A Practical Exposition of the Book of Proverbs
By George Lawson, 1821
This chapter contains a variety of useful precepts enforced by the strongest motives. First, To remember and keep in our hearts the things written in this book, verse 1, 2.
Verse 1."My son, do not forget my law — but let your heart keep my commandments." This inspired teacher is to be reverenced as a spiritual father. His word is to be regarded as a law publish by Solomon — but binding on us by the authority of God. We must never forget this law — but make it familiar to our memories, that we may have a guide ready to direct us in every situation in which we may be placed; and when we treasure it up in our memory, we are to keep it in our heart. Richly does it deserve to form the object of our constant love, and the subject of our meditation all the day. Our obedience to it must proceed from the heart.
What is the difference between godly men, and false pretenders to religion? To the latter, the religion which they have is a burden — to the former religion is a pleasure. To the one the law is a disagreeable restraint — to the other God's commandments are not grievous, for they rejoice in the way of his testimonies, more than in all riches. Self interest dictates to us the propriety of keeping God's commandments:
Verse 2."For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to you." A long and happy life is the desire of all men, and riches and good physicians appear to them the most likely means of obtaining it. But religion is better than all the gold and physicians in the world, for it has the promise of this life, as well as of that to come. Solomon knew well that godly men sometimes die young, while the wicked live, become old, yes, mighty in power; but still he asserts and often repeats the promise of long life which belongs to godliness. Surely, then it is not without meaning and truth.
The godly shall enjoy life as far as it is really a blessing in their particular circumstances — the meaning carried beyond this, would convert the blessing into a threatening. Peace is enjoyed by the godly, even that of God which passes all understanding, and it keeps their hearts and minds through Jesus Christ. Outward prosperity is enjoyed by them, as far as it is consistent with their spiritual interests. Tribulations and enemies they may meet with — but they live in peace. Though slaughtered by the hand of violence, or the sword of war, they die in peace. And when they die, they enter into everlasting peace.
The second precept in this chapter, is one requiring us to live in the exercise of mercy and truth:
Verse 3."Let not mercy and truth forsake you. Bind them about your neck, write them upon the table of your heart." Mercy and truth are to be exercised by us in every part of our fellowship with our fellow-creatures — however defective they may be in the practice of these virtues to us. They are to be tied about our necks as a precious ornament, to be worn through life, and made visible to all men. Our light should shine before men, not for our own praise — but for the glory of our heavenly Father. But it is not enough to practice mercy and truth, so as to obtain a character for fidelity among men.
Our outward acts must proceed from the heart. As the law of commandments was written upon tables of stone — so is the law of Christ written on the fleshly tables of the Christian's heart, by the Spirit of the living God. As workers under the Spirit, we are required to write the law of kindness and of truth upon the tables of our heart, by maintaining deep impressions of it, by meditating upon the peaceful motives that should excite us to that virtue, and by endeavoring, through the grace of Christ, to have our hearts habitually disposed to all those duties which are the natural fruits of love and integrity.
Verse 4."So shall you find favor and good understanding in the sight of God and man." God is well pleased, not only with the reverence and love which his people show to himself — but with that generosity and mercy, that sincerity and faithfulness, which they evince to their fellow-men.
Mercy and truth are glorious perfections in the Deity, perfections which shall be forever praised as the springs of our felicity. Of these, the mercy and truth found in wisdom's disciples, are to be regarded as a faint imitation. God is greatly delighted to find in his children this his true, though imperfect image. To the merciful, he will show himself merciful — and those who deal truly, are his delight. He not only smiles upon them with the light of his countenance — but gives them favor in the sight of men also.
Kindness and truth are qualities so amiable as to engage the esteem even of those who are too selfish to practice them. They attract the good-will of men. They procure that good name which is better than precious ointment.
That understanding which is good in the sight of God and man, is another fruit of the constant practice of mercy and truth. A good understanding appears already in his behavior — but it is also promoted by it; for the practice of what we know, tends greatly to render our knowledge more clear, and certain, and extensive.
The next precept is, to depend on God, and not on our own understanding.
Verse 5."Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not to your own understanding." To trust in God, is to depend on him for bestowing on us every needful blessing, and preserving us from all evil.
Faith in Christ for eternal life is included in this dependence on God, for by him we believe in God. But we are commanded to trust in God for everything necessary for us in this life also; for the Lord God is a sun and shield, he will give grace and glory, and every good thing. O Lord God Almighty, blessed is the man that trusts in you!
This dependence on God is to be exercised with all our hearts, our judgments being persuaded that God is the only and the all-sufficient object of confidence, and our souls resting with full satisfaction in his power and faithfulness.
This holy exercise is fully and clearly exemplified to us in many of the psalms of David. While we trust in the Lord, our hearts must cleave to him, and renounce every sublunary dependence. To divide our confidence between God and the creature, is to lean with one hand upon a rock, and with the other hand upon a broken reed!
David charges his soul to wait upon God only, for his expectation was from him, and from none else. We must not make our own understanding a staff to our hearts. Dependence on our own wisdom, will lead us from trusting in God, to make lies our refuge, and to adopt unhallowed means for the attainment of our wishes.
When men reject the testimony of God concerning Christ, when they depend on their own righteousness and strength instead of Christ, or on creatures rather than on God for help in difficulty, or when they expect to obtain pleasure or profit by sinful means — it is evident that they are departing from God, through an evil heart of unbelief, and trusting for the direction of their behavior to their own corrupted minds.
Do we trust in God, and not in ourselves? It will then give us much pleasure to know that we are directed and encouraged to make known all our affairs to God, according to the following words of the wise king:
Verse 6."In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths." God is well acquainted with all our affairs — and yet he graciously requires us to present them to him in prayer, and to ask from him direction in the management of them, that we may be guided by his providence and Spirit, according to his word. The saints have found much relief in their perplexities, by spreading their case before him, and petitioning this verse for their help.
But times of distress are not the only seasons in which we ought to apply to him, "Be anxious for nothing, (says Paul,) but in everything, by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving, make known your requests unto him." We are every day to pray that our steps may be so ordered, as that we may not be led into temptation.
Joshua in the midst of his prosperity erred, by neglecting to ask counsel at the mouth of the Lord, because he thought the matter so clear, as that he might safely trust to his own understanding.
Our encouragement to this duty is a promise that our path shall be directed. Having showed to God our way, we must wait on God for direction — not by a voice from Heaven, or by a new inspiration — but by his Spirit enabling us to understand his word, and apply it to particular affairs, and by his providence making the way where we should walk clear before us.
Thus will our path be so directed, as that we shall be preserved from falling into sin, from meeting with temptations that might prove too hard for us, and from being subjected to more than needful calamity.
What a pleasure is it to have a wise and kind friend to consult with in all our affairs! but how much sweeter the pleasure, that we know where to find God, that we are invited to go even to his throne of grace, and to utter all our words before him! When we interest God in our affairs by prayer, we may cast away every care, and walk on cheerfully, believing that he will guide every step of our journey. For his eyes are not only upon the way of his people — but upon every step of it. But when we acknowledge the Lord in all our ways, let us be sure to do it with self-diffidence, and with sincere resolutions to adhere to that way which will be pleasing to God.
Verse 7."Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and depart from evil." Vain man would be wise, although man is born like the wild donkey's colt. The world is full of wise men, or of men that would be thought wise. But we cannot be truly wise unless we become fools, renouncing all dependence on our own wisdom, and depending with humility upon the Lord, for those supplies of wisdom that are necessary for enlightening our minds and directing our paths.
When we pretend to ask counsel from God, while we have a secret dependence upon ourselves, and a reserved determination to pay no regard to his word or providence if it should cross our own desires — we play the hypocrite with God, and cover over that self-confidence which he abhors, with false professions of faith and resignation to the will of God.
A high opinion of men's own wisdom is so dangerous, that Isaiah pronounces a heavy woe upon it. We are not indeed to pull out our own eyes, to renounce our own understandings, or to believe contradictions. But we ought certainly to keep our rational powers in subjection to the word of God, to be sensible of our great liableness to err, and of our absolute need of divine direction, especially in those matters that concern religion.
That we may have our paths made straight, we must also fear the Lord and depart from evil. To those who fear the Lord, is addressed a promise of divine teaching. The fear of the Lord has a native tendency to prevent men from turning out of the way of truth. By the fear of the Lord, men depart from evil. It acts as a sentinel to the soul, which keeps temptation from entering. God makes use of the grace of fear, as well as that of faith, in repelling temptation, and in subduing corruption. "I will put my fear," says he, "into their hearts, and they shall not depart from me." Abraham displayed his fear of God, as well as his unconquerable faith, when nothing could for one moment withhold him from obeying the strangest command which mortal ever received. "Now I know that you feared God," said the angel, "seeing you have not withheld from me your son, your only son."
The fear of God preserves men from bodily disease, as well as from sin.
Verse 8."It shall be health to your body, and marrow to your bones." The bones are the strength and fence of the body. The fear of God is health to the outward, as well as to the inward man.
Health is an object of desire to all, and the wise man will not only use medicines when sick, for the restoration of it — but will attentively consider what food and what exercise are the most proper for preserving health in the body, and marrow in the bones.
The spiritually wise will remember, that in God's hands is our life, and breath, and all our ways — that diseases are his servants, which come and go at his pleasure — and that the surest way to health is to walk before him unto all pleasing. Does he then enjoy health? He has a blessing along with it. Is he the victim of disease? It will be more beneficial to him, than is to the wicked his unsanctified health. Religion has a natural tendency to impart health and vigor to the body, because it preserves a man from those distempers which proceed from unsubdued lusts, and diffuses over the mind that calm serenity and heartfelt joy, which even upon the body exercise a medicinal influence.
We are next required to be liberal in the service of God.
Verse 9, 10."Honor the Lord with your substance, and with the first fruits of all your increase. So shall your barns be filled with plenty, and your vats will brim over with new wine." Earthly substance is necessary for the use of our bodies — but we are called to make a nobler use of it than the mere service of the outward man. We are to honor the Lord with it, making no use of any part of our increase, until we have set apart a reasonable proportion of it for the service of God.
God needs nothing at our hands; but for our own benefit, he will have us to render back a part of all he gives to us, for the decent support of his worship, and for the maintenance of the poor. Is it any hardship to give a part to him, from whom we have received all? Can we make a better use of our wealth, which is often a snare and a trap to men — by serving God, and thus making to ourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness? By this means we honor the Lord. He is the Creator and Redeemer of our souls and bodies, and therefore we are to glorify him with our bodies and our souls, which are his.
Our substance is his also, and we must honor him with it by a liberality in his service, proportioned to the extent of his bounty. By the practice of this duty, we show our faith in his providence and promises, our love to God, our gratitude for his goodness, and our preference for his service, to that of mammon. In this manner we justify our profession of the gospel of Christ, and others are made to glorify God, while they enjoy the benefit of our ministrations to this purpose.
By the neglect of this duty, we are guilty of robbing God himself of that rent which he requires from us as his tenants. We dishonor him by showing that we love the world better than his service, and that we trust more to our money chests, than to his promises. Has he not assured us, that instead of being losers, we shall be great gainers by what we bestow upon him? Liberality on God's account brings down the blessing of providence to such a degree, that our barns shall be filled, and our vats need enlargement.
God has the sun, and winds, and rain, and creatures of every description, in his hand; and these he manages in such a manner, as that none shall be a loser by him, nor a gainer by withholding from him.
Robbers of God are visited with a curse, which like a moth wastes, or like a fire destroys, their substance. Liberality opens the windows of Heaven, destroys the devouring locust, and turns the barren field in a delightful land. Health and riches are the advantages that attend the fear of the Lord, and liberality in his service.
But we must not imagine that these blessings are promised without a reservation of the cross, when God sees it needful for us — nor suppose that God is unfaithful when he administers correction to his children. This truth is inculcated in the next instruction of the wise king, which teaches us how to behave under afflictive providences.
Verse 11."My son, do not despise the chastening of the Lord, neither be weary of his correction." This exhortation, like many of the others, speaks to us as unto children; and it is a piece of ingratitude in the children of wisdom, to forget it, by allowing it to be obliterated from their memories, or to produce no practical influence.
We are here warned against despising divine rebukes, or fainting under them. The rebukes of providence are despised, when people do not regard the supreme hand that afflicts them; when they do not consider the design of God in afflicting; or when, through stupidity of mind or hardness of heart, they neglect to comply with it. This is a great affront to God. It is as if a child would say his father when he strikes him, "I do not care, do with me what you will, I shall behave no better than I have done."
Ahaz was a very wicked man — but nothing showed the stubbornness of his heart so much, as his walking contrary to God, when he sent sore distress upon him.
God's people may fall into this sin, sleeping like Jonah amidst the storm that God sends to testify his displeasure with them. But those whom he loves — he will awaken out of their sleep; and this he sometimes does by terrible tempests of outward calamity or of inward terror, sufficient to arouse them from the deepest slumber.
As the lively Christian is thankful for the least mercy — so the afflictions which others despise are improved by him, as calls to serious thought.
Afflictions may be despised in another sense, which seem to agree better with the argument used in the following verse. Men despise them, when they do not value them as necessary and useful. We need afflictions — and yet we are ready to think that they might be very well spared, and the work designed by them effected by gentler means. This notion is to be rejected by us with abhorrence, because it implies a bad reflection upon the wisdom and love of our heavenly Father, who does not afflict willingly, nor grieve the children of men; though now for a season, if need be, he afflicts them, because the beneficial consequences are far more than sufficient to counterbalance the pain of it.
Weariness under the divine correction is another fault, which we must avoid with care. Our hearts must not fret against the Lord, nor allow questioning thoughts to spring up, for God never exceeds the due measure in distressing us. No ingredient is poured to the cup of affliction — but by infinite wisdom and grace! Nor shall the rod of Jehovah rest upon the lot of the righteous, longer than need requires.
Weariness will make the heart to sink like a stone, and produce harsh suspicions of the divine goodness. It will disqualify the mind for relishing the consolations of God, and answering the designs of the Almighty.
To keep our minds from fainting, let us consider who it is that corrects us. It is the Lord, and all flesh must be silent before him, and receive what disciplines he is pleased to appoint, with reverence and resignation. It is the Lord, let him do unto us what seems good in his sight. He is excellent in judgment, and great in justice, and cannot do wrong to any of his creatures. But it is a sweeter consideration, that he is a Father, and chastens us in love.
Verse 12."For whom the Lord loves he corrects, even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights." God intends, not to destroy us — but to reform us. Correction is one of those privileges that belong to the family of God. Christ himself, though a Son in an infinitely higher sense than we, though altogether free from the need of correction — yet learned obedience by the things which he suffered. Christ was the first-born among many brethren, and we are predestined to be conformed to him in sufferings and in holiness. The sorrows which we endure are means appointed for making us partakers of God's holiness. Earthly fathers correct their children, in order to drive away folly from them; and that misguided lenity which withholds the rod, is but cruelty in disguise.
Now, we yield reverence and submission to earthly parents; how much more do we owe it to that heavenly Father, who exercises love infinitely wiser and greater than theirs! He knows that the greatest afflictions have not so much bitterness as the least sin, and he loves his children too well to spare correction when it is requisite to purge away their sin.
The best commentary we can have on this text, is that given by Paul in his epistle to the Hebrews. Did we understand it aright, we would bless God for correction, as well as for smiles — and the wormwood and the gall of our miseries would be turned into honey and the honey-comb. Whatever corrections the children of God suffer, they are still happy, and it is our duty to believe them so. Behold, happy is the man whom God corrects! Nothing can make that person unhappy who is possessed of wisdom, as the inspired philosopher tells us in the next part of this chapter. In it he again recommends wisdom to our esteem and pursuit, verses 13-26.
Verse 13."Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gets understanding." Where shall wisdom be found, and who is the man that gets understanding? Wisdom is to be found in the Bible, and in Christ, who is revealed in it. The Scriptures are able to make us wise unto salvation, through faith in Christ Jesus. All the treasures of wisdom are hidden in him, and he communicates this precious gift by his Word and Spirit, to those who apply to him for this purpose. And while they diligently make use of the prescribed means, they increase in wisdom, and with it their happiness increases too.
None can tell how happy is the man who finds wisdom. They are accounted happy who possess large quantities of gold, or silver, or precious stones; but these lose all their value when brought into comparison with this heavenly treasure!
Verse 14, 15."For she is more profitable than silver, and yields better returns than gold. She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her!" Silver is much esteemed by men, and gold is almost adored by them. Rubies are still more precious, and perhaps there are some things still preferred to these shining stones. But all of them together, are not to be named in comparison with wisdom. He has no true judgment of the real value of things, who would give a grain of true wisdom for a mountain of diamonds!
Earthly riches are for the body — wisdom is for the soul. Earthly wealth may enrich a man for the space of threescore and ten years — but wisdom will enrich a man for numberless millions of ages.
Gold and rubies are the true riches in the eyes of erring mortals — wisdom and grace are the true riches in the eyes of Christ. If we follow his judgment, the diseased beggar Lazarus was incomparably happier than the rich man who was clothed with purple, and who fared sumptuously every day.
A venerable father, when he saw Rome in its splendor, took occasion to contemplate the ineffable glories of the Celestial City, compared with which Rome itself was but a pitiful village. The Scripture teaches us, when we are charmed with the luster of earthly riches — to consider how incomparably these are surpassed by the excellency of wisdom. He is not a true Christian who would not wish to be rich in faith, rather than in silver and gold; for every one that partakes of heavenly wisdom is enlightened by the Spirit of God, and disposed, in his judgment of the value of things, to listen to the instructions of God in his word.
The excellency of wisdom further appears in the gifts she bestows. She is a munificent princess, holding in both hands the richest presents, to be given to her servants.
Verse 16."Length of days is in her right hand; and in her left hand are riches and honor." A happy life extended to old age is given to the lovers of wisdom; or if cut off in the midst of their days, they are no losers. They cannot even in this case complain that God is unfaithful to his promise, for in the eternal world they enter on a state of life which excels the present as much in value as in duration.
If a man promises to give us fifty acres of ground in a barren country — and instead of them gives us ten thousand acres in a fruitful soil, watered by the river of God, and blessed by the smiles of Heaven, he is not worse — but a great deal better than his word.
Riches and honor are given in the same sense as length of days. When Solomon testified his high regard for wisdom, God bestowed upon him the riches and glory of this world. But experience taught Solomon that these things did not make him wiser, or better, or happier.
Let us, from the history of the wise man, learn to implore the accomplishment of this promise in a spiritual sense. There are eternal treasures and unfading diadems reserved for the wise in the eternal world. There they will be so rich, that the streets of the city are paved with pure gold. There they will be so honorable, that they shall sit with Christ Himself on His throne!
But as great as are the advantages, as splendid as are the honors which wisdom confers — the world is generally prejudiced against it, and with the idea of its being burdensome and unpleasant.
Worldly pleasure appears so desirable, so essential indeed to human happiness, that for this sole reason multitudes abhor the thoughts of becoming religious. In order to remove this mischievous prejudice, Solomon assures us, that religion is not less conducive to pleasure, than it is to honor and wealth.
Verse 17."Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace." Do not call religion Marah — but call her Naomi, for she is in every respect desirable. True, indeed, it is no rare occurrence to find a religious man leading an unpleasant life — but this is to be ascribed to his own mistakes and selfish dispositions — and not to religion, than which nothing tends so much to render the present life a scene of happiness.
It is pleasant to enter into wisdom's ways by believing in Christ. It is pleasant to go on in these paths, by walking in him who is the new and living way. In God's presence is that fullness of joy into which those travelers shall enter at the termination of their journey. Even now some drops of those rivers of pleasure enter into their souls, and give them more delight than the highest earthly enjoyments can impart to those whose portion is in this life!
It will readily be admitted, that some of wisdom's ways are pleasant — but are they all so? Yes, all her paths are peace itself, for salvation, as well as the effect of it, is peace.
There is peace and pleasure in repentance, which is sweetened by the apprehension of God's mercy in Christ — so that the true penitent enjoys more satisfaction in one hour's mourning, than the votary of worldly pleasure in twenty years' carnal gratification!
There is pleasure in self-denial, for he who practices it knows that he is the true self-seeker; and of this he is assured by the word of Christ.
There is pleasure and peace in bearing the cross of Christ, for it is made light by the Spirit of Christ, and the prospect of sharing with him in his glory.
There is pleasure and peace in tribulations, because when they abound — consolations abound much more by Christ.
There is peace in fighting the Lord's battles against the mightiest enemies — for the Christian soldier fights under the banner of the Prince of Peace. His feet are shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace. The God of peace will bruise every enemy under his feet.
More exquisite is that pleasure which the mortification of one sinful desire produces — than that which results from the gratification of a thousand.
Should the Christian be called to die a violent death, there is peace in his latter end, as we find there was in the death of the good Josiah when he fell in battle.
The pleasures of the world are like the gleams of a wintry sun — faint, and feeble, and transient. The pleasures of religion are satisfying and eternal. The calamities of this life are not able to interrupt, far less to destroy them. This is verified in the experience of everyone whose soul is under the lively influence of that faith which constitutes an essential part of religion.
David, though in deep waters, yielded not to desponding thoughts, believing that the Lord would yet command his loving-kindness. Though about to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he saw no ground for the fear of evil.
All the exercises, all the privileges, all the hopes of religion — are full of pleasure. Even the trials to which religious men are exposed, afford pleasure — if not while they are felt, at the farthest when they come to an end.
Such is the pleasure and peace with which wisdom is attended, that,
Verse 18."She is a tree of life to those who lay hold upon her; and happy is every one that retains her." Nothing in the present state of the creation is sufficient to furnish a proper emblem of the happiness that wisdom affords, and therefore the wise man goes back to the state of the world under innocent Adam, comparing the delights of religion to the fruits of the tree of life.
For the sin of Adam we were driven from Paradise — and our approach to the tree of life in the midst of the garden forever prevented.
But the second Adam has opened our way to a better paradise, "On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations!" The branches of this wide-spreading tree bend down to this lower world, and those who are wise unto salvation sit under its shadow with great delight, while its fruit is sweet to their taste.
If we wish to eat of these delicious and soul-reviving fruits, we must take fast hold of wisdom, and keep that hold against all the enemies that would tear it from us. To wisdom we must cleave with purpose of heart, when the devil and the world would persuade us to forego some part of truth or duty, or to make some small compliance with sin — in order to serve some worldly end. "To Him who overcomes, he will he give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God!"
To all the great things that have been said of wisdom, let us add the glory which belongs to wisdom, as it appears in creation and providence.
Verse 19, 20."The Lord by wisdom has founded the earth; by understanding has he established the heavens. By his knowledge the depths are broken up, and the clouds drop down the dew." Knowledge and wisdom belong to God in their highest perfection, and shine forth in all his works. By his wisdom he established the world, and formed every creature beautiful in its kind. By his knowledge, the heavens and the earth, and all their inhabitants, were formed into one universe, which incessantly proclaims the greatness of its Creator's wisdom.
The language of every creature when considered by itself, and especially when viewed as part of the grand system, is, "We come forth from the Lord Almighty, who is wonderful in counsel and excellent in wisdom."
The world could never have afforded us a convenient dwelling-place, had not the depths been broken up by God, and the waters separated from the dry land, to be laid up in the vast repository of the sea, or to flow along in rivers for our benefit.
It is divine wisdom which draws up the moisture from the earth in waters, and exhales it in vapors, forming them into clouds — and then distilling them in dew, or pouring them down in rain — that food may spring out of the earth for man and beast.
This wisdom calls for our gratitude, and praise, and imitation. We cannot pretend to make or govern a world — but we are enjoined to manage our own concerns with wisdom. The God whose understanding is infinite, has dignified us with rational powers, and directed us to that wisdom which is proper for us. When he displayed the wonders of his infinite understanding at the creation of all things, he said unto man, "The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom — and to depart from evil is understanding." He is the giver of wisdom, and he gives it from his own exhaustless stores. Every beam of wisdom in man is a ray from that eternal Sun. And the divine image, which we lost by our folly in departing from God, begins to be renewed in us when we attain that knowledge and wisdom so earnestly recommended by the royal teacher.
Is wisdom so incomparably useful and excellent? Let us then listen with reverence to the instruction that again speaks to us as unto children.
Verse 21."My son, let not them depart from your eyes; keep sound wisdom and discretion." There are some kinds of wisdom highly esteemed by the world — yet some of these are so far from being useful, that they are brutish folly. No wisdom is sound, but that which is taught by the word of God, and approved by him who is the Author of wisdom, and who has given us plain marks for distinguishing it from that wisdom of the world which is earthly, sensual, and devilish.
This sound wisdom makes us discreet and prudent, and guards us against that selfish deceit which has so often assumed its name. This sound wisdom and discretion must be like frontlets before our eyes, that we may keep them always in our view. Then will our steps be ordered in God's word. For by what means shall we purify our way? By taking heed thereto, according to God's word.
There are many adversaries who would rob us of this treasure, and we are but too ready to let wisdom slip out of our hearts. For this reason, we need to be frequently reminded of our duty to keep it. If we retain sound wisdom and discretion in our minds and hearts, if we uniformly exhibit them in our practice — we shall certainly find that our labor is not in vain in the Lord.
Verse 22."So shall they be life unto your soul, and grace to your neck." Fools can scarcely be said to live; they neither glorify God nor enjoy him, so that they are dead while they live. But the excellency of knowledge is, that wisdom gives life to those who have it. It imparts to life that happiness, which alone renders it worthy of the name. True wisdom is real life, communicated from him who is the quickening Spirit, to those who were dead in trespasses and sins. It is an ornament of grace to the neck, which renders the lowliest beggar who possesses it, more noble than the mightiest monarch, who is acquainted with no brighter ornament than his regal crown.
Safety is another of the great advantages which always attend wisdom.
Verse 23, 24."Then shall you walk in your way safely, and your foot shall not stumble. When you lie down, you shall not be afraid; yes, you shall lie down, and your sleep shall be sweet." While we keep sound wisdom and discretion, we are safe by the protection of the Almighty. We are safe whether we walk in the way, or sit in the house, or repose on the couch. No evil shall happen to the just; even those events which are evil to others — are sanctified and blessed to them.
"He shall give his angels charge over you to keep you in all your ways, lest you should dash your foot against a stone." Happy it is to be the care of angels — but happier far to be under his protecting eye who is the keeper of Israel!
We must remember, that this promise has a direction embodied with it, "You shall walk in your way." Satan endeavored to cheat our Savior out of this important part of the promise, that he might cheat him out of the benefit of it altogether. But Jesus knew well the regard due to every jot and tittle of the word of God. We are required still to keep the way of the Lord, and in the affairs of life to attend to our own concerns — shunning the character of busy-bodies, by not meddling in the affairs of others.
In the calling with which we are called, let us abide with God, and we shall dwell in safety under the shadow of the Almighty.
Sleep commonly flies from the victims of wretchedness and calamity; but quiet and peaceful are the slumbers of those who can lie down in safety, because the Lord sustains them. Even in the prospect of danger and distress, they can repose in calm serenity, for Jehovah gives his beloved sleep.
Such were the calamitous circumstances of David, when exiled and pursued by his unnatural son Absalom, that all the people who were witnesses of his banishment, wept for him. Yet what says David himself? "I laid me down and slept; I awakened, for the Lord sustained me."
When the most prosperous sinners lie down to rest, they need covenant protection, and know not but they may open their eyes in Hell! The servant of God knows, when buried in the arms of "Nature's sweet restorer" — that he is under that guardian eye which neither slumbers nor sleeps!
There may be seasons in which the good man cannot enjoy pleasant slumbers. But what does he lose, if by the thoughts that Wisdom suggests, he enjoys a feast of holy contemplation — more refreshing to him than sleep is to others!
In order to enjoy this tranquility of mind, we must believe the promises of God, and by the exercise of holy confidence, banish those fears that would distress the soul,
Verse 25, 26."Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the LORD will be your confidence and will keep your foot from being snared."
Sudden fears are attended with a stupefying influence upon those who lack faith — but far different is the fact with regard to the righteous. The righteous man is as bold as a lion, for he knows, like the three children in Babylon, that the God whom he serves is able to deliver him — or to render him happy, though the desolation of others should involve the destruction, not only of all his outward comforts — but of his mortal life.
The Lord is a sure ground of confidence in the worst of times. Our proper exercise in such seasons, is to trust in the Lord, and to pour out our hearts before him, knowing that he will be a refuge for us.
This comfortable doctrine is illustrated and enforced in almost every Psalm. May not one, then, exclaim with the royal philosopher, "Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gets understanding!"
The way in which wisdom leads us, is attended with every blessing, and free from every evil. Or if there is any evil in it, so wonderful is the providence of God, that it is turned into good. Thus is Sampson's riddle verified to every afflicted saint. May our lives be those of the righteous, and our last end theirs!
The wise man next directs us, to make no unnecessary delay in the performance of any good work.
Verse 27."Withhold not good from those to whom it is due, when it is in the power of your hand to do it." To do justly, is one great point of religion. We ought not unnecessarily to delay giving every man his due, for the delay of justice is temporary injustice. When we owe money to our neighbors, which they require from us at present, and we, though able, defer payment until afterwards, we are plainly guilty of injustice; for a man has the same right to his property now, that he will have a year hence.
We find men keeping in their own hands, the hire of the laborer — and we reprove them for it. The same censure may be applied to those who refuse to pay just debts, or to restore to its rightful owner any piece of lost property which they have found. We are not to do what we will with that which is not ours, nor are we to owe to another anything but love. We owe love and the proper fruits of it to our fellow-creatures, according to their necessities and characters, and our connection with them. And we transgress the rule of righteousness, if we withhold even from our enemies that which is due to them by the law of Christ; for many things are to be reckoned just debts from us on Christ's account, which they have no title to claim for their own sakes.
It may be difficult for us to render to others what is due to them by the laws of justice or charity; but the question is not, whether it is easy — but whether it is in the power of our hands, to render unto others that good which is due to them. The fruits of love are often labors — but they are such labors of love as those which our Redeemer cheerfully performed for us — nor is any man a loser by them. What is in the power of our hands today — may not be in our power tomorrow — therefore we ought not to delay the performance of any good work.
Verse 28."Do not say to your neighbor: 'Come back later; I'll give it tomorrow' — when you now have it with you." Delays in any part of duty, furnishes a strong presumption that we do not perform it cheerfully. We are commanded, not only to do good works — but to be ready to do every good work. We are commanded not only to show mercy — but to show it with cheerfulness. He who gives speedily, gives twice — but he who gives with slow reluctance, gives in part a denial.
Much of the benefit is often lost to the receiver, and much of the gratitude to the giver — by telling our neighbor to come back later. There is a manner of giving which ill accords with that kindness and mercy which should dispose us to give. Airs of superiority assumed even to the lowliest of our fellow-creatures, are unfitting to the Christian. For however inferior to us in point of station in life, they are still our neighbors, and God commands us to love them as ourselves.
God often delays answering our prayers — but he is infinitely and essentially superior to us — yet his delays are all in wisdom and love. When it is fit that his petitioners should receive what they ask — he gives before they ask — or while they are yet speaking, he hears.
In one case, the wise man allows us to defer giving. When we have it not by us, and when we cannot give at all consistent with more urgent duties — we may refuse to give. But still we must have hearts to give, were it in our power. And if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what a man has, and not according to what he has not.
The next direction is against doing evil to our neighbors.
Verse 29."Devise not evil against your neighbor, seeing he dwells securely by you." Our fellow-men are our neighbors, and we are destitute of the love of God, if we feel no love to them. If the practice of evil is an index of what passes within the heart — then we must conclude that man to be wholly destitute of love, who can willfully hurt those whom he is required to love as himself. Such a man cannot surely pretend to religion; or if he does, he is at best like a tinkling brass, or a sounding cymbal — for his professions are emptiness and hypocrisy.
At the day of judgment, they shall be doomed to Hell, who did not serve their neighbor in love! (See Matthew 25:31-45)
Where, then, must those appear whose practice was quite the reverse? All injurious people are wicked, and the more contrivance there is in any evil that we do, it has so much the greater malignity in it. It is criminal to devise evil against any person — but it is double iniquity to hurt those who dwell securely by us. For this in effect is a breach of trust, and an indication of a heart base and depraved beyond the common pitch of human wickedness.
The meek and the quiet of the land are the people who dread no injury from us, as they plot none against others. And the Lord Jesus, to whom all judgment is committed, is the Redeemer of all such people. He has pronounced a blessing on them, and will avenge them of their enemies; for with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek of the earth.
We must not even contend with our neighbors by hard words, when they have done nothing to provoke us; otherwise we are volunteers in the devil's service — sinning without putting him to the trouble of tempting us.
Verse 30."Strive not with a man without cause, if he has done you no harm." If a man has injured us — we ought to forgive him. Do we believe that God for Christ's sake has forgiven us ten thousand talents — and shall we reckon it a hard matter, at Christ's command, to forgive our brother a few pence? If the unforgiving shall never enter into Heaven — what curses shall forever lie upon those who are guilty of unprovoked injuries! Railers and revilers stand excluded from the kingdom of God, and the admission of injurious people, like Saul the Pharisee, into the kingdom of God — is to be regarded as a miracle of mercy. It may possibly be alleged, that injurious people are often prosperous in the world.
It may be so in some circumstances, yet,
Verse 31."Envy not the oppressor, and chase none of his ways." Imagine not that a man can be happy in the enjoyment of that which he has gained by dishonest means. Envy or admiration of his success, might lead us to imitate his unrighteous behavior. Though his wine sparkles, let us remember that there is poison in the cup!
Verse 32."For the perverse are an abomination to the Lord; but his secret is with the righteous." That man who is detested by the Lord, is so far from being happy, that he is miserable and accursed. Can he know true happiness, who is looked upon with an angry countenance by him whose smiles are Heaven, and whose frowns are Hell? Such is the situation of oppressors of every rank, from the mighty Nimrods of the world, who employ themselves in general massacres and desolations — down to the petty personal oppressors, who grind the faces of their poor neighbors, and by adding field to field, to the ruin of many families.
"But his secret is with the righteous." They enjoy a fellowship with God unknown to the world. He reveals to them the secret mysteries of grace, refreshes their souls with the manifestations of his special love, and blesses their substance by the unperceived workings of his gracious providence. God not only enriches them with his goodness — but treats them as friends, and to them all his paths are mercy and truth. The blessing of God upon his people, and his indignation toward his enemies — spread through their dwellings, rendering them happy or miserable. The cottage of the godly is a quiet and pleasant habitation. The palace of the wicked is blasted by a secret curse!
Verse 33."The curse of the Lord is in the house of the wicked — but he blesses the habitation of the just." Happiness or misery lies in the blessing or curse of God. When you behold the magnificent structures in which the wicked dwell, let not your thoughts be lost in wonder, or your hearts rankle with envy. They are fabrics, stately indeed — but not solid. You may pronounce them cursed.
The curse of God has often destroyed the timber and the beams of the most towering palaces; often has it kindled a fire, by which they have been destroyed to the lowest foundation. Such dwellings as these are houses of infection, for the leprosy of sin has taken possession of them, and it can be ascribed only to God's wonderful mercy, if the children and servants in them escape the plagues prepared for their lords.
By the blessing of the Lord, the poorest cottage is converted into a dwelling of joy and praise. We read of whole houses that have been blessed for the sake of godly servants — how much more may the divine blessing be expected, where the masters are pious, and make their dwellings a little church, where the melody of thanksgiving and the voice of prayer are daily heard!
The blessing of God, which is daily asked, shall not be refused. The members of the family are blessed with instructions and examples that must produce good effects on them, unless they harden their hearts like a rock. The holy conversation of good wives may be a means of winning their husbands. Many children and servants have found the greatest reason to thank God for the appointment of their dwelling in a family of saints.
From among the wicked, we find that proud and haughty scorners are singled out as special monuments of the vengeance of God.
Verse 34."The Lord mocks proud mockers — but gives grace to the humble." It is pride that makes men mockers and scorners. When men have an overweening conceit of themselves, they are likely to behave insolently to others, and contemptuously to God himself. But on such arrogant worms of the dust, Jehovah looks down with contempt, and makes them objects of derision to all men.
We read in scripture of many, whom the pride of their heart and actions, brought to the lowest disgrace. Nebuchadnezzar, and Haman, and Herod, and the proud Pharisee — are set forth for examples, to show us that these men stand not on an even place, whose hearts are not kept low by that grace which cherishes humility. That God whose eye turns away with disdain from the splendor of haughty princes, and the diadems of imperious kings — looks with kindness upon the lowliest of those who walk humbly with their God. He visits them in mercy, and refreshes their spirits with his love. He gave them that grace which makes them humble, and he gives more grace.
God bestows grace on men, that he may be glorified. The lowly, who are made sensible of their emptiness and guilt, are the people who will ascribe praise to him, for the least of his favors. In them he will display the excellency of his love, and enrich them with his blessings in this and in the everlasting world. "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven."
With the lowly is wisdom, and,
Verse 35."The wise inherit honor, but fools shall be put to shame!" Some by their birth and fortune inherit high sounding titles, and celebrated kingdoms. But if they are not wise, their lofty situation is the theater of their dishonor.
Those who are blessed with sound wisdom, have an inheritance of honor in reserve, compared with which the crowns and scepters of the world deserve not a name. The prudent are even at present crowned with knowledge — but the happy day is coming when those who are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and those who have turned others to the wisdom of the just, as the stars forever and ever.
Fools are fond of honors — but all the honors they can enjoy are like bubbles when they glitter in the sun. They shall be promoted, indeed — but their exaltation shall be like that of Haman, who was exalted when he was hung upon a gallows fifty cubits high. Their shame shall be conspicuous to the world, when they shall be covered with everlasting disgrace, and become an abhorrence to all.