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Proverbs 14:1. Wise woman, or “woman’s wisdom.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:1
THE HOUSE BUILDER AND THE HOUSE DESTROYER
I. A woman’s special sphere of work—her house. In this word is included all that in any way relates to the home life. Woman’s relation to it is threefold.
1. The house—properly so-called—the interior of the building, is under her especial care. It is her temple of service, she is its priestess. As the female priestess in the Roman temple and the Hebrew priest in the temple of God were responsible for the internal order of their temples, so is every woman responsible for the order, the cleanliness, and comfort of the house of which she is the social priestess. It is her house, and in it she is expected to perform duties to which she is not called in any other house. Her oversight and presence, if not her actual labour, are indispensable to the proper arrangement of everything in it.
2. The affairs or business of the house is her special care. It is for her to preside over the domestic economy of the house—over that which we call housekeeping. All transactions of this nature seem naturally to fall within her jurisdiction, and it looks odd and out of place to see them in other hands.
3. She is specially related to the life of the house. If she is a mother, she, above all others, has the charge of the children, her opportunities for influencing them are greater than those possessed by the father. Her life is always before them. Her words are treasured up and repeated by them. If she is a mistress, the servants are under her special jurisdiction and guidance.
II. The wise woman is a social architect. She “builds her house.”
1. Building implies a plan. No man sets about building a house without first having a plan, which is well considered in proportion to the wisdom of the builder. No argument-builder, with any wisdom, enters into an argument without first considering what he is going to do, and how he is going to do it, in order, if possible, to arrive at an unanswerable conclusion. So, to build a house in the sense of the text, there must be a plan of action. Every wise woman has an end in view in the government of her household. She has plans in relation to each department. She knows what she purposes to do before she begins to do anything.
2. Building implies personal exertion on the part of the architect. All his work is not done when he has drawn the plan and issued his orders. He must see that they are executed. He must, if needful, show how they are to be carried out. In times of emergency the general of an army must—like Napoleon at the Bridge of Lodi—engage himself in a hand-to-hand fight with the enemy. So will a wise woman. She does not always say, “Go,” but sometimes “Come.” She does not say, “That is the way,” when “This is the way” is necessary. She never contents herself with saying, “Do this,” without assuring herself that it is done.
3. Building implies a union of diverse materials to form a complete whole. Many and diverse materials are brought together to build a house. It would be impossible to erect a building of usefulness and beauty of one material alone. So a wise woman brings together many different elements, and blends them in due proportion, in order to make the home-life true, and beautiful, and good. Her wisdom is shown in developing the abilities and capacities of each member of the household, so that each may contribute to the strength and comfort of the whole. Upon the female head of the house, more than upon anyone else, depends the unity, peace, and concord of this temple of living stones.
III. An unwise woman, who is at the head of a house, caricatures her position by her conduct. Her position implies that she is a builder-up. Her conduct has the effect of pulling down. A clown upon a kingly throne is not more out of place than a foolish woman who bears the name of mistress, wife, and mother. The reins are in her hands, but she does not know how to guide the chariot; the materials are in her possession but she has no skill to use them. She is not only no centre of unity, she is a source of discord; she not only cannot build the house herself but she makes it impossible for anybody else to do anything towards it. She is not only no “crown to her husband,” but she is “rottenness to his bones” (chap. Proverbs 12:4).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
A good wife is heaven’s last best gift to a man; his angel of mercy; minister of graces innumerable; his gem of many virtues; his casket of jewels; her voice, his sweetest music; her smiles, his brightest day; her kiss, the guardian of his innocence; her arms, the pale of his safety; the balm of his health, the balsam of his life; her industry, his surest wealth; her economy, his safest steward; her lips, his faithful counsellors; her bosom, the softest pillow of his cares; and her prayers, the ablest advocates of heaven’s blessings on his head.—Jeremy Taylor.
The following is a translation of a Welsh Triad:—A good wife is modest, void of deceit, and obedient; pure of conscience, gracious of tongue, and true to her husband; her heart not proud, her manners affable, and her bosom full of compassion for the poor, labouring to be tidy, skilful of hand, and fond of praying to God; her conversation amiable, her dress decent, and her house orderly; quick of hand, quick of eye, and quick of understanding; her face benignant, her head intelligent, and provident, neighbourly, gentle, and of a liberal way of thinking; able in directing, providing what is wanting, and a good mother to her children; loving her husband, loving peace, and God.—New Handbook of Illustration.
“House” means all interests. “Has built” is preterite. If all interests are prosperous at present, it has been the work of the past. The second clause wisely returns to the future, which we commonly translate as the present, because the act is steadily running on, and includes both the present and the future. Wisdom in woman has built her house, beginning a long time ago; but “folly” in women is an affair of the present. If it had been at work long, it would have had no house to pull down. As entering upon the work of the wise, ungodly mothers tear down the house which generations of the righteous have been slowly building. The grand comment, however, is that this womanly wisdom or wise woman, like the woman of grace (chap. Proverbs 9:16), or woman of folly (chap. Proverbs 9:13) has an allegoric meaning. Women do much toward building up. But the text means more, that “wisdom,” as personified, is the only builder of a “house,” and “folly,” as impenitence, all that can pull it down.—Miller.
Only the characteristic wisdom of woman (not that of the man) is able to “build itself a house,” i.e., to make possible a household in the true sense of the word; for the woman alone has the capacity circumspectly to look through the multitude of individual household wants, and carefully to satisfy them; and also because the various activities of the members of a family can be combined in a harmonious unity only by the influence, partly regulative, and partly fostering, of a feminine character, gently but steadily efficient. But where there is wanting to the mistress of a house this wisdom attainable only by her, and appropriate only to her, then that is irrecoverably lost which first binds in a moral fellowship those connected by relationship of blood—that which makes the house, from a mere place of abode, to be the spiritual nursery of individuals organically associated.—Elster.
The fullest recognition that has as yet met us of the importance of woman, for good or evil, in all human society. Plumptre.
With calm, clear eyes, deep insight, ready sympathy; active, without bustle; alert, without over-anxious vigilance; ignorant perchance of æsthetic rules, yet with subtle touches transforming into a fine picture the home-spun canvas, and with a soft fairy music blending into harmony the noises of the day; apathetic about stocks and shares, and far-off millions; but with a keen appreciation of new sovereigns and no disdain for sixpences; a mere formalist, if professing interest in city improvements and parochial reforms, but as touching torn curtains and threadbare carpets much exercised in spirit; sure that the commotions of Europe will all come right, but shedding bitter tears at any outburst of juvenile waywardness, and praying earnestly, “Oh, that Ishmael may live before thee!” with small belief in the transcendental philosophy, and allowing that much may be said on both sides, but in the interpretation of the Ten Commandments positive, unreasoning, absolute; in theology hopelessly confounding the theology of the schools, and in an innocent way adopting half the heresies, but drinking direct from the fountain that living water which others prefer, chalybeate, through the iron pipe, or ærated from the filtering pond, and in a style which Calvin or Grotius might equally envy teaching the little ones the love of the Saviour; the angel of the house moulds a family for heaven, and by dint of holy example, and gentle control, her early and most efficacious ministry goes farther than any other to lay the foundations of future excellence, and train up sons and daughters for the Lord Almighty.—Dr. Jas. Hamilton.
St. Ambrose noteth that when God asked Abraham, “Where is thy wife, Sarah?”—He was not ignorant where Sarah was; but that He asked the question that by Abraham’s answer, “Behold, in the tent,” He might teach women where they ought to be—namely, in the house, and not so much in the house as in the affairs of the house, making ready provision to entertain God as Sarah was.—Jermin.
The modest virgin, the prudent wife, or the careful matron, are much more serviceable in life than petticoated philosophers, blustering heroines, or virago queens. She who makes her husband and her children happy, who reclaims the one from vice and trains the other to virtue, is a much greater character than ladies described in romance, whose whole occupation is to murder mankind with shafts from their quiver or their eyes.—Goldsmith.
Proverbs 14:2. He that walketh, etc., or, “He walketh in his uprightness who feareth Jehovah, and perverse in his ways is he that despiseth Him” (Delitzsch).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:2
FEARING AND DESPISING THE LORD
I. A wholesome fear. “The fear of the Lord.” When we fear to grieve or offend a person because of his or her goodness the fear does not spring from dread of their power, but from our high estimate of their character. It may exist where there is no power to injure. Strong men have sometimes had this fear for little children. There is also a fear which may spring from a conception of both goodness and power. It is the feeling which a child has for a good parent. There is a consciousness of the parent’s goodness, and also a consciousness of his power to enforce his authority. In proportion as these elements are combined in relation to human creatures the fear which men have for them is wholesome—is salutary. Benevolence alone tends to weaken the fear—to lessen the reverence. Power alone is likely to produce hatred as well as fear. But when benevolence is linked with power it looks doubly attractive. The fear which a good man has for God arises from a conception of both the Infinite power and the Infinite love of the Divine Father. If the first were wanting it would lack reverence; if the latter it would be a fear that “hath torment.”
II. The proof that a man possesses this wholesome fear. “He walks uprightly.” Fear is a feeling of the mind. It can only be proved to exist when it brings forth action. Uprightness of life is an unanswerable proof that a man speaks truly when he says that he fears the Lord. God asks for no greater (Genesis 17:1-2). This demonstration does not consist in a single act of integrity, but in a constant succession of acts, in a habit of life. It is a walk. (On “walking uprightly,” see on chap. Proverbs 10:9-10, page 153).
III. The character of a perverse man—of a man whose walk is not upright. He is “a despiser of God.” His life proves it, even if his words deny it. We despise that to which we do not attach a due value. All men who perversely refuse to accept God’s plan of salvation despise both the “riches of His goodness and forbearance, and long-suffering,” which are intended to “lead them to repentance” (Romans 2:4), and also that “power of His anger,” of which no man can form an estimate (Psalms 90:11).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
I. Grace and sin in their true colours. Grace reigning is a reverence of God. Sin reigning is no less a contempt of God; in this, more than in anything, sin appears exceeding sinful, that it despises God, whom angels adore.
II. Grace and sin in their true light. By this we know a man that has grace, and the fear of God, reigning in him, he makes conscience of his actions, is faithful to God and man. But on the contrary, he that wilfully follows his own way, is a wicked man, however he pretend to devotion.—Henry.
A man walking over a field has a certain level course (if there be such) that he naturally follows. If he walk not level, or if he turn constantly out of his way, men think him either drunk or mad. It is this reasonable instinct of our nature that our text embodies. We do not say uprightness, but “levelness,” for it agrees with the idea of walking. Such meaning is, that folly is self-condemned; that if a man would put one foot before another, or mentally move as he himself thinks level and right, he would practically “fear” God; but that he drops out of his own “way,” and walks brokenly, and with change of gait. It is careless to define fear as anything beside fear itself. A holy fear, however, is not terror; and yet a being afraid more really and more tremblingly often than the sinner, It is remarkable that when men have escaped wrath they begin most healthily to fear it, and when men are faithless even to their own ways, they despise the most the law of the Almighty. This text, like many another, is pregnant. Pregnant texts are ambidextrous, and the alternative meanings, though distinct, are mutually embracing. Another sense is grammatical and equivalent in thought. It would read “His” levelness, and His ways, referring to Jehovah. It is only substituting capitals. It would mean, “He that walks in God’s level track fears Him; but he that is turned out of God’s way, that is, he that has got out of the line for which he was made, instead of fearing, as he might, chooses that horrid moment for despising God. We would rank this higher than an ambiguity; for God’s ways and man’s ways, when they are levelnesses and suited to our step, are the same blessed track, for we are created in the image of God.—Miller.
He that walketh so that the sincerity of his heart maketh the uprightness to be his, for a feigned uprightness is of the devil, not a man’s own. God is feared where goodness is embraced. And, as St. Basil speaketh, the despising of the laws is the reproach of the lawmaker.—Jermin.
Here is consolation to faithful men, though not void of infirmities, against the temptations of Satan, the calumniations of wicked men, and the fears of their own hearts. None are so much accused of contempt against God as those which are most religious. The devil seeketh to persuade them there is nothing in them but fraud. Sinful men, when they can charge against them no misdemeanours or lewdness of life, exclaim that they are hypocrites, and many doubts arise in their own souls by reason of the manifold imperfections of their lives. But are they desirous impartially to keep every commandment, if their power were answerable to their will? Do they endeavour to please God, though they cannot do it perfectly? Then they are upright in their ways, and walk in the law of the Lord; then God testifieth of them here, that they are of the number of them that fear Him, and elsewhere He testifieth that all those who fear Him they are blessed.—Dod.
Proverbs 14:3. Rod, or “sceptre.” Zöckler reads, “In the mouth of a fool is a rod for his pride.” Stuart, “Haughtiness is a rod,” etc.
Proverbs 14:5. Miller here translates, “He who witnesses things correctly, does not lie; but of a deceived witness the very breath is lies” (See his comments on the verse).
Proverbs 14:6. Rather, “The scorner has sought wisdom,” etc.
Proverbs 14:7. Stuart translates the latter clause, “for thou hast not discerned,” etc.; Miller, “and thou shalt not know,” etc.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:3
SPEECH A ROD
I. Speech is a rod because it is emblematic of power. A rod is an emblem of position and authority. It represents more than it is. Speech is a sign of man’s superiority to the animal creation. Words in themselves are not much, but they are mighty because of what they represent, viz., the soul of man. The sceptre of a king may not in itself be of much value, but it is of worth because of what it signifies.
II. Speech will be a man’s destruction or salvation according to his character. The mouth of the fool represents the soul of the fool. We have before noted the unwisdom and danger of him who is too proud to receive instruction (see chap. Proverbs 11:1, page 192; Proverbs 13:18, etc.) His proud boasting speech will by-and-by become the cause of his chastisement—a rod for his own back. And the godly wise speech of the wise will be the means of his preservation and honour (See on chap. Proverbs 12:5-8, page 255, Proverbs 14:17-19, page 274).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The fool’s rod of pride is his tongue, wherewith he assails and strikes others. But it recoils on himself. The instrument of punishment is called a rod, not a sword, to denote the contumely with which the proud shall be visited.—Fausset.
The rod in the mouth is often sharper than the rod in the hand (Jeremiah 18:18). Sometimes it strikes against God (Exodus 5:2; Psalms 12:3-4; 2 Kings 19:10); sometimes it is “the rod of His anger against His people” (Isaiah 10:5) permitted (Revelation 13:5) yet restrained (Psalms 125:3). Always in the end it is the rod for the fool himself (Psalms 64:8).—Bridges.
The “mouth” is the great word in the Proverbs for our whole earthly agency. The word translated “rod” is the favourite emblem of sovereignty. A fool’s life-work or energy is his sovereignty, by which he would carve his way. But it is a “sceptre of pride.” His kingship is a notion of pride. But the “lips of the wise” do really win, and do really govern. They have a true sceptre which shall really guard them.—Miller.
The lips of the wise preserve them.
1. From doing wrong to others, in their loving mildness.
2. From suffering wrong from others, by a wary heedfulness.
3. From the rod of God’s anger, in a humble craving pardon for their errors. The former part of this verse St. Gregory applieth unto arrogant preachers, who desire more sharply to reprove their afflicted hearers, than sweetly to comfort them, for they study more how they may condemn evil things by blaming of them, than how they may commend good things by praising them. They always desire those things which, by fierce chiding, they may beat upon.—Jermin.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:4
THE CLEAN CRIB
I. An empty and clean crib does not fulfil the end for which it was made. It was made for use; it was made to hold food for the ox, who earns, by his labour, the means of keeping it full. When God first created this world, and saw it lie before him in all its unsullied beauty, He said that it was very good. But, beautiful as it was, it was not to remain simply beautiful—it was to fulfil a higher purpose: it was to be a dwelling-place for man. And God gave it into the hands of men to build cities in it, to dig quarries in it, to mar in many respects its first beauty and order, but to make it of more real worth as man’s dwelling, as his market, as his workshop. If man had never been compelled by hunger to put forth his hand and blacken its surface, and spoil some of its lovely landscapes, it would not have become what it now is, his training-school for a higher life. It would have been in more perfect order and beauty, but it would not have fulfilled the purpose for which it was created. So with a large manufactory. No doubt it looks cleaner and fresher on the day that it comes from the hands of the builder than it does when its chimneys are pouring forth smoke and its floors are covered with grimy machinery, but if its owner were to build it simply to keep it clean by keeping it empty, he would be looked upon as a madman. So with the crib. So long as there are no oxen to use it, it can be kept empty and clean, but there is no use in having a crib unless it is put to its use.
II. If men want wealth they must not mind the labour and trouble of getting it. This seems to be the idea of the proverb. A clean crib can be kept, if there are no oxen to use it; but without oxen, in Solomon’s days (when wealth was chiefly gained by agriculture) there would be no increase. Many men would like to be rich, but they do not like the means by which alone they can obtain it. They would like to handle the golden coins, but they do not like to soil their fingers with honest toil to get it. They would like to gather in a harvest in the sunny autumn, but they do not like to plough and sow in the days of winter. They would like the increase which the ox would bring, but they do not like the trouble of cleaning his crib and caring for his wants. But this is not possible. The toil and the increase go together; the labour must come before the wealth, whether in relation to the body, the soul, or the spirit.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
In its literal meaning a household proverb, “Labour has its rough, unpleasant side, yet it ends in profit.” But here, as elsewhere, there may be a meaning below the surface. The life of contemplation may seem purer, “cleaner,” than the life of action. The outer business of the world brings its cares and disturbances, but also “much increase.” There will be a sure reward of that activity in good works for him who goes, as with “the strength of the ox,” to the task to which God calls him.—Plumptre.
The literal sense of this verse seems to commend the care and pains of tillage. Or else we may take the words as shewing how the want of any needful instrument denieth the success of that which is desired, though other things be ready. But the words are more useful when taken by way of application. Wherefore, in God’s tillage, for “we are God’s husbandry” (1 Corinthians 3:9), the oxen are His ministers—they are, as Jerome speaketh, oxen that bear the yoke of the Lord, after whose steps he that soweth seed is blessed; yea, God Himself is pleased to be joined in yoke with them, for they are labourers with God in His husbandry. They plough up the fallow ground by preaching and pressing repentance, they bring the corn into the barn by bringing home wandering sinners into the bosom of the Church; they tread out the grains from the chaff and straw by subduing the corruptions of nature, and separating it from the graces of God’s Spirit. Now, where these oxen are wanting, there the room will be empty, swept and clean for him to enter in, who quickly will fill it with the filth of the corruption of death. But, by the pains of the minister, much increase there is of corn in the field of the Lord—much increase is there of the seed of grace in the hearts of the people, and of the fruits of godliness in their lives.—Jermin.
The ox is the most profitable of all the beasts used in husbandry. Except merely for speed, he is almost in every respect superior to the horse. He is longer-lived, scarcely liable to disease, steady, lives, fattens, and maintains his strength on what a horse will not eat, and when he is worn out in labour his flesh is good for food, his horns useful, and his hide almost invaluable.—A. Clarke.
For Homiletics on Proverbs 14:5 see on chapter Proverbs 12:17; Proverbs 12:19, page 274; also on Proverbs 14:25 of this chapter.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The man not walking in His levelness (see Proverbs 14:2) shows by his staggering that he does not “witness things correctly.” (See Critical Notes for Miller’s translation of this verse.) The grand truth is here broached that the man who lies does not see correctly. This is a universal doctrine. Moreover, lies stand for all sin. All sin, therefore, flows from being deceived. A deep moral blindness is the source and measure of all possible transgression. Several proverbs depend for their significance upon this meaning, a “deceived” rather than a deceiving “witness.”—Miller.
He that for conscience sake doth speak the truth in common and small matters, he will also speak the truth in things of greater importance; and he that is not ashamed of a lie in his private dealing, he will also without shame bear false witness before a judge. Here, then, we be taught in the least things to ensure our tongues to speak the truth, so shall we be preserved from false-witness bearing, for the Lord would not have us dally with sin.… If we would not have Him punish our lesser frailties with greater sins—if we would not have Him punish our secret sins with open and notorious offences, then let us be afraid to tell a lie in the very lightest and most secret causes.—Greenham.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:6
SEEKING, BUT NOT FINDING
I. A contradictory character—a scorner in quest of wisdom. It would be strange to hear a man ask advice of a physician whose opinion he held in contempt, or to ask guidance of a traveller whose judgment and ability he despised. It would be obvious that the advice given or the rules laid down would not be followed. So a scorner, while he seeks wisdom, scorns the only method of becoming wise, He asks advice of those whom he despises, he inquires the way to wisdom, while he holds the road to it in utter contempt. The antithesis of the verse implies that he does not find wisdom because he lacks understanding—because he finds it above his comprehension. Two children may be equally ignorant of knowledge, but if one has the desire and the will to acquire it, and the other has not, what was hard to both at first will only continue hard to him who despises knowledge. So the scorner fails to find wisdom because he does not value it enough to make an effort to acquire it. The spirit in which he seeks is an effectual barrier against his finding.
II. A man of teachable spirit is the only one who will ever find wisdom. The man of understanding knows its value, and therefore scorns neither it nor the means of attaining it. Therefore, to him “knowledge” becomes “easy.” A clever man and a dull one may be pupils of the same master, but if the clever one thinks that he needs no instruction and the dull one feels his need, what was above the comprehension of both at first will become easy to the teachable scholar, while it will still remain out of the reach of the self-sufficient one. Even a dull but willing pupil will learn faster than one who has intellectual ability, but lacks the docile spirit. A seeker of wisdom in any department of knowledge must become in relation to it as a child before his teacher; he must acknowledge his ignorance, and be willing to submit to the conditions of acquiring knowledge. The same spirit is indispensable for the attainment of moral wisdom. Those who would learn of Christ must take His yoke; those who would know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, must be willing to do His will (Matthew 11:29; John 7:17).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The Greeks sought after wisdom, but Christ crucified was foolishness to them. They were already too wise to admit of the preaching of the cross, and scorned a tent-maker who would inform them of new doctrines which had never entered into their own minds, and who would prove them by other methods than their favourite ones—eloquence and reasoning.—Lawson.
There are two descriptions of scorners. There are “scorners” of truth, from pride of intellect; and there are “scorners” of authority, from the pride of self-will. They are nearly allied, and they are frequently united. It is the former that is chiefly meant here, seeing the subject is knowledge rather than duty.—Wardlaw.
A page of Hebrew, what is it to a child? It is absolutely nothing. But the whole was easy to the Hebrew eye. “A scorner has sought wisdom.” Notice the past sense. Every scorner has done it. Take any impenitent man. We may be sure some day or other he has sought spiritual intelligence. But he has done it selfishly. Moreover, he has done it fitfully and feebly. He has groped. He has made a sort of blind man’s pass for knowledge, and has come back with the averment that there is no such thing. Light is simple, “easy;” literally, light as opposed to heavy; light is obvious; nothing can be more so; but then, as the inspired man advises us, it is only “easy” to the “discerning,” or “understanding,” man.—Miller.
It is not by a one-sided action of the thinking power, but only by undivided consecration of the whole nature to God, which therefore involves, above all other things, a right relation of the spiritual nature to Him, that true knowledge in Divine things can be attained. The wise man, however, who has found the true beginning of wisdom, in bowing his inmost will before the Divine, not as something to be mastered by the understanding, but as something to be simply sought as a grace by the renunciation of the very self; he can easily on this ground, which God’s own power makes productive, attain a rich development of the understanding.—Elster.
Wisdom estrangeth herself from the scorner, as a gentlewoman hideth herself from a suitor whom she fancieth not.… As a loving spouse, when he cometh to the door, whom she affecteth, will show herself to him and run to meet him, so the grace of God’s spirit offereth itself, and draweth near unto the humble and modest.—Muffet.
By knowledge we may understand, not the knowledge of the letter floating in the brain, and flowing even at the tongue’s end (which, indeed, is not worth the name of knowledge); but the true understanding of the word taught by the Spirit, which entereth into the heart, and worketh on the affections, frameth to obedience, and assureth of everlasting life. This, indeed, is healthful knowledge, which the scorners, though they seek, shall never obtain. And hereunto doth our Saviour give witness, when He saith: “Many shall seek to enter in, and cannot.”—Greenham.
The finding of wisdom is that which needeth help from others. More eyes than the eyes of one are requisite unto it. And, therefore, a scorner, who seeketh it with scorning of another’s help; yea, who scorneth not only the help of man, but of God also, how can he ever find it? If it be offered to him by another, he will not accept it, and if he seek it never so much in his own ways he shall not obtain it. It is, says Clemens Alexandrinus, to draw out threads and to spin nothing; and, therefore, whensoever he shall stand in need of it, he shall not find it, for wisdom and a scorner shall never meet. But to him that understandeth his own defects and infirmities, to him that understandeth how to make use of other men’s abilities, and that in the seeking of wisdom, the assistance of God is chiefly to be sought, to him it is a short course to come to it; to him it is an easy matter to obtain it.—Jermin.
It is the constant profession of those who read the Bible that they are seeking truth. Their likeness is taken here from life. They seek wisdom, but do not find it. They want the first qualification of a philosopher, a humble and teachable spirit. There is a race of men among us at the present day who scorn bitterly against faith’s meek submission to God’s revealed will. The divinity, they say, is in every man; which means that every man is a god unto himself. It is, in its essence, a reproduction of the oldest rebellion. A creature discontented with the place which his Maker has given him strives to make himself a god. If men really were independent beings, it would be right to assert and proclaim their independence; but as matters really stand, this desperate kicking against authority becomes the exposure of weakness, and the punishment of pride. We are not our own cause and our own end; we are not our own lords. We are in the hands of our Maker, and under the law of our Judge. Our only safety lies in submission to the rightful authority and obedience to the true law. The problem for man is, not to reject all masters, but to accept the rightful one.… In these days, when the pendulum is often seen swinging from scepticism over to superstition, and from superstition back to scepticism again, we would do well to remember that there is truth between these extremes, and that in truth alone lies safety for all the interests of men.… I see two men near each other prostrate on the ground and bleeding, while one man stands between them, with serenest aspect looking to the skies. Who and what are these? The two prostrate forms are superstition and unbelief. Superstition bowed down to worship his idol, and cut his flesh with stones to atone for his soul’s sin. Unbelief scorned to be confined, like an inferior creature, to the earth, and was ever leaping up in the hope of standing on the stars. Exhausted by his efforts he fell, and the fall bruised him, so that he lay as low as the neighbour whom he despised. He who stands between them neither bowed himself to the ground, nor attempted to scale the heavens. He neither degraded himself beneath a man’s place, nor attempted to raise himself above it. He abode on earth, but he stood erect there. He did not proudly profess to be, but meekly sought to find God. This man understands his place, and feels his need; to him, therefore, knowledge is easy. To him that hath shall be given. He has the beginning of wisdom, and he will reach in good time its glad consummation. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom.”—Arnot.
There are four things that particularly unfit a man for such a task (the finding of wisdom), viz., a very proud, or a very suspicious temper, false wit or sensuality. The two last generally belong to the man whom we call a scorner, the two first are essential to him and inseparable from him.… Pride makes a man seem sufficient in his own eyes for all manner of speculations and inquiries, and hence it comes that he, not being duly qualified for every search, is fain to take up with light and superficial accounts of things, and then, what he wants in true knowledge, to make up in downright assurance. By consequence it gives him just enough understanding to raise an objection, but not enough to lay it; which, as it is the most despicable, so it is also the most dangerous state of mind a man can be in. He that is but half a philosopher is in danger of being an atheist; a half physician is apt to turn empiric. In all matters of speculation or practice, he that knows but little of them, and is very confident of his own strength, is more out of the way of true knowledge than if he knew nothing at all. And in this character there is always a strange and unreasonable suspicion, by which he doubts everything he hears, and distrusts every man he converses with. He is so afraid of having his understanding imposed upon in matters of faith that he stands aloof from all propositions of that kind, whether true or false. Which is, as if a man should refuse to receive any money because there is a great deal of counterfeit; or resolve not to make friendship with any man, because many are not to be trusted. A third part of a scorner’s character is a false wit, a way of ridiculing arguments instead of confuting them, and a fourth is sensuality. That this, too, does for the most part accompany a contempt of religion, I appeal to the observation and experience of every man.—Bp. Atterbury.
He seeks it as a coward seeks his adversary, with a hope that he shall not find him; or as a man seeks his false coin, which he hath no joy to look upon. “What is truth?” said Pilate in a jeer to Christ, but stayed not the answer. “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” said the carnal Capernaites (John 6:52), and away they went—who, if they had stayed out the sermon, might have been satisfied on the point.… He that comes to the fountain to fill his pitcher must first wash it, and then put the mouth of it downwards to take up water. So he that would have heavenly knowledge must first quit his heart of corrupt affections and high conceits, and then humble himself at God’s feet, “everyone to receive His words” (Deuteronomy 33:3).—Trapp.
Proverbs 14:8. Deceit, or “deception.”
Proverbs 14:9. Many translators read this verse, “The sacrifice,” or “the sin-offering, makes a sport of,” or “mocks fools.” So Zöckler, Elster, Ewald, Stuart, Wordsworth, etc. Miller translates, “Sin makes a mock at fools.” Among, or “to.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 14:7-9
THE FOOL AND THE PRUDENT MAN
I. How to know a fool. The dead carcase that is above ground is its own evidence. No one needs to inquire what it is, or where it is. The pestilential atmosphere which surrounds it tells its own tale. So a fool is a self-evidencing person. His words proclaim his character. He says nothing that is worth saying. Nothing that can enlighten a man’s mind or better his nature is to be found in his conversation. “The lips of knowledge” are not with him. But there is not simply the absence of wisdom. He is not a negative character. No man’s soul can remain like an empty house; if wisdom is absent sin comes in and takes up its abode. The fool is also a knave. “The folly of fools is deceit,” and in this also he will sooner or later be his own evidence. Like particles of poisonous matter, his deceit, as well as his ignorance, will make its presence known. His words will sooner or later betray his untruthful character. He will also be known by his profanity. “Fools make a mock at sin.” The most perfect beings in God’s universe regard sin as a serious matter, knowing, as they do, the bitter fruits which spring from one sinful action. God Himself treats sin as a terrible and awful reality. Yet men are to be found who make light of it, and others so depraved as to laugh at that which God regards with abhorrence, and visits with retribution.
II. How to treat a fool. “Go from the presence of a foolish man.” There are three reasons why we go from the neighbourhood of a polluted and polluting carcase. First, its odour is offensive to us. Secondly, to linger near may generate disease in our bodies. Thirdly, being diseased ourselves, we may become an occasion of injury to others. So a man void of moral wisdom ought to be an offensive presence to every man. Our moral instincts ought to be strong enough without any outside voice to say, “Go from him.” The “folly of a fool,” being deceit, he is an incarnation of the devil; our own self-love should prompt us to quit his society. The man that mocks at sin is a generator of moral disease, we cannot be in his company without moral injury, and if we catch the pestilence ourselves we shall in turn infect others with the disease.
III. What constitutes a prudent or morally wise man. He “understands his way.” A fool cannot be said to have a way or method of life any more than the leaf which is driven before the wind, or the timber that is floating down the rapid. Like them, he is the victim of circumstances; he is driven hither and thither by the currents of inclination or passion. He has no “way” to understand. He is as a cloud driven before the hurricane. He floats like a rudderless vessel upon the sea of life. But a prudent man has a “way,” or method of life (see Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 13:14), and the great business of his life is to “understand” it—to find the best means of bringing his life into conformity with that rule of righteousness which is his standard of life; to gather from the voice of God in revelation, in conscience, and in Providence what course he is to pursue, what at all times is the right thing to do, and what is the right way of doing it. This is the life-study of the man who is morally prudent, and the highest aim that a man can propose to himself is to attain to a right understanding of his way. (On the latter clause of Proverbs 14:9 see Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 13:14).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 14:7. The path of sin is much more easily avoided than relinquished. We can far more easily keep out of the course of the stream than stem the torrent—Bridges.
Thou mayest tarry with a foolish man while he holdeth his peace, and while he is willing and patient to hear thee. For he may get knowledge by hearing, and thou mayest have comfort by speaking. But it is time to be gone when by his lips thou perceivest knowledge to be gone from them.—Jermin.
In nature, some creatures are strong and bold, having both instincts and intruments for combat: other creatures are feeble but fleet. It is the intention of their Maker that they should seek safety, not in fighting, but in fleeing. It would be a fatal mistake if the hare, in a fit of bravery, should turn and face her pursuers. In the moral conflict of human life it is of great importance to judge rightly when we should fight and when we should flee. The weak might escape if they knew their own weakness, and kept out of harm’s way. That courage is not a virtue which carries the feeble into the lion’s jaws. I have known of some who ventured too far with the benevolent purpose of bringing a victim out, and were themselves sucked in and swallowed up. To go in among the foolish for the rescue of the sinking may be necessary, but it is dangerous work, and demands robust workmen … The specific instruction recorded in Scripture for such a case is, “save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted with the flesh” (Jude 1:23). He who would volunteer for this work must fear lest the victim perish ere he get him dragged out, and fear lest himself be scorched by the flame.—Arnot.
Proverbs 14:8. We are not to infer, because “wisdom” eludes the scorner, that it is, therefore, something mystic. It fits earth so closely, that it actually carves our “way.” Nay, more closely still, it is actually path-finding itself. She takes a man from her very gate, and tells him all that he must do. She not only discerns paths, but that is all of her; she does nothing else. “The wisdom of the subtle is the making discernible of his way,” while, on the other hand, “the folly of the stupid is (its own) delusion.” All of us having a way, and all of us following it with the great energy of our lives, “the excellency and knowledge is, that wisdom giveth life to them that have it.” Wisdom grasps its end; folly never. Wisdom is the great pathfinder; folly a “delusion.”—Miller.
Every man has a final destination before him. The way of all is the way to the grave, and to eternity. But in that eternity are two widely different states. To the opposite states there are two ways—“the narrow,” and “the broad.” Oh the infinite value of true wisdom here,—the wisdom that understands both ways, and rightly chooses between! The folly of fools is deceit may mean that the folly of fools proves to them deceit. Their confidence in it, and their expectations from it, are sheer delusion. Or the sense may be, “deceit is the folly of fools.” “New stratagems,” says Lord Bacon, “must be devised, the old failing and growing useless; and as soon as ever a man hath got the name of a cunning crafty companion, he hath deprived himself utterly of the principal instrument for the management of his affairs,—which is trust.” Policy, therefore, on this as on other accounts, is “the folly of fools.—Wardlaw.
When men are acquainted with everything but what they ought to know, they are only notable fools. If we had hearts large as the sands upon the sea-shore, and filled with a world of things, whilst we remained ignorant of the way of attaining true happiness, we should resemble that philosopher who was busied gazing at the moon till he fell into the ditch.… They are fools who know other people’s business better than their own. Some people, if you will take their own word for it, could reign better than the king and preach better than the minister. They know, in short, how to manage in every condition but their own.—Lawson.
Religion is an orderly thing, as wise as it is warm. Whatever be the excitement of an irregular course, more good is done by steady consistency. To break the ranks in disorder, to be eager to understand our neighbour’s way (John 21:21-22), obscures the light upon our own. The true wisdom is to understand what belongs to us personally and relatively (1 Kings 3:6-9; Ecclesiastes 8:5). “As God hath distributed to every man, so let him walk, and abide with God” (1 Corinthians 7:17). Let the eye do the work of the eye, and the hand of the hand. If Moses prayed in the mount, and Joshua fought in the valley (Exodus 17:10-11), it was not because one was deficient in courage, and the other in prayer; but because each had his appointed work, and understood his own way.—Bridges.
Every one that goeth on in the right way doth not understand his way. Hence it is that many so often wander out of it, hence that so easily they are drawn from it. But he that is prudent looketh into his way, considereth the dangers of it, provideth himself against the enemies that he shall or may meet with, and being well assured of the righteousness of the way, he goeth on with confidence and safety. And this is the wisdom of the prudent, this proves him to be wise.… Again, the folly of fools, though it be folly in themselves, it is deceit to the devil, who maketh them to think that to be the right way, wherein they are clean out of the way.—Jermin.
Proverbs 14:9. The word here used signifieth both the fault and the guilt of it, whereby the offender is liable unto wrath and punishment. For they being firmly joined together, the Hebrew joineth them in the same word. Notwithstanding fools not finding the scourge of sin tied immediately unto the act committed, as if they were mocked when they are told of punishment to come, they make a mock at it. The favour, therefore, which the righteous show them is quickly to make them feel the rod of justice. For while they punish the offence they show great love to the offender, not only in stopping the course of his sinning, which is the stopping the increase of his misery, but it may be also working his amendment, which is the salvation of his soul.—Jermin.
The idea of sacrificial offering is that of expiation (see Critical Notes for the renderings of the word translated sin): it is a penitential work, it falls under the prevailing point of view of an ecclesiastical punishment, a satisfaction in a church-disciplinary sense. The forgiveness of sin is conditioned by this,
(1) that the sinner either abundantly makes good by restitution the injury inflicted on another, or in some other way bears temporal punishment for it, and
(2) that he willingly presents the sacrifice of rams or of sheep, the value of which the priest has to determine in its relation to the offence. Fools fall from one offence to another, which they have to atone for by the presentation of sacrificial offerings; the sacrificial offering mocketh them, for it equally derides them on account of the self-inflicted loss, and on account of the efforts with which they must make good the effects of their frivolity and madness; while on the contrary, among men of upright character, a relation of mutual favour prevails, which does not permit that the one give to the other an indemnity, and apply the trespass-offering. Delitzsch.
“Sin makes a mock at fools; but between upright beings there is favour.” Not makes sport, as a fool might, of engaging in his sins. A fool may make sport of sin, but hardly could be said to make a mock at it. “Sin makes a mock at fools,” but between “upright beings,” or “among the righteous,” we cannot conceive of any mockery. The upright God, and the upright saint; the upright saint and the upright Saviour; grace and judgment; faith, and the scenes of the last day; between these there must be goodwill, i.e., mutual delight and favour. So 1 John 4:17-18, “Herein does the love gain its end between us (that is, between God and us; see Proverbs 14:16), that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as He is, so are we in this world,” etc.—Miller.
Among the righteous is favour; that is to say, the practice of virtue and uttering of gracious speeches, joined with such goodwill and sweet joy as that their, meeting is like the precious ointment that was poured on the head of Aaron.—Muffet.
The conduct of the man who makes a mock at sin involves—
1. Impiety. To mock at sin is to despise God’s holiness, set at nought God’s authority, to abuse God’s goodness, to disregard and slight God’s glory.
2. Cruelty. The scoffer may pretend to humanity, but there breathes not on earth a more iron-hearted monster. He may profess to feel for the miseries of mankind; for the ravages of disease and death over their bodies; of fire, and flood, and storm over their means of life and comfort; of melancholy, and idiotcy, and madness over their minds. But he makes a mock at the prolific cause of all. There is not an ill that man is called upon to suffer that does not owe its origin to sin. Like the “star called wormwood” in the Apocalyptic vision, it has fallen on every “fountain and river” of human joy, turning all their waters into bitterness. It is the sting of conscience. It is the venom and barb of the darts of the King of Terrors. It is the very life of the “worm that dieth not.” Oh! the miserably-mistaken flattery that can speak of the kind-heartedness of the man who laughs at that which is the embryo-germ of all the sufferings of time, and all the woes of eternity.
3. Infatuation. Sin is the evil that is ruining the sinner himself—the disease that is preying upon his own vitals—the secret consuming fire that is wasting his eternal all. Yet the deluded victim of its power makes a jest of it!—Wardlaw.
Some men are so like their father, the devil, that they will tempt men to sin that they may laugh at them.—Lawson.
To complete the antithesis, the sense must be supplied, fools make a mock at sin (and so incur the wrath of God); but (the righteous regard sin as a serious offence), and therefore among the righteous there is the favour of God.—Fausset.
The fool’s sport—sin.
1. Sin, which is so contrary to goodness that it is abhorred of those sparks and cinders which the rust of sin hath not quite eaten out of our nature as the creation left it.
2. Sin, which sensibly brings on present judgments, or if not, is the more fearful. The less it receives here, the more is behind.
3. Sin, that shall at last be laid heavy on the conscience: the lighter the burden was at first, it shall be at last the more ponderous. The wicked conscience may for awhile lie asleep, but this calm is the greatest storm.
4. Sin, which provokes God to anger.
5. Sin, which was punished even in heaven.
6. Sin, which God so loathed that he could not save men because of it, except by the death of His own Son. Oh, think if ever man felt sorrow like Him, or if He felt any sorrow except for sin. Did the pressure of it lie so heavy upon the Son of God, and doth a son of man make light of it? Thou mockest at thy oppressions, oaths, frauds; for these He groaned. Thou scornest His gospel preached; He wept for thy scorn. Thou knowest not, O fool, the price of sin; thou must do, if thy Saviour did not for thee. If He suffered not this for thee, thou must suffer it for thyself.—T. Adams.
They dance with the devil all day, and yet think to sup with Christ. Their sweet meat must have sour sauce, but among the righteous, though they sin of infirmity, yet forasmuch as they are sensible of and sorrowful for their failings, and see them to confession, God will never see them to their confusion.—Trapp.
Proverbs 14:10. Zöckler reads the latter clause, “Let no stranger,” etc. Miller renders the whole verse, “A knowing heart is a bitterness to itself; but with its joy it does not hold intercourse as an enemy.”
Proverbs 14:11. Tabernacle, “tent.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:10
SECRETS OF THE HEART
I. Opposite dwellers in the same spirit. “Bitterness” and “joy.” The world without us is a type of the world within us. In the world of matter the bitter cold, the desolation of winter, alternates with the brightness and joyous fruitfulness of summer. On the same globe we have at the same time the vineclad regions of southern latitudes, and the dreary shores of arctic regions. Bitterness in the human spirit is a fact of human consciousness, and so is joy. There are few hearts that have not been at different times possessed by both. There are few in which there does not dwell at the same time a root of gladness and a root of sadness.
II. A possession which its possessor may keep a profound secret. It is within the power of a human soul to keep his sorrow or his joy to himself if he so pleases, and under certain conditions this is a desirable thing to do. A man or woman often finds himself or herself surrounded by those who are entire strangers to the circumstances, or the persons, or the experiences which have given birth to the sorrow or the joy. To speak of it to such would be worse than useless. It is a comfort in such circumstances to be able to lock the secret within one’s own breast. There is a consolation in sorrow, and a sense of increase of joy in not being compelled to lay open our feelings to the inspection of the unsympathetic. There are also sorrows of such a nature as to be entirely beyond the power of the tenderest human love to alleviate. To conceal such from all human ken is a kindness to those who love us. We should inflict sorrow upon them without lightening our own burden; and if we are unselfish, we are glad that it is possible in such a case to keep our bitterness within our own breast.
III. There is One who possesses the secret even more truly than the human possessor, and who should always be invited to intermeddle with our sorrow or our joy.
1. We should invite God to intermeddle, because we can do so in the strictest secresy of the soul. It may be impossible sometimes to put into words our joy or our sorrow, and therefore no human being, even the nearest and dearest, can always “intermeddle” with our deep emotions. But the thought is speech to God. He “knoweth what is the mind of the spirit.”
2. Because God’s “intermeddling” will bring softening to our bitterness and refinement to our joy. He “knew the sorrows” of Israel in their bitter bondage (Exodus 3:7). He sent His Son to “bind up the broken-hearted” (Isaiah 61:1). That Son Himself has known a bitterness that is unknowable by any creature. And as He can lighten sorrow so He can refine and increase joy.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Within the range of human experience there is, perhaps, no expression of the ultimate solitude of each man’s soul at all times, and not merely (as in Pascal’s Je mourrai seul) at the hour of death, so striking in its truth and depth as this. Something there is in every sorrow, and in every joy, which no one else can share. Beyond that range it is well to remember that there is a Divine sympathy, uniting perfect knowledge and perfect love.—Plumptre.
The first half of this proverb treats of life experiences which are of too complex a nature to be capable of being fully represented to others, and, as we are wont to say, of so delicate a nature that we shrink from uncovering them and making them known to others, and which, on this account, must be kept shut up in our own hearts, because no man is so near to us, or has so fully gained our confidence, that we have the desire and the courage to pour out our hearts to him from the very depths. If we were to interpret the second clause as prohibitive (see Critical Notes), then this would stand in opposition, certainly not intended, to the exhortation (Romans 12:15), “Rejoice with them that do rejoice,” and to the saying, “Distributed joy is doubled joy, distributed sorrow is half sorrow;” and an admonition to leave man alone with his joy, instead of urging him to distribute it, does not run parallel with the first clause. Therefore we interpret the future as potentialis.—Delitzsch.
Not to let a man be private in his house is a great injury, but not to let a man be private in his heart is a wrong inexcusable. And yet this is the strange presumption of some. They know the heart of another; they know what troubles it and what pains it. Perhaps by some discoveries thou mayest have some conjectures; but let not a small conjecture make thee a great offender. Wrong not another with unjust surmising. Every key a man meets with is not the right key to this lock; every likelihood thou apprehendest is not a sure sign to make thee know the heart of another.—Jermin.
“A knowing heart is a bitterness to itself; but with its joy it does not hold intercourse as an enemy.” We venture upon this translation. We find no spiritual sense in the one heretofore given.… A heart spiritually enlightened is a bitterness to itself on the principle which Christ meant when He said, He “came not to send peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34); but with its joy, weak as it may be, and small and easily clouded, “it does not,” as the impenitent do, “hold intercourse as with an enemy.” His joy is like his bitterness, a friend; and all will work in opposite direction to the joy of the wicked.—Miller.
Eli could not enter into the “bitterness of soul” of Hannah (1 Samuel 1:10; 1 Samuel 1:13; 1 Samuel 1:16): nor Gehazi into that of the Shunamite woman (2 Kings 4:27). Michal, though the wife of David, was “a stranger to his joy” at the bringing up of the ark to Zion (1 Samuel 18:13; 1 Samuel 18:20, with 2 Samuel 6:12-16).—Fausset.
The two extreme experiences of a human heart, which comprehend all others between them, are “bitterness” and “joy.” The solitude of a human being in either extremity is a solemnising thought. Whether you are glad or grieved, you must be alone. The bitterness and the joyfulness are both your own. It is only in a modified sense, and in a limited measure, that you can share them with another, so as to have less of them yourself.… Sympathy between two human beings is, after all, little more than a figure of speech. A physical burden can be divided equally between two. If you, unburdened, overtake a weary pilgrim on the way, toiling beneath a load of a hundred pounds weight, you may volunteer to bear fifty of them for the remaining part of the journey, and so lighten his load by half. But a light heart, however willing it may be, cannot so relieve a heavy one. The cares that press upon the spirit are as real as the load that lies on the back, and as burdensome; but they are not so tangible and divisible.… There are, indeed, some very intimate unions in human society, as organised by God.… The closest of them all, the two “no longer twain, but one flesh,” is a union of unspeakable value for such sympathy as is compatible with distinct personality at all.… The wife of your bosom can, indeed, intermeddle with your joys and sorrows, as no stranger can do, and yet there are depths of both in your breast which even she has no line to fathom. When you step into the waters of life’s last sorrow, even she must stand back and remain behind. Each must go forward alone. The Indian suttee seems nature’s struggle against that fixed necessity of man’s condition. But it is a vain oblation. Although the wife burn on the husband’s funeral pile, the frantic deed does not lighten the solitude of the dark valley. One human being cannot be merged in another. Man must accept the separate personality that belongs to his nature.—Arnot.
It is true, observes a philosophic essayist, that we have all much in common; but what we have most in common is this, that we are all isolated. Man is more than a combination of passions common to his kind. Beyond them and behind them, an inner life, whose current we think we know within us, flows on in solitary stillness. Friendship itself is declared to have nothing in common with this dark sensibility, so repellent and so forbidding, much less may a stranger penetrate to those untrodden shores. We may apply Wordsworth’s lines,—
To friendship let him turn
For succour; but perhaps he sits alone
On stormy waters, tossed in a little boat
That holds but him, and can contain no more.
By this thought the worth and the significance of each separate human personality is made conspicuous, not one of which is the example of a species, but each has its own peculiarity, which no one of countless individuals possesses.—Elster.
Who but a parent can fully know the “bitterness” of his grief who “mourneth for an only son”—of him who is “in bitterness for his first-born.” Who but a parent can sympathise with the royal mourner’s anguish over a son that had died in rebellion against his father and his God! Who but a widow can realise the exquisite bitterness of a widow’s agony when bereft of the loved partner of her joys and sorrows! Who but a pastor can know, in all its intensity, the bitterness of soul experienced in seeing those on whom he counted as genuine fruits of his ministry, and on whom he looked with delighted interest, as his anticipated “joy and crown” in “the day of the Lord,” falling away—going back and walking no more with Jesus.—Wardlaw.
The principal thought of Proverbs 14:11 has been treated before. See on chapter Proverbs 2:21-22, etc.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The wicked build houses on the earth; the earth is their home, where they desire to be, and they imagine to settle themselves in it. The upright do set up tabernacles only, seeking another country, and as knowing the uncertainty upon which this world standeth. For though the habitation of the wicked be a house, and rooted in the earth, yet it shall not only be shaken, but overthrown, and though the abiding of the upright be but a tabernacle pinned to the earth, yet shall it stand so safely that it shall flourish like a rooted tree. Wherefore, when in the Revelation we read “Woe to the inhabitants of the earth” (chap. Proverbs 8:13), St. Jerome understands it of the wicked only. For a godly man is not an inhabiter of the earth, but a stranger and a sojourner. And his tabernacle doth so flourish, that it reacheth to heaven, for he hath his dwelling in heaven to whom the whole world is an inn.—Jermin.
The “house of the wicked” may be a most prosperous one, and may seem to be full of peace; but it is doomed. It must become “desolate,” literally astonished; which is the Eastern way of describing grand downfalls. “But the tent of the upright” (another intensive clause) his slenderest possessions; like a sprout; like some poor tender plant, shall bloom forth. Such is the meaning of “flourish.”—Miller.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:12
WHAT SEEMS TO BE AND WHAT IS
I. Human nature needs more light than is found in the human conscience. The way which “seems right unto a man” may be “the way of death.” A mariner who has insufficient light to observe correctly the needle in the compass, may think he is steering for the haven when he is taking the vessel straight upon the rocks. He may be very sincere in his conviction that he is going right, but his thinking so will not make it so. He needs more light than he has. So the light of conscience is not enough to guide a man with certainty in the true and right way. If conscientious sincerity was an infallible guide Paul would not have “delivered to prison” men and women for being followers of Jesus of Nazareth (Acts 22:4). The way that in his ignorance seemed right to him, was felt by him to be a “way of death” when his conscience was enlightened. Conscience may be deadened by sin, or warped by prejudice or self-interest; it is not a reliable and certain guide. If it were, it was needless for the Son of God to visit the earth and make known the will of His Father—the revelation of God’s will in the books of the Old and New Testaments is a superfluity. The existence of the Bible is explained by the fact which is found to be true by all God-taught men, that “the way of man is not in himself: it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps” (Jeremiah 10:23). God, by speaking unto men in “sundry times and in divers manners,” and especially “in these last days by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1) declares plainly that man needs something outside of himself to guide him into that path of righteousness which alone is a way of life. The history of the world confirms this truth. Observation of every-day life tells the same tale.
II. The need of human nature has been fully met. All that the mariner needs in order to keep the vessel’s head right is light to see the compass. God in Christ is a sufficient light to man. Paul says: “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). Christ Himself tells us that it is those only who “follow Him” who have the “light of life” (John 8:12). That the way thus revealed is fully adapted to meet man’s need is proved by the results which follow from walking in it. The progress which a sick man makes towards health is the most convincing proof of the efficacy of his physician’s treatment. The light which is shed upon men by the revelation of God, and especially by the Gospel, has been proven by its result upon individuals and upon nations, to be all-powerful to turn men from “darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God” (Acts 26:18). The way of sin is the way of death—death morally, socially, and physically. The w ay of holiness is the only way of spiritual life to the soul and to the community, and ensures victory over the penalty of bodily death.
THE LAST WORDS OF HILDEBRAND.—One of the greatest of the sons of earth (if we measure greatness either by posthumous fame or posthumous influence) lay on his death-bed. Prelates, princes, priests, devoted adherents and attendants stood around. Anxious to catch the last accents of that once oracular voice, the mourners were bending over him, when, struggling in the very grasp of death, he collected, for one last effort, his failing powers, and breathed out his spirit with the indignant exclamation, “I have loved righteousness and hated iniquity, and therefore I die in exile.” … That he went into the unseen world consciously and deliberately with a lie in his right hand, is a supposition utterly inadmissible. Passionate earnestness and intense conviction were stamped upon all his words and works.… He had climbed by the slippery steps of intrigue to the Papal throne, and to set that throne above all the thrones of the earth, and to cause everyone, “both small and great, rich and poor, free and bond,” to bow down in the dust before it, was thenceforward his sole aim and object.… It was for this that he enforced that celibacy of the clergy which has ever since been the law of the Church. He found thousands of married priests ministering at her altars in innocence of heart, thinking no sin, and fearing no dishonour.… He commanded them to put away their wives on pain of excommunication, which meant deprivation of all rights, spiritual, social, and human.… One cry of indignation, one prolonged and bitter wail of agony, arose throughout Europe, from the Apennines to the Baltic Sea.… Wives were torn from their husbands, children from their fathers. Popular fanaticism allied itself with Papal tyranny.… There was no pity for worse than widowed wives, and worse than orphaned children flung out upon the cold world to starve. The Pontiff trod his stern, remorseless way over broken hearts.… But he had a dangerous antagonist to encounter.… The Holy Roman Empire and the Holy Roman Church were together to dominate the world. But which of them was to dominate the other? Hildebrand’s long contest with Henry IV. may be said to have decided the question. But with what weapons was it fought? We see the gallant Saxons tempted by bribes and promises to revolt, and then, in their hour of distress, treacherously abandoned by him who was at once their ally and “spiritual father,” and to whom they addressed in vain those noble and pathetic remonstrances which, even to this day, cannot be read without emotion. Thus Hildebrand “loved righteousness.” … But the Pontiff, so stern to his antagonists, could be mild to his allies. Keen swords in strong hands were necessary to support his power, the heaviest swords in Europe were borne by Norman knights. Robert, the conqueror of Sicily, William, the conqueror of England, were the representative men of this fierce and fiery race.… They were bloody, avaricious and unscrupulous. No more cruel conquerors ever turned a fruitful land into a waste, howling wilderness. No more remorseless oppressors ever trod down the poor with a heel of iron.… But their crimes were unrebuked by Hildebrand.… William was “addressed in the blandest accents of esteem and tenderness,” while Robert, the tyrant of Sicily, “was embraced and honoured as the faithful ally of Rome.” Thus Hildebrand “hated iniquity.” That “way” in which he walked all his life long with a consistency of purpose and intensity of energy that moves our admiration, seemed “right unto himself,” nay, it seemed to be preeminently the way of righteousness, but what shall we say of “the end thereof.”—Etchings from History, by Miss Alcock. See Sunday at Home, February 15th, 1879.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Souls perish always with surprise … But yet the seeming here noted must be taken cum grano. Deep in the lost heart is the knowledge of its “end,” rather its “afterpart.” The way lasts for ever, and its afterward “is the ways of death!” Deep in the lost man’s heart he knows all this, and this makes a dark ground for his gaieties. (See next verse).—Miller.
There are some ways which can hardly “seem right” to any man—the ways, namely, of open and flagrant wickedness. But there are many ways, which, under the biassing influence of pride and corruption, “seem right,” and yet their “end” is “death.”
I. The way of the sober, well-behaved worldling. He thinks of the law as if it had been only one table, the first being entirely overlooked. He passes among his circle for a man of good character, and flatters himself, in proportion as he is flattered by others, that all is right.… But his way is not the way of life, for God is not in it.
II. The way of the formalist. He follows, strictly and punctually, the round of religious observance.… But his heart has not been given to God. The world still has it. He compromises the retention of its affections for the things of sense by giving God the pitiful and worthless offering of outward homage. But it will not do. Those services cannot terminate in life, which have no life in them.
III. The way of the speculative religionist. From education, or as a matter of curiosity, he has made himself an adept in religous controversy. He holds by the creed of orthodoxy, and imagines that this kind of knowledge is religion. But speculative opinion is not saving knowledge—is not the faith which “worketh by love” and “overcomes the world.”—Wardlaw.
Good intentions are not a justification for wrong doing (2 Samuel 6:6). Judges 17:6 gives an awful illustration of the end of “every man doing that which is right in his own eyes.” (Cf. the prohibition of this, Deuteronomy 12:8.)—Fausset.
This may be his easily besetting sin, the sin of his constitution, the sin of his trade. Or it may be his own false views of religion: he may have an imperfect repentance, a false faith, a very false creed. Many of the Papists, when they were burning the saints of God in the flames at Smithfield, thought they were doing God service.—A. Clarke.
The self-delusion of one ends in death by the sentence of the judge, that of another in self-murder; of one in loathsome disease, of another in slow decay under the agony of conscience, or in sorrow over a henceforth dishonoured and distracted life.—Delitzsch.
Sin comes clothed with a show of reason (Exodus 1:10); and lust will so blear the understanding, that he shall think there is great sense in sinning. “Adam was not deceived.” (1 Timothy 2:14), that is, he was not so much deceived by his judgment—though also by that too—as by his affection to his wife, which at length blinded his judgment. The heart first deceives us with colours; and when we are once a-doting after sin, then we join and deceive our hearts (James 1:26), using fallacious and specious sophism, to make ourelves think that lawful to-day which we held unlawful yesterday.… But it falls out with us as with him that, lying upon a steep rock, and dreaming of good matters befallen him, starts suddenly for joy, and breaks his neck at the bottom. As he that makes a bridge of his own shadow cannot but fall into the water, so neither can he escape the pit of hell who lays his own presumption in the place of God’s promise.—Trapp.
Some say, surely God will not punish a man hereafter who conscientiously walks up to his convictions, although these convictions be in point of fact mistaken. They err, knowing neither the inspired word of God nor natural laws. Do men imagine that God, who has established this world in such exquisite order, and rules it by regular laws, will abdicate, and leave the better world in anarchy? This world is blessed by an undeviating connection between cause and effect; will the next be abandoned to random impulses, or left to chaos?… It is not even conceivable that the direction of a man’s course should not determine his landing-place.… Perhaps the secret reason why an expectation so contrary to all analogy is yet so fondly entertained, is a tacit disbelief in the reality of things spiritual and eternal. We see clearly the laws by which effects follow causes in time; but the matters upon which these laws operate are substantial realities. If there were a firm conviction that the world to come is a substance, and not merely a name, the expectation would naturally be generated, that the same principles which regulate the divine administration of the world now, will stretch into the unseen, and rule it all.… Truth shines like light from heaven; but the mind and conscience within the man constitute the reflector that receives it. Thence we must read off the impression, as the astronomer reads the image from the reflector at the bottom of his tube. When that tablet is dimmed by the breath of evil spirits dwelling within, the truth is distorted and turned into a lie.—Arnot.
There is no way which doth not seem right in his eyes who liketh to go in it. For man is led in all things by a seeming good; and such is the foulness of doing amiss, that it must put on the painted colours of doing right, or else it cannot draw the eyes of man’s mind unto it. But it is the not seeing the end which causeth the seeming rightness of the way, and it is to man that it seems so, who is so apt to be deceived. He that hath a long fight, and in the beginning can see the end, he maketh the shortest journey and speedeth the best in it. If the beginning be a due consideration of the end, the end will be a beginning of true joy and comfort. It is not so in the way which seemeth to be right. For being but a way, it is passed and ended, and then begin the ways of death, which are said to be many, because there is an endless going on in them.—Jermin.
Proverbs 14:13. The heart is sorrowful, or “will be” (perchance).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:13
TRUE AND FALSE MIRTH
This proverb, as it stands in our English version, cannot be taken as universally true. The first clause is rendered by some translators—“Even in laughter the heart may be sorrowful” (see Critical Notes), and experience and Bible teaching both necessitate our giving a limitation to the second clause also.
I. Whether mirth will end in heaviness depends upon its character—therefore upon the character of the man who is mirthful. There is an innocent and right mirth, there is an ill-timed, guilty mirth. The end of lawful mirth is not heaviness. It is good for the body. A physician is glad to see his patient mirthful. He knows that it will act most beneficially, and assist his recovery to health. A mirthful man will not suffer so much physical injury from the wear and tear of life as one who is always sombre and melancholy. Lawful mirth is good for the mind. It is the unbending of the bow which breaks if it is kept always at its extreme tension. A man who is naturally mirthful—who is ever disposed to see men and things in their brightest colours, must be a creature of hope, and hope has power to surround those who possess her with a paradise of their own creation, which is very independent of outward circumstances. Natural, wholesome mirth will make a man much stronger to do and to bear all the duties and trials of life. But natural, lawful mirth is only proper to godly men. Christians are the only people in the world who have reason to be glad. All those who are worthy of the name ought to be able, amidst all the saddening influences of life, to hold fast such a confidence in God as shall leave room for the play even of mirth. But the man who is in a state of alienation from God has no reason to be mirthful, his mirth must be either feigned or the result of a thoughtless disregard of his own relations to God and eternity. The “end” of such mirth must be “heaviness.”
II. Laughter is not always an index of feeling. There is doubtless much that passes for mirth among the ungodly that is merely a blind to conceal intentions or feelings deeply hidden in the soul. The seducer laughs at the fears and misgivings of his victim, but his laugh is not the laugh of the light-hearted, God-fearing man. Its very ring tells any unprejudiced hearer that there is a flaw somewhere, and it is only assumed to enable him to effect his purpose. In such laughter there may not be present actual sorrow, but there is an entire absence of gladness of heart. But laughter often veils the deepest and most heartfelt misery. The poor drunkard will laugh at the debauchery of the past night while he feels a bitter consciousness of his degradation. Many a man laughs with his gay companions, and all the while sees a dread future rising up before him which he trembles to meet. The character of him who laughs will afford the best clue by which to determine whether or not the laughter is the outcome of genuine mirth.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Already the wise king was beginning to experience what he more fully states in Ecclesiastes 2:2; Ecclesiastes 7:6. Men’s very pleasures turn into their opposites.—Fausset.
Not of its own nature, of course; for a proverb has already said that there is a “joy” which is not our foe. Not this is always the case; but there is such a case. Because the wicked get nothing really but their “ways” (Proverbs 14:14).—Miller.
The sun doth not ever shine: there is a time of setting. No day of jollity is without its evening of conclusion, if no cloud of disturbance prevent it with an overcasting. First God complains, men sing, dance, and are jovial and neglectful; at last man shall complain, and “God shall laugh at their calamity.” Why should God be conjured to receive that spirit dying which would not receive God’s Spirit living?—T. Adams.
As soon might true joy be found in hell as in the carnal heart. As soon might the tempest-tossed ocean be at rest as the sinner’s conscience (Isaiah 57:20-21). He may feast in his prison, or dance in his chains.… But if he has found a diversion from present trouble, has he found a cover from everlasting misery? It is far easier to drown conviction than to escape damnation.… But the end of that mirth implies another with a different end. Contrast the prodigal’s mirth in the far country with his return to his father’s house when “they began to be merry.”—Bridges.
Every human heart carries the feeling of disquiet and of separation from its true home, and of the nothingness, transitoriness of all that is earthly; and in addition to this, there is many a secret sorrow in everyone which grows out of his own corporeal and spiritual life, and from his relation to other men; and this sorrow, which from infancy onward is the lot of the human heart, and which more and more deepens and diversifies itself in the course of life, makes itself perceptible even in the midst of laughter, in spite of the mirth and merriment, without being able to be suppressed or expelled from the soul, returning always the more intensely, the more violently we may for a time have kept it under, and sunk it in unconsciousness. From the fact that sorrow is the fundamental condition of humanity, and forms the back-ground of laughter, it follows that it is not good for man to give himself up to joy, viz., sensual (worldly), for to it the issue is sorrow.—Delitzsch.
There are two sorts of joys—the joy natural and the joy spiritual; the joy of vanity and the joy of verity; a joy in the creature and a joy in the Creator; a joy in a mutable thing and a joy in a matter immutable. The spiritual joys are the joys of the palace. The natural joys are the joys of prisoners. These are to worldlings that are without God seeming joys, because they know no better. They cannot get Penelope, they will be suitors to her maidens.… The godly are like the ant, they are first weary, then merry; but the ungodly are like the grasshopper, first they sing and then they sorrow.—Bishop Abernethy, 1630.
Proverbs 14:14. Filled with, i.e., “satisfied with.” Stuart translates the latter clause, “Away from him is the good man,” i.e., he will keep aloof from the backslider.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:14
SATISFACTION AND DISSATISFACTION
I. The position and character of the backslider. The word suggests that there has been a time in the past when his moral standing was high. There must have once been a going forward, if there is now a sliding backward. Up to a certain time progress was made. Of many followers of our Lord it is written that from a certain period “they went back and walked no more with him.” (John 6:66). They had walked with him in outward discipleship at least, and it is probable that their hearts had been more or less influenced for good. Their “walking no more” was a going back probably in outward life, certainly in right disposition towards the Christ of God. The man of our text is “a backslider in heart.” Then there must once have been a going forward of his soul towards God and goodness, an onward movement towards righteousness and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. But the forward movement has ceased—the retrograde movement has set in within the man, although it may not immediately be seen in his outward conduct. Solomon was himself a sad example of a backslider. In his early days his heart was turned towards his God, his desires after righteousness were strong, his moral progress a reality. No one can read his dedication prayer without feeling that the man who offered it stood in right relations with his God—that his aspirations were after righteousness of heart and life. He is himself a proof of the certain fact that a man can terribly deteriorate in character even after he has given evidence of a progression in the good and the right way.
II. His portion. “He shall be filled with his own ways.” Retribution will flow from both his past and present character. The remembrance of what he once was will embitter the present. To think of what might have been is in itself a hell when a man feels that by his own act he is now far lower in the moral scale than he once was. How it must embitter the misery of the fallen angels to remember that they once stood sinless before God’s throne, and, but for their own act, would stand there still. In one of the writings of Lucian, he represents the ghost of a man who has left the world coming up for judgment before the bar of Rhadamanthus. He had lived so depraved a life that his judge exclaims that a new punishment is needed that will be in some degree adequate to his unparalleled villany. A poor cobbler, standing by, suggests that it will be enough if the cup of Lethe, which was supposed to obliterate all remembrance of the past, and which each shade was permitted to drink as he passed from the dread tribunal, should, in this instance, be withheld. And the criminal was therefore condemned to remember for ever what he had done in life, and this was held to be retribution sufficient for the worst of crimes. And if this is true of every wicked man, surely to be filled with the remembrance of what he once was will be the bitterest cup that can be the portion of every backslider.
III. The portion of the godly man. He, too, shall be filled with his own ways, but it will be the fulness of satisfaction. The foundation of real happiness is in character alone. The blessedness of the Eternal God comes from nothing outside of Himself. It has its foundation in His own perfect character. So nothing outside a man can yield him satisfaction. It must come from what he is—from his partaking in some degree of the character of the ever-blessed God. In proportion as he approaches that—in proportion as he brings forth the fruits of righteousness—will he be conscious of a well-spring of satisfaction which is quite independent of outward circumstances. This well-spring has the advantage of being always at hand. A man may often find himself shut out from external sources of joy, death may part him from those who have largely ministered to his happiness, but wherever he is—whether in this world or another—a “well of water” which is “within him” (John 4:14) is always at hand. It is needless to remark that this well-spring does not originate with man, but is the outcome of relationship and communion with God.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Temporary backsliding may take place in the true children of God; but the “backslider” here is evidently he who, in the language of the apostle, “goes back unto perdition.” Solomon alludes to such perpetual backsliding on the part of those who thus prove themselves to have been no more than professors—“having the form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” Such characters, whatever appearances they present to the eye of men,—even of the people of God, with whom they associate, never were vitally and savingly one with Christ, and one with true believers in Him. This is as plainly affirmed as it is in the power of language to affirm it. “They went out from us but they were not of us; for if they had been of us they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us” (1 John 2:19).—Wardlaw.
Every spot is not the leprosy. Every mark of sin does not prove a backslider. “A man may be overtaken in a fault” (Galatians 6:1); or it may be the sin of ignorance (Leviticus 4:2., Hebrews 5:2) or sin abhorred, resisted, yet still cleaving (Romans 7:15-24). Backsliding implies a wilful step; not always open, but the more dangerous, because hidden. Here was no open apostasy, perhaps no tangible inconsistency. Nay, the man may be looked up to as an eminent saint, but he is a backslider in heart.—Bridges.
The upright is satisfied from his own conscience, which though it be not the original spring, yet is the conduit at which he drinks peace, joy, and encouragement.—Flavel.
The wicked are travelling; and they seek an end; and they confidently expect it, but they never get it. What they do get, therefore, is their journey. The old man has got about enough of travelling, but enough, if he be an impenitent man, of nothing else, in either world, whatever. The saint may have very little on the earth, but he has made more than his own journey. “The backslider in heart.” Not a Christian. A Christian never really backslides. Not, therefore, what our usage means, but a heart sliding back, as every lost heart does. The writer has but written a fresh name for the impenitent. Such a sliding heart will just have its journey at last, and nothing for it.—Miller.
What a world of sound theology lies in the deliverance of this verse—telling us how much the rewards and punishments of the Divine administration lie in the subjective state, apart from the objective circumstances.—Chalmers.
Good men know within themselves that they have in heaven a better and more enduring substance (Hebrews 10:34); within themselves, they know it not in others, not in books, but in their own experience and apprehension. They can feelingly say that “in doing God’s will”—not only for doing it, or after it was now done, but even while they were doing it—“there was great reward” (Psalms 19:11). Righteousness is never without a double joy to be its strength: “Joy in hand and in hope, in present possession and in certain reversion” (Bernard).—Trapp.
All engineering proceeds upon the principle of reaching great heights or depths by almost imperceptible inclines. The adversary of men works by this will. When you see a man who was once counted a Christian standing shameless on a mountain-top of impiety, or lying in the miry pit of vice, you may safely assume that he has long been worming his way in secret on the spiral slimy track by which the old serpent marks and smooths the way to death … Whatever the enormity it may end in, backsliding begins in the heart … There is a weighing beam exposed to public view, with one scale loaded and resting on the ground, while the other dangles high and empty in the air. Everybody is familiar with the object, and its aspect. One day curiosity is arrested by observing the low and loaded beam is swinging aloft, while the side which hung empty and light has sunk to the ground. Speculation is set on edge by the phenomenon, and at rest again by the discovery of its cause. For many days certain diminutive but busy insects had, for some object of their own, been transferring the material from the full to the empty scale. Day by day the sides approached an equilibrium, but no change took place in their position. At last a grain more removed from one side and laid in the other reversed the preponderance, and produced the change. There is a similar balancing of good and evil in the human heart. The sudden outward change proceeds from a gradual inward preparation.—Arnot.
Every man, both good and bad, shall feel himself sufficiently recompensed for his service.—Dod.
“A good man shall be satisfied from himself.”
I. He can bear his own company, his own thoughts. What is it that makes solitude so irksome to mankind? They cannot bear reflection.… Generally, we know, all is not right. Men do not like to look steadily at themselves, because, like the bankrupt tradesman who dreads striking a balance, they have a secret suspicion that their lives will not bear a rigid scrutiny … The good man does not fear to probe his wound to the bottom.
II. He is independent, as other men are not, of earthly vicissitudes. Men who have their portion here are never safe. The world is a disappointing world, but the good man’s eyes are opened to see the glories of a better … It is a doomed world, but his treasure is safe … Let other men be suddenly driven from the pleasures, occupations, and companions with which habit has made them familiar, and they are like shipwrecked voyagers whose wealth has all gone down in the vessel in which they sailed. He is like a man who has escaped to shore with a casket of jewels in which his whole fortune is invested.
III. He stands for judgment, not at the world’s bar, but at the tribunal of his own conscience. “It is a small thing,” said St. Paul, “that I should be judged of you, or of man’s judgment.” Was he, then, a morose man who cared nothing about his neighbours? No, but his conscience was ruled by God’s law, and in the very act of submitting himself to Christ as the Lord of his life and soul, he became comparatively independent of all besides.—J. H. Gurney.
Proverbs 14:16. Rageth, “is presumptuous,” or “haughty.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 14:15-18.
REVELATIONS OF CHARACTER
I. Four marks of a foolish man. When a piece of ground is left to itself—left in the hand of nature alone, without the intervention of the hand of man—there will be a variety in its productions, but there will be no wheat—no grain to give seed to the sower and bread to the eater. When human nature is left to itself there will of necessity be a variety in its productions, but, however unlike they may be in many respects, they are all alike in this, that they are equally unprofitable to God and injurious to man. We have here—
1. The man who believes too much in others. “The simple believeth every word.” It is possible to have too much faith. The blessedness of having it in abundance depends entirely upon the foundation upon which it rests—upon the object in which a man trusts—in the person in whom he believes. Those who have faith in the words of men and women of worthless character—like the young man of chap. Proverbs 7:7—will find their ruin will be in proportion to the confidence. We stigmatise as a fool the man who shows his purse to any wayfarer whom he meets upon the high road; we know that his fellow-traveller may be only seeking a fitting time and place to rob him. In this world of fallen men and women we must withhold our faith until we have some knowledge. There are many now in the world whose foolish credulity has led to the other extreme of universal scepticism. From believing everybody and everything they have come to believe nothing, and to brand “all men” as “liars.” He who begins by being a “simple one,” who believeth every word, will most likely end in being a disbeliever and a scoffer. We are not required to believe in God without ground for our belief. He does not demand from us an unreasoning credulity, but an intelligent faith.
2. The man who believes too much in himself. He “rages,” or is presumptuous, and is “confident.” As the foolishness of the first man took the form of over-confidence in others, so this man shows his want of wisdom by undue confidence in himself. (On this character see Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 12:15, page 271.)
3. The man who is easily offended. Such a man reveals his folly by the insignificance of the matters which generally arouse his passion. The man who is “soon angry” is generally more angry about trifles than about things of importance. A parent who is easily vexed by his children’s transgressions is generally most severe in punishing those that really least deserve punishment. Such a person does not take into account the amount of moral wrong done, but the amount of immediate and personal inconvenience which he suffers. For if a man is “soon angry” he has no time to put things in their right light—to weigh the offence in the balance of right and of reason. The man who is soon angry shows that his mind is not filled with high and noble aspirations; if it were, there would be no room for vexation at small offences. God is “slow to anger,” because only things worthy of His notice can arouse it—because He is filled with high and holy purposes of good towards the human race. (See also on chap. Proverbs 12:16, page 272.)
4. The man who, by wicked plots against his fellow-men, incurs their hatred. This man possesses more mental activity than the others. But he uses it against himself, because he uses it against his fellow-men. “He is of wicked devices,” and “is hated.” A man cannot devise plans of evil any more than of good without mental labour. Probably Satan is the most active creature in the universe. He is ever “going to and fro in the earth, and walking up and down in it.” And many of his human children imitate him in this respect. This man has not the simplicity of him who “believeth every word,” nor of him who haughtily rejects the counsel of others, nor of him who allows his feelings to carry him away. He sets about his plans with cool deliberateness, but he is a fool for all that. He is a fool, because, as we have seen over and over again, his plans of wickedness will not only fail, but will overthrow himself (see chap. Proverbs 12:3; Proverbs 12:5; Proverbs 12:7). But the special element of foolishness in the man of wicked devices which is here noted is that his way of life is sure to bring him the hatred of his fellow-creatures. No man can afford to set at nought the good-will of his fellow-men. To be an object of universal execration is only the lot of a man who lives to injure others, and it is a very poor investment of life to put it to a use which will only bring such interest.
II. The marks of a wise man.
1. He walks through life with caution. To say that a man “looketh well to his going” is only saying that he acts like a rational and responsible creature. Even the animals, in obedience to the instinct of self-preservation, look to their goings, and avoid many dangers which beset them. The smaller birds, though apparently flying about without any care, have a quick eye for the hawk soaring above them, or for the cat crouching beneath. All creatures, whether brutes or men, instinctively look to their goings so far as regards their bodily life. The traveller on a dangerous road instinctively picks his way—does not set down his foot without looking to see where there is firm ground to tread upon. The man whose lot is cast in a city where a pestilence is raging naturally takes all possible precautions to avoid the infection. A mariner does his best to guide his vessel clear of rocks and quicksands. The prudent man extends this caution to every act of his life. As a merchant, he weighs probabilities before he embarks in any enterprise. He does not enter into speculations as men engage in a game of billiards. He considers the results of his actions in relation to others as well as to himself. Above all, he looks to his goings in relation to their morality; he frames his life, as we have before seen (chap. Proverbs 13:14), according to the law of God within him in his conscience, and without Him in the revealed word.
2. He walks thus cautiously because he recognises moral danger. He “fears.” This makes all the difference in the lives of men. Some recognise the fact that they are in a world full of moral pit-falls and rocks which will be their ruin unless they take heed to their ways, and others do not. Some know the moral atmosphere is laden with moral pestilence, but others do not discern its impurity. The wise man “departs from evil” because he “fears” it—fears it in itself as a soul-destroying power. When a man is a partaker of Divine wisdom, he as instinctively “departs from evil” as he would involuntarily turn aside if he saw a deadly serpent lying in his path, or would parry a sword-thrust made at him by an adversary. His main business is, not to take care of his life, but of his character.
III. The respective reward of the wise and foolish. The first are crowned by an increase of knowledge, the second have an inheritance; but it is only to be given over to their foolishness. The wise man’s moral sense becomes more developed, “by reason of use” it is more and more able “to discern good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). He is more and more removed from that simplicity which “believeth every word”—he can “try the spirits, whether they are of God (1 John 4:1), while the foolish man is more and more the dupe of his own credulity, or of his own self-conceit, and becomes more and more the slave of uncontrolled passion.
ILLUSTRATION OF Proverbs 14:17
Socrates, meeting a gentleman of rank in the street, saluted him, but the gentleman took no notice of it. His friends, observing what passed, told the philosopher that they were so exasperated at the man’s incivility that they had a good mind to resent it. But he calmly made answer, “If you meet any person in the road in a worse habit of body than yourself would you think you had reason to be enraged with him on that account. Pray, then, what greater reason can you have for being incensed at a man for a worse habit of mind than any of yourselves?”
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 14:15. He who applies himself to wisdom takes heed of his own ways, foreseeing dangers, preparing remedies, employing the assistance of the good, guarding himself against the wicked, cautious in entering on a work, not unprepared for a retreat, watchful to seize opportunities, strenuous to remove impediments, and attending to many other things which concern the government of his own actions and proceedings. But the other kind of wisdom is entirely made up of deceits and cunning tricks, laying all its hope in the circumventing of others, and moulding them to its pleasure, which kind Proverbs 14:8 denounces as being not only dishonest, but also foolish.—Lord Bacon.
“The simple believeth every word,” whether true or false, useful or injurious. Charity, indeed, “believeth all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7), but not things that are palpably untrue. It is the truth which it readily believes. It believes all that it can with a good conscience to the credit of another, but not anything more. Epicharmus says, “The sinews and limbs of faith are not rashly to believe” (Acts 17:11). “The prudent man looketh well to his going”—whether it tends to grace and salvation, or to sin and perdition; he “believeth not every word”—as, for instance, the flattering words of seducers, who commend to him false doctrine or licentious practice (Ephesians 5:15).—Fausset.
We may apply the verse in all its emphasis of meaning to eternal concerns. The simple hear different persons on the subject of religion, and take for granted that all they hear is right. They are easily bewildered by sophistical arguments; led away by appeals to feeling; swayed and mastered by false eloquence; seduced by flattery. They are the sport of all that is novel—“tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine. On the contrary, when interests so vast are at stake the prudent man will feel his way, taking nothing upon trust. He first bends his earnest thought to the question of the divine authority of the Bible—a question next in importance to that of the being of God; and having ascertained its authority, he will go to it, with humble-minded candour and anxiety, to learn its lessons. Having the map he will examine for himself the way to heaven. Having a divine directory, he will trust no human guide.—Wardlaw.
History is full of examples of men who have lost their lives by means of their credulity, amongst whom were those great men, Abner and Amasa.… Some have been betrayed into the worst of sins, by believing groundless reports of others, as Saul in the case of David, and we might almost add, David himself in the case of Mephibosheth. The nation of the Jews was threatened with desolation by the easy temper of Ahasuerus, who believed without examination the malicious suggestions of the wicked Haman.… The whole world was ruined by the simplicity of Eve, and the easy credit she gave the serpent.—Lawson.
To believe every word of God is faith. To believe every word of man is credulity. Admit only the one standard; like the noble Bereans, who would not believe even an apostle’s word, except it was confirmed by the written testimony (Acts 17:11).—Bridges.
We are not willing to be blindfolded at our meat, nor to eat our supper without a light, especially in strange places, where we neither know well the fidelity of our host, nor what dishes are set before us, and shall we be more provident for the outward man, than for the inward? Shall we keep out of our bodies such food as is not wholesome and savoury, and receive into our souls such food as will poison us?… No wrong is thus done to any man. We use to tell silver and to weigh gold, and yet we prejudge not them at whose hands we receive them.—Dod.
Trust is a lovely thing, but it cannot stand unless it get truth to lean on.… It is a well-known characteristic of the little child to believe implicitly whatever you tell him … It remains a feature of the child until it is worn off by hard experience of the world.… In this world a man is obliged to be suspicious. Man suffers more from man than from the elements of nature or the beasts of the field. A time is coming when this species of prudence will be no longer needed. When the people shall be all righteous, there will be no deception on one side, and no distrust on the other.—Arnot.
A prudent man looks forward to the consequences of things, and particularly to the consequences of his own conduct. O, how much misery and mischief might be avoided or prevented by attending only to this single principle, for what are most of the calamities we see in the world owing to but this—that men will not look before them? To the want of this wise foresight Moses attributed all the rebellions and enormities of the Jewish people, and therefore breathed forth this ardent prayer on their behalf, “O, that they were wise, that they understood this, that they would consider their latter end” (Deuteronomy 32:29).—Mason.
Proverbs 14:16. The “evil” from which the “wise man departeth” may mean either suffering or sin. Both may with propriety be included, the one being the cause of the other.—Wardlaw.
Fear is sometimes thought to be an unmanly principle. But look at the terrible extent of the evil dreaded. Without it is vanity and disappointment (Romans 6:21). Within it is the sting of guilt (1 Corinthians 15:56). Upward we see the frown of God (John 3:36). Downward everlasting burnings (Mark 9:44). The fool, however, never fears till he falls.… Such a fool was the raging Assyrian, blindly confident in his own might, till the God whom he despised turned him back to his destruction (2 Kings 19:28-37).—Bridges.
He (the good man) can never trust in himself, though he be satisfied from himself (Proverbs 14:14). He knows that his sufficiency is of God; and the fear that causes him to depart from evil is a guardian to the love he feels. Love renders him cautious; the other makes him feel confident. His caution leads him from sin, his confidence leads him to God.—A. Clarke.
They which are in greatest safety are farthest from carnal security. The godly have not so many sins as the wicked, and yet they feel them more, and fear them more, and flee from them faster. And the wicked have not more valour than the godly, nor so much freedom from punishment, and yet go beyond them in audacity and fleshly confidence. When David was dealt with by Nathan, he confessed his fault, he craved pardon, he set his heart to seek help from heaven against his sin; but when Ahab was spoken to by Macaiah, he persecuted the prophet, he proceeded in his purpose, he promised himself a safe return. Josiah, hearing the law of the Lord read by Shaphan, rent his clothes in grief and fear, but Jehoiakim hearing the words of God read by Baruch, in regard of the curses therein denounced, did tear the book and burn it in wrath and fury.—Dod.
A wise man knows that the enemy is strong, and that his own defences are feeble. His policy therefore is, not to brave danger, but to keep out of harm’s way. He seeks safety in flight. The fool’s character is mainly made up of two features; he thinks little of danger and much of himself. He stumbles on both sides alike. That which is strong he despises, and that which is weak he trusts. The dangers that beset him are great, but he counts them as nothing; the strength that is in him is as nothing, but he counts it great. Thus he is on all hands out of his reckoning, and stumbles at every step.—Arnot.
As a foolish fear is a betrayer of the strength of man, so a wise fear is the safety of him. Wherefore Cyprian saith, the divine wisdom hath found out an excellent policy that by the help of fear we should be delivered. Great is the benefit of God’s providence, that sometimes fear is made both a virtue and a victory. A wise man departeth from evil before he cometh to it, for then the parting, as most easily, so is most happily made.—Jermin.
Fear a religious principle. The beginning of religion in the heart is a subject of curious inquiry and of great practical importance. There is no sufficient reason for supposing that it is in all men alike, we have no rule for saying that religion must either necessarily, or that it does usually proceed from the same cause. Different men are affected by different motives; and what sinks deep into the heart of one, makes little impression upon another.… Thus it is, that religion sometimes, not seldom indeed, has a violent origin in the soul, and begins in terror: “A wise man feareth and departeth from evil.”—Paley.
Proverbs 14:17. Some pettish spirits are like fine glasses, broken as soon as touched, and all on fire upon every slight and trifling occasion; when meek and grave spirits are like flints that do not send out a spark but after violent and great collision; feeble minds have a habit of wrath, and, like broken bones, are apt to roar with the least touch: it argues a very unsanctified spirit to be so soon moved. Let it be like the fire of thorns, quickly extinct.—Salter.
As small letters hurt the sight, so do small matters him that is too much intent upon them; they vex and stir up anger, which begets an evil habit in him in reference to greater affairs.—Plutarch.
A man who falls into a passion does indeed commit a folly, but yet is far preferable to the coldly and selfishly calculating villain.—Von Gerlach.
“A man of wicked devices,” one, who when offended, represses the indications of his anger, all the while meditating revenge, and waiting for the opportunity when he can wreak it. As “he that is soon angry dealeth foolishly” as regards himself, so he that wickedly deviseth revenge, while deferring the expression of his anger, bringeth on him the “hatred” of others. Thus there is danger on both sides, in hastiness, and in deferring anger through malice. The latter is the worst offence.—Fausset.
The more hot-pulsed sinner may be lost; but the deep-set fool excels him both in guilt and danger. Alas! for the well-complexioned, coolly-settled, morally-esteemed, and long-established hypocritical professor. It is not all thinking that this book applauds, but that which is discriminate, the watching of our feet.—Miller.
Though religion alloweth to be angry, yet it forbiddeth to be soon angry, because he that is soon angry is as soon dealing foolishly. The haste of his choler maketh him to outrun his understanding, and the smoke of his anger putteth out the light of his judgment.—Jermin.
To be angry is to revenge the faults of others upon ourselves.—Pope.
As fine gold doth suffer itself to be tried in the fire six or seven times, and yet the heat of the fire doth never change its nature or colour; or as good corn is first threshed with the flail, and then winnowed with the wind, and yet is neither broken with the one nor carried away by the other; even so we should suffer ourselves to be tried by injuries, and yet not by impatience, through anger, change our nature, nor yet our colour, nor be carried away with any inconvenience.—Cawdray.
Proverbs 14:18. This proverb is especially instructive with respect to the deep inner connection that exists on the one hand between foolish notions, and a poor, unattractive, powerless earthly position, destitute of all influence,—and on the other hand between true wisdom and large ability in the department both of the material and the spiritual. Von Gerlach pointedly says, “There is a certain power of attraction, according as a man is wise or foolish; the possessions also which the one or the other attains are in accordance with his disposition.”—Lange’s Commentary.
The child of Adam is born to folly (Job 11:12). That is his inheritance. He received it from his first father (Genesis 5:3; Psalms 51:5). So long as he remains simple, he confirms the title. Unlike an earthly inheritance, he cannot relinquish it. He holds it in life, he still holds it firm in death, and reaps its bitter fruits throughout eternity.—Bridges.
The prudent has not inherited much at this present date. He has not much of the world. He has not much of another. How shall we express his excellence? He has this poor thing that he calls piety. Where is its worth to him? Why, its worth to him is that it is a splendid “crown.” He makes a crown of knowledge. That is, he takes his piety, which is a mean, weak beginning, and makes it the badge of a glorious sovereignty. The Christian is a king. And by this is meant, that, when he becomes pious, everything becomes subject to him (1 Corinthians 3:22).—Miller.
The world says that none dies without an heir: Religion says that none dies without an inheritance. Everyone dying in this world is heir to himself in the next world.—Jermin.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:19
A LEVELLING LAW
I. This law is now manifest to the inner life of the wicked. If a wicked man has any sense of right and wrong, he is conscious of the superiority of the good man. There is an inward bowing down of the evil to the good which is as real, although invisible, as any outward bending of the person of one man before another. Indeed it is far more real than much outward homage. There are many outward and visible bendings and bowings which are mere matters of form, which are only made to keep up appearances. But the involuntary bowing of the evil man’s soul in the presence of the good man is a real act of homage, although there is in it an element of unwillingness. There is a compulsory consent, so to speak, of the man himself against himself. But this genuflexion of soul is no mere pretence.
II. The good man is also conscious of it. He knows that it is so because in the constitution of the universe good is made to rule evil, because the head of the one kingdom—the kingdom of evil—is compelled to acknowledge the authority of the head of the kingdom of good. His own moral consciousness tells him that it must be so, and he has the declaration of God to confirm it. “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper, and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of Me, saith the Lord” (Isaiah 54:17).
III. What has been occasionally manifested in the outward life, and what is always the inner experience, will one day be universally visible to all the universe. The revelation of God tells us that there will be a universally visible manifestation of the submission of the evil to the good. And our sense of justice demands that it should be so. A day will come when, at the name of Incarnate Goodness, “every knee shall bow” (Philippians 2:10), and the servants will have a portion of like reverence. “The sons also of them that afflicted Thee shall come bending unto Thee; and all they that despised Thee shall bow themselves down at the soles of Thy feet” (Isaiah 60:14).—See also Revelation 20:4. It is also revealed to us when this visible manifestation shall take place. “In the end of this world,” at the close of the present dispensation, “the Son of Man shall send forth His angels, and they shall gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity … then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father (Matthew 13:40-43). “For this manifestation of the sons of God” they wait with “earnest expectation;” “creation groans” for it; Christ Himself awaits it at “the right hand of God” (Hebrews 10:12-13; Romans 8:19-22).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
At one time or other, in one respect or other, the ungodly serve and crouch to the godly. Sometimes they that fear the Lord are lifted up to honour, and then the evil men bow themselves before them. Sometimes, again, the righteous wax rich through God’s blessing on their labours, and then come the wicked to their gates for alms and relief. Not only the poor ones, but the great ones, who yet are wicked ones, seek and sue now and then with all submission to the godly for their counsel and help. And I cannot tell how, but such a majesty there is in the godly oftentimes, that most desperately wicked men reverence their faces, and are silent or courteous in their presence.—Muffet.
This is not the general rule in the present dispensation. Righteous Lazarus bowed at the rich man’s gate (Luke 16:20).… But “the upright shall have dominion over the wicked in the morning” (Psalms 49:14; Malachi 4:1-3). “The saints shall judge the world” (1 Corinthians 6:2).—Bridges.
There have been instances in which this proverb was verified in a very remarkable manner. The Egyptians bowed down before Joseph, and Moses, and the Israelites. The proud king of Babylon almost worshipped the captive Daniel, and Elisha’s favour was solicited by three kings, one or two of whom were bad men.—Lawson.
The wicked serve the righteous; and whether they do it knowingly, they do it wholly, and through eternal ages.—Miller.
In times of worldly prosperity, and while the wicked flourish, there is none more lifted up in pride and bravery of outward shows than they are; there is none, then, less esteemed, and more despised, than the good and righteous are. They shall give long attendance before the gates give way to them, and when they are entered a proud eye shall mightily overlook them, a scornful language shall throw them down at their feet. Wherefore Augustine calleth riches wings, by which men in pride fly not only above others, but themselves also. But if the time alter, and either some storm of common calamity beat upon them, or else the hand of God privately seize on them, then none are more dejected than the wicked, none then more esteemed than the righteous are by them. Then their ways are to the gates of the righteous, and much bowing there is to entreat their prayers unto God, and to obtain help and comfort from them. Then Dives, but fearing hell only, already sees Lazarus in heaven, and fain would come unto him.—Jermin.
Proverbs 14:21. Poor, or “suffering” (Delitzsch).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:20-21
AN AGGRAVATED CRIME, A QUESTIONABLE VIRTUE, AND A PRESENT BLESSING
I. A fourfold sin. A man who despises or hates his neighbour sins—
1. In the simple exercise of the feeling. Hatred, or even the act of despising another, is in itself a sin. Here we must distinguish between hatred of the person and hatred of his practices—between despising a man himself and despising his actions. God Himself hates and abhors evil character, but he makes a distinction between a man’s character and the man. To hate or to despise any human creature is devilish.
2. By hating or despising him for his poverty. Poverty is a calamity often—always a burden and a cross. It is that for which a man should be pitied, and on account of which he should receive the sympathy of his fellow-men. Poverty is a burden heavy enough in itself, to add to it in any way is diabolical.
3. Because he hates and despises his fellow-sufferer. It is not a man beneath him, of whose trials he is ignorant, but his neighbour, one with whom he is on a level. The proverb speaks of one poor man hating another. Cases are not uncommon in which men who have risen from poverty to wealth hate and despise the class from which they have risen even more than those do who were born to rank and wealth. And sometimes men who have risen are hated by those whom they have left behind in the race. But for a poor man to dislike and to despise another poor man for his poverty, is a most unnatural and aggravated crime. A common calamity generally makes men feel a kinship for each other. Those who partake of a common lot generally feel a common sympathy. The poor do not generally hate and despise the poor. The poor man who does commit this sin against his neighbour commits a double sin against himself, for he knows himself the trials of his poor brother, and, therefore, does not sin through ignorance or inconsiderateness.
4. Against God. God “putteth down one, and setteth up another” (Psalms 75:7). It is His ordination that “the poor shall never cease out of the land” (Deuteronomy 15:11). They are His especial care (Psalms 12:5, etc.), and He will count any addition to their burden as a wrong to Himself.
II. A questionable virtue. “The rich hath many friends.” Friendship with a rich man may spring from social equality. There is a natural tendency in men who are equals in anything to form friendships with each other. Men of the same moral standing do so, men of the same intellectual attainments are attracted to each other, and men who are equals in social rank and in wealth are, by the force of circumstances, often thrown into each other’s society, and so a friendship which is real may be formed. But it is a more questionable bond than that which unites men in the two first-mentioned cases. It may be only a counterfeit of the genuine article, and it is nothing more if wealth is the only bond. Friendships formed upon similarity of intellectual and moral wealth have a far firmer foundation, because they rest upon what is inseparable from the man himself, while friendship founded upon riches has for its foundation what may at any time take to itself wings and fly away. Or the friendship may be one of social inequality. A poor man may attach himself to a wealthy man. This, too, may be genuine. The friendship may be built upon something which both value more than wealth; but if the friendship of the rich with the rich is regarded with doubt, and requires adversity to test it, much more does the friendship of the poor for the rich. The proof of the genuineness of the metal is the fire, the proof of the seaworthiness of the vessel is the storm, and it is an universally recognised truth that the proof of friendship is power to come uninjured through the fire and storm of adverse circumstances.
III. A present blessedness. “He that hath mercy on the poor, happy is he.”
1. Happy because “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35), because gladness always comes to the heart when an effort has been made to lighten another’s burden.
2. Happy in possessing the gratitude and confidence of his poor brother.
3. Happy because he wins the favour of God. (See on Proverbs 14:31).
ILLUSTRATION OF Proverbs 14:20
The bees were haunting the flowering trees in crowds, humming among the branches, and gathering honey in the flowers. Said Gott-hold, “Here is an image of temporal prosperity. So long as there is blossom on the trees, and honey in the blossom, the bees will frequent them in crowds, and fill the place with their music; but when the blossom is over, and the honey gone, they too will disappear.” Temporal gain is the world’s honey, and the allurement with which you may entice it whithersoever you will; but where the gain terminates, there likewise do the love and friendship of the world stop.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 14:20. Alas! it is a mystery of knowledge to discern friends: “Wealth maketh many friends” (chap. Proverbs 19:4); they are friends to the wealth, not to the wealthy. They regard not qualis sis, but quantas, not how good thou art, but how great. They admire thee to thy face, but inwardly consider thee only as a necessary evil, yea, a necessary devil.… Worldly friends are like hot water, that when cold weather comes, are soonest frozen. Like cuckoos all summer they will sing to thee, but they are gone in July at furthest; sure enough before the fall. They flatter a rich man, as we feed beasts, and then feed on him.—T. Adams.
How former friendship etween two persons may be transformed into its opposite on account of the impoverishment of one of them, is impressively illustrated by our Lord’s parable of the neighbour whom a friend asks for three loaves (Luke 11:5-8).—Lange’s Commentary.
The same word in the original which signifieth a friend signifieth a neighbour also, because a neighbour should be a friend. But though a rich man hath friends far and near, a poor man is hated even of his neighbour. He that best knoweth his wants and should most of all pity them, doth least regard him and use him worst. He that is nearest at hand to help him is farthest off from helping him. Wherefore the neighbourhood of man being so bad, God becometh his neighbour, and as it is in the Psalms (Psalms 109:31). “He standeth at the right hand of the poor to save him.”—Jermin.
Proverbs 14:21. The impenitent is the poorest among men; and he who neglects him, and lets him go on in his iniquity, of course, is a cruel sinner. “They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that lead many to righteousness, as the stars for ever and ever.” He who despises his neighbour “sins,” literally “misses,” “blunders.” He wastes a splendid opportunity, not only for his neighbour, but for himself. The appeal is to self, and is made more intense where, instead of “despising” our neighbour, we actually “devise evil” against him (See next verse).—Miller.
1. There is sin against the arrangements of God’s providence.
2. Against the frequent and express commands of His word (Deuteronomy 15:7-11); Luke 12:33; Luke 14:12-14).
3. Against the manifestation of His distinguishing love. God has not only avowed Himself jealous for the poor, but “to the poor the gospel is preached,” and of those who become the subjects of God’s grace, and heirs of glory, a large proportion belong to this class.
4. In the contempt of God’s threatened vengeance against all who neglect them, and of His promised special favour to all who treat them with kindness.—Wardlaw.
We show our contempt of the poor, not only by trampling upon them, but by overlooking them, or by withholding that help for which their distress loudly calls. The Levite and the priest that declined giving assistance to the wounded traveller on the way to Jericho, were notorious breakers of the law of love in the judgment of our Lord. The Samaritan was the only one that performed the duty of a neighbour.—Lawson.
Through the gate of beneficence doth the charitable man enter into the city of peace … God makes some rich, to help the poor; and suffers some poor to try the rich. The loaden would be glad of ease: now charity lighteneth the rich man of his superfluous and unwieldy carriage. When the poor find mercy they will be tractable; when the rich find quiet, they should be charitable. Would you have your goods kept in peace? First, lock them up by your prayers, then open them again with your thankful use, and trust them in the hands of Christ by your charity.—T. Adams.
He that hath mercy on the poor maketh the other’s misery to be his own happiness, and as the other is comforted by it, so is he blessed by it. Blessed he is by the poor and his prayers for him, blessed he is by God and His favours upon him. Tabitha had reached out her hand to give unto the poor, and Peter reacheth out his hand in delivering her from death. She had bestowed clothing on the poor, and life is bestowed upon her. Wherefore the exhortation of Chrysostom is, “those things which God hath given us, let us give Him again, that so with advantage they may be again made ours.”—Jermin.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:22
A FATAL ERROR AND A CERTAIN GOOD
I. The mistake of devisers of evil.
1. They err in relation to the success of their plans. They think that their wicked devices will succeed, or they would not go to the labour and trouble of devising them. But they make a fatal mistake, because they ignore another plan, which embraces theirs. They forget that there may be a circle of action outside their circle, which may circumvent all their schemes. A man may look at the sea from the lower deck of a vessel and think he can see all that is to be seen. But his thinking so would only prove him to be a fool. The man at the masthead can see much further. A traveller on a plain may have an extensive view, but he who is on the mountain-top takes in all that he can see, and much besides. So it is with the man who devises evil. He can see a little way before him and around him, he thinks, therefore, that he can take in the whole situation at a glance, and can see what is needful for him to do and what can be accomplished to bring his plans to pass. But there is more beyond; God takes a higher position and has a wider outlook. He takes in not only all that the wicked man has seen, but much that he does not see. “He taketh the wise in their own craftiness; and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong” (Job 5:13). The device of Haman was so well planned that it seemed to him certain of success. But Mordecai’s God had a plan which embraced and out-flanked that of the murderer. The device of Joseph’s brethren seemed to embrace all that was necessary to accomplish his ruin, but it was utilised by the righteous Ruler of the Universe to bring to pass his exaltation. The device of evil against the Divine Son of God is the most palpable instance that the universe has ever seen of the short-sighted error of wicked men.
2. He errs because he will meet with retribution in his own person. Human rulers are sometimes involved in much perplexity because, although they know that plots are being woven against their government, they are not only at a loss to find a plan by which to bring home the crime to the conspirators, but feel they have no force strong enough to punish them if they are convicted. But God is never at a loss either for means to defeat the purposes of those that devise evil, or to punish them for their devices. He is never driven, by want of power, to yield to those who oppose the good—who work iniquity. (See Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 12:12-14, page 268.)
II. The reward of devisers of good. “Mercy and truth.”
1. Even a deviser of good needs mercy. The very act of devising good sometimes brings a man to need mercy of his fellow-man. Daniel devised nothing but good to the king of Babylon, but his very uprightness made him an object of envy and brought him into a condition to need mercy. Or a deviser of good may err in judgment. The best intentioned man is liable to make mistakes. No human being, however benevolent his life, can claim to be exempt from moral infirmities which will sometimes mislead him. Every man therefore needs that his fellow creatures should mingle charity with their judgment of him and with their conduct towards him. And he always needs mercy from God. No saint of ancient or modern times has ever been beyond the need of God’s mercy, although their very name implies that they are devisers of good.
2. He equally needs truth. He needs to be able to depend upon the word of another, he needs a certainty of being justly dealt with. A man’s success in business largely depends upon his being able to rest upon the fair dealing of others. He wants truth in others to meet his own truthfulness—as he strives to deal justly, and to love mercy, so he desires to be dealt with justly as well as mercifully.
3. Both these needs shall be met. Sometimes by men, always by God. Experience and history furnish us with many exceptions to the first. Those men of God who have been most eminent devisers of good have often met with anything but mercy and truth from those whom they have desired to benefit. Ignorance or envy has risen up against them, and so the missionary has been slain by the club of the savage abroad, and the reformer has been made the mark of slanderous tongues at home. But everyone has found the testimony of the inspired word to be true in his own experience: With the merciful Thou wilt show Thyself merciful. With an upright man Thou wilt show Thyself upright (Psalms 18:25).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
If wicked men employ their thoughts to contrive mischief, and show so much diligence in the service of sin, although they have such a miserable reward, let God’s people exercise the same diligence in the service of righteousness, by seeking out and seizing opportunities of doing good, and their labour shall not be in vain in the Lord.—Lawson.
Scripture traces actions to principles. Wicked as it is to do evil, it is far more hateful to devise it (see Proverbs 14:17). Devising evil, therefore, if it comes not to the act, shows the purpose (chap. Proverbs 24:8).—Bridges.
To him who lays himself out in planning and executing designs of benefit to others, there shall be “mercy and truth.” From his fellow-men he shall experience universal love and esteem. He shall find sympathy in his distresses and reverses, faithfulness in dealing (for if anything will secure a man from being cheated and defrauded, it will be a character for disinterested kindness), and the general exercise of practical gratitude. And the Lord will make him to experience His love, and will fulfil to him faithfully all His “precious promises.”—Wardlaw.
Solomon here is no lawgiver, but an evangelist, leading us unto Jesus Christ. For we can obtain no mercy but in Him only. For “the promises of God are yea and amen in Him.”—Cope.
Can any one see any flaw in “Mercy” and “Truth?” Mercy is pure benevolence; and truth is that other quality of the good, which is commanded in the first table of the law, and answers to a love of holiness. Is there anything right, outside of “Mercy and Truth?” Is there anything wrong that the vilest rebel can detect in either one of them? Must “they not err that devise evil,” if for no other cause than that “Mercy and Truth” stand on the opposite side, and, through eternal ages, are busy in devising good?—Miller.
Aristotle relateth of Socrates that he affirmed all virtues to be sciences, all sins to be ignorances. And Aquinas saith of it, that therein he judged in some sort rightly because the will never would incline to evil, unless it were with some ignorance and error of reason. The question, therefore, is not here asked of him that deviseth evil, for he thinketh himself to be right, he doth not think that to be evil which he doth, nor himself to err in doing of it. He attaineth to the end at which he aimeth, and that persuadeth him that he aimeth aright. But so to be in the right way, is quite to wander from the right way; and howsoever such an one may not err in his plans and plots, yet doubtless he erreth from the ways of life.—Jermin.
Mercy and truth were the best that David could wish for his fast friend Ittai (2 Samuel 15:20). These two attributes of God shall cause that good devices shall not miscarry. His mercy moves Him to promise, His truth binds Him to perform. “For Thy word’s sake, and according to Thine own heart Thou hast done all these things” (2 Samuel 7:18-21). “According to Thine own heart,” that is out of pure and unexcited love, Thou didst give Thy word and promise, and “for Thy word’s sake,” Thou hast performed it.—Trapp.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:23
THE PROFIT OF LABOUR
1. The profit of social honour. It is both natural and right that a man should desire the respect and good-will of those around him. Nothing is more certain than that he who lives without working in some form or another, either for himself or for others, will not receive this reward. Those who are poor, and do nothing, sink into beggary and consequent dishonour; those who are rich, and have nothing to do—or rather, who do nothing—are not held in honour, either in life or after death. “Pray, sir, of what disease did your brother die?” said the Marquis Spinola one day to Sir Horace Vere. “He died, sir,” was the answer, “of having nothing to do.” “Alas!” said Spinola, “that is enough to kill any general of us all.” Honour cannot come from idleness, but labour brings not only honour while living, but gives us a title to be regarded with respect after we have left the world. Of no man who has lived to any purpose can it ever be said that he died of having nothing to do.
2. The profit of bodily health. A body which does not labour, either with brain or hand, is an easy prey to disease. The brain if used becomes strengthened for further use. The whole bodily frame is kept in health by wholesome work.
3. Profit to the moral nature. Labour calls for some form of self-sacrifice. It developes habits of painstaking and diligence which are helpful to a man’s moral nature. It helps the spiritual part of the man by helping the bodily, inasmuch as a strong and healthy body is the best instrument for a morally healthy soul.
4. The profit of material gain. In all free countries a man gets some wages for work. It may not be a fair remuneration, but there is some profit of this kind attached to it. There are, of course, exceptions to this proverb, as for instance, the labour of the man who devises evil in the former verse, or that of those whose poverty compels them to work, even to the injury of soul and body, for a miserable pittance which is not worthy the name of wages. Such, alas, is the lot of many even in our own country. The antithesis of this proverb, simply states that talk will not do instead of work. When men do nothing but talk, their talk is certain to be of that worthless kind condemned in chapter Proverbs 10:19 (See Homiletics on page 168).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Get leave to work
In this world—’tis the best you get at all;
For God, in cursing, gives us better gifts
Than man in benediction. God says “Sweat
For foreheads,” men say “Crowns” and so we are crowned,
Ay, gashed by some tormenting circle of steel
Which snaps with a secret spring. Get work, get work;
Be sure ’tis better than what you work to get.
Be sure, no earnest work
Of any honest creature, howbeit weak,
Imperfect, ill-adapted, fails so much,
It is not gathered as a grain of sand,
To enlarge the sum of human action used
For carrying out God’s end.
There is a perennial nobleness, and even sacredness in work. Where he never so benighted, forgetful of his high calling, there is always hope in a man that actually and earnestly works: in idleness alone is there perpetual despair. Work, never so mammonish, mean, is in communication with nature: the real desire to get work done will itself lead one more and more to truth, to nature’s appointments and regulations, which are truth. The latest gospel in this world is, Know thy work and do it. “Know thyself:” long enough has that poor self of thine tormented thee; thou wilt never get to “know” it, I believe! Think it not thy business, this of knowing thyself; thou art an unknowable individual; know what thou can’st work at; and work at it, like a Hercules! That will be thy better plan. It has been written, “an endless significance lies in work,” a man perfects himself by working. Foul jungles are cleared away, fair seed-fields rise instead, and stately cities; and withal the man himself first ceases to be a jungle and foul unwholesome desert thereby. Consider how, even in the meanest sorts of labour, the whole soul of a man is composed into a kind of real harmony, the instant he sets himself to work! Doubt, Desire, Sorrow, Remorse, Indignation, Despair itself, all these like hell-dogs lie beleaguering the soul of the poor day-worker, as of every man: but he bends himself with free valour against his task, and all these are stilled, all these shrink murmuring far off into their caves. The man is now a man. The blessed glow of labour in him, is it not as purifying fire, wherein all poison is burnt up, and sour smoke itself thereby is made bright blessed flame?—Carlyle.
Industry need not wish; and he that lives upon hopes will die fasting. There are no gains without pains, then help hands, for I have no lands, or, if I have, they are smartly taxed. He that hath a trade hath an estate, and he that hath a calling hath an office of profit and honour; but then the trade must be worked at, and the calling followed, or neither the estate nor the office will enable us to pay our taxes.—Franklin.
He that labours is tempted by one devil; he that is idle by a thousand. Italian Proverb.
As in religion, it is not the man who speaks but the man who does that gives proof of his sincerity; so in earthly business, it is not the man who talks fluently, and lays down plausible schemes of business, but the man who labours and does all his work that has reason to expect the blessing of Providence. Those that wear their working instruments in their tongues are always the most useless, and sometimes the most hurtful members of society.—Lawson.
A busy tongue makes idle hands. If the mouth will be heard, the noisy loom must stop; and he who prefers the sound of his tongue to that of his shuttle, had need at the same time be a man who prefers talk to meat, hunger to fulness, starvation to plenty.—Wardlaw.
Rich beyond conception is the profit of spiritual labour (chap. Proverbs 10:16). “The Son of Man gives to the labourer enduring meat. The violent take the kingdom of heaven by force. The labour of love God is not unrighteous to forget” (John 6:27; Hebrews 6:10). But the talk of the lips gives husks, not bread. Where there are only shallow conceptions of the Gospel, and no experimental enjoyment of Christian establishment, it is “all running out in noise.” Says Henry: “There is no instruction because there is no ‘good treasure within’ (Matthew 12:35). “What manner of communications are these that ye have one to another?” is a searching question (Luke 24:17). Ministers, doctrines, the externals, circumstantials, disputations on religion—all may be the mere skirts and borders of the great subject, utterly remote from the heart and vitals.… A religious tongue without a godly heart tendeth only to penury.—Bridges.
This is a difficult sentence. We have found it hard to vindicate its sense. The grammar is all obvious, and on that very account the reading is singularly fixed. But “all labour” is anything else than “profitable;” and the “talk of the lips” (chap. Proverbs 31:26) is one of the grandest ways of doing good among men. We understand it in a religious sense. All these proverbs might be worldly maxims, some of them actually in use; all of them with a show of wisdom; some of them utterly unsound; but all of them, when adopted by the Holy Ghost, and turned in the direction of the Gospel, true, in their religious aspect. So, now, in this peculiar instance, “all labour” might seem to promise well among the thrifty, but sometimes ruins men, even in this world, and is sure to ruin them, if worldly, in the world to come. But now, as a religious maxim, it is without exception. “All labour” of a pious kind is marked, and will be gloriously rewarded out of the books of the Almighty. “All labour” of the impenitent, for their soul’s salvation, has “profit;” literally, something over. It brings them nearer. If continued long enough, it will bring them in; that is, if it be honest (Hebrews 11:6); while “the talk of the lips,” or, possibly, “an affair of the lips,” that is, mere intention, does “only” mischief. Mark the balance between “all” and “only.” Seeking is “all” of it an advance. Intending is “only” a retreat. One gains a step, the other loses one. Starting up actually to work, if honest, is an advance towards wealth; while intention, which is but an affair of the lips, tends only to make us poor indeed.—Miller.
When God gave man this curse, in labour thou shalt eat, he gave labour this blessing, to increase and multiply. It is a plant that prospereth in any soil, it is a seed that taketh well in any ground. For the labourer’s hire is never kept back by God … Talking is not truly labour, the labour is rather to hold one’s peace. According as St. Ambrose speaketh “It is a harder thing to know how to be silent than how to speak. For I know many to speak, when they know not how to hold their peace.” But it is a rare thing for any man to hold his peace, when to speak no way doth profit him. But no labour is so well spared as this, and sitting still is nowhere so commendable as in the lips.—Jermin.
They that painfully and conscientiously employ themselves in any vocation, how base and contemptible soever it seem to be, are in the Lord’s work, and Him they serve, as the apostle speaketh even of bondmen, and is it possible that His workmen shall work without wages or sufficient allowance? He reproveth those men which neglect to give to the hireling his recompense for his travail, or fail in due time to discharge it, and shall we think then that He will be careless of His own servants Himself? They have God’s word for their security that they shall not be unprovided of so much as is expedient for them. If He say once that in all labour there is profit, they shall never have cause to contradict Him.—Dod.
It is only by labour that thought can be made healthy, and only by thought that labour can be made happy; and the two cannot be separated with impunity.—Ruskin.
Proverbs 14:24. Or, “It is a crown to the wise when they are rich, but the folly of fools remains folly” (Delitzsch).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:24
WEALTH WITH AND WITHOUT WISDOM
I. Both a wise man and a fool may attain to wealth. The intellectually wise, and the man who lacks mental ability, may both possess great riches. There are many who have vast estates and no more wisdom to manage them than an infant, and there are those whose ability is equal to their wealth and position. So with moral wisdom. Abraham, the friend of God, “was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold” (Genesis 13:2). Job, who had the Divine testimony to his “perfectness” and “uprightness,” was “the greatest of all the men of the east” (Job 1:3). But many godless men like those mentioned in our Lord’s parables (Luke 12:16; Luke 12:20; Luke 16:19-24) have “much goods laid up for many years,” and “are clothed in purple and fine linen, and fare sumptuously every day.” God is no respecter of persons in the distribution of temporal good in the shape of riches, but if there is any leaning to one class of character more than to another, He would seem rather to favour the ungodly. Because such “have their portion in this life” (Psalms 17:14) and in this life only; because they have only this heaven upon earth; because they have no desire and conception of anything higher; it seems as if the Ruler of the universe often gives them the only good they are capable of appreciating. Some of the most miserable specimens of humanity that the world has ever seen have sat upon thrones, and a few of the greatest of God’s human children have likewise wielded sceptres. So with the crown of wealth; it has been and is worn by men quite irrespective of moral character, but the preponderance seems to be in favour of the moral fool. Looked at in the light of eternity there is no injustice or even mystery in this.
II. But wealth is an adornment to the wise man only. If you dress an Ethiopian in pure white linen you will not change the colour of his skin. The man is what he was though his raiment is changed, and the whiteness of his garments makes his skin look all the blacker. If a tree is barren, the most costly and perfect artificial fruit placed among its leaves will not add to its beauty. It will only produce an incongruity which will be altogether distasteful to the spectator. Its barrenness is only made the more conspicuous. So no wealth can give any dignity to a mental and moral fool. Wealth will not hide the intellectual barrenness, nor cover the black stains upon the man’s moral character. Nay, the wealth only brings them more prominently into view. However rich a fool is “the foolishness of fools is folly,” and nothing else. But a man who is wise enough to know how to use wealth—especially if he is good enough to put it to the highest and best uses—even though he be neither intellectually great or highly polished, will make his riches a crown—will so use them as to merit and receive the respect and goodwill of his fellow creatures. Wealth looks best upon the head of one who possesses both intelligence and goodness, but whenever it is studded with the gems of a wise and sympathetic liberality it is a royal diadem—it makes its wearer a king.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The Christian is rich in this world. We read in the 18th verse of the “prudent making a crown of knowledge.” Aladdin was rich when he had nothing but his lamp. If a ray of faith puts creation in bondage to a saint, then not only is his “knowledge a crown,” but “his crown is his wealth.” What needs Aladdin further than his lamp? The sovereignty of saints, even in a forlorn world, makes a perfect opulence; while “the folly of fools,” seeing that it could give place to this; seeing that he also could have the lamp; seeing that the crowned princes, the very best of them, were fools like him; and therefore, that it can only be because he is a fool that he does not throw off his folly;—all this explains the closing clause, which is terse in its very quaintness; for, for the very reason that “the crown of the wise is their wealth, the foolishness of fools is folly.”—Miller.
Though, as a fearful temptation (Matthew 13:22; Matthew 19:23), no wise man would desire riches; yet as the gift of God (1 Kings 3:13; Psalms 112:3)—the gift, indeed, of His left hand (chap. Proverbs 3:16)—they may become His crown. What a crown they were to David and his wise son, as the materials for building the temple (1 Chronicles 29:1-5; 2 Chronicles 5:1); and to Job, as employed for the good of his fellow-creatures (Job 29:6-17). So that, though wisdom under all circumstances is a blessing, it is specially pronounced to be “good with an inheritance” (Ecclesiastes 7:11-12). It is necessary to distinguish between the thing itself and the abuse of it. Wealth is in fact a blessing, when honestly acquired and conscientiously employed. And when otherwise, the man is to be blamed, and not his treasure.—Bridges.
What is the most gorgeous and dazzling earthly crown compared with a diadem of which the component parts are the blessings of the destitute relieved, the ignorant instructed, the vicious reclaimed, the afflicted comforted, the dying cheered with the hope of life, the perishing rescued from perdition and brought to God!—Wardlaw.
If good men are spoiled of their wealth, they need not lament, as if they had lost their crown. For riches are an ornament of grace to the head of wise men, even when they are lost. Job’s patience in the loss of everything, did as much honour to him as his extraordinary beneficence whilst he was the richest man in the East. We honour his memory still more, when he sewed sackcloth upon his skin, and defiled his horn in the dust, than at the time when judgment was his robe and his diadem.—Lawson.
As a horse is of no use without the bridle, so are riches without reason.—Cawdray.
Not riches but wisdom gives a crown of glory (chap. Proverbs 4:9). “The prudent are crowned with knowledge,” not with riches; therefore, the sense is, Wisdom (the opposite of folly), being the crown of the wise constitutes their true riches,” and results in the heavenly riches; but the foolishness of fools is not riches to them, as the wise man’s crown of wisdom is to him, but is, and continues folly, i.e., emptiness—neither an ornamental crown nor enriching wisdom.—Fausset.
The seeming tautology of the second clause is really its point. “The foolishness of fools is.…” We expect something else, but the subject is also the predicate. “The foolishness of fools is foolishness.” That is the long and the short of it. Turn it as you will, it comes to that.—Plumptre.
Wisdom in a poor man is but a petty lord. He may rule himself well, but he shall have little command or power over others. Riches make a wise man a king, and as they crown him with honour by being well used by him, so do they extend his dominion far and wide. Many are subject to the law of his discretion, and the force of his wise authority prevaileth many ways. Well, therefore, doth the crown of riches sit upon his head, whose wise head it is that makes them to be riches. But riches in a fool are his bauble, whereby he maketh himself and others sport.… The wise being crowned by them are kings over their riches. They command them to their pleasure and use them to their honour. Whereas it is the folly of fools that they are galley-slaves to their own wealth.—Jermin.
Give riches to a fool and you put a sword into a madman’s hand; the folly of such fools will soon be foolishness. Why, was it not foolishness before? Yes, but now it is become egregious foolishness. To what end is a treasure, if a man have lost the key that leads to it.—Trapp.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:25
DELIVERANCE BY TRUTH
I. What is implied in a witness bearer. A witness is supposed to give light. Those who have to decide upon a matter seek for the evidence of those who are personally acquainted with the facts. They are expected to testify as to what they have seen and heard, and by thus throwing light upon the subject to further the cause of truth and justice. A witness can only give light by speaking the truth. The words of a truth-teller are like rays of sunlight falling upon an object that was before indistinct, they make plain things which without their aid would be incomprehensible. On the other hand the testimony of a lying witness surrounds everything about which he bears witness with a mist and a darkness, and so foils the efforts of those who are desiring to get a right view of the subject.
II. Life and death are often in the power of those who bear witness. The evidence of a truthful man delivers from death—or from worse than death—those who are innocent, whereas a false witness may deliver them up to punishment. The one is like the lighthouse which enables the sailor to bring his vessel safely into port, the other is like the false light of the wrecker, by means of which the ship is dashed to pieces on the rocks. The first witness for God in Eden who did not belong to the heavenly family was a “false witness who spoke lies.” He testified to Eve that God was a hard master, that He had imposed upon her restrictions from a selfish motive, that the punishment which had been threatened would not follow disobedience to the Divine commands. Since this first false witness led our first parents on to death, many a human witness has, in like manner, given to the world false views of the Divine Father which have ended in like results. Both Satan and his servants murder character by bearing false witness. The Incarnate Son of God was pre-eminently “The True Witness (Isaiah 55:4; Revelation 1:5). He came to deliver men by bearing witness of the true character of God from His own personal knowledge (John 17:25-26). “To this end was I born, and for this cause came I into the world, that 1 should bear witness unto the truth” “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 18:37; John 8:32). “The truth which Christ taught was chiefly on these three points—God, man, immortality.… He exhibited God as love, and so the fearful bondage of the mind to the necessity of fate was broken.… He taught the truth about the human soul, that it is not in its right place, that it never is in its right place in the dark prison-house of sin, but that its home is freedom, and the breath of God’s life.… He taught truth concerning immortality, that this life is not all; that it is only a miserable state of human infancy.”—(Robertson.) By such testimony this “true witness delivered souls”—“proclaimed liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound” (Isaiah 61:1). On this subject see also on chap. Proverbs 12:17, pages 274–276.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
We noticed that what crowned the wise was “truth” or “knowledge” (Proverbs 14:18). Truth to become knowledge must get into the heart. To do so it must be “witnessed.” We noticed under the second verse that a man staggered, that is, he did not walk in levelness, because he did not see clearly. But, per contra, if a man sees clearly he walks in level ways; and then, according to our present proverb, he “saves” unconsciously the souls of others. This is most clear when the view is negative. Let there be no witnesses of truth, and where are the saved? No sinners are rescued in a dead nation. Every Christian is a centre of light. The Church is but a body of Christians. Where there is no Church, where are the penitents? The truth intended to be conveyed is, that he who sees the truth spreads it. While he who sees only “lies,” which is an exact portrait of the unredeemed, serves in spite of himself as a delusion to his friends, and deceives them into unbelief just in proportion to his influence upon them. Woe be to the wife or child where the husband is a “deceived witness” (Proverbs 14:5). “Witness”—not in this case one who bears witness, but one who witnesses, in the sense of seeing.—Miller.
While true testimony may condemn, false testimony may acquit; while the former may destroy life, the latter may save it. It is probable, therefore, that the intended antithesis relates not so much to the actual fact of truth saving and falsehood condemning, as to the dispositions and intentions of the faithful witness on the one hand and the lying witness on the other. The faithful witness delights in giving testimony that may save life, that will be salutary and beneficial to his fellow-creatures. The lying witness will, in general, be found actuated by a malevolent and wicked purpose; having pleasure in giving testimony that will go to condemn the object of his malice. The sentiment will thus be—that truth is most generally found in union with kindness of heart, and falsehood with malevolence. And this is natural; the former being both good, the latter being both evil, falsehood being naturally more akin to malice, and truth to love. Wardlaw.
Here again there is something like tautology in the second clause. We expect “destroyeth life” as the antithesis to “delivereth souls.” But in this case also there is an emphasis in the seeming absence of it. “A deceitful witness speaketh lies.” What worse could be said of him? All destruction is implied in falsehood.—Plumptre.
It is the honour of God to be a deliverer of souls, and that is the honour of a true witness. He delivers his own soul and another’s: his own from the wrath of God, another’s from the injustice of men: his own from wickedness, another’s from injury. The deceitful man speaketh not one lie, but many. The lie of perjury to God, the lie of injustice to the judge, the lie of falsehood to the master. Not one but many lies, because one lie usually bringeth many others with it.—Jermin.
The special work for which Christians are left in the world is to be witnesses (Acts 1:8) … Christ does not send his angels to proclaim His word or to wield His power.… The evidence by which the spirit will convert the world is His truth, uttered from the word, and echoed, still and small, from the meek and quiet life-course of converted men … Two qualifications are required in a witness, truth and love (Ephesians 4:15): these are needed, but these will do … A witness, in contested cases, after giving evidence in chief, is subjected to cross-examination. A Christian’s profession is, and is understood to be, his direct and positive testimony that he is bought with a price, and that he is bound to serve the Lord who bought him: but as soon as this testimony is emitted, the examination begins. If he be not a true witness, he will stumble there. Either or both of two persons, with very different views, may subject a witness to cross-examination—the judge or the adversary. It is chiefly done by the adversary, and in his interests. The Supreme himself puts professing disciples to the test before the court of the world; but when He so tries His children, the truth comes forth purer and brighter by the trial. He who goes about as a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, tempts to destroy. He puts the witness to the question in order to break him down.… We speak of the evidences of religion, but, after all, Christians are the best evidences of Christianity … Let no man who bears Christ’s name lay the unction to his soul, that if he does no good he does no evil. One of the heaviest complaints made in the prophets against Jerusalem for her backsliding, is that she was a “comfort” to Samaria and Sodom (Ezekiel 16:54); that those who had the name and place of God’s people, so lived as to make the wicked feel at ease … If Christians live as like the world as they can, the world will think itself safe in its sin; and those who should have been the deliverers, will become the destroyers of their neighbours.—Arnot.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:26
A SURE REFUGE
I. What is to be found in the fear of the Lord? “Strong confidence.” The confidence is in the divine character, and is based upon a knowledge of it, in contrast to a false security which has its foundation in ignorance. There is a reverence of one being for another which is the outcome of ignorance, but this cannot generate that strong confidence which can be a sheet anchor to the human soul. The old Romans, in the early days of their history, had a reverence for their divinities, but it was a reverence of ignorance, it was a reverence for unrealities, and could never yield them that confidence which all men in all ages need to comfort them in trial and inspire them with hope in the mysteries of human life. There are men now who are quite ignorant of the Divine character and yet seem to possess great confidence that all will be well with them—that God, in fact, will not do what He has said He will do in relation to them. But this confidence is also false; it is based, not upon fear of the Lord, arising out of acquaintance with Him, but upon want of knowledge, and consequently upon disregard of His claims. But the strong confidence of our text is the fruit of a reverence which has its foundation in acquaintance with the holiness of the Divine Father, which is the outcome of a knowledge of His laws, of His threatenings, and of His promises. It is the confidence which a child reposes in a good parent, because it knows from experience—from an every-day contemplation of that parent’s life—what good grounds it has to reverence and to trust him. This confidence is strong enough to inspire the soul with courage to face the difficulties of human life and to vanquish them. Confidence in a fellow-creature is often inspiration. A soldier’s confidence in his general, a seaman’s confidence in his captain, inspires to the performance of deeds of heroism. And confidence in the living God, in that King who can do no wrong, in that leader who can make no mistake, has been the inspiration of millions of men and women in all ages and under all circumstances. It has been found strong enough to enable them to be heroes through a long life of poverty, of ignominy, of sickness, and it has sustained all in the hour of death, and many in the death of martyrdom. By the strength born of this “strong confidence,” they have “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire,” etc. (Hebrews 11:33-38).
II. This confidence gives men God for a refuge.
1. He is a present refuge from conscious guilt. This is a need which every man feels as soon as his conscience is awakened as surely as the man-slayer felt his want of a stronghold of defence from the avenger of blood. The God against whom man has sinned becomes, when His character is understood, the object of hope for pardon. The sinner can only “flee from God, by fleeing to God.”
2. He is a present refuge from all foes, whether spiritual or human. “Who is he that will harm you, if ye be followers of that which is good?” (1 Peter 3:13) is a question which can never be answered. It is impossible that the children of God can ever be without a resource in whatever peril of soul, body, or estate they find themselves, for—“If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31.)
The Rev. J. W. Fletcher had a profligate nephew, who was dismissed from his post as an officer in the Sardinian army. One day, by presenting a pistol to his uncle, General de Gons, he extorted from him a draft for 500 crowns. With this he called on Mr. Fletcher, and, as he exhibited it with exultation, Mr. F. took it, folded it up and put it into his pocket, saying: “It strikes me, young man, that you have possessed yourself of this note by some indirect method; and in honesty I cannot return it but with my brother’s knowledge and approbation.” Instantly the pistol was at his breast, and he was told, as he valued his life, to return the draft. “My life,” replied Mr. Fletcher, “is secure in the protection of the Almighty power who guards it.” This led the nephew to remark that his uncle De Gons was more afraid of death. “Afraid of death!” rejoined Mr. Fletcher, “do you think I have been twenty-five years the minister of the Lord of life to be afraid of death now? No, sir, thanks be to God who giveth me the victory! It is for you to fear death who have every reason to fear it. You are a gamester and a cheat, yet call yourself a gentleman.… Look, there, sir, look there! See the broad eye of Heaven is fixed upon us. Tremble in the presence of your Maker, who can in a moment kill your body, and for ever punish your soul in hell.” The youth was disarmed, and the interview ended in his uncle praying with him, and promising to give him a hundred crowns to relieve his immediate necessities.—From “The Proverbs Illustrated.”
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Fear is anything but a refuge in itself. But as faith was imputed to the patriarch for righteousness (Romans 4:22), so this need not cloud Christ’s merit. Christ has so saved us that fear becomes our hope. He who has experienced “fear” has gone into a retreat; nothing can dislodge him from it. If the lost tremble, let them learn to fear; for by fear they become children of God, and as children of God they have an eternal refuge.—Miller.
Fear hath torment (1 John 4:18; Acts 24:25). It is the trembling of the slave (Romans 8:15); the dread of wrath, not of sin. There is no confidence here. It is pure selfishness. It ends in self. There is no homage to God. But the true fear of God is a holy, happy, reverential principle (see Psalms 112:1; Psalms 33:18; Psalms 147:11); not that which love “casts out” (1 John 4:18), but which love brings in. We fear, because we love. We fear, yet we are not afraid (Psalms 112:1-7). The holiest and humblest is the most fixed and trusting heart. The fear of man produces faintness (Jonah 1:3; Gall. Proverbs 2:12). The fear of the Lord—such is the Christian paradox—emboldens. Its childlike spirit shuts out all terrors of conscience, all forebodings of eternity. Abraham sacrificed his son in the fear of the Lord; yet fully confident “that God was able to raise him up from the dead” (Genesis 22:12, with Hebrews 11:17-19).—Bridges.
What confidence shall be strong, if this is not strong? He confides in that which is all infinite:—the truth, the love, the wisdom, the power of his covenant God! Whatever the love of God has induced Him graciously to promise, no power or combination of powers in existence can stay from being done.—Wardlaw.
It does not mean that the fear of God is something on which one can rely, but that it has (Proverbs 22:19; Jeremiah 17:7) an inheritance which is enduring, unwavering, and not disappointing in God, who is the object of fear; for it is not faith, nor anything else subjective, which is the rock that bears us, but this rock is the object that faith lays hold of (Cf. Isaiah 28:16).—Delitzsch.
Gregory, writing upon those words in Job 4:6, “Is not this thy fear, thy confidence?” etc., saith that although Eliphaz did wrongfully reprove Job, yet he doth rightly set down the order of the virtues, when he joineth fortitude to fear, For in the way of God we must begin with fear that we may come to fortitude. For as in the course of the world boldness breedeth courage, so in the way of God it breedeth weakness, and as in the course of the world fear begetteth weakness, so in the way of God it bringeth forth confidence.—Jermin.
The fear which brings a sinner submissive and trustful to the sacrifice and righteousness of the Substitute is itself a confidence.… Those who went early to the sepulchre and looked into the empty grave where the Lord lay, departed from the place with “fear and great joy.” A human soul made at first in God’s image has great capacities still. In that large place fear and great joy can dwell together.… The filial fear of the children may be known by this, that it takes in beside itself a great joy, and the two brethren dwell together in unity.… “His children shall have a place of refuge.” They “are kept by the power of God.” … There are two keepings very diverse from each other, and yet alike in this, that both employ as their instruments strong walls and barred gates. Great harm accrues from confounding them, and therefore the distinction should be kept clear. Gates and bars may be closed around you for the purpose of keeping you in, or of keeping your enemy out. The one is a prison, the other a fortress. In construction and appearance the two edifices are in many respects similar. The walls are in both cases high and the bars strong. In both it is essential that the guards should be watchful and trusty. But they differ in this: the prison is constructed with a view to prevent escape from within, the fortress to defy assault from without. In their design and use they are exact contraries. The one makes sure the bondage, the other the liberty of its inmates. In both cases it is a keep, and in both the keep is strong—the one to keep the prisoner in, the other to keep the enemy out. The fear of the Lord to those who are within, and have tasted of His grace, is the strong confidence of a fortress to defend them from every foe; to those who look at it from without, it often seems a frowning prison that will close away the sunlight from all who go within its portals, and waste young life away in mouldy dungeons. Mistakes are common on this point, and mistakes are disastrous.… Though the refuge is provided, and the gate standing open, and the invitation free, poor wanderers stand shivering without because a suspicion clings to the guilty conscience, that the “strong tower” offered as a safe dwelling place will turn out to be a place of confinement from genial society and human joys.—Arnot.
FOR HOMILETICS ON Proverbs 14:27 SEE ON THE PRECEDING VERSE AND ON CHAPTER Proverbs 13:14 PAGE
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 14:26-27. The whole system of religion is expressed in the fear of God. A religion which makes this fear the principle of action implicitly condemns all self-confidence and presumptous security, enjoins a constant state of vigilance and caution, a perpetual distrust of our own hearts, a full conviction of our natural weakness, and an earnest solicitude for Divine assistance. It keeps men always attentive to the motives and consequences of actions; always unsatisfied with present attainments; always wishing to advance and always afraid of falling away. The blessings it brings in its train are—
1. Security. “Strong confidence.” “Place of refuge.” “Great is the confidence of a good conscience.” “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us, and He will deliver us” (Daniel 3:17). “None of these things move me” (Acts 20:24). When they told Numa that the enemy was at the gates, he simply answered, “But I am sacrificing.” When Antonius was threatened, he replied, “We have not so worshipped, neither have we so lived, that we should fear their conquering us” (Trapp). If such was the confidence of heathens, what should be that of Christians? God’s children “know in whom they have believed” (2 Timothy 1:12).
2. Consolation. “A fountain of life.” So called from the constancy of its supply. A confluence of blessings, grace here and glory hereafter—present and future—upper and nether springs. David combines both when he says, “Thou shalt guide me with Thy counsel and afterward receive me to glory” (Psalms 73:24). He refers to the future when he says, “Oh, how peat is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee, which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee before the sons of men!” (Psalms 31:19). Here he speaks not only of what God has laid up, but of what He has laid out—not only of what he has in prospect, but of what he has in experience.
3. Deliverance from dangerous temptations. “To depart from the snares of death.” “The way of this world is like the Vale of Siddim (Genesis 14:10), treacherous and slippery and full of snares” (Trapp). But he that fears the Lord has many safeguards. “The integrity of the upright shall guide them” (chap. Proverbs 11:3).—S. Thodey.
Proverbs 14:27. “The law of the wise” is “the fear of the Lord,” for of both the same things are predicted (chap. Proverbs 13:14).—Fausset.
Not only does Christian confidence open a cover from the guilt, but it roots out the power of sin. For among the countless throngs of the redeemed, not one finds a cover from condemnation, who is not renovated into spiritual life. Bridges.
The fear of the Lord teacheth wisdom, and wisdom teacheth that an evil feared is much the sooner avoided, and that it is a great safety of life to fear death. Wherefore St. Cyprian saith, “Be ye fearful, that ye may be without fear; fear the Lord, that ye may not fear death.” For the same fountain doth not send forth bitter waters and sweet; life and death do not issue from the same spring.—Jermin.
Proverbs 14:28. Miller translates “In a great people.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:28
A KING’S TRUE GLORY
I. Human rulers are dependent upon their people for honour.
1. The safety of the king’s crown depends largely upon the number of his subjects. This was certainly the case in the days of Solomon, and is so now to a large extent. Small kingdoms are very likely even in these days to be engulfed by more powerful states—by those who can bring into the field an overpowering number of warriors. Numbers hold the diadems on the heads of the rulers of the great nations of Europe. That Palestine was to some extent an exception to this rule was due to the especial providence of Jehovah—that it was ever overpowered by numbers was because its inhabitants forsook their covenant God. But the general rule holds good.
2. The prosperity of their land depends upon its being well populated. Other things being equal, a populous kingdom will do more business with other nations—will plant colonies and mix more with the inhabitants of other lands; and all these things extend a nation’s influence and so make its ruler’s position a more honourable one.
II. It is therefore a matter of self-interest that a ruler should govern his people righteously. This is a lesson which the potentates of the earth have been slow to learn although the page of history abounds with so many examples of the peril of disregarding it. It would be the destruction of the head if it were to say to the other members of the body, by which it is sustained in life and health, “I have no need of thee.” The existence of the one depends upon that of the other. And it is not less so with the body politic. The safety and honour of the king is bound up in the well-being of his subjects. Where the one is dependent upon the many, self-interest, as well as duty, point to his so ruling that his people may enjoy peace and prosperity and so multiply.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
There is a natural tendency in the population of a country to increase. When, therefore, population diminishes, there must be some cause counter-working nature. The subjects of a country may be wasted in destructive and depopulating wars; they may be driven by oppression to quit their native land, and to seek a refuge in more distant regions; they may be starved and reduced by measures that are injurious and ruinous to trade—measures that keep up the price of bread and depress the wages of labour.… The existence of a thriving vigorous population is a mark of freedom, of wise and impartial legislation; of paternal care—and it is the palladium of all that is desirable in the results of human rule.—Wardlaw.
A sentiment arrayed against feeble princes who nevertheless array themselves with disproportionate splendour; and this, as also Proverbs 14:34, is designed to call attention to the principle, that it is not external and seeming advantages, but simply and solely the inward competence and moral excellence, whether of the head or of the members of a commonwealth, that are the conditions of its temporal welfare.—Lange’s Commentary.
How great, then, is the honour of our heavenly King in the countless multitudes of His people! How overwhelmingly glorious will it appear when the completed number shall stand before His throne (Revelation 7:9-10); each the medium of reflecting His glory (2 Thessalonians 1:10); each with a crown to cast at His feet (Revelation 4:10-11), and a song of everlasting joy to time to His praise (Revelation 5:9).—Bridges.
All grades depend upon their inferiors. The poor have us in their power. To be kind to them is a dictate of common selfishness. Carried into a spiritual light, the truth becomes much wider. Half of heaven will be what we did for the poor. Solomon was familiar with this as a king; but he marks the sentence as one for all humanity. If a man wishes to be comfortable on earth, let him make his inferiors great. And, if he wishes to be rich in heaven, let him cultivate with assiduous zest the graces of the perishing.—Miller.
The occurrence of this political precept in the midst of the maxims of personal morality is striking. Still more so is its protest against the false ideal of national greatness to which Eastern kings, for the most part, have bowed down.—Plumptre.
The people are the king’s best treasury; in their scarcity he cannot be rich. Worthy was the speech of that Goth, a king of Italy, who, speaking of his subjects, saith, “Our harvest is the rest of all.”—Jermin.
NOTE.—The population of England and Wales in 1700 was about 5,475,000. At the beginning of the present century it was between eight and nine millions; it now exceeds twenty millions.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:29
I. There are times and occasions when wrath is not only allowable, but right. A man who is incapable of being angry lacks an element of perfection. Anger against wrong-doing is possible without any feeling of vindictiveness or malice towards the wrong-doer. There is much in the Bible about the “wrath of God” (Romans 1:18), although He is “love” (1 John 4:8). A child does not honour a parent the less, but the more, because he knows that parent can be angry when there is just occasion. Neither could we reverence God if He was a Being who could not be displeased.
II. But a man who is slow to wrath shows—
1. That he understands himself. Even the holy and all-perfect God is “slow to anger” (Nehemiah 9:17). Although He could not misjudge any creature, and although He could never by any possibility allow His wrath to exceed the bounds of perfect justice and righteousness, He is not “soon angry.” The man who understands his own frailty and short-sightedness will not allow anger to take possession of his spirit in a hurry, if he is to “be angry and sin not” (Ephesians 4:26), he must only be angry after due reflection upon the cause of his anger.
2. That he understands others. Hasty and passionate anger never convinces the offender of his guilt, but awakens wrath in his breast also. But the displeasure which is the result of calm consideration may carry some weight with it. On this subject see also Homiletics on Proverbs 14:17.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
“He that is hasty of spirit exalteth folly.” He gives folly for the time being the throne and sceptre of his mind, and fulfils her preposterous and mischievous dictates. And when reason, for the time deposed, resumes her vacated seat, she finds no easy task before her to repair the evils which have been done in the brief but stormy reign of passion.—Wardlaw.
I. The passion of anger is like wind to the ship: so it is to the soul called to steer its course to Immanuel’s land.
1. If there be a dead calm, and the winds blow not at all, or very weakly, the ship does not make way. And if men be so stupid, indolent, and unconcerned, that their spirits will not stir in them, whatever dishonour they see done to God, these are standing still in the way to heaven. And many there be, who are all fire in their own matters, but in those of God their hearts are dead as a stone. Such was the case of Eli: “His sons made themselves vile, and he restrained them not” (1 Samuel 3:13). It was not so with Paul: for “his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry” (Acts 17:16).
2. If the wind is brisk enough, but yet is contrary, the ship will at best have much ado with it, and may be driven into a shore which the crew desired not to see. So if men’s anger be in itself sinful, if their anger burn against what is good and just: such anger cannot fail of an unhappy event.
3. Though the wind be not contrary, yet if it be too impetuous and violent, it may dash the ship on rocks, and split it. So though men’s anger may have a just ground, yet if it prove excessive and boisterous, it may run men headlong into great mischiefs. Oft-times reason lets anger into the breast; but then anger turns out reason to the door, and carries on all precipitantly without reason or discretion: like one that brings in coal to his hearth, because of the cold, but unwarily lets it fall on tow, which sets the house on fire. II. He that is slow to wrath.
1. Is slow to take up anger in his own cause. It is wisdom indeed to be very tender of God’s honour, but more indifferent about our own personal interests, as Moses was.
2. Manages it warily when it is taken up. He finds himself on slippery ground, and is therefore slow in his motions.
3. Is easy to lay it down (Ephesians 4:26-27). He shuts it out when there is no more use for it. III. The passionate man proclaims his folly—he proclaims himself—
1. A proud man, and the proud man is a fool in God’s account and in the account of all who understand themselves.
2. A weak man. He is a slave to his passions.
3. An unwatchful man, who has his enemies within him, without him, round about him, and yet cannot be brought to stand on his guard (Proverbs 4:23-24).—Boston.
Wise anger is like fire from the flint, there is a great ado to bring it out; and when it does come, it is out again immediately.—Henry.
The intoxication of anger, like that of the grape, shows us to others, but hides us from ourselves.—Southgate’s “Many Thoughts on Many Things.”
The heaviest body is slowest in going, but his treading is the surest; in like manner, he that is slow to anger recompenses the dulness of his steps with the soundness of his proceeding; for he taketh leisure (as it were) to look to his ways. Tertullian says, “Where the injury is little, there is no need of patience; but where the injury is great, there is the help of patience more needful against it. If they be small wrongs, contemn them for their smallness; if great wrongs, by patience give way unto them in respect of their greatness.” The original of hasty, is short-winded. For as haste in going maketh the breath to be short, so the haste of the soul to anger maketh that to puff and blow on every small occasion; so that the soul is as it were climbing up a great hill, there to exalt her folly, for all to behold it.—Jermin.
Proverbs 14:30. A sound heart, “a quiet heart.” Envy, “passion,” “perturbation.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:30
A SOUND HEART
The blessed effects of a contented spirit. The “sound heart” being here placed in contrast to “envy,” shows that it means a spirit that is content with its lot in life—that is not ever reaching after the unattainable—that is not jealous of others who are in more favourable circumstances. Such a quietness of spirit is—
Proverbs 14:1. Favourable to bodily health. The mind of a passionate man wears out the bodily frame, and no passion that can possess the soul is more imperious and agitating, and consequently more injurious to health than envy. Jealousy is said to be as “cruel as the grave” (Song of Solomon 8:6), and it is cruel not only to the objects of it, but also to him who allows it a dwelling-place in his spirit. Its withering effects are felt even in the body, it is “rottenness of the bones” in this sense. But a contented spirit goes a long way to promote and to preserve bodily health. A quiet spirit is a stranger to all those restless feelings which give sleepless nights and anxious days to the envious man.
II. It is indispensable to the attainment of a noble character. Calmness of spirit gives room for the development of all the graces and virtues which go to make up the “perfect man” (Ephesians 4:13). Growth in nature demands some degree of quietness and calmness to develop itself. The mighty forest oak of a hundred years has attained its present noble dimensions by processes which have gone on for the most part in days and nights of stillness. So a character of moral strength and beauty can be formed only in the atmosphere of a calm and well-governed spirit.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
“Envy” excitement of any kind; perturbation; a wise saw, perhaps, of the old hygiene, but true spiritually. Religion rejoices in peace. Mad passion may be overruled; but so can our lusts be. As much as lieth in us, we should have peace. The soul is a temple (1 Corinthians 3:17), and “holiness becometh Thy house, O Lord, for ever” (Psalms 93:5).—Miller.
The word sound signifies healthful, free from moral distempers—the distempers of “the inner man,” such as discontent, malice, and envy. Strictly speaking a “sound heart”—a heart entirely free from the evil passions that belong to fallen nature—is not to be found. But in Scripture a sound heart, and even a perfect heart, are phrases used to signify the real sincerity and predominant rule of right principles and actions. Envy, perhaps the most odious in itself, and the most corroding and torturing to the spirit, is here called “rottenness of the bones”—not a mere surface sore, but a deep-seated disease; like caries, or inflammation in the substance of the bone itself.—Wardlaw.
I. The nature of envy. It is a pain, or uneasiness, arising from an apprehension of the prosperity and good fortune of others; not because we suffer from their welfare, nor that our condition may be bettered by our uneasiness, but merely because their condition is bettered. There is a strong jealousy of pre-eminence and superiority implanted in our nature by Almighty God, for wise and noble purposes, to excite to the pursuit of laudable attainments, and the imitation of good and great actions. This principle is emulation. It is also an uneasiness occasioned by the good fortunes of others; but not because we repine at their prosperity, but because we ourselves have not attained the same good success. Its effect is to excite us to great designs, but when it meets with a corrupt disposition it degenerates into envy, the most malignant passion in human nature, the worst weed of the worst soil. So far from stirring up to imitation, envy labours to taint and depreciate what it does not so much as attempt to equal.
II. The cure for envy.
1. That we endeavour to take a right estimate of things. The laws of God are the eternal standards of good and evil; what they declare valuable, or enjoin as wise, are truly so, and what they disclaim as hurtful or worthless are, in fact, to be so regarded.
2. That we try to make a right judgment of our own worth and abilities. If we do this, we shall find that there are others in the world at least as wise and as good as we are, and perhaps we shall also find, that if merit were the standard of honour and affluence, we should not abound altogether as much as we do.
3. Reflect seriously upon the vanity of all worldly advantage. Shall we envy him whose breath is in his nostrils? whose glory fadeth as the flower of grass?—Delany.
Envy is called a passion, and passion means suffering. The patient who is ill of envy is a sinner and a sufferer too. He is an object of pity. It is a mysterious and terrible disease. The nerves of sensation within the man are attached by some unseen hand to his neighbours all around him, so that every step of advancement which they make tears the fibres that lie next his heart. The wretch enjoys a moment’s relief when the mystic cord is temporarily slackened by his neighbour’s fall; but his agony immediately begins again, for he anticipates another twitch as soon as the fallen is restored to prosperity.… The cure of envy, as wrought by the love of Christ, is not only a deliverance from pain, it is, even in the present world, an unspeakable gain. That man will speedily grow rich who gets and puts into his bag not only all his own winnings, but also all the winnings of his neighbours.… The Nile, contrary to the analogy of other great streams, flows more than a thousand miles without receiving the waters of a single tributary; the consequence is, that it grows no greater as it courses over that vast line. Other rivers are every now and then receiving converging streams from the right and left, and thereby their volume continually increases until it reaches the sea. The happiness of man is like the flow of water in a river. If you enjoy nothing but what is your own, your tiny rivulet of contentment, so far from increasing, grows smaller by degrees, until it sinks unseen into the sand, and leaves you in a desert of despair; but when all the acquisitions of your neighbours go to swell its bulk, your enjoyment will flow like a river enriched by many affluents, growing ever greater as life approaches its close. It is some such river that makes glad the city of God.—Arnot.
Socrates called envy the soul’s saw; and wished that envious men had more eyes and ears than others, that they might have the more torment by beholding and hearing other men’s happiness.—Trapp.
Envy at last crawls forth from hell’s dire throng,
Of all the direfull’st! Her black locks hung long,
Attired with curling serpents; her pale skin
Was almost dropped from her sharp bones within;
And at her breasts stuck vipers, which did prey
Upon her panting heart both night and day,
Sucking black blood from thence, which to repair,
Both day and night they left fresh poisons there.
Her garments were deep-stained in human gore,
And torn by her own hands, in which she bore
A knotted whip and bowl, which to the brim
Did with green gall and juice of wormwood swim;
With which, when she was drunk, she furious grew,
And lashed herself; thus from the accursed crew
Envy, the worst of fiends, herself presents,
Envy, good only when she herself torments.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:31
THE OPPRESSED AND THEIR OPPRESSORS
I. Those who are objects of oppression—“The poor.” They are made up of three classes.
1. Those who have never known their supplies to be equal to their positive needs—who have not only always lived from hand to mouth, but whose hands have never been able to obtain a sufficient supply for the mouth. Such poor ones have this advantage, they have never known better days—their life is like a river whose shallow waters have never overflowed its banks—whose channel has always been much deeper than the stream. There is no force of contrast to add to the present bitterness.
2. Those who have been reduced from sufficiency to want. To such poverty is a greater hardship than to those just mentioned. The light and comfort of the past makes the darkness and misery of the present harder to bear. If their own wrong-doing or mistakes have been the cause of their fall, the trial is all the heavier.
3. There are those whom we call poor who, though not actually in want, have to toil hard and unceasingly for the necessaries of life, and who know nothing of the luxuries of wealth and ease.
II. The oppression of any or all of these is an insult to God. To oppress the first is to oppress men for what they cannot help—for that for which they are as irresponsible as for the colour of their skin, and therefore it is to reproach Him who appointed them to their lot in life. To oppress the second is to insult God, by afflicting them beyond the affliction which He has permitted to fall upon them. Whether their present condition is retribution or chastisement, its measure has been appointed by the hand of the All-wise Ruler of men, and it is “reproaching” Him to add to it by oppression. If a child is being corrected by its parent, or a criminal is paying the penalty which the judge has awarded to him for his crimes, it is an impeachment of their judgment to add in any way to the punishment that has been decreed. Those who oppress the third class are guilty of a sin against those who have always been special objects of His favour, and who make up a large proportion of the members of His kingdom. (See Homiletics and Comments on Proverbs 14:21.)
III. Mercifulness to the poor reveals reverence for God.
1. It shows that the man regulates his conduct by Divine laws. God, as we have seen in considering the 21st verse, has been most explicit in the revelation of His will in this matter.
2. He sees in every man some trace of his divine Creator.
“Man is God’s image; but a poor man is
Christ’s stamp to boot.”
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
“Oppression” means something more than the contempt and neglect dealt with in Proverbs 14:21. He who acts such a part “reproacheth His Maker.” For, first, he acts as if the poor were of another species—an inferior order of beings; whereas they have all the attributes of the same manhood with him by whom they are condemned. Second, he acts as if the circumstances in which the poor are placed were a warrant for him to imitate the Divine conduct and depress them still further, which is a reproach of God, as if He dealt with the poor in a spirit of unkindness or partiality.… A man may have mercy on the poor who does not “honour God.” Humanity may, and often does, exist without godliness; but godliness cannot exist without humanity.—Wardlaw.
We treat God with no respect
(1) when “the poor” who are His children, are not treated as such;
(2) when the poor, who are his dependents, are left unhelped, so as to seem to bring Him into discredit, but (as is most intended, judging from the whole drift of this part of the chapter)
(3) when the poor, who are His instruments, and are sent to exercise our virtues, are not treated as such, but our “Maker” thwarted in the work of making us better by these needy visitants. Life moves by such sort of influences.—Miller.
God takes it for an honour, how should this prevail with us? How exceedingly shall such be honoured in that great panegyris at the last day, when the Judge shall say, “Come, ye blessed of My Father, I was an hungered, and ye gave me meat.”—Trapp.
He that reproacheth the poor reproacheth his own Maker, and showeth himself unworthy to have been made by Him; reproacheth the Maker of the poor, as if either He could not help him, or else as if He had made him to be oppressed by making him poor. But God, who suffereth thee to oppress the poor, will not suffer thee to be unpunished for it, and seeing thou sparest not to reproach Himself, will not spare to scourge thee. Tully saith, “Men in nothing come nearer God than in giving,” and Gregory Nazianzen goes further, and tells us, “Thou mayest even by no labour be made God, do not, therefore, neglect the opportunity of obtaining a Deity. Make thyself God to the miserable, by imitating the mercy of God.”—Jermin.
The ancient Church possessed in full the glorious truth, that of all the real compassion which flows through human channels, the fountain-head is on high. He who gets mercy shows it.—Arnot.
Proverbs 14:32. Driven forth, or “thrust lower” (Miller). Delitzsch translates, “When misfortune befals him, the wicked is overthrown, but the righteous hath hope even in his death.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:32
THE DEATH OF THE RIGHTEOUS AND THE WICKED
I. The wicked man dies unwillingly. He is “driven away.” Our first parents,—conscious of the severance of a moral bond between them and God—knowing that they had fallen from their original position, in which they would have gone fearlessly and joyfully to any part of God’s universe—ignorant of the unknown and dark future that lay before them—left their first home unwillingly. They had to be “driven out” of Eden (Genesis 3:24). A man who is conscious of a moral distance between himself and God, seldom quits this world willingly. An undefined dread, perhaps, but still a dread, of the unknown state beyond death possesses him, and he is made subject to the laws of death “unwillingly.” As Adam had to be driven out of Eden, so he quits his present abode, not from choice, but from necessity. His unwillingness to go arises from his condition of heart—from his moral standing. He “is driven away in his wickedness.” Adam’s consciousness of guilt made him unwilling to quit his abode in Eden. The same consciousness makes men fear to die. “The sting of death is sin” (1 Corinthians 15:56). The man whose sins are unpardoned is conscious that he has much to fear in the unknown future. His spirit witnesses to the truth of the Divine Word, “After death, the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
II. But to the righteous man the hour of death is a time of hope. He does not die in his sin. A separation has taken place between him and sin. He is conscious of having been delivered both from its guilt and its dominion. The severance that has already been accomplished has wrought a greater change than that which death can work. The change of relationship to God and of character which he has already experienced, has made a mere change of place a matter of small moment in itself, and the change from this world to the heavenly city an occasion of hope and rejoicing. The angel of death is no officer of justice to bring him before his judge, but a messenger to guide him to his Father’s home. The objects of his hope have been considered in Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 10:24; Proverbs 10:28; pages 176 and 181.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The righteous dies by his own consent. It is a glad surrender, not a forcible separation (Psalms 31:5). The tabernacle is not rent, or torn away, but “put off” (2 Peter 1:14).—Bridges.
“The wicked is thrust lower by his evil” (see Critical Notes). “Death,” that is, the worst form of evil. Observe the crescendo. “Evil,” which is supposed to be a discipline, “thrusts down the wicked;” death, the very grimmest of the list, becomes to the righteous a glorious refuge. “Thrust lower,” this is an intensive expression. If trouble thrusts a man lower, how much more must joy and intoxicating wealth. The idea is—all hurts him. Even discipline hurts the lost.—Miller.
Oh, the different departures of the reprobate and the Christian! The one knows he changeth for the better; the other mistrusts, for the worse; to the one death is a gulf of sorrow, to the other a port of liberty; he, because he is stripped for a scourging; this, because he lays aside his clothes, after his toil, to go to bed.… All our loathness to depart, and fears in departing, arise from our own unsettledness; we have not made sure to ourselves a dwelling in these glorious heavens; many mansions there be (John 14:2), we have not provided ourselves one.—T. Adams.
A Christian should be a volunteer in death. Many of the martyrs were as willing to die as to dine; went to the fire as cheerful as to a feast, and courted its pale and ghastly countenance as if it had been a beautiful bride.… Cyprian said Amen to his own sentence of death. Bradford, being told by his keeper’s wife that his chain was a-buying, and he was to die the next day, pulled off his hat and thanked God for it.… Ann Askew subscribed her confession in Newgate thus, “Written by me, Ann Askew, that neither wisheth for death nor feareth his might, and as merry as one that is bound towards heaven.” Indeed it is said of a wicked man that his soul is required of him, and that God takes away his soul (Luke 12:20; Job 27:10); but of a godly man that he giveth up the Ghost, and he cometh to his grave (Genesis 25:8; Job 4:21).… Socrates, and some of the wiser heathen, comforted themselves against the fear of death with this weak cordial, that it is common to men, the way of all the earth. Hence it was, when the Athenians condemned Socrates to die, he received the sentence with an undaunted spirit, and told them that they did nothing but what nature had before ordained for him. But the Christian hath a greater ground for a holy resolution, and a stronger cordial against the fears of death, even the hope of eternal life; and surely, if he that exceeds others in his cordials be excelled by them in courage, he disgraceth his physician.… It is no marvel that they who lived wickedly should die unwillingly, being “driven away in their wickedness” as a beast that is driven out of his den to the slaughter, or as a debtor driven by the officers out of his house, where he lay warm and was surrounded by all sorts of comfort, to a nasty, loathsome prison.—Swinnock.
It is storied of Godfrey, Duke of Bouillon, that when, in his expedition to the Holy Land, he came within view of Jerusalem, his army, seeing the high turrets, goodly buildings, and fair fronts, being even transported with the joyfulness of such a sight, gave a mighty shout that the earth was verily thought to ring with the noise thereof. Such is the rejoicing of a godly man in death, when he doth not see the turrets and towers of an earthly, but the spiritual building of a heavenly Jerusalem, and his soul ready to take possession of them. How doth he delight in his dissolution, when he sees grace changing into glory, hope into fruition, faith into vision, and love into perfect comprehension.—Spencer’s “Things New and Old.”
If this be true, it is a demonstration on the side of religion, and that upon three accounts.
(1) Because the principles of religion, and the practice of them in a virtuous life, when they come to the last and utmost trial, do hold out. The belief of a God, the persuasion of our own immortality, and of the eternal recompense of another world—that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners—is commonly more strong and vigorous in the minds of good men when they come to die; they have then a more clear apprehension and firm persuasion of the truth and reality of these things, than ever they had at any time of their lives, and find more peace and joy in the belief of them.… And the principles of infidelity and vice are most apt to shrink and give back at such a time.
(2) The principles of religion minister comfort to us in the most needful and desirable time. If it be true of every day of our lives, sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof, much more of the day of death. It is surely enough to have that one enemy to encounter, at which nature startles even when the sting is taken away.… If there were nothing beyond this life, it were worth while to provide for a quiet death. There is no man that calculates things wisely that would, for all the pleasures of sin, forfeit the peace and comfort of a righteous soul, going out of the world full of the hopes of a blessed immortality.
(3) When men are commonly most serious and impartial, and their declarations are thought to be of the greatest weight, they give this testimony to religion and virtue, and against impiety and vice. Even Lucretius says, “Men’s words then come from the bottom of their heart, the mask is taken off, and things then appear to them as indeed they are.” In these circumstances men generally declaim most vehemently against their sins and vices, and declare on the side of piety and virtue. Surely this is a great testimony on the side of religion, because it is the testimony not only of its friends, but of those who have been its greatest enemies.—Tillotson.
A clear testimony to a future state of rewards and punishments.—
Though there was no revelation of immortality and resurrection then, still the pious in death put their confidence in Jahve, the God of life and of salvation—for in Jahve there was for ancient Israel the beginning, middle, and end of the work of salvation—and believing that they were going home to Him, committing their spirit into His hands (Psalms 31:6), they fell asleep, though without any explicit knowledge, yet not without the hope of eternal life. Job also knew that (Proverbs 27:8) between the death of those estranged from God and of those who feared God there was not only an external, but a deep essential distinction; and now the wise man opens up a glimpse into the eternity heavenwards (chap. Proverbs 15:24), and has formed (chap. Proverbs 12:28) (see Critical Notes) the expressive and distinctive word for immortality, which breaks like a ray from the morning sun through the night of the Sheol.—Delitzsch.
We are not able to form a right conception of what it is to be and to abide in wickedness. Because it is so near us, we do not know it. If it were a body standing before us, we could examine its proportions and describe its appearance; but because it is a spirit transfused through us, we remain ignorant of its character and power.… A ship is lying in a placid river when winter comes, and is gradually frozen in. The process was gentle, and almost imperceptible. There was no commotion and no crash. The ice crept round, and closed in upon the ship without any noisy note of warning.… Her own element closed and held her.… The ship is not shaken. No creaking is heard—no strain is felt. She feels firm and easy. Even when the pines of the neighbouring forest are bending to the blast, she sits unmoved in her solid bed. That bed she has made for herself, and it therefore fits her. This is very like the wicked in his iniquity, and before he is driven away.… He stands steady in his element, and no ripple disturbs its surface. When the ice of the river goes away, the embedded ship goes with it. It is a dreadful departure. The water swells beneath; the ice holds by the crooked banks awhile; but, after a period of suspense, the flood prevails, and the trembling, rending mass gives way. Reeling icebergs and foaming yellow waves tumble downwards in tumultuous heaps, and the ship is swept away like a feather on a flood. If we had a sense for perceiving spiritual things, the most heart-rending sight in the world would be a sinner set fast in his element, and the flood of wrath secretly swelling from beneath.… But he who has been begotten again to a living hope has it at the time when humanity needs it most. A friend in need is a friend indeed. Stars are a grateful mitigation of the darkness; but we do not want them by day. Hope, always lovely, is then sweetest when it beams from heaven through the gloom that gathers round the grave.… The ship has set sail, and kept on her course many days and nights, with no other incidents than those that are common to all. Suddenly land appears; but what the character of the coast may be the voyagers cannot discern through the tumult. The first effect of a near approach of land is a very great commotion on the water. It is one of the coral islands of the South Pacific, encircled by a ring of fearful breakers at some little distance from the shore. Forward the ship must go. The waves are higher and angrier than any they have seen in the open sea. Partly through them, partly over them, they are borne at a bound; strained, and giddy, and almost senseless, they find themselves within that sentinel ridge of crested waves that guard the shore, and the portion of sea that still lies before them is calm and clear like glass. It seems a lake of Paradise, and not an earthly thing at all.… Across the belt of sea the ship glides gently,—and gently soon touches that lovely shore. It is thus that I have seen a true pilgrim thrown into a great tumult when the shore of eternity suddenly appeared before him. A great fear tossed him for some days; but when that barrier was passed, he experienced a peace, deeper, stiller, sweeter than ever he knew before. A little space of life’s voyage remained after the fear of death had sunk into a calm, and before the immortal felt the solid of eternal rest. On life’s sea as yet was the spirit lying, but the shaking had passed; and when at last the spirit passed from a peaceful sea to a peaceful land, the change seemed slight.—Arnot.
This text looks like the cloud between the Israelites and Egyptians; having a dark side toward the latter, and a bright side toward the former. It represents death, like Pharaoh’s jailor, bringing the chief butler and the chief baker out of prison; the one to be restored to his office, the other to be led to execution. The wicked are driven from this world to the other—from the society of saints on earth into that of the lost in hell; out of time into eternity; out of their specious pretences to piety; away from all means of grace.… The following circumstances make the godly in their death happy and hopeful.
1. They have a trusty good Friend before them in the other world. Jesus Christ, their best friend, is Lord of the land to which death carries them. When Joseph sent for his father to come down to Egypt, and Jacob “saw the wagons Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of Jacob revived” (Genesis 45:27). He resolved to undertake the journey. I think when the Lord calls a godly man out of the world, He sends him such good tidings, and such a kind invitation to the other world, that his spirit must revive when he sees the wagon of death sent to carry him thither.
2. They shall have a safe passage to another world. They have the Lord of the land’s safe conduct, His pass sealed with His own blood … It is safe riding in Christ’s chariot.
3. They shall have a joyful entrance into the other world … Is the bird in worse case, when at liberty, than when confined in a cage? Death comes to the godly man, as Haman came to Mordecai, with the royal apparel and the horse.—Boston.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:33
THE HIDDEN MADE MANIFEST
I. The God-ordained place for moral wisdom—“the heart.” The divinely ordained place for the sap of the vine is its root.
1. It has its centre and spring there, that thence it may diffuse itself into every branch and leaf, and give life and health to the whole tree. So the divinely-ordained place for moral wisdom is the heart—the affections of a man. If it has its seat there it will certainly influence all his thoughts, and words, and deeds.
2. It is not only the most influential part of a man, but it is the most secure. There, if anywhere, it is out of the reach of harm. If it is only in the head—in the intellectual part of a man—temptation may rob him of it—false reasoning or adversity may shake it from its seat, but if it has hold of the heart, it will hold its own against every foe.
3. It is the only place from which it can reach and bless other human hearts. The sap of the tree must issue direct from its root if there is to be fruit that will sustain and give satisfaction to the eater. So a life will bring forth no fruit to feed others unless its religion is a religion of the heart. There is no way to the heart except from the heart, those who have only an intellectual hold upon moral wisdom cannot feed hungry souls.
4. It is the only place whence can issue glory to God. The whole man, spirit and soul and body, must be under the guidance of moral wisdom if he is to render acceptable service to God. Nothing less will satisfy Him who “searches the heart of the children of men” (Jeremiah 17:10). If the heart is right, the external service will not be wanting. (See Homiletics and Comments on chap. Proverbs 4:23).
II. Where this wisdom of the heart is lacking, the life will betray it. In all natural life there is a law by which its hidden secrets are manifested in outward signs. The health of the root is seen in the health of the tree, the disease of the internal bodily organs manifests itself in the outward appearance. So it is with moral health and disease. However men may try to appear what they are not, the natural tendency of human nature often proves too strong for the artificial restraint that is put upon it, and sooner or later men reveal what they really are. “That which is in the midst of moral fools is made known,” although time is needed for the folly fully to develop itself.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
“Resteth” implies the tranquil and modest spirit of the wise, and the permanence of their keeping of wisdom; and especially that it is the fruit of the spirit from above descending and abiding on them (Numbers 11:25-26; Isaiah 11:2; 2 Kings 2:15). Contrast Ecclesiastes 7:9. The wise does not draw forth his wisdom from its resting place within his heart at random, but in proper place and time, as the occasion may require. But fools cannot long disguise their folly (see chap. Proverbs 10:14; Proverbs 12:23; Proverbs 13:16). The Hebrew adage says, “A vessel full of coins will make no noise; but if there be only one coin in it, it will make a rattle.” The more learned one is, the more modest he will be; the more unlearned, the more presumptuous and ostentatious.—Fausset.
In the heart of the understanding wisdom remains silent and still, for the understanding feels himself personally happy in its possession, endeavours all the more to deepen it, and lets it operate within.—Deliztsch.
There she keepeth residence and there she ruleth, and thither she bringeth her treasures and her comforts, and every good thing that is to be wished for. And therefore she calleth for it, as most meet for her to possess; and safest for every wise man to yield unto her. “My son, give me thine heart.”
Proverbs 14:34. The Hebrew word for reproach means also “mercy.” Hence Gejer and Miller translate “Mercy for nations is the sin-offering,” the word sin being often used to express the sin-offering.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 14:34
I. Some standard of right and wrong is necessary to national existence. There are men who have affirmed that there is no such thing as virtue and vice—that they are only inventions of those who desire to rule their fellow-creatures, and that the world could do without them. But experience teaches the contrary. Every nation, if it is to have an existence, even if it rejects a Divine revelation, or is ignorant of it, must have some standard by which to judge human actions. Without the recognition of such a standard, even if it is only based upon the light of reason, not only would national prosperity be impossible, but national existence. Rome and Greece had such standards as well as Israel, although the first-mentioned nations had no revelation from heaven except that of the natural conscience, and if all the existing codes were abolished to-morrow men would find it necessary to form others in order to preserve their national, if not their individual existence.
II. The prosperity and influence of a nation is in proportion to its national righteousness. This is not the case of the individual man. His present condition and circumstances, the measure of power that he possesses, or the amount of the influence he exerts, is no index of the amount of righteousness which he possesses. He may be a noble of the land, or he may have no social standing; he may fare sumptuously every day, or he may subsist on the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table, and neither from the one lot or the other can any conclusion be drawn as to what his moral standing is. There is another world in which the righteous man will be exalted, and the unrighteous man will reap the reward of unrighteousness; but national righteousness and unrighteousness receive their reward in this world.
1. Righteous dealing in a nation promotes its commercial prosperity. If the merchants of a nation are known to be honest in their transactions and truthful in their words, they will gain and hold a high place in the markets of the world.
2. It secures it an influence among the governing powers of the world. In proportion as its intercourse with other nations is marked, not by a lust for conquest or a desire to rule, no matter by what means—but by a recognition of the rights of all—in that proportion will it acquire a power far more real and far more lasting than that gained by its ability to outdo other nations in the number of its soldiers or the size of its navy.
III. National reproach for sin will be in proportion to its possession of a high or low moral standard. “Sin is a reproach to any people;” but it is the greatest reproach to those who possess the greatest light. The sin of Israel was a greater reproach to them than the sin of the Philistines was to them, because the one possessed the light of a Divine revelation, and the other did not. So in the present day, the nations who sin against the light of the revealed word of God are far greater sinners than those upon whom that light has never shone. The principle to which the Divine Son gave utterance concerning the Jewish nation is the one by which He judges nations in the present day. “If I had not come and spoken unto them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin (John 15:24).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
As there is nothing in religion to counteract the design of a wise system of civil polity, so there is nothing in a wise system of civil government to counteract the design of the Christian religion. The exaltation of the nation is the end of civil polity. Righteousness is the end of religion, or rather is religion itself.—Saurin.
It is the nature of sin
(1) to lesson and diminish a people;
(2) to sink and depress the spirit of a people;
(3) to destroy the wealth of a people;
(4) to deprive them of the blessings of freedom;
(5) to provoke the displeasure of God and to draw down His judgments.—Emmons, in “Lange’s Commentary.”
Righteousness is both “the prop to make it subsist firm in itself and a crown to make it glorious in the eyes of others” (Bp. Sanderson). Greece in her proud science, Rome in the zenith of her glory, both were sunk in the lowest depths of moral degradation (Romans 1:23-32 was a picture of the heathen world in the best ages of refinement). Their greatness consisted only in the visions of poesy or the dream of philosophy. Contrast the influence of righteousness, bringing out of the most debased barbarism a community impregnated with all the high principles that form a nation’s well-being. Thus to christianise is to regenerate, to elevate the community, to “exalt the nation,” and that not with a sudden flash of shadowy splendour, but with a solid glory, fraught with every practical blessing. “Those princes and commonwealths who would keep their governments entire and uncorrupt, are, above all things, to have a care of religion and its ceremonies, and preserve them in due veneration. For in the whole world there is not a greater sign of imminent ruin than when God and His worship are despised.” Such was the testimony of the profligate politician Machiavel.… What an enemy an ungodly man is to his country! Loudly though he may talk of his patriotism, and even though God should make him an instrument to advance her temporal interest; yet he contributes, so far as in him lies, to her deepest reproach.—Bridges.
Religion and virtue do naturally tend to the good order and more easy government of human society, because they have a good influence both upon magistrates and subjects.
1. Upon magistrates. Religion teaches them to rule over men in the fear of God, because though they be gods on earth, yet they are subjects of heaven, and accountable to him who is higher than the highest in this world. Religion in a magistrate strengthens his authority because it procures veneration and gains a reputation to it. And in all affairs of the world so much reputation is so much power.
2. Upon subjects. First, it makes them obedient to government, and conformable to laws; and that not only out of fear of power, which is but a weak and loose principle of obedience, but out of conscience, which is a firm, and constant and lasting principle, and will hold a man fast when all other obligations will break. Secondly, it tends to make men peaceable with one another. For it endeavours to plant all those qualities and dispositions in men which tend to peace and unity, and to fill men with a spirit of universal love and good-will. It endeavours likewise to secure every man’s interest, by commanding the observation of that great rule of equity, “Whatsoever ye would that men should do unto you, do ye even so to them.”—Tillotson.
We find the great general principle of Divine Providence, in regard to nations, thus laid down by Jehovah Himself to the prophet Jeremiah—“At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation against whom I have pronounced turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil which I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in My sight, that it obey not My voice, then I will repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them” (Jeremiah 18:7-10). This was a principle, not applicable to Israel exclusively—for we find it expressly applied to the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the inhabitants of Sodom and of Nineveh. And the Old Testament bringing before us specimens of the Divine administration, the Spirit of God letting us so far into the secrets of its principles and laws, we have every reason to believe that in the government of God over the world, the same principle is still in operation, though we may not be able to trace it—that, had we only an inspired record of what takes place now, we should see it clearly in all cases; and even without such a record there are cases in which it would be equal impiety and blindness not to discern and own it.—Wardlaw.
“Righteousness” means saving righteousness, and “Sin-offering” is literally sin. (See Critical Notes). “Righteousness” lifts to the very skies. “The mercy of nations,” as the words literally are, is not wealth, or peace, or a good king, or broad lands of plenty, but an interest in Christ, “the sin-offering,” and a home amongst the happy.—Miller.
“Peoples” is plural, whereas “a nation” is singular, implying the paucity of the nations observing righteousness. The Hebrew word for reproach meaning also mercy, Gejer translates, “Mercy is an expiratory sacrifice for sin.” Not that mercy puts away sin before God, but before men, who are by mercy reconciled to those who had before been unmerciful to them.—Fausset.
Proverbs 14:35. Miller reads, “The kindness of a king is a wise servant, but his wrath becomes one that bringeth shame” (See his comments).
MAIN HOMILETICS ON Proverbs 14:35
A WISE SERVANT
In this verse we adopt Miller’s translation as being the more probable meaning. See Critical Notes and also his Comment.
I. The law of kindness is a law of power. Whether a man be the ruler of a nation or the ruler of a family, if he would acquire real power over those whom he rules, he must obey this law himself. Human nature is in a fallen condition, and it cannot be lifted into a state of obedience even to wise and good laws except they are enforced in a spirit of kindness. Kindness will bind men to loyal devotion with a far firmer chain than any force. There is, indeed, no principle in obedience to the latter; it rules only the bodily actions, and is powerless over the heart. Those who desire more than the service of half the man must issue their commands—must exercise their authority—in the spirit of mercy. The king, the master or the father, who is a despot, is only obeyed because he has power to punish. Consequently the obedience will only last as long as the power. This is a thought which parents especially should lay to heart.
II. The law of kindness is a law of policy. He who rules to-day may one day be at the mercy of him whom he rules. Kings have often needed favour of their subjects—the master has often been at the mercy of his servant; and what has happened before will happen again in the changes and chances of life, and those who have shown mercy will be the most likely at such times to receive it. “With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 7:2) holds good in this case. Therefore, the “kindness of a king is a wise servant; but his wrath becomes one that bringeth shame.” For remarks on the text as rendered in the authorised version, see below.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Solomon gets back to his king-craft. These maxims were familiar to him. It is rarely wise for “a king” to get in a passion with his people (see Proverbs 14:29-30). “If thou wilt be a servant unto this people” was said to the successor of this very man (1 Kings 12:7); if thou wilt “answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be thy servants for ever.” But, more than king-craft, it is a rule for saints. The law of “kindness” should be on our lips. The power of gentleness is irresistible. If “the mercy for nations is the sin-offering” (see last verse), then we are all sinners together, and modesty forbids that we should go among the lost with anything but tenderness. The English version is due to the presence of a preposition. “The king’s favour is towards a wise servant.” But that preposition becomes idiomatic in certain cases. I say, “I want such a thing for a shelter.” “The kindness of a king is for a wise servant,” i.e., serves as one. There is no preposition before the words “brings shame;” but, on the contrary, the word is is written out, and, as usual in that case, means “becomes;” all of which state of facts is in favour of our new version.—Miller.
These words state what ought to be. No one ought to be the king or the queen’s servant who is not wise; and toward every such wise servant the royal favour should be specially extended. And who is a wise servant? Not a servant who flatters royal vanity; accommodates itself to royal foibles; indulges royal prejudices; chimes in with royal caprices; tolerates and connives at royal vices, whether personal or official. No; a wise servant must be a servant of conscientious principle, and of bland but unflinching fidelity. He is one who gives prudent and faithful counsel; who “speaks truth as he thinks it in his heart;” whose counsels are dictated by a right understanding of the times, and knowledge of what such times require, not by a wish to ingratiate the minister with the prince, and so to promote his own personal advantage, but by the principles of genuine patriotism as well as loyalty.… That servant “causeth shame” by whom that is encouraged from which reproach arises—who gives counsel to his prince which must prove either prejudicial or abortive; such as can hardly fail to render him unpopular with his subjects, and expose him, by their failure, to the derision of foreign states—a derision in which the kingdom as well as the throne, the people as well as the monarch, are involved.—Wardlaw.
Thus it is with the great King. All of us are His servants, bound to Him by the highest obligations; animated by the most glowing encouragements (1 Corinthians 6:19-20; Matthew 24:44-46; Matthew 25:21-23). All of us have our responsibilities, our talents, our work, our account. Towards the “faithful and wise servant,” who has traded with his talents, who has been diligent in his work, and who is ready for his account—His favour will be infinitely condescending and honourable (John 12:26). But against him that causeth shame—reflecting upon his Master, neglectful in his work, unprepared for his account—His wrath will be tremendous and eternal.—Bridges.
Surely well is favour bestowed, where it reflecteth unto the giver’s honour: worthily is favour received, where wisdom’s hands are the receivers of it.—Jermin.
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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Proverbs 14". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 25 / Ordinary 30