A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
Proverbs 28:1."The wicked man flees though no one pursues, but the righteous are as bold as a lion."
The wicked are so desperately hardened that they have no fear of the most horrible dangers — at least they have not such an apprehension of them, as to flee to that sure and only refuge which Divine grace has presided. At the same time they are so wretched that that they are never in security, and are liable to the most distressing terrors, when there is no reason for them.
The Syrians that besieged Samaria heard the noise of chariots and horsemen, which threw them into such a panic that they fled away, and left their bread and clothes behind them. In like manner, the wicked are liable to terrors which sometimes encompass them like waters, when no reason can be given for them. For the objects which ought to alarm transgressors, and have a tremendous reality in them, are not the things that take hold of their minds. They are like madmen who fear not a drawn sword — but tremble at the shaking of a leaf, as if it were a devil ready to hurry them away to the bottomless pit.
No passion is more tormenting than fear, and a sense of guilt producing it. It was a punishment threatened against the people of Israel, if they revolted from God, that they should flee before their pursuing enemies — but it is a sign of the utmost wretchedness, when men flee away through terror when there are no enemies — but such as are conjured up by a timorous imagination.
Sinners have great reason after all to fear, even when the objects of their fear are mere fantasies. God is angry with them every day, and their anxious alarms are a part of the punishment of their sins. They cannot expect tranquility and happiness of mind, but in Christ, by whom we are delivered from the guilt of sin, and enjoy that peace which passes all understanding.
Those who are justified by his righteousness, and led in the paths of righteousness by his Spirit, are as bold as a lion, the most courageous of creatures upon earth. For they are delivered from all danger of condemnation, and they are at peace with God. They may have many enemies — but God is their friend, and no weapon formed against them shall prosper. They may meet with adversities and deaths — but they shall meet with nothing to separate them from the love of God, with nothing that was not designed for them by an all wise and gracious providence, with nothing but what shall contribute to their good.
The righteous are sometimes timorous like doves — but they have reason to be bold as lions. They are partakers of those graces which have a native tendency to expel tormenting fears, and to produce quietness and assurance forever. Their natural constitution, their remaining corruptions, their unhappy falls, their numerous enemies — may counteract their principles of holy courage — but they are commanded to be always strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The day is coming when every fear shall vanish away, and be followed by eternal triumphs. What effect righteousness has to produce boldness, and to banish fear — appears from the history of the elders who obtained a good report through faith, and of the apostles and first Christians, who triumphed in the midst of daily deaths, and in the face of bloody tyrants. Nor have later ages been destitute of testimonies to the truth of this proverb. Martyrs have rejoiced in flames, as if they had been beds of roses; and Christians on a deathbed have often said, "O death, where is your victory! Thanks be unto God who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ."
Proverbs 28:2."When a country is rebellious, it has many rulers, but a man of understanding and knowledge maintains order."
The providence of God allows not a sparrow to fall unnoticed to the ground — how much less is it to be supposed that the affairs of men, and of societies consisting of millions of men, are unobserved by the great God, whose kingdom rules over all. We often rejoice, and often mourn, when we observe the occurrences of public governments — but we attend too little to the justice of God concerned in them. When frequent changes happen in the administration by the deaths of princes, or by those revolutions which seat a new family on the throne — God is carrying on his purposes of mercy or judgment. And although the same princes continue sitting on the throne, when public measures are continually changing, we may see the justice of Providence, and the provocations of the land calling down that vengeance which is executed in the miseries brought upon a land by these means.
For the transgressions of Israel and Judah we find many princes, sometimes cut off in a very short space of time; and even the good Josiah was removed from an earthly to a heavenly kingdom, to make way for that punishment which was due to the guilt of the land.
But a man of wisdom and piety is a great national blessing. A private man of such a character may sometimes be a happy instrument of rescuing a nation from destruction, or establishing its peace and happiness. But a prince furnished with skill to govern a nation, and with piety to govern himself, is an inestimable gift of God. His wise choice of counselors and magistrates, his good example, his just and vigorous administration, the countenance he gives to virtue, and the checks he gives to wickedness — concur to establish the land in peace and prosperity, and the blessing of God attends his government. The history of the good kings of Judah, and of almost all the good kings with which any nation has been blessed, are confirmations of this truth.
Proverbs 28:3."A poor man who oppresses the poor is like a driving rain that leaves no crops."
One would naturally think that poor men, though exalted to high stations, would, through their knowledge of the heart, and experience of the hardships of a poor man — look down with tenderness upon the poor, and use their newly acquired authority for the protection of those who are left in that state out of which they were raised. But experience tells us that the worst of all oppressors have ordinarily been the poor, when they were advanced to rule.
The poor who oppress the poor, are like a sweeping inundation that carries everything along with it, and scarcely leaves anything in the ground to be the seed of a future crop. When poor men are exalted to power, their new dignity too often turns their brain. They know not themselves, and they cannot be expected to know their former brethren. Their experience of the hardships of poverty meeting with a selfish heart, disposes them to guard against its return, by oppressing those below them, and dragging everything into their own possession, that they may set their nest on high, and be delivered from the power of evil.
It is therefore very improper to place the poor in stations where they may have an opportunity to enrich themselves at the expense of others — unless they are well known to be men like Joseph, of inflexible integrity. Those who might behave well in private stations, are often tyrants when temptation and opportunity concur to make them so. History is full of the harms which arise from the unwise neglect of the instruction given to nations and kings in this text.
How lovely is the character of our Redeemer! He made himself poor for our sakes, and he is now exalted to an heavenly throne. But his heart is not exalted above those poor men on earth, whom he deigns to call his brethren. He knows the heart of a poor man, and he will deliver the needy when he cries, the poor also, and him who has no helper.
Proverbs 28:4."Those who forsake the law praise the wicked, but those who keep the law resist them."
The wicked not only destroy their own souls — but contribute to the ruin of other men, by praising their sinful courses, and encouraging them in evil. No wicked man wishes to be called wicked, and therefore he puts false colors upon his own and other men's sins, baptizing them with the names of those virtues to which they seem to have most resemblance. Drunkenness is called good fellowship. Covetousness is called prudence and frugality. Courage in sin is called bravery. Peevishness has the name of honesty and plain dealing.
If no good quality can be found to put a gloss upon their sins, then the wicked will flatter one another by praising them for good qualities to which they have no shadow of a title — and at the same time excusing their faults, as if they had no proportion to their good qualities.
To forsake the law of God is a very bad thing — but to take pleasure in those who do the same, and to strengthen their hands in wickedness, is to walk in the ways of Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, who made Israel to sin. The practice of sin, is praise to evil-doers. Our example is of itself an encouragement to those who are like us in their behavior; and when those who have fallen into sin through temptation, and resolve to reform, see others continuing in the practice of iniquity — they will be emboldened to go on in the same path — they see that they are no worse than other men.
Of all the wicked, those who have left off to be wise and to do good, are the most pernicious enemies to holiness, and give the most effectual encouragement to sin. The language of their practice is, "We have tasted of the new wine of religion, and we find that the old wine of the pleasures of sin is better."
Why should I leave my present practices, says the wicked man, to take the yoke of religion on my neck; others have tried it, and they find they are not able to bear it, and have been obliged to shake it off.
Those who forsake the law, are living infections to all around them, and little consider what loads of guilt, their own and other men's, lie upon them.
But those who keep the law resist the wicked. For they love God, and hate everything that provokes and dishonors him. God promised Abraham to be a friend to his friends, and an enemy to his enemies. All the children of Abraham are heirs of this promise — and can they forbear to hate those who hate God, and to be grieved with those who rise up against him? But their hatred to those who hate God has no ill-will to their persons in it. They wish well to their best interests, and are zealous against their sins for the harm which they do to their souls, as well as the provocation they give to God.
Those who keep the law are in very different stations, and have very different degrees of influence. Magistrates and ministers, parents and masters, if they have a zeal for God — contend each in their places against sin. Even those pious people that are in the lowest rank of life have an opportunity of striving against sin, by their practice and prayers, and in many cases by their admonitions. God is well pleased with those who rise up for him against the workers of iniquity. Great were the honors bestowed on the tribe of Levi for their impartial zeal against sin.
Yet we must remember that we ought to strive against sin with God's weapons, and in our proper ranks, under the banner of him who was manifested to destroy the works of the devil, and in the imitation of that example which he left us, that we might follow his steps.
Proverbs 28:5."Evil men do not understand justice, but those who seek the Lord understand it fully."
Evil men may have great talents, and much learning — but they do not understand justice, and therefore they cannot be said to understand anything that is worth the knowing. Their corrupt affections spread a dark cloud over their judgments, that they cannot understand the way of wisdom and holiness. Their eyes are disordered and darkened by the malignant influence of sin, and therefore their whole course of life is full of darkness. It is true, they know their duty in many cases better than they practice it — but the knowledge which they have is at best a learned ignorance, for they are unacquainted with the necessity and excellency of doing their duty, and with those means that would be of for enabling and disposing them to do it.
The understandings of the wicked are perverse as well as their will. Some error is mingled with the knowledge they have, which, unknown to others, and undiscerned by themselves — misleads them continually. They cannot receive the things of the Spirit of God — but their minds and hearts are both sensual, and therefore there is no judgment in their goings. Those who know not justice, know nothing at all — they are more brutish in their knowledge than the stork, and the crane, and the swallow.
But those who seek the Lord know justice, and therefore they know everything that is needful to be known by them. They are acquainted with the method of salvation, and with the way of being holy and happy. And what knowledge can be compared with this? All the things that we can desire, all the things that are accounted precious on earth, are but dross and dung, compared with the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus our Lord, and of the way of salvation through his blood, and of being conformed to him in his death and life.
The people blessed with this excellent knowledge, are those who seek the Lord. They are set in opposition to evil men. For they are all wicked, who call not upon the name of the Lord, and who do not seek his favor as their chief happiness — but those who seek the Lord with the desire of their souls, are haters of evil, and lovers of goodness, and have their portion with the saints.
Perhaps they dare not say that they have found him whom their souls love — but their desires shall not be always disappointed. For those relishes which the Spirit of God has excited in their souls, shall be gratified in due time.
Those who seek the Lord search the Scriptures, and make them the subject of their meditation — and God blesses their diligence by giving them wisdom through his statutes. They pray with great fervency for the promised Spirit, and God gives the Holy Spirit to those who ask him. This spirit is a spirit of wisdom and revelation to them, leading them into all necessary truth; and therefore the spiritual man is said to judge all things. If he is sometimes at a loss to know his duty in particular cases — yet he has sure promises to plead with God, and to encourage his own soul in the hope that God will be pleased to reveal those things that he knows not, unto him.
Proverbs 28:6."Better a poor man whose walk is blameless, than a rich man whose ways are perverse."
We had the sense of this proverb in the beginning of the 19th chapter — but it is here repeated because of the important instruction contained in it. Gold and silver glitter in our eyes, and dazzle our sight to such a degree, that a rich sinner appears more respectable than a saint in rags. The fatal consequence is, that men labor rather to be rich than holy. To direct our practice aright, it is necessary to have our unreasonable judgements of things corrected, and to esteem the poorest saint above the most prosperous transgressor.
Uprightness is so valuable in itself, that it gives a luster to the possessors of it beyond what all the dignity and wealth of the world can do — but double-mindedness and insincerity are so vile, that they stain the glory of the highest man on earth. Let us therefore choose the portion of God's people, however lowly they are, and pray that we may not have our portion with the men of the world, although their bellies should be filled with God's bounty.
Proverbs 28:7."He who keeps the law is a wise son, but a companion of riotous men disgraces his father."
Let us suppose that two men have each of them a son.
The son of the first is polished in his manners, has his understanding adorned with every liberal science, and is placed in a way of life wherein he has the prospect of making a large fortune; but, after all, lacks the grace of God, and has no deep impressions of religion.
The other man's son has none of these advantages — but is so deeply impressed with a sense of religion, that he shows a respect in his behavior to all God's commandments.
Which of the two parents has most comfort and honor in his son? Solomon would answer — the second, because he is a wise son. This wisdom will make a young man to choose good company, and to avoid the society of riotous people, and everything that might reflect disgrace upon himself or his father. But he who is unrestrained by a principle of religion, is in great danger of associating himself with riotous and dissolute companions. And he who is a companion of riotous people, shames his father, for he will soon imitate those whose company he loves. Or, if he preserves himself from their vices, (which can scarcely be expected,) he at least exposes himself to suspicions, and loses his character.
Do you wish to have comfort and honor in your children? Let your first and great care be to train them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. For the wisdom in a son whereby he honors his father, lies mainly in keeping the law.
Do you wish to give comfort to your parents, and to reflect honor upon them? Let religion be your great business, and choose for your companions, those who fear the Lord. But have no fellowship with dissipated youths. Let not their mirth and humor allure you into their company. For you may as soon touch pitch and not be defiled — as have fellowship with wicked men, without being in a lesser or greater degree corrupted.
Proverbs 28:8."He who by usury and unjust gain increases his substance — shall gather it for him who will pity the poor."
The reason why men grind the faces of their poor neighbors, by usury and unjust gain, is that they expect to make themselves rich by such means. The reason why men are averse from pitying the poor, is that they fear poverty will be the consequence to themselves. These hopes and fears are equally groundless.
Solomon, in many places of this book, teaches us, that oppression and unmercifulness is the surest road to poverty — and that liberality to the poor is the surest and shortest road to riches; because God makes men rich or poor at his pleasure, and by his secret methods of providence makes the money of the wicked to find its way into the purses of the righteous and merciful.
This is a truth which experience often verifies. If it is not constantly, it is generally the case, and when things appear to be otherwise ordered, we ought to acquiesce in the sovereignty of God, and to believe that his Word has, or will have, its accomplishment, though in a manner as yet unknown to us. Job was reduced to extreme poverty, after all his wonderful acts of generosity to the poor, and never expected to enjoy any more happiness in this world — yet he never doubted of this truth. "Though he heaps up silver as the dust, and prepares clothing as the clay" — he may prepare it — but the just shall put it on, and the innocent shall divide the silver.
Let us not be afraid of bringing poverty upon ourselves by well-doing. Do we not see multitudes of men endeavoring vainly to enrich themselves by unjustifiable means? Do these men trust to the dictates of the devil and the flesh — and shall we refuse our confidence to the God of truth?
These men squeeze the poor to bring money into their own pockets — but God will disappoint them, and bring their unjust gains into the possession of those who are good in his sight.
Proverbs 28:9."If anyone turns a deaf ear to the law, even his prayers are an abomination."
If a subject refuses to obey the commands of his prince — then what face can that subject have to appear with his own requests before his royal master, or what hopes can he entertain that they shall be granted? How strange then is it that the wicked can expect any favor at the hand of the King of Heaven — when they are provoking him to anger every day to his face!
The law of God signifies the whole revelation of his mind, concerning our faith and practice. When we reject the salvation revealed in the gospel, we are guilty of the most ungrateful disobedience to God; and by refusing an interest in Christ — we render all our prayers unacceptable and abominable to God, who hears no prayers but those which are presented in the name of Christ. When we live in a willful disobedience to any of God's commandments — we declare all our professions to be insincere, and our faith to be a dead faith, and therefore we cannot impose on the hearer of prayer, if we hope that any of our requests will be acceptable to him.
If we have the genuine and living faith of God's people, and trust in God as the hearer of our prayers — then we will surely hear what the Lord God will say unto us, and regard every one of his precepts as the apple of our eye.
When the wise man tells us that even the prayer of the sinner is an abomination to God — he plainly insinuates that no act of devotion or charity can find acceptance from such a person. He who disobeys the law of God may be in some cases liberal to the poor, and in many things he may gain the praise of men — but everything that he does is detestable to God, who sees how corrupt his principles and views are. Such a man is without Christ, and can have no happy fellowship with God. His heart is under the reigning power of sin, and the best thing that he does is sinful. He is a rebel to God, and God is an enemy to him for his wicked works.
Proverbs 28:10."He who leads the upright along an evil path will fall into his own pit — but the blameless will receive a good inheritance."
He who digs a pit for any man shall fall into it. How then can they escape, who dig a pit for the favorites of God, or by their artful persuasions, and deceitful misrepresentations, seduce the people of God into those pits which have been dug for them by others? The Lord is the protector of the righteous, and the avenger of the injuries that are done to them by violence or deceit. Their enemies are considered by Christ as his own enemies — and he must reign until he has put all enemies under his feet. Those who contrive and execute mischievous designs against the righteous, are contriving harms for themselves, and drawing a sword out of its scabbard to be sheathed in their own hearts! For every event in the world is over-ruled by a righteous providence. They may indeed meet with success at first, for the righteous sometimes fall into the pits prepared for him — but they have no reason to triumph. For if the righteous should fall seven times in a day — yet he has an Almighty helper present with him, who will not allow him to perish — but will raise him up, and put him in possession of all those good things which are promised by that faithfulness which never could deceive.
The wicked man may soon bring abundance of harm upon himself, by his malignity to those whom God supports — but he can bring no evil upon them which shall not be made to work together with other things for their good, and he shall not be able to keep from them any of those good things which are the sure portion of the heirs of God.
Earth and Hell may rage against the righteous — all the force and cunning of the old serpent and his seed may be exerted against them — but they have constant encouragement to trust in God, and have no reason to despond, for God does not withdraws not his eyes from the righteous — but with kings are they on the throne. Yes, he does establish them forever, and they are exalted.
Proverbs 28:11."A rich man may be wise in his own eyes, but a poor man who has discernment sees through him."
Riches are good in themselves, and are very useful in the hands of a wise and godly man — but the greatest part of rich men, in the judgment of Solomon and of Christ, are the worse men for their riches; because they are a means of making them more proud and self-conceited than they would otherwise be. They think themselves men of greater abilities than poor men, because they attribute their wealth to their own skill in business. Or, if they possess wealth by inheritance, they take to themselves airs of importance, as if they were men of a superior species to the rest of the human race. The respect which is showed them by discretion, and the honor paid them by flattery, they consider as a tribute of praise to their great merit. The importance which they assume, and the respect which they exact, render them the objects of scorn or pity to many of their poor neighbors.
God has imparted his gifts variously. To some he has given much wealth and little understanding. To others, he has not given riches — but what is of incomparably greater value, a sagacious and comprehensive mind; and, therefore, no man ought to be proud on the one hand, or dejected on the other hand. Let each of us be thankful for the bounties of God to ourselves and others. It would be a great presumption to grudge other men what God has thought fit to bestow on them — or to be displeased because he has not given us everything.
The poor man who has understanding sees through the weakness and folly of his rich neighbor who boasts of his wisdom, and despises him, not so much for his lack of sense, as for his groundless pretensions to it. No man would make himself the object of laughter, if he would be content with his due — but when one exacts more respect than he is entitled to, he loses that respect which he would otherwise have.
Let rich men consider, that much of that regard which they think is paid to themselves, is in reality paid to their purses; and that a horse might, with as much justice, be valued according to the splendor of its trappings, as a man by the extent of his possessions. Let them take care lest they expose themselves to the censure and scorn of their inferiors, by exacting respect, and, what is worst of all, lest they make the gifts of providence an instrument of their own destruction, by turning them into nourishment to their vanity, and obstacles in their way to the kingdom of Heaven. Paul enjoins Timothy to charge the rich not to trust in riches; pointing out to us that rich men are too much disposed to trust in riches, and that trust in riches is a very dangerous vice.
Proverbs 28:12."When the righteous triumph, there is great elation; but when the wicked rise to power, men go into hiding."
When righteous men are exalted to power in a nation, the state of it is happy and honorable. For they punish wickedness, and encourage virtue; they protect the liberty and property of their inferiors; and all men rejoice in their administration. But when the wicked enjoy the places of power, no man thinks himself sure of his life and property. Villains may rejoice, because their crimes are countenanced — but honest men run into corners to hide themselves. For many are oppressed, and all the rest are afraid.
Such was the situation of our own country a hundred and fifty years ago. Let us bless God that things are now on a very different footing: and let us pray that our judges may be always righteous.
How valuable is a righteous man! If he is not a blessing to all around him, the reason is because the sphere of his influence is narrow.
How much is wickedness to be abhorred! It is the ruin of a man's own soul, and it makes him a plague to all who are connected with him. Wicked men themselves hate wickedness, when they find it pointed against themselves; and tyrants have been execrated by all nations.
Proverbs 28:13."He who covers his sins shall not prosper — but whoever confesses and forsakes them shall have mercy."
Sin is the source of all misery and ruin! It has turned angels into devils, and peopled the regions of horror with those who once dwelt in the abodes of perfect bliss. It has brought misery and woe into our world, which might have been a lower Heaven, if we had not revolted from God, and destroyed ourselves by our iniquity.
But, blessed be the Lord, our condition is not desperate, like that of the angels who kept not their first habitation. God looked upon our race with an eye of compassion, and provided us effectual relief. The Son of God is our great atonement, and we are called to the enjoyment of pardon through faith in his blood. Under a deep sense of our guilt and danger, we are warranted to claim salvation from sin and wrath — from that mercy that reigns through righteousness unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord.
But such is the folly of many sinners, that they would rather hide their sins from their own eyes, and, if possible, from the eyes of God, than receive mercy under the character of wicked sinners. They will allow themselves to be sinners — but they will not confess their sins; or, if they cannot altogether deny them, they endeavor to save their honor, or rather their pride, to the ruin of their souls, by excusing and extenuating them, or by transferring, like our first parents, the blame of them to others. How foolish is it for those who pine away under a mortal disease to conceal it from the knowledge of the world, rather than seek a cure from the physician?
Those who cover their sins shall not prosper. For it is impossible to cover them from the eye of our Judge; and to endeavor to shelter ourselves under coverings, is an additional provocation to the eyes of his glory. If we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged. But if we cover our sins with excuses, and will not allow ourselves to be sensible of our absolute need of sovereign mercy — then how can we expect to share in that salvation, which is bestowed on men to the praise of the glory of the grace of God? If we will not acknowledge our disease — then we refuse to the physician the praise of a cure.
There are some who expose themselves to the censure of this text, by hiding their sins from men, when providence, by bringing them to light, calls for a public confession as one evidence of repentance. Such people think it would be a dishonor to them to confess their faults — but the dishonor lay in committing them — and confession, with other proofs of repentance, is the only possible means of wiping it away. They stand upon a false point of honor, and expose themselves to disgrace and misery. For they shall not prosper, because they refuse to give glory to God by taking the guilt to themselves.
Those who hide their sins shall not prosper, because they reject that mercy without which they must be eternally miserable. They prefer their own fig-leaf coverings to that covering of sin by pardoning mercy which is the ground of blessedness to the guilty. But if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Under the law, the offerer of an atoning sacrifice was appointed to lay his hands upon the head of the victim, as a token of the translation of his guilt unto his sacrifice. In like manner, we are to confess our sin, with a dependence on that blessed sacrifice which takes away sin, claiming the pardon of our iniquities through the Messiah, whose soul was made an offering for sin. Through him all who believe are justified from all things from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses.
But what shall we say of those who confess their sins, like Pharaoh, and again return to the practice of them? These people are not partakers of mercy, for their confessions were never sincere. They were never produced by a genuine humiliation, nor mingled with faith in the atonement — and therefore they are not accompanied with reformation. They are provocations to God, because he is mocked and insulted by such deceitful professions.
But he who confesses and forsakes his sins shall have mercy. It was divine mercy that wrought in him such a happy temper. The sincerity of his repentance is an evidence of his interest in the blessings of saving mercy. That mercy which he has already experienced shall still follow him, until he is crowned with loving-kindnesses and mercies.
Proverbs 28:14."Blessed is the man who always fears the Lord, but he who hardens his heart falls into trouble."
"The righteous is bold as a lion," says the wise man. How then does he pronounce a blessing upon the man who fears always? Christian courage is very consistent with a holy and child-like fear of God, although it is opposite to that slavish and dispiriting fear which often possesses the hearts of the wicked. The believer in Christ trusts in God as a father — but his confidence is mingled with a deep veneration of the holy name of God — which makes him to dread the thoughts of sinning against him more than death, and to tremble at the Word of God, lest he should break any of its precepts, or deserve the execution of any of its threatenings, or seem to come short, through unbelief, of any of its promises.
Paul was a triumphant believer, who feared neither men nor devils, and reckoned himself perfectly secure against every charge that might be produced against him; and yet he lived in the constant exercise of holy fear, which disposed him to keep his body in subjection, lest when he had preached the gospel to others, he himself should be a castaway. He is not an unhappy man, but a blessed man, whose heart is continually governed by this fear. It has a happy influence upon his soul, to guard it from the temptations of Satan and the world, and to keep it close to the Redeemer. It tends to promote the exercise of faith, and hope, and joy in the Lord. Thus fear is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and a blessed means of establishing the heart in the love of God. It is a happy sign of a saving interest in the everlasting covenant of mercy, and in that special favor of God which is the source of all our joys.
Josiah's heart was made tender by this fear; and judgment could not light upon that land where he reigned, until he was removed out of it to a better kingdom. But wretched is the man who is not afraid to sin against his maker and judge. His heart is hard as the nether millstone. He thinks himself a man of courage — but his courage is the bravery of an infernal fiend. He is not impressed with the solemn authority of God, nor melted with the astonishing declarations of his mercy, nor terrified at the tremendous thunders of the threatening law. Shall such a man escape the divine vengeance which he defies? Is he stronger than the Lord? Let Pharaoh's ruin in the Red Sea, and the destruction of Israel in the desert, and the misery of that nation which rejected our Savior, be considered by headless sinners, that they may judge whether a man can harden himself against God and prosper. Therefore, as the Holy Spirit says, "today, if you will hear the voice of Christ, harden not your hearts." Do you find your hearts stubborn and insensible, after all God's dealings with you by his Word and providence? Put them into the hand of God, that he may take away from you the hearts of stone, and give you hearts of flesh.
Proverbs 28:15."Like a roaring lion or a charging bear is a wicked man ruling over a helpless people."
The lion and the bear are two of the fiercest kinds of animals — but they are doubly dreadful when the one is roaring, and the other charging the prey, seeking in the rage of hunger whom they may devour. No less dreadful is a tyrant who spreads desolation and terror through the country, by oppressing his helpless subjects. He is a general enemy — but his cruelty is felt most by the poor, who have no means of resistance in their power, and who can least bear his exactions.
Oppressors are called benefactors by their slavish flatterers — but they are called wild beasts in Scripture. The fiercest of animals, at the time when they surpass themselves in fierceness, are used by Solomon as emblems of their savage nature. But these emblems were insufficient to represent the monstrous barbarities that have been often exercised by those who were at the head of the Roman empire in its pagan or anti-Christian state. Therefore, Daniel and John represent them under the figure of monsters more dreadful than any that were ever beheld by the eyes of men. The language of inspiration could not furnish out more terrible images for the devil himself, than those which have been used to represent the wickedness of tyrannical and persecuting powers.
We ought to be thankful for the wounds that have been given to the beast with seven heads and ten horns — and for the civil and religious liberties which we enjoy; and to pray with fervency, that those nations which groan under the oppressions of civil or spiritual tyranny, may be rescued from their bondage, by that great king of whom it was promised, that he would judge the poor and needy, and break in pieces their oppressors.
Proverbs 28:16."A tyrannical ruler lacks judgment, but he who hates ill-gotten gain will enjoy a long life."
Those princes are cursed with a blind mind as well as an iron heart, who oppress their subjects. For otherwise they could not, for the gratification of a senseless lust for money and power, make themselves the plague and curse, the abhorrence and execration of thousands and millions, and expose themselves to those plots from men, and that vengeance from Heaven, which seldom allow a tyrant to fill a throne for many years. Lack of understanding is the root of covetousness in any man, especially in a sovereign prince, whose proper treasure lies in the hearts of his subjects.
A wise prince not only abstains from oppressive exactions — but hates covetousness, and would far rather deny himself the pleasures and splendors of royalty, than impose excessive burdens on his subjects. Happy is the prince who is possessed of this disposition. He shall live and reign for many years. He has a throne in the heart of every subject; and there is not one in his dominions, who has any sense of gratitude and generosity, who will not venture his life in his defense.
Proverbs 28:17."A man tormented by the guilt of murder will be a fugitive until death; let no one support him."
As he who digs a pit falls into it, so the murderer of his neighbor is his own murderer; for God commands his blood to be shed by men, and his providence seldom allows a murderer to escape. The pit of destruction is prepared for him, and he is driven to it by vengeance which will not allow a murderer to live.
Let no man conceal or support the destroyer of his fellow-men; let no man plead for him; let no man solicit a pardon for him; let no man do anything to hinder his just punishment — but let every man contribute his endeavors to bring the assassin to the gibbet. Whatever have been his merits in other respects, whatever excuses he may plead for his crime, whatever connections you may have with him by relation or friendship — you make yourselves sharers in his guilt, if you help him to escape justice.
The land is defiled with blood, if the murderer (when he can be found, and the crime can be proven,) escapes unpunished; how deeply then must they be defiled, who support or conceal him! Justifying the wicked, is a crime of the same nature with condemning the righteous. Saving the life of a murderer, has the same relation to the guilt of slaying the innocent. Is God so severe in his laws and providence against murderers? Then let us give no indulgence to any of those passions or dispositions, that lead to such a black and atrocious crime. Hatred and malice do not always end in blood — but blood commonly begins with hatred and malice. These malignant passions are viewed as murder by the holy eyes of God; and the man who indulges them has committed murder already in his heart.
Proverbs 28:18."He whose walk is blameless is kept safe, but he whose ways are perverse will suddenly fall."
He who walks blamelessly, walks surely. But may he not stumble and fall into calamity? Solomon never meant to deny that he may — but although he may fall, he shall not be utterly cast down. He shall be preserved and rescued by the power of God, who looks upon the upright with delight, and glorifies his power and faithfulness by the salvations which he bestows on them.
The upright are exposed to the same calamities with other men, and sometimes they meet with special hardships and dangers for the sake of their uprightness. And if they should die for the sake of a good conscience, they are safe, for Christ has assured us, that he who loses his life for bearing an upright testimony for the sake of Christ, shall save it.
The double-minded man expects safety from his pliable temper. He is not like the inflexible oak — but like the pliant willow, which bends with every wind, and therefore he thinks that no tempest shall blow him down. But God has said it, and his Word will stand that he shall suddenly fall to destruction. His deceitful arts may succeed for a time to spin out an infamous life, or to preserve his property and credit — but the ruin which he endeavors to avoid, shall seize upon him when he is not expecting it, and to his great mortification, he shall find himself ruined by those very arts which he employed for his security. He is cast into a net by his own feet, and he walks upon a snare. His destruction, when it comes, shall be complete and irremediable. It may be delayed for a time — but when it comes it shall not need to rise up the second time.
Proverbs 28:19."He who works his land will have abundant food, but the one who chases fantasies will have his fill of poverty."
We must seek from God our daily bread — but we must not expect to have it rained down like manna from the clouds without any labor of our own. Let us join industry to our dependence upon God — and we shall have bread enough for ourselves and our families, and something to give to the poor.
But the man who chases fantasies and loves idle company has no relish for the business of his calling. He learns habits of idleness and dissipation, which will soon bring him to poverty. He behaves as if he were hungering and thirsting after poverty — and he shall soon be filled with that which he is so eagerly seeking after!
Proverbs 28:20."A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished."
He is a faithful man who prefers his duty, and would rather suffer poverty and disgrace a thousand times, than obtain riches as the reward of iniquitous compliance with the wicked, or any violation of his duty to God or man. Covetousness is absolutely inconsistent with Christian faithfulness. For when men are more eagerly solicitous to be rich, than to be approved of God, their ruling passion will on some occasions hurry them over the belly of their consciences to iniquity. By a course of bad actions their consciences will be hardened, and they will be reconciled to everything, however unfair and unjustifiable, which promises to put money in their pockets.
As the men who love God with a supreme affection will displease their dearest friends, and mortify their most eager desires, rather than offend God — so those who are determined to be rich will venture on every danger, and displease all the world and God himself, rather than lack that shining metal which darkens the splendor of every other excellency in their eyes.
The faithful man, like Job, shall abound with blessings, for men will bless him, by applauding his integrity, and by prayers in his behalf; and the blessing is not causeless — but shall come upon him. His faithfulness, when it is a fruit of the Spirit, is an evidence that he is blessed by God, and an heir of blessings of the richest kind. But the man who loads himself with guilt, by endeavoring to laden himself with thick clay, shall be heavy laden with well-earned curses, that shall sink him deep in perdition and destruction!
Proverbs 28:21."To show partiality is not good — yet a man will do wrong for a piece of bread."
When judges are first perverted from integrity, it is owing to some powerful temptation addressed to them, which they think irresistible; at the same time, they think that they will never transgress the rules of justice for any paltry consideration. "If justice is to be violated," said Julius Caesar, "it is to be violated for the sake of empire." Few of the covetous or ambitious keep their integrity at such a high price — but they must have some valuable consideration in exchange for their conscience and honesty. Some will sell justice for an estate or a title, who would scorn to barter it away for a trifle of money, or to sell their souls at such a pitiful price as that which Judas Iscariot had for his master.
But there is great danger in yielding to any temptation, however great. For besides that it is the sign of a corrupt heart — the conscience that is once violated, will, in time, be prostituted and debauched, and the most trifling temptation will become a sufficient motive for the greatest iniquities. The second step in wickedness will not raise such a conflict in the soul as the first, and the third will be easier than the second. Just so, the most detestable villainies will appear less horrible to a man accustomed in iniquity, than the slightest deviations from justice once did to the same person. He who would not transgress without the offer of thousands, will at length transgress for a piece of bread; and he who once refused a whole estate, if he allows himself at last to be perverted, will become so degenerate, that he will sell the righteous for a few pieces of silver, and the needy for a pair of shoes!
Oppose the beginnings of sin, and give no place to the devil. If he can prevail upon you to comply now and then with his temptation, he will bring you by degrees into such a compliant humor, that he will have no occasion to put himself to the trouble of tempting you at all!
Proverbs 28:22."He who hastens to be rich has an evil eye, and is unaware that poverty awaits him."
Those who will be rich fall into temptation and a snare. An evil eye is one of the products of a heart governed by the love of riches. A man of this temper is so tenacious, that everything he can catch sticks to his fingers, and he cannot look with a bountiful eye upon the distresses of the poor, or stretch forth his hands for their relief. It is an eye-sore to him to see any man prospering but himself — or to behold any fish coming into the net of his best friend. He is so thoroughly immersed in selfishness, that he can hear no good news, except of some profitable bargain for himself, or of some deceased friend, who has left him a sum of money.
Such a man shall be baffled in all his labors, and all his hopes will be disappointed — for poverty shall come upon him. He lies under the curse of God; and since it is the blessing of God that makes rich, poverty must be the fruit of his curse. He makes both God and men his enemies; and if either the justice of God, or the vengeance of men can rifle his stores — he must be reduced to poverty. The covetous man will not believe that poverty is coming upon him, for he imagines that he is taking the most effectual way to become rich — but it will bring upon him so much the greater distress and pain which he was not expecting. Those calamities, which are afflicting if they are expected, are shocking when they were unlooked for.
Saints themselves find great difficulty in bearing sudden reverses of fortune — but what a terrible impression must they make upon wicked men, who have none of those consolations which mitigate every distress to the people of God! If the covetous man does not feel the assaults of poverty while he lives, death will turn him out naked and stripped of everything, to the eternal world! His sins alone shall cleave to him, and the curses which he was collecting to himself in greater quantities than gold — shall cleave to him through eternal ages!
Proverbs 28:23."He who rebukes a man will in the end gain more favor than he who has a flattering tongue."
A desire of enjoying the good favor of our friends and neighbors, is the reason that we are so averse to give them faithful admonitions when they do amiss, and so ready to flatter them with our tongues. But is the neglect of faithful reproof, or a flattering tongue, the true way of gaining the favor of our friends? By no means! God has declared otherwise, and God turns the hearts of men at his pleasure. If our ways please the Lord, we have reason to hope that he will turn the hearts of our enemies to love us. But if our ways displease him, he will make those to become our enemies whose favor we courted by unworthy means.
Flattery may gain us a transient flow of kindness, and faithful reproof may excite a temporary disgust. For the unbridled self-love of men makes them unwilling to hear any negative reflection on their own conduct, and disposes them to swallow down their own praise, without examining whether it is just or not. But the force of truth and reason will in time appear, and flattery will render the person who presented it odious, when the bad effects of it are found by bitter experience.
On the other side, the faithful reprover is still esteemed, and in time it will be found that his faithfulness will procure him a greater measure of that good-will and friendship which he seemed to forfeit.
If we wish to enjoy a permanent interest in any man's love, we should make it our first point to secure his esteem by deserving it. But, that we may experience the truth of this proverb, we ought to administer needful reproofs in a friendly manner. For if we behave like enemies in doing the office of a friend — we must not think it strange if we are taken for enemies.
Proverbs 28:24."He who robs his father or mother and says, 'It is not wrong' — he is partner to him who destroys."
Some graceless youths imagine there is little harm in robbing their parents. They would take it very much amiss if you should class them with common thieves, for applying to their own use, their father's money, without his knowledge or consent. They say in their hearts, that they are guilty of no transgression — but the corruption of their principles is no extenuation of the wickedness of their practice. In the judgment of God, they are to be ranked with the worst sort of villains, for they are guilty of violating, in a gross manner, the strongest bonds of nature. They waste the estate, and wound the spirit of one whom they are bound to love and honor. Their relation to their parents is not an extenuation — but a grievous aggravation of their crime.
To say that we did not look upon a thing to be a transgression, will be no just excuse for any piece of conduct that we might have known to be criminal. It will only show us to be so depraved, that even our minds and our consciences are defiled.
Proverbs 28:25."He who is of a proud heart stirs up strife — but he who puts his trust in the Lord will prosper."
Only by pride comes contention — and pride never comes without contention. The proud man has a high opinion of his own merit, and cannot bear with those who have not the same respect for him, that he has for himself. When he finds a man who does not cringe to him, or submit implicitly to his opinions — he is instantly alarmed as if an attack were made on his honor, and by his angry words and overbearing behavior kindles up the fire of contention. The proud man trusts in himself, and not in the Lord.
He who trusts in the Lord is not high-minded and insolent. He has a low opinion of himself, and although he is not careless about his own reputation — yet he trusts God with his honor, as well as all his other concerns; believing that if his righteousness should be eclipsed, God will in due time bring it forth to the light. The weapons he uses for the support of his character, are the meekness and gentleness of Christ; and the consequence is, that he lives at peace, and rather pacifies, than stirs up strife.
The proud are much to be pitied, for they have a poor wretched life. They can scarcely enjoy one day's tranquility, because there are never lacking some to mortify their pride, and cross their ambition.
But those who trust in the Lord enjoy an inward tranquility and outward peace. The God whom they trust takes care of all their concerns, so that everything which they do shall prosper. If anything happens to cross their wishes, they know that it is agreeable to the appointment of God, whose will they prefer to their own. Their souls are like a watered garden, and like a well of water, whose waters fail not, for they are refreshed with the manifestations of the love of God, and the communications of his grace, and their hopes are full of immortality. O Lord God Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you! But miserable are the proud, and those who trust in their own hearts!
Proverbs 28:26."He who trusts in his own heart is a fool — but whoever walks wisely shall be kept safe."
We must not trust our own prudence, even about our worldly business, without acknowledging God in it — for it is a piece of folly to neglect him in whom we live and move, and whose blessing is absolutely necessary for our daily labors, and our daily bread. It is still more foolish to trust our own hearts in our spiritual concerns — and yet we are guilty of this folly in a thousand instances. When we consult with our own judgment what worship we ought to give to God, instead of consulting with implicit submission of heart the oracles of God, who best knows what service will please himself — when we form our apprehensions about the doctrines of religion, without searching the Scriptures, and supplicating God to send forth his light and truth to direct and fix our judgments — when we try some other way of salvation than the way revealed in the gospel — when we form resolutions in our own strength, or persuade ourselves that we are able to keep them in opposition to temptation — when we endeavor to purify our own hearts, by closely applying to them moral persuasions, or even divine truths, without a sense of our absolute need of Christ as our sanctification — in all these cases, and in many others, we are chargeable with this folly. How gross the folly is, may appear upon a slight examination of it. If any cheat had deceived us a hundred times, we would certainly deserve the character of fools if we trusted him any more. Just so, we are great strangers at home, if we are not sensible that it has been the common practice of our hearts to impose falsehoods on us from our youth up. The idolatrous heathens and Roman Catholics, the falls of saints, and the general wickedness of mankind, might be adduced as proofs of the danger and folly of this carnal confidence.
The only way of walking wisely, is to have no confidence in ourselves — but to trust in the Lord with all our hearts, and to follow his counsels wherever they lead us. Those who trust in their own hearts lean upon a broken reed, which will soon fail under them, and they will fall into harm. Those that trust in the Lord and walk wisely, may fall into calamities and temptations; but, for their comfort, they have a sure promise of deliverance. Their distresses are the trial of their faith, and they shall end in joy and happiness.
Proverbs 28:27."He who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses."
Look upon the distresses of the poor, and your hearts will be melted into tenderness. If the sight does not affect your hearts, listen to their complaints and petitions. If you disregard the voice of the poor, hear the voice of God commanding you to give to the poor. Do you grudge to give a little, at the command of him who gave you all? God has answered every objection against his precepts in his promises. He condescends to assure you that you shall be no losers but great gainers, by a cheerful compliance with his will. The poor cannot recompense you — but God will do it liberally.
Are you afraid of bringing poverty upon yourself by your bounty? Many have been ruined by withholding — but never any by giving according to the will of God. Giving to the poor is the best preventive of poverty, for it is putting your money into the bank of Heaven, which can never be lost. The best securities on earth will not hinder your money from making wings and fleeing away. But he who gives to the poor lends to the Lord, and shall surely receive it again when he needs it, with abundant increase.
The uncharitable man closes his eyes to the poor, lest his eyes should melt his hard heart, and tempt him to sin against his god, the unrighteous mammon. He is as much afraid of anything that might excite him to goodness — as a saint is of temptations to sin. But shall he save his money by his unrighteous withholding? Will this procure him the blessing of God, which makes rich? He can expect nothing but curses as his reward. The curse of him who is ready to perish shall come upon him. The curse of God is upon his hardened soul, and upon his basket and his store. He is miserable upon earth, in the hatred of God and men, and he takes the way to be cursed at the last day, and to secure himself an abode in that place where judgment without mercy shall be executed upon those who show no mercy!
Proverbs 28:28."When the wicked rise to power, people go into hiding; but when the wicked perish, the righteous thrive."
The reign of wicked princes is a general calamity, more dreadful than war and pestilence. Those that are not cut off, or stripped of their property, live in continual terror, because they know not how soon the overflowing scourge may reach themselves. These enemies of mankind are like raging bears, or roaring lions while they live — and when they die their end is no more regretted than the death of a mad dog. For it is a deliverance to the nation, and a blessing to the church. The righteous are then freed from their restraints, and take courage to themselves, to support and spread the interests of religion and virtue.
It is well known what happiness was caused by the death of Ahaz in the kingdom of Judah, and how Christianity was advanced in the Roman empire by the death of Julian; and how the death of Queen Mary of England, and the abdication of James II, tended to the restoration of happiness and religion in our own island.
How wretched are wicked rulers! They are hated while they live above the ground — and the curses of a nation pursue them to their long homes. They are accountable for the wickedness of thousands whom they draw or drive into sin; and they lie down in the dust loaded with innumerable iniquities of other men. The mercy, as well as the justice of God, is engaged to chase them out of the world. Those who are perverted by their influence upon earth will load them with execrations through eternity!