Proverbs 14
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics


1. Its peculiar scope is the home. Women are physically and morally constructed with a view to the stationary life and settled pursuits of home. Its comfort, the strength of the race, the well being of society, are rooted, more than in any other human means, in the character, the principle, the love and truth of the wife and mother.

2. The absence of it is one of the commonest causes of domestic misery. The fact is but too well known to all who are acquainted with the homes of the poor, and indeed of all classes. The cause is not far to seek. The word "home" has hardly a meaning without the presence of a virtuous woman; and a home has seldom been wrecked while a virtuous woman remained in it.


1. Fear of Jehovah includes reverence for what is eternal, faith in what is constant, obedience to what is unchanging law.

2. Contempt for Jehovah means the neglect of all this; and the preference of passion to principle, immediate interest to abiding good; what is selfish and corruptible to what is pure and durable and Divine.

III. SPEECH A SCOURGE OR A SHIELD. (Ver. 3.) The word of haste, which is at the same time the word of passion and of inconsiderateness, recoils upon the speaker. As an old proverb says, "Curses come home to roost." And what can put a stronger armour about a man, or cover him more securely as a shield, than the good words he has thrown forth, or in general the expression of his spirit in all that is wise and loving? The successive accretions of substance from year to year in the trunk of the oak tree may typify the strength coincident with growth in the good man's life.

IV. THE CONNECTION OF MENAS AND ENDS. (Ver. 4.) Such seems to be the point of the saying. "Nothing costs nothing." If you keep no oxen, you have no manger to supply. But at the same time, nothing brings nothing in. The larger income is secured by the keeping of oxen. This is, in fact. the sense of the old saw, "Penny wise and pound foolish." In short, it is part of the science of life to know the limits of thrift and of expense. "A man often pays dear for a small frugality." "Cheapest," says the prudent, "is the dearest labour." In the more immediate interests of the soul, how true is it that only first expense of thought, time, love, upon others is the truest condition of our own blessedness!

V. TRUTH AND LIES. (Ver. 5.) Again and again we strike upon this primary stratum of character. We cannot define the truthful or untruthful man. We can feel them. The reason is as "simple as gravity. Truth is the summit of being; justice is the application of it to affairs. The natural force is no more to be withstood than any other force. We can drive a stone upwards for a moment into the air, but it is yet true that all stones will fall; and whatever instances may be quoted of unpunished theft, or of a lie which somebody credited, justice must prevail, and it is the privilege of truth to make itself believed."

VI. THE UNWISDOM OF THE SCOFFER. (Ver. 6.) He places himself in a false relation to truth; would measure it by his small mind, and weigh it in his imperfect scales. He has one principle only to apply to everything, and that the limited perception of his faculty or the narrow light of his experience. The description well applies to the free thinkers, the illuminati so called of the last century in England, France, and Germany, and their successors in the present day. There is the air of superior intelligence and zeal for truth, frequently concealing some passion of a very different; order. Or, again, there is the shallow assumption that absolute truth is to be found by the human intellect, which has led philosophers two many aberrations. The end is some fallacy and glaring self-contradiction. How different the spirit of him whom the teacher describes as "intelligent in this place! It is "easy" for him to be wise. It is like opening his lungs to the bountiful and all-embracing air, or expatiating on the boundless shore, like great Newton. Wisdom springs from the sense that truth in its infinity is ever beyond us. But the reference here is more to practical wisdom, the science of living from day to day. And good sense is the main requisite for its acquirement, the very opposite of which is the supercilious temper which disdains to learn from any and all.

VII. THE EVIL OF FOOLISH COMPANY. (Ver. 7.) And of all its conversation, its atmosphere, its temper. "Cast not pearls before swine." "Avoid the mixture of an irreverent commonness of speaking of holy things indifferently in all companies" (Leighton). "Do not overrate your strength, nor be blind to the personal risks that may be incurred in imprudent efforts to do good" (Bridges). "Better retreat from cavillers" (ibid.). - J.

Where the light of revelation has shone, woman has had a position and a power, an honor and a happiness, such as she has not enjoyed elsewhere. Under the teaching of Christian truth she has been, or is being, rapidly raised to her rightful place, and is becoming all that the Creator intended her to be. We cannot forecast the future, but we may predict that her own especial province, the sphere where she will always shine, will be, as it is now, the home. It is "her house" that she will either build up or pluck down "with her own hands." Whether she will do the one or the other depends on the question whether she shows -

I. GOODNESS (moral worth) or GUILT.

II. IMPARTIALITY or an unwise and unrighteous preference of one child to another.

III. DILIGENCE in the discharge of her household duties, or NEGLIGENCE.

IV. KINDNESS OR ASPERITY in her bearing toward all the members of the home.

V. PATIENCE OR IMPATIENCE in the government of her family and her servants. And since the upbuilding or the down plucking of "the house," the promotion or the ruin of domestic harmony and happiness, depends in so large a degree on the wisdom or the folly of the woman who is the wife and the mother, therefore:

1. Let every wise man think many times before he makes his choice.

2. Let every woman who is entering on this estate go forth to occupy it in

(1) humility,

(2) prayerfulness,

(3) wise and holy resolution. - C.

It is a very great thing to prefer the greater to the smaller, the more serious to the less serious, in the regulation of our life. It makes all the difference between success and failure, between wisdom and folly.

I. A SERIOUS MISTAKE, to prefer nicety or daintiness to fruitfulness or usefulness. This grave mistake is made by the farmer who would rather have a clean crib than a quantity of valuable manure; by the housewife who cares more for the elegance of the furniture than the comfort of the family; by the minister who spends more strength on the wording than on the doctrine of his discourse; by the teacher who lays more stress on the composition of classical verses than on the history of his country or than on the strengthening of the mind; by the poet who takes infinite pains with his rhymes and gives little thought to his subject or his imagery; by the statesman who is particular about the draughting of his bills, and has no objection to introduce retrograde and dishonouring measures; by the doctor who insists much on his medicine, and lets his patient go on neglecting all the laws of hygiene; etc.

II. THE WISDOM OF THE WISE. This is found in subordinating the trivial to the important; in being willing to submit to the temporarily disagreeable if we can attain to the permanently good; in being content to endure the sight and the smell of the unclean crib if there is a prospect of a fruitful field. The great thing is increase, fruitfulness, the reward of honest toil and patient waiting and believing prayer. This increase is to be sought and found in five fields in particular.

1. Bodily health and strength.

2. Knowledge, in all its various directions.

3. Material wealth, that ministers to the comfort and thus to the well being of the families of man.

4. Wisdom; that noble quality of the soul which distinguishes between the true and the false, the pure and the impure, the imperishable and the ephemeral, the estimable and the unworthy, and which not only distinguishes but determinately chooses the former and rejects the latter.

5. Spiritual fruitfulness; the increase of our own piety and virtue, and also the growth of the kingdom of our Lord. - C.

I. THE GENERAL PRINCIPLE. (Ver. 8.) To note, to observe, to take heed to one's way, is the characteristic of the man who is prudent for time and wise for eternity. And, on the contrary, the very principle of folly is self-deception - to be followed in turn by a terrible awakening to sobriety and recognition of the truth (comp. Psalm 7:15; Job 4:8). The right way is illustrated both positively and negatively.


1. The vanity of mere ritualism. (Ver. 9.) According to the probably correct translation, "the guilt offering scorns the fools;" in other words, his worship is useless, missing its aim, failing of God's favour, while the righteous who has washed and made himself clean, and put away iniquity (see Isaiah 1), comes with acceptance before Jehovah.

2. Respect for others sorrows. (Ver. 10.) Acute distress isolates a man; he cannot communicate what he feels. And it is an unkind thing to force counsel on others at a time when they know they cannot be understood, when the sympathy of silence is best. To sit by our friend, to clasp his hand with loving pressure, to mingle our tears with his, will be far more delicate and soothing than to attempt to "charm ache with airs, and agony with words."

3. Consideration of the end. (Vers. 11-13.) The old reminder recurs, Respice finem. Perhaps a contrast is intended between the "house of the wicked" as seeming firmer, nevertheless doomed to overthrow, and the "tent of the righteous," seeming more frail, yet destined to "sprout," to flourish, and extend. Again, resuming the image of the way, the seeming right way is not ever the right nor the safe way. It may be broad at first and well travelled, but may narrow by and by, and end in the pathless forest, or the desert waste, or the fatal precipice, To be safe we must still consider the end; and the beginning, which predicts and virtually contains the end. Various are the illusions to which we are subject. One example of this is that the smiling face may hide the aching heart, and the opposite (Ecclesiastes 7:4) may also obtain. Boisterous and immoderate mirth is no good symptom; it foretells a sad reaction, or conceals a deep-seated gloom. Human faces and appearances are masks, which hide the real countenance of things from us.

4. Consideration of the sources of enjoyment. (Ver. 14.) First the vicious source. The man who has fallen away from God seeks satisfaction out of God, in something practically atheistic, in the fruit of godless, sinful deeds (Proverbs 12:14; Proverbs 13:2; Proverbs 28:19). But in the matters of the spirit that which is out of God is nothing, emptiness and vanity. He is feasting upon wind. The genuine source of enjoyment is in the spirit itself, in the consciousness, where God is known and realized and loved; in the sense of union and reconciliation of thought and affection with the Divine Object thought of and believed. The kingdom of God is within us, and is "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."

5. Credulity and caution. (Ver. 15.) Credulity is a weakness, and certainly, like every weakness, may become a sin. It is the opposite of genuine faith: it is confidence placed where we have no right to place it. God, who has set up and kindled a light in each breast, requires us to use it, each for himself. To forsake it for any other is a desertion of our trust. Would that we might ever take heed to the light that is within us, and so steer our way! There is no true faith possible which does not begin with this. Again (ver. 16), wisdom is seen in a certain self-distrust in presence of evil. To use an expressive phrase, we should know when to "fight shy" of certain persons or associations, So powerful a passion as fear was not given us for nothing, nor should we be ashamed of a timidity which leads us to give a wide berth to danger, to keep out of the lion's path. Over-confidence springs from the want of a true estimate of our proper strength and weakness, and the security it begets is false.

6. Passionateness and trickiness. (Ver. 17.) The former precipitates men into all follies. Seneca saith well that "anger is like rain, which breaks itself upon that whereon it falls." Anger is certainly a kind of baseness; as it appears well in the weakness of those subjects in whom it reigns - children, women, old folks, sick folks. Bitter, unforgivable words, the revelation of secrets, the breaking off of business, - such are among the follies which anger constantly perpetrates. But the tricky intriguing man is both foolish and odious. Listen to one of the greatest of Englishmen, when he bears testimony that "the ablest men that ever were born all had an openness and frankness of dealing, and a name of certainty and veracity." There is a fine line between the wisdom of reserve and the vicious cunning of concealment; nothing but the loving and true purpose of the heart can redeem any habit of secrecy from odium.

7. Life a progress in folly or wisdom. (Ver. 18.) We are ever gaining, according to the image of the text. The mind has its accretions like those of the tree, A man becomes a greater fool the older he grows, or becomes of deeper sagacity, richer and wider views. All depends on how we start. Admit an error into thought, keep it there after it is proved an error, close the mind in any quarter to the light and keep it closed, and ensure a bigoted and foolish age. Let God into the mind from the first, open daily every window of the soul to the light, and grow old "learning something fresh every day."

8. The ascendancy of goodness. (Ver. 19.) The picture is presented of the envoy of a conquered people who kneels at the palace gate of the conqueror and waits on his commands (compare on the thought, Proverbs 13:9, 22; Psalm 37:25). There is a might in goodness; may we not say the only true might is that of goodness, for it has omnipotence at its back? It is victorious, irresistible, in the end. It is content to be acknowledged in the end by all, the evil as well as the good. Hypocrisy is the homage paid by vice to goodness. - J.

A man may be "prudent," he may be clever, learned, astute; yet he may miss his way, he may lose his life, he may prove to be a failure. The wisdom of the prudent, that which makes prudence or ability really valuable, that which constitutes its virtue, is the practical understanding of life, the knowledge which enables a man to take the right path and keep it, the discretion which chooses the line of a true success and maintains it to the end. It is to perceive and to pursue the way that is -

I. FINANCIALLY SOUND; avoiding that which leads to embarrassment and ruin; shunning those which conduct either to a sordid parsimony in one direction or to a wasteful extravagance on the other hand; choosing that which leads to competence and generosity.

II. EDUCATIONALLY WINE; forming the habits which strengthen and develop the faculties of the mind, instead of those which dwarf, or narrow, or demoratize them.

III. SOCIALLY SATISFACTORY; not going the way of an unwise and unsatisfactory ambition which ends in disappointment and chagrin; seeking the society which is suitable, elevating, honourable.

IV. IN ACCORDANCE WITH INDIVIDUAL ENDOWMENT; So that we do not expend all our time and all our powers in a way which cuts against all our individual inclinations, but in one which gives room for our particular aptitudes, and develops the special faculty with which our Creator has endowed our spirit.

V. MORALLY SAFE. It is a very great part of "the wisdom of the prudent" for a man to know what he may allow himself to do and where to go; what, on the other hand, he must not permit, and whither he must not wend his way. The path of safety to one man is the road to ruin with another. "Happy is he who condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth" (Romans 14:22). Wise is it in those, and well is it for them, who have discerned and who have decided upon those habits of life which are establishing in their hearts all Christian virtues and making to shine in their lives all Christian graces.

VI. THE WAY OF HOLY SERVICE. The way of sacred service is so essentially the way of wisdom, that any "prudence" or cleverness that misses it makes the supreme mistake. On the other hand, the wisdom that leads to it and that preserves the soul in it is the wisdom to attain unto. This way, which is the end of our being and the crown of our life, includes

(1) the service of Christ, and

(2) the service of man. - C.

It is foolish enough to use the words "sin" and "sinner" in the light and flippant way in which they are frequently employed. But to "make a mock at sin" itself, to treat otherwise than seriously the fact and forces of sin, is folly indeed. For sin is -

I. THE SADDEST AND STERNEST FACT IN ALL THE UNIVERSE OF GOD. It is the ultimate cause of all the disorder, misery, ruin, and death that are to be found beneath any sky. There is no curse or calamity that has befallen our race that is not due to its disastrous power.

II. THE DARKEST EXPERIENCE WE HAVE IN REVIEW. We may look back on many dark passages in our life history, but none can be so black as the experiences for which we have to reproach ourselves, as those wherein we broke some plain precept of God or left undischarged some weighty obligation.


1. It is exceedingly deceptive, alluring, undermining, betraying.

2. It is a very present enemy, near at hand when least suspected, entering into all the scenes and spheres of life.

3. It strikes deep, going down into the innermost places of the soul.

4. It is very extensive in its range, covering all the particulars of life.

5. It stretches far into the future, crossing even the dividing line of death, and reaching into eternity.

6. It is fatal in its results, leading the soul down into the dark shadows of spiritual death. The only wise course we can take in view of such a force as this is

(1) to realize its heinousness;

(2) to confess its guiltiness;

(3) to strive with patient strenuousness against its power;

(4) to seek the aid of the Holy and Mighty Spirit that it may be uprooted from the heart and life. - C.

The tenth verse suggests to us the serious and solemnizing fact of -

I. THE ELEMENT OF LONELINESS IN HUMAN LIFE. "The heart knoweth its own bitterness," etc. In one aspect our life path is thronged. It is becoming more and more difficult to be alone. Hours that were once sacred to solitude are now invaded by society. And yet it remains true that "in the central depths of our nature we are alone." There is a point at which, as he goes inward, our nearest neighbour, our most intimate friend, must stop; there is a sanctuary of the soul into which no foot intrudes. It is there where we make our ultimate decision for good or evil; it is there where we experience our truest joys and our profoundest griefs; it is there where we live our truest life. We may so crowd our life with duties and with pleasures that we may reduce to its smallest radius this innermost circle; but some time must we spend there, and the great decisive experiences must we there go through. There we taste our very sweetest satisfactions, and there we bear our very heaviest burdens. And no one but the Father of spirits can enter into that secret place of the soul. So true is it that

"Not e'en the dearest heart, and nearest to our own, Knows half the reasons why we smile or sigh." It is well for us to remember that there is more, both of happiness and of sorrow, than we can see; well, that we may not be overburdened with the weight of the manifold and multiplied evils we are facing; well, that we may realize how strong is the reason that, when our cup of prosperity is full, we may have "the heart at leisure from itself, to soothe and sympathize" with those who, beneath a smiling countenance, may carry a very heavy heart. For we have to consider -

II. THE SUPERFICIAL ELEMENT IN MUCH HUMAN GLADNESS. "Even in laughter," etc. A man may smile and smile, and be most melancholy. To wear a smile upon our countenance, or to conclude our sentences with laughter, is often only a mere trick of style, a mere habit of life, cultivated with little difficulty. A true smile, an honest, laugh, that comes not from the lips or from the lungs, but from the heart, is a very acceptable and a very admirable thing. But a false smile and a forced laugh bespeak a double-minded soul and a doubtful character. Surely the angels of God weep almost, as much over the laughter as over the tears of mankind. For beneath its sound they may hear all too much that is hollow and unreal, and not a little that is vain and guilty. But, on the other hand, to smile with the glad and to laugh with the merry is a sympathetic grace not to be despised (Romans 12:15, first clause).

III. THE ISSUE OF FALSE SATISFACTIONS. "The end of that mirth is heaviness." How often is heaviness the end of mirth! All enjoyment that does not carry with it the approval of the conscience, all that is disregardful of the Divine Law, all that is a violation of the laws of our physical or our spiritual nature, must end and does end, sooner or later, in heaviness - in depression of spirit, in decline of power. It is a sorry thing for a man to accustom himself to momentary mirth, to present pleasure at the expense of future joy, of well being in later years.


1. Let the necessary solitariness of life lead us to choose the very best friendships we can form; that we may have those who can go far and often with us into the recesses of our spirit, and accompany us, as far as man can, in the larger and deeper experiences of our life.

2. Let the superficiality of much happiness lead us to inquire of ourselves whether we have planted in our soul the deeper roots of joy; those which will survive every test and trial of life, and which will be in us when we have left time and sense altogether behind us.

3. Let the perilous nature of some gratifications impose on us the duty of a wise watchfulness; that we may banish forever from heart and life all injurious delights which "war against the soul," and rob us of our true heritage here and in the heavenly country. - C.

To grasp this principle - there is nothing causeless and unaccountable in life - and to apply it is one of the main principles of wisdom. Let us note some of its applications -


1. Poverty an object of dislike, and riches magnetic of good will. (Ver. 20.) Widespread parallels may be found in ancient literature to this saying. Its truth is equally obvious today. It is a truth of human nature, and has its bad and its good side. We are apt to be impatient of those who are always needing help, and are disposed to serve those who need nothing. It is a lower illustration of the law that "to him that hath it shall be given." Independence of any kind which implies power and self-help is attractive to all; and we should seek it by all legitimate means. If a man is shunned by others, it may be because they instinctively feel there is nothing but dejection to be found in his company, while they need cheerful confidence and helpfulness. The good man should strive after competence that he may secure good will, and have free scope for the cultivation of virtue and the exercise of his powers. Another indirect lesson is that friendship thrives best in equal conditions of life.

2. The sources of contempt and of compassion. (Ver. 21.) This seems to correct what might appear harsh in the former saying. Contempt for anything but what is evil in life, or petty and trivial in thought and sentiment, springs from a bad state of the heart. There are things we ought all to despise - i.e. look down upon - but certainly the mere poverty of our neighbour or friend is not one of them. Compassion upon those who are in trouble is, on the other hand, a feeling truly Divine. It extorts the blessing of men; it receives the approval of God, the All-compassionate One.

3. The sources of social security. (Ver. 25.) "Souls are saved," human life is preserved, the bonds of intercourse are held together, by the truthful man. Hearts are betrayed, covenants are broken, the integrity of life is shattered, by the deceiver, the hypocrite, and the slanderer.


1. The sources of perplexity or of peace are in the man's own mind. (Ver. 22.) His errors come from the falsity and malice of his own counsels, as the effect from the cause. And equally the blessed sense of the Divine presence and the Divine favour is conditioned by the seeking of it in the mind, the heart, the life. To imagine that we can enjoy good without being good is a sort of superstition.

2. Causes of gain and want. (Ver. 23.) One of the most valuable of Carlyle's teachings was to this effect - the reward that we all receive and of which we are perfectly certain, if we have deserved it, consists in having done our work, or at least having taken pains to do our work, for that is of itself a great blessing, and one is inclined to say that, properly speaking, there is no other reward in this world. And men bring themselves to want by neglecting their proper work, by idle talk, and waste of time and daylight. "Work while it is called today."

3. Hence, well gotten wealth is a testimonial to the earner of it. (Ver. 24.) It is an ornament, a decoration in which he may feel a juster pride than in stars, or garters, or patents of nobility, which carry no such significance. On the other hand, the folly of the fool is and remains folly, however he may plume himself, however by means of wealth or factitious advantages he may seek to pass for somebody before the world.

4. But deeper than these are the specifically religious blessings. (Ver. 26.) Security springs from religion; and religion is the constant habit of regard for God, his will in loving obedience, his favour as the most precious possession. God himself is a Refuge to his children, and they will not fear. The very source of life itself is religion, and nothing but the fear of God in the heart can preserve from the deathful snares which attend our way. - J.

We are in danger of despising our neighbours. The rich despise the poor, the learned despise the ignorant, the strong and healthy despise the weak and ailing, the devout despise the irreverent. But we are wrong in doing this. There is, indeed, one thing which may draw down a strong and even intense reprobation - moral baseness, meanness, a cruel and heartless selfishness, or a slavish abandonment to vice. But even there we may not wholly despise our neighbour; unmitigated contempt is always wrong, always a mistake. For -

I. WE ARE ALL THE CHILDREN OF GOD. Are we not all his offspring, the creatures of one Creator, the children of one Father? Does it become us to despise our own brethren, our own sisters? Inasmuch as we are "members one of another," of one family, we are bound to let another feeling than that of contempt take the deepest place in our heart when we think of men and women, whoever they may be, whatever they may have been.

II. SELF-GLORIFICATION IS EXCLUDED. What makes us to differ from others? Whence came our superiority in wealth, in knowledge, in strength, in virtue? Did it not come, ultimately, from God? Trace things to their source, and we find that all "boasting is excluded." It is by the favour and the grace of God that we are who and what we are. Not a haughty contemptuousness, but a humble thankfulness, becomes us, if we stand higher than our neighbour.

III. NO MAN IS WHOLLY DESPICABLE. He may have some things about his character which we deplore and which we condemn, on account of which we do well to remonstrate with him and to make him feel that we have withdrawn our regard and confidence. But no man is wholly to be despised.

1. Much of what is bad or sad about him may be the consequence of misfortune. What did he inherit? Who were his earliest counsellors? What were his adverse influences? Against what hurtful and damaging forces has he had to contend? How few and how weak have been his privileges? how many his privations?

2. There is the germ of goodness in him. There is no man, even among the most depraved, who has not in him that on which wisdom and love may lay their merciful hold, and by which the man himself may be redeemed. Many marvellous and most cheering facts prove that the worst among the bad may be recovered - the most profane, besotted, impure, dishonest. The Christian thought and faith is that all men are within the reach both of the mercy and the redeeming love of God. Let Divine truth be spoken to them as it may be spoken; let Divine and human love embrace them and lay its fatherly or brotherly hand upon them; let the Divine Spirit breathe upon them, and from the lowest depths of guilt and shame they may rise to noble heights of purity and honour. - C.

These words contain solid and valuable truth; that truth does not, however, exclude the facts -

I. THAT MUCH LABOUR IS WORSE THEN USELESS. All that which is conceived and carried out for the purpose of destruction, or of fraud, or of vice, or of impiety. Only too often men give themselves infinite trouble which is worse than thrown away, the putting forth of which is sin, the end of which is evil - misery or even ruin and death.

II. THAT MUCH SPEAKING TENDS TO ENRICHMENT. There is a "talk of the lips" which is worthy of taking rank with the most profitable toil.

1. It may cost the speaker much care and effort and expenditure of vital force.

2. It may be a great power for good in the minds of men and even in the histories of peoples -

"Like Luther's in the days of old, Half-battles for the free."

3. It may bring light to the darkened mind, comfort to the wounded heart, rest to the weary soul, strength and inspiration to the spirit that needs revival. But, on the other hand, the truth which the proverb is intended to impress upon us is this -

III. THAT MUCH VERBIAGE IS VERY PROFITLESS AND VAIN. There is a "talk of the lips" that does indeed tend to poverty.

1. That which does nothing more than consume time. This is pure waste; and in

"An age (like this) when every hour Must sweat her sixty minutes to the death," this can by no means be afforded.

2. That which gives false ideas of life; which encourages men to trust to chance, or to despise honest toil, or to hope for the success which is the fruit of chicanery and dishonesty, or to find a heritage, not in the consciousness of duty and of the favour of God, but in superficial and short-lived delights.


1. Physical labour not only cultivates the field and builds the house and clothes the naked, but it gives strength to the muscles and health to the whole body.

2. Mental labour not only designs the painting, or the sculpture, or the oratorio, and writes the poem or the history, but it invigorates the mind and braces all the mental faculties.

3. Moral struggle not only saves from vice and crime, but makes the soul strong for noble and honourable achievement.

4. Spiritual endeavour not only refines the highest faculties of our nature, prepares us for the companionship of the holiest, and accomplishes the highest purposes of the Redeemer, but brings us into the favour and leads us into the likeness of God himself. - C.


1. Fulness and scantiness of population. (Ver. 28.) The Hebrew had a deep sense of the value of fruitfulness in the wedded life, and of increase in the nation. The majesty of the monarch is the reflection of the greatness of his people, and the decay must represent itself in his feebleness for action. It is our duty as Christian men to study with intelligence political questions, and to support all measures which tend to freedom of commerce and abundance of food.

2. National exaltation and shame. (Ver. 34.) The common ideas of national glory and shame are false. There is no glory in victory over feeble foes, no shame in seeking peace in the interests of humanity. Too often these popular ideas of glory represent the bully and the coward in the nation, rather than its wisdom and honour. There is no other real secret of a nation's exaltation than, in the widest sense, its right dealing, and no other shame for a nation than its vices - such as drunkenness, selfishness, lust for territory. Could Englishmen see the national character in the light in which it often appears to foreigners, it would be a humbling view.

3. Royal favour or disfavour is an index of worth. (Ver. 35.) Not, of course, the only or the truest index; and yet how seldom it happens that a man rises to high position in the service of his sovereign and country without eminent worth of some description or other! Here, again, moral law is exemplified. There is nothing accidental. If it be mere prudence which gains promotion, still prudence is of immense value to the state, and moral law is confirmed by its advancement.


1. Patience and haste of temper. (Ver. 29.) They are branded respectively with the mark of sense and of folly. "The Scripture exhorteth us to possess our souls in patience; whosoever is out of patience is out of possession of his soul."

2. The calm and the seething heart. (Ver. 30.) The first member seems more correctly rendered, "life of the body is a gentle or tranquil mind." Zeal, on the other hand, or envy, is a constant ferment within the soul. Men's minds must either feed upon their own good or others' evil. Inquisitive people are commonly envious; it is a "gadding passion," and an old proverb says that "Envy keeps no holidays." Lord Bacon says it is the vilest passion and the most depraved. Christian humility and love can only sweeten the heart, and dilute or wash away its natural bitterness

3. The violent death and the peaceful end. (Ver. 32.) A sudden death was viewed as a visitation from God (Psalm 36:13; 62:4). It was thought that the wicked could hardly come to any other end. But the righteous has confidence in his death. Considering the great silence of the Old Testament on the future life, it can hardly be honest exegesis to force the meaning of hope of a future life into this passage. Nor is it necessary. It is the consciousness that all is well, the soul being in God's hands, that the future may be left with him who has revealed himself in the past, which sheds peace into the dying soul.

4. Silent wisdom and noisy pretence. (Ver. 33.) The still and quiet wisdom of the sensible man (Proverbs 10:14; Proverbs 12:16, 23) is contrasted with the eager and noisy utterances of what the fool supposes to be wisdom, but in reality is the exposure of his folly. "There is no decaying merchant or inward beggar hath so many tricks to uphold the credit of their wealth as those empty persons have to maintain the credit of their sufficiency." Wisdom and piety are felt and fragrant, like the violet in the hedge, from humble places and silent lives, Let us aim to be, not to seem. - J.


1. A sinful nation in the sight of God. This is a nation of which the people have gone astray from him; do not approach him in worship; do not consult his will as revealed in his Word; have no ear to lend to those that speak in his Name; lose all sense of sacred duty in the pursuit of gain and pleasure.

2. The flagrant guilt to which such godlessness leads down.

(1) It is probable, in a high degree, that impiety will lead to iniquity, that the absence of all religious restraint will end in abandonment to evil in all its forms.

(2) History assures us that it does so. The denial, or the defiance, or the entire disregard of God and of his will, conducts to and ends in vice, in crime, in violence, in despotism, in the dissolution of old and honourable bonds, in the prevalence of despair and suicide, in utter demoralization.

3. This is the reproach to a people. A country may lose its population, or its wealth, or its pre-eminent influence, without being the object of reproach; but to fall into general impiety, and to live in the practice of wrong doing, - this is a disgrace; it brings a nation down in the estimate of all the wise; its name is clothed with shame; its fame has become infamy.

II. RIGHTEOUSNESS A NATION'S STRENGTH. National righteousness does not consist in any public professions of piety, nor in the existence of great religious organizations, nor in the presence of a multitude of ecclesiastical edifices and officers; nations have had all these before now, and they have been destitute of real righteousness. That consists in the possession of a reverent spirit and an estimable character, and the practice of purity, justice, and kindness on the part of the people themselves (see Isaiah 58.; Micah 6:6-8). In this is a nation's strength and exaltation, for it will surely issue in:

1. Physical well being. Virtue is the secret of health and strength, of the multiplication and continuance of life and power.

2. Material prosperity; for righteousness is the foundation of educated intelligence, of intellectual energy and vigour, of commercial and agricultural enterprise, of maritime intrepidity and success.

3. Moral and spiritual advancement.

4. Estimation and influence among surrounding nations.

5. The abiding favour of God (Psalm 81:13-16). We may learn from the text

(1) that no measure of brilliancy in statesmanship will compensate for debauching the minds of the people, for introducing ideas or sanctioning habits which are morally unsound and corrupting;

(2) that the humblest citizen whose life tends to establish righteousness amongst his neighbours is a true patriot, however narrow his sphere may be. - C.

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