PROVERBS 15, 1-6 REV. RALPH WARDLAW, D.D.

Prov. xv. 1 - 6. -' A soft answer turneth away wrath : but grievous words stir up anger. The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright : but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness. The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good. A wholesome tongue is a tree of life: but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit. A fool despiseth his father's instruction : but he that regard etli reproof is prudent. In the house of the righteous is much treasure: but in the revenues of the wicked is trouble." In the words "a soft answer turneth away wratli" anger is supposed to have been already kindled, and to have expressed itself in terms of passionate irritation. In such circumstances, the offended pride of our nature prompts us to return an answer in the same strain, - not "soft" but high and harsh. We wish to show, especially if others are present, that we are not afraid, and that we are not the persons to be provoked and abused with impunity! - The answer which natural feeling would thus dictate, would be one in 11 grievous words" adding to irritation, and further "stirring up anger" - one which would be only as fresh fuel to a burning and blazing fire, or as a fresh gust of wind on the already raging deep. In this there would be double wrong : it would be giving indulgence to an evil temper in ourselves, as well as stimulating and increasing it in others. Our incumbent duty, when so situated, is self-restraint. Such restraint, though often regarded as mean-spiritedness, and want of becoming and manly pride (accustomed as

we are to give gentle names to ungentle things) is true

PROVERBS XV. 1-6. 21 greatness of mind - true dignity.'"' But how much soever our judgments are convinced of this, how entire soever our concurrence in the abstract sentiment, we feel how impotent too often such conviction is in the moment of temptation, when exposed to the angry menaces, or the scornful and defying words, and looks, and gestures of an adversary ! And yet that is just the moment for the exercise of self-restraint. At other times there is no trial of it and no need for it. It is easy to be calm, and sweet, and gentle, when there is nothing to provoke. Tempers are only known when brought into contact with some antagonistic element: as certain chemical substances when apart remain still, cool, and motionless; but when brought together, discover the heat and fume and noise of violent effervescence. Christian brethren, let us look to our great pattern : " When he was reviled, he reviled not again, when he suffered, he threatened not." Yet never surely was there such true dignity of character - the sublimity of composure, the majesty of meekness ! The verse before us states a fact : - " A soft answer turneth away wrath." In some instances, indeed, a soft answer is the surest way to irritate, - to stir up wrath even to the highest pitch. There are persons of so peculiar a temper, that they will be provoked by our very calmness, - roused to perfect fury, because they cannot get us into a passion like themselves. The failure of their attempts to provoke us increases their own rage, and the very contrast between our self-command and their want of it, adds to the madness. Generally, however, the effect will be as here represented. And even in the cases referred to of apparent exception, the exception, after all, relates only to the period of excitement, - the moments of actual irritation. On subsequent

reflection, the remembrance of the " soft answer;" of the manner in which their passion was met, of the contrast between their own undue heat and our coolness, will produce the relentings of shame, and lead to acknowledgment of error. * Conip. chap. xiv. 'J 9.

22 LECTURE XXXYlL The sentiment is - and it holds to reason as well as accords with fact - that meekness will allay the fury of the flames of passion. By pouring on oil we may calm the wave, which we should lash and rebuke in vain. I might illustrate the proverb by Scripture instances. Look at the effect of the quiet and dignified reply of Gideon to the exasperated "men of Ephraim" by which "their anger toward him was abated." Look again at the case of Abigail and David - the calm prudence of the former turning away the wrath which had been excited by the surly and ungrateful churlishness of the besotted j abal, and which had armed David and his men for vengeance. And as an exemplification of the effects of an opposite style of answer, you may be reminded of the contention between the men of Israel and the men of Judah, at the time of David's restoration after the death of Absalom, when the fierce words of the latter drove off the former under the rebellious standard of Sheba -the son of Bichri ; and of the case of Eehoboam, who by refusing the counsel to give "a soft answer" to the people who came petitioning for a mitigation of their burdens, and adopting one harsh and repulsive, deprived the house of David of the subjection of the ten tribes, which attached themselves to " Jeroboam the son of ebat who made Israel to sin." Verse 2. "The tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright : but the mouth of fools poureth out foolishness."

Similar sentiments have come repeatedly before us ; * but though similar, not the same. "Knowledge" is the possession of information, and we have here the correct idea of wisdom; which, practically considered, is the right use of knowledge, and, in regard to character, the ability so to use it. The wise man makes a right use of knowledge in the mode of communicating it - "the tongue of the wise useth knowledge aright" - as regards times, persons, places, company, and the spirit in which it is used : and in proportion to the degree of knowledge, both wisdom and principle * See chap. xii. 23; xiii. 16; xiv. 33.

PBO VERBS XV. i- 6. 23 become desirable, to enable and to dispose its possessors to use and to improve it, - " But the mouth of fools xjours out foolishness." Their words are uttered without discrimination while the character of the words corresponds with the character of their minds. If we take wisdom and folly in their higher sense, as meaning religious principle on the one hand, and the want of it on the other, - then " using knowledge aright," will be using it for the glory of God and the best interests of men ; and " the pouring out of foolishness," the presumptuous utterance of what is worse than light, and frothy, and unprofitable, - even the sentiments and words of irreligion and profanity. Verse 3. " The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and the good." I need hardly say that all such language is figurative. " God is a Spirit." The ascription to Him of corporeal organs must be understood in harmony with this declaration. By "the eyes" of Jehovah, Ave are to understand His ccq ->acity of discernment. By us, the manner of that discernment is altogether incomprehensible, From this, indeed, arises the necessity for the use of such figures. Were language

used directly expressing the functions and operations of spirit simply as such, we should be utterly incapable of understanding it. How God, the eternal Mind, is present every moment in every place, in the exercise of all His infinite perfections, is a matter which involves mysteries far beyond our powers of comprehension, - far deeper than the short line of our intellect is sufficient to fathom. The attempt to understand them will ever force from us the devout exclamation - " Such knowledge is too wonderful for me ; it is high, I cannot attain unto it ! " " The eyes of the Lord are in every place" expresses the unceasing inspection, on the part of the divine Being, of all creatures in the universe at the same moment; there being no person or object ; nothing whatever that exists alive or dead - spirit or matter - intelligent or unintelligent - active or inert - that is ever, even for a single instant, from under His gaze.

24 LECTURE XXXVII. Without expatiating on the attribute of omniscience generally, I would confine myself to the light in which it is here brought before us, - the light most immediately and practically useful to us - the divine acquaintance with the ways of men. This is indispensable to God's either governing or judging the world. His administration could not go on without it. There would be immediate and inextricable confusion. Equally essential is it to enlightened and impartial judgment. God must know that He may judge. He must know all that he may judge all; and He cannot know all otherwise than by a constant, universal, unintermitting supervision, and the most perfectly intimate acquaintance with the minds and hearts, as well as the words and actions of men.* The knowledge of God, arising from His universal presence

and inspection, extends, we are here reminded, to both " the evil and the good." or is the difference between the two ever overlooked by Him. It may at times appear as if it were. He does not always mark it in the distribution of temporal blessings, or crosses and trials. But " the evil " are not at all the more the objects of His favour that at times they prosper; nor are "the good" the less so that at times they suffer. His eyes still look with favour upon the one, and with displeasure upon the other. On the one He smiles, when to their unbelieving minds He may seem to frown ; on the other He frowns, when to their self-flattering but deluded fancy He may seem to smile. The days of darkness through which the one are called to pass shall all terminate in the light of that "blessed day that knows no morrow;" while the light of the other's temporary prosperity shall end in " the blackness of darkness for ever."t What a solemn thought, then, to " the evil" - to them who are living " without God " - that from Him nothing can be concealed ! When successfully hiding their misdeeds from the view of men, they forget this. How often realized is the description of Job - " The murderer rising with the * Comp. Jer. xxxii. 19. and Heb. iv. 13. f Psal. xi. 4-7.

PROVERBS XV. 1-6. 25 light killeth the poor and needy, and in the night is as a thief. The eye also of the adulterer waiteth for the twilight, saying, o eye shall see me : and disguiseth his face. In the dark they dig through houses, which they had marked for themselves in the daytime : they know not the light. For the morning is to them even as the shadow of death : if one know them, they are in the terrors of the shadow of death ! " Ah ! sad and fatal mistake ! - " o eye shall see me!" There is an eye that seeth him ; - an eye that is of incomparably greater consequence to him, did he but think of it, than the collective eyes of a peopled universe. Yes ; and there is one morning

coming, that shall be infinitely more alarming to him than any that ever dawned upon him in the prosecution of his wicked courses here : - a morning when he shall indeed be " in the terrors of the shadow of death ;" - that eventful morning when the trump of God shall sound the summons to His bar ; " when all that are in their graves shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and shall come forth ; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation;" when " God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." The truth stated in this verse is, at the same time, a source of joy unspeakable to the "good" - to the people of God. Is it not, Christian friends, a delightful thought, that the ever-watchful eye of your heavenly Father is over all your concerns'? - that His gracious and all-wise providence superintends unceasingly everything relating to your present and your future well-being? In the strong terms used by your divine Lord and Master, - the strongest in the Bible, to express the minute particularity of the divine regard to his people's interests, - " The very hairs of your head are all numbered." God's eyes, when on His children, are the eyes of faithful love and vigilant care; not the eyes of keen scrutiny, in order to detect guilt, but the eyes of tender kindness, in order to afford supply in need, guidance in perplexity, and protection in danger. " The eyes of the Lord are upon the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry."

26 LECTURE XXXVlt. Is not this a comfort? You feel sympathy with the crying and tears of a strayed child, and with the joy of that child when it comes again under the parental eye. But no cliild of God can ever, in reality, be from under His eye, whatever the unbelieving doubts and suspicions of that child may tempt lnm to fear. When a clrild of God wanders, it is not from God's ceasing to see him, but from his, for a time, ceas-

ing to see God. It is our duty to maintain a firm faith in the constant superintendence of our heavenly Father, and to " delight ourselves in God." - Yet while there is reason for rejoicing, there is reason, at the same time, for solemn awe. 0, the thought, of having God's eye unceasingly upon us - the eye of Him who is the " high and lofty one, that inhabiteth eternity," who is " of purer eyes than to behold iniquity, and cannot look upon sin," - who " is light, and in whom is no darkness at all ! " Verse 4. " The wholesome tongue," or literally, as on the margin - the healing of the tongue, " is a tree of life : but perverseness therein is a breach in the spirit." - The verse may be compared with the second. The tongue which " useth knowledge aright " has a morally and spiritually healing influence. It imparts instruction to the ignorant. It speaks peace to the troubled conscience. It soothes the anguish of the afflicted. It subdues the swellings of passion. It allays the self-inflicted tortures of envy. It heals divisions and animosities, - conciliating to each other the discordant and alienated, and converting enemies into friends. These and other blessed fruits of " the wholesome tongue " - the " tongue of health " - entitle it to the designation, " a tree of life;" - productive as it is of genuine, varied, valuable joys to all within the reach of its influence. And when the tongue makes known God's " saving health" - the salvation revealed by Him in the gospel, - it then gives "life" in the highest and most important of all senses; bringing the outcast and undone sinner to " eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God ! " " But %)erversencss therein is a breach in the spirit." Its being, or producing, " a breach in the spirit " - may be vari-

EROVEllBS XV. 1-6. 27 ously understood. It disturbs and irritates the spirit. It destroys tranquillity and peace of mind. It brings guilt

upon the conscience, and distress in various ways upon the heart. The continued unkindness and bitterness of the tongue may so wear out the ever pained and pining heart as to sink it at length prematurely to the grave, especially when, from the nearness and tenderness of any relation, there ought to be in the tongue "the law of kindness" - a sanatory, cheering, soothing, healthful influence. Verse 5. "A fool despiseth his father's instruction: but he that regardeth reproof is prudent.""" how signal the folly, how flagrant the imprudenceapart from all consideration of its Avickedness and guilt of "despising the instruction" and scorning the counsel, whether of a father or a friend, that would lead to the attainment of eternal happiness, for the sake of a good infinitely inferior, and that lasts but for a moment ! " Eternity for bubbles " - the light, empty, airy, glittering bubbles that are blown by the breath of this world's vanity - " proves at last a senseless bargain." Verse 6. " In the house of the righteous is much treasure : but in the revenues of the wicked is trouble."t The " treasure in the house of the righteous," as here contrasted with the " revenues of the wicked," may be understood, not of mere wealth, but of whatever is possessed with contentment and cheerfulness, - with gratitude to God - with confidence in His wisdom, faithfulness, and love, - with an assurance of His fatherly regard, - with the peace that passeth all understanding, - with resignation of spirit to the divine will, - with the present enjoyment of spiritual blessings, and the well-founded " hope of glory, and honour, and immortality." Even the good things of time, how moderate soever in their amount, when enjoyed thus, become " treasures" indeed of inestimable preciousness ; realizing the saying of the psalmist, " A little that a righteous man hath is better than the riches of many wicked." * Comp. chap. i. 23; vi. 20, with 23; x. 1; xiii. 1, 18.

f Comp. chap. xiii. 22, 23; xiv. 11.

28 LECTURE XXXVII. It is added accordingly - " But in the revenues of the wicked there is trouble." These revenues we may suppose to be acquired wickedly, and enjoyed wickedly. But whatever the means of their acquisition, and although in the manner of their enjoyment and use there may be no direct injury to men, - yet if possessed and expended without the fear of God, and if the means themselves of banishing that fear, and preventing the choice of a better portion, it may truly be affirmed that in them " there is trouble." How often do they engender fears and jealousies, . anxieties and apprehensions, that drive sleep from the eyes, and slumber from the eyelids ! How often do they inspire and nurture pride and passion, impatience of spirit, selfishness, and temptation to thoughtless and sinful indulgence, - such indulgence producing even at the time, and especially in the end, remorse of conscience and the fearful looking-for of judgment ! How often do they thus, without imparting real happiness while they last, aggravate condemnation at the close ! How often, too, do they render their possessor the object of envy, and of malicious detraction and slander, by which he is wronged even beyond what, on the part of fellow-men, he deserves, - how deep soever his guilt before Heaven! When "the revenues of the wicked" have such effects upon their possessor, tempting him to live and die without God - inserting stings in his conscience, and awakening forebodings in his heart - well may the saying of Samuel Johnson to the celebrated Garrick be applied to them - " These are the things that make a deathbed terrible." It is terrible to leave them, for to the wicked worldling it is leaving his all; and it is more terrible still to enter on the dread unknown - on a world for which nu provision has been made, and over the entrance hang " shadows, clouds, and darkness." When he dieth he can " carry nothing away ; " and he has nothing in hope beyond - no " bright reversion in the skies," to compensate for the

loss of all he is obliged to leave ! His glory descends not after him. He has "trouble" ivith Ins revenues; trouble in leaving them; and trouble for ever in the fatal consequences of their seductive influence over liim.

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