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Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary Preacher's Homiletical
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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Proverbs 18". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ phc/ proverbs-18.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Proverbs 18". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
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Proverbs 18:1. Through desire, etc. The readings and expositions of this verse are many. Zockler translates, “He that separateth himself seeketh his own pleasure, against all counsel doth he rush on,” and the renderings of Stuart, Miller, and Delitzsch are substantially the same, except that Delitzsch translates the latter clause—“against all that is beneficial he shows his teeth.” Other readings are “A self-conceited fool seeks to gratify his fancy and intermingleth himself with all things” (Schultens); “He who has separated himself agitates questions as his desire prompts, and breaks his teeth on every hard point” (Schulz); “He seeks occasion, who desires to separate himself from his friends” (Hodgson). Others read as in the authorised version. (See Comments).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 18:1-2
Reference to the Critical Notes and to the Comments will show the widely different translations and expositions given to the first verse. We follow the authorised version.
I. Solitude is indispensable to the attainment of wisdom. If a tree is to become well-proportioned—if it is to spread out its branches on every side so that its girth is to be proportioned to its height, it must have space—a degree of separation is indispensable to its perfect development. It must be free to stretch out its roots and shoots on every side, and to appropriate to itself those elements in the earth and in the atmosphere which will make it strong and vigorous. So if a man is to be a wise man, if his mental and spiritual capabilities are to be developed as his Creator intended they should be, he must at times separate himself—a certain amount of solitude is indispensable. If he would grow wise in the mysteries of the natural world he must oftentimes shut himself away from the haunts of men, and ponder the manifold phenomena which creation presents to him, and endeavour to unravel her secrets. If he desires to become wise by acquaintance with the thoughts and deeds of the great and mighty men of past ages he must withdraw himself at certain seasons from the society of his fellow-men, and give himself up to study and reflection. And if he desire to acquire what, after all, can alone make him a truly wise man—an acquaintance with himself and with God—he must have seasons of separation in which to listen to the voice of his own heart and to the voice of His maker. A man, when he is alone, is more likely to see things as they really are; he is less under the influence of the seen and temporal than when he is in the market, or on the crowded highway, and consequently things unseen and eternal have a more powerful influence over him at such a season. No man can be wise unless he has some self-knowledge, and no man can subject himself to much inspection while in company, hence the advice of George Herbert—
“By all means use sometimes to be alone;
Salute thyself; see what thy soul doth wear;
Dare to look in thy chest, for ’tis thine own,
And tumble up and down what thou find’st there.
Who cannot rest till he good fellows find,
He breaks up house, turns out of doors his mind.”
and it is equally true that no man is possessed of true wisdom who has not some knowledge of God as He has revealed Himself in the written Word, and solitude is very favourable to a growth in Divine knowledge. Men can gain much, even of the highest wisdom, from intercourse with their fellow-men, but all human guides are fallible and all human teaching is imperfect—there must be seasons when a man “separates himself” from them all and stands face to face with the fountain of all truth, if he would “intermeddle” with pure wisdom.
II. Those who are truly wise seek wisdom for its own sake. Many men seek secular knowledge for the sole purpose of acquiring fame by the acquisition. Some men spend days of solitude in patient investigation for no other purpose than to make a name for themselves. Some men even profess to be seekers after true and spiritual wisdom, when they are only striving to gratify some unworthy ambition. Such a man seems to be pourtrayed in the second verse as the “fool who hath no delight in understanding but that his heart may discover itself.” (If he seeks knowledge at all, it is neither for its own sake nor for the purpose of fitting him for usefulness, but solely for the ends of self-display—Wardlaw.) (He “hath no delight” in knowledge, “but in the displaying of his own thoughts.”—Hodgson.) But the true lover of wisdom is impelled to seek from the love of truth—from the desire which possesses his soul to “intermeddle with knowledge.” When Sir Isaac Newton gave himself up to the pursuit of scientific truth, he “separated himself” simply from a “desire” to know, and without the remotest desire or expectation of his present world-wide fame. And if it is so with every true lover of merely intellectual wisdom, it is pre-eminently so with the man who seeks spiritual wisdom. He is impelled to the search simply by a desire which is born of his appreciation of its worth—by a knowledge of its power to bless his life.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
A certain degree of solitude seems necessary to the full growth and spread of the highest mind; and therefore must a very extensive intercourse with men stifle many a holy germ, and scare away the gods, who shun the restless tumult of noisy companies, and the discussion of petty interests. Novalis.
Desire is the chariot-wheel of the soul, the spring of energy and delight. The man of business or science is filled with his great object; and through desire he separates himself from all lets and hindrances, that he may intermeddle with its whole range. “This one thing”—saith the man of God—“I do” (Philip. Proverbs 3:13). This one thing is everything with him. He separates himself from all outward hindrances, vain company, trifling amusements or studies, needless engagements, that he may seek and intermeddle with all wisdom. John separated himself in the wilderness, Paul in Arabia, our blessed Lord in frequent retirement, in order to greater concentration in their momentous work. Deeply does the Christian minister feel the responsibility of this holy separation, that he may “give himself wholly to” his office (1 Timothy 4:15; 2 Timothy 2:4). Without it—Christian—thy soul can never prosper. How canst thou intermeddle with the great wisdom of knowing thyself, if thy whole mind be full of this world’s chaff and vanity? There must be a withdrawal, to “commune with thine own heart” and to ask the questions—“Where art thou? What doest thou here?” Much is there to be inquired into and pondered. Everything here calls for our deepest, closest thoughts. We must walk with God in secret, or the enemy will walk with us, and our souls will die. “Arise, go forth into the plain, and I will there talk with thee” (Ezekiel 3:22). “When thou wast under the fig-tree I saw thee” (John 1:48). Deal much in secrecy, if thou wouldst know “the secret of the Lord.” Like thy Divine Master, thou wilt never be less alone than when alone (Ib. Proverbs 16:32). There is much to be wrought, gained, and enjoyed. Thy most spiritual knowledge, thy richest experience will be found here. And then, when we look around us into the infinitely extended field of the Revelation of God, what a world of heavenly wisdom is there to intermeddle with! In the hurry of this world’s atmosphere how little can we apprehend it! And yet such is the field of wonder, that the contemplation of a single point overwhelmed the Apostle with adoring astonishment. (Romans 11:33). Here are “things, which even the angels desire to look into” (1 Peter 1:12). The redeemed will be employed throughout eternity in this delighted searching; exploring “the breadth, and length, and depth, and height,” until they be “filled with all the fulness of God” (Ephesians 3:18-19). Surely then if we have any desire, we shall separate ourselves from the cloudy atmosphere around us, that we may have fellowship with these happy investigators of the Divine mysteries.—Bridges.
The separated one here is the impenitent. “The aims of a man left to himself” is really a translation of but two words, meaning a separated one seeks. “At the mere dictate of desire” is but one noun with a preceding particle, meaning after, or, according to The noun means a longing. The sentence means that when a man gets separated from his place in the universe he seeks, or has a pursuit, after his present bent or longing. The word translated wisdom in the second clause is derived from a verb that means to be or stand with some stability (see comment on chap. Proverbs 2:7), yielding the sense the lost man sits careless to what is “stable.” He does not regard it. He strikes for what he desires. A pretty thing for him to cavil! since “against everything stable he just lets himself roll.” … The whole meaning is that the lost man is in high chase under the spur of appetite, and ruthlessly bears down everything stable.—Miller.
“Through desire” (through self-willed and self-seeking desire of wisdom)—“wisdom,” Heb. tushigyah, lit. all that is solid and stable: subsistence, essence, existence. The Pharisees were such; from the Hebrew, pharash, to separate. They trusted in themselves, and in their own wisdom, despising others (Luke 18:9; Luke 16:15; Jude 1:19). All heresy has more or less originated in the self-conceit which leads men to separate themselves from the congregation of the Lord (Ezekiel 14:7; Hosea 9:10; Hebrews 10:25). The two evils censured are
(1) that of those who think they are born for themselves, and that others ought to be ministers of their self-seeking desires;
(2) that of those who intermeddle with what does not concern them. The motive is through (his own) “desire” of being esteemed singularly learned, as Proverbs 18:2 shows, not from sincere “delight in understanding.” His aim is singularity, through self-seeking desire (Psalms 10:3; Psalms 112:10) of raising himself to a separate elevation from the common crowd, and of being thought versed in all that can be known: so “he intermeddleth with all wisdom.” His restless appetite for making himself peculiar and separate from others is marked by the indefinite verb “seeketh,” it not being added what he seeketh, for he hardly knows himself what.—Fausset.
If we have to decide between the two interpretations, one blaming and the other commending the life of isolation, the answer must be that the former is more in harmony with the broad, genial temper of the Book of Proverbs.—Plumptre.
Proverbs 18:3. Ignominy, rather, “shameful deeds.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 18:3
This verse also, as will be seen from a reference to the Critical Notes, and also from the Comments, is susceptible of several interpretations. We think it treats of—
THE SHORT-LIVED PROSPERITY OF EVIL MEN
I. Wicked men do come into places of power and influence. This fact has often tried the faith of righteous men. Asaph’s “steps had well-nigh slipped” when he saw “the prosperity of the wicked”—that “violence covered them as a garment,” and that they “set their mouth against the heavens;” and yet that “their strength was firm,” and “they had more than heart could wish” (Psalms 73:2-8). The tiller of the soil knows from experience that the useless weeds and noxious plants often seem to absorb all the nutriment from the earth, and so make it well-nigh impossible for the useful herb and sweet-scented flower to grow in the same field or garden. And moral weeds seem to have a like capability of utilising everything that comes in their way to their own advancement—the unrighteous man makes a fortune, or a position, or a name for himself, while his godly neighbour is struggling for a bare subsistence. In the field of the world, the tares grow as well as the wheat (Matthew 13:26), and often they seem for a time to be more flourishing. Ahab and Jezebel dwell in Samaria, and Elijah is compelled to flee into the desert. Herod feasts in the palace, while John the Baptist is beheaded in the dungeon.
II. Contempt and reproach are their final portion. Their day of power is short-lived. David has recorded as his experience that he had “seen the wicked in great power, and spreading himself like a green bay-tree”—but he “passed by, and lo, he was not” (Psalms 37:35). And however their success may dazzle men’s eyes and warp their judgment for a season, contempt is their portion at last. They are often held in contempt even while living, and the reproaches of those who have been made to suffer by them are heaped upon their heads. Many of those who fawned upon them and flattered them while they were prospering will be most ready to scorn and upbraid them, if the day of their retribution arrives before they quit this world. And if they keep their power and influence throughout the term of their human probation, their names will be contemned by posterity, and in the day when “everyone receives the things done in his body” (2 Corinthians 5:10), they shall “awake to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
When a “wicked” man enters upon the stage, that creature, the most degraded of the universe, and who has the least right to show any contempt, is the very person to be the most contemptuous; and the mortal who is himself most disgraced, shows the readiest mind to cry shame upon and to reproach and that even the Most High. Doubtless there is secular truth in all this The disgraced citizen is often the most reproachful.—Miller.
I. They bring “contempt,” not to themselves only, but to the places they fill, and the societies to which they become united—to themselves, for the unworthy manner in which they fulfil the duties of the trust they have assumed, or have had committed to them; and to their places and societies, with which their names are associated. They entail “ignominy and reproach” upon all they have to do with. And in no case is this more true, than with regard to offices in the Church. O what an amount of scorn and reproach has been brought upon the sacred office of the ministry by the intrusion, under numberless pretexts, and from numberless causes, of wicked, worldly, ungodly men into its holy functions! How full is Church history of this deplorable evil!—and how many infidels and scorners has Church history by this means produced. Thus it was under the old dispensation. The wickedness of the sons of Eli made men “abhor the offering of the Lord.” And thus it is still. Of the “false teachers” who should arise in the latter days, it is said—“by reason of them the way of truth shall be evil-spoken of.” From few other sources, if from any, has there proceeded a greater profusion of unmerited “reproach” of the name and doctrine and kingdom of the Lord; or has “the chair of the scorner” drawn a greater number and variety of its sarcastic sneers and bitter revilings. II. The phrase may mean—“When the wicked cometh” into intimacy, companionship, familiarity, “then cometh contempt.”—He who admits the wicked to his intimacy—makes him his associate—must share the infamy of his ill-chosen companion. Many a time too has this been exemplified.—Wardlaw.
Proverbs 18:4. The last clause of this verse may be divided into two smaller ones and placed in apposition, thus: “a bubbling brook,”—a fountain of wisdom. Fausset remarks that the Hebrew word used for man is ish, a good man, not adam, the general term for man.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 18:4
A GOOD MAN’S MOUTH
We must understand Solomon here to refer to a good man—to a man whose words are in harmony with the mind of God. Of such a man it may be said that his words are as deep waters and as a living spring.
I. Because his soul is in communication with an exhaustless source of spiritual life and wisdom. Rivers and wells that are fed from the mountain recesses which are filled with eternal snows never dry up—they are fed from a source that is never exhausted. So long as the lasting hills remain, and the present natural laws govern the world they must give forth every day abundant streams. A communication has been established between the soul of a good man and the living God—he holds constant communion with a source of spiritual life which can never fail, and consequently he can never be at a loss for subjects upon which to discourse—his mind is always filled with new thoughts of God, and new hopes of heaven upon which to meditate himself and which he can communicate to others.
II. Because that which flows from his lips is beneficial and refreshing to others. The waters in a shallow and stagnant pond give little or no refreshment to the thirsty traveller; they may even be the means of imparting disease to those who drink of them, or who live near them. But the water from a well, or from a deep and flowing stream, is generally pure and wholesome to the taste, and refreshing to the land through which it flows. And so it is with the speech of a godly man. Very mighty are the influence of words for good or for ill. Our first parents lost Eden by listening to the words of the tempter, and the speech of the wicked always diffuses an unwholesome moral atmosphere around it, if it does not eject a deadly poison into the soul. But the conversation and teaching of the godly are always a means of moral health to others; by their words they witness for the truth of God, and are the means of “opening men’s eyes, and turning them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan unto God” (Acts 26:13). And, like their Divine Master, they “know how to speak a word in season to him that is weary” (Isaiah 50:4), and thus that which flows from their lips is as refreshing and healthful to weary and struggling men and women on the highway of life as the living, cooling watercourse is to the dusty and thirsty traveller.
III. Because the flow is natural and spontaneous. Water may be sent through a tract of country by artificial means; fields may be watered and reservoirs filled by calling in science to supply natural deficiencies. But there is, after all, no comparison between this kind of forced irrigation and that which is the result of natural causes. If there is water beneath the surface of the earth it must force its way and find an outlet; it needs no hand of man to come to its aid; it penetrates the soil and forms a fertilising stream in obedience to natural law. And so the speech of a good man has nothing forced or artificial about it. It is the overflow of heartfelt experience. Like the apostles of old, he “cannot but speak the things which he has seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). The “good things” of his lips are the natural outcome of the “good treasure of his heart,” “for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matthew 12:24-25).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Talleyrand defined speech to be the art of concealing one’s opinions. Speech, even without any attempt at concealment, must be endlessly deep and wide as uttering all our being. Who can translate all its outgoings? If this be so with man, who shall judge of God and censure His obscurer revelations? Solomon is satisfied with one great difference,—that while man’s speech is “deep,” God’s speech is both “deep” and “living.” One has a vital source, the other is dead and stagnant. Grant that both are obscure. One is the darkness of a pool, the other the breadth and gush of an overflowing water. We ought to submit to mystery in God, for the tide of His utterance is to flow on for ever.—Miller.
One “greater than Solomon” “astonished the people” by the clearness, no less than by the depth of the waters (Matthew 7:28-29). No blessing is more valuable than a “rich indwelling of the word,” ready to be brought out on all suitable occasions of instruction. If the wise man sometimes “spares his words,” it is not for want of matter, but for greater edification. The stream is ready to flow, and sometimes can scarcely be restrained. The cold-hearted, speculative professor has his flow—sometimes a torrent of words, yet without a drop of profitable matter; chilling, even when doctrinally correct; without life, unction, or love. Lord! deliver us from this barren “talk of the lips” (chap. Proverbs 14:23). May our waters be deep, flowing from thine own inner sanctuary, refreshing and fertilising the Church of God!—Bridges.
In the two clauses of the verse, on the principle of parallelism, there appears to be an inversion of the same sentiment; for, properly speaking, the words uttered are not the “deep waters,” but the stream that issues from them; and, on the other hand, “the wellspring of wisdom” is not “the flowing brook,” but the deep and copious fountain or reservoir from which it issues. Another passage may serve to confirm this view. “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.” Here, the counsel is the deep water, not the words. But the words are the stream which the deep waters send forth. The words bring out and contain the counsel.—Wardlaw.
It must be remembered that “deep waters” are associated in the Old Testament with the thought of darkness and mystery (Proverbs 20:5; Psalms 69:2; Ecclesiastes 7:24), and we get a more profound thought if we see in the proverb a comparison between all teaching from without and that of the light within. The words of a man’s mouth are dark as the “deep waters of a pool, or tank; but the well-spring of wisdom is as a flowing brook, bright and clear.” So taken the verse presents a contrast like that of Jeremiah 2:13.—Plumptre.
When this word vir is used for man in sacred Scriptures it signifieth one who is strong and mighty, and for his strength great and excellent, and then by a man here we may understand him who is mighty and great in knowledge; the words of such a man are as deep waters, to the bottom whereof the shallow capacity of every one is not able to reach. But yet where the spring of those waters is a well-spring of wisdom, though sometimes it send forth deep waters, yet it doth not always; for that were to overwhelm the hearers. But at other times it is as a flowing brook, more shallow for capacity, but more forcible also in the stream of it, and either by persuasive exhortation carrying on the hearers to a pursuit of virtue and godliness, or else by a dissuasive reproof carrying them away from the practice of wickedness, and in both washing away the stains of their sinful lives. Wherefore St. Gregory saith, so must every preacher deal with his hearers as God dealeth with him; he must not preach to the simple as much as he knoweth because himself doth not know of heavenly mysteries as much as they are.—Jermin.
The subject of Proverbs 18:5 has been treated in the Homiletics on chap. 17, Proverbs 17:15 and Proverbs 17:26.
Proverbs 18:6. Calleth for. Stuart understands this in the sense of “to deserve.”
Proverbs 18:8. Wounds. The word so translated occurs only here and in chap. Proverbs 26:22, and will bear very different renderings. Some translate it words of sport (Stuart and Zockler); others, with Delitzsch, dainty morsels; others, “whispers, soft breezes.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF THE PARAGRAPH.—Proverbs 18:6-8
FOLLY AND ITS RESULTS
I. None but a foolish man seeks contention. As we saw in the previous chapter (Proverbs 18:14) contention or strife is an evil of which none at its beginnings can see the end. It may seem a very insignificant deed to strike a flint and steel together so as to produce a single spark, but one spark may produce a terrible and destructive fire. When a settler in a forest rubs two dry sticks together the act seems a trifling one, but the friction in time develops the latent heat of the wood, and there is enough fire brought into activity to lay low many a mighty forest tree. None but foolish men and children ever play with fire, and when they do it they generally suffer themselves first, but they are often not the only sufferers. So is it with contention, or a dispute in words. Wise men are often obliged to contend for truth and right, but they never seek an occasion of dispute. But there are moral fools who think it only an amusement to pick a quarrel, little heeding what the consequences of it may be, not caring if blows succeed to angry words, or perhaps even desiring that they should do so. But although a man may play with fire and escape unharmed, or may even apply a torch to his neighbour’s house without singeing so much as a hair of his own head, no fool’s lips enter into contention or call for strokes without bringing retribution upon his own head. “His mouth” is in his own “destruction,” and “his lips are the snare of his soul,” for it is a law as old as the universe that “with what measure ye meet it shall be measured to you again” (Matthew 6:1-2). The man who seeks contention will alway find others like-minded with himself who will be willing to do for him what he has done for others, and he who “calls for strokes” upon his fellow-creatures will receive them upon his own head with compound interest.
II. None but a cruel man will be a tale-bearer. A quarrelsome, passionate man is a fool, and he is also a cruel man, but he is not so cruel as the talebearer. The first man wounds, but he inflicts his injury in open daylight and in the front of his victim, but the second is like the treacherous footpad whose face is never seen and whose step is never heard, but who comes up behind his prey in the dark and leaves no trace behind but the mortal sword-thrust. But it must not be forgotten that there must always be two persons implicated in the guilt and cruelty of thus killing the reputation of a fellow-creature. The tale-bearer must have a repository for his slanders—the busy tongue must have a listening ear or no mischief would be done, and tale-bearing would die out for want of an atmosphere in which it could live. A reference to the Critical Notes will show that the word translated “wounds” may be rendered “dainties,” and it is because evil reports of others are so keenly relished by an unsanctified soul that the words of a tale-bearer are able to inflict such suffering and work so much ill in the world.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Proverbs 18:6. The emperor Julian used to banter the Christians with that precept of our Lord, “When thine adversary smites thee on the one cheek, turn to him the other also:” but Christians consult their ease as well as their consciences when they obey this precept in the spirit of it; whereas proud and passionate fools, when they give vent to their rancorous spirits, because they cannot bear the shadow of an indignity, not only turn the other cheek to their adversary, but smite, and urge, and almost force him to strike and destroy them.—Lawson.
Proverbs 18:8. The bite of a viper is not so deadly as the wound of these “talebearers’ ” stories and insinuations. The truth is they contrive to infuse their poison without a bite. If they would but appear in their true character;—would they but show their fangs, and make us feel them, we should be put upon our guard. We know the viper. We shun it. And when it has unhappily succeeded in wounding us, we instantly have recourse to means for preventing the poison from getting into the mass of the blood, and pervading the system. But these human vipers infuse their poison in the language of kindness and love. “Their words are smoother than oil; yet are they drawn swords;”—envenomed fangs, of which the virus gets into our system ere we are aware, works its mischievous and morally deadly effects, and becomes incapable of extraction. Every attempt at its removal still leaves some portion of it behind. There is, in the original word, an implication of softness, simplicity, undesignedness, which only gives the secret weapon with which the wound is inflicted the greater keenness.—Wardlaw.
The tongue of the tale-bearer is a two-edged sword, at once it cutteth on both sides, and his words are his wounds, at once wounding both him of whom he speaketh and him to whom he speaketh. To the one he gives the wounds of his slandering, to the other the wounds of his flattering. The one he woundeth so, that his blow is neither heard, seen, nor felt. The other he woundeth so, that though his blow be heard, seen, and felt, yet it is not perceived: in both they go down into the heart, as revealing the heart of the one, and as removing the heart of the other from him.… Or the words may be translated, the words of a talebearer are as smoothing words: for he frameth his own words to as much softness, as those which he reporteth he maketh to be hard. And indeed, as they sound, they are commonly so pleasing, that they easily slip down into the heart, where they are readily entertained.—Jermin.
Proverbs 18:9. Waster, or destroyer.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 18:9
I. Slothfulness and prodigality have the same origin. As brothers are the children of a common parent, so sloth and waste have their root in the common sin of ungodliness; men are spendthrifts or they are lazy, because they have no right sense of their obligations to God and to man—because they do not look upon their life as a stewardship for which they must give an account (Romans 14:12), but as a gift which they are at liberty to spend as they please. The acts of the prodigal and the slothful man differ in themselves, but they all spring from that spirit of self-pleasing which is the essence of ungodliness.
II. The slothful man is a waster of God’s most precious gifts. Twin-brothers are often so much alike that it is difficult for onlookers to distinguish one from the other. And there is an aspect in which we may view the slothful man in which we not only note the close resemblance he bears to his prodigal brother, but in which he is transformed into a prodigal himself. For the negative sinner—the man who does nothing—is a waster of his time and of his talents, and is therefore guilty of a positive crime. The man who “hid the Lord’s talent” was visited with a stern sentence as a positive transgressor (Matthew 25:25). If we convict a man of prodigality for wasting gold, what shall we say of him who wastes what no gold can buy? “Time,” says J. A. James, “is the most precious thing in the world. When God gives us a moment, He does not promise us another, as if to teach us highly to value and improve it, by the consideration, for aught we know, it may be the last. Time, when gone, never returns. We talk about ‘fetching up’ a lost hour, but the thing is impossible. A moment once lost, is lost for ever. We could as rationally set out to find a sound that had expired in air, as to find a lost moment.” And when we reflect what infinite results depend upon what a man does with his time, we can see the force of the proverb, because the slothful man is a waster of the most precious commodity in this world.
III. The results of both extravagance and sloth are the same. It makes no difference in the end whether a man gets nothing, or spends all that he gets, he can come to poverty by either road. The one has been compared to a man who dies by a rapid and violent disease, and the other by a slow and subtle consumption. But the grave, sooner or later, receives them both.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The practical lesson is, that in personal and domestic interests, diligence and economy should go together, and that the one without the other never can avail for either obtaining or securing even the comforts of life. Of what use is industry if its proceeds are not prudently managed when they come in?—if husband, or wife, or both, be destitute of discretion, improvident and thriftless? if there is the absence of all sober and considerate calculation, and, as a consequence, no due proportioning of outlay to income, but a reckless and wasteful expenditure, leaving an unlooked-for deficiency—a woful amount minus—at the year’s end? The poor inconsiderate fools never think what they are about. They keep no daily reckoning—no accounts; and so their money is gone, they can’t tell how—they had no idea they were living at such a rate!—and even when they have made the discovery there is no improvement. They say, possibly, they must take care; but they only say it, and immediately forget it. Things go on as before; and still (to use rather a colloquial, but sufficiently expressive phrase), what is taken in by the door is thrown out by the window; and still the wonder continues how it goes! They are ever marvelling how other folks do. They can’t understand it. For their parts, all that comes in finds its way off from them as fast as it comes, and many a time faster! Thus, as might be expected, there are the same appearances of bareness, and cheerlessness, and want, in the dwelling of the thriftless as in that of the slothful. Extremes thus meet.… Diligence, let me remind you, is as necessary for the acquisition of spiritual as of temporal good—of the riches of Divine knowledge to the mind, as of the blessings of the Divine life to the heart. And not less is economy of means. How often may it be seen, that with means of a very limited and stinted amount, there is more of spiritual prosperity in one instance, than is discoverable in another, with means the most varied and abundant. Many believers, it is to be feared, are spiritual spendthrifts. They use their privileges on no principle of economy. They read, they hear, they frequent ordinances—and yet their progress in spiritual attainments bears no proportion to the extent of their advantages. Rich in privileges, they are poor in the graces and enjoyments of the life of God in the soul. Why? The answer is plain. They who thrive on slender means, make the most of what they have; whereas they who live in the midst of abundance get into habits of carelessness, and of the prodigal use of what they have.—Wardlaw.
The word also here used may seem to refer this verse to that which goeth before it; and then it is a further description of a talebearer. For he is commonly a fellow slothful in his work, being busy in his words, and he is indeed brother to him that is a great waster, spoiling his own estate by his slothfulness, and by the mischief which his talebearing falleth upon him; and spoiling him to whom he talketh by the ill mind which he putteth into him.—Jermin.
Proverbs 18:10. Safe, or, lifted high.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 18:10-11
I. The citadel of him who trusts in the Lord. “The name of the Lord.” God has revealed Himself to men by many names, each one of which is intended to set forth some attribute of His perfect nature. The name “I AM,” by which He revealed Himself to Israel (Exodus 3:14) set forth His eternal self-existence, but He has also revealed Himself by names which are used to express human relations, such as king, judge, husband, father. These names are often borne by men who are destitute of the qualifications and feelings proper to the relationships which they express, but when any one of them is applied to God it is applied to one who combines within Himself all those attributes of character in perfection which ought to be possessed in some degree by men who are called by these names. The righteous man’s refuge, then, is a Living Personality—a Self-existent and Eternal King and Father, infinite in power, in wisdom, and in tenderness. It is therefore 1 An ever-present refuge. “God is not far from every one of us” (Acts 17:27), and being ever near, is always accessible.
2. An impregnable refuge. Before an enemy can attack those who have taken refuge in a fortress, they must carry the citadel itself. So before any enemy can harm a righteous man, he must overcome the Almighty God; he must circumvent His plans, and overthrow his purposes.
“When His wisdom can mistake,
His might decay, His love forsake,”
then, but not till then, will those be exposed to danger who have put their trust in Him.
3. An eternal refuge. The “arms” of strength that defend the children of God are “everlasting arms” (Deuteronomy 33:7). Many of the ancient fortresses that are scattered over our land were once deemed impregnable refuges. But although they bade defiance to many an assault of men in battle-array, they have had to yield to a more subtle enemy. Time has crumbled their once mighty walls, and made them unfit for purposes of defence. But the righteous man can say to Him who is his “strong tower,” “Lord, Thou hast been our dwelling-place in all generations.… Even from everlasting to everlasting Thou art God” (Psalms 90:1-2).
II. The stronghold of the man who trusts in riches.
1. Riches are no defence against a man’s most powerful enemies. While a man has wealth he is defended from many bodily ills and from many vexations of spirit. A man of narrow means has often to fight a hard battle to supply his bodily necessities, and is a stranger to those luxuries which make life, in this respect, so comfortable to a rich man. And a poor man has also to bend his will to the will of his richer neighbour—to endure often “th’ oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely.” Wealth is a defence against all these enemies to a man’s comfort. But there are troubles far heavier than any of these, from which riches afford no protection. Disease and death cannot be turned aside with money—a troubled soul cannot be comforted with gold. A bed of down cannot do much for a man whose body is racked with pain—it can do nothing for him whose soul is bowed down by sorrow, or smitten with a fear of death. In any of these straits a soul can find no “strong city” of refuge in the possession of untold millions; these enemies laugh at such a wall of defence. The man who trusts in material wealth as his chief good, has either made too low an estimate of his own needs, or too high an estimate of the power of wealth.
2. Wealth is a fortress with a most uncertain foundation. Granted that it is a defence against some very real ills, who can insure to himself a continuance of his present possessions? The uncertainty of riches has been a subject upon which the sages and moralists of all ages have dwelt—the millionaire of to-day may be a beggar to-morrow, and he who was last year surrounded by this “high wall,” which shut in so much that was agreeable to his senses and shut ont so many discomforts from his temporal life, may be standing to-day a forlorn, unsheltered creature, with only the ruins of his once imposing fortress around him. On this subject see also Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 11:28.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
This strong refuge is not only safe, but “set aloft,” so the word signifies, out of the gunshot. None can pull out of His hands. Run therefore to God by praying, not fainting. This is the best policy for security. That which is said of wily persons that are full of fetches, of windings, and of turnings in the world, that such will never break, is much more true of a righteous, praying Christian. He hath but one grand policy to secure him against all dangers, and that is, to run to God.—Trapp.
To this tower the wicked are sometimes driven in distress, then seeking help here, when it is nowhere else to be found. But the righteous in any distress runneth presently unto it. Thither their eyes look, thither their hands are stretched, thither their hearts carry them. Yea, they are not only carried unto it but into it, by placing their confidence in it, and making it their safety. They are well acquainted with the way, and therefore can make speed; they have cast off the clogs of worldly impediments and so are fit for running; they think it much longer until they come to God, than impatient hearts do until they come to help.—Jermin.
To “the righteous” God is good, and he nestles and shelters himself in that; “runs into” the nurture and shelter of God’s love, and, in the comfort of this strong tower, “is lifted high.” But there is a profounder sense. The very “name” that is cavilled at by the lost is the foundation of the Christian’s safety. “What the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh,” God did by His “name.” He gave it to Christ’s humanity. More specifically speaking, He used it in the “name” of His own righteousness, to balance our guilt and to give weight and value to the price of His redemption. We are repeatedly said to be saved by the “name” of God (Psalms 54:1; John 17:11-12). And this is the meaning. The perfect holiness of God, which the lost man would upbraid, is what is vital in the cross of Christ. It is not only “a strong tower,” but our only defence. And the act of faith is a renouncing of self and a snatching at “the name,” that is, the righteousness or substituted standing of our Great Deliverer. Miller.
Take the sinner in his first awakening conviction. He trembles at the thought of eternal condemnation. He looks forward—all is terror; backward—nothing but remorse; inward—all is darkness. Till now he had no idea of his need of salvation. His enemy now suggests that it is beyond his reach; that he has sinned too long and too much, against too much light and knowledge; how can he be saved? But the name of the Lord meets his eye. He spells out every letter, and putting it together, cries—“Who is a God like unto thee?” (Micah 7:18.) He runs to it, as to a strong tower. His burden of conscience is relieved. His soul is set free, and he enjoys his safety. Take—again—the child of God—feeble, distressed, assaulted. “What, if I should return to the world, look back, give up my profession, yield to my own deceitful heart, and perish at last with aggraved condemnation?” You are walking outside the gates of your tower; no wonder that your imprudence exposes you to “the fiery darts of the wicked.” Read again the name of the Lord! Go back within the walls—See upon the tower the name—“I am the Lord; I change not” (Malachi 3:6). Read the direction to trust in it—“Who is there among you that feareth the Lord, that obeyeth the voice of his servant: that walketh in darkness, and hath no light? Let him trust in the name of the Lord, and stay upon his God” (Isaiah 1:10). Mark the warrant of experience in this trust—“They that know thy name shall put their trust in Thee; for thou, Lord, hast not forsaken them that seek Thee” (Psalms 9:10). Thus sense of danger, knowledge of the way, confidence in the strength of the tower—all gives a spring of life and earnestness to run into it. Here the righteous—the man justified by the grace, and sanctified by the Spirit, of God—runneth every day, every hour; realizing at once his fearful danger, and his perfect security.—Bridges.
For Homiletics on Proverbs 18:12, see on chap. Proverbs 11:2 and Proverbs 16:18.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 18:13
ANSWERING BEFORE HEARING
I. A man who gives judgment in a matter before he has heard all the facts of the case wrongs himself. If he were to give his opinion upon a building as soon as the builders had dug out the foundation, or were to criticise a picture when the artist had only sketched its outline upon his canvas, he would be deemed a fool, and what he said would have no weight whatever. Men would justly say that the house or the picture had as yet no existence, and therefore could not be judged. And a man who has only heard a part of “a matter” is in no better position to judge in it, and commits as great a folly if he attempts to do so. He does violence to his own understanding—to those mental faculties which enable him to place things side by side and to compare them, and to sift and weigh evidence before he arrives at a conclusion. Unless he does this, the opinion that he forms to-day will be altered to-morrow, and his mind will never be firmly made up on any subject. As a necessary consequence, nobody will give much heed to his judgment—no thoughtful person will attach much weight to his words—and he will thus deprive himself of that consideration and respect which he might otherwise have enjoyed.
II. Such a man often deeply wrongs others. A half-told story often makes the state of matters appear so different from the truth that it is a gross injustice to condemn or justify any person when that is all that is known. A man who does it proclaims that he values very lightly the reputation of those concerned, and is often a robber of what is more to a man than his purse, viz. his good name.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Secularly, this is beyond a doubt; judicially, here is a great outrage; socially, a something very impolite; but religiously, a thing altogether a “shame.” Men born yesterday might certainly afford to listen. Life is a wide thing; and might, at least, be acted through, before in the darker points we insist upon a judgment … Folly, and therefore, mischief; shame, and therefore, ill desert. These elements often appear together.—Miller.
According to Mr. Stuart Mill, it might be plausibly maintained that in almost every one of the leading controversies, past or present, in social philosophy, both sides were right in what they affirmed, though wrong in what they denied; and that if either could have been made to take the other’s views in addition to his own, little more would have been needed to make its doctrine correct.… Nicodemus did well to start the seasonable query, “Doth our law judge any man before it hear him, and know what he doth?” Festus did well to protest that it was not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man to die before that he which was accused had the accusers face to face, and had licence to answer for himself concerning the charge laid against him. And in the same spirit and by the same rule, otherwise applied, had Felix done well to defer hearing Paul’s defence until Paul’s accusers were present.… Aristides, they tell us, would lend but one ear to anyone who accused an absent “party,” and used to hold his hand on the other, intimating that he reserved one ear for the absentee accused.… Cicero, “the greatest orator, save one, of antiquity,” has left it on record, as we are pertinently reminded on the Essays on Liberty, that he always studied his adversaries’ case with as great intensity as his own, if not still greater. And what Cicero practised as the means of forensic success, requires, as the essayist urges, to be imitated by all who study any subject in order to arrive at the truth. For he who knows only his own side of the case is convicted of knowing little of that; his reasons may be good and no one may have been able to refute them, but if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, what rational ground has he for preferring either opinion?—Jacox.
We ought to be the more cautious in forming and pronouncing opinions, because we are so little disposed to admit conviction if we fall into mistakes, or to retract them upon conviction. It is commonly supposed that ministers cannot repent, although they do not claim, like the Pope, the gift of infallibility; and there is too much reason for the supposition, provided it be not restricted to that order of men; for the same pride that makes one set of men stubborn in their wrong opinions is to be found in other men, although it is not perhaps so much strengthened by particular circumstances, nor so visible in their conduct, because they meet not with the same temptations to discover it. How many do we find who will not change their sentiments about religion, or about persons and things, upon the clearest evidence, and give way to anger upon the least contradiction to their favourite notions, as if their dearest interests were attacked! Saints themselves are not entirely delivered from this selfish disposition, as we see in the behaviour of David to Mephibosheth, after he had pronounced a rash sentence in his case.—Lawson.
The sources of the evil are various. There is—
1. Natural or acquired eagerness of spirit, and impatience of protracted inquiry. Such minds cannot bear anything that requires close and long-sustained attention. They become uneasy, fretted, and fidgetty; and are ever anxious to catch at any occasion for cutting the matter short and being done with it.
2. The sympathy of passion with one or other of the parties. One of them happens to be their friend; and whether it be he or his adversary that makes the statement, partiality for him stirs their resentment at the injury done to him; the blood warms, and, passion thus striking in, they hastily interrupt the narration—will hear no more of it—and at once proceed to load the enemy of their friend with abuse and imprecation. They know their friend, and to them it is enough that he has been a sufferer; they take it for granted that he must be in the right.
3. Indolence—indisposition to be troubled. This is a temper the very opposite of the first, but producing a similar effect. The former jumped to a conclusion from over-eagerness; this comes soon to a close from sheer sluggishness of mind. It is to a man of this stagnant and lazy temperament an exertion quite unbearable to keep his mind so long on the stretch as to listen even to a statement, and still more to an argument or pleading, that cannot be finished in a breath and done with. His attention soon flags; he gets sick of it; he seems as if he were listening when he is not, and with a yawn of exhaustion and misery he pronounces his verdict, and at times with great decision, for no other purpose than to get quit of the trouble. He can stand it no longer.
4. Self-conceit—the affectation of extraordinary acuteness. This would be an amusing character, were it not, at the same time, so provoking. The self-conceited man assumes a very sagacious and penetrating look—sits down with apparent determination to hear out the cause on both sides, and to “judge righteous judgment.” But it is hardly well begun, when the self-conceited man sees to the end of it.… It is surprising with what agility this spirit of self-conceit gets over difficulties. It sees none—no, never.
“Where others toil with philosophic force,
Its nimble nonsense takes a shorter course;
Flings at your head conviction in the lump,
And gains remote conclusions at a jump.”—
Proverbs 18:14. Infirmity, i.e., sickness, disease of body. As in similar verses, Miller translates “a wounded spirit:” a spirit of upbraiaing. Here again, as in Proverbs 18:4, the Hebrew word ish is used for man.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 18:14
SICKNESS OF BODY AND WOUNDS OF SOUL
I. A man can rise above pain of body. Men who do not seek supernatural help sometimes do it. They are endowed with a natural courage which makes them scorn to be overcome by physical pain, or they are naturally very hopeful, and are enabled in some measure to look beyond the present suffering to a time of relief in the future. Or intense excitement of the mind renders them for a time at least oblivious of bodily sensations. How many illustrations of this last case we have in men who have been desperately wounded in battle, and yet have been so intensely absorbed in the terrible contest that they have seemed scarcely aware of it, and have kept their position until their strength has utterly failed. But it is pre-eminently the godly man who can “sustain” infirmity of body. It is a fact of history that godly men and women have been even joyful in spirit when suffering great bodily pain. Instances are common in which those who have been in agony of body from some terrible disease have been full of comfort in their spirits, and have borne witness that they were conscious of a sustaining power outside themselves—of supernatural help from above which enabled them to “glory in tribulation.” But this ability of human creatures to rise above bodily suffering has been most remarkably exemplified in those who have suffered because they were the servants of God—who have been witnesses for the truth of the gospel of Christ. Even women have borne the most severe bodily sufferings not only with fortitude but with exultation—lifted above their bodily pain by a vivid realisation of unseen and spiritual realities and an intense consciousness of the favour of God.
II. But a wounded spirit crushes the entire man. The spirit of the man is the man himself, his power to love, to hope, and to enjoy. When these have lost their energy, there is nothing to lift him up, and existence becomes an intolerable burden. The spirit can sustain the body under its trials, but sensual gratifications and physical comforts can do nothing towards alleviating spiritual distress. But observe:—
1. That all sorrow of heart does not crush a man. Sanctified sorrow, although it wounds the spirit, yet it only wounds it to raise it to a higher level—to make it capable of a more refined enjoyment. Bereavement, the faithlessness of friends, disappointed hopes, often deeply wound the spirit, yet men bear these wounds and often are made better and stronger by them. A sense of the favour of God and a peaceful conscience will prevent men from being overwhelmed by even very keen mental sorrow.
2. An unbearable wound of spirit can be the portion of those only who have no sense of the favour of God. So long as a man has this no pain of body or sorrow of soul can cast him down entirely, but without it he has little power to bear manfully the burdens of life, and a sense of the absence of it would be enough to crush him utterly although he had no other burdens to bear.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
Spiritual sickness varies (as some diseases do in the body according to the constitution of the sick) thereafter as the soul is that hath it, whether regenerate or reprobate. The malignancy is great in both, but with far less danger in the former.
1. In the elect, this spiritual sickness is an afflicted conscience, when God will suffer us to take a deep sense of our sins, and bring us to the life of grace by the valley of death, as it were by hell gates unto heaven. There is no anguish to that of the conscience: “A wounded spirit who can bear? They that have been valiant in bearing wrongs, in forbearing delights, have yet had womanish and coward spirits in sustaining the terrors of a tumultuous conscience. If our strength were as an army, and our lands not limited save with east and west, if our meat were manna, and our garments as the ephod of Aaron; yet the afflicted conscience would refuse to be cheered with all these comforts. When God shall raise up our sins, like dust and smoke in the eyes of our souls … when He either hides His countenance from us, or beholds us with an angry look; lo, then, if any sickness be like this sickness, any calamity like the fainting soul! Many offences touch the body which extend not to the soul; but if the soul be grieved, the sympathising flesh suffers deeply with it. The blood is dried up, the marrow wasted, the flesh pined, as if the powers and pores of the body opened themselves like so many windows to discover the passions of the distressed prisoner within. It was not the sense of outward sufferings (for mere men have borne the agonies of death undaunted) but the wrestling of God’s wrath with His spirit, that drew from Christ that complaint, able to make heaven and earth stand aghast: “My soul is heavy unto death” (Matthew 26:38).… Neither is this sickness of conscience properly good in itself, nor any grace of God, but used by God as an instrument of good to His, as when by the spirit of bondage He brings us to adoption. So the needle that draws the thread through the cloth is some means to join it together.…
2. Spiritual sickness for sin befalling a reprobate soul, is final and total desperation. This is that fearful consequent which treads upon the heels of presumption. Cain’s fratricide, Judas’s treachery, presumptious, aspiring, heaven-daring sins, find this final catastrophe, to despair of the mercy of God.… As if the goodness of God, and the value of Christ’s ransom, were below his iniquity. As if the pardon of his sins would empty God’s storehouse of compassion, and leave His stock of mercy poor.… This is that sin which not only offers injury and indignity to the Lord of heaven and earth, but even breaks that league of kindness which we owe to our own flesh. To commit sin is the killing of the soul; to refuse hope of mercy is to cast it down to hell. Therefore St. Jerome affirms that Judas sinned more in despairing of his Master’s pardon than in betraying Him; since nothing can be more derogatory to the goodness of God, which He hath granted by promise and oath—two immutable witnesses—to penitent sinners than to credit the father of lies before Him.—T. Adams.
“The spirit of a man may control his sickness, but a spirit of upbraiding, who can carry that?” To give all up, and simply lie back and murmur, is bad even for worldly disorders; but Solomon derives out of it a much more profound spiritual sense. The “spirit of a man,” at least among those to whom Solomon wrote, had truth enough to save him if he would only listen. Control. The original is contain, as wine in a bottle, sickness—literally what is physical; but in this same book employed for the spiritual malady. If the soul, therefore, would lie quiet, and yield to its own light, it would be joined by what is higher, and would contain, or control its own malady; God helping, as He would, would check, and get the better of it; but “a spirit of upbraiding”—and by this is meant precisely the quarrel (chap. Proverbs 17:19) with God which has been so long discussed—is what ruins all. It is upon them that are contentious, and will not obey the truth, (Romans 2:8)—that truth being in all of them through “the invisible things” which are seen “by the things that are made” (Romans 1:20)—that the apostle denounces “tribulation and wrath, indignation and anguish.” Not that men can save themselves, but that they would save themselves under God’s influences if they did not contend with Him; that it is “rebellion” that turns the scale (Psalms 68:6); that there is light enough in every man to draw him to saving light if he would only follow it; and that on this very account it is the great sorrow of the sinner that he has this “spirit of upbraiding,” which, in the spiritual world, no moral malady “can carry.”—Miller.
St. Gregory saith by patience we possess our souls, because, while we learn to bear rule over ourselves, we begin to possess that which we are. And surely, if thou be courageously patient, whatsoever thou mayest lose yet thou enjoyest that which thou hast; or, if thou hast nothing, yet thou shalt enjoy thyself, thou shalt enjoy the comfort of thy own spirit. Whereas impatiency for anything that is lost taketh away the comfort of all that remaineth, yea, the comfort of thine own self.—Jermin.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 18:15
PRUDENCE AND KNOWLEDGE
We have before given a definition of prudence as wisdom applied to practice; a prudent man is likewise defined as one “cautious to avoid harm.” Taking in both definitions, the text suggests—
I. That ignorance exposes men to danger. This is true in relation to any and every kind of evil to which men are exposed. A man who is in the general sense of the term an ignorant man—who does not possess even the rudimentary knowledge of an ordinary schoolboy—is liable to be imposed upon and deceived by those who know more. Ignorance of physical and scientific truth often leads men to expose themselves to bodily danger without being aware of it, and ignorance of spiritual truth often causes men to become victims of great moral evil without realising their danger. If a man, therefore, desires to avoid harm to body, mind, and soul, he must set himself to acquire knowledge both in relation to things material and spiritual.
II. Prudence, i.e., wisdom applied to practice, is an indispensable qualification for obtaining knowledge. If a man possesses an estate beneath whose surface he knows there lies buried much precious mineral treasure, he must bring much wisdom and skill into play before he has the treasure in his hand. Wisdom must be reduced to practice in sinking the shaft and in working the mine before the hidden wealth is brought to light to enrich its owner. He must work, he must work in harmony with certain fixed laws if he is to become possessor of the treasure. So with obtaining knowledge. A man must exert himself—he must seek—and his exertions must be wisely directed if he is to possess that knowledge which is better than any material treasure because it enriches the better part of a man. It is not enough to be active, but he must see that his actions are wisely directed, that the means are adapted to the end in view. If there is effort without wisdom to guide it there may be seeking without getting.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
A heart made discerning gains in knowledge, etc. This is a beautiful fact. Snow gathers snow as we roll it on the ground. A wood gathers wood, like all vegetable or vital growths. A sinner stands dead like a blasted oak, but a saint not only lives by growing, but grows by living.—Miller.
“The heart is here, as in many other instances, apparently used for the mind in general, including both the intellect and the affections. There is in “the wise” a love of knowledge, and an application of the mental powers for its attainment. And as “the ear” is one of the great inlets to instruction, it may here, with propriety, be considered as comprehending all the ways in which knowledge may be acquired.—Wardlaw.
The common course is that seeking goes before getting, but here getting is first, and seeking follows after. For surely they are the best seekers of knowledge, and are most earnest after it, who have already gotten it. They who have not gotten it do not know the worth of it, and so have no mind to look after it, or if they have the mind, they have no knowledge how to seek it. But they who have already found it are so affected with the worth of it, so directed by the light of it, as that they still seek more, still get more.—Jermin.
Proverbs 18:16. A man’s gifts. “Hebrew, adam, the gift of a man, however humble and low” (Fausset).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 18:16
THE INFLUENCE OF TALENT
Understanding the gift here spoken of as a special mental endowment (see Hitzig), we remark—
I. That great abilities are gifts from God. There are certain mental capabilities which are the common inheritance of men in general, but it cannot be denied that there are men who, apart from all the differences made by circumstances and education, have capacities and abilities which far exceed those of ordinary men. The gift of one talent is more common than the gift of ten, yet both the ten and the one are gifts from the same hand. Although the Divine Creator gives to all men liberally, He does not give to all equally, but seeing that man is not responsible for this inequality, those who are most richly endowed should find in the fact of their superiority matter for gratitude and not for self-glorification.
II. Such a gift tends to the exaltation of the man who possesses it. It “maketh room for him” in the world—it opens up to him many opportunities of social advancement, and it “bringeth him before great men,”—men who are either great in wealth and position or intellectually and morally great, or are great in both senses of the word. As surely as water will find its level, so a truly gifted man will find some outlet for his talents—some sphere large enough to use what has been bestowed upon him for the very purpose of being used. Even Daniel, although a captive in Babylon, found that the God-given powers within him made room for him at a heathen court and brought him before more than one mighty monarch.
III. Such a gift to a man is a gift for men. Although it tends to his own personal exaltation and benefit, it is not bestowed for that purpose only or chiefly. When God bestows upon one man capabilities and endowments far above the common order, He does not intend to bless that man alone by the gift, but he holds him responsible for the use of the power put into his hand—He expects him so to employ his talents that his fellow-men also may be blessed by the gift. Thus the administrative ability which was bestowed upon Joseph was not given to him simply or chiefly to bring him before Pharaoh for his own advancement, but to bring blessing to the Egyptian nation, and to further God’s purposes concerning his own family. When the Lord reckons with His servants, He will account that talent mis-used which is used for self-aggrandisement alone.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 18:17
I. The evidence of one person alone must not be too much depended on. This is but another way of putting the old proverb that “One tale is good till another is told.” And this does not necessarily imply that the first teller of the tale is an untruthful person, but we are so apt to apprehend facts through the medium of our own prejudices—to see things in the light in which we wish to see them—that even two truthful men may sometimes vary much in their version of the same occurrence. This will be more certainly the case if it is a man’s “own cause” that is under discussion, self-interest is then very likely to lead him to give a one-sided statement. He may unintentionally leave out facts which in the eyes of another person may be very important, or he may bring others into a prominence to which an impartial judge may not consider them entitled. Hence—
II. The need of cross-examination—of another to “come and search him.” Questioning may not convict the first person of any mis-statement, but it may elicit other facts which give quite a different colouring to the whole. The wife of Potiphar seemed “just in her cause” when she declared that Joseph left his garment in her hand and fled. This was not an untruth, and appearances were certainly very much against her innocent victim, but if Joseph had been allowed to tell his story too, the truth might have come to light. Therefore we learn that we must not give a verdict for or against an accused person until both he and his accuser have been heard.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The first clause reads thus in the Hebrew, “A righteous one, the first in his quarrel,” and has a brevity which is practically too great. The righteous is not a righteous man provero, but only righteous, he having the first chance to speak. How true this is, men for the first time in a court can easily imagine. Each last strong speech comes out victorious. Now the lost has done all the strong speaking as yet. Wait till God speaks, and the case will look very differently.—Miller.
In every cause, the first information, if it have dwelt for a little in the judge’s mind, takes deep root, and colours and takes possession of it, insomuch that it will hardly be washed out unless either some clear falsehood be detected or some deceit in the statement thereof.—Bacon.
Saul made himself appear just in his own cause. The necessity of the case seemed to warrant the deviation from the command. But Samuel searched him, and laid open his rebellion. (1 Samuel 15:17-23.) Ziba’s cause seemed just in David’s eyes, until Mephibosheth’s explanation searched him to his confusion. Job’s incautious self-defence was laid open by Elihu’s probing application. (Job 33:8-12.)—Bridges.
In religious disputes it is a great injustice to depend for the character of a sect, or an impartial representation of their doctrines, upon one whom partiality has blinded and rendered unfit, however honest he may be, to do them justice. Party spirit has as much influence as gifts to blind the eyes of the wise, and to pervert the words of the righteous.—Lawson.
This word, falling from heaven on the busy life of man, is echoed back from every quarter in a universal acknowledgment of its justness.… This scripture reveals a crook in the creature that God made upright. There is a bias in the heart, the fountain of impulse, and the resulting life-course turns deceitfully aside. Self-love is the twist in the heart within, and self-interest is the side to which the variation from righteousness steadily tends.… The heart makes the lie, deceiving first the man himself, and thereafter his neighbours. The bent is in the mould where the thought is first cast in embryo, and everything that comes forth is crooked. In my early childhood a fact regarding the relations of matter came under my observation which I now see has its analogue in the moral laws. An industrious old man, by trade a mason, was engaged to build a certain piece of wall at so much per yard. He came at the appointed time, laid the foundations according to the specifications, and proceeded with his building, course upon course, according to the approved methods of his craft. When the work had advanced several feet above the ground, a younger man, with a steadier hand and a brighter eye, came to assist the elder operator. Casting his eye along the work, as he laid down his tools and adjusted his apron, he detected a defect, and instantly called out to his senior partner that the wall was not plumb. “It must be plumb,” rejoined the builder, somewhat piqued, “for I have laid every stone by the plumb-line.” Suiting the action to the word he grasped the rule, laid it along his work, and triumphantly pointed to the lead vibrating and settling down precisely on the cut that marks the middle. Sure enough the wall was according to rule, and yet the wall was not plumb. The rule was examined, and the discovery was made that the old man, with his defective eyesight, had drawn the cord through the wrong slit at the top of the instrument, and then from some cause which I cannot explain, using only one side of it, had never detected his mistake.… It is on some such principle that people err in preparing a representation of their own case. They suspend their plumb, not from the middle, but from one edge of the rule, and that the edge which lies next their own interests.—Arnot.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 18:18
THE USE OF THE LOT
We have before had the lot as a symbol of human freedom and Divine preordination (chap. Proverbs 16:33, page 499). In this verse the thought is the advantage of its use as putting an end to contention. That it is thus a means to a most desirable end appears when we consider—
I. That it prevents waste of time. Time is to human creatures a very precious commodity, because the longest life lived in this world is comparatively short. If a man has a very small inheritance he cannot afford to have one and another of his neighbours encroaching upon his land and taking a portion here and there, or others putting their hands into his pockets and helping themselves to what is only sufficient for his own needs. If a young artist has a sketch given to him by his master which he is to fill up in a given time, he cannot afford to spend the moments in disputing with his fellow-pupils about their respective rights to certain brushes and colours; while he is contending the hours are going, and when the master calls for the picture he will have none to show. A man’s life is a limited inheritance, given to him by God, to use first of all for his own spiritual good, and he cannot afford to be robbed of any part of it. It is an outline which God has given to him to be filled up in a certain time—spiritual and mental capacities and abilities are bestowed upon him which he is expected so to use as to form a godly noble character, and he cannot afford to waste any of the life given him for this purpose in contention with his brother man, thereby arousing the devil within himself and in him with whom he disputes. The use of the lot is therefore desirable under certain conditions and restrictions, because in ending contention it saves time. When the eleven Apostles were awaiting the seal of their commission, they felt that they had no time to waste in contending who should fill up the empty place in their band—they knew that, although they were brethren in Christ, they might differ in their opinions in the matter—and they therefore wisely determined to decide it by referring to the lot. There have been, since, Christian men and women who resort to the same method of avoiding contention; and with the example of the Apostles before us, we can have no doubt that they are justified in so doing. But—
II. It prevents waste of material wealth. If the kings and great men of the earth had resorted to this method of “causing contentions to cease and parting between the mighty,” how many homes and cities would have escaped overthrow, how many a fruitful and prosperous country would have been preserved from desolation, and how many a princely fortune would have remained in the hands of its rightful owners. God divided the land of Israel by lot, and if men had generally been content to permit Him to divide the earth among them in a similar manner, how much more rich and prosperous would they have been.
III. It prevents waste of human life. It would be indeed a blessing if property was the most precious thing wasted in the contentions of men. But, alas, disputes often lead to far more serious consequences, and that life of man, which is at the best so limited, has been made much shorter by the sword of his fellow-man. Sometimes family feuds have led men to resort to this terrible method of settling disputes, and men of the same parentage have fought till one shed the other’s blood. And sometimes it has been a nation that has contended with another, and then not one has fallen a victim, but hundreds on both sides. And when we think not only of the wounds thus inflicted, and the lives thus cut off, but of the wounded hearts and darkened lives of those who mourn them, we must allow that any means of ending contention is better than permitting it to work its deadly work. And the fact that the lot was used by Israel at the command of God, and sanctioned by Him in the early history of the Christian Church, makes it certain that if used in a right spirit it might still be employed so as to be acceptable to Him.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
As the lot was had recourse to when causes were such as admitted not of determination otherwise, there seems to be a natural enough relation of suggestion between this verse and the preceding. In cases when representations differed, and the evidence between them was such as to leave it impossible to say certainly on which side was the preponderance, or when the parties would not submit to arbitration, or when they were too powerful to be safely meddled with, then “the lot caused contentions to cease, and parted between the mighty.”—Wardlaw.
There seems no Scriptural prohibition to the use of this ordinance, provided it be exercised in a reverential dependence upon God, and not profaned for common purposes or worldly ends. At the same time the Word of God appears to be more fully recognised as the arbiter of the Divine will.… Perhaps it is more easy to abide by the decision of the lot than of the Word. The last requires more self-denial, humility, and patience, and therefore is more practically useful.—Bridges.
He that hath commanded to cease from labour, hath much more commanded to cease from strife. He that was pleased to make the Sabbath of rest, is also pleased with those who make a Sabbath of peace. This is a Sabbath altogether moral, never to be abrogated. Wherefore let reason and indifferency hear the differences that are between any, and if it can be done let them be reconciled. But if otherwise it cannot be ordered then let a lot be the compromiser of them. In that there can be no partiality, and though itself cannot judge of right, yet He that guides it is the most righteous Judge of the world. If a lot have erred, it is when men’s understanding could have put things right, for God, having given power to men, He looks that men should use it. But God so loveth peace, that, where men cannot, He will do right, if that the lot refer unto His arbitrament. Wherefore, when the mighty strive, and might of reason standeth on both sides equally, being too strong for man to decide, let the Almighty by His lot decide it.—Jermin.
Proverbs 18:19. “Is harder to be won;” these words are not in the original, but have been inserted to supply the sense. Some translators read “a brother offended resisteth more than a strong city.” Miller reads, “When a brother is revolted away, it is from a city of strength.”
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 18:19
The state of things treated in this verse reveals most conclusively that man has fallen. Contention between any men is a plain proof that there is some flaw in human nature, that the relations of human creatures are not what they ought to be. If the disputants are men of the same nation, their contention seems more unnatural than if they belonged to different races, but when sons of the same father—men brought up at the knees of the same mother, are found in a state of enmity, we have a very strong proof that the race is not what its head was when he came fresh from the hand of his Creator. Such enmity Solomon compares to the bars of a castle—
I. Because it is hard to break through. The bars that guard the outlet of a fortress are strong, and when the iron crowbar is applied to them with a view of making an entrance, the weapon finds itself resisted by a substance as unyielding as its own. The bars strike against each other, but neither being more brittle than its antagonist, no progress is made. It is no ordinary difference that makes a ground of quarrel between brothers; there are so many ties to be broken and so many motives of self-interest to bind them, that the enmity must be deep to separate them at first, and being deep and strong, it is not easily broken down.
II. Because it is the only thing that separates them. Friends who dearly love each other and are one in spirit sometimes find nothing between them but a few bars—the iron grating of a dungeon may be all that keeps them apart. But although it is only that, it is a very real and terrible barrier. And a dispute between brethren is like iron bars, dividing those who ought to be one more truly and sadly than any prison door could separate them. They may be dwelling under the same roof, and so have every opportunity of enjoying each other’s society and gladdening each other’s life. But contention builds around each one a more impregnable barrier than the highest walls of the strongest fortress.
III. That to subdue such enmity requires more wisdom and skill than to take a city. There are several methods by which a city may be won. It may be taken by superior physical force, it may be surprised and captured, or its inhabitants may be starved into a surrender. But it is not so easy to capture a human heart—an angry brother must be subdued by different means, and by weapons which require more skilful handling. No physical force can break down enmity of heart—even God cannot reconcile men unto Himself by His physical omnipotence, but wins them by love. And this is the only power which can win “a brother offended.” If he has been in the wrong we must approach him with a free forgiveness, and if the wrong has been on our side we must approach with submission and acknowledgment of our fault.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
“When a brother is revolted away, it is from a city of strength; and contentions are like the bars of a citadel.” The whole meaning is, that one “brother” “revolted away” from another, is “revolted from a city of strength,” that being what one is to all the rest. In other words, brothers are a shelter to brothers, and quarrels lock up that resort.… Notice, that a brother is not only a commoner defence, but a “citadel;” and a “bar” to that keep shuts a man out of his best earthly dependence. It is a fine adage, even for this world … but when applied to our Great Brother, and to our God and King, it is one of the noblest of inspired texts. He who offends our Brother Prince shuts a high tower (Psalms 18:2). He who quarrels with our Surety snaps to the lock of a citadel; and then, alas, it shall be, just as the wild rush of embittered enemies should have roused him to enter in.—Miller.
The sweeter the wine the sharper the vinegar; accordingly, the greater the love implanted by nature, the more bitter the hate where this love is violated.—Zeltner.
The matter of fact is here stated—and there are natural enough reasons to account for it. More is justly expected from a brother than from a stranger—more of affection, gratitude, kindly treatment, fidelity, and trustworthiness. When such expectations are disappointed, the wound in the spirit is proportionately deeper, and more difficult of healing—the breach wider, and harder of being made up. Besides, the slower a person is to take offence—the longer he forbears—the more he forgives—the more difficult it is fairly to overcome the yearnings of affection, and break the bonds of brotherhood—the more inveterate may the spirit of resentment be; the more sullen and distant the alienation, when it is actually produced.—Wardlaw.
Whether it be a brother by race, place, or grace; those oft that loved most dearly, if once the devil cast his club between them, hate most deadly.… As for brethren by profession, and that of the true religion too, among Protestants, you shall meet with many divisions, and those prosecuted with a great deal of bitterness. No war breaks out sooner, or lasts longer, than that among divines, or that about a sacrament; a sacrament of love, a communion, and yet the occasion, by accident, of much dissension.—Trapp.
The original word here used is a brother revolting or departing by disloyalty; or else a brother offended by disloyal departing. For such ought to be the command of love between brethren, that he that breaks it is a disloyal rebel unto it. And surely they had need to be firmly tied, because, being divided, they are so hardly joined. For as that which being whole is most strongly united, being broken is farthest from being made whole; and as a stick of hard wax, being broken, may more easily be conjoined than a stick of hard wood, so are the divisions of brethren more hardly composed than the contentions of others.—Jermin.
Proverbs 18:20. Satisfied. “If this word is taken in a good sense the fruit must be good; but it may be ironical, meaning false or malignant words will find ample retribution. Perhaps the next verse helps us to determine the meaning” (Stuart).
Proverbs 18:21. They that love it, i.e., “make it a special object of gratification” (Stuart).
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 18:20-21
THE POWER OF THE LITTLE MEMBER
Solomon again and again reverts to the mighty influences for good and evil which flow from the use of the tongue—that “little member” upon which such great issues often depend. He here notices—
I. The power of words over the man who utters them. He declares that the state of the inward man—its rest or unrest, its gladness or its gloom—depends very much upon the use that is made of the tongue. A little thought and observation will convince us that this is true. Beginning with the familiar intercourse of every-day life, how true it is that the utterance of kindly words of sympathy, and advice and warning, have a tendency to make sunshine in the heart of him who utters them, while censorious, hasty, harsh words embitter and darken the spirit of their author. Going beyond these to utterances which have a wider influence, the proverb is no less true. The painter that has conceived a picture in his mind, and then, seeing it upon canvas, thinks of the many eyes who will gaze upon it with interest, and of those who perchance will be elevated and instructed by it, feels a satisfaction in the thought that it owes its existence to him—that without the working of his brain and hand it would not have been. “He is filled with the increase” of his skilful hand. So the man whose words are listened to and waited for by other men—whether he be the skilful barrister, or the powerful statesman, or the preacher of the Gospel, has a satisfaction in being able so to put forth his conceptions as to give to his fellow-men new ideas—to show them things in a light in which they might never have seen them but for this power which he possesses. He has joy in being the originator of fresh and living thoughts, and in being able by clothing them in words to impart them to others. But upon the moral quality of the “fruit of his mouth” will depend the length and depth of his satisfaction. The simple power to influence men by speech will gratify for the moment—but if the increase of the lips is to be an abiding source of contentment there must be a consciousness that the power has been used to benefit mankind in some way or other—that the skilful pleading has been on the side of right, that the powerful logic has been used to expose the false and to defend the true, or the brilliant oratory has had for its aim the moral enlightenment and strengthening of the listeners. If it be not so, the fruit of a man’s mouth will be like the roll given to the apocalyptic seer, “in the mouth as sweet as honey,” but afterwards “bitter.” (Revelation 10:10.) How sad must be the reflections of those who have possessed this God-given power for good or ill when they have to look back upon its misuse.
II. The power of words over those who hear them. The tongue in its mighty influence is a king having the power of life and death. No other member of the human body can lay claim to such wide-spread and regal authority. The eye can influence men, but not so powerfully as the tongue, nor can its influence reach so many at once. The hand can strike down the body of a single foe, or of two or three at once. But the tongue can reach a thousand hearts at one time, and make men its slaves, not in twos and threes but in masses. And as it sways the affections and takes a man’s will captive, it wields the power of life and death not over the body of the man but over the man himself. The tongue of the tempter can drag its victims down, body and soul, to hell, while the tongue which is touched with a living coal from off the altar of God can be the means of persuading men to be reconciled to their Heavenly Father, and so of making them partakers of eternal life. Seeing, then, what issues of life and death are dependent upon this king, it is manifest that men should keep him in absolute control; if so much depends upon his action he ought to be under the strictest supervision. If one member of the body politic, by the position which he holds and the ability which he possesses, is able to exercise a very powerful influence in the kingdom for weal or for woe, men watch him narrowly and jealously to see how he uses his power, and if they are anxious for the well-being of the State they endeavour to restrain him when he is going wrong and stimulate him when he is using his influence for the right. So ought every man to watch and guard his own tongue; seeing that life and death are in its power, he ought to bring all his words to the bar of conscience and try them there, severely condemning them if they have not been such as would minister life to the hearers, and remembering that his Master has said, “By thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned” (Matthew 12:37).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
If a man were possessed of a field exceedingly productive, either of good fruits or of noisome and poisonous herbs, according to the cultivation bestowed on it, what pains would he use to clear it of every weed, and to have it sown with good grain! and yet, when the harvest is come, he may take his choice whether he will eat of the product or not. Such a field is the tongue of man, with this difference, that a man is obliged to eat the fruit of it, although it should be worse than hemlock. What care, then, should we use to pluck from our hearts every root of bitterness, and to have them furnished with knowledge and prudence, that our discourse may be good, to the use of edifying!—Lawson.
There is a sense in which we may understand the language, even taking the former clause of the twentieth verse literally—“A man’s belly shall be satisfied with the fruit of his mouth.” You may smile and say, A man cannot live upon words! Very true. But the way in which a man uses his lips and his tongue, as the organs of speech, may contribute not a little to his getting, or his failing to get, “the meat that perisheth.” I mean not that any of you should, in the slightest degree, try to work your way in life by words of flattery; but when a man’s general conversation is such as to procure for him a character for discretion, courtesy, gratitude, straight forward integrity, and trustworthiness, this may surely contribute, eminently and directly, to the temporal sustenance and comfort of the man himself and his family: while an opposite style of intercourse may tend to penury and starvation. A man may, in various ways, make his “lips” the instrument of either want on the one hand, or plenty on the other.—Wardlaw.
Our understanding of Proverbs 18:20 is, that as the outward wants of a man are satisfied by his daily acts, so he himself is, and that simply as his acts, or because of the intimate sympathy between the man and what he does. This thought is still clearer in the verse that follows:—“Death and life are in the power (literally the hand) of the tongue.” There can be no doubt that men’s conduct (for tongue is but the leading instrument of it) determines death or life, yet, in spite of the adventurous hazard, their love to it (or literally, just as they love this or that sort of tongue), they shall eat its fruit, and incur, of course, fearful responsibilities.—Miller.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 18:22
A TWOFOLD GOOD
I. Polygamy cannot be recommended by those who have practised it. A thousand counterfeit coins, even if they pass as genuine for a time, are nothing worth in comparison with one real golden sovereign. Both may bear the image and superscription of the king, but the one is an insult to the name it bears while the other has a right to be imprinted with the royal name. The author of this proverb was a polygamist—his great experience qualified him to give an opinion upon the subject—but we do not here find him dwelling upon the satisfaction of the harem, but upon the blessedness of a wife. He was fully conscious of the fact that a real partner of his life—one woman to be a help-meet for him according to the Divine intention—would have added much more to his real welfare than the thousand counterfeits to whom it was an insult to God to give the name of wives. More than once he bears testimony to the blessedness of marriage in the true sense of the word, but we never find him praising the practice which was so great a curse to his own life. In this proverb he indirectly condemns himself and warns others by his own example. A vessel that has gone to pieces upon the rocks may still be used to prevent others from sharing her fate. The broken timbers may serve to light a beacon fire which may warn other vessels to take another course. Polygamy was the rock upon which Solomon shipwrecked his social happiness and much more (1 Kings 11:3), and he seems here and elsewhere to warn his descendants not to follow in his footsteps in this respect and conform to the custom of the heathen monarchs by whom they were surrounded.
II. Monogamy brings a double portion—a good thing and the Divine favour. The favour of a good parent is a thing prized highly by a dutiful child, and enhances the value of every other blessing. The favour of a good king is in itself a fortune which few men would despise. The favour of God is a fortune for a period which extends beyond that named in the marriage vow, it is a fortune which no creature can afford to despise, and a blessing which those who know Him prize before all things in earth or heaven. When a man enters into the marriage relation according to the Divine intention—making a woman his wife in the true sense of the word—he not only adds to his own comfort and consults his own interest, but he does that which is pleasing to God—he takes a step upon which he can fearlessly ask for the Divine blessing.
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
“Findeth” implies the rarity of the thing obtained (Ecclesiastes 7:27-28), and the need of circumspection in the search. Blind passion is not to make the selection at random.—Fausset.
The married who is truly Christian knows that, even though sometimes things are badly matched, still his marriage relation is well pleasing to God as His creation and ordinance, and what he therein does or endures, passes as done or suffered for God.—Luther.
There is a secular and a spiritual in every proverb. These two are not apart, but flow easily into each other. Secularly, a wife is the highest treasure. It is a vapid distinction to say a good wife, and the Bible many a time hurries on without any such distinction (comp. ch. Proverbs 4:3). A bad “wife” is no “wife” at all. A wife is the holiest of all relations; in this world the most powerful for good.… A good marriage is a means of grace, … of course any relation that is near and potent is covered by the passage.—Miller.
I shall always endeavour to make choice of such a woman for my spouse who hath first made choice of Christ as a spouse for herself; that none may be made one flesh with me who is not made one spirit with Christ my Saviour. For I look upon the image of Christ as the best mark of beauty I can behold in her, and the grace of God as the best portion I can receive with her.—Bp. Reynolds.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 18:23
THE RICH AND POOR
This proverb treats of a twofold aspect of human life which furnishes a strong proof of the fallen condition of human nature. There is, probably, no part of this earth—teeming although it is with riches enough to satisfy the needs of every living thing—in which those are not to be found who have to struggle hard for their daily bread, and who even then come off with but a scanty share. Poverty seems as universal as disease and death, and must be referred to the same source. For those who know anything of the character of God, know that it was not a part of his original intention that men should be placed in such circumstances; and when they look abroad upon their fellow-creatures, they see that all the poverty of the poor can be traced to wrong-doing on the part of men—to the sefishness of some, and to the indolence and vice of others. It is quite certain that, when God’s will is done on earth as it is in heaven, the miserable poverty which now surrounds us on every side will cease to exist. Solomon here sets forth—
I. One of the many evils of poverty. He has before mentioned some of its advantages (see chap. Proverbs 13:8, page 302), but the evil of the text is a very real and common one. A poor man has not only a very small share of the material comforts of life, but even for these he is often compelled to sue as for a favour. Even if he is an honest and able man, he may be so dependent upon the caprices of the wealthy as to have to entreat their help and patronage before he can use his powers to his own advantage. Such a state of things is often felt to be hard and is undoubtedly so, and unless a poor man is noble and self-respecting, it has a tendency to make him cringing and servile—to dispose him to barter his conscience and his rights in order to satisfy his bodily needs. We know there have been many noble exceptions to this rule—that there have been hundreds of poor men who have preferred starvation to a forfeiture of any part of their God-given inheritance—but the temptation of the poor man in this direction is often very strong by reason of his great necessity.
II. One of the many temptations of wealth. It would be a difficult matter, and perhaps an impossible one, to enumerate all the respective moral advantages of poverty and riches, and strike the true balance between them. There can be no doubt that each has its peculiar temptations (see chap. Proverbs 30:8-9), and that one of the sins to which the rich man is most liable is that of inconsiderateness of the claims of his poor brother, and even of insolence towards him. It is a universal tendency of fallen humanity to look exclusively on his own things and not on the things of others, and the wealth of the rich man enables him to indulge this tendency to its utmost. And men are prone to go even beyond this—the children of the same common Father often take delight in making their poor brethren feel their dependence on them, and instead of giving sympathy and help freely and after a brotherly fashion, they withhold the first entirely, and if they give the latter they do it coldly and even contemptuously. That this is by no means the rule we have many proofs, but that the tendency is strong we know not only from observation but from the frequent warnings against it in the Word of God. The Apostle James charges even the professed followers of Christ with having “despised the poor” (James 2:6).
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
The angels smile at the way the sinner cavils. He reverses what the proverb pronounces natural. For He who is supremely rich is meek and tender, and he who is profoundly poor is loud in his reproach!—Miller.
The languages of several countries are not so different as of the poor and rich man in one and the same country, and a stranger of another land is not such a foreigner as in the same land a poor man standing at the door of the rich. The one when he speaketh is not understood by the ear, the other when he speaketh is not understood by the heart: the words of the one are not apprehended, the wants of the other are not apprehended; the one is heard, but not conceived; the other is conceived, but not heard. When two talk in diverse languages they are known to be men of diverse countries; but when the poor and rich talk together, so different is their speech that one would hardly think them to be both men, and of the same nature. The one speaks as if he had hardly breath to bring forth his words, the other speaketh with such a strong breath that the harshness of it giveth an ill scent a great way off.—Jermin.
Proverbs 18:24. The first clause of this verse should be “A man of many friends will prove himself base, or is so to his own destruction,” i.e., he who professes to regard everybody as his friend will, in so doing, involve himself in trouble.
MAIN HOMILETICS OF Proverbs 18:24
THE OBLIGATIONS OF FRIENDSHIP
It will be seen from the Critical Notes that most modern critics translate the first clause of this verse very differently from the rendering in our Bibles. Some expositors, however, adhere to the old translation, and we therefore look at it—
I. As expressing a need of human nature. It matters not in what condition man is found, whether in riches or in poverty, whether ignorant and rude or highly civilized and educated, he needs the friendship of one or more of his fellow creatures. The special good-will of some who can feel with him and for him in all the vicissitudes of life is indispensable to his happiness. Among all the gifts which an Almighty Father has given to His children, there is perhaps none, after his own gracious favour, which is so necessary to their welfare or is so productive of joy as this gift of friendship. Men cannot live a life of isolation and know anything of the enjoyment of life. We cannot conceive of even perfect creatures living such a life—we know the angels and redeemed saints derive much of their bliss from the friendship of each other, and how much more does man in his present imperfect state need it. And the need can be supplied even in this selfish world. Men have been, and still are, able to find among their fellows those who are worthy of the name of friend. True it is that there is much that is called friendship that is unworthy of the name, but as we do not reject the real coin because there are base imitations of it, so we must not permit the counterfeit of friendship to shake our confidence in the real thing.
II. As setting forth an indispensable condition of making and keeping friends. If a man desires to know the sweets of real friendship he must be prepared to be himself a real friend. The selfish and morose man who will not deny himself for another’s good, or who cannot rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep, cannot expect others to deny themselves for him and to sympathise with his joy and sorrow. If there is to be a genuine friendship there must be mutual confidence and a mutual recognition of excellencies, for if the trust and admiration is on one side only the fire will soon burn out for want of fuel. There are men whose love cannot be extinguished by coldness and distrust, but they are few and far between, and the wise man’s words hold good as a general rule that “a man that hath friends must show himself friendly.” (The latter clause of this verse was treated in Homiletics on chap. Proverbs 17:17-18, page 518.)
OUTLINES AND SUGGESTIVE COMMENTS
A man of friends is apt to be broken all to pieces. (This is Miller’s rendering only.) The significance of the whole is that a man of wide acquaintance is apt to break. Human friendships cost. In the strife to appear well, in the time it takes, in the industries they scatter, in the hospitalities they provoke, and in the securityships they engender, broadening our socialities will try every one of us well. It is not so with heavenly friendships. All spiritual communisms bless.—Miller.
Solomon delivers a warning against the vainglorious passion of aspiring to an universal acquaintance and an empty popularity, such as was courted by his brother Absalom, which will bring with it no support in adversity, but will ruin a man by pride and rashness and prodigal expenditure.—Wordsworth.
SUMMARY OF THE CHAPTER.—That the chapter before us treats mainly of the virtues of social life, of sociability, affability, love of friends, compassion, etc., appears not merely from its initial and closing sentences, the first of which is directed against misanthropic selfishness, the latter against thoughtless and inconstant universal friendship, or seeming friendship, but also from the various rebukes which it contains of a contentious, quarrelsome, and partisan disposition, e.g. Proverbs 18:5-6; Proverbs 18:8; Proverbs 18:17-21. But in addition, most of the propositions that seem to be more remote may be brought under this general category of love to neighbours as the sum and basis of all social virtues; so especially the testimonies against wild, foolish talking (Proverbs 18:2; Proverbs 18:7; Proverbs 18:13, comp. 4 and 15); that against bold impiety, proud dispositions and hardness of heart against the poor (Proverbs 18:3; Proverbs 18:12; Proverbs 18:23); that against slothfulness in the duties of one’s calling, foolish confidence in earthly riches, and want of true moral courage and confidence in God (Proverbs 18:9-11; comp. 14). Nay, even the commendation of a large liberality as a means of gaining for one’s self favour and influence in human society (Proverbs 18:16), and likewise the praise of an excellent mistress of a family, are quite closely connected with this main subject of the chapter, which admonishes to love towards one’s fellow-men; they only show the many-sided completeness with which the theme is here treated.—Lange’s Commentary.