A hexastich, inculcating humanity on the ground of God's omniscience.
If thou forbear to deliver them that are drawn unto death. The sentence is not conditional, אם in the second line being equivalent to לוּ , utinam , "oh that!" "would that!" So the first hemistich should be rendered, "Deliver them that are haled to death," and the second, "And those that are tottering to slaughter, oh, hold them back!" The sentence is somewhat obscure, but Cheyne well explains it thus: "Some victims of a miscarriage of justice are about to be dragged away to execution, and the disciple of wisdom is exhorted to use his endeavours to deliver them" ('Job and Solomon'). In the case supposed a moral obligation lies on the pious and well-informed to save a human life unjustly imperilled. At the same time, there is nothing in the passage which absolutely, shows that the punishment of the guiltless is here deprecated; it looks rather as if Wisdom had no pleasure in the death of men, innocent or not, and that the victims of an extreme sentence claimed pity at her hands, whatever might be the circumstances of the verdict. Septuagint, "Deliver those that are being led away to death, and redeem ( ἐκπρίου ) those that are appointed to be slain; spare not (to help them)" (comp. Psalms 82:3 , Psalms 82:4 ).
Following the Revised Version and the now generally accepted rendering of these verses, we will read the first as an exhortation to deliver men from death, and the second as a warning against neglecting this duty.
I. THE EXHORTATION . "Deliver them that are carried away unto death, and those that are ready to be slain see that thou hold back." Note first the grounds, and then the application, of this exhortation.
1 . The grounds of it .
2 . The application of it .
I. THE WARNING .
1 . Ignorance is no excuse . "Behold, we knew it" (or "him") "not." Of course, this does not apply to unavoidable ignorance. But the rich should know the condition of the poor. It is the duty of the West End to investigate the condition of the East End. While this duty is neglected the comfortable complacency of ignorance is unpardonable. Further, if the attempted excuse be that the sufferer is personally unknown to us, this must not be admitted. He is still our brother. The parable of the good Samaritan shows that the perfect stranger has claims upon us.
2 . God observes this negligence . He "pondereth the heart." He reads our secret thoughts and weighs our motives. Thus he knows whether we are kept back by unavoidable ignorance or inability to help, or whether the negligence is wilful. With this awful fact before us, that there is One who "pondereth the heart," all flimsy excuses must shrivel up and leave the negligence of the needy in its naked guilt.
3 . God will treat us according to our treatment of our fellow men . "With what measure ye mete it shall be measured to you again" ( Matthew 7:2 ). Moreover, in regard to the duty now before us, it is to be observed that God takes note of omissions as well as of transgressions. The "eternal fire" is not spoken of by our Lord for thieves, murderers, etc; but for those who failed to help the hungry, the thirsty, the needy ( Matthew 25:41-46 ).
Compassion for the wronged
I. THE HEART AND HAND SHOULD EVER BE READY AT THE CALL OF DISTRESS . ( Proverbs 24:11 .) The picture seems to be placed before us of one arriving at the place of judgment, seeing an innocent sufferer yet, like the priest and the Levite in the parable, passing by "on the other side."
"To see and sights moves more than hear them told;
For then the eye interprets to the ear
The heavy motion that it doth behold."
To respond to these mute appeals from any of God's creatures is to obey a law immediately known within our breast; to resist them is to sin against him and against our own souls.
II. NEGLECT OF DUTY CANNOT ESCAPE PUNISHMENT . ( Proverbs 24:12 .)
1 . Human nature is fertile in excuses . For the burden of blame and of conscious guilt is the heaviest we can bear. But searching is the truth of the proverb, "Whoso excuses, accuses himself," Ignorance of duty needs no excuses; but excuses for neglect can never be valid.
2 . Excuses may avail with man , but not with God . With fallible men they may and often do pass for truth. At all events, they must often be accepted by those who need in turn to make them. But God knows the truth of every heart, and in every case; and to him excuses are either needless or worse.
3 . Judgment will be executed in spite of our excuses . For God is the Vindicator of the wronged, and the Recompenser of all according to their deeds. Scripture is very impressive on the sin of neglect of kindly duties to others, in regard to which the conscience is so often dull ( Luke 14:18 , etc.). Men content themselves with the reflection that they have not done others positive harm—a negative position. But the other negative position, that we have not done the good we had a call to do, on this the teaching of Christ fixes a deeper guilt. Noble as it is to save a life from bodily death, still more glorious in its consequences is it to save a soul from death and hide a multitude of sins.—J.
The test of adversity
We have all of us to expect—
I. THE TESTING TIME THAT COMES TO ALL MEN . It is true that prosperity has its own perils, and makes its own demands on the human spirit. But when the sky is clear above us, when loving friends stand round us with protecting care, when privileges abound on every side, it is comparatively easy to maintain an equable and obedient mind. We can all row with the stream and sail with the favouring wind. But the hour must come to us that comes to all in time, when we have to face difficulty, or to bear obloquy, or to sustain heavy loss, or to go on our way with a lonely heart, or to suffer some keen and all but crusading disappointment. When we are moved to say with Jacob, "All these things are against me;" with Elijah, "Lord, take away my life;" we faint and fall in the day of adversity.
II. THE RESOURCES THAT SHOULD BE AT OUR COMMAND . When that hour comes to us, as it certainly will, we should be prepared to bear ourselves bravely and well; for there are many sources of strength with which we should be supplied. There is:
1 . Ordinary human fortitude . Such manliness and strength of will as have enabled many thousands of souls—even without any aid from religion—to confront danger or death, or to show an undisturbed equanimity of mind. in the midst of severe sorrows. But beyond this there is for us:
2 . Christian resignation . The willingness to leave the whole disposal of our lives to the wisdom and the love of God; readiness to endure the holy will of a Divine Father, of our best Friend.
3 . Christian faith . The assurance that God is dealing with us in perfect wisdom and parental love at those times when we can least understand his way.
4 . Christian hope . The confidence that "unto the upright there will arise light in the darkness;" that God will grant a happy issue out of all our afflictions; that though the just man fall seven times, he will rise again (see Proverbs 24:15 ); that though weeping may endure even for a long and stormy night, joy will come in the morning ( Psalms 30:5 ).
5 . Communion with God . To the distressed human spirit there remains that most precious refuge, the leaning of the heart on God, the appeal of the soul to him in earnest, believing prayer.
III. THE INFERENCE WE ARE OBLIGED TO DRAW . If, with all these resources at our command, we "faint;"
IV. OUR WISDOM AT THE PRESENT TIME . And that is to be gaining strength, to be continually becoming "strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might." This is an imperative duty ( Ephesians 6:10 ; 2 Timothy 2:1 ; 2 Peter 3:18 ). And we are not without the necessary means. If, in the days of sunshine and prosperity, we are daily nourishing our faith, our love, our hope, our prayerfulness, by constant exercise in devotion and in sacred duty, by using the privileges so amply supplied to us, by cultivating and cherishing our onion with Jesus Christ our Lord, we shall be strong, and we shall not faint.—C.
The principles contained in this passage are these—
I. THAT ALL HUMAN NEED IS A CLAIM FOR HELP . God has so "fashioned our hearts alike," and has so bound together our lives and our interests, that we are under serious obligation to one another. No man is at liberty to live an isolated life; he owes too much to those that have gone before him, and is too closely related to those who are around him, to allow of such a course. To wish it is unnatural, to attempt it is immoral "We are members one of another;" we are brethren and sisters one of another. And whenever any one about us—whoever or whatever he or she may be—is in any kind of difficulty or distress, is in need of sympathy and succour, there is an imperative demand, as clear as if it came from an angel's trumpet or straight out of the heavens above us, that we should stop, should inquire, should help as best we can (see 1 John 3:17 , 1 John 3:18 ).
II. THAT THE EXTREMITY OF HUMAN NEED IS A MOST POWERFUL PLEA . If any sufferer on life's highway is a man to be pitied and relieved, how much more are they who are "drawn unto death," who are "ready to be slain"! To see our brother or our sister—made like ourselves, and capable as we are of intense suffering, holding life as precious as we ourselves regard it—in circumstances of keen distress or of utmost danger, and to withhold our pity and our aid,—this is condemned of God. Whether we "pass by on the other side " ( Luke 10:31 ), so as to hide our cruel indifference as well as we can from our own sight; or whether we pass close by, clearly recognizing our duty, but cynically and heartlessly declining to do it; or whether we stand awhile and pity, but conclude that help will be too costly, and so pass on without helping;—we are guilty, we are unbrotherly, inhuman, altogether unlike our Lord.
III. THAT EXCUSES WILL NOT AVAIL US . If we want to escape from our plain duty we seldom refuse it point blank . We do not say to our Lord or to ourselves, "We will not;" we say, "We would if—," or "We will when—." When our brother is in difficulty or in sorrow, and urgently needs the extricating hand, the sympathizing word, we may plead, to ourselves or to our neighbours, our ignorance of the sufferer, our imperfect acquaintance with the circumstances, our want of time, our incapacity for assisting in that kind of trouble, our multitudinous and pressing duties and claims, etc. These may succeed with men, but they will not avail with God. God knows the hollowness of these poor pleas; to his eye they are only thin veils that do not hide our cruel selfishness; he judges that nothing justifies us in abandoning the perishing to their fate, and he condemns us.
IV. THAT GOD IS GRIEVED WITH US FOR OUR OWN SAKE . He "that keepeth our soul" knows it. And because God does "keep our soul," he is grieved to see us take up an attitude towards our brother which
V. THAT CRUELTY AND KINDNESS MOVE TO THEIR REWARD . "Shall he not render," etc.? Cruelty and kindness must be cursed or blessed by the immediate effects they leave in the soul of the agent. But they also move toward a day of award, Then will a selfish indifference hear its strong, Divine condemnation ( Matthew 25:41-45 ) Then, also, will a generous kindness listen to its warm, Divine commendation ( Matthew 25:34-40 ).—C.