The Cry of Wisdom
Her cry has already been heard in this book of sharp-cut, clear sentences, and we have been afraid because of the tone of her accusatory eloquence. Her voice was not what we imagined it to be, and we turned away from the fair speaker staggeringly, sorrowfully. Should it not speak like mother, or sister, or the other half of man"s poor heart? But it is somewhat like a fury. "Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets: she crieth in the chief place of concourse, in the openings of the gates: in the city she uttereth her words, saying, How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity? and the scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge? Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you. Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof: I also will laugh at your calamity; I will mock when your fear cometh; when your fear cometh as desolation, and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind; when distress and anguish cometh upon you. Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me: for that they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would none of my counsel: they despised all my reproof" ( Proverbs 1:20-30.) Now the voice is heard once more: what a change has come over it! Is it older? It is certainly tenderer. It has come after a new and sharp variety of experience. It is as one figure making its way between the soul and another figure, that other figure being the spectral evil, the very genius of ruin. We must read the seventh chapter if we would know the value of the exhortations in the eighth. The young man has been exposed to all the fire of hell, and wisdom cries and understanding puts forth her voice, and she pleads with the young man that he may come home in wisdom and purity.
A very vivid instance of personification is this. Wisdom and understanding are represented as living agents, ministries that can be seen, apostles sent from the hills of light that they may speak of glory and beauty and pureness to the children who dwell in the valleys of darkness. What answer can we make to this interrogation? A distinct and emphatic reply that it is even so. Yes, wisdom cries, and understanding puts forth her voice: we know it There is a voice which calls men to higher life, and we hear its sweet music every day, but do not receive it into an obedient heart. What if we suppose we discharge our duty by simply listening to its demands? That is a sad possibility in life. A man may think he accepts the gospel when he simply listens to it. True listening to the gospel means acceptance, obedience, sacrifice, reproduction of all holy life in sacred action, in solemn sacrifice. The voice is manifold. It is a voice within. What friend is that who inhabits your heart and says: My Song of Solomon, take care; be wise, be noble; scorn the mean deed; when thou doest thy charities open all thy fingers, and let thy liberality be a gospel to those who receive it; forget not thy God; pray without ceasing; be happy in thy Father; make the most of this poor little world, at the other end of it thou wilt find a white gate opening upon heaven; be brave, be true, be faithful, be grand; win an honest man"s sleep, and I will see that on thy tired eyelids the spirit of slumber shall lightly rest? What other voice is that which says: Do the best you can for yourself; come home with both hands full, however you may fill them; when the poor look to thee, turn thine eyes away—cold, steely eyes; nor let one tear come into them, for that would be unmanly; fight the world, put thy foot upon its neck and fill thy pouch with all its pelf; never heed any other world that may yet have to dawn upon thee? We know these voices; we have heard them both. Sometimes they commingle, and the heart is in tumult. The same good voice is in nature, talking to us in the spring blooms, in the summer gold, in the autumn purple, in the winter silver; revealing to us an energy equal to the occasion; speaking of powers we have never calculated, energies on which we have laid no measuring line, the pulsations that will not be reckoned arithmetically. We therefore reply to the interrogation of the text with a distinct affirmative.
Has wisdom a few children to whom she will speak? and has understanding a limited family within whose boundaries she will conduct her ministry of illumination and encouragement? The answer is given in these words:—
"She standeth in the top of high places, by the way in the places of the paths. She crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors" ( Proverbs 8:2-3).
She sets up her tower everywhere, and speaks to all mankind. That is the true wisdom. When we come to understand the purpose and range of true Wisdom of Solomon, our business will be to see how many people we can get in, not how many we can keep out. Sometimes we shall endeavour to enlarge the gate, if haply we may bring some one in who otherwise would be kept outside. Wisdom does not whisper; she cries; she puts forth her voice; she asks the assistance of elevation: where men are found in greatest numbers she is found in greatest activity. Universality is a proof of the gospel. Any gospel that comes down to play the trick of eclecticism ought to be branded and dismissed and never inquired for. We want ministers that will speak to the world, in all its populations, climes, languages, and differences of civilisation and culture. Thus we know the great sun that makes the day: he shines as cheerily on the wilderness as on the cultivated garden; he will smile as blithely upon a little waif or homeless wanderer as upon petted prince or pampered child of luxury. Let the light of the daily sun be the image of the higher life, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. The light will fall according to the medium which it penetrates: so the gospel will come to men in different ways, but it will be the same gospel, nothing wanting in glory, and nothing deficient in tenderness; yet it will express itself according to the individuality of the receiver,—here a genius and there a dull mind, yonder one who flies and lives on the wing, and another who sits under his roof-tree and is afraid of the wind.
Wisdom shows herself to be truly wise by recognising the different capacities and qualities of men:—
"Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of man" ( Proverbs 8:4).
Children who are at school are accustomed to distinguish between viri and homines—between the strong and the weak. "Unto you, O men, I call"—strong, virile, massive—"and my voice is to the sons of man"—the lesser, the weaker, the more limited in capacity, but men still—and I will accommodate my speech to the capacity of every one, for I have come to bring the world to the temple of understanding. Then there is further discrimination; we read of the "simple" and of the "fools." "Simple" is a word which, as we have often seen, has been abused. There ought to be few lovelier words than "simple,"—without fold, or duplicity, or complexity, or involution: such ought. to be the meaning of simple and simplicity. Wisdom comes to fools, and says she will work miracles. Could a man say, "I am too far gone for wisdom to make anything of me," he would by his very confession prove that he was still within the range of salvation. "To know one"s self diseased is half the cure;" to know one"s self to be ignorant is to have taken several steps on the way to the sanctuary of wisdom. This might be Christ speaking; yea, there are men who have not hesitated to say that by "wisdom" in this chapter is meant the Wisdom of God in history—the Logos, the Eternal Son of God. Certainly the wisdom of this chapter seems to follow the very course which Jesus Christ himself pursued: he will call all men to himself—the simple, and the foolish, and the faraway; he will make room for all. A wonderful house is God"s house in that way, so flexible, so expansive; there is always room for the man who is not yet in. We thought we had filled the banquet table; but that was our mistake; when we had emptied all the hedge population, and all the highway wanderers, and brought them into the house, we found that the more we brought in the more room we created, and the expression of those who played the evangelist to the hospitable host was, "and yet there is room." Certainly! because yet there is another man not home, another nation not converted. The people who brought in all the wanderers were most impressed by the little effect which their labours took upon the space which was at their command. So wisdom will have men, and sons of men—simple men, foolish men. By this universality of the offer judge the divinity of the origin.
What does wisdom offer? She offers to surpass in value everything that men have yet honoured with their recognition and appreciation. She will put aside rubies, and things that are to be desired, and all gold, and she will stand alone, absolutely unique in worth. Gold may be lost; rubies maybe stolen; desire may say, I cannot pant and gasp any longer, I have been filled to satiety; let me die. Not that these things are to be ignored as to their temporary value and uses. He is a foolish man who despises gold and rubies and pearls and choice silver; he is more foolish still who thinks they can buy anything that he can take into eternity with him. In death all these things leave the possessor. That is a mournful reality. May not a man take the family jewels with him? No, not one. Must he go into the other world empty-handed? Yes, empty-handed: he brought nothing into this world, and it is certain he can carry nothing out Then we have only a life-right in them? That is all; and even that right is considerably mitigated and limited by other claims and relationships. Then they all seem to come to nothing! Exactly; now the arithmetic is right. It was a long process, and the issue was a long line of ciphers. Is there anything that will go with a man clear through to the other spaces? Yes; character will go with him. The man"s character is the man himself. The wise man has the key of all the worlds; and the fool has the key of none. This is the one lesson that has to be learned, and the lesson that never will be learned, so far as our poor human imagination can carry us. Yet it is to be learned by all the world, according to the promise and decree of heaven. To have, and yet to act as if we had not; to use the world, and not abuse it; to have all things, and yet to stand above them, and make a mere convenience of them,—that would seem to be the issue of truest, largest spirituality. He who is without wisdom is without riches. He who has wisdom has all wealth. The wise man is never solitary. He has the thoughts of ages. He is a silent prophet; he will not write his prophecies, but, oh, how they make him glow, how they send a radiance into his vision, how they make him despise the charms, seductions, and blandishments of a lying world that exhibits its emptiness to prove its treasure! Some men are never dull when they are alone. Sometimes persons will say, Do you not feel lonely? and the answer Isaiah, Yes, when anybody calls upon me I always feel lonely! Could I be let alone I would live in heaven—"never so little alone as when alone;" "I am alone, yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me." With all thy getting, get Wisdom of Solomon, get understanding, and thou shalt have banqueting all the day long without satiety, and music without monotony.
"I wisdom dwell with prudence, and find out knowledge of witty inventions" ( Proverbs 8:12).
Many men are prudent who are not wise—that is to say, they are superficially cautious, sagacious, calculating; but they are never wise. True wisdom is the metaphysic of prudence. It is the innermost life and reality, and it expresses itself in the large prudence which sees more points than can be seen by mere cleverness. He that seeketh his life shall lose it; he that will throw away his life for Christ"s sake shall find it, and shall thus prove himself in the long run to be the truly prudent man. Beware of the prudence that is as a skeleton. The true prudence is the living body, inhabited by a living soul—the soul is wisdom. Sometimes wisdom will drive a man to do apparently foolish things,—at least, things that cannot be understood by those who live in rectangles, two inches by one and a-half. But "wisdom is justified of her children;" she calmly abides the issue of the third day, and raised again she vindicates her origin and declares her destiny.
"I love them that love me; and those that seek me early shall find me" ( Proverbs 8:17).
Jesus Christ himself used words almost identical with these, for he said, "If any man love me, I will manifest myself to him;" nothing shall be kept back from his reverent scrutiny. We should know more of Christ if we loved him more. "I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even Song of Solomon, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight."
"And those that seek me early." The word "early" is not in the original. The passage therefore might be read thus, "And those that seek me shall find me." Yet we cannot altogether throw out the word "early;" it seems to complete the rhythm. The word "seek," as originally employed, is a word which involves the meaning of seeking in the dawn—just as the east is brightening a little, just as the day is being born. Thus we have some claim to the word "early." There are men who do not wait until midday in order to resume their journey after they have been benighted; they have, indeed, succumbed to circumstances, saying, "The darkness has overtaken us, and here we must lie;" but the moment there is a streak in the east they rise up; the staff is resumed, and the journey is prosecuted with renewed energy. This is the image of the text: They that seek me in the dawn shall find me; they that seek me at daybreak; they that come after me ere the dew be risen shall find me, and we shall have a long morning talk together: when the soul is young, when the life is free, when the heart is unsophisticated, they that seek me in the dawn shall find me, for I have been waiting for them, yea, standing by them whilst they were sleeping, and hoping that at the moment of awaking they would see me, and exclaim, Blessed Spirit, take charge of my poor, frail life all the day, and tell me what I ought to do. Fool is he who begins the day prayerlessly, who takes his own life into his own hand; verily in doing so he puts his money into bags with holes in them, and at night he shall have nothing.
Some have not scrupled to find in the whole chapter, especially in the latter portion of it, an image and a forecast of Jesus Christ, the Wisdom of God. It is not necessary to believe that anything like a date is being fixed when "the beginning" is spoken of, and when creation is apparently outlined; the larger meaning is this, that before there was anything to look at, or any man to look at it, the Spirit of Wisdom was the Spirit of Eternity. True wisdom is not the child of civilisation—is not the child of creation: it is the Son of God; it partakes of the very quality of God; it comes up from the mystery of eternity, and yet accommodates itself to all the limitations and necessities of time. Fierce controversies have raged round the conclusion of this chapter. Arianism found its battlefield here, as in other verses, and orthodox men sprang forth with well whetted instruments to defend what they believed to be the truth. All that is gone. We have lived to see that Christ is indeed everywhere, in all power, in all light, in all Wisdom of Solomon, in all truth, in all love. Let us take care how we drive Christ out of any book. He himself found his name and office in many places that were supposed to be filled with merely local details; he found himself in Moses, in the Prophets, in the Psalm, and in all the Scriptures. The apostles have not hesitated to declare that he was before all things, and that by him all things were created, and without him was not anything made that was made: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." There is no genius in mere depletion. That may be the inspired genius which finds Christ in unexpected places, and marvels that he spake with the woman. This was the surprise that continually followed the active ministry of the Son of God upon earth. People were amazed that he was found in such and such places: why, there he eats and drinks; yonder he has gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner; and yonder he says, "Woman, thy sins are forgiven thee;" expand thy wings, and fly like a dove to heaven"s windows; and yonder again the poor, little-minded, infantile disciples were amazed that he spake with the woman; and so was the woman herself; and so was every one to whom he ever did speak. "Never man spake like this man." There was a touch in his tone, a quality in his soft hand that hid by its concealment the might almighty. There was a sympathy in his blessing which made the lame man leap for joy, and the blind man open his eyes as if startled into vision. Whilst, therefore, on the one hand, we should be careful that men do not import Christ into blank places, or, as it were, force him into positions which he does not really occupy in the Scriptures, there is another danger to be still more guarded against, and that is to ignore him simply because our eyes are holden that we may not see him until we come to the destined Emmaus; and then, when the day is far spent and the night is at hand, he may break our supper bread, and in breaking it may show that all the time he was in places unsuspected, near us with a marvellous proximity, and preparing us for the revelation which, had it come before, would have been at once premature and intolerable.
Over this study let us pause that we may pray:—
Almighty God, thou art waiting for our answer to the cry of wisdom. May our answer be the response of acceptance and love. We know that wisdom cries and that understanding puts forth her voice, and that wisdom and understanding are as womanly figures, mother and sister, crying and calling with all the pathos of deepest love. We have been deaf; we have turned aside from the way; we have loved darkness rather than light; we have done the things we ought not to have done; we have made hand, and foot, and head, and heart, and will, and imagination, and understanding, and every faculty, do the devil"s black work. It is well for us to say this to our own souls, that in our prayer we may speak: in tones of humility, and in our despair may yet be prepared for some gospel of light. If we had hearkened unto thy commandments, and made thy statutes our songs in the house of our pilgrimage, we had made the earth beautiful as heaven. But we are as ravening wolves; we live upon one another; we watch for one another"s stumbling and falling, and rejoice to be enriched by the poverty of others. We account him wise who is but a fool, if so be he fill both hands with gold, and pull down his barns and build greater. We would think of him as a wise man who knows most of God, who longs to see the larger spaces, to enjoy the longer summer day, who desires to be present with the Lord in all thought and sympathy and high resolve. Thus shall we come to a new standard of value; we shall account nothing manly that is not after the quality of Christ; we shall abhor all things that are evil and tainted, regarding them as sources of pestilence, and casting them away from us as things that are to be held in eternal hatred. Enable us to seek first thy kingdom and thy righteousness, that thereby we may prove ourselves to be wise. Let the time past suffice, wherein we have served the spirit of darkness and the prince of evil, and hence on from this sacred moment may we live to serve him who is purity and love. Thou hast sent down upon us many messages from heaven. We know them every one; we know them by their love, their fulness of grace, their tender sympathy, their adaptation to meet all the weariness and want and pain of life. Who can mistake the light of the sun? Is it not its own proof? Does it need other eloquence than its own warmth and radiance to attest its identity? It is even so with thy word: thy word is a sun and shield, a gospel of grace, a cry to men in danger, an encouragement to those who would do good, a sweet rebuke in blessing ending, and a great promise because a great discipline. May we quit ourselves like men; may we be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus; wise unto salvation—fools according to this world"s reckoning, but wise because beginning in God, and evermore tending to the point of origin, and living a life of worship that prays and serves and suffers and forgives. All this we have learned because we have been in the school of Jesus Christ thy Son; otherwise we had been as the pagans are, worshipping that which our own hands had made, looking down upon our gods in expectant pity, doomed to disappointment: now our look is upward, onward, heavenward; we see heaven opened and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God, and our hearts glow with a sacred fire, and our eyes are filled with wonder upon wonder never to be known. This is the work of the Lord Jesus Christ; this is the miracle of the Cross. Unto that Cross we come for pardon every day. The blood of Jesus Christ thy Son is our one hope; we have no other, we want no other; it is enough even unto infinity of sufficiency: grant that we may know its power, yield ourselves to its action; and may we know that we have been with Christ by the Spirit of Christ ruling in us, giving us sweetness of temper, breadth of charity, chivalry of soul—that noble manliness that yearns only to forgive. We would be baptized for the dead; we would fill up the ranks that have been thinned by the cruel scythe; we would that the young and the indolent and the latent might all come forward in spiritual energy, saying, Here are we; send us every one, for the harvest truly is great. We pray for the comfort of those who are disconsolate. Teach the uncomforted how many are the sources of disquietude, lest they blame themselves too poignantly, and crush the very hope which thou hast created. We pray for those who are undergoing long, painful, unspeakable discipline; torn and wounded and bruised, beaten in the face and driven back when they think they have found the house-door that opens upon the kind hearthstone: we pray for them lest their hearts be too much discouraged,—thou knowest what flesh and blood can bear; thy tender pity is our safeguard in the extremity of sorrow. Bless all little children, young lives, dreaming souls, who are gathering knowledge every day only to find that there is much more to be gathered: spare them; make them wise and strong and good. Regard those who are travelling on the sea; who are in faraway lands; who are trying to make homes in homeless places with honest hands and brave hearts. The Lord grant unto all men, and the sons of men, light and grace and blessing, the music of promise and the glory of hope. Amen.
Almighty God, we bring our tribute of praise unto thee, small and unworthy; but thou dost not despise that which is little and insignificant, thou dost even choose the things that are not to bring to naught things that are; thou dost turn our gift of water into a gift of wine, and our two small mites which make a farthing thou dost look into gold. We therefore come to thee with such as we have; we give thee our hearts, our minds, the whole affection and the whole loyalty of which thou hast made us capable. We would keep back no part of the price; we would be thine altogether,—our judgment, our fancy, our will, our love, and every energy of our nature. Help us to give thee the entire sacrifice, withholding nothing, a holy offering unto the Lord. Thou hast made us what we are—wonders to ourselves, mysteries that have no answer in time; thou hast given us desires after immortality, longings and stirrings which cannot be explained in mortal tones, so that though we do ourselves injury and seek to grieve and quench thy Spirit, yet behold thy Spirit is here, a continual protest, and a continual promise. Teach us that if we do thee wrong we do ourselves wrong—no man can grieve the Spirit without also endangering the soul itself. We commend one another again to thy great care, to thy gentle patience, to thy long-suffering and thy perpetual kindness; it is a sea without a shore, it is a firmament full of stars, it endureth for ever. Therefore do we trust in God and hope in thee, and our expectation is from the heavens. This earth is too small for us, we need the firmament as well as the dry land; and shall not the firmament itself become too narrow for our growing powers, for our enlarging capacities, for our heightening and ever-purifying desires? We believe we shall need all thy heaven, and it is our joy to know that in our Father"s house are many mansions. Help us, therefore, to yield ourselves to the inspiration of God, to follow the gentle lure of thy Holy Spirit, that we may come into the fulness of the estate of Christian manhood, being perfected in every power, and sanctified in every capability and every energy. Pardon our sins; every day exercise thine infinite prerogative of forgiveness; dismiss us from thy presence as pardoned ones, besprinkled with atoning blood—as men who, having by faith touched the Cross and confessed their sins, are free evermore from the burden and the torment of guilt. Give thy servants understanding of their business, comprehension of the times; excite their best ambition, influence their purest desires, satisfy their noblest expectations. Thus within the narrow scope of time may every one labour well with industry continuous, and with hope that cannot be quenched. When our poor short day upon earth is done may we find that it was no day at all, but a brief night previous to the infinite morning. Amen.
What is the particular truth of the text? It is that sin is not only an offence to God, whom no man hath seen nor can see, but it is a distinct and irreparable injury to the Prayer of Manasseh, the sinner, himself. "Whoso sinneth against me, doth not wrong me only, but wrongeth himself." And that is the only way to get hold of man. Oh, the infinite cunning, the infinite subtlety, the holy inspiration of this immortal volume! Tell a man that by sinning he is hurting the unseen God, and what does he care? You can only get hold of a man in so far as any truth you teach or any requisite you demand impinges upon himself. Touch the little Self, and you have put a hook in the nose of leviathan. That is the subject,—that to do wrong is not only to do an injury to an unseen spirit, but to do a positive injury to the man guilty of that wrong himself.
There is a plant, and I say to the sun, "I am not any longer going to be under obligation to you; I am going to keep this plant in the cellar," and I take down the plant that ought to be in the very middle of the garden, miles away from any shadow, and say to the sun, "I am going to do without you." Do I injure the sun? Not at all. What do I injure? The plant. The sun says, "I want to shine upon that plant, and to bring out of its juices all the beauty that is hidden there, and I would do so if you would allow me: whoso, plant of any kind, sins against me, or is made to sin against me, wrongs itself; does not wrong me, does not impair my shining. My light shall be as pure and lavish as ever, but the plant that is withdrawn from my shining shall die." And the sun blazes on, performing his circuit and accomplishing his appointed work.
I say to Nature, "You have given me two arms; I am going to bind one of them to my side and never to use it. My purpose is to do as well as I can with one arm and one hand." What does Nature say? Nature says, "I meant you to use both arms; if you do not use both those limbs you will not injure me— Nature; you will set aside my purpose; you will destroy the limb." But cannot I bind my arm to my side and keep it there while I please, and allow it to hang there, and then let it grow as it may be able? "No," Nature says, "no." The everlasting ordinances of God, written on Sinai, written in the dust, written in the air, written everywhere, say "No." Whoso sinneth against physiological law wrongeth his own nature, his own flesh and blood, and he shall feel, in manifold penalty, in excruciating pain, in gradual and irresistible decay, that he has violated eternal law. That is the distinct teaching of the text. He that sinneth against Wisdom of Solomon, Christ, truth, light, purity, wrongeth his own soul, commits suicide, brings himself to an untimely death and a dishonoured grave.
It may be difficult to show men that they ought not to sin against a being whom they have never seen, or against spiritual and moral laws which they had no share in determining. Man may under those circumstances get up a kind of metaphysical defence against such obedience; but this unhappy possibility is met and overruled by the unalterable and appalling fact that not to obey is to suffer, to sin is to decline and perish, to go away from truth and purity and honour is to go into darkness and shame and intolerable torment. That is the tremendous hold which God has over us. Understand that God"s argument with man is not an affair of words which may be twisted by strong and skilful reasoners in any shape and direction which their genius may suggest; God"s hold over us is this, that if a branch be cut out of the vine no man on earth can save it from decay. And the appeal of the divine Being is to facts; the great contention of Christianity with us is not as to a set of notions—their metaphysical value, their philosophical relationship to one another, and their general bearing on the civilisation of the day: the great argument to man is this—He that believeth shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned. The issue is sharp enough: there is no room there for quibbling and shuffling; we are shut up against a granite wall, higher than we can measure with the eye, wider than any line of ours can bring to figures. This is the argument which can soon be brought to the test; a child can prove it—no giant can escape it. I propose, then, to bring you upon ground that is very narrow—to shut you up to an argument that you cannot escape from and be fair to the first principles of justice, to the elements of common honesty.
You have a strong emotional nature; you allow that. You cannot deny it if you are sane. My question immediately following your admission Isaiah, What are you going to make of it? You can laugh, cry, grieve, rejoice; you can show anger, sympathy, feeling of every kind: you have a tremendous steam power in you—what are you going to do with it? The question is not, Will you have it?—you have got it. To what use will you put it? Suppress it? Then you will wrong your own soul. Turn it towards low objects? Then you will debase one of the highest gifts of your nature. You must use it; you have it without your own consent, and the question which you have to answer—must answer—practically or verbally, or both, Isaiah, What are you going to make of that emotional nature of yours? It is the grand motive power of your being; you have passion, you have enthusiasm, you can weep bitterly, you can laugh triumphantly and rejoicingly—what are you going to do with that dynamic power of human life? Are you going to despise emotion? That is the first sign of your falling. Are you—as the apostle describes some persons whom he knew—past feeling? Then you are very nearly in perdition; one step more and the outer darkness encloses you within its infinite fold, from which there is no escape.
If you do not touch a man emotionally you do not get the man at all. So long as he is merely arguing, contending, defending himself intellectually and logically against certain mental assaults, you may silence the Prayer of Manasseh, but you will get no good out of him. Touch his emotion, move his heart, be master of his tears, keep the secret of his joy, and then you are master of him. Christ"s grand appeal is to our feeling, our emotion, our homage, our loyalty: "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy mind." The intellect itself is thus turned into an organ of devotion. If you suppress your emotion you will go down in the quality and the quantity of your being. You will desiccate your soul—that is to say, you will take out of it all the vital juices, and you will become a mere thing, an article with a price attached to it, a life that has no immortality, a soul devoid of hope—without hope because without God in the world.
Observe—it is possible to suppress emotion: it is possible to say to your tears, "I do not want you;" it is possible to say to your laughter, "I shall never call you into operation;" it is possible to take a knife and cut out of the soul, so to speak, its grand emotional power. Some men seem to have done this; you never saw a hearty expression of emotion in all your intercourse with them: it is all dry, arithmetical, superficial, many inches deep in dust; wanting in the holy enthusiasm, the fiery passion, the tender emotion, which after all conquers and elevates the world. "He that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul," tears the stops out of the great organ of his being, and then expects that organ to play as voluminously, as powerfully, as tenderly and delicately as if he had not torn out of their places the stops that were needful to give full expression to the powers of his soul.
You have a great imaginative nature; the question is not, Will you have an imagination? You have it. Then the inquiry comes instantly upon that fact, What are you going to do with your imaginative nature? You cannot live within the narrow circle of things visible; you must, speaking generally—alas! there are exceptional instances—you must wonder about the unseen, the distant, and the future, if you are true to your instincts: and to begin to wonder in any intelligent and just manner is to begin to worship. Give me a man who sometimes says, feeling a pressure of the brain he can hardly bear, "I wonder what is beyond that blue veil, that stellar dome, that mystic night, that far and inaccessible horizon?" Give me a man who shall put these questions, express these wonders, and I say to him, "Thou art not far from the kingdom of God." Wonder may be the beginning of worship What are you going to do with your imagination? I will tell you what you can do with it: you can take a knife and cut its wings off, and let it labour and perish in the dust; you can keep your imagination at home and starve it, but if you do so you will sit down to a pauper"s crust when you might revel at the banquet of a king. What are you going to do with that imagination of yours? He that sinneth against that wrongeth his own soul. "Why," say you, "I intend to take in the whole material universe." Do you? What is the whole? There, you see, I bring you straight to a wall which you cannot scale and you cannot penetrate. What do you mean by the whole? How do you know that when you have reached the end of your line it is not the beginning of another and a longer line still? "Well, but," you reply, "I am going to keep my imagination within that line." Then you are going to prevent it enjoying its widest liberty. The moment you call it home you interfere with its functions, you endanger its life, you withdraw it from the sun and the light, which are the necessary elements of its very existence. But suppose now you could find out the whole material universe, and say, standing on some central star, "I see all the constellations, all the planets, all the asteroids, all the material creation;" even then that marvellous imagination of yours has not scope enough—it feels the bars and says, "I see daylight beyond; what is this which falls upon my eye, that assails my ear, that challenges me further still—what is this?" Aye, what is that? and if you say you will not go out of the cage when the door is open, and the greatening universe sends you still larger and more hospitable invitations, then you wrong your own soul. The whole material universe, as you call it, or as it is conceivable by us, is a bird"s small cage compared with the infinite resources of him who fainteth not, neither is weary, and of whose understanding there is no searching. Whoso sinneth against me, wrongeth his own soul, belittles himself, trivialises his own nature, wastes his powers, shuts himself up in a cell, when he might be enjoying the liberty of an ever-expanding firmament.
You have a profound moral nature; what are you going to make of it? "Well," some one will say, "I am going to do right." What is right? Are you going to do the infinite right or your own notion of rectitude? What is your standard—to what do you appeal? Your right may be wrong to me, and I may be able to prove it to be wrong to you; right is not an affair of terms, is not a metaphysical distinction between one word and another—it is an eternal quantity, it comes to man first by intuition, and secondly by revelation. Before, therefore, you can satisfy me on that side of the argument, you must give me distinctly to understand by what standard you determine the absolute right. "Well, then," you may perhaps reply, "I am going to do the best I can." Do you say so? I give you time to recall the words, and modify them. If you insist upon that form of words, I hasten with a reply, bright as lightning, cutting as a sword—Who is to be judge of the best you can? Whoever did the best it is possible for him to do? One young man thought he had done Song of Solomon, when he had kept the commandments in the letter. Whoever imagines that he has kept the commandments has reached the very consummation of self-deception; they cannot be kept, they grow upon the man who tries to keep them. He realises his first conception, and then that conception broadens, enlarges, heightens, and says, "Further still." "Thou shalt not kill." The man says, "I have not killed; I have kept that commandment at all events," and the commandment says, "No—perhaps not; it may be thou art a murderer, though no red-hot blood ever fell upon thy trembling hand." "Whoso hateth his brother, or is angry with his brother without a cause, hath committed murder in his heart." Who then is to be judge of the best you can do? You cannot be your own Judges, otherwise we should have millions of standards, and various heights and various qualities; there must be one law, one Judges, one commandment, one faith, one Lord, one baptism. Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord. Ah, I find that your protestations and propositions of moral behaviour will not bear cross-examination; they shrivel under scrutiny because there is no real life in them.
So this is the hold God has upon us: "He that sinneth against me wrongeth himself." You do so physically. Do you imagine that you can do as you please physically and escape all consequences? God makes you possess in your bones the effects of your moral action. Once a man came into a new experience, and abruptly exclaimed, "Thou makest me to possess the iniquities of my youth." He thought he had escaped these—he was fifty years away, mayhap, from boyhood and early manhood; but at seventy his old sins caught him—and they always will do so. A man says, "Surely I can devote what hours I please to business." You cannot without moral consequences. You cannot turn up a gas lamp after a certain hour without Nature standing over you and marking down something against your account.
You imagine that you have been proceeding comfortably, successfully, triumphantly, and making a fortune, while, in fact, you have so used your brain as to entail upon that little boy of yours and that little girl paralysis of the highest powers, a life-long disability and manifold discomfort. Do you imagine that you have got the keys of the universe at your girdle and can do as you like? If it were a question of metaphysical morality, and you were to be told that there is an account against you above the blue sky, you would laugh at the speaker as a sentimentalist, and, therefore, God comes right down and works in your bones, so that one day will find you a tottering old Prayer of Manasseh, saying, "I have not only injured myself, but my poor children. I so wrought my brain as to leave them a legacy of the most painful kind." Therefore, God does not give up life—the Lord still brings us to practical judgments, to distinct personal consequences of our action, and we who would shrink from any merely metaphysical Divinity, from any philosophical conception of right, are bound to feel in our own flesh and blood and bones that we have done wrong. What are you going to do? The good man makes the best of his powers; the Christian man gets the best out of himself; righteousness makes a man realise the grandest of his powers, the widest of his capacities, and imparts to him as he goes along such instalments of heaven as are consistent with a life upon earth.
If you want to sleep well, be good. If you want to do your business well, be good. If you want to enjoy your holiday, be good. If you want to make a. penny go furthest, be good. If you want a happy home, be good. That is where God has his terrific hold over us if we insult him in what we suppose to be the sentimentalities and metaphysics of nature, in all those concerns which He immediately within the range of our present experience.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 8". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://pro.studylight.org/
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34