A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
Verse 1."Whoever loves instruction, loves knowledge; but he who hates reproof is brutish." Pythagoras took to himself the name of Philosopher, or lover of wisdom, rather than the name of wise man, which had been assumed by the sages before him — because he thought that the greatest men might, with more propriety, be called seekers, than finders of wisdom.
If a man is a lover of knowledge, though much ignorance still remains with him, he is in the sure way of finding it. But is there any man so foolish, and so like a beast, as not to love knowledge? Solomon tells us, that those who love instruction, love knowledge; but those who hate reproof are brutish. Let us, therefore, examine ourselves by this mark.
The lover of knowledge will take pleasure in the Bible, and in sermons, and in conversation with the wise. He will be glad of reproofs, which serve to convey the most seasonable and necessary instructions, though in a manner so mortifying to human pride, that they are not relished but by those who prefer their real good to the applause of men. The lover of knowledge will count that man his real friend, who honestly tells him his faults, and would would to be a member of that family and church which is governed by the rules of Christ. For though he values liberty, he does not place it in being allowed to do evil when he pleases, without check.
But he who hates instruction, and cannot endure the reproof of love — is brutish. He is like the horse or the mule, which bites and kicks at the man who performs a painful operation upon it, though absolutely necessary for removing a dangerous distemper. Or he is like a dog, or sow, which will show as much rage at the man that casts a pearl before it, as if he were killing it with a stone. He is surely a brute, and not a rational creature, who has swallowed poison, and will rather allow it to take its course, than admit the necessary relief of medicine, lest he should be obliged to confess his folly, in exposing himself to the need of it.
There is an indisposedness among professors of religion, to receive Christian reproof. Drunkards and swearers often reveal less displeasure against a reprover, than some that consider themselves first-rate Christians. The man, therefore, that ventures on the friendly office of admonition, must exercise much prudence, and show, by his manner of dispensing it, that he is constrained by love, lest he irritate instead of reforming. Asa was a godly man — and yet he was angry at a prophet of God for reproving him. He certainly ought to have made Asaph's confession, "Thus foolish was I, and ignorant — I was as a beast before you!"
Verse 2."A good man obtains favor from the Lord, but the Lord condemns those who devise evil." We are to show forth the virtues of Him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light, by endeavoring to shine in the exercise of such Christian graces, as correspond to those attributes of God that shine with resplendent luster in the work of our salvation. The exercise, therefore, of charity and goodness, is highly befitting those on whose account such miracles of goodness and love have been displayed. A godly man forms no devices for serving himself, to the harm of his fellow-creatures. Could a window be opened in his breast, you would see love ruling in his heart, and disposing him earnestly to wish for the spiritual and temporal advantages of his neighbors, and to imitate our gracious Savior, who went about doing good; for the Spirit of Christ is in him, and the fruit of this Spirit is in all goodness.
He does not value himself on this account, as if there were any merit in paying a debt which he owes to men on God's account. All his hopes are founded upon that infinite goodness, which provided salvation for self-ruined sinners — yet his goodness is well-pleasing unto the Lord, who blesses him with the smiles of his countenance, and will remember him concerning all his works, and all his thoughts and designs of love, according to the multitude of his mercies.
We must not do as others do to us, nor be discouraged in the practice of goodness, by the unthankful returns which we meet with from ungrateful men — but perform our duties to our fellow creatures, from a regard to God, and with a view to his acceptance through Christ.
Is the praise or gratitude of men worthy to be the subject of a thought, when we read that a godly man shall obtain favor from the Lord? If our goodness is produced by a regard to men, it is not goodness — but selfishness in disguise, and truly its whole reward is from men.
"But the Lord condemns those who devise evil." Such a man may be artful enough to disguise his selfish plans, under the mask of religion and benevolence, like the old Pharisees. But the eyes of the Judge of the world are like a flame of fire, they pierce into the secrets of every soul, and there is no dark design harbored, which shall not be completely disclosed in the day of Christ.
When our Lord was upon earth, he revealed and condemned the corrupt hearts of many hypocritical rogues — and at the day of the revelation of the righteous judgment of God, no vain pretender to goodness shall stand in the congregation of the righteous. Even those who refused to minister to the necessities of others, shall be commanded to Hell. How shall they escape, whose hearts were pre-occupied with wicked devices, to the ruin or damage of those who were made of the same blood with themselves!
Verse 3."A man shall not be established by wickedness." A man sometimes appears to be established, and often hopes to be so by wickedness — but it is all a delusion. Had Zimri peace, who founded his throne on treason? A man may with more reason hopes to build himself a secure house upon pillars of ice, than to establish his fortunes upon an accursed ground.
"But the root of the righteous shall not be moved." The leaves of the trees of righteousness may wither, their branches may be tossed hither and thither by the tempests of tribulation and affliction — but they are rooted in Christ, and kept night and day by the Almighty, and therefore their root is safe from the rage of earth and Hell.
Verse 4."A virtuous woman is her husband's crown, but a disgraceful wife is like rottenness in his bones." A virtuous woman . . .
fears the Lord,
reverences her husband,
manages her house with prudence and care,
behaves charitably to the poor, and kindly to all.
To what should we compare such a woman? Should we compare her to a bracelet, or say that she is a necklace of gold to her husband? Such comparisons would be quite below her worth. She makes him as happy as a king, and procures him such respect and honor, that she deserves to be compared to that royal ornament that encircles the head of Majesty. She is to her husband, a crown enriched with those lovely virtues, which shine with more radiant luster than diamonds! She is health to her husband's bones, for the sight of her amiable behavior, and the pleasure of her society, inspires him with that habitual cheerfulness which does good like a medicine.
But the woman who lacks virtue disgraces her husband, and is as rottenness in his bones.
Her peevish temper or passionate behavior,
her extravagant expenses or her sordid avarice,
the levity of her speech or the scandal of her vices —
make him the object of pity or scorn when he is abroad, and fill him with anguish at home. She is not a help — but a torment to him. A man may get out of a fever in a few weeks — but the misery of this living disease is, that unless the almighty grace of God works an uncommon cure, it will prey upon a man's bones and spirits, until the death of one of the married parties brings relief.
Let such, then, as have wives to chose, consider that the man should be the glory of Christ, as the woman of the man; that a good wife is from the Lord — and that it is therefore their interest to live to the praise of Christ, to resolve to marry only in the Lord, and to seek this precious gift from Him, by humble prayer.
Let wives consider seriously, whether they wish for happiness and honor to their husbands — or disgrace and misery; and whether it be better for themselves to prove helpers to the joy, and crowns to the head of their husbands — or living plagues to them, and fires to consume their vitals!
Let husbands give honor to their wives, and encourage them in virtue, by their kindness and approbation. What tender love does Christ show to those whom he is pleased to betroth to himself in loving-kindness! So ought husbands to love their wives.
Verse 5."The thoughts of the righteous are just." As far as we are warranted or concerned to judge of the character of our neighbors, we must draw our opinion of them from their words and behavior. But we are to form our judgment of ourselves, chiefly by our thoughts, which are the immediate product of our hearts — for as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.
"The thoughts of the righteous are just." Evil and foolish thoughts often rise up in their minds — but they hate vain thoughts, and will not allow them a lodging place.
Their love to God produces many delightful meditations concerning his excellency and grace, and constant desires to show forth his glory.
Their love to men excludes ungrounded suspicion and evil surmises; and in their deliberations about their conduct, disposes them to consider not only how they may serve their own interests — but how they may contribute to the happiness of their neighbors. Should any plan be suggested to them that appears greatly conducive to their own advantage, it will be rejected with abhorrence, unless it consists with the happiness of those whom they are constrained, by the command of God and the love of Christ, to love as themselves.
"But the counsels of the wicked are deceit." But a wicked man's pleasure lies in those thoughts that feed upon the earthly objects where his imagined happiness lies, and the schemes which he forms in his mind are crooked and artful. He must if possible, be gratified in his pursuits, though others should be rendered unhappy. And because the people at whose expense he means to serve himself, will naturally stand in his way — he contrives to cover his real designs with the false appearances of honesty and charity, that he may not be obstructed in their accomplishment.
Verse 6."The words of the wicked lie in wait for blood." There is a ready communication between the heart and the tongue; when men's hearts are evil, it may therefore be expected that their words will lie in wait for blood. There are passions in the hearts of wicked men, that are murder in the sight of God, and have a natural tendency to harm and kill — but through the good providence of the universal Ruler — they are checked by the terrors of conscience, or the fear of punishment from men, or some other means — and the world is prevented from becoming a scene of universal wickedness.
But some wicked men are so degraded, that the life of their neighbors is of small account with them — if only they can accomplish their own cursed designs. Their tongues have the subtlety and poison of the serpent in them — and by their devilish arts, they draw men into dangers fatal to their reputation, their souls, and their bodies.
"But the speech of the upright rescues them." Their wise answers preserve themselves, and their wise counsels preserve others from ruin. Thus Mephibosheth preserved himself from the snares of Ziba. Thus our Lord Jesus Christ often preserved himself from the well-laid devices of his deceitful enemies.
God will severely punish the wicked for their deceitful counsels and their deceitful tongue; for,
Verse 7."Wicked men are overthrown and are no more, but the house of the righteous stands firm." There is a mighty difference between the evils that befall the righteous — and those who come upon the wicked.
Evil shall slay the wicked, so that they shall have no more existence in that world where their hopes and happiness lay — and their existence in the eternal world shall be an everlasting curse. But the righteous shall be established, and their seed with them.
Verse 8."A man shall be commended according to his wisdom; but he who is of a perverse heart shall be despised." It is not here said, that a man is commended according to his wisdom. There are some commended for their wit, and others for their cunning; some for their genius, and others for their learning; nay, some are foolishly commended for what in Solomon's estimation is nothing but folly! But praise built on a false foundation shall not continue — and wisdom will be found the only solid basis of a name. God approves of it, and men shall sooner or later join in its commendation.
It is a great evil to see true wisdom despised, and qualities which have no necessary connection with it applauded.
We should frequently think on the day of judgment — that day which will set the seal on all human characters. Then will the Lord himself commend the wise, in the face of the world, and the perverse in heart shall be a universal abhorring!
Verse 9."He who is despised, and has a servant — is better than he who honors himself, and lacks bread." Some people are such slaves to the applause and respect of men, that they render themselves miserable — in order to make others think them happy. For the sake of making a figure in the eye of the world, they live in constant straits and anxieties. By the inspired moralist, this piece of folly is here censured — yet it is still very common, and very mischievous.
When men, through the pride of birth or station, or some unaccountable vanity of mind, are determined to live in such splendor as their income cannot support — the ordinary consequence is that they run into debt, defraud their creditors, lose all trust from men, and expose themselves to the devil, who is too cunning to let the opportunity slip that thus presents itself — of tempting them to have recourse to the gambling-table. Starvation, or a jail, or a gibbet, or something incomparably worse than all these, closes the scene!
Oh! how much better and wiser were it to revere the providence of God, which fixes the lot of men — and to accommodate our minds to our circumstances, however narrow! In this way, we may hope to enjoy the comforts, or at least the necessities of life with composed minds, and be able to serve the Lord without distraction. If men should despise us because we cannot live as wealthy men do, it is not difficult to determine whether their opinion or our own peace of mind, is to be preferred. Whatever men may say at present — yet afterwards shall a man be commended according to his wisdom.
To live above our income, that we may be admired in the world, is to rebel against divine providence, and to forget him who used to feed on barley bread and fish, while employed in accomplishing the work of human salvation. Paul traveling on foot, and living on the wages of a tent-maker, was more respectable than the pretended successor of his brother apostle (Peter) with a triple crown on his head.
Verse 10."A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal!" How presumptuous are those men who despise their inferiors, and look on their happiness and comfort as matters unworthy of their regard! Though kings and beggars share in the same common nature, they have less goodness towards their fellow-men, than the righteous have for their animals.
A righteous man's mercy diffuses itself not only over the most abject of his neighbors — but even to creatures without reason. He will not deprive his animal of its food and rest, nor oppress it with unreasonable toil, nor sport himself with the misery and pain of those creatures which God has subjected to his power. He considers them as servants to be employed for his advantage — but not to be tyrannized over.
Are the animals good for food? Even in depriving them of life, he shows his humanity, by inflicting upon them no unnecessary degree of pain.
But why should such a regard be paid to the lives end to the comforts of brutes? Because they are susceptible of pleasure and pain, and not so much our inferiors — as we are inferior to Him who made both them and us!
Heathen themselves were sensible of the mercy due to the animal creation. The Athenians excluded a man from a place in their government, if he killed a bird that fled to him for shelter. They justly reasoned that a man who could exercise cruelty to brutes, could not be safely trusted with the life or comfort of his fellow-men.
That God, whose goodness the righteous imitate, is good to all. In goodness he made and preserves the beasts. He would not allow them to be all drowned in Noah's flood, all he considered them in sparing Nineveh. There are many laws in the books of Moses guarding us against wanton oppression; and these laws, inconsiderable as they may appear to us, are fenced with promises and threatening.
And what is equally worthy of our regard on this head, God on one occasion opened the month of one of the most contemptible beasts, to plead the cause of the brute creation, and an angel took its part.
"But the kindest acts of the wicked are cruel!" Wicked men are so for from exercising their compassion to brutes — that they are unfeeling to men! And when they appear to themselves or to others the most merciful — their kindness is often cruelty in disguise.
When people give to the poor, and join their gifts with insult and abuse — this is cruel mercy. When Pilate ordered Christ to be scourged, with a design to procure his release — was this mercy? and not rather injustice and oppression. Such was the mercy of the Jewish council to the apostles, and of the Philippian magistrates to Paul.
Ahab's mercy to Benhadad was cruelty in another sense. He was cruel to himself and to his people, that he might preserve the reputation of the kings of the house of Israel.
Of the like nature are those foolish compassions which are sometimes exercised by parents, and magistrates, and ministers — to the great damage of those under their inspection, who are encouraged in vice by the connivance, or the too gentle reproofs and punishments administered to them.
But this kind of cruel mercy has been too often practiced by the righteous themselves, of which Eli and David are striking instances.
Let us look to our virtues, and examine them attentively, that vice may not lurk under them undiscovered. We too often applaud ourselves for that which should rather cause us to mourn.
Verse 11."He who works his land will be satisfied with bread." The business of the farmer is so honorable, that it is here used by Solomon to signify every useful profession. Kings themselves are served by the field, and the only two universal monarchs practiced farming.
The Spirit of God here teaches us, that we ought to have a useful profession, and to follow it with diligence, minding our own business, and not meddling with affairs in which we have no concern.
That we shall be satisfied with bread, is the encouragement held out to pursue such a course as this. Some people think that they cannot have enough, unless they have more than the necessities and decent comforts of life; but we are here instructed that bread should satisfy our desires, unless God is pleased to bestow more upon us. Having food and clothing, let us be content. There are few who lack these — and yet few are content. There are others who think that they will not be able to live by their business, without over-reaching their neighbors, by means of those underhand practices which custom has interwoven with many professions. But says the wise man, "He who works his land shall have enough;" and Paul tells us, that he may have something more to give to him who is needy.
To be satisfied with bread, is a happy temper of mind, and is commonly the portion of the man of industry, which not only procures bread — but gives it a relish unknown to men that are above labor. A dinner of green herbs is commonly a sweeter meal to the laborer, and followed by more refreshing sleep — than all the luxuries of high life to a man of fortune.
"But he who chases vain (or idle) fantasies lacks judgment." The idle man deserves the name of a fool; nor can he clear himself of it by alleging, that the love of company, or the example of others, allures him to this course of life. It must be both sin and folly for a man, whatever reasons he pretends for it, to indulge himself in a vice by which he endeavors to elude the sentence passed upon fallen man, and breaks so many commandments of God. The idle person weakens the powers of his mind, and destroys the vigor of his constitution. He exposes himself as a prey to disgrace, and his soul to the temptations of the devil. He wastes his precious time, and lays himself open to all the miseries of a self-procured poverty. In short, all the creatures in Heaven, earth, and Hell, proclaim the folly of the idle man. Let us, therefore, avoid it, as a nursery of vice and misery, and fill up our days with the useful labors of our calling, and the more important concerns of our souls.
Verse 12."The wicked desire the plunder of evil men, but the root of the righteous flourishes." The original word, which in the 24th verse of this chapter is rendered slothful, signifies also deceitfulness, for slothfulness and deceit often accompany each ether. Wicked men have more enlarged desires after earthly things than the righteous, and their hands often refuse to labor for necessary things.
What, then, shall they do? Their lusts must be gratified at the expense of conscience and honesty, and so they desire the plunder of evil men. Then they ensnare others, and drag their property to themselves, that their portion may be fat, and their food plenteous.
But a righteous man is above the temptations that lead men to over-reach their neighbors, for he has an inward principle of integrity and contentment, which tends to moderate his desires, and directs to praise-worthy means for the enjoyment of them. Thus, by the blessing of God, he obtains what is needful for himself, and something also to give to him who is in need.
The life of a slothful man is full of the worst kind of toils, and is often a scene of guilt and wretchedness. While a godly man, besides his happy prospects, enjoys much pleasure in those earthly things, which to others are vanity and vexation of spirit.
Verse 13."An evil man is trapped by his sinful talk, but a righteous man escapes trouble." As birds are suddenly seized in the trap, and cannot work their way out of it — so wicked men are often ruined unexpectedly and irretrievably, by means of their ungoverned tongues!
Adonijah was spared for his rebellion — but by one presumptuous petition, he showed himself a dangerous man, and brought vengeance upon his own head. Nabal, by his insolent language, almost destroyed his whole family.
As the corrupt tongue is set on fire of Hell — so burning coals are its reward.
A righteous man may be endangered by his own tongue — but through the mercy of God he shall be delivered, as David was, when he had engaged himself too far with the king of Gath; and Isaac and Abraham, when they had exposed the chastity of their wives, by their deceptions at the court of the Philistines. Nor will God ordinarily allow the just to perish by the tongues of the wicked. Sometimes he has done it, as in the case of Abimelech the priest — but just men are not ruined by death itself.
Verse 14."From the fruit of his lips a man is filled with good things, as surely as the work of his hands rewards him." As a bad tongue is one of the worst things — so a good tongue is one of the best things in the world. By a well-ordered tongue, we may be useful in winning souls to Christ, and in teaching the ignorant, strengthening the weak, and making the mourners to rejoice. By our tongues we may glorify God, and spread the savor of that name which is so dear to every Christian.
When men use their tongues in this manner, they shall be filled with good things by the fruit of them; for they obtain the friendship and respect of men, they enjoy acceptance with God through Christ Jesus, and the testimony of their conscience, that they have in some measure answered the end of their being. They are assured, that every word which proceeds from a pure heart, is marked down in God's book of remembrance.
At the last day, our Judge tells us, that we shall be either justified or condemned by our words. But our words will only prove us to be hypocrites, if they proceed not from sincere hearts, or are unattended with a suitable behavior. Those trees will be cut down which produce no good fruit, though they should abound with the most beauteous blossoms.
Let our words, then, be ordered in the fear of God, and with a view to the account that will be taken of them, first by our own consciences, and then by our Judge, who now hearkens and hears every word which proceeds from our lips. And our actions must be under the same influence, that we may not condemn ourselves, and be judged out of our own mouths as sham hypocrites.
Verse 15."The way of a fool is right is his own eyes; but he who hearkens unto counsel is wise." The greater fools are those who have the highest opinion of their own wisdom. Their self-esteem disposes them to neglect the advice of others, and to prosecute their own schemes, however foolish and dangerous, until they meet with fatal disappointments, which, after all, can hardly open their eyes, clean shut with pride and vanity. The wisest men are those who are most sensible of their need to avail themselves of the wisdom of others; and most qualified to make a proper use of counsel. This rule is to be observed, especially in the affairs of religion, for in none do men reveal more folly, and a greater degree of self-confidence. Multitudes walk under the influence of delusion and error, who, instead of allowing themselves to be set right, despise those who are able to give them good advice. Multitudes that make a sound profession of religion, are strangers to the narrow way that leads to life, and would yet exclaim against such as would give them, from scripture, the clearest proofs of the danger of the mistakes under which they labor, and the insufficiency of the evidences which they think they can, produce, of their being in the right way. We are not, however, to hearken to counsel without examination, because other men are liable to error as well as ourselves. Absalom was ruined by giving ear to treacherous counsel; and Rehoboam lost the greater part of his kingdom, by preferring the counsel of fools to that of wise men. In our spiritual concerns, the only infallible counselor is he who is made of God unto us wisdom, to whose word we are carefully to attend, and on whose Spirit and grace we must exercise a daily and humble dependence. It is our wisdom to value the instructions and counsels of ministers of parents and Christian friends, particularly of experienced and aged saints. But they must be able to prove the goodness of their advices by the Scriptures, which are the great and only rule to direct us to our chief end.
Verse 16."A fool shows his annoyance at once." It is a shame for a man to allow his reason to be tyrannized over by an unruly passion, which spreads deformity over his countenance, and hurries him on to expressions and actions more like those of one confined in bedlam, than one who is supposed to have the use of his reason. A man would reckon himself debased, if the form of his body were changed into that of a wild beast; and is a man in a condition one whit more respectable, when reason is trampled under foot, and the government of his body and his tongue subjected to the spirit of a tiger?
A fool disgraces himself by giving way to the impetuous sallies of passion. He reveals his temporary madness, by his reddened countenance, his quivering lips, and his flashing eyes. His tongue, having thrown out the reins of reason, pours forth torrents of rage, and perhaps of oaths and imprecations — thus announcing to every one that he meets, that he is a fool. It is with difficulty that his hands are restrained from doing that which in a short time would become the source of bitter and unceasing remorse.
"But a prudent man overlooks an insult." When he finds his passions beginning to ferment, he does not give them full scope — but considers whether he does well to be angry, and how far it is lawful and safe for him to give way to this turbulent passion. He does not cover his wrath, that it may have time to work, and draw the powers of reason into its service, that it may break forth with more effect on some other occasion. But he overlooks an insult, that he may have time to suppress and destroy it, by considering its folly and wickedness, by meditating on the example and grace of Christ, and by fervent supplications for the support and assistance of the Spirit of meekness.
By such means as these, the prudent man preserves own honor, and covers the shame of his neighbor, who is likely to be gained by gentleness and meekness. Thus the noblest of all victories is gained, while the Christian subdues, not only his own spirit, but the stubborn soul of his adversary, and covers, by his charity, a multitude of sins.
Verse 17."A truthful witness gives honest testimony." Men, destitute of a principle of integrity, may be guilty of much iniquity in witness-bearing, while they flatter themselves that they are speaking nothing but the truth. A true and faithful witness will deliver his testimony fully, clearly, and impartially. He will not only tell the truth — but all the truth that he knows about the point in question, as far as it will open up the merits of the cause. He will use no language that may be misunderstood by the judges, nor dissemble matters so as to favor even that cause which he supposes to be the right one. He will give no unfair representation of matters, to gratify or serve a good man, or one who is his best friend. Nor will pity constrain him so to disguise facts as to serve the cause of the poor man, or him who is in danger of being condemned. If one should offer him a bribe, he will shake his hands from holding it, and shut his ears against every attempt made to bias his mind.
"But a false witness tells lies." He utters falsehood, or turns truth into a lie, by his manner of telling it. Doeg the Edomite, by a real fact misrepresented — was the death of eighty-five priests of the Lord. And those who bore testimony against our Lord, are called false witnesses, though they repeated our Lord's words with but little if any variation, because the little difference in words made a complete change in the sense. It is necessary for us to consider exactly what we say, when the character or happiness of others is at stake, and to be cautious whom we trust, lest by artful misrepresentations we be persuaded to do injuries to our neighbors, which we cannot repair.
Verse 18."Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." The slanderer, backbiter, the railer, the flatterer, the false witness, and the unreasonable murmurer — have tongues which may justly be compared to sharp swords, by which they wound or destroy the peace and comfort, the reputation and prosperity, or the very lives of their neighbors! The seducer to sin or error, has a sword in his mouth to destroy the souls of men!
But the tongue of the wise has a healing virtue to cure the wounds inflicted by the wicked tongue, and other diseases that affect the comfort or safety of men. It is not enough to refrain our tongues from evil — by them we should endeavor . . .
to defend the character of the injured,
to pacify those who are harmed by slanders and revilings,
to comfort the dejected,
to instruct the ignorant,
to reclaim those who err, and
to warn those who are in danger.
For these purposes, we must not only consider what is fit to be spoken — but when also, and to whom it may be proper to speak.
Job's friends are an example of the bad consequences of misapplying most important truths. They were good men, and their words revealed much zeal for God, and concern for the welfare of Job — and yet to that godly man they were drawn swords!
Verse 19."Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment." Let us always speak truth one to another — and if we lose anything by it, our gain shall counter-balance the damage. Our credit will be established, and we shall enjoy that confidence from men, on which our success and usefulness depend.
Truth is the ornament of the great — and to poor men, it is their stock and livelihood. Some small matter may be gained by lying, in the meantime — but a great deal more is lost when men lose their character by it.
Our Lord tells those who had left all for him, that they would have a hundred-fold more in this world, and in the world to come, everlasting life. It may, on the other hand, be said of liars, that besides everlasting death, they shall lose an hundred-fold more in this life, than they can gain by such unhallowed means.
The liar begins by making falsehood to be taken for truth — and ends in making truth to be taken for falsehood. Truth from his mouth is ever suspected, and will not in time of need serve that man who formerly made lies his refuge. Hypocrisy is lying to God — but the imagined advantages of it soon came to an end. The hypocrite's profession soon withers, or by his behavior is discredited. His character is lost, and his hopes perish.
Meanwhile, that profession of the mouth which proceeds from faith and soundness in the heart, shall always flourish and bear fruit. Its honors and advantages shall endure forever, and if it exposes men to present inconveniences, they shall be abundantly compensated at the judgment of the last day.
Verse 20."There is deceit in the hearts of those who plot evil." The more of deception and contrivance there is in any sin — it is so much the more sinful, and exposes men to the more severe judgment.
God has given us the endowments of our minds, as talents with which we are to occupy until our Master come; but if men hide them in a napkin, they shall be punished as unprofitable servants. And if they use them for doing harm — their punishment shall be still more severe. If the servant is punished who is careless about his work — he shall be punished with much greater severity, who employs his thoughts in contriving, and his hands in executing, harm against his fellow-servants. Such people have hearts full of deceitfulness — but their crafty devices shall recoil upon themselves, and they shall have no solid joy — but disappointment and disgrace, as the reward of their work.
What did their father the devil gain, by employing his servants to bring our Savior to the dust of death? Ruin to his kingdom of darkness! What was the consequence of his shutting up Paul in a dungeon? The furtherance of the gospel. Haman was rewarded with a gibbet, for erecting one for Mordecai; for it is the glory of God to force a tribute of praise to himself, out of the wrath and cunning device of men.
"But there is joy for those who promote peace." Let us give praise to God for his everlasting purpose to save men by Christ Jesus, and for the counsel of peace between the Father and the Son. We should follow the pattern of the Prince of Peace, by promoting the peace and happiness of our fellow-creatures. When the wicked are so busy in sowing discord and harm — we must not be careless in seeking peace and pursuing it, for there is joy to promoters of peace. Their minds are serene, their consciences are full of peace. They are respected by men, and receive a blessing from Christ, who says, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."
Verse 21."No harm befalls the righteous, but the wicked have their fill of trouble." Are not sickness, and persecution, and death, incident to the righteous? Or must we become Stoic philosophers, and imagine that there is no evil in pain? Solomon did not mean this. But the evils that befall the just are so inconsiderable, compared with their happiness; and have their nature so much changed by the grace of God — that it may well be said that no harm shall happen to them.
These are not the unmeaning flights of a philosopher who sits in his ivory tower, and when he feels no inconvenience of any kind, can declaim with great fluency on the inability of outward accidents to disturb the repose of a wise man.
The primitive Christians were exposed to everything that men would call harmful — and yet they would scarcely admit that they considered them evil things; because they could not separate them from the love of God, and because they bore no proportion, in weight or duration, to the glory to be revealed, and for which they were the means of preparing their souls.
But whatever may be the present situation of a wicked man, he shall be filled with misery and harm. The calamities of the wicked, even in this world, are very different from those of God's people, for they are envenomed by the consciousness of guilt, and unalloyed by the comforts of faith and hope. Those things are killing to the wicked, which are trials to the righteous. The time is speedily approaching, when the ungodly shall be forever stripped of those objects which they looked upon as their portion, and filled with misery and horror, to the utmost extent of their capacity!
How foolish is it to be terrified from righteousness, by evils not worthy to be named — or allured to sin by those slight and momentary pleasures, which are not to be compared with the exceeding and eternal weight of misery!
Verse 22."Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord." How terrible a thing is it to be abhorred by the Lord, whose loving-kindness is better than life, and his frowns worse than the most miserable death! What would it avail us to gain the highest advantages, or to insinuate ourselves into the favor of the mightiest prince — by a method that must provoke the indignation of Him from whom every man's eternal judgment must come? Lying lips are the objects of the Lord's abhorrence, though man designs no evil to others by them; nor will God excuse a person for lying, even when he intends to serve the best and most friendly purposes by it.
If God's own favorites should be so unwise as to adopt this crooked method of serving the gracious providence of God, the Lord will often make them to feel how abominable their lies are to him, even when he shows his favor to their souls. Jacob would have gotten the blessing without cheating his father — but it may be questioned whether he would have been cheated by Laban, had he not by his sin deserved it at the hand of God.
God's abhorrence of liars appears in the common course of providence, which generally deprives them of greater advantages, than their lies could ever produce. But His abhorrence of liars shall be manifested with awful severity in the eternal world, when none who love and practice lying shall enter into the celestial city — but all liars shall have their part with their great pattern, the father of lies, in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone!
"But those who deal truthfully are His delight." Why did not the inspired writer say, those who speak truly? Because truth in our words is not enough, without truth in our lives. There must be in the Christian, a uniformity of the heart, the tongue, and the life. This is that integrity which God requires, and which he beholds with a pleasant countenance.
How presumptuous are those who think it no great evil to tell a lie, unless some farther degree of evil is intended? Is it all one whether we provoke God or please him? Do liars imagine that God is a liar like themselves, and will allow his faithfulness to be dishonored, by exempting them from the punishment found written in his word?
Verse 23."A prudent man keeps his knowledge to himself." A prudent man will certainly publish his knowledge, when he finds a proper opportunity of making it useful to his fellow-creatures. But he will conceal it, when to publish it would only display his own vanity and folly. There is a time to be silent, and at that time it is a piece of prudence to keep our knowledge to ourselves.
Elihu was a better speaker than any of the other friends of Job — and yet had the good sense to observe a profound silence, until those who had a better title to speak had finished all that they had to say. Our Lord had in him all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge — and yet refused to speak before his enemies and judges, when speaking could be of no use. He did not even open up all the treasures of his wisdom to his disciples, when they were not duly prepared for the discovery of them. He gives us a very necessary caution against casting our pearls before swine, or giving our holy things to dogs.
But a prudent man will not conceal his knowledge, as others often do — to feed their pride, or to gratify a malignant disposition. He lays it up as a good householder lays up provisions in his storehouse, to be produced for use as occasion requires.
"But the heart of fools blurts out folly." The fool's mouth, under the direction of a foolish heart — is the herald of his own disgrace. He presumes to speak of those things of which he has a very imperfect knowledge, and to dictate to those who are much wiser than himself. He is confident, where wise men speak with caution, and publishes what he actually knows without a due regard to times, and people, and places. And while he flatters himself that he has gained a character for wisdom and downright honesty, he is generally looked upon as an impertinent fool! A word spoken in season, how good is it! But out of season, it is a sign of folly, and a cause of harm!
Verse 24."Diligent hands will rule." We must not try to thrust ourselves into places of power, for an aspiring spirit is more likely to be humbled than exalted. But in the calling with which we are called, let us abide and walk with God — so shall we obtain that measure of wealth which is the fruit of industry. And if it so pleases God, we shall be advanced to stations of more eminent usefulness and dignity. The advancement of Joseph and of Mordecai, of Moses and of David, and of the apostles — are eminent illustrations of this truth.
Those who have the power of advancing others into public stations, should make choice of men approved for their industry, as well as other good qualities — for it is industry that gives life and motion to all the rest. Solomon advanced Jeroboam because he was an active man, and Pharaoh would have none but men of activity set over his cattle — although they had been the brethren of his favorite Joseph.
"But laziness ends in slave labor." By their laziness they expose themselves to poverty, and reduce themselves to a slavish dependence on those who, through the blessing of God on their own diligence, are in better circumstances.
Spiritual sloth weakens men, and exposes them to the power of their spiritual enemies. We must be strong, resolute, and active, if we would stand in the evil day, and escape the tyranny of the rulers of the darkness of this world.
Verse 25."An anxious heart weighs a man down." There is a necessity that we should be in heaviness through manifold temptations. But we must be aware lest by giving free scope to anxious and worrisome thoughts, our hearts should sink in us like a stone, and our souls become altogether unfit to relish the comforts, or perform the services of life.
Sadness of the countenance makes the heart better — but despondency of heart disqualifies men . . .
for thanking and praising God,
for serving their generation,
and for bearing the burdens of life.
Life itself becomes burdensome, and is often shortened by excessive grief.
There is nothing that claims our grief so much as sin — and yet there may be an excess of sorrow for sin, which exposes men to the devil, and drives them into his arms.
"But a kind word cheers him up." Expressions of sympathy and friendship have a powerful virtue to soothe and allay the sorrows of the mind, and to prevent their dangerous effects. Job's complaints would have been fewer, had his friends showed him that pity which he expected from them.
But no words have such efficacy for this purpose, as the words of God. David would have perished in the day of his affliction, unless the law of God had been his delight. His afflictions were many, his griefs often great; but they never overwhelmed him, for the statutes of God were his song in the house of his pilgrimage.
Would you comfort those who are cast down? Study the doctrines and promises of the Bible; make yourselves acquainted with the records of the experience of afflicted saints; and pray for the tongue of the learned, that you may be enabled to make seasonable applications from this spiritual dispensary, to the broken in heart.
Are you grieved in your minds? Remember that it is sinful and harmful to brood perpetually over your sorrows. In order that you may have comfort restored — retire and read your Bibles, and see that you resist not, by the indulgence of unbelief, that Spirit who is promised as a comforter. In the 14th, 15th, and 16th chapters of John's Gospel, are contained those words of Christ, by which he conveyed strong consolation to his disciples, when sorrow had filled their hearts, because he was about to leave them. Can there be greater sorrows on any earthly account, or are there any griefs too desperate to be relieved by such consolations?
Verse 26."The righteous is more excellent than his neighbor." The wise man does not say that the righteous is more excellent than the wicked — but gives the unrighteous man the best designation of which truth will admit, for after all possible allowances are made on the side of the unrighteous, the superior excellency of the righteous man is still unquestionable.
The righteous man is possessed with the faith of Christ, and this faith works by love to God and man. He is not selfish in his disposition — but makes it his settled principle of conduct, to glorify God and to do good to man. He is under the government of inward principles, that render him steady in his good purposes, and dispose him, not only to seek for glory, honor, and immortality — but to perform conscientiously the duties of his station, and of every relation in which Providence shall be pleased to place him.
His neighbor may exceed him in many of those possessions and qualifications which are valued in the world — but the righteous man is still more excellent in everything that is truly valuable.
His neighbor may be able to perform more splendid acts of generosity — but he lacks that charity without which it profits a man nothing to part with all his goods. He may possess wit, and the wisdom of the world — but that is foolishness with God, and can bear no comparison with that wisdom which is unto salvation. He may be very rich — but he has no interest in the unsearchable riches of Christ. He may be a duke, or a prince — but he is not a child of God, nor an heir of Heaven. He may be clothed with purple, and fare sumptuously every day — but he is not clothed with the robe of righteousness, nor does he feed on the hidden manna. He may live in a magnificent palace — but he has no title to the house not made with hands, and to the mansions which Christ has gone to prepare for his followers. He may be admired by men — but the righteous man is an eternal excellency in the eyes of God, and the Lord Almighty is to him a crown of glory, and a diadem of beauty.
"But the way of the wicked leads them astray." Why then do men despise the righteous, and toil themselves in the chase of those things that are not to be compared with the objects that make the righteous so excellent? Because their way seduces them. They are seduced by the devil and the world — otherwise they would not walk in such dangerous paths — and in their wicked progress, their seduction grows upon them. They are more and more infatuated with the deceitful charms of the world — and despising the genuine worth of righteousness, are bewildered and lost in the pursuit of vanities and lies!
Let us pray for the Spirit of wisdom, that our understandings may be enlightened to discern the true nature and the incomparable excellency of righteousness. For the light of the body is the eye, and the understanding is the light of the soul, and the whole course of our lives will be directed by it.
Verse 27."The lazy man does not roast his game." It is a great happiness for a man to eat of the labor of his hands — and a great misery for a man to be deprived of the fruits of his industry. Disappointment of hope is a grievous thing, especially when that hope is the fruit of a man's own labor, and the disappointment is mingled with bitter reflections on the toils sustained, with a view to the expected advantage.
But no disappointment of this kind is more grievous than that of the sluggard, to whom labor is a burden which nothing but necessity can render supportable. If the slothful man took nothing in hunting, it would vex him; but to take, and not to roast it — this is altogether intolerable, and must make his heart sick; for his labor is vain, his hope makes him ashamed, and Providence fights against him, depriving him of what he had gotten, at the very time that he thought himself sure of enjoying it.
"But the diligent man prizes his possessions." His toils sweeten his gains, and he enjoys them with pleasure and thankfulness. The blessing of the Lord infuses a sweetness into his substance, so that, (though little), it affords him more pleasure than the wicked and indolent can derive from great riches. The substance of a diligent Christian, though small, is very precious to him, because it is not the fruit of his labors only — but of his prayers also, and he discerns in it the love of his heavenly Father, who, while he gives him the pardon of his sins, gives him also daily bread.
Verse 28."In the way of righteousness there is life; along that path is immortality." Solomon knew very well that Zion's travelers must die — but it is a kind of happy impropriety to call the death of the righteous by its own name. Christ's death was truly death — but the death of those who die in the Lord is only a sleep, for Christ has abolished death, and secured an uninterrupted life to those who believe in him.
There is nothing that can subject the righteous man to the curse of the first death, or to the power of the second death. Nothing can deprive him of that life which is hidden with Christ in God. What man is he who desires immortal life? Let him enter into the new and living way. There let him walk, and in it he shall find no death.