Proverbs Chapter Two
Promises to those who seek wisdom. (1-9) The advantages of wisdom. (10-22)
Commentary on Proverbs 2:1-9
(Read Proverbs 2:1-9)
Those who earnestly seek heavenly wisdom, will never complain that they have lost their labour; and the freeness of the gift does not do away the necessity of our diligence, John 6:27. Let them seek, and they shall find it; let them ask, and it shall be given them. Observe who are thus favoured. They are the righteous, on whom the image of God is renewed, which consists in righteousness. If we depend upon God, and seek to him for wisdom, he will enable us to keep the paths of judgment.
Commentary on Proverbs 2:10-22
(Read Proverbs 2:10-22)
If we are truly wise, we shall be careful to avoid all evil company and evil practices. When wisdom has dominion over us, then it not only fills the head, but enters into the heart, and will preserve, both against corruptions within and temptations without. The ways of sin are ways of darkness, uncomfortable and unsafe: what fools are those who leave the plain, pleasant, lightsome paths of uprightness, to walk in such ways! They take pleasure in sin; both in committing it, and in seeing others commit it. Every wise man will shun such company. True wisdom will also preserve from those who lead to fleshly lusts, which defile the body, that living temple, and war against the soul. These are evils which excite the sorrow of every serious mind, and cause every reflecting parent to look upon his children with anxiety, lest they should be entangled in such fatal snares. Let the sufferings of others be our warnings. Our Lord Jesus deters from sinful pleasures, by the everlasting torments which follow them. It is very rare that any who are caught in this snare of the devil, recover themselves; so much is the heart hardened, and the mind blinded, by the deceitfulness of this sin. Many think that this caution, besides the literal sense, is to be understood as a caution against idolatry, and subjecting the soul to the body, by seeking any forbidden object. The righteous must leave the earth as well as the wicked; but the earth is a very different thing to them. To the wicked it is all the heaven they ever shall have; to the righteous it is the place of preparation for heaven. And is it all one to us, whether we share with the wicked in the miseries of their latter end, or share those everlasting joys that shall crown believers?
── Matthew Henry《Concise Commentary on Proverbs》
 My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee;
Hide — Lay them up in thy heart with care, as men do their choicest treasures.
 Yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding;
Criest — To God, the only giver of it.
 If thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures;
Seek her — With unwearied diligence and earnest desire and patient expectation.
 He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints.
Path of judgment — Righteous paths, judgment being here put for righteousness. And keeping of paths may be put for keeping them in their paths.
 Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path.
Then — When God in answer to thy desires hath given thee wisdom.
Equity — All the parts of thy duty to man, as well as the fear of God.
 When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul;
When — Thou dost truly love wisdom.
 Who leave the paths of uprightness, to walk in the ways of darkness;
Darkness — Of sin.
 Whose ways are crooked, and they froward in their paths:
Crooked — Who swerve from the straight way of God's law, and have windings and turnings, to escape conviction.
 To deliver thee from the strange woman, even from the stranger which flattereth with her words;
Strange woman — From the adulteress or whore.
 Which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God.
Forsaketh — Her husband whom she took to be her guide and governor, in her youth.
The covenant — The marriage covenant: so called because God is the author of that mutual obligation: and because God is called to be the witness and judge of that solemn promise and covenant.
 For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead.
For — Conversation with her (which was most usual in her own house) is the certain way to death, which it brings many ways, and undoubtedly, without repentance, to God's wrath and the second death.
 That thou mayest walk in the way of good men, and keep the paths of the righteous.
That — This depends upon verse 11, and is mentioned as another happy fruit of wisdom.
── John Wesley《Explanatory Notes on Proverbs》
02 Chapter 2
So that thou incline thine ear unto wisdom.
This is constantly connected with religion. A religious fear of God is the first step in true wisdom. He who would know God aright must love Wisdom and humbly and vigorously seek after her. Wisdom is spoken of as a virtue, as much as truthfulness or charity or sobriety. It is identified with goodness. There is a real, true sense in which wisdom may be put for religion: the God-fearing man is the wise man; without the fear of God it is impossible to call any man truly wise. Taking the lowest view of things, only a selfish view, looking only at what is to be gained, the religious man is a wise man. If the good man proves to have been wrong, he loses nothing in the end, for he has had his own happiness here--peace of mind, a quiet conscience, and good prospects for the future. To take a higher view of the subject. The religious man is concerned with far grander and more exalted things than any other man. The principal attribute of a wise, discerning man is to be able to see things as they really are, to pierce through outside appearances and get at the heart of things, and not be cheated by sham outsides. To do this is a sign of wisdom. The religion of Jesus Christ treats of such mighty concerns that it is impossible to give the name of wise to him who thinks lightly of it. Wisdom is something which must be laboured for; it is not to be sought merely for amusement, but the search is to be the very business of man’s life. (H. Goodwin, M,A.)
The endeavour to obtain true wisdom
The wise man is now come to the top of the ladder which doth bring us to true wisdom. The lowest step was a docile heart (Proverbs 2:1). The next, human instruction (Proverbs 2:2). The next above that, prayer to God (Proverbs 2:3). The last, study and painful endeavour through God’s blessing to obtain it (Proverbs 2:4). We must not lie in a ditch and cry, “God, help!” We must not so trust to our prayers that we give over our endeavours.
I. Heavenly wisdom is of great price.
II. Heavenly wisdom is far remote and hidden from us. It is beyond our invention and beyond our apprehension.
III. We must search for the means of obtaining heavenly wisdom.
IV. We must use the means when we find them. (Francis Taylor.)
The true wisdom
I. The nature of true wisdom. It is different from what the world calls wisdom. Its nature is different; its object and end are different. It is such a knowledge as is connected with the fear of God and obedience to His will. Worldly wisdom may be of use in directing us in those things which concern the present life, but spiritual wisdom will direct us in those things which concern the life to come.
II. The means which are to be used for obtaining wisdom.
III. If the means are used, success will certainly follow. Worldly wisdom is too often connected with pride; spiritual wisdom is always accompanied by humility.
IV. The source to which we must ever ascribe that success. God and God alone is the author of it. The teaching of this passage may be summed up thus--
1. There is a wisdom which man does not naturally possess, yet without which no man can be happy.
2. This wisdom consists not in the depths of science and learning, but in the fear of the Lord.
3. This wisdom is the gift of God.
4. It may be obtained by every one who desires it and diligently seeks for it in the way which God has appointed. (J. S. Pratt, B. C. L.)
Rules for the attainment of wisdom
I. There must be an active, practical habit of attention. Earthly wisdom is gained by study; heavenly wisdom by prayer. Prayer puts the heart under a heavenly tutorage.
II. Prayer must not stand in the stead of diligence. Let it rather give energy to it. The miner’s indefatigable pains, his invincible resolution, his untiring perseverance. The rule of success is: Dig up and down the field, and if the search be discouraging, dig again. The patient industry of perusal and reperusal will open the embosomed treasure. The habit of living in the element of Scripture is invaluable. Yet this profit can only be fully reaped in retirement. To search the Scriptures we must be alone with God. This enriching study gives a purer vein of sound judgment. All fundamental errors and heresies in the Church may be traced to partial and disjointed statements of truth. Truth separated from truth becomes error. But the mind prayerfully occupied in search of Divine truth--“crying and lifting up the voice”--will never fail to discern the two great principles of godliness, the “fear and knowledge of God.” There is no peradventure nor disappointment in this search. Never has apostasy from the faith been connected with a prayerful and diligent study of the Word of God. (C. Bridges.)
The inquiry after Divine truth
I. It must be candid--sincere. It is said of “fools” that they “despise wisdom and instruction.” But the children of Wisdom “receive” her words. They give them what they are entitled to, a serious and deliberate attention. They listen, they remember, they meditate, they examine, they accept, they lay up for use. If you feel the value of your privilege in having the Word of God in your possession, you will attend to the instructions and counsels, the admonitions, the encouragements, the commands which in the Bible are set before you. There are some who refuse to hear at all. This is unreasonable, uncandid, unmanly, and most infatuated. There are some who only seem to hear; the spirit of assentation has in it no sincerity, no heart. When there is sincerity of heart you will “hide with you” the Divine counsels and commands; hide the contents of the Word in the memory, in the understanding, in the conscience, in the heart.
II. It must be earnest. An inquiry determined on gratification, and that spares no pains on its attainment. Divine Wisdom is in earnest in imparting her instructions, and the pupil should be in earnest in seeking her instructions. He who is sensible of his inability to guide himself in the perplexing paths of life will be all solicitude for a conductor, Divine guide who may bring him into the right way and keep him in it.
III. With earnestness must re united importunate perseverance. This is implied in the variety of expressions used in succession to each other. Men discover the value they set on the treasures of this world by their unrelaxing diligence in seeking them. They do not give up the search immediately because they do not immediately succeed. Divine knowledge is fitly compared to treasure. The comparison is natural and common. But how few even of the people of God who profess to have learned the value of this wisdom and knowledge by a happy experience discover the longing, the vehement and persevering research, for the attainment of a larger and larger amount of it which might be expected of them I There is no way in which the Word can “be” in us richly without an eager seeking after it, or “dwell” in us richly without a careful and jealous keeping of it. There are powerful spiritual inducements presented. “Then thou shalt understand the fear of the Lord,” etc. By these terms true religion is expressed. Knowledge of God is the first lesson of heavenly wisdom. On the right apprehension of this lesson all the rest necessarily depends--
“You cannot be right in the rest
Unless you think rightly of Him.”
Wrong views of God will vitiate every other department of your knowledge. The “fear of the Lord,” founded in the knowledge of Him, is something to the right understanding of which experience is indispensable.
IV. The source from which true wisdom is to be obtained. “The Lord giveth wisdom.” In two ways--by His Word and by His Spirit. These two are really one, for God neither gives wisdom by His Word without His Spirit nor by His Spirit without His Word. The word rendered “sound wisdom” is one of general import, signifying anything real, solid, substantial. God has stores of wisdom laid up for present use; He will ever give larger and clearer manifestations of Himself, of His truths, of His ways, and of His will out of His inexhaustible stores, and there is also a treasure of invaluable wisdom and knowledge in reserve for His people in a future and better world. Another promise is safety. “A buckler to them that walk uprightly.” Jehovah is security amidst all the assaults of the enemies of the upright, and especially amidst “the fiery darts of the wicked one,” which, when the shield of Jehovah’s power is interposed, cannot touch him, but fall, quenched and pointless, to the ground. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
The promises of Wisdom
Man must listen to Wisdom if he would be wise; his attitude must be one of attention; he must turn his ear towards the heavens and listen for every whisper that may proceed from the skies, and whilst his ear is listening his heart must be applied with unbroken attention to understanding. Everything depends upon our spirit as to the results of our study in the school of Wisdom. The “crying after knowledge and lifting up the voice for understanding” are equivalent to an exercise in prayer. There must also be activity or energy of the intensest quality. Seeking as for silver is an allusion to mining. The remains of copper mines have been discovered in the peninsula of Sinai and the remains of gold mines in one part of the desert of Egypt. Wisdom does not lie on the surface. It is to be dug for. Searching as for hid treasure reminds of the insecurity of property in the East and its frequent burial. God has purposely hidden both wisdom and understanding in order that the energy of man might be developed in searching for them. Wisdom is hidden in ancient books; in the experience of the whole world; in all difficult places; and is to be sought for with perseverance and zeal; the very act of searching being accompanied by a blessing. The Lord alone can give wisdom. He is the one fountain of wisdom. Elsewhere are partial revelations, broken experiences, hints of meaning, temporary satisfactions, but until we have discovered the Lord, and set Him always before us, we shall be working without a centre. True religion comes before true philosophy. Righteousness of character is necessary to the enjoyment of the treasures of sound wisdom. By “sound wisdom” we are to understand furtherance or advancement. God is evermore on the side of those who are righteous or upright or holy. Wisdom enters into the heart, and thus keeps the whole life pure. Knowledge is not merely an acquisition, it becomes a real pleasure to the soul, and not until it has become such a pleasure are we really in possession of it. Discretion and understanding are represented as the keepers of the soul--its protectors and guides--saving the soul from the way of the evil man, and protecting it from the man who delights in froward things, literally, in the misrepresentation and distortion of the truth. (J. Parker, D.D.)
I. Spiritual excellence described. It is “the fear of the Lord” and the “knowledge of God.” Godliness has to do with both the intellect and the heart. It is knowledge and fear. In true spiritual excellence there is a blending of reverent love and theologic light--such a blending that both become one; the love is light and the light is love. This is not the means to heaven, it is heaven--in all times, circumstances, and worlds
II. Spiritual Excellence attained.
1. By the reception of Divine truth. The receptive faculty must be employed.
2. By the retention of Divine truth. What we receive from the Divine mind we must hold fast.
3. By the search after Divine truth. The ear must be turned away from the sounds of earthly pleasure, the din of worldliness, and the voices of human speculation, and must listen attentively to communications from the spiritual and eternal.
4. The search must be earnest and persevering. By so much as spiritual excellence is more valuable than all worldly treasures should be our ardent, unwearied diligence in quest of it. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Yea, if thou criest after knowledge.
All knowledge is good
No kind of knowledge is to be despised. The bee gathers honey from every flower. What shore so bleak, what moor so barren, what rocks so naked from which we may not carry home some interesting object, in the shape of plant or mineral? So there are no circumstances in which we are placed, or persons, the humblest, with whom we can associate, without learning something we did not know before; something of value which, while interesting, may not one day prove useful, an example of the familiar proverb, “Keep a thing for seven years, and you will find the use of it.” (T. Guthrie, D.D.)
Earnest seeking for virtues
A man has lost a title-deed, or some paper that would decide a suit in his favour rather than against him. And with what alacrity does he search for it! How does he go through the house in quest of it! “My dear, have you seen that roll of paper with a great red seal on it?” “What was it? A newspaper?” “No, no! not a newspaper. I shall lose a suit if I cannot find it. And she searches in every drawer and every trunk, and every closet, and even under the carpets. Both of them search night and day, going over the same place twenty times, saying, “Maybe I did not look thoroughly.” And they cannot give it up. The man almost cries, he wants it so much. He will have it, so much depends upon it. And at last he finds it, and he says, “I would rather have had my house burned than not to have found this paper.” Now, when men search for victorious virtues in their souls as they would search for an important legal document, do you suppose they will be saying, “Perhaps others may be able to live a good Christian life, but I cannot”? You can. And when you want true religion, when your soul hungers for it, you will find it. (H. W. Beecher.)
Seekest her as silver.
Search for hid treasures
Even in Job, the oldest book in the world, we read that the bitter in soul dig for death more earnestly than for hid treasures (Job 3:21). There is not another comparison within the whole compass of human actions so vivid as this. I have heard of diggers actually fainting when they have come even upon a single coin. They become positively frantic, digging all night with desperate earnestness, and continue to work till utterly exhausted. There are, at this hour, hundreds of persons thus engaged all over the country. Not a few spend their last farthing in these ruinous efforts. I heard a respectable man in Sidon declare that if he had been one of those fortunate diggers in the garden he would have killed all the rest and fled with the treasure out of the country. These operations are carried on with the utmost secrecy, accompanied with charms and incantations against the jan and other spirits which are said to keep guard over hid treasures. The belief in the existence of these guards, and of their dangerous character, is just as prevalent now as in the time of the Thousand Nights. Intelligent and respectable people have assured me that they have come upon slabs of stone, closing up doors to secret chambers, which no power on earth could remove, because the proper password or charm is lost. Others soberly assert that they have been driven away by terrible men, who threatened them with instant death if they attempted to force the doors. The secret deposits are always found by accident. (W. M. Thomson, D.D.)
The great life-quest
Wisdom, or the intellectual adoption of good and pious principles, and the practical application of such principles to the ordering of life and conduct and relations, is personified. The writer has dealt with Wisdom’s call to the young, and with her warning to the negligent; now he presents her instructions to those who show a disposition to give heed to her. She addresses those who take a serious view of life. Life is, for every man, full of sublime possibilities. There must be some great life-quest, something that we should live to seek, something that we may hope to win.
I. What does it seem to be? It is called “knowledge,” “understanding,” “wisdom.” The desire to know was never more absorbing. The pursuit of knowledge never seemed more encouraging. Facilities for the search never so abounded. Rewards for those who attain never were so rich. And yet the grave mysteries of life never so thickened and darkened round the human spirit as they do to-day. The pursuit of knowledge can never stop with things, it must concern itself with moral questions. Since the time of Bacon there has grown up an extravagant demand for the sense-verification of everything. Man’s supreme question is: “Good, what is it? Where is it? How can it be attained?” Appeal: You would know as books can teach; as science-leaders can teach; as experience can teach. But none of them, nor all together, will ever satisfy you. You must know as God, and God alone, can teach you.
II. What does it prove to be? The knowledge and fear of God. If a man’s quest be sincere and thoroughly earnest, it leads to that; it cannot rest short of that.
1. A life-quest may not be carried far enough. It may stop at what only seems to be.
2. A life-quest may be turned aside. “Ye did run well, who did hinder you?” Young souls may be attracted aside by worldly pleasure; driven aside by worldly cares; or cast aside by false teachings. “Then shall ye know, if ye follow on to know the Lord.” When you have found what is the chief good for the sons of men, follow it on, through riches, learning, pleasure, still unresting, ever unresting, until the soul is led to the feet of Jesus, and finds in Him the true knowledge and the true fear of God. (Weekly Pulpit.)
Seek, and ye shall find
The matter of this whole passage consists in a command to seek and a promise to bestow. A father speaks, and he speaks to children, lie demands a reasonable service, and promises a rich reward. In the fourfold repetition of the command there seems an order of succession.
I. “receive my words.” Practical instruction begins here. The basis of all religion and morality is the Word of the Lord, taken into the understanding and the heart. The Word of God is a vital seed, but it will not germinate unless it be hidden in a softened, receptive heart. The place and use of providential visitation in the Divine administration of Christ’s kingdom is to break up the way of the Word through the incrustations of worldliness and vanity that encase a human heart, and keep the Word lying hard and dry upon the surface.
II. “incline thine ear.” The entrance of the Word has an immediate effect on the attitude of the mind and the source of the life. The incoming of the Word makes the ear incline to wisdom; and the inclining of the ear to wisdom lets in and lays up greater treasures of the Word. Those who hide the Word in their hearts acquire a habitual bent of mind toward things spiritual. The great obstacle to the power and spread of the gospel lies in the averted attitude of human hearts. A man inclines his ear to those sounds which already his heart desires. To turn the ear to the word of wisdom by an exercise of will, is the very way to innoculate the heart with a love to that word passing the love of earthly things. The ear inclined to Divine wisdom will draw the heart; the heart drawn will incline the ear.
III. “cry after knowledge.” This represents the bent heavenward of the heart at a more advanced stage. The longing for God’s salvation, already begotten in the heart, bursts forth now into an irrepressible cry. Men may be offended with the fervour of an earnest soul, God never. Compression will only increase the strength of the emotion struggling within.
IV. “seek her as silver.” Another and a higher step. The last was the earnest cry; this is the persevering endeavour. Fervent prayer must be tested by persevering pains. “Strive to enter in.” The search of wisdom is compared to another search with which we are more familiar. The zeal of mammon’s worshippers rebukes the servants of the living God. We are invited to take a leaf from the book of the fortune-seeker. Will not the far-reaching plans, and heroic sacrifices, and long-enduring toil of Californian and Australian gold-diggers rise up and condemn us who have tasted and known the grace of God? Two things are required in our search--the right direction and the sufficient impulse. Those who seek thus shall not seek in vain. None fail who seek according to the prescription of the Word, and after the example of the world. (W. Arnot, D.D.)
Meditation in searching
Solomon, speaking of knowledge and understanding, bids us to “search for her as for hidden treasure.” You know jewels do not lie upon the surface of the ground, but they are hid in the receptacles of the earth; you must dig for them before you can enjoy them. Truth is in profundo, and our understandings are dark. He that rides post through a country is never able to make a full description of it; and he that takes but a transitory view of the truths of the gospel will never come to the full knowledge of them. ‘Tis meditation makes them appear to our eye in their beauty and lustre. (H. G. Salter.)
A penetrating search
Some years ago the scientific world was startled by the announcement that far down in the abyss of waters, below the seeming limits of life and light, a new world of animal organisms had existence. Fish and mullusc, sponge and coral were there, though man had vainly imagined no living creature could be found. He had not dredged deep enough. A longer line brought new wonders to light. And so with the Scriptures. They can never be exhausted. It is we who fail to search, and searching, never find. (W. H. Groser.)
Find the knowledge of God.
The benefits of religion
Religion, whether natural or revealed, has always the same beneficial influence on the mind. In youth, in health and prosperity, it awakens feelings of gratitude and sublime love, and purifies at the same time that which it exalts; but it is in misfortune, in sickness, in age, that its effects are more truly and beneficially felt; when submission is cherished in faith and humble trust in the Divine will, when duties become pleasures, undecaying sources of consolation, then it creates powers which were believed to be extinct, and gives a freshness to the mind which was supposed to have passed away for ever, but which is now renovated as an immortal hope. Its influence outlives all earthly enjoyments, and becomes stronger as the organs decay and the frame dissolves; it appears as that evening star of light in the horizon of life which we are sure is to become, in another season, a morning star, and to throw its radiance through the gloom and shadow of death. (Sir Humphrey Davey.)
Knowledge of God the result of revelation
I do not look to the Bible to teach me what I or my successors may some day find out by the use of observations and the inductive faculties; I go to the Bible to learn what I cannot find out for myself. Apart from revelation, what do I know about the world to come, about anything but what I can touch, taste, and handle? What hope have I for the future if I look only to nature? Nature tells me that when I die I shall probably be just like the dog, or horse, or any other animal. “All immortal, none immortal,” she seems to say. Therefore I must get light from revelation. I must even look to revelation for the motives which influence conduct, for personally I am not satisfied with these systems of ethics that are founded on utilitarian motives. I do not see how I can be said to have knowledge of God unless He in some way reveal Himself to me. (Prof. Bonney.)
For the Lord giveth wisdom.
The fountain of wisdom
I. That God is the only fountain of all true wisdom. Men say that the Deity is not the only source of it, but that much of it may be attained by a converse with beings most opposite to Him, even with wicked and reprobate spirits. Such were the oracles and gods of the Gentiles, which the wisest men among them, not excepting Socrates himself, consulted, to learn of them how to set about and manage their most weighty affairs. Their mistake arises from their confounding the notions of wisdom and of craft. A wise man cannot maintain his character without doing always that which is just and right. Nobody shall ever be able to persuade him that an ill thing can be a real benefit, or the part of a wise man or a true friend. A cunning and crafty man lays this down to himself for a general rule, that by all means whatsoever he must gain his point, and come at the end which he aims at. In his pursuit of it he will proceed in the path of righteousness if that leads him most directly and easily to it. But when truth is on the opposite side he first bespatters it with all imaginable defamations, and then strikes at it furiously in the disguise in which he has put it. The difference between the wise and cunning man is this: the wise man studies to be thoroughly and substantially good; the cunning man contents himself with the shadow and appearance of goodness. And this confirms the conclusion that God alone is the fountain of all true wisdom.
II. The only way to draw wisdom out of this fountain is by studying and practising the sacred oracles of God.
1. How does it appear that the books which are called the Word of God contain the precepts of sound wisdom? How can those books which are styled the Divine Word contain such wise directions as lead men to happiness? It is in the power of every man to be happy who governs himself by the directions of the Wold of God, because that teaches him to possess his soul in patience, trusting in God, whose command he obeys, that He will lead him in the right way.
2. Does not this Word of God enjoin men in certain cases to suffer things very grievous to flesh and blood? It does, and yet these proverbs of Solomon, which seldom carry our views beyond this life, do vehemently inculcate upon us a strict adherence to the rules of piety and virtue, as what will most effectually conduce to our present welfare, let the chances and accidents of our condition be what they will. The sacred maxims are most beneficial, both for public government and private life, without respect had to anything hereafter. Let us take the royal preacher’s word for it, that this science of Divine wisdom requires very intense and serious application of mind thoroughly to apprehend it. (W. Reading, M.A.)
Religion and the cultivation of the intellect
It is a serious evil if the best trained minds of the community are either hostile or indifferent to the claims of God. Students are placed in peculiar peril in respect of religion. There is a prevalent notion amongst half-educated people that the highest culture of the mind tends to the destruction of the religious spirit. There is now an antagonism between the school which prides itself upon its rationalism and the school which is equally entrenched in its strong faith. The habits of student life are not altogether helpful to the preservation of religious character. The studies, companions, work, and recreation, often operate injuriously upon the spiritual tone of men. Many, in the course of their study, have lost their faith.
I. Religion in relation to the ends of study. There are specific subjects of study bearing direct relation to a man’s life-work. But the real object of study is to discipline the powers and to strengthen the mind. Study which is intended to increase knowledge and to gather facts begins when student life ceases. The best student is the man who “is” most, not the man who has learned most. The highest ideal of study must be that which secures, or at least aims at securing, thoroughness of discipline and wholeness of view. Perfection, as the harmonious and free working of all parts and powers of the mind, must be the goal to which the student tends. To learn everything is not given to man, but to be his best self in everything which he can be, this is his privilege. It is here that the subject of religion comes to be considered by the student. The nature which he possesses is distinctly religious. If a man does not attend to that faculty whereby he regards God, he neglects that part of himself which is most important and influential. No man can afford to pass lightly by the claims upon him which are put forth by religion. The religious nature must be disciplined and cultured if we are to lay claim to wholeness of being. See the influence which religion has exerted upon our human life and history. Eliminate religion from the story of the world and what is left? Critics charge religion with being a hindrance to human progress. But this is the common logical fallacy of putting the universal in place of the particular. Certain forms of religious polity may have done so, but not religion. Religion has, more than aught else, aided man in his long and weary pilgrimage of progress. Religion cannot be easily set aside by those who are engaged in the cultivation of the mind. All men are dealing with religious topics. The most striking instance is to be found in the modern teachers of science. Scarcely a single man of science of any repute but deals with these all-absorbing points of human thought, and indeed cannot help himself. Religion is human.
II. Religion as an influence of deep and far-reaching power. The student cannot do his work as a common man. Intellectual cultivation is, as a rule, associated with moral refinement. The destruction of entire nature may be seen among students. This is generally preceded by neglect of the religious side of their nature--faith undermined either by the operations of intellectual doubt, or else still more seriously assailed by the numbing influences of sinful habits, but all proceeding in the first instance from the neglect of practical religion, the duties of prayer, and communion with the Unseen.
1. Religion renders the student reverent. Nothing is so unsuitable to the man who desires a cultivated mind as arrogance and self-esteem. All wisdom is humble. Reverence has been the mark of the profound and patient investigators of nature in all ages. Religion and its duties produce reverence.
2. Religion secures inward harmony of the powers. Man cannot gain intellectual vigour when his whole being is torn asunder by conflicting forces. Outward physical quietness is the necessary condition of study. Inward spiritual peace is as necessary, Religion will give this. Coming into proper relation to God, we find everything else in its place. To return to God is to return to the balance of our life. The religious life is only sustained by the knowledge of Him who is the express image of the Father, and the shining ray of the central light of God. Christ’s religion is the religion of intelligence. (Llewelyn D. Bevan, D.D.)
The Lord giveth wisdom
I. As to the excellency of Scripture wisdom; that surely may be accounted such which enlightens the understanding with the noblest and most blessed truth, and directs the will to the choice of the greatest good. And these being truths concerning the first, and best, and most excellent of Beings, are best suited to enlighten and improve, to raise and enlarge, the understanding of a reasonable creature; and being truths which have the fullest and clearest evidence as declared by God Himself, the God of truth, are best suited to satisfy a mind desirous of true knowledge.
II. How, and to what manner of persons, this wisdom of God is given.
1. Now, the manner in which God gives us this wisdom is by His Holy Spirit, the Enlightener and Sanctifier of the Church, by an outward and inward teaching.
2. It remains to be inquired to whom God giveth this heavenly wisdom.
He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous.
Good men and their God
I. The character of good men.
1. They are spoken of as the “righteous.” The moral code of the universe may be reduced to two words: “Be just.” Be just to yourselves, to others, and to God. Virtue, morality, and religion constitute a righteous man.
2. They are spoken of as “walking uprightly.” Goodness in all moral creatures is not stationary, but progressive.
3. They are spoken of as “saints.” They are consecrated to God’s service, set apart to His use; they are the living and imperishable temples of the Holy Ghost.
II. The God of good men.
1. His relation to creation generally. He is the great original, central, exhaustless fountain of intelligence. The “Father of lights”--the light of instinct, reason, genius, conscience. Wherever there is a ray of truth, a beam of intelligence, a gleam of virtue, there is God, and in them He should be recognised and worshipped.
2. His relation to the good in particular. He makes special provision for them. He provides for their instruction. He is their buckler, their shield, and their enemies must strike through Him to injure them. He superintends their career. He vouchsafes their ultimate perfection. (David Thomas, D. D.)
Importance of wisdom
Not more necessary are constant supplies of water to the growth of vegetation in the sultry regions of the East than the influence of Divine truth to the existence of human happiness. If a tree, planted by the margin of a refreshing river, is proof against the heat of the sun or the unfavourableness of the seasons, he also who, into a well-prepared heart, receives continual infusions of religious wisdom, is flourishing and happy amidst all the inconveniences of life. (Bp. Jebb.)
A buckler to them that walk uprightly.
God the safeguard of wisdom
We are ill keepers of our own goodness and wisdom. God therefore is pleased to lay it up for us, and that it may be safe, Himself is the buckler and safeguard of it. But it must be sound and real wisdom and goodness, or else He careth not for it. The word translated “sound wisdom” signifieth essence or being; but it is used also to signify virtue, wisdom, and the law of God, because other things pass away, but they have a durable being--they make the well-being of man, they support the being of all things that are. As a buckler taketh the blows on itself which are directed to another, so God taketh the wrongs done to the righteous as done to Himself, and so doth receive them, as that He taketh away the hurt from His servants. The buckler also shows that they who will live uprightly must strive and fight. Let every one resist the enemy valiantly, for he that resisteth shall have an unwearied helper, and triumphing shall not want a bountiful rewarder. God will defend and preserve those that walk uprightly from falling into errors in seeking for wisdom. It is from God, by fearing Him, that wisdom is obtained, and that wisdom so obtained is alone sound wisdom. The paths of judgment God will keep for Himself, the ways of holiness He will preserve for His saints; and He preserving the ways of holiness, the ways will preserve them that walk in them. The words may, however, mean, He will so keep judgment that He will preserve mercy; He will so preserve mercy that He will keep judgment. The ways cross not so much in themselves but that they can meet in Him. Note that they are but paths, narrow paths of judgment, which the Lord keepeth, but it is a broad way of mercy which He preserveth. The force of Proverbs 2:8 is that God, who is Himself exact righteousness, guideth His servants in the ways of righteousness. The word “understanding“ may seem to be derived from standing, according as the Greek word also hath its derivation. Clemens Alexandrinus giveth the reason of the derivation, because understanding doth stay and settle the mind, which, before being unresolved, was carried hither and thither. But though this be true of a natural understanding, yet a spiritual understanding doth rather consist in walking the paths that lead from earthly things to heavenly. To understand righteousness is from a civil righteousness to walk to a religious righteousness. (M. Jermin.)
Discretion shall preserve thee.
This is the first sought and last won of the Christian graces. Such are the difficulties in the acquisition of humility that it is but seldom really found. It is a common want of the present day. See the ordinary courtesy of modern society. See the special snare in intellectual careers. In both of these provinces of life especial discouragement has been given during the recent period to the growth in us of true humility.
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.)
The negative beneficial influence of religion
There is an important distinction between the understanding of the meaning of Divine discoveries and the perception of their excellence and truth. Knowledge in Scripture, with which salvation is connected, includes the latter. The knowledge of anything means the knowledge of its real and distinctive properties. The apostle speaks of “spiritual discernment.” “Discretion” and, “understanding” in this connection mean self-jealousy arising from self-knowledge. The knowledge of ourselves includes the knowledge, theoretical and experimental, of the unlimited deceitfulness of our own hearts. And this, connected with a right knowledge of the sources of temptation as they exist in such abundance and variety around us, will inspire and maintain discretion. He will “watch unto prayer,” and not merely trust to his own discretion. Diffidence of self and confidence in God constitute the discretion of the spiritual man. The two sources of temptation for youth are wicked men and wicked women. The “evil man” speaketh froward things, i.e., words of perverse rebellion, of a spirit stubborn, refractory, scornful, self-willed. These work seductively on youthful minds of a particular temperament; especially on those who have a craze for independence. The “evil man’s” ways are crooked ways, changing from purpose at wayward inclination. The “strange woman” represents all seducers to immorality and sensual indulgences, and such have a special influence on youth. (R. Wardlaw,D. D.)
The youth assisted in forming his religious sentiments
I. Let your mind be impressed with this sentiment, that there is such a thing as religion; and that it is of serious importance.
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.)
To deliver thee from the way of the evil man.
Wickedness and wisdom, the bane and the antidote
I. A terrible description of wicked persons.
1. Their character. Their speech is corrupt. Their habit is corrupt. Their heart is corrupt. Their influence is corrupt.
2. Their peril. The spell of lust palsies the grasp of her victims. Everything dies under the influence of wickedness--self- respect, spiritual sensibility, mental freedom, the freshness, the vigour, and the beauty of life.
3. Their doom. They are rooted out from the esteem of the good, from the sphere of improvement, from the realm of mercy, and from the domain of hope.
II. The antidote. Wickedness is terribly powerful, but wisdom is mightier. Its mightiness in man, however, depends upon its right reception.
1. Wisdom guards the innocent. The way to keep out evil is to fill the soul with goodness.
2. It delivers the fallen. Heavenly wisdom in the soul is the only soul-redemptive force.
3. It guides the redeemed. Like the star to the mariner, it this wisdom shine within us it will guide us safely over the voyage of life. (David Thomas, D.D.)
The influence of associates
The tree frog acquires the colour of whatever it adheres to for a short time. If it be found on the oak, it is a brown colour; on the sycamore or cedar, he is of a whitish brown colour; but when found on the growing corn, he is sure to be green. Just so it is with young men. Their companions tell us what their characters are; if they associate with the vulgar, the licentious, and the profane, then their hearts are already stained with their guilt and shame, and they will themselves become alike vicious. Our moral and physical laws show how important it is to have proper associations of every kind, especially in youth. How dangerous it is to gaze on a picture or scene that pollutes the imagination or blunts the moral perceptions, or has a tendency to deaden a sense of our duty to God and man! (Christian Treasury.)
From the man that speaketh froward things.--
This is a word which occurs more than once in these verses, and which occurs frequently throughout this book, and whereof I have not met with an exactly defined signification. Some understand by it peevishness or perverseness. Were I to consult its etymology I should rather conceive that it was “fromward”; and so, impetuous, headstrong, acting on the impulse of whatever feeling is uppermost in the mind, unrestrained by calculation or conscience, and the opposite, therefore, of discretion. In Proverbs 2:12 I should render the word by “unfaithful”; in Proverbs 2:14, by “perverse”; in Proverbs 3:32, by “unlawful,” or “transgressor of the law.” But it is not easy to gather the precise meaning of the word “froward,” as the original words for it are various. (T. Chalmers, D. D.)
Verses 13. To walk in the ways of darkness.--
Perils in the deep
Here an arm of the sea of life is spread out before us, and we are led to an eminence whence we may behold its raging. We must, one by one, go down into these great waters. We see many of our comrades sinking beneath the surge. It is good to count the number, and measure the height of these ranks of raging waves, that we may be induced to hold faster by the anchor of the soul, which is sure and steadfast. The dangers are delineated in exact order.
I. “the way of evil.” Whether they be persons or principles the word does not expressly say. The way of the evil is the way which Satan trod, and by which all his servants follow.
II. “the man that speaketh froward things.” He is one of the foremost dangers to young men. In a workshop, or warehouse, or circle of private friendship, one with a foul tongue is a serious mischief-maker. It may be that the froward things are swearings; or impurities, or infidel insinuations; or mere silliness that fills with vanity, and tends to weaken the moral fibre. Even when a person does not sympathise with the evil, and imitate it, his conscience gets a wound. It is not good for us, in an experimental way, thus to know evil.
III. “Who leave the paths of righteousness.” When the imagination is polluted, and the tongue let loose, the feet cannot keep on the path of righteousness. Thinking, and hearing, and speaking evil, will soon be followed by doing it. In all of us are the seeds of crime, and in many the seedlings are growing apace. He who would be kept from the path of the destroyer must crucify the flesh, with its affections and lusts. In the matter of watching for one’s soul the true wisdom is to take care of the beginnings.
IV. “to walk in the ways of darkness.” The doing of evil produces darkness, and darkness produces the evil-doing. Indulged lusts put out the eyesight of the conscience; and under the darkened conscience the lusts revel unchecked.
V. “Who rejoice to do evil.” A more advanced step in guilt. At first the backslider is ashamed of his fall. He palliates, alleges the strength of the temptation, and promises amendment. As the hardening progress goes on, he begins to feel more easy, and comes to rejoice in evil.
VI. Who “delight in the frowardness of the wicked.” These are more abandoned than the wicked themselves. To take pleasure in sin is a characteristic of fallen humanity; to delight in seeing others sinning is altogether devilish. To complete the picture of the dangers to which the young are exposed, one other peril of the world’s deep is marked on the chart which is mercifully placed in the voyager’s hands--it is “the strange woman.” The deceiver is so-called. Marriage is honourable in all. Unlawful relations of the sexes mean wild, selfish passions, which will surely be followed by visible marks of God’s vengeance. God’s anger will track lust through all its secret doublings. He makes sin generate its own punishment. And the woe of a hardened sensualist is a “hell” indeed. (W. Arnot, D. D.)
To deliver thee from the strange woman.
Gaze not on beauty too much, lest it blast thee; nor too long, lest it blind thee; nor too near lest it burn thee. If thou like it, it deceives thee; if thou love it, it disturbs thee; if thou hunt after it, it destroys thee. If virtue accompany it, it is the heart’s paradise; if vice associate it, it is the fool’s purgatory. It is the wise man’s bonfire, and the fool’s furnace. (Quarles.)
The enticement of women
The deliverance from evil men was described before; now follows the deliverance from evil women, who are as dangerous to the young man, if not more, in regard to their crafty allurements. Men present as enticement unlawful gain; women offer unlawful pleasure.
I. There is a medicine in Scripture for every disease of the soul. Here an antidote against the poison of evil women.
1. There is a fence against several degrees of sin. Against evil thoughts; evil words, evil deeds.
2. There are many remedies for the same sin. Prohibitions, examples, judgments.
II. The danger from evil women is great. Illustrate Samson and Solomon. As good women are modest, so bad women are loud and bold. As good women are tenderly affected, so wicked ones are most cruel. Take heed of being overcome by smooth language. They will tell thee that they love none else, and will die for thee, but they love thy wealth and beauty, and will leave thee when these fail. (Francis Taylor.)
The strange woman
Surely one cannot declare the whole counsel of God and leave out a subject which is interwoven with almost every chapter in the Bible. I am entirely aware of the delicacy of introducing this subject into the pulpit.
1. One difficulty arises from the sensitiveness of unaffected purity.
2. Another difficulty springs from the nature of the English language, which has hardly been framed in a school where it may wind and fit itself to all the phases of impurity.
3. Another difficulty lies in the confused echoes which vile men create in every community, when the pulpit disturbs them.
4. Another difficulty exists in the criminal fastidiousness of the community upon this subject. The proverbs of Solomon are designed to furnish us a series of maxims for every relation of life. There will naturally be the most said where there is the most needed. If the frequency of warning against any sin measures the liability of man to that sin, then none is worse than impurity.
I. Can language be found which can draw a corrupt beauty so vividly as this: “Which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God”? Look out upon that fallen creature whose gay sally through the street calls out the significant laugh of bad men, the pity of good men, and the horror of the pure! Was not her cradle as pure as ever a loved infant pressed? Love soothed its cries, sisters watched its peaceful sleep, and a mother pressed it fondly to her bosom! Had you afterwards, when spring-flowers covered the earth, and every gale was odour, and every sound was music, seen her, fairer than the lily or the violet, searching them, would you not have said, “Sooner shall the rose grow poisonous than she; both may wither, but neither corrupt”? And how often, at evening, did she clasp her tiny hands in prayer! Alas, she forsook the guide of her youth! Faint thoughts of evil, like far-off cloud which the sunset gilds, came first; nor does the rosy sunset blush deeper along the heaven than her cheek at the first thought of evil. Now, O mother, and thou, guiding elder sister, could you have seen the lurking spirit embosomed in that cloud, a holy prayer might have broken the spell, a tear have washed its stain! Alas! they saw it not; she spoke it not; she was forsaking the guide of her youth. She thinketh no more of heaven. She breatheth no more prayers. Thou hast forsaken the covenant of thy God. Go down! fall never to rise! Hell opens to be thy home!
II. The next injunction of God to the young is upon the ensnaring danger of beauty. “Desire not her beauty in thy heart, neither let her take thee with her eyelids.” God did not make so much of nature with exquisite beauty, or put within us a taste for it, without object. He meant that it should delight us. He made every flower to charm us. He never made a colour, nor graceful flying.bird, nor silvery insect, without meaning to please our taste. When He clothes a man or woman with beauty, He confers a favour, did we know how to receive it. Beauty, with amiable dispositions and ripe intelligence, is more to any woman than a queen’s crown. As moths and tiny insects flutter around the bright blaze which was kindled for no harm, so the foolish young fall down burned and destroyed by the blaze of beauty. If God hath given thee beauty, tremble; for it is as gold in thy house: thieves and robbers will prowl around, and seek to possess it. If God hath put beauty before thine eyes, remember how many strong men have been cast down wounded by it. Art thou stronger than David? Let other men’s destruction be thy wisdom; for it is hard to reap prudence upon the field of experience.
III. In the minute description of this dangerous creature, mark next how seriously we are cautioned of her wiles.
1. Her wiles of dress. Coverings of tapestry and the fine linen of Egypt are hers; the perfumes of myrrh, and aloes, and cinnamon. Silks and ribbons, lace and rings, gold and equipage; ah, how mean a price for damnation! The wretch who would be hung simply for the sake of riding to the gallows on a golden chariot, clothed in king’s raiment, what a fool was he!
2. Her wiles of speech. Beasts may not speak; this honour is too high for them. To God’s imaged son this prerogative belongs, to utter thought and feeling in articulate sounds. We may breathe our thoughts to thousand ears, and infect a multitude with the worst portions of our soul. How, then, has this soul’s breath, this echo of our thoughts, this only image of our feelings, been perverted, that from the lips of sin it hath more persuasion than from the lips of wisdom? Purity sounds morose and cross; but from the lips of the harlot words drop as honey, and flow smoother than oil: her speech is fair, her laugh is merry as music. The eternal glory of purity has no lustre; but the deep damnation of lust is made as bright as the gate of heaven!
3. Her wiles of love. Love is the mind’s light and heat; it is that tenuous air in which all other faculties exist as we exist in the atmosphere. A mind of the greatest stature without love is like the huge pyramid of Egypt--chill and cheerless in all its dark halls and passages. A mind with love is as a king’s palace lighted for a royal festival. Shame that the sweetest of all the mind’s attributes should be suborned to sin! Devil-tempter! will thy poison never cease? Shall beauty be poisoned? shall language be charmed? shall love be made to defile like pitch, and burn as the living coals? Trust the sea with thy tiny boat, trust the fickle wind, trust the changing skies of April, trust the miser’s generosity, the tyrant’s mercy; but, ah! simple man, trust not thyself near the artful woman, armed in her beauty, her cunning raiment, her dimpled smiles.
4. Next beware the wile of her reasonings. “To him that wanteth understanding, she saith, Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. I came forth to meet thee, and I have found thee.” What says she in the credulous ear of inexperience? Why, she tells him that sin is safe; she swears to him that sin is pure. Out of history she will entice him, and say, “Who hath ever refused my meat-offerings and drink-offerings? What king have I not sought? What conqueror have I not conquered? Philosophers have not, in all their wisdom, learned to hate me. I have been the guests of the world’s greatest men. Art thou afraid to tread where Plato trod, and the pious Socrates? Art thou wiser than all that ever lived? “Nay, she readeth the Bible to him; she goeth back along the line of history, and readeth of Abraham, and of his glorious compeers; she skippeth past Joseph with averted looks, and readeth of David and of Solomon. Or, if the Bible will not cheat thee, how will she plead thine own nature; how will she whisper, “God hath made thee so.” How, like her father, will she lure to pluck the apple, saying, “Thou shalt not surely die.” I will point only to another wile. When inexperience has been beguiled by her infernal machinations, how, like a flock of startled birds, will spring up late regrets, and shame, and fear; and, worst of all, how will conscience ply her scorpion-whip and lash thee, uttering with stern visage, “Thou art dishonoured, thou art a wretch, thou art lost!“ So, God saith, the strange woman shall secure her ensnared victims if they struggle. “Lest thou shouldst ponder the path of life, her ways are moveable that thou canst not know them.” She is afraid to see thee soberly thinking of leaving her, and entering the path of life; therefore her ways are moveable. She multiplies devices, she studies a thousand new wiles, she has some sweet word for every sense--obsequience for thy pride, praise for thy vanity, generosity for thy selfishness, religion For thy conscience.
IV. Having disclosed her wiles, let me show you what God says of the chances of escape to those who once follow her. “None that go unto her return again, neither take they hold of the paths of life.” The strength of this language was not meant absolutely to exclude hope. Some may escape--as here and there a mangled sailor crawls out of the water upon the beach--the only one or two of the whole crew. There are many evils which hold their victims by the force of habit; there are others which fasten them by breaking their return to society. Many a person never reforms, because reform would bring no relief. There are other evils which hold men to them, because they are like the beginning of a fire; they tend to burn with fiercer and wider flames, until all fuel is consumed, and go out only when there is nothing to burn. Of this last kind is the sin of licentiousness; and when the conflagration once breaks out, experience has shown what the Bible long ago declared, that the chances of reformation are few indeed.
V. We are repeatedly warned against the strange woman’s house. Her house has been cunningly planned by an evil architect to attract and please the attention. It stands in a vast garden full of enchanting objects; it shines in glowing colours, and seems full of peace and full of pleasure. All the signs are of unbounded enjoyment--safe, if not innocent. Though every beam is rotten, and the house is the house of death, and in it are all the vicissitudes of infernal misery, yet to the young it appears a palace of delight. They will not believe that death can lurk behind so brilliant a fabric. That part of the garden which borders on the highway of innocence is carefully planted. There is not a poison-weed, nor thorn, nor thistle there. Ten thousand flowers bloom, and waft a thousand odours. A victim cautiously inspects it; but it has been too carefully patterned upon innocency to be easily detected. “Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither.” Will the youth enter? Will he seek her house? To himself he says, “I will enter only to see the garden--its fruits, its flowers, its birds, its arbours, its warbling fountains!“ He is resolved in virtue. He seeks wisdom, not pleasure! Dupe! you are deceived already; and this is your first lesson of wisdom. He passes, and the porter leers behind him! He is within an enchanter’s garden! He ranges the outer garden near to the highway, thinking as he walks, “How foolishly have I been alarmed at pious lies about this beautiful place! I heard it was hell: I find it is paradise!“ Emboldened by the innocency of his first steps, he explores the garden further from the road. The flowers grow richer; their odours exhilarate. Ridiculous priest, to tell me that death was here, where all is beauty, fragrance, and melody! Surely, death never lurked in so gorgeous apparel as this! When our passions enchant us, how beautiful is the way to death! Where are his resolutions now? This is the virtuous youth who came to observe! He has already seen too much! but he will see more; he will taste, feel, regret, weep, wail, die! It is too late! He has gone in--who shall never return. “He goeth after her straightway as an ox goeth to the slaughter; or as a fool to the correction of the stocks . . . and knoweth not that it is for his life.” Enter with me, in imagination, the strange woman’s house, where, God grant, you may never enter in any other way.
There are five wards--Pleasure, Satiety, Discovery, Disease, Death.
1. Ward of Pleasure. The eye is dazzled with the magnificence of its apparel--elastic velvet, glossy silks, burnished satin, crimson drapery, plushy carpets. Exquisite pictures glow upon the wall; carved marble adorns every niche.
2. Ward of Satiety. Overflushed with dance, sated with wine and fruit, a fitful drowsiness vexes them. They wake, to crave; they taste, to loathe; they sleep, to dream; they wake again from unquiet visions. They long for the sharp taste of pleasure, so grateful yesterday. The glowing garden and the banquet now seem all stripped and gloomy.
3. The Ward of Discovery. In the third ward no deception remains. The floors are bare; the naked walls drip filth; the air is poisonous with sickly fumes, and echoes with mirth, concealing hideous misery. None supposes that he has been happy. The past seems like the dream of the miser who gathers gold spilt like rain upon the road, and wakes, clutching his bed, and crying, “Where is it?”
4. Ward of Disease.
5. Ward of Death. No longer does the incarnate wretch pretend to conceal her cruelty. She thrusts, aye, as if they were dirt--she shovels out the wretches. Some fall headlong through the rotten floor--a long fall to a fiery bottom. The floor trembles to deep thunders which roll below. Here and there jets of flame sprout up, and give a lurid light to the murky hall.
Oh, that the young might see the end of vice before they see the beginning!
1. I solemnly warn you against indulging a morbid imagination. In that busy and mischievous faculty begins the evil.
2. Next to evil imaginations, I warn the young of evil companions. Decaying fruit corrupts the neighbouring fruit.
3. But I warn you, with yet more solemn emphasis, against evil books and evil pictures.
4. Once more, let me persuade you that no examples in high places can justify imitation in low places.
5. Let me beseech you, lastly, to guard your heart-purity. Never lose it. If it be gone, you have lost from the casket the most precious gift of God. (H. W. Beecher.)
Which forsaketh the guide of her youth.
The peril of taking life into our own control
We all shrink with horror from that lowest depth of human depravity here described; but we may not therefore lose the lessons of this solemn and masterly description. Forsaking and forgetting God is the one danger of life; forsaking that guidance which is from Him and leads to Him, and forgetting that covenant which binds us unto Him. The course of degradation and mischief of the unhappy person here portrayed is derived from the two facts of the text. Who remembers not, who regrets not, the fresh and balmy morning of youth? Then we were guided in the ways of righteousness. There is a season when youth becomes independent and intolerant, and chafes under the most gentle guidance. These are the days of second thoughts, days when the sweetness of forbidden waters is tasted, when the border of the debatable land is crossed. These are critical days in every man’s life. Some have slipped and recovered the steps which had almost gone. With some the reason of self-guidance and independence has never passed away. They have forsaken the guide of their youth. The reason of this woful departure and falling away is thus given. “She forgetteth the covenant of her God.” And are not our young people bound in covenant? Baptism and confirmation are its seals. Alas! that so many tokens of the forgetfulness of the covenant of our God are evident on the very surface of society to-day, and met with in common associations. (Dean Alford.)
Walk in the way of good men.
The true way of walking
Here is the general application of the counsels of the chapter for the good that will come to those that avoid the society of evil men and women.
I. Men cannot walk in good ways unless they leave the bad ones. Because good and evil being contraries, the one will keep out the other: as cold keeps out heat, and heat cold. Evil thoughts keep out all thoughts of good.
II. It is not enough to avoid evil, we must actually do good. Because forsaking evil is but a foundation for a greater building, and no man can dwell on a foundation.
III. One chief and principal end of wisdom is well-doing. No blessing attends on mere knowing. A curse follows upon knowledge without practice.
IV. It is safer to imitate good men than bad. Because the way of good men is better, and their end is better. V good example sometimes prevails to draw others to piety. Because shame is taken away by good examples going before. And fear also is taken away. We should follow the choicest examples Of goodness. Why shouldest thou not rather follow the example of Abraham, Job, Joseph, David, than of Ishmael, Esau, and other profane persons? Sheep will not follow wolves, but they will follow one another. So do thou follow good men to heaven, rather than bad men to hell. (Francis Taylor.)
Transgressors shall be rooted out of it.
The present punishments of evil men
The metaphor “rooted out” is taken from a tree. If a wild tree and offensive grow in a garden, and the gardener cut off the top of it, if it send forth new sprouts, as bad as the former, he digs up the root itself. So doth God deal with wicked men. He takes them away, and if their posterity follow their courses, He proceeds to root out the whole name and family.
I. God will sometimes in this world put a difference between good men and bad. That men may see who God is, and learn what He is.
II. Wicked men are restless in evil. Because they have a body of sin in them, and abundance of opportunities around them; and are left by God to run on to perdition. So they are never weary of sinning.
III. Wicked men’s lives are often cut short by their wicked courses. Drunkenness breeds dropsies; gluttony breeds fevers; wantonness breeds foul diseases. Trouble of conscience sometimes makes men end their days. God’s just judgments fall on them.
IV. Transgressors deal treacherously with God. Because they fail in the trust committed to them; act against their trust; betray God’s honour; and labour to undo God’s Church.
V. Sin roots out the posterity of wicked men. Because sin goes by propagation, and also by imitation.
VI. If men will not for their own sakes forsake sin, they should do it for their children’s sakes. Much evil may come on our posterity from our sins: as hereditary diseases, poverty, losses, crosses. (Francis Taylor.)
──《The Biblical Illustrator》