The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeketh and intermeddleth with all wisdom.The Evils of Narrow-Mindedness, Etc.
In connection with this thought we have always turned our attention to student life, fancying a man so burning with an unquenchable desire for wisdom as to betake himself from public highways and tumults that he might study in solitude and silence. Another rendering of the text, however, will show its true meaning: "The separatist seeketh after his own desire, and against all improvement he shows his teeth." We have here, then, a picture of the recluse, the hermit, the narrow-minded man,—a man who believes his own ideas alone represent true wisdom; a misanthrope; a man who will not take larger views, but who, having got an idea or two, separates himself from all other men, fondles and caresses himself, lives in the vitiating atmosphere of self-flattery, and literally intermeddleth—that is to say, showeth his teeth against all other wisdom; sets himself in relation to it as a snarling dog, imagining that his own universe is sacred ground, encloses the whole of the divine paradise, and that whoever would oppose him would really oppose the Almighty himself. Narrow-mindedness is the curse of the Church. It leads to mistaken ideas of orthodoxy, to false limitations of philanthropy and divinity, and ends in the purest bigotry, which delights in persecution and penalty. Narrow-minded men call themselves earnest; but narrow-mindedness cannot be really earnest, though earnestness can often assume the appearance of being uncharitable or unsympathetic, but really its hostility is directed against darkness, error, superstition, and the narrow-mindedness of wrong thought. It must not be supposed that because a man is a heretic, therefore he is a wide thinker; because he is an infidel, therefore he is a philosopher; because he is an unbeliever, therefore he is a genius. Who so wide-minded as the Son of God? Who like him gathered into his heart the whole world, and tasted death for every man? Never must it be allowed that Christianity is essentially narrow-minded; it is the man-loving religion, it is the world-converting power, its mercy endureth for ever; it is a religion for wanderers, prodigals, lost men, yea, it fills itself with the spirit of hopefulness, and even goes forth into the spiritual cemeteries of the world to awaken men from their death in trespasses and in sins; it hates all death, it dreads all pestilence, it seeks to vitalise, to purify, and to ennoble, and never to deaden, or to debase, or to contract the mind. Separatists cannot be strong men. They can have a kind of intensity which is often mistaken for strength, but real strength is made up of the counsel of many minds, so that personal wisdom becomes general philosophy, and the few ideas which are given to any man are enlarged, varied, and multiplied by trustful controversy, and attrition with other minds. Men were made for one another, and only in fellowship can they realise the fulness of the divine idea of human nature.
"A fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself" (Proverbs 18:2).
That is to say, the object of the fool is that he may display his own cleverness; that is the meaning of the words "that his heart may discover itself,"—in other words, may disclose itself to those who look on, and show how able and clever and versatile and ingenious it is. The fool thus makes a kind of merchandise of understanding. He spreads out his wares, he calls attention to the counter, and says, Look how many are my resources;. what an industrious collector I have been of old philosophies and modern wisdom. In reality he does not care anything for one of them; he rather despises understanding and wisdom in their spiritual conception and discipline. But it is his supreme delight to fill a whole marketplace with gathered wares, to ticket them, to appraise them, to call attention to them, in order that he himself may be admired on account of their multitude and excellence. In the case of men who truly love wisdom their acquisitions are largely concealed by their modesty, and have to be discovered little by little, and so they come as surprises upon the attention of even the closest observers. We say of some men the more we know them the more we are struck with the largeness of their nature, with the number of their attainments, and with the range of their sympathies: they do not display themselves at once, or in any degree that is avoidable; they leave others to explore their character, and to find to their astonishment and delight how rich they are in thought and feeling and every moral attribute.
"The words of a talebearer are as wounds, and they go down into the innermost parts of the belly" (Proverbs 18:8).
We should read, The words of a talebearer are as dainty morsels which are brought up again and again, so that they are wrought into the whole nature, and become as wounds in the body of him against whom they are directed. The general meaning would seem to be that when a talebearer has got hold of a number of reports they are to him really dainty morsels, very precious things, rumours that are to be very carefully cherished, repeated, made the most of, so much so that when other men have forgotten them they are reminded of their existence with a sense of delight and satisfaction. The talebearer takes malicious pleasure in never letting anything die that can excite curiosity or gratify a malevolent disposition. The talebearer is a cruel man, for with his dainty morsels he strikes the wounds that were healing, and re-opens them, and keeps them evermore inflamed; he would seem to watch until the wound is nearly healed, then he will revive some unhappy memory, or call into renewed existence some forgotten act associated with the keenest pain, and thus by long practice he becomes skilled in inflicting injuries of the subtlest as well as broadest kind upon men to whom he relates his lying stories. Talebearers are to be discouraged, resisted, and contemned; they are to be made to feel that they are nuisances in society, that they have nothing to say that is not of the nature of the most frivolous or malicious gossip; if wise men would treat talebearers so, talebearing would cease to interest and cease to bring upon itself any compensation. The moral atmosphere in which we live should be so pure that no talebearer could live in it.
"The spirit of a man will sustain his infirmity; but a wounded spirit who can bear?" (Proverbs 18:14).
We are to understand that man is so constituted as to have power over weakness, whether it be in himself or whether it be inflicted upon him by a hostile hand. Suppose a man has suffered injury or loss, he is, so to say, to gather up his courage to a degree that will enable him to bear all the injury nobly and even forgivingly; he is to take so large a view of life and all its claims and responsibilities as to put things into their right proportion, so that nothing may exercise upon him the influence of an exaggerated grievance. By "a wounded spirit" we are to understand a self-brooding spirit; that is to say, a spirit that nurses the recollection of its injuries, delights in telling how much it has suffered, and spends days and nights in talking to old grievances as if they were old friends, and in conjuring up all manner of slights and offences and wrongs, insults and losses, until the whole nature becomes inflamed as with the very fire of perdition. Sometimes it has been represented that by "a wounded spirit" we are to understand one who has been very seriously injured, crushed in soul and in thought, who has indeed endured a kind of spiritual assassination: but that is not the meaning of the text; by a wounded spirit understand a spirit that delights in brooding over its injuries, nursing its grievances, and making the most of them. Thus the two parts of the text are put into their proper relation; in the one case we have a magnanimous spirit bearing a man up against all the infirmities of life, and in the other we have a self-worshipping or self-brooding spirit that afflicts itself with intolerable exasperations. Under all spiritual transitions, discipline, endurance, and the like, we are to remember that there is but one grace that can sustain us, one holiness by which our moral nature can be determined as to its growth and quality.
"A man that hath friends must show himself friendly: and there is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24).
Curiously, the passage should be read, A man of many friends will suffer loss; friendship cannot be inexpensively sustained; by many attentions, hospitalities, outlays, friendliness will come to tax itself to a very high degree. Nor can this be avoided with any show of reason or conscience. Friendship ought always to be more than a mere sentimentality; it should be prepared with its strength, its time, its money, to help those who require its attention, and who deserve the comfort of its solicitude and sympathy. That "there is a Friend that sticketh closer than a brother" is true of some human friendships; though rarely true, it is certainly true, and as such it is a fact that ought to be remembered for the cheering of the soul in much disconsolate-ness. The fulness of the meaning of this text can only be realised in the person and ministry of Jesus Christ. He alone remains when the storm is loudest, when the way is most difficult, when the whole outlook is one dense and thunderous frown. Having heard that there is such a Friend, we should ask his name; we should say to every man who knows the way of life, "Sir, we would see Jesus." We are not to be content with the disciples or apostles; they rise and fall, they live and die, and pass away; we want to see the Christ, who is the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever—the unchanging One, the Priest who proves his deity by his unchangeableness, and who gathers up into himself all prophecies and priesthoods and ministries, glorifying them by all that is divinest in heaven, and yet offering with marvellous condescension to place all his resources at our disposal. As a friendly man must go to great expense in maintaining friendliness, so must the brothers of Christ hold nothing dear to themselves that he requires for the propagation of his gospel, for the declaration of his love, for the maintenance of his kingdom. It would be wrong if Christianity were a cheap religion; the very cheapness which we attach to it shows the value which we set upon its claims. Everything we have belongs to Christ, and only as we give it with a warm and loving heart do we show how much we love him to whom we owe everything, and how much we value the friendship which cost him his crown, his heavenly estate, and brought him to earth, that he might suffer and die, and rise again, and reclaim as if by some larger title all that he had lost on our account.