A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
Of Augustus Caesar it is said, that when he read the works of men of learning and genius, he used to extract such precepts as might prove useful to him in his government. This part of his conduct manifested wisdom; the precepts thus collected, served to assist him and his ministers in managing the affairs of the empire. But the necessity of our imitating this part of his conduct, has been in a great measure superseded by that Spirit of truth, under whose guidance Solomon wrote his Proverbs, and transmitted them to future ages for their instruction in righteousness. In this little book there appears more wisdom than in the combined monuments of Greek and Roman learning. The wisest of men wrote it, and his object is to make us wise. But a greater than Solomon is here, for Wisdom speaks in her own person. The first nine chapters are a preface to the book. In it Solomon recommends to our study, that wisdom which he designs to teach, and insists on some of her most useful precepts.
In this chapter, Solomon gives us an account of the writer, and the design, of this book. He recommends the fear of the Lord, a dutiful regard to the instructions of parents, and diligence in guarding against the temptations of bad company — as principal parts of wisdom. It is concluded with an earnest call to the unwise to learn wisdom. Let us hear, first, what Solomon has to say, for recommending this much neglected book to our attention.
Proverbs 1:1."The Proverbs of Solomon, the son of David, King of Israel." This book consists of proverbs, which are wise, and short sayings of great use to direct us in the conduct of life. Proverbs were much valued in ancient times. But no proverbs deserve so much esteem and attention as these, for they are the proverbs of Solomon, another name almost for wisdom. In his days he was honored like an angel of God, for his understanding. All kings that heard of him, admired him, and thought themselves happy if they could hear some of his wise instructions. The Queen of Sheba came from the uttermost parts of the earth to hear his wisdom; although she had not heard the half of what she found to be true concerning him — yet even these imperfect accounts were such as to exceed her belief.
Did she come so far, upon uncertain reports, to hear his wisdom? And shall not we receive with gladness his instructions, since he has come to us, to be our teacher? We have no need to cross dangerous seas, and travel into distant countries, to hear the lectures of this divine teacher — he cries to us in our streets, he talks with us in our closets. He died some thousands of years ago — but he yet speaks.
Though Solomon had been the son of some poor herdsman — his wisdom would have entitled him to our respect. But this wisest of men, was the son of the best of men. He who was raised on high — the anointed of the God of Jacob — the man after God's own heart — was his father. This wise son enjoyed all the advantages to be expected from the instructions and the example, the prayers and the blessings, of so good a father. Solomon was a prophet, and the son of a prophet — he was the son of the best of kings; and of the many sons whom God had given to David, he was chosen to fill his father's throne.
Great men are not always wise — and except from their own subjects, the words of kings are seldom entitled to more regard than those of other men. But it was in Israel, where God was well known, that Solomon was king — and he was advanced to that dignity, because he was the worthiest of it in the kingdom.
These words are the instructions of that king who excelled all the kings of the earth in wisdom and grandeur. This great prince is our teacher; but not he alone — the only wise God here condescends to become our instructor. He, then, who disregards this book, despises a greater than Solomon. This book is the work of a noble writer, and truly it was written with a noble design.
Proverbs 1:2."To know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding." To give us the knowledge of wisdom, and that instruction by which knowledge is conveyed into our minds. For man is born without wisdom, and without instruction must continue foolish all his days.
The words of understanding are the instruction of wisdom, and this book will lead the simple and inexperienced to perceive these words. But what sort of wisdom is it that Solomon means to teach in this book? The best kind of wisdom!
Proverbs 1:3."To receive the instruction of wisdom; justice, and judgment, and equity." The careful reader of this book will receive the instructions of that wisdom which directs men to practice justice, regulated by discretion, and tempered by moderation and mercy. It teaches us our duty to God and man, and leads us in every good path. Solomon could have given us lectures on Astronomy and Poetry, on the nature of birds and beasts, and everything that attracts the curiosity of men — but as the wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way, he is directed by the Spirit of God to give us in this book the instructions of divine and moral wisdom, to remain for the use of men until the last posterity.
They thought themselves happy that were admitted to hear the discourses of this great philosopher, while he lived among men. But the best of his instructions are left on record for our benefit. The best knowledge is the knowledge of God, and of Christ — who is his representing image to men; and holiness, which is the image of God in men. The most necessary truths are first to be learned, and these are clearly represented in this little book. But who are the people that may receive benefit from it? This you may learn from the next verse.
Proverbs 1:4."To give prudence to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion." Plato wrote on the door of his Academy, "Let no man unskilled in Geometry come hither." Solomon writes the very reverse on the door of his school: "Let the simple man who is easily deceived come hither — and he shall learn that prudence which is necessary to preserve him from the snares of the destroyer, and is yet fully consistent with integrity. Let the young and inexperienced come and learn knowledge and discretion."
Which of us does not need prudence to preserve us from the wiles of the great deceiver and his agents? This book not only teaches — but gives prudence to the simple. When its truth enters into the soul, and takes possession of the heart through the grace of the Spirit who dictates the Scriptures, and makes use of them as his instrument of illumination — then the simple are made wise, and the hearts of the rash understand knowledge.
It would be our happiness if we understood our own simplicity, that we might thankfully receive the instructions of wisdom, and fervently pray for the Spirit of God to open our ears and seal our instructions. If any man would be wise in this world, let him become a fool, that he may be wise.
People to whom books are dedicated, may be expected to give them a careful perusal. Solomon dedicates this book to the young, as well as to the simple. He knew that young people stand in great need of advice and direction, and earnestly desired to do them good; and could they be persuaded to accept Solomon as their teacher — he will speak to them with the kindness of a father, and communicate to them knowledge and discretion. But is this book of no use but to the unwise and the untaught? It is of great use to the wise also — and if men are truly wise, they will value it above much fine gold, and by the diligent use of it, will greatly improve in wisdom.
Proverbs 1:5."A wise man will hear, and will increase learning; and a man of understanding shall attain unto wise counsels." This book contains wise counsels for directing a man under every perplexing difficulty in the way of peace and safety, and enabling him to give the most seasonable and prudent counsels to others. How precious are wise counsels! and what a treasure is a wise counselor to his friends and neighbors! This book will also enable a wise man,
Proverbs 1:6."To understand a proverb, and the interpretation thereof — the words of the wise, and their dark sayings." The dark sayings of fools and triflers are not worth a thought — but the dark sayings of the wise are worthy to be studied until we obtain a complete knowledge of their meaning. For they are dark at first hearing only, on account of the sublimity of their views, and the force of their manner of expression, which contains much useful instruction in small compass.
Are we old or young, wise or unwise? Here is milk for babes, and strong meat for those who are of full age. Here are plain instructions for the ignorant — and depths of wisdom proper to exercise and enrich the minds of the most intelligent. Let us attend, and learn, and practice.
It is Solomon the son of David, and king of Israel, who speaks. He speaks to the simple and inexperienced — and to the wise. He speaks of the most important points of truth.
And a greater than Solomon is here. Christ spoke by his Spirit in the prophets, and he still speaks from Heaven to us — he speaks by his word and by his Spirit. He opens the understandings of men, that they may understand the Scriptures. Christ is the Word and the Wisdom of God — and he is made to us wisdom. Let us depend upon him as our wisdom, that his Spirit may write in our hearts the things written in this book. So shall we be the epistle of Christ, written not with pen and ink — but with the Spirit of the living God — and our lives will be living commentaries on the proverbs of Solomon.
Some of the most necessary parts of wisdom are explained and enforced from the 7th to the 17th verse. The first of these is that,
Proverbs 1:7."The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." The fear of the Lord, so often recommended in this book, is not that fear which has torment in it, and is excluded by love. Rather, it is that fear which is joined with faith, and keeps it from degenerating into presumption — while faith keeps fear from sinking into despondency. It is a lively impression of the excellency of God upon the soul, whereby a man is disposed to walk before him unto all pleasing — and to put far away everything provoking and offensive to the eyes of his glory. It is therefore justly made to signify the whole of religion in the heart and life of man.
Great commendations are bestowed on "the fear of the Lord" in Scripture. It makes a chief part in the noble characters of Abraham and Job, and here Solomon tells us that it is the beginning, the ground-work, and the comprehensive sum of all true knowledge. He who lacks the fear of the Lord, does not know him — and he who knows not God, knows nothing as he ought to know it. He knows neither his business in life, nor his happiness.
A rational creature without the fear and knowledge of God, is like a soldier who never saw a sword, or a lawyer who never read a law of the land. But he who knows the Lord so as to fear him — knows Christ, through whom we see those glorious perfections that are the object of our reverence. He knows his duty and happiness — and he is on the plain road to the knowledge of everything necessary to make the man of God perfect.
Let no man say that this kind of knowledge deserves not our study, because it is generally despised. It is indeed despised — but by whom? The wise man tells us, "But fools despise wisdom and instruction." Who would despise a diamond, because an idiot would not give his rattle for it? It is no dishonor to the divine wisdom to be despised by any man — but it is the utmost dishonor to any man to despise the wisdom of God. He is an unreasonable and foolish man who has not the fear of the Lord. The next part of doctrine taught by the wise man, respects the reverence due to the instructions of parents.
Proverbs 1:8."My son, hear the instruction of your father, and forsake not the law of your mother." This exhortation speaks to us as unto children. Solomon is entitled to the authority, and addresses us with the tenderness of a father. If such, then, is the affection with which he addresses us — then surely we owe him the reverence of children.
God is our heavenly Father. All his precepts are the expressions of divine goodness, and we are unnatural to our Maker if we forget them.
It is here supposed that parents will instruct their children. They are monsters rather than parents, who do not love the fruit of their own bodies. Love will dispose people to do all the good they can to the objects of it — and the best thing that can be done for children, is to teach them the fear of the Lord. To be careful about providing the supports of life, or raising portions for children, without taking care of their souls — is like taking care of the clothes, and being indifferent about the body that wears them.
"O you people," cried an ancient philosopher, "why do you toil in raising estates for your children, and neglect to prepare them by needful instructions for enjoying them?"
Mothers are to instruct their children, as well as fathers. Solomon gratefully remembered the instructions he received in his younger years from Bathsheba — and the last chapter of this book contains the noble instructions which a wise king had learned from his mother. Perhaps the reason why the names of the mothers of the kings of Judah are recorded along with their characters is, because the lessons and example of their mothers had a considerable influence in forming their behavior.
Children are required to hear, and reverence, and obey the instructions of their fathers. Next to the duties we owe immediately to God, the commandments require us to obey our parents in the Lord. He who despises his earthly father, is no doubt a despiser of the heavenly Father. A proper regard to the wise and godly instructions of parents, gives a happy presage of good behavior in after life. Vice and ruin, on the other hand, are the ordinary consequences of disrespect to these natural guardians of our tender years.
The sages of heathen antiquity, though themselves born of women, usually held them in such small respect, that they almost confined to the father, precepts that regarded filial duty. The more enlarged wisdom of Solomon, however, pleads the cause of the mother in forcible words. The instructions of a mother are to be considered by us as a law that we are never to forsake. When old, she is still entitled to our respect; and we are never to leave those good paths into which her affectionate care has directed our steps.
But what advantage is proposed to us by attending to the voice of parental admonition?
Proverbs 1:9."They will be a graceful ornament for your head, and a chain to adorn your neck." Young people are generally fond of fine clothes, and of ornaments to their bodies — but with regard to this, Solomon here sets their notions right. Reverence to parents, a dutiful regard to their instructions, and the wisdom which is learned from them — is by far the most beautiful ornament. It will make the face to shine; it will be a chain to adorn the neck; it will be a graceful ornament, more beautiful than a crown of gold, to the head.
With such ornaments was our Lord himself arrayed, while he dwelt among us. He was subject to his parents — though himself their Maker and Savior. Young people are generally disposed to hearken to advice — but because human nature is in a corrupt state, they are generally more prone to follow bad advice than good.
Having therefore exhorted them to reverence and to obey God and their parents, Solomon now proceeds to warn them against hearkening to the enticing words of seducers to sin, verse 10-19.
Proverbs 1:10."My son, if sinners entice you, do not consent!" Sinners have generally so much of the venom of the old serpent in them, that they do not wish to go unattended to Hell — but desire to make others as much the children of the devil as themselves. Sinners, after complying with the suggestions of their tempter, generally proceed from evil to worse — until they become devils themselves, and aid their master in ruining others!
The young ought to remember that they will meet with evil advisers — and if so, how firmly should they resolve, through the grace of God, to hold on in the way of virtue, and to refuse the least compliance with that advice which causes to err from the words of knowledge! Solomon arms us against these deceivers, by making us acquainted with their subtle devices.
Proverbs 1:11."If they say, Come with us, let us lay wait for blood, let us lurk secretly for the innocent without cause." These are not the express words of seducers — but a translation of them into the language of truth. They will say, 'Come let us pick the pocket of some covetous miser, who has made himself rich by cunning, and scraped money together by such cowardly practices, as cannot expose him to the vengeance of the law.'
Solomon does not tell us the express words of the tempter — but puts into his mouth such language as expresses the real meaning and tendency of his solicitations. When transgressors varnish over their crimes, it is our part to pluck off the false covering, and to represent sin to ourselves in its true colors, and in its tendency to other iniquities of deeper aggravation.
When the drunkard invites us to go to the tavern, and drink a cheerful glass with him — let his words sound in our ears as if he had said, 'Let us go to the tavern, and there drown our reason, and make ourselves monsters!'
When another desires us to take a hand at cards — let us take his meaning to be, 'Come, let us rob our friend of his money, without incurring the pains of law!'
Perhaps those men whom the tempters here spoken of wish to rob or kill — may be like themselves, strangers to every good way. But they are innocent in comparison with those pests of society, who plot against their property or their lives. The treasons of Abner and Amasa, did not exempt Joab, their murderer, from the guilt of innocent blood.
These tempters to iniquity will try to persuade the inexperienced, that there is no danger of being detected.
Proverbs 1:12."Let us swallow them up alive as the grave, and whole as those who go down to the pit!" That is, 'We shall manage matters in such a manner, as that there cannot be even the possibility of detection. So well concerted shall our plans be, that the thing will be as effectually concealed from public view, as those bodies which are covered by the grave.'
Vain hopes! Can men flatter themselves that they shall escape the righteous judgment of God? Even in this life, murderers seldom escape punishment. But what though men neither see nor suspect? Conscience sees, and the great Avenger of blood sees. The assembled world shall know their crimes, shall hear their sentence, and witness their punishment!
The devil told our Lord that he would give him all the kingdoms and glories of the world, if he would comply with his persuasions. The ministers of Satan in like manner endeavor to persuade men that they will obtain much advantage by sin, that the gains of it shall fill all their treasures, and every corner of their houses.
Proverbs 1:13."We shall find all precious wealth, we shall fill our houses with spoil." These promises are lies; or if such treasures are procured, they will last but for a moment. What profit had Judas the traitor in his thirty pieces of silver, though paid him to the last farthing? Though thirty thousand talents of gold had been his reward — they could not have soothed his racked conscience, they could not have retained his breath when his own hands had applied the halter; they could not have preserved his soul from going to its own wretched place. The profits of sin are the worst of losses!
These wretches, abandoned as they are, have yet the effrontery to pretend a regard to honesty, and a generous unselfishness in their mutual dealings —
Proverbs 1:14."Cast in your lot among us, let us all have one purse." Let the security and profit of our way of living induce you to join our society. We shall lead a cheerful life, we shall faithfully share our gains, and none shall lack while another has. In what manner ought a young man to act, when offers so tempting are made to him?
Proverbs 1:15."My son, do not walk in the way with them, refrain your foot from their path." Let us attend with filial regard to the kind advice of a venerable father, who tells us, that we must not only shut our ears against these ensnaring words, and resolve to keep the path of innocence — but shun their company, and avoid those places which they haunt.
If we knew a place that was said to be a haunt of fiends and infernal spirits — we need not shun it, for these terrors are but creatures of imagination. But places frequented by men who have the devil in their hearts, and who hire their tongues to the devil for the purpose of deceiving their fellow-men — such places are dangerous indeed! All of us have corrupted natures ready to be inflamed! How foolish is the man who, carrying gunpowder, enters a blacksmith's shop, where the sparks fly from the anvil in every direction! But may we not take a single turn with them? No!
Proverbs 1:16."For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood!" Let us never forget the evil that is in sin. However men may dress it out in beautiful colors — sin is the very quintessence of wickedness. All men see a great deal of evil in some heinous crimes — but the God whose judgment is always true, sees more evil in the least sin, than we are able to see in the greatest sin. It is a dangerous and detestable thing for a man willfully to transgress the smallest commandment of the law of God.
But the men of whom we now speak, are desperately bent upon sin. Their feet run to evil — and that of the most damnable sort, for they make haste to shed blood. Perhaps it will be said, that they have no design to load their souls with such bloody crimes — but only to cheat or rob somebody who well deserves to be plundered. But let us remember, that no man becomes desperate in wickedness all at once.
Hazael had no intention to murder the king of Syria, or rip up pregnant women; he would have abhorred the thoughts of such wickedness, until self-interest and ambition uniting, gradually hardened his heart, and prepared him for perpetrating without remorse, deeds of darkness and of horror!
Young sinners are like travelers, who at first setting out cannot bear a speck of mud to alight upon their clothes — but who in the course of their journey become inured to bad roads, and can allow themselves, without feeling uneasiness, to be all bespattered with mire. They are like silly birds, who allow themselves to be ensnared by the arts of the cunning fowler.
Proverbs 1:17."Surely in vain is the net spread in the sight of any bird." Birds have not the gift of reason, to warn them against the snares of the fowler. But how lamentable is it, that men, whom God has made wiser than the birds — should be as easily deceived as the silliest of these animals, and that in matters of greater importance! Do not reply, that the snares are set, not for the sinner himself — but for those whom he intends to destroy. It is for his own life that a sinner spreads his nets!
Proverbs 1:18."And they lay wait for their own blood, they lurk privily for their own lives!" It is not the sufferer of evil, so much as the doer of evil, who is hurt. Whom did Judas destroy by his treachery? The death to which Jesus was sold, was glorious to himself. But the treason which Judas wrought, was his own destruction! Abel lives and speaks, and his name is embalmed in the memories of the godly. But the life which his murderer led was more miserable than death, and his name is remembered only to be execrated. The sinner designs harm to his neighbor — but all things are under the direction of the just Lord, under whose administration mischief recoils upon its author, bringing him to the scaffold here, or to Hell hereafter! But is such the natural tendency of covetousness? Yes!
Proverbs 1:19."So are the ways of every one who is greedy of gain, which takes away the life of the owners thereof." "Take heed and beware of covetousness!" said he who knew the heart of man, and the native tendency of every vice. Covetousness is a mother of abominations and miseries. Those who are determined to be rich, would have money by honest means if it could be gotten — but at any rate they must have it. If it cannot be had to fill their desires (which indeed are insatiable) by fair means — then it must had by chicanery or thievery. When the conscience has been brought to this, it is prepared for advancing in wickedness, until at last it offers but small resistance — even at the commission of crimes, from the very thought of which their author would once have shrunk! The last step in vice is less painful to a man, than the first departure from honesty.
If the eyes of these pests of society were not altogether shut, they would see that a man's life depends not on the abundance of his wealth. In their own hands, wealth becomes a sword to slay its owner. Can they anticipate comfort in that ill-gotten wealth which has proved fatal to its honest possessor? We must therefore flee from unrighteousness, and stand at a distance from the way of sin. Everyone who would tempt us to evil, is to be looked upon as an emissary for Satan!
Sinners are addressed, through the remaining part of this chapter, by Wisdom herself, who speaks to men in sincere and solemn language.
Proverbs 1:20-21."Wisdom calls aloud outside; She raises her voice in the open squares. She cries out in the chief concourses, at the openings of the gates in the city She speaks her words." How can wisdom cry out? Is not wisdom a quality, and not a person? Wisdom cries to men when God speaks to them — for he is the fountain of wisdom. The words of men may be wise — but when God speaks, Wisdom itself addresses us! He opens his mouth in infinite wisdom, and speaks to us by him who is the Word and Wisdom of God. He who despises that wisdom which is from above, despises the Father and the Son, and brands the emanations of unsearchable wisdom, with the imputation of folly!
Wisdom desires to be heard, and therefore speaks not in secret. She does not whisper in the ears of a few favorites — but in the public places of resort. She proclaims her interesting truths to everyone that will listen. She cries outside — in every place where a crowd is likely to be collected, in the streets, in the chief place of concourse, in the gates, the place of judgment, and in every part of the city.
No disobedient sinner can make a valid excuse for his conduct. The voice of wisdom is heard everywhere. It sounds from the pulpit. From every creature it is heard. The word is in our very hearts — and conscience echoes the voice to our souls. Let us go where we will, we must hear it — unless we willfully shut our ears.
And what does she say?
Proverbs 1:22."How long, you simple ones, will you love simplicity, and scorners delight in their scorning, and fools hate knowledge!" 'Had I a mountain for a pulpit, and a voice capable of reaching to the ends of the world,' (said a venerable father), 'I would preach on that text: O sons of men, how long will you love vanity?'
Wisdom proclaims the like words to all the world as far as her voice is heard. If people ruin themselves by their folly — it will be no excuse to them that they were cheated by the great deceiver. Who will excuse Eve for hearkening to the voice of the serpent, or Adam for hearkening to the voice of his wife — in opposition to the voice of God? The simpleton and the fool are justly condemned, because they love simplicity, and hate knowledge.
So strongly are they bent upon their foolish courses, that every suggestion of the devil meets with a cheerful compliance. Sin is loved with the whole heart, and those truths which might be the means of salvation, are the objects of extreme aversion.
Many are so mad upon their idols, that they take pleasure in scoffing at holiness, and at the preachers and professors of it! Some run to such a pitch in wickedness, as to jest with the Word of the Most High God, though it would be safer far to sport with fire and death! Were the Physician of souls like earthly physicians — he would leave such creatures to pine away in their sins until their obstinacy terminates in eternal damnation. But O how merciful is he! He is in earnest with them when he urges them to betake of his beneficial medicines. It is a grief to him that they will not come to him for health. He cries to them,
Proverbs 1:23."Turn at my rebuke! Surely I will pour out my spirit on you; I will make my words known to you." The lovers of folly must turn — or perish. For Christ is an all-sufficient Savior from sin and wrath — but he will deliver none who continue in abominations: "Unless you repent, you shall all perish!" The lovers of sin, and those who delight in scorning, are graciously called by him to turn — a plain evidence that there is pardoning and saving mercy for these worst of sinners! Even scoffers at religion are among the number of those sinners whom the Son of Man called to repentance, when he came to seek and to save the lost.
Such profligates have for the most part an intention to turn from their evil ways at some future but indefinite period — but if they turn not at present — then they refuse to hear the voice of wisdom. "Turn!" says the Wisdom of God, "at my rebuke!"
"Today," says the Spirit, "if you will hear my voice, harden not your hearts." We harden our hearts when we intend to take our pleasure in sin today, though we resolve to hear the voice of God tomorrow.
The reproof of wisdom is a means of alarming us, and of impressing our souls with a sense of the necessity of turning. If we harden our hearts against these reproofs while they are sounding in our ears — then the impression is not likely to be deeper or stronger when the bustle and noise of the world have helped us to forget the solemn admonition.
It is at the reproof of the Word of God, that we are called to turn. It is brutish for a son to despise the reproof of a parent. It is devilish for a creature to despise the reproof of its Creator! It is a sin which devils could never commit — for a guilty creature to shut his ears against the reproof of a Savior, who addresses us in earnest and affectionate language, and calls us to turn our feet from the paths of death.
But how can fools turn? Are they not infatuated by sin? Are not their affections possessed with the love of it? "Behold, I will pour out my Spirit unto you," says the Savior. By his influences, you shall be enabled to understand my words, and to comply with them.
Let not sinners imagine that it will excuse them to say that they had no ability to repent. They were not called to turn by any power of their own — but in the strength of divine grace. They were unwilling — and therefore unable. Their sins were so dear to them — that they disliked the reproofs of Christ, and resisted his Spirit.
Our Lord does not make a jest of the lovers of sin, when he calls them to turn. His invitations do good even to sinners — or the fault is their own. Do we then feel the necessity of turning — and yet an unconquerable aversion to it in our hearts? Let us plead for the abundant communications of the enlightening and renewing Spirit. If people are made heartily willing to submit to his influence — it is a happy presage that he will be granted, or rather a sign that he has already begun to work. But there are many so foolishly devoted to sin, that they reject the counsel of God, and instead of welcoming the Spirit, resist his motions until they provoke him to depart. The doom of such people will be very terrible — but very just.
Proverbs 1:24-27."But since you rejected me when I called and no one gave heed when I stretched out my hand, since you ignored all my advice and would not accept my rebuke — I in turn will laugh at your disaster! I will mock when calamity overtakes you — when calamity overtakes you like a storm, when disaster sweeps over you like a whirlwind, when distress and trouble overwhelm you!"
Do none then, or next to none, regard the admonitions of wisdom? Strange! Are men enemies to themselves? Are they in love with destruction? Is it their joy to please the devil, and to cross the benevolent intentions of a Savior? Was the devil crucified for them? Or do they think the eternal burnings, and the pain of condemnation — are more tolerable than the tears of repentance or the self-denial which Jesus proscribes?
John complained that so few believed his report: "No man receives his testimony." How wonderful is that grace, which continues to deal with men, when it is so ungratefully despised!
The sin of unbelief and impenitence is exceedingly great. Various are the forms of expression by which in the passage before us, the wickedness of it is intimated, and the offence which it gives to him who comes in the name of the Lord to save us, pointed out. It is a refusal of divinely gracious offers and advice; a disregard of the most earnest importunities of the wisdom of God; a total contempt of all the counsel of that wonderful Counselor who is given to be the leader and commander of the people; a stubborn opposition of the will to the most needful and beneficial reproof.
Hear, O heavens, and be horribly afraid! Rational creatures rebel against their benevolent Creator! Diseased sinners scorn the great Physician, and refuse to accept that sovereign cure for all their maladies, which he so graciously offers!
But let sinners remember, that there is justice as well as grace in the Most High God. Justice shall avenge the contempt of mercy!
Sinners feel some presage of that vengeance in their own guilty conscience. Fears of punishment often make them uneasy. They would gladly persuade themselves that these are but the terrors of a distempered imagination. Yet the day is coming when they will find them to be terrible realities! No passion is so tormenting as fear — and no fear can equal the power of God's anger!
The fear of sinners shall come upon them, and their feet shall slide in due time. It shall come like a desolating judgment, which with resistless violence, lays waste a country. It shall come like a raging tempest, and a furious whirlwind, at once sweeping away every comfort and every hope! Then shall distress and anguish seize upon the mind of the stubborn transgressor, when he feels himself involved in remediless sorrow.
This threatening will have its great accomplishment in the everlasting world, when the torrents of wrath shall swallow up the impenitent sinner, and the whirlwind of fury shall beat upon him with ceaseless violence. Wrath and indignation shall press him down in the lake of fire! Anguish and despair shall prey upon his soul, without the intermission of a moment! No ray of hope shall ever enter the abodes of darkness and of horror.
But will the poor victim of suffering find no pity from the benevolent Savior? No! says the Spirit of God, 'I will laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear comes!' With relentless eye shall he behold that terrible vengeance which now overtakes the wicked!
God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked — but rather that they should turn and live — yet he will take pleasure in the death of those who turn not, for in this manner is his justice glorified, and the dishonors done to his love are repaid. God took pleasure in bruising his own Son — and he shall laugh at the pain of the wicked. But may not prayer avail in this deplorable condition? By no means!
Proverbs 1:28."Then they will call to me but I will not answer; they will look for me but will not find me."
The prayer of faith is ever heard, and those who seek God shall find him, when they seek him with all their heart. But the prayers of these desperate rebels are like the howlings of a dog. They are cries extorted by strong necessity, and intolerable anguish. They are the cries of such as sought not the Lord while he was to be found, nor called on him while he was near.
Sinners miserably delude their own souls by proposing to live in the indulgence of their sins — and die in the exercise of repentance. True repentance is never too late — but late repentance is seldom true. Christ is not every day hanging on the cross — nor are thieves every day converted, and sent from the place of punishment to the paradise above. Prayers are of no use in the eternal world. The day of grace is at an end, and the wretched shall cry in vain to the rocks and mountains to fall upon them, and hide them from the wrath of the Lord God and of the Lamb.
Behold, now is the accepted time, now the Lord waits to be gracious. But the day is coming that is cruel with wrath and fierce anguish! No place shall then be found for mercy, though sought with an ocean of tears!
But why does he who takes pleasure in the voice of prayer, and listen so graciously to the cry of the supplicant — why does he refuse to accept the petitions of those who are reduced to such an extremity of distress? The reason is,
Proverbs 1:29-30."Since they hated knowledge and did not choose to fear the LORD — since they would not accept My advice and spurned My rebuke!" The punishment is indeed tremendous — but the sin that cause it is atrocious! It is no less than a contempt and hatred of the counsels of the Lord. What is this, but an undeniable proof of enmity against God himself? And will not God avenge himself of his enemies?
When men do not chose the fear of the Lord — but prefer the base pleasures of sin — they give plain proof of their hatred to God. How can they escape the damnation of Hell?
If we think that the punishment is greater than the sin, the reason is, that we are under the power of iniquity. Self-love disposes the malefactor to prescribe to his judge. Let us impartially consider what malignity lies in impenitence, and what a multitude of wickednesses are contained in the rejection of God's great salvation — and we must acknowledge that the ruin of sinners is entirely owing to themselves! God is not to be blamed — but on the contrary, he will be eternally glorious as their avenger. His insulted mercy will be glorious in the punishment of its despisers. His justice shall shine in dispensing to the workers of iniquity the wages of their wicked works! "They despised all my reproof!"
Proverbs 1:31."Therefore shall they eat of the fruit of their own way, and be filled with their own devices." They laughed at God's threatenings, as if they had been idle tales — and God shall laugh at them! They despised his counsels — and he shall despise their prayers. They were always rebellious, and continued unchanged under all admonition — and God will prove an immutable avenger, and will pay no regard to their cries for help. They took pleasure in sin — and God will take pleasure in punishing them on account of it.
If a man plants and dresses a poisonous tree in his garden — it is just that he should be obliged to eat of its fruit. If our vine is the vine of Sodom, and our clusters the clusters of bitterness — we must leave our complaint on ourselves — even if we must drink until we are drunken, and fall, and rise no more.
Sinners never think they have drunk deep enough of the poisoned cup of sin — but they shall at length be filled with it. Then shall it satiate them — when they find that intolerable misery is its native consequence. That cup which now delights the lover of evil — will then be found a cup of fury, and the wicked of the earth must drink it down to its bitterest dregs!
Proverbs 1:32."For the waywardness of the simple will kill them, and the complacency of fools will destroy them!" The sins of men, unless pardoned through the blood of Christ, shall be their destruction. For he who turns away from God — turns his back upon eternal happiness. And he who cherishes iniquity — warms in his bosom the most venomous of serpents!
Lost sinners owe their ruin to . . .
their willful hardness of heart,
their abuse of divine mercy, and
their indifference to God's salvation.
It may be alleged, that sinners often prosper — but their prosperity is a part of their misery, for it will increase their guilt, and render their damnation terrible. It nourishes their wicked affections, and tends to inspire them with pride and insolence, with sensuality and earthliness of mind. It is so strong a temptation, that our Lord has declared it almost impossible for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.
This saying has been justified by fact. In times of persecution, the prosperous have been ordinarily the apostates who made shipwreck of faith — while the poor loved the world less, and stood out more firmly against temptation.
If the prosperity of fools leads them to the indulgence of sin, and the neglect of holiness — it renders their damnation more certain and more dreadful! Their provocations are like those of the Israelites, who provoked God, by turning the Egyptian gold and silver, which he had given them — into an idol of jealousy.
They are like the impious ingratitude of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, whom God raised to a throne — but who degraded God into the image of a four-footed beast!
When the favors of God are turned into means and instruments of unrighteousness — Oh! what wrath is then treasured up against the day of wrath, and revelation of the righteous judgment of God!
But the prosperity of the wise has a very opposite tendency. When they act like themselves, it excites their gratitude; it stimulates them to serve God more effectually and to do good to men more diligently.
Wisdom teaches those who hearken to her voice, to make friends of the mammon of unrighteousness. So that while riches serve to expose the folly of the foolish — they prove a crown to the wise. But though disciples of Wisdom should never attain prosperity, they are happy. For says Wisdom,
Proverbs 1:33."But those who hearken unto me shall dwell safely, and be quiet from the fear of evil." Those who love knowledge, and chose the fear of the Lord, and value the instructions of wisdom more than thousands of gold and silver — are the men who hearken to Wisdom, verse 29, 30.
Many of these once loved folly, and took pleasure in scorning — but they have received the atonement, and all their unrighteousnesses are blotted out. They now share in the privileges of the children of wisdom — and while prosperous sinners are set in slippery places, they dwell safely, for they dwell in God, and God dwells in them. They are safe from the devil, and from the power of sin, from death and from Hell. They may endure tribulation in the world — but in Christ they shall have peace. They enjoy quiet consciences, and pleasant hopes.
They are quiet, not only from evil — but from the fear of evil. They may indeed have fears — but they are clouds that shall soon be blown away, and followed by everlasting serenity. Even while these fears continue, they have a refuge where they can find safety, and hopes sufficient to give them such happiness as worldly men cannot enjoy amid their ill-grounded confidence.
Paul had often fightings without, and fears within — but this was his comfort, that nothing could separate him from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus.
Let us examine ourselves impartially, whether we are the despisers of wisdom — or the lovers of wisdom. The question is not, whether we attend the means of grace, and make a profession of religion. Herod heard John gladly, and did many things. Ananias and Sapphira parted with a considerable share of their substance.
But do we chose the fear of the Lord? Do we value Christ above the whole world? Do we prefer holiness, in its most painful exercises — to the most pleasant sins?
Are we yet despisers of wisdom? Then let us tremble at the vengeance threatened! Let our prayers ascend up on high, that the Lord by his Spirit would open our hearts that we may attend to the dictates of heavenly wisdom.
Are we lovers of wisdom? Then let us bless God who has opened our ears to discipline, and instructed our hearts. Let us thankfully rejoice in the blessings that Wisdom bestows. Let us testify our regard to Wisdom, in the manner directed in the following chapter. In vain do we pretend to religion, unless that which we call by this honorable name, is approved by that Word whereby we must be judged.