A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
Proverbs 21:1."The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases."
It is men's ordinary way to court the favor of princes and great men, as if their happiness depended on the smiles of kings — while they make little scruple of forfeiting the favor of God, by bending their consciences into a compliance with the humors of those for whom they entertain such undue respect. The like compliances are too often made, to avoid the displeasure of those who have power to hurt or kill the body.
Solomon directs us not to forfeit the favor of princes, or incur their displeasure, by any needless or wanton instances of disrespect. At the same time, he instructs us in the first, place, to seek the favor of God, which is infinitely more necessary for us, than the friendship of the greatest men — and to avoid everything that may displease him, even if we should offend the mightiest tyrant in the world. For the favor of God is all in all to us, and his wrath is tremendous beyond all conception. While kings are entirely dependent on the King of kings, and have their hearts governed by him, in such a powerful, though invisible manner, that they must, whether they design it or not, execute his unchangeable counsels.
The currents of water may be directed into any channel that is cut out for them by the hands of men — even the mighty river Euphrates had its course changed by Cyrus, at the siege of Babylon. The waters still retained their nature and properties — and yet the power of that great prince managed their natural tendency to descend, in such a manner as to gain his purpose, and to take that great city, whereof they were reckoned the sure defense.
The like influence has God upon the hearts of kings. He does not destroy their natural faculties, nor take from them the freedom of their wills; and, what is still more astonishing — he leaves them for the most part under the power of those natural corruptions which dispose them to exalt themselves above God, and to oppose his will. Yet still he makes them the instruments of his pleasure, and the ministers of his providence.
Nebuchadnezzar thought himself almost a God, and laid waste the Lord's land, and burnt his temple — and yet God calls him his servant, and used him to accomplish his work upon his people, as really as that noble king of Persia, Cyrus, whom he called his shepherd and his anointed, and employed in doing his pleasure upon Babylon, and delivering his captives.
Those that walk humbly before God, may behold the stern countenances of tyrants without trembling — for God can easily turn their hearts to favor those whom they hated.
The history of the three heroes in Babylon is a noble encouragement to all who are called to the like encounter for conscience sake. The fury of the king was raised to madness, his countenance was like a flame, and his fiery furnace burnt with a fierce rage — but when the king commanded them out of the furnace, and he almost adored those whom, a few moments before, he could have torn like a wild beast with his own teeth.
It is certain that God has often allowed kings to wade in the blood of his people. This is a strange providence — but we can understand the consistency of it, with the truth delivered in the text. If the heart of kings is in the hand of the Lord — then why does he allow them to use their power so frequently in opposition to the interests of his kingdom? This is a piece of the mystery of providence, which will be cleared up in due time — but appears dark to us at present.
Meanwhile, we must believe that God is righteous and holy in all that he does, and allows men to do. He has brought a rich revenue of praise to himself, out of the dark administrations of providence in former ages, and will in the end pour such light upon his ways, that he shall appear in all things to be wonderful in counsel, and excellent in working.
Proverbs 21:2."All a man's ways seem right to him, but the LORD weighs the heart."
This is the same useful instruction which the wise man already gave us, and no admonition is more necessary to be inculcated than this: that men are too often flatterers of themselves, and ought to remember that they have an omniscient judge who will not be mocked nor imposed on — but searches their hearts, to give to every man according to his ways, and the inward disposition of his heart. The inspired writers of both testaments insist greatly on this point, and our Lord in his sermons frequently warned men against the dangerous influence of self-deceit.
Proverbs 21:3."To do what is right and just is more acceptable to the LORD than sacrifice."
It was a very common fault among the Jews, to lay too great a stress upon the performance of sacrifice, as if that could atone for their sins, and give them a title to transgress the moral law. The wise man warns them against that piece of self-deceit, in this verse. Solomon was far from under-valuing sacrifice as an institution of God, and a means of faith. No man ever offered a greater number of beasts to God, or did so much to encourage men in the observation of the ceremonial law — unless we may except the lawgiver himself. And perhaps the glory of the temple which he built, and the splendor of the temple service, might dazzle the eyes of men in his days, and occasion them to entertain too high an esteem of the ordinances that belonged to it. If any man had reason to say, "the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord" — Solomon had much more — but he learned otherwise from the Spirit who instructed him.
Sacrifices were appointed by God, they typified Christ, they were acceptable to God, as expressions of faith and obedience — but they were detestable to him when they were valued on their own account, as if they had been instituted for their own sake, or to give men opportunity of pleasing God so much as to procure an allowance for the neglect of more important service.
Sacrifices were appointed for a single nation — judgment and justice are required from every nation, and from every man under Heaven. Sacrifices were required by a positive law, which depended on the sovereign will of God, not on the nature of God — and the observation of them was dispensed with on many occasions. But the justice is founded in the nature of God, obliges all men at all times, and can never be dispensed with. The law of sacrifices is long ago abolished — but the law of righteousness is an eternal statute. Sacrifices had no goodness in their own nature; and when men rested on them, they were abominable to God. Righteousness and justice are a part of the image of God in man, and have an everlasting excellency in their nature. Sacrifices typified Christ, and were set aside in consequence of his great atoning sacrifice — but justice is not abolished by faith in Christ. Nay, it is established, and shall continue when Heaven and earth are no more.
If we would show ourselves to be Abraham's seed, we must keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice. It is a gross hypocrisy, it is a grievous dishonor to Christianity, and a ruin to the souls of men — to pretend religion, and observe the forms of divine service — and yet live in the neglect of those duties which we owe to our fellow men.
Proverbs 21:4."Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the plowing of the wicked is sin."
The state of wicked men is miserable beyond expression, for they are every day and every hour adding to their treasury of guilt which is already more than sufficient to sink them into the bottomless pit. They are impure before God in all the labors of their hand — and those works which are accepted at the hands of others, as instances of obedience to God, are reckoned to the wicked in the number of their sins. That a haughty look is abominable to God, is no surprise to us — for it is abominable even to men, and must be infinitely more abhorred by God. We do not wonder to hear that the proud heart is hateful to him, for he is the Searcher of hearts, and is jealous of his own honor, and cannot bear that men should exalt themselves into a rivalship with him.
But how the plowing of the wicked should be sin is not so plain, because they are commanded to plow, and severely reproved for the neglect of that work by which they ought to support themselves and their families. If they are plowing when they should be praying, or on Sabbath days, every man will see that they are sinning — but how can their ordinary plowing be sin, when we are told that plowing is a duty?
Whether we eat or drink, or whatever we do, we are required to do all to the glory of God. But the wicked man neither eats nor drinks, nor plows, nor sows, to the glory of God — and therefore he lives in a course of sin, even when he is employed in those actions that are most innocent or necessary. His soul is infected deeply with the venom of sin, which spreads itself over all his life. For to the unbelieving and impure, there is nothing holy. They are corrupt trees, and no fruit that grows upon them can be good. Their hands are defiled with sin, and their fingers with iniquity — and, therefore, everything they touch must be defiled by their impurity.
What then must the wicked do? Must they leave off all work lest they should sin in doing it? By no means. Idleness would bring upon them far more guilt than the labor of their callings — for that is sinful in itself. Whereas plowing is sinful, only by means of their own impurity communicated to it. Their business is to get free of that plague of sin that spreads infection to everything they meddle with. Let them have recourse, like the leper, to Christ — that he may make them clean, and then being pure, everything will become pure to them.
Some render these words thus: "The lamp or prosperity of the wicked is sin." Their prosperity is turned into a snare, and an occasion of sin to them by their wicked dispositions — which use it as an incentive to pride and impiety. Because their candle shines with brightness, they think it will never be put out, and think they stand in no need of the Sun of Righteousness to illuminate their souls. Wickedness is a most unhappy thing, for it perverts the objects that are most desirable in themselves — into means of sin and ruin.
Proverbs 21:5."The plans of the diligent lead to profit, as surely as haste leads to poverty."
Is not the hasty man a diligent man? He is often busier than those who think before they act — and one would think that he must carry the prize of industry. Yet Solomon will not allow him a share of the praise that he bestows upon the diligent, because his activity is not under proper direction, and therefore cannot serve any good purpose.
True diligence lies between laziness and hastiness — and is directed to its proper end by prudence and consideration. We must remember that we are rational creatures, and act as such both in our religious and civil affairs — and not allow ourselves to be hurried hither and thither, by the impulse of humor and passion — or to be pushed on in any enterprise, however commendable, without thinking of the means proper for obtaining success.
Saul was in too great haste to make an end of the Philistines, and, therefore, he put the people that were fighting with him under a curse, if they should eat any meat until the sun went down — by which step the victory was hindered from being complete.
In common life, we see multitudes of people who make too much haste to be rich — and so make themselves poor, by plunging into a multiplicity of business, and bringing confusion and financial embarrassment into their affairs.
A man, by running himself out of breath, weakens his strength, and is later in arriving at the end of his journey — than another man, who walks at leisure, and puts himself under no necessity of stopping. And a man who minds his business, and carries it on with a prudent activity, is in a fair way of being rich — when another man, who drives on post haste to get an estate, becomes a bankrupt.
Although lukewarmness in religion is a very detestable disposition — yet rashness is no less dangerous. No business of life requires so much thought and prudence. Many, under the impulse of a rash zeal, have run briskly, and soon stopped and turned aside. Young converts, when their passions were more deeply tinctured with religion than their judgments, have too often hurt their own comfort, and the cause of religion itself, by their indiscreet forwardness in displaying their attachment to it. Christ would not have any person to embrace his cause, without considering the cost of it.
Proverbs 21:6."A fortune made by a lying tongue, is a fleeting vapor and a deadly snare."
A lying tongue is an abomination to the Lord — and yet some will venture upon his displeasure, if they can make any profit by it. It must be confessed that some present gain may be made by lying — but then it answers no good purpose. Who would part with his sincerity, and the pleasure of a good conscience — for a little smoke, or for a handful of chaff? And all the treasures that can be made by a lying tongue, however great, are no better. They are vanities and lies that deceive the possessor, making him to believe that he is rich — when he is miserably poor. They are a vanity tossed to and fro, like chaff or smoke in the wind, which will soon be out of sight. For riches gotten by vanity are soon consumed into nothing.
But this is not the worst of the matter. For the people that use such methods of obtaining riches, seek death. Although they abhor the thoughts of death — yet in the judgment of God they love and seek it, for they take a sure method of bringing eternal death upon themselves, if not a miserable death in this world. While others are walking towards the region of destruction, they are running to it post haste! They make haste to be rich — but greater haste to be damned, for neither their dishonesty nor their lies, will allow them to be admitted into the kingdom of God!
Proverbs 21:7."The violence of the wicked will destroy them, for they refuse to do what is right."
The robbery of the wicked shall destroy them; because they refuse to do judgment.
It is impossible that the unrighteous should escape punishment, for they bring it upon themselves by the work of their own hands. Although there should be no magistrates to pass sentence upon them, or executioners to execute the sentence — yet their own violence will destroy them. Their sin, is the seed of misery — and it cannot fail of producing its proper fruit. They have none but themselves to blame for the vengeance to be poured out upon them. Their punishment comes forth from the Lord Almighty — but the cause is in themselves.
Is their sin then unpardonable? No. The blood of Jesus can cleanse from all sin. Zaccheus the publican was probably an extortioner — but salvation came to his house. His sin was pardoned, and he was made to abhor it as much as ever he had loved it; and if he had taken anything from any man by iniquitous means — he resolved to restore fourfold — but this was a rare miracle of grace.
When men have entered upon a course of violence or injustice, they are seldom brought to repentance — for they are entangled in the snare of the devil, in such a manner that they seldom get out. Repentance brings with it restitution of what is gained by unrighteousness; and when men restore, they are obliged to confess to their shame, their former acts of unrighteousness, and sometimes to impoverish themselves and their families. These are terrible inconveniences, to which men, in general, will not submit — but the very thought of them is often sufficient to stifle all motions of their hearts towards anything that is good.
They will rather run the risk of God's wrath — than think of exposing themselves to disgrace and poverty in this world! Thus they go on in sin, and violently suppress the remonstrances of conscience while they live. And when they die, they envy those grosser offenders who were condemned to the gallows, because the shame and punishment to which they were doomed, were effectual means of removing those peculiar obstacles which hinder the reformation of the unjust.
Beware of entering into this snare of the devil, if your hands are yet untainted by the pollution of filthy lucre — for they are mighty impediments to repentance for this sin. If you are entangled in these snares, remember that shame and poverty at present, are but painted misery in comparison of Hell fire. Fly to Christ's atoning blood — which purged away the sins of the great transgressors at Corinth. Repent, restore, shake your hands free of unrighteous gains. For while you hold them fast, you are exposed to the destruction threatened in the Word of God, because your hands refuse to do what is right.
Proverbs 21:8."The way of man is strange and devious — but the conduct of the pure is upright."
The way of man is devious. Is the way of every man devious? Or may we contrast the way of man in general — with the conduct of the upright? Are not men justly distinguished into the deceitful and the upright? Why then does Solomon speak as if all men were deceitful?
There is certainly truth in the division of men into the pure and impure — but this distinction is the work of grace and not of nature — for men are all sprung from the first transgressor, and have derived a corrupt disposition from him, and until they are renewed by the grace of God, their way is deceitful. They are all together become corrupt, and have done abominable things — if we may believe the testimony of the omniscient God himself.
In our state of innocence, our way was straight and even, while the glory of God was our great end, and the will of God was the rule of our practice. But in our fallen state, we all walk in a crooked and perverse way, following the bent of our own evil inclinations, and seeking after happiness in creatures, which are like broken cisterns that can hold no water. Our course of life is directly the reverse of what it ought to be, for instead of making the will of our Creator the rule of our behavior — we make it our business to provoke him to anger continually, by trampling upon his authority and despising his laws.
Our way is a strange way, being a course of estrangement from the God who made us for his glory, and framed our natures to a capacity of enjoying him, and receiving happiness only in him.
Until we are restored to communion with God through the mediation of Christ — we are aliens to God, and our conduct is a continued proof of alienation from the life of God.
But as for the pure, he is raised above other men, and his work is very different. He is purified by the Spirit of Christ, and created in him unto good works. His work is regulated by an unerring rule, and directed to the noblest end — for his constant endeavor is to cleanse his way by taking heed thereto according to the Word of God, and to walk in the world as Christ walked. He lives not to himself — but unto the Lord.
It is too natural for us to think that, if we are no worse than the generality of our neighbors — then we are safe. But Solomon and Paul teach us, that, to walk as men, is not to walk like saints. While we are following the course of this world, we are walking in the broad road that leads to destruction — and not in the narrow way that leads unto life. Let every man prove his own work — but it must not be tried by the maxims or example of the world — but by the Word of God, by which God will judge us at the last day.
Proverbs 21:9."It is better to live in a corner of the house-top, than share a house with a quarrelsome wife."
A man might live on a roof, if it were flat like the houses of the ancient Israelites — but it would be a very uncomfortable place of dwelling, because it is exposed to rain and wind, to frost, and snow, and lightning. But as the least of two evils is to be chosen — a wise man would rather choose to dwell on a house-top, and be confined to a single corner of it — than to have his ears tormented, and his spirits crushed, with the endless brawls of a peevish and quarrelsome wife.
A man on a house-top would have at least some intervals of comfortable weather — but a quarrelsome woman will never lack something to make her uneasy to herself, and a torment to those who have the misfortune to be connected with her. She is perpetually vexing her children and servants — but her husband is most to be pitied, because she is of one flesh with him. She may be a scourge in the side of others in the family — but she is rottenness in her husband's bones. She is the greatest plague to him to whom she is bound by every obligation to be the greatest pleasure. She is one flesh with him — and yet she is a constant grief to his heart. She torments herself most of all, and, next to herself, all others in proportion to the obligation she lies under to behave in the very opposite manner.
God said that it is not good for man to be alone, and therefore made woman to be a help-meet for him — and yet the contentious wife is such a perverse creature, that she perverts the design of our Creator, and proves a scourge instead of an help. She makes it better for a man to be in the most solitary circumstances imaginable, than with her.
Those who choose a wife for her wealth, rather than the sweetness of her temper — are not Solomon's disciples. He declares that the married life is better than the single. But he likewise tells us in this place, that it is much better to live alone in the deepest poverty — than to enjoy affluence with a quarrelsome and peevish woman.
Proverbs 21:10."The wicked man craves evil; his neighbor gets no mercy from him."
The difference between evil and godly men, does not lie in complete freedom from what is evil on the side of godly men. Paul was one of the best men that ever lived — and yet he confesses that he had not obtained perfection in goodness — but found evil present with him, when he was most inclined to do good.
But herein lies that goodness which the saints attain in this life — that they love what is good with an ardent affection, and hate that which is evil with their whole soul, although they cannot do all that good they wish to do, and too often do that evil which they hate.
On the contrary, wicked men are not only doers of iniquity — but their souls are fully inclined to it. With their souls they crave evil; and although their consciences frequently remonstrate against sin, and are a strong bridle upon the lusts of most unregenerate people — yet sin dwells as a king in their inner man, and is not resisted with hatred like a tyrant — but is allowed to possess the throne of the heart. This is a miserable disposition, for sin is the worst of all evils. No man expressly and directly desires misery — and yet all who love sin desire the worst of misery in reality — for sin is the sickness, the death, the ruin of the soul.
The desire of all unrenewed men is towards evil, and not one of them would think himself happy, if he were not allowed to enjoy the pleasures of some sin. Yet their relishes for these cursed pleasures are very different, and the desires of evil in some are stronger than in others. There are many who have some regard to the voice of conscience, and the great principles of morality — and many others that push on in their pursuit of the pleasures that suit their vitiated taste, in spite of their own consciences.
Saul persecuted David, although he had been the champion of Israel, and was his son-in-law. For his corruptions had gained the victory over his conscience and feelings, and he pursued the gratification of his malice with unrelenting fury. This is the tendency of sin — to sink a man deep in the abominable gulf of self-love, and to harden his spirit against those whom he ought to love most tenderly.
Let us therefore choose our friends from the number of those who love God. For their hearts are enlarged with charity, and in their eyes their neighbors find favor.
Those are wicked people, who are so entirely swallowed up by a selfish spirit, that they will scarcely perform an office of charity, or a good neighbor, without the expectation of a return. If we are godly men, let us show it by doing good. Our neighbors and friends have a special title to expect good at our hands.
Proverbs 21:11."When a mocker is punished, the simple gain wisdom; when a wise man is instructed, he gets knowledge."
It is a bad thing in a family, or church, or nation, when mockers are not duly corrected or punished. It was a sign that the inhabitants of Laish were a ready prey for any invader — when there was no magistrate in the land to punish them.
Those who are too unwise to see the evil of sin, have sense enough to see the evil of shame and pain; and when they behold these disagreeable consequences following sin, their dispositions to wickedness receive a check, to their own great advantage, as well as the good of the society to which they belong. If the fear of censure or punishment does not make men holy — it will make them sober; and this is a good thing in itself, and puts men in a fair way to become still better, by leading men to the means whereby holiness is ordinarily produced.
The wise who do not expose themselves to punishment, are not beyond the need of instruction, and sometimes of admonition and rebuke. David was one of the best of men — but he was not faultless in his behavior, and we find what happy effect instruction and rebuke had upon his soul. He improved in knowledge and grace, by the ministrations of the sanctuary, and the rebukes of the prophets.
A rebuke enters more into a wise man, than an hundred stripes into a fool. Even the simple man receives knowledge from the instructions and rebukes which are given to the wise. He is so foolish, that an attempt to instruct himself awakens his jealousy and anger. He thinks you know him, or take him for a fool, when you begin to instruct or admonish him. But when he sees that the wise are instructed, and are thankful for it — then he is forced to see his own stupidity, and his conscience tells him, "If the men that are so much wiser and better than I can pretend to be, are so thankful for instruction — then surely I have much greater need of it! The rebukes that are administered to them, ought to enter ten times deeper into my heart, who deserve them so much better."
The simple begins to learn wisdom, when he applies to his own case that which is said or done to other men.
Proverbs 21:12."The righteous man wisely considers the house of the wicked — but God overthrows the wicked for their wickedness."
We have a clear illustration of this truth in the conversations between Job and his three friends, all of whom had considered the house of the wicked, and God's providence in overthrowing it — but with very different degrees of wisdom. Eliphaz had considered the sudden overthrow of the wicked man, and the unhappy end of his prosperity — and from thence inferred the justice of God, the danger of sin, and the necessity of repentance to sinners. His two friends joined with him in opinion; and we have no reason to doubt that they had received great benefit from the observations which they made upon the providence of God, to the wicked in their own days, as well as in ancient times. For they had taken advantage of the wisdom of the ancients, and of the histories which had been handed down to them, to increase their own stock of knowledge.
Job had considered the house of the wicked with more wisdom, and learned much instruction from the providence of God concerning it. He had observed so many instances of the downfall of prosperous transgressors, that he saw wickedness to be a very dangerous thing, however prosperous it might be for a time — and therefore he abhorred the counsel of the wicked. At the same time he observed, and understood from the reports of travelers, that some wicked men lived and died in affluence, and were buried with great pomp, and had stately monuments erected for them. From thence he justly inferred that the wicked were reserved to a future day of wrath, and defended his own character against his friends, with solid arguments drawn from the unequal distributions of providence in this world.
It is a great point of wisdom to learn instruction from the calamities that befall the wicked, or have befallen them in former times. By this means we may render all the histories of past ages very beneficial to ourselves. We find that the destruction of the old world by the flood, and the burning of Sodom and Gomorrah — were means of impressing the mind of Eliphaz with an abhorrence of sin. And the prophet Ezekiel severely censures the Jews in his time, because they had not taken warning by the fate of Sodom and Israel.
It is not safe for us to pronounce men wicked merely because they are overthrown — but when God makes his judgments upon sinners manifest, it is our duty to observe it, and to glorify and fear God. And although we have no reason to think that those who meet with signal calamities are worse than other men, unless we have good evidence of it — yet their calamities are loud warnings, and calls to repentance.
Proverbs 21:13."If a man shuts his ears to the cry of the poor, he too will cry out and not be answered."
There may be a very good excuse for not giving to the poor — but insensibility to their extreme distress is an unnatural and a crying iniquity. Our eyes and ears are organs fitted by nature for working upon the heart, and exciting affections of compassion in us. And if we do not regard the cry of the poor with sympathy, we put a force upon nature by stopping our ears. When Eliphaz meant to convince Job that his transgression was great, he charges this among other horrid crimes upon him, that he had not given water to the weary to drink, and had withheld bread from the hungry. But Job was innocent, and could with a good conscience declare that he never withheld the poor from their desire, nor caused the eye of the widow to fail.
Those who are hard-hearted to the distressed, should remember that they cannot make a covenant with death, nor hinder the scourge of distress from reaching themselves. They also shall cry — for the days of distress will come upon them; and while they show no pity to the poor, they harden the spirits of men against pity to themselves, and provoke God to leave them to fall without support.
If we should never fall into distress that needs relief at the hand of our fellow creatures — then it is certain that we need help from God to our souls, and although we feel not our need of his pity at present, the day is coming when we shall feel it at our hearts, and cry out for mercy.
Our poor fellow creatures need a few pence from us — but we need great mercy at the hand of God. And when we disobey his voice, and refuse to show mercy unto men — we have just reason to fear that we shall have judgment without mercy to ourselves.
God is a most gracious God. He delights in the voice of prayer, and continually answers those requests that believers present unto him in the name of his Son — but he has not bound himself to hear those cries which necessity extorts from the wicked. This is a part of the extreme misery of those who refuse to hear the cries of wisdom — that they shall cry out in their time of calamity, and he will not hear them. The same punishment is here threatened to those who will not hear the cries of the poor.
What extreme wretchedness is this — to cry and not be heard by a most merciful God! How provoking is the sin which is so severely threatened! When David's enemies cried unto the Lord, and were not heard — it was plain that they were doomed to irremediable misery. This is the height of the misery of the damned — that their cries are not regarded with pity by God.
This truth need not however discourage us from presenting the prayers of faith to the throne of grace. For the prayers here spoken of, are only the cries of strong distress extorted from men that have not the love of God, or the love of Christ in them. It is rather an encouragement to pray. For it shows us that the refusing of prayer is God's strange work, and a piece of his severity to great sinners who are destitute of compassion to their fellow men.
When we have reason to complain that we cry and shout — but God shuts out our prayer — let us consider our ways. Perhaps we have shut our ears on some occasions against the cries of the poor. This was one reason why God accepted not the prayers and fasts of those people whom Isaiah speaks of in the 50th chapter of his book.
The poor may see in this threatening, great encouragement to themselves to apply to his throne of mercy. He who condemns uncharitableness so much in others — is full of love and pity, and listens with a gracious ear to the sighs and groans of the poor and destitute.
Proverbs 21:14."A gift given in secret soothes anger, and a bribe concealed in the cloak pacifies great wrath."
Anger is a very outrageous passion, and strong wrath makes a man like a savage beast, which attacks in its fury, any creature that comes in its way. Yet such is the power of money and gifts, that the fiercest rage is assuaged by them. And therefore when a good conscience allows, it is often a piece of prudence to disarm an enemy by gifts, rather than to fight with him.
By such means did Jacob and Abigail secure themselves from those enemies that threatened them with destruction. But to give, or to receive bribes, is a very sinful thing, because it is a perversion of justice. For ministers to receive gifts to soften their severity in censuring offenders (if such unfaithful ministers can be found) — is one of the worst instances of corruption.
Although men are generally fond of receiving — yet they are as generally unwilling to be reckoned fond of gifts. Therefore those who have the art of giving will do it in secret, and avoid every appearance of ostentation in themselves, and everything that might cause a blush in the receivers of their gifts.
If the love of gifts is so universal and so powerful in the hearts of men, we ought to try our own hearts, how far we are influenced by it, or whether we believe our Savior's words, that it is more blessed to give than to receive.
Take heed, says our Lord, and beware of covetousness. We must keep a double guard against this sin, because it is so natural to us — and yet so dangerous. Those who receive gifts should take heed to themselves lest they receive a bribe under the gloss of a gratuity. What is given in such a manner as to shun the light, deserves to be suspected.
Have gifts such a powerful influence to disarm resentment? Then let no man plead, in apology for the fury of his passions, that he is not able to conquer them. If money can conquer them — then shall reason, and the fear of God, and the command of Christ, be too weak to bridle them? Surely the commandments of our God and Savior have too little authority with us, if they have less influence upon our spirits than gold and jewels have upon the spirits of almost all men.
Proverbs 21:15."When justice is done — it brings joy to the righteous, but terror to evildoers."
Men that are utterly unacquainted with the spirit of religion, and view it only at a distance, form very false and harmful notions, and are affrighted from it with much the same reason that children are afraid to walk in the dark. They imagination that religion is a dull and melancholy thing, and that it affords and allows no pleasure to saints, at least while their present life continues — but the wise man here tells us, that the very doing of what is right is a part of its own reward, bringing with it an heart-felt satisfaction.
Love is the soul of our obedience; and a well-regulated love is a delightful passion, communicating pleasure to all the toils and dangers that are endured for its sake. Jacob endured the sultry heats, and chilling frosts, for seven years, with great pleasure, for the love he had to Rachel. And the holy love of Christians will dispose them with greater joy to encounter the assaults of the tempter, to mortify the deeds of the flesh, to strive against sin, and to continue resolute in piety — notwithstanding of all the discouragements which often attend it.
The joy of the saints in doing justice is not complete in this world, because the flesh which remains in them lusts against the spirit — yet it vastly exceeds in purity and vigor the highest joys of the wicked. The Christian is unspeakably more happy in resisting and vanquishing the lusts of the flesh — than the worldly man is in gratifying them.
This sentence is a mark by which we ought to try ourselves. Many do justice without taking pleasure in it; their consciences will not allow them to do otherwise — but their hearts are on the side of sin. Or they will do many good things with pleasure, because their constitutional and beloved sins are not affected by them. But there are other things at which, like King Herod, they stop short, because they will rather risk damnation, than part unreservedly with the pleasures of sin.
But the just man takes pleasure in the way of God's testimonies, without any exception to particular steps of it, as far as it is known to him. He cheerfully obeys the commandments of God which he loves, and in his measure he resembles Christ, whose food and drink it was to do his Father's will. Nor is his love of the commandments confined to the first table of the law. It is as much his joy to pay his debtor, as to receive payment of what is owing to himself; and to bestow charity on the poor, as to receive a present from some rich friend.
The wicked have an aversion to justice. Perhaps they are not immoral in their conduct — but it is no pleasure to them to render unto God his due; and they say of his service, "Oh! what a weariness it is!" Their religion is but a dull lifeless form. But there is some iniquity which is relished as honey by them, and drunk greedily as water. But that sin which is sweet in their mouth is bitter in their belly, and shall be found more deadly than poison! For destruction shall be to the workers of iniquity.
Proverbs 21:16."A man who strays from the path of understanding, comes to rest in the company of the dead."
The way of holiness is the way of understanding. All those who do God's commandments have a good understanding — and all besides are fools. While men wander in the forbidden paths of sin, they are dead while they live, and are sinking themselves deeper and deeper into the dungeon of misery!
But of all the wanderers in the ways of sin, those are in the most dangerous condition who were once to appearance walking in the ways of understanding, and have now turned aside into the ways of darkness. It had been better for them never to have known the ways of righteousness, for they bring great reproach upon the ways of God, and behave as if they had found iniquity in the Holy One. They sin against convictions and vows; they prejudice multitudes against the way of truth; and bring the blood of many souls upon their own heads. They harden their hearts against God, and if their consciences are ever again awakened, they are in danger of sinking into the hideous gulf of despair!
Although apostasy is not in itself an unpardonable sin — yet it is sometimes an introduction to it, and never fails to render repentance extremely difficult, and almost impossible. These unhappy wanderers once ranked themselves, and were ranked by their neighbors, among the living in Jerusalem — but they were no better than stalking ghosts — they belong to the congregation of the dead. Without astonishing exertions of omnipotent grace — they must forever remain among that wretched crew.
Those who walk in the light must die — but their death is an entrance into a better life — or it cannot dissolve their blessed connection with the Lord of life.
But those who wander out of the way of understanding, are twice dead, they are like trees plucked up by the roots. Death will be the king of terrors to them, because it opens their passage into the lake of fire and brimstone, which is the second death.
Consider, you straying sinners, the greatness of your guilt and danger; be thankful that your situation is not yet altogether desperate. There is hope even for you, in the all-sufficient Savior — but fly to him without delay, before the fierce anger of the Lord comes upon you, until there is no remedy!
Proverbs 21:17."He who loves pleasure will become poor; whoever loves wine and oil will never be rich."
Love not the world, nor the things of the world — for if any man loves the world, or the lusts of the flesh, or other things in it — the love of the Father is not in him.
Must pleasure then be renounced, and every earthly satisfaction given up? Who will enter into the ways of wisdom, if she insists on this?
Pleasure is not to be absolutely renounced. The truly pious man finds more pleasure, even in his earthly enjoyments, than the happiest sensualist — but pleasure must not be loved as our chief happiness. Our hearts must be given to God, and nothing earthly must be allowed to usurp his throne in our souls.
It is no hardship imposed on us, to be forbidden the love of pleasure, for the sensualist by his love to the delights of the flesh, undoes everything that is dear to him. He not only wounds his soul — but harms his health, and wastes his estate. If he is rich, he makes himself poor. If he is poor, he reduces himself to beggary, and perhaps to a prison.
We see every day instances of the truth of this proverb, in men who have reduced themselves to hunger and poverty, by gratifying the love of pleasure. Gluttons, and drunkards, and revelers, are fools for this world, as well as the world to come. They exhaust, by their intemperance, the very source of their pleasures — and after contracting by habit an unconquerable desire after wine, and other objects of a sensual taste, they are reduced to a lack, not only of the luxuries — but even of the necessities of life.
Let us therefore, if we wish to be happy, follow the Apostle's rule: The time is short — let those who use this world, be as if it were not theirs to keep.
Feasting is not unlawful — but when men feast without restraint, their joviality leads them to rebelling, which is expressly condemned in Scripture. Let us make no provision for the lusts of the flesh — but put on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Proverbs 21:18."The wicked become a ransom for the righteous, and the unfaithful for the upright."
"I gave Egypt for your ransom," says God to his people, "Ethiopia and Seba for you."
When Jerusalem appeared to be on the point of ruin, God gave a diversion to the Assyrian forces, by means of Tirhakah king of Ethiopia.
In like manner, Achan was a ransom for the people of Israel in the days of Joshua, and the seven men of Saul's sons in the days of David.
In these, and in many other instances, the righteous were delivered out of trouble, and the wicked came in their stead.
When the wicked flourish, and the righteous meet with humbling providences — we must not take offence at the providence of God, or the way of holiness. God tries the faith and patience of his people, and will in due time make it to appear that they are gold and jewels in his eyes, and that he puts away the wicked of the earth like dross. God's people need not despair when they are in trouble and see no likely way of getting out of it. God can see methods of relief — when they cannot see them, and he can perform wonders for their relief.
Israel in Egypt was brought very low, and their oppressors were too mighty for them. It seemed impossible for them to escape out of the land of bondage, or if they could get out of it, to be safe from the pursuit of their enemies. But their Redeemer was wise and mighty, and gave Egypt for them. By the plagues of Egypt, their release was accomplished — and by the drowning of Pharaoh and his army, they were preserved from their pursuers.
But God's people must walk uprightly, if they wish to enjoy the benefit of this special favor. If they step out of the path of integrity, God may show that he is no respecter of person, to their cost. Jonah for his flight from the presence of the Lord, was made a ransom for the heathen sailors that were with him in the ship. Those that shall not be condemned with the world, may expect to be chastened, although others should escape.
Proverbs 21:19."Better to live in a wilderness, than with a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife."
Contention and anger commonly go together, and they kindle a flame that can scarcely be extinguished. The wise man has already told us, that it is better to dwell in an ill-thatched house, or even on a corner of the house-top, without any covering from the storm — than with a contentious woman. But here he goes further, and says that it is better to dwell in the wilderness, than with a contentious and angry woman. The wilderness would make a very bad habitation, because there are the lion's dens, and the habitation of jackels — so that a dweller in the desert would be not only destitute of every convenience — but exposed to constant perils of his life.
Yet it would be a more desirable habitation, than a costly house with the company of a woman who was tormenting her husband with everlasting contentions. The contentious woman is a greater monster than the tiger of the desert, and her tongue is more noisome than the tongue of the viper!
A contentious woman is not worse than a tyrannizing husband. A man may more easily make his escape from the presence of a scold — than a woman from the face of a brutal tyrant. The delicacy of her mind makes her more susceptible of melancholy impressions from bad usage, than men ordinarily are.
When a husband and wife find the marriage yoke sweetened by love and peace, they should bless God for the happiness they find in each other's society. Their pleasures are the most delightful which this world can afford, and they are indebted for them to that kind providence which has made them one flesh and one soul.
Proverbs 21:20."In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has."
Works of charity are requisite — but don't imagine that they will make you poor. Christ commands us not to lay up treasures on earth — but to lay up treasures that never decay, nor become a prey to thieves. But he does not require us to give everything away to the poor — on the contrary, he insinuates that a prudent householder has in his treasure, things new and old. We must give alms of all that we possess — but we are not called to give all that we possess in alms. That would be at once to drain up the fountain of beneficence, and preclude ourselves from doing good, as we see occasion, through the remaining part of our lives. Solomon directs us to be liberal in charitable distributions — and yet he tells us in this place, that the wise have a desirable treasure, not only of the necessities — but likewise of the comforts and conveniences of life.
Charity dispensed with wisdom, will not hurt but improve a man's estate. Was there ever a more liberal man than Job — and yet he was the richest of all the men in the east. Abraham abounded in hospitality, and he abounded no less in flocks and herds. It seems a riddle — and yet it is a certain truth, that expenses and losses on God's account are real gains.
Poverty is often the lot of the wise and pious — but it is not the native consequence of piety. Industry, and temperance, and frugality, are recommended by religion — and these are natural means of plenty.
Above all, godliness has the promise of the life that now is, and therefore it must be a great error to imagine that worldly prosperity is inconsistent with the grace of God. For God delights in the prosperity of his servants — and if he does not smile upon their outward estate, it is because his love is directed by infinite knowledge, which sees a different condition to be, for the present, more conducive to their best interests.
But if the godly man has not a treasure of the good things of this world in his house, he possesses a large treasure for himself and his family in the promises of God. A man is not poor, although he has no money in his pocket — if he has plenty in the bank. The Christian may lack everything that glitters in the eye of flesh — but he has rich treasures laid up in Heaven, and the written Word of God is his security.
But a foolish man spends and devours the substance of his family. His wealth is consumed by idleness or extravagance, or by the blasting curse of God. Or if he is still rich in possession, he does not hold it by a sure tenure. Sin is often the destruction of men's estates, as well as their souls — and brings present misery as well as eternal ruin.
But, however the wicked may flourish, or the righteous decline in the world, (for this world is not the place of full recompenses,) the righteous man when he is poorest, is immensely rich — and the richest of sinners is miserably poor!
Proverbs 21:21."He who follows after righteousness and mercy — finds life, righteousness, and honor."
This world is not the place of perfection. The best Christians must confess their daily failings — but their desires for holiness are sincere, and accompanied with vigorous endeavors.
Slothful professors have some cold desires after holiness, and sometimes their desires are accompanied with endeavors — but these are weak and ineffectual. Or however ardent they may appear to be — yet they soon spend their force, and all their goodness is like the morning cloud and the early dew.
Christians that deserve the name, are like Caleb and Joshua — of another spirit — for their endeavor is to follow the Lord fully. They are followers of the Lamb wherever he goes — and whatever it may cost them. The grace of the gospel teaches us, not only to live godly — but to follow righteousness and mercy, and these two virtues cannot be separated in practice.
To be righteous, is to render unto every man his due. Now love is a debt we owe to every man, and mercy is due to the miserable. The great rule of righteousness is to do to others, as we would wish to be dealt with, if we were in their circumstances. And certainly we all wish to enjoy kindness and pity from our neighbors, as circumstances require.
The righteous, says David, shows mercy, and gives. And in another place he says that the righteousness of the merciful man endures forever.
It is in the strength of Christ, that we must follow after righteousness and mercy. As his righteousness is the ground of our hopes — his grace is the fountain of our supplies. He is the vine, and unless we are branches engrafted into this vine — our fruits will be bad.
Love and faithfulness are mentioned among the fruits of his Spirit, and those who have not his Spirit are sensual and selfish, and bring forth fruit only to themselves.
Men think they will be losers, by following righteousness and mercy with too much eagerness — but the Scripture assures us that they shall be great gainers. They may suffer present loss — but their eternal gains will be infinitely greater. They shall find life, and life is the foundation of every enjoyment. What is sweeter than life?
And yet the life of most men is but a vain shadow and an empty dream — but that life which comes from the special favor of God, and is secured by divine promise, must be a pleasant and happy life.
Some have lost their life for the sake of righteousness — but Christ assures us that their loss was unspeakable gain. They shall find righteousness.
For as those who love cursing — they shall have cursing poured into them like water, and like oil into their bones. Just so, those who love righteousness shall meet with righteous dealing from men, and the righteous God will take care of their interests, and fulfill his faithful promises to them. The justice of God is engaged on their side, through the mediation of Christ, and he cannot be unrighteous, to forget their works and labors of love.
They shall find honor, for their upright and generous behavior is very likely to procure to them honor from men. If fools should despise them, they will be respected by the wise and godly. If all men should despise them and cast out their names as evil — they are precious and honorable in the eyes of the Lord. They shall at last be dignified with a place at Christ's right hand, with approbation from their judge, and with an eternal crown!
Proverbs 21:22."A wise man attacks the city of the mighty and pulls down the stronghold in which they trust."
Men are generally so deeply sunk in flesh, that they value the endowments of the body, and the outward bounties of providence — above the noble qualities of the mind. This error is corrected by Solomon in this verse. He tells us that in every point of view, the qualities of the mind are preferable to those of the outward man.
Counsel is better than strength for war, for one wise man will take a city defended by many strong men — although they have the advantage of high walls, and strong fortifications on their side.
By the wisdom of Cyrus in turning the current of the Euphrates, was Babylon taken, notwithstanding of its stupendous walls and numerous defenders. By the discipline of the Romans were the brave and strong nations of France and Germany subdued, and in almost every battle, it has been found that wisdom is better than weapons of war.
If military wisdom is so much preferable to strength — then how excellent is that pious wisdom so much commended in this book! This divine wisdom even in war has a vast superiority over the wisdom of generals and ministers of state, for it leads men to victory, because it teaches them to trust in the Lord Almighty. By this wisdom, Abraham conquered four kings when they were flushed with victory. By this wisdom, David the stripling, overcame lions, and bears, and giants. By this wisdom, many of the old believers waxed valiant in fight, and turned to flight the armies of the aliens — for they knew their God, and were strong, and did exploits. By this wisdom the weakest believer is victorious through the blood of the Lamb, and the word of his testimony — over the dragon and his demons.
Proverbs 21:23."He who guards his mouth and his tongue, keeps himself from calamity."
A furious horse needs a double bridle to restrain its fierceness. Just so, it seems the tongue of man needs more than a double bridle to keep it in from doing hurt. The wise man never ceases to admonish us about this point, and in this place he mentions particularly two of the instruments of speech, and puts a bridle on each of them.
As a high-spirited horse, if its fury is not curbed with a strong hand, will hurry its rider along, without regarding pits, or precipices, or deep waters, and expose him to extreme jeopardy of his life — so an unbridled tongue will make a man hateful to God and men, plunge him into contentions and debates, and expose his estate, and life, and credit, to extreme danger.
Who is the man who wishes to enjoy a quiet and peaceable life? Let him set a guard over his mouth, and refrain his tongue from profaneness and corrupt communication, from railing and reviling, and all evil speaking, from foolish talking, and from inconvenient jesting. Let prudence and the fear of God stand continually like sentinels at the door of his lips. Let him follow the instructions of David, and Solomon, and James. Let him pray to God to guard the door of his mouth, and remember that an ungoverned tongue is inconsistent with true religion and happiness, and exposes a man to the same danger as a ship when it lacks a pilot and an helm, and is ready to clash against every rock that comes in its way.
Proverbs 21:24."The proud and arrogant man — 'scorner' is his name, who deals in proud wrath. The anger of a proud man is very fierce."
When he meets with the smallest shadow of an affront or provocation, his passions are on fire, and his vengeance must be satiated — be the consequence what it will. He would have every man to do him homage — and when his opinion is contradicted, or his humor not complied with, he rages like a tempest, which threatens to spread desolation and ruin.
Such was the proud wrath of Haman, which could not be glutted with the blood of Mordecai alone — but thirsted after the blood of a whole nation! What does the proud worm design by all this fury? It is his honor that set him in a flame. He thinks highly of himself, and cannot bear the thought that another man has not the same deference for him which he has for himself. To repair the imagined attacks upon his honor, he gives way to revenge, and seeks the reputation of a man of true honor — but he disappoints his own views, and meets disgrace, when he is hunting for praise.
He shall be called a proud man, and that is a character so base, that a proud man cannot bear it — for pride seeks to hide itself under any covert rather than be seen. He shall be called a haughty scorner, for he puffs at his enemies, and pours contempt upon his reprovers.
Now a haughty scorner is a very hateful character, for the scorner is an abomination among men. Haman the Agagite, and Uzziah king of Judah, have brought great dishonor upon their memories by their proud wrath.
Moses and Job, are men of glorious memory, for their humility and meekness.
The godly man is not ambitious of praise — but he receives honor from God. The proud man cannot live without honor and applause — and his ambition and pride load his name and memory with contempt.
Proverbs 21:25-26."The sluggard's craving will be the death of him, because his hands refuse to work. All day long he craves for more — but the righteous give without sparing."
Solomon has already said enough to banish sloth out of the world — if those who are under the power of this vice were not besotted with it. But here he tells us a worse thing about it than in any of his former proverbs, for he represents it as a degree of self-murder. The slothful man brings diseases upon himself, by reducing himself to lack of the necessities of life — for he will not labor for his food, nor take that exercise which prepares the body for quiet rest. But besides this, his very desires are hurtful to his constitution, for his mind must be employed, when his hands are idle.
His needs, and the time that lies heavy upon him, are strong incitements to those insatiable cravings of desire which rack the heart and have a sickening influence upon the body. If the desire accomplished is a tree of life — then those desires that cannot be accomplished, must have the quite opposite effect. If hope deferred make the heart sick — then how cruelly must it be tortured by those insatiable desires that are not sweetened by any mixture of hope.
What is the reason that the slothful man's desires have such a pernicious influence upon him? His hands refuse to labor. If you bid him go and work, he will perhaps promise to do it, like that son who said to his father, "I will go, sir," to work in the vineyard. He is sensible of the necessity of it, he wishes earnestly to enjoy the fruits of labor, he has even some faint wishes that his hands would submit to the toil of labor — but the loss is that his hands will not comply, because they must be taken out of his bosom if they work. If he could work with his tongue, without his hands, he would be a very industrious man — but he hates work because it does not consist in talking or sauntering about.
Slothfulness is very harmful to the soul, as well as the body. The deep sleep into which slothfulness casts a man, is the nurse of the body of sin. The sluggard covets — he covets greedily; greedy covetings are his constant employment. Although he will not work for necessities, he could not be happy without the luxuries of life. Those greedy workings of covetous desire, are a strong temptation to him to pilfer and steal, and sometimes they push him on to those crimes that procure the gallows.
Wicked men disappoint themselves by their sins, of that wished-for enjoyment, which they seek and hope to obtain by their iniquities. The sensualist deprives himself not only of pleasures — but of necessities, by casting away that money that should procure them. The vain and proud bring infamy upon their name, by the very means they take to support their honor. And slothful men, while they seek rest and ease, endure much more fatigue than the diligent man, because they make themselves a prey to the restless workings of their own unbridled desires.
But the righteous give without sparing. He does not say the diligent man gives. For all wicked and selfish men are not slothful. Some men toil hard, not from any regard to God's authority — but entirely for their own interest. They do not glorify God in their labors, for they do not work that they may have something to give to him who needs.
The righteous man is of a nobler spirit, for he is ever merciful, and his mercy is one motive to his industry. He labors in his calling, and the blessing of God gives him success, and he shows his thankfulness to God, by giving with an unsparing hand. The slothful man covets the fruit of other people's labors — but the godly man does not wish to eat that morsel alone, which is procured by his own sweat and toil. God is well pleased with his bounties, for he is a cheerful and liberal giver.
Proverbs 21:27."The sacrifice of the wicked is detestable — how much more so when brought with evil intent!"
We have already heard that the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the Lord. We are here told, that it is an abomination, although it is presented with the very best dispositions that a wicked man is capable of. Some unregenerate men are anxious for eternal life — because they cannot always live on earth. Some of them have a great deal of seriousness in their devotions, and will even worship God in the exercise of tempers of mind that have some resemblance of love to God, and faith in Christ. Will not such service be accepted of God?
By no means! Our great teacher tells us to make first the tree good, and then the fruit will be good. For a corrupt tree, at the best, produces corrupt fruit. It must, therefore, be a very foolish thing, for men to dream of preparing themselves for Heaven by a course of serious devotions — before they will venture to commit the salvation of their souls into Christ's hands. Without his grace, we can have no good dispositions, nor do anything which is acceptable to God — for it is only in the Beloved, that we are accepted.
What then must wicked men do? Must they be driven to despair? or must they give up performing duty? No. It is certain that without faith it is impossible to please God — but it is equally certain, that they are fully warranted to believe in Jesus. Let them make a thankful use of this privilege, and from henceforth do all that they do, in word or in deed, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
If the sacrifice of the wicked at the very best is detestable to God — then how abominable must it be at the very worst? It is more than abominable, if he brings it with a wicked intention!
Balaam presented many rich sacrifices — but they were designed to bribe the Holy One of Israel to be unfaithful to his people, and changeable in his purpose. It is a detestable thing for men to think they can prevail on God by the multitude of their holy services, to dispense with sin, and allow them to escape unpunished — although they still live in the practice of injustice towards men, and in the neglect of several necessary duties which they owe to God.
It is no less presumptuous for men to be diligent in the practice of religion, to obtain the applause of men. This was the vice which our Lord so frequently reproved in the Pharisees, and this fault is still too common among the professors of religion. It will be a comfortable evidence that we are not under the reigning power of it, if we are as conscientious in the secret performances of religion, as in those who come under the view of men.
Nothing can be more detestable, than to cover vice with professions of religion. Some have the daring presumption to walk on in the ways of sin, and to practice the forms of duty — that their character may be shrouded under the mask of piety. These are followers of the Scribes and Pharisees, against whom our Lord pronounced so many dreadful woes. They walk in the cursed way of Jezebel, who caused a feast to be proclaimed, that she might destroy an innocent man — and yet keep up the forms of religion and law; and they are likely to perish in the gain-saying of Korah.
Proverbs 21:28."A false witness will perish, and whoever listens to him will be destroyed forever."
He is a false witness that speaks what he has not been assured of, by the testimony of his ears or eyes, or some other way that secures him from the danger of lying. He may possibly speak what is true, without having sufficient evidence of it — but it is evident, that he is a man of a loose conscience, who speaks things with a greater air of certainty than his ground of belief will warrant. "We testify," says the faithful witness, "the things that we have seen and heard," and his followers must imitate his example.
The false witness was to be punished by the magistrate, according to the law of Moses — but if he should escape the punishment which his crime deserves from men — then God says he shall perish, and his threatenings are not wind and vanity.
For lying lips are but for a moment — but the lip of truth shall be established forever. Therefore, putting away lying, let us speak truth every man to his neighbor, especially in witness-bearing. If the commandment of God, and the mighty motives of his gospel, will not induce us to do so — then let us regard our own honor and interest, which suffer irreparable injury by every deviation from truth.
Proverbs 21:29."A wicked man puts up a bold front, but an upright man gives thought to his ways."
The wicked man walks in a crooked path, where peace and happiness never were, nor shall ever be found. God calls upon him to leave this cursed way, and to turn into the straight way of life. He thunders in the curses of his law, and orders his ministers to lift up their voices like trumpets, to proclaim in his ears the dangers of his course. He deals with him by his providence, and makes him to feel some of the first fruits of that vengeance which is the fruit of sin. He sets before him the peace and pleasure to be found in the way of holiness, that he may be encouraged to leave the way of destruction — but the perverse sinner disregards the voice and providence of the Lord. The ways of sin are so pleasant to him, that he will venture the consequences, rather than be turned out of them for the present. The wicked man has many devices to harden his face in his sinful course. He thinks that he only walks in the same paths as other men do, and many are much worse than himself. He thinks that he has time enough before him, to repent and serve God. He does many good things to overbalance his evil deeds, or he will make amends for all at once, by fleeing to the mercy of God at last. By such corrupt reasonings as these, he hardens himself in iniquity, and sets God at defiance, disregarding the terrors of his wrath, and trampling upon the grace and blood of the Redeemer, who came to turn ungodliness from Jacob. By degrees he contracts so powerful habits of sin, that his conversion is almost impossible; he casts off shame and fear, and sins without restraint, until he finds that there is justice and vengeance, as well as forbearance with God.
But the upright man directs and establishes his way. He may slip with his feet — but he recovers himself by the aids of divine grace. If he turns aside, as a godly man may occasionally do — he will not persist in sin, but, like Job, he confesses with self-abhorrence his vileness, and will proceed no farther in it. He endeavors, in the general course of his life, to keep at a distance from sin and temptation, and to order his conduct with such prudence, that he may not by surprise be ensnared in to sin, nor meet with any occasion of stumbling.
Thus did David direct his way, when he had the Word of God in his heart to keep him from sin, and fortified himself with firm resolutions, and fervent prayers, when he knew that he was to meet with snares in his path. Thus did Abraham direct his way, when he was commanded to sacrifice Isaac. He never told Sarah, nor even his servants that attended him on his journey, that he had received so strange a command from God, for he was fully resolved to obey the voice of the Lord, and wished to obviate every advice in opposition to his duty.
Let us follow the example of these holy men, making straight paths for our feet, that what is lame may not be turned out of the way; and to him who orders his conduct aright, will God show his salvation.
Proverbs 21:30."There is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord."
Wisdom excels folly, as much as light excels darkness — and Solomon often directs us to manage all our affairs with discretion and counsel, by means of which purposes are established. But he warns us in this place, not to trust to our own wisdom or prudence, nor to dream that they can accomplish anything without the permission and pleasure of God. Wisdom and counsel can do much with the blessing of God — but all the wisdom of men and angels could do nothing in opposition to his counsels, which are all executed by the arm of omnipotence.
There is, no doubt, wisdom and strength in human counsel — but with God is wisdom and strength in an infinitely superior degree. One wise man excels another wise man, so much that he can manage him as if he were a child. But the only wise God turns the wisdom of all the philosophers in the world into foolishness — and the foolishness of God is infinitely wiser than the best wisdom of creatures.
Herod formed a project as deep as Hell to destroy our infant Savior — but Jesus lives and reigns. Herod and his family were soon extinct. The like success has attended all the contrivances of men to destroy the church of our Redeemer, and God has glorified himself upon the mightiest and wisest enemies of his people, by making their infernal devices the means of ruining themselves, and of advancing the interests of Zion.
Let Zion rejoice because of God's judgments, and let all the daughters of Judah be glad, for the Lord of hosts has purposed good concerning her — and who shall disannul his purpose? The enemies of Zion may associate and combine, and form their plans for her destruction — but they shall not stand, for the Lord has founded.
There are men who aspire to honors, and in their pride would exalt themselves in opposition to the will of God, who has annexed honor to piety — and disgrace, to pride and ambition. But shall they succeed? The Lord has purposed to stain the pride of all glory, and they shall be scattered in the imagination of their hearts. There are some that try to carry on their plans for enriching themselves and their families, in spite of God. But poverty and ruin is the fruit of their presumption.
In short, all who seek for profit or pleasure in transgressing the law of God, shall find loss and misery. Trust in God at all times, acknowledge him in all your ways, and be not afraid that any of his gracious counsels shall be frustrated. But those who harden themselves against God shall be ruined without remedy.
Proverbs 21:31."The horse is made ready for the day of battle, but safety rests with the Lord."
Solomon here teaches better than he practiced, for we need from God not only light to guide us in the way — but grace to walk in it. He provided 40,000 horses even though God had expressly forbidden the kings of Israel to multiply horses, lest their hearts should be drawn away from the hope of Israel. But this proverb was abundantly verified by the consequences of the change that Solomon introduced into the management of public affairs, for from his days the people never made such a figure in war, as they had done in former days, when the judges of Israel went on foot against those who fought from chariots of iron.
Horses and warlike preparations of every kind are nevertheless necessary to be used in war, when they are not expressly forbidden by God. Yet if you trust in horses, you will find that they cannot afford safety to those whose hearts are turned from the Lord.
When the people of Judah went down to Egypt for help, and trusted in the Egyptian horses for safety against the king of Assyria — the prophet Isaiah, with a loud voice, remonstrated against their conduct, and cried that their strength was to sit still, and wrote it in a book, that it might continue forever and ever as a testimony on record against those who trust in chariots and horses, rather than the name of the Lord.
Are we obliged to fight for our liberty and religion? Then let us set up our banners in the name of the Lord, believe in him as the Lord of armies, who musters the hosts of the battle, and decides the fate of war — and beware of everything that might provoke him to sell us into the hands of our enemies.
Prudence obliges a nation to avoid dangerous wars. Religion teaches us, if possible, as far as lies in us, to live peaceably with all men. But necessity is sometimes laid upon Christians to expose themselves to jeopardy in war for their country. In such cases the firm belief of this proverb will encourage us to venture into the field against a superior force, persuaded that every bullet has its direction from God, and that he is able to give us the victory, or to make defeats and deaths our advantage.
Salvations of every kind belong to him. The means of safety must not be neglected — but God alone must be trusted, and when the means are attended with success, the glory is to be ascribed to him.
Joshua employed the whole force of the armies of Israel against the nations of Canaan, and he praised those tribes that generously and faithfully assisted their brethren to subdue the country — but he was fully sensible that it was not their sword and bow that had gotten the land — but God's right arm and favor, and the light of his countenance.
Just so in our spiritual warfare, we must arm ourselves with the whole armor of God — but our strength must be in the Lord, and in the power of his might. If we must trust him for safety in fighting with flesh and blood, how can we wrestle successfully against the powers of Hell without his divine support?