See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
Look therefore carefully how ye walk, not as unwise, but as wise. The object to which we are to look is this - how we walk; in other words, the conduct of our life. In regard to this we are to be careful. At cross-roads there are sometimes finger-posts put up to indicate where the different roads lead to, that travelers may be at no loss. By looking carefully at these, they may save themselves much trouble and delay. So it becomes every traveler to eternity to know the road that he is taking, whether it is the narrow or the broad. There are finger-posts put up by God (in the Word) by which we may ascertain this and put ourselves right if we have to our grief taken the wrong road. But, seeing many do not make use of these finger-posts (do not look at them at all, or only carelessly, and thus exhibit great folly), the exhortation takes the negative as well as the positive form. "Not as unwise, but as wise." The word translated "carefully" may also be translated "precisely," and suggests this, that we are not only to look to the general correctness of our conduct, but to look to it down to the smallest details. It is only by thus going carefully over it in detail, with no foregone conclusion in our mind, but earnestly seeking God to search us and to discover to us what can be altered for the better, that we may be able to bring it out into some beauty of conception as a whole. There are two things in regard to which we are to exercise wisdom.
I. TIME. "Redeeming the time, because the days are evil." The right management of our time is what we are particularly to look to. The exhortation is to redeem the time, that is, the time meted out to us on earth, in which to fulfill the Divine purposes. Literally, as given in the margin, we are to buy up the opportunity. The idea is that every moment has its own duty assigned to it. By doing the duty in the moment, we make a purchase of the opportunity, we turn it into a gain. We keep abreast of time; we avoid subsequent collision of duties. Whereas by not doing the duty in the moment, we contract debt, we fall behind. Instead of being the free owners of our time, we become slavish debtors to it. We are to be like merchants that seize every vantage that is going. Merchants, that travel about from place to place, do not get a vantage at every turn. They must lay their account by an amount of fruitless toil. But as heavenly merchants, we are in this enviable position, that every moment comes laden with golden opportunity. And we are to make our moments as they pass rich in all the gains of a good life.
1. Good planning. If we would redeem the time in its days, then we must anticipate them by wise economical arrangements. We must see them coming, and know how (God willing) we are to fill them up. The light that we have got from past days we are to put into some workable scheme for the days to come. To the excellence of a day-plan it is essential that we rightly proportion between the various duties of life (so that none are left out or do not get their proper place). We are to keep up the right proportion between our severer and our lighter engagements. It behooves every one to have a task, a definite task, a task that taxes his energies. And if he does not have it by necessity of procuring his daily bread, yet should he have it by necessity of steadying himself. But it is not good for the bow to be always bent, and, if we manage well, we shall find time (and find it good for the doing of our task too) to relax ourselves in social enjoyment. We are also to keep up the right proportion between our religious and our secular duties. The latter, as a general arrangement, must take up a large proportion of our time. Six to one is the proportion indicated in the command. But in every well-planned life there will be found ample time for religious duties. Every day is to begin with an acknowledgment of God. It may seem utopian to expect morning devotions of one who has to be at his work at six o'clock. And yet it only requires a little taken off sleep or off the previous evening to secure the necessary time for God. And surely that is not too much to expect of any Christian in the interest of a well-ordered life. Morning devotions alone will not make the day good. Only when these have been conscientiously engaged in there will be felt to be an obligation to make the day's work harmonize with them. The evening may be utilized for self-improvement and ministries to others. And the day is to end, as it began, with God. It is only by such planning (in the name of him who is not the author of confusion), that we can expect to be like merchants accumulating a large fortune.
2. Good planning followed up by decisiveness in execution. There is a reason given for redeeming the time: "Because the days are evil." The very earth has taken a complexion from the degeneracy of the dwellers on it. And so our days are evil, and not such as they would have been under normal conditions.
(1) The days are evil because many of them are lost already. We have known the degeneracy of the days in our own experience. We have lost many a good opportunity. This thought should act as a powerful stimulus to us. The apostle gives revenge as the last and crowning fruit of a godly sorrow. "Yea, what revenge!" he says. We are to take revenge upon ourselves that we have given so much of our valuable strength and time to our adversary. The workman knows what it is to make up lost time. When he falls behind with his tale of work, he has to work longer hours or to apply himself with double energy when he is at it. So, because our days have been ill spent in the past (before conversion and after conversion too) are we to work with redoubled energy in the future.
(2) The days are evil because of the many temptations they bring. In our calm moments (sorrowful for the past) we think of spending our time in a certain way that seems good to us. But circumstances are not altogether with us. In a world where evil has obtained such a hold we must lay our account to our being solicited from without more or less urgently to depart from our plan. And what makes the solicitation much to be feared is that we are enfeebled from our past. If we had conquered obstacles as we went along, we should have been in a freer, stronger position today. But we have to drag our antecedents with us, like an old debt. We have undigested time, lying like a burden on our present energies. And though, with repentance and forgiveness, there is a sense of freedom and hope imparted to us, yet there is that which is to be conquered in evil habit. The only way of conquest is to deal rigorously with all interruptions of duty, as they arise, as those who would see the time redeemed, and not its losses added to.
(3) The days are evil because they are few. We have time to make up (in the face of great temptations), and little time to make it up in. Had we a thousand years to live, the case would be altered. That would be a comparatively long period in which to make up what we had lost in thirty or fifty or seventy years. But when the days are evil in this sense, that we cannot calculate on a single day as ours, there is surely urgent reason for making up our losses without delay. Were all the interests of life crowded into one moment, were we told that upon the use we made of that moment depended our future happiness or misery, - how urgently should we be called upon to use it aright! What is actually the arrangement differs little from that. We really live on from moment to moment, not knowing which is to be our last. How wise, then, to seek to make out of every passing moment eternal gain! Inference in which there is a recurrence to the general exhortation and a transition to the second particular. "Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is." The teaching here is that Christ is Lord of our time. He has the sovereign appointment of the time of our coming here and the time of our going hence. All our undertakings are conditioned by this: "If the Lord will." He has sovereign rights over our time. To him we owe the firstfruits of our time, as we owe the firstfruits of our substance. From Christ we get the whole plan of our life. The right management of our time, then, is to understand what the will of the Lord is, what Christ would have us to do. Seeking Christ's mind as to the employment of our time, we may expect that we shall obtain from him the strength necessary to conquer all the obstacles of our time, and to do the work of each day in its day, according as the duty of the day requires.
1. Dissuasive from false excitement. "And be not drunken with wine, wherein is riot." It is evident from the language which is here employed that the wine drunk in those times was intoxicating. The apostolic advice must be regarded as even more applicable to drinks of stronger intoxicating qualities, which are manufactured now. It has its application to the intoxicating cup of the world in every form - to the intoxication of novel-reading, to the intoxication of keenness in business, to the intoxication of political excitement. This advice is not inaptly connected with the previous advice as to the right management of time. For it is when time is not properly filled up, when it is insipid, monotonous, or when it is filled up with wrong-doing, that there is the temptation to go after some form or other of earthly excitement. It cannot be said that the use of wine at all is forbidden by this precept. But there is certainly sounded in connection with it the note of alarm. There is put up beside it the red flag of danger. "Be not drunken with wine." Drunkenness is the feverish desire, the morbid craving, for drink. The man with his noble powers becomes one huge, ever-seeking, never-satisfied appetite. It is a vice into which all classes are in danger of falling. If the idle take to drinking to relieve the tedium of existence, the overwrought take to it to make up exhausted strength. The young take to it from a love of excitement, and the aged and debilitated take to it to get new tone to their system. Men of a coarse nature take to it because they are incapable of higher pleasures, and men of fine sensibility take to it because it is a source of inspiration to the intellect. Men of social tendencies take to it because it helps good fellowship; and the saddest thing is that women take to it in private, because of a peculiarly sensitive frame and inequalities of feeling. It is a vice, then, which must be said to be of a peculiarly fascinating, dangerous nature. And let no one think that he is out of danger. Many of those who have fallen were not like failing at first. They did not take drink at all for a time, and their friends had hope in them that they would prove temperate men. And when (with other social surroundings in some cases) they began to make any use of it, they seemed to be taking it in a perfectly innocent or needful way, until the liking was formed, and they could not do without a certain and an increasing amount of drink. Now, let it be observed on what ground the apostle condemns drunkenness. It is in the line of his thought that we are to exercise wisdom as to our manner of walk. Wherein, he says, is riot. Drunkenness is a madness. There is a form of it to which this description is specially applicable, that which is known as delirium tremens. But even in its ordinary working it has a close resemblance to madness. It takes away from men the guiding power of reason, their self-possession, their self-restraint, and leads them to make such exhibitions of themselves as in their calm moments they would be ashamed of. "Riot," which is the word employed in the Revised translation, is defined by Johnson to be "wild and loose festivity."
"When his headstrong riot hath no curb,
When rage and hot blood are his counselors,
When means and lavish manners meet together."
(1) The word "riot points to the prodigal manner of the drunkard. The drunkard is prodigal of his means.
So senseless of expense
That he will know neither how to maintain it
Nor cease his flow of riot." He spends on self-indulgence what, if saved, would not only increase the comfort of his home, but would do much good besides. The drunkard is prodigal of his time, and thus violates the previous precept. The golden opportunity, which he might employ for informing his mind or instructing his children, he wastes in the public-house. The drunkard is prodigal of the stuff of which his frame is made. He wastes his physical powers, takes away his clearness of head, his steadiness of hand, and his general vigor, induces disease and premature death (again violating the previous precept in throwing away years that in the paths of temperance would have been his). The drunkard is prodigal of his worth to his fellows, as the temperate man is preservative in this respect. When the Indian general saw disaster waiting on his country's arms, because, alas! in an emergency his regiments were found besotted with drink, "Call out Havelock's saints!" he exclaimed; "they are never drunk, and Havelock is always ready." The drunkard is prodigal of his better feelings. He deadens his home feelings. He does not value the society of his wife and children; he does not study their happiness; nay, he can see them want in order that he may be gratified. He deadens his spiritual sensibilities. And to his wife the most dreadful thought may be, not that she is set aside or the children neglected, but that for his idol he is casting off his God.
(2) The word "riot" points to the noisy manner of the drunkard. Men under excitement are naturally demonstrative, and the drunkard is peculiarly noisy (and in that senseless) in his demonstrations. There is the noise of drunken laughter. "As the crackling of thorns under a pot, so ['empty and short-lived'] is the laughter of the fool." There is the noise of drunken songs. There is the song (of its own kind), which goes along with the drinking of wine (Isaiah 24:8). In the convivial song men tell each other vociferously of their freedom from care, of their good-heartedness (though there may be the specters of poverty, of broken hearts, in their homes); or they may go to the lower depth of the indelicate and the profane. But how all such hilarity is out of place! "I will turn," it is said in the Prophet Amos, "your feasts into mourning, and all your songs into lamentation." And there is the echo of this in James: "Be afflicted and mourn and weep, let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to heaviness." There is the noise of drunken brawls. There is often, under the excitement of strong drink, a combativeness in words and a combativeness in acts. "Who hath contentions? who hath babbling? who hath wounds without cause? They that tarry long at the wine." It cannot be said that the apostle gives a decision in favor of total abstinence. He nowhere counsels total abstinence as a duty in itself or in relation to his times. At the same time, he gives no decision adverse to total abstinence. And we know that elsewhere he lays down a principle of expediency which, under certain conditions, makes total abstinence a Christian duty. Many good people think that these conditions exist in our country at the present time. They feel that the evil of intemperance has risen to such a height as to be a national vice (threatening our very position as a nation), and they wish to stand as clear of it as they can. They feel that there are endangered persons in their home, or circle of their acquaintances, or Christian congregation with which they are connected; and they wish to guard them as well as they can. They feel that they are in danger themselves, and they wish to be on their guard. And those who for such reasons as these can sacrifice their gratification are deserving of all honor. Let us see that (in the discouragement of drinking) our influence is duly on the side of temperance, that we are doing nothing to hinder others in their struggle (often painful) towards virtue and happiness.
2. Persuasive to true excitement. "But be filled with the Spirit." The apostle does not forbid all excitement; rather for the excitement which he negatives as false would he substitute a true excitement.
(1) We can be drunken with wine; we are to be filled (never can be drunken) with the Spirit. There is warning connected with the use of wine, but there is no warning connected with the reception of the exhilarating influences of the Spirit. Our appetite is encouraged here: "Be filled with the Spirit." We can never be too much abandoned to spiritual appetite; it can never grow in us to dangerous strength. In our carnality we know too little of what it is to be joyfully excited in our highest nature. Cowper tells us how he must have died with joy it special strength had not been given him to bear the Divine disclosures. And Jonathan Edwards tells how he felt as though rapt and swallowed up in God. Doubtless such a state (so far ordinary) was the foundation for the supernatural communications which John received in Patmos. Let it not be thought that this is too high. There must be something of this pure excitement experienced in us, if we would be cured of love for false excitement. We do not despise other cures; but this is the best cure for drunkenness, this is the all-effectual positive which we are to put in its place.
(2) The manifestations of excitement from wine are unseemly; the manifestations of excitement from the Spirit are pure and lovely.
(a) Singing. It is known how to take advantage of harmonious sound in encouraging men to go into battle in "the shrill trump, the spirit-stirring drum, the ear-piercing fife." It is also known how to use it as an auxiliary in the service of superstition, revelry, and vice. And God, in his infinite wisdom, has seen fit to make use of the same instrumentality. In the old Jewish temple four thousand Levites, an entire fourth division of them, were employed in connection with the service of praise. God has inspired and enabled men to write psalms and hymns for the sanctuary; and he has also enabled men to compose suitable music for them. The singing of musical words, with or without an instrumental accompaniment, has a wonderful power in stirring emotion, in waking sweet and glad memories, and even in exciting the imagination in a certain vagueness and immensity which belongs to the sounds. As in a sea-shell pressed to the ear we are said to hear the sound of the ocean from which it has come, So in the sweet strains of music may we hear a sounding as from the eternal shores.
"Thou, Lord, art the Father of music:
Sweet sounds are a whisper from thee." In an elevated mood (as here supposed) we naturally give expression to our feelings in song. "Is any cheerful? let him sing praise." (α) Singing together. "Speaking one to another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs." Men, under the excitement of the Spirit, delight to sing spiritual songs (as distinguished from the songs of the drunkard). Under this come the psalms in their grand historic position. And there also come hymns, that is, songs other than the psalms, which are used in praise. We are to speak one to another by means of these. Pliny records of the early Christians that they were wont on a fixed day to meet before daylight (to avoid persecution), and to recite a hymn among themselves by turns to Christ as to God. Luther greatly advanced the cause of the Reformation by his hymns, which were sung at the firesides of the people. How we can thus breathe the spirit of confidence, of courage, of hope, into one another! Having encouraged ourselves in the Rock of our strength, we turn and thus speak to our fellow-worshippers, one to the rest, or one section to another -
"Ye people, place your confidence
In him continually;
Before him pour ye out your heart:
God is our Refuge high." (β) Singing with the heart. "Singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord." Singing together can only occupy a small proportion of our time. But in our other engagements we may be so full of trust, so free from care, that we sing with the heart. And the song that we sing all day is set to the Name of Christ, to the work of redemption.
"There are in this low stunning tide
Of human care and crime,
With whom the melodies abide Of the everlasting chime;
Who carry music in their heart
Through dusky lane and wrangling mart,
Plying their daily task with busier feet
Because their secret souls a holy strain repeat?"
(b) Thanksgiving. "Giving thanks always for all things, in the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ to God, even the Father." This is another beautiful manifestation of spiritual excitement. In our higher moods we naturally turn to God in joyful gratitude. Thanksgiving (to which the drunkard must be a stranger, for he abuses his mercies), like song, is to run like a golden thread through the whole of our life. In the depths of our heart we can be always thankful, though the language of thankfulness cannot be always on our lips. We have to thank God that a joyful thrill of the Spirit can pass through our being, better than of wine. We have to thank God for innumerable mercies.
"New mercies each returning day
Hover around us while we pray;
New perils past, new sins forgiven,
New thoughts of God, new hopes of heaven." We have to thank God even for our afflictions, which are blessings in disguise; for though, in so far as they are evil, we are to be reconciled to them, yet we have to thank God for that which is good in them, viz. the merciful design, the accompanying comfort, the resulting benefit. And as we receive all only through Christ, so we are to give thanks to the Father in the Name of Christ.
(c) Subjection. "Subjecting yourselves one to another in the fear of Christ." It seems strange that this should be mentioned as one of the manifestations of spiritual elevation. We can only think of it in this way. As men under the excitement of wine are apt to be self-assertive, heady, so under the excitement of the Spirit we have such a fund of joy in ourselves that we are content to fall into every position of subjection in which God would place us. The particulars of this subjection follow; it here only concerns us to note the peculiar feeling which is associated with it, viz. the fear of Christ. We know that from all the joy of his first visit as a youth to the temple, the joy of his being there about his Father's business, he could go down and be subject to his parents. And we know that, amid all the rapture of the transfiguration, he could yet think of subjection to the Father's will in his decease. As, then, we reverence Christ and fear to offend him, let us (with all that we experience of the higher excitement) be subject one to another. - R.F.
Parallel VersesKJV: See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,