Discretion will watch over you, and understanding will guard you,
I. THE WAY IN WHICH IT ACTS AS A PRESERVATIVE.
1. By taking up a central place in the consciousness. "When wisdom enters thy heart, and knowledge is dear to thy soul." Not as a stranger or mere guest, but a beloved and confidential intimate. The heart denotes here, as elsewhere, "the centre and organic basis of the collective life of the soul, the seat of sentiment, the starting point of personal self-determination." The soul, as used by Hebrew writers, denotes the entire assemblage of the passive and active principles of the inner life. Delitzsch terms the heart, as used in the Bible, "the birthplace of thought;" and thin is true, because thought springs out of the dim chaos of feeling as the defined crystals from the chemical mixture.
2. By counteractive force. If the inmost thing we know and feel be a sense of right and a sense of God, a pure sentiment and a lofty idea, this must exclude the baser feelings, and displace the images of pleasure and objects of desire which are unlawful and undivine. Them is watch and ward in the fortress of Man-soul against the enemy and the intruder. The "expulsive force of a new affection" operates. It is the occupied heart that alone is temptation proof. "Discretion shall watch over thee, prudence guard thee." The mind, directed to what is without, and feeling for its course among uncertainties, thus appears forearmed against dangers.
II. THE DANGERS FROM WHICH IT PRESERVES. Social dangers. In society lies our field of full moral development, both in sympathy with the good and in antipathy to the evil. Two dangers are particularized.
1. The influence of the bad man. We know men by their talk and by their actions - their habit in both; their "style," their "form," in the expressive language of the day.
(1) His talk is of "froward things," or "perversities" - cunning, crafty, malicious in spirit (ver. 12). Literally it is crooked talk, which is a relative term - the direct opposite of the "straightness" of ver. 9 being meant. Our moral intuitions appear in the mind under the analogy of relations in space, and are thus designated probably in all languages. The right line and the curve or zigzag represent what we feel about good and evil in conduct. The speech of evil insinuation, covert suggestion, bad tone, generally may be meant; or perhaps, rather, guilty topics of conversation. The East is more leisurely in its habits than are we; and the warning has peculiar adaptation to the unfilled hours of an easy life, and which bad talk so often wastes and corrupts.
(2) His habit of life. He forsakes the "straight paths" to walk in "dark ways," such as those alluded to by St. Paul (Romans 13:13; Ephesians 5:11; 1 Thessalonians 5:5). In the like sense that darkness is antipathetic to us, is moral evil (hence its appropriateness as an emblem); we may overcome the feeling partially, but only by doing ourselves a violence. It is a step further in self-perversion to "take pleasure in the execution of evil, and to make merry over wickedness." Human nature demands sympathy; the most depraved cannot do without it or the semblance of it. We are always craving the sight of that which reflects us; hence the sight of evil gives joy to the bad man, the sight of good enrages him. For he is a deformity. His ways are crooked, twisted all his mode of mind and life; a moral deformity. The conscience, armed with the healthy perception of the true, beautiful, and good, sees all this in the bad man, recognizes him for what he is, and so is proof against him. One great lesson of Goethe's 'Faust' is that the tempted man does not see the devil in human shape, because his moral temper has been first unstrung, and so his vision vitiated.
2. The solicitations of the bad woman. The expressions, "strange, foreign" (ver. 16), appear to designate her as the wife of another, an adulteress (comp. Proverbs 6:26; but the sense is disputed). To allegorize the passage is to weaken its force; for the actual dangers of youth are clearly indicated. She is depicted in the strongest light of reality. This is what she is in the view of the inspired conscience.
(1) Her infidelity to her husband and her God (ver. 17). For marriage is a bond, not only between two human beings, but between each and God. Affiance is the glory of womanhood; to break her plighted troth is to wreck all her true charm and beauty. "Companion of her youth" is a beautiful designation of the husband (Jeremiah 3:4; Psalm 55:14).
(2) Her dangerous arts. Oh, what can replace a youth defiled? or what more dangerous influence can there be than that of her whose "hatred is goaded by shame" - hatred against the virtue which confronts to reproach her? Her smooth tongue, flattering her victim with simulated admiration, and with the "hypocrisy of passion," is more deadly than the sword.
(3) Her deadly seductions. Death, the kingdom of the shades, the ghosts who lead, according to the view of the ancient world, a faint and bloodless existence below, is the end of her and the partakers of her sins. To Sheol, to Hades, the bourne whence no traveller returns, the steps of all her visitors tend. Her house seems ever to be tottering over the dark abyss. The truth held in this tragic picture is too obvious to need further illustration. Fatal to health of body, to peace of soul, to the very life itself, is the zymotic disease of lust. To the religious conscience thus the harlot appears; stripped of her paint and finery, her hypocrisy exposed, the poison of her being detected. It is the shadow of a life, and ends in emptiness, darkness, and ghostly gibbering. - J.
I. LET YOUR MIND BE IMPRESSED WITH THIS SENTIMENT, THAT THERE IS SUCH A THING AS RELIGION; AND THAT IT IS OF SERIOUS IMPORTANCE.
Discretion shall preserve thee.
I. ABJECTNESS IS NOT HUMILITY. Depression, abasement, humiliation, by no means exhaust all the commutation of this well-known Christian term. Abjectness and humility may have some features in common. But humility presupposes a soaring spirit. The calm dignity of Christian holiness must rest behind. This lovely grace assists and furthers genuine aspirations. Our Lord made three contributions to the science of ethics, and each of them bore the impress of the Cross — humility, faith, love. These, at least, He lifted into places of high importance. Our Lord places humility in the very front of His teaching. See sermons on the mount and on the plain. There is nothing vain or false in humility. "Humility is the hall-mark of wisdom."
II. THE BEGINNINGS OF HUMILITY MUST BE MADE IN CAREFUL SELF-REPRESSION. We are so much bound up with ourselves that we cannot come to a just and fair estimate of our own affairs without rejecting a vast amount of the suggestions and insinuations that we make to ourselves. Self-abnegation may, in becoming habitual, cast off all consciousness. Repentance must begin with humiliation. There can be no contrition without humility. The difficulty is to get this feeling the permanent posture of the soul. Here we must depend upon the action of conscience. The following are some of the provinces in which we have to exercise self-repression.
1. Good-fortune, successes, advancement, commendation, praise, bring a too satisfied sense of our own exaltation.
2. Success is said to try humility, misfortune to produce it. "We can hardly learn humility and tenderness enough except by suffering."
3. Think of the wrath, quarrels, and resentments which arise from nervous anxiety about ourselves and our position. Bishop Wilson says, "He that is truly humble never thinks himself wronged."
4. Humility often seems persistently to fly away from the intellectual life.
III. HUMILITY REQUIRES US TO FIX OUR ATTENTIONS UPON PEOPLE AND THINGS OUTSIDE OF OURSELVES. This includes a steady posture of reverence. The reverent life confers grace and refinement upon our characters. It constitutes the inextinguishable charm of religion. In the practice of the reverent life we have the conscious cultivation of humility. We move out of self-contemplation and self-pleasing into the higher region of sacrifice, and into the dignity of giving, in offering homage to the Almighty God, and in according attention to other people.
IV. HUMILITY IS REGULATED BY OUR DEPORTMENT TOWARDS TRUTH. True humility is marked by a simplicity of mind from which self is banished. Disorderly introspection is morbid and unwholesome. But humility is difficult to attain. It is scarcely possible until the character is thoroughly settled to avoid an amount of self-consciousness which is inconsistent with real humility. There is indeed much intellectual as well as moral weakness that stands in the way of acquiring humility. Besides the want of the power of concentration, there is generally a lack of imagination. See illustration in our Lord's life of humility with aspiration in it.
1. The lofty aspirations and the soaring aims of our Lord were never laid aside by Him, but they were kept in the background.
2. With what consistency did He repress Himself, and how thoroughly His teaching coincided with His example!
3. He showed reverence towards all. His respect for men is most touching.
4. What self-sacrifice and neglect of self are visible throughout His career! No labour is ever too much for Him. He was always ready at the call of duty. Does the way of humility still seem hard? There, on that hill outside Jerusalem, at the foot of that Cross which is set up towards heaven, drawing all men unto it, we may come to learn what we can learn nowhere else — how to lower our pride, and to foster humility in our souls.
(Edward Miller, M.A.)
(R. Wardlaw,D. D.)
II. ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT RELIGION IS AGREEABLE TO THE NATURE OF GOD. As it is a service which you owe to Him, your ideas of it must correspond with His moral character.
III. TO JUDGE WHAT RELIGION IS, YOU MUST ALWAYS CONSIDER THAT IT IS A RATIONAL THING.
IV. RELIGION MUST BE A WORK SUITED TO THE NATURE AND CONDITION OF MAN.
V. YOU MUST ALWAYS REMEMBER THAT RELIGION IS A BENEVOLENT AND USEFUL THING; AND THAT, WHEREVER IT TAKES PLACE, IT MAKES MEN BETTER THAN THEY WERE BEFORE.
VI. JUDGE OF THINGS DOUBTFUL BY THINGS WHICH ARE PLAIN. VII. IF A MATTER PROPOSED TO YOU, IN A WAY OF INSTRUCTION OR ADVICE, APPEARS DOUBTFUL, SUSPEND YOUR RESOLUTION, UNTIL YOU HAVE MADE FURTHER INQUIRY.
(J. Lathrop, D. D.)
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