A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
"A good name is rather to be chosen than great riches, and loving favor rather than silver and gold."
Great fame is none of the most desirable objects — but a good character and the love of others are frequently represented by Solomon as valuable blessings. Riches are greatly esteemed in the world, and, under the management of wisdom, serve very valuable purposes — but they don't contribute so much to the quiet and happiness of life, as the esteem and love of our neighbors; nor do they qualify us so much to honor God and do good to men. Paul does not require it as a qualification in church rulers to be rich — but he requires that, along with knowledge and good behavior, they should have a good report among Christians, and even heathen. He was sensible that the most useful instructions from a suspected person would have no better relish than wholesome food presented in an unclean dish. Our Lord requires all Christians to do those good works that are esteemed by men, not indeed that they may receive praise from men — but that God may be glorified on their behalf. The like exhortations are frequently given us by the apostles of Christ.
But we must still remember that a good name and the favor of men are not to be compared with the pleasures of a good conscience, and the favor of God. For if the friendship of men is so pleasant and useful — God is greater than men, and his favor is infinitely more valuable. And we have no reason to be vexed if we lose the esteem of men in our endeavors to please God.
The esteem and good will of men are to be valued chiefly because they will enable us more effectually to serve the interests of God's kingdom, and to do good to the souls of men. When they are valued for their own sakes, they become a snare to us, as they were to some of the ancient Jews, who would not confess Christ, because they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.
When our names are cast out as evil, for a godly cause, we have reason to rejoice and triumph, because we are made partakers of the sufferings of Christ, that when his glory shall be revealed we may be glad also with exceeding joy. If we seek chiefly to please men, we are not the servants of Christ — but if we are the servants of Christ, we must endeavor for his sake, to please men, for their good to edification, and for the honor of his gospel.
We must value our character above money, and avoid everything that is base, although it might promote our outward estate. We must not only attend to the secret duties of religion — but those also that recommend it to the world, and take all care that our good be not evil spoken of, and that the gospel meets with no reproach by our misconduct. We should be thankful to God, if we enjoy the benefit of a good name, and employ our influence for the advancement of his glory — but we must abhor the thoughts of making any sinful compliances with the course of the world for the sake of our credit, remembering that instructive saying of God, "Those who honor me, I will honor — but those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed."
Proverbs 22:2." Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all."
Such is the vanity which generally attends riches and power — that great men often treat people of lowly station, as if they were some lower rank of animals. The poor and rich are made of the same blood, and the same glorious power is displayed in the formation of their bodies, and the creation of their souls. They breath the same vital air, and enjoy the light of the same sun. They owe their support equally to the earth — and shall return to the same dust. Their souls are equally precious, and shall dwell in the same eternal habitations — unless there is a distinction between them of a very different kind from that which makes the rich too often to trample upon the poor, and the poor to return their contempt with the no less criminal passion of envy. They are alike lost in Adam, and have the same right to salvation, through Christ revealed in the gospel. They meet together in the same family, and church, and nation, and they are useful to each other, if they comply with the designs of providence.
The rich man's wealth would be of little use to him without the labor of the poor; and the rich man ought to return protection and wages to the poor. Like members of the same body, they ought neither to despise nor to grudge at one another — but to contribute their joint endeavors to the good of the whole.
The Lord is their common creator and father, and by his providence he has made this man rich and the other man poor — and can invert their conditions when he pleases, as the experience of every day declares.
Why should the rich man despise his poor fellow creature? Did not he who made you, make him? Did not one God fashion you both in the womb? Did God frame you of finer clay, or form you of better blood, than that of Adam? Or do your riches make you better, or wiser, or even happier than the poor man?
The horse is not so much worse than brutish, as to reckon itself a nobler animal than another of its own species, because it has got a finer saddle on its back. Let not the poor grudge at their poverty, and repine at him who has given a larger portion of land and money to their fellow men, for he is the Lord. He has given you more than you can claim by the rights of justice — and if he has given more to some others than to you, he has given them what was his own and not yours, and has commanded them to be kind and useful to such as you, in the spending of it.
Proverbs 22:3."A prudent man sees danger and takes refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it."
Common prudence will teach men to provide for their security against plain and evident dangers. Drunkards, and whoremongers are destitute of common sense as well as religion, otherwise they would not rush upon certain destruction for a momentary gratification.
This mark of prudence appears chiefly in those who partake of the wisdom that is from above. As Noah, when he foresaw the deluge, prepared an ark to the saving of his house — so the prospect of the deluge of wrath alarms them, and instigates their flight to that blessed refuge which God has provided for our souls.
When Moses foretold the tremendous storm that was to destroy the fields and cattle of Egypt, it was seen who of Pharaoh's servants were fools, and who were wise. The foolish left their cattle in the fields to perish, the wise among them put their cattle under a shelter.
Now God threatens punishment to sinners in his word — but he is pleased in his great mercy to show us where we may find refuge. Christ is a hiding place from the storm, and a covert from the tempest; and those who are made truly wise, will give no rest to their eyes, nor slumber to their eye-lids, until they are hidden under the covert of his righteousness.
Besides that terrible wrath which shall seize upon all sinners at last, God oftentimes gives commission to particular judgments, to avenge his quarrel upon a land or church. Now prudence will enable us in some measure, to discern the signs of the times, and to judge of effects from their causes. There are some men so stupid, that they will not see God's hand when it is lifted up — but the wise man, by the threatenings of the Word and the appearances of providence, can see God's hand when it is about to be lifted up, and enters into those chambers of safety which are provided for his safety in the evil day.
It is only sensual and earthly wisdom that teaches men to shelter themselves from danger, by venturing on sin, or neglecting duty. This is just as wise, as it would be for a man to run upon a drawn sword to avoid the scratch of a pin. But the simple walk in dark. They do not see the evil coming — or if they see it, they are so senseless that they pass on in their dangerous course, until they meet with deserved punishment. They are more stupid than many of the brute creation, who foresee the storms and run to their shelters.
Many of the feathered tribes, before the cold sets in, fly away to warmer climates. How then do you say that we are wise, and the law of the Lord is with us, if you are more senseless than the beasts of the earth, and less wise than the birds of Heaven? Will you call yourselves reasonable creatures, when neither reason nor revelation can make you so prudent about your best interests, as instinct alone renders animals that cannot boast of these precious gifts.
Proverbs 22:4."Humility and the fear of the Lord, bring wealth and honor and life."
Many great things are said of humility in Scripture, and many precious promises are made to it. But the humility meant, is not that false humility that is often found among the proudest of men — nor that constitutional modesty — nor that condescension of temper and behavior, which is the mere effect of good sense, and is a very amiable quality — but not a Christian grace.
Christian humility is that which has the promises belonging to it, and it is always joined with the fear of the Lord. It arises from an apprehension of the glorious excellencies of God. For when our eyes are open to his awesome majesty — we cannot but perceive our own baseness. When we behold his spotless purity — we must be ashamed of our own loathsomeness. When we contemplate his solemn authority — we feel our obligations to deny our own perverse wills. When his sovereignty is felt — we cannot but yield the management of all our concerns into his hand. When we have the knowledge of his righteousness — we are obliged to renounce our own works, and submit to the righteousness of God.
Thus Job and Isaiah were humbled. They saw God with the seeing of the eye, and humbled themselves in the dust before him. Humility, arising from an impression of the glories of God, is attended with other Christian graces, and a holy life. The humble man will walk humbly with his God, and bend all his endeavors to please the Most High.
By this humility, come riches, and honor, and life. These things are greatly valued by men, especially when they attend one another. Riches are universally coveted — and yet many who possess them are discontented — because they covet the addition of titles and dignities to their wealth. And some who have riches and honors in abundance, are more unhappy than those who lack them — because they must die, and leave their beloved dignities and riches to others.
But here Solomon instructs us, in few words, in a short and sure way of attaining those blessings, which men so ardently covet, and in securing them against every contingency, and even against death itself. But if we follow his direction, we must renounce the wisdom of the world, which teaches the opposite doctrine.
It is generally believed, that if men would obtain riches and greatness, they must push themselves forward, and make themselves men of importance, and that they must not too scrupulously adhere to their duty — but in some cases venture to displease God by to secure the favor of men.
But we are here taught that humility and the fear of the Lord are the straight road to everything desirable; and if we believe that God is the fountain of life, and every blessing — then the doctrine of Solomon will be clear as the light. For to whom do kings give their favors? To their friends or enemies — to those whom they love, or to those whom they hate? We know that the Lord delights in the humble, and takes pleasure in those who fear him. And as he waters the humble valleys with the fructifying showers — so he refreshes with his abundant blessing, those who are low in their own eyes, and willing to render the glory of all that they receive to the Giver. If the humble lack anything that is good in this world, they shall possess unfailing treasures and a crown of life in Heaven.
Proverbs 22:5."In the paths of the wicked lie thorns and snares, but he who guards his soul stays far from them."
When the children of Israel spared the Canaanites, in opposition to the commandment of God — they found the consequences of their sin, though it might seem a little one, very troublesome — for the remnant of the accursed nations were thorns in their eyes, and snares and traps to them, and scourges in their sides. Such shall sin be to every wicked transgressor.
It is generally allowed that the end of transgressors is miserable — but we are assured by Solomon that also their way is hard, and that it is all covered over with thorns and snares!
The tyranny of lusts,
the cravings of inordinate desires,
the disappointment felt in the enjoyment of the pleasures of sin, which never answer expectation,
the stings of conscience,
the bitter fruits of many sins even in this world,
and the sore rebukes of providence —
are thorns and briers which pierce the souls of the wicked every day.
And as Gideon taught the men of Succoth with thorns and briers — so men, if they were not brutish, would learn, from the pains that attend or follow the pleasures of sin — that it is an evil and a bitter thing to forsake the Lord.
The wicked cannot get free of these miseries, for snares are in their way, by which they are held fast, as a bird in the snare of the fowler. They are compassed by God with a net, and all their efforts will be insufficient to disentangle them. There are snares also in their way, by which the devil holds them fast in sin — so that they cannot get free from his tyranny. They resolve to repent at last, but they find that Satan keeps them fast in the cords of their sins. They are like galley slaves chained to their work — and nothing but almighty grace can work out deliverance for them.
Such is the malignant nature of sin, that it turns everything into a snare, and an occasion of sin. Adversity and prosperity, the comforts of the table, the ordinances of God, and Christ himself — are a snare to the wicked.
Who is the man who shall be preserved from these snares and thorns? He who guards his soul by watchfulness against sin and temptation, by prayer, and, above all, by committing it to the care of him who is the keeper of Israel. He shall be preserved from every evil thing, he shall be far from those thorns and snares which the wicked man is continually meeting in his path.
Are these things so? Did not Job keep his soul with all diligence, and even the souls of his children — and yet he met with snares, and nets, and darkness, in his paths! This cannot be denied — but Job was only tried for a moment, to improve his graces, to raise his name, and to brighten his crown.
The people of God may expect manifold tribulations, but, amidst them all, they have peace in Christ. And what are the tribulations of the world, compared to the peace that is in him! They shall be preserved by the power of God, through faith unto salvation, and while they sow in tears they can rejoice in the hope of reaping in joy.
Proverbs 22:6."Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it."
"Take this child," said Pharaoh's daughter to Jochebed, "nurse him for me, and I will pay you your wages." Children are a heritage of the Lord, and he lays claim, in a special manner, to the children of professing Christians, as his own. And he commands them to be nursed and trained up for himself, and those who obey his orders shall be richly recompensed, in the good behavior of their children, or at least, in the approbation of God, and the satisfaction of their own minds.
Satan will soon address himself to your children, to draw them into his service. Their reason will no sooner begin to operate, than he will take advantage of that foolishness which is bound up in their hearts, to fix them in his service. Endeavor therefore to be beforehand with him. Instruct them in the knowledge of God, of their own fallen condition, of the way that God has provided for their recovery, and the way of holiness wherein they should walk. Convince them, by methods suited to their tender years and weak minds, that true religion is pleasant, and necessary for them. Check the first appearances of vice, by such means as will not give them a disgust at instruction. Accommodate yourselves in the methods of your instructions to their capacities and dispositions, that they may be drawn to religion with the cords of love, and with the bands of a man.
Parents do not give the same food to all children — but attend to the difference in their constitutions and tastes, in their care of their bodies — and why should they not make the like difference in their management of their minds?
Let all your instructions be sweetened by kindness, and enforced by good example, which has a greater influence than precepts upon all men, and especially on children.
Correction must likewise have its place in training up your children; and God must be earnestly implored to crown the whole with his blessing.
When children are thus trained up, they will be led into the paths of life and peace, and even when they are old they will not turn aside out of them. Timothy from a child was trained up in the knowledge of the holy Scriptures, and the faith which dwelt in his grandmother and mother, dwelt in him also, for the Scriptures made him wise unto salvation. It is a great pleasure to parents to see their children walking in the truth, and it is an unspeakable heightening of that pleasure, when their own instructions and admonitions have been blessed by God, as means of conducting them into that good path.
Parents love their children, because they were the instruments of their existence — but they will look upon the fruit of their bodies to be doubly their children, when they are spiritual fathers to them, as well as the fathers of their flesh. How painful must it be to the heart of a parent who neglected the training of his child, to see the that child walk in the paths of wickedness. Every wicked act in such a child, must be a wound in the heart of his cruel father, who by his cruel negligence, left his child to be a prey to the devil, and, carried captive by that cruel tyrant, to be employed in his hellish drudgery.
If the father lives to see him die in such a situation, what a hell must it be to his own soul. Even the agonies of a wounded conscience are unequal to the torment of reflecting that, in spite of all the obligations of nature — his poor child was allowed to be carried away by Satan to the lake of fire; where he is now justly cursing the parent who brought him into the world, because he never used the proper means for preventing that horrible misery, to which he is now reduced.
Will children always walk in that way wherein they are trained up? For the most part, this will be the case. God is a sovereign dispenser of grace, and he is not under any obligation to bestow it upon the children of his faithful people — but this proverb teaches us, that he often blesses the attempts of parents, to train up their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.
If parents are disappointed in their expectations from their children, they will be free at least of those terrible remorses which sting the hearts of careless parents, when their children prove wicked. They have the pleasing consciousness of having done their duty. They can pray, with humble boldness, that God may yet bless his own appointment for their children's advantage. For the seed of early instruction may be many years buried under ground, and at last spring up. They may even form some pleasing hopes, that although they have not the pleasure of seeing their houses such as they could wish, they may see at the great day, some at the right hand of Christ, who gave them too much reason to fear the contrary. The instructions of Hezekiah had no influence upon Manasseh, until he had been long in his grave; and yet Hezekiah will be able, we hope, to say at the last, "Here am I, and the son whom God has given me."
Proverbs 22:7."The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender."
When Job's three friends endeavored to convince him that he was a great sinner, and could make no impression upon him, Eliphaz at last ventures roundly to tell him what his transgressions were — but as he had only conjecture to go upon, he could only judge what those sins were that he was most likely to fall into, and fixes upon those who were most natural to a man in his circumstances. Job was the greatest of all the men in the east, and therefore Eliphaz tells him that he tyrannized over the poor. For he knew that the pride of riches often displays itself in such conduct, and that those whose circumstances enable them to lend to others, are too often betrayed, by their circumstances, into insolence and oppression.
It is not for nothing that Paul directs Timothy to charge those who are rich in the world, not to trust in uncertain riches, nor to be high-minded. Rich people ought narrowly to examine their own hearts and conduct, whether they are not puffed up with vanity, and disposed to behave imperiously towards their inferiors — especially those who are obliged to have some dependence upon them, and whose circumstances oblige them to be in their debt. Let them remember that they have received their riches from God, by whose providence things are so managed, that this man is poor — and the other man rich; this man must borrow — and another man is able to lend. Let them attend to their own absolute dependence in respect of God, before whom the rich and the poor are equal, and by whose justice, those who take their brethren by the throat, because they owe them a few pence, will have the many talents exacted, in which they stand indebted to God.
This proverb is a warning to men to be industrious and frugal, that they may not lose their liberty. Men who labor diligently in their callings, need not cringe to the rich, nor live in any man's debt. Some people care not how much they borrow, never remembering that the day of payment is coming, and that a man has as many masters as he has creditors. Paul did not choose to be burdensome to any man, nor to be dependant upon the generosity even of those who were best affected to him — but he labored, working with his hands, and helped by his labors to supply the wants of his friends.
Proverbs 22:8."He who sows wickedness reaps trouble, and the rod of his fury will be destroyed."
The gardener does not expect to reap wheat if he has sown tares — and yet men are often so foolish as to expect, that, after sowing to the flesh, they shall reap the same thing with those who sow to the Spirit; and, therefore, Paul warns men not to allow themselves to be deceived in this momentous point. Solomon gives a like warning in this place, and so does Hosea.
He who lives in the practice of any sin, is sowing wickedness. For the thoughts of the mind, the words of the mouth, and the deeds of the hand — are seed which shall spring up and produce a corresponding harvest. Men expect pleasure and profit from sin — but it will yield them nothing but disappointment and harm. The wages of sin is death — and the truth of God stands engaged for the payment. This harvest of disappointment and misery is sometimes begun in this world, as Eliphaz assures us from his own observation. But the first-fruits of it only are reaped at present — the full harvest is at the end of the world! Then the wicked will be horribly amazed at the immense crop of misery, produced from that seed which they thought had been forever buried. In vain do the wicked think that their works are forgotten, because they are not presently recompensed. The gardener would be thought a fool, who mourned as if he had lost his seed, because he cannot reap in the beginning of summer — when all the world knows that there must be a long interval between seed time and harvest. The wicked shall reap in due time, if they do not repent of their evil sowing. Wicked men will not think of these things in time, but indulge their pride and folly, and many of them beat their fellow men with the rod of their anger, abusing their prosperity for the support of their insolence. But their rod shall not always abide in its strength, God will wrest it out of their hands, and break it in pieces, and punish them with the more dreadful rod of his own wrath. "Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows!" Galatians 6:7
Proverbs 22:9."He who has a bountiful eye (a generous man) shall be blessed, for he shares of his bread to the poor."
"My eye affects my heart," says the mourning and merciful prophet, "because of all the daughters of my people." There is a correspondence between the heart and the eye in the merciful man. For the sight of misery produces compassion in his soul, and the tenderness of his heart beams forth in his eyes. The man whose eyes are the index of a bountiful heart, is a blessed man, for he enjoys the sweetest of earthly pleasures — that of kindness and beneficence, and pleasant reflections on his own conduct. He shall be blessed by all the wise and good, the blessings of widows and orphans shall come upon his head, the hands of the poor bless him, and he shall receive abundant blessings from God, who will not leave him unpitied in the day of his distress — but make all his bed in his sickness. He shall enjoy blessings in his body, and blessings in his outward estate, and blessings in his inner man. He shall be blessed in his person, and blessed in his family. He shall be blessed upon the earth, and blessed in the day of judgment, for his bountiful works performed from a principle of faith and charity, will be produced as the evidences of his interest in the Redeemer.
He shall surely be blessed, for he shares of his bread to the poor, and his tears of sympathy are the expressions of genuine charity. He is not one of those hypocrites that say to their neighbors, "Go your way, be warmed and filled," while they give them nothing of what is necessary for the body. The generous man gives, and he does it with an air of kindness which cheers the heart of him whom he relieves. He does not give all his bread, for he does not think it his duty to rob himself and his family, that he may give to others — but he gives liberally out of what he possesses, and that which is left to himself is sanctified to him.
There are some who have a bountiful eye, but have no bread to give — they will give what will turn to as good an account to the donor, and sometimes will be as pleasing to the receiver — tears and attention, and offices of tenderness and prayers to him who is able to help.
Those who are unfeeling in their dispositions, and cannot open their hands but to receive, are already cursed with an hard and contracted heart. They have no true faith in Christ, nor does the love of God dwell in them, and their ears shall hear, at the great day, those dreadful words, "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into everlasting fire!"
Proverbs 22:10."Drive out the mocker, and out goes strife; quarrels and insults are ended."
Hagar, for her insolent behavior, was obliged to flee from the house of Abraham. She humbled herself, and was again permitted for a time to dwell with that happy family — but her son Ishmael, by his contemptuous behavior, procured his own expulsion, and that of his mother, at the appointment of God himself.
It would be happy for all families, and churches, and societies of every kind, if mockers could be cast out of them, for they are the authors of strife and reproach, of debates, and revilings, and railings, whereby the sweets of society are poisoned, and turned into gall. But if this cannot be well accomplished, we ought at least to avoid all friendship and fellowship with them, and to exclude them from every voluntary society, formed for mutual improvement.
Peace is essential to the comfort of men — but peace cannot be maintained while scorners are allowed to sow the seeds of variance by their rude reflections and reproaches. Their behavior is such, that they will inflame the passions of the best natured men who are in their way; and when they have once kindled the fire, none can tell when it will be quenched. We are commanded, as far as lies in us, to live peaceably with all men, and therefore it is necessary to set a mark on those who cause divisions and offences, and to avoid them.
But will contention cease, if these firebrands of society are cast out? Yes, unless we have too much of their disposition in our own hearts. We must expel from thence, the principles of scorning — those proud and fiery passions from whence all divisions arise. How long, O you scorners, will you delight in your scorning? Don't you observe what brands of infamy are set on your name; what a plague you are to all around you, so that the wise exclude you from their company, because your dispositions are so wicked and perverse that there is no bearing with you? Why do you indulge that arrogance which makes you the serpents of human society? Go and learn of him who is lowly and meek, and you shall find rest to your own souls, and become the delight of those among whom you were an abomination.
Proverbs 22:11."He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend."
No saint can say that he is perfectly pure from his sin — but every saint may safely say, that he is a lover of purity, and a hater of hypocrisy. The pharisees loved the reputation of purity — and they were very pure in their own eyes. They thought themselves as clean as those pots and vessels which they purified with such exactness — while they were in reality like cups and platters, whose outside was clean — but the inward part filled with every impurity! But real saints are more anxious to approve themselves unto God, than to enjoy reputation from men — and their outward holiness proceeds from a love of purity in the heart.
The pureness of heart, here meant, consists chiefly in sincerity and uprightness, and stands opposed to all deception and hypocrisy. A pure heart is necessary to grace in the lips, which must be directed by an honest heart, and admit no pollution of flattery and doubleness, which so much stains the communication of a great part of mankind. The lips may assume an appearance of purity and sincerity, when there is none in the heart — but this empty appearance cannot be long supported. A very small degree of sagacity will enable a man soon to discover it, and the discovery is attended with abhorrence.
Grace in the lips is necessary to reveal pureness of heart. We ought always to speak the words of truth — but we ought to speak it in the most pleasing manner possible, that we may not render it unacceptable by our manner of representing it. Daniel showed his integrity and politeness at once, by the manner of his address to Nebuchadnezzar, when he was called to give him very disagreeable information.
Every man ought to be a friend to the man of integrity, and the king himself, if he is not an absolute fool, will be a friend to him who joins purity of heart with gracefulness of tongue. Daniel, the captive, on this account, found favor with two haughty kings of Babylon.
It is the general opinion, that flattery is necessary in our conversation with great men, if we wish to recommend ourselves to their favor — but the surest way of gaining and securing the favor of any man, is to seek above all things the favor of Him who has the hearts of all men in his hands.
The favor gained by flattery and fawning, soon decays.
The favor, lost by truth, is in time recovered.
Falsehood may support itself for a year or two — but truth stands on an immovable foundation, for it is supported by the God of truth, as we are told in the next verse.
Proverbs 22:12."The eyes of the Lord preserve knowledge — but he overthrows the words of the transgressor."
When knowledge in the mind is attended by pureness in the heart and grace in the lips — they form an amiable and worthy character, which draws to it the eyes and hearts of wise men. But that is not the principal recommendation of it, for the eyes of the Lord himself preserve knowledge, and watch for good over the man whose lips and conversation are regulated by it. The king should be his friend — but there are Ahabs among kings who have no sense — but love only those who speak pleasing things to them, whether true or false. But the King of kings will surely be his friend; his eyes are upon him for good, and every loss that he sustains for his adherence to truth, shall be gain.
But the words of the transgressor are overthrown by Him. He disappoints their hypocrisy, and brings evil upon them — instead of those advantages which they expected from their cunning and deceit.
It is mostly safe to follow the counsels of a wise man, for they are likely to be attended with happy success — and if it is in his power, he will contribute to the success of them. But it is always safe to follow the counsels of God, who can insure and command success, and will not allow any man to lose in the end, by obedience to his will. God did not indeed interpose in the same visible manner, for the support of John Baptist, as he had formerly done for the preservation of Shadrach and his companions. But John the Baptist had done his work, and was fit for a better world, and this world was not worthy of him. We cannot suppose him a loser, because his integrity procured him the crown of martyrdom, and he now praises God as cheerfully for the administrations of providence towards him on earth, as the three children who escaped the violence of fire, or he who came unhurt out of the lion's den.
Proverbs 22:13."The sluggard says, "There is a lion outside!" or, "I will be murdered in the streets!"
The sluggard will not plow by reason of the cold, and he will not move out of his house lest a lion should meet him, and kill him in the streets. This is a very odd excuse for his laziness. Lions are seldom found in the fields in the day time, and it is a very extraordinary thing, if they are found in the streets. Does the sluggard himself believe there is any truth in it? If he does, why does he sleep in his house, since it is possible that it may be set on fire by some accident in the night? Why does he ever take a meal, for some have been choked by the bread which they put into their mouths?
When we are employed in the duties of our calling, we need not vex ourselves with the apprehension of lions. "I will give my angels charge over you," says God, "and they shall keep you in all your ways." You shall tread upon the lion and adder, the young lion and the cobra shall you trample under your feet.
But let the sluggard remember that there is a lion in that bed where he dozes away his time, and in that chamber where he sits folding his arms together. The devil goes about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, and he rejoices greatly when he lights upon a sluggard, for he looks upon him to be a sure prey! Poverty, like an armed man, is fast marching up to the sluggard, and will soon prevail against him, like a king prepared to the battle.
We are safe from the lions in the way of duty — and never safe when we avoid it. Lions, when they met David feeding his sheep, were torn in pieces by him. A lion unexpectedly came upon that young man of the sons of prophets, who declined his duty when he was commanded to smite his neighbor, and tore him in pieces.
Proverbs 22:14."The mouth of an adulteress is a deep pit; he who is under the Lord's wrath will fall into it."
If you will believe the fond admirer of the immoral woman, her cheeks and lips are like the roses and lilies, her eyes are like stars, and her mouth drops honey. But if you will believe Solomon, speaking from the mouth of God — her mouth, and everything about her that charms the hearts of men, is like a deep ditch, made for catching the unwary passenger, and all her flatteries and blandishments are so many traps and snares, set by the devil to catch men, that he may take them captive and bind them fast until their doom becomes irreversible as his own!
Solomon had discoursed at great length on this point, in the beginning of the book — but young men need to be frequently put in mind of it. Those who fall into this ditch are cursed, for it is a proof of the Lord's abhorrence, when men are allowed to fall into it; and therefore, in order to be preserved from this danger, it is necessary for us, not only to observe the precepts of God, leveled against the sin of impurity — but to observe the whole system of divine precepts.
The heathen were given up to it, as Paul tells us in Romans one, for their idolatry. They had dishonored God by their vain imaginations and their abominable worship, and God in justice allowed them to dishonor their own bodies, and to make themselves brutes, as they had represented God himself by the images of brutes.
Has God left us to fall into this sin? Our situation is very dangerous, for nothing less than divine power can raise us out of this ditch. And how can we expect miracles of divine power to be exerted in our behalf, when we have drawn upon ourselves the sore displeasure of the Lord? But our situation is not altogether desperate, for miracles of mercy have often been performed by the Lord. Let us acknowledge his justice, and humble ourselves under the tokens of his displeasure, and look to him with earnest expectation and ardent cries, until he raises us up out of the deep pit, and sets our feet upon a rock!
Proverbs 22:15."Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child — but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him."
Men generally treat children like play-things, and amuse themselves with their childish tricks and follies.
But there is another kind of foolishness in children, which is too serious and mournful to be the subject of sport. Sin is the very essence of folly, and sin dwells in young and old, and none of the children of Adam can ever deny that he was shaped in iniquity and born in sin. This sinful foolishness dwells in the hearts of children, and makes their way perverse and wicked — for their understanding is darkened, their will perverted, their affections sensualized, and their disposition is rendered averse by sin, to everything good — and it is turned to evil. Sinful foolishness is bound in the heart by cords that no man can loosen, and entwines to it like ivy to the walls of a house. It is not more natural for a man to breathe, than for a child of Adam to violate the law of the Lord, and to covet forbidden fruit.
When parents rejoice with a fond heart over the fruit of their bodies, they should remember that they were the instruments of conveying a corrupt nature to their children, and be deeply concerned to have this mortal disease effectually cured.
But how can this be effected? Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean; or who can say that he has made either his own heart or any other person clean? God alone can loose the bonds of sin, and drive foolishness away from the heart, and therefore his grace must be sought for this end. But while his favor is earnestly supplicated, the methods appointed by his wisdom are to be used with a dependence on his blessing. Parents ought to join correction to instruction, and to use it as an appointment of God, on which his blessing may be expected.
The rod of correction shall drive this foolishness far from the child, and he is a cruel parent that loves the ease of his son, more than his soul — and would rather see him grow up in folly, than endure those painful feelings which compassionate parents suffer, when they are scourging the son whom they love.
Proverbs 22:16."He who oppresses the poor to increase his wealth, and he who gives gifts to the rich — both come to poverty."
Sin pays its servants very bad wages, for it gives them the very reverse of what it promised. While the sin of oppression or injustice promises mountains of gold — it brings them poverty and ruin.
There is a flying scroll of curses which enters into the house of the thief and the oppressor, which consumes it with the timber and stones of it. Injuries done to the poor are sorely resented by the God of mercy, who is the poor man's friend, and will break in pieces his oppressor. The threatenings of God against the robbers of the poor are sometimes laughed at by the rich and great — but they will find them in due time to be solemn realities.
But if the oppression of the poor is an impoverishing sin — then will not liberality make a man rich? True liberality, exercised to proper objects, will. But not that which is exercised to the rich. Some give to the rich for the same reason as they oppress the poor. They propose to gain the favor of the great, and to receive tenfold for every present they make, and so they expect to be soon rich. But he who gives to the rich with these motives, shall surely come to poverty. If he would give to the poor he might have an hundred-fold, but he has only God's Word for that — so he rather chooses to trust the generosity of rich men. But when they see the trick, they are on their guard, and will pay with scorn, the man who designed to impose on them with deceitful professions of regard.
It is plain from reason, as well as Scripture, that it is not always a sin to give to the rich — but it is very often a sin; and that, not only when men are in danger of hurting their families, or wronging their creditors by it — but likewise when they give that to the rich, which are due to the poor. We are not proprietors but stewards of the gifts of God's providence, and must distribute that which he has entrusted to our care according to his will. And it is his pleasure that we should make to ourselves friends, by the mammon of unrighteousness — not of the rich but the poor.
Proverbs 22:17."Pay attention and listen to the sayings of the wise; apply your heart to what I teach."
It signifies nothing to speak to a man who is sleeping or inattentive — and yet we are often inattentive when we hear the Word of God, especially the precepts of it, which we are too ready to look upon as a heavy burden, and a grievous yoke. Solomon was well acquainted with the heart of man, and knowing how many would read or hear his excellent precepts without bestowing proper attention on them — he rouses us by frequent calls for our most earnest heed to the things that are spoken. We must bow down our ears to hear him with attention, reverence, and humility. The words of the wise deserve this regard from us, for they are means of communicating their wisdom to us.
And if the words of wise men merit so much respect — we can never attend too earnestly to the words of the only wise God. He made our ears — and shall he not be heard by us? Our hearts must be applied, as well as our ears, to the knowledge contained in this book. We should labor . . .
to understand it with our minds,
to fix it in our judgments,
to impress it on our consciences,
to have it treasured up in our memories, that it may be constantly ready for our use.
God requires us to give him our hearts, and if we only lend an ear to him, we render him only a little bodily service. The Word of God is very pleasant, and the sweetness of it is relished when it enters into the heart.
Proverbs 22:18."For it is pleasing when you keep them in your heart, and have all of them ready on your lips."
Honey from the comb is sweet to the taste — but all the words of God are sweet to the soul. Wine gives a pleasant refreshment to the faint and thirsty — but the truths of Scripture are sweeter than wine, for they give refreshment to the inner man. Shall we value those things that are delightful to the organs of taste — and yet despise those pleasures that fill the soul with heart-felt satisfaction? Shall every joy be pursued with eagerness — and that only despised which arises from the Word of God?
Do you say that you never received any pleasure from the Word of God, and that an entertaining history gives you more entertainment than anything that Solomon has said? The reason is too obvious. Solomon tells you that the words of instruction are pleasant to a man when they are kept within his heart. It was a severe reflection, which Christ made upon the Jews: My word has no place in you. The same may be made, with too much reason, upon those who taste not the sacred joys of the Bible.
As the Word of God is pleasant to the relish of a saint, so its dwelling in the heart is attended with happy consequences, for it shall be uttered by the lips. The knowledge of truth will supply the lips with wisdom, and enable them to talk with discretion and judgment.
A talent of speaking with propriety and wisdom on any subject, is a great ornament to him who has it, and enables him to be useful to others — but it must be founded on knowledge, for how can any man communicate that knowledge which he does not possess. But clear and distinct apprehensions of things, will always enable a man to speak of them with ease and plainness, to others. The application of the heart to the words that have been spoken to us, will also tend to encourage our confidence in God.
Proverbs 22:19-20."So that your trust may be in the Lord, I teach you today, even you. Have I not written excellent sayings for you, sayings of counsel and knowledge."
The chief design of this book, is to instruct us in every duty that we owe to God and man; and confidence in God is a fundamental duty, without which we can perform nothing aright.
Solomon calls the wicked, in the beginning of the book, to return unto God, depending on his mercy, according to his promise. He expressly enjoins us to trust in the Lord with all our heart, and to renounce all self-confidence. And the whole strain of his proverbs, wherein he constantly insists on the advantages of righteousness, and the misery that follows vice — encouraging us to commit our souls in well-doing unto God. Confidence in God, is our shield against temptations, and the means of deriving from God through Christ, all the supplies of grace needful for our assistance and support in the ways of holiness. Everything said in this book, when it is duly considered, will contribute to strengthen our trust, as well as to direct our practice. That our trust in God may be encouraged, and our steps directed, we must read and hear this book with application to ourselves.
"I teach you today, even you," says the inspired penman. It is God who speaks, and he speaks to each of us in particular, and we ought to receive what is said into our hearts, believing that the word of exhortation speaks to us in particular, as really as if it had been written for our own use, without a view to any other person in the world.
Until we hear the Word as the Word of God, and as his Word addressed unto us — we do not hear it with due regard. God has not only spoken — but likewise written unto us by Solomon.
"Receive I beg you," said Eliphaz to Job, "the law at his mouth, and lay up his word in your heart." Job did so, for he esteemed the words of God's mouth more than his necessary food. Did the holy men pay such reverence to the Word of God, when there was no Scripture — and shall we show less regard to it, when God has been graciously pleased to write unto us the great things of his law and covenant. The things that are written are not only words of truth — but excellent and princely things, worthy to be written by the wisest of men, by inspiration of the spirit of wisdom.
God says that his counsels are excellent. If we do not discern their excellency, then we are blind and stupid. They have an excellency that far surpasses the most valued objects upon earth. Their value lies not in a glittering appearance, like gold, and silver, and diamonds — nor in affording entertainment to a intricate mind — but in affording counsel, to make us prudent in all manner of behavior, and in giving us knowledge, to enrich the mind with the most precious truths.
To be wise, to understand our way to Heaven, to know God and his Son Jesus Christ, and the acceptable and perfect will of God — are excellent attainments; and the things written in this book are of excellent use to assist us in acquiring them. To have the judgment settled about the great things that are intimately connected with our best interests, is another benefit to be derived from a due attention to this book.
Proverbs 22:21."Teaching you true and reliable words, so that you can give sound answers to him who sent you?"
If a man has a cause pending before a court of law, wherein his all is concerned — he will certainly be anxious to know what lawyers he may most safely trust, and what are the surest means of obtaining a happy outcome to the suit.
True religion is our all, and it is a criminal sluggishness and stupidity in men, to be careless whether they are rightly instructed in it or not. Our teachers have instructed us in the principles which they themselves believe, and ministers teach us every Sunday, those doctrines which are professed in the church to which they belong. We believe that their instructions are sound and good — but on what ground do we believe this? We do not believe in the infallibility of any particular church, and we must have better warrant for a right faith, than the testimony of men.
This and other books in Scripture were written to establish us in the truth, by showing us whether that is the true doctrine of God wherein we stand. We have not a sure hold of the truths of God, unless we are sure that they are the truths of God — and we can be assured of this only by the Scripture.
A scriptural knowledge will preserve us from being like children, tossed to and fro with every wind of doctrine — of which we are in constant danger while we are unacquainted with the Scripture, although we had the knowledge of every truth in our religion, by instruction from men. But there is still another great advantage arising from a serious regard to this book. By establishing our minds in the truth, it will enable us to satisfy others that send to us for information about the principles of truth and duty. Men were not born for themselves only, we are members one of another, and ought to consult the good of the body, and of other members of it besides ourselves. As men, when they perform the duties of their callings, are useful members of civil society — so if we live as befits saints, and seek after the knowledge of the truth, we will be useful members of the church of Christ, ready to give an answer to everyone who asks us a reason of our faith and hope, to instruct the ignorant, to satisfy the doubts of the scrupulous, and to fix those who waver. Such are the pleasures and advantages to be found in the book of God, and in the Book of Proverbs in particular.
He has gained every point, says an heathen poet, who has mingled the pleasant and the useful together. These attractives of the soul are nowhere joined together with such exquisite skill as in the Word of God; and if we read it with a superficial eye, and hear it with an inattentive mind — we despise not men, but God. We despise him, when he is employing all the methods of divine condescension and wisdom to recommend his truths to our hearts.
O let it not be said, that we give a patient hearing to all that speak to us, except only to him to whom we are indebted for the faculty of hearing and understanding anything. He who has an ear, let him hear the great things which the Spirit of God speaks unto men.
Solomon now proceeds in his directions about the conduct of our life. His following proverbs, are generally expressed at greater length than the foregoing ones, for under the direction of infinite wisdom, he solicits our attention, by every method of address.
Proverbs 22:22."Do not exploit the poor because they are poor, and do not crush the needy in the gate."
The gate was in ancient times, among the eastern nations, the place of judgment, and therefore this instruction is be understood to respect judges. They are forbidden to take advantage of the friendless and indigent circumstances of the poor and afflicted — to oppress them by perverting justice in favor to the rich. The Scripture forbids us to show favoritism to a poor man in his cause — but it is far worse, and more ordinary, and therefore more frequently forbidden, to oppress a poor man in judgement. This is a crying sin, which contains, together with injustice, the most unmerciful cruelty, and is a plain evidence of inhuman and cowardly disposition.
This was one of the sins for which Eliphaz guessed that Job's calamities had come upon him — but that godly man was a very opposite spirit. He did justice to all men — but to the poor he was merciful as well as just. Job says, "if I have raised my hand against the fatherless, knowing that I had influence in court — then let my arm fall from the shoulder, let it be broken off at the joint."
Not to relieve the poor and afflicted, when we can do it without injury to ourselves, is wrong. To oppress them, and add to their affliction, is brutal and monstrous. It is to act not like men — but like the monsters of the desert, which prey upon the weaker animals. For magistrates to be guilty of this crime, is a perversion of an institution of God into an engine of abominable wickedness. If poor men had rich friends to plead their cause, or avenge their injuries — then others would not rob them because they are poor. Well, they have a friend who will plead their cause and break their oppressors in pieces. If a great man should take the cause of a poor man, he would reckon himself safe — but God is infinitely greater than any man, and here it is declared that he will be the advocate and avenger of the poor and oppressed.
Proverbs 22:23."For the Lord will take up their case and will plunder those who plunder them."
God pleads their cause with admirable eloquence in his word. "What do you mean by crushing my people and grinding the faces of the poor? — declares the Lord, the LORD Almighty." Who can answer such pleadings as these? However, wicked men look upon God's Words to be but wind.
But God will plead the cause of the poor, by furious rebukes of providence also. He will render unto their oppressors severe vengeance for their wickedness. Have they rifled the poor of their little all? God will rifle the oppressor, not only of his substance — but of his life and eternal soul!
The robber of the poor, is a poor unhappy creature. It is terrible to have the justice of God engaged against a man — but this is the unhappy case of the robber. He may obtain a temporary success in his extortions — but when he makes an end of robbing, he must be robbed himself. He has the mercy of God against him, as well as his justice. Mercy is that pleasant attribute of the divine nature, on which all the hopes of the wicked must rest — but the mercy of God is engaged on the side of the poor and afflicted, against their persecutors.
Mercy and justice meet together in this text, and make it both a promise and a threatening. What a terrible case is it, to have grace itself turned into a terror; and to be under the wrath of God, because he is merciful! Yet such is the actual condition of those whose conduct is a contradiction at once to the rules of justice and mercy. "It shall come to pass," says God, "that when the oppressed cries unto me, I will hear, for I am gracious."
Let the mercy implied in this declaration, encourage the poor and afflicted to make God their refuge. Your tyrants may look upon these words as empty threatenings, which shall never have effect — but it would be a very ungrateful return in you for so much goodness, to consider them in the same light. The words of God whereby he encourages the needy, are pure words — they are like silver seven times purified. Have you such a glorious advocate? Then commit your cause to him, with meekness, in imitation of our great example. Make no deceitful compliances to avoid oppression, and take no unjustifiable steps to preserve yourselves — but trust to your great advocate, who stands at the right hand of the poor to deliver him.
Proverbs 22:24."Do not make friends with a hot-tempered man, do not associate with one easily angered."
Friendship is the balm of life, when it is entered into with discretion — but it is a plague and a snare, when it is injudiciously contracted. Our divine teacher wishes us to be happy both in this world and the next, and extends his instructions to everything that is connected with our happiness. He forbids us to enter into friendship with any wicked man, and here he cautions us particularly against the friendship of angry people. We must of so much as keep company with angry men, nor take a walk with them, if we can possibly avoid it. But what will be the great evil of making friendship with a man of this temper?
Proverbs 22:25."Or you may learn his ways and get yourself ensnared."
We are either like our friends — or will be like them soon. Friendship has a mighty influence upon our conduct. "Bad company corrupts good character." When we see bad things practiced by those we love, the horror of them abates, and we are insensibly drawn to the practice of them. And if we make angry men our friends and companions, we are in great danger of becoming like to them, on another account. Although we should be good-natured — yet their unreasonable behavior will be apt, on many occasions, to set our temper on fire, and from occasional bursts of anger, we may be led by degrees to contract obstinate habits of getting angry on every trifling occasion. For habit is produced by frequent acts, and in time becomes a second nature.
Thus we are in danger of being ensnared into sins of fatal consequence to our souls, for although anger is not always a sin — yet to be under the government of imperious passions, is very sinful and very dangerous.
Our lives may be exposed to danger if we walk with furious men. When Cain walked with Abel in the field, his furious passions subdued his reason and his natural affection, and he slew his brother. There have been many Cains in the world, who have wounded or slain their friends by the impulse of fury.
But if we should escape this danger — yet by contracting a habit of being angry, our tongues may in time become rebels to reason, and bring down harm on our heads.
Consider this proverb, you who give a loose to your passions. Perhaps you suppose that you have good qualities to atone for this bad one. But you are quite mistaken. The meaning of this instruction is plainly this, that no good qualities should induce us to enter into friendship with an angry man. It is taken for granted, that a passionate man may have some qualities that would engage esteem, if they were separated from this wretched temper — for otherwise no person would be in danger of contracting an intimacy with a furious man. But it is plainly asserted, that these qualities in conjunction with such a temper, forfeit their claim on our friendship.
Don't you see, then, that your miserable temper casts a shadow over everything that might otherwise adorn you, and that you are fit only for a desert, where you can disquiet none but yourselves. God himself is so much displeased with you, that he will allow none that will take his advice to be intimate with you, or so much as to keep your company. Fly then to his mercy for pardon, and implore the exertions of his power, to subdue your ungovernable passions. Let your souls be impressed with the example of our meek Redeemer, and watch over your hearts, that you may not again disturb the peace of society, and deserve to be sent forth to dwell among the beasts of the desert!
Proverbs 22:26."Do not be a man who strikes hands in pledge, or puts up security for debts."
Solomon has already said much against rash suretyship — but bad examples have a greater influence upon many people, than good precepts, and because many others make little scruple of putting their name to a bond for another man, we are in danger of being seduced into the same dangerous practice. But before we follow any man's example in anything, we should observe what the outcome of it is likely to be.
If other men do bad things, and smart for it, it will be no motive to a wise man to run into the same error. Let us at least consider one thing, in this case: Suppose the principal debtor should prove unable to pay the creditor, will we be cheerfully willing to take his place, or are we sure that we will be able, it called upon, to pay his debt? We are rich at present — but we know not whether we will be rich or poor at the day of payment. And,
Proverbs 22:27."If you lack the means to pay, your very bed will be snatched from under you."
You may say, it will never come to this. The law of Christ will not allow the creditor, to exercise such rigor, if I should be unable to pay. How do you know that? Are you sure that the creditor, and his heirs, and executors, will not depart, in any instance of conduct from the law of Christ, when their interest pushes them, and the laws of the land will bear them out.
Religion, you see, allows and requires us to pay a proper attention to our own interest and comfort. It requires no instances of self-denial — but such as are more for our own interest, than self-gratification in those instances would be. It does not forbid us to love ourselves, when it requires us to love our neighbors as ourselves. Indeed, we cannot hurt ourselves, for the most part, without hurting some other men also. What can we do for the poor, for our families, for our friends — if our bed is taken away from beneath us?
A philosopher, when he saw a generous young man spending his substance too liberally upon one who pretended great poverty, told him that "perhaps the man he was serving was an honest man — but he was certain that he himself was honest; and therefore," added he, "you are doing an unjust thing, for you are ruining an honest man, for one who is, for anything you know, a rogue."
Proverbs 22:28."Do not move an ancient boundary stone set up by your forefathers."
Naboth would not sell the inheritance which his father had left him, when he was offered a very good price — but there are some who have so little respect for their fathers that they will remove, if possible, the landmark which their fathers have set — and so little regard for justice, at the same time, that they intend to give no price at all for what they add to their estate by such unjustifiable means.
It may be alleged by the covetous, that our fathers were under a mistake about the just bounds of their inheritance. Could that be proved to the satisfaction of the other party concerned, or to the conviction of the judge — it would be a good plea. But this can seldom be done. If ancient custom is not allowed as a good claim to property, nations might soon be convulse and broken in pieces.
Landmarks are means of preserving peace, as well as maintaining justice, and therefore the removing of them is a breach both of peace and honesty. It is so great a sin, that a solemn curse was pronounced against it from Mont Ebal. It is more than three thousand years since this curse was pronounced, and we learn from it that land marks were a very ancient means of distinguishing property. It is the will of God that men should know what is their own, and that every unrighteous invasion of another man's property, is an abomination to him.
Proverbs 22:29."Do you see a man skilled in his work? He will serve before kings; he will not serve before obscure men."
To be a busybody in other men's matters is a scandal — but it is a pleasant sight to behold a man diligent in his own business. Some people look upon the slothful, not to receive instruction, as Solomon did — but to take encouragement to themselves, in following his example or in being only a little better than he is. They would not choose to be the greatest sluggards in the world — but if they can name a man more slothful than themselves, they think that no man is entitled to censure them.
Solomon directs us, on the contrary, to look upon the industrious man, that we may be excited by the advantages which he gains by his labor, to go and do likewise. Such a man shall stand before kings. This does not imply, that every man who deserves this character can expect the honor of being appointed to the high offices of state — but it points out to us that great activity is necessary in the servants of kings, and that great activity in private stations is the way of obtaining honor and advancement.
If the diligent man does not obtain the honor of standing before kings, his industry, with God's blessing, will, for the most part, preserve him from the disgrace of standing before obscure men. Some women, by their industry, joined with other virtues, have obtained the honor of an alliance with the noblest families, of which Rebecca and Ruth are famous instances. If we are diligent in our spiritual business, the advantage will be vastly greater. Let us watch, then, and pray always, that we may be accounted worthy to escape those miseries which shall come upon the wicked, and to stand before the Son of Man.