A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
"These are more proverbs of Solomon, which the men of Hezekiah, King of Judah, copied out."
A book written by Solomon, and published by the order of Hezekiah, would deserve very high regard. But the proverbs of Solomon need no human recommendation. Their intrinsic worth, and their divine original, place them far above the compositions of the greatest philosophers and kings who were not favored with divine inspiration.
Those servants of Hezekiah who copied out the following part of Solomon's proverbs, and joined them to the rest, are here mentioned to their honor. They were the publishers, and not the composers of the following chapters — but they performed a piece of service to the church for which their names shall live.
Just so, if we cannot do so much for God and his people as some others have done, let us do what we can, and we shall never lose our reward. The contributors of goat's hair to the tabernacle are mentioned to their honor, as well as those who gave silver, and gold, and precious stones. For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man has, and not according to what he has not.
Many of the following precepts respect the duties of kings. Hezekiah walked in the good ways of David and Solomon, and he desired instruction in his duty as a king. Every one of us ought to study the duties that belong to our respective stations, that we may be thoroughly furnished for every good work.
Proverbs 25:2."It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings."
How arrogant are those men who must know the reasons of all God's works. Or, if that exceeds their capacity, to call them into question, or find fault with them — as if they knew better what God ought to do than God Himself! There are unsearchable mysteries in the excellencies and ways of God. His way is in the sea, and His path in the mighty waters, and His footsteps are not known — and it is His glory that they are not known. He would not be God — if we could understand Him to perfection. Nor would His sovereignty absolute — if He were obliged to do nothing but what His creatures would approve.
The lowest of the creatures of God have qualities that we cannot fully understand; how strange then is it, that we will not allow His providence to transcend our comprehension, or that a doubt should be entertained about the mysteries of His grace — because they are incomprehensible to our feeble understandings? It was a good saying of a pious divine, "Lord, preserve us from a comprehensible God!" It is our duty to venerate and wonder — and not to pry with curious eyes into the secrets of God. The history of the fall is an everlasting warning to the sons of Adam to prefer the tree of life to the tree of knowledge.
But the kings of this earth are infinitely inferior to the God of Heaven, and their honors are of a humbler kind. It is their honor to search out a matter. When God is said to search the hearts of men, he is spoken of in the language of men, for he beholds all things past, present, and to come, by one glance of his infinite mind. But kings, who need a great deal of knowledge and wisdom, must obtain it, like other men — by labor and diligence. It is their honor to be diligent in searching out everything that princes ought to know.
They must employ much care, and make use of the wisdom of other men to inform themselves about all the interests of their kingdoms, and their various connections with foreign states. They must endeavor to acquaint themselves with the dispositions of their subjects, with the best means of suppressing vice, and encouraging goodness, and making their people happy, and the proper methods of preserving peace, or of defending their crowns and kingdoms from foreign enemies.
When kings act the part of judges in their own people, as they did in ancient times, their sphere of labor is greatly increased. For every cause they must search out. They must neither refuse to judge in it because it is difficult, nor must they pass sentence without good ground, to save their own labor. But they must search things to the bottom, and judge wisely and righteously, as Solomon did in the case of the two harlots. On these accounts kings cannot conceal their important affairs within their own minds. They must have assistants to bear the burden of government, and make use of the counsels and abilities of other men, to whom they must communicate their secrets.
It is the glory of God to need no counselor. It is the honor of kings to choose right counselors and to follow their beneficial advises. Yet it is not to be expected that their subjects in general should be their privy counselors.
Proverbs 25:3."As the heavens are high and the earth is deep, so the hearts of kings are unsearchable."
No man can measure the height of the heavens, or the depth of the earth — and as little can the hearts of kings be searched out. But is every king a Solomon, with a heart as comprehensive as the sand on the sea shore? Every king needs a very enlarged heart. The throne is not a bed of repose — but the seat of care and labor. What knowledge and prudence is requisite to understand the intricate science of government, and to manage the complicated affairs of kingdoms? And as kings are not born wiser than other men, they certainly ought to improve the many advantages they have, for acquiring that knowledge which is suited to their station, and to pray earnestly for wisdom to him by whom kings reign, and whose servants they ought to be.
Without a large measure of wisdom they are fit only to be the tools of their own ministers, who are often lovers of themselves, and of their own families — more than of their king and country.
But the heart of kings is often unsearchable another sense. Their designs cannot be known by their subjects, or by foreign princes — because they industriously conceal them from the knowledge of all but their privy counselors; and this is often necessary, because a discovery of their counsels would obstruct the execution of them. Besides, the affairs of government are so various and complicated, they have so many designs to carry on, so many harms to obviate, so many opposite tempers of men to consider, and so many unknown difficulties to encounter — that people in a lower station cannot possibly understand the reasons of a great part of their conduct, or the ends which they have in view. It is therefore presumptuous in subjects to pry too narrowly into their behavior, or to be rash with their censures on the public management. Those who take a liberty to despise authorities, and speak evil of dignities, should be sure that they do not speak evil of those things which they do not understand. If the heart of kings, who are infinitely inferior to God's, is so unsearchable — then how foolish is it to think that we can search out God unto perfection!
Proverbs 25:4-5."Remove the dross from the silver — and out comes material for the silversmith. Remove the wicked from the king's presence — and his throne will be established through righteousness."
The interests of prince and people are so evidently the same. A bad king is so evidently his own enemy, that it may well be wondered at that so many kings have proved tyrants, and exposed themselves to the danger and infamy which are the inseparable attendants of oppression and injustice in men of high place. To account for this fact, we must consider that kings cannot govern their people without the assistance of ministers and counselors, and these servants of government have private interests of their own, different from those of the prince and people, which they too often prosecute with a selfish and wicked spirit. To serve their own covetous and ambitious views, they too often corrupt the mind of their prince with the sweet poison of flattery, and lead him, by their misrepresentations, into false notions of the state of things in his kingdom, and of the character and behavior of many of his subjects, and draw him on to compliance with their own interested or malicious views, to the harm of his kingdom, and the ruin of many of his faithful subjects.
If we read the histories of nations with attention, we shall find that unjust wars, oppressive taxes, iniquitous laws, unjust executions, seditious and civil commotions, the overturning of thrones, and the confusions of kingdoms — have originated in the wicked counsels of bad ministers. The histories of Rehoboam, and Joash, and Ahasuerus, are scriptural instances of this truth.
Wicked men are often compared in Scripture to dross; and as the dross must be separated from the silver before a beautiful vase can be framed, so the wicked must be removed from before the throne, that it may be established in righteousness. Kings need our prayers, that they may be furnished with wisdom to choose their counselors and ministers from their best deserving subjects, and to turn all flatterers and self-seekers out of public employment.
If Rehoboam had possessed so much wisdom, the kingdom might have remained entire in his hand — but Solomon his father could not infuse this wisdom into his mind by all his instructions, and God left him to his folly, that his solemn purpose of dividing his people, and diminishing the kingdom of the house of David, might be fulfilled.
Proverbs 25:6-7."Do not exalt yourself in the king's presence, and do not claim a place among great men. It is better for him to say to you, 'Come up here,' than for him to humiliate you before a nobleman, whom you have seen with your eyes."
Impudence is a very disagreeable vice to any man, and it is especially odious to kings, who are jealous of their honor and dignity, and cannot bear those who would intrude into their presence, or push themselves into places of trust or power under them.
It is selfish ambition that prompts people to seek high station and royal favor — but ambition often disappoints its own designs, by an eager pursuit of them, and by those methods which it uses to accomplish them — and where it expected honor, it meets with shame and disgrace.
How mortifying must it be to a man who places his chief happiness in the smiles of a king, and those honors which are derived from earthly majesty — to find himself disgraced in the eyes, and by the order of that prince whom his eyes have beheld, and of whose favor he supposed himself secure!
Kings, if they are wise, will look with a suspicious eye on those who court them for high posts, and will seek out the modest and unassuming to fill every station of importance. If we consult our interest and duty, we shall be contented with the stations in which the all-wise God is pleased to set us, and rather avoid than covet the place of great men. David was anointed with holy oil — and yet he could appeal to God for the falsehood of the charges that were laid against him, of an aspiring mind, and ambitious attempts to obtain a superior station to that which he occupied. It is our business to mind the duties of our present station; and, if providence thinks fit to raise us higher, to follow its calls with humility and gratitude.
If it is a sin for us to put forth ourselves in the presence of a prince — then what lowliness of mind befits us in the presence of him, who regards not the prince more than the peasant! A due impression of divine majesty would humble us in the dust, and fill us with wonder at the least smile of God's countenance.
Our Lord spoke a parable like this proverb of Solomon, and gives a wider extent to the instruction contained in it (the Pharisee and the Tax-collector). It is our duty to entertain such a low opinion of ourselves, as willingly to take a place even below our inferiors, as far as the duties and decencies of our station will permit. None are so likely to meet with disgrace, as those who are too fond of honor, like the Pharisees, whom our Lord severely censures for loving the best seats in the synagogues, and the chief rooms at feasts. None have so much honor from God or man, as the meek and humble, whose temper it is, in honor to prefer their neighbors, and to serve them in love, and condescend to men of low degree.
Proverbs 25:8."Do not bring hastily to court, for what will you do in the end if your neighbor puts you to shame?"
That is a good maxim, "Do nothing until you have well considered the end of it." Many might have prevented shame, and poverty, and destruction, had they duly considered the possible and probable consequences of their words and conduct. Beasts have not the gift of reason and foresight, and therefore mind only present ease and comfort — but rational beings should act with reason, and not incur lasting misery, to gratify a fit of humor, or a transient passion.
If men considered the consequences of every important action before they entered upon it, it would cut off ninety-nine out of a hundred of the law-suits with which the world is pestered. If it is the desire of saving or gaining money that pushes men to go forth to strive with their neighbors at the bar, they should consider that going to law is little better than fishing with a golden hook. A few fish may possibly be caught — but something may be lost of more value than many fish.
If men are instigated by their pride to go to law, (and pride is the real cause of many more pleas than covetousness,) they should well consider whether they are most likely to gain or lose the cause; or, if they gain it, whether the gain will compensate the loss of time, and money, and temper, which are inseparable from law-suits.
That sense of honor which leads so many into contention, would keep them out of it, if it were under the regulation of prudence. That pride which plunges men into the gulf of the law, must end in the most galling remorse, when the cause is lost, and shame, instead of honor, is gained by it.
Contention of every kind ought to be avoided by us. Before we venture to gratify our rage by strife and debate, it is necessary for our peace and comfort, to consider with coolness, whether we have reason on our side. Self-love will tell us that he have met with wrong, although no real injury was done, or intended to us. We cannot expect that the other party, or the judge, (if the matter is referred to a judge,) should have the same bias in our favor, as ourselves.
Proverbs 25:9-10."If you argue your case with a neighbor, do not betray another man's confidence — or he who hears it may shame you and you will never lose your bad reputation."
If we are forced into debate, the more privately it is managed the better; and therefore, if we think ourselves ill used, our best course is to reason the matter with the offender in the spirit of meekness, to convince him of the wrong he has done to us; and to show him a forgiving spirit, which will be the most effectual means of bringing him to repentance, and to put an end to the difference — if possible, without exposing ourselves or our neighbors to the censure of the world, which will conclude that there are faults on both sides.
If we cannot bring our neighbor to a sense of his fault by this method, our great teacher allows and prescribes other methods of convincing him, which we ought to put in practice only when we are sure that we have met with an offence which will justify our conduct.
In other cases, we must keep the matter to ourselves, as the wise man here directs us. When we make complaints of the injustice done us in another manner than our Lord directs us, we will not be believed, and ought not to be believed, until the other party has given in his defense. For he is an unjust judge who passes sentence until both parties are heard. Those who are ever complaining of the injustice of others, may or may not be believed, to the harm of those concerning whom they may complain — but strong suspicions will most certainly be entertained to their own harm, and by their own tongues they bring an indelible reproach upon themselves, as men of a quarrelsome and unforgiving temper.
It is not uncommon for people, when they are at variance with those who had once been their friends, to take every opportunity, and to use every means, however unfair, to blacken their characters. If they have been entrusted by them, in the days of intimacy, with any secret, they will divulge it, to gratify their present irascibility. This is base conduct, and must fix an everlasting stain on those who make use of such abominable methods to support their own credit and interests.
A man who has the least degree of generosity in his nature, would rather suffer blame, or lose a cause, than defend himself by such dirty and dishonorable means. But when a man is reduced to such pitiful shifts, it is a strong presumption that cause is not good. On the whole, if we would preserve ourselves from lasting disgrace, we must either leave off contention before it starts — or, if that cannot be done, manage it with the weapons proper for a man and a Christian.
Proverbs 25:11."A word fitly spoken, is like apples of gold in pictures of silver."
That words may deserve this character, they must be the words of truth. For falsehood and error are on no occasion fit to be spoken. And therefore Job reproves his friends for endeavoring, by false doctrine, to comfort him in the time of his distress.
But words may be true and yet unfitly spoken, for although nothing is to be spoken but truth — yet truth is not always to be spoken. Doeg the Edomite was guilty of murder before he killed the priests of the Lord, by telling the enraged tyrant that David had received bread and a sword from Ahimelech. Jonathan was a man of a very opposite spirit, and revealed it by the seasonable mention he made to his father of David's exploit in slaying Goliath. By putting Saul in mind this noble action, he disarmed for a time his angry resentments.
It is necessary to consider, not only what we speak — but likewise the people to whom we speak, and the time and the place of speaking.
Job complains with justice concerning Bildad, that he spoke things to him, which, though certain and important truths, were not at all fit to be spoken to him in his distressed situation. "To whom have you uttered words?" says he.
Nabal deserved a severe reproof from Abigail — but she did not think it proper to speak to him about his foolish conduct towards David, until he awoke from his drunkenness.
Paul preached in a very different manner at Jerusalem and Athens, when he was before Agrippa, who believed the prophets, and when he was before Felix, who acknowledged no other rule but the light of nature.
"A word fitly spoken, is like apples of gold in pictures of silver." The words themselves are like apples of a golden hue. The manner of speaking them is like picture of silver, whose elegant apertures give an additional grace to the pleasant fruit that is served up in the exquisite workmanship and precious metal.
By words fitly spoken, the fiercest passions have been allayed, and the strongest emnities dissolved. By such words . . .
wicked men have been checked in their career,
fainting souls have been revived,
the perplexed have been relieved from their difficulties, and
Christians have been often invigorated in their work and warfare.
Words fitly spoken unite the pleasant and the profitable, and thereby gain every point that words can gain.
In a time of persecution, some ministers met together to consult what was proper to be done in their situation. All of them wore a dejected countenance, and appeared almost at an equal loss to determine what their duty was in their distressed condition — until one of them observed, that they were all immortal until their work was done. This seasonable hint cleared up every countenance, and they parted with spirits ready to encounter every difficulty.
Proverbs 25:12."Like an earring of gold or an ornament of fine gold, is a wise man's rebuke to an obedient ear."
No words have greater need to be fitly spoken, than words of reproof. Few are capable of reproving wisely, and fewer still are able to receive a reproof in a right manner. Wisdom is necessary in a reprover, to direct him about the time and manner of giving the reproof.
Elihu showed great wisdom and great faithfulness, in performing this difficult office; and when Job had been irritated by the unjust reproofs of his other three friends, he was silent under the smart reproofs of Elihu. For he charged nothing upon Job — but what had some truth in it, and revealed his friendship for Job, and his good opinion of him, with regard to the general course of his behavior, at the time that he rebuked him with great severity, for the unjustifiable expressions which came from when his mind was fretted with the weight of his troubles, and the injurious reflections of the former speakers.
An obedient ear to reproof, is a very rare thing. It is observed by an eminent divine of the last age, that the professors of religion are generally more stubborn against reproof than fornicators, or common swearers, and that they are ready to fly at the faces of men who reprove them, for those very faults which they daily confess to God!
If there was more of the meekness of wisdom revealed in giving reproof, it is probable that greater meekness and submission might be showed in receiving it. Yet a due sense of the evil of our faults, and of the necessity of amendment, would make us to value just rebukes even from the mouth of an enemy.
It is a false sense of honor that makes us to fret at reproof — but if we had the same sense of honor with the wise man, we would not judge ourselves on a supposition that we are unblamable and irreprovable — but reckon it our honor to receive reproof with gratitude, and improve it for the correction of our vices.
Gold earrings were worn in ancient days by people of distinction — but nothing adorns the ear so much, in the judgment of the inspired philosopher, as the obedient hearing of wise reproof. It would be a great honor to us to need no reproof — but this is not to be expected in our degenerate race. We ought, therefore, if we have forfeited our credit by falling into sin, to recover it by welcoming needful rebukes — and if others have been overtaken in a fault, to hold them in the same esteem as formerly, when they have given proper evidence of their repentance, by submitting to reproof. By their sin, they have showed themselves to be men of like frailty with ourselves — by their obedient hearing of reproof, they have revealed a degree of meekness too rarely to be met with among Christians.
Proverbs 25:13."Like the coolness of snow at harvest time, is a trustworthy messenger to those who send him; he refreshes the spirit of his masters."
Nothing is more refreshing in the sultry heat of harvest, in those southern climates where the harvest time is very hot, than the cold drink in the sweltering heat.
Equally refreshing to the soul, is the faithful execution of an important message by those who are entrusted with it. It is required of all servants that they be found faithful, and it is required in a special manner of messengers who are employed in distant and important commissions. Fidelity is the more praiseworthy in them, because they are not under the immediate eye of their masters.
Such a messenger was Eliezer to Abraham and Isaac, for he valued the service and interest of his master more than his necessary food. God blessed him with success, to the great satisfaction of his venerable master, and his son Isaac.
If we are employed in any business for another person, we should make a point of managing it with the same activity as if it were a business of our own. Whether we are successful or not, we shall give satisfaction to our employer, and receive his thanks, if he is not wholly destitute of the feelings of gratitude.
If we are obliged to perform any affairs of consequence by the hands of other men, it will be our wisdom to entrust men of honor and tried fidelity with our affairs. For he who is faithful in one thing, is likely to be faithful in another thing also, though of much greater consequence. Ministers of the gospel are messengers of Christ, for the benefit of the churches. If they are faithful, they are accepted of Christ and useful to men.
Proverbs 25:14."Like clouds and wind without rain, is a man who boasts of gifts he does not give."
Covetousness is so much detested in the world, that the people who are guilty of this vice are ashamed of it, and desire to be esteemed liberal; and therefore, if they have ever been able to master their disposition so far as to perform one generous action in the course of their life, they will boast of it as long as they live, and think themselves ill-used if they are not honored by other men with the character of being generous people. But it is moreover very usual for them, to talk of charities which they never bestowed, and thus they add vice to vice. Their arrogance and deceit, added to their stinginess, makes them doubly detestable. They are like clouds carried about with the wind, which seem to be full of rain — when there is not a drop for the refreshment of the weary earth. Those who boast and are ready in promising — but are never ready to perform, are likewise like clouds without water. When you ask any favor from them, they give you great reason, by their frankness and professions, to believe that they will serve you — but when they are called on for performance, some unlucky accident has come in their way, and they can do nothing for you at present. They will only give you new promises, which you may believe if you can — and they will be sure to perform them as well as the former ones.
It is shameful to behave in this manner, raising expectations — and then disappointing them, and perhaps reducing to great straits and perplexities the very men who were trusting to their friendship.
The apostles Peter and Jude speak of a set of men that may be compared to clouds without rain, because of their religious professions and promises. These are false teachers, who make large boasts of their knowledge in the mystery of the gospel, and promise liberty to men who will receive their doctrines, while they themselves are ignorant of all sound principles, and in bondage to corruption.
No kind of corrupt teachers in our times answer this description so much as those of the Church of Rome, who pretend to make a monopoly of Heaven for those of their own church, and who sell, for small pieces of money, the most wonderful promises — all which will be found by their deluded votaries to vanish into smoke when the performance is expected!
Proverbs 25:15."Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone."
A prince is not easily pacified when he reckons his dignity despised, and is authority trampled under foot. He is little used to contradiction, and therefore has small experience of those situations in which forbearance is to be exercised. Yet strong as the passions of princes generally are, such is the power of patience and meekness, that those virtues allay their stormy passions, and a soft answer softens their hearts, although they were as hard as their bones!
Saul was so fierce in his rage against David, that in spite to him, he slew eighty-five priests of the Lord — and yet David melted his heart unto softness by his kind behavior, and his calm defense of his own innocency. The tyrant felt a temporary change in his temper, and said, "Is this your voice, my son David? Return, for I will no more do you hurt."
If meekness and gentleness have such a powerful influence upon princes; if they can break hearts of stone — then how great must be their influence upon private men, and people of moderate passions? It is certainly a piece of great folly if we will not make use of these harmless weapons to end debates, when they are the most effectual means for that end.
But are there not some men that will not be wrought upon by such means? Yes. But they are savage brutes, and not rational creatures. Their hearts are made of something harder than adamant; and they are objects of our pity, because they are cursed with such unrelenting hearts that they cannot possibly taste any of those social pleasures that sweeten the life of man. Nothing can subdue the fierceness of their spirits, but that grace which turns the flint into a pool of water.
Proverbs 25:16."If you find honey, eat just enough — too much of it, and you will vomit."
The God who has replenished the earth with his goodness, has not required us to lead a beggarly and uncomfortable life. He allows us to eat as much honey, and to enjoy as much of every earthly comfort as is sufficient for us, to strengthen our bodies, and to refresh our spirits. All that he forbids is that excess in eating and drinking, and other physical enjoyments, which would enfeeble our frame, clog our souls, and end in bitterness.
Although we are allowed to eat as much honey as is sufficient, we must not eat what would suffice to satiate a ravenous appetite. Reason, and not appetite, must direct us when we have enough, otherwise there would be no such sin as intemperance in the world.
Nature itself makes us to feel the harmful effects of immoderate indulgence, which overloads the stomach, and turns the sweetest things into bitterness, so that no ease can be obtained until they are vomited up.
When we are at a well spread table, there are more guests present than such as are invited, for the devil comes to graft some temptation upon the dishes which are served up, and very often he finds an opportunity of getting some iniquity to pass down the throat along with the food or drink that is used.
We are to remember at all times our chief end; and this is explained by the Apostle in these words, "Whether, therefore, you eat or drink, or whatever you do — do all to the glory of God." From God we received our food, and it is a very wicked thing in men to use it as a weapon of rebellion against him, by making a god of our bellies. Nothing earthly must be allowed to engross our affections, so as to sensualize our souls, and alienate our minds from spiritual objects. The time of our connection with the world is short, let us therefore rejoice as though we rejoiced not, and use this world as not abusing it, for the fashion of this world is passing away.
Proverbs 25:17."Seldom set foot in your neighbor's house — lest he be weary of you, and hate you."
We must not indulge ourselves without restraint in any of the pleasures of life, however delightful. Honey is not so sweet to the taste — as friendship, among those who have a cordial love to one another, are to the heart. But as we must eat only so much honey as is sufficient for us, so we must use a prudent caution in our familiarities with our most affectionate friends. Although their houses are a home to us — yet we must not be frequenting them at every hour, nor continue in them until our company becomes wearisome. It is highly proper for us to visit our friends, and preserve by that means our mutual friendship, and enjoy the sweets of it — but it is very improper to weary a friend by too frequent visits, which may have the unhappy effect of dissolving the closest intimacy, by creating disgust where love in former times took place.
Our friends have their business to mind, and their time is valuable to them. Friendship is bought too dear, by him who ceases to be master of his own time, and is called off the most necessary employment to receive a visitant.
Besides, we ought to consider the circumstances of our friends, and take care not to load them by our visits with expense which they may be unable or unwilling to bear.
The freedom of friendship does not consist in a liberty to weary one another — but in a liberty to contribute to one another's happiness and comfort.
How different are the pleasures of earthly friendships, from those which are given to Christians in their admission to fellowship with God! The oftener we visit the best of all friends — the more we are welcome; and the more we frequent his house to partake of the provisions of it — he is the better pleased with our conduct.
Proverbs 25:18."Like a club or a sword or a sharp arrow, is the man who gives false testimony against his neighbor."
This proverb is sufficient to strike an alarm into all evil speakers who spread scandal against their neighbors, merely because they have nothing else to do, or because they have some little quarrel with them. Consider, you who deal in such evil conversation, whether you could think of treating the objects of your defamatory discourse as Jael did Sisera, or as Joab treated Abner. Would you shrink with horror at the thought of beating out your neighbor's brains with a hammer, or of piercing him with a sword, or a sharp arrow? Why then do you indulge yourselves in a piece of the like barbarity, destroying, as far as you can, that reputation which is dear to men as their life, and wounding all their best interests by mangling their character?
It is a happy thing to be free from this terrible miss chief of a virulent tongue. We should therefore live unblamably, that we may take away all just occasion from those who would reproach us. And yet the purest innocence will not be a sure protection to us from the tongue that speaks evil. We must commit the care of our good name, as well as all our other interests, to the Lord — and he will preserve us from the scourge of the tongue, or from all the evil effects of it.
Proverbs 25:19."Like a broken tooth or a foot out of joint, is reliance on the unfaithful in times of trouble."
A broken tooth, and a foot out of joint, are not only useless for their respective offices — but the causes of great pain and uneasiness. In like manner, a friend that does not show kindness in the day of distress, is not only an useless friend — but likewise causes many painful feelings in those who trusted to his kindness.
The supposed insincerity of Job's friends produced great bitterness of spirit in that venerable sufferer, and added greatly to that load of distress which lay upon his body and spirit; and he compares them to the brooks of Tema, which abounded with snow in the winter — but had no water in them for the thirsty traveler in the sultry heat of summer.
Let us be faithful in our friendships, as well as in the duties of every other relation. Insincerity and inconstancy in friendship, is immoral and impious. As the before mentioned sufferer observes, "To him who is afflicted, pity should be showed by his friend." In the times of our distress, we have reason to expect sympathy from our friends — but we must not be too optimistic in our hopes; they may prove unable to help us, or unfaithful, or some temporary alienation may estrange them from us. Or God for our chastisement or trial, may bereave us of the comforts of their friendship, or trouble may fret our spirits, and make us to think that they are become cold to us, when they show us all that friendship which ought to be expected from frail creatures like ourselves.
When we lament the treachery or insincerity of our friends, we should remember that David, and Christ himself, felt all the bitterness of this calamity. One of our Lord's disciples betrayed him, and his most affectionate, and highly favored friends forsook him. In many cases of this kind we have greater reason to complain of ourselves, than of our false friends. For had we chosen our friends more wisely, and fixed our regard to then upon the ground of piety — we would not have found so much reason to complain of violated professions.
Proverbs 25:20."Like one who takes away a garment on a cold day, or like vinegar poured on nitre — is one who sings songs to a heavy heart."
He who takes away a garment in cold weather, leaves the person whom he robs of it to freeze, and perhaps to perish. Vinegar poured upon nitre deprives it of all its virtue and usefulness. Just so, he who tries to charm away deep-rooted sorrows by the help of music, only sinks the person whom he designs to cheer, into a deeper melancholy.
It is to be confessed that sorrows of a slight kind may be diverted and soothed by the charms of music, as the spirit of Elisha was composed for prophesying by a minstrel. But when the heart is laden with grief, it is exasperated and not revived by unseasonable and ill-directed endeavors to dispel the sorrow which feeds upon it. Mirth and gaiety, and the sprightly airs of vocal and instrumental music, deaden the spirit, as vinegar does nitre, and are just as ineffectual to restore gladness, as the taking away of clothes in cold weather is to restore heat.
Is any man afflicted? Let him pray. Does any man wish to administer comfort to the afflicted soul? Let him weep, and not laugh, with those who weep. Is the heart oppressed with anguish, or the conscience laden with guilt? Let the Scripture, and not instruments of music, be applied for relief.
The music of David's harp may indeed be still used for driving away the evil spirit. His psalms are full of strong consolations, and we shall never sink into despondency while we muse on the precious and reviving truths which he presents to our consideration, and endeavor to walk in the steps of his faith.
It is doubtless our duty to administer comfort to the mourners — but we must take heed to use those means which are proper to the end, that we may not deserve that reproof which Job, with great justice, gave his friends, "Miserable comforters are you all!"
Proverbs 25:21."If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink."
This precept is grievous to flesh and blood. We are disposed by our pride and rage to inflict a severe revenge, not only on our enemies — but even on our offending friends. To do unto them as they have done unto us, is not reckoned sufficient — but sevenfold vengeance must be rendered into their bosom. A perceived insult has been often returned by an angry barrage.
But we who are Christians have not so learned Christ. Enmity against God is infinitely worse than enmity against us — and yet God spares his enemies, and does them good, giving them sunshine and rain and fruitful seasons. We ourselves were once alienated from God, and enemies in our mind by wicked works. If we had been recompensed according to our works, we would now have been in the lake of fire and brimstone! But God who is rich in mercy, sent his Son to accomplish our redemption from ruin. By Christ, we who were guilty of horrid enmity against God, have received his sin-atoning sacrifice. We are reconciled to God, and blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ. Shall we now think that God lays an unreasonable command upon us, when he requires us to be charitable and kind to our enemies, and not to return railing for railing — but courtesies for injuries?
It is easy for us to say that we forgive our enemies — but do we make it evident in our works that we forgive them in love? We may bring our minds without very great difficulty to overlook their injuries, and to bury them in silence — but a sullen disdain of injuries is no Christian grace. Our duty is to wish real happiness to our enemies in this world and the next, and to show the truth of our love in praying for them, and in doing them good as opportunity presents, and their needs require.
It was so habitual to Bishop Cranmer to show kindness to those who had wronged him, that it became a proverb: "If any man would have a good turn from the bishop, let him do him an injury." But will not behavior of this kind lay a man open to injuries? No.
Proverbs 25:22."In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you."
It is said to be a custom to this day among the Arabians, to cure some diseases, by the application of burning coals to the head. The disease of rancor and spite will certainly be healed, for the most part, by those coals of love that Solomon here directs us to heap upon the heads of our enemies. As the hard metals are softened and melted by the fire — so the hard and stubborn spirit is softened and melted by the solid expressions of charity and meekness. He is a wild beast of the most untameable kind, who feels no shame for his own conduct, nor any warm emotions of gratitude to him whom he has offended — when he sees him returning good for evil.
No enmity is stronger than the enmity of man's heart to God — and God makes use of his own kindness to subdue it! We are to be followers of God as dear children, and try the like experiment upon our own enemies, as far as the infinite difference of people and circumstances will admit the resemblance. If our enemies are warmed into friends, have we not gained a nobler victory, by gaining our brother, than if we had humbled them to the dust?
The pleasantest and noblest of victories is to overcome evil with good. But perhaps we shall be losers by kindness to our enemies? Who knows but their hearts may be untamably savage, and then our gifts are thrown away upon them? Let them be what they will — our gifts are not thrown away. If they persist to return evil for good, the Lord shall graciously reward you. The Lord loves mercy and goodness, and there are no instances of it that he loves better, and rewards more bountifully, than those by which we most resemble himself, and cross our selfish and haughty spirits.
David preserved the life of a railing Shimei from the rage of Abishai, as he had formerly done the life of a persecuting tyrant. The godly man hoped that God would return him good for the evil which his enemies did to him, when he showed kindness to them, and his hopes were not disappointed.
Proverbs 25:23."As a north wind brings rain, so a gossiping tongue brings angry looks."
It is a great encouragement to tale-bearers, to observe that their wicked stories are heard with attention. If a man looks upon them with a cheerful countenance, and listens to their tales, and makes them welcome to his table — they naturally conclude that the person to whom they speak has as bad a heart as themselves, and they will not fail to bring him new stories of the like kind, as soon as they have got an opportunity to learn or to fabricate them.
But if the receiver of stolen goods is a sharer with the thief in his guilt, and if any man who encourages another in evil partakes in his sin — then he who hears the backbiter with delight is little better than himself, and would probably follow the same trade if he had the same talents for it.
We cannot, therefore, clear ourselves from the sin of backbiting, unless we refuse to receive a bad report of our neighbor, and testify our displeasure, by all proper methods, at the base conduct of the assassins that would murder in the dark, the good-name of their fellow-creatures.
When the murderers of Isbosheth brought their master's head to David, judging from their own disposition that it would be an acceptable present to him — he treated them in such a manner that no man ever sent another present of the like kind to him. And if we gave proper evidence to those who expect to entertain us by ill-natured stories, that we have no relish for them — then they would not trouble us a second time.
Anger is a bad passion, as it is commonly exerted — but we may be angry and not sin, and in this case, we sin if we do not put on an angry countenance.
But as the north wind not only drives away rain in some places — but likewise brings it in other places, or at other times in the same place — so an angry countenance brings a backbiting tongue.
He who meets with insolent and surly treatment, may conceal his sense of the injury from the person who slanders him in this manner, because he thinks it more prudent to stifle his displeasure — but he will be tempted to take revenge by speaking evil of him in his absence, for nothing is commonly more irritating, or sticks more deeply in the heart, than angry and imperious treatment, and no injury is harder to be borne with patience.
If other men speak evil of us, we should examine our own conduct impartially, that we may know whether we have not given them some provocation. If we have, we should look upon ourselves to be the more criminal people; as Judah acknowledged that Tamar was more righteous than himself, because his own behavior had tempted her to the sin, for which he thought she deserved to be burnt.
Other people have at least as good a right to talk against our ill conduct, as we have to give them occasion for it.
Let us neither speak evil of men,
nor countenance evil speakers,
nor give any man a just occasion to speak evil of us,
nor burst into rage when they have treated us in this manner.
Let us in all things follow meekness, righteousness, charity, and the example of Christ.
Proverbs 25:24."Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife."
Solomon put this proverb into his own edition of the proverbs — but the men of Hezekiah finding it likewise in those papers from which they extracted this appendix, inserted it here likewise. They justly considered it as a useful admonition to women, and to men that have wives to choose — and wished it not to be forgotten.
Proverbs 25:25."Like cold water to a weary soul, is good news from a distant land."
Nothing is more the object of desire in a hot country, than cold water when men are thirsty; and nothing is more agreeable than to hear glad tidings from a distant country. Good news is always agreeable — but good news from a far country is most agreeable, because they have been the subject of tedious and anxious thoughts, and because they generally respect some object of importance.
Solomon had experience of this fact, when he sent his ships on voyages that lasted three years, and when he had affairs of importance to be transacted in other kingdoms. We who move in the lower sphere of life, have little concern with foreign countries — but if we have the generous spirit of Christians, it must give us great pleasure to hear of anything that tends to the happiness of other nations, or the advancement of the Redeemer's kingdom among men. We daily pray that the kingdom of Christ may come, and it would certainly give us much joy to hear of any event whereby our prayers are fulfilled.
Let us in the mean time rejoice at the good tidings brought to us from far countries by the ministers of God, who tell us of things that they have heard from the uttermost parts of the earth, even glory to the righteous.
Heaven is the better country from whence we have heard tidings that will forever gladden our hearts, and fill our mouths with praise. Messengers from that blessed region have been sent to our earth with glad tidings of great joy to all the people of God, and to every Gentile nation, that to us is born a Savior, and that he is now gone to his native Heaven; and will appear again on earth to our complete salvation!
Proverbs 25:26."Like a muddied spring or a polluted well is a righteous man who gives way to the wicked."
A righteous man falls down before the wicked when he is oppressed and cannot obtain justice — but is obliged to submit to injury and violence. When such injustice prevails in a country, everything is in a state of disorder. The fountain of justice is poisoned. The public administration, instead of being public blessing, is a general curse. Those who should be the fathers and guardians of the poor, are worse than street robbers, for they not only pillage them of their property — but grind their faces, and pull of their skins and pick their bones.
He who poisons a public well or fountain, deserves a thousand deaths. Just so, those who corrupt the fountains of justice must be equally criminal in the sight of God. He is an enemy not to men only — but to God, by giving encouragement to wickedness, and suppressing goodness, and perverting an ordinance of God into an engine for serving the designs of Satan! Those righteous men who fall before the wicked, must take care that they fall not into sin, for they are strongly tempted to it by their unjust circumstances.
When wicked men drive the righteous into sin, the fountains become corrupt, in another and worse sense than that now mentioned. For those who are like springs of water for the refreshment of their neighbors becoming polluted and loathsome, are a means of perverting and poisoning those who are too much disposed to judge of religion and duty from the behavior of religious people. When the righteous persist under temptation in duty, they have rich sources of comfort in the promises of God, and the doctrine of a future judgment.
Proverbs 25:27."It is not good to eat too much honey, nor is it honorable to seek one's own honor."
Men may eat some honey, so likewise men are warranted to pay due regard to their own honor. If there is anything worthy of praise, Paul recommends it to us to think on it; and our Lord enjoins us to make our light to shine before men, that they may glorify our Father who is in Heaven.
But it is a loathsome thing to the stomach to eat too much honey — and it is a loathsome thing for a man to be anxious about his honor, and to fish for praise, as too many do, who use a variety of methods to obtain the applause of men; sometimes putting on all the external appearances of humility with that view, and saying things of themselves which would inspire them with fury if they were said by another person, or believed by that very person to whom they are spoken.
We must value our own reputation because it enables us to be useful to men, and to glorify God. But when we indulge an unbridled desire after honor from men — we forget our chief end, we disqualify ourselves for the most important duties, and we expose ourselves to the worst temptations. If our fortune were equal to that of Caesar, our ambition might draw us to equal in crimes of that cut-throat of mankind.
The humble are sensible that they deserve shame rather than honor, and would be content that all their honor were taken from them, that it might be ascribed unto God to whom it truly belongs.
The vain and proud would rob God Almighty of his crown — that they might set it upon their own heads. But God will not allow them to escape without a punishment suited to their crime.
When Herod was affecting the honors of a God — he perished by a viler death than if he had died in a ditch!
Proverbs 25:28."He who has no rule over his own spirit — is like a city that is broken down, and without walls."
It is necessary for our happiness and peace, that we should have the government of our own spirits. He who possesses not himself, possesses nothing — although he should possess all other things. As a city that is broken down, and without walls, is exposed to the invasion of every enemy — so the man who has not a mastery over his own desires and affections, is a ready prey to every devil. His imagination is tainted, his corrupt desires are inflamed, and his active powers hurried into the most criminal excesses by every slight temptation.
A city in flames, or a ship seized by a drunken and mutinous crew, are not so terrible spectacles — as a soul where the judgment and reason are laid desolate by intemperate passions and appetites. What harms have been wrought, and what oceans of blood have been poured out by the passion of anger alone, when it was unrestrained by the principle of conscience?
When Simeon and Levi heard the dying blessings of their father upon the rest of his sons, and the severe censures that he passed upon themselves — what remorse must have torn their hearts at the thought of that fatal day when in their cruel fury they slew so many men, and destroyed the city of Shechem.
Let us hold in with a strong and steady hand our disorderly passions, otherwise they will make us wild beasts, of a more furious kind than wolves and leopards; because our rational powers will be forced into their service, and tend to no other purpose — but to make us more evil and destructive enemies of mankind. No leopards or lions ever destroyed men or beasts in such multitudes, as those tyrants have done, who were slaves to their own love of glory and vindictive spirits.
It is a happy thing when the body is subject to the mind, and the mind deeply penetrated with a habitual sense of the authority of God. That we may be placed in this delightful state, we must give up ourselves to the Lord, and pray for the accomplishment of these promises, "I will put my Spirit within you, and I will cause you to walk in my statutes." "The wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid."