The words of Agur the son of Jakeh.— Who Agur was is not known.
I. A DEVOUT PHILOSOPHER.
1. He was conscious of his ignorance. The first lesson for every man who would get knowledge to learn is that he knows nothing.
2. He was conscious of universal mystery. Compare Job 7:9, 12. He must be God Himself who could wholly comprehend the works of God.
II. AN INTELLIGENT BIBLEIST. He was more than a naturalist; he was a Bibleist.
1. He regarded the Word of God as pure. Pure in its essence and in its influence. It commends itself to universal conscience.
2. He regarded it as trustworthy. God's Word is Himself — Himself revealed; he who trusts it is in safe keeping.
3. He regarded it as sufficient. It is like a vital germ — you can neither attempt to add anything to it nor take anything from it without injuring it.
III. AN ENLIGHTENED SUPPLICANT. He asks —
1. Deliverance from moral evil.
2. A moderate amount of worldly goods. The man was fully alive to the power of circumstances upon character, and devoutly desired that his external circumstances should be such as to conduce to spiritual excellence.
(D. Thomas, D.D.)
Surely I am more brutish than any man, and have not the understanding of a man.
I. A SENSE OF INFERIORITY MUST NOT KEEP US BACK FROM FAITH IN GOD. If we have to say what Agur said, let us also trust as Agur trusted. Some say, "We cannot hope to be saved, because we cannot reach the heights of other men." They are discouraged by the piety that some believers have attained. But they see these good people at their best, and they see in them the results of their faith. Some are hindered because they cannot feel such convictions of sins, etc., as other men. But our wisdom is to leave our experience with the Lord, who will appoint us sun or shade, as best will suit our growth. Seek not to copy another man's ups or downs; but wait on God, and put thy trust in Him, even though thou shouldst seem to thyself to be more foolish than any other living man.
II. A SENSE OF INFERIORITY MUST NOT KEEP US FROM LEARNING. If you have not the understanding of a man, there is so much more cause that you should go to school to the Holy Spirit, till the eyes of your understanding shall be enlightened, and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. Vital truth is simple. These things of heavenly learning are revealed to babes. The Holy Ghost is a great teacher. The sense of ignorance is a very good beginning for a learner. The doorstep of the palace of Wisdom is a humble sense of ignorance.
III. A SENSE OF INFERIORITY MUST NOT KEEP US BACK FROM SERVING GOD. The Lord loves to use tools that are not rusted with self-conceit. God can use inferior persons for grand purposes. He has often done so. His greatest victories were won by a hammer and a tent-pin, by an ox-goad, by the jawbone of an ass, by a sling and stone, and such like. His greatest prophets at the first tried to excuse themselves on the ground of unfitness. The Lord does not expect of you more than you can do: it is accepted if it be according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not. If you can do but little, make the best of yourself by intensity and by perseverance. Make up by spiritual force what you lack in natural ability. You that cannot do very much, take care never to lose an opportunity.
IV. A SENSE OF INFERIORITY MUST NOT HINDER OUR JOY IN THE LORD. If you feel that you are more brutish than anybody else, yet believe in God up to the hilt; believe in Him, and trust Him with all your heart, and then feel all the more gratitude that He should have loved such a worthless one as you. Glorify God by your very weakness. Glory in your infirmity.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
Who hath ascended up into heaven, or descended?Θεος — God. But this name is rudimentary and inadequate. Boundless intelligence, administering boundless power, by its very awfulness and vagueness has constantly evolved in human history the grossest caricatures of the name of God. The Eternal Power has manifested His moral life, His character, His feeling toward the race, in one human form, one supernatural and Divine Man, who, as the heart of God incarnate, is "the visible moral embodiment of the all-pervading omnipotence Himself for ever invisible." The embodiment soon returned to the Father; that is, He withdrew from limitations, and returned to universal life; but He has made known God's name to the race. The Divine Man of Nazareth is the sacrament of God; He is the outward and visible sign of the heart of universal Fatherhood; and to know it, with an intense spiritual conviction that is beyond expression, is to know the answer to God's riddle about Himself.
Two things have I required of Thee; deny me them not before I die.
(John Jortin, D.D.)
Remove far from me vanity and lies.
1. The prayer implies a desire that we may be preserved from setting our affections on such objects as are but vain and unsatisfying, and will, in the end, disappoint our expectation. When we place our supreme happiness upon the world, instead of making it a means of leading us to God, then its inherent vanity appears. There is something more in this request than being preserved from practices directly vicious.
2. The prayer implies that God would graciously preserve us from deceiving ourselves, and thinking our character better and our state safer than it really is. We ought to pray for preservation from self-deceit, as to particular branches of our character and conduct, as well as our general state.
3. The request implies a desire to be preserved from pride and self-conceit upon any subject. Everything may be the fuel of pride — our persons, our performances, our relations, our possessions.
4. This request implies a desire to be delivered from fraud and dissimulation of every kind. There is no end which a good man ought to aim at which may not be more certainly, safely, and speedily obtained by the strictest and most inviolable sincerity than by any acts of dissimulation whatever.
(1) (2) (3) (J. Witherspoon, D.D.)
(2) (3) (J. Witherspoon, D.D.)
(3) (J. Witherspoon, D.D.)
(J. Witherspoon, D.D.)
1. Vanity is that passion which is founded on an exorbitant opinion of one's own situation and accomplishments, and is constantly engaged in the pursuit of admiration and applause. This passion is accompanied by great delusion with respect to ourselves, to others, and to human nature in general. The term may, however, include whatever obscures the understanding with prejudice, whatever dazzles the fancy with delusive appearances of pleasure, whatever captivates the heart with the representation of fictitious or exaggerated delight; whatever misleads the judgment or misplaces the affections.
2. Under the term "lies" is comprehended that corruption of heart which is the cause of wilful and fraudulent deception. The power of self-deception is astonishing. That the greatest evils to which we are at present exposed proceed from the folly and corruption of mankind will be acknowledged by every person of discernment. Two grand objects occupy the attention and activity of all mankind-the acquirement of good and the removal of evil.
(W. L. Brown, D.D.)
Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me
I. WHAT WE MAY LEARN IN GENERAL FROM THIS PRAYER.
1. That it is lawful to pray for temporal blessings.
2. That God is the real and proper giver of every temporal, as well as of every spiritual, blessing.
II. THE PARTICULAR OBJECT OF THE PROPHET'S DESIRE. He does not refuse submission to the will of God by thus making choice of a particular state of life. Poverty and riches are mentioned as the two extremes. Where is the middle between the two?
1. God is the best judge of what is most fit and convenient for us.
2. Resignation to God is a most acceptable expression, both of our worship and obedience. Resignation is the very habit of obedience.
3. Such a temper of mind will greatly contribute to our own inward peace. It will preserve us from perplexing anxiety and many uneasy fears for futurity.
(John Witherspoon, D.D.)
1. An easy and affluent fortune affords the means not only of pampering our bodies, but of gratifying all our lusts and appetites.
2. Indulgence leads men to place their happiness in such enjoyments.
3. When the better part is neglected, every vice will spring up in the soul. See the great malignity and deceitfulness of sin. Make a wise improvement of the advantages you enjoy over one another. Let all persons in health, quiet and peaceful circumstances, learn what it is they ought to guard against — pride, security, forgetfulness of God, etc.
(John Witherspoon, D.D.)
1. Ignorance is one reason why poverty becomes a temptation to fraud.
2. To this fraud the poor are introduced insensibly, and led on by degrees.
3. In time it destroys the sense of shame. Let me put you in mind —(1) What reason many have to be thankful to the God of life, who has given them their daily provision, in fulness and sufficiency. A humble, thankful disposition is their duty.(2) If poverty is a temptation, it ought to be an argument to all to avoid it, or seek deliverance from it by lawful means.(3) If you are poor, pray God to preserve you from fraud and disingenuity of every kind. You should not only study to preserve yourselves from sin, but from all such circumstances of temptation as are dangerous to human constancy. How necessary it is that you should look for the Divine assistance and direction, to avoid the temptations of every state of life. What an inseparable connection there is between true religion and your employments and state in this present world. Whether you be rich or poor, remember an approaching eternity.
(John Witherspoon, D.D.)
I. THE DANGERS, TEMPTATIONS, AND GENERAL INCONVENIENCES OF A WEALTHY AND EXALTED STATION. Many shapes of vice and misery stand behind the blaze of opulence.
1. Pride. Which deprives men of all true knowledge of themselves, and exposes them to the ill-will and enmity of others. Opulence and splendour tend to enfeeble, if not to eradicate a just notion of mutual dependence and obligation, and to introduce in its stead the absurd opinion of inherent and immutable independence and superiority.
2. Want of feeling for distress. Riches tend to shut the breast against emotions of compassion.
3. Effeminacy, indolence, and incapacity of exertion are natural attendants on riches and splendid station. But no real enjoyment can be obtained by man without some exertion. Exertion sweetens the enjoyment itself, and qualifies for increasing and multiplying it. The eye dazzled with the lustre of riches loses its aptitude for the research of truth. The rich are not often the learned.
4. Ambition. This passion agitates and engrosses the mind more than any other, to the dominion of which man is subject. Prosperous and exalted circumstances have a powerful tendency to excite and foster this outrageous passion.
5. Irreligion and profaneness. The most powerful incitements to religious affections are often perverted into causes of impiety.
II. THE TEMPTATIONS AND DANGERS OF POVERTY. Evil.
1. Either an entire want of the necessaries of life, or the purchase of them by unremitting toil and fatigue.
2. The want of a proper education.
3. Contempt. The poor are sometimes regarded as beings of another species — as beasts of burden to those who are more favoured by fortune. Consequently the indigent are frequently tempted to repine and murmur at the dispensations of Providence.
4. Temptations to dishonesty, fraud, and theft.
III. THE ADVANTAGES OF A MIDDLE STATION IN LIFE. This is the soil best adapted to the culture and perfection of every quality, intellectual or moral. The natural affections are not suppressed in the middle sphere, or diverted from their proper course, and operate their salutary effects on domestic and more general intercourse. Accordingly, the greatest portion of the knowledge, ability, and virtue which exist in the world will be found in this station of life Everything said above strongly inculcates contentment and gratitude if it has pleased God to bestow on us that worldly portion which is most subservient to our happiness. Take care to judge, with candour and gentleness, of the conduct of persons placed in the higher stations of society. Take care to show great indulgence and compassion towards the poor.
(W. L. Brown, D.D.)
I. THE MEANING AND IMPORT OF THIS PETITION. A middle state of life cannot be a proper subject for all men's petitions to heaven, for human life requires a distinction of station. In society there must be subordination. This petition cannot propose one fixed standard or measure of fortune as the proper object of every man's desires. It means a competency suited to our respective stations. Riches, poverty, or competence are relative terms, and cannot be accurately fixed, without reference to our condition or situation in the world.
II. THE MORAL DISADVANTAGES WHICH ATTEND THE TWO EXTREMES OF AFFLUENCE AND INDIGENCE.
1. Such as attend affluence. Various vices flourish. Many lose their integrity. Many abandon themselves to the indulgence of irregular passions, merely because they had the means of indulgence in their power. Riches specially tempts to forgetfulness of our Maker. A sense and feeling of want is a constant monitor, ever reminding us of our dependence. This dependence creates in us an unwillingness to offend, and an inclination to serve and please God. Opulence tempts us to be as forgetful of our neighbour as of our God. Of course all do not yield to the temptations of riches. There are many exceptions.
2. Poverty has many disadvantages and dangers. The temptations in a state of indigence are urgent, and too often prevail. It requires a peculiarly right frame and happy disposition of mind to submit with patient fortitude to humiliation, and to reject every gainful temptation that offers to corrupt. If any convenient though fraudful expedient should offer to relieve his necessities, human weakness will be strongly urged to provide a dishonest subsistence at the expense of his integrity. The text reminds us that as we are the creatures of God, we are the dependents also on His providence. He is never inattentive to the wants of His faithful servants. These sentiments will lead us to an uncomplaining submission to His appointments, and an equal resignation in all conditions. Whatever may be our allotment in the world, let us be piously grateful to Heaven for the blessings we enjoy; let us endeavour to deserve those we want; and let it be the chief object of our attention by a wise and virtuous use of the temporary treasures or possessions entrusted to us in this life to secure the eternal possessions of the next.
(G. Carr, B.A.)
Christian Age.John Hopkins, the founder of the university in Baltimore bearing his name, accumulated nine millions of dollars. One day he said to his gardener: "Next to the hell of being utterly bereft of money is the purgatory of possessing a vast amount of it. I have a mission, and under its shadow I have accumulated wealth, but not happiness."
Saturday Magazine."Better a little fire that warms than mickle that burns." "One may be very uneasy with a plentiful fortune, and as happy in an humble condition, for it is the mind that makes us either the one or the other." "Far from Jupiter, far from the thunder." Agur's prayer is a continual lecture to him that covets more than enough. , passing through the markets, cried, "How much is here I do not want!" "That suit is best that fits me best," says an English adage.
1. This prayer is deservedly admired on account of the motive by which it was dictated, viz., a concern for his own virtue on the part of him who composed it. Agur's wish for the middle state grew out of a persuasion that it was the most favourable to virtue. This is a prayer not to be led into temptation.
2. It is marked by humility and self-knowledge.
3. Notice the attainableness of the thing prayed for. Much can be done by the co-operation of man's will with the operation of God's providence and Holy Spirit. What is true of our bodily health and spiritual state is true of our worldly circumstances. These also depend very much upon ourselves. "What shall I do to be happy in this world? " This is a question of importance in itself, even if it must be regarded as a minor question. The Scriptures abound with instruction respecting it. The Church puts up many prayers for blessings merely temporal, and for deliverance from evils that can only affect us here. If any say, "This middle state, presented as so desirable, what state is, it? what amount of income goes to constitute it?" I answer that it is not the same to all. What is wealth to one man would be poverty to another; what is a middle state for one would be a low state for another, and a high one for a third. He is poor whose expenses are greater than his means; and he is not so who lives within his means, and spends less than he earns or owns. By "poor" we too often designate all who live by labour, but this is a loose and improper way of speaking. He only is poor who cannot maintain the scale of living and the kind of appearance he has assumed. The way to the true happy mean between riches and poverty is the old-fashioned way of industry and frugality. Of industry the effects are better understood than those of saving. The objects and occasions that make it a duty to save are some of them distant ones, and others are not sure to arise. And the sums we can spare from our immediate wants are so small that they seem scarcely worth laying by. But the result of small savings is considerable at last.
(A. Gibson, M.A.)
I. THE PERSON HERE SPEAKING WAS A PERSON OF TRUE PIETY. This person was truly a good man, for he was humble (vers. 2, 3). He had sublime views of God (ver. 4). In his character we perceive a deep reverence for the Word of God, and great delight in its purity (ver. 5). In this character we contemplate, in relation to prayer, earnestness and judiciousness (vers. 7, 8). From God he expected all his mercies, whether spiritual or temporal, and he expected them as an undeserved favour. He did not prescribe to God, but by His Spirit he was taught to pray as in the words before us.
II. AGUR WAS A PERSON WHOSE WILL WAS ABSORBED OR LOST IN THE DIVINE WILL. This was an evidence of his piety. To submit to the will of God is His command, and is the bounden duty of all creatures. By nature the will is rebellious; it is as an iron sinew, and as a brow of brass. The first effect of the grace of God is to reconcile the mind to the plan of salvation by Jesus Christ. They wish no alteration in the doctrines of the Cross on their account; of the whole covenant, in its conditions and its Head, its promises and discipline, they say, "It is all my salvation and all my desire." They delight in the law of the Lord after the inward man, and they allow God the entire management of their providential lot. They know that the disposing of their lot is from the Lord; whether they are rich or poor, their wishes are not the rule, but the appointment of God.
III. AGUR'S DESIRE AFTER EARTHLY THINGS WERE VERY MODERATE. "Give me neither poverty, nor riches, but feed me," etc. The heart of man since the Fall, having lost God as a portion, and its interest in spiritual things, has become ravenous in its desires after the things of sense and of time. It seeks pleasure after pleasure, honour after honour, riches after riches, field after field; and yet, like the ocean, though all the rivers run into it, the heart of man is never satisfied. But the saints having returned to God in Christ, as the rest and portion of their souls, and finding themselves happy in God, are very moderate in their desires after earthly things. They desire nothing of God as to the present life which He is not willing to give, and which does not contribute to their advantage. They do not wish more than they really want, and they would not lay up treasures on earth.
IV. AGUR WAS A WISE MAN, WHO CONSIDERED THE TEMPTATIONS INCIDENT TO THE LOT OF OTHER MEN. " Lest I be full, and deny Thee." To be full is to be very rich, to fare, like the rich man in the Gospel, sumptuously every day, to have more than their hearts can wish. "Lest I be full, and deny Thee to be the Author of my mercies — deny my dependence on Thee for Thy blessing which maketh rich — deny Thee the glory due to Thy name, and take it to myself or ascribe it to others — deny Thee before men, by being ashamed of mingling with Thy poor people in Thy worship. Lest my forgetfulness of God strengthen into aversion, and my aversion become atheism, and I say, Who is the Lord?" When every gale blows perfume, and every post brings joyful intelligence, it is not possible for the spirit of a wicked man to avoid the swellings of pride, and the elevation of self-confidence. The other temptation which this good man wished to avoid, by the grace of God, was poverty: "Lest I be poor, and steal, and take the name of my God in vain." He doth not say, "Lest I steal and be condemned by men for it, be imprisoned for it," but "Lest I steal, and take the name of my God in vain"; that is, "Lest I dishonour God by breaking the eighth precept of His law, lest by so doing I dishonour my profession as a holy man, or lest, if charged with the crime, I should deny or conceal it, and so, by endeavouring to hide one sin, should commit another — by denying the sin of theft, commit the sin of lying." The motives against sin which animated Agur were noble motives, and such as they were should animate us. His religion was all of a piece, his prayers were the fruit of his piety, and his life corresponded to his prayers.
I. "REMOVE FROM ME VANITY AND LIES." The words show Agur's concern to be delivered from everything like ostentation or self-confidence, and from the desire to utter as true things which he might not fully comprehend, with the view of being admired and applauded for his wisdom and penetration. The prayer reaches to the removal of the natural atheism and impiety of the human heart of every false notion of God, and of every imaginary ground of hope on which the unrenewed mind is apt to depend.
II. "GIVE ME NEITHER POVERTY NOR RICHES." There is not a wise man acquainted with the frailties of human nature, or with the temptations incident to a condition either of peculiar difficulty or prosperity, who, if he were to express any wish concerning it at all, would not cordially join with Agur. To perceive this to be the case, consider —
1. The evils incident to a state of poverty. The incapacity of discharging necessary obligations is almost enough to mar the flight of the boldest faith, and deaden the efforts of the strongest devotion. And how often do the devices of injustice start up in the minds of the poor! In all their transactions they are ever in hazard of grasping at what is not their own, of practising falsehood, dissimulation, and even perjury.
2. The evils incident to a state of affluence. By riches we understand that surplus of wealth or property which any one enjoys above what is absolutely necessary to procure those conveniences and comforts which are suited to the condition wherein he is placed. Such riches may be a blessing, and give power to do good; but alas! they almost uniformly tend to corrupt the heart, to undermine those sentiments of dependence on God which are so becoming to the character of man, and to foment a spirit of rebellion against the Divine authority. They engender selfishness, pride, arrogance, and unbearable insolence towards others.
III. BY MEANS OF A MIDDLE STATE WE ARE IN GREAT MEASURE EXEMPTED FROM THE EVILS OF BOTH THESE STATES. Such a man has sufficient to feed, end nourish, and clothe himself and those who are dependent on him. His dependence on God is neither weakened by his having too much of the world, nor his affection withdrawn from Him by having too little. Such a man is peculiarly favourable to the dispositions he should feel, and the duties he should perform towards those that are around him. Remember that God alone has the disposal of your lot. Of this you may be assured, it is the one which He knows to be best fitted for you.
(James Somerville, D.D.)
I. GENERAL REMARKS ON AGUR'S PRAYER.
1. It is short, concise, but full and comprehensive.
2. It is singular with respect to its matter, as well as the manner in which it is expressed. How few of us have ever offered up such a petition! Moderation in our desires and pursuits after worldly good is an eminent attainment, but how little of it do we possess ourselves, or observe in others!
3. It discovers much heavenly-mindedness and self-denial. A man's own heart would not suggest it to him; it is a dictate of the Spirit of God.
II. CONSIDER ITS IMPORT OR THE PARTICULARS INCLUDED IN THE PRAYER ITSELF.
1. It implies that both riches and poverty come from God, and are not merely the result of second causes. "The lot is cast into the lap, but the whole disposal thereof is of the Lord."
2. It supposes that there is a medium between poverty and riches which is most desirable and ought to he the object of every one's request. The idea of a competency must be regulated by the extent of our actual necessities, both personal and relative. Competency must also be determined by our station and condition in life. That which is sufficient, and more than sufficient, for one, is not in all respects sufficient for another. The more we possess, the greater will be our responsibility, and the greater our danger. Learn to judge of a competency not by the sentiments of mankind, but by reason and the Word of God. If Providence has placed us in the middle state between indigence and affluence, let us learn to esteem it as the most desirable.
(B. Beddome, M.A.)
I. THE IMPORT OF AGUR'S WISH
1. Poverty and riches are relative terms; the idea of them varies as they are applied to persons of different condition, education, birth, or figure of life. This wish cannot be understood to propose one certain size and measure of fortune as the proper standard of all men's desires, but in a sense accommodated to the various ranks, conditions, and characters of men. Unless we exclude temporal blessings from being the subject of human petitions, thus much we may reasonably and lawfully ask of God. This petition is sometimes explained as requesting a middle station in life, within reach of those conveniences which the lower orders of mankind must necessarily want, and yet without embarrassment of greatness. This limitation cannot, however, be allowed, seeing that society cannot subsist without a diversity of stations and offices. Both extremes above and below the proportion of our character are equally dangerous to our virtue and happiness, and it is hard to determine which is most ineligible.
II. THE FORCE OF THOSE REASONS HERE SUGGESTED FOR THIS WISH, The danger apprehended from poverty is the temptation to supply wants by fraud and violence, theft or robbery, lying or perjury. The temptation to these crimes is very strong in a state of distress. A crowd of unfortunate passions surround the man, and will not suffer him to attend to the remonstrances of justice or the precepts of religion. On the other hand, riches multiplied beyond the proportion of our character, and the wants appendant to it, naturally dispose men to forget God. They are apt in such circumstances to think themselves secure and independent, out of the reach of Providence, and no longer concerned to solicit His favour. A superfluous abundance tempts us to forget God. If, then, both poverty and riches are thus dangerous to our virtue and religion, the proper subject of our petitions to God, with regard to temporals, must be a state between these, that medium of convenience proportioned to the several conditions of life which the example in the text recommends to our choice and prayers. This wise supplicant was contented with his present situation, and though he prayed for the condition he thought most desirable, yet left the event to God, and was prepared to submit to His will, though either of the extremes should be his portion.
1. If we would avoid the dangers and temptations of poverty, it concerns us not to overrate the conveniences of our station, and to fix the proportion fit for us rather too low than too high.
2. It is a great security to use ourselves to live within the restraints of a lower condition than that we are placed in.
3. To guard against temptations from the other extreme, remember the advice of the psalmist, "If riches increase, set not your heart upon them." No condition of life is necessarily sinful or necessarily virtuous. We may pass with innocence through want and through abundance. Christian prudence will advise us to request a situation least exposed, the safe portion of a moderate adjusted convenience.
I. THE REQUESTS — THE THINGS PLEADED FOR AT THE HANDS OF GOD.
1. "Remove far from me vanity and lies." This respects his inward man, the concerns of his soul.
2. The second request concerns his outward man, and the temporal enjoyments of this transitory life. These are also the gifts of God. Notice somewhat that he deprecates and declines, viz., poverty and riches. Something for which he supplicates, viz., food convenient for him.
II. THE ARGUMENTS UPON WHICH HE GROUNDS THIS CHOICE. An argument drawn from the perils of riches and the temptations of poverty. He argues that a middle estate or condition in the world, upon rational and religious grounds, is most eligible for a man, as such, with respect to this life; or for a Christian, as such, designing the happiness of another life. Proposition —
1. God hath the absolute disposal of all men as to their estates and conditions in the world.
2. God, in His various dispensations of the good and evil things of this world, acts not only as an absolute Sovereign, but according to the rules of His own most infinite wisdom, as may most conduce to His own glory and the good and weal of His own people.
3. No outward condition in the world that men can be brought into hath any influence upon God, so as to render us more or less acceptable to Him.
4. One and the same condition in the world is not alike desirable or eligible to all men under all circumstances, nor to the same men at several times, or as placed by God in several stations.
III. WHAT IS THIS MIDDLE WORLDLY CONDITION? Consider it with a threefold respect.
1. With respect to a man's personal and private capacity as — a single person.
2. With respect unto a man's relative capacity — as he may be concerned to take care of others, as well as make provision for himself.
3. With respect unto a man's being placed in a higher or more public station — as magistracy or ministry.
IV. UPON WHAT GROUND MAY THIS MIDDLE ESTATE BE ADJUDGED THE MOST ELIGIBLE AND DESIRABLE. It is with respect to man's short passage through this world, for his mind and for his body. It is in relation to another world. Three things are prerequisites in order to our future happiness.
1. A right and orderly entering into the way of salvation by the door of sound regeneration and conversion.
2. A progress in that way by a holy and heavenly conversation.
3. A perseverance in that way of faith and holiness to the end against all internal or external opposition. Caution to the poor. Remember that your condition lays you open to many strong temptations to dishonour and neglect God and Christ, and your souls, and so makes way for your being miserable in both worlds. Two cautions to the rich: "Be not high-minded, nor trust in uncertain riches." "Honour the Lord with your substance." Three cautions to those in middle state of life: See what interpretation you are to make of those providences that have put a check to your endeavours and graspings at great things in the world. Moderate your affections to the things of this world. Seeing Providence has placed you in the most eligible condition, labour to answer it, and evidence it to be so by your proficiency and progress in holiness and godliness.
I. EXPLAIN THE TWOFOLD DANGER INTIMATED.
1. To deny sometimes signifies to act as if there was no righteous Governor and Judge of mankind. In the height of prosperity men are apt to be careless and inconsiderate. The vices implied are pride, presumption, arrogance, luxury, and immoderate pursuits of pleasure. Plenty too naturally begets excess. It heightens and inflames sensual passions; and inclines a man towards atheism. Riches minister to ambition, and rich men readily become imperious and tyrannical.
2. The vices to which strait and penurious circumstances expose men are theft and perjury. The causes why the poor so easily give way to temptations of this kind are the want of a good education, lack of training for specific employments. Such persons are often destitute of due regard to their reputations, and so lose one of the surest guards of virtue and integrity. Often the poor are badly influenced by their associates.
II. SUGGEST REFLECTIONS TO PREVENT MISTAKES.
1. Both riches and poverty are capable of being improved to the most useful purposes.
2. As poverty has such disadvantages, we may well commiserate the case of the poor.
3. Take care to moderate the passion for riches and greatness.
1. It is inferred that riches beget self-sufficiency, a fancied independency and a denial or forgetfulness of God. The inference receives but too much confirmation from experience. Riches are not less prejudicial to happiness than they are to virtue. What are the chief preservatives against the dangers of riches? Let the rich man remember that all which he possesses was given to him, or more precisely, has been lent to him; that he has as much need of the assistance of the poor man as the poor man has of his; that rich and poor have the same natures, the same weaknesses and infirmities; and that the hand that gave the riches may withdraw them at any time.
2. It is shown that the peculiar and characteristic vices of poverty and want are dishonesty and discontent. The life of those in the lower ranks is subject to many hardships and miseries; and these present temptations to discontent and dishonesty. But let the poor remember that neither of these is likely to be of any service to them. Discontent always augments the evil with which we are oppressed. It adds to it its own bitterness. Dishonesty can at the utmost bring temporary relief. What is gained by fraud is usually wasted in extravagance. And who was ever known to rest with the commission of one crime? The bounds of integrity once broken through, it is rarely within our will or our power to retreat. In comparing their happiness with that of the rich, the poor are often deceived.
(Geo. Haggitt, M.A.)
I. A PETITION. Expressed in two ways — negatively, declaring what he would not have; positively, containing what he would have. Though expressed in two ways, this is one single request.
1. If we ought to pray against riches, we should never covet or seek after abundance and excess of worldly treasures.
2. If we ought to pray against poverty, then a superstitious affectation of wilful poverty, such as we see in Romish monks, is neither a state of Christian perfection nor a part of religion acceptable to God.
II. THE REASON OF THIS PETITION. He fears that too much affluence would lead him into impiety and irreligion. He fears that excessive poverty might incline him to rob his neighbour of his right, and back his injustice with lies and perjury. Learn —
1. That the rule and measure of our endeavours and desires in the gaining and enjoying these outward conveniences ought to be their subserviency to our spiritual advantages, and the forwarding us in our duty to God and to our neighbour.
2. To assure an unblemished innocence, we ought not only to avoid gross transgressions, but even every occasion which may expose us to them.
I. THE THING PRAYED FOR. Begin with the affirmative. If we know the mean which Agur chooseth, we shall soon guess what he understands by riches and poverty, the extremes which he refuseth. Competent food is a competent maintenance. Competency is the mean between want and superfluity. It is the same as the prayer Christ taught us to pray, "Give us our daily bread." A competency is twofold, either in regard of nature or of a man's condition. That may not be sufficient for one man's condition which is sufficient for another's. It is not unlawful to have and enjoy riches in abundance, but it is unlawful to covet and seek after them. Desire no more of such things than thou canst lawfully ask God in prayer. A competency, or middle estate between want and superfluity, is in choice to be preferred as the best and happiest condition. Agur's choice was a wise man's choice.
II. THE REASON OF THE REQUEST. The rule of our desires and endeavours in the getting and enjoying of these outward things ought to be our spiritual welfare, and the bettering of us to God-ward. Men who abound in wealth and superfluity are much subject to the malady of impiety and irreligion. Consider the wickedness of men's nature, which abuseth the abundance of God's blessings to dishonour Him that gave them. Consider also the unreasonable folly of men so greedily to long for and pursue after that which so much endangereth their welfare and happiness. A lesson of caution to those who are rich, to keep a continual watch over themselves, that they forget not God in their abundance. Poverty and want of things needful hath her dangers and evils, as well as riches and abundance. Stealing, not merely by force and violence, but also by fraud, cozenage, or detention of another's due. Perjury, or false swearing readily follows on fraud. The one is likely to bring on the other. We must take care to avoid the occasion of such sin, as well as the sin itself.
(Joseph Mede, B.D.)
1. Both poverty and riches are the gift of God; otherwise the wise man needed not to have prayed, "Give me neither poverty nor riches," if it had been in his own power to make the choice.
2. Neither poverty nor riches are such gifts for which a wise man would pray, because each of these conditions have their dangers and inconveniences annexed to them.
3. The way to remove these inconveniences is to remove far from us vanity and lies, and then we may so moderate ourselves in each of these estates as to be humble before God in the midst of our abundance, and thankful to Him in our distress.
4. Notwithstanding this, yet the safest, and consequently the most desirable, course of life, is a middle state between poverty and riches; and it is for the interest, as well as for the ease of man, that God would let us neither want nor abound, but only "feed us with food convenient for us."
(C. Hickman, D.D.)
1. It is to a special and overruling providence of God we are to ascribe both poverty and riches.
2. A middle state of life is, to some persons, and on some accounts, more eligible than either poverty or riches.
3. Some arguments which may teach us an entire submission to the will of God, whichever of these three states He may think fit to appoint us. There will be the greatest difficulty in persuading people to this duty who labour under very hard or mean circumstances. Poverty is very apt to sink their spirits, and render them unfit for the nobler luxuries of piety and devotion. Contentment is a virtue by no means always found among rich men. A moderate fortune, if it do not afford the greatest opportunities of doing good, yet is a happy and desirable state, and perhaps, in general, the most safe and innocent. The fact that God appoints men the three different states of life is proper to teach us all, indifferently, the true art of contentment. For as the knowledge of God perfectly comprehends whatever may be good or convenient for us, so His power can effect, and His goodness will incline Him to effect it.
(R. Fiddes, D.D.)
I. A GOOD MAN REALISING THE MORAL INFLUENCE OF OUTWARD CIRCUMSTANCES. We say it matters not what circumstances are, we all can be good. But it is manifestly easier for some to be than others. It becomes a religious duty to make our outward circumstances helpful as far as possible, relieving us from undue care, and helping us to keep a quiet spirit.
II. A GOOD MAN DISCERNING THE DANGER OF EXTREMES IN CIRCUMSTANCES. Under them men ever lose their power of self-restraint.
III. A GOOD MAN PRAYING TO REACH AND REST IN THE HAPPY MEDIUM. Is such contentment with our circumstances compatible with right ambition, and striving to be faithful in all things?
(R. Tuck, B.D.)
(J. J. Ingram.)
There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes.
I. THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS HEATHEN. But he has very serious and pitiable disadvantages. He has but the law of nature, with a few rays of Divine truth which, through tradition, have broken in upon his darkness.
II. THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS JEW. The modern Jew is precisely where the Jew who rejected Jesus as the Messiah was in St. Paul's days.
III. THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS INFIDEL. He worships reason, and he thinks that he has the only rational religion. He is his own standard of perfection.
IV. THE SELF-RIGHTEOUS MAN OF THE WORLD. One who pays very slight regard to externals — the mere forms of religion — and none at all to the internals.
V. THE PHARISEES AND SEMI-PHARISEES OF THE PRESENT DAY. Those who trust in themselves that they are righteous, and despise others; who mix together faith and works in regard to justification.
VI. THE EVANGELICAL PHARISEE. Loud in his profession, censorious of the world, and also of humble Christians who feel doubt and hesitation, not professing quite so much. His faith does not work by love, nor purify the heart. Such men have no constancy — they have not the vitality of the principle of grace rooted in the heart.
(J. Hambleton, M.A.)
There be three things which are too wonderful for me.
1. In whatever domain of nature we look we find evidences of a wisdom and power which are above material forces and our skill in imitating them.
2. From the proofs of external nature, every rational creature comes into such relations with God that he must, unless blindly perverse, feel himself subject to Divine power, and under obligations to perfect obedience.
3. It is of our own choosing if we grovel in that which is mean and low, for we are constantly invited to a higher life, to purer thoughts, to nobler works.
4. Man is, however, still subject to the difficulties of his environment, so far as his material nature is concerned. Birth into newness of life is by an energy which is beyond nature, both in its origin and in its working, but it is clearly seen in its effects.
(Jacob Cooper, D.D.)
The way of an eagle in the air
1. It is wonderful for its strength. Shown in its swiftness; the great height to which it flies; the heavy food it can carry.
2. Its sight. It can rise from its rest at noon, and go soaring up towards the sun. It can go on rising higher and higher, and yet all the time be gazing steadily at the full-orbed splendour which is shining round it. From its great height the eagle can see even little hen walking about on the earth.
3. Its training. The parent eagles teach the young ones how to fly, so that when they grow up they may be able to take care of themselves.
4. Its safety. In its nest, on the top of some mountain peak, far away out of reach of danger.
There be four things which are little upon the earth, but they are exceeding wise.
I. THE ANTS. They know the time for work, and they do their work when the time comes. This is their wisdom.
II. THE CONIES. What these lack in strength they make up in wisdom. They dart into their mountain fastnesses and are safe. Knowing their natural helplessness, they have the wisdom to make the rocks their habitation, and are stronger in their retreats than all the powers that may come against them. So there is a Rock for us: that Rock is Christ.
III. THE LOCUSTS. Their work is nothing but plague and ruin; but it is not so much the character of their work, as the wisdom or system on which they do it, that is here commended for our observance and imitation. We too have an allotted work to do, and we must do it together. One man's work may by itself be little, but it adds to a great whole.
IV. THE SPIDER. An example of private industry and ingenious, patient toil. She aims at no great and showy things. Learn the worth of assiduity in little things, humble spheres, and private duties.
(J. A. Seiss, D. D., LL.D.)
(J. Parker, D.D.)
I. THE WEAKNESS OF THE CHURCH.
1. It is a collection of "feeble folk" in an historical sense. It has always been a poor, persecuted minority.
2. In a spiritual sense. The generic character of our race is summed up in two words — the "flesh is weak."
3. In an experimental sense. They become feeble in their own estimation.
4. In a relative sense. As compared with their "ghostly enemies."
II. THE STRENGTH OF THE CHURCH. Not in itself, but in Him, the Rock of Ages, in whom it ever finds shelter and help.
(J. B. Owen, M.A.)
1. It takes time to realise the result of the Divine dealings.
2. There is no exposure in our lot over against which God has not set some refuge.
3. The providences of God have ever two sides.
4. It is to the compensations of Providence that we should pay increasing heed. There is some good on the way to us, even if it be borne in the arms of so unwelcome a messenger as suffering. The true art of living is to carve our fortune, be it what it may, into a ladder of ascent toward spiritual perfection, for God brings to us nothing that may not be for our good.
(M. McG. Dana, D.D.)
I. GLANCE. AT THE SEVERAL ALLUSIONS OF THIS SCRIPTURE. Ants show their wisdom in their social habits, their industrious workings, their sagacious foresight. In time of plenty they provide for scarcity. Instinctively foreseeing the evil, they set themselves might and main to get ready against it The voice says to us, "Look onward. Now is the summer of grace, the gathering-time of salvation." The conies are full of timorousness and fear. They show their wisdom by running at the least sound of danger into the crannies of the rocks. This working of the law of self-preservation says to us, "Beware! Be not self-confident! Get away into the clefts of the rock Christ Jesus." The locusts go in well-marshalled and compacted companies. Union, harmony, co-operation are among the chief things in the economy of the locusts. One impulse stirs them. They all act, and act together Ye are Christ's temple and union is the cement that knits together the severed parts. Ye are Christ's army, and union alone can give solidity to its ranks and strike its foes with terror. The chief property of the spider's working is completeness — diligent, persistent completeness. Learn to have a purpose, and bend to it all your powers.
II. LESSONS MINISTERED TO BY THESE TINY CREATURES.
1. The great law of self-preservation.
2. The necessity of regeneration.
3. They bear a message concerning Christian diligence.
4. And concerning Christian completeness.
5. The pointing of these little creatures is onward.
6. And they may teach us the importance of decision.
(H. J. Roper.)
Homilist.I. THE ANTS.
1. Their weakness. Look at their size; their foes; the duration of their lives.
2. Their wisdom. This wisdom consists in foresight, diligence, prudence, and union.
3. Their teaching. The lesson is weakness made up for by industry. We are now to gather and appropriate the bread of life.
II. THE CONIES.
1. Their feebleness. Physically: not armed by strength, or weapons, or armour. Intellectually: few creatures , are more timid than a rabbit. They have no daring, no strategy, no idea of combined action.
2. Their strength. This consists in renouncing self. Their safety is to flee to place of refuge. And as they are so weak themselves, they choose the strongest that can be procured. How wise would be feeble men if they would follow the same tactics. But it is the tendency of man to cling to his own thoughts and his own ways. Each thinks his own efforts, his own plans, his own productions better than his neighbour's. So, especially in religion, man is a feeble creature. If he attempts his own salvation his refuge shall be swept away. But if, knowing his own feebleness, he makes his dwelling in the rock Christ Jesus, he shall be safe. And what a home is that Rock! It contains not only shelter and protection, but provision and joy.
III. THE LOCUSTS. Locusts are not pleasant creatures. They often accomplish much harm, as they appear in large swarms, and destroy everything they come across. Notice —
1. Their principal characteristics. These are(1) Contemptible insignifcance. A dozen can be crushed in a man's hand or trod under his foot. They are poor, wretched, hideous creatures.(2) Utter worthlessness. They accomplish no good purpose, and afford neither pleasure nor profit to any.(3) Woeful destructiveness. All they accomplish is plague and ruin. The land may be a garden of Eden before them; they leave it behind a desolate wilderness.(4) Absence from restraint. They have no king. This might teach us how people who have no government and no restraint rush madly on in their course of destruction. But this is not the purpose of the wise man. Notice —
2. Their remarkable power. Notwithstanding their evil purposes they accomplish mighty results, even though they be destructive. The wisdom which is commended to us consists in —(1) Their unanimity. They have no varied counsels. What one does all do. They have no politics and no parties or sects. If men were equally united, what might not be accomplished.(2) Their perseverance and determination. No obstruction can check their progress. People troubled with their ravages sometimes dig pits and trenches and fill them with water, or build piles of leaves and timber, which they set on fire. But the hordes rush on right into the water those behind walk on the dead bodies of their drowned comrades, or into the fires till they are extinguished by the moisture of their own bodies. Though uncounted millions perish in the front, there are always sufficient in the rear to fill up their places. Man has a work to accomplish — not of destruction, but of mercy. Many will fall in the effort; there must be martyrs. Christ Himself had to be a victim, but, though the world dig its trenches and Satan build up walls of fire, we are to go boldly, and, if need be, to fill the one with our dead bodies, or to quench the other with our blood rather than betray our Master's cause.
IV. THE SPIDER. The lessons from the spider are here rather implied than indicated, but it will be interesting to select a few from the many thoughts which this remarkable insect suggests. Here is —
1. Unostentatious toil. The spider does not court public gaze. The generality of the world is not particularly favourable to his presence. The bird would snap him up; the housewife would sweep him away. He is contented to do his own work without exciting either admiration or envy. So, to quote a writer, "It is not the daring public act that makes a man great and distinguished; it is not the splendid oration that makes a man an orator, but the long and painful culture of mind, body, and soul." The spider is not seen, and yet he works. His work is all of the best. There are no slovenly threads, no unfinished corners. His web is geometrically perfect. He might catch his prey with a carelessly-made trap or an unsightly web, but he never attempts to do so. We may well learn to do the least thing we undertake with the best of our ability, and not to shirk our duties because we suppose that our work will not be observed. Assiduity in little things, humble spheres, and private duties marks the true man. The spider taketh hold with his hands. Hands were made to use.
2. Honoured safety. Industry will make its way in whatever sphere of life those who employ it may be placed. The great and good will carry out their life-work, even amid the discouragements of uncongenial greatness.
I. EXPLAIN THE ILLUSTRATIONS OF CHRISTIAN KNOWLEDGE AND DUTY PRESENTED IN THIS TEXT. The ants excel in foresight; in their social habits and economical arrangements they display admirable industry and sagacity. They apply themselves to the ingathering of proper food, and that at the most proper time. Conies are weak and timorous, having neither power nor courage to defend themselves against the assaults of their enemies. But they give an exemplary proof of the highest wisdom in "making their houses in the rocks," where their enemies can neither destroy nor disturb them. The sense of our indigence and weakness should drive us to the Lord Jesus Christ. In the union of the locusts great wisdom is displayed. Their concentration of aim and energy, the social combination of individuals, is an example to the sons of men. The spider is an illustration of patient perseverance in the use of means, in order to the attainment of a specific end. The work of the spider discover unity, proportion, and completeness. We should, like them, strive to surmount every obstacle, in order to gain our end and fulfil our object, which is to glorify God's name.
II. APPLY THESE ILLUSTRATIONS FOR THE INSTRUCTION AND ENCOURAGEMENT OF SUNDAY-SCHOOL TEACHERS.
1. To the motives of the work. The love of the Lord Jesus, and regard to immortal souls.
2. To the duties belonging to it. Perseverance, condescension, and a spirit of love.
3. The difficulties attending it. Want of spirituality, pride. Apply to those who are engaged in the work; to those who have not yet begun; and to parents.
(Fielding Ould, M.A.)
I. IT IS PROPER TO GLANCE AT THE TEXT IN THE LIGHT OF NATURAL HISTORY.
1. The ants. "A people not strong." Cicero believed the ant furnished, not merely with senses, but with mind, reason, and memory. A remarkable phenomenon: the great God exists, works, and reigns in the little ant; it is an humble mediator between us and the Infinite.
2. The conies, or rabbits, "are a feeble folk." Every creature in the universe has the power of self-defence, every wise creature puts it in exercise. The neglect of this power, in a moral sense, has been the ruin of our race; its restoration is the work of the Lord from heaven.
3. The locust. Many allusions to them in Scripture, especially a wonderful description in the second chapter of Joel; they give a fine specimen of union, harmony, and co-operation, social combination, etc.
4. The spider. An instance of patient perseverance to gain a specific end. In a spider's work is unity, proportion, and completeness, as much accuracy as if she knew all the laws of architecture and mathematics; so man should strive to surmount every obstacle to gain his point and fulfil his purpose. His great work is to glorify God, etc.
II. IN A GENERAL VIEW OF THE WHOLE PASSAGE NOTICE THE GREAT MORAL TRUTHS WHICH IT TEACHES. "Ask now of the beasts, and they shall teach thee, and the fowls," etc., etc.. (Job 12:7). And what do the little creatures described in the text teach us?
1. That we ought to act according to our whole nature. They do so. These little beings carry out all the powers they possess, their whole constitution is at work; they never war against their own instincts, they never act inconsistently with themselves. Man acts wisely only in proportion as he acts agreeably to all the principles and powers of his own extraordinary constitution. There are many sorts of beings in existence; some of these beings are superior to ourselves: they act according to their entire nature. There are also beings which are inferior to ourselves; they likewise act according to their entire nature. Man does not do so; he has broken the order of the universe; he has broken his own peace, and brought his own nature to ruin; he is at variance with himself, with the creation, and with God: this is man's sin, his misery. The soul of man is not only a part of his nature, but the principal part of it; it includes moral consciousness: when our soul acts so as to govern absolutely and always every other part of our nature, it is then only we act according to the whole of our nature; man acts unnaturally when he acts as if he had no soul, no reason, no conscience, no law, no judge. Now, when is man acting according to the whole of his nature? When does he act wisely?(1) Man's greatest good consists in his restoration to the favour, image, and service of his God — in union with God. Look to God as your end, take care of your hearts in this matter, let your intellect and affections ascend up to God; make the Divine nature your great study, your true home, your eternal heaven.(2) To this end suitable means must be employed; there is the whole mediatorial system, etc. It is not the existence of Christianity, but its influence on our moral system, that can save us; as an abstract system, it can do you no more good than paganism, deism, or atheism, unless you make it the means of your ascension to God, its infinite author and end.(3) It is not enough that we know what our greatest good is, and what the proper means of securing it are; but we must employ these means in the time and manner which God requires.
2. The text teaches us that we ought to secure all the happiness of which our nature is susceptible. These little creatures do so.The text distinctly illustrates this; but —
1. That God has provided happiness for every nature, and for every nature its own happiness. God's happiness is peculiar to Himself. It is like Himself — eternal, immutable, infinite, necessary. His is the happiness of creating, of reviewing, of contemplating His own universe and His own nature. His happiness is to pour out a living stream of bliss over His vast creation. Misery existing only in the creature is not eternal, is not necessarily existent, is not essential to the universe. But happiness is so; there must be felicity, for there must be God. God wishes you well — there should be no doubt about that; His language, His actions, His nature prove that. Men do not believe that God has provided happiness for them. Two things account for this — their own experience and their hard thoughts of God.
2. Man's happiness is to be obtained in connection with his own activity. The text suggests this idea. Man can arrive at moral pleasure only by the action of his own nature; activity is the means, though not the meritorious cause, of his spiritual perfection. Indolence of every kind tends to misery.
3. We ought not to be satisfied without obtaining all the happiness which the Divine mercy has provided for us.
1. The ant teaches a lesson of providence or prudence. It looks forward into the future, and makes provision for what is coming. We are not to be over-anxious, but we are to look forward, make our plans, and take our measures.
2. The little coney, when it has once run into the cleft, has the whole strength of the mountain to protect it. Outside the rock it is helpless enough; inside the rock it is perfectly safe. The Bible speaks of Christ as the Rock of His people.
3. Weak by itself, the locust is strong in association with others. He teaches us the power of association. Christ has gathered His disciples into a society; that brings responsibility on each one of us.
4. It is a lesson of perseverance that the spider teaches. No matter how we are laughed at or opposed, we must perseveringly keep on, if we are in the right way.
(Gordon Calthrop, M.A.)
(J. E. Vernon, M.A.)
I. THE ANTS.
1. Their houses or ant-hills.
2. Their foresight. General two ways of entrance and escape, and at these doors they place sentinels.
3. Their industry. They work all day long, and even by moonlight. They are diligent.
4. They provide meat in season.
II. THE CONIES. Hawks and eagles prey upon them, so they never venture far from the mouth of their hole. Christ is our Rock; never venture away from His safe keeping.
III. THE LOCUSTS. Very small, but very destructive. Work in bands. Very wise. It is not perhaps much that any one of you can do, but if you all unite in doing good you may accomplish a great deal.
IV. THE SPIDER. A clever, busy creature. Very humble, yet so ingenious and busy that it finds room to live even in kings' palaces. It is a mean-looking creature, but it is diligent at its own proper work. The King's palace will find room for many poor, mean-looking creatures who did the work that Christ wanted them to do in this world cleverly and busily.
(G. B. Blake, M.A.)
I. The locusts of Syria and Arabia belong to the class of wise little folks that know how to COMBINE AND CONQUER (Joel 2:7). Like grasshoppers, these resistless little creatures have long, gauzy, overlapping wings for sailing through the air, and a pair of long, jointed hind legs for leaping over obstacles on the ground. They are born in millions, and swarm in immense numbers among the hot sands of the desert. No sooner can the young locusts leap with ease than they marshal themselves in companies, like so many regiments of soldiers; and, by some unerring law of instinct, begin to march in one direction towards a fixed goal. They march steadily through valleys clad with living green and plains studded with brilliant wild flowers; and after they have gone the land is desolate as winter at Christmas. They climb walls and leap ditches like conquering armies millions strong; and in a single day blooming gardens are turned into barren wilderness. The trees are barked, vegetables and flowers are eaten up, vines are laid waste, and every green thing is consumed. Mountains they scale with amazing swiftness; they run up the faces of precipices, they cross rivers, and even penetrate walls of fire! Now, it is of these destructive creatures that Agur speaks. Strange that a good and wise man should ask us to imitate such voracious animals! But, mark you, he invites us to imitate their good qualities only. They are orderly and united. "The locusts have no king, yet go they forth all of them by bands." There is no strife in their camp; they fight desperately, but they do not fight among themselves. Peace reigns at home. How quietly do these small, clever creatures preach to us of orderliness and union! They have no self-will, no egotistical conceits, no personal hobbies. Sour and sulky locusts are not known. Wanton and wayward locusts are never seen. The principle is, union is strength. Little people can work wonders, if they will only unite. If all the members of one family were united on the side of reverence and truth, they could put down all the lying and swearing in a village. And if all the members of the Church loved the Lord Jesus passionately, and united for the grand purpose of saving lost men and women, soon, very soon, the whole world would be brought within the fold of the Good Shepherd.
II. The last weak and wise creature mentioned by Agur is the spider, or rather the LIZARD. "The spider taketh hold with her hands, and is in kings' palaces." The Hebrew word for "lizard" is a curious and rare word, and the translators of the Bible thought it meant the spider, because spiders resemble lizards in these respects, that they are small and clever, ambitious and daring, and frequently found in royal houses. Moreover, it is better, because more accurate, to translate the whole verse: The lizard thou canst catch with thy hands (so small is it), yes is it found in kings' palaces (so clever and ambitious is it). Lizards are charming little creatures, bright-yellow as the golden canary, and speckled like the young frog. They are wonderfully quick, nimble, and wise. They can run over the smoothest surfaces, and can even creep along ceilings like flies. Notwithstanding their littleness, they climb to the highest positions. Their power lies in their activity and agility, in their energy and alertness. Let all young folks imitate them, and they will rise to honour and influence. Dull, drowsy, humdrum people climb no mountains of difficulty, and sojourn all their days in the valley of humiliation. Success of the noblest kind has always behind it energetic toil, skilful, persistent labour. We cannot be lazy and good or great. Sir William Jones is the name of a great Englishman who could speak twenty-eight languages, while occupying one of the highest legal positions in India. In youth he was marvellously energetic and industrious, quick-witted, quick-footed, quick-handed, and daring; he did all things well, and triumphed over all difficulties. Dr. Thackeray, his tutor, used to say of him, "If that boy were left naked and friendless on Salisbury plain, he would find his way to fame and riches." And let us remember that the palace of the Great King, in the city of shining gold, can only be entered by active, energetic Christians. However little we are, however weak, we may climb high.
(J. Moffat Scott.)
There be three things which go well, yea, four are comely in going.
I. "The LION is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any." Two qualities are indicated — STRENGTH, COURAGE.
1. Strength is a matter of very great importance. This world is an uncomfortable place for the weak. Go into the business world, into the professions, and success is very largely a question of power of endurance. The moral aspect of the question is especially important. Men were never so severely tried. Be strong!
2. The lion also teaches us the value of courage. Conscience is to be followed. New ideas call for champions. Popular evils are to be assaulted. Be brave!
II. What is the lesson of the GREYHOUND?
1. Celerity of movement. Life calls for haste. Too much time is lost. Men loiter. They fail in punctuality.
2. Certain varieties of the greyhound have not only great speed, but great scent. There is in man a quality which answers to this power of scent in the hound. We call it conscience, moral sense, spiritual discernment. It exists in varying degree. No man is more to be despised than he whose moral sensibilities are wholly blunted.
III. What may we learn from the GOAT?
1. Notice his ability to attain to apparently inaccessible heights. Where others fail he succeeds.
2. Observe his security in places of peril. We want men who are safe anywhere — not only in the protected places, but in the places of danger as well.
3. See how he finds subsistence where almost any other animal would perish. Life is not alike to all of us. We do not all feed in green pastures. Blessed is he whose moral nature thrives not only in the luxuriant meadows, but upon the barren mountain-side. It is possible.
IV. "A KING AGAINST WHOM THERE IS NO RISING UP."
1. Joseph Benson put it, "A king and his people with him." He has their confidence and support. Wanted, men in whom the world has faith! What a power is he "against whom there is no rising up."
2. A king, carrying with him everywhere the consciousness of royalty.
Homiletic Review.God hath appointed to us a kingdom. Go to it kinglike. So shalt thou "go well," and so at the end it shall be said unto thee, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant."
A lion which is strongest among beasts, and turneth not away for any.
1. A lesson of moderation. When the lion gets enough to eat, he is satisfied, and does not go on killing either men or beasts for the mere love of killing. The Bible rule about moderation is given in 1 Timothy 6:8.
2. A lesson of kindness. Some striking instances as illustration can be given.
3. A lesson of obedience. Illustrate from story of Daniel.
4. A lesson of gratitude. Illustrate by story of Androcles.
(R. Newton, D.D.).