A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
Salvation is by grace through faith. This faith works by love, producing universal obedience to the law of our Creator and Redeemer. This law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments, and published with more particularity in this divinely inspired body of Christian morality. Let us study it with attention, and pray that the Spirit of Jesus may enable us to understand and practice it.
Verse 1."The proverbs of Solomon. A wise son brings joy to his father — but a foolish son brings grief to his mother." The first nine chapters are a prefatory address. Now begin the proverbs, (or masterly sayings,) properly so called.
Weighty sayings deserve and gain regard. But how shall we sufficiently esteem the proverbs left us by Solomon, which is almost another name for wisdom itself! By this inspired philosopher, Divine Wisdom speaks to every generation. Were the first of these proverbs to have its due influence on mankind, the world would be greatly reformed and blessed by its efficacy.
A great part of our race are parents — all mankind are, or have been children; and by Scripture both parents and children are directed. Parents are instructed to use all possible means to make their children wise. But how shall they effect this? Is it not the prerogative of God to give wisdom? No doubt. But he makes use of proper and appointed means for this purpose.
Would you then derive comfort from your children? Instruct, reprove, exhort them, pray for them, recommend true religion to them by your example. For thus says the Author of wisdom, "Train up a child in the way wherein he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it." But if in some rare instance he should depart from wisdom — then your souls will not on that account be stung with self-accusations.
Remember, you that are children, how greatly you are indebted to your parents, and how much their comfort is bound up in you. Be wise, seek useful knowledge, and search for it as for hidden treasure! Walk in the fear of the Lord. Let prudence and discretion, (such as Solomon teaches,) appear in every part of your conduct. So shall your father and mother greatly rejoice, and bless the Lord on your account.
But if you are foolish and unruly — you grieve their spirits, and wound the souls that love you with the dearest affection. Consider that your mothers bore you with sorrow. Why should your lives also be a continual source of pain to their tender hearts! Or why should the anxieties of your fathers on your behalf, be rewarded with the cutting view of your ungodly lives!
"A wise son brings joy to his father — but a foolish son brings grief to his mother." Though he should in no other way express his contempt for her — his foolish behavior is a plain proof that he does not value his mother's happiness.
Verse 2."Ill-gotten treasures are of no value." Ill-gotten riches are called treasures of wickedness. It is an opinion generally held by men, that riches, in whatever way procured, will do them great service. If, therefore, they cannot come at the possession of them by honest means — then they will scrape them together by any means in their power.
But here the Spirit of God tells us, that if a man should heap up immense riches to himself, they will profit him nothing. And how can they? They are cursed to him. If a moth in his substance, and stings in his conscience, and the damnation of Hell — can bring any advantage to the robber and extortioner — let them rejoice in their portion.
"But righteousness delivers from death." No righteousness but that which is by the faith of Jesus Christ, delivers from eternal death. However, he is a gross deceiver of his own soul, who pretends to be clothed with it, while be continues to live unrighteously. By righteousness, we give to everyone his due; first to God, and next to men. This righteousness is a preservative from death and misery of every kind. How?
Through the gracious protection of Him who keeps the path of the righteous, as the wise man tells us in the next words:
Verse 3."The LORD does not let the righteous go hungry — but he thwarts the craving of the wicked." But was it never known that the just man perished by hunger? Are ravens always commissioned to feed the people of God in times of famine? God has them at his command, if he sees it proper to make use of them; and when he pleases, he can administer to his people's necessities as easily by miracle as by the use of ordinary means.
Let them, then, joyfully commit the care of their bodies to his mercy. So long as his infinite wisdom shall see their continuance in life fit for them, their bread and their water shall be sure; and though their bodies should in some rare instances be pinched with hunger, he will nourish their souls with bread which the world knows nothing of.
But the wicked are not so. While the righteous are sure of being satisfied in days of famine, the wicked are near to ruin in their greatest abundance — for the Lord casts away that which they call their substance. Many of them will take care not to spend it upon riotous living, and harlots. None of them will part with it, from motives of generosity and charity. But while they grasp it fast with both hands — God will pull it out from between their fingers, and toss it irrecoverably from them. Should they even be permitted to hold it all their days — death, that terrible messenger, shall at last drag them from it! Nor shall their glory descend after them to the grave — but that wickedness by which they acquired it, shall lie down with them in the dust, and torture their souls in Hell.
You see from this verse, how it comes to pass, that righteousness delivers from death — and that treasures of wickedness are so unprofitable. But let none from these truths conclude, that honest labor is useless. God takes care of his people — but he makes use of their labors in the performance of his promise about their provision. Whoever indulges himself in idleness, may expect poverty as a matter of course; for,
Verse 4."Lazy hands make a man poor" Idleness was never designed for man. Adam in paradise, was to dress and keep the garden. Why should men expect any good from slothfulness, since that doom was pronounced, "In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread!" Show me a slothful man, and I will show you a wicked, a poor, and a miserable man.
"But diligent hands bring wealth." Riches are dispensed by God at his pleasure, and he commonly gives them to the man employed in honest industry.
How then do we see some men laborious — and yet poor? Perhaps they trust too much to their own labor. Perhaps they are earth-worms, abhorred by God. Or if they fear the Lord, and look to him for a blessing on the labor of their hands, he sees that riches are not the best thing for them. To prevent pride and vanity from being increased in them by the wealth of the world — he keeps them poor, designing to bestow upon them the better and enduring substance. Would you complain of one, who promised you one acre of ground, and gave your instead of it a hundred acres in a better soil?
But are not some indolent people enriched by unexpected means? No; at least their wealth is not substantial nor enduring. It is worse than poverty. Let us, therefore, be at once fervent in spirit and diligent in business; and if we would deserve this character, we must carefully improve the proper seasons of profitable labor; for,
Verse 5."He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son." Summer and harvest are the fit seasons for raising and gathering in the fruits of the field. He who improves these and similar opportunities for honest gain, does honor to himself, and to those parents who had the care of his upbringing. He who neglects them, is like one who sleeps all the time he should be working. It would be a shame for a man in health to spend all his days in bed. The idle man might as well be there, for anything he does out of it. He brings disgrace to himself, and to his father, who ought to have trained him to habits of prudence and diligence.
Are prudence and diligence so commendable, when employed about the food that perishes? How much more necessary and profitable are they, when we are called to labor in the strength of divine grace, for the food that endures unto everlasting life! He who trifles away the acceptable time and the day of salvation, is a thousand times more foolish, then the man who defers the reaping of his fields until the end of December.
Riches are the ordinary fruit of labor — but the fruit of righteousness shall be peace and every good thing; for,
Verse 6."Blessings are upon the head of the just." The just man is not only commended by men — but by God. He not only expects — but possesses blessings. He is not only enriched — but crowned with blessings coming down from the Father of lights. He shall not be confounded — but his mouth is opened to bless the Author of his blessings.
"But violence covers the mouth of the wicked." The covering of Haman's face, was a badge of his condemnation. The violent man is condemned already, and when the Judge of all shall return his violent dealings upon his own head, his face shall be covered with confusion, nor shall he be able to open his mouth in extenuation of his crimes.
The happiness of the just, and the misery of the wicked, is not confined to this life. The just man shall not all die. His spirit is life because of righteousness; his body shall sleep in Jesus; and,
Verse 7."The memory of the just is blessed." His name shall live when he is dead. The remembrance of him is dear to his friends, and honored by the wise. A good reputation brings honor to God, and prolongs the influence of his good example. His good works not only follow him — but live behind him.
As Jeroboam made Israel to sin after he was dead, so the good man helps to make others holy while he is lying in the grave.
Should it so happen that his character is mistaken in the world, or should his name die out among men — it shall yet be had in everlasting remembrance before God; for never shall those names be erased from the Lamb's book of life, which were written in it from the foundation of the world.
"But the name of the wicked shall rot!" It shall either perish, or be covered with disgrace. Have they performed great actions, or built stately monuments to perpetuate their name? These may be useful, indeed, to keep up and to recall their infamy to recollection. The names of the Alexanders and Caesars of the days of old, are honorable among bad judges of character. Among the wise, leopards and other voracious beasts are accounted no less deserving of glory and fame.
Verse 8." The wise in heart accept commands." All men desire to be accounted wise; but who is truly a wise man? Solomon being judge, the man is wise who receives commandments. He will not admit of any lord to his conscience — but the Judge of all — yet he hearkens to instruction from all who are authorized or qualified to give it. He receives with meekness the instructions of parents and teachers, and yields a cheerful submission to lawful authority. He is much readier to hear than to speak, and his feet stand upon an even place.
"But a chattering fool comes to ruin." Loquacity is a sure sign of vanity and folly. This kind of fool, in his endless talk, speaks many vain and sinful words — for which he must give an account. He speaks many proud and senseless words — which bring upon him contempt. He speaks many rash, malicious, and provoking words — which lay him open to hatred and mischief. Sooner or later, his ungoverned tongue must fall upon him with unsupportable weight, and hurl him to ruin!
Verse 9."The man of integrity walks securely, but he who takes crooked paths will be found out." Men's characters are discerned by their lives. The good man walks uprightly, for he regulates his steps by the unerring rule, and constantly endeavors to follow it, unbiased by self-interest or honor, persuasion, terror, or example. He abhors deceit in his dealings either with God or men — but speaks as he thinks, acts as he speaks, and makes the example of Christ his constant pattern.
This man walks securely, or confidently. None of his steps shall slide. If he should fall, he shall not be utterly cast down. If he meets with enemies, and tribulations — he receives joy from the testimony of his conscience. The name of the Lord is a strong tower, to which he runs and is safe.
The hypocrite walks in crooked paths. Like Judas, who put on a cloak of charity to hide his covetousness — he conceals the selfish principles which regulate his behavior under the appearances of piety, prudence, and other good qualities. But he cannot hold the mantle so tight about him, as to conceal from the wise observer, his inward baseness. It will occasionally be shuffled aside, it will at length drop off, and he shall be known for what he is, abhorred by all men, and punished by God with other hypocrites!
Verse 10."He who winks maliciously causes grief." He who winks with the eye, either in derision of his neighbor, or to give a signal to his associate in mischief — is the cause of sorrow to another, which shall return upon himself. For he who does a bad thing to others, in whatever way he does it — is doing a worse to himself. Better to suffer an hundred wrongs, than to commit one.
"A chattering fool comes to ruin." Such a fool is often boasting that he is no hypocrite; but his plainness is no virtue, nor shall it make atonement for the follies of his mouth. The scorner, the plotter of mischief, and the chattering fool — shall be involved in equal misery.
Some ancient translations read the verse thus: "He who winks with the eye causes sorrow; but he who reproves causes safety." In this contrast, winking with the eye is the gesture of one who hides his eyes from his neighbor's fault, because he is unwilling to risk his favor by administering necessary reproof. Such a man is not a true friend, for he allows sin upon his brother, when he might, by faithful admonition, have prevented it. And he who does not prevent sin when it is in his power, is the cause of grief, the sure consequence of sin. But he who faithfully reproves, causes safety to his friend, and shall, in the end, receive more thanks than he who winked with the eye, and flattered with the mouth.
Verse 11."The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life." Much is spoken by the wise man about the government of the tongue — but not too much, for he who learns effectually to bridle his tongue is a perfect man, and able also to bridle the whole body. The mouth of a righteous man utters words which are refreshing to the downcast, as cold waters to a thirsty soul. His wise and edifying conversations, through the Divine blessing, promote the spiritual interests of the hearers. Let our speech, therefore, be always with grace, seasoned with salt.
"But violence overwhelms the mouth of the wicked." The mouths of others are like a standing pool; nothing but insipid trash is to be found in them. They are too frequently like a poisoned fountain, tending to corruption and death. But the violence breathed from the mouths, or executed by the hands of the wicked — shall bring upon them condemnation, and stop their mouths with shame!
Verse 12."Hatred stirs up dissension." Hatred is so hateful a thing, that no man will acknowledge it in himself — but by its fruits you shall know it. What else is it that induces men to provoke their neighbors to wrath and contention, by expressions of contempt, by base insinuations, by cutting reproaches, by opprobrious names, by recalling old faults to remembrance, and raising up to view what seemed buried in the grave of forgetfulness?
Can the man who indulges in such practices, be justly regarded as a child of the God of peace, or a follower of Jesus, who showed such love to his disciples, after all of them had forsaken, and one denied him in the day of his distress?
"But love covers all sins." All sins! What a strange word is that! We think it a great deal to cast a mantle over seven offences of our brother — to hide from our eyes, and drop from our remembrance, not a few nor a great number of offences — but all sins is a hard matter.
Yet what are all the sins of our brother, by which he has offended us — compared with our sins against God? Why should not he to whom ten thousand talents are remitted — readily forgive his brother a few pence? Examine yourselves, whether love or hatred reigns in your souls.
Verse 13."Wisdom is found on the lips of the discerning." He who is wise in heart will receive reproof. That is one mark of a wise man — but he shows his wisdom in speaking, as well as in hearing. Wisdom seals not up — but governs the mouth, and dictates to it useful words. On whatever occasion you consult the possessor of it, you will find wisdom, whether you want instruction, or direction, or comfort.
Should you consult him about matters that come not within the compass of his talents, even then he will evince his wisdom, for it is the part of a wise man not to deal in things too high for him.
The wisdom of his heart and tongue is his safety and honor — "but a rod is for the back of him who lacks judgment." How can he escape an ignominious punishment, when by his unbridled mouth he makes both God and man his enemy? "A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the fool's back!" A bridle was necessary to govern donkeys when men rode on them — a rod is equally necessary for fools. It is not by words — but blows, that they must be managed. They deserve the scourge, and sooner or later they shall have it.
Verse 14."Wise men store up knowledge, but the mouth of a fool invites ruin." Here we learn how the lips of the wise are furnished with wisdom. Their heart is a storehouse, in which they lay up a treasure of it. How do they come by it? By reading the Bible, by meditating, by hearing sermons, by holy conversation, by observation and experience, by prayer, and by faith in Christ, who is made of God unto us wisdom. And when they have found it, they take care not to lose it — but lay it up in their memories and hearts, where it is kept to be used by themselves, and communicated to others.
Such men are in the way of happiness — but fools lay up lies and vanities, and idle, malicious stories, which furnish a large supply for their mischievous tongues, so that they are not far from ruin, for of the fruit of their mouths shall they eat.
Verse 15."The rich man's wealth is his strong city." Can this be true? Yes, if you will believe himself. The rich man's wealth is his strong city, and as an high wall in his own conceit. It is not a strong city — but his strong city. He thinks it will prove a sufficient defense to him from that destruction which his mouth has merited. You see how justly the worldling is called an idolater, for he makes not God his confidence — but trusts to a thing of nothing; for his riches, if they are a city, are not a strong city — but a city broken down, and without walls.
How hard is it for rich men to obtain an entrance into that city that has foundations, when it is a miracle for a man that has riches, not to trust in them!
But are we to suppose poor men exempt from the temptation to idolize gold and silver? No, for "The destruction of the poor is their poverty." That was a good prayer, "Give me neither poverty nor riches." Poor men, by envying the rich, by cringing to them, by discontentment with their lot, by despondency and fear of ruin — do often make themselves as wretched and vile, as the rich who boast of their wealth.
Verse 16."The wages of the righteous bring them life, but the income of the wicked brings them punishment." The advantage of diligence has been already explained — but there is a very great difference between the righteous and the wicked in this as in other things.
To the pure all things are pure — but to the defiled and unbelieving there is nothing pure. The labor of a righteous man is blessed by God, and tends, not only to procure the necessities of life — but to make his life comfortable, and to lengthen its days. Nay, it has a favorable influence upon his eternal life, for it is a preservative from temptation; and the performance of a duty, part of the fruits of which are lent unto the Lord, are to be repaid with abundant increase.
The fruit of the wicked man's labors, on the contrary, tends to sin; it does so, whether it be hoarded up by his covetousness, or spent in the gratification of vanity and luxury. With all your getting, get righteousness, which will make your labor pure and profitable. Without it, even your ploughing is sin; and your gains are loss to your souls.
Verse 17."He who heeds discipline shows the way to life." A wise man will heeds discipline — but it is not truly received if it is not kept. The instructions received from parents, ministers, and wise men, must be esteemed as a treasure, laid up in our memories, followed in our lives. He who heeds discipline, is in the way of happiness. His present life is safe and joyful; his soul is prosperous; death is his passage to eternal life. Hereby do we know that we know Christ, if we keep his commandments.
Reproofs are necessary for us on many occasions, and the wise man who heeds discipline, will receive them with meekness and thankfulness; and improve them for his humiliation and correction.
"But whoever ignores correction leads others astray." He is like a sick man to whom a kind physician prescribes some medicine of powerful virtue — but bitter to the taste. So foolish, however, is he, that he will rather risk his life, than follow the prescription.
Verse 18."He who conceals his hatred has lying lips, and whoever spreads slander is a fool." He who indulges so wicked and dangerous a passion, is a fool, whether he conceals it under the mask of friendship, or reveals it by reproaches and calumnies. It must neither be concealed nor published — but suppressed and extinguished. To conceal it like Absalom, is to nourish a fire within us, that will consume our vitals, and prove mortal in the end. To utter it in slander, like Shimei, is to set on fire our dwelling, which may soon involve us in the flames.
Verse 19."When words are many, sin is not absent." And that of many different kinds. Expressions of vanity and pride, of ill-nature and impiety, of rashness and inconsideration — never fail to proceed from the lips of a man who loves to hear himself talk. Even foolish talking, and inconvenient jesting, and idle words, are sinful, being forbidden by God.
If we profess wisdom, we must govern our tongues, and think before we speak. Time and place must be regarded by us, and we must sometimes refrain our lips even from speaking good. Men often sin by a multitude of words in praying, in preaching, and giving advice.
"But he who holds his tongue is wise." He reveals his modesty and self-command. He keeps himself innocent from much sin, and prevents many dangers to which perpetual talkers expose themselves.
Let us not carry this maxim to excess. There is a time to speak, and if our words are well ordered, they may be very useful; for,
Verse 20."The tongue of the just is as choice sliver." His conversation is useful, and very precious, not only like silver — but choice silver, which has been well purified in the fire. Our tongues deserve not this praise, unless they are refined from vanity, malignity, and falsehood, in all its diversity of forms.
How eagerly would we court the conversation of man possessed of endless treasures and unwearied liberality, freely imparting to every petitioner! The conversation of a wise and righteous man, is still more valuable, for he distributes treasures of knowledge, more precious than gold and rubies. If his tongue is like choice silver, his heart is still richer in value, for that is the good treasure out of which he brings good things.
"But the heart of the wicked is of little value." It is worth less than nothing, for folly and malignity have possession of it, and his tongue is furnished from that bad treasure with froth and wickedness. If he speaks anything good, it is but silver dross, covering a useless potsherd. Let us therefore avoid the company of the wicked, which can do no good; but let us endeavor to derive pleasure from that of the righteous; for,
Verse 21."The lips of the righteous feed many; but fools die for lack of wisdom." Food is better than silver, which is useful as a medium of commerce — but which cannot satisfy hunger nor preserve life. Useful discourse is precious like the finest silver, and nourishing to the soul as food to the body. Knowledge, faith, charity, and every holy disposition, is increased by it. The righteous man feeds many with knowledge, for he finds it sweet to himself, and wishes not to eat his morsel alone. His heart is a storehouse of provision for the soul, and like a hospitable landlord, he delights in distributing it to others.
But the wicked die for lack of wisdom. Knowledge is no less necessary to the soul, than food for the preservation of life. Fools therefore are in a bad condition, for they neither have knowledge nor hunger after it, otherwise they might be supplied from the lips of the wise. Therefore go from the presence of a foolish man, when you perceive not in him the lips of knowledge. But abide by the righteous, for the words of their mouth, when they speak like themselves, are better than necessary food.
Verse 22."The blessing of the Lord makes rich, and he adds no sorrow with it." Men generally wish to be rich. But what is the surest way of having such a wish gratified? Diligence is necessary — but not to be depended on; for without the blessing of the Lord on our labors, we may rise early and stay up late, and oppress our bodies with toil, and our minds with anxious care, and after all continue in poverty. But the blessing of the Lord is that which alone makes a man rich. If it should not enrich him who enjoys it with gold — then it will enrich him with what is far more precious — wisdom and grace. This blessing confers riches and preserves them — without exposing to harassing cares, their natural and common attendants.
When riches bring with them vexations and fears, we would be better without them. Who would chose to lie on a golden bed with thorns spread under him, and thorns for his covering? But the blessing of the Lord is a hedge about all that a righteous man has. His labors are pleasant, his gains are safe. His portion is beyond the reach of danger; and his heart is preserved from vexation, in getting, or keeping, or using, or loving the world, because the Lord is his confidence. The belief of this proverb would sweeten our toils, and make us spiritually-minded about earthly things, and eradicate every dishonest disposition. No man can look for the divine blessing on the work of fraud.
Verse 23."A fool finds pleasure in evil conduct." That man has arrived at an advanced stage of folly, who takes as much pleasure in evil conduct, as if it were an agreeable amusement. This, however, is to be expected in its natural course. Sinners at first feel much uneasiness from the operation of fear and shame — but they are hardened by the deceitfulness of sin, until at length they not only cast off all restraints — but become impudent in sin, and think it a manly action to cast away the cords of God, and to pour insult and abuse on their fellow men!
But it would be far safer to sport with fire than with sin — which kindles a fire that will burn to the lowest Hell! It may now be a sport to do evil — but in the lake of fire and brimstone it will be no sport to have done it.
"But a man of understanding delights in wisdom." And therefore it is impossible that he should be so infatuated with sin. He is deeply sensible of the misery and ruin that is in sin. His delight is in holiness — and in the exercises of holiness, he experiences that heartfelt pleasure, which the sweetest sins could never afford!
Verse 24."What the wicked dreads will overtake him; what the righteous desire will be granted!" It is scarcely supposable that a wicked man can wholly rid himself of fear. His terrors may be suspended — but they are like a sleeping adder, which will awake and pierce his heart with a venomous sting! The fears of the wicked are not only in his imagination. Ten thousand times greater misery than he can imagine, is appointed to him for the portion of his cup, by the irreversible sentence of his Almighty Judge! His guilty conscience does sometimes torment him with fear where no fear is — but if he escapes the hand of man, he shall fall into the hands of the living God! If he is not struck down by the storm of lightning — his day will come to drop into Hell.
But let not the righteous be afraid — his desires are pure, being regulated by the will of God revealed in his Word. The God who hears prayers will grant them — if not at present, yet at the time most suitable in the judgment of Infinite Wisdom. If what he wishes is not allowed, his desire is yet granted, for whatever he desires is with this reservation, "If it is agreeable to the will of God, and conducive, all things considered, to his best interest." We read of righteous men desiring things which they did not immediately obtain — but they obtained all that was good for them at that time, and in the eternal world were satisfied to the utmost desire of their hearts.
Verse 25."When the storm has swept by, the wicked are gone, but the righteous stand firm forever!" We have no reason to envy the wicked the figure they sometimes make in this world. The prosperity of the wicked is but like the bluster and noise of the whirlwind, which is soon over. His happiness and his fame are transitory. He shall indeed survive the grave — but annihilation would be a blessing to him, for he shall continue to live in Hell only to be miserable!
The righteous man, on the contrary, is like mount Zion, which can never be moved. He is a living stone built upon the Rock of ages, for he is kept by the power of God, and neither principalities nor powers, nor life, nor death, nor any other creature — shall be able to separate him from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus. Almighty grace is his strength and refuge. As the rock remains the same when the whirlwind has spent its force — so God's people, having His protection, shall enjoy unimpaired happiness — when the prosperity of the wicked has come to a perpetual end!
Verse 26."As vinegar to the teeth, and as smoke to the eyes — so is the sluggard to those who send him." On any errand. It is a great point of prudence to chose proper people to transact our business, especially if it be an affair of consequence. A man must feel great vexation when he finds his affairs deranged or ruined, and his wisdom called in question — through the stupidity and negligence of those whom he trusts. Solomon showed his good sense by choosing men of activity for his service, as we learn from the history of Jeroboam.
This proverb is of use to direct us in the choice of magistrates, ministers, or wives; and to excite us to shake off slothfulness in the service of our Master who is in Heaven, and who will cast the unprofitable servant into Hell!
Verse 27."The fear of the LORD adds length to life, but the years of the wicked are cut short." Some sins have a natural tendency to shorten men's days. Sometimes their sins bring men to the gallows. All wicked men provoke the wrath of him in whose hand is our life and breath. The contrary virtues have an effect directly the reverse.
But did not the wicked Jeroboam live to be old — while the only righteous person in his family died in youth? True — but the saint that dies in youth, has lived as long upon earth as infinite wisdom saw it good for him, and his spirit is still life because of righteousness. Whereas, if the wicked man should live to be a hundred years old — he is accursed. Even in this case, his life is a shadow, and a thing of nothing.
Could your physician give you a prescription for lengthening out your days to any term you please, you would think no price too high for it. Here is a tried receipt for making you live as long as it can be good for you to live. Shall we trust physicians more than the Sovereign of life and death?
Verse 28."The hope of the righteous is in the Lord." From him they hope for every earthly blessing that appears to infinite wisdom really good for them, and they shall not be disappointed. But the great object of their hope is everlasting life — and how can they fail of obtaining it? Their hopes are founded upon the word of a God who cannot lie, upon the inviolable oath of Jehovah, upon an all-sufficient Savior, and upon a covenant that is everlasting, ordered in all things and sure.
This hope shall be inexpressible and inconceivable gladness. Great things are said of the joys and glories of the heavenly world — but they are spoken in the language of men. The tongue of angels could speak greater things — but angels themselves cannot conceive that fullness of joy which the blessed shall possess ages hence.
"But the hopes of the wicked come to nothing!" The hopes of wicked men are contracted within narrow bounds. The objects of their hope are things which the unerring Word calls vanity and vexation of spirit. They may obtain the body of their wishes — but alas without the soul.
Happiness is the object of hope to all of us. With a view to this, we seek the riches and honors, and the pleasures and friendships of this life. But should we possess the richest abundance of these things, and not find happiness in them — what does it profit?
But if the wicked man should have his belly filled with worldly treasures, and should rejoice in them — his hope shall nevertheless come to nothing. Misfortune or death shall rob him of all that he placed in the room of God — and the remembrance of former pleasures shall greatly embitter his miseries.
There is one dreadful ingredient of torture which the poor man that goes to Hell will not experience — the remembrance of prosperity enjoyed and abused.
Does the wicked man expect Heaven? How terrible will be the punishment of his presumptuous hopes, when he shall be hurled down headlong into the depths of despair!
Verse 29."The way of the LORD is a refuge for the righteous, but it is the ruin of those who do evil." Christ is the way, into which the upright man enters by faith, and he walks in it by holiness of life. He hates all deceit — and hypocrisy is an abomination to his soul. While other men strengthen themselves in their own imaginations by fraud and cunning — he derives all needful supplies of grace from him in whom all fullness dwells. The testimony of his conscience emboldens and invigorates his soul, and he waxes stronger and stronger.
He is weak in himself; but his dependence is not on himself — but on God. Out of weakness he thus waxes strong, surmounts every difficulty, and turns to flight armies of aliens. How weak was Peter when he denied his Lord! But the way of the Lord was strength to him, and when near the end of his pilgrimage, he looked forward to the death of the cross with as much composure as a man does to taking off his clothes when retiring to rest. Upright men, when feeling the weakness of their own strength, are sometimes filled with anxious thoughts, lest they should become weary and faint, and fall before their enemies. But through the grace of Christ, their strength shall increase, and shall be suited to their needs. They shall reach in safety the end of their journey, and be more than conquerors.
But what shall be the end of those who walk in crooked ways, and endeavor to secure their wishes by deceit and iniquity? Ruin and destruction shall be their portion. Destruction and misery are in their ways. If they cannot now see this, they shall feel it at the end of their journey!
Verse 30."The righteous will never be uprooted."
The righteous man is founded upon the Rock of ages, for his dependence is placed upon a better righteousness than his own. He is guarded by Omnipotence. Death and Hell may rage, and seem to prevail — but he is safe from every real evil. He may be removed to another land, or to the eternal world — but Heaven is his country, and the mightiest of his enemies are unable to prevent his entrance into it, or to banish him from it.
Even in this world the enemies of the righteous have not the power of which they imagination themselves possessed. Neither Chaldeans, nor Sabeans, nor devils, could deprive Job of a camel or a sheep, without the permission of Him who would allow no evil to befall that righteous man, without making it work for good.
"But the wicked shall not inhabit the earth." Is Job then mistaken when he says, "The earth is given into the hand of the wicked?" No. It is given into their hand for a little moment — but they are frequently driven out of it by visible judgments. At the best, when a few years are gone, the king of terrors shall chase them away to Hell, and those who made shipwreck of faith or a good conscience for the treasures of earth — shall make shipwreck of these treasures also.
Verse 31."The mouth of the righteous brings forth wisdom, but a perverse tongue will be cut out." Our first care must be to keep our hearts with all diligence; and our next to govern our tongue, which will otherwise be an unruly evil, full of deadly poison! The tongue will best be governed, when the heart is well furnished with wisdom, for the mouth of the just brings forth wisdom, as naturally as a good tree brings forth good fruit. Wisdom is said to be a tree of life, and this tree of life brings forth the fruits of holiness in speech and behavior, not once a year — but every day. How valuable would a tree be thought, that would bring forth the most delicious fruits in such abundance, and such frequency! When our speech is with grace, and seasoned with salt, it ministers grace to the hearers, and keeps ourselves from mischief.
"A perverse tongue will be cut out." It provokes God, and it oftentimes provokes men. Perverse talk may escape punishment from man — but it shall not escape God's righteous judgment, who will cut out their tongues, and make them fall upon themselves!
Verse 32."The lips of the righteous know what is fitting, but the mouth of the wicked only what is perverse." How is knowledge ascribed to the lips of the righteous? Because their lips are directed by their hearts. They speak not thoughtlessly — but intelligently. Their lips are not devoted to flattery, nor do they slavishly comply with the sentiments and humors of men. They know when it is fit to speak, and what is fit to be spoken. They know how to address people of different dispositions, in a different manner, so as to please them — or what is of more importance in their estimation, so as to serve their best interests.
It is said of a certain General, that he had such a grace in his manner of behavior, that a suppliant who had met with the refusal of a petition from him, returned better satisfied than he would from another who had granted the solicited favor.
A prudent Christian has so much grace in his speech, that his reproofs and rebukes often gain him more favor and esteem, than others gain from their insinuating address.
But the wicked man speaks the words of deceit and folly and perverseness — for what can be expected from a bad tree but corrupt fruit? And what shall be the end of a corrupt tree — but to be cut down, and cast into the fire?