James Nisbet Commentary - Proverbs 16:2 - 16:2

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James Nisbet Commentary - Proverbs 16:2 - 16:2

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‘All the ways of a man are clean in his own eyes; but the Lord weigheth the spirits.’


Whether it be from the condition in which man is placed in this world, closely surrounded on all sides by what is visible and tangible, or because our understandings have been darkened in consequence of the fall, it is certain that we experience the greatest difficulty in forming any notion of things spiritual. The finite intellect sinks exhausted by the vain endeavour to picture to itself the infinite. Who can ‘by searching find out God’?

I. Now the natural consequence of this aversion and incapacity of our nature for spiritual ideas is a strong tendency to materialism in religion.

II. There is a class of errors resulting from this principle, against which we have all need to be on our guard.—I mean false views of the nature of God’s law and of the principle upon which His sentence is awarded.

III. What is the sin of which a spirit can be guilty against God?—Clearly it cannot be any of these gross transgressions of the letter of the law, which are commonly called sins. To commit these it must be joined to a body. It must be a sin in that faculty which is exclusively spiritual; that is, in the will. The very lightest transgression proves, as clearly as the very greatest, the innate lawlessness of the perverted and therefore sinful will.

IV. It is true that you have to pass a spiritual ordeal, searching and terrible as the consuming fire of a sevenfold-heated furnace.—But you may pass through it unscathed if in the midst of it the Son of Man be your companion.

Archbishop Magee.


‘Just take these two thoughts, that the same actions which we sometimes test, in our very defective and loaded balances, have also to go into the infallible scales, and that the actions go with their interpretation in their motive. “God weighs the spirits.” He reads what we do by His knowledge of what we are. We reveal to one another what we are by what we do, and, as is a commonplace, none of us can penetrate, except very superficially and often inaccurately, to the motives that actuate. But the motive is three-fourths of the action. God does not go from without, as it were, inwards; from our actions to estimate our characters; but He starts with the character and the motive—the habitual character and the occasional motive—and by these He reads the deed. He ponders, penetrates to the heart of the thing, and weighs the spirits.’