A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
Proverbs 17:1."Better is a dry morsel, with peace and quiet, than an house full of sacrifices with strife." Solomon expresses the most delicious entertainments by the word sacrifices, intimating his hope, that none would presume to offer unto God a sacrifice, but of the best of their cattle — for the best of beings is to be honored with the best that we can give him. The meat of the peace-offerings was a feast for the family and friends of the offerer — and there could not be a more delightful feast, when piety and friendship gave a relish to the entertainment.
But the sumptuous provisions are turned into gall and wormwood by strife — while the bitterest things are made sweet by love and friendship. Solomon has already given us the instruction contained in this verse. But it is useful to have it still before our eyes, for peace and friendship are not only the balm of life — but of great importance in our pious course. Strife is productive of innumerable sins, and renders us unfit for the duties we owe to God, as well as those of our various relationships. Love and peace make every service to our families and friends pleasant, and prepare us to lift up holy hands to God, without malice or anger.
Proverbs 17:2."A wise servant will rule over a disgraceful son, and will share the inheritance as one of the brothers." A poor situation does not disqualify men from obtaining and using wisdom, nor from enjoying the honors and benefits of it. Nor will an elevated rank support men in folly, or hinder them from feeling its mischievous effects.
A poor wise man is too often despised — but it is only by the unwise; for those who have wisdom set a high value upon it, wherever it is found, and honor the poorest person who possesses it.
It is perhaps owing to the partiality, and not the wisdom of parents, that this proverb has not been more frequently verified in the letter. Children that are a shame to their parents, have sometimes brought disgrace upon themselves, from those who once loved them with a tender affection, and still love them.
Reuben was the beginning of Jacob's strength — and yet he lost his dignity to his younger brother Joseph, who, according to the customs of those times, was to be in some degree under his government. But even when partiality prevails over reason in the behavior of parents — folly, by its native consequences, and the just providence of God, does often reduce men from honor and wealth — to poverty and disgrace, and place them below those over whom they once tyrannized.
Wisdom exalts servants from poverty to wealth, or even to power. Joseph was a slave in Potiphar's house, and then a prisoner — but he was made lord over Potiphar himself.
Servants have often for their wisdom, shared in the inheritance. Solomon himself married his daughters to two of his own subjects. Jarha, an Egyptian servant, was taken into the family of his master, and became the head of a family in Israel.
This verse gives parents a proper hint about the distribution of their estates, and directs those who have the disposal of places of trust, to pay a greater regard to wisdom and integrity — than to high birth, or great estates, or the connections of friendship and kindred.
How excellent is wisdom, which raises the slave from grinding at the mill, and the beggar from the dunghill — to places of distinction, and to the truest honors, because they are the pure fruits of goodness! How miserable a thing is folly, which degrades the high, and brings misery upon the latter days of those who flourished like green bay-trees in the prime of their life!
Proverbs 17:3."The refining-pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold — but the Lord tries the hearts!" As the fire tries metals, and separates the dross from them — so the Lord tries the hearts of men. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and he perfectly discerns all the secrets of the heart.
Men are too often strangers to themselves, and mistake the principles by which they are governed — but God is greater than our hearts, and every thought is naked and open to his eyes. He knows our words before they are pronounced by the mouth, and our imaginations before they are framed in our minds. This is God's prerogative.
There is not a greater folly among those corrupters of Christianity, the Roman Catholics, than their practice of praying to saints and angels. You, Lord, even you alone, know the hearts of all men, and therefore ought to be feared, and to receive all religious homage.
It is vain for men to worship God with the lips, while the heart is removed from him; nor will our good deeds to our fellow-men be accepted by God, when they do not proceed from a principle of love.
This proverb may likewise be understood of those solemn providences by which his people are tried, as gold and silver are tried by the fire. Afflictions and calamities are like a furnace which God has in Jerusalem, by which dross is revealed, and purged away. But herein God reveals his kindness — that he does not keep his gold in the fire until it is entirely free from the dross, for if such a furious heat were applied to it as is requisite to make metals entirely pure, it would be altogether destroyed. "I have refined you," says he, "but not with silver; I have chosen you (or made you a choice vessel) in the furnace of affliction."
Proverbs 17:4."A wicked man listens to evil lips; a liar pays attention to a malicious tongue." Solomon has often warned us against compliance with temptation; and every godly man will surely follow his advice. He is a wicked man who gives heed to evil lips. Wicked men have a great treasury of evil in their hearts — and yet have not enough to satisfy their own corrupt dispositions. They are like covetous men, in whom their large possessions only increase their lust of having, and therefore they carry on a trade with other wicked men, who are able to add to their store of iniquity, by flattering and counseling them in sin. Their heart gathers iniquity to itself, not merely by its own corrupt imaginations and contrivances — but by hearing the devilish lessons of those who have made a greater proficiency in that wisdom which comes from below. They are blessed who hunger and thirst after righteousness — but cursed are those who add drunkenness to thirst in the service of sin, for they shall be filled with their own devices.
By hearkening to the wicked instructions of Jezebel, Ahab destroyed himself and his house; and the political advices of Jonadab proved no less fatal to the apparent heir of David. A liar is a wicked man, and gives ear to an evil tongue, for by the lies of other men he increases his own stock, and is enabled to retail his abominable stories better. He can say that he gives the story as he heard it, (although he has no scruple to make some additions), and thinks this a sufficient justification of himself; if the falsehood of what he has told is detected. A man shows himself to be a liar and slanderer, when he gives too easy belief to bad stories, that he may have the barbarous satisfaction of spreading them.
An honest man will not wound his neighbor's character, by trusting the words of a talebearer, and divulging what may very possibly be false. And even when there is too much ground for believing the report, he will be backward to spread it any farther, without some good reason.
Proverbs 17:5."He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker; whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished." It is our indispensable duty to compassionate the poor, and if Providence puts it in our power, to relieve them. Yet some are so destitute of affection, that they will trample them lower in the dust, by insult and oppression. The reason why poor men are more exposed than the rich to reproach, is, because they are supposed incapable of taking revenge. But it ought to be remembered, that they are showing contempt for their Maker. If God should appear in human shape, would we dare to insult him? Would not the fear of a just and dreadful vengeance deter us? And to mock the poor, amounts to the very same thing.
God did actually appear in our nature, and he was then poor for our sakes; and those who despise the poor, despise them for a reason that reflects upon our Savior himself when he dwelt among us. Poor Christians are members of his body, and every injury done to them, he considers as done to himself. The principle of this proverb extends to all people that are despised, or held up to ridicule, on account of any defect of body or mind, or misfortune in circumstances. When we are what God made us, and meet with calamities from the appointment of providence, every indignity or affront offered us reflects upon our Maker.
Let no man, therefore, be ashamed of any circumstance in his condition which is not the fruit of sin, unless he is ashamed to own his Creator. To rejoice in calamities, is a mark of a child of the devil. Christ wept for the miseries that were to befall his implacable enemies for their cruelty to himself. We find the people of God rejoicing and praising God at the destruction of their enemies — but their satisfaction was caused, not by any pleasure in the miseries of their enemies — but by the discoveries of God's mercy to themselves, and the vindication of his righteousness, by the infliction of deserved punishment on the irreconcilable enemies of God. A savage delight in the misery of enemies, is often represented in Scripture as the temper of the worst of men, who thereby expose themselves to signal divine vengeance!
Proverbs 17:6."Children's children are a crown to the aged, and parents are the pride of their children." Children are the means of preserving the name of their parents when they are dead. And while they are alive, it is their delight and honor to be surrounded with descendants, except when they are so unnatural to the instruments of their being, as to disgrace them by their evil ways. When people are now on the verge of the grave, and everything else becomes insipid to them, their children's children are a great comfort, and procure them much respect, when they are trained up in the way wherein they should go.
Old men are therefore bound to give thanks to God for giving and sparing to them a posterity on the earth. "I had not thought," said Jacob to his beloved son, "to see your face again — and lo, God has showed me your children also."
Children are a heritage from the Lord, and ought to be instructed in his ways, that parents may have pleasure in them, and in their young families, when the days come wherein they would otherwise be obliged to say, "We have no pleasure in them."
It was a custom among the Romans, for men that wanted sons, to adopt young men, and give them the title and privileges of sons, that their name might not die with themselves. Christians to whom God has denied, or from whom he has taken away the blessing of children, may find a better method of having some to be their crown and glory. If, by their holy example and pious converse, they win souls to Christ, these shall be their crown of rejoicing in the day of Christ.
Some children are so destitute of natural affection, that they care not how soon their parents die — that they may enjoy their estates, and become masters of their own actions. These are profane people like Esau, who thought he would have it in his power to kill Jacob, when Isaac, who was now an old man, was dead.
Dutiful children will think it an ornament to them to have their aged parents still alive, even when their poverty and weakness make it the duty of their children to labor for their support.
But are parents of every kind a glory to their children? The hoary head is not always a crown of glory to the man that wears it, or to his family — but only when it is found in the way of righteousness. The seed of the righteous are respected for the sake of their parents by godly men, and even God himself has a regard to them.
Truly there is a reward to the righteous, which extends to their families and posterity. Righteousness children are a crown to their parents, and parents are a glory to their children; and therefore we ought not only to practice — but to promote and maintain it among our families.
Proverbs 17:7."Eloquent words are not fitting for a fool; even less are lies fitting for a ruler." Fools make themselves ridiculous, by affecting to speak of things beyond their reach, or to use language too high for their abilities. For a wicked man to talk like a Christian, is equally unseemly. When a covetous man talks in praise of liberality, or a hypocrite commends the integrity of David — they condemn themselves. For a beggar who wears rags to put upon his head the crown of a Duke, is ridiculous, because the agreement of things to one another is requisite to the beauty and propriety of anything. Professions of religion joined to wicked practices, are equally absurd.
In nothing is consistency to be more studied than in ordering our words and conduct. When a wicked man has the tongue of a saint, he discredits religion, and brings suspicion upon truly pious men. The profane world will say, "Do you hear how finely that man talks? And yet he can take the advantage of his neighbor in a bargain! They are all alike, and their profession's are but nets to catch the unthinking."
Good words will do no good to a bad man — but aggravate his condemnation; out of his own mouth shall he be judged. They are not acceptable to God. As Christ would not allow devils to make confessions of faith, even when their doctrine was sound — so God will not allow the hypocrite to take his covenant into his lips, because such a holy thing is polluted when it comes into the mouth of filthy dogs!
Lying lips are no less fitting in the mouth of a prince, who ought to honor the dignity of his station by the dignity of truth. A prince of our own is said to have frequently used this proverbial saying, "He who knows not how to dissemble, knows not how to reign." You may judge from the text before us, whether he deserved to be called the Solomon of his age.
It was certainly a nobler saying of one of the kings of France — that if truth were banished from all the rest of the world, it ought to be found in the hearts of princes.
When a young prince asked a certain philosopher to give him a directory for his conduct, all his instructions were comprised in one sentence, "Remember that you are a king's son!"
All Christians are advanced to spiritual honors of the most exalted kind. They are the children of God, and heirs of the eternal kingdom — and ought to resemble their heavenly Father, who is the God of holiness. Their dignity obliges them to a behavior worthy of it, and of Him whose grace has conferred it.
Let Christians remember who they are, and how they came to be what they are — and act in befitting character.
Proverbs 17:8."A gift is a charm to the one who gives it; wherever he turns, he succeeds." Gifts have a very strong influence in gaining love. They are like precious stones in the eyes of those who receive them, charming their eyes, and powerfully turning their affections to the giver. The influence of gifts is almost universal, for they work upon the heart of the wise and the benevolent, as well as of the foolish and selfish.
It was a sign of Abigail's prudence to meet David with generous presents, as well as a persuasive speech, when he was coming in fierce resentment to extirpate her husband's family. And when Jacob met his incensed brother, he not only endeavored to pacify him by submissive words — but also loaded him with noble gifts, which were perhaps the most effectual means, (next to Jacob's prayers), to regain his lost friendship.
Such is the efficacy of gifts, that God expressly forbids them to be received by judges from parties that have a cause to be decided by them — because these bribes blind the eyes of the wise, and pervert the words of the righteous.
"The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord!" What influence should the gifts of God have upon our hearts! They are more numerous than the hairs upon our head, and far more precious than pearls and diamonds! Surely they must have a constraining influence upon every heart that is not harder than the nether millstone. "Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!"
Proverbs 17:9."He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends." As we are required to love our neighbors as ourselves, so we ought to promote love in the world, and to seek the love of other men to ourselves. It is a duty that befits the followers of Christ, to be concerned whether we are loved by our neighbors or not. We should not be careless whether they obeyed God and performed their duty, or lived in the neglect of it. Whatever things are lovely, are to be minded and practiced by us; and nothing is more lovely than to cover transgressions — as nothing is more hateful than the repeating of them.
To cover our own transgressions, like Adam, would be very dangerous — but we have the noblest examples to recommend to us the covering of other men's faults. How lovely was the behavior of our Redeemer, when he excused the lazy behavior of his three disciples in the garden of Gethsemane, and when he bestowed such high commendations on their fidelity in his discourse with them, and his prayers to his Father, although he knew that they would soon forsake him in his sufferings, and make the best shift they could for themselves! Nor was his goodness confined to his Apostles; he excused even his murderers, when he prayed to his Father for their forgiveness.
Who is like unto the Lord our God, who covers our iniquities by his pardoning mercy, and removes them as far from us as the east is from the west! Surely his pardoning mercy to us — must mightily persuade us to cover the offences of our fellow sinners by the mantle of charity.
Love covers all sins. Paul teaches us how this is done, and our self-love may give us much light and direction on this point. Had we a love to our neighbors like that which we bear to ourselves — we would not be ready to observe their faults, unless they were very glaring. We would make much allowance for the temptations that seduced them, and consider how liable we ourselves are to fall before temptation. We would not keep our eyes fixed upon their faults — but consider likewise what there is in them to provoke us to love. We would not be harsh in reproving, nor backward in forgiving them. Nor would any consideration provoke us to cast in their teeth those old faults that seemed to be forgotten.
By such a behavior as this, love is sought and gained. Was it possible that Joseph's brethren, as cruel as they had been, could refuse their love to him, after the apologies that he so kindly made for their faults?
But he who follows the contrary method of behavior seeks hatred, and alienates the affections of the most cordial friends from one another. The censorious man, the tale-bearer, the person that revives old quarrels — is a mortal enemy to love; a faithful servant of the accuser of the brethren; an enemy to him who is our peace with God and with one another. If such dreadful punishments are threatened to those who are destitute of love — then what shall be the portion of those who scatter the seed of enmity and discord through a whole town, by the stories they tell, and by the lies and misrepresentations which they mingle with their idle tales!
The meaning of this proverb must not be stretched into a prohibition of punishments or censures necessary to be inflicted on offenders, or of friendly reproofs — all which are recommended in other places of this book.
Proverbs 17:10."A rebuke impresses a man of discernment more than a hundred lashes a fool." The wise man gives us many marks by which fools may be distinguished from wise men; and does not insist more on any of them, than the different uses they make of rebukes and correction. He not only tells us that the wise man hears rebuke, and the fool scorns it — but that one rebuke will have a better effect on a wise man, than an hundred lashes on a fool.
Fools have sometimes received correction, and made a good use of it — but they were fools no longer, for the rod and reproof gave them wisdom. But it is a sign that folly is deeply ingrained, when a hundred rods leave men as great fools as they found them. Wicked men have uncircumcised ears, and they cannot hear the word of the Lord. They also have hard hearts, and the works of God, in which he speaks louder than in words, leave no impression on them. On the contrary, we often find them walking contrary unto God, and making their faces harder by those means that should have wrought the very opposite effect.
Ahaz, in the time of his distress, trespassed yet more and more against the Lord.
David was of a very opposite spirit; and when Nathan said unto him, "You are the man!" he replied, "I have sinned against the Lord!" and immediately composed the fifty-first psalm, to testify his deep repentance to the church, and to every generation of mankind.
We must not be so strict in trying other men by this mark of wisdom, as ourselves, for wise men are not wise in every piece of their behavior. Asa's heart was perfect with the Lord his God all his days — and yet he was very angry with a prophet for giving him a just reproof in the name of the Lord.
But such is not the ordinary temper of God's people, for God takes the heart of stone away from them, and gives them hearts of flesh, and they have the Spirit of God dwelling within them, who opens their ears to discipline, and seals their instruction.
It is good to have tender hearts susceptible of impressions from reproof, and from the providence of God. As a lively faith will enable the Christian to bear the greatest trials, so a tender conscience will enable him to derive spiritual improvement from the gentlest afflictions — which are not to be despised, because they come to us with a message from God.
This text likewise teaches us to make a difference, according to the dispositions of men, in the reproofs or chastisements that we are called to dispense unto men. Eli reproved his children with words, when they deserved an hundred stripes, if the law had allowed it. On the other hand, some parents provoke their children to wrath, instead of reforming them, by their severities.
Proverbs 17:11."An evil man is bent only on rebellion; a merciless official will be sent against him." Some of the wicked are very pestilent members of society, who, casting off all fear of God and the king, employ themselves in those wicked courses which expose them to the vengeance of the laws, so that the messengers of justice must be employed in their disagreeable task of punishment for the benefit and peace of society.
But others of the wicked have some fear of the king, although they have no fear of God before their eyes. Their corrupt dispositions take another course, which exposes them to equal danger, though from a different quarter. Their employment is to carry weapons against the omnipotent King of the world, and they pursue their rebellious courses without intermission! There is much iniquity in their actions, there is a world of iniquity in their tongues, and the imaginations of the thoughts of their hearts are only evil continually. They are blind, and know not what they are doing! While they think they are only gratifying their own dispositions, and making use of their liberty — they are provoking God, by a continued course of disobedience to his will. A merciless official shall be sent against these rebels; for rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry.
God has innumerable messengers of justice, for every instrument of vengeance is at his command, and employed at his pleasure, to avenge his quarrel upon the breakers of his law. Beasts and men, diseases and death, angels and devils — are in arms at his call, to seize upon the criminals whom he means to punish. The weakest creature, considered as a messenger of the Almighty, is irresistible by transgressors!
The proud spirit of Pharaoh was humbled to the dust by flies and frogs which were sent among the Egyptians. The hornets fought with success against the accursed Canaanites in the days of Joshua, as well as the destroying angel who fought for Hezekiah against the Assyrians.
God sometimes employs merciless messengers to chastise his own people. When David numbered his subjects, 70,000 of them were destroyed in three days by a visible merciless messenger, under the direction of an invisible minister of providence.
If God takes such vengeance of the rebellions of some whom he pardons — then what will the end be of those who seek only rebellion! Let the wicked cast down their weapons of iniquity, and acquaint themselves with God, and be at peace with him through Jesus Christ. Otherwise they may expect that dreadful messenger of God, the king of terrors, to be sent against them, to plunge them into everlasting burnings!
Proverbs 17:12."Better to meet a bear robbed of her cubs, than a fool in his folly." What a mercy is it that a fool is not always in his folly, under the irresistible impulse of domineering passions, driving on in his career of harm, without fearing God or regarding men! If a gracious providence did not rein the wicked of the world by a strong bridle, the world would become more uninhabitable than those jungles, where lions and bears are constantly prowling and destroying. No creature is fiercer than a bear bereaved of her cubs.
Hushai thought he could not use a better argument to affright Absalom from following the dangerous counsels of Ahithophel, than by comparing the fierce valor of David and his mighty men to the rage of a bear bereaved of her cubs.
And yet this animal in its greatest fury, is not so dangerous as a fool in the heat of passion. A bear in its rage makes no distinction between those who have robbed her and others — but falls upon anyone she sees, and tears him in pieces. Yet you may by escape from her, or secure yourself from her violence. But a fool in his folly will neither be reduced to reason by just reproofs, nor soothed by the mildest language — but behaves like the venomous adder, which will not be charmed by the wisest charmer.
The most furious of beasts are men whose passions rule their reason, and make use of the understandings they have, to enable them to behave more brutishly than natural brute beasts can do. Alas! that rational creatures, made after the image of God, should debase themselves to such a degree, that the savage animals should not furnish sufficient emblems to represent their folly!
Why should any human creature chose to be a beast, or a devil, rather than a man! Let those who give up themselves to the government of passion, consider this text, and be ashamed, and show themselves at length rational creatures. Let us all beware of rousing the sleeping passions of such madmen, if we value our own safety and innocence.
God's people ought to be on their guard lest they should, under provocation, be seduced into an imitation of such folly.
Proverbs 17:13."If a man pays back evil for good — then evil will never leave his house." Ingratitude is one of the vilest sins, and gives a clear discovery of a disposition evil beyond expression; and the punishment of it shall be proportioned to the degree of its guilt. The ungrateful man brings evil, not only on himself — but likewise on his house. And this misery, which so great a sin procures, does not come like a stranger to the house, to tarry for a night — but takes up its residence, and abides in it forever.
Ingratitude to Gideon kindled a fire in Shechem, which consumed the inhabitants of that place and its environs, together with Abimelech their tempter.
But the most striking illustration of this sentence, is the history of the Jewish nation. Never was such ingratitude showed to any benefactor, as they showed to the Son of God — and never was the punishment of any people so dreadful, and of so long continuance. That scattered people proclaim to every nation under Heaven how dangerous the sin of ingratitude is, especially when God our Savior is the object of it.
Although we are grateful to men for their favors, yet if we take no notice of God as the supreme Benefactor — we are as justly chargeable with this sin, as those who have a present sent them by a friend; and return all their thanks to the carrier who brings it.
The worst ingratitude in the world is a continuance in unbelief or disobedience — in opposition to the gracious declarations of the gospel. Those who despise the riches of gospel-grace, must burn forever in fiercer flames than those to whom the grace of God has never appeared, although they lived in constant disobedience to the will of God, as far as nature revealed it.
Proverbs 17:14."Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam; so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out." Nothing is more dangerous than fire or water, when they become masters instead of servants to us. The harms which arise from contention, are illustrated from the rage of both these elements.
When a breach is made in the bank that confines a huge body of water, the water seizes the opportunity, widens the breach more and more, pours itself forth in mighty currents, and gathering new force continually, it soon becomes altogether irresistible, breaks through every obstacle in its way, and sweeps along everything that meets it, with a violence which cannot be controlled.
Such are the dismal effects of contention, which might have been checked at the beginning — but gathers fury in its progress, and will soon lay desolate a man's peace, and credit, and comfort, and conscience, and hurry him on to speak and to act in such a manner as if he were altogether bereaved of his reason, and transformed into a raging bear!
The effects of quarrels do not always stop at the people with whom it begun. This deluge often sweeps away houses, and countries, and nations, and leaves a scene of confusion and ruin in those places which formerly were the seat of prosperity and peace.
We must therefore endeavor to get out of contention, whenever we find ourselves engaged in it, with as much haste as a man who endeavors to make his escape from a deluge of waters, by which he is in danger of being overwhelmed.
But it is still better to leave off contention before it is started. The banks of rivers are more easily preserved, than repaired after a breach is made. To keep ourselves out of this snare of the devil, it is our duty to mortify every selfish disposition, to keep every passion under the government of sanctified reason, to avoid everything that may give offence, to be hesitant in conceiving offences against others; and in our dispositions, words, and actions, to observe that great rule of doing to others as we wish that others should do to us.
There are some cases in which contending is a duty. The apostles write unto us, and exhort us to contend earnestly for the faith which was once delivered to the saints. A zeal for truth and holiness is a necessary branch of Christian character. But in striving for the faith of the gospel, we must avoid the wrath of man, which works not the righteousness of God, and carefully preserve the holy fire of religious zeal, from mixture with that unhallowed fire of selfish passions which has so often usurped its name, and brought it into discredit with superficial observers.
Proverbs 17:15."He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just — they both are an abomination to the Lord." That condemning the just is a grievous crime, there is no doubt. But some will be startled at the wise man's assertion, that justifying the wicked is a crime of the like nature and malignity. But we rebel against God by turning to the right hand, as well as by turning to the left — from that straight way in which we are commanded to walk.
Justifying the wicked has an appearance of mercy in it — but there is cruelty to millions in unreasonable acts of mercy to individuals.
Though it is bad to live in a state where everything was forbidden — it is worse to live in a state where everything was allowed. Historians tell us, that the provinces of the empire suffered more oppression under the administration of the mild prince — than in the bloody reign of Domitian.
Judges are guilty of this detestable sin, not only when they pronounce unrighteous sentences — but when they unnecessarily obstruct the judging of causes, whereby the righteous have their righteousness in part or for a time taken from them.
Lawyers, and witnesses, and jurymen, are guilty in various degrees of these crimes — when they willfully contribute their influence to the perversion of justice, or withhold their influence in their respective situations from the support of a righteous cause, where they are called to its defense.
Private people in common life are not frequently chargeable with justifying the wicked, because they are not called in most cases to condemn them. And yet they may incur this guilt on some occasions, by pleading the cause of the wicked in opposition to truth, or to that justice which they owe to the innocent and oppressed, or by taking the part of transgressors in such a manner as to countenance their sins.
But the sin of condemning the righteous, or pronouncing too severe sentences upon those who have been overtaken in a fault — is very common in ordinary conversation, and the Scripture often warns us against it. Ministers are guilty of this sin when they preach doctrines unscripturally rigid, making those things to be sinful, which are not condemned in the Word of God; or carrying the marks necessary to saving faith to a pitch too high to suit the generality of true Christians, or applying to particular people those terrors that do not justly belong to them. Such was the fault of Job's friends.
It is a mere dangerous error in preachers, to accommodate the characters of real Christians to many hypocrites by unsound representations of them, or to flatter the sinner into a false belief that he is a righteous man. By all these methods, righteousness is discouraged, and wickedness favored, in contradiction to the mind of God.
God never condemns the righteous — but it is his peculiar glory to justify the ungodly, through the execution of the curse upon his righteous Son. In each of these divine transactions, the injustice condemned in our text is revealed to be detestable to God, for righteousness shines with more solemn splendor in the infliction of punishment upon our Surety, and in our absolution from guilt — than in the flames of the lake of fire and brimstone! God would not justify his own elect to the disparagement of his inflexible justice — but condemned all their sins, and punished them in Christ — and so he is just, and the justifier of him who believes in Jesus.
Proverbs 17:16."Why is there in the hand of a fool the purchase price of wisdom, since he has no heart for it?" If fools had no means of obtaining wisdom put into their hand, their folly would be excusable — but when they have a price allowed them for procuring wisdom — and yet have no heart to it, what apology can be made for them? Everything that gives us an opportunity of becoming wise, is a talent for which we must give account to our great Lord. Bibles, and divine ordinances, and time, and leisure, and wealth, which enables us to furnish in greater abundance the means of knowledge — are a price put into our hands to get wisdom, and if we use them not to this valuable end, we despise the riches of God's goodness, and act like unreasonable creatures. Nay, the basest animals reprove us, for the stork and the crane observe their seasons for flying to warmer climates; and the ants, though a feeble people, never neglect the gainful business of the summer and harvest.
How is the fool so stupid as to neglect such important business as the gaining of wisdom, and trifle away his time and talents in vanity? Surely if he were informed of a rich inheritance to be gotten on easy terms, he would show a proper regard to his own interest.
Does he not know that wisdom is infinitely more precious than land or gold? No, this is the reason of his carelessness. He has no heart or desire for wisdom — he knows not its value, and has no relish of its pleasures. That which is more precious than rubies — is to him more worthless than a pebble. That which is more sweet than honey — is as tasteless as the white of an egg to him.
Is this price, then, put into his hand in vain? To himself it is worse than in vain. Every means of wisdom shall prove galling to his remembrance, when his eyes are opened — for opened they shall be at last, to discern the glory of that which he despised. The worm that is to prey upon him forever, will be continually fed by the recollection of sermons despised, and days wasted in idleness.
But this price will not be lost to those who put it into the hands of the fool; for their generous endeavors to turn the foolish to the wisdom of the just, will be as graciously rewarded as the more successful attempts of others to serve their generation. Nor will God be a loser of glory by the self-ruining folly of sinners — but his justice will forever triumph in the revenges executed upon the despisers of his patience and grace.
Proverbs 17:17."A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity." There are many false friends who profess love for their own advantage — and reveal their insincerity when they have no more ground to hope that their selfish interests will be served by it. There are fickle friends who love for a time, and grow indifferent to our interests, without any reason but their own inconstancy.
But a true friend is steady in his love, and times of prosperity and adversity, honor and dishonor, evil report and good report — make no more difference to him, than the changes of the air to a man of a healthy constitution.
Some false friends become cool in the day of prosperity, for they grudge to see their equals exalted above them. But a true friend rejoices in the prosperity of those whom he loves. Jonathan was one of the noblest instances of this truth, who loved David, and rejoiced in his prospects of advancement at his own expense.
Adversity is commonly reputed the touchstone of friendship. That is the season when our hollow friends forsake us — but a real friend then acts the part of a brother, and reveals his friendship more than ever.
Jonathan encountered the fury of a tyrant in a father, and risked his life for David, for whom he had formerly given up with cheerfulness his prospects of a crown.
We must not, however, be too rigorous in trying our friends by this mark, for perfection is not to be found anywhere among men — and the strength of harm or fear, may sometimes make real and worthy friends to act in a manner unworthy of themselves. The love of the disciples to Christ was approved by himself, "You are those who stood by me in my trials;" and yet through fear they forsook him, and fled in the day of his strongest trials.
Job's friends, through an unhappy mistake, added greatly to his afflictions, and behaved like enemies. Yet that patient sufferer still calls them his friends, and solicits their sympathy.
We ought to show proper attention to our friends in their distresses, that we may approve the sincerity of our former professions. And in the day of our own distress, to make due allowances in others for the weakness of human nature.
But no friend but Christ deserves our unlimited confidence. In him the text received, and still receives, its most glorious accomplishment. He remembered us in our low estate, and forgets us not in his own exaltation. Afflictions are the seasons when his kindness is most richly experienced — and our provocations do not alienate his affection from us. This is our beloved, and this is our friend. In him we will trust, and to him we will devote our hearts!
Proverbs 17:18."A man lacking in judgment strikes hands in pledge and puts up security for his neighbor." Solomon warns us often against rash suretyship — and yet many professors of religion have opened the mouths of enemies by the temptations into which they have run themselves by forgetting this exhortation. Why should religion bear the blame of what it testifies so often against, that every man who reads this book must observe it, and have it in his mind — unless he willfully despises the instructions of the wise man? If we would hearken to Solomon, he would teach us to be richer and happier, as well as better Christians.
Proverbs 17:19."He who loves a quarrel loves sin; he who builds a high gate invites destruction." Pride is a destructive sin, in whatever form it reveals itself; and the Spirit of God, by Solomon, gives us many warnings of the danger of it, and of those sins that are produced by it. Pride breeds contentions — and from the love of contention spring an innumerable multitude of iniquities! For as love is productive of every virtue — so that he who loves another has fulfilled the law, and will do no hurt to his neighbor. Just so, he who takes pleasure in strife has broken the whole law, and is ready to do every bad thing, for where there is envying and strife, there is confusion and every evil work.
But who is the man that loves contention? Those who are engaged in it, allege that they love peace as much as any man — that they are forced into it by the perverseness of other men. However, when men are almost always engaged in strife, they afford too strong an evidence that they love it. If a man is always engaged in law-suits, or in angry contentions with his neighbors, or those things that concern his private interest — he is surely a lover of strife. It is an evidence no less clear of love to contention, when people seize every opportunity for beginning a quarrel, and cannot make the least sacrifice of self-will, or self interest, for the sake of peace.
Now, if strife is productive of so many sins, it must be attended with a proportionate train of miseries, and therefore our interest as well as duty requires us to avoid everything that may lead us into angry disputes. If we love God, we will love our brother also; and if we are reconciled to God, we will follow peace with all men.
Let us hate pride, for it makes a man miserable in this world as well as the next. It makes men unsatisfied with the condition allotted to them by God, and tempts them to waste their substance, and to cheat and oppress their neighbors, in order to gratify their own ambitious disposition, and leads on the person in whom it reigns, to the practice of many sins which bring down destruction from the Almighty.
Proverbs 17:20."A man of perverse heart does not prosper; he whose tongue is deceitful falls into trouble." A man of a froward and perverse spirit, makes use of trickery and deceit to gain his ends. He thinks himself so wise, that he has no reason to fear a disappointment — but he indulges himself in an error which the whole Scripture condemns, and which no man of real honesty can fall into, that some profit may be gained by sin.
The perverse in heart is an abomination to the Lord. And as the Lord is the universal Ruler — he will never allow a man to enjoy any solid satisfaction in that which he detests. He will most certainly frustrate those expectations which are founded upon a contempt of his majesty, and a presumptuous notion that the power and wisdom of a creature can successfully oppose the Creator.
The perverse in heart and in tongue will not only meet with a total disappointment of his hopes — but fall into extreme misery. And this is the most deplorable condition that we can imagine — when one is not only divested of everything comfortable and good, and loaded with the opposite miseries. This severe punishment is begun in this world, as experience teaches every day, and it is consummated in that punishment of loss and of sense, which the wicked suffer in the everlasting world.
How foolish are the men whose wisdom lies in a skill to do evil! Their own feet cast them into a snare, and their own tongues, by which they hope to execute their wicked contrivances, fall upon themselves, and grind them to powder. Honesty and integrity is our best wisdom. Upright men walk on firm ground — when the men who boast of their crooked arts fall into their own snares.
Proverbs 17:21."To have a fool for a son brings grief; there is no joy for the father of a fool." How little are earthly objects to be trusted! Men's children are the sources of their expected joys, and the birth of children is generally accounted a joyful occasion — but many children are the causes of grief, and not of joy, to their parents. By their folly they are a disgrace to those who might have expected better returns of their fondness — and fill their days of old age with additional pains, when it was expected that the sight of them would have relieved every pang.
He who has the unhappiness to be father to a fool, has no joy, either, in his son or in anything else, for every pleasure is deadened, and every distress embittered and poisoned — by the sight of a child despising the very instrument of his existence, and treasuring up endless miseries for himself. Unnatural are those children who make their parents miserable.
Unwise are those parents who look for comfort to their children, and do not look above them to the Father of lights, who alone makes anything a blessing to us.
It must, greatly increase the affliction of those who meet with this sore calamity, to have occasion of reflecting, that they have been careless in using these means that might have driven away foolishness from their children; or in praying for that blessing on which the success of all means depends.
Proverbs 17:22."A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." The intemperate mirth of sensualists is a slow poison to the body, and therefore cannot be here meant.
Innocent amusement is here allowed, as a means of promoting or preserving health. Yet amusement must not be turned into a business, to consume our days in vanity, and make our health useless to us.
But the mirth principally recommended by the inspired, writer, is that cheerfulness which piety bestows; for he tells us, that the ways of wisdom are all pleasantness and peace, and that sorrow and wretchedness are inseparable attendants of sin.
The things of this world are so incapable of affording permanent satisfaction, that Solomon wrote almost a whole book to show that they are vanity and vexation of spirit — but wisdom, he tells us, makes the face to shine, and inspires the heart with pleasure.
A cheerful heart diffuses its influence through the body, and preserves its vigor and health, or tends to restore it where it is lost. But a broken spirit crushes the frame of the body, enfeebles its powers, makes the flesh to wither and decay, and burns the bones, like a hearth. Christ himself, in his agony, felt the effect of strong sorrows in his flesh.
Everything that tends to spread a gloom over the mind, is to be avoided. There are cases, indeed where we are called to mourn and weep — but that grief which religion requires and infuses, is not dangerous to the physical frame, because it brings the sweetest joys in its train.
It is sin which brings the most dangerous sorrows along with it, and not repentance, which is a medicine to remove the cause of the worst distempers. When David was stubborn, and did not confess his sins, his bones waxed old, because of his roaring all the day long. But when he confessed his sin, the joys of pardon healed his bones, and renewed his vigor, so that he praised God, not only for pardoning all his iniquities — but likewise for renewing his age like the eagle's.
The joys of God's salvation will be a mighty antidote against every grief, and strengthen the body and soul against those bad impressions which the multiplied calamities of life too often make.
Proverbs 17:23."A wicked man accepts a bribe in secret to pervert the course of justice."
A wicked man takes a gift out of the bosom, to pervert the ways of judgment.
He is a wicked judge that accepts of bribes. An honest man would rather lose his cause, however just, than gain it by such a base thing as a bribe. It must have been a great bondage for Paul to be confined to a prison, when he loved the pulpit so well — had not his will been sunk in the will of God. Yet he would not offer the least bribe to his covetous judge, who detained him in prison, expecting that money would be offered for his freedom.
Wicked men take their bribes out of the bosom, that they may do it without public observation — but why should men thus affront the omniscient God? Can any man do a thing so secretly, that God shall not see it? Or will it be any profit to us to have our sins hidden from the eyes of men — when they are all before the great Avenger! That which is done in secret, shall one day be revealed to the view of an assembled world, and then the omniscience of God will be vindicated from all the insults put upon it in this world, by those foolish men who were not ashamed to do those things before the face of God himself, in which they would not have wished the lowest of their fellow creatures to detect them.
Proverbs 17:24."A discerning man keeps wisdom in view, but a fool's eyes wander to the ends of the earth." Knowledge is often useless to the possessor of it, either because he is ignorant of those things which he ought to know, or because he lacks wisdom to make the proper use of his knowledge. But true wisdom is of constant use to him who possesses it, for he does not allow it to be buried in his mind — but applies it to the direction of his life. It guides him in the choice of his great end, and makes him steady in the pursuit of it. He keeps it still before his eyes to guide all his steps, and walks in his way safely, for wisdom preserves him, and discretion keeps him.
Thus we find David regulating his life. He hid the Word of God in his heart, and kept it before his eyes, and so he did not wickedly depart from his God.
We must not only learn wisdom — but keep it in view, that it may be a light to our feet; for a man who has wisdom in his mind, and forgets to use it, is like one that has money in his chest — but forgets to carry some of it with him when he is going a long journey, to bear his necessary expenses. He will be at a great loss, on many occasions, who has money in his house, but none in his pocket.
But a fool lacks wisdom in his heart, and there is no wisdom before his eyes; for instead of employing his understanding to fix upon the great end of life, as the mark at which he aims, his eyes are at the ends of the earth, roving up and down to look at everything that comes in his way, except that on which his view should be constantly and steadily fixed. He has a roving imagination that is perpetually misleading his mind, and never minds what he ought to mind in the first place.
He is either doing nothing, or nothing to purpose, or nothing of what he should do — but lives at random, and tosses to and fro like a ship in the sea, without a pilot and a helm. Such a man is perpetually in chase of shadows, and when he has overtaken one of them, and finds no substance in it as he expected — he begins to pursue another. And so his days are spent in vanity, and he enters into the eternal world without any serious thought of making provision for his long home.
Our duty is, to fix our eyes upon the things that are not seen, and to live under the powerful influence of the eternal world. And whatever lesser objects we may be called to regard in our journey through life, to tread that path which leads to eternal life, without turning out of it to the right hand or left, upon any consideration whatever.
Proverbs 17:25."A foolish son brings grief to his father and bitterness to the one who bore him." This instruction would not be repeated so often, if it were not useful for many excellent purposes. It teaches parents to avoid that common fault of too fond indulgence to the faults of their children, for a child left to himself is for the most part a grief to his father, and bitterness (which is the greatest degree of grief,) to his mother — whose maternal tenderness was more likely to spoil him by its excess, than the fondness of a father.
It is a lesson to children, to beware of converting the kindness of their parents into a torment, by bad behavior.
It instructs those who have not the pleasure of a rising family, to acquiesce in the providence of God, when they recollect that children are but an uncertain comfort.
It instructs those who have not yet entered into family connections, to chose their partners in life with prudence, and to marry none who are likely to set a bad example before their children, or to neglect their religious education.
If parents have the misfortune to be plagued with foolish and wicked children; let them remember David, and the afflictions he suffered from his family, and the comforts that refreshed his soul under this distress. Let those who can look upon their children with pleasure, bless God, and ascribe the praise to his name.
Proverbs 17:26."It is not good to punish an innocent man, or to flog officials for their integrity." It is a bad thing when children, who ought to be a joy to the hearts of their parents under every misfortune — prove their heaviest cross. But here is a worse evil censured; when magistrates, that are the ministers of God for good, prove the ministers of Satan in the administration of it, by punishing the just, and perverting an institution of our gracious Creator, into an instrument of unrighteousness! To punish the lowest of men without ground, is a very evil thing, for it is a discouragement to virtue, and a strong incentive to wickedness. But it is doubly wicked to strike princes for their integrity, by punishing inferior rulers for acting according to the eternal rules of righteousness, and refusing to truckle to the humor and caprice of their sovereigns. It was the fear of this that determined Pilate to condemn the holy and the just One.
Subjects may be guilty of striking princes for their integrity, by smiting them with their tongues, or seditious practices against their authority — while they endeavor, in the administration of their office, to serve the true interests, rather than gratify the unreasonable wishes of those whom they govern.
Moses had a large experience of this rebellious disposition, in the people whom he led through the desert; and it is probable that Solomon himself saw reason to complain of it in his reign.
Parents and masters of families may be charged with the crime of punishing the just — by groundless severities to those who are under their charge. Rulers in the church are in like manner worthy of censure, when they administer the ordinance of discipline to the injury of those whom they rule, by rebuking them for things that are not criminal; or for real crimes which cannot be proved.
Proverbs 17:27."A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered." As we must not be hasty with our mouths to utter anything before God — so it is foolish to be swift to speak even before men. The empty vessel makes the greatest sound, and the man who has nothing to say which deserves hearing — is commonly most prodigal of his words.
Xenocrates the philosopher was upbraided because of his silence in a meeting of friends. He answered that, "He had often repented of speaking — but never of silence."
People should not be fond of hearing themselves speak at any time — but double caution is unsavory when we meet with provocations that put our minds into a ferment. The wise man's knowledge teaches his mouth to speak the words of truth and soberness — but angry passions are the worst instructors to the tongue in the world. Floods of venom are poured from them when they have mastered reason, and obtained the command of the lips.
A man of understanding having the government of his tongue, shows the excellency and coolness of his spirit, either by silence, or by the meekness of his words, as the occasion directs him.
David had such a command of his passions through the power of faith, that he said nothing amiss when he was tried with the most provoking usage in the time of distress, a season when the spirits of other men are discomposed by mere trifles. He was like a man that hears not, and in whose mouth are no reproofs, "For in you, O Lord," says he, "do I hope. You will hear, O Lord my God." But if a man spares his words, may he not lay himself open to the suspicion of being an ignorant man or a fool? No.
Proverbs 17:28."Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue." The silence of a fool is almost always a covering to folly, and a sign of some degree of wisdom — yet it is not always a sign that his folly is in any degree cured. Absalom held his peace when his sister was ravished by Amnon — but his silence proceeded from sullenness and cunning, and prepared the way for the execution of his furious revenge.
It is a good sign that a fool is not incurable, when he has learned to keep silent from a sense of his own ignorance, and a desire to learn from others. It is as difficult a thing to learn to be silent — as to learn to speak! And although unseasonable silence is not a good thing — yet unseasonable speaking is far worse! It is often a point of real wisdom to be silent, for there is a time to be silent, and a time to speak — and the wise man's heart knows both the time and the manner.
When men have no call to speak on a subject, or when they have not duly considered it; when they are discomposed by passion, or in the company of those whose passions render them incapable of hearing reason; and finally, when they are more likely to expose themselves to damage, than to do good to others by speaking — then to keep silent altogether will be their best method of behavior.
It is sometimes our duty to keep silent — but we must not run into one extreme to avoid another. Silence which is occasioned by cowardice, when we are manifestly called to bear testimony for truth, is a dangerous sin. Nor must we desert the defense of oppressed innocence, to prevent inconvenience to ourselves.