meek, simple, genuine, real in every thought, unselfish in every desire; and when a man sets his life by the grace of God in this direction he will enjoy such satisfaction as God only can cause him to realise.
"The simple believeth every word: but the prudent man looketh well to his going" ( Proverbs 14:15).
Such belief is not to the discredit of the simple Prayer of Manasseh, but to the disgrace of the man who misleads him. No character is more admirable than that which is marked by simplicity and consequent trustfulness; it is only because the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, and the courses of the world are so much out of line, that simplicity is not only undervalued but sometimes contemned. The prudent man is put in apposition to indicate that he is a man of affairs, who understands a good deal of the way of the world, and who looks below the surface to find real meanings: this kind of prudence is itself an affirmation of the wickedness of the world: prudence in itself may or may not be a virtue; everything depends upon its origin and its purpose: when a man is so prudent as to suspect everybody, to regard every word as a trap, and every proposition as a lure to destruction, his prudence simply signifies that he has found out that he is in a bad world, and that everything is to be examined with a view to detecting in it the spirit of selfishness and all evil. Whether simplicity or prudence would in the long run the more prevail cannot now be told, because no fair test can be applied. Certainly Jesus Christ would seem to teach that simplicity is better than wariness, and that trustfulness is nearer to the Spirit of God than is suspicion. It is right to understand the men by whom we are surrounded, and to obtain some notion of their spirit and purpose, in order that we may conduct ourselves aright towards them. This is what God himself does: to the froward he shows himself froward; to the meek he is all gentleness; to the trustful he is all grace. There are men who pride themselves upon their prudence, not knowing that their prudence may have been gained through an experience which has cost them dearly, and which has revealed in many instances their folly and their incompetence. The prudence of the wise man will be placed at the disposal of the simple, and will not be wholly devoted to the confounding of those whose intentions are evil. Wherever one man is wiser than another he is a debtor to the man who is not so wise, and is bound to pay him of the gold of Wisdom of Solomon, that the man may be able to manage his affairs in the world with discretion and success.
"He that is soon angry dealeth foolishly: and a man of wicked devices is hated" ( Proverbs 14:17).
The angry man and the man of wicked devices may be two very different characters; the one is foolish, but the other is morally bad. Anger that is soon excited seldom succeeds in its object; it is so obviously irrational, untimely, and unequal to the occasion, that it produces no lasting effect upon those who are the objects of the ebullition. Anger that comes soon goes soon. It is mere excitement, agitation, tumult, having no basis of reason and no spirit of justice; having no deepness of earth of a moral kind it soon withereth away. The very word "soon," however, shows that there is a place for anger in the administration of human life:—"Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath." Jesus Christ himself was angry; we are to be angry with all evil, all meanness, all want of honour, with everything that partakes not of the spirit of justice and charity. But the deliberateness of our anger will be the measure of its sacred effect. When a man is heated through and through with moral indignation his whole nature will feel the glow, and his words will be inspired with an energy which nothing could give them but a conception of what is due to the very throne of heaven. Angry men make speeches which they have to withdraw; angry men commit themselves by many words that are not critically chosen or justly applied; and in the multitude of their apologies and the abjectness of their humiliation they lose every trace of moral dignity. A man of wicked devices may appear to be very clever; he is inventive; he is always equal to the occasion; he is cunning in the manufacture of traps, in the manipulation of gins and snares; he always knows the course which the enemy is going to take, and he can lie in wait for him at some convenient point: but the very fact that he is a wicked man spoils all his devices of their inventiveness and genius; that which would be able, strategic, soldier-like, in arrangement and execution, becomes merely a trick, a shameless endeavour or attempt to outwit clever men in doing that which is good, or evil men in doing that which is destructive: the moral character of the man destroys even the intellectual attributes of his inventions and devices. Receive nothing from the bad man; have no dealings with him, avoid him, pass by him, and turn away; even when Satan himself quotes Scripture look not so much at the Scripture that is quoted as at the enemy who quotes it, and be sure that when he applies Scripture to human necessity he is about to wound rather than to heal, to stimulate in a wrong direction rather than to "allure to brighter worlds." Happily, the man of wicked devices so reveals himself in the issue that he is hated, contemned, loathed, and abandoned. He who once thought himself so clever as to be popular is now seen through, and is not so much the object of pity as of contempt. All wickedness leads downward. There are no upward slopes from wickedness; the whole course is bleak, downhill, and necessarily brings itself to a close in the fire that is unquenchable.
"In all labour there is profit: but the talk of the lips tendeth only to penury" ( Proverbs 14:23).
Sometimes it is difficult to see where the profit is. We speak of having spent our strength for nought, of having run in vain, of having brought the day to a close without having filled our arms with sheaves. There Isaiah, however, a sense in which all labour ends in advantage: it is so in learning, in study, in the prosecution of art, in devotion to business, in the study of character, indeed, throughout the whole circle of human thought and occupation. A man may write much, and may throw his writing away because it does not fulfil his expectation or purpose, yet the very act of having written it has been as a discipline to the writer, has stirred his faculties, and by even revealing weakness has prepared the way for the cultivation of strength. Every time the arm is lifted the muscles are improved. Every time the fresh air is breathed a blessing of healthfulness is left behind. Labour means industry, devotion, conscientious attention to affairs that demand our interest: it is set in apposition to the talk of the lips—mere breathing, mere foaming, mere boasting, wordy declarations of great programmes which are never brought to realisation. The teaching of the text would seem to be that labour brings wealth, and mere talk brings penury. If this is so the law is obviously just and good. Society would no longer be consolidated and secure if mere talk brought men to honour and wealth and solidity of position. In all society the labourers must be more in number than the talkers. Understand that nothing is here said against talk; society cannot do without speech; eloquence has a great part to play in the education of the world; what is spoken against is the talk of the lips—that Isaiah, mere talk, talking for talking"s sake, love of hearing one"s self speak, talking with the lips when the heart is taking no part in the communication: when a man truly talks his intellect, his heart, his conscience, his judgment, his whole being speaks; every word is marked by sacredness of purpose, every promise is a vow, every declaration binds the soul. It must not be understood that anything whatever is said in disparagement of talk, speech, eloquence; we must again and again remind ourselves that the talk that is condemned is formal, mechanical, labial, taking nothing of virtue out of the speaker, and communicating nothing of strength to the hearer.
"In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge" ( Proverbs 14:26).
Such is the testimony of the ages. The Bible is full of illustrations of the action of this doctrine. In no book probably is the fear of the Lord so elaborately described as to its nature and its application as in the Book of Proverbs. Throughout the whole of the Bible the fear of the Lord is declared to be the beginning of wisdom. It is not a servile fear; the worshipper is not a croucher, waiting in an abject position in order to be noticed by a tyrannical despot: fear means reverence, veneration, awe, a sense of the grandeur and majesty of the Lord, not only as that term stands for infinity, brilliance, and attributes of an intellectual kind, but as it stands for holiness, truth, purity, justice, and every expression that indicates moral supremacy. He who fears the Lord is strong in the confidence of ultimate justice; he is confident also in the final exposition of providence, being assured that the way of God to man will be so revealed at last that it will be seen to have been the right way, the only true way, notwithstanding the varieties of the road, the steep hills, the bleak deserts, the stony paths, the cold rivers that had to be crossed in the dark night, the afflictions that had to be endured when heart and flesh had failed and strength had been exhausted,—at the last it will be seen that God has not given one stroke too much, taken away one treasure too many, or dug one grave too deep; the righteous will be the first to confess that God has done all things wisely, well, and lovingly. A beautiful expression is "his children." Here in the very midst of the Proverbs, a book of merely sententious maxims it might be thought, we find the sublime doctrine of the fatherhood of God. Here too we find that God"s children need a place of refuge; they have often to flee from the storm, from the wrath of Prayer of Manasseh, and from an apparently angry nature, for every law seems to fight against them: blessed be God, when all outward things are marked by an excitement of an apparently uncontrollable kind, are heaving and tossing as if shaken by an earthquake, the children of God can go not to law but to the Lawmaker himself, yea, to the very heart of God, and there can rest in hope and confidence, and whilst the storm howls without around the rock of the sanctuary that holy place can be filled with sacred and triumphant song. Have we really endeavoured to find a refuge in God? Have we not too often made him a mere object of veneration and not a tower that is to be fled into as into an inviolable home? What are the uses, so to say, which we have made of God? We ought to be able to exclaim, "God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble."
"Righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people" ( Proverbs 14:34).
By "righteousness" we are not to understand any formal system of theology, or any sectarian definition of religion. Nor can we make an ideal religion and set it up as a national idol, pointing towards it as if it indicated all our belief, and then turning aside to do what we pleased in the world at large. Righteousness means morality, justice, truthfulness, moral frankness, a sense of moral obligation, a lofty, dignified, all but divine character. It is true to-day that wherever the character of a nation stands highest all its obligations are regarded as certain of fulfilment; men trust such a nation; even when that nation comes into temporary adversity men are perfectly sure that when due time has elapsed and strength has been recovered, every word that has been spoken will be redeemed with honour. Commerce bears the same testimony; let a nation be known to be fickle, to trifle with its monetary obligations, to be capable of making great promises and forgetting them, and that nation can never issue a loan with any advantage; the world laughs at the roguish device, and flees away from the tempter as from a robber: on the other hand, let it be known that a nation is so moral, so sensitive of honour, that come what may it will redeem its pledges, and all the world is anxious to lend money to that nation. We do not keep within theological bounds when we admit a proverd of this kind. We go outside all merely theological limitations, and find the proverb accepted and endorsed by men of the world. Sin is a reproach to any people, because it trifles with their character, destroys it, perverts their purposes, makes their word of non-effect, turns every covenant into an empty pretence. Sin enfeebles people, takes out of them their moral pith, and by so much depletes them of physical strength and dignity, so that they are unprepared for the time of assault, and are unable to cope with the overwhelming foe. Character should lie at the basis of all greatness and all stability: it does this in reality, but it ought to do this by universal admission, so that men may know to what they are trusting, on what ground they are sowing their seed, and with what reasonable expectation they are looking forward to harvest. A marvellous thing is this that sin operates politically as well as religiously—bears upon the general condition of the people as well as upon the specific condition of the churches. Kings have to weigh their people morally as well as to number them physically when they would set forth on any expedition of aggression, advancement, acquisition, or civilisation. The people may be many, but if their character is rotten their arm cannot be strong; they will play fast and loose; they will flee away in time of danger, for only he whose soul is alive with a sense of the divine presence is courageous, steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the works of patriotism as well as in the works of the Lord. Every man who teaches a child the way of true wisdom is a benefactor of the nation. Every church that is wisely conducted is a support to the empire. Every sermon that is delivered with fervour, intelligence, and effect is a guarantee of national advancement. Let us look more to morals, and less to politics, when we would estimate the influence and dignity and usefulness of any nation. Let not our praying people cease their holy ministry; it is despised, laughed at, by men who are guided wholly by physical considerations, who bow down before the idol of pomp and glitter and wealth: but in reality prayer may be doing more for the nation than is being done by all its fortifications and battalions. It is our business, however, as Christian people, without endeavouring to compare and to balance one action against another, steadfastly to cleave to God and constantly to exhibit to those who look on a character that is marked at once by strength and gentleness, courage and unselfishness, a desire to advance and yet a willingness to let patience have her perfect work.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 14". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34