The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
The Uncertainty of Tomorrow
What is "to-morrow"? Who can define it? Who can be certain as to its contents, or even as to its duration? Days are not counted by the hours that are within them, but by the work to which those hours are consecrated, or by the pain by which they are made memorable, or by the hopes which shine from them as new glories in life. Holy Scripture is very sensitive about our treatment of to-morrow. For example, in this case it is not to be boasted about—that is to say, it is not to be pledged or mortgaged to our ambition: it is not to be treated as private property, as if we had a right to dispose of it: it does not in any sense belong to us: therefore we have no rights in it; we have to receive it as a gift and to use it in the spirit of faithful stewardship. There must be no vaunting as to time: we are simply to live according to the will of God, and to take our moments one by one as precious gifts to be used for the glory of the Giver. On the other hand, whilst we are not to boast about to-morrow, Jesus Christ is particularly emphatic in warning us not to be anxious about it. If we may not triumph in the light that is coming, neither are we to permit ourselves to be devoured by a canker in view of the possible obligations and burdens of the coming day. Observe, therefore, how strict are the exclusions: first, boasting is excluded; secondly, anxiety is excluded. We have seen in many instances how men have inflicted pain upon themselves by an unwise use of the time called "to-morrow." One man said he had much goods laid up for many years; therefore he would take his ease, eat, drink, and be merry; but God said unto him, "Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose things shall those be, which thou hast provided?" We can lay up the goods, but we cannot lay up the years; we can build the barn, but we cannot with certainty build the future; we should therefore understand by what limitations we are bound, and should work within those limitations with all thankfulness and energy.
By "to-morrow" we are not to understand literally the next twenty-four hours; we are rather to understand the future in general,—it may be a day, or a week; it may be a year, or ten years. We fix within our own minds periods within which divine providences are to culminate, or within which warnings are to fructify, and because we have made a miscalculation we think that providence itself has been guilty of negligence. "If that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to smite his fellow-servants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth." It is impossible to be too careful in defining what we may regard as "delay" on the part of God. We do not understand the word; we presume to be God ourselves when we thus lay bounds to the divine movement: a thousand years are in God"s sight but as yesterday when it is passed, or as a watch in the night. With God there is no time in our sense of the term. Until we rid the mind of the sophism that we can calculate and reckon justly, we shall be continually disappointing ourselves by fixing periods of fruition, and times for realisation of good or of evil. "Watch, therefore: for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh." Ignorance is as certain as knowledge. To know that we are ignorant may be the beginning of wisdom.
A wonderful part has been played by "to-morrow" in human life. It is not ours, as we have said, and yet we could not do without it; we have never seen it, yet it is necessary to us; but for the future, the past would be a great mockery, as but for the harvest the seedtime would be a period of toil and fretfulness. We may say that posterity has done nothing for us, but we thus speak ignorantly, for it is posterity that operates upon our thought like an inspiration, now stirring it with holy ambition, now chastening it with wise fear, now enriching it with abundant hope. What we are going to be to-morrow! To what triumph we are coming on the third day! We promise ourselves wondrous things in a year, in a century; then we shall see all mystery cleared up, then we shall prove how sagacious have been our foresight and our arrangements in respect of all the necessities of life. Within proper bounds, this action of the future is to be welcomed as an inspiration, but because of its preciousness we must beware lest it become a temptation. Men may put off until to-morrow what they ought to do to-day; then is to-morrow perverted and wasted, being no longer an inspiration, but the refuge of indolence and folly. The true preparation for to-morrow is a wise use of the present. He who prays well to-day shall sing well to-morrow. The only way in which earnest men can provide for to-morrow is by looking well to the immediate duty. Rest assured that if we are faithful to-day we shall not be left without comfort to-morrow. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, and sufficient unto the day is the joy thereof. God has made great promises to faithfulness, and he has not reserved his heaven as the only blessing, the blessing of an undefined and indefinable future; he promises a present heaven of satisfaction, consolation, and blessedness of every quality and degree: even now, night by night, we may hear the sweet voice of approbation saying, "Well done, good and faithful servant." There is a sense in which the days are singular; that is to say, they are separate one from another, and within the limits of each is the judgment-seat set up, and men are tried as for good or evil behaviour; in another sense all the days are brought together into one solemn totality, and are treated under the designation of "life," and upon the whole period of the existence is the divine judgment pronounced. Whether in the one case or in the other, whether in singularised days or in totalised life, the solemn rule holds good that the only way to prepare for the future is to take earnest heed to the present.
If we do not know what a "day" may bring forth, how can we know the universe? We must reason from the little to the great. As a matter of fact, we cannot tell what may happen within the next few moments; we live in the excitement of uncertainty, unless we live in the repose of faith. Such being the case, we may reason upward from the little to the vast, and may wisely say to ourselves, If we cannot tell what a day may bring forth, what do we know of what is hidden in the depths of eternity, in the counsels of the Infinite, in the whole purpose of the living God? Ought we not to be humble, docile, expectant? If we knew to-morrow and the next day, if we could read the volume of the next half-century, if we could with certainty forecast the occurrences of the next hundred years, we might encourage ourselves in the belief that we could comprehend more perfectly the decree and purpose of God, we might presume upon our knowledge, and carry it to a point involving a species of divinity: but we are beaten back at the very first: we cannot see through the next door that is shut upon us; we cannot see beyond the walls of our own retreat: so therefore we are taught humility, whether we will accept the lesson or not; we are bowed down in our frailty, we are made consciously ashamed of our ignorance, and how boastful soever our temper, we are obliged to confess that we cannot tell with certainty what will occur on the morrow.
Out of this lesson should come an instruction larger than itself. The result of this realisation of fact should be the cultivation of a right spirit in regard to time and development, and the whole mystery of futurity. Ours should be a spirit of dependence; we should say, If the Lord will, we will do this or that. We should take nothing into our own hands as if by prescriptive and inalienable right; we should remember that our breath is in our nostrils, that we are as a wind that cometh for a little time, and then vanisheth away. Again and again we should remind ourselves that we all do fade as a leaf, and that we have nothing that we have not received; out of this abasement comes legitimate and final exaltation; without a consciousness of such abasement we see nothing as it really Isaiah, our hearts are perverted by ingratitude, and we exclude the light from the whole area and scope of our life. Whilst we are in a state of abasement it by no means follows that we are in a state of despair; on the contrary, we are exhorted to hope continually in God, and to be assured that he who made yesterday his tabernacle will not leave to-morrow like a vacant temple. A right reading of the past will rekindle the lamp of hope. How has God dealt with us? What was his care of us in six troubles? When the night was long, how fared it with us? Did any star gleam through the gloom? Did any whispered song assail us in the darkness? Was any friend raised up to us as if with suddenness? Recalling all the holy past, we will sing of the goodness of the Lord whilst we have our breath, and to-morrow shall be as this day, and more abundant, not because of our wisdom and foresight, but because of the infinite lovingkindness of the Lord. Living in this spirit, the future has no burden for us, no sting, no cloud of judgment. Come with it what may, the Lord himself will bring it with his own hand, and delivered by that hand even the trials shall be blessings, even chastisement shall be for the purification of our souls. To live in this spirit is to escape the solitude and desolation of conscious orphanhood, and to live in the very smile and within the very embrace of God.
Whether we are nominally religious or not, we are confronted by the unknown, the incalculable. Close the Bible, yet we cannot shut out the mystery of to-morrow; renounce all metaphysical religion, yet there is a practical religion which we cannot escape, the religion which comes of superstition, uncertainty, mingled hope and fear, the struggle of various sentiments: all this disennobles our vaunting ambition, and brings us to the lowest levels of humiliation. The proudest man is bound to acknowledge that he is as ignorant as the meanest creature of the secret which to-morrow will reveal. It might be supposed that if we closed the Bible, and abandoned the sanctuary, we should escape all mystery, and should be enabled to enjoy a land all light and all simplicity. Facts are against this false theory. Without a Bible, without a conscious spirituality, without a religious reading of life present and to come, there remain a thousand mysteries, dark, troublous, tormenting, charged with the very spirit of fear, animated by the very spirit of mockery. He who has no religion may have no faith, but he has infinite credulity: he who believes on the living God and regards himself as a little child, created that he might be developed, instructed, and perfected in wisdom and goodness, may have little credulity, but he has living faith; he will hear the word, "Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him, and he shall bring it to pass," not as an idle sentiment, but as a profound and practical philosophy. The Christian has no "to-morrow" as a fear: he has an everlasting to-morrow as to the hope of growth, progress, and advancement in all capability and faculty for divine service. Woe to the man who has so used his yesterday as to have no hope of to-morrow! Blessed be the man who so uses the present as to divest the future of all terrors!
Self-boasting is always a source of weakness as well as a revelation of vanity. In vanity there is no substance; it is idle breath, it is foolish vapour. When a man is left to praise himself it is evident that he has lived an inverted life, not a life full of blessedness and comfort in relation to other men. The sun does not praise himself, but under his splendour and warmth men look up and say how pleasing a thing it is for the eyes to behold the light. "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven." On the other hand, we must beware of a very common and perilous deceit. There is a sense in which every man ought to be able to praise himself; otherwise the applause of the public will be felt by him to be a mockery and a lie. Our own heart should not condemn us. The Psalmist was wont to glory in his integrity, and to point to it as his refuge in the time of misunderstanding. We are forbidden to publish our own praise, to commend ourselves with a loud voice: we are not forbidden to vindicate our honour when it is assailed, or to defend our action when it is called in question. Whilst we are forbidden to use the language of vanity, we are exhorted to use the language of honest confession when we have been consciously wrong: "Confess your faults one to another, and pray one for another, that ye may be healed." We cannot command the praise of the world, but: we can deserve it. We should be careful not to live for the minor commendation, for the mere word of flattery; we should not covet the incense of false compliment, but should so live that the solidity of our work will attract attention and justify commendation. He in very deed is a foolish man who lives in order that he may be praised. We are not so much admonished by this verse not to care for the praise of men as to quench within ourselves the spirit of vanity. When a man is vain he is weak, because he supposes there is no farther cause for diligence and action on his own part, for he has accomplished that which he had purposed in his heart. Nothing is done whilst anything remains to be accomplished. Let us not reckon up the past with a view to settling down to an ignominious rest, but let us constantly reckon it that we may observe its shortcomings and hasten to repair its omissions.
"Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful" ( Proverbs 27:5-6).
By "secret love" we are to understand the love that never discloses itself in positive kindness; a love that is professed, but never realised; a sentiment that never attains the dignity of practice. Such love never comes even in the form of open rebuke; it is indolent love; if it is love at all it is so lost in languor as to be absolutely without sacred or happy effect. No friend loves to wound another, yet he believes that in rebuke there may be honour, and in chastisement there may be a purification of friendship. "The kisses of an enemy are deceitful"; that is to say, they are plentiful, they are showered upon their object, and yet there is nothing in them of real meaning or of substantial value; they are not the seals of genuine affection, they are the empty compliments by which vanity relieves itself or displays its folly. There should be more frankness in human intercourse. Men should speak to one another in the clearness and simplicity of earnestness. In a true life there is no room for falsehood. A look may be false, so may a smile, so may a kiss, so may an embrace, so may a compliment; it requires the very Spirit of God to search the heart and the life, in order to dislodge the enemy, so ghostly is his form, so subtle is his operation. Let us pray mightily to Heaven, saying, "Search me, and try me, and see if there be any evil way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting." Great care is needful of course in the administration of "wounds." If thy brother should trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone. Sometimes we are called to the exercise of open rebuke; thus—"Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear." The Apostle Paul gave examples of this faithful wounding:—"When Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed"; "When I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said------" The Psalmist agrees with the proverbist in this desire for honest and timely rebuke—"Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head." We cannot read of the kisses of an enemy without remembering the most treacherous kiss ever planted on the human cheek: "He that betrayed him gave them a sign, saying, Whomsoever I shall kiss, that same is he: hold him fast. And forthwith he came to Jesus, and said, Hail, master; and kissed him." Many men prefer the kisses of an enemy to the wounds of a friend: this is because they themselves are indolent, vain, self seeking; they do not inquire into motives; it is enough for them to have the immediate and transient blessing. A friend is not necessarily friendly because he delights in wounding another. In proportion as his friendship is large and wise will he feel the delicacy of even hinting at a rebuke. He will rebuke himself more than he will rebuke another. So clearly and tenderly will this be the case that in rebuking another he will approach the unwelcome and uncongenial task with a timidity and misgiving that will add to the blessing he is about to administer. Let there be nothing boisterous, blatant, violent, ostentatious about a rebuke; let it be given rather as if a preparation for approval, with a self-restraint which will increase its pungency, and with a religiousness that will elevate its dignity.
"Thine own friend, and thy father"s friend, forsake not; neither go into thy brother"s house in the day of thy calamity: for better is a neighbour that is near than a brother far off" ( Proverbs 27:10).
By "near" we are to understand near in feeling, and by "far off" we are to understand far off in feeling. Men should not treat the relations of life with frivolity One generation after another should but contribute a succession of reasons why old friendships should be consolidated and perfected. Friends are the most precious treasures. One may not necessarily feel this with equal acuteness at all times, yet there come periods in life when we naturally look around for the friend who can pray, or advise, or interpret us from our own point of view, or speak the word of light, or pay the price of ransom. Jesus Christ recognised the continuity and faithfulness of those who had been with him in his sorrow; said Hebrews, "Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations." Fickleness in friendship proves that the friendship is but superficial. Have confidence in the Prayer of Manasseh, and do not always be exposing that confidence to the test of incidental experiments, as if you could only trust your friend one act at a time, saying within yourselves, Although he has been faithful up to this point, he may be faithless ever after. We are not to have confidence in the separate actions of a Prayer of Manasseh, but in the man himself; then when the separate actions are mysterious, indistinct, even ambiguous, we are to have such confidence in the man himself as to relieve ourselves of all anxiety regarding special actions or peculiar incidents. Do not make a mere convenience of your brother"s house by going into it only in the day of calamity. We should visit our friends in sunshine as well as in darkness. Some friends are never known to us except when their hands are empty; then they discover us, importune us, and endeavour to shame or coerce us into sympathy and co-operation. In the sunshine we need friendship, the friendship that will keep us from presumption, or vanity, or idolatry; in the darkness we need friendship, the friendship that will keep us from despair, from bitterness of spirit, from complaining against God. Sometimes a neighbour is nearer than a brother: the neighbour sees us in our proper relations, in the right atmosphere and surrounding; he is not embittered by resentful memories, nor is he plied by selfish considerations: he is enabled to take a large and impartial view of our circumstances and purposes. "Give a portion to seven, and also to eight; for thou knowest not what evil shall be upon the earth": "He that hath friends must show himself friendly": "There is a friend that sticketh closer than a brother."
"Iron sharpeneth iron; so a man sharpeneth the countenance of his friend" ( Proverbs 27:17).
Wit provokes wit; laughter excites laughter: man was made for man. He who separates himself from his own kind deprives himself of stimulus and inspiration: for the right quickening and highest utility of life friction is indispensable. History is full of instances in which mutual help has been of the greatest advantage. The whole Bible exhorts men to think of one another in weakness and misfortune. "They helped every one his neighbour; and every one said to his brother, Be of good courage." Sometimes all we want is the encouraging word, the one stimulating sentence. It is not enough to say, "Be ye warmed and filled," because there may be actual bodily hunger; but it is sometimes enough to say, "Be of good courage," for all that was needed was a stimulus of faculties ready for action but disinclined because of fear. The human voice has in it a mystery of sympathy: an exhortation may be an inspiration. There are religious circumstances under which conference becomes essential to encouragement and progress—"They that feared the Lord spake often one to another: and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name." All wisdom is not with any one saint: let each contribute what he can to the general stock of wealth: sometimes the little child will supply the one jewel that was wanting; sometimes the feeblest member of the company will through his very feebleness utter the most expressive and pathetic prayer of all. We are to remember, too, that sometimes men fall down and require to be assisted to their feet. "For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up." So whilst there is a place for solitariness in the religious life, there is also a large place for companionship. We cannot tell which of us shall fall. No man must say that he alone is safe and that he himself goes out to help up others. He himself may be the first to fall. If he think contrariwise let him take heed, for in his very boasting there is danger. The strongest of us needs to be helped sometimes, and how often it happens that the weakest can help the strongest. The Apostle Paul continually recognises his indebtedness to those who were, according to the judgment of this world, weak and poor and even contemptible. There is a great apostolic exhortation to which we should take heed—"Let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works." We are necessary to one another; we are one another"s complements. What one man lacks another man has: therefore we should in this highest, broadest sense have all things in common, so that the poor intellect shall avail itself of the treasures of the greatest mind, and the least of the world"s saints may count upon the protection of the most honourable sons in the household of God. Christianity is not a divisive but a uniting force. There is nothing of contempt in all its holy and benevolent spirit. No man is excluded from its hospitality because of his littleness, his frailty, his poverty. We are not Christ"s if we have not the spirit of the Master, and that spirit was one of all-inclusive benevolence, a spirit that could never be satisfied whilst one soul was lacking from the household. In this way of mutual encouragement and mutual inspiration we may be doing good unconsciously. We never know where the light of a smile may fall; we know not how a word of praise or commendation may be borne by the wind in many directions, so that it may fall upon hearts needing just such a gospel, and may descend upon lives that were withering for want of refreshment Christianity is a great humanising and consolidating power; it makes the whole world one sphere of beneficent labour; it constitutes all mankind into one trustful and beneficent society.
"Though thou shouldest bray a fool in a mortar among wheat with a pestle, yet will not his foolishness depart from him" ( Proverbs 27:22).
Thus again is the fool encountered with the contempt of the wise man. By "the fool" we are not to understand a man of weak mind so much as a man of weak character, a man who is foolish in his heart, vain and self-conceited in spirit, boasting as if he knew much whilst he knows nothing, and holding himself up as a scholar highly educated and fully equipped when in very deed he has not begun to learn the very elements of true wisdom. "Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, that are accustomed to do evil." The fool receives chastisement without knowing the meaning of it. The Lord pleads with such, and pleads without avail. "Why should ye be stricken any more? ye will revolt more and more: the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint." But for the testimony of history and the corroboration of experience, we should think it impossible that a man should receive divine correction without instantly kissing the rod that administered it, and obeying the wisdom it was meant to inculcate. Yet from the earliest times prophets and apostles have mourned that divine correction has been thrown away,—"Thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they have refused to receive correction: they have made their faces harder than a rock; they have refused to return." A tremendous power this on the part of man. The very iniquity of the soul in a sense proves the soul"s greatness. Men think they can outlive the divine thunderstorm. Souls imagine they can outlive the very punishment of hell. How lofty is the ambition, how ineffable the presumption of man! Even God himself would seem to be left without resource in the matter of those who pass through his corrections with a disobedient heart The Lord himself knows not what more to do. He asks in parable what more he can do for his vineyard than he has done. The conflict must be left to the exposition and arbitrament of time. It would seem as if eternity itself could scarcely conquer the obduracy of the soul. "The fifth angel poured out his vial upon the seat of the beast; and his kingdom was full of darkness; and they gnawed their tongues for pain, and blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, and repented not of their deeds." Over this tragedy we must draw the veil. We cannot bear to look upon such agony. Why will men be stricken any more? Why will the potsherd fight against its maker? Why will the puny arms of flesh stretch themselves out against the lightnings of heaven? Our God is a consuming fire. It is impossible that God can be overthrown in the tremendous conflict. That man is not overthrown in the first instance is a circumstance to be referred to the compassion of the forbearing God. His mercy endureth for ever.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 27". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://beta.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25