Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding.
I. Solomon himself received wisdom from Divine inspiration. Now no supernatural supply of wisdom can be vouchsafed to us. There is no limit to the moral improvement which God's Spirit may work in our hearts; there is no saying how much kinder, gentler, purer, truer, humbler, better, He may make us. But it is a fact of most assured experience, that not even the Holy Ghost gives to many of the very best of our race the worldly tact, and shrewdness, and long-headedness, which many of the very worst inherited by their birth. It is not that wisdom which Solomon bids us get, but something far different; something far better—longer lasting, and yet within the reach of all.
II. There is worldly wisdom, and there is heavenly wisdom. The first not everyone can have in any shining measure, and it is vain to bid anyone get it. The second all may have. It is choosing things above, because they are best and most enduring. It is ranging one's self in the great battle on God's side, which you do every time you resolutely do right and refuse to do wrong. This better wisdom is of the heart rather than of the head. It lies rather in the moral choice of good and right, than in the mere intellectual discernment of it, however clear. It is seeing with the head what is good, yea, what is best; and then with all the heart choosing that and cleaving to it.
III. This wisdom is a possession which may be "got," as Solomon calls it; got, though we had it not to start with, as mere head wisdom could never be; and is a possession which may be cultivated in a sense in which mere intellectual gifts could never be cultivated. The third Person in the Godhead, the Blessed and Holy Spirit, in sober earnest will help you if you try.
A. K. H. B., Towards the Sunset, p. 45.
Proverbs 4:7I. There must be reality in our knowledge. It must be the real knowledge of real things. We must be sure that we, in the first instance, take it in as accurately as possible. We must not bridge over to ourselves difficulties, whether little or great, or take a leap over them, leaving a part behind us that is not sound or solid.
II. There is no such thing as useless knowledge, and the knowledge of theory is a greater thing than the knowledge of practice; to express it otherwise, the knowledge of principles is beyond, and greater than, and more important than, the doing of things however well without understanding them. However real may be the knowledge that you gain of any number of details, it is only by understanding principles that you can hope to make any use of details which shall advance or strengthen any single good cause.
III. The power to use knowledge must come from something outside the knowledge itself. The mind may be stored with facts, and with true theories and with many a wise observation; but after all it is only by considering, reflecting, observing, that we can turn what we have already acquired to good account for ourselves or for others. Such wisdom is "above and beyond our studies." For it is beyond all that wisdom which is from above, which the Father gives to them that ask Him.
Archbishop Benson, Boy Life: Sundays in Wellington College, p. 19.
I. The world gives the name of wisdom to many higher and lower manifestations of intellectual foresight and practical sense, but Scripture sees in it nothing save one single law of life: "The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; and to depart from evil is understanding."
II. Some one may say, Is any knowledge worth the attainment, save the one knowledge which is wisdom? The answer is, To the true Christian every school will be a school of Christ. On the ample leaf of knowledge, whether it be rich with the secrets of nature or with the spoils of time, we will read no name save the name of God. To seek for knowledge where it is possible is the clear duty of man; to win it is the gift of God. Knowledge apart from wisdom is like a vestibule dissevered from its temple, but it may on the other hand be the worthy vestibule of that sacred shrine. Knowledge is a vain thing only when it is sought out of unworthy motives and applied to selfish ends; but it becomes noble and glorious when it is desired solely for man's benefit and consecrated wholly to God's praise.
F. W. Farrar, The Silence and Voice of God, p. 119.
References: Proverbs 4:7.—J. H. Evans, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. vi., p. 49; J. R. Lumby, Expositor, 2nd series, vol. iii., p. 222. Proverbs 4:8.—C. C. Bartholomew, Sermons Chiefly Practical, p. 169; Homiletic Quarterly, vol. i., p. 248. Proverbs 4:10, Proverbs 4:11.—W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 1st series, p. 161.
Proverbs 4:13We come into the real school-life when we have left school. Duty is twofold: duty to do, duty to endure. We have the tasks of the school to do, and the discipline of the school to bear. And the more honest we are in the first, the braver shall we be for the second.
I. We have duties to perform. Not what you do, but how you do it, is the test. And small things, done as to the Lord and not to men, grow golden and precious with the stamp of honest stewardship. Our manhood is truly developed only as we make life real, and we only make life real in proportion as we take each duty, great or small, and make it great by principle, and sacred because we do it unto God.
II. Nor are these duties of our school-life restricted by the bounds of our activities; they enter into the region of endurance and challenge patience as well as principle; the fortitude which can bear as well as the courage that can achieve. Christianity is tested as much or more by the meekness with which the discipline is borne as by the energy with which the task is done. Not in the romance that wakes the poet's lyre, or the adventure that upstirs a nation's wonder, and the brunt that kindles man's acclaim, is true life only to be shown, and noble guerdon to be won; but in the constancy which carries principle along each quiet path of duty, doing the unnoticed deed for Christ's sake only, carrying the load to the grave's brink through weal or woe in His one name.
A. Mursell, Catholic Sermons, vol. ii., p. 25.
References: Proverbs 4:13.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxiv., No. 1418; W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 1st series, p. 163.
Proverbs 4:14-15One chief cause of the wickedness which is everywhere seen in the world—and in which, alas! each of us has more or less his share—is our curiosity to have some fellowship with darkness, some experience of sin, to know what the pleasures of sin are like.
I. This delusion arises from Satan's craft, the father of lies, who knows well that if he can get us once to sin, he can easily make us sin twice and thrice, till at length we are taken captive at his will. He sees that curiosity is man's great and first snare, as it was in Paradise; and he knows if he can but force a way into his heart, by this chief and exciting temptation, those temptations of other kinds which follow in life will easily prevail over us; and on the other hand, that if we resist the beginnings of sin, there is every prospect, through God's grace, that we shall continue in a religious way.
II. "Enter not into the path of the wicked," etc.: (1) Because it is hardly possible to delay our flight, without rendering flight impossible. (2) If we allow evil thoughts to be present to us, we shall make ourselves familiar with them. Our great security against sin lies in being shocked at it. (3) There is another wretched effect of sinning once, which sometimes takes place; not only the sinning that once itself, but being so seduced by it as forthwith to continue in the commission of it ever afterwards, without seeking for arguments to meet our conscience withal! from a mere brutish, headstrong, infatuate greediness after its bad pleasures. (4) It is always the tendency and the end of sinning at length to enslave us to itself.
III. "Watch and pray, lest ye enter into temptation." Heaven and hell are at war for us and against us, yet we trifle and let life go on at random. We treat sin, not as an enemy to be feared, abhorred, and shunned, but as a misfortune and a weakness; we do not pity and shun sinful men, but we enter into their path so far as to keep company with them, and next, being tempted to copy them, we fall almost without an effort. Be not thus deceived and overcome by an evil heart of unbelief. Make up your minds to take God for your portion, and pray to Him for grace to enable you so to do.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. v., p. 208.
References: Proverbs 4:14, Proverbs 4:15.—J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. viii., p. 63. Proverbs 4:14-27.—R. Wardlaw, Lectures on Proverbs, vol. i., p. 138.
Proverbs 4:18To understand somewhat the force of this divinely beautiful sentence, we must call to mind that our condition in this world in the sight of Almighty God is very frequently spoken of as that of travellers on their journey; and our life altogether is represented as a way—a path—a progress. The text is a kind of parable setting before us the thoughts of travellers setting out on a journey very early in the morning, when there is a faint streak of light in the eastern sky; at first quite faint, but by degrees it grows brighter and brighter, till at last the sun rises above the horizon, and the "perfect day" begins.
I. The sincere and humble penitent is comforted by being told that the path of the just is as the glimmering light of the morning dawn; that he has no right at present to expect much light or aid; that if he can be satisfied with that imperfect, and what the world esteems "poor," instruction which the Church Apostolic has ever ventured to give to her penitent children, then by degrees we shall be led on through the strict path of discipline to higher knowledge, and shall, perhaps, enjoy that comfort which, for the present at least, he acknowledges he has no title to.
II. It is a great comfort to the sincerely penitent Christian to be told to go on in his path as having but little light, because he is thereby convinced that he must not venture to trust to himself and his own guidance.
III. It is a comfort to the sincere and reflecting Christian to remember, that at the best we are but in a kind of morning twilight; the wisest of men, whatever he may fancy, sees into the mysteries of Divine truth "but as through a glass darkly," and by reflection, as St. Paul says. To those who here walk by faith, not by sight, is offered the blessed hope and promise beyond the grave of seeing their Saviour face to face, of knowing as they are known, in that perfect day, towards which the path of the just, though here dim and difficult, yet shineth more and more.
IV. There is in this verse a very solemn caution. If our life be not one of habitual improvement, if we are contented to go on month after month, and year after year, much as we used to be, then surely it cannot be affirmed to us that our path is shining more and more towards the perfection of light and holiness; and then surely we have reason to fear that we shall not in the end attain to the resurrection of the just, shall not be numbered with God's saints in glory everlasting.
Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times" vol. ii., p. 141.
References: Proverbs 4:18.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. iii., p. 213; W. M. Statham, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxv., p. 286; J. Irons, Thursday Penny Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 1. Proverbs 4:18, Proverbs 4:19.—W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 1st series, p. 166.
Proverbs 4:23I. The meaning which a reader of the English only would affix to these words, amounts to this—that on the state of the heart depends the character of the man. The issues of life, the various ends at which a man is landed, the total of what he is in principle or feeling, the value at which Omniscience would sum him up—this depends not on external circumstances, but on his heart. Purify, then, and elevate that heart, keep it above all keeping, as a tender plant to be nursed and guarded in an unkindly soil.
II. If we give to these words an interpretation which accords more exactly with the force of the original, they will then mean, that from the heart is the fountain or source of life in the sense of happiness. In this sense the words mean that contentment and happiness in this life depend upon the heart, not upon external circumstances. (1) Observe the difference between the man who is blessed with a cheerful and hopeful heart, and the one who has a desponding and complaining heart—not the heart-sickness only which comes of hope deferred, but the heart-jaundice which turns hope itself into despair. While the cheerful heart can find happiness even under circumstances the most depressing, the complaining heart will turn even the most encouraging into misery. (2) Look at the dependence of happiness on tenderness and kindness of heart. Is it too much to say that the man of hard and cruel heart is in the end far more cruel to himself than he can be to anyone else? In himself he tears out by the roots the plant of happiness and dries up at its very springs the "fountain of life."
III. Let the issues of life, which are said to spring from the heart, be those of eternal life, and then the words will mean, that on the state of the heart depends the salvation of the soul.
A. Blomfield, Sermons in Town and Country, p. 193.
I. Inasmuch as "out of the heart are the issues of life" it is important to keep the reservoir full. It is bad enough to have an empty head, but an empty heart is worse still. For, other things being equal, a man's force in the world is just in proportion to the fulness of his heart.
II. Strive with all diligence to keep the heart pure. A full reservoir is not enough; the water must be clean. If the heart be not pure, you may be certain the thoughts will not be pure, nor the conversation, nor the life.
III. Keep your heart tranquil; seek to have a soul calm and peaceful and at rest. You are all but certain to meet with troubles. Most likely some of you will get sadly knocked about in the world, you will meet with reverses and disappointments, but a heart that is fixed on God can bear all these things with equanimity.
J. Thain Davidson, The City Youth, p. 213.
References: Proverbs 4:23.— Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. iv., No. 179; Plain Sermons by Contributors to "Tracts for the Times," vol. ix., p. 324; E. M. Goulburn, Thoughts on Personal Religion, p. 218; J. Vaughan, Children's Sermons, 1875, p. 205; Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii., p. 191; R. Tuck, Christian World Pulpit, vol. v., p. 132; Forsyth Hamilton, Pulpit Parables, p. 24.
Proverbs 4:24-27First the fountain, then the streams; first the heart and then the life-course. The issues of life are manifold: three of their main channels are mapped out here—the "lips," the "eyes," and the "feet."
I. A froward mouth. The form of the precept, "put it away," reveals the secret of our birth. The evil is there at the first in every one. He who is free of it was born free. When a man would erect a temple to God within his own body the first effort of the builder is to clear the rubbish away. Of the tilings from the heart that need to be put away, the first, in the order of nature, is the froward mouth. Words offer the first and readiest egress for evil.
II. The next outlet from the fountain is by the eyes. The precept is quaint in its cast—"let thine eyes look right on"—and yet its meaning is not difficult. Let the heart's aim be simple and righteous. Both in appearance and in reality let your path be a straightforward one.
III. The last of these issues is by the feet. Ponder, therefore, their path. The best time to ponder any path, is not at the end, nor even at the middle, but at the beginning of it. The right place for weighing the worth of any course is on this side of its beginning. By the word of God paths and actions will be weighed in the judgment. By the word of God, therefore, let paths and actions, great or small, be pondered now.
W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 1st series, p. 171.
Reference: Proverbs 4:24-27.—J. H. Newman, Parochial and Plain Sermons, vol. iii., p. 190.
Proverbs 4:25The rule of life, the comfort of life, the strength of life, the life of life, is, first to have an object, and then to live up to that object steadily and unquestioningly. A distinct, sufficient purpose, and a determined pursuit, give reality to life and make the man.
I. The primary thing, then, is to have an object in life which will be (1) worthy of our being; (2) suited to our character; (3) attractive to our tastes. For if it fail in any one of these three things, it will not long be our goal. To fulfil these three conditions, there can only be four things in which an object can be found—victory, usefulness, eternity, Christ.
II. There are three snares which beset and entangle the feet of a man, who has resolved to live for some great end. (1) Retrospection. Do not look back. Do not look back at past attainments, for they are nothing. Do not look back at old sins, for they are gone. The Christian religion is to cut off the guilty past, and to separate a man from himself, and from his own history. (2) Introspection. Do not look in. A great many people waste a great deal of time to no profit, but rather to much discouragement, and much hindrance to their spiritual advancement, by pulling their own hearts to pieces. (3) Circumspection. Do not look around at circumstances. They are mere accidents. Looking at the waves and listening to the wind, Peter sank. A wrestler must never let his eyes drop. A racer must never look away from the winning-post, nor the ploughman from the end of the furrow, nor the helmsman from his needle's point. Thousands of things are coming and going every day at our sides. But what are they all? They roll on the surface, but they cannot touch the deeper thing below. They dart, meteor-like, but my star is fixed.
J. Vaughan, Sermons, 12th series, p. 117.
References: Proverbs 4:27.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ii., p. 467. Proverbs 5:1-23.—R. Wardlaw, Lectures on Proverbs, vol. i., p. 148. Proverbs 5:8.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. vi., p. 332. Proverbs 5:11.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi., No. 667. Proverbs 5:11-13.—H. W. Beecher, Sermons, 4th series, p. 481. Proverbs 5:15.—W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 1st series, p. 179. Proverbs 5:16.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. vii. p. 191. Proverbs 5:21.—W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 1st series, p. 183. Proverbs 5:22.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvi., No. 915; G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 25. Proverbs 6:1-11.—R. Wardlaw, Lectures on Proverbs, vol. i., p. 159. Proverbs 6:9.—G. Brooks, Outlines of Sermons, p. 63. Proverbs 6:10, Proverbs 6:11.—S. Cox, Expositor, 2nd series, vol. vi., p. 405. Proverbs 6:11.—Preacher's Monthly vol. vii., p. 191. Proverbs 6:16-19.—W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 1st series, p. 188. Proverbs 6:20.—F. Wagstaff, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xvi., p. 332. Proverbs 6:20-24.—W. Arnot, Laws from Heaven, 1st series p. 190. Proverbs 6:22.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xvii., No. 1017; Preacher's Monthly, vol. viii., p. 184.
For I give you good doctrine, forsake ye not my law.
For I was my father's son, tender and only beloved in the sight of my mother.
He taught me also, and said unto me, Let thine heart retain my words: keep my commandments, and live.
Get wisdom, get understanding: forget it not; neither decline from the words of my mouth.
Forsake her not, and she shall preserve thee: love her, and she shall keep thee.
Wisdom is the principal thing; therefore get wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding.
Exalt her, and she shall promote thee: she shall bring thee to honour, when thou dost embrace her.
She shall give to thine head an ornament of grace: a crown of glory shall she deliver to thee.
Hear, O my son, and receive my sayings; and the years of thy life shall be many.
I have taught thee in the way of wisdom; I have led thee in right paths.
When thou goest, thy steps shall not be straitened; and when thou runnest, thou shalt not stumble.
Take fast hold of instruction; let her not go: keep her; for she is thy life.
Enter not into the path of the wicked, and go not in the way of evil men.
Avoid it, pass not by it, turn from it, and pass away.
For they sleep not, except they have done mischief; and their sleep is taken away, unless they cause some to fall.
For they eat the bread of wickedness, and drink the wine of violence.
But the path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
The way of the wicked is as darkness: they know not at what they stumble.
My son, attend to my words; incline thine ear unto my sayings.
Let them not depart from thine eyes; keep them in the midst of thine heart.
For they are life unto those that find them, and health to all their flesh.
Keep thy heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life.
Put away from thee a froward mouth, and perverse lips put far from thee.
Let thine eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look straight before thee.
Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established.
Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.
William Robertson Nicoll's Sermon Bible
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