The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
My son, forget not my law; but let thine heart keep my commandments:The Programme of Life
There is a tenderness peculiar to the paternal voice; if its tones are apparently harsher than those of the maternal appeal, yet they tremble with as true a pathos. There are few more subduing sights than that of the father instructing the child in the ways of wisdom. He adopts no cold and formal method of communication. His ministry is full of the heart's fondest love. He speaks not as a mere hireling, but with an affection unconstrained, profound, immeasurable.
This is a father's voice. Mark the persuasiveness of the father's method; there is no attempt to drive the young soul into the way of wisdom. The method is one of affectionate remonstrance and allurement. The method is in harmony with the purpose, and the purpose is in full accord with the spontaneity, the dignity, and self-control of man's mental and moral constitution. Men may be driven to despair; they cannot be whipped into joy. Let the religious parent then copy this method; let him know that strength loses nothing by gentleness, and that judgment is sublimated by mercy. There is a family piety which is family crucifixion; compulsion takes the place of persuasion, and the Father in heaven is only known as exceeding in terror the father on earth. This ought not so to be. Religion should be expressed in the tenderest tones, attired in the most attractive garb, surrounded by the most alluring fascinations. Religion thus taught will be a perpetual joy in the recollection of the child. In days to come he will say, "I delight in the law of God after the inward man." "My delight is in the law of the Lord; and in his law do I meditate day and night!" That which is a pleasure in youth will be a delight in old age. "Make me to go in the path of thy commandments; for therein do I delight." All other joys fail, but this increases into rapture. "I will delight myself in thy commandments, which I have loved." "I have esteemed the words of his mouth more than my necessary food." "O how I love thy law! it is my meditation all the day." Blessed are such memories! Much depends on the father's method; let that be right, and the blessing will be abundant as the showers that water the earth.
"For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to thee" (Proverbs 3:2).
Reward must follow goodness. We are not taught to be good for the sake of the reward; in fact, it is impossible to make hope of reward the motive of goodness. It is not goodness; it is self-seeking. It is natural, however, that the good man should have all that God deems best for him. "No good thing will he withhold from them that walk uprightly." All possible limitations of this promise are really only variations of method, not changes of nature. By discipline God refines the taste, enlarges the capacity, and simplifies the motive; and thus discipline itself does the winter's work in our nature, in preparation for the golden and prolific summer. The winter may be harsh, but May plants the most beautiful flowers in soil which has been held fast in the grip of frost. "0 fear the Lord, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him." "My God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus." Goodness marches onward, inspired by promises which fill the heart with the joy of assured victory. "He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous: he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly." "Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the Lord his God."
"Let not mercy and truth forsake thee: bind them about thy neck; write them upon the table of thine heart: so shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man" (Proverbs 3:3-4).
Mercy and truth are the great pillars and ornaments of man. Strength and beauty make up the fulness of perfection. Strength is stern, it is softened by beauty; beauty is frail, it is dignified by strength. Every man should be anxious about truth; but truth should tend towards mercy. The perfect man combines both. We lose nothing by gentleness. The mighty oak looks well when swaying in response to the rocking winds.
This wise father advises his son to make mercy and truth his ornaments—"bind them about thy neck." The figure is beautiful, and has had a Christian adaptation---"Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering." This is the abiding decoration. It brightens as time passes; it is rendered more valuable by long use.
Not only spiritual but social blessings are promised to the obedient son. "So shalt thou find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man." In the long run the good man gets his right place, and wields his right influence. "The expectation of the wicked shall perish." The success of the bad man is apparent, not real; it is a glittering but an insubstantial prize. "The eyes of the wicked shall fail, and they shall not escape, and their hope shall be as the giving up of the ghost."
Character, in proportion to its depth, compass, and intensity, requires time for its full exposition and establishment. The politic man may find short cuts to popularity, but the profoundly earnest man takes nothing for which he cannot return a fair equivalent. If he works long without recognition, his recognition will be the more valuable when it is accorded. The young man has here a programme which cannot fail. There is a miserable and vile saying, that "honesty is the best policy." No man can possibly be honest who works only for politic ends—the policy vitiates the honesty. Let young men look well to their moral foundations, and how cold soever, or stormy, the winds which blow around them, their standing-place shall not be shaken.
There is a self-reliance that is wisdom; there is a self-reliance that is presumption. Where there is self-reliance towards man, it is good and most praiseworthy; where there is self-reliance towards God, it is practical blasphemy. This direction of the wise father shows the individuality of divine oversight. God directs each man as if he were the only man to be directed. "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." There is a solemn responsibility attaching to the fact that we may have God as a directing Father. The matter is not one of mere speculation, however hopeful, but of positive revelation. "I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go: I will guide thee with mine eye." "I will bring the blind by a way that they knew not; I will lead them in paths that they have not known: I will make darkness light before them, and crooked things straight."
The communication of suggestion to the mind is a most subtle yet interesting and important question. The springs of the mind are divinely touched, the vigour of the understanding is increased, and the eye quickened to unusual penetration, by influences beyond our control, though within the wide sphere of our prayers. Why should not ideas be directly communicated from the divine mind, as directly as when the prophet heard and saw the intimations of God in the ancient time? If the devil can tempt, why cannot God inspire, suggest, and direct? "If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not." This is pre-eminently the age of the Spirit. All God's service towards man seems to move through the mental and spiritual sphere. The visible miracle has disappeared. The fleshly ministry is at an end. Now we have ideas, emotions, kindlings of genius, and a spirit of philanthropy such as the world never saw. What the hand once did the mind does now. God burns in the bush whose eaves have healing virtue, and the God of the living reveals methods of healing. God stands at the junction of roads and says, "This is the way;" he tells the toiling labourer where to cast the net, and, by controlling or affecting the operations of the mind, he shows the Church "greater works" than the miracles which struck an age with panic or thrilled a world with grateful wonder. Then let us know our ignorance, tremble in our weakness, and flee to heaven for direction, strength, and all comfort of the soul. "My people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water." In so far as this charge touches our experience, let us fall humbly before the Lord and beseech him to pardon our self-dependence. "Who is among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God."
"Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the Lord, and depart from evil. It shall be health to thy navel, and marrow to thy bones. Honour the Lord with thy substance, and with the firstfruits of all thine increase: so shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine" (Proverbs 3:7-10).
This is a continuation of the same idea. Goodness has a happy effect upon the body, upon the circumstances, upon the whole man. Its result is altogether excellent, without defect or blemish of any kind. How stupendous the folly, as well as the sin, of those who seek prosperity elsewhere than in a right relation towards God! He is deemed insane who lights a taper in presence of the summer sun that he may shed light upon his way; but how mad is he who sets his own ignorance against the counsel of the most High! "Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight!"
The wise father now calls his "son" to honour the Lord with the firstfruits of all his increase, and promises that giving shall be getting—"So shall thy barns be filled with plenty, and thy presses shall burst out with new wine." No man can "serve God for nought," but the man who serves him for sake of the reward shall perish in expectation. To every faithful servant God's promise is true: "The Lord shall command the blessing upon thee in thy storehouses, and in all that thou settest thine hand unto; and he shall bless thee in the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee." We should soon be richer if we made ourselves poorer by generous service. "Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward."
It is to be borne in mind still that this exhortation is addressed to a young man, one who has life before him, all its perilous hazards, or fortunate speculations; he is to give as he gets, to make an instant, grateful, and abundant recognition of God's mercy. God is to have the "first;" whoever is kept waiting, God is to be promptly and liberally acknowledged. "He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully." When youthful Christians make this their rule there will be an overflowing blessing poured throughout all the churches. God waits for this! He has greater gifts in reserve, but he tarries for man. "Prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." The promise transcends our unworthy faith. We receive it with doubting. The most compulsive motive almost fails to move us. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." If this voice fail, we know not what trumpet can awake the dead.
"My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: for whom the Lord loveth he correcteth; even as a father the son in whom he delighteth" (Proverbs 3:11-12).
There is hardly a heart that will not understand the meaning of "chastening," but many hearts fail to connect the word "chastening" with the word "Lord," and some who acknowledge the connection misinterpret the purpose of the union. The course of human life is a course of "chastening." Among the child's earliest experiences are those of pain, restraint, rebuke, correction. Throughout the educational period the same experiences prevail. The mercantile, the professional, the domestic circles, all have their ordeals. It is to be understood, therefore, that "chastening" is not a word confined to the vocabulary of religion. The shadow falls everywhere; summer has its shadow as well as winter. A survey of human society will show the observer that "chastening" seems to be unequally distributed. The rod is not administered to all uniformly, periodically, and with common measure. The eyes of the wicked stand out with fatness, they have more than heart could wish; while many a godly man is tottering under an intolerable burden, or smarting with anguish which he cannot express. How is this? His chastening is not atheistic: it is "the chastening of the Lord." The divine sculptor is using a sharp chisel; the heavenly Father is employing a heavy rod; the severe refiner sits over a glowing furnace. Thus "chastening" is taken out of the heart-chilling region of atheism, and set down in the midst of the very household of God. There is a "chastening" that hath on it no superscription; but there is also a chastening which is written within and without by the finger divine.
One impressive idea of the text is that there is a possibility of treating godly chastisement in an ungodly spirit. It may be "despised," or it may be endured with impatience. Jeremiah complains in this strong language: "Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return." In this case the godly chastisement was received in an ungodly spirit. Thus chastisement is hard to endure. It fails of its purpose. Instead of moving the spirit to lofty aspiration, or subduing it to penetential tears, it touches the flesh only, and thus it is as if healing medicine intended to be imbibed should be merely thrown upon the surface of the body. There are preparations intended to be taken, and preparations intended to be applied. Reverse the intention, and how absurd or terrible the result! It is even so with God's chastening: it is intended for the spirit, yet it may be arrested at the body; the smart of the flesh should tell upon the slumbering or rebellious spirit. It was thus that the Psalmist accepted "the chastening of the Lord,"—"Before I was afflicted I went astray: but now have I kept thy word." "It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes."
The first word—"despised"—is severe; let it be assumed, then, that it contains no indictment against us; can we say as much of the second word—"weary"? Many hearts strong enough not to "despise" are yet weak enough to become weary and impatient. "Ye have need of patience, that, after ye have done the will of God, ye might receive the promise." God's purpose requires time for its exposition and realisation, and we require patience to abide its complete unfoldment—"Let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing." We know the victories of patience in various departments of service. Patience has accomplished what the most overwhelming strength could never effect. Look at a piece of sculpture: patience, not muscular force, curved the lips, moulded the eyelids, softened the lines into easy gracefulness, and made the rough stone beautiful as death if not palpitant as life; So with delicate machinery, so with refined painting; and so, indeed, with the trifling matter of perfect ornamentation and completeness of dress—"perfect and entire, wanting nothing." Why, then, be impatient under the discipline of God? "I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end." We are then to be patient until we be "perfect and entire, wanting nothing." Here is a bride partially adorned for the holy altar, but in her impatience she has neglected one article of attire; she is not "perfect and entire, wanting nothing." Let God clothe us with the garments fit for his redeemed and sanctified creatures! He may take a long time, but the beauty will be perfect and immortal.
The lesson of the text is that we are not to receive godly chastisement in an ungodly spirit "If ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the father chasteneth not?" We are at liberty, indeed, according to holy example, to pray for a modification of divine displeasure: "O Lord, correct me, but with judgment; not in thine anger, lest thou bring me to nothing." "O Lord, rebuke me not in thine anger, neither chasten me in thy hot displeasure." God knoweth our frame, and he will temper the wind to the shorn lamb. "I will not contend for ever, neither will I be always wroth: for the spirit should fail before me, and the souls which I have made." We may, then, pray God to help us under his heavy hand: "Have mercy upon me, O Lord; for I am weak: O Lord, heal me; for my bones are vexed."
All passages which connect the Fatherhood of God with the fatherhood of man, for the purpose of elucidating the divine intent in relation to our race, are most important. This is an example—"Even as a father the son in whom he delighteth." We interpret, in some degree, the divine through the human. "As a man chasteneth his son, so the Lord thy God chasteneth thee." There are unfatherly fathers, men who are lower than the "natural brute beasts made to be taken and destroyed;" yet, as a rule, fatherhood among men is synonymous with love, trust, care, sympathy, and defence. God takes up all these ideas and gives them infinite expansion. Yet, as the good father maintains discipline, so God chastens his children. "Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby." It is remarkable, too, that chastening is but temporary, love is eternal. "Though he cause grief, yet will he have compassion according to the multitude of his mercies." If he forsake his people, it is but for a "small moment;" when he gathers them it is with everlasting kindness. Weeping endures for a night, joy cometh in the morning!
This exhortation respecting "chastening" is addressed to one who is young in life—"my son." The young should lay their account with discipline. "It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth." The young tree will not escape the pruning-knife. We cannot conceive any man of mature years unthankful for the hardships of his early life: they opened his nature; they gave him lessons in lore which the schools cannot teach; they showed him human nature in its most inviting and most repulsive aspects, and through his very weakness he learned how to value strength. In great cities young men are exposed to great changes of circumstances; a fortune may be lost or won in a very short time. Some men have been driven hard; they have been pressed, as it were, by a hotly-pursuing enemy, and have retreated before his pitiless and devastating power. There is a word in the text for such. In reality, the pursuer may be no enemy. "Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time." If you accept godly discipline in a godly spirit your sorrow shall be turned into joy. "Ye have heard of the patience of Job, and have seen the end of the Lord; that the Lord is very pitiful, and of tender mercy." Where discipline is sent as a punishment it is not to be complained of. "Wherefore doth a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?" If the knife probe deeply, it is because the wound is deep and the danger great. We are to guard the spirit lest we give way to despair, being swallowed up of over much sorrow. All God's chastening is sent "that we might be partakers of his holiness." We should, then, rather invite discipline than reject it. "Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting."
It is generally supposed, especially by the young, that there is no trial except sorrow, arising from poverty, bereavement, sickness, disappointment, and the like. The truth is that wealth is a temptation; prosperity is beset with danger; summer brings as deadly diseases as winter. "How hardly shall they that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!" "Jesus answereth again, and saith unto them, Children, how hard is it for them that trust in riches to enter into the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God." We see, then, that it is not so short a distance from the sunny hill of prosperity to the heavenly city as we had imagined. "They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition." Wealth has trials peculiar to itself. "The care of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, choke the word."
I tremble for many when the wave of prosperity returns. They will trust in uncertain riches rather than in the living God. Sensual enjoyments will override spiritual duties. The lights will flare in the dazzling saloons long after midnight has sounded its solemn stroke. Sensuous Paris will rule mercantile England. Ladies will endeavour to outshine one another in the number and brilliance of their diamonds, in the gorgeousness and splendour of their attire. The sanctity of family life will be sacrificed to the glare and pomp of public display. Men, goaded by a mad ambition, will run to the very verge of their means; many will go beyond their resources in the indulgence of a spirit of rivalry; little children will be hurried through the sweet simplicities of childhood, and be sophisticated by the most miserable notions which can prevail in the human mind; all that is simple in enjoyment, all that is trustful in intercourse, all that is candid in friendship, may be supplanted by a chicanery and hypocrisy which may make honest men tremble, and devout men perish in despair.
Under such circumstances there is much to be done by wealthy men whose trust is in the living God. They can wield the powerful influence of a good example: they can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, sympathise with those who are enduring "the chastening of the Lord." They are called upon by the corruption, the extravagance, the sensuousness of the age to witness a good confession before men. The devil must not have all his own way. We are right only in so far as we resist the tendency towards the state of things just described. The picture we have drawn is suggested by the accounts we read, from time to time, of the doings of fashionable society. We may not go so far, but we may be moving in the same direction. We should turn our foot from the path, and find our joys elsewhere. Better far, beyond all that tongue can tell, to be meekly enduring "the chastening of the Lord," than to be dancing around the alluring whirlpool into whose bottomless depths unnumbered thousands have sunk, and out of whose seething waters no soul was ever rescued.
Happy is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding.The Preciousness of Wisdom
The whole world is crying for happiness. There is a teacher who boldly declares the conditions upon which that supreme prize may be obtained. We have said that the Proverbs are not mere imaginings or suggestions, but that they express distinct personal experience: this being so, the Proverbist is really reporting a fact, or taking up a position which he can establish by the most definite and indisputable evidence. The terms of the text would seem to indicate what, indeed, has already been asserted, that men have to seek for wisdom, and to secure understanding by hard work. We read of the man that findeth wisdom and the man that getteth understanding. The getting expressing an effort; in many instances, indeed, much painstaking and self-sacrifice. Nowhere is it said that wisdom comes naturally, and understanding grows in the mind without effort and culture. We value that which we work for. The common proverb is, "Easy come, easy go." Wisdom and understanding cannot come in this way; even if they appear to do so, the coming is an illusion which vanishes quickly, leaving the mind in all its darkness and sterility. Wisdom is knowledge turned to its highest uses; understanding is the mental faculty trained to the highest effectiveness—both being ready at a moment's notice to direct the course of life and to escape all that is perilous and destructive.
"For the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver, and the gain thereof than fine gold" (Proverbs 3:14).
The idea of trading suggests that wisdom and understanding are to be obtained in the way in which merchandise is produced for market uses, involving every species of calculation, effort, arrangement, and legitimate adventure. Sometimes wisdom is as merchandise which is brought from afar, through much toil of shipping and much risk of sailing, yet so determined is the merchant that he will be deterred by nothing that threatens to overwhelm him. Silver and gold are set down as types by which we are to understand and appreciate the varying degrees of value: in the case of wisdom and understanding even these types of things most precious are left far behind. All history shows how truly the world has been devoted to money-getting; when the wise man wanted a simile by which to indicate the eagerness which should characterise the studious disposition, he turned to the marketplace for his metaphor. Strabo tells us of men in his day who were entranced by the music of the accomplished harpist, but, to a man, they left him the moment the market-bell rang to announce the commencement of the day's business. Strange indeed, yet most instructive, that we should be called upon to look to merchants as an example of industry, economy, determination, and success. Thus the lower illustrates the higher; the material suggests the scope and uses of the spiritual; this little world affords many a parable by which we may interpret the mysteries of heaven.
"She is more precious than rubies: and all the things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her" (Proverbs 3:15).
The wise man now employs another figure, even rubies; whether the gem which we understand by that word, or coral, or pearls, the thing indicated was preciousness or value; yet rubies, pearls, diamonds—yea, all precious stones—fall out of the reckoning when we would compute the intrinsic value of wisdom and understanding. Having used the images of silver, gold, and rubies, the wise man ventures farther, and challenges even desire or imagination itself to find out a fitting comparison for the value of wisdom. When we come to understand the divine word, and to realise its exceeding preciousness, we change our ideas of the value of things. Paul the Apostle emphatically did so, for he says, "What things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ." He added up all his hereditary privileges and rights, and with no small patriotic pride he recounted the things which were dear to the common mind of his countrymen, yet he said he counted them but dung, that he might win Christ. And there are some pearls which are worth all others. "The kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant seeking goodly pearls, who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it." There must be something ineffably precious about a wisdom which can be thus characterised and appreciated. "It cannot be gotten for gold, neither shall silver be weighed for the price thereof. It cannot be valued with the gold of Ophir, with the precious onyx, or the sapphire. The gold and the crystal cannot equal it: and the exchange of it shall not be for jewels of fine gold. No mention shall be made of coral, or of pearls: for the price of wisdom is above rubies." Once let this idea fix itself in the mind, and the world must subordinate every pursuit to its quest of wisdom. "Knowledge is power" is a proverb which is universally commended. It has been proved within the lines of civilisation and in every detail of common life. It is not an intellectual speculation; it is a discovered and universally affirmed fact. Equally positive are spiritual teachers as to the value of the larger wisdom and the completer understanding. They who have it seem to have the key of worlds, and to be able to open gates which fall back upon infinite spaces, and in their yielding to the touch of importunity seem to welcome all who would enjoy the hospitality of divine communion. We are not now talking of the wisdom of letters and the understanding of books and theories, but: of the wisdom which leads the soul to God, and of the understanding which grasps the scheme of Providence and the reality of the philosophy of life, its responsibilities and most righteous judgment.
"Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand riches and honour. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her: and happy is every one that retaineth her" (Proverbs 3:16, Proverbs 3:18).
Both the hands of Wisdom are filled with blessings for those who come to serve her. Like the God of Wisdom she can never give enough to her devotees and worshippers. She has nothing but reward for those who love her counsels and obey her behests. As for her ways, they are like the streets of the New Jerusalem, paved with gold; and as for her paths, they are full of peace without disturbance, sacredly calm as the very security of heaven. Not only does Wisdom give with the hand,—she grows, she abounds in fruitfulness, she surprises all her children with new products. She is a tree of life to them that lay hold upon her; every season brings new leafage, new blossoming, and new fruitfulness. There is no monotony in wisdom, as there is no monotony in the light of day; it is a continual surprise and a continual charm. The expression "the tree of life" does not often occur in the sacred writings. We first find it in the Book of Genesis, then occasionally in the Proverbs, and finally in two instances in the Revelation. It is instructive to notice how reward is always associated in the Bible with the love and realisation of wisdom. "Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward." "With long life will I satisfy him, and show him my salvation." "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls." As early as the days of Moses this same truth was perceived and acted upon, for we read of him that he esteemed "the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt: for he had respect unto the recompence of the reward." Are we to understand, then, that those who are wise and of an understanding heart are saved from all the disappointment and trouble of earthly pilgrimage? The facts of life instantly contradict such a view. But there is life within life. The true life throbs beneath all the appearances which are possible to the observer, and even below the experiences which often trouble the believer himself. The Apostle Paul put the case, in his own vivid way, "as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing all things." The Apostle Peter states the case with equal vividness: "Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations." The most illustrious instance of all completely disproves the suggestion that true wisdom exempts from earthly trial, for the Son of God himself was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as for his poverty, it is enough to know that as the Son of man he had not where to lay his head. The union of sorrow and of joy in the Christian life may be said to be one of the miracles of Jesus Christ. What, for example, can be more contrary, within the limits of mere words, than the estates represented in this statement: "In a great trial of affliction the abundance of their joy and their deep poverty abounded unto the riches of their liberality"? Literal contradictions so palpable and so astounding can only be understood by those in whose hearts Christ has been born the hope of glory.
"The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth; by understanding hath he established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew" (Proverbs 3:19-20).
In these verses the highest tribute of all is paid to the majesty and excellence of wisdom. We are called upon to look at earth and heaven, and to behold in their mechanism the wisdom and knowledge of God. "He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and stretched out the heavens by his discretion." "O Lord, how manifold are thy works! in wisdom hast thou made them all: the earth is full of thy riches." The scheme of the universe is a testimony to the infinite wisdom of God. To wisdom God has always granted an under-power of creation. The wise man is continually dreaming new dreams, enriching the world with new inventions, discovering new fountains of feeling, and setting in motion impulses which have hitherto been unknown or dormant. The poet has said, "O to create within the mind is bliss." This power of creation is inspired and sustained by the living God in all his children who delight in him. Even where there is no genius grace itself gives fertility to the mind, so that the mind sees new aspects of God's greatness and goodness, and new occasions for songs of mercy and of judgment. The pious mind is never sterile; even where it cannot appeal to the highest forms of intellect and imagination it can, within its own limits, delight itself with an abundance of fatness, because of its nearness to God and its larger access to the throne of grace.
"My son, let not them depart from thine eyes: keep sound wisdom and discretion: so shall they be life unto thy soul, and grace to thy neck" (Proverbs 3:21-22).
The exaltation of wisdom is followed by an appeal to the young man to keep fast hold of sound wisdom and discretion. We cannot live in pictures or in fleeting dreams, or in uncertain guesses after truth. We must lay hold with both hands upon everything we have gained as students in the school of wisdom. The very retention of our lessons involves an act of discipline. "Take heed to thyself, and keep thy soul diligently, lest thou forget the things which thine eyes have seen, and lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy life: but teach them thy sons, and thy sons' sons." We have had to expend energy in securing wisdom, and we have to expend equal energy in retaining her, for she is jealous of neglect; yea, she will fly away from the mind that does not offer her the hospitality of its whole capacity. There must be no rival affections; wisdom must dominate everything, bringing all other idols and affinities within the action of its own supreme will. Thus we are not called upon to be mere idolaters of wisdom, but to keep it in the heart, with the distinct view of reproducing it in an obedient and pure life. Thus wisdom does not imprison the heart in a palace of luxury and self-indulgence, but constrains the heart to give forth, to put to practical test, every counsel that has been learned in the spiritual school. Wisdom rightly used is increased in amount and energy. "Wisdom is a defence, and money is a defence: but the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it." So wisdom is not a mere decoration, a medal to be worn on the breast, or a badge to proclaim superiority of class, it is a life-generating force, living ever in the soul for its enlargement and establishment in goodness. The wise man promises that wisdom shall also be a decoration in the best sense of that term, for while wisdom is to be life unto the soul, it is also to be grace unto the neck. That which is inward shall have an outward expression. The spiritual mind shall refine even the face of the body. He who abounds in prayer shall have a light upon his face, of which he himself shall be unconscious, but other men will see it, and know that the glory was not kindled by human hands. "I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life."
We now come to what may be called specifically the practical rewards of wisdom. Hitherto there has been much that is purely subjective. The wise man now does not hesitate to indicate that there will be a more positive and tangible kind of reward attached to sound wisdom and discretion. Not only are the ways of wisdom ways of pleasantness, but the wise man is to go in his own way safely, so much so that even his feet shall not stumble. "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: and he delighteth in his way." The Lord takes knowledge of the feet of the good man, and knows all his goings. "He will not suffer thy foot to be moved." The blessing of the Lord pursues the wise man from the open public way into the secret chamber of solitude and sleep. Sweet sleep is promised to the students of wisdom. There are blessings for the body as well as for the soul. "Godliness is profitable unto all things, having the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come." "I will make with them a covenant of peace, and will cause the evil beasts to cease out of the land: and they shall dwell safely in the wilderness, and sleep in the woods." Then, when the good man comes from his chamber to fight the battle of the day, he is to be assured of the protection and honour of the most High. Perfect love is to cast out fear. The righteous are to be bold as a lion. "He that dwelleth in the secret places of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty." The good man no longer lives his own life in his own way, in his own strength, and for his own purposes—he lives, and moves, and has his being in God. He hears a voice continually whispering to his heart, saying, "The eternal God is thy refuge, and underneath are the everlasting arms." The personality of God is always asserted in the Book of God. Nowhere is the holy One described as a mere breath, or influence, or afflation; but always as a personality—a living, loving, tender Father. In the twenty-sixth verse the Lord is pledged to be the confidence of his children and their daily protection. Everywhere the Lord identifies himself with the interests of his people, and invites them to put their trust in his omnipotence. "Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut thy doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be overpast." "I will both lay me down in peace, and sleep: for thou, Lord, only makest me dwell in safety."
"Withhold not good from them to whom it is due, when it is in the power of thine hand to do it. Say not unto thy neighbour, Go, and come again, and to-morrow I will give; when thou hast it by thee. Devise not evil against thy neighbour, seeing he dwelleth securely by thee" (Proverbs 3:27-29).
To wisdom we must add charity, never forgetting that charity is only a form of justice. Yet this is constantly forgotten. Look at the expression—"to whom it is due;" these are the terms in which a debt would be described, and charity is a debt to the poor and needy. This is all we can owe them. For other commerce they have no capital. The Apostle Paul says he was a debtor to Greeks, and barbarians, and strangers of every kind; that is to say, he owed them the debt of the gospel,—he knew Christ and they did not, so he owed them Christ, and was bound to pay the infinite debt Mark, the subject is not the limited one of money, but the boundless one of "good,"—we owe sympathy, money, time, knowledge, culture, direction, and all we have that other people need and deserve. Nor are we to defer the payment of the debt. We may not live until "to-morrow," therefore let us pay to-day; or the creditor may die before to-morrow, therefore let us not turn him away with an idle promise. Whatever we have we have for immediate use. Let us turn over our capital quickly, for thereby we scatter yet increase; we get many harvests in one year. If we have not much to give, we can at least do good by not doing evil. We need not "devise evil" against our neighbour; we need not get rid of him, or so treat him as to lessen our responsibilities towards him. Let him quietly dwell within such security as we can afford, for in giving him rest we give him the opportunity of strengthening himself and promoting his culture. It is good to be in debt when we owe no man anything but love. Such debt enlarges the affections, quickens moral sagacity, and sends a glow of joy through the whole nature. "As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith."
"Strive not with a man without cause, if he have done thee no harm" (Proverbs 3:30).
Here, again, we are called to do good negatively. The strife-loving disposition is fatal to culture, solidity of goodness, and every instinct of beneficence. Where strife is, God is not. Where there is cause of strife be careful to ascertain its true quality. It must be a cause so evident and so righteous that there can be no dispute about it. Some minds are ingenious in creating causes of strife, and they justify themselves by blinding themselves. "They speak not peace, but they devise deceitful matters against them that-are quiet in the land." As for Christians, their course is distinct enough. "The servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men." This is a word to ministers primarily, but there is a broader and more inclusive exhortation—"Let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body." Strength is itself a temptation. Who can be strong and yet civil? Who can hold a gun and never discharge it? Who can live in a fortress and yet issue no challenges? Unjust contentions degrade their authors. False accusations need further lies for their defence and support. Whom we begin by ill-treating we end by hating. Nothing is so pure, so uniting, so fraternising, and so consolidating as love. "Follow peace with all men, and holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord." "Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any:" and if you wish to know the measure and quality of true forbearance and gentleness you find it here—"Even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye."
"Envy thou not the oppressor, and choose none of his ways. For the froward is abomination to the Lord: but his secret is with the righteous" (Proverbs 3:31-32).
The oppressor can realise but apparent success. He is not to be envied. His honour is but coloured smoke which the wind driveth away. Such envy always defeats itself and leads to self-condemnation. "Fret not thyself against evildoers, neither be envious against the workers of iniquity." The Lord himself must be left to deal with oppressors, and we must withhold our hand from judgment. The "froward" can neither pray nor love. To the froward the Lord will show himself froward. What a noise the froward man makes on earth; how he tramps and snorts and nods his proud plume in sign of sovereignty: yet in the morning he is not found, his memorial is blotted out, and his wooden sword is buried with him in a grave unknown. How different is the portion of the good! The divine secret makes them wise. They are on confidential terms with God. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit make their abode with the humble heart. "Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do?" "Henceforth I call you not servants; for the servant knoweth not what his Lord doeth: but I have called you friends; for all things that I have heard of my Father I have made known unto you." Observe how great privilege is always associated with great character. The promise is not to the wise, or the rich, or the brilliant, but to the "righteous." The vigour of heaven is to be given to the good and faithful. "He that is spiritual judgeth all things."
"The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked: but he blesseth the habitation of the just. Surely he scorneth the scorners: but he giveth grace unto the lowly. The wise shall inherit glory: but shame shall be the promotion of fools" (Proverbs 3:33-35).
Again, the Lord himself deals with the wicked. The word rendered "habitation" often refers to "pasture" and "sheepfold," a reference to the time of wandering when Israel had no permanent dwelling-place. The old watch-cry was, "To your tents, O Israel,"—tents, not houses; temporary buildings, not durable structures; yet long after Israel had settled, the old watchword was in use. Perhaps the word "house," as applied to the wicked, is put in contrast to the word "habitation," or "hut," or "tent," as applied to the righteous. The Lord is against the scorners as against the strivers, although he scorns the scorners, yet to the lowly he giveth peace. "He that sitteth in the heavens shall laugh: the Lord shall have them in derision." "God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble." The word "fools," in verse thirty-five, may be taken as equivalent to "dull, stupid people," specially such as take no heed of God's threatenings, and who, therefore, are put to shame by every event in providence. Note how the simple twofold division is rigidly preserved—the wicked and the just, the wise and the fools; and the same distinction of issue—curse and blessing, shame and glory. The Scripture here, as everywhere, is consistent with itself; its law is from the beginning and is inexorable. "They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever." Shame shall be the promotion of fools. How subtle the satire! How humbling the taunting irony! When the fool goes up for his crown he will be covered with shame as with fire, and will drop down his head towards the dust. Judge nothing before the time. On the morrow we shall see how it fares with those whose hearts are gross and whose feet kick against the pricks. Oh that revealing morrow! Many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.
Almighty God, Father of all, and the Saviour of all, we bow before thy throne; we bless thee for the holy privilege; it touches our inmost heart, and leads us to new song and new prayer and new hope. Thou dost lead us along the line of life day by day. We are always beginning. There is no end to immortality; because we are immortal we can but begin, see new lights, further distances, brighter glories, and catch from afar some new tone of music; and thus we proceed, knowing that we are nearing a city which hath foundations whose builder and maker is God. These thoughts give us uplifting of soul; uplifting of soul makes us stretch out the hand in noble deed, in expressive sacrifice, in a thousand attestations of love to the Cross of Christ. We bless thee that this Cross makes us beneficent; being crucified with Christ we must indulge a larger love, a nobler brotherhood; our soul goes out to the uttermost ends of the earth, seeking in Christ's own spirit that which is lost. We bless thee for this holy religion. It is unlike all other; it makes us work; we cannot wait and tarry and linger and indulge ourselves by the road: this is the religion of inspiration, urging us to new effort, to wider and bolder enterprise, that we may tell every man in the hearing of his heart there is born unto him a Saviour. Thus we feed on the Son of God. His flesh is meat indeed, and his blood is drink indeed, and except we eat his flesh and drink his blood we have no life in us. Give us the higher meaning of these words; may we enter into all their spiritual significance; may our souls feed on the very heart of the Son of God. We bless thee for all noble thoughts, lofty aspirations, outgoings of soul marked by unselfishness: these are the miracles of God the Holy Ghost; these are the later wonders of the Cross. God forbid that we should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ It glorifies everything; it explains everything; it turns agony into joy; it makes earth bud with the blossoms and flowers of heaven: it is the power of God unto salvation. Teach us that Christ's burial was his crucifixion, and that his crucifixion was his birth, and that in one and the same act he includes the whole mystery of godliness.