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Monday, June 24th, 2024
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 17

Bridges' Commentary on ProverbsBridges' on Proverbs

Verse 1

THE allusion is to the Jewish ordinance of feasting at home upon the remains of the sacrifices.†1 A house full of sacrifices was therefore a house of plentiful provision. Yet when the spirit of love does not rule, self predominates, the fruitful source of strife and confusion. Well may the Christian be content with his dry and quiet morsel, to be delivered from such jarrings. ’Holy love, found in a cottage,’†2 is better than the most luxurious feast in the palaces of strife. (Proverbs 15:17 .) The happiness is not adding to our condition, but straitening our desires, and proportioning them to our condition. The secret dew of the Lord’s blessing brings the rich gain of godly quietness (1 Timothy 6:6 ) and contentment, and provides a satisfied meal, and a well-furnished house in the poorest dwelling.

The marriage-feast perhaps was comparatively a dry morsel. Yet was this a feast of love better than the Pharisee’s house, full of sacrifices with strife.†3 Would we then enjoy our temporal mercies? Welcome the Savior to them. Cherish his Spirit. Eye his glory in their enjoyment. The scanty fare or the more abundant store will be alike blessed with the token of his presence, and the seal of his everlasting love.

Ponder every thought that may quiet to contentment. If you have not so many comforts as you had, or as you might have, or as others less deserving enjoy; yet have you not far more than you deserve? Might not a larger abundance have tempted you to forget God, and to live for the world? Will not the remembrance of the earthly lot which thy Savior chose, turn every thought of discontent into the adoring rapture of thankfulness and love? Such is the "great gain of godliness with contentment."

Footnotes:

†1 Leviticus 7:16; Leviticus 19:6 . 1 Samuel 9:24 .

†2 Henry.

†3 John 2:1-3, with Luke 7:36-39 ; Luke 11:37-38, Luke 11:45, Luke 11:53 .

Verse 2

Folly naturally tends to shame; wisdom to honour. (Proverbs 3:35 ; Proverbs 12:8 .) The son, the heir of the family, may degrade himself by misconduct, and, instead of being the glory of the house, cause shame. A wise servant, though having only a temporary interest in the house (John 8:35 ), maybe promoted to rule over him. The Scripture hath recorded no literal instances of this interchange of place. But retributive Providence has ordained, that "the foolish shall be servant to the wise in heart." (Proverbs 11:29 .) The prodigal son, in conscious shame, was ready to take his place among the "hired servants." (Luke 15:19 .) The wise servant has however sometimes shared the inheritance among the brethren. Jacob, by marrying Laban’s daughter, was portioned with the inheritance.†1 Solomon’s own servant probably thus verified this proverb.†2 Abraham also would have made his wise servant his heir, but for the interposing mercy of God.†3

Yet this promotion is a dangerous eminence. No one can bear elevation safely without special grace and painful discipline.†4 Great wisdom, much prayer, and constant watchfulness, are needed to promote humility and Christian consistency; as well as to silence the envy and jealousy, which unexpected prosperity naturally excites. (Daniel 6:3-5 .) Honour from man calls for abasement before God, and careful holiness in adorning our profession.

Footnotes:

†1 Genesis 30:27-34; Genesis 31:1 .

†2 1 Kings 4:7, 1 Kings 4:11 .

†3 Genesis 15:3-4.

†4 2 Corinthians 12:1-7 .

Verse 3

The refiner’s fining-pot and furnace try his metals. But Jehovah claims to himself the prerogative of trying the hearts. (1 Kings 8:39 . Jeremiah 17:10 .) His eyes are as a flame of fire. (Revelation 1:14 .) Nothing deceives him; nothing escapes his probing search. The gold must be put into the furnace. So mixed is it with dross, that the workman’s eye can scarcely discover it. But for the furnace, the dross would cleave inseparably. The refiner’s process burns it out, and the pure metal is left behind. No burnishing is of any avail. Till it has undergone the fire, it is unfit for use. And must there not be a furnace for the child of God? (Isaiah 31:9 . Jeremiah 9:7 .) None of us know ourselves, until "the fire has tried every man’s work, of what sort it is." (1 Corinthians 3:13 .) We can but exclaim in witnessing the result — Lord! what is man! the heart of man of the holiest saint thus proved — thus open to view?

But the LORD will have the metal cleansed. We cannot do the work. It is no common power, that can separate the base alloy. No milder remedy will accomplish the purpose. But by this process the hidden evil is brought out for humiliation;†1 the hidden good for honour.†2 Deep personal or relative affliction; "the knowledge of the plague of our own hearts;"†3 the discovery of secret sins; circumstances of daily trial in trifles, known perhaps only to the heart that feels them†4 — all or any of these are a searching, piercing furnace.

Painful indeed is the purifying process. The flesh trembles at the fire. Yet shall we not let the refiner do his work, though it be by Nebuchadnezzar’s furnace?†5 Shall we not commit ourselves with well-grounded confidence to his wisdom, tenderness and love? — "O LORD, correct me; but with judgment." (Jeremiah 10:24 .) Is not any furnace, that "purges away our dross" (Isaiah 1:25 ) of earthliness, that brings us to know ourselves, our God, and his dealings with us — a mighty blessing? The best materials for praise are brought out of this consecrated furnace. Yet we must carefully examine, ere we perceive the value of these trying dispensations. When the action of fire upon the metal has brought it into its best state for use, we now look for the results, in the displacing of all worldly idols, in the melting away of the stubbornness of the will, and the entireness of the heart for God. For ’as gold cast into the furnace receiveth their new lustre, and shineth brighter when it cometh forth than it did before; so are the saints of God more glorious after their great afflictions, and their graces even more resplendent.’†6 The refiner’s process may be slow, but its results are sure. Nothing but dross will perish. The vilest earth will be turned into the finest gold. No refiner ever watched the furnace with such exactness and care. Many glittering particles may be swept away. But the pure residue — the solid particles — comparatively scanty in the amount, but sterling in quality, shall be delivered into the mold. Strange as it may seem to see the gold left in the fire, ’he that put it there will be loth to lose it. Not one grain, not one drachm, shall be lost.’†7 He "sits" in patient watchfulness (Malachi 3:2-3 ), moderating the heat, and carefully marking the moment, when it "shall be brought through the fire" (Zechariah 13:9 ), and set out in all the purity of the purifying trial. Every hour of the trial is above gold, and issues in a richer vein of Christian attainment. A suffering Savior is realized and endeared.

Here then in the furnace — child of God — see the seal of thine election (Isaiah 48:10 ); the ground and establishment of thy confidence (Zechariah 13:9 ); thy joyous anticipation, that thy faith that is here in the furnace shall, when thy Lord shall appear, be then made up into a crown ’of pure gold, and be found unto praise and honour, and glory.’†8

Footnotes:

†1 Deuteronomy 8:2. 2 Chronicles 32:31 .

†2 Genesis 22:12. Matthew 15:23-28 .

†3 1 Kings 8:38 .

†4 Proverbs 14:10.

†5 Daniel 3:19.

†6 Bp. Sanderson’s Sermon on Psalms 119:75 .

†7 Leighton on 1 Peter 1:7 .

†8 1 Peter 1:7 . Leighton ut supra.

Verse 4

Here is a black, but true picture of human nature. The wicked doer is not content with the stirring impulse of his native lust. But such is his craving appetite for sin, that he seeks foreign stimulants to give it increasing activity.†1 Amnon thus stimulated his own lust, by giving heed to the false lips of his friend.†2 Ahab, to secure his desired object, eagerly listened to the counsels of his murderous wife.†3 The Jews gave delighted ears to the false prophets, who flattered them in their wickedness.†4 Active and intense was the malice of the ungodly, in suborning false witness for our Lord’s condemnation.’†5 Yet ’there would not be so many open mouths, if there were not as many willing ears to entertain them.’†6 But be it remembered, that the listening ears share the responsibility of the naughty tongue; as all are involved in the treason, that are directly or indirectly acquainted with the plot.

Gladly does the liar give ear to that, which countenances his own wickedness.†7 If he did not "love a lie," he would not listen to it. But thus he shrinks from the condemning light of truth into his own atmosphere of darkness. (John 3:20 .) How unlike is this spirit to the true "charity" of the Gospel, which "rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth!" (1 Corinthians 13:6 .) ’If then’ — saith good Bishop Hall,†8 ’I cannot stop other men’s mouths from speaking ill, I will either open my mouth to reprove it; or else I will stop mine ears from hearing it, and let him see in my face, that he hath no room in my heart.’ (Psalms 15:3 .) Let the guilty talker think, — how certainly will this "reproach taken up against his neighbour" exclude from the heaven of light and love! Oh! my God, fill my heart and tongue with thine own gracious Spirit!

Footnotes:

†1 Proverbs 4:16-17. Psalms 64:5-6 .

†2 2 Samuel 13:5-6 .

†3 1 Kings 21:4-7 .

†4 Isaiah 30:9-11. Jeremiah 5:30-31 . Micah 2:11 . 1 John 4:5 .

†5 Matthew 26:59-60.

†6 Bp. Hall’s Works, viii. 7.

†7 Proverbs 28:4.

†8 Works, ut supra.

Verse 5

The sin against our Maker of "oppressing the poor," has before been noticed. (Proverbs 14:31 .) In this mocking probably there might be no power to oppress. The poor is so, not by fortune, but by Providence. The reproach therefore falls, not on the poor, but on His Maker — on Him who made him, and made him poor, "Woe unto him that" thus "striveth with his Maker!"†1 To pour contempt upon the current coin with the king’s image on it, is treason against the sovereign. No less contempt is it of the Sacred Majesty, to despise the poor, who have, no less than the rich, the king’s image upon them. (Genesis 9:6 .) This view marks the contempt of the poor as a sin of the deepest dye.

Specially when poverty is brought on by calamity; when the hand of God is therefore more manifest, then to be glad at calamities is a fearful provocation. This was the sin of Shimei, scorning his fallen Sovereign. (2 Samuel 16:5-8 .) This sin brought the enemies of God’s people under his severest punishment.†2 Very different is the spirit of the Bible: teaching us, even where calamity is the fruit of misconduct, instead of being glad — to sympathize; instead of crushing, to raise, a fallen brother, or even a fallen enemy.†3

All slight of the poor is evidently here rebuked. And who, that knows himself and his obligations, could ever disdain? ’Why should I’ — asks Bishop Reynolds — ’for a little difference in this one particular of worldly wealth, despise my poor brother? When so many and great things unite us, shall wealth only disunite us? One sun shines on both; one blood bought us both; one heaven will receive us both; only he hath not so much of earth as I, and possibly much more of Christ. And why should I disdain him on earth, whom haply the Lord will advance above me in heaven?’†4

Footnotes:

†1 Isaiah 45:9. Compare Job 40:2 . See Bp. Sanderson’s Sermon on 1 Peter 2:17, & 1 Peter 2:13 .

†2 Babylon, Lamentations 1:21-22 . Ammon, Ezekiel 25:6-7 . Tyre, Ezekiel 26:2-3. Edom, Obadiah 1:10-15 . Contrast this barbarous delight with the godly tenderness of the LORD’s prophets in foretelling calamities. Isaiah 16:9-11 . Jeremiah 9:1 ; Jeremiah 17:16 . Micah 1:8 . The gladness, elsewhere expressed in the calamities of the enemies of the Church, was obviously the admiring discovery of the LORD’s faithful keeping of his Church, and of his glory in the deserved punishment of his irreconcilable rebels. Exodus 15:1-27 . Psalms 35:8-10, Psalms 35:19-26 . Revelation 18:20 .

†3 Proverbs 24:17-18. Job 31:29 . Psalms 35:13-14 . Romans 12:20-21 .

†4 Works, on p. 905.

Verse 6

This Proverb has its limit. What a crown of thorns to each other are an ungodly progeny and graceless parents! Little glory indeed did Rehoboam and his son add to their fathers.†1 As little was the godly Hezekiah dignified by his reprobate parent.†2 Gehazi brought shame, not glory, to his children.†3 But in the ordinary course gracious children and parents reflect honour upon each other. Such parents rejoice in the number and growth of their children. Such children regard their father’s name as their glory. Joseph was indeed a crown to his aged father (Genesis 47:11-12 ); as was Jacob himself the glory of his child, even in a Heathen nation. (Genesis 47:7-10 .) ’A good root maketh the branches to flourish, by virtue of the lively sap that it sendeth up. And flourishing branches win praise to the root, for the pleasant fruit which they bring forth.’†4

The Old Testament promise — "length of days" (Proverbs 3:2, Proverbs 3:16 ) — was enhanced, when accompanied with the blessing of children; yet more — when crowned with the increase of children’s children.†5 The true blessing, however, could only be known, when children, early brought up into God’s covenant, were trained in his ways, and "declared them to their children, that they might set their hope in God." (Psalms 78:5-7 .) "Happy was the man, who had his quiver full of such children." (Psalms 127:5 .) Happy the children, thus crowned with the example of such fathers! Abraham was the honourable, though delusive, boast of his seed.†6 David was the glory of his children, preserving to them the throne of Judah for seventeen generations.†7 And may not godly parents, under a larger dispensation of grace educating their children by example, no less than by precept — may they not look for a "godly seed" — the children of the covenant,†8 who shall acknowledge infinite, eternal obligations to parental faith and godliness?†9

Footnotes:

†1 1 Kings 12:1-33

†2 2 Chronicles 28. 29.

†3 2 Kings 5:27 .

†4 Clever on Proverbs 1:1 .

†5 Genesis 48:11; Genesis 50:23 . Job 42:16 . Psalms 128:6 .

†6 Matthew 3:9. John 8:33 .

†7 1 Kings 11:12-13 ; 1 Kings 15:4 . 2 Chronicles 21:7 .

†8 Genesis 17:7. Psalms 127:3 .

†9 2 Timothy 1:5 ; 2 Timothy 3:15 .

Verse 7

Men naturally speak as they are. The lip is the organ of the heart. The lip of excellency, to speak suitably of high and lofty things, evidently becometh not a fool.†1 A grave discourse on godliness becometh not an ungodly man.†2 It carries no weight, and, so far from doing good, it often brings contempt.†3 Christ would not accept even a sound confession from the lips of Satan, lest it should bring an occasion of stumbling.†4 So unseemly was excellent speech from so corrupt a source!

Much less do lying lips become a prince — the Minister and Guardian of truth. (Proverbs 16:10 .) Yet in a world, where self reigns supreme, such inconsistencies are but too prevalent.†5 The pure doctrine of our Divine Master alone secures Christian consistency in heart, lip, and life. Never let us forget, that, if excellent speech becometh not a fool, it does become the gospel of Christ — the "saints of God." (Philippians 1:27 .) And oh! let it be fully manifested in all its gracious unction and power, for "the edifying" of the Church (Ephesians 4:29 ), and for the conviction of gain-sayers." (Colossians 4:6 .)

Footnotes:

†1 Proverbs 26:7, Proverbs 26:9 . Compare Sirach 20:20 .

†2 Psalms 50:16-17.

†3 Matthew 7:3-5. Romans 2:21-24 .

†4 Mark 1:34. Compare Acts 16:16-18 .

†5 Heathen morality from the lips of one of her wisest teachers allowed the lying lips of princes, because they governed for the public good. ’All others’ — he adds — ’must abstain.’ Plato, De Repub. ’Qui nescit dissimulare, nescit negnare’ — has been too often a royal maxim. Far more becoming a prince was the saying of Louis IX. of France — ’If truth be banished from all the rest of the world, it ought to be found in the breast of princes.’ Alphonsus of Arragon declared (Lavater in loco) that ’one word of a prince should be a greater security than a private man’s oath.’ Undoubtedly the royal character ought to display a grandeur and dignity of principle, that should shine through every dark cloud of trial and perplexity.

Verse 8

A gift is so tempting, that it can no more be refused than a lovely jewel, by him to whom it is presented; and such is its power, it commonly prevails over all men, dispatches all business, carries all causes, and — in a word — effects whatever a man desires.’†1 Such is the sympathy between a lusting eye and a glittering gift. The covetous prophet†2 — nay even an apostle†3 — was willfully beguiled by its fascination. The Heathen soldiers sold themselves to its slavery.†4 A King’s Minister was won over by its allurement. (Acts 12:20 .) Even a King — and such as the man after God’s own heart — was sinfully perverted in the snare. (2 Samuel 16:1-4 .) Seldom does it fail to prosper whithersoever it turneth. But who would envy a prosperity for evil? All ministers of law were wisely directed (like fabled justice) to give their decisions blindfolded! not looking at this precious stone, lest they should be dazzled by its sparkling attraction.†5 Unfaithfulness was always visited with the heavy displeasure of the Great Judge.†6

And is not the child of God often pressed with this temptation? Does the influence of a gift, the sense of obligation, never repress the bold consistency of godliness? Does no bias of friendship, no plausible advantage, entice into a crooked path? Oh! be resolute in a better strength than thine own in the resistance of the sin. The conflict is not with the violent temptation, or with open sin, but with subtle and apparently harmless deviations from the strait path. Exercise thy "integrity and uprightness" in the spirit of faith; and doubt not that they will "preserve thee." (Psalms 25:21 .) The man of God, who "dwells on high" with his God, "shaketh his hands from holding of bribes;" as the Apostle shook off "the viper that had fastened on his hand."†7 From this height he looks down upon this corruption with indignant abhorrence — "Let thy gifts be to thyself — Thy money perish with thee."†8

Footnotes:

†1 Bishop Patrick — ’What a description’ adds Mr. Scott — ’of the mercenary selfishness of mankind!’ Compare also Proverbs 17:23 ; Proverbs 18:16 . Even the Heathen conscience seems to have had a just perception of this evil. The saying of Philip of Macedon is well known, that ’there was no fortress so strong, but it might be taken, if an ass laden with gold was brought to the gate.’ The poet finely illustrates this remark, referring also to the current report, that — ’not Philip, but Philip’s gold, — conquered Greece.’ Hor. Od. lib. iii. 16. ’Auro loquente, inest omnis Oratio.’ Greg. Nazian. ’Gold and silver pervert many things, especially motives of right. Money hath a great power with those that are in power. A golden key will open any prison door, and cast the watchman into a deep sleep. Gold will break open gates of iron, as well as silence the orator’s voice, and blind the judge’s eyes. It will blind the strong man’s hands, and blunt the edge of the sword. It makes war, and it makes peace. What almost can it not do with corrupt minds?’ Caryl on Job 30:21 .

†2 Numbers 22:7-8, Numbers 22:21 . 2 Peter 2:15 .

†3 Matthew 26:14-16.

†4 Matthew 28:12-15.

†5 Exodus 23:8. Deuteronomy 16:19 .

†6 Deuteronomy 27:25. Isaiah 5:22-23 . Micah 7:3-4 .

†7 Isaiah 33:15, with Acts 28:5 .

†8 Daniel 5:17. Acts 8:18-20 . Compare 1 Samuel 12:3 .

Verse 9

Seeketh love! A beautiful expression, much to be kept in mind! It shews a delight in the atmosphere of love — man’s highest elevation in communion with his God. (1 John 4:16 .) It implies not the mere exercise of love, where it is presented, but the searching and making opportunity for it. But how seldom do we rise to the high standard of this primary grace, exalted as it is pre-eminently above "the best gifts" (1 Corinthians 12:31 ; 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 .); and illustrated and enforced by no less than the Divine example! (Ephesians 5:1-2 .) Yet too often it sits at the door of our lips, instead of finding a home in our hearts; forgetting that the exhortation is not, that we should talk of love, but that we should "walk in it;" not stepping over it, crossing it, walking by the side, but "in it," as our highway and course. One step of our feet is better than an hundred words of the tongue.

A forbearing spirit is a fine manifestation of this heavenly grace. Our motives are often misconstrued. We meet in a world of selfishness, cold reserve, instead of glowing confidence. Prejudice builds a wall against Christian intercourse. Wounded pride would return unkindness with contempt. Resentment stirs up recrimination. Disappointment kindles morbid suspicion. Here is a noble field for Christian victory; instead of resenting, to cover the transgression with a mantle of love (Proverbs 10:12 . 1 Corinthians 13:7 . Gr.†1); with that act of amnesty, by which we are saved — the most aggravated transgression, the most unprovoked injuries, being covered in eternal forgetfulness. (Hebrews 8:12 .)

The repeating a matter has often separated friends by uncovering a forgotten quarrel. (Proverbs 16:28 .) Mischief might not be intended. But to amuse ourselves with the follies or weakness of our brethren, is sinful trifling, fraught with injury. Justly are "tattlers and busy-bodies" described as "speaking things which they ought not." (1 Timothy 5:13 .) A disciplined tongue is a gracious mercy to the Church.

Footnotes:

†1 1 Corinthians 13:7 . {1} beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. {1) Or covereth; Compare 1 Peter 4:8 }

(panta stegei panta pisteuei panta elpizei panta upomenei)

"Stegei" "Beareth" From 4721; to roof over, that is, (figuratively) to cover with silence (endure patiently): - (for-) bear, suffer.

Verse 10

If we should cover transgression, we should not forbear reproof. Reproof distinguishes the wise man from the fool. (Proverbs 13:1 ) A word is enough for the wise. The discipline of stripes is needful for the fool. Parents and tutors should specially study the character of children, that they may temper reproof wisely. Many a fine spirit has been spoiled by unsuitable treatment.

If this be true of man’s reproof, much more of God’s. A word was enough for David.†1 A look entered more into Peter’s heart,†2 than an hundred stripes into Pharaoh,†3 Ahaz,†4 Israel.†5 Stripes only scourge the fool’s back. They never reach his heart. He is therefore a fool still. "Though thou shouldest bray him in a mortar among wheat in a pestle; yet shall not his foolishness depart from him." (Proverbs 27:22 .)

What then makes the difference as to the effect of reproof? "The stony heart is taken away, and an heart of flesh is given." (Ezekiel 36:26 .) A needle pierces deeper into flesh, than a sword into stone. A wakeful ear, a tender conscience, a softened heart, a teachable spirit — these are the practical exercises, by which a wise and loving father disciplines his children for his service, for his cross, and for his crown.

Footnotes:

†1 2 Samuel 12:1-7 ; 2 Samuel 24:13-14 .

†2 Luke 22:61-62.

†3 Exodus 9:34-35.

†4 2 Chronicles 28:22 .

†5 Isaiah 1:5; Isaiah 9:13 . Jeremiah 5:3 .

Verses 11-13

Some awful pictures of man are here set out. Look at his waywardness — seeking only rebellion — resisting all authority of God and man. This is no light sin. (1 Samuel 15:23 .) Therefore a cruel messenger, one that will not be turned from his work, shall be sent against him. The disobedient son in the family;†1 Korah in the Church;†2 Absalom,†3 Sheba,†4 and Pekah,†5 in the kingdom — all stand out as monuments of retributive justice. Not that rebellion is the only sin, but that it is the grand outbreaking of the stubborn will. It may be hidden under a peaceful and amiable cover. But it "is not dead, but sleepeth."†6 Let God remove the restraint; let Satan bring the occasion of temptation; and, when all before appeared love and unity, "hateful, and hating one another" (Titus 3:3 ) — will be the dark features of the prospect.

Look again at man in his folly. The strength and accuracy of the figure can scarcely be surpassed. The savage beast under the strongest excitement — a bear robbed of her whelps — is less dangerous to meet. Witness Jacob’s sons putting a whole city to fire and sword for the folly of one man;†7 Saul slaying a large company of innocent priests;†8 Nebuchadnezzar heating the furnace sevenfold;†9 Herod murdering the children in Ramah;†10 "Saul breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord"†11 — was not all this the rage of a beast, not the reason of a man? Humbling, indeed, is this picture of man, once "created in the image of God." (Genesis 1:27 .) More humbling is it to see this folly in a child of God; to see David binding himself with an oath to massacre a whole family, some of whom had taken up his cause against the sottish offender. Yet the melting away of his fury under wise remonstrance shewed the man of God covered with the shame of his folly; not the fool living in it as his nature, habit, and delight. (1 Samuel 25:32-33 .)

But to turn nearer home — are there no households where uncontrolled anger governs all at pleasure? Does the self-willed victim remember, that ’nothing is said or done in a passion, but may be better said or done afterwards?’†12 Do we never see the Christian, whom his Master’s discipline and example ought to have transformed to a lamb, still like the bear robbed of her whelps? Man — the holiest, "left of God to try him that he might know all that was in his heart" (2 Chronicles 32:31 ) — "man," so left to himself, "verily at his best estate is altogether vanity." (Psalms 39:5 .) Abhorred be that vain, but too common excuse — ’It is my way.’ Is not this the very cause of grief to a contrite soul, calling for deep humiliation and increasing watchfulness?

Look again at man in his ingratitude. God forbids to reward evil for evil; much more evil for good. This sin even the Heathen deemed to include every other.†13 And so hateful is it to God, that he visits the evil, not only on the sinner himself, but on his house. Israel was punished for the ill return to Gideon.†14 The traitor’s house was doomed to a curse.†15 And how fearful the evil to the ungrateful nation, who does not know?†16

This ingratitude is by no means uncommon, though the conscience is little awake to the guilt. What else is it, when the ungodly resent an attempt to promote their best interests? David complained of this unkind and undeserved return, simply because he was pursuing active benevolence. (Psalms 38:20 .) Such a recompense is marked out for special reprobation.

And surely evil rewarded for good was the stamp of our father’s sin. (Genesis 3:5-6, with Genesis 2:8-18 .) And ever since has the curse been fearfully verified — Evil shall not depart from his house. Nor is this unjust severity. What say we to a child, nourished with the tenderest care, yet casting off all filial regard, and rewarding evil for good? Could any other appearances of virtue atone for this unnatural abomination, this awful deformity? And yet is not this sin — the astonishment of heaven and earth — the mark of every child of fallen Adam? "I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me." (Isaiah 1:2 .) But for the transfer of this mighty mass of guilt, how could we stand before God? And who of us still in the consciousness of this guilt, will not seek for a more full influence of that no less perfect work, by which the rebel spirit is tamed and humbled into the meekness and love of the Gospel?

Footnotes:

†1 Deuteronomy 21:18.

†2 Numbers 16:1-50.

†3 2 Samuel 18:15-16 .

†4 2 Samuel 20:1, 2 Samuel 20:22 .

†5 2 Kings 15:27-30 .

†6 The philosophical remark of Burke — ’Those who do not love religion, hate it’ — is the spirit of our Divine Master’s saying, Matthew 12:30 .

†7 Genesis 34:25.

†8 1 Samuel 22:18 .

†9 Daniel 3:13-19.

†10 Matthew 2:16.

†11 Acts 9:1.

†12 Matthew Henry’s Sermon on Meekness.

†13 ’Ingratum si dixeris, omnia dixeris.’ Yet was it the aggravation of their own sin. Romans 1:21 .

†14 Judges 8:35; Judges 9:56-57 . Compare Jeremiah 18:20-23 .

†15 Psalms 55:12-15; Psalms 109:9-13 .

†16 Matthew 27:25, with Matthew 23:32-39 .

Verse 14

Both the destructive elements — fire and water — illustrate the danger of the beginning of strife.†1 To neither element can we say — "Hitherto shalt thou come, and no further!" (Job 38:11 .) As well might we command the raging storm, as the uncontrolled passion — "Peace! be still." (Mark 4:39 .) The dam may restrain a large body of waters; but cut the sluices, and the letting out of water may be a sweeping inundation.†2 Thus fearfully has the beginning of strife issued in the murder of thousands;†3 and even in the desolation of kingdoms.†4

No less destructive is it in ordinary life. One provoking word brings on another. Every retort widens the breach. Seldom, when we have heard the first word, do we hear the last. An inundation of evil is poured in, that lays desolate peace, comfort, and conscience. Does not grace teach us the Christian victory, to keep down the expression of resentment, and rather to bear provocation than to break the bond of unity?

Truly it is a wise rule to stop the evil at the beginning. The bank is much more easily preserved than repaired. The breach once made, if it only let out a drop of water, is the beginning of an evil, the fruit of which cannot be calculated. How soon was the indignation of the ten apostles moved against the two; which, but for the immediate intervention of their Divine Master, might have been productive of serious issue! (Matthew 20:24 .) For — as one strongly observed — ’Man knows the beginning of sin; but who bounds the issues thereof?’†5 Abraham nobly yielded in the contention with Lot, and the evil was stayed. (Genesis 13:8-9 .) Paul and Barnabas — neither would yield; "and the contention was so sharp between them, that" — sad record! — "they departed asunder one from the other." (Acts 15:39 .) Moses restrained himself in the rising provocation with his wife. Israel wisely refrained from contention with Edom in the churlish refusal of water.†6 David answered gently to his brother’s irritating suspicion.†7 He "was as a deaf man" to his enemies, who were seeking contention with him.†8 The prompt decision of the Apostles in the ministration of the widows, preserved the infant Church from a serious schism.†9 Under similar threatening circumstances, would it not be well to consider, whether we are contending for a shadow, or for substance? if the latter, whether it might not be rather an exercise of forbearance than an handle of dissension (Romans 14:1-23 .); or, if its importance justified the dissension (Galatians 2:5 ), whether our judgment and conscience were fully and intelligently decided on the real principles involved. "Peace and holiness" are the main points we are commanded "to follow" (Hebrews 12:14 ); and so combined are they, that in vain can we expect to advance in holiness, except we "follow the things that make for peace."†10 In watching against the baneful issue of contention: be it well remembered, that the time to leave off is not when we see its worst, but its beginning; yea, before it be meddled with; restraining the first rising in ourselves; mortifying our own proud tempers, and cultivating our Master’s meek and self-denying spirit.†11

Footnotes:

†1 Proverbs 26:21. Judges 9:19-20 . James 3:1-18 .

†2 See Virgil’s elegant picture, Æn. ii. 496-499.

†3 Judges 12:1-6. 2 Samuel 2:14-27 .

†4 2 Chronicles 10:14-16 ; 2 Chronicles 13:17 ; 2 Chronicles 25:17-24 .

†5 Francis Spira.

†6 Numbers 20:14-21.

†7 1 Samuel 17:28-29 .

†8 Psalms 38:12-14.

†9 Acts 6:1-4.

†10 Romans 14:19. Colossians 3:12-15 . James 3:18 .

†11 The following remarks from Mr. Burke are well worth consideration — ’The arms with which the ill dispositions of the world are to be combated, are moderation, gentleness, a little indulgence of others, and a great distrust of ourselves; which are not qualities of a mean spirit, as some may possibly think them; but virtues of a great and noble kind, and such as dignify our nature, as much as they contribute to our repose and fortune. For nothing can be so unworthy of a well-composed soul, as to pass away life in bickerings and litigations, in snarling and scuffling with every one about us.’ — Letter to Barry. Prior’s Life of Burke. See an admirable Proverbs in Paley’s Moral Philosophy (Book iii. Chatper vii.) — a work however not to be recommended without very many reserves, on account of its false philosophy and unsound principles.

Verse 15

Judicial iniquity is an awful abuse of God’s authority. (Exodus 23:7 .) The judge or magistrate "is a minister of God for good." (Romans 13:4 .) The appeal is to him for justice, as the Representative of God. (Deuteronomy 25:1 .) If the great Judge "loveth righteousness and hateth iniquity,"†1 this unrighteousness justifying the wicked must be abomination to him.†2 This guilt of Samuel’s sons, so contrary to his own integrity, was the immediate cause of the abolition of the Theocracy.†3 The judges in David’s time seem to have been guilty of both these branches of injustice.†4 Ahab’s house was ruined by his condemnation of the just.†5 "Not this man, but Barabbas"†6 — combined the double sin. It was the perfection of injustice, the most aggravated abomination.

Not however to confine the application to official iniquity — Do we not all need great watchfulness, that we may "judge righteous judgment" (John 7:24 ); that no corrupt bias may prejudice the exercise of our private judgment, either in favor of the wicked, or in the condemnation of the just?

But let us place ourselves before the "Judge of all" accused by Satan, our own conscience, and the righteous law of God; convicted of every charge; yet justified. Does God then in thus "justifying the ungodly" (Romans 4:5 ) contravene this rule? Far from it. If he justifies the wicked, it is on account of righteousness. (Romans 3:25-26 .) If he condemn the just, it is on the imputation of unrighteousness. Nowhere throughout the universe do the moral perfections of the Governor of the world shine so gloriously as at the cross of Calvary.†7 The satisfaction of the holy law, and the manifestation of righteous mercy, harmonize with the justification of the condemned sinner.†8 And this combined glory tunes the song of everlasting praise.†9

Footnotes:

†1 Psalms 45:7. Deuteronomy 32:4 .

†2 Isaiah 5:23. Compare Sophoclis Œdip. Tyr., verses 622, 623, also Proverbs 24:23-24 .

†3 1 Samuel 8:3-5, with 1 Samuel 12:3 .

†4 Psalms 82:2; Psalms 94:20-21 .

†5 1 Kings 21:13-19 .

†6 John 18:40.

†7 Isaiah 53:5-10. 2 Corinthians 5:21 .

†8 Psalms 85:10. Isaiah 42:21 ; Isaiah 45:21 .

†9 Bishop Davenant justly quotes this text, as an example of the forensic use of the term justification — ’not the infusion of a quality, but the pronouncing a sentence.’ (Discourse on Inherent Righteousness, Proverbs 22. Allport’s Translation.) In this true sense it is used in reference to our justification before God — pronounced just in God’s own court of judgment.

Verse 16

A question of wonder and indignation! We often find this reckless infatuation in temporal things. A young man will spend a large income at the university in the professed purchase of wisdom, and yet idle away all his time! Is not the price manifestly in the hand of a fool, who has no heart to the advantages? The thoughtless rake might be warned even by his worldly friends, involving himself in debt, injuring his constitution, blasting his character. Is not this throwing away a valuable price by reckless folly?

Yet much more affecting is it to see the picture of this folly in religion. Why is a fool so blessed, seeing he hath no heart to improve his blessings? Birth, religious privileges, talents, time, influence, opportunity — all are a price to get wisdom. If the fool throws it away, the account of unprofitableness seals his sentencze. (Matthew 25:24-30 .) The grand price of inestimable value is in our hands.†1 Yet how many thousand fools have no heart to buy, would rather lose it, than labour for it; rather go sleeping to hell, than toiling to heaven! The remnant of the ten tribes despised the opportunity put within their reach of coming up to the feast of the LORD.†2 The town where Jesus was brought up,†3 the cities where he wrought his miracles,†4 willfully despised the price of wisdom. The Gadarenes threw away the pearl.†5 Herod eyed it with curiosity;†6 Pilate with indifference;†7 the Jews with scorn.†8 The rich youth preferred his own "goodly pearls" to it.†9 Felix hoped to turn it to his own selfish purpose.†10 Agrippa dared not purchase it.†11 Were not all these pictures of the fool, that every day meets our eye? ’That which "is more precious than rubies" (Proverbs 3:15 ) is to him more worthless than a pebble. That which "is more sweet than honey," is tasteless as the white of an egg.’†12 He lives for himself, as if there was no God in the world. His heart is given to the world, as if it could be a God to him, or could fill up God’s vacant place in his heart! Yet thus the realities of eternity — the mighty things of the Gospel — things that should drink up our spirits, are like "a tale that is told." Enough that they should have a place in our creed, though never in our hearts. The world is preferred to heaven, time to eternity; and the immortal soul, for which such a cost has been paid, and such prospects prepared, perishes in folly. But lingerers will stop short of heaven. And will it not be a sword in the awakened conscience — ’I might have been enriched, had I not wasted the golden opportunities of salvation, and fooled away the glorious days of the Son of man?’ Yea — will not this be the sting of the never-dying worm — ’Had I come to Christ when I might, I should not have been in this place of torment. I would not come then.†13 I cannot come now’†14 ’Lord, save me’ — cries the pious Howe — ’from trifling with the things of eternity.’†15

But if I have a heart to this wisdom, there can be no doubt the price will get it. I shall find Him whom my soul needeth above all, and desires to love above all; whose lovely names are not empty names, but full of truth. Brother — Husband — Savior — would but the fool ponder, might not the picture attract his heart; as One "able to promote him to honour," to give him an infinite compensation for toil or loss; whose very upbraidings are pity, whose strivings are tenderness; whose rebukes are love, whose smile is heaven.

Footnotes:

†1 Proverbs 8:4-5; Proverbs 9:4-6 . Isaiah 55:1-3 . Romans 10:8 . Revelation 3:20 .

†2 2 Chronicles 30:10 .

†3 Luke 4:28.

†4 Matthew 11:21.

†5 Matthew 8:34.

†6 Luke 23:8. Compare Acts 17:21-32 .

†7 John 18:38.

†8 Acts 13:46.

†9 Mark 10:22.

†10 Acts 24:25-27.

†11 Acts 26:28.

†12 Lawson.

†13 Matthew 23:37. John 5:40 .

†14 Matthew 25:10. Luke 13:25-28 ; Luke 16:26 .

†15 Works, iii. 130.

Verse 17

This beautiful picture of friendship has been drawn by moralists, sentimentalists, and poets. But the reality is only found, where Divine grace has melted away natural selfishness into disinterested love. If virtue is the best ground of friendship, then is this most heavenly virtue the firmest ground of all. What passes under the name is too often, as Bishop Hall†1 describes it, ’brittle stuff.’ This fickle excitement cools by distance, or by the coldness of our friend. Degradation of worldly circumstances converts it into indifference (Job 6:14-15 ), or even into hatred.†2 The friend, who hath left the right path, is forsaken, instead of being followed, watched over, and every opportunity improved for reclaiming him. But the true friend loveth at all times, through "evil as well as good report." He does not change, when circumstances change. He is the same, whether we are in wealth or need. He proves himself in adversity, by rising in warmth, and exerting every nerve, in proportion as his aid is needed.†3 He is not ashamed of poverty or of a prison.†4 In any jarrings of the flesh, adversity cements love.†5 The loving friend becomes now a brother born for adversity.†6 Such was the love of Joseph to his brethren; unshaken by vicissitudes, unabated by ingratitude.†7 Such was the firm cleaving of Ruth to her desolate mother;†8 the unity of heart between David and Jonathan;†9 the affectionate sympathy of the beloved disciple to the mother of his Lord (John 19:27 ); the faithful love of the brethren to the great Apostle in his adversity.†10

We must not indeed look for perfection. Can we doubt the sincerity of the disciples, while we are humbled, instructed, and warned by their frailty? (Matthew 26:40-41 .) For frailty it was; not wilfulness, nor hypocrisy. "Ye are they, that have continued with me in my temptations" — was their Master’s kindly acknowledgment at that season of infirmity, when they all forsook him, and fled.†11

But — Ah! it is to him that we must look as the perfect exemplar. To see the Son of God in our nature, that he might be our friend and brother (Hebrews 2:14 ); to hear him "not ashamed to call us brethren" (Hebrews 2:11-13 ) — this is a mystery of friendship — unsearchable. Truly is this Friend — he alone, worthy of our unlimited confidence. Such is the constancy of his love — at all times (John 13:1 ) even unto death†12 — unaltered by the most undutiful returns — "turning and looking upon" the disciple (a look so full of tenderness and power!) (Luke 22:61 ) whom we should have excommunicated. Such the sympathy of his love — born for adversity; so united to us — the friend and the brother we need; never nearer to us than when in our lowest depths of trouble; and, though now our glorified Brother in heaven, yet still "touched with the feeling of our infirmities" (Hebrews 4:15 ); still "afflicted in all our afflictions" (Isaiah 63:9 ); presenting us to his Father, as his own elect, the purchase of his blood, "the members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones." (Ephesians 5:30 .) Here is sympathy in all its fullness, and all its helpfulness. ’Here is indeed a Brother born for adversity. "Trust him," O ye trembling believers, "at all times," and in all places. You will then be possessed of the happy art of living beyond the reach of all disappointment.’†13

Footnotes:

†1 Works, viii. 38. Meditations and Vows.

†2 Proverbs 19:7. Job 19:17-20 . Compare Ovid’s elegant lines, ex Ponto. Lib. ii. Ephesians 3:5-10, Ephesians 3:23, Ephesians 3:28 .

†3 2 Samuel 15:19-22 ; 2 Samuel 17:27-29 .

†4 Philippians 2:25. 2 Timothy 1:16-18 .

†5 See the melancholy dispute between Bishop Hooper and Ridley upon ceremonials, and the cementing influence of the prison; with Foxe’s beautiful remarks, vi. 640, 641.

†6 Bishop Patrick. Compare Job 2:11-13 . Sirach 7:18 ; Sirach 6:7-8, Sirach 6:10, Sirach 6:16 .

†7 Genesis 45:5-8.

†8 Ruth 1:16-17.

†9 1 Samuel 18:8 ; 1 Samuel 19:2 ; 1 Samuel 23:16 .

†10 Aquila and Priscilla. Romans 16:3-4 ; Epaphroditus, Philippians 2:25-26 — when a prisoner; the Philippian Church, Philippians 4:15 .

†11 Luke 22:28, with Matthew 26:56 .

†12 John 15:13.

’Mine is an unchanging love;

Higher than the heights above;

Deeper than the depths beneath;

Firm and faithful, strong as death.’ — Cowper.

†13 Howell’s Sermons, ii. 252. ’Though solitary and unsupported, and oppressed by sorrows unknown and undivided. I am not without joyful expectations. There is one Friend who loveth at all times; a Brother born for adversity — the help of the helpless; the hope of the hopeless; the strength of the weak; the riches of the poor; the peace of the disquieted; the companion of the desolate; the friend of the friendless. To him alone will I call, and he will raise me above my fears’ — Memoir of Mrs. Hawkes, pp. 127, 128. The ancient Jews applied this Proverb to Christ, adducing it as a testimony, that the Divine Messiah would by his incarnation become the Brother of man. Gill in loco.

Verse 18

10 A divine sentence (Diviniation, 18 A man void of understanding†a (heart, Marg.) striketh hands, and becometh surety in the presence of his friend.

Though we are to feel ourselves born for adversity, ever ready to "bear one another’s burdens" (Galatians 6:2 ): yet we must not befriend our brother at the risk or expense of injustice to our family. We have therefore another warning against imprudent suretyship. (Proverbs 6:1-5 ; Proverbs 11:15 .) Beware of striking hands in agreement without ascertaining, whether we can fulfill our engagement, or whether our friend is not equally able to fulfill it himself. This shews a man void of understanding; specially to do this in the presence of his friend. For why is not his word taken, but from the suspicion of insolvency or dishonesty? A prodigal, thoughtless kindness may gain us a popular name. But the principle, closely examined, will be found to be another form of selfishness. There is no true benevolence in rash engagements, which may involve our name and family in disgrace or ruin. True indeed — had not those hands that were nailed to the cross, been stricken in suretyship, the handwriting that was against us could never have been canceled. (Colossians 2:14 .) Yet the eternal counsel is no pattern for our simple folly. Nor is infinite love combined with perfect wisdom, a plea for our rash generosity. Religion, though it warns its professors against imprudence, yet too often unjustly bears the blame of them. If we would adorn the Christian profession, and avoid occasions of stumbling to the ungodly, we must "provide for honest things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of man." (2 Corinthians 8:20-21 .)

Footnotes:

†a Proverbs 7:7 ; Proverbs 10:13 ; Proverbs 11:12 ; Proverbs 15:21 ; Proverbs 24:30 . ’It denotes the want of all the faculties of the soul, through ignorance, carelessness, and the prevalence of evil propensities of various kinds.’ Scott on Proverbs 11:12 .

Verse 19

We may indeed fall into strife without loving it. (Genesis 13:7-8 .) But let us always look at it as a branch from the root of sin (Galatians 5:19-21 ), and the prolific source of sin. (2 Corinthians 12:20 . James 3:16 .) The love of it is therefore the love of transgression. Yet who will own the charge? The man engaged in strife protests that he loves peace; only his neighbour’s perverseness drives him into strife. And yet if we are frequently in it; if we take no pains, make no sacrifice of self-will or interest (1 Corinthians 6:1-7 ), to avoid the occasion of strife — does not conscience bring home the charge? Ah! the love of transgression lies deeper than we often see. It shews itself in forms, that the world may overlook, but which prove its nature to be "carnal."†1

Very generally it proceeds from the root of pride.†2 The man exalts his gate†3 above his neighbour, and affects a style beyond his rank. Or his ambition would tread his neighbour under his feet. Nay, he will sometimes rise against his Sovereign,†4 or even stand in defiance of his God.†5 The sluggard sees his ruin before him, and indolently waits for it, without making any effort to avert it.†6 But the proud man seeketh destruction. He puts himself in the road and sooner or later his day comes; and his name, glory, and honour are swept away.†7 Watch over me, O my God, to preserve me from the first rising of my proud heart. Or if my frailty yield to it, O keep me from the prevalence of this presumptuous sin, that hurries me as a rival against thy throne into the pit of destruction.

Footnotes:

†1 1 Corinthians 3:3-4 . ’I never loved those salamanders, that are never well, but when they are in the fire of contention. I will rather suffer a thousand wrongs, than offer one. I will rather suffer an hundred, than inflict one. I will suffer many, ere I will complain of one and endeavour to right it by contending. I have ever found, that to strive with my superior is furious; with my equal doubtful; with my inferior sordid and base; with any, full of unquietness.’ — Bishop Hall, Meditations and Vows, Works, viii. 18.

†2 Proverbs 13:10. Mark 9:33-34 .

†3 An allusion to the gates of splendid palaces in the East, generally elevated according to the vanity of their owner. — Morier, quoted in Burder’s Oriental Customs.

†4 2 Samuel 15:1 . 1 Kings 1:5 ; 1 Kings 16:9-18 .

†5 Romans 13:1-2.

†6 Proverbs 6:11.

†7 Proverbs 16:18. Isaiah 22:15-19 . Jeremiah 22:13-19 .

Verse 20

The history of God’s ancient people is a picture of frowardness with all its barren results. Let their long-suffering God do what he would to them and for them, they found no satisfying good. (Psalms 78:1-72 .) Self-will, even in its fullest indulgence, instead of bringing the desired good, always ends in disappointment; and, when the perverse tongue breaks out, in frightful mischief.†1 The best of us are too often governed by this waywardness. Even when we seek to walk with God, how does the froward heart struggle to walk by its own inclination! The good Lord give us a mortified spirit, to restrain us from the guidance of our corrupt fancies! Many an erratic course in the Church we trace to some unhappy bias, not disciplined by the Divine Spirit, not molded to reverential faith. Most graciously therefore does our God assert his own right to supremacy; promising us — not freedom from restraint, but a yoke (Matthew 11:29 ), a binding law, a strict obligation, and — above all — the heart to love and obey.†2 Here is now self-control and stability; not impulse and feeling, but fixed and steady principle. Shall not we then cry with filial simplicity — ’Not my will, O Lord. Let me have anything but my own way. Leave me not to my perverse heart.’ In proportion as the froward heart is thus subdued, the perverse tongue is bridled; and we have the "perfect man" in Christian consistency, humility, and love.

Footnotes:

†1 Proverbs 11:20; Proverbs 18:6-7 . Numbers 16:1-50 . Acts 13:8-11 .

†2 Jeremiah 31:33. Ezekiel 36:26-27 .

Verse 21

Among "the vanities, to which the creature is made subject," Solomon elsewhere enumerated one, of which he probably had a feeling experience — leaving the labour of his hand — he knoweth not to whom — whether he shall be a wise man or a fool. (Ecclesiastes 2:18-19 .) The latter prospect is here realized. The weeping parent not only finds no joy in the fondly cherished object of his expectation; but a cankering grief embitters all his joys, and often brings him "down with sorrow to the grave."†1 And how is this sorrow aggravated, should there be an unhappy humbling consciousness, that undue indulgence or severity, injudicious treatment, and more than all — neglect of real prayer for the child,†2 and of the diligent improvement of God’s appointed means, virtually suffered the evil propensities to grow to a direful harvest of ruin!

Yet let the godly parent expect everything from prayer — provided it be not palsied by despondency. (Galatians 6:9 ; John 11:40 .) In the deepest distress never lose hold of the covenant of grace. (Genesis 17:7 .) Let the determined faith of a praying mother encourage perseverance. (Matthew 15:22-28 .) God exercises faith; but he never fails to honour it. He delays to answer prayer; but every word, every sigh, is registered for acceptance in his best time. Let Solomon’s word be a quickening — not a discouraging — word; "profitable" indeed "for reproof, and for correction;" but not less so "for instruction in righteousness." (2 Timothy 3:16 .)

Footnotes:

†1 Genesis 42:38. Has not many an afflicted parent fellowship with the impassioned cry of Augustus —’Would that I had lived single, or died childless?’

†2 Bishop Sanderson’s Sermon on Romans 15:5 . ’Think none of you, you have sufficiently discharged your parts towards those that are under your charge, if you have instructed them, corrected them when they have done amiss, and rewarded them when they have done well, so long as your fervent prayers for them have been wanting. In vain shall your wrestle with their stubbornness and other corruptions, (though you put forth all your strength) so long as you wrestle with them only. Then, or not at all, shall you wrestle to purpose, when you enter the lists with the Father of Spirits, as Jacob did: wrestling with him by your importunate prayers; and not giving him over, till you have wrung a blessing from him, either for yourselves, or them, or both.’

Verse 22

This is not true of all merriment. The wise man justly describes the loud and noisy mirth of fools to be, no medicine, but "madness;"†1 a transient flash, not an abiding source of enjoyment. Probably this merriment here means nothing more than cheerfulness, which, in its proper measure, on proper subjects, and at a proper time, is a legitimate pleasure, especially belonging to religion. Our Lord thus made a merry heart by his message of divine forgiveness (Matthew 9:2-7 ); and this doubtless was a more healing medicine to the paralytic, than the restoration of his limbs. If I be a pardoned sinner, an accepted child of God, what earthly trouble can sink me? "Paul and Silas sang praises to God in the inner prison, with their feet made fast in the stocks." (Acts 16:25 .) The martyrs "glorified God in the fire." They were "tortured, not accepting deliverance, that they might obtain a better resurrection." (Hebrews 11:35 .) All earthly enjoyments are now doubly blest with heavenly sunshine. (Ecclesiastes 9:7-9 .)

There is also the Christian flow of natural spirits. For when consecrated to the Lord, they become a means of enjoyment, not only to ourselves (Proverbs 15:13 ), but to those around us. Often has the mourning saint been encouraged, often also has the worldling been convicted, by a brother’s cheerful words or looks.†2 To the former it has been a medicine; to the latter a lesson.

A broken spirit in an evangelical sense is God’s precious gift; stamped with his special honour, and always constituting an acceptable service. But here it describes a brooding spirit of despondency; always looking at the dark side; and, if connected with religion (which is not always the case), flowing from narrow and perverted views, a spurious humility centering in self. The influence drieth up the bones. The bodily system is sensibly affected. ’It contracts and enfeebles the animal spirits; preys on our strength; eats out the vigour of the constitution. The radical moisture is consumed; and the unhappy subject of this passion droops like a flower in the scorching heat of summer.’†3

Not less baneful is its influence upon the spiritual system. Hard thoughts of God are induced, as if he had forsaken, neglected, or forgotten us. From doubting, the soul comes to chilling fear; thence to gloomy despondency. The power of the telescope fails in bringing distant objects nigh. Hence the present hold of the grand object is feeble. The hope of future enjoyment is dark. Distance too often lessens communication. Prayer is less frequently or powerfully sent up. The answers therefore, and the supplies of cheering grace from this source, are more scanty. Thus we are not only weakened in comfort, but cut short in strength. The mind is clothed in sable. The chariot’s wheels are taken off, so that we "drag heavily." Discontent, and a querulous unbelieving sadness, take possession of the soul, and wholly unfit us for the service of God.

Most watchful therefore should we be against this withering influence. Allow not the imagination to dwell needlessly in gloom. Constitutional temperament will have its influence. External things act upon the body, and through the body upon the mind. We are some of us creatures even of weather, not the same on a misty as on a bright day. There is much in our physical economy rather within the province of the physician than the Minister; much perhaps that we may be inclined too hastily to censure in a brother, when a more accurate knowledge would open our sympathy. When outward and inward troubles unite, what wonder, if the vessel, like Paul’s ship, "where two seas met" (Acts 27:41 ), give way?†4 Yet, let it be remembered, that every indulgence increases the evil; and that allowed prevalence may end in a fixed melancholy.

Turn and see what materials can be gathered for resistance to this ruinous evil, and inducing a well-regulated cheerfulness. ’Why am not I at this moment utterly overwhelmed with distress? How seldom, if ever, am I in pain all over at the same time! How faithfully do our greatest supports combine with our greatest trials!’ (2 Corinthians 1:5 .) Surely in these recollections some excitement of pleasurable feeling might be directed into the channel of gratitude to God! How many rays of collected mercy shine from the great center of joy!

But to come more immediately to the gospel — Unquestionably there is abundant matter for the deepest humiliation. No words can adequately describe the shame, that we ought to feel for our insensibility even on account of one single act of infinite love. Yet the gospel encourages humiliation, not despondency. It deals in the realities, not of woe and despair, but of hope, peace, and joy. Its life and glory is he that "bindeth up the broken-hearted" (Isaiah 61:1 ), who "will not break the bruised reed" (Isaiah 42:3 ), or crush under his feet "the prisoners of hope."

If then — Christian — you believe the gospel to be "glad tidings," shew that you believe it, by lighting up your face with a smile; not by "bowing down the head as a bulrush," and as it were "spreading sackcloth and ashes under you." (Isaiah 58:5 .) Shew that it is the daylight of your soul; that you really find its ways to be "pleasantness and peace" (Proverbs 3:17 ); that you believe their joys, not because you have read and heard of them, but because you have tasted them. If they are happy, be happy in them. "Lie not against the truth," by suffering your countenance to induce the belief, that religion is a habit of inveterate and incurable gloom. Joy is indeed a forbidden fruit to the ungodly.†5 But let it be the adorning of thy profession.†6 It is a sin against thy God to be without it.†7 The gloom of the servant reflects unjustly upon the Master, as if thou "knewest him, that he was an hard man."†8 Resist then all sorrow, that suggests such dishonourable thoughts of him. Disparage not his heavenly comfort, by laying unduly to heart his counter-balancing afflictions. No cloud can cover you, but the "bow may be seen in the cloud." And in all this world’s afflictions, one beam of his love might scatter all the clouds, and fill the heart with "joy unspeakable and full glory." "Let the LORD then be magnified, which hath pleasure," not in the misery, but in "the prosperity of his servants." (Psalms 35:27 .) He giveth liberty to be cheerful, ground to be cheerful, and he will give thee an heart to be cheerful with animated gladness.

After all, however, — let each be careful to cultivate a just and even balance. Liveliness needs a guard, lest it should degenerate into levity. Be much in secret with God. Cherish a solemn, reverential spirit before the throne of grace. Christian joy is a deeply serious thing. The froth and lightness that passes for it deserves not the name. The carnal element must be destroyed, to introduce the heaven-born principle, that comes from God, and maintains communion with him.

Yet on the other a grave temperament must be resisted, lest it should sink into morbid depression. Gloom is not the portion, and ought not to stamp the character, of the children of God. It may often be a conflict with a man’s own self, either in body or mind. But yet a little while, and, instead of the broken spirit which drieth up the bones, our spirits will be so high, that another body must be formed to contain them. Meanwhile Christian discipline on both sides will be the principle of enlarged happiness and steady consistency.

Footnotes:

†1 Ecclesiastes 2:2. Compare 1 Samuel 25:36, 37.

†2 Proverbs 12:25. Ecclesiastes 8:1 .

†3 Bp. Horne’s Sermon on a Merry Heart. Our English proverb is — ’Dry sorrow drinks the blood’ — sorrow that cannot weep!

†4 Proverbs 12:25; Proverbs 15:13 . Job 30:30 . Psalms 32:3-4 ; Psalms 102:3-5 ; Psalms 119:83 . Compare Sirach 30:22 ; Sirach 38:13 . Ovid’s beautiful lines, Lib. i. ex Ponto. This mixture of bodily and mental anguish formed the completeness of our Lord’s sufferings. Psalms 22:15 ; Psalms 69:3 .

†5 Hosea 9:1.

†6 Isaiah 52:1-2; Isaiah 60:1 .

†7 Deuteronomy 28:47.

†8 Matthew 25:24.

Verse 23

Again we are warned of the corruption of gifts. (Proverbs 17:8 .) No sin has a deeper stamp of wickedness; none a more awful mark of Divine visitation. (Isaiah 1:23-24 . Ezekiel 22:13 .) The temptation is the test of principle. Sir M. Hale (as his Biographer writes) ’had learned from Solomon, that a gift perverteth the ways of judgment.’†1 He always therefore rejected it with courteous integrity. Not even a good cause will justify the evil practice. The Apostle, though restrained in bondage from his great and blessed work, would not gratify his covetous judge by purchasing his release. (Acts 24:26 .) The rules of the gospel are clear and decisive. Let us not "do evil, that good may come. Let not your good be evil spoken of. Abstain from all appearance of evil." (Romans 3:8 ; Romans 14:16 . 1 Thessalonians 5:22 .)

Even a corrupt world is ashamed of this sin. The gift is in the bosom (Proverbs 21:14 ), concealed from the eye of man. But how fearfully uncovered is it to the eye of God, who will not wink at the endeavor to pervert his ways of judgment! How will he one day ’vindicate his Omniscience from all the insults put upon it in the world by those foolish men, who were not ashamed to do those things in the face of God himself, in which they would not have wished the meanest of his creatures to detect them!’†2

Let every child of Abraham hear the command given to his father — "Walk before me, and be thou perfect." (Genesis 17:1 .) "He that walketh righteously, and speaketh uprightly — he that shaketh his hands from holding of bribes — he shall dwell on high." (Isaiah 33:15-16 . Psalms 15:1-5 .)

Footnotes:

†1 Bishop Burnet’s Life. What a degrading contrast did Lord Bacon’s character display!

†2 Lawson in loco.

Verse 24

Let us trace our interest in wisdom from the beginning. It first "enters into the heart." (Proverbs 2:10 .) There it "rests in him that hath understanding" (Proverbs 14:33 ), as his principle of conduct. Now it is before his eyes in the Book of Wisdom, as his rule of faith and life. (Proverbs 14:8 .) It is the center, to which all his thoughts, motives, and pursuits tend. All is now order. Every faculty, desire, and affection, finds its proper place. ’He that hath understanding fixeth his eyes upon wisdom, and contenteth himself with that object; whereas the eyes of a fool are constantly wandering everywhere; and his thoughts settle upon nothing that may avail to his good.’†1 His eyes are in the ends of the earth, rolling and wandering from one object to another. His thoughts are scattered. He has no definite object, no settled principle, no certain rule. Talent, cultivation of mind, improvement of opportunity — all are frittered away. He cares for those things which are furtherest from him, and with which he has the least concern.

An original writer thus vividly portrays this inconstancy — ’Today he goes to the quay to be shipped for Rome. But before the tides come, his tide is turned. One party thinks him theirs; the adverse theirs; he is with both; with neither; not an hour with himself. Indifference is his ballast, and opinion his sail; he resolves not to resolve. He knows not what he doth hold. He opens his mind to receive notions, as one opens his palm to take an handful of water. He hath very much, if he could hold it. He is sure to die, but not what religion to die in. He demurs, like a posed lawyer, as if delay could remove some impediments. — In a controverted point, he holds with the last reasoner he either heard or read. The next diverts him, and his opinion dwells with him perhaps so long as the teacher of it is in his sight. He will rather take dross for gold, than try it in the furnace. He receives many judgments, retains none. — He loathes manna after two days’ feeding. — His best dwelling would be his confined chamber, where he would trouble nothing but his pillow. He is full of business at Church; a stranger at home; a skeptic abroad; an observer in the street; everywhere a fool.’†2

This diversion is a great engine of the enemy. His great object is to turn the mind aside from what is immediate to what is indefinite, from what is plain and important to what is unsearchable;†3 from what is personal to what is irrelevant.†4 Many trifles take the place of the "One thing needful." And is not this waste of time often a temptation to the Christian? Where are his eyes, or his thoughts, at prayer? Alas! too often, instead of "looking unto Jesus" (Hebrews 12:2 ), his great object, the life of prayer, the only way to God — are they not in the ends of the earth, as if there was no nearer, no better object of attraction? Oh! do not we want simplicity of spiritual understanding to keep him, the great uncreated Wisdom, constantly before our eyes? Lord! I am ashamed of my base inconstancy. But it is thou alone canst heal it. "Turn away mine eyes from beholding vanity." (Psalms 119:37 .) Fix them — O fix them — on him, on whom all heaven, all the redeemed, delight to gaze for ever.

Footnotes:

†1 Bishop Hall.

†2 Works of Rev. Thomas Adams. Folio, 1630 — The Soul’s Sickness.

†3 Deuteronomy 29:29. Colossians 2:18 .

†4 Luke 13:23-24. John 21:21-22 .

Verse 25

Surely the Divine Spirit did not repeat the proverb (Proverbs 17:21 ) for nought. Was it not to deepen our sense of parental responsibility and filial obligation? Can parents be insensible to the prospect of this grief? Can children be hardened into the unnatural selfishness of piercing a parent’s heart with such bitterness? (Proverbs 19:13 .) The mother’s anguish is here added to the father’s grief. (Genesis 26:35 .) "As a sword in her bones," is the apprehension of having "brought forth children to the murderer." (Hosea 9:13 .) How uncertain are the dearest comforts of earth! Our fallen mother anticipated the joy of "having gotten a man" — perhaps the promised seed — "from the LORD." (Genesis 4:1 .) Yet to the bitterness of her soul "he was of that wicked one, and slew his brother." (1 John 3:12 .) Her daughter naturally "remembereth no more her sorrow, for joy that a man is born into the world." (John 16:21 .) Already she grasps the delightful vision of his infant training, and ripening maturity. And yet too often he proves in the end a foolish son, and bitterness to her that bare him.

Absalom was named ’His father’s peace.’ Yet was he the source of his most poignant grief. This is not the "weeping of a night," succeeded by a "joyous morning" (Psalms 30:5 ); but the "heaviness that maketh the heart stoop" (Proverbs 12:25 ), perhaps for years, perhaps to the end of days. Its connection with eternity gives to the trial its keenest edge. To see a foolish son hurried irrevocably into his eternal doom — Oh! this to the godly parent is an awful conflict. (2 Samuel 18:33 .) Strong indeed must be that faith (yet such faith has been vouchsafed)†1 which bows reverentially to the Divine Sovereignty, and maintains the serenity of peaceful submission.

But parental anxieties and sorrows must stimulate the enquiry — ’How may this piercing thorn be spared, this bitter grief — the bitterest that ever a parent’s heart can know — averted?’ The primary root of this sorrow is the indulgence of the will.†2 The vast power of parental influence must be used wisely, at once, at any cost. We must not instruct, or entreat only, but command.†3 We must allow no appeal from our authority, no reversal of our decision. This discipline in the spirit of love, and enforced by example, is God’s honoured ordinance.

Then to give power to all other means, there must be a living faith in the word of God. For if I really believe that awful fact, that my child is "a child of wrath," that Satan claims a right in him, and that if he die unconverted, hell must be his everlasting portion; shall not I apply myself with ceaseless energy to all the means for his soul’s salvation; under the clear conviction, that if he be not saved, "good were it for him that he had not been born"?

But this faith brings encouragement fully proportioned to the tremendous anxiety. For, if I be a Christian Parent, may I not claim a place for my child in the covenant of God? (Genesis 17:7 .) May I not plead with him, and for him as a covenanted child? Here I desire to exercise a sound balance of well-disciplined confidence; encouraging parental hopes, and moderating parental anxieties. The law of the kingdom is, "that men should pray always, and not faint." (Luke 18:1 .) The fondest desires may not be accomplished till the eleventh hour. There may be many haltings, many withering blasts, many windings of the path. But "the bread cast upon the waters shall be found," though it be not till "after many days." (Ecclesiastes 11:1 .)

Only let us see to it, that our faith proves it soundness as a practical principle. Do parents never pray, that God would take their children as his own, while yet they train them, as if they were for the world? Are we sure, that we desire nothing for them besides, or unconnected with, eternal life?†4 One such desire stirs up another; till at length these few little things thrust down the primary blessing from its place, and it becomes a nullity.

In fine — would we look for rest in our beloved children? (Genesis 5:29, margin=Noah: Gr. Noe: that is Rest, or, Comfort ) Hold them loose for ourselves; fast for God. Connect them early with his Church. Train their first years in his yoke. Instead of a sinking grief to us, they will then be "the restorers of our life, and the nourishers of our age." (Ruth 4:15 .) Instead of being our bitterness as rebels against God, he will own and seal them, as "a seed to serve him, to declare his righteousness," to set forth his praise. (Psalms 22:31 ; Psalms 92:13 .)

Footnotes:

†1 Leviticus 10:1-3. 1 Samuel 3:18 .

†2 Proverbs 29:15.

†3 Genesis 18:19. 1 Samuel 2:23-25 .

†4 Mark the golden rule, on which all hangs, Matthew 6:33 .

Verse 26

Often is the wise man’s meaning much beyond his words. To punish the just not only is not good,†1 but it is "the abomination" (Proverbs 17:15 ) — "an evident token of perdition." (Philippians 1:28 .) If rulers are "a terror to good works," they are Ministers of God in authority, but Ministers of Satan in administration.†2 And how will such injustice "abide the day of his coming," when he shall "lay judgment to the line, and righteousness to the plummet!"†3

Not less wicked is the sin of the people. To strike princes is high treason against God.†4 The Apostle confessed the unwilling sin of his smiting words.†5 Much more guilty is it to strike them for equity. A godly king — ruling in equity, "scattering away all evil with his eyes"†6 — will raise to himself many and powerful enemies. The evil-minded will undermine his influence,†7 or resist his authority.†8 If they dare not strike him openly, they will "curse him in their thoughts."†9 To strike, even in word, is our sin.†10 To pray is our duty. And who knoweth what a prayer-hearing God would send — a righteous administration, a covert and blessing to the land?†11

Footnotes:

†1 See this same meiosis. Proverbs 16:29 ; Proverbs 18:5 ; Proverbs 20:23 . Psalms 51:17 . Ezekiel 36:31 .

†2 1 Kings 21:11-13 . Matthew 26:3-4 . Acts 4:1-3 .

†3 Isaiah 28:17, with Malachi 3:2, Malachi 3:5 .

†4 Job 34:18.

†5 Acts 23:5. Compare 1 Samuel 24:5-6 ; 2 Samuel 16:5-7 .

†6 Proverbs 20:8.

†7 2 Samuel 15:1-6 .

†8 2 Samuel 20:1 .

†9 Ecclesiastes 10:20.

†10 2 Peter 2:10 . Judges 1:8 .

†11 1 Timothy 2:1-3 . 2 Samuel 23:3 . Isaiah 32:1-2 .

Verses 27-28

The wisdom of these proverbs will be acknowledged by those, who know the sins of the tongue, and the immense difficulty of restraining the unruly member. A man of knowledge will spare his words, when the probable prospect is harm rather than good. (Psalms 39:1-2 . Matthew 7:6 .) The good treasure is far too valuable to be unprofitably spent. Silence is often the best proof of wisdom.†1 Our Lord in his divine knowledge, careful as he was to improve every opportunity for instruction, sometimes spared his words. (Matthew 16:4 .)

This restraint is most important under provocation.†2 Passion demands immediate judgment. A cool, well-tempered understanding asks further time for consideration. The fiery ebullition of the Apostles, their Master judged to be the want of an excellent understanding. (Luke 9:54-55 .) Nehemiah, by repressing the first vent of his righteous anger, gave a reasonable and convincing answer for the occasion.†3 The prophet wisely refrained even a message from God to a king in the moment of passion. (2 Chronicles 25:16 .) ’A little spark blows up one of sulphureous temper; and many coals, greater injuries, and reproaches are quenched, and lose their force, being thrown at another of a cool spirit.’†4 Indeed a fool may purchase to himself the reputation of wisdom, if only he shut his mouth, instead of exposing his folly to common observation. (Contrast Proverbs 15:2 ; Proverbs 29:11 .) ’He cannot be known for a fool, that says nothing. He is a fool, not who hath unwise thoughts, but who utters them. Even concealed folly is wisdom.’†5

How infinitely momentous is the account, which God takes of the tongue! "Death and life are in the power of it." (Proverbs 18:21 .) Our eternal acceptance or condemnation will — in part at least — hang on it. (Matthew 12:36-37 .) How could we endure the judgment for "every idle," no less than for every wicked "word," if there were not for the self-abased penitent a covering from this condemnation, a cleansing from this guilt, a seal of acceptance? (Isaiah 6:7 .)

Footnotes:

†1 Proverbs 10:19. Job 13:5 . Compare Sirach 5:12-13 ; Sirach 33:7-9 . Dr. Good in his note on Job 13:5, gives a translation of an Arabic poetical proverb.

Keep silence then; nor speak, but when besougt;

Who listens long, grows tired of what is told:

With tones of silver through thy tongue be fraught,

Know this — that silence of itself is gold.

†2 Numbers 12:1-2. Psalms 38:12-14 . Isaiah 53:7 .

†3 Nehemiah 5:6-11. Cicero advises his brother Quintus (a proconsul in Asia) most diligently to restrain his tongue under anger, which — he adds — is no less a virtue, than freedom from anger itself.. — Epist. ad. Q. Fratrem, lib. i. 1.

†4 Leighton on 1 Peter 3:9 .

†5 Bishop Hall. Works, viii. 83.

Bibliographical Information
Bridges, Charles. "Commentary on #REF". Bridges' Commentary on Proverb. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cbp/proverbs-17.html. 1846.
 
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