A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
"When you sit to dine with a ruler, note well what is before you"
We must add to our faith virtue, and to virtue knowledge, and to knowledge self-control. Temperance is to be preserved at all times, and to be guarded in a special manner when we are called to eat with a ruler. For then is the trial of this virtue, and in a time of trial we are in great danger of falling, unless we consider the temptation, and watch against it. We ought, therefore, to consider diligently the plenty, the variety, the delicacy of the dishes that are served at the great man's table, the danger of being drawn to intemperance, and the abominableness and danger of that vice.
Proverbs 23:2."and put a knife to your throat if you are given to gluttony."
A man given to gluttony is in great danger of running to excess on such an occasion. For his fleshly lust within, and the well-spread table before him, combine to betray him. Men's consciences are too often so lax, as to think that the laws of temperance are to be dispensed with, when there is a fair opportunity, and a strong temptation to break them. A man of a sensual and gluttonous disposition ought to mortify his appetite. Gluttony is a great sin, as well as drunkenness. "Take heed," says our Lord, "lest your hearts be overcharged with gluttony and drunkenness, and the cares of this life." If the disciples of Christ were under obligation to guard against this sin, although they sat almost always at poor men's tables — then what need have those to take heed, who are admitted to entertainments where everything concurs to solicit their appetite, and to throw them off their guard.
"But it will be very painful," says the glutton, "to deny my craving appetite, when it is so strongly solicited. It will be as uneasy to abstain, as to have a knife stuck in my throat." Be it so, better to have a knife in your throat — than to have your soul betrayed by it to sensual indulgence.
Is not affliction rather to be chosen than sin? Is it not better to pluck out a right eye, or to cut off a right hand — than to be betrayed by them to pleasant sins?
Sensual gratifications are harmful to the body, as well as the soul, and are the frequent causes of sickness, and weakness, and death. It has been often said, that the throat has killed more people than the sword.
Proverbs 23:3."Do not crave his delicacies, for that food is deceptive."
His dainties have a good appearance to the eye, and they are delicious to the taste, and powerfully tempt an ungoverned appetite. But remember that the forbidden fruit did the same — and yet the eating of it "brought death into the world, and all our woe." When you see a number of dishes of very different kinds, think with yourself, "Here are fevers, and ailments, and gouts, in disguise. Here are snares and traps spread along the table to catch my soul, and draw me into sin! Sense gives a good report of this plenty — but reason and religion tell me to take heed, for it is deceitful food."
His food is deceitful in another view. The ruler himself has no generous or friendly intention in treating you. He makes great professions of kindness and regard, and the civilities of a ruler open the heart, and put a man off his guard. His real design very probably is to pump out some secret from you, or to gain you by his flattering caresses to some base or sinful compliance with his pleasure.
Such are the ends designed, and too often effected, by means of those feasts that are given at the elections of members of parliament, and on some other public occasions of the like nature. It is often difficult, if we attend them, to return as temperate Christians as we went.
Proverbs 23:4."Do not wear yourself out to get rich; have the wisdom to show restraint."
To be rich has been the lot of many saints; and when God bestows riches upon us, we are not required to throw them into the sea, as a certain foolish philosopher did.
But when God denies us riches, we must not reckon ourselves unhappy on that account. Solomon often speaks of riches as a reward that wisdom frequently bestows on those who love her — but here he cautions us against supposing that wisdom encourages the love of riches — that universal passion which has been so mischievous to the human race, since the beginning of the world.
In our fallen condition, we must labor and sweat for our subsistence — but that kind of labor is useful both to the body and mind. The labor after riches here forbidden, and is exceedingly hurtful to both. It arises from an immoderate esteem of present things, and an aspiring mind. It is joined with a distrust of God's providence, and a hurry and distraction of men's thoughts, which renders them unfit for the service of God. It destroys all relish for the comforts of life, which might be enjoyed at present — and is a continual incentive to unmerciful and unjust behavior. It is a pity that we do not more attentively consider the alarming things that are said by our Lord, and the apostle Paul, on this subject.
But you will say that money is a necessary and an excellent thing. It keeps a man from poverty and dependence; it raises him to dignity and consequence; it furnishes everything that is desirable in life. But cease from your own wisdom, which is not the wisdom from above — but that earthly, sensual, and devilish wisdom so greatly condemned in the Scripture. Money, under the direction of wisdom, will indeed serve all these purposes, and some others too, of far greater value. But the love of money is not merely a bad thing — but the root of all evil, and a confidence in money is a very foolish thing.
Proverbs 23:5."Cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone; for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle."
Will you let your eyes fly upon money with eager joy? You shall soon see it fly away never to return! To look at other men's money with covetous desires, and an admiration of the happiness of the possessor, to look upon our own money with rapturous delight, because our hand has gotten much — is to make to ourselves gods of gold, as the ancient Israelites did, and to give them the worship of the soul. Therefore covetousness is called idolatry; and to rejoice in money more than in God, is to say to the gold, "You are our hope, and to the fine gold, You are our confidence."
It is foolish, as well as sinful, to set our eyes and our hearts on riches. Will a man set his eyes upon a mere nothing? But what does Solomon mean by calling them so? Does not their splendor show that they are true substance? It must be confessed that they are glittering nothings — but so are bubbles upon the water, when they shine with the rays of the sun, which make them to glare for a moment — but don't hinder them from vanishing the next.
Our Lord tells us that they are not the true riches, and that a man's life does not consist in the abundance of them. The wise preacher has written a book to prove that they are the very vanity of vanities. Philosophers in every age have declaimed in proof of this point, and all men are sensible of its truth, at the season when the eyes of men are forced open to the sight of truth.
But in this passage Solomon means the uncertainty of riches. They are not, for they fly away out of sight never to return. They were another man's yesterday — they are mine today — they will be another man's tomorrow — and where they shall have flown in a few weeks, we cannot tell.
But how do they get away? They sprout wings! While you sit brooding upon them, they are fledging; and although you should try, by bills and bonds, and bars, and bolts, to clip their wings — you will not be able to hinder their elopement. And when you think to recover them, you are often making wings to what is left you.
The eagle is the swiftest of birds, and with the swiftness of an eagle they mount up towards Heaven, and receive their commission to whom they should next go. Does the eagle fly by your command, or can you bring him back to your lure? Just so, you cannot recover those riches of which Divine Providence has bereaved you.
Those who place their happiness on worldly wealth, build their foundation on the sand. Their joy is short, and dashed with a large infusion of fear and vexation. Their disappointment is certain; their end is dreadful — for those who mind earthly things above heavenly things, are enemies of the cross of Christ, and their end is destruction. But true Christians seek for the true riches, their conversation is in Heaven, and their treasure is in a place where there is no moth nor rust, nor any of those feathers which compose the eagle wings of riches, with which they flee away.
Proverbs 23:6."Do not eat the food of a stingy man, do not crave his delicacies."
The Scripture directs us about the choice of occasional companions, as well as friends. There are some people whom we must not receive into our houses — and there are some to whose houses we are forbidden to visit, or to sit at their tables. We are not, on every occasion, forbidden to eat with a ruler, although his dainties are generally deceitful food. Nor are we absolutely forbidden to feast with heathen and wicked men. But we are forbidden to eat at the table of a stingy man, although it should be covered with dainty foods, and his words full of kindness.
A selfish and churlish disposition reveals itself in the eye, so that the miser declares his character against his will. Perhaps, through shame, he endeavors to hide his churlish disposition under the mask of a plentiful entertainment — but his malignity peeps through his eyes, which betray him in spite of all that he can say or do. For nature abhors deceit, and often detects it. But why must we not eat his bread, nor partake of his dainties? Because it is not the quality of the food which you are to consider — but the disposition of the company, and especially of the entertainer.
Proverbs 23:7."For he is the kind of man who is always thinking about the cost. 'Eat and drink,' he says to you, but his heart is not with you."
It is not a man's words and professions that must determine his character, and direct our correspondence with him — but the disposition of his heart, which is often revealed by the general course of a man's behavior, to be very different from what he would have men to believe it is.
A man who rolls in his mind impious thoughts of God, is a wicked man — however good his words may be; and a man who indulges a selfish disposition is unfit to be a companion or a friend, although he invites you to his table, and never ceases, when you are there, to tell you how welcome you are, and how earnestly he wishes you to eat and drink.
You see how vain it is for men, to pretend that kindness which they do not feel. They are revealed more easily than they imagine, and the professions they make are means of rendering their dissimulation more evident. For true kindness delights not in many words. Let men then either be what they profess, loving not in word nor in tongue, but in deed and in truth — or else let them lay aside the profession of what they are not, for it is idle to add the guilt and shame of hypocrisy, to that of a sordid and selfish disposition.
But when that which is set on his table is full of fatness, may we not make a very delicious meal, and pay him for it, to his satisfaction, by agreeable conversation? No.
Proverbs 23:8."You will vomit up the little you have eaten and will have wasted your compliments."
Men often think it a noble piece of diversion, to sponge off a miser, and to take advantage of an invitation extorted from him by shame, to prey upon everything that is in his house. But Solomon teaches us that this diversion will end in vexation. You may eat the morsel with pleasure — but you shall repent of eating it, as much as if you had vomited it up. All your agreeable or useful conversation is lost upon him, and he is so far from thinking it a proper recompense for the expense he has bestowed upon you, that he will endeavor to extort something in return, which it may be very inconvenient to grant. And when you refuse, he will brand you with the character of the ungrateful guest.
When we are called by God to a feast of fat things, and hear his blessed voice calling us to eat that which is good, and let our souls delight themselves in fatness — we may safely venture at the gracious invitation, to make use of Christ, and the blessings of his salvation, as our own. To suspect the sincerity of the gospel call, is to suspect the God who is abundant in goodness and truth of an evil eye.
Proverbs 23:9."Do not speak to a fool, for he will scorn the wisdom of your words."
A fool cannot utter wisdom — but there might be good hopes entertained of him, if he could hear it — but there are many fools, who are equally unfit to speak and to hear. Concerning such, this direction is given, and not concerning fools of every kind, for there are some that lack wisdom, and have some conviction of the lack of it — and these are on the road that leads to wisdom, the first step of which is to become a fool in one's own eyes.
The fools to whom we are forbidden to speak the words of wisdom, are those who will despise the wisdom of our words. Yet even these are sometimes to be dealt with by those who have a call, by their office or church connection, to do so, even after they have refused admonition. For the souls of men are precious, and if there is some hope, though faint, of doing them good — we must not decline the disagreeable task of reprovers.
Our Lord orders the gospel to be preached to everyone who will hear it, not excepting scorners. But he will not have his gospel forced on those who obstinately reject it. He himself left the Gadarenes, when they preferred their swine to him — and the Nazarenes, when they wanted to destroy him. Although the worst of sinners are to be invited to repentance, in the public assembly — yet there are some to whom our Lord tells us, it is needless and unsafe to administer personal reproofs. These are the dogs and swine that would trample our pearls under their feet, and turn again and rend us.
How pitiable is the case of such people, when our Lord himself directs us to give them up to themselves.
Those who are reproved by ministers, and Christian friends, may learn from this verse, that they have no reason to take it amiss, or to think that they are treated with contempt. They are considered as offenders — but at the same time as those who are not incurably perverse. They would be treated in a very different way, and might reckon themselves with more justice to be considered in the light of scorners, and dogs, and swine, if there were no means used to recover the to repentance.
Proverbs 23:10."Do not move an ancient boundary stone or encroach on the fields of the fatherless."
Wicked men are afraid to do any injury to those who have it in their power to retaliate, or powerful friends to espouse their quarrel. Pure and defiled religion before God and the Father, is this, to visit the fatherless, and the widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. And yet there are none so easy to be trampled upon, in this evil world, as the fatherless and widows. But let the poor and fatherless commit themselves to God, and the widows trust in him — and he will make their adversaries to know that the mightiest on earth are not more dangerous to be meddled with, than themselves.
Proverbs 23:11."for their Redeemer is strong; he will take up their case against you."
He who meddles with the widow and fatherless, needs better armor than he who touches the sons of Belial, who must be fenced with iron and brass. God himself has undertaken their defense, and dare we provoke the Lord to jealousy — are we stronger than he? He graciously calls himself their kinsman or Redeemer. They have lost the best of earthly friends. But there is one in Heaven who calls them to trust in him, as their husband and father, their Redeemer and advocate. He has promised to supply their needs, and protect them from every enemy. Their enemies set themselves in opposition to God, and endeavor to make him a liar, by frustrating his promises — but they do it at their peril.
Perhaps those who oppress the widow and fatherless, may allege that God is the Redeemer only of his own people, and that the poor and fatherless, whom they oppress are none of them. To this it may be answered, that God executes righteousness and judgment for all who are oppressed. He is the great lover of righteousness and mercy, and the avenger of all that are unrighteous and unmerciful.
One part of the office of the kinsman-redeemer under the law, was to avenge the harms done to his poor friend. And this part of it God will perform for all who are oppressed, without exception, so that the oppressor will feel the terrors of the threatening contained in this declaration, although the fatherless and the widows through their unbelief, should lose the comforts of that grace, which is revealed in it.
But how do you know, O you presumptuous opposers of God's mercy to the poor, that those whom you wrong are not God's people? Can you know the hearts of men? If you can do this, can you also look into the heart of God, and into the book of life, to know who are the objects of his special favor? How do you know but God may choose those whom you afflict, in the furnace of affliction.
Here the widow and the fatherless, may find comfort under every injury, and instruction how to derive the greatest advantages out of the greatest wrongs, by making use of the injustice of the enemy, as a motive to flee to God as their Redeemer, and a plea in their supplications for help.
Proverbs 23:12."Apply your heart to instruction, and your ears to words of knowledge."
This direction is often repeated — but there is need for it — too often we hear as if we heard not. An hour or two passes after we have been reading a chapter, or hearing a discourse on one of the most important subjects — and scarcely a trace of it is left upon our minds.
I have read of a minister, who was preaching a sermon on the day of judgment, and the solemn truths which he delivered made such an impression on the audience, that they all appeared to be alarmed — but the preacher told them that he had something yet to tell them more awful than anything he had said — that in two hours they would be as little affected with these things, as if they had not heard them; which accordingly proved to be the case.
Let us take heed that we be not found among those of whom it is said, that the word preached did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it — for the word will not be a means of salvation to us, unless it is received with meekness, and engrafted into our souls.
Proverbs 23:13-14."Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from Hell."
Parents are here required to give due correction to their children, with their own hands, and not to entrust that office entirely to others. At the same time they are forbidden to withhold correction from them, even when they are under the care of others. If teachers are employed to instruct them, they must have the power of correcting likewise — and no offence must be taken at them for using it. Parents would take it amiss, if anything they thought necessary for their children was withheld from them by those under whose care they are placed — and what is more necessary than correction? The world will think that man cruel, who does not give food and clothing to his child — but Solomon looks upon him also to be a cruel man, who does not give needful correction.
But the fond hearts of parents will suggest several objections to this duty. They cannot bear the cries and sobs of their children; they are afraid they will die under their hands. There is no fear of this, answers the wise man, they only wish to frighten you by their complaints. They shall not die, but live. Punish them with the rod, for it is one of the means that God has appointed for delivering them from an untimely death in this world, and destruction in the eternal world.
What an idea does this give us, of the usefulness of the rod of correction! What parent who loves his child, and has any sense of the terrors of eternal punishment — will spare his rod, after he has heard this saying of God? Would you not force your children to undergo an operation by the surgeon, if you saw it necessary for the preservation of their lives? Are their souls less precious than their bodies?
You think that gentle means are always the best — but does not God tell you that this does not hold in every case? No doubt Eli and David wished well to their children, and their parental fondness told them that gentle admonitions and time, would correct all the disorders in their families. But they mourned at last over these children, who had been so much hurt by their indulgence.
Whether the disorders in David's family were the occasion of Solomon's making so many proverbs on this subject, I shall not say — but after what he has said, and after what Eli and David suffered — those parents who do not perform this duty, are more inexcusable than these godly men were. Your children may perhaps complain of your severity, when there is no ground for it. But this is easier to be borne, than it would be to hear them curse you, at the last day, and from the bottomless pit, for allowing them to take their course in sin.
Proverbs 23:15-16."My son, if your heart is wise, then my heart will be glad; my inmost being will rejoice when your lips speak what is right."
Solomon was a wise father, and had the same wishes for his son as for himself. He did not greatly mind whether his son was to be very rich or not — but his main concern was that he might be wise. For he knew that if his son was a fool, the riches he was to leave him would do him no good.
Just so, parents may form a judgment of their own dispositions from their wishes about their children. Worldly men make it their great work to provide those things for their children, which they account their own best things. Saints desire above all things, that the hearts of their children may be richly furnished with wisdom, and that their lips may speak right things. For the heart is the throne of wisdom, and by the lips she reveals her possession of that throne.
Those who are evil cannot ordinarily speak good things. Those lips will undoubtedly speak good things — when there is a good treasure in the heart. Language cannot express the cordial joys that a wise parent feels from the wise and good behavior of a son. When parents enjoy this blessing, let them consider, to heighten their joy and thankfulness, the smart that others have felt from the undutifulness and folly of their children.
Let parents use every means recommended by God, for making their children wise. Then shall their souls be glad, and their hearts rejoice, in the happy effect of their endeavors, or at least in the consciousness of having done their duty.
Proverbs 23:17."Do not let your heart envy the wicked, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord."
When we see the wicked flourishing in prosperity, and the people of God languishing under oppression — we are sometimes tempted to doubt whether there is a divine providence, and whether the promises and threatenings of God are true or not — and to grudge that there is not a present distribution of rewards and punishments, according to the works of men.
Unfit as we are for managing our own affairs, we are too much disposed to usurp God's office of governing the world; and if he does not shower down blessings into the lap of those whom we esteem, and fire and brimstone upon the head of the wicked — then we think that God cannot see things through the dark cloud, or is unfit to manage them.
But we are here directed to banish envy from our hearts, and as an antidote to this mischievous passion, to be in the fear of the Lord continually. Envy of the wicked is a great enemy to the fear of the Lord. Asaph's feet had almost stumbled when he looked with a grudging eye at the prosperous circumstances of the wicked — but by the fear of the Lord, he was preserved from falling, and was recovered from his dangerous situation. For a deep and heart-affecting impression of the infinite excellencies of the divine nature, will silence our murmurings and subdue the insurrections of our hearts. If we are deeply impressed with a sense of the righteousness and holiness of God, and of his wisdom and goodness — we will believe that his ways are always right, and that there can be no unrighteousness in his administration, even when we cannot discern the reasons of it. "Clouds and darkness are round about him — but righteousness and judgment are still the habitation of his throne."
We are required to live in the fear of the Lord all the day long. Whether we are in prosperous or in adverse circumstances, and whether the wicked around us rise into affluence and power, or sink into insignificance and misery — an impression of God's perfection, and of the happiness that attends true religion, and the misery that follows sin — must dwell upon our hearts, and govern our conduct.
This fear of God will banish from our minds impious reflections upon God, and dispose us to keep his way, even when wicked men are in power, and threaten to banish all religion out of the world. For still we shall believe that it will be well with the righteous and ill with the wicked, perhaps in this world — but most certainly in the next.
Proverbs 23:18."There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off."
If things were to continue in their present state through eternity, or if there were no eternity before us — much might be said for the wisdom of impiety, and the folly of religion — but reason gives us probable arguments for a future state, and the Bible assures us of it. Job saw the prosperity of the wicked with astonishment — but he knew that their day was coming. And when he saw that some of them died amidst friends and prosperity, and were honorably buried — he inferred that there was a day of wrath to which they were reserved. He was in like manner fully persuaded, that his living Redeemer would raise his own dust at the last day, and wipe off all his reproach, and give him the transporting sight of the divine glory, to his eternal happiness. His hope of this blessedness was so lively, even when there was no Scripture, that he expresses an ardent wish that his profession of hope might be inscribed forever in the rock, with a pen of iron. And it was written, not on a rock, to be read by the dwellers in the land of Uz — but in the book of God, to be seen and read of all men.
Did Job triumph in this blessed hope amidst afflictions that would have swallowed up all the courage of a philosopher and hero? Shall we faint, who are instructed by Moses and the prophets, by the Apostles, and the Lord himself, concerning the unspeakable felicities of a future state, and the right we have to look for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life? Besides, we have a great cloud of witnesses to assure us that it is not a vain thing to wait for the salvation of the Lord, and that the expectation of the godly, although it may seem to be cut off, shall not perish forever?
Abraham had a promise of a son, by whom his seed were to be like the stars for multitude — and yet he waited until Sarah's womb, which was formerly barren, was now dead, before he had the promised son. He waited sixty years longer, before he saw any children by Isaac — but still he was persuaded that the Word of God was true, and that his promise was the same thing as performance. He had the promise of Canaan — and yet he traveled through it as a stranger and pilgrim — but he trusted God, and what he had promised, he performed long after Abraham went to sleep with his fathers. And those who give credit to the testimony of God, and wait with patience in the hope of the promise, are blessed with faithful Abraham.
Soldiers, in the uncertain hope of spoil, endure all the severities of the campaign, and encounter all the dangers of the battle — and shall not the professed soldiers of the Redeemer meet every discouraging providence without terror and complaint, when the God of truth says their hope shall not be cut off?
Proverbs 23:19."Listen, my son, and be wise, and keep your heart on the right path."
It is not sufficient, although it is necessary, for us to hear the instructions of the inspired moralist. We are called to learn wisdom, which is to be acquired by hearing under the influence of that blessed Spirit by whom these truths were dictated. Hearing without being made wise, will aggravate our guilt, and make our condemnation more dreadful. But to expect wisdom without hearing, is to expect nourishment without food. Let us hear then, with all that meekness and affection which is due to a kind father instructing his beloved children. With hearing let us join prayer to that God, by whose direction and in whose name Solomon speaks to us as children. For our heavenly father will give the Spirit of wisdom and revelation to those who ask him.
What is that wisdom that we are called to seek after? Wisdom to guide our heart in the way, for Zion's travelers must have the way that conducts to blessedness in their hearts. Our feet and our hearts must be in the same good paths, for no man is truly religious, whatever his outward conduct is, unless his heart is right with God. The Word of God is then truly useful to us, when we rejoice in the way of God's testimonies, more than in all riches.
If we would have our hearts guided in the way, then we must hear what the wise man is going to say to us against intemperance in eating and drinking. For as those who run in the Grecian races, and strove for masteries in their games, were obliged to be temperate in all things, in the view of a corruptible crown — so those who have the eternal crown in their eye, must exercise a proper care over themselves, that they may not be pressed down with the immoderate use of food and drink, and thereby rendered unfit for the Christian course.
Proverbs 23:20."Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat."
Although we do not dethrone reason by drinking — yet if we impair the vigor of it, and render ourselves less fit for the business of life, and the service of God, than we are at other times, by the free use of the bottle — then we are drunkards. Food is fit provision for our bodies, and it is freely allowed us by God for bodily provision, under the New Testament dispensation — but it is great ingratitude to God to abuse his goodness in order to serve the lusts of the flesh.
The body ought to be the servant of the soul, and ever ready to execute its commands — but when, by gluttony, or anything else, our bodies are disabled from doing their duty, or have their vigor impaired, and the seeds of weakness, and drowsiness, and disease, sown in them — we sin against our own souls and bodies.
We are forbidden, not only to be drunkards or gluttons — but to be found in the company of such people. For bad company is the common temptation which the devil uses to draw men to these sins. By giving them our company, we are exposed to their solicitations, and many who were once sober, have been enticed by them to go to excess, and, by a repetition of the same rash conduct have been led on, step by step, to the greatest excesses, and the most confirmed habits of intemperance — until they became senseless brutes, a burden to their friends, and fit only for being laid in the grave, and consigned to those regions which shall be the everlasting habitation of those who make their belly their God.
Those who have been long inured to a temperate course of life, must not think that they are at liberty to infringe this precept, and to mingle themselves with gluttons and drunkards, because they are strong enough in their own eye to overcome all the temptations of sensuality. Christ charges his own disciples, who had been practiced in every virtue under his own eye, and who had less temptations to this vice than any other men, to take heed to themselves that their hearts might not be weighed down with self-indulgence and drunkenness; and we find the apostle Paul, who was so often in want, very anxious that he might not transgress this precept. But what harm is there in learning the ways of the drunkard and glutton? Much harm even in this world, as any man may see, who will but open his eyes!
Proverbs 23:21."For the drunkard and the glutton shall come to poverty, and drowsiness shall clothe a man with rags."
Poverty may be born with patience and cheerfulness, when it is merely a misfortune. But that poverty fills the mind with remorse and vexation, which is the fruit of a man's own bad conduct. And no self-contracted poverty is so disagreeable as that which a man brings upon himself by gluttony and drunkenness, which at the same time that they deprive a man of the necessities of life — create in him a craving appetite after superfluities and luxuries. As miserable as men must be, by being reduced to such unhappy circumstances — they are almost unpitied when they fall into them. For who will pity one for misfortunes into which he rushes with his eyes open? If a man will not pity himself, it is vain for him to expect pity from his neighbors.
The drunkard or glutton may flatter himself with vain hopes that he shall escape poverty, and that tomorrow shall be as this day, and much more abundant — but reason and experience, as well as Scripture, confirm the truth in our text. For if the slothful man bring himself to poverty, the waster must do it much sooner, especially as luxury and reveling bring drowsiness and sloth in their train. For by a course of sensual indulgence, a man is indisposed to labor and prudent care; so that, while he throws away with one hand — he gathers nothing with the other to supply his numerous needs. The slothful man is brother to him who is a great waster — but when the great waster is likewise a slothful man, as is generally the case, poverty is coming to him with hasty steps, and with resistless force.
Hell is at a great distance, the sensualist thinks, and lies quite out of the view of mortals, and wine has so besotted him, that he cannot think seriously about it — but here he is told of one part of his punishment, which he cannot put off to a distant day, and must feel, unless he is stupefied to an extraordinary degree. For his wicked relishes might themselves excite a proper sense of the harm of poverty — and how hardened must they be in sin who cannot be driven from it, either by the terrors of the world to come, or the miseries of this world?
Christians have nobler motives to keep them on their guard against intemperance. For the grace of God teaches them to live soberly, and their character as children of the light is inconsistent with drunkenness and reveling, which are works of darkness and of the flesh.
Proverbs 23:22."Listen to your father, who gave you life, and do not despise your mother when she is old."
Solomon takes it for granted that our fathers and mothers will give us good counsel and instruction. For they are monsters, and not parents, who are unconcerned about the present and eternal welfare of their children, and quite negligent of those means that may contribute to such valuable ends. Children should consider what they owe to their parents, and what affection they manifest in their good counsels and instructions — and what monsters of ingratitude they are, if they do not show respect to those who have conferred obligations upon them, for which they can never make a sufficient recompense, and to those instructions which can have no object but their own benefit.
Mothers are to be honored as well as fathers; nor must we despise them — but reverence their good advices, and kindly sympathize with their infirmities when they are old. They may then prove peevish and fretful, and lose much of their understanding, and become children a second time. But they took care of us when we were helpless children, and our froward passions did not then provoke them to cast us away — but engaged their pity and help. It is only when the instructions of parents are good and sound, that we must receive and comply with them, for we are bound to cleave to the truth at all risks.
Proverbs 23:23."Buy the truth and do not sell it; get wisdom, discipline and understanding."
The truth revealed in the Word of God is infinitely valuable and interesting, and therefore we are commanded to buy, and not to sell it. Men are enriched by buying and selling other commodities — but in our dealings about truth we are enriched by buying alone, whatever is the price — and impoverished by selling, whatever price we might receive.
But why are we commanded to buy? Does God receive a price from us for his truths? By no means. But we are commanded to buy, because we must grudge no expense or toil in seeking the truth. The wise merchant is he who is so impressed with its value that he is willing to go and sell all he has, that he may obtain possession of this precious treasure. Merchants will venture their money and their lives for those commodities by which they expect to make profit, although they often meet with disappointments and losses. Why then should those who profess to value the truth above everything, be so careless about obtaining the knowledge and experience of it, when the value of it will abundantly recompense all our pains and losses in the search of it, although we should lose our life on its account?
On no account must we sell the truth. Had Paul been offered all the kingdoms of the world, and all the glories of them, for one article of truth, he would have answered, "I have suffered the loss of all things already for Christ, yes, doubtless, I count all things but loss and dung for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus, my Lord."
We must rather part with our lives than with the truth, and here we have the example of the noble army of martyrs who loved not their lives unto death for its sake. He who loses his life for the sake of truth, and a good conscience, is a great gainer.
If it is a great sin to sell the truth, even when our life is offered for it — then what shall we say of those who part with it in profession or practice, without receiving any price at all for it? Surely they have a small regard for the truth, or for the great Author of it, who wantonly cast away this precious pearl, and take a pebble in its place.
We must show the same sacred regard to wisdom, and instruction, and understanding, which are inseparably connected with the truth. For we have no true hold of the truth, however clear our apprehensions of it are, or however zealously we profess it — if we are not made wise, and led in the way of duty by its influence. That wisdom and understanding which is not grounded in truth — is but cunning craftiness and splendid ignorance. That instruction which is not according to truth, is poison to the soul. Truth is to be received into the mind and heart, and rule our conduct. Those only are wise unto salvation, who receive the truth in the love of it, and hold it forth in their profession, and walk in it until they reach the end of their course.
Proverbs 23:24-25."The father of a righteous man has great joy; he who has a wise son, delights in him. May your father and mother be glad; may she who gave you birth rejoice!"
And what son is there so unnatural as not to wish for the happiness of his father and his mother? Your father has spent many anxious thoughts, and endured many toils on your account. Your mother has born you with sorrow and danger, and reared you up with tender concern — and what requital do they ask or expect from you? They love you with a unselfish affection; they earnestly desire you to pursue those courses which will make you happy. They will be satisfied, and glad, and bless God on your account — when you walk in the ways of wisdom, because all their labors and toils are richly recompensed.
Can you resist the wishes of your parents, and blast their hopes of gladness, when the joy they expect from you is no selfish pleasure — but that pure and unselfish joy which arises from your own happiness? Can you bear the thoughts of embittering their old age, when it is attended with so many unavoidable pains and griefs — which will be sweetened by your good behavior? Will you be the wretched instruments of bringing down the gray hair of your parents with sorrow to the grave?
What a blessed thing is righteousness! It gives great pleasure to him who practices it. It diffuses joy all around. Your parents and all who fear God, will be glad to see you walking in God's truth. Our Father who is in Heaven takes pleasure in it, and all the angels of God are glad to see righteousness and wisdom among the sons of men.
Proverbs 23:26."My son, give me your heart, and let your eyes keep to my ways."
This divine teacher, in the name of God, requires our hearts to be applied to the word of exhortation. "Set your hearts to all the words which I testify among you this day," said the Jewish lawgiver, "which you shall observe, to do all the words of this law." The same demand is made on us in this and in several other passages of this book. And the demand would not be so frequently made, if it were not necessary.
We are naturally indisposed to give a due attention to the Word of God — for our hearts are vain, and earthly, and carnal. And yet, unless we give our hearts to God and to his truths — we can receive no benefit by them.
Paul gives thanks to God for the saints at Rome, because, from the heart, they had obeyed that form of doctrine which was delivered unto them — that their whole temper and life might be formed into a correspondence with it.
Our Lord, in his parable of the sower, speaks of four different sorts of hearers of the word, and there was only one sort who received real benefit from it, and that was the set of hearers who understood it, and received it into an honest and good heart.
Our hearts are naturally intractable and perverse and we cannot work them into a proper disposition for receiving his truths — but we must give them up to him who fashions the hearts of men at his pleasure. Our hearts, vile and worthless as they are — are claimed by him. He is our Creator and Redeemer, and he calls us to give up our souls and bodies unto him. He will form them anew, and take the stony heart out of our flesh, and give us hearts of flesh, and put his Spirit within us, and cause us to walk in his statutes.
Our eyes must be fixed upon the ways in which God directs us by his inspired penmen. Thus David regulated his life — he laid the judgments of God before him, and kept his mind fixed upon the directions of God in his Word, and his feet were kept from stumbling and falling.
The ways in which Solomon walked during a part of his life, are a warning to us that we may not involve ourselves in those snares that brought him into so much danger and distress — but the ways that he instructs us to walk in are those good paths wherein rest is to be found. He smarted greatly with the wounds made in his conscience by his correspondence with immoral women, and none of the Old Testament writers sound so loud alarms of the danger that we are in from the arts of such seducers. He fell into the deep and narrow ditch — but by the grace of God he escaped with life, and warns us all not to risk our souls in the manner he had done.
Proverbs 23:27."for a prostitute is a deep pit and a wayward wife is a narrow well."
And when it is both deep and narrow, the danger is extreme. Who would choose to be in the situation of Jeremiah when he was cast into the cistern, out of which Ebed-melech and his companions delivered him with so much difficulty? But it is far more dangerous to fall into that narrow pit of which the wise man is now speaking, for none who go unto her return again, neither take they hold of the paths of life. Righteous men, such as Sampson and Solomon, were scarcely saved when they fell into this ditch — and where shall the abhorred children of the devil appear?
Proverbs 23:28."Like a bandit she lies in wait, and multiplies the unfaithful among men."
The profligate woman is not only a deep pit — but a robber. For a single comparison is insufficient to show the numberless harms occasioned by her seductions. She lies in wait, not to rob men of a few pounds — but to rob them of all their substance and credit, of their health and comfort, of their bodies and souls! And those who voluntarily comply with her alluring insinuations, are confederates with her and the devil, against God and themselves. She increases the transgressors among men. For she spreads her nets and entangles those unwary men, of whom better things might have been reasonably expected, if they had escaped her. And when she has them fast, she blindfolds them, and leads them on through the ways of sin and folly, until she plunges them into the gulf of eternal perdition!
She is not only a servant, but an emissary of the wicked one, drawing as many as she can into his snares. Therefore if we love our own souls, we must avoid the doors of her house. Would we be preserved from this mischievous enchantress, who has been the instrument of drowning such multitudes in destruction and perdition? Let us turn our hearts to the divine instructions of this book, and call wisdom our sister, and understanding our kinswoman. Let us put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.
Proverbs 23:29."Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaints? Who has needless bruises? Who has bloodshot eyes?"
He is no doubt a miserable man on whom all these misfortunes meet at once — and yet he scarcely deserves pity, for he brings them upon himself. If any man were attacked with a disease that had so many dismal symptoms, he would certainly draw pity from every beholder — but those of whom Solomon speaks, are people who choose both sin and misery at once.
Proverbs 23:30."Those who linger over wine, who go to sample bowls of mixed wine."
Wine is very useful to men when used to serve them — but when it is allowed to become their master, it is a raging tyrant, like fire or water, when they are not kept in their proper bounds. But who are those who allow wine to rule over them? Those who are so fond of it, that they cannot rise when they have sat down to the bottle — but continue from noon-day until evening, until wine inflames them. And those who cannot do without it — but go in search of it, feeling themselves quite unhappy when they are not pouring it down their throats, and who are such sensualists that they cannot be satisfied, unless a variety of ingredients are mingled with it, to make it higher flavored, and more grateful to their palates.
These are not the only people that sin by abusing this good creations of God. For when men render themselves heavy, and languid, and unfit to think and act with composure, or to draw near to God in spiritual exercises — they are guilty of excess, although they do not make themselves brutes, and bring upon themselves all the present harms that are here mentioned.
But those who give themselves up to sensuality, to such a degree as to tarry long at the wine, and go to seek mixed wine — bring upon themselves, in part, the present recompense of their error, for they pull down sorrows upon themselves with their own hands. They have some present pleasure to suit their vitiated taste — but woe to that pleasure that brings so much pain and vexation along with it! Wine is raging, and pushes on the people that swill it down, like madmen, to fightings and contentions. It takes from them, in a great measure, the use of their tongues, and makes them to stammer — and yet it fills their minds with so much vanity and wickedness that they must speak and pour forth floods of profaneness and ribaldry, of nonsense and wickedness. By this means drunkenness stirs up squabbles and fightings, which end in wounds without cause. For the drunkards themselves, when they are sober, confess that their quarrels had no object earthly — but were produced by their own self-contracted madness.
Redness of eyes is another effect of immoderate drinking, which ends in a weakness of the sight, in violent pain, and sometimes in total blindness. If drunkenness is attended with so wretched consequences, then,
Proverbs 23:31."Do not gaze at wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly!"
And what harm is there in looking upon the pleasant liquor sparkling in the cup? What harm, you may as well ask, was there in Eve's looking at the fruit of the forbidden tree, or in Achan's looking at the golden wedge, or Babylonian garment? Or what harm is there in looking at a beauteous face, until lust is excited in the heart?
To look with pleasure at a tempting object, is very unsafe, for the imagination catches fire, and the passions are inflamed, and reason is gradually deposed from its throne. Such are the natural consequences of looking at the delicious liquor. Caesar came, and saw, and conquered — but the drunkard comes to the tavern, he sees the flowing blood of the grape, and is conquered. He drinks and tastes a little pleasure while the liquor is passing down his throat, but,
Proverbs 23:32."In the end it bites like a serpent, and poisons like a viper!"
If drunkards saw a viper at the bottom of the glass, although it were dead, they would rather pour all the liquor into the street than drink it. But the wine itself is worse than any viper. It infuses a deadly though slow poison into the drunkard, and his body becomes the seat of disease.
Nor are the miserable effects of it confined to himself — but they are frequently entailed upon his posterity, who suffer by their father's fault, and are often obliged to drag out a wretched life in weakness and disease, and suffering.
But it poisons the soul worst of all, for it breeds that worm of conscience in comparison of which the bite of an adder is pleasure and health. It exposes the drunkard to the lake of fire and brimstone, which is the second death, where the wine of the fierceness of the wrath of Almighty God must be drunk, without intermission or end, and where the drunkard shall be punished, not only for drunkenness — but for a countless multitude of sins, to which this vice led the way!
Other vices work their own way into the soul — but this mischievous vice makes way for every other vice, and especially for the damnable sin of immorality and filthy speech.
Proverbs 23:33."Your eyes will see strange sights, and your mind imagine confusing things."
Your eyes shall behold strange women, and your heart shall utter perverse things.
Drunkenness produces new vices, and discloses the old. It removes every fence of reason and religion, and makes the person overpowered by it to resemble a city without walls, into which the besiegers find an open passage that they may enter, and commit what ravages they please.
Lot kept himself pure in Sodom — and yet his daughters, by making him drunk, knew that they could easily draw him to incest, for they had seen the men of Sodom tempted, by their gluttony and intemperate drinking, to every excess of wickedness.
A Roman author tells us, that, in the good days of Rome, drinking of wine was absolutely prohibited to women, lest drinking should tempt them to unchastity. For, as the same author observes, it shuts the door against every virtue — and opens it to every vice. Drunkenness besots the heart, and makes it to utter perverse and abominable things by the tongue. For blasphemy is wit, and ribaldry is eloquence to a man who is turned into a brute. How loathsome would the heart of a wicked man be, were it laid bare to the world — but drink lays it bare as far as the powers of language can go!
Proverbs 23:34."You will be like one sleeping on the high seas, lying on top of a mast."
Your brain shall be giddy, your reason disordered, your mind altogether unhinged, and your danger shall be extreme, like his who lies down on the top of a mast, the most dangerous of situations imaginable.
Can a man who is a slave to strong drink find no possible means of escape from his bondage? He will not make his escape, for his heart is infatuated, and he cannot prevail upon himself to forego a momentary indulgence, although it should cost him the torments of a whole life, and of an awful eternity! He feels the inconveniences that result from his indulgence to his appetite. But his appetite has a sovereign dominion over his reason, and forces it to find out some pitiful shifts and pretenses to excuse his continuance in his abominable habits.
Proverbs 23:35."They hit me," you will say, "but I'm not hurt! They beat me, but I don't feel it! When will I wake up so I can find another drink?"
"Drink," says one, "steals away a man from himself, and leaves a brute in his stead." This is saying much — but not all. A drunkard is a self-made brute, and is far more senseless than a natural brute beast. It has been found upon trial, that a brute, after being once deceived by wine, would not venture upon it a second time. But the self-made brute, after he has felt an hundred times the harms of drinking, becomes still fonder of his misery, and makes his understanding to serve only for palliating his folly.
If wicked men can patiently bear such harms for the sake of a beloved lust, which will at length bite like a serpent, and sting like an adder — then why should we grudge at the little hardships that we sometimes undergo for the sake of religion, which will be so richly recompensed. If the servants of Satan are willing to bear innumerable crosses and curses for the love they have to his service — then why should we bear with reluctance, in the service of God, those crosses which are blessings in disguise?
Let those drunkards who have any remainders of understanding, compare the inconveniences that might attend the mortification of their appetite — with the miseries that God has inseparably joined to a continuance in their criminal indulgences. And if they can say that it is not a thousand times better to put a knife to their throat, than to be tyrannized over by such a pernicious lust — let them swallow down gallons every day of their life.
The Lacedemonians used to make their slaves drunk in the presence of their children, that when they saw what monsters men were turned into by sensuality, their children might contract an irreconcilable aversion to this vice.
Solomon gives us such a lively picture of this vice in the paragraph before our eyes, that we need not the sight of a drunken man to excite our detestation of drunkenness. Isaiah gives us a description of it equally shocking. What excuse is left for a drunkard who has ever read the Bible? How will his mouth be stopped at the last day! How will he curse himself through eternity, for making himself first a beast, and then a devil!
A master in the art of moral painting, gives us a just picture of drunkenness in these words, "Drunkenness is a distemper of the head, a subversion of the senses, a tempest of the tongue, a storm in the body — the shipwreck of virtue, the loss of time, a willful madness, a pleasant devil, a sugared poison, a sweet sin. He who commits it, does not only commit sin — but is himself altogether sin."
Let us therefore follow the counsel of the wise man. Be not among wine-bibbers. For he who goes to the tavern for the love of company, will soon go there for the love of strong drink. Let us follow the counsel of another inspired writer, "Be not filled with wine wherein is excess — but be you filled with the Spirit. Let us walk in the spirit, and we shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh."
If, after all, we rather choose to follow the council of the wicked one, there is no help for it — but those who walk according to the prince of the power of the air, and fulfill the lusts of the flesh, must have their portion and dwelling with him whose galling yoke and crushing burden they prefer to the sweet yoke and light burden of the Redeemer. Christ would heal you — but if you will not be healed. Howl, O you drinkers of wine, for the fruit of the vine shall be cut off from your mouths. Joy shall wither away from your eyes, and a cup must be put into your hands, of which the wine is red. It is poured out full of mixture, and the dregs thereof you must wring out, and drink!