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Bible Commentaries
Proverbs 21

Bridges' Commentary on ProverbsBridges' on Proverbs

Verse 1

MOST reflecting persons acknowledge God as the doer of all things. In inert matter he acts by physical force; in brute animals, by instinct and appetite; in intelligent beings, by motives suited to their faculties; in his redeemed people, by the influence of grace. We are here reminded of one course of his Providential acting. The general truth, before stated, of man’s entire dependence, is taught by the strongest illustration — his uncontrollable sway upon the most absolute of all wills — the king’s heart.

The river of water is an apt emblem of this agency. Its commencement is a single spring; scarcely capable of turning an handmill to grind a day’s corn. But increased by the confluence of other small or great streams, it may turn hundreds of mills, and provide food for thousands. So the thoughts of the king’s heart are first a single imagination for the good of his subjects; then swelled by the attendant thoughts of his mental resources, till what appeared desirable rises to the full power of accomplishment. But after all, the Great Sovereign turns the most despotic rule, all political projects, to his own purposes, with the same ease, that the rivers of water are turned by every inflection of the channel.†1 While this course is directed, the waters flow naturally and unforced on their own level. The king’s heart he directs as a responsible agent, without interfering with the moral liberty of his will.

Nehemiah fully acknowledged this prerogative, when, having a favor to ask of the king, he "prayed unto the God of heaven."†2 And indeed Scripture witness is abundant. Abimelech’s heart was in the hand of the LORD for good.†3 Pharaoh’s heart was turned towards Joseph.†4 The Babylonish monarchs showed kindness to Daniel and his captive brethren.†5 The Persian monarchs countenanced and assisted in the building of the temple.†6 The hearts of wicked kings are alike in the hand of the LORD; †7 yet he hath no part in their wickedness.†8 The hatred of Pharaoh; the ambition of Sennacherib and Nebuchadnezzar,†9 were his instruments for his own purposes. Ahab’s murderous heart was restrained, and even made to accomplish the downfall of Baal.†10 The counsels of the kings of the earth against Christ were under Divine control.†11 Thus does "the wrath of man praise him; and the remainder he restrains."†12 Thus an Almighty agency is visible by its effects in the minutest affairs. Ahasuerus’s sleepless nights;†13 Nebuchadnezzar’s divination;†14 the appointment of the year of general taxation†15 — these seemingly unimportant events were turning-points in the dispensations of God, fraught with immensely momentous results.

The history of our blessed, though now calumniated, Reformation, shews the same sovereign control of the royal heart. Henry VIII. was employed as an unintentional instrument, and his godly son as a willing agent, in furthering this great work. The recollection encourages us to refer all anxious care for the Church to her great Head; to rejoice that not kings, but the King of kings reigneth. (Isaiah 9:6 .) And shall not we be quickened to earnest prayer for our beloved sovereign (1 Timothy 2:1-3 ), that her heart, being in the LORD’s hand, as rivers of water, may be disposed to rule for his glory, as a nursing-mother to the Church (Isaiah 49:23 ), and a blessing to her people?


†1 The allusion evidently is to channels made for the distribution of waters according to will, for irrigation of gardens or fields. — See Paxton’s Illustrations, i. 173. Bishop Lowth’s note on Isaiah 1:30 . Compare the beautiful figure, Sirach 24:30-31 .

†2 Nehemiah 2:4-5.

†3 Genesis 20:6. Psalms 105:14-15 .

†4 Genesis 41:37-45.

†5 Daniel 1:19; Daniel 2:48 ; Daniel 3:30 ; Daniel 6:1-3, Daniel 6:28 . Psalms 106:46 .

†6 Ezra 1:1; Ezra 6:22 ; Ezra 7:27 ; Ezra 9:9 . Nehemiah 1:11 ; Nehemiah 2:4-9.

†7 Revelation 17:16-17.

†8 Exodus 1:8-22. Psalms 105:25 .

†9 Isaiah 10:7. Jeremiah 25:1-38 .

†10 1 Kings 18:10, 1 Kings 18:40 .

†11 Acts 4:25-28. Compare John 19:10 .

†12 Psalms 76:10.

†13 Esther 6:1-2.

†14 Ezekiel 21:21.

†15 Luke 2:1.

Verse 2

Let me be thankful for the repetition (Proverbs 16:2 ) of this weighty Proverb; most valuable for the close probing of my heart, and the testing of the vital spirituality of my profession. So "deceitful is the heart above all things" (Jeremiah 17:9 ), that it deceives, not others only, but — what even Satan never does — itself. Every intelligent Christian bears painful witness to this self-deception. How differently do we judge of the same action in others, and in ourselves! Often do we palliate, if not justify, in ourselves the very habits, which we condemn in others. Never therefore is the prayer out of season — "Search me, O God; know me, try me; shew me to myself." (Psalms 139:23 .) There are no persons in the world, about whom we make so many mistakes as ourselves. But, Oh! to be approved of God in heart, and in sincerity, is no common mercy!

Hid as the self-deluded professor is from himself, his way is right in his own eyes. But is it right in God’s eyes? The LORD pondereth the heart. Solemn and awakening recollection! He thoroughly reads every heart. And what defilement does he see in those ways of a man that are most right in his own eyes! Saul thought that he was serving God acceptably. But the all-searching eye discovered pride, covetousness, disobedient rejection of his God.†1 What more self-satisfying than the soul’s strict fast and humiliation? But the defective motive marred the sacrifice. "Did ye at all fast to me, even to me?"†2 Little did the self-complacent ruler suspect the spiritual pride, false confidence, and worldliness, which this heart-searching God brought to view.†3 And how much base alloy is hidden even in a sound-hearted profession! The disciples covered their own spirit under the pretense of vehement zeal for their Master. (Luke 9:54-55 .) The LORD pondereth the heart. He "weigheth the spirits" (Proverbs 16:2 ); proving exactly what is of himself, and what is of a baser kind; what, and how much, there is of God, what of man. The principles of the heart lie deep. The work may be good in itself. But what are the ends? The same work, according to its end, may be accepted, or be cast away. Jehonadab and Jehu both were engaged in the same exterminating work. With the one it was right service; with the other, vile hypocrisy. (2 Kings 10:15 .) Self-distrust is therefore the wisdom of true godliness (Proverbs 28:26 ); daily, hourly, trembling in ourselves; yet boldly grounding our confidence in God! But for the covering of the High Priest, how could we stand for one moment under the piercing eye of our Judge? Did our dearest earthly friend know what was passing in our thoughts at any one hour, could he ever deem us worthy of confidence? Must not his heart revolt from contact with such vileness? Yet does our gracious LORD, while pondering our hearts, and privy to all their hidden corruptions, forgive, accept, yea — rejoice in us as his people.


†1 1 Samuel 15:13-26 .

†2 Zechariah 7:6. Isaiah 58:5 . Jeremiah 2:35 .

†3 Matthew 19:21.

Verse 3

Did Solomon mean to undervalue sacrifice? Never did man more highly honor it. (1 Kings 3:4 ; 1 Kings 8:64 .) Perhaps the splendor of his sacrificial service may have given rise to the frequent national perverted trust in external forms. Sacrifice was appointed as a type of the Great Sacrifice for sin. (Hebrews 10:12 .) Buta never was it intended to take the place of that universal moral obedience, which the law of God had from the beginning indispensably required. Yet how soon did man mistake the intention of the ordinance! How easily did he substitute the offering of bulls and goats for the more self-denying service of the heart.†1 Israel abounded in the observance of their outward ceremonials, while indulging the sin of Sodom and Gomorrah.†2 The Corban sacrifice stood in the room of filial obligation. The lesser services of "anise and cummin" were scrupulously observed to the neglect of "the weightier matters of the law — judgment, mercy, and faith."†3 Justly therefore did our Lord commend the "discretion" of the scribe, who gave the due place and proportion to the ceremonial and moral service.†4 Both are his requirements; and a soundly-instructed conscience will aim at both. Yet plainly has he in some instances dispensed with the former;†5 never with the latter.†6 He has accepted the moral without the ceremonial; but never the ceremonial without the moral, observance. What would the world be without that justice and judgment, which at once "established the throne" (Proverbs 16:12 ), "exalt the nation" (Proverbs 14:34 ), and realize to their disciples a true interest in that richest of all possessions — the love of God! (Proverbs 15:9 . Compare Isaiah 64:5 .)

We indeed have no sacrifice to place in the stead of these invaluable principles. But the same preference, and indeed exaltation, of external service prevail among us. Whether under the proper form of Popery, or the more plausible cover of Tractarian delusion, it is the true religion of man’s heart — something to recommend us to the favor of God; something easier and less humbling than the "living sacrifice" (Romans 12:1 ) for his service. Christian professor! mark carefully the character of thy service. Let it be free and cheerful; else is it penance, not acceptable duty. Though it be in weakness, let it ever be in willingness, with the flower and strength of thy love. Look to it — art thou resting in the shell and surface, or art thou worshipping in the spirituality of service? Dost thou hear the voice calling thee from the dead forms, to seek the living power of godliness? Cain brought the sacrifice, not the heart. If thou speakest more, "what dost thou more than others?" (Matthew 5:47 .) Remember those externals, that stand in the place of a consecrated heart, are the delusion of the great deceiver. Let thine heart be with God, walking with him in the sound exercise of Christian obligation; honoring the Divine stamp on every commandment; making conscience of every duty; and though we come short of every one, yet daring not to neglect any. (Psalms 119:5-6, Psalms 119:128 .)


†1 1 Samuel 15:22 . Isaiah 1:13-14 .

†2 Isaiah 1:11. Jeremiah 7:22 . Hosea 6:6 . Amos 5:21 . Acts 7:42 . Micah 6:6-8 .

†3 Matthew 23:23.

†4 Mark 12:34.

†5 Matthew 12:7. Acts 10:34-35 .

†6 Matthew 22:37-39.

Verse 4

Another stamp of abomination upon pride!†1 We cannot mistake the mind of God so continually declared. Yet so many shapes does this sin assume, that, until the Spirit of God shews a man to himself, he rejects the idea of any concern in it. Nay, he will be proud of his very pride, proud of a high spirit; counting a Christian mean and cowardly, who in the true spirit of the Gospel, yields up his right to a stronger hand.†2

But not only the haughtiness, but even the natural actions — the plowing of the wicked — is sin. "This is an hard saying; who can hear it?" (John 6:60 .) How can the plowing of the soil, in itself a duty (Genesis 3:19 ), become a sin? The motive determines the act. The most natural actions are inculcated for Christian ends.†3 They become therefore moral actions, good or bad according to their own motives. The man, who plows the soil, acknowledging God in his work, and seeking his strength and blessing — "does it acceptably to the glory of God." It is essentially a religious action. But the wicked, who does the same work without any regard to God — for want of a godly end, his plowing is sin.†4 His idleness is sin against a plain command. (2 Thessalonians 3:10 .) His industry is the sin of ungodliness, putting God out of his own world. The substance of his act is good. But the corrupt principle defiles the very best actions. (Titus 1:15 .) "Every thought, every imagination, of the" natural "heart," is unmixed "evil." (Genesis 6:5 .) If the fountain-head be bitter, how can the waters be pure? Sin indeed defiles every motive in the Christian’s heart. But here it is the substance of sin. In the one case it is infirmity of walk in the straight path. In the other, it is an habitual walk in a crooked path. With the wicked — ’his eating as well as his gluttony; his drinking as well as his drunkenness; his commerce, negotiation, and trafficking, as well as his covetousness, and inordinate love of the world, are all set down and reckoned by God for sins, and such sins as he must reckon for with God.’†5 Fearful indeed is his condition. Would that he could see it! Whether he prays,†6 or neglects to pray,†7 it is abomination. He cannot but sin; and yet he is fully accountable for his sin. To die, is to plunge into ruin.†8 To live in unregeneracy is even worse; it is daily "heaping up wrath against the day of wrath." (Romans 2:5 .) Ought he then to leave his duties undone? ’The impotency of man must not prejudice God’s authority, nor diminish his duty.’†9 What then ought he to do? Let him learn the absolute necessity of the vital change — "Ye must be born again." (John 3:7 .) The leper taints everything that he touches. But let him seek to the Great Physician, whose word is sovereign healing (Matthew 8:3 ), whose Divine blood cleanses from every spot. (1 John 1:7 .) His nature once cleansed, his works will be clean. His thoughts and principles, all will be for the glory of God; all acceptable to God.†10


†1 Proverbs 3:34; Proverbs 8:13 ; Proverbs 16:5 .

†2 Matthew 5:39-41. 1 Corinthians 6:7 .

†3 1 Corinthians 10:31 . Colossians 3:17 .

†4 ’Holy intention is to the actions of a man that, which the soul is to the body, or form to its matter, or the root to the tree, or the sun to the world, or the fountain to the river, or the base to a pillar. Without these, the body is a dead trunk, the matter is sluggish, the tree is a block, the world is darkness, the river is quickly dry, the pillar rushes into flatness and ruin, and the action is sinful, or unprofitable and vain.’ — Bp. Taylor’s Holy Living, Chap. i. Sec. iii.

†5 Bp. Hopkins’ Works, ii. 481.

†6 Proverbs 21:27. Proverbs 15:8 . Isaiah 1:13 .

†7 Psalms 10:4.

†8 Psalms 9:17. Matthew 25:41-46 .

†9 Bp. Reynolds’ Works, p. 94.

†10 Titus 1:15, first clause. Many good commentators, following the old versions, adopt the marginal reading. (Proverbs 13:9 ; Proverbs 24:20 . Job 21:17 .) But as the word is used in a similar sense, Proverbs 13:23, and as our version is well supported, and gives a most important meaning, we have been content to adhere to it. Bishop Patrick explains the ploughing in the figurative sense of dressing. But as the two first illustrations in the verse are literal, it seems more consonant to unity to take the third on the same ground — ’What can they (the wicked) think, say, or do; even when they eat, play, fast, or pray, they are always under the guilt of sin, because all flows from an impure heart, and the bad tree cannot bring forth good fruit?’ Matthew 7:18 . Cartwright in loco. ’Whatsoever they devise, or whatsoever they do, inside and outside, the cloth and linings of their garments are all sin.’ Caryl on Job 4:8 . ’The wicked man hath a haughty look and a proud heart. Neither are his misdispositions only sinful. But those his very actions and endeavors, which in another man would be harmless, are in him no other than sin.’ — Bp. Hall. See also Scott in loco.

Verse 5

The diligent is usually contrasted with the slothful:†1 here with the hasty. The thoughts of each work their own fruit, for plenteousness, or for want. The patient, plodding man of industry perseveres in spite of all difficulties; content to increase his substance by degrees; never relaxing, never yielding to discouragement. This care of diligence is profitable under the blessing of God. (Proverbs 10:22 .) ’Thou mayest as well expect’ (says an old writer) ’riches to rain down from heaven in silver showers, as to provide for thy family without industry in thy calling.’†2 Haste may have much of diligence in the temperament. But as indolence is its defect, this is its excess, its undisciplined impulse. The hand too often goes before, and acts without the judgment. Hence our English philosopher wisely counsels us — ’not to measure dispatch by the times of sitting, but by the advancement of the business.’ A wise man had it for a bye-word, when he saw men hasten to a conclusion — ’Stay a little, that we may make an end the sooner. To choose time is to save time, and an unreasonable motion is but "beating the air."’†3

The evil of haste under a worldly impulse is truly fearful. Often does it drive the man into rash projects; and high-raised delusive expectations he finds to be the short and sure road to want.†4 Need we remark, how rich the harvest of Christian diligence, of "patient perseverance in well-doing" — "eternal life"?†5 The heavenly race is not to be run by so many heats, but by a steady course. "Run," not with haste or speed, but "with patience the race set before us." (Hebrews 12:1 .) The seed springing up in haste withered. (Matthew 13:20-21 .) Excitement is delusion, and ends in disappointment. What so important as to cultivate a deep work of grace, pervading the whole man, and abounding with fruit to the glory of God?


†1 Proverbs 10:4; Proverbs 12:24, Proverbs 12:27 ; Proverbs 13:4 .

†2 Swinnock’s Christian Man’s Calling, part i. 365.

†3 Lord Bacon’s Essays.

†4 Proverbs 19:2; Proverbs 23:5 ; Proverbs 28:22 .

†5 Romans 2:7. Hebrews 6:12 .

Verses 6-7

A graphical picture of the hasty spirit — its own crooked ways tending to want. Treasures may be gotten by lying; but they become vanity. They are "put into a bag with holes" (Haggai 1:6 ), and sink away. They are like a ball tossed to and fro by a withering blast, or dust and chaff before the wind.†1 Unrighteous gain is a dear bargain. The wrath of God mingles gall and bitterness with the wages of iniquity.†2 Eagerly did Judas desire to get rid of his ill-gotten treasure as an intolerable curse. Yet he could not fly from his torturing conscience. He sought death, and he found it. (Matthew 27:5 .)

Indeed it is with the ungodly, as if they sought death as their reward. So fondly do they love the way of eternal death! Meanwhile their own sin is the seed of destruction. Their robbery virtually destroys them.†3 And whom can they blame but themselves? It is not ignorance or inconsideration, but willfulness, that destroys, because they refuse to do judgment. "Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (1 Corinthians 6:9 )? that "the wages of sin," invariably, inevitably — "is death"? (Romans 6:23 .) What else did the robbery of Achan and Gehazi bring to them?†4 Short indeed was the enjoyment of Ananias and Sapphira in "the part of the price kept back" at the expense of a lying tongue. Sudden and everlasting destruction was their doom — a beacon to worldly, half-hearted, self-deceiving professors.†5


†1 Proverbs 10:2; Proverbs 22:8 . Jeremiah 17:11 .

†2 Zechariah 5:4. Compare Isaiah 1:23-24 . Jeremiah 7:9-11, Jeremiah 7:15 . Ezekiel 22:13-14 . Habakkuk 2:6-8 .

†3 Proverbs 1:11, Proverbs 1:18-19 ; Proverbs 22:22-23 . Habakkuk 2:10-13 .

†4 Joshua 7:21-26. 2 Kings 5:20-27 .

†5 Proverbs 12:19. Acts 5:1-10 . The marginal reading seems to imply aggravated destruction, probably with shame. Compare 2 Samuel 12:31 . Hebrews 11:37 . Also, Luke 12:46 . ’Search your chests; search your hearts, all ye that hear me this day; and if any of you find any of this adulterated gold among your heaps, away with it. As you love yourselves, away with it. Else know, that (as Chrysostom wittily says) ’You have locked up a thief in your counting-house, which shall carry away all; and — if ye look not to it the sooner — your soul with it." — Bishop Hall’s Sermon on the Righteous Mammon. Works, v. 109, 110.

Verse 8

Observe the striking contrast — man by nature; and man by grace. Who will say that a man is now, as he first came from his Maker’s hands? (Ecclesiastes 7:29 .) How is he born? Froward, "as a wild ass’s colt." (Job 11:12 .) How soon does he develop his nature! "Foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child; childhood any youth are vanity."†1 Need we add, that this is a strange way? How strange from the God, who made and loved him! Turned from God; "turned to his own way" (Isaiah 53:6 ); with no law but his lust, no rule but his will (Ephesians 2:3 . Titus 3:3 ); loving his own liberty, but despising true liberty; made by his own self-delusion "the servant of corruption" (2 Peter 2:19 ); ignorant, licentious, wanton; desiring only to be the fountain of his own happiness, the maker of his own sufficiency.

Take him in his noblest path — the pursuit of wisdom. Here, too, his way is froward and strange. Is not forbidden wisdom his delight — wisdom, not as wisdom, but as forbidden; "intruding" into the counsels, prying into the ark, of God? (Colossians 2:18 .) Such was the first appetite of frowardness, not desiring to know God, which "is life eternal" (John 17:3 ); but to know as God (Genesis 3:5 ), which was pride in its principle, and death in its issue.

But man, by grace made pure, new "created in the image of his God" (Ephesians 4:24 ) — mark him well. His will is now conformed to God; his actions are regulated by this perfect standard. Therefore, his rule and aim being right, his work is right. (Titus 1:15 .) He lives now, as does his Divine Savior, "to God." (Romans 6:10-11 .) Such is the dignity of his great object! Such his fellowship with his glorious Head! Such his earnest of heaven, and growing meetness for it! Oh! the mercy of being turned from our own froward and strange way to the pure service of our God! Yet such remains of the frowardness still; such intricacies of self-deceitfulness; such twisted workings of depravity! ’O heart, heart’ — cries a deep-taught experimental Christian†2 — ’what art thou? The vainest, craftiest, wickedest thing in nature!’ And truly, when the stroke goes deep into the soul, when the inner circle, the very center of being, is reached and probed, what hidden evils come to light! O my God! shew me to myself, so far as I can bear the sight, that I may be kept humbled and self-abased; always near my Savior; always applying his precious blood; always covering myself in his pure and perfect work of righteousness!


†1 Proverbs 22:15. Ecclesiastes 11:10 .

†2 Rev. John Berridge.

Verse 9

In the spacious houses in the East, several families lived together in society. A brawling woman would be a grievous disturbance to the little community; and a peaceable man would prefer the corner of the house-top,†1 exposed to all the inconveniences of wind and weather, to the ample accommodation of a wide house in the atmosphere of contention. (Proverbs 21:19 ; Proverbs 25:24 .) A solitary life without would be better than a quarrelsome life within. Some intervals of comfort might be abroad; none at home. Infinitely greater is this trial, when it comes from a man’s own flesh; when she, who ought to be "a crown to her husband," becomes "rottenness to his bones" (Proverbs 12:4 ); when she that is bound to be his choicest treasure, becomes his piercing scourge. ’It cannot be but a miserable thing to behold, that yet they are of necessity compelled to live together, which yet cannot be in quiet together.’†2 The intent of the Divine ordinance is here contravened. For it would seem "good for the man to be alone," rather than that his "help-meet" (Genesis 2:18 ) should turn to be his hindrance, and his curse. But how many bring this bitter trouble upon themselves! They plunge into the important connection on adventure; with no thought of the duties to be done, the temptations to be avoided, the crosses to be borne. They never sought direction in the momentous choice. The wife, not being sought from the LORD, came not from him, and brought no "favor" of him.†3 Illicit pleasure, avarice, or waywardness, brought a calamity, that no external accomplishments, no advantages of riches or rank, could for a moment counterbalance.

The only safe entrance into this ’honourable estate’ is, when each party (as Chrysostom instructs) commit themselves to God — ’Bestow me as thou wilt, and on whom thou wilt.’†4 The only security for happiness is, when, with due regard of mutual fitness, mutual love is grounded reverentially upon the ordinance, which makes of "twain one flesh." (Genesis 2:24, with Genesis 24:67 .) Contentions will be restrained by the preventive habit of Christian discipline; each considering that passion improves nothing, and patience much, and that it is far better to "give place" to each other, than "to the devil." (Ephesians 4:27 .) The husband in his claim for submission will remember, that he has found, not a servant, but a wife. She, on her side, will not forget the beauty and order of graceful sacrifice and ready concession; and that her glory is departed from her, should she lose "the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit;" lovely in the sight of man, and "in the sight of God of great price." (1 Peter 3:4 .) ’Each severally performs their faithful duties; everything around them acquires firmness and stability.’†5


†1 Compare Deuteronomy 22:8 . Joshua 2:6-8 . 2 Samuel 11:2 . Acts 10:9 .

†2 Homily on Matrimony.

†3 Proverbs 19:14; Proverbs 18:22 .

†4 Homil. in Coloss.

†5 Chrysost. in Coloss. Hom. x.

Verse 10

A lively portraiture of Satan himself! not only doing, but desiring evil! Evil is the very nature of the wicked. What wonder, then, if his very soul desireth it? His "heart is fully set to do it."†1 He craves it as his appetite, his main delight.†2 What "fitting for destruction" must there be in vessels thus full of sin, and therefore full of wrath!†3 And here lies the difference between the godly and the wicked; not that the one is pure from evil, and the other commits it; but that the one does it from constraint, the other from delight. The one testifies — "What I hate" — the other — What my soul desireth — "that do I."†4 As the fruit of this native cherished principle, self to the wicked is both his god and his object. Intent upon his own lust, not only his enemy, or a stranger, but even his neighbor, who might have a claim upon him, findeth no favor in his eyes. His charity does not extend beyond his own door. (1 Samuel 25:11 .) No one is regarded, who stands in the way of his own interest. Friend and brother must give place to selfish gratification.

Such is sin in its hateful character, and baneful fruits. "Men are lovers of their own selves, hateful, and hating one another!"†5 Look at the man of God, with his heart enlarged and softened with the pervading influence of the gospel. Where is the neighbor in distress, that does not find favor in his eyes? (Luke 10:31-35 .) "Charity seeketh not her own" (1 Corinthians 13:5 ) — is his spirit. "Bear ye one another’s burdens" (Galatians 6:2 ) — is his rule. "The members of the body have the same care one for another." (1 Corinthians 12:25 .) Oh! for a larger measure of this gracious spirit, "as the dew of Hermon descending upon the mountains of Israel" (Psalms 133:3 ), upon the church of God!


†1 Ecclesiastes 8:11.

†2 Proverbs 4:16; Proverbs 12:12 ; Proverbs 13:19 .

†3 Romans 9:22.

†4 Romans 7:15-21, with Romans 6:12, Romans 6:16-17 .

†5 2 Timothy 3:2 . Titus 3:3 .

Verse 11

This Proverb in substance has been given before (Proverbs 19:25 ) as an instructive illustration of the LORD’s providential discipline. No stroke of his rod is without its effect. The blow that strikes one, reaches two — the scorner for punishment; the simple for improvement. The scorner describes a character far more common than is usually conceived. It includes much more than the gross outbreaking of the revolting heart. Under a more decent external garb, often do we see the utter want of that awful reverence for God, that humility of mind, that submission of our will, that prostration of desire, which is the glory and happiness of those above, who "cast their crowns before the throne." The very idea of the grace of God is an object of scorn and contempt. We wonder not therefore that the daring offender should be marked out for punishment. And yet, if (as is too frequently the case) the punishment be without fruit to the scorner (Isaiah 1:5 . Jeremiah 5:3 ), it reads a lesson of wisdom to the simple, who had been, or were, in danger of being misled by his evil example. (Psalms 64:7 .) Nay — even the man of God learns a lesson of love mingled with wholesome trembling, from this awful dispensation — "Thou puttest away all the wicked of the earth like dross; therefore I love thy testimonies. My flesh trembleth for fear of thee; and I am afraid of thy judgments."†1

The wise, though already taught of God, through his daily teaching thankfully receives increasing knowledge. (Proverbs 1:5 .) Among his most fruitful lessons are the instructions of the rod — instructions (mark the difference of the term) — not punishment. Often does the teaching rod seal the teaching law . And the well-disciplined child is ready with his acknowledgments — "Blessed is the man, whom thou chastenest, O LORD, and teachest him out of thy law. I will bless the LORD, who hath given me counsel; my reigns also chasten me in the night season. It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I might learn thy statutes."†2


†1 Psalms 119:119-120. Compare Hebrews 10:26-31 .

†2 Psalms 94:12; Psalms 16:7 ; Psalms 119:71 .

Verse 12

The punishment of the wicked reads a lesson not only of love and trembling, but of wise consideration. Yet many are the perplexing mysteries of Providence. The righteous man does not always see with his right eyes. The prosperity of the wicked staggers his faith, excites his envy, and induces hard thoughts of God. (Psalms 73:2-14 .) But when he looks with the eye of faith, he sees far beyond the dazzling glory of the present moment. He wisely considereth their house; not its external splendor and appurtenances, but how it will end. He justifies God, and puts himself to shame. (Psalms 73:16-22 .) "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25 .) Here we rest, until he shall "arise and plead his own cause," and "with the breath of his mouth, and the brightness of his coming, destroy"†1 the very existence of evil. Meanwhile, where the superficial eye sees nothing but confusion, let the righteous man wisely consider lessons of deep and practical profit. The shortness of the prosperity,†2 and the certainty of the overthrow, of the wicked;†3 the assurance of a day of recompense;†4 the contrast of the substance of the godly for time and for eternity†5 — these are the apprehensions of faith. Do they not marvelously set out the perfections of God, and call to each of his children — "My son, give glory to God"?


†1 Psalms 74:22; Psalms 82:8 . 2 Thessalonians 2:8 .

†2 Job 20:4-5. Psalms 37:35-36 .

†3 Proverbs 12:7; Proverbs 13:3-6 ; Proverbs 15:25 . 2 Peter 2:4-9 .

†4 Job 21:28-30. Psalms 58:10-11 .

†5 Job 22:15-20. Psalms 73:23-26 .

Verse 13

If there were no poor, much of the word of God, applying to their comfort, and directing our obligations, would have been written in vain. The obligation implies not only an helping hand, but a feeling heart; hearing the cry of the poor with sympathy,†1 cheerfulness,†2 self-sacrifice.†3 The stopping the ears implies cruelty or insensibility;†4 turning away from real and known distress;†5 any kind of oppression; beating down "the hire of the laborer" (James 5:4 .) beyond the power of earning the necessaries of life; and neglecting, so far as is in our power, to defend them against oppression. (Luke 18:2-4 .)

Sometimes indeed it might be our duty to stop our ears. The law of God discountenances the trade of begging, with all its pathetic cries and appeals. (2 Thessalonians 3:10 .) To retain therefore the poor in idleness, however compassionate or self-pleasing the motive, is to encourage, if not to participate in, sin. Considerate discretion, not feeling, should direct our charity. (Proverbs 29:7 .) Honest distress taxes most of us to the utmost of our power, considering our responsibility to put out all that we have, whether it be little or much, to the most profitable use. Yet ever let the withholding of charity be a constraint upon our feeling, not the indulgence of our selfishness. Count it a privilege, no less than an obligation, to minister to the poor. Ponder it as conformity to our Divine Master’s spirit and work. (Matthew 14:14-21 .) Consider niggardliness in giving; the useless expenses that abridge our power of helping; luxuries, while our brethren are starving around us; restraining the full extent of what we ought and might give — all this as virtually stopping our ears against their cry. Covetousness and sensuality harden the heart; and when the heart is hard, the ear is deaf.†6 This sin was wrongfully charged upon Job.†7 But wherever it be found, the stamp of divine displeasure is fearfully marked;†8 and even the sin of omission the great day will openly mark as the ground of condemnation.†9

And now, as the selfish hardness shews the man has no love to God,†10 he will find no love from God. "With the same measure that he meted withal, it shall be measured to him again."†11 Did he stop his ears at the cry of the poor? God will stop his ears against his cry.†12 He that would not give a crumb on earth, was denied a drop of water in hell.†13 "He shall have judgment without mercy, that hath shewed no mercy." (James 2:13 .) Christian professor! study the character of thy God — "pitiful and of tender mercy" (James 5:11 ); and be like him. Remember — "bowels of mercies, kindness" are the ornament of "the elect of God." (Colossians 3:12 .)


†1 Deuteronomy 15:7-11. Isaiah 58:6-9 .

†2 Romans 12:8. 2 Corinthians 9:7 .

†3 2 Corinthians 8:1-4 . Howard’s rule, so nobly expounded by his own self-denying devotedness — is a fine comment on this example. ’That our superfluities give way to other men’s convenience; that our conveniences give way to other men’s necessaries; and that even our necessaries sometimes give way to other men’s extremities.’ See his Life.

†4 Proverbs 29:7. Nehemiah 5:1-8 .

†5 Luke 10:30-32.

†6 1 Samuel 25:10-11 .

†7 Job 22:5-7, with Job 29:16 ; Job 31:16-17, Job 31:20 .

†8 Proverbs 11:24, Proverbs 11:26 ; Proverbs 28:27 . Jeremiah 34:10-22 . Matthew 18:30-34 .

†9 Matthew 25:41-45.

†10 1 John 3:17 .

†11 Luke 6:38. Judges 1:6-7 . 1 Samuel 15:33 .

†12 Job 34:24-28. Zechariah 7:9-13 . See Sirach 4:4-6 .

†13 Luke 16:21, Luke 16:24-25 .

Verse 14

We have before noticed†1 cases of resentment, where a legitimate and prudent distribution of gifts may quell the storm, and restore the calm. But a gift in secret implies a perversion;†2 else why should the light be dreaded?†3 Both parties are involved in the guilt. The giver acts as a tempter. The receiver willfully breaks the law of God.†4 The passions of men are easily charmed. But rarely will a covetous man be so angry with his friends, as not to be pacified with his gift, especially when, given in secret, it tells no tales. A reward in the bosom to such a man is stronger far than strong wrath; and when it has shewn its errand, the melting process is rapidly accomplished. (Ecclesiastes 10:19 .) Thus is the wounded pride expelled by another ruling passion — avarice! Who then can excuse himself in the indolent cry — ’I cannot help my passion, or gain any power over it!’ For if it can be pacified by sordid motives, it leaves us inexcusable, if we do not subdue it by Christian motives. But it is too evident, that secret covetousness cankers many a plausible exercise of forbearance. How do we need a close watch and keeping of our own hearts, in order to a Christian walk with God!


†1 Proverbs 18:16.

†2 Proverbs 17:23.

†3 John 3:20.

†4 Exodus 23:8. Deuteronomy 16:19 .

Verse 15

It is not that the just does judgment. Conscience may dictate this, at least externally, while the bias of the heart is on the side of sin. But it is joy to the just to do it. His rest, purpose, affections — all center in it. He has as much delight in doing judgment, as "the soul of the wicked desireth evil" (Proverbs 21:10 ), as his own soul desired it.†1 It is joy, but only to the just.†2 To the mere professor of religion it is conviction, and fear; the service of a slave. He knows God only as a Master, and conceives of him as a task-master. He has never known him as a Father, and therefore never served him as a child. But his true service — does it not, Christian? — identifies holiness and happiness, and brings its own smile and income of joy with it, as naturally as heat accompanies fire, and beams flow from the sun. And thus "the way of the LORD is strength to the upright." (Proverbs 10:29 .) Was it not so with our beloved Lord? He could say — "I delight to do thy will, O my God. My meat, that the world knows not of, is to do my Father’s will, and to finish his work."†3 Oh! that the servant might be in spirit like his Lord!

What, then, is the gloom and sadness charged upon religion? Truly the children of this world have never tasted the clusters of Canaan. How then can they know their sweetness? Christian! look up, and be cheerful, for the honor of your God and his gospel. Live not, as if some affliction had happened to you; but as one snatched from destruction; as a child of God, an heir of heaven. You know more than you can tell. You can tell enough to make the world inexcusable, if they turn away. But you cannot tell half, when all that you can tell is told. Yet let them see, that "the work of righteousness is peace," and "the yoke of Christ is easy;"†4 nay, that the sharpest sacrifices for him are sweet; that there is more pleasure in "plucking out the right eye" for him, than in using it for sin or for Satan. And then for yourself think further, if this be the happiness amidst all the clogging hindrances of sin, what will it be, when these hindrances shall be removed, and we shall serve him without sin for ever!†5 If such be the wilderness, what will Canaan be!

But what know the ungodly of this reality? Sin is to them a mockery,†6 a sport,†7 even a joy.†8 But never can it be their solid joy. It is their weariness, never their rest.†9 To the workers of iniquity belong only vanity and disappointment, ending in destruction.†10 Hear the testimony of God — "Destruction and misery are in their ways, and the way of peace have they not known. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked."†11


†1 Ephesians 2:2-3. Titus 3:3 .

†2 Psalms 32:11; Psalms 97:11-12 .

†3 Psalms 40:8. John 4:32-34 .

†4 Isaiah 32:17. Matthew 11:30 .

†5 Revelation 7:15; Revelation 22:3 .

†6 Proverbs 14:9.

†7 Proverbs 10:23; Proverbs 26:18-19 .

†8 Proverbs 15:21.

†9 Isaiah 47:13; Isaiah 57:10, Isaiah 57:20 ; Jeremiah 9:5 .

†10 Proverbs 5:22. Matthew 7:23 .

†11 Romans 3:16-17. Isaiah 59:7-8 ; Isaiah 57:21 .

Verse 16

This seems to describe the fearful and irretrievable ruin of apostates. (Psalms 125:5 .) God has opened the way of understanding. The wandering out of it implies, that the man was once in it; at least that he was instructed, and professed to walk in it. The end of willful wandering is eternal death. Such was the character and end of the wicked son of Jehoshaphat;†1 and the rebellious children of godly Josiah;†2 apostates from the religion "received by tradition from their fathers."

But — not to go to olden times — It is no rare sight to see the children of godly parents cast off the privileges of their birthright, as despised in their eyes. Though early instructed in "the Holy Scriptures;" instead of "continuing in the things which they have learned and been assured of" (2 Timothy 3:14-15 ), they have "loved to wander." (Jeremiah 14:10 .) They have never proved a real apprehension of the substance of truth, or a just appreciation of its value. The way has been too straight, and too humbling. Novelties have been preferred: self-confidence indulged; self-pleasing delusions cherished; the want of godly sincerity has darkened the path (Matthew 6:23 ); conscientious error, varnished with external holiness, is readily admitted; and the man, destitute of a solid scriptural standard, wanders out of the way of understanding.

This state of death is often connected (and stands out more strongly by the connection) with external observance of religion, the practice of many moral duties, and with a certain measure of moral taste, partially formed according to the scriptural standard. But there are also occasional emotions of conviction under the oppressive consciousness that the heart was wanting; and whatever might be the temporary excitement — like Saul under the soothing notes of the harp of the son of Jesse (1 Samuel 16:14-23 ), there is no movement from the state of hardened rebellion against God. The true cause of the death, is that in the full blaze of religious knowledge, a living faith is absent. Hence there is no reality of prayer; therefore no genuine desire, no vital effort, no hearty perseverance. With all his light, knowledge, and privileges, the man is still a wanderer out of the way of understanding.

Indeed wandering is the character of man’s fallen nature. (Isaiah 53:6 .) But light, conviction, advantages of instruction, awfully aggravate the responsibility. (Isaiah 28:12-13 . Zephaniah 1:4-6 .) Beware of the first wandering step, whether it may be in doctrine or in practice. It may fix in a state of apostasy, like Bunyan’s blinded wanderers out of the strait path, who were found among the tombs, remaining in the congregation of the dead. A special mercy will it be, if the wayward wanderer does not find his last and final abode among ’the mighty dead,’ "to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness for ever."†3 "It had been better for him not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after he has known it, to turn from the holy commandments delivered unto him." (2 Peter 2:21 .) Let such as he remember, that remaining among the congregations of the dead shews their character, their state, and their home; and that though they be by birth Abraham’s children, born of godly parents, yet, wandering out of the way of understanding, they are out of the way of life.

One can only wish to view such sad apostates, as Faithful and Hopeful did, with tears gushing out of our eyes, silently pondering. Do they not stand as warnings to us, that we should tremble — yea — "rejoice with trembling"? (Psalms 2:11 .) While we "stand by faith," must we not remember the needful caution — "Be not high-minded, but fear"? (Romans 11:20 .) Ever let us combine self-distrust with our Christian confidence; "fearing, lest, a promise being left us of entering into rest, any of us should seem to come short of it" (Hebrews 4:1 ); thankful alike for the warnings to make us fear, and for the encouragements to preserve us from despondency.

But the great mass are also here described. They never profess; they never have professed. They know that "wisdom crieth without," yet they refuse to hear the voice of the charmer."†4 Many will occasionally hear, yet "they go their way, and straightway forget what manner of men they were."†5 Noah’s mighty generation was of this character; and they remained in the congregation of the dead.†6 And will not every one, who, with the opportunities to attain wisdom, refuses, departs, turns away, be found to have "died in their trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1 ) eternally?


†1 2 Chronicles 21:1, 2 Chronicles 21:4-6, 2 Chronicles 21:18-19 .

†2 2 Chronicles 36:1-17 . Jeremiah 22:17-19, Jeremiah 22:28-30 .

†3 Judges 1:12-13. ’Mighty dead.’ See Dr. Good’s Note on Job 26:5 . ’In cæta gigantum.’ — Melancthon. Parkhurst, and most critics consider intensity to be implied. Compare Isaiah 14:9 . See on Proverbs 2:18, n. Dr. Graves quotes this text with several others in this Book (Proverbs 4:18-19 ; Proverbs 8:35-36 ; Proverbs 12:28 ; Proverbs 14:32 ) in evidence of the knowledge of the future state under the old dispensation. — Lectures on Pentateuch, Part iii. Lect. iv.

†4 Proverbs 1:20. Psalms 58:5 .

†5 James 1:24.

†6 1 Peter 3:19-20 . 2 Peter 2:5 . Genesis 6:4 .

Verse 17

What then? are we to have no pleasure? This were indeed to drive men from religion. Why — pleasure is the very character of the ways of God (Proverbs 3:17 ); pleasure infinitely more satisfying "than in the time that corn and wine increased." (Psalms 4:6-7 .) Are we not, again, to rejoice in our earthly comforts? "The living God giveth us richly all things to enjoy."†1 This large flow of happiness is more than doubled by the rule of "thanksgiving." (1 Timothy 4:4-5 .) Yet, strange as it may seem, the way to enjoy pleasure is not to love it; to live above it;†2 to "rejoice as though we rejoiced not; to use the world, as not abusing it" (1 Corinthians 7:30-31 ); never pursuing it as our portion, or as making the happiness of an immortal being. The man, who gives his whole heart and time to the love of pleasure, and sacrifices to it all his prudence and foresight, is surely on the highroad to poverty.†3 On the same road is he that loveth wine, under the power of a "mocking delusion."†4 He that loveth oil — one of the most precious fruits of Canaan†5 — may find, that ’those who could not live without dainties came to want necessaries.’†6 But the most melancholy sight in the universe is the man, immured in the prison-house of selfishness, who sacrifices to the love of pleasure the interest of his immortal soul. Salvation is thrown away as a thing of nought.†7 Fearful indeed is the poverty, the utter, eternal ruin of this willful infatuation. "Woe unto you that are rich; for ye have received your consolation. Son! remember that thou in thy lifetime receivest thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented."†8

Youth indeed dreams of uninterrupted pleasure, and sees not the illusion of the charming perspective. But earthly joys are vain indeed. They may leave us; we must leave them. To place our happiness in this, is to build upon the wave, which rolls from under us, and plunges us into the depths of despondency.

But the double-dealing professor asks — ’May we not combine the two pleasures of the world and religion?’ But the object of the man of God is, first to awaken, then to satisfy, a holy appetite. And for this end he knows he must separate himself from all that mixture of worldly pleasure, which, while so far from quickening or nourishing, tends utterly to quench it.

’Thrice fools are we’ — exclaims a glowing Christian — ’who, like new babes in the cradle, know not that there is a kingdom before them!’†9 What wonder, that those who know not heaven should take their portion on earth! But should not the heirs of heaven live above the love of earth, having no more sympathy with the sensual devotee; than with the pleasure of "the sow wallowing in the mire"? Mark well, then, the danger and temptation, the need of unceasing watchfulness, that in the necessary use you keep within its due measure — the heart loosened here, and fixed above. (Luke 21:34 .) For should you be growing in the love of earthly pleasure, you shall be a poor man, indeed; growing indifferent to prayer; heartless and dead to God; fancying shadows to be substance, and despising the true substance as a shadow. Heavenly pleasures will lose their sweetness, as earthly pleasures are relished. ’Certainly the more a man drinketh of the world, the more it intoxicateth.’†10 Our spiritual character is our glory. Personal holiness is indispensable to the spiritual enjoyments. Keep then ever before you, as the witness of your better experience, the emptiness†11 and bitterness†12 of the world’s pleasures, and the all-sufficiency of your real portion.†13 And shall a man’s appetite and poisoned taste, blot out these records — this solemn judgment of experience? God forbid!


†1 1 Timothy 6:17 . Compare Ecclesiastes 2:26 ; Ecclesiastes 3:22 ; Ecclesiastes 9:7-9 .

†2 It is a fine remark of Cyprian’s — ’The greatest pleasure is to have conquered pleasure; nor is there any greater victory than that, which is gained over our own appetites.’ — De bono Pudicitiæ.

†3 Proverbs 21:20. The instance of the profligate, Proverbs 5:10-11 ; of Samson, Judges 16:1-21 ; of the Prodigal, Luke 15:13-16 .

†4 Proverbs 20:1; Proverbs 23:21 .

†5 Deuteronomy 8:8; Deuteronomy 11:14 . Judges 9:9 . Psalms 23:5 . Micah 6:15 . Habakkuk 3:17 .

†6 Henry in loco. Compare Isaiah 32:9-12 ; Isaiah 47:8-9 . Zephaniah 2:15 . Revelation 18:7 .

†7 Ecclesiastes 11:9. 1 Timothy 5:6 . 2 Timothy 3:4 . 1 Peter 4:3-5 .

†8 Luke 6:24; Luke 16:25 . Compare Psalms 17:14 .

†9 Rutherford’s Letters.

†10 Lord Bacon’s Essays.

†11 Ecclesiastes 2:11.

†12 Proverbs 14:13.

†13 Psalms 16:5-6; Psalms 17:15 ; Psalms 73:25-26 .

Verse 18

The ransom is here spoken of only in a popular sense, as equivalent to a substitute. (Psalms 49:7-8 .) God sometimes, for wise reasons, involves the righteous in the same judgment with the wicked. Sometimes the punishment of the wicked is the ordained means of averting calamity from a righteous nation. (Joshua 7:24-26 .) Often, in the LORD’s retributive justice, the wicked are brought into the very trouble, which they designed for the righteous.†1 Thus, suffering in their stead, they are as it were a ransom for them. God may seem in trouble to "sell his people for nought" (Psalms 44:12 ); yet "so precious are they in his sight," that a whole nation shall, if needful for their preservation, be given to ruin. Egypt and Ethiopia were thus a ransom for Jerusalem, when God turned Sennacherib’s fury against them, and warded off the threatened strokes from the sacred city,†2 just as a bait thrown to a beast of prey, would give opportunity to the devoted victim to escape. Often does God turn the enemies of the church to fight among themselves, so that the destined scourge for his church is turned to another quarter, as if the crushed nation was a ransom, a victim in the stead of the innocent. However lowering the prospects of the church may be, yet there is no ground for faintness or trembling for the ark of God. His promises to his church are not empty sounds, but "the munitions of rocks." "No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper. He that toucheth you, toucheth the apple of mine eye." (Isaiah 54:17 . Zechariah 2:8 .) The night may be dark; but the morn will look forth gloriously.


†1 Proverbs 11:8, and references. See also the first-born of Egypt given for the deliverance of Israel. Exodus 11:4-8 ; Exodus 12:29-36 .

†2 Isaiah 43:3-4. Ransom, the same word in the original. Compare 2 Kings 19:7-9 .

Verse 19

Another (Proverbs 21:9 ), perhaps even a stronger, picture of the misery of domestic dissension! It is better to be destitute altogether of the communion of social life, if it must be purchased at so dear a rate as the companionship of one, whose contentions will turn every comfort into bitterness. It is better to dwell, not only "upon the house-top," where there might be alleviation, but even in the wilderness; giving up all social indulgences for desolation, solitude, and even dangers.†1 Oh! it is the poison in ’the sweetest cup of earth’s best joy,’ where "two are joined to each other, and made one flesh" (Matthew 19:5 ); yet not "joined to the Lord," and so "made one spirit." (1 Corinthians 6:17 .) The woman only is mentioned. Yet the disruption is as frequent, and at least as guilty, from an imperious husband, as from a scolding wife.†2 Surely our gracious God here teaches his children a lesson too often neglected to their cost — put their necks into this sacred yoke, ’reverently, discreetly, advisedly, solemnly, and in the fear of God.’†3 Let them carefully ponder the fact, that a choice influenced by the fascination of beauty, manners, or disposition, by intellect or accomplishments, if made without reference to godliness, can give no promise of the divine blessing, or of individual happiness. Often indeed it issues in a state of degradation, too painful to dwell upon, into which one or both parties are content to plunge, making themselves odious for the sake of indulging their angry passions. Nor does this apply only to the matrimonial yoke. All members of the family circle, bound together by natural ties, and living together by providential arrangements, may do not a little towards embittering each other’s happiness. The subjects of these uncontrolled tempers must, however, reap the natural harvest of their seed sown, and suffer under the mortifying consciousness, that others recoil from their society, and would readily embrace, if need be, the alternative of the wilderness, as a welcome change from perpetual irritation.

’The family,’ as Mr. Cecil justly observes, ’is sometimes a fierce fire. Our family comprehends the greatest portion of our world. It is to us the most interesting, and therefore is capable of becoming the most trying portion.’†4 The child of God is bound indeed to recognize effectual and fatherly discipline in his trials from the tempers of those around him. Yet not less strange the fact, that even among Canaan’s pilgrims, words are often uttered, that must produce pain; and thus thorns, which our heavenly Father hath not planted, are strewn in our brother’s or sister’s path. Effects still more lamentable are to be traced in impressions made upon the young, or on others watching the exhibition of such inconsistencies, where better things might have been expected.

The matrimonial "thorn in the flesh" may be a needful chastening, overruled as a preventive against self-confidence (2 Corinthians 12:7 ), and for the exercise of adorning Christian graces.†5 Yet much prayer and forbearance are required, to avoid being put out of frame with every trifle; to refrain from needless occasion and subjects of irritation; to keep aloof from the immediate bursting of ungoverned passion; and to realize present support under this heavy cross, in the assured prospect and intense longing for the home of everlasting peace.†6


†1 See Mark 1:13 . "I had rather" — said the wise son of Sirach — "dwell with a lion and a dragon, than keep house with a wicked woman." — Sirach 25:16 . Sirach 26:7, Sirach 26:27 .

†2 ’There is somewhat (as I may say) of a particular cut or fashion of the garment of wives towards their husbands. But men ought to wear of the same stuff; yea, so if I may speak, of the same peace, for it is in all one and the same spirit.’ — Leighton on 1 Peter 3:3-4 .

†3 Marriage Service.

†4 See his Sermon on Hannah.

†5 Hooker’s meek endurance of the continual dropping (Proverbs 19:13 ) must have read to George Cranmer and others who witnessed it, a striking lesson on the influence of practical religion. Buxtorf quoted a Jewish saying — ’How will a man prove his spirit? By enduring a bad wife.’ When Socrates was asked — ’Why he endured his wife? By this means’ — he replied — ’I have a schoolmaster at home, and an example how I should behave myself abroad. For I shall’ — said he — ’be the more quiet with others, being thus daily exercised and taught in the forbearing of her.’ Homily on Matrimony. Chrysostom gives the story, like the Homilist, with a striking application. Homily on 1 Corinthians 11:16 .

†6 It is not a grave question — whether divorces or conventional separations, such as we hear of even in the Church of God, are not rather the flinching from, than the enduring and honoring, the cross? The supposition that it is better to dwell in the wilderness implies, that the worse alternative of the contentious and angry woman may be appointed. This was Job’s lot. ’The devil’ (as M. Henry observed) ’spared his wife to him, not only to be his tempter, but his tormentor.’ Yet did he not put away his matrimonial cross. The endurance of it was doubtless a component part of that patience, which is commended to our imitation, and which was honored with a double increase of family blessing. (James 5:11 ; Job 42:12-13 .) Our Lord, in restoring this ordinance to its original sternness of obligation, admits but one exception, thereby excluding every other. (Matthew 5:32 ; Matthew 19:1-9 .) According to this rule, an unfaithful wife must be put away as a sin; but a contentious wife restrained, and endured as a cross. The Apostle, in discussing the question of casuistry submitted to him (1 Corinthians 7:2-5 ), lays down the general law, and admits no revulsion of taste or feeling, much less pretense of religion, to put asunder (save for a time, by mutual consent, and for a spiritual purpose, (1 Corinthians 7:5 ) what God hath joined together. If in an extremity the unbeliever was suffered to depart (1 Corinthians 7:15 ), no analogy can be applied from an heathen marriage, where the light of Revelation has never shewn the obligation, to that of Christian professors, where its full force was intelligently understood, and voluntarily recognized. Constrained providential separations, where the hearts are in unity, maintain the principle of the bond. But willful settled separation rejects the distinct ground, on which the ordinance stands. The woman (save where the primary law of nature — self-preservation — dictates) is obviously bound by the same indissoluble tie. (1 Corinthians 7:10 .) If on the other side it be defended, as avoiding the open scandal of continual contention; let the duty of humiliation and mortification of the sins, which have produced this painful extremity, be first of all instantly and habitually applied. Let the high offense of the direct infraction of God’s ordinance be deeply pondered. And let it be considered, whether such infractions do not shake the foundation of an appointment, expressly framed to "make of twain one flesh," (Genesis 2:24 ; Matthew 19:5 ); ordained as a type of the unchangeable relation betwixt Christ and his church (Ephesians 5:32 ); and of which "the LORD, the God of Israel," saith, "that He hateth putting away." (Malachi 2:16 .)

Verse 20

To love an earthly treasure is the way to poverty. (Proverbs 21:17 .) Yet we may thankfully enjoy the prudent gathering, as the fruit of the LORD’s blessing (Proverbs 10:22 ), like the oil of Canaan,†1 for refreshment. This is not the forbidden "laying up for ourselves treasures upon earth" (Matthew 6:19 ), a hoarding for selfishness and distrust of God. (Luke 12:16-22 .) This treasure is in the dwelling of the wise. For prudence is not worldliness (Proverbs 10:5 . Genesis 41:48 ); an indifference to coming trial, is not faith, but foolish simplicity. (Proverbs 22:3 .)

Even the cottage of the godly poor often contains this desirable treasure, the reward of Christian diligence. Yet poor indeed is the palace, where the Bible with its stores of unsearchable riches is not the grand treasure, and where the oil of gladness, while it poureth out richly, is not his choicest comfort.†2 Wherever this treasure is pre-eminently prized, this is the dwelling of the wise, whether it be the prince or the pauper. And, as Cecil, Queen Elizabeth’s Secretary, said, on leaving Bernard Gilpin’s house — ’There dwells as much happiness as can be known on earth’ — how shall we joy to be found in the same world with such men!

But whatever be the treasure of the foolish man, or however obtained, his improvidence is a wide gulf to spend it up. All goes one way. Drunkenness, wasteful expenditure, idleness, gambling, devours it all. He serves a master, who will leave him nothing at the year’s end, and as the only reward of his drudgery, will bring him to utter destitution. Such was the prodigal’s course; yet in the gracious mercy of his Father the means of changing him from his folly into a better mind, and bringing him to the dwelling of the wise; a possessor of a treasure more desirable, than his earthly appetite had longed for. (Luke 15:13-24 .)

But there are other foolish men besides the drunkard and the spend-thrift; and other treasure infinitely more desirable, that is spent up. Admission to the dwelling of the wise — the opportunity of thus growing rich in knowledge and holiness (Proverbs 13:20 ) — what a "price would it be in the hands of a fool," had he but "an heart for it!" But the golden moment is lost; the treasure is spent up. Time is wasted in reckless frivolity of pursuit in innumerable ways. The entire absence of an holy aim in his daily employments deadens all sense of responsibility. He lives only as the creature of the present moment, with no object connected with eternity. Oh! my God! leave me not to my own folly, lest I spend up my treasure, instead of trading with it, and thus enlarging it for my best welfare.


†1 See note on verse 17. (Note, This refers to a footnote on Proverbs 21:17, middle of the first paragraph at the end of this sentence: ",,, one of the most precious fruits of Canaan† ,,,". That footnote reads as follows: Deuteronomy 8:8 ; Deuteronomy 11:14 . Judges 9:9 . Psalms 23:5 . Micah 6:15 . Habakkuk 3:17 .)

†2 Treasure and oil are mentioned; first the general term, then one of its valuable items. A similar idiom may be found, Mark 16:7 . (? Note to e-Sword users: This is an incorrect reference. Mark 16:17 reads: "But go, tell his disciples and Peter, He goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you."

Verse 21

Here the desirable treasure is not spent up, but followed after with a distinctness of purpose, that shews a perception of its value. This is the Christian standard — "Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect. But I follow after."†1 Heaven, "the prize of our high calling," is the bright consummating object. But righteousness and mercy — all our obligations to God and man — are the pathway to it, and the meetness for it.†2 Holiness must be our daily habit, as well as our religious service — "in all manner of conversation." (1 Peter 1:15 .) There must be nothing at home or abroad, where the man of God is not seen.†3 The true evidence of divine grace on the heart is the practical influence upon the temper and conduct. (Titus 3:8 .) Our Master’s example is our pattern. And he is a self-deceiving professor, who does not labor intensely to follow after it.

But this following after is not the toiling at a daily task; not a compulsory law, chaining the conscience against the inclinations of the will. It is delight, freedom, and enlargement (Psalms 63:8 ); the rising flow of the heart filled with fearless love.†4

This following it finds its own reward.†5 A reward of grace indeed it must be; so infinitely is it above our faint and sinful efforts. He that followeth findeth life†6 — that which is the life of life — the treasure of the best happiness; fellowship with God; the sunshine of his face; the enjoyment of his love.†7 He findeth righteousness — a retributive blessing from a God of grace.†8 He findeth honor. For "if any man serve me" — saith our divine Master — "him will my Father honor." "To them, that by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, and honor, and immortality, he will render eternal life."†9 Then — to depart in the joy of conscious acceptance — "I have finished my course. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness." (2 Timothy 4:7-8 .)

Such is godliness with its faithful and precious promises for both worlds! (1 Timothy 4:8 .) Are they not worth following after? Yet how many play with this grand exercise, as if it were an easy thing at the next door! How often sloth and drowsiness degrade it into a lifeless task, an "exercise that profiteth little!" Where do we see this strenuous sustained effort; this applying to the real work of the daily cross; this making a business of religion? We look for the picture of men on the stretch; all energy; all pursuit; nothing diverting from the object; pressing all their might with constant urgency in the momentous service; up to a point that they had never before reached. This high standard of perseverance will only just bring us to the goal. (1 Peter 4:18 .) The half-hearted, temporary professor; the creature of impulse, instead of the child of faith, though for a while he may "run well," will utterly fall short.


†1 Philippians 3:12-14.

†2 Psalms 15:1-5. Isaiah 33:15-17 ; Isaiah 35:8 .

†3 1 Corinthians 10:31 . Colossians 3:17 . Zechariah 14:20 .

†4 ’The will is in love with those charms, which draw us to God. And as no man will complain, that his temples are restrained, and his head is prisoner, when it is encircled with a crown; so when "the Son of God hath made us free," and hath only subjected us to the service and dominion of the Spirit, we are free as princes within the circle of their diadem; and our chains are bracelets, and the law is a law of liberty, and ’God’s service is perfect freedom;’ and the more we are subjects, the more we "reign as kings;" and the further we run, the easier is our burden; and Christ’s yoke is like feathers to a bird; not loads, but helps to motion; without them the body falls.’ — Bp. Taylor.

†5 Psalms 19:11. Isaiah 32:17 .

†6 Proverbs 8:35; Proverbs 12:28 ; Proverbs 22:4 .

†7 Proverbs 15:9. Isaiah 64:5 . John 14:21-23 .

†8 Matthew 10:41-42. Luke 6:38 . Hebrews 6:10 .

†9 John 12:26. Romans 2:7 .

Verse 22

The art of war has already shewn the pre-eminence of wisdom above strength.†1 Prudent tactics, or a wise application of courage, triumphs over mere personal prowess. Joshua’s stratagem in taking Ai was a proof of military wisdom.†2 Solomon seems to have known of a wise man singly delivering his city from the power of a mighty king; a proof of wisdom quite tantamount to the strength of an aggressor scaling the walls, and thus casting down its confidence. (Ecclesiastes 9:13-18 .) Much more therefore will spiritual wisdom, the immediate gift of God, overcome difficulties as formidable as the scaling of the city of the mighty. A wise calculation of the cost is eminently serviceable in achieving most important triumphs. (Luke 14:31-32 .) For does not conscious weakness lead to a single dependence upon God? And what difficulties are too great for an Almighty arm? "By thee" — said a valiant soldier in the army of faith — "I have run through a troop; and by my God have I leaped over a wall."†3 "Weapons of a spiritual, not a carnal," temper, "are mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds" (2 Corinthians 10:4 ), impregnable to the power of man. All the promises are "to him that overcometh."†4 Let the soldier go to the conflict "strong in the Lord," and "putting on his whole armor." (Ephesians 6:10-11 .) The triumph is sure. The heavenly city will be scaled. "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force." (Matthew 11:12 .)


†1 Proverbs 24:5-6. Ecclesiastes 7:19 .

†2 Joshua 8:3-22.

†3 Psalms 18:29. Psalms 144:1 .

†4 Revelation 2:7, and to all the Apocalyptic churches.

Verse 23

How frequently does the wise man remind us of the responsibility connected with the use "of the little member!"†1 Yet as the test of a sound or unsound religion, can we have it too often before our eyes? (James 1:26 .) Indeed the soundness of the regenerate heart is in nothing more manifest, than in making conscience of speech. The corruption of the heart indeed is the main source. But its evil is fearfully increased by the ebullition of the lips. How large a portion of this world’s ceaseless troubles may be traced to this prolific source! It is the unbridled horse, that brings his rider into fearful jeopardy. The mouth has been opened rashly. The tongue has flowed unguardedly; and "behold how great a matter a little fire kindleth!"†2 Our neighbor has been injured; God has been dishonored; and bitter trouble of soul has been the fruit.

What then is our preventive from this imminent temptation? Cultivate a deep and watchful sensibility. Walk closely with God. Cherish the tender spirit of his constraining obligations. Keep the tongue for his service; asking for his grace at once to restrain and employ it. (Psalms 141:3 .) Thus consecrated to God, it becomes "the glory of man" (Psalms 57:8 ); not only keeping him from trouble, but elevating him to fellowship in the ceaseless praises of the heavenly world.


†1 Proverbs 10:14; Proverbs 12:13 ; Proverbs 13:3 ; Proverbs 14:3 ; Proverbs 17:20 ; Proverbs 18:6-7, Proverbs 18:21 .

†2 James 3:5. See how strongly Job protests against the imputation of the injury of the tongue, Proverbs 31:30 . ’The tongue’ — says Bp. Taylor, in his bold imagery — ’is a fountain both of bitter water and of sweet. It sends forth blessing and cursing. It is sometimes "set on fire," and then it puts whole cities into combustion. It is unruly, and no more to be restrained than the breath of a tempest. It is volatile and fugitive. Reason should go before it; and when it does not, repentance comes after it. It was intended for an organ of divine praises. But the devil often plays on it, and then it sounds like the screech-owl, or the groans of death. Sorrow and shame, folly and repentance, are the notes and forcible accents of this discord.’ — Sermon on the Good and Evil tongue.

Verse 24

And who gave him this name? Even he, who "will destroy the tongue that speaketh proud things, who hath said, With our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is Lord over us?" (Psalms 12:4 .) See how God loads him with disgrace. Man’s rebukes may be "the curse causeless, that will not come." (Proverbs 26:2 .) But God’s stamp is indelible. Proud and haughty scorner! Such is his name. He may pride himself upon his scorning. But contrast him with "the man, to whom God looks, him that is poor, and of a contrite spirit, and that trembleth at my word." (Isaiah 66:2 .)

Look at this vivid picture in Pharaoh — that haughty scorner bursting out in his proud wrath — "Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice?" (Exodus 5:2 ), in Sennacherib, "reproaching and blaspheming the Holy One of Israel."†1 Haman meets with an affront. His proud wrath kindles. He cares neither for God, nor man. The ruin of his single enemy will not suffice. He must glut himself with the blood of a whole unoffending nation.†2

Scorner is his name. Not an empty name. Never let us separate the name which God hath given, from the doom which he hath denounced. "The day of the LORD of Hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low. Behold! the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud shall be as stubble; and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the LORD of Hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch." (Isaiah 2:12 . Malachi 4:1 .) "Now we call the proud happy. But how shall they abide the day of his coming?" (Malachi 3:15, with Malachi 3:2 .) Oh! with such a manifestation of the mind of God, never think lightly of a proud thought, or a scornful feeling or expression.

It may be, that this hateful abomination†3 is indulged in God’s own children. Yet he will not wink at this sin, nor spare his rod. The glory of their name shall be darkened. His frown shall be made visible. If "Asa’s heart was" in the main "perfect with God all his days," yet for the sin of haughtiness and proud wrath, his sun went down in a cloud.†4 "For our God is a consuming fire."†5


†1 2 Kings 18:35 ; 2 Kings 19:21-22, 2 Kings 19:28 .

†2 Esther 3:5-6; Esther 5:9 .

†3 Proverbs 6:16-17; Proverbs 8:13 ; Proverbs 16:5 . Compare Sirach 10:12-13 .

†4 1 Kings 15:14 . 2 Chronicles 16:10-13 .

†5 Hebrews 12:28-29.

Verses 25-26

Often have the shame and wretchedness of sloth been before us. Here is the finishing stroke. The desire of the slothful killeth him. It leads to no effort, therefore to no fruit. "Hope deferred maketh the heart sick" (Proverbs 13:12 ); and perpetual vexation frets him to death.†1 ’What he longs for, he does not set his hand to purchase. But he would rather sit still and starve.’†2 He thinks to live by wishing, not by working.†3 Some faint desires he may have to work. But the effort to "take his hand out of his bosom"†4 is too great. His hands therefore, as if they were given him only to be folded, refuse to labor. There is no want of physical power and activity. He could spend his whole time in ’busy idleness;’†5 but for useful labor he has no heart. Meanwhile, with all his inactivity, he is a prey all day long to a greedy covetousness; tantalized with insatiable desires; while the hope of enjoyment, though not out of sight, yet, from want of exertion, is out of reach. Thus, dreaming of the end without mortification or godly exercise, he dies with his desires in his mouth; envying those, whose industrious diligence enables them to give, and spare not.†6

Such is the temporal evil of sloth; one of the many forms of moral selfishness, that paralyze alike our energy and our comfort. But far more ruinous is it in the higher and deeper concern. The stamp of death is broad and palpable upon the heartless professor. (Revelation 3:1 .) We ask — What is his religion? He hopes he has a desire; and he has often heard that ’the desire of grace is grace.’ Now this is true, if the desire be predominant. Faint as it may be in its first dawn, it "is the smoking flax," which the Savior "will not quench" (Matthew 12:20 ), but kindle into a flame. But if it is always a desire, and no more, habitually overcome by a contrary inclination; instead of grace, it is a delusion, a mere sentimental excitement, to lull the conscience asleep. ’How can an object, which standeth in a fixed distance from the nature which it should perfect, be procured by idle and standing affections? Those affections must have life in them, which would bring life after them. Dead desires are deadly desires.’†7 Beware then of the sluggard’s cry. His desires, instead of carrying life in them, are cold things that strike death into the soul. Earnest seeking is the test of godly desire.†8 No quarter will be left unexplored, where we might find our God;†9 no means of grace unimproved, where we might enjoy his presence. (Isaiah 64:5 .) It was an excellent prayer of Sir Thomas More — ’Lord! make me to bestow pains in getting those things, for the obtaining of which I am used to pray unto thee.’

If some will call this active energy legal, our Lord’s command to "labour"†10 proves, that it is scriptural. Whoever does not strive to come near to the standard, has never really apprehended it. Whoever desires only, and refuses to labor to be a growing Christian daily, gives doubtful evidence whether he be a Christian at all. Some profess to be hindered from duty, because they have no heart for it, like the man whom cold would keep from the fire, which was intended to warm him. The sluggard talks about grace — His "soul desireth, and hath nothing." (Proverbs 13:4 .) Effort is the death of sloth. It sweeps away most, and endures the remaining difficulties, confident of ultimate success.

Not that the power is in ourselves. But when did God ever fail to help the sinner’s endeavor? "That thou givest, we gather." (Psalms 104:28 .) ’The ship is like to be steered with best certainty and success, when the pilot’s eye is to heaven, and his hand at the stern.’†11 And thus prayer and diligence, dependence and energy, harmonize in the Bible; however they may be discordant in the crude systems of man’s devising. Divine agency is given, not to excuse the neglect of human means, but to encourage their improvement. (Philippians 2:12-13 .) The means are as much the matter of divine self fore-knowledge and counsel, as the ends with which they are connected.

What then want we for active service, but the continued exercise of faith? This gave power at first; this alone sustains the power. Never let us suppose exertion for the prize to be too late. If ever thou art discouraged — much more — if thou art inclined to sloth — set it down in your mind, and pray that God would write it there clear as a sunbeam — ’It is yours — It is yours for all time, and the fruit of it shall be yours for all eternity.’ There is no moment, when the Lord is not giving; when he has not bound himself to give, by infinite and most loving obligations. Deliberately devote yourselves. Put the resolution into practical form, habit, and place. Make all sacrifices for it. Seize all opportunities for making it good. Our work will be our recompense; our labor our wages. And while the slothful man only covets for himself, the righteous, in the flowing of the willing heart, lives for the Church. He has to give, and he spares not. "He is a blessing in the midst of the land."†12


†1 Virtutem videant, intabescantque relictâ. Pers. Sat. iii. 38.

†2 Bp. Hall.

†3 Proverbs 12:27; Proverbs 20:4 .

†4 Proverbs 19:24.

†5 1 Timothy 5:13 . Strenua nos exercet inertia. Hor. Ep. Lib. i. xi. 28.

†6 Psalms 37:26; Psalms 112:9 . Ephesians 4:28 .

†7 Dr. Reynolds’s Treatise on the Passions, chapter xviii.

†8 Psalms 27:4. Isaiah 26:8-9 . Psalms 24:6 .

†9 Job 23:3, Job 23:8-9 .

†10 John 6:27. Luke 13:24 .

†11 Bp. Sanderson’s Sermon on 1 Corinthians 12:7 .

†12 Isaiah 19:24. The following exhortations are well worth our pondering — ’Our heart being naturally at a distance from God, it is not a single step, that will bring us near to him. Neither will a few minutes of cold prayer suffice to support our souls. — Let us beware of indolence. Many are the hours and days we lose on our road to heaven. These days will soon amount to years; and we shall be too late at last for the marriage supper. We should willingly exert ourselves to climb a mountain for the sake of a fine view, or a pure air. Let us then use all our strength to climb the mountain of Zion, where we shall breathe a truly vivifying atmosphere, and from whose heights we shall behold the true Eden, the valley of peace, through which flow living waters, and where the tree of life flourishes. May the Lord bestow upon us all the necessary will and energy!’ — Letters and Biography of Felix Neff — a most interesting supplement to Dr. Gilly’s Memorial of a short Life filled up with usefulness, and crowned with glory.

Verse 27

This is the repetition of a former proverb (Proverbs 15:8 ) with additional intensity. At no time, under no circumstances, can the sacrifice of the wicked be acceptable. All the true requisites of holy worship are wanting. There is no heart. The service is therefore only formality or hypocrisy. (Matthew 15:7-9 .) There is no way of access;†1 no "altar to sanctify the gift."†2 Therefore it is presumption, self-righteousness, will-worship.†3 There is no "faith, without which it is impossible to please God." (Hebrews 11:6 .) The material act, considered in itself, may be good; but the corrupt principle makes the sacrifice an abomination. (Malachi 1:7-8 .)

How much more — the sin is double — when he bringeth it with a wicked mind! The mind under the dominant power of sin is like a pestilential atmosphere, which infests all within its sphere of influence. Such was it, when Balaam brought his sacrifice, that he might curse Israel;†4 Saul, in wayward disobedience;†5 Absalom and Jezebel, to cover their treachery;†6 the adulteress, as a lulling to her unwary prey;†7 the Pharisees, as a handle to their covetousness;†8 Antinomian professors, for the indulgence of their lusts!†9 What an abomination must their service be before him, who is "of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look on iniquity!"†10

And yet apparent acceptance is sometimes granted to the sacrifice of the wicked. God, as the moral governor of the world, externally rewards actions externally good.†11 But never does he fail to punish the evil principle in those very actions, which are the subjects of his reward. Our Lord’s love of the amiable victim of self-delusion was the confession of his humanity, not Divine complacency; and fully consistent with holy abhorrence of his proud rejection of the gospel. (Mark 10:17-21 .) What then are the wicked to do, rejected as they are under the most favorable circumstances? Shall they lie down in despondency, or harden themselves in rebellion? (Jeremiah 2:25 ; Jeremiah 7:10 .) Or shall they wait for better dispositions, and prepare themselves for the gospel? The door of prayer is their only refuge. (Acts 8:22 .) That door opens the gospel to them with a free warrant of faith, abundant encouragement, and sure acceptance.†12


†1 John 14:6.

†2 Hebrews 13:10. Matthew 23:19 .

†3 Genesis 4:3-5.

†4 Numbers 23:1-3, Numbers 23:13 .

†5 1 Samuel 13:8-15 ; 1 Samuel 15:21-23 .

†6 2 Samuel 15:7-13 . 1 Kings 21:9-12 . Isaiah 1:13-16 .

†7 Proverbs 7:14-15.

†8 Matthew 23:14.

†9 James 4:3.

†10 Habakkuk 1:13.

†11 1 Kings 21:27-29 . 2 Kings 10:29-31 .

†12 Isaiah 1:16-18; Isaiah 55:6-7 .

Verse 28

The last clause of the proverb seems to fix and restrict the first. A false witness often becomes so by the culpable habit of thoughtlessly repeating, without examination or certain knowledge. A man may thus do very serious injury to his neighbor’s character or property. It proves a very loose conscience, and an utter want of that "charity, which covers," instead of exposing faults.†1 It is "rejoicing in iniquity," rather than "rejoicing in truth."†2 This false witness will certainly be punished by God;†3 and even ’by man he will be confounded and silenced. No one for the future will regard or receive his testimony.’†4 But the man that heareth — the true witness who speaketh only what he heareth, and is fully acquainted with — he speaketh constantly — to conviction. He holds to his testimony and never contradicts himself. He ’speaks the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.’ His word, even if it had been slighted at first, gains more and more credit and authority, when the false witness shall have perished. (Proverbs 12:19 .)

Thus "the faithful and true witness" declared for himself and his servants — "We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen."†5 The Apostles, to give solid weight to their testimony, would fill up the vacancy in their body only from among those, "who had companied with them all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among them" (Acts 1:21-22 ); as if those only, who had heard, would speak constantly. They claimed authority to their commission, as having heard from the mouth of God, and therefore being assured of its divine warrant.†6 And indeed this constitutes the main power of testimony. A feeble and hesitating tone is spiritless and ineffective. (2 Corinthians 1:17 .) A decided accredited presentment of truth — speaking constantly — commands conviction. "We believe, and therefore we speak." (2 Corinthians 4:13 .)


†1 Proverbs 10:12.

†2 Contrast 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 .

†3 Proverbs 19:5, Proverbs 19:9 .

†4 Poole in loco.

†5 Revelation 3:14. John 3:11 .

†6 1 Corinthians 1:23 ; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 . 2 Peter 1:16-18 . 1 John 1:1-3 .

Verse 29

A hardened face, without shame or blushing for sin, is a fearful manifestation of a hardened heart. Cain standing boldly in the presence of his God, with his hands reeking with his brother’s blood;†1 Gehazi with his fearless lie;†2 the Traitor, bearing to be pointed out by his Master, without visible emotion,†3 then afterwards with unblushing effrontery kissing his sacred cheeks†4 — how hardened must have been their faces in determined wickedness! The adulteress also, clothing her seductive witcheries with an impudent face, stands out before us. (Proverbs 7:10-13 .) Sometimes the wicked man, bent upon his way, hardens his face against the most distinct warning and intimations of the will of God. Nothing would hinder Balaam from his own "perverse way." He even anticipated the conditional permission of God, lest it should ultimately stand in his way.†5 Ahab determinately hardened his face against the clear forbidding will of God.†6 Jehoiakim, before his whole council, set God at defiance.†7 His people "ran" with the bravery of madmen "upon the thick bosses of his buckler."†8 And does not sin stand out before us with a brazen face? (Isaiah 3:9 .) The drunkard reels at noon-day. The swearer pours out his wickedness in the open crowd. The sensualist "glories in his shame." (Philippians 3:19 .) Truly this is the spirit of Satan. How near to hell! How awful is the plain stamp of the seal of wrath! (Romans 2:5 .) Truly ’we have no stay and command of ourselves. So masterful are our wills and headstrong, but that, if God should leave us wholly to the wildness of our unruly nature, and to take our own course, we should soon run ourselves upon our own ruin.’†9

Cheering is it to contrast the tender spirit of the child of God. This is rest indeed — to put ourselves in the Lord’s hands, fearful of taking one step alone; carefully ordering our steps, lest by inadvertence, much more by willfulness, they should bring shame upon his face. (Psalms 119:5-6, Psalms 119:80 .) Godly simplicity greatly clears the eye of the soul. Where the heart is set on duty, there will be seldom any great difficulty in discovering the path. (Matthew 6:22 .) Secret heavenly direction is engaged. (Proverbs 3:6 .) An unfixed, unresolved mind gives great advantage to the enemy’s assault. Here lies the contrast — The wicked man hardens his face against God’s ordinances. The godly directs his way by them; not waiting in inactivity for miraculous leading, but improving those ordinary means, which throw light upon every step. Temporals, as well as spirituals; trifles, as well as important matters, are brought under the eye of our gracious God. Child-like confidence brings sunshine and acceptance, a brighter and more glorious privilege than the scepter of the universe.


†1 Genesis 4:8-9.

†2 2 Kings 5:25 .

†3 John 13:21-30.

†4 Matthew 26:47-49.

†5 Numbers 22:20-22, Numbers 22:32 .

†6 1 Kings 22:3-6, 1 Kings 22:18-29 .

†7 Jeremiah 36:23-24.

†8 Jeremiah 44:16-17, with Job 15:25-26 .

†9 Bp. Sanderson’s Sermon on Psalms 19:13 .

Verses 30-31

This proverb is not true in the strict letter. All the wisdom and policy of earth and hell are in active operation. But all is in vain against the LORD. The history of the Church abundantly proves this. ’The decrees and counsels of God are firm as adamant; immovable, notwithstanding all human machinations; no more to be stayed than the course of the sun.’†1 Wisdom and understanding and the best-contrived counsel, when against the LORD, come to foolishness. (Psalms 33:10-11 .) "He taketh the wise," not in their ignorance, but "in their craftiness;"†2 not when their wisdom was fading, but when it was at the utmost zenith. Ahithophel’s counsel was befooled at the time, when "it was as if a man had inquired at the oracle of God."†3 Pharaoh’s counsel to depress the chosen nation issued in their increase. (Exodus 1:8-12 .) His murderous decree, as a link in the chain of Providence, nurtured the Leader and Lawgiver of the people. (Exodus 1:15, Exodus 1:22, with Exodus 1:2 :1-10.) Balak’s desire to curse Israel was overruled for blessing.†4 The wise man vainly set up in his darker days his own wisdom against the declared purpose of God.†5 Ahab’s project to ward off the threatened stroke against his life;†6 his determination to avert the extinction of his family;†7 Athaliah’s deep-laid plot to exterminate the family of David,†8 and so to frustrate the Divine promise; the enmity against the builders of the temple†9 — all this diversified mass of wisdom, and counsel, and understanding against the LORD — what was it? — a thing of nought.†10 ’They all signify nothing, if they oppose the counsels and decrees of heaven.’†11

Mark the history of our LORD. It would seem, as if nothing could have hindered the success of Herod’s wisdom and counsel against his infancy. (Matthew 2:8, Matthew 2:16 .) What a combination of wisdom from all quarters vainly to "entangle him in his talk!" (Matthew 22:15-46 .) How near to failure were the prophecies connected with his death, burial, and resurrection! Stoning was the sentence for the charge laid against him! (Leviticus 24:16 .) His burial was appointed among the wicked. (Isaiah 53:9 .) His resurrection, so far as man could do, was effectually prevented.†12 But God had ordained crucifixion for his death,†13 his burial among the rich,†14 his resurrection as the confusion of all their counsel. (Matthew 28:1-15 .) The event proved that there was no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the LORD. ’God’s desire is fulfilled to those who have the least mind to it. All man’s wisdom, while it strives for masteries, is overmatched.’†15

Let us look at that kingdom of Providence, so finely represented by "the wheels full of eyes round about them." (Ezekiel 1:18 .) To deny an absolute superintending control, is to ’place and idle scepter in the hands of Him, who governs the universe’†16 How many movements baffle alike previous calculation and subsequent inquiry; effects, for which no adequate cause is producible; anomalies, manifestly intended to remove our eyes from second causes to the First Great Spring of agency, moving alone all, and in despite of all opposition! The raging Dioclesian struck his medal — ’Christianity is extinguished.’ The Great Author brings out from the very fire the palpable proof that ’the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.’ ’Oh! the folly and blindness of men, that think to carry all to their minds, and walk as masters of their own designs, and never have any serious thought of him, in whose hands both they, and all their business, and all the affairs of states and kingdoms of this world, are as a piece of wax, to frame them to what he pleases!’†17 And do not some of us remember with shame our "striving with our Maker" (Isaiah 45:9 ) — how long we endeavored to defeat his purposes of love, until at length we were brought to cast our weapons at his feet, and to acknowledge, that there is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the LORD?

But putting away rebellion — beware of vain confidence, scarcely less displeasing to the LORD. The horse was a forbidden confidence in the day of battle.†18 The most glorious days of victory were, when that veto was regarded.†19 Declension commenced from the transgression of the law; defeat from the very quarter of confidence.†20 The after-renunciation of this confidence was a time of gracious acceptance.†21 The horse indeed may be legitimately employed as a means of defense. But never let the material of warfare be our confidence. Use the means, but idolize them not. They that "trust in them fall." Those that remember that safety is of the LORD, "are risen, and stand upright."†22 "The horse is a vain thing for safety."†23 "The remembrance of the name of the LORD" was mightier to the young warrior than the strength of the giant. (1 Samuel 17:45 .) Much more — in the spiritual warfare, let us have the active exercise of dependence. "Salvation is of the LORD"†24 — free, complete, triumphant and everlasting victory over all the powers of hell.


†1 Lavater in loco.

†2 Job 5:13. 1 Corinthians 3:19 .

†3 2 Samuel 16:23 ; 2 Samuel 17:7, 2 Samuel 17:14, 2 Samuel 17:23, with 2 Samuel 15:31 .

†4 Numbers 24:10.

†5 1 Kings 11:11, 1 Kings 11:40 .

†6 1 Kings 22:30-34 .

†7 1 Kings 21:21 . 2 Kings 10:1-7 .

†8 2 Kings 11:2 .

†9 Nehemiah 6:1-19.

†10 Isaiah 8:10; Isaiah 14:27 ; Isaiah 46:10 .

†11 Bishop Patrick.

†12 Matthew 27:62-66.

†13 Galatians 3:13.

†14 Isaiah 53:9. Bp. Lowth. Compare Matthew 27:57-60 .

†15 Trapp. Compare Acts 2:23-24 ; Acts 4:27-28 .

†16 Abp. Magee’s interesting Sermon on this text. Works, ii. 354. Compare Job 12:21-22 . Isaiah 44:25 .

†17 Leighton’s Sermon on Jeremiah 10:23-24 .

†18 Deuteronomy 17:16.

†19 Joshua 11:6, Joshua 11:9 . Judges 4:3-15 . 2 Samuel 8:4 .

†20 1 Kings 10:26-28 . 2 Chronicles 12:8-9 . Compare Isaiah 31:1-3 .

†21 Hosea 14:3-4.

†22 Psalms 20:7-8.

†23 Psalms 33:17.

†24 Psalms 3:8; Psalms 37:39-40 ; Psalms 68:20 . Jonah 2:9 .

Bibliographical Information
Bridges, Charles. "Commentary on #REF". Bridges' Commentary on Proverb. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cbp/proverbs-21.html. 1846.
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