A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
"Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth."
In God we live, and move, and have our being. But we too often forget this important truth, and speak, and act, and think — as if we lived, and moved, and had our being in ourselves. We boast of what we will do, or of what we shall enjoy at the distance of days, and months, and years. This presumption is forbidden in this and in many places of Scripture; and a reason is given for the prohibition that every person must acknowledge to be a true and good one — that we do not know what a day may bring forth.
Every new day brings forth the accomplishment of some decree of the Most High — but these decrees are written in a sealed book, and no man can unloose the seals, nor open the book, nor read what is written therein. We know that the sun will rise tomorrow — but we cannot tell whether it will rise on us, or on our survivors. We can guess what the weather will be — but we cannot say whether we shall be rich or poor, sick or in health, left in the possession of our friends, or bereaved of those who are dearest to our hearts.
In the morning Haman went forth from his magnificent palace, expecting to be gratified before the evening came with the blood of his hated enemy, which would have been sweeter to him than wine. But, before the evening came, he was hanged like a dog on the gallows, and went to the place appointed for him.
We ought to boast of nothing. For our life is but a vapor! What are our bags of gold, but a glittering nothings? What are our honors, but a puff of wind? Or what are our earthly hopes, when their basis is a shadow which flees away, and never returns?
But the hopes that are founded upon the rock of ages can never fail us, and the believer in Christ can, upon solid ground, triumph in the expectation of eternal joys, and unfading crowns! He boasts not of himself — but glories in the Lord, whose promises are more stable than the everlasting hills, or the pillars of Heaven.
The same reason that should check our boasting of tomorrow, may preserve us from desponding fears. It may be stormy weather today — but storms do not last all the year. We are filled and tormented with fears of some impending evil — but we often give ourselves real pain by the prospect of calamities that never were appointed to us by the providence of God. This is now the spring of the year, and within the last twelve months, the country has been three times alarmed with anxious fears, all of which have been most agreeably disappointed.
Proverbs 27:2."Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips."
For a man to trumpet his own glory, is no glory. When a man publishes his own praises, it is a sign that he has none else to do it for him.
Suppose a man has really done some good things — yet when he boasts of them, he destroys all their honor. For no man will think himself obliged to praise the man who is arrogant enough to publish his own praises; and every one will believe that he did those actions which are the subject of his talk, not from any principle of love to God or man — but merely with a view to his own honor.
The Pharisees had but a poor reward for their alms and prayers, in the praise of men — but the vain boaster has a poorer reward, for he is his own paymaster, and must be content to lack the praise of other men, as well as of God.
But we ought to do those things which deserve praise. Our hands, and not our tongues, must be employed to publish our worth, and thus we shall comply with the precept, and follow the example of our Lord. He had a good title to praise himself, and could appeal to his works, which bore witness continually on his behalf, and published his praise through the world, in spite of all the rage and cunning of his adversaries.
In some cases a man is at liberty, and has a call to speak to his own praise — but these cases are few. When Paul was laid under a necessity of this kind, he often reminds us that he speaks like a fool; and blames the Corinthians that they had reduced him to this necessity, by neglecting to interpose in the behalf of his injured character.
Although we must be very cautious how we praise ourselves — yet when we are called to speak in the praise of another man, we are not only at greater liberty — but may expose ourselves to just blame by unseasonable silence.
Proverbs 27:3-4."Stone is heavy and sand a burden, but a fool's anger is heavier than both. Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before envy?"
A wise man endeavors to live under the influence of that meekness so strongly recommended, and so wonderfully exemplified by our Lord. But a fool has no government over his passions, and it is better to meet a bear bereaved of her cubs, than a fool in his folly. For his wrath is heavier than the sand of the sea, it is fiercer than the rage of tigers — it is more stubborn and inflexible than the rocks. May we never come within the reach of a fool when his passions are roused. For they must be gratified and satiated, even if they should bring him to a gibbet.
May we ever possess our souls in patience and calmness. Boisterous passions are a whirlwind in the soul, which threaten to rend it in a thousand pieces. But as terrible as wrath is, envy is a great deal worse. Envy is the grief that a man feels for the prosperity of another person; it is a compound of pride and malice; it derives misery to a man from his neighbor's happiness. The blessings and mercies of God, are turned by it into curses; and the life of another man is the envious man's death.
As the devil fell by pride, so he wrought the fall of man by his envy. And when envy takes possession of a man, it makes him a devil to his neighbors.
The envious man is far blacker than the angry man. For the outrageous behavior of an angry person sounds an alarm to his neighbor to be on his guard — but the envious man conceals his malignity, until he has a fit opportunity to strike a mortal blow without danger of missing his aim. The one is a dog, which barks before he bites; the other is an adder in the grass, that stings the traveler when he is dreading no hurt. For the malice of the envious man is generally unsuspected, because no occasion was given for it. It is the good and happiness of the envied object that excites his malignity, and he does not so much as pretend (unless he adds lying to envy,) that he has received any provocation. Anger may generally be appeased — but envy is the vice of a dark and hellish spirit, that has not the least spark of generosity to give any hope of pacifying it.
The only way you can take to soothe envy is to be miserable. For it makes a man such a utter devil, that evil is his only good. The fall of man, the murder of Abel, the slavery of Joseph, the persecutions of David, the crucifixion of our Lord — are monuments of the rage of envy, and the danger incurred by being objects of it. But the curse of the serpent, the miserable end of Saul, the horrors that pursued Cain, the desolations of Jerusalem, and the torments prepared for devils — are terrible proofs that envy is infinitely worse for the person who harbors it, than for the innocent object of it.
Proverbs 27:5."Better is open rebuke than hidden love."
There are two qualities very requisite in a friend — love and faithfulness. The last is as necessary as the first, to make our friendships really beneficial to us. There are some who love us with sincerity and warmth — and yet lack the courage that is necessary to make them faithful in reproving us when we deserve to be reproved. But reproof, although it should be severe and cutting, is better than love which does not reveal itself in needful rebukes.
A true friend will not disclose our faults to the world — but he will be sure to reprove us for them. For virtue is the soul of true friendship, and must not be entrenched upon, out of regard to our dearest friends. Therefore that friend is to be valued, who does not spare to tell us roundly to our faces, wherein we have erred. For he gives good evidence that he esteems our real welfare, above his own interest in our regard. A friend who is afraid to reprove us when we deserve if, does not reveal a very high measure of love for us. For he seems to think us incapable of bearing reproof, and rather chooses to enjoy our smiles than to do us an essential service.
Our Lord loved his Apostles with a tender regard; and with admirable prudence and kindness he rebuked them when they spoke or behaved amiss. He would never allow sin upon them — and yet he reproved them in such a manner as to increase and not diminish their love to himself.
Let us learn, from this proverb, to exercise the fidelity of friendship to those whom we love, and to thank our friends when they reveal the sincerity of their regard in their concern for our souls. We ought to value honesty above politeness, and to excuse a little defect in the last quality, for the sake of the first.
Proverbs 27:6."Faithful are the wounds of a friend — but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful."
Friends are not to be loved chiefly on account of the pleasure they give us, although nothing earthly is more pleasant than a true friend. Their integrity and faithfulness are their most valuable qualities; and they will sometimes have occasion for them, by speaking to us things that are a great deal more useful than pleasant.
David esteemed a friend who would wound and smite him to his profit, as much as a wise man values a surgeon who makes needful but painful incisions in his flesh, for the restoration of his lost health. Abishai, who revealed such zeal for his honor, was not dearer to him than Nathan the prophet, who reproved him, in the plainest manner, for the murder of Uriah.
All men allow that the kisses of an enemy are deceitful and detestable. An enemy speaks sweetly with his lips — but in his heart he imagines how to throw you into a pit! He will weep with his eyes — but if he finds opportunity, he will not be satisfied with blood.
The caresses of an enemy are very base and dangerous — but it deserves to be considered whether we have not a greater quantity of revenge than generosity in our temper — when we hate the kisses of an enemy more than we value the wounds of a friend. If we value the image of Christ, it is certain that faithful reprovers express a friendship that resembles his love to his people to a greater degree than those who withhold from us this plainest token of real regard.
Proverbs 27:7."He who is full loathes honey, but to the hungry every bitter thing is sweet."
The poor generally reckon the rich a great deal happier than themselves, because they are clothed in fine apparel, and dwell in elegant houses, and feed upon the richest dainties. Yet the envy and discontent of poor men is very ill founded, for the rich, being accustomed to these things, receive no more gratification from them than the poor derive from their homely fare, and shabby clothing, and poor accommodations.
If the sight of a well furnished room, and of fine paintings, could give any considerable pleasure to those who are accustomed to see them, the poor might enjoy as much pleasure by looking at the verdant clothing of the earth, and the glorious canopy of Heaven.
The man who fares sumptuously every day, has no more relish for honey and wine than the poor man has for bread and water — for he seldom experiences hunger, and so he lacks the best sauce that any food can have.
When a man's appetite is excited by hunger and labor, every kind of food is welcome and pleasant to him. While the rich are exposed to weariness and listlessness in their abundance — the poor have strong excitements to be cheerful and thankful although scanty meals are all they can afford.
The children of Israel loathed the manna, although it was bread given them immediately from God, and was called the food of angels. They wished to be in Canaan, and eat common bread in the sweat of their brows. For the abundance of manna made them to despise it. If we have fullness of bread, we ought to be cautious lest we despise the mercies of God, the giver of them.
We ought especially to be on our guard against despising our spiritual privileges, which we enjoy in so great abundance without molestation. Estates have been given in former days for a few leaves of the Bible, and gospel ordinances were attended at the hazard of life. For those who know what spiritual hunger means, will break through stone walls for the bread of life — but those who are full in their own apprehension, will despise the riches of divine goodness, and God will send them away empty.
Proverbs 27:8."Like a bird that strays from its nest is a man who strays from his home."
When a bird wanders from her nest, and flies about at random, she is in danger of becoming the prey of the fowler or the hawk. Just so, when a man abides not at home, when he ought to be employed in his business, or when he leaves his calling without a sufficient reason — he exposes himself to great inconveniences, and sometimes to dangers. He loses his good name, and his estate is likely to go to ruin; he learns habits of idleness and dissipation, and gets into company that may very probably corrupt his morals.
Let every man abide with God in that calling in which he is called, endeavoring to perform the duties of it conscientiously, that the teaching of God our Savior may be adorned. God assigns to every one of us our station in life, and we ought to keep it until the call of Providence warrants us to make a change in it. When our health, or the necessities of our families, or a well-grounded respect of doing greater service to God, or some other important consideration, will justify our change of place — then we do not come under the censure of the wise man, nor do we run the risk that others do, who wantonly and causelessly change their place. We are safe in following Providence, although it is dangerous to run before it, or to attempt to set ourselves free from it — as Jonah did, who sought to flee from the presence of the Lord by wandering from his place — but soon found that the way of duty is the only way of safety and comfort. Paul joins with Solomon in testifying against those who abide not in their place, to fulfill the duties of it.
Proverbs 27:9."Perfume and incense bring joy to the heart, and the pleasantness of one's friend springs from his earnest counsel."
Perfume and incense diffuse their fragrances around, by which men's spirits are refreshed, and their hearts cheered. But the sweetness of a well chosen friend cheers the soul better than the sweetest flowers, or the most precious fragrances. His amiable virtues, and his affectionate fondness beaming from his eyes, and breathing in his words and actions, make him the joy of our hearts, and diffuse the sweetest sensations of delight into our bosom. Friends are useful at all times. They give a relish to the pleasures of life, and their society makes the labors of it delightful — but at the times when we need advice, or meet with perplexities, the advantage of their friendship is best understood.
Other men often give us such advice as suits their own interest or humor; they cannot, at least, enter into our interests, and judge what advice is most proper to be given to us, so well as the friends of our bosom, who are acquainted with our business and our dispositions, and whose fidelity will dispose them to give us advice, according to the best of their understanding.
In many cases advice is necessary for us, as Solomon frequently tells us. For a man perplexed with difficulties, or surprised by some unexpected accident, is not so well qualified to judge what is fit to be done, as another person would be who has no superior degree of wisdom — but has the advantage of more composure and sedateness. To have a bosom friend at such a time to take a share of our sorrows, to direct our behavior, to assist us in our time of need — is a great relief to the mind, and a restorative to the disquieted heart.
We ought to value a wise and faithful friend more than gold and silver. For how great a part do they contribute of our comfort in life, who turn even our days of sorrow into joy, and lighten our heaviest burdens. If we expect the pleasures of friendship in their full extent, let us remember that our friends have the same claims upon us, and the same grounds for them — that we have on the other side; and we ought to take the same pleasure in giving, as in receiving happiness. For this end we must be furnished, not only with an honest and a feeling heart — but with such a measure of wisdom as will qualify us for conversing with our friends to our mutual improvement, and for giving them counsel in the time of their perplexity. He who has friends, must show himself friendly, and must continue to do so until the end of his life.
Proverbs 27:10."Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father. Do not go to your brother's house when disaster strikes you — better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away."
Clothes and houses are valued for being new — but old friends, like old wine, are entitled to the greatest share of our esteem, and we must not forsake them when they give us no good reason for it. To exchange an old friend for a new one, is to manifest a fickle disposition, unfit and unworthy to enjoy the blessings of friendship. Some people cool in their friendships through an instability of mind, and can give no reason for it but their own humor. Others are no less unfit to taste the pleasures of a cordial and lasting friendship, because they are so peevish that they can bear with no one, or so unforgiving that they cannot love those by whom they think they have been offended.
The faults that we ourselves have been guilty of towards our friends are more likely than anything to cool our affections to them, through an apprehension that they must stick in their hearts. But if we can forgive the trivial offences of our friends, why may we not believe that they can forgive ours also? Do we imagine that all generosity is confined to ourselves?
Those who are capable of such unpardonable faults were never fit for being friends to any man. If the faults of our friends, or the differences that may take place between them and us, will not justify us in giving up with them; it is a scandalous thing to desert them in the time of their distress, when they have most need of our friendship. A brother is born for adversity, and a friend loves at all times. He is no genuine friend who proves to us in our time of calamity, like a broken tooth or a foot out of joint.
"A friend cannot be known in prosperity, and an enemy cannot be hidden in adversity." We must not forsake our own friend, for that would be to forsake our second self; and we must not forsake our father's friend, for that would make us guilty of a double ingratitude of the basest sort that we can practice towards men.
Our father's friends, if they are honest, are the best possessions that they can leave us. If Naboth would not sell, for any price, the inheritance left him by his fathers — but kept it in spite of an Ahab and a Jezebel, until he was stoned — then shall we show such irreverence to the memory of our fathers, as to give up, without any price, the most precious possessions which they have bequeathed to us. Solomon carried on his father's friendly fellowship with Hiram, because he had shared with his father in all his afflictions. Rehoboam would have been a wiser and happier man, if he had followed the example and precept of his father.
Trust in our friends is a duty which we owe them, as well as fidelity, and our confidence will be made to appear in the use we make of their kindness in the time of our distress. The house of a trustworthy and warm friend is then preferable to that of a cold and unreliable brother. Brethren by birth, have, for the most part, less attachment to one another than those friends who single out one another, not from accident, or relation of kindred — but from the harmony of their minds, and their mutual kind affections. Greater acts of heroism have been performed by those who have been knit by such voluntary and endearing ties, than by any kind of relations for one another.
There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother, and we do him honor by placing an entire confidence in him when we need his assistance. At his house we shall meet with a more cordial reception, than we can expect from a brother, and shall hear none of those upbraidings which the unfortunate too often hear in the houses of their near relations.
When David's brethren of the tribe of Judah proved treacherous, his gallant friend, the son of his great enemy, maintained his cause against his own father, when David was persecuted by him. If we must not forsake our own and our father's friend, shall we ever forsake our own God, and the God of our pious father, who is infinitely the best of friends, and disdains not to call us by the endearing name of friends to himself.
Proverbs 27:11."Be wise, my son, and bring joy to my heart; then I can answer anyone who treats me with contempt."
Wise children are not only the joy, but the crown of their parents. Foolish children are their disgrace, as well as their torment. How unnatural are those children who bring grief and dishonor on those to whom they are under obligations that can never be cancelled!
'As is the mother, so is her daughter,' was a very ancient proverb. As some vices, like some diseases, run in the blood, the father will be to some degree liable for those vices which disgrace his son. Even if his character is so clear that there is no room for this — yet it will be judged that the father is in part accessory to his son's faults, by neglecting his education, by imprudent rigor, or foolish indulgence, or by carelessness in the example which he set before him. Although men are frequently guilty of great injustice, by making a whole family accountable for the behavior of those who are the blemishes of it — yet there is often too much reason for concluding that some neglect or mismanagement of the father has afforded scope for the irregularities of his family.
David was justly chargeable on this account, in his behavior towards the three eldest of his sons, of whom we have any particular account. God himself ordered that under the New Testament, none are to be admitted into holy offices, who have disorderly children, because a man must be unfit to rule the house of God — who cannot rule his own house. Parents ought to inculcate wisdom on their children for their own credit, as well as the benefit of their children.
Proverbs 27:12-13."The prudent see danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and suffer for it. Take the garment of one who puts up security for a stranger; hold it in pledge if he does it for a wayward woman."
These instructions were already given us by Solomon. Perhaps there is a new motive to enforce them implied in the connection of them with the foregoing verse; that the wisdom by which men are preserved from these harms will tend to the comfort and honor of our parents, and if we are so foolish as to run into needless dangers, or to ruin our substance by our connection with strangers or harlots, the comfort of our parents will be ruined, and their credit impaired, as well as our own.
If we are wise, we are wise for ourselves, and if we are foolish, we alone must bear it; and yet by consulting our own happiness, we give happiness to those whom we ought to love; and by our own voluntary misery we bring down sorrow and dishonor upon those gray hairs and hoary heads which are well entitled to our reverence.
Proverbs 27:14."If a man loudly blesses his neighbor early in the morning, it will be taken as a curse."
We cannot tell whether morning greetings were in use among the Israelites in Solomon's time, as they afterwards were among some other nations. If they were, there is no doubt that people who wished to thrust themselves into favor with their superiors would take the opportunity to appear among the first to pay their court.
The blessing or praising of one's friends is not here absolutely condemned. When praises and blessings are a proper expression of gratitude, when they are a probable means of exciting to virtuous conduct, when they are needful to vindicate a character unjustly attacked, and when they are needful to revive a spirit overwhelmed with a false humility and groundless terrors, they deserve no blame.
But he that blesses and praises his friend in high swelling words, and seeks opportunities for that purpose, letting no time pass, however unseasonable, for loading with commendations the person whose friendship he affects — is to be suspected of flattery and base designs, and therefore his blessings shall be counted for a curse either to his friend, or to himself, or to both. If his friend is wise, he will be as much displeased with these blessings as if they were curses. For they are an evidence that the fawning flatterer has a very poor opinion of the person whom he hopes to gratify by such methods, and that he looks upon him to be a man so weak and self-conceited as to swallow gross flattery without knowing it.
If those whose favor is thus solicited have their judgments so much biased by self-conceit as to relish it — then every one of their vices is strengthened, their pride in particular is swelled, and their character is ruined by it — for all men will look upon them to be fools overrun with vanity and self-esteem. Such flatteries will be a curse to those who utter them. For they are guilty of spreading a net for their neighbor's feet, and whether they are entangled or not, the crime is the same.
Proverbs 27:15-16."A quarrelsome wife is like a constant dripping on a rainy day; restraining her is like restraining the wind or grasping oil with the hand."
"The contentions of a wife," says Solomon, in one of his former proverbs, "are a continual dropping." He goes farther in this passage, and tells us that they are like a continual dripping on a very rainy day. When a man is exposed to the weather in a very rainy day, he finds his situation very unpleasant, only he has this great comfort that his house is not far distant, and therefore he will soon find a shelter — but how much is the man to be pitied who is joined for life to a contentious wife! His ears must be stunned, and the whole time of his life, for anything he knows, embittered by clamor and noise beating constantly upon him like a tempest. He may sometimes obtain a respite, by absence from his house — but a man cannot be always away from home without leaving behind him the means of his subsistence, and his beloved children, and everything dear to him. And when he is in the field, or in the house of some friend — yet the noise that he has heard, and is still doomed to hear within his own walls, rings constantly in his ears.
But may not a man subdue the haughty spirit of a vexatious wife? He may as soon tame the fierce spirit of a lion! The grace of God, and nothing of less power, can do this great work. May he not then conceal his dishonor from the world? He may as soon shackle the wind, and command it to blow where he pleases, or hinder the ointment which is poured on his right hand (which is almost constantly in motion) from spreading its fragrance through the whole room where he sits. The clamors of an imperious wife will be heard, not only in the house — but in the street, and through every corner of the town. It is impossible to force into her so much sense, as to make her regard either her own honor, or the credit of her husband. For if she had the least degree of common understanding, or if she were capable of receiving any advice — she could never bear the thought of being the scourge and torment of that man to whom she is bound by every motive of duty and interest to be a comfort and a crown.
The uninspired sages of ancient days concur with Solomon in condemning the behavior of bad wives with great severity. "I had rather," says the son of Sirach, "dwell with a lion and a dragon, than to keep house with a wicked woman. He who has an evil wife, is as though he held a scorpion."
And nothing better can be said of a tyrannical husband. If a king deserves to be branded with the most odious names when he oppresses his subjects — then what words can paint the baseness of that man who tyrannizes over the wife of his bosom, his other self.
We wish for comfort in our various relations — but to obtain it, we must in the first place mind the duties of them, and endeavor to be a comfort to those with whom we are connected.
Proverbs 27:17."As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another."
When iron tools were blunt, it seems they used to be whetted and sharpened by files or some other instrument of iron. In like manner, when the heart is dull, and the countenance overcast with melancholy — the pleasing society of a friend infuses gladness and new life into the heart, and scatters the gloom that sat upon the countenance.
"A faithful friend is a strong defense, and he who has found such an one, has found a treasure. Nothing can countervail a faithful friend, and his excellence is invaluable. A faithful friend is the medicine of life". Friendship cheers the spirit, brightens the understanding, and inspires us with alacrity and vigor for every useful employment of the mind. If we are dejected with grief, their kind attentions, and seasonable discourse, have a happy effect in alleviating our distress, and softening our sorrows. They keep the soul from sinking into despondency, and enliven it with hopes of better days. What reason have we to be thankful that this evil world affords some who are qualified to afford such pleasure and advantage to us.
In choosing our friends, we ought to consider religion as one thing necessary to be regarded, for that alone, attended with the blessing of God, will effectually serve all these valuable purposes, and others of equal importance. A pious friend will be of great use to animate our souls in the service of God, to assist us in combating the difficulties that meet us in our Christian course, and to warm our souls with holy zeal. "Those who fear the Lord shall find him. Whoever fears the Lord shall direct his friendship aright. For as he is, so shall his neighbor be also."
Proverbs 27:18."He who tends a fig tree will eat its fruit, and he who looks after his master will be honored."
It is the business of a servant . . .
to wait upon his master with respect,
to obey his orders with cheerfulness and fidelity,
to promote his interest and happiness by all proper means, and
to prevent, as far as he can, everything that may tend to his harm.
But perhaps those who are in this humble station may think that they have very little encouragement to perform the duties of it, because the baseness of their condition places them below the hope of any valuable reward. In answer to this, the Spirit of God tells them that they shall have a very good and honorable reward for their service, however lowly.
Who plants a vineyard and eats not of the fruit — or who takes care of the fig trees, and is not allowed to share in their delicious product? And if the care of fig trees be thus recompensed — then shall not that servant be honored who shows a zeal for everything which concerns the comfort and interest of his master? Certainly! He will be respected by all wise men who know him; his master especially will show him who respect which his fidelity deserves, and will find occasions perhaps to please him more than he expected.
Servants are indeed often unnoticed by their masters, when the time of their service is over — but that is owing, perhaps, as much to the lack of merit in the servants, as the lack of gratitude in their masters. Masters are bound by the law of God, to behave not only justly — but kindly, towards honest servants. But even if they should prove ungrateful, there is a master and Lord in Heaven, who shall recompense with divine liberality those servants who performed their duty, not as eye servants — but as the servants of Christ, adorning the doctrine of God their Savior by the pious performance of their duty to men.
Proverbs 27:19."As water reflects a face, so a man's heart reflects the man."
The water is nature's looking glass, in which we discern our faces; and the face which is seen in the water has a resemblance, though not an exact and perfect image of that face which looks into it. So likewise there is a resemblance in one man's heart to another. As God has fashioned the bodies of men like one another, so the heart of every man has the like faculties and passions, and none of the human race is born either a brute or an angel.
There is, indeed, a difference of faces, although in water that difference is not well discerned. There is likewise a natural difference in the tempers and understandings of men. And yet none of us have reason to be proud or insolent, for we are but men, and our neighbors are men also. Some of them have miserably disgraced the human nature — but others have improved upon that corruption of human nature which is common to all. Instead of triumphing over the the wicked, we ought to mourn over the ruins of our condition, and to adore that mercy which has kept us from sinking down, by our natural weight of corruption, to the same deplorable depth of wickedness.
When the holy martyr Bradford heard of any person that had been guilty of an atrocious act of guilt, he used to strike his hand upon his heart, and say, "Here is the seed of all that wickedness!"
There is a mighty change made upon the heart by the grace of God, creating it anew in Christ Jesus. But the saints will not boast on this account, for they well know what they once were, and who made them to differ from others, and from their former selves. They still feel the body of death within themselves, and heartily sympathize with them who are yet nothing but flesh.
As the corrupt heart in one man is like the heart in another man — so there is a resemblance in one Christian to another. There is a difference between Christians, as there is a difference of stature and feature and understanding among men. But there are the same outlines of character among all real Christians, so that the representations made of the hearts of David, and Paul, and other godly men, in Scripture, are of great use to us, not only to direct our course of life — but to assist us in searching our own hearts. We have not the same degrees of faith in Christ, and love to God, and delight in his word, as these holy men — but if we are true saints — then the same dispositions, though with less vigor, will rule in our lives, for every Christian has the same sanctifying Spirit, though his operations in all are not equally signal.
Proverbs 27:20."Death and destruction are never satisfied — so the eyes of man are never satisfied."
Although heart answers to heart — yet there are such varieties in the hearts of men, that we cannot search out the secret workings of the hearts of our fellow men — and it is a happy thing that we cannot do it. But because it is of importance to us to know in some degree the thoughts, and wishes, and designs of others, we have some means of revealing them. They can inform us by their tongues what is in their hearts. And when they think proper, for reasons of their own, to lie with their tongues — their eyes often betray them, for in the eyes love, and anger, and envy, and desire, often paint themselves so visibly, that they cannot but be perceived in spite of every endeavor to conceal them.
One of the many things in which men agree with one another, is the insatiableness of the desires of the heart, (which are revealed in the eyes.) The invisible world is never full of souls, and the grave is never satiated with the carcasses of men. After the innumerable millions that have been buried in death — they are still crying, "Give! Give!" and will continue their importunate demands until that day when death and Hell are to be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone.
The heart of men is equally clamorous for something to satisfy it. They enlarge their desires as Hell, and cannot be satisfied. If you should give them a world, they will weep for another world. They think if they had this and the other object of their wishes, that they would be happy — but they find that the gratification of their desires, is but like drink to one in a dropsy, which does not allay — but increase his thirst.
The improvement of this truth is taught by Solomon himself, at great length, in the book of Ecclesiastes. The insatiableness of men's desires is one of the arguments by which he proves the vanity of the world, and the unsatisfactory nature of its richest enjoyments. Man's chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever — and he will never be happy until his heart is suited to his end. To seek happiness in this world, is to seek the living among the dead. It is to seek to be happy in opposition to the irreversible determination of the author of happiness, who framed our souls with such large and boundless desires that they never can he filled — but by him who fills all in all. The only way of being happy is to comply with the gracious invitation of our Redeemer, "If any man thirsts, let him come unto me and drink."
Proverbs 27:21."The refining pot for silver and the furnace for gold — but man is tested by the praise he receives."
The refining pot tries silver, and the furnace reveals whether gold be genuine and pure, so praise bestowed upon a man, reveals the reigning temper of his mind. If a wise and humble man is praised, he will not be thereby elevated in his own mind. If the criticism conferred upon him is not just, he will not think himself warranted to lay any stress upon it, for it is an evidence of pride when a man despises undeserved reproaches — and yet prides himself on commendations which are equally groundless, and therefore equally vain. If it is a piece of baseness to be dejected by undeserved reproaches — then it is a piece of vanity to be puffed up by praise.
But if a wise man is commended upon good grounds, he does not consider himself as entitled to the chief praise of those good qualities which he possesses, or those good actions which he has performed — because it is God alone who makes him to differ from other men; and everything that is of him, and through him — ought to be ascribed to him.
When a bad man is praised for those qualities that he has, or those actions that he has done — he spoils all their value and credit by the greediness with which he swallows the commendations. He does not ascribe the praise of them to God — but like Herod wishes to appropriate all the glory to himself. Or if he gives the praise to God, he does it only in words and professions, like the self-conceited Pharisee.
But when a fool receives praise that is founded only on falsehood, or on flattering misconstructions of his actions, he is so fond of everything that tends to his own advancement, whether right or wrong — that he swells with pride. And as if other people knew him better than himself, he can prevail on himself to believe everything they are pleased to say in his favor. Darkness will be light, and vice will be virtue in his eyes, when it serves to nourish his pride and self-esteem.
There is one good effect which may arise out of undeserved commendations to a wise man. They will be a motive to him to deserve them, that men may not run into mistakes by their good opinion of him.
Praise ought to be administered with great caution to the best of men, for as it reveals some men to be nothing but dross, so it shows godly men to have too much dross in their composition. The compliments of the ambassadors of Babylon were harmful to no less a man than Hezekiah. And to Herod, the praise of men proved deadly.
Proverbs 27:22."Even though you should pound a fool in a mortar with a pestle, yet his foolishness will not depart from him."
How deplorably perverse are the hearts of fallen men! Let favor be showed to the wicked — yet will they not learn righteousness; they will deal unjustly, and will not behold the majesty of the Lord. Let them be afflicted, and bruised, and crushed under the judgments of God, or punishments inflicted by the hand of men, as wheat is crushed in a mortar, or between the upper and nether millstones — yet they will refuse to part with their folly.
Pharaoh was broken by the terrible plagues which God inflicted upon him, and sometimes he confessed his folly, and promised amendment — and yet he returned to his folly, like the dog to his vomit, until he was utterly destroyed. For when God fights against a man, he will be sure to overcome.
Ahaz had the sermons of the prince of the later prophets to enforce the language of the rod. Isaiah preached with celestial eloquence. God smote him with a succession of the most alarming judgments — yet in the time of his distress, Ahaz sinned more and more against the Lord. Multitudes walk in his paths, refusing to receive correction, and thereby exposing themselves to tenfold condemnation.
To what purpose then, does the rod serve for the fool's back? Does not the rod of correction drive foolishness away from the heart? It does when the blessing of God accompanies it, and it must be used with a dependence upon him who has appointed it. Without the concurrence of divine grace, the rod will not drive away folly from the hearts of young people, and far less from the hearts of those in whom corruption receives double strength, from the superadded force of custom.
The judgments of God against the wicked tend greatly to aggravate sin, when they have not a reforming effect; and therefore when they are in the earth, we ought to pour out fervent supplications to God that he may subdue, by his almighty grace, the stubbornness of the hearts of men, and make them to learn righteousness.
If we are under the rod, let us consider the design of it, and the intolerable load of guilt which we must contract by continuing unhumbled; and under a sense of the hardness and instability of our hearts, let us turn unto the Lord with those supplications which God himself puts into our mouths.
Proverbs 27:23."Be sure you know the condition of your flocks, give careful attention to your herds;"
To the precepts so often given us about diligence in the business of our calling, some will object that they have plenty of servants to manage their affairs, and they have no occasion to toil their own bodies, or fatigue their minds with them. But Solomon tells them that they may soon come to poverty, if they will not take the trouble of minding their own affairs, and inspecting their servants. Every man ought to be acquainted with the state of his own business, and look to it with his own eyes. "I am in affluent circumstances," you will perhaps say. But if you will not mind your business, you may soon be as poor as Lazarus.
Proverbs 27:24."for riches do not endure forever, and a crown is not secure for all generations."
You have not the riches of a crowned head — but if you had, they might be wasted and scattered by carelessness, which has often turned princes into beggars or bankrupts. Although there was never a richer king than Solomon — yet he was sensible of the necessity of attending to his affairs, and acquired a part of his reputation for wisdom from the management of his domestic concerns.
Solomon tells us in another place, that the instability and uncertainty of earthly things, after all our care, is a motive to draw off our hearts from them, and to fix our eyes upon nobler objects. But he tells us, in this place, that the perishing nature of earthly things is likewise a reason for bestowing a moderate and lawful share of our attention upon our temporal interests. Let us do what we can, the world cannot be secured to us, and therefore we must choose a more durable portion. But by the blessing of God upon our honest labors, we may in most cases expect to enjoy a competency of earthly blessings. Whereas negligence in our earthly business will in all probability reduce us to those straits which would embitter our days, and those shifts which would harm our credit and our consciences. God's bounty is a great encouragement to our industry.
Proverbs 27:25."The hay appears, and the tender grass shows itself, and the herbs of the hills are gathered."
God has given us great testimonies of his goodness, in giving us rain from Heaven and fruitful seasons. By his kind providence the springing of the earth is blessed, and the hills are covered with herbage, which may be gathered for the use of those beasts which serve for the use of man. Does God stretch out his hand with blessings — and shall man, ungratefully and foolishly despise the bounty, and lose the benefit of it by his own neglect and sloth? If God puts a price into our hands, to get either heavenly wisdom or the needful blessings of life — then we are fools if we have not heart to employ it for the intended purpose. The valleys and the mountains, which rejoice and sing to God, cry out against sluggish men. The necessity and advantage of industry and care are very visible,
Proverbs 27:26-27."The lambs will provide you with clothing, and the goats with the price of a field. You will have plenty of goats' milk to feed you and your family and to nourish your servant girls."
By industry you shall have clothing, and food, and rent for your fields, or money to buy new possessions. You shall not perhaps be able to procure the luxuries of life — but these are not to be sought after. You shall have a comfortable maintenance for yourselves and your families; your maid servants shall have plenty of that food that is proper and convenient for them.
On the other side, if you neglect your business, you bring poverty not only upon yourselves — but upon those for whom you are bound to provide. "If a man provides not for those of his own house — he is worse than an infidel," or even a robber in the Arabian desert.
But how does our Lord say, "Do not labor for the food that perishes — but for that which endures unto everlasting life?" His meaning is, that we are to labor in the first and chief place, for that enduring bread. If we must not be careless about our bodies, and the interests of this life, which passes away like a cloud — then what care can be too great about our everlasting interests? If men must look well to the state of their flocks and herds, they are guilty of insufferable negligence who have some of Christ's flock committed to their care, as parents, or teachers, or pastors — and yet thoughtlessly allow them to perish.