A Good Name Better Than Riches, Etc.
We are here taught that favour is better than silver and gold. The word "favour" signifies the peculiar sweetness or loveliness which excites and elicits the love of other men; it also means that the expression of the favour of others is elicited by the grace that is within ourselves, and that we increase our own graciousness by the approbation of those who look on, observing with gratitude how large are our resources of amiability, forbearance, long-suffering, meekness, and other fruits of the Spirit. Favour wins love, and favour confers the blessings of love on others. A good name is more than mere reputation. We are often reminded that reputation is what a man is said to be, and that character is what a man is in reality. Many a man may have a good name who does not deserve the honour, simply because he is imperfectly known, because his power of concealment is great, because he can draw round himself a garment of impenetrable darkness, within which he can work deeds of evil without his iniquity being known. Repute that is merely the result of calculation is a bubble that will burst and leave its possessor poor indeed. We are not to understand that it is impossible to have both a good name and great riches; it is perfectly possible to have both, as has been illustrated in numberless instances; but where we can only have one it is the good name that is to be chosen in preference to great riches. Sometimes we are called upon to choose one or the other of two blessings. No wise man will deny that great riches create great opportunities for doing good, or that they release the mind from the canker of anxiety. Persuading ourselves that such is the case, it is difficult to quench our ambition, which operates in the direction of the accumulation of wealth. When we are at the point of election, having to choose between a good name and great riches, we are at the very crisis of life. Only an inexperienced man will reduce the energy of the temptation to a minimum. It is indeed a great temptation when riches are placed within reach, and when a man is called upon to decide between being wealthy and being well-reputed. Riches are seductive, are false in all their suggestions, are unable to realise their own promises, and so men are misled, disappointed, and ultimately confounded or ruined by the very friends to whose protection they had confided themselves. Great riches can only be used in one world, whereas a good name can be carried throughout all spheres, and will abide through the lapse of all duration. We cannot have a really good name amongst men until we have a good name with God; we cannot have a good name with God until we accept his conditions and utterly repudiate our own. A name that is really good is more than a name, it is a character, it is the expression of a spiritual wealth, it is the exemplification of a deep and holy reality of conscience, rectitude, and beneficence. Names should be characters, names should be realities, names should be doors that open upon hearts that are hospitable homes, yea, that are very sanctuaries of purity, Wisdom of Solomon, truth, and every form of goodness.
"The rich and poor meet together: the Lord is the maker of them all" ( Proverbs 22:2).
It may seem to be hard on the part of Christian observers to say that the poor are always with us in order to develop the piety and beneficence of the rich. Such, however, may be the fact. The world would be poorer but for its poverty. Society would be robbed of one of its supreme opportunities of spiritual and social culture but for the poverty, the weakness, the pain, the destitution of many men. Whilst the critic says this, the Christian must feel it. The Christian is not a mere constructor of society, an architect of fortune, a theorist who says that this and that and something beyond are essential to the perfect structure of society; when the Lord Jesus said, "The poor ye have always with you," he was not remarking upon a mere fact in social economy, he was pointing to a deeper fact in the purpose of God in his marvellous education of the world. The nursery softens the whole household, the sick-chamber turns the house into a sanctuary; so in the great general world,—poverty, sickness, helplessness, blindness, every form and aspect of destitution, may be looked upon as needful to the deepest and completest education of the soul. The poor man is at your door, not to be looked at, but to be helped; not to be regarded as a symbol in social arithmetic, but as a heart needing sympathy and brotherhood. When the rich look upon their duties in this light they will be no longer rich in any sense that implies vulgarity, self-confidence, or vanity of any kind: they will be stewards, trustees, men put in trust for the good of others, and who will only enjoy their night"s repose as they can look back upon a day of beneficent activity and sacrifice. Then they that are rich will act as if they were not rich, because they will place no confidence in silver and gold, but will simply use them as mediums for the comfort and strengthening of others. In this way religion will sanctify political economy, and political economy will become an obedient servant of the highest spiritual conception and impulse. If the Lord is the maker of us all, the Lord is also the judge of us all. The whole arbitration is in his hands; he knows whether we have helped the poor, or whether we have stifled their cry, or charged their prayer with hypocrisy so as to save ourselves from inquiry and expenditure. The Lord is not ashamed to be regarded as the maker of the poor; he made the poor, not that they might continue to be poor, but that they might continue to elicit the affectionate attention of those who are in better social circumstances. It is true that poverty is often self-induced, or that it can be traced to criminality, indifference, incapacity, and the like; but to regard all poverty as explained by this fact is to ignore all the largest and truest mysteries of life; poverty has a mission in society; poverty ought to be saved from suffering; it may be used to show how dependent one man is upon another, but that dependence should never be allowed to drop into servility on the one hand, or to be regarded as a mark of dominance and contempt on the other. Let the rich man consider that he might have been the poor Prayer of Manasseh, and that reflection will chasten him when he begins to magnify his own ingenuity and to talk proudly of his own commercial capacity. The richest man has nothing that he has not received, and all his treasure he should hold, not as proprietor, but as trustee.
"A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself: but the simple pass on, and are punished" ( Proverbs 22:3).
Passages of this kind should be read with care, or they may seem to minister to a kind of ingenuity that is superficial and selfish. We have often had occasion to point out that there is a little prudence as well as a great prudence: a prudence that merely takes care of itself, and a prudence which never seeks its own life, or makes any selfish calculations about its own comfort. "He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it." We are not called upon anywhere in the Bible to make little calculations, small and selfish arrangements, to build for ourselves little refuges that will hold nobody else: we are called to farsightedness, a large conception of men and things and divine purposes, and to such a calculation of the action of the forces of the universe as will save us from needless trouble and assure us of ultimate defence and protection. Foresight is everywhere taught in the Bible, but not a foresight that is of the nature of selfishness. We are called upon to read history so as to transform it into prophecy. Men who have an opportunity of reading the action of ages ought to have no difficulty in forecasting the future; providence is the same, moral demands and relations are unalterable; we have behind us century upon century of human development, enterprise, speculation, and should therefore have no difficulty in saying what will happen on the morrow, or what will happen in five centuries. About the details we of course know nothing, but the details are the least part of the prognostication: say ye to the righteous, it shall be well with him: say ye to the wicked, it shall be ill with him: this is an eternal prophecy; nothing can modify it or set it aside permanently; come and go as circumstances may, ever and anon we shall hear the solemn judgment pronounced upon human action, that the wicked shall go away into everlasting punishment and the righteous into eternal life. We shall treat history frivolously if we look only at detail and incident and transient colour: all local circumstances change, but the central truth abides, that they that do good shall come forth to everlasting glory, and they who do evil shall descend into everlasting confusion. Why say that we know nothing about the future when we know everything about it that is worth knowing? Why live as if we had no vision of the times to come? The future has been painted with a vivid hand in Holy Scripture; we know exactly how heaven is constituted and how hell is populated, and there is no mystery about either condition that is not of the nature of detail or passing incident; the character which is the key of the whole mystery is open to our scrutiny and immediate estimation. If men will not take heed of great moral ordinances or spiritual standards, they will pass on and be punished. They must not look upon such punishment as arbitrary; it is part of the nature of things, it is the pulsation of the life of creation: punishment follows error in all worlds, and must do Song of Solomon, not as a mere chastisement, but as a solemn and inevitable consequence. Here we find the whole philosophy of moral existence. At this point the simplest minds may become philosophical by adopting the grand conception of life which expresses itself in the fact that whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap. This is true wisdom; herein is the fear of the Lord, and herein begins the solemn action of the soul which expresses itself in aspiration, in religious hopefulness, and in religious confidence; that action which rises first into desire, then into prayer, then into praise, into praise because God has vindicated his throne, showing it to be established in righteousness, and has vindicated his promises, showing them to be the flowers which grow in the garden which his own right hand has planted. Thus again we come upon the two classes, the prudent and the simple, the false and the true, the right and the wrong; he who would add to these classes any section in which he would find comfort because of wrong-doing trifles with the economy of God, and will be punished by daily disappointment and final punishment with infinite confusion and mortification.
"The rich ruleth over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender. He that soweth iniquity shall reap vanity: and the rod of his anger shall fail. He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed: for he giveth of his bread to the poor" ( Proverbs 22:7-9).
These are instances of the operation of the law of cause and effect. The rich ruling over the poor is a necessity which cannot be easily controlled; no mechanical arrangement can bring the relation to a proper point of forbearance and magnanimity; until the heart is made right all economical adjustments will fail at point after point. When rich men rule over the poor they show the lowest kind of power; yet there is a sense in which wealth ought to rule over poverty, the sense of beneficence, direction, and succour: the poor man ought to be able to say, The more the rich man has the more I have; he is trustee and steward, and he will not see me want within the limits of reason. The latter part of verse seven is a caution against borrowing. The borrower has to submit to many humiliations which are painful to him: he has to make calculations and arrangements, to withhold judgments, and to change the very tone of his speech, lest he should offend the man who can punish him by demanding the fulfilment of his bond. "Neither a borrower, nor a lender be." The philosophy of the eighth verse we have had occasion to prove day by day in the development of ordinary life. Bad seed never comes to good fruit. Oftentimes men sow iniquity without ever reflecting that seedtime is followed by harvest; they had a kind of grim joy in sowing iniquity, they describe it as "sowing their wild oats"; they do not stop to consider that after the sowing will come the reaping: herein is an inevitable and inexorable law: "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." Whom should a man blame? Should he blame providence? Should he reflect adversely upon the economy of nature? Should he describe himself as unlucky, unfortunate, and worthy of commiseration? On the contrary, he should say, Here is a proof of the divine sovereignty and of the inexorableness of law; here is a distinct testimony to the fact that we are not living a haphazard life, without bound, without purpose, and without judgment, but we are pursuing lines of thought and effort which must end in practical consequences. When the bad man puts in his sickle to reap darkness and the ashes of death, he should say to himself as he looks upon his empty hands, Lo, this also confirms the judgment and power of God. In the ninth verse the picture is seen on its reverse side. Instead of a man who sows iniquity we find a man who sows beneficence and gives his bread liberally to the poor, who studies the necessities of his age and neighbourhood, and ministers to them with Christian hospitality. What is the consequence in this instance? Precisely the reverse of the consequence in the former instance. The man whose eye is bountiful and whose hand is liberal is to be blessed. The word "blessed" can never be fully explained in language; it must be explained in the heart and by the heart; and when the heart has whispered to itself all the gospel it can conceive as expressed by this word "blessed," there will still come before the heart visions of further beneficence and grace and honour, yea heaven upon heaven, for it would seem as if God could never give back enough to him who regards the poor as his children and looks upon the helpless as furnishing the field and sphere of beneficent operation. How wise is the Bible in all these practical philosophies! Here is a book that protects the poor, that guards men against borrowing and all the servility following upon excessive obligation; here is a book that declares the issue and consequence of the sowing of iniquity; and here is a book which proclaims the blessedness of beneficence and self-sacrifice. It is upon these grand bases that the claim of the book to be considered divine is founded. They are not metaphysical or philosophical bases in any sense that can only be comprehended by intellectual penetration and culture: they are philosophical in a practical sense, in that they can be tested by the simplest man in the simplest duties of life. Every Christian can be a commentator upon passages like this; it is not necessary to know the original language or to parse the mere words with grammatical accuracy: every loving heart can stand up and prove the blessedness of the bountiful soul, the sacredness and the happiness of beneficent activity.
The Pure In Heart, Etc.
"He that loveth pureness of heart, for the grace of [or, and hath grace in] his lips the king shall be his friend" [Lit, "He that loveth pureness of heart, his lips are gracious, the king is his friend"] ( Proverbs 22:11).
This would seem to be the lower level of the holy word spoken upon the mount—"Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God." This proverb sets forth the image of a man whose pure heart finds an equivalent or correspondence in the grace or favour of his lips. We may take it in this way: when the heart is pure the speech will be clean; when the spirit is right with God, language will be lifted above all equivocation or double-meaning—will be simple, direct, true, sincere; when the soul is holy the language will rise into music. Good men are known by their speech; they are not rough in words, or crude in tone, or boisterous in claim; they do not lift up their voice, nor cry, nor strive with the clamour of conscious weakness; they speak quietly, graciously, gently, hopefully; so much so indeed at times that their very gentleness may be mistaken by the superficial for weakness, whereas it is the very perfection and refinement of strength. Only weak men are boisterous; only men who are uncertain of their intellectual or moral position seek to make up by noise what is wanting in truth and equity. It would seem as if the pure heart were destined to bring kings into subjection. The king is to be the friend of the man who loves pureness and speaks music. Here is a hint of the ultimate triumph of moral power. No longer is the king to be amazed and fascinated by mere thunder and lightning, by iron and chariots and horses; his ear is to be entranced by heart-music; he is to say, This is the voice of heaven; he is to admit that the man who can so speak must have been schooled and cultured in the very sanctuary of heaven.
"The slothful man saith, There is a lion without, I shall be slain in the streets" ( Proverbs 22:13).
A singular illustration this, of how the decay of one faculty may be the beginning of the activity of another. Industry has gone down, but imagination has risen. The slothful man seeks to make up by excuse what is wanting in energy. How ridden by the nightmare is the slothful man"s imagination! He sees foes in the air; he hears voices which none other can detect; he is wishful to impress upon his friends the fact that he himself is most willing to go out, yea, even eager to work, and prepared to undergo any amount of sacrifice, but he sees a lion, he is assured of a supreme difficulty, he is prepared to testify that his life is not worth a day"s purchase should he attempt to work under such and such circumstances. He cannot fell a tree, but he can see a lion; he dare not encounter the cold, for he is sure that he would be slain by a foe. The man that is thus a lion-maker in his own imagination will soon bring himself under the subjection of his own diseased fancy; presently the lion will be real to him, although it will be imaginary to all who stand by and look on. Beyond a certain point fancy ceases, and fact begins, in the case of the diseased mind: literally there is no lion, but imaginatively and sympathetically the whole road is crowded with beasts of prey. To the man who is so diseased it is no relief to tell him that other people cannot see the lions; he sees them himself, he watches their open mouths, he is terrified by their gleaming eyes, he flees away from them as from pursuing death. Men should be careful how they permit any morbid influence to operate upon their fancy; health should be the first law of nature; every man should feel himself bound to attend to the laws of bodily health; for oftentimes through their observance alone can healthfulness of mind be sustained. So intimate is the relation between mind and body, that when the one is neglected the other falls into desuetude; and when the one is abused even in the sense of temporary enjoyment, the other goes down in quality, in force, in executive ability. "Know ye not that ye are the temples of the Holy Ghost?" Is not the body a consecrated sanctuary? You cannot laugh men out of their superstitions after a certain point. Christian trainers should take the mind early in hand, and see that it be disabused of all superstition; and not only so—for negative work is not enough—the mind should be inspired by sacred impulse and filled with pure and reverent thought When the mind is so guarded and so sustained it will be impossible for the fancy to create lions.
"He that oppresseth the poor to increase his riches, and he that giveth to the rich, shall surely come to want" ( Proverbs 22:16).
Read the passage: he that oppresseth the poor is really preparing for his own oppression; for he is giving to the rich, and in due time the rich will rule over him with a rod of iron. Here is the same great law whose operation we have watched with interest and thankfulness. For a time the great man seems to do what he pleases, to order the poor as if they were his dogs, forgetting that all the while he himself is only enabling some other man to rule over him with a like severity. All bribery is to be brought low, all oppression is to lick the dust, the great purpose of the kingdom of heaven is to bring in the Son of Prayer of Manasseh, who shall rule in righteousness, in simplicity, and tenderness; all trickery of subordination, all tyranny shall be brought to destruction as in an instant, and man shall respect man because he first honours and loves God. No rich man can love the poor Prayer of Manasseh, no poor man can love the rich Prayer of Manasseh, as simply between themselves: the second commandment follows the first, and is to be approached through the first, and is accessible only through the first, and the first commandment is—Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul and mind and strength; then afterwards it shall be easy, yea a supreme delight, to love one"s neighbour as one"s self.
From the seventeenth verse we are enjoined to hear the words of the wise. The word "wise" being in the plural number, it has been supposed that what follows is a collection of proverbs or sacred sayings, rather than the exhortation of the mind of Solomon alone. There is a concensus of wisdom. In all ages and in all lands Wisdom of Solomon, though speaking in different words, has invariably spoken in the same sense. Truth is one. No matter in what language it may be spoken, or by what local colouring it may be affected, the great consequence, the profound philosophy, is the same: truth and love, pureness and compassion, divine communion and self-sacrifice, rightness with God and rightness with men,—these things God hath put together, and no man shall put them asunder without feeling that he has incurred a just and tremendous penalty. There is nothing more corroborative of truth than the fact that come whence it may, from what land or in what language soever, it all ends in the same grand injunction—do right, and be happy; be pure, and be at rest; aspire towards heaven, and thus adjust all earthly relations: in philosophy, in eloquence, in prophetic vision, in poetic Numbers, this holy wisdom has been taught in all the ages and in all the lands blessed by the higher civilisation.
From the twenty-second verse we have words that come along the way of the marketplace, that address men in their counting-houses and in their mercantile relations. Here is the grand philosophy of socialism: how the words roll on in the noblest music:—
"Rob not the poor, because he is; poor: neither oppress the afflicted in the gate: for the Lord will plead their cause, and spoil the soul of those that spoiled them" ( Proverbs 22:22-23).
"Be not thou one of them that strike hands, or of them that are sureties for debts. If thou hast nothing to pay, why should he take away thy bed from under thee? Remove not the ancient landmark, which thy fathers have set Seest thou a man diligent in his business? he shall stand before kings; he shall not stand before mean men" ( Proverbs 22:26-29).
Thus again (for the point should never be omitted) we have the best proof of the inspiration of the Bible in its human injunctions, in its comprehensible economies of life. We have seen that if the mantle was taken in pledge it had to be restored before sundown for the poor man to sleep in; but it would appear from injunctions such as these that the law had been evaded, and the poor had been exposed to nakedness and cold because of their poverty. What law of God is there that has not been evaded or perverted? Have we not a genius of disobedience? How wonderfully inventive is the mind in blunting the point of the law or in escaping the edge of the sword when some selfish purpose is to be gained! Even in the days of Song of Solomon, and long before, the stones marking the boundaries of the fields were thrown down in order that men might increase their estates. Is not this the daily battle of life? What is business in many an instance but a throwing down of ancient landmarks and breaking up of honourable boundaries, a confusion of division lines, so that the strong may oppress the weak? Whatever is possible to honest industry we should aim to realise. Industry has a right to the rewards of its own labour. The industrious man is more than he appears to be; he is not only a labourer in the dust, he is not a mere toiler in the mud; he is a servant of God, he is a minister of heaven, he is an exponent of an abiding and a beneficent law: such a man shall have honour even amongst his fellow-men; the industrious man shall attend upon kings as their minister, and kings shall be glad to be served by a man who has proved his honourableness, not in some grand temporary heroic effort, but in the simple toil and daily discipline of life.
"Section Proverbs 22:17-24 contains a collection of proverbs marked by certain peculiarities. These are: 1. The structure of the verses, which is not so regular as in the preceding section, Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16. We find verses of eight, seven, or six words mixed with others of eleven ( Proverbs 22:29; Proverbs 23:31, Proverbs 23:35), fourteen ( Proverbs 23:29), and eighteen words ( Proverbs 24:12). The equality of the verse members is very much disturbed, and there is frequently no trace of parallelism2. A sentence is seldom completed in one verse, but most frequently in two; three verses are often closely connected ( Proverbs 23:1-3, Proverbs 23:6-8, Proverbs 23:19-21), and sometimes as many as five ( Proverbs 24:30-34). 3. The form of address, "my Song of Solomon," which is so frequent in the first nine chapters, occurs also here in Proverbs 23:19, Proverbs 23:26; Proverbs 24:13; and the appeal to the hearer is often made in the second person. Ewald regards this section as a kind of appendix to the earliest collection of the proverbs of Song of Solomon, added not long after the introduction in the first nine chapters, though not by the same author. He thinks it probable that the compiler of this section added also the collection of proverbs which was made by the learned men of the court of Hezekiah, to which he wrote the superscription in Proverbs 25:1. This theory of course only affects the date of the section in its present form. When the proverbs were written there is nothing to determine. Bertheau maintains that they in great part proceeded from one poet, in consequence of a peculiar construction which he employs to give emphasis to his presentation of a subject or object by repeating the pronoun ( Proverbs 22:19; Proverbs 23:14-15, Proverbs 23:19-20, Proverbs 23:28; Proverbs 24:6, Proverbs 24:27, Proverbs 24:32). The compiler himself appears to have added Proverbs 22:17-21 as a kind of introduction. Another addition ( Proverbs 24:23-34) is introduced with "these also belong to the wise," and contains apparently some of "the words of the wise" to which reference is made in Proverbs 1:6. Jahn regards it as a collection of proverbs not by Solomon. Hensler says it is an appendix to a collection of doctrines which is entirely lost and unknown; and with regard to the previous part of the section Proverbs 22:17 to Proverbs 24:22, he leaves it uncertain whether or not the author was a teacher to whom the son of a distinguished man was sent for instruction."—Smith"s Dictionary of the Bible.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 22". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34