Boast not thyself of to-morrow; for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.
On the conduct to be held with regard to future events
It is needless to prove the change and mutability of our present state, or the fact that the changes cannot be foreseen by us. Obvious as they are, it would be well if the thoughts of men dwelt on them more. But by a strange and prevailing deception, almost every one thinks his own case an exception from the general law; and that he may build plans with as much confidence on his present situation as if some assurance were given him that it were never to change. It has been so contrived by Providence that there should be no permanent stability to man’s condition on earth. The seeds of alteration are everywhere sown. And think on what small and inconsiderable causes changes depend. In the midst of all these contingencies plans and designs for the future are every day formed. And this is fit and proper. Rules and precautions may be indicated.
I. Boast not thyself of to-morrow, Never presume arrogantly on futurity. Beware of pride and vanity. In the day of prosperity rejoice with trembling.
II. Despair not of to-morrow. Adverse situations fill many with fears and alarms of what is to come. The day may bring forth some unforeseen relief, and therefore we should hope under distress. The doctrine which the changes of the world perpetually inculcate is that no state of external things should appear so important, or should so affect and agitate our spirits, as to deprive us of a calm, an equal, and a steady mind. Anxiety, when it seizes the heart, is a dangerous disease, productive both of much sin and much misery.
III. Delay not till to-morrow what is proper to be done to-day. Thou art not the lord of to-morrow. Procrastination has, throughout every age, been the ruin of mankind. Many of the misfortunes which befall men in their worldly concerns are a consequence of delay. To-morrow, being loaded with the concerns of to-day, in addition to its own, is clogged and embarrassed. Evils of the same kind, arising from the same cause, overtake men in their moral and spiritual interests.
IV. Be every day prepared for what to-morrow may bring forth. The best preparation for all the uncertainties of futurity consists in a well-ordered mind, a good conscience, and a cheerful submission to the will of heaven. If to-morrow bring you any unexpected good, prepare to receive it with gratitude, temperance, and modesty. If it shall bring forth evil, prepare to receive it with manly fortitude.
V. Build your hopes of happiness on somewhat more solid and lasting than what either to-day or to-morrow are likely to produce. He who rests wholly upon this world builds his house upon the sand. We are begotten again unto a “lively hope.” Here is the object to which a wise man will bend his chief attention, that, having acted his part on earth with fidelity and honour, he may be enabled, through the merits of his Saviour, to look for a place in the mansions of eternal and untroubled peace. This prospect is the great corrective of the present vanity of human life. (Hugh Blair, D.D.)
Man’s nature inclines to boasting, to glorifying in something, and this ariseth from some apprehended excellency or advantage, and so is originated in the understanding power of man. There is a glorying and boasting which is good, especially a boasting in God. It is the apprehended personal interest in a thing which makes it become a subject of boasting. Nothing is truly the soul’s own but that which survives all changes, and is inseparable from it. There may be a lawful glorying in the works of God. Oftentimes men are found glorying in that which is their shame. The object of degenerate and vicious boasting is presented in this text. “Boast not thyself,” or of thyself. Self is the centre of man’s affections and motions. This is the great “Diana” that the heart worships. Men’s affections part themselves into three great heads of created things.
1. The goods or perfections of the mind.
2. The goods or advantages of the body.
3. The things that are without us, bona fortunae, riches and honour.
There is also a strong inclination in man towards the time to come; he has an immortal appetite. If the soul of man were in the primitive integrity, this providence of the soul would reach to eternity, which is the only just measure of the endurance of any immortal spirit. But since man’s understanding is darkened, he can see nothing further than “to-morrow.” But confidence in to-morrow is folly, because of the instability of all outward things, and because of our ignorance of future events. Of all boastings the most irrational and groundless is that which arises from presumption of future things, which are so uncertain both in themselves and to us. Self is the great and ultimate object of man’s glorying. No man’s present possession satisfies him, without the addition of hope and expectation for the future. Our present revenue will not content the heart. Therefore the soul, as it were, anticipates and forestalls the morrow. But consider--
1. How independent all things are of us and of our choice.
2. The inconstancy of all material things. There is nothing certain but that all things are uncertain.
3. Our ignorance concerning coming changes. All things proclaim the folly and madness of that which the heart of man is set upon. “The counsel of the Lord,” that alone shall “stand.” (H. Binning.)
The necessity of a present repentance
It is not the doctrine of repentance men scruple to acknowledge, but the time for doing it. They say, “To-morrow will be time enough.” And they say this, again and again, through all the stages of life. Press on attention the absolute necessity of our present performance of this great work of repentance.
I. Show this by the dangerous uncertainties which all delaying men have to depend upon. There is no such thing hinted at in Scripture as future repentance. There is no ground for hoping that a late repentance will avail men who knowingly and wilfully defer that repentance which is the duty of the present.
1. What certainty can there be in that which depends upon so uncertain a foundation as the life of man? Who can ensure a hereafter to repent in?
2. As life is uncertain, so is the continuance of God’s grace uncertain also.
II. How improper the times resolved on by such men to repent in will be for the work of their repentance. Such as the time of sickness, or of old age, or of death.
III. Every excuse which men may make in favour of their delays must, if seriously considered, oblige them to hasten their repentance.
1. Excuse--their sins are so small; they can be easily cast off at pleasure.
2. Sins are so great; it is too difficult to repent.
3. Life is just now too full of other things. Consider that every moment consumes somewhat of the thread of life; and that of all business and employments none can possibly be more requisite than our making our peace with God. (William Bramston.)
Some are hindered by doubts, or blinded by definite unbelief; others are repelled from the gospel by prejudices of early education; others by worldly influences, others by the love of sin; and some by a coward fear of the possible consequences of decision. The chief hindrance, however, is the habit of procrastination. The fault is a common one even in worldly matters. There are things that must be done at once, and things which may be left. These latter have a very good chance of never being done at all. There are few who have not a lurking intention of thinking about religious matters sooner or later. Many are indisposed to prompt action, because they fear religion may interfere with their manner of life, their commercial prosperity, and their social enjoyments. By and by, when other matters are not so urgent, they may find a convenient season. This habit of procrastination grows upon us until it becomes a sort of second nature, and at last, even should we wish to act promptly, we seem almost to have lost the power. For one who doubts the Bible, there are a hundred who simply put off for the present. The Holy Ghost says, “To-day”; they still say, “To-morrow.” How can we best counteract this disposition towards procrastination? The nominally Christian world is pervaded by the radically false notion that religion has mainly to do with the future rather than with the present. This notion is encouraged by the use of the word “salvation.” Men do not see that they need to be saved now. True religion is a matter of present urgency. Religion is the one secret of true enjoyment in life. Another cause of procrastination is a false idea of the relative importance of things temporal and things spiritual. Religion is regarded as distinct from the practical purposes of life. This is an inverted estimate of the relative importance of things. Why should we say to-day rather than to-morrow? Because, of all our life, only to-day is really ours. Tomorrow belongs to God. Every to-morrow that God allots you, when it gets to you is a to-day. The to-morrow that we think will do so much for us never comes. To-day may ensure our best interests; to-morrow they may have passed from us, and be forfeited for ever. Moreover, we have a great work to do, and only a limited time to do it in. And we are living in a perishing world, and men and women are dying unprepared every day that passes. By religious decision, how much happiness we may confer upon others by our personal example and influence. In this world of changes and uncertainties, no man can be sure that he will have any to-morrow. Think, too, how you are treating your Lord when, from day to day, you still continue to say, “To-morrow.” To-day again He proffers the unspeakable gift. His time is now. Another to-morrow, and He may be constrained reluctantly to depart, wearied out at last by your heartless indifference. Oh, take shame to yourself that, hitherto, He has had nothing from you but “to-morrow.” (W. H. Hay Aitken, M.A.)
The folly and danger of boasting of the morrow
No truth is more obvious than that of the instability of human life, and the uncertainty of all earthly things; and yet there is none which produces a less abiding impression on the mind, or a less practical effect on the conduct. It seems to be a truth so trite as to be beneath our notice. All our courses of action, all our habits of thought, imply that we have a longer continuance, and a firmer interest, in the things around us, than a full conviction of their vanity and their uncertainty appear to warrant. We are willing to allow, as a general rule, that all below is fleeting and uncertain, but in our own case we are anxious to find a fortunate exception. This, at least, lies in the bottom of our hearts, springing up indistinctly in our thoughts, and whispering peace and safety, where neither of them are discoverable by the eye of reason. A knowledge of the fate of others can never entirely remove this error, because it is deeply seated in the heart. By boasting of to-morrow is meant a confident expectation of its arrival, and an undoubting calculation of the enjoyments which it may be expected to bring along with it; such a fancied assurance of possessing it, as may lead us to defer what ought now to be done till that imaginary period. The greatest evil to which this leads is the postponement of a religious life to some future period of our existence, it is too common for man to look upon religion as something totally incompatible with the pursuits and enjoyments of the present world. He therefore relies upon the possibility that the morrow may be extended to him, and to that uncertain period he commits the serious task of shaking off the evil habits which he has contracted, and curbing the corrupt passions which he has hitherto indulged, and of cultivating the Christian graces. Too often in the short and anxious hour of our closing existence all the more serious work of life has to be done. Let it be our aim, then, to look upon religion, not as a task which we are commanded to perform, but as a privilege which we are invited to share. For most of the ills of life religion is an effectual remedy, and in all it is a cheering alleviation.
1. There are many miseries which the morrow is continually bringing forth, that are the direct consequence of our own imprudent conduct or our own vicious habits. They spring from a want of religion; and the possession of it would of course relieve them.
2. Suffering also belongs to us as the sons of mortality; such as pain, sickness, infirmity, age. Religion cannot altogether remove such woes, but it can very materially mitigate and relieve them. And, at least, it enables us to look rightly upon them.
3. There is a class of disappointments to which irreligious men are subject, but from which the true Christian is altogether free. The worldly man is entirely immersed in the things of this life, its pleasures and its cares. When the changeful morrow comes, and these are swept away, he is ruined. The happiness of the religious man is not dependent on such accidents as these. (R. Parkinson, B.D.)
I. The abuse of to-morrow. “Boast not”--
1. Because it is extremely foolish to boast at all, Boasting never makes a man any the greater in the esteem of others, nor does it improve the real estate either of his body or his soul. Morrows come from God; thou hast no right to glory in them.
2. Because to-morrow is one of the frailest things in creation, and therefore the least to be boasted of. Boast not of to-morrow--thou hast it not. Boast not of to-morrow--thou mayest never have it. Boast not of to-morrow--if thou hadst it, it would deceive thee. Boast not of to-morrow, for to-morrow thou mayest be where morrows will be dreadful things, to tremble at.
3. Because it is exceedingly hurtful to boast. It is hurtful now. Some men are led into extraordinary extravagance from their hopes of the future. It is hurtful to-morrow also. Because you will be disappointed with to-morrow if you boast about it before it comes. The over-confident not only entail great sorrow upon themselves but upon others also.
II. The abuse of the spiritual to-morrow. Never boast of to-morrow with regard to your soul’s salvation. Those do who think it will be easier for them to repent to-morrow than it is to-day. Those do who suppose they shall have plenty of time to repent and return to God. Those do who boast in a way of resolves to do better.
III. If to-morrows are not to be boasted of, are they good for nothing? Nay; we may look forward to them with confidence and joy, and we may seek in wise ways to provide for to-morrow. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The folly and danger of delays in religion
I. Men are naturally inclined to boast of something.
II. Men are apt to delay religion as long as they can. They boast of to-morrow.
III. It is base and sinful to put off the concerns of religion till to-morrow.
IV. God alone knows what is to come. The Jews of Christ’s time were dreaming of future prosperity, but He foresaw their ruin and destruction as at hand. We, like them, lay plans for futurity, and invade the province of the Most High. We perhaps anticipate wealth, honour.
V. Great changes happen in a short time. “For thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” Since the introduction of sin, the creature at its best estate is altogether vanity. (Christian Recorder.)
The danger of trusting to the future
I. In this passage it is very plainly insinuated that we are too apt to boast of to-morrow. The young hope to live to old age; the middle-aged, having passed the most critical stages of infancy and childhood, reckon, with too much security, on grey hairs; while the old look around them for examples, a few of which they can glean of extreme age, and hope they themselves shall add to the number of extraordinary cases of longevity. Boasting of to-morrow likewise appears in framing worldly schemes of future ease and aggrandisement. He who proposes it as his object to make up a sum at all hazards, that he may, by a certain time, execute a plan of a great mansion, suited to the fortune, and then to enjoy himself. See where the evil lies; not in thinking of to-morrow, in the way of making wise and prudent preparation, always taking along with us, “If the Lord will”; but the evil is that boasting of to-morrow which involves in sinful, at any rate in worldly and presumptuous plans, in reference to some future period, or that kind of reference to to-morrow which is a substitute for attention, immediate and serious, to our most important, even our eternal interests.
II. That it is foolish to boast of to-morrow, “We are young.” Granted; but the young droop oftentimes. The green leaf often is seen falling, nipped by frost, or shaken by the wind. The young and strong have been called hence by disease or accident, the majority were young. “But we have stood already many trials of our constitution, and many attacks, and are yet vigorous.” The last, however, will come, and the very next may be fatal. “But we are a long-lived race. Father and mother, yea grandfather, and many relatives, lived to a great age.” You forget the exceptions. “But we have somehow this persuasion, that we shall live long, and at any rate we will not indulge in gloomy presage of an early tomb.” This is very delusive--it is foolish--you can give no reason for it--you may soon find you were deceiving yourselves.
III. That there is much danger in indulging this disposition.
1. It fosters irreligion and atheism. Leaving out of calculation your own weak and dependent state, the uncertainty of time, and your ignorance of futurity, you form your plans without any reference to the Divine Disposer. You erect many high towering schemes, which savour at once of impiety and folly.
2. It is found to foster some of the worst passions of the human heart. The ambitious reason thus: A few steps more, and I shall rise to the very top of my profession, or of my rank in society, and that in the regular course of events, which supposes the removal of others by the stroke of mortality, as the means of elevation. The covetous man adds heap to heap, with desires more and more insatiable, forgetful of his latter end, and of that country to which he goes, where his wealth will be of no benefit. A due consideration of this might, by the Divine blessing, cut up by the roots this grovelling and idolatrous propensity, and give the soul a heavenward direction. A day may bring forth many most unexpected events, casting a dark cloud over the most flattering prospects. This present day improved may be the happy means of arresting the evil which the presumption of to-morrow tends so much to foster.
3. The boast of to-morrow is most prejudicial to spiritual and eternal concerns. It is the most successful of all Satan’s devices, and the easiest mode of compassing his designs. (W. Burns.)
Ignorance of the future
I. To what the words of the text will apply. On some things we can calculate with a degree of certainty. Apply text--
1. With regard to ourselves. And it will apply to both good and evil. The text seems to have in view evil.
2. To the dispensations of Providence.
3. This uncertainty regards our lives. Some are cut off in the midst of sin. Some in the midst of religious declensions.
II. What reasons can be given for this ignorance of futurity. It never was designed that man should know the future. Even the angels in heaven have not this knowledge. Would such knowledge add to our happiness? or improve our religious character? This arrangement keeps us fully dependent on God. By this means He keeps the world in awe.
III. Apply the fact to some useful purposes.
1. It should check vain curiosity.
2. It teaches us to hope for the best.
3. It is good to be prepared for the worst.
4. Learn the importance of real religion. (Charles Hyatt.)
Man’s ignorance of futurity
I. The sentiment contained in the text. No man will attempt to controvert the assertion it makes.
1. We are ignorant of the future as to our circumstances.
2. We cannot tell what a day may bring forth as to the state of our bodies and our minds.
3. We are ignorant of the future as to our families and connections.
4. We are totally ignorant of futurity, as to the continuance of our lives.
II. Some lessons of practical instruction.
1. Learn the importance of a life of faith and dependence on God. Man was never designed to be independent.
2. Learn to cultivate a spirit of holy resignation to the Divine will.
3. Learn to cultivate a spirit of cautious moderation as to the things of this present life.
4. Learn to cultivate a spirit of humility. (R. Cameron.)
Ignorance of the future
Mr. D. L. Moody says: “To recall the following act I would give my right hand. On the night when the Court House bell of Chicago was sounding an alarm of fire, my sermon was upon ‘What shall I do with Jesus? ‘ And I said to the audience, ‘I want you to decide this question by next Sunday.’ What a mistake! That night I saw the glare of flames, and knew that Chicago was doomed. I never saw that audience again.”
Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth.
Self-boasting is always a source of weakness as well as a revelation of vanity. In vanity there is no substance; it is idle breath, it is foolish vapour. When a man is left to praise himself it is evident that he has lived an inverted life, not a life full of blessedness and comfort in relation to other men. The sun does not praise himself, but under his splendour and warmth men look up and say how pleasing a thing it is for the eyes to behold the light. On the other hand, we must beware of a very common and perilous deceit. There is a sense in which every man ought to be able to praise himself; otherwise the applause of the public will be left by him to be a mockery and a lie. Our own heart should not condemn us. The psalmist was wont to glory in his integrity, and to point to it as his refuge in the time of misunderstanding. (J. Parker, D.D.)
The weight of sand
By a fool this book means, not so much intellectual feebleness as moral and religious obliquity, which are the stupidest things that a man can be guilty of. The proverb-maker compares two heavy things, stones and sand, and says that they are feathers in comparison with the lead-like weight of such a man’s wrath. I want to make a parable out of the text. What is lighter than a grain of sand? What is heavier than a bagful of it? The accumulation of light things is overwhelmingly ponderous. Is there anything in our lives like that?
I. This reminds us of the supreme importance of trifles. The small things make life, and if they are small, then it is. We are poor judges of what is great or small. We have a very vulgar estimate of noise, notoriety, and bigness. We think the quiet things are the small ones. The most trivial actions have a knack of leading on to large results, beyond what could have been expected. These trivial actions make character. Men are not made by crises. The crises reveal what we have made ourselves by the trifles. We shape ourselves by the way we do small things.
II. The overwhelming weight of small sins. The accumulated pressure upon a man of a multitude of perfectly trivial faults and transgressions makes up a tremendous aggregate that weighs upon him. The words “great” and “small” should not be applied in reference to things about which “right” and “wrong” are the proper words to employ. Acts make crimes, but motives make sins. To talk about magnitude, in regard to sins, is rather to introduce an irrelevant consideration. Small sins, by reason of their numerousness, have a terribly accumulative power; a tremendous capacity for reproduction. All our evil doings have a strange affinity with one another. To go wrong in one direction leads to a whole series of consequential transgressions of one sort or another. Every sin makes us more accessible to the assaults of every other. If we indulge in slight acts of transgression, be sure of this, that we shall pass from them to far greater ones. An overwhelming weight of guilt results from the accumulation of little sins.
III. Plain, practical issues of these thoughts.
1. The absolute necessity for all-round and ever-wakeful watchfulness of ourselves.
2. This thought may take down our easy and self-complacent estimate of ourselves.
3. Should we not turn ourselves with lowly hearts to Him who alone can deliver us from the habit and power of these accumulated faults, and who alone can lift the burden of guilt and responsibility from off our shoulders? (A. Maclaren, D.D.)
Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?
Anger and envy
I. The evil principles indicated in the text are extensively and dangerously prevalent. To be irritated and out of temper is one of the common tendencies of our nature, manifested even in childhood. The root is wrath, anger. This pernicious root grows differently in different natures, and with more or less vigour. This vicious principle is generally regarded too complacently, as though it were a necessary part of our nature. Wrath is dangerous. Its tendency is to increase. The spark will rise into a flame. The intensity of anger depends upon external circumstances, and also upon the condition of our health. The external exciting causes are continually changing. The foolish vice of irritating the temper of others is too common. Some like to torment the susceptible. Others are perpetually fault-finding and sneering. Envy is the condition of one who looks upon the happiness of another and longs to possess it. Envy generally seeks to conceal itself, and to work in secret and in darkness. Passion would strike down its victim in the public market-place, whilst envy would carefully weigh out and mix the poison for its victim to consume unconsciously in his food. This dangerous and deadly principle has extensive existence. Envy is the development of germs which are universally diffused. Then search into the very depths of your nature after the most minute germs of this evil.
II. Wherein Lies our safety against the growth and development of these principles? There may be lurking in our nature forces which need to be held in check by a stronger power than mere intellectual culture. Our higher civilisation too often only gilds crime, and throws its mantle over it. A formal profession of religion may cover the vilest lusts of humanity. There is a higher power. Christianity offers a Divine power by which the evil nature may be purified and every evil passion brought into subjection. Our safety, our only safety, lies in the renewal and sanctification of our nature by the Holy Ghost. Separated from the conscious presence of Christ, and destitute of His renewing grace and protecting providence, who can tell into what mischief we may fall! (Robert Ann.)
The sin of envy
The envious man is far blacker than the passionate man; for the outrageous behaviour of an angry person sounds an alarm to his neighbour to be on his guard, but the envious man conceals his malignity till he has a fit opportunity to strike a mortal blow without danger of missing his aim. The one is a dog, that barks before he bites, the other is an adder in the grass, that stings the traveller when he is dreading no hurt; for the malice of the envious man is generally unsuspected, because no occasion was given for it. It is the good and happiness of the envied object that excited his malignity, and he does not so much as pretend that he has received any provocation. (George Lawson, D.D.)
The nature and mischief of envy
The wise man compares envy with two very exorbitant commotions of man’s mind, wrath and anger. Worse than these, more unkind and uncharitable, more unjust, violent and mischievous, is envy. There is neither any goodness, nor yet any strength, that is a sufficient guard against it.
1. There is no man’s innocency, no man’s virtue, that can secure him from the direful strokes of envy. Sometimes a man’s goodness actually inflames the hearts of the envious. See case of Cain and Abel; of Esau; of the brethren of Joseph; of Saul, etc. The greatest instance of all is the envy of Scribes and Pharisees against our Saviour.
2. There is no man so great and powerful, or of so secure an estate or fortune, but the violence of envy hath been capable of overthrowing him. Illustrate case of Abner.
I. A just description of envy. It is a displeasure or trouble arising in a man’s mind from the sight or knowledge of another man’s prosperity, and causing a man to hate such person, and try to ruin him. It commonly arises on the sight of the prosperity of inferiors or equals. Men envy that to others which they think themselves as well or better to deserve. They seldom envy things or persons that are much above them. Distinguish envy from emulation. Illustrate by these two qualities in Saul and Jonathan, on the occasion of David’s killing Goliath. Emulation is a great and noble virtue, envy a poor and sneaking vice. It is always hiding itself. No man will own himself to be envious. He disguises it under a mighty pretended zeal for the truth; or a great love for the public welfare; or a charitable concern for the credit of his neighbour. How few men are wholly free from this vice.
II. The mischievous effects produced by envy. See these, that we may be more set against it; that we may avoid it ourselves; that we may beware of it in others; that we may use our utmost endeavours to quench this flame. Disturbances in the state, schism in the Church, and trouble in a neighbourhood, or in a private family, are generally traceable to envy. To what end is all this evil done by envious men? What do they get by it? Envy is its own punishment. No man can find a greater torment for an envious man than he inflicts upon himself. Even if it succeeds in pulling down a man, it very rarely gets into his place. How is it that God endures, and seems to leave alone, these mischief-making, envious men? They are agents in doing His disciplinary work in His people. It makes men self-watchful. The envious quickly light upon and show up faults that we might have passed over. The envious calumniate failings, not virtues. Remedies are--
1. A right apprehension of the things of this world.
2. A due submission to the will of God.
3. A true humility.
4. A Christian charity.
This last plucks it up by the very roots; and plants in our hearts what is most contrary thereto. (Jonathan Blagrave, D.D.)
Open rebuke is better than secret love.
Self-love is so natural to us, that as it makes us apt to flatter ourselves on all occasions, so it inclines us to accept too easily of the flatteries of all others. Our unwillingness to know our own faults, or to be humbled under the sense of them, makes us uneasy when any venture on the most charitable, but often the most unacceptable, act of friendship, the telling us of our faults. But so long as we have faults it is very fit that we be made acquainted with them. And since we are too much blinded in our own favour, it is a great happiness to fall Into the hands of such friends as will not spare us. No man can perform this act of friendship without some force put upon himself. Few love to touch a tender part, or to grieve a person who is dear to them. Friends see faults while they are yet secret, before they break out into open observation; so by the kind severity of their rebukes, they save from the shame which the discoveries that envy will soon make may bring. Friendship that carries a man to rebuke another plainly and roundly is better than secret love, or silent, indulgent, blind love. Such reproofs may be as wounds, and give a very painful uneasiness; but even that will be medicinal. The first and necessary rule in managing our reproofs is, that no man should offer to reprove another, who is eminently and notoriously faulty himself. Another is, reprove in such a manner that it may appear we are their friends whom we reprove, and that we correct them for their own good. So much depends on the temper in which reproof is given. The most comprehensive rule is to order our reproofs with discretion and prudence. The things of which we find fault should be things of importance. Junior and inferior persons should not usually reprove their elders and superiors. And a wise and prudent time should be chosen. Take care that it is not a mere finding fault upon some general and popular notions. Illustrate such things as lewd conversation, swearing, etc. (Bp. Gilbert.)
The contrast is not between “open reproof” and love that is not real, but only affected, and assuming the garb and manner of what is real, flatters and imposes upon its object. This could not, with propriety, be called “secret love.” It is professed love hiding enmity or indifference. “Secret love “ is love which is indeed real, but which fails to speak out faithfully when it ought--when the good of its object calls for such fidelity; which shrinks from doing so because it is unwilling to inflict present pain; which thus connives at existing evils--silently allowing them to pass when they are such as ought to be noticed and reprehended. This is a false love, which really injures its object. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful.
God’s friendship and Satan’s enmity
True friends are scarce. The old cynic who went about in broad daylight with a lighted lantern in search of “a man” would have had like difficulty in finding a true friend. True friendship often assumes a rough garb; enmity may clothe itself in the stolen dress of love. Men like flattery better than the rebuke of the faithful friend. The truth-speaker often inflicts pain.
I. God’s friendship ever brings sorrow with it. Out of the depths of His loving heart, God summonses the prodigal sinner to return. If he returns he must expect a weary journey. It is a toilsome path, that rugged one of repentance.
II. Satan’s enmity is often disguised by means of deceitful offers of joy. An enemy, he deals in pretences of love, and deceives with a kiss. When Satan tempted Christ, he came as it were with kisses--that is, with bribes. Is it not ever so? Sin wears the garb of friendship without its reality, and men are slaves to appearances. The truly wise man best shows his wisdom by detecting the embraces of an enemy, the false promise, the lying lips. (Homilist.)
The full soul loatheth an honeycomb.
It is a great blessing when food and appetite meet together. Sometimes men have been so luxuriously fed that appetite has departed from them altogether. The rules which apply to bodily appetite equally hold true of the mind. We easily lose our taste for anything of which we have our fill. Men in the things of God have not always an appetite for the sweetest and most precious truth.
I. Jesus Christ is Himself sweeter than the honeycomb. This is clear if we consider who He is, and what He gives and does. Our Lord is the incarnation of Divine love. The love of God is sweet, and Jesus is that love made manifest. Jesus is in Himself the embodiment of boundless mercy to sinners as well as love to creatures. Jesus must be sweet, for He meets all our wants as sinners. He breathes into our hearts the sweetness of abounding peace. His very name is redolent of celestial hope to believers. Jesus is sweet to God Himself, and to the angels in heaven. It is His presence that makes heaven what it is.
II. There are those who loathe the sweetness of our Lord. Some loathe Him so as to trample on Him. Others are always murmuring at Him. Some are utterly indifferent to Him. The loathing manifests itself by little signs. It comes of a soul’s being full--of the world; of outward religiousness; or of pride.
III. There are some who do appreciate the sweetness of Christ. Pray for a good appetite for Christ, and when you have it, keep it. Do not waste a good appetite upon anything less sweet than the true honeycomb. When you have the appetite, indulge it. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
An appetite for good things essential for their enjoyment
To appreciate a thing you must first feel its want. This applies to--
I. Corporeal good. It is appetite that makes bodily food sweet and enjoyable. Delicious was the manna to the Israelites at first. Which of the two is the more blest, the man who has the abundance of the enjoyable without the power of enjoying or he who has the scarcest and humblest fare with the full relish of the hungry soul?
II. Intellectual good. A man may have an immense library, and no appetite for books. To him the priceless library is worse than worthless. I’d rather be the man of one book, nay, of no book at all but the book of my own soul--the book of nature--with an appetite for truth, than the owner of the choicest library of the world with no desire for knowledge.
III. Spiritual good. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
As a bird that wandereth from her nest, so is a man that wandereth from his place.
The inconvenience and danger of persons being long absent from home
Nothing that affects our religious interests can, properly speaking, be called little. Everything that can influence the present temper and future state of the soul is weighty and important This text is a caution against a rambling spirit in general. “A bird that wandereth from her nest” leaves her eggs unhatched, or starves her young ones, or exposes them to peril. The evil consequences of restless and prolonged wanderings from home are--
1. They who wander lose many relative comforts. A heathen philosopher observes that “wanderers about have many acquaintances, but few friends.”
2. The domestic affairs of wanderers greatly suffer. Their work either stands still, or goes on very indifferently.
3. Precious time is lost in wandering from home. Many whose lawful business leads them abroad stay much longer than is needful. They trifle at every place where they come, and must chat with every person who hath as little prudence as themselves.
4. Wanderers are exposed to many temptations which ought to be avoided.
5. This habit is a great hindrance to family religion. Apply these thoughts to ourselves, and inquire how far we are concerned in this admonition. It is important for young people to cultivate a habit of staying at home. It is peculiarly bad in servants to wander from their place. Relations should endeavour to make home agreeable to one another. It is especially bad to wander from the house of God. (J. Orton.)
Some people are always restless; they must move about. They are like wandering birds. Such people do not know that the right place is always the best place for them. Whatever is our calling in life, let us not be in a hurry to leave it. Depend upon it, where God has placed us is the best for us after all. The right place for us all is where we can best serve Jesus, and where we can glorify Him. A bird that wanders from its nest is one that will get into danger and trouble. A bird that wanders from its nest will lose its nest. Three counsels--
1. Love your own nest, and stay in it.
2. Keep the nest clean, and make your home happy.
3. No nest is so good for you as your own, and therefore do not seek to change it. (J. J. Ellis.)
I. As the bird has its nest, so man has his place. And both are of Divine appointment. Behind the instinct of the bird and the social nature of man we must recognise the purpose of God. Man’s place is in--
1. The home. “God setteth the solitary in families.”
2. In society. “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers, for the powers that be are ordained of God.”
3. In the Church, its fellowship, worship, work.
II. As the bird needs the nest, so the man needs the place.
III. As the nest needs the bird, so the place needs the man.
V. The consequences of wandering.
VI. Appeal to wanderers. Come back! the place waits for you. Your own heart echoes its cry. (Homiletic Review.)
Sin reverses Divine arrangements. It is consequently the most unnatural thing in God’s universe. We speak of “natural depravity”; it is, properly speaking, un-natural depravity. Sin is earth’s exotic; the soul’s nightshade; it has “turned the world upside down,” and thrust man out of his proper place.
I. Man in his wrong place. Here called “a wanderer.” “Where art thou?” God asked Adam; intimating that he was not where he ought to have been. Sin had turned him out of his place. Some things concerning man’s original state--the place from which he had wandered.
1. It was a state of conscious Divine approval. Conscience was at rest.
2. A state of Divine illumination. The creature enjoyed the high privilege of companionship with his Creator. Sin has both stained the conscience and darkened the understanding.
3. A state of Divine sympathies. His supreme affections were centred in his Maker. Towards Him his emotions moved like bright constellations round the sun. The fatal mistake sin has introduced into the hearts of men is the vain attempt to meet the wants of the spiritual in the supplies of the material.
II. Man in his right place. “Man is as his heart is.” The evils which have been enumerated arise from the moral derangement of the affections. The gospel comes to restore the forfeited “place” by restoring lost confidence. It does so by revealing God in such a way as to inspire confidence. The gospel is the revelation of Divine love putting away sin, and bringing the sinner near to Himself. The soul’s resting-place is faith and love. (G. Hunt Jackson.)
The wandering bird
Persons of the vagrant kind seldom, if ever, prosper.
1. In the common affairs of life Solomon was correct. The unrest of that man’s mind, and the instability of his conduct, who is constantly making a change of his position and purpose, augurs no success for any of his adventures. See cases of eagerness to leave the native country; changing occupation; changing situation and acquaintance. And it is certainly true in changing one’s religious service in the cause of God.
2. In spiritual things. There is a tendency in us all to be looking for evidences, signs, marks, experiences, graces, and coincidences of one kind or another. When a Christian wanders from his place--from the simplicity of his faith in Jesus--that moment he departs from his safe shelter in the solid rock. Many believers wander out of their place. A believer’s place is in the bosom of his Lord, or at the right hand of his Master, or sitting at His feet with Mary. Wandering habits imply a lack of watchfulness. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The wandering bird
The teaching of the proverb may be, that a man who leaves his own home, his own proper sphere, situation, calling, is strange, awkward, lonely, exposed--he has got away from duty and into danger, and is forlorn as a lost bird that has got away from its nest and cannot find its way back. Our subject is that men, institutions, Churches, are most useful when faithful to their own particular calling, and when true to their own distinctive characteristics. There is some danger lest Christian Churches should wander from their place. Far be it from me to depreciate the importance of social questions and social work. But we are told that we are strong in the degree in which we take in hand social questions, and play the part of social reformers. But our work is supremely spiritual; our work is to the soul of man. To us, the main cause of the misery which is in this world is to be found in the spiritual condition of men, in their alienation from God. The Church of Christ is not to be a food-supply association, nor a banking company, nor a society for the reform of manners. Our work is to bring men to God. The monition of the text may be applied to individuals. There are few things more common than for men to forsake the sphere in which their own peculiar powers have ample scope for a sphere in which those powers are scarcely required at all. An infatuation sometimes leads men to seek positions to which they are not called, and for which they are manifestly unfit. Some of us are not allowed to remain in one place. We are compelled to be wanderers on the face of the earth. The determination to abide in one’s own lot, and to be true to one’s own gifts and aptitudes, is the secret of power. If a man will prove his own work, he shall have rejoicing in himself. Cultivate a vivid sense of personality and a solemn conviction of our own individual significance. You will not best serve your generation by becoming a washed-out reproduction of some stronger character. If a man honestly does the best with his own powers in his own place, he will not live in vain. We cannot escape from our personal limitations, but we may do good work, and minister much blessing notwithstanding. We also wander from our place when we neglect the things that are about us, and strain after strange and distant things, for satisfaction. The highest and best things are possible to us where we are. In our own place the highest culture of character is possible. Our place has no limitations for spiritual growth. We can be men in Christ Jesus where we are. So let there be no repining and no wandering. He orders our lot; let us stand in it. (James Lewis.)
Better is a neighbour that is near than a brother far off.
This proverb points out that when assistance is needed the near neighbour, though he may love less, is more useful than the brother who is far away. Society is absolutely necessary for human existence. Companionship forces us to think and feel in common. A large-hearted sociability corrects irrational prejudices. As no two minds are exactly alike, so no two can see any subject from exactly the same standpoint. The greater number of minds we can bring to bear on any aspect of truth, the nearer shall we be to the aspect that is right. It may be objected that many think erroneously, and therefore companionship with them would lead us from, and not towards, the truth. It would if we adopted their opinions, but not if, by sifting and searching them, we grasped our own more firmly. The same holds true in the realm of Christian experience. Sociability is, then, a duty we all owe to society, one which we ought scrupulously to pay according to our means and our opportunities. About the nature of true sociability great mistakes are made. Amusement is not the first purpose of society. To be truly sociable we must be able to make society more Christian than it was; to infuse into it something more, however little, of the spirit of sympathy, truth, purity, and love than it had. But to do this we must have the spirit ourselves. We ought also to be able to make it more intellectual, by adding information, giving ideas, and stimulating to mental effort. Then we cannot always be in society. It is in solitude we gather those germs of thought that we are afterwards to scatter. The power we have of influencing society by our words is one whose value we cannot over-estimate, one that ought to be cultivated to the very highest pitch. The benefit derived from companionship must depend on the persons with whom we associate. Bad companions have led many to ruin. Sociability has a tendency to produce hypocrisy, and subsequent self-deception in certain characters. Conversation in society is, too often, neither true nor edifying. By insensible degrees the vapid talker becomes the idle gossip, and the gossip sinks into the envenomed slanderer. It is, then, in our power to influence society for good or ill. Sociability must be either a curse or a blessing as we use it. (J. McCann, D.D.)
The Lord Jesus found strength and consolation in the love of human friends. That He should not only have pitied men, and loved them, but should have found here and there men and women whose presence and affection were a relief to Him, under the burden of His griefs; men and women who gave Him rest when He was weary, and joy when He was troubled; this may seem surprising to as. Christ Himself, the Son of the Eternal, had His human friends. He loved all men well enough to die for them, but there were some whom He loved more than others.
1. Some men are so happy as to inherit friends from their fathers. The love of our father’s friend is worth having. If he is a good man, there will be a certain power in him that will be a restraint to keep now in the good way your father would have approved. Your father’s experience of life survives in him to give you counsel. If he should ever be in trouble, pay your father’s debts in friendly attention to him.
2. “Thine own friend forsake not.” There are friends and friends. Most of our friends are acquaintances, and nothing more. Friendships of the perfect and ideal sort are necessarily rare. By friends we mean those for whom we have a strong affection, and who have a strong affection for us. A wise man said, “I want my friends to stand by me when I am wrong; other people will stand by me when I am right.” When you have friends of that sort, forsake them not. Keep them when you have them.
3. Friendships which fall far short of this ideal are also worth keeping. For the most part our friends must be people whose circumstances and education and history are very much like our own. There are people who drop a whole set of their “friends” whenever they get a considerable rise in their income. For the most part, close and real friendships must be formed early in life. When close friendships are formed after a man has passed middle life, it is usually with much younger persons.
4. Of the place and power of friendship in life, only those who have had and retained loyal and worthy friends, can have any real knowledge. Bacon says, “Friendship redoubleth joys and cutteth grief in halves.” Friendships assist to check and to subdue that selfish absorption in our own successes and in our own sorrows which poison the very springs of life and brings paralysis on all its nobler powers. Our confidence in their goodness and our delight in their affection save us from cynicism. We think the better of the human race because we think so well of them. When we do not absolutely accept the judgment of a friend, it clears our mind to discuss a difficult question with him. Our friends take the side of all that is best in us against whatever is mean and cowardly and dangerous; they serve the purpose of an external conscience. Our friends see us, not merely as we are, but as we might be.
5. The Christian will form his closest friendships with men who share his faith in Christ and his hope of immortality. Such friends will continue to be our friends in the realms that lie beyond death. (R. W. Dale, LL.D.)
I. Friendship is based of true love. Concord of sentiment, agreement of taste, unity of purpose, frequent companionship, are not enough. These may exist without the binding together of hearts. Love is the essential element of true friendship. “For my friend first, and then for myself,” is the spirit of true friendship. The idea of sacrifice is in friendship, and sacrifice is in the very nature of love.
II. Friendship is reciprocal in its growth and preservation. It cannot be a one-sided thing. Seneca said, “Love if you wish to be loved.” The atmosphere of suspicion or distrust is fatal to real friendship.
III. Genuine friendship strengthens in the time of trial. There is nothing like adversity to test life’s attachments. See some points of duty in true friendship. Do not encourage your friend to your secrets. If they are disclosed, see that you never betray them. There is a becoming reticence and dignity even in friendship. Do not think you can treat your friend anyhow because he is your friend. The dearest friendships cannot dispense with thoughtfulness, kindness, and politeness. Do not allow any trivial matter to interfere with your friendship. Do not forget to pray for, and seek, the spiritual welfare of your friend. As you believe in the power of prayer, pray for your friend. Cultivate close and endearing fellowship with the best Friend--the Friend of Sinners. (J. Hiles Hitchens, D.D.)
Whatever relates to the behaviour of men in their social character is of great importance in religion. The duties which spring from that character form many branches of the great law of charity. True piety is not less friendly to men than zealous for the honour of God. Deal with the nature and duties of virtuous friendship, as closely connected with the true spirit of religion. Among mankind, friendships or connections are of different kinds. Some so-called friendships would better be called conspiracies. Some are but the connections of political parties. Private friendships flow from similarity of disposition, corresponding harmony of minds. Sincere and affectionate friendships form some of the greatest blessings of human life. The fundamental duties of true friendship are constancy and fidelity.
1. Do not expect perfection in any with whom you contract friendship. If we do, we shall be sure to meet with disappointments. Young people are apt to cherish romantic ideas, and to form impossible expectations. In the best persons, great and solid qualities counterbalance the common infirmities. To these qualities you should look in forming friendships; to good-sense and prudence; virtue, good-temper and steadiness of affection.
2. Do not be hurt by differences of opinion arising in intercourse with your friends. These are sure to occur. Perpetual uniformity of thought would become monotonous and insipid.
3. Cultivate openness of temper and manners. Nothing more certainly dissolves friendship than the jealousy which arises from darkness and concealment.
4. Cultivate gentle and obliging manners. It is a common error that familiar intimacy supersedes attention to the lesser duties of behaviour. Let no harshness, no appearance of neglect, no supercilious affectation of superiority, occur in the intercourse of friends. A tart reply, a proneness to rebuke, a captious and contradictious spirit, are often known to embitter domestic life and to set friends at variance.
5. Do not rashly listen to evil reports against your friends. Be slow of believing anything against the friend whom you have chosen. Suffer not the poison of jealousy easily to taint your mind and break your peace.
6. Do not desert your friend in danger or distress. When your friend is calumniated, then is the time openly and boldly to espouse his cause. The honourable zeal of friendship has, in every age, attracted the veneration of mankind. (Hugh Blair, D.D.)
Reasons for valuing true friendship
1. Because of the pleasure of it. There is a great deal of sweetness in consulting and conversing with a cordial friend. The sweetness of friendship lies not in hearty mirth, but in hearty counsel, faithful advice, sincerely given, and without flattery.
2. Because of the profit and advantage of it, especially in a day of calamity. Don’t expect relief from a kinsman for kinsman’s sake, but apply yourselves to your neighbours, who are at hand, and will be ready to help us at an exigence. (Matthew Henry.)
The friendship of God towards man, and man towards God
There is no friend like an old friend. It is the heat of a whole life that has melted together the hearts of those who have walked together the long walk of life as friends. It is possible for any who seek the Lord and His will to be reckoned among His friends. God is the Friend of man; and man is admitted to be the friend of God. What are the terms on which we should stand towards a friend? In hollow friendships two things are wanting, faith and love. But in the friendship we are permitted to cherish towards God these are the very corner-stones, an enlightened lively faith and a glowing active love. Are we enjoying the heavenly sunshine of this Divine fatherly friendship? If so, we shaft show it in our own faithful, affectionate life, as friends of God. Of all living agencies a friend is the most alive, the most alert. (Archdeacon Mildmay.)
Near and far off
The antithetical phrases, “at hand” and “far off,” have evident reference here, not to locality, but to disposition. A friendly and kindly-disposed neighbour, who bears no relation to us save that of neighbourhood, is greatly preferable to a brother--to any relation whatever--who is cold, distant, and alienated. Even natural affection requires to be exercised with discretion. When appealed to injudiciously, at improper times, in improper circumstances, and with improper frequency, it may be cooled, it may be lost, it may be turned to dislike. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
A prudent man foreseeth the evil, and hideth himself; but the simple pass on, and are punished.
Eyes and no eyes
The distinction is not between “goodness” and “wickedness,” but between strength and weakness, wisdom and folly. The “seeing” and the “acting” man victoriously compels circumstances to further his own ends. The “blind” and the “drifting” man is conquered by the force of circumstances, and suffers penalty and loss. The proverb is applicable to every sphere of human life and effort, and becomes more and more rigidly and absolutely true the higher we ascend. In the lower spheres of action there may appear evils which the most prudent man cannot avoid; and the “simple” may sometimes escape disaster by a fortunate combination of circumstances. But these are exceptions. When we ascend to the sphere of moral and spiritual efforts, even the exceptions vanish, and the principle becomes absolute.
1. Man’s life and destiny are determined, not by an inexorable and eternal fate, but by his free manhood. Circumstances are the material out of which he has to weave the garment of his life, and it depends upon himself whether it shall be a garment for honour or dishonour.
2. The radical distinction between men lies in the possession of true vision. The true man sees the realities of things, gazes into the truer and eternal. The unspiritual man sees only the show and appearance of things. This true vision, being an essential characteristic of the spiritual man, is more than intellectual apprehension. It is a perception in which the whole being is exercised.
3. True vision determines true action. There is a sense in which a man may “see,” and yet follow his evil passions rather than his nobler knowledge. But in such cases there is something perilously defective in the vision. It has lacked depth and splendour, and divineness.
4. “Vision” and “action” determine destiny. “Drifting” is fatal; to “pass on” in the unresisted current of circumstances is “to suffer.” For lack of the “true vision” that creates true action empires have perished, and individuals are subject to the same law. Spiritual blindness is death. (John Thomas, M.A.)
The foresight of prudence
A good husband will repair his house while the weather is fair, not put it off till winter; a careful pilot will take advantage of wind and tide, and so put out to sea, not stay till a storm arise. The traveller will take his time in his journey, and mind his pace when the night comes on, lest darkness overtake him; the smith will strike while the iron is hot, lest it grow cool, and so he lose his labour; so we ought to make every day the day of our repentance; to make use of the present time, that when we come to die we may have nothing to do but to die, for there will be a time when there will be no place for repentance, when time will be no more; when the door will be shut, when there will be no entrance at all. (J. Spencer.)
He that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him.
The curse of ostentatious flattery
Flattery is a species of conduct generally most pleasing, always most pernicious. The flattery in the text is a loud vaunting. It intrudes itself on all occasions; it is busy and demonstrative.
I. It is a curse to its author. He who practises sycophancy inflicts an incalculable injury on his own spiritual nature. The spirit of independence, the feeling of honest manhood, give way to a crawling, creeping instinct; it is a sneaking art used to cajole and soften fools.
II. It is a curse to its victim Perhaps this is what Solomon means when he says “it shall be counted a curse to him,” i.e., the object of it. “Of all wild beasts,” says Johnson, “preserve me from a flatterer.” (Homilist.)
Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend.
Scripture instances of friendship are David and Jonathan; Ruth and Naomi; Paul and Timotheus; and our Lord and the Bethany sisters. In classical literature we see that friendship had a great part, both in the government of states and the lives of individuals. It is an aspect of politics and of human nature, and of all virtue. Partly owing to the different character of domestic life, the tie of friendship seems to have exercised s greater influence amongst the Greeks and Romans than among ourselves; and although these attachments may sometimes have degenerated into evil, we cannot doubt that much that was noble in the old life was also pure. See cases of Achilles and Patroclus, and of Pylades and Orestes. The school of Socrates was as much a circle of friends as a band of disciples. Roman friendships are illustrated in Scipio and Loelius, and in Cicero and Atticus. Shakespeare gives several types of friendship. In youth, when life is opening before us, we easily form friendships. A young man, even if he be poor in worldly goods, may reasonably hope to be rich in friends. Like draws towards like, and youth rejoices in youth. We cannot make friendships exactly as we please. Friendships are not made, but grow out of similar tastes, out of mutual respect, from the discovery of some hitherto unsuspected vein of sympathy. They depend also on our own power of inspiring friendship in others. Yet neither is the choice of friends altogether independent of ourselves. A man may properly seek for friends. He gets good, or he gets harm, out of the companionship of those with whom he lives. Such as they are he will be in some degree.
I. The character of true friendship. It should be simple, manly, unreserved; not weak, or fond, or extravagant, nor yet exacting more than human nature can fairly give; nor intrusive into the secrets of another’s soul, or curious about his circumstances. The greatest element in friendship is faithfulness. Friends learn from one another; they form the characters of one another; they bear one another’s burdens; they make up for each other’s defects. The ancients spoke of three kinds of friendship--one for the sake of the useful, one for the sake of the pleasant, and a third for the sake of the good or noble. The first is a contradiction in terms. It is a partnership, not a friendship. Every one knows the delight of having a friend. Is there a friendship for the sake of the noble and the good? Mankind are dependent beings, and we cannot help seeing how much, when connected together, they may do for the elevation of one another’s character and for the improvement of mankind.
II. Changing friendships. Like the other goods of life, friendship is commonly mixed and imperfect, and liable to be interrupted by changing circumstances or the tempers of men. Few have the same friends in youth as in age. Some youthful friendships are too violent to last; they have in them some element of weakness or sentimentalism, and the feelings pass away. Or, at some critical time of life, a friend has failed to stand by us, and then our love to him grows cold. But there are duties we owe to an extinct friend. We should never speak against him, or make use of our knowledge about him. A passing word should not be suffered to interrupt the friendship of years. It is a curious observation, that the most sensitive natures are also the most liable to pain the feelings of others.
III. Christian friendship. The spirit of a man’s life may be more or less consciously Christian. Friendship may be based on religious motives, and may flow out of a religious principle. Human friendships constantly require to be purified and raised from earth to heaven. And yet they should not lose themselves in spiritual emotion or in unreal words. Better that friendship should have no element of religion than that it should degenerate into cant and insincerity. All of us may sometimes think of ourselves and our friends as living to God, and of human love as bearing the image of the Divine. There are some among us who have known what it is to lose a friend. Death is a gracious teacher. Who that has lost a friend would not wish to have done more for him now that he is taken away? The memory of them is still consecrated and elevating for our lives. (Professor Jowett.)
This is what one friend should be to another; a whetstone, to give keenness to the edge of his energy. A friend can encourage his friend when duty is difficult, or wearisome, or painful; can comfort, can advise. But friendship is too often made the stepping-stone to the worst falls; and many a sinner has his friends to thank for his having fallen into sins which, left to himself, he would have shrunk from with horror. God has mercifully hedged round most sins with many barriers--the barrier of ignorance, of shame, and of affection. This latter, in a personal friend, may be especially helpful. A friend may aid us in both the right and the wrong. It is sometimes the duty of a true friend openly to find fault with a friend. But the occasion is very rare. In most cases all that is wanted is to hold to the right, and you will do more towards holding your friend to the right than by all manner of exhortations. Few things can give acuter pain to the soul in after-years than the memory of friends misled by our friendship. Friendship, and sympathy, and cheerful example ought to help us more than anything else to grow up soldiers and servants of Christ, and to fight His battle when we are grown up. Iron cannot sharpen iron more than we might sharpen each other. The very differences in our character might be such a help to us in making friendship valuable, because when one friend is much tempted the other is strong, and can uphold him, and yet, when another kind of temptation comes, will receive back as much support as he gave. (Frederick Temple, D.D.)
“A friend in need is a friend indeed”
Bacon says, “To be without friends is to find the world a wilderness.” It is only a mean man that can be contented alone. A trusty friend is one of earth’s greatest blessings. Alas, for the dire contagion of evil friendships! Washington said, “Be courteous to all, intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.” Stick to your friend. He can never have any true friends who is often changing them. Bring your friend to a proper understanding of himself. Persuade him of his follies. Phocion said truly to Antipater, “I cannot be both your friend and flatterer.” True friendship cannot exist between bad men. True friendship is tested in the hour of adversity. Wait until you are in trouble, and many a professed friend will be shy of you and give you the dead cut. Many people expect too much from their friends. There is an old saying that “Friends, like fiddle-strings, must not be screwed too tight.” Friendships are often productive of mischief because they are not governed by wisdom and prudence. He is our best friend who is a friend to our soul. Give a wide berth to the sneering sceptic. Have for your bosom friends men who will “strengthen your hand in God,” who will foster your piety and make you wiser, better, and holier men. In Christ alone the proverb at the heading of this outline finds its fullest verification. (M. C. Peters.)
This proverb is described by Edward Irving as forcibly expressing the effect of religious converse and communion by a beautiful figure, which also not inaptly represents the way in which the effect is produced. Iron sharpeneth iron by removing the rust which has been contracted from their lying apart; so intercourse between friend and friend rubs down the prejudices which they have contracted in their separate state. And as the iron, having removed the rust which entered into the good stuff of the blade, and hindered its employment for husbandry or war, straightway applies itself to the metallic substance, brings it to a polish and to an edge, shows its proper temper, and fits it for its proper use, so the intercourse of friends having removed the prejudices which were foreign to the nature and good conditions of each, proceeds, in the next place, to bring out the slumbering spirit which lay hid, to kindle each other into brightness, and prepare each other for action. (Francis Jacox.)
The sharpening influence of religious intercourse
We are all well acquainted with the every-day fact that “iron sharpeneth iron”; we have all seen steel used to sharpen a blade, to give it an edge, and make it fit to do its work. We are also well aware that the blade, when sharpened, may be used for a good purpose, or abused for a bad one. The axe may be used to fell the timber of the temple, or to break down all the carved work thereof. The steel or the whetstone to sharpen, fits the blade for doing good or doing evil, according to circumstances. The act of sharpening increases its power, whether for good or evil; and so is it with regard to a man’s friends--they stir him up, they excite him, but it is to good or to evil, according as they themselves are good or evil. We must take care who our friends are, lest we receive mischief; take care what kind of friends we are, lest we impart it. Those who countenance what is wrong are answerable for much of the evil their countenance leads to. For instance, all persons should take great care to what they are led by the countenance and encouragement of friends on occasions of public festivity or show. Many on such occasions have their countenances sharpened as they are not on other days. They are encouraged to say, to do, to boast, to indulge, as they never would do, and never do, when sitting at home in their own houses. It is a pleasing thought, however, that the man whose heart is right with God “sharpeneth” for good “the countenance of his friend. There is nothing more false upon true religion than to imagine that it stunts our minds, that its design is to withdraw them from the genial warmth of social life, where it may blossom--where, like a healthy plant, it may open and expand, and place them alone, to become proud and selfish. True religion, like every other good sentiment, requires society to bring it to perfection. Now, if there be something so valuable in the intercourse of true Christians, they should seek it in the spirit best calculated to profit by such communion. They should seek it in Christian friendship. They should constantly be on the look-out for those who are willing to drink deep with them at the fountain of Divine truth. But our expectations from this truth are not to be limited to the exercise of private friendship. We cannot all be bound together by such ties, desirable as they are; but then, again, all real Christians are real friends. They may never have spoken; they may want introduction one to another; distance of situation may keep them apart; circumstances may keep them unacquainted though near in point of neighbourhood; yet have they, being all partakers of the same Spirit, that which is calculated, under altered circumstances, to make and keep them friends. All Christians, I repeat, are friends; and, therefore, we may expect many circumstances, short of strict and intimate friendship, calculated to bring into play the principle upon which I have been dwelling. I shall mention two circumstances under which this may happen.
1. I would recommend all persons to seek this means of improvement in their families. With his family is every Christian bound to share, and by sharing to increase, his devout affections. There are innumerable degrees of life among the members of our Lord: there are all the stages from simple consecration to Him, in baptism and profession, to the fullest union. To be helpers of each other’s faith throughout these several stages--to become by mutual communication joint partakers of one common Spirit--is one of the most effectual means of spiritual growth. “He that watereth may hope to be watered also himself.”
2. But this is not all: he is in the way to have his own “countenance sharpened,” his own motives quickened, his own soul stirred up to watchfulness, love, zeal, diligence, and an endeavour at being consistent. If we know ourselves, we know that we want every kind of motive, every sort of help. Then let every Christian try the power of meeting each morning and evening to pray together with his family. But, if so, how much more should we thank God for those further helps which He affords to us in the public assemblies of the congregation. Here especially the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above. If we came to His house expecting much, imploring much, desiring much, we should gain much. Our God would enrich us, and that partly through the channel of our “fellowship one with another.” (J. H. A. Walsh, M.A.)
So he that waiteth on his master shall be honoured.
The way to honour
If a man in Palestine carefully watched his fig-tree, and kept it in proper condition, he was sure to be abundantly rewarded in due season. So good servants obtain honour as the fruit of diligent service.
I. The relation which subsists between ourselves and our Lord--He is our Master. You are men, and naturally moved by all which moves other men, but still the master motive power with you who are Christians is the supremacy of Christ. He has a right to be our Master from the very dignity of His character. We yield Him service because of His love to us. And our position of servants is an irreversible one.
II. There is a conduct consistent with being servants of Jesus. A servant should--
1. Own himself to be his Master’s.
2. Have no time at his own disposal.
3. Be always about his Master’s business.
As servants it is our duty to learn our Master’s will, and to do it when we know it. It is ours also to obey the Master willingly, and for love of His person. The waiting upon the Master is to be performed personally by the servant. It is ours, in waiting, to abide near to Christ.
III. The reward which surely comes to faithful servants. He finds his honour in waiting upon his Master. Every faithful servant of Christ is honoured in his Master’s honour. He is honoured with his Master’s approval. He is honoured by having more given him to do. He is honoured in the eyes of his fellow-servants. But the chief honour of the faithful servant comes from the blessed Trinity. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
The reward of God’s servants
He who tends the fig-tree has figs for his pains, and he who waits on a good master has honour as his reward. Truly the Lord Jesus is the very best of masters, and it is an honour to be allowed to do the least act for His sake. To serve some lords is to watch over a crab-tree and eat the crabs as one’s wages; but to serve my Lord Jesus is to keep a fig-tree of the sweetest figs. His service is in itself delight; continuance in it is promotion; success in it is blessedness below; and the reward for it is glory above. Our greatest honours will be gathered in that season when the figs will be ripe, even in the next world. Angels who are now our servitors will bear us home when our day’s work is done. Heaven, where Jesus is, will be our honourable mansion, eternal bliss our honourable portion, and the Lord Himself our honourable companion. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
An honoured servant
Melancthon’s friends were astonished at his liberality, and wondered how, with his small means, he could afford to give so much in charity. It was principally owing to the good management of a faithful servant named John. The whole duty of providing for the family was entrusted to this domestic, whose care and prudence amply justified the confidence reposed in him. He avoided all needless expenditure, and watched with a jealous eye his master’s property. He was also the first instructor of the children during their infancy. John grew old in his master’s service, and expired in his house, regretted by all. During a service of thirty-four years how much usefulness was effected by honest John, and by his master, through his instrumentality! Melancthon invited the students of the university to attend the funeral of his faithful servant; delivered an oration over his grave; and composed a Latin epitaph for his tombstone.
As in water face answereth to face, so the heart of man to man.
Mirror of human nature
As a man looking into the water (used anciently as a mirror) sees an exact transcript of his own countenance, so every heart has, by nature, precisely the same moral character with every other unsanctified heart. Every child of Adam, till renewed by Divine grace, has, in view of Omnipotence and Omniscience, the same moral aspect. Notice some of the circumstances which have contributed to make men differ in their conduct who have by nature the same moral character. Grace has made a wide difference in men who were by nature alike. Difference in instinctive passions and affections makes men differ in their conduct. Some have not the talents for doing mischief that others have. Others have not the opportunities. One man may achieve less mischief than another because more restrained.
1. That all men have naturally the same moral character might be inferred from the similarity of origin, aspect, and general habits that belong to all ages and all nations of men.
2. We can hardly fix our eye on any individual or community of antiquity but we can find its exact resemblance in some individual or community with whose character we are familiar. Of this take as Scriptural examples the family of Adam and of Jacob; the characters of Balaam, and of Shimei, and of Joab, and of Jezebel.
3. There have prevailed in all ages and nations the same crimes, calling for the restraining influence of the same laws. Men have been at all times inclined to wrong their fellow-men of their property. The descriptions of depravity which applied to Israel, Babylon, Egypt, Syria, Sidon, and even Edom, apply with equal propriety to the men of this land.
4. Argue from the fact that the Bible has never become obsolete. It describes men of other periods, and the description suits the present generation. Remarks:
(1) We see one source of those corruptions of doctrine with which the world is filled. Men have determined that human nature has grown better. Having settled this point, they infer that the same Bible will not suit the different ages and nations.
(2) This subject justifies a kind of preaching as plain and pointed as anything found in the law of God, or in the communications of Christ and His apostles.
(3) The subject furnishes ungodly men with the means of knowing their own characters.
(4) We may argue, from this subject, that men must all pass the same second birth to fit them for the kingdom of God.
(5) We see why there need be but one place of destiny in the coming world for all the unregenerate. The little shades of difference that now appear in the ungodly are too insignificant to mark them out for distinct worlds. (D. A. Clark.)
They who are our associates in this world will most probably be our associates in the next
Bishop Patrick explains this proverb thus: “A man may see himself, while he looks upon other men, as well as know other men, by considering his own inclinations.” Bishop Hall says: “He that looks into his friend’s heart sees there his own.” The most mysterious thing in God’s work is the heart of man. The Eden of the human heart has been transformed into a wilderness of vile passions. Some restrain themselves more than others, and therefore there are different degrees of depravity in the world; and perhaps, by looking around us, we may find what rank we properly belong to, and what chance we have of escaping the wrath of God.
1. Let us ask ourselves who are our intimate friends and associates?
2. Let us compare ourselves with the dying. (John Collinson.)
So is a man to his praise.
The influence of applause
The various passions implanted in human nature are necessary to animate the soul in the service of God and our generation. The poet sung, “Love of fame, the universal passion.” The wise man beheld this principle in human nature; he saw the effect of praise upon mankind. The text is a rule, grounded upon the observable effect of it upon man; a refined rule for trial of our true moral character or religious state. It is, literally, “A fining-pot for silver and a furnace for gold; and a man to the mouth of his praise.” The conduct of men, in regard to their praise, may be as sure a trial of their moral and religious character as the fining-pot is of silver and the furnace of gold. By praise we should understand, not the plaudit of individuals or of the multitude, spoken in a tone of sarcastic irony; nor that given by mistake, as when another’s conduct is innocently ascribed to us, with the praise of his commendable behaviour. By a man’s praise we understand real, unfeigned praise, bestowed for actions or conduct commendable in the sight of men, useful to the community. Such praise answers valuable purposes. To observe how a man is to his praise is a matter of serious importance to every soul of man. His praise refines one man, renders him thankful to God for a good name among men. Praise to a righteous soul renders it seriously inquisitive, whether its conduct really deserves praise--the praise not of men, but of God also. Praise renders the righteous respectful to those who bestow it; and they become more diligent to improve in well-doing. Praise to a righteous man is a fiery trial, where he needs humility and sober thoughts. Praise bestowed on the ungodly man renders him vain, self-confident, and self-conceited. He becomes haughty and insolent. Jealous of his honour, he is impatient to hear another praised. Persons of this character become careless--regardless of the praise of God. The reason of the different effects of praise is the different state in the inner man of the heart. The reason of the different effects of the fining-pot and furnace upon metals is the different nature and quality of the metals cast into them. The natural improvement of this subject is to determine our moral and religious character by the effect which the praise of men has upon us. (John Devotion, M.A.)
Popularity the most trying test of character
Men, in ancient times as well as in modern, submit precious metals, such as silver and gold, to the test of the fire. Fire revealed their impurity, and made them appear in their true character. What fire is to these metals, Solomon says, popularity or applause is to man’s character--it tests him.
I. Popularity reveals the vanity of the proud man. How did Absolom appear in the blaze of popularity? (2Sa 25:22). How did Herod appear? Amidst the shouts of his flatterers he assumed to be a god.
II. Popularity reveals the humility of a true man. A true man shrinks from popular applause, and feels humbled amidst its shouts. Dr. Payson, a careful self-observer, mentions among his trials “well-meant but injudicious commendations.” “Every one here,” he writes to his mother, “whether friends or enemies, are conspiring to ruin me. Satan and my own heart, of course, will lend a hand, and if you join too, I fear all the cold water which Christ can throw upon my pride will not prevent it from breaking out in a destructive flame. As certainly as anybody flatters and caresses me, my Father has to scourge me for it, and an unspeakable mercy it is that He condescends to do it.” Popularity is indeed to character what the “fining-pot is for silver and the furnace for gold.” Few things in life show us the stuff of which men are made more than this. Little men court this fire, but cannot stand it. (Homilist.)
Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds.
Kindness to animals
We live in an age when great regard is paid to the comfort and well-being of every class of the community, and when efforts are made to promote the general happiness. When so much is being done to add to the happiness of the human family we should not be forgetful of the dumb animals, to which, for our comfort, we are so largely indebted. It is always a good sign of a man when he takes a kindly interest in the brutes. A man who can roughly treat a horse or a dog can never be one in whom his own family find much to love. The days are gone of cruel and disgusting sports, in which men found their pleasure in watching the sufferings of the lower creatures. But a good deal of pain is still caused through mere thoughtlessness. See Bible notices of animals.
1. The fact of their creation by God. They were brought upon the earth before man was, and have, by priority, a right to such comforts as it affords.
2. Their being named by Adam. This indicated his lordship over them, and the interest God would have him take in them.
3. When man had sinned, by the slaughter of innocent animals he was impressively taught, and continually reminded of, the only way of salvation.
4. In the time of the Flood the animals were carefully preserved.
5. In the Mosaic economy laws were enacted for the protection and well-being of the creatures. Many make the mistake of thinking that animals must be frightened into obedience. A kind and gentle treatment, as it is the most humane, is also the most successful. They are fond of being praised and encouraged: a kind word or affectionate stroke makes them wonderfully happy, and even the expression of countenance they learn to understand. Remember it is said of God, “With the merciful man Thou wilt show Thyself merciful.” His eye is upon us, and He will call us to account for every act of cruelty done to the creatures He has made. Strive, then, to be like Him in kindness and in gentleness. (J. Thain Davidson, D.D.).