I. TRUTHS OF PERSONAL CONDUCT.
1. The obstinate offender and his doom. (Ver. 1.) The repeated complaint against Israel was that they were a "stiff-necked people." Self-willed, haughty, persistent, defying rebuke and chastisement, is the habit described. It invites judgment. "When lesser warnings will not serve, God looks into his quiver for deadly arrows." They who will not bend before the gentle persuasions of God's Holy Spirit must feel the rod. Men may make themselves outlaws from the kingdom of God.
2. Wisdom and virtue inseparable in conduct. (Ver. 3.) So much so that the same word may occasionally do duty for either notion. Thus the French mean by one who is "sage" one who is chaste and virtuous. The effects are alike. Joy is given to parents by the sage conduct of children; and vice is seen to be folly by the waste and want it brings in its train (comp. Proverbs 6:26; Proverbs 10:1; Proverbs 28:7).
3. The dishonesty of flattery. (Ver. 5.) It may be designed to deceive, and is then coloured with the darkest hue of treachery. Or it may be undesigned in its effects. But in either case, the web of flattering lies becomes a snare in which the neighbour stumbles to his fall (comp. Proverbs 26:24, 25, 28). The kiss of the flatterer is more deadly than the hate of a foe. "When we are most praised for our discernment, we are apt to act most foolishly; for praise tends to cloud the understanding and pervert the judgment."
4. Delusive and genuine joy. (Ver. 6.) The serpent is concealed amidst the roses of illicit pleasures; a canker is at the core of the forbidden fruit. A "shadow darkens the ruby of the cup, and dims the splendour of the scene." But ever there is a song in the ways of God. See the example of Patti and Silas even in prison (Acts 16:25). "Always there are evil days in the world; always good days in the Lord" (Augustine, on Psalm 33).
II. THE INFLUENCE OF PERSONAL GOODNESS ON SOCIAL AND PUBLIC WEAL.
1. The general happiness is dependent on the conduct of individuals. (Ver. 2; comp. Proverbs 28:12, 28.) For society is a collection of individuals. "It is no peculiar conceit, but a matter of sound consequence, that all duties are by so much the better performed, by how much the men are more religious from whose abilities the same proceed. For if the course of political affairs cannot in any good sort go forward without fit instruments, and that which fitteth them be their virtues, let polity acknowledge itself indebted to religion, godliness being the chiefest, top, and well-spring of all true virtue, even as God is of all good things." "Religion, unfeignedly lived, perfecteth man's abilities unto all kinds of virtuous services in the commonwealth" (Hooker, 'Eccl. Pol.,' 5:1).
2. The effect of just administration and of bribery. (Ver. 4.) The best laws are of no avail if badly administered. God's throne is founded on justice (Psalm 89:14). And this only can be the foundation of national stable polity and of the common weal "We will sell justice to none," says the Magna Charta. The theocracy was overthrown in the time of Samuel by the corruption of his sons. The just administration of David "bore up the pillars" of the land (2 Samuel 8:15). The greed of Jehoiakim again shook the kingdom to its foundations (Jeremiah 22:18-19). Righteousness alone exalteth a nation.
3. Justice to the poor. (Ver. 7.) The good man enters into the feelings of others, and makes the lot of the oppressed, in sympathy and imagination, his own. The evil and hard-hearted man, looking at life only from the outside, treats the poor as dumb driven cattle, and easily becomes the tyrant and the oppressor. Peculiarly, sympathy, consideration, compassion for the lowly and the poor, have been infused into the conscience of the world, and made "current coin" by the example and spirit of the Redeemer. - J.
A man that flattereth his neighbour spreadeth a net for his feet.I. WHAT FLATTERY IS. The nature and property of it is to put on all forms and shapes, according to the exigence of the occasion. He that would paint flattery must draw a picture of all colours, and frame a universal face, indifferent to any particular aspect whatever. It shows itself —
1. In concealing or dissembling of the defects and vices of any person. It will pretend not to see faults, and if it does, it will be sure not to reprove them. All people are not called to reprove others.(1) Who are they that are concerned to speak in this case? Such as are entrusted with the government of others. Those who are entrusted with the guidance and direction of others. Those that profess friendship.(2) In what spirit are these reprehensions to be managed? Let the reproof, if possible, be given in secret. Let it be managed with due respect to and distinction of the condition of the person that is to be reproved. Let him that reproves a vice do it with words of meekness and consideration; without superciliousness or spiritual arrogance. A reproof should not be continued or repeated after amendment of that which occasioned the reproof.
2. In praising or defending the defects or vices of any person. If to persuade men out of the acknowledgment of the evil and unlawfulness of their actions be flattery, then none are so deeply chargeable with flattery as these two sorts of men — such as, upon principles of enthusiasm, assure persons of eminence and high place that those transgressions of the Divine law are allowable in them that are absolutely prohibited and condemned in others, and the Roman casuists, who have made it their greatest study to put a new face upon sin. This kind of flattery is of very easy effect, by reason of the nature of man, and the nature of vice itself. From these two considerations we may easily gather how open the hearts of most men lie, to drink in the fawning suggestions of any sycophant that shall endeavour to relieve their disturbed consciences by gilding their villainies with the name of virtues.
3. In imitating any one's defects or vices. Actions are much more considerable than words or discourses. To any generous and free spirit it is really a very nauseous and fulsome thing to see some prostitute their tongues and their judgments, by saying as others say, commending what they commend, and framing themselves to any absurd gesture or motion that they observe in them. Every kind of imitation speaks the person that imitates him inferior to whom he imitates, as the copy is to the original.
4. An overvaluing those virtues and perfections that are really laudable in any person. This is more modest and tolerable, there being some groundwork of desert.
II. THE GROUNDS AND OCCASIONS OF FLATTERY.
1. Greatness of place and condition. Men consider the great danger of speaking freely to great persons what they are not willing to hear. It may enrage, and make them mortal enemies.
2. An angry, passionate disposition This also frights and deters men from doing the orifice of friends, in a faithful reprehension.
3. A proud and vainglorious disposition. To tell a proud person of his faults is to tell infallibility that it is in an error, and to spy out something amiss in perfection.
III. THE ENDS AND DESIGNS OF IT ON HIS PART THAT FLATTERS. Every flatterer is actuated and influenced by these two grand purposes — to serve himself, and to undermine him whom he flatters, and thereby to effect his ruin. For he deceives him, and grossly abuses and perverts his judgment, which should be the guide and director of all his actions. He that is thoroughly deceived is in the very next disposition to be ruined; for cast but a mist before a man's eyes, and whither may you not lead him? And he undermines, and perhaps in the issue ruins, him whom he flatters, by bringing him to shame and a general contempt. Moreover, by his flattery and its consequences, he renders his recovery and amendment impossible. Every fault in a man shuts the door upon virtue, but flattery is the thing that seals it.
(R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
II. WIDELY SPREAD.
(D. Thomas, D.D.)
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