A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
The wise man gives us this chapter, as an antidote against those youthful lusts by which so many are ensnared. Let such as are tempted by their own hearts or by the agents of Satan, to sins of immorality, seriously consider its contents, and pray that God may bless them for their benefit. None of us are superior to all temptations of this nature; let us therefore give heed to the things that are spoken, in order to represent the danger and mischief of impurity, and to show us in what manner to avoid it.
Verse 1, 2."My son, pay attention to my wisdom, listen well to my words of insight, that you may maintain discretion and your lips may preserve knowledge." The wisdom which Solomon teaches in this chapter cost him dear; but if we attend to his instructions, we shall have them at an easy rate. It may save us much bitter repentance, and preserve us from some of the most dreadful dangers. For it will teach us that spiritual subtlety and discretion, by which, like David, we shall become wiser than our enemies, and be enabled to escape their snares.
Attention will enable us to keep knowledge in our hearts, for a wanton imagination, ever dictating corrupt conversation to the lips, proves the beginning of ruin to many. They accustom themselves to speak of things not fit to be named among Christians; and from foolish talking, and impure jesting, by which they corrupt themselves and their companions — they proceed to the works of darkness.
When the word of God enters into our hearts, it will banish all pollution from the tongue, and dispose us to entertain our companions with that discourse which is good for the use of edifying. Thus our own hearts will be more deeply impressed, God will be honored, and others guarded against the snares of the destroyer. Now it is of great importance for men, especially in their younger days, to furnish themselves with preservatives from that word which is able to keep us, against the snares of the immoral woman. Solomon had already warned us against her; but he is directed by God to do it a second time at greater length.
Verse 3."For the lips of a immoral woman drop as a honey-comb, and her mouth is smoother than oil." She talks of nothing but love and pleasure, and perpetual delights. To hear her, one would suppose that she possessed the most generous and unselfish spirit. Her tongue is taught by him who betrayed Eve to paint the vilest sin with the most beautiful colors, and to conceal all its deformity and danger. But it is the part of a reasonable creature to look beyond the present moment, and to consider the outcome and end of things, as well as their beginning.
There is sweetness indeed in the mouth of this immoral woman,
Verse 4."But her end is as bitter as wormwood, and as sharp as a two-edge sword." The venom and sting of a serpent is concealed under the honey of her lips! Those who repent of their immorality will experience far more bitterness, than ever they tasted of pleasure in their unlawful gratifications. But few get so well off, and if people continue hardened, the end is more bitter than death! It is like a two-edged sword, which wounds and destroys both soul and body at once!
Verse 5."Her feet go down to death, her steps take hold on Hell." She is on the highway to eternal ruin, and thither she is carrying those who listen to her bewitching voice. Her house is in the suburbs of the place of destruction, and her steps take hold of Hell.
David was in great fear when he said to his friend, "As the Lord lives, there is but a step between me and death." But there is not even this small interval between the steps of the immoral woman and Hell. They already take hold of it. But may not people, when they see this danger before their eyes, make a timely retreat to the paths of life? No. In most cases this is not to be expected.
Verse 6."She gives no thought to the way of life; her paths are crooked, but she knows it not." When men enter into a course of sin, they have no intention to be damned. They intend only to indulge themselves in the pleasures of sin for a time — and then to return to the paths of life. Millions of souls have been seduced to everlasting destruction by this one temptation of the old serpent, "You shall not die although you eat; grace is free, and there is abundance of time to repent."
Solomon gives what may repel this temptation, by letting us know how foolish it is for men to flatter themselves with the hope that they shall be truly disposed and enabled to repent of their sin.
"Her paths are crooked, but she knows it not." She can form her mode of behavior into a hundred different shapes, to entangle the heart of the lover. She spreads a thousand snares, and if you escape one of them, you will find yourself held fast by another. She knows well how to suit her words and behavior to your present mood, to lull conscience asleep, and to spread before your eyes such a mist, as shall prevent you from being able to see the paths of life.
If you ever think of the danger of your course, and feel the necessity of changing it, she will urge you to spend a little time longer in the pleasures of sin. If her solicitations prevail, if you linger within the precincts of guilt — your resolutions are weakened, and your passions gain new strength.
What is the awful result? The devil obtains more influence; conscience, forcibly repressed, ceases to reclaim with so loud a voice; God gives you up to the lusts of your own heart, and leaves you to chose your own delusions.
Attend, then, to the wisest of men, who instructs you to keep free of these dangerous temptations!
Verse 7."Now then, my sons, listen to me; do not turn aside from what I say." If a father saw his son walking on the edge of a precipice — how greatly would he be alarmed! How loud would be his cries! And if the adventurous youth still kept his dangerous post — the father would fly to him, and try to force him from the brink of destruction. No less earnest is this kind instructor to save us from impending ruin. His words are cries — they have life and power in them. He is deaf who will not listen; he is stubborn who will not comply.
Verse 8."Keep to a path far from her, do not go near the door of her house." But what need is there for so much preciseness? May not a man be permitted to talk with her, merely by way of amusement? Is it unlawful to drink a glass in her house, and to satisfy our curiosity by observing what passes in it, and by what arts she contrives to seduce those who are less established in virtue than ourselves? Yes, it is unlawful to have the least interaction with her.
By the requirements of the ceremonial law, no man was to be in the same house with a leper. The moral law forbids us to enter into a house full of the leprosy of sin. Her house is full of snares, and her hands are as iron bands. The devil glances in her smiles, and lurks in her dress and in her motions. He is there, ready to discharge at you his fiery darts of temptation! And to aid his efforts, you have much combustible material in you.
Dare you then delude yourself that the fire of licentious passion shall not be kindled, and blown up into a flame that you cannot quench! The devil will tempt you enough, without own help. To tempt is his business. As you love your life and your own soul, give him no assistance in the work of destruction.
Verses 9-11."Lest you give your best strength to others and your years to one who is cruel, lest strangers feast on your wealth and your toil enrich another man's house. At the end of your life you will groan, when your flesh and body are consumed."
A good name is better than precious ointment — but this abominable sin is the ruin of a good name. The reputation of David and of Solomon was greatly sunk by it. By immorality, has the honor of thousands been irrecoverably lost!
A pure life is a great blessing, and may be regarded as the foundation of every earthly blessing. But immoral people part with everything that renders life worthy of the name, and in a literal sense, they often give their years unto the cruel. Their lives are lost in the pursuit of this sin by the just vengeance of God, by its native consequences, or by the base incidents to which it exposes those who practice it.
And for what are these years given away? Did men generously part with their lives in the defense of their country or for the sake of a generous friend — the loss would be amply compensated by honor, and by the pleasure of a good conscience. But how infatuated are they to give their years unto the cruel, who conceal a selfish and malignant heart under the mask of love!
All unlawful love is hatred, and all tempters to it are cruel enemies to our happiness. Shall we then gratify wicked enemies — at the expense of honor and life, and everything dear to us? These false friends and malicious enemies rob you of your honor and life, with as much eagerness as if they could enjoy these precious blessings of which you are deprived.
Their real views, however, are directed to your money or estate — and why should men give away fruits of their own labor and toil? Or if they wish to be rid of them, why should strangers be filled with them, rather than friends?
Some are so foolish, as to live in the lust of immorality, to save the necessary expenses of a family. But observation, as well as Scripture, might convince them of their error. The followers of vice are often attacked by poverty, which comes upon them like an armed man; and how distressing is poverty to those who have indulged themselves in lewd courses, contracted insatiable desires after carnal pleasure, deprived themselves of their friends, and disqualified themselves for any business that might retrieve their circumstances, or supply their needs!
Poverty is still more distressing when it is attended by weakness and disease — the natural consequences which Providence has annexed to those courses by which men dishonor God and themselves. When the body is tortured, and the spirits dejected by the loathsome distempers which sin brings in its train — their conscience, which was formerly trampled under foot, rises up and regains its power, and inflicts severe vengeance for the injuries it has received. Then, O profligate sinner, you will mourn!
Verse 12-14."You will say: How I hated discipline! How my heart spurned correction! I would not obey my teachers or listen to my instructors. I have come to the brink of utter ruin in the midst of the whole assembly." Religion has received many testimonies in its favor from enemies, whose hearts have at last forced them to curse the day when they were so mad, as to turn a deaf ear to its friendly voice!
The word of God read and preached, is God's appointed means of keeping or reclaiming men from sin, and in a Christian land, the votaries of vice are rebels against the light. They are, to their own loss, fatally successful in fighting against that God who opposes their wickedness by the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, and preached by the ministers of God.
It is not in vain for ministers, and parents, and tutors, to use means for acquainting young people with the Scripture, and imprinting it upon their hearts. The confession of profligates, when arrived at the end of their career, makes it evident, that if anything would have proved effectual to preserve them from ruin, it would have been the instructions and reproofs of parents and teachers. Such means have no doubt been the instruments of preserving many, and reclaiming some.
The confession of the wretch tortured by his conscience, is not introduced by the inspired sage as the humble confession of a penitent, who looks for pardon through the merits of Christ. How greatly are they deluded who think that misery can produce true repentance, or that sorrow pressed out of the soul by distress of body and anguish of conscience, are signs of real grace! People may cry out of their folly, and warn others, and beg others to pray for them — and yet, like Simon Magus, remain all the while in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity!
Sinners who will not comply with the calls of God, may now make them the object of their scorn — but at the latter end, when conscience shall preach with a voice louder than any minister, sorrow shall be their inevitable portion. Then, in the breasts of desperate sinners — despised admonitions shall burn like raging fire! Then shall multitudes of iniquities, once overlooked, present themselves like so many dismal apparitions to the eyes of the sinner, and make him a terror to himself.
The pleasure derived from the present moment is nothing. Our enjoyment is derived from the recollection of the past, or from the prospect of what is to come.
Sensualists cannot flatter themselves so grossly, as to fetch any pleasure from that part of life which they have already spent — but their hopes are ever on the wing to seize on anticipated pleasure. It frequently happens, that when their course is run, and lust can no longer be indulged, their attention is forced back on the scenes of life, through which they have already passed. When in this manner they are brought to recollect their numberless sins, and to forebode the punishments that await them — their souls are convulsed with remorse, and horror takes full possession of them:
"Wretched creatures that we are! Our impetuous passions have hurried us into all wickednesses — those only excepted, which our powers were too feeble and narrow to add to the rest. Would to God we had been brutes, or could yet have our portion with them, to be turned forever into earth and rottenness! O that we had been heathens, and had never heard the gospel of Christ, and the law of the Most Holy God! Our abominable iniquities are dreadfully aggravated by the opportunities we have had of being present in the assemblies of Zion, and receiving the instructions and reproofs of life. Instead of deriving benefit from the ordinances of God's worship and the communion of saints — we have exposed ourselves to the reproach of the whole assembly of the pious. By our example we have grieved some, and caused others to stumble. Our Hell must be heated seven times more than the Hell of heathens!"
The words in the 14th verse may be translated, In a moment I am in all evil. 'I am suddenly punished with all the plagues threatened by the ministers of God, and made a spectacle of misery and horror to the whole congregation.'
It is an aggravation of that misery which is the fruit of a man's own ways, when publicity is one of its attendant circumstances. Those who will not believe the threatenings of God, shall feel them. There are no free-thinkers in Hell, and but few on a death-bed. How happy are those who are preserved by the grace of God from laying up treasures of wrath against the last days, and planting thorns to line their death-bed pillows!
To avoid immorality, let every man have his own wife, and let him love her as himself. This remedy against such a vice Solomon illustrates in a beautiful allegory.
Verse 15-19."Drink water from your own cistern, running water from your own well. Should your springs overflow in the streets, your streams of water in the public squares? Let them be yours alone, never to be shared with strangers. May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer — may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love."
Children are in the language of Scripture sometimes compared to waters. We find Solomon in this passage comparing both wife and children to fountains; for there is as great a difference between the joys of lawful and unlawful love — as there is between the waters of a clear spring, and those which are drunk out of an impure and poisonous stream.
Let every man, to avoid immorality, have his own wife. Then may he reasonably expect to have children who shall be like olive plants around his table, or like fountains dispersed in the streets — pleasant to others, and likely one day to become comforts to their neighbors as well as to their parents. Is not this far better than to have a bastard progeny imposed on him, which he does not know — and yet cannot deny to be his own?
Husbands ought to praise God for virtuous wives, and to observe their good qualities, and call them blessed. They ought to love them as themselves, to wear a cheerful countenance in their company, to take pleasure in them as the companions of their youth, to rejoice in their love, and to treat them with the tenderest affection. They ought to view them with feelings of delight.
The pleasant roes are the delight of their masters, who are charmed with that gentle and insinuating manner of behavior which nature teaches them. Much more may it be expected, that this human creature will be dear to our souls, whom God has given us to be the solace of our lives.
In old age, when their beauty fades, the kindness of youth is to be retained for them, more especially if they retain those amiable virtues which fade not with the complexion of the countenance.
Wives are to be hated in comparison with Christ; but the sake of Christ, they are to be loved with an affection so ardent, that other women, however beautiful, may appear in their presence like painted flowers.
It is the duty and the interest of wives, to be adorned with those beauties which will render easy the duties which their husbands owe them. It is indeed the duty of husbands to love their wives, for the sake of God's command, and Christ's example; but it is very difficult to love, where this pleasant affection is not engaged by lovely qualities in the object.
Why should husbands and wives tempt one another to sin against God to their own harm? This cordial love in the married state, will produce pleasures far sweeter than were ever found in unlawful love; and what chiefly recommends them is that they have no sting attending them — and give no offence to God, our Witness and our Judge.
Verse 20, 21."Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man's wife? For a man's ways are in full view of the LORD, and he examines all his paths."
Is it wise for men to affront their Judge, and to provoke the vengeance of an Almighty arm? Will they prefer these poor, and spiritless, and unsatisfying pleasures which he forbids — to those pure delights which are licensed by God's goodness? Remember, sinners, that God is present in your hidden retreats of wickedness! You see him not, because you are blind — but your stupidity cannot banish an omnipresent Deity! Your bars and bolts cannot exclude him who fills Heaven and earth. Darkness hides nothing from him of whom it is said, "The day is yours, the night also is yours."
Why should men dare to affront Jehovah, their Maker and their Judge, by doing that in his presence, which they would be ashamed to do in the presence of a child?
God will not be mocked. He will punish the wanton glance, and the lustful thought. Where, then, shall they appear who indulge themselves in acts of criminality? Will a thief steal in the presence of the judge — and yet hope to escape vengeance? And shall abandoned sinners flatter themselves with the thought of escaping the damnation of Hell, from Him who will come to judgment, and will be a swift witness against adulterers?
Sinners think that they will repent, after having for a while enjoyed the pleasures of sin — pitiable delusion!
Verse 22."The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast!" Sinners will find, when too late, if God's wondrous mercy does not prevent it — that the sorrow which springs from self-love, is a very different thing from repentance, and that it is not so easy a matter as the devil told them, to repent and to venture their salvation in the hands of a Redeemer.
They now look upon saints as slaves who live an unpleasant life — but time will convince them, since admonition cannot, that they themselves are the slaves, bound in the strongest and most ignominious chains! They are fettered by wicked affections, and they have neither power nor will to assert their liberty. The cords of their own sins shall hold them fast, until they are cast into that prison from whence there is no release.
This is a wretched condition — but they may thank themselves. Their own hands forged the chains which are riveted upon them. They refused that glorious liberty proclaimed to them in the word of Christ. The sinner flattered himself that he did not refuse redemption, he only delayed the acceptance of it. But such delays are refusals in God's estimation. To the sinner they are for the most part fraught with ruin.
Verse 23."He shall die without instruction, led astray by his own great folly." He despised instruction during life, and he shall die without it. He expected, that when his mortal life would draw near its close, good ministers would attend him and pray with him. He shall either lack that comfort, or it is to be feared that it will not be blessed to him.
None but God can awaken a sleeping and stupefied conscience; and when it is awakened, its clamors drown the voice of him who says, "Believe Christ, and you shall be saved."
In his amazing folly, he goes astray in his crooked ways, and is led forth in the first rank of the workers of iniquity. Let those who are not yet tainted by this vice bless God, and let them watch and pray. Let the guilty tremble and mourn — yet despair not. The arm which rescued Solomon is not weakened. The blood that cleansed the Corinthian whoremongers has lost none of its virtue.