Observations About Kings
Here is a very simple exercise, and yet one of great consequence. The men of Hezekiah king of Judah "copied out" certain Proverbs, which had been probably scattered about in various writings or spoken in ordinary conversation: but now the time had come when Hezekiah was desirous to bring all these wise words into one book, and so give them permanence. We find, therefore, in these proverbs which follow, not the wise sayings of one man only, but the conclusions which had been reached by long-continued observation and very varied experience of human life. The man of physical science delights to gather together what he terms facts, and the wider the basis from which he can collate his facts the better satisfied is he with their general teaching; it is not enough for him to find an odd fact here and there, he must find his facts in series well-connected and long-continued, and so repeating themselves as to constitute their action into the operation of a law. When the man of literal science discovers one fact, then another of the same nature, and ten more, and can then multiply by ten again, he begins to realise what he terms certainty, and to formulate upon the basis of these facts what he terms a law of nature. There can be no objection to such induction and to such nomenclature; on the other hand, it ought not to be denied that there are moral facts and moral consequences, repetitions of action and repetitions of issue, so that by taking a large breadth of life into view men should be able to detect the existence and operation of a moral law, and should discover certainty in moral philosophy, and be able to warn the ages that such and such actions will issue in such and such events. There is no mere speculation in such reasoning; it expresses a fact, a certainty, a judgment. This is emphatically the case with the Book of Proverbs, which may be regarded as a storehouse of facts ever accessible to the use of the moralist, whether philosopher or practical teacher.
"It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter" ( Proverbs 25:2).
Concealment is not a fantastic art, practised merely for the purpose of puzzling and bewildering the human mind. Rather, there is in every little thing, Song of Solomon -called, a whole universe, could we but grasp the particle in all its content and meaning. When we suppose ourselves to have reached the end, we discover to our surprise and delight that we have but realised the beginning. In God"s work there is no end; it is all beginning, all new suggestion, all new and brilliant opportunity. On the other hand, kings concern their minds with matters purely political, which can be thoroughly searched out and understood in all their practical relations and bearings. Kings are not to live a haphazard life, taking things for granted and giving rough solutions of subtle and vital problems; they are to diligently consider the philosophy of statesmanship and sovereignty, and to rest their throne upon a basis of reason. So also when it comes to matters of practical justice: they are not to take a superficial view of cases brought under judgment; they are to search into them, to compare statements, to trace out the operation of motives, and thus they are to reach conclusions which should be marked by reasonableness and equity. Nothing frivolous is becoming in rulers. Even justice itself, how practical soever it may appear, is founded upon the deepest philosophy. Men should not extemporise law, even for social purposes, because law that is extemporised is likely to be inspired by passion and to be marred by partiality or prejudice. It is the beauty of the deepest and grandest social law that it was formed in anticipation, rather than in retrospect of social order or disorder. Magistrates do not sit on the bench to make law and to formulate punishment, when they are under the excitement of an individual case; the law was made in secret, in solemn quietude, under a deep sense of responsibility, and is therefore supposed to be untainted by prejudice or passion; the magistrate has simply to acquaint himself with the law, and to administer it in its purity. God and kings are not set in opposition in this text, in any sense that would bring discredit upon either. From whatever point the universe originated, it is a universe of concealment; that is to say, it holds within itself enigmas and riddles which the human mind has hardly begun to appreciate. Say the universe was created in one grand solemn Acts, as if by the immediate realisation of a divine word: then how much is there to be explored! what an analytic work remains to tempt the imagination, and to refine the senses to the highest quality and expression! Say the universe began in a tuft of fire-smoke; see then how wondrous was the concealment that within a little cloud of fiery mist there should have been hidden a universe so grand, magnificent, and radiant as that which is accessible to our senses;—in either way the issue was great, the concealment profound, and the opportunity for the education of human inquiry and the chastening of human imagination was boundless and gracious. We may search into the works of God without being merely curious; in searching into those works we should take with us a spirit of reverence, for reverence may be able to see many things which are concealed from the eyes of self-conceit and even from the vision of genius.
"The heaven for height, and the earth for depth, and the heart of kings is unsearchable" ( Proverbs 25:3).
The compliment thus paid to a king may be considered to be ironical rather than literal. The lesson points in the direction of the depravity of the human heart, when that heart is brought under the influence of ambitions of a secular and selfish kind. The idea would seem to be that the heaven could be measured in height, and the earth could be represented in plain figures for depth, but when both these arithmetical miracles have been performed there remains the impossibility of rightly reading the heart of a king. Who can ever find out all that is written in a king"s mind? It may be supposed that in the Book of Proverbs we have something like the personal testimony of a king, so that we have not to deal with a commentator who is making notes upon what he himself has observed in the life and ministry of kings; we have rather an autobiographer who is reading to us somewhat of the secret of his own mind. In general terms the case may be put thus: the king is talking to you, but his words have a double meaning; under an appearance of extreme civility he is hiding a very selfish policy; whilst apparently treating you with the greatest geniality he is in fact endeavouring to lead you to your destruction. The king has many points of interest to consider; he has to balance and refine and adjust, and conduct a very intricate system of manipulation, so that he himself can hardly at all times tell his own purpose; he himself may be surprised into conclusions, and may merge out of a fog of diplomacy into the clear light of reason and justice: the teaching of history Isaiah, beware of kings who are not simple-minded, frank-hearted men, but diplomatists, managers, manipulators, persons who do not reveal their whole purpose or discover their entire resources. Live with the simple, the true, the meek; deal only with men whose object is righteous and beneficent, and avoid all men whose minds are involved, bewildered, diseased by the action of diplomacy and by all the perversity of selfish calculation.
"Take away the dross from the silver, and there shall come forth a vessel for the finer. Take away the wicked from before the king, and his throne shall be established in righteousness" ( Proverbs 25:4-5).
When the dross is taken from the silver there results a vessel to the refiner—that is to say, he is able to make a vessel out of the pure metal: the dross hindered his processes; not until the dross was removed could he really begin to shape his vessel, or if he had done so the vessel itself would have been impaired and worthless. We are here taught not to begin what may be called our final processes until initial processes have been thoroughly accomplished. Always there is a negative work to be done before the positive or constructive work can be wisely and successfully attempted. Take up the weeds from the garden before you plant your flowers; remove the dross before you shape a vessel out of the silver; remove the old building before you lay the new foundations: do all manner of introductory work before you set yourselves with all zeal and determination to build the house or the temple. So with regard to the social vessel: "Take away the wicked from before the king,"—in other words, take away the dross, take away everything that is of the nature of alloy, destroy all evil counsels; and then the throne of the king shall be established in righteousness, and being established in righteousness it shall be permanently established. Only righteousness is eternal in its duration. That which is wicked has in it the principle of decay, and only time is required to bring that principle to its final issue. Righteousness feeds, as it were, upon eternal resources; it draws its supplies from every attribute of God; it lives to do good; it is more than mere uprightness, rectitude, or stern virtue; it is pureness, kindness, holiness, charity; it belongs to the very throne of heaven.
"Put not forth thyself in the presence of the king, and stand not in the place of great men: far better It is that it be said unto thee, Come up hither; than that thou shouldest be put lower in the presence of the prince? whom thine eyes have seen" ( Proverbs 25:6-7).
The same doctrine is laid down by Jesus Christ in the Gospel according to Luke. It is a doctrine which belongs to the Bible of human history as well as to the Bible of divine revelation. Men who have put themselves into wrong positions have soon come to know how great is the mistake which they have made. They do not fill the positions; their responsibility sits too heavily upon them; their faculties are not equal to the discharge of their unfamiliar duties,—thus at every point they are driven into vexation, they are fretted and exasperated, by action which they cannot control. Always work within the limits of your strength; always be sure that you can do more than you are attempting to do. The man who boasts of an ability beyond his strength is always brought to disappointment and humiliation. The proverb points out the better way of procedure. It says in effect, Take the lowest place, and then possibly you may be called to a higher; it is better to go up than to go down: go down you most certainly will, if you have taken too eminent a place; your incapacity, your inadequacy will soon be discovered, and the discovery will lead to your deposition; and the man whose deposition has been noticed by his friends, or by the public at large, is by so much weakened or disabled, so that he really cannot effectively use the talents with which he has been endowed. Do not seek to be aggressive in the matter of self-promotion. When you are wanted at the front you will be sent for; when any throne is vacant which you can occupy with dignity and efficiency you will undoubtedly be called to its occupation. Here we find the meaning of true contentment; it is not a state of mind devoid of ambition, but a state of mind in which ambition is controlled and chastened, awaiting a call evidently true and wise that it may advance to some higher position. Well-controlled ambition is itself an element of energy in the mind; it does not operate outwardly and aggressively, but it operates in the sense of moving every faculty in an upward direction, and stimulating every ability quietly to attempt some further duty in life.
"A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in pictures of silver" ( Proverbs 25:11).
The reference may here be to time, as thus: A word spoken at the proper time. Words are not always of equal value; expressions used to-day may be pointless and pithless, and the same expressions used to-morrow under altered conditions may be full of moral inspiration and energy. Some people always speak at the wrong time. They assure themselves that they have spoken wise words,—which may be perfectly true, but even wisdom may be thrown away. As the next verse picturesquely puts it, "As an earring of gold, and an ornament of fine gold, so is a wise reprover upon an obedient ear." When the ear is not obedient the eloquence of wisdom itself is lost. Men should study opportunity; sometimes their friends may be ready to receive the word, may be even eager to listen to it, and wise teachers should be on the alert to notice every sign of interest, every attitude of attention, and to respond to the same with joy and with measured haste. Sympathy itself has often been so administered as to become an exasperation. There are times when men cannot bear even to have passages of Scripture hurled at their heads. Sorrow is not to be rudely encroached upon, but is to be approached gracefully, tenderly, modestly. Sometimes we best give advice to others by giving it to ourselves. There are men who have the gift of monologue, so that in the presence of others they can be talking to themselves, and yet all the while be talking indirectly and happily to those who are in sorrow. All this counsel is not to be taught in words; it is to be taught to the man by the Spirit of God, and is to be practised in secret, and is often to be practised as if it were not being practised,—that wise, singular, gracious art, which can hardly be explained, yet which can be felt, and which can be used with infinitely happy effect.
"As the cold of snow in the time of harvest, so is a faithful messenger to them that send him: for he refresheth the soul of his masters" ( Proverbs 25:13).
Snowstorms are not referred to, because they might be untimely and even disastrous. Snows were employed in eastern countries for the purpose of cooling drinks in the summer time. We know what it is to use ice in attempering our liquids; we praise the cool drink, speaking of it as grateful, comforting, and refreshing: that is the meaning of the use of snow in this verse,—as the cold of snow in the time of harvest in a hot day, as it enables men to drink with pleasure when they are thirsty, as it turns a liquid into a healthy stimulant, so is a faithful messenger to them that send him: for he speaks wise words wisely; he studies opportunity and turns it into religious action; he considers exactly what men can bear, and how much they can hear at a time with advantage, and he measures the delivery of his message according to the ability of those who have to receive it. There is nothing hot, eager, violent in his manner; everything is measured, considered, adjusted, and the wise man is seen in every word and in every tone. We must never forget that there may be as much in the tone as in the actual word itself. We may repeat the identical terms of a message, and yet not deliver the message at all. Gentlest words may be delivered in roughest tones; then all their meaning is lost, and their music is as if it had never been. When we are called upon to repeat a message we are called upon to repeat it in the original tone in which it was delivered. Apply this law to the delivery of the Gospel, and consider how we are called upon to reproduce the very tone of Jesus Christ. The words which he uttered were gracious, and the mouth with which he pronounced these words was also gracious; the whole manner was marked by ineffable dignity, tenderness, persuasiveness. What if we be delivering evangelical truths in an unevangelical tone? What if we be remembering the words and forgetting the tears? What if we have but a cross of wood, and not that cross of flesh quivering with agony which was stretched upon it. The true cross is on the cross; the Son of God with outstretched limbs and drooping head represents the Cross which Christian preachers have to declare. Who is sufficient for the delivery of this message? Men may be trained to utter Gospel words, but they cannot be trained to shed Gospel tears. It is at this point that we are called upon to be true to ourselves, to express our inmost and deepest feeling; then shall the delivery of the Gospel be complete, all its words being words of inspiration, and all its pathos being a distinct utterance of that which the heart itself tenderly experiences.
"25- Proverbs 29:27. The superscription of this section, "These are also proverbs of Song of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied out," Isaiah, in many ways, significant. It pre-supposes the existence of a previous collection, known as the Proverbs of Song of Solomon, and recognised as at once authentic and authoritative. It shows that there were also current, orally or in writing, other proverbs not included in that collection. It brings before us an instance, marked indeed, but one which we cannot think of as solitary, of the activity of that period in collecting, arranging, editing the writings of an earlier age. It is a distinct statement that both the collection that precedes, and that which follows, were at that time, after careful inquiry, recognised as by Solomon himself. The chapters to which it is prefixed present a general resemblance to the portion Proverbs 10:1 to Proverbs 22:16, which all critics have regarded as the oldest portion of the book. There is the same stress laid on the ideal excellence of the kingly office (compare Proverbs 25:2-7 with Proverbs 16:10-15), the same half-grouping under special words and thoughts, as e.g, in the verses Proverbs 25:2-7, referring to kings, in the words "take away," in Proverbs 25:4-5, in the use of the same: word (in Hebrew) for "strife" or "cause" ( Proverbs 25:9), of "gold" ( Proverbs 25:11-12), of the "fool" in the first ten verses of Proverbs 26, of the "slothful" in Proverbs 26:13-16, of the Righteous" in Proverbs 29:2, Proverbs 29:7, Proverbs 29:16. The average length of the proverbs is about the same; in most there is the same general parallelism of the clauses. There is a freer use of direct similitudes. In one passage ( Proverbs 27:23-27) we have, as an exceptional case, a word of counsel which is neither a proverb nor a comparison, and is carried through five verses, in which, unless we assume a latent allegory, like that of the "vineyard of the slothful," in Proverbs 24:30-34, the instruction seems to be economic rather than ethical in its character; designed, it may be, to uphold the older agricultural life of the Israelites as contrasted with the growing tendency to seek wealth by commerce, and so fall into the luxury and profligacy of the Phœnicians."—The Speaker"s Commentary.
"As the cold of snow in the time of harvest, so is a faithful messenger to them that send him: for he refresheth the soul of his masters" ( Proverbs 25:13).—"Here again we have a picture of the growing luxury of the Solomonic period. The "snow in harvest" is not a shower of snow or hail, which would in fact come as terrifying and harmful rather than refreshing (comp. 1 Samuel 12:17-18, and yet more the proverb in the next chapter, 1 Samuel 26:1); but rather the snow of Lebanon or Hermon put into wine or other drink to make it more refreshing in the scorching heat of May or June. The king"s summer-palace on Lebanon ( 1 Kings 9:19; Song of Solomon 7:4) would make him and his courtiers familiar with a luxury which could hardly have been accessible in Jerusalem. And here also he finds a parable. More reviving even than the iced wine-cup was the faithful messenger. That the custom thus referred to was common in ancient as well as modern times we know from Xenophon (Memorab, II:1, § 30), and Pliny (Hist. Nat. Proverbs 19:4). In Proverbs 10:26, it will be remembered, we have the other side of the picture, the vexation and annoyance caused by a messenger who cannot be trusted, compared to the sour wine that sets the teeth on edge."—Ibid.
Almighty God, we thank thee that in thyself alone is satisfaction for our souls. We have hewn to ourselves cisterns, broken cisterns that could hold no water. We have sought pleasure where there is none. We have endeavoured to find gardens in the wilderness, and we have returned from stony places, stung with disappointment. There is no rest but in thyself. We have tasted the world"s pleasures, and they are. bitter after awhile; they are sweet only for one dying moment, at the last they bite like a serpent, and sting like an adder. In thy presence is fulness of joy, and at thy right hand alone are pleasures for evermore. In our Father"s house there is bread enough and to spare; we will then no longer perish with hunger, but with all haste, and joy, and expectation we will crowd into thy house, and accept the hospitality of thy love. Thou dost not turn us away from the door. The Lord is very pitiful and kind. Thou art a Father expecting thy prodigal son every moment. Thou wilt not close the door, for even yet the wanderer may come. We have learnt this of thee from Jesus Christ our Saviour. He always told us of our Father. He taught us to call thee our Father in heaven. He often spoke of thee as our heavenly Father. God is love. The mercy of the Lord endureth for ever. The pity of the Lord is a continual compassion. The Lord is gracious, slow to anger, and plenteous in mercy. We have learnt this also from thy Song of Solomon, our Saviour and Sacrifice, our Priest and Intercessor, the living Son of the living God. Make thyself known to us in him, according to the pressure of our need. We are strong, yet are we weak. Every heart knoweth its own bitterness. There is a shadow upon every life. Some are breathing prayers in secret they dare not and cannot put into words. Hear the sighing of those that are ill at ease. Withdraw the thorn which has wounded the heart to its inmost fibre. Let thy people find new supplies of grace. Surprise them by the sudden incoming of light. Show them that even yet there is meal in the barrel and oil in the cruse, and whilst they seek these things may they grow under the strong hand of faith. Destroy the spirit of fear, for it destroys our rest. Perfect love casteth out fear. Do thou, therefore, create in our hearts perfect love. The love that never doubts, the love that hopeth evermore, the love to which there is no midnight, for the midnight is as the noonday. Pity us wherein we are little and weak, wherein we are vain and foolish, and grant us the spirit of wisdom and understanding, and of a sound heart. When we go out into the world again, may we go as men who have seen God, and may the vision of the Lord leave its impress of light upon our very countenances, so that men will know in what high heights we have been by the shining of our faces and the fragrance of our robes. Amen.
"Hast thou found honey? Eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it."
Pleasures and Penalties
There is no denial of the goodness and the sweetness of honey. Not one word is spoken against the thing that is found, or against the appetite that desires it. We are not told that honey is a bad thing and dangerous to take; nor are we told that the appetite which desires honey is a bad appetite and must be crucified. Let us clearly understand this, because out of it will come the whole reasoning of the discourse. Honey is good. To eat it is perfectly proper; but the text tells us that we ought only to eat sufficient, because if we eat to excess we shall really punish ourselves. That is a wonderful law of nature. It is marvellous to notice how our appetites are our constables—taking us up, arresting us with a strong hand, if we over-indulge them. The beginning is very good. You say it is impossible to eat too much of this, it is so sweet; and before the clock has gone half round you blame yourself almost for beginning the very feast which was so delicious.
There is a stopping-place in nature. If you go beyond the proper stopping-place, nature arrests you, and smites you with an unsparing hand. You profess to be lovers of law, and you call yourselves law-abiding. Prove your own words. It is easy to be law-abiding when there is no temptation to be law-violating. It is just where we are tempted to break the law that we require the exhortation to keep it. "He that breaketh through a hedge, a serpent shall bite him." How is it that there is always a serpent on the other side of the hedge? Who put that serpent there? Why is that serpent there? That serpent is the very security of your life. You would kill yourself with honey if it did not sate you. You would revel in license, not in liberty, if the serpent did not bite you whenever you exceeded the determined line of God. Be thankful for punishments; they keep the world sweet and pure. Be thankful that your appetite can be sated, and that sweetness turns to poison; that wine brings madness, and that self-indulgence brings the very Deuteronomy -humanizing of your nature. It is along that line of penalty that you find the security of your individual life, of your family relations, and of your social completeness and rest.
One would think that men did not need such an exhortation as is in the text. Yet it is precisely these commonplace exhortations that men do need. We require to be spoken to plainly right along the line of common everyday experience, and that book and that teaching will get the strongest hold upon us that does not pass over our heads in obscure mysteries, but addresses the middle line of life and that turns commonplace itself to the highest and noblest uses. What I want to teach is this: the satisfaction of man can never come out of anything that is finite therefore man himself is not finite in any sense that can bring his nature into insignificance and contempt. Man can only be satisfied with the very fulness of God, therefore man is immortal. From the very circumstance that honey sates and returns from the appetite that once it pleased, I argue that there is no satisfaction in things sensuous, in things material, in things finite; and that if we want rest, contentment, completeness, and peace we must find these in the infinite. Let us thus fearlessly apply the principle, and not handle it timidly. Apply it to the obtainment and possession of money. It is not in money to make any man rich. Men say they will be content when they have enough. Precisely. But what is enough? Name the amount, and say, That certainly is enough. So it may be in the distance, and whilst yet it is unobtained, but the moment you obtain the sum which you considered in your comparative poverty to be enough you will find that it is still too little. Much will have more, and more will magnify itself into more still. It is not in anything that is finite to satisfy that inward self of yours; therefore, that inward self is greater than all outward great things, and there is something in you that requires a keener and more delicious sweetness than any the hand can gather. It is difficult to make men believe this doctrine. We have had rich men amongst us who have preached it to us. The richest man in Europe was asked, "How does it feel to be a millionaire?" He replied, "It just feels as though you could pay twenty shillings in the pound." That was a man who retained his sanity; who kept his head upon his shoulders and his eyes in his head. But there have been men whose wealth has become their poverty, and whose riches have crushed them into the dust, in which they have spent their whole life.
Apply the principle to gaiety. The young life says it will be gay; it will not mope, it will not whine, it will see life, it will see the world, it will whirl through all the giddy dance, and will always be happy, with a new scene every day, with new surroundings week by week and month by month. Tomorrow shall be as this day, and more abundant. A brighter light shall make the face brighter still. That is the poetry; what is the reality? The young life returns from the evening toils and enjoyments weary, sated—and, oh that continual headache! At first a headache only. The gas was too hot, the air was oppressive. It will be better to-morrow night. The next night comes, and, lo! on the following morning there is a twinge of heart-ache. Did that come of the gas, of the hot air, of the late hours? The headache might come from such causes, but this is a heart-ache. What do heart-aches come from? And do they come to young lives? Have they no pity upon the young, and fair, and happy ones? None. It is not in gaiety to make you glad. Hast thou found gaiety? "Eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it." I would allow some liberty. I am not an ascetic monk who would seek to shut you up in a hermitage or cell far away from all society. I like to see you glad. I fear to see the first wrinkle on the young, smooth flesh. I call it an enemy. I say, Could not this dear face have been spared the ripping and wrinkling of old time and care? I would have you enjoy life. Hast thou found enjoyment? Eat so much of it as is sufficient for thee, but know when to stop; be master of the occasion. Say to the tempter: No more; so far you are a friend and helper, but if you come one step further than this you become a foe and deadly enemy; go back till I call thee again. By all the faint hearts, by all the dreary lives, by all the blighted hopes, by all the wrinkled faces, by all the bent backs of those who have gone to find heaven in gaiety, I adjure you to eat only so much as is sufficient for you, lest you be filled therewith, and vomit it. What is the true meaning of these words? Eating and drinking in excess incapacitates the mind for realising the conception of immortality. Eating and drinking have only one day more, to-morrow we die! You can eat and drink until the poetry is killed in your soul. We have known young, fresh lives, full of dream and vision, take gradually to the eating of honey, and the drinking of wine, and the sating of animal appetite, until the eyes lost their speculation, until the head became distenanted of all great thoughts, and until the tongue once eloquent stammered and babbled, and only half told its foolish tale. Eating and drinking do not stop therefore, you see, at the body; they assail the mind. They go on until they bring down the daring wing of fancy, and the angel that is in the man is killed by the overfeeding of his body.
Let me ask one question; pray answer as frankly as I inquire. There is a man who has much cattle, which he feeds with the very finest food that money can buy and care gather together. His cattle live, so to say, in a state of daily luxury, but that same man starves his little children in the house. What do you say about him? That is my question. Let reason answer; let good feeling reply. I have stated the case in its naked simplicity. What is he? I will call him a base man—will you? Yes. I will denounce him as immoral—will you? Very well; that is precisely what you are doing if you are feeding your animal nature, and drinking yourself into a state of debauchery, and neglecting to feed the mind that makes you a Prayer of Manasseh, and the sensibilities which distinguish you from the beasts of the field. Apply your own logic. But here comes the supreme difficulty. Men may have opinion without having faith. Men may give you a sound answer in the abstract, yet lack that peculiar something that turns opinion into courage, and sanctifies courage until it becomes faith. There can be no controversy as to whether overindulgence is good or bad. Bad for body and soul, bad for the family, bad for society. That is your opinion, but no man is saved by his opinions. Remember that your opinion is contra-dieted by your conduct. Opinion is to be passed through a process until it becomes faith. This is the victory that over-cometh the world, even our faith. An opinion may be expressed by a nod of the head. An opinion may be indicated by the uplifting of a hand, but it is in faith alone to answer temptation, to overcome the enemy, and to crush the serpent"s head. Let me assume—shall I do so?—that some poor soul goes with me word for word, and says, "Would God I could turn my opinions into faith, what a different man I would be, and what a large life would open before me." So far, good; not an angel in heaven but will help you. It is not easy to go from opinion to faith. It is not easy to set the tempting honey and the tempting wine aside, and to say, No more. Any preacher that trifled with my temptations would be no preacher to me. I must hear one who acknowledges that mine is a difficult task, that mine is one of the subtlest diabolisms that ever tried to wreck a human life. It is easy for a man who never had any temptation to deliver a lecture to show you what to do. But we are talking to one another with the masonry of a common understanding. We are not talking metaphysics that lie millions of miles away from practical experience. But we are agreed that ours is a hard task, and we are agreed to ask God to overcome the enemy. Is that so? Then a beginning must be made; the final word must be spoken. When you speak that word you will create history upon earth and history in heaven. But it is hard. You will do it some day? That is an aggravation of your case. To postpone the fight is the success of the enemy. Now we are all in the same condemnation. The preacher is not a fine man and you inferior clay. We are all in the same position, there is no escape, we are in the same awful depravity; and if there be one voice only speaking, it is not a voice that speaks of itself, but takes up into its tones the thunder and the music of God"s judgments and Christ"s Gospel.
Then, with regard to others, I may say, How does God graciously conduct us into a conception of the greatness of human nature. He finds honey for us, and says, "See if it be in sweetness to satisfy?" And we eat the honey over-much until we know the agonies of satiety. We say, "No more of that It is sweet in the beginning, but it is as poison in the end. Never more will we touch that sweetness." God says to us, "Is it in wine to inspire?" And we take the wine, and the centres of nervous power are touched and titillated, and we begin to see figures in the air, and our voice acquires a new boldness, and we plunge into the conversation with suggestions that in our soberer moments we dare not have uttered. And we say, "This is the panacea, this is the true friend that will get us out of the darkness, and lead us up to the heights of true enjoyment." And we get more, and a cloud forms upon the mind; and more—and gradually we stumble in our speech; and more—and we lose our identity, and become worse than the beasts that perish; and we find that in wine is exhilaration, not inspiration; that whilst it gives with one hand, it takes away with the other, and it steals the senses which it at first excited. We find that it is not in wine to make the heart of man permanently glad. Thus, God sends us gold to make us rich. And we dig for it, and smelt it, and purify it, and make it into ornaments, and wear it; and at first we are as pleased with it as a child with a new toy, but at last we find that it can really do very little for us. It can only be changed at one counter. "Now," says God by his providence, "you see what you are, by seeing that sweetness cannot satisfy you, wine cannot inspire you, money cannot enrich you." Why? Because you are born in the image and likeness of God. It is the divinity that stirs within you; you cannot satisfy the divinity within you with honey, or wine, or gaiety. Who can satisfy the hunger of the soul with the grass of the earth? What is the argument? We are more than mortal; we know it though we cannot explain it. What we can explain Isaiah, of necessity, finite, and, in all probability, superficial. There is no other answer to the uprising of the soul in its noblest moods.
What, then, are you going to do? because you have very little time to do it in, whatever it is. And it gets shorter. You never knew an old man say that the years were so much longer than they used to be when he was a boy. Old men say that time flies. Men of experience say that their life is as a vapour that cometh for a little while and then vanisheth away. Old pilgrims, bending over their staves, tell royal Pharaohs that few and evil have been the days of their servants. Song of Solomon, whatever we are going to do, we must do at once. "Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation." What say you? Who is on the Lord"s side? I know what a battle you will have to fight You say, if it were not for many complications which you cannot explain, you would do all that is now suggested. The case is a difficult one, but there have been others in circumstances quite as bad as yours who, by the help of the grace of God, have done the thing which I want you to do. The best way to do a thing is to do it; explanation will follow in due time. They that do the will shall know of the doctrine. Now, what are you going to do? This is business; this is not pleasure. This is not a transient interview having no purport and no use; it is business. What are you going to do? Do not live the fool"s life, or you will die the fool"s death. I know there are others who say, "Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." But you do not die to-morrow! If I were certain that you would die like dumb, driven cattle to-morrow, even then I should exhort you to be true and honourable and charitable, because virtue brings its own reward every day. But you do not die to-morrow. To die to live! The rich man died, and in hell he opened his eyes. We do not die to-morrow. We are not dogs; we have not been dogs in our life, therefore we shall not be dogs in our death. Moreover, the reasoning is false that says, "Eat and drink, for to-morrow we die." You do not live to yourself; you have your wife, your children, your friends, and they go down when you go down. You cannot say a bad word in your family without that bad word falling scorchingly upon the youngest life in your house. You could not die in the ditch like a forsaken dog without that sweet little child of yours coming one day to hold down its head in unutterable shame, because of a father who murdered his own life, and insulted every instinct that gives nobleness to human nature. The case is not limited by your own personality. Fifty years hence men may sometimes have to blush for you. By the greatness of the case, by its far-stretching issues, by its intrinsic importance, I adjure you to look to Christ, who came to save just such as you. If you are lost, he came for you; if you are dead, he is the resurrection and the life; if you are leprous, so that no man dare touch you, he dare, he is your friend, your Saviour. His great heart-door stands open night and day, and he waits to be gracious. Come now. You have seen the world, and it is a lie; you have eaten its honey, and it brings sickness; you have drunk its wine, and it brings madness; you have tried its gaiety, and it brings sadness, and under the purple robe is an aching heart. "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."
"The diet of eastern nations has been in all ages light and simple. As compared with our own habits, the chief points of contrast are the small amount of animal food consumed, the variety of articles used as accompaniments to bread, the substitution of milk in various forms for our liquors, and the combination of what we should deem heterogeneous elements in the same dish, or the same meal. The chief point of agreement is the large consumption of bread, the importance of which in the eyes of the Hebrew is testified by the use of the term lechem (originally food of any kind) specifically for bread, as well as by the expression "staff of bread" ( Leviticus 26:26; Psalm 105:16; Ezekiel 4:16, Ezekiel 14:13).... An important article of food was honey, whether the natural product of the bee (l Sam. Proverbs 14:25; Matthew 3:4), which abounds in most parts of Arabia (Burckhardt, Arabia, 1:54), or the other natural and artificial productions included under that head, especially the dibs of the Syrians and Arabians, i.e, grape juice boiled down to the state of the Roman defrutum, which is still extensively used in the East (Russell, 1:82); the latter is supposed to be referred to in Genesis 43:11 and Ezekiel 27:17. The importance of honey, as a substitute for sugar, is obvious; it was both used in certain kinds of cake (though prohibited in the case of meat offerings, Leviticus 2:11), as in the pastry of the Arabs (Burckhardt, Arabia, 1:54), and was also eaten in its natural state either by itself ( 1 Samuel 14:27; 2 Samuel 17:29; 1 Kings 14:3), or in conjunction with other things, even with fish ( Luke 24:42). "Butter and honey" is an expression for rich diet ( Isaiah 7:15, Isaiah 7:22); such a mixture is popular among the Arabs (Burckhardt, Arabia, 1:54). "Milk and honey" are similarly coupled together, not only frequently by the sacred writers, as expressive of the richness of the promised land, but also by the Greek poets (cf. Callim. Hymn in Jov48; Horn. Od20:68). Too much honey was deemed unwholesome ( Proverbs 25:27). With regard to oil, it does not appear to have been used to the extent we might have anticipated; the modern Arabs only employ it in frying fish (Burckhardt, Arabia, 1:54), but for all other purposes butter is substituted: among the Hebrews it was deemed an expensive luxury ( Proverbs 21:17), to be reserved for festive occasions ( 1 Chronicles 12:40); it was chiefly used in certain kinds of cake ( Leviticus 2:5 ff.; 1 Kings 17:12). "Oil and honey" are mentioned in conjunction with bread in Ezekiel 16:13, Ezekiel 16:19. The Syrians, especially the Jews, eat oil and honey (dibs) mixed together (Russell, 1:80). Eggs are not often noticed, but were evidently known as articles of food ( Isaiah 10:14, Isaiah 59:5; Luke 11:12), and are reckoned by Jerome (In Epitaph. Paul1:176) among the delicacies of the table,"—Smith"s Dictionary of the Bible.
Almighty God, we cannot understand our life: it is full of mystery; so bright, so dark: now one long day, full of music and light and joy; and then suddenly a great gloom of midnight, in which we can see nothing, hear nothing, feel nothing, but pressure and despair. Yet we love to live. Even in our poverty and loss and pain and dreariness, there is a wondrous magic, a marvellous fascination in the very act of living. What is this life but a spark of thine own duration, a hint of what is meant by Eternity, a revelation of the beginning of Immortality? All life is thy gift,—perilous gift! gracious gift! so difficult to be finite, so hard to be incomplete; so trying to see heights we cannot reach, and breadths upon which we cannot lay our little hands. Yet thou hast filled us with a strange spirit of ambition: we would know what is behind everything, above it, and below it; we want to read all the writing thou hast written upon the broad heavens, and we can hardly spell one word of it; yet the whole seems to mean—God is light, God is love, God reigneth. These lessons are enough for us to know now. They are the first lessons; all the detail and meaning, and furthest, deepest, grandest music must come by-and-by. Help us to believe this, to live in this noble hope, and to wait for it with all patience, industry, and resignation. We bless thee for all the comforts of life. Thou dost give unto us our health, and friends, and opportunities of progress, and our highest faculties; thou dost feed the inspiration of the soul by continued breathings from heaven, and thou dost promise to our expanding capacity larger thoughts, bounties now undreamed of as to their wealth and continuity. We bless thee for all the religious feeling which makes us lift up ourselves from the dust and set our whole being towards the light of heaven. We are not beasts that perish; thou art not a potter who having made a beautiful vase will dash it to the ground and set his foot upon the pieces; thou dost not mean us to complete the contemptible journey from dust to dust—too small a circle for the capacities and powers and aspirations with which thou hast enriched and ennobled us. This is not thy meaning. Thy purpose is other than this, whatever it may be, and however impossible to us to set it out in words. We feel the most of our religion: we feel our immortality. We would not have it explained; for then it would be a thing measurable and namable in equivalent terms: we would feel it, grope after it, have an inexpressible assurance of it, and touch all life"s duties and sorrows with its peculiar—with its heavenly dignity. Thou dost visit us in various ways, to chasten our life, too educate our spirit, and to bring us to thy meaning of manhood. The Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord. Help the bereaved to bear the stroke; give them light even in darkness, and in the dreariest of all silence may they hear a voice speaking to the heart. Thou dost take away, and none can hinder; thou dost close the ear to our appeal, and on tired eyes there softly lies the stillest of all slumbers. This is thy doing, and man may but weep, and wonder, and then resign himself, and say, It is well: it is better with those who have gone than with those who have remained, for they have gone forward to coronation, and we abide to plough and sow, in all winds and weathers, in all tumults and uproars; to continue life"s little business and to be stung by life"s keen pains. Give all who suffer the nobler view, the further outlook, the larger life that abolishes death. Whilst we live may we live well, wisely, simply, trustfully; and may ours be the blessedness of those servants who are found waiting when their Lord cometh. Fill us with thy Spirit—Spirit of truth, light, liberty, and justice; make us rich with heaven"s own goodness, make us strong men, and yet do thou cover all our strength with the beauty of tenderness; may our words be wise and firm, and yet may the tone in which we speak indicate the gentle heart, the loving spirit, the sympathising Soul. We bless thee for thy Son. O wondrous word! that God should have a son! we would see the Son: he may be like the Father; we cannot see the Father, we would therefore see his Song of Solomon, for surely he will represent him, he will turn the speech of the Father into our mother tongue, and we may be able here and there to catch a word, and understand it, and to trust to such word for the larger revelation which is yet to come. We thank thee for the Cross. Once we did not understand it; it was to us grim and ghastly, full of all horrible feeling and suggestion; but now we see in it a new shape, a new thought,—the very heart of God; the mystery of redemption by blood, and the mystery of joy through sorrow, and the mystery of mysteries, life through death. Now there is no death to those who see the Cross and cling to it and trust to it; the bitterness of death is passed, and when death itself shall come it will be but a momentary shadow, fleeting before some invisible but mighty spirit. The Lord come to us day by day, for the day would be blank which brought no God. Give us strength and courage. May we abide in the sanctuary of great principles, and stand for ever in the temple of truth, and know that all kingdoms, tyrannies, oppressions, wrongs, must go down: for there is one coming who is the Son of man. Amen.
The Law Concerning Excess, Etc.
"Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee, lest thou be filled therewith, and vomit it" ( Proverbs 25:16).
There is no denying that there are many sweet things in the world which may be partaken of to a limited extent. Properly used, they are agreeable to the palate, and men have a right to use them and to be thankful for them. All excess is an abomination. All excess brings its own punishment with it. We lose the very things we have gained when we indulge in exaggeration. We are not permitted to retain so much of the honey as was good for us after we have eaten to excess, for then we actually vomit all that we have appropriated. This law of excess has a bearing upon all the relations of life. If we express ourselves in terms of exaggeration we deplete the original compliment of its value. If we set too high a price upon any article we have to sell, we prevent ourselves doing a legitimate business. We are, therefore, to be wise in our use of words, reasonable in our determination of values, and considerate in the institution of claims. We are prone to think that if we ask much we may get less, but still may get more than if we had asked little. Thus words are used for gambling purposes, as mere tests and experiments, instead of being used as instruments for the clear and definite expression of thought and desire. Who can cleanse the tongue until the heart be made clean? Who can teach a man the right use of words to his fellow-man until he has been taught the right use of words to God? When a man can ask petitions at the throne of grace with moderation and reasonableness he will be able to turn round and speak to society in terms that are unmarred by excess or exaggeration. Say to the young: Certainly there is pleasure in many a worldly enjoyment; certainly there is enjoyment to be found in many things that are not usually brought within Christian definition as belonging to the higher manhood: but a man may eat too much bread, he may drink too much water, he may surfeit himself with honey; he may go too far even in legitimate directions; and having gone thus far, he has gained no advantage, but has actually lost the advantage with which he started. Moderation is enjoyment: temperance is the true delight: self-control is real power. Nothing is done by violence, overreaching, exaggeration: everything that is worth accomplishing can be accomplished by moderation of desire and by moderation of action.
"Withdraw thy foot from thy neighbour"s house; lest he be weary of thee, and so hate thee" ( Proverbs 25:17).
A maxim that is not properly understood and applied. This maxim is founded upon a deep philosophy. Even man may know too much of his fellow- Prayer of Manasseh, and thus may fail in knowing him as he ought to be known. Men should only see each other occasionally. This is true of friend and friend, pastor and people, doctor and patient; in fact, it is true all through and through the relations of life. Intermissions of fellowship prepare for the keener enjoyment of society. Without solitude or opportunity of retirement life would become intolerable. It is the holiday that makes work pleasant. After men have retired from work for a while they resume it with renewed zest; when a friend has been absent from our side he returns with the greater interest to report what he has seen and heard and felt. Thus by separation is union established: thus by abstention from intercourse is conversation stimulated and enriched. There is only one house which we cannot too frequently attend; there is only one Friend from whom we need never withdraw; there is only one exercise that never palls upon the man who enjoys it: let us come boldly to the throne of grace, let us pray without ceasing, let us walk with God, let us never withdraw from the light of his countenance. Who can exhaust the Infinite? Who can remain too long with the Eternal? Here we have room for completest fellowship, here we have opportunity for the satisfaction of our highest desires. The human is limited, the social is bounded on every side, but the religious recedes like the horizon and heightens like the summer heavens.
"If thine enemy be hungry, give him bread to eat; and if he be thirsty, give him water to drink: for thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head, and the Lord shall reward thee" ( Proverbs 25:21-22).
Once more we come upon the gospel before the time. This is the very last result of Christian teaching and spiritual refinement. "Thou shalt heap coals of fire upon his head": that is to say, thou shalt make him burn with self-reproach, when he thinks of the wrong which he has done thee in the days that are gone. Resentment only feeds resentment. He who is skilful in retaliation is skilful in awakening the mind of others to retaliation of a still keener sort. We are to kill our enemies with kindness; we are to perform the miracle of meeting hostility with complacency, injustice with forbearance; being smitten on the one cheek we are to turn the other also. It is true that these are mere ideals, simply because we ourselves have not attained them; we may have made them ideals only by not attempting to realise them. The religion of Jesus Christ is full of ideals which are impossible of realisation, still they are evermore appealing to us, calling us upward, and bidding us welcome to loftier regions. We can never overtake our own prayers; if we could do so we should have no need to pray. When we prayed last we but prepared the pedestal on which we are to stand the next time we pray, so that we may reach to some higher height, and ask more boldly for greater things. The text brings before us the operation of practical Christianity. It may be said there is no evangelical doctrine in this text; this is a doctrine of works, this is a doctrine of legality; nothing; is said about the Holy Spirit, nothing is said about the work of Christ, nothing is said about justification by faith;—all that is literally true, but is spiritually and substantially false, for no man can work the miracle of this text except God be with him. It is the operation of the Holy Spirit alone that can make this state of things possible: it is through the Cross of Christ alone that a man can be so crucified as to put himself in this relation to his enemy. Let those who will be theoretical Christians, wordy and controversial theologians; but he who would be a real Christian, and who would properly represent Christ to the world, will humbly and continually endeavour by his power to manifest these supreme graces, these glorious attributes of character. To actions like these there is no argumentative reply. The mere word-splitter is left behind in conscious dumbness when he beholds a meekness so sublime, a beneficence so unselfish, a self-control so perfect; he can answer arguments, he can bandy words, he is skilled in retort and defence; but he cannot answer an attitude of prayer, an attitude of heroic suffering, a temper of charity; he has no reply to the generous hand that is stretched out in gifts to the enemy. Here the humblest Christian wins the proudest triumphs; here the child of God shows that the age of miracles is not gone, but is only beginning.
"A righteous man falling down before the wicked is as a troubled fountain, and a corrupt spring" ( Proverbs 25:26).
In the tenth chapter the mouth of the righteous was described as "a well of life," whence issued living streams for the guidance and encouragement of souls; in this text it is supposed that a righteous man may yield to the pressure put upon him by the wickedness of his age, and through fear or hope of favour he may permit himself to be corrupted thereby: in the latter case, instead of being a well of life or a fountain of delight, he would become as a stagnant pool charged with poison, no longer affording refreshment to pilgrims, but shedding an evil influence, and bringing destruction upon those who stoop down to quench their thirst by the use of such waters. The possible deprivation of character is the subject of this reference. We are not to suppose that it is impossible for the righteous to be tempted successfully. Everywhere are we cautioned against this delusion. In the New Testament we have the exhortation, "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." No man out of heaven is perfectly secured against subtle and energetic temptations. When a man is threatened by poverty, by loss of position, by forfeiture of all those luxuries which constitute civilised life in its most tempting aspects, it is not easy for him to resist certain temptations; but it is in such hours that character is really tested; it is in such crises that men show of what quality they are. It is nothing to resist temptations which do not appeal to our intensest passions; it is not to the credit of water that it does not take fire when a torch is thrown upon it; to some men temptation is as a spark of fire thrown upon a magazine of powder. There is nothing so corrupt as corrupted goodness; in such an instance we have not simply corruption, but we have purity itself dissolved and dissipated in all manner of iniquity: if the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness! When wisdom is turned into the servant of folly, how profound and revolting is the servility! Even Song of Solomon, when the righteous yield to the allurements of the wicked and become the children of disobedience, the very excellence of their former character adds aggravation to their present evil-mindedness.
"He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls" ( Proverbs 25:28).
Self-control is one of the last results of true education. Silence may be mightier than passion. Looking upon the meek and forbearing Prayer of Manasseh, we might, from a superficial view, accuse him of timidity; whereas in reality his forbearance is a proof of his strength. When a city is broken down and without walls, it is exposed to the attacks of the enemy from every quarter: it is without defence and without: security; it offers an easy prey even to the feeblest assailants. Precisely so is it with him who hath no rule over his own spirit: he is excited by the smallest consequences; he is drawn away by the meanest allurements; he takes fire on the smallest provocation; he is the victim of his own passionateness; losing self-control, he loses what little wisdom he has gathered from experience, and so he becomes a prey of the enemy, and is brought into complete destruction. No man can control his own spirit as a mere act of discipline. Up to a given point this may be possible, and no doubt great success of a limited kind has been thus attained; but by control we must understand complete sovereignty, so that the man shall in all his passions and impulses be the willing servant of his own reason and conscience. Such a miracle can only be wrought in the human heart by the Holy Spirit; this is in very deed a conquest of grace: and this is the Very seal of Heaven, attesting the reality of our divine sonship. How easy it is to return evil for evil, to indulge the spirit of retort and resentment; to yield to the poor philosophy of "giving as good as is sent," of returning a Roland for an Oliver, and of standing upon the perilous ground of "dignity"! On the other hand, how poor and feeble a thing it seems to be to hear without speaking, to receive indignities without vengeance, to suffer wrong without inflicting reprisals! Yet this is the very acme and crown of Christian discipline,—the very perfectness of character as formed by fellowship with Christ When men have no control over their own spirit, they prove that their passion is stronger than their reason, that their self-love overmasters their understanding, and that their Song of Solomon -called sensitiveness, which is but a longer word for vanity, is of more consequence to them than is the proof of the indwelling and all-ruling spirit of justice and gentleness.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 25". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34