The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
The following material appeared at the end of Proverbs in the printed edition:
Pagan Proverbs. I.
There are more proverbs than those which are written in the Bible. But who shall say where God's Bible either begins or ends? We always make a mistake when we shut up God between any four corners. He does not live within that square, he does not visit it. When we make a place for him and say, "Here only shalt thou abide," we may be quite sure he will not accept our partial and bigoted hospitality. God is in all the world; in every human heart that has opened itself to the best influences God has written his name. It was not one man, but Man, that God made in his image and likeness. We shall do the Bible no dishonour by recognising all that is Biblical outside of it. The Bible is not a book only; it is the beginning of books; it is the root out of which all true and progressive literature grows. Some are surprised to find wisdom outside what is distinctively known as the Church. You will find piety everywhere. There is no need for us to repress our surprise, for surprise itself may be an element in religious stimulus and education. No man who was not trained out of himself could look upon a flower in the middle of a great wilderness of snow without being struck by its beauty and without recognising that beauty audibly and thankfully. It should be so when we meet with wise sayings in literature that we have not baptised. If I wanted to establish the unity of man as a doctrine or a fact, I am not sure that I should base my argument upon physiology. All these 'ologies are more or less to be suspected. They are little inventions of little men. They are too clever to be true. Truth is never clever. Cleverness is too small a cage for truth to live in or to sing in; it must have an open firmament of heaven. I should rather refer to the common experience of man: what have men felt, deduced, proved by experience, in every quarter of the world, and in every century of time? Let us hear voices and witnesses from east and west, from north and south, and if there be aught of strong concurrence in the testimony, we shall find in that concurrence an irrefragable proof of the unity of the human race. Great unities are not to be established upon grammatical bases; that is to say, upon words that are discovered as being related to some other words that came from beyond some faraway rivers. Here again we are exposed to the temptation of mere moral agility or cleverness. Unities of the great sort that abide and do good are to be proved by moral experiences: the heart must testify; and if we listen to the heart-testimony from every quarter under heaven, and if that testimony prove to be an unbroken witness, rely upon it there is unity, sympathetic and indestructible.
Hear the Hindu: he, too, has his book of proverbs. He says, "The sugar-cane is sweeter knot after knot." What a Bible upon the development of character is there! The Hindu found that out for himself by experience, by the study of human nature, by taking in a large scope and a distinct purpose of life. Said he, "The sugar-cane is sweeter knot after knot:" the further it grows, the more it grows; the more perfectly it is developed, the sweeter it becomes. It needs no great sagacity to see the practical applications of so beautiful a fact in nature. The one application that may be fixed upon is this, that men as they grow older should grow sweeter. There should be more of real affection in them: their speech should be no longer aspersive, acerb, vinegar-like; it should be charitable, gracious, of the nature of hopeful blessing. When we come away from the older men we should say, They improve with keeping: how very exasperating they used to be; how they could smite and tear and rend in early days, and now all that is aggressive is taken out of their voices, and their whole utterance is like a piece of solemn music. If we are growing bitterer as we grow older I know not who planted us; God can hardly be held responsible for such an irony: but if we are growing sweeter, gentler, purer, fuller of the love that would redeem the world, God is in us of a truth; whether we belong to any sect or no sect, we belong to God.
The Teluguan says about that same sugar-cane, "Because the sugar-cane is sweet you are not to chew it down to the roots." That is a great temptation all the world over. When a man has found honey he is likely to gorge himself with it. Our Book of Proverbs, Solomon's apothegms, supply the same great doctrine: "Hast thou found honey? eat so much as is sufficient for thee,"—eat enough only, and stop there. But who can arrest himself when he has once begun to taste sweetness? who can set it down and say, No more; I will come again to thee, I will not feed myself to satiety; I will take a little honey to-day and a little more to-morrow, and even though there be sweetness in the taste, that sweetness is an allurement: get thee behind me! to-morrow I may make some use of thee; meanwhile thou hast placed before me a temptation to lose the true uses of nature, and to abase and carry into licence what was meant as sweet and profitable liberty?
Has China anything to say? China says, "When a tree is blown down, it shows that the branches are longer than the roots." It would be difficult to pack more wisdom into a smaller compass than that. Wherever there is great display, there is sure to be a downfall. Be sure about your roots; let the roots go miles into the earth it you like, and then the winds will be gentle to the branches even in rocking them, and what is lost will be comparatively small: the tree itself will abide. We live in our roots, not in our branches. What is your soul? not, What is your talk? What is your quality? not, What is your pretension or profession? How many men there are who are all branch! What shall become of them? Ask the wind. Will the wind blow them down? If it has nothing better to do it may; the wind will despise them, and bestow only odd moments on them. "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself [all branch] like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not; yea, I sought him, but he could not be found."
Has Africa anything to say about the tree; poor Africa, night-ridden Africa, land of darkness and slavery and barbarism,—has God stooped down and written anything in the dust of Africa? Africa says, "He who tries to shake the trunk of a tree shakes only himself." That is good for Africa; it is good for the whole world to learn. You cannot shake down a really well-grown man. You can tear at him, but you are tearing yourselves, you are not tearing the man. You can make no impression upon a grand massive character; it abides after all your inquests and searchings and shakings and malignant assaults. You have sometimes seen people trying to shake a great tree: it was the people who perspired, not the tree. Grand old tree, hospitable old tree; the birds of the air built their nests in it, and there found habitation and security. Is there anything more pitiable than to see a number of hellhounds trying to shake down a noble character? They cannot do it; the laughter of the world will follow their futile attempts, and men who trusted them will trust them no more. There is a spirit in man that rises and says at a given point, You have done enough of this; you are no longer critics, you are persecutors; you are no longer honourable opponents, you are malignant conspirators: shake on if you like, you are only shaking yourselves.
Has Russia anything to say to testify to the commonwealth of nations, the unity of man? We should be glad to hear the hoarse voice of Russia,—cruel Russia, awful Russia, the leprous spot of civilisation, the problem of history. Even Russia has something to say: "The devil comes to us whilst crossing the fields." Solomon might have written that; it could be put into the Bible without the Bible feeling that any interpolation of an inharmonious character had been made into its texture and web. What is the meaning? The meaning is that the devil seizes us unawares. A man is walking quietly through the meadows: he does not meet the devil face to face; the devil comes to him from the right hand, from the left, takes cross-courses, and falls upon him unexpectedly, so that the traveller who thought of praying suddenly begins to doubt the very God to whom he was about to pray, so that the soul that was just making a new and tender vow turns to barbarism and forswears the altar of the universe. If the devil sent us notice that he would tempt us the day after to-morrow, we might be prepared for him: he gives no notice, he sleeps not, slumbers not; he is almost God in watchfulness. It is when we sleep that he is most vigilant; when we can no longer protect ourselves he is heaviest upon us. Let the young man know that the devil may not meet him on the broad thoroughfare, but may come out of some side street, arrest him, and damn him before he is aware.
Sometimes the wisdom of the world has run into little rhymes, couplets that children can remember. It would be well to have a Children's Bible; the great book of God run off into couplets that children could sing to themselves, or say as if repeating music. We have some such proverb as this, "Wide will wear, but tight will tear." What a world of human experience! Not relating to garments only, though true in that department, but relating to discipline. Severity outdoes itself: tyranny grows no men. Relating to creed and orthodoxy, so that if we have liberty we have power of wearing, room to grow in; but if we are tightly bound, straitlaced, if we are chained about, foot and leg and neck, our manhood is insulted, dishonoured, or disowned. Trust people if you would get the best out of them. Afford liberty at home if you would make a home of it. You may be so severe as to kill your children without meaning it. Many a murder is done by wicked disciplinarians. They do not know what they are doing; the iron is entering into the young soul, and there will be resentment by-and-by, or a bitter and destructive recollection. So it is with the churches. We have settled everything, so that men have nothing to do but to accept us, bow to our papal command, and find in blind obedience their only liberty. That will not do; that is not the way of God. The Lord gives us scope, room, liberty, opportunity; he says, "Occupy till I come." Every man should make his own theology. Believe me, if there are any theologians at all, you could count every one of them on the fingers of one hand without counting the thumb. What you have to do is to believe in the theology of love, growth, obedience to the Spirit of God, loyalty to the genius of the Christ. Beware of men who have "views," and especially of men who have "clear" views. I never knew any of them do any good in the world. Let your view be that what we have done is nothing as compared to what we have yet to do; what we have is nothing to what has yet to be revealed: we know in part, we teach in part, but when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away, and the speck shall be forgotten in the infinite. This will be more than speculation, it will be discipline; the man who lives in this spirit controls himself, is animated by the spirit of hope, is always looking for the securing of greater spiritual riches, and is a man who will encourage even dull scholars to persevere because the music is on the next page. He will say, I remember the page you are reading is very hard; I remember when I was just there, and I thought I should surrender because the words were all so long and ugly and unmanageable and unpronounceable; but I will tell you what I discovered, that when I turned over I went, as it were, into a garden of flowers, I went into a paradise of beauty, I went into a house of living trust; now struggle on, fight out that very last line down there, and the moment you turn over you will be in liberty and in joy. "Wide will wear; tight will tear."
Some good sweet old souls have said in their quaint homely way this little bit of rhyme,—
"Be still, and have thy will."
And has Spain anything to say,—proud, vain, fiery Spain? Has it no word of wisdom? A curious word; yet it has worked its way into the proverbs of the world, and should be quoted: it is, if not divine, most sadly human: "Let that which is lost be for God." The tale on which this is founded is a tale in a sentence. A man makes his will in Spain, and after having allotted everything, he says, "There is a cow, but that cow was lost; if it be found it is for so and so, but if it is never found it is for God." Did I say that proverb was Spanish? It is literally, but it is not merely Spanish morally, suggestively, in all its wider meanings. We have left God thousands of lost cows, he may have them all; if we find them we will bring them home, but if we do not find them the Lord may have them. We have made over all our bad debts to him, but as to the actual money we have in hand, that is another matter. We are indeed fearfully and wonderfully made. A member of Parliament said to a friend of mine some time ago, that he could not respond to his appeal because that very day he had had nineteen similar applications. My friend said, "It you treated them all as you treat me you might have had nine hundred and been none the worse for it." We are fearfully and wonderfully made. We have a gift of evasion; the heart is deceitful above all things: it is here and there; it is there when we want it, it is here when we have little occasion for it; it doubles upon itself, forgets its mother tongue, has no memory for names, events, obligations; can assume a look of stupor when righteousness makes its appeal.
Let me recur to our opening sentence: it is in such experiences that we discover a marvellous unity in human nature. The nations now cited may not have heard of one another at the time of the creation of these proverbs; the nations represented by these apothegms may have had no literature in common, no intercommunion as between one another; each nation may have been left to work out its own practical philosophy; and yet when all the books are brought together the language is one, the testimony is one. Men could not have thought so, and come to such community of conclusion, without there being a secret behind all, explaining the action of the human mind, and claiming the unity of the human race. There has been light everywhere. Every man has his own gleam. God hath not left himself without witness anywhere. If a man will not have the proverbs of the Bible we ask him to write down his own proverbs, What have you found out in life? and it will be curious to watch how he, it may be in plainer language, writes what China has written, and Spain and Africa and Russia and old Jerusalem. We want men to write their own Bibles if they are not content with the Bible that is written. We beseech them to keep an abundance of blank paper with them and plenty of pens and ink, and write down what they find in life. Keep a diary; sum up your experience, and let us read your writing. The nations have never agreed upon any really comprehensive philosophy of life without lying upon the very lines of the Bible.
What then is the difference between the Biblical proverbs and the proverbs of philosophy and of common experience? Largely this, that in the Bible we find the great religious element,—every proverb trying to lift itself up into a higher philosophy; every aphorism struggling to express some kindred and developed truth; every witty, quaint, wise, experimental saying indicating that it is only beginning to say what it wants to tell: and largely this also, that the motive is Christian, the motive is profoundly spiritual; and the proverb never says, Rest in me. Every Biblical proverb says, I am but a vestibule; the temple is beyond: I am but a hint; what I came from you will see if you proceed along the line of this indication. And thus we are brought face to face with him who spake as never man spake. All the beatitudes are proverbs. We may not think of them as such, but they are all based on human experience. We have again and again asserted that the proverbs of Solomon are not simply sharply-cut sayings, but they are the verdicts of history, the testimonies of experience, they are the award of long-continued, ardent, urgent, comprehensive thinking. So the beatitudes are the upper side of the best experience. "Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God;" change the grammar, Blessed are the pure in heart: for they must see God,—they have seen God, they alone see God. Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy; Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God; Blessed are men who look anything but blessed; Blessed be they who are persecuted, torn limb from limb, for righteousness' sake: it is a successful rending, it is the violence that precedes the ineffable calm.
One of two things I challenge all men to: accept these Biblical proverbs, or provide better. Do not spend your time in contradicting the Bible, but in writing another. Then we shall examine what are its riches, what are its motives, how much space does it touch. Is it the little invention of a little mind? or is it the mystery of love, the mystery of light? Some men have made up their minds to keep the old Bible until the new one is written. I always advise men who come for my counsel not to resign their present chair until they know where they are going to sit down. Any fool can resign. It ministers to immediate vanity,—"I shall resign!"—more fool thou. Do not resign the old Bible until you have examined the new one. Do examine it, read it right through, prove all things, test them, probe them, and then hold fast to that which is good and true. We are simply waiting for the new proverbs. Meanwhile, the old ones are very quaint, wonderfully profound, far-reaching in their suggestions, and not without comfort to the souls that are looking for the further coming of the kingdom of God.
We have endeavoured to show that the unity of human nature is not proved exclusively by what are called ethnic arguments or race illustrations; that the unity of humanity is established by community of sentiment. In the previous discourse, we tried to escape morality, common-sense, prudence, and the like; and we went all round the world and found no rest for the sole of our foot: the genius of right, the genius of common-sense, found us in every language and in every land. We said, Whither shall I go from thy presence? whither shall I flee from thine obligations, O thou subtle imperious law,—law of right, law of truth, law of practical philosophy? And we could find no escape. We went to Spain, to Italy, to Russia, to Africa, and there the genius looked upon us and said, This is none other than the house of God. When men who have never seen one another or heard of one another come to the same conclusions of a practical kind concerning the scope, the uses, and the destiny of life, the argument of a united race, come whence it may, is established and cannot be shaken.
It has been difficult to do justice to Italy in this matter, for the Italian proverbs, taken as a whole, are bad. It needed some searching to find in Italy, fair beautiful Italy, in danger of exhausting itself in the poetry of its own name, proverbs that go right down into eternal morality. There are plenty of proverbs about the uses of poison and dagger, but to find in Italy, garden of the world, real, simple, frank morality, or sense of right, in its proverbs, has not been easy. Still Italy is not without proofs that the spirit of right has been operating even amid all its fantasies and sentiments and schemes of living.
The Italian proverb says, "Friends tie their purses with a spider's web." That is more befitting what we have heard of Italy. There is a sweetness in that sentence. What is the meaning of it? That what one friend has belongs to the other, as between friends purses are not tied with iron chains; while there is real friendship there is real sympathy, real helpfulness, as brother might love brother, and loving heart help heart that was loved. Verily this is a strong and searching test of friendship; it may easily be presumed upon; it offers continual and serious temptation to nefarious natures. Man might make an investment of friendship, but even this is not to spoil the music or the poetry of the proverb. Is there nothing in our book the Bible to compare with this for sweet and dewy loveliness? "Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ." "We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak." "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away." "Whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?" That is not ethical neatness, that is not epigrammatic power: in such sentences there is the roll of eternal music, because the swell of infinite love. The Bible likes to stand shoulder to shoulder with all the findings of the extra-mural world; the Bible is never ashamed to wait until the world has stated all its philosophies and moralities and theories, and then it says, Compare us fairly, justly, and the God that answereth by fire let him be God. Still, let us do justice to pagan thought, and to what is more or less of the nature of barbaric progress, and in the spirit of this just concession we will recognise the beauty of the Italian proverb, "Friends tie their purses with a spider's web," so that there is no difficulty in opening them when a needy friend, a trusted comrade, requires some practical expression of sympathy and helpfulness.
Italy can be almost religious in its proverbs, notwithstanding the presence of the Pope. Even in Italy there are some little glints of a true religion. That true religion, however, is tinged with what the Holy Father would call heresy. What would the world be without good healthy heresy,—that singular genius that asks questions, that tries theological weights and balances; that spirit that will not be laid until honest questions are honestly handled? Take this as a specimen of Italian progress, "With the Gospel one becomes a heretic." What is the meaning of that Italian proverb? It is that as soon as the common people are trusted with the Bible itself they dispute priest and prelate and pope, they put away from them all intermediary ministries that assert their necessity as the medium through which God can be approached. As soon as the people get the Bible they leave oppressive authority; they read for themselves; they say, "Here is the Master, let us listen to him:" and when the priest would say, "Now I must explain all this to you, or you cannot understand it," they say, "Get thee behind me! I will speak face to face with the Master himself." That is the heresy we want. We want to put down all arbitrary and foolish authority and interpretation, and we want to hear only the man who will tell us that as a brother man he has discovered such and such phases or aspects of truth, and he wants us in a kindred spirit to look at them, and see whether they commend themselves to our best imagination and our most solid understanding. We want fellow-students. The more we have of such comradeship the better. Let every man be a Biblical annotator. Do not stop him even when he is pouring forth his rude ignorance: he will chasten himself by listening to his own folly; he will be the better for having that folly replied to by an experience larger than his own, and by a wisdom compared with which his little knowledge is but as a rill to an ocean. Every heart can find something in Christ that no other heart can find. But these peculiar findings may set him at heretical angles, and indicate on their part alien positions. No matter. In God's kingdom there is room enough for individuality. God's great sovereignty can roll all eccentricity into globular completeness and restfulness. Do not be eccentric merely for the sake of being eccentric; do not play that little trick of heresy; do not suppose that you are marked out as a genius because you hate the Pope or the priest or the minister; do not believe that you are necessarily the very incarnation of wisdom because you do not read the Bible: be honest; read the book right through for yourself, and whatsoever you find there that is likely to lift up the life and open the hand in generous beneficence, interpret for yourself, and apply with fearless modesty.
Italy shall give us one more, for we have been so suspicious of Italy with its powder of succession and with its hidden dagger that we owe Italy something. Let us hear her sweet voice in one other statement, then she shall sit down: "For an honest man half his wits are enough: the whole are too little for a knave." Illustrations of this we have seen. When a man is thoroughly honest we may examine him and cross-examine him from sunrise to sunset, and he may contradict himself in fifty particulars, but he will come right at last. We can easily detect an honest contradiction, and trace it to lapse of memory, momentary infirmity of intellectual sight. Candour cannot be put down. The cross-examiner is only a great cross-examiner and a marvellously skilful man when he has to crush a rotten egg. He knows the case, and it does not require an infinite genius to expose a man that can be proved to be bad in every hair of his head and in every bone of his body and in every drop of his blood. That man cannot tell the truth; when he gets right it is by chance, and he is sorry for it. No man is as surprised as the rogue is when he has told the truth. He begs to be forgiven. He loves the lie, but with all his wit and keenness and shrewdness he cannot escape. The universe is against him; there is not a little star that twinkles in all the night that will afford him shelter from the deserved tempest. "Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished." "Be sure your sin will find you out." When the evangelists and apostles make their statements they apparently contradict one another in many matters of detail, but it is the contradiction of downright honesty, the candour that has suffered through crucifixion rather than tell a lie. So, as time passes on, as history is evolved, as ancient story is better understood, as old manners and customs come up, everything helps to reinstate the men who have for a moment been suspected. The universe is on the side of truth. Geometry and honesty go together. There is a spirit in the universe that brings out judgment like light, and righteousness like noonday, however deep may have been the momentary obscuration. Let us not deny to ourselves that there is nothing easier than to bring men under suspicion. Any villain can accuse you of committing any crime he may choose to name. It is not easy to repel the charge. When you deny it, people say, "Of course; what could you expect?" They judge you by themselves. When your wife stands up and states her utter disbelief in the infamous imputation, they say, "What could you expect? it is all in the family: what else could the poor creature say?" They judge her by themselves. If you are resentful they say, "Let the galled jade wince: if he were really true he would be much quieter than he is." If you are profoundly quiet, silent, restful, they say, "Why didn't he come out then, and say so?" Do not trouble yourselves about such people: they are tormented by an evil genius, and hell itself cannot disinfect their impurity. There should be room in a healthy civilisation for the charity which rightly considers the nature of mistake, contradiction, imperfection of statement, and the like. Be honest, and you cannot long be puzzled; have a clear brain, a self-releasing, self-commending heart, and no man can do you permanent harm: the enemy may strike at your reputation, but he cannot injure your character. Italy, thou hast well said, "For an honest man half his wits are enough: but the whole are too little for a knave." He breaks down somewhere; the very cleverness he has displayed in the maintenance of his imposition is but an aggravation of the violence with which an honest community justly treats him. Distinguish always, however, between that which is mistaken and that which is malicious. If you want to find a verdict against a man, the witness who can tell the most lies is the witness you want; and you will gladly secure him: you want your victim to be wrong. On the other hand, if your spirit be honest, fearless, chivalrous, just, you will instantaneously take the position that every man is innocent until he is proved guilty, and all your mental action will move in that sacred and magnanimous direction. We are glad, therefore, to have found in Italy some proverbs that must have grown in the garden of honesty.
We have said nothing yet about Scotland. Have we in this roughly outlined argument cited one instance from Scotland's wit and practical genius? Take instances now: "A crow is no whiter for being washed." Who will say that Scotland is out in the cold in the matter of real pith and honest wisdom and downright good experience? Poor crow! we tried to wash it, and it is as black as ever. That is true. There are some men that never can be washed clean, morally, spiritually, internally, by any skill of human hands. Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? then may they who are accustomed to do evil do that which is good and sweet and right. O thou poor black bird, why dost thou try to wash thyself white? It cannot be done. The washing must be done in the heart. Make the heart right, and the external manners will be right also; make the tree good, and the fruit will be good. Why do men pay so much attention to outsides? why are we anxious to appear to be what we are not? Why not sit down in the school of Christ and learn of him that by the miracle of the Holy Ghost working in us there is no man so foul that he may not be made fit companion for an angel? The worst need not despair. But there must be no self-washing, self-trimming, self-adaptation, self-handling; there must be direct, immediate, complete surrender. Say, Almighty Spirit of the living God, create in me a clean heart; regenerate me: I fall into the hands of grace.
Has Scotland another proverb as good as that? It has a thousand proverbs quite as good. Here is one of them: "Better keep the devil out than have to turn him out." Are the English quick enough to see the meaning of that? Take it in the English form: "Prevention is better than cure." So, saith the Scotch wit, it is better to keep the devil out than have to turn him out. The devil is a proverbist; he says when he gets in, "Possession is nine points of the law,"—and when was the devil short of law? Keep him out! That is the motto. The devil of envy, the devil of covetousness, the devil of selfishness, the devil of jealousy, the devil of self-indulgence, the devil of prejudice,—keep him out; shut the door, shut the window, and even at great momentary inconvenience shut up the chimney, for if there is one inlet into your house he will avail himself of it Watch him; resist him, and he will flee from you; be vigilant, be sober, for your adversary the devil goeth about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. He is an early riser, and at night he is as young and strong as he was in the morning. He looks for your unguarded hours. O Lord, how dreadful is life. It is wanted by two worlds; thou, O Christ, dost want the soul, and the devil wants it, and the poor soul is torn to pieces: sweet Saviour, see to it that the soul be not won from thy keeping; into thy hands we commend our spirits. Do not toy with the devil; do not hobnob with him on the threshold. There are those, I am told, who come to the back door and appeal to it, and the moment it is opened they put in their foot—quite accidentally—so that the servant cannot close it again. There could be no intention in that, but there the huckster talks, tells his lies or tells his truth, pleads his case and offers his wares, and when the busy maid would bid him go, and shut the door in his face, there is the foot. The devil works just so. You should have a transparent pane of glass in your door, so that you can see him from the inside and shake your head at him. I have been obliged to do that at home,—just one little pane, and the money and the time that one pane saves abundantly compensates for the expenditure incurred. But what is thus simply domestic should be largely and intensely spiritual. Look ahead, be vigilant; do not open the door or the black foot will be there. And oh, what a tongue the enemy has! how seductive, how honeyed in tone, how musical! How he can drop into the minor key so dear to the heart in certain moods of softness and expectancy! But once let him get in, and who can turn the devil out?
Scotland shall give us one more, and thus be equal to Italy in number: "A thread will tie an honest man better than a rope will do a rogue." Are there rogues then out of Italy? Does Scotland as well as England know something about the ways of a rogue? Why, if we wanted to establish the real unity of the race, the rogue would do it. You need not go further than the rogue. He speaks all languages; he was born in every zone, under every sky, in every season of the year. The honest man feels restraint, and responds to it; the rogue feels the restraint, and defies it. A word is enough from an honest man; an oath will do nothing in the case of a thief or a rogue. If a man will not speak the truth without an oath, no oath that religious imagination ever conceived can make him speak the truth. Do not suppose that you have your friend or your partner or your companion safe because he has sworn a thousand oaths, or attested his friendship by a thousand protestations. A thread is enough where the heart is sound. Brethren, we may know the right, and not do it. Proverb-making is not proverb-keeping. Are we wiser than the pagans? We shall never be kept right by proverbs, though they may help us in many a moment of danger and difficulty. Only one thing can keep us right, and that is the living Spirit of the Eternal God. Have in you the spirit of wisdom, the spirit of truth, the spirit of honesty, and though you be not wise in the world's philosophy there shall be about you and all your conduct a sagacity which the wisest cannot gainsay. Pray that ye may become the temples of God the Holy Ghost Amen.
The proverbs of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel;The Proverbs of Solomon
The Book of Proverbs is not to be regarded simply as a collection of wise sayings, genial sentiments, prudent guesses, or affectionate exhortations. The book may be viewed, on the contrary, as representing the very science of practical philosophy. The proverb or saying is invariably put down after the event, and not before it In the latter case it would rank only with suggestions and speculations, but in the former case it expresses an accomplished and well-established fact. Viewed in this light, the Proverbs are supreme moral riches. We find in them what the wisest men in ancient times have proved to be the truth in the most practical aspects of life. When they speak of sin and penalty they not only propound a philosophy, they record a personal and general experience. When they praise understanding they can support their commendation by the largest indebtedness to its guidance and protection. When they say the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, they say in effect that, having tried every other form of so-called wisdom, they have been brought to the conclusion that only he is wise who puts his trust in the living God and obeys the will of heaven. In this way let us carefully distinguish between sentiment and reality, moral poetry and moral experience, the guesses of sagacity and the testimony of earnest life.
It is not necessary to suppose that Solomon is the author of all the Proverbs in this book. He may have been the collector or editor, as well as the originator. Let us regard the Proverbs as a moral note-book, or practical guide to life; it will then be doubly interesting to look into a guide drawn up by no less an authority than "Solomon the son of David, king of Israel." Sir Walter Scott has said that the question ought not only to be, What is said? but also, Who said it? In this instance the author is one of the most illustrious men in all history. He did not occupy the cell of a hermit, or limit himself by the prejudices of a narrow class, or shut out light from any quarter; he was a man of large mind, of determined will, and of a most inquiring and resolute spirit. It should therefore be keenly interesting to us to know what such a man has brought back from the fields of experience, and what he has set down with the sanction of his own name. We could have declined the advice of a monastic, on the ground that he knew nothing of the length and breadth of life; we could have listened with indifference to the moralising of a mere philosopher, and have justified our inattention by the plea that he was acquainted only with words and phrases, and not with the actual discipline of life; but when Solomon, who swept the whole circle of social experience, seats himself in the preceptor's chair, and undertakes to teach the young and the simple words of understanding, we are bound to listen to him as one who has authority to speak—an authority not only highly intellectual, but intensely practical. What, then, was Solomon's view of life? His tone is marked by the deepest sobriety. We may not fall back upon the errors of his life for the purpose of setting aside the urgency of his moral exhortations; if we are wise we shall rather regard these errors as adding new cogency to his pleas and persuasions. The man who has been in the pit can speak most vividly about its depth and darkness. He who is bruised in every limb can best tell how strong is the foe with whom the young man has to deal in the conflict incident to opening life.
"To know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion" (Proverbs 1:2-4).
Here is a great proposal, nothing less than to invest the young man with wisdom and clothe him with honour and discretion. Not a word is said about riches or social position. Solomon had proved the vanity of these things. He distinctly shows that it is possible for a young man to lead an intellectual life, and to ennoble that life by moral purity and beneficence, so that there shall not only be intense mental brilliance, but solid and useful character. The mind was made for wisdom and instruction. Commonplace as this remark may appear, yet its recognition lies at the root of all true endeavour to increase in judgment and wisdom. Frivolity cannot satisfy the mind. Things finite leave the mind in a discontented temper. All things that may be gathered by the hand, and measured by the eye, and estimated by figures of arithmetic, have been proved to be but transient blessings. Yet who can define understanding, wisdom, justice, judgment, equity, honour, and discretion? These seem to be but sentimental terms or symbols of things impossible. The young man is not expected to realise their full meaning at once, nor does it lie within his power to do so. The growth of wisdom is like the increase of light, shining more and more from dawn to noon. We cannot tell when we become really wise, so gradual, so imperceptible is the process. Yet there is no doubt of the growth, for it is testified in innumerable ways. Little by little we see further and see more clearly, and grasp more intricate combinations, and feel enabled to judge larger occasions and interests than before. Wisdom is nothing so long as it is confined to the mind of the silent or inactive student; it is when wisdom is put to the test of experience, when it can find its way in the dark without stumbling, when it can answer the deepest questions of the heart, when it can excel all other comfort which has been offered to the sorrow of life, that it proves its true compass and its genuine power. The young man should begin life as a listener. For a long time he should be almost silent. The world is now old enough to require great meditation in order to comprehend the issues of its experience. But whilst the young man is preserving a wise silence, he should at the same time be storing his mind with such instruction as admits of being applied to real necessities and demands. A fancy-wisdom, if it may be so called, is a mere intellectual vanity. It is possible to be intellectually industrious and yet for all the industry to end in moral uselessness. The two processes should be combined—namely, the pursuit of wisdom, and the pursuit of such wisdom as admits of being brought into utility in judgment and operation. This is what is called practical wisdom. It saves the mind from mere vanity, and whilst stimulating the intellectual power it lifts the whole character to a higher and better level.
"A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels: to understand a proverb, and the interpretation; the words of the wise, and their dark sayings" (Proverbs 1:5-6).
"Appetite grows by what it feeds on." Listening is a sign of wisdom. Wisdom is not self-complete, in the sense of being final in its revelations to the human mind. What wisdom has given is but an earnest of what it will give to the listening and inquiring soul. The wise man hears with a view to an "increase of learning." To stop learning is really to prove that we have never begun it. This is true of Scriptural as well as of general learning. The meaning of the Bible is not limited by the letter. The best commentary upon the Bible is the history of mankind as we see it proceeding day by day. The Bible not only looks towards the past, but towards the future, and claims to prove its inspiration by keeping company with the evolution of all thought and action proved to be good and useful to mankind. We pay no worthy tribute to the Bible by supposing that we know it, simply because we can quote it in the letter, nor is it doing justice to inspiration by regarding it as final and complete as to its adaptations. Events occur which unexpectedly interpret doctrines. We do not limit the providence of God to ancient history, then why should we limit his revelation to ages long gone by? We hold that Providence is active and beneficent to-day; it is the joy of the Christian to believe that even now all the affairs of the world are ruled by a living Power consummate in wisdom and in love; recognising this immediate and living Providence, there should be no difficulty in so enlarging our conception of Providence as to bring within its scope the daily illumination of spiritual mysteries, and the consequent daily increase of spiritual learning. The aim of true wisdom, according to the fifth verse, is that "a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels." That is to say, his understanding shall not be merely speculative or abstract, a miracle of useless genius, but it shall come to practical fruition in ability to deal with the affairs of life, discriminating almost infallibly between what is right and wrong, wise and unwise, fit and unfit, in all the mutable economy of life. Spiritual understanding is to be put to practical tests. Every age has a right to say, What have our religious men to say about this difficulty? Has God made no revelation to them as to the duty of the individual or the nation? What has been gained in the way of guidance by the single and united prayer of the Church? All this is in striking harmony with reason, for of what use is even understanding itself, unless it culminate in practical counsel which men and nations can accept in darkness and perplexity? By this time the Church should have brought itself into high sagacity, and prepared itself to deal with all the urgent problems of the day. When our prayerful and godly men take in hand the solution of the world's bewilderment, and the healing of the world's diseases, it will be acknowledged that understanding and prayer have realised their highest purpose.
A proverb does not always give up its meaning instantly, without effort on the part of the reader or student. Proverbs are condensed philosophies. Sometimes proverbs are condensed histories. Sometimes the interpretation of a proverb seems to lie a long way from what is most obvious in its mere letter. Wise men who speak even about "earthly things" are often obliged to have recourse to "dark sayings." Some truths can only be hinted at; some reforms can only be outlined, and then can only be shown as if in twilight; there are dark things in life for which names can be found only by a kind of spiritual genius; there are also possible reforms or re-arrangements of lite which even the proposers hardly realise in all their scope and uses,—hence even reformers and spiritual teachers of every kind have often expressed themselves darkly, suggestively, tentatively, so much so that their hesitation has been misunderstood and mocked by fluent ignorance and superficial ability. Dark sayings are often like roots, which lie a long time in the earth before their juices begin to move and their inner life seeks to express itself in stem, and leaf, and blossom, and fruit. Whilst all this is true, we are not to suppose that a saying is wise simply because it is dark. The stream may be muddy, not deep. The world has now had education enough to be able to judge between that which is really deep and that which is only confused. We should be sufficiently self-controlled to await developments, to test dreams, to give even improbable theories a hearing; ever have enough behind us which is historically and personally proved to enable us to await with calmness the issue of every new proposal and the solution of every difficult problem. Let wisdom justify itself by listening; let learning prove its reality by its increase; let understanding vindicate itself by wise counsels; let the most advanced thinker know that there is always some proverb yet to be interpreted, or some dark saying which has yet to receive illustration.
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction" (Proverbs 1:7).
The expression, "the fear of the Lord," has been counted thirteen times in the Proverbs, and may be considered quite characteristic of the Old Testament. Instead of the expression so suitable to the old covenant, we find in the New Testament the larger and more gracious term, "the love of God." The Apostle Paul says the love of Christ constraineth us. The New Testament proceeds on the theory that "he that feareth is not made perfect in love;" and the last writer in the New Testament sums up his teaching in the striking expression, "If God so loved us, we ought also to love one another." It is to be noted that "the fear of the Lord" is only indicated as "the beginning of wisdom." A further education is needed, and is provided for by the increasing fulness and graciousness of Christian revelation. Whilst, however, it is but "the beginning," it is also a necessary or essential beginning; that is to say, a beginning without which progress is impossible: there are experimental beginnings which may be good or bad, but about the fear of the Lord there is nothing of the nature of mere experiment. It is as necessary to the building of the temple of wisdom as is a foundation with its huge and solid corner-stones. The fact that the fear of the Lord is but the beginning of wisdom should teach those who are in a merely reverential mood of mind that they are not called upon to be teachers, they are scholars of the first or lowest type, whose business it is to make progress in spiritual education. "Perfect love casteth out fear." Only those, therefore, who have passed from fear to love can understand the mystery of the divine economy and purpose. If we love not, we know not God. So then in the teaching of the divine mysteries, he who loves most sees furthest, and can best explain the law of heaven. The wise man said, "Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man." Fear is not to be considered as dispensed with in the Christian economy, for the apostle calls upon us, in his Epistle to the Hebrews, "to have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear." It is to be noted that in the seventh verse there is a contrast established between those who fear God and so begin knowledge, and those self-willed, obstinate persons who will receive no advice, who are called "fools," and are said to despise wisdom and instruction. They may be said indeed to be twice fools; first for despising wisdom and instruction, and secondly for being without the wisdom and instruction which they despise. The action is twofold, though at first sight it may appear to be without a double reference. Fools despise wisdom and instruction because their indolence is stronger than their energy, their self-idolatry is larger than their appreciation of things beyond their present possession; especially do they despise wisdom because of the moral effect which it would have upon their whole method and type of life. Having despised wisdom and instruction they are necessarily imprisoned in mental narrowness and darkness, and are left behind in the march of a living and generous civilisation. Without reverence even knowledge itself tends but to vanity. It is not indeed knowledge in any deep or useful sense of the term; it is only the information which comes or goes with the passing hour, and is the minister of cunning self-promotion or any other aspect of false life. Religion is the foundation of solidity of character. It is no argument to say that religion has been debased into superstition, and that the effect of superstition upon the character has been disastrous; we are not talking about superstition, but about religion properly comprehended and applied—that intelligent apprehension of the divine personality and rule which divests the soul of self-confidence and vanity, and prompts it to seek daily light and help from the God who is lovingly adored.
"My son, hear the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother: for they shall be an ornament of grace unto thy head, and chains about thy neck" (Proverbs 1:8-9).
The word "son" in the eighth verse may be equivalent to the word "pupil" rather than to the word "child." The son is invited to accept the experience of those who have lived before him and tested life at many points. It is important to preserve the line of moral discovery in all its continuousness and completeness, lest life should be frittered away in making needless experiments. Earnest men will ask, What has been done already? What have our ancestors discovered as to the operation of moral laws? History thus becomes a commentary upon revelation, and a treasure which may be freely drawn upon by those who wish to turn their lives to the wisest account. If analogy were needed, it could be found in the practice of those who study the economy of nations, the action and re-action of life in all its practical trusts and enterprises; in all these departments great store is set by what the fathers and mothers have said, and the higher the mind the more delicacy is there felt in treating precedents with neglect or contempt. We are not left to discover at this late period of time whether good results will follow good behaviour, and bad results will follow upon wicked actions; all that has been settled for us by countless years of personal and national experience, and therefore it ought to be accepted as a starting-point, a standard, and a guide. Very beautiful is it to notice that the "son" is encouraged to hear his father's instruction and abide by his mother's law, on the ground that his obedience shall turn the instruction and the law into ornaments of grace and chains of honour. There is an operation of what may be called the law of rewards. A motive need not be corrupt because it is only secondary. The child works for prizes at school rather than for the love of learning, yet whilst he is gaining the prize he is preparing himself to appreciate that learning the acquisition of which the prize represents. Wisdom is evermore the true ornament. Understanding is a jewel which increases in value from year to year. All decoration that is merely outward belongs to the man without being part of the man, but intellectual accomplishments, moral refinement, mental discernment, gracious, sympathetic, wise appreciation of the weight and force of circumstances, patience, and long-suffering inspired by a hope which owes its existence to the power of comprehending larger fields of service and boundless horizons of outlook, are an integral part of the soul itself. Instruction will keep a man from isolation. Wisdom will lift him above the tyranny of mutable circumstances. Knowledge will enable him to throw a bridle upon his temper, and to keep the door of his lips when ignorant men would commit themselves to reckless judgments and ruinous pledges. "If any man lack wisdom let him ask of God." "Honour thy father and thy mother, which is the first commandment with promise." "Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well pleasing unto the Lord." Here, as everywhere, promise is attached to obedience, and heaven seems to meet halfway those who have made their vows at the altar of wisdom and bound their souls to enter the temple of knowledge.
"My son, if sinners entice thee, consent thou not. If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk privily for the innocent without cause: let us swallow them up alive as the grave; and whole, as those that go down into the pit: we shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil: cast in thy lot among us; let us all have one purse: my son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: for their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood. Surely in vain the net is spread in the sight of any bird. And they lay wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives. So are the ways of every one that is greedy of gain; which taketh away the life of the owners thereof" (Proverbs 1:10-19).
Palestine was at all times exposed to the crime of brigandage, not only because of the wild character of its formation, but because of its neighbourhood to predatory tribes, who lost no opportunity of availing themselves of the weakness of the government supposed to preside over the destinies of that country. Although that which is local and temporary has no longer any place in these exhortations, the principle which inspires them is evermore operating in social life. Sinners enough are found in all ranks of society who would seek to tempt ardent and inexperienced youth to do that which promises immediate and substantial profit. Sinners who "entice" are the worst members of their species. Not only do they sin themselves, their delight is to corrupt and involve others. If sinners are so energetic, good men should be equally on the alert to repel their reproaches, and to bring the young into a state of spiritual security. Where the enemy is most active the Christian should be most watchful. Enticing sinners seek to excite enthusiasm in evil ways; there is a tone of grim cheerfulness and vivacity in their exhortations which would seem to promise the immediate realisation not only of great riches, but of great joy. As a matter of fact, men will do in crowds what they would shrink from doing in their individuality. Hence there has arisen a great distinction between war and murder. That which would be murder in the case of a single slaughter becomes glory in the destruction of hundreds and in the subjection of nationalities. Beware of all programmes the end of which is supposed to be self-aggrandisement. "We shall find all precious substance, we shall fill our houses with spoil." As in the case of goodness, so in the case of evil, there is a distinct promise of reward. Nothing, therefore, is to be judged by the reward itself, but rather by the promises which culminate in the reward. Satan promises liberty to the man whom he enslaves. Probably at the moment of promising them freedom he is the more firmly riveting their manacles and fetters. It is the part of wise men to dissuade the young from doing that which is evil. They cannot always begin with positive or constructive work, so much has to be done that is of the nature of caution or prevention. The teacher in this case seeks to operate upon the sensibilities of the young by pointing out the cruelty of evildoers—"their feet make haste to shed blood," in their hearts they are men-haters, they are murderers, they are blasphemers against the law of life and security. The teacher further makes a philosophical appeal to the young when he points out that bad men actually "will wait for their own blood; they lurk privily for their own lives," yet they are blinded so that they cannot see how in reality they are suicides as well as murderers. The teacher, therefore, has strong ground on which to make an appeal to the reason and feeling of the young. He remembers that the wicked pursue a self-defeating policy—"he made a pit, and digged it, and is fallen into the ditch which he made. His mischief shall return upon his own head, and his violent dealing shall come down upon his own pate." The Christian Church should energetically point out to the young the nets which are spread for them in every direction all over the field of life; it should also point out the hollowness of all immoral enthusiasm. In ancient days the wicked said to one another, and to those whom they would entangle, "Come ye, I will fetch wine, and we will fill ourselves with strong drink; and to morrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant."
We have already seen in our studies in the Book of Deuteronomy that the same exhortation was delivered to the people of God in earliest times. "If thy brother, the son of thy mother, or thy son, or thy daughter, or the wife of thy bosom, or thy friend which is as thine own soul, entice thee secretly, saying, Let us go and serve other gods... thou shalt not consent unto him, nor hearken unto him; neither shall thine eye pity him, neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him." It should be pointed out that it is often the rudest and coarsest temptation that is offered to the young; in this case the teacher deals with the vulgar promise of having abundance of gain. It is supposed that money answereth all things, not only in the way of comfort, but in the way of temptation and seduction from honourable courses. "He that is greedy of gain troubleth his own house.""One of the twelve, called Judas Iscariot, went unto the chief priests, and said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you?" A nobler exhortation is given by the Apostle Paul than is given by the sordid men who figure as tempters in this section. Hear his noble words, "The love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. But thou, O man of God, flee these things; and follow after righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, meekness." Compare the two exhortations, and not a moment need be lost in deciding which is right and which is wrong. We know the voice of purity when we hear it. There is something in the heart of man which recognises noble appeals even when it does not respond to them. "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: but every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed." The two voices will always be addressing human attention—the voice of lust and the voice of love, the voice of knowledge and the voice of ignorance, the voice that is carnal and the voice that is spiritual. Blessed are they who distinguish between them, and gladly obey the exhortation which evidently comes down from heaven.
Wisdom crieth without; she uttereth her voice in the streets:The Complaint of Wisdom
Wisdom now turns from her children and addresses those who despise her. The address extends from the 20th verse to the 23rd. Wisdom in this address is personated; it has been considered that the word in the plural number represents the varied and all but innumerable excellences of true and just understanding. Even if we take the personation as highly poetical, this need not divest the speech of such merits as can be tested by reason and experience. If in the first instance Wisdom is here to be regarded as signifying the highest intellectual sagacity combined with anxious moral discrimination, yet the highest form of the thought is only fulfilled in him who is in very deed the wisdom of God. A comparison of Luke 11:49 with Matthew 23:34 almost shuts us up to the conclusion that Jesus Christ applied these words to himself. The Apostle Paul says that Jesus Christ has been made unto us wisdom, and that in him are hid all the treasures of wisdom. The description of Wisdom as uttering a loud cry in public, and making all the streets resound with her exclamation, represents the depth and poignancy of her solicitude. Christianity cannot see men rushing down to the chamber of death without uttering a protest and proclaiming a gospel. Wisdom should not enclose herself within her own sanctuary, and shut her eyes to the real facts of actual life as it is to be seen "on the streets," and in the hiding-places of sin and shame. Jesus Christ went abroad amongst men and made himself acquainted with the actual condition of the people. When he came near the city he wept over it. When he saw the multitudes he had compassion upon them. The Church is not to be the quiet and sacred home in which Christianity enjoys itself, but is to represent the refreshment and the strengthening which the Church requires in order to qualify her to deal with the depravity, the ignorance, the squalor, and the despair of the people at large. Wisdom urges herself forward until she attains a position in the chief places of concourse, even in the openings of the gates, and at the very centre of the city. Wisdom is an evangelist. Wisdom is not afraid of being contaminated by the pollution which it seeks to heal. Wisdom is assured that her counsels are necessary for the elevation of humanity, and the whole direction and happy completion of the purposes of human life. The attitude in which Wisdom is represented in this passage is the attitude in which the Church should constantly find herself. Wisdom is aggressive. Not only does she declare her own excellence, she seeks by zealous importunity to draw others to her shrine, that obeying her instructions they may become blessed with freedom and inspired with hope.
Wisdom first addresses the simple ones; that is, men who are open to good influences or impressions, but also to those that are evil. The Proverbs, according to the fourth verse, were intended to give subtilty to the simple. Then she proceeds to address the scorners, asking them why they delight in their scorning. The scorners are to be regarded as men who hold in contempt all holy things, and actually congratulate themselves upon their skill in so doing,—"A scorner seeketh wisdom, and findeth it not: but knowledge is easy unto him that understandeth,"—proud, arrogant men, who imagine that they cannot be instructed, and who pour their contemptuous criticisms upon men who seek the nobler life. Then Wisdom proceeds to address fools, men who hate knowledge, men of debased mind, who are all but incapable of high thinking, and who live with stolid content within the circle of their own ignorance. It has been noticed that, bad as is the condition of the simple, the scornful, and the foolish, Wisdom does not despair of reclaiming them from the error of their ways. It is not the part of divine wisdom to leave men where they are, uttering over them words of helplessness and despair. God insists that even the worst may be converted, and those who are farthest astray may be brought penitently to the altars they have forsaken. This is a high and fascinating distinction of the blessed gospel of grace. It comes out into the highways and the hedges; it eats with publicans and sinners; it calls to them that are afar off, and assures those who are hardest of heart that love waits to welcome and to pardon them. Observe further that all these descriptions are to be taken in their moral as well as in their intellectual sense. Men have not only gone astray in their minds, they have committed treason in their hearts, and because their hearts are corrupt the whole estate of manhood has been overthrown and laid desolate.
Wisdom is not content with criticising the condition of the simple, the scornful, and the foolish, she proceeds to make a great offer to those who have most completely turned their back upon all her charms and claims. Her words are, "Behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you." This is the first great act of Wisdom—namely, the gift of a new spirit. Thus Wisdom deals radically with the awful circumstances which excite her solicitude. She does not propose to create a new environment—that is to say, to alter circumstances here and there so as the more thoroughly to please the eye, or gratify any of the senses. She aims at the renewal of the spirit; not at mere amendment, but at the substitution of the Divine Spirit for the spirit of selfishness and worldliness. It must be God's light that destroys men's darkness. The earth can only be warmed by the sun, and brought out of winter bondage by the graciousness of the heavens. As the earth never leads herself out of winter into summer, but is always taken upon that upward and enchanting journey by the action of the sun, so the heart of man never finds a way for itself into true and enduring liberty, but is conducted from bondage into freedom by the direct action of the Spirit of God. Not only will the Spirit be given as a new energy, but instruction will be added—"I will make known my words unto you." These words cannot be made known to any man who has the wrong spirit, "If any man love me, I will manifest myself unto him." Divinest things are hidden from the wise and prudent, and are revealed unto babes. "If any man will do God's will, he shall know of the doctrine." Look now upon the whole picture, and see if it be not marked with the highest dignity and the most assuring tenderness. Even as a picture this description ought to arrest attention and awaken gratitude. According to the lines thus portrayed, men have gone astray from light, and truth, and love, and have involved themselves in all manner of evil thinking and evil doing; so much so that God is no longer in their thoughts, and the whole purpose of life is given up either to intellectual scorning or to moral putrefaction. To a world thus lost Wisdom goes forth as from the sanctuary of heaven, the very temple and throne of light, and, whilst condemning the state in which the world is found, she offers a new spirit and a new will, and does so with the infinite enthusiasm of love. This is not a mere offer, it is an act of importunity; it is not a proposal given with the air of an ultimatum, the proposition represents anxiety, concern, even agony. Wisdom has gone forth to win a conquest, or to retire as with a broken heart. When Jesus Christ offers men rest, the disappointment which will follow their neglect cannot but fill him with the intensest grief. Wisdom does not adopt the tone of curt argument, as one who would say to others, You are wrong, and I alone am right. Wisdom cries, she lifts up her voice in the street, she yields herself to the inspiration of a generous passion; she does not intend to return to her rest at night until the whole city has been filled with the music of her all-including gospel.
"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. Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices. For the turning away of the simple shall slay them, and the prosperity of fools shall destroy them. But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil" (Proverbs 1:24-33).
The action now changes. We are to think of Wisdom having made her offer, and having been refused by those to whom she addressed herself. Mercy now gives place to judgment. The day of persuasion is limited. We may form some conception of the range and intensity of the speech of mercy when we consider the blackness and completeness of the judgment which follows refusal. If to understand man's sin we may have to look at God's mercy, so to understand God's mercy we may often have to look at God's judgments. When all heaven is black with thunder, because of the violence which is found in the earth, we may form some conception of the nature of the violence by the blackness of the thunder which threatens it. Whatever may be the doom which awaits the sinner, whatever theory of the future may be adopted by speculative thinkers, no man can peruse the Bible without being made to feel that the penalty which follows sin is appalling, not only beyond expression, but beyond imagination. It may be that Calvary can only be fully explained by perdition. The Son of God did not die to save men simply from the sleep of unconsciousness, or from the insignificant ruin of oblivion. Men should tread the sacred ground which relates to the future of sin with trembling feet. He who makes light of the doom of the sinner makes light of the whole priesthood of Jesus Christ. Whatever may be the speculative truth, it is not too much to say that the evangelical conception of law involves a very glorious conception of the work which Jesus Christ came to accomplish.
Notice that Wisdom can only "call." It is for the sinner to say whether he will accept or refuse. Wisdom says, "I have called," and then she adds, with mournful pathos, "ye refused." This is a vivid statement of a great philosophical thought; the action of the human will is a mystery which has never been fully explained, but it is everywhere recognised in the volume of revelation. Jesus Christ said, "Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life." Even when the Saviour addressed men who came to him with the utmost humility, he said to them, "What will ye?" On the last day of the feast he offered to give water to the thirsty, but it was for the thirsty to say whether they would accept the gracious overture. Herein is the mystery of human nature; it is so weak as to be consumed before the moth, and yet so great that it can deny its God and reject his love. But the action does not rest at this point: an offer has been made and rejected, voices of reconciliation and pardon have been disregarded; beyond this there is an action exceeding all others in melancholy—Wisdom will laugh at the calamity of the sinner, and mock when fear comes upon the bad man. Surely beneath all the poetry in which this future is represented there is the very spirit of philosophy and justice. The reason is given for the terrible judgment The action on the divine side is in no sense arbitrary; even whilst the judgment burns as an oven it condescends to give a reason for its intensity. Observe the word "because" in the 24th verse, after that word comes a statement of the reasons upon which God proceeds. What we have to ask is whether the impeachment itself is correct. Have we in very deed refused the offers of Wisdom, have we disregarded the command of God, have we set at nought all the divine counsel, have we rejected all the holy reproof of the Lord? If we decide these inquiries in the affirmative, then the rest will proceed inevitably, irresistibly! So long as the offer is made our strength to accept it is recognised; but when that offer is rejected our only strength is to go forward to evil and ruin, to be driven before a righteous judgment into the punishment which awaits impurity and disobedience. Who can dwell upon the words "laugh" and "mock"? They need not be taken literally and thus become limited in their significance, or made to assume aspects which may be supposed to be unworthy of the Sovereign of the universe. They are poor signs of the reality of what God will do. He will act as if he laughed, and as if he mocked. There is a time predicted when men shall call unto the rocks and unto the mountains to fall on them and hide them from the face of the Lamb; but rocks and mountains have never been on the side of the sinner, all nature in her silent processes has ever been the servant and the ally of God. Nor does the action end even at this point. Let us see how the action now stands: first, Wisdom has called; secondly, men have refused; thirdly, judgment has ensued; and now, fourthly, those who have been condemned make suit unto the God they have despised. "Then shall they call upon me, but I will not answer; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me." Jesus Christ distinctly points out that there is a time when the door will be shut, and men will stand without, saying, "Lord, Lord, open unto us;" but he will answer, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." All the meaning of this, who shall adequately reveal? These are not matters for intellectual speculation; may they never be matters of actual experience! We cannot, however, but be struck with the careful manner in which reasons are always given for this outcome of evil courses. Hear how the indictment proceeds: "They hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would none of my counsels: they despised all my reproof—therefore"! If men will not plough the earth, or cast in the seed, or take advantage of the opportunities created by the sun, in harvest they shall beg, and in winter they shall be desolate. Does any one complain of the arbitrariness of the course of nature? Do not men instantly sit in judgment upon those who have allowed the seasons to pass by without availing themselves of the opportunities offered? Instantly the spirit of criticism arises and declares that nature has been outraged, that law has been dishonoured, and that only suffering can follow. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God; it is also a fearful thing to fall into the hands of neglected nature. The divine economy of the universe is one. A sacred unity binds together all worlds, all laws, all souls, all destinies. Surely he is a scorner and a fool who undertakes to live a life apart from that economy, and who supposes that, having detached himself from the central power, he can create a rival throne, and sway with success a competitive sceptre. "Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?"