Proverbs 13:4, 7, 8, 11
The soul of the sluggard desires, and has nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.
I. THE WORTH OF THIS WORLD'S GOODS IS ASSUMED. It is needless to show that property is a necessary institution of life under present conditions. All the strong things said in the gospel about riches do not dispute their value; it is in the relation of the spirit to them that evil arises. Their value as a means to the ends of the spirit is unquestioned, and everywhere assumed.
II. THE VANITY OF RICHES WITHOUT CORRESPONDING ACTION. Wishes are a great force in our nature (compare Mozley's sermon on the 'Power of Wishes'). Still, they have no practical effect unless they are transformed into will and into exertion of means to an end. It is the very characteristic of the fool that his mind evaporates in wishes; he is always desiring, but never at the pains to get anything. He is always idly expecting something to "turn up." This is a sheer superstition, a sort of clinging to the magical belief that the course of nature can be altered for one's private benefit. The lesson is, of course, equally applicable to higher things. "He would lain go to heaven if a morning dream would carry him there." He wishes to be good, to die the death of the righteous, but, at the same time, to continue in a way of life that can lead neither to the one nor to the other. Hell is paved with good intentions.
III. THE SECRET OF PROSPERITY IS DILIGENCE. Here desire is united with exertion, and it is an almost irresistible combination, as the careers of men who have risen constantly show. To conceive a good thing with such is to desire it; to desire it is to begin at once to work for it. This course must bring "rich satisfaction" - the satisfaction, by no means the least, of the pursuit, and the satisfaction in the end of entire or partial fruition. And so in moral and spiritual progress. We cannot overcome our weaknesses and sins by direct resistance, but we may react upon them by filling the mind with profitable matter of thought. The rich satisfaction depends in every case upon the same law; the personal energies must be aroused, and an object must be aimed at. Satisfaction is the complete joy of the mind in closing with and possessing a worthy and desirable object.
IV. THE CONCEIT OF RICHES IS NOT REAL RICHES. (Ver. 7; comp. Proverbs 12:9.) The saying may he directed against the foolish pride of birth and ostentation without anything real to back it up. It strikes a common vice of modern times - the aim to keep up appearances, and to pass for something greater in position than one really is. The contrasted example teaches the lesson of preferring the substance to the show, of being willing to appear much less than one is. And so in higher matters; take care to be what is sound and good in principle, and the seeming may be left for the most part to take care of itself. No appearances deceive God, and nothing that is real escapes him.
V. THE PRACTICAL SERVICE OF RICHES. (Ver. 8.) They may provide a ransom from captivity, from penal judgment, from the hand of robbers. Their power to procure deliverances from the evils of life is much wider in the present day. The poor man, on the contrary, "listens to no rebuke," i.e. no threats can extort from him what he has not got. He is helpless for want of means. A lesson not often taught from the pulpit, and perhaps not needed for the majority - prudent regard to the possible advantages of money, stimulating to industry in the quest for it. Still, some do need the lesson. And the Bible has no affectation of a false contempt for the means of living. Business men should be encouraged in their pursuit of wealth, and guided in their application of it.
VI. WEALTH ONLY PERMANENT WHEN WELL-GOTTEN. (Ver. 11.) Perhaps the, translation to be preferred is, "Swindled wealth becomes small." Hastily gotten generally means hastily spent. And dishonest gain burns the fingers. How often do we see a feverish passion for spending going hand in hand with unlawful or unhealthy getting! A healthy acquisition of wealth is gradual, and the result of steady industry. Rapid fortune making, or sudden "strokes of luck," are certainly not to be envied in view of the good of the soul.
1. Wealth is a good in itself. When we speak of it as an evil, we are using a certain figure of speech; for the evil is in the false relation of the soul to this as to other earthly objects.
2. In the desires that relate to wealth, their proper control and direction, the moral discipline probably of the majority must ever lie.
3. Safety is to be found in the religious habit, which sees in earthly objects good only as they can be connected with that which is beyond themselves, and is Divine and eternal. - J.
Parallel VersesKJV: The soul of the sluggard desireth, and hath nothing: but the soul of the diligent shall be made fat.