A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
Proverbs 16:1."The preparations of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD." A man cannot put his heart into a proper order, nor manage his thoughts so as to be ready for any good word or work, by his own abilities. We cannot expel sin from our hearts, nor furnish them with holy dispositions. Even when our hearts are purified by the grace of God, we cannot, without new supplies of grace, prepare them for praying, or speaking to the edification of our fellow Christians. One of the best of men, tells us that he was not sufficient of himself to think anything as he ought. It is our duty to prepare our hearts, and fix our thoughts for every religious service to which we are called — and it is our sin when we are careless about it. But we must not attempt this work in our own strength. In everything we must direct our eyes to God, the fountain of all goodness, praying to him, as David did for his people, that he may prepare our hearts unto himself.
To encourage us to apply to God for his needful assistance, we are here told, that the preparation of the heart belongs to him; and in other passages of Scripture we are encouraged by his promises, to expect this favor at his hands. We must depend on God for everything. The answer of the tongue is from the Lord, as well as the preparation of the heart. He fashions the hearts of men, and makes their tongues to speak what he pleases.
He pressed Balsam's tongue, against his desires, into the service of Israel, and would not allow Laban to speak to Jacob either good or bad, when he came to him with a full resolution to do him some harm. Caiaphas was made to speak a noble truth, when he designed only to suggest a political counsel; and Pilate had not power to pronounce the condemning sentence against our Lord, until it was given him from above.
However well our thoughts are arranged in our minds — yet we cannot utter them to the advantage of men, and the glory of God — unless the Lord enlarges our hearts and looses our tongues. Therefore David prays that his lips, which were closed, might be opened; and Paul begs the prayers of the Ephesians, that utterance might be given. We must beg from God the gifts of utterance for ministers, and the gift of prayer and Christian conference for ourselves — under a firm persuasion that we are altogether unable of ourselves to think or speak, or perform any good thing, and that every good and perfect gift is from above, even from the Father of lights, who bestows his gifts freely — but requires the praise of them to be rendered back to himself. The truth contained in this text must not slacken — but encourage our Christian diligence.
Proverbs 16:2."All a man's ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the LORD." How different is the judgment which men form of themselves, from that which God makes of them! He looks down from Heaven to see how men behave, and behold, be sees all men walking in sinful ways. They are filthy and abominable — and yet so blind, that they generally think their way is clean and pure. They will acknowledge that they are not free from sin — but they have no impressions of the evil of sin. Their great transgressions, they account venial trespasses. Their lesser iniquities, which they daily commit, are accounted mere motes, not worth the minding. And every slight appearance of goodness, their vain imagination exalts into a shining virtue.
The reason of men's good opinion of their ways is, that they are unacquainted with their own hearts, and take no pains to be acquainted with the secret principles and aims which animate and direct the course of their life. No kind of knowledge is more necessary, nor seldomer sought after and obtained — than the knowledge of a man's self. But it will profit us nothing to be pure in our own eyes, if we are abominable in the eyes of him with whom we have to do. It is not he who commends himself who is approved — but he whom the Lord commends.
The better that a wicked man thinks of himself, he is the more abhorred by the Lord, who is the irreconcilable enemy of pride and self-conceit, and calls those men who boast of their goodness, a smoke in his nostrils — a fire that burns all the day. The Lord is our Judge, and our sentence must come from him. He weighs our hearts in a just and unerring balance — and if they are destitute of faith in Christ, and love to God and holiness, he will condemn our way.
The most splendid actions, and shining appearances of virtue, without purity of heart, will make us, in his sight, only like white-washed sepulcher — beautiful on the outside, but inwardly full of rottenness and dead men's bones.
Let us examine our own hearts and ways under a deep impression of this truth — that God is greater than our hearts, and knows all things. The Word of God is the rule by which we must search and try ourselves — for God will judge us by it at last. We learn from God's Word, that none shall be able to stand in judgment before God, who have not been made to discern the impurity of their heart and lives, and compelled to build their confidence upon him who saves the lost. It is not impossible for men to attain a comfortable knowledge of their own salvation. Although a ragged beggar, when he dreams of crowns and scepters, thinks himself as sure of his imagined dignity, as if it were a reality — yet a king will not doubt of his royalty, nor imagine that it may be only a dream. But those who have obtained this precious blessing of knowing assuredly that they are purified in heart and life — have, at the same time, a humbling sense of remaining impurities. Their dependence is not upon themselves — but upon Christ; and they would dread the thoughts of being brought into judgment with God on the ground of their own righteousness, knowing that no flesh can be justified before him.
Proverbs 16:3."Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed." The just God has appointed much toil to the sons of Adam, to be exercised therewith — and it often becomes a burden that makes us to groan and cry out for ease. And here God in his mercy directs us to a method of finding ease and comfort under the heaviest burdens — Commit to the Lord whatever you do.
But how shall we cast them upon him? Shall we ascend into the heavens to find him for this purpose? No, David explains this point of instruction at great length in the thirty-seventh Psalm, and tells us that we are to commit our work unto the Lord, by trusting and resting in him, and waiting patiently for the outcome. Paul directs us to do it by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving. And as Hannah, when she had prayed about her sorrows, went away, and was no more sorrowful.
So when our burden is cast upon the Lord by fervent supplications, we ought to banish every anxious thought, believing that God is mighty and faithful, and will give a good account of that which is entrusted to him by his own direction.
We must not, however, neglect the use of proper and warrantable means for accomplishing our designs, for it is presumption, and not faith, to believe God's promise, and disregard his command.
Joshua was to depend upon God alone for victory over the Canaanites — and yet he was required to be strong and courageous, to fight with them, and observe all God's commandments. He seems to have erred when he sent only 3000 men against Ai, to save toil to the people.
Our temporal affairs are to be committed to God, is well as our spiritual concerns. In everything we must depend upon God's help, ask his direction, and refer ourselves to his will. In the meantime, we must undertake nothing inconsistent with our duty to God and men, for it would be gross impiety to concern the most holy God in things opposite to his own will.
Had David been employed in acknowledging God when he prepared his men for marching with the Philistines against Israel, the Amalekites would never have found an opportunity to destroy Ziklag. And yet David's encouraging himself in the Lord his God, after he had felt the bad consequences of his rashness, teaches us this comfortable lesson — that although we have been turned by our own rashness out of God's way, we are not excluded from the benefit of this gracious direction. David still committed his work to the Lord, and the harms occasioned by his unadvised conduct were soon retrieved. What a pleasure is it for a weary man to be allowed to cast his burden upon one who is well able to bear it!
But it is our mercy, that we are allowed to cast our works and burdens upon the Almighty God. And we are assured that he will then establish our thoughts, and bring what concerns us to a comfortable end.
Perhaps the event will not suit our present views — but in that case it will appear that our views were not agreeable to the gracious intentions of God — and in that case it will be our happiness to have them disappointed. May the will of the Lord be done, and let our own will be done as far as it consists with his. It was a prayer of a famous divine, 'Let my will be done, O Lord — my will, because it is Yours.'
Proverbs 16:4."The Lord has made all things for himself — yes, even the wicked for the day of disaster." Every rational being has some end of his work in view. And God, in all his works of creation and providence, has the noblest of possible ends in view — the glory of his name, and the manifestation of his divine excellencies. He is infinitely blessed, and needs no glory from us — but he is infinitely wise and holy, and he will be glorified by us, or upon us. Every creature should be used by us as a means of raising our thoughts to its Creator, for what being is there that lacks a tongue, to declare his glory to the rational mind? The silent fish will declare unto us that the hand of the Lord has made them.
But does not God lose his glory in some of his creatures? Are not wicked men and devils dishonoring him every day to his face? Yet God shall never be disappointed of his great end. He will obtain a revenue of praise from those who will not give him the glory due unto his name, and will force the wrath and wickedness of his enemies to praise him.
Pharaoh was an insolent rebel against the Sovereign of the world — and yet in very deed God raised him up, to show his power in him, and that his name might be declared throughout all the earth.
Tremble, you stubborn sinners! God must be glorified in you, and if you will not be persuaded to give him glory by accepting of his gracious salvation, and turning from your sins — then there remains nothing for you but a fearful looking for of judgment, and of fiery indignation. The Lord Almighty will be exalted in judgment, and God who is holy will be glorified in righteousness.
The day of disaster is the day of the display of the glorious holiness of God. You cannot expect to escape, unless God could be persuaded to renounce his glory for you. You may with much more reason, hope that the earth should be removed out of its place. Aaron was a highly-favored saint — and yet when his two sons affronted God by offering strange fire, they were immediately consumed by fire. The reason was, because God would be glorified in all who came near unto him. The flames of Hell will shine forever to the glory of God, and afford a subject for the songs of Heaven!
How admirable are the glories of the Lord! Every creature in every world, and everything that happens in any part of his dominions — concur to show forth his praise. Of him, and through him, and to him are all things! To him be glory forever and ever. Amen. The proud among those who do wickedly, shall be dreadful monuments of the vengeance of the Almighty God, and not one of them shall escape!
Proverbs 16:5."The LORD detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished!" We have seen already, that a proud look is greatly offensive to God — but although there is no appearance of pride in the countenance or behavior to provoke the displeasure of the Almighty — yet he is the searcher of the heart, and if he finds it governed by pride, he will execute the vengeance written in his word upon the haughty sinner.
Man looks on the outward appearance, and frequently makes false judgments. The demure Pharisees were counted humble and pious men, when they were hunting after the praise of the people — but their inward pride was well known to our Lord, who tells them, that what was highly valued by men, was abhorred by God.
The proud abound in the world. This abominable sin is natural to the posterity of him who fell by attempting to be like God. The forms of it are quite various, and the grounds of it cannot be reckoned up, for it is an insatiable monster that will find nourishment in anything. Some are proud of their dignity and power, and high birth. Others boast themselves because of their great riches. Some are proud, like Goliath, of their stature and the vigor of their limbs. Others boast of their beauty — and that pleasing form which shall soon be turned into corruption. Some are proud of their righteousness, and others (O the infatuation of the human race!) glory in the shame! But whatever shape pride may assume, and whatever is its ground, it is seen by the all-seeing eye of God, and makes the man in whom it dwells and reigns, an object of his abhorrence and avenging justice! None can imagine the terrors of that punishment which inflicted by the hand of the Lord, on those whom his heart abhors.
But is there no possibility of avoiding it? None, unless the haughty spirit is humbled into a submission to the righteousness of faith. Though hand join in hand, those who walk on in pride shall be abased, and spurned into eternal Hell. Unknown myriads of angels fell by pride into the bottomless pit, and are groaning, and shall forever groan, under the power of God's righteous wrath! Although all the proud on earth should enter into a confederacy with all the legions of devils and damned spirits in Hell, and exert their utmost combined force to oppose the execution of Almighty vengeance — they will only be like heaps of dried straw, reared up to oppose the progress of a raging flame!
Proverbs 16:6."By mercy and truth iniquity is purged; and by the fear of the Lord, men depart from evil." It is plain from Scripture, that Christ has by himself purged our sins, and by one offering forever perfected all those who are sanctified. To pretend to substitute anything of our own in place of his perfect atonement, or to join our own works to his blood to procure our pardon, would be as foolish as an attempt to extinguish the sun, and supply its place with a candle; or to improve the brightness of that luminary, by lighting a torch at mid-day. We must not therefore imagine, that Solomon meant in this place to recommend mercy and truth to us, as means of procuring the favor of God and the pardon of our sins, for Scripture cannot contradict itself.
Some, by mercy and truth, understand the mercy and truth of God, two attributes which shine with illustrious brightness in our salvation, and are frequently mentioned together by the sacred writers, when they celebrate the glories of it. Christ, our atonement, was the mercy promised unto the fathers, and when God bestows pardon through Christ, he reveals the riches of his mercy according to his Word; for he is faithful and merciful when he fulfills that promise of the covenant, "I will be merciful to their unrighteousnesses, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more."
None shall receive the benefit of pardoning mercy — but consistent with the truth of God in his Word; and therefore hopes of safety, not grounded on the Scripture, shall end in shame and disappointment.
The Hebrew word which we render purged, is sometimes used to signify the cause or means of deliverance from temporal harms, or death. In this sense I think it may be said, that by mercy and truth in men, iniquity is removed; according to that exhortation of Daniel to the king of Babylon, "Break off your iniquities by showing mercy to the poor, so be it may a lengthening of your tranquility."
It is mighty recommendation of mercy and fidelity towards men, that we are so infinitely indebted to the mercy and faithfulness of God, to whom we are to show our gratitude, by imitating those amiable attributes that appear with such lovely glories in our pardon and salvation. And while we thus show forth the virtues of our God and our Savior, in doing good to men, we are consulting and pursuing our own best interest and comfort.
But mercy and truth to men, must have the fear of the Lord joined to them, to make them Christian graces. Morality is not solid without piety, and piety is not genuine without morality. The fear of the Lord is a soul-purifying grace, and we must cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.
When Joseph's brethren were terrified that he would do them some injustice, he assures them that they might banish every anxious thought, for, says he, "I fear God!" The fear of God will not only dispose men to abstain from manifest acts of injustice — but it will keep them from every instance of harsh and ungenerous conduct.
Nehemiah would not oppress the people by exacting the ordinary benefits of his office, because he was under the constraining influence of this gracious principle. You may safely trust a man that has the fear of God in him, for herein he will exercise himself to have a conscience void of offence, both towards God and towards man.
Proverbs 16:7."When a man's ways please the Lord, he makes even his enemies to be at peace with him." It is very natural for men to endeavor to please those whom they love, and on whom their interests depend; and often they despise and provoke God, by preferring the favor of men to the approbation of their divine Judge.
Every true Christian is disposed, by the grace of God, to endeavor to walk so as to please God; and if there were no other happiness but what this world affords, it would still be our wisdom to prefer the pleasing of God to the favor of men — because the hearts of all men are in his hand, and he disposes our neighbors to love or hate us, according to his will.
When we have lost the favor of our friends or superiors, we are disposed to reflect on them for their unkindness or ingratitude — but we should rather consider seriously, whether we have not provoked our great Benefactor to deprive us of the good-will of men, by our ingratitude to himself. Wolsey made this melancholy reflection, when he was turned out of his Master's favor: "Had I served God as faithfully as I served my prince, he would not have forsaken me thus at last." But if he had served God more faith fully, it is probable that his prince had not forsaken him at last; or if this calamity had in that case befallen him, it need not have produced such a bitter reflection.
When we have lost the favor of our friends, or in fear of enemies, it is our wisdom to use proper means for softening their resentments — but that is not the first nor the chief thing we have to do. Our first work should be, to make our peace with God, if we have offended him — for he fashions the hearts of men according to his pleasure; and whether they act as friends or enemies, they are ministers of his providence.
Jacob did well in giving large presents to Esau, and addressing him in such submissive language but neither his complaisance nor his gifts turned his brother's alienated heart to him. These were, indeed, means which God blessed for that purpose — but the principal means which Jacob used for this purpose, was weeping and supplication, and by these he had power with God, and, by consequence, with men, and obtained the glorious name of Israel.
God has often given favor to his faithful people in the eyes of strangers and enemies, which appears in the instances of Joseph in Egypt, David at Gath, and Daniel in Babylon. These and the like examples of God's sovereignty over the hearts of men, and goodness to his people, may satisfy us that God will sooner or later reconcile the hearts of enemies to his servants, when he sees it for their real benefit. Job was long an object of indifference to some of his friends, and aversion to others of them — yet at last the hearts of all his acquaintances were disposed to love and serve him.
If one endeavors to prove what is the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God — and yet misses the favor of men, he may rest satisfied in this, that he is at peace with God, and that his providence will make the wrath of men to promote his noblest interests. The martyrs, when they lost their lives, were overcomers, and obtained brighter crowns than the mightiest of their adversaries ever wore.
Proverbs 16:8."Better a little with righteousness, than much gain with injustice." The fruits of unrighteousness may be pleasant in the mouth — but they are bitter in the belly; and a man that consults his true interest, will rather live on bread and water, or starve, with a good conscience — than enjoy the revenue of kings, without the approbation of God and his own conscience. There are too many in the world who would rather be rich by unfair means — than enjoy the pleasures of a good conscience with poverty. Therefore the Spirit of God cries to us again and again, that a little with honesty and the fear of the Lord, is better than affluence without it.
Proverbs 16:9."In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps." The first verse of this chapter is in many translations made to express the same truth. "To man belong the plans of the heart — but from the LORD comes the reply of the tongue." The Lord has a sovereign influence over the hearts and thoughts of men. They can devise nothing without the concurrence of his providence, for in him we live, and move, and have our being. When men are even taking unhallowed means to determine their conduct, the holy providence of God, by undiscerned influence, overrules their minds, and decides in their councils.
When the king of Babylon used divination to direct him whether he should direct his march to Rabbah or Jerusalem, it was the Lord who determined him to come against his own people, to punish them for their iniquities. Yet Solomon affirms with truth, that a man's heart devises his way, because man exercises full freedom of will in forming his projects.
The decree and providence of God do not interfere with the free-will of rational creatures, far less can man's free-will preclude the absolute dominion of the Most High over the hearts, as well as the fortunes of men. The sovereign dominion of God shines clearly in the disposal of men's ways. They either execute their counsels or not, as his wisdom has determined. They sometimes accomplish their own counsels — but whether they do or not, they never fail to accomplish the purpose of God.
Those that know not God, those who will not acknowledge his decrees and providence, and those who set themselves in the most avowed opposition to God — are all of them employed as instruments in the execution of his decrees. The devil himself was deeply concerned in the accomplishment of the glorious purpose of God about our salvation.
God not only determines the event of a man's devices — but every step in his progress. He not only directs every step of his people — but every step in the walk of every-man, and even of his greatest enemies, is ordered by him.
Accordingly, we find Isaiah and Micah, when they speak of the Assyrian invasion of Judea, naming the particulars of their march, as if they had been writing a history, rather than a prophecy; for they were inspired by him who works all things after the counsel of his own will, and makes use of all creatures as the ministers of his providence.
What comfort to God's people may be derived from this point! Our heavenly Father has all hearts, and tongues, and hands under his sovereign management! A dog cannot move its tongue against any one of us, unless he gives it commission. Whatever befalls us by the spite of men, should lead our thoughts to God; and when we consider it as a piece of his divine providence, we shall see that we have no reason to complain — but much reason to adore.
Let us never lay down any plan of conduct, without acknowledging God. If we will not take notice of his providence in proposing our measures, we shall find in the prosecution of them, that there is a divine providence which will have its course, in spite of all the wisdom and strength of men.
Proverbs 16:10."The lips of a king speak as an oracle, and his mouth should not betray justice." It is too evident that this sentence contains not the character of all kings — but only of those who deserve this noble title by their wisdom and goodness. It would not be a perversion of the original text, in this and other passages which speak of the excellent qualities of kings, to translate them as advice, rather than descriptions of their behavior.
Let a divine sentence be in the lips of the king, and let not his mouth transgress in judgment. Great sagacity and insight is necessary for those who govern whole nations. The higher men are exalted, they need the more wisdom — because ignorance and folly are attended, in men of station and power, with very destructive consequences. Kings are not born wiser than other men — but they are under stronger obligations than their subjects, to use with unceasing diligence the means of attaining wisdom, and to pray for it to him who is the Fountain of wisdom and royalty. When God calls men to any station for which great degrees of wisdom are requisite, let them ask it of God, who gives liberally and upbraids not.
Justice is equally necessary in kings, for without this, great talents only render them terrible scourges for their subjects and neighboring nations. This text directs our sentiments about kings. We are not required to shut our eyes, and to believe manifest lies of the greatest men — but it is sinful and dangerous to entertain groundless prejudices against kings, and to weaken their government by speaking to their disadvantage.
How worthy is our Lord Jesus Christ to wear upon his head many crowns! He is the wisdom of God, and all administrations are judgment and righteousness!
Proverbs 16:11."Honest scales and balances are from the LORD; all the weights in the bag are of his making." It was a custom among the nations who knew not God, to ascribe divinity to the inventors of useful arts — but the Scripture teaches us to ascribe all good inventions to the one living and true God. It was he who taught the merchant, as well as the gardener, discretion. The appointment of weights and measures, as instruments of justice in trade, is to be ascribed to him. A man who puts the royal stamp upon base metal, is accounted a traitor to his prince. Just so, it is a daring wickedness for men to use those weights and balances, which are God's appointments for the benefit of society, as means of injustice to their fellow-men. But a just weight and a just measure are approved by him, for he loves justice and establishes equity.
Proverbs 16:12."It is an abomination to kings to commit wickedness, for the throne is established by righteousness." Should not wickedness be abhorred by the poor on the dunghill, as well as the king on the throne? No doubt. But sin is greatly aggravated by the place that a man holds in society — and what is pernicious to one individual in a private man, is mischievous to a kingdom in a sovereign.
Jeroboam not only sinned — but made Israel to sin, and his iniquity spread itself from Dan to Beersheba, and continued to diffuse its poison many hundreds of years after he was laid in his grave. Kings must not only abstain from wickedness — but abhor it and punish it. It is their interest to do so, for great armies cannot save a king, nor is his throne secured by the largeness of his dominions, and the valor of his soldiers — but by righteousness, which brings down the blessing of God, and attaches to him the hearts of his subjects.
How greatly does God recommend righteousness to our love and practice! He makes it the instrument of safety and happiness to familial and nations, as well as private people. The histories of nations show us, that the number of years has been hidden to the oppressor, that long and happy reigns have seldom been enjoyed but by good princes, and that national convulsions and revolutions have been the ordinary consequences of of public injustice.
Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. Why? The scepter of your kingdom is a righteous scepter. You love righteousness, and hate iniquity.
Proverbs 16:13."Kings take pleasure in honest lips; they value a man who speaks the truth." There have been too many kings who loved flattery much better than honesty — but they have always found the smart of it. Jeroboam had almost lost an arm, and Ahab lost his life, because they could not bear plain dealing. David was a wise prince, who would not allow liars to abide in his sight, and loved Nathan for his sharp reproofs.
It is the duty of those who have the ear of kings, to give faithful and just counsels, and to tell them necessary though displeasing truths. By this they will at last gain favor — when flatterers are become the objects of their just abhorrence.
Micaiah was honored as an honest prophet, when Zedekiah the son of Chenaanah was obliged to flee into an inner chamber to hide himself. Even the proud kings of Babylon bestowed the highest honors upon Daniel the captive, for his sagacity and honesty in foretelling the most dreadful calamities.
If God requires his viceregents upon earth to abhor liars and flatterers — then how detestable must lying and flattery be to himself! None of them are ranked by him among his own people, of whom he says, "Surely they are children that will not lie."
Proverbs 16:14-15."A king's wrath is a messenger of death, but a wise man will appease it. When a king's face brightens, it means life; his favor is like a rain cloud in spring." It is the duty of all men to govern their passions — but especially of kings, because their anger may prove deadly. On the other side, their favor misplaced is of such consequence, and attended with so much honor and advantage, that it may give encouragement to wickedness.
The good emperor Theodosius the Great, made the latter part of his life unhappy to himself, by the effects of his rash anger, in causing many of the Thessalonians to be murdered. Just so, many princes have been ruined by means of unworthy favorites.
A wise man will not rashly incur the hatred of his prince, or if he has provoked his anger, will endeavor by proper submissions to appease it. And it is a very justifiable piece of prudence in those who are admitted to the presence of monarchs, to make themselves agreeable, by every means that consists with a good conscience.
We have reason, however, to be thankful, that we are not plagued with arbitrary monarchs, as many nations were in ancient times, and still are in our own age. Let us do that which is good, and we need not much fear the frowns of princes.
If the wrath of kings, which reaches only the body, and is circumscribed within the limits of the present life, is as dreadful as a messenger of death — then who can stand before the wrath of him who can kill both soul and body, and torment them in an everlasting lake of fire! How infatuated are those who provoke his displeasure by willful rebellion, and will not accept the benefit of that reconciliation which his grace has provided! Is it all one to us whether we are crushed forever under the avenging arm of God — or blessed with the smiles of the King of Heaven, infinitely more refreshing than the dew upon the grass, or the clouds of the latter rain, which mature the precious fruits of the earth?
We are by nature children of wrath — but Christ is our peace, and through him we are called to the enjoyment of that favor which is the fountain of felicity. Shall the favor of God be less esteemed by us, than the smiles of a great man by his fellow-worms?
Proverbs 16:16."How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!" If you ask a rich man who lacks prudence, whether gold or wisdom is best — he will answer, gold. But he is a fool, and his word deserves no regard.
If you ask the some question at a poor wise man, he will give the preference to wisdom.
But you will say he is not a competent judge, because he lacks experience and impartiality. Here we have a clear and full answer to the question, by a man celebrated equally for his wisdom and riches; and he tells us that it is impossible to declare or imagine, how much wisdom is better than silver or gold.
Most men prefer gold to wisdom, and thereby reveal their ignorance and folly. For as much as Heaven is higher than the earth, and eternity exceeds a moment in duration — so far does wisdom exceed riches in value. It is uncertain whether riches will do us any service — but it is certain they can do but little. It is uncertain how long they will continue with us — but it is well known, that they will in a few years at most be useless to us. Whereas the least degree of saving wisdom is of immense value, and has the promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come. Receive wisdom, therefore, rather than silver; and the instructions of wisdom, rather than choice gold.
Proverbs 16:17."The path of the upright avoids evil; he who guards his way guards his life." To live in any known sin is utterly inconsistent with wisdom and uprightness. It is the property of a sincerely pious man to depart from sin of every kind, and in every degree. He will not allow himself in any sin, however profitable or pleasant — or however dangerous the opposite course of holiness may be. He will not indulge sin in his words, or in his most secret thoughts, more than in his actions — but keeps at a distance from every appearance of evil. He knows that there are many temptations surrounding his path, and that he has a corrupt nature within him, which is a constant and indwelling temptation. Therefore he walks circumspectly, not as a fool — but as a wise man, and daily prays that he may be led and kept in the way of uprightness by the Spirit of the Lord.
Happy is the man who guards his way — he walks in safe path wherein he shall not stumble, for it is the highway of the King of Heaven. He preserves his soul, for he is preserved from the paths of the destroyer. He walks in Christ, and is led by the Spirit of Christ, and no lion nor ravenous beast shall be let loose to destroy him — but he shall come at length to the Zion of blessedness with songs and everlasting joy upon his head.
By this mark we ought to try our uprightness, and by this rule to guide our steps.
Proverbs 16:18."Pride goes before destruction, and an haughty spirit before a fall." Pride is a common and dangerous iniquity, and our kind instructor multiplies his cautions against it. The danger of pride is plain from every history of the great transactions that have come to pass in Heaven and in earth. The prophets describe the destructive consequences of this sin with all the strength of their divine eloquence, and all the sublimity of the prophetic style. The history of the evangelists shows us what amazing humiliation was necessary to expiate the guilt contracted by the pride of man. The tendency of the preaching and writings of the apostles, was to cast down every high imagination of men, that no flesh might glory — but in the Lord.
Might not this loathsome disease become a cure for itself? Can anything afford us greater cause of humiliation, than to find ourselves guilty of a sin so exceedingly unreasonable and presumptuous as pride? Shall a worm swell itself into an equality with the huge leviathan? What is man that he should be great in his own eyes? What is the son of man, who is a worm, that he should magnify himself as if he were some great being? Was the Son of God humbled for us, that we might not perish forever — and shall we allow pride to reign in our souls?
Proverbs 16:19."Better it is to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud." Although pride were not followed by destruction, and humility were attended by the most afflicting circumstances — yet humility is to be infinitely preferred to pride.
The word here rendered humble might signify afflicted. Humility and affliction are often in Scripture expressed by the same word, and described as parts of the same character. Low and afflicted circumstances are often useful, by promoting humiliation of spirit. The reverse sometimes takes place — but it is an evidence of a very intractable spirit — if we cry not when God chastens us, and continue unhumbled under humbling providences. The cottager who has his little tent of straw, is less excusable than the mighty Nebuchadnezzar walking in his pride through the splendid chambers of his stupendous palace.
However mean the circumstances of the humble man may be, he is incomparably happier than the most prosperous of proud sinners. Alexander and Severnus, after all their mighty conquests, are said to have lamented the emptiness of their acquisitions. "I have been all things," said the last of these mighty men, "and nothing is of any use."
The joys and triumphs of the prosperous sinner are as unsubstantial and fleeting as the wind. But the humble and afflicted Christian is a happy man, for his poverty of spirit makes him content and thankful. The God who knows the proud afar off, looks on him with delight, and dwells with him, to revive his contrite spirit. The humble man believes that he is in the circumstances which his heavenly Father knows to be best for him. Christ declares him blessed, and he shall be blessed through eternity.
Proverbs 16:20."Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the LORD." He who handles a matter wisely shall find good; and whoever trusts in the Lord, happy is he. We ought not only to avoid everything sinful and foolish, and to exercise ourselves diligently in our necessary businesses and duties — but likewise to do everything that we undertake wisely and discreetly. The prudent management of affairs is attended with great comfort and advantage. It will give us reasonable hopes of success, command esteem from others, and prevent the evil consequences that usually result from indiscretion.
David's name was much honored when he was in the house of Saul, because he behaved himself prudently on every occasion. Solomon's prudent administration filled the Queen of Sheba with amazement, and made her almost to envy the servants that had the pleasure of attending him, and seeing and hearing his wisdom.
In our religious course, we are required to do everything in a decent, orderly, and prudent manner. This will conduce to our own comfort and happiness, to the glory of the God of order, and to the edification of the body of Christ. It will prevent our good from being spoken evil of by those who desire to find occasion against us. But whether we are employed in the business of the world, or in that of God — we must not trust to our own skill and prudence. To God we must look, and on him we must depend for direction, and help, and success; for a man's heart may devise his way — but the Lord directs his steps. Happy is the man who trusts all his concerns in the hands of God.
His heart is freed from anxious cares.
He receives all needful supplies of wisdom and strength.
He is led in the way of safety, and shall at last inherit the eternal kingdom of God.
Proverbs 16:21."The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction." A good name is better than precious ointment, and this blessing is enjoyed by the wise in heart, and enables them to be serviceable to other men by the communication of their wisdom. Although the heart is the seat of wisdom, it must not be buried there — but wisdom must reveal itself in the speech and conduct, that many may be edified. We were not born for ourselves alone — but as we are made of one blood, and joined together by endearing relations, so we are bound to be useful to one another.
That our wisdom may be useful, we should endeavor to produce it to advantage, by a graceful and engaging manner of expression. It is not uncommon with wicked men to set off their corrupt sentiments by dressing them in all the beauties of language, and by this means multitudes are seduced into error and folly. Is not wisdom far better entitled to this recommendation than folly? The expression of our thoughts in proper language will increase our learning, by making them more clear and distinct to ourselves, and thus enabling us to pursue them into their native consequences. And learning will be diffused among others, while it is conveyed to them in a clear and engaging manner. What satisfaction must it give a man to improve his neighbors in the most useful knowledge? It makes him a public good, as we are told in the next verse.
Proverbs 16:22."Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it, but the instruction of fools is folly." Our plenty of water makes us less sensible than the inhabitants of Palestine, of the propriety of that metaphor, whereby everything that is useful or pleasant is in Scripture compared to water. It was one of the recommendations that God himself gave to his people of the land of promise, that it was a land of fountains of water, as well as a land of milk and honey; and the blessings of Christ are compared to water in many passages of the Scriptures.
As waters in a thirsty land — so is a wise man to his friends and neighbors. He has in him a well of living waters, and these issue forth in quickening and refreshing discourse. His wise and edifying converse is not confined to those times when he is professedly instructing or counseling his family or friends — but when he acts in character, his familiar converse ministers grace to the hearers.
But when fools are giving their instructions and counsels, they cannot hide that folly which cleaves to them continually. They must still be themselves, and it is to be lamented that fools are for the most part more consistent than wise men.
Wise men have folly still remaining in them, and therefore are not wise in everything — but fools are entirely destitute of wisdom, and reveal their foolishness when they are most earnestly endeavoring to appear wise.
Every man, when he builds a house, seeks a situation where he may be furnished with plenty of wholesome water. If we believe the wise man when he commends the wise, we shall be desirous of their society and friendship, and account their counsel a blessing.
Proverbs 16:23."A wise man's heart guides his mouth, and his lips promote instruction." The wise man commended a graceful manner of expression to us, but there is a false eloquence which he rather wishes to guard us against. Pompous words, and turns of wit, and fine thoughts which lack solidity, will not make a man truly eloquent. The true excellence of language consists in expressing just and important thoughts with clearness and force, that they may be understood and felt by the hearer. A man who understands a subject well, although he is but an ordinary speaker — will do more justice to it than the finest speaker in the world, who has not a clear view of it. We cannot expect to make others feel the importance of the things we speak — unless our own hearts are duly impressed with them.
This text is a good rule for preachers, and directs them to a proper taste for pulpit eloquence. They ought to understand and feel the truths they explain and recommend, and this will greatly assist them to find out acceptable words, by which their hearers will be edified.
It likewise directs hearers in the choice of their pastors. A voluble tongue may enable a preacher to entertain them for a time — but they cannot expect to be fed with knowledge and understanding by one whose heart is not furnished with the truths of the Word and impressed with a deep sense of their importance.
The tongue of every wise man is governed and taught by his heart. God is our great Teacher, and he has directed us to be teachers to ourselves. "My thoughts," says David, "instruct me in the night." The heart, by its wise deliberations, must instruct and guide the members of the body, the eyes, the hands, the feet, and particularly the tongue, which is hardest to be taught of them all. The tongue of the just is as choice silver — when that of the wicked is little worth; and it is the heart that makes this mighty difference.
Proverbs 16:24."Pleasant words are as an honeycomb — sweet to the soul, and healing to the bones." Friendly converse is a very agreeable and useful thing. It . . .
relaxes and charms the mind,
dispels anxiety from the thoughts,
furnishes us with useful information,
promotes mutual kindness, and
makes us to return with renewed vigor to the businesses of life.
Words that convey proper counsels and consolations to people in perplexity and distress, are pleasant and medicinal like honey from the comb. They revive the drooping spirit, and strengthen the feeble knees.
"The words of the pure are pleasant words." The truths of God are unspeakably pleasant to every man that has not a most vitiated mind. They deserve to be expressed in the most pleasant language — but unless they are debased by a manner of expression quite below their dignity, they must be pleasant to the heart, and nourishment to the soul.
The honey that drops of itself from the comb, is not so sweet to the mouth as the words of God to the spiritual relish. It is a feast to Christians to hear these truths delivered by the preachers of the gospel — but they are not entertainments merely for the Lord's day. Christians should accustom themselves to useful and pious communications. Our Lord, in the days of his humiliation, set us an example of entertaining one another with them at ordinary meals and social meetings. How greatly would our comfort and spiritual strength be increased by such holy converse! Such discourse is pleasant in the ears of God himself, and why should it not be pleasant to those who profess to be followers of God as dear children?
Proverbs 16:25."There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." It is no evidence that a man is in the right way, because he thinks himself to be in it. There are some who toil all their life in the practice of things which have not the stamp of divine institution — and yet are called by the name of religion. God, instead of saying to them as they expect, "Well done, good and faithful servant," will ask those who mortifying question, "Who has required these things at your hands?"
Some are treasuring up to themselves the fiercest indignation, when they are feeding their pride with ungrounded imaginations of doing acceptable service to God. Let us therefore give earnest attention to the Word of God, as a light shining in a dark place. There are many of the human race who think they are in the high road to Heaven — and yet know nothing experimentally of Christ, without whom no man shall see the Lord. How terrible will it be for those who imagine themselves in the way to Heaven — to find themselves at last in the lake of fire and brimstone!
Alas! why should men indulge themselves in their own deceivings? Will it make a man well when he is dying, to think he is in a good way? It will only keep him from employing the physician until his case is beyond recovery.
Examine yourselves impartially by the Word of God, by which you must be judged at the last day. If you are then found in a state of condemnation, there is no relief. But, behold, now is the accepted time, and the day of salvation. Judge yourselves, and fly to the hope set before you, and you shall not be judged.
So common and dangerous is self-deceit, that the wise man, directed by the Spirit, did not judge a single warning against it sufficient. Again and again he cries to us — to see that we are in the right way that leads unto life.
Proverbs 16:26."The laborer's appetite works for him; his hunger drives him on." A man's industry in his calling is no sure sign of virtue, for although it is a duty commanded by God, and necessary to be practiced — yet profit and necessity constrain a man to labor, who has no regard either to God or man. But this proves that idleness is a most inexcusable sin. It is not only condemned in the Scripture — but it is a sign that a man lacks common reason, as well as piety, when he can neither be drawn by self interest; nor driven by necessity, to work.
Self-love is a damning sin where it reigns as the chief principle of action — but the lack of self-love where it is required, is no less criminal. They should be left to starve who have strength, and lack will to labor. But may those be idle who are exempted by their circumstances from the necessity of laboring for bread? By no means. Idleness wastes precious time, it enervates the body, and rusts the faculties of the mind. Idleness is an endeavor to elude the sentence pronounced upon fallen man — and an introduction to every vice!
Proverbs 16:27."An ungodly man devises and digs up evil, and in his lips there is a scorching fire."
"If the bishops of England will not learn diligence," said the godly Latimer, "from Christ and his apostles — they may learn it from the devil, who is still busy in his diocese."
We may add, that slothful Christians, if they will not learn diligence from the example of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises, may be roused by considering the restless activity of ungodly men, who employ themselves in the service of sin, as busily as the slave who digs in a mine to supply the avarice of his unfeeling master.
The service of sin is the worst of drudgeries, for that cruel master obliges the poor wretches who are enslaved by their own corrupt lusts, to fatigue their minds in contriving, and their bodies in executing their imperious commands.
Some of the ungodly dig up harm, by reviving stories that ought to have been forever buried in forgetfulness. Themistocles told one who offered to teach him the art of memory, that he rather wished to learn the art of forgetfulness. There are too many who remember what ought to have been forever forgotten, and thereby kindle up the flames of contention. In their lips there is a scorching fire; for their words are as dangerous as fire kindled in the thatch of a house, which threatens to burn it down, and set the neighboring houses in a flame.
When men have such a fire kindled in their tongues, it is easy to see by whose breath it is blown up. The devil was liar and a destroyer from the beginning, and endeavors to make men as like to himself as possible. For this end he fetches coals from the bottomless pit, and sets the tongues of wicked men on fire, that they may spread the infernal flame around them, destroying peace and love to the utmost of their power from the earth. What shall be given to these wicked tongues? Burning coals of juniper, and they shall not have a drop of water to quench them!
Proverbs 16:28."A perverse man stirs up dissension, and a gossip separates close friends." He is a wretch, who spreads dissensions and enmities among men — who ought to live as brethren in unity. Such a person, Solomon has already told us, is abhorred by the Lord.
One of the most dangerous of these classes of men that sow strife, is that of the whisperers. These men do not think fit to slander their neighbors openly — but secretly defame one man to another. They report their idle or false stories by way of secrets, and generally endeavor to procure credit by pretending to lament these faults which they tell with pleasure, and which they even forge, or at least make them a great deal worse by their spiteful manner of relating them.
This kind of evil-speakers is like venomous serpents in the way, or adders in the path, which hiss and sting men when they are dreading no evil. Men may oppose open enemies, and ward off blows which they see — but how can a man guard himself from the invisible arrows that is shot by the whisperer, while he keeps himself concealed from view.
By these agents of the wicked one, irreparable breaches are often made in families and neighborhoods, and incurable jealousies excited among the dearest friends.
It is our duty never to lend an ear to the whisperer, nor to believe anything bad of our friend and neighbor — unless the cowardly backbiter will venture to become an open accuser.
If our own characters are in any danger from these arrows that fly about in darkness, let us commit them to God, "Deliver my soul, O Lord, from lying lips, and from a deceitful tongue."
Proverbs 16:29."A violent man entices his neighbor and leads him down a harmful path."
The devil never did any good to any of his servants — and yet some of them seem to have more zeal for their master's interest, than many of the servants of Christ. These violent men compass sea and land to make others as much the children of Hell as themselves.
Such tempters to wickedness are to be abhorred as the greatest plagues of mankind! Thieves deprive us of our money, and murderers deprive us only of a short life — but these emissaries of Hell who would seduce us to sin, attempt to rob us of heavenly treasures, and to destroy our immortal souls! The Spirit of God warns us at great length, in the first chapter of this book, to avoid their snares.
Whenever any man would seduce us into a way that is harmful, let us remember what the end of that way is, and hear his words with the same indignation as if he were persuading us to cast ourselves into a burning fiery furnace!
The character of the seducer might be sufficient to set us on our guard —
Proverbs 16:30."He shuts his eyes to devise perverse things; moving his lips, he brings evil to pass." The wicked takes so much delight in wickedness that he shuts his eyes, to meditate harm with an undisturbed mind, and vigorously employs the faculties which God has given him, in the service of his grand enemy. His tongue is a fire, a whole world of iniquity — but it has not enough of wickedness in the compass of its power to gratify his infernal thirst for sin, and therefore he speaks with his feet, and teaches with his fingers, and winks with his eye, to express the malignity of his heart, and give the signal to his companions in wickedness.
Strange that the sons of Adam should thus abandon themselves to wickedness, and serve sin with so much toil, when the wages of it is death. Men complain that the way to Heaven is full of difficulty and danger. But as broad as the way to Hell is, there are many who undergo much more fatigue in it than the way to Heaven requires — and they have not the comforts and joyful hopes to entertain them under their toil and sweat, that the travelers to Zion enjoy. They pass through a Hell of labors and fears — to a Hell of fire and brimstone!
Shall we join in a confederacy with these workers of iniquity? Let us rather abhor their company, unless we wish our souls to be hereafter gathered with lost sinners in the dungeon of Hell.
Proverbs 16:31."Gray hair is a crown of splendor; it is attained by a righteous life."
"The hoary head is a crown of glory, if it is found in the way of righteousness.
Both Scripture and reason teach us to honor gray hair. But old men are not always wise, neither do the aged always understand judgment, and thus they forfeit that honor which they might otherwise expect.
Old age is an honor, and royalty is an honor — but better is a poor and wise child, than an old and foolish king who will no more be admonished. His self-conceit and intractable disposition, debase at once the luster of his crown, and the glory of his gray hair — but to be an aged saint, is an honor that entitles a man to the highest respect. None but fools will despise him for those infirmities, which are the inseparable attendants of gray hair.
How provoking to God such insolence is, may be learned from the story of the two she-bears that tore up forty-two children for saying to Elijah, "Go up, you bald head! Go up, you bald head!"
The honor bestowed by God upon old Christians in lengthening their days, the experience they have gained, and the usefulness of their former life — should engage us to pay them great respect. We honor those whose heads have been encircled with crowns by the hands of men — and will we refuse honor to those whom God himself has crowned with silver hair. It is a comfort to aged Christians to find due respect paid to them, and they should endeavor to secure this respect, by avoiding peevishness and covetousness, which are vices incident to this period of life, by bearing with young people, although they have not learned so much wisdom as themselves — by submitting with cheerfulness to the unavoidable weaknesses of age, by trusting in God, by showing the faithfulness of God and the advantages of religion to the rising generation, and by bringing forth the various fruits proper to that time of life.
Young people should remember that old age is fast hastening to them — and show that regard to the aged, which they will then expect to meet with when old themselves. They ought to enter into the narrow way of righteousness, that they may be found in it by old age or death. If old age should find them in the broad way of sin — their situation is very dangerous, though not altogether desperate.
Proverbs 16:32."He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty — a man who controls his temper, than one who takes a city." The meek obtain the noblest victories, and enjoy the happiest kind of authority. They have power over their passions, which are brought under the dominion of reason — and are not allowed to make such insurrections as those which disquiet the spirits of the proud and haughty.
The conquerors of nations and cities have been celebrated by historians and poets, and their valor and success dazzle the eyes of the generality of men; and yet few of them deserve praise. Seneca observes, that such heroes as Alexander the Great deserve the same kind of honors with wild beasts, and earthquakes, and pestilences, or any other instrument of desolation to mankind.
Some conquerors are nevertheless truly honorable, who have exposed their lives in just and necessary wars, for the service of their country and the suppression of tyranny. Gallant exploits of such true heroes, are celebrated in the inspired writings.
But he who is slow to anger and rules his passions deserves far higher praise, for he gains a nobler victory. Others conquer the bodies of men — but he conquers his own soul. The conquerors of nations fight with the arms of other men — but the meek have no soldier to deprive them of any part of their praise.
Most of the celebrated heroes conquered at the expense of their fellow-creatures, and spread horror and devastation around them like the tigers of the desert — but the meek of the earth are public blessings, and deserve the love of all men.
Of earthly conquerors it may be said, that they have slain their thousands and ten thousands of men, by their swords and warlike artillery. But of the meek we may say, that they have put to flight armies of devils by the sword of the Spirit and the shield of faith; for these malignant spirits fight against our souls, to support the dominion of our passions over our reason.
Other conquerors have their praise from men, and chiefly from men of foolish minds — for the wise look upon the generality of them as the plagues of the world. But those who are slow to anger have their praise from the unerring Judge, who exalts the meek to inherit the earth, while he looks upon the proud ravagers of nations with disdain, and spurns them into the dust.
The conquerors of cities and nations are wretched slaves to their own imperious passions, which forced Alexander to kill some of his best friends, and made him so unhappy, that he almost killed himself.
The meek enjoy the sweet and glorious liberty of the sons of God. The crowns of conquerors soon wither — but the honors of him who rules over his own spirit shall continue forever. Do we wish to enjoy honor and power? Let us fight against the corruptions of our own mind, with the armor of righteousness on our right hand and on our left. To be our own masters, will be more glorious for us than if we were masters of the world!
Proverbs 16:33."The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD."
"Verse 28. The lot is cast into the lap — but the whole disposing thereof is of the Lord.
By lots men refer the determination of an event to that which in respect of men is purely chance, and comes not within the compass of men's knowledge or power — but it is wholly determined by the Lord, who does all things, great and small, according to the counsel of his on will.
A remarkable instance of this truth we have in the division of the promised land among the tribes of Israel, which was done by casting lots — but these lots were managed by divine providence in such a manner, that Jacob's predictions in blessing his children were exactly accomplished.
For this reason, lots are not to be used by way of amusement — but in matters of importance worthy to be referred to the arbitration of God, and incapable of being otherwise decided to advantage.
This proverb teaches us that the things that fall out to our view by pure chance, are within the compass of Providence, which so entirely regulates everything, however inconsiderable, that not a sparrow falls to the ground, nor a hair from our head — without our heavenly Father.
Time and chance happen to all men, and the most important events of the life of men, and of kingdoms and nations, turn upon very small hinges, which do not come within the verge of our knowledge and care.
The safety of the Jewish nation in the days of Esther, depended upon a very great number of accidents, which appear to us very unimportant, and very remote from the interests of God's people. But the Lord Almighty, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in working, was their Savior and hope in the day of evil.
Time and chance are His, and . . .
the feast of Ahasuerus,
the disobedience of Vashti,
the pride of the king and his ministers,
the conspiracy of Bigthan and Teresh, with the discovery of it by Mordecai,
the beauty of Esther,
the departure of sleep on a certain night from the king's eyes,
the thought that struck him to have the Chronicles of the kingdom read for his amusement,
the superstition of Haman,
the outcome of his lots, and
the good-humor which Ahasuerus happened to be in when Esther came into his presence to petition for the life of her countrymen
— all these things worked together, under the direction of the Lord, for the salvation of his chosen people.
Do not think that your mountain stands immovably strong, for if God hides his face — you will be troubled. He can make the smallest trifle, the instrument of destroying all the strength of your confidence.
Trust in him at all times, and do not trouble yourselves with anxious thoughts about the things that shall come to pass in the future parts of life. We never reveal so much folly, as when we set up for prophets; for the things that are to come to pass, depend upon a very complicated chain of causes, consisting of innumerable links, which are quite out of the reach of our view and control. But every one of them is under the eye of God, and in his sovereign omnipotent hand.
Blessed are those who give up all their fortunes to the will of God, with a cheerful resignation. Nothing shall befall them — but according to the will of him who loves them better than themselves, and knows infinitely better what is good for them!