A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
Proverbs 18:1."Through desire a man, having separated himself, seeks and intermeddles with all wisdom."
Man's wisdom in this world is imperfect, and appears much more in desires than attainments. But these desires are not feeble and ineffectual wishes, like those of Balaam, when he desired to die the death of the righteous — and yet had a prevailing love to the wages of unrighteousness.
Genuine desires for wisdom and holiness will dispose a man to separate himself from everything that would obstruct the attainment of it, and to use every proper means for obtaining it.
We are not called to give up every connection with the world — but in the calling with which we are called, we are directed to abide with God. But we must lay aside every unnecessary encumbrance, and avoid that load of worldly cares which would press us down to the earth, and keep us from traveling in that way of wisdom and life. Worldly cares, and the lusts of other things, are the thorns that choke the good seed of the Word, and hinder it from bringing forth good fruit.
David was called to the government of a kingdom — but he did not allow the weighty cares of government to alienate his soul from the Word of God; which was still his meditation day and night. How far it is a man's duty to separate himself from worldly things to learn wisdom, depends upon his particular circumstances; for the same person, in different situations, is required to employ a greater or lesser part of his time for this purpose. The laborer, who must attend upon his own business with diligence in its proper season, should employ himself in beholding God's work, when his hand is sealed up by stormy weather. The person who desires wisdom will seek it with earnestness, although he depends on God for this precious gift — yet he will not make the freeness of divine grace a pretense for laziness — but by reading and hearing, meditating and conversing, praying, and practicing what he knows already — he will follow on to know the Lord, and on such means the blessing of God may be expected.
It is not one branch of wisdom only that the lover of wisdom will seek after. It is his earnest wish and endeavor, that the word of Christ may dwell in him richly in all wisdom. He regards both knowledge and practice as necessary parts of wisdom — that his eye easy be clear, and his whole body full of light. He wishes and endeavors to be sound in the faith, and to attain a large measure of acquaintance with the law and the gospel. He is careful to understand his own way exactly, and to have every one of his steps ordered in the Word of God. Every branch of religion is valuable in his eyes, and the Spirit shall lead him into all truth.
Proverbs 18:2."A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions."
The disposition of fools is entirely opposite to that of the lovers of wisdom, for they have no pleasure in understanding. Novelty, or curiosity, or a desire to make a figure by their knowledge — may sometimes induce them to bestow some pains to procure knowledge; but their eyes were never opened to discern the divine beauty of truth and holiness. They have no spiritual perception, to relish the sweetness of that which every Christian declares from experience to be sweeter than honey from the comb.
Herod heard John gladly, and did many things because of him — but his obstinate continuance in the sin of incest was an evidence that he had no true delight in wisdom — for that would have disposed him to abhor every false way.
In the 58th chapter of Isaiah, we read of wicked men that delighted to know God's way — but we learn from the following part of that discourse, that their delight in wisdom was an empty pretense. Their delight was not placed on God or his ways — but on those advantages to themselves which they fondly hoped to obtain by their religious rituals.
The hearers resembled by the stony ground received the Word with joy, and for a time seemed to profit by it — but they had no cordial relish of the gospel. Their delight was only a transient flash of affection, and it soon appeared that they loved their bodies more than their souls, and preferred their ease and safety to the gospel of salvation.
The pleasure of a fool, is that his heart delights in airing his own opinions. Some of the wicked are decent in their outward conduct, and their pleasure lies in the inward indulgence of their corrupt disposition — but others of them are not ashamed of their folly, and take delight in making it visible to all men by its fruits. They reveal their pride and vanity, their sensual and impious dispositions, by their tongues and practices — so that you may easily see that they are corrupt trees, because they bear nothing but corrupt fruit.
This proverb instructs us to distinguish between fools and wise men. A wise man seeks all wisdom, because be delights in it after the inward man. If we love not wisdom — but take pleasure in the thoughts of foolishness or in the outward expressions of folly, we must be ranked in that black catalogue of which so many bad things are said in this book, for as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.
Foolish thoughts too often come into the minds of the wise — but we must suppress them as soon as they enter, lest by giving them license to pollute our hearts, and stain our lives — we should incur the reputation of a fool.
Proverbs 18:3."When wickedness comes, so does contempt; and with shame comes disgrace."
Pride is one ingredient of the wicked man's character, and this disposes him to treat those who are better men than himself with contempt. When he makes his appearance, you need not wonder if you find contempt, and ignominy, and reproach in his company — for he wishes to exalt himself upon the ruins of the honor and good name of his neighbors. The proud man has sagacity to find materials in great abundance to furnish him with those titles of scorn and reproach which he heaps on other men. Poverty and calamity, natural infirmities, or ungracefulness in behavior, foibles and failings — are all employed by him for exposing his neighbors to contempt and laughter. But godly men are the chief objects of his spleen, and if he can find nothing else to afford him a handle for holding them up to scorn or reproach, he can make a dexterous use of their very virtues to serve his pride and malice.
To expose our innocent neighbors as the objects of contempt or ignominy, is a very wicked thing, especially when they are saints who are treated in this disrespectful manner. He who mocks the poor, reproaches his Maker. He who casts dirt in those faces which shine with the beauties of holiness — is an enemy to Christ, and to his beauteous image.
What a pity is it, that even the saints themselves should reproach or insult one another! And yet it cannot be denied, that church disputes have sometimes afforded instances of this melancholy fact.
When we meet with contempt and reproach, let us remember that our Lord Jesus Christ met with it in a much larger degree for our sake, and has left us an example of bearing it with patience. He hid not his face from shame and spitting — but gave his back to the smiters, and his cheeks to those who plucked off the hair.
But wicked men shall be paid in their own contempt. Michal despised David for his piety, and lived all her days under the reproach of barrenness.
The text may admit of another meaning besides that we have given, that dishonor and disgrace follows wickedness at the heels. The wickedness and pride of men shall be recompensed with shame and everlasting contempt!
Proverbs 18:4."The words of a man's mouth are deep waters, but the fountain of wisdom is a bubbling brook."
The words of a crafty man may be compared to deep waters — but this is not owing so much to his wit as his lack of conscience, for he does not scruple to speak in direct contradiction to his real sentiments — but God knows, and will reveal and punish his iniquity.
The wise man seems here to speak of the words of a man that is furnished with a rich treasure of true wisdom. His words are like deep waters, not because he delights to express himself in riddles, and to conceal his treasures of wisdom from the eyes of others. He uses great plainness of speech — but there is more of solid sense and useful instruction in his words, than another man can apprehend at hearing them.
While men of shallow understandings pour forth a flood of words, in which there is scarcely a drop of matter — the truly wise man spares his words, but what he says contains much in its narrow compass.
Such were the words of Solomon himself, which filled the queen of Sheba with amazement, for the sagacity of that wise princess could not penetrate the depths of that wisdom which he conveyed in his discourses.
How valuable is the conversation of the wise! Their words are like oracles which deserve to be remembered, and to be the subject of our thoughts. They supply us with refreshment and pleasure, like a flowing brook which never runs dry — but is ever ready to afford drink to the thirsty traveler.
It is the Word of God which furnishes the heart of a wise man with all those treasures of knowledge which are so justly compared to a spring of living waters. And the faithful sayings of God deserve this high character above all the words of the wisest men — that they are like deep waters. Our ears can receive but a little of them, and therefore they ought to be our study day and night. We cannot expect much benefit by a cursory view of the Scriptures — but when we search into any part of them, with a dependence on the Father of light, we shall find not only treasures — but rich mines of what is more valuable than the purest gold.
Proverbs 18:5."It is not good to be partial to the wicked or to deprive the innocent of justice."
It is a very bad thing to justify the wicked, and a worse thing to condemn the righteous — but both these iniquities meet in the sin condemned in the text. Peter exhorts oppressed Christians to commit their souls in well-doing to God as to a faithful Creator. God hates partial dealings so much, that he will certainly reprove it.
Job's friends condemned that godly man out of zeal for the glory of God, for they could not conceive how God could be righteous, unless Job were wicked. And yet God did not approve of their conduct — but sharply censured them for endeavoring to vindicate his glory at Job's expense.
This sin of partiality in judging is no less detestable in ecclesiastical, than in civil administrations. When men of riches and power are allowed to trample upon the liberties of the poor and lowly, and when those who ought not to have a place and a name in the church, are permitted to usurp those powers that evidently belong, by Christ's appointment, to the body of the faithful — is it not plain that church-rulers have become partial in themselves, and judges of evil thoughts?
There are other instances of partiality in church managements equally condemned in this place. When we take it on us to judge other men, without any call, against the command of Christ — we too often run into this iniquity of partial judgment, by censuring the same faults in different people, with different degrees of severity — as our affections lead us.
Proverbs 18:6."A fool's lips bring him strife, and his mouth invites a beating."
Solomon has already represented very clearly the folly and danger of contention, and observation abundantly verifies his words — and yet there are many people so foolish that nothing will warn them. Their lips enter into strife, and their mouth calls for a beating. While they pour forth the venom of ill-nature in a torrent of spiteful reflections against their neighbors — they do not consider that they are calling for a stroke to themselves, by kindling up those passions which may provoke their antagonists to return their rage with good measure.
That profane apostate, the emperor Julian, used to banter the Christians with that precept of our Lord, "When your adversary smites you on the one cheek — turn to him the other also." But Christians consult their ease as well as their consciences when they obey this precept in the spirit of it. Whereas proud and passionate fools, when they give vent to their rancorous spirits, because they cannot bear the shadow of an indignity, not only turn the other cheek to their adversary — but smite, and urge, and almost force him to strike and destroy them. It may be justly said, that,
Proverbs 18:7."A fool's mouth is his destruction, and his lips are the snare of his soul."
For men to be destroyed on account of the transgression of their lips, is a grievous though just punishment — but the text represents the calamity which they bring upon themselves, in a still stronger light. They are not only the causes — but the agents of their own destruction! By their lips they are caught in a snare — and by their lips they are destroyed.
It was a severe, though unjust censure, which Eliphaz passed on Job, when he said, "Your own mouth condemns you, and not I, and your own lips testify against you."
But here Solomon tells us that fools, who have not the command of their tongues, are not only condemned — but punished by their own mouths. Their own tongues, as David expresses it, shall fall upon them; and when men's tongues fall upon themselves — they are crushed under the weight. The tongues of other men may pierce into our vitals — but the sharpest and most envenomed words of other men can never wound a man so incurably as his own.
It was a more mortifying punishment for Haman to be hanged on a gibbet erected by himself, than if he had been hanged in the most disgraceful manner on any other gallows. The contentious fool is like Haman — he erects a gallows for himself, and twists those cords by which he is strangled. But Haman could not know that he was working for his own destruction; whereas the lover of strife has fair warning of his danger from the Word of God, and therefore must fall unpitied if he will not be reformed.
Proverbs 18:8."The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts."
It is just that a fool's mouth should become the instrument of his own destruction — for his words are arrows that make deep, and sometimes fatal wounds in other men.
Men may in some cases report the faults of others, without exposing themselves to the censure of this text. Joseph reported the faults of his brethren to his father, that his father's authority might reclaim them. Just so, we are authorized by our Lord to complain to the church of an offending brother, when he will not allow himself to be gained by a private admonition.
But when men publish bad things of their neighbors through spite or levity, or to have the pleasure of hearing themselves talk — then they deserve the name of tale-bearers, and incur the reproofs given to such pestilent members of society in this book. The tales which this kind of men tell, are sometimes entirely false, and at other times have some truth in them — although they seldom lack some dash of slander, to heighten their relish to those who love to feed on the faults and misfortunes of their fellow-creatures.
The words of tale-bearers are as wounds, and these wounds are of a very dangerous kind, for they pierce into the inmost parts. They wound the character, and often destroy the usefulness of those who have the misfortune to be the mark of these sharp arrows of the tongue. Those who give these deadly wounds do not always mean all the harm they bring, being instigated, not by downright spite — but by a pleasure they have in speaking, while they are destitute of good materials for conversation.
But why can they not remain silent? If you kill your neighbor in sport, or for lack of better employment — will it be a sufficient excuse for you to allege that you had no intention to do it, or that you did it for lack of better employment? Don't you know that a man's name is as dear to him as his life, and his usefulness perhaps dearer to him than either of them? By wanton cruelty to others, men often bring serious misery upon themselves.
Proverbs 18:9."One who is slothful in his work, is brother to one who destroys."
Slothfulness in work is commonly a companion of tale-bearing; and both of them are more dangerous iniquities than men generally apprehend, and need to be seriously and frequently remonstrated against. A man with half an eye may see that the squanderer will soon reduce himself to feeding on husks. With a little attention, we may know that a slothful man is only a younger brother to him, and will come to poverty as certainly, though not with so much speed. The man that runs will speedily arrive at the end of his journey — but he who follows him with a slower pace, will arrive at it in good time.
He who spends his days in debauchery, takes his estate and casts it into a devouring gulf! But he who is slothful in his work, suffers a moth to devour his substance. Both these sins are breaches of the eighth commandment, though in different degrees.
There is the like difference between the careless Christian and the profane sinner. Sloth in religion is a consumption which preys upon the vitals — but open profaneness is a burning fever, which will more rapidly destroy the constitution.
Let us not be slothful, otherwise we are followers, though, at a distance, of those who have already plunged themselves into perdition by their wickedness! But let us follow those who by faith and patience inherit the promises.
Proverbs 18:10."The name of the LORD is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe."
Nations provide fortifications and arms for their defense, even in time of peace. If they are so imprudent as to neglect these precautions, they are in imminent danger of destruction when an enemy makes an attack.
In like manner, when we know that life is exposed to the incursions of calamity, and that we are surrounded with legions of invisible enemies — it is our wisdom to be provided with a sure defense, that we may be safe in the day of battle and war. No creature in Heaven or earth can defend us against the assaults of misfortune, or the more dangerous attacks of invisible adversaries. Nor have we any power or wisdom of our own to afford us security. Our safety is only in the name of the Lord, that God with whom is everlasting strength and sufficiency, and who reveals himself through his blessed Son our Savior, as the refuge of fallen men. In this great name, protection is to be found . . .
from the distresses of the present life,
from the tyranny of sin,
from every evil,
and from every fear,
from the temptations of the devil,
from the terrors of death,
from everlasting wrath!
David in the day or his distress resorted to the caves of Engedi, and the mountains of the wild goats — but we find in his history, and in many of his psalms, that these were insufficient for his protection, and that his confidence was ever placed on God himself as his tower of salvation. In him he trusted, and was helped. Therefore his heart greatly rejoiced, and with his tongue he praised God.
But God was not only David's confidence — he has ever been the dwelling-place of the generation of the righteous. They run by faith and prayer, into this high tower in the day of their calamity and danger — and they are not at a loss when unexpected dangers are ready to overwhelm them, for no enemy can be so near to distress them, as God is to preserve them. He is ever a present — a very present help in the time of trouble.
But are poor sinners excluded from this refuge? Will they be expelled from it, if they come to shelter themselves under the protection of the merciful God? Never! The righteous runs into it, and none that run into it continue unrighteous. But it is accessible to lost sinners also, for the name of the Lord is "the Lord, the Lord God merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abundant in goodness, and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity." And sinners are invited into this tower of salvation by God himself.
Eternal safety is enjoyed by all who run into this tower, for it can never be undermined, or scaled, or destroyed, by all the devils in Hell! No enemy can break into it by force, or find a way by fraud to enter. None can so much as climb up to this refuge, to endanger the safety of those happy people who have made it their habitation. Nor is there any lack of necessities ever felt in it, for he who is the defense of his people is their all-sufficient portion, and heavenly Father. The place of their defense is the munition of rocks — bread shall be given them, and their water shall be sure.
Surely if we have any wisdom, we will endeavor diligently to learn the way of running into this tower. We cannot learn it better than by taking David for our pattern, whom we see, in many of his psalms, fleeing unto God for refuge. Let us read these divine compositions, and pray for the same spirit of faith which animated that holy man, and endeavor to follow the steps of his faith.
Proverbs 18:11."The wealth of the rich is their fortified city; they imagine it an unscalable wall."
Few of the rich are righteous. God is the hope and strength of his people — but the rich are generally dazzled with the luster of their gold and jewels, and mistake those precious metals for gods; and so they say unto the gold, 'You are our hope,' and to the fine gold, 'You are our confidence.' They do not trust to the Rock of ages — but lean upon a broken reed which will soon break, and leave them to fall into perdition, after they have been pierced through with many sorrows.
Riches are good things when they are well used — but confidence in riches is a grievous sin, because it is an alienation of the heart from God, who requires the homage of the heart more than the bowing of the knee.
Wealth is a source of many iniquities, because it prompts men . . .
to injustice and oppression,
to despise God, and
to forget death and judgment.
It shuts up men's compassion to the indigent, and makes it as difficult for men to get into the kingdom of God, as for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.
This second warning the wise man here gives against this vain confidence. Examine yourselves, you rich men, and see whether you have not the symptoms of this vain confidence. Do not trust in uncertain riches — but in the living God, and show that your confidence is in God by a readiness to lend unto the Lord.
Do not murmur, you who are poor, because you are not under the same temptation with some others, to make a God of gold to yourselves. Trust in the Lord, and you shall lack no good thing.
Proverbs 18:12."Before his downfall a man's heart is proud, but humility comes before honor."
The ruin of all mankind, and of millions of angels, is a tremendous proof of the first part of this text.
The abasement and exaltation of our Redeemer, is a glorious illustration of the other clause.
Solomon gives us repeated warnings of the danger of pride, and the necessity of a humble spirit — and we need them all, for as vile and worthless as we are — humility is a very great stranger in our world, and pride is a sin so insinuating, that most men's hearts, and even their religion, is quite corrupted by it!
Proud men stand on the edge of a fearful precipice, from whence they will soon tumble into destruction!
But blessed are the poor in spirit; they may be at present in the valley of abasement — but they shall dwell forever with God in His holy hill, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Proverbs 18:13."He who answers before listening — that is his folly and his shame."
Men charm themselves upon their penetration and quickness of discernment. And to display this talent, are often too hasty to give their judgment upon a point, before they are well informed of it. But this rash manner of judging, especially in matters of consequence, is their folly and shame — they reveal their ignorance and pride, when they expect to have their sagacity applauded.
Instead of pronouncing peremptorily upon a half hearing of a thing, it is often needful to hear it over and over again, and to hear different people concerning it — that we may not be drawn into false conclusions by the prejudices and partiality of those whom we first heard on the subject. This is a necessary instruction to magistrates, who may be guilty of crying injustice, by pronouncing a hasty sentence in a cause that comes before them.
Philip king of Macedonia, having given sentence against a widow in a cause she had before him, was so sensible of his injustice upon second thoughts, that he sentenced himself to pay her damages. But kings are seldom so honest as to acknowledge their mistakes, and therefore they ought to be very careful that they do not fall into them. The pride of sovereigns established that law in Persia, that the royal decrees should not be reversed; and other princes, although they do not make sigh pretenses to royal infallibility, have nevertheless too high a sense of dignity to be easily brought to an acknowledgment of errors.
Ministers of the Word of God are instructed by this rule, not to be rash with their mouths to utter anything as the Word of God in the pulpit — but to consider well what they are to say in the name of the Lord; and to use due deliberation and inquiry before they give their judgment in cases of conscience — lest they should make sins and duties, that which God never made, by a wrong application of the Word of God to particular cases; or distress the minds of God's people, and encourage sinners, by giving a rash opinion on the state of their souls.
This rule is to be observed by all men in giving advice, or in judging of men's characters or actions, when they have any call to judge on them. The Jews condemned our Lord as a Sabbath-breaker, because he made a man whole on it — but he tells them that they sinned by judging too rashly: "You judge according to outward appearance — but judge righteous judgment."
We ought to be the more cautious in forming and pronouncing opinions, because we are so little disposed to admit our wrongs if we fall into mistakes, or to retract them upon conviction.
It is commonly supposed that ministers do not repent of their mistakes, although they do not claim, like the Pope, the gift of infallibility. There is too much reason for the supposition, provided it is not restricted to that order of men; for the same pride that makes one set of men stubborn in their wrong opinions, is to be found in other men, although it is not perhaps so much strengthened by particular circumstances, nor so visible in their conduct, because they do not meet with the same temptations to reveal it.
How many do we find who will not change their sentiments about religion, or about people and things, upon the clearest evidence — and give way to anger upon the least contradiction to their favorite notions, as if their dearest interests were attacked!
The saints themselves are not entirely delivered from this unjust disposition, as we see in the behavior of David to Mephibosheth, after he had pronounced a rash sentence in his case.
Proverbs 18:14."A man's spirit sustains him in sickness — but a crushed spirit, who can bear?"
When a man's spirit is free of wounds, it will enable a man to bear an incredible load of distress. That courage which is derived from natural constitution, or moral principles, enabled some of the pagan heroes to behave with astonishing firmness under the greatest pressure of calamity.
But the true Christian is the true hero. Thousands, through faith in Christ, have encountered with resignation and joy, the rage of beasts, and flames, and tyrants!
Cato and Brutus were cowards compared with the apostle Paul. They killed themselves, and deserted their country — that they might escape from the miseries of life. But Paul was content to die every day for the service of the church — and yet still live absent from the Lord, the life of all his joys.
But a crushed spirit is absolutely intolerable. It is a very Hell upon earth, and has often made the most courageous of men, and the best of saints, to roar through the disquiet of their hearts. When the conscience is pierced with a deep sense of guilt, and the heart alarmed with the dreadful apprehensions of eternal misery — then the affrighted eye seems to behold upon the walls the hand-writing that amazed the mighty king of Babylon, and unsinewed all his joints. Every earthly comfort is to a man in this situation, like the white of an egg; mirth appears to be madness, and nothing has any relish — but what gives some prospect of deliverance from this intolerable anguish.
Blessed be Jesus, whose soul was crushed, and environed with sorrows not his own. He never knew sin — and yet he felt the tremendous impressions of wrath upon his blessed soul, for he bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that by his stripes we might be healed.
If the presages of Hell are so astonishingly dreadful, what must Hell itself be? May we have grace to flee to Jesus, who has delivered us from the wrath to come.
It is sin which causes this terrible anguish which none can endure, and sin unpardoned will cause it sooner or later in every transgressor. Why then should we thus wound and mangle our own souls, by fighting against God? If we shoot these arrows against the Almighty, they cannot wound his honor — but he can soon dip them in the venom of his wrath and curse, and shoot them back into our own souls!
Proverbs 18:15."The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge; the ears of the wise seek it out."
The prudent man has a due apprehension of the value of knowledge, and seeks it with all his heart, and finds it. The Spirit of God writes the Word of truth upon his heart, and inscribes it in his inward part. While others have it only in their memories or tongues — he has it in his heart, which is filled with the love of knowledge, and enriched with this precious treasure. But he is not satisfied with that measure of knowledge he has already got. He would not part with it for mines of gold, or mountains of jewels — but he wishes still to add to his stock, and therefore his ear is employed in seeking knowledge.
The ear is the learning sense, and the wise man will hearken attentively to any man who can give him useful information — but he attends chiefly upon the ministry of the Word, because this is the appointed means of increasing his knowledge and animating his soul. Although he meditates daily on the testimonies of God — yet he does not satisfy himself with the suggestions of his own mind — but feeds his meditating faculty with the Word read and heard.
Those who wish for no more knowledge or grace than they think absolutely necessary for getting to Heaven, all who think their stock of knowledge sufficient, and all those who neglect the means of grace, are excluded from the class of prudent men by this sentence of Solomon.
Proverbs 18:16."A gift opens the way for the giver and ushers him into the presence of the great."
It is a shame for great men to love gifts. They should remember what our Lord says, "It is more blessed to give than to receive." Great men have received their great power to do good to others; and poor men should not find the way so strait to their presence, as to have occasion for gifts to widen it.
The King of glory admits the poorest of men freely into his presence, and will do justice to the poor and needy, and send them every needful supply.
It appears from this proverb, that riches cannot satisfy the heart of man; the great and rich of the world are as eager to receive, and as much under the influence of money, as the poor. Silver and gold may dazzle the eyes — but they cannot fill the heart, even while they encumber it.
Yet it is not in every case unlawful for great men to receive gifts, nor for men of inferior station to bestow them. Great men may cheerfully receive them as expressions of gratitude, for favors of a higher kind conferred, or to be conferred on their inferiors. And poor men may lawfully give them to procure favors, though not to obtain justice in a court of law.
Blessed be the Lord, who makes us welcome to come to his throne without money and without price — to receive the richest gifts. May his gifts make room for him in our souls!
Proverbs 18:17."The first to present his case seems right, until another comes forward and questions him."
When God came down to take vengeance on the men of Sodom and Gomorrah for their wickedness, he said, "I will see whether the wickedness is as great as the cry that has come unto me; and if not, I will know." God is not ignorant of anything that men do — but he speaks in our language, and intends, by this manner of expression, not only to represent his own justice — but to teach righteousness to earthly judges.
By judging in a cause without searching it out, David injured the son of his generous friend Jonathan. Ahasuerus, by the like conduct, exposed his queen to destruction, and signed a warrant for her own death, and was forced to see that the Persian laws could not make their kings infallible.
An eloquent speaker will make his own cause appear a great deal better than it really is — and that of his adversary a great deal worse than it really is. Therefore a just judge will not decide, nor even form a judgment within his own mind, until the parties are both heard.
Claudius the emperor has rendered his name forever infamous by judging causes after hearing only one of the parties, and sometimes neither of them.
Rome, in its pagan state, would never have allowed of a court so manifestly contrived by the father of wickedness, as that of the Inquisition — but made it a rule that no man should be reputed guilty until he had seen his accuser face to face, and enjoyed the liberty of answering for himself.
In private life, it is proper that we should know what a man can say for himself and his behavior, before we punish him in his character. If we will judge our neighbors, we should certainly act the part of impartial judges, and not believe bad things of men, upon the report of tale-bearers, or those who are too plainly under the influence of prejudice against the people whom they accuse.
In religious disputes, it is a great injustice to regard the character of a sect, or an impartial representation of their doctrines — upon one whom partiality has blinded, and rendered unfit, however honest he may be, to do them justice. Party-spirit has as much influence as gifts, to blind the eyes of the wise, and to pervert the words of the righteous.
It may, however, be a great satisfaction to us, that we may judge, as far as we have any occasion to do so, for ourselves, in the most important religious contentions, without hearing either of the parties. A man may easily know from the Bible, whether Christ is the supreme God, without the help of others. The Bereans could readily judge whether Paul's doctrine was true or not, by searching the Scriptures, without putting themselves to the trouble of hearing what the Jewish doctors could say against it.
Causes between private people are thus to be decided by an impartial judgment, founded upon good evidence. But how shall those contentions be decided, that arise between princes, who are too high to have any magistrate above them, and too proud to refer their differences to an arbitrator?
Proverbs 18:18."Casting the lot settles disputes and keeps strong opponents apart."
The contentions of princes are very dangerous, because pride will not allow either party to yield, and their power enables them to interest millions in their cause. How often have oceans of blood been spilt, and nations been loaded with the most oppressive taxes, and great kingdoms utterly subverted and laid desolate, in the prosecution of the the quarrels of their leaders! The disputes of kings, are like dangerous wounds in the head, which are felt to the sole of the foot.
Why may not the lot determine their quarrels? They are too great to refer their causes to an earthly judge — but the whole disposing of the lot is of the Lord.
It is a mercy to men that God has provided a method so safe and easy for determining controversies, which must otherwise be decided by the sword. But it is the sin of men, that they will rather have matters settled their own way, whatever it may cost — than by means of an ordinance of God.
As the whole disposing of the lot is of the Lord, those who agree to have their businesses determined by it, must reverence the providence of God in it, and rest cheerfully satisfied with the determination, and thus it will make contentions to cease. Let us never prostitute the lot to trifling uses. It is an ordinance designed for such great and merciful ends.
Proverbs 18:19."An offended brother is more unyielding than a fortified city, and disputes are like the barred gates of a citadel."
A brother offended it harder to be won than a strong city; and their contentions are like the bars of a castle.
That law which binds us to love our relations, obliges us, if we have unhappily differed with them, to be easily pacified, and even to seek peace with them, although we have been the wronged party.
Abraham would not live in a state of contention with Lot, because they were brethren. To put an end to the strife of their servants, he yielded to him, though only his nephew, the power of choosing what part of the land he would take to himself.
But such is the perverseness of human nature, that contentions between brethren are generally more irremediable than any others. When we meet with provocation where we thought we had all the reason in the world to expect a contrary behavior — we can scarcely find in our hearts to bestow forgiveness. Thus it is easier to win a strong city, or to break in pieces the barred gates of a castle — than to heal breeches in families and among near friends.
It is therefore our duty to guard against those harms which are so much easier prevented than removed. With this view, we must not wantonly provoke our friends, nor be ready to take offence at their conduct. But if we are involved in contention with them, the authority of God should constrain us to mortify that unforgiving disposition which would prevent a cordial reconciliation.
The love of Christ has broken in pieces for us the gates of brass, and cut in sunder the iron bars of our infernal prison — so why should not our most stubborn enmities be dissolved by the apprehensions of it?
Jacob used all possible means obtain the good graces of his brother Esau after their unhappy difference — and yet it is a question whether their reconciliation was cordial and lasting. Their posterity kept up the strife, and Edom did tear perpetually, and kept his wrath forever, as Obadiah tells us.
This example teaches us what means we should use for healing such breaches — but at the same time admonishes us to prevent, if possible, the need of using them.
Proverbs 18:20."From the fruit of his mouth a man's stomach is filled; with the harvest from his lips he is satisfied."
Wicked men are never satisfied with their vain or wicked discourse — and a godly man never thinks he has served God or his generation sufficiently by the good use of his tongue. But both good and wicked men shall be filled with the product of their tongues — in happiness or misery!
If a man were possessed of a field exceedingly productive, either of good fruits, or of noisome and poisonous herbs, according to the cultivation bestowed on it — what pains would he use to clear it of every weed, and to have it sown with good grain! And yet when the harvest has come, he may take his choice whether he will eat of the produce or not.
Such a field is the tongue of man, with this difference, that a man is obliged to eat the fruit of it, although it should be worse than hemlock! What care, then, should we use to pluck from our hearts every root of bitterness, and to have them furnished with knowledge and prudence — that our discourse may be good, to the use of edifying!
The fruits of the tongue are either very bitter, or very pleasant.
Proverbs 18:21."The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit."
Our tongues, as we have been frequently told in this book, are often the instruments of life or death, to others. But it is the fruit of our own tongues, with which we must chiefly be filled.
A fool's mouth is his destruction — and a wise man's mouth is oftentimes his safety. He who would live a long and a happy life — let him take care how he uses his tongue. And at the last day, when evil-speakers are cast into a fiery furnace — the fruits of the sanctified tongue will be produced as evidences of a man's title to everlasting life. It is not the use of the tongue on some particular occasion that will determine a man's happiness or misery — but the love of a good or bad tongue. Saints may, through the influence of provocation and passion, speak unadvisedly with their lips — and the wicked may speak many good words, when their hearts are not right with God. But he who loves to speak as befits a saint, shall eat good by the fruit of his mouth. And he who that takes pleasure in vain or ungodly discourse, shall meet with a just and dreadful recompense.
If, after all that the wise man has said, we do not bridle our tongue — with what eyes will we look to Solomon at the last day! Or rather, how shall we look our omniscient Judge in the face, who speaks to us in this book, and who taught the same lessons by his own blessed mouth in the days of his flesh!
Proverbs 18:22."He who finds a wife finds what is good, and receives favor from the LORD."
It was not good for man in the days of innocence to be alone — and an helpmeet for us is still more needful, amidst those calamities that embitter the life of fallen men. Two are better than one, because when one of them meets with a misfortune, the other is ready to afford some relief.
A wife that is rottenness in her husband's bones, is no doubt a bad thing, for sin and folly will turn the choicest blessings of life into oppressive burdens! Such a woman does not deserve this endearing title.
A good wife is an excellent thing, and is to be sought from the Lord. When Abraham wanted to have a wife for his son, he prayed to God. His servant prayed, and Isaac went out into the fields to meditate, probably to pray likewise.
The man that has found a wife, has obtained favor from the Lord, and ought to acknowledge him with thanksgiving. It is God who made the woman for the man, and has preserved an equality between the sexes by his providence, and appointed marriage, and directs every man to his own wife, and disposes her heart to this tender union. If we are to thank God for the pleasures of friendship — then what thanks are due to him, for the pleasures of the most delightful union, whereby of twain are made one flesh!
Proverbs 18:23."A poor man pleads for mercy, but a rich man answers harshly."
It cannot be denied that the rich have many particular advantages — but the poor have no reason to repine, for poverty has also its gains, one of which is that it teaches us one of the best lessons — that of humility. The poor have a daily experience of their dependent condition, which instructs them in the language of submission and lowliness; and when the Spirit of God sanctifies this condition of life to a man, it leads him to great improvements in that grace on which Christ pronounces the first of his blessings, poverty of spirit. A little of this holy and humble temper is worth all the gold and silver in the world!
Some, indeed, are poor and proud, and they are the most inexcusable of all the proud people that can be round on the earth, for they not only sin without a temptation — but in opposition to a providential remedy. However, their poverty still preserves them from many bad fruits of pride that are to be found with the rich.
The rich answer roughly, for their riches produce self-confidence, and that makes them insolent towards God himself. And it need not surprise poor men, that those who can say, "Who is the Lord?" can give rough and uncivil words to them.
We should all consider the advantages of our different situations, that we may be thankful, and make a good use of them, and the temptations that are incident to our respective situations — that we may be on our guard. Let poor men take heed that the necessity they lie under of using entreaties, may not degenerate into a slavish baseness of spirit, disposing them to sell their consciences for bread. Let the rich remember, that they are infinitely more dependent on the great Patron of the poor and needy, than the poor on them.
Those who give nothing but words to the poor in their distress, are declared to be destitute of charity. In what class, then, must they be placed, who cannot afford even this hapless favor? The poor and the rich are alike poor before God, and without his rich bounty they both must be eternally wretched. If poor men supplicate the rich for their favors, with what words shall we express our baseness and absolute dependence, before him who regards not the rich more than the poor! But he never gives a rough answer to his suppliants. Let us therefore come boldly to his throne of grace, that we may obtain every needful supply.
Proverbs 18:24."A man who has friends, must show himself friendly; and there is a friend that sticks closer than a brother."
Every person must endeavor to fill up the offices of the various relations in which he stands. A man who has found a wife must show himself affectionate and tender. A father must reveal kindness to his children. A neighbor must show himself a social man. He who has a bosom friend, must reveal in his behavior, all that union of souls which is the very essence of friendship.
Religion requires us to perform all those kind services to one another, which, if they were duly discharged and returned, would make our world in some measure a picture of paradise. We must not allow unreasonable offenses to alienate our affections from our friends — but cleave to them while we live. We must often gladden their hearts by our company, and share in all their joys and sorrows. We must not renounce their friendship for their imperfections, nor even for those temporary coldnesses which they may reveal in the day of our distress — unless their behavior is such as to show that their professions of regard were not sincere. Above all, we must show our tender sympathy in the time of their calamity, otherwise our alienation will greatly embitter their distress.
To excite us to this duty, we are told that friends sometimes stick closer than the nearest relations. The greatest acts of generous heroism have perhaps been performed by those who were not connected by the bonds of relation or affinity. None of David's brothers ever gave him such proof of their attachment as Jonathan; and even his wife Michal, though she loved him, did not love him so well as that gallant friend did. She lied to his harm, to screen herself from the resentment of her father — but Jonathan bravely incurred the resentments of his father, and cheerfully gave up his prospects of a crown, for David.
When our Lord was crucified, his disciples forsook him and fled, and James and Jude, who had the honor of being our Lord's brethren, among the rest — but the beloved disciple looked on his sorrows with the eye of a friend, and received his charge about his mother with thankfulness and obedience.
If this is a reason for our friendly behavior to our friends, what regard ought we to show to our Lord Jesus Christ, who sticks to us infinitely closer than any friend! Having loved his own who were in the world — he loved them unto the end. Neither death, nor sin itself, can separate us from his love. What shall we render to him for his marvelous loving-kindness? Love and obedience — for we are his friends, if we do whatever he commands us.