Arthur W. Pink (1886-1952)
"When you sit to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before you" (Proverbs 23:1). We suppose that this verse has little or no voice for many of our readers, inasmuch as there is scarcely any likelihood they will ever be invited to dine with the President of the United States or the King of Great Britain. Alas that such a thought should find place in any Christian's mind. Alas that the tendency to carnalize God's Word should now be so general. Alas that our spiritual interpreters of the Living Oracles have well-near vanished from the earth. Yet even though there be no anointed teacher available to open up the Scriptures, ought it not to be self-evident that the Holy Spirit would never have placed such a verse as this in the Word if it had no application unto the rank and file of God's people? And ought not that very consideration cause us to prayerfully seek for its hidden significance?
"When you sit to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before you." There are other "rulers" mentioned in Scripture beside civil ones. Do we not read of "rulers of the congregation" (Exo. 16:22), the "ruler of the synagogue" (Luke 8:41), as well as the "rulers of the darkness of this world" (Eph. 6:12)? Now, not all of the religious "rulers" in Christendom today have been appointed by God. No indeed, far from it. Personally the writer very much doubts if two out of each thousand of the preachers, ministers, and missionaries, the world over, have been Divinely called! Many of them are self-appointed, some of them sent out by men, most of them raised up by Satan. The attentive reader of the Old and New Testaments will find that the false prophets have, in every age, greatly outnumbered the true. It is for this reason that God commands us to "believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1). Thus the admonition given in Proverbs 23:1 has always been a timely one for God's people to pay strict attention unto, and perhaps it was never more needful to give heed unto it than in the degenerate and apostate time in which our lot is cast.
The preaching we listen to, and in measure absorb, has precisely the same effect upon our souls, as does the food we eat have upon our bodies: if wholesome, it is nutritious; if injurious, it works harm. "When you sit to eat with a ruler, consider diligently what is before you." The tragic thing is that many of God's own children today are so unspiritual, and therefore so spiritually ignorant, that they know not how TO "consider diligently" what is set "before them." They know not what tests to apply, nor how to examine what they hear. So long as the preacher is "orthodox" and approved by those whom they consider "sound in the Faith," they think his message is alright. So long as the preacher holds to the "fundamentals" of the Faith, they suppose that he is a true servant of God. So long as the preacher sticks close to the letter of Scripture, they imagine their souls are being fed with the sincere milk of the Word. Alas for the credulity of such unwary souls.
Is the reader ready to ask, "But what other tests are we to apply?" Let us help you to answer your own question by asking another. What criterion do you apply to the material food you eat? Are you satisfied if it has been prepared and cooked according to the best culinary books? Of course not. The chief thing is, what effect does your food produce? Does it agree with or upset your digestive system? Does it promote or injure your health? We are agreed, are we not? Very good, now apply the same rule or test unto the spiritual— or, we should say, more correctly, the "religious"—food of which you are partaking; what effect is it having upon your character and conduct, what is it producing in your heart and life? But we must not stop there with a mere generalization. If souls are to be helped today, the servant of God must be precise, and enter into details. Ponder carefully these questions, dear reader.
Does the preaching you listen to come home to your heart in the power of the Holy Spirit? If not, what is the use of hearing it? Does the preaching you hear pierce you, search your conscience, condemn you, and make you cry, "O wretched man that I am"? Or does it add to your store of intellectual knowledge, minister to your delight, and make you feel self-satisfied? Do not treat these questions lightly, we beg you, or you are very likely to prove your own worst enemy. Face them fairly and squarely, as in the presence of God. "Consider diligently" what is set before you from the pulpit, for it must do one of two things: help or harm you. It either promotes humility, or feeds pride. It either stimulates to work out your own salvation "with fear and trembling," or it fosters carnal security and self-confidence. It either drives you to your knees, or it more and more lulls your spiritual sensibilities. It either makes you more conscientious and careful about all the details of your daily life, or more careless and callous. It either causes you to cry unto God day and night for Him to work in your heart a deeper and more constant hatred of evil, or (probably unconsciously) leads you to think more lightly of sin—excusing "little" failures, and consoling yourself with the thought that none of us reach perfection in this life; whereas God says, "Be holy in all manner of behavior" (1 Peter 1:15).
"And put a knife to your throat, if you be a man given to appetite" (Proverbs 23:2). This is strong language, is it not? Yes, and the subject calls for it. So very few realize the fearful consequences which follow from a disregard of that command of Christ's, "Take heed what you hear" (Mark 4:24). False doctrine has the same effect upon the soul as poison does upon the body. But Satan appeals to the pride of so many, and succeeds in making them believe they are immune, that they are so "well established in the Truth" that listening to error cannot injure them. Therefore does the Holy Spirit say, "Be not deceived: evil communications corrupt good manners" (1 Cor. 15:33): not they may, but DO! Yes, even though you are quite unaware of it. "And put a knife to your throat, if you be a man given to appetite." This is plainly a word of warning for those who are consumed with curiosity to hear every new "evangelist" or "Bible-teacher" who comes to town; those who have an insatiable appetite to sample every religious "feast" that is spread in their community. That is what is meant by "a man given to appetite": one who craves to hear the latest pulpit or platform sensationalist.
To all such God says, Take yourself in hand, and use no half measures to check this dangerous tendency. It is at your imminent peril you disregard this Divine admonition. If you disobey, Satan will either slay you, or else drug and put you soundly to sleep. "Be not desirous of his dainties: for they are deceitful food" (Proverbs 23:3). Yes, he has "dainties" to offer you: that is why so many are attracted to his table. These "dainties" are skillfully varied to meet different tastes. For "prophetic students" they are spicy items from the newspapers, served under the name of "signs of the times." But these are "deceitful food," for they leave the soul starved and barren: there is no spiritual nutriment in them! For the energetic young people, there is a pleasing presentation of "Christian service," calling upon them to engage in "work for the Lord": these too are "deceitful food," for they neither edify (build up) nor lead to a closer walking with Christ; instead, they take the eye off Christ, unto the "perishing multitudes": as though God were unable to save His own elect without our assistance! "Keep your heart with all diligence; for out of it are the issues of life" (Proverbs 4:23) is God's word unto you.
For others there is a regular exposition of "our doctrines" which are indeed "dainties" unto those of a theological turn of mind. "Yes, but 'our doctrines' are Scripture doctrines, and surely they cannot be 'deceitful food'!" Ah dear friend, Satan frequently transforms himself into "an angel of light"; he knows full well that no harm will be done unto his cause while doctrinal dissertations are addressed to the intellect, and the conscience is not searched. Unless there be a practical application made of each Scripture doctrine, the heart is not touched nor the soul humbled; instead, pride is fed and the head is merely stuffed with a theoretical knowledge of the Truth. Mark this well: doctrine divorced from experimental and practical preaching is highly injurious!
What the writer and reader most need is not "dainties," but "bitter herbs" (Exo. 12:8) to purge us of pride, independency, self-love! We need to be fed "with the bread of tears" (Psalm 80:5) and "the water of affliction" (Isaiah 30:20). Only that ministry truly helps which causes us to mourn before God, which brings us into the dust, which makes us loathe ourselves. Perhaps some will reply, "I want a ministry where Christ is exalted." Good; but do you relish a ministry which gives you to see how un-Christlike you are in your ways, how little you are following the example which He has left us? A faithful and well-balanced ministry of "Christ" includes His teaching upon Discipleship, His claims and demands upon us, His precepts and warnings. Beware of flesh-pleasing "dainties," dear reader.
We pass over the intervening ones and come to verse 8 of Proverbs 23, "The morsel which you have eaten shall you vomit up, and lose your sweet words." Yes, if you are really a child of God, this is what the Spirit will, sooner or later, work in you. He will yet make your heart nauseated with those flesh-pleasing "dainties" which you now so much relish; He will yet cause you to turn with disgust from that which the empty professors feed upon with such avidity. We speak from painful experience. Sheep cannot thrive on that which goats eat! If your preacher is admired and eulogized by white-washed worldlings, you may be certain that his ministry cannot help you. If large crowds enthusiastically hear him, it is a sure sign that he is not ministering the Word in the power of the Spirit!
In closing, let us point out that all we have said above about "considering diligently" what preaching you attend, applies with equal force to listening on to the radio! "Take heed what you hear": if it does not make your conscience more tender, it will make it more callous. The same applies to your reading. The great majority of the "orthodox" and "sound" magazines being printed today, can only harm you, for they contain nothing to make you weep before God, nothing to increase the "fear of the Lord" in your soul, nothing that will lead to an increasing mortifying of your members which are upon the earth. If you have proven this to be the case, then from now on shun them as you would a plague. "Cease from man!" (Isaiah 2:22) and feed upon the Word.