15. Fifteenth admonitory discourse, containing in a parabolic form an invitation of Wisdom (Proverbs 9:1-12), and that of her rival Folly (Proverbs 9:13-18). The chapter sums up in brief the warnings of the preceding part.
Wisdom was represented as having a house at whose portals persons waited eagerly for admission (Proverbs 8:34); the idea is further carried on. Wisdom hath builded her house. (For the plural form of khochmoth, "wisdom," a plural of excellency, see on Proverbs 1:20.) As the "strange woman" in Proverbs 7:1-27. possessed a house to which she seduced her victim, so Wisdom is represented as having a house which she has made and adorned, and to which she invites her pupils. Spiritual writers see here two references—one to Christ's incarnation, when he built for himself a human body (John 2:19); and another to his work in forming the Church, which is his mystical body (1 Peter 2:5). And the sublime language used in this section is not satisfied with the bare notion that we have here only an allegorical representation of Wisdom calling followers to her. Rather we are constrained to see a Divine intimation of the office and work of Christ, not only the Creator of the world, as in Proverbs 8:1-36; but its Regenerator. She hath hewn out her seven pillars. Architecturally, according to Hitzig and others, the pillars of the inner court are meant, which supported the gallery of the first story. Four of these were m the corners, three in the middle of three sides, while the entrance to the court was through the fourth side of the square. The number seven generally denotes perfection; it is the covenant number, expressive of harmony and unity generally, the signature of holiness and blessing, completeness and rest. So in the Apocalypse the whole Church is represented by the number of seven Churches (Revelation 1:4, etc.; see on Proverbs 26:16). Wisdom's house is said to be thus founded because of its perfection and adaptability to all states of men. But doubtless there is a reference to the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit, which rested upon the Christ (Isaiah 11:2, etc.), and which are the support and strength of the Church, being symbolized by the seven-branched candlestick in the temple.
She hath killed her beasts. So in the parable of the marriage of the king's son (Matthew 22:1-46; which is parallel to the present), the king sends his servants to notify the guests that the oxen and fatlings are killed, and all things are ready. Wisdom has stores of nourishment for understanding and affection; and Christ has offered himself as a Victim in our behalf, and now makes bounteous offers of grace, and especially has ordained the sacrament of the Lord's Supper for the strengthening and refreshing of the soul. She hath mingled her wine; Septuagint, "She hath mixed ( ἐκέρασεν) her wine in a bowl." The wine which, untempered, was too luscious or too fiery to drink, was made palatable by a certain admixture of water, it was always so mixed at the Passover; and the ancient Christian Liturgies direct the mixture in the celebration of the Holy Eucharist, doubtless from traditional use. Some, however, think that allusion is here made to the custom of adding drugs to wine in order to increase its potency. Among the Greeks, ἄκρατος οἶνος meant "wine without water," and in Revelation 14:10 we have ἄκρατον κεκερασμένον, "undiluted wine mixed." And probably in the text the notion is that the fluid for the guests' delectation is properly prepared, that there may be no trouble when they arrive (see on Proverbs 23:30). She hath also furnished her table, by arranging the dishes, etc; thereon (Psalms 23:5, "Thou preparest a table before me," where the same verb, arak, is used; comp. Isaiah 21:5). Moralizing on this passage, St. Gregory says, "The Lord 'killed the sacrifices' by offering himself on our behalf. He 'mingled the wine,' blending together the cup of his precepts from the historical narration and the spiritual signification. And he 'set forth his table,' i.e. Holy Writ, which with the bread of the Word refreshes us when we are wearied and come to him away from the burdens of the world, and by its effect of refreshing strengthens us against our adversaries" ('Moral,' 17:43, Oxford transl.).
She hath sent forth her maidens, as in Matthew 22:3, to call them that were bidden to the feast. The Septuagint has τοὺς ἑαυτῆς δούλους, "her servants," but the Authorized Version is correct, and feminine attendants are in strict harmony with the rest of the apologue. By them are represented the apostles and preachers and ministers, who go forth to win souls for Christ. St. Gregory sees in their being called "maidens" an intimation that they are in themselves weak and abject, and are only useful and honoured as being the mouthpiece of their Lord ('Moral.,' 33.33). She crieth upon the highest places of the city, where her voice could best be heard, as in Proverbs 8:2; Matthew 10:27. She is not satisfied with delegating her message to others; she delivers it herself. Septuagint, "calling with a loud proclamation to the cup ( ἐπὶ κρατῆρα);" Vulgate, Misit ancillas suas ut vocarent ad arcem et ad moenia civitatis, "She has sent her handmaids to invite to the citadel, and to the wails of the town." On which rendering St. Gregory comments, "In that while they tell of the interior life, they lift us up to the high walls of the city above, which same walls, surely, except any be humble, they do not ascend" ('Moral.,' 17:43).
Here follows the invitation of Wisdom, urging the attendance of guests at the sumptuous banquet which she has prepared (comp. Revelation 19:9).
Whose is simple, lot him turn in hither. This is a direct address to the imprudent and inexperienced (see on Proverbs 7:7), calling them to turn aside from the way on which they are going, and to come to her. Vulgate, si quis est parvulus veniat ad me, which reminds one of Christ's tender words, "It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish" (Matthew 18:14). As for him that wanteth understanding, she saith to him what follows (so Proverbs 9:16). Wisdom's own speech is interrupted, and the writer himself introduces this little clause. She calls on the simple and the unwise, both as necessarily needing her teaching, and not yet inveterate in evil, nor wilfully opposed to better guidance. "The world by wisdom knew not God" and he "hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise, and the weak things of the world to confound the things that are mighty, and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen" (1 Corinthians 1:21, 1 Corinthians 1:26, etc.; comp. Matthew 11:25).
Come, eat ye of my bread. Wisdom now directly addresses the simple and the foolish (comp. Revelation 22:17). And drink of the wine which I have mingled (see on Proverbs 9:2). Bread and wine represent all needful nourishment, as flesh and wine in Proverbs 9:2. So Christ says (John 6:51), "I am the living Bread which came down from heaven … and the bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world." Compare the invitation in Isaiah 55:1, "He, every one that thirsteth!" etc. The Fathers see here a prophecy of the gospel feast, wherein Christ gave and gives bread and wine as symbols of his presence (Matthew 26:26, etc.).
Forsake the foolish, and live; Vulgate, relinquite infantiam; Septuagint, ἀπολείπετε ἀφροσύνην, "leave folly." These versions take the plural פְתָאִים (petaim) as equivalent to an abstract noun, which gives a good sense; but the plural is not so used in our book, so we must admit the rendering of the Authorized Version, "Quit the class, give up being of the category of fools," or else we must take the word as vocative, "Leave off, ye simple ones" (Revised Version), i.e. quit your simplicity, your folly. And live (see on Proverbs 4:4). It is not a mere prosperous life on earth that is here promised, but something far higher and better (John 6:51, "If any man eat of this bread, he shall live forever"). The LXX. saw something of this when they paraphrased the clause, "Leave ye folly, that ye may reign forever." Go in the way of understanding. Leaving folly, stay not, but make real progress in the direction of wisdom. Septuagint, "Seek ye prudence, and direct understanding by knowledge."
These verses form a parenthesis, showing why Wisdom addresses only the simple and foolish. She giveth not that which is holy unto dogs, nor casteth pearls before swine (Matthew 7:6).
He that reproveth a scorner getteth to himself shame. He who tries to correct a scorner (see on Proverbs 1:22 and Proverbs 3:34), one who derides religion, loses his pains and meets with ribald mockery and insult. It is not the fault of messengers or message that this should be, but the hardness of heart and the pride of the hearer make him despise the teaching and hate the teacher (Matthew 24:9). He that rebuketh a wicked man getteth himself a blot; rather, he that reproveth a sinner, it is his blot. Such a proceeding results in disgrace to himself. This is not said to discourage the virtuous from reproving transgressors, but states the effect which experience proves to occur in such cases. Prudence, caution, and tact are needed in dealing with these characters. Evil men regard the reprover as a personal enemy, and treat him with contumely, and hence arise unseemly bickerings and disputes, injurious words and deeds. To have wasted teaching on such unreceptive and antagonistic natures is a shameful expenditure of power. St. Gregory thus explains this matter: "It generally happens that when they cannot defend the evils that are reproved in them, they are rendered worse from a feeling of shame, and carry themselves so high in their defence of themselves, that they take out bad points to urge against the life of the reprover, and so they do not account themselves guilty, if they fasten guilty deeds upon the heads of others also. And when they are unable to find true ones, they feign them, that they may also themselves have things they may seem to rebuke with no inferior degree of justice" ('Moral.,' 10.3, Oxford transl.).
Reprove not a scorner, lest he hate thee (see the last note, and comp. Proverbs 15:12, and note there). There are times when reproof only hardens and exasperates. "It is not proper," says St. Gregory, "for the good man to fear lest the scorner should utter abuse at him when he is chidden, but lest, being drawn into hatred, he should be made worse" ('Moral.,' 8.67). "Bad men sometimes we spare, and not ourselves, if from the love of those we cease from the rebuking of them. Whence it is needful that we sometimes endure keeping to ourselves what they are, in order that they may learn in us by our good living what they are not" (ibid; 20:47, Oxford transl.). Rebuke a wise man, and he will love thee. So Psalms 141:5, "Let the righteous smite me, it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me, it shall be as oil upon the head; let not my head refuse it" (comp. Proverbs 19:25; Proverbs 25:12; Proverbs 27:6).
Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be yet wiser. The Hebrew is merely "give to the wise," with no object mentioned; but the context suggests "instruction," even though, as in Proverbs 9:8, it takes the form of rebuke. Vulgate and Septuagint, "Give an opportunity to a wise man, and he will be wiser" (comp. Matthew 13:12; Matthew 25:29). To make the best use of all occasions of learning duty, whether they present themselves in a winning or a forbidden shape, is the part of one who is wise unto salvation (see Proverbs 1:5, and note there). Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning. Wisdom being a moral and not merely an intellectual, quality. there is a natural interchange of "wise" and "just," referring to the same individual, in the two clauses. Vulgate, festinabit accipere; Septuagint, "Instruct a wise man, and he shall have more given him." The wise are thus rewarded with larger measures of wisdom, because they are simple, humble, and willing to learn, having that childlike spirit which Christ commends (Matthew 18:3).
Wisdom returns to the first apothegm and principle of the whole book (Proverbs 1:7). Without the fear of God no teaching is of any avail. The knowledge of the holy is understanding. The word translated "the holy" is קְדשִׁים, a plural of excellence (see on Proverbs 30:3 ) like Elohim, and equivalent to "the Most Holy One," Jehovah, to which it answers in the first hemistich. God is called "Holy, holy, holy" (Isaiah 6:3), in his threefold nature, and as majestic beyond expression. The only knowledge worth having, and which is of avail for the practical purposes of life, is the knowledge of God (see on Proverbs 2:5). Septuagint, "The counsel of the holy ( ἁγίων) is understanding," with the explanatory clause; "for to know the Law is the character of good thought." This occurs again at Proverbs 13:15, though in the Hebrew in neither place.
The parenthetical explanation being concluded, in which Wisdom has intimated why it is useless to appeal to the scorner and tile wilful sinner, she now resumes the direct address interrupted at Proverbs 9:7, presenting a forcible reason for the advice given in Proverbs 9:6, though there is still some connection with Proverbs 9:10, as it is from the wisdom that comes from the fear of the Lord that the blessings now mentioned spring. For by me thy days shall be multiplied (see Proverbs 3:2, Proverbs 3:16; Proverbs 4:10, where long life is promised as a reward for the possession and practice of wisdom). The same result is attributed to the fear of God (Proverbs 10:27; Proverbs 14:27, etc.). In Proverbs 9:6 the address is in the plural; here it is singular. A similar interchange is found in Proverbs 5:7, Proverbs 5:8 (where see note).
If thou be wise, thou shalt be wise for thyself. A transition verse. Wisdom will bring thee good; as thou hast laboured well, so will be thy reward (1 Corinthians 3:8). The LXX. (Syriac and Arabic), with the idea of perfecting the antithesis, adds, καὶ τοῖς πλησίον, "My son, if thou art wise for thyself, thou shalt be wise also for thy neighbours"—which contains the great truth that good gifts should not be selfishly enjoyed, but used and dispensed for the advantage of others (Galatians 6:6). In support of our text we may quote Job 22:2, "Can a man be profitable unto God? Surely he that is wise is profitable unto himself." But if thou scornest, thou alone shalt hear it; i.e. atone for it, bear the sin, as it is expressed in Numbers 9:13, "Forevery man shall bear his own burden" (Galatians 6:5). Thus Wisdom ends her exhortation. Septuagint, "If thou turn out evil, thou alone shalt bear ( ἀντλήσεις) evils." And then is added the following paragraph, which may possibly be derived from a Hebrew original, but seems more like a congeries made up from other passages, and foisted by some means into the Greek text: "He that stayeth himself on lies shepherdeth winds, and himself pursueth flying birds; for he hath left the ways of his own vineyard, and hath gone astray with the wheels of his own husbandry; and he goeth through a waterless desert, and over a land set in thirsty places, and with his hands he gathereth unfruitfulness."
This section contains the invitation of Folly, the rival of Wisdom, represented under the guise of an adulteress (Proverbs 2:16; Proverbs 5:3, etc.; Proverbs 6:24, etc.; 7.).
I foolish woman; literally, the woman of folly, the genitive being that of apposition, so that this may well be rendered, in order to make the contrast with Wisdom more marked, "the woman Folly." She is regarded as a real person; and between her and Virtue man has to make his choice. Is clamorous; turbulent and animated by passion (as Proverbs 7:11), quite different from her calm, dignified rival. She is simple; Hebrew, "simplicity," in a bad sense; she has no preservative against evil, no moral fibre to resist temptation. And knoweth nothing which she ought to know. Ignorance is the natural accompaniment of Folly: in this case it is wilful and persistent; she goes on her way reckless of consequences. Septuagint, "A woman foolish and bold, who knows not shame, comes to want a morsel."
She sitteth at the door of her house. She, like Wisdom, has a house of her own, and imitates her in inviting guests to enter. She does not send forth her maidens; she does not stand in the streets and proclaim her mission. Vice has an easier task; all she has to do is to sit and beckon and use a few seductive words. Her house is not supported by seven pillars, built on the grace of God and upheld by the gifts of the Holy Spirit. like that of Wisdom (Proverbs 9:1); it is an ordinary habitation of no stately proportions. but its meanness impedes not the uses to which she puts it, her own charms causing her victims to disregard her environments. On a seat in the high pluses of the city. Her house is in the highest and most conspicuous part of the city, and she sits before her door in reckless immodesty, plying her shameful trade (comp. Genesis 38:14; Jeremiah 3:2). The mimicry of her rival again appears, for Wisdom "crieth upon the highest places of the city" (Proverbs 9:3).
To call passengers who go right on their ways. With shameless effrontery she cries to all that pass by, she addresses her solicitations to persons who are going straight on their way, thinking nothing of her, having no idea of deviating from their pursued object. As they walk in the path of right and duty, she tries to turn them aside. Septuagint, "Calling to herself ( προσκαλουμένη) those that pass by and are keeping straight in their ways." The Fathers find here a picture of the seductions of heretical teaching, which puts on the mask of orthodoxy and deceives the unwary. Wordsworth notes that, in the Apocalypse, the false teacher bears some emblems of the Lamb (Revelation 13:11). All false doctrine retains some element of truth, and it is because of this admixture that it procures adherents and thrives for a time.
Proverbs 9:16, Proverbs 9:17
These verses contain the invitation which Vice, in imitation of Virtue, and assuming her voice and manner, offers to the wayfarers.
Whoso is simple, let him turn in hither. She uses the very same words which Wisdom utters (Proverbs 9:4). The latter had addressed the simple because they were inexperienced and undecided, and might be guided aright; the former now speaks to them because they have not vet made their final choice, can still be swayed by lower considerations, and may be led astray. Such persons find it hard to distinguish between the good and the evil, the false and the true, especially when their sensual appetite is aroused and sides with the temptress. No marvel is it that such are easily deceived; for we are told that, under certain circumstances, Satan transforms himself into an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). That wanteth understanding. This is the other class addressed by Wisdom, and which Folly now solicits, urging them to follow her on the path of pleasure, promising sensual enjoyment and security.
This is what she says: Stolen waters are sweet, and bread eaten in secret is pleasant. The metaphor of "stolen waters" refers primarily to adulterous intercourse, as to "drink waters out of one's own cistern" (Proverbs 5:15, where see note) signifies the chaste connection of lawful wedlock. Wisdom offered flesh and wine to her guests; Folly offers bread and water. Wisdom invites openly to a well furnished table; Folly calls to a secret meal of barest victuals. What the former offers is rich and satisfying and comforting; what Vice gives is poor and mean and insipid. Yet this latter has the charm of being forbidden; it is attractive because it is unlawful. This is a trait of corrupt human nature, which is recognized universally. Thus Ovid, 'Amor.,' Proverbs 3:4, Proverbs 3:17—
"Nitimur in vetitum semper, cupimusque negata;
Sic interdictis imminet aeger aquis.'
Things easily attained, the possession of which is gotten without effort or danger or breach of restraint, soon pall and cease to charm. To some minds the astuteness and secrecy required for success have an irresistible attraction. Thus St. Augustine relates ('Conf.,' 2.4) how he and some companions committed a theft, not from want and poverty, nor even from the wish to enjoy what was stolen, but simply for the pleasure of thieving and the sin. They robbed a pear tree by night, carried off great loads, which they flung to the pigs, and their only satisfaction was that they were doing what they ought not ("dum tamen fieret a nobis, quod eo liberet quo non liceret"). Septuagint, "Taste ye to your pleasure secret bread, and sweet water of theft." Where water is a precious commodity, as in many pets of Palestine, doubtless thefts were often committed, and persons made free with their neighbor's tank when they could do so undetected, thus sparing their own resources and felicitating themselves on their cleverness. On the metaphorical use of "waters" in Holy Scripture, St. Gregory says, "Waters are sometimes wont to denote the Holy Spirit, sometimes sacred knowledge, sometimes calamity, sometimes drifting peoples, sometimes the minds of those following the faith." He refers to these texts respectively: John 7:38, etc.; Ec John 15:3; Psalms 69:1; Revelation 17:15 ("the waters are peoples"); Isaiah 22:20; and he adds, "By water likewise bad knowledge is wont to be designated, as when the woman in Solomon, who bears the type of heresy, charms with crafty persuasion, saying, 'Stolen waters are sweet'" ('Moral.,' 19.9).
The deluded youth is supposed to be persuaded by the seductions of Folly and to enter her house. The writer, then, in a few weighty words, shows the terrible result of this evil compliance. But he knoweth not that the dead are there (see on Proverbs 2:18 and Proverbs 7:27). There are none "there," in her house, who can be said to be living, they are rephaim, shadowy ghosts of living men, or else demons of the nether world. The Septuagint and Vulgate, with a reference to Genesis 6:4, translate γηγενεῖς and gigantes. Her guests are in the depths of hell (sheol); Septuagint, "He knows not that giants perish at her side, and he meets with a trap of hell." The terrible warning may profitably be repeated more than once, It is like Christ's awful saying, three times enunciated, "Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched". The LXX. has another paragraph at the end of this verse, which has no counterpart in the Hebrew: "But start away, delay not in the place, nor put thy name ['eye,' al.] by her; for thus shalt thou pass over ( διαβήσῃ) strange water; but abstain thou from strange water, and of a strange spring drink not, that thou mayest live long, and years of life may be added to thee."
The banquet of wisdom
I. THE BANQUET HOUSE.
1. It is substantial. A house, not a mere tent. The feast of wisdom is no brief repast, rarely enjoyed, It is a lasting delight, a frequent refreshment always ready.
2. It is magnificent. Seven pillars are hewn out for the house. It is fitting that the house of God should be more beautiful than a man's dwelling. He who enters into the habitation of God's thoughts will find it beautiful and glorious. There is nothing mean about Divine truth. It is all large, noble, magnificent. He who comes into communion with is will find himself in no poor hovel. He will be in a palace of splendour, with which the material grandeur of marble columns, delicate tracery, etc; cannot vie.
II. THE PROVISION. Rich and abundant—slaughtered beasts, spiced wine, a well furnished table. Nothing looks more sordid than poor fare in splendid apartments. This shad not be seen in the house of Divine wisdom, but, on the contrary, enough for all, and that of the best quality. No thoughts are so full nor so rich as the thoughts of revelation. There is variety here as in the viands of the banquet. And "all things are ready." The table is spread. It waits for the guests. While we are praying for light, the light is shining about us. God has revealed his truth. Christ, the Light of the world, has appeared among us. The feast of the truths of the glorious gospel of the, blessed God is ready for all who will come and share in its bounties.
III. THE INVITATION. The maidens are sent forth—not one, but many—that the message may go to all quarters. They cry in the highest places of the city, that the message may have the greatest publicity, may spread over the widest area, may reach all classes. This is the character of the call of God to us in his truth. He seeks us before we seek him. He has already sought us. The gospel is preached, proclaimed as by heralds; and this gospel contains the invitation to the rich banquet of Divine truth.
IV. THE GUESTS. "The simple;" "him that lacketh understanding." So in our Lord's parable, "the poor, and the maimed, and the halt, and the blind" are called (Luke 14:21). The whole need not the physician; the full need not the feast. They who are satisfied with their own knowledge will not sit humbly at the feet of a Divine revelation. It is they who feel themselves to be foolish, who acknowledge their ignorance and grope dimly after the light, who will be able to enjoy the banquet of wisdom; and these people are specially invited. The heathen, the illiterate, the weak-minded, are all called to receive the saving truth of Christ.
V. THE SATISFACTION. "Eat of my bread, and drink of the wine," etc.
1. Divine truth is nourishing. "By every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord doth man live" (Deuteronomy 8:3). Christ, the "Word," is the Bread of life.
2. Divine truth is a source of joy. At the banquet there is wine that maketh glad the heart of man. The gospel offers no prison fare. It kills the fatted beast. It gives wine—spiced wine, things of pleasure and luxury. Yet the pleasure is not enervating; the gospel wine is not harmfully intoxicating. How much better this banquet than the injurious and really less pleasing least of folly (Proverbs 9:13-18)!
I. HOW TO GIVE REPROOF. The duty of reproving is one of the most difficult and delicate ever attempted. The people who are most rash in adventuring upon it too often fall into the greatest blunders, while those who are really fitted to undertake it shrink from the attempt. The mere utterance of a protest is generally worse than useless. It only raises anger and provokes to greater obstinacy. Unless there is some probability of convincing a man of the wrongness of his conduct, there is little good in administering rebukes to him. It is not the duty of any man to raise up enemies without cause. We should all seek, as far as in us lies, to live peaceably with all men. Of course, it may he incumbent upon us sometimes so to act that we shall provoke opposition. Jesus Christ could have avoided the enmity of the Jews, but only by unfaithfulness to his mission. Where we are in the way of our mission, or when any duty will be accomplished or any good done, we must not shrink from rousing antagonism. To do so is cowardice, not peaceableness. But if no good is done, we may only bring a nest of hornets about our heads by our indiscretion. Let us understand that while we are never to sanction evil doing, we are only called to rebuke it when the rebuke will not be certainly rejected; then we must risk insult for the sake of righteousness. The practical point, then. is that we consider the character of a man before attempting to rebuke him, and that we be not so anxious to protest against sin as to counsel the sinner and guide him to better ways. If he is in a hard, scornful mood, we had better wait for a more fitting opportunity. If he is too strong for us, we shall only injure the cause of right by attempting to grapple with him. Weak champions of Christianity have often only hurt themselves, discredited their cause, and afforded a triumph to powerful opponents by their rash encounters. In all cases to reprove well requires wisdom, tact, simplicity, humanity.
II. HOW TO RECEIVE REPROOF. He who hates the reprover will become himself a scorner; the wise man will love the reprover. Our manner of accepting merited reproof will therefore be a test of our character. Thus viewed, may not the text class many of us with the scorners, though we had little suspected where our true place was to be found? It is too common for a man to reject all reproof with rage. Not inquiring whether the accusation is true, he unjustly regards it as an attack upon himself, as a personal insult. There may be fault with the reprover—very often there is. But a wise man will not shelter himself behind that. Granting that the method of reproof was unwise, harsh, offensive; still, was there no ground for any reproof? To be angry at all reproof is to be one of the worst of scorners—to scorn right and truth. For the conscientious man will not dare to reject appeals to his conscience; he will feel bound to listen to them, no matter how unwelcome the voice that speaks them. He will desire to be free from faults. Should he not, therefore, thank those people who show them to him? If he loves goodness, he ought to lore those whose advice will help him to remove the greatest hindrances to attaining it. If he hates sin as the disease of his soul, he should accept reproof as medicine, and treat the reprover as a valuable physician.
An open mind
There are two classes of minds that seem to be armour proof against the invasion of new light. One contains those people who, to use the phraseology of the Roman Catholic Church, are in a state of "invincible ignorance." The other contains the much more numerous people who know just enough to feel s pride of superiority to their fellows, and who wrap themselves up in the infallibility of self-conceit. To these persons Pope's often misapplied maxim may be fairly appropriated -
"A little knowledge is a dangerous thing;
Drink deep, or taste not the Pierian spring."
The truly wise man will be the first to see the limits of his knowledge and the infinite night of ignorance with which the little spot of light that he has as yet gained is surrounded. Having drunk of the wells of truth, he will have found his thirst not slaked, but stimulated; he will be a philosopher, a lover of wisdom. Such a man will have an open mind.
I. CONSIDER THE CHARACTERISTICS OF AN OPEN MIND.
1. It is not an empty mind. A man may be prepared to receive fresh light without abandoning the light he already possesses. The seeker after truth need not be a sceptic. There may be many things clearly seen and firmly grasped in the mind of one who is ready to welcome all new truth.
2. It is not a weak mind. If a man is not a bigot, he need not be like a shuttlecock, driven about by every wind of doctrine. He will sift truth. He will consider new ideas calmly, impartially, judicially.
3. An open mind is willing to receive truth from any quarter. It may come from a despised teacher, from rival, from an enemy. The open mind will not exclaim, "Can any good thing come out of Nazareth?"
4. An open mind is ready to receive unpleasant truth. The new light may threaten to interfere with the vested interests of ancient beliefs, it may expose the folly of long cherished crotchets, it may unsettle much of one's established convictions, it may reveal truths which are themselves unpalatable, or it may wound our pride by exposing our errors. Still, the open mind will receive it on one condition—that it is genuine truth.
5. Such characteristics must be based on wisdom and justice. It is the wise man and the just who is ready to receive instruction. No small amount of practical wisdom is requisite for the discernment of truth amidst the distractions of prejudice. Justice is a more important characteristic. Indeed, it is one of the fundamental conditions of truth seeking. Science and philosophy would progress more rapidly, and theology would be less confused by the conflicts of bitter sectaries, if men could but learn to be fair to other inquirers, and to take no exaggerated views of the importance of their own notions.
II. THE ADVANTAGES OF AN OPEN MIND.
1. The open mind will attain most truth. Truth is practically infinite. But our knowledge of it varies according as we are able to attain to a large and yet a discriminating receptivity. To the nut its shell is its universe. The man who locks himself up in the dungeon of prejudice will never see anything but his own prison walls.
2. Every attainment in knowledge prepares the way for receiving more knowledge. It intensifies the desire of possessing truth. Thus the inquirer may say—
"The wish to know—that endless thirst,
Which ev'n by quenching is awak'd,
And which becomes or blest or curst
As is the fount whereat 'tis slak'd—
Still urged me onward, with desire
Insatiate, to explore, inquire."
But not only is the thirst thus stimulated. Future knowledge grows upon past experience. Knowledge is not an endless level plain, to reach one district of which we must leave another. It is more like a great building, and as we rise from story to story, we gain new treasures by mounting on those previously possessed. The more we know, the easier is it to increase knowledge. This applies to religious as well as to secular things. Prophets and devout people were the first to welcome the advent of the Light of the world (see Luke 2:25-38). The more the Christian knows, the more wilt he be able to see of new spiritual truths. Thus he will come to welcome instruction with thankfulness.
It is the duty of the Christian to bear his brother's burden, and the duty of every man to love his neighbour as himself; it is also the privilege of the saint to lose his life for Christ's sake, and to "spend and be spent" in the service of man. But there still remains a right and lawful, and even an obligatory, regard to self-interest. For one thing, if a man's own heart and life are wrong, his work in the world must be wrong also.
I. HE IS NOT TRULY WISE WHOSE OWN SOUL IS NOT SAFE.
1. He may know the truth. The wisdom that can unravel many mysteries is his. He has searched into the deep truths of revelation. A diligent reader of the Bible, he is well acquainted at least with the words that God teaches. But he has never regarded the practical bearing of all this truth. It has been to him but a shadow. Then his own soul may be wrecked, though the way to The haven is clear.
2. He may enlighten others. Perhaps he is a preacher of the gospel, and is able to hold up the torch to many a wayfarer. He is even urgent in pressing the truth upon his hearers. Or he is a champion for the defence of the truth, arguing vehemently with unbelievers. But all the while he never applies this truth to his own case. Saving others, he is himself a castaway (1 Corinthians 9:27). The pilot leads the imperilled mariners home, but is drowned himself. Surely this is the height of folly!
II. HE WHO IS TRULY WISE WILL PROFIT BY HIS WISDOM.
1. He will see the necessity of applying truth to himself. This will be a part of his wisdom. We are all sadly tempted to delude ourselves into a false sense of security, and we need light and guidance to show us our danger and our course of safety. It is a mark of God-given wisdom to choose that course.
2. He will recognize the practical bearings of truth. It will do little good to regard one's self only as a sort of example to which certain truths are attached. Mere self-examination of the most lucid and honest character will not save our souls. We have to go a step further, and act according to the knowledge that we gain in the light of God's truth.
3. He will find the application of wisdom directly helpful. When a man does not hold aloof from it as from some curiosity only to be inspected, but embraces the truth of Christ, taking it home to his own heart, he discovers that it is a saving truth. By the personal reception of this Divine wisdom he reaches the way of salvation. Above all, when we remember that Christ is "the Wisdom of God," we may see that for a man to receive that wisdom, i.e. to receive Christ, is to be wise for himself, because Christ brings the light of God's truth, and Christ's presence is the source of sure salvation.
A fatal fascination, arising out of its very lawlessness, attaches itself to sin. Illicit pleasures are doubly attractive just because they are illicit. Let us consider the secret of these evil charms.
I. THE PROVOCATION OF RESTRAINTS. There are many things which we do not care to have so long as they are within our reach, but which are clothed with a sudden attractiveness directly they are shut out from us. If we see a notice, "Trespassers will be prosecuted," we feel an irritating restraint, although we have had no previous desire to enter the path that it blocks. Innumerable fruits grew in Eden, but the one forbidden fruit excited the greatest longing of appetite. Advertisers sometimes head their placards with the words, "Don't read this!"—judging that to be the best way to call attention to them. If you say, "Don't look!" everybody is most anxious to look. To put a book in an index expurgatorius is the surest means of advertising it.
II. THE VALUE GIVEN BY DIFFICULTY OF ACQUISITION. We value little what we can buy cheaply. Rarity raises prices. If we have been to great labour and have run heavy risks in obtaining anything, we are inclined to measure the worth of it by what it has cost us. Many designs of sin are only achieved with great difficulty. They involve terrible dangers. When once accomplished, they are the more valued for this. The pleasures of adventure, the Englishman's peculiar delights of the chase, are enlisted in the cause of wickedness.
"All things that are,
Are with more spirit chased than enjoyed."
III. THE SENSE OF POWER AND LIBERTY. If you have gained your end in spite of law and authority, there is a natural elation of triumph about it. When you have succeeded in breaking bounds, you taste the sweets of an illicit liberty.
IV. THE ENJOYMENT OF SECRECY. To some minds there is a peculiar charm about this. To them especially "bread eaten in secret is pleasant." Let it be all open and above board, let it he of such a nature that one would have no objection to the world knowing it, and the pleasure loses its most pungent element. The air of mystery, the sense of superiority in doing what those about one little suspect, become elements in the pleasures of sin. But surely the highest natures must be too simple and frank to feel the force of such inducements to sin!
V. THE FASCINATION OF WICKEDNESS. Pure, naked evil will attract on its own account. There is a charm in absolute ugliness. Some men really seem to love sin for its own sake. A wild intoxication, a mad passion of conscious guilt, instils a fatal sweetness into stolen waters. But it is the sweetness of a deadly poison, the euthanasia of crime.
All these horrible charms of sin need to be guarded against. We must not trust to our own integrity; it is not proof against the fatal fascinations of temptation. To resist them we must be fortified with the love of higher joys, fed with the wholesome food of the banquet of wisdom (see Proverbs 9:1-5), attracted by the beauty of holiness, and above all, led to the pure and nourishing delights of the gospel feast by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
HOMILIES BY E. JOHNSON
Wisdom's banquet; or, the call to salvation
I. THE FIGURATIVE REPRESENTATION. Wisdom was termed, in Proverbs 8:30, a "workmistress," in reference to the structure of the physical world. Here she whose delight is in men and human life is represented as the builder, i.e. the founder of moral and social order. The seven pillars denote grandeur, and, at the same time, sacredness. Her home is a temple. Religion is "the oldest and most sacred tradition of the race" (Herder); and it contains within it art, science, polity—all that makes human life stable, rich, and beautiful. Preparation has been made for a feast. The ox has been slain, the spiced wine has been mixed (Isaiah 5:22; Proverbs 23:30), the table set forth. Her servant has been sent forth, and her invitation has been freely made known on all the heights of the city. It is an invitation to the simple, the ignorant, the unintelligent, of every degree.
II. THE SPIRITUAL CONTENTS. These receive a richer unfolding in the gospel (Matthew 22:1-14; Luke 14:16-24). Instead of the practical personification of wisdom, we have the living presence of Christ, "the Wisdom of God." Instead of the abstract, the concrete; for an ideal conception, a real Example and a present Object of faith. Instead of the splendid palace temple, on the other hand, we have the thought of the kingdom of God, or the Church, resting on its foundations of apostolic truth. To the provisions of the table correspond the rich spiritual nourishment derivable from Christ, his Word and work—the true Bread sent down from heaven. To the invitation of Wisdom, the call to salvation by Christ.
1. The New Testament echoes the Old, and the gospel is essentially the same in every way.
2. The gospel of Christ is the unfolding, expansion, enrichment, of the ancient spiritual lore.
3. The relation of the Divine to the human remains constant; it is that of supply to want, knowledge to ignorance, love and light to sorrow and darkness.
4. The invitation to the kingdom of heaven is free and general, conditioned by nothing except the need of its blessings.—J.
Warnings against refusal
So, in connection with the preceding section, we may take these words.
I. EVERY REFUSAL OF WISDOM IMPLIES THE PREFERENCE OF THE OPPOSITE. It implies that the associations of folly are more congenial than those of sound sense (Proverbs 9:6), which is a preference of death to life, in its effect.
II. THE SCOFFING HABIT IS AN INDICATION OF FOLLY. (Proverbs 9:7.) Under the general head of fools come scoffers and wicked men of every degree. The cynic may prefer to speak of evil men and actions as fools and folly—"worse than a crime, a blunder"—and he utters more truth in this than he intends.
III. THE SCOFFER IS ABUSIVE, AND THIS IS SIGNIFICANT OF HIS TEMPER. (Proverbs 9:7, Proverbs 9:8; comp. Exodus 5:16; Psalms 115:7.)
1. He neither has nor desires to have self-knowledge, and therefore hates the teacher who holds the mirror up to nature, and makes him see himself as he is.
2. He is the foil to the wise man, who is thankful for corrections, because he is set upon improvement and progress; and therefore loves the correcter, holding him creditor of his thanks, and recognizing the loyalty of the band which wounds.
3. The great distinction of the wise man from the fool is that the former has indefinite capacity of progress; the latter, qua fool, none.
4. As there is an indissoluble connection between folly and wickedness, so are wisdom and rectitude at one (Proverbs 9:9).—J.
Recurrence to first principles
Life is made up of circles. We are ever coming