Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
I. THE BEING OF GOD AN UNUTTERABLE MYSTERY. (Ver. 1.) In vain had he sought to explore the unfathomable secret of his essence, by searching to find out the Almighty unto perfection. It was higher than heaven - what could he do? deeper than Hades - what could he know? This was substantially the confession, expressed in different forms, of all the great prophets. Compare the accounts of Isaiah's consecration, Jeremiah's and Ezekiel's. True religion is rooted in this sense of the Divine mystery. All piety is shallow without it. In every conscious feeling, thought, aspiration, we are but travelling on the edge of a great abyss, moving towards an horizon which still recedes. In our deeper moments we are all mystics, and there are times when all talk about God seems babble, and we would fain take refuge in the "sacred silence of the mind."
II. THE INTELLIGENCE OF MAN DULL AND INADEQUATE IN RELATION TO DIVINE THINGS. (Vers. 2, 3.) No words are too self-contemptuous to express the sense of the immense gulf which separates our thought from God. Applied to definable objects, our intelligence scents bright and piercing; applied to the Infinite Might and Wisdom and Purity, no better than the vacant gaze of the ox in the pasture. Look into those beautiful brown eyes; there is a depth of pathos in them, but no "speculation," no power to grasp the unity and law of things that print themselves in pictures on the retina. And what are we, though raised above the "creatures that lead a blind life within the brain," but helpless gazers into infinity? Well did Sir Isaac Newton and all the great seers of science realize this feeling. Their consummate knowledge was, viewed on another side, consummate ignorance. They had not thereby attained absolute wisdom, nor "won the knowledge of the Holy." There have been, indeed, modern philosophers who have proposed an "absolute philosophy;" but time has discovered the idleness of their "o'er-vaulting ambition," and made a fable of their folly.
III. THE INACCESSIBLE IN NATURE RECOGNIZED. (Ver. 4.) One of the first principles laid down by the great Goethe was - Learn to distinguish between the accessible and the inaccessible in nature to your thought. For want of this, theologians on the one hand, scientists on the other, have rushed into presumption in seeking to wrest the inscrutable secrets of nature from the hand of God. The unknowableness of the first beginnings of things was recognized by the ancient thinker. The height of heaven, the movements of winds and waves, the changes of the earth's surface, - all may be brought under law; but the word "law" conceals the greater mystery - the nature of the Lawgiver himself. God is not identical with law, any more than we are identical with speech. Law is but the partially understood speech of God to our intelligence. Examine all the sublime names which have been given to God in the course of revelation, in the process of religious thought; behind them all ties the unutterable and unthinkable Somewhat.
IV. THE SELF-REVELATION OF GOD RECOGNIZED. (Ver. 5.)
1. To say that God is utterly unknowable is as great an error as to say that he is perfectly knowable by the human understanding: Such an admission must cut at the root of religion. On the contrary, religion implies revelation. Because God has spoken to us, we may speak to him; because he has stooped to us, we may rise towards him. In manifold ways - through nature, through inspired men, through the Son, through the conscience - God "has spoken to the world." If this be denied, religion is an entire illusion.
2. The quality of his oral revelation. The writer is thinking of the oral and written Law. Because definite, articulate, it may be spoken of as the Word of God par excellence; but by no means are the indefinable and inarticulate revelations through nature to our spirit excluded. From every sight of beauty and every sound of music in the world we may derive unspoken messages of him "whose nature and whose name is Love." And God's Word is pure. The refined silver of the furnace is a favourite image of this, its quality. From the alloy of duplicity, flattery, hypocrisy, it is free. God deals sincerely with us. And, therefore, it is purifying. We behold the true life of the soul in its mirror.
3. The practical blessing of trust in him. He who speaks to us is to be trusted. And in this trust in One who is eternal and infallible, pure arid true, we have security. The Law or Word which declares his will is like a broad hand stretched above us to command, and, in commanding, to protect, reward, and bless.
4. The duty of strict reverence and loyalty towards his words. (Ver. 6.) Much they leave unsaid, which it is not for us to supply. The general lesson seems to be respect for that element of reserve and mystery which lies behind all that is or may be known. We may "lie" against God by saying more than he has actually said to us by any channel of knowledge. To exceed or exaggerate seems ever a readier temptation than to keep within the modest bounds of positive declaration. And certain penalties await all distortions of the truth of every kind; they work themselves out in the conscience and the course of history. - J.
1. That rightful acknowledgment too easily passes into adulation.
2. That it is a very easy thing for the uninstructed to ask questions which the most enlightened cannot answer.
3. That true genius is modest, and knows well the hounds of its capacity. The main lessons are -
I. OUR DUTY TO DISCLAIM WHAT IS NOT TRUE CONCERNING US. Agur, using the language of hyperbole, energetically disclaims any such elevation as he was imagined to have attained (vers. 2, 3). Men will sometimes deny us the virtue or the wisdom which we may claim; but they will often offer us an honour which is not our due. We may be taken to be wealthier, or wiser, or stronger, or more generous, or more devout than we know ourselves to be. We should then distinctly and determinately decline to receive what does not belong to us. To accept it
(1) is dishonest, and any kind of dishonesty is sinful;
(2) is likely to inflate our minds with fond and vain conceptions, hurtful if not fatal to our humility;
(3) will sooner or later end in exposure and humiliation.
II. THE GREAT OBLIGATION TO REVERENCE. (Ver. 4.) We may know many things, but, when it is all told, what an infinitesimal fraction is this when compared with all that is unknown! What vast, what inexhaustible treasures of truth and wisdom are hidden, and must remain hidden, in the air, in the earth, in the sea! How little, then, can we understand of him, the Eternal and Infinite One, who reigns in the heavens! How unfathomable the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God" (Romans 11:33)!
1. How foolish to expect to understand his purpose, whilst he is outworking it, either concerning our individual life or the destiny of our race!
2. How prepared we should be to accept what God has taught us respecting our nature, or our duty, or our prospects, or respecting his own nature and his will!
3. How unwise to attempt to add to his teaching by any inventions of our own! Not, indeed, that we are not to make new applications, and find out truer interpretations of his Word; but that we are not to think and speak as if we had sources of wisdom apart from his Divine communication.
III. THE REWARD OF DOCILITY. (Ver. 5.) To learn of God is:
1. To repair to the fountain of purity. Everything God has said to us tends to purity, to Freedom from a degrading selfishness, from a corrupting worldliness, and from an enslaving and a shameful sensuality. To fill our minds and hearts with his holy truth lifts us up into an atmosphere where our whole nature is elevated and refined, where we are capacitated for the vision and fitted for the presence and the home of God (Matthew 5:8; Hebrews 12:14).
2. To learn of God and to connect ourselves with him by faith in Jesus Christ is to be well shielded in the battle of our life. For it is to have
(1) strong, sustaining principles within us, and
(2) the active and efficient guardianship of God around us as we pass through the sorrows of our life, and mingle in its many conflicts, and discharge its varied and weighty duties. - C.
I. THE WAY OF LIFE: TRUTH IS THE MEAN BETWEEN TWO EXTREMES. (Ver. 8.) Extremes exist in logic; life shows that extremes meet, and that the path of sense in opinion and of safety in conduct lies intermediate between them.
II. GREAT INCHES ARE NOT IN THEMSELVES DESIRABLE. Not by the wise and religious man. They bring perils to the soul. Full of his gifts, it is tempted to deny the Giver. The deepest atheism springs from self-sufficiency. Prospering in the flesh, men are often impoverished in the spirit. "How deep a knowledge of the heart is implied in the petition of the Litany, 'In all time of our wealth, good Lord deliver us'!" (Bridges).
III. EXTREME POVERTY MAY BE EQUALLY INJURIOUS TO THE SPIRITUAL LIFE. It tempts to dishonesty, even to perjury. "Too poor to be honest" is a cynical saying which points out a real danger. The old proverb, "It is hard for an empty sack to stand on end," points the same way. More stinging still is the word, "Poor men have no souls."
IV. THE GOLDEN MEAN IS THEREFORE TO BE DESIRED AND SOUGHT. (Comp. Philippians 4:11, 12; 1 Timothy 6:6-10.) Horace says, "Whoever loves the golden mediocrity is safe, free from the sordid misery of the tumble down dwelling, free from the envied hall in his sobriety" ('Carm.,' 2:10). But let us be careful to note that the true state is to be found in the spirit itself - the inward, not the outward sufficiency. "I have learned in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content." Rich in estate, yet poor in spirit; poor in estate, yet rich in grace; - this is the true solution of the problem, the true object of pious prayers. - J.
I. CALMLY CONFRONTING THE FUTURE. Whether we read "before I die" or "until I die" (Wardlaw), we have a good man deliberately facing the future of his life. He realizes that before him stretches out a tract of time which he has to cross; he knows that he must keep steadily, incessantly, moving forward; that he will meet with difficulties and dangers on his way; that he will want all and more than all the power and the wisdom he has at his command; and he is sobered and solemnized by the thought. In view of this serious aspect of things, we find him -
II. EARNESTLY ADDRESSING HIMSELF TO GOD. "Two things have I required of thee." To whom, thus situated, should we go? Surely unto him who is:
1. The Lord of the future, who holds all time in his sovereign hand, who alone "can set new time upon our score."
2. The Father of our spirits, who is deeply interested in our highest welfare, and cares more about our well-being than does any human relative or friend.
3. The Lord of our life, who traces the path our feet will tread, who can and will hedge that path with his protecting care, who can and will lead us along the road we travel. And what better "requirement" or request could he prefer than that of -
III. ASKING FOR DELIVERANCE FROM DELUSION? From "vanity and lies." Whatever may have been the form which this evil took in the land and time of Agur, we know what withering and wasting delusions we need to be preserved from now.
1. From under-estimating the value of our life. There are many - are there not many more than there once were? - that say, "Who will show us any good?" Their name is legion who are discussing and even denying the worth of human life. Indifference, ennui, weariness and dreariness of spirit, disgust - leading down to a pessimistic philosophy in theory, and to suicide in action - this is the strain and spirit, and this is the current of our time. It is a delusion, both sorrowful and sinful. For it is a virtual abandonment of a noble heritage, and it is a rejection of a good and a great gift from the hand of God. A life of holy service, of unselfish devotion, of spiritual growth, of filial gratitude and joy, of Christian hopefulness, is a blessing of simply inestimable value.
2. From over-estimating the value of the sensuous and the material. Always and everywhere men have been in the gravest danger of supposing that "a man's life does consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses," or the number and sweetness of his bodily gratifications. This also is vanity; it is a falsehood which sin sows freely and which quickly takes root in the minds of men. What we need to know, what we may well ask God to teach us so that we shall not only accept but realize it, is that all the rivers of earthly good and of sensuous satisfaction may run into the sea of an immortal spirit, made for God and for goodness, and they will not fill it.
IV. PRAYING TO BE EXEMPT FROM THE EXTREMES OF CIRCUMSTANTIAL TRIAL. Give me neither poverty nor riches."
1. The trial of poverty. This we can all understand, and it takes but little wisdom or sanctity to pray for exemption from its evil.
2. The trial of wealth. We think we could endure this without, suffering. Nearly all those who have not experienced it are inclined to slight the danger of being rich. Those who have never walked on the ice imagine that they could do so without slipping; those who have never gambled indulge the idea that they could stop at the moment of prudential retirement. We do not know ourselves. He who "knew what was in man" knew how great is the peril of worldly wealth (see Mark 10:23): We do well to strive and to toil for an honourable maintenance; but we do not well to sacrifice health or usefulness - how much less our self-respect and the love of Christ! - in order to be rich We do wisely to ask God to save us from the temptation - the real, the strong, the frequently whelming temptation - of great worldly success.
V. ASKING FOR THE GOOD WHICH WILL PROVE TO BE A BLESSING. "Feed me with food convenient for me;" i.e. which thou knowest to be suited to my need. God only knows what we want - what we want; what will be really and abidingly food for us, considered in all our relations. God knows what will nourish our spiritual nature, what will supply us as citizens of this life, what is our bodily need for those few years which he is about to give us here before he translates us to a heavenly sphere. Let us ask him to grant us what he knows is best, surely believing that what he gives in answer to our prayer is the best for us to receive - that, whatever the measure be, and not something sweeter, or finer, or more enduring. But let us, understanding what it is we ask - as they who first used the words did not - say continually, "Lord, evermore give us this bread." - C.
I. THE THOUGHTS ONE FEARS EXPRESS HIMSELF ONE MAY BE TEMPTED TO ELICIT FROM ANOTHER.
II. IT IS BASE TO TEMPT AN HONEST HEART TO THOUGHTS AND WORDS OF DISCONTENT. One of the most active forms of evil consists in the "putting into the head" of others feelings towards their employers or superiors which would not otherwise have arisen.
III. THE BITER MAY THUS BE BIT; THE TEMPTER THUS BRING A RECOIL UPON HIMSELF. (Comp. Proverbs 26:2) - J.
I. THOSE UNGRATEFUL TO PARENTS. (Ver. 11.) "Without natural affection." Solon, asked why he had made no law against parricides, said that he could not conceive of any one so impious and cruel. In the Law of Moses the cursing of a parent was visited with the same punishment as the blaspheming of God (Leviticus 20:9; Leviticus 24:11-16; comp. Isaiah 45:9, 10; 2 Timothy 3:2).
II. CRASS SELF-CONCEIT AND PRIDE. (Vers. 12, 13.) The Pharisees in the gospel (Matthew 23:25-27), the Laodicean Church (Revelation 3:17, 18), are examples. But the character is a constant one, and reappears in every age as a foil to genuine Christianity. Compare Mozley's powerful sermon on the Pharisees. But it was a noble Pharisee who learned, in the humility of Christ, to "have no confidence in the flesh" (Philippians 3:3).
III. PITILESS CRUELTY AND OPPRESSION. (Ver. 14.) Wolves in human guise or in sheep's clothing. Similar pictures are to be found in Psalm 57:5; Psalm 58:7; Isaiah 9:12; Jeremiah 5:17; Jeremiah 30:16, 17. These pictures of the heart, its exceeding deceitfulness and desperate wickedness, should lead us to examine our own. The germs of all the world's evil are to be found in these microcosmi - these "little worlds." When we know ourselves truly, the prayer will the more sincerely arise to him to whom all hearts are open, that he will cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of his Holy Spirit. - J.
I. THE MORAL SCALE. At the very bottom of this scale is:
1. An absolute and even a keen delight in inflicting and in witnessing pain: this is nothing short of fiendish. Then comes, perhaps:
2. A hard indifference; an utter unconcern when suffering is beheld; a perfect readiness that it should be inflicted and endured. Less iniquitous, perhaps, than this is:
3. The steeling of the heart against the appeal which is made by suffering, and which is not altogether unfelt; the presence of some sensibility, but the endeavour, for some reason, to suppress the emotion that is excited.
4. The inward acknowledgment that interposition is due and should be rendered, but the careful and ingenious avoidance of the duty; the passing by on the other side.
5. The compounding of a felt obligation to help by tendering some almost worthless contribution. Then, moving upward, we arrive at:
6. The act of practical kindness to the sorrowful or the needy.
7. The act of generous succour, wherein that which is given is really felt.
8. The summit of self-sacrificing love, on which we "lay down our lives for the brethren," even as our Lord laid down his life for us all.
II. OUR PLACE IN THIS SCALE. The question for us to answer is - Where do we stand? How far from the height? how near to the depth? Must we stand condemned? or may we hope that it is well with us in this most serious feature of human character?
III. THE WAY UPWARD. We shall probably conclude that, although our spirit is far from that of the "generation whose teeth are as swords," etc., it is not as truly and as thoroughly the spirit of Christ, the pitiful, the merciful, the magnanimous One, as we would that it were. And we want to know what we can do to leave all cruelty, all unkindness, and even all inconsiderateness, far below us, and to rise to the exalted altitude of pure and noble beneficence. Our best plan will be to make an earnest endeavour:
1. To realize the essential brotherhood of man as being based upon that great fact of the Fatherhood of God.
2. To dwell upon the great and almost boundless capacities of mankind, on the extent to which we can suffer both in body and in spirit, and the degree of joy and excellency to which we may be raised.
3. To study with devout diligence the life and the language, the spirit and the will, of Jesus Christ.
4. To move freely and frequently, both in actual life and in the paths of literature, amongst the gracious and the generous, the kind-hearted and the noble-minded.
5. To address ourselves seriously to the work of showing kindness in every open way to those whom we can reach. Whom we help we pity, whom we serve we love. - C.
I. THE EXTERNAL LIFE IS THE MIRROR OF THE INTERNAL. Our spirit finds analogies to itself in the objects of nature, of history, and in the general course of human life. And all that we observe there, in the great world, may serve as a light to reveal to us what passes here, in the world of each man's heart.
II. IMAGES OF INSATIABLE APPETITE. Hades; the barren womb; the thirsty earth; the all-devouring fire. The vampire, or bloodsucker, seems to be intended in the first example; it is supposed to suck the blood of the sleeping by night.
III. THE SPIRIT OF MAN IS INSATIABLE. And whether this appetite is rightly or wrongly directed, upon this depends his weal or woe. It may be directed to what is perishable or pernicious - to gold, power, pleasure, etc. Drunkenness is the commonest illustration of the insatiety of man's nature. Or it may be directed to righteousness, to the. knowledge of the truth, to the enjoyment of the good; and then it carries the power and promise of the "endless life" - J.
I. THE INSATIABLE IN NATURE. Agur specifies four things; in these we find three features which supply a contrast to the craving of the human soul. The insatiable:
1. Limited by consciousness. The grave never says, "It is enough;" though millions have descended into its dark void, and though many ages have witnessed its consumption, it is as recipient as ever; it is, and it will remain, unfilled. But it is unconscious of its reception; it is only in iron, nation that it can be said to crave or to cry, "Give! give!"
2. Limited by time. Childless womanhood is not unconscious; its craving is real and keen enough; but it is not lasting; it only extends over a few years of life; there is a large proportion of life, before and after, when no such longing is cherished.
3. Limited by quantity. The parched earth drinks in the rain hour after hour, and even day after day, as if it would not be satisfied with any quantity; but there is a measure of moisture which saturates and suffices; beyond that, anything that falls or flows is redundant.
II. THE UNSATISFIED HUMAN HEART. Here there are practically no limitations. The human heart:
1. Is painfully conscious of its deep craving. Unlike the grave, unlike the fire, which seems animated indeed, but is actually unconscious, the human soul is profoundly moved as it yearns for something more and better than anything it holds; down to its depths it is disturbed, troubled, agitated. Its voice, crying, "Give! Give!" is not merely poetical, it is pathetic and even passionate.
2. Is unlimited by time. Unlike childless womanhood, its yearning for what it has not is not confined to a few years of its existence; it extends through life; it reaches on to old age, to the very hour of departure. It does not grow, thrive, fade, and die; it lasts; it is often found to be as keen and vigorous at the end as at the beginning, in the near neighbourhood of death as in the prime of life.
3. Is unlimited by quantity. Nothing that is human or earthly does satisfy the human heart. All affection, all honour, all power, all occupation, all pleasures, run into it, but they do not fill it (see Ecclesiastes 1:7; Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). The heart of man, created for that which is highest and best, is not satisfied with anything that falls short of that. It is profoundly conscious that something is wanting of which it is not possessed. It says, blindly perhaps, but earnestly and sometimes passionately, "Give! give! I have not enough. I eat, but am still an hungered; I drink, but am still athirst."
III. THE SATISFIED HUMAN SOUL. There is one source of satisfaction; it is found in God himself. "O Lord, thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart findeth no rest until it resteth in thee;" but in him, "who is our home," we do find rest and peace. To us to whom the Son of God and Saviour of mankind has spoken, the voice of cheer and hope is ever calling, "Come unto me... I will give you rest." In
(1) the friendship,
(2) the service,
(3) the likeness, of Jesus Christ, and in
(4) the good hope through his grace of eternal life, we find the supreme and the lasting satisfaction of the soul.
He is the Bread of life, and eating of him we do not hunger more. - C.
I. THE DENUNCIATION IS IN FIGURATIVE FORM.
II. ITS FULFILMENT LITERALLY HAD BEEN A MATTER OF ACTUAL OBSERVATION.
III. THE GENERAL TRUTH MUST BE CARRIED INTO THE LIGHT OF CONSCIENCE. On the whole, as Bishop Butler soundly taught, the constitution of things tends to punish evil and reward good conduct. - J.
I. THERE ARE ACTIONS WHICH, LIKE THE FLIGHT OF THE EAGLE, OR THE PASSAGE OF THE SHIP, LEAVE NO VISIBLE TRACE BEHIND. What seems to strike the mind of the simple-hearted Agur is the fact that criminal deeds may be committed and, seemingly, leave as little trace behind.
II. BUT THE MYSTERY AND SECRECY OF ALL ACTIONS ARE KNOWN TO GOD. We are naked and open to the eyes of him with whom we have to do. And God shall bring every secret work into judgment. Every act leaves its trace in the world of spirit. - J.
I. THE EXAMPLES.
1. The slave in authority. (Ver. 22.) The inversion of objects is intolerable to the trained eye; things standing upside down, etc. So in social relations and in political Government belongs to the wise and the strong; the feeble in mind and the narrow in heart are emphatically the wrong men in the wrong place, in seats of power.
2. The self-satisfied fool. His fatuous smile is a satire upon himself and upon the condition of things which permits him to bask in so fantastic a paradise. Those are sights to make the "angels weep."
3. The ill-tempered wife. (Ver. 23.) She, again, is emphatically "out of place." For home, in any sweet sense, is the place which woman's presence makes a delight.
4. The ambitious maidservant. The effort to supplant, to grasp a place beyond one's rights and deserts, hurts our intuitive perceptions of what is right. An Oriental proverb says, "Sit in your place, and none shall make you rise," on which we have a pointed commentary from Christ in Luke 14:11, "He that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
II. THE GENERAL LESSONS. Order and rank are Divine institutions. To overturn this is no work of the true reformer or friend of the social weal. Rule rests ultimately upon ability to rule; government, upon power; authority, upon wisdom. When these relations are actually reversed, society is disturbed, matters are unhappy. When they only seem to be reversed, there will be distress and discomfort in right minds, until the just order and the nominal state of things shall be restored. - J.
1. The ant (Ver. 25); tiny in frame, yet full of providence, making wise provision against the rainy day.
2. The hedgehog ("coney," ver. 26); though feeble, finds compensation in the strength of the dwelling it selects.
3. The locust (ver. 27); a creature, as an individual, easily crushed, yet gaining immense force by union with others. Joel
(2) gives a splendid description of the raid of locusts under the figure of an invading army, with which the accounts of travellers in tropical lands may be closely compared.
4. The lizard (ver. 28); another tender and feeble creature, nevertheless penetrates human dwellings, and makes itself at home in the palaces of kings.
II. LESSONS. The lower creatures show unconscious mind. What they do, apparently with blind mechanical impulse, is exemplary in many respects to us who have reason and will. The profoundest lessons may be derived from the lowliest things. Mr. Darwin's work on 'Worms' shows how the most despised of creatures, by the very law of its being, labours for others and blesses a world. It is folly to seek to explore the heights of wisdom until we are familiar with what it teaches us in the little and ¢he low. The "little flower in the crannied wall" contains in its life the secret and mystery of all existence. - J.
I. THE ORDERING OF OUR LIFE. If we would live such a life before men as is most honourable and gratifying, we must show the qualities which are manifested by those little creatures of our text.
1. Forethought. (Ver. 25.) The man who does not look forward and prepare for the day and the hour when some special demand will be made upon him, must go down. A wise provision made in the time of leisure or abundance is essential to outward and visible success. We must "buy up the opportunity ['redeem the time']" (Colossians 4:5); otherwise, "when the occasion comes, we shall not be equal to the occasion;" e.g. the apprentice, the student, etc.
2. Securing a retreat, or having a reserve (ver. 26). To be able to run to the rocks or fastnesses is necessary for the feeble. And in the ordering of our life it is necessary to count on our being sometimes defeated. He is but a poor captain who conducts his campaign without "securing his base;" and he does not know the practical wisdom of life who does not provide for himself a retreat, a reserve, when fortune goes against him, as it sometimes will, in "the battle of life."
3. Cooperation. (Ver. 27.) It is an essential part of personal equipment that a man be able to cooperate with others. And in the great majority of cases this means readiness to take an inferior place, to obey instructions, to fall in with the suggestions of other people, to forego our own preference and adopt another man's method. It means listening and learning, conciliation and concession, punctuality and politeness.
4. Aspiration and patient. (Ver. 28.) For the little and unwelcome spider (or lizard) to establish itself in king's palaces there is demanded this twofold virtue. And for our success we need this also - ambition to attempt and assiduity to win our way, in spite of all the obstacles that may intervene. He that has no heart for enterprise will certainly achieve nothing; and he who lacks patience to wait his time, perseverance to renew his efforts as often as he is fooled, or as often as one success opens the way to another, will reach no king's palace, no place of honour or of influence.
II. THE CONSTRUCTION OF OUR CHARACTER. God has so ordered all things with us and for us that. as we are striving for one thing, we do gain another. As we seek an honourable position in life, we are building up our character. All these elements of success are features of human character, so that while we are "making our way," we are making ourselves also. Much that is most valuable in our moral and spiritual constitution is constructed by us in ways and at times when we think not of it; it is like the seed that grows secretly, night and day, the farmer "knoweth not how" (Mark 4:27). Hence the very great importance that we should be always and everywhere acting on sound, Christian principles; for it is not so much by the direct endeavours we put forth for the purpose, as it is by the constantly and silently operating influence of our daily and hourly actions, that we become what we do become in the sight of God. Beyond and within the success of which men take notice, and on which they congratulate us, is a success which is deeper and truer, for which we may well give to God our heartier thanksgiving. - C.
1. The lion. (Ver. 30.) He is in nature and for art the very symbol of strength and prowess. Literally, he is the "hero among beasts," and turns his magnificent front from the face of no foe.
2. The greyhound (ver. 31), with its slender form, is the very type of swiftness, which is another idea lying close to the sublime. His name (in German, Windspiel, or Windhund) compares him with the wind.
3. The goat; in its active capability, its nimble movement, and secure footing in dangerous places, gives another variety of the same idea.
II. A PARALLEL IN HUMAN LIFE. The king in his majesty should combine in his person and bearing the fearless brow of the lion, the swiftness of decision and action of the other animals. The ideal majesty of man includes in itself all lower perfections in the thought of the Creator. And every man should be taught to realize the royal dignity of his being in Christ. He is made a "little lower than the angels;" and God's purpose cannot be fulfilled until we men rise to claim the glorious heritage of the ideal manhood. - J.
I. WE MUST SECURE THAT WHICH IS NECESSARY. We cannot truly live without the favour of God, without entering his service, without possessing something of his likeness, without cherishing a hope of future blessedness. To miss all this is to forfeit the heritage of our manhood. We can by no means do without it. This we must gain or be undone. But we should go beyond that.
II. WE SHOULD AIM AT THE ADMIRABLE. We ought not to be at all satisfied with ourselves unless our "walk" (1 Thessalonians 4:1; 1 John 2:6), the manner of "our going," is such as to please God, and is such also as to win men. Our daily lives should not only be consistent enough to save us from self-reproach and from condemnation; they should be excellent enough, admirable enough, to attract, to call favourable attention to the Divine source of all that we are and have. We should not only worship, but live and work in "the beauty of holiness;" we should aim to add the things that are "lovely" to those which are true, honest, just, and pure; we should endeavour to "adorn the doctrine of Christ our Saviour in all things (see Philippians 4:8; Titus 2:10).
III. THREE ELEMENTS OF THE SPIRITUALLY ADMIRABLE. Beginning with that illustration with which Agur ends, which may come first as the most honorable, we have:
1. The power of command. A king against whom is no rising up" (Authorized Version); "a king when his army is with him" (Revised Version, marginal reading); or, a king "at the head of his army." Either way, the idea is that of a man in command. There is something very attractive and even fascinating in this exercise of authority; it elicits not only notice, but admiration. There is one sphere in which it is open to all of us to exercise and to exhibit command - over our own spirit. There is nothing more worth our admiring regard than the sight of a man maintaining a perfect control of his spirit under circumstances of great trial or provocation (Proverbs 16:32). To exercise a sovereign control over our fear, or our anger, or our affection, or our curiosity, or our sorrow; of our impulses, or our emotions; - this is excellent and admirable indeed: then are we "comely [or, 'stately'] in our going."
2. The possession of strength. "A lion which is strongest among beasts." It is the conscious possession of power which gives such dignity to the "king of beasts." To this also we should attain:
(1) intrinsic power, by the devout and diligent cultivation of all our God-given faculties;
(2) communicated power, by the indwelling of the Spirit of God, being of those who are "strong, in the Lord, and in the power of his might." Self-sufficiency and conceit are indeed ugly enough; but conscious power, associated, as it may be and. should be, with humility and kindness, is admirable and attractive. It is well to walk on our way as those who know that they have no need to fear, because God is for us and with us and in us.
3. Moral symmetry. The greyhound and the he goat are pleasing because they are well proportioned throughout their frame. To be spiritually beautiful, our character must be symmetrical. Each quality must be balanced by its opposite virtue - firmness by gentleness, thoughtfulness by readiness for action, courage by caution, generosity by conscientiousness, etc. Thus will our character and (consequently) our demeanour be comely in the view of man as well as acceptable in the sight of God. - C.
I. IT TEACHES THE CONTROL OF THE TONGUE. The folly and pride of the heart may be choked, if expression is denied them on the tongue. No evil or foolish thought is full born till it is clothed in words. Give no formula to the momentary impulse of wrath or other passion, and the soul of evil will perish if it find no body to inhabit.
II. IT POINTS TO CONSEQUENCES. The quaint illustrations of Agur exhibit the certainty of evil consequences to evil thoughts and desires. As certain as any of the physical sequences mentioned, is the metaphysical sequence, the moral or immoral consequences of passion. Therefore, obsta principiis, resist the beginnings, "seal up the avenues of ill." - J.