He that, being often reproved, hardeneth his neck.
The doom of the incorrigible sinner
This proverb may be accommodated to all the affairs of life. In whatever course a man blunders on, headstrong and regardless of advice and admonition, it will ruin him at last, as far as the matter is capable of working his ruin. But here principal reference is to religion. Often reproved--this is undoubtedly our character. Reproved by men from all quarters. The Word of God has reproved us. God has reproved us by His providence in private and public calamities. God has reproved us more immediately by His Spirit. We have also been our own monitors. Conscience has often pronounced our doom. Even the irrational creatures and infernal spirits may have been our monitors. Solomon assumes that a man may be often reproved, and yet harden his neck; that is, obstinately refuse submission and reformation. Nothing but a sullen and senseless beast can represent the stupid, unreasonable conduct of that man who hardens himself in sin, against the strongest dissuasion and reproofs from God and His creatures. The stiff neck that will not bend to the yoke of obedience must be broken, and its own stiffness renders it the more easily broken. It may harden itself into insensibility under reproof, but it cannot harden itself into insensibility under Divine judgments. He shall be suddenly destroyed. Sudden ruin is aggravated because it strikes a man into a consternation. There is dreadful reason to fear that you will always continue in your present condition if you persist in being proof against all admonition. (S. Davies, M.A.)
The duty of reprovers and persons reproved
The verse may be read, “He that reproveth another, and hardeneth his own neck.” The Hebrew is, “A man of reproofs, that hardens his own neck.”
1. Such a reprover of sin does it against his office. The office of a reprover binds him to be blameless.
2. Such a reprover can never reprove to a right end. It is not because he hates sin; if he did he would put it away from himself.
3. Such a reprover can never do it in a right manner. As long as a man has a beam in his own eye he cannot rightly deal with the mote in his brother’s.
4. Such a reprover is a hypocrite.
5. Such a reprover is inexcusable. His reproving another man’s sin makes himself inexcusable of his own.
6. Such a reprover is an absurd and impudent person. Such a man both wrongs his own soul and dishonours God. But the verse may be read, “He that, being often reproved, hardeneth his neck.” Hebrew is, “Hardens his own neck.” A “man of reproofs” equals a man often reproved. The Lord does not destroy a man nakedly, but upon consideration of sin. What a great sin it is, what a great ill it is, for man to sin against his reproofs.
The greatness of the ill is set down in two ways.
1. By the great sinfulness of the thing. It is called the hardening of a man’s own neck.
2. By the greatness of the punishment that God inflicts upon this sin. When God reproves a man of sin, the reproof primarily comes out of love. The end of reproof is to bring a man to good, to reduce him into a right way, to convert a man, and save his soul. There is no reason in the world why reproof should be taken otherwise than with all willingness and thankfulness and cheerfulness. First use of this: See here what an infinite punishment God is bringing upon a kingdom when He is taking away reprovers from them.
The second use makes against those that despise the reproof of the wise. “Ye despise not men, but God.” The Lord proportions punishments to men’s sins.
1. Because hereby man’s punishment appears to be so much the more equal and worthy.
2. Because this stops a man’s mouth; it convinceth s man’s conscience.
3. All the standers-by see the equity of it. Consider and see how God proportions punishments to sins in kind, quantity, quality, time, and place. (William Fenner.)
The certain doom of the impenitent
I. The true idea of reproof. Whatever is calculated in its own nature or relations to arrest the attention of the mind, and call men to see their neglect of duty, or the obligation they owe to God, involves the true idea of reproof.
II. The ways in which God administers reproof. God exercises a universal providence. By judgments God ofttimes administers reproof. The Holy Spirit reproves by convincing the sinner of his sins and producing in his mind visitations of remorse.
III. The design of reproof. To effect a reformation. He means to secure this end by forbearance. When He finds that will not do, then He uses the rod.
IV. The meaning of hardening the neck. The figure is that of a bullock working with a yoke upon his neck. The neck becomes callous with the pressure of the yoke. Men are represented as pushing against God’s providence, and thus making their necks hard. The conscience of the sinner becomes quite callous under reproof if he does not yield to it.
V. The meaning of being suddenly destroyed. Opposition and destruction will always go together. The conscience becomes so stupefied that men lose the sense of danger. The danger of men is great, just in proportion as they cease to be affected by a sense of it; when men feel the most secure, if they are living in sin, then destruction is most certain; and when it comes it will be sudden, because they do not expect it at all. This is not arbitrary on the part of God; it is a natural consequence of the sinner’s conduct. (C. G. Finney.)
I. A case supposed.
1. You have often been reproved by kind and judicious parents.
2. Or by some faithful friend who has seen your tendency to evil, and has stepped in to prevent the destruction which he saw was on its way.
3. A still larger class among us God has counselled and reproved by His ministering servants.
4. Many have been reproved by afflictions of various kinds.
II. The severe judgment here denounced. The threat of the text is only against those who persevere in iniquity amidst all their religious privileges, who will not be warned nor instructed, who reject all advice and admonition, all offers of grace and mercy. Reflect on the suddenness, the greatness, and the eternity of the destruction which awaits impenitent offenders. But we only preach destruction that we may make you feel your need of salvation; and then, when we have awakened your fears, how gladly do we point you to the refuge and the remedy. (S. Bridge, M.A.)
A solemn warning
I. God’s lingering long-suffering. He reproves. Why? That we may turn and live. He reproves often. Why? Because “He is not willing that any should perish.”
II. Man’s insane infatuation. “Hardeneth his neck.” Too many “reject the Word of the Lord.”
1. How terrible the power of sin!
2. How deceitful the heart of man!
3. How inexcusable and suicidal the sinner!
III. The terrirle threatening. God’s long-suffering will not always last.
1. “The sinner shall be destroyed; his destruction is certain.”
2. Be destroyed; his destruction fearful.
3. Shall suddenly; we know not what a day may bring forth.
IV. The awful appendix. “And that without remedy.” There is a remedy here and now, however sinful we have been, but there will be none hereafter. (David Jamison, B.A.)
I. The character implied.
II. The reproof given. “Often reproved.”
III. The reproof rejected. “Hardeneth his neck.” Setteth himself against taking the reproof, as a stubborn ox against taking the yoke. Indifferent to it. Laughs at it. Becomes worse. Obstinate in doing evil and in resisting good. “Mind your own business.” “I am my own master.” Throws off all restraint. Becomes sceptical, perhaps atheistic; scorns at religion and religious people.
IV. The punishment threatened. “Shall suddenly,” etc. He shall be cut off from hope; from friends; from honour; from happiness; from all his desirable possessions--suddenly; prematurely cut off; unexpectedly: apoplexy; disaster in travelling, etc. Irretrievable; eternal. Conclusion:
1. A limit to God’s long-suffering.
2. To live against Divine reproofs is perilous.
3. Divine reproofs are Divine mercies.
4. Exhort sinners. (John Bate.)
When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice.
The happiness of the people
Man is, for the most part, equally unhappy when subjected, without redress, to the passions of another, or left, without control, to the dominion of his own. Government is necessary to the safety of particular men and the happiness of society. The people cannot rejoice except the righteous are in authority.
I. The duty of those in authority to promote the happiness of the people. No man is born merely for his own sake, to consult his own advantage or pleasure, and unconnected with the good of others. This is more evidently true of those who are exalted into high rank, dignified with honours, and vested with authority. He who wears the honours and receives the revenues of an exalted station, without attending to the duties of his post, is, in a very high degree, criminal, both in the eye of God and man.
II. By what means the happiness of the people may be most effectually promoted. The only uniform and perpetual cause of public happiness is public virtue. Without virtue nothing can be securely possessed or properly enjoyed. In a country like ours the great demand is for the security of property, the confirmation of liberty, and the extension of commerce. If riches and liberty could make us happy, it would remain to be considered how riches and liberty can be secured. Human laws must be limited in their effects. The deficiencies in civil life can be supplied only by religion. The first duty of a governor is therefore to diffuse through the community a spirit of religion. To this end it is necessary that the external order of religion be diligently maintained, that the solemnities of worship be duly observed, and a proper reverence preserved for the times and places appropriated to piety. And governors must co-operate with their laws by their own examples.
III. How the people are to assist and further the endeavours of their governors. Nations cannot be governed but by their own consent. The first duty of subjects is obedience to the laws. No man thinks laws unnecessary for others; and no man, if he considers his own inherent frailty, can justly think them unnecessary for himself. Even the errors and deficiencies of authority must be treated with respect. All institutions are defective by their nature, and all rulers have their imperfections, like other men. As government is difficult to be administered, so it is difficult to be understood; and where very few have capacity to judge, very few have a right to censure. The laws will be easily obeyed by him who adds to human sanctions the obligations of conscience; and he will not easily be disposed to censure his superiors whom religion has made acquainted with his own failings. (John Taylor.)
A righteous government
I. Some of the chief advantages that people enjoy under a righteous government.
1. The laws are duly executed. This keeps all the springs of the body politic in their right tone, and gives life and vigour to their motion.
2. True merit finds protection and encouragement under it. This enlivens people’s spirits and makes them study to be serviceable upon a right principle.
3. Such a government appears abroad with weight and authority. Righteousness exalteth a nation and spreads its fame and reputation in countries far remote.
4. Such a government is attended with the blessing of God.
II. How ought people to express their joy when the righteous are in authority?
1. By a ready and cheerful obedience to authority.
2. By grateful acknowledgments to God for so great a blessing.
3. The people should express their joy by their gratitude to such rulers. (Bp. John Hough.)
A man that flattereth his neighbour spreadeth a net for his feet.
I. What flattery is. The nature and property of it is to put on all forms and shapes, according to the exigence of the occasion. He that would paint flattery must draw a picture of all colours, and frame a universal face, indifferent to any particular aspect whatever. It shows itself--
1. In concealing or dissembling of the defects and vices of any person. It will pretend not to see faults, and if it does, it will be sure not to reprove them. All people are not called to reprove others.
(1) Who are they that are concerned to speak in this case? Such as are entrusted with the government of others. Those who are entrusted with the guidance and direction of others. Those that profess friendship.
(2) In what spirit are these reprehensions to be managed? Let the reproof, if possible, be given in secret. Let it be managed with due respect to and distinction of the condition of the person that is to be reproved. Let him that reproves a vice do it with words of meekness and consideration; without superciliousness or spiritual arrogance. A reproof should not be continued or repeated after amendment of that which occasioned the reproof.
2. In praising or defending the defects or vices of any person. If to persuade men out of the acknowledgment of the evil and unlawfulness of their actions be flattery, then none are so deeply chargeable with flattery as these two sorts of men--such as, upon principles of enthusiasm, assure persons of eminence and high place that those transgressions of the Divine law are allowable in them that are absolutely prohibited and condemned in others, and the Roman casuists, who have made it their greatest study to put a new face upon sin. This kind of flattery is of very easy effect, by reason of the nature of man, and the nature of vice itself. From these two considerations we may easily gather how open the hearts of most men lie, to drink in the fawning suggestions of any sycophant that shall endeavour to relieve their disturbed consciences by gilding their villainies with the name of virtues.
3. In imitating any one’s defects or vices. Actions are much more considerable than words or discourses. To any generous and free spirit it is really a very nauseous and fulsome thing to see some prostitute their tongues and their judgments, by saying as others say, commending what they commend, and framing themselves to any absurd gesture or motion that they observe in them. Every kind of imitation speaks the person that imitates him inferior to whom he imitates, as the copy is to the original.
4. An overvaluing those virtues and perfections that are really laudable in any person. This is more modest and tolerable, there being some groundwork of desert.
II. The grounds and occasions of flattery.
1. Greatness of place and condition. Men consider the great danger of speaking freely to great persons what they are not willing to hear. It may enrage, and make them mortal enemies.
2. An angry, passionate disposition This also frights and deters men from doing the orifice of friends, in a faithful reprehension.
3. A proud and vainglorious disposition. To tell a proud person of his faults is to tell infallibility that it is in an error, and to spy out something amiss in perfection.
III. The ends and designs of it on his part that flatters. Every flatterer is actuated and influenced by these two grand purposes--to serve himself, and to undermine him whom he flatters, and thereby to effect his ruin. For he deceives him, and grossly abuses and perverts his judgment, which should be the guide and director of all his actions. He that is thoroughly deceived is in the very next disposition to be ruined; for cast but a mist before a man’s eyes, and whither may you not lead him? And he undermines, and perhaps in the issue ruins, him whom he flatters, by bringing him to shame and a general contempt. Moreover, by his flattery and its consequences, he renders his recovery and amendment impossible. Every fault in a man shuts the door upon virtue, but flattery is the thing that seals it. (R. South.)
The tendency of flattery
In this verse Solomon does not refer solely to the intention of the flatterer; he refers also to the tendency of the flattery. The latter may be far from harmless, even although to a greater degree the former may. Injury may be done, and many a time is done, when no harm is meant to the party, and when there is no interest of our own to serve. And there is no little guilt on the part of those who, seeing vanity to be a man’s failing, set themselves on purpose to feed it, pouring into the ear, merely in the way of an amusing experiment, every description of fulsome adulation, trying how much and in what variety it will be taken in. (R. Wardlaw, D.D.)
The weakness of the human heart exposeth it to innumerable dangers. Constant attention is necessary to preserve it secure, because it is often assailed on the most unsuspected side. The conceit and vanity, which all men have in some degree, renders truth itself often dangerous. It is the prerogative of God alone to receive praise without danger. He hears, and is pleased to hear, the endless hymns of His angels. He hears the voice of praise ascending from all nature: the infinite variety of beings celebrating Him as the great, the just, the merciful God. He receives those truths without prejudice to His holiness; because, being in Himself essentially holy and true, these attributes can never jar, nor harm each other. It is far otherwise with us: unstable ourselves as water, our very virtues partake of this instability; whence ariseth the necessity of our suspecting everything that flatters us, because there is nothing in general more seductive and deceitful; and of all delusions, there is none more shameful and pernicious than that which, by the suggestions of self-love, makes us take falsehood for truth, and think of ourselves more highly than we ought to think. People tell us what we ought to be rather than what we are, and we, by a pitiable blindness of running into the snare that is spread for us, believe ourselves to be indeed what adulation represents us. In this manner it often happens that a man who is naturally modest, and who would be humble if he knew himself, intoxicated with this vain incense, thinks himself possessed of merits which he never possessed; thanks God for graces which God never gave him; acknowledgeth the reception of talents which he never received; ascribes to himself successes which he never had; and enjoys himself secretly, while he is openly despised. Some learned men have very plausibly ascribed the origin of those idolatrous superstitions that prevailed so long in the world to that inclination which men have of believing what is advantageous, however incredible it may really be. Certain men were told that they were gods; and, by often hearing this told them, they became accustomed to be honoured and treated as gods. Those who first held that language to them knew very well that it was false; yet, from a spirit of flattery, they performed every action that they would otherwise have done from a spirit of sincerity had they been convinced that what they spoke was true. We dare not say that this error is entirely destroyed even by Christianity: vestiges of it remain everywhere, and a species of idolatry is established by the custom of the world. We tell the rich and the great no more that they are gods, but we tell them that they are not as other men are; that they want those weaknesses which others have, and possess those qualities which others want: we separate them so from the rest of mankind that, forgetting what they are, they think themselves gods; not considering that their admirers are interested persons, determined to please them, or rather determined to deceive them. Nor may we confine ourselves to the great and powerful ones of the world to justify this observation: the idolatry I speak of reigns equally in the lower conditions, and produceth there proportionable effects. Thus a woman is idolised by interested and designing men, till she knows herself no more; and, though marked with a thousand faults and imperfections, yet thinks of correcting none of them; believing herself a subject every way accomplished, the joy and admiration of the whole world, because such phrases are constantly employed for her seduction and ruin. The contradiction is, that in the midst of all this, those men, so vain and so passionate for glory, never cease to protest that the thing they abhor most is to be deceived; in the meantime they wish to be praised, flattered, and admired, as if flattery and delusion could possibly be separated. What resolution, then, can we take to avoid these errors? We must resolve to distrust even truth, when it seems to flatter us; because there is no appearance of truth which approacheth so near to falsehood, and consequently, there is none so much exposed to the dangers of falsehood. Jesus Christ Himself, who, according to the Scripture, was the firm and immovable Rock, to whom the praises of the universe were due, as the tribute of His supreme grandeur and adorable perfections, yet while on earth would not suffer those truths which made for His honour and glory. He wrought wonders; He cured the blind and the deaf; He raised the dead; yet when the people began to celebrate His name for this, and to cry that He was the prophet of God, He enjoined them silence, and seemed upon the whole extremely impatient of applause. (A. Macdonald.)
Flattery a web
I. Variously wrought. Woven of many threads, and of various hues. Some are coarse as a rope, others as fine as a gossamer web; all are suited to the character of the prey to be caught.
II. Widely spread. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
Scornful men bring a city into a snare.
The snares of the metropolis
As residents in London we ask, Is there as much wickedness here as in other great cities? Are there snares and temptations of a peculiar character, and highly dangerous to the rising youth of the age?
1. One of the snares is the spirit of the world--the spirit of competition and a low tone of moral feeling.
2. Irreligious habits.
3. Irreligious associates; such as the young man who is not conscientious in the discharge of his ordinary duties; the young man who is devoted to pleasure.
4. Late hours. This leads to neglect of prayer. And the late hour is the hour of sin.
5. Lewd women. This snare involves great moral debasement, the prostration of all intellectual power, and the annihilation of all benevolent and elevated feeling. And to this specific form other vices will adhere. (R. Ainslie.)
The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame.
A neglected education, the parent’s dishonour
I. Look at the child left to himself. That is, without reproof, and that grave advice which gives wisdom. The original term is applied to the unbridled impetuosity of an animal. The child, if not held in by the bit and bridle of a religious education--if left to the impetuosity of his own passions--will be ruined. Appeal to the nature of things. What is there left to itself that comes to any good? What is land without inclosure and cultivation? Appeal to experience as to the effect of a neglected education. Who are the pests of society? Appeal to Scripture.
II. The effect of this neglect. Look at the parent. “Bringeth his mother to shame.” This is only one result. Other things follow. Ruin to the child’s principles. All the consequences of his conduct to a neighbourhood. Tendencies to sap the foundations of morality and justice between man and man. In all this there seems to be a remarkable feature of the retributive justice of God in His moral government. The education of children in the fear of God is one of the first and self-evident duties, the foundation of all moral good. But it is implied that a child carefully trained for God and religion shall not bring his mother to shame.
III. The motives flowing from these considerations.
1. Enforce this duty on our own hearts.
2. See it in reference to the children of the poor.
3. The need of guarding children against the evil influence of the press. Show what religion you possess by your endeavours to educate your children religiously. (Daniel Wilson, M.A.)
A child neglected, a parent’s disgrace
I. The affecting object: “A child left to himself.” Allusion is probably intended to the natural impetuosity of a horse.
1. A child left without religious instruction. Parents are enjoined to “train up a child in the way he should go”: not the way he would go. Education must have its foundation in Scripture. The spirit of the age requires that parental instructions should be of a decidedly Scriptural character. The work of instilling Divine truth must be commenced early. Train them to early habits of industry, to diligent reading of the Scriptures, and to constant prayer.
2. A child left without fervent prayer. Do you know the way to a throne of grace, and can you forget the child of your affections? If you do not pray for him it is not likely that you will pray with him.
3. A child left without a good example. Children understand actions better than words. The parent who, by his ungodly example, betrays the confidence of his child by leading him in the way of sin when he should guide him in the paths of piety and peace is guilty of a species of cruelty difficult to be described.
4. A child left to himself is one without salutary restraint. Instruction should be enforced by authority. If you lose your influence, the child will assume it and rule you, when you should govern him. In compelling obedience the happy medium should be observed between too much harshness on the one hand and too great laxity on the other. Eli does not appear to have failed either in instruction or example, but he is censured for withholding restraint. Let there be energy of character, efficient discipline, the tenderness of love blended with firmness of decision, and there will seldom be a necessity for adopting any painful or severe measures.
II. The parent’s disgrace. The duties and responsibilities of parents are mutual. It must, however, be admitted that a mother’s influence is more powerful, her appeals more touching, her access to the heart more easy. But how many parents have passed days of sorrow and nights of sleeplessness in consequence of the misconduct of their offspring! Much of your future happiness is in the hands of your children. Look at the nature of things. A field without cultivation would speedily be overgrown by noxious weeds. Appeal to experience. Who are the Sabbath-breakers, the drunkards, the lawless and disobedient, the scoffers at Divine things? Are they not the persons who, in their childhood and youth, were left to themselves? Examine facts. David was brought to shame by Absalom and Adonijah. Hophni and Phineas brought Eli to shame.
1. A word of expostulation. You are leaving your children to themselves because you have never felt the value of your own soul. Think of your own comfort. Think of your country’s welfare. Think of the approbation of heaven.
2. A word of exhortation. Your danger is great. Repent and believe the gospel.
3. A word of encouragement. The Christian parent has much to animate him in the conscientious discharge of his duty. All the promises of God, the experience of the past, and the hope of the future encourage his affectionate endeavours to train up his children in the fear of the Lord. He must not; however, expect harvest in spring. (James Cottle, B.A.)
The importance of early discipline
If we have conscientiously performed any particular duty, no failure in the object to which it has been directed can inflict disgrace. We may do our part, and do it well, but we cannot command success by our best contrivances and our utmost diligence. It is not every child who is trained up in the way he should go that walks in that way. In such cases, deplorable as they are, no disgrace attaches to the parent, the instructor, the guardian. It is when the duty imposed by God and enforced by natural feelings has been neglected that the ignorant, the vicious, or the worldly character becomes the just reproach upon those to whom it is in that case justly to be ascribed. “A child left to himself.” How many ideas of compassion are suggested by these words! A child, however carefully nourished and guarded, left to himself in regard to his soul, his intellect, his tempers, habits, and character, is no uncommon case. A child left to himself is a child untaught. For them to be grounded in the languages, informed in history, and embellished with every usual branch of knowledge and accomplishment is not enough. To know God alone is life eternal. Too often children are practically left to themselves to gather their notions of religion from the opinions around them and the current literature of the day. They ought to have been trained from childhood to know the Holy Scriptures; they should have been taught their ruined state, the love of God in the gift of His Son, and the love of Christ in giving Himself to the death upon the Cross. The child untaught is often undisciplined and unrestrained. The twig which might have been bent becomes firm as the gnarled oak. Habits of self-will, habits of self-gratification, habits of idleness perhaps, prepare for everything that is bad. When a child has been thus left to himself what can be expected but vice, want of honourable principle, a character passionate, headstrong, reckless? It cannot be a surprise that, in such a case, disgrace is thrown back upon the parents. The parent and the child are allied as long as recollection can associate them, and honour or dishonour they reflect, and cannot but reflect, upon each other. If parents neglect the soil and suffer it to be overrun with weeds what can they expect to be the harvest? The shame and discredit that come will be shared by both parents, but the feeling is fastened upon the heart of the mother in a manner and degree which are peculiarly severe. This is partly the case because so much depends on a mother’s care, and partly because of the keener sensibilities of her sex. To the mother her domestic scene is the whole world. The shame which comes upon her as the punishment of neglected duty gathers intensity by its perpetual concentration of the reflection. Let me urge upon you as parents to encounter your arduous and responsible duty with the firm resolve that you will, heaven’s grace assisting you, vigorously discharge it. They are beings to eternity, and for eternity it is your duty to prepare them. (T. Kennion, M.A.)
Leaving children to themselves
“Left to himself” means “left alone, with nobody to mind him and take notice of what he does.” This, however, does not seem to have been the meaning of the author of the proverb. Hebrew writers, in their poetry, would sometimes bring two thoughts together, meaning nearly the same, only expressed in different words. Sometimes they would bring two thoughts together, the meaning of which is exactly opposite. This is the thing we have in the text before us. The words “rod and reproof” are intended to be opposite to the words “a child left to himself.” A mother may have her child almost always with her and yet be “leaving him to himself.” A child is “left to himself” whenever he is allowed to do as he likes, whenever his character is not watched over, and his evil inclinations checked. It is the spoilt child who brings his mother to shame. The mother is specially mentioned because she has the first and the most direct and constant influence on the child. And when children are allowed to do as they like it is usually from a weak fondness and over-indulgence on the mother’s part rather than on the father’s. In all reproof of the faults of children the object aimed at is not merely to guide them aright at the present time, but also to make them able to guide themselves aright when they shall have become older, correct their own faults, and restrain their own inclination to what is evil. A self-willed child “brings his mother to shame,” because the remarks of her acquaintance on his character and conduct never fail to reach her ears. In nine cases out of ten, shameful conduct on the part of a man signifies shameful carelessness on the part of that man’s mother when he was a child and subject to her authority and influence. The children who are sure to honour their mother when they grow up are those who in childhood were kept in their proper place, whose waywardness and inclination to what is evil were kept in check with the greatest kindness indeed, but still with the greatest firmness. Children thus trained have something to be grateful for. One cannot but believe that the grace of God often reclaims in after-years, and restores to what they should have been, many of those whose character seemed deeply injured and likely to be ruined by the mistaken treatment of a parent in childhood. But must it not sometimes be the case that the grace of God does not reclaim them? For our wills are free. It should be borne in mind that a father and a mother constantly differ much from each other in character and in their ideas of their duty towards their children, and so the one may in part correct the mischievous influence of the other. And the evil influence of home is, happily, often corrected by the beneficial influence of school discipline. (W. H. Nauben, M.A.)
Left to himself
1. Left to himself, he will not fully know right or wrong.
2. Left to himself, he will grow proud and self-confident.
3. Left to himself, he will take up with bad companions.
4. Left to himself, he will think more about his pleasures than his duties.
5. Left to himself, childish follies will develop into man’s vices. (Robert Tuck, B.A.)
A child left to himself
Thelwall thought it very unfair to influence a child’s mind by inculcating any opinions before it should have come to years of discretion and be able to choose for itself. I showed him my garden, and told him it was my botanical garden. “How so?” said he; “it is covered with weeds.” “Oh,” I replied, “that is only because it has not yet come to its age of discretion and choice. The weeds, you see, have taken the liberty to grow, and I thought it unfair in me to prejudice the soil towards roses and strawberries.” (Coleridge’s Table Talk.)
Children impressed by gentle rule
It is a great mistake to suppose that what will make a child stare or tremble impresses more authority. The violent emphasis, the hard, stormy voice, the menacing air only weakens authority; it commands a good thing as if it were only a bad, and fit to be no way impressed, save by some stress of assumption. Let the command be always given quietly, as if it had some right in itself and could utter itself to the conscience by some emphasis of its own. Is it not well understood that a bawling and violent teamster has no real government of his team? Is it not practically seen that a skilful commander of one of those huge floating cities, moved by steam on our American waters, manages and works every motion by the waving of a hand, or by signs that pass in silence--issuing no order at all, save in the gentlest undertone of voice? So when there is, or is to be, a real order and law in the house, it will come of no hard and boisterous or fretful and termagent way of commandment. Gentleness will speak the word of firmness, and firmness will be clothed in the airs of true gentleness. (H. Bushnell.)
Where there is no vision, the people perish.
The improvement of the ministry of the Word
What makes a people very unhappy with respect to the concerns of their souls? The want of vision puts a people in very unhappy circumstances. By vision is understood prophecy. By prophecy is meant the preaching, expounding, and applying the Word of God. Doctrine: Though the want of the ministry of the Word makes a people very unhappy, yet it is not the having of it, but the right improving of it that makes them happy.
I. Deplorable is the case of those who are deprived of the ministry of the Word. What makes the case so deplorable? The original word means, the people are naked, they are left in a bare condition (Exodus 22:25). They are stripped of their ornaments, to their shame. They are stripped of their armour, left naked in the midst of danger. They are stripped of the means of their defence. Hence they are exposed in a special manner to the subtlety and violence of their spiritual enemies, without the ordinary means of help. Where there is no vision the people go backward. They leave their first love, their first ways in religion; they fall into a spiritual decay and apostasy. The people are drawn away: from their God and from their duty. The people are idle--they give over their work. The people perish--die for lack of instruction; are destroyed for lack of knowledge.
II. The mere having the ministry of the Word is not sufficient to make a people happy. The people may have it, and yet get no saving benefit from it. Outward privileges make no man a happy man. The mere having the Word will aggravate the condemnation of those that have it and walk not answerably to it.
III. A right improvement of the mercy of the Word will make a happy people. This improvement consists in two things--
1. Faith in Jesus Christ.
2. Holiness of life.
This improvement will make happy souls here and hereafter. Here, in peace with God, pardon of sin, all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; and hereafter in eternal salvation. It bids fair for prosperity in earthly things. It gives happiness under the crosses and trials of this world. It puts a happiness into the relations in which we stand. Directions for improving the ministry of the Word:
1. Pray much for a real benefit from ordinances.
2. Diligently attend upon ordinances.
3. Meditate upon what you hear, and converse with one another about it.
4. Set yourselves humbly to obey the truths delivered from the Lord’s Word, embracing them by faith.
5. Put your hand to the Lord’s work in your several stations in your families and among those with whom you converse, to prosecute the great ends of the gospel. (T. Boston, D D.)
The vitality of vision
I. Where there is no vision of the present working of Christ in the world, charity and hope fade. The progress of the age is Christ’s work. Beneficial operations of all kinds are His present-day miracles. The sympathy of the age, its mission, its humanity, its sacrifice, its enthusiasm for progress, is Christ’s doing. Let us see Him in the past and in the present. Then we shall have a nobler faith, a larger charity, and a radiant hopefulness.
II. Where there is no vision of the Divine Fatherhood, devotion decays. Our devotional life accords with the conception of God we hold up to our attention. If we think of God as stern, arbitrary, partial, we cannot experience love, worship, trust, sacrifice. The human heart is constituted to love only the lovable; to worship only the perfect and benevolent; to trust only the just and true.
III. Where there is no vision of Divine providence, practical energy declines. Give up the idea of a Supreme Mind caring for all, and life is not Worth living. Let the vision of the all-embracing providence of God be clear, and life will be transfigured. All Christian workers are thus sustained. Failure, loss, rejection, may be the record on the visible side; but faith sees on the unseen side an all-comprehending spiritual kingdom, and says, “All things work together for good.”
IV. Where there is no vision of truth and fact, knowledge decays. As tradition and conservation prevail truth becomes a dead carcase. The hour for revival, for reform, is come, and the minds that see the truth lead the new movement. The dreams of seers renew the life of the world’s thought.
V. Where there is no vision of the possibilities of human nature, sympathy decays. Man has instinctively recognised his fellow as spiritual, as free, as immortal, as possessing unlimited capacities of progress, and as the object, consequently, of intense interest and of unlimited love. The vision of that ideal of man is the inspiration of all philanthropy.
VI. Where there is no vision of duty, holiness declines. Man is the subject of relations. The highest relation he maintains is to Christ. His life-care is the duty he owes to Christ. As we have that vision before us, we shall ennoble all we do. VII. The vision of heaven saves hope from perishing. The inspiration of all progress is hope. The most fruitful hope we can cherish is the perfection of mankind in the celestial life in fellowship with Christ. Such a vision ennobles, sanctifies, vitalises, lights up the present with heavenly radiance, and makes death the gate of life. (T. Matthews.)
Divine vision essential to human salvation
I. True vision is a revelation from God. A communication not furnished by nature; not the product of human intellect, or imagination, or fancy; not the “tradition of the elders,” however venerable; but a special unfolding of the Divine nature and government, adapted to the moral exigencies of the race. Such a communication is possible. Such is probable--
1. From conflicting indications of the Divine character furnished by nature.
2. The universally felt moral necessities of man. Such is actually accomplished, as the whole body of Christian evidence attests.
II. There many places where, as yet, this vision is not. Where it is not known. Where it is not published. Where it is not believed.
III. Where it is not, the people perish.
1. It alone reveals a Saviour and a salvation adapted to man.
2. It alone is associated with spiritual power to deliver man from the bondage, and misery, and guilt, and doom, of sin. The vision of God is to them that possess it a most precious thing. They who possess it not ought to be the objects of the deepest compassion. They who do possess it are bound, by every consideration of gratitude and pity, to send it to those who do not. (J. M. Jarvie.)
The text presents two facts concerning redemptive revelation.
I. Its absence is a great calamity. “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” The word “perish” has been variously rendered: some read “will apostatise,” others “are made naked,” others “are dispersed,” others “are become disorderly.” All renderings agree in expressing the idea of calamity, and truly is it not a sad calamity to be deprived of the Bible?
II. Its regulative experience is a great blessing. “He that keepeth the law, happy is he.” This “vision” is not an abstraction or a speculative system--it is a “law”; it comes with Divine authority; it demands obedience; it is not the mere subject for a creed, but the code for a life; its aim is to regulate all the movements of the soul. It is only those who are ruled by it who are made happy, those who have it and are not controlled by it will as assuredly perish. It is not the hearers of the law who are just before God, but the doers of the law. Who is the happy man? Not the man who has the “vision” and does not study it, nor the man who studies it and never reduces it to practice: it is the man who translates the “vision” into his life. “He that keepeth the law, happy is he.” There is no heaven for man but in obedience to God. (D. Thomas, D.D.)
The soul perishing for lack of vision
The vision here is acquaintance with God and the things of the invisible world. Vision became almost synonymous with revelation Where there is no Bible, there can be no vision. To talk of preparing a nation for the reception of the Bible, by first of all civilising that nation is to betray ignorance of what has produced the degeneracy of humanity, and mistrust of the engine which God has placed in our hands. The civilisation must and will follow the reception of the Bible. Notice the marginal rendering, “the people is made naked.” The people is stripped, the people has no clothing in which to appear before God, if you take away revelation. They may attempt a righteousness of their own, and think to cover themselves with a covering which their own hands have woven. But the text is most emphatic in denouncing such schemes and hopes. We must put on Christ, and be clothed with His righteousness. If we would make s right and full use of the disclosures and statements of our Bible, we must, it would seem, have the things of redemption and futurity presented with the same distinctness and vividness to the internal organs, as the things of the world are to the external. This is the great triumph of spirit over matter. Speak to those whose religion is more than nominal, who do behold Christ with the eye of the soul. We account for much of that slow progress in piety, which you both observe in others and lament in yourselves, on the principle that you are but seldom occupied with contemplations of the invisible world. Let us not be wanting in diligence in using the telescope that has been entrusted to us to aid us in seeing the unseen. (H. Melvill, B.D.)
The question suggested by the text is, Can we see? Were we made to see? Is all else related by law of adaptation to man on this earth save God Himself who made the earth and man? It is vision that decides our scale in this world, and our honour and glory in the world to come. For “ages men have believed that they were made to see and know God in His works and in His Word; that we have not only eyes, but objects; that we can hold intercourse with God--love Him, trust Him, and pray to Him. The peril of our age is no new peril. Materialism is as old as Sadducean Judaism. This is the great vital difference in men--vision. This it is that decides their principles, their ethics, their characters.
I. Materialistic ideas of life blind us to the true vision. We are in a world of material things. But we, Christians, build temples to the invisible Lord. We seek and we worship a Saviour whom, not having seen, we love. We judge morality to be more than utility. We walk by faith, not by sight. There is no true vision without the inspiration of the Holy Ghost.
II. Christ is the revealer of life and immortality. These words contain two distinct truths. Life is the spiritual view of all things. Immortality is life in Christ beyond the grave.
III. Character is decided by our visions of truth. The right life comes from the right thought. If my life is to be redeemed and moulded by Divine influences, then my vision is all in all to me.
IV. Perishing is seen in this present life. Men do perish! Compared with what you might be, you are now perishing. Woe to that nation that has no eye to see the face of God in Christ! (W. M. Statham.)
The beneficent influence of heavenly visions
Man has spiritual wants as well as bodily wants, and he must have spiritual things to satisfy them. Temporal and visible things meet and satisfy all the wants of the body, but the soul must receive its sustenance from the invisible and the eternal. The spiritual world is a fact to the senses of the soul as truly as the material world is a fact to the bodily senses. Visions are as necessary for the soul as food for the body, and so heavenly visions were not God’s gifts to one nation and for a limited time, but are to all countries and for all times. Godly men in our days are having visions exactly in the same sense as the seers and prophets of old; the difference is in degree, not in kind. But a distinction must be made between the seer in the highest sense and seers in a general sense. God inspires and gives special visions to a chosen few in different ages and countries. Note the powers of inward vision to which we give the names of insight and intuition--insight into human character, intuition of Divine principles--clear knowledge of what man is and how God will act. The original meaning of the word “saw,” is to cleave, or split; then to see into, to see through, to get down beneath the surface of things and discover their real nature. What characterises the bulk of Hebrew visions is “penetrativeness.” All the seers of the world are hard workers, and are active in their visions. Sometimes the seer does valuable service to the world by rediscovering some great revealed truth which had been hidden by the accretion of ages of erroneous human ideas and creeds. Luther was such an one. And we are to thank Heaven for seers like Carlyle, Ruskin, Beecher, Browning, and Tennyson, who fearlessly cleave old customs, shams, conventionalisms, dogmas, and creeds, and proclaim to the world, like the prophets of old, eternal and unchangeable truths. Note the mighty influence of heavenly visions on the world. What would have been the moral condition of the world if God had given no visions to holy and inspired men?
I. The restraining power of visions. In the days of Samuel there was “no open vision.” God mercifully raised him up, and gave him visions to enable him to check and restrain the ungodliness of his age. Our great want is more men of visions as political and social reformers and preachers.
II. The sustaining power of visions. Men are sure to perish socially and spiritually if God does not mercifully grant them visions.
III. The ennobling influence of visions upon men’s characters. The tendency of God’s visions to men is to purify their thoughts, to elevate their spirits, to ennoble their characters. The objective in the visions gradually becomes subjective, as a part of the character. But you are not to expect these heavenly visions by sleeping and dreaming, but by holy meditation, fervent prayer, and strenuous effort to live the life of the Son of God.
IV. The blessedness of obedience to the heavenly visions. If we would know the highest joy of visions, we must obey them. (Z. Mather.)
Man talks to God; that is prayer. God talks with man; that is inspiration. According to the sensational philosophy there is no vision, there is no invisible world, or at least we cannot know it directly and immediately. This takes all the glory out of life. Take out from man the power of perceiving the invisible and the eternal, and all life loses its life. God is no longer a Divine reality. He is only an opinion. The same philosophy which robs the universe of its God robs man of his soul. This philosophy is equally fatal to morals. There are no longer any great, eternal, immutable laws. Take vision out of religion, what have you left? You had a Church of Christ, now you have a Society of Ethical Culture.
I. Ideals are realities. What we call ideals are not conceptions we have created; they are realities we have discovered. The great laws of nature are not created by the scientists. They only formulate and express the laws of nature. The laws of harmony are eternal; and when the musician finds a new harmony, he finds what was before. In the ethical realm, the great laws of righteousness are not created; they are eternal. Moses did not make them, he only found forms in which to state them. God is not a thesis, an opinion, a theory, a supposition, created to account for phenomena; He is the great underlying reality of which all phenomena are the manifestation.
II. Imagination is seeing. Science owes its progress to this power of vision. All the greatest men of science first saw dimly and imperfectly the invisible realities, then followed, tested, and tried their visions, and proved the reality of them. The great seers and prophets of all time have not been men who have created thoughts to inspire us; they have been men with eyes that saw, and they have helped also to see.
III. Ideals being realities, and imagination seeing, scepticism is ignorance. By scepticism is meant the doubt that scoffs at the invisible and eternal, not the mere questioning of a particular dogma. We are not to measure the truth by our capacity to see, but our capacity to see by the truth. The world needs nothing so much as men who will carry the spirit of vision into every phase of life. There are two classes of men in this world--drudges and dreamers. The man who works without vision, who is not lifted up by his thoughts out of mere material things, he is a drudge. (Lyman Abbott.)
Seest thou a man that is hasty in his words?
Impetuosity of temper
The Adige at Verona appears to be a river quite broad and deep enough for navigation, but its current is so rapid as to make it quite unserviceable. Many men are so rash and impetuous, and at the same time so suddenly angry and excited, that their otherwise most valuable abilities are rendered useless for any good purpose. (C. H. Spurgeon.)
A man’s pride shall bring him low.
Pride, though it implies an assumption of superiority, has a manifest tendency to degradation.
1. A man’s pride will bring him low because it subjects him to the imputation of folly. There is no condition of life that can warrant the indulgence of this sinful and corrupt passion. The maxims of human policy teach us that in proportion to the trust must be the responsibility. The uncertainty and imperfection of every blessing which this world affords should alone be sufficient to prevent that silly exaltation of the mind which constitutes pride. Neither abundance of riches nor superior endowments of the mind are a sufficient justification for pride. Neither the acquisition of fame, the flatteries of self-love, nor the consciousness of distinguished merit, should swell the heart with arrogance or pride. The truest characteristics of superior greatness and superior wisdom are modesty and humility; modesty freed from false shame, and humility without affectation or abasement. If these motives are insufficient to warrant the indulgence of pride, much less ought it to arise from the casual distinction of rank in the different orders of men. Pride is not confined to any particular rank or station. From whatever cause it proceeds, it always betokens weakness, folly, and corruption.
2. The various evils, and the general depravity which it produces. The text is often verified as “pride produces poverty.” More persons have sunk into poverty from this cause than from any other. From indulging in a thousand idle expenses, in order to support a kind of pompous vanity, the proud man can seldom spare a charitable mite “to give to him that needeth.” Pride is also the source of continual mortification. The petty vexations of pride that are compounded with every vain, selfish, and malignant passion have no claim to our indulgence. Pride is more productive of quarrels, bitterness, and strife than anything else. This base and selfish passion always creates, and always keeps alive, a watchful and incessant jealousy of power. Hence the mildest exhortation and the most friendly remonstrance is often converted into the bitterness of accusation or the insolence of reproach. This odious vice is seen at its worst in the awful end of the suicide. The dreadful act of self-destruction is often committed in the evil moment of wounded pride or mortified ambition. The proud man sits on an imaginary eminence of his own creation, and propagates servility or wretchedness all around him. In a mind thus bewildered and deceived the first principle of improvement is wanting. He who is not conscious of any defect can have no sufficient motive for amendment. Pride never appears so sinful and offensive as when we consider man in relation to his Maker. Then we perceive it destroying the efficacy and poisoning the very source of all those virtues which he is chiefly bound to practise. The proud man is in reality always degraded in proportion as he thinks himself exalted. (J. Hewlett, B.D.)
Honour shall uphold the humble in spirit.
This word means “nobleness of mind.” It is a natural instinct of human nature to be trustful, especially when a man’s honour is at stake; but there has been so much deception as to make almost everybody doubt everybody else. Every representation we make should be the truth; a deception is never excusable.
1. Honour is an acquired nature. The germ of honour is born in us, but every child has to be taught by example and precept to cultivate it. We sometimes cram our children too much with catechism, and omit to cultivate their honour. There is as much religion in being honourable as in being prayerful.
2. Honour should become an essential part of our nature. It is only the ignorant and the foolish who can be tickled by a title or a name. Let us seek to have honour in our nature. Honour should grow in us and become an essential part of our nature. Uncommon honour should be the common practice of everybody.
3. Honour should be the principle of all our transactions. Whether you gain by it or not, be honourable. Let your honour be as true in the dark as in the light.
4. In honour prefer one another. Do not gibe at a friend or detract from an enemy. If you can praise one another, do so, but never throw mud at anybody. If you really know that a man or woman is doing wrong, be honourable enough to tell them so, and not so mean as to talk of it behind their backs. Be honourable in all your sayings and in all your doings, so that this world, through you, may become a more joyous dwelling-place. (W. Birch.)
The fear of man bringeth a snare.
The mischiefs of slavish complaisance and cowardice
Every passion of the soul may be of use to us, but is capable also, by being perverted, of causing much vexation and misery to ourselves and injury to our fellow-creatures. Year, while it proceeds from right principles, and is proportioned to the weight and moment of the evils about which it is conversant, must serve the most beneficial purposes, as it warns us where our greatest danger lies, and strongly prompts us to avoid it. But the case is quite otherwise when it forms imaginary dangers and alarms with false terrors. Then our fears turn us aside from our duty, and in avoiding trifling evils we run ourselves into greater.
I. What is the fear of man? A reverence of human authority and customs, and a dread of the censure and reproaches of our fellow-creatures.
1. There is a reverence due to human authority in all points that do not exceed the just bounds of it, and the paying this regard is absolutely necessary to hold the frame of civil societies together. The ends of society cannot be secured but by mutual condescension and respect, and the compliance and submission of the minor part, in things lawful.
2. A man ought to be afraid of censure and reproach being fixed upon him, and anxious to deliver and clear himself from it. Men must be of a temper quite stupid if they have no fear at all of public reproach and infamy, and must lose a very powerful restraint from mean, ungenerous, and disgraceful practices.
3. We are guilty of the utmost rashness and folly if we expose ourselves to the resentments of our fellow-men unnecessarily. And a dread of those punishments which the civil magistrate inflicts is not only lawful, but necessary. Thus far, then, the fear of man may be defended and justified.
II. In what sense. It bringeth a snare. It throws temptations in men’s way which are likely to prevail so far as to destroy all improvements in true wisdom and virtue.
1. Suppose a man, under the influence of this slavish principle, engages in search after truth, what proficiency is it possible for him to make? In order to making improvements in Divine knowledge it is absolutely necessary that the mind be free, calm, and unruffled, under no restraint or terror. There must be no corrupt passion to darken the understanding, nor private interest to mislead and pervert it.
2. It is as great an absurdity to expect that one who is dispirited by worldly fears should be a confessor and martyr for true religion as that a coward should be brave and valiant. Slavish fear of man leads men even to revile and banter the truth.
3. This fear will have the same malignant influence upon our morals as upon our faith. When it rises to such a height as to overrule the dictates of natural conscience, and entirely to destroy the strength and constancy of our minds, we are an easy prey to every temptation, and lie open to the most desperate and abandoned wickedness. If it be our ultimate view to secure the countenance and favour of persons in authority and avoid their displeasure, this likewise will subject us to many snares and inconveniences.
III. Offer some remedies against this fear of man.
1. Maintain and improve in our minds a strong sense of the necessary difference between good and evil.
2. Add a becoming sense of the dignity of our nature.
3. Trust in God, as advised in the latter part of the text.
4. Cultivate a supreme reverence for God. These two--fear of man and fear of God--are absolutely inconsistent, and cannot subsist together. (James Foster.)
The fear of man
This is a deadly foe to a godly, consistent life. It stops many a one on the very threshold of the kingdom. It turns back many who seemed to run well.
1. The fear of man often leads to downright, positive sin.
2. The fear of man keeps many a lad from decision for Christ. (G. Everard, M.A.)
The fear of man
I. Our great danger.
1. For the fear of man is more general than we are aware of.
2. To all who yield to its influence it brings a fatal snare.
II. Its proper and only effectual antidote. Regard for God Himself. We should trust Him for support, happiness, recompense. Improvement:
1. A word of caution.
2. Of encouragement. (S. Simeon, M.A.)
Whoso putteth his trust in the Lord shall be safe.
How to be safe
I. There is safety nowhere except in the care of God, for in His hands alone are sources of safety.
II. God can make safe only those who trust Him fully.
III. Complete trust can exist only between parties in accord and in the confidence of each other.
IV. In order to trust in the Lord two things are essential.
1. We must confidently believe that God is able, willing, and ready to care for us.
2. That we are worthy of His care.
V. To be safe we must be at one with God.
VI. Outside of God’s protection are danger, darkness, Death--eternal. (Homiletic Review.).