He that digs a pit shall fall into it; and whoever breaks an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.
We covet the apple on the tree and forget the snake in the grass; the consequence being, that when we essay to bite the apple, the snake bites us. Now, there are many protective hedges about us; and the trouble is, that we are variously tempted to play tricks with these, and upon occasion to set them at naught. Therein we usually discover how great is the mistake we have made.
I. GUARD THE SENSE OF SHAME. Whatever tends to lessen the acuteness of the soul to things false, ugly, or foul is sharply to be shunned. Beware of the literature that tends to reconcile to odious things! If the soul is to keep its virgin purity, it must turn away even from the reflection of foulness in a mirror. Beware of the company whose conversation and fellowship in some way, not perhaps very apparent, blights the bloom and dims the lustre of pure feeling! Beware of the amusements that filch away the quick delicacy which has been evolved in our nature at an infinite expense! Beware of the fashion that sets lighter store by old-fashioned modesty! Better pluck out as useless appendages the tender eyelashes which guarantee the sight than consent to destroy the instincts of purity which preserve the spirit. The sense of shame is a sacred thing; it is the saintliness of nature, and we ought sedulously to guard and heighten it in the fear of God. The man or woman who heedlessly violates this ethereal hedge puts himself or herself outside what is elsewhere called a wall of fire.
II. RESPECT THE CODE OF COURTESY. Even in domestic life and between chief friends are interposed hedges, if they be not rather flower borders, which must be respected, if mutual regard and veneration are to continue. United most closely as we are, certain delicate observances and deferences fix the isolation of our personality, and imply the attention that must be paid to our rights and feelings. The grievous misunderstandings and animosities which wreck the peace and prosperity of households not uncommonly originate in excessive familiarities between brothers and sisters; these fail to see that refined proprieties guard the several members of a family as a scarlet cord reserves special places in great assemblies, and that "good form" must be observed in private as well as in public. Some one has wisely said, "It is no worse to stand on ceremony than to trample on it." No, indeed, it is often a great deal better; for social ceremonial is the fence that protects the delicate forms and flowers which are so difficult to rear. Let young people revere the pale of ceremony, for when it is broken down beauty, purity and peace are at the mercy of a ruthless world.
III. OBEY THE RULES OF BUSINESS. Regulations touching hours of going out and coming in, minute directions for household conduct, rules about the handling of cash, usages in keeping accounts, and petty laws directing twenty other details of duty, are based in an expediency which really and simultaneously conserves the rights and safety of masters and servants alike. The beginner may not see the reasonableness of a system of delicate network which comprehends eating, drinking and sleeping, and the almost infinite ramifications of daily duty; but there is more reasonableness in all these worrying precepts than he sees. The laws of business are the outcome of the experience of generations, and are not lightly to be set aside. A young man can hardly pay too much deference to the customs and traditions of the establishment in which his lot is cast; he cannot; be too exactly conscientious about the prescribed obligations of time, usage, method, goods and cash: to tamper here is to be lost. Beware of the slightest infraction of your official duty, of all informality and unauthorized action, of all illicit and contraband ways and things, deadly serpents without rattles wait behind the violated precepts! Whilst, on the other hand, if you keep the least of these commandments, it shall keep you, and the discipline of obedience on a lower level will strengthen you to comply with the sublimest laws of all on the highest levels of thought and conduct.
(W. L. Watkinson.)
Parallel VersesKJV: He that diggeth a pit shall fall into it; and whoso breaketh an hedge, a serpent shall bite him.