To deliver you from the strange woman, even from the stranger which flatters with her words;
Surely one cannot declare the whole counsel of God and leave out a subject which is interwoven with almost every chapter in the Bible. I am entirely aware of the delicacy of introducing this subject into the pulpit.
1. One difficulty arises from the sensitiveness of unaffected purity.
2. Another difficulty springs from the nature of the English language, which has hardly been framed in a school where it may wind and fit itself to all the phases of impurity.
3. Another difficulty lies in the confused echoes which vile men create in every community, when the pulpit disturbs them.
4. Another difficulty exists in the criminal fastidiousness of the community upon this subject. The proverbs of Solomon are designed to furnish us a series of maxims for every relation of life. There will naturally be the most said where there is the most needed. If the frequency of warning against any sin measures the liability of man to that sin, then none is worse than impurity.
I. CAN LANGUAGE BE FOUND WHICH CAN DRAW A CORRUPT BEAUTY SO VIVIDLY AS THIS: "Which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God"? Look out upon that fallen creature whose gay sally through the street calls out the significant laugh of bad men, the pity of good men, and the horror of the pure! Was not her cradle as pure as ever a loved infant pressed? Love soothed its cries, sisters watched its peaceful sleep, and a mother pressed it fondly to her bosom! Had you afterwards, when spring-flowers covered the earth, and every gale was odour, and every sound was music, seen her, fairer than the lily or the violet, searching them, would you not have said, "Sooner shall the rose grow poisonous than she; both may wither, but neither corrupt"? And how often, at evening, did she clasp her tiny hands in prayer! Alas, she forsook the guide of her youth! Faint thoughts of evil, like far-off cloud which the sunset gilds, came first; nor does the rosy sunset blush deeper along the heaven than her cheek at the first thought of evil. Now, O mother, and thou, guiding elder sister, could you have seen the lurking spirit embosomed in that cloud, a holy prayer might have broken the spell, a tear have washed its stain! Alas! they saw it not; she spoke it not; she was forsaking the guide of her youth. She thinketh no more of heaven. She breatheth no more prayers. Thou hast forsaken the covenant of thy God. Go down! fall never to rise! Hell opens to be thy home!
II. THE NEXT INJUNCTION OF GOD TO THE YOUNG IS UPON THE ENSNARING DANGER OF BEAUTY. "Desire not her beauty in thy heart, neither let her take thee with her eyelids." God did not make so much of nature with exquisite beauty, or put within us a taste for it, without object. He meant that it should delight us. He made every flower to charm us. He never made a colour, nor graceful flying.bird, nor silvery insect, without meaning to please our taste. When He clothes a man or woman with beauty, He confers a favour, did we know how to receive it. Beauty, with amiable dispositions and ripe intelligence, is more to any woman than a queen's crown. As moths and tiny insects flutter around the bright blaze which was kindled for no harm, so the foolish young fall down burned and destroyed by the blaze of beauty. If God hath given thee beauty, tremble; for it is as gold in thy house: thieves and robbers will prowl around, and seek to possess it. If God hath put beauty before thine eyes, remember how many strong men have been cast down wounded by it. Art thou stronger than David? Let other men's destruction be thy wisdom; for it is hard to reap prudence upon the field of experience.
III. In the minute description of this dangerous creature, mark next HOW SERIOUSLY WE ARE CAUTIONED OF HER WILES.
1. Her wiles of dress. Coverings of tapestry and the fine linen of Egypt are hers; the perfumes of myrrh, and aloes, and cinnamon. Silks and ribbons, lace and rings, gold and equipage; ah, how mean a price for damnation! The wretch who would be hung simply for the sake of riding to the gallows on a golden chariot, clothed in king's raiment, what a fool was he!
2. Her wiles of speech. Beasts may not speak; this honour is too high for them. To God's imaged son this prerogative belongs, to utter thought and feeling in articulate sounds. We may breathe our thoughts to thousand ears, and infect a multitude with the worst portions of our soul. How, then, has this soul's breath, this echo of our thoughts, this only image of our feelings, been perverted, that from the lips of sin it hath more persuasion than from the lips of wisdom? Purity sounds morose and cross; but from the lips of the harlot words drop as honey, and flow smoother than oil: her speech is fair, her laugh is merry as music. The eternal glory of purity has no lustre; but the deep damnation of lust is made as bright as the gate of heaven!
3. Her wiles of love. Love is the mind's light and heat; it is that tenuous air in which all other faculties exist as we exist in the atmosphere. A mind of the greatest stature without love is like the huge pyramid of Egypt — chill and cheerless in all its dark halls and passages. A mind with love is as a king's palace lighted for a royal festival. Shame that the sweetest of all the mind's attributes should be suborned to sin! Devil-tempter! will thy poison never cease? Shall beauty be poisoned? shall language be charmed? shall love be made to defile like pitch, and burn as the living coals? Trust the sea with thy tiny boat, trust the fickle wind, trust the changing skies of April, trust the miser's generosity, the tyrant's mercy; but, ah! simple man, trust not thyself near the artful woman, armed in her beauty, her cunning raiment, her dimpled smiles.
4. Next beware the wile of her reasonings. "To him that wanteth understanding, she saith, Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. I came forth to meet thee, and I have found thee." What says she in the credulous ear of inexperience? Why, she tells him that sin is safe; she swears to him that sin is pure. Out of history she will entice him, and say, "Who hath ever refused my meat-offerings and drink-offerings? What king have I not sought? What conqueror have I not conquered? Philosophers have not, in all their wisdom, learned to hate me. I have been the guests of the world's greatest men. Art thou afraid to tread where Plato trod, and the pious Socrates? Art thou wiser than all that ever lived? "Nay, she readeth the Bible to him; she goeth back along the line of history, and readeth of Abraham, and of his glorious compeers; she skippeth past Joseph with averted looks, and readeth of David and of Solomon. Or, if the Bible will not cheat thee, how will she plead thine own nature; how will she whisper, "God hath made thee so." How, like her father, will she lure to pluck the apple, saying, "Thou shalt not surely die." I will point only to another wile. When inexperience has been beguiled by her infernal machinations, how, like a flock of startled birds, will spring up late regrets, and shame, and fear; and, worst of all, how will conscience ply her scorpion-whip and lash thee, uttering with stern visage, "Thou art dishonoured, thou art a wretch, thou art lost!" So, God saith, the strange woman shall secure her ensnared victims if they struggle. "Lest thou shouldst ponder the path of life, her ways are moveable that thou canst not know them." She is afraid to see thee soberly thinking of leaving her, and entering the path of life; therefore her ways are moveable. She multiplies devices, she studies a thousand new wiles, she has some sweet word for every sense — obsequience for thy pride, praise for thy vanity, generosity for thy selfishness, religion For thy conscience.
IV. Having disclosed her wiles, let me show you WHAT GOD SAYS OF THE CHANCES OF ESCAPE TO THOSE WHO ONCE FOLLOW HER. "None that go unto her return again, neither take they hold of the paths of life." The strength of this language was not meant absolutely to exclude hope. Some may escape — as here and there a mangled sailor crawls out of the water upon the beach — the only one or two of the whole crew. There are many evils which hold their victims by the force of habit; there are others which fasten them by breaking their return to society. Many a person never reforms, because reform would bring no relief. There are other evils which hold men to them, because they are like the beginning of a fire; they tend to burn with fiercer and wider flames, until all fuel is consumed, and go out only when there is nothing to burn. Of this last kind is the sin of licentiousness; and when the conflagration once breaks out, experience has shown what the Bible long ago declared, that the chances of reformation are few indeed.
V. We are repeatedly warned against the strange woman's HOUSE. Her house has been cunningly planned by an evil architect to attract and please the attention. It stands in a vast garden full of enchanting objects; it shines in glowing colours, and seems full of peace and full of pleasure. All the signs are of unbounded enjoyment — safe, if not innocent. Though every beam is rotten, and the house is the house of death, and in it are all the vicissitudes of infernal misery, yet to the young it appears a palace of delight. They will not believe that death can lurk behind so brilliant a fabric. That part of the garden which borders on the highway of innocence is carefully planted. There is not a poison-weed, nor thorn, nor thistle there. Ten thousand flowers bloom, and waft a thousand odours. A victim cautiously inspects it; but it has been too carefully patterned upon innocency to be easily detected. "Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither." Will the youth enter? Will he seek her house? To himself he says, "I will enter only to see the garden — its fruits, its flowers, its birds, its arbours, its warbling fountains!" He is resolved in virtue. He seeks wisdom, not pleasure! Dupe! you are deceived already; and this is your first lesson of wisdom. He passes, and the porter leers behind him! He is within an enchanter's garden! He ranges the outer garden near to the highway, thinking as he walks, "How foolishly have I been alarmed at pious lies about this beautiful place! I heard it was hell: I find it is paradise!" Emboldened by the innocency of his first steps, he explores the garden further from the road. The flowers grow richer; their odours exhilarate. Ridiculous priest, to tell me that death was here, where all is beauty, fragrance, and melody! Surely, death never lurked in so gorgeous apparel as this! When our passions enchant us, how beautiful is the way to death! Where are his resolutions now? This is the virtuous youth who came to observe! He has already seen too much! but he will see more; he will taste, feel, regret, weep, wail, die! It is too late! He has gone in — who shall never return. "He goeth after her straightway as an ox goeth to the slaughter; or as a fool to the correction of the stocks... and knoweth not that it is for his life." Enter with me, in imagination, the strange woman's house, where, God grant, you may never enter in any other way.There are five wards — Pleasure, Satiety, Discovery, Disease, Death.
1. Ward of Pleasure. The eye is dazzled with the magnificence of its apparel — elastic velvet, glossy silks, burnished satin, crimson drapery, plushy carpets. Exquisite pictures glow upon the wall; carved marble adorns every niche.
2. Ward of Satiety. Overflushed with dance, sated with wine and fruit, a fitful drowsiness vexes them. They wake, to crave; they taste, to loathe; they sleep, to dream; they wake again from unquiet visions. They long for the sharp taste of pleasure, so grateful yesterday. The glowing garden and the banquet now seem all stripped and gloomy.
3. The Ward of Discovery. In the third ward no deception remains. The floors are bare; the naked walls drip filth; the air is poisonous with sickly fumes, and echoes with mirth, concealing hideous misery. None supposes that he has been happy. The past seems like the dream of the miser who gathers gold spilt like rain upon the road, and wakes, clutching his bed, and crying, "Where is it?"
4. Ward of Disease.
5. Ward of Death. No longer does the incarnate wretch pretend to conceal her cruelty. She thrusts, aye, as if they were dirt — she shovels out the wretches. Some fall headlong through the rotten floor — a long fall to a fiery bottom. The floor trembles to deep thunders which roll below. Here and there jets of flame sprout up, and give a lurid light to the murky hall.Oh, that the young might see the end of vice before they see the beginning!
1. I solemnly warn you against indulging a morbid imagination. In that busy and mischievous faculty begins the evil.
2. Next to evil imaginations, I warn the young of evil companions. Decaying fruit corrupts the neighbouring fruit.
3. But I warn you, with yet more solemn emphasis, against evil books and evil pictures.
4. Once more, let me persuade you that no examples in high places can justify imitation in low places.
5. Let me beseech you, lastly, to guard your heart-purity. Never lose it. If it be gone, you have lost from the casket the most precious gift of God.
(H. W. Beecher.)
Parallel VersesKJV: To deliver thee from the strange woman, even from the stranger which flattereth with her words;