A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
"The wise woman builds her house." Diligence in business is often recommended by Solomon, as a means of obtaining riches, or at least a competency. He here informs us, that the care of the wife is necessary, as well as the industry of the husband.
A wise woman is frugal, and saves. She is industrious, and gains. She is pious and charitable, and brings down a blessing from Heaven upon her family. If the houses of Laban and Potiphar were blessed for the sake of pious servants, a house must be still more favored by Providence, for the sake of a pious wife.
"But with her own hands, the foolish one tears hers down!" As if it were a small thing in her eye to allow it to go to ruin, she uses her own hands to demolish it! The idle and careless woman uses one of her hands — but the extravagant woman makes use of both hands, in this ruinous work! How soon, in such a case, must a house become a heap of rubbish.
This verse directs men in the choice of wives. A woman may be rich and beautiful — and yet prove a plague to her husband and his family, for nothing is more necessary to ruin a house than a bad wife. But a wise and virtuous woman is a rich portion to her husband, though she brings nothing with her. Her father would give her a portion if he were able — but let it be remembered, that she is a daughter of the Lord Almighty, who gives a better portion of graces and blessings with her, than the wealthiest of earthly parents can bestow!
Proverbs 14:2."He who walks in his uprightness fears the Lord — but he who is perverse in his ways despises him." Most men pretend to the fear of God — but pretensions go for nothing when they are confuted by facts. The scripture lays down plain marks, by which we may know whether we are really possessed of that truth of religion, which lies in an affectionate reverence to the Most High God.
The truly godly man, is he who walks in his uprightness. That faith which is not attended with godly sincerity in the heart, nor endeavors after universal obedience in the life — is a dead faith, which gives no evidence of spiritual life.
The godly man not only receives Christ — but walks in him. He not only enters in at the strait gate — but continues traveling in the narrow way, until he comes to the end of his faith and holiness in the heavenly world.
He walks in his uprightness, showing a constant regard, not only to the common duties of a man and a Christian — but to those also that are incumbent on him on account of the particular relations and circumstances in which he is placed.
Upright walking is a sure and true evidence of the fear of the Lord; for that fear consists in a deep impression of the divine excellency and authority, by which men are disposed to abstain from whatever God forbids, however pleasing to the flesh it may be — and to walk before him unto all well pleasing.
Men of corrupt minds and a perverse behavior, may speak much to the praise of God, and profess a high veneration for him — but they are so far from fearing the Lord, that they despise him. Every willful sin is a plain proof that they . . .
disregard his authority,
defy his vengeance,
insult his patience, and
turn the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ into a license for sin.
Let stubborn sinners learn from this observation, the exceeding sinfulness of their perverse conduct. It contains in it a downright contempt for God, which is a crime that can scarcely be charged upon devils! What punishment is sufficient for such as despise the authority of their Maker, and pour contempt on the grace of a Savior? To them it shall be said, "Behold, you despisers — and wonder, and perish!"
Proverbs 14:3."A fool's talk brings a rod to his back, but the lips of the wise protect them." Pride is a root of bitterness, producing a rod of insolence and rudeness in the mouth of the foolish. By this rod they strike and wound their neighbors, who are better than they — but it proves also a rod to the backs of themselves. The wise man does not call the instrument of their punishment a sword — but a rod; meaning probably in this manner to intimate, that their pride shall be abased by punishment of an ignominious kind. They shall not die like heroes — but their punishment shall be that of slaves and fools, and shall yet prove destructive to them, for God can arm with vengeance the meanest instruments. Pharaoh was tormented by flies and frogs, and Herod was eaten up with despicable worms.
But the lips of the wise will preserve them from the rod which is in the mouth of fools, and from that vengeance which overtakes the proud. The humility of their hearts instructs their mouths in the language of meekness and kindness — and their piety and prudence preserve their lips from speaking evil.
Proverbs 14:4."Where there are no oxen, the manger is empty, but from the strength of an ox comes an abundant harvest." As the wise man teaches us to be diligent in business, so the providence of God encourages us to practice this virtue. As he has done so in giving us other animals to assist us in our labors, so we ought thankfully to employ them. Where no oxen or other beasts of husbandry are, there is no food for man or beast — but there is much increase by their labor.
Oxen and donkeys testify, as Isaiah speaks, against the ingratitude of God's people; and here Solomon insinuates that they bear witness against the laziness of the sluggard also. If oxen do not employ their strength for our benefit, the fault is not theirs — but ours. If oxen serve us so well — then we should not grudge those who food which they earn by their labor, and which is necessary for the preservation of their strength.
God would not have the mouth of the ox to be muzzled when he was treading out the corn. That law was in part, though not chiefly designed for the benefit of oxen; for the God who made all things, shows his regard and bounty to them in his laws, as well as in his providence. We should praise God for his bounty to the irrational creatures, since they not only reveal the riches of the Lord — but perform useful services to us. What is man, that God should give us the dominion over so many useful animals, and keep them in subjection to us, even in our fallen state?
Proverbs 14:5."A truthful witness does not deceive, but a false witness pours out lies." In the mouth of two or three witnesses shall every word be established — but the witnesses ought to be men of veracity, otherwise twenty witnesses are no better than so many ciphers.
A faithful witness is one who will not lie or deceive — but a man who has no principle of honesty, will, on the smallest temptation, utter lies without scruple.
Judges, and juries, and elders of the church, must be cautious what testimonies they receive. Justice requires that no man should suffer in his person or character, upon exceptionable grounds. What man can enjoy security — if liars are to receive credit? How wicked a character is that of a liar! His testimony cannot serve his neighbor, and ought not to hurt him. In his mouth, even truth is suspected for a lie.
It is unjust and uncharitable to indulge suspicions against our neighbors, on the report of a liar, or even of common fame, which is generally a common lie.
Proverbs 14:6."The mocker seeks wisdom and finds none" A scorner may seek wisdom — but he never seeks it with right views, nor does he seek after that wisdom which best deserves the name. The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way — but the scorner seeks wisdom to gratify a intricate imagination, to feed his pride; and to enable him, by the display of his wit, to make a show of wisdom.
But he cannot find it, and the reason is plain — he has not a due value for the wisdom that comes from God, and he seeks it not with that earnestness and humility without which it cannot be found. He does not resign his understanding to the instructions of God, nor can his pride allow him to receive with meekness the instructions and reproofs which give wisdom.
The Greeks sought after wisdom — but Christ crucified was foolishness to them. They were already too wise to admit of the preaching of the cross, and scorned a tent-maker who would inform them of new doctrines, which had never entered into their own minds, and who would prove them by other methods than their own favorite devices — eloquence and reasoning.
"But knowledge comes easily to the discerning." For he knows the inestimable worth of knowledge, and seeks for it as for choice silver. Conscious of his own ignorance, he thankfully improves the means of knowledge, and daily depends upon Jesus, the great Teacher, to open his heart for receiving it.
Reproof, as a means of wisdom, is precious to him, and the knowledge which he already possesses, fits him for making progress in it, for to him who has, shall be given more.
Proverbs 14:7."Stay away from a foolish man, for you will not find knowledge on his lips." We must not willingly enter into the company of fools — but if, through ignorance of their character, we happen to do so, we must not stay in it, lest we be corrupted by their foolish conduct. We are either like those whose company we frequent — or shall soon be like them. Evil companionships will efface our impressions of the evil of sin, and corrupt our own morals and character.
Lukewarm professors, who are perhaps the least dangerous of bad companions, will, if we take pleasure in their company, transfuse their lukewarmness into us. Ephraim mixed with the people, and he soon became a cake not turned.
But when are we to leave the company of a foolish man? As soon as we perceive that he has not the lips of knowledge. As trees are known by their fruit, so men are known by their words and works. But they are soonest known by their words, which are the most plentiful and the easiest products of the heart.
We are not to suppose men to be fools without evidence — but profane or foolish words come from folly in the heart; for a godly man out of the good treasure of his heart, brings forth good things — and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart, brings forth evil things.
Men may think themselves so holy, that they are in no danger of being corrupted by evil companionships — yet none are so ready to fall, as those who think they stand. Let Peter be a witness, who on this ground ventured into temptation, and fell before it. But though we were secure against all danger to ourselves, our rashness might embolden weaker Christians to mingle with dangerous society, and so our practice may prove a temptation to those for whom Christ died.
This commandment should strike terror into the wicked. Since God will not allow His redeemed children to keep company with them on earth — it cannot be supposed that He will admit them to His own eternal home in Heaven. Either God or they must change — before they can be received into Heaven!
Proverbs 14:8."The wisdom of the prudent is to give thought to their ways." When men are acquainted with everything but what they ought to know — they are only educated fools. If we had hearts as large as the sand on the sea-shore, and filled with a world of information, while we remained ignorant of the way of attaining true happiness — we would resemble that philosopher who was busied gazing at the moon, until he fell into the ditch!
We are travelers to eternity — and our wisdom lies in knowing the way which leads to that world of unending bliss.
We must endeavor to be acquainted with the difficulties of our way — and how to surmount them; to know the enemies that may be expected to oppose our progress — and in what manner to conquer them; and what helps may be met with in the way, to animate our spirits in pursuing our journey.
It is a piece of necessary wisdom also, to acquaint ourselves with the business and duties of our own particular callings, that we may discharge them with honor and success.
They are fools who know other people's business better than their own. Some people, if you will take their own word for it, could reign better than the king, and preach better than the minister. They know, in short, how to manage in every condition but their own! These are the busy-bodies and meddlers in other men's matters, who in scripture are condemned, and by their neighbors held in derision.
"But the folly of fools is deception." That which they call wit, the scripture calls folly. They mean to deceive others — but they deceive themselves worse by it. They may trick their neighbors out of their money — but they cheat themselves out of their souls! All that wisdom of the serpent that is not reconcilable with the harmlessness of the dove, is folly; and every piece of deceit practiced on our fellow-men, is a dangerous infliction on our own souls.
Proverbs 14:9."Fools mock at sin." Foolish men make a sport of their own sins, when they ought to be humbled to the dust on account of them. Because they are not presently punished — they think that punishment shall never come. Or, like brute beasts, they do not consider what shall be hereafter. But if eternal burnings are a serious matter — then the sin that kindles them can be no just matter of indifference or sport.
Fools sport at the sins of others, which is far less human than to laugh at the fits of a man convulsed with agony, or the pains of one dying.
Sin is the sport of devils only, and those who make it a jest are devils clothed with flesh. Some of them are so like their father, that they will tempt men to sin that they may laugh at them. Such laughter will end in weeping and howling.
"But goodwill is found among the upright." They have too much good-will to one another, and to all men, to make a sport at sin. They are affected with the sins of others, as a man would be if he were brought into a leper-house. A man of spiritual discernment perceives sin to be the most loathsome and dangerous of all distempers — and his eye affects his heart with tender compassion for their misery. The righteous have a principle of charity, that disposes them to rejoice in the goodness and happiness of others as their own. Paul scarcely begins an epistle, without strong expressions of his joy in the prosperity of his fellow-Christians. This charity completed, will multiply the blessedness of the heavenly state.
Proverbs 14:10."Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can share its joy." The thoughts of a man knows no man — but the spirit of a man that is in him. And a man's own tongue cannot express the bitterness of the griefs that he often feels, or the sweetness of the joy he experiences.
We must not be censorious of the griefs of others. There are some who do not express that grief which we think they ought to feel for their troubles, or the adversities with which they have met — but they perhaps grieve more than they appear to do. Sorrow may fill their hearts when they are alone, though company spreads cheerfulness over their countenances.
God is the true judge of the measure of our repentance for sin, or our humiliation of spirit under his afflicting hand. This observation should lead us to compassionate the sorrows of the afflicted. They have inward uneasiness that we cannot feel. Their griefs are frequently too strong for them to subdue, and when they would comfort themselves against sorrow, their hearts are faint within them. Job's friends would not have vexed him so much with their severe censures on his complaints, had they thoroughly weighed his griefs and calamities.
It is a great comfort to Christians, that our Redeemer bore our griefs, and knows our sorrows, and is touched with the feeling of them. For this reason, the broken in spirit should pour forth all their sorrows at the throne of grace, and firmly expect from it all needful supports.
There are joys that equally exceed the knowledge of a stranger, especially the joys of religion, which an unrenewed man cannot relish or understand. These are sometimes unspeakable, and full of glory. Christians do not now enter into the joy of their Lord — but streams of joy enter into their souls from the overflowing fountain of pleasures, and refresh their hearts amidst the sorrows of this wilderness to such a degree, that they can rejoice greatly in the God of their salvation, at the very seasons when they are pitied by the world, as of all men the most miserable.
The unsaved cannot understand how all the ways of wisdom should be pleasantness and peace — but they should consider that they lack those purified understandings and affections, without which spiritual joys cannot be relished. Let them believe the Scripture, and the experience of all godly men. Let them taste and see that the Lord is good, and that there is no lack to those who fear him. Christians do indeed feel sorrows peculiar to themselves — but these are the seeds of inexpressible gladness.
Proverbs 14:11."The house of the wicked will be destroyed — but the tent of the upright will flourish." The upright man is far happier in the poorest circumstances — than a wicked man in his greatest prosperity. Though a wicked man surmounts his neighbor as far as the cedars of the mountain overtop the creeping shrubs of the valley — yet he shall be filled with the strokes of divine vengeance. Though he dwells in a magnificent palace — the tempest of divine indignation shall beat it down!
But the righteous man, though at present he appears, like the incarnate Savior, a tender plant — shall grow like the cedar in Lebanon. And though his dwelling place is but a tent, it shall flourish, and prosper, and grow into a heavenly mansion! It is far better to dwell in a poor cottage where the blessing of God rests, and in which is heard the melody of joy and praise — than in a palace which lies under the curse of the Lord!
Proverbs 14:12."There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." The wisdom of the prudent is to understand his way. Happy is the man who understands it indeed, for many whose end shall be destruction, think that they are traveling in the ways of life.
The Jews in Isaiah's time thought their way right, when they endeavored to please God by multitudes of costly services, while they were mocking and insulting the Most High God, by attempting to bribe him into a connivance at their injustice and inhumanity.
The Jews in our Lord's time walked in the like paths of self-deceit, in setting the traditions of the elders on a level with the commands of God, and seeking righteousness, not by faith — but as it were by the works of the law.
Some professing Christians would join their own works to the righteousness of Christ, as the ground of their acceptance with God. They stand with one foot upon a rock, and the other in a quagmire, and must sink in the mire.
Others, on pretense of seeking justification by the faith of Christ, are careless about holiness, and do not consider that the faith which does not lead men to holiness, will never bring them to Heaven.
There are many others who expect to please God by serving him, not according to the rule of his word — but according to the inventions and commandments of men, and suppose that they are serving him when they are breaking the second commandment, and provoking the Lord to jealousy. Some are so perverse that they think they are doing God service, while they are doing harm to other men, and indulging those uncharitable tempers which God abhors.
We should always keep our eyes on the end of things, and learn with certainty what end we are to expect to our course of life. How terrible will it be for men to hear themselves condemned by the Judge of the world, for those actions for which they expected to hear these pleasant words, "Well done, good and faithful servant!"
Let us give earnest heed unto the Word of God, and compare our expectations and practice with it. Let us daily pray that God may lead us in that way of holiness, in which the wayfaring man, though a fool, shall not err.
Proverbs 14:13."Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief." The joys of this world cannot make a man happy. They are often merely external and false, and they commonly end in heaviness. It is very common for men to put on a face of joy, while the heart pines away with grief.
Some put on the appearance of joy to prevent or remove suspicions about their behavior, and endeavor to cover a guilty conscience with smiles. It would surely be far better to own their sins, and to seek after the pleasures of pardon, and then they may rejoice in God for the forgiveness of their sins.
Others, from a pride of appearing happy, conceal their uncomfortable circumstances and dejected spirits under the appearances of mirth — when they ought to acquiesce in the providence of God, and to seek those pleasures which the world can neither give nor take away.
There are others still, who laugh when their hearts are sorrowful, from an ambition of appearing heroes — who cannot be subdued by misfortunes. They are like the Stoic philosopher, who, under a severe fit of the stone, revealed at once his weakness and his desire of concealing it by these words: "Pain, you may rack me — but you shall not make me confess that you are an evil thing!" An affected joy under tribulation, is as despicable as the triumphant joy of a believer is glorious.
The end of this, and of all worldly mirth, is for the most part heaviness. In this valley of tears, our joys are few and weak, and pains tread upon their heels. Our greatest comforts are avenues to our bitterest calamities. Heaven alone is the land of real and lasting joys. The only joys on earth worth the naming, are derived from the hope of possessing them.
Proverbs 14:14."The backslider in heart will be fully repaid for their ways." A true saint may slip with his feet — but his heart is ordinarily right with the Lord his God. The backslider in heart is the lover of sin, who departs, in the course of his life from God and his laws with full purpose of heart. Such a man is never so filled with sin as he desires to be — and takes much pleasure in it. He shall, however, be filled with sin, either in this world or the next, when, he feels its painful consequences, and finds that God has marked all his steps, and will not acquit him from any of his iniquities. This will be the end of all impenitent sinners — but chiefly of such as have not only forsaken the law of God — but also violated their own solemn vows, and after professing holiness, turned like the dog to his vomit, and like the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.
Apostasy is a horrible affront to the ways of righteousness, and is commonly, though not always, the forerunner of final impenitence and despair.
"But the good man shall be satisfied with the fruit of his ways." The springs of his satisfaction are in God, and he abhors the thought of boasting, except in the Lord, and in his cross; and yet it is true that he shall be satisfied with the fruit of his ways. His pleasure does not lie in comparing himself with those who are worse than he — but he proves his own work, and rejoices with the fruit of his ways. His soul is fitted for relishing true satisfaction, and filled with that holiness which is the same thing to the inner man, that health is to the body. His good works are not the grounds of his confidence — but through Christ they are accepted of God, and graciously rewarded. "Say you to the righteous, It shall be well with him; for they shall eat the fruit of their doings."
Proverbs 14:15."The simple believes everything, but the prudent gives thought to his steps." Readiness to believe what people say, being supposed to proceed from a good temper, is commonly regarded a small fault. But none has ever proved more mischievous to the world. Daily experience shows that many have their fortunes ruined by giving too easy credit to those knaves who will say or swear anything that serves their own interests. History is full of examples of men who have lost their lives by means of their credulity, among whom were those great men Abner and Amass. Others have by this means been robbed of their comfort, as was Jacob for the space of twenty years, though he may well be excused for believing the mournful tidings of his son's death, especially when confirmed by so many plausible circumstances.
Some have been betrayed into the worst of sins, by believing groundless reports of others, as Saul in the case of David, and we might almost add, David himself in the case of Mephibosheth. The nation of the Jews was threatened with desolation by Ahasuerus, who believed the malicious suggestions of the wicked Haman without examination.
Multitudes have been seduced into the most dangerous errors and damning sins, by seducers whom they believed, either from an implicit faith, or from lack of care in searching the oracles of truth.
The whole world was ruined by the simplicity of Eve, and the credit she gave to the serpent.
A prudent man will therefore look well to his goings. He will not risk his fortune and happiness, his life and soul, by believing groundless reports, or receiving doctrines that are destitute of sufficient proof. He will not withdraw his love from men; or do them hurt, because they have the misfortune to become the butt of slander.
There is nothing in which we are so ready to be deceived as in points of religion, and no errors are so dangerous as these. A prudent man will therefore call no man on earth master — but will look upon Christ as his only Master. The Scriptures he considers as his only rule, and the Spirit who dictated them as their great interpreter. He searches the Scripture, and seeks wisdom from God by daily prayer. As Christ is the only way to the Father, the man that is spiritually wise enters into his religious course, and walks in it, depending on this Savior alone for acceptance.
As there is great danger in stepping aside from the path of God's commandments, he pays a strict regard to the least of them. Many deceivers are gone out into the world, and the old deceiver is still walking about, seeking whom he may mislead and destroy. The prudent man is therefore sober and vigilant. He informs himself of the devices of these enemies of his salvation, and while he guards against them by taking heed to God's word, he commits himself to the guidance of him who led Joseph like a flock through the desert, and arrives safely at that paradise where there is no subtle serpent to betray.
Proverbs 14:16."A wise man fears the LORD and shuns evil." A wise man will foresee apparent or probable dangers, and will guard against them.
Nehemiah foresaw the danger he was in from the enemies of the Jews, and used every proper means to prevent their incursions, and this fear was very consistent with courage, for he scorned to use any base shift for his own safety.
A wise man trusts in God's mercy — but this truth is consistent with fear, not with that tormenting fear which is cast out by faith and love — but with that reverence of God, and that necessary caution, which makes people depart from sin, and to flee from it as they would from the devil and Hell. Noah is an instance of this fear. Paul himself, that noble believer, who was always triumphing in Christ, lived under the influence of this holy temper, and kept his body in subjection, lest when he had preached the gospel to others, he himself should be a cast away.
A wise man does not indulge anxious fears about the evils that may come at some future period — for he trusts in the gracious providence of God. But he trembles at the word of God, reverencing its precepts, considering its threatenings with awe, and fearing lest he should seem to come short of the promised blessings. This fear is a bridle to the soul, to curb the workings of evil passions, and to restrain it from every appearance of evil.
"But a fool is hotheaded and reckless." Some are so foolish as to think it a sign of a brave spirit to live superior to all fear, as if it were men's glory to be like the leviathan, who is made without fear.
Fools despise the threatenings of the Bible. They are filled with rage at those providences and reprovers which would check them in their course of sin — but their confidence is daring presumption, which hurries them on to those courses that end in despair. If you would set everlasting burnings before them — they will yet rush on in sin. But their haughty spirits will be tamed when they shall cry to the rocks and mountains to fall on them, and hide them from the face of the Lamb.
The Assyrian monarch raged against God and his people, and was confident that God himself could not stop him in his victorious course — but he soon found a hook in his nose, and a bridle in his jaws!
Proverbs 14:17."A quick-tempered man does foolish things, and a man of wicked devices man is hated." Rash anger is a fruit and evidence of folly. Because another man has done me an injury — am I to do myself a greater, by allowing my passions to domineer over my reason, and expose me to the vengeance of God?
He who is soon angry, speaks and does many foolish things which may cost him many bitter thoughts through his whole life. But a man of wicked devices is far worse than a passionate man, for he harbors malice in his breast, and his soul is the habitation of him whom malice makes a devil. Woe unto the man of wicked devices, for he walks in the way of Cain, and is hated by God and men. Providence may keep him, by the restraints of fear, from imbruing his hands in his brother's blood — but in his heart he daily commits murder, and cannot have eternal life abiding in him. Simeon and Levi procured reproaches from their father for this evil disposition, when the other tribes were receiving blessings.
Proverbs 14:18."The simple inherit folly — but the prudent are crowned with knowledge." Folly is hereditary to those who spring from Adam, who lost to himself and to his posterity that excellent wisdom which beautified his soul in the state of innocence. Folly is like a field that produces nothing but weeds and poisons, and brings forth in great plenty, the grapes of bitterness. This is the inheritance of the simple who love simplicity, and will not hearken to the counsels of wisdom — with these fruits they shall be filled abundantly.
The prudent have a royal heritage. They shall inherit glory, and their knowledge is not only a chain to adorn their necks — but a diadem of beauty to their heads. It makes them as honorable as kings, and prepares them for the possession of those celestial glories, compared with which crowns and scepters are but yellow dust. For the wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament.
The most prosperous sinners are objects of compassion to the wise, because they are fools, and the fruits of folly are their inheritance. But the saint in rags is one of the excellent of the earth — for he is possessed of those glories that confer inconceivable dignity on a beggar, while an emperor without them is base and despicable.
Proverbs 14:19."Evil men will bow down in the presence of the good, and the wicked at the gates of the righteous." Wicked men follow courses which have a tendency in their own nature, and by the appointment of God, to bring them to a state of slavery and dependence.
Godly men, through the blessing of God on their virtue and industry, are often placed in circumstances that enable them to relieve the wretched and unhappy, so that their favor is humbly courted by those who once despised them.
There have been instances in which this proverb was verified in a very remarkable manner. The Egyptians bowed down before Joseph, and Moses, and the Israelites. The proud king of Babylon almost worshiped the captive Daniel; and Elisha's favor was solicited by three kings, one or two of whom were wicked men. But it is certain, from experience, that the reverse sometimes takes place, and godly men are made to bow down before the wicked.
It is, however, certain, that goodness infallibly conducts to honor, and wickedness to disgrace in the end. It is because men believe not the scripture, that they make any compliances with the wicked of the world with a view to gain honor from men. God is the King of nations, and the great fountain of honor. Those who honor him, he will honor — but those who despise him, shall be lightly esteemed. If at any time God's people are under a cloud of disgrace, they have full assurance that it will be soon blown away. Christ himself was once a servant of rulers — but all things are now put under his feet; and it is a faithful saying: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.
Proverbs 14:20."The poor is hated even of his own neighbor — but the rich has many friends." The poor man's neighbor, in this place, must signify one that lives in his neighborhood, or one that is obliged by the ties of relation to love him. All our neighbors of the human race have a title to our love — but those whom Providence has connected with us by the bonds of vicinity or relation, have a double title to our regard; and to despise or hate them, or to be indifferent to their happiness, is a very great sin.
Our love to our neighbor deserves not the name, if it is founded only upon his riches. Poverty, or distress, instead of diminishing our love to them, ought to draw it forth into action. It is base to profess love to people in the time of their prosperity, and to be cold to them in the day of their distress. All men censure Job's friends for behaving harshly to him at a time when they could not show too much tenderness and compassion.
The rich has many friends — but little reason to place much confidence in many of them. They are generally not friends to himself — but to his money and his table. Let him wear rags, and live on bread and water — and he will find who are his real friends.
Let us test our love to our neighbors, for there is much hypocrisy in men's regard to their fellow-creatures, as well as in that respect which they show to their Maker. Sincere love to Christ cleaves to him, whether religion is well or ill spoken of; and true love to our neighbors is the same, whether they are in adverse or prosperous circumstances — and love appears most when there is most need to reveal it.
The poor need not be discouraged because their friends have forsaken them. It is not true that their friends have forsaken them, if they have given them no other reason for it than becoming poor. They were not real friends, but dissemblers — and it is no loss to know their insincerity.
They have reason to rejoice that Christ is the poor man's friend, and that he shows his friendship most in the season of greatest need.
The rich man needs not boast of the multitude of his friends, for many of them are very probably dissemblers, who want to serve themselves at his expense. A man need not call himself rich, although he has many guineas in his pocket, if he has reason to think that most of them are counterfeits.
The friendship of Christ is necessary for him, as well as the poor man, and in that he may rejoice and triumph at all times. David was driven from his throne, and multitudes of his friends became his enemies — but his rejoicing was this, that he had one sure and all-sufficient Friend!
Proverbs 14:21."He who despises his neighbor sins." However common it is for men to hate or despise the poor — it is a great sin, and exposes men to misery. A man's poverty divests him not of that relation to ourselves, and to our Maker and our Savior, which gives him a title to our love. Nor does his poverty weaken the obligation of that great commandment, which requires us to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We show our contempt of the poor, not only by trampling upon them — but by overlooking them, or by withholding that help for which their distress loudly calls. The Levite and the Priest that declined the giving of assistance to the wounded traveler on the way to Jericho, were notorious breakers of the law of love, in the judgment of our Lord. The good Samaritan was the only man that performed the duty of a neighbor. He is an unhappy man, who is chargeable with this sin.
"But blessed is he who is kind to the needy." He needs, and he shall have, that mercy which he cannot merit. If those who do not show mercy are punished — then a heavy vengeance will fall upon the cruel and mischievous.
Proverbs 14:22."Do not those who plot evil go astray?" The doers of evil are abhorred by the Lord, and the more of deliberation and contriving that is found with sinners — the more severely will they be punished. The plotters of evil promise to themselves success in their plans, and expect great advantage from them. But are they not grossly mistaken? Undoubtedly they are. They shall be baffled by the wisdom and power of the God whose kingdom rules over all. They may bring their devices to pass — but they shall not be able by the accomplishment of them, to gain their ends. Instead of doing hurt to the people of God, and disappointing the purposes of the Most High God, concerning his own glory, and the happiness of his chosen people — the wrath of man shall praise God, and promote the salvation of his people. And what remains of the wrath of God's enemies, beyond what would serve these glorious purposes, shall be restrained.
Whatever profit wicked men propose to themselves, they shall find to be loss; and if they should triumph in the accomplishment of their devices — a moment will put an end to their boasting. The builders of Babel expected to make themselves a glorious name — but they made themselves a by-word to every generation. The proud king of Babylon expected to set his throne above the stars, and to be like the Most High God, and with that view he ravaged the nations, and turned their countries into deserts. But how is he fallen from Heaven! And great Babylon which he built for the honor of his majesty — has become the dwelling place of every loathsome creature. Wicked men employ their thoughts to contrive harm, and show so much diligence in the service of sin, although they have such a miserable reward.
"But those who plan what is good, find love and faithfulness." Let God's people exercise the same diligence in the service of righteousness, by seeking out and seizing opportunities for doing good — and their labor shall not be in vain in the Lord. God's servants are oftentimes tempted to weary in well-doing, because they find they can do little good to others by their labors, which are frequently attended with much toil, and many disquieting and anxious thoughts to themselves. But to Him who sows righteousness, shall be a sure reward at last, for his reward is not in the hands of men — but with the Lord, and his work is with his God. He cannot, indeed, pretend to merit anything from the Lord, for he stands in need of mercy. But mercy shall not be denied to Him; for he is savingly interested in the promises that are derived from the grace of God, and secured by the faithfulness of God. If God so exactly fulfills his threatenings against the devisers of evil — then the Father of mercies will not be slack to fulfill his words of grace to those whom he has beautified with his own likeness, and disposed to be faithful in his service.
Proverbs 14:23."All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty." Some men, if they cannot obtain employment of an easy or genteel kind, would rather be idle than descend below their imagined rank, or expose themselves to the drudgeries of manual labor. And while they are busied in contriving plans for business more suitable to their taste and spirit, and talking of them — they waste their time in idleness.
But no useful business is to be despised, for in all labor there is profit, and the lowest professions in life may be a means of procuring subsistence to him who is diligent in it, and to his family.
Men must not, however, expect success in their labor without the blessing of God; and therefore, to industry must be added a dependence on God's providence, a due regard to the service of God, and a disposition to contribute a proper proportion of the fruit of their labors to pious and charitable uses. Otherwise God may blast their labors in righteous judgment, and then no diligence in business can be a security against poverty.
As in religion it is not the man who merely speaks, but the man who does, that gives proof of his sincerity — so in earthly business, it is not the man who talks fluently, and lays down plausible schemes of business, but the man who labors, and does all his work — who has reason to expect the blessing of Providence.
Those that wear their working instruments in their tongues, are always the most useless, and sometimes the most hurtful members of society. They do not work at all, but are busy-bodies in other men's matters. While they pretend to manage those affairs with which they have nothing to do, they bring themselves to poverty by neglecting their own. Like the sons of Jacob, when their father refused to send Joseph with them — they spend more time in deliberating about a thing, than they might have taken to perform it. If they are professors of religion, their slothfulness causes an offence against the good ways of the Lord — but with what justice, is plain from this text.
Proverbs 14:24."The crown of the wise is their riches — but the foolishness of fools is folly." Riches are far from being useless in the hands of a wise man. They place him in an eminent situation, so that he is like a city set on an hill, and his wisdom shines and gives light to multitudes around him. Abraham and Lot could not have afforded us so illustrious proofs of their hospitality — had they been poor men. Solomon was wise enough to chose wisdom, rather than mines of gold and silver — but without riches, his wisdom could not have executed plans of such advantage to the church of God, nor built a temple so celebrated in every age.
When men have riches, it will soon be known whether they have wisdom or not — for wisdom will avail itself of riches, to make itself evident by the noblest acts.
But poor saints have no reason to be dissatisfied with their condition — it requires a greater degree of wisdom than perhaps they have, to overcome the temptations of wealth, and to make it a crown to them. And if their wisdom is despised among foolish men — yet God is well acquainted and well pleased with every good disposition of their heart, although they have not the means of displaying it in acts of goodness. Many who could never give anything but a tear and a prayer to the distressed — shall be classed with Abraham and Lot in the kingdom of God. While others who exercised splendid acts of beneficence, shall be thrust down to the pit with the uncharitable.
If godly men are spoiled of their wealth, they need not lament, as if they had lost their crown. For riches are an ornament of grace to the head of wise men, even when they are lost. Job's patience in the loss of everything, did as much honor to him, as his extraordinary beneficence while he was the richest man in the East. We honor his memory still more, when he wore sackcloth upon his skin, and sat in the dust, than at the time when wealth was his robe and his diadem.
Riches are transitory possessions — but the crown of the wise is incorruptible, for the honors of charity and patience are eternal.
But the foolishness of fools is still folly — when they are in their best and highest condition. Riches give a man fair opportunities to serve God and man by his wisdom — but instead of making a fool wise, they make him seven times more a fool, and render his folly visible to the world! If Rehoboam had been in a lower situation, his folly would have done less harm in his own time, and might have been forgotten when his eyes were closed in death.
Men are generally eager in the pursuit of riches for themselves and their children — but if Solomon may be trusted, it is far better to lack them, unless wisdom is first gotten to manage them; for they are instruments of good or evil — as men have, or lack wisdom.
An Athenian philosopher used to cry out to his fellow-citizens, O you Athenians! Why do you toil yourselves to procure estates for your children — and yet take no pains to give them that education which will teach them to make a right use of their estates? When you see drunkards, and debauchees, and oppressors — you have reason to pity those who they ever had the command of a single shilling.
Pray earnestly for wisdom, and leave it to Providence to determine your outward condition. Wisdom will make every condition good and pleasant.
Proverbs 14:25."A truthful witness saves lives." Some have an aversion to appear as witnesses in a court of justice, as if swearing were never lawful — but it is men's duty to bear witness when they have a call to it; and by bearing witness, God may be glorified, and the lives and properties of the innocent preserved.
But we must never lie on any pretense. Neither the preservation of our own life, nor a regard to the life of our neighbors — is a sufficient motive to induce us to dishonor God, by violating the law of truth. Rahab was approved, not for her dissimulation — but for her faith and her good works. We may redeem the life of our brother, in some cases, with our own life — but a lie is too dear a price for it.
"But a false witness is deceitful" and his lies are often swords to destroy the innocent. The liar breaks not the ninth commandment alone — but frequently the sixth and the eighth also.
Ministers and professors of religion are God's witnesses, and it is of infinite importance to give faithful testimony for God. While they hold forth the word of life, souls may be edified and saved — but the profession and preaching of false doctrine, is pernicious to the everlasting interests of men!
Proverbs 14:26."He who fears the Lord has a secure fortress, and for his children it will be a refuge." Riches are a crown to the wise — but the fear of the Lord is incomparably better. The grace of the fear of God is so great a point in religion, and so inseparably connected with every holy disposition, that it is ordinarily used to denote piety in all its branches. In piety there is a secure fortress, for godly men are safe from every danger, and know, or may know, that they are safe. Neither earth nor Hell shall be able to destroy them, for the place of their defense is the munition of rocks. They are the children of Jehovah, and their almighty Father is their sun and shield. Death itself shall not destroy them — but convey them to those mansions that are made ready by Christ for their reception in their Father's house!
By his children, we may understand the children of those who fear God. Our goodness can merit nothing from God for ourselves, far less for our children. But God is so abundant in goodness and truth, that he has spoken good, and has often brought it to pass, not only concerning his people — but also concerning their seed for many generations.
All men wish to do everything that lies in their power for their children — but death will soon remove us out of the world, and what will we then do for them or ourselves? The estates that are left them, often vanish like snow in the month of March. The best thing we can do for our children, is to fear God — and whether we live or die, the word of God lives, and his promise abides forever. Those who do not chose the fear of the Lord, chose death and ruin, but,
Proverbs 14:27."The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death." The fear of the Lord includes in it faith in Christ — and those who believe on the Redeemer, have in them a well of water springing up unto life everlasting! They enjoy true life, and everything that can render life happy. They are preserved from those temptations and sins that are snares and nets to entangle and destroy those who have not the fear of God before their eyes. The fear of God is attended with every blessing — and is a preservative against all misery.
Happy is the man who the Lord. We may say to him as Abigail to David, "Your soul shall be bound up in the bundle of life with the Lord your God — but your enemies shall be like stones bound in a sling." But of those who reject the fear of the Lord, we may speak in truth what Bildad says, in a very unjust allusion to Job, "He is cast into a net by his own feet, and he walks upon a snare!"
Proverbs 14:28."In a multitude of people is a king's honor, but in the dearth of people is a prince's ruin." The wise king gives many good instructions, and is thereby doing good to us all. Kings without wisdom are public calamities — but well-instructed kings, with their long arms, are the ministers of God for good to millions.
In this passage he directs kings to govern in such a manner as to make their subjects happy, that they may not be tempted to leave their country, and retire to a land of greater liberty — but encouraged to rear up an offspring for the service of their king and country. This instruction is conveyed in a powerful motive to enforce it, which is, that the honor and safety of a prince lies in the multitude of his loyal subjects — and his disgrace and ruin in the lack of men attached to his government, and prepared to venture their lives in his defense.
In the happy days of Solomon, the people enjoyed peace and plenty, and the children of Israel and Judah were like the sand of the sea in multitude, eating and drinking, and making merry. In the miserable reign of Jehoahas, the people of Israel were made like the dust by threshing, so that he and his kingdom were on the brink of destruction, when the God of mercy raised up saviors to prevent their extirpation.
It is the glory of the great and eternal King, that his subjects cannot be numbered for multitude; and the lovers of his name will contribute their zealous endeavors, by their holy lives and their prayers, to increase the number of his subjects.
Proverbs 14:29."A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly." Anger is a more ungovernable monster than the leviathan, and needs much more than a double bridle for curbing it! Solomon is constantly repeating his admonitions to us, to be on our guard against the incursions and ravages of this fury.
Many people are in a gross mistake on this point, and imagine that meekness is a sign of stupidity — and that a high and outrageous sense of honor an evidence of great spirit. But the inspired philosopher makes it his business to correct our false apprehensions of things, and assures us, that he is the truly wise man, who keeps his passions in subjection to sanctified reason; and that the man who gives way to anger, upon every provocation, is not only a fool — but so far gone in folly, that he lifts it up to public view, and proclaims by his behavior, that he has given to folly the throne of his heart!
Moses was the meekest man, and he was for that, as well as other reasons, the wisest man of his age. Solomon was in the zenith of his wisdom when he spared those rebels Abiathar and Adonijah — but he was in his decline when he sought to destroy the man to whom God had promised a part of his kingdom.
A philosopher advised Augustus Caesar, when he felt himself angry, to say nothing until he had taken time to repeat all the letters of the Greek alphabet. When we find ourselves provoked, let us check our passions, until we are able, with greater coolness than Jonah, to answer that question, "Do you do well to be angry?"
Proverbs 14:30."A tranquil heart is life to the body." Most men will allow that religion is the best thing for the soul. But the body is generally regarded more than the soul, and they are prejudiced against religion, because it is considered as unfavorable to the interest and comfort of the outward man. This false apprehension, Solomon endeavors in many places of this book to remove.
According to his doctrine, holiness is the health of the soul, and diffuses its influence over the body — but sin, which is the disease and death of the soul, is a slow poison also to the body in its present state. A heart purified by the grace of God, and set at liberty from corroding and turbulent passions, enjoys the pleasures of a peaceful conscience, and a sweet joy, which gives a grace to the countenance, and communicates health and vigor to the bones. That cheerful heart which does good like a medicine, is chiefly the gift of sacred wisdom; and that benevolence which inclines us to do good to others — is sure to do good to ourselves, so that the fruits of charity always begin at home.
"But envy is rottenness to the bones." Envy is a torment and punishment, as well as a sin. The envious man is impoverished by another's riches, and tormented by another man's happiness. Every person who seeks his own happiness, is making the envious wretch miserable.
It was fabled that a woman was autopsied after her death, and a serpent found in her heart. But the envious man has a serpent in his heart while he lives, which is constantly tormenting him! He is not only disfigured by his evil eye — but pines away under a distemper that consumes his bones, and is a greater enemy to himself than to any other man. He has a Hell within himself, and is on the road to that Hell which is prepared for the devil and his angels, where a place is allotted to him among adulterers and murderers!
Envy in the devil, was the occasion of our ruin.
Envy in the Pharisees, brought our Lord to the cross.
Envy in ourselves, is rottenness to our bones, and damnation to our souls.
May the God of love free us from this baneful passion!
Proverbs 14:31."He who oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honors God." To oppress the poor by taking advantage of them, is a monstrous iniquity! To oppress them by the refusal of that mercy which they need, is a less degree of wickedness — but sufficient to procure eternal condemnation. He who oppresses the poor, either by insults and injuries, or by neglect — reproaches his Maker, who made man after his image, and by his providence allots to men their different stations in life, requiring the rich and the poor to be useful to one another. The former by kindness, the latter either by their labor, or if they are disabled from work, by their prayers for their benefactors.
Oppression and uncharitableness make it evident that men do not revere the works of creation and providence — but are atheists either in opinion, or at least in practice; and that the commandments, and promises, and threatenings of God, are despised by them as idle imaginings.
Every man that places more confidence in the promises of God than in the bonds of men, and trusts more to the living God than to his shining dust; every man that regards the authority of God in his precepts, and the providence of God in its administrations — will exercise mercy to the poor, and contribute to their relief. If we say that we love God and hate our brethren, or if we say that we love them — and yet act as if we hated them — then we are liars, and the truth is not in us.
Proverbs 14:32.All must die — but there is an immense difference between the death of the righteous, and that of the wicked. This difference is not always discernible to observers — but it is as real and wide as the distance between Heaven and Hell.
"The wicked is driven away in his wickedness." The wicked man is driven out of the world in which his portion lies, and all his hopes are then confined to a world of unmingled misery and unchanging despair. He lived in sin and dies in sin, and his sins lie down with him in the dust, and afford everlasting nourishment to the worm that shall never die, and fuel to the fire that shall never be quenched. If he should die as quietly as a lamb, that does not lessen his misery — but only suspends it a few moments. If he should feed his vain mind with the hopes of Heaven to the last — yet he dies into hopeless anguish!
"But the righteous has hope in his death." He believes in Christ, and his sins are all forgiven. His death is the destruction of sin, which gave him so much trouble in his life. He departs from this world, and from his own body — but it is to a better country, where he is absent from the body, and present with the Lord. His death is full of hope, for he will be with Christ, which is far better for him than the best things he could hope or wish for on earth. His hopes may be weak and languishing — but still he has so much hope in Christ, as to venture his soul in His hands. And if his sincere faith is mingled with fears, these fears shall vanish as a thin cloud. These anxieties will only add to the triumphant joy which he will feel, when angels come to convey his soul to the regions from whence fear and sorrow are forever banished!
Death is a grim sergeant to the wicked, sent to arrest them for their crimes.
Death to believers, is like Joseph's wagons sent to convey his father to his best-loved son.
The wicked are unhappy in their lives, for there is but a step between them and the king of terrors.
The righteous are blessed in their lives, for their salvation is drawing nearer every day. They are most blessed in their deaths, for to them to die is Christ. Now they are saved by hope, then they die in hope, and through eternity they shall enjoy what they waited for in hope.
Proverbs 14:33."Wisdom reposes in the heart of the discerning." Wisdom does not lie buried in the heart of the wise man — for his tongue brings it forth for the advantage of others on every proper occasion. But it is hidden in his heart, like a precious treasure that he wishes to preserve from those robbers that would deprive him of what he values above gold and silver. He does not make a vain and useless display of his wisdom to draw the applause of men — for he is not like those philosophers, falsely so called, who valued the reputation of wisdom above wisdom itself. He does not pretend to give instruction to those who are fitted to instruct himself, for he is readier to learn than to teach, except when he sees a proper call to instruct others. He will not make his wisdom cheap, by casting his pearls before swine, and prostituting his holy things to dogs. Nevertheless he is willing and ready to produce some of his precious stores, when he sees a probability of doing good to others by them. He is like a rich and generous man, who takes no pleasure in boasting of his wealth — but still keeps something in readiness to serve his friends.
"But what is in the heart of fools is made known." But that which fools may have is soon known, and found to be what it really is, and not what they imagine it to be. If they know anything, they think it useless until others know that they know it. This folly is wisdom in their own eyes, and therefore they publish it abroad, until all men know by their own testimony that they are fools. Some people are so weak as to think that much speaking is a sign of much sense, and silence a proof of ignorance. But a wise man is often known by his silence, and a fool by his multitude of words. Whereas, if he could have remained silent, he might have been taken for a wise man.
Proverbs 14:34."Righteousness exalted a nation — but sin is a reproach to any people." This proverb is verified in the whole history of the nation of Israel, and in those promises and threatenings that received their fulfillment in the events which befell them.
Some allege that God dispenses no rewards and punishments to the nations — but such as are the native consequences of their behavior, without any particular direction of providence, from a regard to their good or bad conduct. But Providence has affixed prosperity or misery to virtue or vice, as their natural consequences — and we find God punishing many nations on account of their sins, by calamities that were not the native results of their sins.
The histories of Genesis, and Exodus, and Joshua, and the predictions of all the prophets concerning the heathen nations, might be quoted in proof of this point; and even under the New Testament, we find prophecies of the miseries that would cane upon public bodies for their sins.
Great is the regard which a righteous God has for righteousness. The virtue even of heathen nations has been rewarded with prosperity, and their vices have brought reproach and ruin on them. Righteousness, such as heathens could practice, made Greece and Rome to flourish, and exalted them to glory. But the last of these nations, after it was advanced to the highest pitch of worldly grandeur, was soon brought to extreme misery, and debased to the most wretched servitude — when corruption and wickedness, in opposition to the dictates of natural light, was become common in it.
Let us all, therefore, if we love our country, oppose wickedness to the utmost of our power, for a remnant of righteous people may sometimes prove for a time the pillars of a land. It is in the interest of kings to promote righteousness, and to discourage iniquity among their subjects; and this they will do, if they deserve that noble title.
Proverbs 14:35."The king's favor is toward a servant who acts wisely, but his anger is toward him who acts shamefully." Many kings have indeed erred in this point — but they have frequently been made to see their error. Like Ahasuerus, who nourished in his bosom that serpent Haman, and overlooked the faithful services of Mordecai — but afterwards destroyed Haman to whom he had so shamefully given his confidence — and exalted Mordecai, the preserver of his life.
Solomon had told us that riches are a crown to the wise — but here he tells us that poverty and lowly circumstances will not hinder men from being crowned by wisdom. A servant who fears the Lord, and manages the affairs entrusted to him with prudence and faithfulness — obtains the favor of his master, although he is a king.
A foolish servant is a shame to himself and to his master. Although for a while his folly and vices may be concealed — yet in the end they bring down that displeasure upon him which is often attended with vengeance. Some masters may be so ungrateful, as to despise the best servants, or through prejudice they may be led to treat them with great injustice — but time will convince them of their mistake, and cause them to alter their conduct, as we find in the case of David and Mephibosheth. But even if they prove so inhuman and wicked as to continue to be enemies to their best friends, let such servants remember how David was used by Saul, and consider whether he was a gainer or a loser by the persecutions he underwent.
The great King who reigns over Heaven and earth, will reward faithful servants, who do honor to his gospel by the proper discharge of the duties of their stations; for he does not despise the lowest services of the lowest men — but he is a severe Avenger of the wrongs done by men, to those with whom his providence has connected them.