A false balance is an abomination to the Lord.
The heinousness of injustice done under the pretence of equity
The proverbs of this book are often figurative, and of a very strong and extensive meaning. The words of the text imply the odiousness, not only of false weights or balances, but likewise of all things of the like nature and consequence; of all unfair and unfaithful actions; of all unequal and injurious proceedings. There are two kinds of injustice; the one open and barefaced, the other secret and disguised, so cunningly clothed and adorned, that it appears like justice itself. The text manifests the odiousness of this latter kind. A false balance is always made use of under the plausible pretence of doing justice, though it has the contrary effect. This latter kind of injustice is more abominable than the other.
(1) In its nature. This is a complication of crimes and mischiefs, the other is simple injustice. This is always vile and ungenerous.
(2) In its consequences. We have far less security against this kind of unjust actors, so that the mischiefs of it are more certain and inevitable. Force can repel force, but it cannot repel treachery. God does, in a great measure, reserve cases of this nature for His own peculiar tribunal in the great and dreadful day. This kind of injustice is an “abomination” to Him; the word implies an extraordinary degree of hatred and detestation. (Laurence Echard, A.M.)
I. Uprightness portrayed.
2. Lowliness of spirit (verse2). Uprightness is not uppishness.
3. Integrity of purpose (verse3). “The crooked, winding policy of ungodly men,” says Scott, “involves them in increasing wickedness.”
4. A right estimate of wealth (verse4). The upright man will consider how his gains will look in the day of judgment.
II. Uprightness rewarded.
1. The favour of the Lord (Proverbs 11:1).
3. Deliverance (Proverbs 11:4).
4. The respect of others (Proverbs 11:10).
5. The good of others (Proverbs 11:11). (H. Thorne.)
The false balance
Text taken in literal and material sense, as applying to that great world of fraud and imposition and over-reaching in which we live, and the subject is our duty as Christians in the midst of it.
I. The manifest truth of the assertion of the text, and the grounds on which it rests. God is a God of justice. Truth, pure and unspotted, is the very essence of the Divine character. Wherever there is deceit in the world, wherever injury, wherever oppression, there is God’s anger and loathing accompanying it. The false balance, which is an abomination to the Lord, where do we not see it around us? From the powerful guides of public opinion, each assuming to be written in the interest of justice and truth, but each, almost without exception, warping justice and truth by false statements, false inferences, predetermined conclusions, down to the petty fraud, in measure and weight, which you will find in any chance shop you enter, certain known and avowed avoidances or disguises of truth, are every day practised, and acquiesced in as inevitable. The evil is in every class. But the mischief is not universal. But Christian men and women sin by tacit acquiescence in these wrong things.
II. How may we rest separate ourselves from, and discourage the false balance, and uphold and cleave to the just weight? We must not begin with mere practical details. The secret of all wrong is the false balance within the heart; the real cheating begins there. Is our estimate of men and things which guides our action the real and true one, or some artificial one, that is altogether wrong, and leading us altogether wrong? Men who know what is right are sometimes mixed up with the system of fraud. Why? Because they will not let recognised religious principle hold the balance nor regulate the estimate formed of the relative importance of men and things. “I must think,” such a man says, “as others think; I must do as others do.” If we would get rid of the false balance without, and in our streets and markets, we must begin within ourselves. Were buyers honest, sellers would, by compulsion, be honest too. Here the fault begins. Practical suggestions: conscientiously regulate the bestowal of employment and patronage: there are certain signs by which even the dull of discernment may discern the tokens of fraud and pretension. Be not an admirer of the system of universal cheapness. (Dean Alford.)
Deception in business
Many are pleased at the dexterity with which they practise their deceptions. The fraud is undiscovered, and being undiscovered, is unfelt by those on whom it is practised, and what is never known and never felt can be no harm. So they think. But God sees it, and He estimates the action on no such principle; nor is it the principle on which you would estimate it were you the party defrauded. You have no idea, in your own case, of admitting that what is not missed is not lost; or that the cleverness of the fraud is any palliation of it. You do not think the better of the merchant with his “balances of deceit,” that the unfairness of the balance is ingeniously concealed. You do not regard it as a compensation for the property abstracted from your plundered house or warehouse, that the impression of your keys has been adroitly obtained, or the mode of entrance skilfully devised and expertly executed. You do not approve the laws of ancient Sparta which, to encourage cleverness and sleight of hand, rewarded instead of punishing the youthful thief who could steal without detection. Depend upon it, if you plume yourself on the dexterity with which you have contrived and executed a plan for cozening your neighbour, it will be no palliation with God, nor will any amount of such dexterity produce any abatement of His sentence of condemnation. It is the moral principle, or want of principle, in which the evil lies, and the very measure of thought and contrivance expended for the purpose of ensuring success in the contravention of God’s law, instead of diminishing, will serve to aggravate your guilt in His sight. The “abomination” will be only the more loathsome. (R. Wardlaw.)
When pride cometh, then cometh shame.
I shall first describe to you the several kinds of pride among mankind, and show you their folly and wickedness; and, secondly, point out to you the beauty and advantage of their opposite virtue, humility.
I. The vice of pride puts on a great variety of appearances, and is found in every rank and condition of human life. Pride of station claims our first notice. “Man being in authority,” is too apt to be “proud at heart”; to be “puffed up” with this distinction; to consider himself as a being of a higher order than the rest of his fellow sinners; and to look upon those with disdain who are lower in the scale of society than himself. But what do the Scriptures say to such a vain and foolish mortal as this? They tell him that “man will not long abide in honour, seeing he may be compared to the beast that perisheth.” They tell him that “men of high degree are a lie; to be laid in the balance, they are altogether lighter than vanity.”
2. Nor is the pride of birth less unreasonable than that of rank. Even a heathen in ancient times could see its absurdity, and say, “for as to family and ancestors, and what we have not done ourselves, we can scarcely call those things ours.”
3. Of the same wicked and foolish character is pride of riches. Reason tells us that riches cannot give dignity of character, superiority of intellect, vigour of body, endowments of mind, peace of conscience, cheerfulness of heart, or any one of those advantages which form the chief blessings of life; and, therefore, are a very insufficient foundation for “pride of heart.”
4. Pride of talent, and pride of learning, also ill become “man that is born of a woman.” A disease, an accident, “a sudden terror,” may overset the mind, and turn all our light into “utter darkness.” Of the pride of beauty, in order to show its folly, it need only be said, in the language of inspiration, “surely all flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field; the grass withereth, and the flower fadeth.”
5. The pride of judgment, also, which is too often the pride of the young and ignorant, is of the like foolish description, and is equally rebuked by the Holy Scriptures. It is a common and a true observation, that those who know least generally imagine that they know most, and know best.
6. But, of all kinds of pride, spiritual pride, or the conceit and boast of being holier than others, is the worst description of this bad passion: most hateful to God, and most dangerous to our souls.
II. Opposite, however, as the mid-day sun to “utter darkness,” is the character given in cripture of lowliness or humility: and the view of the blessings which are promised upon those in whom it is found. “When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom.” When we consider the nature of man, fallen and far gone from original righteousness, one might well think that men should of their own accord see the propriety, the necessity, of the grace of humility in their character. Our Lord has bound meekness and poverty of spirit upon our consciences by His injunctions, and encouraged our obedience to His injunctions by assuring us that “the meek and the poor in spirit shall inherit the kingdom of heaven.” He has declared to us that those who “humble themselves shall be exalted”; and finally, to give the greatest possible weight and effect to what He said, He left us, in His own practice, the most perfect example of the graces which He enjoined to His followers: for “He made Himself of no reputation,” etc. (R. Warner.)
The advent and evil of pride
I. The advent of pride. Pride is inordinate self-appreciation. This feeling comes to a soul; it is not born in it. Infancy and childhood are free from it. How does it come?
1. By associating only with inferiors.
2. By practically ignoring the true standards of character. When we lose sight of the eternal law of rectitude, and judge ourselves only by the imperfect standards around us, pride is likely to come.
3. By a practical disregard to the majesty of God. The conscious presence of God humbles.
II. The evil of pride. “Then cometh shame.” The man who has formed a false and exaggerated estimate of self must be disappointed one day. Man must always find his level; he must come to realities.
1. Shame of folly. The soul bursts with a sense of its own foolish estimate.
2. Shame of guilt. Pride is a wrong state of mind, and hence shame follows it. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The shame of pride
The haughty and overbearing conduct of Cardinal Wolsey created him many secret enemies, and it was his ostentation and love of power which caused him to lose the favour of his sovereign. Proud of his talents, his wealth, his position, his sole aim was to raise himself still higher, all his actions being directed to his own aggrandisements; and this eagerness lay at the root of his downfall, it being impossible for him to please Henry in the matter of the divorce without losing all hope of the popedom. He felt severely the shame of his first disgrace, and offered to surrender both office and wealth to avert the king’s displeasure; but, being allowed to retire to his archbishopric, he again excited the envy of his political rivals by his pride and love of show, and, being arrested for high treason, the whilom leader of the State died broken-hearted on his journey to London.
Among all the vices against which Solomon has cautioned us (and he has scarce left one untouched), there is none upon which he animadverts with more severity, or to which he more frequently recalls our attention, than the vice of pride; for which there may be many reasons assigned, but, more particularly, two seem to deserve our consideration.
1. The first is the extensiveness of the sin. Other vices tyrannise over particular ages, and triumph in particular countries. Rage is the failing of youth, and avarice of age; revenge is the predominant passion of one country, and inconstancy the charasteristic of another; but pride is the native of every country, infects every climate, and corrupts every nation.
2. The second reason may be drawn from the circumstances of the preacher. Pride was probably a crime to which Solomon himself was most violently tempted, since he was placed in every circumstance that could expose him to it. He was a king absolute and independent, and by consequence surrounded with sycophants ready to second the first motions of self-love, to comply with every proposal, and flatter every failing. But Solomon had not only the pride of royalty to suppress, but the pride of prosperity, of knowledge, and of wealth.
I. The nature of pride, with its attendants and consequences. Pride, simply considered, is an immoderate degree of self-esteem, or an over-value set upon a man by himself, and, like most other vices, is founded originally on an intellectual falsehood. But this definition sets this vice in the fairest light, and separates it from all its consequences, by considering man without relation to society, and independent of all outward circumstances. Pride, thus defined, is only the seed of that complicated sin against which we are cautioned in the text. In speculation pride may be considered as ending where it began, and exerting no influences beyond the bosom in which it dwells; but in real life pride will always be attended with kindred passions, and produce effects equally injurious to others, and destructive to itself.
1. He that overvalues himself will undervalue others, and he that undervalues others will oppress them. Pride has been able to harden the heart against compassion, and stop the ears against the cries of misery. It makes masters cruel and imperious, and magistrates insolent and partial. It produces contempt and injuries, and dissolves the bond of society. Nor is this species of pride more hurtful to the world than destructive to itself. The oppressor unites heaven and earth against him.
2. He that sets too high a value upon his own merits will, of course, think them ill-rewarded with his present condition. He will endeavour to exalt his fortune and his rank above others, in proportion as his deserts are superior to theirs. Once fired with these notions, he will attempt to increase his fortune and enlarge his sphere; and how few there are that prosecute such attempts with innocence, a very transient observation will sufficiently inform us. To pride, therefore, must be ascribed most of the fraud, injustice, violence, and extortion, by which wealth is frequently acquired.
3. Another concomitant of pride is envy, or the desire of debasing others. A proud man is uneasy and dissatisfied, while any of those applauses are bestowed on another, which he is desirous of himself.
4. Another consequence of immoderate self-esteem is an insatiable desire of propagating in others the favourable opinion he entertains of himself. He therefore tortures his invention for means to make himself conspicuous, and to draw the eyes of the world upon him. But for the most part it is ordered by Providence that the schemes of the ambitious are disappointed, so that “still when pride cometh, then cometh shame, but with the lowly is wisdom.”
II. Some of the usual motives to pride, and how little they can be pleaded in excuse of it. A superior being that should look down upon the disorder and corruption of our world, that should observe the shortness of our lives, the weakness of our bodies, the continual accidents, or injuries, to which we are subject; the violence of our passions, the irregularity of our conduct, and the transitory state of everything about us, would hardly believe there could be among us such vice as pride. Yet so it is, that however weak or wicked we may be, we fix our eyes on some other that is represented by our self-love to be weaker, or more wicked, than ourselves, and grow proud upon the comparison. Another common motive to pride is knowledge, a motive equally weak, vain, and idle, with the former. Learning indeed, imperfect as it is, may contribute to many great and noble ends, and may be called in to the assistance of religion. But how little reason have we to boast of our knowledge, when we only gaze and wonder at the surface of things? When the wisest and most arrogant philosopher knows not how a grain of corn is generated, or why a stone falls to the ground? But were our knowledge far greater than it is, let us yet remember that goodness, not knowledge, is the happiness of man! There is another more dangerous species of pride, arising from a consciousness of virtue; so watchful is the enemy of our souls, and so deceitful are our own hearts, that too often a victory over one sinful inclination exposes us to be conquered by another. This kind of pride is generally accompanied with great uncharitableness, and severe censures of others, and may obstruct the great duty of repentance.
III. The amiableness and excellence of humility. To evince beyond opposition the excellence of this virtue, we may observe that the life of our Lord was one continued exercise of humility. (John Taylor, LL.D.)
Pride leading to shame
Tirmond, one of the Czar’s ablest surgeons, and to whom he was much attached, having died, his widow married a young barber from Dantzic, who was somewhat more expert in gallantry than in surgery; as he became very wealthy by this marriage, he made a great figure at Moscow. Being one day sent for by the Czar, he went to court in a magnificent dress, and in one of his elegant carriages. Peter examined him, and roughly told him he was a blockhead, and immediately sailed in a troop of valets and peasants, whom he ordered him instantly to shave. The gentleman barber was under the necessity of obeying, to the great amusement of the whole court, and with the same parade in which he had arrived, he was then permitted to return. (Christian Weekly.)
Proud and lowly
Pride consists in an immoderate self-esteem, and places its happiness in esteem and honour from others. No sin is more foolish than this, it springs from ignorance of God, of ourselves and other men, and by the very means which it uses for the accomplishments of its ends, ensures disappointment. In seeking glory it finds disgrace. Pride made Nebuchadnezzar a brute. It destroyed Herod with worms. It turned Lucifer into Beelzebub. By other sins, man rebels against God; by pride he usurps His crown and dignity. No wonder, then, that God looks up all those that are proud, and abaseth them. Humble men think of themselves as they ought to think. They desire that God may be honoured, even at the expense of their own honour. (G. Lawson.)
The integrity of the upright sham guide them.
Integrity the best guide both in religious inquiries and in moral conduct
The policy of the world, like the world itself, is fluctuating and deceitful. Uncertain both in its objects and its means, it knows nothing of that steadfastness which religious principle communicates both to mind and conduct. The shifts and windings of those who are guided by no higher principles than those of pride and avarice would be truly ludicrous if they were not accompanied with serious mischief. Integrity, originating in the honest feelings of nature, exalted by piety, and cherished by serious reflections upon the ends of a probationary state, is our purest guide amidst all the temptations and difficulties, through all the vicissitudes and perplexities, both in thought and in action, which are continually occurring in the journey of life. By integrity is meant, steady determination to abide by the profession of important truth, however unfashionable, and to be upright in all transactions with the world, at whatever expense of temporary ease and interest.
I. Integrity is the surest guide to every practical purpose in our religious inquiries. These inquiries have unfortunately been perplexed and mystified by the polemics of Churches and sects. Of course it is integrity, enlightened, to a certain degree, by a right education, that is meant. Go to the Bible with the sincere desire of gaining the knowledge of practical and consolatory truths, without any sectarian bias, and it is impossible that you should err in anything that might affect your practice here, or your salvation hereafter. Your integrity will guide you in all that is essential.
II. Integrity is our best guide in our worldly transactions, as men and as members of society. It is the great solver of all moral difficulties. Whence do these originate? They are generated by that interference of complicated interests, which embarrasses and perverts the minds of those who have no settled principle to which they can refer amidst the ever-varying plans of worldly wisdom. Integrity, enlightened by the truths, and fortified by the promises of the gospel, admits of no hesitation on account of any temporary inconvenience, to which an honest conduct may expose us. In public concerns, the surest way to outwit cunning and artifice would be to fix only upon such objects as reason can indicate and conscience may approve. Truth, in the hands of wisdom and courage, has a commanding aspect, which would confound the subtle chicanery and pitiful arts of a selfish and low-minded diplomacy. And in private transactions between man and man it holds equally true that enlightened integrity, acting with perseverance upon a settled plan, ultimately gains the very end by upright means which in the cunning and dishonest tall a thousand times for once that they succeed. Integrity makes a man rich in character, and that ensures him the best chance of gaining earthly success and wealth. (Jas. Lindsay, D.D.)
On integrity as the guide of life
A man of integrity is one who makes it his constant rule to follow the road of duty according as the Word of God and the voice of his conscience point it out to him. The upright man is guided by a fixed principle of mind. Hence you find him ever and everywhere the same. In what manner does such integrity serve as the guide of his life? To conduct ourselves in human affairs with wisdom and propriety is often a matter of no small difficulty. Amidst that variety of characters, of jarring dispositions, and of interfering interests, which is found among those with whom we have intercourse, we are frequently at a stand as to the part most prudent for us to choose. In public and in private life, the doubt started by the wise man frequently occurs. Who knoweth what is good for man in this life? In such situations as these, the principle of integrity interposes to give light and direction. The virtuous man has one oracle, to which he resorts in every dubious case. He consults his conscience. The principle of integrity will always, if we listen to it impartially, give a clear decision.
1. The guidance of integrity is the safest under which we can be placed. The road in which it leads us is, upon the whole, freest from dangers. The man of the world aims at higher things, and more rapid success, than the man of moderation and virtue. But, at the same time, he incurs greater risks and dangers. No calculation of probabilities can ensure safety to him who is acting a deceitful part. He who follows the guidance of integrity, walks in the high road, on which the light of the sun shines. The principle of integrity by no means excludes prudence in the conduct of life. It implies no improvident or thoughtless simplicity.
2. The path of integrity is the most honourable. Integrity is the foundation of all that is high in character among mankind. He who rests upon an internal principle of virtue and honour will act with a dignity and boldness of which they are incapable who are wholly guided by interest. That firmness which the consciousness of rectitude inspires gives vigour and force to his exertions on every great occasion. It adds double weight to all the abilities of which he is possessed. They who oppose him are obliged to honour him. Such a man is trusted and relied on, as well as esteemed.
3. The plan of conduct on which the man of integrity proceeds is the most comfortable, attended with the greatest satisfaction to his own mind. His reference of all his actions to Divine approbation furnishes another source of satisfaction and peace.
4. The man of integrity has in view the prospect of immortal rewards. True integrity will prove the truest wisdom both for this world and the next. (Hugh Blair, D.D.)
Integrity a good guide
Nehemiah was brave and upright; and his integrity guided him to honour and renown, and his righteousness delivered his friends and their enterprise from disaster (Nehemiah 6:10-16). Haman was perverse and wicked; his ways were crooked; he conspired to take away the lives of others; and on the gallows which he had set up for Mordecai he himself was hung: and so “the transgressor was taken in his own naughtiness” (Esther 7:10).
The righteousness of the perfect shall direct his way.
The Divine nature of righteousness
Not unreasonably this book of Proverbs charged with unspirituality. It is not a manual of devotion. It is not a setting forth of eternal principles of truth. It is a collection of homely aphorisms applicable to the practical life of man. But these proverbs rest upon spiritual principles, and they are saved from narrowness by the way in which they explain, amplify, and qualify each other. The great pervading principle of the book is righteousness, its Divine nature, and its blessed fruits.
I. The fundamental principle of this book, and of all moral teaching. “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he reap.” This by the world is--
1. Denied in practice.
2. Denied in theory. The theory is false that, live as you like, the result will be the same. It is contradicted by experience. It is inconsistent with the very being of a God.
II. Special statement of the principles.
1. “The righteousness of the perfect shall direct his way.” Note the leading words. “Perfect,” not faultless, but upright. Not consciously or intentionally reserving anything from God. “His righteousness.” Not his own, but God’s; yet made his own by free adoption of his will. “Its work.” Not an arbitrary reward.
2. “Wicked fall by his own wickedness.” Generally speaking, failure is worked for, and comes as payment. Apply to
(1) Man’s earthly life.
(2) To man’s spiritual life. (W. R. Clarke, M.A.)
Goodness required by God
The main characteristic of all heathen religions is that their gods do not demand righteousness, but certain outward and formal observances. Sacrifices must be offered to them, their vindictive temper must be propitiated, their anger averted; if the dues of the gods are paid, the stipulated quantity of corn and wine and oil, the tithes, the first-fruits, the animals for the altar, the tribute for the temple, then the Worshipper, who has thus discharged his obligations, may feel himself free to follow out his own tastes and inclinations. In the Roman religion, for example, every dealing with the gods was a strictly legal contract; the Roman general agreed with Jupiter or with Mars that if the battle should be won a temple should be built. It was not necessary that the cause should be right, or that the general should be good; the sacrifice of the wicked, though offered with an evil intent, was as valid as the sacrifice of the good. In either case the same amount of marble and stone, of silver and gold, would come to the god. In the Eastern religions not only were goodness and righteousness dissociated from the idea of the gods, but evil of the grossest kinds was definitely associated with them. The Phoenician deities, like those of the Hindoos, were actually worshipped with rites of murder and lust. Every vice had its patron god or goddess, and it was forgotten by priest and people that goodness could be the way of pleasing God, or moral evil a cause of offence to Him. Even in Israel, where the teaching of revelation was current in the proverbs of the people, the practice generally followed the heathen conceptions. All the burning protests of the inspired prophets could not avail to convince the Israelite that what God required was not sacrifice and offering, but to do justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Him. Again and again we find that the high places were frequented, and the ritual supported by men who were sensual, unjust, and cruel. The Sabbath Day was kept, the feasts were duly observed, the priests were handsomely maintained, and there, it was supposed, the legitimate claims of Jehovah ceased. What more could He desire? This is surely the most impressive proof that the truth which is under consideration is far from being obvious. So far from treating the truth as a truism, our Lord in all His teaching laboured to bring it out in greater clearness, and to set it in the forefront of His message to men. He painted with exquisite simplicity and clearness the right life, the conduct which God requires of us, and then likened every one who practised this life to a man who builds his house on a rock, and every one who does not practise it to a man who builds his house on the sand. He declared, in the spirit of the Book of Proverbs, that teachers were to be judged by their fruits, and that God would estimate our lives not by what we professed to do, but by what we did; and He took up the very language of the book in declaring that every man should be judged according to his works. In every word He spoke He made it plain that goodness is what God loves, and that wickedness is what He judges and destroys. In the same way every one of the apostles insists on this truth with a new earnestness. St. John more especially reiterates it, in words which sound even more like a truism than the sayings of this book: “He that doeth righteousness, is righteous even as He is righteous”; and, “If ye know that He is righteous, ye know that every one also that doeth righteousness is begotten of Him.” (R. F. Herren, D.D.)
The hope of unjust men perisheth.
The terrible in human history
There are two terrible events in this text.
I. Death meeting the wicked man. “The wicked man dieth.”
1. Death does not wait for reformation of character.
2. The greatest enemies of God and His universe are overcome. There is a stronger power than that of the wicked.
II. Hope leaving the human soul. What is dearer to the soul than hope? The soul lives in and by hope. Shakespeare Says, “The miserable hath no medicine, but only hope.” When the wicked man dieth, he loses this hope. Hope of liberty, of improvement, of honour, of happiness. He dieth, and carrieth nothing away. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The hope of the wicked
Men derive almost the whole of their happiness from hope. The wicked man laughs at the righteous because he lives by hope; but the wicked man himself does the same. The present situation of the wicked man never yields him the pleasure which he wishes and expects, but there is ever something in view, in which, could he but obtain it, he would find rest. If his hopes are deferred, his heart is sick; if they are accomplished he is still unsatisfied; but he comforts himself with some other hope, like a child, who thinks he sees a rainbow on the top of a neighbouring hill, and runs to take hold of it, but sees it as far removed from him as before. Thus the life of a wicked man is spent in vain wishes and toils and hopes, till death kills at once his body, his hope, and his happiness. (G. Lawson.)
The righteous is delivered out of trouble, and the wicked cometh in his stead.
Trouble in its relation to the righteous and the wicked
All men have their troubles. The relation of the good and the bed to trouble is strikingly different.
I. The righteous are going out of trouble. The troubles of the righteous arise from physical infirmities, mental difficulties, secular anxieties, moral imperfections, social dishonesties, falsehoods, end bereavements. But the fact is, that they are being delivered out of these troubles.
1. Partially, they are being delivered out of trouble now.
2. Completely, they will be delivered out of all trouble at death.
II. The wicked are going into trouble. They are going deeper into trouble every step they take. They are forging thunderbolts and nursing storms. The trouble they are going into is unmitigated. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Thus do these two classes change places in the dispensations of God. The same Providence often marks Divine faithfulness and retributive justice. The Israelites were delivered out of the trouble of the Red Sea; the Egyptians came in their stead. Mordecai was delivered from the gallows; Haman was hanged upon it. The noble confessors in Babylon were saved from the fire; their executioners were “slain” by it. Daniel was preserved from the lions; his accusers were devoured by them. Peter was snatched from death; his jailors and persecutors were condemned. Thus “precious in the sight of the Lord is” the life, no less than “the death, of his saints.” To what source but his own free and sovereign love can we trace this special estimation? (C. Bridges.)
The wicked cometh in his stead
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego came unhurt out of the “burning fiery furnace”; whilst the men who cast them in were slain by the fierceness of the heat (Daniel 3:22-27.) Daniel was taken up alive and uninjured out of the lions’ den; whilst the men who had accused him were cast into the same den, and the lions, which had not touched Daniel, “brake all their bones in pieces” before they reached “the bottom of the den” (Daniel 6:23-24).
An hypocrite with his mouth destroyeth his neighbour: but through knowledge shall the just be delivered.
Hypocrisy and knowledge
The hypocrite is one who feigns to be what he is not--one whose life is a lie. Selfish, he wears the costume of benevolence; false, he speaks the language of sincerity and truth.
I. Hypocrisy is destructive. The hypocrite, by his deception, has often destroyed the reputation, the peace, end the soul of his neighbour. Hypocrisy--
1. Implies the pernicious. A consciousness of wrongness within is the cause of all hypocrisy.
2. Employs the pernicious. Misrepresentations are its instruments.
II. Knowledge is restorative. Knowledge here is in antithesis with hypocrisy. Real knowledge is truth, reality. It scatters the clouds of ignorance and error, and raises the soul to light, freedom, purity and blessedness. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
This verse may be understood with a reference to all insincere professions of friendship and good intentions--to all insinuating and flattering pretensions, adopted for the purpose of affecting a particular end. How many are there who, for objects of their own deceive others; no matter what the result may be to the deceived, provided the deceiver but accomplish his selfish aim. In religion, the hypocrite has a purpose. His religion is not real. He assumes the cloak to cover some secret design. The verse itself suggests the design--the undermining of the principles of others. He insinuates himself into confidence. The confidence increasing, he becomes by degrees more and more bold, till, by slow steps, he unsettles the principles, shakes the faith, dissipates the seriousness, and ruins the souls of others. Hypocrites are awful stumbling blocks. (R. Wardlaw.)
When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth.
The public conscience in relation to moral character
Down deep beneath the errors, follies, vanities of the community, there is a conscience. That conscience points evermore to the right and the just, as the needle to the pole.
I. The public conscience in relation to the righteous.
1. Public conscience is gratified by the prosperity of the righteous.
2. Public conscience acknowledges the usefulness of the righteous.
II. Public conscience in relation to the wicked.
1. It rejoices in their ruin.
2. It acknowledges their mischief.
The “mouth of the wicked”--the channel of impieties, falsehoods, impurities, and innumerable pernicious errors have caused in all ages, and is still causing, the overthrow of states. (Homilist.)
The tribute to righteousness
This is a tribute to righteousness which must come sooner or later. There is a heart in the city as well as in the individual man; a kind of civic personality as well as a narrow individuality. When principles of the highest morality govern the life of the city there is rejoicing everywhere, because where righteousness is the blessing of God is, and the blessing of God maketh rich, and no sorrow is added to that infinite and tender benediction. It is singular indeed that even bad men rejoice when good principles are so received and applied as to revive commercial industry and commercial confidence, and create a healthy state of feeling as between nation and nation, and city and city. When the wicked man perishes there is shouting of gladness, although there may have been during his lifetime adulation and hypocritical compliment paid to him. The wicked man never did anybody any lasting good. He always took away more than he gave, and he never pronounced a kind word except with a stinging spirit, and even in his superficial benedictions there was nothing enduring, nothing solid and lasting in the comfort which he pretended to bestow. The wicked man imagines that he is popular, but his imagination is vain. He is only made use of, looked for in order that he may help in a time of emergency, or in some way be unconsciously debased to uses the full range and purpose of which he does not perceive. Every one is proud to recall the repute of a righteous man. It is like reminding others of gardens of beauty, orchards of delight, landscapes rich in all features of excellence and attractiveness; the name of the righteous is a name of health; it is breathed as with the fresh air of heaven; men delight to hear it and find their honour even in its repetition. By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted, but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked. The upright may be for a time opposed, but for a time only; the issue is certain; truth will prevail, and they who oppose the upright shall come to humiliation, if not to contrition, and to such a sense of injury inflicted upon the innocent as will elicit from them words of compunction, petitions, and supplications for pardon. (J. Parker,D.D.)
When the wicked perish, there is shouting.
Joy in the fate of the wicked
On the death of Henry III of France, whose character was a contemptible mixture of weakness, folly, and vice, the Parisians, who had long held their king in distrust and contempt, gave themselves up to most disgraceful excesses of joy, and the Duchess of Montpensier ran about the streets crying, Good news, good news! the tyrant is dead! “Robespierre was conveyed to the place of execution amid shouts and execrations of the populace, who were frantic with joy at the downfall of the tyrant, the women dancing about the procession in the most insane manner. There was great rejoicing in Ireland when it was known that James Carey, the informer, had been shot. (J. L. Nye.)
When Mordecai triumphed over Haman, “the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad” (Esther 8:15). “When the wicked perish, there is shouting.” When Athaliah was slain, “all the people of the land rejoiced” (2 Kings 11:20).
By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted.
A political maxim
To the morals of men is imputed the public prosperity or misfortunes. By “upright” is meant, men of sufficient abilities for the stations which they fill, and of piety and resolution enough to discharge the duties of their places.
1. When righteous magistrates are in authority, good laws are enacted, and impartially administered; virtue meets with its encouragements and vice with its due restraints and punishments.
2. The faithful dispensers of the sincere Word of God must needs contribute very much to the happiness of the place where they live. Those who propagate the knowledge of God, and excite men to glorify Him, must in reason be esteemed the instruments of men’s felicity.
3. Every upright man, of what station soever, is a blessing to the place where he lives, if he have so much of a public spirit and principle of humanity in him as to desire his neighbour’s prosperity as well as his own; and if he be ready upon all reasonable occasions to do good offices to others, such a man is a good member of any civilised community.
The other part of the text deals with a contrary cause and effect.
1. At the tribunals of justice, in trials of right and wrong, an unjust sentence has often proceeded from the mouth of a partial judge, a corrupt jury, or a false witness.
2. In dispensing the Divine Word, and treating of the mysteries and doctrines of religion, it is of most destructive consequences to the people, if the mouth of the wicked have the handling of them; for then the people will be sure to be divided by that religion which was designed to unite them, and be emboldened to disobey God by the authority of His own misinterpreted Word. Pure religion is certainly the very best cement of civil society, as mightily enforcing the duties of unity, peace, and love among men: but religion corrupted in the doctrines of faith and practice carries with it the seeds of endless strife and contention, and ministers occasion to continual debates and animosities.
3. In the daily affairs and transactions of common life, the mouth of the wicked does much towards destroying the public good. If this be well demonstrated, it is a fair warning to all cities which are concerned for their own preservation, that they be very careful to increase the upright, and diminish the number of the wicked among them. Let us then exert ourselves, upon all just occasions, in the cause of truth, to the extermination of all that is contrary to it. So shall we both entitle ourselves and those whom we shall reduce from error to the gracious protection of God in this life present, and to His everlasting salvation in that which is to come. (W. Reading, M.A.)
A good man a blessing to the city
When Hezekiah “wrought that which was good and right and truth before God,” the Lord saved Jerusalem from the hand of every enemy, and made the city prosperous (2 Chronicles 32:22; 2 Chronicles 32:30.) But it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked.
The men of Sodom and Gomorrah were foul of mouth; it was an open sepulchre; and, because of their sins, God overthrew the two cities (Genesis 19:25).
He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour.
Types of character in social life
Four distinct types of character.
I. The insolent. Men destitute of all true respect for their fellows. They are uncivil and rude, sneering, saucy, abusive.
II. The respectful. He is neither precipitant in the judgment he forms of men, nor hasty in his language. He is the true gentleman of society: cautious, prudent, polite.
III. The tattler. A tale-bearer is one who will take in your secrets, and hasten to his neighbour to pour them into his greedy ears. He has a witching ear to know your concerns. He is not always malicious in spirit, but he is always dangerous. He is always defending friendships, starting suspicions, and creating animosities.
IV. The trustworthy. The antithesis to the tale-bearer. He is a dependable friend; he will listen to your secrets as things too sacred for speech. You can trust him with your life, he will never betray you. (Homilist.)
Tale-bearers unloading refuse
“It was told me in the strictest confidence, but you won’t tell I” “No,” was the quiet reply; “I prefer not to hear it. What right have you to tell what you virtually promised not to communicate; I am sure I have no right, and I have no desire to know what does not belong to me to know.” There are people who use their friends as dumping-grounds, and unload on them any choice bits of scandal they may chance to pick up, as though they were conferring a favour. As long as human nature is what it is, there will be plenty of such unloading to be done; but what noble mind wishes to be put to such ignoble uses, and to have made in any part of his spiritual domain a scavenger heap? The perfect character, like the perfectly kept house, has no dark and dusty corners. It is kept sweet and pure in every part. There is no place where a foul garment or a malodorous rag may be tucked away and hidden. Fire and water and the broom and duster in a modern house keep all things clean. There is no more reason why there should be nesting-places of evil in the soul than why there should be dust upon our furniture. The pure sunlight of God let into dark places cleanses and keeps them clean. The person who in confidence would taint another is not a friend, but an enemy. (Christian Age.)
Tale-bearers traders in scandal
The word means “a hawker,” or “travelling-chapman”; and the tale-bearer is a trader in scandal, an itinerant busybody. A. shrewd heathen was wont to say, “Tale-bearers should be hung up by the tongue, and tale-hearers by the ears.”
Where no counsel is, the people fall.
The value of advice
Kings and rulers stand in special need of counsel. When a ruler is surrounded by good counsellors he and his people are safe. We can trace this truth in the rise and fall of nations. God’s advice is one of our most valuable helps, and the text tells us not to neglect it. Man is apt to go astray. His judgment is sometimes misled; while his affections are corrupted, and his will is ungoverned.
I. Why do we need advice? The first reason is found in the peculiar nature of the evils to which we are exposed. Sin has a strangely deluding influence over those whom it tempts. Here there is scope of need for wise counsels, which may enforce the neglected voice of conscience. Advice is also necessary in consequence of special circumstances in which we are placed. We are involved in difficulties from which others are required to rescue us. “Where no counsel is, the people fall.”
II. Where are we to seek advice? We should not ask for it except when we really require it. To be ever at a loss what to do unless we are “advised” is a characteristic of a life that is usually spent to little purpose. The secret of a useful course through the world lies in a measure of self-reliance. At other times when advice is sought there is a foregone conclusion, and a man only wishes to have his own views confirmed. Out of its proper place advice, instead of being a help, is almost a hindrance to a right decision. It is not safe to go indiscriminately to all sorts of people with a statement of our difficulties, and entreaties for advice in dealing with them. This disposition is the evidence of a weak mind and an irresolute will. There is no real safety in the counsel sought in the confessional. Supreme wisdom comes to us with greatest force when it flows through the channel of hearts bound closely to our own.
III. How to take advice. The danger of resenting counsel, when it is unpleasant, is one with which we are all more or less familiar. Those who give advice should always be pure of their warrant to do so. But the more experience a man has the less disposed he will be to give advice unsought. Men are rarely careful enough in their way of giving disagreeable advice. There is a spirit and a manner in some counsels which it is not in human nature to bear. But we must take care lest we be displeased with others whose advice we get, simply because we dislike it. All are not good counsellors who try to lead, and we cannot too carefully test the words of advice which, on every hand, are spoken to us. When we are in doubt as to their value, we must weigh them in the balance of God’s sanctuary; and if they speak not according to His law, it is because there is no truth in them. The Great Adviser is always interested in us. Reliance on help from above is verified by the experience of all good men. (A. MacEwen, D.D.)
A gracious woman retaineth honour.
The honour of woman
Here the sexes are put in beautiful apposition: woman is gracious, man is strong. Graciousness dissociated from strength has indeed an influence all its own; strength dissociated from graciousness is mere strength, and is wanting in all those attributes which excite and satisfy the deepest confidences of the world. A woman can work miracles by her graciousness. She knows how to enter the sick chamber noiselessly. She knows how to enter the room without violence, ostentation, or impressiveness, which signifies vanity and display. Woman can speak the gentle word, and look the gracious look, and use the magical touch of friendship and trust, and, in short, can carry her own way without appearing to do so by the very force of tenderness, sympathy, and persuasiveness. Who would raise the foolish question whether grace or strength is the more desirable attribute? Each is desirable in its own way; a combination that is the very perfection of character. Strength and beauty are in the house of the Lord. The great column looks all the better for the beautiful capital which crowns and enriches it. Men should endeavour to cultivate grace, tenderness, all that is charmful in spirit, disposition, and action. This cannot be done by mere mimicry; it is to be done by living continually with Christ, studying His spirit, entering into all His purposes, and reproducing, not mechanically, but spiritually, as much as possible of all that was distinctive of His infinite character. The Bible has ever given honour to woman. He is a fool and an unjust man who wishes to keep women in silence, obscurity, and in a state of unimportance; and she is a foolish woman who imagines that she cannot be gracious without being strong, and who wishes to sacrifice her graciousness to some empty reputation for worthless energy. It is not good for the man to be alone, for he is without grace; it is not good for the woman to be alone, for she is without strength; when men and women stand to one another in the right Christian relation they will complete one another, and together constitute the Divine idea of humanity. (J..Parker, D.D.)
The merciful man doeth good to his own soul
The merciful man
Our God is a God of mercy.
Since He is full of mercy Himself, He is well pleased when He sees us exercise the same towards our fellow-creatures. The wise man here does not speak of tenderness towards others. The merciful man he here represents is a self-interested individual. He “doeth good to his own soul.” The merciful is he who is alive to his eternal interests, who is seeking the good of that treasure which is committed to him--“his own soul.” How may you promote this most desirable of all objects?
1. He who would do good to his own soul must carefully avoid all manner of sin, whether in thought, word, or deed. The thoughts must be watched. We are to be careful of the words which we utter, so that we may not make our tongues the instruments of evil-speaking, lying, and slandering. And careful also of our conduct and action.
2. Another mark of the object being kept in view, is the habitual study of the Word of God. The Scriptures testify of Christ, and point Him out as the “way, the truth, and the life.”
3. Attention to the means of grace.
4. He endeavours to realise an interest in the merits and atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ.
5. The merciful man, who does good to his own soul, does so only by placing his entire dependence upon the Lord Jesus Christ. (D. Slyman, B.A.)
The generous and the ungenerous
I. A generous disposition is a blessing to its possessor.
1. A merciful man doeth good to his intellectual faculties. It is a psychological fact that the intellect can only see clearly, move freely, and progress vigorously as it is surrounded by the atmosphere of disinterested affection. Selfishness blinds, cripples, enervates the intellect.
2. A merciful man doeth good to his moral sentiments. Conscience approves only of the actions that spring from love.
II. An ungenerous disposition is a curse to its possessor. Unmercifulness of disposition breeds the fiends of envy, jealousy, malice, remorse, fear, suspicion, pride, that torment the soul. (Homilist.)
Mercy to sufferers and to offenders
Mercy to sufferers is the disposition to relieve; mercy to offenders is the disposition to forgive. The two are infinitely united in God. Under His government all sufferers are offenders. It is only as offenders that they are sufferers, and when He pardons the offence He cancels the sentence to suffering. And in every good man the two are united. They should, indeed, be regarded as one principle, operating in different departments. The merciful man, whether considered in the one light or in the other--in exercising forgiveness or in relieving distress--“doeth good to his own soul”; he effectually consults his own interests. In the exercise of the generous and kindly affections there is a genuine and exquisite happiness. (R. Wardlaw.)
The wicked worketh a deceitful work.
The wicked and the just
There is here a startling contrast between them, in their work and in their reward.
I. Their work.
1. There is intentionally set before us a good specimen of a bad man. He is a man who works, and works hard in his own way. Some evil-doers are idle, profligate, sensual, devilish. Such seldom deceive themselves, and but rarely deceive others. But here is described a man who is very likely to deceive both himself and others. Wicked men are often shrewd men of the world and clever. They are zealous and laborious men, though the objects they aim at may be unworthy and bad. Their mistake is not in the way they work, but in the thing they work for. If all Christians were as eager in their pursuit of truth and charity and all good works as worldly men are in their search after riches and pleasures, what a difference it would make! Whilst the wicked man works in earnest fashion for time, does he attempt any like efforts for eternity? It is a mistake to think the bad man does not care for eternity at all. Multitudes attempt to serve two masters. A man who works with all his strength for worldly success often persuades himself that he will be able to work for eternity too. Does he then labour for the “meat that endureth unto eternal life”? Nay, at this point his wisdom is at fault, the deceitfulness of his work begins to appear. He is no better than a spiritual impostor and spendthrift. He knows nothing of the faith which awakens the generous and noble impulses of humanity, which touches the heart and makes the life holy. He is altogether ignorant of the quickening and sanctifying grace of the Holy Ghost.
2. Not such is the work of the righteous. He “soweth righteousness.” The sowing of the seed is the crowning act of the husbandman’s preparation for a crop. All his other work goes for nothing unless it be consummated by this work. The wicked is said to work, but the just sows righteousness. The text describes a work of faith. He who “sows righteousness” does it in order that he may hereafter gather in the harvest. What is the seed he sows? (compare Hosea 10:12). To “sow righteousness,” to “sow in righteousness,” and to “sow to the Spirit,” all means the same thing. It is to live righteously, to do righteous actions, to perform acts of devotion and piety to God, and to do works of truth and justice and charity towards our neighbour. It is to learn to do the will of God, looking forward to a future harvest,” having respect unto the recompense of the reward.” Righteousness in Scripture is a universal virtue, containing in itself all other virtues. A man must gather his seed before he can sow it. He who is to “sow righteousness” must first obtain a supply of the precious fruit of righteousness. Whence can this supply be fetched?
II. Their reward.
1. Working a deceitful work means working so as to deceive others. There is no real truth in a bad man. He is sure to deceive, whenever deceit will serve his ends. He will cast truth to the winds whenever truth calls upon him to suffer, either in his own person, or in his purse, or in the good opinion of others. Another rendering is, “the wicked winneth deceitful wages.” His work will betray him to his ruin, and will in the end utterly disappoint his own hopes. His work will break down just where it ought to stand, and fail altogether when his need is the greatest.
2. Mark well the bright and refreshing contrast. “To him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward.” The seed which has been sown in hope may lie for a long time beneath the clods, and may seem to be dead as well as buried. But as surely as God’s Word is true, it will spring up and grow, and ripen for a harvest of unspeakable joy. The reward of the righteous is a reward of grace and mercy. He that has “sown righteousness” most plentifully will look for his sure reward only from the mercy of God, through Jesus Christ. We live in difficult times, no doubt, but every age has its own trials, and the men of every age are ready to believe that no trials are as bad as theirs. The only safe way is the same in every age. It is to “sow righteousness.” (W. Bonner Hopkins, B.D.)
To him that soweth righteousness shall be a sure reward.--
The spiritual tillage
The husbandry and harvest of the righteous:--This is a counter-plea to that profane principle of the atheists, who say, “It is in vain to serve God.”
I. What it is to sow righteousness. It is the same as to “sow to the Spirit.” The gracious course of consecrating a man’s self unto God in the practice of godliness. There is likeness betwixt the practice of godliness and the sowing of seed.
1. In some things which go before sowing--the preparation and fitting of the ground, and the choice of seed to put in the ground. In like manner there must be in the practice of godliness the preparation of the heart and the choice of particulars belonging to a Christian course.
2. In the act of sowing, which may include the time of sowing and the plenty of sowing. In the spiritual business the seed-time for righteousness is in this life; the opportunity must be taken when it comes. And to sow righteousness is to be rich in good works.
3. In the things that follow after sowing. The fields must be hedged, the cattle shut out, the birds driven away, the stones picked out, and the field watched to see how it goes on. In spiritual matters it is vain to have entered into a good course if it be not continued. The signs of the practice of godliness are--
(1) The submitting a man’s self to have his heart broken up by the power of God’s Word;
(2) a diligent inquiry into the best way of pleasing God;
(3) a pressing forward amid many encumbrances;
(4) a striving and caring to be fruitful in good works;
(5) a watching over a man’s course with a continued diligence.
II. What is the sure reward? This is either in the life present or in that which is to come. Rewards in this life are both outward and inward: outward so far forth as the wisdom of God shall see it fitting. The inward is peace of conscience, arising out of the comfortable assurance of God’s favour. This is a joy working even in afflictions. The reward in the life to come cannot be expressed. Scripture reasoneth concerning the certainty of this reward by a proverbial speech, “Whatsoever a man soweth that shall he also reap.” Holiness in the seed, happiness in the harvest. And by the truth of God’s promise. There is a double reward--a reward of favour and a reward of debt. The doctrines to be collected are--
1. That the practice of godliness is a matter which requireth great industry.
2. That the full reward of religion is not to be looked for immediately on the practice of religion. Sowing and reaping come not at once.
3. That the Lord will surely reward those which faithfully labour in His service. Though there be many a storm after our sowing, the harvest will come, and we shall be comforted. Farmers pay their workmen straight after their labour, before the corn be ripe, but the payments are of far less value than the corn. God bestoweth upon His all that they have sown, and the hire shall far exceed the travail. (S. Hieron.)
The two pursuits with their respective ends
Denunciations of wrath against the wicked are no less common in Scripture than declarations of mercy to the penitent. The promises of almighty love are often repeated; no less frequent are the proclamations of almighty justice. The doom of the impenitent is no less certain than the rewards of the righteous. Solomon seems to place before us in these words the life of the righteous and the life of the ungodly contrasted with the respective objects which they have in view and the different ends to which they lead.
I. The wicked worketh a deceitful work. The object which he pursues seems to promise him great things, but it generally fills him with disappointment and chagrin. The characters of the wicked are various, but in one point they all agree--“they forget God.” They practically forget Him. They salve over their own consciences by thoughts of impunity. They have no love to God’s name, no inclination to obey His laws; they are by consequence without the strongest bond of duty in man, which is love. The law of God is hateful to them, because it puts constraint upon their appetites and evil designs. And they are without the bond of fear. As God’s judgments are out of sight, so they are out of mind. The pursuit of evil cannot minister to happiness even here below. It is attended with manifold woes, even upon earth. Sin, in most cases, is connected with punishment. “He that pursueth evil pursueth it to his death.” It is the death of hope, peace, reputation, and a good conscience. It is often the cause of a premature temporal death. The pursuit of evil is the necessary school and preparation for eternal death.
II. The different ends to which the life of the righteous and the life of the ungodly lead. What is righteousness? Other terms are godliness, holiness, the new man. What is meant is not the righteousness of forms, but an inward disposition manifested by corresponding conduct, the new heart and the new life. It is the godliness which is opposed to the bodily exercise that profiteth little. Such righteousness tendeth to life. It has a natural and necessary tendency to promote present peace and eternal glory. In Scripture the words life and death are used for happiness and misery. The righteous are necessarily training themselves for eternal happiness, independently of that promise which secures to them “the crown of glory that fadeth not away.” There must be a fitness for heaven, a character acquired upon earth which is suitable to the abode of the just. The righteousness of which we speak is conformity of heart and life to Jesus Christ; it is union of soul with Him, a likeness to His example; it has a measure of His holiness and perfection. Righteousness disposes and fits a man for the enjoyment of God, for it cultivates those faculties of the soul which are called into exercise in heaven. Righteousness rests upon the basis of love. The acquiring of this righteousness is the preparation for the enjoyment of God. Already the righteous have communion with the Father of their spirits and with the “spirits of the just made perfect.” This being so, the passage for them is easy from this world to eternity. But righteousness also has a tendency to promote present happiness. The righteous live in the favour of God. They have peace of conscience. They fear no evil. They can look on death without alarm. Righteousness has a natural tendency to promote our welfare by conciliating the favour of the good and the respect of all And the reward laid up in heaven is sure. In conclusion, address two classes: Those who are seeking after righteousness--a word of cheer. Those who are “working a deceitful work”--a word of warning. (H. J. Hastings, M.A.)
The deceitfulness of sin
Opposites illustrate each other. Of this principle considerable use is made in the sacred Scriptures.
I. Opposite characters. The idea of righteousness is equality, as the equilibrium of a pair of scales. Applied to moral or religious natures it means a correspondence between our obligations on the one hand and our performance on the other. So it becomes obedience or conformity to the law. The radical meaning of the word “wicked” is inequality, unfairness. In a moral sense a want of correspondence between duty and performance, or nonconformity to righteous laws. Wickedness is disorder, incongruity, deception, an unsound principle, naturally producing a deceitful work.
II. Opposite practices. Righteousness renders to all their due. Where wrong sentiments are indulged wrong dispositions and practices naturally follow. Hence result--
1. Treachery towards friends.
2. Fraud and falsehood in business.
3. Extortion and oppression.
4. Maladministration; a never-ceasing theme of complaint.
In all such cases the work is a “deceitful work”--deceitful in its nature, operation, and results.
III. Opposite results.
1. God convinces the sinner of his unrighteousness.
2. Enlightens, transforms, and renews the soul.
The renewed begins to sow righteousness. To him there is a sure reward. Pause and inquire whether such a change has been effected in you. Pray for convincing and converting grace. Persevere through evil and through good report. (Sketches of Four Hundred Sermons.)
The reward of lowing righteousness
In the Bible a righteous person is one who loves and serves God, i.e., one who is a true Christian. When people become true Christians themselves they want to do all they can to try to make other people Christians. All the good things that such people do in this way the Bible calls righteousness. Sowing, in the text, means doing. Righteousness, in the text, means kind acts, good works of any kind, that Christian people do out of love to Jesus and from a desire to make others love Him. And thus we find out that “sowing righteousness” means doing good. Righteousness is the best seed in the world to sow.
1. Because of the size of the field in which this sowing may be carried on.
2. Because of the number and kind of sowers. Farmers are only one class of men. All classes of persons may be sowers of righteousness.
3. Because of the certainty of the reward. Farmers hope for harvest, but cannot be quite sure. The reward of sowing righteousness is made up of pleasure and profit. Sometimes the profit is found in this life. But the best part of the reward is in heaven. (R. Newton, D.D.)
The evil and the good
Men separate morally into two great divisions. See them--
I. As they appear at work.
1. Evil works deceitfully. It deceives the individual possessor; it makes his very life fiction. It deceives others. It fabricates and propagates falsehood.
2. The good works righteously. Being righteous in heart, he is charged with righteous principles, which he sows as seed in the social circle to which he belongs.
II. As they appear in retribution. All works, the bad as well as the good, bring results to the worker. These results are the retribution; they are God’s return for labour.
1. The righteous reap life. Life of the highest kind--spiritual. Life of the highest degree--immortal blessedness.
2. The wicked reap death--the death of all usefulness, nobility, and enjoyment.
III. As they appear before God.
1. God observes moral distinctions.
2. God is affected by moral distinctions. What He sees He feels. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
As righteousness tendeth to life: so he that pursueth evil pursueth it to his own death.
The reward of righteousness
Life and death are objects of universal interest. Life here is life spiritual and eternal. Death is viewed as involving separation and exclusion from God.
I. Righteousness proves the spiritual life to be begun in our souls; evil shows that our souls are still dead in sin. Naturally we are all dead in sin. There is a life which God’s life-giving Spirit begins in us. One of the most marked indications of its existence is righteousness developing itself in the whole character and conduct.
II. Righteousness is connected with the spiritual nourishment which maintains life; evil with the neglect of such nourishment, which occasions death. Man’s spiritual nature must receive spiritual sustenance. The soul that is quickened to righteousness hungers and thirsts after righteousness, and God bestows upon it what it seeks, so as to nourish it and strengthen it.
III. Righteousness leads to courses of action which prolong life; evil, from its very nature, conducts to death. God’s ways tend not only to the preservation and prolongation of life in this world, but to the full enjoyment of life for evermore.
IV. Righteousness associates us with those who are alive to God, thus helping to maintain life in the soul; evil unites us to those who are spiritually dead, and brings us into the same state with them. To be the living among the dead is no easy thing. If voluntarily we associate with the dead, imbibing their spirit, and following their ways, we must be conformed in likeness to them.
V. Righteousness ensures the Divine protection, so that life is guarded and defended; evil incurs God’s wrath, which is death. Life is a brittle thing. The great God who gives it is ready, however, to ward off all the dangers which may menace it. His favour is life; His frown is death.
VI. Righteousness conducts to life everlasting in heaven; evil to eternal death in hell. The world of glory shall be peopled by the righteous. The evil and unbelieving shall inhabit the world of woe. (Anon.)
The “sure reward” in the preceding verse is “life” in this; and as that reward is sure in the one case, the deceitfulness of the wicked s work” lies in its affecting “death” as its result instead of “life.” He who “pursueth evil” may overtake it, and may boast himself in the success of his pursuit. But the very evil that he overtakes shall slay him. It is as if a man were to pursue a serpent, captivated by the beauty of its appearance, in its shifting and glistening hues, but ignorant of the venom of its sting, or its fang, and in the act of laying hold of it, were to receive the deadly wound. Death treads on the very heels of the man who “pursueth evil “; and when he overtakes the evil, death overtakes him. (R. Wardlaw.)
The natural history of evil
Every sinner plans and acts against his own personal interest; and fond as he is of life, he is a self-destroyer. He is allured by false appearances, enveloped in sense and sensual delights, and follows a path that ends in destruction.
I. The commencement of moral evil in the human soul. He is born in a state of impurity. Evil is interwoven in the very texture of his being. It commenced with the first family of the human race, and the evil spirit of unrighteousness has been transmitted from father to son. When a man is not properly acquainted with the corruption of his nature, he mistakes a want of opportunity to sin for moral purity of heart, and the absence of temptation for a truly virtuous mind. Evil in actual operation in human life--
1. Springs up in thoughts.
2. Finds expression in overt acts.
II. The progress of moral evil. “He that pursueth evil” There is not the root only, but also the tree and the growth. A man seldom becomes a sudden profligate. By a continuance in evil the feelings become less affected with its enormity, the conscience is less tender and scrupulous, the base inclinations and passions of the heart gather strength, and temptation finds an easy dupe to every impious proposal. Sin has not a resting-place. It carries within itself the power of perpetual motion. Sin hardens the heart.
III. the completion of moral evil. It has its seed-time, its growth, and its harvest.
1. The completion of sin is the death of reputation.
2. The death of enjoyment.
3. The death of the body.
4. The death of the soul. (Thomas Wood.)
Such as are upright in their way are His delight.
The upright, God’s delight
I. Who are the upright? Those whom God makes upright, the workmanship of His own Spirit, His new creation. This does not deny that there is in a sense an uprightness in the natural man. As long as man is a responsible being he is answerable to God for the use of the means given him, and it is a certain truth that there is not a natural man in the world who acts up to the light that he has. Great numbers claim the character of being upright and sincere. So the apostle Paul thought of himself when in his unconverted state. Natural sincerity never comes to the testing of God’s holy light. It can deal with man, but there is never that in natural sincerity which comes before God. For the upright see the publican smiting on his breast; the prodigal returning home; the woman a sinner dropping tears of penitence on Jesus’s feet; Matthew, Zaccheus, Nicodemus. The weakest, the feeblest believer, is upright. He often, indeed, thinks himself otherwise. He will even regard himself as a self-deceiver. The upright man mourns over inbred corruptions. Sometimes he has seasons of doubt. He is brought into circumstances of trial. Amidst all, in the grace of the Holy Spirit, he holds fast his integrity.
II. The upright are God’s delight. It is not their way, but themselves, that are His delight. He loved them before all worlds; He loved them before they loved Him in eternity. But the characters of the upright are His delight. He delights in the fruits of His own Son’s mediation, in the workmanship of His own Spirit, and in the reflection of His own image. But especially He delights in their being upright. He looks to the humiliation of the upright, their broken hearts, their falling tears. So precious is this uprightness before God, that it seems as if He overlooked all faults where it is. What a word of encouragement this ought to be to those who are honestly seeking Him! If you are indeed upright God knows it, and “your inheritance shall be for ever.” (J. Harrington Evans.)
Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished.
(Taken with Luke 23:51)
The laws of responsibility in combinations and partnerships
We are surrounded by numberless combinations devised by men for all manner of purposes--religious, political, judicial, social, commercial, scientific, industrial, artistic, educational, etc. Men widely abandon endeavours after striking individuality in thought or conduct, and throw themselves blindfold into the stream of fashion which carries the multitude away. Men seek to recover their lost sense of power by combination with others in doctrine, in capital, indeed in all departments. The will of each individual becomes, as it were, a single minute cog in a mighty wheel-work of engineering, which carries everything before it. All this is not favourable to the sense of responsibility for conduct here or hereafter. There is a special delusion which attends the combinations in which men seek to recover the sense of power, and to unite their forces in order to accomplish their ends. This delusion consists in mistaking joint responsibility for divided responsibility. The persuasion is extended widely that union is not only strength in administration and enterprise, but that it distributes the oppressive burden of responsibility in equal or nearly equal and insignificant shares between all the persons who are joined together in any undertaking; so that although the practical result of their united action may be morally indefensible, or even utterly wicked and injurious, no single person can be justly blamed, or rendered accountable for the whole criminality of the result--since the wickedness has been effected by an organisation or administration consisting of numbers of agents who have assisted or consented in the work. A characteristic proverb has descended to us from the last century to this effect: “A cathedral chapter would divide even a murder between them”--a proverb unfairly singling out one particular kind of Christian combination for censure, yet embodying two truths applicable to every association, civil and religious.
1. That even well-disposed men will sometimes agree to do in company what they would not dare to do as individuals.
2. That no man’s personal accountableness to God can ever be swallowed up and lost in an impersonal organisation. The relation of the individual to the moral government of God is primary, dominant, and inalienable; it cannot be diminished by the concurrence of others. Before God the combination of men in counsel and action results always not in divided responsibility but in joint responsibility. Each member is responsible for the whole result of what he consents to, or carries into action. There can be no divided liability for a conjoint iniquity. If this were not so, it would require men only to join hand in hand to go unpunished. But how should God judge the world unless in all such cases the responsibility is joint, not distributive? This is also the principle of human legislation and administration. It is not, therefore, good to undertake, as if merely nominal, any real responsibilities.
This truth, that a man is responsible for whatever he consents to, ought--
1. To be proclaimed in relation to ecclesiastical organisations and missionary societies.
2. The principle may be seen in the working of political party. Educated men are guilty, in a free country, of all the national iniquity against which they do not protest with determination.
3. The principle of personal liability needs application to commercial affairs and civil life. The Almighty God stands behind every creditor and every customer, in readiness to assert and enforce every just claim to the uttermost. The Infinite Defender of Right is behind every person who is wronged. The highest Law Court is omnipresent and sleepless. We cannot put an end to the great battle between selfish interests, but we can do much by public spirit and sound legislation to alleviate its woes. On the whole I must express my conviction, however, that the commercial world will bear an honourable comparison with the political and ecclesiastical, when tried by this principle of the responsibility of each member in every combination. (Edward White.)
Men, like sheep, are gregarious. The combination is--
I. Natural. The wicked, in the text, are supposed to be in danger, and nothing is more natural than for men to crowd together in common danger. Fear as well as love brings men together; the one drives, the other draws.
II. Useless. No combination of men, however great in number, vast in wisdom, mighty in strength, affluent in resources, can prevent punishment from befalling the wicked. It must come.
1. The moral constitution of the soul.
2. The justice of the universe.
3. The almightiness of God, render all human efforts to avoid it futile. (Homilist.)
Opposing God useless
The uselessness of opposing God must be manifest from every point of view. God is omniscient, and knows all things; is almighty, and can do all things; is omnipresent, and is everywhere: so that no device or counsel or plot can succeed against Him. The image of the text is that of conspiracy, wicked men combining, saying to one another in effect, “It each of us cannot succeed singly, we may by combination succeed as a unity.” The possibility of such a conspiracy was foreseen, and the issue of it is foretold in these plain terms. Let men add money to money, genius to genius, influence to influence, counsel to counsel, still it is but like the addition of so many ciphers--the number being very great but the value being absolutely nothing. What one man cannot do in this direction a thousand men are unable to do. Fool, then, is he who supposes that because he has followed a multitude to do evil, therefore no harm will come to him. Every man in the multitude will be judged as if he were alone responsible for the whole mischief. Hands that are joined together in wickedness may be dissevered on any occasion and for the flimsiest reasons. It is folly for any wicked man to trust in a man as wicked as himself, for the very fact that wickedness renders security impossible, and turns all manner of association into a mere matter of temporary convenience, which may be varied or destroyed according to a thousand contingencies. All evil partnerships in business are doomed to failure. All irregular alliances in the household must come to confusion and disappointment, and may end fatally. The same law holds good in the State, and indeed in every department of life. There can be no security but in righteousness, in high wisdom, in unselfish enthusiasm; where these abound the security is as complete as it is possible for man to make it. Men cannot be joined wisely and permanently together unless they are first joined to the living God. Men can only be joined to the living God through the living Christ; He is the vine, men are the branches, and unless the branch abides in the vine it cannot bear fruit, but is doomed to be burned. True union, therefore, must be religious or spiritual before it can be human and social. Neglect of this great law has ended in inexpressible disappointment and mortification on the part of statesmen, reformers, and propagandists of every kind. (J. Parker, D.D.)
But the seed of the righteous shall be delivered.--
The sanctions of obedience
The text is a twofold proposition--that combinations against God and godliness only incur failure and penalty; and that the triumph of righteousness is equally sure. There are among men’s habits three general kinds of “wickedness,” or disobedience to God’s laws, entailing upon them three several orders and degrees of retribution or punishment: violations of the laws which govern the spiritual or moral man, the animal man, and the social man.
1. If the mind-laws, which include the intellectual and moral aspects of man, be disobeyed, that is if the process of education be not contemporaneous with the progress of years, the mental faculty languishes in the stagnation of its undeveloped powers, the mental man grows and abides an ignoramus, a stereotyped boor; and if the means of grace be in like manner neglected, the spiritual man rises not into the dignity which the love of God designed for him.
2. If the body-laws, or the principles which regulate the health, be disregarded by habits of excess or even ordinary indulgence or neglect of exercise, the penalty is a diseased body, and personal infirmity.
3. If the estate laws be disregarded, which make industry essential to getting, and frugality essential to saving what is got, and forethought essential in the way of insurance upon life or property, the punishment meets the man in his estate, in his condition of life, that is, in the form in which he has sinned. When we pray for a sound and enlightened mind, do we turn to the Word “whose entrance giveth light”? Do we seek to inform our minds, correct our judgments, and enrich our memories? When we pray for health and strength to labour and enjoy, do we avoid those varieties, artifices, and excesses in food and drink, and those sluggish habits of inactivity and sloth, which make health physically impossible? When we pray for prosperity in our worldly affairs, do we still, on conscientious principles, “labour, working with our hands the thing that is meet”? Do we glorify God in our attention to our business? Where can there be a more cogent, impressive, animating motive than the sterling fact, “Ye are not your own; ye are bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your bodies and spirits, which are His”? Man can no more do without God, or act independently of God and His laws, than the rays of light can dispense with the sun. All the errors of individual character, all the failures in educational theories, all the mistakes of experimental legislation, originate in the fundamental fatal effect of reckoning without God, setting aside the great elemental fact that He is at the root, progress, and issue of all things, and that to put Him out of our calculations, to supersede His constitution, is to start upon false premises, to provoke and compel a failure, to reason and range in a vicious circle, for ever retracing its impracticable, unprogressive steps. “The wicked shall not go unpunished.” “The seed of the righteous shall be delivered.” (Joseph B. Owen, M.A.)
As a jewel of gold in a swine’s snout, so is a fair woman which is without discretion.
A good thing in a bad place
The Jews regarded the pig as an unclean animal. The heathen around worshipped the pig, and they ate it afterwards as an act of worship. The Egyptians, when they wished to draw a picture of a very foolish person, always represented him as a pig. How unlovely is the idea of a jewel that might have been worn by a queen being placed in the nose of a pig! But there are some things that we see every day which are quite as bad. For instance--
1. A pretty face and a very ugly soul. It is nice to be beautiful, but it is far better to be good. When you feel tempted to be proud because you are good-looking, ask yourself, “Is my soul good-looking and beautiful to God?”
2. A good head and a bad heart. King John, one of England’s worst kings, was a very clever man. It is not enough to be learned, or to have great talents; we want to be holy, and then shall we be able to use our abilities well.
3. Wise words and foolish deeds. It was said of a certain king, that “he never said a foolish thing and never did a wise one.” A jewel treated as described in this text would be a jewel misapplied. It was never intended for such a use. And God did not intend that we should ever waste our minds and our time in the service of sin. The Jews had a saying that the nose of a pig is walking dirt. If a jewel were placed in it, it would be spoiled. Sin mars a beautiful face; it will even make a clever man foolish; it will ruin us if it be not taken away from us. (J. J. Ellis.)
A fair woman is one of personal attractions. Discretion means virtue or moral worth. A woman of external attractions who is devoid of mind excellences is a most unsightly object.
I. Here is a very incongruous conjunction in one person. Physical beauty and moral deformity united. Do not despise natural, or personal, or artistic beauty.
II. Here is a very revolting conjunction in one person. Incongruity is not always disgusting, it is sometimes ridiculous. But this incongruity is disgusting when it is seen aright with healthy moral sentiments. We do not always see how revolting it is, because our eye rests upon the personal attraction, and peers not into the moral heart. We are taken up more with the “jewel” than with the “swine.”
III. Here is a very common conjunction in one person.
1. Wickedness is prompted by personal attraction.
2. Wickedness is fond of personal attractions. Vulgarity always likes finery, and sin is always fond of making a grand appearance. Do not, in forming your fellowships, be carried away with one side of life. Do not follow the swine for the sake of the jewel. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
There is that scattereth, and yet increaseth.
The tendency of liberality to riches, and of covetousness to poverty
The words of this text carry an air of improbable and surprising paradoxes to the covetous and worldly-minded, who naturally imagine that scattering tends to poverty, and withholding to increase. But if we take them to be allusive to the management of a husbandman in sowing his seed, the sense will stand as easy as the thought will appear to be beautiful and just (compare 2 Corinthians 9:6).
I. The description of persons of very opposite characters. “Scatter” is the same word as “disperse” (Psalms 112:9). He that scatters is the liberal soul; the man who, with a free and generous spirit, labours to spread the most useful and extensive influence, by all manner of means; the man who is ready to distribute of his temporal substance for promoting religious and civil liberties and interests, for doing good to the souls and bodies of men, and, particularly, for relieving the necessitous and the distressed. We should manage our religious and charitable distributions, not with contrivance how to shift off our obligations and opportunities for them, but with devising how in the best manner to improve them; not with a grudging, but with a free and cheerful heart. On the contrary, he that withholds, keeps back, or spares, more than is meet or right, is the covetous man, whose narrow, selfish spirit will not suffer him cheerfully to pay his personal or his public debts, much less to practise beneficence at an expense that cannot be demanded by human laws. No arguments derived from humanity or Christianity can work his heart up to bear his proper proportion in generous and beneficent acts.
II. What is affirmed of these persons respectively. We might consider this increase and want with respect to our best interests, that relate to the enrichment of the soul in goodness. Distributing enlarges the heart, and makes it open, free, and generous, with growing propensions to every good work. The man who withholds is poor-spirited; he has a contracted soul; he is destitute of those amiable graces by which our God and Saviour are most conspicuously imitated and glorified. We may also consider this increase and want with respect to our worldly substance. That is not lessened but improved by distributions on all proper occasions. Withholdings, more than is meet, ever tend to poverty and want. God’s blessing on the generous comes either as a visible increase of their outward estates, or as a secret increase of the inward contentment of their own minds. Those who are of a covetous temper, do not enjoy what they possess. According to a just estimation of things, they are no richer by all their silver and gold than if it still lay in the ore of the Indian mines.
III. Account for the truth of both these propositions. Every virtuous, spiritual, and holy disposition of the soul increases by frequent and proper exercise; and loses its force and vigour, and aptness for action, by disuse and neglect. This is common to all principles and habits of the moral or religious and supernatural kind.
1. The blessing of God is upon them that scatter, and His blast is upon them that withhold more than is meet.
2. The friendship of men is toward them that scatter, and their disaffection toward those who withhold more than is meet. (J. Guyse, D.D.)
To distribute portions of our wealth in schemes and acts of wise philanthropy is like casting into the ground as seed a proportion of the last year’s harvest. It goes out of your sight for the moment, but it will spring in secret, and come back to your own bosom, like manna from heaven. An unwise man may indeed scatter his corn on barren rocks, or on equally barren sands, and though he sow bountifully he will reap sparingly there. So, in the moral region, the increase is not absolutely in proportion to the profusion of the scattering. When a man lays out large sums on unworthy objects, to feed his own vanity or gratify his own whim, he neither does nor gets good. The outlay is in its own nature and necessarily profitable. In educating the young, in reclaiming the vicious, in supporting the aged poor, in healing the sick, and in making known the gospel to all, we have ample fields to cultivate, and the prospect of large returns to cheer us in the toil. (W. Arnot, D.D.)
The profit of liberality
The Bible gives us plain view of the character and mind of God; and that view sets Him before us as a Being interested in promoting the happiness of His creatures. It presents Him as establishing, by His wise decree, that order of things which places men in different classes and circumstances of life; it shows us that high and low station, wealth and poverty, affluence and dependence, are the result of Divine arrangement, and so far it discourages pride and envy, and teaches thankfulness, contentment, and resignation, in the several conditions of human life. God, in His care of all His creatures, has made it binding on the rich, by an express enactment, that they should see to, and provide for, the wants of the poor. There is nothing more frequently, nor more strongly spoken of in the Word of God, than that assistance, arising out of the fact of their brotherhood, which man should render man. The text sets before us two different modes of dealing with our property, in reference to our fellow-creatures.
I. The liberal man, and what he gets from his liberality. The man here is living in the midst of dependent fellow-creatures, and uses his property in relieving them. Here seems to be the idea of a husbandman throwing his seed in every direction where it may be profitable. The liberal man looks abroad, and where his money is wanted, and where it is likely to do good, there he gives it with the greatest cheerfulness of mind. This is what ought to be. We are not required to give away when we have not in reality the power to do so; but when we possess the power the duty is incumbent. We must “scatter” for the blessing of others. A notion prevails that if we give liberally to others, we hurt ourselves. We are, indeed, told to “do good, hoping for nothing again,” yet we may urge as an encouragement that, in sowing the seeds of kindness, we are sure to reap a personal benefit. The men who have been most liberal have, in a general way, prospered most in their worldly undertakings; and certainly they have been rewarded with growth in grace, and a large measure of peace, confidence, and joy in their own souls.
II. The mean man, and the result which follows his meanness. To withhold is not always wrong. It may be a right thing, a positive duty. But some men are wretchedly mean; they have not a spark of kind sympathy or of generous sensibility in their souls. They are over-full of their own things. These the text speaks about. There is a measure in the amount of almsgiving which is to be determined by a person’s circumstances. To whom much is given, from the same will much be required. If you give God less than God requires of you, then instead of a blessing there will rest on you a curse. God has often taken away from a man the riches which he would not use rightly when he had them. Poverty of pocket is not the worst kind of poverty. It is poverty of soul that is so deplorable. (William Curling, M.A.)
The use and abuse of poverty
Nothing is wanting to the right direction of human conduct, but a clear perception of man’s own interest, and a correct estimate of man’s own responsibility. In the text a contrast of two characters and of two consequences.
I. Two opposing characters. One is said to “scatter.” Of the blessed man it is said, “He hath dispersed, he hath given to the poor” (Psalms 112:9). The apostle says, “He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly, and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully.” Faithfulness implies two things: first, a clear perception, a just apprehension of the purposes for which we are put in trust; and secondly, a conscientious employment of those means by which the purposes are to be accomplished, according to the dictates and directions of the supreme Lord of all. Neither indiscriminate almsgiving nor improvident expenditure derive any countenance from the rule of Christian practice, as finally and unalterably settled in the epistles to the infant Churches. The man who “scattereth” is the man who gives, whether to the service of his God, or to the succour of his fellow-men, on principle; the man whose charities, as they are called (though the term religious obligations would be far more applicable), bear some definite and assignable proportion, not only to his present expenses and indulgences, but to the provision for the family; the man, who devotes to purposes of philanthropy and piety such a proportion of his worldly increase, as his own conscience, enlightened and directed by God’s Word, accounts an offering expressive of his gratitude to the Giver of every good and perfect gift. The contrary character to this is he who “withholdeth more than is meet “; he who is actuated, alike in what he saves, and in what he spends, by considerations purely selfish; who professes, indeed, that he accumulates upon principle, but whose principle will not endure the application of the standard of the Word of God, his object being to found or to aggrandise a family, while in prosecuting this object he overlooks or undervalues the salvation of the soul. Many are the subterfuges and evasions by which men endeavour to justify, or at least to palliate, their own conduct in “withholding more than is meet,” e.g., difficulty of detecting imposture; perversion of benevolent funds; and the excuse that whatever is spent is a contingent evil, while whatever is hoarded is a certain good.
II. Two opposing consequences. True wisdom involves the consideration of our latter end. If the habits and actions of the “life that now is” can exert any influence upon the destinies of “that which is to come,” the counsel given by our Lord would be the dictate of policy, as well as the command of authority: “Walk while ye have the light.” Temporal blessings do usually wait upon the discreet and conscientious dispensation of God’s bounty. He that scattereth increaseth even in this world’s goods. But Christian benevolence for Christ’s sake must not be taken for the whole of the system of Christian practice, of which it only constitutes a part. Towards poverty of soul tendeth that mistaken and short-sighted policy, which men are wont to term prudence and forecast. But to have made no use of God’s property for God’s purposes will be a ground of judgment and condemnation, as much as to have abused it for our own. (Thomas Dale, M.A.)
How to gain by spending
The text is generally true, if we confine its application to money. In a moral and spiritual sense the proverb is universally true. The man who gives bountifully loses nothing by his gifts, but gains much. The first thing that strikes us when we consider the nature of property is its exclusive character. Every pound we call our own, and every shilling we reserve for our own use, is so much less for other people. The higher wealth of the intellect is not so exclusive in its nature. You do not lose your gift as an artist if you teach a class to paint. Only in a limited degree do you increase your mental endowments by imparting them to others. But we actually increase our spiritual riches by spending them. The more of the bread of life you give away, the more you will find in your store. Spiritual wealth is like money wealth in this respect, that we must invest it if it is to increase. Hoarding money never adds to the heap. Two practical lessons.
1. We see the absolute necessity of some form of spiritual activity to the increase of the Christian life.
2. The course of thought we have been pursuing suggests to us the spiritual nature of the Divine rewards. We need, badly need, a revision of the vocabulary of the Divine rewards. Too often those rewards are spoken of in terms which degrade rather than honour the high service of God. The reward and the service are one. The rewards of Christ are not less service, but more service and higher toil. (G. S. Barrett, D.D.)
Of all the rich men that have come to poverty, I never heard of any that was ruined by a discreet liberality. (G. Lawson.)
I. Generosity exemplified.
1. In nature. Clouds give rain, sun gives light, earth gives fruit. “The heart does not receive the blood to store it up, but while it pumps it in at one valve, it sends it forth at another.”
2. In the example of Christ (Galatians 1:4).
3. In the early Church (Acts 2:44-45).
4. In modern times. Peabody, Morley, etc.
II. Generosity extolled.
1. It is unstinted (Isaiah 32:8).
2. It is profitable. One who has had experience in giving systematically, says, “It pays as an investment, and is a fortune in business.” Mr. Haig Miller tells of a gentleman who, on starting in life, said, “I determined that for every £10,000 I made £1,000 should be given back to God and works of charity, and I have had ten times to fulfil my vow.” If temporal gain is the motive which inspires giving, the act will be spoiled by the motive; but giving from right motives is often honoured by a present and a bountiful return. The converse of this is true. Withholding “tendeth to poverty.” If not poverty of purse, as is often the case, there will be poverty of soul.
3. It is hearty. “God never sent us into this world to do anything into which we cannot put our hearts.”
4. It is healthy. “If a man is growing large in wealth, nothing but constant and generous giving can save him from growing small in soul.”
5. It is refreshing.
6. It wins the heart. Edward Payson said, when dying, “I long to give a full cup of happiness to every human being.” The benedictions of his people were a chief part of his rich reward (compare Job 29:13).
7. It is painstaking. The true friend of the needy does not wait till misery presses its claim at his door; he goes and looks first (compare Luke 19:10). (H. Thorne)
Every year George Moore wrote these words in his pocket-book. They became engraved on his soul, and to an extent formed his creed: “What I spent I had: What I saved I lost: What I gave I have.”
One would say that to scatter anything is to part with it without advantage; and that to withhold, to keep back, is undoubtedly to save and to retain. The text teaches that this may be quite a mistake on our part. There is reckless scattering and there is wise withholding. The text is not to be taken in its literalness; it is to be examined in its spirit. Happily we have no need to go further in search of illustration of the truth of the text; we find it on every farm, in every business, in every school. The text calls to benevolent activity founded on religious faith. The doctrine enlarges and glorifies life by calling into life elements and considerations which lie beyond the present and the visible. The very exercise of scattering carries blessing with it, breaks up the mastery of selfishness, and enlarges the circle of kindly interests. Beneficence is its own compensation. Charity empties the heart of one gift that it may make room for a larger. But if any man think to give God something with the idea of having it back again, that man will be disappointed and humiliated, and justly so, The other side of this text is as emphatic and as often illustrated in practical life as the first. Selfishness is suicidal; selfishness lives in gloom; selfishness injects poison into every stream of life. Selfishness is most intensely selfish when it assumes the name of prudence. When selfishness chatters proverbs, it has reached the depth beyond which there is no death. God can turn the wicked man’s very success into failure, and out of selfish ambition He can bring the scorpion whose sting is death. Though this text is found in the Old Testament, the principle is distinctly held by Jesus Christ. It is a moral principle, universal and unchangeable in its force and application. (J. Parker, D.D.)
This is one eminent branch of the character of the righteous, but because there are many objections in the heart of man against the practice of it, urgent motives are here addressed to us. The instructions delivered in this and the four following verses, will, if they are but believed, be a sufficient answer to every objection. There is that scattereth his substance by profusion and luxury. That man diminishes his substance till it comes to nothing. But he that disperses by giving to the poor, by liberal distributions for the support of the commonwealth in times of danger, or for the service of religion, shall increase his substance. He is like the husbandman, who sows with good-will and unsparing hand that precious seed which is to produce a joyful harvest. It is God who gives all that we enjoy, and by His secret blessing, or by remarkable interpositions of providence, the liberal man is often made to abound in riches, and enabled more and more abundantly to serve his fellow-men. Abraham sat at his tent door to watch for passengers, and those who came he urged to partake of his bounty, with more earnestness than other men beg an alms. (G. Lawson.)
The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself.
The waterer watered
The general principle is, that in living for the good of others, we shall be profited also ourselves. This teaching is sustained by the analogy of nature, for in nature there is a law that no one thing can be independent of the rest of creation, but there is a mutual action and reaction of all upon all. God has so constituted this universe, that selfishness is the greatest possible offence against His law, and living for others, and ministering to others, is the strictest obedience to His will. Our surest road to our own happiness is to seek the good of our fellows. We store up in God’s own bank what we generously expend on the behalf of our race. To get we must give; to accumulate we must scatter; to make ourselves happy, to get good and become spiritually vigorous, we must do good, and seek the spiritual good of others.
I. Apply this principle, in its narrow sense, as belonging to ourselves personally. There are some works in which we cannot all engage. Peculiar men have special work; but watering is work for persons of all grades and all sorts.
1. All God’s plants, more or less, want watering.
2. The Lord’s people usually get this watering through instrumentality. The Holy Spirit waters us by the admonitions of parents, by the kind suggestions of friends, by the teaching of His ministers, by the example of all His saints.
3. Some plants need special watering, and should be the objects of unusual care--partly because of temperament or of ignorance, and partly because of circumstances, maybe of trial, maybe of soul-withering.
4. All believers have some power to water others. In so watering others we shall be watered ourselves. This is the main point.
(1) You will waken up your own powers.
(2) You will yourself gain instruction.
(3) You will get comfort in your work.
(4) Watering others will make you humble.
(5) You will win many prayers.
(6) You will even get honour to yourselves, that will stimulate you to new exertions.
(7) While watering others you will be manifesting and showing your love to Christ, and that will make you more like Him.
II. The principle, in a wider sense, as it may refer to us as a Church. We, as a Church, have enjoyed singular prosperity; but we have endeavoured to water others. We have undertaken a good many enterprises for Christ, and we hope to undertake a great many more. We must keep our watering work up.
III. The principle, in the widest sense, as it may be referred to the entire Body of Christ. Our missionary operations are an infinite blessing to the Churches at home. Relinquishing them, giving them up, staying them, would bring such a curse that we had need to go down on our knees and pray, “God send the missionary work back again.” (C. H. Spurgeon}
Scriptural liberality illustrated and enforced
All the appearances of virtue and piety do not partake of their real nature. See the case of the Pharisees. None of our good works can be viewed with approbation by God unless they spring from a right principle, are guided by a right rule, and are directed to a right end. God looks at the motive in which they originate.
I. The character of true religious or Christian liberality.
1. Its principle. The spirit which is in man must be the seat of this virtue, or the liberal hand, so far as it respects God, is of no worth. There is much beneficence apart from religion. But it is the grateful heart God requires.
2. Its objects. First our kindred according to the flesh. Then the poor and distressed in society.
3. The modes in which this liberality should express itself. It should be honest in its administration. It should be proportionate in degree. It should be affectionate in its communication. It should be expansive in its embrace. It should be habitual in its exercise.
II. The recompense to encourage us to its exercise and display.
1. As respects the life that now is. Inward pleasure, pleasure in looking at the good effected; enlarged powers of usefulness.
2. As respects the life to come. Apply to those who give nothing to the cause of the poor. To those who give little. To those who are in the habit of giving much. (John Clayton, jun.)
The blessedness of blessing
It must be admitted that the natural tendency of things in this present fallen world is by no means such as to secure a prosperous result to rectitude of conduct, and failure to that of a contrary character. We often witness the inversion of this order. It is necessary to consider the character of the dispensation under which the book was written. The Jews were ostensibly, as well as really, under the immediate government of God; a government sanctioned by temporal rewards and punishments. This gave to the government of God over them what we may term a visible character. There was an ostensible Moral Governor. The Jew, apart from all consideration of a future state, was entitled to look, even in this life, for a providential sanction to his conduct, when his ways were such as pleased the Lord. In God’s dealings with that people He affords an emblem, a visible emblem, of His dealings with others. The great distinction between the Jewish and the Christian dispensations is, that the one was addressed to sense, the other to faith; the one deals with visible things, the other with spiritual. It is but consistent with this distinction, that while God’s providential government over His people is not less real under the Christian dispensation, it should be less manifest. Those things which would be perplexing to us if we attempt to judge the ways of God by sense, become reconcilable with His character and with His promises when regarded in the judgment of faith. Objection might be raised on the ground that the assertion of the text is contradicted by absolute matter of fact. The words, translated out of their figurative language, obviously assert, that he who liberally dispenses to others of those bounties, whether in grace or in providence, which God has conferred upon him, shall be himself more abundantly enriched. To the eye of sense this assertion is far from being universally verified among us as a matter of fact. In a worldly point of view it is not always the most virtuous who are the most prosperous, nor the most liberal who are the most successful. But faith will see every promise to us fulfilled in a higher and better sense. The highest exemplification of this passage is found in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. He spent His life in blessing; therefore it was He was so greatly blessed. The recompense of the reward is a motive sanctioned by the highest example, that of Christ Himself. Some think it savours too much of legality, to hold out a future recompense as a stimulus to the active employment of all our talents in the service of God. Yet surely this is to confound things that are perfectly distinct in themselves. It is not inconsistent with the doctrines of grace to propose a proportionable increase of future joy as a motive to present sacrifice, and to hold it up before Christians as a matter of certainty, that every sacrifice which they make for the Lord’s sake shall be repaid from the hand of the Lord. The liberal distribution of our worldly substance is attended with a blessing from the Lord, at least to the man himself. But the text is the exposition of an established law in the universal government of God’s providence. Our progress depends on our readiness to communicate of the stores already conferred upon us. The Christian’s rule of spiritual advancement is not so much in proportion to the acquisitions which he makes of knowledge, as to the use that he makes of it. As we feed others our own souls are fed by God. It is in the nature of things, or rather, I should say, it is in the appointment of God, that it should be so. (W. Dodsworth, M.A.)
He that watereth shalt be watered
“If we give so much we shall exhaust our resources,” is a common remark. Don’t be afraid of that, my friend. See that little fountain yonder--away yonder in the distant mountain, shining like a thread of silver through the thick copse, and sparkling like a diamond in its healthful activity. It is hurrying on with tinkling feet to bear its tribute to the river. See, it passes a stagnant pool, and the pool hails it. “Whither away, master streamlet?” “I am going to the river to bear this cup of water God has given me.” “Ah! you are very foolish for that; you’ll need it before the summer is over. It has been a backward spring, and we shall have a hot summer to pay for it--you will dry up then.” “Well,” says the streamlet, “if I am to die so soon, I had better work while the day lasts. If I am likely to lose this treasure from the heat, I had better do good with it while I have it.” So on it went, blessing and rejoicing in its course. The pool smiled complacently at its own superior foresight, and husbanded all its resources, letting not a drop steal away. Soon the midsummer heat came down, and it fell upon the little stream. But the trees crowded to its brink, and threw out their sheltering branches over it in the day of adversity, for it brought refreshment and life to them; and the sun peeped through the branches, and smiled complacently upon its dimpled face, and seemed to say, “It is not in my heart to harm you”; and the birds sipped its silver tide, and sang its praises; the flowers breathed their perfume upon its bosom; the beasts of the field loved to linger by its banks; the husbandman’s eye sparkled with joy as he looked upon the line of verdant beauty that marked its course through his fields and meadows--and so on it went, blessing and blessed of all. God saw that the little stream never exhausted itself. It emptied its full cup into the river, and the river bore it on to the sea, and the sea welcomed it, and the sun smiled upon the sea, and the sea sent up its incense to greet the sun, and the clouds caught, in their capacious bosoms, the incense from the sea, and the winds, like waiting steeds, caught the chariots of the clouds and bore them away--away to the very mountain that gave the little fountain birth; and there they tipped the brimming cup, and poured the grateful baptism down. And so God saw to it, that the little fountain, though it gave so fully and so freely, never ran dry. And where was the prudent pool? Alas! in its inglorious inactivity it grew sickly and pestilential. The beasts of the field put their lips to it, but turned away without drinking. The breeze stooped and kissed it by mistake, but caught the malaria in the contact, and carried the ague through the region. (R. F. Horton.)
If I desire to flourish in soul, I must not hoard up my stores, but must distribute to the poor. To be close and niggardly is the world’s way to prosperity, but not God’s (see Proverbs 11:24). Faith’s way of gaining is giving. I must try this again and again; and I may expect that as much of prosperity as will be good for me will come to me as a gracious reward for a liberal course of action. Of course, I may not be sure of growing rich. I shall be fat, but not too fat. Too great riches might make me as unwieldy as corpulent persons usually are, and cause me the dyspepsia of worldliness, and perhaps bring on a fatty degeneration of the heart. No, if I am fat enough to be healthy, I may well be satisfied; and if the Lord grants me a competence, I may be thoroughly content. But there is a mental and spiritual fatness which I would greatly covet; and these come as the result of generous thoughts towards my God, His Church, and my fellow-men. Let me not stint, lest I starve my heart. Let me be bountiful and liberal; for so shall I be like my Lord. He gave Himself for me: shall I grudge Him anything? (C. H. Spurgeon.)
God’s law of recompense
If I carefully consider others, God will consider me; and in some way or other He will recompense me. Let me consider the poor, and the Lord will consider me. Let me look after little children, and the Lord will treat me as His child. Let me feed His flock, and He will feed me. Let me water His garden, and He will make a watered garden of my soul. This is the Lord’s own promise; be it mine to fulfil the condition, and then to expect its fulfilment. I may care about myself till I grow morbid; I may watch over my own feelings till I feel nothing; and I may lament my own weakness till I grow almost too weak to lament. It will be far more profitable for me to become unselfish, and out of love to my Lord Jesus begin to care for the souls of those around me. My tank is getting very low; no fresh rain comes to fill it; what shall I do? I will pull up the plug, and let its contents run out to water the withering plants around me. What do I see? My cistern seems to fill as it flows. A secret spring is at work. While all was stagnant, the fresh spring was sealed; but as my stock flows out to water others, the Lord thinketh upon me. Hallelujah! (C. H. Spurgeon.)
He that withholdeth corn, the people shall curse him.
The text has to do with owners of corn and dealers in it. In Solomon’s day famines were frequent, and were serious because trade communications between different countries were so uncertain. Then persons would buy up all the corn they could, so as to unduly raise the market-price. In relation to this greed in trade, there is a wonderful reserve of Holy Scripture. Mr. Arnot says, “In this brief maxim no arbitrary rule is laid down to the possessor of corn, that he must sell at a certain period and at a certain price: and yet the hungry are not left without a protecting law. The protection of the weak is entrusted not to small police regulations, but to great self-acting providential arrangements. The double fact is recorded in terms of peculiar distinctness, that he who in times of scarcity keeps up his corn in order to enrich himself is loathed by the people, and he who sells it freely is loved. This is all. There is no further legislation on the subject.” Laws which interfere between buyer and seller, master and workman, are blunders and nuisances. The market goes best when it is left alone, and so in our text there is no law enacted and no penalty threatened, except that which the nature of things makes inevitable. A man may do as he pleases about selling or not, but he cannot escape from the curse of the people if he chooses to lock up his grain. But if it bring a curse upon a man to withhold the bread that perisheth, what a weight of curse will light upon the man who withholds the bread of eternal life.
I. How can this be done?
1. By locking up the Word of God in an unknown language, or by delivering and preaching it in such a style that the people shall not comprehend it. Illustrate by the practice of the Roman Church. But the terms of theology, the phrases of art, the definitions of philosophy, the jargon of science, are an unknown tongue to the young godly ploughmen, or praying shopkeepers. Simplicity is the authorised style of true gospel ministry.
2. By keeping back the most important and vital truths of revelation, and giving a prominence to other things, which are but secondary. Morality brings no food to hungry souls, although it is good enough in its place. Dissuasives from vice are not the bread of heaven, though well enough in their way. We need to have the great doctrines of grace brought forward, for the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit, and it is by preaching the truth as it is in Jesus that souls are won to Him.
3. By want of loving zeal in our labour. That which God blesses to the saving of sinners is truth attended by the earnestness of the speaker. Think of the preaching of Baxter. We are guilty of withholding corn unless we preach with a sympathising, loving, tender, affectionate, earnest, anxious soul.
4. By refusing to labour zealously for the spread of the kingdom of Christ and the conversion of sinners.
5. By refusing to help those who are working for Christ. I cannot understand how a man can love God when he only lives to heap up riches.
II. The blessedness which those possess who break the bread of life. To describe it is altogether beyond my power. You must know, and taste, and feel it. There are many blessednesses in doing good to others.
1. An easy conscience.
2. Comfort in doing something for Jesus.
3. Watching the first buddings of conviction in a young soul.
4. The joy of success.
5. The final and gracious reward.
III. Now I have to open the granary myself. Hungry sinners, wanting a Saviour, we cannot withhold the bread from you! We tell you the way of salvation.
1. It is a satisfying salvation.
2. It is an all-sufficient salvation.
3. It is a complete salvation.
4. It is a present salvation.
5. It is an available salvation. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The right to withhold
The text may be regarded as suggestive of a still higher thought than the one to which it is limited. If men have no right to withhold corn, what right can they have to withhold knowledge? If it is an evil thing to injure the body or expose it to danger, what is it to injure the soul or to expose it to the peril of eternal loss? If it is wrong to keep back bread from the body, what must it be to keep back bread from the soul? An important doctrine is involved in the whole text; there are some things which a man may possess, as it were, for himself, and enjoy without sharing his delight with others; a man may have many precious stones, and may conceal them, and permit no eye but his own to look upon them, or hand to touch them but his own: so be it; the pleasure is a narrow and selfish one, and no great social consequences attend its enjoyment. On the other hand, it would seem as if no man could have private property in corn or in bread, in the sense of saying to the people, “I have it, but you shall not possess it; though you offer double its price I will not allow you to take it from me unless you multiply the price fivefold.” A man may talk thus about diamonds and rubies, but he is not at liberty to talk thus about bread. A man may have great property in pictures, but it is questionable whether he should have any property in land in any sense that makes the people dependent upon his caprice as to whether it shall be cultivated and turned to the highest uses. It would seem as if light and air and land were universal possessions, and that all men were equally welcome to them. In the case of the land, it may be necessary that there should be temporary proprietorship, or some regulated relation to it so as to prevent robbery; but with such regulated relation proprietorship might well terminate. All this issue, however, can only be realised as the result of the largest spiritual education. It is difficult to persuade any great landed proprietor that he ought to surrender his rights for the good of the commonwealth. This can only come after years, it may be even centuries, of education of the most spiritual kind; or if it come earlier by statesmanship, it must also come justly, for even good rights may be created by faulty processes, and by mere lapse of time ownerships may be set up which have no original force. We shall never have a commonwealth founded upon righteousness and inspired by the spirit of patriotism until we are just to every interest which stands in the way of its realisation. (J. Parker, D.D.)
He that trusteth in his riches shall fall
Trusting in riches
I. Here is a common tendency. Trusting in wealth is--
1. Spiritually unsatisfactory.
2. Necessarily evanescent.
II. Here is a terrible catastrophe. “Fall.”
1. Whence? From all his hopes.
2. Whither? To disappointment and despair.
3. When? Whenever moral conviction seizes the soul, whether before or after death.
4. Why? Because wealth was never a fit foundation for the soul. (Homilist.)
But the righteous shall flourish as a branch.--
The secret of spiritual life
The righteous--and some such there have been even in the darkest periods of the world’s history--the righteous “flourish as a branch.” They lean not on their own stem and live not on their own root. From the beginning the same Jesus to whom we look was made known to faith. The manner and measure of making known truth to the understanding were in those days widely different; but the nature and the source of spiritual life were the same. But though all the real branches live, all do not equally flourish. Whatever girds the branch too tightly round impedes the flow of sap from the stem and leaves the extremities to wither. Many cares and vanities and passions wrap themselves round a soul and cause the life even of the living to pine away. When the world in any of its forms lays its grasp round the life, the stricture chokes the secret channels between the disciple and his Lord, and the fruit of unrighteousness drops unripe. It is only as a branch that Christians can flourish in this wilderness; they have no independent source of life and growth. (W. Arnot, D.D.)
He that troubleth his own house shall inherit the wind.
I. Peace should be the grand aim of all the members of the domestic circle. To trouble the house is an evil.
II. There Are some members who break the peace of their domestic circle. They are the ill-natured, impulsive, false, selfish.
III. Those who break the peace of their domestic circle are fools. Their folly is seen in this--
1. They get no good by it.
2. They get degradation by it. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Troubling one’s own house
There are many ways in which this may be done. A man may, by the violence and irritability, the peevishness, fretfulness, and selfishness of his temper; he may by his avarice on the one hand, or by his reckless prodigality on the other--involving his family in starvation and suffering by opposite means; he may by intemperance, with all its horrid attendants; he may by sloth, and idleness, and indisposition to work, trouble his own house. “He shall inherit the wind.” The expression is a very strong one. Could any words more impressively convey the idea of loss, disappointment, and ultimate destitution and beggary? The result the man deserves. A man’s family is his first charge from heaven, and ought to be his chief and constant solicitude. The only evil to be lamented is that he brings the destitution upon them as well as himself. (R. Wardlaw.)
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life.
The fruit of the righteous
By this is meant his prayers, his charities, his good example, the virtues which compose his character and adorn his life, and all the efforts and influences by which he shows forth his wisdom in winning souls. To win souls in the best sense is to bring them to the saving knowledge of Jesus and subjugate them to His gracious dominion. An illustrious ancient philosopher said, “There is nothing great on earth but man, and nothing great in man but his soul.” How will you compute the worth of a soul, or by what standard measure its greatness? Will you estimate it by its nature and origin, or by its power and capacities, or by the duration of its being, or by the cost of its redemption, or by the struggle for its possession and control, or by comparison with the splendid and precious? And if such is the value of the soul that worlds acquired could not compensate its loss, nor a material universe redeem its forfeiture, how excellent, beyond all power of language or of thought, the work of saving the priceless thing from destruction, and placing it among the crown-jewels of the King of kings! Look at the matter in another light. The soul is fallen, guilty, perishing; and he who rescues and restores it confers an incalculable and inconceivable benefit. Who shall limit the effect of your labour in saving a soul, or trace the blessed influence to an end? The beneficent effect of faithful Christian labour is an ever-swelling stream and an ever-enlarging growth. All heaven unites with all that is heavenly on earth in witnessing to the precious fruit of righteousness and the transcendent wisdom of winning souls. These considerations appeal to your charity, others appeal with equal force to your piety, your gratitude, your interest, your ambition. The Church was ordained for mutual help and the recovery of the lost. The saints live for others, God has blessed them, that they may be blessings to their race. (J. Cross, D.D., LL.D.)
He that winneth souls is wise.--
I. The object of the Christian worker. It is a good thing in any work to have a clear perception of the object to be sought after. This brings our efforts into order and gives them consistency. If a man lose sight of a clear purpose he becomes listless, or at best mechanical. This is true pre-eminently in Christian work. They who undertake it purpose the gathering of immortal souls out of darkness into God’s marvellous light. Ours is an apostolic mission. We are to catch men--souls. Their salvation is the centre of the target--the bull’s-eye which we are to hit. We should be thankful for every token of success. If we can instruct the mind or store the memory with the things of God, ours is not lost work, but we are not to be content with these things; they may be means to the end, they are not the end itself. Our purpose is to bring the young to Christ, and Christ to them. The very magnitude of the purpose will give us encouragement if we look at it rightly.
II. The manner in which this work is to be done. “Winneth.” No force is to be employed. We cannot drive even little children into the fold of safety with clogs and stones. We want to lay hold of the heart, to gain the affections, and to do that we are to use the persuasive aspect of the gospel. A forced religion, if you can conceive it, is nothing worth. It is a sham flower. The examples of winning are found in the way in which the first disciples of the Saviour, and above all, the Saviour Himself, did their work. We are to live the truth, letting our whole life tell of what is right, and that beyond mistake; and yet over all love is to preside, softening our asperities, and making our wisdom peaceable as well as pure. Where there is a tender, winning spirit, then plain home-thrusts can be made that would be resented if they were mingled with the wrath of man. The attractive power lies even more in the evident tone of our teaching than in the sort of language we use. The root of persuasion lies in love to God and love to man, cherished by prayer, kindled and sustained by the Holy Ghost.
III. The character requisite foe this great work. “Wise.” There is needed a high style of Christian character. We are to be good. The successful winner of souls must himself be already won for Christ. Our work is intimately bound up with our characters. Other things being equal, he will be most likely to bring others to Christ who himself is nearest to Christ. The influence of personal holiness steals in where nothing else can find a place. Our power with man will be just in proportion to our power with God. Every devout effort to reach a holier life is a way of increasing our efficiency as winners of souls. We have also to be wise in the knowledge of God’s truth. A man may know enough for his own salvation and yet not know so as to be able to impart effectively to others. Mighty in the Scripture, we shall be mighty for our work. And we are to be wise in the knowledge of the human heart. In their inmost nature the heart of a child and of a man are very much alike. Any one may gain this knowledge who, with a prayerful, sympathising nature, goes out into the world and keeps his eyes open. The teacher who knows his children can give to each his portion of meat in due season as none other can. Think of the encouragements to this work. Ours is everlasting work, its monuments are to abide for ever. We are working for eternity, polishing stones for the heavenly temple, searching for gems with which to deck the Saviour’s crown. Think of the joy of the heavenly greeting, and the approval of the Lord, an approval not bestowed according to success, but according to fidelity. Upon no better purpose can you spend your life. Work for Christ that shall stand. (Edward Medley, B.A.)
He must be a wise man in even ordinary respects who can by grace achieve so Divine a marvel as win a soul. He that winneth souls is usually a man who could have done anything else if God had called him to it. He is wise--
1. Because he has selected a wise object.
2. Because to win a soul requires infinite wisdom.
3. He will prove to have been a wise man in the judgment of those who see the end as well as the beginning.
I. The metaphor used in the text. We use the word “win” in many ways, e.g., game of chance, juggling tricks, etc. It is used in warfare. Warriors win cities and provinces. The word was used to signify success in a wrestling match. There are secret and mysterious ways in which those who love win the object of their affections. Love is the true way of soul-winning. The Hebrew is, “He that taketh souls is wise,” and the word refers to fishing, or bird-catching. We must have our lures for souls adapted to attract, to fascinate, to grasp.
II. Some of the ways by which souls are to be won.
1. A preacher wins souls best when he believes in the reality of his work.
2. When he keeps closest to saving truth.
3. Souls are won by bringing others to hear the Word.
4. By trying after sermon to talk to strangers.
5. By button-holing acquaintances and relations.
6. By writing letters.
7. The soul-winner must be a master of the art of prayer. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
Our Lord’s estimate of the soul’s value was exceeding high. His mind saw its spiritual nature as an object of supreme worth. In proportion as we are Christ-like will our views correspond, and our efforts also.
I. A great work contemplated. The definite business of all Christian workers. Great because--
1. Of the value of the object.
2. Of the soul’s capacities--for evil if not won, and for good if won.
3. Because the soul is the mainspring of life and action.
II. An effectual method suggested. Winning.
1. Christian work is a magnetic force. The centre of electric magnetism is the Cross.
2. The possibility here embodied. A work which all may undertake and accomplish.
III. A character here defined. “Is wise.” Because he benefits others. Because he gains a star for his own crown. Because he is laying up treasure in heaven. For he wins the approval of his God and the plaudits of the angels. The highest form of wisdom is to devote life’s strength to gather pearls whose salvation will enrich with eternal wealth. (J. F. Pridgeon.)
The life of the good
I. The involuntary influence of a good man’s life. The fruit of a life is the involuntary and regular expression of what the man is in heart and soul. All actions are not the fruit of life, inasmuch as man in the exercise of his freedom and, indeed, even by accident, performs actions that, instead of fully expressing, misrepresent his life. The regular flow of a man’s general activity is the fruit, and this, in the case of a good man, is a “tree of life.” It is so for three reasons.
1. It expresses real life.
2. It communicates real life.
3. It nourishes real life.
II. The highest purpose of a good man’s life. “He that winneth souls is wise.” This implies--
1. That souls are lost.
2. That souls may be saved.
3. That souls may be saved by man.
4. That the man who succeeds in saving souls is wise.
III. The inevitable retribution of a good man’s life. The recompense here is supposed to refer rather to the suffering he experiences in consequence of his remaining imperfections than of the blessings he enjoys as a reward for the good that is in him. The sins of good men are punished on this earth. The argument here is a fortiori--if God visits the sins of His people with punishment, much more will He visit the sins of the wicked. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Most men are aiming and endeavouring to win something to which they attach great value. It may be secular wealth, or earthly honour, or sensual pleasure. But there can be no wisdom in spending one’s life in the endeavour to win any one of these things. The aim of Paul was to win Christ, and that should be our first aim too. Having won Christ for ourselves, our aim should be to win souls for Christ.
I. He who would succeed in winning souls needs to be wise. It needs wisdom to succeed in the business of life. It needs a far higher and nobler wisdom to win Souls. It is an exceedingly difficult thing to win men over from the ranks of sin and Satan to the ranks of God and His Christ.
1. The would-be soul-winner needs to be theoretically wise. He needs to be well informed. He cannot know too much and must be well informed on some very important matters, e.g., the sacred Scriptures, human nature, etc.
2. He needs to be practically wise--wise in action as well as in thought. He should deal largely in the most attractive and pathetic truths. He should carefully choose the most appropriate seasons. He should cultivate the most loving spirit and the most kindly manner. He should be much in communion with God.
II. He who does succeed in winning souls proves himself to be wise. This is true looked at from several points of view.
1. Think of this work in relation to God. It is co-operation with God.
2. In its relation to those who are won.
3. In its relation to society.
4. In its relation to those who are engaged in it.
In this world it brings them honour, pleasure, and culture. The blessings follow them into the future world. (John Morgan.)
I. What is a soul? We know little about a soul apart from the Bible. It teaches--
1. That man is a compound being.
2. That the soul is indestructible.
3. Because indestructible, its value is infinite.
II. What is meant by winning souls?
1. The word “win” is used both in a good and bad sense. There are no mean tricks in winning souls.
2. “Win” is a warlike word: what powers are there striving for the soul?
3. Margin has, “he who taketh souls,” implying the use of various allurements.
III. How may souls be won? There must be--
2. The soul-winner must be careful not to offend the prejudices of those he seeks to win.
3. There must be method. The soul-winner must first have the love of Christ in his own heart. Then he must proclaim it patiently, lovingly, prayerfully, earnestly. This can be done in various ways.
IV. In what sense is the man who wins souls wise?
1. In the ordinary sense. The man of business who has adaptation, method, diligence, etc., you say is a wise man.
2. Because he is preparing for the future.
3. Because he builds lasting monuments.
4. Because he pleases God. (A. F. Barfield.)
A wise work
The Book of Proverbs may be compared to a basket of pearls. Each verse is complete in itself; the truth contained within it is of independent worth.
I. Wisdom is seen in the attempt to win. The very effort itself is a proof of true wisdom.
1. The soul’s position proves it. It is a perishing one.
2. Soul-winning is a noble work. A soul-winner need envy no one. His work surpasses all in true nobility.
3. Soul-winning is a lasting work, and therefore he who attempts it is wise.
4. It is a soul-profiting work. The man who imparts a blessing by the very act receives one. The way to be a joyful Christian is to be a working one at the winning of souls.
5. Winning souls is a work that tells on eternity.
6. Winning souls is a work which will influence you in heaven.
II. Wisdom is required in the work of winning.
1. The nature of the work as suggested in the text shows it. The word for “winneth” has three references. It refers to the snaring of birds, the catching of fish, the taking of a city. To the accomplishment of each of these wisdom is required.
2. The variety of disposition seen in souls requires it.
III. Hints as to how to set about winning souls.
1. They must be alarmed.
2. They must be allured.
3. They must be taken by the hand.
4. They who would win others must show that they themselves are won. (Archibald G. Brown.)
The wisdom of winning souls
This text may refer to two things: wisdom in winning souls, or the wisdom of winning souls. He who assumes, as the errand and purpose of his life, the conversion of his fellow-men to Christ, has given the highest proof within his reach that he himself is a wise man.
I. He has selected the natural field for successful human effort. It is time to drop our suspicion in reference to honest work. Butler’s definition says, “Happiness consists in a faculty having its proper object.” That is, let any one of our powers fasten itself upon a legitimate end, and proceed at once unto vigour, and a feeling of true continuous joy will spring up from the mere exercise. Our reason is the happiest in reasoning; our judgment in deciding; our imagination in the poetic drawing of pictures; our affections in lavishing their love on chosen friends. There needs only to be added the element of success. That is, we must be able to gain the ends we aim at. If we are baulked, we are disappointed and discontented. Hence it is important for each man to understand his own adaptations and possibilities, so that he may seek right ends. Winning souls is the true work for human souls to do. For it flings into successful action the whole Christian man, body, mind, and spirit. There is intelligence in it; there is faith in it; there is hope in it; there is activity in it; there is excitement and exhilaration in it. And success is sure to follow fidelity. The old fable was that one who always carried a myrtle-wand in his hand would never grow weary in the way. But here is no fable. The love of Christ in the heart, and the zeal of Christ in the life, are what evermore satisfy, exercise, and rest the soul.
II. The specific end to be reached in winning souls evidences wisdom in the choice. Even a ministry of destruction has something grand about it, fearful as it seems to gaze upon, awful as it must be to exercise. But a ministry of relief is better than any of retribution. It has in it all the sublimity of power, and then the additional grace and glory of help, the beauty of being serviceable. A ministry of salvation is simply transcendent. It deals with a man’s highest nature, and touches upon the destinies of eternity. Everywhere God seems to look upon human beings as just so many souls. To save a man is to deliver a fellow-man from sin and hell, and bring him to holiness and heaven. To save a soul is to incorporate with the eternal destiny of a sentient and reasoning being a new spring and force of exultant and exhilarant life; to quicken all its susceptibilities; to renew the will into a profitable obedience to God; to unfold all the capacities of intellect and affection. In a word, to save the soul is more than to create the soul.
III. The proprietorship we gain in the souls we instrumentally win. We love what we work for more than what costs us nothing. Value to you is measured by this sum of yourself you have put in possession. A soul we help to save possesses a value to us unlike that of any other soul. For we gain a kind of proprietary right in it. God lets us feel so.
1. Present companionship. The soul we lead into the joys of this new life becomes our helper, and returns the benefit. If we put into active, beneficent, useful, attractive life any human soul, may we not share all the benedictions its sweet, gentle, Christlike career is scattering around it?
2. Eternal communion. Those who are with us here will go with us to be in our company hereafter.
IV. The grand awards of the gospel for this work show the wisdom of winning souls.
1. The growth of personal graces. He who watereth others shall be watered himself. He who carries a lantern for darkened men finds his own path lit the clearest.
2. The day of approval. Every soul which saves a soul shares in the satisfaction his work gives to the Master. Oh, the exquisite joy of that supreme moment when a Christian labourer presents a new prince or princess to Christ, the King of Glory, in the midst of heaven! (C. S. Robinson.)
The wisdom of winning souls
The estimate which men form of spiritual things is very different from that which they form of temporal things. An individual who is the victim of temporal evil excites our pity, and kindles our compassion, but an individual perishing in ignorance, and dying in sin, excites no compassion.
I. The object here proposed to our benevolent sympathy and regard--the soul of man. The soul of man--who of us understands it? Fix attention on the nature and frame of the human soul. In nature it is not material, it is spiritual and immaterial. The body is divisible, the soul is a homogeneous substance--it is indivisible, insoluble, inseparable. The soul is not matter. We know of only two substances, matter and spirit, flesh and mind, body and soul--these make up the whole of what we know to have any existence in the universe of God. Philosophers have speculated much about the locality of the soul in the body. All that we know is, that although the soul dwells in matter, it is perfectly and entirely distinct from it.
1. We may endeavour to form some estimate of the soul by noticing its Maker, its origin. Think of it as formed for eternity; as occupying all the attributes of Jehovah in its formation; as made in the true image of God; as made next in rank and degree, though equal in blessedness, to the angelic multitude. Though the soul is not in the condition it was in when it came from the hands of its Maker, still there is that about it that tells us something of what it was; there are traces of primeval glory and dignity. Such is the faculty of reason, and the power of conscience.
2. Form a notion of the soul’s capacities, and faculties, and properties. Think of its power of thought; of the recording pen of memory; of the tablet of the heart; of the creations of genius; the glow of enterprise; the light of reason; all proving to us that the soul of man is spiritual, intellectual, immaterial, immortal. Think, too, of its power of knowledge. The soul of man wanders on and on, exploring invisible and distant objects.
3. Think of the power of pleasing. How it can charm by description, dazzle by comparison, enliven by wit, convince by argument, thrill, captivate, and carry away by eloquence. Think of its power of acting on matter, in the glow of painting, in the symmetry of architecture, in the beauty of sculpture, in the enchanting intonations of the human voice.
4. The soul must be of inestimable value, for its redemption has been effected by Jesus Christ.
5. Think, too, on the endless duration of the soul’s existence. Only one word can be applied to the duration of the human soul--it is the word Eternity. The soul never dies.
II. The conduct described in the text, in reference to this object, and recommended to our adoption. We can only win souls as instruments and accessories. Christ is the ransomer of the soul. The French commentator paraphrases the text thus: “He that sweetly draweth souls to God, maketh a holy conquest of them” (Diodoret).
1. We are to endeavour to win souls by instruction. Knowledge is wanted, is agreeable. Knowledge is to be communicated, now, from mind to mind, from one to another. The man who has knowledge is bound to communicate it to the man who has not.
2. We must do it by persuasion. For the soul is not only ignorant, but perverse. Its ignorance calls for illumination, and its perverseness and obstinacy call for entreaty and persuasion. Seriousness of manner, combined with affectionateness of spirit, are the charms we are to employ, the artillery we are to command. We are to clothe our words with plainness, seriousness, and affection.
3. It is our duty to endeavour to win souls by admonition. It is necessary, sometimes, to rebuke with all authority and all earnestness.
III. The eulogium which the text pronounces on the conduct of those who win souls. He is “wise.”
1. Scriptures say that man is wise who saves his own soul.
2. The text pronounces that man wise who is instrumental in winning the souls of his fellow-creatures. Such a man, in his conduct, is promoting the honour, and glory of God. Such a man connects himself with the coming in of the mediatorial reign of our Immanuel. Such a man is the best friend of the human race, and most effectually promotes the welfare of mankind around him. (J. Beaumont.)
The work and responsibility of the ministry
The work of the ministry is an awful thing. What shall we say of the responsibility which belongs to him who, at an age when he could neither deceive himself nor be deceived, chooses an office to which he professes to be divinely called, even the cure of souls?
I. The worth of souls. The very word “souls” is startling. The soul is a direct emananation from God--a breath of God, a spark, so to call it, of Deity. It is a living soul. It has infinite capacities. See the estimation in which God holds it; especially in giving His Son for its redemption. See not the original redemption only, but also all the subsequent acts of grace. Then most guilty must he be who despises his own soul, and in spite of all this array of mercy, chooses death rather than life.
II. The winning of souls.
1. The agency which the Divine wisdom has seen fit to employ in this business.
2. The means which this agency is commissioned to use. In preaching the doctrine of Christ, we are wielding a weapon of omnipotent might.
3. While with fidelity we preach Christ, we must do it with the earnestness which its importance demands, and the affection which its subject warrants.
4. And we must also labour to the utmost to give no offence, that the ministry be not blamed. But this line of conduct is strictly within the limit of the faithful preaching of the Word. What are the noble and glorious results of a ministry so conducted? Such a pastor both saves himself and them that hearken. (Joseph Haslegrave, M.A.)
The mission work of winning souls
1. Missionary associations and enterprises take their rise out of the most enlightened and comprehensive views of human nature.
2. Missionary Societies employ the only expedient which has ever been known to act on human nature with the power of effecting a moral transformation.
3. Missionary enterprises proceed on the most enlightened views of the harmony between the instrumentality of man and the agency of God in the work of winning and saving souls.
4. The instrumentality employed secures the most glorious of all results to the instruments themselves.
5. Missionary operations are conducive, in a high degree, to the prevalence of the spirit of Christian union. (H. F. Burder, M.A.)
Winning first your own soul, then other souls
The charity that wins a soul begins at home; and if it do not begin there it will never begin. The order of nature in this work is, “save yourselves and them that hear you.” But though this charity begins at home, it does not end there. From its centre outward, and onward all around, like the ripple on the surface of the lake, compassion for the lost will run, nor stop until it touch the shore of time. Winning immortal souls is work for wise men, and we lack wisdom. On this point there is a special promise from God. Those who need wisdom and desire to use it in this work will get it for the asking. The wisdom needed is different from the wisdom of men. It is very closely allied to the simplicity of a little child. Much of it lies in plainness and promptness. (W. Arnot, D.D.)
Two ways of wisdom
I. In the choice of the object of pursuit. When men fix on that which is of real and unquestionable value to the exclusion of other things. There can be no doubt of the preference due to the soul’s interests, even on the low standard of calculated good. Common sense must admit the wisdom shown in making the soul of man the object of the pursuit of men. If true of man’s own soul, equally true of the souls of others. He who makes the soul the object of his pursuit, and aims at doing good to men through those means that are spiritual, finds that his benevolence is exercised under circumstances very favourable.
II. In determining the manner in which that object shall be pursued. In selecting, out of many plans, that which is the most likely to succeed. Of these plans for winning souls some are of men’s devising, and bear the marks of their original. There is one, and one alone, of God’s ordaining. Of men’s schemes there is--
1. The religion of morality, which aims at men’s reformation, by addressing the reason in the form of arguments and conviction.
2. The religion of sentiment, which addresses itself to the feelings, and endeavours to win the affections by exhibitions calculated to melt and touch and soften the sensibilities of men’s natures. And there is the Divine religion of the gospel, which aims at the conversion of the soul through faith. This system speaks to the heart and to the conscience; and this is the way of wisdom in winning souls. (Henry Raikes, M.A.)
The winner of souls
I. What is here implied?
1. That these souls might be lost, else they could never be won--would never need to be won.
2. That these souls, though lost, are not irrecoverably lost; they may yet be won.
3. That human instrumentality is to be employed for the accomplishment of these ends; the work is the Lord’s.
II. The winner of souls has a twofold aim. The immediate aim is the salvation of souls; the ultimate aim is the glory of God.
III. The gain is perpetual. These souls once won are won for ever. Leave it to other men to build palaces and rear memorial pillars, to add house to house, and call their lands by their own names; be yours the God-like task of contributing to rear the palace of the Great King--of adding another and another stone to that goodly structure--of setting up pillars in the eternal temple that shall stand when all others have fallen--of brightening the diadem of Jesus with gems rescued from ruin--with stars that shall shine for ever and ever. Be it yours to win souls; for the price of them is far above rubies, more precious than the gold of Ophir--to rear plants that shall flourish and bloom for ever in the paradise of God. (Thos. Main, D.D.)
A word to winners of souls
I. He is wise who wins souls, for he has a blessing in the winning.
1. The best way to keep our own souls in health is to seek those of others.
2. The best way to benefit our brethren is to seek souls.
II. He has a blessing in the won. Every soul we win for Christ--
1. Is a token of His favour. It proves we have used the means in the right way.
2. Causes, or should cause, more watchfulness. We are examples to them.
3. Is an additional helper for us. What sweet communion have we with our spiritual fathers and spiritual children!
III. He has a blessing stored up in heaven.
1. Exalted position. “Shine as stars.”
2. Perpetual preferment. “For ever and ever.”
3. Unbounded delight. (R. A. Griffin.)
The winning of souls
To win souls is a proof of wisdom, and it is also an exercise of wisdom. There is the wisdom of winning souls to be considered, and also the wisdom in winning souls.
I. The wisdom of winning souls.
1. Human souls require to be won. They are at first in a lost state. They are lost as being without knowledge, without righteousness, without happiness, and without hope.
2. But the souls of men may be recovered. The method of their salvation is arranged and completed in the gospel.
3. See the wisdom of this work in its innate grandeur and excellence. In a shipwreck or a fire what strenuous efforts are made to save property, or to save life: how much more to pluck these brands from the burning.
4. See what an enduring work it is. Other things, saved, may perish again; but a soul saved will be secure for ever.
5. See the reward it brings to the happy agent himself. It gratifies his benevolence, and his piety--it secures him affection and love--it will ensure immortal honour (Daniel 12:3).
6. It is an essential part of our duty as Christians. The task of winning souls is committed to us. A dispensation of the gospel is entrusted to us. We are bound by the pledges of our allegiance and gratitude to Christ to employ ourselves in this work.
II. The wisdom in winning souls.
1. There are difficulties peculiar to the work.
(1) In the perversity and prejudices of those whom we seek to save.
(2) In the snares and oppositions of the world, skilfully managed by the great adversary of our souls.
(3) In the ignorances, jealousies, and inconsistencies of the agents themselves.
2. The required wisdom consists of several important constituents. (The Congregational Pulpit.)
The supreme wisdom
The literal meaning of these words is “He that catcheth souls is wise.” The figure is taken from the manner in which the fowler catches the birds. He that goeth into the wilds of nature, where the spirits of men are rude and untamed, and employs his skill in attracting and winning them to cultivation and righteousness, is wise. The enterprise of capturing a soul for this end is replete with honour, and brings such distinction that rank and talent have been proud to consecrate themselves to the work. The ostensible end of all enlightened government is to win souls, and that administration is the wisest whose measures are fitted to win the largest number to civilisation and from vice to morality. The legislature that does not apprehend the moral as well as the social and civil wants of a people is either barbarous or wicked--as it may happen to rest on ignorance or selfishness. Let us select any form of philanthropy--the genius of that form really is the recovery of the soul. You never give a beggar alms without some reference to his mind. Whether you would or not, you must include the relief of his mind when you are moved to lighten his bodily distress. The true philanthropist gives scope to this mental sympathy. Why does he seek to alleviate the mental and physical disorders of his fellow-men? Because they stand in the way of their moral nature. He does not stop when he has rescued a family from starvation. “He that winneth souls is wise.” He makes the world better and increases the resources of his country’s greatness. In treading a low neighbourhood of the East-end of London, you find a family bearing every mark of extreme distress. You enter what more resembles a den than a room. But in that foul and wretched hovel there would be a lot more than meets the eye. Amid that squalor, and in such a home, there would be scenes of the greatest crime and ruin, and if the children were turned out on society they would be like so many prowling wolves. But suppose you are the instrument of checking this current of evil and wickedness. What have you done? In rescuing these poor creatures from poverty you dispel one of the chief incentives to crime by waking up energies laid asleep by destitution or wickedness. You have, by sending the children to school, closed one door of ignorance and vice, and opened another of intelligence and virtue. You have won souls to knowledge and integrity. But here I ask, Have we done all when we have reached this step? Have governments arrived at the limit of their possibilities when they have made men free and prosperous? Has philanthropy executed her mission when she has supplied the needy with bread and gathered about them conditions of health? As if a man had drawn up a careful design for a mansion, had laid the foundation, carried up the walls, and then had neglected to cover the building, the result being that when the winds and rain came the splendid fragment, wanting the coherence and support of a roof, falls away and collapses. Long experience has convinced me that unless education be roofed and crowned with religion, the principles of human character, however wisely laid, however right in themselves, will not prevent the character from collapsing. The principles of human character will go down, and the soul is not won, but lost. The doctrines Christ came to reveal or enforce, and the great atoning work which it was the business of His life to finish were illustrated upon a miniature scale in order that we might be ready and able at once to study their operation. The truths He proclaimed were for all time and for the world, but the application was first directed by Himself to a small district of Palestine. He taught us how to win souls. He addressed Himself to every human want. Unlike all other benefactors I have ever seen or heard of, He did not give Himself to one department of charity. He raised the whole man. And the dispensation of His goodness was as practical as it was beneficial. He satisfied the hungry, but He never pauperised indolence. Why do I mention these particulars? In order to show that our heavenly Lord took care of the earthly life--its animal and social wants; and in His daily teachings He included those earthly virtues of truth, purity, industry, loyalty, and love. But the basis of His superstructure of philanthropy was the salvation of the soul. It must be the aim of all power professing beneficence to take the soul to the arms of God. The soul not only belongs to God, everything belongs to Him; but the soul has a future of immortality, and the brief life of a few years here must train it for the life of ages. To win a soul is not to bring it into bondage, it is to take it and keep it for God. The Saviour was ever removing obstacles in the way to heaven, and the supreme obstruction--sin--He laid down His life to remove. All His earthly lessons, all His parables and teachings, lead up to heaven like the steps of a ladder. And I think you cannot begin this winning process too soon. The perceptions of a child are far in advance of its tongue, although that begins early. Its temper and will are apt scholars before its tongue can frame a syllable. It will learn more in the first three years than you can teach it in the next ten. (E. E. Jenkins, M.A.)
The wise man wins souls
It is supposed that a man is wise because he wins souls. That is not the teaching of the text. He wins souls because he is wise. Let us look at the matter in this way: there is a necessity in wisdom that it shall win souls. Wisdom always wins. The wise man may never speak to a soul, and yet he may win it. This is not the picture of an ardent evangelist running to and fro in the earth upon the vague and general mission of winning souls. That is the popular misunderstanding of the text. The real interpretation is that if a man is wise he will by the very necessity of wisdom win souls, draw them to him, excite their attention, compel their confidence, constrain their honour. There is a silent conquest; there is a preaching that never speaks--a most eloquent preaching which simply does the law, obeys the gospel, exemplifies the spirit of Christ, works that spirit out in all the detail of life, so swiftly, patiently, sympathetically, completely, that souls are won, drawn, saying, Behold, what virtue is this! what pureness, what charity, what simplicity, what real goodness and beneficence! This must be the right doctrine, because it comes out in the right line. So then the scope of the text is enlarged. (J. Parker, D.D.)
Souls to be won, not driven
This wise man does not drive souls--he wins them. Souls cannot be driven. We may attempt to drive them, and therein show our folly, but it is of the nature of the soul that it be charmed, lured by angel-like beauty, by heavenly eloquence, by mighty persuasion of reason. The soul that is driven offers no true worship; nay, as we have just said, the soul can defy the driver. The body can be driven to church, but not the soul. It does not follow because a man is sitting in church that he himself is there. A child forced to church is not at church. The house of God, therefore, should be filled with fascination, attraction, charm, so that little children should long to go to it, and it should be a deprivation not to go there. The wise man would not drive men to any form of goodness, though he is bound to prohibit them under penalty from certain forms of social evil, because those forms involve the health, the prosperity, and the best advantage of others. (J. Parker, D.D.)
How to win others to Christ
Soul-winning is a blessed possibility to all who are “filled with all the fulness of God.”
1. Be prayerful. Have regular hours for secret communion with God.
2. Study the Scriptures.
3. Be gentle. Lead rather than drive. Speak the truth in love. Never argue.
4. Be polite. Haste or brusqueness will repel. A courteous, affable manner is well-nigh irresistible.
5. Be courageous. Trusting the guidance of the Spirit, never be afraid to speak to any soul.
6. Leave the result with God. It is unwise ever to waste time in regrets. A rebuff may mean a soul under strong conviction. Some seeds take longer to sprout than others. Remember you are not working for yourself, but for God; that without Him you could do nothing; and to Him belongs all the glory. (G. F. Pentecost.)
How to win
In Chicago, a few years ago, there was a little boy who went to one of the mission Sunday-schools. His father moved to another part of the city, about five miles away, and every Sunday that boy came past thirty or forty Sunday-schools to the one he attended. One day a lady who was out collecting scholars for a Sunday-school met him and asked him why he went so far, past so many schools. “There are plenty of others just as good,” said she. “They may be as good, but they are not so good for me,” he said. “Why not?” she asked. “Because they love a fellow over there,” he answered. Ah! love won him. “Because they love a fellow over there!” How easy it is to reach people through love! (D. L. Moody.)
Some preachers think only of their sermon; others think only of themselves: the man who wins the soul is the man who aims at it. (Dean Hook.)
Success in soul-winning
Success in soul-winning is only given to skill, earnestness, sympathy, perseverance. Men are saved not in masses, but by careful study and well-directed effort. It is said that such is the eccentric flight of the snipe when they rise from the earth, that it completely puzzles the sportsman, and some who are capital shots at other birds are utterly baffled here. Eccentricity seems to be their special quality, and this can only be mastered by incessant practice with the gun. But the eccentricity of souls is beyond this, and he had need be a very spiritual Nimrod, a “mighty hunter before the Lord,” who would capture them for Christ.
The best news
When Chalmers was in the very zenith of his popularity in Glasgow, and crowds were gathering every Sabbath round his pulpit, he was walking home one evening with a friend, who told him of a soul who had been converted through the instrumentality of a sermon which he had preached. Immediately the tear-drop glittered in the good man’s eye, and his voice faltered as he said, “That is the best news I have heard for a long time. I was beginning to think that I had mistaken the leadings of providence in coming to your city; but this will keep me up.”
The joy of winning souls
Bishop Harold Browne of Winchester once said that among all the joys which had been given him in the course of a long and busy life, none had come with a deeper thrill, or had remained so freshly in his heart, as the joy he had felt when, as a young curate, he had been for the first time the means, through God, of leading a soul to peace and trust in Christ. This is a joy which all can have, if they ask for guidance in the work of influencing others for God. (F. E. Toyne.)
The winner of souls is wise
A learned divine was asked, on his death-bed, what he considered the greatest of all things. His answer was, “It is not theology, nor controversy; it is to save souls.” Doddridge wrote, “I long for the conversion of souls, more sensibly than for anything besides.” Matthew Henry says, “I would think it a greater happiness to gain one soul to Christ than mountains of gold and silver for myself.” Brainerd said, “I cared not where nor how I lived, or what hardship I went through, so that I could but gain souls to Christ.” Ward Beecher says, “As the pilot beats cruise far out, watching for every whitening sail, and hover through day and night all about the harbour, vigilant to board every ship that they may bring safely through the Narrows all the wanderers of the ocean, so should we watch off the gate of salvation for all the souls, tempest-tossed, beating in from the sea of sin, and guide them through the perilous straits, that at last, in still waters, they may cast the anchor of their hope.” The Christian is to do good, not by force or hardness, but by gentle persuasion and persevering kindness. To win, as in a game, implies skill in adapting the means to the end.
1. He who would be successful in winning souls to Christ must be considerate and thoughtful.
2. Another qualification is courage.
3. Another is tender, unaffected sympathy. It is said that if a piano is struck in a room where another stands unopened, one who should place his ear near it would hear a responsive note within, as though touched by the hand of an unseen spirit. Such is the power of sympathy. (John N. Norton.)
A motto for a new year
Our first object should be to win Christ. That being attained, we cannot adopt a better motto for life than this, “He that winneth souls is wise.”
1. He is a wise man who sets this before him as the object for which to five. No pursuit is more worthy of our energies. No pursuit yields a better return.
2. He who would be successful in this work must go about it wisely. He must himself be wise unto salvation. He must have the tact to discern his opportunities, and rightly direct his appeals. The word winneth (margin, “taketh”) is an allusion to the hunter’s craft.
3. A wise adaptation to the circumstances and temperaments of those we seek to bless is needed in this work. It will not answer to deal with all alike. Men are not to be taken in the lump and treated after some patent method of moral mechanics. Every human being is an individual, and must be so reckoned and laboured for. No labour or self-denial will be misspent in this holy cause. (C. A. Davis.)
Behold, the righteous shall be recompensed in the earth.
Two ways of explaining this text.
1. Of the happiness which God has appointed for goodness, it has pleased Him that some portion should accrue in this world; and of the misery which is the wages of sin, a much more abundant portion.
2. Even the righteous shall be recompensed (that is, punished) for their sins, in the earth, much more the wicked, with a sorer punishment. The argument is, if the good and pious often suffer for the faults they fall into, for the wicked to expect an exemption from suffering is a most vain and absurd expectation. The first is the more natural and obvious sense of the passage. This world is not a place of retribution. It is a place where men may suffer for their virtues and escape for their wickedness; and this so frequently as even to afford some ground and pretence for questioning which course a man had best take if this life were his all. A man might say, “Let us live to ourselves, and seize all the good within our reach, whatever be the consequences to others.” Such a plan the wise king pronounced to be foolish and shortsighted, even on the principles of worldly prudence, and without taking another life into the account. After all the arguments from suffering virtue and successful wickedness have been urged and admitted, the balance of good will be found to be with the good, and evil unknown to them, to beset the path and track the steps of the wicked. The words imply that any one may see this who will attend carefully to what passes around him. It is in every one’s mouth that “honesty is the best policy.” The upright and regular part of the community is too sagacious and too strong for the schemer at last. The honest and good gain upon them and pass them, even in the career of worldly success. There is a reward in this life for a strict adherence to temperance and all the other branches and laws of self-government. But this doctrine is apparently opposed to such teachings as are found in Ecclesiastes 9:11. But it may be noticed that in Proverbs the rule is dealt with, and in Ecclesiastes the exceptions to the rule. Such exceptions there will always be. Part of the text declares that the punishment of sin in this world is more certain than the reward of virtue. And the fact is so. The recompense of the wicked does not tarry. Their course is soon interrupted by evil and suffering. We can generally predict the end of the wicked in this world. Licentiousness and debauchery lead to disease and embarrassment. Of dishonesty it may be said, its resources are soon dried up, and the plenty it procures is but for a moment. From the laws of nature and the appointments of Divine providence there is no escape. The true end and design of all the Divine afflictions and all earthly sufferings is our improvement. He adapts His methods to our wants, and appoints us such trials as we can bear. But the promise of recompense in the earth is perceived to belong to them; is fulfilled in them in many respects. (A. Gibson, M.A.)