If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.
1. It may have often struck you, as a very surprising feature in God's dealings with this earth, that though He has abundantly stored it with all the necessaries and comforts of civilized life, He has left both the discovery and employment of such materials dependent upon human industry and human ingenuity. The very metal mentioned in the text, to deprive the world of which would be to produce starvation, and which with mighty toil is wrung from the bowels of the earth, underwent many curious and necessary processes ere it came to the husbandman in the form of a plough. God no more directed men where to find, than how to prepare the iron. tie only furnished them with faculties to discover the substance, and placed them in circumstances favourable to their development. Each man was left to his own ingenuity and industry; and after having experienced the benefit of these discoveries themselves, they naturally communicated them to others. And how marvellously has discovery gone on from age to age! how have new properties been discovered, new errors been exploded, new theories established! But with all our admiration, which the boundless stores thus laid open to us are calculated to exercise, there does seem room for something of surprise that God should have allowed a vast amount of the most beneficial productions to be brought to light, not merely by patient investigation but entirely by accident, so that the world has long been actually ignorant of many blessings which lay within its reach. This has been singularly the case with medicines. You might have expected that, having made so merciful provision for the alleviation of human pain, God would not have left the world so long ignorant of the existence of such antidotes and remedies. Yet it is very observable how close an analogy there is between God's dealings in this respect, and those which relate to the scheme of salvation; for many ages God did not guide men, at least only a few, to the fountain open for sin and for uncleanness, and even now how many of the great mass of our race are kept in ignorance of the balm that is in Gilead. We may be sure there are some very wise ends, though not discoverable by us, subserved by this protracted concealment. And we cannot but observe a display of wisdom and benevolence in the arrangement by which our world has been peopled, by no moans inferior to that which furnished us with the treasures of the earth. If thousands of our race had been called into existence before science had been discovered, and the arts been invented, what could have resulted but universal wretchedness, inasmuch as every individual must have struggled with the ground for a disastrous subsistence, and have perpetually devoted himself to the warding off starvation! A beautiful thing in the present economy is that the labour of one man raises a sufficiency for numbers, and thus others devote themselves to various pursuit, and bring about the spectacle of a stirring and well-ordered community. But this is owing to the fact that the husbandman had the implements with which to work, whose manufacture is not to be procured and effected without much toil and thought and time. Man has not been left merely to his animal strength, but having been taught, as it were, not only to use the iron, but also to "whet its edge," he is enabled to accomplish single-handed what, on any other supposition, must have required the joint energies of a multitude of his kind. And as it was God's beneficent purpose to throw man, as it were, on his own industry and ingenuity, must we not always admit the goodness as well as the mercy of the appointment, through which it was ordered that there should be no excessive pressure on our race, but that we have been afforded time to advance in knowledge, equivalent to the increase and necessities of population? We have now taken a general view of the text, and one, we think, which has enabled us to survey Divine providence under a very interesting aspect. We will now bring before you more precise illustration of the passage, but still under such views as may best excite you to the observing the benevolence of God. It is a property, or we might rather say an infirmity of man, that he cannot give himself to incessant labour, whether it be bodily or mental, but what it soon causes him to seek relaxation and repose. The iron will grow blunt, if used a certain time; and if a man will then go on persevering in the using it, he must be prepared to the putting to more strength, which will certainly ere long bring about a total prostration, But if wisdom directeth him, so that he daily whet the edge by some lawful recreation, he may by God's help be enabled for a long time to retain both his strength and his usefulness. And however it may be in general, there is far more cause for fear that men will be too inert rather than too active, though cases of a contrary nature frequently occur, in which the caution most needed is, that they always "whet the edge." The proverbial saying which one so commonly hears, and which involves a great fallacy, "Better wear than rust," would almost seem to contradict the great principle of our text; just as though it were necessary that iron should rust out, if it is not rapidly worn out, whereas the truth is, that though by putting to more strength, the iron will be worn out, it will not be rusted out through whetting the edge, seeing that the whetting of the edge brightens what it sharpens And it is melancholy to think of what frequently happens in our seminaries of learning, where youths of high promise, of fine powers of imagination, and large capacities for science, sink beneath the pressure of an overtasked mind, working out for themselves an early grave, and depriving the world of the benefit which they might have conferred on it by their literature or their piety, through that constant and incessant use of the iron, and continued neglect of whetting the edge. And it is yet more melancholy to think how many of the ministers of Christ have destroyed themselves by devoting themselves to work with an uncalculating ardour. We have, therefore, to derive an important lesson from the text; a lesson, that it is as much our duty to relax when we feel our strength overtasked, as it is to persevere when we feel that strength sufficient.
2. The man who spends his Sabbath religiously, remembering that it is God's day, and therefore to be devoted to God's service, necessarily abstracts his mind from secular cares, and thus allows it to recover that tone and elasticity which must have been greatly injured under one continued uniform pressure. And far more than this; in studying the Scriptures and meditating on heaven, in attending the ministrations of the sanctuary, praying with all fervency of purpose, the man is securing to himself fresh supplies of grace, which may strengthen him for the trials and duties of the week: The iron was blunt, and had he attempted to proceed without interruption in his labour, he must then have put to more strength, and thus have disabled himself for the fulfilment of his duties; but he possesses wisdom, that wisdom which cometh from above, and this taught him to withdraw himself to God, and bidding farewell to earthly concerns, forget time in his anxiety for eternity. He has been brought into contact with heavenly things, and the attrition has sharpened him again for his earthly occupations, so that when "the iron" is brought into use, "its edge" is so powerfully sharp, that what seemed adamantine was divisible, and what seemed inseparable might be cleft.
(H. Melvill, B. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: If the iron be blunt, and he do not whet the edge, then must he put to more strength: but wisdom is profitable to direct.