The heart knows its own bitterness, and no stranger shares in its joy.
I. THE ELEMENT OF LONELINESS IN HUMAN LIFE. "The heart knoweth its own bitterness," etc. In one aspect our life path is thronged. It is becoming more and more difficult to be alone. Hours that were once sacred to solitude are now invaded by society. And yet it remains true that "in the central depths of our nature we are alone." There is a point at which, as he goes inward, our nearest neighbour, our most intimate friend, must stop; there is a sanctuary of the soul into which no foot intrudes. It is there where we make our ultimate decision for good or evil; it is there where we experience our truest joys and our profoundest griefs; it is there where we live our truest life. We may so crowd our life with duties and with pleasures that we may reduce to its smallest radius this innermost circle; but some time must we spend there, and the great decisive experiences must we there go through. There we taste our very sweetest satisfactions, and there we bear our very heaviest burdens. And no one but the Father of spirits can enter into that secret place of the soul. So true is it that
"Not e'en the dearest heart, and nearest to our own, Knows half the reasons why we smile or sigh." It is well for us to remember that there is more, both of happiness and of sorrow, than we can see; well, that we may not be overburdened with the weight of the manifold and multiplied evils we are facing; well, that we may realize how strong is the reason that, when our cup of prosperity is full, we may have "the heart at leisure from itself, to soothe and sympathize" with those who, beneath a smiling countenance, may carry a very heavy heart. For we have to consider - II. THE SUPERFICIAL ELEMENT IN MUCH HUMAN GLADNESS. "Even in laughter," etc. A man may smile and smile, and be most melancholy. To wear a smile upon our countenance, or to conclude our sentences with laughter, is often only a mere trick of style, a mere habit of life, cultivated with little difficulty. A true smile, an honest, laugh, that comes not from the lips or from the lungs, but from the heart, is a very acceptable and a very admirable thing. But a false smile and a forced laugh bespeak a double-minded soul and a doubtful character. Surely the angels of God weep almost, as much over the laughter as over the tears of mankind. For beneath its sound they may hear all too much that is hollow and unreal, and not a little that is vain and guilty. But, on the other hand, to smile with the glad and to laugh with the merry is a sympathetic grace not to be despised (Romans 12:15, first clause). III. THE ISSUE OF FALSE SATISFACTIONS. "The end of that mirth is heaviness." How often is heaviness the end of mirth! All enjoyment that does not carry with it the approval of the conscience, all that is disregardful of the Divine Law, all that is a violation of the laws of our physical or our spiritual nature, must end and does end, sooner or later, in heaviness - in depression of spirit, in decline of power. It is a sorry thing for a man to accustom himself to momentary mirth, to present pleasure at the expense of future joy, of well being in later years. LESSONS. 1. Let the necessary solitariness of life lead us to choose the very best friendships we can form; that we may have those who can go far and often with us into the recesses of our spirit, and accompany us, as far as man can, in the larger and deeper experiences of our life. 2. Let the superficiality of much happiness lead us to inquire of ourselves whether we have planted in our soul the deeper roots of joy; those which will survive every test and trial of life, and which will be in us when we have left time and sense altogether behind us. 3. Let the perilous nature of some gratifications impose on us the duty of a wise watchfulness; that we may banish forever from heart and life all injurious delights which "war against the soul," and rob us of our true heritage here and in the heavenly country. - C.
II. THE SUPERFICIAL ELEMENT IN MUCH HUMAN GLADNESS. "Even in laughter," etc. A man may smile and smile, and be most melancholy. To wear a smile upon our countenance, or to conclude our sentences with laughter, is often only a mere trick of style, a mere habit of life, cultivated with little difficulty. A true smile, an honest, laugh, that comes not from the lips or from the lungs, but from the heart, is a very acceptable and a very admirable thing. But a false smile and a forced laugh bespeak a double-minded soul and a doubtful character. Surely the angels of God weep almost, as much over the laughter as over the tears of mankind. For beneath its sound they may hear all too much that is hollow and unreal, and not a little that is vain and guilty. But, on the other hand, to smile with the glad and to laugh with the merry is a sympathetic grace not to be despised (Romans 12:15, first clause).
III. THE ISSUE OF FALSE SATISFACTIONS. "The end of that mirth is heaviness." How often is heaviness the end of mirth! All enjoyment that does not carry with it the approval of the conscience, all that is disregardful of the Divine Law, all that is a violation of the laws of our physical or our spiritual nature, must end and does end, sooner or later, in heaviness - in depression of spirit, in decline of power. It is a sorry thing for a man to accustom himself to momentary mirth, to present pleasure at the expense of future joy, of well being in later years.
1. Let the necessary solitariness of life lead us to choose the very best friendships we can form; that we may have those who can go far and often with us into the recesses of our spirit, and accompany us, as far as man can, in the larger and deeper experiences of our life.
2. Let the superficiality of much happiness lead us to inquire of ourselves whether we have planted in our soul the deeper roots of joy; those which will survive every test and trial of life, and which will be in us when we have left time and sense altogether behind us.
3. Let the perilous nature of some gratifications impose on us the duty of a wise watchfulness; that we may banish forever from heart and life all injurious delights which "war against the soul," and rob us of our true heritage here and in the heavenly country. - C.
The heart knoweth his own bitterness; and a stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy.
I. THE HEART KNOWS A BITTERNESS PECULIAR TO ITSELF. This is true in a natural, common, and moral sense. Concerning any man this is true. The shoe pinches on every foot, and that foot alone knows where the pinch is felt. Do not intrude into the hidden sorrows of any. Most solemnly this is true concerning the godless man and concerning the awakened man. When the Holy Spirit begins to convince the man of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment, then "the heart knoweth its own bitterness." And concerning the backslider. And concerning the tried believer. But the singularity of his suffering is the dream of the sufferer. Others have seen affliction too. Know thy sorrow well. And remember that the cure for bitterness of heart is to take it to your Lord at once.
II. THE HEART KNOWS A SWEETNESS WHICH IS ALL ITS OWN.
1. The joy of pardoned sin.
2. The bliss of vanquished evil.
3. The joy of perfect reconciliation with God.
4. The joy of accepted service.
5. The joy of answered prayer.
6. The joy of peace in the time of trouble.
7. The joy of communion with God.
( C. H. Spurgeon.)
1. A man's own mind of temper — a man's personal character. Every man is more connected with himself than with any external object. He is constantly a companion to himself in his own thoughts; and what he meets with there must, of all things, contribute most to his happiness or his disquiet. A good conscience, and good temper, prepare, even in the midst of poverty, a continual feast. How sadly the scene is reversed if a man's temper, instead of calmness and self-enjoyment, shall yield him nothing but disquiet and painful agitation. The wounds which the spirit suffers are owing chiefly to three causes: to folly, to passion, or to guilt. The external misfortunes of life, disappointments, poverty, and sickness are nothing in comparison of those inward distresses of mind occasioned by folly, by passion, and by guilt.
2. The connection in which a man stands with some of his fellow-creatures — a man's social feelings. Such causes of sorrow or joy are of an external nature. Having connected us in society by many ties, it is the decree of the Creator that these ties should prove, both during their subsistence and in their dissolution, causes of pleasure or pain immediately, and often deeply affecting the human heart. The most material circumstances of trouble or felicity, next to the state of our own mind and temper, are the sensations and affections which arise from the connections we have from others.The practical improvement to which this doctrine leads:
1. Let it serve to moderate our passion for riches and high situations in the world. It is well known that the eager pursuit of these is the chief incentive to the crimes that fill the world. Then contemplate these things with an impartial eye.
2. Let these observations correct our mistakes, and check our complaints, concerning a supposed promiscuous distribution of happiness in this world. The charge of injustice brought against Providence rests entirely on this ground, that the happiness and misery of men may be estimated by the degree of their external prosperity. This is the delusion under which the multitude have always laboured, but which a just consideration of the invisible springs of happiness that affect the heart is sufficient to correct. Judge not of the real condition of men from what floats merely on the surface of their state.
3. Let us turn our attention to those internal sources of happiness or misery on which so much depends. What is amiss or disordered within, in consequence of folly, passion, or guilt, may be rectified by due care under the assistance of Divine grace.
4. Let us frequently look up to Him who made the human heart, and implore His assistance in the regulation and government of it. The employments of devotion themselves form one of the most powerful means of composing and tranquillising the heart. Devotion opens a sanctuary to which they whose hearts have been most deeply wounded can always fly.
(Hugh Blair, D.D.)
1. If God is thus near to us, nearer than the closest and most intimate friend can be, we ought to feel His nearness, and bear about with us the constant sense of it.
2. If our hearts are in a great measure shut out from our fellow-man, and open only to God, it is in His sympathy that we should seek our happiness.
II. THERE IS A CLASS OF MEN WHO MIGHT SUCCEED BETTER IN PROCURING THE SYMPATHY OF THE WORLD COULD THEY BUT TELL THE CAUSE OF THEIR SORROW. Disappointments in a long train have fallen upon the man's head, and the manliness of his spirit is subdued, and he surrenders himself a willing subject to peevishness and despair. Ambition defeated may fret and chagrin the aspiring mind. Affection slighted gives a deep and incurable wound to the man of a feeling heart.
III. THE MAN WHO SECRETLY GRIEVES FOR THE TREACHERY OF A FRIEND HAS EVEN A MORE SERIOUS CLAIM UPON OUR SYMPATHY. Such a man is sure to say, "My bitterness shall be known only to my own heart."
IV. DOMESTIC SOURCES OF DISQUETUDE. These, from motives of delicacy, are secreted from the notice and sympathy of the world.
V. CASES OF PERSONS WHO HAVE CHANGED THEIR STATION IN LIFE, AND CANNOT FIT TO THEIR NEW CONDITIONS. As in imperfectly assorted marriages. What misery is experienced which must be kept in reserve.
VI. THE MAN WHO CARRIES GRIEF IN HIS BOSOM ON ACCOUNT OF CONSCIOUS IMPERFECTION AND INCONSISTENCY OF CHARACTER. He has often resolved upon reformation, made strenuous efforts against temptations, but has failed and relapsed again under the bondage of sin. This has occasioned miserable agitation and perplexity of soul. He mourns in secret that he is not such as his own resolutions prescribe, and the world around him believes him to be. To all earnest persons it is a matter of deep concern to find that a great proportion of secret sorrow falls to the share of those who are most useful, and deserve best from society.
(T. Somerville, D.D.)
Homilist.Though men live in towns and cities, and in social gatherings, each man is a world to himself. He is as distinct, even from him who is in closest material or mental contact with him, as one orb of heaven is from another.
I. THE HEART HAS HIDDEN DEPTHS OF SORROW. There is bitterness in every heart.
1. There is the bitterness of disappointed love.
2. There is the bitterness of social bereavement — Rachels weeping for their lost children, and Davids for their Absaloms.
3. There is the bitterness of moral remorse. All this is hidden where it is the most deep.The deepest sorrow in the human heart is hidden from others from three causes.
1. The insulating tendency of deep grief. Deep sorrow withdraws from society and seeks some Gethsemane of solitude.
2. The concealing instinct of deep grief. Men parade little sorrows, but conceal great ones. Deep sorrows are mute.
3. The incapacity of one soul to sound the depths of another. There is such a peculiarity in the constitution and circumstances of each soul that one can never fully understand another.
II. THE HEART HAS HIDDEN DEPTHS OF JOY. "A stranger doth not intermeddle with his joy." Though joy is less self-concealing than sorrow, yet it has depths unknown to any but its possessor and its God. The joy that rushed into Abraham's heart when Isaac descended with him from the altar on Moriah; the joy of the father when he pressed his prodigal son to his bosom; the joy of the widow of Nain when her only son raised himself from the bier, and returned to gladden her lowly home; the joy of the broken-hearted woman when she heard Christ say, "Thy sins are all forgiven thee"; such joy has depths that no outward eye could penetrate. The joy of the true Christian is indeed a joy "unspeakable and full of glory." This subject furnishes an argument —
1. For candour amongst men.
2. For piety towards God.Though men know us not, God does.
I. THE NATURE OF THE CHRISTIAN'S BITTERNESS OF HEART. It is hazardous to represent the Christian life as a scene of constant sunshine and unaltered joy. This has occasioned much uneasiness and disappointment. The heart that is right with God has much anxiety, disquiet, and sorrow. These are dependent on disposition and temperament.
II. THE SOURCES OF SUCH INWARD SORROW AND DISTRESS.
1. The secret consciousness of guilt.
2. The general infirmity of our intellectual and moral constitution. For instance, that depression of animal spirits to which some of the most regularly constituted minds are often most subject, and which no intellectual energy is at times able to dissipate or surmount.
3. Fears of shortcoming are sometimes the result of that increased spirituality of mind which marks the progress of the Divine life. Whatever be the attainments of the Christian, he has often hours of heaviness and alarm, and is troubled with distressing apprehensions respecting the safety of his state before God. This feeling must, of course, be greatly modified by the temper and circumstances of the believer, and in different individuals may arise from different causes.
(John Johnston.)1. There is a bitterness and a joy of the heart which may be called more peculiarly its own, because it arises from the temper of the mind, which gives its own tone to circumstances and things in themselves indifferent. There is a marked contrast between the minds of different individuals. Every day is full of events which receive the character of good or evil from the mind of the individual related to them. Then, since so much depends on the cultivation of the mind and heart, let this be your chief concern.
2. The heart alone is conscious of its own feelings. Happiness and misery have no existence but in the conscious breast, and they are in a great measure confined to it. There are some sensations which the heart never attempts to express. There are some which it is our wish and endeavour to express. But how faint is the impression which we can convey to other minds of what is passing in our own. There is but one Being beside ourselves who knows our heart in the joys and sorrows of life. There is but one Being who can enter into our feelings amid the bitterness and joy of death. There is but one Being who can be all in all to our souls, in the changes and chances of this mortal life, and amid the unchanging glories of eternity: "Acquaint thyself with Him; and be at peace."
I. THE IMPERFECT ESTIMATE WHICH WE FORM OF THE REAL STATE OF THE WORLD. One half the world knows not how the other half lives, and certainly one half has no idea of what the other half feels. All have their calamities and sorrows, so that no man has any real occasion for envying his brother. Our afflictions may be divided into those which we suffer from the cruelty of others, those which arise from our own guilt, and those with which Providence, in the general course of His dealings, visits all of us in our turn.
II. THE SIN OF THOSE WHO TRIFLE WITH THE FEELINGS OF AN AFFLICTED HEART. Illustrate from the child who has brought distress on loving parents; the seducer of innocence; the slanderer and tale-bearer.
III. THOSE SORROWS WHICH ARISE FROM A SENSE OF OUR STATE TOWARDS GOD. We live, it is true, in a world of much infidelity and sin, but there are many who have accepted the everlasting gospel as the power of God unto salvation. It must have opened on them a very awful view of the things of this life; and when conscience, awakening them to think upon their duty, points to that holy book from which we shall be judged, they can scarcely fail of looking on their life with terror and dismay.
IV. THE SORROW ARISING FROM THE ORDINARY VISITATIONS OF PROVIDENCE. But our religion carries consolation with its sorrows. This comes from the belief in the Omniscience of God; in the grace of God; in the promise of remission of sins; in the assurance of a general resurrection.
(G. Mathew, M.A.)
1. Among the mental dispositions which prevail with the sufferer to smother his secret pangs and bitternesses from public inspection, the first is pride, whether of a pardonable or an improper description. Timidity is not less solicitous than pride to wrap up its griefs from general observation. Prudence and a sense of duty exert a similar influence.
2. When the circumstances of a sufferer are outward and visible, his perception of his calamity may be far more acute than the common observer surmises. And the heart of a man may be wrung with an unusual bitterness in consequence of its unusually delicate sense of religious and moral obligation.Practical improvements:
1. The survey delivers a lecture on resignation and contentment and disproves the notion that there is actually any large inequality in the Divine distribution of good and evil among mankind.
2. The subject suggests an instructive lesson of mutual sympathy and kindness in all the varieties of outward condition. There never has breathed yet one individual in the full enjoyment of pure, unalloyed happiness.
3. Take care that the common and unavoidable uneasiness shall not be aggravated by that self-dissatisfaction which arises from wilful disobedience.
4. Remember that we are passing on to a fairer and more faultless condition of being, where the souls of the pious and penitent shall have their capacity for enjoyment filled up to the brim.
(J. Grant, M.A.)I. THE BELIEVER'S SORROWS. There are sorrows common to believers and to unbelievers. There are some peculiar to the renewed man. Those are the most alive to sin who are most free from sin. A strong sense of sin is one of the characteristics of the real man of God. Believers are also at times unable to receive the promises. When comfort is offered they cannot avail themselves of it. Sometimes there is great spiritual depression under a sense of the withdrawal of God's favour. But there is nothing more dangerous than to leave the soul in this state of bitterness of heart.
II. THE BELIEVER'S JOYS. What is it in which he finds joy?
1. From the joyful sound of the everlasting gospel.
2. The joy of pardoning grace applied to the soul.
3. The fulness of Divine grace.
4. Communion with God.
(H. M. Villiers, M.A.)
(R. F. Horton, D.D.)
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