Proverbs 25:28
He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is broken down, and without walls.
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(28) Like a city that is broken down, and without walls.—Exposed to the assault of every temptation.



Proverbs 25:28

The text gives us a picture of a state of society when an unwalled city is no place for men to dwell in. In the Europe of today there are still fortified places, but for the most part, battlements are turned into promenades; the gateways are gateless; the sweet flowers blooming where armed feet used to tread; and men live securely without bolts and bars. But their spirits cannot yet afford to raise their defences and fling themselves open to all comers.

We may see here three points: the city defenceless, or human nature as it is; the city defended, human nature as it may be in Christ; the city needing no defence, human nature as it will be in heaven.

I. The city defenceless, or human nature as it is.

Here we are in a state of warfare which calls for constant shutting out of enemies. Temptations are everywhere; our foes compass us like bees; evils of many sorts seduce. We can picture to ourselves some little garrison holding a lonely outpost against lurking savages ready to attack if ever the defenders slacken their vigilance for a moment. And that is the truer picture of human nature as it is than the one by which most men are deluded. Life is not a playground, but an arena of grim, earnest fighting. No man does right in his sleep; no man does right without a struggle.

The need for continual vigilance and self-control comes from the very make of our souls, for our nature is not a democracy, but a kingdom. In us all there are passions, desires, affections, all of which may lead to vice or to virtue: and all of which evidently call out for direction, for cultivation, and often for repression. Then there are peculiarities of individual character which need watching lest they become excessive and sinful. Further, there are qualities which need careful cultivation and stimulus to bring them into due proportion. We each of us receive, as it were, an undeveloped self, and have entrusted to us potential germs which come to nothing, or shoot up with a luxuriance that stifles unless we exercise a controlling power. Besides all this, we all carry in us tendencies which are positively, and only, sinful. There would be no temptation if there were no such.

But the slightest inspection of our own selves clearly points out, not only what in us needs to be controlled, but that in us which is meant to control. The will is regal; conscience is meant to govern the will, and its voice is but the echo of God’s law.

But, while all this is true, it is too sadly true that the accomplishment of this ideal is impossible in our own strength. Our own sad experience tells us that we cannot govern ourselves; and our observations of our brethren but too surely indicate that they too are the prey of rebellious, anarchical powers within, and of temptations, against the rush of which they and we are as powerless as a voyager in a bark-canoe, caught in the fatal drift of Niagara. Conscience has a voice, but no hands; it can speak, but if its voice fails, it cannot hold us back. From its chair it can bid the waves breaking at our feet roll back, as the Saxon king did, but their tossing surges are deaf. As helpless as the mud walls of some Indian hill-fort against modern artillery, is the defence, in one’s own strength, of one’s own self against the world. We would gladly admit that the feeblest may do much to ‘keep himself unspotted from the world’; but we must, if we recognise facts, confess that the strongest cannot do all. No man can alone completely control his own nature; no man, unenlightened by God, has a clear, full view of duty, nor a clear view of himself. Always there is some unguarded place:

‘Unless above himself he can

Erect himself, how mean a thing is man!’

but no man can so lift himself so as that self will not drag him down. The walls are broken down and the troops of the spoilers sack the city.

II. The defended city, or human nature as it may be in Christ.

If our previous remarks are true, they give us material for judging how far the counsels of some very popular moral teachers should be followed. It is a very old advice, ‘know thyself; and it is a very modern one that

‘Self-reverence, self-knowledge, self-control

Lead life to sovereign power.’

But if these counsels are taken absolutely and without reference to Christ and His work, they are ‘counsels of despair,’ demanding what we cannot give, and promising what they cannot bestow. When we know Christ, we shall know ourselves; when He is the self of ourselves, then, and only then, shall we reverence and can we control the inner man. The city of Mansoul will then be defended when ‘the peace of God keeps our hearts and minds in Jesus.’

He who submits himself to Christ is lord of himself as none else are. He has a light within which teaches him what is sin. He has a love within which puts out the flame of temptation, as the sun does a coal fire. He has a motive to resist; he has power for resistance; he has hope in resisting. Only thus are the walls broken down rebuilded. And as Christ builds our city on firmer foundations, He will appear in His glory, and will ‘lay the windows in agates, and all thy borders in precious stones.’ The sure way to bring our ruined earth, ‘without form and void,’ into a cosmos of light and beauty, is to open our spirit for the Spirit of God to ‘brood upon the face of the waters.’ Otherwise the attempts to rule over our own spirit will surely fail; but if we let Christ rule over our spirit, then it will rule itself.

But let us ever remember that he who thus submits to Christ, and can truly say, ‘I live, yet not I, but Christ liveth in me,’ still needs defence. The strife does not thereby cease; the enemies still swarm; sin is not removed. There will be war to the end, and war for ever; but He will ‘keep our heads in the day of battle’; and though often we may be driven from the walls, and outposts may be lost, and gaping breaches made, yet the citadel shall be safe. If only we see to it that ‘He is the glory in the midst of us,’ He will be ‘a wall of fire round about us.’ Our nature as it may be in Christ is a walled city as needing defence, and as possessing the defence which it needs.

III. The city defenceless, and needing no defence; that is, human nature as it will be hereafter.

‘The gates shall not be shut day nor night,’ for ‘every thing that defileth’ is without. We know but little of that future, what we know will, surely, be theirs who here have been ‘guarded by the power of God, through faith, unto salvation.’ That salvation will bring with it the end for the need of guardianship; though it leaves untouched the blessed dependence, we shall stand secure when it is impossible to fall. And that impossibility will be realised, partly, as we know, from change in surroundings, partly from the dropping away of flesh, partly from the entire harmony of our souls with the will of God. Our ignorance of that future is great, but our knowledge of it is greater, and our certainty of it is greatest of all.

This is what we may become. Dear friends! toil no longer at the endless, hopeless task of ruling those turbulent souls of yours; you can never rebuild the walls already fallen. Give up toiling to attain calmness, peace, self-command. Let Christ do all for you, and let Him in to dwell in you and be all to you. Builded on the true Rock, we shall stand stately and safe amid the din of war. He will watch over us and dwell in us, and we shall be as ‘a city set on a hill,’ impregnable, a virgin city. So may it be with each of us while strife shall last, and hereafter we may quietly hope to be as a city without walls, and needing none; for they that hated us shall be far away, for between us and them is ‘a great gulf fixed,’ so that they cannot cross it to disturb us any more; and we shall dwell in the city of God, of which the name is Salem, the city of peace, whose King is Himself, its Defender and its Rock, its Fortress and its high Tower.

Proverbs 25:28. He that hath no rule over his own spirit — Over his passions, and especially his anger, which is signified by this word, Proverbs 16:32; Ecclesiastes 10:4; is like a city that is broken down and without walls — Exposes himself to manifold dangers and mischiefs.

25:19. Confidence in an unfaithful man is painful and vexatious; when we put any stress on him, he not only fails, but makes us feel for it. 20. We take a wrong course if we think to relieve those in sorrow by endeavouring to make them merry. 21,22. The precept to love even our enemies is an Old Testament commandment. Our Saviour has shown his own great example in loving us when we were enemies. 23. Slanders would not be so readily spoken, if they were not readily heard. Sin, if it receives any check, becomes cowardly. 24. It is better to be alone, than to be joined to one who is a hinderance to the comfort of life. 25. Heaven is a country afar off; how refreshing is good news from thence, in the everlasting gospel, which signifies glad tidings, and in the witness of the Spirit with our spirits that we are God's children! 26. When the righteous are led into sin, it is as hurtful as if the public fountains were poisoned. 27. We must be, through grace, dead to the pleasures of sense, and also to the praises of men. 28. The man who has no command over his anger, is easily robbed of peace. Let us give up ourselves to the Lord, and pray him to put his Spirit within us, and cause us to walk in his statutes.So for men ... - A difficult sentence, the text of which is probably defective. The words are not in the original. Many commentators render: so to search into weighty matters is itself a weight, i. e., people soon become satiated with it as with honey. Possibly a warning against an over-curious searching into the mysteries of God's word or works. 28. Such are exposed to the incursions of evil thoughts and successful temptations. Over his own spirit; over his passions, and especially his anger, Which is signified by this word, Proverbs 16:2 Ecclesiastes 10:4.

Is like a city that is broken down, and without walls; exposeth himself to manifold dangers and mischiefs.

He that hath no rule over his own spirit,.... His affections and passions, puts no restraint, unto them, as the word signifies; no guard against them, no fence about them, to curb his curiosity, to check his pride and vanity, to restrain his wrath and anger and revenge, and keep within due bounds his ambition and itch of vainglory;

is like a city that broken down and without walls; into which the may go with pleasure, and which is exposed to the rapine and violence of everyone; and so a man that has no command of himself and passions, but gives the reins to them, is exposed to the enemy of souls, Satan and is liable to every sin, snare and temptation.

He that hath no rule over his own spirit is like a city that is {q} broken down, and without walls.

(q) And so is in extreme danger.

28. In this verse again, both A.V. and R.V. change without apparent reason the order of the clauses in the Hebrew.

Verse 28 - A proverb like the last, concerned with self-control. In the Hebrew it runs thus (see on Ver. 11): A city that is broken down without wall - a man on whose spirit is no restraint. "A city broken down" is explained by the next words. "without wall," and therefore undefended and open to' the first invader (comp. 2 Chronicles 32:5; Nehemiah 2:13). To such a city is compared the man who puts no restraint on his passions, desires, and affections; he is always in danger of being carried away by them and involved in sin and destruction; he has no defence when temptation assaults him, having lost self-control (comp. Proverbs 16:32). The old gnomes hold always true -

Θυμοῦ κρατῆσαι κἀπιθυμίας καλόν.
Desire and passion it is good to rule."

Ταμιεῖον ἀρετῆς ἐστι σωφροσύνη μόνη
"Virtue's true storehouse is wise self-control." A Chinese maxim says. "Who can govern himself is fit to govern the world." Septuagint, "As a city whose wails are broken down and which is unwalled, so is a man who does aught without counsel." St. Jerome, by the addition of the words, in loquendo, applies the proverb to intemperance in language, "So is he who is not able to restrain his spirit in speaking." Commenting on this, St. Gregory ('Moral,' 7:59) says, "Because it is without the wall of silence, the city of the mind lies open to the darts of the enemy, and when it casts itself forth in words, it exhibits itself exposed to the adversary, and he gets the mastery of it without trouble, in proportion as the soul that he has to overcome combats against its own self by much talking" (Oxford transl.).

Proverbs 25:28This verse, counselling restraint as to the spirit, is connected with the foregoing, which counsels to self-control as to enjoyment:

A city broken through, now without walls -

A man without self-control over his spirit.

A "city broken down" is one whose wall is "broken," 2 Chronicles 32:5, whether it has met with breaches (פּרצים), or is wholly broken; in the former case also the city is incapable of being defended, and it is all one as if it had no wall. Such a city is like a man "who hath no control over his own spirit" (for the accentuation of the Heb. words here, vid., Thorath Emeth, p. 10): cujus spiritui nulla cohibitio (Schultens), i.e., qui animum suum cohibere non potest (Fleischer: עצר, R. צר, to press together, to oppress, and thereby to hold back). As such a city can be plundered and laid waste without trouble, so a man who knows not to hold in check his desires and affections is in constant danger of blindly following the impulse of his unbridled sensuality, and of being hurried forward to outbreaks of passion, and thus of bringing unhappiness upon himself. There are sensual passions (e.g., drunkenness), intellectual (e.g., ambition), mingled (e.g., revenge); but in all of these a false ego rules, which, instead of being held down by the true and better ego, rises to unbounded supremacy.

(Note: Vid., Drbal's Empirische Psychologie, 137.)

Therefore the expression used is not לנפשׁו, but לרוּחו; desire has its seat in the soul, but in the spirit it grows into passion, which in the root of all its diversities is selfishness (Psychol. p. 199); self-control is accordingly the ruling of the spirit, i.e., the restraining (keeping down) of the false enslaved ego-life by the true and free, and powerful in God Himself.

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