J. R. Miller
"Let mercy and truth never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart." Proverbs 3:3. Many people pride themselves on being able to repeat from memory passage after passage of Scripture. They seem to be thoroughly familiar with God's Word. But when it comes to making practical applications of the words they have learned—they entirely fail. It is a beautiful thing to be very familiar with the Bible—but simply to have its words in our head so that we can glibly repeat them, is not enough. We need to get God's Word into our heart, which is the fountain of our life. This is what He asks of us: "Let your heart keep My commandment."
One result of having God's Word in our heart, is that we will not wish to let mercy and truth forsake us. Mercy is love toward the unworthy and undeserving. We are saved through God's mercy toward us, and God expects us to exercise toward others the same mercy. An unmerciful Christian is a contradiction of terms. Truth means not only avoiding falsehood; it also means sincerity, honesty, justice, and fairness in all our dealings. The practical living out of mercy and truth, insures for us the favor of God and man.
Everybody likes to appear well—but with many people this desire finds its satisfaction in the mere matter of dress and ornamentation of the body. The most beautiful ornaments are noble traits of character, and among these traits none are nobler than mercifulness and truthfulness.
Those who have these traits, must "Trust in the Lord with all your heart; and lean not unto your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths." Proverbs 3:5-6. What we all need most is guidance. However self-reliant we may be—we are all sure, sooner or later, to come to places in our life in which we feel our utter helplessness. We would have fewer perplexities and problems, if our faith were more childlike and implicit. Our mistakes and difficulties arise in great part from following our own way without seeking God's guidance. The only true and safe rule, is to commit everything into God's hands with all our heart, acknowledging Him to be our guide. If we pour into His ear our perplexities, and then calmly await His direction—we shall not go astray.
But we are to do more; we must "honor the Lord with our substance, and with the first-fruits of all your increase." Proverbs 3:9. Until we have learned to give to the service of Christ systematically and liberally of all that God has given to us—we have not learned the lesson of true Christian living. It is, too, with the first-fruits that we are to honor God. We are to lay aside specifically for His service first, making provision for our own wants according to what is left. To use all that is necessary to gratify every selfish desire—and then give God what may be left—is not to honor Him. Of course the consecration of our substance should not stop with the giving of our first-fruits. Far from it. All that we have and are—is Christ's, and should be used for His glory. But a great step toward a true and full consecration will have been taken, when the habit of giving first of all, and proportionately and piously, to the service of Christ and His cause—has been firmly established.
"My son, despise not the chastening of the Lord; neither be weary of his correction: For whom the Lord loves he corrects; even as a father the son in whom he delights." Proverbs 3:11-12. Frequently when we fail to remember the commands God has laid upon us—He seeks to bring us back to a life of trustful obedience by the chastening of sorrow or privation. We rebel—but the wise man pleads with us as sons of God, not to despise the chastening of the Lord. The Bible always talks to us as children. It comes with a father's authority, and also with a father's lovingness and gentleness. It is hard, however, not to despise chastening. Certainly it is hard to love it. No child likes to be chastised by an earthly parent or teacher. Of course it is not possible that we should really enjoy and find pleasure in being chastened. That is not natural. Indeed the Bible says: "No chastening for the present seems to be joyous—but grievous." Not even faith in Christ, and the grace of God in our heart, can take the sting out of chastening. We are not expected then to learn to like it. But we are told not to "despise" it. That is, we are to accept it without murmuring, without complaining, reverently, as God's messenger to us, bringing a blessing.
There are some thoughts suggested in the very words of this verse, which will help us to receive chastening meekly, in faith and love. One is that it is "of the Lord." It is His chastening. He sends it. We know that He loves us with infinite affection. He would not take pleasure therefore in causing us pain, nor would He do it at all were it not in some way for our good. We may conclude therefore, that our chastening is of the Lord—it comes to us always with a blessing from Him. In the Epistle to the Hebrews we are told that God chastens us "for our profit, that we be partakers of His holiness." The word "chastening" is also suggestive. In another version, it is "instruction." "Despise not the instruction of the Lord." The lessons are hard—but hard lessons are most valuable. That which costs little or comes easily—is not of great worth. We get nothing of value without paying its full price. We may think of God as instructing us in any affliction He sends upon us. There is some lesson He wants us to learn. We ought not to despise any instruction our Father gives us, though it is costly and painful.
When we groan under God's chastening hand we need to remind ourselves that "whom the Lord loves—He corrects." We are apt to put it just the other way. Children sometimes think that their parents are unkind when they are very strict with them, when they forbid them certain pleasures or privileges, or when they punish them for things they do. "My father does not love me—or he would not be so severe with me," a boy says. Then he points to another boy whose father lets his son do as he pleases, go wherever he wants to go, have anybody he likes for companion, who never restrains or corrects him. "That father loves his boy and is always kind to him," he says. Well, so it may seem just at the time. The loving father appears to be one who never interferes with his son's desire or pleasure; and the father who is so rigid with his son really appears to be unkind, even unloving. But we soon learn how mistaken is our thought in this matter. The truly loving father is the one who restrains and corrects and chastens—if need be.
Just to be left alone, to have no chastening, no correction, no restraining or withholding—is not a mark of love. A father who does thus with his son, is simply letting him go to destruction unhindered. The one who corrects and chastens is intent on saving his son. Chastening is, therefore, a proof of love. God chastens us because He wants to save us, and make something of us. It should be a comfort to us to know when we have troubles, trials, or afflictions—that instead of being a proof that God does not love us—it is just the reverse a new assurance to us of our heavenly Father's tender affection and deep interest in us. The man who learns these things cannot fail of happiness.
"Happy is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her. Long life is in her right hand; in her left hand are riches and honor. Her ways are pleasant ways, and all her paths are peace. She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed." Proverbs 3:13-18. It is worth our while to study what the Bible says about happiness and how to get it. Most people want to be happy, and strive to be so—but there are very many who miss the mark and never get what they seek. But those who follow the Bible rules for happiness, will never be disappointed. We shall soon find, however, that these are not the rules which worldly people follow.
"Happy is the man that finds wisdom" is one of the Bible counsels. Wisdom is not merely knowledge. A man may know so much that he is a walking encyclopedia, and yet not be happy. He may pursue knowledge into all its nooks and hiding-places, dig it out of the rocks, extract it from the minerals, gather it from flower and plant and tree, and draw it down from among the stars—and yet not find happiness. Knowledge is not wisdom. Wisdom is knowledge applied to life. He has found wisdom who has learned to live well. To live well is to live according to God's laws, which are summed up in one word, love — love to God and love to man. No one is happy who does not recognize God as his Father, Savior, King, and do His will. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." No one can be really happy who does not love his fellow-men and give out his life in the service of those who need his help.
"To help somebody up" is a far truer, surer way to happiness, than most people suppose. Happiness never is found in selfishness. Those who seek it in thinking and toiling and striving only for themselves, will have a vain quest. Happiness never lies in that way.
The use of wisdom yields larger and better returns than does the use of silver or gold. Men may lend their money and get a certain percentage of gain. They may put it into business and it will yield them a certain return. Men get rich ofttimes in a few years. That is the kind of gain that most worldly people think is the best worth striving for.
To get rich is the idea of success which is most common. But here is a secret for those who want to get rich—a secret well worth knowing. There is something which gives better returns than silver or gold in the world's markets. It is wisdom. What does this mean? Is it that it is better to be wise than to be rich? Yes; but that is only part of the truth. What is said here is that a proper use of wisdom yields larger and better gains than the best use of money. Wisdom increases continually in the life of him who possesses it. Begin with a little and put it to practice—and it will multiply. One talent soon becomes two. A child goes to school, and if he is diligent his knowledge increases.
Or take the wisdom of trusting and how experience enlarges it. The timid faith of today becomes the heroic confidence of tomorrow. Or take the wisdom of loving others. Only begin it and practice it, and your heart will expand and your hand will acquire new skill in ministering. Many a commonplace life, by simply using its plain gifts and opportunities, and beginning in a very small way to help others and do good in the world, has at length attained a measure of usefulness and helpfulness which is simply amazing. There is no other kind of life which brings such returns—as the practice of wisdom. Then beyond this world, the rewards will be eternal.
We are told that in Wisdom's right hand are length of days, while in her left hand are riches and honor. Long life is not in itself a blessing. There is a legend of one who had a promise that the thing he asked for, whatever it might be, he would get. He prayed that he might not die, and his request was granted. He lived on and on and on. But he had forgotten to ask that he might not grow old, that the advance of the infirmities of old age might be arrested—and so he became older and older and feebler and feebler. Length of days like this would not be a blessing.
No doubt true living tends to longevity. Sin shortens life. Some kinds of sin consume life, as fire burns up wood. But those who live according to God's laws will live out their allotted days. Besides, one year of wise and Christlike living, earnest and faithful, is better than ten years of selfishness and sin. Again, he who lives wisely lives forever in the spiritual sense. "Whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die."
"Riches and honor," also, are part of wisdom's portion. It may not be this world's riches and honor. True riches are those which we can carry out of this world with us—and which we can keep always. Wisdom teaches us how to use even money, so that it shall enrich us in eternity; how to lay up our treasures in heaven so that we shall find them there when we reach home. What we keep and spend on ourselves—we really lose. What we give away in Christ's name—is all we really make our own forever.