The Plight of the Wicked, Etc.
Such flight is not so irrational as it may at first sight seem to be. Even here there is a deep philosophy. When wicked men flee, they suppose themselves to be fleeing from pursuers, and by so much they are acting in many cases irrationally; but in reality they are attempting the impossible task of fleeing from themselves. When a man is in a position of innocence he considers it impossible that any man can attack him. Such is the mystery of an innocent character; it is without suspicion, without fear, without apprehension of any kind; being good and true itself, it cannot imagine that others can be of a different quality; or if it admits the difference in theory it can never bring itself to suppose that such contrary quality can array itself in a hostile attitude against goodness. A blessed provision is this ministry of fear in the life of the bad man. He knows he ought to be pursued, and for that reason he cannot divest himself of the thought that he is being followed. Every rustling leaf is a pursuing avenger; every unusual noise is the assurance of impending judgment. All this is but a translation of the man"s inward state into outward and concrete form. Wickedness condemns itself; wickedness sentences itself to its own proper doom. If one might so say, this is the only consolation which lost souls can have, namely, that in being lost they are suffering the just reward of their deeds. This sense of justice done may help to mitigate what otherwise would be intolerable even in human prisons. What is said of the righteous is the necessary counterpart of the affirmation regarding the wicked. The righteous man is at one with God, and therefore he fears no controversy. To be in one"s place in the great system of things is to be lifted above fear. When the soul wanders from God it is without friends and without reasonable hope; it lives in tumultuous excitement; it exists in the intoxication of its vanities. The great lesson therefore is that men should avoid that which is wicked and cleave to that which is good. Such advice is supported by all the experience of mankind. It is important to notice that this is not a theological vagary, but a real and solemn fact in actual life. If wickedness were a theological term only, it might be left amongst unintelligible metaphysics, in reference to which strong-minded and practical men might not concern themselves. Wickedness, however, is not only metaphysical, having a profound and solemn spiritual aspect; it is a fact in life, a fruitful tree, whose quality can be at any moment tested, and having been tested the unanimous verdict of the world is that it is poisonous and deadly. But are righteous men in very deed as bold as lions? For a detailed answer to this inquiry we must look very much to the individual constitution of the men. Even some righteous souls have been wanting in courage. They may be courageous in great trials and straits, but in some instances they have failed to bear their testimony with sufficient emphasis in the presence of overruling and hostile forces. We shall know what men are when we see them under the cloud of the final judgment; an opening heaven and an opening hell will soon disclose the real quality of all souls. Until then, boasting is vain, and timidity may be misunderstood; men are what they are in the presence of the final test. The righteous can afford to wait.
"Evil men understand not judgment: but they that seek the Lord understand all things" ( Proverbs 28:5).
Evil men do not understand what is right. How can they? Being wrong themselves, how can they appreciate right in others, or right in its own essence? "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he that is spiritual judgeth all things, yet he himself is judged of no man." The effect of evil-doing upon the mind is to destroy the original power of understanding. It is in this direction that the divine complaint runs in the prophecies of Jeremiah—"My people is foolish, they have not known me; they are sottish children, and they have none understanding: they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge." On the other hand, "They that seek the Lord understand all things": their whole intellectual level is heightened, their mental perceptions are quickened, their moral stature is elevated, and they are invested with a sensitive sympathy which knows things afar off, and can discern between qualities, however finely they may be shaded into one another. "If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself." Not only are the good to be blessed with what are known as distinctively spiritual blessings; they are to receive mental illumination, they are to be intellectually strengthened, their natural sagacity is to be enlarged and quickened into a truer and keener penetration—"The meek will he guide in judgment: and the meek will he teach his way." All knowledge does not come through the medium of formal learning, as, for example, by attending school, by reading books, and by passing critical examinations; there is a spiritual genius, a high, keen, responsive sympathy, which overpasses all the mere processes of intellectual acquirement and realises its results without toilsome labour. We have a right to expect divine inspiration, if we be in Christ, and if our souls be hidden in the Eternal God as in an inviolable refuge. If we live and move and have our being in God, we have a right to expect that every idea will bear the divine stamp, and that every aspiration will be but a return of the divine breathing—"But ye have an unction from the Holy One, and ye know all things.... The anointing which ye have received of him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in him." Here is a standard by which we may measure not morals only, but the highest form of intellectual life. Whatever is immoral is also intellectually untrue. There is no atheistic genius. What may appear to be such is only limited to letters, forms, mechanical forecasts; it does hot penetrate moral revelations and realities, it does not predict with truthfulness and precision moral qualities and issues. A good character is the basis of a great mind. It has not been uncustomary to elevate mind at the expense of morals, that Isaiah, to describe men as being intellectually great but morally feeble: there is of course a certain limited sense in which this distinction is valid; but in all higher senses, in all inclusive meanings, it is impossible to have a really brilliant mind apart from a really brilliant heart. The Apostle Paul describes the distinction In the Epistle to the Ephesians ( Ephesians 4:18), where he speaks thus: "Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart." Christian men should avoid all compliments to the head at the expense of the heart. Christian men are called upon to look first at moral conditions, and secondly at intellectual conditions. We are only just to the law of God in proportion as we elevate character above acquisition. On Christian men a great responsibility in this direction necessarily rests. On the other hand, the man whose heart is right can never neglect the culture of his mind. The very fact that his heart is right with God will lead him to quicken every faculty and power he possesses that he may the more perfectly comprehend the divine economy, and the more certainly know the purpose of God in all things outward and inward. The divine light fills the whole nature: it pours its glory on the mind and on the heart alike, and drives away all darkness from every recess of our complicated nature. "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
"He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination" ( Proverbs 28:9).
This is a confirmation of chapter Proverbs 15:8— "The sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord: but the prayer of the upright is his delight." Here we have wicked men offering sacrifice as if they were religious, and as if they could separate character from ceremony. It is easy to conceive how wicked men would be only too glad to compound for their sins by paying for any number of sacrifices. God will not allow such a method of escape from moral responsibility. We cannot pay our way out of evil; we cannot ceremonialise ourselves into a state of righteousness before God. The sacrifice itself may be that which is literally prescribed in the law; it may be costly, it may be offered with great ostentation, but being offered by wicked hands it is worthless and abominable. A great doctrine is laid down in this text If men will not obey they cannot pray. The idea is that men persuade themselves that they can escape the obligations of the law, and make up for all such neglect by lengthening their prayers. The judgment of the divine word is against this mischievous misapprehension of duty. If we will not do the law we may offer our prayers, but they will fall back upon us unanswered, they will indeed increase our condemnation. Who can refuse to listen to a book thus bold in its distinctions, thus inclusive in its moral claims, thus lofty and holy in its judicial tone? The book exalts the law, for that is divine and eternal; and only oh the basis of obedience can prayer be associated with any rational hope of reply. Men have said unto God, "Depart from us; for we desire not the knowledge of thy ways." On the other hand, men have professed to have done many mighty works in the name of Christ, and on that ground they have claimed to be admitted into the heavenly kingdom. But Jesus Christ inquires for obedience, insists upon obedience, magnifies obedience; he has no blessing for the disobedient soul, he has nothing but anger for those who set aside the statutes and commandments of God. The great law of the Old Testament and of the New, and of the eternal and unwritten Testament, Isaiah, "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me." Here is a ground of accusation against the professing but unreal Christian. His prayers are not to be counted as amongst his merits or deserts; he is a disobedient Prayer of Manasseh, he has turned away his ear from hearing the law, and is listening only to fables and tales and fictions, meant to excite and gratify his fancy; from the solemn, profound eternal law he has averted his ear, and therefore, though he pray with mighty eloquence, in his eloquence there will be nothing persuasive or availing: across his prayer God will write as with a finger of light the word "abominable," and will return the prayer to the empty heart that pretended to offer it. Glorious is this testimony: a continual inspiration is this blessed assurance: if we have not received answers to our prayers let us go back and search our hearts diligently, for it may be we shall discover that the reason of our having had no answer is to be found in the fact that we turned away our ear from hearing the law. The reason of unanswered prayer is not in God, but in man.
"He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread: but he that followeth after vain persons shall have poverty enough" ( Proverbs 28:19).
Land was given to be tilled. Land will do nothing for us except in reply to our own labour. We cannot leave even land to itself, trusting to nature to give us what we require for the satisfaction of our hunger and the clothing of our nakedness. Land is to be subdued, to be brought, as it were, into a state of obedience; it is to be tilled according to divine law, and is to be cultivated in a deeply religious spirit When men look upon the tillage of the land as so much drudgery, the land will seem to feel the contempt or neglect of those who cultivate it for merely selfish purposes. All work should be looked upon as religious and sacramental. There is no drudgery in work. It is true that work may be so treated as to become drudgery, and service may be degraded into servility, and industry may be debased into the labour of captivity: good men will reason from the other point, and say with thankfulness that the ground was cursed for man"s sake, that work is part of the great education of life, that without industry prayer is impossible, and that without attention success of the highest kind never can be attained. Life should be a continual call, not only upon the imagination but upon the reason; not only upon the reason but upon the conscience; and every day should be regarded as an opportunity for increasing not only the wealth of the hand but the better wealth of the soul. The great law of cause and effect, of reward and punishment, operates here again, as we have seen it in innumerable instances. Industry means plenty, indolence means "poverty enough." We cannot be following both after vain persons and after our own proper work. We must choose between the two, and the earlier in life men make their choice the better for themselves. At some point in life discipline must take effect; it is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth; if he will not bear it then, he will certainly be called upon to bear it afterwards. Vain persons will do nothing for us in the day of poverty; we shall cry unto them, but they will not heed; we shall supplicate them as with the solemnity and energy of prayer, and they will mock our intercessions. Vain persons and vain customs lead to vain issues. Why will not men consider this, and thoroughly believe it, so as to escape the lure and the snare spread for their captivity and overthrow?
"He that is of a proud heart stirreth up strife: but he that putteth his trust in the Lord shall be made fat. He that trusteth in his own heart is a fool: but whoso walketh wisely, he shall be delivered" ( Proverbs 28:25-26).
The proud heart is always stirring up strife by struggling for pre-eminence, and the proud heart is often rewarded only with vexation and disappointment. Pride comes to no good in any sense or in any way. Pride of heart beclouds the intellect, turns aside the integrity of the understanding, and perverts even plain facts. From beginning to end the spirit of the Bible is against pride; not one word is ever said in its favour or commendation. On the other hand, humility is continually exalted, and meekness of soul is every day rewarded with some larger view of heaven. The proud man can never be contented. When he rises it is only to some pedestal from which he can see further wealth yet to be coveted, and further territory yet to be unrighteously claimed. When we trust in our own hearts we live in wicked isolation. We are not here in the presence of that self-dependence which comes as the result of a large reading of history and a large comparison of facts; we are not in the presence of real self-dependence, but in the presence and under the dominion of false pride. We are called upon to walk in Wisdom of Solomon, and to remember that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. Those who put their trust in God will not find in themselves an answer to the enigmas and mysteries of life, but will continually turn to heaven that the key may be given to them wherewith to unlock the stubborn gate. "O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee": "Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is." All history has testified to the vanity of the heart trusting in itself. "When the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof." Peter trusted in his own heart when he said with loud boastfulness, "Though all men shall be offended because of thee, yet will I never be offended. Though I should die with thee, yet will I not deny thee." We are not large enough to be self-complete. Everything within us testifies that our completeness is in another, and not in ourselves, yea, is in the Creator and not in the creature. "See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise."
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 28". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34