The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.The Soft Answer, Etc.
Understand by "a soft answer," not a reply marked by intellectual feebleness, but one inspired by the very spirit of modesty and graciousness. Such an answer cannot be returned as a mere art, because the wrath to which it replies excites natural surprise and indignation, and may be supposed to necessitate a communication in its own key and temper. The soft answer is unique by contrast. It is so unexpected, so unlike the surrounding circumstances, so much more than what is generally regarded as human, that the man to whom it is addressed is astounded as if by a miracle. Only he can give a soft answer who has a soft heart;—that is to say, the answer is not a mere art or trick of the vocal organs, it is the direct and blessed creation of God. Christianity is anticipated by the doctrine of the text, for Christianity says, Love your enemies, and if thou art smitten on the one cheek turn the other also. A soft answer may appear to be spiritless, but in reality it expresses a greater energy than is possible to ill-regulated and resentful wrath. Light is mightier than lightning. Thunder is harmless; it is a mere collision and crashing together of electric clouds. Meekness endures longer than wrath, has greater staying power, feeds itself upon the very grace of God, and is sustained through long watching and much suffering. Wrath fumes and splutters and brings upon itself swift destruction. Wrath is altogether unprofitable; it convinces no one; it is mere explosion ending in impotence and humiliation. We are not now speaking of moral wrath, but of mere ebullition of temper, a species of fleshly excitement, not a light from heaven, but a flame from perdition. It is right to be indignant with injustice and oppression and wrong of every name and form. Grievous words stir up anger as certainly as an effect follows its cause. They lead to recrimination, resentment, self-defence, and self-assertion. For the moment they seem to be smart and spirited, betraying a dignified temper and a haughty courage, but in reality, they are nothing more than proofs of littleness, spitefulness, chagrin, or other emotion lying on the same degraded line.
"The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good" (Proverbs 15:3).
Such words are at once a comfort and a terror. The universe would be but an infinite darkness were it not for the assurance that the eyes of the Lord watch every throbbing heart, every thought, every purpose, every action of the multitudinous life of men. When the Lord "beholds," he judges. He cannot look upon man's life as a mere spectator; he must always look with judicial eyes. A more commonplace thought it would be difficult to find; yet it is only commonplace because of our familiarity with it, and not because of inherent indignity. Given a full assurance that our life is lived under the critical inspection of heaven, and what more can we need by way of stimulus and comfort, sense of security and spiritual freedom? On the other hand, given a purpose to lead a selfish, carnal, degraded life, and what can be more terrible than to reflect that every evolution of it draws upon itself the fiery and destructive vision of God? The bad man cannot live in the light. Even when he purposes to do evil he must needs close his eyes, and thus create an appropriate darkness as the theatre of his villainy. Not only do men close their eyes in sleep, they close their eyes in the perpetration of wrong, that under the shelter of a temporary night they may commit their offence against all sacred law and holy obligation. But the darkness and the light are both alike unto God. So mad is man that he can delude himself with the belief that darkness is impenetrable even by God. Never would this be allowed in mere theory; on the contrary, it would be strenuously and contemptuously denied. Yet the practice of life overthrows its finest theories, and shows that desire may be mightier than judgment. Blessed are they who can truly rejoice that they walk under the searching eyes of the Most High. Only they can so rejoice whose uppermost desire is towards pureness and good doing, and whose one purpose in life is to praise and magnify the living God. Desire and purpose can only be sanctified by vital communion with the Son of God.
"Correction is grievous unto him that forsaketh the way: and he that hateth reproof shall die" (Proverbs 15:10).
Let the text stand thus, "There is a grievous correction for him that forsaketh the right way." It is so in all action; why not so in all the higher aspects of human life? Building that forsakes the right way overthrows itself. All things hastily and insecurely repaired or restored soon show that they have been mismanaged. Imperfect answers to great questions never fail to reveal their insufficiency. Duties discharged perfunctorily end in a harvest of blackness and disappointment. Children neglected in early life live to be the curse of those who neglected them. Seeing that the law operates in all these directions (and that it does so operate is proved by the whole round of human experience), why may it not also apply to spiritual culture, to moral purpose, to worship, to all that is loftiest and divinest in human aspiration and action? The punishment inflicted upon evil is the dark aspect of that law which never fails to place a crown of glory on the brow of righteousness. Never believe that the evildoer can prosper, that there can be any worth in the bread which he steals, or any joy in the intoxication which is made to mock the gladness of honest men; there is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked; only they can escape grievous correction who escape grievous error. Correction will indeed fall upon the good man, for even his prayers need to be purified; but such correction is never grievous; it is itself a hidden blessing, and is felt to be such by him who submissively accepts it at the hand of God. We do not chastise a child as we chastise a beast. In all divine chastisement of the good there is a purpose which signifies elevation, refinement, and completeness of character. Blessed is the man whom the Lord correcteth. Judgment falls upon the evil man, he is suddenly destroyed and that without remedy, but benediction follows the good man even in loss and pain and loneliness and death. He kisses the rod that smites him, and thus by resignation makes the bitter sweet, and turns what otherwise would be poison into food that sustains and satisfies.