A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
Proverbs 29:1."A man who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed — without remedy."
Asa, king of Judah, was a godly man — and yet when he was reproved by a prophet, he stormed instead of repenting. This piece of history shows us that we must not despair of reforming those who depart from the path of duty, although they are not reclaimed by the first admonition. Perhaps they may relent at the second or third admonition, and then we are richly recompensed for our trouble. But woe to that man who is stubborn and obstinate after many reproofs. He despises a merciful appointment of God for his recovery, and tramples upon precious pearls. He refuses to bow before the Lord — and he shall be dashed in pieces like a potter's vessel! He perhaps designs to reform at some other time — but he is hardened in sin, and puts off his intended repentance until judgment comes upon him unexpectedly, and he is ruined forever! The reproofs which he received will then be like hot thunderbolts to him, and the remembrance of them will feed the worm that never dies.
All of us meet with many reproofs from God. The warnings of his Word, and the addresses made to the wicked by the ministers of Christ; the kind advices of ministers and friends, the crosses which providence brings upon men in the way of sin, and even the favors which are showered down from Heaven upon transgressors — are admonitions to them to leave the ways of sin. How shall they escape the most aggravated condemnation, who continue impenitent?
All of God's dealings with them are aggravations of their guilt, and they are not to expect that the day of God's patience will continue forever, or that he will strive with them for so long a space as he did with the old world. Today, O sinners, if you will hear the voice of God, harden not your hearts. Those who fell in the wilderness are examples unto you; your guilt will be heavier than theirs if you harden your hearts, when such a monument of vengeance is placed before your eyes in the Word of God. The oath of God still stands in force against those who always err in heart, and refuse to know God's ways. Unless God can lie, they shall never enter into his rest!
Proverbs 29:2."When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice — but when the wicked rule the people mourn."
Like the ointment that was poured upon the head of Aaron, and flowed down to the skirts of his garments, is the administration of a wise and pious prince. He diffuses peace and happiness around him. He is blessed, and he is a blessing to thousands.
But the people groan under the oppression of a wicked prince, and all the comfort they have is, that he is not immortal, and that either a kind providence will cut him off, or some provoked stroke of violence will rid the world of such an intolerable burden.
Let us bless God for the establishment of our happy constitution of government, by which princes are at liberty to do much good, and have their hands bound up, in a great measure, from harm, if they were disposed to do it. And let us rejoice in that blessed administration of grace, under which it is promised that the mountains shall bring forth peace to the people, and the little hills by righteousness.
Proverbs 29:3."A man who loves wisdom brings joy to his father, but a companion of prostitutes squanders his wealth."
It is not the youth who has got much knowledge — but he who loves wisdom, and takes more pleasure in it than in all the delights of sense, who is truly a wise son, and gives joy to the hearts of his parents. He who loves wisdom will regard the happiness of his parents as his own, and he will have no greater joy than in giving them pleasure.
The love of wisdom will be a preservative from those dissolute courses to which young men are too much disposed. But he who follows them reveals himself to be and under the reigning power of folly. He spends his father's substance, and grieves the hearts of those who are the means of his existence. There are indeed stronger motives than the loss of substance — but this is a consideration fitted to work on the minds of the thoughtless, unless they are so deeply plunged in sensuality as to be almost beyond hope of recovery. The everlasting world is at a distance, and, therefore, it appears to young men a piece of superfluity to think much about it at present — but poverty, and the unhappiness of those who love you, are miseries that follow hard upon a dissolute course of life. You are double fools — fools for time and fools for eternity, if neither present nor eternal punishment can convince you of the danger of lewdness and bad company!
Proverbs 29:4."By justice a king gives a country stability, but one who is greedy for bribes tears it down."
If you would you practice integrity, then take heed and beware of covetousness. For the love of bribes is sufficient to prevent even a king from the paths of judgment. The prince that hates covetousness shall prolong his days — but that is not all his happiness. He has the pleasure of seeing millions made happy by his means, and rejoicing under the shadow of his government. He establishes a land, and bears up the pillars of it — for religion and righteousness, which are the safety and honor of a nation, are effectually promoted and encouraged by him. His authority and influence, his example, and his proper choice of magistrates, are unspeakable advantages to his people — and a race yet unborn shall rise up and call him blessed.
But the fountains of justice are poisoned, and the pillars of it subverted by a prince that is too fond of money. He perverts law into oppression, and makes his subjects unhappy. He destroys the foundations of his own throne, and plunges himself and his people into inexpressible miseries. He brings down the judgments of God upon a land, and is himself one of the greatest judgments that an angry God can inflict upon a nation.
Proverbs 29:5."Whoever flatters his neighbor is spreading a net for his feet."
Solomon was a great enemy to flattery. He tells us that the flatterer works ruin; and that he is as bad as the man who curses his friend. Here he illustrates the harm which he does, by comparing him to a fowler that catches the unwary birds with his net. The flatterer sometimes intends to ensnare the person whom he praises, and to persuade him to serve the flatterer's interest, to his own damage. "You are a man of a generous and friendly disposition," says the fawning hypocrite, "and I am sure that you will serve me in this matter." Such arguments win upon a man's vanity, and seduce him to do himself the greatest hurt, or to expose himself to very great dangers, that he may not disappoint the expectations that are formed of him. Many have been cheated into poverty, and many have been deluded into sin and Hell by such artifices.
But although the flatterer has no other design but to selfishly insinuate himself into the friendship of the person whom he caresses — he may be justly said to spread a net for his feet, by betraying him into the hands of his worst enemy.
We all flatter ourselves; and our self-flattery makes the praises of other flatterers welcome, and these gratify and feed our pride, so that we are in double danger of falling into the condemnation of the devil. If flattery is a net — then we ought to be on our guard against it, and to keep a suspicious eye upon those who praise us to our faces.
Birds are silly animals, and there is no wonder that they allow themselves to be caught in the snare of the fowler; and yet when they find themselves fast in the snare, they flutter, and use every possible effort to escape. Men are like silly birds when they are caught in this net — and they are sillier than birds, when, after all, they make the flatterer welcome to their houses, and his fair words welcome to their ears!
Proverbs 29:6."An evil man is ensnared by his own sin, but a righteous one can sing and be glad."
Wicked men are ensnared, either when they are seduced to sin, or when they are involved in miseries from which they cannot deliver themselves — and in both these senses, they find a snare in their transgression. One act of sin makes way for another act, and the second for a third. The repetition of many sinful acts produces a settled habit, which gains an irresistible power over the soul, so that the sinner who meant to repent after he had indulged himself for a time in the pleasures of sin, finds himself quite indisposed to put his resolutions in practice, and walks on in his trespasses until destruction comes upon him without remedy!
Besides this, one kind of sin prepares the way for another that is worse, because the natural effect of sin is to stupefy the understanding, and harden the heart. He who has entered into the way of the ungodly, proceeds, in the next place, to stand in the counsel of the wicked, and then sits down in the seat of the scorner.
Wicked men find the thorns and snares of inevitable and irremediable calamity in the way of sin, and this will make them at last to curse themselves for their folly, in drinking down the delights of sin, which they find, too late, to be sugared poisons! They think that they walk at liberty, because they have broken the bands of the Lord, and cast away his cords from them — but they will groan at the last, when they find themselves entangled in the cords of their own sins.
But the righteous are free from these snares, and cannot but sing and rejoice, and praise the name of the Lord, when they think of that sovereign grace which has delivered them, like a roe from the hunter, and a bird from the snare of the fowler. They walk in a safe way, and the sins and miseries which others meet in the way of destruction, excite at once their sorrow for the miserable creatures that expose themselves to such tremendous dangers, and their joy at their own happiness in escaping them all.
The way of sin is broad — and the way of holiness is narrow. Those have reason to mourn, who are traveling to the gibbet, although their path should be strewed with flowers. And those have reason to sing and rejoice, who are walking over a rugged path to take possession of an eternal kingdom!
Proverbs 29:7."The righteous care about justice for the poor, but the wicked have no such concern."
The wise man does not say that a righteous judge will favor a poor man in his cause, for that would be to respect people in judgment, and to consider his poverty rather than his cause. But he tells us that a righteous man will endeavor so to investigate and manage the cause of a poor man in judgment, that he shall not lose it, for his inability to defend himself.
Such a man was Job. The cause which he knew not, he searched out. He delivered the needy when he cried, the poor also, and him who had none to help him. He broke the jaws of the wicked, and plucked the spoil from his teeth. Thus he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and his judgment was as a robe and a diadem.
All just magistrates will endeavor to follow the example of that venerable prince, for this is one article of the commission which they have from the great King who entrusts them with this power. Lawyers, and people in every station, as opportunity offers, are bound to testify their righteousness and charity in like manner, as far as it consists with the station in which they are placed.
But the wicked have no such concern for justice to the poor. It is the person that he regards, and not the cause. He considers which of the two parties will give him most money, and passes such a decision, if he dares, as he thinks will tend most to his own interest. Or, if he is not yet so far gone in the ways of sin as to pervert justice in the most open manner — yet he will not be at the trouble of searching out the cause of a man who has no money to pay for it, and if his sentence should happen to be right, he is entitled to no thanks for it.
Let judges remember that they must give an account of every act of their administration to him by whom kings reign. Let the poor that suffer oppression, comfort their souls by considering the grace of the Redeemer's administration. He shall spare the poor and needy, and he shall save the souls of the needy. He shall redeem them from deceit and violence, and precious shall their blood be in his sight.
Proverbs 29:8."Scornful men bring a city into a snare; (or rather, scornful men set a city on fire,) but wise men turn away wrath."
The proud in heart stir up strife; and the fire which they kindle is not confined within the narrow circle of their own immediate connections — but often spreads with fury through every part of the city where they dwell. They are public incendiaries, who must have everything done in their own way — or, if their pride and honor is not gratified, they excite universal disorder, drawing over as many as they can to their own party, by all the methods of fraud and villainy; and provoking other men by their conduct, until there is a kind of civil war raised within the society to which they belong, and the city or country is in great danger of destruction. These proud and scornful men are the bane of the place where they live — but divine providence has scattered some wise men through many places, who counteract their harms, and by prudent management, keep under or extinguish the flames of contention. To such people, the places where they dwell are under the greatest obligations, and they ought to be respected — as much as the haughty and insolent deserve to be abhorred.
There is another sense in which this proverb is verified. Men that despise God and goodness, and laugh at instruction and admonition, kindle the wrath of God against the country to which they belong. For they not only provoke the displeasure of God against themselves — but their example corrupts their neighbors — and those who do not follow their pernicious ways are in a lesser degree sharers in their guilt, when they do not mourn for the abominations of the land, nor bear a proper testimony against them. And thus the whole community is involved in guilt, and exposed to punishment.
But wise and holy men turn away wrath by their fervent prayers, and by the success with which their endeavors are sometimes blessed, to stem the torrent of corruption. Such men stand like Moses in the gap, and prevent the execution of deserved indignation, and they justly deserve that glorious character of the protectors of the nation. The wicked may call them the troublers of the land — but that is no strange thing, for Ahab reproached Elijah in such words. The holy seed are the substance and strength of a land. The wicked of a land are its most dangerous enemies. Have we any love for our native country? Let us reveal our patriotism by endeavoring to turn away wrath. If this cannot be done, then perhaps we shall be hidden in the day of the Lord's anger; and it is certain that we shall never lose our reward.
Proverbs 29:9."If a wise man contends with a fool — the fool rages and scoffs, and there is no peace."
Those who keep the law contend with the wicked; and prudence must direct us in what manner we should contend with them. Men have very different dispositions; some must be addressed with severe and sharp reproofs, that they may feel the iniquity of their conduct. But others are to be addressed in the language of mildness and gentleness, and will be won to goodness, although they could not be driven to it. We find that the prophets sometimes thundered, and sometimes wept, and sometimes allured men by the language of love, to repentance. God, who is well acquainted with all the springs of conduct in human nature, taught them to deal with men in these various ways — but experience proved how generally this proverb agreed with the temper of foolish men. For the prophets seldom had much success in their exhortations, though diversified with all that wisdom and prudence in which God abounded towards men. The forerunner of our Lord, who was greater than the former prophets, lamented unto the people of his generation — and yet they did not mourn. Our Lord himself preached unto them, and the people wondered at the gracious words which proceeded out of his mouth. But they only wondered and did not generally repent.
Let us endeavor to turn the wicked to the wisdom of the just by all the prudent methods competent to our station. If we do not succeed in our charitable endeavors, our reward is with the Lord — and obstinate sinners must give an account to the Judge of the living and the dead.
This proverb teaches us to avoid all personal contentions with foolish men. For whether we are angry at them, or endeavor by gentle means to reason them out of their folly, they will give us no rest — but behave in such a manner as may throw us off our guard, and deprive us of peace. When conscience and charity do not oblige us to enter into disputes with them for their own good, it is best to let them alone, except when the object of strife is sufficient to compensate our loss of peace.
The fool, who is so intractable, either storms against the wise man who contends with him, or laughs him to scorn, and treats him with contempt. If we enter into dispute, we ought to behave with a gentle temper. Fury and scorn are the fool's weapons of warfare — but a wise man scorns to make use of them. As he wishes to do all things with charity, so he can carry on a necessary dispute, either about religion, or property, or anything else that will justify a dispute, with that meekness of wisdom which befits saints. The enemies of our Lord were remarkable examples of the fool's method of managing disputes. Our Lord himself is the great example whom Christians are to imitate in this and in every other point.
Proverbs 29:10."Bloodthirsty men hate a man of integrity, but the upright seek his well-being."
"If the world hates you," says our Lord to his disciples, "you know that it hated me before it hated you." If God's people are conformed unto Christ in suffering the hatred of men, they need not think it a strange thing, nor allow themselves to be dispirited on that account. There are some men whose hatred is better than their love, and such are the haters of the upright. They are bloodthirsty men, the successors of those who have been drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. Every man who hates his brother in his heart is a murderer, and those are murderers of the worst kind who hate men for that which is good. They are the true children of him who was a murderer from the beginning.
The upright are of an opposite disposition. They seek his well-being, (or care for it, as the word is translated,) and it is a comfort to the upright to consider who they are that hate, and who they are that love them, and care for their welfare. "Hereby know we the children of God and the children of the devil. Whoever does not righteousness is not of God, neither he who loves not his brother." He who loves his brother will be zealous for his welfare, and will endeavor to screen him from the malice of the wicked. It is the duty of all men, and the disposition of the upright, to deliver those who are ready to be slain for their integrity.
Justice is not a lazy inactive virtue; it does not rest satisfied with doing no evil — but it will dispose men to do good, and to prevent evil to the utmost of their power. Do we profess to be just? We must remember that love is a debt which we owe to men, and especially to the upright; and that we must love, not in word and in tongue — but in deed and in truth.
Proverbs 29:11."A fool utters all his mind, but a wise man keeps himself under control."
There are many people who boast of their honesty in telling others what they think, and concealing nothing that comes into their mind. Such people may call themselves by any honorable names they please — but Solomon calls them fools.
Some things come into our minds that we should never speak — but suppress the very thought of them; and other things may be very fit to be spoken at a fit season — and yet very improper to be spoken at present. The fool's thoughts lie at the tip of his tongue — and there is no door at his mouth to keep them in!
The thoughts of the wise man lie in his heart; and there is a door upon his tongue, which he keeps close barred, that nothing may get out of his mouth that may harm himself, or other men. Some things occur to him, which he will never utter to the wife of his bosom, because they could do no good. Other things he thinks proper to be spoken at a fit time, and then he keeps in his thoughts until afterwards. He will never speak against his mind — but he will not always speak his mind. And when he speaks it, he does not think that honesty obliges him to speak all that is in it.
Samuel told the elders of Bethlehem a part of his design in coming to their town — but he concealed the principal part of it by divine direction. There is a time to be silent, and a time to speak. There is a time to be silent even from good, because he wicked are before us. There is a time to speak a part of our mind, and a time to declare all that is in our hearts. The wise man's heart knows both the proper time and circumstances.
When a fool is in a passion he pours forth all his mind in a torrent of evil language, and speaks words which afterwards cut him to the heart. Does he mean to reprove? He will do it at the most improper season, and inflame with rage the person whom he reproves. He may show something of the temper of the dove — but he imitates it rather in silliness than harmlessness.
The wise man is sensible that it is as much his duty to practice the wisdom of the serpent, as the harmlessness of the dove. He will take care what he says, when he finds himself or sees others under the influence of passion, and will abstain from talking with which he can do no good.
Proverbs 29:12."If a ruler listens to lies, all his officials become wicked."
Great is the accounting which rulers must give. For they are accountable for thousands of actions which they never committed, and of which it is possible they never heard. Their behavior has such a mighty influence, that we find, in the history of the kings of Israel and Judah, the nation behaving well or ill according to the example and influence of their sovereign. If a ruler takes pleasure in flattery, the greater part of his servants will be so wicked as to poison him with their fulsome and ill-grounded praises. They will make him glad with their lies — but at the same time they make him more wicked, while they are polluting their own hearts, and debauching their consciences, by prostituting themselves to such base means of ingratiating themselves with their prince.
The servants of a ruler are still more wicked, if he hearkens to slander and false accusations. For some of them through fear, and others of them to gain his favor, will join in persecuting the innocent, and encouraging that pestilent vermin of a nation, called slanderers. The reigns of those princes who gave an easy belief to accusations, are stained with the most atrocious crimes. Tiberius Caesar put to death the greater number of his own privy counselors, by giving ear to lies, and encouraging his servants to be wicked. It is probable that the worst action that ever was committed since the fall of Adam, the murder of the Prince of life, was occasioned by Pilate's wicked and cowardly regard to the temper of that tyrant, and his fear of being accused as an encourager of treason, if he had allowed our Lord to escape.
It is a base and unmanly vice in any person to hearken to idle tales, that may very likely turn out to be lies, or misrepresentations of truth. The man who encourages people to tell him what this or the other person says of him, can never live in peace and friendship with his neighbors. And he makes other people wicked, by the countenance which he affords to slander, and whispering, and evil speaking in all its different kinds.
Proverbs 29:13."The poor man and the oppressor have this in common: The Lord gives sight to the eyes of both."
The poor too often look with an envious eye upon the rich, specially those to whom they are in debt, and the oppressor looks with an eye of contempt upon his poor debtor. But what has the rich more than the poor — or why should the poor grudge at the riches of another man? The Lord is the maker of them both, and gives them equally the light of understanding. He bestows comfort upon the poor as well as the rich; and although they have not the pleasure of looking at splendid ceilings, and fine furniture in their dwellings — yet the cheerful light of day shines upon his eyelids, and he beholds those wonderful glories of the skies, which darken the luster of all earthly pomp.
If the rich man has acquired his fortune by deceit, he has no advantage from it above the poor, but to load his soul with guilt. The light of life, and reason, and comfort, is granted to the poor, at least as much as to himself. And the light of grace, which is enjoyed by the poor, is hidden from his eyes. He cannot think that the poor man is hated by God, because he is not worth so great a sum of money as himself; nor can he flatter himself, unless he is sunk in stupidity, that God loves him because he is wealthy.
God continues with him the light of life, for his patience and mercy is very great, and he waits for the repentance of the wicked — but the impenitent must soon have their eyes closed in darkness, and their souls shut up in the place of utter darkness — when the poor of this world, who were rich in faith, shall no longer meet with the deceitful man, because they are admitted to that world of light into which no deceitful man, without pardoning and converting grace, shall be permitted to enter.
Proverbs 29:14."If a king judges the poor with fairness, his throne shall be established forever."
All kings are anxious to have their thrones established, and their crowns transmitted to the last posterity. But by what means shall they establish their thrones? By forming alliances, by fortifying their cities, by providing powerful navies, and by supporting great armies? These things may be useful — but honest government is the best and surest way of establishing their thrones, for that will secure them the love of their subjects, and render their kingdoms prosperous. And what is of still greater consequence, the blessing of the Lord will attend that administration, which is managed according to his own directions.
Kings are obliged to do justice to all men — but the God of mercy gives them a special charge of the poor, who are most liable to oppression and harm. The Lord looks down from Heaven with an eye of compassion to the poor and needy, and commands the princes and judges of the earth to be very merciful to them, and will not allow the justice and kindness that is showed them to pass unrewarded. The poor may expect good at the hands of all who regard the Word of God — but if they are treated with scorn by men, they may safely commit themselves unto him who testifies so much kindness to them in his promises and precepts.
Proverbs 29:15."The rod and reproof impart wisdom, but a child left to himself brings his mother to shame."
"Though you grind a fool in a mortar, grinding him like grain with a pestle, you will not remove his folly from him." This is true, especially of old fools that are hardened by a course of foolish conduct.
But the rod of correction is a means appointed by God, and often blessed by him, for driving away folly from the hearts of young people. God never prescribed any vain or unprofitable precepts; and he would not have insisted so much on the duty of correcting children, unless he had designed in general to give a blessing to it.
But the rod of correction is of no use without the concurrence of God, the great and only author of wisdom. Those, therefore, who desire the blessing of God to attend it, must administer correction in the manner appointed by him — and he requires reproof to be joined to the rod, that the child who is corrected may be made sensible of the evil for which he is treated with severity.
Some parents follow the dictates of their own passion in correcting their children, and strike without mercy, when they use no means to make them sensible that they deserve the rod. They deal worse with their children than shepherds with their dogs, who beat them when they have done something that displeases their masters — but do it in such a manner, or at such a time, that these animals may perceive the fault for which they are punished.
The rod, joined with reproof, is a means of giving wisdom, and of making a child behave in such a manner that he may be a credit to his parents — but a child left to behave as he pleases, will never, in all probability, be a comfort or an honor either to his father or to his mother. All are naturally corrupt, and those who are left to follow the propensities of nature will be a grief to their fathers, and bring their mothers to shame. Their mothers deserved much blame for the indulgence so foolishly given them, and when they feel the torment which the bad behavior of their children cannot fail of giving them, they must see their sin in their punishment.
Proverbs 29:16."When the wicked thrive, so does sin, but the righteous will see their downfall."
When the pestilence rages in a country, multitudes are infected with the dreadful distemper. There is no disease more fatal or more infectious than sin. When the generality of men are profane, the restraints of shame are removed from sin, and wicked men thrive. They must possess a spirit like that of Noah or Lot, who are untainted by the spreading contagion. When wicked men possess authority, the danger is extreme. The countenance which they give to sin is a dreadful temptation, which few have the resolution and courage to resist. One Obadiah in the court, and seven thousand worshipers of the Lord in the kingdom of Ahab, were more than Elijah dreamed of.
The abundance of wickedness in such evil times is very distressing to the righteous — but they have the comfortable prospect of seeing the fall of the wicked. God is their enemy, and although he bears with them for a time — yet he has doomed them to destruction. Their iniquity shall come into remembrance with the Lord, and when the measure of it is full, they shall be swept away with the broom of destruction. The righteous shall see their fall and shall rejoice, (not that they entertained hatred to the wicked, for they ardently desired their repentance, but) because their fall is a check to wickedness and an evidence that there is a God who reigns in the earth, and has an invariable love for Righteousness.
Proverbs 29:17."Discipline your son, and he will give you peace; he will bring delight to your soul."
Why does Solomon so often press this duty of disciplining children? Because it is a necessary duty; and yet many parents are very averse to the practice of it.
When there is a great drought in the ground, it requires many showers to make it fruitful. Just so, when there is a violent aversion to any duty, precept must be upon precept, and line upon line, before we will practice it. But does correcting of children gives great pain to the parent? On the contrary, it gives great pleasure. The pain is transient — the pleasure is lasting. The rod and reproof give wisdom; and how delightful to a parent, is wisdom in a child! But what if a child still continues obstinate? This is not ordinarily the case. Correct like a kind parent and a friend — and your child will learn at length the duty of a child. Join prayer with your corrections, to that God who has appointed them. He never said to any of the seed of Jacob, seek me in vain — and he never appointed useless and unavailing means for any end. But God is sovereign; perhaps he will not be pleased to communicate wisdom by the rod to my child? Make the trial. If you should be unsuccessful, you shall be free of those tormenting stings of remorse which thousands of parents feel.
Isaac was the beloved son of Abraham, and never did a parent taste such pleasure in a son as the venerable patriarch, except the Virgin Mary — but Abraham did not refuse to sacrifice his son with his own hands, when God gave the order; and shall we refuse to administer a little beneficial correction to our children at his command? Abraham never found so much pleasure in his son, as when he showed that he feared and loved God above his son, in not withholding him from God. Just so, other parents may look for greater or lesser degrees of comfort in their children, as they observe or neglect the commandments of the Lord, about the management of them. Eli honored his sons above God, and they proved the greatest of his crosses; "for those who honor me," says God, "I will honor; and those who despise me, shall be lightly esteemed."
Proverbs 29:18."Where there is no vision, the people perish; but blessed is he who keeps the law."
It is a distinguishing mercy to us that God has made known in our land, the great things of his law and covenant. There are nations that never heard of the name of a Redeemer, and under the influence of corrupt traditions or false prophets, they are serving those gods that are no gods, with detestable ceremonies. They are born, like ourselves, in a sinful and wretched condition — but are left in utter ignorance of that great Savior in whose name our blessedness lies. They are left naked and exposed to the assaults of their spiritual enemies, who are still walking about seeking whom they may destroy.
Where there is no Christian vision, the light of philosophy cannot supply its place. The Greeks were admirably enlightened by science — and yet Paul tells them, that before the gospel of their salvation was preached among them, they were strangers to the covenant of promise; without God, without Christ, and without hope in the world.
Blessed be God who made light to arise in darkness to us. Britain was, in ancient days, one of the darkest places of the earth — but through the tender mercies of our God, the day-spring from on high visited us. By the cruelty of the Popish clergy, the key of knowledge was almost taken from us in later ages — but through the good hand of our God upon us, we have now great plenty of Bibles and sermons.
Let it be our daily prayer, that all the nations of the world who are perishing through lack of knowledge, may be made to share in our privileges. But what will unimproved privileges avail? He is not the happy man who has a Bible — but the man is blessed who delights in it, and meditates upon it day and night; who believes the doctrines of it, trusts in the Savior whom it reveals, and respects all the precepts of it in his practice.
"Not every one who says unto Christ, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven — but he who does the will of Christ's heavenly father." If those who sin without the law perish without the law — then there must be a deeper perdition, and more intolerable torments for those who despise both law and gospel.
Proverbs 29:19."A servant cannot be corrected by mere words; though he understands, he will not respond."
We apply what is here said to a stubborn servant only; and it is plain, from fact, that Solomon meant this proverb only of such, for there are many hired servants every way equal to their masters in every generous quality, and the character of those servants that must be corrected by blows, does by no means belong to them. There have been even slaves who have showed a noble disposition, and have not only served their masters with fidelity — but performed acts of heroism that might have done honor to any station.
But it is very probable, that in Solomon's days, when servants were commonly bond-slaves, the greatest part of them were sunk and debased, so far as to be of the temper here represented. The loss of liberty is often the destruction of everything good and noble; and servants that were treated like cattle would need a strict hand to govern them; because words would not be much regarded by those who had neither attachment to their masters, nor any sense of honor.
The proverb teaches us that masters ought to keep up their authority in their families. Without this everything must be in a state of confusion, and go to ruin. If they have servant that will not yield obedience, they must either be compelled to do it, or dismissed from the house.
But it teaches us likewise, that methods of severity are not to be used by heads of families, when milder means are sufficient to answer the end. It is only when servants, though they understand the wishes of their masters, will not answer by respectful words and due obedience, that masters are warranted to use harsh methods of dealing with them.
Let servants learn from this passage, how much God is displeased with them, when they are sullen and disobedient to their masters. God commands masters to give unto their servants that which is just and equal; at the same time he gives them commission to support their authority over stubborn servants, by such means as are sufficient to answer the end. If servants are reproved with sharpness for their faults, they must blame themselves and not their masters. The apostle Peter tells them, that they deserve no thanks, if they are patient, even when they are buffeted for their faults. If they deserve no thanks for their patience under just buffetings — they deserve very great blame when they are impatient of merited reproof.
Proverbs 29:20."Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him!"
"Do you see a man wise in his own conceit? There is more hope of a fool than of him." But how shall we know the man who is wise in his own conceit when we see him? This text gives us a sure mark of such a person. When a man speaks everything that strikes his mind, rashly and inconsiderately — or when he is rash and headstrong in the management of his business, disdaining to take any advice from others, and so confident of his own wisdom and abilities, that he takes little time to consider the most important undertaking — but pushes on in the way that seems best to his own unadvised mind, hoping to command success by his own power — then it is evident that he is wise in his own conceit. And he who is wise in his own eyes, is the greatest and most hopeless of fools in Solomon's estimation.
If rashness in the things of this life is a sign of great folly, then it is a great deal more dangerous to make too much haste in matters of religion. The Bereans are commended because they candidly examined Paul's doctrine by the Scriptures of the Old Testament. The apostle condemns those who are heady, and joins them with the high-minded; and it is certain, that people of that character have been the authors of those heresies and divisions which have plagued the church of God, and are still the fire-brands of Christian societies.
There is another kind of rashness in religion forbidden by Solomon as a token of great irreverence to God; I mean rashness in vowing or in praying. God is in Heaven, and we are upon earth — and therefore our words before him ought to be few and well considered.
Proverbs 29:21."If a man pampers his servant from youth — he will bring grief in the end."
The greatest part of masters cannot be blamed for too much indulgence to their servants — and yet some err on that side. Solomon, who wished us to stand perfect and complete in all wisdom, guards us against it. Men must condescend to them of low degree — but they ought at the same time to respect their own place and station, and not to debase it, by such familiarities towards their inferiors as may expose themselves to contempt, and tempt their inferiors to forget their distance.
Joab, by the indulgence of David, became such a great man, that he killed the commander in chief of David's army, at the head of his troops. As an officer in the army would deserve to lose his place, if he did not oblige his soldiers to obey him — so the man shows himself unworthy of his station in the family, or church, or nation, who does not know the authority which God has given him, and uses no care to preserve it.
Servants are taught by this proverb, to respect, as well as to obey their masters. The apostle Peter enjoins servants to obey their masters with all fear, whether their masters are wicked — or good and gentle. Whatever condescensions our superiors use in their behavior towards us, we must not forget our distance — but give fear to whom fear, and honor to whom honor is due. Job was a prince of extraordinary goodness to his servants and all his inferiors — yet he never, until the time of his severe trials, forfeited, or lost any part of that respect which was his due.
Proverbs 29:22."An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins."
Solomon has told us already, that the angry man stirs up strife. His anger pushes him on to bitter contentions, and makes him the incendiary of the place where he lives. But strife is not the only evil produced by anger, for when it is roused to fury, it becomes a fruitful source of every iniquity. We read in the 24th chapter of Leviticus, that a man in his passion cursed the name of the God of Israel, and was stoned for it. David, although he was a meek man in the general course of his life, swore a very rash oath, by the name of the Lord, when he was incensed at Nabal.
Railing, and reviling, and backbiting, and evil speaking, and lies, and wars, and duels, and murders — are only a few of the transgressions to which men have been a thousand times tempted by their unbridled anger. He who indulges anger, gives place to the devil. He puts that malignant spirit in possession of the throne of his heart, and commits to him the direction of his heart, and tongue, and hands. The wrath of man never works the righteousness of God; it utterly disqualifies him for praying, or doing any other holy action — but it works the will of the devil with both hands earnestly.
Many volumes of history might be written in proof of this point — but the evidences of it are every day before our eyes. Cease from anger, and forsake wrath, and let the meekness and gentleness of Christ be still before your eyes.
Proverbs 29:23."A man's pride brings him low, but a man of a humble spirit gains honor."
Pride raises a man as high as Heaven in his own apprehension — but it shall bring him as low as Hell. All men are the enemies of the proud, and proud men themselves are the bitterest enemies to one another. For other vices unite men in confederacies and friendships — but pride has often set fathers and sons, husbands and wives, at variance.
God is the enemy of the proud, he looks upon them with disdain and abhorrence, and will abase them.
Pride itself is the enemy of the proud, and will bring them down from the highest honors to the deepest pit of disgrace. What was it but pride, that brought Haman to the gallows — and made angels, devils?
But those whose hearts are humble enjoy true and solid honors. The honors of the proud are feathers and wind. They soon fly away and never return — but honor shall uphold the man of a humble spirit. His crown consists, not of such corruptible things as silver and gold — but it is a crown of life and glory which never fades away. He is exalted to safety, and shall reign with God forever and ever.
Let us all beware of the devil's first-born sin — and learn humility from him who was meek and humble in heart.
There are remainders of pride even in believers, which, if left unmortified, will do them great hurt. For any man's pride (were he as good as Hezekiah) will bring him low, until his spirit is effectually humbled.
Why does the wise man insist so much on this point? Not because he needed new matter for instructing us, for his wisdom covered the whole earth, and he filled the world with dark parables. But because humility is a lesson which we must learn — and yet are very backward to learn. Our Lord frequently repeats this proverb in other words. "He who exalts himself shall be abased, and he who humbles himself shall be exalted."
Proverbs 29:24."The accomplice of a thief is his own enemy; he is put under oath and dare not testify."
Stealing is an abominable crime. It was to be severely punished by the law of God, and is still more severely punished by our own laws. Thieves, and all who are partners with thieves, are haters of their own souls, for they love money more than salvation. They are the enemies of all men — but they are worse enemies to themselves than to those whom they plunder. How poor a recompense do they obtain by their ill-gotten gains — for the harms which they bring upon themselves here, and in the eternal world.
There are some who would be afraid to steal — and yet they venture to partake with thieves in their crime, by receiving a part of what is stolen as the price of concealment, or by buying commodities which they have reason to suspect for stolen goods, because they can have them at a low price. The Scripture assures us, that men may bring such guilt upon themselves by partaking of other men's sins; and that he who is a partner with a thief, is a hater of his own life and soul, as well as the principal thief. The devil is not content with drawing men to single acts of sin — but he makes one evil thing the preface to another.
The devil makes one transgression a snare for leading the sinner into another; and he who joins with a thief, is prepared for lying and perjury. In court he is put under oath and dare not testify — and thus he adds to the guilt of stealing the greater guilt of falsehood and concealment, when he is upon his oath. Those who are under examination upon oath, should consider this text. If they swear that they will tell everything they know about the affair before the judge, or if they are required, by proper authority, to bear witness about a crime which ought to be punished — they are enemies to justice, and haters of their own souls, if they do not give a faithful and honest declaration of the truth. Men may partake of other men's sins, not only by countenancing them — but by refusing to concur in proper endeavors to have them punished, for a warning to others.
Proverbs 29:25."The fear of man brings a snare — but whoever puts his trust in the Lord shall be kept safe."
When men are more afraid of offending their fellow men than of sinning against God, they are in great danger of being drawn or driven into some of the worst of sins! It was this fear which made David sometimes lie, although he hated lying. It was the fear of a woman who made Peter deny his gracious master; and the same passion afterwards induced him to behave in a very unedifying manner at Antioch, that he might not give offence to his bigoted brethren. If the fear of man has sometimes misled such men as David and Peter, (and we may add, the father of the faithful, and Aaron the priest of the Lord) — then how ensnaring must it be to those who are entirely destitute of faith in God. Many are kept by it from performing necessary duties, like those who believed Jesus to be the Christ — and yet dared not confess him, lest they should have been excommunicated. Many are driven to rebel in many things against the light of their judgments — to gratify masters, or parents, or princes, or friends, whom they wish not to displease.
It will be no sufficient excuse for sin, that the fear of men led us into the commission of it. Who are we that we should be afraid of men who shall die? Are men more worthy of fear, than the Almighty God? Was it right in our first parents to obey the devil, rather than God? Do we not imitate their conduct when we prefer the pleasing of men, to the pleasing of our Maker? If we rather choose to venture on the wrath of God than the wrath of men — can we complain if we have our choice?
The great antidote against the fear of man is confidence in the Lord. The true believer, acting like himself, goes on in the path of duty, without fearing the wrath of men or devils. "The Lord," says he, "is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is my helper, what can mere man do unto me?"
In our tormenting and ensnaring fears, our Lord teaches us to discern the weakness of our faith. He who trusts in the Lord shall be safe from the snares of sin. For his faith is a shield to quench all the fiery darts of temptation. He shall be safe from every danger in the way of duty, which timorous men fall into. He shall find that there is no lion, nor any ravenous beast in the way of holiness. Or if there are, that they are chained, and cannot do him any evil which shall not turn out to his advantage in the end.
Proverbs 29:26."Many seek the ruler's favor, but it is from the Lord that man gets justice."
Confidence in men is no less dangerous than the fear of man, and there is a dreadful curse pronounced upon those who trust in man, and make flesh their arm, and whose heart departs from the Lord. Princes are the idols of those who are honored with their friendship. Men in lower stations make idols of those who are most likely to do them any service, and solicit their kindness oftentimes with greater earnestness than the favor of God.
This behavior proceeds from a secret disbelief of the providence of God. Men seem to think that earthly things are managed by a train of inferior causes, without any superintendence of the Most High God. If they have the favor of great men, they are happy for this life, whether they have an interest in the favor of God or not. But we ought to believe and remember this great truth — that every man's portion comes from the Lord. It depends upon his sovereign pleasure whether we shall be prosperous or unsuccessful in any particular business; whether we shall be rich or poor; whether we shall enjoy the favor of men, or suffer the effects of their displeasure. Riches, and honors, and friendship, and hatred — are under the control of the Ruler of the world. Not a hair can fall from our heads, nor can the least addition to our comfort be made, without his pleasure.
A sense of this truth would dispose us to acknowledge God in all our ways; to make our requests in all things known unto him with fervency of spirit; to thank him with greater cordiality for every happy event, than those who were the instruments of his kindness. It would be a strong antidote against the ensnaring fear of men, and every fleshly confidence. It would keep us from sinking under adversity, and from abusing prosperity into provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof. A persuasion of this truth disposing us to cleave unto God, is the best means of ensuring success in all our undertakings.
Esther prayed more earnestly to God, than to Ahasuerus, for the safety of her nation, and her success is celebrated by the Jews unto this day. Nehemiah acted upon the same principle, when he petitioned his master for the place of his father's sepulchers — the Lord gave him great favor with the king of Persia, and his fame shall live forever. All who place that confidence in any creature, which is due to the Sovereign of Heaven and earth, are reproved by this precept. They are directed to expect everything they need from God as the first cause, although the warrantable means of obtaining our wishes, are not to be neglected.
Proverbs 29:27."An unjust man is an abomination to the just. He who is upright in the way, is an abomination to the wicked."
That an unjust man abhors the just, we have already heard. But how can the just abhor the wicked? Christ commands us to love our enemies, although our enemies, in all appearance, must be the enemies of God also. We are required to love our neighbors as ourselves, although we know that great multitudes of them are unrighteous men. How then will the law of God permit us to hold the unrighteous in abhorrence? The just man wishes no evil to the wicked, for he would have them all to be saved. Paul could have wished that he was accursed from Christ for his brethren, his kinsmen according to the flesh — although they were the worst enemies of the gospel in the world.
But the unjust man is detested by the just, as a rebel against God, although, as a man, he is the object of charity. The just man abhors the sins of the wicked, and shuns their company and testifies by every regular method against their iniquities, and joins his influence to bring them under the beneficial rod of discipline. His abhorrence of them is a part of his conformity to Christ, who exposed hypocrites, and spoke with a voice of thunder against the wickedness of men — and yet called all to repentance, and prayed for the wicked when they were crucifying him. Hatred to sin in ourselves and other men — is one necessary branch of the Christian temper. If we are the friends of Christ, we shall be determined enemies to that which brought him to a cross.
The proverbs of Solomon, the son of David, are ended.