Proverbs

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Beware of the spiritual slide (C.H. Spurgeon)

Wednesday, April 19th, 2017

All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; But the LORD weigheth the spirits.” Proverbs 16:2
“Do you not know, brethren and sisters, that very often our ways seem very clean to us when they are not. I have learned by experience, most painful to my own soul, that I am not in the least qualified to judge of my own spiritual health: I have thought myself gradually advancing in the ways of God when I have been going back, and I have had the conceit crossing my mind that I had now overcome a certain besetting sin, when to my surprise I had found it return with greater force than before. Fellow professor, you may be at this moment walking as you think very rightly, and going on very well and comfortably, but let me ask you a few questions: are you not less in private prayer than you used to be? Do you not now hurry over it, do you not sometimes omit it altogether? Do you not frequently come from your closet without really having spoken to God, having merely gone through the form for the sake of quieting yourself? Your way may seem clean, but is it not foul when the mercy-seat becomes neglected?

  How about your Bible, is that read as it once was, and are the promises as sweet to you? Do they ever rise from the page and talk with you? Oh, but if your Bible be neglected, my brother, you may be just as diligent in attending to the house of God as you used to be, but is not yours a sad state of decay? Let me come closer still. Is there the vitality about your profession that there used to be? There are some in this house this morning, who, if they could speak, would tell you that, when to their great sorrow they fell into sin, it was because by little and little their piety began to lose its force and power of life. They have been restored, but their bones still ache where they were once broken, and I am sure they would say to their brethren, ‘Take care of allowing a gracious spirit to evaporate, as it were, by slow degrees. Watch carefully over it, lest, settling upon your lees, and not being emptied from vessel to vessel, you should by-and-by become carnally secure, and afterwards fall into actual sin.

  I ask some of my brethren here, and I ask the question because I have asked it of my own soul and answered it very tearfully, may not some of us be growing hardened in heart with regard to the salvation of our fellow creatures? Do we not love less now, than we used to do, those who are crying to us, ‘Come over and help us’? Do we not think ourselves getting to be experienced saints? We are not the poor sinners we once used to be. We do not come broken-heartedly to the mercy-seat as we did. We begin to judge our fellow Christians, and we think far less of them than we did years ago, when we used almost to love the ground that the Lord’s saints did tread upon, thinking ourselves to be less than nothing in their sight. Now, if it were the case in others, that they were growing proud, or becoming cold, or waxing hard of heart, we should say of them, ‘they are in great danger,’ but what about ourselves, if that be the case with us? For my own self, I dread lest I should come to this pulpit, merely to preach to you, because the time has come, and I must get through an hour, or an hour-and-a-half of worship.

  I dread getting to be a mere preaching machine, without my heart and soul being exercised in this solemn duty; and I dread for you, my dear friends, who hear me constantly, lest it should be a mere piece of clock-work, that you should be in the seats, at certain times in the week, and should sit there, and patiently hear the din which my noise makes in your ears. We must have vital godliness, and the vitality of it must be maintained, and the force and energy of our religion, must go on to increase day by day, or else, though our ways may seem to be very clean, the Lord will soon weigh our spirits to our eternal confusion.

  Do you know that to his people the divine weighing in fatherly chastisement is rough work, for he can put the soul into the scale to our own consciousness, and when we think that it weighs pounds, he can reveal to us that it does not even reach to drachms! ‘There,’ saith he, ‘see what you are!’ and he begins to strip off the veil of self-conceit, and we see the loathsomeness and falsehood of our nature, and we are utterly dismayed. Or perhaps the Lord does worse than that. He suffers a temptation to come when we do not expect it, and then the evil boils up within us, and we, who thought we were next door to the cherubs, find ourselves near akin to the demons; wondering, too, that such a wild beast should have slumbered in the den of our hearts, whereas we ought to have known it was always there, and to have walked humbly with God, and watched and guarded ourselves.

  Rest assured, beloved, great falls and terrible mischief never come to a Christian man at once, they are a work of slow degrees; and be assured, too, that you may glide down the smooth waters of the river and never dream of the Niagara beyond, and yet you may be speeding towards it. An awful crash may yet come to the highest professor among us, that shall make the world to ring with blasphemy against God, and the church to resound with bitter lamentations because the mighty have fallen. God will keep his own, but how if I should turn out not to be his own! He will keep the feet of his saints, but what if I leave off to watch, and my feet should not be kept, and I should turn out to be no saint of his, but a mere intruder into his family, and a pretender to have what I never had! O God, through Christ Jesus, deliver each of us from this.”

Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “Unsound Spiritual Trading,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol. 15. Originally preached on January 10, 1869. (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1869), 22-23.

Loose Lips

Saturday, August 10th, 2013

But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.” James 3:8, NASB

loose lips

Words possess great and lasting power. Not surprisingly then the book of Proverbs repeatedly addresses speech and its influence for good or ill.[i] As Proverbs 18:21 says: “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, And those who love it will eat its fruit.”[ii] As this statement indicates, the tongue is a formidable member, involving the most serious issues of human existence. To put it simply, the right use of words is a matter of life and death. People have no hope of consistently achieving this in their own strength; the applied power of God is essential for taming the tumultuous tongue.

The Young & The Restless

Like Proverbs, James graphically paints a comprehensive – and also daunting – picture of the tongue and its destructive capability. In describing its influence over oneself he compares it to a horse’s bridle and bit, and a ship’s rudder (Jas. 3:2-4.) Meanwhile, its damaging qualities are likened to a forest fire (Jas. 3:5-6.) He also uses other metaphors like a spring (Jas. 3:11) and types of trees (Jas. 3:12) to contrast the right and wrong uses of one’s mouth. Most dramatically, in verses 7-8 he depicts the restless tongue as a captive animal, frantically straining against its bonds.[iii] It is described as “restless” (v. 8.)[iv] Barnes explains that it is “an evil without restraint, to which no certain and effectual check can be applied.”[v] Another commentator refers to its insidious nature: “It is the kind of evil which is not merely passive but is actively on the attack.”[vi]

As verse 6 indicates, there is a demonic influence in the tongue’s natural state, for it is “set on fire by hell.”[vii] An able Bible teacher details its deadly power:

The tongue, then, is restless. Restlessness is a characteristic of the demonic world and evil, while peace is a characteristic of God and his good kingdom. The tongue is always wanting to say something; often poison that produces death. The murders committed on behalf of a tyrant come about when he issues orders. We experience something similar on the personal level when we speak evil and realize that it has brought death to us rather than life.[viii]

 This appalling phenomenon is evidenced in the lives of some of the great heroes of the faith. One moment Peter could be speaking with heavenly insight, the next he was spouting satanic error (Mt. 16:16-17, 22-23.)

The Tongue Of The Righteous

In contrast, the Lord Jesus was marked by the wisdom of His speech (Mt. 7:28-29.) Even those who were sent to arrest Him acknowledged: “No man ever spoke like this man!” (Jn. 7:46.) Peter exclaimed: “You alone have the words of life” (Jn. 6:68.) The Messianic Psalm 45:2 poetically opines: “Grace is poured upon your lips.” His tongue always spoke the Father’s words (Jn. 14:10), and His words are “spirit and life” in what they impart (Jn. 6:63.) With a word He raised the dead (Jn. 11:43) and calmed turbulent seas (Mk. 4:39.) One day He will lead praise to His Father in the future glory of heaven (Heb. 2:12.) He never spoke an idle word, or had to recant any statement. Ironically, at His trial He spoke only when it was necessary for the sake of those who were interrogating Him (Jn. 18:34-38; Matt. 26:62-68); otherwise, like a sheep before her shearers, He opened not His mouth (Acts 8:32.) As 1 Peter 2:22-23 sums His speech up: “‘Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.” Instead of cursing those around His cross, He said things like “Father forgive them for they do not know what they do” (Lk. 23:34) and to a repentant thief, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43.)

 Applied Omnipotence By The Spirit

Is there hope for fallen human beings to imitate Christ’s control of the tongue? Yes, but it demands the possession of God’s Holy Spirit. He must be at work within to check the evil use of our words and cause beautiful things to fall from redeemed lips. Only the indwelling Spirit of God can produce the Christ-like “fruit of the Spirit” which includes “self-control” (Gal. 5:23.) “Speaking the truth in love” is part of the Spirit-infused growth into maturity in Christ (Eph. 4:15, 25-31.) Being filled with the Spirit results in a different kind of speech, characterized by “psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” and thankful words (Eph. 5:18-20.) One receives the Spirit of God when one trusts the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior, for this divine Person is part of the gift of the gospel of the risen and ascended Christ (Jn. 14-16; Acts 2:32-33.)

While it is true that the believer possesses the divinely given resources to control the tongue and use it for consistent good, mature saints understand that this danger may flare up at any moment.[ix] If one is to overcome in this area of life, then one must daily depend on the Lord for the requisite help to conquer the restless tongue. As the godly poetess prayed:

Take my voice, and let me sing always, only, for my King.
Take my lips, and let them be filled with messages from Thee.[x]

 Paraphrasing the golden mouthed fourth-century preacher John Chrysostom, Bridges gives voice to the aspiration of the saints’ hearts:

Are not then the sins of the tongue an overwhelming manifestation of the long-suffering of God? ‘Woe is me! for I am a man of unclean lips.’ When I think of its power even for eternal death or life, shall I not—as Chrysostom warns—‘guard it more than the pupil of the eye?’ Shall I not cry to my God, that he would restrain it; yea—cry more earnestly, that he would consecrate it; that it might be my glory, not my shame; my organ of praise; my exercise of joy? In the inner man the heart is the main thing to be kept—in the outer man the tongue. O my God, take them both into thine own keeping, under thine own discipline, as instruments for thy service and glory.[xi]

 


[i] For instance, Proverbs refers to “words” 46 times; “mouth” 52 times; “tongue” 19 times; “speaking or speech” 18 times; and “lips” 42 times in the New King James Version.

[ii] The NET margin helpfully quotes an extra-biblical ancient quotation, saying: “What people say can lead to life or death. The Midrash on Psalms shows one way the tongue [what is said] can cause death: ‘The evil tongue slays three, the slanderer, the slandered, and the listener’ (Midrash Tehillim 52:2.)”

[iii] One writer ably sets the scene: “In the present context it forms the picture of a caged animal pacing back and forth and seeking an opportunity to escape. But whereas it is possible to secure an animal so as to prevent such an escape, this is not so with the tongue. Moreover, ‘disorderly evil’ suggests the instability and the double-mindedness of the tongue (see 1:8; 4:8).” Ralph P. Martin, James, Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 48. (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), p. 117.

[iv] The manuscripts used by the KJV and NKJV (Textus Receptus) employ a different Greek word, akataschetos, and render it “unruly” (its only appearance in the KJV); other manuscripts use the word akatastatos, which the KJV & NKJV only use in Jas. 1:8. The best rendering of this latter word is “restless” (e.g. ASV, NASB, ESV, NET); Darby has “unsettled,” which also captures the idea well. Robertson defines it as: “…unsteady, fickle, staggering, reeling like a drunken man.” [A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament. (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), commenting on Jas 1:8.] It only occurs in Jas. 1:8 & 3:8, but is found in the LXX (Old Testament Greek translation) at Is. 54:11, where it has a nautical context (compare with Jas. 1:6-8; perhaps James is alluding to this.) A related noun indicating tumult, rebellion, and confusion is found 5 times in 5 verses: Lk. 21:9; 1 Cor. 14:33; 2 Cor. 6:5; 2 Cor. 12:20; Jas. 3:16. This noun, akatastasia, appears in the LXX (OT Greek translation) of Prov. 26:28 (see bold): “A false tongue hates truth, and an unguarded mouth works instability.” [A New English Translation of the Septuagint; http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/nets/edition/25-proverbs-nets.pdf  Accessed on 8/7/13.] Another translation of it: “A false tongue hates truth, and an unguarded mouth makes confusion.” [Rick Brannan et al., eds., The Lexham English Septuagint (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2012), Pr 26:28.]

The classical Greeks also used it to describe instability, confusion, and fickleness of men and circumstances, e.g. Polybius, Histories, Book 32, Chapter 5.5; Epictetus, The Discouses, Book 3, chapter 19.3.

[v] Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament: James to Jude, ed. Robert Frew (London: Blackie & Son, 1884–1885), p. 59.

[vi] Paul A. Cedar, James / 1 & 2 Peter / Jude, The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 34, ed. Lloyd J. Ogilvie. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc, 1984), p. 70.

[vii] Extra-biblical literature also made this connection, so it was evidently popularly held in the Jewish and Christian communities of the first two centuries, e.g. “Slander is evil; it is a restless demon, never at peace, but always having its home among factions. Refrain from it therefore, and thou shalt have success at all times with all men.” Shepherd of Hermas 27:3, J.B. Lightfoot’s translation: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/shepherd-lightfoot.html

Accessed on 8/7/13. [Boldface mine.]

[viii] Peter H. Davids, New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, 4th ed., D. A. Carson et al., eds. (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), Jas 3:1–12.

[ix] During the writing of this article, the author found opportunity to speak angrily and rudely to his wife; this was tragically ironic and necessitated his asking forgiveness, which was readily granted!

[x] Frances Ridley Havergal, “Take my life and let it be.”

[xi] Charles Bridges, An Exposition of the Book of Proverbs (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1865), p. 253. [Italics original.]

Image found here: http://veteransinfo.org/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderpictures/.pond/img2_nwdns-44-pa-82.jpg.w300h390.jpg on 8/10/13.