August 11, 2002
When we need clear guidance on the road, we often benefit from paying careful attention to the directions given to us by a GPS device. Much more beneficial to us, though, is the abundantly clear direction from the father speaking in Proverbs 5. Alistair Begg walks us through this wise advice on avoiding the snare of adultery, warning us of the consequences of infidelity. By heeding the Bible’s instructions on the joy of marital faithfulness, we can arrive at the ordained satisfaction of a godly, faithful union.
Sermon Transcript: Print
Well, we turn again this morning to the book of Proverbs, in this sort of intermittent mini-series that has now commenced. I don’t know how long it will go, and you don’t need really to worry about that; neither do I. But we’re studying in the book of Proverbs, a book which Kidner, in his wonderful little commentary, says, Proverbs seldom takes us to church. It’s not a very “churchy” kind of book. Rather, it calls to you in the street about some everyday matter. As you just go down the road of your life, suddenly you find that, as you become aware of the content of the book of Proverbs, that it’s calling to you from across the road, or it is speaking to you as you arise from your bed, saying, “Come on, now; as a door turns on its hinges, so a lazy man turns on its bed.”
And some of you, I know, have already been making your bed, to the great amazement of your mums and dads, as a result of the sermon on laziness a little while ago. Some of us, I think, have had a call concerning friendship—the importance of friendship and what it means to be consistent with the friendship of the Lord Jesus himself. The Bible has spoken to us from the book of Proverbs about how insidious a thing jealousy is and how easily it can trip us up, ensnare us, and make us far less useful than we might otherwise be. And certainly none of us were able to escape the call which came loud and clear last Lord’s Day morning in this matter of the use of our tongues—words in our lives, words that can be used to help, words that can so easily be used to harm, words behind which we try and hide from the searching gaze of God.
Yes, it’s in the realm of everyday life—in business and in leisure, in home and in society—that we discover in the most practical terms that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” This little book, says Kidner, again, performs the function of putting “godliness into working clothes.” I like that! The working man’s view of godliness. Tempted sometimes to think of the word godly or godliness as some strange experience known only by a certain group of individuals who look as though they have been sucking on those dreadful pickle things that you get with sandwiches here, whose faces look like donkeys looking over a wall, and you say to yourself, “Well, if that is godliness, you can keep it!” And I, for one, concur with you. What is godliness? What does it mean to be godly? Well, here the book of Proverbs calls to us across the street and says, “We’ll show you what godliness is like. We’ll put it in everyday working man’s clothes.”
Now, the crux question, which underpins all of these chapters, asks of all of our behavior, in every area, “Is this pattern of behavior marked by wisdom or by folly?” If you read Proverbs through, you will find that the great antithesis throughout the whole book is this contrast between the simpleton—the foolish man—and the man who is listening to the words of wisdom and who is living words of wisdom. And the wisdom which you find in the book of Proverbs is a God-ordained and a God-centered wisdom: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” And the foolishness that we find in the book of Proverbs—the root problem for the fool—is not a mental, an intellectual issue, but the root problem for the fool as described in Proverbs is a moral one, it is a spiritual one, insofar as the fool—Proverbs 1:29—rejects the fear of the Lord. It is the foolish man who says, “The Lord does not need to be feared.” It is the foolish girl who says, “I may do exactly what I please. God does not see me, does not watch over me. I have no reason for concern at all.”
Now, as you have begun to read Proverbs, as I know some of you will have done, it’s quite impossible to miss the fact that a significant amount of Solomon’s time is given to the matter of sexual relationships, whether from a positive side, concerning the nature of marriage and all of its fulfillment, or from a negative side, in relationship to the issues of adultery. He provides the disasters in order that we might walk, as it were, down the corridors, see the dreadful results of foolish choices, and walk away from them. He also holds up for us these wonderful, delightful pictures that accompany the pathway of wisdom in order that we might embrace them and live in the experience of them.
Now, he tackles both disaster and delight, as you would see, here in chapter 5. I want to simply follow his line this morning rather than jump around the book as I’ve done on the previous studies. I want to exercise—and I want to tell you this up front—both brevity and caution. I can go longer and more graphically on another occasion and in another place. There are many children here this morning, and I don’t think anything is served by me intruding on your parental jurisdiction and confronting you with questions at lunchtime that you had not planned on tackling until a little later on in the journey of life. And therefore, I don’t want to overstep my mark. However, as your pastor, I have a responsibility to give you counsel from the Scriptures. So I hope that I can be true at least to my objective.
We’re going to look at it in three sections. First of all, in the first six verses, we’re going to ask the question, What’s wrong with this picture? What’s wrong with this picture? For he provides there a picture of an adulteress, or of a seductress, and the answer is that there is a great deal wrong with the picture.
Now, you’ll notice that the mechanism that is employed here is of the instruction of a father to his son. This, of course, does not rule out daughters. It doesn’t rule out women. It’s standard in the way in which the Old Testament addresses these issues. We ought not to think that the similar challenges are not found when you flip the roles within the framework of the sexes. However, “My son,” he says, “I want you to pay attention to my wisdom.” Notice the opening phrase there, the verbs: “pay attention.” How many times in a day do you say that to your children? “Would you just pay attention? That’s all I’m asking.” Every schoolteacher says it till they’re about blue in the face: “Could you just pay attention?” Or, as he says later in the verse, “Would you just listen? Please listen. And don’t just listen, but listen well.”
Now, the reason that it begins this way is because to be forewarned is to be forearmed. To be forewarned is to be forearmed. And so Solomon provides this instruction in order that, he says in verse 2, “you may be able to live your life with discretion”—so that you’re not charging around like a fool, like a simpleton—and also in order that “your lips may preserve knowledge.” So that “your lips may preserve knowledge.” Look on the same page at 4:20: “My son, pay attention to what I say.” Same terminology. “Listen closely to my words.” Words are very important. “Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart.” You see how all the senses are processing the information—verbal information, written information, literary information. He says, “I want you to listen. I want you to keep them in your heart. I want you to read them. I want you to look at them.” Why? Verse 22: “For they are life to those who find them and they are health to a man’s [bones].”
So, for those of you who don’t read, you need to read. And you need to read good material. And you need first of all to read your Bible. For your Bible is a source of life to you, both correcting and guiding, rebuking, training, and so on. And if your Bible is a closed book to you throughout the week, do not think that in the space of some thirty-five minutes here, on the Lord’s Day, that I or the others who stand in this pulpit can counteract all that flushes over each of us in the remaining days of the week.
I’ve been reading a lot of Calvin and Luther in recent days, and I’ve been struck forcibly by the fact that they preached every single day. Calvin preached every day in Geneva. Every day he preached! The congregation came every day! That’s what we need! It’s not that we need less preaching. We need more preaching. We need more teaching. Because think of all the hours that there are in a week. And think about all the images that flush through our minds in a week. And think about all the material and the literature that gushes over us in a week. And think about how we assimilate all of that, and we process all of that. And then do you think you can counteract it in thirty-five minutes on the Lord’s Day? And some of you never come back in the evenings. Oh, you must be brilliant, that you can get by on so little! “Listen,” he says. “Pay attention. Don’t let them out of your sight. Keep them within your heart.” That’s what we saw last time—the words that help.
In the New Testament, you find the same thing: “Don’t let unwholesome talk come out of your mouth”—Ephesians 4. Colossians 3: “Since you’ve been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above. And therefore, put away all of this junk,” he says, “including filthy language.” We use the phrase, don’t we, “talking ourselves into it”? “I talked myself into it.” You can talk yourself into a piece of apple pie, even though you’ve made the most resolute commitment that apple pie is off the menu. And you can do it—at least I can—in a very short period of time, as long as it takes the waitress to make one revolution of the table. First time: “Oh, no, no. Apple pie is not in my thing.” Then you listen, and they come, and it’s coming around again, and you know you’re gonna get a second chance at this. And in your mind you say, “Well, a little apple pie…” You talked yourself into it. By our talking, we pave the way.
And that’s why words, sensible conversation, provide an antidote to foolish behavior. Sensible words provide an antidote to foolish behavior. Unwholesome talk, filthy language, greases the slopes for bad activities. That, incidentally, teenagers, is why you shouldn’t listen to garbage lyrics: because they groove paths in your mind that are ungodly, they’re untrue, they’re unwholesome. Are you free to listen? Of course! All things are lawful, but not all things are expedient. They won’t be helpful to you. The things that are helpful are the things that are pure, and are holy, and are gentle, and are kind, and are good, and they’re full of wonderful reports—and, says Paul to the Philippians, “Think on these things.”
Now, we’ve only got to verse 2. I do apologize. I must just pick it up, speed it up very much. Otherwise, we’ve got a complete series on chapter 5.
Now, the reason for this warning is so that this man may be prepared. Because we’re now introduced to this individual who appears with frequency throughout the pages of the book of Proverbs. She’s described in various ways. She’s kind of the archetypal seductress. If you let your eye go down to verse 6, you will notice that this individual “gives no thought to the way of life.” You have this notion of somebody who is not really concerned very much about tomorrow or about her tomorrows. She’s very concerned about tonight. Tonight’s the night; there’s no time now to give thought to the way of life.
Yesterday is dead and gone,
And tomorrow’s out of sight.
Help me make it through the night.
In the same lyric, remember:
I don’t care what’s right or wrong,
I don’t try to understand.
Let the devil take tomorrow,
For tonight I’ll take your hand.
Now, you don’t have to be a genius to figure out what Kristofferson is saying there. And by his words, he paves the way for his actions.
She takes “no thought to the way of life; her paths are crooked,” and she herself doesn’t even understand. That’s why he said in verse 27—you didn’t need to move from the page—4:27: “Don’t swerve, my son, to the right or to the left; keep your foot from evil. If you start zigzagging on these issues, you will very quickly run into her, because her paths are crooked. She is shifty. She is shaky. She is slippy. And she doesn’t realize how bad it is.”
Walking through Nordstrom’s the other day, I had a strange temptation. There was a lady sitting on a stool, and she was getting her face made up. And I think I’d just seen myself on the stainless steel of the escalator, and I thought, “I wonder if that man could fix me at all, if I jumped up in the chair?” That’s why I say it was strange temptation. I mean, it was a bizarre thought, wasn’t it?—and will allow you to pray more sensibly for me. But these are the things that pass through my mind. You know, I thought he was doing a pretty good job on her, and I thought, “Maybe there’s…” Anyway.
A lot of the concentration was on her mouth. I actually stopped for a moment just to watch to see how it was done. And there was a tremendous emphasis on the lips. I believe you can get your lips enlarged. You can get them rearranged. You can do a number of things with them. Because lips not only are the conveyance of words, but they also are the means of engagement—for the flow of microbiotics in that reciprocal encounter involving lips, which is also known as kissing. But I told you I wanted to be discreet with the children here.
Now, we can’t delay on this, but her lips are sweet, they’re smooth, and they’re seductive. Sweet, smooth, and seductive. Actually, when you get into Song of Solomon, in chapter 4 you find that sweet, smooth, and super lips are part of God’s provision for a husband and a wife in relationship to one another. There’s nothing wrong with sweet, smooth lips. In fact, that’s God’s design. But in this case, used at the wrong time in the wrong place with the wrong person, even that which is good and beautiful in the plan of God becomes perverted as a result of our own fleshly instincts and the inroads of the Evil One—that although it may be delicious in its prospect, it’s disgusting in its end. Verse 4: “In the end” there’s a dreadful aftertaste. You walk away and there’s a bitterness that you can’t remove. The smoothness has been replaced by the serrated edge of the sword. Conscience has been stirred: “In the end she[’s] bitter as gall.”
We’ll say more about this as we conclude, but that little phrase “in the end” is important. One of the Puritans said, “Never do anything you would be afraid to do if you knew it was the last hour of your life.” “Never do anything you’d be afraid to do if you knew it was the last hour of your life.” But “in the end, the love [we] take,” says McCartney and Lennon. See, there is a way that seems right to a man, that may even feel right to a man, but it leads to destruction. And in verse 5, this individual invites you to join her, and it’s not going to be on a detour; she’s inviting you to a dead-end. To a dead-end. You can see this in Proverbs 2:18−19, in a similar statement:
Her house leads down to death
… her [path] to the spirits of the dead.
None who go to her return
or attain the paths of life.
What’s wrong with this picture? Just about everything.
Secondly, in verses 7−14, notice that this price he describes is far too high. This price is far too high. Begins the next section in much the same way: “Now then, my sons, listen…” “Listen.” “Do[n’t] turn aside from what I say.” “Pin your ears back. Pay attention. Do what I’m telling you.” And then, notice how he puts it: “Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house.”
Do you remember as a small boy or girl—I hope you do, because otherwise I’m confessing to you something that is, again, completely weird—but do you remember, in that first initial flush of interest in someone of the opposite sex, how you would contrive of every possibility just to go past her house on your bike? You rode up, and then you rode back, and up, and back. You never saw her. It didn’t matter if you saw her. Just to be near her house, you know? You’ve got it in that great country western song, where love has fallen apart, you know:
Just because I asked a friend about her,
[And] just because I spoke her name somewhere,
[And] just because I dialed her number by mistake today,
She thinks I still care.
Of course he still cares!
Well, that’s okay when it’s in the paths of righteousness. But it’s absolutely verboten when it’s along the path of sin.
There’s nothing particularly brilliant about this, is there? You find the same thing in the New Testament. In 2 Timothy, Paul says to Timothy as a young man, “Flee the evil desires of youth.” “Make a run for it!” I was talking with someone not so long ago; he was asking advice and counsel in this area. And when I began to tell him these things, he said, “Oh, no, there must be something more than that.”
It was a bit like when Naaman wanted to be healed. That’s how I felt. You know, when Naaman wanted to be healed, and Elisha said, “Go dip yourself in the Jordan.” And Naaman said, “Who does he think he is? I’m not going in the filthy river. I thought that he would come and wave his hands over me, and he would do something dramatic, and phwoof! I would have no leprosy anymore.” And the servant said, “My master Naaman, if the man had asked you to do something difficult, wouldn’t you have done it? Here he’s asked you to do something simple. Why wouldn’t you do it?”
And I began to tell this man… He said, “Oh, I thought there was something like, you know, you could wave your hands and it would all be gone.” No, there’s no waving of the hands. There’s no “be gone.” Keep far from her house. Don’t go by her door. Run for your life. Because the price you’ll pay is far too high.
“Let me explain it to you,” he says. “You’ll squander everything. You’ll squander your best strength.” That, incidentally, is the importance, see, of being a virgin when you’re married. Because once you squander your best strength, you can never share that with someone again. It just makes absolute practical sense. We would expect it to do so! After all, God in his wisdom knows what’s absolutely perfect. And if in the bounds of marriage, then a man or a woman determines that they will step outwith that framework, then it is to do that which squanders. That’s the picture in verse 16: “Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares?” You’re not gonna run round the neighborhood like a dog, are you, that lifts his leg at every tree? (I said I’d be discreet. I’m sorry for that outburst. If your kids say, “What was that about the tree?” just say, “I’ll tell you later. It doesn’t matter.”)
You’ll squander your honor. Chapter 6, verse 32–33:
A man who commits adultery lacks judgment;
whoever does so destroys himself.
Blows and disgrace are his lot,
… his shame will never be wiped away.
You’ll destroy your freedom. You’ll destroy your best years. Why “give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel”? “Oh, well, she’s not cruel. She’s a lovely lady.” No. She has sweet, seductive lips, but in the end, the aftertaste is horrendous. “Strangers” will “feast on your wealth,” “your toil” will “enrich another man’s house.”
In 6:26, just one cross-reference here: “The prostitute reduces you to a loaf of bread, and the adulteress preys upon your very life.” See, it’s always suggested that it’s something extra—something additional, something that will add, you know. It doesn’t add. It subtracts. It’s offered constantly in the media, in magazines, in all kinds of literature. It’s held out to us as something that will make an addition. No, it makes a reduction. It is to squander. It puts us in the realm of physical danger. It puts us in the realm of social disgrace.
And sexual sin sears the sinner inescapably. Sexual sin sears the sinner inescapably. Isn’t that what Paul says to the Corinthians? Every other sin a man does is outside of himself, but when he commits sexual sin, he sins, he violates against his own psyche, his own physicality, his relationship with God, his relationship with his spouse, his relationship with his children, his relationship with his colleagues, his relationship with every single person. And forgiven it may be, but the searing impact of it remains forever. And anyone who tells you differently is talking to you from an empty head and from a closed Bible. Why do you think the warnings are so strong? Why do you think he pleads with his son, “Ah, son, don’t go down this road! Please, listen to your dad! Listen to your father. ’Cause you can never repay this.”
Now, for those of us who are sitting here and saying, “Well, you know, this is very good advice. I’m glad he’s mentioning this, finally, because of Mr. So-and-So. I’ve been meaning to mention this to him,” as if somehow or another you’re immune to it. If you think you’re immune to it, you’re in great danger. Let the person who in this respect thinks they stand take heed lest they fall.
A few years ago, a very gifted and prominent pastor in the United Kingdom left his wife and his family in favor of a friend. A tremendous hullabaloo ensued, both in the Christian and in the secular press. Among the many articles at that time was one in the Daily Telegraph, in England, written by a lady called Anne Atkins. I read it at the time, and I kept it in my files. I thought that it was very honest and very challenging. She mentioned how she could think of hardly anyone less likely to abandon his loved ones than this highly respected and revered pastor. But she said she was not surprised. She had been prepared for it for a very important reason.
And then she wrote this: “When I was younger, I used to find some Christian teaching rather gloomy. The doctrine of total depravity, for instance. I preferred to think everyone’s jolly nice, really. And so we are. We’re made in the image of God with a divine stamp on us all.” Incidentally, this is an article in the Daily Telegraph, in the secular press. For those of you who are thinking about journalism and the arts, don’t forsake this arena. It’s possible to write cogently, cohesively, impactfully in our day. For all of you in the public school systems and teaching children, don’t give up! “The Bible also teaches that we have fallen from this created ideal, and now we’re rotten through and through. All of us. I have friends who consider this deeply offensive, but as I have got older, I have found it increasingly liberating. You see, I too, am an adulterer,” she writes.
A few years ago, I was in a remote part of the world, alone with the owner of an idyllic island. As the days went by, he became more attentive and more attractive. It was an extremely pleasant sensation. I was enjoying myself greatly. My work required me to be there, and my head insisted that I was above temptation. But I’m not. The Bible tells me so. Consequently, I knew I must leave urgently. I did. By the grace of God, I didn’t commit adultery, not then and not yet. But it’s there in my heart, biding its time. Jesus said that makes me as bad as the worst offender. Happily, because I’ve always been taught that I am capable of adultery, I have always been on my guard against it. After all, it doesn’t start when you jump into bed with your lover, but months, years earlier, when you tell yourself that your friend understands you better than your spouse.
Who wants to look back over his life and find that verses 11−14 fit, at the end of your life, groaning, when your flesh and your body are spent?
Verses 22 and 23: ensnared by “evil deeds,” “the cords of sin” tying us up, dying for “lack of discipline,” “led astray” by stupidity and “folly.” You’ll say, “How I hated discipline. How I wish I’d listened to my father. How my heart spurned correction. How I thought it was an addition, and it was a reduction. How I thought it would add, and it only squandered. I wouldn’t obey my teachers. I wouldn’t listen to my instructors. I’ve come to the brink of utter ruin. And look at me in the middle of the whole assembly.”
What’s wrong with this picture? Just about everything. How high is this price? Too high for any of us to pay.
Finally, verses 15−23. Look at this passion that there is to enjoy. Verses 15 and 16 provide an imagery that’s not difficult to grasp; I needn’t expand upon it. Through 17, it speaks of exclusivity. The picture there is of the enjoyment of the physical dimensions of life and love within marriage: “Let them be yours alone”—that’s exclusive—“never to be shared with strangers.” We understand that.
It’s to be marked by exclusivity, but not in some dreadful, boorish, half-hearted, mathematical, restrictive way. Because it is to be matched also by ecstasy. Notice: “May your fountain be blessed.” Look at the verbs: “rejoic[ing].” Look at the description of your wife: “a loving doe, a graceful deer.” That’s Semitic poetry. It may not float your boat, particularly. You maybe don’t want to write it on your anniversary card. But if you understand Semitic poetry… (Some of you have to take great care about your anniversary cards.) But if you understand Semitic poetry, and your wife does, then it may be good for a weekend in the hills, because it’s a very attractive picture, all right? But the point is, you’re supposed to be intoxicated by her, captivated by her, ecstatic as a result of her.
Notice the lasting dimension of it. It’s not only exclusive and ecstatic, but it is constant: “May you ever by captivated by her love.” “May her breasts satisfy you always.” Why forsake the true in verse 19 for the parody in verse 20?
When I wrote Lasting Love in whenever it was—every so often I go back and look at this stuff; 1997, it’s a long time now—I wrote a section in here about the importance of the “ever” and the “always,” if we’re going to make sure that we don’t face marital failure. And I wrote at the time,
Most marriages don’t disintegrate because of some bizarre event that appears like a devastating scud missile out of the blue. Much more frequently, the love in the relationship gradually evaporates like a slow leak in a tire that goes undetected for a long time. Vigilance and care are therefore necessary in the everyday events of life. [And] neither superficial optimism [“Oh, we’ll be fine”] [or] debilitating pessimism [“This is destined for destruction”] should permeate our thinking. We need to be realistic about the challenges, dependent upon God’s resources, and committed to seeing things through to the finish.
One of our favorite songs as a couple is written by Eric Katz and Beth Nielsen Chapman. It’s called “All I Have.” It was made all the more poignant by the fact that Beth Nielsen Chapman’s husband died in the infancy of their marriage. But she wrote these words:
I feel like I’ve known you forever and ever;
Baby, that’s how close we are.
Right here with you is where my life has come together
And where love has filled my heart.
You know I’d go anywhere
As long as I have you to care.
All I have is all I need,
And it all comes down to you and me;
How far away this world becomes
In the harbor of each other’s arms.
So he says, “Son, don’t settle for the parody.” That wonderful song by Paul Overstreet, “All the love that a man could want, I’ve got waitin’ for me at home.”
So it is in this ecstatic, exclusive, constant commitment that we find the preservation against the inroads of promiscuity.
Let me wrap it up by pointing out to you what the Bible points out—namely, that the Bible always tackles the issues of life from the perspective of the end. Verse 21: “A man’s ways are in full view of the Lord … he examines all his paths.” That’s why we have to consider all of these issues—all of these practical issues that we’re called to about across the street—in light of the fact that there is a judgment day coming when we will stand before God and give an account.
So the Bible asks, “What will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?” Making the point: Who cares if you’re a big businessman if you haven’t taken care of the issue of your eternity. What’s the benefit of enjoying all of this squandering of your resources now if on the day of judgment you’re going to be called to account for it? It doesn’t make any sense, apart from it being a total violation of God’s command. And since the Bible speaks so clearly about the examination of our paths and the examination that we will one day face, some of us are saying, “Well, what am I supposed to do?”
Well, that’s another whole sermon in this, and I can’t give it to you. But I’ll give you the outline. Number one: practice the presence of God. Practice the presence of God. Remind yourself every day you get up and everywhere you go, “I am in the presence of God. There is no place that I can go—when I sit down, when I stand up, when I get on a plane, when I go in a hotel room—no matter where I go, I live in the presence of God.” We need to remind ourselves of that every day. As teenagers: “Well, my parents are not here. They went away for the weekend.” Who cares? You’re in the presence of God.
Practice the presence of God. Memorize the Word of God: “How will a young man keep his way pure? By taking heed according to the Word.”
Thirdly, stick with the people of God. Don’t isolate yourself. Isolation is danger. Make sure that you made a commitment to be amongst the people of God, whoever they are, wherever they are. As long as they believe the Bible and love Christ, then go ahead and have a wonderful time.
And finally, accept the forgiveness of God. Accept the forgiveness of God. There are some people—and it’s understandable that there would be—for whom a message like this this morning is pretty devastating, because it rattles around in the dustbin of sins that have already been forgiven. Some of us are perhaps fiddling around with it. I haven’t even mentioned the thresholds of it—the internet and all of that stuff. It’d be surprising in a congregation like this this morning if there weren’t people who are hooked into all of that. And you know who you are, and God knows who you are, because everything you do and everything I do is done before his searching gaze.
But for the person who says, “I made a royal hash of this, and I don’t know what to do,” listen: even adultery, as wrong as it is, is not the unforgivable sin. You’re not trapped fatalistically in the clutches of sin. God’s kindness points each one of us to the door marked “Repentance.” To enter through that door is to acknowledge that I’m a sinner, that sin is an offense against God, it’s an offense to God, and in the face of God I have no legitimate right to be let off. The only basis on which I can appeal is on the basis of his mercy, his unfailing love, his great compassion. And where is all that mercy and unfailing love and great compassion to be found? In the Lord Jesus Christ, who by his death on the cross silenced the condemnation of the law by paying the wage it demanded and clearing the way for the repentant sinner to be freed from all debts, so that we can say in Romans [8:]1, “There is now therefore no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus.”
It was this truth, when it gripped H. G. Spafford, that he wrote down in his hymn, wasn’t it? “When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, [and] sorrows like sea billows roll.” I never thought about this until I, this morning, was preaching—and with this I’m going to stop. But it struck me when I was speaking in the first service. Remember, Spafford, he lost his son, and then his family were going to the United Kingdom. They were going via Le Havre in France; the Atlantic crossing was to go to Le Havre. His wife and girls, four daughters, set off ahead of him. He stayed back because of the Chicago Fire. He was then to follow. The ship sunk, and the telegram he received from his wife said, “Saved alone.” He recognizes that his four daughters have been drowned in the Atlantic. His wife now is on the far side of the Atlantic. He must go to her. He boards a ship. He gets on the ship, and out of respect, they hold a service at the point of the Atlantic where they had identified the ship having gone down. And in the context of that, he writes,
When peace, like a river, attendeth my way,
And sorrows like sea billows roll;
Whatever my lot, you have caused me know,
It is well with my soul.
We understand that, in the throes of everything else. But how in the world does he get this verse in it?
My sin—oh, the bliss of this glorious thought—
My sin—not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to his cross, and I bear it no more,
Bless the Lord, bless the Lord, O my soul!
You say, “Spafford, what have you got that in the middle of a hymn about your daughters drowning in the ocean for?” “Because,” he would have said, “the really significant wonder to me is this: not that I have lost my loved ones, and all the pain that is represented in that. The great wonder to me is that as the ocean has swallowed up my daughters, so the sea of God’s forgiveness has swallowed up all of my sin, and I am clean before God today. There is no record that he holds against me, you see.”
And that, my friends, is the great thing—not the issue of our physical strength, not the issue of our intellectual prowess, not the issue of our business acumen. Have you come before the law of God, and it has confronted you and shown you that you have every occasion for sadness? Then would you look away to the cross and find out that in Jesus there is every reason to rejoice? And that’s why we teach our children,
Wide, wide as the ocean,
And high as the heavens above,
And deep, deep as the deepest sea
Is my Savior’s love.
For I, though so unworthy,
Still am a child of his care,
For his Word teaches me
That his love reaches me everywhere.
And therefore, you can step out:
No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine!
Alive in him, my living head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
[Therefore,] bold I approach the eternal throne.
On the basis of what? On the basis of the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is forgiveness, my dear friends, in nobody else. And every other offer is a futility and is a crock.
Do you hear God’s Word to you today? Can I ask you, are you a wise boy? Are you a wise son? Are you a wise daughter? Are you a foolish child? A wise son makes his mom happy; a foolish son rots her bones. A wise daughter rejoices the family dining table; a foolish daughter finds her parents living in tears. Our world, you see, under a disguise of wisdom, says Paul to the Romans, has become foolish—exchanged the glory of God and all of his truth and all of his righteousness for a bunch of mumbo jumbo about beasts and things with tails and the creation of funny little idols.
One final illustration, I’m through. Those of you who’ve gone to Scotland may have gone to Oban. It’s a nice little place. Rains like crazy, though, there—nearly all the time. That’s why the vegetation is so green. But if you go to Oban, on the west of Scotland, it’s impossible to go in there, either by boat or by car, without being immediately struck by a remarkable building which overlooks the bay. It’s Colosseum-like in its construction, and if you arrive in the evening, you discover that it is floodlit, and it really looks pretty attractive; it’s quite unusual and spectacular. But you should be prepared for a disappointment if you decide to trek up to it during the day. Because if you trek up to it in daylight, you will discover that the building—although it is wonderfully symmetrical and is many windowed in its structure—the building is a complete shell. There’s no glass in the windows. There’s no interior structure. It is and it always has been simply a circular wall.
This edifice has been there for over a century now in Scotland. It is known by all who visit it by the name of the man who constructed it, a man by the name of McCaig. It is known as McCaig’s Folly. It is a folly, after the French folie, a foolishness. It is one of many eighteenth- and-nineteenth-century structures which you will come upon as you visit the United Kingdom, and also visit France. They’re always impressive. They’re always expressive of classical or Gothical architecture. They have one thing in common: they are constructed to impress. But they serve absolutely no useful function. They are empty and they are useless.
What about your marriage this morning, sir? Madam? Constructed it to impress, have we? Looks okay from a distance with the right kind of lighting in the evening, but in the inside, it’s all emptiness, it’s all sadness, it’s all pain—no tapestry, no windows, no nothing.
And God says, “All my ways are perfect and all my paths of peace.” I invite you to embrace God’s way. It is the only way.
Let us pray:
God our Father, we pray this morning that your Word may take root in our hearts and minds—that as young people looking out over the horizon of life, you will help us to make wise choices, that we may become these children to our parents about which Proverbs speaks; that those of us who have been fooling around on the fringes of things may stay away from the door, may run, whether running means turning off the computer, throwing away the magazine subscription, changing my job, relocating my seat. Whatever it may be, help us, Lord. Thank you, too, that you keep us in the evil day. The fact that we’re still standing, as we think of that lady’s article in the Telegraph, is on account of your grace, your goodness. So we want you to take our lives and use them. And we pray in your name. Amen.
 Derek Kidner, Proverbs: An Introduction and Commentary, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (1964; repr., London: Tyndale, 1968), 35.
 Proverbs 26:14 (paraphrased).
 Proverbs 9:10 (NIV 1984).
 Kidner, Proverbs, 35.
 See 2 Timothy 3:16.
 Ephesians 4:29 (paraphrased).
 Colossians 3:1, 8 (paraphrased).
 See 1 Corinthians 10:23.
 Philippians 4:8 (paraphrased).
 Kris Kristofferson, “Help Me Make It Through the Night” (1970). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Proverbs 4:27 (paraphrased).
 See Song of Solomon 4:3, 11.
 John Lennon and Paul McCartney, “The End” (1969).
 See Proverbs 14:12.
 Dickey Lee and Steve Duffy, “She Thinks I Still Care” (1962).
 2 Timothy 2:22 (NIV 1984).
 See 2 Kings 5:10−13.
 See 1 Corinthians 6:18.
 See 1 Corinthians 10:12.
 Alistair Begg, Lasting Love: How to Avoid Marital Failure (Chicago: Moody, 1997), 91.
 Beth Nielsen Chapman, “All I Have” (1990).
 Paul Overstreet and Taylor Dunn, “All the Fun” (1989). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Matthew 16:26 (paraphrased). See also Mark 8:36.
 Psalm 119:9 (paraphrased).
 Romans 8:1 (paraphrased).
 Horatio Spafford, “It Is Well with My Soul” (1876).
 Spafford. Lyrics lightly altered.
 Charles Austin Miles, “Wide, Wide as the Ocean” (1914). Lyrics lightly altered.
 Charles Wesley, “And Can It Be That I Should Gain?” (1739).
 See Proverbs 10:1.
 See Romans 1:21−23.
 Proverbs 3:17 (paraphrased).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.