A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
Wisdom is an excellent thing, therefore get wisdom. But how shall we get wisdom? or in what shall the attainment of it profit us? You have an answer to both of these questions in this chapter. How shall we get wisdom? The wise man answers,
Verse 1-7."My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God. For the LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding. He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless. He lays up sound wisdom for the righteous."
It is not enough for us to attend the public ordinances of God, and to read a chapter or two of the Bible at home every day — but we are required to receive the words of wisdom, to keep them in our hearts, and apply our souls to them. We are to receive the words of our heavenly Father, with reverence and love, with faith and diligent attention.
No gift is so precious as that knowledge which God imparts to us in the scriptures, and we ought to receive it with eagerness — like that keenness which the covetous man shows for gold and silver. And as he who receives money is careful to store it where he may find it when he has occasion to use it — so in like manner it befits us to store up in the midst of our heart, the instructions of wisdom, collecting and hiding the precious treasure, until the word of Christ dwells in us richly in all wisdom.
When we give due attention to the word of truth — it will dwell . . .
in our minds — dispelling ignorance and error, and communicating that light which is necessary to direct the whole of our conduct;
in our memories — affording a constant supply for spiritual meditation, ready for use on every emergency;
in our wills — to guide their choice and inclination;
in our affections — to direct their motions, to curb their extravagance, and to inflame their ardor towards spiritual objects;
in our consciences — to preserve alive the impressions of the divine law, and to direct them in judging of the spiritual state of the soul.
The senses of the body minister to the soul. The ear must be inclined to wisdom, that we may learn it. The eye, surveying the wonders of God's hand, furnishes the soul with apprehensions of his power and wisdom. But the ear is that learning sense by which the richest treasures of spiritual knowledge are admitted into to the soul. As the mouth tastes the food of the body — so the ear receives and tries those words which nourish the soul.
We attend to our friends or neighbors when they are informing us of some new thing. We count it good manners to listen, when nothing is to be heard but dullness and insipidity. Shall we not, then, attend to Him who made the ear, when he condescends to speak to us, and to disclose truths of eternal moment? While our ears are attentive, our hearts must be applied to wisdom. Angels, who are so much our superiors, apply themselves to the learning of it. They are already replenished with the stores of truth — and yet the desire to pry deeper into the mystery of wisdom. Great as was the measure which Solomon had received — yet he still continued to apply his heart to it. Surely, then, the wisest of us ought to apply our whole hearts — for what is so needful to us, and so valuable in itself?
But after all our application, we have understandings so dark, that the Bible must remain a sealed book unto us — unless our eyes are enlightened to discern the wonders of God's word. With our instructions, therefore, earnest prayer must be mingled, that the Spirit of wisdom and revelation may illuminate our understandings, and fit our souls for receiving and retaining the truths of God.
David was wiser than his teachers — and yet he still lifts up his voice for wisdom to the Father of lights, and pleads, with fervent importunity, that God would open his eyes, and not conceal his laws from him, nor take the word of truth out of his mouth.
Let us, in imitation of such a holy example, earnestly pray that we may stand perfect and complete in all the will of God; and particularly, that we may be furnished with all that wisdom and knowledge that is requisite for directing us in our respective stations and circumstances.
Solomon was already a wise man — yet when commanded to chose what he would have, he chose a greater measure of wisdom, of that wisdom especially which would be most useful for him in governing the kingdom of Israel. With this petition, God was well pleased. He gave him not only what he requested — but everything most highly valued by men.
But while we cry after wisdom, and depend on God to bestow it on us, it would be presumptuous to neglect the means of obtaining it. We must seek it as silver, and search for it as for hidden treasure. We every day see with what anxious diligence men seek for silver. They fatigue their bodies, and waste their spirits; they destroy their health, and expose their lives; they even wound their consciences, and expose themselves to shameful deaths and everlasting misery — that they may load themselves with shining clay. Shall the professed disciples of the great Teacher set less value upon knowledge, than other men set upon silver?
David well knew the value of this knowledge, and esteemed it above thousands of gold and silver. Job prefers it to everything that dazzles with its luster the eyes of mortals. It is therefore highly reasonable, that we diligently and carefully use all those means which God has appointed for this end; that we hear sermons with earnest attention; that we read and search the word of God, and make it the subject of our frequent meditation; that we make use of edifying conversation; that we go to the wise, who have the law of God in their hearts, so that their mouth speaks wisdom, and their tongue talks of judgment.
To the use of such means of improvement as these — we must add prayer for the divine blessing, to render them effectual to our instruction and salvation. Truth is like a mine, more precious than that which is the depository of gold and of diamonds. Had any of us such a precious treasure as this in our garden, we would not travel over the ground for pleasure — but employ ourselves day and night in digging, until our houses would be enriched with the precious store. Why, then, are we careless about that which will enrich us to eternity, and fill all our treasures?
You see the means to be used by us for attaining wisdom. Our ears and hearts must be employed in the search. We must lift up our voices to the Author of wisdom and seek for it with all the desire of our souls and with such earnest endeavors as men use in digging for hidden treasures. Through the blessing of God, the search shall be successful; for "then shall you understand the fear of the Lord, and find the knowledge of God."
It is plain that those who employ themselves in the diligent pursuit of wisdom, have been already blessed with some degree of true knowledge — for how could they value so highly that with which they were altogether unacquainted? He is already wise, who prefers heavenly wisdom to every earthly object; and he shall be wiser still, for to Him who has shall be given, and he shall have more abundantly.
The fear of the Lord, and the sound knowledge of God, are inseparably connected. The fear of God is not a blind and tormenting passion of the soul — but a holy and delightful grace, founded in true apprehensions of the solemn and lovely glories of the divine nature — and disposing him who possesses it, to walk with God. The knowledge of God regulates this fear, and preserves it from sinking into terror, or degenerating into superstition — but guides it to express its power in checking and subduing every corrupt affection, and animating the soul to every instance of obedience.
If men are careless about wisdom, and use no diligence in seeking it — they make it evident that they are destitute of the knowledge and fear of the Lord. They have not, and from them shall be taken even that which they seem to have. The efficacy of every means of knowledge is from God, for "the Lord gives wisdom; out of his mouth comes knowledge and understanding." Every beam of reason in men, is communicated from the wisdom of God. The simplest of the mechanical arts cannot be acquired unless men are taught of God. How, then, can we expect to understand the mystery of the divine will, without spiritual light communicated from that God who is the Father of lights, and the author of every good and perfect gift! Knowledge and understanding comes out of the mouth of God. By his Spirit, he bestows upon us this blessing through his word, for it is the inspiration of the Almighty that gives understanding to men.
Experience, however long; observation, however close; human teaching, however skillful — can do nothing to supply us with true knowledge, without the influence of that Spirit which rested upon Christ as a Spirit of wisdom and understanding, and which is given by him to all his followers in their measure.
The wisdom that God in his kindness bestows upon men, is sound and substantial. There are many kinds of knowledge of little importance. The knowledge which some possess, tends only to vex and disquiet them — or to inspire them with vanity and self-conceit. How different the knowledge that God imparts to the diligent students of wisdom! Far from perplexing or elating — it fills their understanding with the most pleasant truths, and directs them in the everlasting way.
But who are the blessed people that are favored with this divinely excellent wisdom? "The Lord lays it up for the righteous." God is said to teach sinners in the way; for man's unworthiness does not exclude him from divine mercy. Saul the persecutor had the Son of God revealed to him by divine grace, and neither his stubborn prejudices, nor his cruelty to the church of Christ, could shut out the beams of heavenly light. Sinners are invited to Christ as the light of the Gentiles, and the salvation of the lost; but here it is said, he lays it up for the righteous. Sinners and fools may have it — but the righteous shall have it. They are already made sensible of their need of it, and desire it more than silver and gold. They ask it from God, who gives liberally to all men, and upbraids not, and it shall be given them.
The Lord lays up this wisdom for the righteous. There are infinite stores of it in his possession, and they are all treasured up in Christ, and out of his fullness shall the righteous receive supplies suited to their exigencies. To encourage God's people to expect all needful supplies of wisdom from him — let them consider his peculiar regard to them, and the constant protection he has engaged to afford them.
Verse 7, 8."He holds victory in store for the upright, he is a shield to those whose walk is blameless — for he guards the course of the just and protects the way of his faithful ones." There are many adversaries that would destroy them if they could, and these are too strong for them. But there none like unto the God of Jeshurun — who rides on the heavens in their help, and in his excellence in the skies. While therefore they are walking to their eternal home, they may sing in the ways of the Lord. Mighty is their protector. In the shadow of his wings, they may trust — and to his faithfulness they may look as their shield and buckler.
The most dreadful enemies of those who walk uprightly, are those who endeavor to turn aside the way of their paths — but against these enemies, God is a mighty defense, for he keeps the paths of wisdom and righteousness. He is a fence about their ways, and a wall of fire around those who walk in them. T
he devil casts his fiery darts — but they are safe from the arrow that flies by day, and from the noisome pestilence. No weapon formed against them shall prosper. They are commanded still to trust in the name of the Lord, and their faith is like a shield that will quench every fiery dart.
The world displays its terrors and its charms — to terrify or allure them into the paths of sin. Against this, as well as the adversary formerly mentioned, they must exercise vigilance. Still, however, in the hottest part of the combat they may be of good cheer — for the Captain of their salvation has overcome the world, and shall make them to share in his victory through their faith.
Their own remaining corruptions give them many alarms. Nor is it astonishing that they feel alarmed when ready to halt by its influence, or powerfully solicited to turn aside unto the flowery but destructive paths, where poisons grow and serpents haunt. But their fears shall not overpower them, for the Spirit wars against the flesh, and shall prevail. What says their Almighty guide? "Sin shall not have dominion over you."
Those who walk in the paths of judgment are God's saints. He has beautified them with holiness, and he acknowledges them as his own property. They are his portion and the lot of his inheritance, his treasure and his glory — and he will allow none of them to be lost. Every one of them shall be hidden in the day when he makes up his jewels!
Let us ask for these good old ways, and walk in them, and we shall find rest and safety for our souls. They are safe paths when God guards them, and preserves the way of those who walk in them. No lion, no ravenous beast is found there. The wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err therein.
But it is our duty, while we trust in God to guide and preserve us, to make use of our eyes. None of Zion's travelers shall be found lacking in the end — but many who thought themselves in the good way, shall fail of the end of their hopes, because they entered not in at the gate, neither trod the narrow path. He who is born of God keeps himself pure — that the wicked one touches him not.
We cannot by our utmost care keep ourselves in safety; but a true dependence upon God will dispose us to be as sober and vigilant as if we had none else to keep us — while we yet trust entirely in God, and not in ourselves — knowing that if left to ourselves one hour, we must surely perish.
The lovers of wisdom are furnished with the best wisdom, and led into those paths of holiness where safety is to be found. In order to persuade us to hearken to the instructions of wisdom, the wise man adds,
Verse 9."Then shall you understand righteousness, and judgment, and equity, yes, every good path." There is no end of the commendation of the ways of wisdom. The fear and knowledge of God is not only the beginning — but the perfection of wisdom. But the lovers of wisdom have those instructions also which are necessary for guiding them in their behavior toward men. They are taught how to walk justly and wisely, and in what manner to behave in every affair.
When a traveler is going to a distant place, it is pleasant to him to be informed that his way is safe, and that it may be found without difficulty. Now, as the way of holiness is the way of peace, so the scriptures give us sufficient directions for every step of it. Are we at a loss about our duty in any case? We may then safely infer, either that we have forgotten what our directory says — or that we are not skillful in applying it.
Our carelessness in the study of this rule of life may often put us to a standstill — therefore we ought to have it daily in our hands, and to meditate on it day and night, so shall we find it a counselor in all our straits. The Spirit is promised as our guide through this world, and he directs us by his word, opening our minds to understand it, and directing our conduct in the way that it prescribes.
Is the saint at a loss with regard to the way of duty in any particular instance? Let him pray, as David did in such cases — and like this holy man, he shall be led in the way of truth. Solomon has instructed us how to obtain wisdom, and in part shown the advantages of it. He insists on this last point through the remaining part of this chapter, telling us that it will preserve us from the snares of wicked men and women, verse 10-19, and lead us in the way that has been followed by the saints in every age, who have found it to be the way of happiness and joy, verse 20, 21, 22. Wisdom will be a preservative from the worst dangers!
Verse 10, 11."When wisdom enters into your heart, and knowledge is pleasant unto your soul, discretion shall preserve you, understanding shall keep you." That we may enjoy the advantages of wisdom, it must enter into our heart, which is naturally disposed to enter sin and folly; for man, however fond he may be of the reputation of wisdom — is born like the wild donkey's colt. Some receive the words of wisdom into their ears — but understand not what they hear. Others hear and form clear apprehensions of what they hear — so to be able to talk of them, like Balaam or Judas, and instruct others. But the children of wisdom not only hear and understand — but love the truth. The Spirit of God writes it in the inward part; then it comes to them in power and in the Holy Spirit — and the testimonies of God are received by their hearts with pleasure and joy. Knowledge becomes sweeter than honey dropping from the comb, and is esteemed more than necessary food.
Paul counted everything but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus. When Jeremiah found the word of God, he ate it, and it was to him the joy and rejoicing of his heart.
The pleasure that saints take in knowledge, is very different from the transient affection experienced in the word by those hearers whom our Lord compares to stony ground. These false believers were moved and transported by the novelty of the truth, by the prospect of deliverance from Hell and possession of Heaven which it presented to them — but they had no spiritual apprehensions alone of its divine glory, nor any deep-rooted affection to it. They still loved the world more than the testimonies of God, and this reigning earthliness of spirit, in time choked the beautiful springing of this seed in their souls.
But those into whose hearts wisdom enters, have their eyes opened to see its glory — and the affections sanctified to relish its genuine sweetness. They rejoice in the truths that oppose their most darling corruptions. They take pleasure in the way of God's testimonies, as well as in the glorious prospects which they present. They heartily esteem all God's precepts concerning all things to be right — and delight in the law of God after the inward man, because it is pure and spiritual. They delight in it, though it forces them to confess that they are carnal, and sold under sin.
This wisdom entering into their souls, furnishes them with understanding to see their way, and discretion to manage their affairs with prudence and judgment to the end. This understanding and prudence is an antidote against the poisonous infection of evil men and strange women. It is, first, a means of preserving us from the snares of wicked men.
Verse 12-15."Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men, from men whose words are perverse, who leave the straight paths to walk in dark ways, who delight in doing wrong and rejoice in the perverseness of evil, whose paths are crooked and who are devious in their ways."
Such is the portrait drawn by Solomon of those wicked men by whom his pupils are in danger of being seduced, unless furnished with wisdom to avoid the snare. They speak perverse things; they pay no regard to truth — but their tongues speak lies.
Among these pests of men, none are such virulent pests of everything that is good, as those who once made a profession of religion — but have left the way of uprightness to walk in those miserable and gloomy paths — which begin in the darkness of the mind, and end in the darkness of Hell! The stings of conscience which such people experience, instead of reclaiming them, tend only to irritate their spirits, and inflame them into fierce enmity against religion.
If, instead of being pierced with such stings, their consciences are hardened enough for the blackest sin — they are prepared not only to do evil — but to work it with both hands greedily. They rejoice in the service of Satan, and no greater pleasure do they know than that which arises from seeing that his interests flourish, that his kingdom prospers.
Such people are crooked in their ways. The only straight way is the way of uprightness — but that sinners leave, and wander into paths where they are bewildered and lost. They know not where they go, because darkness path blinded their eyes. One sin leads them on to another, and that to a third — until at length they run into wickednesses of which they could not have thought without horror when first they set foot in these deceitful paths. These miscreants are froward and stubborn in their ways — and why? Habit has become a second nature to them, their hearts are become impenetrably hard, and armored against admonition.
Yet look back to their early days and you shall find them to have evinced tempers and dispositions very different. They would then have abhorred gross impieties, and were not without impressions of the necessity of virtue and holiness. But the unwearied adversary of mankind spread his toils around them, and employed such men as they are now become — to efface every good impression, and to lead them on, by slow and imperceptible degrees, to those lengths in wickedness at which they have now arrived.
Had they been armed with the instructions of wisdom, and employed these in their own defense — what different people might they now have been!
While they would mislead us by their persuasions — let us learn instruction from their miserable situation, and thankfully improve those means which God has afforded, to keep us out of the paths of destruction.
God is our preserver — but he has been pleased to appoint the instructions of wisdom as our great defense against these instruments of wickedness. The knowledge of the truth, and the cordial love of it — will open our eyes to our danger, and possess our hearts with a settled aversion to the practices of the ungodly. As our Lord repelled every temptation of the devil by the word of God — so when it abides in us, it will enable us to meet every temptation of the old serpent, and of his instruments, with safety and steadfast resolution.
Grace in the soul is weak of itself — but the seed of God shall remain forever. The powers of Hell shall never be able to extinguish it utterly — for it receives new supplies from the fountain of grace.
Secondly, Wisdom, by its instructions received into the heart, will preserve us also from the malignant influence of wicked women.
Verse 16-19."It will save you also from the adulteress, from the wayward wife with her seductive words, who has left the partner of her youth and ignored the covenant she made before God. For her house leads down to death and her paths to the spirits of the dead. None who go to her return or attain the paths of life!"
It is a great happiness for young people to escape the snares of the harlot, in which so many have been entangled and lost. A true love to the word of God is eminently fitted to secure such a happiness. There is no viler object in nature, than an adulteress. Her beauty is but a jewel of gold in a swine's snout! Though born and baptized in a Christian land — she is to looked upon as a heathen woman and a stranger. And as self-made brutes are greater monsters than natural brute beasts — so baptized heathen are by far the worst of pagans!
Her words may be sweet and soft to the inexperienced ear of a thoughtless youth — but she is only flattering with her lips. Honey and milk seem to be under her tongue — but it is the cruel venom of dragons! She is monster of ingratitude to that husband who was the guide and protector of her youth. All the fervors of her first love are forgotten. She returns the most cruel treatment, for all that fond affection by which he bound her to him in the most endearing obligations.
But her profaneness is still more shocking — for she violates that sacred bond which was instituted by him whom she presumes to call her God — and regards not the marriage oath which she swore by his great and solemn name.
Shall a woman unfaithful to the best and kindest of friends — a wretch that commits perjury without remorse — prove faithful to any man? When she speaks fair — believe her not, for there are seven abominations in her heart! Miserable are those who trust to her alluring professions, for there is scarcely a hope that they will recover themselves from the snare of the devil! Her house is full of the pestilence of sin, and will infect everyone who enters with a mortal and almost incurable distemper! The mind is darkened, and the conscience deadened — the affections, too, are sunk into sensuality! How then can they again take hold of the paths of life?
No doubt there is virtue in the blood and Spirit of Christ for the remission of the greatest sins, and the purification of the most defiled souls. It is even admitted, that whoremongers have been made illustrious monuments of the power of divine grace — but let it be remembered that these are miracles of grace. Who would cast himself into a deep pit, in the hopes of coming out alive, when almost all who fell into it were dashed in pieces or buried alive!
Whoever pleases God, shall escape from this devouring pit! Let us therefore cleave to God's judgments, and follow their direction, and keep at a distance from the place of temptation.
How worthy of our imitation is the example of Joseph, who was tempted day by day — but hearkened not to his mistress to lie with her or to be with her, because he would not sin against God. But wisdom will not only keep us from the paths of the wicked — it will also lead us in the way of good men.
Verse 20."Thus you may walk in the way of good men, and keep the path of the righteous." It is not enough to refrain from wickedness — we in also work righteousness. We profess to be the servants of God — and it will be no sufficient excuse for a servant that has slept all day, to say that he did no mischief.
There are two ways, in one or other of which all men walk — the narrow way that leads unto life, and the broad way that leads to destruction. In the former way few walk — but it has been trodden by the feet of all who are worthy of our imitation. In it Abraham, and Job, and David walked — while those whose memorials are now perished, or whose names are remembered only to be execrated, were traveling in the broad way that leads to destruction.
Which of these classes of people do we chose to follow in our course of life? If the former, we must take our directions from the wisdom taught by Solomon, and the other inspired writers. Those venerable men who have obtained a good report, and who through faith and patience inherit the promises — were close students of the word of God, so far as they enjoyed the benefit of its instructions. And by faith in its doctrines and promises, and a constant regard to its precepts — they obtained their good report. Happy shall we be if, like them, we esteem the word of God more than our necessary food and keep the judgments of God still in our view.
Verse 21."For the upright shall dwell in the land, and the blameless shall remain in it." They shall enjoy a long and a prosperous life, as far as it is for their real advantage, in that good land which God bestowed on his people — and shall, even when they are dead, possess it in the persons of their posterity, who are blessed for their sakes. Sinners enjoy not this happiness,
Verse 22."But the wicked shall be cut of from the earth, and the transgressors shall be rooted out of it." Must not the righteous leave the earth too? Yes! But the earth is a very different thing to the righteous, and to the wicked. To the wicked, this world is all the Heaven they ever have. To the righteous, this world is a place of preparation or Heaven. Death is a kind messenger sent to the righteous by their heavenly Father — calling them to the possession of their eternal inheritance! To the wicked, death is a messenger of wrath, summoning them to the abodes of misery! Death is the beginning of happiness to God's people — but the final conclusion of all that the wicked counted their happiness.
To the righteous, death is a translation to a glorious eternity. To the wicked, it is everlasting destruction and woe.
And is it all one to us, whether we share with the wicked in the miseries of their latter end, or with Zion's travelers in those everlasting joys that shall crown them when they attain the end of their faith?