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"Excellent Speech," Etc.
Proverbs 17:7 , Proverbs 17:9 , Pro 17:17
By "excellent speech" we are to understand superfluous or pretentious words; and by "a fool" we are to understand a vile person. Discrepancy between words and character should always be pointed out as a most vicious fault. The words and the character should be equal to one another; so should the sermon and the preacher, that is to say, the sermon should not be read, or delivered as if it did not belong to the preacher, but should be spoken as part and parcel of the man himself, expressing his character, his spiritual quality, and his supreme purpose. Vile persons have found it to their advantage to imitate the speech of the excellent; they have spoken beautiful words without beautiful meanings, and they have been content to poetise rather than to realise, to treat life in its merely sentimental aspects, or in its speculative views; or to treat it as an investment for social favour: they have never been solid, real, and true. Judge not by the speech alone, for therein we may be often deceived by skilful speakers, who have quite a critical choice of words and a dainty way of producing them, and yet they themselves dwell apart from their speech, and are living a totally different life. Vile persons should speak vilely; pure persons should speak purely. The character should be the origin of eloquence. But all this is mere maxim which a rhetorician might teach, and which a moralist might confirm: the great point is that man cannot speak well with his tongue until a great regenerative work has been done in his heart Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh; as a man thinketh in his heart, so is he. These are sentiments with which our Biblical studies have made us familiar, but their familiarity must not destroy the reality of their reason and the wisdom of their conception. A man is not to be put right externally, but internally: out of the heart proceed lies, adulteries, murders, and every form of wickedness. "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again."
"He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends" ( Pro 17:9 ).
In the New Testament we read that charity covers a multitude of sins, and this verse ought to read, He follows after charity who covers a transgression. The truth is thus doubly presented, and yet it is unchanged in its central quantity and purpose: the Old Testament and the New Testament concur in representing charity as delighting in the covering of transgression. We are not to understand by covering a transgression merely concealing it, cherishing its spirit, and intending to repeat its purpose, but secreting it from public observation; we are rather to understand that love delights in making the least possible of any transgression that may have been committed; it does not aggravate matters by dwelling upon them, it does not employ fancy to colour them; it rather seeks to show that the transgression was not meant as it has generally been understood, and that really the transgressor sinned rather out of ignorance than out of intention. The latter part of the text should be read, He that always returns to old grievances separateth very friends; that is to say, he cannot let a matter rest; he must go again and again to it; even when it is apparently buried, he must exhume it, and dwell upon its enormity, and show how impossible it is to overlook a transgression so great. The two speakers are therefore put in opposition, the one being inspired by a spirit of charity, and the other being animated by a spirit of exasperation and malice, always recurring to events that ought to be forgotten, and always giving new life to memories which have been buried beyond resurrection. Here again we come to fountain and origin, and must take away our attention from detail and accident; only he who is filled with the love of God can work these miracles of charity; only he who buries sin as God himself buries it can cease to repeat matters which ought to be forgotten by the recollection of love, by the memory of pardon. Sometimes men forgive sins or errors on the part of others, but their friends insist upon keeping up the old feud, saying that whatever the original sufferer may have pardoned or overlooked his friends must insist upon inflicting penalty upon the offender. There would be more forgiveness in the world were controversies confined to the two parties immediately interested in them; but friends or outsiders or critics will make note of the matter, and irritate and exaggerate and do all in their power to make every sore a continually open wound. The one cure for this is baptism into the Spirit of Christ, a full and glowing realisation of the presence of Christ in all the thought and intention of life. Here again we may quote the words of the Blessed One "Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again."
"A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity" ( Pro 17:17 ).
A different and correcter rendering would give the verse thus: The true friend loveth at all times, and loveth like a brother born for adversity. We are to be on our guard against merely whimsical friendship, a friendship that is governed by moods and atmospheres, and incidental and ever-changing circumstances; our friendship is to be without changeableness or shadow of turning, a really rooted attachment to persons or to doctrines, and not subject to climatic influences, and not exposed to those variations which render it quite uncertain in what mood we may meet our friend when we next see him. This is what we mean by whimsical friendship, we do not know whether we shall encounter a smile or a frown, whether it would please our friend to be jovial or ungenial, whether he may be in a mood to help us or to hinder us: that is not friendship; certainly it is not the friendship that is represented in this text. The text rather teaches us that we are to know our friends when we are in adversity; the friend then becomes a brother, because adversity develops him, tests his quality, elicits his resources, awakens the whole circle of his sympathy, and turns his sentiment into reality and action. We do not know who our friends are until we have been in trouble. The cloudy day dissolves the crowd that delights in sunshine. When we have need of our friends we shall know how many friends we have. The men who call upon us in the day of trouble are the men who are born for adversity, and who are representing the genius of true friendship. Here we are brought to the Friend of sinners; nothing can change him, if we be faithful and constant in our love towards him. He does not found his actions towards us upon the reports of others. He reads our heart for himself, comprehends the motive, in its beginning, and in its development, and in its consummation, and when all others forsake us he is nearer than ever to our soul. In six troubles he hath been with us, and in seven he will not forsake us, "I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee." Jesus never turns away from those whom he loves; he has given them into the Father's hand, out of which no man can pluck them. "The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his." Of what avail is it that we have innumerable friends when we can entertain them, when we can give more than we receive, when we are sources of inspiration or blessing or satisfaction to them? Under such circumstances we cannot test their character: it is when we are misrepresented, misunderstood, falsely accused, that we shall know how many stand by us; the men who go with us into Gethsemane are the men who are our truest friends.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Proverbs 17". Parker's The People's Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 20 / Ordinary 25