Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. CONDITIONS ON MAN'S SIDE. The enumeration is climactic, proceeding from the less strong to the stronger expressions.
1. Receptivity. The open mind and heart, ever ready to "adopt" true sentiments and appropriate them as one's own. The point is not to ask - Who says this? By what channel does it come to me? But - Is it sound? is it true? If so, it is for me, and shall be made my own. Truth is common property.
2. Attention, concentration, assimilation. "Keeping her commands with us." The thorough student finds it necessary to exercise his memory, and to help it by the use of notebooks, where he hides his knowledge. So must we hive and store, arrange and digest, our religious impressions, which otherwise "go in at one ear and out at the other." Short germ sayings may be thus kept in the memory; they will burst into fertility some day.
3. Active application. In figurative language "bending the ear" and "turning the heart" in the desired direction. The mind must not be passive in religion. It is no process of "cramming," but of personal, original, spiritual activity throughout.
4. Passionate craving and prayerfulness. "Calling Sense to one's side, and raising one's voice to Prudence" - to give another rendering to ver. 3. We must invoke the spirit of Wisdom for the needs of daily conduct; thus placing ourselves in living relation with what is our true nature. Fra Angelico prayed before his easel; Cromwell, in his tent on the eve of battle. So must the thinker in his study, the preacher in his pulpit, the merchant at his desk, if he would have the true clearness of vision and the only genuine success. True prayer is always for the universal, not the private, good.
5. Persevering and laborious exertion. illustrated by the miner's toil. The passage (Job 28.), of extraordinary picturesque power and interest, describing the miner's operations, may help us to appreciate the Illustration. The pursuit of what is ideal is still more arduous than that of the material, as silver and gold. It is often said that the perseverance of the unholy worker shames the sloth of the spiritual man. But let us not ignore the other side. The toil in the spiritual region is not obvious to the eye like the other, but is not the less really practised in silence by thousands of faithful souls. We should reflect on the immense travail of soul it has cost to produce the book which stirs us like a new force, though it may appear to flow with consummate ease from the pen. Such are the conditions of "understanding the fear of Jehovah," or, in modern language, of appropriating, making religion our own; "receiving the things of the Spirit of God," in the language of St. Paul (1 Corinthians 2:14). It is the highest human possession, because permanent, inalienable, and preservative amidst life's ills.
II. CONDITIONS ON THE SIDE OF GOD. If religion be the union or identification of the soul with God, he must be related to us in such a way as makes this possible.
1. He is wisdom's Source and Giver. He not only contains in himself that knowledge which, reflected in us, becomes prudence, sense, wisdom, piety; he is an active Will and a self-communicating Spirit. The ancients had a glimpse of this when they said that the gods were not of so grudging or envious a nature as not to reveal their good to men. God is self-revealing; "freely gives of his things" to us, that we may know, and in knowing, possess them.
2. His wisdom is saving. "Sound wisdom" (ver. 7) may be better rendered soundness, or salvation, or health, or saving health. It seems to come from a root signifying the essential or actual. Nothing is essential but health for sensuous enjoyment; nothing but health, in the larger sense, for spiritual enjoyment. Let us think of God as himself absolute Health, and thus the Giver of all health and happiness to his creatures.
3. He is Protector of the faithful. The Hebrew imagination, informed by constant scenes of war, delights to represent him as the Buckler or Shield of his servants (Psalm 18:2; Psalm 33:20; Psalm 89:19). Those who "walk in innocence" seem to bear a charmed life. They "fear no evil," for he is with them. The vast sky is their tent roof. They may be slain, but cannot be hurt. To be snatched from this world is to be caught to his arms.
4. He is eternal Justice. Being this in himself, the "way of his saints," which is synonymous with human rectitude, cannot be indifferent to him. Right is the highest idea we can associate with God. It is exempt from the possible suspicion of weakness or misdirection which may cleave to the mere idea of goodness or kindness. It essentially includes might. Thus the soul finds shelter beneath this vast and majestic conception and faith of its God. These, then, are the conditions, Divine and human, of religion. That we may realize it in ourselves, "understand right, justice, and equity" - in a word, "every good way" of life and thought, uniting piety with morality - the conditions must be faithfully fulfilled. Perfect bodily health may not be attainable; some of its conditions lie without the sphere of freedom, and within that of necessary law. Spiritual health is attainable, for it lies within the sphere of freedom. Then God is realized; it is the ether of the soul, and the region of love and light and blessedness. - J.
I. THE COURSE OF THE WISDOM SEEKER. He who searches for wisdom is a wise runner in a heavenly race; he is pursuing an end which the Divine Author of his being distinctly and emphatically commends.
1. His search for life-giving truth must be characterized by readiness to receive. He must be wholly different in spirit from those who are disinclined to learn; still more must he be far removed from those who scornfully reject; he must be a son who "will receive the words" of wisdom - the words of the "only wise God," of him who is "the Wisdom of God" (ver. 1).
2. But there must be not only readiness; there should be eagerness to receive. He must "incline his ear" (ver. 2). Not only be prepared to listen when Wisdom speaks, but make a distinct and positive effort to learn the truth which affects him and which will bless him.
3. Beyond this, there must be carefulness to retain. The student must not let his mind be a sieve through which knowledge passes and from which it is readily lost; he must make it a reservoir which will retain; he is to "hide God's commandments" within him (ver. 1). to take them down into the deep places of the soul whence they will not escape.
4. Farther, there must be perseverance in the search. He must "apply his heart to understanding" (ver. 2). Not by "fits and starts" is the goal to be reached, but by steady, patient, continuous search.
5. And there must also be enthusiasm in the endeavour (vers. 3, 4). With the impassioned earnestness with which a man who is lest in the pathless wood, or is sinking under the whelming wave, "cries" and "lifts up his voice," should the seeker after heavenly wisdom strive after the goal which is before him. With the untiring energy and inexhaustible ardour with which men toil for silver or dig for the buried treasure of which they believe themselves to have found the secret, should the soul strive and search alter the high end to which God is calling it.
II. THE GOAL HE WALL SURELY REACH. He who thus seeks for heavenly truth will attain that to which he is aspiring; "for the Lord giveth wisdom," etc. (ver. 6). There is no man who desires to be led into the path of that Divine wisdom which constitutes the life and joy of the soul, and who pursues that lofty and holy end in the spirit here commended, who will fail to reach the goal toward which he runs. That earnest and patient runner shall be helped of God; Divine resources shall be supplied to him; he shall run without weariness, he shall walk without fainting, till the winning post is clasped (see Matthew 5:6; Matthew 7:7, 8).
1. He shall apprehend the essential elements of religion. "Thou shall understand the fear of the Lord" (ver. 5). He will be led into a spiritual apprehension of that which constitutes the foundation and the essence of all true piety. He will be able to distinguish between the substance and the shadow, the reality and the pretence of religion.
2. He shall also - and this is a still greater thing - attain to a vital and redeeming knowledge of God himself. "Thou shall find the knowledge of God" (ver. 5). To know him is eternal life (John 17:3), But this knowledge must be - what in the case of the earnest disciple of heavenly wisdom it will become - a vital knowledge; it must be of the whole spiritual nature, and not only of the intellectual faculty. It must be a knowledge which
(1) engages the whole powers of the spirit;
(2) which brings joy to the soul;
(3) which leads to an honest effort after God-likeness.
III. THE PRIZE HE WILL WIN. It may be truly said that the runner in the race finds a deeper satisfaction in clasping the goal while his competitors are all behind him than in wearing the chaplet of honour on his brows. And it may be truly said that the most blessed guerdon which the heavenly runner wins is in that knowledge of God which is his "goal" rather than in the after honours which are his "prize." Yet we may well covet with intense eagerness the prize which Wisdom holds in her hand for those who are victorious. It includes much.
1. Stores of deep spiritual verities. "He layeth up sound wisdom," etc. (ver. 7) - greater and deeper insight into the most profound and precious truth.
2. Discernment of all practical wisdom. "Thou shall understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path" (ver. 9).
3. Divine guardianship along all the path of life. "He is a Buckler to them that walk uprightly. He keepeth the paths of judgment," etc. (vers. 7, 8). - C.
I. THE WAY IN WHICH IT ACTS AS A PRESERVATIVE.
1. By taking up a central place in the consciousness. "When wisdom enters thy heart, and knowledge is dear to thy soul." Not as a stranger or mere guest, but a beloved and confidential intimate. The heart denotes here, as elsewhere, "the centre and organic basis of the collective life of the soul, the seat of sentiment, the starting point of personal self-determination." The soul, as used by Hebrew writers, denotes the entire assemblage of the passive and active principles of the inner life. Delitzsch terms the heart, as used in the Bible, "the birthplace of thought;" and thin is true, because thought springs out of the dim chaos of feeling as the defined crystals from the chemical mixture.
2. By counteractive force. If the inmost thing we know and feel be a sense of right and a sense of God, a pure sentiment and a lofty idea, this must exclude the baser feelings, and displace the images of pleasure and objects of desire which are unlawful and undivine. Them is watch and ward in the fortress of Man-soul against the enemy and the intruder. The "expulsive force of a new affection" operates. It is the occupied heart that alone is temptation proof. "Discretion shall watch over thee, prudence guard thee." The mind, directed to what is without, and feeling for its course among uncertainties, thus appears forearmed against dangers.
II. THE DANGERS FROM WHICH IT PRESERVES. Social dangers. In society lies our field of full moral development, both in sympathy with the good and in antipathy to the evil. Two dangers are particularized.
1. The influence of the bad man. We know men by their talk and by their actions - their habit in both; their "style," their "form," in the expressive language of the day.
(1) His talk is of "froward things," or "perversities" - cunning, crafty, malicious in spirit (ver. 12). Literally it is crooked talk, which is a relative term - the direct opposite of the "straightness" of ver. 9 being meant. Our moral intuitions appear in the mind under the analogy of relations in space, and are thus designated probably in all languages. The right line and the curve or zigzag represent what we feel about good and evil in conduct. The speech of evil insinuation, covert suggestion, bad tone, generally may be meant; or perhaps, rather, guilty topics of conversation. The East is more leisurely in its habits than are we; and the warning has peculiar adaptation to the unfilled hours of an easy life, and which bad talk so often wastes and corrupts.
(2) His habit of life. He forsakes the "straight paths" to walk in "dark ways," such as those alluded to by St. Paul (Romans 13:13; Ephesians 5:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:5). In the like sense that darkness is antipathetic to us, is moral evil (hence its appropriateness as an emblem); we may overcome the feeling partially, but only by doing ourselves a violence. It is a step further in self-perversion to "take pleasure in the execution of evil, and to make merry over wickedness." Human nature demands sympathy; the most depraved cannot do without it or the semblance of it. We are always craving the sight of that which reflects us; hence the sight of evil gives joy to the bad man, the sight of good enrages him. For he is a deformity. His ways are crooked, twisted all his mode of mind and life; a moral deformity. The conscience, armed with the healthy perception of the true, beautiful, and good, sees all this in the bad man, recognizes him for what he is, and so is proof against him. One great lesson of Goethe's 'Faust' is that the tempted man does not see the devil in human shape, because his moral temper has been first unstrung, and so his vision vitiated.
2. The solicitations of the bad woman. The expressions, "strange, foreign" (ver. 16), appear to designate her as the wife of another, an adulteress (comp. Proverbs 6:26; but the sense is disputed). To allegorize the passage is to weaken its force; for the actual dangers of youth are clearly indicated. She is depicted in the strongest light of reality. This is what she is in the view of the inspired conscience.
(1) Her infidelity to her husband and her God (ver. 17). For marriage is a bond, not only between two human beings, but between each and God. Affiance is the glory of womanhood; to break her plighted troth is to wreck all her true charm and beauty. "Companion of her youth" is a beautiful designation of the husband (Jeremiah 3:4; Psalm 55:14).
(2) Her dangerous arts. Oh, what can replace a youth defiled? or what more dangerous influence can there be than that of her whose "hatred is goaded by shame" - hatred against the virtue which confronts to reproach her? Her smooth tongue, flattering her victim with simulated admiration, and with the "hypocrisy of passion," is more deadly than the sword.
(3) Her deadly seductions. Death, the kingdom of the shades, the ghosts who lead, according to the view of the ancient world, a faint and bloodless existence below, is the end of her and the partakers of her sins. To Sheol, to Hades, the bourne whence no traveller returns, the steps of all her visitors tend. Her house seems ever to be tottering over the dark abyss. The truth held in this tragic picture is too obvious to need further illustration. Fatal to health of body, to peace of soul, to the very life itself, is the zymotic disease of lust. To the religious conscience thus the harlot appears; stripped of her paint and finery, her hypocrisy exposed, the poison of her being detected. It is the shadow of a life, and ends in emptiness, darkness, and ghostly gibbering. - J.
I. THE SHOCKING COURSE OF SIN.
1. It begins in departure from rectitude. Evil men first manifest their error by "leaving the paths of uprightness." They were once under the wholesome restraints of righteousness. Parental control, the influences of the sanctuary and of virtuous society, held them in check, but these are thrown off; they have become irksome, and they are rebelled against and abandoned. The old and wise principles which were received and cherished are one by one discarded, and they stand unshielded, unguided, ready to wander in forbidden paths.
2. It continues in the practice of evil. Having thrown off old restraints, they "walk in the ways of darkness" (ver. 13); they proceed to do, habitually, those things which the unenlightened do - those things which shun the light and love the darkness; deeds of error and of shame.
3. It resorts to despicable shifts. "Whose ways are crooked" (ver. 15). Sin cannot walk straight on; it would be soon overtaken by penalty, or fall over the precipice. It is like men pursued of justice, who have to turn and double that they may elude those who are behind. The course of sin is twisted and tortuous; it resorts to cunning and craftiness. All manliness is eaten out of it; it has the spirit and habit of a slave (see Romans 6:16).
4. It hardens into utter perversity. They "are froward in their paths" (ver. 15); they "speak froward things" (ver. 12), i.e. they sink down into complete hardihood and spiritual stubbornness; their hearts are turned aside from all that is devout, pure, wise, and they have gone utterly after that which is profane and base.
5. It culminates in a hateful and hurtful propagandism. They "rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked" (ver. 14). Sin can go no further in enormity, no deeper in abasement, than when, rejoicing in iniquity, it seeks to lead others into the same guilt and vileness with itself. What a pitiful zealotry is this - the anxiety and pertinacity of sin in winning from the paths of rectitude the children of innocence and truth! What a saddening thought that thousands of our fellow men are actively occupied in this diabolical pursuit!
II. THE PERIL OF PIETY AND VIRTUE. Here, on earth, the purest virtue must walk side by side with the worst depravity. Sin sits down at the same hearth with goodness; profanity with piety. And thus brought into close contact, it is open to one to win or to seduce the other. We rejoice that godliness is seeking to gain impiety for God, but we mourn and tremble as we see sin seeking to pervert purity and goodness from "the right ways of the Lord." We are all open to human influence. The heart of man is responsive to human entreaty and example. But especially so is the heart of youth: that is tender, impressionable, plastic. Perhaps never a day passes but the sun looks down, in every land, on some young heart detached from truth, led into the path of evil, stained with sin, through the snares and wiles of guilty men. Who does not sigh with some feeling of solicitude as he sees the young man go forth from the shelter of the godly home into the world where the wicked wait, "rejoicing to do evil," and taking pride in the destruction they produce?
III. THE STRENGTH AND SECURITY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. When wisdom enters the heart and knowledge is pleasant to the soul, then discretion will preserve, and understanding will keep us (vers. 10, 11). In other words, the cordial acceptance of the truth of God is the one security against sin. Delighting to do God's will, his Law being in the heart as well as in the understanding (Psalm 40:8), this will prove an effectual breakwater against the tides of evil. He that can say," O Lord, how love I thy Law!" (Psalm 119) will never have to utter words of bitter remorse and black despair. Would youth know the certain path of victory, and pursue that way which leads, not down to shame, but on and up to heavenly glory?
1. Let it regard with earnest gaze him who is the Wisdom of God in fullest revelation to the sons of men.
2. Yield to him its early, unbounded love.
3. Then will it find unfading joy in the Divine truth which flowed from his lilts, and which shone in his holy life. Whoso believes in him shall never be confounded. - C.
I. THAT SIN IS THE CONTRADICTION OF THE DIVINE THOUGHT. It is a "strange" thing (ver. 16). The painted harlot is "the strange woman." And while the prostitution of a human being, meant to be a helpmeet for man in all his highest and holiest pursuits to a mere ministress to his unlawful lusts, is the very saddest departure from the Divine ideal, and amply justifies the use of the word "strange woman," we may remember that all sin is a strange thing in the universe of God. How it ever entered there is the problem which can never be solved. But meeting with it here. in whatever form, we say, "This is the contrary of the thought of the Supreme," "This is the exact opposite of his design," "This is something alien, unnatural, intrusive: cannot we cast it out?"
II. THAT SIN MUST STOOP TO FALSEHOOD IF IT WILL WIN ITS WAY. It "flattereth with its words" (ver. 16). Flattery is only another name for a sweet falsehood. The woman that is a sinner uses flattery to accomplish her ends. So sin cannot live without lying. That may be said of sin which was said of a great European usurper, that it "has deliberately taken falsehood into its service." But the most effective and destructive form of it is flattery. Let the young take earnest heed to their danger. When the lips of beauty speak soft and gratifying things, let purity beware; it is only too likely that temptation in its most seductive form is nigh, and that character and reputation are being insidiously assailed.
III. THAT SIN SINKS TO ITS DARKEST DEPTHS THROUGH VARIOUS VIOLATIONS. (Ver. 17.) It is uncertain whether by the "guide of her youth" is to be understood her husband (see Malachi 2:14, 15), her parents, or her God. The second clause clearly refers to the marriage covenant, which is regarded as a sacred bond. Whichever be the correct view of the former clause, it is certain that the sinner of the text could only descend to her shameless depth by violating every promise she has made, by breaking through every fence which once stood between her and guilt. This is the inevitable course of sin. It violates first one vow, then another, until all sacred promises are broken.
(1) Deliberate resolutions,
(2) solemn assurances,
(3) formal vows; - all are infringed.
IV. THAT SIN LEADS STRAIGHT TO THE DOORWAY OF DEATH. (Vers. 18, 19.) It leads:
1. To physical death. Vice carries with it a penalty in the body; it robs of health and strength; it enfeebles; it sows seeds of sickness and death. The "graves of lust" are in every cemetery and churchyard in the land.
2. To spiritual death. "None that go unto her return again" as they went. Men come away from every unlawful indulgence other than they go - weaker and worse in soul. Alas for the morrow of incontinence, of whatever kind it be! The soul is injured; its self-respect is slain, its force is lessened; it is on the incline which slopes to death, and one step nearer to the foot of it. "Her house inclineth unto death."
3. To eternal death. They who resort to forbidden pleasure are fast on their way to the final condemnation; they have wandered long leagues from "the paths of life." We conclude with two admonitions:
(1) Keep carefully away from the beginnings of evil. Shun not only the "strange woman's" door, but the evil glance, the doubtful company, the impure book, the meretricious paper.
(2) The way of escape is immediate and total abandonment of sin. Such resolution made at once, seeking God's strength and grace, will permit the wanderer to "return again." - C.
I. THE RIGHTEOUS HAVE A FUTURE BEFORE THEM. A "dwelling in the land" - the homeland; sound dear to an Israelitish ear. The form in which the happy future shall be realized may be first material, but only to pass into the spiritual. For ages Israel saw the promise under the image of material prosperity; afterwards, in the purification and enlightenment of her conscience by the gospel, she looked for a "better country, that is, an heavenly." Both senses may be included. The enlightened spirit knows how to idealize every material content, and will leave much undefined in the prospect. Enough to say of all the seekers of God's kingdom and righteousness, "They have a future before them." The soul itself suffices to itself for the scene el bliss, and converts the rich land of Canaan into the type of its inward joys and harvests of good.
II. THE WICKED HAVE NO FUTURE BEFORE THEM. That is, in the sense par excellence. Their doom is to be rooted out and cast forth from the land. What lies behind the material figure, who can say? To conceive it transcends the bounds of human thought. There is no travelling out of the analogies of experience possible. We reach at last a negative conception in the case both of future bliss and future woe. The Buddhists aim as their highest goal at the Nirvana, which is the negation of finite existence with its defects and evils. What must be the Nirvana of the wicked? The negation of the Infinite must mean confinement in self, and this is death indeed. They who have persistently said "No" to God and the good in their life will be confronted by an everlasting "No!" And thus again the wheel comes full circle, and they reap as they sow (comp. Matthew 7:24-27). - J.
I. THE REWARD OF WISDOM. (Vers. 20, 21.)
1. The man who pursues wisdom, who seeks conformity to the will of the Wise One, will have holy companionship for the path of life. He will walk in the way in which good and righteous men walk. Instead of being "the companion of fools," he will be "the friend of the wise." Those whose hearts are pure, whose minds are stored with heavenly treasure, and whose lives are admirable, will be about him, making his whole path fragrant with the flowers of virtue, rich with the fruits of goodness.
2. He will be upheld in personal integrity. Walking in the way of the good, and keeping the paths of the righteous, he himself will be preserved in his integrity, and be set before God's face forever (see Psalm 41:12). His feet will not slip; he will not wander into forbidden ways; he will keep "the King's highway of holiness;" his face will be ever set toward the heavenly Jerusalem.
3. He will dwell in the land of plenty (ver. 21). To "dwell in the land," to "remain" in the land of promise, was to abide in that country where all things in rich abundance waited for the possession and enjoyment of the people of God (Exodus 3:8). Those who are the children of wisdom now dwell in a region which is full of blessing. If outward prosperity be not always their portion, yet is there provided by God
(1) everything needful for temporal well being;
(2) fulness of spiritual privilege;
(3) the abiding presence and favour of the eternal Father, the unfailing Friend, the Divine Comforter.
II. THE FATE OF FOLLY. (Ver. 22.) Those who were the children of folly in the wilderness period were shut out of the land of promise; they did not enter into rest. The threat of the Holy One to those who had inherited the land was deportation and distance from their inheritance - being "cut off" and "rooted out." The evils which foolish and stubborn souls have now to dread, as the just penalty of their folly and their frowardness, are
(1) exclusion from the "kingdom of God" on earth, and
(2) exile from the kingdom of God in heaven.
Such impenitent and unbelieving ones, by their own folly, cut themselves off from that "eternal life" which begins in a blessed and holy union with the Lord of glory here, and which is consummated and perpetuated in the nearer fellowship and more perfect bliss of heaven. - C.