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Keynote: James i. 5, 6.

THE book of Proverbs gives us the application of Divine wisdom to the practical details of our walk through the labyrinth of this evil world. It is the third step in the developing series concerning sanctification, which we are considering. The soul having experienced a measure of the death of self and having begun to live the "life hid with Christ in God," needs now, according to the prayer of the Apostle in Col. i. 9, 10, to be "filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding," that we may "walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God." For this there must be Divine teaching. The life in selfhood depends upon the natural wisdom of the human heart for guidance; 319 but the man who is emptied of his own wisdom, needs to have Divine wisdom to supply its place, or he will fall into all manner of evil. This book, therefore, reveals the Father teaching His children how to walk safely and wisely through this world of sin and danger. "My son, hear thou the instruction of thy father, and forsake not the law of thy mother," i. 8. "Hear, ye children, the instruction of a father, and attend to know understanding," iv. 1. "My son, attend unto my wisdom, and bow thine ear to my understanding," v. 1. "Hear me now therefore, O ye children, and depart not from the words of my mouth," v. 7. It is not teaching as to how we are to become children, but teaching given to us because we are children, that we may know how to live and walk as children should. It is essential to notice, therefore, that it is not the question of redemption that is touched upon in this book; but simply a walk according to the wisdom and will of the Lord. And I cannot but believe that Christians would make far fewer mistakes in their daily walk, if they were only in the habit of more frequently consulting this guide-book provided for them. It is surely a great privilege in the labyrinth of this evil world, to have a path set before us, marked out by divine wisdom, walking in which, we are assured, a practical happiness would be secured to us. How eager we are to run for advice to those whom we call wise in human affairs, yet how often we neglect to consult this compendium of divine wisdom, which would teach us far more unerringly. 320 I feel assured that the careful study of this book would enable us to understand the Psalmist's rejoicing, when he said: "Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers; for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients: because I keep thy precepts," Ps. cxix. 98-100.

This book was written by Solomon, of whom we read in I Kings iv. 29-34, "And God gave Solomon wisdom and understanding exceeding much, and largeness of heart even as the sand that is on the sea-shore. And Solomon's wisdom excelled the wisdom of all the children of the East country, and all the wisdom of Egypt. For he was wiser than all men: than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations round about. And he spake three thousand proverbs; and his songs were a thousand and five. . . . And there came of all people to hear the wisdom of Solomon, from all kings of the earth which had heard of his wisdom."

Its object is announced to us in the opening verses: "The proverbs of Solomon, the son of David, king of Israel; to know wisdom and instruction; to perceive the words of understanding; to receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, judgment and equity; to give subtilty to the simple, to the young man, knowledge and discretion," i, 1-4. And in the closing verse of this chapter we are told what will be the blessed results of hearkening to 321 this teaching: "Whoso hearkeneth unto me shall dwell safely, and shall be quiet from fear of evil." See also iv. 20-22; iii. 21-24; vi. 20-23; xxii. 17-21.

But it is not human wisdom and prudence that are to bring about these blessed results. These continually lead astray. It is submission to the mind and will of the Lord. We are expressly told to "lean not on our own understandings," "but in all our ways acknowledge the Lord and He will direct our paths," iii. 4, 5. "For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. . . . . . Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men." 1 Cor. 1. 19-29. Therefore we must turn from the teachings of our own wisdom, and submit ourselves in all things to that wisdom which is from above.

And for this reason the "fear of the Lord" is put before us here as the one grand constraining motive, and power. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom," ix. 10. "The fear of the Lord prolongeth days," x. 27. "He that walketh in his uprightness feareth the Lord: but he that is perverse in his ways despiseth Him," xiv. 2. "By the fear of the Lord men depart from evil," xvi. 6. "By humility and the fear of the Lord are riches, and honor, and life," xxii. 4. "Favor is deceitful, and beauty is vain; but a woman that feareth the Lord shall be praised," xxxi. 30. In the very first chapter the contrast is drawn between the folly of self-will and this spirit of submission to the Lord. "For that they hated knowledge, 322 and did not choose the fear of the Lord: they would none of my counsel; they despised all my reproof; therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way and be filled with their own devices. . . . But whoso hearkeneth unto me shall be quiet from fear of evil," i. 29-33. The different forms of the expression "fear of the Lord" or "fear the Lord," are used over one hundred and twenty-five times in the Scriptures, and always, in connection with richest blessings. It is said of those who "fear the Lord" -- that the secret of the Lord is with them; the eye of the Lord is on them; the angel of the Lord encampeth round about them; His salvation is nigh to them; His mercy is great towards them; He will fulfil all their desires; He taketh pleasure in them; and finally that there is "no want to them that fear Him." Moreover we are told that it is the beginning of wisdom, and the beginning of knowledge; that it causes us to hate evil; that it gives us strong confidence; that it is a fountain of life; that it is the instruction of wisdom; that it brings riches and honor; and that he that feareth the Lord shall come forth of every trouble.

The fear meant in all these passages is not the fear of fright, but the fear of love. It is the fear we feel lest we should in any way grieve or wound the heart of a beloved one; and is not the fear of the consequences to ourselves, but of the sorrow to them. It is a fear which can exist only in connection with the highest and tenderest forms of love, for all lower forms of affection are indifferent to it, and cannot even comprehend it. And 323 therefore I believe that it is only the Christian who has passed through the death to self in Job, and has learned the life of trust in Psalms, who can understand this sweet and constraining "fear of the Lord," which brings forth such results of blessedness. Others may perhaps be afraid of Him, but these only can fear Him. Others may dread His anger, these alone can fear His grief. Only these in fact know that He can be grieved, for they alone know how He loves. It is because His love for us is so deep and so tender that we are able to grieve Him, for no other affection or passion of the soul can be grieved but love. None can truly fear Him therefore who do not know something of His love, and none can, I believe, truly follow Him who do not know this sweet constraining fear. For His voice is so gentle and low, and His will comes to us so much oftener in the form of suggestion rather than in that of a command, that unless our love makes us fear the slightest neglect of His sweet requirements, or the least deviation from His will, we shall often overlook them and miss them altogether. No wonder that we are told here that the "fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." For he alone is wise who follows the Lord whithersoever He leadeth, and such a following is the outcome only of this lovely fear.

The soul in Proverbs is brought here, and consequently we find a great deal said about "wisdom" in this Book. The word is used thirty-six times, and it is exalted to a place of such great prominence, as to lead us to inquire, if it has not a much deeper meaning 324 than at first appears. In 1 Cor. i. 24 we are told that Christ is the "wisdom of God." Then we read here "The Lord by wisdom hath founded the earth," and in John i. 3 we read concerning Christ, "All things were made by Him;" and in Heb. i. 2 "By whom also God made the worlds"; and in Heb. xi. 3 "the worlds were framed by the word of God." All these passages seem to me to point to the thought that Christ is hidden here under the figure of wisdom, and that it is a fulfilling of that declaration of the apostle, that "He is made unto us wisdom," as well as righteousness and sanctification, and redemption. Chapter viii. seems to make this even more clear and unmistakable, especially if the marginal references are carefully considered. It begins with, "Doth not wisdom cry?" and then gives us the words of this cry, "Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of men.  . . . The Lord possessed me in the beginning of His way, before His works of old.  . . . When He prepared the heavens, I was there; . . . when He appointed the foundations of the earth. Then I was by Him, as one brought up with Him; and I was daily His delight, rejoicing always before Him; rejoicing in the habitable parts of His earth; and my delights were with the sons of men." Surely to none but Christ can all this apply.

If by wisdom then in this book is meant Christ, and if the indwelling of wisdom means His indwelling, what a lesson we are here taught concerning the practical effect of the abiding presence and teaching of the Divine 325 Comforter, of whom we are told in the New Testament that He is to "lead us into all truth."  "My son, if thou wilt receive my words, and hide my commandments with thee; so that thou incline thine car unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding; yea, if thou criest after knowledge, and liftest up thy voice for understanding; if thou seekest her as silver, and searchest for her as for hid treasures; then shalt thou understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord giveth wisdom; out of his mouth cometh knowledge and understanding. He layeth up sound wisdom for the righteous; he is a buckler to them that walk uprightly. He keepeth the paths of judgment, and preserveth the way of his saints. Then shalt thou understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity; yea, every good path. When wisdom entereth into thine heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto thy soul; discretion shall preserve thee, understanding shall keep thee; to deliver thee from the way of the evil man, from the man that speaketh froward things; who leave the paths of uprightness, to walk in the ways of darkness; who rejoice to do evil, and delight in the frowardness of the wicked; whose ways are crooked and they froward in their paths; to deliver thee from the strange woman, even from the stranger which flattereth with her words; which forsaketh the guide of her youth, and forgetteth the covenant of her God. For her house inclineth unto death, and her paths unto the dead. None that go unto her return again, neither take they hold of the paths of 326 life. That thou mayst walk in the way of good men and keep the paths of the righteous." ii. 1-20.

All this, and more, will most certainly be true of that life which is ordered by the Lord, and guided by His blessed Spirit; and the path of obedience to the divine requirements will always prove to be a path of richest blessing.

Our Lord has declared that His sheep shall "know His voice," but we shall need to live very near Him, and have much close communion with Him before this can be. For amid the multitude of voices abroad, it is not easy to distinguish the Shepherd's voice, unless we have become familiar with its sound. At first all voices are alike to the infant, and some time must pass before it can learn to distinguish even its mother's tones; and doubtless in the learning it makes many mistakes. But the time comes when the child knows that dear voice from every other, and cannot mistake it, and when the voice of a stranger makes it afraid. And for us also, if we but follow on to know unwaveringly, "applying our hearts" as our book says, and "inclining oar ears," "seeking for it also as for silver and for hid treasure," the time will surely come when we likewise shall be able to distinguish the Shepherd's voice, and shall "flee from the voice of a stranger."

Not long ago a friend related to me the following story. A farmer, wishing to purchase some sheep, made a selection from the flocks of a neighbor, and started to drive them home. But he found it impossible 327 to induce a single sheep of them all to leave its owner's sheep-fold by any force or persuasion. In despair he called upon the shepherd, who told him the trouble was that the sheep did not know his voice, and going outside of the fold himself, the owner of the sheep stood and called them, when immediately every one bounded eagerly and joyfully out. He walked on, the sheep following him through strange and unknown roads, calling out continually to let them know that he was their leader, until he had secured them safely in the sheep-folds of their new owner. No doubt in time these sheep would learn to know the voice of the shepherd who from this time had the care of them, but until they had learned it, they could not follow him willingly, nor yield a ready obedience to his commands.

Subjection to a voice is one of the sweetest ways of learning to know it, and experimentally we shall find that each time we obey the voice of our Shepherd, when we do recognize it, it will become easier for us to distinguish it the next time. As our book tells us, "My son, keep thy father's commandment, and forsake not the law of thy mother: Bind them continually upon thine heart, and tie them about thy neck. When thou goest, it shall lead thee; when thou sleepest, it shall keep thee; and when thou awakest, it shall talk with thee. For the commandment is a lamp; and the law is light; and reproofs of instruction are the way of life:" vi. 20-23.

We must therefore bow our necks to the yoke of this Divine guidance, if we would learn to walk in the true 328 "way of life." But none can do this fully, I believe, who have not learned the previous lessons of our series. Self must be dead, and Christ must be known to be all in all, before the soul can everywhere and always take His yoke upon it, and learn of Him. Our own wisdom must have failed utterly, before we can submit in all things to Divine wisdom. And therefore but few comparatively reach this stage. Believers are crying out everywhere, "Oh! that I might know the Shepherd's voice!" But they shrink frown the steps that must be taken in order to learn it. Their bemoanings are like the bemoanings of Ephraim, "Thou hast chastised me, and I was chastised, as a bullock unaccustomed to the yoke." For there is no other way. If we would walk where Christ walks, we must have on His yoke, and if we will not take it on lovingly and gladly, He will be compelled to put it upon us with chastisements and severity. A farmer's wife once said to me, that it had often been a great lesson to her, to watch the young oxen being trained to wear the yoke, and to see how much severe discipline was needed, which might all have been spared, had the animals but been docile enough to have bowed their necks to the yoke willingly and without resistance.

To take the yoke of Christ upon us, means, I think that we give up utterly our own freedom of will to Him, and consent to be in all things led and guided by His voice. This voice will be made known to us, I believe, in three ways; through the Scriptures, through providential 329 circumstances, and through a divine conviction produced in the soul by the Holy Spirit; and we have a right to ask that we may clearly distinguish it, before being re­quired to act. But when once we know it, nothing but obedience will do, and to the truly obedient soul the yoke proves to be indeed an easy one, and the burden light.

"Dole not thy duties out to God,

But let thy hand be free;

Look long at Jesus, His sweet blood,

How was it dealt to thee?

"The perfect way is hard to flesh,

It is not hard to love;

If thou wert sick for want of God,

How swiftly wouldst thou move!

"No outward helps perfection needs; --

Keep thy heart calm all day,

And catch the words the Spirit there

From hour to hour may say.

"Then keep thy conscience sensitive;

No inward token miss:

And go where grace entices thee; --

Perfection lies in this.

"Be docile to thy unseen Guide,

Love Him as He loves thee;

Time and obedience are enough,

And thou a saint shalt be."

The "voice of the stranger" is warned against in this book under the figure of the "strange woman," whose 330 house we are told "inclineth unto death" and "whose guests are in the depths of hell," ii 16-19; v. 3-5; ix. 13-18. Some have thought this "strange woman" means the Babylon of Revelation, that "great whore which did corrupt the earth with her fornication," and which is plainly a corrupt form of religion; Rev. xix. 2. See also Rev. xvii. 1-6, and xviii. But whether this be so or not, the warnings against this "strange woman" apply to any form of evil that draws away the heart from the voice of heavenly wisdom, whether this divine voice is heard inwardly in the soul, or comes to us outwardly in the written word of our Lord, or in His providential dealings.

The practical teaching of divine wisdom given us in this book, reaches into many details of private and public life, and is worthy of far more careful study than it generally receives, teaching us also that nothing is too insignificant for His notice or advice. We are shown here what things are an abomination to the Lord. "These six things doth the Lord hate; yea, seven are an abomination unto Him: a proud look, (or, as the margin has it, haughty eyes,) a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, an heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, a false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren," vi. 16-19. Also in other verses we are told that "they of a froward heart," a "false balance," "divers weights and divers measures," the "sacrifice of the wicked," the "way of the wicked," the "thoughts 331 of the wicked," "every one that is proud in heart," he that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just," all these are declared to be an "abomination to the Lord."

We are also taught what are the things likely to bring us into outward trial and difficulty. and are warned against them; and are encouraged in paths that will lead to outward prosperity and peace. I cannot go into these details here. But I would repeat again, what I said at first, that this book is a blessed gift of wisdom to us, who feel ourselves so far from wise and that it is great grace in our Lord to have condescended to apply His wisdom, thus, to the details of our lives, in the midst of this world's confusion, because of sin.

Let us come to it, then, beloved readers, with receptive and submissive hearts, prepared to yield a glad obedience to what we find here; and prepared also to listen more attentively and obediently than ever to the inward voice as well, relying with perfect confidence upon our Lord's own promise, "When He, the Spirit of truth, is come, He will guide you into all truth;" and "He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance whatsoever I have said unto you." This blessed doctrine of the direct and personal teaching and guiding of the Holy Spirit has been too much neglected in the Church, and great loss has been the result. But that it is a glorious reality, and within the reach of even the most unlearned believer, thousands of witnesses can testify, who have given themselves up to a "walk in the 332 Spirit," and who have found themselves led, perhaps by ways they knew not, into the green pastures and beside the still waters, where the little flock who follow the good Shepherd whithersoever He leadeth, always feed. "For wisdom's ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." And the heart that "wholly follows" the Lord, as Caleb did, shall, like him, enter into the possession of an inheritance, which none others can conquer. Joseph Cook says, "Whenever your conscience is made fully supreme, its yoke by irresistible natural law will transform itself into a crown. This constant experience you will have at every fork of the way; and rising through such continual steppings, we may, even in our present low estate, approach the bliss of the upper ranges of being, even of those who have never sinned, and of that Nature which was revealed on earth once as the fullness of Him that filleth all in all."

If any doubt the truth of this, let them try the experiment of an utter yielding to God at every step of their way, and I feel sure they will be amazed at the rapidity with which their souls will climb toward these wondrous heights of divine fellowship and bliss. Let our obedience but keep pace with the outmost verge of our light, and our happiness will reach even here and now, to the joys of the "upper ranges of being," and a blessed foretaste of Heaven will be granted us. But without this utter surrender, we cannot expect to advance in the divine path; and the lesson of Proverbs therefore must necessarily be learned, before the soul can take the next step 333 in its progress, and come to know the vanity of the world and all it has to give, as in Ecclesiastes.

"Happy, therefore, is the man that findeth wisdom, and the man that getteth understanding: for the merchandise of it is better than the merchandise of silver and the gain thereof than fine gold. She is more precious than rubies, and all things thou canst desire are not to be compared unto her."

Texts illustrating Divine guidance:  -- John xiv. 16, 17; xv. 26; xvi. 13-15Luke i. 79John x. 3, 4Ps. xxv. 9Ps. xxxii. 8Ps. xxxi. 3Ps. xlii. 3Ps. xlviii. 14Ps. lxxviii. 52, 72Ps. cxxxix. 10, 24Isaiah xlii. 16Isaiah xlviii. 17Is. xlix. 10Is. lvii. 18Is. lviii. 111 John ii. 20, 27Matt. x. 19, 20Acts ii. 4; x. 10-16, 19, 20, with xi. 7-9, 12;  Gal. v. 16, 18Acts xiii. 2; xvi. 6, 7; viii 29; xxi. 4I Cor. xii. 4-11; ii. 10Rom. viii. 5Gal. v. 25;  2 Pet. i. 21;  1 Cor. ii. 13; Type, Num. xi. 15-22.

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