The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my understanding:The Strange Woman
The reason which is assigned justifies the urgency of the counsel. There are unwritten rights between man and man. The wise man by his very wisdom acquires the right to instruct the unwise, and the strong man by his very strength has the right to defend the oppressed. It is not a matter of mere sentiment in either case, but of positive and imperative right. This is the secret of true commonwealth and brotherhood. A reflection mournful beyond all others is that any form of riches except experience is eagerly accepted. Offer gold, and it is seized with avidity; offer a seat of honour or influence, and at once it is appreciated: but offer the wisdom of experience, and more than golden treasure of deeply-proved inquiry into practical life, and it is declined with indifference or contempt. God's harvests are accepted, but God's doctrines are rejected. We take wine and oil, but repel the offer of wisdom. How is such madness to be accounted for? This half-wisdom is indeed madness, for it shows sufficient sagacity to know good from evil, but insufficient decision to resist the things that would hurt the soul. Were we altogether foolish we might well be pitied, but we are ingenious in evil, brilliant in immorality, sagacious in escaping moral discipline. The light that is in us is darkness!
"For the lips of a strange woman drop as an honeycomb, and her mouth is smoother than oil: but her end is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell. Lest thou shouldest ponder the path of life, her ways are moveable, that thou canst not know them. Hear me now therefore, O ye children, and depart not from the words of my mouth. Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house: lest thou give thine honour unto others, and thy years unto the cruel: lest strangers be filled with thy wealth; and thy labours be in the house of a stranger; and thou mourn at the last, when thy flesh and thy body are consumed, and say, How have I hated instruction, and my heart despised reproof; and have not obeyed the voice of my teachers, nor inclined mine ear to them that instructed me! I was almost in all evil in the midst of the congregation and assembly" (Proverbs 5:3-14).
Here is the ruin wrought not by nature, but by the perversion of nature. Here, indeed, is the problem which vexes and defies the wisdom and benevolence of the world. Man and woman were made for each other, yet what ruin is wrought by the false relations into which they are thrown. All the other evils of society are insignificant compared with the perdition created by illicit intercourse. Such a subject repels its students, for it is full of all abominableness and shame. Yet surely the Christian teacher should not be silent. Our young men are being destroyed by thousands, yet we must not speak frankly to them, because the subject is loathsome! Its very loathsomeness should compel Christian teachers to break silence. Of course the painful subject may be so unwisely handled as to become a source of mischief, but its mismanagement is no argument against honest attempts to save young lives from ruin. In the text it is the "woman" who tempts! Certainly the letter excludes every other interpretation. On the other hand, every man when he is tempted is drawn away of his own lusts and enticed. Even gunpowder is harmless when thrown upon water. The fire that burns in man creates the very "woman" who is first dishonoured and then accounted "strange." Let us be just in assessing the blame. First and heaviest it must fall upon man. He is too prone, like Adam, to throw the blame upon woman, and thus he proves himself to be a coward as well as a criminal. Even lawful passions are to be held in check. The fiercest of them may be subdued by the power of Christ. It is unwise to make light of the fierceness of some passions; to do so is to lose the confidence of those whom we would seek to save, because they will suppose that we know nothing of the nature of the fire which we think can be blown out by a breath of wind. Never forget that the wind may fan the very flame it is meant to extinguish. Nature avenges every outrage committed upon her ordinances; in dizziness, in mental incertitude, in putrescent flesh, in loss of memory and will, she writes her judgment upon the evildoer. No man can dishonour nature and yet live at peace with her. The wages of sin is death. "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word."
Here I will avail myself of the language of another:—
Enter with me, in imagination, the strange woman's house—where God grant you may never enter in any other way. There are five wards—Pleasure, Satiety, Discovery, Disease, and Death. Ward of Pleasure.
Ward of Pleasure.—The eye is dazzled with the magnificence of its apparel,—elastic velvet, glossy silks, burnished satin, crimson drapery, plushy carpets. Exquisite pictures glow upon the walls, carved marble adorns every niche. The inmates are deceived by these lying shows; they dance, they sing; with beaming eyes they utter softest strains of flattery and graceful compliment. They partake the amorous wine, and the repast which loads the table. They eat, they drink, they are blithe and merry. Surely they should be; for after this brief hour they shall never know purity nor joy again! For this moment's revelry they are selling heaven! The strange woman walks among her guests in all her charms; fans the flame of joy, scatters grateful odours, and urges on the fatal revelry. As; her poisoned wine is quaffed, and the gay creatures begin to reel, the torches wane and cast but a twilight. One by one the guests grow somnolent; and, at length, they all repose. Their cup is exhausted, their pleasure is for ever over; life has exhaled to an essence, and that is consumed! While they sleep servitors, practised to the work, remove them all to another ward.
Ward of Satiety.—Here reigns a bewildering twilight through which can hardly be discerned the wearied inmates, yet sluggish upon their couches. Overflushed with dance, sated with wine and fruit, a fitful drowsiness vexes them. They wake, to crave; they taste, to loathe; they sleep, to dream; they wake again from unquiet visions. They long for the sharp taste of pleasure, so grateful yesterday. Again they sink, repining, to sleep; by starts, they rouse at an ominous dream; by starts, they hear strange cries! The fruit burns and torments; the wine shoots sharp pains through their pulse. Strange wonder fills them. They remember the recent joy, as a reveller in the morning thinks of his midnight madness. The glowing garden and the banquet now seem all stripped and gloomy. They meditate return; pensively they long for their native spot! At sleepless moments mighty resolutions form,—substantial as a dream. Memory grows dark. Hope will not shine. The past is not pleasant; the present is wearisome; and the future gloomy.
The Ward of Discovery.—In the third ward no deception remains. The floors are bare; the naked walls drip filth; the air is poisonous with sickly fumes, and echoes with mirth concealing hideous misery. None supposes that he has been happy. The past seems like a dream to the miser, who gathers gold spilled like rain upon the road, and wakes, clutching his bed, and crying, "Where is it?" On your right hand, as you enter, close by the door is a group of fierce felons in deep drink with drugged liquor. With red and swollen faces, or white and thin, or scarred with ghastly corruption; with scowling brows, baneful eyes, bloated lips, and demoniac grins; in person all uncleanly, in morals all debauched, in peace bankrupt—the desperate wretches wrangle one with the other, swearing bitter oaths, and heaping reproaches each upon each! Around the room you see miserable creatures, unapparelled, or dressed in rags, sobbing and moaning. That one who gazes out at the window, calling for her mother and weeping, was right tenderly and purely bred. She has been baptized twice,—once to God, and once to the devil. She sought this place in the very vestments of God's house. "Call not on thy mother! she is a saint in heaven, and cannot hear thee!" Yet all night long she dreams of home and childhood, and wakes to sigh and weep; and between her sobs she cries, "Mother! mother!"
Yonder is a youth, once a servant at God's altar. His hair hangs tangled and torn; his eyes are bloodshot; his face is livid; his fist is clenched. All the day he wanders up and down, cursing, sometimes himself and sometimes the wretch that brought him hither; and when he sleeps he dreams of hell; and then he wakes to feel all he dreamed. This is the ward of reality. All know why the first rooms looked so gay—they were enchanted! It was enchanted wine they drank, and enchanted fruit they ate; now they know the pain of fatal food in every limb!
Ward of Disease.—Ye that look wistfully at the pleasant front of this terrific house, come with me now, and look long into the terror of this ward; for here are the seeds of sin in their full harvest form! We are in a lazar-room: its air oppresses every sense; its sights confound our thoughts; its sounds pierce our ear; its stench repels us; it is full of diseases. Here a shuddering wretch is clawing at his breast, to tear away that worm which gnaws his heart. By him is another, whose limbs are dropping from his ghastly trunk. Next swelters another in reeking filth; his eyes rolling in bony sockets, every breath a pang, and every pang a groan. But yonder, on a pile of rags, lies one whose yells of frantic agony appal every ear. Clutching his rags with spasmodic grasp, his swollen tongue lolling from a blackened mouth, his bloodshot eyes glaring and rolling, he shrieks oaths; now blaspheming God, and now imploring him. He hoots and shouts, and shakes his grisly head from side to side, cursing or praying; now calling death, and then, as if driving away fiends, yelling, "Avaunt! avaunt!"
Another has been ridden by pain until he can no longer shriek; but lies foaming and grinding his teeth, and clenches his bony hands until the nails pierce the palm—though there is no blood there to issue out—trembling all the time with the shudders and chills of utter agony. The happiest wretch in all this ward is an idiot—dropsical, distorted, and moping; all day he wags his head, and chatters, and laughs, and bites his nails; then he will sit for hours motionless, with open jaw, and glassy eye fixed on vacancy. In this ward are huddled all the diseases of Pleasure. This is the torture-room of the strange woman's house, and it excels the inquisition. The wheel, the rack, the bed of knives, the roasting fire, the brazen room slowly heated, the slivers driven under the nails, the hot pincers,—what are these to the agonies of the last days of licentious vice? Hundreds of rotting wretches would change their couch of torment in the strange woman's house for the gloomiest terror of the inquisition, and profit by the change. Nature herself becomes the tormentor. Nature, long trespassed on and abused, at length casts down the wretch; searches every vein, makes a road of every nerve for the scorching feet of pain to travel on, pulls at every muscle, breaks in the breast, builds fires in the brain, eats out the skin, and casts living coals of torment on the heart. What are hot pincers to the envenomed claws of disease? What is it to be put into a pit of snakes and slimy toads, and feel their cold coil or piercing fang, to the creeping of a whole body of vipers—where every nerve is a viper, and every vein a viper, and every muscle a serpent; and the whole body, in all its parts, coils and twists upon itself in unimaginable anguish? I tell you, there is no inquisition so bad as that which the doctor looks upon! Young man! I can show you in this ward worse pangs than ever a savage produced at the stake!—than ever a tyrant wrung out by engines of torment!—than ever an inquisitor devised! Every year, in every town, die wretches scalded and scorched with agony. Were the sum of all the pain that comes with the last stages of vice collected, it would rend the very heavens with its outcry; would shake the earth; would even blanch the cheek of Infatuation! Ye that are listening in the garden of this strange woman, among her cheating flowers; ye that are dancing in her halls in the first ward, come hither; look upon her fourth ward—its vomited blood, its sores and fiery blotches, its prurient sweat, its dissolving ichor, and rotten bones! Stop, young man! You turn your head from this ghastly room; and yet, stop—and stop soon, or thou shalt lie here! mark the solemn signals of thy passage! Thou hast had already enough of warnings in thy cheek, in thy bosom, in thy pangs of premonition!
But ah! every one of you who are dancing with the covered paces of death, in the strange woman's first hall, let me break your spell; for now I shall open the doors of the last ward. Look! Listen! Witness your own end unless you take quickly a warning!
Ward of Death.—No longer does the incarnate wretch pretend to conceal her cruelty. She thrusts—ay! as if they were dirt—she shovels out the wretches. Some fall headlong through the rotten floor,—a long fall to a fiery bottom. The floor trembles to deep thunders which roll below. Here and there jets of flame spout up, and give a lurid light to the murky hall. Some would fain escape; and flying across the treacherous floor, which man never safely passed, they go, through pitfalls and treacherous traps, with hideous outcries and astounding yells, to perdition! Fiends laugh! The infernal laugh, the cry of agony, the thunder of damnation, shake the very roof and echo from wall to wall.
Oh that the young might see the end of vice before they see the beginning! I know that you shrink from this picture; but your safety requires that you should look long into the ward of Death, that fear may supply strength to your virtue. See the blood oozing from the wall, the fiery hands which pluck the wretches down, the light of hell gleaming through, and hear its roar as of a distant ocean chafed with storms. Will you sprinkle the wall with your blood? will you feed those flames with your flesh? will you add your voice to those thundering wails? will you go down a prey through the fiery floor of the chamber of death? Believe then the word of God: "Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death;... avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away!"
I have described the strange woman's house in strong language, and it needed it. If your taste shrinks from the description, so does mine. Hell, and all the ways of hell, when we pierce the cheating disguises and see the truth, are terrible and trying to behold; and if men would not walk there, neither would we pursue their steps, to sound the alarm and gather back whom we can.
"For the ways of man are before the eyes of the Lord, and he pondereth all his goings. His own iniquities shall take the wicked himself, and he shall be holden with the cords of his sins. He shall die without instruction; and in the greatness of his folly he shall go astray" (Proverbs 5:21-23).
These are the grand reasons why men should take heed to their ways. Will you allow God, yea, compel God, to look upon impurity? Should no respect be paid to the divine observer? He is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity with the least degree of allowance or approbation; why, then, force it upon his attention, and smite him in the eyes as with a sharp weapon? The end of evil is disastrous to the evildoer himself. He binds himself with cords he cannot rend. He makes a fool of himself, and a slave, in the very act of grasping his prizes and quaffing his delights. The bad man shuts his eyes, and supposes he has escaped hell, simply because he cannot see it. How great a fool may man become! Yet this fact, universally allowed, would seem to go for nothing as a moral appeal. The heart drags the whole nature down to death. Knowledge alone cannot save the soul. Herein is the miracle of grace! Here is the triumph of omnipotence! Come, my Lord, my God, my Saviour, and take charge of me. Never leave me to myself. Thou alone bringest light, and without thee all is darkness. Thou knowest the meaning of temptation; how persistent, how subtle, how sudden, how tremendous! Why should it be so? Is not everything a tribute to the mystery and grandeur of human life? Woman ruins man or saves him. She is sorceress or saviour. God of heaven, pity young men and save them. Death lies so close to life. We are thy workmanship, and thy grace is sufficient for us. Let our very weakness be itself a prayer!