Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE LOVE OF SOCIETY IS A NATURAL INSTINCT.
II. EVIL COMPANY IS OFTEN MOST FASCINATING.
III. THE ASSOCIATIONS THAT ARE FOUNDED UPON MERE FELLOWSHIP IN PLEASURE ABE SELDOM SATISFACTORY, OFTEN CORRUPTING.
IV. THE BAD MAN'S COMPANY IS MORE TO BE SHUNNED THAN THAT OF ONE SUFFERING FROM A CONTAGIOUS DISEASE. "Wicked companions," said a man of the world, the novelist Fielding, "invite us to hell." "They are like to be short graces when the devil plays the host," said another. - J.
building up, in its moral and Christian uses! Here the image of the house is directly introduced, and may be variously applied.
I. WISDOM THE FOUNDATION OF DOMESTIC STABILITY AND HAPPINESS. (Vers. 3, 4.) The same great principles apply in the least as well as the most important things. Every day brings humble occasions for the practice of the grandest laws, no less in the house, the farm, or the shop, than in the council chamber or on the battle field. "Method is as efficient in the packing of firewood in a shed, or the harvesting of fruits in a cellar, as in Peninsular campaigns or the files of a department of state." Let a man keep the Law, and his way will be strewn with satisfactions. There is more difference in the quality of our pleasures than in the amount. Comfort and abundance in the home are the certain signs of prudence and sense and action constantly applied.
II. WISDOM THE SOURCE OF MANLY STRENGTH. (Vers. 5, 6.) It was a great man who said, "Knowledge is power." It is not the force of brute strength, but that of spiritual energy, which in the long run rules the world. The illustration of the text is aptly selected from war, where, if anywhere, brute force might be supposed to prevail. Experience shows that it is not so. The complete failures of men like Hannibal and Napoleon show it in one way. Recent wars have illustrated the truth that it is the deliberate and matured designs of the strategist and far-seeing statesman which command success, rather than the "great battalions" on the side of which Providence was said to be. And in another application, sheer force of intellect is often surpassed and outdone by the steady and constant employment of humbler powers. Strength in any form without prudence is like a giant without eyes. Violence and craft may seem the readiest way to wealth; yet experience shows that prudence and piety lead most surely to desirable prosperity. - J.
Hebrews 3:4). Man, also, is a great builder. The whole scenery of the earth is not a little changed by the houses and temples, by the bridges and factories, by the manifold structures of every size and shape, that he has built. But these are not the most serious and important of his works. We look at -
I. THE HOUSES WE ARE BUILDING. Of these, three are the most deserving of attention.
1. Our estate. The position and provision we secure for ourselves and our family; an honourable place we take among men, as neighbours and fellow citizens. Every man has to set this before him as a thing to be patiently pursued and ultimately attained. Some men think of little else or nothing else, therein making a fatal mistake; but it is the manifest duty as well as the clear interest of us all, to build up a house of this kind.
2. Our character. This is "a house" of the first importance. We are here for this express purpose - that we may be daily and hourly building up a noble and estimable character; such a character as God will himself approve; such as man will admire, and will do well to copy; such as will command the commendation of our own conscience; such as will stand firm and strong against all the perils by which it is beset; such as will contain many virtues and graces in its various "chambers" (Ver. 4). "Precious and pleasant rubies," indeed, are these.
3. Some cause of Christian usefulness. We should all be diligently occupied in raising or sustaining some "work" of holy usefulness, by which the seeds of truth may be scattered, hearts may be comforted, lives may be brightened, souls may be won to righteousness and wisdom, Christ may be honored, and his kingdom advanced.
II. THE INDISPENSABLE MATERIALS. The wisdom which is from above. "Through wisdom is a house built, and by understanding it is established" (Ver. 3). For wisdom includes or secures:
(1) To walk and to work in the fear of God is to do all things uprightly and honourably, truly and faithfully, heartily and thoroughly; and this is the way to build up any one of these three "houses."
(2) To enjoy the favour of God is to have behind us that energizing and sustaining power without which all labour is vain (Psalm 127:1); it is to possess the protecting care which will shield us from the storms that might otherwise overthrow us (Psalm 121.).
2. The various orders of strength which we need for good building (Ver. 5).
(1) It tends to physical health and strength.
(2) It conduces to mental strength and the increase of knowledge; it supplies us with good judgment, with tact, with prudence, with patience, with the very implements of successful labour.
(3) It ministers to moral and spiritual strength; for it brings us into communion with God and to the study of his Word.
3. The power of resistance and attack. By "wise counsel we make war" (Ver. 6). It is a very great matter, in all spheres of activity, to know when to make peace and when to show a fearless front of opposition. And when the latter course has to be taken, there is much true wisdom needed in order that our house, our stronghold, may not be carried and dismantled. We need courage, decision, watchfulness, energy, self-command, readiness to make terms at the right moment. To attain to the wisdom which will thus build up our house, we need to
(1) yield our hearts fully to the only wise God and Saviour;
(2) open our minds daily to receive his heavenly wisdom;
(3) ask of him who "giveth to all men liberally, upbraiding not." - C.
I. THE GROVELLING MIND. (Ver. 7.) Wisdom is too high for the indolent to climb to, for the sensual and earthly to admire and love. They are like Muck-rake, in Bunyan's parable. From such no good counsel ever comes. They are dumb "in the gate," on every important occasion, when help, light, sympathy, are needed. The base prudence which inspires many popular proverbs - the prudence "which adores the rule of three, which never subscribes, never gives, seldom lends, and asks but one question of any project, 'Will it bake bread?'" - is indeed folly. "Self's the man," says a Dutch proverb. But those who would gain all for self end by losing self and all.
II. THE MALICIOUS TEMPER. (Ver. 8.) There are degrees in vice as in virtue. It is a short step from grovelling egotism to active malice. Extract the root of self-seeking out of any dispute, private or public, in Church or state, and the other differences may soon be adjusted. To make mischief is a diabolic instinct, and it certainly springs up in the mind void of healthy occupation and of interest for the true, beautiful, and good; for the mind's principle is motion, and it cannot cease to act.
III. SIN IN THE THOUGHT AND THE MOOD. (Ver. 9.) When busy invention and meditation are at work in the mind of the wicked and the fool, nothing good is produced. Still more is it the case with the scoffer. In him the ripened and practised powers of the mind are brought into alliance with evil desire. Such a habit of mind, once detected, excites the utmost odium and abhorrence. The man who can sneer at goodness, or hold what is by common consent good and beautiful in contempt, is already an outcast from his kind, and need not complain if he is treated as such.
IV. COWARDLY FAINT HEARTEDNESS. (Ver. 10.) The pressure of circumstances should rouse in us the God-given strength. The man who makes duty his polar star, and trusts in God, can actually do more when things seem to be against him than widen all is in his favour. Moral cowardice is closely connected with the root sin of unbelief. Indulgence in it impoverishes and weakens the soul, so that the man ends by being actually unable to do what once he only fancied himself unable to do. Here is an illustration of Christ's saying, "To him that hath shall be given, and from him that hath not shall be taken that which he hath." - J.
I. THOUGHTS WHICH MAY SEEM TO BE, BUT ARE NOT, CONDEMNED BY THESE WORDS.
1. The serious but not taken thoughts of childhood or of uneducated manhood. It is not every thought which cannot be characterized as wisdom that must be condemned as "foolishness." The honest attempts of artless simplicity to solve problems or to execute commands may be honourable and even commendable failures; they are the conditions of growth.
2. The lighter thoughts of the cultured and mature, thoughts of merriment and frolicsomeness, moving to honest laughter, are far from being sinful. They are clearly in accordance with the will of the Divine Father of our spirits, who is the Author of our nature, with its faculties and tendencies; they are often found to be a necessary relief under the otherwise intolerable strain of oppressive care and burdensome toil. One of the most serious and one of the most kind-hearted and successful servants of our race (Abraham Lincoln) was only saved from complete mental derangement during the terrible time of the civil war by finding occasional refuge in humour. But what are -
II. THE THOUGHTS WHICH ARE HERE CONDEMNED? The thoughts of foolishness.
1. Our responsibility for our thoughts. Impalpable and fugitive as they are, our thoughts are a very real part of ourselves, and they constitute a serious part of our responsibility to God. That they do so is clear; for:
(1) On them everything in human life and action ultimately depends. Action depends on will, will on feeling, and feeling on thought. It is what we think and how we think that determines what we do and what we are. "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he." Thought is the very foundation of character.
(2) Thought is free. We may be compelled to speak or to act in certain prescribed ways; but we are masters of our own minds, and we can think as we like. How we think depends on our own volition.
(3) We either choose deliberately the subject of our thoughts (by selecting our friends, our books and papers, our topics of conversation), or we are led to think as we do by the mental and moral character which we have been deliberate]y forming; we are responsible for the stream because we are responsible for the spring.
2. The sinful character of foolish thoughts. Foolish thoughts may be
(1) irreverent, and all irreverence is sin; or they may be
(2) selfish, and all selfishness is sin; or
(3) impure, and all impurity is sin; or
(4) unkind and inconsiderate, unloving or vindictive, and all unkindness is sin; or
(5) short-sighted and worldly, and all worldliness is sin (1 John 2:15-17). The conclusion of the whole matter is that if we would be right with God, "harmless and blameless," we must be right in our "inward thought" (see Hebrews 4:12); and that if we would be right there, in those central depths or our nature, we must
(a) place our whole nature under the direct rule of the Holy One himself;
(b) seek daily fop the cleansing influences of his Holy Spirit, the continual renewal of our mind by his inspiration;
(c) "keep our hearts beyond all keeping" (Proverbs 2:23), especially by welcoming, with eagerness and delight, all the wisdom of God that we can gather from his Word. - C.
I. THE TESTING TIME THAT COMES TO ALL MEN. It is true that prosperity has its own perils, and makes its own demands on the human spirit. But when the sky is clear above us, when loving friends stand round us with protecting care, when privileges abound on every side, it is comparatively easy to maintain an equable and obedient mind. We can all row with the stream and sail with the favouring wind. But the hour must come to us that comes to all in time, when we have to face difficulty, or to bear obloquy, or to sustain heavy loss, or to go on our way with a lonely heart, or to suffer some keen and all but crusading disappointment. When we are moved to say with Jacob, "All these things are against me;" with Elijah, "Lord, take away my life;" we faint and fall in the day of adversity.
II. THE RESOURCES THAT SHOULD BE AT OUR COMMAND. When that hour comes to us, as it certainly will, we should be prepared to bear ourselves bravely and well; for there are many sources of strength with which we should be supplied. There is:
1. Ordinary human fortitude. Such manliness and strength of will as have enabled many thousands of souls - even without any aid from religion - to confront danger or death, or to show an undisturbed equanimity of mind. in the midst of severe sorrows. But beyond this there is for us:
2. Christian resignation. The willingness to leave the whole disposal of our lives to the wisdom and the love of God; readiness to endure the holy will of a Divine Father, of our best Friend.
3. Christian faith. The assurance that God is dealing with us in perfect wisdom and parental love at those times when we can least understand his way.
4. Christian hope. The confidence that "unto the upright there will arise light in the darkness;" that God will grant a happy issue out of all our afflictions; that though the just man fall seven times, he will rise again (see ver. 15); that though weeping may endure even for a long and stormy night, joy will come in the morning (Psalm 30:5).
5. Communion with God. To the distressed human spirit there remains that most precious refuge, the leaning of the heart on God, the appeal of the soul to him in earnest, believing prayer.
III. THE INFERENCE WE ARE OBLIGED TO DRAW. If, with all these resources at our command, we "faint;"
(1) if we indulge a rebellious spirit, repining at our lot and thinking ourselves hardly used; or
(2) if we yield ourselves to misery and melancholy, showing ourselves unequal to the duties that devolve upon us, resigning the useful activities in which we have been engaged; - then we must conclude that "our strength is small;" we have failed to enrich our souls with that spiritual power of which we might and should have become possessed. Bat that we may not have to deplore our weakness in the day of adversity, and that we may not give a sorry illustration of Christian life as it ought not to be seen, let us learn what is -
IV. OUR WISDOM AT THE PRESENT TIME. And that is to be gaining strength, to be continually becoming "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." This is an imperative duty (Ephesians 6:10; 2 Timothy 2:1; 2 Peter 3:18). And we are not without the necessary means. If, in the days of sunshine and prosperity, we are daily nourishing our faith, our love, our hope, our prayerfulness, by constant exercise in devotion and in sacred duty, by using the privileges so amply supplied to us, by cultivating and cherishing our onion with Jesus Christ our Lord, we shall be strong, and we shall not faint. - C.
I. THE HEART AND HAND SHOULD EVER BE READY AT THE CALL OF DISTRESS. (Ver. 11.) The picture seems to be placed before us of one arriving at the place of judgment, seeing an innocent sufferer yet, like the priest and the Levite in the parable, passing by "on the other side."
"To see and sights moves more than hear them told; For then the eye interprets to the ear The heavy motion that it doth behold." To respond to these mute appeals from any of God's creatures is to obey a law immediately known within our breast; to resist them is to sin against him and against our own souls. II. NEGLECT OF DUTY CANNOT ESCAPE PUNISHMENT. (Ver. 12.) 1. Human nature is fertile in excuses. For the burden of blame and of conscious guilt is the heaviest we can bear. But searching is the truth of the proverb, "Whoso excuses, accuses himself," Ignorance of duty needs no excuses; but excuses for neglect can never be valid. 2. Excuses may avail with man, but not with God. With fallible men they may and often do pass for truth. At all events, they must often be accepted by those who need in turn to make them. But God knows the truth of every heart, and in every case; and to him excuses are either needless or worse. 3. Judgment will be executed in spite of our excuses. For God is the Vindicator of the wronged, and the Recompenser of all according to their deeds. Scripture is very impressive on the sin of neglect of kindly duties to others, in regard to which the conscience is so often dull (Luke 14:18, etc.). Men content themselves with the reflection that they have not done others positive harm - a negative position. But the other negative position, that we have not done the good we had a call to do, on this the teaching of Christ fixes a deeper guilt. Noble as it is to save a life from bodily death, still more glorious in its consequences is it to save a soul from death and hide a multitude of sins. - J.
II. NEGLECT OF DUTY CANNOT ESCAPE PUNISHMENT. (Ver. 12.)
1. Human nature is fertile in excuses. For the burden of blame and of conscious guilt is the heaviest we can bear. But searching is the truth of the proverb, "Whoso excuses, accuses himself," Ignorance of duty needs no excuses; but excuses for neglect can never be valid.
2. Excuses may avail with man, but not with God. With fallible men they may and often do pass for truth. At all events, they must often be accepted by those who need in turn to make them. But God knows the truth of every heart, and in every case; and to him excuses are either needless or worse.
3. Judgment will be executed in spite of our excuses. For God is the Vindicator of the wronged, and the Recompenser of all according to their deeds. Scripture is very impressive on the sin of neglect of kindly duties to others, in regard to which the conscience is so often dull (Luke 14:18, etc.). Men content themselves with the reflection that they have not done others positive harm - a negative position. But the other negative position, that we have not done the good we had a call to do, on this the teaching of Christ fixes a deeper guilt. Noble as it is to save a life from bodily death, still more glorious in its consequences is it to save a soul from death and hide a multitude of sins. - J.
I. THAT ALL HUMAN NEED IS A CLAIM FOR HELP. God has so "fashioned our hearts alike," and has so bound together our lives and our interests, that we are under serious obligation to one another. No man is at liberty to live an isolated life; he owes too much to those that have gone before him, and is too closely related to those who are around him, to allow of such a course. To wish it is unnatural, to attempt it is immoral "We are members one of another;" we are brethren and sisters one of another. And whenever any one about us - whoever or whatever he or she may be - is in any kind of difficulty or distress, is in need of sympathy and succour, there is an imperative demand, as clear as if it came from an angel's trumpet or straight out of the heavens above us, that we should stop, should inquire, should help as best we can (see 1 John 3:17, 18).
II. THAT THE EXTREMITY OF HUMAN NEED IS A MOST POWERFUL PLEA. If any sufferer on life's highway is a man to be pitied and relieved, how much more are they who are "drawn unto death," who are "ready to be slain"! To see our brother or our sister - made like ourselves, and capable as we are of intense suffering, holding life as precious as we ourselves regard it - in circumstances of keen distress or of utmost danger, and to withhold our pity and our aid, - this is condemned of God. Whether we "pass by on the other side (Luke 10:31), so as to hide our cruel indifference as well as we can from our own sight; or whether we pass close by, clearly recognizing our duty, but cynically and heartlessly declining to do it; or whether we stand awhile and pity, but conclude that help will be too costly, and so pass on without helping; - we are guilty, we are unbrotherly, inhuman, altogether unlike our Lord.
III. THAT EXCUSES WILL NOT AVAIL US. If we want to escape from our plain duty we seldom refuse it point blank. We do not say to our Lord or to ourselves, We will not;" we say, "We would if-," or "We will when-." When our brother is in difficulty or in sorrow, and urgently needs the extricating hand, the sympathizing word, we may plead, to ourselves or to our neighbours, our ignorance of the sufferer, our imperfect acquaintance with the circumstances, our want of time, our incapacity for assisting in that kind of trouble, our multitudinous and pressing duties and claims, etc. These may succeed with men, but they will not avail with God. God knows the hollowness of these poor pleas; to his eye they are only thin veils that do not hide our cruel selfishness; he judges that nothing justifies us in abandoning the perishing to their fate, and he condemns us.
IV. THAT GOD IS GRIEVED WITH US FOR OUR OWN SAKE. He "that keepeth our soul" knows it. And because God does "keep our soul," he is grieved to see us take up an attitude towards our brother which
(1) proves us to be unbrotherly, and
(2) helps to fix us in our cold-heartedness. For every act and instance of selfishness hardens our heart and makes it more capable of cruel indifference than before.
V. THAT CRUELTY AND KINDNESS MOVE TO THEIR REWARD. "Shall he not render," etc.? Cruelty and kindness must be cursed or blessed by the immediate effects they leave in the soul of the agent. But they also move toward a day of award, Then will a selfish indifference hear its strong, Divine condemnation (Matthew 25:41-45) Then, also, will a generous kindness listen to its warm, Divine commendation (Matthew 25:34-40). - C.
I. THE SWEETNESS OF WISDOM. (Ver. 13.) Not without deep meaning is the sense of knowing the truth compared to the sensuous relish of the palate for sweet food. Here is, indeed, a
"Perpetual feast of nectared sweets,
II. ENCOURAGEMENT IN ITS PURSUIT. (Ver. 14.) It brings a true satisfaction both during the pursuit and at its end, which can be said of few other objects of eager ambition in this world. The seeker for truth may be compared to the maiden of the parable, who timely fills her lamp with oil, and "hope that reaps not shame." The pursuit of wisdom, or of truth as understood and taught in this book, is no chase of dreams or abstractions; it is the affair of all. Truth is all that touches and convinces man, whether as an individual, or as a member of society, or the citizen of a nation. It is that which tells him that he is not isolated in the midst of unknown beings; but that beyond his individual life he partakes in a life that is universal. All that in the past, whether facts, thoughts, or sentiments, are in question, that makes us contemporary with the facts, fellow heirs with humanity in great thoughts, sympathetic with great sentiments, is truth. - J.
I. THE ATTITUDE OF THE MAN OF FRAUD AND VIOLENCE DEPICTED. (Ver. 15.) He is like the prowling wild beast, seeking whom he may devour. God the Creator has not armed us with tooth or tusk or other means of defence, like the wild beasts which are formed for making war on others. We are strongly furnished for defence, not for attack. Ferocity is distinctly an unnatural vice in us.
II. HIS ACTIVITY IS DEVASTATING. Here, again, he resembles the wild beast in his blind fury, the boar that uproots and overturns in the cultivated garden.
III. THE SELF-RECOVERY OF THE RIGHTEOUS. (Ver. 16.) To fall into sin and to fall into trouble are two different things. Avoid the former, and God will not forsake thee in the latter. Seven falls stand for many - an indefinite number of falls. There is an elasticity in rectitude like that of the young sapling; bent to the earth, it rebounds with strong upspring. "It may calm the apprehension of calamity to see how quiet a bound nature has set to the utmost infliction of malice. We rapidly approach a brink over which no enemy can follow us." But evil, being purely negative, a zero, the absence of internal power and virtue, has but an illusory existence, and quickly passes sway.
IV. BASE JOY TURNED INTO SHAME. (Vers. 17, 19.) He who rejoices in the trouble of another, his own trouble stands behind the door. Why should he fear who takes his post with Omnipotence at his back?
"Souls that of God's own good life partake He loves as his own self: dear as his eye They are to him; he'll never them forsake. When they shall die, then God himself shall die; They live - they live in blest eternity." The tyrant and his victim are made to change sides. The "wrath" which seems expressed in the calamities of the latter is transformed into the revelation of an "everlasting kindness," while terror strikes the heart of him who sought to infuse it into his foe (compare R. Browning's striking poem, 'Instans Tyrannus'). - J.
Proverbs 20:22.) There can be no question at all, for the testimony of human history is everywhere and at all times the same, as to -
I. OUR DISPOSITION UNDER SIN, IN VIEW OF OUR ENEMIES. These two passages indicate it. It is both passive and active.
1. A disposition to rejoice at their discomfiture; to exult in the secret places of the soul when we hear of their failure, of their defeat, or even of their suffering.
2. A disposition to inflict some injury on them by our own effort. The impulse of the man who is struck is to strike again; that of the man who is cheated is to take the next opportunity of overreaching the treacherous neighbour; the prevalent feeling, under the long reign and malignant influence of sin, is to compass, in some way or other, the humiliation, or the loss, or the anger of the man who has injured us. We rejoice when our enemy falls; we do more and worse than that - we do our best, we use our ingenuity and put forth even our patient labour, to bring about his overthrow. So common, so universal, is this sentiment of revenge and retaliation, that no one is in a position so speak severely of his neighbour or to condemn him harshly. Yet we understand now -
II. ITS UNWORTHINESS OF OUR NATURE. It was not to cherish such thoughts as these, nor was it to act in such a way as this, that our Divine Father called us into being, and gave to us our powers.
1. We were made to love and to pity; and for us to harbour in our souls a feeling of positive delight when we witness the misery or misfortune of a brother or a sister is really inhuman; it is a perversion, under the malign power of sin, of the end and purpose of our being.
2. We were made to help and bless; and for us to expend the powers with which we are endowed to injure, to inflict suffering and loss, to send as far as we can on the downward road a human heart or human life, - this is wholly unworthy of ourselves, it is a sad departure from the intention of our Creator. We see clearly -
III. ITS OFFENSIVENESS TO GOD. "Lest the Lord see it, and it displease him."
2. It is altogether unlike his own action; for he is daily and momently blessing with life and health and innumerable bounties those who have forgotten or disregarded or even denied him.
3. There are two aspects in which it must be obnoxious to him.
(1) He is the Father of our spirits, and how can he look with anything but sorrow on antagonism and hatred between his children?
(2) He is the Holy and the Loving One, and how can he see with anything but displeasure the hearts of men filled with the feelings of malevolence, the hands of men occupied in dealing bitter blows against one another? What, however, is the way by which this deep-rooted disposition can be expelled, and another and nobler spirit be planted in our souls? What is the way to -
IV. THE WORTHIER AND NOBLER SPIRIT. The one way to rise above vindictiveness and retaliation and to enter into the loftier and purer air of forgiveness and magnanimity is to connect ourselves most closely with our Lord Jesus Christ.
2. To have our hearts filled with that transforming love to our Father and our Saviour which will make us to become, unconsciously and gradually, like him in spirit and behaviour.
3. To let our minds be filled with the knowledge of his will, by patient and prayerful study of his Word and of his life. - C.
I. THE TEMPTATION TO ENVY THE PROSPERITY OF THE WICKED. It is very marked in the Old Testament. It is a common temptation. For we look at the outside of man's condition, and are deceived by illusions. A pirate's venal in the distance, a mansion built and inhabited by infamy, are beautiful objects of aesthetic contemplation. So it is that the show and bravery of success master our senses.
II. THE ANTIDOTE TO THESE FEELINGS. (Ver. 20.) "Consider the end" - darkness and the blackness of darkness. The wicked have no future. When this is once clearly seen, the charm on the surface fades away, and the edifice of proud but godless prosperity sinks almost into a smoking ruin.
III. RELIGION AND MORALITY THE ONLY FOUNDATION OF SECURITY AND BLESSEDNESS. (Vers. 21, 22.) The one comprehensive word for religion is the "fear of Jehovah," reverence for God, and for all that, being true, is of the very nature of God. And obedience to the king includes all those civil and social duties which we incur as members of an ordered commonwealth. Religion and loyalty go together; and the best way to make good subjects to the queen is to make men good servants of God. They will not make conscience of civil duties who make none of Divine. - J.
I. RESPECT OF PERSONS. The literal translation is, "To distinguish persons in judgment is not good." The judge should be impartial as the pair of scales, the emblem of his office, and blind to the persons who appear before him, that is, to their rank and position, as the symbolical figure of Justice is represented to be. "One foul sentence doth more hurt than many foul examples; these do but corrupt the stream, the other corrupteth the fountain."
II. THE WILFUL PERVERSION OF RIGHT. (Ver. 24.) When the just man is suffered to fail in his cause before his adversary, the very nerve of public right is unstrung. It strikes a direct blow at the common weal, and hence brings down the curses of peoples and the enmity of states.
III. EQUAL AND JUST JUDGMENT. (Ver. 25.) "A judge ought to prepare his way to a just sentence, as God useth to prepare his way, by raising valleys and taking down hills; so when there appeareth on either side a high hand, violent persecution, cunning advantages taken, combination, power, great counsel, then is the virtue of a judge seen to make inequality equal; that he may plant his judgment as upon an even ground" (Bacon). In the present text the glance is towards a proper and due severity, which will not allow the wicked to escape. "Odium may equally be incurred by him who winks at crime and by him who has no regard to mercy. For in causes of life and death, judges ought, as far as the law permits, in justice to remember mercy, and to cast a severe eye upon the example, but a merciful eye upon the person" (Bacon). The purity of the judicial bench is one of the greatest of public blessings. Let us be thankful that we enjoy it in our country, and pray that it may ever continue. - J.
I. TRUE WITNESS. (Ver. 26.) He who gives true and faithful answers - especially in courts of justice - delights, even as the sweetest kiss upon the mouth delights. The poet alludes to the effect upon the ear. The understanding can no more be delighted with a lie than the will can choose an apparent evil. "Strange as it may seem," says one playfully, "the human mind loses truth." We may add, "when passion does not blind the intellect to its beauty." In the court of justice, all but the guilty and those interested in his fate see the beauty of truth, and prize it above all things. Hence to speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, is the solemn oath of witnesses.
II. FALSE AND UNCALLED-FOR WITNESS. (Ver. 28.) To bear false witness strikes at the very root of conscience and moral obligation. But criminal, though in a less degree, is the volunteering of evidence without cause against another; i.e. when no object but private hatred and revenge is to be served. Compare the case of Doeg (1 Samuel 22:9, 10); the Pharisees with the wretched sinner in John 8; the words of the Lord in John 15:25. Speak evil of no man, not only that evil which is altogether false and groundless, but that which is true, when speaking of it will do more harm than good (Matthew Henry).
III. DELIBERATE DECEPTION. About a court of justice, which represents truth, there gathers a dark shade of roguery and falsehood; "persons that are full of sinister tricks and shifts, whereby they pervert the plain and direct courses of courts, and bring justice into oblique lines and labyrinths."
IV. BLIND INDULGENCE OF VINDICTIVE TEMPER. (Ver. 29; comp. Proverbs 20:22.) Nothing is more deeply impressed in the Bible than the truth of compensation or retribution. But men must not take the law into their own hands. "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, saith Jehovah." "Revenge is a kind of wild justice, which the more man's nature runs to, the more ought law to weed it out. In taking revenge a man is but even with his enemy; but in passing it over he is superior. It is the glory of a man to pass by an offence. The man who studies revenge keeps his own wounds green, which otherwise would heal and do well" (Bacon). - J.
I. ALL LABOUR IS ROOTED IN THE TILLAGE OF THE EARTH. 'Tis thus that bread was first wrung from her - by universal field labour. Our ancestors were all agricultural labourers. All other industry must be fruitless and stop without the action of this spring. It is therefore the part of all prudent and good men to encourage cultivation, to improve the condition of the labourer and the farmer. All honour to the great statesmen of our time who have wrought in this cause. It is edifying to recollect that God has made Mother Earth the eternal mediator and minister to us of material blessings which lie at the foundation of all our life.
II. DOMESTIC COMFORT AND INDEPENDENCE REST UPON LABOUR. It is the "prudence of a higher strain" than that which begins and ends with mere sensual comfort that is taught in this book. It is attention to law, it is unbelief in luck, which constitutes its principle. Self-command, unslothful habits, constant exertion, put the bread a man eats at his own disposal, so that he stands not in bitter and False relations to other men. - J.
I. A PICTURE OF INDOLENCE. (Vers. 30, 31.) The vineyard in the East corresponds to the garden, orchard, or small farm in the West. In the parable it is overgrown with nettles and thorns. The stone fence is crumbling for want of repair. We may contrast the picture in Isaiah 5:1, sqq., of what a vineyard ought to be. The way in which God tilled the chosen people is the way in which he would have each of us attend to the garden of the soul.
II. THE SIGHT CARRIES A LESSON AND A WARNING. (Vers. 32-34) Let us attend to the parables of Nature. The eye is the great critical organ, and we never want lessons if we use it. The lesson here is - the effect has a cause - the wildness of Nature betrays the sin of man. Neglect marks itself on her truthful face. The sluggard's soul is revealed in her aspect not less than in the unkempt hair and squalid face of the human being. Here is the "vile sin of self-neglect," which involves all other neglect, clearly mirrored. In such spectacles and in the gloomier ones of malarious swamps, once smiling fields, God writes his judgment on the broad earth's face against the crime of sloth. The warning is against poverty and want, which stride on with noiseless footsteps, rushing in at last with sudden surprise upon dreaming self-indulgence, like an armed robber. Sudden seeming woes are long preparing, and no curse "causeless comes."
III. THE MORAL APPLICATION.
1. The analogy of Nature and the human spirit. Both are of God. Both contain principles of life, beauty, and use. Both need cultivation in order to their perfection. In both sloth and neglect are punished by loss and ruin.
2. The personal moral duty. To "awake from sleep," to "stir up the gift within us," to "work out our salvation," to be good husbandmen, good and faithful servants in this garden of the Lord - the soul. If not faithful here, how can it be expected that we shall be faithful in spheres more remote? - J.
Poverty is on its way, and will certainly be knocking at the door; want will present itself with a force that cannot be resisted.
1. We have all of us a garden, an estate of our own, Which God has given us to cultivate - that which is of more value than many thousands of acres of fertile soil, that which no riches can buy - our own true self, our own human spirit. God has solemnly charged us to cultivate that, to weed it of error and prejudice, of folly and of passion; to plant truth there, his own living, abiding truth; to plant righteousness there, purity of heart, integrity of soul; to plant love there, such as fills his own gracious Spirit; to build there walls of wise, strong, protecting habits, which will fence and guard the soul from intruding enemies.
2. There are all too many who treat this garden, this estate, with careless negligence; they throw their energy and force into everything else - business, love, politics, art, pleasure, society; but themselves, their own spirit, their own character, they leave to fare as best it may without care and without culture.
3. Very sad indeed are the results of this foolish and guilty negligence. This picture of the sluggard's garden will tell us what they are.
I. UNSIGHTLINESS. What a dreary picture - weeds, thistles, thorns, a broken wall! The eye turns from it with repugnance. And the neglected garden of the soul? Instead of the beautiful flowers of Christian reverence and love, and the lair fruits of holiness and zeal, and the strong walls of a noble character, there are seen by God and man the unsightly weeds of transgression, of selfishness, of untruthfulness - perhaps the thorns of intemperance and impurity and profanity.
II. WASTE. African travellers tell us that passing over uncultivated regions they have to make their way through all kinds of rank growth, grass, or shrub which is high, strong, or thorny, covering many miles at a stretch. What waste is there! What corn, what fruit, would not that land produce? Alas! for the pitiful waste of an uncultured human soul! What beauties might not be seen there, what fruits might not be grown there, what graces and virtues might not be produced there, if only the truth of Christ were received into the mind and welcomed to the heart!
III. MISCHIEF. These weeds will not be confined to the sluggard's garden; their seeds will be carried by the winds into his neighbour's, and do mischief enough them. A neglected soul is a mischief-working soul. It cannot confine its influence to itself or its own life. Those influences cross the wall and get into the neighbour's ground. And the seeds of sin are hurtful, poisonous things, spreading error, falsehood, delusion, into the minds of men. If we are not blessing our neighbours by the lives we live, we are an injury and an evil to them.
IV. RUIN. The man who neglects his estate is really, steadily, ruining himself. He may not see it until it is too late. Poverty has been travelling toward him, but only at the last bend of the road does it come in sight. Want suddenly appears "as an armed man," strong, irresistible; there is no way of escape; bankruptcy is before him. The soul that is neglected is being ruined; day by day it is being enfeebled, enslaved, deteriorated; the good that was there is lessening and disappearing; the hard crust of selfishness and worldliness is thickening. The soul is being lost; it is perishing. "I considered it well" - "set my heart up in it" (marginal reading) This is, indeed, a thing to be well considered, to "set the heart upon," for the issues of it are those of life or death. There is time to restore it; but a little more negligence, and the hour of "ruin" will have struck. - C.