This verse carries on and puts the climax to the lesson of the preceding. He that refuseth instruction despiseth his own soul; "hateth himself," Septuagint; commits moral suicide, because he does not follow the path of life. He is like a sick man who thrusts away the wholesome medicine which is his only hope of cure. He that heareth (listeneth to) reproof getteth understanding ; literally, possesseth a heart, and therefore does not despise his soul, but "loves it" ( Proverbs 19:8 ), as the LXX . renders.
Religion and common sense
What is religion without common sense? Fanaticism, extravagance, and folly. What is common sense without religion? Dry, bald, uninspired and uninspiring worldliness. What are they united? The wisdom of both worlds, the wisdom of time and of eternity. Let. us look at some of their combined teachings.
I. TEACHINGS OF COMMON SENSE .
1 . To avoid danger and death. ( Proverbs 15:24 .) This is obvious enough, but, unguided by religion, prudence may easily make mistakes.
2 . To avoid unjust gains. ( Proverbs 15:27 .) Every advantage must be paid for, in some coin or other. Then, "is the game worth the candle?" Will a dishonest speculation, looked at on mere commercial principles, pay ?
3 . To be cautious in speech. ( Proverbs 15:28 .) Speech is the one thing that many think they have a right to squander. There is no more common profligacy than that of the tongue. Yet, is there anything of which experience teaches us to be more economical than the expense of the tongue?
4 . To be generous of kind looks and words. ( Proverbs 15:30 .) What can cost less, or be worth, in many cases, more? "Good words," says George Herbert, "are worth much, and cost little."
5 . To be a good listener. ( Proverbs 15:31 .) And this implies willingness to receive rebuke. All superior conversation in some way or other brings to light our ignorance and checks our narrowness. And just as he is not fit to govern who has not learned to serve, so only he who has long sat at the feet of the wise will be entitled himself to take his place among the wise. One of Socrates' disciples exclaimed that life indeed was to be found in listening to discourses like his. May we all feel the like in sitting at the feet of our Master, who commends those who have thus chosen the good part which shall never be taken away from them!
6 . To avoid conceit and cultivate humility. ( Proverbs 15:32 .) It is the overestimate of self which makes us contemptuous in any sense towards others. But to look down as from a superior height on others is the most mischievous hindrance to progress in sense and knowledge. A mastermind of our times says that he hates to be praised in the newspapers, and begins to have some hope for himself when people find fault with him.
7 . To found humility upon religion. ( Proverbs 15:33 .) Its only genuine and deep foundation. What are we in relation to the God whose perfection is revealed to us in nature, in the ideals of the soul, in the fulfilment of the living Person of Christ? From this depth only can we rise; for honour springs from a lowly root; and he that exalteth himself shall be abased.
II. TEACHINGS OF RELIGION . We have already seen how they blend with those of common sense. But let us bring them into their proper distinctiveness and force.
1 . To choose the upward path and shun the downward. ( Proverbs 15:24 .) To cleave to God; to love him with mind, and heart, and soul, and strength; to be ever seeking the Divine meaning in the earthly objects, the Divine goal through the course of common events, the true, the beautiful, and the good, in their ineffable blending and unity in God;—this is the upward way. To be striving after emancipation from self, in all the coarser and grosser, in all the more refined and subtle forms of lust and greed,—this is the avoidance of hell and of the downward way. "Seeking those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God," implies and demands "the mortification of the members which are upon the earth."
2 . To consider the judgments of God . ( Proverbs 15:25 , Proverbs 15:27 .) There was a period in the ancient world when men thought of Divine power as blind caprice, fortune, fate, destiny, setting down and raising up whomsoever it would by no fixed moral law. It was a great revelation and a magnificent discovery when men saw that there was a law in the events of life, and this law none other than the holy will of Jehovah. One of the principles of his judgment is here set forth. Godless pride is obnoxious to his disapproval, and incurs extinction at his hands. But he is Compassion, and the poor and friendless, especially the widow, are certain of his protection. It is as if a charmed circle were drawn around her humble dwelling, and a Divine hand kept the fire glowing on her hearth.
3 . To consider the religious aspect of thoughts and words. ( Proverbs 15:26 .) Words and thoughts are one, as the body and the soul. A great thinker, indeed, defined thought as talking to one's self—as all our words to others should, indeed, be as thought overheard. Thus we are thrown back on the heart, and the elementary maxims for its guidance in purity. Keep it with all diligence! But perhaps not less important is the reflex influence; for if bad words be scrupulously kept from the tongue, evil images will less readily arise in the heart.
4 . To consider the conditions of access to God. ( Proverbs 15:29 .) He is a moral Being, and must be approached in a moral character and a moral mood. To suppose that he can be flattered with empty compliments or gifts, as if he were a barbarous Monarch and not a just God, is essentially superstitious. He is the Hearer of prayer, but only of the just man's prayer. To the aspiration of the pious soul never fails the inspiration of the holy God. But of the bad heart it must ever be true, "The words fly up, the thoughts remain below." Thus to view all life's relations in God is both "the beginning of wisdom" and "the conclusion of the whole matter."—J.