My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments;
I. THE CONNECTION OF PRECEPT AND PROMISE.
1. Precept needs confirmation. We cannot but ask - Why should we pursue this or that line of conduct in preference to another? Why should men be God-fearing, honest, chaste? We are rational creatures, not "dumb driven cattle," to be forced along a given road. We must have reasons; and it is to reason in us that the Divine reason ever makes appeal.
2. The confirmation is found in experience. This is the source of our knowledge; to it the true teacher must constantly refer for the verification of his principles, the corroboration of his precepts. The tone assumed by the teacher is indeed that of authority, but real authority always rests upon experience. Experience, in short, is the discovery and ascertainment of law in life. Precepts are its formulation.
3. The experience of the past enables the prediction of the future. Just; as we know the science of the astronomer, e.g., to be sound, because we find that he can predict with accuracy coming events, appearances of the heavenly bodies, eclipses, etc., so do we recognize the soundness of moral teaching by its power to forecast the future fates of men. Precepts are the deductions from the actual; promises the forecasts of that which, because it has been constant in the past, may be expected in the future. In science, in morality, in religion, we build on the permanence of law; in ocher words, on the constancy of the eternal God.
II. PARTICULAR EXAMPLES OF THIS CONNECTION'.
1. Obedience ensures earthly happiness. (Vers. 1, 2.) The connection is first stated generally. "Extension of days," or long life, is the one aspect of this happiness; inward peace of heart, denied to the godless, the other (Isaiah 48:22; Isaiah 57:2l). Prolongation of days, life in the good land, dwelling in the house of the Lord, are the peculiar Old Testament blessings (Deuteronomy 4:40; Deuteronomy 5:33; Deuteronomy 6:2; Deuteronomy 11:9; Deuteronomy 22:7; Deuteronomy 30:16; Psalm 15:1; Psalm 23:6; Psalm 27:4).
(1) The desire for long life is natural, and religion recognizes it.
(2) Without inward satisfaction, long life is no blessing.
(3) While the Old Testament promises formally cover the finite life only, they do not exclude the infinite. In God and faith in him the infinite is germinally contained.
2. Love and good faith ensure favour with God, good will with men. "Mercy," or "love;" the word denotes the recognition of kinship, fellowship in men, and the duty of kindness therein implied. "Truth," in the sense in which we speak of a true man; sincerity and rectitude, the striving to make the seeming and the being correspond to one another; the absence of hypocrisy. St. Paul gives the ideas, "dealing truly in love (Ephesians 4:15). Let these virtues be bound about the neck, like precious objects, for the sake of security; let these commands be engraven in the only indelible way - upon the heart. Let the mind be fixed and formed, and the result will be favour in the sight of God, and a good opinion" in the minds of men. The two relations form a correlation. There is no true standing with God which does not reflect itself in the good opinion of good men; no worthy opinion of a man which does not furnish an index to God's view of him. Both were united in the case of the youthful Jesus.
3. Trust in God ensures practical direction. (Vers. 5, 6.)
(1) This trust must be whole-hearted. An exception to it destroys it, as one faulty link will cause the chain to break, one rotten plank the ship to leak, etc.
(2) The fallacy of confidence is when we separate the particular in our intelligence from the universal. This is intellectual egoism. There is a dualism in consciousness - the private self-seeking intelligence, and the Divine mind in us.
(3) Trust is abandonment to the Divine mind, to the universal intelligence which carries us out of self.
(4) Such trust implies the "taking cognizance" of God in all we do. Of bad, unjust men, like Eli's sons, it is said that they take no cognizance of Jehovah (1 Samuel 2:12). To ask of every action not - Is this what the generality of men would do in my position? but - Is it what God would have me to do? Not - Is it "natural"? but - Is it Divine? Such a habit ensures practical direction. All our egarements and stumblings arise from following the isolated intelligence, which is a true guide only for immediate sensuous relations, cannot light us for life's complex whole. Hence the way in which selfish and cunning people constantly outwit themselves, while the man who is set down by them as a fool for neglecting his own interests comes out safely in the long run.
4. Simple piety secures health. (Vers. 7, 8.)
(1) Conceit is opposed to piety. This we have already seen. For what is conceit but the lifting of the merely individual into a false generality? In its extreme, the worship of self is a little god.
(2) Simple piety has a positive and a negative pole: positive, reverence for God; negative, aversion from evil. The pious man affirms and denies, both with all his might. His life is emphatic, includes an everlasting "Yes" and an everlasting "No"!
(3) Simple piety is the source of health.
(a) Physical. It tends to promote right physical habits. It certainly reacts against the worst disorders, viz. the nervous.
(b) Spiritual. It is in the mind what the sound nervous organization is in the body. The mind thus centrally right digests, enjoys, assimilates, the rich food which nature, books, and men afford.
5. Consecration of property ensures wealth. (Vers. 9, 10.)
(1) Ancient custom commanded this. The consecration of the firstling of firstfruits was not confined to Israel. It was an ancient custom of the world generally. The part represents the whole, for all is God's. There seems to be no objection to the private practice of the custom by Christians still. In any case, let it be recognized that property, in the legal sense, but an expression of convenience; that really our temporary possessions, along with ourselves, are the property of God. If this be not recognized, we merely consume them, or hoard them, do not use them.
(2) Plenty falls to the lot of the giver. The exceptions to the rule are apparent, and perhaps language does not suffice for their statement and elucidation. The rule is comprehensively true, and a comprehensive view is necessary for its application. Rich and poor are subjective terms. There is a rich poverty and a miserable affluence. The promise is only truly fulfilled in the man who feels he has abundance, and enjoys it. - J.
Scornful men bring a city into a snare.
1. One of the snares is the spirit of the world — the spirit of competition and a low tone of moral feeling.
2. Irreligious habits.
3. Irreligious associates; such as the young man who is not conscientious in the discharge of his ordinary duties; the young man who is devoted to pleasure.
4. Late hours. This leads to neglect of prayer. And the late hour is the hour of sin.
5. Lewd women. This snare involves great moral debasement, the prostration of all intellectual power, and the annihilation of all benevolent and elevated feeling. And to this specific form other vices will adhere.
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