Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. MISANTHROPY. (Ver. 1.) If this verse be more correctly rendered, this is the meaning yielded. From a diseased feeling the man turns aside to sullen solitude, and thus rejects wisdom. This affords a fine meaning. It is one thing to feel the need of occasional solitude, another to indulge the passion for singularity.
II. OBTRUSIVENESS. (Ver. 2.) Contrast ver. 4. The talkative fool is the very opposite of the misanthrope in his habits; yet the two have this in common - they both unfit themselves for society. We may go out of solitude to indulge our spleen, or into society to indulge our vanity. Talking for talking's sake, and all idle conversation, are here marked, if as minor vices, still vices.
III. BASENESS. (Ver. 3.) The word rendered "contempt" points rather to deeds of shame. And the meaning then will be that the evil of the heart must necessarily discover itself in the baseness of the life. As the impure state of the blood is revealed in eruptions and blotches on the skin, so is it with moral evil.
IV. CONSPIRACY AND PLOTTING. (Ver. 5.) The figure employed, literally, to lift up a person's face, signifies to take his part. All party spirit is wrong, because it implies that truth has not the first place in our affections. But party spirit on behalf of the wicked is an utter abomination, for it implies a positive contempt for, or unbelief in, right and truth.
V. QUARRELSOMENESS. (Vers. 6, 7.) "The apostle, when giving the anatomy of man's depravity, dwells chiefly on the little member with all its accompaniments - the throat, the tongue, the lips, the mouth. It is 'a world of iniquity, defiling the whole body.'" It leads to violence. The deadly blow is prepared for and produced by the irritating taunting word. But there is a recoil upon the quarrelsome man. The tongue to which he has given so evil licence finally ensnares him and takes him prisoner. And the stones he has cast at others fall back upon himself. Thus does Divine judgment reveal itself in the common course of life.
VI. SLANDEROUSNESS. (Ver. 8.) The word "tale bearer" is represented more expressively in the Hebrew. It is the man that "blows in the ear." And the picture comes up before the mind of the calumnious word, whispered or jestingly uttered, which goes deep into the most sensitive places of feeling, and wounds, perhaps even unto death.
VII. IDLENESS. (Ver. 9.) Here we strike upon the root of all these hideous vices. It is the neglect of the man's proper work which suffers these vile weeds to grow. What emphasis there needs to be laid on the great precept, "Do thine own work"! The idler is brother to the corrupter, or vicious man, and his kinship is certain sooner or later to betray itself. The parable of the talents may be compared here. Then, again, how close are the ideas of wickedness and sloth! - J.
I. THEIR DEPTH. The words which come from the mouth of wisdom are "as deep waters." How shallow is much, if not most, that is spoken in our hearing! It strikes no deeper than "the hour's event," than the mere gilding of our life; it only extends to the circumstances or to the conventionalities of life; it deals with tastes and customs, with regulation and proprieties; it goes no further than pecuniary or social expectations; it lies upon the surface and does not touch "the deep heart and reality of things." But the wisdom of the wise strikes deep; it goes down into the character; it touches first principles; it has to do with the sources and springs of human action; it concerns itself with the intrinsically true, the really beautiful, the solidly and permanently good.
II. THEIR SPONTANEITY. The utterances of men who are not truly wise are lacking in this. They can only repeat what they have learned; they have to consult their "authorities" in order to know what they should say; they have to labour and strive in order to express themselves. Not so the truly wise. Their words come from them as water from a well spring; their speech is the simple, natural, unconstrained outflow of their soul; they speak from the heart, not from the book. Their spirit is full of Divine wisdom; they "have understanding" (Proverbs 17:24); they have knowledge, insight, love of the truth; they "cannot but speak" the truth they have learned of God, the things they have heard and seen. And the spontaneity of their utterance is one real element in their eloquence and their influence.
III. THEIR COMMUNICATIVENESS. They are "as a flowing brook." As water that is not pent up like a reservoir, but flows on through the thirsty land, communicating moisture, and thus ministering to life and growth, so the words of the wise are continually flowing; they spread from heart to heart, from land to land, from age to age. And as they flow they minister to the life and the growth of men; they communicate those living truths which enlighten the mind, which soften and change the heart, which transform and ennoble the life. Their career is never closed, for from soul to soul, from lip to lip, from life to life, wisdom passes on in its blessed, unbroken course.
1. Be ever learning of God. He himself, in the book which he has "written for our learning," is the Divine Source of such wisdom as this. Only as we receive from him who is "the Wisdom of God" shall we be partakers and possessors of this heavenly wisdom. And therefore:
2. Come into the closest communion and connection with Jesus Christ himself.
3. Open your mind to all sources of truth whatsoever. - C.
I. THE PREVALENCE OF DESTITUTION. How much of human life is needlessly low! how many men live low down in the scale who might just as well be living high up it! how sadly do men bereave themselves of good! This applies to:
1. Their circumstances: their daily surroundings; the homes in which they live, their food and raiment, the occupations in which they are engaged; their companionships, etc.
2. Their intelligence: their intellectual activity, their knowledge, their acquaintance with their own complex nature and with the world in which they live, their familiarity with (or their ignorance of) men and things.
3. Their moral and spiritual condition: their capacity or incapacity to control their temper, to govern their spirit, to regulate their life, to form honourable and elevating habits, to worship God, to set their lives in accordance with the will and after the example of Christ.
II. THE TWO MAIN SOURCES OF IT. These are those which are indicated in the text.
1. The absence of energy in action; being "slothful [or, 'slack,' Revised Version] in work." Men who fail in their department, of whatever kind it may be, are usually those who do not throw any heart, any earnestness, any continuous vigour, into their work. They do what is before them perfunctorily, carelessly, or spasmodically. Hence they make no profits, they earn low wages, they have poor crops, they gain few customers or patients, they win no success; hence they read few instructive books, they make no elevating and informing friendships, they acquire no new ideas, they store up no new facts, they make no mental progress; hence they do not cultivate their moral and spiritual nature, they do not "build themselves up" on the foundation of truth; they are adding no stones to the living temple; they do not grow in wisdom, or in worth, or in grace. The other source is:
2. The presence of prodigality. He that is slothful in work is "brother to him that is a great waster." What sad wastefulness is on every hand! what dissipation of gathered treasure! what expenditure of means and of strength on that which does not profit! For these are the two forms of waste.
(1) Allowing to depart that which it would be wise to hold in hand - money, goods, friends, supporters, resources.
(2) Expending power on that which does not profit; letting our time, our strength, our mental forces, our moral energies, be employed upon those things which yield no return, or no adequate and proportionate return. Were men to spend their money on profitable and fruit bearing labour, their brains on enlightening and enlarging study, their spiritual energies on intelligent worship or redeeming work, instead of wasting them as now they do, how would the desert become a fruitful field, in every sphere! But we must not overlook the fact that there is -
III. A SOLID REMAINDER, NOT THUS ACCOUNTED FOR. Although sloth and waste together explain a very large part indeed of the destitution on the earth, they leave much still to be accounted for. And of this remainder part is due to simple and pure misfortune or incapacity, and part to the guilt of others who are not the sufferers. All this destitution is the proper field for Christian effort. It is the proper object of our genuine compassion, and of our strenuous endeavour toward removal. But to those who are culpably destitute we have to go and say - Your way upward is before you; you must exert yourselves if you would rise. No one can really enrich a human soul but himself.
1. Bring a sustained energy to bear on the work in which you are engaged.
2. Guard with a wise watchfulness what you have won.
3. Put out your powers upon that which is worthy of them and that which will repay them. - C.
I. CONSTITUTIONS OF LIFE WEAL.
1. First and foremost, religion (ver. 10) and humility (ver. 12). The Name of Jehovah stands for all that God is (the "I am"). Trust in the Eternal is the real ground of confidence for a creature so transient and frail as man. To put the same truth in another way, it is religious principle which can alone sustain the soul calm and erect amidst distress. And with true religion is ever connected humility. The knowledge of one's just position in the world is, on the whole, humbling. It is the conceit that one is greater than one really is which is so pernicious inwardly, and will prove so outwardly.
2. Competence of worldly means. (Ver. 11.) It is the worst hypocrisy and affectation to deny the good of money, even with reference to the culture of the soul. Here we have the common view of riches; they are a source of strength. Truly; but one easily exaggerated.
3. A cheerful temper. (Ver. 14.) Health is the grand elementary and all-inclusive blessing. Well! one of the main conditions of health is a merry heart, or a disposition to look on the best side of things. "I thank it, poor fool; it keeps on the windy side of care."
4. An open mind. (Ver. 15.) The intelligent heart and the ever-listening ear, - these are the great instruments or means of knowledge and wisdom. It is good to have many and large windows in the house; and to keep the soul open on all sides to the light of God.
5. Judicious liberality. (Ver. 16.) We found this lesson insisted on in Proverbs 17:8. The heathen poet said, "Gifts persuade the gods, gifts persuade dread kings." Often as the principle is made bad use of, let us recollect it has an opposite aspect, and make friends to ourselves of the "mammon of unrighteousness."
II. SOURCES OF TROUBLE.
1. Pride. (Ver. 12.) How emphatic by repetition is the warning against this inward vice (Proverbs 16:18)! Like the clouds going up the hill, portending rain, so does self-conceit prophesy sorrow.
2. Excessive eagerness. (Ver. 13.) "Condemn no one," says the Book of Jesus Sirach (Ecclus. 11:7), "before thou knowest the matter in question: know first, and then rebuke. Thou shalt not judge before thou hearest the matter; and let others speak first." Ignorance and self-conceit are ever forward; wisdom holds its strength in reserve.
3. Indulgence in depression. (Ver. 14.) "A cast down spirit who can bear?" We must remember that the ailments of the mind are strictly analogous to those of the body; and if the latter are to an indefinite degree under the control of the will, so too are the former. We must believe in the God-given power of the will, or no medicine can avail us. - J.
I. OUR NEED OF A REFUGE IN THE BATTLE OF LIFE. There may be much in our life that may lead us to speak of it as a song or a tale, or as a march or pilgrimage; but there is much that compels us to consider it a battle or a struggle. Many are the occasions when we have to look about us for a refuge to which we may flee; for we have, at different times and under different circumstances, to confront:
1. Oppression. Ill treatment, severity; the injustice, or the inconsiderateness, or the assumption of those who can afflict us.
2. Disaster. The loss of that which is valuable or of those who are precious to us.
3. Difficulty. The uprising of great obstacles which seem to be insurmountable.
4. Temptaion. Which may act upon us quietly but continuously, and therefore effectively, or which may come down upon us with almost overwhelming suddenness and force. Then we ask ourselves - What is the refuge, the high tower, to which we shall resort?
II. TWO RESOURCES WHICH ARE GOOD, BUT INSUFFICIENT.
1. Our own fortitude. This is that to which Stoicism, the noblest form of ancient philosophy, had recourse - our courage and determination as brave men, who are
"Strong in will 2. The sympathy and succour of our friends. The kind heart and the helping hand of those who love us, with whom we have walked along the path of life, and who have linked their heart and hand with ours. Both of these are good; but, as all history and observation teach us, they do not suffice. We want another heart that comes nearer to us, another power that can do more for us than these. So we thankfully turn to - III. THE REFUGE WE HAVE IN GOD. We know that with him is: 1. Perfect sympathy. He is "afflicted in all our affliction;" he is "touched with a feeling of our infirmity;" he "knows what is in" us - what pain of body, what desolateness of spirit, what wrestlings and agonies of the soul. 2. Boundless wisdom. He knows what to save us from, and what to let us suffer; how far and in what way he may relieve and restore us; how he can help us so as to bless us truly and permanently. 3. Almighty power. Our eyes may well be lifted up unto him, for he can "pluck our feet out of the net." "Our God is a Rock;" all the billows of human rebellion will break in vain upon his power. Into the "strong tower" of his Divine protection we may well "run and be safe." "Who is he that can harm us" there? - C.
2. The sympathy and succour of our friends. The kind heart and the helping hand of those who love us, with whom we have walked along the path of life, and who have linked their heart and hand with ours. Both of these are good; but, as all history and observation teach us, they do not suffice. We want another heart that comes nearer to us, another power that can do more for us than these. So we thankfully turn to -
III. THE REFUGE WE HAVE IN GOD. We know that with him is:
1. Perfect sympathy. He is "afflicted in all our affliction;" he is "touched with a feeling of our infirmity;" he "knows what is in" us - what pain of body, what desolateness of spirit, what wrestlings and agonies of the soul.
2. Boundless wisdom. He knows what to save us from, and what to let us suffer; how far and in what way he may relieve and restore us; how he can help us so as to bless us truly and permanently.
3. Almighty power. Our eyes may well be lifted up unto him, for he can "pluck our feet out of the net." "Our God is a Rock;" all the billows of human rebellion will break in vain upon his power. Into the "strong tower" of his Divine protection we may well "run and be safe." "Who is he that can harm us" there? - C.
I. THAT THE CONQUERING SPIRIT WITHIN US TRIUMPHS OVER THE BODILY INFIRMITY. There have been times when, and people by whom, the very worst bodily afflictions have been borne with lofty indifference or with still loftier and nobler resignation. Such was the Roman whose right hand was consumed in the fire without a groan; such were the Christian martyrs; such have been and such are they who are condemned to long years of privation or of suffering, and who wear the face of a holy contentment, of even a beautiful cheerfulness of spirit. Beneath the infirmity of the flesh is the sustaining spirit: but what of the wounded spirit itself?
II. THAT IT IS THE WOUNDED SPIRIT FOR WHICH HELP IS NEEDED. There are many ways in which our spirit may be wounded.
1. There is the merciful wound from the hand of God. For God does wound; he wounds in part in order that, he may heal altogether; for the moment, that he may make whole forever. The weapon (or one weapon) with which he smites the soul is the human conscience. We have all felt the smart from its righteous blow. We have before us the alternative of either blunting the edge of the instrument or learning the lesson and turning away from the sin. To do the former is to take the path which leads to wrong and ruin; to do the latter is to walk in the way of life.
2. The faithful wound from the hand of man. There are circumstances under which, and there are relations in which, we are simply bound to wound one another's spirit. As Christ wounded the spirit of Peter with a reproachful glance (Luke 22:61, 62); as Paul wounded the Corinthian Christians (2 Corinthians 2:1-10); so will the faithful minister of Christ, the conscientious parent or teacher, the true and loyal friend, now administer rebuke, offer remonstrance, address an appeal which will fill the heart with compunction and regret.
3. The cruel wound from the hand of man. This includes
(1) the wound of neglect, - often a very deep and sore wound is this, coming from the hand that should sustain and heal;
(2) of hastiness and rashness;
(3) of malice.
4. Spare to wound another's spirit. It is worse to hurt the feelings than to filch the purse; to cause a bad heartache than any suffering of the nerve. "The spirit of a man can sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?"
5. When your heart is wounded repair to the One who can heal it. There is only One who can "heal the broken heart, and bind up its wounds." - C.
I. THE FOLLY OF HASTE IN DEBATE. (Ver. 17.) "One tale is good till another be told." This saw holds good of private life, of lawsuits, of controversies in philosophy and theology. Audi alteram, partem," Listen to both sides." This is the duty of the judge, or of him who for the time being plays the judicial part. If we are parties in a debate or a suit, then nothing will hold good except to have the "conscience void of offence."
II. THE ADVANTAGE OF ARBITRATION. (Ver. 18.) The lot was the ancient mode of arbitration and settlement of disputes in a peaceful manner. Something corresponding to it in modern times may be adopted as a wise resource where other means of reconciliation have failed. Still better, the general lesson may be drawn - commit the decision to the wisdom of God.
III. THE MISERY OF DISSENSION. (Ver. 19.) The alienated brother or friend is compared to an impregnable fortress. "Oh how hard to reconcile the foes that once were friends!" The sweeter the wine, the sharper the vinegar; and the greater the natural love, the more violent the hate where that love has been injured.
IV. THE SATISFACTION OF WISE COUNSELS. (Ver. 20; comp. Proverbs 12:14; Proverbs 13:2.) The mode of expression is strange to a modern ear, but the thought is familiar and welcome. Words here stand for thoughts; the fruit of the lips comes from the root of the heart. When an intensely modern writer says, "Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of your principles," he puts the old truth in a new light.
V. LIFE AND DEATH IN THE TONGUE. (Ver. 21.) Here is another great principle, vast in its sweep. "Life and death are in the power of witnesses according to the testimony they bear, of judges according to the sentence they pass, of teachers according to the doctrine they preach, of all men who by their well or evil speaking bring death or life to themselves or to others" (Gill). Perhaps it is true that the tongue has slain its ten thousands where the sword has slain only its thousands. The employment of the tongue, whether for good or for evil, in blessing or in cursing (James 3:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3), brings its own fruit and reward to the speaker. "By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned." - J.
I. WE SHOULD NOT EXPECT ABSOLUTE ACCURACY WHEN A MAN TELLS HIS OWN CASE.
1. He may intentionally misrepresent it.
2. He may unconsciously misstate it.
How things shape themselves to our mind depends on our individual standpoint; and when two men regard a subject from different and even opposite points of view, they necessarily see it, and as necessarily state it, with considerable variation. Such are the limitations of our mental faculties, and such is our tendency to be biassed in our own favour, that no wise man will expect his neighbour to give him the whole case, without either addition, colouring, or omission, when he pleads his own cause.
II. WE SHOULD REMEMBER THE INEQUALITY IN MEN'S CAPACITY OF PRESENTMENT. Some men can make a very lame cause look like a sound one; but others cannot give to a good cause the appearance of justice to which it is entitled. Truth often yields to advocacy.
III. WE SHOULD INSIST ON HEARING THE OTHER SIDE. This is due to both sides.
1. It is in the true interest of the complainant, or he will persuade us to give him credence to which he is not morally entitled; he will then wrong his brother; he will be an oppressor or a defamer; from this evil end we should save him by our good sense.
2. It is due to the defendant; for otherwise he will have judgment passed when things have been left unspoken which certainly ought to be taken into the account. Justice imperatively demands that we should never condemn our neighbour until we have heard what he has to say for himself.
3. It is due to ourselves; otherwise we shall not be just, and it is our Saviour's express desire that we should "judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24), and we shall not be like unto "him who judgeth righteously." Our Christian character will be incomplete and our life will be blemished. Moreover:
4. It is due to the cause of Christ; for if we condemn or acquit without full and impartial inquiry, we shall do injustice to many, and we shall certainly do injury in many ways to the cause and kingdom of our Lord. - C.
I. A DIFFICULTY EVERYWHERE ACKNOWLEDGED. It seems to have been universally felt that a "brother offended" is very hard indeed "to be won." It is more easy to effect a reconciliation between strangers than between those united by ties of blood. Hence a family feud is usually a very long as well as a very sad one. This does not seem to be a local or a national peculiarity. What Solomon wrote in his land and age might be written by any English or continental moralist today. It is human.
II. ITS EXPLANATION.
1. It is an aggravated difficulty, inasmuch as the bitterness aroused is more intense. For always in proportion to the fulness of our love is the greatness of our wrath. Anger is love reversed. Whom we love the most we are in danger of disliking the most; it is against his own wife that the madman first turns his hand. And how should we love another with all the affection we feel for the companion of our childhood and our youth, the sharer of our joys and sufferings from the very cradle and under the parental roof?
2. We shrink with greatest sensitiveness from humbling ourselves before our kindred. Reconciliation usually means apology, and apology means a measure of humiliation. And we do not like to humble our hearts before one with whom we have had and may have so much to do.
3. We are inclined to "stand upon the order of our going;" each thinks the other should make the first move; the younger thinks the elder should because he is the elder, and the elder the younger because he is the younger.
4. We are apt to resent interposition as interference; to any peacemaker who would intervene we are inclined to say, "Do not intrude into our family secrets."
III. OUR DUTY IN VIEW OF THIS FACT. It is clearly this:
1. To avoid all serious differences with our near kindred;
(1) to heal at once the first small breach that may occur, for while a rupture may be beyond remedy, a small difference is easily healed;
(2) to consider that almost any sacrifice of money, or of position, or of goods is worth making to retain the love of the children of our own parents, the playmates of our childhood and our youth.
2. To make a determined effort, after earnest thought and prayer, to master the difficulty we find in our heart, and make the first overture to the offended brother. Be shall we win a really noble victory over ourselves; so shall we gain the warm approval of the Prince of peace. - C.
I. CONJUGAL LOVE. (Ver. 22.) The blessing of a good wife. "Young men's mistresses; companions for middle age; and old men's nurses" (Lord Bacon). On the choice of a with none but a recluse or a pedant would pretend to lay down infallible precepts or counsels. But every man who has been happy in the married relation will recognize his happiness as among the chiefest of blessings from above. It is indeed a good that is found, cannot be inherited nor deserved.
II. COMPASSION. (Ver. 23.) Here, as so often, the duty is suggested by means of a dark picture of the opposite, of its neglect. The rich man who "against the houseless stranger shuts the door," or who, like Dives, fares luxuriously while Lazarus lies in sores at his gate, - these revolt the heart and may more move the conscience than declamations on the positive duty. When chilled by the coldness and severity of selfish man, let the poor and afflicted turn to the "God of all compassion," and to the revelation of him in the "good Samaritan," in Jesus Christ.
III. FRIENDSHIP. (Ver. 24.)
1. The spurious friendship. The more correct rendering of the first half of the verse seems to be, "a man of many companions will prove himself to be worthless." Mere agreeableness may be a surface quality, may spring more from variety than anything else, will soon wear out, cannot be counted on. Number counts for little in friendship.
2. The genuine friendship. More tenacious than the mere natural love of kindred, because founded on the affinity of soul with soul. All the purest types of earthly affection and friendship are but hints of the eternal love of him who calls the soul into espousal, friendship, and eternal communion with himself. - J.
I. HE COMES NEARER TO US THAN ANY BROTHER CAN. A human brother can draw very near to us in his knowledge of us and his brotherly sympathy with us; but not as Christ, our Divine Friend, can and does. His knowledge of us is perfect - of our hopes and fears, of our struggles and our sorrows, of our aspirations and endeavours, of all that passes within us. And his sympathy with us and his succour of us are such as man cannot render. He can pity us with a perfect tenderness of spirit, and he can touch our hearts with a sustaining and healing hand as the kindest and wisest of men cannot.
II. HE IS ALWAYS THE SAME TO US; OUR BROTHER IS NOT. We can never be quire sure that our kindest brother will be in a mood or in a position to lend us his ear or his hand. But we have not to make this qualification or enter into this consideration when we think of Christ. We know we shall not find him too occupied to hear us, or indisposed to sympathize with us, or unable to aid us. He is always the same, and ever ready to receive and bless us (Hebrews 13:8).
III. HIS PATIENCE IS INEXHAUSTIBLE; OUR BROTHER'S IS NOT. By our importunity, or by our infirmity, or by our unworthiness, we may weary the most patient human friend or brother; but we do not weary the Divine Friend; and even though we do that or be that which is evil and hurtful, which is painful and grievous in his sight, still he bears with us, and at our first moment of spiritual return he is prepared to welcome and restore us.
IV. HE EVER LIVETH; OUR BROTHER MAY BE TAKEN FROM US.
1. Seek the lasting favour and friendship of Jesus Christ.
2. Realize the honour of that friendship, and walk worthily of it.
3. Gain from it all the comfort, strength, and sanctity which a close and living friendship with him will surely yield.
4. Introduce all whom you can to him, that they may share this invaluable blessing. - C.