PROVERBS 15, 13-20 REV. RALPH WARDLAW, D.D.
Prov. xv. 13-20. "A merry heart maketh a cheerful countenance: but by sorrow of the heart the spirit is broken. The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge : but the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness. All the days of the afflicted are evil: but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast. Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith. Better is a dinner of herbs where love is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith. A wrathful man stirreth up strife: but he that is slow to anger appeaseth strife. The way of the slothful man is as an hedge of thorns: but the way of the righteous is made plain. A wise son maketh a glad father: but a foolish man despiseth his mother." The countenance is the natural index of the mind. Eacli passion and emotion has its appropriate expression there. It can never be natural for a man to smile when angry, or to weep and frown when happy. The tear is appropriated to sorrow ; the frown to anger ; the smile to satisfaction and pleasure. He is the most accomplished hypocrite, who has most successfully learned the art of substituting the one for the other, and so disguising the real state of his feelings : the most unenviable of all accomplishments. Yet true it is, that " a cheerful countenance " is not always (and that in other cases than criminal dissimulation) the indication of a " merry heart " - a really happy spirit; for, as
we have seen, " Even in laughter the heart is sorrowful; and the end of that mirth is heaviness." " A merry heart" in this verse does not mean the false, boisterous, temporary merriment, so frequently alluded to in
PROVEEL'S XV. 13-20. 41 Scripture, arising from worldly company, intemperance, and dissipation. either is it mere light -lieartedness - mere thoughtless vacant good humour. It is something far higher and better than either. It is the inward peace and joy imparted by the light of true religion in the soul - the happiness expressed by Solomon in similar terms elsewhere, " Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart ; for God now accepteth thy works," Eccl. ix. 7. Such was the happiness so delightfully exemplified in the primitive church - when they " did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, praising God, and having favour with all the people." And what imparted this personal and social cheerfulness then is sufficient to impart it now and to the end. True religion, as we have already said, but cannot say too often, is the only spring of substantial and satisfactory joy. It is fitted to give it ; it is designed to give it. It is light sun-light, gladdening every heart into which it finds admission. And this joy, this inward cheerfulness, this " sunshine of the soul," ought to appear. It should be manifest in the religious man's looks and behaviour. It should smile on his lip, and beam in his eye. It should characterize his whole conversation and course of life. It ought to be so, for the credit of religion. That professor gives not a fair and faithful representation of it, who wraps his profession in the mantle of melancholy. - It should be the aim of every believer of God's truth to show that the faith of it has made him happy : - not insjriring a mirth that is either frivolous or boisterous ; that expresses itself in the song of the intem-
perate, the sportive gaiety of the vain, or the " laughter of the fool ;" but shedding over the soul the light of heaven, a light which " makes the face to shine " and throws the radiance of joy on even the darkest steps of the Christian's path through life. By "sorrow of heart" in the latter part of the verse, I would not understand mere grief on account of the bereavements, disappointments, and various trials of life, - to which the truly godly as well as others are subject. o doubt the
42 LECTURE XXXIX. tendency of these, especially when long continued and accumulated, is to " break the spirit" - to unnerve it, to deprive it of its tone and vigour, and to unlit for active exertion Still, it is the excellence and recommendation of true religion, that it gives light even in darkness ; that the joy which it imparts remains even in sorrow, and cheers the spirit when otherwise it would sink and break. " The sorrow of heart " here spoken of, we may consider as that which arises from an evil conscience, from envy, discontent, and other similar sources. Or, if the distresses of life are to be considered as among the causes of the sorrow that " breaks the spirit," we must regard the language as spoken of those who have the sorrow without the sustaining and cheering consolation. - And in this we may be countenanced by the terms of the fifteenth verse, which, for the sake of connexion of subject and sentiment, we take in here : - " All the days of the afflicted are evil : but he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast." " The afflicted " are evidently the afflicted in situation, without the cheerful spirit or " merry heart " to support them. To such the days are indeed " evil" They pass away very drearily. There is no relief; no light in the gloom; nothing to counteract or counterbalance the woe. " But he that is of a merry heart hath a continual feast" The spirit of cheerful piety bestows a feast richer and better than royal dainties. These will not procure true happiness. There
may be perfect wretchedness at the best-furnished table. The " rich man clothed in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day," may be - too often has been - discontented, envious, anxious, gloomy, melancholy; his feasts not enjoyed; his wines, and his delicate and costly viands not relished. Even in poverty, with all its attendant ills, a spirit such as that we have before described will be " a continual feast." A crust of bread and a mouthful of water, with a contented and cheerful heart - especially a heart sustained and gladdened by the " joys of God's salvation," - a heart in which the fountains of peace and delight have been opened by the Spirit of God - -will be partaken with incomparably more enjoyment than all the luxuries that wealth can procure.
PROVERBS XV. 13-20. 4.1 ? - " All tlie clays of the afflicted are evil ; " for affliction is not in itself "joyous but grievous." But the feast of him who is of " a merry heart," - who has within himself the sources of true joy, is not terminated, is not even suspended in the season of affliction. His feast is independent of changing condition. He often relishes it most, when other sweets are embittered. Often is his inward spiritual festivity the richest, when the supply of his outward and earthly comforts is scantiest. Yes; and to those who enjoy this " continual feast " on earth, it is but the prelude and the foretaste of the everlasting feast of heaven. We may fairly consider the next verse as indicating the vat ure of the feast - the mental, the spiritual feast - of which the verses we have been expounding affirm the excellence : " The heart of him that hath understanding seeketh knowledge; but the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness." It is the feast of " knoicledge " - above all, of divine knowledge. He who has "understanding" - who is enlightened of God, and discerns the excellence and glory of divine truth - " seeketh " such knowledge. From experience of the enjoyment already imparted by it, he seeks more, and
still more - the appetite growing by gratification, delighted with every new discovery, yet never thing of the old.* - And that in " seeking knowledge" the idea of "feasting " on it is included, is evident from the terms of the antithesis : - " but the mouth of fools feedeth on foolishness." That is what they like; that is, therefore, what they seek, and from which they have their own poor and pitiful enjoyment. "What feasts the very soul of the wise and good, to him is tasteless and even nauseous. - In regard to religion itself they " feed on foolishness." They are taken with everything, how absurd soever it may be, that serves the present purpose of keeping all quiet within; that lets conscience alone; that dispenses with serious thought, and, preventing inward disturbance, allows them to go on easily and comfortably in " the sight of their eyes and the imagination of their hearts." * 1 Peter ii. 1-3.
44 LECTURE XXXIX. They have a relish for all doctrines of this easy un-annoying description, - that " prick not their hearts " - that embitter not present sweets "by any forebodings of the future - that " prophesy smooth things, and cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before them " - the scarer of their thoughtless mirth and sinful gratification. They have an appetite for everything of that kind, and cry up to the skies the preachers who dispense it. But it is indeed " feeding on foolishness ;" and the folly shall be manifest at last, when that on which they have fed " shall be turned to the gall of asps within them." The idea of a feast is evidently in Solomon's mind through the whole passage : - and that, in the fifteenth verse, he designs a contrast between the godly and contented poor man enduring the afflictions of a state of privation and want, and the ungodly and discontented rich man, in the enjoyment of all the world's fulness, is the more probable from what
follows : - " Better is little with the fear of the Lord than great treasure and trouble therewith." Here we have the source and character of the mirth intended. It is, as we have been assuming, the happy serenity and cheerfulness springing from true religion - from " the fear of the Lord." And this too is the " understanding " meant in the fourteenth verse, as this fear is " the beginning of wisdom." " Trouble" in the latter part of the sixteenth verse, may be understood in various senses, either of which yields a meaning to the verse in harmony with truth. - It may signify bodily affliction : in which case, the explanation of the verse will be, that poverty with health and cheerfulness is better than wealth with such corporeal trouble as incapacitates for its enjoyment. - It may signify trouble of mind and conscience : and then the sentiment will be, that poverty with peace of mind is far preferable to riches with the disquietude of conscious guilt and self-dissatisfaction ; - poverty with a good conscience better than wealth with an accusing and evil conscience; - poverty with a conscience pacified by the blood of sprinklings better than abundance with a conscience to which that peace-speaking blood has never been applied. - Or it may
PROVERBS XV. 13-20. 45 signify, the trouble of domestic discord and broils: and then the lesson will be that poverty with domestic union and peace, springing from and hallowed by the influence of true religion, is incomparably superior to riches the most profuse connected with the absence of such love and harmony, - with alienation, hostility, and strife. What a wretched compensation are " thousands of gold and silver " for the want of affection and peace - the absence of what the poet calls " that only happiness which has survived the fall " - domestic happiness ! This last view of the sixteenth verse is specified in that which follows : - " Better is a dinner of herbs where love
is, than a stalled ox and hatred therewith." Some, indeed, would explain this verse in reference to the entertainer and his company - the " master of the feast and his guests," - and to the company and guests among themselves ; - making the meaning (and it is a true one) to be, that slender cheer, with a cordial Avelcome, is sweeter far than the costliest profusion with a manifest grudge, or with sentiments of mutual distrust and strife among those who partake of it. But the sentiment is applicable, with a special force of emphasis, to domestic life. In proportion to the delightful sweetness of the concord in which the fond affections of nature and grace bind the members of a family in one happy social circle - all being of one heart and one soul - dividing the cares, and more than doubling the enjoyments of life by mutual participation and sympathy, - all bosoms throbbing with a common pulsation, - all lips wearing a common smile, - and all eyes filled from a common fountain of tears - in proportion to the delightful sweetness of such a scene, is the wretchedness of its reverse : - and there is no one who has experienced either the sweetness or the wretchedness - especially the former - that will not subscribe to the sentiment so simply yet in effect so strongly expressed in the verse before us. There is much in the Bible that bears most kindly on the condition of the poor. Throughout it, the Lord is ever expressing towards them His special sympathy and care. Is
4 G LECTURE XXX IX. not this the case here ? Are not the sentiments of these verses deserving of their special attention and interest 1 ? If you have not the wealth of this world, but are doomed to toil and to comparative penury - think of what is here so truthfully affiamed. If you have in you the fear of the Lord ; if you have a sense of His love, and the assurance that that love orders every particular in your lot; if you have the contented and happy spirit which the conviction of this is
fitted to inspire ; and if to you the domestic scene is one of affectionate and delightful harmony, all hallo wed and blessed by the same holy and heavenly principle of "pure religion and undefiled " - why should you be " envious at the foolish, when you see the prosperity of the wicked?" If the abundance of the man of this world is associated with trouble, or with discord, or with hatred - and above all with Mis displeasure who " hateth all the workers of iniquity " - would you exchange conditions with such 1 o, my " brethren of low degree, you would not." ever was there a spirit that enjoyed such perfect peace as His who said - " Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests ; but the Son of Man hath not where to lay his head." And He says to every one of his followers - " Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you : nut as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." That peace may be found in the bosom and at the board of the poorest among you ; and, possessing it, you will let the man of earth enjoy his " stalled ox," and sit down in contented cheerfulness to your " dinner of herbs" - your scanty but divinely provided and blessed feast of love. And well were it if the minds of the young were early ami deeply imbued with the spirit and sentiment of these verses ; - if they had early instilled into them just conceptions of the nature and sources of true happiness, lest they fall into the fatal but sadly prevalent delusion that wealth insures it ; and thus make wealth their leading star - their first and unceasing aim ! - My young friends, these verses contain truth divine truth - truth authenticated by the recorded experience of ages - truth that cannot fail, so obvious is it, to come home fully to the convictions cf your judgments. It is the same
PROVEPwBS XV. 13-20. 4? truth as that so forcibly stated and illustrated by "the faithful witness" - the Lord Jesus himself.'"' And with What self-evidencing simplicity is the sentiment expressed by the apostle, when he says, " Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and
it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment, let us be therewith content," 1 Tim. vi. 6 - 8. They who have " godliness with contentment," " have all and abound." They have a treasure in the heart - a treasure in the house - and a treasure in heaven; - a treasure for time, and a treasure for eternity ! Verse 18. "A wrathful man stirreth up strife : but he that is slow to anger appeaseth wrath." - Some would connect this verse with the preceding; and, according to this supposed connection, the meaning is, that a passionate man is a disturber of the peace and enjoyment of the quietest and happiest company. It may, however, be understood more generally, as depicting the hasty, hot, resentful spirit, which startles touchily at every word or look ; finds meanings in them that have no existence but in a perverted fancy ; catches fire in a moment ; breathes vengeance ; and by high words stirs up the spirits of others, and kindles the flames of discord. In contrast with winch is the spirit that is "slow to anger" and appeaseth wrath - the meek and quiet spirit which " is in the sight of God of great price." Verse 19. "The way of the slothful man is as an hedge of thorns ; but the way of the righteous is made plain." The meaning is sufficiently obvious. " The slothful" fancies, as apologies for lazy inaction, innumerable obstacles and difficulties - anything as a reason for sitting still. And not merely does he anticipate obstacles to beginning, he is ever discovering them as reasons for desisting; finding out that further exertion is vain, - that there is no getting on, - ? that all is " a hedge of thorns" at once annoying and impracticable, - that the expectation of ever accomphshing his end is quite Utopian, - that he must give up at any rate * Luke xii. 13-20.
43 LECTURE XXXIX.
some time or other, and therefore better now, seeing if the thing cannot be satisfactorily carried out, it is wise not to expend more useless toil. And he will argue this with no little plausibility ; for " the sluggard is wiser in his own conceit than seven men that can render a reason." On the contrary, "the way of the righteous" - of him whose heart, under the influence of right principles, is set on the right discharge of duty - " is made plain." It is cast up; it is paced. God whom he serves, makes obstacles diminish and disappear before him. Those he feared might prove insuperable, lessen and vanish as he nears them. He is surprised to find how they give way. When obstacles are previously seen, he sets his heart to them ; looks at them in all their discouraging magnitude, and looks at the same time to God - to Him " who giveth power to the faint, and to them that have no might increaseth strength;" and in this strength - " the strength of the Lord God," he goes on and perseveres unto the end. Difficulties are thus surmounted. The way becomes increasingly "plain." The "hedge of thorns" is cleared away. "Darkness is made light before him, and crooked things straight." In the whole of your spiritual warfare, brethren, put your trust in God - in the divine " Captain of your salvation." He leads you to victory. Shrink not to follow Him. He will never leave you; let no unworthy and dastardly fears tempt you to leave Him, Let no indolence embrace your loins. Let no difficulties or dangers in the way daunt you. Press after His banner. Through Him you shall do valiantly. Let your encouragement be - " In Jehovah have I righteousness and strength." "With His righteousness to justify you, and his strength to protect and save you, you shall be more than conquerors ! Sinners, beware of indolent supineness in "the things that belong unto your peace," - in the concerns of your soul's salvation. I call not upon you to be "up and doing," that you may work out that salvation for yourselves. That
is a work of which the honour belongs to another. The Son of God is the only Saviour. You are not to save your-
PROVERBS XV. 13-20. 49 selves, but to come to Christ for salvation. Defer not this under any false impression of difficulties and intercepting obstacles in your path, frightening you from the attempt. There is no such thing. It is all illusion. If there are obstacles in the path, they must be put there by yourselves ; for there are none - no not one - of God's interposing. He has cleared all away. There is no "hedge of thorns" between you and Christ. On the ground of his finished work - the work that justifies the ungodly - he stands ready to receive you; and God stands ready to receive you for his sake. Believe what this divine Book testifies of Mm as divinely true ; and, in the spirit of felt necessity, of simplicity, of confidence, of self-renouncing humility, of grateful joy, cast yourselves, without fear or misgiving, on the riches of his grace : - " for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him."
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