A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
Verse 1."A false balance is abomination to the Lord." Commerce is a blessing of great value to men. In the same light are we to consider the invention of weights and balances, by which it is facilitated. These are instances of the divine goodness, for God has taught discretion to the merchant as well as to the gardener. But by corrupt men, these, as well as every other instance of the goodness of God, have been abused. While God furnishes them with the means of practicing justice — the devil teaches them to turn the instruments of righteousness into the means of defrauding one another. False balances are not only hated — but abhorred by God. They are abomination itself in his eyes.
But what is the meaning of this? Is the Lord's indignation excited against pieces of wood or of stone? No, this manner of expression points out the greatness of his displeasure against such as use them, and shows that such instruments of iniquity should be dashed in pieces.
As money was weighed in ancient times, bad money comes within the compass of this proverb. But not to limit its operations, we must observe, that villainy of every kind, and that especially which is committed under guise of justice — is condemned by it. As no iniquity is so odious to God as that which is cloaked by religion — so that injustice is the most detestable in his sight which is masked by hypocritical pretenses of fair dealing. How deep in the pit must that man sink, who is borne down by this double load of guilt in one sin! Or if this is not heavy enough, oppression of the poor, whose cause God has promised to avenge, will fill up the measure of the sin.
"But a just weight is his delight." For the righteous Lord loves righteousness, and beholds the upright with a pleasant countenance. Honesty in dealing, though not an infallible mark of true piety — must always form a part of it.
Verse 2."When pride comes, then comes disgrace." The contrast between the two branches of this verse gives us this meaning. Pride is joined with folly — and ends in disgrace. The humble man is wise, and shall be exalted to honor.
Pride consists in an immoderate self-esteem — and places its happiness in esteem and honor from others. No sin is more foolish than pride! It springs from ignorance of God, of ourselves and other men — and by the very means which it uses for the accomplishment of its ends, ensures disappointment. In seeking glory — it finds disgrace. Pride made Nebuchadnezzar a brute. Pride destroyed Herod with worms. Pride turned Lucifer into Beelzebub. By other sins, man rebels against God — by pride, he usurps God's crown and dignity. No wonder, then, that God looks upon all those who are proud, and disgraces them.
"But with humility comes wisdom." Humble men think of themselves as they ought to think. They desire that God may be honored, even at the expense of their own honor. Yet they shall be exalted by him to the highest glory. Christ humbled himself, and was highly exalted, and became the brightest example of what he so often declared, "He who humbles himself shall be exalted."
Verse 3."The integrity of the upright will guide them." "I will teach you," says David. And what are the great lessons that he introduces by this preface? They are truths which the generality of mankind suppose they have already learned: it shall be ill with the wicked — and well with the righteous. Solomon knew that but few had learned these instructions sufficiently, and therefore we find that on them, he insists at considerable length.
Sincerity is one eminent branch of the godly man's character, and is of great use to him, for it guides him in a safe way. The upright man earnestly desires to stand perfect and complete in all the will of God. While others regulate their behavior by their interests and passions, and the course of this world — the upright man endeavors to know the will of God, and to comply with it in every instance. Nor does he deviate from this role, even when it leads in direct opposition to his dearest interests and friendships. Conscious that he cannot direct his own steps, he humbly commits himself to Jesus, who is given to be a Leader to the people, that he may be led by his Spirit to the land of uprightness. Thus the upright man is kept from every dangerous mistake.
"But the crookedness of the treacherous will destroy them." Their deceitful conduct shall be, not only the cause — but not unfrequently the means also, of their destruction. Nathanael was a man without deceit. We accordingly find, that though prejudiced against Jesus of Nazareth, his sincerity appeared in the means which he employed to arrive at the knowledge of the truth, and he was led by it in the right way. Christ's enemies were men of perverse spirits. They crucified him with a view to maintain their honor, and preserve their nation — but by their perverse conduct both were destroyed.
Verse 4."Riches do not profit in the day of wrath — but righteousness delivers from death." "Treasures of wickedness profit nothing," said the wise man, in a preceding part of this book. But mistake him not — he did not say that well-gotten treasures profit much. Though we should allow that they are of some little use in the time of prosperity, they are altogether useless in the time of calamity. When God punishes a land — riches only make their owners a fairer mark, and a richer booty to the spoilers. When conscience stings — its wounds are poisoned by reflections on the abuse of riches. They make death more terrible. To the wicked who possessed wealth, it shall be said at the last judgment, "I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat." Nothing of the world shall follow them to Hell — but the bitter remembrance of the good things they possessed, and the guilt contracted by the influence of such a possession.
"But righteousness delivers from death." In Jerusalem's day, the poor and the righteous alone escaped. The righteous shall not be held by the first death, nor touched by the second death.
Verse 5."The righteousness of the blameless makes a straight way for them, but the wicked are brought down by their own wickedness."
If the righteous man should turn aside from the right way, he shall not wander to destruction. His righteousness will rectify his way. He cannot enjoy pleasure in the way of sin, for it is contrary to the tastes that have been excited, and are still preserved, by the Holy Spirit. When Christ's sheep wander into the paths of sin and error — the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and his grace shall reclaim them.
But the wicked wander from mountain to hill, until they fall irrecoverably into the pit of destruction!
Verse 6."The righteousness of the upright shall deliver them; but transgressors are trapped by evil desires." "Who can harm you, if you are followers of that which is good?" Righteousness disposes men to walk unblamably and inoffensively, so that none but savages will hurt them. There are such savages among the sons of Adam — but their mischief shall come down on their own head — while the righteous are delivered from their malice; for they wait on the Lord, and keep his way, which is the way of life and peace. They cry unto God, and God delivers them, not only from their troubles — but from all their fears. Christ is the Captain of their salvation, and he will lose none of his soldiers. Though they should lose their lives in his cause, they are still overcomers.
Were it possible to obtain a medicine of universal efficacy, who would not endeavor to gain possession of it? Or who would drink a poison always mortal, except when a remedy were speedily applied? There is no trouble from which righteousness does not deliver — nor did any one ever meddle with wickedness — but to his own sorrow.
Verse 7."When a wicked man dies, his expectation shall perish; and the hope of unjust men perishes." Men derive almost the whole of their happiness, from the hope of some future good. The wicked man laughs at the righteous, because he lives by hope. The wicked man himself does the same, with this difference — that while the hopes of the righteous are eternal, those of the wicked are bounded by time. The expectation of the one has for its object things heavenly and durable — while that of the other is fixed on objects circumscribed by the present life.
The present situation of the wicked man never yields him the pleasure which he wishes and expects — but there is ever something in view, in which, could he but obtain it, he would find rest. If his hopes are deferred — his heart is sick; if they are accomplished — he is still unsatisfied; but he comforts himself with some other hope, like a child, who thinks he sees a rainbow on the top of a neighboring hill, and runs to take hold of it — but sees it as far removed from him as before.
Thus the life of a wicked man is spent in vain wishes, and toils, and hopes — until death kills at once his body, his hope, and his happiness.
Wicked men may indulge themselves in hopes of eternal happiness too. They cannot deny themselves to be sinners — but they hope that they are not sinners of the worst sort, or at least that they will amend, and fly to Christ, and be as happy through eternity as those who are so foolish, or so timorous, as to come into the Lord's vineyard in the morning, and bear the burden and heat of the day, and have no better recompense in the evening, than those who began to work at the eleventh hour.
Such hopes are highly pleasing to the devil, who keeps his slaves quiet by means of them, until they are brought into the same hopeless condition with himself! Were the sun literally turned into darkness, and all the worlds now enlightened by his beams, into dreary dungeons — it would not be so shocking, as for one immortal soul that looks for happiness, to be drowned in eternal despair!
Verse 8."The righteous man is rescued from trouble, and it comes on the wicked instead." Though Solomon celebrates so frequently the happiness of the righteous, he by no means insinuates that righteousness will exempt men from adversity. Christ himself suffered, and shall we claim uninterrupted prosperity? The wicked often possess wealth and ease, when the saints of God are beaten with the storm of adversity — but it shall not be always so.
The saints are delivered, and misery comes upon those who despised and hated them. But there is this difference between the troubles of the righteous and those of the wicked.
The righteous have first their evil things, and when they receive their good things, the remembrance of former distress fills them with additional satisfaction. They rejoice, like the weather-beaten mariner who has escaped from the waves and tempests.
The wicked have first their good things, and the remembrance of them envenoms their misery, and is oil to the fire where they are tormented. The wicked never comes out of trouble.
This proverb is often true in a more literal sense, for the wicked frequently comes into that very trouble from which the righteous man is delivered. The Philistines came into David's place, when Saul was pursuing him in the wilderness of Maon. Haman and his sons were hanged on the gallows designed for Mordecai; and the enemies of the Jews perished on that day which was expected to be fatal to the Jews. Herod thought to have destroyed Peter — but God put Peter's keepers and Herod himself in his place. The Jews, in the days of the apostles, persecuted the Christians; but the unbelieving Jews were put into their place, when the Roman eagle was brought to devastate their land and sanctuary!
These things are done by God, as often as he sees it proper for his own glory, and for the advantage of his people.
Verse 9."With his mouth the hypocrite destroys his neighbor, but through knowledge the righteous escape." There are so many mischiefs in the tongue of a wicked man, that it is called a world of iniquity. None of them, however, is so bad as the deceit that is in the mouth of the hypocrite, whose tongue is like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. Abner's hands were not bound when he was engaged in fair battle, and we find, that over Asahel, though a mighty and a swift enemy, he gained an easy victory. But how different was the fate of this victorious champion, when attacked by Joab! Then he died as a fool dies, and for this reason — he was deceived by the ensnaring professions of friendship made by his treacherous assailant.
Such is the difference between an open enemy and a false friend. Many souls have been ruined by the mouth of the hypocrite, while the servants of Satan have artfully disguised themselves in the dress of the ministers of righteousness, and by fair words, and saint-like speeches, deceived the hearts of the simple.
It was an ordinary prayer of King Antigonus, "Deliver me from the hands of my friends!" When asked why he did not rather pray for preservation from his enemies, he answered, "That he guarded against his enemies — but could not guard against hypocritical friends."
Have we then no defense against them? Yes, knowledge is a defense against this worst of dangers. Joseph and David were guarded by this armor, and were safe. The knowledge of the truth will preserve our inward man, and as it is attended with prudence and integrity, it will in like manner greatly contribute to our present safety.
Verse 10."When the righteous prosper, the city rejoices; when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy." The righteous fear God, and live in the practice of justice and charity towards men. These virtues procure the esteem, even of those who have no experience of the power of religion — therefore, when it goes well with them, their neighbors rejoice.
But when the wicked perish, there are shouts of joy, because they were living plagues, and employed their prosperity and power for the gratification of their own selfish and unrighteous passions.
There was great joy in Judah when righteous princes were raised to the throne, or good ministers entrusted with the management of affairs.
When bad kings perished, their memories were infamous, neither were they honored with a place in the sepulchers of the kings.
Righteous men are actuated by nobler motives than the applause of men — and yet they must regard the good-will of others, as a means of being useful.
Wicked men, on the contrary, are like swine, of no use until they die; and their perishing is not a misfortune to others — but a relief.
Verse 11."Through the blessing of the upright, a city is exalted." No wonder that the advancement of the righteous is a cause of public joy. Their prayers, their holy lives, their counsels, and their example, is a public blessing, by which the city is exalted, for some of the sinners in it are reformed. The young are allured by the beauty of goodness, virtue is encouraged, vice is discouraged, and the city becomes, as far as their influence extends, a habitation of justice.
Just so, righteousness exalts a nation. But though inveterate corruptions should, in a great measure, obstruct their patriotic exertions — yet a city is preserved from ruin, or at least its ruin is deferred, on their account.
A cloud of wrath hung over Judah in the days of good Josiah, and the corruptions of the land were too obstinate to be thoroughly removed by him — yet the threatened wrath was suspended until he was laid in the grave. God, as we are told, then sought for one to stand in the gap, to turn away his anger from the guilty land — but found none, and so his anger was poured out upon it to the uttermost.
"But the city is overthrown by the mouth of the wicked." Their mouth is a pestilence, which infects their neighbors, until the fatal venom of iniquity corrupts the whole of the community, and ruin becomes inevitable! Or else their counsels prove destructive to its welfare or existence.
Have we any generosity of spirit? Then it will inspire us with heartfelt joy to be instruments of happiness to all around us. Though we should be little better than savages, it must fill us with horror to think of ruining others as well as ourselves. Let us, then, depart from evil, and do good. As far as our connections are within the compass of our choice, let us form them upon this maxim.
It is good to have the heirs of blessing, and the instruments of blessing to others — for husbands or wives, masters or servants, friends or neighbors.
Verse 12."A man who lacks judgment derides his neighbor." No human creature is to be despised, for he is our neighbor. He is our own flesh, our brother, sprung from our common father, Adam. We must honor all men. Men were made in the image of God; and though that image is now lost — it is still a sufficient evidence of the sinfulness of despising, as well as of murdering, our neighbor, who was made in the image of God. We cannot say whether the people whom we are tempted to despise, are not in that happy number of the chosen of God, for whose sakes the Son of God has dignified our nature by assuming it, and whom he will again beautify with that glorious image which was effaced by the fall.
Do you allege that your neighbor is worthy of contempt, on account of his poverty, or some remarkable weakness, by which he is rendered ridiculous? I ask you whether he is a fool. You say, No. Then confess that your contempt ought to rest on yourself; for Solomon says you are one — and lack of wisdom is far worse than the lack of riches, or beauty, or polite accomplishments.
Although it is a sin to despise any man, yet, wicked men are to be comparatively despised. The vile person, though clothed with purple, and adorned with shining talents, is to be despised — in comparison with the man that fears the Lord, though poor and scorned as Lazarus.
None are so contemptible as the contemptuous! They are so void of sense, that they make themselves the objects of scorn or indignation, by publishing their insolence in the disparaging of their neighbors.
"But a man of understanding holds his tongue." He will not expose himself to the hatred of men, or to the condemnation of Hell, by saying to his brother, Raca! And if he is insulted with the contempt of others, he returns not abuse — but pity. Should some mud stick to his clothes, he will not defile his hands by throwing it at his adversary — but rather leaves it until time makes it easy to be brushed off.
Verse 13."A gossip betrays a confidence, but a trustworthy man keeps a secret." Much of our wisdom lies in the prudent choice of friends. A well-chosen friend sweetens the present life, and assists us in our progress to a better. An unworthy friend will bring on us disappointment, vexation, and remorse.
But what sort of people are we to avoid or to chose for our friends? We must not chose one that takes pleasure in telling everything he knows. You may be sure that such a one will betray your secrets; for though he should have no malignity of disposition, his delight to tell every private story that he has picked up, will prove to him an irresistible temptation to expose you.
The Scripture, however, does not condemn all revealing of secrets. There are some secrets which the laws of justice and charity bind us to reveal. But it is a proof that a man has no command of his tongue, when he can risk the uneasiness and displeasure of his neighbors, by publishing matters which can be of no benefit to him to whom they are communicated.
But that man is to be chosen as your friend, who is of an honest and faithful spirit. Your heart will be relieved of its sorrows, by pouring them into his bosom; and you may rest assured that he will cause you no uneasiness by blabbing what you would not have the world to know.
Here we see that a well-governed heart will govern the tongue. An unrestrained tongue is an evidence of levity, or of some worse quality in the heart. And if the heart is faithful — then the tongue will be cautious and friendly. The communication between the heart and the tongue is so easy, that the one will certainly discover the quality of the other, for out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.
Verse 14."For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure." In our private concerns it is dangerous to trust our own wisdom, and it is our interest to advise with wise and faithful friends, in every important affair of life.
But in the affairs of countries, public calamity must be the inevitable consequence of the sovereign's being not wise enough to know his need of asking and following the advice of wise men. If he asks the advice of wise men — and yet follows that of fools, he is no better than Rehoboam, who by such conduct divided his kingdom, and but for the kindness and faithfulness of God to David, in reserving two tribes to his grandson, would have lost it all!
Solomon had wisdom not only to teach — but to practice this maxim. He had wise counselors under whom his kingdom flourished, and their counsels might have preserved the kingdom in the hands of his son. But God confuses those whom he intends to punish; and there is not a plainer evidence of confusion than when men presume on their own judgments, or prefer the counsel of the vain and foolish, to that of the sober and the wise. Great is the judgment with which God visits a land, when he removes wise and faithful counselors from the management of its concerns. In our intercession for kings, then, let us pray that God may furnish them with good counselors, and with wisdom to make a proper use of them.
Verse 15."He who puts up security for another will surely suffer, but whoever refuses to strike hands in pledge is safe." Friendship or charity may, on some rare occasion, make it our duty to become surety for one that is not a stranger; but still our friendship must be guided by discretion, that our own peace, the welfare of our family, and our ability to pay our just debts, may not be brought into danger.
"He who puts up security for another will surely suffer for it" for he will lose his money, and involve himself in difficulties, or at least feel many anxious thoughts until relieved from the rash obligation. Or should he escape all these misfortunes, the same levity of mind that induced him to become bound for another man's debts, will entangle him in new engagements, so that he must have extraordinary good fortune if he never suffer for it.
"But whoever refuses to strike hands in pledge is safe." This is comparatively sure, for perfect certainty is not in earthly things. He is at least secure against those self-reflections which sting the mind of the thoughtless squanderer, who signed away his peace and property, the talent of beneficence entrusted to him, and the bread of a family dependent on him — because, forsooth, he could not utter the word NO, to one who seemed to trust his generosity.
He who conscientiously observes this and other rules of Scripture about his worldly substance, keeps the way of the Lord. And the man who, while he does so, trusts in the Lord — has promises respecting earthly things, that impart a security to which other men have no parallel. If the Scripture condemns those who risk their substance by a species of prodigality that has in it a tincture of generosity — then how worthy of condemnation are those unfaithful stewards of providence who spend their Master's substance on gambling, or on riotous living and harlots — thus using the bounties of God for the service of the devil, and for ruining their own souls and the souls of others!
How infinite was the grace of him who became surety for enemies! He was sure to be impoverished and to suffer under unknown agonies in our world — though possessed of unsearchable riches. How small, when compared with this, was the generosity of Paul in becoming surety for a poor slave — or of Dion in risking his life for his friend at the court of Syracuse!
Verse 16."A gracious woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth."
It is not a set of fine features, or a blooming complexion, that makes a woman gracious — but faith in Christ, and the fear of God; prudence and modesty, humility and attention to the duties which she owes to her husband and her children. A woman beautified with these lovely graces, is possessed of true honor, for such ornaments are of great price in the sight of God himself. If she is in the married state, her possession of such virtues will be the means of conferring upon her husband more happiness than a king's crown could bestow!
But the children of the serpent would rob the daughters of Eve of their honor. Partaking of the subtlety and malice of their father the devil, they would, for the sake of a little contemptible gratification — turn the paradise of the gracious woman into a dreary desert.
As strong men will not allow their riches to become a prey to predators — so a gracious woman will hold fast her virtue against those villainous spoilers, who would rob her of the ornaments. That she may be successful in holding fast her virtue, she must commit herself to the keeping of the Seed of the woman, who was manifested to bruise the head of the old serpent, and to destroy the works of the devil.
If Eve in her perfect state could not protect herself from the serpent when yet young, how shall the fallen daughters of Eve protect themselves against that old serpent, who, by the diligent practice of nearly 6000 years, has now become a proficient in the art of tempting! She must read the Bible, guard against idleness, and shun the society of the wicked, as she would a house infected by the pestilence.
If in a single state, she must show all deference to her parents, and care for the things of the Lord. If married, she must care for her husband how to please him, and by her dress and behavior prove herself a daughter of Sarah. Let her, in a word, treasure up the instructions of Lemuel's mother in chapter 31. On them, let her form her character; and by them, regulate her general deportment. Then, shall her husband and her children, her neighbors and acquaintances, yes, and her own good works also, praise her in the gates. Nor shall her honor be confined to herself — but her husband shall be honored with her.
Verse 17."A merciful man benefits his own soul." It is the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, to which we must look for eternal life. He who has this hope in him, will compassionate the distressed, and endeavor to imitate that mercy on which all his hope depends. And God is so full of mercy, that men shall be no losers — but great gainers, by that mercy which they show to others. Though it should be considered in no other light than a debt which they already owed to God and to their fellow-creatures — yet the gracious rewards of the merciful man are rich in this world, and at the last day they shall be so transcendently great as to fill with amazement the happy receiver.
That they may be losers by the exercise of mercy, and that they know not what they may need for themselves, are the only objections which men can urge against it. But if they really believed the Bible, they would show mercy, because they know not what they may need, and would regard such loss better far than gain.
"But a cruel man brings trouble on himself." Why did not the wise man say, "his own soul?" He knew that a cruel man cares nothing for his soul. If you would obtain a hearing from the merciless man, say nothing about his soul. He values it less than his dog! But if you could convince him that his lack of mercy will be hurtful to his flesh, he would think a little about his ways. And it is evident from Scripture, that his flesh, no less than his soul, is under a fearful curse. He shall have judgment without mercy.
How awful is this sentence, when even merciful men need infinite mercy to save them!
But who is the cruel man? Scarcely any person will take with this detestable character. Julius Caesar, who had been the death of many hundred thousands, did not think himself a cruel man. Hazael, a few hours before he murdered his master, could not believe himself to be such a dog as to be cruel. But the contrast in this verse teaches us, that to lack mercy, is a sign of cruelty. He is not the only great transgressor who strips the naked — but that man also who gives no bread to the hungry, nor water to the thirsty.
Verse 18."The wicked man earns deceptive wages, but he who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward." Solomon's heart was as large as the sand on the seashore. He could have amused and surprised us with new discoveries in every proverb — but he was directed by the Holy Spirit to seek our profit rather than his own fame, and to inculcate again and again the same interesting and necessary truths, that we may learn and practice them.
That sin is attended with extreme misery, and righteousness with great happiness — he has already informed us at considerable length; and we here find him resuming the subject, dilating upon it, and exhibiting it in a variety of lights. If we consider our ways, we shall find that there is no vain repetition in his words, for none of us have been sufficiently attentive to them. If we had, no motives, however alluring or terrifying, would have reconciled us to any neglect or violation of the divine law. The ground that is particularly bad, must be ploughed over and over, to prepare it for a crop.
"The wicked man earns deceptive wages." None would be so rich and happy as the servants of Satan — were his promises all performed. But the misery is, that he will promise kingdoms, though he cannot, like Chaldean robbers, have a single sheep without the divine permission. And what is worst of all, those who trust his promises are paid with fire and brimstone! The devil was a liar from the beginning — and yet so infatuated are men, that they will trust him more than the God who cannot lie!
The devil places pleasure and profit before them; God, by the threatenings of his word, sets an everlasting Hell before them. But they will venture through it, in order to enjoy the vanities with which the great tempter allures them. They have the presumption to think, that by their plausible pretenses they shall not only be able to cheat their fellow-men — but to elude the all-seeing eye of God, while, alas! the devil is cheating them to everlasting misery"
"But he who sows righteousness reaps a sure reward." All men are sowing seed in the course of their lives. Wicked men sow the wind — and shall reap the whirlwind. Righteous thoughts, and words, and actions — are seed that shall shoot up in inexpressible happiness. The sower must wait and exercise great patience — but the harvest shall abundantly recompense his patience and his toil. He may sow in tears — but he shall reap in joy. He may be at much expense, and so was Isaac, when he sowed much grain in a time of famine. The good patriarch might be a little straitened while his grain was growing in the fields — but the Lord gave him a hundred-fold, and will give much more than a hundred-fold to the sowers of righteousness — a hundred-fold in this life, and in the world to come, life everlasting!
Who would not expend more seed than he could well spare, on so fruitful a field! Gardeners may be disappointed of their hopes, and through adverse providences, the harvest may become a heap in the day of desperate sorrow; but if there is truth and righteousness with God, or certainty in the word of the faithful Witness, the reward of the sowers of righteousness shall be sure.
Verse 19."As righteousness tends to life, so he who pursues evil, pursues it to his own death." Our best life is the gift of God, through Jesus Christ, on whose righteousness our title to it stands. Our personal righteousness is the proof of our title, and our preparation for the possession of it. He, therefore, who lives in the practice of sin, that only evil, "pursues his own death."
It is natural to all men to hate the devil, and death, and Hell — yet so infatuated are wicked men, that they willingly serve the devil, and love death, and push on towards Hell, though God thunders in their ears this awful sentence, "He who pursues evil, pursues it to his own death." And there must be truth in it, if God is the Sovereign of life and death; for,
Verse 20."The LORD detests men of perverse heart but he delights in those whose ways are blameless." There is inexpressible malignity in sin, for the most merciful God threatens, and detests, and curses, and will destroy those who live in it!
Uprightness is a noble quality, for the Lord greatly delights in it. God boasted, if we may speak so, to the devil of Job's invincible integrity. Christ speaks of an upright Nathanael, as a wonder in the world. How wonderful is the grace of God, that takes such kind notice of grace so imperfect as that which may be found on earth! It is but a faint and sullied beam from himself, who is the Sun of righteousness.
How forcible motives are these to deter men from sin, and allure them to holiness! Are we men — or are we stones? We show ourselves to be so, if we are impressed, neither by the tremendous denunciations of God's displeasure, nor by the displays of his loving-kindness. Sinners flatter themselves with the blasphemous hope that God's threatenings shall be wind, and that by some means they shall escape the vengeance of the Lord. But hear, O sinners! believe and tremble!
Verse 21."Be sure of this: The wicked will not go unpunished — but those who are righteous will go free." If all the wicked on earth should combine with all the devils of Hell, to prevent the execution of judgment — it would only be a combination of dry thorns against the devouring flame. Do sinners imagine that they shall be safe, though so many dreadful threatenings stand pointed against them? Let them read with horror that portion of Scripture contained in Deuteronomy, chapter 29. from the 18th to the 25th verse. The man that hardens his spirit against these words, is an infidel indeed!
But upon mount Zion, and upon Jerusalem, shall be deliverance, and the righteous shall enjoy it, and their offspring with them. No believer in Christ can secure his unbelieving children — but present deliverances are often granted to the ungodly seed of the godly. That blemish in David's line, king Ahaz, was not utterly destroyed, because God would still give a lamp in Jerusalem to his servant David.
Verse 22."Like a gold ring in a pig's snout, is a beautiful woman who shows no discretion." Solomon does not deny that beauty is an amiable quality, for he compares it to a gold ring. But he denies that beauty without discretion can render a woman lovely. The nature of a swine is not altered by its being adorned with nose rings, such as those which some of the ladies of Zion used to wear. It is still, with all its decorations — a swine; it loves the mire, and its ornaments, instead of concealing its ugliness — only render it so much the more an object of scorn and of ridicule. Every eye will be attracted by it, and every beholder astonished by so unnatural a conjunction of vileness and adorning. A beautiful woman may be admired for a time — but when her vanity and folly are detected, admiration is turned into loathing.
If beautiful women would gain and preserve the honor that belongs to the gracious woman — let them beware of those who are disposed to flatter. When their flatterers compare them to angels, and speak of their lilies and their roses — let them remember that a wiser and more honest man compares beauty, without discretion, to a gold ring in a swine's snout. Look to your face in a looking-glass, (said one of the wise men of Greece), and if you have beauty, disgrace it not by an unfitting behavior. But if you are ugly, make amends for it by the beauty of your life.
Verse 23."The desire of the righteous ends only in good — but the expectation of the wicked ends only in wrath." A righteous man will not indulge the natural desires of the flesh and of the mind — but will endeavor to limit his wishes by the rules of the Bible. In consequence, indeed, of the remaining darkness of his mind, and distempers of his heart — he may desire things not good for him; still, however, it is his wish that nothing may be granted him, inconsistent with the will of that God, who knows infinitely better than his people do, what is good for them; and who will give them what is good, though they ask not for it; and who will keep back nothing needful for them, however averse to receive it they may be.
For this reason it is that the desire of the righteous shall always end in what is good for them, for their desires are presented to that God who has assured them, that if they ask anything according to his will, he hears them. No righteous man would for a world consent that these words, "according to his will," should be dropped from this promise of Scripture. The righteous man is happy when his desires are either granted or refined.
"But the expectation of the wicked ends only in wrath" — whether gratified or disappointed. The Israelites had meat to satisfy their lusts — but leanness was sent into their souls, and the wrath of God soon squeezed out all the sweetness of their quails. They, at another time, desired a king, and God gave them a king in his anger — but took him away in his wrath. "But the expectation of the wicked ends only in wrath." Here is misery — but it is not all their misery. The perfection of it is, that their "expectation is wrath."
Verse 24."One man gives freely — yet gains even more; another withholds unduly — but comes to poverty." Liberality is one eminent branch of the character of the righteous — but because there are many objections in the heart of man against the practice of it, urgent motives are here addressed to us. The instructions delivered in this and the four following verses, will, if they are but believed, be a sufficient answer to every objection.
There is one who scatters his substance by profusion and luxury. That man diminishes his substance until it comes to nothing.
But he who disperses by giving to the poor, by liberal distributions for the support of the commonwealth in times of danger, or for the service of religion — shall increase his substance. He is like the gardener, who sows with good will and unsparing hand, that precious seed which is to produce a joyful harvest. It is God who gives us all that we enjoy, and by his secret blessing, or by remarkable interpositions of providence — the liberal man is often made to abound in riches, and enabled more and more abundantly to serve his fellow-men.
Abraham sat at his tent-door to watch for travelers, and those who came, he urged to partake of his bounty, with more earnestness than other men beg an alms. Job never ate his morsel alone; and the latter end of both these men did greatly increase.
Of all the rich men who have come to poverty, I never heard of any that was ruined by a discreet liberality.
"Another withholds unduly — but comes to poverty." Men may give something to the poor — and yet be impoverished, without being exceptions to the truth of this proverb; for though they give some small matter of their superfluities — yet they withhold more than is fit. They are like a gardener sowing an acre with half a bushel of grain, who will soon reduce his substance to nothing. What will become of him who is so far from being generous, that he is not just? He withholds of that which is right, and brings the roll of God's curses into his house, to consume the timber and stones thereof.
Verse 25."The liberal soul shall be made fat; and he who waters shall be watered also himself." He is not the truly charitable man, who has an open purse — but not a charitable heart. The thoughtless prodigal, when he is scattering his money, may bestow his share upon the indigent; but though he should give them all he has, it will not prove him possessed of the grace of charity.
The godly man not only gives his bread — but draws out his soul to the hungry. He knows the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, who was rich — and yet became poor for our sake; and his charity, produced by this knowledge, is suitable to the design of the gospel, for it is out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and a sincere faith.
The man of liberal soul shall be made fat. He prospers in his soul, and if God thinks it good for him, he shall prosper in his body and in his circumstances also. He waters others with the blessings of his bounty, and he shall be watered himself with the blessing of Divine mercy, until he become like a watered garden, or like a spring of waters, whose waters fail not.
Say not, then, that you would be liberal if you could. Every man who has a liberal soul, however little his purse be, shares in the blessedness of the liberal. Two mites from a poor widow, will be as acceptable in the temple-treasury, as two pounds from one who abounds in wealth! The poor who pour forth prayers for those distressed people whom they have not money to relieve, are liberal in the sight of God. For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man has, and not according to what he has not.
Did not charity forbid, a Christian would be glad on his own account that there are very poor people in the world, for in relieving their necessities, he does a thousand times more good to himself than to them. That saying of Christ is certainly true, "It is more blessed to give than to receive."
People may exercise charity in selling as well as in giving, for,
Verse 26."People curse the man who hoards grain." Bread is the staff of life. The king himself is served by the field. But the gardener, or trader in grain, must not withhold or sell merely as it serves his own interests — but must consider himself as a steward in God's great family, and use that talent with which he is entrusted, for the benefit of others, as well as for his own advantage. He must not withhold his grain from the market, in order to increase the price, and enrich himself at the expense of the poor, and the risk of their life and health. If he does so, he counteracts the kind design of Providence in making the grain spring out of the earth, and discovers a mean, selfish, and unfeeling heart. He grinds the faces of the poor, and tempts people to murmur at the allotments of Providence, and to utter imprecations against himself. Thus he at once shares in the guilt of their curses, and exposes himself to the effect of them; for though such curses are very sinful, the sin lies chiefly on the inhumane object who was the tempter to them, and they are not to be ranked among the causeless curses which shall not come.
When defrauded laborers, or the oppressed poor, cry against the author of their distresses — the cry enters into the ears of the Lord Almighty. Much more will he hear the cries of a whole province or people, against him who is the instrument of withholding from them the necessities of life.
"But blessing crowns him who is willing to sell" — when it was in his power to enrich himself by withholding. Although he takes a reasonable price for this useful commodity, he yet exercises more useful and extensive liberality, than he who bestows his superfluities to feed a few of the indigent. It is not said the people shall bless him. Men are more ready to curse their oppressors, than to bless their benefactors. Besides, they may think it superfluous to give both a price and a blessing for their food. But we are not to serve men chiefly from a regard to their thankfulness — but to look above them, to that God who delights in liberality, and who will not fail to recompense it in its different expressions of giving, or lending, or selling.
Though no blessings should reach the ear of the man who generously sells — they shall descend from Heaven upon his head. God looks down upon men, and considers all their ways; whatever, therefore, our business is, it is our duty to perform the offices of it with a view to the glory of God. And God is glorified when we do all our works in charity, endeavoring faithfully, in our respective stations, to serve our generation according to the will of God. When we look, not only on our own things — but also on the things of others, we are serving ourselves most effectually; for,
Verse 27."He who seeks good finds goodwill, but evil comes to him who searches for it." God is infinitely good, and is still doing good from Heaven. He gives us rain and fruitful seasons; yes, he has bestowed upon us the inestimable gift of Christ, and salvation through his blood. Surely the consideration of God's goodness to us, might dispose us to labor diligently in promoting the good of other men, though in doing so we should be obliged to forego much happiness of our own. But God in his goodness has provided a sufficient answer to all those objections against serving others, which are taken from our own selfish interest.
He who diligently pursues good, may put himself to much toil and expense; but he obtains favor, and that is an abundant recompense for all the labors and sufferings of love. He will likely have the favor of men, for when a man's ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him — but he is sure of the favor and blessing of God.
But when a man seeks evil, it is questionable indeed whether he shall effect his malicious purpose — but it is certain that the evil he does to himself is greater than that intended against his neighbor. The just Lord is known by the judgment which he executes, in causing the contrivers of evil to fall into their own snares.
Verse 28."He who trusts in his riches shall fall."
After all that Solomon can say, many will still trust to their chests and to their riches, more than to the promises of God. Their money is their strong castle in which they hope to be safe — and the fountain whence they expect supplies of comfort. A text in the Proverbs is not so good as a full purse, and therefore they will not part with their money to others — but will keep it for their own use.
Confidence in money is a sin that has produced much sin, prevented many acts of goodness, and will, at the day of judgment, be found a general article in the charge against the wicked. The Scripture frequently warns men against this instance of idolatry, and calls on ministers to preach against it.
Those who trust in riches shall fall like the flower of the grass, or like the leaves of a tree. Their riches shall leave them; or if they should die in the midst of their wealth, they can carry nothing of their glory along with them. Their wealth cannot keep them from falling into Hell, or mitigate the horrors of the infernal lake of fire.
"People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs!" 1 Timothy 6:9-10
"But the righteous shall flourish like as a branch." The righteous man does not trust in unfaithful mammon — but in the name of the Lord. He thinks the promise of God better security than the earth can afford, and trusts his money in the hands of him who says, "He who gives to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will recompense again what he has given unto him."
This man shall not fade like the leaves — but shall flourish like the branch of a tree. A branch may appear withered during winter — but it drops not from the stock, and in the spring it revives and grows. So the righteous man, though he meets with seasons of affliction, shall revive and flourish. He is engrafted into the true Vine, and partaking of his vital influence, shall abound in the fruits of comfort and righteousness. At death he shall be transplanted into the celestial paradise, where all the trees of righteousness shall flourish in immortal beauty!
Verse 29."He who brings trouble on his family will inherit only wind, and the fool will be servant to the wise." The eye of God is ever upon us, and He observes how we behave in our different relations. He punishes with disappointment, poverty, and disgrace — the man who is a scourge instead of a blessing to his own family. A man is a plague to his family:
when he is of a domineering and quarrelsome temper — bursting into passion at every trifling omission of his will and pleasure;
when by covetousness — he oppresses his servants and children with bondage and hard labor, scarcely allowing them to enjoy life;
when by prodigality — he wastes the bread and portion of his children;
when, by his disregard to mercy and justice — he brings the curse of God on himself and his house;
when, by impiety — he neglects the spiritual welfare of his family, and encourages them in evil by a bad example.
The troubler of his house shall possess vanity, disappointment, and misery. The evils that he brings to his dependents, are doubled to himself. Those who might be his best friends — he makes his enemies. And his vices, so troublesome to others — produce in the end torment and ruin to himself. He has all the marks of a fool, and through the natural consequences of his folly, and the merited judgment of God — he is likely to be reduced to a slavish dependence on the wise of heart, who show their wisdom by such a government of their families, as promotes the holiness and happiness of those whom Providence has entrusted to their care.
Providence does not always bring these punishments upon men, lest we should forget that there is a judgment-day coming. But they are often inflicted as a pledge of what all people of like behavior are to expect at the great day of accounts.
Verse 30."The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life — and he who wins souls is wise." The righteous shall flourish as a branch, and they bear the fruits of the tree of life, for they are engrafted in Christ, and derive supplies of spiritual influence from him.
No fruit-bearing tree that is seen in our cursed earth, is a sufficient emblem to represent the excellency of the righteous man. He is like that noblest tree of paradise, which was planted by the hand of God himself, and was distinguished above all the trees in the paradise of God. His fruits are such as tend to produce and nourish a nobler life than any of the trees of the garden of Eden. Christ is indeed the life of souls — and those who are not united to him, continue in death. But he is pleased to honor faithful ministers and edifying professors, by making them instruments of imparting his best blessings unto men. It is for this reason that diligent ministers are said to save themselves and their hearers.
How excellent is the righteous man above his neighbors! His gracious words, his holy conversation, his prayers, his admonitions and instructions, are means of rendering service to others, more valuable than silver, or gold, or life itself.
Let Christians therefore endeavor to be fruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, and labor to win souls to their Redeemer. Even women, who are not allowed to speak in the church, may by this means share the reward of those who turn many to righteousness. Perhaps they may save their husbands or neighbors, and allure to the faith of Christ, those who did not obey his word? They are wise who are wise unto salvation; how truly wise, then, are those who are instruments in converting and saving the souls of others from death!
They are by the world counted wise, who, by means of their skill in business, leave their friends rich. But they shall at the great day be declared by the Judge of all wise, who can say, "Behold I, and the children which you have given me!" These are my joy and crown of rejoicing. Happy are all those who shall be able thus to speak on that eventful day, which seals the characters of men.
Let us also learn from this passage, to value friendship and conversation of the righteous. If we knew of any tree that bore fruit which could prolong the life of man to a hundred years, it would be esteemed more valuable than the treasures of kings, and we would spare no trouble or expense to have it transplanted into our gardens. What value, then, should we put on those whose fruit is the fruit of the tree of life, and whose conversation is instrumental in saving souls from death!
Verse 31."Behold, if the righteous receive their due on earth — how much more the ungodly and the sinner!"
This verse is introduced by a word that calls for our attention, and contains an observation which explains all the proverbs which express the happiness of the righteous, and the misery of the wicked — and answers an objection against them which naturally springs up in our minds. It is evident from experience, and Solomon himself observes it — that there is a righteous man to whom it happens according to the work of the wicked — and a wicked man to whom it happens according to the work of the righteous. How, then, can it be said of the righteous, it shall be well with them; and of the wicked, it shall be ill with them?
We are to remember that the righteous need trials, and deserve chastisements. David suffered many afflictions — but he acknowledges that his sin and folly were the causes of them; and it was necessary, in order to keep the enemies of the Lord from blaspheming, that he should suffer in his person and family, when in the matter of Uriah he had turned aside from following the Lord.
But the recompense of the sins of the righteous is confined to this life. They may suffer much severe correction — but there is no condemnation to them; for Jesus delivers them from the wrath to come and in his blood they have a complete pardon of their iniquities. So that their calamities are not the effect of divine wrath — but trials of their faith, or the corrections of a father.
Now, if the righteous are chastened so severely, how dreadful is the condemnation of the ungodly world! If fatherly corrections break the bones and drink up the spirits of God's people — then what imagination can conceive the horrors of that inflamed wrath which is the portion of the wicked!
Believers smart for sins committed through infirmity, fully forgiven through the blood of Christ, and sincerely lamented by themselves. But who knows the power of God's anger in crushing the wicked, when the day of grace is past, and the time is come to make the praise of God known in the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction! "If it is hard for the righteous to be saved — then what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?"