Is “Proverbs” Utilitarian -- By: A. v. C. P. Huizinga
BSac 64:253 (Jan 1907) p. 66
Is “Proverbs” Utilitarian
It is in all sober truth a difficult affair to dissociate one’s self from one’s deep-lying convictions, even in the attempt of being entirely impartial. In search for truth, nothing may be sacred but the truth; yet the content and nature of truth must be necessarily received through the inquiring agent. In a disquisition the “personal equation” enters in as an important factor as to the grouping and relating of the facts of our observation. I therefore will frankly admit that, while putting the question, the answer is already determined for me. The idea is conceivable that God should in his own Word—the perfect rule of faith and practice—address his ethical commands on a basis of exchange for human merit. In that sense we would have a kind of bartering morality resulting from God’s inducement to lead men to good action, supposing man capable of good action, and the good action still remaining such, when determined from the hope of reward anticipated in the doing. However, the absolute authority of the command would be endangered when service was bought by the promise of favor.
The Jewish law in its legalistic constructions assumed subsequently a most marked utilitarian aspect. The pharisaic interpretation of a good living enters into the idea of a good life. They would not seriously strive to be good, unless this was advantageous to them. God’s commands are conditioned by the demands of those to whom they are addressed. But the Sovereign God who created all things unto himself, the God
BSac 64:253 (Jan 1907) p. 67
of mercy and of absolute holiness, has, as a matter of fact, to disappear before such interpretation.
Our inquiry, therefore, is rather the consideration of the passages and seeming tenor of the book which would tend to create the impression that the book of Proverbs was utilitarian in its ethics. We would show that the Utilitarian school finds no authority in the Bible. There is no appeal to the “prudential motives,” only a seeming appeal to the utility of the good. We therefore do not take the book of Proverbs as an ordinary collection of epigrammatic wisdom, subject it to a close survey as to its moral flavor, and then conclude what from the first is uppermost in the estimate, and determines the procedure, namely, that it is free from utilitarian ethics, in spite of seeming indications of expediency. The Bible having still authority for us, we turn to it for instruction and for correction, not to correct and rectify. But we would know, and so try to explain. This is our aim in this article.
There is a very fine work on the Proverbs by one of the many spiritual divines of Scotland. It does not ...
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