The simple believeth every word. "Simple" ( pethi ) , the credulous person, open to all influences ( Proverbs 1:22 ). The Vulgate has innocens, and the Septuagint ἄκακος ; but the word is best taken in an unfavourable sense. The credulous fool believes all that he hears without proof or examination; having no fixed principles of his own, he is at the mercy of any adviser, and is easily led astray. Ec Proverbs 19:4 , "He that is hasty to give credit is light minded, and he that sinneth (thus) shall offend against his own soul." It is often remarked how credulous are unbelievers in supernaturalism. They who refuse to credit the most assured facts of Christ's history will pin their faith on some philosophical theory or insufficiently supported opinion, and will bluster and contend in maintenance of a notion today which tomorrow will prove untenable and absurd. Many who despise the miraculous teaching of the Bible accept the follies and frauds of spiritualism (comp. John 5:43 ). Hesiod, ἔργ , 372—
πίστεις δ ἄρ τοι ὁμῶς καὶ ἀπιστίαι ὤλεσαν
"Belief and unbelief alike are fatal."
Cato, 'Dist.,' 2.20—
" Noli tu quaedam referenti credere semper;
Exigua his tribuenda fides qui multa loquuntur .'
The prudent man looketh well to his going ( Proverbs 19:8 ); Vulgate, Astutus considerat gressus suos. The prudent man considers whither the advice given will lead him, always acts with deliberation. This maxim is attributed to Pythagoras—
"Let none persuade thee by his word or deed
To say or do what is not really good;
And before action well deliberate,
Lest thou do foolishly."
( χρυς . επη , 25, sqq. )
Septuagint, "The clever man ( πανοῦργις ) cometh unto repentance [or, 'afterthought'] ( μετάνοιαν );" i.e. if he, like the simpleton, is too credulous, he will smart for it. ΄ετάνοια , so common in the New Testament, is not found elsewhere in the Greek Version of the canonical Scriptures, though it occurs in Ec 44:16; Wis. 11:23, etc. The Vulgate here introduces the Septuagint addition in Proverbs 13:13 .
It is the constant habit of religious teachers to encourage faith, and to regard scepticism and unbelief as evil things. Are we, then, to suppose that credulity is meritorious, and that all doubt, inquiry, suspense of mind, and rejection of bold assertions are bad? According to this view, truth would be of no importance. It would be as well to believe error as truth, and to swallow superstition wholesale would be a mark of superior piety. There are not wanting critics who scornfully ascribe habits of this character to Christians—identifying faith with credulity, and charging the believer with folly. No doubt the extravagant utterances of some Christian people have given much excuse for this libel; e.g. the assertion of Anselm, "Credo quia non intelligo." But such utterances are not justified by Scripture or Christian wisdom.
I. OBSERVE THE NATURE OF CREDULITY . When a person is too hasty in believing without sufficient reason, and especially when he accepts statements on slight authority in opposition to a rational view, we call him credulous. Credulity is just a disposition to believe without sufficient ground.
1 . It springs from mental weakness. It is a mark of childishness, while faith is a sign of childlikeness. The feeble mind is credulous. Faith is virile, credulity anile.
2 . It is favoured by prejudice. The credulous person is unduly ready to believe according to his desires. So men say, "The wish is father to the thought."
3 . It is increased by fear, which paralyzes the reasoning faculties and inclines people to believe in the most absurd impossibility. The terrors of superstition ensnare the credulous.
II. CONSIDER THE EVIL OF CREDULITY .
1 . It dishonours truth. When a person shows indifference to the vital question as to whether what he believes is true or false, he displays a fatal disloyalty to truth. For truth will not endure an admixture of falsehoods. Therefore those very people who vainly imagine themselves to be the loyal and humble servants of the whole round of truths are the very persons who undermine the sanctity of truth itself.
2 . It tempts to fatal acts. Men act according to their beliefs. If they believe lies, they will have the practical side of their lives flung into confusion. Truth is a beacon light; error sheds a false glare, like that of a wrecker's lamp on a rock-bound coast. It is dangerous to accept delusions of superstition with fatuous credulity. Life is real and earnest, and men need true lights to guide them safely.
III. NOTE THE REMEDY OF CREDULITY .
1 . This is not to be found in unlimited scepticism. The sceptic is often the slave of foolish fancies. Escaping from Christian faith, perhaps he fails into spiritualism or some other equally wild delusion.
2 . Unbelief is not the remedy ; for unbelief is but the reverse of faith. Indeed, it is negative faith. It is believing the negative of those propositions concerning which faith believes the affirmative.
3 . Agnosticism is not the remedy ; for agnosticism is more than a confession of ignorance; it is an assertion that knowledge in certain regions is unattainable. Thus it is dogmatic and possibly credulous.
4 . The remedy lies in well grounded faith. We must learn lessons of patience, and be willing at first to creep along step by step. We need not wait to say, with Abelard, "Credo quia intelligo," for we may accept mysteries which we cannot explain. But we need to be satisfied that we have good ground for doing so. Fundamentally, a wise Christian faith is trust in Christ, resting on an intelligent ground of assurance—that he is trustworthy.
The understanding of one's way
I. THE GENERAL PRINCIPLE . ( Proverbs 14:8 .) To note, to observe, to take heed to one's way, is the characteristic of the man who is prudent for time and wise for eternity. And, on the contrary, the very principle of folly is self-deception—to be followed in turn by a terrible awakening to sobriety and recognition of the truth (comp. Psalms 7:15 ; Job 4:8 ). The right way is illustrated both positively and negatively.
II. SOME PARTICULAR ILLUSTRATIONS . ( Proverbs 14:9 , sqq. )
1 . The vanity of mere ritualism. ( Proverbs 14:9 .) According to the probably correct translation, "the guilt offering scorns the fools;" in other words, his worship is useless, missing its aim, failing of God's favour, while the righteous who has washed and made himself clean, and put away iniquity (see Isaiah 1:1-31 ), comes with acceptance before Jehovah.
2 . Respect for others ' sorrows. ( Proverbs 14:10 .) Acute distress isolates a man; he cannot communicate what he feels. And it is an unkind thing to force counsel on others at a time when they know they cannot be understood, when the sympathy of silence is best. To sit by our friend, to clasp his hand with loving pressure, to mingle our tears with his, will be far more delicate and soothing than to attempt to "charm ache with airs, and agony with words."
3 . Consideration of the end. ( Proverbs 14:11-13 .) The old reminder recurs, Respice finem. Perhaps a contrast is intended between the "house of the wicked" as seeming firmer, nevertheless doomed to overthrow, and the "tent of the righteous," seeming more frail, yet destined to "sprout," to flourish, and extend. Again, resuming the image of the way, the seeming right way is not ever the right nor the safe way. It may be broad at first and well travelled, but may narrow by and by, and end in the pathless forest, or the desert waste, or the fatal precipice, To be safe we must still consider the end ; and the beginning, which predicts and virtually contains the end. Various are the illusions to which we are subject. One example of this is that the smiling face may hide the aching heart, and the opposite ( Ecclesiastes 7:4 ) may also obtain. Boisterous and immoderate mirth is no good symptom; it foretells a sad reaction, or conceals a deep-seated gloom. Human faces and appearances are masks, which hide the real countenance of things from us.
4 . Consideration of the sources of enjoyment. ( Proverbs 14:14 .) First the vicious source. The man who has fallen away from God seeks satisfaction out of God, in something practically atheistic, in the fruit of godless, sinful deeds ( Proverbs 12:14 ; Proverbs 13:2 ; Proverbs 28:19 ). But in the matters of the spirit that which is out of God is nothing, emptiness and vanity. He is feasting upon wind. The genuine source of enjoyment is in the spirit itself, in the consciousness, where God is known and realized and loved; in the sense of union and reconciliation of thought and affection with the Divine Object thought of and believed. The kingdom of God is within us, and is "righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost."
5 . Credulity and caution. ( Proverbs 14:15 .) Credulity is a weakness, and certainly, like every weakness, may become a sin. It is the opposite of genuine faith: it is confidence placed where we have no right to place it. God, who has set up and kindled a light in each breast, requires us to use it, each for himself. To forsake it for any other is a desertion of our trust. Would that we might ever take heed to the light that is within us, and so steer our way! There is no true faith possible which does not begin with this. Again ( Proverbs 14:16 ), wisdom is seen in a certain self-distrust in presence of evil. To use an expressive phrase, we should know when to "fight shy" of certain persons or associations, So powerful a passion as fear was not given us for nothing, nor should we be ashamed of a timidity which leads us to give a wide berth to danger, to keep out of the lion's path. Over-confidence springs from the want of a true estimate of our proper strength and weakness, and the security it begets is false.
6 . Passionateness and trickiness. ( Proverbs 14:17 .) The former precipitates men into all follies. Seneca saith well that "anger is like rain, which breaks itself upon that whereon it falls." Anger is certainly a kind of baseness; as it appears well in the weakness of those subjects in whom it reigns—children, women, old folks, sick folks. Bitter, unforgivable words, the revelation of secrets, the breaking off of business,—such are among the follies which anger constantly perpetrates. But the tricky intriguing man is both foolish and odious. Listen to one of the greatest of Englishmen, when he bears testimony that "the ablest men that ever were born all had an openness and frankness of dealing, and a name of certainty and veracity." There is a fine line between the wisdom of reserve and the vicious cunning of concealment; nothing but the loving and true purpose of the heart can redeem any habit of secrecy from odium.
7 . Life a progress in folly or wisdom. ( Proverbs 14:18 .) We are ever gaining, according to the image of the text. The mind has its accretions like those of the tree, A man becomes a greater fool the older he grows, or becomes of deeper sagacity, richer and wider views. All depends on how we start. Admit an error into thought, keep it there after it is proved an error, close the mind in any quarter to the light and keep it closed, and ensure a bigoted and foolish age. Let God into the mind from the first, open daily every window of the soul to the light, and grow old "learning something fresh every day."
8 . The ascendancy of goodness. ( Proverbs 14:19 .) The picture is presented of the envoy of a conquered people who kneels at the palace gate of the conqueror and waits on his commands (compare on the thought, Proverbs 13:9 , Proverbs 13:22 ; Psalms 37:25 ). There is a might in goodness; may we not say the only true might is that of goodness, for it has omnipotence at its back? It is victorious, irresistible, in the end. It is content to be acknowledged in the end by all, the evil as well as the good. Hypocrisy is the homage paid by vice to goodness.—J.