Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE DIVINE CONTROL OF HUMAN PURPOSES. (Ver. 1.) As the streams of water are led by canals and trenches through the land, that it may be refreshed and fructified, so are the thoughts and counsels of the ruler, if wise and true, a means of strength and blessing to the people. And all such wise counsels are of God. He forms and turns the purposes of the heart, as the potter with the clay. To Cyrus he says, "I have called thee by name, have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me" (Isaiah 45:4. See Dr. Bushnell's fine sermon on this text in 'The New Life').
II. ALL HUMAN ACTIONS ARE WEIGHED IN THE SCALES OF DIVINE JUDGMENT. (Ver. 2.) We can say little about motives; we may be blind to our own, but God is not. Hence the duty of pondering (notice the original meaning of the word) our own doings and plans, weighing them, that is, in the scales of a judgment enlightened by his holy Word.
III. THE TRUE DIVINE SERVICE. (Ver. 3.) There is an outward and an inward side of the religious life. The outward, viz. ritual and moral conduct, is only of value as it is an expression of true desires in the heart. The inward worship of God in spirit and in truth (John 4:24) must precede and accompany the outward worship, or the latter is nothing worth (Proverbs 15:8; Psalm 1.7, sqq.; 1 Samuel 15:22; Micah 6:6-8). - J.
oppresses, us with the thought -
I. HOW MUCH POWER IS IN ONE MAN'S HAND. We shall always have kings amongst us - of one kind or another. They may not bear that name; they may not occupy the precise social position indicated by the word; but there will always be men who will exercise such distinguished power and hold such eminent position that they will be "as kings," if they are not so called by their fellows. God endows us very differently, and he puts it in the power of a few to wield commanding influence, to rise to high rank, to sway a wide and powerful control over their countrymen. And it has often been a matter for serious concern that, to a very large extent indeed, the prosperity and well being of an entire people has rested with the decision of, has been held in the balance by, a single hand. Then we naturally think that -
II. HOW HIS HAND WILL MOVE DEPENDS UPON HIS HEART. As the heart feels the hand directs. Behaviour is the outcome of character. Given a stern, insensitive heart, and we count on a hard and cruel policy; but given a kind and considerate heart, and we reckon on a just and humane career. A country has therefore the deepest interest in the character of its rulers, as it has in the moral and spiritual condition of its leaders in any and every sphere of thought and action. We therefore gladly remember that -
III. THE HEART OF THE POWERFUL IS IN THE HAND OF GOD. "As rivers of water be turneth it," etc. In the formation of this globe, in the arrangement of land and water, in the upbuilding of the great mountains, in the cutting of the fruitful plains, in the tracing of the fertilizing streams, we recognize the hand of God. He has used a great variety of agencies to bring about all these and all such results; but everything on the surface of the globe bears the impress of his wise hand. The rivers do not run where they list - they flow along the watercourses which his wisdom has arranged. And so with the hearts of the great and the strong, of the king and the counsellor, of the warrior and the minister. God has access to them; he can as easily touch and affect them in their thoughts and judgments as he can determine the channels in which the springs shall run. He can arrest them in their purpose; he can change or even reverse their course. Our human minds, as well as all material objects, are subject to his sway, and own the touch of his controlling hand. Therefore we conclude that -
IV. WE NEVER NEED DESPAIR, BUT SHOULD ALWAYS HOPE. For in the darkest hour we know that we have one resource; When we can touch no other human or earthly springs, we can make our appeal to God. We can sock to "move the hand which Droves the universe," and which "turneth the hearts of kings whithersoever he will." We are sure that:
1. God is never regardless of, or indifferent to, the course which his strong sons are taking.
2. He is ruling the world in the interest of righteousness.
3. He is willing, and indeed wishful, to be sought by those who love and trust him. Let the people of God, therefore, cherish hope in the midst of dire trouble and impending evil; and let the enemies of God beware. One touch of the Divine finger, and their fine fabric of oppression falls instantly to the ground. - C.
I. ITS HISTORY IN HEBREW THOUGHT. We find:
1. Samuel holding this view, and declaring it in firm and powerful language (1 Samuel 15:22).
2. David filled with a deep sense of it as he humbled his soul before God (Psalm 51:10, 15-19).
3. Asaph powerfully affected by it as he wrote his sacred song (Psalm 50:8-15).
5. John the Baptist making nothing of ceremonial religion, and making everything of a true and genuine repentance.
6. Our Lord himself; by his teaching and his attitude, preferring the penitent publican and harlot to the much-sacrificing but hard-hearted Pharisee; while by his own sacrificial death he removed forever the need of any further offering on any altar whatsoever.
II. ITS SIGNIFICANCE TO OURSELVES. We naturally ask - What is the relation of devotion to duty or righteousness? and we answer:
1. No measure of devotion can make up for moral laxity. We might be worshipping in the house of the Lord day and night; but if we were false, or cruel, or dishonest, or impure in our daily practice, we should certainly incur his righteous anger.
2. Moral probity by itself will not take the place of the direct approach of our hearts to God. It is much that a man should be just in all his dealings, kind in his various relationships, blameless in his bearing and behaviour - very much. But it is not everything; it, leaves out one essential thing. God desires and demands of us that we ourselves come into close and living union and communion with himself, that we look to him and address him, and trust and love him as our Divine Father and Redeemer. And no propriety of behaviour, no excellency of life, will take the place of this.
3. Devotion and duty must coexist, and will sustain one another.
(1) We should so worship God that we shall be stronger to obey his commandments in the home and in the school and in the shop - everywhere. We may safely conclude that our sacrifice on the sabbath is altogether imperfect and unsatisfactory if it does not lead to a worthier life in the week.
(2) And we should so act in all the various paths of life that" with clean hands and a pure heart" we can go up to the house of the Lord, and render acceptable service of prayer and praise as we bow before him in the sanctuary. They are complementary one to the other; and no wise man will disregard or disparage either. - C.
I. THE SIN OF PRIDE. (Ver. 4.) Its aspect - the lofty eyes, the haughty glance - and its principle in the heart are struck by the Divine rebuke. The meaning of the second clause is not quite clear; probably it is, "The light of the wicked is only sin," i.e. his haughty and overweening temper is compared to a flaming or a lurid light, contrasted with the mild serene ray that seems to stream from a good man's life.
II. THE VICE OF COVETOUSNESS. (Ver. 5.) Shown by an eager and selfish haste to obtain the wealth which Providence has apportioned only as the reward of painstaking toil. Religion teaches us moderation, measure in all things. "Unhasting, unresting," expresses the measure of diligence in all our life business.
III. THE USE OF DISHONEST MEATS. (Ver. 6.) This can never lead to aught but a seeming success (see the exegesis of this passage). "Man is a shadow's dream," said Pindar. "What shadows we are! and what shadows we pursue!" said a great Englishman. But of none is the word more true than of him who seeks gain at the expense of inner truth, profit by the loss of the soul!
IV. VIOLENT DEEDS. (Ver. 7.) All violence recoils upon the perpetrator. The desolation which godless men bring upon others finally carries away themselves. No one who persistently sets himself against right can stand, can abide, for right is the very foundation and constitution of things in the order of God. And so of criminality or impurity in general (ver. 8). It is a crooked way, a twisted web. Perplexities, miserable intricacies of doubt, are generally to be traced to the fault of the will; and the straightforward man is he who walks by the light of a pure heart.
V. THE CONTENTIOUS TEMPER. (Ver. 9.) It unfits for society. It makes the home intolerable. The vexing, captious, irritable temper makes a solitude around it, and calls it peace. The very idea of the Christian household is peace. Wherever struggle may be necessary, it is certainly out of place there. Let us seek the "things that make for peace" - these first and foremost. Every wife, mother, daughter, should be in reality, if not in name, a "Salome!" ("a peaceful one"). - J.
I. ITS MANIFOLDNESS OF FORM. Of its varied developments we have four forms here specified.
1. Falsehood, with a view to temporal enrichment, or the sin of cheating - a crime which has dishonoured the markets and counting houses of every land.
2. Violence, with the same end in view - the breaking into the neighbour's treasury, or the assault committed on his person.
3. Injustice, or the sin of withholding from our neighbour that which we know is his due; whether it be a weekly wage (James 5:4), or whether it be the appointment to which he is entitled by his merit, or the honour he has gained by his services.
4. Perversity, or frowardness - the attitude of wanton and determined rebelliousness against God's rule, or insubmission to his claim, or disobedience of his particular commandment.
II. THE UNSUBSTANTIAL NATURE OF ITS SUCCESS. Enrichment by falsehood is "a vanity [or, 'a vapour'] tossed to and fro." It is proverbial that wealth that is ill-gotten is quickly lost; this is to be accounted for by the action of God's righteous punitive laws apart from the doctrine that sin commands his condemnation. Independently of this, it is certain that the satisfaction which comes from sin is short-lived and continually declines. Sin allures its victims with fine promises, but it breaks every one of them; its bread may be sweet for a moment, but "afterwards the mouth is filled with gravel" (Proverbs 20:17). The hope of the sinner is very fair, but soon comes the strong wind of penal law, and its castle is on the ground; it is "swept away" (ver. 7, Revised Version).
III. ITS SUICIDAL CHARACTER. These guilty ones are "of them that seek death." "Death is the wages of sin," and those who consciously live in sin and those (more especially) who know that this is so may be fitly spoken of as "seeking death." Suicide is not confined to those who deliberately take away their life with the pistol shot, or the cup of poison, or the fatal plunge. It is a folly and a crime that is being committed day by day at the hearth and at the table, in the office and in the study. Men are transgressing those known laws of God on the observance of which life as well as health depends. They who live in conscious wrong doing are determinately travelling toward death, and are guiltily "seeking" it.
IV. ITS DEEP AND WIDE DEPARTURE FROM THE HOLY PURPOSE OF GOD. The way of (the) man (of whom we are speaking) is "strange" (ver. 8). It is quite foreign to the thought and contrary to the will of God. He is saying, "Go not along this path; turn from it, and pass away." It is sin which has cut this path for the feet of the human traveller, and it is one which lies quite outside the King's highway. So strange is it to him, so alien to his purpose, so far from his l)resent desire, that he is ever saying to his erring children, "Return, return!" And he has made, in the gospel of his Son, a way of return and restoration. Indeed, it is his Son Jesus Christ who is "the Way." To know him and to love and serve him is to have our feet planted in "the path of life." - C.
I. THE MERCILESSNESS OF EVIL DESIRE. (Ver. 10.) There is nothing more cruel than unbridled appetite of any kind. All bad desires are perversions of self-love, and men thus became "hateful and hating one another." It is the grace of God which converts the selfish imagination, ever fixed on one narrow object, to the all-embracing imagination which is necessary to the fulfilment of the "golden rule" (Matthew 7:12)
II. THE LESSONS OF PUNISHMENT AND OF REWARD. (Vers. 11, 12.) Daily life is full of this contrast, will we but heed its warnings. When the evil meet their just doom, let us say with the psalmist, "Thou puttest away the wicked of the earth like dross; therefore I love thy testimonies" (Psalm 119:119). And not less when the wise and good are made happy (this is the sense of the next clause) let us own the hand of him who pronounces concerning every good deed, "It shall in no wise lose its reward."
III. RETRIBUTION ON THE HARD HEART. (Ver. 13.) The pitiless man closes the door of pity against himself in the time of need. If the cries of the poor are not heard by us, they will be heard against us (Exodus 22:23; Matthew 18:30-34). The parable of the unmerciful servant is the best commentary on this text. - J.
appropriate penalty, and worth with its appropriate reward. "Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." We have an illustration of this in the text, as we find many others elsewhere.
I. INHUMANITY AND PITY. "Whoso stoppeth his ears," etc. Men will have no mercy on the merciless. Let a man be known to be hard-hearted, selfishly and cruelly indifferent to the distress of his neighbours, and when the time of his calamity comes he will discover that there is no eye to pity and no hand to help him. On the contrary, his misfortune will give a secret if not an open satisfaction. But let a man be pitiful and generous in the day of his prosperity, then when adversity overtakes him the hearts and the hands of many will open to sympathize and succour. The same principle, is applicable to an evil which is similar though not quite so serious, and to its corresponding virtue, viz. -
II. SEVERITY AND LENIENCY. Our fellow men will be sure to treat us with the same severity we impose on them. Austerity constantly begets austerity; it is not long before it hears the echo of its own harshness. Be down with rigid particularity on every offence you detect in your child, or your servant, or your neighbour, and you may reckon confidently on having the same unbending rigorousness of judgment applied to any deviation that can be discovered in yourself. But leniency brings forth leniency; charity is the beautiful mother of charity. Make every kind and just allowance as you judge your brother, and you shall have every extenuation granted you when your infirmity leads you into error. We have the same thing showing itself, the appropriateness and correspondence of the penalty or the reward to the offence or the virtue in -
III. GROSSNESS AND PURITY. "He that soweth to the flesh, of the flesh reaps corruption; and he that soweth to the Spirit, of the Spirit reaps life everlasting" (Galatians 6:8). Bodily indulgence means bodily degeneration; spiritual culture means spiritual enlargement.
IV. GODLESNESS AND GODLINESS. The man who lives without God has to do without God in life and at the end of life as well as he can. He has to dispense with all the comfort and support of the consciousness of God's favour and that Divine indwelling which only comes with faith and love. But he who walks with God and lives unto him enjoys all the unspeakable and inestimable advantages of the near presence, the gracious power, the continual comfort and succour of the Divine Spirit. As he sows, he reaps. - C.
I. THE POWER OF GIFTS. (Ver. 14.) They are neither good nor evil in themselves, but may be employed for good or evil ends. Let us make a good use of this text. We learn that gifts should be quiet, unobtrusive, unobserved; and the same is true of all acts of kindness which are real gilts from the heart. They should neither irritate pride nor depress independence. By such little attentions and marks at love, how much evil may be warded off, how many asperities of temper or circumstance may be soothed!
II. DELIGHT IN OR DISGUST FOR RIGHT CONDUCT. (Ver. 15). There is no joy in the world to be compared for depth and purity to that of the good conscience; no exercise that brings so much health and pleasure as acting rightly and doing good. But the corrupt mind of evil men can take no delight in looking at goodness, in contemplating pure and noble conduct. For the consequences can only be the judgment and punishment of their own iniquity.
III. THE END OF ALL MORAL OBSERVATIONS. (Ver. 16.) One of the most solemn passages of the Bible. Taken literally or figuratively, of the present or of the future, they contain a statement, a prophecy, a fact. The wicked and unrepentant pass into a night without the hope of a sunrise to follow.
IV. THE END OF IDLE AND FRIVOLOUS MIRTH. (Ver. 17.) He that will squander more than his plough can earn must utterly waste (Sirach 8:32). Magnum vectigal est parsimonia, or "Economy is income;" "Waste not, want not." "Better than merry Nineveh" is recorded as an old proverb (see Zephaniah 2:15). - J.
I. THE JUST AND UPRIGHT, THE FAITHLESS AND WICKED LIFE. (Ver. 18.) It occurs in many cases that the Divine wrath in judgment turns aside from the just man to roll upon the head of the sinner. See this in a natural light in Isaiah 43:3, and in the great Christian light of redemption (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18). Christ became as sin, or in the place of the sinner, for us. We must not, however, confuse the evident meaning of the text, which is that in critical moments of calamity the faithful minority appear to escape unscathed; and the lesson that righteousness alone is safe.
II. SOLITUDE OR UNPLEASANT SOCIETY. (Ver. 19; see on ver: 9.)
III. WISE STORING OR FOOLISH SQUANDERING. (Ver. 20.) Thrift and economy give meetness to every home enjoyment they purchase. Waste is without zest, and brings positive dishonor. - J.
I. IT IS AN ARDENT ENTHUSIASTIC LIFE. (Ver. 21.) Literally, he who hunts after justice and love will find life, righteousness, and honour. So in other figures - of hungering and thirsting, of digging eagerly for hid treasures, etc. - the earnest enthusiasm of the true life is depicted.
III. THE RESISTLESS POWER OF WISDOM. (Ver. 22.) The like penetrative power to that which we ascribe to the subtlest forces of nature - heat, magnetism, etc. - is possessed, but in a higher degree, by the intelligence add the will of man. The barriers of time and space seem to fall before him who knows and him who loves. Let none rely on walls and fastnesses. What man's hands have raised man's hands can break to pieces. We are truly strong only by means of the arts and works at intelligence and love.
IV. THE SAFETY OF THE PRUDENT TONGUE. (Ver. 2.9.) As one quaintly says, "God, as the Creator, has placed a double wail before the mouth - the teeth and lips, to show that we ought to use and guard the tongue with all care." "He that hath a satirical vein, as he maketh others afraid of his wit, so he had need to he afraid of others' memory." "Discretion of speech is more than eloquence; and to speak agreeably with him with whom we deal is more than to speak in good words or in good order" (Bacon). - J.
I. THE TRUE QUEST OF A HUMAN HEART. Solomon speaks of "following after righteousness and mercy." These two words may be taken as covering the entire field of rectitude and love, being just in all our relations, and being animated by the spirit of kindness toward all with whom we have to do. Thus understood, they point to the endeavour of the human soul to find:
1. Acceptance with the living God; for there is no happy sense of rightness or rectitude until his favour has been secured, and we feel that we stand before him as those that are true and loyal, his faithful subjects, his reconciled children.
2. Purity of heart and life - deliverance from the power and bondage of sin, of the evil forces which stir within and which play around the soul.
3. A course of honesty and equity in the sight of man; such a regulation of conduct as will result in doing to others as we would that they should do to us, walking, along the path which brings no regrets and no reproaches.
4. A heart of kindness; nourishing within ourselves the prevailing feeling of considerateness for others; the blessed faculty of forgetting our own personal tastes and preferences and passing interests in order to remember the wants and well-being of our friends and our fellow men; the mental and spiritual habit of sympathizing with sorrow and succouring need with an open and a willing hand.
II. THE WAY TO THE GOAL. We who have learnt of Christ need not miss our way; we may, and (if we are in earnest) we shall, find all that we seek. We shall attain to:
(2) The growth within us of those virtues and graces which come with the service of the holy Lord, with the study and the love of the sinless Friend, with prayer for the sanctifying influences of the indwelling Spirit.
2. Life; for he that lives thus unto God, who is becoming daily like God, who is rejoicing in the friendship of God, does live indeed. This is life - life spiritual, Divine, eternal.
3. Honour. No small share of the honour which comes from those whose esteem is worth possessing; and in the end the honor which will come from the appraising and approving Lord, when he says, "Well done!" to his faithful servants. - C.
I. VICES HANG TOGETHER LIKE THE LINKS OF A CHAIN. (Ver. 24.) Contempt is born of pride, wrath of contempt, and from wrath scoffing and manifold injuries.
II. IDLENESS LIES IN CLOSE AFFINITY TO MANY VICES. (Vers. 25, 26). We have here a brief anatomy of idleness. It is wishing without corresponding exertion. The idle man would rather sit still and starve than set his hand or head to painful toil. He would live by wishing. The effort to rise from the easychair, to take the hand from the bosom, is too great for him; hence he is consumed with vain desires. The hope of enjoyment is out of reach, though not out of sight, for want of exertion. In religion mere wishes, idle prayers, will not bring us good. The knocking and seeking must go with the asking. And again (ver. 26), in this analysis we are reminded of the selfishness which is at the root of this indolence. In contrast to a habit of coveting for self, we have the hand of the righteous man, who "gives and spares not." Willing labour, surrender of time and thought for others' good, - this, indeed, enriches the soul, and the man who waters others waters himself, and is a "blessing in the land." - J.
I. ON RELIGIOUS ACTS. (Ver. 27; Proverbs 15:8.) The hypocrisy of devotion, the play acting of religion, is as hideous a sight as true worship is beautiful. All the conditions of genuine worship are wanting in the bad man; there is no heart, no way of access, no faith (Bridges). We have scriptural examples in Balaam (Numbers 23), Saul (1 Samuel 13), Absalom (2 Samuel 15), Jezebel, the Pharisees. Compare the terrible invective of Isaiah (1) against those who come with hands full of blood to worship and offer vain oblations.
II. ON FALSEHOOD. (Ver. 28.) Compare the ninth commandment. "The essence of a lie is the intention to deceive." But exaggeration, the vice of those who perpetually talk for talking's sake, seems also pointed at. The second clause describes the quality of the trustworthy witness. To hear before we speak; and witness to nothing but what we have heard and seen and known to be true. It is more from carelessness about truth than unintentional falsehood, that there is so much untruth in the world (Dr. Johnson).
III. ON INSOLENCE AND PRESUMPTION. (Ver. 29.) Effrontery, which assumes the brazen brow upon guilt. There was nothing among the heathen which was thought more to expose a man to the wrath of Heaven than presumption. The picture of the opposite temper is given as a willing docitity to rebuke, anxiety for improvement, which brings honour in the sight of God and of man. Insolent presumption would force its will and way in spite of God; true humility would seek direction in its way by the will of God. Ver. 30 reminds us of the folly and presumption of vain human creatures to lift themselves up in rivalry to heaven. Earthly greatness, state policy, pride, stoical firmness, avail nothing against the Divine wisdom and the eternal will. Entire obedience and resignation are our duty and our safety. May all (up doings be begun, continued, and ended in God! There is no success without God (ver. 31). The horse may be ready for the battle, the "powder may be dry," but all is vain unless his blessing has been sought and gained; and this cannot be unless our enterprise is just. Never act without dependence on God, nor without attention to the appropriate means of success. - J.
Proverbs 21:29-31 (with ver. Proverbs 21:22)
I. THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF WISDOM. "A wise man scaleth the city of the mighty," etc. (ver. 22). How often have men stood behind their strong ramparts - not of stone or rock only - and looked down with complacent contempt upon the despised adversaries outside and below them; but when the shock of the battle came they found, to their dismay, that wisdom is stronger than all defences that could be raised, and that it can cast down the confidence of the proud! It is not only the city which is built of brick or stone which is at the command of the truly wise; it is also the city of falsehood and of error; it is the city of oppression and of wrong; it. is also the city of knowledge and of truth. However hard to win may be its walls, the wise man - who is the man of rectitude, of unselfishness, of purity, of diligence, of earnestness, of patience, of devotion - will strive and toil until he stands within the citadel.
II. ONE OF ITS CHIEF CHARACTERISTICS. On the one hand, a wicked (who is an unwise) man "hardeneth his face." He may be proved to be in the wrong; he may be suffering seriously for his folly; but he will not change his course. He is obstinate, perverse, proud; he will go on his way, come what will. But, on the other hand, the upright (who is the wise) man directeth (or rather, considereth) his way. Even when he is right, and things are profitable and promising with him, he is often pondering his path, looking to his chart, carefully considering whether he is moving on in the right direction. But when he has been induced to wander into some byway, and when he is admonished either by God's providence or by man's fidelity, then he seriously considers his way, and, if he finds that he has erred, he immediately retraces his steps, until he is found again in the King's highway. The habit of considering is one of the clearest marks of wisdom.
III. TWO OF ITS LIMITATIONS.
1. It cannot succeed against God (ver. 30). Good men and true, who are within the kingdom of Christ, may put forth all their mental powers and moral energies to bring about that which God has condemned; they have watched and thought and striven for the cause which has not been, as they imagined, the cause of Christ, and they have hopelessly failed. History will supply abundant illustrations.
2. It cannot succeed without God (ver. 31). Equip your cavalry, arm your infantry, and collect your artillery for the day of battle; bring forth your most experienced general, who will be ready with his most brilliant tactics; still the issue will not be determined thus. There may arise a sudden unaccountable panic; there may be a movement made by the enemy's captain wholly unexpected and practically irresistible; there are forces at work on the great battlefield of the world against which no military skill can provide. God is present there. He can act upon the mind of one man or of many men in such wise that the battle will not be to the strong, the victory not be to the seasoned troops and the confident commander. Without God's consent, without his blessing, any battle on any field whatever, military or moral, must be lost. - C.