The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
False Weights—Pride, Etc.
Instead of "weight" read "stone." Israel had now become a commercial nation in some degree, and therefore had come into the use of balances and measures and weights. No sooner did a commercial life begin than dishonesty would seem to have begun with it. Men tell lies in their balances; without ever saying a word they speak falsehoods in their unequal weights. The Lord is here represented as looking upon our commercial life. He not only hears our prayers, but watches all the way of our dealing, at the shop, the factory, the bank, and the marketplace. He himself tests every balance and every weight. This is a thought which is apt to escape the attention of all who are engaged in the business of the world. Many men suppose that by a trick of the finger, or by some sleight of hand, they can deceive the unwary and make a profit out of the ignorance of those who unwisely trust them. This may be so for the moment, and in the letter, but it is forgotten that the permanent criticism is divine, the unerring judgment is from above, and that the eye of God is constantly searching, not only whilst we are in the sanctuary, but in all our commercial relations and responsibilities. Here again is a reason why all men should trust the Bible. Its morality is on behalf of the buyer as well as on behalf of the seller. The Bible has not a morality for one side of the counter and no morality for the other; the whole transaction is exposed to divine criticism, and brings upon itself either malediction or blessing, according to the morality which the action expresses.
"When pride cometh, then cometh shame: but with the lowly is wisdom" ( Proverbs 11:2).
Pride has a short day in which to live; immediately behind red and blustering pride conies pale-faced, cowering shame. No pride can stand that is not based on reason and sanctioned by morality: without these guarantees it is mere ostentation, vanity, irrational and unseasonable boasting, exploding by its own energy, and coming to nothing because of its irregularity. There is nothing to be proud of upon the earth. We cannot be proud of our strength, for in our highest estate we are but like the grass, which to-day Isaiah, and to-morrow is cast into the oven. We cannot be proud even of intellectual abilities, for we have nothing that we have not received, and indeed the higher our intellectual power the more modest will be our whole feeling in relation to ourselves. Partial power is more likely to be proud than is complete strength. It is whilst we grow that we are a surprise to ourselves, but when we have come to something like maturity we begin to feel how little there is on earth that is to be accounted of, and how true it is that he that glorieth should glory in the Lord. With the lowly is Wisdom of Solomon, with the modest, with the simple in heart, with the unselfish: they may not have the wisdom of letters, but they have that deeper wisdom which is before letters and which will survive all literature—the wisdom of an open heart, an unprejudiced understanding, a loving and obedient will, a disposition whose mute prayer is continually, Lord, give me light, and show me what is true. God himself will dwell with the lowly man as in a chosen habitation; he will come to him by night and tarry with him to the break of day, and if he leave him it is but for a small moment, that his return may be marked by an intenser desire and adoration.
"When it goeth well with the righteous, the city rejoiceth: and when the wicked perish, there is shouting" ( Proverbs 11:10).
This is a tribute to righteousness which must come sooner or later. There is a heart in the city as well as in the individual man; a kind of civic personality as well as a narrow individuality. When principles of the highest morality govern the life of the city there is rejoicing everywhere, because where righteousness is the blessing of God Isaiah, and the blessing of God maketh rich, and no sorrow is added to that infinite and tender benediction. It is singular indeed that even bad men rejoice when good principles are so received and applied as to revive commercial industry and commercial confidence, and create a healthy state of feeling as between nation and nation, and city and city. When the wicked man perishes there is shouting of gladness, although there may have been during his lifetime adulation and hypocritical compliment paid to him. The wicked man never did anybody any lasting good. He always took away more than he gave, and he never pronounced a kind word except with a stinging spirit, and even in his superficial benedictions there was nothing enduring, nothing solid and lasting in the comfort which he pretended to bestow. The wicked man imagines that he is popular, but his imagination is vain. He is only made use of, looked for in order that he may help in a time of emergency, or in some way be unconsciously debased to uses the full range and purpose of which he does not perceive. No one weeps over the grave of the wicked man: it is an unblessed tomb; it is a desert rather than a garden; whatever grows there does not grow in beauty and fruitfulness by the will of man or the purpose of God. The wicked man has nothing before him but a gloomy immortality, a destiny of tears, reproaches, and accusations of every kind; the time will come when men will be ashamed to mention his name, or, if they do mention it, it will be with parentheses and reservations which constitute the bitterest malediction. Every one is proud to recall the repute of a righteous man. It is like reminding others of gardens of beauty, orcnards of delight, landscapes rich in all features of excellence and attractiveness: the name of the righteous is a name of health; it is breathed as with the fresh air of heaven; men delight to hear it and find their honour even in its repetition. By the blessing of the upright the city is exalted, but it is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked. The upright may be for a time opposed, but for a time only; the issue is certain; truth will prevail, and they who oppose the upright shall come to humiliation, if not to contrition, and to such a sense of injury inflicted upon the innocent as will elicit from them words of compunction, petitions, and supplications for pardon.
"He that is void of wisdom despiseth his neighbour: but a man of understanding holdeth his peace" ( Proverbs 11:12).
How true this is in all departments of life! We have just said that imperfect wisdom is exposed to temptations of vanity and to all the snares of flattery. The man spoken of in the text is simply void of wisdom: he only sees parts of things; his is a mere worldly sagacity without root or foundation, without core or innermost life that can withstand all storm and uproar and trial, and be the better for the distress and discipline through which it may have to pass. The imperfectly educated man despiseth his neighbour, because he does not understand him; his neighbour may be too large a man for him; his neighbour may see things which do not come within his purview; and because the unwise man cannot follow the man who is wise he vents his displeasure in criticism and depreciation. Many a man cannot be so clear and dogmatic in his statements as he would wish to be, simply because he sees a larger horizon than is beheld by those who are not of equal understanding with himself. The man who has large keen vision is afraid to tell the world all he sees, because the world is in so many instances half-blind, and could not test the reality of his vision, and therefore might be tempted to rail upon him, and call him by reproachful names. The man of understanding, however, holdeth his peace where his neighbour"s character is under judgment. By the mere necessity of his understanding he sees more than the fool can see, and he is willing to abide in patience until processes eventuate in their proper issues. He may not commit himself to a definite judgment; but he shows his wisdom by quietly observing, by giving his neighbour time for development, by operating upon the principle that self-evolution will explain every mystery in the long run. Many men have a reputation for clearness and positiveness who ought to have a reputation for mere shallowness and impertinence. They can only see that which is palpable, and handle that which is ponderable; they have no inner life, no keen prophetic vision, no sense of the largeness and infinity of life, and therefore they can pronounce complete judgments, and pose as oracles and dogmatists, where they ought to be branded as men of vain minds, shallow understanding, and flimsy character. The man who is void of understanding is likely to be a talebearer; he must talk; he is a man of boundless words; it is dangerous to meet him when you are in haste, for if you ask him the simplest question he is prepared to pour out a flood of words in reply to your inquiry; he likes to be thought wise, to be in the confidence of people, and to be able to explain secrets which other men can only refer to with a modesty that is inconsistent with falsehood: the talebearer talks with his eye, and with his feet, and by making signs with his fingers; he wishes to impress the company with the fact that he knows a great deal more than he will say; and he also says a great deal more than he knows even by the very signs which are supposed to confirm his self-control. The faithful spirit concealeth the matter: he is a confidential man; he knows that many words are spoken which were never intended to be repeated, and that self-control is one of the first conditions of true healthy discipline. The faithful spirit could often excite sensation, create interest in himself, draw around him men who are anxious to obtain knowledge of secrets that they may profit by their felony; but the faithful spirit is willing to be misjudged, misunderstood, regarded indeed in some instances as morose, and solemn, and self-involved: he passes judgment unto the Lord, and finds in his own faithfulness a consummate and abiding reward.
"He that is surety for a stranger shall smart for it: and he that hateth suretiship is sure" ( Proverbs 11:15).
Instead of "stranger" read "another." Man is often pointed out in the Bible as the enemy of man. This might be thought to be churlish, if it were not so abundantly and tragically proved by daily experience. What could be kinder and more philanthropic than to be surety for another man? If all men were faithful this would be so; if all faithful men could control circumstances this would be still more truly so. But men are not all faithful; they lie in wait for one another; the strong intends to make a profit out of the weak; and even many who profess the morality of the gospel are willing to wait until the poor man is unable to carry his burden any longer, then they will relieve him of what property he may have, and enjoy themselves on the miseries of his life. It is difficult to apply any stated rules to these circumstances; the very difficulty of applying a stated rule to them suggests the need of our coming to them in the spirit of Christ, who never broke the bruised reed, took advantage of the fallen, or spoke unkindly to any man whose heart was sore and weary. It is an invaluable principle, however, that he that hateth suretiship is sure. There is a suretiship which is positively felonious—that Isaiah, the suretiship in which there is no security behind it; the speculation which says it will take its chance, and leave everything to the chapter of accidents: where a man is prepared to be surety for another, and has ample property to meet the contingency, and is prepared to meet it when approached, and to accept the reward of having endeavoured to do his best, then suretiship is divested of all that is undesirable and tormenting. Let young men beware how they become sureties: let poor men never enter into suretiships, for they tell lies by signing their names to bonds which they can never fulfill; they sail under false colours. When a man"s name is on a bill it means that he is able to pay that bill, but in many cases the reality proves to be just the contrary. In all such cases the name is a lie, the surety is an oath hateful in the sight of heaven.
"A gracious woman retaineth honour: and strong men retain riches" ( Proverbs 11:16).
Here the sexes are put in beautiful apposition: woman is gracious, man is strong. Graciousness dissociated from strength has indeed an influence all its own; strength dissociated from graciousness is mere strength, and is wanting in all those attributes which excite and satisfy the deepest confidences of the world. A woman can work miracles by her graciousness. She knows how to enter the sick chamber noiselessly. She knows how to enter the room without violence, ostentation, or impressiveness, which signifies vanity and display. Woman can speak the gentle word, and look the gracious look, and use the magical touch of friendship and trust, and, in short, can carry her own way without appearing to do so by the very force of tenderness, sympathy, and persuasiveness. Who would raise the foolish question whether grace or strength is the more desirable attribute? Each is desirable in its own way; a combination that is the very perfection of character. Strength and beauty are in the house of the Lord. The great column looks all the better for the beautiful capital which crowns and enriches it. Men should endeavour to cultivate grace, tenderness, all that is charmful in spirit, disposition, and action: this cannot be done by mere mimicry; it is to be done by living continually with Christ, studying his spirit, entering into all his purposes, and reproducing, not mechanically, but spiritually, as much as possible of all that was distinctive of his infinite character. The Bible has ever given honour to woman. He is a fool and an unjust man who wishes to keep women in silence, obscurity, and in a state of unimportance; and she is a foolish woman who imagines that she cannot be gracious without being strong, and who wishes to sacrifice her graciousness to some empty reputation for worthless energy. It is not good for the man to be alone, for he is without grace; it is not good for the woman to be alone, for she is without strength: when men and women stand to one another in the right Christian relation they will complete one another, and together constitute the divine idea of humanity.
Scattering and Withholding
Two of the principal words in this text are of course "scattereth" and "withholdeth." We ought to be on our guard against mistaken definitions and incomplete meanings of such words. We ought also to be on our guard against shortsightedness and ill-managed perspective in the consideration of doctrines and the planning of life. Half a meaning may amount to a falsehood. A wrong angle of vision may deceive as to distance, magnitude, and proportion.
For example—one would say that to scatter anything is to part with it without advantage, to lose it; and that to withhold, to keep back, is undoubtedly to save and to retain. The text teaches us that this may be quite a mistake on our part. It must further be understood that all scattering is not advised, nor is all withholding condemned. The word scatter and the word withhold must therefore be regarded with modifications. There is reckless scattering and there is wise withholding. It will be seen, therefore, that the verse is not to be taken in its literalness; it is to be examined in its spirit. We must get into the method of the counsel, and understand the genius and scope of the doctrine. Happily we have no need to go farther in search of illustration of the truth of the text; we find it on every farm, in every business, in every school. The farmer will tell us that if the land be starved the crop will be starved as well. The merchant will tell us that if he be not often liberal in his outlay—liberal almost to the point of apparent recklessness—he will be short in his income. Some crafty persons will even give subscriptions to societies which they would gladly sink to the bottom of the sea, because these subscriptions come back to them in the way of patronage. Their donations are investments. Their charities are speculations. They turn benevolence itself into merchandise; they yoke generosity to the chariot of Mammon. Still they are preachers, and preachers of wisdom. If they abuse the principle, they exemplify it by thinking that scattering may mean getting. Their charities, their gifts, their plaudits, and their liberalities are often so much manure with which they hope to enrich the harvest of their own fortunes. All these considerations show us the importance of understanding what is meant by scattering, and what is meant by withholding. Let us seek with all eagerness of Christian hope to know the meaning of both parts of the text, that we may order the scheme of our life by its profound and most excellent wisdom.
The text calls us to benevolent activity founded on religious faith. Not to activity only, but to benevolent activity; not to a benevolent activity only, but to a benevolent activity founded on a religious basis—and not a religious basis as the expression of a selfish sentimentality, but the only true and abiding religious basis, that which we find in the Cross and in the life of Jesus Christ. The doctrine enlarges and glorifies life by calling into play elements and considerations which lie beyond the present and the visible. The very exercise of scattering carries blessing with it,—brings with it a peculiar and special benefit. Observe the very exercise of scattering, without pointing in a religious or Christian direction,—the very act of scattering breaks up the mastery of selfishness, it enlarges the circle of kindly interests, it shows that there is something in the world beyond our own personal concerns. It were better, therefore, better for Prayer of Manasseh, better as a discipline, better for his heart, better for every quality that is worth having, that a man should go to the river so many times a year and throw his money into it, than that he should never, never give anything away! Is that a hard saying? It is perfectly true, that rather than never part with anything except in the way of mere bargain-making it were better to go to the river and to throw some part of our property into it. What, then, of the benefit which accrues upon wise giving, upon philanthropic service, upon activities which bear the dear name and are inspired by the blessed spirit of Jesus Christ? Take a case. A man gives away a sovereign in Christ"s name and for Christ"s sake. Look at the elements which constitute that act and give it value. The man made the sovereign honestly; it is his, in point of fair service, by what is called right. If he keeps that sovereign he will break no law in commerce; if he will it away to his family he will violate no law in social equity; if he spend it upon himself society will not condemn him. Yet the man deliberately gives that money away to a poor child, to a friendless stranger, to a Christian society. See what lies behind the deed. The man says, in effect if not in words, "The money may be mine, but I myself am not my own. How then can anything be mine, except temporarily, and under laws of stewardship and responsibility? I have no property in myself; I am bought with a price; I am God"s agent. So far as I have given society an equivalent for this sovereign it is mine; but the strength, the skill, the knowledge by which I gained it are the gifts of God. The image is Caesar"s, but the gold is God"s. I will hold what I have as Christ"s; holding it so I instantly yield it at his call, saying, Thine—O wounded, blessed Christ—thine is the right!" So this giving away of the sovereign is not an off-hand deed; it is not done flippantly; it is not done to save appearances; it is not done from external social pressure; it becomes a great religious Acts, a solemn sacrifice, a holy thank-offering. So to give, so to scatter, is to increase. In many cases the man gets back two sovereigns for one, or fifty for one; but if he did not get a penny back he always increases in heart-volume, in joy, in love, in most mysterious and hallowed peace; the heavens become brighter; his cup of comfort is sweetened; he walks on a greener earth; he looks up to God through a bluer sky. Beneficence is its own compensation. Charity empties the heart of one gift that it may make room for a larger. He who lives towards God, whose life is an ascending line, will meet God coming to him with blessings unimagined and unceasing. "Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over." "The liberal soul shall be made fat: and he that watereth shall be watered also himself."
Some of you may think that it is a dangerous doctrine to preach that if a man give away one sovereign he may get two, and perhaps he may get fifty back. Understand, however, that if any man shall give God anything in the way of having it back again that man will be disappointed, humiliated, and justly so. It is not an investment; it is not an appeal to some greedy, crafty one who says, "Well, if that be the way, I shall give away a sovereign just to try if I can get two back for it." Will you? Try it! and you will never see your sovereign again. Then you will not try it? Do not! We cannot have the footsteps of such evil men upon the floor of God"s sanctuary. It is when we give alms free from all self-consciousness in the deed, when there is no calculation about it, when under the inspiration of love we touch the very holiness of God—it is then that the grain of corn cast into the earth dies, germinates, fructifies, and returns a hundredfold. I bear witness, simply and solemnly, without affectation and with the emphasis of thankfulness, that I never yet, in any happy moment of sympathy with the dear Christ of God, did a generous deed without God hastening, as it were, to repay the deed, to make me a wiser, stronger, tenderer man. "Whosoever shall give to drink unto one of these little ones a cup of cold water only in the name of a disciple, verily I say unto you, he shall in no wise lose his reward." No man works for God for nothing. His water is turned into wine, and that wine flows in unceasing blessed streams of divine love and comfort.
Two men started business with this vow: "We shall give to God one-tenth of all our profits." The first year the profits were considerable; the tithe was consequently considerable. The next year there was increase in the profits, and of course increase in the tithe; in a few years the profits became very, very large indeed, so that the partners said to one another, "Is not a tenth of this rather too much to give away? suppose we say now we will give a twentieth?" And they gave a twentieth,—and the next year the profits had fallen down; the year after that they fell down again, and the men said to one another, as Christians should say in such a case: "Have not we broken our vow? Have we not robbed God?" And in no spirit of selfish calculation, but with humility of soul, self-reproach, and bitter contrition, they went back to God and told him how the matter stood, prayed his forgiveness, renewed their vow, and God opened the windows of heaven and came back to them, and all the old prosperity. I do not wish to make too much of this story, but I know it as a fact. There is no occasion to fear superstition in making such vows. If they be made in the spirit of selfishness, they will end in nothing; if in the spirit of little children, no man can tell the blessing.
The other side of the text is as emphatic and as often illustrated in practical life as the first: "There is that withholdeth more than is meet, and it tendeth to poverty." Selfishness is suicidal; selfishness lives in gloom; selfishness injects poison into every stream of life; selfishness actually makes the world less and less every day, degrades Prayer of Manasseh, dishonours life; it is blasphemy against the infinite goodness and mercy of God! Selfishness is most intensely selfish when it assumes the name of prudence. When a man says he must be just before he is generous, that man cannot be just, that man is a thief in his heart. Selfishness is often most base when it calculates aloud at the dinner-table and the tea-table arithmetically, and shows the world the whole process of its dry arithmetic. Souls cannot be trained on arithmetic. When selfishness chatters Proverbs, which are but half truths; when in the interests of Song of Solomon -called honesty it robs God with both hands,—then it has reached a depth beyond which there is no depth. Let it be known that upon such God has branded the stamp of failure. God is against thee O selfish heart! There may be great accumulation, may there not? Yes—yet not one moment"s enjoyment of it all! There may be good standing at the bankers, may there not? Yes, and no foothold in any human heart The property may outweigh the proprietor. As the stuff increases the man diminishes. As the deposit enriches the depositor impoverishes. "I have seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay tree. Yet he passed away, and, lo, he was not: yea, I sought him, but he could not be found." When God blows upon a Prayer of Manasseh, who can find him? The whole universe is a protest against the selfish man. The light-streaming sun, the former and the latter rain, the odorous flower, the gift-bearing seasons, and yonder dear Father giving himself away in every pulsation of his being,—these are against thee, O selfish heart! and when thou totterest towards the gate of dismission to find thine own place, thou shalt depart without regret as thou hast lived without love. Such is the picture. Yonder he is at the further end of life. Room for the leper! It is singular that men by grasping lose; that by scraping they get nothing; that by having great bunches of keys to lock up seven-fold doors they cannot find what they have locked away,—there must be some way inside from the back; some way spirits get into it; at all events the thing goes. God has many ways of turning the selfish man"s success to failure and disappointment. The darkness, the mildew, the locust, the frost, the lightning, the winds, are his servants. Thou shalt carry much seed into the field, and shalt gather but little in, for the locusts shall consume it. "Ye have sown much, and bring in little; ye eat, but ye have not enough; ye drink, but ye are not filled with drink; ye clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earneth wages earneth wages to put it into a bag with holes." "Ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall deliver you your bread again by weight: and ye shall eat, and not be satisfied." How God mocks the bad man! How he can turn the wicked man"s very triumph into failure, and how out of selfish ambition he can bring the scorpion whose sting is death!
We must be careful to observe that though the text is found in the Old Testament the principle is distinctly held by Jesus Christ. It is not a temporary law, it is a moral principle; it is universal and unchangeable in its force and application. "Whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it." "He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal." "Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he said, It is more blessed to give than to receive." "Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." What do you think of that in the light of common-sense? To non-Christian men it must sound very foolish. A man that gains his life loses it. A man who rises early and strives hard all day to maintain himself is actually diminishing the very quality of his manhood, the very volume of his being.
A man says that he is going in for influence. He dresses for influence, smiles for influence, turns round and round for influence, and after awhile people are laughing at him, and saying, "What an extraordinarily foolish man that is!" He has all the influence he deserves, and that is no influence at all. All great life, divine life, life like God"s, is not to be calculated about, and argued out, and worked out in that ridiculous fashion. Self-forgetfulness coming out of self-crucifixion, and then you will have blessings until there is not room to contain them. By all means get out of yourself, if you would really do yourself the greatest possible service. Scatter liberally with the right motive if you would gather in the harvest, before which you may say truly—not with atheistic insanity, but with Christian reverence—"Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years."
Some of you have your scheme of life yet to begin. Do not be narrow; do not be little; do not be what is termed prudent, in the poor shallow sense of that word. Be true, be noble, be self-oblivious. Have you natural amiability and philanthropic love of others? Encourage that. Do not live inwards; live from your hearts outward. And who knows but that Jesus Christ may meet you and show you the higher way, the only true and living way? All schemes which are mere schemes, mere programmes and methods of our own, are self-defeating if they are not conceived and executed, in the spirit of self-crucifixion. Do not be a mere plan. Be a great soul, live a holy life, and may the great Father gather you to his heart and bless you evermore!
Almighty God, all souls are thine: may all souls be won to thee, for all we like sheep have gone astray; now may we return unto the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. Without thee our souls have no light, no hope, no rest; with thee our souls seize the inheritance of immortality, and are already clothed with heavenly victory. Now that we know thee through Jesus Christ thy Song of Solomon, our blessed and only Saviour, we are in heaven: our citizenship is there; all the subjects which excite our best thinking are there; all the ambitions that stir our noblest impulses descend from heaven. We thank thee that we have been won to Christ, drawn to him, persuaded by him to accept the great priesthood which he represents. Once we had no wisdom; we were not only in dark night, but no star gleamed upon us from the frowning clouds: now we are at least in the dawn, now we have hope of advancing light, now we think that noonday may be accorded to us; and as these thoughts burn in our hearts we are filled with thankfulness, we are lifted out of the limitations of time and sense, and for one brief moment we breathe the air of heaven. May our souls be faithful to thee; may they know the truth, and obey it; may they love Wisdom of Solomon, and increase in it; may they follow after understanding, and secure the infinite prize. For all thy mercies we bless thee; for our assurance that in Christ Jesus we are saved souls we magnify thy grace: this is the Lord"s doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes. Thou hast saved us, and not we ourselves. We are saved by faith, and not by works; because our confidence has been given to thee in Christ Jesus thy dear Son we are saved, and no man can pluck us out of the Father"s hand. Give us to see more and more of the mystery of thy love—its infinite range, its ineffable tenderness, its mysteriousness of pathos; then shall we be melted, bowed down in contrition, lifted up in praises, and our whole life shall be one solemn triumphant song. Take away from us everything that is hateful in thy sight; give us the clean linen of the saints, white and pure; grant unto us the Spirit of God, that he may dwell with us—a purifying fire, an enlightening glory, a daily monitor and guide, and thus bring our life to the fulness of thine own purpose. Hear us for all for whom we ought to pray: where then, Lord of heaven, would our prayer cease? When we think of all the millions upon the face of the globe, of all who are old and young, rich and poor, in joy, in sorrow, in strength, in weakness, in peril on the sea, and in strange lands working out some mystery of providence, our imagination is overwhelmed. But thou seest all things, for thou dwellest in eternity. Have respect unto those for whom we ought specially to pray, and grant unto them such blessings as their lives particularly need. Help us by all means to become men in Christ Jesus—wise, understanding, strong, patient men, knowing thy will and doing it, accepting thy purpose and suffering it; and at last may we be found to have glorified thee, whether in life, or in death, or in heroic service, or in heroic endurance. As for our sin, we will not name it, for whilst we pray at the Cross the miracle must be ever Christ"s, and he has completed it, in that he has said to contrite and believing souls, Your sins which are many are all forgiven thee. Amen
That is not the correct reading of the sacred text. The second part of the verse must be read in the light of the first part—"The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life." The words ought to be read, as it were, by transposition of terms: "The wise man winneth souls." The usual interpretation, whilst not correct, does not exclude the interpretation that is accurate. It is supposed that a man is wise because he wins souls. That is not the teaching of the text. He wins souls because he is wise. Let us look at the matter in this way—there is a necessity in wisdom that it shall win souls. Wisdom always wins. The wise man may never speak to a soul, and yet he may win it. This is not the picture of an ardent evangelist running to and fro in the earth upon the vague and general mission of winning souls, which is the popular misunderstanding of the verse. The real interpretation is that if a man is wise he will by the very necessity of wisdom win souls, draw them to him, excite their attention, compel their confidence, constrain their honour. There is a silent conquest; there is a preaching that never speaks,—a most eloquent preaching which simply does the law, obeys the gospel, exemplifies the spirit of Christ, works that spirit out in all the details of life, so swiftly, patiently, sympathetically, completely, that souls are won, drawn, saying, Behold, what virtue is this? what pureness, what charity, what simplicity, what real goodness and beneficence! This must be the right doctrine because it comes out in the right line. So then the scope of the text is enlarged. He who would found upon these words an address to evangelists might deliver a very excellent speech, but he would miss the principal point of the text which he had chosen as his starting basis. The text makes all men preachers, by the necessity of their being wise. The sun never speaks, yet he draws all men who can walk out of the house. He does not come with a strong hand, smiting the door, or ringing the bell, and saying with sonorous voice, You must and shall come out. The sun simply shines, silvers the windows, seeks out all accessible corners, floods the house with glory, so that even cripples begin to feel they must sit outside, at least; they would gladly walk and leap and praise God in the open meadows, but being deprived of this high festival of thanksgiving they must seek a warm corner just outside, and thank God for the ministry of light. It is precisely so with the wise man. He does not know what good he is doing. He gives away his whole life, and yet is almost unconscious of doing so. Men look at him, estimate his influence, study his motives, observe with what wondrous precision the whole mechanism of his life works, and how all his thinking comes to solid and beneficent conclusions, and they say, So long as that man lives we cannot laugh at his faith: he is a living argument; he never speaks a word upon subjects of a metaphysical or even a religious kind, and yet his whole life is religious. He is like the concealed Christ; he is mistaken for the gardener, and yet the mistake is self-convicting, for they who affect to mistake him feel in their innermost souls that there is about him a royalty which common men cannot honestly claim. Thus we have only to be wise in order to win souls. The fool wins nobody; the buffoon is no preacher either by tongue or by example; but the solid character, the wise head, the discerning eye, the judgment that is well based, and that goes straight upward, heavenward, will in the long run secure attention, confidence, and honour.
The wise man does not drive souls—he wins them. Souls cannot be driven. We may attempt to drive them, and therein show our folly, but it is of the nature of the soul that it may be charmed, lured by angel-like beauty, by heavenly eloquence, by mighty persuasion of reason. The soul that is driven offers no true worship; nay, as we have just said, the soul can defy the driver. The body can be driven to church, but not the soul. It does not follow because a man is sitting in church that he himself is there. A child forced to church is not at church. The house of God, therefore, should be filled with fascination, attraction, charm, so that little children should long to go to it, and it should be to them a deprivation not to go there. The wise man would not drive men to any form of goodness, though he is bound to prohibit them under penalty from certain forms of social evil, because those forms involve the health, the prosperity, and the best advantage of others. Men cannot be driven to observe the Sabbath. He who does not open his place of business because the law forbids him to do Song of Solomon, or society would frown upon him for doing Song of Solomon, opens every shutter of his window and every desk in his counting-house, and he is as busy there and as guilty as if he were there palpably, visibly, and defiantly.
Souls are to be won. The only way of gaining souls is by winning them. He that is wise in everything but soul-winning is not wise. There are those who are winning the world and losing themselves. A man cannot healthily affect the souls of others until his own soul is in the right mood, and in the right relation to God. There is a sense in which every man must preach himself—that is to say, he can only preach according to the level of his own experience: he may say much beyond that, and aside from that, but in so saying it it is the tongue alone that is employed; the whole preacher is not there unless his experience be there, his entire heart, his deepest conviction,—then how he talks, and burns, and reasons, and allures, and persuades! What is it to have won everything but souls—everything but affection, confidence, trust, real honour of the heart? Such a man is dead whilst he lives: nobody cares for him; people will hear years hence without surprise that he is dead; his death created no blank, disturbed no equanimity, extorted no tears, arrested no festival. There Isaiah, therefore, a sense in which we should seek to prove our wisdom by the winning of souls. He who has won many souls is rich. The souls he has won will never forget him, never neglect him, will always put up the shielding hand, and offer the needful sympathy and help. Win the souls of your children; win the souls of all around you: give them to feel that you are a divinely-created centre, a high influence, a vitalising energy, a tree of life, and that your fruit is meant for the satisfaction of the world"s hunger. The tree does not publish an announcement on paper or in ink that its fruit may be plucked; the tree simply grows the fruit, and when it has ripened, by its very ruddiness it says, I am ready; put out your hands, and satisfy yourselves with this food. It is the same with the wise character. All its experience is for the use of society; all its records are open documents, to be perused by those who would know the way of understanding and the secret of wisdom and the reality of noble life. Every true man is thus a living gospel.
Christianity is a direct appeal to the soul,—to that inner spirit or organ or faculty—for we need not stop to determine names—which gives man manhood, spiritual accent, divine figure. Wherein Christianity is a religion of the body it is so secondarily; rather—for the terms admit of amendment—Christianity looks upon the whole Prayer of Manasseh, and treats him in comparative degrees, never helping the body without its intention being to go further, and in helping the soul always including the body. But it is right to define the function of Christianity as a religion that appeals to the soul, wants to get at the mind, to find its way into the heart, to sit down upon the throne of love. Christianity does not come asking us to believe certain statements only; when Christianity offers statements for belief, it is that those statements being believed should be transformed into life, character, beneficence. You would not say that a man is honest in all his actions because he believes the pence-table. It is precisely what people are saying about the religion of Jesus Christ—that a man is a Christian because he believes Christian dogmas, doctrines, or statements. You would not say that because a man believes the railway time-table therefore he often takes a journey. Yet this is precisely what men say regarding the truths of Christianity. They would describe a man as a thorough Christian because he believes a certain number of definite statements. He may intellectually believe every statement in the long enumeration, and yet know nothing about Christianity, as a man might believe the time-table and never take a journey. Christianity, therefore, wins the soul"s homage—not the assent of dry intellect, not the fascination of excited fancy, not the entrancement of a bewildered imagination, but the sacrifice of a life. It wants every man to say, Jesus Christ, Son of God, I am thine; take me, use me, keep me in thine hand, hide me in thine heart, and let me have no life but thine. Failing that, the rest is decoration, sentiment, utterance without eloquence, words without wisdom. So the position of the Church is defined. The Church does not claim to speak upon all subjects. Its supremacy is in one direction. A preacher might do very much good by discoursing upon the structure of the universe, by treating with information that is up to date questions which are troubling men"s minds in all lines of thought; but the preacher"s business is with souls, to get out of souls wrong thinking, prejudices, sophisms, follies, madnesses, of every name and mould and tone. Christ"s business was to heal the mind, to work restoration in the soul, to glorify man by a resurrection from death in trespasses and in sins. Whatever is done of another kind must be done with distinct reference to this supreme purpose; then the initial work becomes sacred, of high value, almost indispensable in a complicated social system, but the end of all must be that the soul shall be won, have rest and peace, be a child of music, an angel of light, an ally of God.
Christianity thus becomes a persuasive appeal. "We beseech men," said Paul. Who beseeches men to take gold? Who beseeches men to double all their earthly possessions? Who beseeches men to seize an immediate advantage, and to insist upon its retention, when that advantage is of a physical and ponderable kind, which can be weighed and estimated and valued in plain figures? Yet, mystery of mysteries, every man has to be reasoned with when it comes to a question of the soul"s relation to God. Why? Because of the vastness of the subject. We are not entitled always to say it is because of personal aversion to God, but because the subject itself is boundless as the firmament,—yea, where the firmament ends this subject begins, making all things little by the sublimity of its vastness: whereas, other advantages are there, just at hand, immediately realisable; the appetites are pressing for satisfaction, and there is a fountain where they may drink and be filled; and the soul thirsts with a desire which drinks up all the fountains and rivers, and burns with unquenchable ardour, until it is led to the living God, and in eternity finds the reply to the necessities of time. Christianity occupies the position of a mendicant, an appellant, a suppliant—one who goes up and down the world, saying, Believe me, receive me, give me heart room, and I will give you pardon and rest and hope. But the metaphysics are so profound, the advantages so spiritual, the competition is so tremendous, the world is so large because it is so near, the devil so mighty because so persistent, that sometimes the soul falters, hesitates, balances itself, withdraws, returns, and spends a life of peril, now almost in hell, now almost in heaven. There is no driving in Christianity. Therefore there should be no attempt to drive any Christian to church or to preaching; everything should be winsome, persuasive, attractive, alluring. This is the very genius of the gospel, because it is the very spirit of Christ.
This attempt to win souls, on the part of Christianity, is a philosophical attempt. Christianity is adapted to human constitution, mental and moral. He who invented Christianity, whoever he was, had laid a line upon the human mind, and had plumbed the depths of the human heart, and had noted all the outgoing and issue of human imagination. So much is this the case, and so truly and so really, as to resent the idea that Christianity had any builder or maker but God. Only he who made the human heart knows how to satisfy the human heart. That nothing can satisfy the human heart but the living God, in some form, is a proof that man was made in the image and likeness of God. Do not scorn the idolatry of heathen minds; do not pour contempt upon the superstitions of those who have never heard of the Son of God: rather ought they all to be accepted as points to begin at, as so many assumptions; yea, they may be regarded as so many solid bases on which to proceed, and sometimes the foundation has to be taken out after the building is up. Herein is a mystery, or would be but for what we know of practical life. We have seen one foundation taken away, and another put in its place. In the education of minds that have no Christian advantages you must begin where they can begin, and after long processes return to initial points, and work the miracles of Christ. The education of the world is the largest of all questions, and every element may be needed, and judgment should be suspended until the last element has been introduced and the top-stone has been put on. By this standard we would have our Christianity judged.
Christianity is philosophical in that it is also progressive. The education of the Christian never stops When a man says his Christian education is finished you may be perfectly sure it has never begun. Said Paul, "I count not myself to have apprehended." The horizon is always a million miles further on. When I reached the mountain I thought I should lay my hand upon the limit of the sky, and behold the mountain-top only helped me to see how much larger the sky was than I had ever imagined. So when we advance from one Christian stage to another it is to see that the horizon yet lies beyond. This should humble the soul in the very act of inspiring it. This, too, should make men modest in all acts of judgment; for we are not all upon a level, nor have we all attained the same points. There is no monotony in our Christian attitude in relation to God. The strong are far beyond us; we are little and faint, yet we are pursuing, and the voices of the great strong climbers come down the hill, saying, Struggle on; be not weary in well-doing; it is very difficult where you are now, but take hold of that projection, look at yonder point, halt a little to get your breath again, and then follow on; up here it burns with ineffable beauty, and every spot of land is a flower; we cannot see the mountain because of the Paradise. A soul is won when it repents. A soul is won when it says, "Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief." A soul is won when it says, "Lord, thou knowest all things; thou knowest that I love thee."
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 11". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25