A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
"Like snow in summer or rain in harvest — so honor is not fitting for a fool."
Snow in summer and rain in harvest are unseasonable, disagreeable, and sometimes very hurtful. In like manner, honors bestowed on foolish and wicked people sit very ungracefully on them, and enable them often to prove hurtful to their inferiors.
When Haman was raised to high station, he soon became hurtful to all men by his pride; and if providence had not baffled his designs, he would have ruined a whole nation of innocent people, and banished true religion out of the world.
This proverb contains a very important instruction to those who have the disposal of offices and honors in their hand. By advancing unworthy people to stations of influence in church or state, they may render themselves deeply accountable for the follies and crimes of other men. One of the Caliphs of Babylon, was so sensible of this, that he voluntarily resigned his authority, and refused to choose his successor, that he might not be accountable for his conduct.
Most men are fond of honor and preferment, as if happiness were inseparably connected with it — but few are sensible how difficult it is to wear honors with a befitting dignity, and how much better the providence of God has chosen their situation than they could have chosen it for themselves. Great numbers of those princes who make a despicable or hateful figure in history, might have befit a private station very well, and left the world lamented by all their acquaintances.
It belongs to God to determine our station in life, and to us to believe that he has determined it in his wisdom and goodness, and to fulfill the duties of it without aspiring to those honors that God has not been pleased to bestow upon us. Those that are in stations of honor ought not to trust for honor to their stations — but to seek it by wisdom, without which, their exalted situation will only render their disgrace more visible. The infamous names of Pilate and Tiberius, and Caiaphas, might have been buried with those of the meanest instruments of their iniquities, if they had not, to their great unhappiness, filled high stations while they lived.
Proverbs 26:2."Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow — an undeserved curse does not come to rest."
As the bird by wandering, as the swallow by flying, so the curse causeless shall not come.
When you see a bird wandering about, or a swallow flying hither and thither, you are not afraid of any hurt from them. They will not touch you — but fly back to their nests.
You have no more reason to be afraid of hurt from unmerited curses, whoever the people are that pronounce them. They will fly back to the place from which they came, and light with dreadful vengeance on the heads of those who profaned their Maker's name, and gave scope to their own malice in uttering them. For as they delight in cursing — they shall have cursing for their portion; and unless the pardoning mercy of God prevents, their curses will enter into their bones.
Groundless fears are real torments, for no passion is more distressing than fear. Whether it has a just cause or not, its present effect is the same, and therefore God in mercy has given us antidotes against every needless and unprofitable kind of fear.
The curses which wicked men sometimes pour forth from their vindictive spirits, have such a dreadful sound, that they strike an impression of horror into the tender spirits of the innocent and conscientious, although they know they have not deserved them. But if our consciences do not condemn us, we need not be afraid of the blasphemous imprecations of the wicked, although they were expressed in the coarsest language of Hell. The curses of a conclave of cardinals, or the excommunications of an assembly of divines — could do no harm to one whom his own heart does not reproach. They may open their mouths wide, and speak great swelling words of terror — but their arm is short, and God has not entrusted them with his thunderbolts. Their curses, instead of being harmful, will be very useful to us, if we are wise enough to imitate the conduct of David, whose meekness was approved, his prayers kindled into a flame of desires, and his hopes invigorated by them. But we have just reason to fear the undeserved curse.
Although people when they meet with ill usage, are not warranted to wish a curse upon those who wrong them — yet the curses that are extorted by anguish from their hearts, will not fall to the ground.
The most just curse in the world is the curse of God, which lies upon all the children of disobedience. We cannot escape the execution of it — but through Christ, who was made a curse in our stead.
Proverbs 26:3."A whip for the horse, a bridle for the donkey, and a rod for the backs of fools!"
A fool is more brutish than the horse or the donkey. For the horse, as well as the ox knows his owner, and the donkey his master's crib — but foolish sinners are insensible of the obligations they are under, both to God and man. The horse needs the lash to chastise it when it is unruly, and to urge its speed when it is dull. The donkey, when it was used for riding, needed the bridle to govern its course — or the spur to push it on its way. The rod is equally needful for the fool's back.
Are you the unhappy fathers of foolish children? You must make use of the rod and reproof to give them wisdom. Are you authorized to bear rule in the church? The rod of church discipline must be applied to offenders, that they may be reclaimed, and others warned. Are you magistrates? The rod which God has put into your hands may be a means of preserving young malefactors from the gibbet at a more advanced period of life.
Are you wise? Beware of turning aside unto folly, that you may never need the rod. Are you fools? Learn wisdom, or do not blame those whom duty and charity will oblige to use the rod for your correction. Is it not better that you should be treated by your superiors with love, and in the spirit of meekness, than to be beaten with the rod?
Are you obliged, for your faults, to undergo the pains of church censure, or criminal law? Kiss the rod, and sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto you. Have you formerly endured the rod? Let the impressions and effects of it abide with you for life, lest the sword of divine vengeance be unsheathed against you, because you refused to hear the voice of the rod and him who has appointed it.
Proverbs 26:4."Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will be like him yourself."
There are many cases in which a fool is to be heard, and not answered at all. When a scorner reviles us, it is needless to reprove him for it. For he is a dog, and the best way you can deal with him, is to let him bark until he ceases of his own accord — if you cast a stone at him, he will only follow you the longer and bark the more furiously.
When Rabshakeh railed at Hezekiah, and blasphemed the God of Israel, the servants of Hezekiah were expressly forbidden by their master to answer him a word, for he knew that an answer would only produce some blasphemous reply. Our Lord himself often kept silence when impertinent questions were asked of him. He was well acquainted with all the secrets of wisdom, and, if he had spoken, his words would have been the fittest that could be spoken in these cases — but silence was, in his infallible judgment, fitter than any answer that his perfect wisdom could make.
But must this be a rule for us in every case? Should not the multitude of words be answered; and when the fool mocks, shall no man make him ashamed? In many cases it is very fit that a fool's words should be answered — only you must take care in answering not to imitate him. If he speaks unreasonable, profane, peevish, or passionate words — then you must not answer him in his own style. You are angry at him for his folly, and reprove him for the extravagance of his behavior — and therefore you cannot but confess that yourselves are worthy of a very sharp reproof, if you behave like him at the very time that you are testifying your displeasure at his conduct. You cannot allege that his passionate manner of speaking and acting will justify you in behaving passionately. For if one fire kindled from Hell burns so fiercely, and threatens to devour everything that comes in its way, why should another fire be lighted from it to do still greater harm?
It does not befit the followers of Jesus to return railing for railing, or one angry word for another — but in whatever manner others talk, our tongues ought still to be governed by the law of meekness and charity.
There are no cases in which this rule is more frequently transgressed than in religious disputes. Passion and railing, when they are employed in the support of truth, appear to many to be just expressions of Christian zeal; and that noble and necessary grace of humility has been brought into suspicion, and regarded with a very jealous eye, by reason of those who have substituted passion in its place, and called it by a name to which it is as well entitled as the prince of darkness is to be called an angel of light.
The Scripture enjoins Christians to instruct opposers in meekness. It declares expressly that the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God; and it informs us that Michael, that great prince among the heavenly hosts, dared not bring a railing accusation against Satan.
Proverbs 26:5."Answer a fool according to his folly, or he will be wise in his own eyes."
When we answer a fool, we must give him the answer which his folly deserves and requires. If you do not answer him at all, other men may believe that he is in the right, and where there is any danger of that, the edification of your neighbors calls upon you to show the folly of what he has said. Besides, if he is not answered, he will conclude that you cannot answer him, and his vanity and self-conceit will be increased by your silence.
The fool when he is not answered, will conclude that his cause is good. For although prudence binds up your tongue from speaking in the ears of a fool — yet there is no man who reckons himself less a fool than he, when he is not baffled in argument. It will be doing a good piece of service to the world, and to the fool himself, if you can answer him according to his folly, so as to humble his vanity, and make him ashamed of himself.
Our Lord triumphed by his wisdom over his insolent enemies. When they blamed him for curing distressed people on the Sabbath day, he exposed their self-inconsistency and inhumanity, to the conviction of the people, and their own shame. When Pilate insolently pretended to a sovereign power of life and death, and thereby entrenched on the prerogatives of the God of Heaven, our Lord (who did not open his mouth, because he knew it was to no purpose, to vindicate his own injured character,) gave his assuming judge an answer which reminded him who he was but a man.
Let us seek wisdom from God, that we may know when we should speak, and when we should be silent; and that we may be preserved from speaking such things as are improper for the mouths of saints, and taught to give an answer with meekness and prudence to the words of wise men or fools, as occasion requires.
Proverbs 26:6."Like cutting off one's feet or drinking damage, is the sending of a message by the hand of a fool."
It would be very ridiculous in a man when he sends a servant on an errand, to cut off his feet, and disable him from doing that business in which he was employing him. It is equally foolish to employ an unwise or unfaithful man in a business of importance. For he is like a man whose feet are cut off, for any good he can be expected to do, and his employer not only meets with damage in his affairs — but he drinks damage in great abundance, losing his reputation for sense, and suffering great loss in his important interests.
This proverb, like many others of those who were copied out by Hezekiah's men, is instructive chiefly to princes and other great men. But it is not without its use to us also in the management of our less important concerns, which we ought for our credit and comfort to manage with prudence.
One great branch of prudence, consists in employing those to assist us in any affair, who will discharge that trust like wise and honest men. Have we a vote in the election of the legislative body? We are accountable for the use we make of it.
If we choose for our representative, one who is likely to betray the interests of the nation, for serving his private interest, or the purposes of a faction — then we concur, in his person, in all the public harm that he does.
Do we choose a minister to take the oversight of our souls? We must beware of fixing our choice upon an ignorant, or erroneous, or graceless man, otherwise we cut out the tongue, (to use Solomon's style,) and bring great damage, for anything we know, not only upon our own souls — but upon the souls of thousands of our fellow men.
Proverbs 26:7."Like a lame man's legs that hang limp, is a proverb in the mouth of a fool."
The legs of the lame are not equal; so is a proverb in the mouth of fools.
A lame man is very awkward in his manner of walking. But a fool appears with a still worse grace, when he presumes to talk of subjects beyond his reach, or to speak in praise of those virtues to which he is a total stranger in his practice. A clown would be laughed at, if he were to talk about wisdom and knowledge. It would fill a person with indignation, to hear a thief speak in praise of justice, a drunkard commend temperance, or a hypocrite talk in praise of holiness. Our tongues and our lives must be of a piece, otherwise all our professions will serve no other purpose but to condemn ourselves, and to procure us a portion in the eternal world with hypocrites. A grave and wise sentence befits the mouth of a wise and holy man. It is very unfitting in a Christian to be silent on occasions when he is called to glorify God or edify men. It is still more unfitting in a saint, to allow himself on any occasion in foolish and vain talking. When open sinners profane the Scripture and religion, by their unhallowed mouths, they are like an donkey dressing himself in a lion's skin.
There must be a conformity between every part of our character and conduct, if we wish to be upright in the way of the Lord, and like Caleb and Joshua to follow the Lord fully. No man in this world is perfect in wisdom and goodness — but a uniformity of conduct in the general course of life is attainable. Although we cannot all run in the way of God's commandments, or mount up with wings as eagles — yet we may walk on with an even course in the way of holiness, showing an equal respect to those precepts which regard our speech, and to those which regulate our heart and conduct.
God denounces vengeance upon those hypocrites that take his covenant into their mouths, while they join with the wicked in their sinful courses — but to him who orders his conduct aright, he promises to show the salvation of God.
Proverbs 26:8."Like tying a stone in a sling is the giving of honor to a fool."
Honor is not fitting for a fool, and he who gives him honor is himself a fool, for he acts like one who means to sling a stone at some mark — and yet binds it up in the sling that it cannot get away from it. He disappoints his own intentions, by taking the most absurd means in the world to accomplish them. When we give our applause to foolish people, expecting their favor, or hoping that our praise will induce them to respect their own honor in their manner of conduct — we only make them more arrogant and domineering, and swell that pride in their hearts which makes them insufferable to all about them.
If those who have the disposal of high offices, bestow them upon undeserving men, they are only preparing disgrace and repentance for themselves — as king Ahasuerus found to his great vexation, when he was deceived so far by that wicked minister whom he had foolishly advanced, that he ignorantly signed a death-warrant for his much beloved queen and her whole nation.
Men cannot search the hearts of their fellow creatures, and if they are the means of advancing some to public offices who disappoint the hopes that were entertained of them, they cannot help it. But we can form some probable opinions of the dispositions of men from their behavior, and ought to do so, before we take any share in placing them in those stations where they are likely to do much good or much hurt.
Besides, we should pray to the Searcher of hearts to direct our judgments on all such occasions, as we find the disciples did in the choice of an apostle. Without consideration and prayer, we run a great risk of sharing in other men's sins, when we contribute to the elevation of men to places, where, if they are fools, they will find great scope for their folly.
But does not God himself often give honor to fools? Yes. But who are you, O man, who questions God? God is the absolute sovereign of the world, and is not bound to give an account of any of his matters. He is the judge of nations, who has a right to punish men by subjecting them to the power of fools. He is the infinitely wise God, who brings good out of evil.
We must be holy, as God is holy — but we must not pretend to claim the prerogatives of sovereignty, because God alone is the sovereign of the world. Our business is to acquiesce in the disposals of God, to adore where we cannot comprehend him, and to regulate our conduct not by his secret will — but his revealed will. We are thereby taught that wicked men ought to be despised in our eyes, and that we must honor those who fear the Lord.
Proverbs 26:9."Like a thornbush in a drunkard's hand, is a proverb in the mouth of a fool."
Wise and holy sayings, especially on deep and mysterious subjects, are not only improper for the mouth of fools — but often hurtful to themselves and others. They are like thorns, or sharp-pointed weapons in the hands of drunkards — which wound the hands that hold them, and may be used to wound others who happen to be in company with them.
Proverbs have sometimes been hurtful even in the mouths of wise men, through the imperfection of their wisdom. Job's friends dealt much in proverbs, which they had learned by tradition from their wise ancestors — but they misapplied them to the case of Job. Although they meant to plead the cause of God — yet they displeased him so much by their uncharitable speeches against Job, which they drew by unjust inference, from undoubted truths, that he told them they had not spoken the thing that was right concerning him, as his servant Job had done. If Job had not been a strong believer, their management of truth must have sunk him into despondency.
If wise and holy men have done hurt to themselves and others, by meddling with proverbs beyond their capacity, or by unjust comments upon them — then what harm may a fool do by dealing in them! When he speaks of the wonderful mercy of God, he will praise it at the expense of divine justice, and maim the attributes of God by dashing them one against another. When he speaks of the necessity and beauty of holiness, he will bestow on it a part of that glory which is due to Christ. When be speaks of the efficacy of the atonement, he will insinuate encouragements to sin into the minds of his hearers. Every doctrine will be perverted by his management.
Or, if he speaks correctly and properly on any religious subject — yet the inconsistency of his life with his words, will bring suspicions to the harm of truth into the minds of those who converse with him. And if he shows the true way to heaven — and yet takes the road to Hell — those who pay any regard to him, will be disposed to think that the way in which he chooses to walk is preferable in his eyes, to that of which he only talks.
From this proverb we learn, that all ministers of the gospel must be men of knowledge, soundness in the faith, and a pious conduct. Without the former qualities, they cannot handle the Word of God in an edifying manner, and may harm precious souls. Without pious living, their conduct will do more evil than their sermons can do good. Christians ought to have their speech seasoned with salt. Knowledge of sound doctrine is necessary to furnish their lips with this kind of discourse. And their practice must correspond with their words, otherwise they make themselves, and, perhaps, their profession likewise, to be abhorred.
Proverbs 26:10."The great God who formed everything, gives the fool his hire and the transgressor his wages."
Sinners shall in due time be punished, whether their wicked courses are the effect of folly and inconsideration, or of stubborn and hardened dispositions. Fools will not be excused, because they did not know, or did not think upon the evil of their courses. For men are accountable not only for the knowledge they possessed — but likewise for that which they might have gotten, if they had not wickedly neglected to make use of the means of grace, and to improve those talents which were given them. Our Lord clearly shows this in the parable concerning the talents, where he tells us, that the man who had received but one talent was punished, not for spending it in riot and dissipation — but for hiding it in a napkin. Those that have been eminent transgressors, that have rebelled against the light, and stifled the loud clamors of their consciences, and led others in the way of sin — shall be repaid in proportion to the greatness and aggravations of their offences. Every sinner that continues impenitent, shall receive from God that recompense of his error which is fit; and divine omniscience and justice shall shine in proportioning the severity of punishment to the nature and number of the offences that have procured it.
The judge of all the earth is the great God, who is clothed with awesome majesty. His greatness shows the greatness of the evil of sin, for the greater that any superior is — the more aggravated is any instance of disrespect showed to him.
God is infinitely great, and therefore we are under infinite obligation to obey him; and if we transgress his laws, that grandeur which was insulted by our disobedience, must be vindicated and glorified by inflicting a vengeance worthy of itself.
It is a terrible thing to provoke the wrath of a prince — but who knows the power of God's anger? According to his fear — so is his wrath. God is the Creator of all things, and he made all things for himself — and will not allow his creatures to frustrate his purpose of glory to his own name. Rational creatures may abuse the gifts of reason to the dishonor of the Almighty — but if he is not glorified in the obedience of his laws — then he will be glorified in the execution of the penalties denounced in them against transgressors, who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.
Revenging justice belongs to the great Creator. He punished sin even in his own beloved Son, who never knew sin. For the Lord made the iniquities of all his people to meet in Christ — and he was oppressed and afflicted, and bruised, and put to unspeakable grief. He pardons no sin to any man, that was not first punished in Christ. If the great God dealt in this solemn manner with his own Son, and with his chosen people in the person of their surety — then how can impenitent and hardened sinners escape the damnation of Hell? They sometimes indulge hopes that the God who made them will not finally destroy them — but their obligations to God as their Creator and Preserver, make their sins inexcusable — and therefore he who made them will not have mercy upon them.
It is true that he gives them space for repentance at present, and loudly calls them to turn and live, and swears by his own life that he has no pleasure that they should die. But the words of this gracious oath are a plain evidence that the glorious mercy of the Lord will not exempt the obstinate sinner from punishment, who goes on still in his trespasses. To those who are found unbelieving and impenitent, the precious displays of grace will at last be like rivers of oil to enrage those flames in which they are tormented!
This text has a very different translation in the margin, which appears agreeable enough to the original: "A great man grieves all, when he hires the fool, he hires also transgressors." This makes it a political instruction, teaching us what harm a prince does to the country by employing foolish and wicked ministers. This was exemplified in the administration of Saul, who did great hurt to the nation, and grieved the hearts of all lovers of their country, by employing such ruffians in his service as Doeg the Edomite.
Just so, we are accountable not only for the harms which we do with our own hands, or by the orders which we give — but likewise for those which we do, by enabling people of corrupt dispositions to gratify them, to the hurt of other men. If one puts a sword into the hand of a drunkard, or madman, he deserves to be punished for all the harm that follows upon it.
Proverbs 26:11."As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly."
Sin is called by the worst names in Scripture, and the vileness of it is represented by comparisons taken from the most loathsome objects. Sin is . . .
the vomit of a dog,
the poison of asps,
But no words are sufficient to describe, and no images are sufficient to represent, the malignity of sin. The worst thing that can be said of any sin is, that it is exceedingly sinful.
Sinners are fools and dogs. All sinners are unclean beasts; and some have so much of the temper of a surly dog, that Christ forbids us to admonish them, lest they should turn and rend us.
When the wicked hear of the vengeance of the great Creator against themselves, they are sometimes startled, and in some degree convinced of the necessity of reformation. Therefore they will stop short in their wicked course, and forbear those gross sins which press hard upon their consciences, and, like Herod, do many things which they are commanded to do, that they may obtain some ease to their minds, and reputation among saints. But unless their nature is renewed by the grace of the Spirit, which turns dogs into sheep — their hearts are still much the same as formerly. Their awakened consciences resist sin — but their love to it is not diminished. For the most part, their corruptions obtain the victory over their consciences, and they return to their former course of life with redoubled eagerness.
The sight of a dog returning to his vomit is very loathsome — but it is much more detestable for the wicked to return to their former wickedness. Nothing is more dishonoring to God, or insulting to his majesty; nothing is more hurtful to the souls of men, and especially of the sinner himself. For if any man draws back, it is to perdition of the most terrible kind. Impenitent sinners, who never showed any disposition to repent, shall be severely punished — but not as severely as those who, after they have known and tried the way of righteousness, have turned aside from the holy commandment delivered unto them. The reproach which they cast upon God, as if iniquity were to be found in him, is intolerably provoking. God, in righteous judgment, allows the devil, when he returns into these wretches, to take with him seven devils, and the last, state of that man becomes worse than the first.
Turn, O fools, at the reproof of wisdom — but if you will return, return unto the Lord, and put away all your abominations; make to yourselves a new heart, and a new spirit; and if you cannot perform this great work, (as indeed you can no more make to yourselves a new heart than a new Heaven and earth) give the Lord no rest until he performs his great promise of making you a new heart and a new spirit.
A dog chained, and silenced from barking, is a dog still, and cannot find entrance into Heaven. You must be created anew in Christ Jesus, otherwise your partial reformations will only tend to your greater security in your present condition — to your greater reproach, when your convictions are stifled by the rage of your corrupt passions, and to your greater condemnation in the day of the Lord.
Proverbs 26:12."Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him!"
When a man has left some of his follies, he thinks himself a new man; old things, he imagines, are passed away, and all things are become new. For there is no thing in which the power of folly appears to a greater degree, than in the judgment which a fool passes on himself. For this reason those fools are in the most dangerous condition of all others, who persuade themselves, either from some change in their conduct, or from any other cause, that they have become wise. Many of the publicans heard the sermons of John Baptist with pleasure, and of Christ, concerning repentance; while the self-conceited Pharisees and scribes rejected the counsel of God against themselves.
The Gentiles in like manner were made to see the folly and wretchedness of their former course of life, and to receive with thankfulness the offer of a better righteousness than their own — while Israel, trusting to their own righteousness, did not submit to the righteousness of God.
There is some hope of a fool and a sinner, if you can make him really to believe that he is what he is. The first lesson to be learned in the school of wisdom, is our own folly. And when we are deeply sensible of this truth, the revelation of Christ, as our wisdom, and our salvation, will be pleasant to our ears. But if we still think ourselves wise, when we are fools — we shall despise Christ as much as the pharisees did, and the discoveries of the Gospel will be either idle tales, or tasteless stuff, in our apprehension.
Woe to those who are wise in their own conceit, and prudent in their eyes. They depend on wind and vanity. Or if they really possess some of that kind of wisdom which a fool may have, they lean on a broken reed, which will go into their arms and pierce them, and rend their souls with eternal remorse, because, in their vain opinion of their own understandings, they rejected the light of the world. "For judgment," says our Lord, "am I come into this world, that those who do not see might see — and that those who see might be made blind." None are more blind than those who are readiest to say, with the Pharisees, "Are we blind also?" They say that they see, and take away all excuse from themselves, and shall have the mortification, at the great day, to find that God has revealed those things unto babes, which he has hidden from the wise and prudent.
Proverbs 26:13."The sluggard says: There is a fierce lion roaming the streets. I shall be slain in the streets!"
Solomon published many proverbs against slothfulness in his own edition of this book. The men of Hezekiah repeat some of them, and join some others to them on the same subject. The slothful man is reduced to such pitiful shifts for excusing his conduct, that he says, contrary to all reason and experience, that there is a lion roaming the streets, and that he may be killed in the very streets of the city if he should go forth to his work.
This sign of sloth is in nothing more observable than in the excuses that people make for excusing themselves from the duties of religion. The first Christians never minded lions, when they were in the path of duty, for they were deeply impressed with the love of Christ, who regarded neither the bulls of Bashan, nor the lions of the pit, in working out their salvation. But when we make religion our smallest concern — then a frown, or a jeer, or a few drops of rain, will be a sufficient reason to us for declining the most important services. We should remember that our consciences are God's deputies in our bosoms, and not bribe them to sustain any plea that will be rejected by our omniscient Judge.
Proverbs 26:14."As a door turns on its hinges, so a sluggard turns on his bed."
How dearly does the sluggard love his sleep! But, to his great vexation, he cannot sleep always. When he finds himself half awake, and wearied with lying so long, he tries to get a little more sleep by changing his posture. As the door turns upon its hinges — but still continues in the same place, so the sluggard turns from one part of his bed to another, and from his right side to his left, and then he turns himself on his back, and on his face. For to put on his clothes is a dreadful and intolerable toil. But when every part of his body is wearied with the fatigue of lying and turning, he slowly goes to his clothes, and with great difficulty gets them thrown about him, and perhaps necessity or weariness drives him to some kind of work. But still he is like a door moving upon its hinges, for he only trifles about the most serious affairs, and the night finds his work in much the same state as the morning.
In this manner do sluggards trifle and sleep, not only in the things that concern their present happiness — but in things of solemn and eternal consequence. As if they could work out their salvation with faint wishes, and spiritless endeavors — their hearts sleep when they are calling on God for the pardon of their sins. When they come to church, the words of the preacher are forgotten almost as soon as they are heard. It is ten to one, that their pew serves for a bed to them. And, as if the devil had given them some opium on the Sabbath morning, they can scarcely be awakened out of their sleep by the united voices of the congregation in the praises of God.
Alas! how do men loiter and doze away their time, which can never be recalled — while their grand adversary is ever busy and watchful for their ruin. Awake, sleepers, and call upon your God. Who knows but God may think upon you, that you perish not!
As drunkards and gluttons enjoy less pleasure it eating and drinking than the sober and temperate — so the sluggard never enjoys that sweet and delightful sleep by which the laborer is refreshed. For his excess in this bodily indulgence, makes his slumbers broken and interrupted; nor can he taste that pleasure in eating which other men enjoy, for although he could procure meat without work, eating is a toil to him.
Proverbs 26:15."The sluggard buries his hand in the dish; he is too lazy to bring it back to his mouth."
This is a strong expression of the power of laziness — and yet it is literally true of the spiritual sluggard, who will not put forth his hand to receive the richest blessings, nor open his mouth to eat that which is good. But when laziness is so prodigiously foolish, and productive of such harms — may not the sluggard be reasoned into another kind of behavior?
Proverbs 26:16."The sluggard is wiser in his own eyes, than seven men who can render a reason."
The sluggard reckons himself wiser than all the seven wise men of Greece put together. The wisdom of Chalcol and Darda, and Ethan and Heman, and Solomon, in one man, could not convince him of his folly. "What," says he, "if I should go forth to work in such a sultry day, I might catch a headache; and an headache cost the Shunamite's son his life. If I should expose myself to the terrible cold of winter, I might catch a cold which would bring on a fever or a consumption. For cold is the beginning of almost all diseases; and what is a little worldly gain compared to one's health or life? Is not a life of ease and tranquility incomparably better, though attended with poverty — than a life of toil and anxiety with riches?"
These and the like reasons for his behavior, appear to him demonstrations, and his disease is incurable, because he cannot be made to believe that he is sick. Self conceit never fails to attend spiritual sloth. For it prevents the receiving of those instructions that tend to the humiliation of the soul.
Kings were commanded by Moses to read the Bible with care, that their hearts might not be lifted up above their brethren. For truths abound in the Scripture, of the great need to mortify pride — but the sluggard never learned them, or will not take the trouble of thinking upon them. He has perhaps heard or read, that wisdom's ways are pleasantness, and from thence concludes that they are fools who are at the pains to enter into the strait gate, or walk in the narrow way. He expects, by the gift of grace, to obtain Heaven, as well as the most laborious Christian. He thinks himself a far happier and wiser man, than those who work out their salvation with fear and trembling. None are more foolish than those who have the highest opinion of their own wisdom. Those only are truly wise, whose understandings and wills are regulated by the wisdom and will of God, revealed in his word.
Proverbs 26:17."Like one who seizes a dog by the ears, is a passer-by who meddles in a quarrel not his own."
He who takes a dog by the ears, can scarcely escape without a wound, for the enraged cur will be sure to leap at him as soon as it finds itself at liberty. Just so, he who meddles in quarrels that he has no business with, can as little expect to escape unhurt.
It is foolish for us to quarrel about our own concerns if we can possibly avoid it. For contention is like an unfathomable gulf, into which a man may easily leap — but will find it a great difficulty to get out. But it is the height of folly for men to engage in quarrels where they have no interest, for we cannot derive any advantage, and are very likely to get much damage from it.
If we can make peace, by interposing between contending parties, and persuading them, in the spirit of meekness, to compose their differences — we are doing a very good work, and are in little more danger than a man who is casting a piece of bread to a dog.
Yet, if either of the parties have a contentious spirit, his angry passions may lead him to say very disagreeable things to the most friendly mediator, as the quarrelsome Israelites did to Moses in a like case. But if we become a partner in the dispute, by taking one of the sides, we will either receive blows, or hear something to inflame our passions into rage, or suffer some harm on another occasion, from the person whom we have offended.
The apostle Peter insinuates to us that men are very liable to suffer by this means, and that sufferings of this kind do not befit saints. "If any man suffers, let him not suffer as a thief, or as a busybody in other men's matters." Let us therefore make it our ambition to lead a quiet life, and to mind our own business — and this will keep us from thrusting ourselves into the business of other men.
Proverbs 26:18-19."Like a madman shooting firebrands or deadly arrows, is a man who deceives his neighbor and says: I was only joking!"
The apostle forbids all that kind of jesting, which is not edifying. A jest is not in every case unlawful — but it is unwise and wicked, under pretense of jesting, to expose our friends and neighbors to scorn, or to say something that will inflame their passions, and kindle up strife and contention. It is still worse to deceive and flatter them into something that will prove hurtful to their interests, or harmful to their souls, and then to pretend that we were only amusing ourselves with a little harmless diversion! No diversion is harmless that puts an honest man to the blush, or wounds his spirit or his interests. He who sports himself in this rude and unchristian manner, is like a real or pretended madman, who amuses himself with casting about at random firebrands, and arrows, and other instruments of death.
Let those who would be jokers at the expense of friendship and charity, consider in what class of men Solomon so justly places them, and be ashamed. He counts them not only fools but madmen, and ranks them with the worst kind of madmen, in the height of their rage.
But may not a man use freedoms with a friend? Yes. But such freedoms only as cement friendship, and not those freedoms that turn a friend into an enemy. To carry on a scheme of imposition, under the mask of friendship, is the worst kind of wickedness, and places a man in the same black list with Joab and Judas. There are some men with whom it is safer to be at variance, than to possess their friendship. From such friends may the good Lord deliver us. For open enemies are far less dangerous.
Proverbs 26:20."Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down."
A gossip is one who tells stories which ought not to be told, whether true or false, whether fairly or unfairly represented. The worst kind of gossips are those who tell their stories to those who are most likely to be provoked by them, and at the same time do not wish to be mentioned as authors of the story, or witnesses in it.
There is sometimes a propriety in telling secret stories — but the most part of those who carry tales of their neighbors, are to be numbered not only with the basest — but with the most corrupt of mankind. They are serpents in the way, and adders in the path! They are firebrands kindled from Hell, who kindle a fire among men, which spreads from one to another, until parishes and counties are in danger of being set on fire!
He who listens to gossips, is like a man who sees a house ready to be set on fire, and uses no means to prevent it. He who turns an angry countenance to the back-biter, is the friend of mankind, who carries water to quench the burning.
It would be happy for society, if such pestilent members could be banished from it, for they are like madmen that cast around firebrands. But as we live in a world where such incendiaries are still going about, we should do what we can to prevent them from carrying any coals from our own houses, or fetching them within our walls. Tale bearers little consider the evil they are doing, and the extent of that harm which may be justly charged upon them, or the misery they are heaping up for themselves — for they shall (unless pardon interposes) be cast into a deep pit, and a fiery furnace, from whence they shall never get out! Contentious men are the brethren and friends of the tale bearers, and merit the same censure and condemnation.
Proverbs 26:21."As charcoal to embers and as wood to fire — so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife."
Men of proud, and passionate, and selfish spirits, give scope to their corrupt dispositions in kindling strife and debate, which seem to be as agreeable to them as a fire to one who is ready to perish with cold. We ought to avoid the society of such people. If we are cast into their company, it is absolutely necessary for us to keep a strict guard over our hearts and our tongues. For their provoking or seducing words, have the same tendency to kindle strife, as burning coals have to kindle dry wood into a flame.
The conflagration that was raised by Korah, and that which was kindled by Sheba the son of Bichri — soon spread itself through all the armies of Israel. Let none who calls himself a Christian give any occasion to call him a contentious man, for Christ is the prince of peace; his gospel is the gospel of peace, and all who believe it in truth, are the sons and the lovers of peace. The lovers of strife are children of the wicked one.
Proverbs 26:22."The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man's inmost parts!"
This proverb was inserted by Solomon himself in chapter 18:8, but the men of Hezekiah annex it to the former proverbs about contention. For they wished if possible to banish tale-bearing, that grand engine of harm, out of the world.
Proverbs 26:23."Like a coating of glaze over earthenware are fervent lips with an evil heart."
Everything that glitters is not precious gold. You may sometimes observe a piece of metal that you take to be silver — and yet, when you examine it, there is nothing but a thin coating of silver dross, which conceals a worthless piece of potsherd below it.
Similar to this, is a wicked disposition concealed under the mask of a tongue that flames with holy zeal, or burns with professions of the most ardent friendship. The Pharisees, in the time of our Lord's humbled state, were men of this disposition, and therefore he compares them to white-washed sepulchers. They were enemies to all goodness — and yet their zeal for religion was so great that Christ himself was a profane person, if their testimony was of any worth. These abominable hypocrites are a smoke in God's nostrils, a fire that burns all the day.
There are some who practice similar hypocrisy towards their fellow men, and they are the most dangerous members of society that can be found in the world! Absalom was a perfect master in both these kinds of hypocrisy, and therefore his name will be infamous while the world stands. Against those who cover their malignity with professions of kindness, we are warned in the following verses.
Proverbs 26:24-25."A malicious man disguises himself with his lips, but in his heart he harbors deceit! Though his speech is charming, do not believe him, for seven abominations fill his heart!"
An angry man is dangerous; but, if you are on your guard, the danger will soon be over. The malicious man is far worse, and much more dangerous, for his hatred ferments in his heart, and his head is, in the mean time, projecting methods for wreaking wrath in such a manner as will be safest to himself, and most hurtful to its object. He is not like the dog that barks before it bites — otherwise you might stand to your own defense. But he is a dog that fawns upon you, and, when you are never dreaming of it, viciously attacks you, and inflicts an unexpected and dangerous wound.
Solomon warns you that your safety lies in refusing to trust him, even when he makes the largest professions of friendship. When he speaks charming words, believe him not, although he should swear to the truth of all he says. If you have any reason, from your knowledge of a man's character, or from his former behavior, to think that he is one of this stamp, and capable of such wicked conduct — his ardent professions of love should rather confirm than remove your suspicions of him. For the darkest designs are always covered under the greatest shows of virtue and friendship.
You may as safely believe the devil himself, as one who joins malignity of heart with flattery and caresses — for he is a man after the devil's own heart. His character is a compound of all those vices of the blackest and the vilest kind, which make a consummate villain, and render a man a disgrace to human nature, by his exact resemblance to those infernal fiends who are to be dreaded equally for their malice and subtlety.
Abner and Amasa lost their lives by believing a man of this character. But the providence of God will not always bear with such abominable wretches.
Proverbs 26:26."His malice may be concealed by deception, but his wickedness will be exposed in the assembly."
He is ashamed or afraid to reveal his malice — but God shall bring it to light in the view of all men, and make him the object of universal abhorrence. This is often done by his own agency, for malice ordinarily reveals itself sooner or later. When Saul could not destroy David by the hands of the Philistines, or by his javelin in private — his hatred became too violent to be smothered by his prudence.
Sometimes God, by a strange train of providences, exposes the wicked purposes of men's hearts — but even if it continues hidden through the whole course of this life, there is a judgement day which will declare it. Let us never harbor anything in our minds that we would be ashamed if all the world would know it. For all the world shall certainly know it, in the day when the secrets of hearts shall be judged. For, God will not only reveal — but punish the malignity of men; for,
Proverbs 26:27."If a man digs a pit, he will fall into it; if a man rolls a stone, it will roll back on him."
"Whatever you would that others should do unto you — do so unto them," says our Lord, "for this is the law and the prophets." But if neither Moses, nor the prophets, nor Christ himself, can prevail upon us to observe this golden rule — then our own interest may be expected to work us to a compliance with it. For the harm that we do to others, must at last recoil upon ourselves, with a heavy aggravation of remorse and self-condemnation attending it.
When Haman was hanged on his own gallows, his miserable end must have been attended with anguish and self-reflections a thousand times more grievous than anything that Mordecai could have felt if Haman's malice had been accomplished on him. Here is encouragement for the faith and patience of the saints, Here is ground for the highest praise to the righteousness of God.
Proverbs 26:28."A lying tongue hates those it hurts, and a flattering tongue works ruin."
It might be expected that when a man has wronged his neighbor, by his lies or flatteries — he would be filled with remorse, and try to make some reparation. But the loss is, that he judges of other men from himself; he does not believe that there is enough of generosity in any man to forgive him, and therefore persists in his hatred. It is not easy for us to forgive the injuries we receive — but it is far more difficult to forgive the injuries we do.
Flatterers are the worst kind of liars, and the most likely to be believed, because self-love favors their deceits. Flatterers are commonly men who intend to betray with a kiss. But, although they should only design to gain our favor by their fair speeches — yet they are very corrupting, because they are the friends of our pride, which is the worst of our bosom enemies.